“The Columbus Sunday Convention” The American Sentinel 4, 11, pp. 81-83.

April 3, 1889

THERE was held at Columbus, Ohio, February 21 and 22, what was called the Ohio Inter-denominational Sabbath Convention, held in the interests of Sunday legislation, and was supposed to represent all the denominations in the State. About fifty ministers were present.

The convention was addressed by Dr. Anderson, of Denison University; Sylvester F. Scovel, President of the Wooster University and Vice-President of the National Reform Association; Hon. Thomas McDougall, of Cincinnati; Dr. J. W. Hott, editor of the Religious Telescope, Dayton, Ohio; Dr. G. W. Lasher, editor of the Western Christian Advocate, Cincinnati; Dr. Wilbur F. Crafts, and Dr. Washington Gladden.

Dr. Anderson spoke on the subject of the scriptural doctrine of the Sabbath and its observance. His argument was wholly to prove Sunday a divine institution, applying to Sunday all those scriptures which speak of the Sabbath, quoting the fourth commandment, which commands the observance of the seventh day, as authority for keeping the first day of the week. He applied to Sunday the passage in the second chapter of Genesis, which says that God rested in the seventh day from his work which he had made. The purpose of his speech, of course, was to prove the Sabbath to be a divine institution; but it is difficult to see how anyone can prove Sunday observance by passages of Scripture that speak of nothing else but the seventh day. And even granting that that could be proved consistently, still the query is, What place could that have in civil statutes, unless the object be to enforce by civil power the observance of religious institutions?

It is deception for any advocate of Sunday laws to plead that they require the observance of that day only as a civil institution. If they have in view the observance of the day only as a civil institution, why do they always trace it to divine source, support it by Scripture, and advocate its observance as a duty to God? Their arguments from beginning to end show that the real object of the Sunday-law movement is to control the civil power for religious purposes. No man ever yet argued three minutes in favor of a civil Sabbath, without his argument showing it to be religious. That is all that it is, and all that it ever can be made. And any civil law for the enforcement of the Sabbath is only for the enforcement of religious observance, and opens the way for the enforcement of any other religious observances which the church may choose. It is but the first step to an endless line of religious legislation, all in the interest of the church.

Dr. Scovel’s subject was our Sunday laws. He, being a National Reformer, and believing the State to be a moral person, of course put Sunday laws at once upon a moral basis, and argued in favor of the enactment of laws by the State, to apply to the moral nature of the individual, and that such laws have a tendency to make men better, purer, and worship also purer. He declared the only thing that tends to complicate the question at all is the question that grows out of the plea of individual liberty,—liberty of conscience. But the way he met this idea and avoided any complication was by quoting from Blackstone, John Ruskin, and others in favor of Sunday laws, and asserting that such laws must be right, and the State has a right to enact such laws, and if it has a right to enact it has a right to enforce them, and such laws when enacted and enforced are simply laws protecting the majority.

Dr. Hott spoke on the Sunday newspaper. The same objections were presented by him that generally are by others in this line against the Sunday newspaper—that it keeps people away from church, and church members will read it, etc. The substance of it all was, that all business on Sunday that is not necessary is wrong. The Sunday newspaper is not necessary, therefore it is wrong.

Dr. Lasher spoke on the Sabbath and the working classes, saying that the Scripture describes the Sabbath as a day of rest, not of worship, worship being the result of rest, and that to the working classes Sunday is a very important institution, necessary to their health and prosperity, a proper observance of which places them in a better position to do efficient service, etc.

Dr. Gladden spoke on the authority of the civil Sabbath, saying that the Sabbath is literally a day or sign of rest; and the civil Sabbath is that day or sign of rest designated or recognized by the laws of the State,—the laws of the United States, and of all the States in the Union; and the laws of all Christian countries recognize the first day of the week as the day of rest, and make certain provisions with respect to it. The day thus received by law is the civil Sabbath. He then traced the Sunday legislation to Constantine, referring to his edict as the first Sunday law. But Constantine’s Sunday law was only an ecclesiastical thing, or perhaps civi-ecclesiastical. It was made to please the bishops, and the day was ordered to be observed because it was a church day, just as Friday was also. So that, in fact, whatever way it be looked at, wherever it be traced, and by whatever means, there is no such thing as a civil Sunday law: it is ecclesiastical wholly; and if it be a Sabbath law it is religious.

