Who are the Shakers?

War and Peace - A Shaker Viewpoint

Shaker Meetinghouse at Mount Lebanon, New York
Shaker Meetinghouse (second) at Mount Lebanon, New York
Photograph from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC
Taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939.

IV. PRACTICAL PEACE.

11. This principle flows from the attributes of love and goodness in God, and is the fruit of meekness, patience and charity. Indeed this heavenly principle, so clearly characterizes the Spirit and Kingdom of Christ, that the violation of it seems evidently a violation of every Divine attribute, and of every Christian virtue.

12. Christ’s Kingdom is a kingdom of peace; hence his subjects must be a peaceable and harmless people. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus: “If my Kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” And because his Kingdom is not of this world, those who are truly his servants will not fight. When Peter, in his zeal to defend his Master, drew a sword and struck a servant of the high priest, “Jesus said unto him, Put up thy sword into its place, for all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword.” Here is a plain and pointed testimony of Christ, against the use of the sword. Indeed it is impossible, from the very nature of Christ’s Kingdom, that he should ever authorize warlike passions, jarring contentions and strife, upon any occasion whatever.

13. All the predictions of the ancient prophets concerning the nature of Christ’s Kingdom, have represented it to be a kingdom of peace; and he himself was emphatically styled The Prince of Peace, many hundred years before he made his appearance on earth. His people are also represented as a peaceable people, dwelling in peaceable habitations; and his government is described as a government of peace. “For thus saith the Lord, Behold I will extend peace like a river; I will make thy officers peace and thy exactors righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land. All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.”

14. Thus it appears that his coming, his Kingdom and his people, were described, in early ages, by the tongue of inspiration, in prophetic strains of peace. And when the time came, his birth was announced by the angels of heaven, in glorious songs of peace. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.” And all these predictions, as far as they related to his personal ministration, in that day, were fully confirmed: for he was evidently The Prince of Peace; and his ministration was a ministration of peace and goodwill towards men, and all who were willing to receive him, were made partakers of his peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God;” said he. He taught them the way of peace and righteousness, bore their infirmities, healed their maladies, comforted them in their afflictions, encouraged and strengthened them in their faith, and at last, when about to leave them, he commended them to his Father, prayed for them, blessed them, and said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Hereafter I will not talk much with you; for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.”

15. Before the preceding predictions could be fully realized, in the final establishment of Christ’s peaceable Kingdom on earth, there was a time in which the spirit of Antichrist prevailed to root out and destroy that good seed of peace which Christ had sown. Then succeeded the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not,” of which Jesus had forewarned his disciples. Then every species of abomination was committed, under the sacred name of Christianity, and blood and carnage deluged the earth, under the professed banners of The Prince of Peace. Abomination of desolation, sure enough! This was the work of that spirit to which Jesus alluded in saying, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” The prince of this world, is a prince of war, and not of peace.

16. Ever since that celebrated heathen warrior, called Constantine the Great, assumed the Christian name, to sanctify his bloody deeds, and obtained the title of the First Christian Emperor, the prince of this world has reigned among a people who have called themselves Christians. Hence the origin of that incongruous title, Christian warriors, which has been so often applied to those murdering Cains, who have imbrued their hands in the blood of their brethren, under a profession of Christianity. But it is in vain for the advocates of war to call themselves Christians, or to claim any relation to Christ: for they have no part in him. They are the subjects of the prince of war, and not of the Prince of peace. Kings, princes, nations and people, who make war upon each other, and shed the blood of their fellow men, and still claim the name of Christians, are the deluded subjects of Antichrist’s kingdom — the children of the prince of this world, who, under the assumed name of Christ, are violating the best principles of Christianity, the principles of peace and good will to men.

17. All the precepts delivered by our Savior, breathed “peace and good will to man;” and they were all confirmed by his works. And it was doubtless the peaceable tendency of his ministration and doctrines, which so alarmed the jealous and envious Jews; else why this argument? “If we let him thus alone,” said they, “all men will believe on him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” But notwithstanding all their warlike principles, aided by their cruel policy in putting him to death, in order to stop the prevalence of his doctrines, and secure the safety of the nation, they were at length overtaken by the very calamities which their barbarous policy was intended to avert. And it ought to be remembered, as a warning to persecutors, that the persecuting cruelty of the Jews, towards Jesus Christ and his followers, was evidently the very cause of the calamities which befell their “place and nation.”

