War a Destroyer of Souls

By George C. Beckwith (1845)

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This essay , as published in The Book of Peace (1845) is not signed. The Book's editor, Rev. George Cone Beckwith (1800 – 1870), for many years the Corresponding Secretary of the American Peace Society, seems a likely author. Beckwith traveled extensively throughout New England, sometimes delivering up to 7 or 8 lectures a week on the subject of peace. He could have easily had enough material from these lectures to produce the essay, and there are sufficient similarities to his known works to support the conjecture. Another possible author is William Ladd, the founder of the American Peace Society. Had the author been anyone else, it would seem natural for Beckwith to have supplied the name.



T HE SOUL is man's great interest; and its ruin involves the heaviest loss, and the deepest guilt. ; it thwarts the leading design of providence; it poisons the purest, sweetest joys of this life; it blasts the bright and cheering hopes of heaven; it entails the unutterable woes of hell, and pours upon the universe a stream of unholy, baleful influences that are destined never to cease.

I cannot now dwell on these topics of vast and thrilling interest; but would you faintly conceive how much is lost by the ruin of a single soul? Ask not the worldling; he has no conception of its value, no arithmetic for calculations like these. Ask Him who made the soul for his own high, immortal service; Him who came down from the bosom of his Father, and took upon himself the form of a servant, to redeem the soul by his own blood on the cross; or the Holy Spirit, who is now at work amid the ruins of the fall to renew the soul, and thus render it meet for the pure, exalted, endless joys of heaven. Go, ask the saint, as he bows, and sings, and rejoices with joy unspeakable before the throne of God and the Lamb; or the lost sinner, as he writhes in the agonies of that world 'where the worm dieth not, and the fire is never to be quenched, but sendeth up the smoke of its torment forever and ever.' Push your thoughts as far into a coming eternity as you can; and, when myriads after myriads of ages beyond your utmost power to conceive, shall have passed away, pause there, and ask the glorified spirits of heaven, ask the hopeless sufferers in hell, ask the omniscient God himself, to tell you how much is lost, forever lost, by the ruin of but one soul created in the image of its Maker, and bound to a blissful or a miserable immortality!

Alas! that the world should be so full of influences fatal or dangerous to the soul! Business and pleasure, avarice and ambition, intemperance and licentiousness, infidelity, atheism and paganism, a thousand forms of error and sin are every where conspiring to put in jeopardy the immortal interests of mankind; but, passing over all the rest, let us now inquire IN HOW MANY WAYS THE CUSTOM OF WAR RUINS THE SOUL.

It turns the attention of men away from their spiritual concerns. A war in actual progress becomes of course the standing theme in halls of legislation; it fills every newspaper, and forms the leading topic of conversation through the community; it obtrudes itself into the family and the social circle, into the field, the shop and the counting-room. The whole land is full of it; the public mind is saturated with it; and such an absorption of high and low, old and young, saints and sinners, on any other subject than that of vital godliness, cannot fail to obstruct their salvation. Such a result is inevitable; and all history proves it so. If the rage of eager, gainful speculation, or a tale of village slander, or the strife of a warmly contested election, or even contention about the settlement of a pastor, or the location of a church, will sometimes blast in its very bud the most promising revival of religion, how fatal must a state of national warfare be! Engrossed with the intense, all-pervading excitement, the mass of society find no time, and feel no disposition to seek the "one thing needful."

But war, also, disqualifies men for a saving reception of the gospel. For this there must be a kind and a degree of moral preparation quite incompatible with a state of actual warfare. Of what use to sow grain upon a rock, or amid thorns and thistles? Metals must be melted before you can cast them; you must heat iron nearly to the point of fusion, before you can weld it; and upon a community of minds impregnated with war-passions, the strongest truths of God's word would fall powerless as moon-beams on a mountain of ice. Wherever the war-spirit prevails, there would you labor in vain for the conversion of sinners, or the sanctification of Christians. So will you find it alike on a large and a small scale. Let a family or a neighborhood be filled week after week with such a spirit,—with jealousy and anger, with hatred, wrath and revenge, the grand moral elements of war;—and could the gospel reach them in such a state of mind with its redeeming influences? Should any church be pervaded with the mildest form of the war-spirit, alienating its members from each other, distracting their councils, and holding them back from prayer and effort for the salvation of men, could they in such circumstances expect a revival of religion to commence or continue?