Dr. Crafts attempted to comment on the words of Christ, “Render to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” to show how that which pertains to God shall be rendered to Cesar, saying that “if the ten commandments be divided into two tables,—the [82] duties to God and the duties to men,—it would have to be divided at the word ‘holy’ in the first sentence of the fourth commandment, because the next sentence says, ‘Six days shalt thou labor,’ and there are laws in the United States on the subject of labor. And secondly, another clause of the commandment refers to the stranger within thy gates; and the United States has laws about aliens; and this makes that part of the commandment to consist of duty toward man, and that, therefore, civil government may legislate upon it.” But this makes the commandment speak to the Nation instead of the individual, and entitles the Nation to compel men to render obedience to God, and virtually demands of men that they render to the civil government what belongs to God, and makes Christ contradict himself. Next he declared that man has re-enacted six of the commandments. It is not to be wondered at that this statement should be made by Mr. Crafts in this connection, because if it be right for man in the form of civil government to exact of men what belongs to God, then the government usurps the place and the authority of God; and having so done, it becomes necessary, of course, to re-enact such commandments as the government may deem necessary to its work. This is all perfectly consonant with the whole system of things that is represented in the Sunday-law movement, and which Dr. Crafts is seeking to establish here, that is, human government in the place of the Government of God. But so long as the Lord shall remain supreme, so long it will remain unlawful for civil government to exact of men that which pertains to God; and so long it will be blasphemous usurpation for any Government or any society of men to attempt to re-enact any of the commandments of God. It shows a deplorable estimate of the institutions and Government of the Lord when men professing to be ministers of the gospel will talk about any of God’s statutes being re-enacted by anybody in any way.

There was a committee appointed on organization; and one of the recommendations of the committee was that the society should be called “The Christian Sabbath Association of the State of Ohio.” Another was that the object of the association should be “to promote in every legitimate way the observance by all classes of people of the Lord’s day in accordance with its import as defined by Christ in Mark 2:27.” When this was read, the Rev. Mr. Jefferson, of Cincinnati, objected to the name, and proposed to substitute “The Sunday Association of the State of Ohio,” and asked that the reference to Mark 2:27 be stricken out of the recommendation entirely. The reason which he gave for these changes was that in the words of Christ in Mark 2:27 there was no reference whatever to Sunday or the first day of the week, but that Christ was referring to the Sabbath of Mosaic institution, which had been abolished. After a good deal of discussion Dr. Crafts suggested that the name be “The Ohio Sabbath Association;” and with reference to striking out the text Mark 2:27 he said: “As the people are not given to having their Bibles at hand, and not everybody is familiar with that term, it would be better to stop with the term Lord’s day, as everybody knows what that means.” For himself he supposed the text Mark 2:27 was “the Sabbath was made for man.” But he was not quite sure. Dr. Crafts’s suggestions were accepted, and the association was called “The Ohio Sabbath Association,” and the reference to Mark 2:27 was stricken out. A secretary was appointed for each county in the State.

Next came the report or the Committee on Resolutions. These excited considerable discussion, especially one proposing to indorse the movement in favor of a Saturday half-holiday for working-men. Dr. Lasher said: “I do not see why they should say anything about the Saturday half-holiday. I have not as much interest for the laboring man on the six days as I have on the Sabbath-day; so I move that we strike out that part of the resolution.” Another said the Saturday half-holiday had a good deal to do with the Sabbath question. Dr. Crafts said there could be no objection to it, and this resolution was only to commend. Dr. Lasher replied: “I know it is only commendatory, but it is a question with me whether it is best to commend.” When the question came to a vote it was defeated by twenty-four to seventeen.

Another resolution rejoiced in the growth of the literature for the defense of the Sabbath, and urged its increased circulation, especially the new series of documents issued by the American Sunday Union. This gave an opportunity for Dr. Crafts to urge them to call for the hearing on the Sunday question before the Committee on Education and Labor, telling all to write to the representatives now instead of to the senators, because the senators had been overwhelmed with orders, so that they could not fill them. Another resolution indorsed heartily the petition to Congress for the passage of the Sunday-Rest bill, asking immediate effort for the multiplication of signatures, and resolved that the President of this convention be authorized to sign the petition for the whole of the members. This resolution, of course, was adopted.

