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by Adin Ballou
Matt. 5:38-41, a proof text – Evasive constructions of the text – Reason for noticing these evasions – Second proof, Matt. 5:43-48 – Third proof, forgiveness – Further important proofs – Apostolic testimonies – General view of the evidence – The primitive Christians – Testimony of Celsus and Gibbons.
The preceding chapter presents a clear statement and thorough explication of the doctrine of Christian non-resistance. This will present the scriptural proofs of its truth. It is affirmed to have been taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ. If this can be demonstrated, all who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Master should feel bound to receive the doctrine as divine. In determining such a question, the New Testament must be our principal textbook. From its records, fairly construed, we are to learn what Jesus Christ taught, what his examples were, and what is the essential spirit of his religion. The evangelists and apostles shall be our witnesses in the case.
Matthew 5:38-41, a Proof Text
In Matthew’s report of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus thus speaks: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” Matt. 5:38-41. What is the exact meaning of this language, and what does it teach? To whom does Jesus refer as having said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth?” To Moses and his expounders. Read the following passages. Speaking of injury done to a woman in pregnancy: “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Ex. 21:23-25. “If a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him.” Lev. 24:19‑20. In the case of a false witness: “And the judges shall make diligent inquisition; and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother, then shall ye do unto him as he had thought to have done unto his brother; so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And thy eye shalt not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, foot for foot.” Deut. 19:18-21. Here we have a comprehensive view of the personal injuries authorized to be inflicted on injurers under the Mosaic code, from capital punishment down to the infliction of a stripe. And we have a strong expression of the design of those inflictions: “So shalt thou put the evil away from among you.” Now, did Jesus refer to these precepts of Moses, and to the enforcement of them? Who can doubt it? And if so, did he intend to confirm or to abrogate them? Certainly to abrogate them, for his words express positive opposition of sense: “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil.” How? As they do who take “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” “But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Instead of smiting back and giving wound for wound, or going to the magistrate to get thy assailant punished, as the olden sayings authorize, endure to be smitten again and again. If under color of the law thy coat is taken from thee, withhold not thy cloak. Sue not back to recover thy spoiled goods. If men force thee to go whither they will, become their prisoner without turbulence. Resist not injury with injury. Inflict not evil in opposing evil. It has been so commanded in time past, as a means of suppressing and preventing evil among men, “but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil doing with inflictions of evil.” Nothing can be plainer than that, so far as Moses and his expounders enjoined the infliction of penal personal injuries in resistance of injuries, and for the suppression of evil doing, Jesus Christ prohibits the same. He enjoins his disciples never to resist evil with such inflictions. They are forbidden to render evil for evil, either directly as individuals, on their own responsibility, or as prosecutors at law. Is this a just and unobjectionable construction of the Savior’s language? If it is, the doctrine of non-resistance is already established, by a single quotation. But this will be contested.
Evasive Constructions of the Text
It will be said that the words of Christ, in the passage quoted, are extremely figurative and intensive in their form of expression; that there is danger of taking them too literally; and they must be duly qualified. I grant it and have construed them accordingly. I first ascertained their reference to the sayings of Moses, and then determined the prohibition to be exactly commensurate with the Mosaic requirement. That resistance of evil, which Moses sanctioned and enjoined, Jesus obviously repudiates and forbids. The prohibition is made precisely co-extensive in all its bearings with the allowances and injunctions of the olden code. This is the only fair construction that can be given to the great Teacher’s language. Should anyone affirm that Jesus prohibits all kinds and degrees of resistance to evil, he could sustain his affirmation only by insisting on the literal expression, and would make the Savior contradict himself, his own example, and the common sense of mankind. Should anyone affirm, on the other hand, that Jesus did not intend to abrogate and prohibit all the personal and judicial inflictions of evil on offenders, authorized by the previously cited sayings of Moses, he would find himself in an equally perplexing dilemma. I have seen distinguished opponents in this latter dilemma.
A First Evasion
One says, “I doubt if Jesus referred to the sayings of Moses, quoted from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. He must have referred to certain perverse Rabbinical glosses on the precepts of the law, and to common sayings among the people, pleaded in justification of frequent and extreme revenge.” Is there any proof of this? No, it is mere supposition. But if it were true, why did not Jesus give some intimation that he was prohibiting only abuses. And withal, what glosses or common sayings could go beyond the original sayings themselves? They express the lex talonis in its fullest extent: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, breach for breach, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” It would be hard glossing or overstraining such sayings. This plea is futile.