But war throws millions of minds into a state even worse than this. It fills whole empires with animosity, malevolence, revenge. It makes the public heart a cauldron of seething, boiling passions. It blinds the mind to God's truth; it sears or perverts the conscience ; it hardens or exasperates the heart; it renders the whole soul well nigh impenetrable for the time to any arrows even from the quiver of the Almighty. Can you bring the truth of God into saving contact with minds thus affected? Can you, with any hope of success, preach the gospel to an army on tiptoe for battle, or lo a community roused and convulsed with the fierce, vindictive passions of war? As well might you sow grain upon the rapids of Niagara, into the burning crater of Etna, and hope for a harvest. Breathe the genuine war-spirit into every bosom on earth; and from that moment must the work of conversion and sanctification cease every where.

But war, moreover, prevents the use of means for the salvation of men. The three millions of standing warriors now (1845) in Christendom, it deprives even in peace of nearly all religious privileges, and thus exposes them to almost certain perdition. No class of men, not even seamen, are so poorly provided with the means of grace. Next to nothing is done for their salvation. There is no pastor, no missionary among them to care for their souls; and, if there were, his labors, subject to the dictation of an ungodly commander, would probably be, like those of Baxter himself even in a Puritan camp, well nigh useless. No Sabbath dawns upon them ; no sanctuary opens its doors to them; no Sabbath-school, no prayer-meeting, no family altar, scarce a Bible or a tract can be found among the mass of men trained to the work of human butchery for a livelihood.

So it must be. Look at the very nature of war; and tell us - what can be done for the souls of men cast in its own mould, imbued with its spirit, and steeped in its vices and crimes. Review the history of war; and tell us what has been done or attempted for the salvation of warriors. Among the millions that fought, and the millions that fell, during the late wars of Europe, did one in ten or a hundred enjoy the ordinary means of grace?

I grant that much more is now done in a few Christian countries for the spiritual benefit of warriors; but how very little, and with results how meager and miserable! We hear indeed of chaplains in the army and the navy; but what do they do for their spiritual charge? What can they do? Suppose a minister of Christ were employed in a brothel or a grog-shop to pray and preach in a way to sanction the deeds done there, would he be likely by such a course to reclaim the frequenters of those gate-ways to hell, and train them up for heaven? I mean no personal disrespect; but I am constrained to regard the whole business of war-chaplaincies as a piece of solemn mockery, an attempt to blend Christ with Belial, to make Christianity bow in homage before the altar of Moloch.

I could easily quote facts to prove the general futility of such chaplaincies. On this point I have myself heard from eye-witnesses, statements which would startle the Christian community; but I will give only a few extracts from the report of a Mr. Smith in 1828, then a Christian minister, but once a naval officer, "on the religious state of the British navy."1 Devoting himself to the religious welfare of seamen, he went, by permission of the lieutenant, on board a man-of-war, to distribute some religious tracts, but was rudely expelled by the captain. "I begged," says he, "to speak with the captain, and said, I presume, sir, you have been misinformed; I am not aware of having done any thing to incur your displeasure.—' Yes, sir, you have by dispersing religious tracts.'— You are mistaken, sir; I have not given one.—' Then you had no business to go below.'—I asked permission of your commanding officer, sir.—' I am myself commanding officer of this ship, sir.'—I know you are; but when you were not on quarter-deck, I conceived your first lieutenant acted for you.—' I will not have my men visited by any one without my permission.'—Sir, I could do them no possible injury; I am a minister of the gospel, and wish to do them all the good I can. I have myself been in the navy, and therefore know well the rules of the service, and should be the last to disobey, or lead others to act contrary to the due subordination and routine of the profession.—' Still you had no right down below in my ship.'—Why, sir, I found many of the vilest unmarried females below, teaching the men all sorts of obscenity and abomination. Surely, if these were allowed to crowd the ship, a minister of the gospel might be permitted also.—' No, sir, they come to the men by my permission; you do not.'—I am truly sorry for it, sir; for they will corrupt and ruin the whole crew.—' Never mind that, sir; mind your own business ;—I'll have no religious tracts distributed in my ship.' " To such men does every chaplain swear obedience; nor can he, without their permission, attempt any thing for the salvation of seamen or soldiers. Thus manacled and thwarted, what could even a Payson or a Baxter accomplish ?

