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Hugo Grotius (1583–1645). The Rights of War and Peace. 1901.

Book I

Chapter II: Inquiry into the Lawfulness of War

  • Reasons proving the lawfulness of War—Proofs from History—Proofs from general consent—The Law of Nature proved not repugnant to War—War not condemned by the voluntary Divine Law preceding the Gospel—Objections answered—Review of the question whether War be contrary to the Law of the Gospel—Arguments from Scripture for the negative Opinions—Answer to the Arguments taken from Scripture for the affirmative—The opinions of the primitive Christians on the subject examined.

  • I. AFTER examining the sources of right, the first and most general question that occurs, is whether any war is just, or if it is ever lawful to make war. But this question like many others that follow, must in the first place be compared with the rights of nature. Cicero in the third book of his Bounds of Good and Evil, and in other parts of his works, proves with great erudition from the writings of the Stoics, that there are certain first principles of nature, called by the Greeks the first natural impressions, which are succeeded by other principles of obligation superior even to the first impressions themselves. He calls the care, which every animals, from the moment of its birth, feels for itself and the preservation of its condition, its abhorrence of destruction, and of every thing that threatens death, a principle of nature. Hence, he says, it happens, that if left to his own choice, every man would prefer a sound and perfect to a mutilated and deformed body. So that preserving ourselves in a natural state, and holding to every thing conformable, and averting every thing repugnant to nature is the first duty.

    But from the knowledge of these principles, a notion arises of their being agreeable to reason, that part of a man, which is superior to the body. Now that agreement with reason, which is the basis of propriety, should have more weight than the impulse of appetite; because the principles of nature recommend right reason as a rule that ought to be of higher value than bare instinct. As the truth of this is easily assented to by all men of sound judgment without any other demonstration, it follows that in inquiring into the laws of nature the first object of consideration is, what is agreeable to those principles of nature, and then we come to the rules, which, though arising only out of the former, are of higher dignity, and not only to be embraced, when offered, but pursued by all the means in our power.

    This last principle, which is called propriety, from its fitness, according to the various things on which it turns, sometimes is limited to a very narrow point, the least departure from which is a deviation into vice; sometimes it allows a wider scope, so that some actions, even laudable in themselves, may be omitted or varied without crime. In this case there is not an immediate distinction between right and wrong; the shades are gradual, and their termination unperceived; not like a direct contrast, where the opposition is immediately seen, and the first step is a transgression of the fixed bounds.

    The general object of divine and human laws is to give the authority of obligation to what was only laudable in itself. It has been said above that an investigation of the laws of nature implies an inquiry, whether any particular action may be done without injustice: now by an act of injustice is understood that, which necessarily has in it any thing repugnant to the nature of a reasonable and social being. So far from any thing in the principles of nature being repugnant to war, every part of them indeed rather favours it. For the preservation of our lives and persons, which is the end of war, and the possession or acquirement of things necessary and useful to life is most suitable to those principles of nature, and to use force, if necessary, for those occasions, is no way dissonant to the principles of nature, since all animals are endowed with natural strength, sufficient to assist and defend themselves.

    Xenophon says, that every animal knows a certain method of fighting without any other instructor than nature. In a fragment of Ovid’s, called the Art of Fishery, it is remarked, that all animals know their enemy and his means of defence, and the strength and measure of their own weapons. Horace has said, “the wolf attacks with its teeth, the bull with its horns, and whence is this knowledge derived but from instinct?” On this subject Lucretius enlarges, observing that “every creature knows its own powers. The calf butts with its forehead, before its horns appear, and strikes with all imaginable fury.” On which Galen expresses himself in the following manner, “every animal appears to defend itself with that part of its body, in which it excels others. The calf butts with its head before its horns have grown, and the colt strikes with its heel before its hoofs are hard, as the young dog attempts to bite before his teeth are strong.” The same writer in describing the use of different parts of the body, says, “that man in a creature formed for peace and war. His armour forms not an immediate part of his body; but he has hands fit for preparing and handling arms, and we see infants using them spontaneously, without being taught to do so.” Aristotle in the 4th book, and tenth chapter of the history of animals, says, “that the hand serves man for a spear, a sword, or any arms whatever, because it can hold and wield them.” Now right reason and the nature of society which claims the second, and indeed more important place in this inquiry, prohibit not all force, but only that which is repugnant to society, by depriving another of his right. For the end of society is to form a common and united aid to preserve to every one his own. Which may easily be understood to have obtained, before what is now called property was introduced. For the free use of life and limbs was so much the right of every one, that it could not be infringed or attacked without injustice. So the use of the common productions of nature was the right of the first occupier, and for any one to rob him of that was manifest injustice. This may be more easily understood, since law and custom have established property under its present form. Tully has expressed this in the third book of his Offices in the following words, “if every member could have separate feeling, and imagine it could derive vigour from engrossing the strength of a neighboring part of the body, the whole frame would languish and perish. In the same manner if every one of us, for his own advantage, might rob another of what he pleased, there would be a total overthrow of human society and intercourse. For though it is allowed by nature for every one to give the preference to himself before another in the enjoyment of life and necessaries, yet she does not permit us to increase our means and riches by the spoils of others.” It is not therefore contrary to the nature of society to provide and consult for ourselves, if another’s right is not injured; the force therefore, which inviolably abstains from touching the rights of others, is not unjust. For as the same Cicero observes some where in his Epistles, that as there are two modes of contending, the one by argument, and the other by force, and as the former is peculiar to man, and the latter common to him with the brute creation, we must have recourse to the latter, when it is impossible to use the former. And again, what can be opposed to force, but force? Ulpian observes that Cassius says, it is lawful to repel force by force, and it is a right apparently provided by nature to repel arms with arms, with whom Ovid agrees, observing that the laws permit us to take up arms against those that bear them.

