"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.VIII No.I Pg.44-48
June 1945

III. Alexander Campbell On Civil Government And War

T. B. Wilkinson

Alexander Campbell in his writing and speaking did not overlook the subject of a Christian's relations to civil government and war. I have in my possession a copy of an address he delivered at Wheeling, Va., in the year 1848, and which was printed in the Congressional Record in the year 1937 at the request of the Honorable Joseph Shannon, Congressman from Missouri.

I do not know just how much study the author had been able to give to his subject considering the many problems with which he had to deal in launching the great reformation. At the time of the address, questions like that of war, and the millennium, were not live issues like many others over which he was compelled to battle daily, and it is remarkable how he ever found time to devote to the study of so many different problems. On this occasion he spoke on the question, "Has one Christian nation a right to wage war on another Christian nation?"

Of course, there can be but one answer to the question, no Christian nation has a right to wage war on another Christian nation. No Christian nation will wage war on another Christian nation, or any other inoffensive nation for that matter. If they did by that act they would cease to be a Christian nation, and would become a pagan nation. But he did not address his remarks to what I consider to be the proper question for such a discussion. Had the question been, Does a Christian nation have the right to defend itself, and the lives and property of its citizens, against aggressive war from a pagan nation? the answer would have been different, and a different line of argument would have been involved.

He seems to proceed on the hypothesis that there can be no such war as a purely defensive one, that all wars are necessarily offensive wars, and both nations involved in it are aggressor nations. Had he lived in our times I do not think arguments would be necessary to convince him on this point. I agree that there may be wars in which both sides are aggressors, but I think such wars have been few, and the present war is certainly not one of them.

He calls attention to the fact that Napoleon even claimed that all his wars were defensive wars, but he must have known that Napoleon lied. If not, then he must have been about the only man who did not know it. We could add the names of Hitler and Togo to his list of men who claim they are fighting defensive wars, but even their own people know they are lying.

He poses this question as a basis for argument, "Suppose England declares war against our country, or that our nation declares war against England: Have we the right as Christians to volunteer, or enlist, or if drafted, to fight against England? Ought our motto to be, our country right or wrong?' Or has our country a right to compel us to fight or take up arms?"

The question he proposes does not properly present the issue. If our country is wrong we cannot support it in the wrong without being a partaker of its sins. Two wrongs cannot make a right. But if our country is made the subject of an unlawful, aggressive attack from a foreign power, as we know happened at Pearl Harbor, that raises a very different question, and Brother Campbell ignores the possibility of this condition in his argument. In that case I would say that our country should use the sword God has given it to resist such aggression, execute wrath upon the evildoers, and restore peace to the world again. This would involve Christians as citizens, for it is only through its citizens our country can use the sword God gave it.

He correctly says that the Bible is the sole oracular authority on this question, and then asks, "What, then, says the Bible on the subject of war?" Then he answers, "It certainly commended and authorized war among the Jews. God had given to man ever since the flood the right of taking away the life of man for one specific cause. Hence murderers ever since the flood were put to death by express divine authority. He that sheds man's blood by man shall his blood be shed. He gave authority, however, to one nation whose God and King He assumed to be. As soon as that nation was developed he placed it under His special direction and authority."

Short as this paragraph is it seems to me that it presents a contradiction, and is somewhat confusing. At first he had the law against murder pronounced by Noah, and dating from the flood, and said from the flood murderers had been executed by express divine authority. Then he seems to teach that this authority was given only to one family, or nation, and that nation one which did not exist until hundreds of years after the flood. He does not bother to tell us how this law against murderers was executed during that long period between the flood and the establishment of Israel as a nation.

As the decree was delivered through Noah the head of the whole human race it would seem that it was a universal law and applied to all nations. Israel when it became a nation would be under that universal law, but that would not deprive the other nations of the law which Noah gave to them as the head of the race. If he means to confine all divine authority to the laws enacted through Moses, and assumes that it abrogated all past laws to all other nations of the earth, he should have raised the point and offered some proof if such proof exists. That the law of Moses did supersede all other laws to the Jews there can be no doubt, but we have no evidence that it affected the relationship between God and the Gentiles in any sense, and we have plenty of evidence that it did not.

But if he uses the law of Moses as the basis for the authority the Jews had to execute murderers he will have to add some twenty other causes to what he calls one "specific cause," that of murder. The law of Moses required the death penalty for many crimes, about twenty I believe, and God must have thought them necessary at that time to preserve the peace.

Without entering into long quotation from the address, I will here state briefly what I understand to be Brother Campbell's position on war. On the period between the flood and the establishment of the Jewish theocracy his position is somewhat hazy, except the one statement that the law against murder authorized the execution of murderers from the time of the flood, and this implied to war.

