Page images
[ocr errors]

in actions generally considered, intention is the rule and accident the exception, so it may safely be asserted that whatever any one is represented in the Scriptures as doing, he must be understood as doing purposely, unless the contrary is stated or clearly implied in the nature of the case.

The attempt has often been made to resolve the whole sentence into a mere declaration, issuing from the divine prescience, of what, in point of fact, will generally be the fate of the murderer; but in our judgment this attempt has never been successful. No Hebraist will deny that verbs are constantly used in the future tense in an imperative sense; of this, indeed, sufficient evidence may be found in the Ten Commandments.

It is, therefore, entirely in accordance with the usage of the language to take the sentence before us as a command. Then, looking at the whole context, it cannot, we submit, be construed otherwise. As closely associated with, what are known among the Jews as, the precepts of Noah, it is at least a fair inference that it is itself a precept and not a prediction. But the verse preceding ought alone to have precluded the question, and may now, that it has been raised, suffice to set it at rest. "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of the man; at the hand of man his brother," the brother of the murdered, “I will require the life of the man. What is the evident meaning of these words? It is that the supreme ruler of the world, to whom all life belongs, will judicially and rigorously exact a penalty whenever human life is wantonly or maliciously taken away, whether by man or beast. But if this be the right interpretation, the verse following can be fairly understood only as setting forth in what this penalty shall consist; blood is to be exacted for blood, life for life; not by an immediate stroke, as it were, from the hand of the Almighty, but "by man shall his blood be shed.”

It is, however, somewhat remarkable that those who contend so strenuously that the words before us are merely a divine foreshewing of future events, should be doing their utmost by seeking the abolition of death-penalties to falsify the prediction; and still more remarkable that, supposing their efforts at length crowned with success, it should have escaped Omniscience that a time would come when, nations having grown too enlightened and humane to visit murder with death, the shedder of his brother's blood would no longer pay the penalty of his own!

But, perhaps, the strangest shift is, while conceding to our passage the force of a divine law, to represent it as only a part of the Mosaic dispensation which has now vanished away.


Nothing can be more glaringly at variance with the facts of the case. Many ages before the Hebrews had a national existence, before Moses or even Abraham was born, immediately after the deluge, these words were addressed by God to Noah, as the second great father and representative of mankind. If then it is a law at all it is a law for the whole race. Manifest, however,

a and incontestible as this must be to every reader of the Bible, it will be worth our while to consider the circumstances of the case somewhat more particularly.

The general course of the divine government of the world during the ages which preceded the flood may, perhaps, be regarded as constituting a grand experiment, so to speak, on the part of God, with the view of shewing how far the security and progress of mankind might need or be able to dispense with the existence of civil government.

This matter is now to us too evident to need any proof; but was it necessarily so at first? Man had, indeed, fallen from a state of perfect purity and innocence; but how far his conduct would be practically affected by it remained yet to be seen. He was still the subject of intelligence and moral principle. Why should such a being be subjected to governmental restrictions? Under the dictates of reason and conscience he might be expected generally to do the right and wise thing. Differences of opinion might certainly arise in cases of difficulty to require the arbitration of a third party; but surely government, as involving the application of irresistible force in order to compel the practical observance of rules essential to the wellbeing, and even to the existence of society, might be dispensed with.

However, the course of things, as it appears in the antediluvian period, gave a practical solution to this problem. In the scanty records of those remote ages, which have come down to us, no traces appear either of kings or parliaments, of legal enactments or of penalties enforced. Mankind stood immediately under the providential rule of God alone; that is to say, men were left to the common dictates of reason and the natural workings of things. Flagrant violations of right might, as in the fratricide of Cain, occasionally draw down the divine interposition; though even in this particular instance the very terror of the murderer, for the relief of which a special provision was made, discloses incidentally the absence of all civil restraints. The same thing is implied in the mysterious confession of Lamech (Gen. iv. 23, 24). We know how the problem was at length solved. The whole earth, as far as the human race had diffused itself, became the scene of violence and anarchy; oppression, murder, rapine, were rampant; all the selfish and malig.

nant passions of the depraved heart burst forth and filled the world with crime and misery, until God at length arose in his might and, with the exception of eight persons with whom righteousness found its last earthly asylum, swept the whole race away by one huge wholesale capital punishment through the intervention of the flood. Then when the mighty waters, having fulfilled their judicial purpose, had been rolled back by the same hand as at first poured them upon the earth, and the family of Noah alone surviving, descended from the ark upon an expurgated world, to enter upon a new career of human progress, the supreme ruler again came forth with a simple but majestic code of fundamental laws for the authoritative guidance of all future generations. Included in this code we find the command, “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Can it be any longer pretended, in the face of these facts, that this is a mere Jewish enactment which has long survived its own authority and force ?

But in addition to these considerations the reason assigned in the text itself, as the ground of the command to slay the murderer, yields a striking support to our general position, "For in the image of God made he man.” Murder is a daring outrage upon the majesty of God, as imaged in every human being; an outrage by which its perpetrator in effect tears off the image of God from himself and descends to the level of a ravenous beast. Human life, as being imprinted with the divine image, bears the sign manual of heaven, the signature of its author, to denote its sacredness. It is placed thereby under the sovereign control of God, and is not to be touched without his sanction. The man-slayer recklessly breaks the divine seal, lifts his presumptuous hand and blasphemously seizes the prerogative of the Most High; and in return, God, through the medium of the civil magistrate, smites him to the dust.

