Tolbert Fanning–Advocate for Peace in 1861 (Part IV)

On June 8, 1861, Tennesseans voted for secession. On July 2 the state joined the Confederacy and, consequently, entered the war against the Union.

Tolbert Fanning floods the July issue of the Gospel Advocate with three rather lengthy articles on war, peace and “world powers.” The first, “The Kingdom of God Triumphant Over the Kingdoms of the World” [7.7 (July 1861) 193-198], is reproduced below.

After quoting biblical texts from Deuteronomy to Isaiah to Revelation, Fanning summarizes his agenda in five points which I have paraphrased in the following manner:

1. God is sovereign over the nations even to the point of overturning their self-interested acts to God’s divine purposes.

2. God reigns over the saints through the rule of King Jesus who is tasked with the mission to subdue the nations.

3. The kingdom of God, which consists of righteousness, joy and peace,  rules through non-violence.

4. The kingdom of God stands opposed to “world powers” or “principalities” and will ultimately triumph over them.

5. The kingdom of God will triumph through non-violent means as citizens of the kingdom of God, though obedient to human institutions as far as possible, refuse to form alliances with human kingdoms and thus leaven the earth with peace and righteousness.

********Fanning’s article********

From some cause, which should be understood, Christians generally fail to place the reign of the Messiah in its true light before the world. Hence, the almost universal devotion to the institutions of men, and the very small amount of attention to the government of the Most High. We gravely ask, if Heaven has not decreed that the reign of his Son shall be supreme over the whole earth? Do not the times suggest the necessity of the servants of God, carefully examining the claims of the King of kings and Lord of all lords? The kingdoms of the world give demonstrable evidence of frailties and inherent imperfections which threaten their overthrow; and if their [sic] is an institution in existence, which promises permanency, it would seem becoming in Christian men, to present its claims to a discontented, belligerent and almost hopeless generation. The monarchies of the old world, however strongly fortified by armies, are all in commotion, and even our boasted America democracy has recently given woful [sic] evidences that it has finished its destiny, and is almost ready to be numbered with things that were. We already hear the low murmur among the ranks of society, “The last experiment in free government is failing to accomplish what was anticipated.” Even high officials, who boasted a few years ago of the inherent ability of man to construct a perfect government, both civil and religious, are now fleeing from their long adored idol, “this glorious Union,” and are crying alas, alas, our temple is wrecked and our highest hopes are vanishing into thin air. What does all this mean? Is there no stable government on earth? It has long been clear our mind that, the church of Christ is transcendantly [sic] superior to all human institutions, and that it is destined to break them all down and prevail over the whole earth. With the hope of placing the matter in its proper light, we appeal to the word of God as the only authorized test of truth.

What do the prophets teach regarding the kingdom and reign of the Messiah? Jehovah said one thousand four hundred and forty-one years before Christ, “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren like unto thee, (Moses) and I will put my words into his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require of him.” (Deu. 18, 18, 19.)

It will be remembered that Moses was the mediator to the Jews, but another prophet was to arise as a mediator between God and all who become subjects of the new administration. Our Heavenly Father said by his servant David, “yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion—I will declare the decree, the Lord hath said unto me, thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth fer [sic] they possession. Thou shalt dash them to pieces as potters [sic] vessel.” (Psalms 2, 7-9.) In this prediction there is positive evidence the King crowned was to possess the Gentiles, and rule the nations; and a blessing was pronounced upon all who would put their trust in him.

In Isaiah it is said, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order and establish it with judgment and justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9, 6, 7.)

“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed, and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and shall stand forever.” (Dan. 2, 41.)

“And the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heavens shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” (Dan. 7, 26.)

The prophet Isaiah also said, “The earth shall be full of the righteousness of the Lord, as the waters cover the deep.” (Isaiah 11, 9.)

This was a kingdom to be established by the Son of God.

John the immerser preached, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and the Messiah exhorted his disciples to pray, “They kingdom come.” Again he said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevails against it.”

Jesus Christ and his disciples all preached that this kingdom was at hand, till the day of Pentecost, and no writer in the New Testament after this memorable day ever intimated that a kingdom was to be set up. In Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we hear of an approaching kingdom, and in the 2d chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and last verse, we read, for the first time of persons being added to the church. Solomon’s temple, which prefigured the spiritual edifice by Christ, went up without the sound of a hammer or an iron instrument. The materials were all prepared by measure; and John, Jesus, and his twelve and seventy disciples were actively engaged for some three years in preparing materials for the heavenly building, and no marvel that I should also have been acknowledged on Pentecost by the filling and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Afterwards, as intimated, the writers of the Holy Scriptures, spoke of the church as a reality. Paul said to the faithful Hebrews, “But ye are come to Mount Zion, unto the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. * * * Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God, acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Hebrews 12, 22-28.

The beloved John, of course, was the last inspired writer who dwelt upon the triumphs of the kingdom of the Savior. When the seventh angel sounded his trumpet, John said: “There were great voices in heaven saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Rev. 11, 15.) Again he said, “I saw one called Faithful and True, on a white horse; and in righteousness he doth judge and make war; and the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses clothed in white linen, fine and clean, and out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword that with it he should smite the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. * * * And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out his mouth, and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.” Rev. 19, 11-21.

