And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares…
Let me attempt to do away a delusion which exists on the subject of prophecy. Its fulfillments are all certain, say many, and we have therefore nothing to do but to wait for them in passive and indolent expectation. Now, it is very true, that the Divinity will do His work in His own way, but if He choose to tell us that that way is not without the instrumentality of men, might not this sitting down into the mere attitude of spectators turn out to be a most perverse and disobedient conclusion! The prophecy of a peace as universal as the spread of the human race, and as enduring as the moon in the firmament, will meet its accomplishment; but it will be brought about by the activity of men — by the philanthropy of intelligent Christians.
I. THE EVILS OF WAR. The mere existence of this prophecy is a sentence of condemnation upon war. So soon as Christianity shall gain a full ascendency in the world, war is to disappear. We have heard that there is something noble in the art of war; that there is something generous in the ardour of that fine chivalric spirit which kindles in the hour of alarm, and rushes with delight among the thickest scenes of danger and of enterprise; that expunge war, and you expunge some of the brightest names in the catalogue of human virtue, and demolish that theatre on which have been displayed some of the sublimest energies of the human character. One might almost be reconciled to the whole train of its calamities and its horrors, did he not believe his Bible, and learn that in the days of perfect righteousness, there will be no war; — that so soon as the character of man has had the last finish of Christian principle thrown over it, all the instruments of war will be thrown aside, and all its lessons forgotten. But apart altogether from this testimony to the evil of war, let us take a direct look at it, and see whether we can find its character engraven on the aspect it bears to the eye of an attentive observer. Were the man who stands before you in the full energy of health, to be in another moment laid by some deadly aim a lifeless corpse at your feet, there is not one of you who would not prove how strong are the relentings of nature at a spectacle so hideous as death. But generally the death of violence is not instantaneous, and there is often a sad and dreary interval between its final consummation, and the infliction of the blow which causes it. A soldier may be a Christian, and from the bloody field on which his body is laid, his soul may wing its way to the shores of a peaceful eternity. But when I think that the Christians form but a little flock, and that an army is not a propitious soil for the growth of Christian principle; when I follow them to the field of battle, and further think, that on both sides of an exasperated contest the gentleness of Christianity can have no place in almost any bosom, but that nearly every heart is lighted up with fury, and breathes a vindictive purpose against a brother of the species, I cannot but reckon it among the most fearful of the calamities of war, that while the work of death is thickening along its ranks, so many disembodied spirits should pass into the presence of Him who sitteth upon the throne, in such a posture, and with such a preparation.
II. Let me direct your attention to THOSE OBSTACLES WHICH STAND IN THE WAY OF THE EXTINCTION OF WAR, and which threaten to retard, for a time, the accomplishment of this prophecy.
1. The first great obstacle is the way in which the heart of man is carried off from its barbarities and its horrors, by the splendour of its deceitful accompaniments. There is a feeling of the sublime in contemplating the shock of armies, just as there is in contemplating the devouring energy of a tempest; and this so elevates and engrosses the whole man, that his eye is blind to the tears of bereaved parents, and his ear is deaf to the piteous moan of the dying, and the shriek of their desolated families. There is a gracefulness in the picture of a youthful warrior burning for distinction on the field, and lured by this generous aspiration to the deepest of the animated throng, where, in the fell work of death, the opposing sons of valour struggle for a remembrance and a name; and this side of the picture is so much the exclusive object of our regard, as to disguise from our view the mangled carcasses of the fallen, and the writhing agonies of the hundred and the hundreds more who have been laid on the cold ground, where they are left to languish and die. On every side of me I see causes at work which go to spread a most delusive colouring over war, and to remove its shocking barbarities to the background of our contemplations altogether. I see it in the history which tells me of the superb appearance of the troops and the brilliancy of their successive charges. I see it in the poetry which lends the magic of its numbers to the narrative of blood, and transports its many admirers, as by its images and figures and its nodding plumes of chivalry it throws its treacherous embellishments over a scene of legalised slaughter.
2. But another obstacle to the extinction of war is the sentiment that the rules and promises of the Gospel which apply to a single individual, do not apply to a nation of individuals. If forbearance be the virtue of an individual, forbearance is also the virtue of a nation. If it be the glory of a man to defer his anger, and to pass over a transgression, that nation mistakes its glory which is so feelingly alive to the slightest insult, and musters up its threats and its armaments upon the faintest shadow of a provocation. If it be the magnanimity of an injured man to abstain from vengeance, and if by so doing, he heap coals of fire upon the head of his enemy, then that is the magnanimous nation, which, recoiling from violence and from blood, will do no more than send its Christian embassy, and prefer its mild and impressive remonstrance; and that is the disgraced nation which will refuse the impressiveness of the moral appeal that has been made to it.
III. IT IS ONLY BY THE EXTENSION OF CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE AMONG THE PEOPLE OF THE EARTH THAT THE ATROCITIES OF WAR WILL AT LENGTH BE SWEPT AWAY FROM IT.
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
WEB: He will judge between the nations, and will decide concerning many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.