This article is a translation of an editorial in the previous issue of our Standard Bearer. Readers who are able to read Dutch may omit this, and proceed to the next article. It was suggested to me, and it had already occurred to me, that it would be expedient to translate the article on Sunday Labor, because many that are not able to follow the Holland are deeply interested in the question. Here follows the translation:
When, sometime ago, we expressed our opinion concerning the question of Sunday labor, and declared that in our judgment Sunday work for the purpose of manufacturing defense material is permissible for the Christian in case the government demands it, we intentionally limited ourselves strictly to the question proper. The question was not concerning Sunday labor in general, nor even concerning the permissibility of working on Sunday for the purpose of making defense material; but it definitely concerned the problem whether a Christian would have to submit himself to the authorities in case they should demand of him that he work also on Sunday for the purpose of preparing war material. We were, and we still are, of the opinion that in that specific instance the Christian would have to submit to the government. Such submission would be sinful, if Sunday labor as such and under all circumstances were to be condemned, for in that case our answer would necessarily have to be that we must obey God more than men. But since this is not the case, and since works of necessity and works of mercy have always been considered proper on the sabbath, it is our opinion that also in this case we must submit ourselves to the government, and leave the right to determine whether the manufacture of defense material is so urgent that it cannot be stopped on the sabbath, and the responsibility to the government.
Even when we wrote that editorial we sensed all sorts of dangers, and expected that the question would not remain so simple as we presented it at that time. It could be anticipated that this readiness of the Christian to comply with the demand of the government would be abused. The control of such matters usually rests with the “world”. And the “world” cares not at all about the sabbath. They may perceive that resting on the sabbath, or, at least, one day of the week, is a fundamental ordinance of God, rooted in creation, and that one cannot violate this ordinance with impunity. Even past experience has taught us that it is not profitable for the employer if he lets his employees work seven days a week. But the world cannot appreciate the spiritual significance and value of the sabbath. They do not understand the fact that a Christian laborer is in spiritual need of the sabbath, and that on that day he must be occupied in a Special sense with the things of the kingdom of heaven. And, therefore, in that sense they do not care about the sabbath at all. It might be expected, therefore, that the world would abuse the circumstances, and make of the war and of the need of defense material a pretext to deprive the Christian entirely of the sabbath. And on the other hand, it might be feared, too, that there would be found Christians that live on a low spiritual level, and that, once you granted them the right to work on Sunday for the manufacture of war material and at the request of the government, would, for filthy lucre’s sake, intentionally look for a job that requires them to work on Sunday; and who, besides, would offer themselves for Sunday work, not only when the government demands this, but also when the employer would ask it of them for his own material benefit. It stands to reason that it is “safer” to bind the Christian in the world by external precepts, than to leave matters to his Christian liberty.
That which we then anticipated and feared is now becoming more and more reality; and that is the reason why we feel obliged to write on this subject once more and to address a word of warning to all our people. First of all, it is evident that in many a factory Sunday work is being required, not by the government, but by the employer, simply because it is for his material profit. And, secondly, a good deal of Sunday work is already being done in cases where it is very evident that there is no necessity for it as far as the war is concerned. I have in mind factories in which the men in turn work on the sabbath, but without working seven days a week. Every seven days, or sometimes even every six days, the employees have a day of rest. The only trouble is that this day of rest does not always occur on Sunday. In such cases it should be very evident that work on Sunday is not motivated by the need of speedy production of war material, but simply by the desire for profit on the part of the employer. It is more profitable for him to let his factory run through, than to stop all work on the sabbath. Such Sunday labor certainly does not fall in the category of “necessary labor at the request of the government”. And it should be evident that in our former article on this subject we did not defend such Sunday work. On the contrary, it is our conviction that our people may not conform to this corrupt practice of the world, and should persistently refuse to work on the sabbath under such circumstances. If the government declares that the stress of the times demands that we work seven days a week, very well; even though we are loath to relinquish our sabbathic rest, we will be obedient for God’s sake. But if it concerns merely a matter of exchanging one day of rest for another, for the benefit of the employer, so that we do, indeed, work only six or even five days a week, but lose the sabbath and are prevented from gathering with the church of Christ, we will not allow ourselves to be led astray by the world. For, in the first place, the rule is then certainly applicable that we must obey God rather than men. Secondly, compliance would in such cases result in great spiritual injury for ourselves. And, finally, this practice will have the result that we lose the sabbath entirely, and that this way of sabbath-desecration will be continued even after the war. Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown!