The Signs of the Times, vol. 10

2/19

June 5, 1884

“‘How Is the Amendment to Be Carried Out Practically?’” The Signs of the Times 10, 22, p. 339.

THIS question is asked by the Rev. J. C. K. Milligan, and the Christian Statesman of Feb. 21, 1884, and is answered by him as follows: “In brief, at its adoption will at once make the morality of the ten commandments to be the supreme law of the land, and anything in the State Constitutions and laws that is contrary to them will become unconstitutional. But the changes will come gradually, and probably only after the whole framework of Bible Legislation has been thoroughly canvassed by Congress and State Legislatures, by the Supreme Courts of the United States and of the several States, and by lawyers and citizens generally.” SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.1

Then what will that be but to re-open the whole course of religious controversy from the Council of Nice to this day? And when the whole nation is thus plunged into religious controversy, who shall decide whether Congress or the State Legislature is correct? Who shall decide between lawyers and citizens generally, or between lawyers themselves, or citizens, or congressmen themselves? SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.2

Dr. M’Allister’s answer is, “The conflict of individual opinion will inevitably lead to anarchical conflict of legislative action, unless there is an acknowledged standard to which appeal can and must be made. The Law of the Bible, by the proposed amendment, is made the supreme standard in deciding all moral questions in the administration of the government.” (See his Cleveland Convention speech, Statesman, Dec. 27, 1883.) SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.3

But it is not a sufficient answer to say that “the Bible is the standard and source of appeal;” because the Bible is just what all the controversy and “conflict of opinion” is about. And to say that there the Bible is to be the source of appeal, is only to say that the very subject of controversy is to be the standard by which to decide the controversy. It is plain, therefore, that there must be something to which appeal may be made, and which can interpret the Scriptures, and decide between the disputants, as to what the truth of the question is; and this decision must, in the very nature of the case, the final. It cannot be the courts, because they are parties to the controversy, and again, because there are certain principles of law which courts recognize in their decisions; such as this: “When words are put in a written law, there is an end to all construction. They must be followed.” (See Hon. John A. Bingham, in “Impeachment of Johnson,” p. 23.) And this: “The words of a statute, if of common use, are to be taken in their natural, plain, obvious, and ordinary signification and import.”—Kent’s Commentaries, section 462. These principles will not be accepted by the Amendment party. SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.4

To illustrate: Suppose the Amendment is secured, and, therefore, ten commandments are the supreme law of this nation. I, to be loyal to my Government, as well as loyal to my God, take the Bible, find the ten commandments, and begin to study diligently to learn what is my duty under this Government. I am taught by these fundamental principles in the interpretation of law, that “when words are plain in a written law, there is an end to all construction; they must be followed.” And having this plain rule, from the Hon. John A. Bingham, for my guide, and believing that the Congress of the United States made no mistake when it chose Mr. Bingham as the Special Judge Advocate to conduct the trial of the assassins of President Lincoln, and again when it chose him to conduct its impeachment of President Johnson; therefore be leading him to be a safe guide in the interpretation of law, and having also the plain directions of Chancellor Kent, I proceed to the inquiry, as to what is required of me by the ten commandments. I come to the fourth commandment. I read, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt not do any work.” I applied my rule, thus: (1) This is a written law; (2) the words are plain,—“The seventh day is the Sabbath.” Now if I find what day is the seventh day, my duty is plain. I turn to that subject, and I find that all the sources of inquiry to which I reply, answer with one voice, “The day commonly called Saturday is the seventh day.” Having found the seventh day, and the words been “plain,” (3) “there is an end to all construction,” “they must be followed.” Now I apply Chancellor Kent’s rule, that by the testimony of two witnesses I may be right. First, are the words of the statute to such as are of “common use it”? I read the statute over carefully, and I find not a single word that is not of common use, and not one which I do not understand. Then I must take them “in their natural, plain, obvious, and ordinary signification and import.” Therefore, by these plain principles of the highest authority, I am compelled to admit that the seventh day is the Sabbath, and also to keep it as such. SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.5

