PAGE TITLE: http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/
ARTICLE TITLE: IS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT SANCTIONED BY DIVINE AUTHORITY?
DATE: Before 1866
AUTHOR: Alexander Campbell (12 September 1788 – 4 March 1866) was an early leader in the Second Great Awakening of the religious movement that has been referred to as the Restoration Movement, or Stone-Campbell Movement. The Campbell wing of the movement was said to begin with his father Thomas Campbell's publication in 1809 in Washington County, Pennsylvania, of The Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington. In 1832 the group of reformers led by the Campbells merged with a similar group that began in Kentucky under the leadership of Barton W. Stone. Several American church groups trace their history to the Campbells' leadership, including the Churches of Christ, the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Alexander Campbell is also the founder of Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia.
URL: http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/acampbell/capital.html (Dead Link)
IS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT SANCTIONED BY DIVINE AUTHORITY?
IS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT SANCTIONED BY DIVINE AUTHORITY?
The true philosophy of man, even amongst philosophers themselves, is yet a desideratum. We are all agreed that neither the Egyptians nor the Chaldeans, neither the Medes nor the Persians, neither the Greeks nor the Romans, had attained to the true science of man. They had their astrologers, soothsayers and magicians. They had their sages, philosophers and poets as they had their great generals, heroes and conquerors. They had their sciences and arts, both useful and ornamental; but they had not the knowledge of themselves; they had not the Bible. Hence their proper origin, relations, obligations and destiny, were to them alike unknown and unknowable. The profound Socrates, the learned and acute Aristotle, the splendid and erudite Plato, the still more enlightened and eloquent Cicero, were as profoundly ignorant of their own moral constitution and moral relations to the great unknown and eternal God, as they were of the grand discoveries and inventions of the present century.
We may, indeed, have as exaggerated views of our own attainments in this our "age of reason", "march of mind", and brilliant advances into the mysteries of nature, as they had of themselves and their attainments. Posterity, too, may look back upon our age as we are wont to contemplate ages long since passed away, and wish, as "duteous sons, their fathers had been more wise." Certain it is, that we are not satisfied with ourselves, and that a spirit of inquiry, revolution and change is now abroad in the land, which no man can limit or restrain.
We live in the midst of a great moral revolution. Opinions held sacred by our fathers, usages consecrated by the devotion of ages, institutions venerated by the most venerable of mankind are now subjected to the same cold, rigid analysis, and made to pass through the same unsparing ordeal, to which the most antiquated errors and the most baseless hypotheses of the most reckless innovators are now so /312/ unmercifully doomed. Few, indeed, of the most popular theories of the Pagan schools on the great subject of man's social and moral relations, have, when cast into this fiery furnace, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, came out unscathed.
Times of revolution are, however, more or less, dangerous times. For, as in the tumultuous rage of passions long pent up, and in the fitful frenzy of an inflamed multitude long down- trodden, the innocent with the guilty are sometimes immolated on the same altar, reared to the presiding genius of revolt; so truths rightfully enthroned in the judgement of the intelligent, and deeply cherished in the hearts of the faithful, are in times of great excitement, and in the reign of scepticism, repudiated as reprobate silver, and sacrificed at the shrine of a licentious and indiscriminating spirit of innovation.
Ours, however, is an age of invention, rather than of discovery: the arts, more than the sciences are cultivated and improved. The invention of printing, the discovery of America, and the Protestant reformation, have imparted to the human mind an impulse so vigorous and so enduring, that neither time nor space seem able to impair it. Stimulated by former conquests over error, and the new discoveries since made, the human mind seems intent on carrying on war against false assumptions and unwarranted conclusions--as if determined to advance from victory to victory over every species of error and delusion: so that we may not unreasonably anticipate a day when the last error shall be exploded, and the last baseless assumption shall be entombed in the same unfathomable abyss with the vortices of Descartes, or in the nethermost hollow sphere of the speculative and hypothetical, though ingenious, Captain Symmes.
But there are many things already established. The human mind is not wholly at sea without pilot or compass. The mariner's compass has been invented. And many truths are immovably fixed and certain in every well-cultivated and intelligent mind.
Physical nature is, indeed, still open to investigation in some of her most interesting and sublime departments. Astronomy is yet in progress of development. Geology is a new science, still incomplete and imperfect. The physical constitution of man has yet numerous mysteries that sealed from the most discriminating eye. Not only several of its most sublime and delicate tissues are unexplored, but the design as well as the peculiar structure of some of its organs are unappreciated and unknown. The human head has only recently been explored and developed by the mighty genius and indefatigable of a Gall and Spurzheim. That men have souls as well as bodies, and spirits as /313/ souls, seems likely soon to be satisfactorily proved, not by metaphysical reasoning, but by ocular and sensible demonstrations. Nor is the day far distant when it is presumed that all parties will agree that, as God has made the world, he should govern it.
There are, indeed, two sciences, and but two, wholly unsusceptible of improvement. These, the author of the universe, by a patent which no man can invade but at the peril of his eternal destiny, has both wisely and kindly reserved to himself. I need not say that these are the sciences of religion and morality. No angelic being, unable to survey the universe in its infinite and eternal dimensions, nor man, in all his mysterious and sublime organization and capacities, could possibly project or develop these. They are the sciences, which by an insuperable and stern necessity, are not merely superhuman, but supernatural and divine. There is a world above us and a world within us for which no man or angel could legislate. There is a moral code beyond the capacity and supervision of man-extending, too, in its requisition into a kingdom over which no human tribunal can find any jurisdiction, and which is necessary to moral government as oxygen to combustion, or caloric to human life. There is an empire in the human heart over which no man or angel can preside, and a throne in the midst of it on which no king can sit but the King of Eternity. For this reason alone, which as good as a thousand, and to which the addition of a thousand could give no weight, religion and morals are sciences wholly supernatural and divine.
Civil government is itself a divine appendix to the volumes of religion and morality. Though neither Caesar nor Napoleon, Nicholas nor Victoria, were, "BY THE GRACE OF GOD," king, emperor or queen; still the civil throne, the civil magistrate, and, therefore, civil government, are, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, bestowed upon the world. Neither the church nor the world could exist without it. God himself has, therefore, benevolently ordained magistrates and judges. Men may call them kings, emperors or presidents, (for much of politics, like much of speculative theology, is but a mere logomachy--a war of ill-assorted words,) but they are God's ministers, executors of his will and of his vengeance, ordained to wait upon him and to execute his mandates. They are sort of viceroys--vicegerents under a law to God, and to govern according to his revealed will. The bible is of right, and it ought to be, just as much a law to kings and governors and presidents, as it is to masters and servants, to husbands and wives, to parents and children. Those magistrates, therefore, who will not be governed and /314/ guided by it in the faithful execution of God's laws, God himself, in his own proper person, will judge and punish.
Since the days of Plato, men have conceived republics. They have invented new orders of society, new theories of socialism, and new names for things. But these are mere demonstrations of human weakness and of human scepticism. The bible has sanctioned republics and commonwealths and kingdoms without affixing any peculiar name to them. It prescribes no form of human government, because no one form of government would suit all the countries, climes and people of the earth. But the bible, in the name and by the authority of its Author, demands all persons in authority that they protect the innocent, and that they punish the guilty, and that they dispense justice to all. It also demands of the governed that they submit to "THE POWERS THAT BE," however denominated, as an ordinance of God; not through the fear of the sword, but for the sake of conscience. It inhibits them also from treason, insubordination and rebellion.
