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ARTICLE IV.—THE DESIGN AND NATURE OF PUNISH
MENT UNDER THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT.*
The questions at issue in connection with the doctrine of Punishment under the Divine Government arise, for the most part, in the realm of rational and speculative thought. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the Bible appears to teach upon the subject. Those who hesitate to accept the evangelical doctrine, do so either from a low reverence for the Scriptures, or under the pressure of rational objections which appear to them to compel an accommodated interpretation.
The true battle ground is therefore on the field of reason. “What does reason really teach ?” is the question which challenges discussion. We do not regret to meet the issue in that form. Let the inquiry be searching and relentless, nay, even bold and free; but let it, as becomes a theme like this, be serious, honest, and unflinching. In this spirit we desire to approach the task before us. We wish to learn, not what men, or churches, or creeds, or even the Bible teaches; but simply what reason teaches, and reason 80 questioned that her responses may be legitimate, and in a good degree permanent and universal. We speak, not to affirm all that may be true in relation to the subject, but only that which the most truly liberal and philosophic thought might be justified in affirming.
The Design and Nature of Punishment under the Divine Government.
First the Design.
It may be assumed, of course, that the Government of God is perfect, that is, infinitely wise and good, and the most efficient possible. To inquire therefore concerning punishment, as a fact under that Government, is to inquire what it ought to be, on principles of perfect wisdom and goodness. In this light let us consider the question before us.
In this Article will be found the substance of the Concio ad Clerum, preached in New Haven, by appointment of the General Association of Connecticut, July 24th, 1860, (Commencement_week,) by Rev. C. W. Clapp of Rockville.
It has sometimes been imagined that the reformation of the offender is the sole, or leading object, in the appropriate infliction of punishment. We are aware that if the restricted sense of the word punishment be adopted, this point will be ruled out of the present discussion. But this would be an argumentum ad verbum, rather than ad sensum. What evils await the sinner on account of sin, here or elsewhere, and with whatever special design ; this, and nothing less, is the real question which is working in the public mind, and which must be met. Should it be inquired whether all punishment is not for the sake of discipline, we gain nothing toward an answer by observing that discipline is not punishment at all. is there any punishment at all ?”. rejoins the inquirer. “I care not for names, but things.” And the question will have to be met by argument, not by a definition. Nothing can be gained toward the general solution by drawing the distinction in question. And distinctions which are not needed, will be found in the way, and conducive to obscurity rather than clearness.
The reformation of the offender must be an object dear to every holy being, and particularly to a benevolent ruler, since he is especially concerned, and in a sense responsible for the character of his subjects. This object will be sought therefore in the infliction of punishment, as elsewhere, and more than elsewhere, since punishment by special design stands related to the affair ; just as far as other and higher ends will permit. Should it be maintained that the office of a moral governor, as such, is simply to add the weightiest sanctions to his law, by showing his deepest disapprobation of its violation, and this by affixing the severest possible penalty to it, without regard to its effect upon the offender; this, again, is a distinction without significance; since God is father, &c., as well as moral governor; and the true import of our question is—What will God, whether as governor or in any other relation, do to the sinner on account of his sins?
But are there ends to be regarded in punishment, higher than the reformation of the offender?
There is one, at least, in the welfare of society, that is, the universe at large. This must be an object far more important than the improvement of the individual offender. Every element of value in the latter is redoubled a thousand fold, when repeated a thousand times in society. To injure or neglect the greater, for the sake of the unspeakably less, would be a strange manifestation of benevolence as well as of wisdom. It would also involve the sacrifice of the innocent, for the sake of the guilty. The offender is guilty already, and deserves his fate; to rescue him from a merited doom, shall innocents, yet unborn, be exposed to temptations under which many of them will inevitably fall? If not, the security of the yet innocent whole, as well as the salvation of the sinner, must be regarded in the assignment of punishment. Nay, by the same principles, the former must be a far higher and more sacred end than the latter; and must, therefore, limit and control the other in the administration of the Divine government.
Attracted perhaps by the simplicity of a single end sought in all governmental policy, some have supposed the welfare of society the sole aim of all rightful punishment. The following considerations point to a different conclusion.