    II. The observation that all war is not repugnant to the law of nature, may be more amply proved from sacred history. For when Abraham with his servants and confederates had gained a victory, by force of arms, over the four Kings, who had plundered Sodom, God approved of his act by the mouth of his priest Melchisedech, who said to him, “Blessed be the most high God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand.” Gen. xiv. 20. Now Abraham had taken up arms, as appears from the history, without any special command from God. But this man, no less eminent for sanctity than wisdom, felt himself authorized by the law of nature, as it is admitted by the evidence of Berosus, and Orpheus, who were strangers.

    There is no occasion to appeal to the history of the seven nations, whom God delivered up into the hands of the Israelites to be destroyed. For there was a special command to execute the judgment of God upon nations guilty of the greatest crimes. From whence these wars are literally styled in scripture, Battles of the Lord, as undertaken, not by human will, but by divine appointment. The xvii. chapter of Exodus supplies a passage more to the purpose, relating the overthrow which the Israelites, conducted by Moses and Joshua, made of the Amalekites. In this act, there was no express commission from God, but only an approval after it was done. But in the xix. chap. of Deut. ver. 10, 15. God has prescribed general and standing laws to his people on the manner of making war, by this circumstance shewing that a war may be just without any express commandment from him. Because in the same passage, a plain distinction is made between the case of the seven nations and that of others. And as there is no special edict prescribing the just causes for which war may be undertaken, the determination of them is left to the discovery of natural reason. Of this kind is the war of Jephthah against the Ammonites, in defence of their borders. Jud. xi. and the war of David against the same people for having violated the rights of his Ambassadors. 2 Sam. x. To the preceding observations may be added, what the inspired writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says of Gideon, Barack, Sampson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and others, who by faith made war upon kingdoms, prevailed in war and put whole armies of their enemies to flight. Heb. xi. 33, 34. The whole tenor of this passage shews, that the word faith implies a persuasion, that what they did was believed to be agreeable to the will of God. In the same manner, David is said, by a woman distinguished for her wisdom, 1 Sam, xxv. 28. to fight the battles of the Lord, that is to make lawful and just wars.

    III. Proofs of what has been advanced, may be drawn also from the consent of all, especially, of the wisest nations. There is a celebrated passage in Cicero’s speech for Milo, in which, justifying recourse to force in defence of life, he bears ample testimony to the feelings of nature, who has given us this law, which is not written, but innate, which we have not received by instruction, hearing or reading, but the elements of it have been engraven in our hearts and minds with her own hand: a law which is not the effect of habit and acquirement, but forms a part in the original complexion of our frame: so that if our lives are threatened with assassination or open violence from the hands of robbers or enemies, ANY means of defence would be allowed and laudable. He proceeds, reason has taught this to the learned, necessity to the barbarians, custom to nations, and nature herself to wild beasts, to use every possible means of repelling force offered to their bodies, their limbs and their lives. Caius and Lawyer says, natural reason permits us to defend ourselves against dangers. And Florentinus, another legal authority, maintains, that whatever any one does in defence of his person ought to be esteemed right. Josephus observes, that the love of life is a law of nature strongly implanted in all creatures, and therefore we look upon those as enemies, who would openly deprive us of it.

    This principle is founded on reasons of equity, so evident, that even in the brute creation, who have no idea of right, we make a distinction between attack and defence. For when Ulpian had said, that an animal without knowledge, that is without the use of reason, could not possibly do wrong, he immediately adds, that when two animals fight, if one kills the other, the distinction of Quintius Mutius must be admitted, that if the aggressor were killed no damages could be recovered; but if the other, which was attacked, an action might be maintained. There is a passage in Pliny, which will serve for an explanation of this, he says that the fiercest lions do not fight with each other, nor do serpents bite serpents. But if any violence is done to the tamest of them, they are roused, and upon receiving any hurt, will defend themselves with the greatest alacrity and vigour.

    IV. From the law of nature then which may also be called the law of nations, it is evident that all kinds of war are not to be condemned. In the same manner, all history and the laws of manners of every people sufficiently inform us, that war is not condemned by the voluntary law of nations. Indeed Hermogenianus has said, that wars were introduced by the law of nations, a passage which ought to be explained somewhat differently from the general interpretation given to it. The meaning of it is, that certain formalities, attending war, were introduced by the law of nations, which formalities were necessary to secure the peculiar privileges arising out of the law. From hence a distinction, which there will be occasion to use hereafter, between a war with the usual formalities of the law of nations, which is called just or perfect, and an informal war, which does not for that reason cease to be just, or agreeable to right. For some wars, when made upon just grounds, though not exactly conformable, yet are not repugnant to the law, as will be explained more fully hereafter. By the law of the nations, says Livy, provision is made to repel force by arms; and Florentinus declares, that the the law of nations allows us to repel violence and injury, in order to protect our persons.

