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THE DOCTRINE OF NON-RESISTANCE TO EVIL BY FORCE HAS BEEN PROFESSED
BY A MINORITY OF MEN FROM THE VERY FOUNDATION OF CHRISTIANITY.
Of the Book "What I Believe"--The Correspondence Evoked by it--
Letters from Quakers--Garrison's Declaration--Adin Ballou, his
Works, his Catechism--Helchitsky's "Net of Faith"--The Attitude
of the World to Works Elucidating Christ's Teaching--Dymond's
Book "On War"--Musser's "Non-resistance Asserted"--Attitude of
the Government in 1818 to Men who Refused to Serve in the Army
--Hostile Attitude of Governments Generally and of Liberals to
Those who Refuse to Assist in Acts of State Violence, and their
Conscious Efforts to Silence and Suppress these Manifestations
of Christian Non-resistance.
Among the first responses some letters called forth by my book
were some letters from American Quakers. In these letters,
expressing their sympathy with my views on the unlawfulness for a
Christian of war and the use of force of any kind, the Quakers
gave me details of their own so-called sect, which for more than
two hundred years has actually professed the teaching of Christ on
non-resistance to evil by force, and does not make use of weapons
in self-defense. The Quakers sent me books, from which I learnt
how they had, years ago, established beyond doubt the duty for a
Christian of fulfilling the command of non-resistance to evil by
force, and had exposed the error of the Church's teaching in
allowing war and capital punishment.
In a whole series of arguments and texts showing that war--that
is, the wounding and killing of men--is inconsistent with a
religion founded on peace and good will toward men, the Quakers
maintain and prove that nothing has contributed so much to the
obscuring of Christian truth in the eyes of the heathen, and has
hindered so much the diffusion of Christianity through the world,
as the disregard of this command by men calling themselves
Christians, and the permission of war and violence to Christians.
"Christ's teaching, which came to be known to men, not by means of
violence and the sword," they say, "but by means of non-resistance
to evil, gentleness, meekness, and peaceableness, can only be
diffused through the world by the example of peace, harmony, and
love among its followers."
"A Christian, according to the teaching of God himself, can act
only peaceably toward all men, and therefore there can be no
authority able to force the Christian to act in opposition to the
teaching of God and to the principal virtue of the Christian in
his relation with his neighbors."
"The law of state necessity," they say, "can force only those to
change the law of God who, for the sake of earthly gains, try to
reconcile the irreconcilable; but for a Christian who sincerely
believes that following Christ's teaching will give him salvation,
such considerations of state can have no force."
Further acquaintance with the labors of the Quakers and their
works--with Fox, Penn, and especially the work of Dymond
(published in 1827)--showed me not only that the impossibility of
reconciling Christianity with force and war had been recognized
long, long ago, but that this irreconcilability had been long ago
proved so clearly and so indubitably that one could only wonder
how this impossible reconciliation of Christian teaching with the
use of force, which has been, and is still, preached in the
churches, could have been maintained in spite of it.
In addition to what I learned from the Quakers I received about
the same time, also from America, some information on the subject
from a source perfectly distinct and previously unknown to me.
The son of William Lloyd Garrison, the famous champion of the
emancipation of the negroes, wrote to me that he had read my book,
in which he found ideas similar to those expressed by his father
in the year 1838, and that, thinking it would be interesting to me
to know this, he sent me a declaration or proclamation of "non-
resistance" drawn up by his father nearly fifty years ago.
This declaration came about under the following circumstances:
William Lloyd Garrison took part in a discussion on the means of
suppressing war in the Society for the Establishment of Peace
among Men, which existed in 1838 in America. He came to the
conclusion that the establishment of universal peace can only be
founded on the open profession of the doctrine of non-resistance
to evil by violence (Matt. v. 39), in its full significance, as
understood by the Quakers, with whom Garrison happened to be on
friendly relations. Having come to this conclusion, Garrison
thereupon composed and laid before the society a declaration,
which was signed at the time--in 1838--by many members.
"DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS ADOPTED BY PEACE CONVENTION.
"We the undersigned, regard it as due to ourselves, to the
cause which we love, to the country in which we live, to
publish a declaration expressive of the purposes we aim to
accomplish and the measures we shall adopt to carry forward the
work of peaceful universal reformation.
"We do not acknowledge allegiance to any human government. We
recognize but one King and Lawgiver, one Judge and Ruler of
mankind. Our country is the world, our countrymen are all
mankind. We love the land of our nativity only as we love all
other lands. The interests and rights of American citizens are
not dearer to us than those of the whole human race. Hence we
can allow no appeal to patriotism to revenge any national
insult or injury...
"We conceive that a nation has no right to defend itself
against foreign enemies or to punish its invaders, and no
individual possesses that right in his own case, and the unit
cannot be of greater importance than the aggregate. If
soldiers thronging from abroad with intent to commit rapine and
destroy life may not be resisted by the people or the
magistracy, then ought no resistance to be offered to domestic
troublers of the public peace or of private security.
