“War and the Relation of Saints Thereto” by Jason W. Briggs

Published on February 15th, 1866 in The True Latter Day Saints’ Herald (Vol. 9-4:53)

The discussion of this subject in the Herald thus far, illustrates the observation, that objects assume different aspects as they are viewed from different standpoints. Thus, in attempting to show another some distant object, though the person may be but a few yards from us he perhaps cannot be made to discover the object until he steps into our track and looks from our standpoint, look as we look, and then he sees as we see.

The bare mention of fighting Saints generates in our minds incongruities, a chaotic mixture of opposites, distorted images of lambs with claws, and doves with talons and fangs — misery with veins of bliss running through it. In the history of the world, war occupies the foreground. Its originators and conducting chiefs fill the seats of honor. To war nations owe their greatness and often their existence. War is a power in the earth, a first class power, and therefore fully competent to make itself respected. It is the aggregation of the animal forces. Its language is thus articulated by the warrior Napoleon: “The thunders of war shall crush him in a moment.” War is a monster; a desolator, a scourge; the sum of all the calamities that flesh is heir to, all this is conceded in the abstract by Christian men as well as Saints.

But war it is alleged, war must have two parties and two sides, and one party must be wrong, but the other may be right, and to engage on the right side and fight is lawful and right for Saints. Hence we often hear of holy wars. Each party in all wars suppose some god to be on their side. If both parties are Christians, each supposes the same God to be on their side, as if war was the offspring of some of the attributes of God. We will settle this last idea as we pass along.

“Whence come wars and fightings? … even of your lusts.” James 4:1 The first “overt act” of war on record was the attack of Cain upon Abel, whether Abel resisted and fought valiantly before he fell is not stated, but the scriptures associating the blood of Abel with the blood of Christ as a type, together with the fact Christ when attacked did not resist and fight, implies that this first war and fighting was all on one side; and subsequently we learn that the sin and condemnation was all on the same side. The sinews of war is its power to crush, and these sinews are furnished by the rich, the capitalists take the loans and so enable war to act itself out; and hence God charges upon such, among other crimes, that of killing the just and “he doth not resist you.” Here again the just is killed and “does not resist,” James 5:6.

Jesus said: “If my kingdom was of this world then would my servants (the Saints) fight, but now is not from hence.” (John 18:36) Therefore, they will not fight to defend it nor their king. Now here is a very pertinent question: If the Saints are not permitted to fight to defend the kingdom of God, to defend their king, their own Shepherd and Savior, are they permitted to fight in defense of other lords and other kingdoms? That is, if the Savior has by His own example in not fighting when attacked, and by precept forbid it to His servants directly, has He indirectly taught, or left a loophole for them to slip through the inhibition and “fight?” There can be no doubt that Jesus Christ was a non-resistant, and when His teachings become the rule of nations war will have ceased. All concede this. Now, who is a Saint? Is he not one who adopts the precepts and has the Spirit of Christ? Certainly. Then if when the nations are converted they will not “fight” nor go to war, how can the Saints who are now converted do so? That is, can they fight without violating the precepts of the Savior, or is it a moral duty to go to war and fight? We decidedly think not.

But the law of the land requires, or may require, Saints as citizens to fight and we are not to break the law of the land to keep the law of God. See [Doctrine and Covenants 95:2A]. “…and that law of the land, which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom, in maintaining rights and privileges belongs to all mankind…” Such laws of the land God justifieth the Saints in befriending, and if such laws of the land could require us to go to war and fight, why did the Lord say in [verse 3D], “therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace”? Can the Saints obey this commandment and yet fight?

Human governments, it is alleged, have a right to defend themselves and cannot discriminate among its citizens, and if Saints are citizens they are liable to be called upon to fight. The conscription law is a law of the land. etc. Now nations do discriminate among its citizens, as follows, over and under a certain age all are exempted citizens on the ground of physical disqualifications, the imbecile and insane for mental disqualification, and again a certain class whose conscience forbid them to fight are exempt for moral disqualification. A real Christian is one who obeys the teachings of Christ as he understands it, and this is his religion, for which he is accountable to no human authority, and this principle is distinctly asserted by the 15th Article of the Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Where Congress is forbidden to enact any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Now if I understand Jesus Christ to forbid going to war, or fighting, can I be forced to fight, and yet be left in that free exercise of my religion? Then here is the safety of the Saints who are averse to war. The authorities by their own supreme law are bound to discriminate in their favor. Moreover, God has promised to protect His own and one way of protection was the moving the framers of the Constitution to recognize the right of conscience. Hence, I can conceive of no constitutional law of the land compelling a disciple of Jesus Christ to fight where conscience tells him that Christ forbids it. Conscience is a creature of education and if we are taught to believe that fighting is, or may, be a part of the duties of the Saints, our convictions or conscience will correspond and of course no exemption can be claimed either from the powers that be or by the interposition of God. Hence, it would seem to be most essential that the Saints decide the question, whether or not they are to “fight” the battles of the Gentiles (for they are not required to fight the battles of Zion) and if they decide in their own conscience that war is no part of the duties of Saints, then the Lord God “maketh us free,” the law (of the land) also “maketh you free.”