    V. A greater difficulty occurs respecting the divine voluntary law. Nor is there any force in the objection that as the law of nature is unchangeable, nothing can be appointed even by God himself contrary to it. For this is true only in those things, which the law of nature positively forbids or commands; not in those which are tacitly permitted by the same law. For acts of that kind, not falling strictly within the general rule, but being exceptions to the law of nature, may be either forbidden or commanded. The first objection usually made against the lawfulness of war is taken from the law given to Noah and his posterity, Gen. ix. 5, 6, where God thus speaks, “Surely the blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of every man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man.” Here some take the phrase of requiring blood, in the most general sense and the other part, that blood shall be shed in its turn, they consider as a bare threat, and not an approbation; neither of which acceptations can be admitted. For the prohibition of shedding blood extends not beyond the law itself, which declares, THOU SHALT NOT KILL; but passes no condemnation upon capital punishments or wars undertaken by public authority.

    Neither the law of Moses, nor that given to Noah established any thing new, they were only a declaratory repetition of the law of nature, that had been obliterated by depraved custom. So that the shedding of blood in a criminal and wanton manner is the only act prohibited by those commandments. Thus every act of homocide does not amount to murder, but only that, which is committed with a wilful and malicious intention to destroy the life of an innocent person. As to what follows about blood being shed in return for blood, it seems to imply not a mere act of personal revenge, but the deliberate exercise of a perfect right, which may be thus explained; it is not unjust, according to the principles of nature that any one should suffer in proportion to the evil he has done, conformably to the judicial maxim of Rhadamanthus, that if any one himself suffers what he has done, it is but just and right. The same opinion is thus expressed by Seneca the father; “it is but a just retaliation for any one to suffer in his own person the evil which he intended to inflict upon another.” From a sense of this natural justice, Cain knowing himself guilty of his brother’s blood said, “whosoever finds me shall kill me.”

    But as in those early times, when men were few, and aggressions rare, there was less occasion for examples, God restrained by an express commandment the impulse of nature which appeared lawful, he forbad any one to kill the murderer, at the same time prohibiting all intercourse with him, even so far as not to touch him.

    Plato has established this in his laws, and the same rule prevailed in Greece, as appears from the following passage in Euripides, “our fathers of old did well in banishing from their intercourse and sight any one that had shed another’s blood; imposing banishment by way of atonement, rather than inflicting death.” We find Thucydides of the same opinion, “that anciently lighter punishments were inflicted for the greatest crimes; but in process of time, as those penalties came to be despised, legislators were obliged to have recourse to death in certain cases.” We may add to the above instances the remark of Lactantius, that as yet it appeared a sin to punish even the most wicked men with death.

    The conjecture of the divine will taken from the remarkable instance of Cain, whom no one was permitted to kill passed into a law, so that Lanech, having perpetrated a similar deed, promised himself impunity from this example.—Gen iv. 24.

    But as before the deluge, in the time of the Giants, the practice of frequent and wanton murders had prevailed; upon the renewal of the human race, after the deluge, that the same evil custom might not be established, God thought proper to restrain it by severer means. The lenity of former ages was laid aside, and the divine authority gave a sanction to the precepts of natural justice, that whoever killed a murderer should be innocent. After tribunals were erected, the power over life was, for the very best reasons, conferred upon the judges alone. Still some traces of ancient manners remained in the right which was granted, after the introduction of the Mosaic Law, to the nearest in blood to the person killed.

    This interpretation is justified by the authority of Abraham, who, with a perfect knowledge of the law given to Noah, took arms against the four Kings, fully persuaded that he was doing nothing in violation of that law. In the same manner Moses ordered the people to fight against Amalekites, who attacked them; following in this case the dictates of nature, for he appears to have had no special communication with God. Exod. xvii. 9. Besides, we find that capital punishments were inflicted upon other criminals, as well as murderers, not only among the Gentiles, but among those who had been impressed with the most pious rules and opinions, even the Patriarchs themselves. Gen. xxxviii. 24.

    Indeed upon comparing the divine will with the light of nature, it was concluded, that it seemed conformable to justice, that other crimes of great enormity should be subject to the same punishment as that of murder. For there are some rights, such as those of reputation, chastity, conjugal fidelity, submission of subjects to their princes, all of which are esteemed of equal value with life itself, because on the preservation of these the peace and comfort of life depend. The violation of any of those rights is little less than murder itself.

    Here may be applied the old tradition found among the Jews, that there were many laws, which were not ALL mentioned by Moses, given by God to the sons of Noah; as it was sufficient for his purpose, that they should afterwards be comprehended in the peculiar laws of the Hebrews. Thus it appears from xviii. chap. of Leviticus, that there was an ancient law against incestuous marriages, though not mentioned by Moses in its proper place. Now among the commandments given by God to the children of Noah, it is said, that death was expressly declared to be the punishment not only for murder, but for adultery, incest, and robbery, which is confirmed by the words of Job xxxi. 11. The law of Moses too, for the sanction of capital punishments, gives reasons which operate no less with other nations, than with the Jewish people. Levit. xviii. 25–30. Psa. ci. 5. Prov. xx. 8. And particularly respecting murder it is said, the land cannot be cleansed unless the blood of the murderer be shed. Numb. xxv. 31–33. Besides, it were absurd to suppose that the Jewish people were indulged with the privilege of maintaining the public safety, and that of individuals by capital punishments, and asserting their rights by war, and that other kings and nations were not allowed the same powers. Nor do we find that those kings or nations were forewarned by the Prophets, that the use of capital punishments, and that all wars, were condemned by God in the same manner as they were admonished of all other sins. On the other hand, can any one doubt, as the law of Moses bore such an express image of the divine will respecting criminal justice, whether other nations would not have acted wisely in adopting it for their example? It is certain that the Greeks, and the Athenians in particular did so. From hence came the close resemblance which the Jewish bore to the old Athenian law, and to that of the twelve tables of Rome. Enough has been said, to shew that the law given to Noah cannot bear the interpretation of those, who derive from it their arguments against the lawfulness of all war.