"The dogma that all the governments of the world are
approvingly ordained of God, and that the powers that be in the
United States, in Russia, in Turkey, are in accordance with his
will, is no less absurd than impious. It makes the impartial
Author of our existence unequal and tyrannical. It cannot be
affirmed that the powers that be in any nation are actuated by
the spirit or guided by the example of Christ in the treatment
of enemies; therefore they cannot be agreeable to the will of
God, and therefore their overthrow by a spiritual regeneration
of their subjects is inevitable.
"We regard as unchristian and unlawful not only all wars,
whether offensive or defensive, but all preparations for war;
every naval ship, every arsenal, every fortification, we regard
as unchristian and unlawful; the existence of any kind of
standing army, all military chieftains, all monuments
commemorative of victory over a fallen foe, all trophies won in
battle, all celebrations in honor of military exploits, all
appropriations for defense by arms; we regard as unchristian
and unlawful every edict of government requiring of its
subjects military service.
"Hence we deem it unlawful to bear arms, and we cannot hold any
office which imposes on its incumbent the obligation to compel
men to do right on pain of imprisonment or death. We therefore
voluntarily exclude ourselves from every legislative and
judicial body, and repudiate all human politics, worldly
honors, and stations of authority. If we cannot occupy a seat
in the legislature or on the bench, neither can we elect others
to act as our substitutes in any such capacity. It follows
that we cannot sue any man at law to force him to return
anything he may have wrongly taken from us; if he has seized
our coat, we shall surrender him our cloak also rather than
subject him to punishment.
"We believe that the penal code of the old covenant--an eye for
an eye, and a tooth for a tooth--has been abrogated by Jesus
Christ, and that under the new covenant the forgiveness instead
of the punishment of enemies has been enjoined on all his
disciples in all cases whatsoever. To extort money from
enemies, cast them into prison, exile or execute them, is
obviously not to forgive but to take retribution.
"The history of mankind is crowded with evidences proving that
physical coercion is not adapted to moral regeneration, and
that the sinful dispositions of men can be subdued only by
love; that evil can be exterminated only by good; that it is
not safe to rely upon the strength of an arm to preserve us
from harm; that there is great security in being gentle, long-
suffering, and abundant in mercy; that it is only the meek who
shall inherit the earth; for those who take up the sword shall
perish by the sword.
"Hence as a measure of sound policy--of safety to property,
life, and liberty--of public quietude and private enjoyment--as
well as on the ground of allegiance to Him who is King of kings
and Lord of lords, we cordially adopt the non-resistance
principle, being confident that it provides for all possible
consequences, is armed with omnipotent power, and must
ultimately triumph over every assailing force.
"We advocate no Jacobinical doctrines. The spirit of
Jacobinism is the spirit of retaliation, violence, and murder.
It neither fears God nor regards man. We would be filled with
the spirit of Christ. If we abide evil by our fundamental
principle of not opposing evil by evil we cannot participate in
sedition, treason, or violence. We shall submit to every
ordinance and every requirement of government, except such as
are contrary to the commands of the Gospel, and in no case
resist the operation of law, except by meekly submitting to the
penalty of disobedience.
"But while we shall adhere to the doctrine of non-resistance
and passive submission to enemies, we purpose, in a moral and
spiritual sense, to assail iniquity in high places and in low
places, to apply our principles to all existing evil,
political, legal, and ecclesiastical institutions, and to
hasten the time when the kingdoms of this world will have
become the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. It appears to us
a self-evident truth that whatever the Gospel is designed to
destroy at any period of the world, being contrary to it, ought
now to be abandoned. If, then, the time is predicted when
swords shall be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning
hooks, and men shall not learn the art of war any more, it
follows that all who manufacture, sell, or wield these deadly
weapons do thus array themselves against the peaceful dominion
of the Son of God on earth.
"Having thus stated our principles, we proceed to specify the
measures we propose to adopt in carrying our object into
"We expect to prevail through the Foolishness of Preaching. We
shall endeavor to promulgate our views among all persons, to
whatever nation, sect, or grade of society they may belong.
Hence we shall organize public lectures, circulate tracts and
publications, form societies, and petition every governing
body. It will be our leading object to devise ways and means
for effecting a radical change in the views, feelings, and
practices of society respecting the sinfulness of war and the
treatment of enemies.
"In entering upon the great work before us, we are not
unmindful that in its prosecution we may be called to test
our sincerity even as in a fiery ordeal. It may subject us to
insult, outrage, suffering, yea, even death itself. We
anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation,
and calumny. Tumults may arise against us. The proud and
pharisaical, the ambitious and tyrannical, principalities and
powers, may combine to crush us. So they treated the Messiah
whose example we are humbly striving to imitate. We shall not
be afraid of their terror. Our confidence is in the Lord
Almighty and not in man. Having withdrawn from human
protection, what can sustain us but that faith which overcomes
the world? We shall not think it strange concerning the fiery
trial which is to try us, but rejoice inasmuch as we are
partakers of Christ's sufferings.
"Wherefore we commit the keeping of our souls to God. For every
one that forsakes houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father,
or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for Christ's sake,
shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting
"Firmly relying upon the certain and universal triumph of the
sentiments contained in this declaration, however formidable
may be the opposition arrayed against them, we hereby affix our
signatures to it; commending it to the reason and conscience of
mankind, and resolving, in the strength of the Lord God, to
calmly and meekly abide the issue."