18. It is evident that Jesus Christ, and his apostles after him, invariably maintained the principles of peace, both by precept and example; and these principles were continued in the primitive church, so long as that church stood in its purity. This fact is confirmed by the most authentic accounts of those times. Celsus, a heathen philosopher, who wrote against the Christians in the latter part of the second century, brings this charge against them; “That they refused to bear arms even in case of necessity;” and complains, “that if the rest of the empire were of their opinion, it would soon be overrun by the barbarians.” But notwithstanding this objection of Celsus, the Romans, with all their warring powers and principles, even after professed Christians began to bear arms, were unable to save the empire from being “overrun by the barbarians.”

19. It is not a little surprising that there should be so many, at the present day, who openly profess the peaceable religion of Jesus Christ, and yet are, in principle, the advocates of war, and will make the same objections against the principles of peace which this heathen made. What then is the difference between a warring Christian and a warring heathen? The objection of both against the principles of peace is, in substance, that if the whole nation were of this opinion, we should soon be conquered by other nations, who maintain the principles of war. But the objections of the warring Christian evidently appear much more glaringly inconsistent: for the heathen warrior talks of no enemy but the barbarians, while the Christian warrior wishes to be armed against those who by profession are his brethren and fellow Christians.

20. But we believe, without the least shadow of doubt, that the principles of peace are the best means of preserving peace that a nation can possess. As like causes produce like effects; so the principles of peace have a natural tendency to produce peace; while the principles of war will invariably produce war. And we feel full confidence in the opinion, that if the principles of peace were faithfully cultivated at home, and carefully maintained in all our intercourse abroad, that they would prove a more sure protection to any nation, than the principles of war, with all its expensive preparations; and that they would also have a much greater tendency to preserve the honor and increase the glory of a nation, all the fears and apprehensions of warriors to the contrary notwithstanding. An impartial examination of the history of all ages would doubtless confirm the truth of this remark.

21. As before observed, the principles of peace flow from the attributes of goodness and love, in God: consequently the spirit of war is opposed to these attributes. Goodness to a nation is the result of peace; but great evils result from war. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor;” but hatred, which is the source of all wars, leads mankind to “bite and devour one another.” The spirit of war leads its advocates to revenge real or supposed injuries, and always involves the innocent with the guilty. It produces no good will to man; but is the ruin of many for the aggrandizement of a few. Where is the nation among all the warring powers of Europe, that has not received more injury than benefit from the wars in which it has been engaged?

22. War is opposed to God’s attributes of righteousness and justice: for although it is often waged under pretence of obtaining or defending certain real or supposed rights, or of avenging real or supposed wrongs; yet, in reality, it pays no regard to right; its great object is wrong; it seeks revenge; it produces injury; and its greatest injury often, if not most generally, falls upon those for whose rights the war was professedly undertaken — the rights of the nation — the rights of the people. And in the end, it generally injures their rights and increases their wrongs; and is therefore, throughout, productive of great injustice.

23. The spirit of war is opposed to God’s attribute of holiness. It engenders and promotes in man, the most unholy passions. Ambition, pride and lust, wrath, envy and strife, revenge and cruelty, and the most heaven-daring impiety, are the notorious concomitants of war. In short, an army, in a state of warfare, is the greatest school of vice and iniquity of any on earth. And if any are so fortunate as to pass through it without the ruin of their moral characters; yet it must be acknowledged, that very few escape the general contamination of morals which it is calculated to produce.

24. The spirit of war is contrary to the attributes of light and truth. It darkens the light of truth in the soul, and makes men blind to their own best interests; to their best good, both in this world and that which is to come. It seeks, through false pretexts, to injure the innocent, as well as the guilty. It obscures every virtuous sentiment of the heart, and falsely exalts heroic pride and daring ambition as the highest standard of merit, and the most honorable principles of man.

25. Finally: The spirit of war is contrary to the attributes of power and wisdom. Certainly no human power can be so foolishly exerted, nor any human policy so unwisely employed. The power and wisdom of God can never be exercised to favor the spirit of war, in fallen man, without operating directly against his other revealed attributes, which cannot be done: for the attributes of God can never clash with each other. Though God may suffer one nation to contend with another, and leave both to bear the judgment of their own folly; yet he never can confer his power for the purpose of exalting the pride of fallen man, nor bestow his wisdom on such demoniac policy. “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual and devilish. But the wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”

This material is taken from A Summary View of the Millennial Church, or United Society of Believers, Commonly Called Shakers., by Calvin Green and Seth Y. Wells (Albany, New York: Printed by C. Van Benthuysen, 1848), p. 310-315. A digital edition of this book is now available on line.