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Liberty of Conscience Threatened, Part 4

The Church’s Efforts to Enforce Sunday Worship

In the movements now in progress in the United States to secure for the institutions and usages of the church the support of the state, Protestants are following in the steps of papists. Nay, more, they are opening the door for the papacy to regain in Protestant America the supremacy which she has lost in the Old World. And that which gives greater significance to this movement is the fact that the principal object contemplated is the enforcement of Sunday observance—a custom which originated with Rome, and which she claims as the sign of her authority. It is the spirit of the papacy—the spirit of conformity to worldly customs, the veneration for human traditions above the commandments of God—that is permeating the Protestant churches and leading them on to do the same work of Sunday exaltation which the papacy has done before them.

If the reader would understand the agencies to be employed in the soon-coming contest, he has but to trace the record of the means which Rome employed for the same object in ages past. If he would know how papists and Protestants united will deal with those who reject their dogmas, let him see the spirit which Rome manifested toward the Sabbath and its defenders.

In Early Centuries

Royal edicts, general councils, and church ordinances sustained by secular power were the steps by which the pagan festival attained its position of honor in the Christian world. The first public measure enforcing Sunday observance was the law enacted by Constantine. (A.D. 321; see Appendix note below.) This edict required townspeople to rest on “the venerable day of the sun,” but permitted countrymen to continue their agricultural pursuits. Though virtually a heathen statute, it was enforced by the emperor after his nominal acceptance of Christianity.

The royal mandate not proving a sufficient substitute for divine authority, Eusebius, a bishop who sought the favor of princes, and who was the special friend and flatterer of Constantine, advanced the claim that Christ had transferred the Sabbath to Sunday. Not a single testimony of the Scriptures was produced in proof of the new doctrine. Eusebius himself unwittingly acknowledges its falsity and points to the real authors of the change. “All things,” he says, “whatever that  it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s Day.”—Robert Cox, Sabbath Laws and Sabbath Duties, page 538. But the Sunday argument, groundless as it was, served to embolden men in trampling upon the Sabbath of the Lord. All who desired to be honored by the world accepted the popular festival.

As the papacy became firmly established, the work of Sunday exaltation was continued. For a time the people engaged in agricultural labor when not attending church, and the seventh day was still regarded as the Sabbath. But steadily a change was effected. Those in holy office were forbidden to pass judgment in any civil controversy on the Sunday. Soon after, all persons, of whatever rank, were commanded to refrain from common labor on pain of a fine for freemen and stripes in the case of servants. Later it was decreed that rich men should be punished with the loss of half of their estates; and finally, that if still obstinate they should be made slaves. The lower classes were to suffer perpetual banishment.

Miracles also were called into requisition. Among other wonders it was reported that as a husbandman who was about to plow his field on Sunday cleaned his plow with an iron, the iron stuck fast in his hand, and for two years he carried it about with him, “to his exceeding great pain and shame.”—Francis West, Historical and Practical Discourse on the Lord’s Day, page 174.

Later the pope gave directions that the parish priest should admonish the violators of Sunday and wish them to go to church and say their prayers, lest they bring some great calamity on themselves and neighbors. An ecclesiastical council brought forward the argument, since so widely employed, even by Protestants, that because persons had been struck by lightning while laboring on Sunday, it must be the Sabbath. “It is apparent,” said the prelates, “how high the displeasure of God was upon their neglect of this day.” An appeal was then made that priests and ministers, kings and princes, and all faithful people “use their utmost endeavors and care that the day be restored to its honor, and, for the credit of Christianity, more devoutly observed for the time to come.”—Thomas Morer, Discourse in Six Dialogues on the Name, Notion, and Observation of the Lord’s Day, page 271.

