« PreviousContinue »
to expel from his system these deleterious effects of a mispent life? No: but it proved a means of preventing an increase of those effects; for when the cause ceased, it ceased to produce results.
Exactly accordant with fact, as above illustrated, is the teaching of inspiration upon this head. Speaking of the divine dealings with the rebellious Israelites during their sojourn in the wilderness, David says, "Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions." (Ps. xc. 8.) In the psalmist's estimation, therefore, the forgiving of sin was not held to be incompatible with the taking vengeance of it. "I will cer tainly chastise you for that act, my son," (said father C.) "it must not be allowed to pass with impunity." And father C. did chastise his son accordingly. The boy was subdued; he saw the evil of his conduct-sought his father's forgiveness, and obtained it. The old man kissed the tears from the cheek of his child, and pressed him to his bosom. See you now how the punishment of sin is reconcileable with its pardon? If you do, you understand the philosophy of forgiveness as it is exhibited in the scriptures. "Wherein, then, (you will ask) consisteth the advantages of pardon upon this scheme?" They are great, my dear reader, and manifold; the pardoned are freed from their former vices, and, of course, from the effects that would follow from a continuance in them. They are recovered to virtue. Mr. B. no longer feels that fever of the soul arising from solicitude about the chances of the game. He is not startled from his nightly dreams by the phantoms of wretches whom his arts have reduced to penury, and their families to want of bread. By honest industry he is now repairing his own wrecked fortunes, and he therefore looks upon his wife and children with the satisfaction of knowing that he is no longer sporting with their interests and happiness for life. Such is the improvement in the condition of Mr. B. As to Mr. S., he is subject no more to bodily wounds and bruises; nor to agitations of spirit such as he experienced while a slave to angry pas sions. He is not now perpetually making to himself enemies of his neighbors, nor exposing himself to expensive and mortifying litigations he lives in peace within himself, and with all around him. Would to God that the whole of the two classes of sinners whom these gentlemen are designed to represent, would, by a like
amendment, secure to themselves a similar change of condition! I have said nothing of their spiritual enjoyments, arising from a religious life these are incalculable. Oh! the exquisite happiness of knowing that conscience, and God, and all the good of mankind, approve them! Both these gentlemen, you perceive, reader, have experienced forgiveness; but who can say that they have not also been punished?
Errors in relation to punishment have naturally led to errors in relation to forgiveness. Those who have supposed the former to be arbitrary in their nature, have also well supposed that when God pleases, they can be dispensed with without injury to any body, or the contravention of any eternal principle; and that forgiveness actually implies the setting aside these punishments. By the same class of theologians it is even gravely affirmed, that divine punishments are not designed for good to those upon whom they operate! proceeding as they do from infinite goodness, and operating as they do upon creatures who are the subjects of that goodness, (for "the Lord is good unto all,") yet they are not designed for good to them! I am at a loss whether to term this false philosophy, or no philosophy at all.
́ ́ But if for good" (do you say, reader ?) "then it were better to commit the more sin, in order to experience the more punishment; the more of a good thing the better." Why, my most shrewd reader, it would be a good act in one to help you out of a quagmire; but you would not therefore jump into a quagmire for the sake of helped out! Should we not deem a man an idiot if he broke a limb, for the mere sake of having it set by a benevolent surgeon? Now this will well illustrate the case; for the setting of a fractured limb, although a beneficial operation, is yet a painful one; and the same is true of the divine corrections. It is better, therefore, to avoid them by well-doing; yet, when they are demerited, it is better that they be experienced, how painful soever, since, coming as they do from a Being who is infinitely wise, just, and merciful, they cannot but be productive of merciful results." And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with
you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now, no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." (Heb. xii. 5-11.) Thus we find the bible to speak very intelligibly as to the ends of divine punishment.
"But is this theory-plausible in itself, and accordant with scripture teaching-is it sustained by matter of fact? Have punishments a reforming tendency ?" If they have not, then must it be admitted that they are useless: for, they cannot repair the injury done by the offender; they do not prevent others from committing the same offence and to say that they vindicate the honor of the law, is to put words together which have no intelligible meaning. They, then, are but retaliatory; their object is revenge-sheer revenge!
