« PreviousContinue »
and we take away the corner-stone of justice and of civilization ;' we dissolve the compact, and put the community into the disorganized condition of savage life, where every man is his own judge, and the only law is foroe.
If we should admit such a principle, where could we draw the line between what is criminal and what is justifiable? What great crimes are ever committed without temptatian or provocation? Revenge, covetousness, jealousy, and lust, are the sources of nearly all the enor mous crimes that bring men to the gibbet or to the prison. But are not all these founded in the strongest intluences of temptation and provocation? How shall we distinguish between the degrees of strength with which these dispositions impel a man to sin ? How can we teel safe in determining that the passion which urged one man to commit an enormous crime was not so strong or so natural as that which impelled another to avenge it!
No! we may sympathize with the injured, and have our indignation aroused against the wrong-doer ; but we must say to the sufferere Your hand is not the proper instrument to redress the wrong ; the sin of another against you will not justify your sin against him, against the law of the land, and against God; and if as a Christian you will pot forgive, and if as a good citizen you feel obliged to bring the offender to justice, you should take those steps which the laws prescribe for your guidance. We must sympathize with the laws, and with our families and society at large, which depend on their protection, as with the injured party. The Benjamites had great sympathy for the murderers whom justice demanded, but they had none for the man whose wife had been savagely destroyed, nor for the aged citizen who had showed them hospitality, and participated in their injuries.
It is to the withholding of public justice that we may in part attribute the growing disposition to seek revenge without invoking the arm of justice. Let the penalties of the law be withheld, and the temptation to acts of private retaliation become greatly increased. Had not the Levite placed so much confidence in his nation, he might naturally have preferred to become the incendiary of Gibeah, rather than submit bis wrongs to the redress of a national council.
1 And if these principles are just as to the punishment of ordinary offences, they much more forcibly apply to those which aim at the life of one who had injured us. A man is deeply injured in his reputation or his feelings, by the misconduct of another. But upon what principle of right or morals that can claim the sanction of God's Word, or human legislation, is the injured man himself anthorized to take the life of the offender by assassination, or required to meet him in combat with deadly weapons ? 'And upon what ground shall we justify ourselves, if, by our approbation, we sanction this course, and seek to screen the self-avenger from punishment-or what is equivalent, desire and rejoice in his escape from it? The laws of God and our country coincide in these points—first, that no man in the social state is permitted to avenge his wrongs ;-whoever wrongs another is amenable to the laws which provide the means of punishment and compensation, 60, far as any human power can afford them ;--and second, that no man has a right to take the life of another. save through absolute necessity, in defence of himself, or those naturally committed to his çare ; but that the prerogative of taking life, as a penalty for crime, is to be the deliberate and solemn act of public justice. When the taking of life is excused, it is where it is done to prevent the execution of 4 wicked purpose and pot where it is done in vengeance for a crime already committed. From the rule of these principles no sane man is exempted. No provocation however strong, can justify in the view of Divine law, or any human law that profess to regard the Divine as pupremę, the exercise of personal vengeance ; and the community that Ventures to say of this or that duel or assassination it was right because one party had a great provocation, participates in the same kind of sin as that which brought destruction on the Benjamites. ; The great mistake into which a community are apt to fall on such occasions, is in not distinguishing between what is really deserved by the wretch who has excited their indignation, and the lawful methods of inflicting wbat he deserves. We are apt to overlook the departure from justice in the mode of administering it, through the consciousness that the guilty person has received nothing but 'what his crimés merited. Thns when mobs have undertaken to expel gamblers from a village by force, or when notorious and savage offenders have been in that way seized and punished, even with death, the abhorrence which the unlawful acts of the mob ought to excite seems often to be displaced by the satisfaction that society has been, by any means, rid of such pests. So we are in danger of nullifying law and jastice, in their only, right and safe administration, when we are disposed to account a man blameless because he has stepped forth in advance of, and in place of the law, and by a summary act of his own private vengeance, ridden the world of a villain. But this is all wrong. . It is a confounding of justice and revenge, and an apology for evil because it promises to be productive of good
The effects of such sentiments in encouraging violence, in making a criminal the object of public sympatby, in degrading the laws and reJaxing the securities of society, are too obvious to require detail. It is equally evident that they are sins against God, whose law is the foundation of ours ; who requires of us as a Christian duty, to submit to this authority, aš ordained by Him as a terror to the evil, and who forbids that sustains him must be wrong, though it may be benevolent. The provocation may have been great, and this should have its dge weight in the gradation of his crime; but it cannot make him innocent. What provocation could be greater than that which Absalom had towards Ammon, whom he put to death in revenge of a wrong to his own sister? But for that offence he was banished from the presence of the king, his father; and though indulged, after several years, with a pardon, through the parental favor of the monarch, it was not long before a more impartial and higher hand exhibited the fratricide in the position of a murderer on the tree as if God would compel men to enforce his precept, who so sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." I know that those who vindicate these opinions in our day, are sometimes denounced as sanguinary, and as exhibiting a spirit very opposite to that of the gospel
us to be partakers of other men's sins. The great question in every such case is, who is the authorized avenger of the wrong? Do the law, of God or of man say, that the next of kin or of friendship is entitled to redress the injury inflicted ? Does either of those laws say a man may take with his own hands the life of one who has done him can injury, however great that injury be?' If there be 'no such law in
the Bible or in the statute-book, then no man can claim to be acquitted who exercises such an authority ; and the public sentiment
. We are told that the world has grown wiser and more humane since the days in which God declared, “Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death;" and history records the act of a monarch who was bold enough to introduce an edict remitting the penalty of murder by a preamble stating his purpose to moderate the rigor of the Divine law.”* But I tremble at this additional evidence of a perverted public sentiment, when it says in opposition to what God has said this shall not be so, I of course include in these remarks those only who reject the divine statute on the grounds which I have mentioned, and not those who conscientiously, but as I believe erroneously, suppose that this was not intended to be a universal and perpetual requirement. And as to all that has been said under this head, lest it should be supposed that any particular cases are exclusively in view, I must add, that however seasonable such cases make this course of remark, reference is had to a state of publio sentiment which, bas obviously been increasing for several years in our country, and the tendency of which is to excuse men, individually, or in mobs, in their resorts to violence to redress injuries for which the common processes of law are supposed to be too tardy and too uncertain, or their penalties too light.
