Images de page

in the teaching of our Saviour, than in the words of the old prophets.

The sentence," Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," is quoted verbatim from the 37th Psalm. "The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."

So far in regard to those general moral laws which, though delivered in the first instance to the Israelites, were intended for and suited to the circumstances of all mankind. These are, in the strictest sense, universal, invariable, and unbending. As to those particular enactments specially directed and intended for the chosen people, though they contain many peculiarities suited to their situation, and the purposes which, in God's providence, they were destined to serve in the economy of the world, it can be shewn, that the general spirit of the laws is the same, and that they are composed on the same principles as those which have dictated the precepts of the New Testament. In the Roman law, which may be considered as the most perfect code that . ever was framed by any heathen nation, a broad distinction is drawn between those rules of conduct which are demanded by justice, and those which are dictated by benevolence. Though conformity to both is considered right and proper, it is the first only that the law interferes to enforce by positive regulations; the latter is left to individual feeling and public opinion. The first are termed the jus expletrix; the other, the jus attributrix : the rights in the one case being full and complete, and definable by strict rules; those in the other, not being considered so definable. In the Jewish law, on the contrary, there are positive regulations by which acts of benevolence towards man and beast, are in many cases rendered imperative, and this is believed to be the case in the laws of no other ancient nation. The following instances may be quoted :

"If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.

"If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him; thou shalt surely help with him."

“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger; for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."

[ocr errors]

In the following laws, regard is not only had to the dictates of benevolence; but to the laws of nature, by which every thing, animate and inanimate, is made to require occasional rest; even the land, by unceasing crops, becoming unproductive.

"Six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave, the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard.

"Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest; that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid and the stranger may be refreshed." +

"Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take the widow's raiment to pledge."+

"When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.

“When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.

* Exod. xxiii. 4, 5, 9. + Exod. xxii. 10-12.

Deut. xxiv. 17.

"When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow."*

These are dictates of benevolence, such as have never occurred to other lawgivers to establish as laws, but plainly suggested by the most profound wisdom.+ And, as addressed to the Israelites, the following reason for them is stated, giving them, in their case, an additional sanction; and, as in many other instances, rendering their laws a perpetual memorial of the remarkable events of their history. "Thou shalt remember that thou wert a bondman in the land of Egypt; and the Lord thy God redeemed thee hence: therefore, I command thee do this thing."

From the above, it will, I think, be evident, that both the general moral law, and the peculiar national institutions delivered to the Israelites, are precisely the same in substance and in spirit as the precepts of the New Testament; and that the only superiority in the latter, consists in the more full explanation and clearer enforcement of their mild and beneficent principles. I am aware of only one exception, in which a special rule, relaxed in the case of the ancient Jews, is more rigidly and strictly enforced upon the followers of Christ. In reference to the law of marriage, the former were permitted in certain cases to put away their wives, by giving them a writing of divorcement. But this is said to have been permitted solely on account of the "hardness of their hearts." The Jews, at the time this law was promulgated, were a rude and semi-barbarous people. They had been for upwards of a century in a state of servitude to the Egyptians, and during the latter part of that

* Deut. xxiv. 19-21.

This has been overlooked by Dr Chalmers in his argument against the Poor Laws. See Natural Theology, vol. ii. pp. 113-119.


period, the servitude had been of a very hard and galling description, a state which was incompatible with much refinement of manners or sentiment. If among such a people marriage had been altogether indissoluble, it might have given rise to much domestic cruelty; and rude uncivilized men might not have hesitated to rid themselves of wives they hated, by putting them to death. On this account, not because in itself right or proper, but to avoid a worse evil, permission of divorce was given under certain conditions. But in the case of Christians, this permission is recalled; and it is positively declared, that divorce shall not be allowed for any reason, except that of conjugal infidelity.

On this subject Dr Spurzheim, and it is believed also Mr Combe, hold opinions at variance with the Christian code. Dr Spurzheim, in his Catechism, has the following question:" Is divorce permitted by natural morality?" Answer, "Yes. The couples which have no family, or which can provide for the children they may have, in as far as justice requires, do well to separate rather than to live in perpetual warfare;" and he adds reasons for this opinion, which I need not quote. Mr Combe says nothing on this subject in his present work; but in his lectures on Moral Philosophy, delivered in the course of last winter, he has, I understand, advocated the right of divorce. He says, in his book,* that "as far as he can perceive, the dictates of the natural laws and those of revelation coincide in all matters relating to practical duties in temporal affairs.” Now, here is a most important matter, relating to the first practical concern of human life, in which Dr Spurzheim and Mr Combe, our great authorities in regard to the natural laws, have stated a rule directly

Page 10, col.


contrary to that delivered to us in the most express terms by Christ himself.*

But in comparing the law revealed in the Scriptures with the natural laws as now explained and promulgated

[ocr errors]

* The manner in which this is done is the most express and unequivocal that can be conceived, and cannot be softened or explained away by any ingenuity. The rule is distinctly stated in St Matthew's Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount," It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."† Some additional particulars with regard to this are mentioned by St Mark, as having been stated by Christ on another occasion.." And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept: But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh : so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband and be married to another, she committeth adultery." The law as revealed, then, is quite clear. At the first, even at the creation, the institution of marriage was formed, and declared to be indissoluble. Moses, in the case of the Jews, and on account of the hardness of their hearts, permitted divorce to prevent greater evils; but Christ restored the original law, and to that his followers are bound to pay obedience. That this law, as now understood and adhered to in Christian countries, is founded on the most impregnable grounds of reason and justice, and is the rule best suited to promote the welfare of man and the ends of civil society, is, I conceive, demonstrable; but it has pleased Dr Spurzheim and Mr Combe to think otherwise, and to conceive themselves wiser than the great founder of our faith. The question would require to be discussed at greater length than is possible in this little work: I merely state the point here to shew, that Mr Combe is wrong in supposing that his views on every point coincide with the dictates of revelation.

+ Matthew, v. 31, 32.

Mark, x. 2-12.

« PrécédentContinuer »