In the first place, simplicity is not the only law of the universe; nay, rather the law of combination of principles and forces is more remarkable and pervading. The Deity exists in three persons, and combines the distinct relations of Creator, Father, Governor, &c. The Divine and human formed an inexplicable union in Christ. In the atonement justice and love were alike consulted, and both harmonized with the highest interests of the universe. Love and authority unite to form the only perfect government, while the Holy Spirit and human agency coöperate in the great work of the soul's conversion. Why may not the Divine government in general recognize the like principle of synthesis, in its deepest nature, and most pervading laws? We do not regard simplicity as the inevitable arbiter in the realm of eternal principles; nor believe, that in the music of the universe there is no richer harmony than that which is produced by single part.
But, secondly, it may be observed that the etymology of the word right, and its cognates, in all languages, when traced to its VOL. XIX.
original sources, among those remote physical roots which formed the earliest vehicles of human thought, reveals no trace of a derivative, or even of an allied sense; but, on the contrary, of one distinct, independent, and unique,—the right forever antagonistic to the wrong, and bearing, apparently, no more relation to happiness or any similar idea, than to that of color or sound. The universal usage of mankind has flowed in the channel thus wrought; and to-day, if there is an idea shining clear, single, and self-asserting, in every common mind, it is the idea of right, as an ultimate principle, dependent on no conse quences or relations, -giving authority and sacredness, but receiving none. These unconscious channels of human thought,
ature's own excavation in every clime and age, are they not the true channels? If so, then such a principle really exists.
Again, we can conceive of God, for some great and holy purpose, laying aside a portion of his happiness. We do no violence to the essential idea of Deity by such a conception. On the contrary, in the light of the purpose for which it is done, his glory may shine brighter in our eyes by the sacrifice. But let us undertake to conceive of God as parting with one shade of his spotless rightness, were it to save a universe from woe, and the attempt will be in vain. We see at once that it de stroys the Godhead; and a pall of darkness spreads over the universe, as if from the bright heavens above us the sun had fallen extinguished to the earth. Is not rightness then, in distinction from happiness, or any kindred species of good, an essential element of the Divine nature?
In the Incarnation, and on the Cross, we behold this difference illustrated. The Divine in Christ, to work out the great Atonement, became united with human weakness and pain. But not to redeem a thousand worlds, would the Divinity have joined itself in personal union with sinful humanity.
We discuss the question, whether in Christ the Deity itself really suffered ;-what blasphemy would it be, even to ask, whether the Deity in Christ sinned! Is happiness, then, or rightness, fundamental in the Divine nature? And which is to be regarded as an ultimate principle—a ground of value; a fundamental element, or a mere state, of the Divine naturel In a slightly different line of thought, what should we say to the idea of God inflicting some degree of sin (overlooking for the moment the impossibility of sin being inflicted by.one being upon another,) upon a moral being, for any purpose whatever? We pronounce the supposition impossible. But is there any other conceivable evil which he may not be supposed, for adequate reasons, to inflict? Where then, lies the ultimate,-the fundamental, if not in that, which even God himself cannot be supposed for one moment to vary or set aside!
Regarding once more, and in a somewhat different light, the sacrifice of Christ;—did we behold him bending beneath the heavy load unwillingly,—did we know that the burden was laid upon him without his consent, that is, in violation of justice, how would every moral sense recoil from the spectacle; and in all the history of the race, what one heart would be melted and won by such an exhibition of the character of God! Is justice, then, a principle too sacred to be trampled on, even to save a world from woe! Then justice, surely, is fundamental, and ultimate,-standing by its own strength, and in its own right,—and not a mere concise expression for “that which produces the greater good.”
But after all, perhaps the consideration most decisive upon this question is found in the fact, that the independent, underived nature of the principle of right, (of which justice is a form), is implied, even in the language of those who deny it. It is admitted in all quarters that we ought to seek the highest good. Whence, now, comes the “ought?” It is not in the simple idea of a good, or the highest good. Good invites, it cannot command. Obligation commands. The ideas are essentially different, and must not be confounded; nor from one of them in the premise can the other be deduced in the conclusion, Assume that happiness, or something else, is the highest good. The moment I am commanded to seek that good, the idea is presented of an authority out of, and above, the good itself. If not,-if the authority is really implied in the idea of a highest good, why do we add the word “ought” at all; instead of contenting ourselves with saying, “this is the highest good?”