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PEACE AND GOVERNMENT.
BY GEO, C. BECKWITH.
I REGARD civil government as lawful, expedient and necessary; and for this belief I find ample reasons in the nature of man, in the condition and wants of society, in the past and present indications of providence, in the history of God's dealings with his ancient people, in the explicit, oft-repeated instructions of the Old Testament, and the incidental admissions of the New. Mankind are made for society ; society requires government; and a government without penalties, or without the right and power to enforce its penalties, and coerce the obedience of its own subjects, would be not only a nullity in practice, but a contradiction in terms.
I also believe all war to be inconsistent with the gospel. Their spirit, their aims, their principles, the qualities they require, the deeds they enjoin, all their distinctive peculiarities are clearly antagonistic and incompatible. The gospel enforces the Decalogue anew; war is a temporary repeal of all its commands. The gospei enjoins love, not hatred; forgiveness, not revenge; universal beneficence, not indiscriminate, wholesale mischief; prayer for our enemies, not against them; doing them good instead of evil ; not returning evil for evil, but overcoming it only with good. It condemns ALL THAT CONSTITUTES WAR. Thou shalt not kill ; love thy neighbor as thyself ; whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them; do good unto all men ; follow peace with all men ; love your enemies ; do good to them that hate you ; if thine enemy hunger, feed him ; whosoever smitelh thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also ; resist not evil, but overcome evil with good. If such passages as these do not condemn all the moral elements of war, I can imagine no language that would. Every form of this custom is a direct violation of such precepts. It can exist only by the very feelings and deeds here prohibited in the plainest terms possible. Who ever heard of a war that killed nobody, that overcame evil with good, that turned the other cheek to the smiter, that did good unto all men, and was carried on in the spirit of love, forgiveness, and universal beneficence ?
The thing is plainly impossible; and hence all war must be utterly unchristian, unless the New Testament permits it as an exception, and thus exempts government in this case from all obligation to obey such precepts as I have just quoted. Here is the only alternative; for, since every species of war confessedly does what the Bible forbids, it can be justified only on the ground of an express exception like that of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, or the Jewish rulers taking life as a punishment for crime. Both these contradicted the prohibition, thou shalt not kill, and were justifiable only because the same Lawgiver of Sinai prescribed them as ex
ceptions. Can you find in the New Testament a similar justification of war? Does Christ or his Apostles exempt nations, in their intercourse with each other, from obligation to obey the general precepts of his gospel, and expressly permit them, in palpable contradiction of those precepts, to wage war in any case? If so, show us the chapter and verse of such permission.
This theory of exceptions is indispensable to the vindication of civil government as an ordinance of God. It is quite in vain to think of reconciling any of its penalties with the letter or the real import of such passages as I have already quoted. They are clearly antipodal. A government, when punishing offenders either with death, imprisonment or fine, surely does not turn the other cheek to the smiter, nor overcome evil with good, nor forgive the transgressor, and give place unto wrath, that is, stand aside, and let God alone inflict vengeance. It takes his place, a temporary substitute for his government; and, armed with the sword as “the minister of God,” it comes forth “a revenger to execute wrath (punishment) upon him that doeth evil.” A thief or a murderer does an evil to individuals or society, perhaps to both; and government in turn inflicts upon him another evil in the form of a penalty for his crime. Neither the nature nor the degree of this penalty can alter the case; for, whether severe or mild, a halter or a prison, a pecuniary fine, or simple disgrace, you return one evil for another; not perhaps the same, yet still an evil, not a blessing or a pleasure. It is retribution. You do not forgive; you punish. The offender has done an evil, and you make him suffer for it. This I call retribution. It may be righteous, and even merciful; still it is retribution or retaliation, one evil returned in punishment for another. I take this to be the central idea of all punishment. It is plainly absurd to speak of forgiving any one that is punished. Forgiveness and punishment are antagonistic, incompatible ideas. A murderer pardoned, yet hung! A sinner forgiven, and then sent to hell!! The forgiveness of an offender is the remission of his punishment, and his restoration to the favor he has forfeited; and hence all penal acts are in plain, palpable contradiction of those precepts which require us to forgive, or to overcome evil with good, and can be justified only as exceptions made by the same authority that enjoined the latter. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul puts this exception by the side of the rule ; for, after bidding us not avenge ourselves, but give place for God to repay vengeance, while we overcome evil only with good, he proceeds immediately to represent civil government as “the ordinance of God, a terror to evil works, bearing not the sword in vain; as the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Rom. xii. 17, 21, and xiii. 147.) Thus does Paul expressly allow to government what he had repeatedly forbidden to individuals; and the former is consistent with the latter only as a special exception to a general rule. Peter also speaks (1 Pet. ii. 13—17) of governors as sent by God for the punishment of evil doers; and the New Testament, like the Old, distinctly recognizes the right of government to punish and coerce its own subjects.
