Sunday Friday: The Booze Sermon

Billy Sunday (1862-1935) preached before perhaps eighty million people during what is popularly known as the Second Great Awakening. An itinerant revivalist, he was a driving force behind the Prohibition movement.  We’ll use “Sunday Fridays” to let him speak for himself as we try to better understand our revival-influenced religious environment.

We’ll start with excerpts from his “Booze Sermon.”  We’ll see the roles of the political parties in the temperance movement, get some samples of Sunday rhetoric, see his view of Christian liberty, find out what happens to people who don’t vote the right way, and witness his pulpit invitation to stand up for Prohibition.

…I am a temperance Republican down to my toes. Who is the man that fights the whiskey business in the South? It is the Democrats! They have driven the business from Kansas, they have driven it from Georgia, and Maine and Mississippi and North Carolina and North Dakota and Oklahoma and Tennessee and West Virginia. And they have driven it out of 1,756 counties. And it is the rock-ribbed Democratic South that is fighting the saloon. They started this fight that is sweeping like fire over the “United States. You might as well try and dam Niagara Falls with toothpicks as to stop the reform wave sweeping our land. The Democratic party of Florida has put a temperance plank in its platform and the Republican party of every state would nail that plank in their platform if they thought it would carry the election.

…The saloon is the sum of all villanies. It is worse than war or pestilence. It is the crime of crimes. It is the parent of crimes and the mother of sins. It is the appalling source of misery and crime in the land. And to license such an incarnate fiend of hell is the dirtiest, low-down, damnable business on top of this old earth. There is nothing to be compared to it.

…In these days when the question of saloon or no saloon is at the fore in almost every community, one hears a good deal about what is called “personal liberty.” These are fine, large, mouth-filling words, and they certainly do sound first rate; but when you get right down and analyze them in the light of common old horse-sense, you will discover that in their application to the present controversy they mean just about this: “Personal liberty” is for the man who, if he has the inclination and the price, can stand up at a bar and fill his hide so full of red liquor that he is transformed for the time being into an irresponsible, dangerous, evil-smelling brute. But “personal liberty” is not for his patient, long-suffering wife, who has to endure with what fortitude she may his blows and curses; nor is it for his children, who, if they escape his insane rage, are yet robbed of every known joy and privilege of childhood, and too often grow up neglected, uncared for and vicious as the result of their surroundings and the example before them. “Personal liberty” is not for the sober, industrious citizen who from the proceeds of honest toil and orderly living, has to pay, willingly or not, the tax bills which pile up as a direct result of drunkenness, disorder and poverty, the items of which are written in the records of every police court and poorhouse in the land; nor is ”personal liberty” for the good woman who goes abroad in the town only at the risk of being shot down by some drink-crazed creature. This rant about “personal liberty” as an argument has no leg to stand upon.

…A man comes along and says: “Are you a drunkard?”

“Yes, I’m a drunkard.”

“Where are you going?”

“I am going to hell.”


“Because the Good Book says: ‘No drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God,’ so I am going to hell.”

Another man comes along and I say: “Are you a church member?”

“Yes, I am a church member.”

“Where are you going?”

“I am going to heaven.”

“Did you vote for the saloon?”


“Then you shall go to hell.”

…What is your raw material, saloons? American boys. Say, I would not give one boy for all the distilleries and saloons this side of hell. And they have to have 2,000,000 boys every generation. And then you tell me you are a man when you will vote for an institution like that. What do you want to do, pay taxes in money or in boys?

Say, will you line up for the prohibition? Men of Boston, Massachusetts and our nation, how many of you will promise that by the help of God you will vote against it? Stand up. Let me have a look at you!

This entry was posted in Billy Sunday, evangelicals, Fundamentalism, Liberty of Conscience, Prohibition. Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to Sunday Friday: The Booze Sermon

  1. Zrim says:

    I’d like to see Tim Tebow turn a phrase that well against gay marriage (or whatever) once he leaves football for itinerant ministry. I don’t think they makes revivalists like they used to.

