November 10, 1892
AN interesting question in connection with the persecution of Seventh-day Adventists in Tennessee, is, What attitude should they now assume toward the law which forbids them to follow their usual vocations on Sunday? Should they yield to the law and thus secure immunity from further persecution? or should they violate the law as they have done hitherto, and suffer the penalty?
MANY will unhesitatingly answer that it is the duty of all men, and especially of all Christians, to obey the civil law; and that the Adventists are no exception; that they ought to obey the law as it exists; and if they think it unjust they have the privilege of endeavoring to secure its repeal or modification. This is substantially the position taken by the judge before whom the four men convicted in Henry County last May, were tried; and it would probably be the position taken by a large majority of men who have given the subject little thought. But is it the correct one?
MAN is not only a social being, having social relations and social duties, but he is likewise a moral being, having moral duties and moral obligations. In their social relations—that is in all things pertaining solely to their relations with their fellow-men,—the Creator has made men responsible to one another, not ultimately nor in a way to release them from moral responsibility, but in a way to enable men, by combination and organization, to secure, each at the hands of his fellows, the rights with which nature has endowed him. This is civil government; and the preservation or securing of natural rights is the extent of its legitimate jurisdiction. And in every age we find godly men refusing to yield obedience to civil rulers when they exceed their proper jurisdiction.
A NOTABLE instance of resistance to, or rather disobedience of, civil law when it conflicted with moral duty, is recorded in the third chapter of the prophecy of Daniel. The king, having set up a great image, commanded all the people to fall down and worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, three Hebrews whom the king had set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, refused to worship the image or even to bow to it, and at the king’s command they were cast alive into a burning, fiery furnace, from which God miraculously delivered them; thus fully justifying their disobedience to civil authority.
ANOTHER instance of disobedience to a civil law which invaded the domain of conscience, is recorded in the sixth chapter of the book of Daniel. In this instance the prophet himself, though prime minister of the kingdom, was the offender. The king, at the instance of “the presidents and princes” of his realm, made a decree that no man should ask any petition of any man or God, save of the king only, for a period of thirty days, upon penalty of being cast alive into a den of lions. It had long been Daniel’s custom to pray at his open window three times a day. The record tells us, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.” For this violation of civil law, Daniel was deposed from office and cast into a den of lions; but the angel of the Lord delivered him.
JEREMIAH, too, another prophet of the Lord, repeatedly disobeyed the king, and was on several occasions imprisoned for his temerity. But it is in the New Testament that we find the most noteworthy examples of disregard of civil law when it came in conflict with divine authority. In the third chapter of Acts we have the record of the miracle of healing wrought upon the cripple at the Beautiful gate of the Temple. This miracle caused a great commotion, insomuch that it greatly excited the jealousy of the rulers of the people. They therefore commanded Peter and John that they should teach no more in the name of Jesus. “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we can not but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” In accordance with their word, the apostles disobeyed the rulers and were again arraigned. “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:27-29.
IN the light of the facts related in the various scriptures quoted, the question arises, Did these godly men violate any correct principle of civil government? Civil government is ordained of God for the good of his creatures, and did he in these cases vindicate men for disregarding principles which he himself had laid down?—Most assuredly not. God ordained civil governments, but he also ordained their proper sphere; and outside of that they are without rightful authority; and not only are men at liberty to disobey them, when to obey would be to violate their consciences, but they must disobey, or prove disloyal to God and to their own souls.
Christ did not state a new truth, or lay down a new principle, when he said,  “Render unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” He only stated the underlying principle of all government; and it is upon this principle that the followers of Christ in every age have acted. In all civil things they have yielded cheerful and implicit obedience, but they have gone to the block and to the stake rather than yield to Cesar the things that belong to God. And the Tennessee Adventists can do neither more nor less than the followers of Christ have ever done; they must, if they retain their Christian integrity, remain loyal to God at any cost. It is admitted by the State of Tennessee, that in every thing except the matter of Sunday observance they are good citizens. It was likewise the testimony of Daniel’s enemies that they could find no fault with him except as “concerning the law of his God.” The Tennessee Adventist can, like Daniel, submit to whatever penalty the law imposes upon them; but they can not violate their conscientious convictions of duty toward God, and remain Christians.