Imagini ale paginilor

nothing? Why did he not, with the manly openness of a fair and truthful reasoner, say at once, that this law, however interpreted, was utterly repugnant to human reason, and must therefore be discredited as a part of divine revelation? If there be a law which orders, as he maintains that this does, that to be done, which is as inconsistent with right reason as it would be to put an innocent man to a violent death, then nothing can be clearer than that this law never proceeded from the lips of divine justice. Had he but frankly said this, it would at least have furnished some excuse for his trifling manner of dealing with its interpretation.

Such are the arguments by which this report attempts to set aside the received interpretation of the law of murder as delivered to Noah. We have in the first instance, a philological argument founded on the ambiguous gender of the participle and pronoun in the sixth verse, in which it is contended that this participle and pronoun should be translated into our neuter gender and limited by it, since any other interpretation of the passage would lead to deliberate, coldblooded, judicial murder. That is, this limitation is to be made, by the assumption that the judicial infliction of death is murder, and the only reason for this assumption is that the infliction of death in punishment for murder would violate the very principle which it was intended to guard, the sacredness of human life; a reason which would compel us to pronounce every law which imposes a fine and every jury which assesses pecuniary damages for injury to property, guilty of judicial stealing. Let it be further observed that the only reason given for excluding man from the shedders of blood upon whom the doom of death is pronounced, is one that if true would of course make it impossible that God could at any time have directed this punishment to be inflicted. And yet we find that in the only code of laws that ever proceeded directly from him, he has distinctly, and beyond all question, affixed this penalty to murder. This is of itself decisive, so far as this part of the argument is concerned. And we have in the next place, an argument which commences with a reductio ad absurdum, that proceeds upon principles too puerile to be refuted except by the application of the same method, and which ends by a gratuitous disclosure of the principles of that bestial philosophy which looks upon man only as the head of the animal creation.

We have no fear of the effect of such argument upon the

honest and humble inquirer after truth. If he is already a believer in the received interpretation of the law of murder, his faith will be strengthened, if a doubter, his doubts will be removed, by seeing how futile are the attempts to set it aside, even when conducted by the most intelligent and zealous of its opponents. The law, as given to Noah, does in its most obvious sense, command that the wilful murderer shall be put to death. The most critical inquiry into the meaning of its terms, only serves to confirm this interpretation. It has been so understood by all men, in all ages, until these latter days. The universal belief of all Christian nations has been that God has pronounced this doom upon the murderer; and the public conscience has every where, with mute awe, approved the dread award of human justice, made in fulfilment of this divine command.

But was this law intended to be of universal and perpetual obligation? We see nothing in the law itself, in the circumstances under which it was delivered, or in any changes or revelations that have since occurred, to limit its application. It is, in its terms, most general and peremptory. The reason assigned for its penalty, is founded on the essential nature and relations of man. This reason is as true now as it was in the days of Noah, and ought to have the same force with all who believe in the spiritual dignity of If man be somewhat more than an assemblage of digestive organs, and senses, and an understanding that judges according to sense,-if in addition to these, he has any attributes which reflect however dimly the excellencies of the Divinity, then he who wilfully and maliciously defaces this image of God deserves the same doom now, that like outrage deserved when this law was enacted.

Nor is there anything connected with the time or manner of its delivery to lead us to suppose that it was meant to be special or temporary. It was given in immediate connection with that covenant of which the seal still remains in the everrecurring bow of heaven. It was delivered not to the head of a particular tribe or nation, but to the second progenitor of the human race,-not under any peculiar and pressing exigency, but at the commencement of a new order of things. It stands at the beginning of the new world stretching its sanction over all people down to the end of time, to prevent the outbreaking of that violence which had filled the world that was swept away. It is idle to tell us that the circumstances, and with the circumstances, the character of society

have been materially changed, and that in the present high state of civilization the severe enactments which were necessary for a ruder condition of society, are no longer needed. Have the essential attributes of man changed? Does he bear any less of the image of God now than he did in the days of Noah? Is it any less a crime to destroy that image now, than it was then? The law has no respect to any peculiar proneness to violence, existing at the time it was enacted, to any local or national necessities, but passing over every thing that is variable and accidental, it seizes upon man's relation to God, involving the distinctive and unchanging attributes of humanity, as the sufficient reason for its fearful penalty. So long as these attributes remain unchanged, this law must stand in full force, unless repealed by the same authority that enacted it.


