[This statement was approved at the Synod meeting in 1928.]
In view of the nature of certain communications received with regard to their attitude towards the question of churchgoing by public conveyances on Sabbath, the Synod have considered it desirable to issue the following statement on the subject:
I. In passing the several motions which bear upon Sabbath observance at intervals within the past number of years, the Synod have been actuated by a regard for the sanctity of the Lord’s Day as exhibited in the Word of God; by a sense of the duty and responsibility, devolving upon the Christian Church in this connection; and by an apprehension of the growing menace to the religious and social well-being of the community at large arising out of the evils of unlawful Sabbath labour, business, and recreation.
II. While not in any way condemning or disallowing the use of mechanically-driven or other conveyances on the Lord’s Day when the purpose and manner of their employment are in keeping with the spirit of the Sabbath, and in accord with the precepts and precedents of Scripture, the Synod do, notwithstanding, most emphatically denounce as sinful and subject to the censure, not only of men, but of God, the practice of running such conveyances on Sabbath for reasons dictated by considerations of worldly or carnal expedience and on terms which are essentially mercenary. Under this description the Synod include the Sabbath services of trains, tramway-cars and motor-cars run for ordinary hire. It must surely appear to all who hold by the scriptural interpretation of the Sabbath law, as set forth, for example, in the Shorter Catechism, that such services, being maintained in utter disregard of the claims, and at the expense, of sanctity, constitute a flagrant breach of the Fourth Commandment.
III. This being their view, the Synod further hold that, ordinarily, that is allowing for the extreme exigencies of necessity and mercy, no one can lawfully make use of such services, whether for the purpose of attending church or for any less worthy purpose. Any use made of them on the part of an individual entails the giving by that individual of a certain proportionate moral and material contribution towards the support of the evil, thereby making him a party to it and involving him in the guilt of it. In consideration of this, and by way of raising a testimony against Sabbath desecration, the Synod have passed a motion which in effect excludes from Church privileges those who thus use public conveyances on the Lord’s Day.
IV. Some responsible individuals in the Church have taken exception to this action of the Synod, maintaining that, while the practice should not be encouraged, yet in itself it is not necessarily sinful, and does not properly constitute a bar to Church membership.
V. One of the principal arguments put forward in support of this contention is, in substance, that a right motive on the part of the person travelling legitimises the use of public conveyances and the payment of fares on the Sabbath. The well-known judgment of the Apostle Paul in the matter of the eating of meats offered to idols is quoted for authority. With regard to this argument, and in refutation of it, the Synod would point out that
(1) There is a very fundamental difference in principle between the case with which the Apostle Paul dealt and that with which the motion of the Synod deals. In the former case, the question at issue concerned the eating of meats that had been offered to idols – in other words, the use of that which, in another connection, had been abused. The Apostle, one would almost say naturally, saw nothing wrong in eating such meats, provided no offence were given thereby to the consciences of others. The judgment, surely, would have been materially different had the Apostle been called upon to deal with Christians who had themselves been involved in the idolatry, who had contributed to the provision of meat for the offering, had countenanced the service, and had lent a hand with the performance. It is a case analogous to this, on the other hand, that the Synod’s motion contemplates. That motion, be it noted, does not in the least disparage the lawful employment on weekdays of conveyances which have been unlawfully employed on the Sabbath. Inasmuch as it does not, it involves no deviation from the principle of Christian liberty stated by the Apostle in connection with the “meats” controversy, a principle, by the way, which, because of its very preciousness, requires the most scrupulous handling. It does, however, in effect, declare it sinful and a bar to Church membership to be a party to the unlawful employment of them on the Sabbath in the spirit of that passage of the Apostle, “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils” (1 Cor. 10:20,21).
But even if it is granted for the sake of argument that the cases are parallel, and that the ruling of the Apostle in the “meats” controversy applies equally to the question at issue here, the case for the Synod’s declaration loses nothing, as a careful examination of all the facts of the matter will show. The liberty of the Corinthian Christian to accept an invitation from an idolater and to eat the meat set before him was a conditional liberty only. In deference to the fact that others had consciences as well as he, although all had not knowledge, he was to ask no question of his host about the meat because “the earth is the Lord’s and all the fulness thereof’, and it mattered nothing to him whether it had been offered to idols or not, for to him an idol was nothing. If, however, his host told him, and it was now a matter of common knowledge that the meat had been offered to idols, then he was no longer at liberty to eat it, nay, he was bound to abstain, because (i) of the conscience of the idolater who, if he ate it, would naturally conclude that his Christian guest saw nothing wrong in idolatry; and (ii) of the conscience of his weak brother for whom Christ died. In consideration of the latter, the Apostle characterises the mere act of sitting at meat in an idol’s temple as being something calculated to cause a brother to offend, and as being, on this account, a sin against the brethren and a sin against Christ. Now, in the case of public conveyances run on the Sabbath, one knows without being told of it that they are run in sacrifice to Mammon. According to the rule laid down by the Apostle, therefore, one is not merely at liberty, but is bound not to use them out of respect to his own conscience and the conscience both of those who run them for monetary purposes and of those to whom such use may be a stumbling-block.
