J. Gresham Machen Bibliography

Guide to the works of J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937). Scholar. Preacher. Founder of Westminster Theological Seminary. Leader in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

▷ Letter to Governor of Governor of Pennsylvania

📖 Full Text

The Honorable Gifford Pinchot
Governor of Pennsylvania
Harrisburg, Pa.

Dear Sir:

Will you permit me to express, very respectfully, my opposition to the Bill designated House 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

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