From: Tolbert Fanning: "CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. NO.2"
in: Christian Review, VOL.4 (FRANKLIN COLLEGE, JUNE, 1847), NO. 6: 181–189

In our May No. we gave a few reasons for believing that the law of Physical Punishment is no part of the christian code. It will be our object in the present essay to show: — On these points, it is important to be very explicit. With regard to the first, the Apostle says:—"God is the Savior of all men," "He sends the rain upon the just and unjust," and "It is in Him, we—all the world—live and move and have our being," and He is "The Father of us all."

As this is God's world by creation and preservation, it is His good pleasure to govern the nations of the earth. Not a "sparrow" falls to the ground" without the cognizance of the Deity. Every thing in Nature exhibits the Heavenly Father's extraordinary care for the well being of his intelligent creatures. Every provision has been made for the sustenance of man, and there are wise adaptations in the laws of Nature, to contribute to his preservation and happiness. Thus we see, in what sense the Almighty is the Savior of all men.

Next, we shall proceed to the discussion of the question:—


God has planted in man's nature principles of self-government. Hence, it is obvious that he is composed of better materials than other animals. This may be a point that savors too much of metaphysical refinement, for profitable discussion; and, therefore, we content ourselves with the suggestion that, mankind every where, have exhibited dispositions to GOVERN, and to BE GOVERNED. In the second place, our Maker has given revelations for the //182// purpose of governing men as citizens of the world. The institution of Moses was "WORLDLY," and intended only as a shadow of a spiritual establishment. In the law, as well as in the enactments, for the Patriarchs, there are principles adapted in many respects, to all people. These principles form the basis of civil government.

Again: God anciently "put certain things into the hearts of Kings and Rulers, for the government of men. He "raises up" warriors doubtless, to execute his purposes, and disposes of kingdoms at pleasure. We shall not, at present, attempt a discussion of this matter. Our object is merely to state our convictions of truth.

Having thus briefly stated the sources of national government, it is easy to see how the Lord is not only the governor of nations; but, also, the God of battles, and the Disposer of all events.

As to the nature of Jehovah's national government, we can understand it only be examining the history of the past.

For wise purposes, God has ordained three national scourges, viz:—WAR, FAMINE, and PESTILENCE. He is yet author of them all, and still wisely conducts them. These are engines of punishment and purification.

He not only regards nations with reference to nations; but, also, ordains laws for the punishment of individual offenders in nations. One of these is death-punishment. The best illustration of this may be seen in the Patriarchal and Jewish governments. Both ordained capital punishment for men and beasts, that deprived man of life.

That such punishments are yet requisite in worldly governments, and with men of the world, we have never entertained a doubt. A war for the wicked is admissable, but no one should infer from thence, that, all men have a right to go to war. Capital punishment may have a salutary influence in the prevention of crime, and, we presume, the time will not come—so long as there are laws for the world—when wars, and death-punishments will not be prosecuted in obedience to the will of Heaven. With these reflections, it will be difficult for any one to mistake our views, so far as the wicked are concerned.

But the point with us is, that, the christian institution, so far separates its members from worldly influences and practices, that //183// they cannot, with impunity, engage in war, or in the making or administering of governments intended for the disobedient. Any participation in war, or in the criminal executions of the world, we think, exhibits disrespect to the cause of Christ. Christians are "IN HEAVENLY PLACES," and, while in these heavenly places, they "cannot sin," so far as to engage in those worldly practices, which tend only to subvert the cause of God.

On these points we suppose we have said enough to lead the reader to serious reflection; and, therefore, we will proceed, at once, to the third point.

We feel, in duty, bound to answer all arguments in favor of capital punishment amongst christians, or admit our incapacity to do so. We have carefully examined several treatises upon the subject of such punishment, and, we are persuaded, their authors have not laid their premises correctly, and, of course, their conclusions must be unjust. As we wish, however, personal conflict with no one, we will examine the positions of the advocates of capital punishment, without reference to their authors. We think this is a liberty which all men should enjoy.

We will quote freely from the ablest advocates of death- punishment, that we have examined: -

1st. The question is asked:—"HAS MAN A RIGHT TO TAKE AWAY THE LIFE OF A MAN, ON ANY ACCOUNT?" The point in debate is not contained in this question. It could be wished that the writer had been a little more explicit.

We might admit that, "man does have a right to take away the life of man," and still not touch the question of capital punishment amongst christians. We doubt not, the administrators of worldly governments have the sanction of Heaven, for inflicting capital punishment upon offenders, but are we to conclude from this that, God has ordained that CHRISTIANS have such rights? This is the main question, and the point at which, we think, our contemporaries have stumbled. The best writer we have examined on this subject, discourseth on this wise:—"A man has no right to punish at all, in any way, if he may not, in that punishment, lawfully take away the life of him that is subject to it. If man has not the right to kill, nations, being men acting in masses, have no right to go to war." This, in Logical language, would be placed in the class of sophisms styled, IGNORATIO ELENCHI. //184// It is proving part of a proposition true, and dwelling upon that, for the purpose of keeping out of sight the main question. The writer supposes, if he can prove that nations, or the wicked, have a right to punish their fellows, the point is made clear that, christians are authorized to go to war, and hang their enemies. He premises that, if we have a right to punish at all, this right authorizes us to take life, but this is contrary to the positive enactments of Jehovah.