A Second Evasion
Another insists that Christ was only inculcating the importance of executing legal penalties, and of using lawful inflictions of injury against assailants, in a right spirit. “He does not prohibit the act, but only a vindictive, revengeful spirit in performing it. Life ought to be taken for life, and various evils inflicted on evil-doers, as a just punishment; and self-defense ought to be maintained, even to the infliction of death in extreme cases; but all should be done without revenge, without unnecessary cruelty and in pure love to the offender, as well as with a sacred reverence for the law.” In this way Jesus is smoothly construed to have really said nothing at all – practically nothing that Moses and the ancients had not said. Did they authorize personal hate, malice, revenge, and wanton cruelty in executing the penalties of the law? Did they not positively prohibit all such feelings and conduct? “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people.” “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt in anywise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.” “In righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.” Lev. 19. “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. And it shall be, if the wicked man is worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed, lest if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.” Deut. 25:1-3. See Deut. 16:18,20; 17:2-12; 19:15. Ex. 23:1-8. From these and other passages in the writings of Moses, it will be seen that, notwithstanding the severity of his code, he did not authorize individual hatred, revenge, and wanton cruelty in punishing the wicked. To make Christ prohibit only a personal, spiteful, malicious, cruel spirit in executing the punishments of the law, is to make him the mere echo of Moses and his expounders; whereas he goes absolutely against the deed – the act of inflicting evil on the persons of offenders. And by killing the body of the thing, he banishes the spirit of it. A pretense of love only renders the infliction of death or torture on offenders more abhorrent to Christian sensibility. It is too much like a mother kissing, while at the same time she presses her child to death; or a beautiful damsel, with all her charming airs, embracing, and at the same time slowly thrusting a fine stiletto into the bosom of her admirer. Death is death, torture is torture, and injury is injury, however gently and politely it is inflicted. And there is a kind of fitness in having stern hearted, severe-natured persons to execute such sentences.
A Third Evasion
Another pleads that Jesus was inculcating the duty of referring all punishments to magistracy and the government; that he prohibited a resort to private revenges, and only meant to teach his disciples to seek redress for the injuries done them in courts of law. This is a still lamer shift than the other. The passage gives no intimation whatever that this was his design. On the contrary, he enjoins non-resistance alike in respect to personal assault and legal wrong. “If a man smite thee on thy right cheek, offer the other. If he sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. If he make thee a prisoner, and force thee to go with him, resist not.” This does not look like teaching men to go to law for redress of grievances, or encouraging them to make magistrates the avengers of their wrongs. He does not say “Ye have heard that it hath been said, let every man take vengeance on his own offenders, and redress his own grievances; but I say unto you look to the government, complain to the magistrates, carry all your causes into the courts for adjudication.” Not a word of this. And not a word of it is to be found in any part of the New Testament. Jesus Christ never sued or taught his followers to sue men at the law. It would have sunk his divine dignity to contempt had he exhibited such folly.
A Fourth Evasion
Another presumes he intended to discountenance all petty vindictiveness, retaliation, and litigation, but not to forbid these things in extreme cases, on a great scale, and where important interests are at stake. This is very accommodating but very fallacious. Who shall draw the line between the great and the small, the frivolous and the important, in these matters? The injured party, of course. It is for him to say whether the wrongs done him are of sufficient moment to justify litigation, retaliation, or personal resistance; and the consequence is that small offences, insults, and injuries are rare. Nearly all are too great to be endured. Jesus gives not the slightest intimation that he is drawing a line of distinction between great and small evils; and that he forbids his followers to resist ordinary personal injuries, while great ones are left to the law of resistance and retaliation. Such pleadings are only so many attempts of a worldly mind to procure itself indulgence under the Christian name in practices upon which, root and branch, the Son of God has placed the seal of prohibition
A Fifth Evasion
Another presumes to assert that Jesus never intended the precept, “Resist not evil…” for a general rule, “but that it was given to his early followers as their guide when wronged by the tyrants under whom they lived. To resist then would be of no avail; it was better therefore patiently to endure.” What a despicable expediency does this ascribe to the Savior! What a skulking prudence! Resist not evil when unable to do so! Submit to irresistible tyranny and outrage; offer the other cheek; crawl like spaniels when you cannot help yourselves! But fight like dragons when you have a fair prospect of overcoming your enemies! To a mind capable of drawing such a meaning from the words of Christ, I should think the text would furnish a general rule, i.e. “submit when you must, but resist (violently) when you can.” If it were not utterly derogatory to the character of Jesus, and utterly unsupported by a single hint in the context, it might be worthwhile to attempt its sober refutation. As it is, the mere statement sufficiently explodes it.
