Though the overwhelming sentiment of western and middle Tennessee favored the decision of the state government to join the Confederacy and enter the war against the Union on July 2, 1861, Fanning pleads for Christians to stand apart in three lengthy and significant articles in the July issue of the Gospel Advocate.
His theology for peace is rooted in several fundamental theological convictions. First, he believes Christians are a separate, distinct and “peculiar” people. They are resident aliens–“pilgrims and strangers”–in the world. They must not align themselves with any institutions or nation-states that participate in the bloody conflicts of the age since the people of God have only one allegiance.
A second theological conviction is that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace which refuses to use the implements of war on the earth. Such wars are of the earth; they are worldly and belong to the world powers. Jesus came to end bloody conflicts and his followers do not participate in them. He went to a cross rather than to the head of a military parade.
Fanning’s view is succinctly summarized in this brief statement near the end of the article reproduced below:
“It occurs to us that the church of Christ is composed of faithful and true men, who bear his cross at all times, and resort not to violence. If we are correct, bloody wars are not Christian, but are of the world, and are worldly. Are indeed the result of wickedness, are waged by wicked men, for wicked purposes, and have not the sanction of God or good men.”
Tolbert Fanning, “Wars of Heaven and Earth,” Gospel Advocate 7 (July 1861) 199-205
“If ‘tis distance lends enchantment to the view,”* we may add, that distant danger has but little terror to men. Even relentless and bloody war, in a foreign clime, conducted by those in whose success we feel but little interest, possess not the power to stir the heart, but when it rages in our own beloved land—comes to our very doors and threatens all of earth we most value, the bravest are disposed to shrink back, and ask its intent. But fearful are the aspects of war when citizens of the same soil, brothers in religion, and brothers in the flesh, lift the sword against each other. The present distressing affairs in our once happy, but now rent and bleeding country, suggest to the thinking the propriety of taking counsel together, with reference to the best means of averting the terrible disasters that threaten the land. Having at an early age deliberately formed our judgment as to war,** and especially amongst an enlightened and Christian people, and to this hour having seen no reason to change our decision, we consider it entirely in keeping with our mission, to offer a few candid thoughts regarding its origin, history and tendencies. We feel more especially interested from the fact, that either we have not studied the Bible to profit, or many sincere brethren whose feelings are quite different from our own have failed to see the beauties of the Christian edifice. We have no advice to give, but it shall be our purpose, if possible, to present the subject of war as represented in the Holy Oracles, and leave all to act upon their convictions.
Whence comes wars into our world?
In answering this question, it would seem requisite, in the first place, to define the term war. After looking over the dictionaries, and critical works, we find nothing entirely satisfactory. Tobesure [sic], Webster says, “War is a contest between Nations or States, carried on by force.” But, if we are not mistaken, this definition accords not fully with the meaning in scripture. Webster had in mind national contests alone, but James asks the question, “From whence come wars and fightings among you?” indicating most clearly that wars and fightings, right or wrong, may exist in a church, in a family or between two individuals. The Apostle adds, “Ye kill, ye fight and war.” Hence we define war as a struggle between individuals, families, churches or nations, with intent to kill and destroy. Of course the purpose of war will vary with the causes that produces [sic] it. Dueling may be regarded as the highest style of war. The combatents [sic] are considered as honorable gentlemen, and their sole purpose is merely to seek each others [sic] life in vindication of honor. National wars are generally preditroy [sic]. Each party generally considers it proper to waste and take all the property of the others, and both strive to do each other the greatest amount of damage. Wars are called aggressive, when one people assail another, and defensive when the object is to repel invasion. It is also called offensive or defensive. But it is remarkable that while most men freely engage in war, either from a general conviction that, there is something wrong in it, or men are insincere, we seldom, if ever, hear of a party avowedly making aggressive or offensive war.
The mere mechanical act of a man’s killing another is neither right nor wrong in itself. It may be done by accident,–or an officer of the law may be required to take away a fellow creatures life. Hence the crime of murder depends neither upon the fact or mode of taking life, but solely upon the state of mind possessed at the time the deed is done. In law, the point is not whether one party killed another, but did he commit the deed, “with malice and forethought.” If then the guilt or innocence of a party depends upon the animus, may we not conclude that one is guilty who merely intends injury? “He that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart.”—Jesus.
This leads us to approach a little nearer to the answer of our question. Possibly, it has been from the fact, that crime universally arises from the intention that, no war originates in heaven, around the throne of the omnipotent. According to the philosophy, poetry and modern theology, of which we have knowledge, war began in heaven, amongst the highest angels. It is said, indeed, that Satan was the tallest son of the Omnipotent,–was next to the Father, aspired to the supremacy, and through ambition enaugurated [sic] a war which, hurled him from heaven. John Milton, in his Paradise lost, said:
Had cast him (Satan) out of Heaven, with all his host
Of rebel angels; by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equaled the Most High
If he opposed; and with ambitious aim
Against the throne and monarchy of God
Raise impious war in Heaven, and battle proved
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty proved
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.”