In the freedom of debate, and in harmony with that sprit of innovation of which we have just spoken, a question has been mooted, and is now before the American public, a matter of very grave discussion. A question, too, than which, in my humble judgement, no one pertaining to this life is worthy of a more profound deliberation, nor whose decision is fraught with more fearful and important results, affecting the whole community, involving the foundation of civil government, all the fixtures of society, the extent of all earthly sovereignty, and all the principles of international law, commerce and responsibility. That question is propounded in the solemn interrogatory, IS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT SANCTIONED BY A DIVINE AUTHORITY? or, in other words, HAS MAN THE RIGHT TO TAKE AWAY THE LIFE OF MAN ON ANY ACCOUNT WHATSOEVER?
If he have not a divine right I frankly admit that he has no human right--no warrant or authority derived from man--that will authorize such a solemn and fearful act. Though we should not, in the first instance, take into account the consequences of any decision, as having direct authority in influencing our reasonings upon the question, still it is important that we have some respect for them as arguments and incentives to a calm discreet and patient investigation of the premises from which are to be adduced conclusions so deeply involving the interests of the world.
And what, let me inquire, would be the consequences should it be decided that no man has no right to take away the life of man on any account whatsoever? Is it not the right to inflict upon him any penal /315/ pain whatever involved in this question? A single stripe may kill; nay, a single stripe inflicted by an officer of justice, and that no very violent one, has sometimes killed. A man has no right to punish at all in any way, if he may not in that punishment lawfully take away the life of him that is subjected to it. He has not even the right to imprison or confine a person in jail, workhouse or penitentiary, if he have not, in any case whatever, the right to kill. How many die in jails, workhouses and penitentiaries, from causes to which they would not have been exposed but in those places of punishment!
But, further, if a man has not the right to kill, nations have no right to go to war in any case, or for any purpose whatever. We argue that whatever power a Government has is first found in the people; that men can not innocently or rightfully do that conventionally, or in states, which they can not do in their individual capacities. True, when a government is organized, the citizens or subjects of it cannot use or exercise the powers to legislate, to judge, to punish, which, by the social compact, they have, for wise purposes, surrendered or transferred to the Government. Still, the fundamental fact must not be lost sight of- -that NATIONS HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO THOSE THINGS ONLY WHICH EVERY INDIVIDUAL MAN HAD A RIGHT TO DO ANTERIOR TO THE NATIONAL FORM OF SOCIETY. If, then, man had not originally a right to kill him who killed his brother, society never could, but from a special law of the creator, have such a right. And such, we may hereafter show, was originally the divine law. The natural reason of man, or a divine law, enacted that the blood of the murdered should be avenged by the blood of the murderer, and that the brother of the murdered was pre-eminently the person to whom belonged the right of avenging his blood.
Wars are either defensive or aggressive. But, in either point of view they are originated and conducted on the assumption that man has a right, for just cause, to take away the life of a man. For it needs no argument to convince anyone, however obtuse, that man cannot rightfully kill a thousand or a million of persons, if he cannot lawfully kill one! I wonder not, then, that peace-men are generally, if not universally, in favour of the total abolition of capital punishment.
What an immense train of consequences hand upon the final and correct decision of this question! Wars would, from an insuperable necessity, cease. We should then, indeed, "beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning-hooks." We could hang the war-trumpet in the halls of peace, and study war no more. Cannon, military establishments, standing armies, mighty navies, ex- /316/ tensive arsenals, and all the other munitions of war, would no longer be the ULTIMA RATIO REGUM. No longer would governments rely upon the arm of flesh for self-defense or for redress of wrongs. What millions of gold would be saved, and what oceans of blood would be prevented!
It is true, however, that wars might cease and universal peace spread its halcyon wings over the earth, and still the murderer be rightfully, and by the supreme authority of the state, put to death. There is no incompatibility whatever in the argument of settling national controversies by another way than by war. We may settle them as we pacifically settle individual and corporate misunderstandings, and still argue against the abolition of capital punishment. But our argument is, that there would be an end of all wars, offensive and defensive, in the national mind, if men have no right to kill those who have killed their neighbours. Certainly, no one would place himself in the absurd attitude of defending wars for territory--for mere depredations on trade and commerce--in defense of chartered rights or violated treaties, if it can be shown that we ought not to wage war against the most savage tribes and barbarous nations for having butchered our wives and children.
Again, nations may not rightfully go to war--if man cannot, in any case, lawfully take away the life of a man, in how dishonorable an attitude stand the patriots of all Christian lands--the Hampdens, the La Fayettes, the Washingtons! and where stand the men of faith, the men of sacred fame--the Joshuas, the Samsons, the Baraks, the Gideons, the Davids?
And what shall we say of the morality of those who do honor to their memory? Of those who are always approbating, applauding and eulogizing our own Revolutionary heros and those who distinguished themselves in the Indian wars--in wars against untutored savages, desirous to retain and defend their patrimonial inheritance from European invasion and aggression--of those, a very numerous host of patriotic contemporaries, who have no civil honors to bestow, no civic wreath prepared, but to adorn the brows of military chieftain whose garments have been rolled in the blood of vanquished enemies--and especially those who desire new wars for manufacturing new generals and new heros, the idols of a nation's, to fill the empty niches in the temple of our heroic fancies!
Such are a few of the consequences that must follow the decision of the question before us in the negative. Still, as before said, we only use these arguments for a calm, dispassionate and thorough investi- /317/ gation of the subject. It must be tried by some law and before some tribunal having supreme authority in the case. But what shall be that law, and where shall that tribunal be found? Is it not the law of phrenology--of expediency- -of tradition--of our common statute-books--of even public opinion. None of these have legitimate jurisdiction over a question that has so much of the temporal and eternal fortunes of human kind at stake.
We may, indeed, listen, either for instruction or amusement, to the pleasing fancies of poets--to the visions of enthusiastic philanthropists--to the decisions of various sects of philosophers, or to the codes and enactments of olden times and of fallen empires; but from their speculations or their decisions we can derive neither argument nor authority.
Some of the most dogmatical of the new schools of philosophy assume that the sole end of punishment is the reformation of the offender; that the murderer must be send to a school of repentance and be better educated, and, when properly instructed and honorably graduated, he shall have his passport into the confidence of society, and be permitted to develop himself in the midst of more favorable circumstances. Such is one of the more popular substitutes for capital punishment. Plato's favorite dogmas--that man was made for philosophy, and not philosophy for man--that perfect civil code would make a notion virtuous--and that offenders could be reformed by wise and benevolent exhortations--are not more whimsical and ridiculous than the theories of such abolitionists of capital punishment. They are, indeed, but an ingenious preface to the Elysian hell of some Universalian philanthropists, who imagine that place of punishment to be but a portico to heaven--a sort of purgatorial ante-chamber, in which men are to be purified by gentle flames for an induction to the inner most sanctuary of the universe.
We agree with those who affirm that punishments ought, in all cases, to be enacted and enforced with a special regard to the reformation of transgressors; but we can not say with an EXCLUSIVE regard. Empathetic and special, but not EXCLUSIVE, regard, should be shown to the reformation of the criminal. There must also be a special and a supreme regard to the safety of the state, and the protection of the innocent and unoffending. The laws of every civilized community should unite as far as possible the reformation of the offender with the safety of the state.
But how these two may best be secured, is a matter yet not agreed. A sentence of perpetual imprisonment is no guarantee of protection /318/ or safety to the state. The sentence, in the first place, may not be executed. It seldom is, in the case of persons holding high places in society. Governors sometimes reprieve. political demagogues, too, will not very conscientiously demur at the offer of many suffrages for a gubernatorial chair, on a private understanding that certain persons of influential connections sentenced to perpetual imprisonment shall on their election be pardoned. But, further, it is no guarantee that the monster who has been guilty of one murder may not murder his attendants or fellow-prisoners in hope of escape or that he may not fire his prison or in some way elope. He may be confined for life, and yet may again perpetuate the same foul crime. Are there not numerous instances of this kind on record? And has not the professedly reformed and pardoned criminal at times been guilty of a second, and sometimes of a theirs, murder? Such instances have been known in our own country and in our own memory. A sentence of perpetual confinement is not an adequate security against a murderer, in any view that can be taken of it Society demands a higher pledge of safety--a more satisfactory guarantee. It demands the life of a murderer.
