The Duty of a Christian in View of Compulsory Military Service — A Letter by Dennis L. Higgins

Editor’s Note:  Please note that Mr. Higgins is not in any way suggesting that a Christian kill others for the state.  He is saying that the government has a right to demand that a believer serve in the military in a non-combatant position.  Nor is he in any way suggesting that it is right for a Christian to voluntarily join the military.


There can be no question for anyone subject to Scripture and intelligent as to the mind of God as revealed therein in regard to the Christian calling that a Christian should not voluntarily become a soldier.

There is however apparently in many minds a good deal of question as to a Christian’s conduct should the State, as at this time, make a claim on his services.

The question must be decided by what the Scriptures teach, as every right minded person will at once admit.

Now it has been said that if we are to “present our bodies a living sacrifice to God” as taught in Scripture, we cannot admit the title of the State to them. This argument, while quoting Scripture, seems to me to unwittingly falsify it. The passage occurs in Rom. 12 at the beginning of a section in which the Christian’s responsibility in various relationships is set forth beginning with his place in the body and going on to the relation to the powers that be. Here we find that we are to submit ourselves to the authority of the latter as otherwise we resist the ordinance of God, and those that do “bring sentence of guilt upon themselves”.

Furthermore the Authority wields a sword – which will certainly come down upon the offender’s body – as being the very minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that does evil. It is obvious therefore that far from the body of the believer being removed from the title of the State to deal with, the latter is actually the very minister of God in dealing with it in the circumstances supposed.

It may be said that this has nothing to do with Military Service. This may be so, but it has to do with the argument that the State has no claim on the believer’s body, and disposes of it in the most effectual way.

The truth is it is precisely what it has – i.e. a claim – and is God’s very minister in so doing. Now if the State passes an act of Parliament claiming every male within certain ages for its defence it is exercising an authority which it certainly derived from God. If in doing this it makes careful provision for guarding consciences that may be troubled about the shedding of blood and exercising violence, this is a direct mercy from God, and should be hailed as such from God-fearing people.

The Christian is not voluntarily joining an association for killing enemies or any worldly association, if his services are claimed by the State and he is set to do work which he can perform in the fear of God. However painful it might be for him to be in uncongenial company which he never would have chosen for himself, he may assuredly seek grace to do the will of God in painful circumstances and to adorn, like a slave in obeying his earthly master, the doctrine of the Saviour God in all things. Titus 2.

Such a line of conduct in no way conflicts with the truth of his heavenly calling and that his citizenship is in Heaven, or that he is a pilgrim and stranger here. He is claiming nothing for himself, but he is able to distinguish between his life of heavenly relationship and blessing, and that which is amongst men with all its varied and temporary relationships and responsibilities which connect him necessarily with things that are seen. A point might be reached when the State insists on a line of conduct in which it puts itself in direct conflict with God Himself, and when without hesitation a Christian must say that he must obey God rather than man; but that point has in the mercy of God been carefully avoided in the present case, and he may do what the State orders him with a good conscience as submitting to the very ordinance of God in relation to earthly government.

Christianity was never intended to be applied to the government of world kingdoms, nor to the government of the world at all. Any attempt to govern the world on Christian lines must be a failure, as government must resist evil, and a Christian must not, but be prepared to give his cloak also to the man who would go to law, and rob him of his coat. But government must go on, or we should be in anarchy, and it is of God even when in heathen hands. In submitting to it a Christian is not giving up his heavenly calling, even if constrained to do Military Service by it for its own defence. Let him keep free if he can and “use it rather”, but if otherwise, let him adorn the doctrine of his Saviour God in circumstances where he is no longer a free man.

Dennis L. Higgins, (March 3, 1916.)

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