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ments for war, that they have had recourse to such equivocal and far-fetched arguments. Grotius adduces a passage which he says is “ a leading point of evidence, to show that the right of war is not taken away by the law of the gospel.” And what is this leading evidence? That Paul, in writing to Timothy, exhorts that prayer should be made " for kings!” Another evidence which this great man adduces is, that Paul suffered himself to be protected on his journey by a guard of soldiers, without hinting any disapprobation of repelling force by force. But how does Grotius know that Paul did not hint this? And who can imagine that to suffer himself to be guarded by a military escort, in the appointment of which he had no control, was to approve war?
But perhaps the real absence of sound Christian arguments in favor of war, is in no circumstance so remarkably intimated as in the citations of Milton in his Christian Doctrine. With regard to “ the duties of war," be refers to thirty-nine passages of Scripture, thirty-eight of which are from the Hebrew Scriptures; and what is the individual one from the Christian?
“What king going to war with another king!” &c. Luke xiv. 31.
Such are the arguments adduced from the Christian Scriptures by the advocates of war. These five passages are those which men of acute minds, studiously seeking for evidence, have selected. And what are they? Their evidence is in the majority of instances negative at best. A not intervenes. The centurion was not found fault with; Cornelius was not told to leave the profession ; John did not tell the soldiers to abandon the army; Paul did not refuse a military guard. I cannot forbear to solicit the reader to compare these objections with the pacific evidence of the gospel which has been laid before him, I would rather say, to compare it with the gospel itself; for the sum, the tendency, of the whole revelation is in our favor.
In an inquiry whether Christianity allows war, there is a subject that always appears to me of peculiar importance—the prophecies of the Old Testament respecting the arrival of a period of universal peace. The belief is perhaps general amongst Christians, that a time will come when vice shall be eradicated from the world, when the violent passions of mankind shall be repressed, and when the pure benignity of Christianity shall be universally diffused. That such a period will come, we indeed know assuredly; for God has promised it.
Of the many prophecies of the Old Testament respecting this period, we refer only to a few from the writings of Isaiah. În his predictions respecting the “last times,” by which he undoubtedly referred to the prevalence of the Christian religion, the prophet says, “ They shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the wa
ters cover the sea. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, Wasting nor destruction within thy borders.”. Isa. ii. 4; xi. 9; Ix. 18.
Two things are to be observed in relation to these prophecies ; first, that it is the will of God that war should eventually be abolished. This consideration is of importance; for if war be not accordant with His will, war cannot be accordant with Christianity, which is the revelation of His will. Our business, however, is principally with the second consideration—that Christianity will be the means of introducing this period of Peace. From those who say that our religion sanctions war, an answer must be expected to questions such as these: By what instrumentality, by the diffusion of what principles, will the prophecies of Isaiah be fulfilled ? Are we to expect some new system of religion by which the imperfections of Christianity shall be removed, and its deficiencies supplied? Are we to believe that God sent his only Son into the world to institute a religion such as this, a religion that in a few centuries would require to be altered and amended ? If Christianity allows war, they must tell us what is to extirpate war. If she allows “violence, and wasting, and destruction,” they must tell us what principles are to produce gentleness, and benevolence, and forbearance. I know not what answer such inquiries will receive from the advocate of war; but I know that Isaiah says the change will be effected by Christianity.
Whatever the principles of Christianity will require hereafter, they require now. Christianity, with its present principles and obligations, is to produce universal peace. It becomes, therefore, an absurdity, a simple contradiction, to maintain that the principles of Christianity allow war, when they, and they only, are to eradicate it. If we have no other guarantee of Peace than the existence of our religion, and no other hope of Peace than its diffusion, how can that religion sanction war? The case is clear. A more perfect obedience to that same gospel, which, we are told, sanctions slaughter, will be the means, and the only means, of exterminating slaughter from the world. It is not from an alteration of Christianity, but from an assimilation of Christians to its nature, that we are to hope. It is because we violate the principles of our religion, because we are not what they require us to be, that wars are continued. If we will not be peaceable, let us at least be honest, and acknowledge that we continue to slaughter one another, not because Christianity permits it, but because we reject her laws.
