General Objections Answered
Objection 1: Impracticable till the millennium
Objection. Your doctrine may be true in its principles, and in its ultimate requirements; but it must be impracticable till the millennium. Then, when the whole human race shall have become regenerate, its sublime morality will be the spontaneous development of all hearts. Under existing circumstances, while there is so much depravity, and such multitudes of men are restlessly bent on aggression, it is obviously impracticable. The wicked would shortly exterminate the righteous, were the latter to act on non-resistant principles.
Answer. I affirm the exact contrary: viz. that the righteous would exterminate the wicked, in the best sense of the word, were they to act on strict non-resistant principles. They would immediately usher in the millennium, with all its blessings, were they to act on these principles in true and persevering fidelity. How else is it imaginable that any such state as the millennium should ever be developed among mankind? Is it to come arbitrarily and mechanically? Is it to come "with observation," the full grown production of some absolute miracle? Is not the kingdom of heaven "within" and "among" men, and thence, like leaven hid in three measures of meal, destined to ferment and rectify the whole mass? Ought not each true Christian's heart to be a germ of the millennium, and each Christian community a proximate miniature of it? If not, what is the evidence that men have been born again - that there is any such thing as regeneration? If professing to be disciples of Christ, they are unable, even by divine grace, to practice the precepts of their Lord and Master, merely because the unregenerate around them are so wicked; what is their religion, their profession, their regeneration worth?
The objection before us involves such extreme incongruities, that it can be entertained only for a moment. Let us examine it.
1. It presupposes that Jesus Christ enjoined on his disciples, duties for the whole period preceding the millennium, which he knew they could not perform until the arrival of the latter period, and yet gave them no intimation of that fact.
2. It presupposes that Jesus enjoined many particular duties for which there will be no possible occasion in the millennium, and which therefore can never be fulfilled.
3. It presupposes that the principles, dispositions and moral obligations of men in the millennium, will be essentially different from what the New Testament requires them to be now.
Is there any doubt in respect to these three statements? It is certain that Jesus apparently inculcates his non-resistant precepts as now binding and practicable, and that he gives no intimation of their impracticability till some remote future period. Was this design, chance or mistake! In either case it derogates from the honor of the Redeemer. It is not to be presumed.
It is equally certain, on the objector's theory, that Christ enjoined particular duties for which there can be no possible occasion in the millennium. In the millennium there will be no occasion to put in practice the precept "Resist not evil," for there will be no evil-doers to forbear with. In that day there will be no occasion for a man, when smitten on one cheek, to turn the other; when distrained of his coat, to give up his cloak; when persecuted and reviled, to bless; when trespassed upon, to forgive; and no occasion to love his enemy, do good to his hater, or pray for his injurer. For there will be none to harm or destroy in all God's holy mountain. There can be no occasion for non-resistance where there is no aggression, injury, or insult. So that the objector virtually makes the Son of God appear in the highest degree ludicrous and absurd. He makes him say, "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," in the millennium, when there will be none. And if any man smite thee on thy right cheek - in the millennium, when all shall be love and kindness - turn unto him the other also. And whosoever will sue thee at the law - in the millennium, when the law of love shall be universally obeyed - and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. Love your enemies - in the millennium, when you have no enemies. Bless them which curse you, when there are none to curse; do good to them that hate you, when all love you; forgive offenses till seventy times seven, when offence shall be unknown; feed your foes, when all are friends; and overcome evil with good, when no evil remains!
These are sublime virtues which you are to practice, not now, when there are so many occasions for them, and when they might exert such a powerful influence in favor of my religion as contrasted with the spirit of this world - not now; for they are impracticable; the unbelieving world is too wicked for such an exemplification of righteousness; but in the millennium, then practice them, when you find no occasion for them, and when it will be absolutely impossible to fulfill them for want of an opportunity. "For then all shall know and serve the Lord, from the least unto the greatest." Is the great Teacher to be thus understood? Who will presume to say it?
Objection 2: Extremely difficult if not impossible
Objection. The practice of non-resistance, if not impossible for the great majority of Christians, is certainly extremely difficult, even for the most advanced. It seems like overstraining duty. It is urging on men so much more than they feel able to perform, that multitudes will faint under the burden, and abandon Christianity altogether, as a system wholly beyond their reach. It is unwise to require what must discourage so many thousands from attempting anything at all, as avowed disciples of Christ.
Answer. Who is to be the judge of what is possible - God, or man? Who is to judge what and how much shall be required - Jesus Christ, or his disciples? Are we to set at nought a duty because it seems to us difficult of performance? Are we to doubt that God's grace is sufficient for the weakest of his trusting children, to enable them to perform any duty HE may lay upon them? Are we to accommodate divine truth and duty to the convenience of our fellow men, in order to multiply superficial disciples? Are we to pare down and fritter away the requirements of our heavenly Father, for fear of discouraging and driving off half-hearted professors? Who is it that presumes to daub with such untempered mortar? He must be a most dangerous latitudinarian. Is this the way in which Christ and his apostles built up the Church amid the violence of a contemptuous and persecuting world? Would it be any great misfortune to Christianity, if nine-tenths of its present worldly-minded professors, convinced of the truth of the non-resistance doctrine, should honestly declare to the world, "Since this is Christianity, we cannot consistently profess to adhere to it, as its cross is greater than we are willing to bear"? Would not the world at that moment be nearer its conversion than now?