And where is the evidence that it has at any time been repealed? The abrogation of the specialities of the Jewish code left this prior law untouched. It had its existence entirely separate and independent of the Mosaic economy, and could not therefore be involved in its dissolution. is there any thing in the Bible which can be construed into an explicit repeal of this statute. It is indeed maintained, strangely enough by Mr. O'Sullivan, that the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," is in opposition to this statute. He denies our right to limit this commandment, by interpreting it to mean, thou shalt do no murder; and he really expends a page of declamation upon the "absolute, unequivocal" prohibition of capital punishment involved in this precept. How is it possible that any man could descend to such argument, if he were not intent upon carrying a side, rather than on finding and defending the truth? There are perhaps among us, legislators who do not comprehend the laws that they themselves enact, but it may surely be presumed that in this case the lawgiver understood the meaning of his own precept; and we find that in immediate connection with it he delivers a body of laws which direct the magistrate to inflict the punishment of death, in what Mr. O'Sullivan supposes, an excessive number of cases. Or if we avail ourselves of the distinction which the report makes, but respecting which the committee refrain from expressing any opinion, and imagine that though Moses pretended to receive these laws from God, they were really of his own invention; yet we cannot doubt that Moses understood the true interpretation of the sixth commandment; nor suppose

that he would have had the hardihood to deliver to the people, as coming from God, a body of laws that were in direct contravention to it. We are sure our readers will sympathize with the humiliation we feel in being compelled to expose such paltry subterfuges-sophistry is too respectable a name for them-in the conduct of an argument upon such a question.

But it is contended that a virtual repeal of the penalty for murder may be inferred from the general spirit of the gospel, and especially from its many precepts, in which forgiveness of injuries is inculcated and the indulgence of a revengeful spirit forbidden. We do not understand the spirit of the gospel as offering any impunity to crime. It is indeed a proclamation of mercy, but of mercy gaining its ends, and herein lies its glory, without any sacrifice of the claims of justice. But we are told that the gospel forbids us to avenge ourselves, or to recompense evil for evil, and requires us on the other hand to love them that hate us, and do good unto them that despitefully use us. If our argument were with those who are opposed to all human government, as an unauthorized interference with the rights of man, we should attempt to prove, what is undoubtedly true, that these precepts were not intended to apply to men in their collective capacity as constituting a society, and that they are perfectly consistent with another class of precepts which make it the duty of the magistrate to bear not the sword in vain and to be a terror to evil doers. And we could at least succeed in proving that the apostle Paul thought a man might be guilty of offences that were worthy of death, and was willing, if he were thus guilty, to submit to the penalty. "If," said he, "I have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die." To this class of earnest and consistent opponents we would reply seriously and respectfully. But how can we reply to the argument against capital punishment, drawn from the Christian precepts enjoining a meek submission to evil, when it is urged by those who still contend for the magistracy and the avenging sword, but only object to this one punitive infliction? What force is there in these precepts which would not tear down the penitentiary as well as the gibbet? How does the command to love our enemies, and return good for evil forbid us to hang the murderer, if it permits us to imprison him for life? Especially, how can this be, if the imprisonment is of the character proposed by this report, " per

petual, hopeless and laborious, involving civil death, with the total severance of all the social ties that bound the convicted culprit to the world-under a brand of ignominy and a ban of excommunication from his race, than which alone it is difficult to imagine a more fearful doom,-a punishment the anticipation of which would operate as a far more powerful control and check than the fear of a hundred deaths"? We do not assent to this relative estimate of capital punishment and perpetual imprisonment. We believe death to be the severer and more fearful doom, and we have quoted the above extract only to show how the reasoners upon the other side of the question are ready to blow hot or cold, as serves their purpose. But though we look upon death as the most dreadful of all punishments, yet the difference in severity between it and any proposed substitute as a penalty for murder, cannot warrant us in concluding that under the mild reign of Christianity, the ancient, primeval law has been repealed. If we are permitted to punish at all, then where is our authority for superseding the original law which explicitly directs us to punish the murderer with death? What right have we, while this law stands uncancelled by the authority that gave it, to pronounce it obsolete and unnecessary.

The indirect influence of the gospel, instead of tending to the abrogation of this law, does, in truth, give to it new emphasis and force. The gospel has brought life and immortality to light. It has given distinctness and reality to those great moral truths, which lying beyond the reach of sense, and too apt therefore to appear as mere shadowy abstractions, are nevertheless the only substantial and abiding verities. It has thrown a flood of light upon the spiritual nature, the powers and responsibilities of man. It has revealed enough of the mystery of death, to add to the fearfulness of the mystery which still remains. Above all, it has given us the highest conception we can form of the dignity of man, by revealing to us the union of human nature with the divine, and the high privileges and blessings which flow from this union. If the murderer deserved death for defacing the image of God in man, before this revelation of man's true dignity and destiny as an inhabitant of the spiritual universe of God had been distinctly made, then still more does he deserve it now. The only reason assigned for the original infliction of the penalty has derived new meaning and force from the gospel of

« ÎnapoiContinuă »