A Sixth Evasion
Still another argues that Jesus, though he preached strict non-resistance as to the duty of his followers in all strictly religious matters, he nevertheless left them perfectly free in secular matters to resist, litigate, and make war at discretion. That is, while attending purely to religious duties, and propagating Christianity by divinely appointed means, they must suffer all manner of personal abuse, insult, outrage, persecution, and violence, without offering the least resistance, either by individual force of arms or prosecutions at law. But as men of the world, politicians, merchants, tradesmen, money-getters, etc. they are at full liberty to follow the dictates of worldly expediency, and to resist even unto death all who threaten their lives, liberty, or property. This stands on the same sandy foundation with the others, and cannot be sustained by one single decent looking reason. Indeed, its bare statement ought to be its sufficient refutation.
A Final Evasion
Finally, another declares that he does not know what Jesus did really mean to teach in the passage under consideration; but he is sure it cannot have been the prohibition of life-taking, penal inflictions on criminals, defensive war, or personal self-defense under severe assault. This is because Jesus himself had before declared in the same discourse, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, until all shall be fulfilled. Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:18-20. And what is the deduction from these words? It is, that if Moses commanded men to take “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand,” Jesus does not abrogate or invalidate such commandment, and cannot have intended any such thing, whatever else he meant; since one jot or tittle of the least of the commandments in the law and the prophets was not to be destroyed, or left unfulfilled. In answer to this, I may remark that it is rather a cavil than a candid objection, and would sound much better from the lips of an infidel than from those of a professed Christian. It is alleging an apparent self-contradiction of Jesus. He says, “Ye have heard that it hath been said (i.e., by Moses and his expounders) an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you that ye resist not evil (thus); but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek (rather than smite him) turn unto him the other also.” Then on the contrary he says, “Whosoever therefore, shall break one of the least of these commandments (even the one which requires eye to be taken for eye and tooth for tooth) and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” Thus the opponent urges a self-contradiction. Well, if there is a contradiction, and if it weighs anything at all in the case at issue, is it not worth as much for non-resistance as against it? Is not Jesus as good an authority against himself for the abrogation of the commandment, as for its confirmation? Certainly. But if it would invalidate his testimony, then it only furnishes food for the infidel. Such is not the object, for I have heard this identical cavil from the lips of a venerable Hopkinsian clergyman. What then does it avail? If it proves anything against my construction of Matt. 5:38-41, it certainly proves a great deal too much. It would carry us back, and bind us hand and foot to Judaism, with its every “jot and tittle.” It would re-enact the whole ceremonial as well as moral and penal code of the Mosaic dispensation! Circumcision, sacrifices, and all the commandments, least as well as greatest, would be made binding on us. No Christian would admit anything like this for a moment. Many commandments have been abrogated. Jesus and Paul are explicit on this point. But it does not follow that any one of them has been absolutely destroyed or left unfulfilled. Many have emerged from the shadow into the substance, from types and figures into the reality. Others have been lost in the letter, and more than preserved in the spirit. All have done their work, or are still doing it in the essence of Christianity. Did not Jesus mean to be understood in this sense, when he declared he had not “come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them”? Was it to preserve them in the mere letter and form – in the type and shadow – or rather in their essence – in the absolute reality of their spiritual excellence? Clearly, the latter. When he abolished the oath, did he abolish the truth? Did he relax the obligations of men to speak the truth? Did he weaken the sanctions of truth? No, he enhanced them. He exalted the truth. In prohibiting his disciples from all inflictions of injury in resistance of evil, did he absolve them from one iota of the law of love – the obligation to love their neighbors as themselves – the doing unto others as they would that others should do unto them? Did he weaken that great law? Did he not exalt and perfect its power and sanctions? If his professed followers should faithfully obey his instructions, in respect to this heavenly treatment of offenders, would they become worse, or would offenses increase? Let the tongue of blasphemy alone presume to say it! We know the contrary. In a word, we know that this self-same doctrine of Christian non-resistance, as we deduce it from the passage before us, is the righteousness of the law and the prophets in its perfection and true glory; and therefore is in strict harmony with the doctrine taught in the 18th, 19th, and 20th verses. The cavil is silenced.