  2. The question is whether they even make revivalists anymore. I see a tent come to town about once a year but it just looks nostalgic now. But revivalism didn’t die, it just got absorbed into churches, where folks meet in virtual stadiums, get broadcast multi-site style, and whoop up the folks on Sundays.
    “Ain’t it a shame? When you got Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and all day Saturday, ain’t it a shame to do a revival on a Sunday, ain’t it a shame?”

  3. RubeRad says:

    “Sunday Friday,” I see what you did there! If you want some more source material, you can check out Preaching on the Plains. David K. Myers, 1st generation OPC pastor and colleague of Machen, was a fan of Sunday (Ch 4: High School; Billy Sunday Revivals), as well as of abstinence (Ch 28: Divisions within the Separated Movement).

  4. Related to that, Rube, is the fact that Sunday was ordained as a Presbyterian. Imagine being a fly on the wall at that Presbytery examination.
    There were some teetotaling issues early in the OPC, with, I imagine, many of them being resolved when the Bible Presbyterians split off.

  5. dr p says:

    Having done time in the RPCNA, I can say that the Reformed aren’t immune…then again, can we also use moderate use of alcohol as a discriminating factor between the truly Reformed and (at best) merely nonremonstrant?

  6. dr., of course there are folk who simply don’t care for alcohol. But for those who are principially and dogmatically opposed to it, there’s a correlation with other moralisms. No big news there, but then I wonder what the next step of analysis is. Do they just not “get” sola scriptura? Are they first & foremost moralists who then just try to fit Christianity in as a subset of their moralism? Usually they’re not real good at laughing either, and that’s never a good sign.

  7. Zrim says:

    From my own intimate experience amongst those who are principially and dogmatically opposed (even going so far as to orchestrate our wedding so that there was no chance of drinking at the reception–or dancing, which I actually appreciate–and prompting my father to set up a beer tent in the backyard for our WASPs and Catholics), sola scriptura isn’t grasped, but I don’t know what the connection would be. Glorified moralism certainly describes the overall grasp of Christianity.

    But they sure do laugh good. I mean, well.

  8. dr p says:

    @MM: sure there’s the matter of personal taste – for the person involved only – which I respect. The weaker brother says “I have a problem with alcohol” whilst he Pharisee says “there is a problem with alcohol – let’s fix it.” When the RP’s still enforced Vow 8 (total abstinence for officers), the rationale therefor was “it seems wise to us” to build their fence about Torah, although some really did swallow that two-wine nonsense; I have spoken with a retired RP minister who moved to a town w/o a Reformed presence and was quite happy worshiping in a Nazarene congregation due to its stance on alcohol, the credobaptism notwithstanding. Interesting sense of priorities, no?

    These people answer Cain’s query with “of course you are your brother’s keeper,” by which they mean auxiliary conscience and anointed yenta. You’re right – they really don’t get sola scriptura, and take themselves far too seriously (the world is watching, you know). Laughing at themselves is unheard of, hence my call to do it for them.

    As historically post-mil, the RP’s are major kingdom-confusers who carry their confusion over to Law and Gospel. Being historically a Celtic family shrine, one could see where the RP’s would have some gut reaction to alcohol; forcing this on Teutons and other Christians sans cultural baggage of alcohol abuse is really just do-goodie liberalism; ie Nanny Church vs Nanny State.
    When UI first became Reformed, I read in GI Williamson that churches which forbid what God permits end up permitting what God forbids; the fact that these Sons of Caledonia forbid alcohol but ordain female deacons (vs deaconesses) proves the good pastor’s point. As I type this out and enjoy a double neat Wild Turkey, I await an anticipated response from Zrim.

  9. Zrim says:

    DP, I’ve never considered my teetotalers to be weaker brothers. They seem pretty made up in their own minds, which actually makes them strong. The weaker brother is the one who isn’t made up in his own mind, which is why he’s weak. That they want my mind and behavior to be theirs makes legalist seem to fit better than weak.

