“The Proposed Authority for the National Sunday Law” The American Sentinel 4, 21, pp. 161-163.

June 19, 1889

AMS authority for Sunday, and as the basis of national Sunday legislation, Dr. Herrick Johnson before the Senate Committee appealed to the fourth commandment. The “American Sabbath Union,” whose grand aim is a national Sunday law, likewise declare the basis of their movement to be the fourth commandment. It is proper, therefore, to inquire what authority there is for Sunday laws in the fourth commandment. As it is a question of legislation and of law, it would be proper to examine it from the standpoint of law. Suppose; then, that the Blair bill, or one to the same purpose, were enacted into a law, and the courts in construing it should take judicial cognizance of the fourth commandment as the authority and the basis of the law.

Courts are governed by certain well-established rules in the construction of laws. Let us notice some of these rules and see what would be the result of a judicial construction of such a Sunday law on the basis of the fourth commandment.

1. “What a court is to do is to declare the law as written.”

The fourth commandment as written is as follows: “Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy. 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, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day, and hallowed it.”

That commandment as written says, “The seventh day is the Sabbath.” Consequently, at the very first step, the first day of the week, as declared in the bill and as these people demand, would be completely shut out. But if any should innocently inquire, The seventh day of what? the commandment itself is ready with an explicit answer. It is the day upon which the Lord rested from the work of creation. In that work he employed six days, and the seventh day he rested, and that, and that alone, as Doctor Johnson has said, established the weekly division of time. As those seven days formed the first week of time, the seventh day of those seven was the seventh day of the week. And that is the seventh day fixed in the commandment. This is confirmed by the Scriptures throughout. The New Testament declares that the Sabbath is past before the first day of the week comes. Mark 16:1, 2 says:—

“And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.”

The people mentioned in this scripture came to the sepulcher very early in the morning of the first day of the week; yet the Sabbath was past. This national Sunday bill, and the people who favor it, propose to secure the religious observance of the Sabbath on the first day of the week. But no such thing ever can be done, because, ac-cording to the Scripture, the Sabbath is past before the first day of the week comes; and it matters not how early persons may come to the first day of the week and its observance, they will not be early enough to find the Sabbath there, because, by the word of the Lord, it is past before the first day of the week comes.

This is made yet more positive, if need be, by the record in Luke 23:56 and 24:1, which reads as follows:—

“And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath-day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.”

Here it is declared that certain people rested on the Sabbath-day, according to the commandment, and then on the first day of the week did what they would not do on the Sabbath-day. This proves conclusively that the Sabbath-day according to the commandment which these men cite, and which it is supposed the courts will have to interpret when such a bill becomes a law—is the day before the first day of the week; which plainly demonstrates that the seventh day named in the commandment is nothing else than the seventh day of the week. Therefore, if courts, in the interpretation of this commandment as the basis of a Sunday law, declare the law as written and as defined by the plain word of the Lord, they will have to declare that the seventh day, and not the first day of the week, is the Sabbath.

2. “In the case of all laws it is the intent of the lawgiver that is to be enforced.”

What, then, was the intent of the Lawgiver when the fourth commandment was given? Did [162] the Lawgiver declare or sow in any way his intentions?—He did. When the Lord gave that law at Sinai he did not leave it to the people to interpret it to suit themselves, nor to interpret it at all. By three special acts every week kept up continuously for nearly forty years, he showed his intent in the law. The people were fed by manna in their forty years’ wandering. But on the seventh day of the week no manna ever fell. On the sixth day of the week there was a double portion, and that which was gathered on that day would keep over the seventh, which it could not be made to do over any other day in the week. By this means the Lawgiver signified his intent upon the subject of the observance of the day mentioned in that law; and keeping it up continuously for so long a time made it utterly impossible that his intent should be mistaken.

Therefore, if the courts of the United States shall ever take judicial cognizance of the fourth commandment, which is held forth by these people as the basis and the authority for their movement, according to this rule the seventh day of the week, and not the first day, will have to be declared the Sabbath.

3. “When words are plain in a written law there is an end to all construction; they must be followed.”

This rule, in these very words, was declared by the Hon. John Bingham, when, as special judge-advocate appointed by the representatives of the United States, he was conducting the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. Are the words of the fourth commandment plain words? Are they words of common use? They are. There is not an obscure nor an ambiguous word in the commandment. Then, according to this rule, if ever that question becomes one of judicial cognizance in the courts of the United States, as the plain words of that commandment must be followed, and as they plainly declare, “The seventh day is the Sabbath,” that is all the courts can declare.

