An essay on pages 457-68 of The Writings of John Leland
Edited by L.F. Greene, ARNO PRESS & THE NEW YOUR TIMES, New York, 1969,
Reprinted 2010 by Local Church Bible Publishers, www.LocalChurchBiblePublishers.com
If Christianity forbids national war—if the precepts of Christ, “I say unto you that ye resist not evil,” etc., were intended for the nations of the earth, and are binding on them, as political bodies, it follows, of course, that all the wars that have been since the introduction of Christianity, have been in direct rebellion against God.
Taking this to be the case, what ought to be done to remedy evil, and make an atonement for the long perpetuated crime? Those nations of savages, who have never heard the precepts of Christ, are excepted from present animadversion, but those nations that have been favored with the gospel, and now call themselves Christian nations, are particularly addressed.
A reformation, acceptable to God, consists in a disavowal of crimes—turning to the way of future righteousness—and restoring to the injured that which was wrongfully taken away. In this view of the subject, it becomes the kings and rulers, kingdoms and states, of this world, to confess the sin of war—turn to a course of perpetual peace—and restore all the dominion and territory, that has been taken by war, to those from whom they wrested them. Anything short of this would be hypocritical reformation. It is true, that this procedure, in a retrospective chain, would carry most of the nations and territories back to Rome, with Tiberius Cæsar at their head; in which condition the world was when Christianity was introduced.
This would be utterly impracticable. But the now existing kings and rulers, kingdoms and states, have it in their power to make restoration of the dominion and territory, which they now possess, that were taken from others by the horrid crime of war. And for such rulers and states to plead for peace without a restoration, is like the felon who wishes all others to be at peace, that he may quietly possess his stolen goods.
When two men are in single combat, and one casts the other, and holds him, he cries, “Will you be peaceable?” But if the master was in the place of the underling, he would think more of extricating himself than he would of peace.
It is now rumored that the great powers of Europe, particularly Russia and Great Britain, are for giving peace to the world. Russia is the strongest power, by land, in Europe, and likely in the world. Great Britain commands the sea, with her navy, which is far superior to that of any other nation, if not to all other nations. Should these nations, therefore, unite to extirpate war from the earth, and establish universal peace, the poor and needy would resound their praise—the widows and fatherless would bless them. But while they proclaim peace, is it their intention to keep their navies, armies and garrisons in such repairs, that other nations cannot effectually resist them? If so, it is but the boast of complete despotism. The plain language of it is this: “We are masters, and intend to be so; we command you all to be peaceable one with another, and with us in particular; if not, see the rod in our hands, by which we will scourge you until you are peaceable, for we are determined that all others shall be in peace, on the conditions that we prescribe.” Did Napoleon ever wish for more? Can a tyrant ask for more? If this state of the world is desirable, why did not Russia, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and other powers adopt it seventeen years past? What scenes of horror, and seas of blood it would have prevented.
If the now triumphant kingdoms are convinced of the moral evils of war, and wish to make an atonement for the treasure which they have consumed, the powers which they have overturned, and the lives which they have destroyed, let them now confess, reform, and restore all that they can; but, if they justify their past wars, under the pretense that they were necessary, in order to free the world from the tyranny of Napoleon, and bring it into the happy state which it is now in, other nations may justify future wars, to deliver the world from its present masters, and bring it into a happier state than it is in at present. But if the conviction of the now triumphant kingdoms is genuine, and their desire is to free the world from the cause of war, without seeking their own supremacy, then let them disband all their troops, and dismiss their military officers—demolish all their garrisons—destroy every ship of war—and convert every implement of war into instruments of mechanism and husbandry. Let them, moreover, restore the provinces and territories, with their respective jurisdictions, which they have taken from others, and make declaration that every section of the world shall attach itself to what government they choose, establish that form of government which is most congenial to their wishes, and have those to administer it whom they prefer, and that every man shall be free in his religion, to worship whom, when, and as he pleases, without any interruption. Let this proclamation be made, and put into effect by the great powers, and followed by all the smaller dominions, and all but tyrants, pensioners, and covetous priests, who make merchandise of what they preach, and the souls of men would hail the halcyon day. For princes to talk about peace, without coming to this standard, is but mocking the people—seeking to be emblazoned for noble generosity after they have killed and taken possession, without restoring to nations their liberties, and guaranteeing to individuals their inalienable rights.