“That silence which all being held,
When God’s Almighty Son, from off the walls
Of heaven the rebel angels threw, accursed,
So still, that all creation heard their fall
Distinctly, in the lake of burning fire.”
These two quotations constitute the escence [sic] of modern theology regarding the first rebellion, the origin of war, the first battle in heaven, the sentence upon the fallen angels, and Jehovah’s triumph.
Perhaps we may be asked if this is not the doctrine of the Bible? The churches preach it as true, and it is very generally believed. Let us examine briefly the scriptures.
John says, “And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels. Neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the dragon was cast our, that old serpent called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Rev. xii, 7-9.
He said again, “And the dragon was wroth with the women, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed.” Rev. xii, 17. “He saw a beast rise up out of the sea, and it was given unto him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” Rev. xii, 7. John said, a “beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit, maketh war against them and shall overcome them and kill them.” Rev. xi, 7. Daniel saw a “Horn make war with the saints and prevail against them.” Dan. vii, 21. Yet he adds, “Judgment was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time come that the saints possessed the kingdom.” This was the identical battle which John saw in heaven between Michael and his hosts, and the devil and his party.
Peter speaks, not of war in heaven but of God casting the angels down to hell and delivering them into chains of darkness. 2 Peter ii, 4.
Jude tells us, that “The angles which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.” Verse 6
But what are the ligitmate [sic] conclusions to be drawn from these scriptures, if Milton, Pollok, and poetical teachers of religion do not justice to the word of God?
The bare admission that there has been, or ever will be disturbance, strife and war in heaven proper, dethrones the Almighty and destroys all hope of a pure clime. We may be asked, “If Satan did not fall from heaven?” The Savior speaking of the power taken from him said, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” But this was a fall which occurred in the days of the Lord’s personal ministry.
If we could believe in so desperate a war around the throne of the Eternal as described by these fancy teachers, we could have no desire to attain such an abode. What has occurred might occur again. God’s people seek rest—a peaceful habitation.
The heaven in which this great battle was fought, to say the least, was on this earth. Jesus collected his elect, at the destruction of Jerusalem, “from the uttermost part of heaven.” Mark xii, 27. This was possibly the land of the Jews, as the Gentles were called, in contrast, the earth. “Oh earth,” said the prophet, “hear the word of the Lord.” Christians are said to “sit together in heavenly places, in Christ,” Eph. i, 3, and when John said, “Rejoice over her thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her,” he evidently had the church is his mind. Reve. xviii, 20.
We then conclude, that all the wars in heaven with the dragon, the beast; the false prophet—Micahel and the saints were, and will be, in the church. The world power has been assailing the authority of the King of heaven for eighteen hundred years, but the saints will triumph over the beast, and see Satans [sic] empire crumble to pieces. But we are told still, it is war. Tobesure [sic] it is; but the weapons of the Lord’s people are not carnal. John gave a beautiful picture of the war in heaven. “Michael and his angels fought, and the dragon and his angels, and prevailed not. And the dragon was cast out, and his angels into the earth”—that is, driven from all right even to profess the pure religion of the Bible, or occupy a place with Christians. John adds, “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God and the power (authority) of his Christ, for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accuseth them before God day and night. And they overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of his testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Rev. xii, 7-11. This war is still raging, and is in reference to the authority of Christ and his church. The conflict is between the true and false friends of Christ. The saints will overcome, and it is fondly believed, the date of the triumph in this war is not distant. So much for war in heaven. The angels of whom Peter and Jude spoke, were messengers who left their “first estate,” perhaps turned politicians, or speculatists in some direction and the Lord cast them down from heaven, and they will remain in chains till the judgment.
So far it has been a bloodless conflict, so far as Christians have been concerned; but the conflict between genuine and false Christians has been presented in military and so highly symbolic language, that many have imagined that God and all the hosts of heaven have been or are engaged in deadly conflict. Far be it from truth that Milton, Pollok, and speculative divines have well nigh subverted the light of revelation for the idlest dreams ever penned.
Still war exists and may exist forever, and we would know its origin and meaning.
We have satisfied ourself that all the wars of which we have knowledge, are of earth and are earthy. As to the idea of one next to the Supreme Being apostatizing through ambition, and creating war in heaven and earth, we have endeavored to show is highly preposterous. Still we have no theory in regard to the devil—his origin or history. We are taught in the word of God that there is a devil “going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour,” and so far as we have learned to the contrary, he was the devil from the beginning, and from his constitution he may be a devil to all eternity. Jesus said of the opposing Jews, “Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” John viii, 44. It seems from this passage that the devil was a destroyer from the beginning, and yet was the father of men led by passion. The apostle James is still more explicit. In answering the question, “From whence wars and fightings,” he said, “Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members. Ye lust and have not; ye kill and desire to have and ye cannot obtain; ye fight and war.” The idea of James seems to be that men while following passion, are the children of the devil, and hence he exhorts the brethren in the same chapter, to “submit themselves to God.” “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” James iv, 1-8.