Concerning the Jews he speaks very clearly, he says the Bible certainly commanded and authorized war, and God was their king, and their wars were therefore under His divine direction. He seems to trace their authority for wars back to the law given by Noah after the flood, but I cannot see why this would be necessary since God was their king, and the law of Moses had been given to them, and it provided very severe penalties against crime. Once he evidently refers to Abraham's war against the kings who robbed and sacked the cities of the plains as a kind of war authorized by God, but does not tell how.

But during all of this long period of time in which wars were authorized by divine authority God was supreme king and ruler of the universe, and authorized wars for the punishment of evildoers in all nations, at least up to the time national Israel was established. After this time, so far as anything we find in the address is concerned, God had dealings only with that single nation, and they only had a divine right to wage wars. But we have evidence sufficient in the Bible to know that this was not true, especially with reference to the kingdom of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and others.

But under the Christian dispensation, he states that the dominion of the universe came under the dominion of King Jesus, and all previous laws concerning war, and the punishment of evildoers, civil and national, came under his jurisdiction. All rule and authority now belongs to him and he has expressly forbidden the taking of life or resistance to evil in the way of carnal force. He does allow however that while the Christian must submit to any humiliation, punishment, or persecution, when offered against him as a Christian, without resistance, he can appeal to Caesar, and demand protection by his sword because he has paid taxes to Caesar, and is entitled to demand protection at his hands.

But he does not presume to inform us where Caesar got authority for his sword, or the power to extend this protection to which Christians are entitled who have paid their taxes. Since all authority now must come from Jesus, as he affirmed, he must assume that Jesus gave him that authority and power or he arbitrarily assumed it himself. If Jesus did not delegate this authority to him, and he just assumed it, this would be insubordination, presumption, and rebellion, against authority which belonged only to Jesus. If civil government did not have divine authority for the power it assumed to extend protection through its sword from persecution, and punishments of this kind, could a Christian appeal for it and accept it, without becoming partakers in rebellion against divine authority? Can a Christian accept protection from the devil, even appeal for it, and pay for it, in the way of tax money and other services?

I would be one of the last to question the authority of Jesus in the present dispensation. God has made him head over all things, and he has the right to take over absolute rule in every kingdom on this earth. But Jesus has no authority or right over the kingdoms of this world that God has not had from the beginning of time. But God gave man dominion in the affairs of this world, and Jesus has not taken that dominion from him. God could set up kings, or take them down, at His will, and could exercise any kind of powers over them which seemed good to Him, and Jesus can do the same today. But neither God or Jesus ever saw fit to take this away from man, and with few exceptions, ruled them only by the power put forth in His divine decrees, and laws. The gospel of Jesus was a big advance in the moral powers heaven has exercised over man, and it was all that Jesus added to what had always been God's methods of ruling the kingdoms of the world.

That the reign of Jesus and his kingdom made one particle of difference between the relations existing between civil government and divine government this speaker did not attempt to show. The Jews charged that it would, but Jesus disavowed it before Pilate, and instructed his disciples to render unto Caesar the things which belonged to him, and unto God the things which belongs to Him. If these two duties enjoined by Jesus conflict they could not possibly obey both of them, and it would have been mockery to require them to do it.

I quote from the address as follows:

"The great law giver addresses his followers in two very distinct respects. First, in reference to their duties to him and their profession, and then in reference to their civil rights, duties, and obligations."

I have tried at different times to express this same truth, but I never was able to express it in such few words, and so clearly. This is the key to the entire controversy if we will only keep it in mind when reading Scripture, and apply each passage where it properly belongs. Every passage is perfectly clear and harmonious when considered in the light of this truth. The sermon on the Mount is the portion of Scripture which I find most universally misapplied in this respect, and other passages of a similar nature. There are things which belong to God, and there are things which belong in the line of duties, rights, and obligations, to civil government, and inspiration addresses us on both lines:

But again I quote from the address:

So far as any indignity was offered to them, or punishment inflicted upon them as his followers, or for his name, they were to in no way resent it. But in their civil rights he allows them the advantage of the protection of civil law, and for this cause enjoins upon them the payment of all civil dues, and to be subject to every ordinance of man of a purely civil nature not interfering with their duties to him. If a heathen man or a persecutor smite you on one cheek, turn to him the other, if he compels thee to go one mile, go two, if he sue thee at law and take away thy coat, give him thy mantle also, these, and whatever of evil they might receive as disciples of Christ, they must endure without resistance, or resentment.