Reason for Noticing All These Evasions
I have been particular to notice these various constructions of our Lord’s words, these attempts to avoid the legitimate force of Matt. 5:38-41, and to disallow it as a proof text of the doctrine before us; not because I thought them really worthy of it in them selves; but because I have known them all urged and relied on by clergymen and reputable professing Christians, of various sects, in their struggle to withstand the truth. It is remarkable how very incongruous all these anti-non-resistant constructions, objections, and cavils are. Yet I have heard them put forth with great confidence, even by different clergymen of the same general sect, and repeatedly pleaded with apparent sincerity and earnestness as a sufficient invalidation of our leading proof text. It is important to explode them, in order to secure the conviction of an order of minds, at once conscientious and intelligent, but liable to be misled by the confident special pleadings of those from whom they have been accustomed to receive their religious opinions. When we pretend to prove a doctrine, we ought not only to quote passages that sound well to the ear, but also to demonstrate that those passages cannot fairly be construed in any other sense than that in which we take them. To have demonstrated Matt. 5:38-41 to be an undeniable proof text of our doctrine is no small achievement in this department of my work. This once established, I can accomplish the rest with little difficulty. What I insist on, then, is that I have adduced one fundamental proof from the highest scripture authority. If this cannot be invalidated; if it must be admitted; if the passage cannot fairly be construed to mean anything else than I have shown, the probability is that I shall find ample corroborative proof all the way through the New Testament. I therefore proceed to make a further quotation from the same chapter and discourse.
Second Proof, Matthew 5:43-48
“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 which despitefully use you and persecute you.” Matt. 5:43-44. This is plainly in the same strain, and of the same import with the other. It is clear, explicit, significant, and forcible. By whom the saying, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy,” had been literally uttered, I cannot with certainty learn. Probably it had long since passed into a common maxim. But in its nature and origin it was kindred with the preceding saying, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It derived its principal sanction from the Mosaic injunctions respecting capital criminals and doomed national enemies. Read the following passages. “If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and hath withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; then thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the Lord thy God, and it shall be a heap forever; it shall not be built again.” Deut. 13:12-16. “But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perrizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.” Deut. 20:16-17. “Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them.” Deut. 7:2. In accordance with these sentiments, David utters the following language: “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me; fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me; say unto my soul, I am thy salvation… Let them be as chaff before the wind, and let the angel of the Lord chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery, and let the angel of the Lord persecute them.” Psalm 35:1-8.
With equal abhorrence of idolatry, and of all the crimes of those who are held to be outlaws and doomed enemies under the Old Testament, but in striking contrast with the authorized hatred and vengeance exercised towards them, Jesus says, “love, bless, do good to, and pray for them, even though they are your bitter foes and persecutors.” He includes among enemies, haters and persecutors, all injurers, whether personal, social, religious, or national. His words are equally irreconcilable with all hatred, all persecution, all cruelty, all war, and all injury which one man, one family, one community, or one nation can do to another. The truly Christian individual could not devise, execute, or abet any injury against an offending fellow man. What then would a truly Christian family, neighborhood, community, state, or nation do? Could they act any other than the non-resistant part toward their foes and injurers? If they loved, blessed, benefited, and prayed for the worst of aggressors and offenders, what a spectacle would be presented! What a conquest would be achieved over all evil-doers! Does not Jesus enjoin this sublime love and heavenly practice? Can he mean anything less than appears upon the beautiful face of his words! What professed Christian can erect the gibbet, or light the faggot, or draw out the rack, or contrive any injurious punishment, or gird on any weapon of war, or give his sanction to any cruelty, by individuals or society, and yet plead that he is in the spirit and practice of this his Lord’s commandment? Does that man love his enemies, bless those who curse him, do good to those that hate him, and pray for his injurers, who hangs, or shoots, or tortures, or stones them, or holds himself sworn to inflict any such evils? But let us hear the Savior urge his own precepts. “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. For if ye love them (only) who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Verses 45-48. Your Father loves his enemies, blesses those that curse him, and does good to them that hate him. Else the sun would not shine as it does on the evil, nor the rain fall upon the unjust, nor salvation descend from heaven for the lost. Imbibe the spirit of your Father. Imitate his goodness to the unthankful and evil. Put on his moral character. Be his children. Be not content barely to love them that love you. Love, forbear with, benefit, and seek to save even the guilty and undeserving. Else what higher are ye in the moral scale than the publicans? Salute and befriend, not only your own kindred, friends, and intimate associates, but also all men, however strange or hostile to you. Aspire continually to be perfectly, independently good to all, as your Father in heaven is. What can be plainer than this? What can be more pure, sublime, spiritually excellent, or morally beautiful? It is Christian non-resistance; or rather that perfect love, of which true non-resistance is a distinguishing fruit. But let us proceed.