This is the image of the subject reflected from our standpoint, but we confess it is not the patriot’s standpoint. The views of the first article on this subject was taken from this point. Patriotism is by no mean sentiment or emotion, but it is a political virtue, not a moral one. It is the amplification or estimation of self-love, or to borrow a phrase, it is “our best selfishness.” It is bounded by rivers, mountains, and latitudes. The Gospel ignores all this and he that possesses the spirit of the gospel is a cosmopolite, the world is his country and the human race his countrymen. Patriotism is one thing in one locality and an opposite thing in another. British patriotism tramples under foot Irish patriotism; Russian patriotism crushes out Polish patriotism. Patriotism, in short, is on both sides of every question and every struggle, it is the inspiration of all wars, it furnished the last motive for the crucifixion of the Son of God. Says the Jewish patriot: “If we let Him alone all men will believe on Him, and the Romans will take away our place and nation.” Again, “It is better that one should die, than the nation (our nation) perish not.” Patriotism as a ruling sentiment flatly contradicts the gospel, for it teaches to love our own, and despise others. Hence, patriotic duties may or may not agree with moral duties.

The kingdoms of the world are to be broken in pieces by the stone that represent the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is composed of Saints in all lands. Does God require them to fight for the perpetuity and integrity of those nationalities that he has determined to “make a full end of”? Patriotism may require it, but God cannot. But has not a a nation as well as an individual a right to repel invasion or to defend itself? We answer “undoubtedly”, the same right that a bear has to defend himself and this right is derived from the same law of nature — self-preservation, but not from the gospel. The natural man is not subject to the law of God, the gospel, any more than the bear, neither indeed can he be, the law of nature is for the stronger to rule the weaker; hence the law of nations give belligerent rights, that is, a right to attack as well as defend, whereas the gospel gives neither; hence the only perfect teacher of the gospel says: “If they smite you on one cheek, turn thou the other,” but the law of nations — the natural man — and patriotism, as well as the wolf and the bear, says “Smite them back!” Peter smote the servant’s ear off, but patriotism would have made it heroism had Peter smitten his head off. Jesus rebuked this attempt at defense and healed the wound. Jesus says, “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.”

The infidel objects to the religion of Christ on the ground that God could not or would not constitute a world upon one plan and a religion for it upon another, which (say they): “with regard to Christianity is apparently the case. The love of power, riches, honor, and fame, are the great incitements to generous and magnanimous actions and yet by this institution are all these depreciated and discouraged. Governments are essential to the nature of man, and cannot be managed without certain degrees of violence, corruption, and imposition, yet are all these strictly forbidden. Nations cannot subsist without wars, nor war be carried on without rapine, desolation, and murder, yet are all these prohibited under the severest threats. The non-resistance of evil must subject individuals to continual oppression and leave nations a defenseless prey to their enemies, yet is this recommended. Perpetual patience under insults and injuries must every day provoke new insults and injuries; yet is this enjoined. A neglect of all we eat and drink and wear must put an end to all commerce and manufactures and industry, yet is this required? In short, if these precepts were universally obeyed, the disposition of all human affairs must be entirely changed, and the business of the world constituted as it now is could not go on.”

Apart from some of the consequences as summed upon its adoption, we must confess that here is a better appreciation of what the gospel really teaches and forbids, than is to be found among a very large class of professed believers and advocates of the gospel of Christ. The infidels, or the children of this world, understand that the religion of Christ forbids war and all violence. While the children of the kingdom are discussing whether or not the “Saints shall fight.”

If Saints are compelled by the government of this country to fight against their conscience and in violation of the reserved right in the constitution, it may be regarded as a punishment from God, at the same time it is tyranny on the part of Caesar, but can never be a moral duty, nor required by the gospel. The attempt to reconcile the kingdom of God and the requirements of the gospel, with the kingdoms of the world and the requirements of men may be patriotic, but it is “enmity to God,” James 4:4, again we are distinctly told to “be not conformed to this world.” Romans 12:2. Jesus Christ could not preach and practice the principles of the gospel without incurring the hate of Caesar and Caesar’s friends, and he has distinctly informed us that we can do no better in this respect than himself. “They have hated me and they will hate you.” Why did the world hate Jesus? Because He would not “be conformed” to the principles that governed the world; hence it was easy to prophesy that “whoever would live godly in Christ Jesus, should suffer persecution.”

The ancient Saints who had been with Jesus found it necessary to answer certain requisitions upon them as follows: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to harken unto you more than God judge ye.” And when they had prayed for an increase of power from God to act precisely opposite to the commandments of the rulers “the place was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” — they appealed to the higher law. Mr. Lock defines conscience to be “our own judgment of the moral rectitude, or turpitude, of our own actions,” and it is a maxim of every law, human and Divine, that a “man ought never to act in opposition to his conscience,” and if our judgment, or conscience, is formed by the world of God, we think the Saints will not be, either morally or lawfully, required to fight.

The reconcilability of the gospel and the world as it is, is very palpably asserted in the following scriptures:

John 15:19

John 8:23

Romans 12:2

Corinthians 2:6

James 4:4

Please read these scriptures, and let us strive together for the faith of the Son of God which was once delivered to the Saints whom the ancient prophets characterize as a “peaceful multitude”