Having now learned my duty in relation to the Sabbath, and having kept it, I proceed to learn and obey the rest of the commandment. I read just as plainly as the other, “Six days shalt thou labor.” When the Sabbath is passed, I go to work on the first day of the week, that I may work the six “working days.” But my neighbor sees me at work, and calls out to me, “Halloa! Why are you working on the Sabbath?” I reply, This day is not Sabbath, and therefore I am not working on the Sabbath. I kept Sabbath yesterday. He answers, “Oh! that was the Jewish Sabbath that you kept. This day is the Christian Sabbath; this now a Christian Government, and the Christian Sabbath must and shall be kept.” I refuse to yield to that argument, and here is a “conflict of the individual opinion.” He has me arrested, and brought to trial. Suppose I providentially obtain the services of Hon. John A. Bingham to defend my cause, and he, by his consummate ability, convinces courts and juries that from the plainest reading of the statute I have to obey the supreme law of the land, and therefore innocent. And now suppose that just here the prosecution enters a plea that that is not the correct interpretation of the commandment; that, correctly interpreted, it means, not the definite seventh day, but “one day in seven.” Mr. Bingham insists that, by the fundamental rules of law, it must mean the seventh day. They reply, “Are we to apply the rules of civil law in the interpretation of a religious question? This is a religious subject, and it must be decided, and the commandment interpreted, in accordance with the Christian sentiment of this Christian Government. We are the majority, and the majority must decide.” SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.6

Now in such a case is this, is it not plain that the Bible will not be the source of appeal, but that it will be the Church as the interpreter of the Bible, which must render the final decision? Plainly, Yes. Is this an unjust illustration, or an unfair conclusion? Let us have their own words for answer. Please read again the question that the head of this article, and to the last word of that quotation connect the following and read it right onward; for it belongs there: “The churches and the pulpits have much to do with shaping and forming opinions on all moral questions, and with interpretations of Scripture on moral and civil ... points and it is probable that in the almost universal gathering of our citizens about these the.... final decision of most points will be developed there.... There is certainly no class of citizens more intelligent, patriotic, and trustworthy than the leaders and teachers in our churches.” (?) SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.7

So, then, the church is to be the grand interpreter, and is to render the “final decisions” in this universal controversy. And again we are brought face to face with the image to the papal church. It was in this way that Rome placed herself as the one single interpreter of the Scriptures. Whenever a conflict of opinion occurred, it was brought immediately to the notice of the church, and she must decide as to what was the Scripture in the case, and which one of the disputants was in the right; consequently, no opinion could be held, and no duty practice, which he chose to declare unscriptural. Therefore, if the Scriptures were to be interpreted alone by her, and conduct was to be regulated alone by her decisions, it is manifest that the more the people read the Scriptures, the more we she annoyed by new controversies and by the necessity of rendering new decisions; and then why should she not prohibit the laity from reading the Scriptures? Besides, where was the use of the laity reading the Scriptures anyhow, when none but the clergy could interpret? SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.8

Will the national reformers prohibit our reading and interpreting the Scriptures? If not, why not? Would it not be vastly better to do so at once then [sic.] to be kept in a constant whirl of “interpretations,” and decisions? Then they could regulate the faith and practice of their so-called Christian government bulls issued, as occasion required, “in Domino salutem et apostalicam benedictionem.” This would save them a fast deal of labor, and doubtless would work just as well. SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.9

Seriously, now, from reading the Christian Statesman, and studying this movement, how is it possible for any one to doubt that the “image to the beast” is to be formed in this United States Government, and that it is that the very doors? And we fully agree with them that their movement does decidedly “contemplate sufficiently practical ends.”—Alonzo T. Jones, in Review and Herald. SITI June 5, 1884, page 339.10