The motive of punishment does not materially affect the argument. If evil is returned for evil, or attempted to be overcome with evil, the letter, the real import of the gospel is contravened, so far as this class of precepts is concerned, and can be justified only by producing counter instructions from the same authority. If you say you can chastise your child, and government can send a vagrant or a drunkard to the house of correction for their good, I grant it, but insist that such cases are remedial rather than punitive, and should be regarded as methods of discipline, and means of reformation. Do you deem it possible to punish without malice; to fine, imprison, and even hang an offender, from motives of benevolence ? 'Be it so; but from motives of benevolence to whom? Surely not to the criminal, but to the individuals or the community whom he has injured. Both the motive and the deed may be right; but for neither of them can you get any authority from such passages as I have heretofore adduced. These forbid an eye for an eye, a stripe for a blow; one evil in the form of penalty, for another in the shape of crime. I fully believe that the gospel allows such retribution, such condign punishment even here; but our authority for this we must seek in a class of texts quite different from the former, and which restrict the application of these texts without altering their import. When God requires us not to resist evil, but overcome it with good, he means precisely what he says; and when he subsequently authorizes rulers to punish wrong doers, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, he introduces an exception to that general rule. I admit the exception to be as valid as the rule; but it is only an exception, not the rule, and cannot alter the meaning of the latter considered in itself. Should a legislature ordain, that every man shall be liable to military service, and afterwards exempt certain persons from such service, this exemption would of course be as valid as the general law; but it would still be a mere exception, and could neither alter the natural import of that law in itself considered, nor prove that, without such an exception, every citizen would not actually be required to do military duty.
This principle of exceptions is no novelty. The same God that proclaimed from Sinai, thou shalt not kill, bade Joshua destroy the Canaanites, and required Jewish rulers to inflict the penalty of death for a variety of crimes; but it would be preposterous to adduce these exceptions as so many proofs that the sixth commandment does not mean just what it says. This is the rule, those the exceptions. The rule forbids all taking of life. Even Dr. Dwight, though a staunch advocate both of capital punishment and defensive war, still says of the prohibition, thou shalt not kill, “to kill is the thing here forbidden; and by the words it is forbidden in all cases whatsoever. Whenever we kill, therefore, we are guilty of transgressing this command, unless we are permitted to take away the life in question by an exception which God himself has made to the rule.” Here is the principle of reasoning, the law of exceptions, for which I contend. The sixth command, in itself considered, forbids the taking of life in any case; but it surely does not follow, that the author of this prohibition might not himself require or perinit the sacrifice of life, or that the infliction of capital punishment in such case would contravene his will. It would of course contravene the prohibition, thou shall not kill, because life would actually be taken; but it would still be an act of obedience to what he subsequently enjoins as a modification of that commandment.
We need this law of exceptions to meet other difficulties in the Bible. It is as easy to reconcile civil governinent with the strictest principles of peace, as it is with other undeniable precepts of the gospel. Penalties of every kind and degree contradict many of these precepts, and can be justified only on the ground of their being pernitted as exceptions ; but war is not thus permitted, and therefore comes under the full condemnation of such precepts as I have briefly quoted on the subject.
