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UNDER THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION.
BY JOSEPH JOHN GURNEY.
Of all the practices which lay waste the welfare of men, there is none which operates to so great an extent, or with so prodigious an efficacy, as war. Not only is it productive of an incalculable amount of bodily and mental suffering, but it is also a moral evil of the very deepest dye. “ From whence come wars and fightings among you ?” asked the apostle James. “ Come they not hence, even of your
lusts which war in your members ?” War, then, has its origin in corrupt passions; and, arising out of such an evil root, this tree of bitterness seldom fails to produce, in vast abundance, the fruits of malice, wrath, cruelty, fraud, rapine, lasciviousness, confusion and murder.
Although few persons will dispute the accuracy of this picture, or deny the general position, that war is at variance with the principles of Christianity, it is still a singular fact, that the Friends * are almost the only class of Christians who regard it as their duty entirely to abstain from that practice. The generality of professed Christians are accustomed to make distinctions between one kind of war and another. They will condemn one which is oppressive and unjust, advancing in this respect no farther than the moralists of every age; while, on the other hand, they hesitate as little in expressing their approbation of wars which are defensive, or undertaken in a just cause.
The main argument from Scripture for the rectitude of warfare in what is termed a just cause, is the divinely sanctioned crample of the Israelites. That they were engaged in many wars ; that those wars were often
destructive, yet carried forward under the direct sanction and clear command of the Almighty; are points which no reader of the Old Testament can deny. But we must not forget,
* We hardly need inform our readers, that the author is a Quaker, one of the most eminent among his brethren, and writes here in vina dication of their views concerning war.
We abridge his essay, but omit none of his views or arguments.-Am. Ed.
P. T. NO. XVII.
that the wars of the Israelites differed from all other wars in certain very important particulars. That very divine sanction which is pleaded, did in fact distinguish their wars from all those in which any other nation is known to have been ever engaged. They were undertaken in pursuance of God's express command, and directed to the accomplishment of his revealed designs. These designs had a twofold object—the temporal preservation and prosperity of his peculiar people, and the punishment and destruction of idolatrous nations. The Israelites were sometimes engaged in war without any direction from God; but such of their military operations as were sanctioned of the Lord, assumed the character of a work of obedience and faith. They went forth to battle in compliance with his command, and in reliance
his aid. These characteristics of their warfare were attended with two very marked consequences; first, that their conflicts, so far from being attended by that destruction of moral and pious feeling which is so generally the effect of war, were often accompanied by high religious excellence in those who thus fought the battles of the Lord, as in the case of Joshua, the Judges, and David; and secondly, that these contests were followed by uniform success. The Lord was carrying on his own designs by the Israelites; and, under such circumstances, their success afforded an evidence of his approbation. Now, it cannot be predicated even of the justest wars among other nations, that they are undertaken by the direct command of Jehovah; or that they are a work of obedience and faith ; or that they are often accompanied with high religious excellence in those who undertake them; or that they are followed by uniform success. Even if the system of Israelitish morals, then, was still in force without alteration, we could not justly conclude from such an example, that warfare, as generally practised, is in any case consistent with the will of God.
The defenders of modern warfare plead, also, the authority of John the Baptist. Various classes of persons resorted to him for instruction ; and among others, “ the soldiers demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages.” Since the precept, do violence to no man, probably related to their deportment among friends and allies, it may be allowed that he did not on this occasion forbid the practice of fighting; but, it must still be observed, that his expressions afford no direct encouragement to that practice. His doctrine is neutral. The question whether war is in itself lawful or unlawful, was one which he obviously did not entertain. On the supposition that the soldiers would continue to be soldiers, he confined himself to recommending a gentle, orderly, and submissive demeanor.
But John the Baptist, though the forerunner of Christ, did not himself belong to the Christian dispensation. His moral system was that of the law; and, admitting that system to continue unchanged, we still may fairly deny that the example of the Hebrews, or the expressions of John, afford any valid authority for warfare as generally practised. Our objection to every species of war, however, rests principally on that more perfect revelation which distinguishes the dispensation of the gospel. We contend earnestly, that all warfare is wholly at variance with the Christian religion.