"But if in their civil relation, or citizen character, they are defrauded, maligned, or persecuted, they might, and did appeal to Caesar. They paid tribute to civil magistrates that they might protect them, and they therefore can claim this protection. In this view civil magistrates were God's ministers to the Christian for good, and also as God's ministers they are revengers to execute wrath upon evildoers. Therefore Christians are in duty bound to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's—to reverence, honor, and support civil magistrates, and when necessary claim their protection."

In my fumbling way I have tried to express these same truths in most of the articles I have written on this subject, and I am glad to pass them on to the reader in the clear language of this great logician and scholar. But it does seem to me that he attempts to set it all aside in his very next paragraph, and render them meaningless. He says he cannot possibly see how a Christian, who is to live peaceably with all men as much as lieth in him, and who has the sword of the Spirit, could enlist to fight the battles of Caesar, Hannibal, or Napoleon. Neither can I. Of course, the reference to the names of Caesar, Hannibal, and Napoleon, can only have the effect of evading the proper question at issue. Neither of these men ever fought a war which a Christian, or any other good man, could fight without becoming a party to their aggression, and therefore a partaker of their crimes. They never fought a war that was not a war of conquest, murder of innocent victims, and robbery, and such wars are wholly of the devil. But what about their innocent victims? If a Christian should happen to be a citizen in one of the nations who were made the victims of this murder and aggression, and their country should require their aid in resisting this aggression, that would present a different kind of problem. They would be ministers of God, according to Brother Campbell, in resisting these murderers, and using a sword God had given them.

The same God who ordained the sword of the Spirit also ordained the carnal sword, and if Brother Campbell will keep his rule in mind he can find a place for each in the world, appointed to it by divine authority. The Christian has duties which involves both swords, one line of duty belonging to Caesar, the other belonging to God, or the things of God, and Jesus instructed his disciples to render both services in their own proper fields.

What Alexander Campbell taught about civil government is not to be accepted as authority any more than what any other well informed Christian might have taught upon the subject. But Campbell was a well informed Christian scholar and what he taught upon any subject does have weight, but not the weight of authority. Only inspired men could speak with authority.

In the address delivered in 1848, he seemed to recognize some four different kinds of civil government, Pagan, Jewish, Mohammedan, and Christian. The Jewish government he recognized as being under the rule of the God of heaven, but it no longer exists in the world. His address deals principally with what he calls Christian nations, and Pagan nations. I am sure all he means by Christian nations are those nations in which the Christian religion dominates the civilization, and in this sense I think he uses the expression correctly. This is borne out by his statement that in a proper sense no such thing as a Christian nation exists in the world. If every man and woman in a government were Christians it would still be a worldly government, and have to do only with the material things of life. Only the church, or kingdom of God, can properly be called a Christian nation, and that in a spiritual sense.

But it is with respect to the Christian's relationship to civil government that we are now concerned, and how Campbell viewed it. We have many now who claim that a Christian is no longer a citizen in the worldly government, he left that back in the world of sin when he was converted. They claim citizenship in heaven cancels citizenship in the earthly government, and the Christian is forbidden to have any fellowship with it, except in the single exception of paying taxes. They claim Jesus made an exception in this respect, and taught his disciples to pay them.

From page 11 of his address on the subject of war I quote, "But as we are under neither a pagan government nor a Jewish government, but professionally under a Christian government, we ought to hear what the present King of the Universe has enacted upon this subject. The maxims of the Great Teacher, and Supreme Philanthropist are, one would think, to be the final decision of the question. The Great Lawgiver addresses his followers in two very distinct respects; first, in reference to their duties to him, and their own profession, and then in reference to their civil rights, duties, and obligations."

Then the Christian does have civil rights, duties, and obligations, and their Great Lawgiver addresses them in regard to these duties in a manner very distinct from the manner in which He addresses them in regard to their duties to Him, and their own Christian profession. Two distinct lines of teaching, and therefore two distinct lines of duties, are here set forth for the Christian. This is only to repeat in different words what Jesus taught his disciples, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's."

But he amplifies and explains this principle as follows, "So far as any indignity was offered to them or any punishment inflicted upon them as His followers, or for His name sake, they were in no way to resent it. But in their civil rights He allows them the advantages of protection of civil law, and for this cause enjoins upon them the payment of all of their political dues, and to be subject to every ordinance of man of a purely civil nature not interfering with their obligations to Him."

He illustrates this principle further: "If a heathen man smite you on one cheek turn to him the other. If he compels you to go one mile go two. If he sue thee at law and take away thy coat, let him have thy mantle also etc. These and whatever else of evil treatment they might receive as disciples of Christ, they must for His sake endure without resistance or resentment. But if in their citizen relations, or character, they are defrauded, maligned, or persecuted, they might, and they did appeal unto Caesar. . .In this view of the matter civil magistrates were God's minister's to the Christian for good. And also as God's ministers they were revengers to execute wrath upon him those who do evil. Therefore Christians are in duty bound to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things which are Gods—to reverence, honor, and support, the civil magistrates, and when necessary to claim his protection."

