Then said Jesus to him, Put up again your sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
It was natural that the impetuous disciple should try to defend his beloved Master. But his action was a piece of madness, and, if persisted in, it must have led to a needless slaughter of the followers of Christ. It was not on this account only, however, that our Lord promptly checked it, although doubtless his keen perception and wise judgment detected the strategic weakness of the situation. A much deeper thought flashes out from his words, and sheds a light on the character of his kingdom and the method of his work.
I. THE CAUSE OF CHRIST CANNOT BE ADVANCED BY THE SWORD. Mohammedanism is its very opposite in this respect. Charles the Great made a fatal blunder when he drove the Saxons into the water of baptism by a charge of his fierce warriors.
1. Christ aims at inward conviction. A religion of external observances may be imposed by force; but you cannot compel a man to believe as you wish. The persuasion of force may induce a particular course of action to be followed; it will never spread the idea it champions.
2. Christ desires to win love. He has not conquered a soul if he has only brought it to silent submission. He seeks much more. He would have the hearts of his people. But the use of force is directly opposed to any such results. You cannot make a man love you by half killing him with sword thrusts. This method might advance a superstition of fear; it could never aid a gospel of love.
II. THE RIGHTS OF CHRIST CANNOT BE DEFENDED BY THE SWORD. At first sight it might seem to be reasonable to defend Christian truths and institutions by force, even although they could not be planted in this way. Constantine thought so, when he brought the whole machinery of the state to support the Nicene party in its opposition to the Arians. But the subsequent change of his own policy, and the long triumph and tyranny of Arianism, proved that he was mistaken. Here is the fatal error of the persecutor in all ages. Nothing is so injurious to a religious cause as the forcible suppression of its enemies. The religion that persecutes exchanges the love and devotion with which it may once have been regarded for horror and aversion. The dreadful Marian persecutions did more to destroy the power of the pope in England than all the assaults of the Protestants. The same fate would follow the same policy if it were pursued in defence of the purest form of the gospel of Christ.
III. THE WORLD AT LARGE SUFFERS IMMENSELY FROM THE SWORD. Occasionally there is a righteous war, as that which resulted in the suppression of slavery in America. But in the vast majority of cases, a war is an almost unmitigated evil to all who are engaged in it. It causes immeasurable sufferings, and it encourages the worst passions. The words of Christ are true in a deeper sense than superficial readers discover. Not only is the fighting man liable to be killed in battle. His behaviour endangers his better nature. The spirit of hate and revenge is fatal to all that is good in him. Thus he perishes by the sword - not alone by the sword of his antagonist, which he provokes, but by the sword which he wields in his own hand. He is a suicide. In defending his body, too often he kills his own soul. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.