The doctrine of the Savior, of James, and of all the authors of the Bible, seems to be, that in our very constitution we are subject to two opposing influences. One is called the flesh, and the other the spirit. Some have called these opposing influences the two sides of human nature, one good, the other evil. Speculate on the matter as we please, the fact stares us in the face, that individuals or nations, led by their own impulses, feelings, passions, are always wrong, are but children of the wicked one; whilst those who renounce themselves, and follow heavenly instruction, are holy, harmless, peaceful—the children of God. While following the spirit, we are not in strife, in church or state, but are brethren,–at peace, walking by the faith of one who is invisible, and are always ready to declare that we are “strangers and pilgrims,” have no permanent habitation on earth, but are seeking a city in the skies. A failure to look on high, is a declaration of war against God and all good men. Whosoever is not for the Savior is against him. There is a no neutral ground. All are in the army of the faithful, or of the wicked one.
What then is the origin of war? It arises always from passion—from the love of power, and ambition to domineer over others. Such is the history of all war. When one people suppose themselves stronger, wiser, or richer than another, they are apt to be anxious to rule, and hence strifes and wars arise. Life is but a warfare, a conflict, and hence Paul at the close of his journey said, “I have fought the good fight and kept the faith.”
It will be perceived from the tenor of our remarks, that whether the struggles is in our own heart, between individuals, in churches, states or nations, the weapons are not always identical. Violence and wrong prevail on one side, while on the other, there is merely a resistance of evil.
But the plain and unvarnished question is, has war ever been right? It has been most unquestionably necessary. When the five nations of Canaan become too wicked for endurance, the Almighty ordained his own people Israel to execute his purpose in exterminating them, and when in time the Jews become corrupt God brought “a nation from afar, a nation of fierce countenance,’ a Roman army under Titus Vespasion [sic], against them, and overthrew them. This has been the course of things from the beginning, and may always be the course. We would in conclusion submit a few very respectful inquiries in reference to the bearings of war.
The, Lextalionis,–law of nations—the doctrine of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” preached over all the world till the Savior came and established a new order of things, destined in time to prevail over the whole earth. The prophet saw a little stone cut out of the mountain without hands, that increased till it become a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. Dan. ii. 34, 35.
The Messiah assumed to be a king of a new order, to reach his throne not by wading through the blood of others, but by freely shedding his own blood. He employed no offensive or defensive weapons, but was proclaimed the Prince of Peace.
Was it not his purpose to put an end to war,–to bloodshed and carnage, and has he not been successful in proportion to the progress of his religion in the world? After he told Peter to “put up” his sword, no violence has been employed by him. Jesus cannot take cognizance of them without, till they enlist under his peaceful banner. If, then, the Son of God established a “kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” and if his subjects were not anciently men of blood, on what authority can they now act differently from his servants of old? It occurs to us that the church of Christ is composed of faithful and true men, who bear his cross at all times, and resort not to violence. If we are correct, bloody wars are not Christian, but are of the world, and are worldly. Are indeed the result of wickedness, are waged by wicked men, for wicked purposes, and have not the sanction of God or good men.
Our conclusion of the whole matter is, that the wars of heaven, are moral conflicts between the church of Christ and the opposing world powers; and the wars of earth are struggles in the world without by men of the world, inaugurated by wicked men for wicked purposes, but which God may overrule for good. The history of the world sustains us in these conclusions, but the church of Christ is composed of “a peculiar people,” separate from others, are not of the world, engage not in its bloody conflicts, and yet the Lord has promised to sustain them to the end.
We have said nothing of the present civil, unnatural, ungodly, cruel, barbarous, unnecessary, meaningless, fruitless and disgraceful American war. It will settle neither the right nor wrong of any question, and though innocent blood has been, and may be liberally shed, better counsels will prevail, and its inhuman originators must ere long bow to a moral force that is struggling to be heard and must sooner or later triumph. God grant that the day may not be far distant. If genuine Christians but buckle on “the whole armor of God,” the hosts of false religionists that originated the conflict, and are leading their countrymen to the slaughter, may soon have cause to lament their treachery to Heaven, and the cause and people of the Most High, may attain the position to which they are entitled. Our confident trust is, that Heaven will vindicate the right, and put to shame and confusion the enemies of our peace.
*From “Pleasures of Hope” (1799) by Scottish poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844).
**Fanning had earlier written on war and peace in opposition to the Mexican-American War.