from The Practical Christian, August 3, 1844
Q. Whence the term Non-resistance?
A. From the precept, “Resist not evil,” Matt. 5:39.
Q. How is the term used?
A. To distinguish the sublime Christian virtue enjoined in the above precept, and the general cause of those who are engaged in urging its importance on the public attention. Such are called Non-resistants.
Q. Is the term Non-resistance to be taken in its most absolute sense, as implying no resistance of evil?
A. No. It must be understood in the precise sense of our Savior’s injunction, “Resist not evil”; i.e. resist not injury with injury. Evil must be resisted by every and all righteous means, but never with evil.
Q. How does it appear that Christ meant to be understood — resist not injury with injury?
A. From the context. He says — “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.”
Q. To whom does he refer in the expression “it hath been said”?
A. To the Patriarchs and prophets whose sayings are contained in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, commonly cited by the Jews as “the law and prophets.” (He declared he had not come “to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill.” That is, he had not come to subvert the essential divine righteousness inculcated in the Old Testament Scriptures, but to promote its perfect fulfillment in spirit and in truth. To effect this, he separated the wheat from the chaff, the divine from the human — the absolute requirements of God from the defective legislation of man intended to enforce those requirements. He aims at the great end by other means. Under their limited inspiration human wisdom found room for its own expedients. They sought the true end, but not by infallible means. He received the Spirit without measure and, correcting their defects, sought the same end by infallible means. His was the unalloyed wisdom of God. Theirs was an admixture of the divine and human. The divine wisdom was sufficient in them to reveal the great end, the essential righteousness to be aimed at, but not sufficient to preserve them from human fallibility as to the best means of attaining that end. Hence the necessity for Christ, and that more glorious Testament of which he is the Mediator. If Noah, Moses, and the prophets had been infallible, there had been no occasion for Christ, and if the first covenant had been faultless, there had been no occasion for the second. It was the glory of the former to predict, foreshadow, and prepare for the latter. And it is the glory of the latter to do away all the defects without impairing, by one jot or tittle, the essential divine excellence of the former.)
Q. To what sayings in particular does Christ refer?
A. To that class in which Noah, Moses, and the prophets authorize the infliction of personal injury on injurers, to punish and suppress evil doing.
Q. Will you quote some of them?
A. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Gen. 9:6. “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall surely be 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.” Exodus 21:12, 23-25. “He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death … And if any man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath caused a blemish in a man so shall it be done to him. Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Levit. 21:17, 19, 20. “And 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. 19: 18-21. These are the sayings referred to by Jesus. (They who murdered, or maimed, or tortured their fellow men did evil. To resist and suppress such evil, the evil doer should be punished with death, or maiming, or some kind of personal torment. Injury should be opposed with injury, murder with murder, torture with torture, evil with evil. So taught Noah, Moses, and the prophets. But Christ negatives all this — I say unto you “Resist not evil,” resist not injury with injury, but rather suffer repeated injury from the evil doer. What had been allowed was forbidden, what they had authorized he prohibited, what they had said he unsaid. By understanding what kind of resistance they taught, we know precisely what non-resistance he teaches; for the latter revokes the former, neither more nor less.)
Q. Did the ancients allow both individual and judicial resistance of injury with injury?
A. Yes; and Jesus prohibits both. A Christian has not authority to take life, or inflict injury on injurious fellow man in any case whatsoever.
Q. Could he not kill or maim another in self-defense?
Q. Could he not enter a complaint before a magistrate with a view to get his injurer punished?
A. No; for what he does through others he virtually does himself.
Q. Can he not fight in the army or navy of his country against foreign enemies, or against domestic insurrectionists?
A. Certainly not. He can take no part in war or military tactics. He cannot use deadly weapons. He cannot resist injury with injury, alone or in company, by himself or by others.
Q. Then how can he vote for, or appoint, or voluntarily assist the officers of any government, whose constitution obliges the infliction of personal injury by death or otherwise?
A. He cannot consistently do any of these things.
Q. Can he voluntarily contribute money to support a government sustained by military force, capital punishment, or the infliction of personal injuries?
A. No; unless the money were to go for some specific object in itself right, where both the end and the means were benevolent.
Q. Could he pay taxes to such a government?
A. Yes; he ought to do this non-resistingly. The tax is laid and levied by act of government, and demanded without regard to the will of individuals. It cannot be resisted without a final resort to injurious force. This the Christian cannot use; therefore he should submit his property at once to the forceful exaction of the powers that be.
