AN INQUIRY INTO THE ACCORDANCY
OF WAR WITH THE
PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIANITY


by Jonathan Dymond


◄Chapter 2 Part 5

Chapter 2 Part 6

Chapter 3 Part 1►




We have seen that the duties of the religion which God has imparted to mankind require non-resistance; and surely it is reasonable to believe, even without a reference to experience, that he will make our non-resistance subservient to our interests – that if, for the purpose of conforming to his will, we subject ourselves to difficulty or danger, he will protect us in our obedience and direct it to our benefit – that if he requires us not to be concerned in war, he will preserve us in peace – that he will not desert those who have no other protection, and who have abandoned all other protection because they confide in his alone.

And if we refer to experience, we shall find that the reasonableness of this confidence is confirmed.  There have been thousands who have confided in Heaven in opposition to all their apparent interests, but of these thousands has one eventually said that he repented his confidence, or that he reposed in vain?  “He that will lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall find it.”  If it is said that we take futurity into the calculation in our estimate of interest, I answer: So we ought.  Who is the man that would exclude futurity, or what are his principles?  I do not comprehend the foundation of those objections to a reference to futurity which are thus flippantly made.  Are we not immortal beings?  Have we not interests beyond the present life?  It is a deplorable temper of mind that would diminish the frequency, or the influence, of our references to futurity.  The prospects of the future ought to predominate over the sensations of the present.  And if the attainment of this predominance is difficult, let us at least, not voluntarily, argumentatively, persuade ourselves to forego the prospect, or to diminish its influence.

Yet, even in reference only to the present state of existence, I believe we shall find that the testimony of experience is that forbearance is most conducive to our interests.


Integer vitae scelerisque purus
Non eget Mauri jaculis neque arcu,
Nec venenatis gravida sagittis,
Fusee, pharetra.
 [69] – Horace.


And the same truth is delivered by much higher authority than that of Horace, and in much stronger language: “If a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

The reader of American history will recollect that in the beginning of the last century, a desultory and most dreadful warfare was carried on by the natives against the European settlers; a warfare that was provoked, as such warfare has almost always originally been, by the injuries and violence of the Christians.  The mode of destruction was secret and sudden.  The barbarians sometimes lay in wait for those who might come within their reach on the highway or in the fields, and shot them without warning; and sometimes they attacked the Europeans in their houses, “scalping some, and knocking out the brains of others.”  From this horrible warfare, the inhabitants sought safety by abandoning their homes, and retiring to fortified places, or to the neighborhood of garrisons; and those whom necessity still compelled to pass beyond the limits of such protection, provided themselves with arms for their defense.  But amidst this dreadful desolation and universal terror, the Society of Friends, who were a considerable proportion of the whole population, were steadfast to their principles.  They would neither retire to garrisons, nor provide themselves with arms.  They remained openly in the country, while the rest were flying to the forts.  They still pursued their occupations in the fields or at their homes, without a weapon either for annoyance or defense.  And what was their fate?  They lived in security and quiet.  The habitation, which to his armed neighbor was the scene of murder and of the scalping knife, was to the unarmed Quaker a place of safety and of peace.

Three of the Society were, however, killed.  And who were they?  They were three who abandoned their principles.  Two of these victims were men, who, in the simple language of the narrator, “used to go to their labor without any weapons, trusted to the Almighty, and depended on his providence to protect them, it being their principle not to use weapons of war to offend others or to defend themselves.  But a spirit of distrust taking place in their minds, they took weapons of war to defend themselves.  The Indians – who had seen them several times without them, and let them alone, saying they were peaceable men and hurt nobody, therefore they would not hurt them – now seeing them have guns, and supposing they designed to kill the Indians, they therefore shot the men dead.”  The third whose life was sacrificed was a woman, who “had remained in her habitation,” not thinking herself warranted in going “to a fortified place for preservation; neither she, her son, nor daughter, nor to take thither the little ones.  But the poor woman after some time began to let in a slavish fear, and advised her children to go with her to a fort not far from their dwelling.”  She went, and shortly afterwards “the bloody, cruel Indians lay by the way and killed her.” [70]

The fate of the Quakers during the rebellion in Ireland was nearly similar.  It is well known that the rebellion was a time, not only of open war, but also of cold-blooded murder – of the utmost fury of bigotry, and the utmost exasperation of revenge.  Yet the Quakers were preserved even to a proverb; and when strangers passed through streets of ruin and observed a house standing uninjured and alone, they would sometimes point and say, “That, doubtless, was the house of a Quaker.”

