by Charles Hodge
§ 1. Preliminary Principles
The Personality of God involved in the Idea of Law; and, therefore, all Morality is founded on Religion
The principal meanings of the word law are, (1.) An established order in the sequence of events. A law, in this sense, is a mere fact. That the planets are distant from the sun according to a determined proportion; that the leaves of a plant are arranged in a regular spiral around the stem; and that one idea by association suggests another, are simple facts. Yet they are properly called laws, in the sense of established orders of sequence or relation. So also what are called the laws of light, of sound, and of chemical affinity, are, for the most part, mere facts. (2.) A uniformly acting force which determines the regular sequence of events. In this sense the physical forces which we see in operation around us, are called the laws of nature. Gravitation, light, heat, electricity, and magnetism, are such forces. The fact that they act uniformly gives them the character of laws. Thus the Apostle speaks also of a law of sin in his members which wars against the law of the mind. (3.) Law is that which binds the conscience. It imposes the obligation of conformity to its demands upon all rational creatures. This is true of the moral law in its widest sense. It is also true of human laws within the sphere of their legitimate operation.
In all these senses of the word, law implies a law-giver; that is, an intelligence acting voluntarily for the attainment of an end. The irregular, or unregulated action of physical forces produces chaos; their ordered action produces the cosmos. But ordered action is action preëstablished, sustained, and directed for the accomplishment of a purpose.
This is still more obviously true with regard to moral laws. The slightest analysis of our feelings is sufficient to show that moral obligation is the obligation to conform our character and conduct to the will of an infinitely perfect Being, who has the authority to make his will imperative, and who has the power and the right to punish disobedience. The sense of guilt especially resolves itself into a consciousness of being amenable to a moral governor. The moral law, therefore, is in its nature the revelation of the will of God so far as that will concerns the conduct of his creatures. It has no other authority and no other sanction than that which it derives from Him.
The same is true with regard to the laws of men. They have no power or authority unless they have a moral foundation. And if they have a moral basis, so that they bind the conscience, that basis must be the divine will. The authority of civil rulers, the rights of property, of marriage, and all other civil rights, do not rest on abstractions, nor on general principles of expediency. They might be disregarded without guilt, were they not sustained by the authority of God. All moral obligation, therefore, resolves itself into the obligation of conformity to the will of God. And all human rights are founded on the ordinance of God. So that theism is the basis of jurisprudence as well as of morality. This doctrine is taught by Stahl, perhaps the greatest living authority on the philosophy of law. "Every philosophical science," he says, "must begin with the first principle of all things, that is, with the Absolute. It must, therefore, decide between Theism and Pantheism, between the doctrine that the first cause or principle is the personal, extramundane, self-revealing God, and the doctrine that the first principle is an impersonal power immanent in the world." It is not pantheism, but fetichism to make all things God. The real question is, Whether the Absolute has personality and self-consciousness or not? Stahl had previously said to the same effect, that every philosophy, and every religion, and especially the Christian, must proceed on a theory of the universe (a Weltanschauung). It is the Christian doctrine of God and of his relation to the world, that he makes the foundation of legal and political science (of Rechts- und Staatslehre).2 He therefore calls his system "theological" in so far as it makes the nature and will of God the foundation of all duties and the source of all rights.
He recognizes, however, the distinction between morality and religion. "Morality," he says, "is the perfection (Vollendung) of man in himself (so far as the will is concerned); or the revelation of the divine being in man. Man is the image of God, and therefore in his nature is like God, perfect or complete in himself; and conformity to the divine image is for him the goal and command. (Matt. 5:45.) Religion, on the other hand, is the bond between man and God, or what binds men to God, so that we should know and will only in Him, refer everything to Him,—entire consecration, the personal union with God. Thus, love of our neighbour, courage, spirituality (the opposite of sensuality), may be simply moral virtues; whereas faith and the love of God are purely religious. The courage of Napoleon's guard was a moral virtue (a state of the will); the courage of Luther was religious (a power derived from his relation to God)."
Religion and morality, although thus different, are not independent. They are but different phases of our relation to God. Stahl, therefore, controverts the doctrine of Grotius, that there would be a jus naturale if there were no God; which is really equivalent to saying that there would be an obligation to goodness if there were no such thing as goodness. Moral excellence is of the very essence of God. He is concrete goodness; infinite reason, excellence, knowledge, and power in a personal form; so that there can be no obligation to virtue which does not involve obligation to God. Wolf carried out the doctrine of Grotius to the length of saying that an Atheist, if consistent, would act just as the Christian acts. This principle of Grotius, says Stahl, contained the germ of separation from religion, which unfolded itself with Kant into an ignoring, and, with those who followed him, into the denial of God.
"The primary idea of goodness, is the essential, not the creative, will of God. The divine will in its essence is infinite love, mercy, patience, truth, faithfulness, rectitude, spirituality, and all that is included in holiness, which constitutes the inmost nature of God. The holiness of God, therefore, neither precedes his will ('sanctitas antecedens voluntatem' of the Schoolmen), nor follows it, but is his will itself. The good is not a law for the divine will (so that God wills it because it is good); neither is it a creation of his will (so that it becomes good because He wills it); but it is the nature (das Urwollen) of God from everlasting to everlasting." Again it is said, "Hence it follows that moral goodness is concrete, specific, … absolute, original, as little determined by logical laws as by a relation to external ends.… This is not the doctrine of modern ethics. According to the eudaimonistic view adopted by the English philosophers, by Thomasius, and others, the good is good because it tends to produce happiness. According to the rationalists, the good is conformity with the laws of thought (Denkrichtigkeit).… This was the real doctrine of Wolf, who made morality to consist in order (Regelmässigkeit); still more decidedly was it the doctrine of Kant, with whom the moral law is a consequence of the laws of thought. He says, expressly, that the idea of moral good must be derived from preceding law, that is, the law of reason.
These two principles, then, are to be taken for granted; first, that moral good is good in its own nature, and not because of its tendencies, or because of its conformity to the laws of reason; and, second, that all law has its foundation in the nature and will of God. These principles are very comprehensive. They are of special importance in the exposition of the law in its aspect as the revealed will of God designed to regulate human character and conduct.
Protestant Principles limiting Obedience to Human Laws
There is another principle regarded as fundamental by all Protestants, and that is, that the Bible contains the whole rule of duty for men in their present state of existence. Nothing can legitimately bind the conscience that is not commanded or forbidden by the Word of God. This principle is the safeguard of that liberty wherewith Christ has made his people free. If it be renounced, we are at the mercy of the external Church, of the State, or of public opinion. This is simply the principle that it is right to obey God rather than man. Our obligation to render obedience to human enactments in any form, rests upon our obligation to obey God; and, therefore, whenever human laws are in conflict with the law of God we are bound to disobey them. When heathen emperors commanded Christians to worship idols, the martyrs refused. When popes and councils commanded Protestants to worship the Virgin Mary, and to acknowledge the supremacy of the bishop of Rome, the Protestant martyrs refused. When the Presbyterians of Scotland were required by their rulers in Church and State to submit themselves to the authority of prelatical bishops, they refused. When the Puritans of England were called upon to recognize the doctrine of "passive obedience," they again refused. And it is to the stand thus taken by those martyrs and confessors that the world is indebted for all of the religious and civil liberty it now enjoys.
Whether any enactment of the Church or State conflicts with the truth or law of God, is a question which every man must decide for himself. On him individually rests the responsibility, and therefore to him, as an individual, belongs the right of judgment.
Although these principles, when stated in thesi, are universally recognized among Protestants, they are nevertheless very frequently disregarded. This is true not only of the past when the Church and State both openly claimed the right to make laws to bind the conscience. It is true at the present time. Men still insist on the right of making that sin which God does not forbid; and that obligatory which God has not commanded. They prescribe rules of conduct and terms of church fellowship, which have no sanction in the Word of God. It is just as much a duty for the people of God to resist such usurpations, as it was for the early Christians to resist the authority of the Roman Emperors in matters of religion, or for the early Protestants to refuse to recognize the right of the Pope to determine for them what they were to believe, and what they were to do. The essence of infidelity consists in a man's putting his own convictions on matters of truth and duty above the Bible. This may be done by fanatics in the cause of benevolence, as well as by fanatics in any other cause. It is infidelity in either case. And as such it should be denounced and resisted unless we are willing to renounce our allegiance to God, and make ourselves the servants of men.
Christian Liberty in Matters of Indifference
It is perfectly consistent with the principle above stated, that a thing may be right or wrong according to circumstances, and, therefore, it may often be wrong for a man to do what the Bible does not condemn. Paul himself circumcised Timothy; yet he told the Galatians that if they allowed themselves to be circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing. Eating meat offered in sacrifice to idols was a matter of indifference. Yet the Apostle said, "If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend."
There are two important principles involved in these Scriptural facts. The first is, that a thing indifferent in itself may become even fatally wrong if done with a wrong intention. Circumcision was nothing, and uncircumcision was nothing. It mattered little whether a man was circumcised or not. But if any one submitted to circumcision as an act of legal obedience, and as the necessary condition of his justification before God, he thereby rejected the Gospel, or, as the Apostle expressed it, he fell from grace. He renounced the gratuitous method of justification, and Christ became of no effect to him. In like manner, eating meat which had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, was a matter of indifference. "Meat," says Paul, "commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse." Yet if a man ate such meat as an act of reverence to the idol, or under circumstances which implied that it was an act of worship, he was guilty of idolatry. And, therefore, the Apostle taught that participation in feasts held within the precincts of an idol's temple, was idolatry.
The other principle is that, no matter what our intention may be, we sin against Christ when we make such use of our liberty, in matters of indifference, as causes others to offend. In the first of these cases the sin was not in being circumcised, but in making circumcision a condition of our justification. In the second case, the idolatry consisted not in eating meat offered in sacrifice to idols, but in eating it as an act of worship to the idol. And in the third case, the sin was not in asserting our liberty in matters of indifference, but in causing others to offend.
The rules which the Scriptures clearly lay down on this subject are: (1.) That no man or body of men has the right to pronounce that to be sinful which God does not forbid. There was no sin in being circumcised, or in eating meat, or in keeping the sacred days of the Hebrews. (2.) That it is a violation of the law of love, and therefore a sin against Christ, to make such use of our liberty as to cause others to sin. "Take heed," says the Apostle, "lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak." "When ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ." (1 Cor. 8:9, 12.) "It is good (i.e., morally obligatory) neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." "All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence." (Rom. 14:21, 20.) (3). Nothing in itself indifferent can be made the ground of permanent and universal obligation. Because it was wrong in Galatia to submit to circumcision, it does not follow that it was wrong in Paul to circumcise Timothy. Because it was wrong in Corinth to eat meat, it does not follow that it is wrong always and everywhere. An obligation arising out of circumstances must vary with circumstances. (4.) When it is obligatory to abstain from the use of things indifferent, is a matter of private judgment. No man has the right to decide that question for other men. No bishop, priest, or church court has the right to decide it. Otherwise it would not be a matter of liberty. Paul constantly recognized the right (ἐξουσία) of Christians to judge in such cases for themselves. He does this not by implication only, but he also expressly asserts it, and condemns those who would call it in question. "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth." "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." (Rom. 14:3, 4, 5.) It is a common saying that every man has a pope in his own bosom. That is, the disposition to lord it over God's heritage is almost universal. Men wish to have their opinions on moral questions made into laws to bind the consciences of their brethren. This is just as much a usurpation of a divine prerogative when done by a private Christian or by a church court, as when done by the Bishop of Rome. We are as much bound to resist it in the one case as in the other. (5.) It is involved in what has been said that the use which a man makes of his Christian liberty can never be legitimately made the ground of church censure, or a term of Christian communion.
Scriptural Usage of the Word Law
The Scriptures uniformly understand by law a manifestation of the will of God. All the operations of nature are ordered by laws of his appointment. And his will is represented as the ultimate foundation of moral obligation. In Hebrew it is called תּוֹרָה, instruction, because it is, as the Apostle says, "the form of knowledge and of the truth." It is the standard of right and wrong. In Greek it is called νόμος, custom, and then, as custom or usage regulates the conduct of men, whatever has that authority, or does in fact control action, is called νόμος. In the New Testament it is constantly used in this wide sense. It is sometimes applied to a rule of conduct however revealed; sometimes to the Scriptures as the supernaturally revealed will of God, as the rule of faith and practice; sometimes to the Pentateuch or Law of Moses; and sometimes specifically to the moral law. It is here to be taken to mean that revelation of the will of God which is designed to bind the conscience and to regulate the conduct of men.
How the Law is revealed
This law is revealed in the constitution of our nature, and more fully and clearly in the written Word of God. That there is a binding revelation of the law, independently of any supernatural external revelation, is expressly taught in the Bible. Paul says of the heathen that they are a law unto themselves. They have the law written on their hearts. This is proved, he tells us, because they do, φύσει, by nature, i.e., in virtue of the constitution of their nature, the things of the law. The same moral acts which the written law prescribes, the conduct of the heathen shows that they know to be obligatory. Hence their conscience approves or disapproves, as they obey or disobey this inwardly revealed law. What is thus taught in Scripture is confirmed by consciousness and experience. Every man is conscious of a knowledge of right and wrong, and of a sense of obligation, which are independent of all external revelation. He may be unable to determine whence that knowledge comes. He knows, however, that it has been in him coeval with the dawn of reason, and has enlarged and strengthened just as his reason unfolded. His consciousness tells him that the rule is within, and would be there though no positive or external revelation of duty existed. In other words, we do not refer the sense of moral obligation to an externally revealed law, as its source, but to the constitution of our nature. This is not the experience of any class of men exclusively, but the common experience of the race. Wherever there are men, there is the sense of moral obligation, and a knowledge of right and wrong.
It is frequently objected to this doctrine that men differ widely in their moral judgments. What men of one age or country regard as virtues, men of other ages or countries denounce as crimes. But this very diversity proves the existence of the moral sense. Men could not differ in judgments about beauty, if the æsthetic element did not belong to their nature. Neither could they differ on questions of morality unless the sense of right and wrong were innate and universal. The diversity in question is not greater than in regard to rational truths. That men differ in their judgments as to what is true, is no proof that reason is not a natural and essential element of their constitution. As there are certain truths of the reason which are intuitive and perceived by all men, so there are moral truths so simple that they are universally recognized. As beyond these narrow limits there is diversity of knowledge, so there must be diversity of judgment. But this is not inconsistent with the Scriptural doctrine that even the most degraded heathen are a law unto themselves, and show the work of the law written on their hearts. As the revelation which God has made of his eternal power and Godhead in his works is true and trustworthy, and sufficient to render ignorance or denial of his existence inexcusable, while it does not supersede the necessity of a clearer revelation in his word; so there is an imperfect revelation of the law made in the very constitution of our nature, by which those who have no other revelation are to be judged, but which does not render unnecessary the clearer teachings of the Scriptures.
Different Kinds of Laws
In looking into the Bible as containing a revelation of the will of God, the first thing which arrests attention is the great diversity of precepts therein contained. This difference concerns the nature of the precepts, and the ground on which they rest, or the reason why they are obligatory.
1. There are laws which are founded on the nature of God. To this class belong the command to love God supremely, to be just, merciful, and kind. Love must everywhere and always be obligatory. Pride, envy, and malice must everywhere and always be evil. Such laws bind all rational creatures, angels as well as men. The criterion of these laws is that they are absolutely immutable and indispensable. Any change in them would imply, not merely a change in the relations of men, but in the very nature of God.
2. A second class of laws includes those which are founded on the permanent relations of men in their present state of existence. Such are the moral, as opposed to mere statute laws, concerning property, marriage, and the duties of parents and children, or superiors and inferiors. Such laws concern men only in their present state of being. They are, however, permanent so long as the relations which they contemplate continue. Some of these laws bind men as men; others husbands as husbands, wives as wives, and parents and children as such, and consequently they bind all men who sustain these several relations. They are founded on the nature of things, as it is called; that is, upon the constitution which God has seen fit to ordain. This constitution might have been different, and then these laws would have had no place. The right of property need not have existed. God might have made all things as common as sun-light or air. Men might have been as angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage. Under such a constitution there would be no room for a multitude of laws which are now of universal and necessary obligation.
3. A third class of laws have their foundation in certain temporary relations of men, or conditions of society, and are enforced by the authority of God. To this class belong many of the judicial or civil laws of the ancient theocracy; laws regulating the distribution of property, the duties of husbands and wives, the punishment of crimes, etc. These laws were the application of general principles of justice and right to the peculiar circumstances of the Hebrew people. Such enactments bind only those who are in the circumstances contemplated, and cease to be obligatory when those circumstances change. It is always and everywhere right that crime should be punished, but the kind or degree of punishment may vary with the varying condition of society. It is always right that the poor should be supported, but one mode of discharging that duty may be proper in one age and country, and another preferable in other times and places. All those laws, therefore, in the Old Testament, which had their foundation in the peculiar circumstances of the Hebrews, ceased to be binding when the old dispensation passed away.