And strange as it might seem, we affirm the conviction that the certainty of death, is upon all premises, the most efficient means of reformation. When--I do not say the UNFORTUNATE, (a name too full of sophistry, though unfortunate he may be,) but--the MALIGNANT AND WICKED MURDERER has been tried, convicted and sentenced to die after the lapse of so many days or weeks, when all hope of pardon is forever gone, then evangelical instruction is incomparably more likely to effect a change than are the chances of a long or short life within the walls of a penitentiary. It is, therefore, I must think, more rational and humane, whether we consider the safety of the state or the happiness of the individual, to insist that the sentence of death be promptly and firmly executed.
So we reason against the assumptions of those who would abolish capital punishment, on the ground that all punishment should be for the salvation of the transgressor, and that his imprisonment for life, or till evident reformation, is an ample pledge for the safety and security of the state.
They reason as illogically against capital punishment who assume that imprisonment for life is a greater punishment than death. Satan, more than three thousand years ago, reasoned more logically than they. He then argued in the face of high authority, on the trial of a very distinguished person, that a man would give the world for his life. /319/ "Skin for skin, all that a man hath," said the devil, "will he give for his life."
I am reminded of one of the fables of Aesop in the only speech I ever read in favor of capital punishment, so far as my memory bears witness. The writer, in disproof of the assumption that imprisonment for life is a greater punishment than death, adduces the following fable:--"Aesop has finely satirized the prevalent disposition to complain of life as a burden when we are oppressed by the ills to which humanity is heir. We are all familiar with the fable of the poor man who was groaning under the weight of the fagots which he was carrying to his home. Weary and exhausted, he threw his load from his shoulders, sat down by the wayside, and loudly invoked Death to come an relieve him from his misery. Instantly the greedy tyrant stood before him, and, with an uplifted dart, inquired, `what wouldst thou have with me?' `Good Death,' exclaimed the poor man, in terrified amazement, `I want thee to help me get this bundle of sticks upon my back.' The fable needs no interpreter. It's moral is obvious." Were imprisonment for life a severer punishment than death, it would not be lawful to exact it, so far as the divine law indicates what is just and equal. Neither the LEX TALIONIS, nor the bible, nor right reason, so far as I can judge, would authorize any punishment severer than death.
But we can very sincerely sympathize with many good men in their aversion to capital punishment for any other crime than murder. Indeed, much of the excitement and indignation against capital punishment arises from two sources:--the many crimes that have been judged worthy of death; and the fact that innocent sometimes suffer while the guilty escape. In noticing the various topics from which men reason against the justice of demanding life for life, our design is to show how doubtful and inconclusive all mere human reasonings and statutes on this on this subject must be, rather than to enter into a full investigation of all that may be alleged from these sources of reason and argumentation.
We cheerfully admit that our criminal code is not in unison with the spirit of that age, nor with the presiding genius of European and American civilization. Christian justice, humanity and mercy have, indeed, in some countries, and in none more than in our own, greatly modified and improved political law and political justice./320/
Public opinion has for more than a century been vacillating between two extreme systems of punishment-- one of which punishes more than a hundred varieties of offense with death, while the other inflicts death on no transgressor for any crime whatever. During the reign of sanguinary law in England, as Blackstone very correctly observes, "it is a melancholy truth, that among the variety of actions which men are daily liable to commit, no less than a hundred and sixty have been declared, by act of Parliament, to be felonies without benefit of clergy; or, in other words, to be worthy of instant death. So dreadful a list," adds the learned jurist, "instead of diminishing, increases the number of offenders."
Such a criminal code was, indeed, very likely to lead to another extreme. It has, therefore, been yielding in severity to the more humane genius of modern civilization. The human mind, ocean like, has its ebbings and flowings, its high tides and its low tides, on all exciting subjects. Time was when an Englishman forfeited his life for a very paltry theft--for the mere purloining of twelvepence sterling. That there ought to be a correspondence between offenses and their punishment, is an oracle of reason and justice, so obvious to all, that it may be regarded in the light of a primary truth--a sort of self-evident proposition, that needs only to be stated to any person of reflection to secure his immediate assent.
We advocate a discriminating tariff of penalties and punishments, not for the sake of revenue alone, but for the sake of protecting innocence and virtue. We have no faith either in the justice of expediency of a horizontal tariff, awarding one and the same punishment to each and to every one of a hundred crimes. we would not hang one man for stealing a shilling, and inflict the same punishment for treason, sacrilege, rape or murder. We believe in the scriptural phrases, "worthy of stripes," "worthy of a sorer punishment," and "worthy of death." These forms of speech occur in both Testaments, but more frequently in the New than in the Old. They are phrases from which a sound and irrefutable argument in support of capital punishment may be deduced, and which no one opposed to it will dare on any occasion to employ.
With the profound Montesquieu, I argue that "the severity of laws prevents their execution; and, therefore, whenever punishment transcends reasonable limits, the public will not unfrequently prefer impunity to inhumanity or to excessive punishment." Nay, with a greater than Montesquieu, I believe that an eye should not be taken for a tooth, nor a whole years imprisonment for man's whole life. /321/ The penal code of every community should be an index of its moral sense and moral character. It ought to be regarded as a licensed exposition of its views upon the comparative criminality and malignity of every action affecting the life, the liberty, the character or the prosperity of its citizens,--a polished mirror from which may be reflected upon its own citizens and upon the world at large a nations intelligence, moral taste and moral excellency. Should it affix the same punishment to various and numerous offenses, irrespective of their grade in criminality, it will confound and bewilder the moral perceptions of the people, and exhibit to the world a very fallacious test of the comparative atrocity and malignity of human actions.
It may, indeed, be assumed that all sins are equally violations of the law of God--equally dishonorable to his majesty-- equally obnoxious to his displeasure--and, therefore, equally to be punished. But be this view abstractly right or wrong, it is alien to our subject; for it is only with sin as it RESPECTS MAN in its injurious tendency that human legislation and human punishment have to do. The lord has reserved to himself the right to punish sin as committed against himself, and has delegated man the authority to punish sin only in so far as it is fraught with evils to the human race. In this view alone are sins to be estimated more or less atrocious, and more or less severely to be punished. The doctrines of sound reason , as well as that of revelation, is, "that every transgression and disobedience of the divine law should receive a just and adequate recompense of reward."
From such considerations and reasonings such as these, we could advocate a scale of punishments in harmony with the most correct views of the criminality and wickedness of human actions, rising up to capital punishments only in the case of wilful and deliberate murder, not to be extenuated in any case by passion, intemperance, or any temptation whatsoever. To obviate the exception not unfrequently taken to capital punishment on the ground that sometimes the innocent may suffer while the guilty escape, might there not be such legal provisions as would prevent the possibility of any one being convicted without such strength of testimony and proof of guilt as would not leave the shadow of a doubt? We doubt not the practicability of such a provision. Thus we reason with those who reason from their conceptions of the congruity, expediency and rational propriety of human theories and codes as respects penal statutes in general, and capital punishment in particular. Should we, then, claim no more authority for our reasonings than those who differ from us claim for theirs, (though, of course, /322/ we suppose we have the stronger and the better reasons,) we have gained this point, that, in demurring to our conclusions, we must both appeal to a higher court, and await the decision of the Supreme Law-giver and Judge of the universe. This is all we have sought in these preliminary views and reasonings; and certainly it will be conceded to us by those who may dissent from the positions we have already assumed.