The opinions of the earliest professors of Christianity upon the lawfulness of war are of importance, because they who lived nearest to the time of its Founder, were most likely to be informed of his intentions, and to practise them without those adulterations which we know have been introduced by the lapse of ages. During a considerable period after the death of Christ, it is certain that his followers believed he had forbidden war, and rolled;
that, in consequence of this belief, many of them refused to engage in it, whatever the consequence, whether reproach, or imprisonment, or death. These facts are indisputable." It is as easy,” says a learned writer of the seventeenth century, “ to obscure the sun at mid-day, as to deny that the primitive Christians renounced all revenge and war.” Christ and his Apostles delivered general precepts for the regulation of our conduct. It was necessary for their successors to apply them to their practice in life. And to what did they apply the pacific precepts which had been delivered ? They applied them to war, and believed they absolutely forbade it. This belief they derived from those very precepts on which we have insisted; they referred expressly to the same passages in the New Testament, and from the authority and obligation of those passages,they refused to bear arms.
A few examples from their history will show with what undoubting confidence they believed in the unlawfulness of war, and how much they were willing to suffer in the cause of Peace. Maximilian, as it is related in the Acts of Ruinart, was brought before the tribunal to be enrolled as a soldier. On the proconsul's asking his name, Maximilian replied, “ I am a Christian, and cannot fight.” It was, however, ordered that he should be en
but he refused to serve, still alleging that he was a Christian. He was immediately told that there was no alternative between bearing arms, and being put to death. But bis fidelity was not to be shaken ;—“I cannot fight,” said he, “ if I die." He continued steadfast to his principles, and was consigned to the executioner.
The primitive Christians not only refused to enlist in the army, but when they embraced Christianity, whilst already eplisted, they abandoned the profession at whatever cost. Marcellus was a centurion in the legion called Trajana. Whilst holding this commission, he became a Christian; and, believing in common with his fellow-Christians, that war was no longer permitted to him, he threw down his belt at the head of the legion, declaring that he had become a Christian, and would serve no longer. He was committed to prison ; but he was still faithful to Christianity. “ It is not lawful,” said he," for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration;" and he was, in consequence, put to death. Almost immediately afterwards, Cassian, notary to the same legion, gave up his office. He steadfastly maintained the sentiments of Marcellus, and like him was consigned to the executioner. Martin, of whom so much is said by Sulpicius Severus, was bred to the profession of arms, which, on his acceptance of Christianity, he abandoned. To Julian the Apostate, the only reason that we find he gave for his conduct, was this, “I
am a Christian, and therefore I cannot fight.” These were not the sentiments, and this was not the conduct, of insulated individuals who might be actuated by individual opinion, or by their private interpretations of the duties of Chris. tianity. Their principles were the principles of the body. They were recognized and defended by the Christian writers, their contemporaries. Justin Martyr and Tatian talk of soldiers and Christians as distinct characters; and Tatian says that the Christians declined even military commands. Clemens of Alexandria calls his Christian contemporaries the “Followers of Peace,” and expressly tells us “ that the followers of peace used none of the implements of war.” Lactantius, another early Christian, says expressly, “It can never be lawful for a righteous man to go to war." About the end of the second century, Celsus, one of the opponents of Christianity, charged the Christians with refusing to bear arms even in case of necessity. Origen, the defender of the Christians, does not think of denying the fact ; he admits the refusal, and justifies it, because war was unlawful. Even after Christianity had spread over almost the whole of the known world, Tertullian, in speaking of a part of the Roman armies, including more than one-third of the standing legions of Rome, distinctly informs us that “ not a Christian could be found amongst them.