Third Proof – Forgiveness
He enjoins the duty of forgiveness on the same general principle. “After this manner, therefore, pray ye… Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors… For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matt. 6:9,12,14-15. “Then came Peter to him, and said, ‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven.’” Matt. 18:21-22. See also the illustrating parable at the end of the chapter. “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any, that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses; but if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Mark 11:25-26. “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” Luke 6:37.
The idea in all these passages is that the injured party claims a right to punish the injurer on account of some actual offence. Jesus is not speaking of mere envious grudges, causeless resentment, or ill will. He presupposes a real injury done, which, according to the common law, “an eye for an eye…” or, in other words, according to strict natural justice, might rightfully be punished by the infliction of an equivalent evil on the offender. He does not palliate the offence, nor deny that the guilty party deserves punishment, nor require that his wrong should be considered right. He addresses the injured party, the rightful complainant, and commands him to forgive his injurer; i.e. not to exact the infliction of the deserved punishment, not to hold the offender punishable on his account, but to leave him as an object of pity, even though he is one of dread, uninjured – a subject of the same kindness as if he had committed no offence. He is to inflict no evil upon him on account of his trespass. This is human forgiveness, as enjoined by Jesus on all his followers. To enforce this he declares that our Father in heaven will forgive the forgiving, but will not forgive the unforgiving. He reminds us that we have all sinned against our Father, and are justly punishable at his hands; that the only ground of our acceptance with him, and of his continued benefactions, is his grace, not our merit; and that we are perpetually entreating him to bless us in spite of our evil deserts. Therefore he enjoins that we forgive our fellow men their trespasses against us, as we beseech God to forgive us the sins we have committed against him. He requires that we do unto others as we would that God should do unto us. He commands us to refrain from punishing our offenders, and still to do them good, as we would that God should continue to forbear with and do us good, notwithstanding our sins. And if we freely forgive while we pray to be forgiven, this will attest our sincerity, and fit our spirits for the reception of the divine forgiveness. God will accept and commune with us, for we shall then present no insuperable bar to his inflowing love and mercy. But if, while we sue for mercy, we exercise none towards the guilty; if while we pray for forgiveness, we meditate vengeance against our offenders; if while we ask to be treated infinitely better than we deserve, we hold those who have trespassed against us punishable at our hands according to their deserts; we at once betray our own insincerity, offer mockery to God, and present an impassable bar of hardheartedness to his love and mercy. He is essentially a forgiving Father, but he will not, indeed cannot, communicate his forgiveness to us. Our spirit is in opposition to his spirit; we do not worship him in spirit and in truth; we stand self-excluded from his presence – alike unforgiving and unforgiven. We cannot be at peace with him, nor worship him acceptably, nor taste the richness of his grace, so long as we desire to punish our offenders. It is only in the spirit of human forgiveness that we can receive and enjoy the divine forgiveness. Such is the doctrine of Jesus. How blessed a doctrine is it to the broken-hearted, merciful and meek? How terrible a one to the iron-hearted, who delight in rigorous human punishment! Here the whole superstructure of piety and religion is baptized in the waters of non-resistance. We cannot even pray in a punishing spirit without insulting a forgiving Father, and imprecating on our heads all the deserts of our own transgression. If we forgive not, but persist in punishing them that trespass against us, and yet pray to be forgiven of God as we forgive, we only call on God to be as severe and punitive towards us, as we are towards our fellow men. How tremendous a thought is this! Yet who can evade it? Jesus has brought it as a live coal from off the altar of God, and laid it on our consciences. Can the utmost ingenuity of man avoid the conclusion that these precepts of Christ, respecting forgiveness, are thus shown to warrant? I think not. Yet millions of professing Christians, authorize, aid, and abet war, capital punishment, and the whole catalogue of penal injuries. Still they daily pray God to forgive their trespasses as they forgive!! The language of the prophet Isaiah, in his 58th chapter, seems applicable to them. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness and forsook not the ordinance of their God. They ask of me the ordinances of justice. They take delight in approaching to God.” See the subsequent verses. This drawing near to God with the lips, while the heart is far from him, is as common as it is reprehensible. And in no respect is it more so, than in meditating and executing punishment for offenses against ourselves, while in humble supplication we plead for the divine forgiveness of our own transgressions.
