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enjoyment and vanities of the world ; the consciousness of having often yielded in the face of our better resolutions, to the insurrection of nature within ; the long period of youth, and perhaps prime of manhood, spent in rushing at the command of natural instinct into forbidden wickedness ;-all these evils, past, present, and to come, memory loaded with the unprofitable past, hope having fearful anticipation of the coming future, the present occupied with interminable duty, would, together, have combined a state of mind the most unfit for any useful employment of our faculties. Joy and happiness, which form the atmosphere of alacrity and activity, would have been sealed up, and a drooping, speechless drudgery, driven on by a kind of fear ; the desire that things might not grow worse, no hope of ever retrieving them, would have been the only motive to carry us forward. Between attempting and failing, between reflections upon ourselves and reflections upon God, our life would have passed unprofitably, if this law, so enlarged and pure, was to have a strict inquisition at a future judgment.
It remains, therefore, that we complete this exposition of the constitution under which God hath placed us, by entering into an explanation of the various provisions which are contained in it for meeting this dilemma, into which every man is brought, however sincere be his intention and however great his endeavours to keep the perfect law of God. But this is of so much importance, and so distinct, that we separate it along with the other provisions of the divine constitution for the next part of our argumento
OF JUDGMENT TO COME.
THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
In order to meet that sense of delinquency with which every reflective mind is oppressed when it betakes itself to stand or fall by the law of God, many devices are imagined, whereof we shall examine the stability before unfolding that which the Lawgiver hath himself discovered. For there is a strange perverseness in mankind to do without this other part of the divine constitution, and by their own inventions to help themselves out of the dilemma into which they are brought by the purity of the law ; on which account it becomes necessary to pause, and consider these suggestions of natural reason, before proceeding to develop what God himself hath revealed upon the subject.
The most common refuge of the mind from its consciousness of guilt is in the mercy of God. His toleration of sin here, and his goodness to the sinner, insinuate into the mind the idea that he may be as forgiving and kind in the world to come. This hope, or rather hallucination, for it does not reach to the decision of a hope, serves with many to compose whatever thought or anxiety they feel upon the subject of future judgment. It is a notion of such flimsy texture as hardly to bear examination, and would not be worthy of notice in this place, were it not for the numbers who are content to be deluded by it. For it is manifest, that if God is thus to pass all without examination upon the impulse of his mercy, he might have spared himself the trouble of making a law. The law is a dead letter if it is not to be proceeded upon; nay, it is a deception, inasmuch as it inflicts many needless fears, and requires many useless sacrifices. Not that we would annihilate his power of remission, which we shall
very great, but that however great, it cannot extend over every form of delinquency without extinguishing all difference of character, and making the divine government
one great system of passing and patronizing every form of crime. His mercy, however great, must proceed by rule, otherwise it will destroy responsibility, annihilate judgment, and upset righteousness, and bring us into the same condition as if he had never interfered in our affairs. Being driven out of this shift, men betake themselves to make a rough estimation of the good and ill of their character, and see how they stand by others, taking heart if they are above par ; and, if below it, balancing against their fears some charities or religious formalities, or better intentions for the future. Men of business build upon their honesty, men of rank upon their honour, simple men upon their goodnature, dissipated men upon a good heart at bottom, all upon their clearness from great crime and excessive wickedness. Now this is all at random ; it is to conjecture, not to think ; to fancy a god and invent a law, and to abandon those which are revealed. For honesty, and honour, and good-nature, and a good heart, (as they call it,) are rules by which men regulated themselves before God took the reins, and if they could have answered the end in view, it would have been idle in him to have added any thing beyond. But now that he has taken the management, and issued laws by which he commandeth us to abide, he will surely look to their obedience-or what was the use of uttering them ? And any claim we rest, of escapirg, must derive itself in some way from our obedience of these statutes, otherwise the statutes go for nothing, and God is content to be dishonoured, and to leave us as he found us, having totally failed in his undertaking to ameliorate our condition.
The next suggestion of the mind is, “ That if we make a sincere endeavour to do our best in keeping the divine laws, it is enough ; God will, in his mercy, pardon our shortcoming." This is, to meet the difficulty in the face, and therefore it is worthy of examination. That God will require of
any one more than the best, or that he will ask something beyond what it is possible to do, is unreasonable in the last degree. But who is the man that can say he has done his best? or that he has endeavoured to do his best? Were there such a man, he would have no self-accusations, no upbraidings of conscience, no remembrance of iniquity past, and no uneasiness from 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 a 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 crime. 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 lose 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,
65 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 necesa
sity 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
find ?” Such would be the effect of acquitting upon the plea, having endeavoured the best ; it would reach far and wide ; the 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 occur, 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 of mercy.
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 ied a martyr to its excess. This man was pitched upon by his fellow-citizens to furnish them with a code of laws. These hę