punishment: still he is, in his own mind, an innocent person.

Fourthly.-Suppose the person who offends you, to be conscious, both that he does you harm, and that he violates your rights; yet his injurious disposition may be shortlived; it may have arisen from some seeming meanness or oppression in your own conduct; from some warmth in his temper not wholly dishonourable. If you punish, you make the matter worse: if you pardon, such an offender will repent: nay he may be actually returning to kindness and humility and concern, at the very time when you are beginning to provoke him afresh: here you may have the alternative of making a warm and constant friend, or a bitter enemy: how ill-judged will be your choice, if you voluntarily take the latter part!

Fifthly. Your offender may have nothing particular to plead in his excuse, and yet you may over-rate the injury. In this case, if you punish according to your own estimate, for as much evil as you inflict beyond the true estimate, you become the injurer. This may not easily be settled in fact, but it is a solid foundation of conduct for a conscientious man.

Sixthly. Suppose you to estimate justly the injury committed against you; yet you may not know the right method of punishing, in the case before you. You may not be able so to comprehend the nature of the offence, the situation of the offender, and the circumstances attending the crime, as to fix upon that mode of punishment which suits them all. And unsuitable punishment must be wrong, as far as it is unsuitable; and productive of mischief.

Seventhly.-Nor is this supposing you particularly deficient in sense or judgment; (though how few your opportunities have been of learning those things on which right punishment depends, may be well worth your considering); punishment is a subject so comprehensive and complicated, takes in such an incalculable number of views, relations, causes, and effects, that no one can be said to understand it completely: and those


modes of punishment, which are instituted, may be rather considered as rude attempts at self-defence, than as satisfactory and faultless retributions. The best of them require to be tempered by discretionary remission.

Eighthly.--Suppose you knew the best punishment that could possibly be attempted, yet your attempt may fail. And if it does, evil will probably result from the failure. It may fail in a variety of ways: to have it succeed perfectly, it must be such a one as the Offender will submit to: if he resists, you are in a state of war, rather than in a course of inflicting punishment. Now I conceive the guilty find submission difficult, because it is embittered by their consciousness of guilt: consciousness of innocence might sweeten any sort of humiliation.

Ninthly. Supposing you punish, and are quite right in strictness of Justice, yet you may incur much evil by shewing a want of mercy; under which term I include candour, moderation, forbearance, and the whole set of indefinite virtues of the mild and gentle temper. And what is man without this class of Virtues? can he be an object of love, or of esteem? can he be deemed capable of permanent friendship? can he be really admitted into human society?

Tenthly. You are impatient to punish; are you aware from what motives your impatience may arise? cowards are cruel; even to a proverb: are you ambitious of the character of a coward? or would you wish to have imputed to you the mean insolence of shewing that power which another man's fault has accidentally given you, by heaping upon him all the evil which you can inflict with safety? Summon resolution enough to be patient; your rights may find many protectors; you may do yourself more harm by defending them meanly, than by waving them generously. You may lose the protection of the world, if you become an object of general contempt and aversion. You may miss gaining the protection even of him who has offend ed you: a protection which might have proved highly valuable.

Eleventhly.-Before you punish, you should consi

der, not only your own good, but that of the public. Punishment may light up a flame very difficult to be extinguished: one which may rage and spread to general conflagration.

Twelfthly. Although a man, as was just now observed, may incur the imputation of cowardice by punishing, yet sonie inflict punishment in order to avoid that imputation. Much will depend upon particular circumstances. A man may possibly submit to injury through fear; as in the case of oppression from the great and powerful; but in general, supposing men nearly on a footing of equality, submission is much more honourable in the injured than in the offender; and much more easy to the feelings. The best thing, no doubt, which any man can do, who has injured another, is to expiate his fault nobly; and when men see any one shew such a design, they do it all the honour in their power. Yet still there will be some degradation, some debasement from guilt: some spot, some stain to be concealed and obliterated: and of this the offender continues conscious; and under this he labours in the midst of his expiation. But whilst the injured submits, he has honor and esteem without, and heartfelt satisfaction within: such is the power of guilt and innocence. Not but it may be worth the while of any man, offender or injured, when he liable to a suspicion of cowardice, to do his duty in such a manner as to shew the suspicion to be groundless: But what methods are to be used for this purpose depends so very much on particular circumstances, that it cannot be made the subject of any general rule.

Thirteenthly. It might be wrong not to remark, somewhere or other, that all which we have said must be understood to be addressed to the person injured, and to him only. The injurer must make no claims to forgiveness; he must not be supposed so much as to hear or know what religion and virtue dictate on his behalf, If he offends with any view to taking advantage of merhe forfeits all title to be forgiven,


30. Thus I have offered several considerations tending to shew the reasonableness of that moderation

of our Resentment, which will frequently amount to forgiveness of injuries: When therefore your arm is lifted up to strike the blow of vengeance, think! reflect in what a number of ways you may be wrong, how very improbable it is that you should be right: hazard then forgiveness: or delay the punishment, till all the world exclaims, it is necessary. You may take

some method, which is brave and spirited, of shewing your sense of the injury, and of proving that you are not afraid to punish it; but let your indignation be tempered with something benevolent; some enlarged philanthropy, some lofty compassion, some comprehensive concern for consequences of such conduct as yours to all mankind. So shall you be most likely to act as you shall ever approve; so shall you take the most probable means to convert an enemy unto a grateful and constant friend,

31. I will now presume, that what has been here said on Resentment, with what was before offered on other passions, and is easily applied to Resentment, will be sufficient to put a man, if well disposed, on governing that unkind affection: I will therefore now proceed to examine how the expressions and precepts of Scripture correspond with what has been dictated by reason and observation. No directions indeed have been given to him who is the Object of Resentment; but those which have been proposed to the Objects of Hatred, Envy, and Malice, may easily be made to supply the defect. (Part 1. Art. 38, 39. Part iii. Art. 17. and Part iv. Art. 10.).

[ocr errors]


Malevolent Sentiments,





LTHOUGH nothing of what has been offered on the subject of Resentment was introduced with a view to any particulary passage of Scripture, yet it must be a satisfactory, and to many a pleasing employment, to review the remarks which have been made, and compare them with those parts of Holy writ, where the same sentiments and the same practical observations occur.

2. But in order to avoid erroneous conceptions, and disappointments arising from them, it is necessary to premise, that the language of Scripture is popular language; and therefore of course, that it bears all the marks and characters of such language; it takes for granted things generally allowed; it only alludes to facts, opinions and manners, when they are established by custom; it spares and omits exhortations to things which men practice of themselves,-How necessary it was that such language should be used to the persons whom revelation was first intended to instruct, needs scarcely to be mentioned: Popular language may have its imperfections, and may, after a length of time, want interpreting by circumstances; but scientifical language

« VorigeDoorgaan »