In this present erratic world there are two ultra schools of philosophy:--the one takes nothing, the other takes almost every thing, on credit. With the one, their fathers are wiser than their sons; with the other, the sons are wiser than their fathers. The antiquity of an opinion is a passport to the favor of one; the novelty of an opinion is secures for it a favorable introduction to the confidence of the other. The tendency of the one school is to a blind devotion; that of the other to an absolute scepticism. we will not abide by the decision of either school. We prefer to carry this question up to a higher court--to a Judge who perfectly comprehends the whole constitution of man as an animal, intellectual and moral being--by whom the fundamental laws of the moral universe, and man in all his mysterious and sublime relations to that universe, are contemplated--not in the dim light of time, but in the clear and bright effulgence of a glorious and awful eternity. We, therefore, appeal from all human reasonings and from all human codes to the infallible decisions of that court as registered in the faithful records of the Old and New Testaments. The question before us is, WHAT PUNISHMENT DOES THE SUPREME LAWGIVER AND JUDGE AWARD TO THE MURDERER? This is a mere question of fact, and not of a philosophical theory. We must, then, decide it by testimony. We shall, therefore, make a direct appeal to the Divine Record, and endeavour to find an answer for it from an induction of the cases and statutes therein recorded; or, at least, so many of them as will satisfactorily indicate the Divine will on the subject.
The first case in the annals of time brought before this court was that of Cain, indicted for the murder of his brother Abel. Abel's blood, thus shed, in the judgement of God called for vengeance on him that shed it. His words are, "The voice of thy brothers blood crieth unto me from the ground." He immediately added, "Thou art cursed from the earth," dooming him to become "a fugitive and a vagabond."
This excommunication beyond the pale of the Divine protection, Cain understood to be a licence given to any person to kill him. His language clearly indicates this:--"It shall come to pass," said he, /323/ "that every one who findth me shall kill me." A single question on this case, it seems, might decide the matter: viz. Was this the voice of reason, the voice of conscience, or the voice of God? Rather, was it not the voice of them all? If so, then, is not the crime of murder on its first appearance, judged worthy of death?
Does anyone doubt it? Let him place the matter before his own mind in the form of a trilemma. Either Cain's own natural reason and conscience, or an antecedent law, or the sentence God pronounced upon him, decreed his death for that crime. Can anyone assign for any other reason than someone of these three as extorting from Cain the declaration that "every one who findeth me will kill me"? The whole three may, indeed, have conspired to produce the conviction; but certainly someone of them did; and this is enough to prove that, in the sight of God, his crime was worthy of death: for none of the three could exist without a revelation from God. such was the decision of the first case. God, indeed, for reasons growing out the condition of the world at that period, was pleased to reprieve him for the time being, and gave him a pledge that no one should kill him.
Some may ask, Why did not God himself immediately kill Cain, seeing that his brother's blood called for vengeance? To which several answers may be given; such as--God, who knows the hearts of all men, and whose prerogative it is to show mercy, may have known that Cain did not intent to kill his brother but only to humble him; or he may have judged it expedient to give proof of his mercy in the exercise of his sovereignty in the beginning of the world, waiting till further developments of the violence of human passion would justify him before the universe of inflicting adequate penalties upon transgressors; and also in demonstration of another truth, viz. that a government all mercy would not promote the safety or happiness of man; for this experiment resulted in the earth's being so filled with violence that God was finally constrained to punish the antediluvins by one common death inflicted by his own hand. This was capital punishment in the superlative degree.
What numerous and various acts of violence characterized the antediluvian world we were not informed. What laws were promulged by Divine authority we are not told. But the silence of antiquity is no proof that such laws were not enacted. For, although we have no published code of antediluvian laws, we have allusions to existing institutions which could not have been introduced without laws. A priesthood, alters, victims and sacrifices could not have existed without positive law. The distribution of animals into clean and unclean with /324/ regard not to food, but to sacrifice, presupposes very clear and positive enactments. Neither Abel, nor Seth, nor Enoch, could have pleased God, or walked with God, without law. The light of nature could not have originated alters, victims and priests. Indeed, the fact that the earth as filled with violence, it is no inconsiderable argument that the will of God had been revealed; for where no law is, there is no transgression.
But, besides what is affirmed of vengeance in the case of Cain, we have, so late as the time of his great-great grandson, Lamech, another very direct reference to the punishment of murder. Lamach, of the family of Cain, was the first polygamists known to history. His wives, Adah and Zillah, being apprehensive of the vengeance threatened, called forth from him the oldest poem in the world. It may be translated as follows:--
"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, hearken to my speech;--
for I have slain a man for wounding me,
A young man for having beaten me.
If Cain be avenged sevenfold,
Surely Lamach seventy-and-seven."
Wives of Lamech, hearken to my speech;--
for I have slain a man for wounding me,
A young man for having beaten me.
If Cain be avenged sevenfold,
Surely Lamach seventy-and-seven."
This, being written in hemistichs in the original, is generally, by the learned, regarded as the oldest poetry in the literature of the world. There is, to my mind, but one ambiguity in the passage. It respects the punctuation of the third line. It may be read interrogatively or indicatively:--either,
"I have slain a man for wounding me,"
"Have I slain a man for wounding me, A young man for having bruised me?"
Read indicatively, it intimates that Lamech killed a man in self-defence. Read interrogatively, it denies that he killed any person. In either case, he rebukes the evil forebodings of his wives; for if any one killed him, not being guilty of murder, sevenfold vengeance would be inflicted upon him more than on Cain,- than which we know of nothing more terrible. On the above version I may say I have the Jewish Targums, Adam Clarke, and other rabbis of distinction with me. The whole case, taken complexly, indicates that death for murder was the penalty affixed by the justice of the antediluvian world.
From this fragment of antediluvian history, we shall turn to the /325/ more copious details of the postdiluvian. It is worthy of special consideration that the first act of legislation in the new world, while the whole human race was in Noah's family, was AN ACT AGAINST MURDER. This was a law not for Jew or Gentile--not for Egyptian, Chaldean, Greek or Roman--but, being enacted before any of them existed, for the whole human race. It was not an act against any particular kind of murder--such as parricide or fratricide--but an act against murder simply on its own account. The occasions and circumstances accompanying the enactment of many laws are explanatory of them. These are worthy of special attention. The whole world, one household excepted, had been destroyed by the immediate hand of God. This destruction was made necessary because of the unparalleled violence that filled the earth. One family was wholly destroyed. This family was that of Cain, to which all cases of murder, or of punishment for it, named in the old world, belonged. The earth being thus depopulated, the family of Cain and of Lamech being wholly destroyed--to prevent the increase of crime and the necessity of a similar catastrophe, God gave to man, by a positive and express precept, the power, the authority and the injunction to cut off all murderers.
