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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The True Remedy for War

By William Ellery Channing (1780–1842)

[Lecture on War. Delivered in 1838.—From The Works of William E. Channing, D.D. 1841.]

I HAVE now set before you what I deem the chief evil of war. It is moral evil. And from these views you will easily judge, what I regard as the true remedy of war, as the means of removing it, which above all others we should employ. If the most terrible view of war be, that it is the triumph and jubilee of selfish and malignant passions, then its true cure is to be sought in the diffusion of the principles of Universal Justice and Love, in that spirit of Jesus Christ, which expels the demons of selfishness and malignity from the heart. Even supposing, that war could be abolished by processes which leave the human character unchanged, that it could be terminated by the progress of a civilization, which, whilst softening manners, would not diminish the selfishness, mercenariness, hard-heartedness, fraud, ambition of men, its worst evils would still remain, and society would reap in some other forms the fruits of its guilt. God has ordained, that the wickedness within us shall always find its expression and punishment in outward evil. War is nothing more than a reflection or image of the soul. It is the fiend within coming out. Human history is nothing more, than the inward nature manifested in its native acts and issues. Let the soul continue unchanged; and, should war cease, the inward plague would still find its way to the surface. The infernal fire at the centre of our being, though it should not break forth in the wasting volcano, would not slumber, but by other eruptions, more insensible yet not less deadly, would lay waste human happiness. I do not believe, however, that any remedy but the Christian spirit can avail against war. The wild beast, that has gorged on millions of victims in every age, is not to be tamed by a polished or selfish civilization. Selfishness, however drilled into courtesy, always tends to strife. Man, as long as possessed by it, will sacrifice others to his own interest and glory, and will grow angry and fierce when others stand in his way.

War will never yield but to the principles of universal justice and love, and these have no sure root but in the religion of Jesus Christ. Christianity is the true remedy for war, not Christianity in name, not such Christianity as we see, not such as has grown up under arbitrary governments in church and state, not such as characterizes any Christian sect at the present day, but Christianity as it lived in the soul and came forth in the life of its founder; a religion, that reveals man as the object of God’s infinite love, and which commends him to the unbounded love of his brethren; a religion, the essence of which is self-denial, self-sacrifice, in the cause of human nature; a religion, which proscribes, as among the worst sins, the passion of man for rule and dominion over his fellow-creatures; which knows nothing of rich or poor, high or low, bond or free, and casts down all the walls of partition which sever men from one another’s sympathy and respect.