“That Symposium on Sunday and Civil Sunday Laws” The American Sentinel 6, 17, pp. 129-131.

April 23, 1891

IT was the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church that took the first official step toward the organization of the American Sabbath Union. The general Secretary of the Union is first in the list of “representative members” appointed by the General Conference, for the four years, from 1888 to 1892. Besides him there are twenty other representative members appointed from the Methodist Episcopal Church. This gives the Methodist Episcopal Church an important connection with Sunday legislation; because the sole purpose of existence of the American Sabbath Union, is to secure and control Sunday legislation. For this reason, therefore, what comes from official Methodist sources on this subject is worthy of note, and for this reason we notice some articles in the Methodist Review for March and April, 1891.

In this number of the Review there is a symposium on “The Christian Sabbath.” The symposium is composed of an article, by Rev. L. R. Fiske, D. D., President of the Albion College, Detroit, Michigan; another by Rev. J. M. Durrell, D. D., Manchester, New Hampshire; and a third by Rev. J. W. Coxe, D. D., agent Sunday School Union, Washington, Iowa.

Dr. Fish’s article is upon “The Divine Origin of the Christian Sabbath.” He makes some excellent statements in regard to the purpose of the Sabbath which in themselves show the utter futility of legislation upon the subject. He says:—

The supreme purpose of the Sabbath is spiritual. Something more than rest—physical or mental—was sought. It was to be a rest in which the less valuable should be supplanted by the more valuable, in which the higher activities should take the place of those that were lower. The great question in the divine government over man was this: How can the human race be brought into the nearest likeness to God, practically live the most perfect moral life, appreciate that which is highest, and love that which is best, and in this sensuous world become more spiritual? It is very plain to every thoughtful mind that the Sabbath was ordained as a condition for this final result.

This is in harmony with the scriptural idea of the Sabbath, that is, that it is for worship and moral and spiritual elevation; and that it is the connecting link between God and men, by which he is held in remembrance. It shows that the Sabbath is wholly religious; and therefore that whenever the State presumes to legislate upon the question it is simply interfering with man’s relationship to God where the State never can rightly have any place. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” As to how a man observes the Sabbath, or whether he observes it at all, or not, are questions for himself to decide before God, and for the decision of which he is responsible alone to God. Therefore, the State never can touch upon this question without entering the field of religion and conscience.

Another most excellent statement by Dr. Fiske, and one which knocks higher than the proverbial kite, the “civil Sabbath” theory of the American Sabbath Union, is the following:—

If the Sabbath were only a holiday, consisting simply of a period of relaxation from physical and mental toil, it would provide an occasion for a multitude of evil influences to undermine the moral life. A day is not made sacred by indolence, but by a prevalence of spiritual activities. It is apparent to every discriminating observer that those who discard the spiritual purpose of the Sabbath lamely fall into social vices far more harmful than would be practiced were the hours given to labor. The office of the Sabbath is spiritual, and practically to make it less, or other than this, into convert it into an agency of terrible demoralization.

This has been the position of THE [130] SENTINEL always. It is absolute truth, and by it the additional truth is manifested that Sunday laws must enforce the religious observance of the day or else stand condemned as the agency of a terrible demoralization. But for the State to attempt to enforce the religious observance of the day is to work a yet more terrible demoralization, as history proves. Therefore, this truth demonstrates the fact, that Sunday laws are in themselves essential evil, and tend only to the demoralization of society and the State. Such is the work in which the American Sabbath Union is engaged, and in which, from its connection with that Union, the Methodist Church is in no small part engaged.

Dr. Fiske closes his article with the following excellent statement to the same effect as the two already quoted:—

In ordaining this day God legislated for man with the purpose of making human history, through spiritual forces, grand and more and more perfect as the years go by, and of procuring the largest benefits of the atonement in the blessedness of the world to come. In harmony with all our other interests the supreme end was the perfection of man’s spiritual nature.

Dr. Durrell’s article is upon “The Dangers that Threaten the Christian Sabbath,” and is an argument to prove that this is a Christian Nation, that we have a national religion, that the observance of the Sabbath is a part of that national religion, and that, therefore, there should be laws to enforce the religious observance of Sunday. He seeks to prove that this is a Christian Nation by saying that “the mother country was, in form at least, Christian,” and then inquiring whether the daughter was trained to be less so. Whether she was or not matters nothing, because the form of Christianity without the power, is worse than no pretension at all to Christianity. The Scriptures distinctly denounce the form of godliness without the power, and from such iniquity all Christians are commended to turn away. Yet all that any State can ever do in any such connection, is to make the religion which is professed only a mere form, increasing hypocrisy, and multiplying evil.

From the fact that the Declaration of Independence refers to “nature’s God,” to the “Creator,” the “supreme Judge of the world,” and “divine Providence;” because, the concluding resolution of the original articles of confederation recognizes “the great Governor of the world,” and because the Constitution requires that all executive and judicial officers of the United States, and of the several States, shall be bound by oath or conformation to so support the Constitution, he gathers the conclusion that “we have by the fundamental law of the land a national religion, and that religion is Christian.”

That is a very large conclusion from small premises. In not one of the things which he has mentioned is anything said about Christ or the Christian religion, any more than about the religion of the Deist or the Jew. And so far as the oath which is required by the Constitution of the United States is concerned, any atheist can take that just as well as any Christian. To deduce from these statements a national religion for the United States is a large contract. But when this is not only done but that religion is declared to be Christian, then the depth of the genius that could discover it, is something marvelous. In fact, any mind which can deduce such a conclusion from such premises, is perfectly able to create conclusions without any premises at all.

