« PreviousContinue »
present matter, the subordinate magistrates of Israel might and did lawfully condemn idolaters to suffer death ; because, by the common law of the land, as ordained by God the chief temporal magistrate and as freely accepted by the people themselves, idolatry, or an open rebellion against God, attended with a direct renunciation of allegiance, was justly deemed high-treason, and was therefore on the universal principle of legislation a capital offence : but, in every
other nation whatsoever, if a prince or a priest or a magistrate inflicts or causes to be inflicted the penalty of death upon any person merely because he is a heretic or an idolater, that prince or priest or magistrate is most assuredly a murderer to all intents and purposes; because, whatever may be the spiritual malignity of heresy or idolatry, it is a crime solely cognizable by God, and can never be lawfully punished by the civil sword, save under a theocratic form of government.
(2.) Such however was the form of the Israelitish polity: it was a pure and absolute monarchy, of which Jehovah was the temporal head; it was a Theocracy in the strictest and most literal sense of the word. Let us now therefore observe, what follows of necessity from this universally acknowedged circumstance.
If God sustained the character of the temporal prince and the temporal legislator of the Israelites, the sanction of the common law of the land must clearly be the same as the sanction of the
common law of any other land : for, if the sanction of the common Hebrew law differed from the sanction of every other common law in the radical point, that future punishments were the sanction of the former, while present punishments are universally the sanction of the latter; then it is plainly impossible, that God could ever have acted as the temporal prince and the temporal legislator of the Israelites. Under such a view of the subject, he would indeed have been their spiritual king, just as he is the spiritual king of us Christians, punishing their breaches of the law no doubt with the strictest justice, but punishing them exclusively hereafter: yet it is as clear as the day, that, had he thus administered the common law of Israel, he never could have stood to the people in the relation of a temporal sovereign. But he certainly was the temporal sovereign of Israel ; otherwise, the very notion of a Theocracy is a mere idle dream: for, unless God was the temporal sovereign of Israel, the polity of that people was no more a Theocracy than the polity of France or of Spain or of England. If then God was the temporal sovereign of Israel ; the sanction of the Hebrew common law, like the sanction of the common law in every other country, must of necessity have been temporal also. The two ideas stand or fall together : for it is a palpable contradiction to say, that God was the temporal sovereign of Israel ; and yet that, acting as a temporal sovereign, he administered the laws of the land, not by the sanction of temporal punishments in this world, but by the sanction of future punishments in another world. We may be sure therefore, from the very reason of the thing, that the sanction of the common law of Israel, so far as punishments were concerned, could not but be of a temporal nature.
A similar train of reasoning will bring us to a similar result with respect to that part of the sanction, which rests upon the holding forth of rewards to the obedient.
Every temporal government, administered by men, is radically and inevitably defective. To say nothing of the impossibility of always detecting and punishing offenders, no human government is able to found itself upon the sanction of rewarding the obedient. We are wont indeed familiarly to say, that rewards and punishments are the sanction of every law: but, in thus speaking, we do not speak the truth. Punishments indeed are the sanction of every human law : but rewards never were, and never can be. It is true, that eminent services to the state, whether of a civil or of a military nature, often receive their due and just reward : but this case does not exactly meet the assertion before us. If rewards and punishments be the sanction of every human law; then, while the disobedient are punished FOR their disobedience, the obedient will conversely be rewarded for their obedience. But did we ever find such to be the procedure of any
government upon the face of the earth ? A murderer and a thief are punished for their breach of the law : but did we ever hear of men being rewarded, because, on the principle of obedience to the law, they abstained from murder and rapine ? Punishment, no doubt, is the exclusive sanction of every human law : and, since, in the very nature of things, no human law can propose rewards as a sanction; it follows, that all human laws are, in point of their sanctions, radically and inherently defective. But, when God deigns to act as a temporal magistrate, his government, like himself, must needs be perfect. Hence his temporal administration of the laws must be conducted on the double sanction of rewards and punishments: for his government would not be perfect without this double sanction. Now it is plain, that God alone can confer the rewards of obedience in this world : and it is no less plain, that if he act as a temporal magistrate to any nation, the proposed reward of obedience must be just as much of a temporal nature as the proposed punishment of disobedience. In other words, the sanction of the common law of a country, whenever God himself administers it as the supreme temporal magistrate, must inevitably be, not future rewards and future punishments in a future world, but present rewards and present punishments in this present world. The latter half of this sanction a theocratic government possesses in common with all other governments:
the former half it possesses exclusively; for the very idea of present reward for naked obedience to the law involves the idea of an extraordinary or miraculously operating Providence, which of course no mere human government can command.
2. Thus, from the very nature of things, it is abundantly plain, that the openly proposed sanction of the Mosaical Law, which was the common law of Israel administered by a theocratic government, could not but have been temporal rewards and temporal punishments ; for, had its sanction been future rewards and future punishments, then it clearly could not have been administered by a theocratic government: and strictly consonant with this deduction is the express testimony of the Law respecting itself. It were easy to fill many pages with texts of such a description : but it will be quite sufficient to adduce two passages, the latter explanatory of the former.
Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse : a blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day; and a curse if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day to go after other gods which
ye have not known'.
Now of what nature are the blessing and the curse, here proposed as the sanction of the Law! Are they temporal in this world, or are they future in another world ? Let us hear them expounded
1 Deuter. xi. 26-28.