IN his recent decision denying a certificate of incorporation to a Jewish society because it was to hold some of its meetings on Sunday, Justice Pryor, of the Supreme Court of New York, affirms that “In the State of New York the Sabbath exists as a day of rest by the common law.” His authority to make this statement is borrowed from the idea which has acquired a show of legal authority in this country, that Christianity is a part of the common law under the State government. That this idea is itself without any real authority, or the slightest foundation in truth, is evident when considered from the Christian standpoint.
What is Christianity? Can it be a part of a human code? Can it be anything of human manufacture? Can it be comprised in statutes, or in customs and observances which have acquired the force of law? If Christianity be a part of the common law, these questions must be answered in the affirmative.
But no truthful affirmative can be given them. Christianity is not a form or set of forms; it is a power, and it is nothing less than the power of God. It is life; for according to the word of its divine Author, he who believes on Jesus Christ has been raised to life from a state of death in trespasses and sins. His life as a Christian is wholly different from his life as an unbeliever. The things which he once loved, he now hates, and what before he hated, he now loves. If his conversion has been genuine, this difference is plainly manifest. He has been “born again.” He has received a new creation.
There is no power, no life in law. A statute has no power to execute itself, or to compel obedience from any. Obedience to any human law is secured either by the strength of right principles in the individual’s heart, or by fear of the consequences of transgression. There is nothing in the statute which can affect the heart, or supply any power toward the performance of that which it requires.
It will be said, however, that by the statement that Christianity is part of the common law, it is meant only that Christian customs and observances are established in the common law, being recognized and supported by it, as in the case of the “Christian Sabbath.” Customs and observances, however, even be they such as the Scriptures enjoins, can at most be but the letter of Christianity, which without the Spirit is a lifeless form. To enforce the letter of Christianity without the Spirit can benefit no one. On the contrary, it is the worst injury, spiritually, that could be inflicted. “The letter killeth: but the Spirit giveth life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6. As there is no life in it without the Spirit, to enforce the letter is but to enforce spiritual death. And this is what it means to enforce Christianity as a part of the common law.
Nothing more utterly anti-Christian could be conceived. As no condition could be worse, spiritually, than that of the one who holds Christianity itself as a lifeless thing, and in whom the very light is darkness, so nothing more opposite to Christianity could be devised than the scheme of forcing an individual to accept the forms of Christianity, without the power.
The very worst state of things, spiritually, that is to exist in the world, is that foretold by the Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy, where he says that “in the last days” “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers,” etc., “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” The mere “form of godliness” goes hand in hand with all the sins that God’s Word denounces. And this form of godliness can be enforced by law, but the power of godliness cannot be enforced. Hypocrisy can be enforced, but piety cannot be enforced. And where the power of godliness is lacking, there must be hypocrisy, and sin of every kind.
A form of godliness without the power of godliness is not Christianity. But when the State forces the forms of godliness upon its citizens, it enforces them as Christianity, and those who receive them through the agency of  the State receive them as Christianity. They might not accept them as such upon the word of the secular authorities, but they are not prepared to dispute the assertions of the preachers who are behind the civil authorities in all such work. And thus Christianity itself is made death to them, and erelong they loathe it as they would a corpse. And if they are rigidly bound to it by the law, all the manhood that is in them will resolve to be freed from it at any cost. No man will tamely submit to be bound to a thing that is dead.
Such are some of the indisputable facts that pertain to the blasphemous doctrine that Christianity is part of the common law.