Immediately after this declaration a Society for Nonresistance was
founded by Garrison, and a journal called the NON-RESISTANT, in
which the doctrine of non-resistance was advocated in its full
significance and in all its consequences, as it had been expounded
in the declaration. Further information as to the ultimate
destiny of the society and the journal I gained from the excellent
biography of W. L. Garrison, the work of his son.
The society and the journal did not exist for long. The
greater number of Garrison's fellow-workers in the movement for
the liberation of the slaves, fearing that the too radical
programme of the journal, the NON-RESISTANT, might keep people
away from the practical work of negro-emancipation, gave up the
profession of the principle of non-resistance as it had been
expressed in the declaration, and both society and journal ceased
This declaration of Garrison's gave so powerful and eloquent an
expression of a confession of faith of such importance to men,
that one would have thought it must have produced a strong
impression on people, and have become known throughout the world
and the subject of discussion on every side. But nothing of the
kind occurred. Not only was it unknown in Europe, even the
Americans, who have such a high opinion of Garrison, hardly knew
of the declaration.
Another champion of non-resistance has been overlooked in the same
way--the American Adin Ballou, who lately died, after spending
fifty years in preaching this doctrine. Lord God, to calmly and
meekly abide the doctrine. How great the ignorance is of
everything relating to the question of non-resistance may be seen
from the fact that Garrison the son, who has written an excellent
biography of his father in four great volumes, in answer to my
inquiry whether there are existing now societies for non-
resistance, and adherents of the doctrine, told me that as far as
he knew that society had broken up, and that there were no
adherents of that doctrine, while at the very time when he was
writing to me there was living, at Hopedale in Massachusetts, Adin
Ballou, who had taken part in the labors of Garrison the father,
and had devoted fifty years of his life to advocating, both orally
and in print, the doctrine of nonresistance. Later on I received
a letter from Wilson, a pupil and colleague of Ballou's, and
entered into correspondence with Ballou himself. I wrote to
Ballou, and he answered me and sent me his works. Here is the
summary of some extracts from them:
"Jesus Christ is my Lord and teacher," says Ballou in one of
his essays exposing the inconsistency of Christians who allowed
a right of self-defense and of warfare. "I have promised
leaving all else, to follow good and through evil, to death
itself. But I am a citizen of the democratic republic of the
United States; and in allegiance to it I have sworn to defend
the Constitution of my country, if need be, with my life.
Christ requires of me to do unto others as I would they should
do unto me. The Constitution of the United States requires of
me to do unto two millions of slaves [at that time there were
slaves; now one might venture to substitute the word
'laborers'] the very opposite of what I would they should do
unto me--that is to help to keep them in their present
condition of slavery. And, in spite of this, I continue to
elect or be elected, I propose to vote, I am even ready to be
appointed to any office under government. That will not hinder
me from being a Christian. I shall still profess Christianity,
and shall find no difficulty in carrying out my covenant
with Christ and with the government.
"Jesus Christ forbids me to resist evil doers, and to take from
them an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, bloodshed for
bloodshed, and life for life.
"My government demands from me quite the opposite, and bases a
system of self-defense on gallows, musket, and sword, to be
used against its foreign and domestic foes. And the land is
filled accordingly with gibbets, prisons, arsenals, ships of
war, and soldiers.
"In the maintenance and use of these expensive appliances for
murder, we can very suitably exercise to the full the virtues
of forgiveness to those who injure us, love toward our enemies,
blessings to those who curse us, and doing good to those who
"For this we have a succession of Christian priests to pray for
us and beseech the blessing of Heaven on the holy work of
"I see all this (i.e., the contradiction between profession and
practice), and I continue to profess religion and take part in
government, and pride myself on being at the same time a devout
Christian and a devoted servant of the government. I do not
want to agree with these senseless notions of non-resistance.
I cannot renounce my authority and leave only immoral men in
control of the government. The Constitution says the
government has the right to declare war, and I assent to this
and support it, and swear that I will support it. And I do not
for that cease to be a Christian. War, too, is a Christian
duty. Is it not a Christian duty to kill hundreds of thousands
of one's fellow-men, to outrage women, to raze and burn towns,
and to practice every possible cruelty? It is time to dismiss
all these false sentimentalities. It is the truest means of
forgiving injuries and loving enemies. If we only do it in the
spirit of love, nothing can be more Christian than such
In another pamphlet, entitled "How many Men are Necessary to
Change a Crime into a Virtue?" he says: "One man may not kill. If
he kills a fellow-creature, he is a murderer. If two, ten, a
hundred men do so, they, too, are murderers. But a government or
a nation may kill as many men as it chooses, and that will not be
murder, but a great and noble action. Only gather the people
together on a large scale, and a battle of ten thousand men
becomes an innocent action. But precisely how many people must
there be to make it so?--that is the question. One man cannot
plunder and pillage, but a whole nation can. But precisely how
many are needed to make it permissible? Why is it that one man,
ten, a hundred, may not break the law of God, but a great number
And here is a version of Ballou's catechism composed for his
CATECHISM OF NON-RESISTANCE.