I fear that the war-system makes fearful havoc of souls among its own agents, even in a time of peace. Every one, acquainted with its practical operation, knows it to be a school of irreligion, vice and profligacy; nor could you well select a surer way to perdition than the army or the navy, each worse in this respect than a state-prison! How few in either give the slightest evidence of their being prepared for heaven! Yet are there in Christendom itself three millions or more, even in peace, training in this school of error and sin for a miserable eternity. No stretch of charity can believe a tenth, if a hundredth, part of them fit for heaven; and if these three millions die off on an average in twenty years, there would annually go into the world of spirits 150,000 souls, and more than nine-tenths of them unprepared for their last account! With this number compare the sum total of church-members at all the missionary stations among the heathen in 1844, when they amounted to 172,233, or a little more, as the result of half a century's labors by the whole church, than the annual sacrifice of souls in Christendom itself at the shrine of the war-demon even in peace!!

I cannot, however, pause here to glance at the far greater mischief occasioned by war to the community at large. The Sabbath, that sheet-anchor of religion, that main-spring of God's moral government over our world, the pivot of nearly all the instrumentalities appointed for the recovery of mankind from sin, it tends, if it does not seek, to destroy. It [War] knows, it admits no Sabbath. Its battles are fought, its marches continued, its fortifications constructed, its drills performed, all its labors exacted, all its recreations indulged on this even more than any other day of the week. The battle of Waterloo, like a multitude of others, was fought without scruple on the Sabbath; and even officers of a Christian church among ourselves have been heard to say, 'there is no Sabbath in times of war and revolution.' Nor indeed is there any Sabbath for soldiers even in a time of peace; for all over Europe, even in our own army, is the Sabbath the chosen time for special and splendid reviews. Soldiers are absolutely compelled to trample under foot this day of God; and their example, backed by men in power, and justified by the best members of society as the necessary privilege of war, must ere-long unclinch the hold of the Sabbath upon the conscience, heart and habits of any community. Even the sons of the Puritans are not proof against influences like these; for the Sabbath of New England itself has received from three wars,—the French, the Revolutionary and the last,—a shock from which only the millennium can ever restore it to the sanctity and moral power which it had in the halcyon days of our fathers.

War, also, stifles,the very disposition to use the means of grace. Breathe its spirit of anger, hatred and revenge into any circle of families; and would the Christians in that circle be intent on the salvation of its impenitent members? Let the same war-passions pervade and convulse a whole congregation; would their pastor be able, or his church inclined, to use the means indispensable to a general revival of religion?

Take an example or two. A slave-holder in Virginia, extremely irascible and severe, found at length a slave as bad-tempered as himself. No severity of punishment could subdue or bow his stern, indomitable spirit; and, even when smarting under the lash, and reeking with blood from head to foot, he would still defy that master to his face, and pour upon him a torrent of bold, fierce, withering imprecations. It was Turk meeting Turk. But the gospel came ere-long to that Negro's heart; it tamed the tiger into a lamb; and then did that very slave, once so full only of wrath and revenge, make it the burden of his daily prayers, that God would have mercy on his cruel, relentless oppressor. His infidel master, doubting his sincerity, and an utter stranger to his present spirit, treated him with greater severity than ever, and fiercely swore ' he'd whip the devil out of the villain;' but the poor slave, even while smarting, and writhing, and bleeding under the lash, would fall on his knees, and pray so much the more, 'God bless massa ! God bless my dear massa !' This was too much even for depravity like his to bear long; and that very master, under the blessing of God upon such an exhibition of the Christian spirit, good returned for evil, love for hatred, prayers for bloody stripes, at length came himself to pray, and weep, and rejoice in Christ with his much abused, yet still affectionate and devoted, solely because regenerated slave. And when the time came for a public profession of their faith in their common Savior, you might have seen that master and his slave going hand in hand down into the water, there to seal the consecration of themselves to Him whose matchless love it is, rather than his almighty wrath, that subdues rebellious hearts to his scepter.