    Not to open old wounds, but when Sunday suggests he who votes for the saloon is going to hell I can’t help but hear you saying he who votes for choice is as well.

    Still, fresh from the CRC, I think you make a good point about the RPs. Of course, the CRC who ordains the fairer sex doesn’t ban alcohol. But the PRC which isn’t egalitarian on office is legalist on education. And so it goes.

    He said, hoisting his Blue Moon to your Wild Turkey.

  10. todd says:


    The weaker brother is the one who does not understand his freedoms and thus his conscience bothers him to partake in that which is free – as in meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The teetotalers are weaker brothers, but they can also be legalistic in their convictions, but not necessarily.

  11. dr p says:

    @Zrim: I never meant to imply that teetotalers – those who need alcohol more than any others – are weaker brethren, but merely compared weaker brethren to pharisees, which I believe teetotalers to be (for the most part).

    As to your anticipated response I riposte that God permits alcohol and forbids the choice of infanticide, so there is no comparison. I hope you would counsel such a Christian to make his calling and election sure, as his belief is contra Deum. It doesn’t appear that either of us will convince the other to see his way clearly on this issue.

    Per the CRC (neither Christian nor Reformed, and really no longer a church), it remains to be seen what this once fine church will begin to forbid whilst winding its way to synagogue of Satan status a la ECUSA.

    Would that I could afford to best your Blue Moon with a Lagavulin and end the contest abruptly, but alas! I’m not a specialist.

  12. Zrim says:

    DP, while I think it’s a wayward and borderline denomination, I am not ready to say that the CRC is no longer a church or isn’t Reformed. It is, but much more culturally Reformed than confessionally Reformed. The URC is much more confessionally Reformed but is still pretty addled with its predecessor’s worldviewry, which is what causes Sunday to speak as he does about the saloons and the PRC to officially practices educational legalism. So I think when it comes to politics you seem to talk about reproductive legislation the way the PRC does about public education and the way Baptists talk about beer.

  13. Zrim says:

    Todd, do you see a difference between saying the weaker brother is he who isn’t made up in his own mind about a thing indifferent and he who does not understand his freedoms and thus his conscience bothers him to partake in that which is free?

  14. dr p says:

    Ah, Zrim, you can’t let a sleeping dog lie. Again for your benefit: God allows beer, nowhere forbids people to send their children to public schools, but forbids abortion. As a Christian libertarian I hate public schools, but recognise that others have there reasons for their educational choices and have no obligation to clear them with me – judging them is God’s job, and He’s the best for it. God gave us alcohol as a blessing to be used responsibly; that some can’t/won’t do so is not my problem – that’s for the magistrate and (if Christian) for the ministerium to deal with. We have no right to hold to or act upon anything contrary to the Law of God, which includes (as you would agree) elective abortion. To do so is to commit sin; if such sin becomes public, then it must be dealt with by the ministerium. If you find yourself in a church which you believe is binding your conscience, then tell them hasta la bye-bye and leave peacefully. If someone comes into a church trying to introduce conscience-binding, well, point them to the exit and let the doorknob hit ’em where the dog should’ve bit ’em.

    We also won’t agree on the CRC, which I believe is no longer a true church to loss of the marks: heretical doctrine, no discipline of heretics, and an invalid orders therefore invalid sacraments. Three strikes, yer out!

  15. Zrim says:

    DP, one of my favorite English profs in (secular) college graded one whole letter grade down for every one barbarism. On Christian liberty you get a B-, but with that barbarism in your last post it’s a C-.

  16. todd says:


    A weaker brother can have his mind made up and still be a weaker brother. Indecision is not an issue in Rom 14. If a believer is thoroughly convinced drinking alcohol is sinful that he is the weaker brother – to not hurt his conscience is not to serve wine when we (the stronger brothers) have him over for dinner.