I plead, then, both for peace and for government, nor deem them at all incompatible. I believe all war contrary to the gospel, yet regard government as an institution divinely appointed for the good of mankind, and authorized at discretion to punish and coerce its subjects. I wish at present to prove not the truth of these positions, but merely their consistency with each other. I suppose all peace-men, in distinction from those modern non-resistants who deny the right of man to punish or coerce his fellow-man in any case, believe in the lawfulness of government with all the penalties and powers requisite for the well-being of society. So William Penn himself thought. His peace principles did not allow him to use or prepare warlike means of defence against even the ferocious savages surrounding his colony; yet he incorporated in his code of laws the penalty of death for murder, and deemed it necessary to arm government with power to coerce the obedience of its own subjects.
I admit the difficulty to be a serious one, and wish to put it in the strongest light possible. “If a government may punish its own subjects, why not wage war against foreigners? If it may put to death a crew of pirates, why not a hostile fleet bent on the same deeds of plunder and blood ? If it may execute a gang of ten robbers, why not destroy an army of ten thousand marauders from another nation? If it may suppress a mob or an insurrection with bullets and bayonets, why not employ the same means to repel an invading army commissioned to butcher, and burn, and ravage ? Does the distinction between a citizen and a foreigner, between a mob and an army, each committing or threatening the same outrages, make any real difference? If it does, ought we not to spare the domestic rather than the foreign offender?
Here is the difficulty in all its force; and I meet it at once by saying, God permits the taking of life in one case, but not in the other. He authorizes rulers to govern, but not to fight; to punish, but not to quarrel. Such acts, even if they were physically the same, would be morally different; and hence one may be permitted, while the other is forbidden. Such I take to be the fact; for God allows government, as I have shown, to punish its own subjects at
discretion, and to use all the force necessary to insure their obedience, but gives no government the right to wage war with another government, or to take the life of any persons not under its own jurisdiction. It has the power of life and death over its own citizens, but not over those of any other country. If they come as individuals within its limits, they become, while there, subject to its authority, amenable to its laws, and liable to its penalties. They are temporary citizens, and must for the time be treated as such. They are only private persons, not the avowed and recognized representatives of another government; and the treatment due to them as individuals, determines nothing in respect to the mutual rights and obligations of the two governments.
These stand to each other in the relation of moral agents subject to the general principles of the gospel; and hence the pacific precepts I have quoted as applicable to the intercourse of individuals, apply with equal force to governments in their intercourse, unless an exception is expressly made in favor of the latter. No such exception can I find in the New Testament, and thus am forced to the conclusion, that governments are no more at liberty than individuals, to fight each other in any case.
On this point the burden of proof lies with the advocates of war. The deeds of violence and blood inseparable from every kind of warfare, are confessedly contrary to those precepts of the gospel which require us not to resist evil, but overcome it with good ; to do good unto all men; to love, forgive and bless even our enemies; and, unless you can bring from the New Testament some passage which clearly permits what is so plainly forbidden in such precepts as these, we have no more right to kill an army of invaders in self-defence, than we have to renounce our religion, and turn Mohammedans or Pagans, for the preservation of liberty and life. No form of idolatry is more explicitly forbidden than are such deeds of vengeance; and, if you can get no exception in their favor from God himself, the prohibition remains in all its force, and binds us to obey, and abide the consequences.
Such an exception cannot be found in the New Testament; but do you still insist that it is implied in the admitted right of government to take the life of its own subjects ? I deny the implication, and demand the proof. Can you find it in any passage which gives to government its power over its own subjects? The thirteenth chapter of Romans, almost the only reliance for such a purpose, contains not a word to justify the inference, that one government may at will butcher the subjects of another for any purpose what
It was written, not to define the powers of government, but to inculcate submission to government, even though administered by Nero himself, then on the throne. Such was the chief, if not the sole design of Paul; and the powers of government as “the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath,” are but incidentally recognized merely for the purpose of enforcing the duty of implicit subjection. Paul here makes not the slightest allusion to the intercourse of one government with another.
But do you aver that the very idea of a government with discre