A Baptist Clergyman’s Defense of Sunday Laws

WE have received from a clergyman of Cleveland, Ohio, the following letter in reference to his connection with the agitation for Sunday observance in that city (noticed recently in our columns), with a request for its publication, with which we very willingly comply:—

“EDITOR AMERICAN SENTINEL: You kindly sent me a copy of this week’s SENTINEL that I might see your strictures on my plea for ‘enforcement of the law.’ Possibly you will grant a brief reply.

“Let me say: In keeping with the great denomination to which I belong, I believe in the separation of the church and the state. I do not believe in trying to make people religious by civil legislation. Nor do I believe in civil government granting at any time, anywhere, under any conditions, in states or territories, to Protestant, Catholic, or Jew, one cent of money for denominational purposes!

“My remarks, which you criticise, were not a plea for laws to be enforced in order to make people religious, or to attend any church, but were on this point: Cleveland has scores of business concerns which work thousands of men and women seven days in the week. These wage earners are crying for a day primarily for physical rest. The laws of the city are against the operation of those business places on the Sabbath. Yet because these business men make money by running on the Sabbath day, they run their business in violation of a plain law which the vast majority of people believe in as a physical right and necessity. Now, that these wage-men who get almost no time for physical rest, or mental improvement, or religious enjoyment, may have at least one day of rest, I said that the laws on our statute books which clearly forbid the operation of these factories and places of business on the Sabbath ‘should be enforced,’ that men and women who are now compelled to work on the Sabbath or be thrown out of their positions may have an opportunity to rest. If you differ from me on this point, then I shall have to be contented in not being agreed with. I believe that righteous laws, and such enforcement of righteous laws as will give American citizens respect for law, are among the chief necessities of our age and country.



Pastor First Baptist Church, Cleveland, O.”

Probably no more plausible statement of the case for the Sunday laws could be made than is here presented. The workingmen are, in very many cases, overworked by their employers; they are injured by working seven days in the week; it is a great wrong to a man and to his family that he should have almost no time in the week to spend with his wife and children; he ought to enjoy a weekly day of rest. All this we believe as fully as does the writer of this letter. We differ when we come to consider the proper remedy. He says there should be a Sunday-rest law, strictly enforced; we say that all Sunday laws are wrong in principle, and therefore delusive as a remedy for moral or social evils.

Would our Baptist friends be satisfied with a law which provided that these factory employees should each be given one day off each week, upon any day which might best suit the wishes of the employee or the convenience of the employer? No; we think he would not. The day upon which they are to rest, for physical recuperation and social requirements, must be Sunday, and no other.

More than this: the Sunday laws must apply not only to owners of factories and business concerns, but to all men generally. The individual who employs no one, but works only for himself, must stop his business, even though he prefers to work. This is what our Baptist friend demands unless he is decidedly at variance with his brother clergymen who favor Sunday laws.

As we have stated, Sunday legislation is wrong in principle. The Sabbath is a religious institution. Its observance is a religious act, and rest from labor is an essential feature of that observance. The legislature cannot appoint and enforce a weekly day of rest, without coming into contact with religion.

Here comes in the plea for the “civil Sabbath.” The state does not interfere with religion, we are told, because it only decrees a “civil” Sabbath—mere rest from work. But mere rest from work, upon a fixed day one week, after the manner of true Sabbath observance, … a religious significance of which it cannot possibly be divested by legislative act. It has been so fixed by the act of the Creator.

We must keep in mind the arrangement which the Creator has established. His law says, “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work.” This covers the entire week, and divides it into six working days, and one rest day, and that rest day is a religious day. It provides no place for a “civil Sabbath,” and no such institution can be put into it without altering it and interfering with the position assigned the “Sabbath of the Lord.”

This is the divine arrangement for the week—one religious day of rest, and six working days. Omniscience was satisfied with it; why should not the Rev. Mr. Pickard be likewise satisfied? Why should any Baptist clergyman think it can be improved on by a State legislature?

And by this arrangement all men are bound. All men, including workingmen, are religiously bound not to turn the Sabbath into a civil day, nor to turn one of the six working days into a rest day. The six working days must retain their character as such in order that the Sabbath may retain its character as a day sanctified—set apart—from all the rest. Some men observe the seventh day, and feel in conscience bound to regard Sunday as one of the six working days. Others observe the first day, and if that day is the Sabbath they should feel in conscience bound to regard all other days as working days. Hence the state cannot appoint and enforce a weekly day of rest, under any plea, without interfering with conscience.

Any weekly day of rest, whatever name may be given it, must be either the Sabbath of the fourth commandment or an imitation of it. If an imitation of the true Sabbath, it is a counterfeit and as such must be offensive to the Author of the genuine institution. It is by the genuine Sabbath that men are to be benefited, and not by a man-made imitation.

The evil of all Sunday legislation is that it sets up a human authority where the divine Authority has spoken, and applies force in the domain of religion and the conscience. From the very nature of the Sabbath institution, as we have seen, this must be so. Hence it cannot be the proper remedy for the evil of overwork. The dictates of conscience ought to settle the question of Sabbath rest for workingmen, as for all others; but those who have no conscience in the matter, or who will not be governed by its dictates, must find a remedy by some other means than that which would bring compulsion upon the consciences of others.

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