No one would ever have dreamed that war is Christian had it not been for the grave consequences, public and private, of a refusal to fight. In the words of the late Biship J C Ryle, “Men of the most eminent abilities and extensive erudition have never yet, nor ever will, produce arguments sufficient to prove that the profession of a soldier is consistent with the profession of Christianity.”
It is not that force is no remedy; force is an inferior remedy, but it is a remedy: but the force which is yet to establish righteousness is not ours. Our Lord Jesus said, “If my kingdom were of this world” — out of this world, its source and origin here — “then would my servants fight” — compel submission by armed revolution, to which alone Gentile Powers yield: “but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18: 36). Angels of irresistible might will subdue iniquity, “at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance” (2 Thess. 1. 7); who “shall gather out of His kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity” (Matt. 13. 41). The swords which alone are to enforce righteousness are not human swords at all; and meanwhile all men are left free to reveal their hearts, with no compulsion more severe than the moral persuasions of grace.
The Hazards of War.
Even the Sacred Person of our Lord was not to be so defended (by sword, or similar weapons); and He has Himself adjudicated on an actual case. To Peter, with a sword drawn and blooded in his hand, Jesus says, “Put up again thy sword into its place: for” — here is the first reason for refusing the sword — “all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt. 26. 52). God has withdrawn, as the God of grace, from behind the man or the movement that appeals to the sword, and remains only as the God of providence: soldiers are left to the hazards of war.
“The Reformation,” says D’Aubigne, “grasped the sword; and that very sword pierced its heart.” It was not always so: war, which is not in itself wrong, was again and again commanded, under the Law of, Moses, by ‘the God of battles,’ ‘Jehovah of hosts’; and Jehovah then guaranteed His obedient servants military victory, — “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, your enemies shall fall before you by the sword” (Lev. xxvi. 3, 8). But now all fighters are left to the hazards of war: “if any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (Rev. 13. 10).
The Hugenots gave no quarter in battle, and God let them be wiped off the face of the earth; as, for example, Virens, one of their pastors, who shot two soldiers with his own hand, and was immediately shot dead himself. Zwingli perished as a young man on the battle field. General Gordon, after writing, — “I go to the Sudan sure of success,” fell under a rain of spears on the steps of Government House at Khartoum. Praying Boers were cut up in battalions; as, centuries earlier, whole armies of Crusaders were annihilated by the Saracens. In 1907 an American missionary in Persia led a band of fierce fighters in the defence of Tabriz, and was himself shot. The soldier who now survives the hazards of battle does not survive because he is a Christian.
It is not that we are powerless. “Thinkest thou that I cannot beseech my Father, and He shall even now send Me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26. 53): if a single angel smote to death the whole Assyrian army (2 Kings xix. 35), what power could the armed millions of Russia and China or the swarms of Muslim extremists bring against twelve legions? But we are now bound to the uttermost by the law of mercy. Luke 9. 54, 55. So our Lord’s second reason for refusing the sword is this: — “The cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18.11).
In the words of Luther: — “We would rather die ten times than see our Gospel cause one drop of blood to be shed: our part is to be like lambs for the slaughter.” Although from the first, individual disciples have yielded to persuasion or compulsion, nevertheless martyr after martyr under the Roman Emperors cried: — “I am a Christian; and therefore I cannot fight.” To the attack of Celcus, the Gnostic of the second century, charging the Christian Faith with forbidding arms, Origen replied admitting it, and asserting the unlawfulness of war to a Christian. Nor is it lack of courage.
Hard though it be to confront the grapeshot, it is harder to be dragged to a prison cell under universal execration, and it is hardest to be wounded in the house of our friends, and denounced by the vast majority of modern disciples. To stand defenceless before loaded guns is a braver thing than to confront them from behind another battery. So to the persecutors of the last days, killing the righteous man, the Spirit prophesies, — “he doth not resist you” (Jas. 5. 6).
For at all costs to ourselves the Gospel must be proved a Gospel of love: “the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”
The Lamb and the Dove.
For our supreme Example, and our gracious Indweller, are the Lamb and the Dove. “There ought to be no question that the spirit of meekness, which will not meet violence by violence, is the Christian spirit; and in this day of an emergence of militarism, we need more than ever to insist that the highest type is ‘the Lamb of God,’ ‘as a sheep before her shearers’ ” (A. MacLaren). What else do these Scriptures mean? “Be ye harmless as doves” (Matt. 10.16); “resist not him that is evil; but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5. 39): “the Lord’s servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all” (2 Tim. 2. 24): “ Avenge not yourselves, beloved, for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. (Rom 12.19)
Rather… “if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink.” (Rom. 12. 19).
SO WHY SHOULD WE RESORT TO FIREARMS? (Let every Christian in America ask himself/herself this question! May God speak to every follower of Christ to resist this mindless proliferation of firearms in a supposedly Christian country! ~ JK)
D.M. PANTON (with suitable alterations, for the 21st century reader)