Project Canterbury

Duties of War Time

A Sermon preached in Grace Church New York, on the Sunday after the Breaking out of Hostilities between the United States and Spain April 24th, 1898.

By the Rector William R. Huntington, D.D.

[Printed by Request]

New York: Thomas Whittaker, [1898]

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; . . . a time of war, and a time of peace.--Eccles. iii. 1, 2, 8.

THERE are fourteen of these couplets in all. Killing and healing; breaking and building; weeping and laughing; getting and losing; loving and hating;--that is the way they run. Every one of the twice seven contrasts is suggestive; but for the purpose which I have in mind this morning, the first and last of them will suffice. Looking out through those keen gray eyes of his over the vast stretch of human life, with its endless counterchange of light and shade, its mysterious complexity, its shifting habit, and ceaseless law of vicissitude, Ecclesiastes, the preacher-king, begins by saying of the individual man that for him there is "a time to be born, and a time to die;" and ends by saying of society that for it there is "a time of war, and a time of peace."

It is in keeping with the general tenor of his book that the writer draws no inferences, lays down no special precepts; he does not pause to say which is the better, to be born or to die, to make war or to make [3/4] peace, he simply reports things as he sees them, affirms what he beholds, makes declaration that thus and so things are.

But the Christian minister cannot stop here; he has no right to do so. The responsibility laid on him is not merely the light and easy one of making observations, reflecting the movement of things as they pass before his eyes. No; he is charged with the duty of giving spiritual counsel; he must interpret events as they touch personal conduct, and must do his best, poor and inadequate though that best may be, so to guide the souls committed to his care that they may have a right judgment in all questions that can truthfully be called questions of conscience. Beyond the conscience-line, in the far-reaching territory, that is to say, of what is politic and expedient, the minister of religion has no jurisdiction whatever; but up to the conscience-line he is derelict to duty if he fail to go.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." A week ago when we were assembled in this church, worshipping God together, it was a time of peace; to-day it is a time of war. No good comes of blinking facts. Whatever we may think of the sufficiency or the insufficiency of the reasons alleged for making war, war is upon us whether we will or no. Suffer me, then, to speak to you this morning of the duties of Christian people in time of war.

I. The first and foremost of these duties is that we possess our souls in peace. Because there is war without, there need not necessarily be war within. Christ's [4/5] word to His disciples is that when they hear of wars, they are not to let themselves be troubled, since these things first come to pass. What He has in mind in using this particular phrase, "must first come to pass," is evidently the long and painful process through which man, under the hand of God, is being brought to perfectness. The commandment,

"Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die,"

is not an edict that can be executed instanter; it takes time; and of the tedious evolution war, so Christ tells us, is one unavoidable, cruelly necessary feature. From the point of view of the Christian believer, there are only two just and proper satisfactions to be had out of war: one of them is the development of heroism and fortitude in individual instances--an over-rated advantage, no doubt, but still an advantage; and the other is this fact upon which I have been dwelling, the fact that God is both on the throne and in the field, that the course of this world is, in a lofty and true sense, ordered by His governance, and that quite apart from the mixed motives which sway the wills of congresses and parliaments, cabinets and council-boards, He has a purpose of his own, a clear intention, an infallible plan of campaign the issue of which, when it comes, will be known and read of all men. Wars are seldom, if ever, understood by those who wage them. They are interpreted by the event. The fact that we Americans are a nation and have a country is, perhaps, quite as much due to victories won on European [5/6] battlefields in the earlier half of the eighteenth century, as it was in our own War of Independence waged when the century was near its end. But who foresaw this result? No one. The armies and the navies of the world have their marching and their sailing orders, which they obey as best they can; but high up above and out of sight sits the sovereign Commander of the whole earth, disposing all the forces, the "great Powers" included, according to a strategy wholly his own. We speak of "drifting into war," and so it seems sometimes; but we must remember that the currents upon which we drift are but part of the great ocean which He holds in the hollow of his hand, and has held ever since that far morning "when He gave to the waves his decree that the waters should not pass his commandment."

