December 19, 1895
AMS we are near the close of the nineteenth century, the testimony of facts tells us unmistakably that our nation is not progressing toward the goal of complete human liberty and enlightenment. And the same may be truthfully said of the world in general.
It is true, there are many appearances of progress; the achievements of the human intellect in the realm of scientific discovery continue their rapid pace, dazzling the minds as well as the eyes of not a few, and the world is full of boasting and promises of great things on the verge of our realization. But it continues also to be full to overflowing with human misery and want; and it is full also of Utopian schemes for their relief. It is full of the idea of obtaining a living by some easier way than by hard, honest labor, and of gaining wealth and distinction by some more rapid and striking method than was known to our plodding ancestors. But real progress lies in the discovery and adoption of sound, true principles of human conduct and government. It is wholly distinct from progress in scientific discovery, and has no connection with mere politics or with the schemes of Utopian dreamers.
The trouble is, no real progress has been made toward reforming human nature. That is the same to-day as it was in the Dark Ages, or in any other period of human history. The evil in men’s hearts is intolerant of goodness; the selfishness of men does not scruple to disregard justice and human rights. Men hate their fellowmen as fiercely, and are as bigoted in the assumption of their own virtue and wisdom, as was the case in ages past. The darkest passions of human nature were never more conspicuous in the social world than they are to-day.
It is not strange, therefore, that even in the midst of the progress and enlightenment of the nineteenth century, there should come a revival of intolerance; that men should exhibit again that disregard of human rights which led to the persecutions of other times. The old controversy between good and evil was never dead, and cannot die so long as both exist. There have come lulls in the fierceness of the strife, but no approach to a reconciliation between the opposing forces, for no such thing is possible. Evil-minded men are no more pleased at the rebuke of a righteous life to-day, than was Cain when he slew his brother.
That religious intolerance does exist to-day, and is manifested in our land in open religious persecution, under legal sanction, is attested by existing facts. That this persecution is spreading and that the principles by which it is sanctioned are fast gaining ground in public credence, is likewise attested. In 1889, the case of R. M. King, a Tennessee farmer, who was arrested for quietly working in his field on Sunday, attracted general attention as a striking departure from the established principles and policy of government in this country. But other cases quickly followed, not only in Tennessee but in other States; and to-day no one case of such persecution attracts particular notice. Last summer, the spectacle of eight conscientious Seventh-day Adventists serving a sentence in the chain-gang in Rhea County, Tenn., for not keeping Sunday, caused widespread comment by the secular press; but simple individual arrests for such an “offense” have become occurrences too common and familiar to justify, from a newspaper standpoint, particular mention.
For a time this manifestation of religious intolerance seemed to have a sectional aspect, being confined to some southern States; but erelong it became evident that it was not due to sectional differences in customs and views. It appeared in the northern States, particularly in Illinois, where several cases of seventh-day observers arrested for Sunday work are now pending the decision of the superior court, to which they were appealed. From a legal standpoint, this intolerance has seemed even more unjustifiable in the North than in the South, since it was manifested in direct contravention of a part of the Sunday statute which declares that the latter shall not be construed to prevent the exercise of the right of conscience by whomever may observe any other day than Sunday as the Sabbath. Such persecution is therefore directly contrary to the evident intent of the statute itself.
This intolerance is growing and spreading, and will continued to do so, being based on the depravity of human nature, and the false principles of government which are being diligently inculcated by certain zealous but blind guides in the religious world, tending directly to a union of Church and State. It should be noticed also that modern theories of government are getting rapidly away from the great principle of individualism, which was the underlying idea in the structure of government reared by our forefathers. The doctrine that the Individual in government has nothing centering in himself, but is merely a circumstance in the general scheme of control and guidance for the body politic, seems now to have met with almost universal acceptance by the modern theorists and exponents of governmental philosophy.
But this doctrine is false, and destructive of the very foundations of good government. Individualism in government is a fact, and cannot be theorized or legislated out of existence. At the very foundation of all forms of human organization, lies the individual; and it is no more possible to disconnect that organization from the individuality of its component units, from their wills, their sentiments and their inclinations, than it is to make a machine which will run itself. Republican government is, as Lincoln defines it, government “by the people” as well as for them. It is not a scheme for controlling the individual wills of the people by some central power which assumes the office of a parent; but it is a reflection, a sort of composite photograph, of those wills, concerning that with which civil government has to do; and whatever affects those wills affects the government itself.
All just government leaves individuality alone; desiring its free development, rather than its repression. It recognizes that the individual has certain liberties arising from the very fact of his existence, and centering in himself, and which cannot rightfully be disturbed even under the plea of the “greatest good to the greatest number.” When those liberties are disturbed, the individual suffers. Under a repressive government which denies the absolute right of the individual to  anything in his possession, but holds him bound to surrender any and every liberty whenever it shall be deemed necessary to the general welfare, the development of strong, self-reliant and self-respecting individual character, which is the real strength and life of a nation, is hindered and in time well-nigh suppressed; and in its place there springs up a paternalism which is despotism in its worst form.
There is one mighty force in the world to-day which stands for individualism; and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is one government in which individualism finds full recognition, and that is the government of God. God is not a despot. He will have no slaves in his kingdom, but only free men. No person will ever get there who does not enjoy perfect individual freedom in every respect. His kingdom and government are perfect; and the nearer any earthly government can approach to his in respect to the individual freedom enjoyed by all its subjects, the better will that government have become.
We have fallen upon evil times. The tide of human progress in the governmental recognition of natural rights is turning backward towards intolerance, and the dragon of religious persecution is rearing his head, while the people slumber on, forgetful that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” or deeming this an outgrown proverb. But while the everlasting gospel is yet proclaimed, the cause of human individual liberty will not perish from the earth. To that gospel the liberty-loving soul must look henceforth.