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"But in these cases,
Macbeth, I. 7.
“Oh! that my lot may lead me in the path of holy innocence of word and deed, the path which' august laws ordain, laws that in the highest empyrean had their birth, of which heaven is the father alone, neither did the race of mortal man beget them, nor shall oblivion ever put them to sleep. The power of God is mighty in them, and groweth not old.” - SOPHOCLES, Ed. Tyr.
THE METHOD OF PENALTY.
“Some men's sins are evident, going before unto judgment; and some men also they follow after." – 1 TIMOTHY V. 24.
I do not claim to be wholly correct in my use of these much-disputed words, when I connect them with God's judgment of sin. I presume they simply mean that some men's characters are open, and anticipate the verdict of more thorough knowledge; others are more reticent, and become known only after a longer trial of them. They are simply an injunction of carefulness, made by St. Paul to Timothy, in regard to ordination; as though he had said, “ Be careful whom you ordain ; some men are transparent, easily understood; others reveal themselves more slowly." They are the words of age and wisdom addressed to youth and inexperience, with perhaps some special vindication in the not over-robust nature of Timothy.
Still they contain the principle I wish to bring out, namely, men's sins manifest themselves variously as to time, some reaping their penalty soon, others late; some in this world, others in the next world. I am certainly within the spirit of the text when I say that some sins anticipate judgment; they invoke it, and receive its sentence, and experience its penalty, apparently before the time; they run their course quickly, and incur their doom in this life. There are other sins that meet with little check; they are slow to overtake their consequences; they come upon little in this life that can be called penalty. Speaking from daily observation, we may say that the retribution of some sins begins in this world ; while there are other sins that await their punishment in the next world.
I am well aware of a distinction often made by which the consequences of sin are divided into chastisement and penalty ; one being reformatory, and having the good of the sufferer in view; the other penal, and looking towards governmental ends. But the distinction is confusing to practical thought; we cannot be sure that it is true ; and if it were, who shall draw the line of demarcation? I prefer, for practical purposes, to regard both elements as present in all penalty, to see in it always a reformatory design, and also a purpose to vindicate the law, - two inseparable things, however.
Both elements are present in every actual case of natural penalty. No man suffers the painful consequences of vice without knowing that the pain calls for reformation, and also that it is a vindication of the excellence of the law. Why should we discriminate between what God has so closely united ? Neither in nature nor in the Scriptures do we find a warrant for drawing a line through the consequences of sin, and saying, “ This is disciplinary, and that is penal.” The suffering involved in sin utters but one voice, but it utters it in various notes, and with an undertone. It first sounds a note of warning: “Do not sin ; you will suffer if you do.” When sin is committed it says: “Do not sin again.” And if the sin is repeated, and settles down into a habit, it says: “You will suffer so long as you sin.” At the same time there may be heard the deep under-tone of conscience declaring the punishment to be just. This is all that penalty says to the sinner; that sin begets suffering; and that the suffering is divinely just; and it says the latter in order to make the lesson of the former effective. When a man suffers in consequence of sin, and, at the same time, sees it to be just, connecting it of course with the Maker of the law, he is feeling the two strongest motives adverse to sin that are possible to his nature.' Penalty says this first and last and always; and it never says anything else. What authority have we for intruding upon this profound operation of God's law with our arbitrary distinction, saying: “Up to this point the suffering is chastisement, but beyond it is hopeless penalty; hitherto it is for man's good; henceforth it is for the glory of God and the maintenance of his government. I protest against this distinction, because it is practically mischievous and weakening in the everyday experience of men. I would not have one think, when he is feeling the painful consequences of sin, that he is simply undergoing chastisement with a view to the correction of his fault, but I would have him also feel that he is enduring the wrath of God against sin. In other words, I would not withhold the grandest element of penalty from any stage of its action, but would secure the action of its entire meaning upon the earliest as well as the latest phase of sin. The natural conscience makes no such distinction. As the body withers under the pain engendered by its sin, the conscience confesses that it is undergoing the just punishment of God. To thrust the distinction between chastisement and punishment into this indivisible experience, is to weaken and undo its saving work.
It is never well to make distinctions in moral operations that are not plainly indicated in those operations. Human ingenuity may not only make this distinction in regard to penalty, but many more; they are possible to thought; but if you would have the penalty of sin effective, do not lay the finger of analysis upon it; let it stand in the singleness of its awful grandeur, warning the sinner and showing forth the wrath of God upon sin. It would augment public virtue if men were taught that the painful consequences of their sins and crimes are even now the veritable judgments of God; if already they could be made to feel that the pains that have hold of them are the pains of hell. The Gehenna of which Christ spoke, lay just outside the walls of Jerusalem. The smoke of its never-quenched fires rose before the eyes of his audience. There, close at hand, was the pit into which their whole bodies would speedily be cast if they did not cut off their offending hands and feet, and pluck out their offending eyes. He did not say, “The pains in your offending members are simply admonitory, — merely corrective of your