Q. Then why not vote?
A. Voting is an act of government — and assumes all the responsibility of injurious compulsion. Tax paying is submission to compulsion assumed by others. Therefore tax-paying is non-resistance, and voting is the assumption of a power to aggress and resist by deadly force.
Q. Can there not be a government based on Christian principle, which should repudiate all injurious force?
A. Undoubtedly there can be, as soon as individuals combine to institute one. It is only for men to organize society on Christian principles. Then the divine law as expounded by Christ would become their fundamental law — to which all minor regulations must conform, or be declared unconstitutional.
Q. Could such a government use physical force in any case to restrain offenders?
A. It could use any uninjurious physical force, dictated by wisdom. It could confine persons, absolutely dangerous to be at large, in moral hospitals, under keepers capable of restraining them for their good, where they would be surrounded by all the influences necessary to keep them from mischief, and if possible reform them.
Q. Then why cannot individual non-resistants do the same in respect to insane and furious persons in their families and neighborhoods?
A. They can. If it would be right for fifty or fifty thousand of them to use uninjurious physical forces in certain cases, it would be right for a single individual to act on the same principle.
Q. Then Christ does not forbid moral resistance of evil, nor even uninjurious physical resistance of evil, but only resistance of evil with evil — injury with injury?
A. Doubtless his doctrine must be so understood.
Q. What is there then so absurd and unreasonable in the doctrine?
A. Sure enough, what is there? It is one of the most consistent and reasonable doctrines ever taught to mankind. It forbids them to resist evil by doing what will perpetuate and aggravate evil, in order that they may effectually remove the very root of it both from their own and their neighbor’s bosom. (He who aggressively injures another fosters hatred, the root of all evil. To injure another because he had injured us, under pretense of suppressing evil, is to repeat the mischief both on him and ourselves: it is to reproduce, or at least nourish, the very same demon we affect to cast out. Satan cannot cast out Satan, nor wrong expurgate wrong, nor evil overcome evil. Therefore true non-resistance is the only effectual resistance of evil. It bruises the serpent’s head. It kills out and puts an end to the injurious disposition.)
Q. The theory is unexceptionable, but is it practicable?
A. It is as practicable as any other absolute virtue enjoined in the law of God. Neither this nor any other can be faithfully adhered to under all circumstances, without self-denial, privation, suffering, and in extreme cases loss of life itself. But he who holds this mortal life dearer than duty is already dead to the only life worth possessing. Such an one, in seeking to save his life, loses it. The truth, however, is, that where non-resistance costs the sacrifice of one life, or of any one substantial good of life, its opposite costs thousands. Non-resistance preserves; Resistance destroys. It is incomparably safer to do right than wrong, to forbear than contend injuriously, even in respect to this present life.
Q. If all men were non-resistants, our world would indeed be a happy one. But while only a few act this part, what will become of them?
A. If there were only one, and all the rest should join to crucify him, would he not more gloriously die in the triumph of non-resistant love, praying for his enemies, than he could live wearing the crown of a Caesar, dripping with the blood of the slain? But whether one or one thousand in number, among civilized or savage fellow men, consistence non-resistants have less to fear from the hand of violence than those who trust to injurious forces. The robber, the assassin, the son of Belial, will be more likely to pass them over than they will armed resistants. They that take the sword perish with the sword; but they that seek peace by a friendly, uninjurious, forbearing, forgiving course of conduct, generally enjoy peace; or if they die, they die blessed. So if all were non-resistants, confessedly there would be none to harm or disturb. If the great majority were so, then they would administer a government of love and good will, even to the injurious — never resisting injury with injury — never using an injurious force. If a large majority were non-resistants, they would exert such an ameliorating moral influence on Society, that all extreme and cruel punishments would be discarded, and general peace made the policy of government. If in a small minority, demeaning themselves peaceably, they will seldom experience any thing worse than the contempt of the world; which, without being sensible of it, or grateful for it, will all the time be rendered wiser and better by their testimony. And if at the worst, any of them should be persecuted unto death, they will leave their principles effectually nourished by martyr blood, whilst in heaven their reward will be great. Peace be with them that seek peace, and all conquering love, the imperishable inheritance of every soul that bows willingly to the law of Christ, “resist not injury with injury.”