Q. Whence is the word "non-resistance" derived?
A. From the command, "Resist not evil." (M. v. 39.)
Q. What does this word express?
A. It expresses a lofty Christian virtue enjoined on us by
Q. Ought the word "non-resistance" to be taken in its widest
sense--that is to say, as intending that we should not offer
any resistance of any kind to evil?
A. No; it ought to be taken in the exact sense of our Saviour's
teaching--that is, not repaying evil for evil. We ought to
oppose evil by every righteous means in our power, but not by
Q. What is there to show that Christ enjoined non-resistance in
A. It is shown by the words he uttered at the same time. He
said: "Ye have heard, it was said of old, An eye for an eye,
and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you Resist not evil.
But if one smites thee on the right cheek, turn him the other
also; and if one will go to law with thee to take thy coat from
thee, give him thy cloak also."
Q. Of whom was he speaking in the words, "Ye have heard it was
said of old"?
A. Of the patriarchs and the prophets, contained in the Old
Testament, which the Hebrews ordinarily call the Law and the
Q. What utterances did Christ refer to in the words, "It was
said of old"?
A. The utterances of Noah, Moses, and the other prophets, in
which they admit the right of doing bodily harm to those who
inflict harm, so as to punish and prevent evil deeds.
Q. Quote such utterances.
A. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be
shed."--GEN. ix. 6.
"He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to
death...And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life
for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for
foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
--Ex. xxi. 12 and 23-25.
"He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And if
a man cause a blemish in his neighbor, as he hath done, so
shall it be done unto him: breach for breach, eye for eye,
tooth for tooth."--LEV. xxiv. 17, 19, 20.
"Then the judges shall make diligent inquisition; and behold,
if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely
against his brother, then shall ye do unto him as he had
thought to have done unto his brother...And thine eye shall not
pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,
hand for hand, foot for foot."--DEUT. xix. 18, 21.
Noah, Moses, and the Prophets taught that he who kills, maims,
or injures his neighbors does evil. To resist such evil, and
to prevent it, the evil doer must be punished with death, or
maiming, or some physical injury. Wrong must be opposed by
wrong, murder by murder, injury by injury, evil by evil. Thus
taught Noah, Moses, and the Prophets. But Christ rejects all
this. "I say unto you," is written in the Gospel, "resist not
evil," do not oppose injury with injury, but rather bear
repeated injury from the evil doer. What was permitted is
forbidden. When we understand what kind of resistance they
taught, we know exactly what resistance Christ forbade.
Q. Then the ancients allowed the resistance of injury by
A. Yes. But Jesus forbids it. The Christian has in no case the
right to put to death his neighbor who has done him evil, or to
do him injury in return.
Q. May he kill or maim him in self-defense?
Q. May he go with a complaint to the judge that he who has
wronged him may be punished?
A. No. What he does through others, he is in reality doing
Q. Can he fight in conflict with foreign enemies or disturbers
of the peace?
A. Certainly not. He cannot take any part in war or in
preparations for war. He cannot make use of a deadly weapon.
He cannot oppose injury to injury, whether he is alone or with
others, either in person or through other people.
Q. Can he voluntarily vote or furnish soldiers for the
A. He can do nothing of that kind if he wishes to be faithful
to Christ's law.
Q. Can he voluntarily give money to aid a government resting on
military force, capital punishment, and violence in general?
A. No, unless the money is destined for some special object,
right in itself, and good both in aim and means.
Q. Can he pay taxes to such a government?
A. No; he ought not voluntarily to pay taxes, but he ought not
to resist the collecting of taxes. A tax is levied by the
government, and is exacted independently of the will of the
subject. It is impossible to resist it without having recourse
to violence of some kind. Since the Christian cannot employ
violence, he is obliged to offer his property at once to the
loss by violence inflicted on it by the authorities.
Q. Can a Christian give a vote at elections, or take part in
government or law business?
A. No; participation in election, government, or law business
is participation in government by force.
Q. Wherein lies the chief significance of the doctrine of
A. In the fact that it alone allows of the possibility of
eradicating evil from one's own heart, and also from one's
neighbor's. This doctrine forbids doing that whereby evil has
endured for ages and multiplied in the world. He who attacks
another and injures him, kindles in the other a feeling of
hatred, the root of every evil. To injure another because he
has injured us, even with the aim of overcoming evil, is
doubling the harm for him and for oneself; it is begetting, or
at least setting free and inciting, that evil spirit which we
should wish to drive out. Satan can never be driven out by
Satan. Error can never be corrected by error, and evil cannot
be vanquished by evil.
True non-resistance is the only real resistance to evil. It is
crushing the serpent's head. It destroys and in the end
extirpates the evil feeling.
Q. But if that is the true meaning of the rule of non-
resistance, can it always put into practice?
A. It can be put into practice like every virtue enjoined by
the law of God. A virtue cannot be practiced in all
circumstances without self-sacrifice, privation, suffering, and
in extreme cases loss of life itself. But he who esteems life
more than fulfilling the will of God is already dead to the
only true life. Trying to save his life he loses it. Besides,
generally speaking, where non-resistance costs the sacrifice of
a single life or of some material welfare, resistance costs a
thousand such sacrifices.
Non-resistance is Salvation; Resistance is Ruin.
It is incomparably less dangerous to act justly than unjustly,
to submit to injuries than to resist them with violence, less
dangerous even in one's relations to the present life. If all
men refused to resist evil by evil our world would be happy.
