Page images

human laws, wherever it is known and revered ? “The Scripture," says the judicious Hooker, “is fraught even with the laws of nature, insomuch that Gratian, defining natural right, termeth it that which the books of the law and the gospel do contain. Neither is it vain that the Scripture aboundeth with so great store of laws of this kind; for they are such as we of ourselves could not easily have found out; and then the benefit is not small to have them readily set down to our hands; or if they be so clear and manifest, that no man endued with reason can lightly be ignorant of them, yet the Spirit, as it were, borrowing them from the school of nature, and applying them, is not without most singular use and profit for men's instruction."

It was from God himself that one nation, and one only immediately received their laws. And they are worthy to be regarded as the model for all succeeding ages. There is no comparison between the laws of this people and the laws of other ancient nations, except as the latter were borrowed from the institutions of Moses. The learned Michaelis, who was professor of law in the university of Gottingen, remarks,“that a man who considers laws philosophically, who would survey them with the eye of a Montesquieu, would never overlook the laws of Moses." Goguet, in his elaborate and learned treatise on the Origin of Laws, observes, that “the more we meditate on the laws of Moses, the more we shall perceive their wisdom and inspiration. They alone have the inestimable advantage never to have undergone any of the revolutions common to all human laws, which have always demanded frequent amendments; sometimes changes; sometimes additions; sometimes the retrenching of superfluities. There has been nothing changed, nothing added, nothing retrenched from the laws of Moses for above three thousand years." Milman, in his History of the Jews, remarks, that “the Hebrew lawgiver has exercised a ore extensive and permanent influence over the destinies of mankind, than any other individual in the annals of the world.” It was the opinion of that distinguished statesman and jurist, the late Fisher Ames, clarum et venerabile nomen, that no man could be a sound lawyer who was not well read in the laws of Moses."

This venerable code claims our reverence, if it were for nothing but its high antiquity. But it has higher claims. Taken as a whole, it contains more sublime truths, and maxims more essentially connected with the well-being of our race, than all the profane writers of antiquity could furnish. They were perfect at their formation; uniting all that is authoritative in obligation, with all that is benevolent in their tendency, and not less conducive to the glory of the Lawgiver, than to the happiness of his subjects. That bold personification of law in the abstract made by Hooker, may with strong propriety be applied to the system of legislation revealed in the Bible. 66 Of law there can be no less acknowledged, than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world. All things in heaven and earth do her homage; the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempt from her power. Both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in a different sort and name, yet all with one uniform consent, admire her as the mother of their peace and joy."

A portion of this law was designed to be authoritatively binding on the Jews alone; another portion of it is equally binding on us; and though heaven and earth pass away, it shall never pass away.“ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself.” The nature and extent of this law, and our everlasting responsibilities to it as the creatures of God, as intelligent and responsible agents, it becomes us gravely to investigate, both as it relates to our destiny in this world and that which is to come. We are not, like the vegetative and animal creation, passive subjects, submitting to the imperative law of our nature, but active, accountable existences, voluntarily obeying or refusing to obey. All the features of this law, we know, are "holy, just, and good.” Its very penalty is but the sterner accent of love, warning us of our danger. Its penalty and precept are both written upon the conscience; and wo be to the transgressor, who, because it is no longer the rule of his justification before God, disregards it as the rule of his duty.



EVERY considerate friend of civil liberty, in order to be consistent with himself, must be the friend of the Bible. I have yet to learn, that tyrants have ever effectually conquered and subjugated a people whose liberties and public virtue were founded upon the word of God. The American people, I am confident, owe much in this respect to the influence of this great charter of human freedom. I need scarcely solicit the favourable regard of my audience, therefore, when I say to them, that the topic of the present lecture is the influence which the Holy Scriptures have exerted and are adapted to exert upon civil liberty.

Civil liberty is not freedom from restraint. Men may be wisely and benevolently checked and controled, and yet be free. No man has a right to act as he thinks fit, irrespective of the wishes and interests of others. This were exemption from the restraints of all law, and from all the wholesome influence of social institutions. Heaven itself were not free, if this were freedom. No created being holds any such liberty as this, by a divine warrant. The spirit of subordination, so far from being inconsistent with liberty, is inseparable from it. It is essential to liberty


that men should be subjected to the restraints of law; and where this restraint is limited by a wise regard to the best interests of the State, there men are free. Every restraint of natural liberty that is arbitrary and needless; that is imposed on one class of society, merely for the sake of aggrandizing, and augmenting the influence of another ; every restraint that is not called for, for the purpose of securing to men of every rank and condition their just rights, and of diffusing the spirit of industry, virtue and peace, is in its own nature tyranny and oppression. The highest degree of civil liberty is enjoyed where natural liberty is so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society or state. A community may be free, for example, without extending to persons of all ages and both sexes the right of suffrage; without making all eligible to office; without abolishing the distinction of rank; without annihilating the correlative and reciprocal rights and duties of master and servant; without destroying filial subordination and parental claims; without abolishing the punishment of crime ; without abjuring the restraints of sanitary and maritime law; and without giving up the right of those compulsory services of its subjects which the common weal demands. The civil liberty of men “ depends not so much on the removal of all restraint from them, as on the due restraint of the natural liberty of others. There are a few leading principles on which all free governments must forever rest. They are such as the following : That government is instituted for the good of the people; that it is the right and duty of the people to become acquainted with their public interests; that all laws constitutionally enacted, should be faithfully and conscientiously obeyed; that the people, by

« PreviousContinue »