The petition of the English liturgy, "Give peace in our time," is not so selfish as it sounds. It does not mean, as to a careless ear it seems to mean, that if we can only have things kept quiet for us, so long as our own life lasts, it does not matter what may happen to the world a hundred years from now; it is not, that is. to say, a paraphrase of the cynical exclamation, "After us, the deluge;" rather is it the expression of the devout hope, the ardent longing, that even in our time may come the great, the final peace to which all the avenues of history have been leading up. Even in our time, O Lord, grant Thou the prayer of all the age and let earth, at last, be refreshed with the multitude of peace. You may call it an over-sanguine prayer but surely it is no unworthy one. Those with whom [6/7] it is a genuine heart's desire carry about with them the fair secret of tranquillity.

2. A second duty binding upon all good Christians in time of war is to be loyal to the government under which they live. In ordinary times we fall into such careless habits of thought and speech with reference to the persons of those who are in places of authority, that we run great risk in forgetting that the civil state is one of the ordinances of God, and that the duty which men owe to it has a tinge of sanctity. War, with its sudden and peremptory demands for service, wakes us out of this dreamy condition and compels us to see how tremendous are the responsibilities of official station, and how weighty that sword of which St. Paul says that the magistrate bears it "not in vain." There is a point, of course, at which individual disapproval of the decisions, acts, and requirements of the government under which one lives justifies the conscience in a revolt against authority. But this must be the last resort, and he who ventures it must do so knowing that he takes his life in his hand. Hampden would not have been Hampden had he known that to refuse to pay the tax was going to be a perfectly easy thing. Athanasius would not have been Athanasius had he taken his stand against the whole world unaware that his doing so meant banishment. Luther would not have been Luther had his defiance alike of civil and of ecclesiastical authority been a perfectly safe undertaking. These men knew perfectly well that the presumption was in favor of doing what law and usage required. They justified themselves in [7/8] standing out against these customary obligations be cause they held that God was on their side, and that, therefore, they need not fear what man might do to them; but they never for a moment imagined that they could follow such a course with impunity, and be held harmless in virtue of their having pleaded a conscientious difference of opinion. Loyalty is just as real a thing under free institutions like our own as it is in the atmosphere of thrones and courts. It does, indeed, take on a different form, and wear an altered look. The strictly personal element largely goes out of it. Did you ever notice the contrast between the tenor of the Church's intercession for the President of the United States as it stands in the Morning Prayer and as it occurs again in the Evening Prayer? In the morning petition there is a marked survival of the old note of loyalty to a person as a person. We pray as men have always prayed for kings and queens since monarchy began--"Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts, grant them in health and prosperity long to live, and finally, after this life, to attain ever lasting joy and felicity." That is the way men pray for those whom they personally love. But how different the tone in the Evening Prayer. Now the petition is that they, knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek God's honor and glory; and that we, and all the people, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honor them, in God and for God, according his blessed word and ordinance. The stress, you notice, is no longer on the person, but on the law [8/9] which the person represents. Loyalty has found another cry than that of "O King, live forever!" What it now demands is that everlasting righteousness shall have its dues. In a word, loyalty has ceased to be mainly a matter of affection and has become mainly a matter of principle. Never was the struggle between these two variant conceptions of loyalty more pathetic ally revealed than in the passionate and almost heart broken outcry with which a Spanish patriot, only the day before yesterday, replied in his own proper person to the speech from the throne. [SeƱor Romero Robledo in El Nacional, Madrid, April 22.] "Athwart this speech, madam," he says, "we see a mother bending down over a cradle, but we seek in vain for a queen bending over a tomb which opens to receive an ill-starred nation." How delicately phrased, and yet how strong, how irresistible the implication! The day has gone by, the speaker seems to say; for letting the vast interests of war and peace hinge upon the fortunes of a single mother and a single child. It is the nation's life which is at stake. To the law of that life, if perchance it be given us to spell it out what it is, to the law of that life our loyalty is due; no longer to a dynasty, or even to a throne.

