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The Law respecting Adultery.


The Pharisees did not understand him as hereby treating with disrespect, or proposing to annul, the law of Moses or any part of it; though they stood ready to catch at the least word of such a tendency, that they might accuse him to the people. Nay, he seems to appeal to his doctrine on this very subject as an illustration and proof of his assertion that he came not to destroy but to complete the law. "It is easier," saith he, " for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail;" and immediately adds: "Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery." (Comp. Luke 16: 17, 18 and Matt. 5: 17, 18). But even if we admit that, in this solitary instance, he did censure or annul a precept of the Mosaic code, what does this instance prove? What was the tendency of his amendment? Was it greater mildness and lenity? No. He censures a particular precept for its too indulgent character. Moses suffered you to put away your wives," saith he, "but I tell you that whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery." This he said knowing well that, by the law, adultery was punishable with death; but he said not a syllable about abolishing the penalty. That is the essential point.


Some may be hardy enough to assert that he did abolish the penalty; and refer in proof to the story of the woman taken in adultery in the 8th chapter of John's Gospel. Here let us quietly observe the material facts: 1. The authority of this passage is doubtful. It was not read in the churches for several centuries; it is wanting in some of the oldest Mss. and is rejected

able tempers. They are guilty of a sin in availing themselves of such a permission, but he is, as it were, sheltered under the example of God and of Moses, and sins not in granting it unto them to avert greater evils." Mos. Recht. Art. 2. Tr. Smith. And again in Art. 93: "Our laws might properly enough permit married persons of incompatible tempers to separate on the score of the hardness of their hearts, when we find that even Moses, who was sent by God himself, allowed divorce among the Israelites for that very reason; although even then it was, both in the sight of God and conscience, sinful. However, I do not, in thus speaking, mean to controvert the propriety of our permitting divorce in no other case than that wherein Christ has declared it morally tight, and allowable in foro conscientiae; because I am sensible that facility of divorce is a very formidable evil and fraught with the most pernicious consequences to the morals of a nation."

"According to Christ's decision, that man who gave his wife a bill of divorcement for whoredom, committed no sin. It is allowed that here whoredom is to be understood not only of infidelity in the married state, but also of previous incontinence. The word in the original shows this; for Christ does not mention adultery, but makes use of the general term opvɛía, which signifies want of chastity, or fornication."

by some of the best critics. But we waive this fact. 2. Under the Roman government the Jews had not the power of life and death. By the laws of Moses adultery was a capital offence; but, by the Roman law it was not. 3. The question proposed to our Lord was both invidious and hypocritical; invidious, because his interrogators hoped to draw something from him on which to ground an accusation of contempt either for the Roman or the Mosaic law; hypocritical, because they pretended to have such an exuberant zeal for the honor of the law of Moses that they had conscientious scruples about submitting to the prohibition of their conquerors. 4. The question was not answered, but evaded. Again, this is the material point. In saying, "neither do I condemn thee," our Lord must be understood not in a moral but a judicial sense. That in such a sense he should not condemn the woman is natural. Why should he? He always declined, positively declined, assuming the office of magistrate or judge; and besides, both accusers and witnesses had disappeared. How could a judicial sentence be pronounced when there was neither accuser, judge nor witness in the cause? And as to the words addressed to the Pharisees: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her;" many of the best critics suppose the particular sin of which the woman had been guilty to be referred to; and, in this sense, the answer can hardly be urged against us, for no man would propose that secret murderers should take it upon them to inflict capital punishment on him who may have been discovered. But, at all events, the words were addressed either to extraordinary sinners or to ordinary sinners. If addressed to a set of great villains, whether secretly or notoriously so, they can prove little for our opponents; neither can they serve their purpose if addressed to sinners in the ordinary universal sense; unless it be argued that Christ meant to abolish all human penalties whatever; for, if their execution is to remain in abeyance till absolutely sinless men are found to execute them, it is hardly worth while to contend for the theoretical right of inflicting them.

Where then is the abrogation, either express or implied, of the judicial precepts of the Mosaic law? If any stronger cases in proof than these to which we have referred can be brought, we should like to know them.

We have purposely omitted alluding to the law of the Sabbath, because we suppose that case will hardly be urged. Yet it might easily be shown, that there is more evidence in the New Testa


The "Spirit of the Gospel."


ment for the abrogation of that commandment than of any other in the Mosaic code.

And let it here be distinctly understood that the main point of our argument does not depend upon the validity of every particular in our exegesis. The burden of proof lies upon our adversaries. They array the teachings of the New Testament against the institutions of the Old Testament, and against the common consent of mankind. It behooves them, therefore, not merely to assail some particular points in our exegesis, but to refute it in toto; and not only so, positively to establish their own ground. In doing this, it will not avail them to appeal to this or that authority, which, though generally with us, may be against us in this or that particular. If the appeal is to authority on one point, it is so on every point,-main question and all. And with such an appeal we should be perfectly willing to submit the question. Besides, as to this gleaning of exceptions and stray admissions here and there, it is altogether a deceptive mode of reasoning. Fifty men may agree in maintaining a doctrine for which fifty reasons may be given. Each of the fifty men may urge forty-nine of the reasons and doubt or reject the fiftieth; and should the reason rejected be different in each case, this exception and admission-gleaner might show that every one of the fifty reasons was rejected by some one of the fifty men; and consequently, that their whole doctrine was utterly destitute of proof on their own showing; though every one of them stoutly maintained it with forty-nine good reasons to back him!

