“What Has God Enjoined?” The American Sentinel 6, 47, pp. 369-371.

December 3, 1891

LAMST week we showed how a court of the United States, as represented in the dictum of Judge E. S. Hammond, has presumed to assert jurisdiction over the religious feelings, and the beliefs and wishes of citizens of the United States; and exercised the prerogative of deciding for them what they really believe and wish, and of condemning them accordingly. Nor is the instance there cited the only one in the now famous dictum. At another place he touches the same point in the following words:—

It is not necessary to maintain that to violate the Sunday observance customs [the act] shall be of itself immoral, to make it criminal in the eyes of the law. It may be harmless in itself, because, as petitioner believes, God has not set apart that day for rest and holiness, to work on Sunday; and yet if man has set it apart in due form, by his law, for rest, it must be obeyed as mans law if not as Gods law. And it is just as evil to violate such a law, in the eyes of the world, as one sanctioned by God—I mean just as criminal in law…. Or to express it otherwise, there is in one sense a certain immorality in refusing obedience to the laws of one’s country, subjection to which God himself has enjoined upon us.

As we are not yet convinced that the Judge has rightfully assumed the prerogative of officially declaring what the will of God is, we desire to know how he knows that God has enjoined subjection to the laws of one’s country, in the sense conveyed in this statement and in this dictum throughout?—that is that we must be in unqualified subjection to whatever laws men may at any time and in any wise enact, even though they be such laws as may be demanded by “a sort of factitious advantage” of a set of religionists who insist upon it “in spite of the clamor for religious freedom, and the progress that has been made in the absolute separation of Church and State.”

Everybody who has ever read the Bible knows that God has never enjoined subjection to the laws or governments of men in any such sense as that. It is true that the powers which be are ordained of God; but it is also true that these powers are not ordained to act in the place of God. He who has ordained these powers, and set over them the basest of men (Daniel 4:17.) has also set a limit to their jurisdiction.

Only the things that are Cesar’s are to be rendered to Cesar. With anything that pertains to God, government can never have anything to do. The limit of governmental jurisdiction is the citizen’s relation to his fellow-citizens, or to the State. This jurisdiction is to be exercised in maintaining “civil order and peace.” So long as a man conducts himself peaceably and pays his taxes, with him the State can have nothing to do No State therefore can ever of right prohibit anything which is harmless in itself. To attempt to do so, is the first step toward a despotism.

The principles of the limits of State jurisdiction as regards religion, however, have been so fully discussed in THE SENTINEL, that it is not necessary to do so again in this connection. God has given practical examples, which so flatly and positively contradict the theory propounded by Judge Hammond, that it will be in order to note some of them in this connection. Besides as the Judge has taken upon him to declare for citizens of [370] the United States, just what God has enjoined in this respect, it is perfectly in order for us to read for ourselves what, in practice as well as in principle, God has really enjoined.

As related in the third chapter of Daniel, the King of Babylon once set up a great image and called a grand general assembly of the people to celebrate the dedication of it. On the set day all were commanded to bow down and worship the golden image. There were three Jews who flatly refused. By “a sort of factitious advantage” the worshipers of the image had “the aid of the civil law, and adhered to that advantage with great tenacity in spite of the clamor for religious freedom.” The image-worshipers therefore insisted that these three “non-conformmists” should be conformists, as they were “required, every one of them to comply” with this certain ceremony.

The dissenters refused to comply. By the image-worshipers this refusal was held to be a defiant setting up of the dissenters’ “non-observance by an ostentatious display of their disrespect for the feelings or prejudices of others.” And as the dissenters were held to be “ostentatiously” refusing “for purposes of emphasizing their distaste for or their disbelief in the custom” of image-worship, they were “made to suffer for their defiance by persecutions, if you call them so, on the part of the great majority” of image-worshipers, who would compel them to worship when they worshiped.

The penalty of the law was that whoever should refuse to worship the image, should be cast into a burning fiery furnace. As the image-worshipers were very tenacious of their “sort of factitious advantage” they prosecuted the three non-conformists. And what made the image-worshipers yet more tenacious of their “sort of factitious advantage” was the fact that the dissenters not only refused to conform, but maintained the inalienable right to dissent from every phase of the proposed custom.