As the project has never assumed the character of system, and been put in operation, it is unknown whether the members that are to compose this congress are to be chosen by the people, or appointed by the sovereigns—whether they are to hold their offices for life, during good behavior, or for limited terms—whether each kingdom and state shall have an equal number of members, or whether kingdoms and states shall be represented according to their numbers—whether, in all cases, a majority shall rule, or in some cases more than a majority should be necessary to carry a point—whether the non-submission of a single power, or several of them in concert, shall be suppressed by force of arms, or by non-intercourse only.
Should all these questions, and all others that might arise, be cordially adjusted, and a congress assemble in style, it would remind one of what a barbarian said to the senate of Rome: “My own countrymen are hydras, but the senate is an assembly of the gods.”
In a congress thus formed, it is presumed that every member would have the views and wishes of their respective governments at heart. So long as unity continued among them, so long harmony would remain among the confederate nations but in case of disagreement, the same evils that now infest the world would arise in all their baleful aspects. From a knowledge of the physical strength of the greater powers, the smaller ones would feel afraid, as they now do; but supposing the decrees of congress should be contrary to the will of Russia or Great Britain, or against both these powers in connection, would those great powers succumb to the little states for the sake of peace, or would they not more naturally resist? If war is declared to subject the powers that will not acquiesce, the design of the congress, which is to prevent war, will be defeated. If an embargo is appealed to, that none of the confederate nations shall buy or sell any article to the obstinate states, could they enforce it? Would not the avarice and enterprise of the merchant defeat all the laws of congress? It is hard to conceive of any advantage that would arise from a congress thus formed, that does not now exist by friendly embassy, but it is easy to foresee what pomp and expense would attend it.
To prepare a way for a congress to be appointed, to prevent the horrors of war, peace societies are forming to facilitate the grand event. If these societies lay the foundation of their appeal upon this condition: “That on the day of in the year all nations, by their agents, shall meet at
for the purpose fo affixing the day, when all armies shall be disbanded—all ships of war be sunk in the sea—alll forts and garrisons be destroyed—all instruments of war broken to pieces—all territory and dominion, taken by force of arms, restored to their best claimants_-all legal establishments of religion repealed, with a pledge that war never shall be appealed to for any purpose, and that no law shall ever be made to regulate religion, all good men, who understand the genius of Christianity, will give them their support. But if their exertions tend only to prevent the military exertions of one nation of the world, while other nations are waxing stronger and stronger, they must not judge that all those who withhold their support are enemies to human happiness.
The remarks already made originated from the supposition that the precept of Christianity, “resist not evil,” was a prohibition of national war; but the precept, connected as it is, looks as much like a prohibition of legal resistance, as it does of military force. If you are compelled, stripped of your coat, persecuted or smitten, never make use of the law to resist the evil, or get redress. Rather than go to law, why do ye not take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? … That the precepts of Christianity, which enjoin non-resistence on the disciples, were not intended as maxims of state policy or civil law, appears pretty evident, from the consideration, that Christ never assumed the character of a worldly king, or civil judge. He said his kingdom was not of this world, and he refused to act as judge, in dividing the inheritance of two brethren, and in pronouncing the penalty of the law against the adulterous woman. The direct tendency of Christ’s kingdom was the eternal salvation of souls; the systems of civil law and national war, have nothing to do with souls and eternity. In the case of the dying thief, both governments show their nature and distinctness. The government of men condemned him to death, which he himself said was just, and the government of Christ pardoned his sin. Christ did not deliver him from the penalty of the law, and the decision of the law did not interfere with the government of Christ, which was wonderously displayed in saying, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The civil judge is not to question whether the criminal is saint or sinner, or how it will fare with him in the world to come; but these characteristics are all important in the kingdom of Christ.
