The following thought relates to the first great Sunday law, issued by the emperor Constantine in 321AD.
The old, imperial decree was,
“Let all the judges and town people, and the occupation of all trades rest on the venerable day of the Sun; but let those who are situated in the country, freely and at full liberty attend to the business of agriculture; because it often happens that no other day is so fit for sowing corn and planting vines; lest, the critical moment being let slip, men should lose the commodities granted by Heaven. Given the seventh day of March [321AD].”
It is interesting to me that Constantine allows significant exemptions in his Sunday law. Those exemptions were for the people that attended “to the business of agriculture”. Lest, as he reasoned, in such critical times as plowing and harvest, they should lose precious advantage and forfeit a part of their yield.
Also, the weather on Sunday might be so good for the “sowing [of] corn” or for the “planting [of] vines”, that it would be ill-advised to lose such a good opportunity.
Foreseeing this kind of reasoning, God enjoined the Sabbath upon His people, even in those critical periods of the agricultural year.
"Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest: even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest." Exodus 34:21
It could have been very tempting for Israel to rationalize, and to think that the Sabbath must be set aside for the sake of some perceived risk, or for the sake of some perceived advantage. But they were to carefully guard against this kind of reasoning.
In a relatively recent book, “Life In Christ” (printed in 1958 for use in Catholic schools), the original reasoning used by Constantine is still very much in evidence.
After claiming that the day of God’s worship and rest has been transferred from the Seventh to the First day of the week, it teaches that:
“Servile work may be permitted on Sunday for the following reasons:
-- A very poor person could work on Sunday if he could not make a decent living by
his work on week days.
-- A farmer is allowed to work on Sunday when the weather has been so bad that his
crops are in danger of damage.
Another case that sometimes occurs is when a workman is threatened with dismissal by his employer unless he works on Sunday. The workman is not bound to suffer such a great loss, and so may do the work.”
Sunday was to be hallowed by all, and yet certain exemptions were allowed. How reminiscent this is of Constantine’s original decree! Again, it is interesting I think, to note the following comment relating to the observance of Sunday,
“It is sometimes difficult to decide what works are servile [and therefore prohibited on Sunday] and what are not. In case of doubt, we should consult a priest.”
From both early and relatively recent history, lessons might be drawn that relate to the institution of the future Sunday Laws.
We should not be surprised, I think, to see significant freedoms on the one hand, and great severity on the other.