The absolute and obvious Necessity of Self-Defence, in the present Conjuncture, occasioned me to consider attentively several Passages in the New Testament, from whence some have endeavoured to shew the Unlawfulness of Christians bearing Arms on any Account, wherein I had made a small Progress before hearing Mr. Tennent‘s Sermon last Thursday on that Occasion, which is so full and clear on the Subject, so well supported by Strength of Argument, and carried on with such masterly Judgment and Address, that I am of Opinion, the Publication thereof may sufficiently answer the most material Purposes in my View; wherefore I only now present you a few Thoughts which lay ready, on one particular Passage, as an Amusement to your Readers, till the above Sermon appears in Print, as I hear it soon will.
When it is considered that some Kinds of War were held lawful amongst the primitive Christians, as appears evidently from many of the ancient Martyrs, who suffered Torture and Death, for their Faith in Jesus, and Constancy to the Christian Religion, being at the Time of such Martyrdom, actually in the Station of Soldiers, and this in the early Ages of Christianity, while the Streams flow’d pure from the Fountain, ‘ere the Apostacy had crept in, or the holy Doctrines of Jesus and his Apostles, were exchanged for the corrupt Traditions of Men, being only a few Centuries from Christ, it may seem strange that any Christians should now deny the Lawfulness of defensive War, and attempt to infer from our Saviour’s Answer and Command to the Disciple who drew a Sword in his Defence, that the Use of Arms is in all Cases forbid by Christ. For the better understanding this Matter, observe what the several Evangelists say theron.
Mark is very short: One of them that stood by, drew a Sword, and smote a Servant of the High Priest, and cut off his Ear, chap. xiv. 47.
Luke only says; When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the Sword? And one of them smote the Servant of the High Priest, and cut off his right Ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far, and he touched his Ear, and healed him, Chap. xx. 49-51.
This is all the Notice taken by Mark and Luke, which implies not so much as a Prohibition of Arms, even on this Occasion.
John xviii. 10. writes; Then Simon Peter having a Sword, drew it, and smote the High Priest’s Servant, and cut off his right Ear. The Servant’s Name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy Sword into the Sheath: The Reason follows, not that the Use of Arms is unlawful, but The Cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
Matthew is most full on the Passage, Chap. xxvi. 51,-54. And behold one of them which were with Jesus, stretched out his Hand, and drew a Sword, and struck a Servant of the High Priest’s, 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? But how then shall the Scripture be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
From whence neither will it follow, that the Use of Arms is prohibited, since it must be granted, the Words, All they that take the Sword, shall perish with the Sword, cannot be understood in an absolute literal Sense, as to Individuals; it being evident that all Men who have taken the Sword, have not perished by the Sword, but many of them died in the common Course of Nature, by Diseases, or old Age: Nor will any, ’tis presum’d, be so uncharitable to suppose, this can be meant of the Souls of all those who have taken the Sword. The Passage therefore by no Means determines this Point, whether to use a Sword on any Occasion, be right or wrong; altho’ it might have warned People against attempting to propagate the Christian Religion by Fire or Sword, and apparently tends to convince the Jews of their great Mistake, in expecting the Messiah with outward Pomp and Regal Authority; also may be easily understood to illustrate the great Difference between Christ’s Kingdom and those of Princes. If Force had been necessary to the former, an invincible Army of Angels would assuredly have conquered all Opposition, the Disciples poor Help had been quite needless: But the Defence of Christ’s Kingdom not depending on Men or Angels, could have no Support from their Assistance, being neither liable to Change, or subject to Dissolution. The Word of the Lord endureth for ever; and this is the Word which by the Gospel is preached unto you, 1 Pet. i. 24, 25. On the other Hand, the above quoted Words of Christ may either generally relate to the Revolutions and Periods of States, or in a more limited Sense (as in this Case of the Disciples) only signify, that all who persist in opposing their Swords, as private Men against the legal Authority of the Magistracy, shall perish with the Sword. Other Explications may be given, allagreeing to demonstrate no Inconsistency in the Passage, unless taken in