For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes…
The relations of Christianity to war are at first sight an extraordinary enigma. The Christian recognition of the right of mar was contained in Christianity's original recognition of nations, as constituting at the same time the division and the structure of the human world. Gathering up the whole world into one communion spiritually, the new universal society yet announced its coalescence with mankind's divisions politically; it was one body of one kind, in many bodies of another kind. It gathered up into itself, not only the unions, but the chasms of the human race, all that separated as well as all that united. In some schools of thought there is a jealousy of this national sentiment, as belonging to members of the Church Catholic, as if it were a sentiment of nature which grace had obliterated. Christianity does not abolish but purify nature. It may be said that the tie of country is not inculcated in the New Testament; which, on the other hand, speaks of us as members of the Church which it contemplates extending over the whole world. Hooker says that Scripture, by leaving out, does not condemn, but only sends us back to natural law and reason. The Christian Church adopted nations with their inherent rights; took them into her enclosure. But war is one of these rights, because, under the division of mankind into distinct nations, it becomes a necessity. Questions of right and justice must arise between these independent centres. Christianity does not admit but condemns the motives which lead to war — selfish ambition, rapacity; but the condemnation of one side is the justification of the other; these very motives give the right of resistance to one side. Individuals can settle their disputes peaceably by the fact of being under government; but nations are not governed by a power above them. The aim of the nation in going to war is exactly the same as that of an individual entering a court. It is the same force in principle, only in court it is superior to all opposition; in war it is a contending force, and as such only can assert its supremacy. So far we have been dealing with wars of self defence, which by no means exhaust the whole rationale of war. War is caused by progress, selfish greed, the instinctive movements of nations for alteration and improvement. We must distinguish the moral effects of war and the physical. There is one side of the moral character of war in special harmony with the Christian type; death for the sake of the body to which he belongs. This consecrates war; it is elevated by sacrifice. Is, then, war to be regarded as an accident of society, which may some day be got rid of, or as something vested in it?
I. It is said that the progress of society will put an end to war. But human nature consists of such varied contents that it is very difficult to say that any one principle, such as what we call progress, can control it. But if progress stops war on one side it makes it on another, and war is its instrument; nor does it provide any instrument by which nations can gain their rights. The natural remedy for war would seem to be a government of nations; this would be a universal empire, and can this be accomplished by progress?
II. Are we then to look for a cessation of war from the side of Christianity. It assumes the world as it is; it does not profess to provide another world for us to live in. It is not remedial to the whole human race, but only to those who accept it. Prophecy foresees the time when nations shall beat their spears into pruning-hooks; but this applies as much to the civil governments of the world. It foresees a reign of universal love, when men shall no longer act by terror and compulsion. A kingdom of peace there will be. But Christianity only sanctions war through the medium of national society, and the hypothesis of a world at discord with itself. In her own world war would be impossible.
III. Lastly, Christianity comes as the consoler of the sufferinss of war.
(J. B. Mozley, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.