Next came a paper by Rev. James Brand, on the subject, “To What Extent Are the Christians Responsible for Sabbath Desecration?” He cited, as in the case of the Elgin, Ill., convention, the fact that Christians buy Sunday papers, and do business on Sunday, and live carelessly in many things. And when it carne to the discussion of the paper, one gentleman said he would like to find out by what means he could get the church-members to attend church, especially the railroad men. Another, in answering this, said he thought the reason why they had gotten into this difficulty was because the church has got away from the fourth commandment. At this the Rev. Mr. Jefferson, of Cincinnati, said he did not believe in the perpetuity of the ten commandments, but abided by the teachings of Christ, and that there was “no commandment today requiring the Sabbath to be kept.”

Here he was interrupted by one, who said that “Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfill.” Mr. Jefferson replied: “That is all right; and he did fulfill it. And, therefore, it no more remains to be fulfilled, because he fulfilled it once for all, and it is gone.” He said he was in favor of the object for which the convention was called together, but he was opposed to the use of the term “the Sabbath-day” in the sense in which they were using it there. This created a great stir; about a half dozen members were on their feet at once, and several of them talking at once. Somebody cried, “Put him out!” The tumult finally subsided without any violence being done.

The convention closed with the speech by Dr. Crafts on the subject of “The Sabbath from a Patriotic Standpoint.” It is the same speech, only with slight variations, that he delivered at Washington City, Chicago, and to the Knights of Labor at Indianapolis. He referred to the counter petitions that are being circulated against the Blair Sunday bill, and said that those who were securing those petitions sometimes take tables in the streets upon which to write, and then bring up every gambler and harlot that they can find to sign the petition. We have had considerable to do with getting signatures to that counter-petition, and we know a good many others who have also, and we do not know of any such characters as these that have signed it, nor do we know of anyone who does know, unless it be Dr. Crafts. His acquaintance with that kind of characters may be sufficiently broad to justify him in making the statement. As for us, we know nothing about either the characters or the fact. In answer to the argument that is made that the Blair Sunday bill is unconstitutional, he affirmed that it is constitutional, because the Constitution itself embodies a Sunday law. He referred to this part of the United States Constitution which provides that the President shall have ten days (Sunday excepted) in which to sign a bill, or to keep it without signing it, and then exclaimed: “What is that but a Sunday law? That is the acorn.”

Hon. Mr. McDougall’s speech opened up a scene that was not on the bills, although it was the best speech in the whole convention. It was as follows:—

“Being in full sympathy with every well-directed and reasonable movement for a better observance of the civil Sabbath and a belief in the Christian Sabbath, I respond to your call on me to speak. In 1880 the laws of Ohio for the protection of the Sabbath imposed as the highest fine the sum of five dollars. To-day the legislation is as stringent as in any State in this Union. If the Sabbath is not observed as you desire it, it is not the fault of legislation. No additional legislation is needed to secure what you desire. What then needed? The solution of this problem is deeper than legislation. Legislation does not change character, and its fiat will not bring the millennium. In this State we had a population in 1880 of about 3,200,000. Of that number not quite one-fourth is to be found in all of our cities having a population of 10,000 and over. So that we have an orderly civil Sabbath in at least four-fifths of the State. The evils existing and complained of are in our large cities, whose number may be counted on your ten fingers. How is existing law to be enforced in them. Their welfare is the problem of the statesman and the Christian. We have said legislation which has a limited mission for good in securing social order does not change character, and we may add, Its enforcement depends on the public sentiment behind it. Any law on this subject which depends for its enforcement on a resort to a jury, in the existing state of public sentiment in our large cities, must be of necessity a failure under any fair system of selecting a jury which represents the community from which it is drawn; from our experience in Cincinnati, we affirm you cannot convict for selling liquor on Sunday. Just as an Ashtabula jury of members of the church would refuse in the days of the fugitive slave law to convict a citizen of that place of crime for feeding and clothing, at the command of Christ, a slave, fleeing for freedom to Canada. What then is to be done? Seek the highest good attainable. The redemption of the masses in our large cities and their elevation to a better observance of law is to be sought through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“Ministering in his name, go to their homes, seek their welfare, educate them by the power and teaching of Jesus Christ, and there will come to you that reform you seek. They are waiting for this service, this education. Not in convention; not in resolutions; not in the fiats of legislation, [83] but give your time, money, prayer, and service to carrying to the homes of the toiling masses the beneficent gospel, and you will elevate and reform, as nothing else can or will, those whom you now regard as the enemies of the Sabbath. I am opposed to the social ostracism that too often accompanies movements of certain kinds of reform. Bitterness never wins any man, never secures reform. The saloon keeper is not a criminal, nor the liquor business a crime. Tens of thousands of the best people of our land, men of wealth and character, many of them belonging to our churches, use liquor, and do not regard its purchase or use a crime or a sin. The co-operation of these men is essential to the enforcement of law.

