Consider the inefficacy of all human means for the removal of these evils. The miseries produced in the earth by discord are so serious, that it is become the necessary study of the thinking part of mankind to counteract them. Had the love of God ruled in the heart, this had been the cement of the world. Had men been ten thousand times more numerous than they are, this would have bound them all together: but, this principle being extinct, others of a very inferior nature must be substituted in its place. It is partly by softening the asperities of human nature, and partly by cultivating its most pacific principles, that any thing is effected; but though these means may diminish the evil, yet they cannot produce any thing like a radical cure. Let us instance in a few particulars:—
First, Great things have been done by education. By a course of discipline in early life mankind are taught to avoid all rude and provoking language, and to carry it courteously and respectfully to all about them. Even harsh things, if expressed in soft and gentle terms, will, in a good degree, lose their harshness, and tend to disarm the party of resentment. “A soft answer turneth away wrath, while grievous words stir up anger.” Herein consists the difference between barbarous and civilized society; a difference for which there is great cause for thankfulness. But, after all, the change which is hereby effected is nearly confined to the surface of things; the real temper of the heart is much the same. The grand study in this science is appearance. The most bitter and malignant speeches are uttered without shame by those who reckon themselves gentlemen; and murder itself is patronized by the laws of honour. It were a difficult question to determine which would be the least friendly to human happiness, for the whole world to be sunk into the lowest state of barbarism or raised to these haughty and atheistical notions of honour. Assuredly, this is not the way in which universal peace will be produced on earth.
Another principle to which great things also are ascribed is a union of interests. It is an undoubted fact that God, in his providence, has so interwoven the interests of mankind that they cannot subsist without each other. We talk proudly of independence; but we are all dependent, both upon God and one another. What would any individual be, if left alone? What would a family be, if separated from all other families? What would cities be without the country, or the country without cities? Nay, what would nations be, if shut out from all intercourse with other nations? These considerations ought, no doubt, to induce mankind, of all ranks, degrees, and situations, to study the things which make for peace; and to say that they actually have no influence in promoting concord would be saying what is manifestly untrue. To this principle we are indebted for the stifling of thousands of quarrels, which would otherwise burst forth, and render society intolerable. To this also we are indebted for the suppression of a very large portion of religious hatred. Considering the enmity of wicked men against serious Christians, instead of being surprised at its breaking out so much as it does, we have more reason to be surprised that it breaks out no more. Had not God so bound mankind together that they cannot obtain their own ends without being civil and kind to others, where there is one instance of bitter persecution, we might expect a hundred; and the same may be said of every other species of malevolence.
But though such a constitution of things furnishes matter for thankfulness, yet it is utterly inadequate to the producing of peace on earth, and good will to men. Stifled animosity is very different from love; the good understanding which arises from it is not peace, but the mere suspension of hostilities for the sake of convenience. It has been said that the only thing necessary to produce universal peace is that mankind be enlightened to know their true interests. Certain it is, that if our true interests were known and pursued, we should seek the good of mankind in all that we have to do with them; but sin, operating in a way of selfishness, blinds the mind, and prompts men to seek their own interest, in opposition to that of others. Such also is the strength of corrupt propensity in men, that in many cases, which must appear to be injurious to themselves as well as others, they will frequently give way to it, whatever be the consequence, and even ruin themselves for the sake of ruining their neighbours. It is not therefore, on this ground that we can rationally build our hope of any essential amelioration of the state of mankind.
Let us examine a third principle; namely, government. This is, doubt less, an important blessing to mankind. It is among the means by which God, in his providence, preserves the world in some degree of order. The peace of the governed, so far as it respects one another, is hereby in a measure secured. If a nation were, for one week, or half that time, without law, they would learn, by woeful experience, the value of living under it. The most oppressive governments are preferable to a state of anarchy. It may be on this account that even that of Nero afforded no exception to the general doctrine of government being ordained of God for good. But though order may be produced by human laws and regulations, yet it is chiefly confined to the exterior of human action. And, with respect to that, it extends only to a single territory: between one country and another there is no paramount authority to settle their differences. What are termed the laws of nations have but little influence when one nation possesses the means of setting them at defiance. It is in vain to deny that the most effective law in the world is power; and as power is constantly varying, the world in one part or other is constantly in a state of warfare. Great conquerors call themselves “benefactors,” and require to be called so, even by the conquered; and, what is worse, are admired and praised for their exploits in the page of history.