It is often difficult to determine to which of the last two classes certain laws of the Old Testament belong; and therefore, to decide whether they are still obligatory or not. Deplorable evils have flowed from mistakes as to this point. The theories of the union of Church and State, of the right of the magistrate to interfere authoritatively in matters of religion, and of the duty of persecution, so far as Scriptural authority is concerned, rest on the transfer of laws founded on the temporary relations of the Hebrews to the altered relations of Christians. Because the Hebrew kings were the guardians of both tables of the Law, and were required to suppress idolatry and all false religion, it was inferred that such is still the duty of the Christian magistrate. Because Samuel hewed Agag to pieces, it was inferred to be right to deal in like manner with heretics. No one can read the history of the Church without being impressed with the dreadful evils which have flowed from this mistake. On the other hand, there are some of the judicial laws of the Old Testament which were really founded on the permanent relations of men, and therefore, were intended to be of perpetual obligation, which many have repudiated as peculiar to the old dispensation. Such are some of the laws relating to marriage, and to the infliction of capital punishment for the crime of murder. If it be asked, How are we to determine whether any judicial law of the Old Testament is still in force? the answer is first, When the continued authority of such law is recognized in the New Testament. That for Christians is decisive. And secondly, If the reason or ground for a given law is permanent, the law itself is permanent.
4. The fourth class of laws are those called positive, which derive all their authority from the explicit command of God. Such are external rites and ceremonies, as circumcision, sacrifices, and the distinction between clean and unclean meats, and between months, days, and years. The criterion of such laws is that they would not be binding unless positively enacted; and that they bind those only to whom they are given, and only so long as they continue in force by the appointment of God. Such laws may have answered important ends, and valid reasons doubtless existed why they were imposed; still they are specifically different from those commands which are in their own nature morally obligatory. The obligation to obey such laws does not arise from their fitness for the end for which they have been given, but solely from the divine command.
How far may the Laws contained in the Bible be dispensed with?
This is a question much discussed between Protestants and Romanists. Protestants contended that the Church had not the power claimed by Romanists, to relieve men from the obligation of an oath, and to render marriages lawful which without the sanction of the Church would be invalid. The Church has neither the authority to set aside any law of God, nor to decide the circumstances under which a divine law ceases to be obligatory, so that it continues in force until the Church declares the parties free from its obligation. On this subject it is plain, (1.) That none but God can free men from the obligation of any divine law, which He has imposed upon them. (2.) That with regard to the positive laws of the Old Testament, and such judicial enactments as were designed exclusively for the Hebrews living under the theocracy, they were all abolished by the introduction of the new dispensation. We are no longer under obligation to circumcise our children, to keep the Passover, or feast of tabernacles, or to go up three times in the year to Jerusalem, or to exact an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. (3.) With regard to those laws which are founded on the permanent relations of men, such as the laws of property, of marriage, and of obedience to parents, they can be set aside by the authority of God. It was not wrong for the Hebrews to spoil the Egyptians or to dispossess the Canaanites, because He whose is the earth and the fulness thereof, authorized those acts. He had a right to take the property of one people and give it to another. The extermination of the idolatrous inhabitants of the promised land at the command of Joshua, was as much an act of God as though it had been effected by pestilence or famine. It was a judicial execution by the Supreme Ruler. In like manner, although marriage as instituted by God was and is an indissoluble covenant between one man and one woman, yet He saw fit to allow, under the Mosaic Law, within certain limitations, both polygamy and divorce. While that permission continued, those things were lawful; when it was withdrawn, they ceased to be allowable.
When one Divine Law is superseded by another
The above classification of the divine laws, which is the one usually adopted, shows that they differ in their relative dignity and importance. Hence when they come into conflict the lower must yield to the higher. This we are taught when God says, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." And our Lord also says, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," and, therefore, the Sabbath might be violated when the duties of mercy rendered it necessary. Throughout the Scriptures we find positive laws subordinated to those of moral obligation. Christ approved of the lawyer who said that to love God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves, "is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices."
Perfection of the Law
The perfection of the moral law as revealed in the Scriptures, includes the points already considered,—(1.) That everything that the Bible pronounces to be wrong, is wrong; that everything which it declares to be right, is right. (2.) That nothing is sinful which the Bible does not condemn; and nothing is obligatory on the conscience which it does not enjoin. (3.) That the Scriptures are a complete rule of duty, not only in the sense just stated, but also in the sense that there is and can be no higher standard of moral excellence. Romanists, on the contrary, teach that a man can do more than the law requires. There are certain things which are commanded, and therefore absolutely obligatory; and others which are recommended, but not enjoined, such as voluntary poverty, celibacy, and monastic obedience. These are held to be virtues of a higher grade than obedience to explicit commands. This doctrine is founded on the erroneous views of the Church of Rome on the nature of sin, and the grounds of moral obligation. If nothing is sinful but voluntary, i.e., deliberate transgression of known law; and if the law is satisfied by voluntary action in this sense of the terms, then it is conceivable that a man may in this life render perfect obedience to the law, and even go beyond its demands. This is also connected with the distinction which Romanists make between mortal and venial sins. The former are those which forfeit baptismal grace, and reduce the soul to its original state of spiritual death and condemnation. The latter are sins which have not this deadly effect, but can be fully atoned for by confession and penance. But if the law of God be spiritual, extending to the thoughts and feelings whether impulsive or cherished; and if it demands all kinds and degrees of moral excellence, or complete congeniality with God, and conformity to his image, then there is no room for these distinctions, and no higher rule of moral conduct. The law of the Lord, therefore, is perfect in every sense of the word.
The question whether the decalogue is a perfect rule of duty is, in one sense, to be answered in the affirmative. (1.) Because it enjoins love to God and man, which, our Saviour teaches, includes every other duty. (2.) Because our Lord held it up as a perfect code, when he said to the young man in the Gospel, "This do and thou shalt live." (3.) Every specific command elsewhere recorded may be referred to some one of its several commands. So that perfect obedience to the decalogue in its spirit, would be perfect obedience to the law. Nevertheless, there are many things obligatory on us, which without a further revelation of the will of God than is contained in the decalogue, we never should have known to be obligatory. The great duty of men under the Gospel, is faith in Christ. This our Lord teaches when He says, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." This comprehends or produces all that is required of us either as to faith or practice. Hence he that believeth shall be saved.
Rules of Interpretation
Theologians are accustomed to lay down numerous rules for the proper interpretation of the divine law, such as that negative precepts are to be understood as including positive, and positive, negative; that, in forbidding an act, everything which naturally leads to it is comprehended; that, in condemning one offence, all others of a like kind are forbidden, and the like. All such rules resolve themselves into one. The decalogue is not to be interpreted as the laws of men, which take cognizance only of external acts, but as the law of God, which extends to the thoughts and intents of the heart. In all cases it will be found that the several commandments contain some comprehensive principle of duty, under which a multitude of subordinate specific duties are included.
§ 2. Division of the Contents of the Decalogue
As the law given on Sinai and written on two tables of stone, is repeatedly called in the Scriptures "The Ten Words," or, as it is in the English version of Exodus 34:28, "The Ten Commandments," there is no doubt that the contents of that law are to be divided into ten distinct precepts. (See Deut. 4:13, and 10:4.) This summary of moral duties is also called in Scripture "The Covenant," as containing the fundamental principles of the solemn contract between God and his chosen people. Still more frequently it is called "The Testimony," as the attestation of the will of God concerning human character and conduct.
The decalogue appears in two forms which differ slightly from each other. The original form is found in Exodus the twentieth chapter; the other in Deuteronomy 5:6–21. The principal differences between them are, first, that the command respecting the Sabbath is in Exodus enforced by a reference to God's resting on the seventh day, after the work of creation; whereas in Deuteronomy it is enforced by a reference to God's delivering his people out of Egypt. Secondly, in the command respecting coveting, in Exodus, it is said, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife," etc. In both clauses the word is חָמַד. In Deuteronomy it is, "Neither shalt thou desire (חָמַד) thy neighbour's wife; neither shalt thou covet (אָוָה) thy neighbour's house," etc. This latter difference has been magnified into a matter of importance.
The Scriptures themselves determine the number of the commandments, but not in all cases what they are. They are not numbered off as first, second, third, etc. The consequence is that different modes of division have been adopted. The Jews from an early period adopted the arrangement which is still recognized by them. They regard the words in Exodus 20:2, as constituting the first commandment, "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." The command is that the people should recognize Jehovah as their God; and the special ground of this recognition is made to be, that He delivered them from the tyranny of the Egyptians. These words, however, are not in the form of a command. They constitute the preface or introduction to the solemn injunctions which follow. In making the preface one of the commandments it became necessary to preserve the number ten, by uniting the first and second, as they are commonly arranged. The command, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," being regarded as substantially the same; the latter being merely an amplification of the former. An idol was a false god; worshipping idols was therefore having other gods than Jehovah.
Augustine, and after him the Latin and Lutheran churches, agreed with the Jews in uniting the first and second commandments; but differed from them in dividing the tenth. There is, however, a difference as to the mode of division. Augustine followed the text as given in Deuteronomy, and made the words, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife;" the ninth, and the words, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house," etc., the tenth commandment. This division was necessitated by the union of the first and second, and justified by Augustine on the ground that the "cupido impuræ voluptatis" is a distinct offence from the "cupido impuri lucri." The Romish Church, however, adheres to the text as given in Exodus, and makes the clause, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house," the ninth, and what follows, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant," etc., the tenth commandment.
The third method of arrangement is that adopted by Josephus, Philo, and Origen, and accepted by the Greek Church, and also by the Latin until the time of Augustine. At the Reformation it was adopted by the Reformed, and has the sanction of almost all modern theologians. According to this arrangement, the first commandment forbids the worship of false gods; the second, the use of idols in divine worship. The command, "Thou shalt not covet," is taken as one commandment.
It is universally admitted that there are two tables of the decalogue; the one containing the precepts concerning our duties to God, and the other those which concern our duties to our fellowmen. Philo referred five commands to each table, as he regarded reverence to parents, enjoined in the fifth, as a religious rather than a moral duty. Those who unite the first and second, and divide the tenth, refer three commandments to the first table and seven to the second. According to the third arrangement mentioned above, there are four in the first, and six in the second. The only objection urged against this is founded on the symbolism of numbers. Three and seven among the Jews are sacred and significant; four and six are not.
Arguments for the Arrangement adopted by the Reformed
There are two questions to be determined. First, should the commandments concerning idolatry be united or separated? In favour of considering them two distinct commandments, it may be urged, (1.) That all the way through the decalogue, a new command is introduced by a positive injunction or prohibition: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;" "Thou shalt not steal;" "Thou shalt not kill," etc. This is the way in which new commands are introduced. The fact, therefore, that the command, "Thou shalt have no other gods," is distinguished by the repetition of the injunction, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," is an indication that they were intended as different commands. The tenth commandment is indeed an exception to this rule, but the principle holds good in every other case. (2.) The things forbidden are in their nature distinct. Worshipping false gods is one thing; using images in divine worship is another. They therefore called for separate prohibitions. (3.) These offences are not only different in their own nature, but they differed also in the apprehension of the Jews. The Jews regarded worshipping false gods, and using images in the worship of the true God, as very different things. They were severely punished for both offences. Both external and internal considerations, therefore, are in favour of retaining the division which has been so long and so extensively adopted in the Church.
The second question concerns the division of the tenth commandment. It is admitted that there are ten commandments. If, therefore, the two commands, "Thou shalt have no other gods," and "Thou shalt not make any graven image," are distinct, there is no room for the question whether the command against coveting should be divided. There is, moreover, no pretext for such division, unless we follow the order given in Deuteronomy, which puts the words, "Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife," before the words, "Neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field," etc., etc. As coveting a man's wife is a different offence, or at least a different form of a general offence, from coveting his house or land, if the order given in Deuteronomy be considered authoritative, there might be some reason for the separation. But if the order given in Exodus be adhered to, no such reason exists. The thing forbidden is cupidity, whatever be its object. That the order given in Exodus is authoritative may be argued, (1.) Because the law as there given was not only the first chronologically, but also was solemnly announced from Mount Sinai. (2.) The recension given in Deuteronomy differs from the other in many unimportant particulars. If the order in which the objects of cupidity are mentioned be a matter of indifference, then the diversity is a matter of no consequence. But if it be made a matter of importance, controlling the order and interpretation of the commandments, then it is hard to account for it. There is, therefore, every reason for regarding it as one of those diversities which were not intended to be significant. (3.) The distinction is nowhere else recognized in Scripture. On the contrary, the command, "Thou shalt not covet," is elsewhere given as one command. Paul, in Romans 7:7, says: "I had not known sin but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." And in Romans 13:9, in enumerating the laws forbidding sins against our neighbour, Paul gives as one command, "Thou shalt not covet." (4.) Our Lord refers the sin of "coveting a man's wife" to the seventh commandment. If included under that, it would be incongruous and out of harmony with the context, to make it a distinct commandment by itself.
§ 3. Preface to the Ten Commandments
"I am Jehovah thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Theism and Monotheism, the foundation of all religion, are taught in these words. The first clause is the preface or introduction to the decalogue. It presents the ground of obligation and the special motive by which obedience is enforced. It is because the commandments which follow are the words of God that they bind the conscience of all those to whom they are addressed. It is because they are the words of the covenant God and Redeemer of his people that we are specially bound to render them obedience.
History seems to prove that the question whether the Infinite is a person cannot be satisfactorily answered by the unassisted reason of man. The historical fact is, that the great majority of those who have sought the solution of that question on philosophical principles have answered it in the negative. It is impossible, therefore, duly to estimate the importance of the truth involved in the use of the pronoun "I" in these words. It is a person who is here presented. Of that person it is affirmed, first, that He is Jehovah; and secondly, that He is the covenant God of his people.
In the first place, in calling himself Jehovah, God reveals that He is the person known to his people by that name, and that He is in his nature all that that name imports. The etymology and signification of the name Jehovah seem to be given by God Himself in Exodus 3:13, 14, where it is written, "Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them, and God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."
Jehovah, therefore, is the I AM; a person always existing and always the same. Self-existence, eternity, and immutability are included in the signification of the word. This being the case, the name Jehovah is presented as the ground of confidence to the people of God; as in Deuteronomy 32:40, and Isaiah 40:28, "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding." These natural attributes, however, would be no ground of confidence if not associated with moral excellence. He who as Jehovah is declared to be infinite, eternal, and immutable in his being, is no less infinite, eternal, and immutable in his knowledge, wisdom, holiness, goodness, and truth. Such is the Person whose commands are recorded in the decalogue.
In the second place, it is not only the nature of the Being who speaks, but the relation in which He stands to his people that is here revealed. "I am Jehovah thy God." The word God has a definite meaning from which we are not at liberty to depart. We may not substitute for the idea which the word in Scripture and in ordinary language is intended to express, any arbitrary philosophical notion of our own. God is the Being, who, because He is all that the word Jehovah implies, is the proper object of worship, that is, of all the religious affections, and of their appropriate expression. He is, therefore, the only appropriate object of supreme love, adoration, gratitude, confidence, and submission. Him we are bound to trust and to obey.
Jehovah is not only God, but He says to his people collectively and individually, "I am thy God." That is, not only the God whom his people are to acknowledge and worship, but who has entered into covenant with them; promising to be their God, to be all that God can be to his creatures and children, on condition that they consent to be his people. The special covenant which God formed with Abraham, and which was solemnly renewed at Mount Sinai, was that He would give to the children of Abraham the land of Palestine as their possession and bless them in that inheritance on condition that they kept the laws delivered to them by his servant Moses. And the covenant which He has made with the spiritual children of Abraham, is that He will be their God for time and eternity on condition that they acknowledge, receive, and trust his only begotten Son, the promised seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth are to be blessed. And as in this passage the redemption of the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt is referred to as the pledge of God's fidelity to his promise to Abraham, and the special ground of the obligation of the Hebrews to acknowledge Jehovah as their God; so the mission of the Eternal Son for the redemption of the world is at once the pledge of God's fidelity to the promise made to our first parents after their fall, and the special ground of our allegiance to our covenant God and Father.
§ 4. The First Commandment
The first commandment is, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." I, that is, the person whose name, and nature, and whose relation to his people are given in the preceding words, and I only, shall be recognized by you as God.
This command, therefore, includes, first, the injunction to recognize Jehovah as the true God. As this recognition must be intelligent and sincere, it includes,—
1. Knowledge. We must know who, or what Jehovah is. This implies a knowledge of his attributes, of his relation to the world as its creator, preserver, and governor, and especially his relation to his rational creatures and to his own chosen people. This of course involves a knowledge of our relation to Him as dependent and responsible creatures and as the objects of his redeeming love.