  17. Zrim says:

    Todd, did you read this? So when I don’t serve spirits to my visiting fundamentalists it’s not so much because I think I would be causing them to stumble as it is because they simply don’t imbibe on principled reasons. So to serve them alcohol would be like offering a Big Mac to a health nut. Plus, to be honest, I know I will judged and, much as I like my spirits, it’s just not worth the hassle. It’s not out of love but a recognition of brute facts. The one to whom I show love is her who is caught between us and whose conscience would be injured more by my participation than by their refraining.

  18. dr p says:

    @Zrim: my GPA still tops yours; I AP’d out of freshman English, doubtless due in part to my ability to distinguish between words like liberty and libertine. Regardless, a little barbarism is hardly out of place in an outhouse, which is not normally seen as a repository for high culture. Thunder boxes also make lousy podiums.

  19. todd says:


    The post doesn’t convince me – Paul calls them the weaker brothers – that doesn’t mean I would ever call them that to their face. To place alcohol before such guest is causing them to stumble because it hinders fellowship and puts them in an uncomfortable position. But the weaker brother in Rom 14, while often a new Christian, is more likely the Jewish Christians, and the strong are the Gentile Christians (some see holy days, others see them all the same).

  20. Matt says:

    dr p,

    Can you tell me which doctrine(s) you find heretical in the CRC?


  21. dr p says:

    @Matt: theistic evolution, gender roles – that’s enough for me.

  22. Zrim says:

    DP, on gender roles the RCC is as elitist-patriarchal as one can get, but I don’t think that gets her any closer to orthodoxy. The CRC hasn’t anathematized the gospel yet. Are gender roles of the essence? For that matter, doesn’t Scott Clark make a good point in Recovering the Reformed Confession in questioning the wisdom of making 6/24 creation a boundary marker?

  23. dr p says:

    @Zrim: I haven’t read the tome in question, so I remain convinced that 6/24 is indeed a boundary marker and quite consistent with our subordinate standards As for gender roles, the RCC is irrelevant to the issue given her WCF status as a synagogue of Satan. We’re talking churches here, and true churches have 3 marks: Word, Sacrament, and discipline. Given the CRC’s behaviour on all of these interrelated isues, how can it be considered a true church? She’s not at synagogue of Satan status yet, but give her time to emulate the ECUSA, PCUSA, etc. What beer would you serve with boiled frog?

  24. dr p says:

    @Zrim: I just listened to Clark speak on his book on an MP3 available, and agree with most. His poisoning the well and band-waggoning re: 6/24 was bird turd all over what otherwise would have been a fine picnic.

  25. Zrim says:

    So, DP, what category does gender roles fall under: word, sacrament or discipline? I’m not aware of how the CRC has tampered with the gospel, and while I’m not much for “synagogue of Satan” speak, now that she has approved paedocommunion–the mirror error of credobaptism–she has taken one giant step away from true status. I do think Clark is quite onto something with the idea that 6/24, amongst other things, is much more culturally driven than theologically.

    All this talk about frogs and birds is making me hungry.

  26. dr p says:

    @Zrim: when confusion over gender roles leads to women’s ordination, you lose all three. Re: paedocommunion, spot on.

    Per Clark, the history of the understanding of Genesis 1-11 is that of a sequential history. I understand the “real” controversy to relate to the knock-out punch from which the Presbyterian Church never recovered; ie being tossed out of academia by evolution, higher criticism, and the like. Compromising exegetical contortionism has garnered neither respect nor acceptance from the unbelieving world – neither has the look-at-us-we’re-not-like-those-fundamentalists talk (correct, they fought back whilst Warfield played dead, rolled over, and fetched Darwin’s slippers). I remember reading an essay by SJ Gould which praised Archbishop Ussher as a polymath in his day, and took Hugh Ross to task for his disrespectful treatment of the cleric. So much for compromisers. Is 6/24 in the standards? Well, yeah, it is mentioned; I doubt the Westminster divines held to anything else, and so they meant what they wrote literally. I’m sorry such straightforward exegesis fails to win honours and accolades amongst a certain self-anointed/self-appointed elite.

