THE blighting influence of the Sunday institution upon the Reformation has never been thoroughly appreciated. Beginning with an appeal to the Word of God as against tradition, the Reformation soon encountered the traditional Sunday Sabbath. Some of the reformers, notably Carlstadt, who was professor of theology in the university of Wittenberg, and “during Luther’s confinement at the Wartburg, had almost sole control of the reform movement at Wittenberg, and was supreme in the university,” was a strong advocate of the seventh-day Sabbath. Of his position on this point Luther wrote as follows:—
In 1519 occurred the notable discussion between Luther and Eck, in which the chief point of controversy was, whether the Bible, or the church and the pope, were the higher authority. Dr. Eck made the following claims:—
Concerning the authority of the church, the Scriptures teach, Remember to keep Saturday holy; six days you are to labor and do all your work; but on the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God, etc.; and yet the church has transferred the celebration of the Sabbath to Sunday, solely by her own power, without the Scriptures, and we doubt by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.—Dr. Eck’s Little Hanbook (“Enchicution”), 1435, p. 78.
The Sabbath has been manifoldly commanded in the Scripture. And as neither the gospels, nor St. Paul, nor yet the Bible itself states that the Sabbath has been abandoned, and Sunday instituted, it follows that it has been done by the apostolic church, without Scripture for it.
But if the church has had the power to set aside the Sabbath of the Bible, and enjoin the observance of Sunday,—why should she not have power to do the same with other days? If you do not observe them and leave the church, to go back to the Scriptures alone, you must, with the Jews, keep the Sabbath, which has been kept from the beginning of the world.—Id. p. 79.
Luther, prejudiced, no doubt, by the extreme contempt in which the Jews were held at that time, swerved from the principle upon which the Reformation had been launched, and rejected the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, but was not so inconsistent as to claim divine authority for Sunday observance; but on the contrary, asserted—as in the twenty-eighth article of the Augsburg Confession, which was drawn up by his approval—that “there is no divine authority for it.”
The dilemma in which this position placed him is illustrated in his “Smaller Catechism,” published in 1529, in the preface of which Luther arraigns the church of Rome in the following words:—
O ye bishops! How will ye ever render account to Christ for having so shamefully neglected the people, and having never for a moment exercised your office! May the Judgment not overtake you! You command communion in one kind, and urge your human ordinances; but never ask in the meantime, whether the people know the Lord’s prayer, the ten commandments, or any part of God’s Word. Woe, woe unto you everlastingly!
In the same connection he instructs his ministers “first of all to teach the text of the ten commandments,” and yet in the same book he violates his own instruction, and instead of teaching the text of the Sabbath commandment, he followed in the footsteps of Rome and supplanted it with the meaningless, indefinite, evasive, human makeshift, “Thou shalt sanctify the holy day.”
One feels like condoning this mistake when it is remembered what a herculean task was undertaken by him. Luther doubtless unearthed from their covering of human tradition, more precious gems of truth, than any other one man since the time of Christ, but he was not without his mistakes,—mistakes which instead of being rectified by those who profess to be his legitimate successors, have in the matter of Sabbath, been intensified. They now declare that there have been “transferred to it [Sunday] all the honors of the Jewish Sabbath;” and although asserting in this same connection that “Christians are at liberty to appoint any day for worship,” immediately pronounce the death sentence upon the one who violates their unscriptural, man-made Sabbath.
What is the particular threat and penalty annexed to this commandment? [The commandment they have made.]
Having abolished the Sabbath of the Lord under pretext of Christian liberty, and having put in its place a human ordinance in conflict with it, which, for want of scripture they are unable to enforce, they next attempt to re-enact the penalty for the transgression of that law under the theocracy, and apply it to the transgression of a man-made institution. All this is done in the face of the statement from the same book that the Holy Scriptures are a “perfectly sure and sufficient standard, according to which all other says, writings, and doctrines are to be judged, so that what accords with them must be received, what is in conflict with them must be rejected.” Does the command, “Thou shalt sanctify the holy day” (the first day of the week) accord with the Holy Scriptures which command, “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work,” etc.?
The next step in this beaten path of error, is the attempt to secure the observance of this unscriptural, man-made Sabbath by means of the strong arm of civil law. This step the professed followers of Luther are now beginning to take. Rev. F. W. Conrad, D.D., of Philadelphia, editor of the Lutheran Observer, appeared Dec. 13, 1888, before the United States Senate Committee on Education and Labor, at a hearing given the friends of the Blair Sunday bill, and represented that the German Lutherans were in favor of compelling the observance of Sunday by civil law. The following are his words as reported and published by the Government:—
I desire to speak for the evangelical portion of the German emigrants who are Lutherans and also reformed evangelical Christians, as we call them. In regard to their position on the Sabbath, while they differ relatively as to the basis on which the Christian Sabbath now rests, and also in regard to the manner of observing the Sabbath, they are, I should say, universally in favor of maintaining the Sabbath laws that exist in America.
We know of individual Lutheran ministers who are not “in favor of maintaining the Sabbath laws that exist in America,” but we fear that Dr. Conrad’s representation is true of the majority.