IT may seem to some readers of the SENTINEL that its efforts are largely expended in fighting a dragon of straw,—in pointing out and opposing sentiments and purposes which are not seriously entertained by men of prominence and influence among the people. It is this ignorance on the part of so many that constitutes one of the gravest features of the situation. While the custodians of liberty sleep in the fancied security of their treasure, insidious foes are rapidly doing their work of invasion and spoliation. Counterfeit principles are being everywhere put in circulation, which are accepted by the people as the true principles of liberty and justice. Already the logic of propositions, “laws,” and judicial decisions in which the people seemingly acquiesce, demand the surrender of the birthright liberties of American citizens.
Some propositions which show what is being widely taught and accepted as sound doctrine concerning things which have to do with the liberties of the people, occur in an article by Rev. Christopher G. Hazard, in the Evangelist (New York) of January 23, entitled, “Why Does Society Enforce the Sabbath?” We present them for the reader’s consideration.
“It is the State,” says Mr. Hazard, “that has made sabbath law, and it is the State that is enforcing it. The State has deliberately adopted a large part of the Decalogue, and the fourth commandment has been included in that part adopted. To this extent society has set up the Hebrew State, and is resolved to maintain it.” If this be true, it is time that the people should fully understand the fact, and its significance.
Can the State rightfully adopt and undertake to enforce a part of the Decalogue? Can the civil power properly undertake to enforce a spiritual law? “We know,” writes Paul, “that the law is spiritual.” Romans 7:14. The Saviour in his sermon on the mount showed in commenting upon the commandments forbidding killing and adultery, that they reach even to the thoughts of the heart. Hence if the State is to enforce this portion of the Decalogue, it must have some means of getting at the thoughts of a person’s heart. And this the civil authorities tried to do back in the Dark Ages by means of the rack, thumbscrew, and similar instruments of the “holy Inquisition.” Are we ready to grant that the State is authorized to pursue a similar course to-day?
But it may be answered, no one claims that the State laws against murder and adultery are violated by mere thoughts in such directions, but only by overt acts. Very well, then, such State laws are not a portion of the Decalogue. In other words, they are not laws against sin, but against crime. They forbid the overt act, as a violation of human rights; while the laws of the Decalogue forbid both the act and the thought that is back of it, as a sin against the Creator.
As concerns the fourth commandment, that precept of the Decalogue is certainly no less spiritual than are the sixth and the seventh. Like them, it cannot be kept by mere outward conformity to its requirements. And so far from having power or authority to enforce this part of the Decalogue, the State has no authority even to enact a law of its own against Sabbath breaking. It has no authority even to define what the Sabbath is. If it has such authority, then it can also define what constitutes baptism, or the celebration of the Lord’s supper.
But we are told further by the above-named writer, that “as moral law, the Sabbath has civil value. It has been well said, that where parents are dishonored, society cannot continue, and that therefore no man’s days can be long in the land; and to this may be added that where the Sabbath is dishonored, morality cannot continue, and the prosperity of the State cannot follow.” This sounds plausible, certainly; but there is nothing in it beyond the sound. It amounts simply to this: Morality as a feature of individual character has a civil value. Certainly it has; but does it follow from this that the State should undertake to enforce morality? Conversion—making a bad man good—has a very high civil value. Converted, the thief ceases to steal, the violent man to assault and murder, the forger and counterfeiter to cause financial loss and disorder; in short, if all the bad men were only converted, and would remain so, we would not need a police force, society would be safe, and incalculable trouble and loss would be avoided. But does it follow that the State can properly undertake the work of changing men’s hearts? The psalmist said, after he had grievously sinned, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Psalm 51:10. That is what conversion is, and only He who has creative power can do it.
The State cannot compel children to honor their parents, save in appearance, and that  only to some extent. As well might it undertake to compel one person to love another person. No more can it enable or compel a person to keep the Sabbath. It can compel him to stop working; but as Mr. Hazard himself says, “The Lord emphasized the truth that the Sabbath is not the day of the do-nothing. It is not consecrated to idleness.” Idleness under the pretense of Sabbath keeping is mocking God; for God made the Sabbath “a delight” (Isaiah 58:13, 14.), a day of activity in worship and communion with him. What the State wants, on any and every day, is not more idle men, but more good men.
