War by Tolbert Fanning (Abridged Version)

Editor’s note: The following article has been abridged to provide a brief overview of Fanning’s arguments. The original article first appeared in the Christian Review, March 1847, and can be read in full here.

Does the Christian Institution Permit Its Subjects To Engage in War?

We will submit such arguments to the candid, as satisfy us that Christians, as a nation, church, or individuals, have no divine authority for engaging in war, offensive or defensive, for fame, plunder, revenge, or for the benefit of themselves or their enemies. Under this head, we shall adopt the following order:

The Prophecies

The prophecies, in reference to Christ and his kingdom, clearly teach that, the whole tendency of the new institution, was to put an end to war. Isaiah said, when speaking, as all the world agree, of the gospel age: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is. 2:4). Again he says: “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 waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9). To the same effect, he says: “Violence shall no more be heard in thy land; wasting nor destruction within thy borders” (Is. 9:18).

Ezekiel writes:

 And I will set up on shepherd over them, and he shall feed them; and I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; and I will make with the a covenant of peace; and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land; and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.

Ezekiel 34:23-26

Jeremiah writes:

Behold! The days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers; I will put my law into their inward parts, and write them in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, know ye the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive them their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-35

In Isaiah, 35th chapter, it is written:

And a high way shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those; the way faring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come unto Zion with sons, and everlasting joys upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Jeremiah 34:8-10

More prophecies would be superfluous.

We have been asked the question: “Why are we not authorized to go to war as well as Joshua, David, etc?” The times have changed. God has established a new dispensation, in which the subdued heart alone have an inheritance… Swords and spears were not to be the weapons of the citizens of this new dispensation. “They shall not hurt, nor destroy, in all my holy mountain” says the Lord.

We would now, most respectfully, ask the lovers of truth, if these plain and pointed declarations do not fully establish the point, that the reign of Messiah was to be one of universal peace? We believe all that is necessary to convince the world of the truth of the proposition, that – Christians are not permitted to engage in the bloody conflicts of the infidel nations, is to let those scriptures have their wonted influence upon the mind.

The New Testament Teachings

The New Testament teachings will next be considered. To get fairly at the point, it will be necessary to notice again, briefly, the Jewish polity. It was a national and worldly institution, to serve – “Till the seed should come”, and then it was to be rolled up, as a vesture, and laid aside. “The law of commandments” which tolerated war, was “the enmity” between Jews and Gentiles; but Christ “took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross”, and, according to Apostolic teaching, there was “a change made in the law.”

Again: we wish it clearly understood that, Christ’s kingdom was not to be propagated by flesh and blood relations…. The kingdom of Christ then, it will appear, was to differ very widely from the bloody church of Moses. Now it remains to be shown that the differences are so great in the two institutions, that war could be tolerated in the former, but not in the latter. Before, however, offering our arguments, we wish to say to those who may desire to find fault with us, we are not contending that war is never justifiable in the nations of the earth. Indeed, we doubt not, it is often Heaven’s policy, to regulate nations by the sword; but we wish our readers to understand us to say, that the Almighty acknowledges no nation as peculiarly his, at this day; yet he has “a peculiar people”, selected from the nations, and peregrinating “as strangers and pilgrims in the nations”, but who have nothing to do with national policy and revolutions.

Our remarks, then, upon war, we wish to extend no further than the boundaries of Christianity.

We proceed to give… a few reasons, drawn directly from the gospel, for believing that Christians have no right to engage in war.

Christ Did Not Appeal to Arms to Establish His Kingdom

If the spirit of war had existed in the government of Christ, we might reasonably suppose he would have appealed to arms to establish it. So far, however, from being the case, the Apostle applies the language of the Prophet to him:

He shall not strive, nor cry, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.

Matthew 12:19-20

His laws were to be rendered triumphant and glorious, without the aid of earthly weapons. Not so much as a tender reed was to be disturbed, or the smoking flax quenched, for his cause to be victorious. The exhortation to the Apostles was: “Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” The whole doctrine of Messiah was, to conquer the world by love. This was contrary to the experience and philosophy of mankind, and it is perfectly antipodal to the sentiments of the world, and even to nine-tenths of the religionists at present day.

Christ’s religion has extended to every nook and corner of the earth, where human beings have been capable of receiving it, and in his transcendent love, and matchless kindness, and he has done every thing without an appeal to arms.

Resist Not Evil

A distinguishing feature of Christianity is, the abrogation of the lex talionis, by the gospel.  The law said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”: but not so in Christ’s kingdom. “If ye be smitten on one cheek, turn the other”, is the teaching of the New Testament religion (Mt. 5:38-39). How the command “Resist not evil” is to be reconciled with the spirit or practice of war, we are not prepared to see.

Love Your Enemies

In the law of Moses, and amongst most partisans of the earth, the doctrine and practice are: “Love your brethren, or party, and hate all the world besides”, but Christianity says:

Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:44-45

We observe that being children of the Heavenly Father, is put upon the condition of “Loving our enemies, and praying for those who despitefully use us, and persecute us.”

No people have engaged in bloody deeds, without transgressing this precept. Christianity is so unlike the religions of the age, that few of its striking features can be inferred from the institutions which are said to be modeled after it. We solemnly appear to those professed Christians, who think it is right, and obedient to the cause of God, for them to take the life of their fellows, to say if such things are done in love to their enemies? God has promised his protecting power to his saints, and when we take up arms to defend ourselves, we show very clearly that we lack confidence in our Father in heaven.

Do Not Avenge Yourselves

With regard to vengeance, the Apostle says in Romans 12:19, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.” From this, it appears, that the idea of revenge, is wholly incompatible with the spirit and genius of Christianity. The doctrine of Christ is, “Overcome evil with good.” “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head” (Rom. 12:20). The reader will keep in mind, that these things are to be observed towards enemies.

Follow Peace With All Men

We are commanded: “To follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which, no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Eternal life here, is placed upon the condition of following “peace” with the world, and “holiness” towards God.

The Fruit of the Spirit

The Spirit of “Joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, meekness, forbearance” etc, which Christians are commanded to cultivate, forever precludes the spirit and practice of war. The servant of God, should desire above all things, the conversion of his fellow creatures; and labor to “pluck them as brands from the burning”, but this cannot be done, with swords and staves.

A Kingdom Not of This World

Christ’s declaration, “That his kingdom is not of this world, for if it were, his subjects would fight for it”; is demonstrable evidence that Christian war had no countenance from the Savior. His kingdom was unlike all others: it was spiritual, and to be built and defended by spiritual men and spiritual measures.

Closing Remarks

Had we space, we would be pleased to answer all arguments upon the subject of Christian wars; but we must bring our remarks to close, without recapitulation… If we had taken the right view, Christians are in great error and must reform. If we are mistaken, we would gladly be corrected.