(Not to be confused with the â€œBlue Letter.â€)
In 1933, the years the Philadelphia Eagles football club started (thank you Dan Borvan), the state of Pennsylvania considered reforming its laws prohibiting commercial activity on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, so that football players and coaches could play in the afternoon. (How would the NFL make it without violating the fourth and eighth commandments?) J. Gresham Machen, then a resident of Philadelphia, wrote a letter to Gifford Pinchot, the governor of Pennsylvania and requested the retention of the Blue Laws as they were then written.
Machenâ€™s reasoning in this letter is instructive for what it says about a recognition and acceptance of religious diversity, a commitment to religious freedom, and the tensions within a democracy between majority rule and minority protection. Perhaps most important for two-kingdom purposes is the place of an appeal to Scripture in public debate. In this case, Machen argues not for the magistrate to enforce divine law, but for the advantages that come to everyone when the law protects the practices of some citizens.
Not to be missed is what this letter says about the fourth commandment, and that keeping the whole day holy with two services is an occasion of Christian liberty. If only the Bible speaks to all of life crowd would take up the cause of the sanctity of the Lordâ€™s Day. (Do we see a pattern here? Two kingdoms, two services?)
April 20, 1933
The Honorable Gifford Pinchot
Governor of Pennsylvania
Will you permit me to express, very respectfully, my opposition to the Bill designated â€œHouse Bill No. 1″ regarding permission of commercialized sport between the hours of two and six on Sunday afternoons?
It is clear that in this matter of Sunday legislation the liberty of part of the people will have to be curtailed. It is impossible that people who desire a quiet Sunday should have a quiet Sunday, while at the same time people who desire commercialized sport on Sunday should have commercialized sport. The permission of commercialized sport will necessarily change the character of the day for all of the people and not merely for part of the people.
The only question, therefore, is whose liberty is to be curtailed. I am convinced that in this case it ought, for the welfare of the whole people, to be the liberty of those who desire commercialized sport.
The curtailment of their liberty, through the existing law, does not, I am convinced, go beyond reasonable bounds. There is, it seems to me, a sharp distinction of principle between complete prohibition of some form of activity or enjoyment and reasonable regulation of it in the interest of other people. To ask that commercialized sport should dispense with one day out of seven for the benefit of that large part of our population that desires a quiet Sunday and believes that it is necessary to the welfare of the State does not seem to me to be unreasonable.
Of course it is perfectly clear that in a democracy the majority should rule in this matter as in other matters. I should be the last to advocate any attempt to make people religious or even to make people ordinarily moral or decent against their will by mere legislative enactment. I should also be the last to advocate any tyrannical imposition of the convictions of a minority upon the majority. But how shall the majority will be exercised? I think that it ought to be exercised through the ordinary processes of representative government. To allow commercialized sport on Sunday in Pennsylvania will be a radical change in the whole life of our people. It is a wise provision of representative government that such radical changes should not be hastily accomplished, as might be the case by the referendum vote, but that they should be accomplished only when it is quite clear that the majority of the people really and seriously and permanently desires the change. . . .
As to the merits of the question, I could hardly find words strong enough to express what my feeling is. It does seem to me that the profoundest dangers to our entire civilization are found in the constant rush of noise and jazz and feverish activity which is one of the great faults of the American people and which is a great barrier to true efficiency as well as to the cultivation of the deeper things.
Of course, my own cultivation of a quiet Sunday is based on considerations much more fundamental than these. I am a Christian, and it is quite clear that a commercialized Sunday is inimical to the Christian religion. There are many other Christians in Pennsylvania, and because they are Christians they do not cease to be citizens. They have a right to be considered by their fellow-citizens and by the civil authorities. But the reason why they can with a good conscience be enthusiastic advocates of the Christian practice in the matter of Sunday is that they regard it as right, and as for the highest well-being of the entire State.
Very truly yours,
J. Gresham Machen, Professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia
Postscript: over at David Strainâ€™s blog come a couple of helpful posts about sabbath observance. As a native Scot, Strain knows first-hand about patterns of sabbatarianism among Old World Presbyterians, both mainline and sideline. In fact, during a Hart expedition to Scotland a decade ago, Mrs. Hart and her husband were delighted to see that even the Church of Scotland congregations conducted morning and evening service. This contrasts with the practice of one service among conservative Reformed and Presbyterians in the United States where supposedly Reformed Christianity is doing better.
Strain also mentions one of the common complaints about sabbatarianism â€“ that is it legalistic. Well here is one radical two-kingdom virus carrier who also fully supports the supposed legalism of sabbath observance. In fact, the critics of 2k ought to consider where the leading 2k voices are on matters like the fourth commandment and the regulative principle of worship (as in the second commandment). Antinomian? Reconsider.