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in the life; for no system of human legislation, even though God were its author, would ever attempt to secure even a perfectly blameless exterior. Hence there were usages in the Hebrew nation which were inconsistent with the moral law, and with the gene. ral scope and spirit of the divine oracles, which the civil code of the Old Testament did not prohibit to the Hebrew people.
Great complaint has been made against the Old Testament for these connivances; but great injustice has been done to it in this particular. We have said, that every just law is dictated in wisdom. But while it is indispensable to the due administration of justice, that no law should be unjast, it is not indispensable that every just law which may be thought of should be enacted. A civil code may legislate too much, as well as too little. The object of a law should always be attainable, and always of sufficient importance to demand its enactment. It may be to a high degree fit and proper that men, as citizens, should do right in every thing; while it may not be fit and proper, that any system of mere human legislation should require absolute perfection in human conduct. This, as has been before remarked, is the province of a moral, and not a civil code. This is the province of the divine Lawgiver, acting as the moral Governor of men, and not of human legislation. He must do this, or his law would not be holy, just and good, nor commend itself to the conscience. He cannot do less, however extensive his empire, and however remote the period of time, or ages of eternity to which his government is extended. The great peculiarity of his moral government is, that it is a perfect government, conniving at no kind or degree of wickedness, and adjusting penalty to crime with that perfect precision
and exactness of moral balance, that is in all cases proportioned to the measure of its ill desert. But this is not the work of human legislation, unless men may legislate for God, and with the design of securing a sinless community. This were impracticable and visionary. Even were there such a thing as perfect rectitude among men, it would be impossible for any civil code to draw the line between guilt and innocence by any distinct or definite limitations. Nor could justice ever become so active, vigilant or cautious, as to prevent or punish every instance of wicked
If the difficulty of making a code of laws which should reach every thing wrong were overcome,
there would remain the still greater difficulty of enforcing such laws when made. Their minuteness would render them difficult to be known; transgressions would be constant, and the whole business of society would be the discovering, trying and punishing of offences. Intention too would be the corpus delicti, and this would have to be tried by fallible judges, liable to partiality and corruption, and by means of witnesses perhaps still more liable. I can imagine no state of anarchy or contention equal to that which would be produced by civil laws attempting to enforce all that is right, and to prohibit all that is wrong. The basis of all legislation by general rules admits of partial evil for general good; and this is the only practicable legislation. Moses, for example, allowed polygamy, because, in that age of the world it was not once thought of as a sin; and the time had not come for him to sunder the ten thousand bonds which existed all over the nation between husbands and wives, parents and children, and suddenly break up the foundations of long established society by enforcing the original law of marriage. And for the same rea
son he allowed of divorce for other causes than conjugal infidelity, and also because in a state of society where polygamy is allowed, one of the means of gradually preventing polygamy was not to render divorces too difficult.
It is essential to a moral law, as we have before intimated, that it tolerate nothing that is wrong, however strong the reasons for the connivance; while it is essential to the wisdom of every code of civil legislation, that it connive at many things, lest by aiming at too much it defeat its own designs. Take a plain and familiar example. What course would a wise man pursue, if he were to form a civil code for the Sandwich Islands, or for the colonies on the coast of Africa ? God has already proclaimed to them his moral law, requiring perfect holiness. This law the faithful missionary of the cross illustrates and enforces in all the perfection of its precepts, and all the severity of its sanctions. But as a virtuous and wise jurist, he is called upon to modify and change their civil code, by which they shall regulate their mutual intercourse, define rights and tresspasses, and crimes; try criminals and determine civil actions. It would be puerile to suppose that he would prescribe to them the ten commandments, or which would amount to the same thing, that he would expressly prohibit by penal sanctions every thing which is not accordant to the perfect demands of the moral law. He would obviously inquire to what extent it is practicable, expedient, and conducive to the ends of good government to require all that is right, and forbid all that is wrong. While the code which he would establish would enjoin nothing that is sinful, under a sound discretion he would ask, to what extent it might tolerate and suffer some evils, lest it should defeat its own
design. Nay, would he not even establish laws to regu late those very evils; to prevent the increase and abuse of them, that ultimately and in a more improved and advanced state of society, they might be wholly eradicated ? Now this is what infinite wisdom has done in the civil code of the Hebrews. The moral law he had given them. But that recently enslaved people were about to assume a new character. They were about to be organized into a body politic and to be constituted the Hebrew state. And in this crisis of their history, God himself was their counsellor. He condescended to give them statutes and judgments, and to become the author and framer of their civil and judicial code. And would you deny to him the discretion of a wise jurist ? Is it to be supposed that he would conduct so weighty a concern with any lack of wisdom, or any want of regard for the condition and character of the people for whom he was about to legislate ? John Locke could write with distinguished ability on the powers of the human mind; but when he comes to discuss the great practical questions of civil government, and to prepare a constitution for a free state, he is like Sampson shorn of his strength. The divine wisdom was never more needed by the Hebrew nation than at the commencement of their political existence, just after they had escaped the servitude of Egypt. Cavillers at the political law of the Hebrews, seem to have lost sight of the very obvious distinction between their moral and civil code; while a very slight attention to the Scriptures, and to the nature of the case evinces that they were delivered
erent times, to different persons, and for widely different purposes. The object of their civil laws is to define and illustrate the doctrine of personal rights; to govern their intercourse in the common transactions of human life; to extend their influence into the domestic circle, and regulate the reciprocal duties of husband and wife, parent and child, master and ser
And most abundantly do they vindicate their divine Author.
We cannot do justice to this part of our subject without entering briefly into some specifications. The caution with which the Mosaic law prevented the accumulation of debt, the fidelity with which it required the restoration of lost property, the restoring of property that was injured, or stolen, in the former case to the full amount of its original value, and in the latter to double that amount, and the distinctness and simplicity of the law of bailment, are replete with instruction to every succeeding generation of men. Any man who carefully reads that beautiful treatise of Sir William Jones on this last subject, will see that all the leading principles of the law of bailment there illustrated, are found in the law of Moses. Exod. xxii. 14, 15. In the Mosaic code you find the following law in relation to injuries arising from carelessness and inattention. “If a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox, an ass fall therein, the owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his. And if one man's ox hurt another's that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide.” This law contains the germ of all the existing refinements of the law of injuries from want of care, and those arising without fault. There is a nice equity in this law, where, upon payinent for the damages, “ the beast shall be his” who was the occasion of the injury. The division of the loss, too, where neither party is in fault, is a very