by Larry Downing  |  19 May 2019  |

In the process of “ritting out” my bookcases (ritt out” is an expression my Carlisle, Pennsylvania, parishioners employed when they spoke of cleaning out a closet or attic) I rescued from the dark regions of my library several books authored by Adventist pioneers. One of these tomes caught my attention, not only for its title and bulk, but for its author, a man whose writings had a powerful influence on early Adventist theology.

After I made a rapid survey through the book’s 895 pages, and a quick read of a few paragraphs, an idea began to percolate through my little gray cells: it might be of interest to share some of what caught the attention of those who lived in an age before ours, as evidenced by a publication of a famous—or infamous, depending on one’s theological bent—Adventist pioneer.

The Two Republics of Rome and the United States of America, written by Alonzo T. Jones (1850-1923), was published in 1891. In it, Jones (yes, that Jones, who with E. J. Waggoner, challenged the denominational hierarchy to eschew legalism and accept that righteousness is achieved by faith, not by keeping the law), set about in 894 pages to make a case for the promotion and support of religious liberty.

In twenty-nine chapters, The Two Republics takes the reader from the era of pre-Christian Rome to the settlement of the United States of America. The early chapters of the book examine the government’s actions that led to the downfall of the Roman Empire. Jones references and interprets historical events that impacted the first Christian believers. In his final chapters, Jones records the threats Sunday laws have upon those who keep the biblical Sabbath. He quotes transcripts of actions against those who break Sunday laws, and he documents Adventists who were persecuted for “Sabbath” (Sunday) infringement.

In the 46 pages of Chapter I, titled “The Last Days of the Republic,” Jones explores the political, social, and religious factors that led to the downfall of the Roman empire. The author quotes often from various historical sources, ancient and modern. Jones must have had a high opinion of his readers’ interests in ancient history and trusted in the early Adventists’ ability to follow lengthy and convoluted excuses into a time and place far removed from theirs. In free-flowing prose, Jones describes the influence wealth had within the empire, and the debauchery and avarice that became part of Roman life. By his analysis, greed and corruption were common within Roman society and government. The one who promised the most, got the votes. Political intrigues, including the rivalry between the emperors and the Senate, the author described in terms that some may suggest has application even in our day: “To obtain the first office in the line of promotion to the governorship, men would exhaust every resource, and plunge into what would otherwise have been hopeless indebtedness. Yet having obtained the governorship, when they returned, they were fully able to pay all their debts, and still be millionaires. ‘The highest offices of State were open in theory to the meanest citizen; they were confined, in fact, to those who had the longest purses, or the most ready use of the tongue on popular platforms’” (p. 22).

Absent in the chapter is any reference to God or the Christian faith. The reader will find brief introductions to the lives and fate of the emperors, their wives and families, and those in the ruling class. The chapter ends with the popular cry that was fast becoming an imperative, “‘Bread for nothing, and games forever!’”

Chapter II, “The Two Triumvirates,” sets the stage for the introduction of Christianity into the mix. As in Chapter I, Jones drills into the Roman political structures and processes. He writes as a scholar. Jones’ writing style and approach to his subjects takes the reader into a world far different from what we find in Adventist publications today. Is it that readers then, as compared to our day, had a higher tolerance for straight history, sans narrative? Has TV blunted our ability or willingness to stretch our brains? (I’m digressing. Get back on track!)

Jones, when evaluating the Roman times, quotes from Theodor Mommsen’s (1817–1903). History of Rome, book v, chap. xi, par. 72, where Mommsen writes, “‘Men had forgotten what honesty was; a person who refused to bribe was regarded not as an upright man but as a personal foe. The criminal statistics of all times and countries will hardly furnish a parallel to the dreadful picture of crimes—so varied, so horrible, and so unnatural.’ In this condition of affairs such laws were nothing more nor less than a legal farce” (p. 55). [Note the careful footnotes/attributions throughout the book—written in the 1890s—predating many of EGW’s writings that omit footnotes.]

As in the first chapter, references to religion/church/sacred are absent. Hard core history is the norm, and continues so on into Chapter III, “The Roman Monarchy.” (On page 90 is a highly muscled, full frontal nude sculpture of Caligula, with appropriately placed fig leaf. Review & Herald editors were not prudes!) It is not until page 99 that I found any biblical reference. In his portrayal of Claudius, Jones identifies Claudius as the emperor mentioned in Acts 29:2 who drove Jews out of Jerusalem. His next biblical reference follows on the same page: Acts 23:24. Felix, the governor of Judea, is the one before whom Paul pleaded his case.

It is not until Chapter IV, “The ‘Ten Persecutions,’” that Jones introduces Jesus, the disciples and the first Christians. Jones takes pains to explain the relationship the succeeding emperors and political authorities had with Christians: Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, Pliny the Younger, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and numerous others. It is not until chapter V, “Christianity and the Roman Empire,” that we begin to see where the path Jones has cut will lead. His juxtaposition of Christianity and the Roman Empire provides fodder for Jones to expound on the rights of the individual conscience, the limits of state jurisdiction, the tenants of the Roman religion, Roman laws and the sources of religious persecution. Jones hits his stride as he leads the reader into the heart of his subject: the matter of religious liberty!

