Why So Few Sabbatarians?

Why So Few Sabbatarians?

Apr 23, 2014

Why so few Sabbatarians?

by Rev. Madison Harry 


“Why so few Sabbatarians?”

As a newcomer to Seventh Day Baptists, Rev. Madison Harry asked this question in 1890. Harry went on to pose more questions and posit even more answers and theories.

His article, “Why has not God blessed Sabbath-keeping Christians more?” appeared in The Sabbath Recorder on August 28, 1890. A revised version became a separate American Sabbath Tract Society booklet in 1894. The following is from his introduction:


      “Why has not God blessed Sabbath-keeping Christians more?”

This is both a perplexing and painful question to all who “delight in the law of God, after the inward man.” The meager success of Sabbatarians deters many from joining with us, though convinced of the scripturalness of our position, and not a few have abandoned our cause on that account. This is a sad and depressing fact. Why is it? Is it God’s will it should be so? How much of our little success is necessary or unavoidable, and how much is due to our inefficiency as an aggressive power and evangelizing agency? This is a practical question. If it is due to the first cause wholly, then we are blameless. If in any degree to the latter, then “sin lieth at the door.” We surely, if possible, should know how this matter stands. How much of our meager success is necessary and unavoidable?

Some palatable causes

for our smallness

Rev. Harry listed the following as “some of the causes that have efficiently retarded our progress.”


I. The advocates of a pure religion have always been few, compared with those who have departed from the simplicity of the faith. This is true of every dispensation.… [He sites Noah and Abraham as examples.]


II. Some reforms must needs be last. They are never complete. They proceed step by step.…


III. There are several special reasons why Sabbath reform is slow or last.


    Harry noted that Sunday-keeping was, perhaps, the “first violent departure from the plain command of God,” commencing even before infant baptism or effusion (pouring). He also viewed Sunday-keeping as “the point of formal entrance by Satan into the realm of Christianity.”

“The number ten signifies completeness, Harry explained. “The Decalogue (the ten words) is the circle of man’s duties. Satan has broken that circle at the Fourth Commandment. He has compelled the Christian world to acknowledge his right at that point.”


Spyglass CLR


God’s will to be small?

“Now having considered some of the principal discouragements in our way,” Harry then inquired “if they are a sufficient account of the small success of Sabbatarians in the world? Has it been God’s will it should be so?”

He answers by pointing out that “the most violent persecutions did not prevent the spread of the Gospel in the early period of the Christian era, nor in later times. Even the Sabbath cause seems to have made progress at different times, especially in England shortly after the Reformation.… Truth must command its own recognition, even by the offering of the blood of its friends if need be.”


What we are doing wrong

In light of the above, Harry asks, “Are we not compelled to believe that there is some other account of the little success of Sabbath-keepers, than the powerful opposition and persecution they have met? Be patient with me brethren, if I now say that this hindering cause lies in the methods and spirit of Sabbatarians. Allow me then to call attention to some discouraging facts that have forced themselves upon my attention in my short experience among them.” (The remainder of this article are Harry’s words; I added the subtitles.—Ed.)


“We have the truth!”

Well, do something with it

1. Christian denominations which are strongly convinced that they have the whole truth are very liable to console themselves with this flattering conviction: “Why, we have the truth, and of course we must succeed,” and because they believe and feel thus, give themselves little concern about spreading the truth.

Because a man has a plow of the most approved pattern is not proof that he will raise a better crop than his neighbor with his wooden mould-board plow. Why? The first admires and boasts of his plow and doesn’t do much else, while the latter makes good use of his.

So brethren, because we know God says: “The Seventh-day is the Sabbath of the Lord,” and keep it, is not the assurance of our success. Nor will publishing tracts and circulating them insure it. The only efficient way to make men consider our claims of truth is to carry it to them not in print merely—but in person.…

If we have more truth than others, by so much ought we to be more active, vigorous and self-sacrificing. Our responsibility is greater, our weapons are mightier, because we have the whole word of God, and our spiritual blood ought to be purer because it is not vitiated by so much error.

Truth is a leavening power, an active force, and must find expression or die. The purest water held at rest will stagnate, and if the “whole counsel of God” is to prevail in the world it must be carried through it, and to it, in living vessels.

The Gospel cannot be sent by carrier-doves; somebody must “go.” Let us not be deceived. Our possessing the whole truth will not convert the world; we must use the truth. We must bring it in living vessels to them.


“Sabbath truth cannot prevail!”

Where is your faith?

2. Another source of weakness among Seventh Day Baptists is the conviction that Sabbath truth cannot prevail. Elder A.H. Lewis thinks the majority of them have never yet risen to the conception that our views can prevail.

That they should feel so is somewhat natural and almost to be expected. All the powers of earth and hell have been especially combined against them. Not only the world, but the whole church, corrupted by tradition, have been joined in unholy wedlock against them.

