On the Law of War and Peace

From Render unto Caesar EVERYTHING

On the Law of War and Peace by Hugo Grotius

Book I, Chapter 2

VII. Omitting therefore the less satisfactory proofs, as a leading point of evidence to shew that the right of war is not taken away by the law of the gospel, that passage in St. Paul’s Epistle to Timothy may be referred to, where the Apostle says, “I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for Kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I Eph. ii. 1, 2, 3. From this passage, the following conclusions may be drawn; in the first place, that Christian piety in kings is acceptable to God, that their profession of Christianity does not abridge their rights of sovereignty. Justin the Martyr has said, “that in our prayers for Kings, we should beg that they may unite a spirit of wisdom with their royal power,” and in the book called the Constitutions of Clement, the Church prays for Christian rulers, and that Christian Princes may perform an acceptable service to God, by securing to other Christians the enjoyment of quiet lives. The manner in which the Sovereign secures this important end, is explained in another passage from the same Apostle. From. xiii. 4. “He is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do evil, fear, for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon them, that do evil.” By the right of the sword is understood the exercise of every kind of restraint, in the sense adopted by the Lawyers, not only over offenders amongst his own people, but against neighboring nations, who violate his own and his people’s rights. To clear up this point, we may refer to the second Psalm, which although it applies literally to David, yet in its more full and perfect sense relates to Christ, which may be seen by consulting other parts of scripture. For instance, Acts iv. 25. xiii. 33. For that Psalm exhorts all kings to worship the son of God, shewing themselves, as kings, to be his ministers, which may be explained by the words of St. Augustine, who says, “In this, kings, in their royal capacity, serve God according to the divine commandment, if they promote what is good, and prohibit what is evil in their kingdoms, not only relating to human society, but also respecting religion.” And in another place the same writer says, “How can kings serve the Lord in fear, unless they can prohibit and punish with due severity offences against the law of God? For the capacities in which they serve God, as individuals, and as kings, are very different. In this respect they serve the Lord, as kings, when they promote his service by means which they could not use without regal power.

The same part of the Apostle’s writings supplies us with a second argument, where the higher powers, meaning kings, are said to be from God, and are called the ordinance of God; from whence it is plainly inferred that we are to honour and obey the, from motives of conscience, and that every one who resists him is resisting God. If the word ordinance meant nothing more than a bare permission, that obedience which the Apostle so strenuously enjoins would only have the force of an imperfect obligation. But as the word ordinance, in the original, implies an express commandment and appointment, and as all parts of the revealed will of God are consistent with each other, it follows that the obedience of subjects to sovereigns is a duty of supreme obligation. Nor is the argument at all weakened by its being said, that the Sovereigns at the time when St. Paul wrote, were not Christians. For it is not universally true, as Sergius Paulus, the deputy governor of Cyprus, had long before professed the Christian religion. Acts xiii. 12. There is no occasion to mention the tradition respecting Abgarus the King of Edessa’s Epistle to our Saviour; a tradition mingled with falsehood, though, in some measure founded upon truth. For the question did not turn upon the characters of the Princes, whether they were godly or not, but whether THEIR holding the kingly office was repugnant to the law of God. This St. Paul denies, maintaining that the kingly office, even under all circumstances, was appointed by God, therefore it ought to be honoured from motives of conscience, which, properly speaking, are under the controul of God alone. So that Nero, and King Agrippa whom Paul so earnestly entreats to become a Christian, might have embraced Christianity, and still retained, the one his regal, and the other his imperial authority, which could not be exercised without the power of the sword. As the legal sacrifices might formerly be performed by wicked Priests; in the same manner regal power would retain its indelible sanctity, though in the hands of an ungodly man.

A third argument is derived from the words of John the Baptist, who, at a time when many thousands of the Jews served in the Roman armies, as appears from the testimony of Josephus and others, being seriously asked by the soldiers, what they should do to avoid the wrath of God, did not command them to renounce their military calling, which he ought to have done, had it been inconsistent with the law and will of God, but to abstain from violence, extortion, and false accusation, and to be content with their wages. In reply to these words of the Baptist, so plainly giving authority to the military profession, many observed that the injunction of the Baptist is so widely different from the precepts of Christ, that HE seemed to preach one doctrine and our LORD another. Which is by no means admissible, for the following reasons. Both our Saviour and the Baptist made repentance the substance of their doctrine; for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. By the Kingdom of Heaven is meant a new law, as the Hebrews used to give the name of Kingdom to their law. Christ himself says the Kingdom of Heaven began to suffer violence from the days of John the Baptist. Matt. xi. 12. John is said to have preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Mark i. 4. The Apostles are said to have done the same in the name of Christ. Acts xi. 38. John requires fruits worthy of repentance, and threatens destruction to those, who do not produce them. Matt. iii. 8, 10. He also requires works of charity above the law. Luke iii. 2. The law is said to have continued till John, that is, a more perfect law is said to have commenced form his instruction. He was called greater than the prophets, and declared to be one sent to give the knowledge of salvation to the people by announcing the gospel. He makes no distinction between himself and Jesus on the score of doctrine, only ascribing pre-eminence to Christ as the promised Messiah, the Lord of the Kingdom of Heaven, who would give the power of the holy spirit to those, who believed in him. In short, the dawning rudiments of knowledge, which proceeded from the forerunner, were more distinctly unfolded and cleared up, by Christ himself, the light of the world.

There is a fourth argument, which seems to have no little weight, proceeding upon the supposition, that if the right of inflicting capital punishments were abolished, and princes were deprived for the power of the sword to protect their subjects against the violence of murderers and robbers, wickedness would triumphantly prevail, and the world would be deluged with crimes, which, even under the best established governments, are with so much difficulty prevented or restrained. If then it had been the intention of Christ to introduce such an order of things as had never been heard of, he would undoubtedly by the most express and particular words, have condemned all capital punishments, and all wars, which we never read that he did. For the arguments, brought in favor of such an opinion, are for the most part very indefinite and obscure. Now both justice and common sense require such general expressions to be taken in a limited acceptation, and allow us, in explaining ambiguous words, to depart from their literal meaning, where our strictly adhering to it would lead to manifest inconvenience and detriment.

The complete text of On the Law of War and Peace

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