Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

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John Jay

Bedford, 12th October, 1816.

Accept, my good friend, my thanks for your kind letter of the 22d ult., and for the pamphlets enclosed with it. They came to my hands on the 2d inst. The state of my health is such, that I can read or write but little at a time without fatigue; and, therefore, I cannot prudently venture on the task you recommend.

Whether war of every description is prohibited by the gospel, is one of those questions on which the excitement of any of the passions can produce no light. An answer to it can result only from careful investigation and fair reasoning.

It appears to me that the gospel not only recognises the whole moral law, and extends and perfects our knowledge of it, but also enjoins on all mankind the observance of it. Being ordained by a legislator of infinite wisdom and rectitude, and in whom there is "no variableness," it must be free from imperfection, and therefore never has, nor ever will require amendment or alteration. Hence I conclude, that the moral law is exactly the same now that it was before the flood.

That all those wars and fightings are unlawful, which proceed from culpable desires and designs (or in Scripture language from lusts), on the one side or on the other, is too clear to require proof. As to wars of an opposite description, and many such there have been, I believe they are as lawful to the unoffending party in our days, as they were in the days of Abraham. He waged war against and defeated the five kings. He piously dedicated a tenth of the spoils; and, instead of being blamed, was blessed.

What should we think of a human legislator who should authorize or encourage infractions of his own laws? If wars of every kind and description are prohibited by the moral law, I see no way of reconciling such a prohibition with those parts of Scripture which record institutions, declarations, and interpositions of the Almighty which manifestly evince the contrary? If every war is sinful, how did it happen that the sin of waging any war is not specified among the numerous sins and offences which are mentioned and reproved in both the Testaments?

To collect and arrange the many facts and arguments which relate to this subject, would require more time and application than I am able to bestow. The aforegoing are hinted merely to exhibit some of the reasons on which my opinion rests.

It certainly is very desirable that a pacific disposition should prevail among all nations. The most effectual way of producing it, is by extending the prevalence and influence of the gospel. Real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not provoke war.

Almost all nations have peace or war at the will and pleasure of rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

I thank you for the kind wishes expressed in the conclusion of your letter. They refer to topics on which I have been accustomed to meditate, and are far more important than any which belong to this transient scene.

With the best wishes for your welfare, in the most enlarged sense,
I remain, your obliged friend,

[From William Jay, The Life of John Jay, With Selections from his Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers, New York, 1833, volume II, pp. 375-376]


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