We have been peculiarly “the sect everywhere spoken against” and so legislated against, hunted, fined, bruised, and peeled incessantly, until at last Sabbatarians were quite willing to hide away in some secluded spot where they might be tolerated and believe and practice according to their convictions, and also quite as willing that the rest of the world should move on in the possession and under the domination of traditions. They have scarcely asked or expected more than that they might enjoy the privilege of keeping God’s Sabbath among themselves.

Now it is evident that if we are not profoundly desirous of success of the whole truth, and have not also a strong faith in the success of the Sabbath, it will never prevail—at least in our hands. “According to your faith be it unto you.”


“Move to a Sabbath church!”

No, move and build one

3. [We] have mainly depended upon the colonization plan for building up in new places. It is our reproach in the eyes of other denominations, and the proof to them of the impracticability of our views.

Is that the way Christianity started in the world? Is it on that plan that any reformation worth naming ever did succeed? Think of Paul taking twenty or thirty Christians from Judea and colonizing them at Phillipi, for instance, in order to establish a church! The Christian body that pursues that policy will never take the world—never.

That policy is the proof that they don’t expect to do so. And therefore few indeed are the Seventh Day Baptist churches that have been built up in new communities by evangelizing them to Christ and the Sabbath.

Our people depend mainly on importation of the Sabbath element into new places to organize and build up new churches. Moreover, our people are unwilling to move into some new places. It does not seem to occur to them to put their letters into the nearest struggling church—they don’t know whether it will succeed or not, and they prefer to wait until they perhaps move into the neighborhood of some strong Sabbatarian church.

Now, the moral effect of this spiritual practice is to teach our young people that it is about impossible to keep the Sabbath, except in Sabbath communities. Here, no doubt, is the secret cause of so much Sabbath defection. Our young people, imbibing this spirit and seeing this policy, naturally conclude that when they move into Sabbathless places, they cannot—need not—keep the Sabbath.…

They are taught by the spirit and policy of a denomination that Sabbath-keeping is out of the question except in the presence of a well-established Seventh Day Baptist Church. Two things are wanting here: sacrifice, and faith in the future triumph of all God’s law.


“Come to us!”

Go to them!

4. Another serious lack in our spirit, and defect in our method, is the absence of purpose and a plan to evangelize the surrounding neighborhoods and country where our churches are established.

So far as I am able to discover, the custom of our churches is to have one regular preaching service a week, viz.: in the forenoon on Sabbath day. I confess brethren, I was greatly surprised at this. Sixth-day night is usually given to prayer-meeting, and Seventh-day night to a singing or some entertainment. If Sunday churches were to do likewise, that is have preaching services in the forenoon on Sunday, their success in gathering in would perhaps not be more than half what it is.…

One instance will illustrate. In less than twenty miles of one of our strongest western churches, a minister of the Gospel had lived for seventeen years in the same county, and had spoken in public in various places in the county, and up to the time of his keeping the Sabbath, some three years ago, had not even heard of said Seventh Day Baptist Church. And yet this is a large and vigorous church, but so far as I know is not regularly holding any missionary post far or near.

How can we expect to evangelize the world with such a policy as this, or rather want of any policy? Is it any wonder that other denominations despise us, and consider us clannish? They see us huddling together and trying to own every farm in our immediate neighborhood, or every house and lot on a certain street, or in the vicinity of our church, and get the idea that the only way to be a Sabbatarian is to go and do likewise.


Be salt and light

Now if we are “the light of the world,” let us not put all the light under one bushel; if we are “the salt of the earth,” let us not put all the salt on one piece of meat. The Seventh Day Baptists have both more talent and wealth than I expected to find. And there are thousands of places in the land sadly in need of light and salt.

Let us send it to them in the shape of a living epistle, and if we can’t send one, no doubt many might go themselves into these places and shine away the darkness, or salt the interest that is “ready to die.”

We never shall, never can, bring the world back to the whole Word of God while we cling to the custom—unwittingly contracted, perhaps—of segregating in a few desirable localities.…

And now pardon me if I say we need the spirit of the Scotch preacher who divided the text, “They that turn the world upside down have come hither also” as follows: “1) The world is turned wrong-side up. 2) It must be turned right-side up. 3) And we are the chaps to do it.”


We have a special mission

We must believe that we have a special mission, and that that mission is to the whole world, and not in the exceedingly few localities of our churches. It is futile to wait for the world to get ready to receive the Sabbath.” “The field is already white unto the harvest.”

“Pray the Lord for laborers.” “Go ye out into the highways and compel them to come in.” Surely we need one huge camp meeting, and to “tarry at Jerusalem until we are endowed with power from on high” that then we may “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”

We lack evangelizing power. We need “power with men and God.” But we surely never will receive it until we rise to the conniption “that every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up,” the Sunday-Sabbath and all.

How many of us are ready to say, “Here am I, Lord, send me.”

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