Therefore, the conclusion of the whole matter thus far is, if our courts are to remain courts or law, and are to be guided by the established rules for the construction of laws, they never can uphold any law founded on the fourth commandment for the observance of the Sabbath on the first day of the week.

Just here, however, another element comes into court, and that is the theological. The theologians step in right here and declare that the in-tent of the fourth commandment has been changed, and that now instead of that commandment’s requiring the observance of the seventh day in remembrance of creation, it requires the observance of the first day of the week in remembrance of the resurrection of Christ. To reach this point they first declare that the phrase “the seventh day” in the commandment is indefinite; that it does not enjoin the observance of any particular day, but only of one day in seven. Such a construction is clearly in violation of established rules for the construction of law; it involves an assumption of power on their part that can never be allowed. Admitting for argument’s sake that that phrase in the commandment is indefinite, it must be admitted that the Lord when he wrote it intentionally made it indefinite, because the Scripture says that when he had spoken those words he added no more; he had nothing more to say on the subject. What he said then was final. If, then, that statement be indefinite he intended it so, and no other power than the Lord ever can, or ever has the right to, make it definite. But the theologians, just as soon as they have made it indefinite, to escape the obligation it enjoins to observe the seventh day, at once make it definite in order to sustain the supposed obligation to keep the first day of the week. Consequently, when they make it definite, after having declared that the Lord made it indefinite, they assume the power and prerogative to do what the Lord intentionally declined to do; and in that they put themselves above God.

So much for their theological assumptions. Such a course, however, is not only an assumption of almighty power, but on the basis of law it is a violation of the rule which declares that—

4. “No forced or unnatural construction is to be put upon the language of a statute.”

To make the phrase “the seventh day” in that commandment indefinite, and to mean one day in seven and no day in particular, is nothing else than to put a forced and most unnatural construction upon the language not only of the commandment itself throughout, but on all the language of the Scriptures upon the subject of the commandment.

Further, to make that commandment support the first day of the week in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ is a direct violation of that other rule of law which declares that—

6. “A constitution [or statute] is not to be made to mean one thing at one time and another at some subsequent time, when the circumstances may have so changed as perhaps to make a different rule in the case seem desirable…. The meaning of the Constitution [or statute] is fixed when it is adopted, and it is not different at any subsequent time when a court has occasion to pass upon it.”

The meaning of the fourth commandment when given was, as has been clearly proved, that the seventh day of the week should be observed, and for the reason that God rested that day from the work of creation and blessed the day and hallowed it. The Sabbath-day was established for that reason, before men had sinned, and before there was any need of the resurrection of Christ. If man had never sinned, the day would have been observed for the reasons given, in commemoration of the rest of the Creator from his work of creation. That being the meaning of the commandment when the commandment was given, that must be the meaning of the commandment so long as the commandment remains, and according to the rules of law it never can be made to mean anything else, although the theologians should wish to have it so, and circumstances concerning the resurrection may seem to them to make it desirable.

The question here very properly arises, Shall the courts of the United States, in violation of these rules, adopt the wishes of the theologians and make that statute to mean that which it was never intended to mean? In contemplation of such an issue, the words of Judge Cooley—“Constitutional Limitations,” page 57—are worthy of consideration by Congress as well as by the judges of the United States courts. He says:—

“A court or legislature which should allow a change in public sentiment to influence it in giving to a written constitution a construction not warranted by the intention of its founders, would be justly chargeable with reckless disregard of official oath and public duty.”

The theologians have given to the fourth commandment a construction which is not in any sense warranted by the intention of the Author of the commandment. They go to the National Legislature and ask it to allow itself to be influenced by theological sentiment in giving it a written Constitution of the Government of God’s construction which is not warranted by the intention of the Founder of that Constitution. As Judge Cooley says, “Such a thing done to … constitution, an earthly statute, would be … disregard of official oath and public duty.” But if this be true in the case of things strictly human and earthly, what should be thought of such an action with reference to the divine Constitution and heavenly law?