Having settled the question as to the authority of these Scriptures, we feel fully authorized to state the following conclusions, viz:

1st. God, our Father, is sovereign over all the world. The nations are in his hands, he has the inalienable right to their homage, and he rules in the kingdoms of men, overturning their unwise designs to his honor and often to the good of his erring creation.

2d. God has given the government of his saints into the hands of his Son Jesus Christ. He crowned him Lord of heaven and earth, when he ascended on high, placed the scepter in his hand, and bade him subdue the nations of the earth. Since the coronation of the Savior, no one has had the right to approach the Father, pray to him, or ask protection from him, but in the name of the Son. Hence, he that rejects Jesus of Nazareth, rejects God, and is indeed considered the enemy of the Father. The Scriptures already recited evidently show that not only was the King crowned on his ascension to heaven from Mount Olivet, but not many days after the newly appointed mediator and Lord of heaven and earth sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles into all truth, and enable them to perfect the new administration. The laws were finished, the members of the body fitly placed together by joints and bands and the whole machinery of the body perfected in the first century. Consequently we look for no new Gospel, new developments of truth, or a new kingdom in the latter days. The body of Christ is perfect, the laws afford all things that pertain to life and godliness, and a new King is not needed.

3d. The kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Savior came upon a mission of love and mercy to a rebellious world, and he employed no violence to render triumphant his laws. The success of his reign over pagan Rome and idolatrous world in the early ages of the church is marvelous in our eyes beyond expression. Philosophers, and the great of earth, looked in mute amazement at the greatness of his achievements, by so simple means, and yet the nations have not yielded to his peaceful scepter.

4th. The prophecies indicate most clearly that the Lord’s spiritual empire was to be in conflict, in the language of Hengstenburg [sic],* with “the world power,” or as Paul expresses it, “principalities,” but his cause was to triumph. His kingdom was to break into pieces, consume and crush from the earth the governments of the world. But we are told “it has not yet triumphed.” True, and the end has not yet come. Notwithstanding Christianity was driven from its birthplace-Palestine,–and many sections of Europe, it still lives on both continents,–in all the four corners of the globe,–and so soon as men shall complete their folly in originating and defending their frail institutions of earth, they will gladly admit the sovereignty of the Redeemer.

Daniel says, “The kingdom and dominion under the whole heavens, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” John tells us that he heard “great voices in heaven, saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Or correctly translated, “The kingdom of the world is our Lords and his Christs.” The government of the world has yet to be placed upon the shoulders of the Savior. This cannot be accomplished without the destruction of the institutions framed by men; still there is nothing which seems more pointed in the word of God, and Christians should not be discouraged at appearances. God works in ways of which we are ignorant, but if we can believe he threw down the walls of Jericho, by a shout of his people, nothing should be regarded as impossible for him.

5th. What means shall be employed for the accomplishment of this grand end?

As early as the fourth century, whenever Christianity become [sic] popular, it was connected with the governments of the world, and corrupted. The nominal professors of this religion of peace, thought the civil power was necessary for its protection, and, hence the sword was employed first by Rome, next by the East, then by England, and since by most of the world, to render victorious an institution that cannot safely form even an alliance with “the powers that be.” But while the nations of the earth are determined to propagate religion at the cannons mouth, “the dispersed” among the nations, “the strangers and pilgrims” ask the aid of no armies or navies to give the ascendency to the cause of the Lord, but confidently look for its final triumph without “the breaking of a bruised reed, or the quenching of the smoking flax.”

Although the Spirit saw proper to employ the military style of the times, the sword with which the King was to triumph over his enemies, though sharp and strong, proceeded out of the mouth of him who sat on the white horse, and his victories were all to be in righteousness. It may be well in this connection to indicate the true position of Christians with reference to the governments of this world. The Christian institution was the first spiritual empire revealed to man, and it will be the last. It was superior to the kingdoms of men; could not from its nature be merged into them, or, as we before stated, form alliances with them. It came not as the friend or enemy of any form of government, could live in a monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, was independent of all, and yet was destined to swallow them all up. This, it seems, was to be accomplished by leavening the earth, and bringing all the powers of the world into subordination. The subjects of this kingdom, so far as we are informed, in the early ages took no part in the creation or administration of worldly powers. They paid their taxes as loyal citizens of every government, in which their labor called them, “respected magistrates, and prayed for kings and all in authority,” that they might lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. The apostles and early Christians took no office from man, and interposed not in the least with the government of the world, unless so oppressed that they could not without open rebellion honor their king. Then they refused not to adhere to their own leader, and for this species of rebellion many lost their lives.

We have seen few, if any Christian men, who gave themselves to the governments of the world, that have not been swallowed up of them, and hence we conclude that our calling is above all earthly callings, and our time, talents, and energies should be given to the Lord. We should pay our taxes, respect governments, not oppressive, wherever we may dwell, and if possible be at peace with all men. Still our grand purpose should be, to promote the spiritual empire of the King of Zion. The instructions on this subject are found in the New Testament.


*Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, The Revelation of St. John (T & T Clark, 1851), refers to the “world-power” 79 times.

One Response to “Tolbert Fanning–Advocate for Peace in 1861 (Part IV)”

  1.   Randall Says:

    Thanks for posting this interesting series. So many in the churches of Christ are completely unaware of this aspect of our history.


  1. this went thru my mind |

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