When prosecuted, the non-conformists, in open court, refused to conform and asserted their right to refuse. The judge declared to them distinctly the alternative that “If ye fall down and worship the image … well, but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”

The three non-conformists replied to the judge, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand. But if not, be it known unto thee that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

The judge was naturally inclined to favor the image-worshipers, and as public opinion was clearly on their side too, he was not willing to admit that the prisoners could shelter themselves just yet behind the doctrines of religions freedom in defying the existence of a law and its application to them which was distasteful to their “own religious feeling or fanaticism” that it was their right to worship according to the dictates of their own consciences; he held that as the law had commanded in due form the observance of this rite, it must be obeyed as man’s law, if not as God’s law. It is true the thing which the dissenters were doing was “harmless in itself,” but that could not be allowed any weight, because the law commanded it, and therefore there was a certain immorality in refusing obedience to the laws of one’s country, subjection to which God himself had enjoined. Therefore, “full of fury” and with “the form of his visage changed,” the judge commanded that the furnace should be heated seven times hotter than usual, and that the prisoners should be remanded to its fierce embraces.

The judge was the king himself, and no sooner was his judgment executed, and the men cast into the flames, than he was more astonished than ever before in his life. He /;rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O King. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Then the king called to the non-conformists, “Ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither.”

The king had learned something, for he spake and said: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the kings word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, EXCEPT THEIR OWN GOD.”

The king had learned that God had not enjoined subjection to the laws of the country in any thing that pertained to the rights of the individual to worship. He had learned that when the laws of the country prohibit that which is harmless in itself, and thus interfere with the right of the individual to enjoy his God-given rights, then it is the law that is wrong, and not the action of the person who disregards the law: and that therefore the proper thing to do is to change the law, not to punish the harmless individual. Yes, King Nebuchadnezzar, heathen though he was, learned that much twenty-four hundred and ninety-one years ago. And when the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitutions of the United States and of the several States have embodied for this whole Nation this same doctrine, in the words, “All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and “No human power can in any case control or interfere with the rights of conscience,” it is scarcely to the credit of a judge of a court of the United States that he should be farther behind the times than was the heathen Nebuchadnezzar nearly twenty-five hundred years ago.

Nor is this the only example in illustration of the principle; another is found in the Daniel 6:4-22. About sixty-five years later, in the reign of Darius the Mede, some arrogant religionists again by “a sort of factitious advantage secured the aid of the civil law.” Consequently again a thing harmless in itself was forbidden by law, and man’s law presumed to dictate as to when and how men should worship. There was a single non-conformist who again “ostentatiously displayed his distaste for and his disbelief in the custom,” sought to be enforced by law. He too was made to suffer for his defiance “by persecutions on the part of the great and majority.” He was cast into a den of lions. But the next morning afterward, was he was able to announce that “God hath sent his angel and hath shut the lions’ mouths that they have done me no hurt, forasmuch as innocency was found in me, and also before thee, O King, have I done into no hurt.

Again God declares the man innocent who disregards any law touching religious exercises, or prohibiting in such connection, that which is harmless in itself. Again God demonstrated that he has not enjoined subjection to the laws of one’s country in any such things as these, or in any such sense as that.

About five hundred and sixty years afterward occurred another example illustrating the same thing. Again some religionists by “a sort of factitious advantage” had the aid of the civil law, and “adhered to that advantage with great tenacity in spite of the great clamor for religious freedom.” “Then the high- priest rose up, and all that were with him, and were filled with indignation, and laid the hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” Acts 5:17-20.

Thus again it is shown not only that God never enjoined any such thing as Judge Hammond says he has, in the sense there argued, but that he has positively enjoined the opposite. In short, by these evidences, and volumes more that might be produced, it is demonstrated that the Judge’s assumption, of the prerogative of officially declaring what God has enjoined, is about as wide of the mark as is his like attempt authoritatively to declare what the “religious feelings,” “beliefs and [371] wishes,” of the Seventh-day Adventists “really” are.

But the strangest and most incongruous thing about the whole procedure is that he should presume to do it at all.

A. T. J.

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