On Romans 13 (Moses Lard on War; Part 11 of 11)

This is the final part of Moses Lard’s 1866 article “Should Christians Go To War?”, originally published in Lard’s Quarterly. For previous parts, read here:
Moses Lard: “Should Christians Go To War?” (Part 1 of 11)
The Absolute Character of War (Part 2 of 11)
War Defined and Examined (Part 3 of 11)

War Cannot Be Right When Its Cause Is Wrong (Part 4 of 11)
War Is Not of the Kingdom of Christ (Part 5 of 11)
The Will of God is Wholly Against War (Part 6 of 11)
It Is Wrong To Take The Sword (Moses Lard on War; Part 7 of 11)
Love Your Enemies (Moses Lard on War; Part 8 of 11)
The Golden Rule (Moses Lard on War; Part 9 of 11)
The Fruit of the Spirit (Moses Lard on War; Part 10 of 11)

On Romans 13

Here, now, are seven consecutive arguments against the position that the Christian is in any case bound to go to war. These arguments might easily be increased to twice this number. Any one of them, if countervailed by no conclusive offsetting argument, would, I hold, be decisive against the question in hand. When taken together, as a refutation, I feel them to be nothing short of final. How, in the teeth of their conjoint force, any sane man can stand up, and still say that the Christian should, in certain cases, go to war, is something I claim not able to understand. Of course, the right of others to a different opinion is not herein called in question, nor their sincerity in the event of holding in any sense doubted. If, now, there is nothing in the word of God to set aside or annul these arguments, they will, I believe, be generally accepted as decisive. Is there, then, any scripture to annul them? Of course the advocate of war must hold that there is. I shall consequently adduce the passage on which alone he relies, or, if not on this alone, on this and others like it; hence one will suffice.

Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God. Whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Romans 13:1-3

The argument based on this passage is concisely the following: All legitimate war is an act of the State, and not of the individual. The passage in hand binds every Christian to be obedient to the State. Hence, if the State command the Christian to engage in war, he is bound to obey.

Now, for the sake of avoiding collateral issues, and waiving all immaterial questionable points, I will grant that all legitimate war is an act of the State, and not of the individual. Hence, whether there is any such thing as legitimate war, as the reader will perceive, not here made a question. Thus, then, we dispose at once of the first premise of the argument.

The passage in hand binds every Christian to be obedient to the State. This proposition is both true and false. Properly qualified, it is true; without qualification, it is false. It is not true that the passage binds Christians unconditionally to be obedient to the State. Certainly the passage binds Christians to be obedient to the State in all matters not in collision with Christianity; and in all such matters the Christian has no discretion, – he is bound to obey. The law of the State, in any case, may, in his judgment, be unwise, it may be expedient, it may be oppressive; it may be in many other respects objectionable; it may even be offensive and odious; still, if on comparing it with the word of God it is not found to be in conflict therewith, he is bound to obey it – to obey it, too, as a matter of conscience. All this I hold to be a matter of solemn duty with the Christian.

But the moment the State commands the Christian to do anything contrary to Christianity, no matter what it may be, or how great the necessity for it, he is bound to disobey. Of course, in all such cases there is a conflict between the will of Christ and the will of the State; and in every instance of such conflict, the will of Christ, and not the will of the State, determines the Christian’s act. This no Christian will deny.

If, for example, the king of a realm commanded all Christians within the bounds of his jurisdiction to set up in their respective houses of worship a statue of himself in simple token of their loyalty to him, no Christian man could refuse obedience to the command; for clearly there is no collision between it and any duty we owe to Christ. But if at the same time the king commanded divine honor to be paid to such statue, Christians would be compelled to disobey. Here, then, clearly the right of the State to command its Christian subjects is shown to be a limited, and not an unlimited, right. Of the truth of all this the well-known case of Daniel is a pertinent illustration.

Again: if the United States by special statue command all male citizens born within its limits to be circumcised, in order to distinguish them from citizens of foreign birth, however arbitrary and tyrannical such statue might be, I do not see how Christian men could refuse obedience to it. Indeed, on scriptural grounds they could not. But if the United States at the same time commanded such citizens to be circumcised as a religious duty, and as in obedience to the law of Moses, then every Christian man would be compelled to disobey, even at the peril of his life. For while so far forth as circumcision can be viewed as an indifferent act, the right of the United States to enjoin it may be held to be complete, and this whether the reasons for it be adequate or not; still the United States has no right to prescribe to its Christian citizens the observance of any act as a religious act. Hence all attempts to do so would have to be resisted, only, however, to the extent of disobedience, even if the disobedience led to the suffering of death.

In all cases, therefore, where the act is in itself right, or simply indifferent, that is, is made right or wrong solely by command of the State, the right of the State to command its Christian citizens, and their duty to obey, must be held as perfect and indisputable. But in all cases where the act is not clearly right in itself, or not clearly indifferent, then the State has no authority to command its Christian citizens, and every such command is null and void.

Now since the act of going to war is shown by the preceding Scriptures to be wholly inconsistent with the teachings of the New Testament, it is therefore shown to be, at least in the case of the Christian, a wrong act. Hence, since it is not an indifferent act, nor an act right simply in itself, but, on the contrary, is a wrong act, at least for the Christian, it thence follows that the State has no right to command the Christian to engage in it, and that where the State does so command, every such command is a nullity in the sight of Christ, and is to be absolutely and unconditionally disobeyed by the Christian. Such is the conclusion which results legitimately from the premises now before us. Hence on this conclusion we hold that every Christian man is bound to act; and that he has no discretion in the case. Consequently, if the State command him to go to war, let him mildly and gently, but firmly and unalterably, decline. If the State arrest him and punish him, be it so; if the State even shoot him, be it so; never let him go to war.

Much more, certainly, might be said on the question, but I shall now bring this paper to a close. My aim has been, not to make an elaborate argument, but a conclusive one. For this purpose, I have thought it best to confine myself strictly to the Scriptures. Hence, I have not turned aside to discuss the statistics of war, nor any other feature connected with it, except such as is involved in the question: is it right? This question settled; I deem all others of secondary importance.

Again: it will be perceived that I have discussed the question with no reference to the unhappy war through which our country has just passed. My object has been to make a calm, temperate argument, which should be offensive to brethren on neither side of the recent strife. I have wished to profit all, and offend none. With what success the task has been executed, the considerate reader is left to decide.