“The National Reform Convention” American Sentinel 14, 49, pp. 770-774.

We sometimes think the Pilgrim Fathers were too severe in their legislation against immorality. There was a law in the colonial statutes of New England that for a flagrant violation of the Sabbath the offender should be hung. We may say this was wrong; but let me ask, Were they nearer or further from the moral law as interpreted by the Mosaic legislation than we are? Under the Mosaic law a man guilty of idolatry and Sabbath-breaking was to be executed; and I apprehend that we ought to return to that order of things to-day, and execute the penalty for the violation of moral law. A man who openly and violently blasphemes the name of God has forfeited his right to live under the God whose law he is broken.”

Thus spoke the Rev. J. M. Foster, a prominent exponent of National Reform principles, at this convention; and the utterance was received without a word or sign of dissent. There was a burst of applause from Mr. Foster’s address at its conclusion.

We do not, of course, and impute this bloodthirsty sentiment to all advocates of the doctrines of National Reform; yet it expresses only what is contained in the movement for which they stand. It is good National Reform logic. For if the nation is a moral being, bound by the law of God, as they assert, it must keep that law; and as the government gives expression to its will only through its laws, it follows plainly enough that if its will is to obey the law of God, it must enforce that law by legislation, and execute the penalty for its violation; which penalty as fixed by God himself, is death.

Just here is a great mistake of the National Reform theory. The nation is not a moral being; the civil government is not bound to legislate in the domain of morality. It is bound not to legislate in that domain. For when it enters the moral domain, and takes cognizance of man’s duty to God, it begins to deal with sin; but God himself has restricted the civil government to the domain of crime.

The civil government exists to seize and punish the offender at once, and without mercy. Therefore it is [771] to deal with sin, it must execute at once upon the sinner, without mercy, the penalty of sin. But God instituted the gospel, and gave his Son to die upon the cross, expressly to prevent the immediate and unmerciful execution of the penalty for sin upon the sinner. The whole object of the gospel would be defeated if this were done. And therefore this National Reform doctrine that the civil government ought to punish violations of the law of God, is altogether against God, and those who adhere to it are only fighting, though it may be unwittingly against him. God himself will finally execute the penalty of his law upon the wicked, but that will not be until the gospel shall have done its work, and the period of probation upon which man has been placed shall have reached its end.

The purpose of civil government, as the Declaration of Independence affirms, is to preserve the natural, unalienable rights given to all men by the Creator; and to this end the Government must take measures to restrain those who would disregard these rights, and must execute the penalty of the law upon the offender; and it must do this at once and without mercy. Otherwise civil government would degenerate into a farce, and anarchy would take the place of law and order in human society.

One idea that was emphasized by several speakers at the convention, was that of the immutability of the law of God; and this was presented with particular reference to the Sabbath commandment. As one speaker tersely stated it, “You can’t punch holes in the Decalogue.” And yet these very men have punched a hole in the fourth commandment, where it says, “the seventh day is the Sabbath,” and have tried to patch it up by putting in words to make it read, “the first day is the Sabbath.”

Another idea that was made prominent was that one person could not enjoy his right to rest on Sunday without having a law compelling all to rest. As it was stated, “The right of Sabbath rest for one man depends on a law of Sabbath rest for all.” But suppose we turn it the other way, and stated from the standpoint of the right of men to work. Men have right to work on Sunday as well as to rest. Suppose then that those who do not care to rest on Sunday should say, “The right of one man to work on Sunday depends on a law of work for all.” Would not this be as fair a rule as the other? Is the right to rest the more sacred than the right to labor? “It’s a poor rule that will work both ways.”

With very much that was said at this convention, the SENTINEL is in full accord. These men see that great evils are rampant in society; and so do we. They deplore these things and long to see them remedied. So do we. The difference is that they want to apply remedies of human manufacture, which can only make the matter worse, while we say that the remedies applied must be God’s remedies; not human enactments enforced by the power of man, but the law of God enforced by the power of the gospel; not a repressing force working from without, but a quickening power working within, upon the heart.