But why need we hold this language? God reigns and not man. He declares the law of perfect rectitude through his Son. That Son is the head of every man - the Lord and Master of all true disciples. He has enjoined the practice of non-resistance on his professed followers as their indispensable duty. He has promised to be with and aid them to the end of the world. If so, let us say at once, whether we believe in Christ or not. Whether we will endeavor to follow him and keep his sayings, or not. Whether we will try to do our duty, confiding in the proffered strength of Heaven, or not. If we will be Christians, let us try with all our might to do our duty, and see how far we shall be left to fall short. Let men earnestly try to carry out Christian non-resistance, with this full purpose of heart, and though they may experience the pain of the cross sometimes, they will soon rejoice in a crown of triumph. It is difficult always to do right in this, as it is in respect to other departments of duty; and no more so. There is no virtue which does not involve some painful and almost overwhelming trials. If we were to cast off all obligations that ever required the hazard of mortal life, we should reject every single commandment of the living God. For there is not one that has not had its martyrs - and also its apostates under great temptation. But to the faithful how blessed is even death itself - if duty obliges the sacrifice? And to the obedient, the willingly cross-bearing, how true is it, that Christ's "yoke is easy, and his burden light." It is only for us to resolve that we will TRY. All things are then found possible, which are right.
And what is there so discouraging to the humble and upright soul? Did not Jesus live and die the glorious exemplar of his own non-resistant precepts? Did not his apostles? Did not the primitive Christians for more than two centuries? Have I not brought up a host of witnesses, practically illustrating that under the most adverse circumstances it was generally even safer to carry out non-resistance principles than their opposite? Behold robbers looked out of countenance, and actually converted; ferocious banditti rendered harmless; wild savages inspired with permanent kindness; and all manner of evil overcome with good! Am I to be asked after all this, "What would you do if a robber should attack you? If an assassin should threaten your life? If a mob should break forth upon you? If a tribe of savages should beset your dwelling? If a foreign army should come against your land? If lawless soldiers should deal death and rapine about your neighborhood?" What would I do? If I did right - if I acted the Christian part - the wise and noble part, I should adhere to my non-resistance principles, and ten to one experience the most signal deliverances, and achieve the most glorious of all victories, in the conquest of my own passions and those of my assailants!
But the extreme hollowness of the objection before us becomes at once obvious, when I turn the tables, and demand whether the practice of injurious resistance offers immunity from extreme trial, danger, hardship and suffering? How happens it that human beings enough to people from eighteen to forty such globes as ours, have perished in war? How happens it that blood enough has been shed by the sword to fill a harbor that would embosom at quiet anchor the combined navies of the world? Do these tremendous facts indicate that resistance is sustained without hardships, distresses and mortal agony?
Suppose all the courage and endurance displayed on this horrible occasion could be brought into the service of peace and non-resistance! Should we hear any more of the extreme difficulty, if not impossibility, of carrying out the doctrine? Suppose these soldiers to have been devoted Christian non-resistants, scattered over the whole earth; and suppose them exposed to all the robberies, assaults and batteries, abuses, injuries and insults by any means likely to fall to their lot; and then, let our objector tell us how much harder their service would be, in the army of the Prince of Peace, than that of the Prince of murderers! The truth is, men can endure almost any thing they choose. What they have endured, as the servants of sin, is a proof of what they are capable of enduring for righteousness' sake. The latter service requires not a thousandth part of the physical and mental suffering of the former. How flimsy then is the objection we are considering! Let it never be repeated by any man calling himself a Christian. A true heart, a sound principle of action, and a conscientious will, can never find Christian non-resistance either an unattainable or an unsupportable virtue.
Objection 3: More difficult in small than large matters
Objection. The practice of non-resistance is more difficult in small than large matters. It is not in abstaining from war and battle, or in enduring great and notorious injuries with forbearance, that non-resistance imposes the heaviest burdens. Men gather strength in such cases from the consciousness of public admiration and sympathy, and even from the magnitude of the conflict and the consequent glory of a triumph. Extraordinary events and occasions inspire an extraordinary enthusiasm, power and firmness of purpose. But in everyday life, where people pass through a thousand trials, consuming to the vital spirits of their being, unnoticed, unsympathized with, unpitied and uncared for, it if, by no means so easy to endure the mean, vexatious aggressions, wrongs and insults of petty injurers. But your doctrine obliges the abused wife of a brutal husband, and the insulted and smitten victim of insolent scoundrelism, to refrain from defensive violence, and even from prosecutions at law, at least under the existing type of human government. It does not appear that you would allow even a mob to be repelled with military force, or so much as a demand to be made on the government for the protection of one's property, family or life. It is this extreme and intolerable nicety of your doctrine to which I object, as much as to any thing about it.