2. Faith. We must believe that God is, and that He is what He declares Himself to be; and that we are his creatures and his children.
3. Confession. It is not enough that we secretly in our hearts recognize Jehovah as the true God; we must openly and under all circumstances and despite of all opposition, whether from magistrates or from philosophers, avow our faith in Him as the only living and true God. This confession must be made, not only by the avowal of the lips as when we repeat the Creed, but by all appropriate acts of worship in public and private, by praise, prayer, and thanksgiving.
4. As the law is spiritual, not only as bearing the impress of the Spirit, and, therefore, holy, just, and good, but also as taking cognizance of the inward as well as of the outward life, of the thoughts and feelings as well as of external acts, this recognition of Jehovah as our God includes the exercise towards Him of all the religious affections; of love, fear, reverence, gratitude, submission, and devotion. And as this is not an occasional duty to be performed at certain times and places, but one of perpetual obligation, a habitual state of mind is the thing required. The recognition of Jehovah as our God involves a constant sense of his presence, of his majesty, of his goodness, and of his providence, and of our dependence, responsibility, and obligation. We are to have God always before our eyes; to walk and live with Him, having a constant reference to his will in the conduct of our inward and outward life; recognizing continually his hand in everything that befalls us, submitting to all his chastisements and grateful for all his mercies.
The second or negative aspect of the command is the condemnation of the failure to recognize Jehovah as the true God; failing to believe in his existence and attributes, in his government and authority; failing to confess him before men; and failing to render him the inward reverence and the outward homage which are his due, that is, the first commandment forbids Atheism whether theoretical or practical. It moreover forbids the recognition of any other than Jehovah as God. This includes the prohibition of ascribing to any other being divine attributes; rendering to any creature the homage or obedience due to God alone; or exercising towards any other person or object those feelings of love, confidence, and submission which belong of right only to God.
It is, therefore, a violation of this commandment either to fail in the full and sincere recognition of God as God, or to give to any creature the place in our confidence and love due to God alone.
This the Chief of all the Commandments
The duty enjoined in this commandment is the highest duty of man. It is proved to be so in the estimation of God by the express declaration of Christ. When asked, "Which is the great commandment in the law," He answered, "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment." (Matt. 22:37, 38.) It is so also in the sight of reason. That infinite excellence should be reverenced; that He who is the author of our being and giver of all our mercies; on whom we are absolutely dependent; to whom we are responsible; who is the rightful possessor of our souls and bodies; and whose will is the highest rule of duty, should be duly recognized by his creatures, from the nature of the case must be the highest duty of all rational beings. It is, moreover, the first and greatest of the commandments if measured by the influence which obedience to its injunction has upon the soul itself. It places the creature in its proper relation to its Creator on which its own excellence and well-being depend. It purifies, ennobles, and exalts the soul. It calls into exercise all the higher and nobler attributes of our nature; and assimilates man to the angels who surround the throne of God in heaven. The preëminence of this commandment is further evident from the fact that religion, or the duty we owe to God, is the foundation of morality. Without the former, the latter cannot exist. This is plain, (1.) From the nature of the case. Morality is the conformity of an agent's character and conduct to the moral law. But the moral law is the revealed will of God. If there be no God, there is no moral law; and if a man does not acknowledge or recognize God, there is no higher law than his own reason to which he can feel any obligation to be conformed. (2.) It is a principle of our nature that if a man disregard a higher obligation, he will not be controlled by a lower. This principle was recognized by our Lord when He said, "He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much." (Luke 16:10.) This involves the converse: He that is unfaithful in much, is unfaithful in that which is least. (3.) It is the testimony of experience that where religion has lost its hold on the minds of the people, there the moral law is trampled under foot. The criminal and dangerous class in every community consists of those who have no fear of God before their eyes. (4.) It is the secret conviction of every man that his duty to God is his highest duty, as is evinced by the fact that the charge of atheism is one from which the human soul instinctively recoils. It is felt to be a charge of the utter degradation, or of the deadness of all that is highest and noblest in the nature of man. (5.) The most decisive and solemn evidence of this truth, however, is to be found in the revealed purpose of God to forsake those who forsake Him; to give up to the unconstrained control of their evil passions, those who cast off their allegiance to Him. The Apostle says of the heathen world that it was "Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, … God gave them up unto vile affections." (Rom. 1:21, 26.) And again in ver. 28, "As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful." Such are the natural, the actual, the inevitable, and the judicially ordained effects of men's refusing to retain God in their knowledge.
Notwithstanding all this we see multitudes of men of whom it may be said that God is not in all their thoughts. They never think of Him. They do not recognize his providence. They do not refer to his will as a rule of conduct. They do not feel their responsibility to Him for what they think or do. They do not worship Him; nor thank Him for their mercies. They are without God in the world. Yet they think well of themselves. They are not aware of the dreadful guilt involved in thus forgetting God, in habitually failing to discharge the first and highest duty that rests on rational creatures. Self-respect or regard to public opinion often renders such men decorous in their lives. But they are really dead while they live; and they have no security against the powers of darkness. It is painful also to see that scientific men and philosophers so often endeavour to invalidate the arguments for the existence of God, and advance opinions inconsistent with Theism; arguing, as they in many cases do, to prove either that there is no evidence of the existence of any power in the universe other than of physical force, or that no knowledge, consciousness, or voluntary action can be predicated of an infinite Being. This is done in apparent unconsciousness that they are undermining the foundations of all religion and morality; or that they are exhibiting a state of mind which the Scriptures pronounce worthy of reprobation.
§ 5. The Invocation of Saints and Angels
Saints and angels, and especially the Virgin Mary, are confessedly objects of worship in the Romish Church. The word "worship," however, means properly to respect or honour. It is used to express both the inward sentiment and its outward manifestation. This old sense of the word is still retained in courts of law in which the judge is addressed as "Your Worship," or as "worshipful." The Hebrew word הִשּהַּחַוָה and the Greek προσκυνέω, often translated in the English version by the word "worship," mean simply to bow down, or prostrate one's self. They are used whether the person to whom the homage is rendered be an equal, an earthly superior, or God Himself. It is not, therefore, from the use of any of these words that the nature of the homage rendered can be determined. Romanists are accustomed to distinguish between the cultus civilis due to earthly superiors; δουλεία due to saints and angels; ὑπερδουλεία due to the Virgin Mary; and λατρεία due to God alone. These distinctions, however, are of little use. They afford no criterion by which to distinguish between δουλεία and ὑπερδουλεία and between ὑπερδουλεία and λατρεία. The important principle is this: Any homage, internal or external, which involves the ascription of divine attributes to its object, if that object be a creature, is idolatrous. Whether the homage paid by Romanists to saints and angels be idolatrous is a question of fact rather than of theory; that is, it is to be determined by the homage actually rendered, and not by that which is prescribed. It is easy to say that the saints are not to be honoured as God is honoured; that He is to be regarded as the original source and giver of all good, and they as mere intercessors, and as channels of divine communications; but this does not alter the case if the homage rendered them assumes that they possess the attributes of God; and if they are to the people the objects of religious affection and confidence.
What the Church of Rome teaches on this subject may be learned from the following passages, from the decisions of the Council of Trent, from the Roman Catechism, and from the writings of the leading theologians of that Church: "Mandat sancta synodus omnibus episcopis … ut … fideles diligenter instruant, docentes eos, sanctos, una cum Christo regnantes, orationes suas pro hominibus Deo offerre; bonum, atque utile esse suppliciter eos invocare; et ob beneficia impetranda a Deo per filium ejus Jesus Christum, Dominum nostrum, qui solus noster redemptor et salvator est, ad eorum orationes, opem auxiliumque confugere: illos vero, qui negant sanctos, æterna felicitate in cœlo fruentes, invocandos esse; aut qui asserunt, vel illos pro hominibus non orare; vel eorum, ut pro nobis etiam singulis orent, invocationem esse idolatriam; vel pugnare cum verbo Dei; adversarique honori unius mediatoris Dei et hominum Jesu Christi; vel stultum esse in cœlo regnantibus voce, vel mente supplicare; impie sentire." "Et quamvis in honorem et memoriam sanctorum nonnullas interdum missas ecclesia celebrare consueverit; non tamen illis sacrificium offerri docet, sed Deo soli, qui illos coronavit; unde nec sacerdos dicere solet, offero tibi sacrificium Petre, vel Paule; sed Deo de illorum victoriis gratias agens, eorum patrocinia implorat, ut ipsi pro nobis intercedere dignentur in cœlis, quorum memoriam facimus in terris."2
The Roman Catechism teaches the same doctrine.
"Invocandi sunt [angeli eorum]; quod et perpetuo Deum intuentur et patrocinium salutis nostræ, sibi delatum, libentissime suscipiunt." This invocation, it says, does not conflict with the law "de uno Deo colendo."
Thomas Aquinas says: "Quanquam solus Deus sit orandus, ut vel gratiam vel gloriam nobis donet; sanctos nihilominus viros orare expedit. ut illorum precibus et meritis, nostræ orationes sortiantur effectum."
On this subject Bellarmin lays down the following propositions, (1.) "Non licet a sanctis petere, ut nobis tanquam auctores divinorum beneficiorum, gloriam, vel gratiam aliaque ad beatitudinem media concedunt." This, however, he virtually nullifies, when he adds, "Est tamen notandum, cum dicimus, non debere peti à sanctis, nisi ut orent pro nobis, nos non agere de verbis, sed de sensu verborum; nam quantum ad verba, licet dicere, S. Petre miserere mihi, salva me, aperi mihi aditum cœli: item, da mihi sanitatem corporis, da patientiam, da mihi fortitudinem." (2.) "Sancti non sunt immediati intercessores nostri apud Deum, sed quidquid a Deo nobis impetrant, per Christum impetrant." (3.) "Sancti orant pro nobis saltem in genere, secundum Scripturas." (4.) "Sancti qui regnant cum Christo, pro nobis orant, non solum in genere, sed etiam in particulari." As to the question, How the saints in heaven can know what men on earth desire of them, he says four answers are given. First, some say that the angels, who are constantly ascending to heaven and thence descending to us, communicate to the saints the prayers of the people. Secondly, others say, "Sanctorum animas, sicut etiam angelos, mira quadam celeritate naturæ, quodammodo esse ubique; et per se audire preces supplicantium." Thirdly, others again say, "Sanctos videre in Deo omnia a principio suæ beatitudinis, quæ ad ipsos aliquo modo pertinent, et proinde etiam orationes nostras ad se directas." Fourthly, others say that God reveals to them the prayers of the people. As on earth God revealed the future to the prophets and gives to men at times the power to read the thoughts of others, so He can reveal to the saints in heaven the wants and prayers of those who call upon them. This last solution of the difficulty Bellarmin himself prefers.2
The objections which Protestants are accustomed to urge against this invocation of saints are,—
1. That it is, to say the least, superstitious. It requires faith without evidence. It assumes not only that the dead are in a conscious state of existence in another world; and that departed believers belong to the same living mystical body of Christ, of which their brethren still on earth are members, both of which Protestants, on the authority of God's word, cheerfully admit; but it assumes, without any evidence from Scripture or experience, that the spirits of the dead are accessible to those who are still in the flesh; that they are near us, capable of hearing our prayers, knowing our thoughts, and answering our requests. The Church or the soul is launched on an ocean of fantasies and follies, without a compass, if either suffers itself to believe without evidence; then there is nothing in astrology, alchemy, or demonology which may not be received as true, to perplex, to pervert, or to torment.
2. The whole thing is a deceit and illusion. If in fact departed saints are not authorized and not enabled to hear and answer the prayers of suppliants on earth, then the people are in the condition of those who trust in gods who cannot save, who have eyes that see not, and ears that cannot hear. That the saints have no such office as the theory and practice of invocation suppose is plain, because the fact if true cannot be known except by divine revelation. But no such revelation exists. It is a purely superstitious belief, without the support of either Scripture or reason. The conjectural methods suggested by Bellarmin of explaining how the saints may be cognizant of the wants and wishes of men, is a confession that nothing is known or can be known on the subject; and, therefore, that the invocation of the saints has no Scriptural or rational foundation. If this be so, then how dreadfully are the people deluded! How fearful the consequences of turning their eyes and hearts from the one divine mediator between God and man, who ever lives to make intercession for us, and whom the Father heareth always, and causing them to direct their prayers to ears which never hear, and to place their hopes in arms which never save. It is turning from the fountain of living waters, to cisterns which can hold no water.
3. The invocation of saints as practised in the Church of Rome is idolatrous. Even if it be conceded that the theory as expounded by theologians is free from this charge, it remains true that the practice involves all the elements of idolatry. Blessings are sought from the saints which God only can bestow; and attributes are assumed to belong to them which belong to God alone. Every kind of blessing, temporal and spiritual, is sought at their hands, and sought directly from them as the givers. This Bellarmin admits so far as the words employed are concerned. He says it is right to say: "Holy Peter, save me; open to me the gates of heaven; give me repentance, courage," etc. God alone can grant these blessings; the people are told to seek them at the hands of creatures. This is idolatry. Practically it is taken for granted that the saints are everywhere present, that they can hear prayers addressed to them from all parts of the earth at the same time; that they know our thoughts and unexpressed desires. This is to assume that they possess divine attributes. In fact, therefore, the saints are the gods whom the people worship, whom they trust, and who are the objects of the religious affections.
The polytheism of the Church of Rome is in many respects analogous to that of heathen Rome. In both cases we find gods many and lords many. In both cases either imaginary beings are the objects of worship, or imaginary powers and attributes are ascribed to them. In both cases, also, the homage rendered, the blessings sought, the prerogatives attributed to the objects of worship and the affections exercised toward them, involve the assumption that they are truly divine. In both cases the hearts of the people, their confidence and hopes, are turned from the Creator to the creature. There is indeed, however, this great difference between the two cases. The objects of heathen worship were unholy; the objects of worship in the Church of Rome are regarded as ideals of holiness. This, in one view, makes an immense difference. But the idolatry is in either case the same. For idolatry consists in paying creatures the homage due to God.
The mother of our Lord is regarded by all Christians as "blessed," as "the most highly favoured of women." No member of the fallen family of man has had such an honour as she received in being the mother of the Saviour of the world. The reverence due to her as one thus highly favoured of God, and as one whose heart was pierced through with many sorrows, led the way to her being regarded as the ideal of all female grace and excellence, and gradually to her being made the object of divine honours, as the Church lost more and more of its spirituality.
The deification of the Virgin Mary in the Church of Rome was a slow process. The first step was the assertion of her perpetual virginity. This was early taken and generally conceded. The second step was the assertion that the birth, as well as the conception of our Lord, was supernatural. The third was the solemn, authoritative decision by the ecumenical council of Ephesus, A.D. 481, that the Virgin Mary was the "Mother of God." On this decision it may be remarked, (a.) That it was rendered rather as a vindication of the divinity of Christ, than as an exaltation of the glory of the Blessed Virgin. It had its origin in the Nestorian controversy. Nestorius was accused of teaching that the Logos only inhabited the man Jesus, whence it was inferred that he held that the person born of the Virgin was simply human. It was to emphasize the assertion that the "person" thus born was truly divine that the orthodox insisted that the Virgin should be called the Mother of God. (b.) There is a sense in which the designation is proper and according to the analogy of Scripture. The Virgin was the Mother of Christ; Christ is God manifest in the flesh: therefore she was the Mother of God. The infant Saviour was a divine person. Christians do not hesitate to say that God purchased his Church with his own blood. According to the usage of Scripture, the person of Christ may be designated from one nature, when the predicate belongs to the other. He may be called the Son of man when we speak of his filling immensity; and He may be called God when we speak of his being born. (c.) Nevertheless, although the designation be in itself justifiable, in the state of feeling which then pervaded the Church, the decision of the Council tended to increase the superstitious reverence for the Virgin. It was considered by the common people as tantamount to a declaration of divinity. The members of the Council were escorted from their place of meeting by a multitude bearing torches, preceded by women bearing censers filled with burning incense. In combating the assumed Nestorian doctrine of two persons in Christ, there was a strong tendency to the opposite, to the doctrine of Eutyches, who held that there was in our Lord but one nature. According to this view the Virgin might be regarded as the Mother of God in the same sense that any ordinary mother is the parent of her child. However it may be accounted for, the fact is that the decision of the Council of Ephesus marks a distinct epoch in the progress of the deification of the Virgin.