In countries governed, as the English-speaking countries are, by the alternating domination of rival parties, it is not always easy, even for the best-intentioned, to determine just what loyalty demands of men. Certainly it does not demand that they shall think precisely alike upon all questions of principle and conduct, and never under any circumstances [9/10] speak against the things of which they do not approve.

"Her Majesty's government" does not seek to silence; it is content to overrule "her Majesty's opposition." Both government and opposition are "her Majesty's." Looking back to the times of the Revolution, we do not censure, we praise those members of the House of Commons who stood out for peace with the Americans; they were well within their parliamentary rights.

The only sure and safe ground to take in this whole matter is that law is law until it has been lawfully repealed, and that what loyalty requires of every man is respect for and obedience to the law as it stands. We may personally think it a time for peace; but if the nation, through its constituted authorities, declares it to be a time for war, a time for war it is, until we can persuade the nation that again the time for peace has come. Any other line of reasoning will, first or last, land us in confusion, perchance in anarchy.

Do you complain that this seems to show representative government, as such, in a bad light? Not at all; it rather goes to show the terrible weight of responsibility that rests upon us citizens in the matter of choosing those who are to represent us. If we would have loyalty a delight and not a burden, we, must see to it that our statutes and ordinances, our declarations and our ultimata are framed, not by the average man, so called, but by our wisest and our best.

3. A further duty of Christian people in war time is to sustain with a steady hand and, if need be, with a [10/11] generous purse all those agencies and instrumentalities which help to guarantee social order. The restraints of civil and criminal law are not enough; we need in addition to them all the contributory forces of fellowship and brotherhood. Instead of this being a time for economizing in the field of charities, it is preeminently a time for renewed and redoubled activity. One of the curses of war is that in all departments of life, except the army and the navy, it encourages a relaxation of discipline. Why should we wonder? It must needs be so. War is an appeal from moral methods of persuasion to physical methods of compulsion. That is always a step down in the life of an ordinary family, why should it be otherwise in the life of that larger family, the nation? Should the present war prove a prolonged one--which may God forbid!--we may look to see much of the improvement which years of patient toil have brought to the social life of this great city where we live menaced, and perhaps destroyed.

We are spending much money against attacks from a foreign foe, but the old battle against ignorance and sin is going on all the while; and if we neglect the weapons of this warfare, giving as our excuse that in exciting times men ought not to be expected to waste any thought upon such humdrum matters as the promotion of thrift and cleanliness and temperance, it may go worse with us than we think. A critical Summer, with many possibilities of thunder and lightning, is before us, and we ought to be prepared for it. Wars, as those who have lived through them know [11/12] only too well, have their ups and downs. They are not in their progress the holiday affairs they look to be in their beginnings. When checks and reverses come, as in most wars they do come, even to the winning side, in a certain portion of the people they breed courage, in a certain other portion despondency, and in still another a sullen restlessness. Those, for example, who but yesterday lost their heads with joy over the not too glorious capture of an unarmed merchantman, are the very ones most likely to lose their heads with panic fear at the first touch of real disaster. Strengthen, then, while there is yet time, all the forces that make for the betterment of character, the discountenancing of vicious ways, the closer knitting of the social ties, and the protecting of all exposed points with the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.

On this Second Sunday after Easter, Jesus our Lord, speaking to us out of the Gospel, declares Himself the Shepherd of the sheep. "I am the good Shepherd," He says, "and know my sheep, and am known of mine." Gentle words and kind, but how strangely far away they sound while this near clash of arms is in our ears! Yet it is well to remember that, quiet and soothing though they seem, the words have overlived and outlasted many a battle-cry. I fancy that even though there be a time for war, as well as a time for peace, a time there will never be when those whose function it is to kill and to destroy will really supersede in our regard the Friend who saves and heals.

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