Will the National Legislature allow this theological sentiment to influence it to consult … with reference to the Constitution and law of the living God, which, if committed with reference to the laws of man, would be reckless disregard of official oath and public duty? Not only do we ask, Is the National Legislature ready to do this, but is it ready also, by doing it, to form the United States courts into the sanctioning of it in direct violation of the plainest principles of every rule for the construction of law? Is the National Legislature ready to take the step which would turn all our courts of law into courts of theology? For such would be the only effect of the enactment of such a law as is here demanded by the theologians, because when the law comes to be interpreted by the courts upon the basis upon which the law is enacted, the first day of the week as the Sabbath can never be sustained by rule of law nor by the principles of interpretation established in law. The only way that it can ever be sustained is by principles established by the theologians, and by theological distinctions, in total disregard of the rules of law; and the effect of it can be nothing else than to turn our courts of law into courts of theology.

The Scriptures also plainly and logically show the seventh day to be the Lord’s day. Yet this law proposes to enforce the observance of the first day of the week as the Lord’s day. As it is not a universally accepted view that the first day of the week is the Lord’s day, the question will certainly come before the courts for decision. When the courts come to construe the law, it will be proper, if not indeed necessary, that they shall consult the word of the Lord in regard to the question of what day is the Lord’s day, and as to what its proper observance is. When the courts, or any other persons, inquire of the word of the Lord upon the subject of the Lord’s day, they find the expression and but once in the Bible, and that in Revelation 1:16, saying, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” But this does not say what day of the week is the Lord’s day, nor does the book in which this text is found say anything further upon the subject.

Other texts, however, in the Bible, speak on the subject in such a way as logically to show what day is there meant by the expression “the Lord’s day.” The Lord himself said, “The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:28. The Lord also said, “The seventh day is the Sabbath.” Here are two plain scriptural statements which may form the major and the minor of a syllogism; thus:—

Major—The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.

Minor—The seventh day is the Sabbath.

The only conclusion that can ever be drawn from these two premises is that, [163]

Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord of the seventh day.

That conclusion is just as sound as these two statements of Scripture are, and the two statements of Scripture are as plain and positive on that subject as any two statements ever can be made. Therefore the Son of man is Lord of the seventh day.

Taking this conclusion as the major in a second syllogism, we have this:—

The Son of man is Lord of the seventh day.
That day of which he is Lord is the Lord’s day.
Therefore, the seventh day is the Lord’s day.

This logic is unquestionable; this conclusion is as true as the Scripture itself. Therefore, just as surely as courts undertake the interpretation of any statute enforcing the observance of the Lord’s day, and enter upon an inquiry as to what day is the Lord’s day, they will, if logical, be brought face to face with the fact as demonstrated by the word of the Lord itself, that the seventh day, and not the first, is the Lord’s day.

But it will probably be said that the courts are not to enter on the interpretation of Scripture; they are to interpret the law as it is enacted and as it is written, and that the law as it is enacted says that the first day of the week is the Lord’s day, and that that is as far as the court can go. Suppose this be granted, then it puts the United States Government into a position where it establishes and enforces the observance of an institution as the Lord’s which is not the Lord’s, and which is directly contrary to the word of the Lord on the subject of the institution and its observance.

One or the other of these alternatives, therefore, the United States Government will be forced to adopt as surely as this bill, or any one like it, shall ever become a law. The Government will either have to be become the authoritative interpreter of the Scripture for all citizens of the Government, or else it will have to put itself in the place of God and authoritatively declare that observances established by the State, and which the State chooses to call the Lord’s, are the Lord’s indeed, although the word of the Lord itself declares the contrary. Is the United States Government ready to take either of these positions? Is the Congress of the United States ready to force the Government of the United States into a position where it will be compelled to take one or the other of these positions? The taking of either position by the Government of the United States would be nothing else than for this enlightened Nation, in this period of the nineteenth century, to assume the place, the power, and the prerogatives of the Governments of the Middle Ages in enforcing the dogmas and the definitions of the theologians, and executing the arbitrary and despotic will of the church.

Thus, from whatever point this subject of Sunday laws may be viewed, it clearly appears that the only effect that it can ever have will be only evil, and that continually. Let Congress now and forever decidedly refuse to have anything to do with it in any way whatever. And let all the people, instead of sanctioning a movement to bring the national legislation down to the degraded level of that of the States on this subject, put forth every effort to bring the legislation of the States up to that place where it shall be limited, as the power of Congress is limited, by the declaration of the National Constitution, that they “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

A. T. J.

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