The fourth step soon followed in the dedication to her honour of numerous churches, shrines, and festivals; and in the introduction of solemn offices designed for public and private worship in which she was solemnly invoked. No limit was placed to the titles of honour by which she was addressed or to the prerogatives and powers which were attributed to her. She was declared to be deificata. She was called the Queen of heaven, Queen of queens; said to be exalted above all principalities and powers; to be seated at the right hand of Christ, to share with Him in the universal and absolute power committed to his hands. All the blessings of salvation were sought at her hands, as well as protection from all enemies, and deliverance from all evils. Prayers, hymns, and doxologies were allowed and prescribed to be addressed to her. The whole Psalter has been transformed into a book of praise and confession to the Mother of Christ. What in the Bible is said to God and of God, is in this book addressed to the Virgin. In the First Psalm, for example, it is said, "Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly," etc. In the Psalter of the Virgin it reads, "Blessed is the man who loveth thy name, O Virgin Mary; thy grace shall comfort his soul. As a tree irrigated by fountains of water, he shall bring forth the richest fruits of righteousness." In the second Psalm the prayer is directed to the Virgin: "Protect us with thy right hand, O Mother of God," etc. Ps. 9, "I will confess to Thee, O Lady (Domina); I will declare among the people thy praise and glory. To thee belong glory, thanksgiving, and the voice of praise." Ps. 15, "Preserve me, O Lady, for I have hoped in thee." Ps. 17, "I will love thee O Queen of heaven and earth, and will glorify thy name among the Gentiles." Ps. 18, "The heavens declare thy glory, O Virgin Mary; the fragrance of thy ointments is dispersed among all nations." Ps. 41, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul for thy love, O Holy Virgin." And so on to the end. The Virgin is throughout addressed as the Psalmist addressed God; and the blessings which he sought from God, the Romanist is taught to seek from her.
In like manner the most holy offices of the Church are parodied. The Te Deum, for example, is turned into an address to the Virgin. "We praise thee, Mother of God; we acknowledge thee to be a virgin. All the earth doth worship thee, the spouse of the eternal Father. All the angels and archangels, all thrones and powers, do faithfully serve thee. To thee all angels cry aloud, with a never-ceasing voice, Holy, Holy, Holy, Mary, Mother of God.… The whole court of heaven doth honour thee as queen. The holy Church throughout all the world doth invoke and praise thee, the mother of divine majesty.… Thou sittest with thy Son on the right hand of the Father.… In thee, sweet Mary, is our hope; defend us for evermore. Praise becometh thee; empire becometh thee; virtue and glory be unto thee for ever and ever."
It is hardly necessary to refer to the Litanies of the Virgin Mary in further proof of the idolatrous worship of which she is the object. Those litanies are prepared in the form usually adopted in the worship of the Holy Trinity; containing invocations, deprecations, intercessions, and supplications. They contain such prayers as the following: "Peccatores, te rogamus audi nos; Ut sanctam Ecclesiam piissima conservare digneris, Ut justis gloriam, peccatoribus gratiam impetrare digneris, Ut navigantibus portum, infirmantibus sanitatem, tribulatis consolationem, captivis liberationem, impetrare digneris, Ut famulos et famulas tuas tibi devote servientes, consolare digneris, Ut cunctum populum Christianum filii tui pretioso sanguine redemptum, conservare digneris, Ut cunctis fidelibus defunctis, eternam requiem impetrare digneris, Ut nos exaudire digneris, Mater Dei, Filia Dei, Sponsa Dei, Mater carissima, Domina nostra, miserere, et dona nobis perpetuam pacem." More than this cannot be sought at the hands of God or Christ. The Virgin Mary is to her worshippers what Christ is to us. She is the object of all religious affections; the ground of confidence; and the source whence all the blessings of salvation are expected and sought.
There was, however, always an undercurrent of opposition to this deification of the mother of our Lord. This became more apparent in the controversy on the question of her immaculate conception. This idea was never broached in the early Church. The first form in which the doctrine appeared was, that from the fact that God says of Jeremiah, "Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee" (Jer. 1:5), it was maintained that the same might be said of the Virgin Mary. Jeremiah indeed was sanctified before birth, in the sense that he was consecrated or set apart in the purpose of God to the prophetic office; whereas Mary, it was held, was thus sanctified in the sense of being made holy. All the great lights of the Latin Church, Augustine, Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Thomas Aquinas, held that if the Virgin Mary were not a partaker of the sin and apostasy of man, she could not be a partaker of redemption. As Thomas Aquinas, and after him the Dominicans, took the one side in this controversy, Duns Scotus and the Franciscans took the other. The public feeling was in favour of the Franciscan doctrine of the immaculate conception. Even John Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, distinguished not only for his learning but also for his zeal in reforming abuses, in 1401 came out publicly in support of that view. He was, however, candid enough to admit that it had not hitherto been the doctrine of the Church. But he held that God communicated the truth gradually to the Church; hence Moses knew more than Abraham, the prophets more than Moses, the Apostles more than the prophets; in like manner, the Church has received from the Spirit of God many truths not known to the Apostles. This of course implies the rejection of the doctrine of tradition. That doctrine is, that a plenary revelation of all Christian doctrine was made by Christ to the Apostles and by them communicated to the Church, partly in their writings and partly by oral instructions. To prove that any doctrine is of divine authority, it must be proved that it was taught by the Apostles, and to prove that they taught it, it must be proved that it has been always and everywhere held by the Church. But according to Gerson the Church of to-day may hold what the Apostles never held, and even the very reverse of what was held by them and by the Church for ages to be true. He teaches that the Church before his time taught that the Virgin Mary, in common with all other members of the human race, was born with the infection of original sin; but that the Church of his day, under the inspiration of the Spirit, believed in her immaculate conception. This resolves tradition into, or rather substitutes for it, the sensus communis ecclesiæ of any given time. It has already been shown that Moehler in his "Symbolik" teaches substantially the same doctrine.
This question was undecided at the time of the meeting of the Council of Trent, and gave the fathers there assembled a great deal of trouble. The Dominicans and Franciscans, of nearly equal influence in the Council, each urged that their peculiar views should be sanctioned. The legates in their perplexity referred to Rome for instructions, and were directed for fear of schism to prevent any further controversy on the subject, and so to frame the decision as to satisfy both parties. This could only be done by leaving the question undecided. This was substantially the course which the Council adopted. After affirming that all mankind sinned in Adam and derive from him a corrupt nature, it adds: "Declarat tamen hæc ipsa Sancta Synodus, non esse suæ intentionis comprehendere in hoc decreto, ubi de peccato originali agitur, beatam, et immaculatam Viriginem Mariam, Dei genetricem; sed observandas esse constitutiones felicis recordationis Xysti papæ IV., sub pœnis in eis constitutionibus contentis, quas innovat. This last clause refers to the Bull of Sixtus IV., issued in 1483, threatening both parties in this controversy with the pains of excommunication if either pronounced the other guilty of heresy or mortal sin.
The controversy went on, therefore, after the Council of Trent very much as it had done before, until the present Pope, himself a devoted worshipper of the Virgin, announced his purpose to have the immaculate conception of the Mother of our Lord declared. This purpose he carried into effect, and on the eighth of December, 1854, he went in great pomp to St. Peter's in Rome, and pronounced the decree that the "Virgin Mary, from the first moment of conception by the special grace of almighty God in view of the merits of Christ, was preserved from all stain of original sin." She was thus placed, as to complete sinlessness, on an equality with her adorable Son, Jesus Christ, whose place she occupies in the confidence and love of so large a part of the Roman Catholic world.
§ 6. The Second Commandment
The two fundamental principles of the religion of the Bible are first, that there is one only the living and true God, the maker of heaven and earth, who has revealed Himself under the name Jehovah; secondly, that this God is a Spirit, and, therefore, incapable of being conceived of or represented under a visible form. The first commandment, therefore, forbids the worship of any other being than Jehovah; and the second, the worship of any visible object whatever. This includes the prohibition, not only of inward homage, but of all external acts which are the natural or conventional expression of such inward reverence.
That the second commandment does not forbid pictorial or sculptured representations of ideal or visible objects, is plain because the whole command has reference to religious worship, and because Moses, at the command of God himself, made many such images and representations. The curtains of the tabernacle and especially the veil separating between the Holy and Most Holy places, were adorned with embroidered figures representing cherubim; cherubim overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant with their wings; the Golden Candlestick was in the form of a tree "with branches, knops, and flowers;" the hem of the high priest's robe was adorned with alternate bells and pomegranates. When Solomon built the temple, "he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim, and palm-trees, and open flowers, within and without." (1 Kings 6:29.) The "molten sea" stood upon twelve oxen. Of this house thus adorned God said, "I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there forever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually." (1 Kings 9:3.) There can therefore be no doubt that the second commandment was intended only to forbid the making or using the likeness of anything in heaven or earth as objects of worship.
The Worship of Images forbidden
It is equally clear that the second commandment does forbid the use of images in divine worship. In other words, idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images. This is clear,—
1. From the literal meaning of the words. The precise thing forbidden is, bowing down to them, or serving them, i.e., rendering them any kind of external homage. This, however, is exactly what is done by all those who employ images as the objects, or aids of religious worship.
2. This is still further plain because the Hebrews were solemnly enjoined not to make any visible representation of the unseen God, or to adopt anything external as the symbol of the invisible and make such symbol the object of worship; i.e., they were not to bow down before these images or symbols or serve them. The Hebrew word עָבַר rendered "to serve," includes all kinds of external homage, burning incense, making oblations, and kissing in token of subjection. The Hebrews were surrounded by idolaters. The nations, having forgotten God, or refusing to acknowledge Him, had given themselves up to false gods. It was nature's invisible force, of which they saw constant, and often fearful manifestations around them, that was the great object of their reverence and fear. But nature, force, the invisible, could no more satisfy them, than the invisible Jehovah. They symbolized not the unknown, but the real, first in one way and then in another. Light and darkness were the two most obvious symbols of good and evil; light, therefore, the sun, moon, and stars, the host of heaven, were among the earlier objects of religious reverence. But anything external and visible, living or dead, might be made to the people, by association or arbitrary appointment, the representative of the great unknown power by which all things were controlled. Most naturally, men distinguished by force of character and by their exploits would be regarded as manifestations of the unknown. Thus nature-worship and hero-worship, the two great forms of heathenism, are seen to be radically the same. It was in view of this state of the Gentile world, all nations being given to the worship of the visible as the symbol of the invisible, that Moses delivered the solemn address to the chosen people recorded in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. "Only take heed to thyself," said the prophet, "and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons." What is it that he thus earnestly called on them to remember? It was that in all the wonderful display of the divine presence and majesty upon Sinai, they had seen "no similitude," but only heard a voice, "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire,) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of anything that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them [literally, "to prostrate thyself before them"], and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.… Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, the likeness of anything which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee. For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God." The thing thus repeatedly and solemnly forbidden as a violation of the covenant between God and the people, was the bowing down to, or using anything visible, whether a natural object as the sun or moon, or a work of art and man's device, as an object or mode of divine worship. And in this sense the command has been understood by the people to whom it was given, from the time of Moses until now. The worship of the true God by images, in the eyes of the Hebrews, has ever been considered as much an act of idolatry as the worship of false gods.
3. A third argument on this subject is, that the worship of Jehovah by the use of images is denounced and punished as an act of apostasy from God. When the Hebrews in the wilderness said to Aaron, "Make us gods which shall go before us," neither they nor Aaron intended to renounce Jehovah as their God; but they desired a visible symbol of God, as the heathen had of their gods. This is plain, because Aaron, when he fashioned the golden calf and built an altar before it, made proclamation, and said, "To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah." "Their sin then lay, not in their adopting another god, but in their pretending to worship a visible symbol of Him whom no symbol could represent."
In like manner, when the ten tribes separated from Judah and were erected into a separate kingdom under Jeroboam, the worship of God by idols was regarded as an apostasy from the true God. It is evident from the whole narrative that Jeroboam did not intend to introduce the worship of any other god than Jehovah. It was the place and mode of worship which he sought to change. He feared that if the people continued to go up to Jerusalem and worship in the temple there established, they would soon return to their allegiance to the house of David. To prevent this, he made two golden calves, as Aaron had done, symbols of the God who had brought his people out of Egypt, and placed one in Dan and the other in Bethel, and commanded the people to resort to those places for worship. Thus also Jehu, who boasted of his "zeal for Jehovah," and exterminated the priests and worshippers of Baal, retained the service of the golden calves, because, as Winer expresses it, "that had become the established form of the Jehovah-worship in Israel." "Er [Jehu] behielt den Kälberdienst in Dan und Bethel, als in Israel einheimisch gewordenen Jehovah-dienst." In Leviticus 26:1, it is said: "Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God." And Moses commanded that when the people had gained possession of the promised land, six of the tribes should be gathered on Mount Gerizim to bless, and six upon Mount Ebal to curse: "And the Levites shall speak and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice, cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen." (Deut. 27:15.)
The specific thing thus frequently and solemnly forbidden is the bowing down to images, or rendering them any religious service. In this sense these commands were understood by the ancient people of God to whom they were originally given, and by the whole Christian Church until the sudden influx of nominally converted heathen into the Church after the time of Constantine, who brought with them heathenish ideas and insisted on heathen modes of worship.
The simple obvious facts with regard to the religion of the gentile world are, (1.) That the gods of the nations were imaginary beings; that is, they either had no existence except in the imaginations of their worshippers, or they did not possess the attributes which were ascribed to them. Therefore they are called in Scripture vanity, lies, nonentities. (2.) Of these imaginary beings symbols were selected or images formed, to which all the homage supposed to be due to the gods themselves was paid. This was not done on the assumption that the symbols or images were really gods. The Greeks did not think that Jupiter was a block of marble. Neither did the heathen mentioned in the Bible believe that the sun was Baal. Nevertheless some connection was supposed to exist between the image and the divinity which it was intended to represent. With some this connection was simply that between the sign and the thing signified; with others it was more mystical, or what in these days we should call sacramental. In either case it was such that the homage due to the divinity was paid to his image; and any indignity offered to the latter was resented as offered to the former.
As, therefore, the heathen gods were no gods, and as the homage due to God was paid to the idols, the sacred writers denounced the heathen as the worshippers of stocks and stones, and condemned them for the folly of making gods out of wood or metal "graven by art and man's device." They made little or no difference between the worshipping of images and the worshipping false gods. The two things were, in their view, identical. Hence in the Bible the worship of images is denounced as idolatry, without regard to the divinity, whether true or false, to whom the image was dedicated.
The Reasons annexed to this Commandment
The relation between the soul and God is far more intimate than that between the soul and any creature. Our life, spiritual and eternal, depends on our relation to our Maker. Hence our highest duty is to Him. The greatest sin a man can commit is to refuse to render to God the admiration and obedience which are his due, or to transfer to the creature the allegiance and service which belong to Him. Hence no sin is so frequently or so severely denounced in the Scriptures.
The most intimate relation which can subsist among men is that of marriage. No injury which can be rendered by one man against another is greater than the violation of that relation; and no sin which a wife can commit is more heinous and degrading than infidelity to her marriage vows.
This being the case, it is natural that the relation between God and his people should be, as it is, in the Bible so often illustrated by a reference to the marriage relation. A people who refuse to recognize, or an individual man who refuses to recognize Jehovah as his God, who transfers the allegiance and obedience due to God alone to any other object, is compared to an unfaithful wife. And as jealousy is the strongest of human passions, the relation of God to those who thus forsake Him is illustrated by a reference to the feelings of an injured and forsaken husband. It is in this way that the Scriptures teach that the severest displeasure of God, and the most dreadful manifestations of his wrath, are the certain consequences of the sin of idolatry; that is, of the sin of having any other God than Jehovah, or of giving to images, to stocks and stones, the external homage due to Him who is a spirit, and who must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.
The Lord, therefore, in this commandment, declares Himself to be "a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation; and showing mercy unto thousands (unto the thousandth generation) of them that love me, and keep my commandments." The evil consequences of apostasy from God are not confined to the original apostates. They are continued from generation to generation. They seem indeed, and, humanly speaking, in fact are remediless. The degradation and untold miseries of the whole heathen world are the natural and inevitable consequence of their forefathers' having turned the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. These natural consequences, however, are designed, ordained, and judicial. They are not mere calamities. They are judgments, and therefore are not to be counteracted or evaded. Consequently those who teach atheism, or who undermine religion, or who corrupt and degrade the worship of God by associating with it the worship of creatures; or who teach that we may make graven images and bow down to them and serve them, are bringing down upon themselves and upon coming generations the most direful calamities that can degrade and afflict the children of men. Such must be the issue unless they not only can counteract the operation of natural causes, but also can thwart the purpose of Jehovah.
It is a great cause for thankfulness, and adapted to fill the hearts of God's faithful people with joy and confidence, to know that He will bless their children to the thousandth generation.