From these brief paragraphs we learn a number of things which I think settles the question of the Christians attitude toward civil government. There are certain things which belongs to civil government, or as he says to Caesar, and magistrates, who represent civil government. They are God's ministers to the Christian for good because they can afford him protection from those who would malign, punish, persecute, and defraud, him. And they are God's ministers as revengers to execute wrath upon evildoers, and as Paul said they do not bear the sword in vain.

Then the carnal sword belongs to civil government, and it is authorized as God's minister to use it to protect the Christian in his citizen rights, and to execute wrath upon evildoers. But the Christian not only has citizen rights " which he can claim, but he also has civil duties, and obligations, which he must render to civil government. These duties and obligations they must render to civil government to be entitled to these citizen rights, and protection. They are not only to pay all of their political dues, but to be subject to every ordinance of man a purely civil nature which does not interfere with their obligations to God.

But the use of the carnal sword for the protection of the righteous, and the execution of wrath upon evildoers, is one of these duties which the citizen must render to his government. And it does not interfere with man's relations with God since God ordained it, and required this use of it. It is one of the things which belongs to Caesar's kingdom, and without which his kingdom could not afford the protection here mentioned, or execute wrath upon evildoers. It is a duty which the citizen owes to the government, and must therefore render.

In each of these three paragraphs he clearly recognizes the Christian as a citizen of the civil government, not only entitled to claim its benefits, but as bound to render it the duties and obligations which rightly belong to it, and which do not interfere with his relationship to God. We learn also that their great lawgiver addresses them in two distinct senses, one with reference to their duties to him, and then with reference to their rights, duties, and obligations as citizens of the civil government.

Any evil inflicted upon them as His followers, and for his name's sake, they are not to resist, or resent. But evils inflicted upon them as citizens, they were to resent, and can and did appeal unto the civil magistrates for protection, they were entitled to such protection as the law afforded them as citizens, and could, and did demand it. Thus we find that the same act of violence in the way of punishing, or persecuting a Christian might come under either head. It is only when it is offered against the Christian because of the name of Christ, or because they are His disciples, that they must submit to it without resentment. But if it is offered as a violation of his citizen rights, he is not to submit to it without resentment, or resistance, but could appeal to the state for redress, and protection, like any other citizen could. In the early ages of the church I am sure many Christians were persecuted for no other purpose or reason than the fact that they were Christians, they were persecuted for His name, and because they were His disciples. To such Peter said, If any suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name. They were not to fight back, or in any way resist, but submit meekly for His name's sake. When such submission will bring honor and glory to His name the Christian must submit to it.

The martyrdom of Stephen was such a case. No doubt it had a profound effect upon the Jews who constituted the mob who stoned him. But in another case, almost similar, Paul refused to submit to death at the hands of a Jewish mob, but appealed to the civil authorities for protection, and got it from them on the grounds of his Roman citizenship. He not only got protection from the mob who were bent on murdering him because of what he preached, but had his case removed from their hands, and carried to the courts of Caesar. In this case it seems that both of Brother Campbell's rules applied. He was being persecuted for the name of Christ, and his rights as a Roman citizen were being violated. If this is true, and I don't see how any one can deny it, then a Christian has a right to appeal to the civil authorities for protection against religious persecution where such is obtainable. At least, Paul did do it, and he was an inspired apostle.

Down in Philippi, too, Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship when the officials who beat and bound him and cast him into prison without a trial, and uncondemned. When they found he was a Roman citizen they were afraid, and wanted to smuggle him out of the prison privately. Not so, said Paul, they have beaten us openly and uncondemned, being Romans, and now they would thrust us out privily. Let them come and bring us out. This was an appeal by Paul for his rights as a Roman citizen, to be brought out openly, and discharged by the magistrates in a legal manner, and they were glad to do it. Paul could have carried the matter further, and caused them no little trouble, and they were afraid he would.

Paul was a Roman citizen and pled his rights as such, even though a Christian, and an apostle of the Lord. Paul had his citizenship in heaven, but he also had a citizenship upon earth, and he had rights, duties, and obligations, which he owed to both, and could claim in both. Paul is our example, "Be ye followers of me, even as I am a follower of Christ." Paul was right in claiming his Roman citizenship, and the rights which it afforded him against persecution. We are right when we claim our American citizenship, and it does not conflict with our citizenship in heaven. But to claim its benefits is to admit the duties and obligations which go with it, and Jesus has told us to render them.