If it be still insisted, that the whole "spirit of the Gospel" is manifestly against our position; we answer, that those who urge this argument might do well to consider, whether, if they can maintain no more specific allegation than this, it may not be that they have mistaken their own spirit for the spirit of the Gospel. This is one of the most facile arguments in the world to urge, and one of the most difficult in the world to answer. It is an inanis umbra, a magnificent subject for declamation; but, as for its logic, you might as well attempt to grasp a pure spirit in your arms as hope to feel or find its substance anywhere. How, without immediate inspiration, have men ascertained the spirit of the Gospel, otherwise than from the instructions of the Gospel itself, or, perhaps, also, from the doctrines of the church and the general consent and practice of Christians?

If, as some seem to argue, the great touchstone of the spirit of the Gospel is the example of our Saviour, so that it is right for a

Christian to hold no office, pursue no business, do no action, for which He has not left a specific example; then, indeed, is the business of Christian ethics very much simplified, and several other things will be abolished besides capital punishment.

But this general argument is sometimes stated in a somewhat more specific form, thus: the gentleness, meekness, forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, mercy and love, which everywhere characterize the Gospel, are inconsistent with the infliction of capital punishment for anything. When this objection is made in simplicity and sincerity, and in a spirit of gentleness and meekness; when it comes from a heart which really embraces and submits to the Gospel, or from a mouth which openly and publicly assumes all the obligations of a religious and Christian faith and life, we meet it with unfeigned respect. But we beg leave honestly to say that, when it is insisted on by men who make no such pretensions, merely as an argumentum ad hominem, or a galling insinuation, coupled, it may be, with odious allusions and opprobrious epithets; we do not attach to it any great importance.

We are not disposed for a moment to admit, that the defenders of the right of society to inflict the just penalty of death for murder, are any less thoroughly imbued with the evangelical spirit of meekness, forgiveness, compassion and love, than its assailants We devoutly recognize and heartily embrace these glorious traits of the Christian system. We cling to them with all the energy of our souls. We would not have the smallest iota frittered away from their full significance.


Look into any of the humble, noiseless spheres of Christian charity; whose hearts and hands are busy there? There are a great many objects of Christian compassion besides a handful of the worst of criminals; a great many calls of Christian benevolence as imperative as that to save a few murderers from the gallows; but devotion to those objects, obedience to those calls, may not be so sure to make a man notorious. We owe to the criminal our benevolent sympathies, our kind offices, our fervent prayers, our best efforts for his reformation and salvation; but we owe to the rest of mankind a vast deal more. We need not revile Moses, we need not be more benevolent than Christ, in order to be truly Christian. We need not prefer the good of the murderer to the good of society, his life to the lives of hundreds of innocent men and women exposed by his impunity, in order to be truly Christian. The gentleness, compassion, love and forgiveness of the Gospel are no canting sentimentality, no sympathizing with


The Law of Moses.


sin, no fondling of felons as poor unfortunates, no one-sided fanatic enthusiasm. They are calm, practical, comprehensive, manly, divine. For ourselves, we neither claim nor expect that our compassion and love should exceed the compassion and love of God himself, who expressly enacted the earliest law, so far as we can ascertain, inflicting capital punishment for murder, and, so far as we can ascertain, never expressly repealed it.

We utterly deny that the spirit of the Gospel is against that venerable enactment. It is instructive to find that the spirit of Robespierre and of the bloodiest Jacobins of the French revolu tion, was at one time against it; and with what fruits, the world has seen.

But some of our readers may have been ready to ask, whether we propose to have the blue-laws of early New England times reenacted? whether we intend seriously to maintain that the penal code of Moses is still in force? By no means. We are not aware of having lisped a syllable to that effect. What we have all along maintained is, that the Gospel, neither by its teaching, example, nor spirit, has condemned or abrogated the judicial code of Moses. It left that code just where it was, just as it was, untouched and unimpaired. We have our Saviour's express words that he came not to abrogate the law, (for so the original word most literally means); can any express words of his be adduced to the contrary?

These are no new or strange views. They are simply the oldfashioned, plain, common-sense doctrine. The law of Moses may be divided into three parts: 1. The moral law, or Decalogue, which is generally recognized as binding in the New Testament; 2. The ceremonial law, or ritual, which was fulfilled and terminated by the Gospel, the whole truth which it was designed to adumbrate being revealed and realized by the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and intercession of Christ; 3. The civil, judicial or penal code, (the judgments,) which, though not abolished or interfered with by the Gospel, was never enacted for the Gentiles; and ceased by its own limitations, or rather from the nature of the case, when the Jewish polity ceased.

We need not, nor do we, by any means, deny that the whole Mosaic law, judicial, ritual, moral and all, was abolished, utterly abolished, in the Gospel, as a ground of human justification in the sight of God. But what this has to do with the duties, powers, properties or uses of the civil government, it hath not been given to us to perceive.

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