In war, also, which is the same among nations that courts of trial are among individuals, the moral state, and worth of the soul is out of the question, and national justice is all that is (or ought to be) in view. Nothing can be more preposterous and presumptuous than to declaim, or conceive that all who fall in battle, will undoubtedly go to heaven. The agriculturist, the mechanic, the merchant, the sailor, the scholar and the soldier, in this respect, stand on even ground. The truth is, those who fear God and work righteousness, will be accepted of their Maker, and all others will not. The soldier, therefore, who is a devout saint, if he falls in battle, will go from the field of battle to the regions of glory; but he who is a hardened sinner, falling in battle, will sink where he will lift up his eyes in torment.
Christianity was not designed by its author, to be characteristic of the nations of the earth, in their political state; nor was the name given in the days of its purity, to any but the meek disciples of Christ. The name however, has been filched by the enemies of Christ, and Christianity has been prostituted to the vilest purposes. Since Christianity became national, Christian nations have been equally cruel and bloodthirsty, and more unjust and perfidious than Turks or heathens. Nevertheless, Christ has a people among these nations, whom he redeemed and washed with his blood—a peculiar people, zealous of good works; they are not of this world, and the world knows them not. These are his disciples indeed. And to these disciples, there are so many commands of non-resistence, patience, forgiveness of offenses, praying for enemies, rendering good for evil, and blessing for cursing, that if these disciples are not to be considered in a two-fold capacity, it is notoriously wicked for them to bear arms and go to war, prosecute any one for smiting or robbing them, suing any man for debt, or applying to any legal office to secure the titles on their lands.
By their two-fold capacity, is intended, first, their being members of Christ’s body, which is the church; and secondly, their being subjects of the government where they reside.
As members of Christ’s body, or kingdom, their weapons are all spiritual. Force and recrimination are forbidden them. Their law is love. Their armor is the word of God for a sword—faith for a shield, and hope for a helmet. Where legal force, and carnal weapons are used among nominal Christians, to convert heathen, punish heretics, establish creeds of faith and forms of worship, collect money, compel attendance on worship, etc. under a religious covert, the commands of Christ to his disciples are broken. If they think they are serving God in it, they know not what manner of spirit they are of.
In the government of Christ among his members, commonly called church discipline, no force or resisting of evil is to be used. The church is to restore such as are overtaken with faults, in the spirit of meekness, warn the unruly, with all the gentleness of Christ—admonish and reject heretics, and cast from among them wicked persons; but church censure extends no farther than non-fellowship. Fines, imprisonments, punishments and civil incapacities, are not imposed by church censure. A declaration of who and what is fellowshipped, and who and what is not fellowshipped, is all that the church is to do.
But, if the desciples of Christ are considered in the second capacity that has been suggested, members of civil society, other things may be said. Civil society ….
That war, famine, and pestilence, have continued their ravages among men, since the introduction of Christianity, as much as they did before, will be generally granted, it is presumed; and the same is true of earthquakes, eruptions, etc. But for Christ, in his dediatorial character, to direct national war, would be meddling with the government of this world, which does not appear to be included in his mission. He did not come into the world to teach men the arts of husbandry, mechanism or science. He gave no code of laws for the government of nations, nor pointed out the best mode of administration. He left no orders, whether all nations should adopt the ancient Theocracy of the Israelites, or whether they should govern themselves as reason and justice dictate. He came into the world with the avowed purpose, “To glorify God on earth—to seek and save that which was lost—to lay down his life for his sheep—to wash sinners from their sins in his own blood—to magnify the law, make an atonement for sin, and bring in everlasting righteousness—to abolish death, and open a new and living way into the kingdom of glory—to save men ay the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” etc. Having these great works to finish, (all of which tended to the eternal salvation of the souls of men,) he did not intermeddle with the affairs of this world, but left the wheels of commerce and government to roll on as Providence led the way.