Q. But so long as only a few act thus, what will happen to
A. If only one man acted thus, and all the rest agreed
to crucify him, would it not be nobler for him to die in the
glory of non-resisting love, praying for his enemies, than to
live to wear the crown of Caesar stained with the blood of the
slain? However, one man, or a thousand men, firmly resolved
not to oppose evil by evil are far more free from danger by
violence than those who resort to violence, whether among
civilized or savage neighbors. The robber, the murderer, and
the cheat will leave them in peace, sooner than those who
oppose them with arms, and those who take up the sword shall
perish by the sword, but those who seek after peace, and behave
kindly and harmlessly, forgiving and forgetting injuries, for
the most part enjoy peace, or, if they die, they die blessed.
In this way, if all kept the ordinance of non-resistance, there
would obviously be no evil nor crime. If the majority acted
thus they would establish the rule of love and good will even
over evil doers, never opposing evil with evil, and never
resorting to force. If there were a moderately large minority
of such men, they would exercise such a salutary moral
influence on society that every cruel punishment would be
abolished, and violence and feud would be replaced by peace and
love. Even if there were only a small minority of them, they
would rarely experience anything worse than the world's
contempt, and meantime the world, though unconscious of it, and
not grateful for it, would be continually becoming wiser and
better for their unseen action on it. And if in the worst case
some members of the minority were persecuted to death, in dying
for the truth they would have left behind them their doctrine,
sanctified by the blood of their martyrdom. Peace, then, to
all who seek peace, and may overruling love be the imperishable
heritage of every soul who obeys willingly Christ's word,
"Resist not evil."
For fifty years Ballou wrote and published books dealing
principally with the question of non-resistance to evil by force.
In these works, which are distinguished by the clearness of their
thought and eloquence of exposition, the question is looked at
from every possible side, and the binding nature of this command
on every Christian who acknowledges the Bible as the revelation of
God is firmly established. All the ordinary objections to the
doctrine of non-resistance from the Old and New Testaments are
brought forward, such as the expulsion of the moneychangers from
the Temple, and so on, and arguments follow in disproof of them
all. The practical reasonableness of this rule of conduct is
shown independently of Scripture, and all the objections
ordinarily made against its practicability are stated and refuted.
Thus one chapter in a book of his treats of non-resistance in
exceptional cases, and he owns in this connection that if there
were cases in which the rule of non-resistance were impossible of
application, it would prove that the law was not universally
authoritative. Quoting these cases, he shows that it is precisely
in them that the application of the rule is both necessary and
reasonable. There is no aspect of the question, either on his
side or on his opponents', which he has not followed up in his
writings. I mention all this to show the unmistakable interest
which such works ought to have for men who make a profession of
Christianity, and because one would have thought Ballou's work
would have been well known, and the ideas expressed by him would
lave been either accepted or refuted; but such has not been the
The work of Garrison, the father, in his foundation of the Society
of Non-resistants and his Declaration, even more than my
correspondence with the Quakers, convinced me of the fact that the
departure of the ruling form of Christianity from the law of
Christ on non-resistance by force is an error that has long been
observed and pointed out, and that men have labored, and are still
laboring, to correct. Ballou's work confirmed me still more in
this view. But the fate of Garrison, still more that of Ballou,
in being completely unrecognized in spite of fifty years of
obstinate and persistent work in the same direction, confirmed me
in the idea that there exists a kind of tacit but steadfast
conspiracy of silence about all such efforts.
Ballou died in August, 1890, and there was as obituary notice of
him in an American journal of Christian views (RELIGIO-
PHILOSOPHICAL JOURNAL, August 23). In this laudatory notice it is
recorded that Ballou was the spiritual director of a parish, that
he delivered from eight to nine thousand sermons, married one
thousand couples, and wrote about five hundred articles; but there
is not a single word said of the object to which he devoted his
life; even the word "non-resistance" is not mentioned. Precisely
as it was with all the preaching of the Quakers for two hundred
years and, too, with the efforts of Garrison the father, the
foundation of his society and journal, and his Declaration, so it
is with the life-work of Ballou. It seems just as though it did
not exist and never had existed.
We have an astounding example of the obscurity of works which aim
at expounding the doctrine of non-resistance to evil by force, and
at confuting those who do not recognize this commandment, in the
book of the Tsech Helchitsky, which has only lately been noticed
and has not hitherto been printed.
Soon after the appearance of my book in German, I received a
letter from Prague, from a professor of the university there,
informing me of the existence of a work, never yet printed, by
Helchitsky, a Tsech of the fifteenth century, entitled "The Net of
Faith." In this work, the professor told me, Helchitsky expressed
precisely the same view as to true and false Christianity as I had
expressed in my book "What I Believe." The professor wrote to me
that Helchitsky's work was to be published for the first time in
the Tsech language in the JOURNAL OF THE PETERSBURG ACADEMY OF
SILENCE. Since I could not obtain the book itself, I tried to
make myself acquainted with what was known of Helchitsky, and I
gained the following information from a German book sent me by the
Prague professor and from Pypin's history of Tsech literature.
