Barton W. Stone’s nonresistance

Nonresistance in the Writings of Barton W. Stone

Barton W. Stone (b. 1772; d. 1844) was a key leader of a Christian movement in the United States (called the “Christian Church”) that sought for unity among all those who professed to be followers of Christ. “In 1832 Stone led many of the Christians in the West to unite with the followers of Alexander Campbell, known as Reformers or Disciples of Christ, forming the Stone-Campbell Movement.”[1] Both of these men were against Christians killing other human beings whether in a time of war, or otherwise. But Stone went further and asserted that Christians should not participate in civil government. He was an advocate of Christian nonresistance, and some of his thoughts on the subject can be seen in the following selections from his writings.

The first set of selections come from the Works of Elder B. W. Stone, which was assembled by Elder James M. Mathes and published in 1859 (I have only smoothed it out a little and slightly updated the language). In chapter six of this book (pp. 215-221; 9th Interview), Stone uses a fictional dialogue between an old preacher (O.P.) and a young preacher (Y.P.) to put forth arguments as to why Christians should not participate in civil government. The old preacher is probably meant to represent Stone himself. The old preacher begins the dialogue by employing military language to speak of the Christian life and service to God, by calling the servants of God “soldiers” and their service for the kingdom of God a “holy war.” Stone writes:


O.P.—Well, my son, what success have you had in enlisting soldiers for the holy war since we last met?

Y.P.—None, none. The way is completely obstructed by the counter currents of worldly policy, called politics. This appears to be the all-absorbing theme and the spring of action among the people of every age, sex, religion and profession in the land. It is a thick veil thrown over eternity and eternal things—it is an opiate which has induced a senseless lethargy to religion—it is ruination to Christian character—it has banished shame from the hearts of the professors of Christianity, who seem to enjoy the revels of the day—and last, but not least, it has entered the modest precincts of the women, and prostrated female propriety. A few days ago, I was riding abroad and accidentally fell in with a large body of men and women who were making their way to a large meeting of politicians that was called together by a few interested political agitators. The young ladies, in a separate company, were riding in the front of the group in uniform, each one bearing a small banner in their hands, following a large flag waving over their heads, with the names of their candidates written in large letters, and a band of music was before them. I was completely astounded at such a novel sight. I could think of no excuse for such impropriety except ignorance. The small still voice of religion cannot be heard in such a turmoil, nor can she have entrance or abode into hearts so heated with politics.

I remembered similar conduct in 1840. They gained their candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency of the nation. But, like a judgment from heaven for the iniquities of the people, the president was cut off by death as soon as he was inaugurated—and the vice-president, they say, proved a traitor to the cause that he was elected to advance. How soon are such striking events forgotten! And how soon the infatuated, fickle multitude renew the former scenes with greater interest! O Lord, what is man? I am almost sunk into discouragement! To preach during such excitement appears in vain; and yet to refrain I cannot. I find a few, and only a few mourners in Zion, who weep for her desolations. This evidence of a faithful remnant upholds my sinking spirit, along with the heart-cheering truth: the Lord reigneth.

[Here, the young preacher suddenly burst into a flood of tears, which prevented him from speaking further.]

O.P.—My son, wipe your tears and trust in the Lord. It is true a dark cloud hangs over the world, which may burst in vengeance or mercy. An exterminating war has long been waging between religion and the world, and “the fight will be maintained until the weaker dies.” A compromise can never be effected between them; for whosoever loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; and whosoever will be a friend of the world is an enemy to God. The friendship of the world is enmity to God. To seek the friendship of the world and the friendship of God at the same time, cannot be done consistently with truth —it is a vain work; and yet this work, vain as it is, seems to mark the professors of Christianity at the present day; almost an armistice seems to be concluded between the world and professed Christianity. The God of this world has blinded the eyes of professed Christians, has deceived them, and is fast leading the ranks of them into captivity—into bondage and death. Christians are virtually forsaking the government and laws of heaven to prop up and sustain the governments and laws of men, whether those men and laws be ecclesiastical or political; in fact, they are based upon the same foundation.

