"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.V No.V Pg.12-13
December 1942

New Testament Principles

P. M. Stonestreet

By the above title is simply meant courses of thought and action in harmony with the teaching of the Prince of Peace recorded by the inspired writers of the New Testament. In studying these principles there are human dogmas encountered not only on so-called "first principles," but also on second principles. While such dogmas are often found to be rooted and grounded in people, they have nothing to do with Christian principles, for only inspired teaching is the source of Christian principles.

One of the most distinct clashes between human dogmas and Christian principles is concerning the command, "Thou shalt not kill." On that command the dogma assumes that inasmuch as it is absolute in form, it is not conditional in meaning. But those who hold to that dogma would not need to read very far in the Bible till they could see that God actually demonstrated the conditionality of that command by subsequently commanding his people to kill under certain conditions; and the conditions under which and the ordinance by which capital punishment is to be exercised are important parts of New Testament principles which are right on the subject under discussion.

"Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword," says Christ. (Matt. 26:52.) A human theory assumes that "all" in that statement is absolute in meaning. It is absolute in form, but it is just as positively conditional in meaning, and it is right on the surface, for since time immemorial, many of those who had used the sword, died some other way. And it is significant that the Savior did not request that the sword be thrown away, but instead he said: "Put up again the sword into its place," which shows there is a place for the sword in the divine economy.

That there is a use for the sword that is not in vain, is plain from Romans 13: 4, "For he ("it"-margin, referring to government) beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil." So then to use the sword is not in vain when God through His ordinance, the government, commands it to be used in performing its divine mission. And this is another reason why "all" in Matt. 26:52 is not used in the absolute sense; and there is no valid reason why this principle should not be as plain as "first principles."

"For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are ministers of God's service, attending continually upon this very thing." (Verse 6.) The word "also" in that verse implies that helping to finance the government is "in addition" to something else. What is that something else? Evidently it comprehends anything in harmony with the government's divine mission. The command is made more specific as circumstances develop, for as has been well said: "Strategy is deciding what to do; tactics is figuring out a way to do it; combat is getting it done." Hence, God's general command to Christians is reduced to the specific by God's ordinance according to the exigency of the moment and development of conditions; and this New Testament principle involves Christians in the practice of capital punishment through God's ordinance.

And since no divine stipulation of either combatant or noncombatant service is made, then either is enjoined under the general commands. But a human theory suggests noncombatant service; and as a result, some sincere people seem to think it is scriptural, while combatant service is unscriptural. What a wide difference between the principles that register on the mind because of a dogma and the principles that are recorded in the New Testament! No criticism is here intended for preferring noncombatant service; only the illogical ground assigned for it is here questioned.

The background of causes that may prompt an individual, a band, a nation, or a group of nations to a murderous course, interesting as it may be, has no practical bearing on murder already committed and in course of progress. Why, the very purpose of capital punishment, whether it is of local, national or international scope is to restrain others from starting on a similar course and also to rid civilization of those already started. Hence, the suggestion that is noticed in the religious press for scientific consideration of the background of causes of war is splendid only as a preventative, not as a cure. We need the cure now and New Testament principles provide it through the instrumentality of the temporal governments; and the matter of obeying God through His ordinance is not so complicated and slow as a scientific consideration of the background of causes; and God's word calls for no such consideration under the existing emergency as a cure for it.

"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise," says Christ (Luke 6:31.) This is appropriately called "the golden rule"; and another divine rule may just as appropriately be called the iron rule. There is no conflict between them as they are divinely enjoined, for God is the author of both, and we are not authorized to confuse them. While both rules may apply to the same personnel, they manifestly do not apply under the same conditions nor at the same time. That would confuse them and make them contradictory, and God is not the author of confusion. The divine exception to the observance of the golden rule is under circumstances when it is not only not mutually observed by those on both sides of an issue (that alone would not furnish the ground), but also when the issue involves consequences of far-reaching importance to and concern of civilization.

Hence, when disregard of "the golden rule" on the part of an individual, a band, a nation, or a group of nations, involves an "evil" of the enormity of that referred to in Romans 13:4, in which organized temporal government is divinely concerned for the preservation of civilization on earth, then the iron rule for that particular occasion and purpose divinely supplants the golden rule, "for he ("it"-margin--the government) beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil." And to the extent that Christians obey God in the matter of obeying God's ordinances, they are observing or inflicting the iron rule; and just as surely as New Testament principles involve "`the golden rule," so do they involve the iron rule. And fortunately for the United States and civilization, there is a gallant and noble army of young men, and a larger number of all ages backing them up at home, observing and inflicting this divine iron rule today. And why mince words about so-matter-of-fact business? Upon this claim that the iron rule is to be enforced by the government but Christians are to stand aloof from it, it should be observed that proof of just the opposite of that claim and course is what is adduced in these New Testament principles. Many religious teachers in the press and pulpit fail to observe the divine and important distinction between the two natures or classes of evil dealt with in the New Testament, as follows: 1. It is evil for one to refuse to obey the "first principles" of the gospel and all other principles that relate exclusively to God. But civil and military government are not divinely concerned with that class of evil. And except the scriptural interest that Christians have in the eternal salvation of the souls of all, no one else is interested in this class of evil. The evil in violating "the golden rule" is not of this class, because that rule also relates to men. Neither the material sword nor its equivalent is to be used in combating this class of evil; only the figurative sword or sword of the Spirit is to be used in combating this evil. This was the evil involved when Christ gave the command: "Put up again thy sword into its place,' etc. Only the persuasive terms of the gospel are to be used in our effort to correct the evil involved in this class. So the evil of rejecting this class of principles is not the "evil" referred to in Romans 13:4, as we shall further see.

2. The "evil" referred to in Romans 13:4 relates not only to God but it involves a principle that relates to all human-kind saint and sinner throughout the world, whether it is local, national or international. Hence, the consequences of this character of "evil" is not limited simply to those who commit this "evil," for it transgresses the moral 'rights of anyone who engages in it. The very principle upon which civilization rests is at stake in this class of "evil." So no wonder God calls for a different remedy for this class of "evil"; and the reason God calls for the material sword or its equivalent for combating this character of "evil" is another reason why it is a different character of "evil" to that under No. 1, where only the persuasive terms of the gospel is divinely prescribed. For this class of "evil" the divine remedy is force, with all that it implies, which is in sharp contrast with the evil of No. 1, which only relates to God.

That enormous "evil" discussed under No. 2 is the very "evil" referred to by Mr. Churchill in his vigorous statement in the press today, December 8, 1942, referring to Japan, which is here quoted in part: "The growing power of the United Nations will press steadfastly on till she is stripped of her conquest, punished for her treachery and deprived of her powers of evil." This paragraph is quoted from Mr. Churchill's statement to emphasize the exclusive, distinct, logical and scriptural sense in which its author uses the word "evil." On this point, religious teachers may glean an important lesson from Mr. Churchill's statement, for it deals with a New Testament principle no less than religious teachers do in dealing with "first principles."