an absolute literal Sense, and without which, a total Prohibition or Discouragement of bearing Arms will not follow. The Words, Put up again thy Sword into his Place, convey an Idea very different to laying it aside for ever as unlawful; do they not rather hint, The Sword, when in its proper Place, is ready against a suitable Occasion. The Passage might be enlarged upon; but, in my Apprehension, no Construction appears more clear and easy, than the Text simply pointing out a Contradistinction between the Kingdom of Christ, and those of temporal Princes; carnal Weapons, tho’ useful and necessary in the latter, are not only unlawful, but improper and ineffectual for establishing the former; and if Liberty may be taken to vary the concise, comprehensive Stile of Scripture into a familiar Way of Speech, the Sense of those Verses appears much the same as if Christ had said, “Peter, put up thy Sword on this Occasion, it is no Time now to use carnal Weapons; My Kingdom is not of this World, is neither capable of being supported, or liable to be subverted by the Sword, to the Dangers of which all earthly Kingdoms are continually exposed: Mine stands on a more sure Foundation, in the De-fence whereof, if Force availed, a most powerful Army of Angels would now descend to my Assistance.” But in the 54th Verse an immediate Reason is given why our Saviour did not admit any kind of Defence to be made in his Behalf: It would frustrate the End of his Coming, and prevent the fulfilling of the Scriptures, which agrees with that given by St. John; and the whole Passage appears plainly to have no Relation to the Lawfulness or Unlawfulness of using the Sword in any other Case than on the Score of Religion, but most particularly in preventing Christ being delivered to the Jews. From whence follows this most obvious Remark, That since Swords were by Christ commanded to be procured, yet forbidden to be used on this Occasion, they were certainly intended for some other Purpose: For the Injunction of providing them will presently be shewn in the strongest Terms; and we may here well use an Expression of Cicero with redoubled Energy, Quid Gladii volunt? quos habere certi non liceret, si uti illis nullo pacto liceret. But in St. Luke, xxii. 35. we find very plainly Christ’s Opinion of the Necessity of having Swords in these Words,When I sent you without Purse, and Scrip, and Shoes, lacked ye any Thing? And they said, Nothing. This was when our Lord sent his Disciples, Chapter x. 1. Before his Face, into every City, and Place, whither he himself would come. But now, when the Lord is about to be offered up, and his Disciples are to remain in the World, it seems they are not to expect a miraculous Support and Defence: For Christ says, Chapter xxii. 36. But now, he that hath a Purse, let him take it, and likewise his Scrip, and he that hath no Sword, let him sell his Garment, and buy one.
(He that hath a Purse, let him take it) Money, it seems, in the tedious Journey of human Life was lawful and necessary (and likewise his Scrip) Provisions or Food were also; (And he that hath no Sword, let him sell his Garment, and buy one) But a Sword was lawful, and still more necessary, even of greater Consequence than our very Clothes; and the Experience of Christians from that Time down to the present, may be appealed to, Whether Money and Provisions have not been found very useful, and, in many Cases, the Defence of Mens Lives and Liberties of greater Consequence than Food or Raiment; agreeable to our Saviour’s Words in another Place, Is not the Life more than Meat, and the Body than Raiment? Matth. vi. 25.
Yet how punctually do some Christians perform the first and second Parts of this Injunction? Very diligently they provide Purse, and Scrip, yet neglect that most necessary Provision, the Sword, notwithstanding Food and Raiment are represented by Christ of so much less Consequence than Life, which, under Providence, is protected and defended by the Sword, and (on Account of its signal Use, no Doubt) is commanded to be purchased at the Expence of our Garments: Wherefor it is most plain some Use was to be made of Swords; but it has been already shewn that Christianity was not to be forced upon People by the Sword: What better Use then remains, than the Defence of our Country, and the Protection of the Helpless and Innocent? If any can be shewn more consistent with Christianity, or beneficial to Mankind, it would be kind in the Quakers to inform those, whose present Measures of using Arms they condemn. Should some object, that on the Answer, Verse 38. Lord, Behold here are two Swords, Christ said, It is enough. Let them remember, that the same Proportion which was adjusted for the Disciples, is enough in most well peopled Countries.
I am Yours, &c.;
The Pennsylvania Gazette, December 29, 1747, supplement