CIVIL law is not fitted to deal with matters on the basis of their character as moral or immoral; its province is to consider them on the basis of their compatibility with human rights.
The Declaration of Independence sets forth that governments are instituted to preserve the natural rights of mankind; and the truth of the statement is declared to be self-evident. But it is a lie if the doctrine be true that civil law can properly concern itself with questions of morality.
The Christian Statesman, however, and the “reform” party which it represents, evidently do not believe in the Declaration of Independence. In a late issue of the Statesman the editor makes note of the objection to National Reform work, that moral reforms must be put into the hearts of the people before they will come out in the life, and says:—
“But if the civil law has properly nothing to do with Sabbath, temperance, or other reforms, as matters of public morals, why should it have anything more to do with the moral principle of ownership in property or the sacredness of human life? Are we content to have regard for human life or property or the marriage relation wrought into the hearts of the people and left there without any expression of civil law concerning impurity, stealing, and murder? No civilized commonwealth dreams of carrying into effect any such limping code of morals.”
This may look and sound plausible, but it is mere sophistry. The answer is that civil law does not prohibit theft, murder, and adultery in order to prevent immorality, but in order to protect the rights of the individual. If its object were to prevent immorality, it would utterly fall of its purpose; for according to the testimony of Scripture—and of human experience as well—the man who covets, or hates his fellow men, or harbors impure thoughts, is as verily immoral as is the one who steals, murders, or commits adultery. Immorality is not an act, but a condition. It is impossible for an individual to commit an immoral act before he has become an immoral person.
He does not become immoral by committing the immoral act, but he commits the immoral act because he has become immoral. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.”
Therefore, as stated, the civil law would utterly fail of its purpose it if should undertake to prohibit immorality. If that has been its object, it has utterly failed from the first.
But civil law is not a failure. It is necessary to civil government, and civil government is necessary to the preservation and enjoyment of individual rights, without which this life would fail to realize the purpose which it is designed to serve.
And as no question of the violation of individual rights is concerned in the observance or non-observance of the Sabbath, but only a question of morality, the civil law can properly have no concern with it. The law is bound to protect every person in his right of exercising his own judgment and free will in such a matter.