Whether private individuals may resist by use of arms

It remains now that we speak of men who are private persons. First, particulars or private persons are not obligated to take up arms against any ruler who would compel them to become idolaters. The covenant between God and all the people who promise to be the people of God does not in any way bind them to that. For, just as what belongs to the whole body does not belong to any particular member, so, in like manner, the duty the whole body owes and is bound to perform cannot by any sensible reason be required of any of the parts - neither does their duty oblige them to it, for everyone must serve God in that proper vocation to which he is called. Private individuals have no power or duly constituted authority, nor any calling to bear the sword in an official capacity. Therefore, since God has not granted sword-bearing authority to private individuals, He does not require that they should take it up. It is said to them, "put up thy sword into thy scabbard." (Jn. 18:11) On the other hand, the apostles say of the ruling authorities, they carry not the sword in vain. (Rom. 13:4) If individuals take up the sword, they are violating the law. If magistrates are slow and negligent to wield it when necessary, they are likewise justly blameable of negligence in performing their duties, and equally guilty with the former.

But you may say, hasn't God also made a covenant with individuals as He did with the people as a whole, with the lowest as well as the highest? Why were circumcision and baptism ordained? Why the frequent repetition of the covenant in so many passages of scripture? All this is true, but a number of things need to be considered. All the subjects of a good and faithful ruler, whatever their rank or station, are obligated to obey him. However, some of them are lesser magistrates and have it as their particular duty to hold others in obedience under them. In like manner, all men are bound to serve God, but some are placed in a higher rank. They have received greater authority, insomuch as they will be held accountable for the offences of others if they do not carry out their duties and responsibilities diligently.

The kings, the communities of the people, the magistrates into whose hands the whole body of the commonwealth has committed the sword of authority, are responsible for the church being maintained and preserved; Private individuals ought only to see to it that they become members of this church. Kings and other men in authority are obligated to prevent the pollution or ruin of the church, and ought to free and defend it from both internal corruption and external injury. Private individuals must make sure that their bodies, the temples of God, are pure so that they may be fit receptacles for the Holy Ghost to dwell in. The apostle says, if any man defile the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Cor. 3:17) To the former, He gives the sword which they bear with authority; to the other He recommends the sword of the Spirit only, that is, the word of God. This is what Saint Paul arms all Christians with against the assaults of the devil. What then shall individuals do if the king tries to force them to serve idols? If the magistrates into whose hands the people have given their authority, or the magistrates of the place where they live oppose these proceedings of the king, let them, in God's name, obey their leaders, and employ all their means (as in the service of God) to aid the holy and commendable enterprises of those who oppose themselves lawfully against his wicked intention. Among others, they have the examples of the centurions, and men at arms, who readily and cheerfully obeyed the princes of Judah who, stirred up by Jehoidas, purged the church from all profanation, and delivered the kingdom from the tyranny of Athaliah. (2 Chr. 23) But if the rulers and magistrates approve the course of an outrageous and irreligious ruler, or if they do not resist him, we must lend our ears to the counsel of Jesus Christ: we should flee to some other place. We have the example of the faithful mixed among the ten tribes of Israel, who, seeing the true service of God abolished by Jeroboam and no opposition, they fled into the territories of Judah, where religion remained in her purity. Let us rather forsake our livelihoods and lives, than God; let us rather be crucified ourselves, than crucify the Lord of Life: The Lord says, do not fear them who can only kill the body. (Mat. 10:28) He Himself, His apostles, and an infinite number of Christian martyrs, have taught us this by their examples. Therefore, shall it be permitted to any private person to resist by arms? What shall we say of Moses, who led Israel away in spite of King Pharaoh? And of Ehud, who, after ten years' servitude, when Israel might seem to belong by right of prescription to him who owned it, killed Eglon, the king of Moab, and delivered Israel from the yoke of the Moabites; and of Jehu, who put to death his lord the king Joram, exterminated the family of Ahab, and destroyed the priests of Baal? Weren't these private individuals? I answer, that if they be considered in themselves, they may well be accounted private persons, insomuch as they had not any ordinary vocation. But, seeing that we know that they were called extraordinarily and that God Himself has, so to speak, put His sword into their hands, far be it from us to account them private persons: but rather let us think of them as specially deputized officials, and ranked above any magistrate whatsoever.

The calling of Moses is approved by the explicit word of God, and by obvious miracles. It is said of Ehud that God stirred him up to kill the tyrant, and deliver Israel. (Jg. 3:15) Jehu was anointed by the commandment of the prophet Elisha, to destroy all the sons of Ahab. (2 Ki. 9) Besides, the principal men of the kingdom saluted him as king before he accomplished anything. There may as much be said of all the rest, whose examples are given in the scriptures. But if God Almighty does not speak with His own mouth, nor extraordinarily by His prophets, we ought to be exceedingly cautious, and to stand upon our guard. For if any man supposes he is inspired by the Holy Spirit and attribute to himself divine authority, I would entreat him to look that he be not puffed up with vanity lest he make a god of his own fancy, and offer sacrifice to his own inventions. Let him not then be conceived with vanity, lest instead of fruit he bring forth deluding lies. Let the people also be advised on their parts, lest in desiring to fight under the banner of Jesus Christ, they run not to their own confusion to follow the army of some Galilean Thendas, or of Barcozba: as it happened to the peasants and Anabaptists of Munster, in Germany, in the year 1323. I will not say, notwithstanding, that the same God who, to punish our offences, has sent us in these our days both Pharaohs and Ahabs, may not also sometimes raise up extraordinary deliverances to His people. Certainly His justice and His mercy continue to all ages, firm and immutable.

Now, if God no longer performs those kinds of miracles as He did in former times, we should understand that He works miraculously in our hearts, which is evident when we have our minds free from all ambition, a true and earnest zeal, a right knowledge, and conscience, and, lest being guided by the spirit of error or ambition, we make idols of our own imaginations, rather than serve and worship the true and living God.


Next | Previous | Contents

More To Explore