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no two ideas can be more opposed to each other than mercy and inflexible justice. If a man to whom another is indebted for a certain sum which he is unable to pay, should determinately and rigorously insist on payment, either from the debtor or a bondsman, can he at the same time feel the least degree of that benevolent influence which would dispose him to forgive the debt ? It is not, of course, to be thought that the Deity can be the subject of those sensitive emotions towards an object of compassion which affect the human feelings; but at the same time it is admitted, that there is the most intense reality in those expressions of kindness by which the Scriptures represent him as ready to forgive his rebellious children; and therefore this rigid description of his character must be erroneous. The very fact, that, notwithstanding the transgressions of mankind merit his displeasure, he sends the bounties of his providence amongst them, and allows them a thousand different enjoyments of life, contradicts the notion that his justice is so unsparing: for were this strictly the case, a course of sin would be visited with an attendant course of evil and misery. But to lay open the absurdities of this part of the subject more fully, it will be necessary to pay a little attention to a definition of the term Justice, as employed in reference to the conduct of God as a supposed inexorable Judge and merciful Saviour. Many of the mistakes in religion originate in the want of an attentive examination of the import of
the different words employed; many of which are foisted into the service of a system by the arts of sophistry, and employed by theological subtilty in beguiling the simple into a belief of theories they cannot understand, but which they are willing to hold as mysteries.
Justice, as it has to do with human conduct, is the principle which actuates one man towards another to do that which is right, according to the claims of relative equality, subordinate dependance, or social and official distinction. In other words, just dealing is to render to every man his due, and to do no man an injury. In reference to the Deity, justice consists in doing that to his creatures, as dependant on his power, which they require, and inflicting on them no more evil than their disobedience to his will deserves. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" is the language of scripture. It might be answered, Yes: for he cannot do wrong. Sometimes the justice of God is denominated truth or faithfulness, denoting the strict fulfilment of what he has promised. Now it is admitted on all hands that mankind have forfeited all claim to his favour, and merited his great displeasure by sin; consequently it would be right and just were he to withhold the one and inflict the severity of the other. But supposing, instead of thus insisting on the rigorous execution of his justice, he manifests a disposition to pardon the offenders, on condition of repentance, and bring them into a state of friendship with him,-will it be argued
that he does that which is wrong, or unjust, because his vengeance should not be poured upon one who should act as a substitute for them? Wherein would the injustice of this consist? Would man be injured by it? Would he not rather receive thereby the greatest possible good? Would mercy and forbearance thus shewn, exhibit God in the character of a hard master, reaping where he had not sown, &c.? Is it possible that an act of such great benevolence, by which so many would be freed from the greatest misery and be made happy, could be construed into an act of injustice? If so, then what rule have we left by which to judge of that which is just?
The orthodox in general talk of the justice of God, in insisting on its claims, as if a disregard to a satisfaction by a substitute would affect the Deity himself, reflect on his character as Lawgiver and Judge, and subject him to real loss, either by impairing his happiness, or detracting from his perfections; thus representing him as so rigidly fettered by an inexorable tenacity for the rights of his justice as to be under an indispensable necessity of enforcing its rigid penalties at all events, even though an innocent person should become the victim of his wrath! And the free forgiveness and deliverance from the greatest misery, of millions of human beings, though it would evince the greatest goodness in God, would so tarnish his character, that it were much better, and much more to his honour, that they should writhe in the anguish of despair, and be consigned
to endless torment! Thus a rule of conduct is prescribed for the Almighty which confines him to the awful alternative of sending the human race to hell, or of satiating his vengeance on one who had never offended! But where must we look for such a view of divine equity as this, except among the phantasms of a chimerical creed? Are we taught it by any thing in the laws and precepts of the Bible, which defines and rules the actions of men towards each other as just? There can be no other correct way of forming a judgment of what is just in the Deity, but by the conduct which he prescribes and approves amongst men. If, then, this is a true description of his mode of dealing equitably, it must be the best model of our actions, unless it can be proved that what is right and just in him would be the very reverse in us. But to do this it will be required that all those passages of the Scriptures which present him as a pattern of imitation in acts both of benevolence and righteousness, should be expunged. Jesus, in teaching his disciples to pray, taught them to seek the forgiveness of their sins as they forgave them who should trespass against them; and adds, "for if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses," Now, in these words of our Lord, the term forgive must have the same signification in both cases; and if satisfaction is implied in the one, so also in the other. But what man of
common sense needs be told that the act of forgiveness towards his fellow-man supersedes every thing of the kind? Again, "But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that persecute you, do good to them that hate you, that ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, &c. Be ye therefore merciful as your Father is merciful." Paul says, (Eph. iv. 32, v. 1,) "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in* Christ hath forgiven you." "Be ye therefore followers (imitators) of God, as dear children." Such conduct as is inculcated in these texts of scripture must, then, be good in itself, and indeed must be, truly, godliness, or godlikeness, having God as a great example; but to do in reality what is here commanded, every thing which relates to the claims of justice on the side of the offended party must be altogether laid aside as incompatible with acts of mercy. To argue, therefore, that God requires a satisfaction for injured justice, and insists on the rigid enforcement of its claims to justify his own character, is to argue in effect, that what he enjoins on us as lovely, good, and praiseworthy, in him would be a dishonourable evil!
It is remarkable with how much dramatic con
* This is the only instance in which our version contains the phrase," for Christ's sake," in connexion with God forgiving sin, and here most unwarrantably; for the Greek