The Doctrine and Usage of the Romish Church as to Images
Salvation, our Lord said, is of the Jews. The founders of the Christian Church were Jews. The religion of the Old Testament in which they had been educated forbade the use of images in divine worship. All the heathen were worshippers of idols. Idol-worship, therefore, was an abomination to the Jews. With the Old Testament authority against the use of images and with this strong national prejudice against their use, it is absolutely incredible that they should be admitted in the more spiritual worship of the Christian Church. It was not until three centuries after the introduction of Christianity, that the influence of the heathen element introduced into the Church was strong enough to overcome the natural opposition to their use in the service of the sanctuary. Three parties soon developed themselves in connection with this subject. The first adhered to the teachings of the Old Testament and the usage of the Apostolic Churches, and repudiated the religious use of images in any form. The second allowed the use of images and pictures for the purpose of instruction, but not for worship. The common people could not read, and therefore it was argued that visible representations of Scriptural persons and incidents were allowable for their benefit. The third contended for their use not only as a means of instruction, but also for worship.
As early as A.D. 305, the Council of Elvira in Spain condemned the use of pictures in the Church. In the thirty-sixth Canon the Council says,2 "Placuit picturas in ecclesia esse non debere; ne quod colitur et adoratur in parietibus depingatur." Augustine complained of the superstitious use of images; Eusebius of Cæsarea, and Epiphanius of Salamis, protested against their being made objects of worship; and Gregory the Great allowed their use only as means of instruction.
In A.D. 726 the Emperor Leo III. issued an ordinance forbidding the use of images in churches as heathenish and heretical. To support his action a council was called, which met in Constantinople A.D. 754, and which gave ecclesiastical sanction to this condemnation. In A.D. 787, however, the Empress Irene, under Roman influence, called a council, which Romanists of the Italian school consider ecumenical, at Nice, by which image-worship was fully sanctioned. This Council first met in Constantinople, but there the opposition to the use of images was so strong that it was disbanded and called to meet the following year at Nice. Here the face of things had changed; enemies had been converted; opponents became advocates; even Gregory of Neo-Cæsarea, who had been a zealous supporter of the policy of Leo III. and of his son Constantine Copronymus, was brought to say, "Si omnes consentiunt, ego non dissentio." Few could withstand the promises and threats of those in power, and the cogency of the argument for image worship drawn from the numerous miracles adduced in favour of their worship. This Council, therefore, declared the previous Council, called by Leo III., heretical, and ordained the worship of pictures in the churches; not indeed with λατρεία, or the reverence due to God, but with ἀσπασμὸς καὶ τιμητικὴ προσκύνησις (with salutations and reverent prostrations). The Council announced the principle on which image-worship, whether among the heathen or Christians, has generally been defended, i.e., that the worship paid the image terminates on the object which it represents. Ἡ τῆς εἰκόνος τιμὴ ἐπὶ τὸ προτότυπον διαβαίνει καὶ ὁ προσκυνῶν τὴν εἰκόνα προσκυνεῖ ἐν αὐτῇ τοῦ ἐγγραφομένου τὴν ὑπόστασιν.
The decisions of this Council, although sanctioned by the Pope, gave offence to the Western Churches. The Emperor Charlemagne not only caused a book to be written (entitled "Libri Carolini") to refute the doctrines inculcated, but also summoned a council to meet at Frankfort on the Main A.D. 794, at which delegates from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and even two legates from the Bishop of Rome, were present; where the decrees of the so-called General Council of Nice were "rejected," "despised," and "condemned." All worshipping of pictures and images was forbidden, but their presence in the churches for instruction and ornament was allowed.
The friends of image-worship, however, rapidly gained the ascendancy, so that Thomas Aquinas, one of the best as well as the greatest of the Romish theologians in the thirteenth century, held the extreme doctrine on this subject. He taught that images were to be used in the churches for three purposes, first, for the instruction of the masses who could not read; secondly, that the mystery of the incarnation and the examples of the saints may be the better remembered; and thirdly, that pious feelings may be excited, as men are more easily moved by what they see than by what they hear. He taught that to the image in itself and for itself no reverence is due, but that if it represents Christ, the reverence due to Christ is due to the image. "Sic ergo dicendum est, quod imagini Christi in quantum est res quædam (puta lignum vel pictum) nulla reverentia exhibetur; quia reverentia nonnisi rationali naturæ debetur. Relinquitur ergo quod exhibeatur ei reverentia solum, in quantum est imago: et sic sequitur, quod eadem reverentia exhibeatur imagini Christi et ipsi Christo. Cum ergo Christus adoretur adoratione latriæ, consequens est, quod ejus imago sit adoratione latriæ adoranda."
The Council of Trent acted with reference to the worship of images with its usual caution. It decreed that to the images of Christ and the saints "due reverence" should be paid, without defining what that reverence is. The council decided: "Imagines porro Christi, Deiparæ Virginis, et aliorum sanctorum, in templis præsertim habendas, et retinendas; eisque debitum honorem, et venerationem impertiendam; non quod credatur inesse aliqua in eis divinitas, vel virtus, propter quam sint colendæ; vel quod ab eis sit aliquid petendum; vel quod fiducia in imaginibus sit figenda; veluti olim fiebat a gentibus, quæ in idolis spem suam collocabant; sed quoniam honos, qui eis exhibetur refertur ad prototypa, quæ illæ representant: ita ut per imagines, quas osculamur, et coram quibus caput aperimus, et procumbimus, Christum adoremus; et sanctos, quorum illæ similitudinem gerunt, veneremur."
In the same session it was decreed concerning relics: "Sanctorum quoque martyrum, et aliorum cum Christo viventium sancta corpora, quæ viva membra fuerunt Christi, et templum Spiritus Sancti, ab ipso ad æternam vitam suscitanda, et glorificanda, a fidelibus veneranda esse; per quæ multa beneficia a Deo hominibus præstantur: ita ut affirmantes, sanctorum reliquiis venerationem, atque honorem non deberi; vel eas, aliaque sacra monumenta a fidelibus inutiliter honorari; atque eorum opis impetrandæ causa sanctorum memorias frustra frequentari; omnino damnandos esse; prout jampridem eos damnavit, et nunc etiam damnat ecclesia."
On relic-worship the Roman Catechism, says, "Cui fidem non faciant et honoris, qui sanctis debetur, et patrocinii, quod nostri suscipiunt, mirabiles effectæ res ad eorum sepulcra, et oculis, et manibus membrisque omnibus captis, in pristinum statum restitutis, mortuis ad vitam revocatis, ex corporibus hominum ejectis demoniis? quæ non audisse, ut multi, non legisse, ut plurimi gravissimi viri, sed vidisse, testes locupletissimi sancti Ambrosius et Augustinus litteris prodiderunt. Quid multa? si vestes, sudaria, si umbra sanctorum, priusquam e vita migrarent, depulit morbos, viresque restituit, quis tandem negare audeat, Deum per sacros cineres, ossa, ceterasque sanctorum reliquias eadem mirabiliter efficere? Declaravit id cadaver illud, quod forte illatum in sepulcrum Elisei, ejus tacto corpore, subito revixit."
The whole of the Liber Secundus of Bellarmin's Disputation "De Ecclesia Triumphante" in the second volume of his works, is devoted to the discussion of the question of the worship of the relics and images of the saints. As to the worship of images he says there are three opinions among Romanists themselves: "Prima, quod imago non sit ullo modo in se colenda, sed solum coram imagine colendum exemplar." "Secunda opinio est, quod idem honor debeatur imagini ut exemplari, et proinde Christi imago sit adoranda cultu latriæ, Beatæ Mariæ cultu hyperduliæ, sanctorum aliorum, cultu duliæ." "Tertia opinio versatur in medio, estque eorum, qui dicunt, ipsas imagines in se, et proprie honorari debere, sed honore minori, quam ipsum exemplar, et proinde nullam imaginem adorandam esse cultu latriæ." His own opinion is given in the following propositions: "Prima sententia, sive propositio. Imagines Christi, et sanctorum venerandæ sunt, non solum per accidens, vel improprie, sed etiam per se proprie, ita ut ipsæ terminent venerationem ut in se considerantur, et non solum ut vicem gerunt exemplaris." "Secunda propositio. Quantum ad modum loquendi præsertim in concione ad populum, non est dicendum imagines ullas adorari debere latria, sed e contrario non debere sic adorari." "Tertia propositio. Si de re ipsa agatur, admitti potest, imagines posse coli improprie, vel per accidens, eodem genere cultus, quo exemplar ipsum colitur." "Quarta propositio. Imago per se, et proprie non est adoranda eodem cultu, quo ipsum exemplar, et proinde nulla imago est adoranda cultu latriæ per se, et proprie." "Quinta conclusio, Cultus, qui per se, proprie debetur imaginibus, est cultus quidam imperfectus, qui analogice et reductive pertinet ad speciem ejus cultus, qui debetur exemplari."
Bellarmin in his defence of the "cultus reliquiarum" begins with an attempted refutation of Calvin's five arguments against such worship. He then presents his own in favour of it. They are such as these: First, from Scriptural examples: (a.) Moses carried the bones "sancti Josephi" with him when he left Egypt; (b.) God honoured the remains of Moses by burying them with his own hands; (c.) A dead man was restored to life by contact with the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21); (d.) Isaiah predicted that the sepulchre of the Messiah should be glorious. The Vulgate renders Isaiah 11:10, "Et erit sepulcrum ejus gloriosum;" which Bellarmin understands as foretelling "ut sepulcrum Domini, ab omnibus honoraretur." And adds, "Ex quo refellitur Lutheri blasphemia, qui in libro de abolenda Missa dicit, Deo non majorem curam esse de sepulcro Domini, quam de bobus." (e.) The woman mentioned in the Gospel was healed by touching Christ's garment; the sick, according to Acts 5:15, were placed in the streets "that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them"; again, in Acts 19:11, 12, it is said: "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." If, says Bellarmin, Christ were now on earth, and we should kiss his garment, the Protestants would call us idolaters.
His second argument is from the decisions of councils; the third from the testimony of the fathers; the fourth and fifth from the miracles wrought by and in the relics of the saints, of which he cites numerous examples; the sixth from the miraculous discovery of the remains of the saints, "Si enim Deo cultus reliquiarum non placeret, cur ipse servis suis corpora sanctorum, quæ latebant, ostenderet?" the seventh, from the translation of relics from one place to another. He also argues from the custom of depositing the remains of the saints under altars, and burning incense and lamps before their tombs.
1. From all this it appears that the Romanists worship images in the same way that the heathen of old did, and pagans of our own day still do. They "bow down to them and serve them." They pay them all the external homage which they render to the persons they are intended to represent.
2. The explanations and defence of such worship are the same in both cases. The heathen recognized the fact that the images made of gold, silver, wood, or marble were lifeless and insensible in themselves; they admitted that they could not see, or hear, or save. They attributed no inherent virtue or supernatural power to them. They claimed that the homage paid to them terminated on the gods which they represented; that they only worshipped before the images, or at most through them. So far as the Greeks and Romans are concerned, they were less reverential to the mere image, and claimed far less of the supernatural in connection with their use.
3. Both among the heathen and the Romanists, for the uneducated people the images themselves were the objects of worship. It would be hard to find in any heathen author such justification of image-worship as the Romish theologians put forth. What heathen ever said that the same homage was due to the image of Jupiter as to Jupiter himself? This Thomas Aquinas says of the images of Christ and of the saints. Or what heathen ever has said, as Bellarmin says, that although the homage to be paid to the image is not strictly and properly the same as that due to its prototype, it is nevertheless improperly and analogically the same; the same in kind although not in degree? What can the common people know of the difference between proprie and improprie? They are told to worship the image, and they worship it just as the heathen worshipped the images of their gods. As the Bible pronounces and denounces as idolatry not only the worship of false gods, but also the worship of images, 'the bowing down to them and serving them,' it is clear that the Roman Church is as wholly given to idolatry as was Athens when visited by Paul.
4. The moral and religious effects of image worship are altogether evil. It is enough to prove that it is evil in its consequences that God has forbidden it, and threatened to visit the worshippers of idols with his severe judgments. It degrades the worship of God. It turns off the minds of the people from the proper object of reverence and confidence, and leads the uneducated masses to put their trust in gods who cannot save.
5. As to the worship of relics, it is enough to say, (a.) That it has no support from Scripture. The outline of Bellarmin's arguments given above, is sufficient to show that the Bible furnishes no apology for this superstitious custom. (b.) What pass for relics, in the great majority of cases, are spurious. There is no end to the deceptions practised on the people in this regard. There are, it is said, enough fragments of the cross exhibited in different sanctuaries, to build a large ship; and there are innumerable nails which are reverenced as the instruments of our Lord's torture. Bones not only of ordinary men, but even of brutes, are set before the people as relics of the saints. In one of the cathedrals of Spain there is a magnificent ostrich feather preserved in a gorgeous casket, which the priests affirm fell from the wing of the angel Gabriel. Romanists themselves are obliged to resort to the doctrine of "economics" or pious fraud, to justify these palpable impositions on the credulity of the people. Of such impositions the most flagrant example is the blood of St. Januarius, which is annually liquefied in Naples. (c.) Ascribing miraculous powers to these pretended relics as Romanists do, is to the last degree superstitious and degrading. It is true that a little more than a century ago belief in necromancy and witchcraft was almost universal even among Protestants. But there is the greatest possible difference between superstitious beliefs prevailing for a time among the people, and those beliefs being adopted by the Church and enacted into articles of faith to bind the conscience of the people in all time. The Church of Rome is chained down by the decisions of her popes and councils pronouncing the grossest superstitions to be matters of divine revelation sanctioned and approved by God. She has rendered it impossible for men entitled to be called rational to believe what she teaches. The great lesson taught by the history of image-worship and the reverencing of relics, is the importance of adhering to the word of God as the only rule of our faith and practice; receiving nothing as true in religion but what the Bible teaches, and admitting nothing into divine worship which the Scriptures do not either sanction or enjoin.
Protestant Doctrine on the Subject
As the worship of images is expressly forbidden in the Scriptures, Protestants, as well Lutheran as Reformed, condemned their being made the objects of any religious homage. As, however, their use for the purposes of instruction or ornament is not thus expressly forbidden, Luther contended that such use was allowable and even desirable. He, therefore, favoured their being retained in the Churches. The Reformed, however, on account of the great abuse which had attended their introduction, insisted that they should be excluded from all places of worship.
The Lutheran standards do not dilate on this subject. In the Apology for the Augsburg Confession it is said: "Primum quia cum alii mediatores præter Christum quæruntur, collocatur fiducia in alios, obruitur tota notitia Christi, idque res ostendit. Videtur initio mentio sanctorum, qualis est in veteribus orationibus, tolerabili consilio recepta esse. Postea secuta est invocatio, invocationem prodigiosi et plus quam ethnici abusus secuti sunt. Ab invocatione ad imagines ventum est, hæ quoque colebantur, et putabatur eis inesse quædam vis, sicut Magi vim inesse fingunt imaginibus signorum cœlestium certo tempore sculptis."
Luther was tolerant of the use of images in the churches. On this subject he says: "If the worship of images be avoided, we may use them as we do the words of Scripture, which bring things before the mind and cause us to remember them." "Who is so stone blind," he asks, "as not to see that if sacred events may be described in words without sin and to the profit of the hearers, they may with the same propriety, for the benefit of the uneducated, be portrayed or sculptured, not only at home and in our houses, but in the churches."2 In another place he says that when one reads of the passion of Christ, whether he will or not, an image of a man suspended on a cross is formed in his mind, just as certainly as his face is reflected when he looks into the water. There is no sin in having such an image in the mind; why then should it be sinful to have it before the eyes?
The Reformed went further than this. They condemned not only the worship of images, but also their introduction into places of worship, because they were unnecessary, and because they were so liable to abuse. The Second Helvetic Confession says, "Rejicimus non modo gentium idola, sed et Christianorum simulachra. Tametsi enim Christus humanam assumpserit naturam, non ideo tamen assumpsit, ut typum præferret statuariis atque pictoribus.… Et quando beati spiritus et divi cœlites, dum hic viverent, omnem cultum sui averterunt, et statuas oppugnarunt, cui verisimile videatur divis coelestibus et angelis suas placere imagines, ad quas genua flectunt homines, detegunt capita, aliisque prosequuntur honoribus?" In another paragraph of the same chapter it is said: "Idcirco approbamus Lactantii veteris, scriptoris sententiam, dicentis, Non est dubium, quin religio nulla est, ubicunque simulachrum est."
The Heidelberg Catechism, says, "Is it forbidden to make any images or statues? God cannot and ought not in any way to be depicted; and although it is lawful to make representations of creatures, yet God forbids that they should be worshipped, or He through them. But may not images be tolerated in the churches for the instruction of the uneducated? By no means; for it does not become us to be wiser than God, who has willed that his Church be instructed, not by dumb images, but by the preaching of his word."
No one who has ever seen any of the masterpieces of Christian art, whether of the pencil or of the chisel, and felt how hard it is to resist the impulse to "bow down to them and serve them," can doubt the wisdom of their exclusion from places of public worship.
§ 7. The Third Commandment
"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."
