Posted by: sean | September 1, 2007

Can Christians Use Violence to Protect their Family? (1)

the following is taken from pages 33 and 34 of War Inconsistent with the Religion of Jesus Christ by David Low Dodge (published in 1815). Mr. Dodge founded the first peace society ever organized in America or in the world and was its first president (The New York Peace Society). His book in its entirety can be read in .pdf or .html formats on the website.

What if We are Attacked by an Assassin?

by David Low Dodge

Objection. Shall we stand still and suffer an assassin to enter our houses without resistance and let him murder our families and ourselves?

Answer. I begin with this because it is generally the first objection that is made to the doctrine of peace by all persons, high and low, learned and unlearned. It is an objection derived from a fear of consequences and not from a conviction of duty, and might with the same propriety have been made to the martyrs who, for conscience’ sake, refused to repel their murderers with carnal weapons. Now it is made to Christians who, for conscience’ sake, refuse at this day to resist evil. Let the consequences of nonresistance be what they may, no Christian will pretend that defense with carnal weapons is not criminal if the gospel really forbids it, for the command of the gospel is the rule of duty. But I presume that this objection arises altogether from an apprehension of consequences rather than from regard to duty.

Every candid person must admit that this objection is of no force, until the question whether the gospel does or does not prohibit resistance with deadly weapons is first settled. It might, therefore, justly be dismissed without further remark; but as mankind is often more influenced by supposed consequences than by considerations of duty, and as the objection is very popular, it may deserve a more particular reply.

In the first place, I would observe that the supposition of the objector relates to a very extreme case, a case which has very rarely, if ever, occurred to Christians holding to nonresistance with deadly weapons, and it bears little or no resemblance to the general principles or practices of war which are openly advocated and promoted by professing Christians. Should an event like that supposed in the objection take place, it would be a moment of surprise and agitation in which few could act collectedly from principle. The response would probably be made in perturbation of mind. But war between nations is a business of calculation and debate, affording so much time for reflection that men need not act from sudden and violent impulse, but may act from fixed principle. In this respect, therefore, war is a very different thing from what is involved in the objection, and it does not in the least affect the principles or practice of systematic warfare. It is not uncommon to hear persons who are hopefully pious, when pressed by the example and the precepts of Christ against war, acknowledge that most of the wars which have existed since the gospel dispensation cannot be justified on Christian principles. Yet these very persons are never heard to disapprove of the common principles of war, or to counteract them by their lives and conversation before a wicked world. On the contrary, they will often eulogize heroes, join in the celebration of victories, and take as deep an interest in the result of battles as the warriors of this world. If their conduct is called in question, they will attempt to justify it by pleading the necessity of self-defense, and immediately introduce the above objection, which is by no means parallel with the general principles and practices of all wars.

The truth is, war is a very popular thing with mankind, because war is so congenial to its natural dispositions; and, however gravely some men may, at times, profess to deplore its calamity and wickedness, it is too evident that they take a secret pleasure in the approbation of the multitude and in the fascinating glory of arms. We have reason to believe that this objection is often made merely to ward off the arrows of conviction that would otherwise pierce their consciences.

The objection, however, wholly overlooks the providence and promise of God. Assassins do not stroll out of the circle of God’s providence. Not only is their breath in his hand, but the weapons they hold are under his control. Besides, God’s children are dear to him, and he shields them by his protecting care, not suffering any event to befall them except such as shall be for his glory and their good. Whoever touches them touches the apple of his eye. He has promised to be a very present help to them in every time of need, and to deliver those who trust in him out of all their trouble. He will make even their enemies to be at peace with them. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil; and who is he who will harm you if you are followers of that which is good? But if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, you should be happy, and not be afraid of their terror, or troubled. If God thus protects his children, who can be against them? Isn’t the arm of the Lord powerful to save, and a better defense to all who trust in him than swords and guns? Whoever found him unfaithful to his promises or unable to save? Aren’t the hosts of heaven at his command? Aren’t his angels swift to do his will? “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” If the Lord is on their side, Christians have no cause to fear what man can do unto them. The blessed Savior said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

If consequences are rightly examined, they may prove to be of more importance than at first supposed. If the gospel does forbid resistance with deadly weapons, then he who saves his temporal life by killing his enemy may lose his eternal life, while he who loses his life for Christ’s sake is sure of everlasting life. Thus the Christian, if he is killed, goes to heaven; but the assassin, if he is killed, goes to hell, and the soul of the slayer is in danger of following. Whoever kills another to prevent being killed himself, does it on presumption, for, whatever may be the appearances, only God can know before the event has taken place whether one man will assassinate another. Men, however, seem to think little of killing or being killed by fighting, whether in single combat or on the field of general battle, though they shudder at the idea of being put to death by an assassin, unless they can inflict or attempt to inflict on him the same evil.

But the objection is usually made on the supposition that the doctrine in question requires Christians to stand still and rather court the dagger than otherwise. This is an unfair statement, for it would be presumption to stand still when there was a chance of escape. Besides, the Christian must act on the defensive, not with carnal, but with spiritual weapons, which are more powerful when exercised in faith than swords or spears.

Probably no instance can be found of robbers murdering such as conscientiously held to nonresistance. It is resistance that provokes violence; forbearance and good will repress it. But if instances of this kind may be found, it is no evidence against the doctrine in question any more than against the principles of the Martyrs. God may, for wise reasons, call away some of his children by the hands of murderers. If so, instead of losing, they save their lives.


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