With this introduction we proceed to a condensed report of what was said by the leading speakers, so far as concerns those subjects which are closely related to the National Reform movement for a union of church and state.

Dr. D. B. Wilson, speaking of the nation’s duty to its new possessions, said:—

“We must aim to make our new possessions Christian States. There has been in those places a union of church and state, and this has been most harmful to both the church of the state. This union of church and state must be broken up. Men of the highest Christian character must be placed in control in those countries. We must have rulers who will not be covetous. They must be a different class from the politicians.”

Rev. W. I. Wishart dwelt upon the necessity of a quickening of the public conscience. He said that though the picture of the present is a little dark, the prospects for the future are bright. “This nation will yet look upon Him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one who is in bitterness for his first-born. This country, our nation, will yet do honor to her Lord and King, and will yet kiss the Son lest he be angry, and we perish from the way.”

Rev. R. C. Wiley spoke upon “The Christian Principles of National Fundamental law.” He said that Christian principles are political as well as Christian. “All the reforms we seek in the political sphere, and require the action of the state. There are certain Christian principles, fundamental to all these reforms, and these principles are also political. There are three sources from which these principles may be learned: First, the constitutional history of the country; second, authors on political science; third, the Scriptures. Our constitutional history began long before the framing of the Constitution, away back when the colonies were planted. The first Colonial Charter, issued by James I., expressed the Christian character and purpose of the colonies, and all these early colonial charters like this one declared the relation of the civil government to God. The same relation is declared in our State Constitutions, and also in several decisions of the Supreme Court, notably the ‘Christian nation’ decision. It is also declared in the papers and messages of all the Presidents.” Special reference was made to the last Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by President Cleveland, in which he used the expression, “Through the mediation of Him who has taught us to pray.” “There is a relationship between Jesus Christ in the nation, and between the Scriptures and the nation.” The speaker quoted from all authors on political science to show that states [772] are moral persons amenable to the rules of Scripture. He said that the Bible taught that nations are created by God, and referred to the promise of God to Abraham. “I will make of thee a great nation,” etc. He referred also to the prophecy of Daniel, that all the nations shall serve the Lord. “The divine will is supreme in civil affairs. This may be learned from the second Psalm. The ‘bands and chords’ there mentioned are the rules laid down by God to the nation.

“What use ought we to make of these fundamental principles? They are lying about in a loose manner, and hence have not the force and legal value they should have. It is well enough to have them expressed in documents, messages, and court decisions. It is well to have them in the State constitutions, but all these expressions of them do not rise to the dignity of a national acknowledgement of God. They must be put into the fundamental law and recognized in the national Constitution. This great document ought to be in this respect like these other documents.

“There are a number of reasons why we ought to have this constitutional recognition of these principles.

“1. Because these Christian principles are both fundamental and political.

“2. Because such recognition is in line with our national history.

“3. Because the written constitution should be in harmony with the unwritten constitution, which holds to the kingship of Jesus Christ. It is a popular sentiment to-day that Jesus is king of the nation as well as of the individual.

“4. The Constitution is the proper place for the people to recognize God. ‘We the people’ in our political capacity should have the privilege of acknowledging God.

“5. Because of its educational value in counteracting the secular theory of government.

“6. It would take a dangerous weapon out of the hands of secularists.

“7. It would furnish a much needed basis for state laws on moral issues.

“8. It would furnish a basis for righteous decisions by the courts.

“9. It would give support to all Christian usages in the Government.

“10. It would furnish a basis for excluding immoral men from Congress.

“11. It would guard against a union of church and state. It has been charged against us that we wanted a union of church and state. We never wanted any such union, and we say, this is the only way whereby such a union can be effectually prevented.

“12. It would honor God.”

Rev. D. J. Burrell spoke to the question: “Shall Our Nation Lose Its Sabbath?” He said that the Sabbath in this country is vanishing, and inquired, If this goes on, what are we coming to?

“It bodes ill for the American home, for this and the American Sabbath are inseparably linked together. It bodes ill for our industrial institutions because it affects the men who stand for American power and influence. We are a great and powerful nation because we have the best workmen on the face of the earth.