  27. mikelmann says:

    so I remain convinced that 6/24 is indeed a boundary marker

    dr, usually boundary markers have a systematic or gospel-denying impact. But men who have held positions other than 6*24 can and do have theology that is just as orthodox as the 6*24’s. It’s not necessarily a virus of unbelief. The OPC has always allowed other views but we are far from cutting-edge liberals.

    So what constitutes a boundary marker?

  28. dr p says:

    @MM: that depends upon what is being demarcated. If, per Clark, one is demarcating what Reformed is, certainly the historic symbols cum degree of subscription/wobble factor are the best markers. The 6/24 conundrum is far anterior to this, as it brings into question hermeneutics, motives, historical theology, etc. Zrim tried to equate the 6/24 boundary with culture (I assume, evangelical culture), but one could view alternative positions as the imaginings of those on the outside looking in (“i don’t wanna be, i don’t wanna be left on the outside”) on academia and general societal respectability and wanting to gain back societal acceptance and status by compromising. I’m not making this argument, but merely showing how the cultural katana cuts both ways.

    What views a church allows can also be cultural. As a former OPCer but a believer in the historic RPW, I believe the majority report to be a model of eisegesis and an example of how to turn a Reformed distinctive into a nose of wax. – “it means what it means to me today” is actually fundamental to liberalism. Murray left that committee eating his dust. It surprises me not a bit that a church which can worship as it pleases whilst still invoking an historically understood principle could do the same with the creation account, or any other belief ridiculed by the cultured despisers keeping the gate. “Virus of unbelief?” Perhaps vector would be a more accurate description.

  29. mikelmann says:

    (“i don’t wanna be, i don’t wanna be left on the outside”) on academia and general societal respectability and wanting to gain back societal acceptance and status by compromising. I’m not making this argument,

    whilst still invoking an historically understood principle could do the same with the creation account, or any other belief ridiculed by the cultured despisers keeping the gate.

    drp, at first you didn’t make the X-Ray Glasses Argument (impugning for unseen motives) but, “ooh, I’m sorry” (spoken in my best Alex Trebek voice), then you did. When the teetotalers act on their spiritual search warrants at least they find actual beer bottles on the table.

  30. dr p says:

    @MM: perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, but the “could” in the second quoted paragraph should make it clear that I’m proposing a possible motive rather than assigning one. Given that all of this cutting-edge discovery of the heretofore hidden meaning of the early chapters of Genesis follow after the advent of Darwinism and its rise, and in the wake of the pure legerdemain found in the majority report, I think it a pretty good guess as the analogy holds.

  31. Zrim says:

    The 6/24 conundrum is far anterior to this, as it brings into question hermeneutics, motives, historical theology, etc. Zrim tried to equate the 6/24 boundary with culture (I assume, evangelical culture), but one could view alternative positions as the imaginings of those on the outside looking in (“i don’t wanna be, i don’t wanna be left on the outside”) on academia and general societal respectability and wanting to gain back societal acceptance and status by compromising.

    Actually, no. The concern is much more in-house. Quoth Clark:

    “The great tragedy of the modern creation controversy is that, while we in the Reformed sideline have been arguing about the length of the creation days, many of our congregations, even those in denominations that hold a 6/24-creation view, have stopped believing in ‘creation’ or ‘nature’ altogether. While congregations will confess a 6/24 creation, many of them no longer think of the world as something created by God, with inherent limits on our choices. In Reformed terms, many of us no longer think and live as if we are creatures, as if there are such things as nature and providence.”

    RRC, pg. 51

  32. dr p says:

    @Zrim: good point, but applicable far beyond 6/24, confessionalism vs broad evangelicalism, and anything else troubling us, as it sounds like loss of faith cum mere nominalism. I did not read Clark but rather only heard him on an mp3, so could you fill me in on the context of Clark’s comment?

