Separation of Church and State Law

An essay on pages 440-446 of The Writings of John Leland
Edited by L.F. Greene, ARNO PRESS & THE NEW YOUR TIMES, New  York, 1969,
Reprinted 2010 by Local Church Bible Publishers,

The Mosaic institution, which formed the tribes into a theocracy, was very different from the government of any other nation, and from the government of Gospel churches.

The Israelites had no legislature, but received their laws from Jehovah; they had no executive, God was their king. Judges they had, but no salaries provided for them; of course their civil list did not cost them a cent per annum.

Exclusive of their “divers washings and carnal ordinances,” which were typical of good things, they had many laws to regulate   them as a body politic, peculiarly adapted to their circumstances, and binding on no other nation. Their laws for trying jealousy by bitter water; for deciding the cause between the man-slayer and avenger of blood, at the gates of the cities of refuge; against taking usury; to oblige a man to marry the widow of his deceased brother; to release the lands at the jubilee, etc., no other nation has seen cause to adopt, nor felt themselves bound to obey. The incompleteness of the political part of the Mosaic code to govern other nations by, requires no other proof, but just to observe, that the people were forbidden to have commerce with other nations, of course had no commercial laws. Any laws, therefore, which the Jews had to enforce the observance of the Sabbath, or punish the Sabbath-breaker, give no grounds to Christians to exercise like force. The king of Israel gave that people their laws and orders, but Christ has given laws for the regulation of Christianity. Now, if there be any account in the New Testament, that Jesus called upon the rulers of state, to   make and enforce laws, to oblige the people to keep the first day of the week holy, and fine or punish them if they did not; such an account would be direct in point, but such an account we have not.

It has been noticed, in a foregoing page, that the evidence was so clear, that the first Christians assembled in course on the first day of the week, that it hardly admitted of a doubt, and the evidence is about as clear, that it was done voluntarily, as a matter of prudence, without any divine command; hence a disregard of the day was not esteemed a matter of offense. In Galatians, iv., 10, 11, Paul reproves the Galatians for observing days, months, times and years, as the Jews did; for Jewish times, no doubt, are intended. But in Romans, xiv., 5, a day is spoken of, which some regarded, and some regarded not, but none of them were reproved by Paul. It is probable the day here spoken of was the Lord’s day, for if it had been a ceremonial day of the Jews, he would have reproved them for regarding it, as he did the Galatians; but, in the case before us, a regard, or disregard to the day, was not to be a cause of judging and setting at nought a brother, whom the Lord accepted. If, then, a disregard to the Lord’s day was not censurable by the church, can we possibly suppose that it ought to be punished by the state?

For the first eighteen centuries of time, there was no government among men but patriarchal, which took its rise in nature. Next, a more extensive government was formed, by mutual agreement, (Genesis xi., 3, 4,) but, by the address of an ambitious hunter, the government was soon turned into a kingdom. The government of the tribes of Israel was a theocracy (from Theos, God,) because they received all their laws from God. The government of the Christian church is from heaven, and not from men.

Among the nations of the world in general, that government which does not rise in compact, is usurpation and tyranny. When men associate, it is for specific purposes, viz., to protect life, liberty and property, and not to prepare them for heaven. Souls and conscience are inalienable. The gracious an ungracious, all belong to the body politic, and are equally eligible to posts of authority. The work of the legislature is to make laws for the security of life, liberty and property, and leave religion to the consciences of individuals. If the sacred code, in the New Testament, is not sufficient to govern Christians in all their religious affairs, either the wisdom of goodness of Christ is deficient.

Much confusion arises in government, when sins and crimes are blended together. Every state crime is a moral evil or sin, (provided the laws of state are legitimate,) but every sin is not a crime to be punished by law. Malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, pride, impenitence, unbelief, etc., are sins, but not crimes. Suppose, then, that a disregard of the first day of the week is a sin as flagrant as enmity, bigotry or ill-will, yet it is not a crime to be punished by law; for I would here request an instance where Jesus, or the inspired apostles, ever called on the civil rulers to punish Sabbath breakers, or those who disregarded the first day of the week. If there is such an instance, let it be pointed to; but, if not, let clamor cease. When God, by Moses, gave law to the tribes, they had no king, nor any thing that looked like one, but the Almighty, knowing what would take place about four hundred and fifty years afterwards, gave them the character and administration of a king: (Deuteronomy xvii., 14, 20).

When Christianity was first set up in the world, it was small. The power of making laws was in the hands of the enemies of Christianity. Laws to guard the Christian religion could not have been expected, but Christ knew what would come. He knew that about three hundred years thereafter Christianity would rise triumph and; why did he not then give some precept, at least some small thing, that when Christianity should become so general, that then the rulers of state should make laws to establish Christianity, and force the observance of the first day of the week? We look in vain to find any thing like it in the New Testament, and it is generally confessed, that when the event did take place—when Constantine the Great established Christianity in the empire, and forced an observance of the first day of the week, Christianity was disrobed of her virgin beauty, and prostituted to the unhallowed principle of state policy, where it has remained in a criminal commerce until the present moment.

