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the value of his labour, is bountiful to him, and thereby is virtuously unjust, provided there be a laudable reason for that bounty. So that he who rewards above the merit of an action, is as truly unjust, as he who rewards below it ; but then, injustice in one instance is vicious and blame-worthy, whereas injustice in the other instance may be virtuous and commendable. Again, justice, in the administration of punishment, is the mean betwixt mercy and cruelty. He (as I observed above) who punishes the offender equal to his crime, is just. He who lays upon the offender a greater punishment than his crime deserves, is cruel; that is, he is criminally unjust. He who remits that punishment, in whole, or in part, is merciful; that is, he is virtuously unjust, provided there be a laudable reason for the exercise of that mercy. So that he who punishes below the demerit of a vicious action, is as truly unjust, as he who punishes above it ; but then, injustice in the latter case is a vice, and ought to be avoided, whereas injustice in the former instance is a virtue and truly commendable, provided there be some laudable reason for the exercise of that mercy. So that justice is right and fit only when it comes in competition with criminal injustice; but when it comes in competition with virtuous injustice, and is preferred before it, by punishing the criminal equal to the demerit of his crimes, when he has rendered himself the proper object of mercy, then, and under these circumstances, justice degene
rates into unmercifulness, and is in itself truly blame-worthy. I say, justice itself is blameworthy in such cases where there is a laudable reason for the exercising of mercy to the criminal, and what that laudable reason is comes now to be considered.
I have already observed, that punishment is relative to guilt, the latter of these being the ground and foundation of the former. I have likewise observed that actions derive their guilt, not from their effects and consequences, but from their causes; that is, from those evil or vicious dispositions of mind which are the ground and cause of them. I here farther observe, that when once guilt is contracted, it can never be taken away; that is, when once an evil action has been committed, that action cannot be undone, nor can it ever be otherwise but an evil action, and consequently, the person who committed it must continue to have been guilty of that evil action to all eternity, or, at least, so long as he shall continue to exist. And this is the case upon all schemes, whether the criminal suffers the punishment his crime deserves, or whether we admit the absurd supposition of another's suffering in his stead, or whether his punishment be remitted, in whole, or in part. But then, tho' an evil action cannot be undone, but must continue to have been committed to all eternity; yet that evil disposition of mind out of which it sprang may be put away, and when that is the case, then, he that before was the proper obje&t of
punishment, by this ceases to be such, and becomes thereby the proper object of mercy. For as in things natural, take away the cause, and the effect will cease; fo in things moral, take away the cause ; and the effect ought to cease. A man in a state of poverty is the proper object of relief, and therefore ought to be relieved: But then, take away the cause, and the effect ought to cease; that is change his circumstances by putting him into a state of plenty, and then he ceases to be the proper object of relief, and therefore ought not to be relieved. In like manner, a man who from a wicked dispostion of mind has been guilty of a wicked action, becomes thereby the proper object of punishment; but then, take away the cause, and the effect ought to cease, that is, change his circumstances by removing that wicked disposition which took place in him, and which was the ground of his misbehaviour, and then he ceases to be the
proper object of punishment, and becomes thereby the proper object of mercy. For when the grounds of resentment and punishment cease, which is the case here, then, in reason and equity, resentment and punishment ought to cease also. And it would be the same absurd conduct, to punish a man after he is become a penitent, for his having before been guilty of an evil action; as it would be to relieve a man in a state of plenty, for his having before been in a state of poverty. This change of circumfances in an offender, changes his character and relations. For, whilst he was under the
power of vicious affections, and was dispofed to gratify them to the publick hurt, he was then an evil or vicious creature, and an enemy to the intelligent and moral world, and, as such, was the proper obje&t of resentment and pụnishment. But when he became changed as aforesaid, he then ceased to be that vicious or evil creature, and is become virtuous and good, he is no longer an enemy, but a friend and a benefactor to the intelligent world as far as it is in his power so to be, and, as such, he is no longer the proper object of resentment and punishment, but is become, by the forementioned change, the proper object of compassion and mercy. So that if the Deity will follow nature, and be guided by it, (which he most certainly will) then, he must deal with such a creature according to what he is, and not according to what he has been; he must deal with him, not as an offender, considered fimply as such, which would render him the proper object of punishment, this not being his whole character; but he must and will treat him as a penitent offender, that being his whole character, and the present state of his case, and, as such, he is the proper object of God's mercy. To say in this case, that the penitent offender still continues to have been guilty of the crimes he has committed, and therefore, he ought to be punished, this is weakly urged ; because, (as I have already observed) that is the case upon all schemes, and therefore, it ought not to be urged here; and is the same kind of
reasoning as to say, that the man who has been in a state of poverty, tho' his circumstances are changed, and he is now in a state of plenty; yet he still continues to be the man who has been in a state of poverty, and therefore still ought to be relieved; the weakness of which, I think, appears at first sight.
From what I have observed, I think, my reader cannot avoid seeing what it is which renders men, who have, by their greatly departing from that rule of action they ought to be governed by, rendered themselves justly displeasing to their Maker; I say, I think, my reader cannot avoid seeing what it is which will render such offenders the proper objects of God's mercy; and consequently, will be the ground of the divine mercy to them. Namely, it is passing through such a change, which, (to speak in the figurative language of the New Testament) is called a being born again, becoming a new creature; being created a new, in, or according to Christ Jesus ; and the like. Whatever offender passes through this change, he thereby ceases to be the proper object of punishment, and becomes the proper object of mercy; and therefore, we may be assured, he will most certainly obtain it at God's hand. I am not here enquiring what is, or may be, the ground or reason of remitting punilhment amongst men, which, perhaps, sometimes is relation, friendship, precedent obligations, and the like. These cannot take place with respect to God, and therefore, whether, and