"But why does not the punishment of an offence more generally operate to prevent others from committing it?" An examination into the nature of punishment will explain this. Punishment is of two kinds, as to its nature-several, as to its objects. One kind may be termed arbitrary-the other necessary. Arbitrary punishment is such as results from the mere will of the punisher; it has no natural connexion with the offence. Necessary punishment is such as necessarily proceeds from the sin itself; it is an unavoidable consequence of it. In the one, an outward executioner is required; in the other, sin is its own executioner. The stroke of the one may therefore be dodged; the stroke of the other is as inevitable as fate. To illustrate. Tell a man that murder will bring him to the gallows, and his mind will respond-" Yes, provided, 1st, that I am detected: 2nd, that I am convicted: 3rd, that I am not pardoned: 4th, that I do not break jail and escape: 5th, or die a natural death before the day of execution: 6th, or do not despatch myself in some other way: 7th, or am not forcibly rescued." Now it is certain that either of these accidents may prevent the catastrophe.
Hence it will be seen, that between murder and hanging there is no natural connexion. The connexion is arbitrary, hence its uncertianty. Here then is the reason why, in all countries, sanguinary laws have failed to diminish the number of crimes. Now let us see whether divine punishments can be thus evaded. What is the natural penalty of murder? It is remorse-fierce, unremitting, dreadful remorse. Is there any escape from these effects? None. The wretch may traverse oceans; may fly to remotest lands; may seek to hide himself in trackless deserts, or the inaccessible wilds of nature-vain, all his efforts! the voice of his brother's blood crieth out against him from the ground. No outward judicatory is needed here: no judge, nor jurors, nor witnesses. He has all within himself. He dares not to enter a plea of not guilty; conscience, if he did, would overwhelm him with its thunders. No mockery of the kind is admissible in the court with which he has to do. How many a wretch thus hunted down, although no clue existed by which man could trace the crime of blood-guiltiness to his skirts, has voluntarily surrendered himself to the action of the law, preferring to die an ignominious death rather than to suffer longer from the goadings of remorse? You may tell me, that in some countries murder, in some cases, is not held to be a crime, and is therefore not productive of the consequences described. Very well-where it is not known to be a crime, no guilt can be incurred in the commission of it; yet, even then, as a wrong, its evil effects are not the less certain. The savage who deems revenge a duty, and buries his hatchet in the skull of an enemy, is in constant fear of a reaction of the same law of revenge upon himself. Even pirates, and bandits, who, by custom, have learned to set small value on the life of a fellow-being, have the greater reason, from that very cause, to dread falling victims to the avarice, or the bloodthirstiness of each other. In the government of God, there is, there can be, no escape from deserved punishment.
"Not even by repentance?" No, not even by repentance. Jehovah has himself declared, that he "will by no means clear the guilty." (Ex. xxxiv. 7.) "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." (Gal. vi. 7.) "Though hand join in hand, the wick-ed shall not be unpunished." (Prov. xi. 1.) If God will clear the guilty by the means of repentance, will he not be clearing them by some means? According to Paul, he "will render unto every
ccording to his deeds." (Rom. ii. 6.) But how so, if, in reto many, no retribution for evil deeds will ever be rendered all?
Arbitrary punishments are the only ones within human power to inflict we cannot make wickedness punish itself; hence, we append to transgression certain penal pains, which, being by nature wholly unconnected with it, may or may not take effect, as mere accident shall determine. The popular theology represents the divine penalties of sin as being equally arbitrary, and, therefore, equally uncertain! That I may be perfectly comprehended in this branch of my subject, I will once more illustrate the difference betwixt positive and moral (in other words arbitrary and necessary) punishments, by the sin of our first parents and its penalty.
The divine threatening in regard to the tree was, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." We understand this death to have been moral in its nature-consisting of condemnation, debasement, &c.; such as we are given to know they really did experience on the day of transgression, and such as naturally resulted, and must ever result, from the doing an unlawful deed. We suppose that the punishment could not possibly have been dispensed with; and that whether it had been threatened or not, it would have resulted from the act just as it did; because it was a natural and necessary consequence from it. It is even doubtful if Jehovah originated the connexion between sin and suffering, or whether he could dissolve it. But, supposing it possible to have set aside the penalty in the case, it certainly would have operated to the injury of the culprit, who would have been encouraged to argue thus within himself:-"I once transgressed the law of God, and no evil result ensued; hence, I find that misery is not an inevitable consequence of sin, it only takes place as Jehovah pleases; it then is not an evil in itself, for if it were, it would of itself produce evil effects; and since it pleased God that it should not in this instance, the same may happen in all future instances." Emboldened by this persuasion, he sins, and sins again, and when at length vengeance does ensue, he thinks that inasmuch as it was not necessary, it might as well have been dispensed with, and it. was therefore unkind in God to inflict it.
Now, the popular theology supposes that the death in the threat