“God has commanded the sword to return to its scabbard; there, I hope, to rust.”
Our forebears didn’t live in black and white. Yesterday’s vocabulary and spelling seem archaic and odd, but they had living, breathing, full-color todays, as vivid as the one you’re living right now. And they still speak–to those that will comb through basement libraries or archive.org and listen. Or, today, to those who are reading this blog.
Richard Fuller’s statement, above, has obviously application to the 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza. Fuller preached this sermon in Baltimore (a border state) on June 1st, 1865, less than 2 months after the official end to the American Civil War. It was a national day of fasting. For this Southern, moderate, conciliatory pastor, it had been a decade of grief. Almost 150 years later, these selections from his sermon still speak timely truth for our war-filled summer.
“God has commanded the sword to return to its scabbard; there, I hope, to rust. But Jesus well knew that the evils of civil war do not cease with the war. He knew what is in man; what mutual jealousies, animosities, hatreds, intestine war always entails upon a nation. Hence in the text, he warns us of the pernicious consequences of social and domestic dissensions:—’And every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.’”
As he had repeated before, during, and now after the war, “It is the Gospel, my brethren, which is our the hope of our land.”
Yet, he knew many would sneer at this statement. “I know, alas, that when I say this, the infidel and the scoffer will be ready with an answer which causes me to blush and hang my head in shame. They will remind me that some of the blackest pages of human history are the records of those fierce wars which have desolate the earth in the name of religion.”
In fact, Fuller agrees with the scoffers’ accusation. “I open these sacred pages, and I hear angels announcing, ‘Peace on earth and good will among men,’ when the adorable Redeemer entered upon his mission of love. In that Redeemer I behold the incarnation of love. His sermons were the accents of love. His exhortations were the beseechings of love.—His miracles were the interpositions of love. His tears were the sobbings and bushings of love. His death was the consummation, the glorification of love.”
“I close this volume and turn to the annals of the church so miscalled, and what do I find? I see the earth smoking with blood shed by the professed disciples of that Redeemer; the legacy of peace which he bequeathed to mankind converted into a ‘roll written within and without with mourning, lamentation and woe;’ his representatives carrying fire and sword over the fairest portions of that world which he died to reclaim to holiness and charity and philanthropy; and the cross on which he expired exclaiming, ‘Father, forgive them,’ no longer lifted up as an ensign to gather the nations in sympathy and affection, but flaming as a banner to marshal hostile armies, to madden hordes of ruffians with frenzy and hatred, to precipitate them upon the work of slaughter, havoc, extermination, to mingle every rank, age, sex, in promiscuous massacre and carnage.”
“But,” Fuller replies, “let not the infidel and the scoffer triumph. The religion of Jesus detests these deeds of darkness and crime. Jesus came to make peace upon the earth, to teach men that they are brothers, to recapitulate the whole human family under their common Father. And wherever the spirit of his Gospel is disseminated, there war and all its blighting passions will give way to the soft but resistless triumphs of celestial grace and love.”
“Foolish men cavil and object when we speak of The Fall. But call it what you will, here surely is a terrible fall; a frightful degradation; a fall from God, from our original glory, and into a black abyss of sin and corruption, so that ‘violence covers the earth’ which was formed to be the abode of peace and love.”
“The word Religion (re-ligio) means a binding us back to God, and thus to one another; and in every genuine revival of religion, one of the first fruits is the restoration of these severed bonds. In families, in communities, those who had been long embittered are then seen to embrace each other. And thus it will be over the entire world, as the celestial influence of the religion of Jesus shall be diffused. It must be so; for the Gospel changes our nature; quells the selfishness, the pride, the ambition, the lust of wealth and power, all the painful passions in which war commences, and by which its evils are perpetuated.”
“Where Jesus is truly received…We will feel that man’s true glory is in religion, in virtue, in moral courage, in the subjection of his desires to the will of God, in energy of principle, in inward triumph over passion and prejudice, in humility, in patience, in doing good, in forgiving injuries, in serving God, in imitating Jesus, in becoming the friend and benefactor of the poor, the wronged, the weak, the suffering, the oppressed.”
“No nation has ever yet been brought under the vital influence of the religion of Jesus. But a nation is only an aggregate of individuals. And wherever an individual has been truly regenerated, and lives under the power of the Gospel, there you will find a mind, a conscience, a heart which revolt from war as a horrible thing; there you have a man who detests war as war; who will suffer imprisonment, poverty, the most shocking death, rather than engage in a war of conquest or ambition; and who in a war for freedom or self-defense (and such wars I admit are justifiable) will seek to mitigate human misery, and will long pray for peace as an inestimable blessing.”
“To hope that the South and the North can ever be reconciled is, you tell me, the chimera of a mere dreamer, a romantic visionary. A dreamer! a visionary! So then, with all your professions, you are, it seems, infidels at heart. Is not the Gospel ’the wisdom of God and the power of God’—wisdom where all human expedients are foolishness—power over the powerful, power where all else is powerless?…The Gospel which could change me, which could change you, can change anybody. If it can bring the carnal heart, which ‘is enmity itself against God,’ to love God, to delight in him,—O never tell me there is anything too hard for it”
“Are [the hatreds between the South and the North] too strong for the Gospel? Let me hope, now, when peace has come, that the spirit of peace will also come.”
Fuller finishes with a call for responsibility and introspection, a fitting conclusion for those of us who feel a world away from Gaza, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and other conflict-torn regions today.
“Lastly, we are Christians; and as such especially in times like these which are now passing over us, we must feel the obligation resting upon us all to cultivate kindness, forbearance, mutual candor in the interpretation of each other’s conduct and motives, a charity which ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.’”
“Let us not be affecting any horror at the atrocities of war; we are nourishing all these atrocities in our own bosoms. ‘Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.’ All the rage and cruelty which crimson the field of battle, we are, here, on this day of humiliation, in this sanctuary, secretly nursing in our hearts”
“Let us hear that voice which, from the top of the cross, from the midst of the throne, is saying to us, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven.’ Let us go home resolving to cherish in our own hearts and to shed around us, in the church, in our families, in the community, the gentle spirit of peace and love. ‘Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.”