October 3, 1895
GOD is the Creator, and therefore the rightful sovereign of this world.
Whatever he commands is to be performed by his loyal subjects, no matter if all earthly powers should combine to prevent it; and that which he forbids will not be done by them, no matter how many of earth’s mighty ones require it. The divine rule is: “Obey God rather than men.”
When the Lord Jesus Christ was about to leave this earth, he gave to his church a commission: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;” and from that day to this, his faithful ministers have been going and preaching.
When this commission was given, it was against human “law” to introduce any new religion into the Roman empire; and all the then known world was subject to Rome, so that in all the world it was against the “law” to preach the gospel. But Christ said “Go;” and they “went everywhere preaching the word.”
Almost everywhere the disciples of Christ met opposition from earthly powers in executing this divine commission. They were persecuted in Jerusalem, were imprisoned and whipped, and some of them “were slain with the sword,” but still the survivors continued to preach the gospel according to the divine command.
The opposition which the disciples met in their work did not surprise them, for the Master had told them that such would be the case. He said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” And gospel messengers found that it was even so. Wherever they went the wrath of Satan was stirred up against them; and it was only too often manifested through civil rulers. But this did not cause them to cease preaching the gospel. When the magistrates commanded the apostles “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus,” “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 cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
The experience of the apostles has been repeated in almost every country and in every generation from the beginning of their ministry until the present time. Everywhere the gospel has been introduced in the face of opposition from the civil authorities; but Christians have never stopped to question their duty in the premises.
The history of modern Christian missions is quite as replete with illustrations of this truth as is the history of the more early preaching of the gospel. With but few exceptions, heathen rulers have opposed the introduction of the gospel among their subjects; but without avail. Faithful men and women, counting “not their lives dear unto them,” have penetrated the jungles of India, the deserts of Africa, and the solitudes of the isles of the ocean, carrying with them the gospel, which they have faithfully proclaimed, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear, and whether rulers gave their consent to its proclamation or not.
So universally has the right of the Christian missionary to obey the gospel commission been seen and admitted, that we find the governments of the principal “Christian nations” of the world insisting that Christian missionaries shall be permitted to deliver their message to as many as will listen to it. Were it not for this, Christian missions, as they are maintained to-day, would be an impossibility in many lands: Turkey, China, and some of the islands of the sea, would still be without the gospel had the civil “law” been allowed to prevail rather than that higher law—the command of God, the gospel commission.
Even to-day we find various Protestant bodies insisting upon the right to go into Roman Catholic countries, and there not only to teach but to practice contrary to the “laws” of those lands; and when they are arrested and imprisoned under the forms of “law,” they call it religious persecution, as is witnessed by the following letter published in the London Times, of Oct. 23, 1891:—
Religious Persecution in Portugal.
The Evangelical Alliance has often experienced you kind consideration and ready help in making publicly known cases of intolerant action and oppression against Protestant Christians in foreign countries. We are therefore encouraged to solicit again the favor of your publishing in your columns an extract from a letter from Oporto, dated the 6th inst., reporting how a Protestant named Francisco Bichao, an inhabitant of Aveiro, has been thrown into prison under a sentence of twelve months’ imprisonment and a fine of?2 or in default of payment a further term of three months’ imprisonment. The offenses charged against him, before the civil court, was for refusing to take off his cap to a cross carried at a funeral. He appealed against the cruel sentence, and the letter above referred to now reports as follows:—
“The appeal to the Superior Court at Oporto was successful, inasmuch as the sentence was annulled on a technical point—viz., that it had not been clearly proved that he had wilfully treated the State Church with disrespect. His enemies, who were powerful, then carried the case to the Supreme Court at Lisbon, and here the original sentence was confirmed, on the ground that it was sufficiently proved that he committed the act wittingly. As the constitution grants liberty of conscience, provided that the State religion is respected, it is easy to see how a point can be stretched even to a year’s imprisonment for not removing a cap to a passing cross (not a crucifix) carried at a funeral. The sentence hung fire for a time, but when the abortive attempt to establish a republic failed at Oporto on the 31st of January last, the government was enabled to use extraordinary restrictions of private liberties, as well as to gag the Liberal press. This was the opportunity, and Bichao was arrested on the 28th of February, and placed in Aveiro prison. He wrote to me on the 24th advising me of the fact, and adding, ‘But I am happy; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
“We hoped that the usual Easter list of pardons might have included his name, but were disappointed in this, and there he lies, to the shame of popery, for it was a purely clerical persecution, and to the disgrace of Portugal, which poses as a Liberal nation, and in many respects is truly Liberal. But the Concordat with Rome still gives the priests great power when they choose to use it against the freedom of the gospel.”