It is to no purpose to say, in opposition to the evidence of these facts, that they form an exception to a general rule.  The exception to the rule consists in the trial of the experiment of non-resistance, not in its success.  Neither is it to any purpose to say that the savages of America or the desperadoes of Ireland spared the Quakers because they were previously known to be an unoffending people, or because the Quakers had previously gained the love of these by forbearance or good offices.  We concede all this; it is the very argument that we maintain.  We say that a uniform, undeviating regard to the peaceable obligations of Christianity becomes the safeguard of those who practice it.  We venture to maintain that no reason whatever can be assigned why the fate of the Quakers would not be the fate of all who should adopt their conduct.  No reason can be assigned why, if their number had been multiplied ten-fold or a hundred-fold, they would not have been preserved.  If there is such a reason, let us hear it.  The American and Irish Quakers were, to the rest of the community, what one nation is to a continent.  And we must require the advocate of war to produce (that which has never yet been produced) a reason for believing that, although individuals exposed to destruction were preserved, a nation exposed to destruction would be destroyed.  We do not, however, say that if a people, in the customary state of men’s passions, should be assailed by an invader, and should suddenly choose to declare that they would try whether Providence would protect them – of such a people, we do not say that they would experience protection, and that none of them would be killed.  But we say that the evidence of experience is that a people who habitually regard the obligations of Christianity in their conduct towards other men, and who steadfastly refuse, through whatever consequences, to engage in acts of hostility, will experience protection in their peacefulness,and it matters nothing to the argument, whether we refer that protection to the immediate agency of Providence, or to the influence of such conduct upon the minds of men.

Such has been the experience of the unoffending and unresisting in individual life.  A national example of a refusal to bear arms has only once been exhibited to the world; but that one example has proved, so far as its political circumstances enabled it to prove, all that humanity could desire and all that skepticism could demand in favor of our argument.

It has been the ordinary practice of those who have colonized distant countries to force a footing, or to maintain it, with the sword.  One of the first objects has been to build a fort and to provide a military.  The adventurers became soldiers, and the colony was a garrison.  Pennsylvania was, however, colonized by men who believed that war was absolutely incompatible with Christianity, and who therefore resolved not to practice it.  Having determined not to fight, they maintained no soldiers and possessed no arms.  They planted themselves in a country that was surrounded by savages, and by savages who knew they were unarmed.  If easiness of conquest or incapability of defense could subject them to outrage, the Pennsylvanians might have been the very sport of violence.  Plunderers might have robbed them without retaliation, and armies might have slaughtered them without resistance.  If they did not give a temptation to outrage, no temptation could be given.  But these were the people who possessed their country in security, while those around them were trembling for their existence.  This was a land of peace, while every other was a land of war.  The conclusion is inevitable, although it is extraordinary: they were in no need of arms because they would not use them.

These Indians were sufficiently ready to commit outrages upon other states and often visited them with desolation and slaughter; with that sort of desolation, and that sort of slaughter, which might be expected from men whom civilization had not reclaimed from cruelty, and whom religion had not awed into forbearance.  “But whatever the quarrels of the Pennsylvanian Indians were with others, they uniformly respected, and held as it were sacred, the territories of William Penn.” [71]  “The Pennsylvanians never lost man, woman, or child by them, which neither the colony of Maryland, nor that of Virginia could say, nor could the great colony of New England claim such.” [72]

The security and quiet of Pennsylvania was not a transient freedom from war, such as might accidentally happen to any nation.  She continued to enjoy it “for more than seventy years,” [73] and subsisted in the midst of six Indian nations, “without so much as a militia for her defense.” [74]  “The Pennsylvanians became armed, though without arms; they became strong, though without strength; they became safe, without the ordinary means of safety.  The constable’s staff was the only instrument of authority among them for the greater part of a century, and never, during the administration of Penn or that of his proper successors, was there a quarrel or a war.” [75]

I cannot wonder that these people were not molested, extraordinary and unexampled as their security was.  There is something so noble in this perfect confidence in the Supreme Protector, in this utter exclusion of “slavish fear,” in this voluntary relinquishment of the means of injury or of defense, that I do not wonder that even ferocity could be disarmed by such virtue.  A people, generously living without arms, amidst nations of warriors!  Who would attack a people such as this?  There are few men so abandoned as not to respect such confidence.  It would be a peculiar and an unusual intensity of wickedness that would not even revere it.

And when was the security of Pennsylvania molested, and its peace destroyed?  When the men who had directed its counsels and who would not engage in war, were outvoted in its legislature; when they who supposed that there was greater security in the sword than in Christianity became the predominating body.  From that hour, the Pennsylvanians transferred their confidence in Christian principles to a confidence in their arms; and from that hour to the present they have been subject to war.

Such is the evidence derived from a national example of the consequences of a pursuit of the Christian policy in relation to war.  Here were a people who absolutely refused to fight, and who incapacitated themselves for resistance by refusing to possess arms, and this was the people whose land, amidst surrounding broils and slaughter, was selected as a land of security and peace.  The only [76] national opportunity that the virtue of the Christian world has afforded us of ascertaining the safety of relying upon God for defense has determined that it is safe.