    VI. The arguments against the lawfulness of war, drawn from the Gospel, are more specious. In examining which it will not be necessary to assume, as many do, that the Gospel contains nothing more than the law of nature, except the rules of faith and the Sacraments: an assumption, which in its general acceptation is by no means true. It may readily be admitted, that nothing inconsistent with natural justice is enjoined in the gospel, yet it can never be allowed, that the laws of Christ do not impose duties upon us, above those required by the law of nature. And those, who think otherwise, strain their arguments to prove that many practices forbidden by the gospel, as concubinage, divorce, polygamy, were made offences by the law of nature. The light of nature might point out the HONOUR of abstaining from such practices, but the SINFULNESS of them could not have been discovered without a revelation of the will of God. Who for instance would say, that the Christian precept of laying down our lives for others was an obligation of the law of nature? 1 John iii. 16. It is said by Justin the Martyr, that to live according to the bare law of nature is not the character of a true believer. Neither can we follow those, who, adopting another meaning of no inconsiderable import, construe the precept delivered by Christ in his sermon on the mount, into nothing more than an interpretation of the Mosaic Law. For the words, “you have heard it was said to them of old, but I say to YOU,” which are so often repeated, imply something else. Those of old were no other than contemporaries of Moses: for what is there repeated as said to those of OLD are not the words of the teachers of the law, but of Moses, either LITERALLY, or in THEIR meaning. They are cited by our Saviour as his express words, not as interpretations of them: “Thou shalt not kill,” Exod. xx. whoever killeth shall be in danger of Judgment, Levit. xxi. 21. Numb. xxxv. 16, 17, 30. “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” Exod. xx. “whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.” Deut. xxiv. 1. “Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.” Exod. xx. 7. Numb. xxx 2. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, “may be demanded in justice.” Levit. xxxiv. 20. Deut. xix. 21. “Thou shalt love they neighbour,” that is, an Israelite. Levit. xix. 18. “and thou shalt hate thine enemy,” that is, any one of the seven nations to whom friendship or compassion was forbidden to be shewn. Exod. xxxiv. 11. Deut. vii. 1. To these may be added the Amalekites, with whom the Israelites were commanded to maintain irreconcileable war. Exod. xxvii. 19. Deut. xxv. 19.

    But to understand the words of our Saviour, we must observe that the law of Moses is taken in a double sense, either as containing some principles in common with human laws, such as imposing restraint upon human crimes by the dread of exemplary punishments. Heb. ii. 2. And in this manner maintaining civil society among the Jewish people: for which reason it is called, Heb. vii. 16, the law of a carnal commandment, and Rom. iii. 17. the law of works: or it may be taken in another sense, comprehending the peculiar sanctions of a divine law, requiring purity of mind, and certain actions, which might be omitted without temporal punishments. In this sense it is called a spiritual law, giving life to the soul. The teachers of the law, and the Pharisees considering the first part as sufficient, neglected to instruct the people in the second and more important branch, deeming it superfluous. The truth of this may be proved, not only from our own writings, but from Josephus also, and the Jewish Rabbies. Respecting this second part we may observe, that the virtues which are required of Christians, are either recommended or enjoined to the Hebrews, but not enjoined in the same degree and extent as to Christians. Now in both these senses Christ opposes his own precepts to the old law. From whence it is clear, that his words contain more than a bare interpretation of the Mosaic law. These observations apply not only to the question immediately in hand, but to many others; that we may not rest upon the authority of the Mosaic law farther than is right.

    VII. Omitting therefore the less satisfactory proofs, as a leading point of evidence to shew that the right of war is not taken away by the law of the gospel, that passage in St. Paul’s Epistle to Timothy may be referred to, where the Apostle says, “I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for Kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Eph. ii. 1, 2, 3. From this passage, the following conclusions may be drawn; in the first place, that Christian piety in kings is acceptable to God, that their profession of Christianity does not abridge their rights of sovereignty. Justin the Martyr has said, “that in our prayers for Kings, we should beg that they may unite a spirit of wisdom with their royal power,” and in the book called the Constitutions of Clement, the Church prays for Christian rulers, and that Christian Princes may perform an acceptable service to God, by securing to other Christians the enjoyment of quiet lives. The manner in which the Sovereign secures this important end, is explained in another passage from the same Apostle. Rom. xiii. 4. “He is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do evil, fear, for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon them, that do evil.” By the right of the sword is understood the exercise of every kind of restraint, in the sense adopted by the Lawyers, not only over offenders amongst his own people, but against neighboring nations, who violates his own and his people’s rights. To clear up this point, we may refer to the second Psalm, which although it applies literally to David, yet in its more full and perfect sense relates to Christ, which may be seen by consulting other parts of scripture. For instance, Acts iv. 25. xiii. 33. For that Psalm exhorts all kings to worship the son of God, shewing themselves, as kings, to be his ministers, which may be explained by the words of St. Augustine, who says, “In this, kings, in their royal capacity, serve God according to the divine commandment, if they promote what is good, and prohibit what is evil in their kingdoms, not only relating to human society, but also respecting religion.” And in another place the same writer says, “How can kings serve the Lord in fear, unless they can prohibit and punish with due severity offences against the law of God? For the capacities in the law of God? For the capacities in which they serve God, as individuals, and as kings, are very different. In this respect they serve the Lord, as kings, when they promote his service by means which they could not use without regal power.