The Israelites were always scattered when they forsook the laws and ordinances of heaven and followed their own devices. Their enemies prevailed against them, and led them into captivity; nor were they ever gathered together from their dispersions, till they returned to the laws and ordinances of God which they had forsaken. These things were written for our example, on whom the ends of the world are come. We must return to the government, laws and ordinances of our rightful king, the Lord Jesus, before we shall ever be gathered together and become worthy subjects of His kingdom. We must unite our energies, advance the government and kingdom of our Lord, and meddle not with the government of this world, whether human, ecclesiastical, political or civil; all others aside from that of heaven will He put down by the firm decree of our Lord before the end comes.

Y.P.—You astonish me. Are not the civil powers (and governments that be) ordained of God? And is it not the duty of Christians to be subject to them, and to sustain them? Do instruct me on this subject.

O.P.—If it be the duty of Christians under one worldly government to uphold and support that government, then it is the duty of Christians living in every worldly government to uphold and support the government that they live under. Those living in North America must uphold and support the democracy of all the United States; those in Britain must support the monarchy of England; those in Russia must support the despotism there; those in Rome must support the government of the pope, the man of sin, the Anti-Christ of our rightful Lord; those in South America must support every petty tyrant that wades through blood to sit in the supreme chair of State. According to this reasoning, all these governments must be supported and sustained by all the power, influence, blood and treasure of every Christian living under them. But can we for one moment think that the Lord enjoined on His people under the Caesars of old to uphold and defend their bloody governments, which enjoined the extirpation of the Christians? Or which tried to force Christians to abandon their religion and to sacrifice to idols? Can we think it possible that the government of the pope, the man of sin, the true Anti-Christ, must be supported by Christians at the expense of all their influence, blood and treasure (and that being done by oath), and I may add, at the expense of their own souls? I grant that Christians are bound to submit to the powers as far as to pay their dues, as custom, tax, etc. But they are not enjoined to seek for, nor fill, those positions of governmental power and thus sustain the government. How awful the thought that the Lord would enjoin it on His followers that they should sustain and support the opposing, antagonistic government of Rome which aims at the subversion of His own kingdom or government!

Y.P.—You confound me; but are not the powers or governments that exist ordained of God? Is it not then right for Christians to support or maintain them?

O.P.—If all the governments which exist are ‘ordained of God’ (in the sense in which the phrase is popularly & commonly understood), then it undeniably follows that all the clashing, conflicting governments on earth are Divine and good—that they all constitute parts of God’s own government. Will this be admitted by any intelligent man? No, not one. The translation of Romans 13:1 has caused this confusion. In our version we read: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” The words are ordained (in our version) are in the present tense. But in the original, the words are in the perfect tense, and should be translated have been ordained. Trace the history of God’s government from the beginning, and we shall find that He, as monarch of the world, always gave His own laws to His people for their government, but always ordained or appointed men to rule under Him according to those laws. But we never find that He ever gave authority to uninspired men to make laws in any age or nation for the government of His people. Therefore, it is evident that God did not ordain the authorities that execute and enforce any laws except His own laws.

The people soon, through their depravity, became dissatisfied with God’s government and laws and began to depart from the laws of Heaven and to legislate for themselves; yet they retained the authorities and offices which God had ordained. Then the people were scattered, and they formed nations, made laws and instituted governments for themselves, retaining the offices Divinely ordained to execute the laws—not those laws given by God, but those made by themselves. Thus, the whole world is divided into kingdoms, states, governments and parties, whose mutually opposing laws and governments create collisions of national interests, strife, war and carnage. While the kind purpose of God was to reunite the clashing, conflicting world and to make them one and to reconcile the world unto Himself by his Son, this will never happen till they all return to the government and laws of God and forsake their own. These laws of God are now given to us by Jesus Christ, and when they are received and fully acted upon, they will unite the world in harmony, love and peace; wars will cease to the ends of the earth, and discord and strife be known no more forever. It will truly be the kingdom of peace—of heaven on earth.