The great silence, however, in the New Testament, about war, has more sifnification than words could have. Had Christ given a precept that, in certain cases, it was the duty of kingdoms and states to wage war, every nation would make such cases their own, though the war which they waged was ever so unjust. Had he, on the other hand, given a precept that every species of war was criminal, the whole would have been exposed by robbery and death, by the cruelty of an individual, or a few, at most. But, although there is no direct precept in the New Testament, for or against national war, yet there are some useful hints given to direct our minds in research.
John was the forerunner of Christ, and his ministry is called “the beginning of the gospel of Christ.” He admitted those to his baptism, who repented of their sins, and gave evidence of their repentance, by bringing forth its fruits. Some of these were soldiers, who asked the divine teacher “what they should do?” John never suggested to them that a military life was incompatible with the gospel, and that they must quit the sword, if they would follow the Lamb of God who stood among them; but prudently answered them, “Do violence to no man, (who is a private citizen,) neither accuse any falsely, (for a pretence to kill him,) and be content with your wages.” If your work was unjust, your wages would be unrighteous; but, while you do your duty, be content with your pay, and not covet more.
A centurion (captain of an hundred men) sent to Christ, requesting him to speak a healing word, that his favorite sick servant might live. The condescending Saviour answered his request—healed his servant—gave him no reproof for bearing the sword—no orders to relinquish the army; but said of him, “ I have not found so great faith in Israel.”
Another centurion we read of, who was a devout man, that feared God with all his house, wh gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. The character given him is excellent; but he had not, as yet heard of the gospel way of salvation. As he was at prayer, he was warned opf God, bu a holy angel, to send for a New Testament preacher; and the preacher was also warned by a vision to go to the centurion, and tell him the way of salvation, and what he ought to do. Peter came, accordingly, and preached to him the forgiveness of sins, in the name of Jesus; and, when the Holy ghost fell on him, and those that were assembled with him, Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord; but gave him no reproof for bearing a military commission—no orders to resign his command of the Italian band.
The parable of the marriage made for the king’s son, and the dinner made ready, is so self-evident in its meaning, that all interpreters are agreed about it. The king’s son, is Christ. The sumptuous dinner, intends the blessings of grace in the gospel, including forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The first bidden guests were the Jews, who made light of it, and murdered the servants of the king: they both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets—persecuted the apostles—pleased not God, and were contrary unto all men. For their opposition to the truth, and malice prepense against the messengers of it, He (the king) sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city. That these armies intend the Roman legions, the murderers, the Jews, and the city, Jerusalem, there seems to be no real doubt. This event took place more than three score years after the beginning of the Christian era. Here, then is one instance in which the Almighty made use of war, after the gospel dispensation took place; and wars and rumors of wars have been in the world ever since. Many of the sore calamities, which God inflicts on wicked nations, (spoken of in the book of Revelations,) are evidently effected by the scourge of war.
But one thing should be particularly noticed, viz., that war was never appointed by God, by an original statute. Laws of civil government—putting away wives—war and such like precepts, were not from the beginning. As they all presuppose SIN in creatures, they could not have been appointed until sin had taken place. But after rebellious creatures had kindled the fire of hatred and war, the Almighty varied his precepts to meet their condition, and of course appointed war, which rebellious creatures had made, to punish them for their rebellion. This was the case in Old Testament times, and is as true in these days.
The Old Testament seems to be a kind of accommodation of God to fallen barbarous men, containing the best rules that the condition and general good of the world would admit of, having its special bearings towards the Jews.
The New Testament is not fraught with a code of civil laws, or national maxims, but has the salvation of souls as its object.
It appears, therefore, proper to examine the rise and rage of war among men, and whether any or all wars can be justified, on the principle of eternal right and wrong. Acknowledging this, however, in our examination, that the principle of eternal right and wrong, like a golden cord, runs through the Old and New Testaments, and shines with a thousand times more effulgence, than human reason can paint it with.