The occasion of this act of legislation, and the positive and peremptory terms in which it is expressed, alike commend it to our consideration and regard. It is expressed in the following words:- - "AT THE HAND OF EVERY MAN'S BROTHER WILL I REQUIRE THE LIFE OF MAN. WHOSO SHEDDETH MAN'S BLOOD, BY MAN SHALL HIS BLOOD BE SHED: FOR IN THE IMAGE OF GOD MADE HE MAN." No statute was ever more free from ambiguity, or more intelligible, than this one. I never have met with one who misunderstood it. Why, then, is its Divine obligation not universally felt and acknowledged? To one unacquainted with the power of sympathy, especially when its victim is seized with a morbid philanthropy or charmed with the fascinations of a new theory, it will appear somewhat mysterious how a precept so express, so authoritative and peremptory could be disposed of or evaded. It is done by the magic of a single assumption:-- "Christianity is more mild and generous and philanthropic than the law of Moses." But that is a provision of the law of Moses, is an assumption which rests on the simple ground that Moses the lawgiver wrote the book of Genesis. One might as justly assume that Noah's ark or Melchizedek's pontificate was a part of the law of Moses, because Moses is the only person who wrote their history. Form the age of spiritual Quakerism until now, the abolitionists of capital punishment /326/ generally occupy this ground. As there is no dispute about the meaning of the precept, the only to dispose of it is to locate it amongst the Jewish rites and usages which have been abolished. but the simple fact that this precept was promulged in the year of the world 1658, and that Moses gave not the law till the year 2513--that is, full eight hundred and fifty five years after--is a fact so prominent and so indisputable as to render any other refutation of the assumption a work of the most gratuitous supererogation. I wonder why the same romantic genius that embodied with the Jewish code a precept given to the whole human family almost a thousand years before there was a Jewish nation, did not also embody with the same code, and appropriate to the same people, the right to eat animal food, then for the first time given to man--the covenant of day and night, of summer and winter, of seed-time and harvest, indicated and confirmed by the celestial arch which God erected upon the bosom of a cloud in token of his "covenant with all flesh." The constitution that guarantees the continuance of day and night and the seasons of the year also secures and protects the life of man from the violence of man, by a statute simultaneously promulged and committed to the father of the new world for the benefit of the whole human race. Why not also represent this, too, as done away, and thus place the world without the precincts of the covenanted mercies given to Noah for his family and recorded by Moses the man of God? there is not, then, the shadow of a reason for the assumption that the present human family is not obliged to enforce the statute above named. The right to eat animal food, to expect the uninterrupted succession of seasons, and the obligation to put the murderer to death, are of equal antiquity and of the same Divine authority. Every one claiming any interest in the world, because of his relation to Noah, and God's charter of privileges granted to him, must either show, by some authority equally express and incontrovertible, that God has abolished one part of it and perpetuated the remainder, or advocate capital punishment upon Divine authority.
But still more convincing and decisive is the reason assigned by the divine Author of the statute commanding capital punishment. It is in these words:-- "FOR IN THE IMAGE OF GOD MADE HE MAN." A reason, indeed, for the statute, worthy of God to propound and worthy of man to honor and regard. Why a reason so forcible and so full of eloquence and authority could be so frequently disparaged by an intelligent and Christian community, is, to my mind, indicative not merely of the want of piety, but of that of humanity and self--respect. The reason here assigned for this precept places the crime of murder in an entirely new /327/ attitude before the mind. Much, indeed has ben said of this crime--of its enormous dimensions--of its moral turpitude--its appalling guilt--its diabolical malignity; but here it is presented to us as the greatest insult which man can offer to his Creator--to the Supreme Majesty of the universe, apart from all its bearings upon human society and its unfortunate victim. On one occasion the Messiah said of Satan that he "was a liar and a murderer from the beginning." It is impossible, then that we can exaggerate the wickedness and malignancy of murder. No one has yet been able to do it justice. It desecrates in effigy, and, as far as the impotent arm of flesh gas power, destroys, the once brightest image of the invisible and eternal God that adorns any province of his vast and glorious universe. Man is still great in his ruins. Once the most exact and beautiful and impotent similitude of the Great Original of universal being, he is to be reverenced; and, when renewed in the moral image of his Maker, he is to be loved and admired not only as the noblest work of almighty power, but as the special and exclusive object of redeeming grace and mercy. But it is enough for our present purpose to know that it making it the duty of society to avenge this crime, God makes its dishonor to his own image the paramount reason why the life of the murderer should be taken from him. The Most High does not give many reasons for his precepts; but, when he gives one, it is worthy of himself and of the occasion, and claims the profound respect of every discerning and moral man.
Before we dismiss this divine statute, which has never been repealed, which never can be abolished, we must add one other remark, in the form of an argument against the possibility of abrogation. the reason given for slaying the murderer is one of perpetual validity. If it was ever good and obligatory, it must always be so. So long as it stands true that man was created in the image of God, so long it will bind every religious and moral people to take away the life of a murderer. It is, therefore, of immutable and perpetual obligation.
We shall now briefly glance at the criminal code of the Jewish nation. merely to see whether it harmonizes with the prominent statutes of the postdiluvian, if not of the antediluvian, age. It is often very properly observed that the Jewish nation was placed under a theocracy. Punishment by death was, under it, somewhat extended beyond the single crime of murder. Various crimes affecting human life, endangering or implying murder, were, under the special government of God, amongst a people whose ecclesiastic and political consti-- /328/ tutions were one and the same, punishable by death. According to the latest and one of the most respectable treatises yet written on the "Elements of moral Science" by one of the living ornaments of Trinity Collage, Cambridge, the Jewish code took a proper view of polity. For, as Mr. Whewell very profoundly observes, "It is to be recollected that one requisite for our advancing towards a state of society is generally satisfactory, is the establishment of moral rules as realities; and to this, at present, THERE APPEARS TO BE NO WAY EXCEPT BY MAKING IGNOMINIOUS DEATH THE CLIMAX OF SCALE OF PUNISHMENTS." It is, indeed the climax of several categories in the Jewish code. Not only that he mortally smote a fellow-citizen, but he that smote his father or his mother, whether mortally or not; he that stole a man and sold him; he that cursed his parents; the reckless owner of an animal that killed, when through his neglect life was lost; all that practised witchcraft, blasphemy, incest, sodomy, bestiality, &c. were deemed worthy of death. Both the letter and the spirit of the Jewish code on the matter of murder, and the reasons given for exacting life for life, demand our special attention: we shall therefore copy a few of the more prominent statutes of that institution.
The fullest summary of the ordinances concerning manslaughter and murder, enjoined upon the jews, is found in the book of Numbers, with some of the reasons annexed, indicative of the philosophy of the Divine requisitions. We shall read the whole passage:--
9. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
10. Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Cannan,
11. Then ye shall appoint ye cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither which killeth any person at unawares.
12. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger, that the man slayer die not until he stand before the congregation in judgement.
13. And of these cities which ye shall give, six cities have ye for refuge.
14. Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.
15. These six cities shall be refuge both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them; that everyone who killeth any person unawares may flee thither.
16. And if he smite him with an instrument of iron so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. /329/
17. And if he smite him with a throwing stone, wherewith he may die, and if he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
18. Or if he smite him with a hand--weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and if he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
19. The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him he shall slay him.
20. But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die;
21. Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die; he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer when he meeteth him.
22. But if he thrust him suddenly, without enmity, or have cast upon him anything without laying of wait,
23. Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm;
24. Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood, according to these judgements:
25. And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled.
26. But if the slayer shall at any time come without the borders of the city of his refuge, wither he was fled;
27. And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood;
28. Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high-priest; but after the death of the high-priest the slayer shall return to the land of his possession.
29. So these things shall be for a statute of judgement unto you, throughout your generations, in all your dwellings.
30. Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses; but one witness will not testify against any person to cause him to die.
31. Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer which is guilty of death; but he shall be surely put to death.
32. And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the high-priest.
33. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are; for blood it defileth the land: and the land can not be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. (Num. ch.xxxv.)
The ordinance for erecting the cities of refuge under which they were placed, like every other part of the mosaic institu- /330/ tion, commend the wisdom justice, benevolence of the lawgiver and King of Israel. Two great objects were contemplated and secured by that institution--a refuge for the innocent, and a CAVEAT against manslaughter.
When anyone killed another by mere accident, without any malice or evil intent on the part of him that did it, he was, when admitted into anyone of these cities, legally secure against the avenger of blood. The right of avenging blood, from Adam to Moses, during the whole patriarchal age, seems to have been, with Divine approbation, conferred upon the nearest kinsman of the deceased. It is very evident, not merely from the silence of the law, but from the retention of the ancient official name that the creation of these cities created no officer in the land other than he to whom, from the beginning, the duty had belonged. The next in blood still retained the right to avenge his murdered relative. These cities were, therefore, intended to protect the innocent from rash and unjust executions. Before that time, the alter, it appears, (Ex. xxi. 14,) had been the sanctuary of refuge for the unfortunate manslayer.
