« ForrigeFortsæt »
present imperfection. If any one be so opinioned, to be undeceived he has only to ask his neighbour, or his bosom companion, or his enemy, or any other mortal than himself. Ignorance indeed of what duty consists in may work this delusion, which self-esteem will hardly work. But our inquiry doth not admit the apology of ignorance, being not what an ignorant man feels, but what 'a man, informed by the divine law, and bringing to the bar of that law his thoughts and words and deeds--what such an one feels. And surely, as hath been shown above, no one will allow but that he understands more of that law than he hath performed, and that there is much of it which he hath not taken pains to understand. That hours and days and weeks and months and years have passed at one time or other of his life, in which he did not think of God's law, much less endeavour to keep it-much less endeavour his best to keep it. Then if no one can say he hath done his best to keep it, this quietus to conscience leaves us where it found us. No one can claim upon it for an arrest of judgment.
But there is a great tendency in men to indulge the idea that they are doing the best under all the circumstances of their case; and that God who sends them their severe trials, their strong passions, and their imperfect nature, will surely take all these things into account. That he doth take them into account will be seen hereafter; but he doth not permit us to take the account of them. There is the greatest difference between the Judge deciding upon the equity of the case, and the party deciding for himself. I suppose you would not get a verdict in any of the criminal courts if you were to allow the prisoner to plead upon his having done his best to avoid the crimé. Not but that it is a good plea if it could be ascertained, but that he is not the judge of the plea. The law presumes that he has power to keep its requirements, and though there be special circumstances of hardship in the case, still the law is relentless, and the royal prerogative of mercy is the only refuge. There is too much tendency in nature to exculpate herself, that she should need aiding and abetting from law, of which the very office is to correct this her weakness, and to place another's interest under protection from our own. But it were at once to loose every restraint of law, and give selfishness and prejudice and power their fullest swing, were men to be indulged with hope of acquittal upon their declaring that they had done their best. Most slily would nature insinuate her weakness, most powerfully would she exaggerate the temptation, most cunningly shift the blame from herself, and most boldly in the end face it out, by saying, It could not be helped, I did my best. The thief would say, “What could I do to get my bread, I was honest once, but the world set against me; long I strove with misfortune, but nature being weak and necessity strong, I could resist no longer. ' All that could be done I did; it was the last resource, therefore I am clear, having done my best.” The idle vagabond would say, “ What can I do, I crave to know, more than I have done ? My parents have cast me off, my master, the world; I am despised and rejected of men; they make me a vagabond, not I myself. Give me an honest profession and I will work at it; but till then what can I do but seek how and where I may find ?” Such would be the effect of
” acquitting upon the plea, having endeavoured the best; it would reach far and wide toleration to every crime, bring down the unalterable law to every man's ideal, ignorant, prejudiced standard, and leave to his own decision whether he hath come up to that standard or no. He is law, he is judge, he is every thing. All authority over him is at an end, so that we are again where we were without any use or advantage from God's law, if this method of evading it is to be sustained.
All these subterfuges (for they deserve no better name) are manifest to any one who thinks for a moment of the nature of law; which is useful only
; as it is stable, and which is perfect when it is inflexible. If law bends to one, why not to another? If it yields to one specialty, why not yield to another? And so it would grow to be as weak as human nature, whose weakness it is designed to protect. It is to cheat me of my liberty, not to defend me in my rights, to promulgate a scheme of law, and allow it to be departed from. It is to cheat the good for the sake of indulging the bad. It is to relax all the covenants of which society consists, and leave men so much as you relax to their native liberty, which liberty law may go too
far in restraining, but, having once restrained, ought equally to restrain in all. In our civil institutions this is so well understood, that rather than permit the judge of law to relax or bend it to any unforeseen case of hardship which may oceur, we set up another court of equity, before which such cases may be entered—but if once they come into a court of law, the issue of law must stand, unless you apply to the royal fountain
It is fortunate that we can appeal to a historical fact which demonstrates upon the large scale the truth of all the above reasoning, and shows how fatal it is to promulgate one rule to the people, and proceed to judgment by another. Draco, the legislator of Athens, was a man of a sense of equity almost divine, which won for him such admiration, that he died a martyr to its excess. This man was pitched upon by his fellow-citizens to furnish them with a code of laws. These he constructed rather after his own high sentiments than for their imperfections ; making almost every crime punishable with death-idleness having the same punishment as murderwhich caused it to be said that Draco's laws were written with blood. When these laws came to be executed, the judge found that it was not in the heart of man to inflict punishment by the letter; they gradually relaxed them, silently apportioning the punishment to the measure of the delinquency. This could not pass unobserved'; the people began to calculate on it, and to pass beyond it in
their calculations. In a short time the laws (though from any account we have of them, and from the hallowed estimation of their author, they were of the purest, justest, wisest character,) soon fell into contempt and were trampled under foot, merely because they misgave in the execution, though up to that point they were blameless.
That the same effect with regard to the laws of God will follow the notion that they are to be reduced in the judgment, and that none of their excellent qualities set forth in the former discourse will bear them up against such a loss of authority, we not only have no doubt, but we have the clearest manifestation of the fact to offer. Wherever the doctrine is taught that God will swerve from his threatened punishment, and in the end bring all men out of thraldom-as it is in unitarian pulpits; wherever the doctrine is taught that God will lower his demand to our performance, and take what we have to give, passing by the rest-as it is in the pulpits of our fashionable and accommodating divines; then mark the effect upon the hearers. They fall away from the constant sense of God's authority, they fall away from the spiritual interpretation of his laws, they come to hold religion as a regular, formal thing done at stated times, and to stand by their honesty, their honour, their goodness of heart, their charities, or some other criterion which exists in human nature or civilized society quite independent on God's right to interfere, or his actual interference in our affairs. Such preachers never get a purchase