“It is a scientific fact that the physical system requires one seventh of the time for rest. In the last twenty-five or thirty years we have developed two new maladies—insomnia and nervous debility, and I believe Sabbath desecration is largely responsible for both. God never meant a man should sleep at night who will not rest on the Sabbath.

“Another evil that is bound to follow is disaster to our civil freedom, for what is freedom but the franchise of personal or individual rights? I have a right to rest on Sunday and no one has a right to interfere with my rest.”

At this point the speaker mentioned the conversation he had recently with an old lady, and which she had spoken of the time when a chain was stretched across Broadway above and below the church on Sundays.

“The right of Sabbath rest for one man,” Dr. Burrell continued, “depends on a law of Sabbath rest for all. Workingmen are beginning to find out that they cannot rest on Sunday unless all rest. We insist that the law of Sunday rest shall be applied faithfully to the whole community on the principle of liberty to rest for all.

“The seal of God’s covenant with America as a chosen nation is the Sabbath. We may call it the American Sabbath, but it is God’s Sabbath always, and if we do not keep it the doom of ancient Israel will fall on us.

“We are a Christian people, and we must not try to found reform on anything but the Christian religion. It must be Christian reform because we are a Christian nation. I wish God’s name was in the Constitution. That is what we all wish. But the next best thing is to see that His name and His love and His law are in the hearts of the people.”

Rev. J. M. Foster continued the discussion of the same question. He said a distinction was to be made between the nation and the government, and between the civil and the ecclesiastical Sabbath.

“The state is God’s moral ordinance. The nation is a moral being, responsible to God for its character and conduct. The Ten Commandments are the foundation of this moral basis on which the nation rests.

“You can have no Christian morality without the Christian Sabbath, and without the Christian Sabbath you cannot long have a free government.

“We ought to have a national Sabbath law. First, because we need a law that will protect each person in his God-given right to Sabbath rest. But Sabbath rest does not mean a Sabbath holiday. A holiday Sunday is always followed by a blue Monday.

“Secondly, the nation ought to enforce Sabbath rest in the interest of self-preservation. We are upon the down-grade, and making the toboggan descent into the awful gulf of national ruin.

“Thirdly, a national Sabbath law is necessary to protect Sabbath legislation in the different States.

“But would you compel this great nation to honor a law for Sabbath rest? some one may ask. Why, certainly we would.”

The speaker proceeded to show that there is no [773] business necessity for the running of freight trains on Sunday, nor of passenger trains, nor of street cars, nor for the opening of the Post Office, nor for the publishing of Sunday papers.

“We must have a Sabbath rest to provide a stimulating and elevating of conscience. In cities without Sabbath rests the public conscience is at a low ebb, and large bodies of policeman and soldiers are required to preserve peace and order. Where the people will worship on Sunday God himself will perform the police duty.

“The early colonists in America had rather severe laws for Sabbath observance, and for church attendance. In one New England colony there was a law fining all people one shilling for absence from the second Sunday service, and if they were absent from both services on Sunday, they were fined one pound; and for being absent a whole month the fine was twenty pounds. If we had a similar law in force to-day we would soon have the coffers of the churches filled.

“O for a reproduction of the character of the Pilgrim fathers to-day, in every State of the Union.”

(Then followed the remarkable language with which this report of this Convention is introduced.)

Concluding the speaker said: “We must have a stern application of God’s moral law if we are to preserve our Christian conscience; and the key of this law is the Sabbath day.”

The closing session of the convention was devoted to discussion and condemnation of the Sunday newspapers. This was considered to be one of the chief, if not the very chief, of the enemies of Sabbath observance.

The Rev. H. H. George said the Sunday newspaper is an insidious foe of the family, the church, and the state, and that it is the imperative duty of Christian citizens to destroy it. “The Sunday paper is strongly influential in decreasing attendance from Sunday worship.” He quoted approvingly from several letters written by clergymen of various denominations denouncing the Sunday paper as an abomination, and expressing the sentiment that “we must refuse to buy any paper during the week that publishes a Sunday edition.” Also “we should refuse to trade with people who advertise in Sunday papers.”