Akin to this was the spirit of the martyr's mother. Some natives of an island in the East Indian ocean, exasperated by frequent acts of fraud and abuse, seized at length an American vessel, and committed outrages upon her crew. The insult was trumpeted through the world; and one of our war-ships (Potomac, 1832) was sent half way round the globe just to seek revenge, in the name of a Christian people, by burning a whole village, (Qualla Battoo,) and putting its inhabitants, men, women and children, to the sword. On the same island, two missionaries of the cross, (Munson and Lyman,) mistaken by the cannibals there,— only because mistaken,—for men of plunder and blood, were put to death, probably devoured for food p and, when the report of her son's untimely fate was carried by a venerable man of God to the widowed mother of the fallen Lyman, she lifted her eyes to heaven streaming with tears, and said, ' I thank God for giving me a son to die in such a service, even by such a death; and Oh that I had another son to go, and preach the gospel to his murderers.' Not to carry, as we had sent, the death-dealing cannon, and hurl them by scores into a ruined eternity; but to bear, as Christ brought from heaven, offers of pardon and salvation as the only requital that her Christian spirit could desire even for the murder of her favorite, much-loved son. Here is the spirit of the gospel, the only spirit that ever did, or ever can use the means requisite for this world's conversion ; and were it possible for the malignant, vindictive spirit of war to gangrene the bosom of every Christian on earth, not another missionary, not even another Bible or tract would ever go from Christian shores to light the lamp of life everlasting amid the six or eight hundred millions of our race now groping their way to eternity beneath the death-shades of paganism.

But war, likewise, tends in many ways to neutralize the means of grace. It shuts or steels the minds of men against their power. Were two professors of religion embroiled in a well-known disgraceful feud, would their impenitent neighbors be disposed to receive religious instruction from their lips? Should the members of a church come before the public in the fierce, shameful bickerings of an ecclesiastical warfare, would not the mass of irreligious minds be closed against their influence for good? Should a preacher of the gospel, stained with the blood of an enemy slain in duel or battle, enter the pulpit of your own church, would you not instantly shut against him every avenue to your heart? Yet such is the attitude in which the church of Christ has for centuries stood before the whole world. I know too well the power of depravity; but it was mainly the war-system of nations reputedly Christian that shut up China, Japan, and the countries round the Mediterranean, against the heralds of the cross. And can we wonder at their dread of a religion so strangely belied for ages by its warring votaries ? What drew down the wrath of Burmah upon Judson and his co-workers ? Not so much hatred of the gospel, as the dread of baptized warriors from England carrying, or threatening to carry fire and sword into the heart of her dominions.

Have Christians at length escaped the contaminations of war? Alas! the church is still pervaded more or less with the war-spirit, and continues her patronage of the war-system. Ministers of the Prince of Peace still apologize for its abominations, and children of the God of Peace still pray for his smiles upon its work of death, and pious parents still train some of their own sons to its trade of human butchery as the business of their life, and temples of Jehovah still ring, as they have for ages rung, with praises to his name for fleets sunk, for cities burnt to ashes, for empires covered with carnage and devastation, for thousands upon thousands of immortal souls hurried to their last account in guilt and blood! Such a spirit, essential to the very existence of the war-system, must tend greatly to neutralize the saving power of the gospel.

Few suspect how far the gospel is neutralized by the incidental influences of war. In 1841 I visited a retired town in Massachusetts, and examined the records of its only church for more than a century previous. No battle had been fought there; no army, scarce a recruiting officer had prowled over or near it; nor had the ordinary means of grace been interrupted more than is common even in a time of peace. Yet mark the result. From 1729 to 1744, fourteen years of peace, 149 were added to the church; an average of nearly eleven a year. From the beginning of the old French war to the close of our Revolution in 1783, some forty years of military excitement, there were only 77 additions; less than two a year, or a diminution of more than five hundred per cent from the previous period of peace. From 1810 to 1815, the time of our last war with two years of antecedent exasperation, only three persons were received into the church; one in a little less than two years! From 1830 to 1839 there were 183 additions; about nineteen a year, or an increase upon the last case of nearly four thousand per cent! Thus we find the mere excitements of war diminishing the efficacy of essentially the same means, first more than 500 per cent, next some 2000 per cent., and finally almost 4000 per cent; nor is it any exaggeration to say that war probably neutralizes four-fifths, if not nine-tenths of the saving power of the gospel!

