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maintenance of good order, and the vindication of the laws which have been placed to promote the welfare of those who are subject to them.
So far intelligent persons of every party, I believe, are all agreed. But now arises this question, Can such a governor as we have described abate, or in any instance dispense with, the penalties which by law attach to his offending subjects? It is said he cannot. → That, which is the most kingly and beseeming attribute that belongs to earthly sovereigns, is withheld from the King of kings. He may not, it is said, in any instance exercise his merciful compassion, until the law (of which he is the sole enactor) is by some equivalent punishment satisfied, and its penal claims discharged.
Now, first, as to the reasonableness or justice of the expedient here supposed to be resorted to, in order to enable God, as the moral governor of the universe, to forgive offenders, can it be proved just, can it even be proved possible, to transfer guilt from one to another, so that the guilty shall escape, and the innocent be punished ? Guilt is, in the nature of things, incapable of being transferred; and no principle of justice can demand, can even permit, that the innocent should be substituted for the guilty, as incurring the penalty of the law. Who ever heard of such a principle as a feature of human legislation ? Even the tyrant Dionysius, when Damon generously urged him to put him to death in the room of his friend Pythias, started back from such a proposal, and forgave them both.
There are cases, no doubt, in which the innocent suffer in consequence of the crimes of the guilty ; as when children are impoverished or disregarded, on account of the sins of their parents. However, we ought to distinguish between sufferings and punishment. Who denies that an innocent person may suffer ? But can it with propriety be said that he is punished ? He has no consciousness of guilt ; he partakes of the consolations which flow from religion, and bears his sufferings with patience and pious resignation ; not like a criminal, overwhelmed with self reproaches, and agitated with bad and tormenting passions. Besides, there is here no substitution of the sufferings of the innocent for the punishment of the guilty. Bad parents, while they live, suffer for their crimes in their own persons, and are tormented by reflecting on the evils which they have brought upon their children ; and their crime, and consequent future punishment, "must be aggravated, not remitted, by what their children suffer.
Another example is sometimes produced, in which it is thought that there is some resemblance to the satisfaction supposed to be made by Christ for the sins of
It is when a person, who has become surety, under a pecuniary bond, for the good behavior of another, is made to forfeit the bond in consequence of that person's misconduct. But surely this is not to the purpose. The forfeiture of the bond is the just penalty of his own rashness, in pledging himself for the behavior of an ill-disposed person, to the detriment of the public ; and the forfeiture of the security does not release the offender himself, if he can be found, from the penalties which the law has affixed to his offence.
But supposing we were to grant it possible, and if possible then just, to impute guilt to, and inflict punishment on, one, as the means by which another might escape the punishment due to his crimes, can it be shown
that, in the case of the offences of men against the laws of God, it was necessary to resort to such a measure, in order that he may be enabled to release them from the penalties denounced against them? Is the Almighty debarred from a power which all law-givers exercise, of relaxing, when it is thought fit, the condition by which he binds to the observance of his laws ? This cannot be maintained ; for it must be admitted that the very thing supposed, viz. to accept of the punishment of a person substituted for the offender, is actually to alter the conditions originally appointed as sanctions of the law. In every community that ever existed under the dominion of law, there has always resided somewhere a power of abating and altering the penalties directed against particular offences. And who will take upon him to assert, even of an earthly sovereign, that it enhances the dignity of his person, or adds glory to his crown, to be set forth as an inexorable and unrelenting judge ? Can it then be becoming to deny that the Almighty Ruler of all things is able to exercise his clemency ? a clemency, which must far exceed everything of the kind that resides in the breasts of earthly potentates. It certainly, then, cannot be maintained, that, when the Almighty desired to forgive his offending creatures, there existed some necessity, that compelled him to exact the strict payment of penalties which he was otherwise disposed to remit ; and that there was no way but that of requiring full satisfaction, through the sufferings and death of Christ, by which he could justly be merciful. — Indeed, it is acknowledged by several ancient Authors in the Christian church, particularly by Athanasius and Augustine, that God might have saved us by his own will, without the intervention of Jesus Christ ; and Bernard asks, "Who knows but that the Almighty had the choice of various methods of our redemption, justification, and deliverance ?" From which it is evident that, in the opinion of these ancient fathers, the satisfaction made by Christ for the sins of men, was not essential to the forgiveness of sins.
It follows, from all these considerations, that the law of God is not of that irrevocable, implacable description which it is sometimes represented to be ; but that it may naturally be expected to admit of some relaxation, and not necessarily to require full satisfaction.
I will not however deny, that for the maintenance of good order in the moral universe, it is necessary that limits and conditions should be affixed to the exercise of the divine clemency, in the forgiveness of sins ; otherwise those laws which are designed for the welfare of his creatures will be neglected and disobeyed. But let us duly consider whether, if it be for no other object than to secure the reverence and obedience of mankind to these righteous laws, other limits and conditions may not be found, that will have at least as good a tendency this way. What if the necessary condition of forgiveness be a hearty repentance, and a strict amendment of life, will this have no tendency to enhance our veneration for that law which is declared to be the rock of our life and the necessary condition of our salvation ? Shall we say, That until a satisfaction for sin is provided, he that is sorry for his sins, is as much to be despaired of, as he that continues in them? If “there be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth,” does it not follow, that the holiest and most en
lightened part of God's moral creation perceives no obstacle but impenitence in the way of the full exercise of mercy towards offenders? If it be otherwise, what explanation shall we find of many ample declarations which the Almighty has made in his holy word, of his will and power to save the penitent sinner ? One remarkable passage, taken from the 18th chapter of Ezekiel, will suffice to impress the force of this argument. “If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my staiutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him. In his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked shall die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should return from his ways and live? When the wicked turneth away from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth and turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”Now what exception can we possibly take to this passage of holy writ ? Shall we dare to aver that the demands of justice are not satisfied by a course of proceeding which God has expressly declared to be his own; or does it not approve itself to reason, as calculated in every view to secure our reverence to laws established on such equitable and unimpeachable principles of wisdom and goodness?
II. Having thus examined the arguments which have been drawn from the nature of things, and from what we know of the natural principles of justice and equity,