NUMBERS and rights sustain no relation to each other. This is contrary to the general idea; but it is nevertheless true.
Rights are God-given. As the Declaration of Independence says: “We hold these truths to be self-evidence: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” They do not pertain to men because men are associated together in large numbers; nor are they determined by that fact. The rights of man have their basis in the purpose of the Creator; and that purpose is independent of the number of those to whom it pertains.
Every individual is bound by his relation to his Creator and to his fellowmen. But his relation to his fellows is not independent of his relation to God. In other words, it is a duty which man owes to God, to love his neighbor as himself. It is a part of the law of God that a man should not steal, kill, commit adultery, bear false witness, or do anything that would invade the rights of his fellowmen. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
In fulfilling the purpose of God in our creation, we must of necessity fulfill every obligation which we owe to mankind. And to fulfill that divine purpose, it is necessary that we should possess and exercise certain rights. An all-wise Creator has accordingly endowed all men with those rights; and these rights, being thus inherent in the individual, are unalienable.
The purpose of the Creator is that every being whom he has made should be upright and perfect in all his ways, a free agent, and should live a life of unmarred happiness. Because of the fall, this purpose can never be fully realized in this world, but it will be perfectly accomplished in the world to come.
In this world progress is made toward the attainment of this purpose by development of character. God does not want automatons, nor slaves. God would stultify his own name if he should create beings of such a nature. He could not do less than create beings of the highest and most perfect type; nor could he be satisfied with anything else. He will have no one love and serve him from fear, or because he could not do otherwise. Such a tribute would be of an inferior nature, and therefore entirely unsuitable as an offering to the infinite God.
In order that man may develop a perfect character, he must have liberty. In order that his tribute to God may be voluntary, he must have freedom of choice. Accordingly men are left free by the Creator either to love and serve him, or to ignore him and serve themselves. The devil aims to interfere with this freedom of choice and compel men to refrain from the service of God. He would make every man a slave, controlled not by his own free choice, but by the will of another who leads him about in chains. And any effort of men to deprive any of their fellowmen of this freedom of choice further than to make secure from invasion their own God-given liberty, is against the divine purpose, and in harmony with the purpose and work of the devil.
The necessity of this individual liberty to the development of noble, God-like character, is amply and sadly illustrated by the spectacle of individual character presented among those races and classes of people which have been long the victims of oppression. We find them very largely deprived of their manhood, without that sense of honor and self-respect which shrink from acts of meanness, and with no adequate conception of moral principle as a thing of value. Lying and deception are counted as accomplishments, hypocrisy as a virtue, and vice as a legitimate pleasure. Every noble faculty is debased. It is not with such beings that God would people his world.
And in order that this shall not be, men must cherish and exercise their individual right of free choice. They must choose for themselves whom they will serve, and choose that Master who will never take from them this freedom. Development of good and noble character can take place only along the line of free individual choice.
This individual freedom of choice comprises within its limits the unalienable rights of mankind. When this freedom is denied, the highest interests of the individual are attacked; and if the attack be successful, the gravest injury to mankind results.
It matters not, also, whether this freedom be denied by some individual despot, or by the doctrine that rights are determined by the judgment of majorities. The so-called “public conscience” cannot take the place of the individual conscience. The individual who surrenders his conscience surrenders his very soul. He surrenders faith; for Christian faith is not mere assent to the truth, but it is belief which is manifested by works. (See James 2:14-20.) And with the surrender of faith, goes also the right to eternal life itself.
The doctrine of the “greatest good to the greatest number” when so applied as to demand the yielding of the individual conscience to the will of the majority, becomes but the means of erecting a despotism. The theory that the majority must rule, is a very plausible one in this day, and a correct one so far as concerns those matters in which all have a common interest, and which are subject to human control. But it does not apply within the sphere of rights. And it is a fact also that the majorities in this world are made up not of leaders, or persons of independent judgment, but of followers: so that what appears to be the judgment of the majority, is very often only the will or opinion of the few by whom the majority are led. This is especially true in matters where the people do not feel their immediate interests to be directly affected, as in questions of religion. A religious despotism can be all the more readily established by a few influential bigots because the public are generally willing to let others (their spiritual advisers) think for them in religious matters, and thus be spared the trouble of investigating and deciding for themselves. This is human nature; and the religion of human nature is popery.
The facts we have stated can be more readily perceived through an illustration. It is contended at the present time that the best interests of the largest number demand the observance of the first day of the week. In London, England, as notice in our last issue, seventh-day observers have recently been denied the relief which might be afforded them by legislation, and which would simply have protected their rights, on the ground that they were but few in number. And in this country the plea of the same people for their right to set apart the seventh day according to the command of God, is denied on the ground that the majority think the first day is the proper one to be set apart, and the majority must rule. Shall the individual allow the “public conscience” to guide him in such a matter? Will the “public conscience” be responsible to God for individual conduct respecting his commands? Will the doctrine of majority rule shield a person in the day of Judgment in any matter where the majority happened not to be on the side of God’s law? And will the penalty of disobedience be shifted from the individual transgressor and placed upon the spectre of “the majority,” or of “government”?
No; every one of us shall give an account of himself before God. The “public conscience” will afford no individual any security in that day. The doctrine that rights pertain only to numbers,—that individual freedom of choice is swallowed up in the higher interests of the community, will excuse no one for failing to make that choice and to stand by that choice which his own conscience, as educated and guided by the word of God, told him to be right, and which, firmly adhered to, would have developed in him that character which is fitted for eternity.
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers;” but let every soul also remember that “there is no power but of God,” and that his relation to God is an individual relations, and that as such it demands of him the exercise of his God-given rights. And let him, as he values his eternal interests, refuse to allow that relation and those rights to be controlled by the opinion and the “conscience” of the majority. God is the great “higher power” and he alone constitutes the true “majority.”