The Two Republics is more than an evaluation of ancient Roman barbarism. The reader’s attention may have first been drawn to passages such as the following:

“‘As to the intercourse of the sexes, wars of conquest, where the females are at the mercy of the victors, especially if female virtue is not in much respect, would severely try the more rigid morals of the conqueror. The strength of the Teutonic character, when it had once burst the bonds of habitual or traditionary restraint, might seem to disdain easy and effeminate vice, and to seek a kind of wild zest in the indulgent of lust, by mingling it up with all other violent passions, rapacity and inhumanity. Marriage was a bond contracted and broken on the slightest occasion’” (pp. 529-530).

“The papal religion ‘hardly interferes even to interdict incest. Ching Chlotaire demanded for the fisc the third part of the revenue of the churches; some bishops yielded; one, Injuriosus, disdainfully refused, and Chlotaire withdrew his demands. Yet Chlotaire, seemingly unrebuked, married two sisters at once. Charibert likewise married two sisters….’”

In the section titled “The Trisagion Controversy” (p. 545) Jones references Justinian’s A. D. 532 edict declaring his intention “‘to unite all men in one faith.’ Whether they were Jews, Gentiles, or Christians, all who did not within three months profess and embrace the Catholic faith, were by the edict “declared infamous, and as such excluded from all employments both civil and military; …and all their estates confiscated….’”

Jones identifies situations in the United States that evidence the power of religion and the intent religious authorities have to make civil power subordinate to the ecclesiastical. This, he affirms, will be accomplished by majority. He identifies specific acts that violate the Constitution: Exhibit 1 is the “…employment of chaplains in the army, the navy, and in Congress” (p. 799). Ten or so pages are dedicated to the denunciation of this practice that “is contrary to the principle illustrated by Jesus Christ in his life and taught in his word, and frustrates the very purpose for which professedly they are appointed” (p. 803). Jones makes clear his opposition to government support of parochial education (p. 821), and projects the soon passage of a national Sunday law (p. 829). As support, he calls attention to several example of Sunday laws that have been introduced to state governments for approval and presents transcripts from court cases that address Sunday laws. Jones carries his concern for the establishment of local and national Sunday legislation through much of the next-to-last chapter on through to the end of the book.

We in the 21st century may click our tongues and pity the unenlightened souls who were so taken by their concern for a national Sunday law. What we miss is that the Sunday law threat in the 1800s and early 1900s was real. Jones quotes the Senate debate in response to legislation that would have implemented Sunday as a national day of worship. Jones reports that the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the American Sabbath Union joined forces to encourage the uniting of church and state to enforce and protect the Sabbath (Sunday) [p. 833].

Jones references a proposed bill that, on January 6, 1890, was introduced to the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives by W. C. P. Breckinridge, of Kentucky. In part the bill read,

“‘That it shall be unlawful for any person or corporation, or employee of any person or corporation in the District of Columbia, to perform any secular labor or business, or to cause the same to be performed by any person in their employment on Sunday, except works of necessity or mercy; nor shall it be lawful for any person or corporation to receive pay for labor or services performed or rendered in violation of this act’” (p. 843).

Jones, in his evaluation of the powers behind the Sunday law proposals, turns, not upon the Protestants, but to the Roman Catholic church. “The Catholic Church originated Sunday observance. The papacy substituted the Sunday institution for the Sabbath of the Lord, enforced its acceptance and observance upon all, and prohibited under a curse the keeping the Sabbath of the Lord. She did it, and justified herself in it, precisely as these now do (p. 860).

In the Appendix, Jones, under the title “How Sunday laws are enforced,” lists more than 20 examples of those who, as a result of their breaking Sunday laws, were arrested, tried, found guilty, and imprisoned. These Cases, as Jones calls them, provide the readers with identifiable examples of what may await the Advent believers should they not protect their liberties (pp 877-895).

Jones concludes his book by stating, “Thus God made the New Republic, the exemplar to all the world, of the true governmental principles. To this nation God has committed this sacred trust. How will the nation acquit itself? How will the nation fulfill this divine obligation? ….Shall the new order of things prevail? Or shall the old order be restored?

“These are living questions of the hour. The fate of the nation of the world, depends upon the answer. The issue out of which the answer must come even now hangs in the political balance. The answer itself even now trembles upon the tongue of time.”

“AND WHAT SHALL THE ANSWER BE?” Jones’ final question awaits answer still.

As stated above, A. T. Jones was a significant force among the early Advent believers. It was he who, along with Ellet J. Waggoner, promoted righteousness by faith. His service to the church included pioneer work in California, editor of the Review and Herald, camp meeting preacher, being a member of the General Conference Committee, editor of the American Sentinel, author of numerous articles and books, and being sent by the church to attempt reconciliation with Dr. J. H. Kellogg. The result of the discussions with Kellogg was that Jones turned to defend the good doctor and severed association with the Adventist denomination. In 1909, A. G. Daniells, president of the General Conference, attempted a reconciliation with Jones. In the last session, Daniells reached out his hand toward Jones. Jones moved to grasp Daniells’ hand, stopped, and pulled back his hand while at the same time stating, “No, never,” and sat down. Jones died in 1923.

Dear Adventist Today readers: I’m inserting this note to tell you that we are right now conducting our spring fundraiser. Adventist Today is largely a volunteer organization, but if we’re going to continue to provide you with stimulating news—often news you get nowhere else—and fascinating commentary by some of the best writers in the denomination, we do need some financial support. If you want to see us continue to do the journalism that you’ve been accustomed to from Adventist Today, become an AT member now or or give us a one-time gift. Loren Seibold, Executive Editor, Adventist Today website and magazine.


Lawrence Downing, D.Min, is a retired pastor who has served as an adjunct instructor at La Sierra University School of Business and the School of Religion, and the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines. 

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