In support of this position, I may adduce the testimony of the prophets; for, in their predictions respecting the gospel dispensation, they frequently allude both to its superior spirituality and its purer morality. Under this dispensation, says Isaiah, “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. ii. 2—4. The prophet Micah repeats the same prediction, and adds “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid." iv. 144.
The times here foretold, are confessedly those of the gospel, and are elsewhere described in similar language. În Isa. ix. 6, the Messiah is expressly denominated the “ Prince of Peace.” In Isa. xi., the reign of Christ is painted in glowing colors, as accompanied by the universal harmony of God's creation. Lastly, in Zech. ix. 9, 10, read, as the result of his reign, “ I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow shall be cut off ; and he shall speak peace unto the heathen ; and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.”
In these passages, a total cessation from war is described as one of the most conspicuous characteristics of Christianity Such a consequence is represented by Isaiah as arising from the conversion of heathen nations; and who
ever should be members of God's true church, she was no longer to participate in the warfare of the world. The chariot was to be cut off from Ephraim, and the war-horse from Jerusalem. For the full accomplishment of these prophecies, we must, indeed, look forward to a period yet to come; but the inspired writers describe this complete, uninterrupted peaceableness, as a distinguishing feature of the Christian dispensation, as the result of obedience to its law; and we inay therefore infer that, if its true nature were fully understood, and its laws exactly obeyed, a conversion to our holy religion would be uniformly accompanied with entire abstinence from war, and peace thus become exactly co-extensive with Christianity itself.
In accordance with the prophecies I have quoted, Christianity promulgates certain moral rules which would, if faithfully obeyed, lead to the results predicted. I allude not exclusively to those divine laws which condemn aggressive warfare; for these laws are far from being powerful enough to produce the effect in question. They were, indeed, commonly admitted in the world long before the Christian dispensation; but never have they been found sufficient to convert swords into plough-shares, and spears into pruning-hooks. In point of fact, the distinction drawn between just and unjust warfare, is in most cases entirely nugatory; for there are few wars which are not defended, and not many perhaps which the persons waging them do not belicve to be justified, by some plea of self-preservation or honorable retribution. Some stronger and more comprehensive principles, then, were obviously needed in order to the accomplishment of this great end; and these principles are unfolded in the pure, exalted code of morality revealed in the gospel. They are the non-resistance of injuries, the return of good for evil, and the love of our enemies.
The Lord Jesus himself promulgated these principles as distinguishing his own dispensation from that of the law. “ Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth ; but I say unto you,
resist not evil ; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven;
for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” So also Peter commands the believers not to render "evil for evil, nor railing for railing; but contrariwise, blessing.” Paul holds up the very same standard : "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves; but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for, in doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good."
In this fundamental law of the gospel, our Lord has laid his are to the root, by establishing certain principles which, honestly observed, must put an end to every evil practice. Of this nature precisely are the principles we are now considering ; and, if followed up with true consistency, they cannot fail to abolish every species of warfare. The great law of Christ is the law of love ; and, since no kind of war can ever consist with this love, it is indisputable that, where the latter prevails as it ought, the former must entirely cease.
I grant that the above precepts of our Lord are addressed to individuals; and hence the clear duty of individual Christians to obey them on every occasion. If attacked, insulted, injured, persecuted, they ought to suffer wrong, to revenge no injury, to return good for evil, and to love their enemies. So also, if exposed to the calamities of war, their duty remains unaltered. If the sword of the invader be lifted up against them, the precept is still, Resist not evil. If the insults and injuries of the carnal warrior be heaped upon them, they are still forbidden to avenge themselves, and still commanded to pray for their persecutors. If surrounded by a host of enemies the most violent and malicious, Chris*tian love must still be unbroken, still universal. The law of Christ then requires individuals to abstain from all war-. fare. So the early Christians did. When Julian was bestowing upon his troops a largess with a view to some approaching battle, his bounty was refused by Martin, a soldier previously converted to Christianity. Hitherto," said he, “I have fought for thee; permit me now to fight for my God. I am the soldier of Christ; for me, the combat is unlawful.”
The soldier retains his private responsibility, and can