J. FIELD, General, K. C. B.,
A. J. ARNOLD, Secretaries.
Evangelical Alliance, 7 Adam-street, Strand.
London, W. E., Oct. 13, 1891.
This missionary, it will be observed, was imprisoned for not removing his cap to a cross at a funeral. He doubtless regarded such an act as idolatry and so refused to uncover his head in the presence of the passing cross; and Protestants everywhere say that he did right.
More recently, Methodist missionaries in various South American countries have been  imprisoned for circulating among the people, copies of the sacred Scriptures in the vulgar tongue. Roman Catholicism is established by statute in those countries, and the Bible is, except by the permission of the priests in special cases, a prohibited book. To circulate it among the people is a violation of the “law,” and yet the Protestant world applauds the disobedience of these missionaries and styles their prosecution, religious persecution, as it certainly is.
The Converted Catholic, for September, edited by “Father” O’Connor, a Presbyterian minister of this city, contains a long article entitled, “The Methodist Victory over Roman Intolerance,” giving a history of the petition sent to the pope by the Methodist ministers of Chicago, asking the Roman Catholic Church to use its influence in securing for Protestants in the countries of South America and elsewhere the same liberty that is enjoyed by Roman Catholics in the United States.
It is made very clear in this article, and in the comments upon the action of the Methodist ministers, quoted from other papers, that while the laws under which Methodist colporters are imprisoned in South America for selling and giving away Bibles, are civil statutes, they are, nevertheless, begotten by religious bigotry and born of religious intolerance. The Chicago Tribune, in its issue of July 31, said:—
The contention of the cardinal secretary of the holy see, to the effect that the condition of things in the South American States is dependent upon the civil laws will be shown to be a technicality, since in the States named the civil laws are inspired by the Roman Catholic Church.
Commenting upon the same subject, the Northwestern Christian Advocate, of July 3, says:—
It is well understood that laws there in force are shaped to please the dominant church. Rome can secure in South America and other papal States, whatever laws it pleases.
And to the same intent, the Cumberland Presbyterian, of Nashville, in its issue of July 11, says:—
It is true, also, if intolerance and persecution continue in South America it will be because the Roman Church wills it. Rome, through its bishops and priests, really shapes the laws and the policy of the government in all these papal States.
In view of the principles herein stated, and the admission of these principles by representative Protestant papers, we would venture to again suggest that the imprisonment of Methodist missionaries in Roman Catholic countries for violating “civil laws,” which require them to uncover their heads in the presence of the host or the passing cross, and which forbid them to obey the gospel commission by putting in the hands of the people the Scriptures in their own language, differ not one iota in principle from the laws which in this so-called Protestant country require the observance of Sunday. In Portugal and some other Roman Catholic countries, everybody is required to show respect for the established religion by taking off his hat when a religious procession passes along the street. In this country everybody is required to show respect for a statute-intrenched dogma of the prevailing religion by abstaining from work upon Sunday, and by obeying a “law” which forbids men to testify to what they believe to be truth that they are under obligation to give to mankind, by obeying the fourth commandment. We would ask our Methodist and Presbyterian and Christian friends of other churches, how they can consistently call the arrest and imprisonment of Protestant missionaries in Roman Catholic countries, religious persecution, and at the same time insist that the imprisonment and driving of Adventists in chain-gangs is only enforcing “civil law.”
It is just as true in this country that the “laws” which imprison Adventists and drive them in chain-gangs, are inspired and maintained by the Protestant churches, as it is that the laws which imprison Methodist and other Protestant missionaries in South America, Portugal and Spain, are inspired by the Roman Catholic Church of those countries. Hence if any obligation rests upon the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church to use their influence in favor of the repeal of the “laws” which imprison Protestant missionaries in Roman Catholic countries, the Protestant churches in this country are under just the same obligation to give their influence to the repeal of the “laws” which make persecution for conscience’ sake possible here.