IV. The fate of the Benjamites warns us of the sure consequences of iniquity. They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah, therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins.
The destruction of such a multitude of persons as were involved in the ruin of Gibeah, is, as we have seen, not to be attributed to the single crime against the stranger from Ephraim, but to the general corruption of the people which only developed itself in that act and in the protection which was given to it by the whole tribe.
If it were necessary to offer any suggestion in vindication of any of the Divine judgments, it might be asserted and proved from history, both sacred and common, that such corruption as was manifested VISION
See Blackstone's Commentaries, iv : 194.
there, when it attains to this height, can only be removed by extirpation. The appeals' of truth, the threatenings of the law of God or man, do not reach the hearts of men who, in opposition to all their knowledge and consciousness, sink themselves in pollution, and relax the commonest restraints of morality. It was mercy to the world that has exterminated, from time to time, a corruption which would have spread and perpetuated itself like a leprosy, and have brought the race to an end. It was mercy to mankind-mercy to us—that rolled the deluge over the earth, that sent fire from the clouds upon the cities of the plain, and that destroyed a tribe of Israel. Had not Benjamin been cut off, the whole nation might have perished in the same corruption. The New Testament repeatedly assures us that these events are recorded for “our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted,” nor “tempt Christ as some of them also tempted," for “ all these things happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition ; wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." Again, referring to the fall of the angels, the flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Scriptures say that these judgments made them an “ensample unto those that after should live ungodly.” And it is worthy of our notice, that in this very passage, the apostle, after speaking of the filthy conversation of the wicked, and the unlawful deeds which vexed the soul of the righteous Lot, or called forth the rebukes of Noah, the “preacher of righteousness," applies the admonition directly to all impenitent evil-doers, as sure to meet their retribution at the day of judgment—“but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise governments ; presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” And auother apostle, making precisely the same reference to history, thus characterizes those in his own day who were provoking the same judgments" these dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities."
Let us beware, then, of the results of sin ; whether committed by ourselves, or connived at in others. Let us be careful that in contributing a share to the formation of public opinion, we hold no sentiments that are at variance with the Divine standard of holiness and truth; and that we never countenance sin in our own practice or by the approbation of it in others. And if no better motive shall deter us, let us fear to provoke the wrath of Heaven on ourselves and on our country. “He will remember iniquities, and visit sins.” He is a God of grace and of love; of long-suffering and great patience, but He is a just and holy God.' He will not endure iniquity, and if it is persisted in, encouraged and rejoiced in, He will, fle must visit the offenders:
Although the tenor of this liscourse is in some respects less evangelical than is usual, I cannot think that, if properly improved, its tendency can be otherwise than to make a deep impression on our minds of the corruption of our nature, the evil and danger of sin, and the necessity of a Divine power to change our nature, rectify our errors, and furnish and apply a means of justification beyond our own capacity to provide. And it seems to me that I can, at the close of such a discourse, introduce the blessed name of CHRIST with peculiar appropriateness and emphasis. Turn from the scenes of violence and corruption that have been suggested to our minds by what has been said, and view the spotless Saviour, the holy, harmless, and undefiled Son of God! View Him in His love and mercy, as He came to livo in such a world as this, and to die for such a race; to pardon such transgressions, and to provide the means of renewing and purifying such hearts! See the violence and blindness of our nature illustrated, in the conduct of those who nailed Him to a cross—but see in the streaming blood, and hear in His dying prayers, the means of atonement and intercession! Let the tendency of the world be what it may, let the days be approaching as fast as they may, when iniquity shall abound, and the love of many shall wax cold; when judgment is turned away backward and justice standeth afar off, because truth is fallen in the street, end equity cannot enter-yes, let even the Divine forbearance cease and Heaven's judgments fall upon the earth; he that is in Christ shall fear no evil; in His righteousness shall he stand accepted, and His arm shall uphold himn until he is safe beyond the reach of earthly corruption.