All this is explicit. The evidence of the following facts is, however, yet more determinate and satisfactory. Some of the arguments which, at the present day, are brought against the advocates of peace, were then urged against those early Christians; and these arguments they examined and repelled. This indicates investigation and inquiry, and manifests that their belief of the unlawfulness of war was not a vague opinion, hastily admitted, and loosely floating amongst them, but was the result of deliberate examination, and a consequent firm conviction that Christ had forbidden it. The very same arguments which are brought in defence of war at the present day, were brought against the Christians sixteen hundred years ago, and they were repelled by those faithful contenders for the purity of our religion. It is remarkable, too, that Tertullian appeals to the precepts from the Mount in proof of those principles on which we are insisting, that the dispositions which the precepts inculcate, are not compatible with war, and that war therefore is irreconcilable with Christianity
If it be possible, a still stronger evidence of the primitive belief is contained in the circumstance, that some of the Christian authors declared that the refusal of the Christians to bear arms, was a sulfilment of ancient prophecy. The peculiar strength of this evidence consists in this, that the fact of a refusal to bear arms is assumed as notorious and unquestioned. Irenæus, who lived about the year 180, affirms that the prophecy of Isaiah, which declared that men should turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, had been fulfilled in his time; " for the Christians,” says he, “have changed their swords and their lances into instruments of peace, and they know not how to fight.”—Justin Martyr, his contemporary, writes, “ That the prophecy is fulfilled, you have good reason to believe for we who in times past killed one another, do not now fight with our enemies." Tertullian, who lived later, says, “ You must confess that the prophecy has been accomplished as far as the
practice of every individual is concerned, to whom it is applicable.”
It has been sometimes said, that the motive which influenced the early Christians to refuse to engage in war, consisted in the idolatry connected with the Roman armies. One motive this idolatry unquestionably afforded; but it is obvious from the quotations we have given, that their belief of the unlawfulness of fighting, independent of idolatry, was an insuperable objection to engaging in war. Their words are explicit: “I cannot fight, if I die."_“I am a Christian, and therefore I cannot fight." “ Christ,” says Tertullian,“ by disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier ;” and Peter was not about to fight in the armies of idolatry, So entire was their conviction of the incompatibility of war with our religion, that they would not even be present at the gladiatorial fights, “lest,” says Theophilus, “ we should become partakers of the murders committed there.” Can any one believe that they who would not even witness a battle between two men, would themselves fight in a battle between armies ? And the destruction of a gladiator, it should be remembered, was authorized by the state, as much as the destruction of enemies in war.
. It is therefore indisputable, that the Christians who lived nearest to the time of our Savior, believed with undoubting confidence, that he had unequivocally forbidden war ; that they openly avowed this belief; and that in support of it, they were willing to sacrifice, and did sacrifice, their fortunes and their lives.
Christians, however, afterwards became soldiers; but when ? When their general fidelity to Christianity became relaxed; when, in other respects, they violated its principles; when they had began “to dissemble,” and “to falsify their word,” and “to cheat;" when “ Christian casuists” had persuaded them that they might “sit at meat in the idol's temple;" when Christians accepted even the priesthoods of idolatry; in a word, “ when they had ceased to be Christians.”
This departure from the original faithfulness, however, was not suddenly general. Like every other corruption, war obtained by degrees. During the first two hundred years, not a Christian soldier is upon record. In the third century, when Christianity became partially corrupted, Christian soldiers were common. The number increased with the increase of the general profligacy, until at last, in the fourth century, Christians became soldiers without hesitation, and perhaps without remorse. Here and there, however, an ancient father still lifted up his voice for Peace;
but these, one after another, dropping from the world, the tenet that war is unlawful, ceased at length to be a tenet of the church.
Let the advocates of war, then, always bear in mind, that they are contending for a corruption which their forefathers abhorred, and are making Jesus Christ the sanctioner of crimes which his purest followers offered up their lives because they would not commit.