But, in the second place, the cities of refuge were not unlike penitentiaries, to which even an innocent manslayer was required, at the peril of his life, to be confined until the death of that high-priest under whose administration the event had taken place. This sometimes happens to be for life. If at any time during the pontificate of the high-priest he presumed to go out of the city , it was at the hazard of his life. This was placing a new guard around human life. A wise provision, truly, against manslaughter! He that was so unfortunate as to kill any person by the veriest accident, incurred two imminent risks--that of being killed, before he got into the city of refuge, by the avenger of blood; and, if not killed, that of being confined for years--perhaps all his life -- within its walls, away from his family and home.
But in the case of murder, whether premeditated or from the rage of passion, the cities of refuge afforded no asylum whatever. On trial and conviction the criminal was, in all cases, taken from them and put to death. For the guilty murderer thee was no asylum. If escaped the hand of the avenger of blood while fleeing to the city , if, perchance, he fled there for trial, he always expiated the blood that he had shed by his own.
It is scarcely necessary to remark how often and with what clearness and authority it promulged--"The murderer shall surely be put to death;" and again, "The avenger of blood himself shall kill him when he meeteth him." No one will, I presume, after a single reading /331/ of this statute, require any other evidence that capital punishment was divinely ordained during the whole period of Old Testament history--that it was an essential part of the Jewish institution, and during its continuance extended much beyond the patriarchal requisition.
But there is a reason connected with these ordinances that demands our special consideration. Like that given to Noah, it has no respect to time, place or circumstance. It belongs exclusively to no age, to no nation or people. It is a reason, too, why murder shall not be pardoned, and why the Lord so solemnly and so positively said, "You shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer"--he must not be ransomed at any price. Does anyone ask why there should be no ransom, no commutation, no pardon? The answer, the reason, is one of fearful import. It is this:--"THE LAND CAN NOT BE CLEANSED OF THE BLOOD THAT IS SHED THEREIN BUT BY THE BLOOD OF HIM THAT SHED IT." So God almighty has ordained in his infinite wisdom , justice and benevolence. It is enough. HE has said it. No tears of repentance, no contrition of heart, no agony of soul, can expiate the sin of murder. As soon could the breath of a mortal melt the polar mountains of ice, dissolve the Siberian snows and fill the dreary wastes with verdure, the beauty and fragrance of ancient Eden, as soon would the sigh of remorse quicken into life the ashes of the murdered dead, or a single penetentail tear extinguish the fires of hell, as any expiation or ablution of mortal hand, other than the blood of the murderer, atone to God's violated law, do honor to his insulted Majesty and purify the land from the dark defilement of unavenged blood.
I cannot but tremble for our country, if this be the decision of the Governor of nations, when I reflect upon the multitude that have in single combat sacrificed each other, in purpose or in fact, at the shrine of a false and factitos honor; and upon those who, in the sullen rage and malice of the dastardly assassin, avenged their imaginary wrongs by the blood of their fellow-citizens; and upon those who sought to conceal their infamous crimes of lust and passion--of burglary, arson and rapine--with the blood of those who might have been witnesses against them; I say, when I reflect upon the hundreds and the thousands thus murdered, whose blood yet unexpiated still pollutes our soil, and through the vagueness and ambiguity of our laws, the venality, corruption or incompetency of our tribun, or the servility or self- /332/ willedness of our chief magistrates, yet cries to heaven for vengeance, not merely upon the head of those that shed it, but upon the government and the people that still suffer them to live, methinks I see a most portentous cloud, dark, swollen and lowering surcharged with the fires of divine indignation, ready to burst in accumulated vengeance upon our blood polluted-land.
But, in extenuation of our apathy or as an apology for our indifference, it is sometimes assumed that the Messiah has forever abolished the bloody code of Moses and the patriarchs, and has preached a larger benevolence and forgiveness to nations. What a baseless assumption! What an outrage upon the character of the Messiah! True, indeed, he came not to judge the world, to act the civil magistrate, the civil lawgiver, or to assume regal authority over any nation or people of this world. His kingdom was spiritual and heavenly. In it, he would not have an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or stripe for stripe. He would not have his followers go to law for any violence, fraud or wrong inflicted on them on his account. They might, indeed, sue those out of his kingdom for civil wrongs in civil courts, or they might consent to be sued for unjust demands upon them in their political and civil relations; but any wrong, violence or compulsion inflicted on them for their religion, their conscientious allegiance to him, they were to endure cheerfully, and rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer wrong, or even shame for his name's sake. But he that hence argues for the abolition of civil government, of civil penalties, or for the abrogation of the statutes given to mankind by God himself, founded on his own perfections and the immutable relations of things, not merely typical and adumbrative in their nature, but jurisprudential and for the safety of society, shocks all common sense. As well might we say that morality and the moral character of God are mutable things. It enacts no civil statutes. It does not even designate the persons between whom the institutions of marriage may be consummated. It abrogates nothing in the Old Testament that was not substantiated in Christ, or that was not peculiar to the twelve tribes. But we have shown that the precept in discussion belonged, not to any institution, Patriarchal, Jewish or Christian, but to the whole family of man.
Does not an apostle say that "the law is good if a man use it lawfully"? Does he not say that "the law was not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient: for murderers, man-slayers, /333/ man-stealers, thieves, liars, perjured persons," &c.? And surely for all these evil-doers it has, or ought to have its penalties. In executing these eon their proper subjects the law is used lawfully.
Again, does not Paul teach that the "powers that be are ordained of God"?--that the magistrate "is his minister," and that he rightfully wears a sword not his own, but God's? And, in the name of reason, why have a sword in the state, and worn by the civil magistrate, if it be unlawful or unchristian to put anyone to death on any account whatever? That would, indeed, be to "bear the sword in vain;" a thing which the apostles themselves would have reprobated. Christians, then, must remember that the magistrate is God's armed minister, and that he must be obeyed by every Christian man, not merely through the fear of his wrath , or of his avenging sword, but for the sake of a conscientious regard to God's authority, whose minister of justice he is. The civil magistrate is now the civil avenger of blood. Paul calls him "A MESSENGER OF WRATH upon him that doeth evil."
There is not, then, a word in the Old Testament or the new inhibiting capital punishment, nor a single intimation that it should be abolished. On the contrary, reasons are given as the basis of the requisition of life for life, which never can be set aside--which are as forcible at this hour as they were in the days of Cain, Noah, Moses and Jesus Christ. We reiterate the statute with clearer conviction of its obligation and utility on every consideration of the broad, deep, solid and enduring premises on which it is founded:--"Thou shalt take (no ransom) no satisfaction for the life of the murderer."--"He that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man."- -"The land can not be cleaned from blood but by the blood of him that shed it." For this purpose the magistrate is "God's minister, and avenger, to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."
The necessity, utility and importance of capital punishment, we must regard, on the premises already considered, as unequivocally and irrefragably established, so far as divine authority can require or establish any thing. And although the most plain and striking passages, found in patriarchal, Jewish and Christian institutions, have been adduced and partially considered, the half has not been told, nor the argument fully developed. A single address on such an occasion as the present is not sufficient for a subject so comprehensive and important. It would, indeed, require a volume rather than one short lecture. Conscious of our inability fully to discuss such a question /334/ on such an occasion, we shall therefore add but a few remarks further.
It has been said, not by those of old time, but by those of our time, that the sixth precept of the Decalogue, "THOU SHALT NOT KILL," inhibits all taking away of human life. A sect of extreme pietists on Long Island, it is reported, gave to the precept a broader interpretation, and forbade the killing of any living creature for food. they are as consistent as one who says the precept "THOU SHALT NOT KILL" prohibits capital punishment. It is also the precept that calls for the blood of him that violates it.
