Thomas Cogswell Upham Urges Christians to Take Christianity Seriously

Thomas Cogswell Upham, who was born , wrote about the possibilities and promise of pacifism, and suggested that the reason why a Christian peace had not yet pervaded the globe was that Christians did not take their testimony seriously enough:

Professing Christians occupy precisely the same position, in regard to the great pacific reformation which must, sooner or later, inevitably take place, that temperate drinkers but recently occupied in respect to the temperance reformation, which is now in such encouraging progress. It is but a few years since, and drunkards universally appealed for example and authority to those who were not drunkards, but nevertheless advocated the right and the expediency of drinking occasionally, only let it be done temperately. Nothing could be effected under such circumstances. It was found necessary that a new principle should be adopted, before a reformation could reach the drunkards; it was necessary that there should be an absolute and total reformation of the temperate drinkers. And now we have another great reformation in hand, still more important; and in pursuit of it we declaim against military men and military statesmen; but we do not touch their conscience; we do not start them a hair’s breadth from that position of crime and cruelty which we believe they occupy. And why not? It is because they are sustained by professors of religion; it is because, while they avowedly drink often and deeply into the spirit of war, the followers of the benevolent religion of Jesus support them by drinking temperately; it is because they see Christians cheerfully paying taxes for their support, and behold Christians in their own ranks, and hear Christians praying for their success. This is the secret, as time will assuredly show, of the great strength of that spirit of war which has so long pervaded the world.

If these suggestions are well founded, it cannot be denied that an immense responsibility rests upon the church; and we have no doubt that the time is coming, and coming speedily, when they will be disposed to confess, with sincere sorrow, that the immeasurable evils resulting from the wars in which men have been engaged, are justly chargeable, in a very high degree, to their own stupidity, blindness, and dereliction of principle. We solemnly put it, therefore, to the professors of the Christian religion, how they can answer it to their conscience and their God, that they remain so quietly and stupidly accessory to the evil of war, — by their own admission, one of the greatest evils that ever afflicted our sinful and suffering race. It will not avail them to say that they have always assented to the evils of war; that they have always maintained it would be for the interests of mankind to leave off war; the root of the malady is not reached by such methods as this; “leviathan is not so tamed.” In this case, as in others, and more than in most others, Christians are bound, by every consideration of duty and of love to Christ’s cause, to oppose the spirit of the gospel to the spirit of the world; to put off their shoes from their feet, and to stand firmly upon the only ground which will sustain them in such a conflict, — the holy ground of Christian principle. They must learn what the gospel teaches; the doctrine of the gospel, whatever it may be found to be, must be their immutable rule of conduct. When they conform themselves to this rule, and not otherwise, they may be said to act upon principle. And the rule of the gospel, the principle which it establishes beyond all question, is, total abstinence; touch not, taste not, handle not; have nothing to do with war; have nothing to do with the preparations for war. Wash your hands clean, now and forever, from the stain of human blood.

But in these views it seems proper to make a distinction between ministers of the gospel and the great mass of Christian professors. If a great responsibility rests upon professors of religion in general, a still greater rests upon preachers and ministers. All Christians are represented as lights in the world, and are required to let their light shine for the illumination of others; but ministers are, in some important sense, the light of private Christians. We are persuaded that no private Christian ought to mistake his duty on this subject; so explicit are the instructions of the New Testament in regard to it, that no one can justly plead ignorance; but this does not alter the well-known fact, that private Christians do not, as a general thing, adopt novel principles and practices, however scriptural they may be, unless they are led into them, and encouraged in the course they take by their stated religious teachers. We come to the conclusion, therefore, that the attention of ministers of the gospel is particularly called to the subject before us; that upon them, more than upon any other class of persons, rests the important question, whether wars shall cease from under the whole heaven. It is desirable that they should weigh well this solemn responsibility. Whether they have done their duty in this matter hitherto, whether they have brought to its investigation all their powers of intellect, and all their spirit of prayer, is for them to determine. If they have not, let them think well of it; let them compensate, so far as can now be done, for the negligence of the past by the fervent zeal and untiring efforts of the future. If ministers will faithfully do their duty in this thing, there is no question that the churches will ultimately, and in all probability very soon, respond to their efforts. No minister ought to rest, no minister ought to consider himself as having discharged his whole duty, until he has seen the members of his church formed into a peace society on the gospel principle of total abstinence, renouncing forever, and at all hazards, military enrolments, military musters, the payment of military fines, and all other efforts and contributions of a clearly military nature. What a spectacle would then be presented to the world! Even impenitent and irreligious men would rejoice in it. Hope would arise in the darkened and depraved mind of the soldier. The eyes of experienced statesmen would be gladly directed to this transcendent beam of millennial light. Mankind would smile in their sorrows, and say, It is indeed the star of Bethlehem!

From: Upham, Thomas Cogswell, The Manual of Peace, Boston: American Peace Society, (pages 189–192).