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. http://www.glasite.org/archive/items/show/108.