    The same part of the Apostle’s writings supplies us with a second argument, where the higher powers, meaning kings, are said to be from God, and are called the ordinance of God; from whence it is plainly inferred that we are to honour and obey the king, from motives of conscience, and that every one who resists him, is resisting God. If the word ordinance meant nothing more than a bare permission, that obedience which the Apostle so strenuously enjoins would only have the force of an imperfect obligation. But as the word ordinance, in the original, implies an express commandment and appointment, and as all parts of the revealed will of God are consistent with each other, it follows that the obedience of subjects to sovereigns is a duty of supreme obligation. Nor is the argument at all weakened by its being said, that the Sovereigns at the time when St. Paul wrote, were not Christians. For it is not universally true, as Sergius Paulus, the deputy governor of Cyprus, had long before professed the Christian religion. Acts xiii. 12. There is no occasion to mention the tradition respecting Abgarus the King of Edessa’s Epistle to our Saviour; a tradition mingled with falsehood, though, in some measure founded upon truth. For the question did not turn upon the characters of the Princes, whether they were godly or not, but whether THEIR holding the kingly office was repugnant to the law of God. This St. Paul denies, maintaining that the kingly office, even under all circumstances, was appointed by God, therefore if ought to be honoured from motives of conscience, which, properly speaking, are under the controul of God alone. So that Nero, and King Agrippa whom Paul so earnestly entreats to become a Christian, might have embraced Christianity, and still retained, the one his regal, and the other his imperial authority, which could not be exercised without the power of the sword. As the legal sacrifices might formerly be performed by wicked Priests; in the same manner regal power would retain its indelible sanctity, though in the hands of an ungodly man.

    A third arguments is derived from the words of John the Baptist, who, at a time when many thousands of the Jews served in the Roman armies, as appears from the testimony of Josephus and others, being seriously asked by the soldiers, what they should do to avoid the wrath of God, did not command them to renounce their military calling, which he ought to have done, had it been inconsistent with the law and will of God, but to abstain from violence, extortion, and false accusation, and to be content with their wages. In reply to these words of the Baptist, so plainly giving authority to the military profession, many observed that the injunction of the Baptist is so widely different from the precepts of Christ, that HE seemed to preach one doctrine and our LORD another. Which is by no means admissible, for the following reasons. Both our Saviour and the Baptist made repentance the substance of their doctrine; for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. By the kingdom of Heaven is meant a new law, as the Hebrews used to give the name of kingdom to their law. Christ himself says the kingdom of Heaven began to suffer violence from the days of John the Baptist. Matt. xi. 12. John is said to have preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Mark i. 4. The Apostles are said to have done the same in the name of Christ. Acts xi. 38. John requires fruits worthy of repentance, and threatens destruction to those, who do not produce them. Matt. iii. 8, 10. He also requires works of charity above the law. Luke iii. 2. The law is said to have continued till John, that is, a more perfect law is said to have commenced from his instruction. He was called greater than the prophets, and declared to be one sent to give the knowledge of salvation to the people by announcing the gospel. He makes no distinction between himself and Jesus on the score of doctrine, only ascribing pre-eminence to Christ as the promised Messiah, the Lord of the Kingdom of Heaven, who would give the power of the holy spirit to those, who believed in him. In short, the dawning rudiments of knowledge, which proceeded from the forerunner, were more distinctly unfolded and cleared up, by Christ himself, the light of the world.

    There is a fourth argument, which seems to have no little weight, proceeding upon the supposition, that if the right of inflicting capital punishments were abolished, and princes were deprived of the power of the sword to protect their subjects against the violence of murderers and robbers, wickedness would triumphantly prevail, and the world would be deluged with crimes, which, even under the best established governments, are with so much difficulty prevented or restrained. If then it had been the intention of Christ to introduce such an order of things as had never been heard of, he would undoubtedly by the most express and particular words, have condemned all capital punishments, and all wars, which we never read that he did. For the arguments, brought in favor of such an opinion, are for the most part very indefinite and obscure. Now both justice and common sense require such general expressions to be taken in a limited acceptation, and allow us, in explaining ambiguous words, to depart from their literal meaning, where our strictly adhering to it would lead to manifest inconvenience and detriment.

    There is a fifth argument, maintaining that no proof can be adduced that the judicial part of the Mosaic Law, inflicting sentence of death, ever ceased to be in force, till the city of Jerusalem, and the civil polity of the Jews were utterly destroyed, without hopes of restoration. For in the Mosaic dispensation no assignable term is named for the duration of the law; nor do Christ and his Apostles ever speak of its abolition, except in allusion to the overthrow of the Jewish state. Indeed on the contrary, St. Paul says, that the High Priest was appointed pointed to judge according to the law of Moses. Acts xxiv. 3. And Christ himself, in the introduction to his precepts, declares that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it. Matt. v. 17. The application of his meaning to the ritual law is very plain, for it was only the outline and shadow of that perfect body, of which the Gospel formed the substance. But how is it possible that the judicial laws should stand, if Christ, according to the opinion of some, abolished them by his coming? Now if the law remained in force as long as the Jewish state continued, it follows that the Jewish converts to Christianity if called to the magisterial office, could not refuse it on the score of declining to pass sentence of death, and that they could not decide otherwise than the law of Moses had prescribed.