Nor is it true that “where the Sabbath is dishonored … the prosperity of the State cannot follow.” For some men honor the seventh day, while others honor the first, and communities which do the former are certainly as orderly and prosperous as those which do the latter; yet one of these days cannot be the Sabbath. Nor does history give any warrant for believing that national prosperity is necessarily dependent upon the observance of any day of the seven.
We grant that the Sabbath institution is a human necessity; we believe it as strongly as any one can. And Mr. Hazard truthfully observes, “As well think to change God’s ordinance of night as God’s ordinance of the Sabbath.” But this is just what men have thought to do; for while God’s ordinance is, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work,” men have changed it so that the world are now taught that the first day is the Sabbath; and Mr. Hazard and others would have this change sanctioned and enforced upon all persons by law. Of course, the Creator has not sanctioned and does not recognize any such change; for he was wise enough to make the Sabbath just as he wanted it and just as it would best serve the needs of mankind, in the beginning; and this all men will find out at the final day reckoning. The Sabbath is a human necessity, as a spiritual institution. The physical-necessity argument is considered separately elsewhere in this paper. 517
Speaking of the law against Sabbath breaking in the time of the ancient Israelite theocracy, Mr. Hazard says: “There was no tyranny over conscience in the case, and there is none. In things moral and social the State has right over the conscience of the minority in it, to compel it.” Has the State such right? Are the American people ready to accept such doctrine? If they are, then the scenes of the Dark Ages are ready to be repeated in this land; for no worse principle was ever cited in justification of any act of oppression or prosecution.
Think of it: “In things moral, … the State has right over the conscience of the minority in it, to compel it!” Is this the doctrine that is to be gathered from the pages of history or of revelation, or deduced from reason in the light of the nineteenth century? Is it a true saying, after all, that “might makes right”? Is the State to define morality? and not only that, but to compel the conscience of individuals in moral things, who happen to be in the minority? God himself does not undertake to compel the conscience.
The author of this proposition cites as an example under it the case of a man who has “a conscience distorted to fit stealing,” or “another” who “may fail to see the use and value of the Sabbath,” in which case, he says, the State will see it for him. But if a man should plead conscience for stealing, the State would disregard his plea not on the ground that his conscience was bad or that he was in the minority, but simply on the ground that he had violated human rights, which it is the purpose of the government to protect. The State would not make itself lord of his conscience; it would not concern itself with his conscience at all. It would simply take cognizance of the fact that the rights of some of its citizens had been violated, and as the appointed protector of those rights, its proper action in the matter would be clear, without any reference to the criminal’s plea of conscience.
It may be that the Rev. Mr. Hazard does not see that this doctrine of the right of the State to coerce the conscience of the minority, would hold as well in heathen lands as in our own, and hence would justify all the idolatry and wicked practices which are esteemed necessary and right by the majority in such countries; it may be by the majority in such countries; it may be that he does not see that it would justify all the persecutions carried on in Catholic countries, or any that the majority in this country might see fit to inaugurate; but it is none the less harmful for that.
We are told further that because the Sabbath appears to be “against men before it is seen to be for them,” “the State, like a wise father, enforces it first that it may be appreciated afterwards.” We do not acknowledge any such “father.” Our paternal needs are fully provided for by the “fathers of our flesh,” and our all-wise, all-powerful Father in heaven, who created them and us. We want no “father” created by a popular vote. We want no religion defined and approved by the civil power; we want no conscience instructed by it. We want no Sabbath keeping or appreciation of religious privileges by State direction.
Our conscience is our own,—the gift of God. His word—not the vote of the majority—is its guide. And as that word never directs any one to violate human rights, but enjoins love on the part of each toward his fellowmen, its guidance will be no menace to the peace and prosperity of the State. Majorities in this world have always been wrong in religious belief and practice; and we will “not follow a multitude to do evil.” We will take our religion from the Bible, and will obey also the laws of the civil power, save only when they are in plain conflict with the law of God.