CHRISTIAN government is government by love; civil government is government by force; hence there can be no such thing as Christian civil government.
GOVERNMENT by force represents justice, and is therefore not antichristian, for justice is not against Christianity. But government by force represents justice alone, and justice alone is not Christianity. In Christianity justice is combined with mercy, and “mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” Christianity shows present justice satisfied by the cross of Christ, present mercy given the transgressor, and judgment delayed to a future time. To delay judgment in civil government would be to defeat civil government. Not to delay judgment for transgression in Christian government would defeat Christianity. Hence civil government cannot be Christian; neither, in its proper sphere, can it be antichristian.
CIVIL government becomes antichristian when it tries to be Christian, or when it makes a profession of religion.
WHAT is the difference, in principle, between a civil observance of a religious day (the “civil Sabbath”) and a religious observance of that day? The very fact that the day is a religious day makes the observance of it a religious observance. And Sunday is, beyond all question, a religious day.
IF the Sunday institution had the support of the divine law, would there be any need of the frantic call for its support by human law? Would anything upheld by Omnipotence need to be supported by the arm of man?
IF “the powers that be are ordained of God,” they are certainly not ordained to go contrary to the will of God. And in obedience to the will of any power, under this ordinance, the will of God must stand first.
THE whole principle underlying religious persecution is contained in the plea that religious observances ought to be enforced by the civil power.
IN the annual report of work of the New England Sabbath Protective League, we note the statement that “the League is formed for the purpose of defending the Sabbath against the persistent encroachments upon its sacredness by business and pleasure.”
The special object of this organization is to preserve the sacredness of the Sabbath. The purpose of the League is therefore plainly a religious one.
Yet the League depends almost entirely, in its work, upon arousing public sentiment in favor of the enactment and enforcement of Sunday laws.
It is plain, therefore, that the New England Sabbath Protective League is an organization which demands the use of the civil power to serve a religious purpose; which, in principle, is all that was ever done or ever could be done under a union of church and state. Such a demand is both un-American and unchristian.
The League wants the civil power employed to preserve the (supposed) sacredness of Sunday. But how can the sacredness of anything be preserved by law? The inherent sacredness of the Sabbath was established by its divine Author, and that cannot be affected by anything that man may do.
The only other way in which the sacredness of the Sabbath can be concerned is in the keeping of it. It is to be kept holy—or sacred. But is this anything that can be secured by human law? Can the law of man make anyone sacredly observe the Sabbath? And has human law any business to attempt to enforce a sacred observance?
Will a person observe the Sabbath sacredly without going to church, where no circumstances prevent him from doing so? And if a sacred observance of the day is to be enforced, will it not therefore be necessary to enforce attendance at church?
And in this unamerican effort to preserve Sunday sacredness by law, is there not a confession that the alleged sacredness of Sunday is more a theory than a fact, and must depend upon the outward show which the enforcement of law can produce, or fail because it has no higher source of support?
Further on in this annual report we find this quotation which has been much used in the effort to justify Sunday legislation: “The liberty of rest for each is dependent on a law of rest for all.”
How can this be? What proof of it is to be found in spiritual or in natural law—in reason or in revelation?
There is a liberty of rest, and there is also a liberty of work. The same law which said, Thou shalt rest, said also, Thou shalt labor. The right of a man to labor is universally conceded to be as sacred as any other right. It is just as sacred as the right to rest. It is altogether wrong, therefore, to compel one man to stop labor, in order that another man may rest.
The right to labor being as sacred as the right to rest, how can it be any more true that “the liberty of rest for each is dependent on a law of rest for all,” than it is true that the liberty of labor for each is dependent on a law of labor for all? Why not make one man work in order that another man may work, as well as make one man rest in order that another may rest?
One man wants to work on Sunday; another man wants to rest. Why should the man who wants to work be compelled to rest, any more than the man who wants to rest should be compelled to work?
Some one may reply, There is more to this question than the simple right of mankind to rest or to work. The duty of Sabbath observance is involved in it.
But who shall say what day of the week is the Sabbath? This is a disputed question—a point of religious controversy. Can the state settle a religious controversy and command a religious observance? Has the legislature either the qualification or the authority to take such action?
If not—as all must agree—then what possible ground of justification can there be for compelling any person to rest, in order that the liberty of rest may be secured to some one else?
The assertion is often heard in connection with the agitation for the enactment and enforcement of Sabbath laws, that the Creator ordained “one day in seven” as a day of rest. People who offer this in support of a Sunday law are not sincere; they do not believe in a one-day-in-seven law at all. What they want—and the only thing they will accept—is a Sunday law. The Creator did set apart one day in seven, it is true; but he did not leave any indefiniteness about it, and he did not set apart Sunday, or the first day of the week. He set apart “the seventh day,” which, as the weekly cycle was fixed by that very act, must necessarily have been, and must now be, the seventh day of the week.