It is reasonable to conclude that the parent of all rational beings allots to each of them a certain degree of national right and independence, which no other individual, nor many individuals, in concert, ought to deprive him of. If this was not the case, individuals would never feel guilt for what they do, nor be accountable to their Maker for their deeds; but society must bear the whole. But as guilt preys upon individuals, for overt acts, and as every one must give an account of himself to his Maker, the argument is conclusive that each has a measure of original right, of whie he cannot justly be deprived. In this measure of natural right, exists life, liberty and property. Should one individual, therefore, be attacked by another individual, or a number of them in connection, in quest of life, liberty or property, the injured individual has a just right to use his weapon to defend himself, and if blood and life are lost in the contest, the guilt falls upon the assailants.
If no resistence can be justly offered to repel violence, it would follow of course, that one or two individuals might arm themselves, and destroy whole nations.
This kind of assault began with the first men that ever was born of a woman. His works were evil, and he slew his brother, and has ever since been called a murderer.
In process of time, individuals found it necessary to form into collective bodies, to withstand the aggressions of daring individuals and banditti. And what was unjust or expedient among individuals at first, became unjust or expedient among these collective bodies, now called governments and nations of earth.
As an individual who assaults and kills another, is a guilty murderer, s the nation that wages war, out of vain glory, from enmity, through covetousness, or from any other motive than self-defence, is guilty of murder, and will be treated by the King of kings as such. For notwithstanding any use that the Almighty may make of war, as a scourge to wicked nations, yet the nation that plunges voluntarily into it, is always criminal. Let all unrighteous, offensive wars cease, and there cannot be any righteous defensive wars on earth: for, if there is no assailant, there can be no defendant.
When one nation or government encroaches upon the territory or property of another government, dictates the other about her laws or rulers, or sheds the blood and enslaves the persons of her citizens, whether it is done under a proclamation of war or not, it is offensive war. And after the injured government has remonstrated the exercised all becoming patience, if a cessation and restitution do not follow, a defensive war seems not only justifiable but imperious; for the nation that does not contend for its own right, contends for the wrong of the encroaching nation.
Although Christianity, in its purest state, was not national, but personal and ecclesiastic, yet it is now become a national characteristic, to distinguish those nations where Christianity is professed, from Pagans, Turks and Jews.
Granting the propriety of the title, (which in fact is very disputable,) these nations, as bodies politic, may wage war upon the same footing as other nations, and on no other, viz., to defend their lives, liberty and property from the hands of those who assault them without cause. Nothing can be more horrid and wicked, than for these Christian nations to form their crusades and holy wars to convert the heathen, violently take away the land of the savages and make slaves of the prisoners.
But supposing there was a kingdom or commonwealth, of not only nominal Christians, but of real disciples of Jesus, whose hearts and practices were as perfect as this state of the world admits of, would it be lawful and duty for them to proclaim war, on any account?
This question is predicated upon a supposition which has never existed, it is presumed, since Christianity was introduced among men. The tares and the wheat have grown together, and will continue to do so until the harvest. Some colonies, however, have been settled by companies that made some advances towards it; but Roger Williams, Mr. Davenport and William Penn, with their respective associates, in Rhode Island, New Haven and Pennsylvania found so many tares among themselves, that they were obliged to have civil law (which is always sanctioned by the sword) to govern by. And notwithstanding Williams and Penn were great favorites of the savages, yet those colonies were involved in war.”
There is no doubt but many of those good people, who condemn national war of every description, are sincere in their profession; but should there be a commonwealth, in which all the leading characters, who control the destinies of bodies politic, were real saints, and conscience bound against all war, should that commonwealth be invaded by a hostile army, of less physical strength than the commonwealth possessed, is there any doubt but what the citizens of said commonwealth would sincerely change their opinion? Would they not be guilty of neglecting the means which were in their hands, to defend themselves from the wrong of others, if they did not? Could not the most pious saint meet the hostile foe, in such a case, with the high praises of God in his mouth, and a two edged sword in his hand? Could he not do as a venerable old man did at Deerfield, in an Indian war? Said he, “I met an Indian, and I loved him; but to defend my right from his wrong, after praying the Lord to have mercy on his soul, I shot a bullet through his heart.”
