« AnteriorContinuar »
character for beings such as we are; and, that it would tend to raise the feelings to such a degree, perhaps, as to destroy the sympathies and condescensions necessary for the purposes of human society. It may, indeed, seem so; and it has, in fact, proved so, perhaps in every case in which nothing more than an abstract faith, or an intellectual assurance of salvation, has been sought or acquired. But here the disciple, not the discipline, has been to blame. The candidate for the provisions of grace has overlooked the first and most necessary qualification for these acquirements, namely, the humble and the contrite heart — the subjugation of the evil mind, and of the evil propensities : in short, to learn and to remember, that unless he manifest, or labour to manifest, the spirit of Christ, he is none of his,—that though he speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity,— and though he have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge,--and though he have all faith, so that he can remove mountains, and have not charity, he is NOTHING! And here it is that the example of our blessed Lord will never fail us,- that the commentary, which must not be separated from the text of our theory, can never be misunderstood : for He spake as man never spake, insomuch that all wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. He lived and He died, the just for the unjust, not only that he may purchase and redeem to himself, and with his own precious blood, a church and a people zealous of good works; but also, that he may afford them a standing and permanent example, in which they might contemplate and follow his steps. “Who," as we are instructed," when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” If any thing can be added to this more than human exhibition of all that is great and glorious, it must be the exquisite tenderness manifested over the falling city which had proved his inveterate foe, but which knew not the time of her visitation ; or the last agonising and expiring prayer, “ Father, forgive them ; for they know not what they do.” These are sentiments and feelings, which we know the best in every age, however they might have fallen short of their full realisation, have admired and extolled, wherever they have found them : they are the virtues, which experience assures us, bespeak the highest and the noblest minds, and which alone can make man, what he ought to be, energetic, courageous, temperate, constant, amiable, holy, and happy: they are the marks of that high origin to which he lays an indisputable claim, and they are pledges to the world, that if he had once lost, he has now regained, the privileges of his birth-right, and has become a child of God. And, if it be asked, how a rational being can with certainty apply his powers and his privileges in such a way as to administer to himself and to all, the greatest portion of happiness attainable on earth, with the assurance of a glorious immortality in heaven, it may, after a recital of the faith and practice Jesus, be answered,“ Go, and do thou likewise.”
The Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better
hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.—Heb.
vii. 19. No subject has proved a more fertile source of discussion and of mistake, than that which relates to the requirements of the Law and the Gospel; not because these involve any real difficulty in themselves, but because opinions once formed are rarely brought to the test of examination, and, because mistake once made, is rarely found in circumstances ready to submit to correction. If, however, we can ascertain, from a calm investigation of the Scriptures, and of the nature of the several cases, the main scope and object of both, we shall be enabled to come to a conclusion as consistent with these in general, as it will be intelligible and practical.
It would, in the first place, be unnatural to expect from a Divine revelation, any thing with regard to its mode of teaching very different from what we find generally adopted among men. Necessity and custom usually suggest, in the one case, what is most efficient; and if, when we come to the other, we were to adopt any thing of a different description, we should perhaps introduce new and untried means of access to the judgment and the feelings, without any real necessity for doing so, and certainly without any good prospects of success. All laws must, we know, have these two properties : They must lay down clearly and authoritatively the intentions of the lawgiver ; and to the non-observance of these they must annex and enforce punishments. Because, laws which cannot command a claim to the attention of all those for whom they may have been designed, and are not vested with powers sufficient to punish the refractory (for it is to curb the licentiousness of such that they are principally given), will be vain and nugatory.
In the next place, no laws can provide for the pardon of those who dare to transgress their enactments, because the enactments themselves must be supposed to be just, at least; and it is out of the power of justice to provide at once for the punishment of crime, and for the pardon of its commission. For the same reason, no law can allow of laxity in its execution; for, to relax any of its obligations, would be the same thing as to deny the justice of its enactment, which would ultimately divest such law of all its authority and efficiency. This is necessarily the character of all human laws; or, at least, it is that which they are intended to maintain. They may, indeed, occasionally enact in one clause what they virtually repeal in another; and such instances actually occur; but this, wherever it is found, has been the result of mistake, not of intention,- of human infirmity, not of the principles of human legislation.
In this view of the question, then, all laws must necessarily take their course; and the criminal once convicted must submit to the whole and every punishment which they may have decreed. Cases innumerable
Cases innumerable may occur, however, in which human infirmity, rather than positive wickedness of intention, has been the cause of the transgression; and, of such the history of mankind will afford us a very extensive catalogue. In cases of this kind, then, what is to be done? The law will admit of no excuse; and yet the culprit possesses a very powerful claim to be excused. And, as the good of society will in no way be benefited by withholding the boon, no good reason can perhaps be assigned, why mercy should not be extended to such offenders. Our next question will be, How can this be done, without effectually annihilating the laws already enacted and published for the general good of society? The answer that will be given will probably recommend something of this sort : A power to investigate and adjudge such cases, may be vested in some one or more persons, without at all interfering with the general enactments of the law; and the decisions of which may properly enough be termed acts of grace. Such a power as this has, we know, existed, perhaps, from the very infancy of society; and, it has usually been exercised either by the Sovereign himself, or by the executive Government of the country
There have, therefore, usually existed and been recognised two sources of adjudication : one, the written or otherwise existing law of right and wrong; the other, the power of suspending the sentence of the law, where good cause could be shewn, why it should not take its course.
Let us, in the next place, inquire to what extent human laws can be carried, and how cases are generally adjudged by them. No human law, then, can be carried with effect farther than to judge of the conduct of individuals. The intention, which must also be judged of by circumstances, will doubtless very
much tend to influence the opinion of the judge; but then, it is not even in this case upon the intention, but upon the actual transgression, that sentence is pronounced. And, as the intention can, in a vast variety of cases, be but imperfectly known, such mistatements or errors of evidence as happen to occur, are usually reckoned in favour of the prisoner; and, as it is more desirable that some criminals might escape, than that one innocent person should suffer, an inclination to
will ever form one of the most necessary and praiseworthy qualifications of the human judge.
Let us now come to the consideration of our Divine law; and if we find that exhibiting an analogy of principle perfectly coinciding with those already noticed, we shall succeed at least in making the principles of both understood ; and perhaps shew, that the method adopted by the Divine law for the instruction and regulation of society, is not only authoritative, but also the most reasonable and efficient. Let us, therefore, in the first place, consider the character of our moral law.
If we attend to the manner in which St. Paul speaks of this law, we shall find, that his expressions are synonymous