Y.P.—Could we live on earth in safety without civil government? Would not the strongest sect of professed Christians persecute and oppress the weaker, unless checked and restrained by the civil authorities? Would not the wicked part of the world continually bring upon us tribulation and distress?

O.P.—We may imagine a thousand difficulties. But have we not a king in Zion, who is jealous for the glory of His Church upon earth? Is He not almighty? Can He not check and restrain opposing powers? Will He not hear prayer, and intervene in time of need? To these questions, our enlightened judgment answers in the affirmative. But where is our faith? Can we trust in this king? Persecution would add multitudes to the ranks of Emmanuel for every one that is killed for their faith. The Church would continually gain converts from the world by the truth and by our sufferings for the truth until He comes, whose right it is to reign triumphantly over all. While civil governments still exist, we may, as did Paul, appeal to Caesar from the judgment of our enemies. It is the duty of the civil government to protect us from harm, because we honestly and punctually pay taxes. But the amalgamation of Church & State is an unholy alliance, and every step taken in that direction is a further departure from truth. The world is beginning to be awake to this subject, and still some of the parties seem to cast a wishful eye to the Highest.


[what follows is more evidence of Stone’s nonresistance from the Works of Elder B. W. Stone, chap. 7, pp. 222, 241-244, Lectures on Matt 5-7. Stone writes…]:

IT has been (and still is) a question, whether this discourse was addressed to the multitudes or to the apostles alone. It is of little importance to us to know the true solution of this question—for if addressed to the disciples alone, yet through them, these truths were to be communicated to the world to the end of time. To them did Jesus give instruction, which they as His apostles were commissioned to teach to all nations—”teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” These truths we may safely believe are addressed to the world, if not immediately by the Lord himself, yet immediately by his apostles, and successors.

In the first verses of the chapter, the Lord gives a view of that religion, which he was about to introduce into the world, and the character of those who alone should be acknowledged as his people, and should inherit eternal life. [p. 222]

Matt 5:38-39—“Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

The law of Moses both allowed for and commanded a strict retaliation to be practiced by its subjects. But our great law-giver, Jesus Christ, commands the reverse of this to be practiced by His subjects with an equal strictness. When He said: “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil,” we understand that the word evil is an adjective, and that the word ‘person’ is to be understood—i.e. resist not an evil or injurious person. Jesus is saying that if such a person “smite thee on thy right cheek,” that we should not retaliate by smiting him also. Instead, we should meekly offer the other cheek. By responding in such a way, you might overcome the injurious person and bring about his submission to the truth. Christ set the example for us. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return. When He suffered (and it was more than a stroke on the cheek), He neither retaliated, nor even threatened those who injured Him. Rather, He committed Himself to the One that judges righteously—to His God and Father. Now, if this precept of Jesus is binding on one of His followers, then it is binding on all, and His own example sanctions the obligation. “Surely these people will learn war no more,”—neither the art nor the practice of it. If genuine Christianity were to overspread the earth, wars would cease, and the world would be bound together in the bonds of peace. This is Christ’s kingdom—the kingdom of peace. A nation professing Christianity, yet teaching, learning and practicing the arts of war, cannot be of the kingdom of Christ, nor do they live in obedience to the laws of Christ—the government is anti-Christian, and must reap the fruits of their infidelity at some future day.

But what shall be said of the nation which seeks to injure another, and in fact makes a trade of it—while at the very same time professing Christianity? The answer is easy. They are leagued with the powers of darkness, and shall share in all their pains which are to come.