    Upon weighing the whole matter, the slightest ground cannot be discovered for supposing that any pious man, who had heard those words from our Saviour himself, would have understood them in a sense different from that which has been here given. It must however be admitted that, before the Gospel dispensation permission or impunity was granted to certain acts and dispositions, which it would neither be necessary nor proper to examine at present, upon which Christ did not allow his followers to act. Of this kind was the permission to put away a wife for every offence, and to seek redress by law for every injury. Now between the positive precepts of Christ and those permissions there is a difference, but not a contradiction. For he that retains his wife, and he that forgoes his right of redress, does nothing CONTRARY to the law, but rather acts agreeably to the SPIRIT of it. It is very different with a judge, who is not merely permitted, but commanded by the law to punish a murderer with death, incurring guilt in the sight of God, if he should act otherwise. If Christ had forbidden him to put a murderer to death, his prohibition would have amounted to a contradiction, and it would have abolished the law.

    The example of Cornelius the Centurion supplies a sixth argument in favor of this opinion. In receiving the holy spirit from Christ, he received an indubitable proof of his justification; he was baptized into the name of Christ by Peter, yet we do not find that he either had resigned or was advised by the Apostle to resign his military commission. In reply to which some maintain, that when instructed by Peter in the nature of the Christian religion, he must have been instructed to form the resolution of quitting his military calling. There would be some weight in their answer, if it could be shown that an absolute prohibition of war is to be found among the precepts of Christ. And as it can be found nowhere else, it would have been inserted in its proper place among the precepts of Christ, that after ages might not have been ignorant of the rules of duty. Nor as may be seen in the xix. chap. of the Acts of the Apostles and the 19th ver. is it usual with St. Luke, in cases where the personal character and situation of converts required an extraordinary change of life and disposition, to pass over such a circumstance without notice.

    The seventh argument is like the preceding, and is taken from the example of Sergius Paulus, which has been already mentioned. In the history of his conversion there is not the least intimation of his abdicating the magistracy, or being required to do so. Therefore silence respecting a circumstance, which would naturally and necessarily have been mentioned, may be fairly taken as a proof that it never existed. The conduct of St. Paul supplies us with an eight argument on this subject. When he understood that the Jews lay in wait for an opportunity to seize and kill him, he immediately gave information of their design to the commander of the Roman garrison, and when the commander gave him a guard of soldiers to protect him on his journey, he made no remonstrance, nor ever hinted either to the commander or the soldiers that it was displeasing to God to repel force by force. Yet this is the same Apostle who, as appears from all his writings, 2 Tim. iv. 2. neither himself neglected nor allowed others to neglect any opportunity of reminding men of their duty. In addition to all that has been said, it may be observed, that the peculiar end of what is lawful and binding, must itself be lawful and binding also. It is lawful to pay tribute, and according to St. Paul’s explanation, it is an act binding upon the conscience, Rom. xiii. 3, 4, 6. For the end of tribute is to supply the state with the means of protecting the good, and restraining the wicked. There is a passage in Tacitus very applicable to the present question. It is in the fourth book of his history, in the speech of Petilius Cerealis, who says, “the peace of nations cannot be preserved without armies, nor can armies be maintained without pay, nor pay supplied without taxation.” There is a sentiment similar to this of the historian, in St. Augustin, he says, “for this purpose we pay tribute, that the soldier may be provided with the necessaries of life.”

    The tenth argument is taken from that part of the xxv. chap. of the Acts of the Apostles, where Paul says, “If I have wronged any man, or done anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die.” From whence the opinion of St. Paul may be gathered, that, even after the publication of the gospel, there were certain crimes which justice not only allowed but required to be punished with death; which opinion St. Paul may gathered, that, even after the publication of the gospel, there were certain crimes which justice not only allowed but required to be punished with death; which opinion St. Peter also maintains. But if it had been the will of God that capital punishments should be abolished, Paul might have cleared himself, but the ought not to have left an impression on the minds of men, that it was at that time equally lawful as before to punish the guilty with death. Now as it has been proved, that the coming of Christ did not take away the right of inflicting capital punishments, it has at the same time been proved, that war may be made upon a multitude of armed offenders, who can only be brought to justice by defeat in battle. The numbers, the strength and boldness of the aggressors, though they may have their weight in restraining our deliberations, cannot in the least diminish our right.

    The substance of the eleventh argument rests not only upon our Saviour’s having abolished those parts of the Mosaic law, which formed a wall of separation between the Jews and other nations, but upon his allowing the moral parts to remain, as standing rules, approved by the law of nature, and the consent of every civilized people, and containing whatever is good and virtuous.

    Now the punishing of crimes, and the taking up arms to avenge or ward off injuries are among those actions, which by the law of nature rank as laudable, and are referred to the virtues of justice and beneficence. And here is the proper place to animadvert slightly upon the mistake of those, who derive the rights of war, possessed by the Israelites, solely from the circumstance of God having given them the land of Canaan and commissioned them to drive out the inhabitants. This may be one just reason, but it is not the sole reason.

    For, prior to those times, holy men guided by the light of nature undertook wars, which the Israelites themselves afterwards did for various reasons, and David in particular, to avenge the violated rights of ambassadors. But the rights, which any one derives from the law of nature, are no less his own than if God had given them: nor are those rights abolished by the law of the Gospel.

    VIII. Let us now consider the arguments, by which the contrary opinion is supported, that the pious reader may judge more easily, to which side the scale inclines.