This was Pypin's account:
"'The Net of Faith' is Christ's teaching, which ought to draw
man up out of the dark depths of the sea of worldliness and his
own iniquity. True faith consists in believing God's Word; but
now a time has come when men mistake the true faith for heresy,
and therefore it is for the reason to point out what the true
faith consists in, if anyone does not know this. It is hidden
in darkness from men, and they do not recognize the true law of
"To make this law plain, Helchitsky points to the primitive
organization of Christian society--the organization which, he
says, is now regarded in the Roman Church as an abominable
heresy. This Primitive Church was his special ideal of social
organization, founded on equality, liberty, and fraternity.
Christianity, in Helchitsky's view, still preserves these
elements, and it is only necessary for society to return to its
pure doctrine to render unnecessary every other form of social
order in which kings and popes are essential; the law of love
would alone be sufficient in every case.
"Historically, Helchitsky attributes the degeneration of
Christianity to the times of Constantine the Great, whom he
Pope Sylvester admitted into the Christian Church with all his
heathen morals and life. Constantine, in his turn, endowed the
Pope with worldly riches and power. From that time forward
these two ruling powers were constantly aiding one another to
strive for nothing but outward glory. Divines and
ecclesiastical dignitaries began to concern themselves only
about subduing the whole world to their authority, incited men
against one another to murder and plunder, and in creed and
life reduced Christianity to a nullity. Helchitsky denies
completely the right to make war and to inflict the punishment
of death; every soldier, even the 'knight,' is only a violent
evil doer--a murderer."
The same account is given by the German book, with the addition of
a few biographical details and some extracts from Helchitsky's
Having learnt the drift of Helchitsky's teaching in this way, I
awaited all the more impatiently the appearance of "The Net of
Faith" in the journal of the Academy. But one year passed, then
two and three, and still the book did appear. It was only in 1888
that I learned that the printing of the book, which had been
begun, was stopped. I obtained the proofs of what had been
printed and read them through. It is a marvelous book from every
point of view.
Its general tenor is given with perfect accuracy by Pypin.
Helchitsky's fundamental idea is that Christianity, by allying
itself with temporal power in the days of Constantine, and by
continuing to develop in such conditions, has become completely
distorted, and has ceased to be Christian altogether. Helchitsky
gave the title "The Net of Faith" to his book, taking as his motto
the verse of the Gospel about the calling of the disciples to be
fishers of men; and, developing this metaphor, he says:
"Christ, by means of his disciples, would have caught all the
world in his net of faith, but the greater fishes broke the net
and escaped out of it, and all the rest have slipped through
the holes made by the greater fishes, so that the net has
remained quite empty. The greater fishes who broke the net are
the rulers, emperors, popes, kings, who have not renounced
power, and instead of true Christianity have put on what is
simply a mask of it."
Helchitsky teaches precisely what has been and is taught in these
days by the non-resistant Mennonites and Quakers, and in former
tunes by the Bogomilites, Paulicians, and many others. He teaches
that Christianity, expecting from its adherents gentleness,
meekness, peaceableness, forgiveness of injuries, turning the
other cheek when one is struck, and love for enemies, is
inconsistent with the use of force, which is an indispensable
condition of authority.
The Christian, according to Helchitsky's reasoning, not only
cannot be a ruler or a soldier; he cannot take any part in
government nor in trade, or even be a landowner; he can only be an
artisan or a husbandman.
This book is one of the few works attacking official Christianity
which has escaped being burned. All such so-called heretical
works were burned at the stake, together with their authors, so
that there are few ancient works exposing the errors of official
Christianity. The book has a special interest for this reason
alone. But apart from its interest from every point of view, it
is one of the most remarkable products of thought for its depth of
aim, for the astounding strength and beauty of the national
language in which it is written, and for its antiquity. And yet
for more than four centuries it has remained unprinted, and is
still unknown, except to a few learned specialists.
One would have thought that all such works, whether of the
Quakers, of Garrison, of Ballou, or of Helchitsky, asserting and
proving as they do, on the principles of the Gospel, that our
modern world takes a false view of Christ's teaching, would have
awakened interest, excitement, talk, and discussion among
spiritual teachers and their flocks alike.
Works of this kind, dealing with the very essence of Christian
doctrine, ought, one would have thought, to have been examined and
accepted as true, or refuted and rejected. But nothing of the
kind has occurred, and the same fate has been repeated with all
those works. Men of the most diverse views, believers, and, what
is surprising, unbelieving liberals also, as though by agreement,
all preserve the same persistent silence about them, and all that
has been done by people to explain the true meaning of Christ's
doctrine remains either ignored or forgotten.
But it is still more astonishing that two other books, of
which I heard on the appearance of my book, should be so little
known, I mean Dymond's book "On War," published for the first time
in London in 1824, and Daniel Musser's book on "Non-resistance,"
written in 1864. It is particularly astonishing that these books
should be unknown, because, apart from their intrinsic merits,
both books treat not so much of the theory as of the practical
application of the theory to life, of the attitude of Christianity
to military service, which is especially important and interesting
now in these clays of universal conscription.
People will ask, perhaps: How ought a subject to behave who
believes that war is inconsistent with his religion while the
government demands from him that he should enter military service?
This question is, I think, a most vital one, and the answer to it
is specially important in these days of universal conscription.
