Page images

courts, wherever it is seen, that the criminal possesses not the capacity to understand, or the ability to obey, that is common to the sub. jects of law, or adequate to the avoiding of his crime, this want of ability is considered a palliation of his offence. In the same proportion as they find a want of power, they reckon a freedom from accountability. A law then always presupposing, in the subjects, a power to obey or disobey, naturally makes disobedi ence probable in a multitude of instances. Disobedience appears the more probable, when we consider, "the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient." What is naturally implied, or rendered the probable effects of a labor, can never frustrate the design of the laborer. It appears, therefore, the intention of the legis lature in legislation is not thwarted by transgression, in which, if it were, the law would lose its force. It is the requisition or command of the law only, and not the intention of the legislature, that is violated by transgression. Transgression evidently does not weaken the force of the command, but the command holds of full force, till it is obeyed, being supported by the power of the law.

Whenever a law imposes punishments as penalties for disobedience, all those punishments must be calculated to enforce the requirements of the law in the mind of the subject. They must be calculated for the general interest of the whole community, which



generally consists in the particular interest of each individual. Every punishment which is calculated to hinder obedience, rather than enforce it, is contrary to every good principle of law, the design of every good law is the amendment of its subjects, or to protect the proper rights of each. This design is evidently not abandoned by transgression, even toward the criminal himself. If a man be commanded to love his neighbor, the law, which requires this, will not abandon its first requisition, in requiring punishment. It will not require a punishment that is calculated to prevent his loving his neighbor. In In a state of endless punishment, no man can possess that love which the law requires. It is, therefore, difficult to conceive, that the law requires such a punishment. For in order to this, it must first require love and obedience, and, for transgression, abandoning this requirement, change to require of the same person a state, that eternally excludes love and obedience.





It may be considered a proposition that is self-evident, that whatever a thing requires, it must have accomplished, according to what it requires, to be fulfilled; and to pass unfulfilled, its requisitions must be violated with impunity. When a parent commands his child, obedience fulfils his command; and disobedience with impunity destroys it. But it is to be observed, no punishment can be accepted as a substitute for obedience; but

[ocr errors]

may be inflicted as a necessary mean to in duce to future obedience, by which the word of the parent once violated, may be still fulfilled. According to the proposition, which I have stated to be self-evident, if the law say, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbor as thyself," nothing but love ean fulfil the law. That subject must love the Lord his God and his neighbor as himself, and then the law is fulfilled respecting him. If the law require hatred, nothing but hatred in the subject could fulfil it.

Having laid this proposition before you, my hearers, and illustrated it in the use of a proper example, it is hoped you will assent to it without any fear of the consequences to which it will lead; or endeavor to decide in your mind where its fallacy lies. A decision on this point is necessary to the profitable pursu ance of our subject.

You are sensible the common opinion coneerning the law is, that it requires the infinite or endless punishment of the transgressor. Nothing can be more evident than if the law require not this punishment, there remains no ground by which it can be maintained, with even the appearance of plausibility. We are not therefore surprised to find this sentiment among all the denominations of christians, which hold to the doctrine of endless misery. And as this appears to be the ground of that doctrine, which is held by so large a portion of the christian world, I shall endeavor to be



as careful and particular as possible in consi dering it. That the law requires the endless punishment of the sinner, is an idea, that apposes the very nature of the law. The law in its nature requires love and obedience. It requires this of the disobedient as well as of the obedient. If it ever cease to require love, sin would then be no longer a transgression. And it must cease to require love, when it requires endless misery; for it cannot require both at the same time, and be consistent with itself. It is argued that sin is infinite. The law therefore, for a single offence, demands endless punishment. But how, after this demand for one offence, can it require love and obedience? Love or obedience is inconsistent with endless misery. All these cannot, there fore, be required by the law at the same time. It is plain, then, that the law which requires love, must change its native voice, to require endless misery.

The idea that the divine law requires the endless misery of the transgressor, leads to another difficulty. It has been before concluded that what the law requires, it must have to be fulfilled. It would consequently follow that if the law require the endless misery of the sinner, that not only the misery must be inflicted, but Christ must be the principal agent by whom it is inflicted; since he came into the world to fulfil the law. Instead therefore of Christ's being the minister of salvation, this makes him the minister of misery. It is

[ocr errors]


further evident, that the law requiring this misery, would no more admit the salvation of a part than of the whole. The same rule that might be devised to save a part, would equally apply to the salvation of all; since all havo sinned and come short of the glory of God.

The most common idea among the different denominatious who believe in the endless mis, ery of the wicked, concerning Christ's fulfilling the law, is, that he by his death appeased the wrath of the Father, which was against the sinner, and answered by proxy, or substitute, the whole demands of the law. Some have said his object in coming into the world was not so much to save mankind, as to magnify God's law and make it honorable. By this we see they consider the magnifying or fulfilling of the law, and the salvation of sinners, to be two separate and distinct works. This is evidently a very erroneous idea, for the only way in which the law can be fulfilled according to the scripture, is in the salvation of sinners. But if we suppose that Christ by suf ferings only, answered all the demands of the law, how does it appear that these demands are now in full force against the sinner? If it be said the demands are of force only against the sinner, on condition there is no repentance, this condition evidently makes an exception to Christ's fulfilling the whole law. So on their own ground, it does not appear, Christ answers the whole demands of the law, inde, pendent of the salvation of sinners. To say

« PreviousContinue »