The Apostle says:—"Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." We have had fathers of the flesh who corrected us." Thus, it is plain, that, while the Lord makes it the duty of parents to chastise their children, he has issued no license to consign them to the rack, or suspend them upon the gallows.

That we may be certain, that we see the writers' true position we quote again. He says:—"NATIONS CAN ONLY DO THOSE THINGS WHICH EVERY INDIVIDUAL MAN HAD A RIGHT TO DO, ANTERIOR TO THE NATIONAL FORM OF SOCIETY." That is to say, as nations have a right to go to war and kill, every individual had the right to destroy his fellow beings, before the national elements came together. This is, emphatically, a PETITIO PRINCIPII—a straight forward begging the question. He has taken for granted, that, nations—that, every individual in a nation, is required to engage in war, and, therefore, each person may, in certain circumstances, slay his fellow.

If such be the teaching of the word of God, we are greatly deceived. Where does the writer learn, that God's sanctified—who form parts of nations—are authorized to engage in war, or shed blood in any circumstances? This plan of writers putting no difference between the Lord's freedmen, and satan's bondmen, in our estimation, makes sad havoc of christianity.

The writer further remarks on this point:—"If nations may not rightfully go to war—if man cannot, in any case, lawfully take away the life of man—in what dishonorable attitude stand the sainted patriots of all christian lands—their Hampdens, their La Fayetts [sic], their Washingtons? And where stand the men of faith, the men of sacred fame—the Joshuas, the Sampsons [sic], the Baraks, the Gideons?"

Two noted sophisms are here introduced. With regard to the //185// La Fayetts, Washingtons, &c., the sophism is denominated, AD COPIANDEM VULGUS. It is a mere appeal to the prejudices of the multitude, but carries with it no sound argument. Moreover, such special pleading is fatal to the writer's own position.

First, he has men to obey God, in going to war, and hanging their fellows, in obedience to the "POWERS THAT BE," and yet, he saints Washington for killing in opposition to the "POWERS THAT WERE." The sophism which infers that we, as christians, have a right to hang each other, from the fact that David and Sampson engaged in battles by the will of Heaven, is denominated NON CAUSA PRO CAUSA. David and Sampson lived in an other age, and fought by an authority that never prevailed amongst christians. We profess to live under the New Covenet [sic]—a covenant which countenances not violence. We are astonished that our author has not analyzed the subject more carefully.

2d. He affirms that:—"NEITHER THE CHURCH NOR THE WORLD COULD EXIST WITHOUT CIVIL GOVERNMENT." Paul had a different view of the subject. He affirms that:—"THE LAW WAS NOT MADE FOR A GOOD MAN." Peter speaks of "all things that pertain to life and godliness" being furnished in the scripture; and, if the position be true, we see no use for additional governments for christians. The writer, in our judgment, might just as well contend, at once, that, christianity is but an appendage of the civil government, and is to be regulated entirely by the officers of the law.

The religion of Jesus Christ is so far above human governments that, it depends not, in any way, upon them for success. But in what a predicament does the doctrine place the holy Apostles! It requires christians to sanction all sorts of governments; and, yet, it is absolutely certain that, many of these governments are subversive of christianity. The Roman government determined to extinguish the religion of the despised Nazarene, and the ancient saints were compelled to abandon their sacred profession, or violate the law. They chose the latter; and for this disobedience to the worldly powers, they lost their lives. Had they tamely submitted to the governments of men, not one of them would have suffered.

Christianity has affinity neither for the philosophy of man, nor his crazy legislation. "The kingdom of Christ is not of this //186// world," and, therefore, his subjects are not "FIGHT" for it, or any other government.

3d. The writer we are examining contends that it is—"LAWFUL FOR CHRISTIANS TO PUT TO DEATH MURDERERS," and draws his argument from the passage in the 13th chapter of Romans, where Paul exhorts christians to be subject to "THE POWERS THAT BE," and speaks of "God's ministers bearing not the sword in vain."

The very idea of its being CHRISTIAN to hang a man, is most revolting. How unlike is such a practice to all the actions of Christ and his Apostles. Jesus, Stephen, and all the martyrs prayed for their murderers, but now it is right for christians to hang offenders. But the great mistake, in our judgment, consists in a misunderstanding of Paul to the Romans. The question is, does he teach, that these powers are civil? We doubt; and we think we can answer the arguments in favor of the assumption. If the reader will bear with us, we will give a few reasons for believing these are—RELIGIOUS POWERS.