Further Important Proofs
Another important class of proof texts, corroborative of those already cited, is the following: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence.” John 18:36. Compare this with Matt. 10:16. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Also with Luke 22:24-26. “And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, ‘The Kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so; but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.’” In the same group we may include the following: “And they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from Heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’” Luke 9:52-56. “Then came they and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. And, behold, one of them who were with Jesus, stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, ‘Put up again thy sword into his place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels.’” Matt. 26:50-53. See also John 8:3-11, the case of the woman taken in adultery, and brought to Jesus to see whether he would condemn her to be stoned to death, according to the law of Moses. After her accusers had declined to execute the penalty, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee (i.e. to death), go and sin no more.”
These and similar passages are impressive practical comments on the positive doctrinal precepts of the Savior. His kingdom is not of this world, and therefore excludes all military and warlike defenses. His ministers are sent forth unarmed, like sheep in the midst of wolves. They are therefore to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. All things must be conducted on the non-resistant principle. There must be no political strife for the highest place, no patronizing lordship, no Gentile love of dominion; but they that really occupy the highest place must prove themselves worthy of it by an entire willingness to take the lowest, by governing only through the influence of useful service. Government must doff its worldly insignia, its craft and its prerogative to punish, and be vested in real worth – unglorified, unpampered, and undistinguished by exclusive privileges. This is Christian government. He and his followers might be treated inhospitably, as by the Samaritans, but no injury must be returned – even though fire could be commanded from heaven by a miracle. No such spirit might be indulged, because the Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. Therefore non-resistance of evil with evil must be the invariable rule of action for his disciples forever. They must never destroy men’s lives but endeavor to save them. Even the holy one, at his betrayal into the hands of a mob, might not be defended with the sword by Peter because, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” Evil cannot be overcome with evil.
How is it possible to contemplate such clear, striking, mutually sustaining, irrefragable evidence of the scriptural truth of Christian non-resistance, without feeling the whole soul penetrated with profound conviction? But still the tide rises and flows on.
The Apostles, having been gradually delivered from their early traditional and educational predispositions for a temporal and military kingdom, renounced all carnal weapons, and drinking in the heavenly inspiration, reiterated the non-resistance doctrine of their Master: “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” “Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not.” “Recompense to no man evil for evil.” “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 hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom. 12:2,14,17,19-21. “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” “Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another; why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” 1 Cor. 6:1,7. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Cor. 10:3-5. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Gal. 5:22-25. “Be ye angry and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” Eph. 4:26,31. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and long-suffering.” Col. 3:12. “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and to all men.” 1 Thes. 5:15. “Let us run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds!” “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Heb. 12:1-3,14. “My beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath, for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20. “From whence come wars and fighting among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:1,7. “This is thank-worthy, if a man for conscience towards God, endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” 1 Peter 2:19-23. “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But if ye suffer for righteousness sake, happy are ye; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.” “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing, than for evil-doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust.” 1 Peter 3:13-14,17-18; 4:13-19. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk, even as he walked. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now … and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his mind.” 1 John 2:6,11. “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” 1 John 3:14-15. “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” “If a man saith, ‘I love God,’ and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 1 John 4:12,20.