But the hopes which have been entertained of peace pervading the earth by means of government have arisen, not from the thing itself, but from certain forms of it. There is, no doubt, a difference as to these. That form of government, be it what it may, which contributes most to the administration of substantial justice in a country, and cuts off the motives to war in respect of other countries, is the best: but while men are corrupt, selfish, and ambitious, and possess the means of extending their power, they will never be in want of a plea for disturbing the repose of mankind. To expect them, under such circumstances, to be restrained by forms of their own creating, is expecting too much, and indicates but a slender acquaintance with human nature. A form that should leave no scope for the propensities of a people would be borne away before them in a little time. To banish wars from the earth, therefore, it is necessary to banish selfishness, ambition, and other corrupt affections, which produce them. Even allowing a nation and its government to be, upon the whole, justly and peaceably disposed; yet as cases will be always occurring in which its interests will clash with those of other nations, and in which amicable discussion, through the partiality which each side feels for its own cause, fails to produce mutual satisfaction, the consequence will often be a recourse to arms. The principles on which wars are undertaken are, in many instances, the same as those by which two individuals are prompted to fight a duel. They may have no desire to fight, nor to kill each other; but the laws of honour require them to act as they do! So long, therefore, as these laws, to the exclusion of the laws of God, continue to rule the higher orders of mankind, it is impossible but that wars and fightings will come.
But if education, interest, and government fail to produce the desired effect; yet is there no other principle, whose influence shall extend more to the heart, by which it may be accomplished? If there be, it must be kindred, or relationship. This, I acknowledge, has done great things. By the tender and endearing ties of blood and affinity the asperities of human nature are greatly softened, and God has, in a manner, bound us together Hence, perhaps, arise the practicability of mankind dwelling together in families. By alliances of this sort, a good understanding is frequently kept up in neighbourhoods, and sometimes between great nations. Though a natural affection is in itself mere animal attachment, and has nothing morally good in it, yet to be without it argues the perfection of depravity. Nothing short of an habitually wicked heart can extinguish it. If this principle be overcome, there seems to be nothing left in human nature that can withstand the tide of corruption. It is, therefore, with peculiar force and propriety that God, by the prophet, represents the depravity of the Jewish nation as having set the hearts of the fathers against their children, and the hearts of the children against their fathers; and, having reached this height, as being incurable by any thing short of a Divine interposition.
Strong as are the ties of blood and affinity, yet there are two reasons why universal peace can never be expected to proceed from them. One is, their influence extends only to a small part of mankind. It is true, we are all akin as creatures, and as having sprung from one common ancestor: this, however, is a consideration that has but little weight among the bulk of mankind. It is only towards near relations that the attachment in question is felt. The other is, that, even with respect to that part of mankind who are nearly related to each other, there is in general no such attachment as to overbalance the selfish affections.
The sum is, there is not a principle in human nature from which any rational expectation can be formed of the world ever becoming materially different from what it is. It may be more enlightened: but this will present no sufficient barrier against the tide of corrupt passions, which bears along its stream the educated part of mankind, no less than the uneducated. Man may shift and change into a thousand forms, and may promise himself peace in each of them; but he will not find it. He may attribute his misery to circumstances, and flatter himself that if they were different, all would be well; the cause, however, is in himself, and is, therefore, sure to accompany him in every situation and condition. He may “change the place, but will keep the pain.” If there were no hope from a higher quarter, the world would be shut up under sin, and have nothing to expect, but to be smitten with the curse.
Excerpt from “The Gospel the Means of Universal Peace,” a sermon in Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 257–259). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.