  33. Zrim says:

    DP, this is from Chapter 2, the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty. 6/24, theonomy and covenant moralism are all examples of the QIRC. So, you’re right that this goes beyond 6/24 (not to mention the QIRE). All of these have much more to do with how the Reformed have lost their way in what it means to be Reformed, not so much as a way to enjoy cultural clout. Though we might enjoy less misunderstanding by the larger world that associates us with various forms of fundamentalism. Try a thought experiment: is your doctrine of liberty on substance use because you want to gain cultural clout or because you really do see how liberty is threatened amongst the Reformed by getting caught up in substance use (and worldly amusement, I might add) as boundry marker?

  34. dr p says:

    @Zrim: thanks for the context, but pondering the loss of what it means to be Reformed brings one to ask for reasons why and how, hence my opinings thereupon. Per substance use and worldly amusement, I with you take the second option.

  35. Zrim says:

    DP, I think some of us are willing to go latitudianarian on 6/24 (i.e. young or old earth). And personally, I’d rather see more precison than latitude sacramentally than vice versa. Maybe you want it all?

  36. RubeRad says:

    Given that all of this cutting-edge discovery of the heretofore hidden meaning of the early chapters of Genesis follow after the advent of Darwinism and its rise,

    Why should it be surprising that the true meaning of a prophecy is not understood until we can see what it was talking about?

    What do we call that, when God (from his timeless perspective) gives man special revelation about historical events which man (from his time-bound perspective) has not witnessed himself? Oh yeah, that’s right, we call it prophecy!

  37. dr p says:

    @Zrim: why not want it all, even if I might have to conclude that I can’t have it all?
    @RubeRad: the creation account is history rather than prophecy; if we were talking about eschatology, you’s sound a wee bit continuationist, as “special revelation” is a thing of the past. Besides Biologos is no repsoitory of revelation period.

  38. RubeRad says:

    the creation account is history rather than prophecy

    How do you know? I think it fits very well into a definition of prophecy.

  39. Pooka says:

    ycehporp, dudes. Most definitionally.

  40. dr p says:

    @RubeRad: whilst my uni Hebrew has grown rusty and atrophic, I read the text the same way it’s been read for millennia under both covenants, and that is as history. There is prophecy within, but yom-ordinal is yom-ordinal is sequential history. Does creationism embarrass you, or do you really think that the text compels you to another interpretation? I loved my agnostic Jewish prof who admitted that the text stood as it reads even though he didn’t believe a word of it – unbelief neat, sans freezer-burnt ice and girie mixers.

  41. RubeRad says:

    I’ll go ahead and say Yes, I am embarassed by most 6×24 hardliners.

    And I really think the text does not compel me to any particular physical interpretation. Absent natural revelation, a wide variety of interpretations is consistent with Gen 1, which is not about how God created, but rather that (contra competing mesopotamian creation mythology) one, omnipotent God created, without resistance or conflict; that the problems of formlessness and emptiness (v 2) were obstacles to life, so he solved those problems by forming (days 1-3) and filling (days 4-6).

    But to diverge into creation science/theology would be a threadjack of a threadjack, so maybe we’ll leave it at that.

  42. dr p says:

    @RubeRad: fine, but you didn’t answer my question, which was “are you embarrassed by creationism?” rather than “are you embarrassed by creationists?” There are creationists who make me cringe the same way that the poseurs at Biologos do.

  43. RubeRad says:

    Depends on the definition of creationism. If the definition is broad, i.e. the universe was created ex nihilo by a personal God, who continues to uphold it by the word of his power, I’m not embarrassed by creationism at all. But if creationism means 6×24 or you’re going to hell, then yes I am embarassed. Maybe this helps.

  44. dr p says:

    @RubeRad: I don’t believe non-6/24 creationists are going to Hell – the Projects, maybe- as I’m a believer in felicitous inconsistency. Theistic evolution embarrasses me, and I know no secular evolutionist who has any respect for it or them.

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