General View of the Evidence
Is it possible to read these quotations without an irresistible conviction of their perfect harmony with the teachings of the Savior on this great subject? Can we doubt that they all proceeded from the same Divine source? And now what was the example of Jesus? What was the practice of the Apostles, after the resurrection of Christ, when fully endued with power and grace from on high? Did they ever slay any human being? Ever threaten to do so? Ever make use of any deadly weapon? Ever serve in the army or navy of any nation, state, or chieftain? Ever seek or accept any office, legislative, judicial, or executive, under the existing governments of their day? Ever make complaint to the magistrates against any offender or criminal, in order to procure his punishment? Ever commence any prosecution at law, to obtain redress of grievances? Ever apply to the civil or military authority to protect them by force of arms when in imminent danger? Or ever counsel others to do any one of these acts? Did they ever express, by word or deed, their reliance on political, military, or penal power to secure personal protection or to carry forward the Christianization of the world? I answer confidently, no. But let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind. Let the New Testament be thoroughly searched with reference to these questions. If it shall be found that I am correct, let the opponents of non-resistance make up their minds to yield, for if precept and practice, spirit and example, go together throughout the scriptures of the New Testament, the case is decided beyond controversy. I am aware of the objections urged with so much desperation from such texts as that which speaks of the scourge of small cords, that which mentions the direction of Jesus to buy swords, Paul’s appeal to Caesar, his notification of the chief captain when the forty men conspired to slay him, the thirteenth chapter of Romans, etc. Not any one of these, or all of them together, will serve the objector’s purpose, as I shall demonstrate in the next chapter. On the other hand, we are able to show a series of examples, indeed a life, conformable to the doctrine of non-resistance. And we are also able to show that this doctrine practically prevailed among the primitive Christians for a considerable time subsequent to the apostolic age.
Look at Jesus in the temptation. He was offered all the kingdoms of the world. But on what condition? Provided only he would fall down and worship the Tempter. Is not this essentially the condition on which his followers have ever been offered worldly political power? There is a spirit that animates and characterizes carnal human government. It is the destroying spirit – the angel of injury, the old serpent of violence. This is the grand controlling power underneath the throne, the dernier resort, the ultimate indispensable reliance of all mere worldly authority. And he is accounted a fool who supposes there can be any such thing as government among mankind without it. Consequently its solemn acknowledgment is now, as ever, the condition on which men must take the scepter, or assume the seals of office. He who would rule, must first worship this genius of violence – must swear to support his authority with sword and penal vengeance. Jesus chose the pain and shame of the cross in preference to the fame and glory of universal empire on such a condition. It was no inducement with him, that all the world should take his name, and verbally confess him Lord, while at heart and in practice they served the evil spirit. He would not be a king of nations, when he could not be a king of hearts and consciences. He would not do evil that good might come, because his kingdom was not of this world, but was essentially one of righteousness and peace. So he spurned an offered scepter, and left it in hands that he knew would ere long baptize him in his own non-resistant blood. For the same reason, when he perceived the determination of the people to proclaim him a king, he promptly placed himself beyond their reach. Nor would he be a “judge and a divider,” among the people. Nor when he alone stood up in innocence to pass a rightful condemnation on the adulterous woman, would he pronounce the deadly sentence or raise the destroying stone. When a violent multitude, led on by his betrayer, came to seize him in the prayerful solitude of Gethsemane, he raised not a weapon of defense. But he rebuked his mistaken disciple for drawing the sword, healed the wound he had inflicted, and taught him that all who take the sword must perish with it. So he suffered himself to be “led as a sheep dumb before the shearers,” and “as a lamb to the slaughter.” They stripped him of his raiment, attired him in a mock royal robe, crowned him with thorns, smote him, spit upon him, sentenced him without cause to death, nailed him to the cross between two malefactors, tormented him in his agonies, and followed him to the verge of life with all the venom of a murderous hate. Yet never a word of threatening, reviling, cursing, or bitterness escaped him. With a meek and sorrowful dignity he bore all; and at the moment when he could have summoned legions of angels to his rescue, and to the destruction of his foes, lo, he uttered that last victorious prayer, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The mourning heavens in silence heard. Then came the expiring groan – not to seal the just perdition of a murderous world, but as the awful amen of the New Covenant, and the signal of complete triumph over hatred, sin, and death!