Answer. There is truth in the assertion that a practical exemplification of non-resistance in the small matters of everyday life is more difficult than in great matters on extraordinary occasions. And is not this true of all the great virtues enjoined in Law or Gospel? It may be easier to eschew idolatry, adultery, fornication, murder, robbery, theft, falsehood, covetousness, &c., in the open gaze of public scrutiny and public opinion, even under the mightiest temptation, than in private unobserved life. It may be easier to suffer the martyrdom of death before a gaping and amazed, perhaps admiring multitude, than the petty martyrdom of a taunt, a kick, a cuff, or a wrung nose, of which the multitude know nothing, and for which they might care as little. Be it so. Does this change principle, or abrogate duty? What is right? What ought we all to do in small as well as large matters?
These are the questions to settle. Not what may chance to be most convenient, or easy, or comfortable, or self-indulgent under momentary temptations. We have already settled them, so far as respects the duty never to resist injury with. injury. Is indulgence asked for the commission of daily violations of this duty, or occasional violations of it in what are called small matters? Go demand indulgence to commit violations of the ten commandments in small matters. Plead how difficult it is in everyday life not to lie a little, deceive a little, defraud a little, extort a little, hate your neighbor a little, steal a little, be murderous a little, idolatrous a little, and lascivious a little. Get your indulgence from heaven for all this, and then doubtless an indulgence will not be withheld to resist injury with injury a little, and to render evil for evil a little, in ordinary matters. Till then, the law and standard of righteousness must not be relaxed to suit human convenience. Duty must be insisted on without abatement, and whoever exhibits weakness, imperfection, frailty, sin, must bear the shame and condemnation.
It is in these small matters that every virtue suffers its greatest betrayals. A continual dropping wears the hardest stone. A continual unscrupulousness in little things undermines all moral principle. The ocean is made up of drops. Righteousness is an aggregate of the littles of life. He that is faithless habitually in small matters is not to be depended on in great matters. He may, or may not do right. A principal reason why public institutions, laws and measures are so repugnant to justice and humanity, is that the individual consciences of the people, in the small matters of ordinary life, are habitually unscrupulous. If, then, non-resistance is to be insisted on at all, as a duty, it is to be insisted on in small matters as well as large.
And after all that may be said of the difficulty of practicing it, we know that it has been and can be practiced. Nothing is wanting but the will to try.
Can we turn around and gaze on the battlefield, the hospital of mangled mortality, the gaudy military parade, the pomp of blood-stained chieftains; or into the more ordinary affairs of life, on the scuffles, retaliations, resentments, duels, litigations and endless quarrels of a world infatuated with resisting violence - can we look on these things without heart-sickness and disgust? How base, despicable and abhorrent are they all, compared with the spiritual heroism, the moral bravery, the glorious self-sacrifice, the life-preserving, heart-reforming, soul-redeeming works of genuine Christianity! "O, my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united."
And shall those who ought to be "the light of the world" and "the salt of the earth," dishonor their high calling, and defile their garments, by engaging in the conflicts of human ambition, violence and revenge? Shall they lust after the dainties of cannibalism, admire the splendors of martial idolatry, and delight themselves in the acts of mortal cruelty! If risen with Christ, ought they not to seek the things of Christ, inhale the perfumes of his Spirit, follow in his footsteps, and make it their supreme satisfaction to do the will of the Father? Is it for them to fly from the dangers of Gethsemane, to look with despair from afar on the non-resistant cross, and to make themselves one with a mutually defiant and destructive world? Shall they see lions in the way, and fear to go forth? Shall they stand shivering like the sluggard, because it is cold, and so neglect to plow? Does it become them to complain that the duties of love are hard, that non-resistance is impracticable, impossible, or extremely difficult; when its principle is so godlike, its spirit so heavenly, its exemplification so beautiful, its fruits so refreshing, and its achievements so glorious! What if it demand a strict discipline; what if it require some severe exertions; what if it impose some manly endurance; what if it offer an opportunity to perform some exploits of moral heroism; shall it therefore be unattractive to great souls? Nay, rather let it seem the more worthy of a holy and generous enthusiasm. Let its calls for volunteers appeal more thrillingly to a noble ambition - an ambition to be and do something worthy of our divine Parentage - worthy of the Love that has purchased our redemption with the tears and groans and blood of the cross - worthy of immortality - worthy of living and dying for, to save one life, to recover one lost brother, to make one heart holy and happy - or even to qualify ourselves by self-denial for the indwelling Spirit of the Highest - is infinitely more worthy of a whole life's cares and vigils, than all the wealth, pomp and splendor which the world's favorite destroyers ever acquired by the sword. "God forbid that we should glory in any thing save the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."