How fearfully then must war tend to prevent the indispensable influences of God's Spirit. Vain without his blessing would be the labors of Paul or Gabriel; but will he succeed the instrumentality of those who breathe a war-spirit? Should all the churches in our land catch such a spirit, and cherish hatred instead of love, revenge in place of forgiveness, the entire cluster of war-passions, could they expect seasons of refreshing from the "presence of the Lord? " "Let the war-mania pervade this whole nation; let the fierce, reckless strife of war-parties exasperate and convulse our entire population; let every city, every considerable village become a recruiting rendezvous with its riot, and revelry, and lust; let soldiers be quartered all over the country to trample on the Sabbath, indulge in drunkenness, debauchery, and every species of vice and villainy; let our hills and valleys resound with the uproar of battle after battle, and twenty millions of people be lashed, like the chafed and wounded tiger, into rage and desperation; let ministers in the sanctuary, and pious women in their closets, while husbands and sons, fathers and brothers are far away on the battle-field hewing down the victims of their vengeance, beseech the Father of all to nerve the warrior's death-dealing arm, and give the weapons of blood their fullest effect in the slaughter of thousands upon thousands; and then, as reports of victory come, let shouts, and bonfires, and merry bells, and solemn processions, and fulsome eulogies, and songs of praise to the God of Peace, proclaim the wild outburst of joy from a whole people at a result so full of lamentation and woe for two worlds! Would the Spirit of God come to dwell amid such scenes ?

But I cannot linger on a point so revolting; nor will I attempt to tell how this custom fosters ignorance, vice and crime;—how it debases the understanding, and brutalizes more or less the whole inner man;—how it blinds or steels the mind to the truth of God;— how it sears or benumbs the conscience;—how it turns the heart into adamant;—how it makes the soul proof against the best means of grace;—how it gives rise or support to despotism, and slavery, and the slave-trade, and piracy, and robbery, and theft, and intemperance, and brutal licentiousness, and almost every form of sin you can well conceive.

How fast, then, must war ripen souls for perdition. It is a hotbed of wickedness, a vast, prolific nursery of hell. It is Satan's master-device for the ruin of immortal souls. It sweeps them into the bottomless pit by wholesale, by thousands and millions! It has, at one time or another, made the whole earth one vast slaughter-yard of souls!

On this point I wish there were more room for doubt; but if our Savior meant what he said in telling us ' we must repent or perish, must be born again, or never see the kingdom of God;' if Paul was right in his solemn assurance, that "neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God," how impossible to suppose that any considerable number of warriors, the great mass of whom answer so notoriously to the characters here given, can ever enter the world of glory!

How vast, then, the immediate ruin of souls by war! Shall I remind you of 200,000 lives lost by England alone in our Revolutionary war; of 70,000 at Waterloo and Quatre Bras; of 80,000 at Borodino; of 300,000 at Arbela; of 400,000 by Julius Caesar in a single engagement: of no less than 15,000,000 Goths destroyed by Justinian in twenty years; of 32,000,000 slain by Genghis Khan alone in forty-one years; in the wars of the Turks, 60,000,060; in those of the Tartars, 80,000,000! God only knows—I dare not conjecture—how many souls this custom may, in all past time, have sent into eternity, reeking with unforgiven guilt; for the estimate of Dr. Dick, the lowest I have ever seen, puts the sum total of its victims at 14,000,000,000, eighteen times as many as all the present population of our globe!

Disciples of the Prince of Peace, has this cause no special claims on you? If peace is as truly a part of your religion as repentance or faith; if it must prevail over the whole earth before the millennium can ever come; if it is so essential to the success of the gospel in Christian lands, and to its spread and triumph through the world; if the salvation of souls is an object for which God gave up his own Son to the manger and the cross, provided all the means of grace, and required his people to pray, and toil, and be willing even to suffer and die; if war has ever been such a wholesale destroyer of souls, and done so much to prevent their conversion both at home and abroad; will the sons and daughters of the God of Peace, can you refuse to such a cause as this your cheerful, zealous, efficient support?

Source: George C. Beckwith (ed. and contr.), The Book of Peace. Boston: American Peace Society, 1845. (pp. 449 – 456)


1. Windsor; or an humble Appeal to his Gracious Majesty George IV., inviting Inquiry respecting an Order of his Royal Highness the Duke of Clarence, as Lord High Admiral, prohibiting the Circulation of Religious Tracts in the British Navy, without the Revision of the Rev. Mr. Cole, Chaplain of Greenwich Hospital. By the Rev. G. C. Smith, &c. London: Wakefield. 1828. Reprinted as "Smith's Appeal to the King", The Christian Review and Clerical Magazine, Vol. 2, 1828, pp. 412-427. ^

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