“Tens of thousands of the working people in our large cities live in homes of one and two rooms. Whole families cook, eat, wash, sleep in such rooms. They toil from early morning till late in the evening. What are you to do with them? They are citizens; they are elements of the problem. Unless you can reach, educate, reform those masses, how are you to secure in our large cities a more orderly Sunday? Are we in a position to sit in judgment on them? How do we observe the day? How many of us do the very things on Sabbath we are here condemning in others? What about the use of liquors in the houses of many church people, traveling on railroads on Sunday, etc. Let us learn that this is an intensely practical question, presenting questions for our consideration difficult to solve, and which no legislation can solve. The roots of the evils are deeper; they need the gospel of Christ as the power to give us what we desire. Abandon agitation and service for the unattainable and consecrate your time, money, prayers, and service to carrying to those for whom Christ died, his gospel of love and his ministry of service. Thus only may we successfully secure to our cities and its needy masses the blessings of a well-ordered Sabbath, the foretaste of the eternal Sabbath.”

In the next meeting after this speech was made a motion was made “that this convention is not in accord with Mr. McDougall’s speech, and utterly repudiates it.” The motion was parried unanimously and without debate. But this was not the end of the story; a self-appointed “committee of five hundred” in Cincinnati had already made arrangements for a meeting to be held in that city, Saturday night, February 23, and had invited Mr. McDougall to speak there. But after they learned in Cincinnati what Mr. McDougall had said in Columbus, the managers of the Cincinnati meeting waited upon him and asked him if the speech that he made at Columbus embodied the sentiments he expected to express in Cincinnati. And when he answered that it did, that those were his views and the ones that he proposed to advocate, he was requested not to come to the meeting, “as discord might be created by it” Mr. McDougall replied that he was not in the habit of going where he was not wanted; and consequently, he who Lad been advertised as “the speaker of the evening” was conspicuous by his absence, at the request of the managers of the Sunday-law meeting, because the speech that he would have made insisted upon the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only effective means of securing religious observances, and because he told the political preachers that this was the best thing that they can engage in to make their work successful. Let it be understood, therefore. in all future references, that the Ohio Sabbath Association “utterly repudiates” the use of the gospel of Jesus as a means of securing the proper observance of the Sabbath. If the convention had repudiated the sentence in Mr. McDougall’s speech, which spoke of the liquor business not being a crime and the saloon keeper not being a criminal, no objection could be made, although it is true in Ohio. But this they did not do. They “utterly repudiated” the whole speech.

In fact, this is the proper thing to do if they are going to keep on in the line in which they have started, because if they can make people righteous by legislation they do not need the gospel. And, on the other hand, the Saviour is not a politician, and does not intend that his work shall be done in a political way. More than this, the leading Sunday-law workers confess that there is no commandment of Christ for keeping Sunday; and, therefore, it is an appropriate thing for those Sunday-law workers of Ohio to repudiate any effort to secure Sunday keeping by setting forth the word of Christ. Yet we cannot help wondering whether it would not have been a good deal better for this convention to adopt Mr. McDougall’s suggestion, and repudiate their political action and their political scheming, rather than the preaching of the gospel and the means which Christ has employed for making men religious. But whatever they should have done, the fact is that the thing they did do was to declare by unanimous vote that that convention “utterly repudiates” Mr. McDougall’s speech; and “the committee of five hundred” of Cincinnati indorsed the action by repudiating both Mr. McDougall and his speech.

The gospel of Christ does not consort well with political scheming; and suggestions to preach the gospel and to work by gospel methods and means are not palatable to political preachers.

A. T. J.

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