John Walker on “Bearing Arms”

Hello All:

John Walker, Fellow of Trinity College and founder of the “Walkerites,” a Glasite sect in Dublin, Ireland, was asked by a “Mr. P. C——-.” about his position regarding the carrying of weapons by Christians.  Unlike many of current conversations regarding Christians, weapons, and the use of violence, Walker’s statement is nuanced. His political theology is clear: Christians are not allowed to swear oaths, nor are they allowed to carry arms or serve as soldiers or executioners.   True to his primitivist, restorationist heritage, he stays close to the text of the New Testament. However, at the end of his exposition of scripture, he can’t seem to resist inserting a small statement of his personal leanings, independent of his religious beliefs, about the carrying of weapons or the use of violence.

I must despatch (sic) very briefly two remaining topics which you propose. You ask whether I am “decidedly against a disciple’s bearing arms in every case.”  If I mistake not, I wrote my mind upon that subject lately to my brother, J. L————, whom, I hope, you will soon known, if you do not already. The substance of what I can reply to the question, is this.  I cannot conceive a disciple walking in the truth, and taking upon him the profession of arms.  Indeed, in this country, that is put blessedly beyond controversy, as no man can become a solider without being attested, or sworn before a magistrate, i.e. without directly violating the express command of Christ.  But a man who is in the army—(or who is a public hangman)—may be called to the knowledge of the truth : and in that case I find myself without warrant in the word for dealing with him as an offender against the law of Christ, even though he continue in the profession of arms ;—while I should, without hesitation, urge him, on the grounds of Christian expediency, to quite it if he can. I find a military officer at Caesarea received as a disciple by an apostle, and no intimation given of any injection to him to lay aside the use of arms.  As to the abstract question, whether I would, in any case, think myself justified in resorting to the private use of arms—(even so far as the taking away of life)—in self-defense,—I am not fond of debating it.  I think disciples may peacefully look to their heavenly father, never to place them in any such circumstances as alone could justify it.  But if pressed for an opinion on the abstract question, I must frankly say that I can contemplate cases in which I think that I would, without an scruple, shoot a ruffian, and consider myself in doing so, only as the executioner of the laws: just on the same ground as — if I were in the office of Sheriff—I might be legally bound to hang a criminal with my own hands. But really I should rather decline arguing the point, if any though differently from me : and I do not conceive that a difference of theory on such a question could bar our Christian fellowship for a moment, till it came into practice.

William Burton, ed., Essays and Correspondence Chiefly On Scriptural Subjects by the Late John Walker, Some Time a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and a Clergyman in the Establishment (Dublin: E. Madden, & R.M. Tims, 1838), 385-86.  You can find this pericope and its larger context, along with the full works of John Walker, at the Glasite Digital Archive.


Days 7 – 9: Research in the Dundee Archive, and Visiting the grave of John Glas.

IMG_7002Hello Everyone:

I’ve spent the last three days working 8 hours days in the archive at the University of Dundee.  In the three days that I have been there, I have photographed well over 2,000 pages of documents relating to the Glasite/Sandemanian Churches.  It has been in many ways exhausting work, standing up, then sitting down,  bending over documents, strategically placing leather and cloth weights on pages to keep them down while trying to obstruct as little of the text as possible.

Almost all of the documents in the Dundee archives are handwritten, and many are hard to decipher.  Additionally, almost all of the documents are unpublished, which means that under U.K. copyright laws, I can make a copy for research, but I cannot provide these copies to others.  That means that the documents that I am obtaining at Dundee will not be available via the Glasite Digital Archive.  This is a shame, but a legal necessity. However, since I am able to make copies of the documents and bring them with me, it means that I can do research in the more comfortable confines of my own home or the library using digital copies of the text.  I already see the potential for several articles from the data that I have collected.  I am also spending tomorrow in the archive, continuing to take photos and document texts and artifacts.

There are so many different items related to the Glasites in the archive that it is utterly impossible for me to capture them all in the short time I have here in Dundee. I am categorically skipping items from the mid to late 20th Century, and focusing on the 1700 – 1800’s.  I had to make the decision early as well to skip many of the sermon and exhortation books, in favor of actual records, letter collections, and written manuscript collections.  There remains a large treasure trove of sermon and exhortation texts that were meticulously recorded by members of the congregations using shorthand, and then written out in long hand.  The theological content of these documents is rich, but I just don’t have the time.  They will have to wait until I can return, or until another researcher comes to comb them for content.

One insight that I have gained from this is that the Glasites were sticklers for record keeping.  The archive has, I believe, about 100 service books, recording the bible verses read, members missing from services, and visitors from other congregations for every week of a given year.  I’ve photographed a couple of books that consistently note visitors from other congregations, because, as a case of disfellowship against the famous Glasite scientist Michael Faraday shows, the Glasites did not tolerate members missing worship.

John Glas002Also, today, I visited the grave of John Glas.  Glas is buried in the Howff Cemetery, which is the middle of downtown Dundee.  I have read about Glas since I was 15 years old, which makes twenty years of reading about, wondering about, and being curious John Glas this year.  It was surreal to finally be able to visit his grave and walk in the areas that he trod.

Stay tuned for some discoveries from the archive that I’ll post later.




Early this afternoon I received an email from the Vanderbilt Divinity School Imagination Grant Committee, notifying me that I received full funding for my grant proposal for the 2014-2015 school year!

In the proposal, I asked for travel funding to visit both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in order to study the history and political theology of the Glasites.

This website, which was part of proposal, will chronicle my preparations for travel, my research process, and eventually, some of the finished results of that research.  Check back regularly to find out what is happening!

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