Next, and upon all that has been said before, he declares that the observance of the Sabbath is a part of our religious system recognized by law. And this is how he make the observance of the Sabbath a part of the national religion of the United States. Having thus established his national religion, and the observance of the Sabbath as a part of it, he notes some of the dangers that threaten it. He mentions the mail service, the Sunday paper, Sunday trains, frivolity, irreverence, and indifference on the part of the Church. In order to do away with these perils, he says, “the members of the evangelical churches of the country, constitute at least twenty per cent. of the population, and church-goers number more than half of the people of the United States;” and upon this he declares:—

We are strong enough to effect a reform if we only awake and let our voices be heard. If we all do so, and follow up our public protests by conscientious work at the caucus and ballot-box, politicians will treat us in a very becoming and respectful manner. It is time that God’s people should be making themselves felt in American politics.

Yes, religious reform is a fine thing to carry on at the caucus and the ballot-box. And such work by the clergy always has been very conscientious—and so has the work of the Inquisition. When the churches put their dependence in politics, then worse corruption will follow than ever could be without it. Have they no faith in God, that they must appeal to politics?

Another danger which he mentions and which he calls a “grave mistake,” is “trying to make the Sabbath a day of rest on purely secular grounds.” This is another stroke that hits hard a goodly number of the leaders of the American Sabbath Union, at least in their public speeches. But the greatest danger is in this danger, and is, as he says, that

the assertion, by the enemies of the Christian religion, that the sanctity of the Sabbath rests on no religious obligation, and that rest should be “enforced by the State, on the grounds of public and general utility,” has made some Christians doubtful as to the wisdom of placing the observance of the day on religious grounds at all.

It is worth while for the “civil” Sunday law workers to study these passages. They do not realize that their compromising, sophistical, “civil Sabbath” argument is a sword that cuts both ways. They had better stop that method of working and stand with Dr. Durrell openly for the enforcement of Sunday observance upon religious grounds. The Doctor closes his article with this sentence:—

The State and the Church are separate in our polity, and can never come into organic union; but the State and Christianity were married in 1776, and “What, therefore, God hath joined together let not man put asunder.”

Yes, it is a very nicely planned scheme, that the State and the Church are separate, but the State and Christianity are united. It is precisely the showing that was made by the bishops to Constantine in A.D. 311 and 312. It was represented that Christianity was a distinct thing from the Church; and as a matter of fact this was true, but not in the sense in which they meant it. And upon this showing Constantine formed a union between the State and Christianity as it was represented to him. But as soon as the union had been formed then it was made to appear that the Catholic Church was the one in which that Christianity was represented. And what Constantine and the bishops had joined together has been forbidden, in every nation but this, to be put asunder.

Dr. Coxe’s article proposes “Remedies for Sabbath Decline.” The first remedy which he suggests is to “define the issue,” and “draw the lines accurately,” that is, that there should be made a clear “distinction between the obligation of the Sabbath under civil law and that which is due under religious enactment.” The way he does it is thus:—

The obligation to observe the Christian Sabbath is rooted primarily in the divine revelation of duty in the Old Testament; that of the civil Sabbath in the equally divine revelation of need in human nature. We aim to secure the integrity of the civil Sabbath; we seek to promote the sanctity of the Christian Sabbath.

Yes, and it is the same “we” who aim to do both. It is the Church and the Church alone, which seeks, and has always sought to promote the sanctity of the Christian Sabbath by aiming to secure the integrity of the “civil Sabbath.” There never has been a Sunday law made or enforced except in behalf of the Church.

The clear cut distinction upon which Dr. Coxe insists is further illustrated by his next paragraph, in which the second remedy is proposed which is, that they “must begin in the right place” and immediately upon this says, that “Nehemiah gave us a good example.” Then in telling how Nehemiah worked out that good example, he says:—

He began with the nobles of Judea. He began with the nobles of Judea. He first rebuked them for profaning the Sabbath day. He appealed to the religious motive.

Of course he appealed to the religious motive. There was no other to which he could appeal. And as Dr. Durrell and Dr. Fiske in their articles plainly show, there is no other motive to [131] which appeal can ever rightly be made. The government in which Nehemiah was an officer was a theocracy, a religious government. The Church and the State were one. And whenever Nehemiah’s example is urged, it can be done only upon the theory of a religious government, a union of Church and State. It is logical enough, therefore, that Dr. Coxe should urge, as the next remedy, “the vigorous enforcement of righteous laws,” because of the fact that this is a Christian Nation,” and should exhort the pulpit to “lead in this new crusade for the recovery of the holy day.”

He closes with a long exhortation in which he strongly urges the enforcement of “civil enactment” upon the basis of the word of God because “the Bible is the common law of England,” because the “statutes of King Alfred” enforced the “ten commandments and sundry other laws from Moses, of a moral character;” because “these laws have never been repealed;” because “America is the child of England, the inheritor of her laws, usages, and spirit;” and finally because “the roots of our national life run back to good Alfred’s realm [reign?], and our laws through his to Sinai.”

And such is the substance of the symposium of the Methodist Review on “The Christian Sabbath.” The Methodist Review is the magazine of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Methodist Episcopal Church started the American Sabbath Union. The American Sabbath Union exists solely to secure the enactment and enforcement of Sunday laws, both State and national. Therefore this all proves again that which THE SENTINEL has shown time and again, that the Sunday-law movement is, religious altogether, with not only not a single civil element about it, but no place for any. The whole thing is but a scheme to make the ecclesiastical superior to the civil power in this country, and to make the State the servant of the Church to execute her decrees.

A. T. J.

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