All--or at least the great majority of the people--are Christians,
and all men are called upon for military service. How ought a
man, as a Christian, to meet this demand? This is the gist of
"His duty is humbly but steadfastly to refuse to serve."
There are some people, who, without any definite reasoning about
it, conclude straightway that the responsibility of government
measures rests entirely on those who resolve on them, or that the
governments and sovereigns decide the question of what is good or
bad for their subjects, and the duty of the subjects is merely to
obey. I think that arguments of this kind only obscure men's
conscience. I cannot take part in the councils of government, and
therefore I am not responsible for its misdeeds.. Indeed, but we
are responsible for our own misdeeds. And the misdeeds of our
rulers become our own, if we, knowing that they are misdeeds,
assist in carrying, them out. Those who suppose that they are
bound to obey the government, and that the responsibility for the
misdeeds they commit is transferred from them to their rulers,
deceive themselves. They say: "We give our acts up to the will
of others, and our acts cannot be good or bad; there is no merit
in what is good nor responsibility for what is evil in our
actions, since they are not done of our own will."
It is remarkable that the very same thing is said in the
instructions to soldiers which they make them learn--that is, that
the officer is alone responsible for the consequences of his
command. But this is not right. A man cannot get rid of the
responsibility, for his own actions. And that is clear from the
following example. If your officer commands you to kill your
neighbor's child, to kill your father or your mother, would you
obey? If you would not obey, the whole argument falls to the
ground, for if you can disobey the governors in one case, where do
you draw the line up to which you can obey them? There is no line
other than that laid down by Christianity, and that line is both
reasonable and practicable.
And therefore we consider it the duty of every man who thinks war
inconsistent with Christianity, meekly but firmly to refuse to
serve in the army. And let those whose lot it is to act thus,
remember that the fulfillment of a great duty rests with them.
The destiny of humanity in the world depends, so far as it depends
on men at all, on their fidelity to their religion. Let them
confess their conviction, and stand up for it, and not in words
alone, but in sufferings too, if need be. If you believe that
Christ forbade murder, pay no heed to the arguments nor to the
commands of those who call on you to bear a hand in it. By such a
steadfast refusal to make use of force, you call down on
yourselves the blessing promised to those "who hear these sayings
and do them," and the time will come when the world will recognize
you as having aided in the reformation of mankind.
Musser's book is called "Non-resistance Asserted," or "Kingdom of
Christ and Kingdoms of this World Separated." This book is
devoted to the same question, and was written when the American
Government was exacting military service from its citizens at the
time of the Civil War. And it has, too, a value for all time,
dealing with the question how, in such circumstances, people
should and can refuse to eater military service. Here is the tenor
of the author's introductory remarks:
"It is well known that there are many persons in the United
States who refuse to fight on grounds of conscience. They are
called the 'defenseless,' or 'non-resistant' Christians. These
Christians refuse to defend their country, to bear arms, or at
the call of government to make war on its enemies. Till lately
this religious scruple seemed a valid excuse to the government,
and those who urged it were let off service. But at the
beginning of our Civil War public opinion was agitated on this
subject. It was natural that persons who considered it their
duty to bear all the hardships and dangers of war in defense of
their country should feel resentment against those persons who
had for long shared with them the advantages of the protection
of government, and who now in time of need and danger would not
share in bearing the labors and dangers of its defense. It was
even natural that they should declare the attitude of such men
monstrous, irrational, and suspicious."
A host of orators and writers, our author tells us, arose to
oppose this attitude, and tried to prove the sinfulness of non-
resistance, both from Scripture and on common-sense grounds. And
this was perfectly natural, and in many cases the authors were
right--right, that is, in regard to persons who did not renounce
the benefits they received from the government and tried to avoid
the hardships of military service, but not right in regard to the
principle of non-resistance itself. Above all, our author proves
the binding nature of the rule of non-resistance for a Christian,
pointing out that this command is perfectly clear, and is enjoined
upon every Christian by Christ without possibility of
misinterpretation. "Bethink yourselves whether it is righteous to
obey man more than God," said Peter and John. And this is
precisely what ought to be the attitude to every man who wishes to
be Christian to the claim on him for military service, when Christ
has said, "Resist not evil by force." As for the question of the
principle itself, the author regards that as decided. As to the
second question, whether people have the right to refuse to serve
in the army who have not refused the benefits conferred by a
government resting on force, the author considers it in detail,
and arrives at the conclusion that a Christian following the law
of Christ, since he does not go to war, ought not either to take
advantage of any institutions of government, courts of law, or
elections, and that in his private concerns he must not have
recourse to the authorities, the police, or the law. Further on
in the book he treats of the relation of the Old Testament to the
New, the value of government for those who are Christians, and
makes some observations on the doctrine of non-resistance and the
attacks made on it. The author concludes his book by saying:
"Christians do not need government, and therefore they cannot
either obey it in what is contrary to Christ's teaching nor, still
less, take part in it." Christ took his disciples out of the
world, he says. They do not expect worldly blessings and worldly
happiness, but they expect eternal life. The Spirit in whom they
live makes them contented and happy in every position. If the
world tolerates them, they are always happy. If the world will
not leave them in peace, they will go elsewhere, since they are
pilgrims on the earth and they have no fixed place of habitation.