    In the first place, the prophecy of Isaiah is generally alleged, who says the time shall come, “when nations shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and turn their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” ii. 4. But this prophecy, like many others, is to be taken conditionally, alluding to the state of the world that would take place, if all nations would submit to the law of Christ, and make it the rule of life, to which purpose God would suffer nothing to be wanting on his part. For it is certain, that if all people were Christians, and lived like Christians, there would be no wars, which Arnobius expresses thus, “If all men, knowing that it is not their corporeal form alone which makes them men, but the powers of the understanding, would lend a patient ear to his salutary and pacific instructions, if they would trust to his admonitions rather than to the swelling pride and turbulence of their senses, iron would be employed for instruments of more harmless and useful operations, the world enjoy the softest repose and be united in the bands of inviolable treaties.” On this subject Lactantius, reproaching the Pagans with the deification of their conquerors, says, “what would be the consequence, if all men would unite in concord? Which might certainly be brought to pass, if, abandoning ruinous and impious rage, they would live in justice and innocence.” Or this passage of the prophecy must be understood literally, and, if taken in that sense, it shews that it is not yet fulfilled, but its accomplishment must be looked for in the general conversion of the Jewish people. But, which ever way you take it, no conclusion can be drawn from it against the justice of war, as long as violent men exist to disturb the quiet of the lovers of peace.

    IX. In examining the meaning of written evidence, general custom, and the opinions of men celebrated for their wisdom have usually great weight; a practice which it is right to observe in the interpretation of holy scripture. For it is not likely that the churches, which had been founded by the Apostles, would either suddenly or universally have swerved from those opinions, which the Apostles had briefly expressed, in writing, and afterwards more fully and clearly explained to them with their own lips, and reduced to practice. Now certain expressions of the primitive Christians are usually alleged by those who are adverse to all wars, whose opinions may be considered and refuted in three points of view.

    In the first place, from these expressions nothing more can be gathered than the private opinions of certain individuals, but no public opinion of the Churches. Besides these expressions for the most part are to be found only in the writings of Origen, Tertullian and some few others, who wished to distinguish themselves by the brilliancy of their thoughts, without regarding consistency in their opinions. For this same Origen says, that Bees were given by God as a pattern for men to follow in conducting just, regular, and necessary wars; and likewise Tertullian, who in some parts seems to disapprove of capital punishments, has said, “No one can deny that it is good the guilty should be punished.” He expresses his doubts respecting the military profession, for in his book upon idolatry, he says, it is a fit matter of inquiry, whether believers can take up arms, or whether any of the military profession can be admitted as members of the Christian Church. But in his Book entitled, the SOLDIER’S CROWN, after some objections against the profession of arms, he makes a distinction between those who are engaged in the army before baptism, and those who entered after they had made the baptismal vow. “It evidently, says he alters the case with those who were soldiers before their conversion to Christianity; John admitted them to baptism, in one instance Christ approved, and in another Peter instructed a faithful Centurion: yet with this stipulation, that they must either like many others, relinquish their calling, or be careful to do nothing displeasing to God.” He was sensible then that they continued in the military profession after baptism, which they would be no means have done, if they had understood that all war was forbidden by Christ. They would have followed the example of the Soothsayers, the Magi, and other professors of forbidden arts, who ceased to practice them, when they became Christians. In the book quoted above, commending a soldier, who was at the same time a Christian, he says, “O Soldier glorious in God.”

    The second observation applies to the case of those, who declined or even refused bearing arms, on account of the circumstances of the times, which would have required them to do many acts inconsistent with their Christian calling. In Dolabella’s letter to the Ephesians, which is to be found in Josephus, we see that the Jews requested an exemption from military expeditions, because, in mingling with strangers, they could not conveniently have observed the rites of their own laws and would have been obliged to bear arms, and to make long marches on the Sabbaths. And we are informed by Josephus that, for the same reasons, the Jews obtained their discharge of L. Lentulus. In another part, he relates that when the Jews had been ordered to leave the city of Rome, some of them inlisted in the army, and that others, who out of respect to the laws of their country, for the reasons before mentioned, refused to bear arms, were punished. In addition to these a third reason may be given, which was that they would have to fight against their own people, against whom it was unlawful to bear arms, especially when they incurred danger and enmity for adhering to the Mosaic law. But the Jews, whenever they could do it, without these inconveniences, served under foreign princes, previously stipulating, as we are informed by Josephus, for liberty to live according to the laws, and rules of their own country. Tertullian objects to the military service of his own times on account of dangers, and inconveniences very similar to those, which deterred the Jews. In his book on Idolatry, he says, “it is impossible to reconcile the oath of fidelity to serve under the banners of Christ, with that to serve under the banners of the Devil.” Because the soldiers were ordered to swear by Jupiter, Mars, and the other Heathen Gods. And in his book on the Soldier’s Crown, he asks, “if the soldier be to keep watch before the temples, which he has renounced, to sup where he is forbidden by the Apostle, and to guard in the night the Gods, whom he has abjured in the day?” And he proceeds with asking, “if there be not many other military duties, which ought to be regarded in the light of sins?”

    The third point of view, in which the subject is to be considered, relates to the conduct of those primitive Christians, who, in the ardour of zeal, aimed at the most brilliant attainments, taking the divine counsels for precepts of obligation. The Christians, says Athenagoras, never go to law with those, who rob them.

    Salvian says, it was commanded by Christ that we should relinquish the object of dispute, rather than engage in law suits. But this, taken in so general an acceptation, is rather by the way of counsel, in order to attain to a sublimer mode of life, than intended as a positive precept. Thus many of the primitive Fathers condemned all oaths without exception, yet St. Paul, in matters of great importance, made use of these solemn appeals to God. A Christian in Tatian said, “I refuse the office of Praetor,” and in the words of Tertullian, “a Christian is not ambitious of the Aedile’s office.” In the same manner Lactantius maintains that a just man, such as he wishes a Christian to be, ought not to engage in war, nor, as all his wants can be supplied at home, even to go to sea. How many of the primitive fathers dissuade Christians from second marriages? All these counsels are good, recommending excellent attainments, highly acceptable to God, yet they are not required of us, by any absolute law. The observations already made are sufficient to answer the objections derived from the primitive times of christianity.