Men of little reading, and less thought, conclude, that if there is no law of state to force the observance of the Sabbath, (for so they name the first day of the week,) it would entirely run out, and not be regarded at all. Why did it not then run out in the three first centuries? How came it to be regarded all that time as purely as it has ever been since? There were no sabbatical laws during that period. Why has it not run out in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York? They have no holy laws in those states, and yet the Sabbath, so called, is not run out, but meeting-houses and public worship in those states are not inferior to those of New England. Those states abound with Quakers, who never thank a legislature for making religious laws, and yet they keep the first day of the week as regularly as the Presbyterians, and the fifth day of the week beside.

The Jews, and some of the Christians, would keep the seventh day—most of the Christians would keep Sunday—the Turks would hallow Friday—infidels no day. Shall that sect, which is most numerous and ambitious, direct the scepter of government to interpose, and force all to submit to one standard, and fine, punish and burn non-conformists? Such has been the course of things, it must be confessed, but does not human nature shudder at the thought, and the spirit of Christianity flee from the sight! Let each sect enjoy their own rights and freedom, in respect of the God whom they wish to adore, the days on which they would pay that adoration, and the modes of performing it. If one sect has the liberty of worshipping whom, when and as they please, why should that sect wish to force other sects to worship whom, when and as they would not?

Legal force is not the armor with which the Captain of our salvation clothes the soldiers of the cross. An honest appeal to the reasons and judgments of men, is all the force that Christians should use to induce others to believe in and worship God as they themselves do. All the punishment that pious Christians inflict on the irreligious, is pity, forgiveness, and prayer, unless the irreligious man breaks out into overt acts, in which case he is to be punished according to his crime. If labor or amusements, on the first day of the week, may be considered as the foulest sins, yet they were no crimes to be punished by law, for the first three hundred years after Christi, nor are they, at this time, crimes in several of the states in our country, and, if laws were fixed as they should be, they would not be crimes any where. If those who keep the first day of the week, in remembrance of the resurrection of Christ, believe themselves to be right, (as they have cause to,*) let them “beseech others, by the mercies of God, to present their bodies a living sacrifice to God, which is a reasonable service,” (Romans, xii, 1,) and not make use of legal force to do it, which will only prejudice others against the day and against themselves.

Where Jews (of which there are eight millions in existence) and seventhdayrian Christians reside, they must either sacrifice conscience, or lose a day in each week. The majority of Christians in our country keep the first day of the week; but if there was a majority who kept the seventh day, and should oblige all others to regard the day, would those who now make the law and plead for its utility, bear the privation of one-seventh part of their labor, or change their day? If they did the first, they would justly complain of partial oppression—if the last, discover the rottenness of their consciences.

It has been observed before, that government should guarantee the rights of conscience to all; consequently if an individual or an assembly should be interrupted by assault, on Sunday, Monday, or any other day or night, either at the meeting-house, a private house, market, field or grove, where he or they should be conscientiously paying devotion to God, the law ought to be open, as it is, to punish the assailants, as disturbers of the peace; for the design of the law is, to punish him who works ill to his neighbor. This law is sufficient for all, every day of the week. It is no assault upon one man’s right for another to refuse to unite with him in his devotion. Those who keep the first day of the week, will work in their fields and travel roads, where Jews assemble in their synagogues, and sevendayrians meet in their meeting-houses on Saturday, and never suspect that they are interrupting them in their worship; why, then, should it be looked upon an interruption for sevendayrians, or those who regard no day, to work in the field or drive their team in the road upon the first day? Yet, in many places, tything-men, or wardens, are chosen as legal officers to prevent labor and recreation on the first day of the week. When I see men turn their backs upon public worship, and pursue their labor or recreation in preference to the service of God, either on Sunday or on any other day, my heart beats in poetic strains,

                         “O might they at last, with sorrow return,
The pleasures to taste, for which they were born,
The Saviour receiving, the happiness prove
The joy of believing, the heaven of love.”

Or breaks out in the language of the Hebrew prophet, “Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” Or vents itself in the words of Paul, “I pray you in Christ’s stead, be you reconciled to God.”