The decrees of councils proving insufficient, the secular authorities were besought to issue an edict that would strike terror to the hearts of the people and force them to refrain from labor on the Sunday. At a synod held in Rome, all previous decisions were reaffirmed with greater force and solemnity. They were also incorporated into the ecclesiastical law and enforced by the civil authorities throughout nearly all Christendom. (See Heylyn, History of the Sabbath, pt. 2, ch. 5, sec. 7.) 

In the British Isles

Still the absence of Scriptural authority for Sundaykeeping occasioned no little embarrassment. The people questioned the right of their teachers to set aside the positive declaration of Jehovah, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:10), in order to honor the day of the sun. To supply the lack of Bible testimony, other expedients were necessary. A zealous advocate of Sunday, who about the close of the twelfth century visited the churches of England, was resisted by faithful witnesses for the truth; and so fruitless were his efforts that he departed from the country for a season and cast about him for some means to enforce his teachings. When he returned, the lack was supplied, and in his after labors he met with greater success. He brought with him a roll purporting to be from God Himself, which contained the needed command for Sunday observance, with awful threats to terrify the disobedient. This precious document—as base a counterfeit as the institution it supported—was said to have fallen from heaven and to have been found in Jerusalem, upon the altar of St. Simeon, in Golgotha. But, in fact, the pontifical palace at Rome was the source whence it proceeded. Frauds and forgeries to advance the power and prosperity of the church have in all ages been esteemed lawful by the papal hierarchy.

The roll forbade labor from the ninth hour, three o’clock, on Saturday afternoon, till sunrise on Monday; and its authority was declared to be confirmed by many miracles. It was reported that persons laboring beyond the appointed hour were stricken with paralysis. A miller who attempted to grind his corn, saw, instead of flour, a torrent of blood come forth, and the mill wheel stood still, notwithstanding the strong rush of water. A woman who placed dough in the oven found it raw when taken out, though the oven was very hot. Another who had dough prepared for baking at the ninth hour, but determined to set it aside till Monday, found, the next day, that it had been made into loaves and baked by divine power. A man who baked bread after the ninth hour on Saturday found, when he broke it the next morning, that blood started therefrom. By such absurd and superstitious fabrications did the advocates of Sunday endeavor to establish its sacredness. (See Roger de Hoveden, Annals, vol. 2, pp. 526-530.)

In Scotland, as in England, a greater regard for Sunday was secured by uniting with it a portion of the ancient Sabbath. But the time required to be kept holy varied. An edict from the king of Scotland declared that “Saturday from twelve at noon ought to be accounted holy,” and that no man, from that time till Monday morning, should engage in worldly business.—Morer, pages 290, 291.

The Great Controversy, pp. 573-577

*Appendix note: The Sunday Law of Constantine.--The law issued by the emperor Constantine on the seventh of March, A.D. 321, regarding a day of rest from labor, reads thus:

"All judges and city people and the craftsmen shall rest upon the venerable day of the sun. Country people, however, may freely attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it frequently happens that no other days are better adapted for planting the grain in the furrows or the vines in trenches, so that the advantage given by heavenly providence may not for the occasion of a short time perish."--Joseph Cullen Ayer, A Source Book For Ancient Church History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913), div. 2, per. 1, ch. 1, sec. 59, g, pp. 284, 285.

The Latin original is in the Codex Justiniani (Codex of Justinian), lib. 3, title 12, lex 3. The law is given in Latin and in English translation in Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, 3d period, ch. 7, sec. 75, p. 380, footnote 1; and in James A. Hessey's Bampton Lectures, Sunday, lecture 3, par. 1, 3d ed., Murray's printing of 1866, p. 58. See discussion in Schaff, as above referred to; in Albert Henry Newman, A Manual of Church History (Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publication Society, printing of 1933), rev. ed., vol. 1, pp. 305-307; and in Leroy E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1950), vol. 1, pp 376-381.[return]

Next part: Liberty of Conscience Threatened, Part 5: The Papacy Claims Change of the Sabbath

All Scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version, including those originally quoted by Ellen White from the King James Version.—Editors

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