If the evidence that we possess does not satisfy us of the expediency of confiding in God, what evidence do we ask, or what can we receive?  We have his promise that he will protect those who abandon their seeming interests in the performance of his will, and we have the testimony of those who have confided in him that he has protected them.  Can the advocate of war produce one single instance in the history of man, of a person who had given an unconditional obedience to the will of heaven, and who did not find that his conduct was wise as well as virtuous, that it accorded with his interests as well as with his duty?  We ask the same question in relation to the peculiar obligations to non-resistance.  Where is the man who regrets that, in observance of the forbearing duties of Christianity, he consigned his preservation to the superintendence of God?  And the solitary national example that is before us confirms the testimony of private life, for there is sufficient reason for believing that no nation in modern ages has possessed so large a portion of virtue or of happiness as Pennsylvania before it had seen human blood.  I would therefore repeat the question: What evidence do we ask, or can we receive?

This is the point from which we wander: WE DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.  When this statement is formally made to us, we think, perhaps, that it is not true; but our practice is an evidence of its truth, for if we did believe, we should also confide in it, and should be willing to stake upon it the consequences of our obedience. [77]  We can talk with sufficient fluency of “trusting in Providence,” but in the application of it to our conduct in life, we know wonderfully little.  Who is it that confides in Providence, and for what does he trust him?  Does his confidence induce him to set aside his own views of interest and safety, and simply to obey precepts that appear inexpedient and unsafe?  This is the confidence that is of value, and of which we know so little.  There are many who believe that war is disallowed by Christianity, and who would rejoice that it were forever abolished; but there are few who are willing to maintain an undaunted and unyielding stand against it.  They can talk of the loveliness of peace, yes, and argue against the lawfulness of war, but when difficulty or suffering would be the consequence they will not refuse to do what they know to be unlawful, they will not practice the peacefulness which they say they admire.  Those who are ready to sustain the consequences of undeviating obedience are the supporters of whom Christianity stands in need.  She wants men who are willing to suffer for her principles.

It is necessary for us to know by what principles we are governed.  Are we regulated by the injunctions of God or are we not?  If there is any lesson of morality that it is of importance to mankind to learn, and if there is any that they have not yet learned, it is the necessity of simply performing the duties of Christianity without reference to consequences.  If we could persuade ourselves to do this, we should certainly pass life with greater consistency of conduct, and as I firmly believe, in greater enjoyment and greater peace.  The world has had many examples of such fidelity and confidence.  Who have been the Christian martyrs of all ages, but men who maintained their fidelity to Christianity through whatever consequences?  They were faithful to the Christian creed.  We ought to be faithful to the Christian morality, for without morality the profession of a creed is vain.  No, we have seen that there have been martyrs to the duties of morality, and to these very duties of peacefulness.  The duties remain the same, but where is our obedience?

I hope, for the sake of his understanding and his heart, that the reader will not say I reason on the supposition that the world is what it is not; and that although these duties may be binding upon us when the world shall become purer, yet that we must now accommodate ourselves to the state of things as they are.  This is to say that in a land of assassins, assassination would be right.  If no one begins to reform his practice until others have begun before him, reformation will never be begun.  If apostles, martyrs, or reformers had “accommodated themselves to the existing state of things,” where would Christianity be now?  The business of reformation belongs to him who sees that reformation is required.  The world has no other human means of amendment.  If you believe that war is not allowed by Christianity, it is your business to oppose it; and if fear or distrust should raise questions on the consequences, apply the words of our Savior: “What is that to thee?  Follow thou me.”

Our great misfortune in the examination of the duties of Christianity is that we do not contemplate them with sufficient simplicity.  We do not estimate them without some addition or abatement of our own; there is almost always some intervening medium.  A sort of half transparent glass is hung before each individual, which possesses endless shades of color and degrees of opacity, and which presents objects with endless varieties of distortion.  This glass is colored by our education and our passions.  The business of moral culture is to render it transparent.  The perfection of the perceptive part of moral culture is to remove it from before us.  Simple obedience without reference to consequences is our great duty.  I know that philosophers have told us otherwise.  I know that we have been referred, for the determination of our duties, to calculations of expediency and of the future consequences of our actions, but I believe that in whatever degree this philosophy directs us to forbear an unconditional obedience to the rules of our religion, it will be found that, when Christianity shall advance in her purity and her power, she will sweep it from the earth with the broom of destruction.

The positions, then, which we have endeavored to establish, are these:


1.  That the general character of Christianity is wholly incongruous with war, and that its general duties are incompatible with it.

2.  That some of the express precepts and declarations of Jesus Christ virtually forbid it.

3.  That his practice is not reconcilable with the supposition of its lawfulness.

4.  That the precepts and practice of the apostles correspond with those of our Lord.

5.  That the primitive Christians believed that Christ had forbidden war, and that some of them suffered death in affirmation of this belief.

