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faults ; soon you are to be punished in some other way and for another purpose.” Not thus does a great moral teacher warn men of their sins. The thunderbolt of retribution is not divided into sections, according to a theological note-book; it does not flash two lights upon the guilty soul. When punishment overtakes sin, be it sooner or later, it contains its whole meaning.
There is a distinction, however, as to the time in which the consequences of sin assert themselves as punishment; a distinction simply of sooner or later, here or hereafter, based upon the kind of sin.
We shall best come to an understanding of this truth by looking a little into the method of retribution.
It is, as its definition implies, a return of disobedience, or payment, when, in due time, it returns again. It is the natural and inevitable consequence of broken law. If we seek for an explanation of this law, we find none, except that it is so. We perceive its fitness and beneficence, but farther back we cannot go. The law is wrought into our moral nature, and also into our consciousness; certainly, it commands early and universal assent.
We notice also that the penalty is akin to the sin; it is under the seed-law, -- like yielding like. The elements of one pass on into the other, merely changing their form and relation to the man, like the little book of the Apocalypse, sweet in the mouth but bitter in the belly. We pay out sin ; it is repaid as penalty, - the same metal coined with a new inscription, or molten to flow a burning
stream through all our bones. We receive back the things we have done, changed only as mist is changed to water, and heat to flame. The law of cause and effect, a necessary relation, the most generally recognized principle known to the human mind, covers the whole matter. And the effect often bears so absolute resemblance to the cause as to arrest the imagination, and is called poetic justice; the murderer drinking the poison he had prepared for another.
In human government it is not so, but only because of its imperfection. When we reason from the human to the divine government, and infer that God governs as man does, we reason from imperfection to perfection; we infer from the sick what the well man will do; from the ignorant what the wise will think, — a species of logic it is time to have done with. If there is any special feature of the divine government, it is that it is not like any human government yet set in operation. The latter cannot use the seed-principle, the law of cause and effect, except in a limited degree, because it has not the creating of its subjects. It is an increated principle, and cannot be superinduced to any great extent. When a man steals, all that human law has yet learned to do is to imprison, or otherwise injure him, inflicting an arbitrary, deterrent suffering. Society merely defends itself. It is seldom skillful enough to establish a natural relation between the crime and the penalty.
But that part of human society which is not organized into government, the social relationship of men, is more skillful to connect evil with its natural punishment. If one sins against the conventional laws, or moral instincts, of society, he meets with exclusion or disgrace according to the nature of the offense. Treachery is punished with scorn; cowardice with its own branding name of contempt; a liar by the loss of trust; pride fails at last of sympathy; selfishness reaps its own isolation. Dante, with finest perception, illustrates the principle by placing upon the heads of hypocrites crowns of lead, thus forcing them to look where before they had looked in mock humility. Society, because it is a spontaneous relation, thus attains somewhat to the divine method; but only in God's moral kingdom do we find the principle perfectly observed. Planned for self-regulation, and in analogy with the laws of growth, it hides the fruit of punishment within the seed of disobedience. There is no arbitrary and artificial arrangement of prisons, and stripes, and fiery chains; but whatever there is of these is the inevitable outgrowth of sin.
There is a most significant recognition of this principle underlying all of Christ's references to the subject. In no case does He touch the matter of penalty, but He recognizes it as flowing naturally out of sin. The unforgiving debtor goes himself to prison ; the sleeping virgins find a closed door ; the guest without a wedding garment is excluded from the feast; they who make excuse, go without; the prodigal comes to want; the slothful servant loses that which he had; they who will not minister to humanity are sent away from the presence of the Son of Man, who is the head of bumanity; they who will not cut off offending members must suffer the corruption of their whole body, and be cast into the Gehenna whose flame is evermore burning up corruption; Dives, living in selfish ease, and giving the hungry Lazarus but the crumbs that fell from his table, comes at last into torment, and thirsts for one cooling drop of water ; for selfish ease works surely towards tormenting want.
Cause and effect; natural order; congruity between the sin and its penalty ;— these are the unfailing marks that the great teacher put upon the subject. What wisdom, what truth, what justice, is the voice of universal reason and conscience.
It is the weakness of human government that it does not employ this principle in the punishment of crime, so far as it might. It was a doubtful policy that abolished the whipping-post and pillory. If a brutal husband whips his wife at home, he can have no better punishment than a whipping in public; or, if this be corrupting to the people, then in private. No punishment is so effective as that which makes a man feel in himself what he inflicts upon another. And if men who in secret do shameful deeds, who follow shameful callings behind screened doors and windows, could be exposed in humiliating ways to public contempt, they would not only be justly but effectively punished. For many shameful occupations need only to have the stamp of shame put upon them, to be driven out of existence. If the keepers of brothels were to be exposed to public view at noonday, with appropriate inscriptions above their heads, their business and numbers might shrink within an endurable compass.
If these suggestions be thought to imply a retrograding civilization, let me answer, they harmonize with the divine order. This is exactly what God does with offenders; it is his way of punishing, and so of preventing sin, bringing hidden things to light, giving back to men what they have done whether it be good or evil. It were wise to be slow in pronouncing barbarous a principle and method so plainly a part of God's eternal order.
Christ did not reject this law, technically known as the Lex talionis, when He said : “ Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth ; but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil.” He merely took away from it the element of revenge. The Scribes had lost sight of the rule as a principle of judicial action, and made it one of retaliation. As such He condemned it, but He left the principle intact, and used it over and over in his moral teachings. It is a part of that older law which He said was to be fulfilled to the uttermost, — not however as a spirit of revenge, the “wild justice” of the savage, - but of that even-handed justice which Plato declares to be the very essence of the state.
There is but one sound, effective method of punishing wrong-doing, and that is to make the offender feel the evil he has inflicted. God has wrought it