"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.42-44
June 1945

II. The Christian's Relation To The Sword

T. B. Wilkinson

The Scriptures teach that the carnal sword belongs to civil government, and Christians as citizens are required to use it for all God ordained purposes, including carnal war. The Scriptures include the Old and New Testament. The scriptures teach by command, precept, example, or logical inference, in one or more than one of these ways. The "sword" does not mean a literal sword, necessarily, but any force that may be used to enforce law, or to execute punishment for the violation of law, including fines, imprisonment, or executions, under the law. Civil government means the governments of this world, the governments under the dominion of men as distinguished from the kingdom of Christ in the passage where He says, My kingdom is not of this world. It is government the Lord ordained for man, but gave man dominion in the same. One is a citizen whether a born citizen or a naturalized citizen, who has a right to expect all the benefits of a citizen, and relies upon them. They are required to use the sword for all God-ordained purposes, and this places the use of it under the supervision of the civil government. Not that all have the same functions in government, or all must act in the same capacity, but all are required to do so on the call of the government. Carnal war is the kind the Lord ordained and which the apostle defined as executing wrath upon evildoers, and which are for the good of the righteous. This would not include wars of aggression since the Lord does not ordain wars of that kind. The sword does not belong to the individual citizen but to the state, therefore the citizen is authorized to use it only at the command of the civil government. It is the duty of the state to enforce law and preserve the peace, and it can only do this through the help of its citizens. The citizen is as much a part of the state as the Governor, or any ruler, and it is their duty, ordained of God, to serve in whatever legal capacity they are called, and Christians who are citizens are subject to all duties legally belonging to the State.

A Christian citizen is required to use the sword for all God ordained purposes. He is required to use it in the same sense that he is required to pay taxes. This will not require him to volunteer for military service any more than he volunteers to pay his taxes. The taxes are assessed by the state, and they owe them to the state, and pay them as an obligation they owe to government. It is a citizenship obligation, and men do not pay them as a matter of choice, but of debt, or duty.

This will not require every man to bear arms in the military sense, regardless of need, or fitness for that line of service. But it is not a matter to be determined by each individual citizen, it is a matter for the government to determine, and more so in great national crisis like the war we are now fighting. One might have scruples about paying taxes for war purposes, or taxes that might be used to buy arms for soldiers, and send them to fields of battle, or taxes that might be wasted by corrupt officials in riotous living. He objects to furnishing money for such evil purposes. If I were a conscientious objector I would refuse to pay taxes to be used by the government for war purposes, and would as willingly go to prison on that score as I would on that of bearing arms.

But we are told that Jesus said pay taxes. Jesus said nothing of the kind. He paid taxes to the Roman government, and told his disciples to render unto Caesar (civil government) the things which belong to it. The things which belong to civil government includes much more than taxes, they include the sword, which they all agree does belong to it. They agree that the sword belongs to civil government by God's ordinance, and if it does then these words of Jesus require the Christian to render it as well as to pay taxes.

Each citizen is a component part of the great body which makes up the state, and there are many lines of service necessary to its operation. No citizen is required to serve in all of them, but in the one where his service is most valuable. The armed service is just one line of service and comparatively few citizens are needed in armed forces except in time of war, and comparatively few then.

Government is divided into three branches, the legislative which makes the laws; the judicial, which judges them; and the executive, which executes them. One branch of government is just as responsible for the kind of laws we have, and the manner of their enforcement, as the other. The common citizen who has given no direct aid to either branch, but who accepts the benefits of them, and who aids them by moral support, by paying taxes to support them, by voting for them, or for men to enforce them, is equally responsible with those who execute them.

In a democracy the government is responsible to the people, and they can make it what they want their government to be. The government is not made up of officials only, but of the whole people, and the officials are merely the men the people have selected to carry out the things they want done. Some people look upon government as something over the people, something above them, but that is not true in the kind of government the Lord ordained. When we say God gave man dominion in civil government we do not mean just one man, but man in the generic, and that government comes closest to what God ordained which is closest to the will of the people, and in which the people as a whole have a voice.

The purpose of the sword as God gave it to civil government is to preserve the peace, and the punishment of evildoers is authorized only because it is necessary to that end. Orderly government is necessary to peace because it regulates the conduct of men towards each other by formulating rules of conduct which we call civil laws, and by providing penalties for those who violate them. Civilization is not possible in the absence of civil government. We know this is true from the fact that regardless of how many people live in a given place, where they have no government, they have no civilization, but are savages instead. In all human experience it has been found that the first essential step toward civilizing savages is to bring about the formation of some kind of civil government, and until this is done; all efforts to teach them civilized ways are wasted. Even the gospel is taught them in vain, gospel seed is wasted when planted in such soil.

The carnal sword belongs to civil government. Perhaps no one disposed to deny this fact since it is so universally recognized, but I want to call attention to one or two passages any way. John 18:36: Jesus was before Pilate who had questioned him. He answered, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered unto the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from hence."