Moses did not himself so interpret this precept; for on the very day that he descended from the mount with the autograph in his hand, he commanded the sons of Levi to gird on their swords and kill the idolaters who had eaten and drank and danced to an idol-- of whom no less than three thousand fell that day.
I introduce this case for another purpose--to repudiate an objection urged against capital punishment. It is asked, What Christian man, or what man of delicate moral sensibility, could execute such a sentence--could dispatch to the judgement-seat a criminal crimsoned with the blood of his fellow-man?
It is not the sheriff's hand--it is not the sword of the executioner. It is the hand of God--it is the sword of justice that takes away that life that which he himself gave, because the criminal has murderously taken away a life which he could not give.
Is the hand of man purer than the hand of an angel? And who was it that, in one memorable night, passing through the land of Egypt, by a single stroke smote to death the first-born of all the realms of Pharaoh, from the royal palace down to the cottage of the meanest serf that breathed upon his soil! And who was it that, on another fatal night, while passing through the camp of the insolent Assyrian chief, killed one hundred and eighty-five thousand of his most valiant men? WAS IT NOT THE ANGEL OF THE LORD? Nay, rather, who was it that in the days of Noah inflicted with his own hand capital and condign punishment upon a world filled with violence and with blood? Who was it that rained down fire and brimstone from the heavens on the devoted cities of the Plain, saving, as in the former case, but a single family? was it not the Lord himself in person?
Samuel kills Agag
Artist: MERIAN, Matthaeus the Elder
[PHOTO SOURCE: http://colonialart.org/artworks/571A]
And what shall we say of the father of the faithful, returning from the slaughter of the confederate kings?--of Moses, as the messenger of God, slaying not merely a single Egyptian, but smiting with his rod, in the depths of the Red Sea, the strength, the pride and the glory of /335/ Egypt?--of Joshua, the son of Nun, destroying seven idolatrous nations?--of Samuel, hewing to pieces with his own hand the king of Amalek?--of David and his hundred battles? time would fail me to name all the instances in which God has made the purest, the holiest and the best of men, as well as angels, the executioners of his justice. I shall mention another case--the case of Joab--one that, before I understood the statutes of the Lord on the subject of murder, often perplexed me. There lay king David, the beloved of his God, on the bed of death; and while making his last will and testament, he remembered Joab--the brave, the valorous, the mighty Joab--than whom no king could boast of a truer friend or a greater or more successful general--his own kinsman, too--his own sister's son. He names him to his son Solomon, his successor of the sceptre of Israel. And what is his will concerning Joab? What honors or rewards has he in store for him? Hearken to his words:--"Solomon, my son--thou knowest also what Joab, the son of Zeruiah, did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel: to Abner, the son of Ner, and to Amasa, the son of Jether, whom he slew and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in the shoes that were upon his feet. Do, therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hory head go down to the grave in peace." So willed the dying David. And what did Solomon his son? There was no city of refuge for Joab, but flying into the tabernacle and taking hold of the horns of the alter, Joab said, "Here I will die." And what said the king? "Go, Benaiah, do as he hath said. fall upon him and bury him, that," adds the king, "thou myest take away the innocent blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it."
But we have yet a stronger case--the case of David's son and David's Lord. His words are oracles from which there is no appeal; his example is an argument to which there is no response. Is he, or is he not, on the side of capital punishment? While on earth he was a SAVIOUR. In heaven he is now a KING. Hereafter he will appear in the character of a JUDGE and an avenger. we ask not what he will do then in finally and eternally punishing the impenitent. We ask not what he did while on earth as a Saviour; for then "he came to save men's lives, and not to destroy." But we ask, What did he do when he became king, when exalted to be the prince and the governor /336/ of the universe? He intimated the leading principles of his government before he was crowned Lord of all, to those Jews who were intent on his destruction. "I will," said he, "send you prophets, wise men and scribes. Some of them you will kill ad crucify, others you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon earth, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the alter. Verily, I say to you, all these things shall come on this generation." Did he when king execute this threat? Ask Josephus, Taccitus and a hundred other witnesses. as governor of the world, he dispatched Titus with a Roman army, and laid siege to Jerusalem and other cities in Judea. In the whole of these various wars and sieges--in the destruction of the city and the temple, he killed more than one million of the rebellious Jews, and sent the remainder into exile. But this is not the only case. It is but the first one of notoriety in his reign of justice. Ever since he ascended the throne his promise is, "All that take the sword shall perish with the sword." As king of nations and governor of the world, he executes wrath by his "ministers of justice" upon wicked men and nations, in the temporal punishments which he awards. According to king David, in the second psalm, when the messiah should be placed as king on Mount Zion, he was to "rule the nations with a rod of iron, and to break them in pieces like a potter's vessel." this he has already done in more than one instance, and will yet do in many more. But he does it not in person, but by his" ministers." Still, he does it.
It being evident, as we suppose, that capital punishment is not only countenanced by innumerable Biblical precedents, but that it is also most positively enjoined upon all persons to whom God has revealed his will, who are intrusted with the government of the world, we shall henceforth regard it as a divine precept and requisition, to which we are bound to yield our cordial assent; not because it chances to fall in with our theories of what is expedient, useful or consonant to the genius of our age and government, but because of the supreme authority that enacts it-- because it is a decree of the King of the universe, the ultimate Judge of the living and the dead, and because he himself has practised it, and still continues to practise it, as moral governor of the world.
Though not disposed to appear paradoxical, I hesitate not to avow the conviction that the divine ordinance is as merciful as it is just--that, for example, it was most humane and merciful on the part of David to command his son Solomon to take away the life of Joab. I cite this /337/ case and avow this conviction, for the sake of those opposers of capital punishment, who, under the pretence of a more refined and enlarged philanthropy, are, nowadays, declaiming both eloquently and impassionedly against capital punishment because of its alleged cruelty and inhumanity. That those who thus inveigh against it are philanthropic in purpose and feeling, I doubt not. But that they are so in fact, is not quite so evident.
In seeking to abolish capital punishment, do they not divest human life of one of its main pillars of defence? In all countries, and, I believe, an all ages, murders increase and diminish in the ratio of the certainty of the exaction of life for life. It must, in the nature of things, be so, Everything is safe or unsafe as it is guarded or not guarded by education--by law--by the magnitude and certainty or uncertainty of rewards and punishments. In abolishing capital punishment, the main bulwark against the perpetration of murder falls to the ground. The broad shield of a nation's safety and defence from violence and blood is broken to pieces, and the honorable and virtuous citizen, naked and defenceless, left exposed to the murderous assaults of malice and envy. Of what avail is the bare possibility of a punishment infinitely less than the injury inflicted on the individual and the state,--enfeebled, too, as it must be, by a hundred chances of escape against one of apprehension and conviction? Who could feel himself safe under a government where there is no protection of his life against the furious passions which not unfrequently display themselves in the most appalling forms, in some of those terrific monsters with which human society more or less abounds? exile, confinement in prison or workhouses, are to such demons as an act of Congress to a South American tiger, or as the stubble to Job's Leviathan.