(2) It is incorrect and dangerous to affirm that a right motive legitimises an action and then leave the matter there (which just amounts to saying that the end justifies the means). Some actions are notably in their content, direction or mode wrong, and persist so in spite of right motives. Take for example, the payment of money in gambling. It is wrong. Nor can it be justified to the extent of a farthing under any circumstances, not even by instancing, if it were possible, the case of a man who gambles with no baser motive than to devote his whole returns for the payment involved, should these amount to thousands of pounds, to the cause of religion or charity. The same applies to the payment of fares in connection with Sabbath travelling by public conveyances. It, again, is wrong – wrong, because, in itself it is, and claims to be, nothing more or less than a piece of worldly, “week-day” business, conducted on worldly, “week-day” lines, and transacted on God’s holy day in which “He challengeth a special propriety for Himself’ – wrong on the part of the payee, because, without deference, implied or expressed, to what the Fourth Commandment prohibits, on the one hand, or allows, on the other, he, as a contracting party, carries forward into the business of the Lord’s Day the same mercenary aims, the same working conditions, and the same contract terms which he lawfully and necessarily employs on the six days during which, God says, “thou shalt do all thy work” and wrong on the part of the payer, because, as the other contracting party, by availing himself of the service, and by paying the stipulated fare, he voluntarily, and for the most part, cheerfully accommodates himself to these aims and conditions and accepts these terms. Nor can any amount or species of motive serve to make it right.
It has been noted above that the Apostle Paul is mentioned as an authority in connection with the view under discussion. Let it here be observed with what vehemence he disclaims any such connection in Romans 3:8 “(as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do evil that good may come? whose damnation is just.”
VI. Some have urged that travelling to church on Sabbath by trains, trams, etc., when no other means is available and where distance precludes walking, comes within the category of works of necessity and mercy, and is therefore not essentially unlawful. The Synod cannot accept this view for the following reasons:
(1) It has been well said: “In no case can the plea of necessity be advanced for Sabbath churchgoing, while the alternative of staying at home is recognised.” The Synod do recognise this alternative in cases, and in those only, where an alternative is properly admissible. They recognise it in such circumstances, for example, as when the state of one’s health renders a person’s going to church physically impossible, and again when one’s duty to a fellow-man, or even to an animal, renders his staying at home morally imperative. In the case in point, when circumstances, both physical and moral, combine to prevent one’s attendance at church – circumstances which in the one direction are related to the inscrutable providence of God, and in the other have a direct bearing upon His glory – when one is placed at a distance which he cannot walk, and can only get to church by employing a public conveyance on the condition virtually, that he drop a coin into the world’s cash-box, and with Naaman, bow in the house of Rimmon (or, to be more exact, in the house of Mammon), before he reaches, if ever he does reach, the house of God – in such a case, the Synod hold that a man, not only may, but must stay at home or be answerable to God.
(2) On the score of mercy, the Synod are of opinion that much need not be said to show that this plea is in favour, not of countenancing and of continuing, but of abolishing for ever the practice of Sabbath travelling by public conveyances and the amount of Sabbath work it involves. It is, indeed, a mercy to be able to get to church lawfully (but not otherwise). It is a mercy also to enable a fellow-sinner to go, even should it necessitate one’s staying at home, and substituting private for public worship. The one is a mercy received, the other a mercy bestowed. Which of these two is the more relevant to the matter in hand, we need scarcely discuss. Suffice it to say, and surely all loyal Free Presbyterians, at least, will say with us, that it would be a great mercy indeed if the travelling public, including church-goers, of Britain, of America, of the world would consent to do all their travelling by public conveyances on week days, and by abstaining on the Sabbath, would thus set free from the trammels of unlawful labour and from the snare of filthy lucre hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions, all told, of their unfortunate brethren to possess the privileges and enjoy the rest of that one day in seven which, for all alike, the law of nature demands and the law of God provides, and to this extent, at least, deter them from ruining their souls for eternity.
VII. Having thus far put the case for the motion in question, wholly upon its own merits, before all concerned, and especially before those of our own people who have called it in question, the Synod would fain hope they have made it tolerably clear that, in taking the step they did, they merely did their duty. They entertain the confidence, therefore, that all who have placed themselves under their ecclesiastical jurisdiction will recognise it as their duty in turn to accept the principle and submit to the rule which the motion represents, by their avoiding all abuse of public conveyances on Sabbath in future. This may appear in the case of some to constitute a hardship in so far as it precludes them from worshipping under conditions to which they had formerly accustomed themselves. The Synod believe, however, that in the end this will be found to be a hardship in appearance only; that the difficulty of it will be seen to have yielded to the forces of faith and faithfulness; and that the compensations of obedience to the truth and of preserving a conscience void of offence toward God and man are more than sufficient to counter-balance any amount of specious comfort foregone and of inconvenience suffered. “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments.”