Jesus' kingdom is here contrasted with the kingdoms of the world with reference to the carnal sword. If his kingdom had been an earthly one then his servants would have fought with the sword for their king. He recognizes that it would have been their duty to do so, and he said they would have done it. The carnal sword as I have defined it is the power by which earthly governments are upheld, and the Lord ordained the use to which it was assigned, to execute wrath upon evildoers, and for the good of the righteous by maintaining peace. The sword which God gave was not to create violence, nor to break the peace, but to restrain violence, and keep the peace, by punishing those who break it.

Christians as citizens are a part of the civil government, and are commanded by the Lord, and by the apostles, to render unto it the duties which belong to it. Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, is enough to settle that point forever. But Paul speaking with direct reference to civil government said, Render therefore to all their dues, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Likewise Peter said, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men."

The ordinances of men are the laws of men, civil laws, or the laws of civil government. Peter said submit to them, and that this is the will of God that Christians submit to them, which means obey them, and that by so doing they will put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Relations between nations are regulated by international law, and many of them are what we call unwritten law. But they are well established, and well understood, and because they bind all nations equally, all are bound to obey them. Treaties between nations are laws as between the nations who are parties to the treaties and they also are international law. International law requires each nation to regulate its own affairs under such laws as their people want, collect taxes and revenues from their own subjects, and execute its own laws with its own sword as it pleases them, and this binds them to not meddle in the affairs of other nations, but to conduct their acts toward others in accord with international law. For the peace of the world it is just as necessary for nations to obey international law as it is for citizens of each state to obey their own civil laws, and a violation of international law by one nation against another is considered a breach of the peace, and attack upon the sovereignty of the other nation, and when flagrant and unprovoked, is considered a cause for war. Peace loving nations always try to settle international disputes without resort to arms, and only resort to arms when all other means have failed. This is as it should be in all cases, national, or international, and only hardened criminals reject it.

But we have criminal nations which provoke wars, and make wars of aggression against peace loving nations. This is a use of the sword the Lord has always condemned, and it would certainly not be correct to say that the Lord ordained that use of the sword. Such wars then become an evil which makes them an object of the sword which the Lord did ordain. The Lord did give each nation a sword to use in cases of this kind, and this use of the sword is war, the only way it can be used. If the Lord ordained this sword he ordained men to use it, and the means to make that sword effect the purpose the Lord had in view, to execute wrath upon evildoers. A failure then to use the sword for this purpose will render the ordinance of God ineffective, and will be rebellion against the ordinance of God, and when man resists the ordinances of God, he is resisting God, and will receive condemnation.

The God-ordained use of the sword is its use under government supervision, and for the purposes God ordained. In the case of unprovoked attack like the one on Pearl Harbor, and the act of Germany in declaring war upon us, and by waging war against our people, and government, all other remedies have failed, and nothing is left our government but a resort to arms. This means the use of the sword God gave us, by the government, through its citizens, for the purpose God ordained when he gave us the sword.

The only way the government can use the sword God gave it is through its citizens. Therefore God ordained for the citizens of civil government to use the sword for all God-ordained purposes. The Christian is a citizen of civil government, and is required by the language of Jesus to render unto civil government the things which belongs to it. No doubt there have been many wars in which both sides in it were evil, and it was merely a matter of dog eat dog, or which side should gain the power, and property, of the other. No man can be justified in fighting in a war of that kind, Christian or otherwise, for no government has a God ordained right to wage a war of that kind. It is not the use of the sword God ordained when he gave it to civil government, therefore it is an unlawful use of it, and those who so use it are outlaws, and criminals. Therefore, it is evident that a Christian cannot fight in such wars, it would make them outlaws and criminals.

The gospel not only does not exempt Christians from civil duties which he owes to the state, but specifically commands him to render them, and to obey the rulers of his country from the king supreme down to the lowest magistrate. If the gospel intended to exempt the Christian from one civil duty, but not from others, then it would have to do so by special legislation, by specific command.

It has been argued that the command, Thou shalt not kill, is such a specific command. But this is not a specific command which applies to Christians only, it applies to all men, and is a general command which all men are required to obey.

It is the unlawful use of the sword that is prohibited in that command, the taking of human life unlawfully. That it does not apply to lawful executions under the law is proven by the fact that the Lord ordained such killings, and made it the duty of civil authorities to execute them. Under the law of Moses we find numbers of offenses for which the Lord provided the death sentence, and required his ministers to execute them. We know it is also true under the gospel, and Paul specifically informs us God ordained a sword for civil authorities, and the use of the sword implies executions.

In not a single instance can we find where Christians are held to be exempt from any duty which rightfully devolves upon citizens. On the other hand we find plenty of passages which require them to render those duties, and to obey them which have the rule, and to be subject to the powers that be. If the sword belongs to civil government as an ordinance of the Lord, and Christians are required to render unto them the things which belong to them, they are required to use the sword when it comes in the line of duty. Let him who can show wherein my conclusions are wrong.