“The question before us,” said Dr. George, “is, Are we to have in this country a Christian Sabbath or a continental Sunday? There are ten million evangelical Christians in this country, and 25,000,000 people who are church adherents. These will all vote for the Christian Sabbath. On the other side are atheists, skeptics, socialists, anarchist, and law-breakers generally, and among these we must class the Sunday newspaper.

“The Sunday paper runs a plowshare through the essential element of the Sabbath, which is its rest. It is true that employes on many Sunday papers get one day in the week for rest, but getting a day off each week in this way is not Sabbath rest. There is no Sabbath rest for workers on the Sunday newspaper.

“It cuts directly through the sacredness of the day. It keeps old and young away from the church.

“It is a law-breaker in a seven-fold degree. It violates the expressly written law of the Decalogue. It breaks the law of Christ. It breaks the law of the Apostles who met for worship on the eighth day. It breaks the law of the state.

“It consistently stands by other Sabbath-breakers, and leads in the direction of endless law-breaking.

“We hear it said of the Sunday paper, ‘it has come to stay.’ The people who say this have no backbone. It hasn’t come to stay, I say. When Christian people wake up, the Sunday newspaper and the saloon will go after slavery.

“We should refuse to read a paper that publishes a Sunday issue. This is not a boycott. It is only self-defense.”

Dr. M. B. Kneeland, of the New England Sabbath Protective League, followed Dr. George. He said the Sunday newspaper brings a danger to us from several sides.

“First, from the socially-degenerating tone which Sunday journalism represents.

“Second, from seven-day labor, which is supposed to the command of God and to the demand for rest in our nature.”

He affirmed that 200,000 newsboys in the United States would be freed from Sunday toil by the discontinuance of the Sunday paper.

“Third, it tends to anarchy and to the destruction of national freedom.

“Steps should be taken at once to make seven-day journalism impossible—impossible because unpopular, and impossible because unprofitable. It should be made so repugnant that it will be forbidden and considered a crime to advertise in it.

“Seven-day journalism in the United States can be suppressed. How can it be done? There must be an uplifting of public opinion, and an awakening of the social conscience.”

Dr. Kneeland proposed three anti-Sunday-journalism pledges: an individual pledge, not to buy or read or cause others to read any Sunday paper; an advertiser’s pledge, not to advertise in any paper printing a Sunday edition; and a publisher’s pledge not to print or cause or permit to be printed any Sunday newspaper in his establishment.

Dr. Kneeland was followed by Anthony Comstock, who opposed the Sunday paper from the standpoint of its immoral and vicious influence.

Rev. I. W. Hathaway said that without the sacred Sabbath, private and public morality cannot be maintained, and that the Sabbath is swept out of existence by the Sunday paper.

He referred to the Sabbath as being placed in the center of the eternal law of God, and therefore an institution that must abide. It is not done away. “You can’t punch holes in the Decalogue; it must stand or fall together.”

Dr. David McAllister, editor of the Christian Statesman, said that even the clean Sunday papers, of which [774] there were some, were to be condemned as violating the law of the Sabbath.

“What may be perfectly decent on Monday, or Tuesday, becomes unlawful on the Lord’s day. I charge upon all Sunday journals that they demoralize the community.

“We must hold up a moral standard and let everything be conformed to that standard. This is the principle to be followed in dealing with this question.

“The foundation of all reform and salvation is the fear of God; and the fear of God is to be secured through his Word and his day, which he has given us for its study. The Sunday paper more largely perhaps than any other agency banishes the fear God.

“If this evil is not suppressed the country will be dragged down to overwhelming ruin.”

He proposed to remedy the writing of thousands upon thousands of letters to obtain the sentiment of Christians and Christian bodies regarding the Sunday paper; the circulation of pledges against it; the organizing of committees for aggressive work in all cities where Sunday papers are published; and the issuing of tracts for the education of public sentiment throughout the country against this form of Sunday desecration.

In adopting the customary resolutions, the association made note of the American conquest of the Philippine Islands, and gave its approval to the undertaking.

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