But when I see a man with the insignia of his office, arrest a fellow-man for non-attendance on worship, or labor or amusement on Sunday, it strains every fibre of my soul. Who that ever read the New Testament, which describes the meekness, patience, forbearance and sufferings of the first Christians, would ever have expected to see those who call themselves Christians, avail themselves of such weapons to suppress vice and support Christian morality? The spirit seems to be the same that influenced Peter to draw his sword and cut off the ear of one who did not reverence Christ; or, like that which stimulated James and John to command fire to come down from heaven and consume those who would not receive the blessed Saviour. The first was ordered to put up his sword; and the last were rebuked, with “ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” It reminds me on an instance which took place with one of Burgoyne’s men, who professed to be a zealous Christian. The man, hearing an American speak irreverently of religion, exclaimed, “How I hate him—I will kill him, because he does not love my blessed Jesus.” About two centuries past, the spirit of witchcraft and witchburning ran through a considerable part of the world, like a raging plague. The rulers used to reason thus: “God will burn wizards and witches in the next world, and we who are God’s representatives, must burn them in this world.” But is is though that the following reasoning would have been better: “God is merciful to the poor, deluded creatures, and lets them live, and we will imitate him.” So in regard to those improperly called Sabbath breakers. If they commit overt acts—if they assault the life, liberty or property of any man, let them be punished by law. But if their only error is not worshipping where, when, and as you do, your only weapon is fair reasoning with them. If God lets them live, though in disregard of Sunday solemnities, let not man kill them.

But how must a tything-man feel? The day he conceives to be holy: no civil or economical business must be done on the sacred day; devotion must employ his time and his thoughts; and yet his office is civil; he receives his authority from the acts of the legislature, and not from the acts of the apostles, and his oath obliges him to profane the day which he conceives to be holy, by performing civil actions, for he has no authority to officiate, except on the time which is holy. When he rises on Sunday morning, instead of having his mind disentangled from earthly things, he is watching the fields and the roads; when going to meeting, instead of watching to prepare his heart for the solemnities of the day, he is watching how others behave; when at meeting, his eyes and his ears, which should be open alone to God, and to his word, are constantly looking and harking to prevent the errors of others. And thus, by law, he is obliged to do evil that good may come. However others may seek to regulate religious societies by law and by force, to me a man cannot give greater evidence that he is ignorant of the precepts and destitute of the spirit of Christianity, than by calling the aid of the civil arm to legalize religious days and modes, and punish those who will not submit.

I shall close this part of the subject, with a few reflections on some late events. When the British, (who are called the bulwark of religion,) landed near Saybrook, it was Sunday. The good people of Connecticut would not assemble to drive them off, because it was holy time, until the enemy had burnt the shipping at Pettipague. The God whom they served did not protect them from the depredations of the old “Bulwark.” But on Lake Champlain, the “Bulwark” attacked McDonough on Sunday. McDonough solemnly prayed for success, and then fought with astonishing bravery. The signal victory which he obtained over the “Bulwark,” together with what was achieved by the land forces, under General Macomb, have met with the thanks and rewards of more states than one. I have not yet heard, however, whether the pious apathy of Connecticut, or the profane heroism of the northern fleet and army, meets with the most applause from those who conceive Sunday to be holy time. It is highly probable, however, that there were no tything-men aboard McDonough’s fleet.

The public assembling of Christians for religious worship, is certainly appointed in the New Testament by precept, and abundantly by example. And, as has been noticed, the evidence is nearly conclusive, that the first Christians generally assembled on the first day of the week, not with a view that it was of moral obligation—not in obedience to the fourth command of the Decalogue, which enjoined the observance and rest of the seventh day—nor in obedience to any command given them by Christ, but voluntarily, as a prudential thing, to perpetuate the event of Christ’s resurrection. Their public assembling, however, was not confined to the first day of the week, but daily, in the temple and other places, both day and night, as opportunity served, they assembled for Christian worship. There were some among them, who did not discover any advantages in their assembling on the first day more than on any other day, and, as the day was not divinely appointed, those who regarded it, did not judge and set at nought those who regarded it not, but left every man to be fully persuaded in his own mind.



1. God, for once, rested on the seventh day.

2. No proof that God commanded men to rest on the seventh day during the patriarchal age.

3. About two thousand four hundred years after creation, the holy Sabbath was enjoined on the tribes of Israel.

4. The fourth commandment was not moral, but absolute.

5 The Sabbath was not a day of public worship, but of rest.

6. After the return of the Jews from Babylon, of their own accord they built synagogues, and assembled in them every Sabbath, to read and hear the law of Moses and the prophets, for which they had no command, and received no reproof.

7. The Gentiles were never reproved for Sabbath-breaking.

8. The first day of the week was never appointed by Christ, to be kept different from other days.

9. Proof, nearly conclusive, that the first Christians paid particular attention to the first day of the week; those who did not regard the day, were not judged and set at nought by those who regarded it.

10. The observance of the first day of the week, perpetuates the resurrection of Christ.

11. The appointment of religious days, no article of legislation.

12. The observance of the first day of the week was never enforced by law until the reign of Constantine, in the beginning of the fourth century.

13. Tythin-men are obliged, by their oaths, to profane the time which they conceive to be holy.

14. The public assembling of Christians for religious worship, enjoined by New Testament precept, and abundant examples.

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