« PreviousContinue »
of another. The various connexions and interests of nations serve to spread hostility when once commenced. This was particularly exemplified in the late contest, into which nation after nation was drawn or forced. The torrent of blood swelled, as it rolled on; still fresh sluices opened, till it spread and widened, and seemed without fathom or bound. Like the Avalanche from the mountain's top, it rushed on, accumulating as it fell, and finding in one work of ruin materials to render the next more wide and dreadful. It stretched from the old world to the new, wrapping both continents in its flames, and covering the earth as with a fiery deluge of desolation. () Let us turn to its moral character.
War is one great crime. It is not so much a violation as a repeal of the laws of morality and of God. The precepts of the Bible are directly opposite to the maxims of war. “ The fundamental rule of the first is, to do good; of the latter, to inflict injuries : the former commands us to succour the oppressed; the latter to overwhelm the defenceless: the former teaches men to love their enemies; the latter to make themselves terrible even to strangers. The rules of morality will not suffer us to promote the dearest interest by falsehood; the maxims of war applaud it when employed in the destruction of others." The Bible says, “ Thou shalt not kill;"
war enjoins, kill the greater number the more glorious : the Bible commands, “ Thou shalt not steal ;” plunder is of war both cause and consequence, and indissoluble companion: the gospel says, “ Overcome evil with good ;” but war exhorts to subdue evil by greater evil, and more tremendous malignity : the one says, “ Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you ;" and the other, carry outrage, misery, and murder amongst those who have excited no anger, inflicted no injury. Who shall make these principles coalesce?
But surely defensive war is justifiable. And what is defensive war? According to the language of courts, almost every war that ever was waged has been a defensive war, and on both sides too. The defence of what? Of usurped territory; of obsolete claims to dominion; of arrogant pretensions ; of the lordship of distant colonies; of imaginary interests; of individual assumptions of royalty; and of a thousand absurd and wicked things, which war has been made to defend; as if changing a term could obliterate a crime? If by the phrase be only meant, that, when a land is invaded, its inhabitants take up arms to repel the intruders, and lay them down when that is done,-it is a case not now under discussion ; it is not properly called war ; nor, if this be all, should it be in
volved in the same censure. The criminality of wars is seen in their authors, their agents, and their effects on society.
The authors and promoters of wars incur a dreadful responsibility. The most favourable statement which can be made, is, that they err in calculation, by thinking that war would advance, the interests of their country. This error is gross enough; for where is the war on record that proved really advantageous to the people ? They set all experience at defiance, and throw away the lives of multitudes upon a desperate game of chances. And should it be successful, the good of the victors must be much less than the sum of evil which they and the losers share; so that in the most plausible case, they are condemned, as sacrificing to selfish patriotism the dictates of philanthropy. The real motives are generally still worse. It is sometimes an expedient to take off public attention from the correction of internal evils. Sometimes engaged in to gratify the pride, passion or ambition of princes. What motives have of late years cherished the love of war in this country? Some desired it to raise the price of corn; others to destroy the commerce of rival countries, and gain us the monopoly of the markets of the world; others for the opportunities afforded of gaining wealth or honours. Is all this morally innocent ? Are
classes of men to write, with impunity, their ca. prices in a people's blogd, or build their greatness on a people's ruin?
As to the military profession, the abolition of which would be now equivalent to that of war, without at all censuring those who may conscientiously enter into it, or approve of it, I have no hesitation myself in coming to the opinion, that it is utterly inconsistent with Christianity. The soldier hires himself out to kill at the command of others. Did he only fight when convinced of the justice of the cause, the case would be very different; but he gives up the right of deciding on that. If a war begun, as he thinks, in a just cause, by some change of circumstances, become unjust in its continuance, he cannot withdraw : and the established maxim is, that he is to leave that to his superiors. What is he, in such a case, but a paid and licensed murderer? The terms seem harsh-are they not just ? God has pronounced him guilty who sheds his fellow's blood : there may be an exception for self-defence ; but for the command of superiors there is no exception. Mr. Scargill, in his short but excellent essay on War, avows the same opinions : “He who wantonly puts a fellow-creature to death, is guilty of murder; and he who puts a fellow-creature to death, without knowing why, is equally guilty; the cause may be good, but if he knows
it not, he is a murderer. No casuistry can save him from the guilt of it. He may conclude that they who lead him to slaughter know and are assured of the justice of the cause, but unless he knows it also, he is in the sight of God guilty of violating the laws of heaven. A man may be honestly engaged in the service of a certain cause, in which circumstances may lead him to war, and if fighting may be justified at all, it may be right in certain circumstances; but he is not thereby bound to fight in every cause which his superiors may adopt.” The plain question is, does the command of a superior justify a violation of the laws of God? If it does for the hired soldier, it does also for the hired assassin. Suppose a man were to go to Copenhagen, and shoot a person whom he never saw before; then to Washington, and stab another, by whom he was never injured; then to the coast of France, and burn a third in his own house; what would all this be but repeated and atrocious murder? Would its moral character be changed by the command of a prince, minister, or general ? Certainly not; any more than their command would justify perjury or forgery. Indeed, the vindicators of war must plead that they would justify these also. Armies need spies, and spies must deceive; and forgery was more than once or twice employed in the late contest with great applause.