The literal meaning of this command is doubtful. It may mean, "Thou shalt not utter the name of God in a vain or irreverent manner;" or, "Thou shalt not utter the name of God to a lie," i.e., "Thou shalt not swear falsely." The Septuagint renders the passage thus; Οὐ λήψῃ τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ σου ἐπὶ ματαίῳ. The Vulgate has, "Non assumes nomen Domini Dei tui in vanum." Luther, as usual, freely ad sensum: "Du sollst den Namen des Herrn, deines Gottes, nicht missbrauchen." Our translators have adopted the same rendering.
The ancient Syriac Version, the Targum of Onkelos, Philo, and many modern commentators and exegetes understand the command as directed against false swearing: "Thou shalt not utter the name of God to a lie." So the elder Michaelis in his annotated Hebrew Bible, explains "ad vanum confirmandum: non frustra, nedum, falso." Gesenius in his Hebrew Lexicon renders the passage, "Du sollst den Namen Jehova's nicht zur Lüge aussprechen; nicht falsch schwören." Rosenmüller2 renders it: "Nolli enunciare nomen Jova Dei tui ad falsum sc. comprobandum." Knobel reads: "Nicht sollst du erheben den Namen Jehova's zur Nichtigkeit;" and adds, "The prohibition is directed specially against false swearing."
This interpretation is consistent with the meaning of the words, as שָׁוְא, here rendered "vanity," or with the preposition, "in vain," elsewhere means "falsehood." (See Ps. 12:3 (2); 41:7 (6); Isaiah 59:4; Hos. 10:4.) To lift up, or pronounce the name of God for a lie, naturally means, to call upon God to confirm a falsehood. The preposition ל also has its natural force. Compare Leviticus 19:12, "Ye shall not swear by my name [לַשָׁתֶר 'to a lie'] falsely." The general import of the command remains the same, whichever interpretation be adopted. The command not to misuse the name of God, includes false swearing, which is the greatest indignity which can be offered to God. And as the command, "Thou shalt do no murder," includes all indulgence of malicious feelings; so the command, "Thou shalt not forswear thyself," includes all lesser forms of irreverence in the use of the name of God.
It is urged, as an objection to the second interpretation given above, that perjury is an offence against our neighbour, and therefore belongs to the second table of the Law; and that it is in fact included in the ninth commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." Bearing false testimony and false swearing are, however, different offences. The first and second commandment forbid the worship of any other being than Jehovah, and worshipping Him in any way not appointed in his word; and the third, supposing it to forbid false swearing, is here in place, as false swearing is a practical denial of the being or perfections of God.
Import of the Command
The word "name" is used in reference to God in a very comprehensive sense. It often means a personal or individual designation; as when God says, "This is my name," i.e., Jehovah. Frequently the "name of God" is equivalent to God himself. To call on the name of the Lord, and to call on God, are synonymous forms of expression. As names are intended to distinguish one person or thing from another, anything distinguishing or characteristic may be included under the term. The name of God, therefore, includes everything by which He makes Himself known. This commandment, therefore, forbids all irreverence towards God; not only the highest act of irreverence in calling on Him to bear witness to a falsehood, but also all irreverent use of his name; all careless, unnecessary reference to Him, or his attributes; all indecorous conduct in his worship; and in short, every indication of the want of that fear, reverence, and awe due to a Being infinite in all his perfections, on whom we are absolutely dependent, and to whom we are accountable for our character and conduct.
The third commandment, therefore, specially forbids not only perjury, but also all profane, or unnecessary oaths, all careless appeals to God, and all irreverent use of his name. All literature, whether profane or Christian, shows how strong is the tendency in human nature to introduce the name of God even on the most trivial occasions. Not only are those formulas, such as Adieu, Good-bye or God be with you, and God forbid, which may have had a pious origin, constantly used without any recognition of their true import, but even persons professing to fear God often allow themselves to use his name as a mere expression of surprise. God is everywhere present. He hears all we say. He is worthy of the highest reverence; and He will not hold him guiltless who on any occasion uses his name irreverently.
The command not to call upon God to confirm a lie, cannot be considered as forbidding us to call upon Him to confirm the truth. And such is the general nature of an oath. Oaths are of two kinds, assertatory, when we affirm a thing to be true; and promissory, when we bring ourselves under an obligation to do, or to forbear doing certain acts. To this class belong official oaths and oaths of allegiance. In both cases there is an appeal to God as a witness. An oath, therefore, is in its nature an act of worship. It implies, (1.) An acknowledgment of the existence of God. (2.) Of his attributes of omnipresence, omniscience, justice, and power. (3.) Of his moral government over the world; and (4.) Of our accountability to Him as our Sovereign and Judge. Hence "to swear by the name of Jehovah," and to acknowledge Him as God, are the same thing. The former involves the latter.
Such being the case, it is evident that a man who denies the truths above mentioned cannot take an oath. For him the words he utters have no meaning. If he does not believe that there is a God; or suppose that he admits that there is some being or force which may be called God, if he does not believe that that Being knows what the juror says, or that He will punish the false swearer, the whole service is a mockery. It is a great injustice, tending to loosen all the bonds of society, to allow atheists to give testimony in courts of justice.
The imprecation usually introduced in the formula of an oath, is not essential to its nature. It is indeed involved in the appeal to God to bear witness to the truth of what we say, but its direct assertion is not necessary. Indeed, it is not found in any of the oaths recorded in the Bible. Some strenuously object to its introduction, as involving a renunciation of all hope of the mercy and grace of God, and as an equivalent to an imprecation on one's self of everlasting perdition.
The Lawfulness of Oaths
The lawfulness of oaths may be inferred,—
1. From their nature. Being acts of worship involving the acknowledgment of the being and attributes of God, and of our responsibility to Him, they are in their nature good. They are not superstitious, founded on wrong ideas of God or of his relation to the world; nor are they irreverent; nor are they useless. They have a real power over the consciences of men; and that power is the greater according as the faith of the juror and of society in the truths of religion, is the more intelligent and the stronger.
2. In the Scriptures, oaths, on proper occasions, are not only permitted, but commanded. "Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and shalt swear by his name. (Deut. 6:13.) "He who blesseth himself in the earth, shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth, shall swear by the God of truth." (Is. 65:16.) "It shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, Jehovah liveth; (as they taught my people to swear by Baal;) then shall they be built in the midst of my people." (Jer. 12:16; 4:2.) God Himself is represented as swearing. (Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 7:21.) "When God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself." (Heb. 6:13.) Our blessed Lord also, when put upon his oath by the high priest, did not hesitate to answer. (Matt. 26:63.) The words are, Ἐξορκίζω σε κατὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος, which are correctly rendered by our version, "I adjure thee (call on thee to swear) by the living God." Meyer in his comment on this passage says: "An affirmative answer to this formula was an oath in the full meaning of the word." And our Lord's reply, "Thou sayest," is the usual Rabbinical form of direct affirmation. The Hebrew word הִשְׁבִּיַע is rendered in the Septuagint by ὁρκίζω and ἐξορκίζω, and in the Vulgate by adjuro. See Genesis 50:5, "My father made me swear, ὥρκισέ με." Num. 5:19, "The priest shall charge her by an oath, ὁρκιεῖ αὐτήν." It appears from this passage as well as from others in the Old Testament, that oaths were on certain occasions enjoined by God himself. (Ex. 22:10.) They cannot, therefore, be unlawful.
Seeing, then, that an oath is an act of worship; that it is enjoined on suitable occasions; that our Lord himself submitted to be put upon his oath; and that the Apostles did not hesitate to call God to witness to the truth of what they said; we cannot admit that Christ intended to pronounce all oaths unlawful, when he said, as recorded in Matthew 5:34, "Swear not at all." This would be to suppose that Scripture can contradict Scripture, and that Christ's conduct did not conform to his precepts. Nevertheless, his words are very explicit. They mean in Greek just what our version makes them mean. Our Lord did say, "Swear not at all." But in the sixth commandment it is said, "Thou shalt not kill." That, however, does not mean that we may not kill animals for food; for that is permitted and commanded. It does not forbid homicide in self-defence, for that also is permitted. Neither does it forbid capital punishment; for that is not only permitted but even commanded. The meaning of this command has never been doubted or disputed, because it is sufficiently explained by the context and occasion, and by the light shed upon it by other parts of Scripture. As, therefore, the command, "Thou shalt not kill," forbids only unlawful killing; so also the command, "Swear not at all," forbids only unlawful swearing.
This conclusion is confirmed by the context. A great part of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount is devoted to the correction of perversions of the law, introduced by the Scribes and Pharisees. They made the sixth commandment to forbid only murder; our Lord said that it forbade all malicious passions. They limited the seventh commandment to the outward act; He extended it to the inward desire. They made the precept to love our neighbour consistent with hating our enemies; Christ says, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you." In like manner, the Scribes taught that the law allowed all kinds of swearing, and swearing on all occasions, provided a man did not forswear himself; but our Lord said, I say unto you, in your communications swear not at all; this is plain from ver. 37, "Let your communications (λόγος, word, talk) be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil." It is unnecessary, colloquial, irreverent swearing our Lord condemns. This has nothing to do with those solemn acts of worship, permitted and commanded in the word of God. The Jews of that age were especially addicted to colloquial swearing, holding that the law forbade only false swearing, or swearing by the name of false gods; hence our Lord had the more occasion to rebuke this sin, and show the evil of any such adjurations.
When are Oaths lawful
1. As an oath involves an act of worship, it is plain that it should not be taken on any trivial occasion, or in an irreverent manner.
2. An oath is lawful when prescribed and administered by duly authorized officers of the State, or of the Church; they are the "ministers of God," acting in his name and by his authority. There are many who do not regard it as proper that an oath should ever be taken, except when thus imposed by those in authority. The Church of England in the thirty-ninth article, says: "As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle; so we judge that Christian religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophet's teaching, in justice, judgment, and truth." The same ground has been taken by many moral philosophers and theologians.
There does not, however, seem to be any sufficient reason for this restriction, either in the nature or design of an oath, or in the teachings of Scripture. The oath being an appeal to God to bear witness to the truth of our declarations, or the sincerity of our promises, there is no reason why this appeal should not be made whenever any important end is to be accomplished by it. There should be a necessity for it; that is, no man should swear lightly or profanely, but only when all the conditions which justify this appeal to God are present. According to the old law those conditions are, "judicium in jurante, justitia in objecto, veracitas in mente." That is, the juror must be competent. He must have a just judgment of the nature and obligation of an oath, so as to understand what he is about to do. Therefore an idiot, a child, or an unbeliever cannot properly be put upon his oath. By "justitia in objecto," is meant that the object concerning which the oath is taken, should be a proper object. If it be a promissory oath, the thing we engage to do must be possible and lawful; if an assertatory oath, the object must have due importance; it must be within the knowledge of the juror; and there must be an adequate reason why this appeal to God should be made. The "veracitas in mente," includes the sincere purpose of doing what we promise, or of telling the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to the best of our knowledge in the case in which we testify. This excludes all intention to deceive, all mental reservation, and all designed ambiguity of language. All these conditions may be present in private, as well as in judicial or official oaths.
Then again, as the design of an oath is to produce conviction of the truth, to satisfy others of our sincerity and fidelity, and to make an end of controversy, it is evident that circumstances may arise in private life, or in the intercourse of a man with his fellow-men, when an oath may be of the greatest importance. If we risk a great deal on the fidelity or veracity of a man, we have a right to bind him by the solemnity of an oath; or if it is of great importance that others should confide in our veracity or fidelity, it may be right to give them the assurance which an oath is suited and intended to afford.
As to the Scriptural examples, by far the greater number of the oaths recorded in the Bible, and that with the implied approbation of God, are of a non-judicial character. Abraham swore to Abimelech. (Gen. 21:23.) Abraham made his servant swear to him. (Gen. 24:3.) Isaac and Abimelech interchanged oaths. (Gen. 26:31.) Jacob caused Joseph to swear not to bury him in Egypt. (47:31.) Joseph exacted a similar oath from his brethren. So we read of David's swearing to Saul, and to Jonathan, of Jonathan's to David, and of David's to Shimei. Such private oaths seem at times to have been prescribed in the Mosaic law. In Exodus 22:19, it is said, if a man deliver any animal to his neighbour for safe-keeping, and it die on his hands, "then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods." In the New Testament we find the Apostle frequently appealing to God to witness to the truth of what he said (Rom. 1:9; Phil. 1:8; 1 Thess. 2:5, 10); doing this also in the most formal manner, as in 2 Corinthians 1:23, "I call God for a record upon my soul."
Augustine's rule on this subject is good: "Quantum ad me pertinet, juro; sed quantum mihi videtur, magna necessitate compulsus." The multiplicity of oaths is a great evil. The rapid and irreverent administration of them is profane.
The Form of an Oath
Under the Old Testament, in voluntary oaths the usual form was, "The LORD do so to me, and more also." (Ruth 1:17; 2 Sam. 3:9, 35; 1 Kings 2:23; 2 Kings 6:31.) Or simply, "As the LORD liveth." (Ruth 3:13; Judges 8:19; 2 Sam. 2:27; Jer. 38:16); or as it is in Jeremiah 42:5, "The LORD be a true and faithful witness." In judicial proceedings the oath consisted in a simple assent to the adjuration, which assent was expressed in Hebrew by אָמֵן, and in Greek by σὺ εἶπας. The form is a matter of indifference; any form of words which implies an appeal to God as a witness is an oath. In swearing, the right hand was usually elevated towards heaven. Genesis 14:22, "Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth." Hence "to lift up the hand" was to swear. (See Deut. 32:40; Ex. 6:8 (in the Hebrew); Ezek. 20:5.) Lifting up the hand was evidently intended to intimate that the juror appealed to the God of heaven. Among Christians it is usual to put the hand upon the Bible, to indicate that the oath is taken in the name of the God of the Bible, and that the judgment invoked in case of perjury is that which the Bible denounces against false swearing. Kissing the Bible, another usual part of the ceremonial of an oath, is an expression of faith in the Bible as the word of God. There is nothing unseemly or superstitious in this. On the contrary, instead of appealing to the God of nature, it is most appropriate that the Christian should appeal to the God of the Bible, who, through Jesus Christ, is our reconciled God and Father.
Rules which determine the Interpretation and Obligation of an Oath
An oath must be interpreted according to the plain natural meaning of the words, or the sense in which they are understood by the party to whom the oath is given or by whom it is imposed. This is a plain dictate of honesty. If the juror understands the oath in a sense different from that attached to it by the party to whom it is given, the whole service is a deceit and mockery. The commander of whom Paley speaks, who swore to the garrison of a besieged town that if they surrendered, a drop of their blood should not be shed, and buried them all alive, was guilty, not only of perjury, but also of dastardly and cruel mockery. The animus imponentis, as is universally admitted, must therefore determine the interpretation of an oath. It was the fact that the Jesuits inculcated the lawfulness of mental reservation, which more than anything else made them an abomination in the eyes of all Christendom. It was this which furnished the sharpest thong to the scourge with which Pascal drove them out of Europe.
This is a matter about which men who mean to be honest are not always sufficiently careful. Their conscience is satisfied if what they say will bear an interpretation consistent with the truth, although the obvious sense is not true.
No oath is obligatory which binds a man to do what is unlawful or impossible. The sin lies in taking such an oath, not in breaking it. The reason of this rule is, that no man can bring himself under an obligation to commit a sin. Herod was not bound to keep his oath to the daughter of Herodias when she demanded the head of John the Baptist. Neither were the forty men, who had bound themselves with "an oath of execration" to kill Paul. But an oath voluntarily taken to do what is lawful and within the power of the juror binds the conscience, (a.) Even when fulfilling it involves injury to the temporal interests of the juror. The Bible pronounces the man blessed who "sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not." (Ps. 15:4.) (b.) When the oath is obtained by deceit or violence. In the latter case the juror makes a choice of evils. He swears to make a sacrifice to save himself from what he dreads more than the loss of what he promises to relinquish. This may often be a hard case. But such is the solemnity of an oath, and such the importance of its inviolable sanctity being preserved, that it is better to suffer injustice than that an oath should be broken. The case where an oath is obtained by deceit is more difficult, for when such deceit is practised the juror did not intend to assume the obligation which the oath imposes. He might, therefore, plausibly argue that if he did not intend to assume an obligation, it was not assumed. But, on the other hand, the principle involved in the commercial maxim, caveat emptor, applies to oaths. A man is bound to guard against deception; and if deceived he must take the consequences. Besides, those to whom the oath is given trust to it, and act upon it, and, in a certain sense at least, acquire rights under it. The Scriptures, however, in this as in all other cases, are our safest guide. When the Israelites conquered Canaan, the Gibeonites who dwelt in the land, sent delegates to Joshua pretending that they were from a distant country, and "Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them." When the deception was discovered, the people clamoured for their extermination. "But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel: now, therefore, we may not touch them." (Joshua 9:15, 19.) This oath, as appears from 2 Samuel 21:1, was sanctioned by God and the people were punished for violating it.