The so-called Christian world has fallen so far away from original Christianity, and has lost sight of it so long ago, that its professed advocates have in many instances amalgamated its practices and teachings with paganism, and pushed original Christianity into the background. War, which is so contrary to the kingdom of peace, is taught as a science at military academies, and that, too, at the expense of the nation.[2] Legislators condemn dueling and impose severe penalties on those who practice it; and yet these same legislators will justify the same principle on a larger scale—a war between two nations. The principle behind such wars is to resist the injurious, but our Legislator says, resist not the injurious. Whom shall we obey, God or man?

Verse 40—“If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” This man who sues you is an injurious person. If he takes away your coat or tunic, resist not the injurious—rather let him take your cloak, too. Show him what a low value you place on worldly possessions and that your treasure is above. Taking this course of action might save your enemy. The same principle is continued.

Verse 41—“And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two,” rather than resist the injurious person.

Verse 42—“Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

These precepts are in as plain language as can be expressed. I do not pretend to make them any plainer. This will, or at least should, satisfy those professing Christians who say that “the Scriptures mean what they say and say what they mean.” They are certainly against greed, selfishness and unkindness, and they plainly express the contrary. We must make God our example. If we allow or concede one exception to the rules laid down, then it only follows that other exceptions will be allowed for similar reasons. It then becomes a slippery slope and we will not know where to stop. Professed “Bible-believing” Christians will explain away the clear teachings and commands of Jesus, and then act (as is generally done) as if such a law was not even in existence, and yet they will continue to profess the Bible to be their sole rule of belief & practice.

Verses 43-44—“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

The rule of conduct by which those under the Old Covenant were regulated, was to love their neighbor and hate their enemy. It was necessary for one of them to ask: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus gave the inquirer a practical definition in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan did good to an unknown man who was in great distress, and who had been abandoned by the priest and the Levite of his own nation. The Jews were mortal enemies to the Samaritans. Yet, this Samaritan showed mercy to a Jew in great distress, whom he well knew was his enemy. He was the neighbor, and not the enemy. They are set in contrast. An enemy is described in Matthew 5:44 as someone who curses you, hates you, and spitefully uses and persecutes you. A neighbor is described as one that loves, blesses, and does good to those who curse and hate him, and prays for those who spitefully use and persecute him. This definition of a neighbor is the same as the one presented in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. How lovely, how divine is the portrait! If all who confess Jesus were of this character, what a body of light and glory would shine upon the world! They—the world—would have to shut their eyes against the light, or yield to its power, and become neighbors too! This character, drawn in miniature, is the very character of the Father of the universe, which is manifested in His Son, and which is also seen in God’s providence to the fallen world. A Christian, therefore, is commanded to act in this same way toward his enemies—to all mankind—for the very purpose stated in Matthew 5:45: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” [pp. 241-244]


[These final selections from Stone’s writings come from the first chapter of a different book that was published in 1853, which is entitled: The Biography of Eld. Barton Warren Stone. In these quotations, Stone is regretfully describing things he witnessed as a young boy at the time of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).]

“Frequent calls were made for men to aid in our revolutionary struggles against our enemies, the British and Tories. Those calls were promptly obeyed by the hardy sons of the back-woods. Parents in tears cheerfully equipped their willing sons for the tented field. Never shall I forget the sorrows of my widowed mother when her sons shouldered their firelocks, and marched away to join the army. Never will the impressions of my own grief be erased from the tablet of my memory, when these scenes occurred.” [p. 2]

“The soldiers, when they returned home from their war tour, brought back with them many vices almost unknown to us before; as profane swearing, debauchery, drunkenness, gambling, quarreling and fighting. For having been soldiers, and having fought for liberty, they were respected and caressed by all. They gave the ton to the neighborhood, and therefore their influence in demoralizing society was very great. These vices soon became, general, and almost honorable. Such are universally the effects of war, a greater evil than which cannot assail and afflict a nation.” [pp. 2-3]


[1] The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 700.

[2] Consider how many “Christian” colleges, universities and seminaries now have programs (ROTC programs) designed to supply the military with properly educated military officers, whether chaplains or otherwise.

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