We may reason from a unit to a universe: that which is right or wrong in an individual, would be the same in a government. Such kind of defensive war, is the only war that can be justified upon the principle of eternal right; all other wars are robbery, piracy and murder. And yet, the misanthropy and barbarity of fallen men are so great, that wars waged in avarice, on purpose to plunder—in ambition to rise high in esteem—or through hatred to a rival, are called honorable wars; and the more they can slaughter, the more splendid is the battle; while those who fall of their own, are said to be covered with glory; and, if they succeed to deprive the nation with whom they are at war, of all its sovereignty and rights, Te Deum is chanted, and the leaders of the war are led in triumph.
Military force, whether armed with staves, stones, battle-axes, swords or fire-arms, should never be called forth, but to repel invasions, suppress insurrections, and enforce the laws. The words of Washington, in his last will and testament, breathe forth the spirit of a good citizen. In bequeathing his sword to his kinsman, he adds, “Never draw it but in defence of your contryu’s rights; and, when drawn, never sheath it until the object is attained.”
It is a melancholy thought, that, in all ages, men, as individuals and as nations, have been so ungrateful, covetous, and full of misanthropy, that justice and goodness could not restrain them without the scourge of severity; but, when the King of kings gives orders to “loose the four angels, which are prepared to kill the third part of men,” it is “in righteousness—HE doth judge and make war.” So individuals, in prosecuting other individuals, and nations, in warring with other nations, should do it out of love to right, and not from a spirit of hatred.
The man who prosecutes his neighbor before a legal bar, does, in fact, declare war with him, as much as one nation does with another when it commences military hostilities. How happy it would be for the world, if there was so much virtue in it, that no kind of war would be necessary! If every man and every nation would do right to their neighbors, there would not and could not be any war on earth. But the reasoning is irrefutable, that those individuals who conduct in a manner that justifies a legal prosecution against them, when collected together in a political body, would conduct so as to justify a war of hostilities against them.
The path is plain before us: let no individual work ill to his neighbor, and let no nation be unjust to another, and war will cease forever.
As things are managed at present, if not in individual, yet a frw control the destinies of each nation. The mass of the people are so ignorant that they know not why war is proclaimed, or so circumstanced that they cannot help it. In such cases, some fight for a living, and others because they are forced to. To conquer or to be conquered leaves them in the same predicament. This is a sore evil under the sun, but it is common among men.
The religion of Jesus, in its genuine course, fills men with such meekness and philanthropy, that, if it was universally possessed, there would be no prosecution at law, nor any wars among men. But, when Christianity is prostituted, to be the characteristic of an unhallowed nation—a principle of state policy—a test to office—a footstool to promotion—a sinecure to religious orders, and a piece of merchandise, it ever will be, as it ever has been, followed by war and slaughter.
Among nations, as among individuals, it frequently happens that each party has injured the other; and, if they plunge into war in that predicament, it is like the potsherds of the earth striving with the potsherds of the earth. Innocency has nothing to plead; justice has nothing to hope. If they mutually make confession and restoration, war will be prevented. If one party only makes all reasonable concessions, and the other party makes none, but rushes into war, the offence lies on the side of the last party, and the first is the defendant.
In this wrong world, right does not always take place. “Truth faileth in the streets, and equity cannot enter;” hence, victory and triumph often attend the basest tyrant, while the unoffending are trodden down like the mire of the street. The king of Babylon conquered and subjugated more than twenty-five kingdoms (see Jeremiah XXV.) and made them drink the bitter cup. The Lord used him as a scourge to those wicked nations; but, as they had done the king of Babylon no harm, he was wicked in his offensive wars upon them; and, therefore, in his turn, the king of Sheshach (Babylon) was made to drink after the.
RIGHT will finally take place. Though the contest between truth and error, right and wrong, is long, and, to appearance, very doubtful in its issue, yet truth and right must triumph at last.