The principle on which the authorities of the Roman Church assume the right to free men from the obligation of their oaths, is that no man can bind himself to do what is sinful. It is the prerogative of the Church to decide what is sinful. If therefore the Church decide that an oath to obey a sovereign disobedient to the Pope, to preserve inviolate a safe conduct, or to keep faith with heretics or infidels is sinful, the obligation of every such oath ceases as soon as the judgment of the Church is rendered.
In answer to the question, "Cui competit potestas dispensandi super juramento?" the Romish theologians answer: "Principaliter competit summo Pontifici; non tamen nisi ex rationabili causa, quia dispensat in jure alieno: competit etiam jure ordinario Episcopis, non Parochis. Requirit autem hæc dispensatio potestatem jurisdictionis majoris." The casuists, on this as on all other practical subjects, go into the most minute details and subtle distinctions. Dens, for example, in the section above quoted, gives no less than ten conditions under which the obligation of an oath ceases. To the question: "Quibus modis potest cessare obligatio juramenti promissorii?" he answers: "1. Irritatione. 2. Dispensatione et relaxatione. 3. Commutatione. 4. Materiæ mutatione vel subtractione. 5. Cessante fine totali complete. 6. Ratione conditionis non adimpletæ. 7. Cessante principali obligatione cessat juramentum pure accessorium. 8. Non acceptatione, et condonatione, seu remissione. 9. Si juramentum incipiat vergere in deteriorem exitum, vel in præjudicium boni communis, vel etiam alicujus particularis, v. g. quis juravit occultare furtum alterius, sed inde alter liberius prolabitur ad alia furta: item cessat juramentum, quando directe est majoris boni impeditivum. 10. Denique cessat obligatio juramenti, licet improprie, per adimpletionem sive totalem solutionem rei juratæ: et e contra dicitur cessare ab initio, quia juramentum fuit nullum, sive quia nullam ab initio obligationem produxit." Number nine opens a very wide door; the last clause especially seems to teach that a promissory oath ceases to bind whenever it is expedient to break it.
The whole Romish system is the masterpiece of the "wisdom of the world." As many promissory oaths are not obligatory, it would seem to be wise, instead of leaving the question of their continued obligation to be decided by the individual juror, who is so liable to be unduly biased, to refer the matter to some competent authority. This would tend to prevent false judgments, to satisfy the conscience of the juror and the public mind. And as the question is a matter of morals and religion, it would seem to be proper that the decision should be referred to the organs of the Church. Rome makes all these seemingly wise arrangements. But as God has exalted no human authority over the individual conscience, as no man can delegate his responsibility to another, but every man must answer to God for himself, it is clear that no such arrangement can be consistent with the divine will. Again, if it were true that the Church were divinely guided so as to be infallible in its judgment, this tremendous power over the consciences of men might be safely intrusted to it; but as in fact the representatives of the Church are men of like passions as other men, and no more infallible than their fellows, Romanism is nothing more than a device to put the prerogatives and power of God into the hands of sinful men. History teaches how this usurped power has been used.
Vows are essentially different from oaths, in that they do not involve any appeal to God as a witness, or any imprecation of his displeasure. A vow is simply a promise made to God. The conditions of a lawful vow are, first, as to the object, or matter of the vow, (1.) That it be something in itself lawful. (2.) That it be acceptable to God. (3.) That it be within our own power. (4.) That it be for our spiritual edification. Secondly, as to the person making the vow, (1.) That he be competent; that is, that he have sufficient intelligence, and that he be sui juris. A child is not competent to make a vow; neither is one under authority so that he has not liberty of action as to the matter vowed. (2.) That he act with due deliberation and solemnity; for a vow is an act of worship. (3.) That it be made voluntarily, and observed cheerfully.
All these principles are recognized in the Bible. "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform: even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth." (Deut. 23:21–23.) In Numbers 30:3–5, it is enacted that if a woman in her father's house make a vow, and her father disallow it, it shall not stand, "and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her." The same rule is applied to wives and to children, on the obvious principle, that where the rights of others are concerned, we are not at liberty to disregard them.
All the conditions requisite to the lawfulness of a vow, may be included under the old formula, "judicium in vovente, justitia in objecto, veritas in mente." There are two conditions insisted upon by Romanists to which Protestants do not consent. The one is that a vow must be "de meliore bono," i.e., for a greater good. If a man vows to devote himself to the priesthood, to make a pilgrimage, to found a church, or to become a monk, the thing vowed is not only good in itself, but it is better than its opposite. The other condition is, that the thing vowed must be in itself not obligatory, so that the sphere of duty is enlarged by the vow. These conditions are included in those laid down by Dens. He says: "Quinque ex causis provenire, quod aliquid non sit apta materia voti; 1°. quia est impossibile; 2°. quia est necessarium; 3°. quia est illicitum; 4°. quia est indifferens vel inutile; 5°. quia non est bonum melius." The two conditions just specified no doubt concur in many vows acceptable to God, but they are not essential. A man may vow to do what he is bound to do, as is the case with every man who consecrates himself to God in baptism. Nor is it necessary that the thing vowed should be in its own nature a greater good. A man may bind himself to a work out of gratitude to God, which in its own nature is indifferent. This was the case with many of the particulars included in the vows of the Nazarite. There was no special virtue in abstaining from wine, vinegar, grapes moist or dry, or in letting "the locks of the hair of his head grow." (Num. 6:3–5.) The Romish doctrine on this subject is connected with the distinction which Papists make between precepts and counsels. The former bind the conscience, the others do not. There is special merit, according to their theory, in doing more than is commanded. No man is commanded to devote himself to a life of obedience, celibacy, and poverty, but if he does, so much the better; he has the greater merit.
As usual, the Romanists connect so many subordinate rules with the general principles laid down that they are explained away, or rendered of little use. Thus the rule that the matter of a vow must be "bonum melius," is explained to mean better in itself considered, and not better in relation to the person making the vow. Thus it may be very injurious to a man's spiritual interests to be bound by monastic vows; nevertheless, as the monastic life is in itself a "bonum melius," the vows once taken are obligatory. Then as to the condition of possibility; if possible as to the substance, but impossible as to the accidents, the vow is binding. Thus if a man vows to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on his knees, although going on his knees be impossible, he is bound to go in some way.
Lawfulness of Vows
On this subject there is little or no diversity of opinion. That they are lawful appears,—
1. From their nature. A vow is simply a promise made to God. It may be an expression of gratitude for some signal favour already given, or a pledge to manifest such gratitude for some blessing desired should God see fit to grant it. Thus Jacob vowed that if God would bring him back in peace to his father's house, he would consecrate to Him the tenth of all that he possessed. The Bible, and especially the Psalms, abound with examples of such vows of thank-offerings to God. Even Calvin, notwithstanding his deep sense of the evils entailed on the Church by the abuse of vows by the Romanists, says, "Ejusmodi vota hodie quoque nobis in usu esse possunt, quoties nos Dominus vel a clade aliqua, vel a morbo difficili, vel ab alio quovis discrimine eripuit. Neque enim a pii hominis officio tunc abhorret, votivam oblationem, velut sollenne recognitionis symbolum, Deo consecrare: ne ingratus erga ejus benignitatem videatur." He also recognizes the propriety of vows of abstinence from indulgences which we have found to be injurious; and also of vows the end of which is to render us more mindful of duties which we may be inclined to neglect. In all such vows there is a devout recognition of God, and of our obligations to Him. They, therefore, as well as oaths, are acts of worship. They are regarded as such in the Symbols of the Reformed Churches. Thus, for example, the "Declaratio Thoruniensis" includes, under acts of worship, "jusjurandum legitimum, quo Deum cordium inspectorem, ut veritatis testem, et falsitatis vindicem appellamus. Denique votum sacrum, quo vel nos ipsos, vel res aut actiones nostras Deo, velut sacrificium quoddam spirituale, consecramus et devovemus."
2. The fact that the Scriptures contain so many examples of vows, and so many injunctions to their faithful observance, is a sufficient proof that in their place, and on proper occasions, they are acceptable in the sight of God.
3. This is further evident from the fact that the baptismal covenant is of the nature of a vow. In that ordinance we solemnly promise to take God the Father to be our Father, Jesus Christ his Son to be our Saviour, the Holy Ghost to be our Sanctifier, and his word to be the rule of our faith and practice. The same is true of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; in that ordinance we consecrate ourselves to Christ as the purchase of his blood, and vow to be faithful to Him to the end. The same thing is true also of the marriage covenant, because the promises therein made are not merely between the parties, but by both parties to the contract, to God.
But while the lawfulness of vows is to be admitted, they should not be unduly multiplied, or made on slight occasions, or allowed to interfere with our Christian liberty. Not only have the violation of these rules been productive of the greatest evils in the Church of Rome, but Protestant Christians also have often reduced themselves to a miserable state of bondage by the multiplication of vows. When such cases occur, it is healthful and right for the Christian to assert his liberty. As a believer cannot rightfully be brought into bondage to men, so neither can he rightfully make a slave of himself. He should remember that God prefers mercy to sacrifice; that no service is acceptable to Him which is injurious to us; that He does not require us to observe promises which we ought never to have made; and that vows about trifles are irreverent, and should neither be made nor regarded, but should be repented of as sins. Even Thomas Aquinas says, "Vota quæ sunt de rebus vanis et inutilibus, sunt magis deridenda, quam servanda."
At the time of the Reformation the doors of all the monasteries in lands in which Protestants had the power, were thrown open, and their inmates declared free in the sight of God and man, from the vows by which they had hitherto been bound. Protestants did not maintain that there was anything intrinsically wrong in a man, or a company of men renouncing the ordinary avocations of life, and devoting himself or themselves to a religious life. Nor did they object to such men living together and conforming to a prescribed rule of discipline; nor did they deny that such institutions under proper regulations, might be, and in fact had been of great and manifold utility. They had been places of security for those who had no taste for the conflicts by which all Christendom was so long agitated. In many cases they were places of education and seats of learning. Their objections to them were,—
1. That they had been perverted from their original design, and had become the sources of evil and not of good, in every part of the Church. Instead of its being free to every one to enter and to leave these institutions at discretion, those once initiated were bound for life by the vows which they had made, and instead of the obligations assumed being rational and Scriptural, they were unreasonable and unscriptural. Instead of the inmates of these institutions supporting themselves by their own labour, they were allowed to live in idleness, supported by alms or by the revenues of the convents, which had in many cases become enormous. This objection was directed to the very principle on which the monastic institutions of the Romish Church were founded. On this point Calvin says, "Proinde meminerint lectores, fuisse me de monachismo potius quam de monachis loquutum, et ea vitia notasse, non quæ in paucorum vita hærent, sed quæ ab ipso vivendi instituto separari nequeunt."
2. To this, however, was added the argument from experience. Monastic institutions had become the sources of untold evils to the Church. Being in a great measure independent of the ordinary ecclesiastical authorities, they were the cause of conflict and agitation. Each order was an "imperium in imperio," and one order was arrayed against another, as one feudal baron against his fellows. Besides, the corruption of manners within the convents as portrayed by Romanists themselves, rendered them such a scandal and offence as to justify their summary suppression. Much is implied in the answer of Erasmus to Frederick the Wise, "Lutherus peccavit in duobus, nempe quod tetigit coronam pontificis et ventres monachorum."
3. Practical evils might be reformed, but Protestants objected that the whole system of monkery was founded on the false principle of the merit of good works. It was only on the assumption that men could work out a righteousness of their own, that they submitted to the self-denial and restraints of the monastic life. If, however, as Protestants believe, there is no merit in the sight of God in anything fallen men can do, and the righteousness of Christ is the sole ground of our acceptance with God, the whole ground on which these institutions were defended is undermined. To enter a monastery, on the theory of the Romish Church, was to renounce the doctrine of salvation by grace. Besides, it was also taught that celibacy, obedience, and voluntary poverty, being uncommanded, the monastic vow to observe these rules of life, involved special merit. This was a twofold error. First, it is an error to suppose that there can be any work of supererogation. The law of God demanding absolute perfection of heart and life, there can be no such thing as going beyond its requirements. And, secondly, it is an error to assume that there is any virtue at all in celibacy, monastic obedience, or voluntary poverty. These are not "meliora bona" in the Romish sense of the words. In this view, also, monastic vows are antichristian.
4. A fourth reason urged by Protestants for pronouncing monastic vows invalid, was that they were unlawful, not only for the reason just assigned, but also because they were contrary to the law of Christ. No man has the right to swear away his liberty; to reduce himself to a state of absolute subjection to a fellow-mortal. To his own master he must stand or fall. The vow of obedience made by every monk or nun was a violation of the apostolic injunction, "Be not ye the servants of men." The same remark is applicable to the vow of celibacy. No one has a right to take that vow; because celibacy is right or wrong according to circumstances. It may be a sin, and therefore no such vow can bind the conscience.
5. Monastic life, instead of being subservient to holiness of heart, was in the vast majority of cases injurious to the monks themselves. The fearful language of Jerome is full of instruction: "O quoties ego ipso in eremo constitutus in illa vasta solitudine, quæ exusta solis ardoribus, horridum monachis præstat habitaculum, putavi me Romanis interesse deliciis.… Ille igitur ego, qui ob Gehennæ metum tali me earcere ipse damnaveram, seorpiorum tantum socius et ferarum, sæpe choris intereram puellarum. Pallebant ora jejuniis, et mens desideriis æstuabat in frigido corpore, et ante hominem sua jam in carne præmortuum, sola libidinum incendia bulliebant." In the day when that which is hidden shall be made manifest, there will probably be no such fearful revelation of self-torture as that made by unveiling the secret life of the inmates of monastic institutions. They are in necessary conflict with the laws of nature and with the law of God.
The Protestants adopted the rule announced by Calvin: "Omnia non legitima nec rite concepta, ut apud Deum nihili sunt, sic nobis irrita esse debere." For, he immediately adds, as in human contracts only that continues binding, which he to whom the promise is made wishes us to observe, so it is to be supposed that we are not bound to do what God does not wish us to do, simply because we have promised Him to do it. On these grounds the Reformers with one accord pronounced all monastic vows to be null and void. Thus the Gospel became a proclamation of liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to those who were bound.
§ 8. The Fourth Commandment
The design of the fourth commandment was, (1.) To commemorate the work of creation. The people were commanded to remember the Sabbath-day and to keep it holy, because in six days God had made the heavens and the earth. (2.) To preserve alive the knowledge of the only living and true God. If heaven and earth, that is, the universe, were created, they must have had a creator; and that creator must be extramundane, existing before, out of, and independently of the world. He must be almighty, and infinite in knowledge, wisdom, and goodness; for all these attributes are necessary to account for the wonders of the heavens and the earth. So long, therefore, as men believe in creation, they must believe in God. This accounts for the fact that so much stress is laid upon the right observance of the Sabbath. Far more importance is attributed to that observance than to any merely ceremonial institution. (3.) This command was designed to arrest the current of the outward life of the people and to turn their thoughts to the unseen and spiritual. Men are so prone to be engrossed by the things of this world that it was, and is, of the highest importance that there should be one day of frequent recurrence on which they were forbidden to think of the things of the world, and forced to think of the things unseen and eternal. (4.) It was intended to afford time for the instruction of the people, and for the public and special worship of God. (5.) By the prohibition of all servile labour, whether of man or beast, it was designed to secure recuperative rest for those on whom the primeval curse had fallen: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." (6.) As a day of rest and as set apart for intercourse with God, it was designed to be a type of that rest which remains for the people of God, as we learn from Psalms 95:11, as expounded by the Apostle in Hebrews 4:1–10. (7.) As the observance of the Sabbath had died out among the nations, it was solemnly reënacted under the Mosaic dispensation to be a sign of the covenant between God and the children of Israel. They were to be distinguished as the Sabbath-keeping people among all the nations of the earth, and as such were to be the recipients of God's special blessings. Exodus 31:13, "Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you." And in verses 16, 17, "Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever." And in Ezekiel 20:12, it is said, "Moreover, also, I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them."
The Sabbath was instituted from the Beginning, and is of Perpetual Obligation
1. This may be inferred from the nature and design of the institution. It is a generally recognized principle, that those commands of the Old Testament which were addressed to the Jews as Jews and were founded on their peculiar circumstances and relations, passed away when the Mosaic economy was abolished; but those founded on the immutable nature of God, or upon the permanent relations of men, are of permanent obligation. There are many such commands which bind men as men; fathers as fathers; children as children; and neighbours as neighbours. It is perfectly apparent that the fourth commandment belongs to this latter class. It is important for all men to know that God created the world, and therefore is an extramundane personal being, infinite in all his perfections. All men need to be arrested in their worldly career, and called upon to pause and to turn their thoughts Godward. It is of incalculable importance that men should have time and opportunity for religious instruction and worship. It is necessary for all men and servile animals to have time to rest and recuperate their strength. The daily nocturnal rest is not sufficient for that purpose, as physiologists assure us, and as experience has demonstrated. Such is obviously the judgment of God.