There is not the least evidence to our mind to induce us to believe the Apostle was speaking of civil powers. Indeed, the opposite seems the more probable, from the concluding verses in the 12th chapter; Paul says:—"If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for, in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good." Would it not sound strangely, for the Apostle to say, in the next words:—"You christians, hang all murderers! for you are God's ministers waiting continually upon this very thing." Such is the position of the abettors of capital punishment amongst christians.

But Paul says, again:—"For there is no power but of God." Will those who contend that, this power is civil, admit that every thing which is suffered, or permitted to exist, is "of God?" To make Heaven the Author of all contradictory systems of civil government, and of those especially which subvert the christian religion, is quite as ludicrous as to say, He is Author of all electarian governments of the world.

Such as "resist these powers, resist the ordinance of God," and, yet, all the ancient martyrs resisted the civil powers, and civil magistrates, and, for this resistance, they will wear martyr's crowns. It is too bad, to call constables and hangmen—//187// "ministers of God, to christians for good;" and, yet, we regret to say, this is the position of some of our most prominent brethren.

An objector may say:—"These ministers of God bear the sword," and are, therefore, civil officers. We hope no one would conclude that the language is literal. The sword, we admit, means an instrument for execution; but we have much better reasons for saying, it is the sword of the spirit, than any one has for declaring it is an iron sword. Paul said to the Gallatians:—"I would they were cut off, who trouble you;" and this instrument, by which offenders are severed from the body, as rotten branches, is "the sword" used by "God's ministers."

For our life, we cannot imagine why religionists, almost universally, suppose that the Apostle was speaking of civil officers, in the 13th of Romans. Still more strange! this is the main passage upon which the advocates of christian capital punishment rely. We admit—one passage is sufficient authority for any thing; but this should be plain, and correspond with the general teaching of scripture. But we contend that, this connection is perfectly clear, as to the duty of church officers, and the duties of members to them. It is, in fact, more full and pointed than any in the Bible; and this view of the subject, perfectly harmonizes with the whole tenor of revelation.

4th. The writer in favor of capital punishment argues, from the fact that "MAN WAS MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD," that, murderers should be put to death. He says:—"So long as it stands true that, man was created in the image of God, so long will it bind every religious and moral people to take away the life of the murderer." The writer, in his argument upon Genesis 9: 5, 6, does not embrace the whole statute. Two features of it, at least, have been abrogated, according to his own showing; and we, moreover, assert that, every feature of it has been abolished, according to New Testament showing. If the reader will turn to the passage, he will learn:—

1st. That the blood of a murderous beast was required. The explanation by Israel's lawgiver, in Exodus 21: 29, is more full. "If an ox were wont to push with his horn, in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner put to death." //188//

2d. Jehovah said:—"At the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man." This is a part of the original enactment; and, I would ask, in all candor, if christian men will contend that, God binds this upon christians, at this day? We admit that, this feature is practised in many Indian tribes, and, it is very evident, the Lord intended it to apply to men in a degraded state. But such a practice in civilized society is bad enough; and, amongst christians, it is monstrous to think of one slaying the murderer of his brother.

5th. The advocates of capital punishment tell us that:—"It deters transgressors, more effectually than other punishments." This is barely possible, but we might admit the truth of the proposition, and still our point would be untouched. We are arguing that capital punishment is no part of christianity—that christians are to conquer men by love, and not by shooting and hanging.

But, not to be prolix, we repeat, that, while we admit God is the author of capital punishment, it was always intended for a state of society far inferior to the christian organization; and in the precincts of the christian empire, such customs were never sanctioned by divine legislation or example.

So much we have thought proper to say, upon the subject of christians putting their fellow creatures to death, because we sincerely believe the times demand that, the saints should make a firm stand against the practice.

We never penned our thoughts with more diffidence, or in more embarrassing circumstances. Our brethren, almost to a man, are the bold and couragous advocates of christian war, and christian hanging; and our writers are so sensitive, that they are generally unwilling to permit us to differ from them. At least, there has been a strong disposition to say hard things of those who have manifested the least independence.

We have desired to find fault with no one, and because others had declared themselves in favor of propagating christianity by the sword, and the hangman's noose, we have not had the nerve to speak upon this subject for more than a year. Alas! for the times. Through the influence of a few leading men, the people who profess to be governed by the Bible—the soul-subduing and heaven—inspiring principles of the Prince of Peace alone—have //187// at this moment, hundreds, if not thousands of their members fighting in a savage country, under the false delusion that they are doing the work of God. We have nothing to say as to the Political justice of the present war—it is possible, there was sufficient cause, but our controversy is with christians. God's mode of "conquering peace," is by kindness, and we declare ourselves opposed to christians staining their hands with blood. Worse still, our leaders and preachers are the strong and avowed supporters of that system of morality, which says:—"If they brother offend against God alone, (a fanciful position this,) let God take vengeance," but if he should offend against society, let the followers of the meek and lowly Jesus, stone him till he die, or hang him by the neck. God! save christians from such influence. We must close by repeating our regrets, that a sense of duty, has called forth this humble protest against death-punishment as a christian practice.


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