They believe that "the dead may bury their dead." One thing only
is needful for them, "to follow their Master."
Even putting aside the question as to the principle laid down in
these two books as to the Christian's duty in his attitude to war,
one cannot help perceiving the practical importance and the urgent
need of deciding the question.
There are people, hundreds of thousands of Quakers, Mennonites,
all our Douhobortsi, Molokani, and others who do not belong to any
definite sect, who consider that the use of force--and,
consequently, military service--is inconsistent with Christianity.
Consequently there are every year among us in Russia some men
called upon for military service who refuse to serve on the ground
of their religious convictions. Does the government let them off
then? No. Does it compel them to go, and in case of disobedience
punish them? No. This was how the government treated them in
1818. Here is an extract from the diary of Nicholas Myravyov of
Kars, which was not passed by the censor, and is not known in
"Tiflis, October 2, 1818.
"In the morning the commandant told me that five peasants
belonging to a landowner in the Tamboff government had lately
been sent to Georgia. These men had been sent for soldiers,
but they would not serve; they had been several times flogged
and made to run the gauntlet, but they would submit readily to
the cruelest tortures, and even to death, rather than serve.
'Let us go,' they said, 'and leave us alone; we will not hurt
anyone; all men are equal, and the Tzar is a man like us; why
should we pay him tribute; why should I expose my life to
danger to kill in battle some man who has done me no harm? You
can cut us to pieces and we will not be soldiers. He who has
compassion on us will give us charity, but as for the
government rations, we have not had them and we do not want to
have them' These were the words of those peasants, who declare
that there are numbers like them Russia. They brought them
four times before the Committee of Ministers, and at last
decided to lay the matter before the Tzar who gave orders that
they should be taken to Georgia for correction, and commanded
the commander-in-chief to send him a report every month of
their gradual success in bringing these peasants to a better
How the correction ended is not known, as the whole episode indeed
was unknown, having been kept in profound secrecy.
This was how the government behaved seventy-five years ago--this
is how it has behaved in a great cumber of cases, studiously
concealed from the people. And this is how the government behaves
now, except in the case of the German Mennonites, living in the
province of Kherson, whose plea against military service is
considered well grounded. They are made to work off their term of
service in labor in the forests.
But in the recent cases of refusal on the part of Mennonites to
serve in the army on religious grounds, the government authorities
have acted in the following manner:
To begin with, they have recourse to every means of coercion used
in our times to "correct" the culprit and bring him to "a better
mind," and these measures are carried out with the greatest
secrecy. I know that in the case of one man who declined to serve
in 1884 in Moscow, the official correspondence on the subject had
two months after his refusal accumulated into a big folio, and was
kept absolutely secret among the Ministry.
They usually begin by sending the culprit to the priests, and the
latter, to their shame be it said, always exhort him to obedience.
But since the exhortation in Christ's name to forswear Christ is
for the most part unsuccessful, after he has received the
admonitions of the spiritual authorities, they send him to the
gendarmes, and the latter, finding, as a rule, no political cause
for offense in him, dispatch him back again, and then he is sent
to the learned men, to the doctors, and to the madhouse. During
all these vicissitudes he is deprived of liberty and has to endure
every kind of humiliation and suffering as a convicted criminal.
(All this has been repeated in four cases.) The doctors let him
out of the madhouse, and then every kind of secret shift is
employed to prevent him from going free--whereby others would be
encouraged to refuse to serve as he has done--and at the same time
to avoid leaving him among the soldiers, for fear they too should
learn from him that military service is not at all their duty by
the law of God, as they are assured, but quite contrary to it.
The most convenient thing for the government would be to kill the
non-resistant by flogging him to death or some other means, as was
done in former days. But to put a man openly to death because he
believes in the creed we all confess is impossible. To let a man
alone who has refused obedience is also impossible. And so the
government tries either to compel the man by ill-treatment to
renounce Christ, or in some way or other to get rid of him
unobserved, without openly putting him to death, and to hide
somehow both the action and the man himself from other people.
And so all kinds of shifts and wiles and cruelties are set on foot
against him. They either send him to the frontier or provoke him
to insubordination, and then try him for breach of discipline and
shut him up in the prison of the disciplinary battalion, where
they can ill treat him freely unseen by anyone, or they declare
him mad, and lock him up in a lunatic asylum. They sent one man
in this way to Tashkend--that is, they pretended to transfer to
the Tashkend army; another to Omsk; a third him they convicted of
insubordination and shut up in prison; a fourth they sent to a
Everywhere the same story is repeated. Not only the government,
but the great majority of liberal, advanced people, as they are
called, studiously turn away from everything that has been said,
written, or done, or is being done by men to prove the
incompatibility of force in its most awful, gross, and glaring
form--in the form, that is, of an army of soldiers prepared to
murder anyone, whoever it may be--with the teachings of
Christianity, or even of the humanity which society professes as
So that the information I have gained of the attitude of the
higher ruling classes, not only in Russia but in Europe and
America, toward the elucidation of this question has convinced me
that there exists in these ruling classes a consciously hostile
attitude to true Christianity, which is shown pre-eminently in
their reticence in regard to all manifestations of it.
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