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    March 27, 1889

    “Civil Sunday and Civil Lent” American Sentinel 4, 10.

    E. J. Waggoner

    A few weeks ago we received from a friend a long communication received by him from a friend who is a prominent and active member of the Prohibition party in Ohio. The letter was a defense of the Prohibition party against the charge of desiring religious legislation, but as it would fill about four pages of the AMERICAN SENTINEL, we were forced to decline it. One paragraph, however, we preserved, and present it herewith:—AMS March 27, 1889, page 73.1

    “Nowhere has or does the Prohibition party ask that the Sabbath be preserved as a religious institution, but, on the contrary, asks it on purely civil grounds, and for purely civil reasons.”AMS March 27, 1889, page 73.2

    We are not disposed to deny that statement, and we are not aware that we have ever said anything to the contrary. It is admitted that the Prohibition party has asked for legislation in behalf of “the Sabbath,” and that is enough. We care not on what grounds such legislation is asked for; we have no more objection to Sunday legislation upon avowedly religious grounds than we have for Sunday legislation upon professedly civil grounds. Sunday legislation is Sunday legislation, no matter what reason is given for it. It can have but one effect, whether asked for in the interest of religion, of temperance, of the workingman, as a “police regulation,” or as a purely “sanitary arrangement,” for the cure of corns or some other of the numerous ills that flesh is heir to.AMS March 27, 1889, page 73.3

    We have no doubt that very many people are sincere in their appeal for “civil Sunday laws.” They believe that religious legislation is a bad thing, and, without stopping to reason, they imagine that if they can only change the name, the evils will all vanish. Sunday is purely an institution of the church, and Sunday legislation cannot be anything else but religious legislation. This becomes specially apparent when its advocates talk about preserving “the Sabbath.” It makes no difference what day of the week men have in mind when they speak of the Sabbath, the fact is that “the Sabbath” is a religious institution. If its observance is enforced by civil law, that will not deprive it of its ecclesiastical character. If Sunday observance is enjoined for purely civil reasons, then we shall have religious legislation for civil reasons. Now it is not the reasons for the legislation that we object to, but the fact of the legislation.AMS March 27, 1889, page 73.4

    The people who are active in the support of Sunday laws “for purely civil reasons,” have a great deal to say about the kind of men who are elected to official positions in the State. They say that an immoral, licentious man should not be elected to public office. But the friends of these immoral men might say, We do not want to put them in office on the basis of their private moral characters, but solely on intellectual grounds; he may be an immoral man, but we are electing him only in his civil and not in his moral aspect. Would the National Reformers accept any such reasoning? Not by any means. They would say that an immoral man would still be an immoral man, no matter on what grounds he was placed in office. Why is it that they cannot or will not see that the name that may be given to Sunday legislation does not change its character.AMS March 27, 1889, page 73.5

    The State might as well, command the observance of Lent as to command the observance of Sunday. Both are institutions of the church, and both might be enforced from “purely civil grounds.” Certainly considerations of health demand that six weeks of the year should be spent in a mild mortification of the flesh. Thousands of people would have no intermission in their round of gaiety if it were not for the halt which Lent calls; yet there are other thousands who pay no attention to Lent, and who keep all sorts of amusements going, much to the discomfort of those who see them, and yet are deprived by the customs of their church from joining in them.AMS March 27, 1889, page 73.6

    But when it comes to the interest of the workingman, then Lent is a long ways ahead of Sunday. Our National Reformers who have the good of the workingman so much at heart, have been neglectful of their opportunities, or they would have know that Lent was perpetuated solely in the interest of working people. Read the following from “The Puritans and Queen Elizabeth,” by Dr. Samuel Hopkins (Gould and Lincoln, 1860), Vol. 2, pp. 73-75:—AMS March 27, 1889, page 73.7

    “A remarkable English reason for observing fast-days, and particularly the Lent Fast, is forced upon our notice by an order of the Council to the Archbishop on the thirteenth day of December.AMS March 27, 1889, page 74.1

    “It was a matter of State policy-and wise, being insular policy-that ‘the numbers of cattle should be increased, and that the abundance of fish which the sea yieldeth should be generally received. Besides, there should be great consideration had for the preservation of a navy and maintenance of convenient numbers of sea-faring men, both which would otherwise decay, if some means were not found whereby they might be increased.’ King Edward VI. and his Council were of this mind. By proclamation January 16, 1547-48, ‘the king allowed that men should on fast-days abstain from food of flesh to subdue the body unto the soul and spirit. And also for worldly and civil policy, to spare flesh and use fish for the benefits of the commonwealth where many be fishers, ... and that the nourishment of the land might be increased by saving flesh, and especially at the spring-time when Lent doth commonly fall, and when the most common and plenteous breeding of flesh is, ... and that divers of the king’s subjects have good livings and riches in uttering and selling such meat as the sea and waters do minister unto us.’ These reasons were so highly appreciated that the Parliament, which met in the next November, enacted a law for observing fasting-days, which contains the very reasons given in this proclamation.AMS March 27, 1889, page 74.2

    “But the Puritan aversion to everything which savored of superstition and of slavery to Rome, had turned against ceremonial, periodical fastings; and thus the fish-days of the church had fallen into general disrepute and desuetude. The fishermen found their occupation on the wane, and prayed to the Council for help.AMS March 27, 1889, page 74.3

    “The Council, therefore, interfered; and, in terms unusually clear, set forth their reasons. Addressing a letter to the Archbishop, they wrote: ‘The laws for the observation of Embring and Fifty Days are not so duly observed as they ought to be, and as is requisite in policy for the maintenance of mariners, fishermen, and the navy of the realm. Her Highness hath therefore given strait charge unto her own household for the observance of those days; and also, to the Lord Mayor of the City of London and other of her Majesty’s officers and loving subjects abroad, to the intent... the State might take such benefit by the laws as was at the time of making intended. Which, we can assure your Lordship is the only cause why at this time the observation of the days is so much urged... We have thought good to require your Lordship to give order within your province, that the ministers and preachers be commanded in their sermons to the people to instruct them to conform themselves and their families to the said laws; and further to declare unto them, that the same is not required for any liking of Popish ceremonies heretofore used (which are utterly detested), but only to maintain the mariners and navy in this land, by setting men a fishing.”AMS March 27, 1889, page 74.4

    If our Catholic and Episcopal friends wish to enforce the observance of Lent, there is an abundance of ground on which they can do so, aside from its ecclesiastical character. What does it matter if it did originate with the church? People generally eat too much anyway, and it would be for the benefit of their health if they would fast a little. So let our Sunday-law friends be consistent, and while they legislate in behalf of the workingman, let them not forget Lent.AMS March 27, 1889, page 74.5

    E. J. W.AMS March 27, 1889, page 74.6

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