« PreviousContinue »
give to each of you an entrance into the land of promise, into the country of everlasting fruition. Well done good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord !
CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CITIES OF REFUGE.
NUMBERS XXXV. 9-12.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto
the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan ; then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you ; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.
SANCTUARIES, or asylums, whither persons accused of crime might flee and be safe from the pursuit of vengeance, until their cause should be adjudged, are almost coeval with the earliest records of Pagan history. “The temples, altars, statues, and tombs of heroes, became the ordinary retreat of those who found themselves aggrieved by the rigour of the law, or oppressed by the power of tyrants. It was supposed, that the gods undertook to punish him who thus sought refuge with them, if he were indeed criminal ; and consequently, that it would be impious, should man attempt to take vengeance out of the hands of the immortals." The practice was continued through the long reign of ecclesiastical darkness, and papal superstition ; until the abuse became so flagrant and enormous, as utterly to defeat the ends of justice. At length, after the light of the reformation had burst upon the world, the better feeling of the community, and the outraged charities and ordinances of society, united to occasion the entire suppression of these privileged abuses. Their origin may doubtless be traced to a corrupt imitation of that beneficent and wise appointment which the Most High planned for his people, within the borders of the promised land. The altar of God had been already declared a place of refuge for unwitting offenders. When the chosen tribes entered their inheritance, and began to execute the laws of their divine government, prescribed in the wilderness, six cities were appointed, three on either side Jordan ; whither manslayers who pleaded misadventure might flee and be safe, until lawful inquiry had been made, whether they had transgressed through malice and presumption, or unawares, and through mistake. But, lest the gracious intention of God should be abused, and the cities of refuge should become the strong holds of licentiousness and crime, they were guarded from pollution by the most scrupulous and solemn provisions. They offered safety only to the manslayer innocent of criminal intention. The wilful murderer was dragged from within their walls, and given over, without remedy, to the death which he had himself inflicted.
These cities, however, had a reference more remote and spiritual, than any institution merely political. They are not, indeed, decidedly quoted by prophets under the old economy, with minute and positive appropriation to him who should appear in the fulness of time, as the sinner's only hope of mercy. Nor does either the Saviour himself, or the apostles of his gospel, pointedly, and by name, apply them to the great mystery of exclusive salvation, by the death of Christ. Yet, they are so plainly alluded to by the mind of the Holy Ghost, both in the Old and New Testament, that we are not permitted to doubt the typical character of their appointment. “Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope,” saith the voice of mercy, by the inspiration of Zechariah ; alluding no doubt to the protection which the manslayer would obtain if he gained the city of refuge. St. Paul describes the strong consolation of "fleeing for refuge to the hope set before us,” in a passage which universal consent has associated with the gracious appointment of the cities of refuge. With such a guide as that great apostle, we may safely include both views of the subject.
I. Our first consideration is due to THE CIR
CUMSTANCES BY WHICH THIS SACRED INSTITU
TION WAS DISTINGUISHED.
He who doeth all things, did all things well. There is a harmony between every design and its end, too obvious and too beautiful, to be mistaken by those, who have pleasure in contemplating the counsels of God, the operations of his providence, or the manifestations of his transcendent grace.
(1.) The appointed cities of refuge will appear to such inquirers admirably calculated to answer the important ends of mercy and justice on the part of God towards Israel. The patriarchal law against murder remained unrepealed. The nearest of kin had a right to slay the murderer, in whatever place he might meet him. To him was committed the execution of that awful sentence, “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” But
· Heb. vi. 17, 18: