Page images

selves, or to him, or to others; for in this case to punish can serve no other end but to fulfil the lust of our revenge and malice. As for instance, suppose I have a poor insolvent debtor, that owes me a great deal, and can pay me nothing; and it were in my power, not only to cast him into prison, but to force him to languish away his wretched life; to what end should I inflict this punishment upon him? I cannot hope to recover my own by it; for a prison, we say, will pay no debts; and where nothing is, nothing can be expected : I cannot design to reform him by it, since prisons are commonly the most fruitful nurseries of wickedness: I cannot aim to warn others by it, for what warning can oblige men to do that which is impossible? What end can I propose then, but only the humouring of a wrathful mind, and to glut it with revenge and mischief? And if this be the point I drive at, I run from all the rules of mercy.

4. The law of mercy also obliges me not to punish an offender, so long as the end of punishing him is fairly attainable by gentler means. For if when I can obtain my end of an offender by persuasion and forbearance, I rather choose to extort it from him by punishment; it is plain that I have a cruel intention towards him, and do affect to hurt and mischief him : for when I may obtain my end of him by forbearance or gentle persuasions, why should I choose to force it from him by rigour and severity, but that I am either insensible of his hurt, or else do take pleasure to afflict and grieve him? Wherefore in all such punishments as are within our power, the law of mercy obliges us, first, to try softer and gentler ways, and make a long and thorough experiment of the methods of kindness, persuasion, and forbearance ; and if by these we can obtain our end, and conquer the offender, and vindicate our own right, to remit our right of punishing him, and forbear all rigour and severity. For punishment is our last remedy, and ought never to be applied to offenders, till gentler means have been tried and defeated.

5. The law of mercy also obliges us to inflict no more punishment on offenders, than what is absolutely necessary to the obtaining those good ends we design by it. For he who punishes an offender more than is needful to the natural end of punishment, can design no other end by it but what is cruel and barbarous : and whatsoever is more than needful, either to the vindicating our own right, or the reforming the offender, or the giving fair warning to others, serves to no other purpose but to gratify our own revenge and fury. So far as punishment is needful to these good ends, it is not only lawful, but good: but all beyond what is needful to these is perfect savageness and cruelty. When therefore, for the obtaining these ends, we are necessitated to punish an offender, the law of mercy obliges us first to try lighter and gentler punishments; and if by these we cannot obtain our end, to proceed in our severities by degrees, and not to fly to extreme rigour, till we have found all gentler corrections ineffectual. For if a lighter punishment will do the work, it is cruelty to lay on a heavier: and whether it will or no, is no otherwise to be known than by trial.

Sixthly, and lastly, The law of mercy also requires us always to punish short of the offence; i. e. where the punishment is in your power, and you are not determined by a legal necessity to use the utmost



extremity. For where you are legally obliged either to judge or prosecute an offender, there you are to proceed by the measures of the law, which obliges you, and which usually determines you to the kind and degrees of the punishment to be inflicted: but where the matter is wholly in your power, either to remit of or augment the punishment, there the law of mercy obliges you not to exact the utmost. For if you punish more than the offence deserves, you are unjust and tyrannical; because as your right to punish accrues from the offence that is done to you, so your right to punish to such a degree accrues from the degree of the offence; which you cannot exceed without exceeding your right, and exacting more punishment of the offender than he owes you. So that every degree of punishment which exceeds the demerit of the fault is lawless and licentious violence, to which we can pretend no right, and by which we do an injurious outrage to the offender. And as when our punishment exceeds the offence, we punish without justice; so, when it equals the offence, we punish without mercy. For the utmost degree of just severity admits no intermixture of mercy, the office of which is to relieve the miserable, and consequently to relieve them, when they have injured and offended us, of some part of the evils and miseries they deserve. Wherefore, as he is an unmerciful creditor, who, rather than abate the least part of his due, will strip his poor debtor to the skin, and reduce him to the utmost pinch and extremity of need; so he is an unmerciful punisher, that exacts to the full demerit of the fault, and stretches his right of punishing to the utmost extent, to make the offender miserable. In this case therefore the law of mercy re

quires us to follow the great example of God, who in the midst of justice doth always remember mercy ; who makes large abatements of his right to punish us, and never exacts of us the utmost plagues and sufferings which our iniquities deserve. Conformably to which excellent pattern, we are obliged, in punishing others, to intermingle mercy with our severities; and proportionably to the offender's penitence, or the pitiable circumstances of his fault, or the misery and necessities of his present condition, to make an equitable abatement and defalcation of his punishment. And thus you see what that mercy is which is required of us with respect to our punishing of others.

Fifthly, and lastly, Another of the miseries which affect men's bodies is want of the outward necessaries of this present life, such as meat and drink, lodging and apparel; the want of which cannot but render our life exceeding wretched and miserable. For what an insupportable grievance is it to our nature, to be pinched with an impatient hunger, or suffocated with a burning drought; to be forced to prey upon itself for want of other fuel, or to appease its furious appetites with loathsome, heartless, or unwholesome sustenance; to see a hungry family crying about us for want of bread, and have little or none to give

m; to behold our children shivering with cold and drooping with famine, and not be able to succour and relieve them; whilst our pined and miserable carcasses are either covered with loathsome rags, or nakedly exposed to the injuries of the weather, and more destitute and unprovided than the foxes and birds, for want of a hole or nest where to lay their heads! These are circumstances miserable enough to move a heart of stone to pity and compasthe pre

sion : in this case therefore we are obliged by the law of mercy, first, to a tender sympathy and commiseration; to affect our souls with a soft and compassionate sense of the wants of our poor brethren, to put ourselves in their case, and represent their condition to our own hearts and affections, as if it were our own; and thereby to endeavour and excite in ourselves a proportionable feeling of their calamity and misery. And to this we are universally obliged, whether we are high or low, rich or poor, whether we are in circumstances to relieve the needs of others, or to need relief for ourselves; for

for so the cept runs universally, Finally, be all of one mind, having compassion one of another; love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous, 1 Pet. iii. 8. And as we are universally obliged to compassionate those that are in need, so we are also bound, according as we have opportunity and ability, to succour and relieve them. Indeed if we are poor and needy, we are by no means obliged to pinch ourselves or our families, to relieve the necessities of others; for the desire of self-preservation being of all others the most vehement passion which God hath implanted in our natures, he doth thereby not only warrant but direct us to take care of ourselves in the first place, and not to sacrifice the means of our own preservation to the needs and necessities of others. And then our nearest relatives being next to ourselves, we are obliged in the next place to relieve them; and consequently, in all competitions for our relief and mercy, to prefer the wants and necessities of our own families. But though we may not be able, without wronging our families, to give alms to our necessitous brother, yet if, by representing his necessities to others, who are

« PreviousContinue »