    Now in order to confirm our opinions, we may observe that they have the support of writers, even of greater antiquity, who think that capital punishments may be inflicted, and that wars, which rest upon the same authority, may be lawfully engaged in by Christians. Clemens Alexandrinus says, that “a Christian, if, like Moses, he be called to the exercise of sovereign power, will be a living law to his subjects, rewarding the good, and punishing the wicked.” And, in another place, describing the habit of a Christian, he says, “it would become him to go barefoot, unless he were a soldier.” In the work usually entitled the CONSTITUTIONS OF CLEMENS ROMANUS, we find that “it is not all killing which is considered unlawful, but only that of the innocent; yet the administration of judicial punishments must be reserved to the supreme power alone.” But without resting upon individual authorities, we can appeal to the public authority of the church which ought to have the greatest weight. From hence it is evident that none were ever refused baptism, or excommunicated by the church, merely for bearing arms, which they ought to have been, had the military profession been repugnant to the terms of the new covenant. In the CONSTITUTIONS just quoted, the writer speaking of those who, in the primitive times, were admitted to baptism, or refused that ordinance, says, “let a soldier who desires to be admitted be taught to forbear from violence, and false accusations, and to be content with his regular pay. If he promises obedience let him be admitted.” Tertullian in his Apology, speaking in the character of Christians, says, “We sail along with you, and we engage in the same wars,” having a little before observed, “we are but strangers, yet we have filled all your cities, your islands, your castles, your municipal towns, your councils, and even your camps.” He had related in the same book that rain had been obtained for the Emperor Marcus Aurelius by the prayers of the Christian soldiers. In his book of the crown, he commends a soldiers, who had thrown away his garland, for a courage superior to that of his brethren in arms, and informs us that he had many Christian fellow soldiers.

    To these proofs may be added the honours of Martyrdom given by the Church to some soldiers, who had been cruelly persecuted, and had even suffered death for the sake of Christ, among whom are recorded three of St. Paul’s companions, Cerialis who suffered martyrdom under Decius; Marinus under Valerian; fifty under Aurelian, Victor, Maurus, and Valentinus, a lieutenant general under Maximian. About the same time Marcellus the Centurion, Severian under Licinius. Cyprian, in speaking or Laurentinus, and Ignatius, both Africans, says, “They too served in the armies of earthly princes, yet they were truly spiritual soldiers of God, defeating the wiles of the Devil by a steady confession of the name of Christ, and earning the palms and crowns of the Lord by their sufferings.” And from hence it is plain what was the general opinion of the primitive Christians upon war, even before the Emperors became Christians.

    It need not be thought surprising, if the Christians of those times were unwilling to appear at trials for life, since, for the most part, the persons to be tried were Christians. In other respects too, besides being unwilling to witness the unmerited sufferings of their persecuted Brethren, the Roman laws were more severe than Christian Lenity could allow of, as may be seen from the single Instance of the Silanian decree of the Senate. Indeed capital punishments were not abolished even after Constantine embraced and began to encourage the Christian religion. He himself among other laws enacted one similar to that of the ancient Romans, for punishing parricides, by sewing them in a sack with certain animals, and throwing them into the sea, or the nearest river. This law is to be found in his code under the “title of the murders of parents or children.” Yet in other respects he was so gentle in punishing criminals, that he is blamed by many historians for his excessive lenity. Constantine, we are informed by historians, had at that time many Christians in his army, and he used the name of Christ as the motto upon his standards. From that time too the military oath was changed to the form, which is found in Vegetius, and the soldier swore, “By God, and Christ, and the holy spirit, and the majesty of the Emperor, to whom as next to God, homage and reverence are due from mankind” Nor out of so many Bishops at that time, many of whom suffered the most cruel treatment for their religion, do we read of a single one, who dissuaded Constantine, by the terrors of divine wrath from inflicting capital punishments, or prosecuting wars, or who deterred the Christians, for the same reasons, from serving in the armies. Though most of those Bishops were strict observers of discipline, who would by no means dissemble in points relating to the duty of the Emperors or of others. Among this class, in the time of Theodosius, we may rank Ambrose, who in his seventh discourse says, “there is nothing wrong in bearing arms; but to bear arms from motives of rapine is a sin indeed,” and in his first book of Offices, he maintains the same opinion, that “the courage which defends one’s country against the incursions of barbarians, or protects one’s family and home from the attacks of robbers, is complete justice.” These arguments so decidedly shew the opinions of the primitive Christians in the support of just and necessary war, that the subject requires no farther proof or elucidation.

    Nor is the argument invalidated by a fact pretty generally known, that Bishops and other Christians often interceded in behalf of criminals, to mitigate the punishment of death, and that any, who had taken refuge in churches, were not given up, but upon the promise of their lives being spared. A custom was introduced likewise of releasing all prisoners about the time of Easter. But all these instances, if carefully examined, will be found the voluntary acts of Christian kindness, embracing every opportunity to do good, and not a settled point of public opinion condemning all capital punishments. Therefore those favours were not universal; but limited to times and places, and even the intercessions themselves were modified with certain exceptions.