We are taught by Genesis (i. 26) that man was to exhibit the image of God in the actual exercise of his delegated dominion over the lower creation. The likeness itself directly consisted in the analogy of his intelligent and moral constitution of nature with the mind and perfections of God, so far, of course, as such an analogy is possible between the finite and the infinite. But in the actual exercise of the regal dominion assigned to him, this likeness was to be brought out into view; the wisdom, equity, and benevolence of his rule, were to be the types of corresponding perfections in his creator. He was made, in a certain sense, a god in the earth, a miniature portrait, so to speak, of the God in heaven. His life, therefore, as such was kingly. His living was a ruling, and his ruling was by the law of his creation a manifested likeness to the great ruler above. He held his place under immediate tenure from the court of heaven; and in presenting the divine image his life really had the “divinity which doth hedge a king."

The lapse of our first parents into sin did not affect their formal relations to God. The divine image was tarnished and disfigured, but not destroyed. Man did not lose his position of dominion, though he forfeited his right to it; he was still a king though with contracted sway and diminished power; and he still ruled, though imperfectly, as exhibiting only an obscured and broken reflection of the supreme. Though mutilated and defaced, at least, what theologians have termed, the natural image of God remained in man still; else for what purpose is this clause added as the reason and ground of the preceding command ? See also James iii. 9.

It follows, therefore, that whosoever, without the divine sanction, sheds man's blood, in the very act dethrones one of God's subject and tributary kings, and at the same time violates the very tenure by which he holds his own crown. The violence of his deed proclaims his contempt for the exclusive supremacy of God over the life of man, that is to say, for the only real ground and security of his own life. He has trampled under foot the glory of God as dimly reflected from the divine likeness in his victim; and the foulness of the crime blots out that image from himself and marks him for the axe of the executioner. His atrocious deed measures his estimate of the value of human life; and that estimate is accepted in reference to his own. He has ruthlessly stamped upon and trodden down the law of his being, and that law takes a sublime revenge, by removing from the earth the wretch who proclaims himself unworthy of it, and branding a monstrous crime by a monstrous doom.

The reason assigned in the text, as thus interpreted, applies, it will be seen, to man as man; in other words, to that essential feature which, by the ordinance of our Creator, naturally belongs to all men alike, and cannot be affected by any accidents of comparative wealth or station in society. It is thus a fitting and adequate legitimation of, what was intended by God to be, a universal law for all ages.

It would not be difficult to shew that our interpretation of this passage is fully borne out by the general tenor of the Old and New Testaments. The position, that capital punishment is incompatible with the spirit of Christianity, cannot be sustained except by a mode of reasoning, which would equally prove that penalties of every kind should be discontinued among Christians. Nor are we responsible for the manner in which civil rulers have

too often violated this divine command, by making death the punishment of other and minor offences, and, on a far larger scale, by wanton and aggressive wars. We are not called to undertake their defence; and still less to vindicate the expediency of public executions. But, if all Scripture has really been given by inspiration of God and reveals his sovereign will, then it is impossible, we submit, without directly opposing that will, to exempt the murderer from the penalty of death. Plymouth

J. M. C.

St. Paul at Athens.—

There are at this present moment more than six hundred millions of the human race in the appalling situation of the men whom the apostle describes as “without Christ in the world :" and the question is, with what feelings and what purposes a Christian would survey this vast and wretched portion of the family of man. Behold St. Paul at Athens. Think of the matchless splendour which blazed upon his view, as he rolled his eye round the enchanting panorama that encircled the hill of Mars. On the one hand, as he stood upon the summit of the rock beneath the canopy of heaven, was spread a glorious prospect of mountains, islands, seas, and skies; on the other, quite within his view, was the plain of Marathon, where the wrecks of former generations, and the tombs of departed heroes, mingled together in silent desolation. Behind him towered the lofty Acropolis, crowned with the pride of Grecian architecture. There, in the zenith of their splendour and the perfection of their beauty, stood those peerless temples, the very fragments of which are viewed by modern travellers with an idolatry almost equal to that which reared them. Stretched along the plain below him, and reclining her head on the slope of the neighbouring hills, was Athens, mother of the arts and sciences, with her noble offspring sporting by her side. The Porch, the Lyceum, and the Grove, with the stations of departed sages, and the forms of their living disciples, were all presented to the apostle's eye.

What mind, possessing the slightest pretensions to classic taste, can think of his situation amid such sublime and captivating scenery, without a momentary rapture. Yet there, even there, did this accomplished scholar stand as insensible to all this grandeur, as if nothing was before him but the treeless, turfless desert. Absorbed in the holy attractions of his own mind, he saw no charms, felt no fascinations; but, on the contrary, was pierced with the most poignant distress; and what was the cause ? " He saw the city wholly given to idolatry.To him it presented nothing but a magnificent mausoleum, decorated, it is true, with the richest productions of the sculptor and the architect, but still where the souls of men lay dead in trespasses and sins; while the dim light of philosophy that still glimmered in the schools, appeared but as the lamp of the sepulchré, shedding its pale and sickly ray around these gorgeous chambers of death.

What must have been his indignant grief at the dishonour done by idolatry to God; what his amazement at the weakness and folly of the human mind; what his abhorrence of human impiety; and what his compassion for human wretchedness, when such stately monuments of Pagan pomp and superstition had not the smallest possible effect in turning away his view from the guilt that raised them, or the misery which succeeded them.

Ah! how many Christian travellers and divines, whilst occupying the same spots, though they saw not a thousandth part of what the apostle saw, have had their whole minds so engrossed by scones of earthly magnificence, as not to feel one sentiment of pity for the Pagans who formerly dwelt there.- Rev. J. A. Jamcs.

« PreviousContinue »