6.  That God has declared in prophecy that it is his will that war should eventually be eradicated from the earth, that this eradication will be effected by Christianity, and that it will be effected by the influence of its present principles.

7.  That those who have refused to engage in war, in consequence of their belief of its inconsistency with Christianity, have found that Providence has protected them.


Now, we think that the establishment of any considerable number of these positions is sufficient for our argument.  The establishment of the whole forms a body of evidence, to which I am not able to believe that an inquirer, to whom the subject was new, would be able to withhold his assent.  But since such an inquirer cannot be found, I would invite the reader to lay prepossession aside, to suppose himself to have now first heard of battles and slaughter, and dispassionately to examine whether the evidence in favor of peace is not very great, and whether the objections to it bear any proportion to the evidence itself.  But whatever may be the determination upon this question, surely it is reasonable to try the experiment of whether security cannot be maintained without slaughter.  Whatever might be the reasons for war, it is certain that it produces enormous mischief.  Even waiving the obligations of Christianity, we have to choose between evils that are certain and evils that are doubtful, between the actual endurance of a great calamity, and the possibility of fewer calamities.  It certainly cannot be proved that peace would not be the best policy; and since we know that the present system is bad, it is reasonable and wise to try whether the other is not better.  In reality, I can scarcely conceive of the possibility of greater evil than that which mankind now endures; a moral and physical evil of far wider extent and far greater intensity than our familiarity with it allows us to suppose.  If a system of peace does not produce less evil than this system of war, its consequences must indeed be enormously bad; and that it would produce such consequences, we have no warrant for believing either from reason or from practice – either from the principles of the moral government of God or from the experience of mankind.  Whenever a people shall pursue, steadily and uniformly, the pacific morality of the gospel, and shall do this from the pure motive of obedience, there is no reason to fear for the consequences.  There is no reason to fear that they would experience any evils such as we now endure, or that they would not find that Christianity understands their interests better than themselves and that the surest and the only rule of wisdom, safety, and expediency is to maintain her spirit in every circumstance of life.

“There is reason to expect,” says Dr. Johnson, “that as the world is more enlightened, policy and morality will at last be reconciled.” [78]  When this enlightened period shall arrive, we shall be approaching, and we shall not until then approach, that era of purity and of peace when “violence shall be no more heard in our land, wasting nor destruction within our borders” – that era in which God has promised that “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all his holy mountain.”  That a period like this will come, I am not able to doubt.  I believe it because it is not credible that he will always endure the butchery of man by man, because he has declared that he will not endure it, and because I think there is a perceptible approach of that period in which he will say, “It is enough.” [79]  In this belief I rejoice.  I rejoice that the number is increasing of those who are asking, “Shall the sword devour for ever?” and of those who, whatever may be the opinions or the practice of others, are openly saying, “I am for peace.” [80]

Whether I have succeeded in establishing the position that WAR OF EVERY KIND IS   INCOMPATIBLE WITH CHRISTIANITY, it is not my business to determine; but of this, at least, I can assure the reader: that I would not have intruded this inquiry upon the public if I had not believed, with undoubting confidence, that the position is accordant with everlasting truth – with that truth which should regulate our conduct here, and which will not be superseded in the world that is to come.


◄Chapter 2 Part 5

Table of Contents

Chapter 3 Part 1►




[69] Loosely translated: An upright man, free of guilt, needs no weapon to defend himself.

[70] See Select Anecdotes, etc., by John Barclay, pp. 71-79.  In this little volume I have found some illustrations of the policy of the principle that we maintain in the case of a personal attack.  Barclay, the celebrated Apologist, was attacked by a highwayman.  He made no other resistance than a calm expostulation.  The felon dropped his presented pistol and offered no farther violence.  Leonard Fell was assaulted by a highway robber, who plundered him of his money and his horse, and afterwards threatened to blow out his brains.  Fell solemnly spoke to the robber on the wickedness of his life.  The man was astonished.  He declared he would take neither his money nor his horse, and returned them both.  “If thine enemy hungers, feed him, for in so doing thou shall heap coals of fire upon his head.”

[71] Clarkson.

[72] Oldmixon, in the year 1708.

[73] Proud.

[74] Oldmixon.

[75] Clarkson, Life of Penn.

[76] Transcriber’s note – The only national example known to the author prior to 1823.

[77] “The dread of being destroyed by our enemies if we do not go to war with them, is a plain and unequivocal proof of our disbelief in the superintendence of Divine Providence.”  The Lawfulness of Defensive War Impartially Considered by a Member of the Church of England.

[78] Falkland’s Islands.

[79] 2 Samuel 24:16.

[80] Psalm 120:7.