By Rev. A. H. LEWIS, D.D.
THE times demand a reconsideration of our Sunday laws. They are practically inoperative. There must be some essential reason for this, in the character of the people or in the character of the laws; perhaps both. Either the laws have a false basis, and can not rightly claim public regard, or the people are wickedly indifferent to rightful authority. This is true of the Church as well as the "world." To know the origin of these laws will help to solve the problem.
Sun-worship is the oldest and most wide-spread form of paganism. It reaches back to the prehistoric period. Under various phases it has always been the persistent foe to the worship of Jehovah. It was the prevailing and most corrupting form of idolatry which assailed the Hebrew nation. Its lowest form, Baal-worship, produced the deepest social and moral degradation. As the period of idolatry passed away, sun-worship assumed a less materialistic form, without losing the virulence of its poison. It lay in waiting, like a beast of prey, to corrupt Christianity, as it had already corrupted Judaism. Transferred from the East, and from Egypt, to Greece and Rome, it became popular, and great efforts were made under Heliogabalus and others, in the third and fourth centuries, to exalt it above all other religions. Indeed, Mithraicism came near gaining the field and driving apostolic religion out of the Roman Empire. It did corrupt it to an extent little understood.
Pagan Rome made religion a part of the state. Long before the advent of Christianity, the emperor, as head of the state and therefore of the Church—Pontifex Maximus—was accustomed to legislate upon all religious matters. He had supreme power in this direction. Scores of sacred days were set apart, under the pagan empire, upon which judicial proceedings and certain forms of work were prohibited. It was the settled policy of the empire for the emperor thus to determine concerning ferial days. Apostolic Christianity forbade all appeal to the civil law in matters of Christian duty. Christ and his apostles sought only the rights of citizenship at the hand of civil government. When these were refused, they gladly yielded, suffering persecution, unto death, if need be. Christ repeatedly declared, "My kingdom is not of this world." New Testament Christianity could not have instituted such a cultus as that which gave rise to Sunday legislation, the union of church and state, under an emperor or an emperor-pope. "Old Mixon" peach-trees can not bear crab-apples. All civil legislation concerning religious faith and practice, such as obtained in the Roman Empire, was the product of paganism. It was not an off-shoot of Christianity, or of the Hebrew theocracy.