The Primitive Christians
If we enter among the evangelists and apostles of the Crucified, and inquire how they lived and died, what will be the response? “God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed unto death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men,” “We both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place.” “Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things.” Stephen was stoned to death, calling on the Savior to receive his spirit, and with the holy prayer on his lips: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” James was slain with the sword, Peter crucified, Paul beheaded, and innumerable martyrs brought to seal their testimony with their blood. But in those days they suffered all things for the sake of the cross, and inflicted nothing. Always heroic for the truth, yet meek, patient, and non-resistant, they exemplified in a wonderful manner the depth and strength of their Christian principles. Never do we find them aspiring to places of power; never distinguishing themselves in the army; never wheedling and coaxing the worldly great to shed on them the renown of their official influence; never engaged in rebellions, riots, tumults, or seditions; never trusting in carnal weapons for the security of their persons, not even in the most barbarous and ruffian-like society; never cursing, reviling, or insulting even their persecutors. Such were the apostles and primitive Christians. They had learned of Jesus, and non-resistance, for the first two centuries, was the practical orthodoxy of the church. Justin Martyr, early in the second century, declared the devil to be the author of all war. Tertullian denounced the bearing of arms, saying, “Shall he who is not to avenge his own wrongs, be instrumental in bringing others into chains, imprisonment, torment, or death?” Lactantius declared, “It can never be lawful for a righteous man to go to war, whose warfare is in righteousness itself.” “We find,” says Clarkson, “from Athenagoras and other early writers, that the Christians of their times abstained, when they were struck, from striking again; and that they carried their principles so far, as even to refuse to go to law with those who injured them.” The language of those primitive Christians was in this strain: one says, “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms.” Another, “Because I am a Christian, I have abandoned my profession of a soldier.” A third, ”I am a Christian, and therefore I cannot fight.” A fourth, Maximillian, “I cannot fight. If I die, I am not a soldier of this world, but a soldier of God.” And in his fidelity he died by the hands of military tyranny.
Testimony of Celsus and Gibbon
Celsus, a heathen philosopher, wrote an elaborate work against the Christians, about the middle of the second century. One of his grave allegations was in the following words: “You will not bear arms in the service of the empire when your services are needed, and if all the nations should act upon this principle, the empire would be overrun by the barbarians.”
Gibbon, the popular English historian of the declining Roman Empire, a skeptic as to Christianity, incidentally confirms the fact that the early Christians were unequivocal non-resistants. “The defense of our persons and property they knew not how to reconcile with the patient doctrine, that enjoined an unlimited forgiveness of past injuries, and commanded them to invite fresh insults. Their simplicity was offended by the use of oaths, by the pomp of magistracy, and by the active contention of public life; nor could their humane ignorance be convinced that it was lawful, on any occasion, to shed the blood of their fellow creatures, either by the sword of justice or that of war, even though their criminal and hostile attempts should threaten the whole community… They felt and confessed that such institutions (life-taking, etc.) might be necessary for the present system of the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their pagan governors. But while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration, or military defense, of the empire.” Vol. I p. 24. “The humble Christians were sent into the world as sheep among wolves, and since they were not permitted to employ force, even in the defense of their religion. They deemed that they should be still more criminal if they were tempted to shed the-blood of their fellow creatures in disputing the vain privileges or the sordid possessions of this transitory life. Faithful to the doctrine of the apostle, who in the reign of Nero had preached the duty of unconditional submission, the Christians of the first three centuries preserved their conscience pure and innocent of the guilt of secret conspiracy or open rebellion. While they experienced the rigor of persecution, they were never provoked either to meet their tyrants in the field, or indignantly to withdraw themselves into some remote and sequestered corner of the globe.” Vol. II p. 200.
Can there be any doubt that Jesus Christ, his apostles, and the primitive Christians held, taught, and exemplified the doctrine for which I am contending? Is not the scriptural proof of its truth abundant, positive, unequivocal, and irresistible? It seems to me that it is. I therefore commend what has been submitted to the deliberate consideration of all candid minds, whose veneration for and attachment to the scriptures give their testimony the least weight in determining such a question.