In saving a murderer from death through a morbid compassion, society acts with more indiscretion than the fabled husbandman who, in commiseration, carried home to his hearth a congealed serpent, which, when warmed to life, fatally struck the children of its benefactor. In saving from the penalty of God's law a single murderer, society sins against itself, as well as against God, and occasions, or may occasion, the destruction of one or more of its citizens. If everyone convicted of murder in any of its various forms was infallibly put to death, can any intelligent citizen imagine that crimes of this sort would not rather diminish than increase? The strong probability of escape disarms every legal punishment of its terror to evil-doers. /338/
It has been observed that murder and robbery more frequently accompany each other in all states that punish the robber as well as that murderer by death, than it those that never visit theft or highway-robbery with capital punishment. As true as it is that in those states where murder is seldom punished with death, the crime, so far as my readings and observations go, is more frequently perpetrated than in those states in which its proper punishment is much more certain. We cannot, therefore, but think that the court of Judge Lynch would not have held its sessions so frequently in late years, had it not been that other courts so often failed to hold their sessions, with that certainty of capital punishment for capital offenses which right reason, human prudence and God's holy law so clearly and authoritatively demand. We cannot but trace the present appalling increase of murders in our country to those morbid philanthropists who, in the form of judges, juries and chief magistrates, in these days of new theories, experiments, and irreverence for God's law and authority, are ever and anon making void our laws, lame though they be, by suffering the convicted murderer to live.
Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill. - William Shakespeare
[PHOTO SOURCE: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/654508]
The master-spirits of France, now, and at former times, have been much addicted to theorize against capital punishment. Robespierre in early life published a treatise against capital punishment, but when he rose to power, he became the presiding genius of the guillotine. Strange that such a theory should have been popular in France before the terror began! France, however, is not the only country that has theorized against the Bible and its justice. Nor is it the only one that suffers from it . Indeed, all states that have more or less theorized against capital punishment have been signally punished by and increase of the crime. In truth, it is as some poet says--
"Mercy murders in pardoning him that kills."
The protection and safety of human life is the first and paramount concern of every intelligent and moral community on earth. The first statute ever enacted by the heavenly father in the present world , as before observed, was a statute FOR PRESERVING LIFE. I am not singular, I hope, in judging of the civilization of every community by the care it takes of human life. May not the religious and moral character of a community be fairly estimated by the value it puts upon human life, and the care it takes of it, as indicated in its statute-books, its courts of justice, its general police, and its numerous and various means of defense against the accidents and dangers which may imperil it? And may not these be learned from its public highways, its public /339/ conveyances, its public buildings, and from the character and capacities of the officers to whose fidelity these great interests are committed, as well as from the various exactions of service, and the extent of the penalties inflicted upon them for delinquency or malfeasance in the discharge of their duties?
In countries long settled, do we see the public highways bordered with dead trees, whose ponderous and decaying branches are bending over our heads? Are the streams that cross them unbridged, or, if bridged, are these bridges, decayed and dilapidating under the wasting hand of time, permitted to betray the unwary traveller into danger? Are their dread precipices unwalled, their deep ravines uncovered, their miry sloughs unpaved? Are their public conveyances by land and sea, by lake and river, uncomfortable or unsafe, as far as science or art can promote, either safety or comfort? if so, must we not regard such a people as imperfectly education--as but partially civilized--as essentially defective in the pure and excellent morality of the Christian religion?
If the Lawgiver of the universe, when acting as king of Israel, found that man guilty of blood of the roof of whose house there was no defense of falling over , when it became necessary to walk upon it--if he had said to every subject of his kingdom, "When thou buildest a house, then shalt thou make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thy house should any man fall from thence,"--and if he held every man liable for the damage accruing from a pit which he had digged and left uncovered, what would we think of those Christian Philanthropists that pay so little regard to the life of man as not only to subject him to all the dangers of bad roads, bad bridges, bad coached, bad boats and bad officers, but, when his life is taken by the hand of a duellist or an assassin, extenuate the offence, and abolish the proper punishment, and allow this wretch again to go at large and hazard other deed of violence and blood?
In conclusion, we would only ask, who can form a just estimate of the value of the life of one man, either to himself or to society? No one lives or dies to himself alone. The unhappy victim of a murderer's fear or hate has not only lost his life, but the world has lost it too. And what is life? Ay, what is life, to its possessor, to his relatives, to his country and to the world? How much would he himself take for it? Ask not the princes and the nobles of the earth in the morning of life--in the enjoyment of all the honors, pleasures and possessions of earth that imagination can body forth, or passions can desire. Ask not the men of genius, who dwell in enchanted palaces, who drink /340/ the pleasures of imagination from the purest and loftiest fountains of creation. Ask not poets, orators and philosophers, who find a heaven in the admiration of their contemporaries, and an eternal award in the worship and envy of posterity. Ask not the military chieftain, returning form the field of blood, flushed with the victories he has won, and crowned wit the laurels of a hundred battles. But ask that poor, old, decrepit gally-slave, who has seen his fourscore years, what posthumous fame he would accept, what sum of money would satisfy him, for the pittance of days that might yet be alloted to him. One's life might be safely staked on it, that neither the wealth of a Croesus nor the fame of a Napolean would be accepted by him for his chances of another year.
Again, what immense stakes, has society in the lives of some men! What great interests are often wrapped up in the life of a single individual! It is not the interest of one city, one state, or one empire; it is not the interest of one age or of one generation of men; but the interests of a world, and of ages to come, that sometimes providentially hang upon the life of a single individual. Let any one conversant with the history of the last three or four centuries consider how much interest had the world in a few individuals--in such men as Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, and George Washington. Suppose that each of these had met with some Aaron Burr, as did Alexander Hamilton, (a name of no inferior fame--whose death, as a national misfortune, no living man can estimate) what would have been the present condition of the world? Can any man form a proper estimate? Can any one subtract from science, and art, and society, the exact amount of our indebtedness to any one of them, much less to them all? It is from such a sacrifice as this, laid upon the altar of the implacable demon of a false honor, immolated at the promptings of malice of envy, that we learn the demerit of the murderer--what the world may lose by permitting him to live, and why the fiercest thunderbolts of Almighty wrath are treasured up for him.
From this view of the subject, (and who that venerates the authority of the Bible can reasonably dissent from it?) may we not entreat every patriot, philanthropist and Christian in our country to use his best endeavors to create a sound public opinion on the obligations resting on every State government to exterminate the crime of murder by a firm, persevering and uniform execution of the murderer according to the Divine precept? Every one can aid in this cause, more or less. /341/ And now is a most important crisis. While so many are for taking away the greatest restraint and for substituting a less one, under the preposterous assumption that man is wiser than God, and that a minor punishment will be more effectual than a greater one, it is high time that the real friends of man should speak out.
And should I not more especially address myself to the softer, more sensitive and humane portion of my audience--to that sex to whose soul-subduing counsels and fostering hands the God of nature and of society has so wisely and kindly assigned the formation of human character, and to whose influence, direct and indirect, he has almost entirely consigned the destiny of man under the most endearing and fascinating of all titles and associations--those of MOTHER, WIFE and SISTER?
If the ladies in this our age of civilization will only concur with us in opinion, and lend their mighty aid in propagating right views on this subject--if they will combine their irresistible energies in this cause of genuine humanity, and frown from their presence not only the reckless duellist, but every one who pleads his cause or countenances in any way his factitious code of ignoble honor--if they will forever discard from their admiration and esteem every candidate for their favor who is known to wear upon his person any weapon whatever, fabricated with a view to violence against the life of man--the might work is done. Then may be averted the vials of Divine indignation which must be poured out on every government and country deaf to the demands of God's righteous law and regardless of the true safety and happiness of society.
I can only add my earnest prayer that a timely repentance may dissipate that dark and portentous cloud that yet lowers over our beloved country; that by a just consideration of the dignity of man as created in the image of God, the value of human life as respects the eternal citizens, the solemn requisitions of the divine law, exacting in all cases the life of the murderer--those having it in their power to form, direct and govern society may perceive that it is alike an oracle of reason, of justice and of mercy that "whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," and that, therefore, no ransom or substitute shall be taken for the life of the murderer, inasmuch as, by the eternal and immutable law of God, "the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein but by the blood of him that shed it." http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/acampbell/capital.html