It appears, therefore, from the nature of this commandment as moral, and not positive or ceremonial, that it is original and universal in its obligation. No man assumes that the commands, "Thou shalt not kill," and "Thou shalt not steal," were first announced by Moses, and ceased to be obligatory when the old economy passed away. A moral law is one that binds from its own nature. It expresses an obligation arising either out of our relations to God or out of our permanent relations to our fellowmen. It binds whether formally enacted or not. There are no doubt positive elements in the fourth commandment as it stands in the Bible. It is positive that a seventh, and not a sixth or eighth part of our time should be consecrated to the public service of God. It is positive that the seventh rather than any other day of the week should be thus set apart. But it is moral that there should be a day of rest and cessation from worldly avocations. It is of moral obligation that God and his great works should be statedly remembered. It is a moral duty that the people should assemble for religious instruction and for the united worship of God. All this was obligatory before the time of Moses, and would have been binding had he never existed. All that the fourth commandment did was to put this natural and universal obligation into a definite form.
2. The original and universal obligation of the law of the Sabbath may be inferred from its having found a place in the decalogue. As all the other commandments in that fundamental revelation of the duties of men to God and to their neighbour, are moral and permanent in their obligation, it would be incongruous and unnatural if the fourth should be a solitary exception. This argument is surely not met by the answer given to it by the advocates of the opposite doctrine. The argument they say is valid only on the assumption "that the Mosaic law, because of its divine origin, is of universal and permanent authority." May it not be as well said, If the command, "Thou shalt not steal," be still in force, the whole code of the Mosaic law must be binding? The fourth commandment is read in all Christian churches, whenever the decalogue is read, and the people are taught to say, "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law."
3. Another argument is derived from the penalty attached to the violation of this commandment. "Ye shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death." (Ex. 31:14.) The violation of no merely ceremonial or positive law was visited with this penalty. Even the neglect of circumcision, although it involved the rejection of both the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenant, and necessarily worked the forfeiture of all the benefits of the theocracy, was not made a capital offence. The law of the Sabbath by being thus distinguished was raised far above the level of mere positive enactments. A character was given to it, not only of primary importance, but also of special sanctity.
4. We accordingly find that in the prophets as well as in the Pentateuch, and the historical books of the Old Testament, the Sabbath is not only spoken of as "a delight," but also its faithful observance is predicted as one of the characteristics of the Messianic period. Thus Isaiah says, "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a Delight, the Holy of the LORD, Honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." (Is. 58:13, 14.) Gesenius is very much puzzled at this. The prophets predicted that under the Messiah the true religion was to be extended to the ends of the earth. But the public worship of God was by the Jewish law tied to Jerusalem. That law was neither designed nor adapted for a universal religion. To those, therefore, who believe that the Sabbath was a temporary Mosaic institution to pass away when the old economy was abolished, it is altogether incongruous that a prophet should represent the faithful observance of the Sabbath as one of the chief blessings and glories of the Messiah's reign.
These considerations, apart from historical evidence or the direct assertion of the Scriptures, are enough to create a strong, if not an invincible presumption, that the Sabbath was instituted from the beginning, and was designed to be of universal and permanent obligation. Whatever law had a temporary ground or reason for its enactment, was temporary in its obligation. Where the reason of the law is permanent the law itself is permanent.
The greater number of Christian theologians who deny all this, still admit the Sabbath to be a most wise and beneficent institution. Nay, many of them go so far as to represent its violation, as a day of religious rest, as a sin. This, however, is a concession that the reason for the command is permanent, and that if God has not required its observance, the Church or State is bound to do so.
Direct Evidence of the ante-Mosaic institution of the Sabbath
Presumptive evidence may be strong enough to coerce assent. The advocates of the early institution of the Sabbath, however, are not limited to that kind of evidence. There is direct proof of the fact for which they contend,—
1. In Genesis 2:3, it is said, "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." It is indeed easy to say that this is a prolepsis; that the passage assigns the reason why in the times of Moses, God selected the seventh, rather than any other day of the week to be the Sabbath. This is indeed possible, but it is not probable. It is an unnatural interpretation which no one would adopt except to suit a purpose. The narrative purports to be an account of what God did at the time of the creation. When the earth was prepared for his reception, God created man on the sixth day, and rested from the work of creation on the seventh, and set apart that day as a holy day to be a perpetual memorial of the great work which He had accomplished. This is the natural sense of the passage, from which only the strongest reasons would authorize us to depart. All collateral reasons, however, are on its side.
In support of this interpretation the authority of the most impartial, as well as the most competent interpreters might be quoted. Grotius did not believe in the perpetuity of the Sabbath, yet he admits that in Genesis 2:3, it is said that the seventh day was set apart as holy from the creation. He assumes, on the authority, as he says, of many learned Hebrews, that there were two precepts concerning the Sabbath. The one given at the beginning enjoined that every seventh day should be remembered as a memorial of the creation. And in this sense, he says, the Sabbath was doubtless observed by the patriarchs, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc. The second precept was given from Mount Sinai when the Sabbath was made a memorial of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. This latter law enjoined rest from labour on the Sabbath. The Scriptural argument which he urges in support of this theory, is, that in all the accounts of the journeyings of the patriarchs, we never read of their resting on the seventh day; whereas after the law given from Mount Sinai, this reference to the resting of the people on the Sabbath is of constant occurrence.
Delitzsch says "Hengstenberg understands Genesis 2:3, as though it were written from the stand-point of the Mosaic law, as if it were said, God for this reason in after times blessed the seventh day; which scarcely needs a refutation. God himself, the Creator, celebrated a Sabbath immediately after the six days' work, and because his σαββατισμός could become the σαββατισμός of his creatures, He made for that purpose the seventh day, by his blessing, to be a perennial fountain of refreshment, and clothed that day by hallowing it with special glory for all time to come."
Baumgarten in his comment on this verse says the separation of this day from all others was made so that "the return of this blessed and holy day should be to him a memorial, and participation of the divine rest." And Knobel, one of the most pronounced of the rationalistic commentators, says, "That the author of Genesis makes the distinction of the seventh day coeval with the creation, although the carrying out of the purpose thus intimated was deferred to the time of Moses. Nothing is known of any ante-Mosaic celebration of the Sabbath."2
2. Apart from the fact that the reason for the Sabbath existed from the beginning, there is direct historical evidence that the hebdomadal division of time prevailed before the deluge. Noah in Genesis 8:10, 12, is said twice to have rested seven days. And again in the time of Jacob, as appears from Genesis 29:27, 28, the division of time into weeks was recognized as an established usage. As seven is not an equal part either of a solar year or of a lunar month, the only satisfactory account of this fact, is to be found in the institution of the Sabbath. This fact moreover proves not only the original institution, but also the continued observance of the seventh day. There must have been something to distinguish that day as the close of one period or the commencement of another. It is altogether unnatural to account for this hebdomadal division by a reference to the worship of the seven planets. There is no evidence that the planets were objects of worship at that early period of the world, or for a long time afterwards, especially among the Shemitic races. Besides, this explanation is inconsistent with the account of the creation. The divine authority of the book of Genesis is here taken for granted. What it asserts, Christians are bound to believe. It is undeniably taught in this book that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. It matters not how the word "days" may be explained, we have in the history of the creation this hebdomadal division of time. No earlier cause for the prevalence of that division can be given, and no other is needed, or can reasonably be assumed.
This division of time into weeks, was not confined to the Hebrew race. It was almost universal. This fact proves that it must have had its origin in the very earliest period in the history of the world.
3. That the law of the Sabbath was not first given on Mount Sinai, may also be inferred from the fact that it was referred to as a known and familiar institution, before that law was promulgated. Thus in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus the people were directed to gather on the sixth day of the week manna sufficient for the seventh, as on that day none would be provided. And more particularly in the twenty-third verse, it is said, "To-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to-day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you, to be kept until morning." And in the twenty-sixth verse we read, "Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none." There was therefore a Sabbath before the Mosaic law was given. Again, the language used in the fourth commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," naturally implies that the Sabbath was not a new institution. It was a law given in the beginning, that had doubtless in a good measure, especially during their bondage in Egypt, become obsolete, which the people were henceforth to remember and faithfully observe.
The objection to the pre-Mosaic institution of the Sabbath founded on the silence of Genesis on the subject in the history of the patriarchs, is of little weight. It is to be remembered that the book of Genesis, comprised in some sixty octavo pages, gives us the history of nearly two thousand years. All details not bearing immediately on the design of the author were of necessity left out. If nothing was done but what is there recorded, the antediluvians and patriarchs lived almost entirely without religious observances.
The Sabbath does not stand alone. It is well known that Moses adopted and incorporated with his extended code many of the ancient usages of the chosen people. This was the case with sacrifices and circumcision, as well as with all the principles of the decalogue. That a particular law, therefore, is found in the Mosaic economy is not sufficient evidence that it had its origin with the Hebrew Lawgiver, or that it ceased to be binding when the old dispensation was abrogated. If the reason for the law remains, the law itself remains; and if given to mankind before the birth of Moses, it binds mankind. On this point even Dr. Paley says: "If the divine command was actually delivered at the creation, it was addressed, no doubt, to the whole human species alike, and continues, unless repealed by some subsequent revelation, binding upon all who come to the knowledge of it." That the law of the Sabbath was thus given is, as has been shown, the common opinion even of those who deny its perpetual obligation, and therefore its permanence cannot reasonably be questioned by those who admit the principle that what was given to mankind was meant for mankind.
4. It is a strong argument in favour of this conclusion, that the law of the Sabbath was taken up and incorporated in the new dispensation by the Apostles, the infallible founders of the Christian Church. All the Mosaic laws founded on the permanent relations of men either to God or to their fellows, are in like manner adopted in the Christian Code. They are adopted, however, only as to their essential elements. Every law, ceremonial or typical, or designed only for the Jews, is discarded. Men are still bound to worship God, but this is not now to be done especially at Jerusalem, or by sacrifices, or through the ministration of priests. Marriage is as sacred now as it ever was, but all the special laws regulating its duties, and the penalty for its violation, are abrogated. Homicide is as great a crime now as under the Mosaic economy, but the old laws about the avenger of blood and cities of refuge are no longer in force. The rights of property remain unimpaired under the gospel dispensation, but the Jewish laws regarding its distribution and protection, are no longer binding. The same is true with regard to the Sabbath. We are as much bound to keep one day in seven holy unto the Lord, as were the patriarchs or Israelites. This law binds all men as men, because given to all mankind, and because it is founded upon the nature common to all men, and the relation which all men bear to God. The two essential elements of the command are that the Sabbath should be a day of rest, that is, of cessation from worldly avocations and amusements; and that it should be devoted to the worship of God and the services of religion. All else is circumstantial and variable. It is not necessary that it should be observed with special reference to the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt; nor are the details as to the things to be done or avoided, or as to the penalty for transgression obligatory on us. We are not bound to offer the sacrifices required of the Jews, nor are we bound to abstain from lighting a fire on that day. In like manner the day of the week is not essential. The change from the seventh to the first was circumstantial. If made for sufficient reason and by competent authority, the change is obligatory. The reason for the change is patent. If the deliverance of the Hebrew from the bondage in Egypt should be commemorated, how much more the redemption of the world by the Son of God. If the creation of the material universe should be kept in perpetual remembrance, how much more the new creation secured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If men wish the knowledge of that event to die out, let them neglect to keep holy the first day of the week; if they desire that event to be everywhere known and remembered, let them consecrate that day to the worship of the risen Saviour. This is God's method for keeping the resurrection of Christ, on which our salvation depends, in perpetual remembrance.
This change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week was made not only for a sufficient reason, but also by competent authority. It is a simple historical fact that the Christians of the apostolic age ceased to observe the seventh, and did observe the first day of the week as the day for religious worship. Thus from the creation, in unbroken succession, the people of God have, in obedience to the original command, devoted one day in seven to the worship of the only living and true God. It is hard to conceive of a stronger argument than this for the perpetual obligation of the Sabbath as a divine institution. It is not worth while to stop to answer the objection, that the record of this uninterrupted observance of the Sabbath is incomplete. History does not record everything. We find the fountain of this river of mercy in paradise; we trace its course from age to age; we see its broad and beneficent flow before our eyes. If here and there, in its course through millenniums, it be lost from view in a morass or cavern, its reappearance proves its identity and the divinity of its origin. The Sabbath is to the nations what the Nile is to Egypt, and you might as well call the one a human device as the other. Nothing but divine authority and divine power can account for the continued observance of this sacred institution from the beginning until now.
5. It is fair to argue the divine origin of the Sabbath from its supreme importance. As to the fact of its importance all Christians are agreed. They may differ as to the ground on which the obligation to observe it rests, and as to the strictness with which the day should be observed, but that men are bound to observe it, and that its due observance is of essential importance, there is no difference of opinion among the churches of Christendom. But if so essential to the interests of religion, is it conceivable that God has not enjoined it? He has given the world the Church, the Bible, the ministry, the sacraments; these are not human devices. And can it be supposed that the Sabbath, without which all these divine institutions would be measurably inefficient, should be left to the will or wisdom of men? This is not to be supposed. That these divinely appointed means for the illumination and sanctification of men, are in a great measure without effect, where the Sabbath is neglected or profaned, is a matter of experience. It is undeniable that the mass of the people are indebted to the services of the sanctuary on the Lord's Day, for their religious knowledge. Any community or class of men who ignore the Sabbath and absent themselves from the sanctuary, as a general thing, become heathen. They have little more true religious knowledge than pagans. But without such knowledge morality is impossible. Religion is not only the lifeblood of morality, so that without the former the latter cannot be; but God has revealed his purpose that it shall not be. If men refuse to retain Him in their knowledge, He declares that He will give them up to a reprobate mind. (Rom. 1:28.) Men do not know what they are doing, when by their teaching or example they encourage the neglect or profanation of the Lord's Day. We have in the French Communists an illustration and a warning of what a community without a Sabbath, i.e., without religion, must ultimately and inevitably become. Irreligious men of course sneer at religion and deny its importance, but the Bible and experience are against them.
The general objections against the doctrine that the law of the Sabbath is of universal and perpetual obligation, have already been incidentally considered. Those derived from the New Testament are principally the following:—
1. An objection is drawn from the absence of any express command. No such command was needed. The New Testament has no decalogue. That code having been once announced, and never repealed, remains in force. Its injunctions are not so much categorically repeated, as assumed as still obligatory. We find no such words as, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," or "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." Paul says, "I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." (Rom. 7:7.) The law which said "Thou shalt not covet," is in the decalogue. Paul does not reënact the command, he simply takes for granted that the decalogue is now as ever the law of God.
2. It is urged not only that there is no positive command on the subject, but also that there is a total silence in the New Testament respecting any obligation to keep holy one day in seven. Our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount, it is said, while correcting the false interpretations of the Mosaic law given by the Pharisees, and expounding its precepts in their true sense, says nothing of the fourth commandment. The same is true of the council in Jerusalem. That council says nothing about the necessity of the heathen converts observing a Sabbath. But all this may be said of other precepts the obligation of which no man questions. Neither our Lord nor the council say anything about the worshipping of graven images. Besides, our Lord elsewhere does do, with regard to the fourth commandment, precisely what He did in the Sermon on the Mount with regard to other precepts of the decalogue. He reproved the Pharisees for their false interpretation of that commandment, without the slightest intimation that the law itself was not to remain in force.
3. Appeal is made to such passages as Colossians 2:16, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days;" and Romans 14:5, "One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Every one knows, however, that the apostolic churches were greatly troubled by Judaizers, who insisted that the Mosaic law continued in force, and that Christians were bound to conform to its prescriptions with regard to the distinction between clean and unclean meats, and its numerous feast days, on which all labour was to be intermitted. These were the false teachers and this was the false doctrine against which so much of St. Paul's epistles was directed. It is in obvious reference to these men and their doctrines that such passages as those cited above were written. They have no reference to the weekly Sabbath, which had been observed from the creation, and which the Apostles themselves introduced and perpetuated in the Christian Church.
4. It also frequently said that a weekly Sabbath is out of keeping with the spirit of the Gospel, which requires the consecration of the whole life and of all our time to God. With the Christian, it is said, every day is holy, and one day is not more holy than another. It is not true, however, that the New Testament requires greater consecration to God than the Old. The Gospel has many advantages over the Mosaic dispensation, but that is not one of them. It was of old, even from the beginning, required of all men that they should love God with all the heart, with all the mind, and with all the strength; and their neighbour as themselves. More than this the Gospel demands of no man. If it consists with the spirituality of the Church that believers should not neglect the assembling themselves together; and that they should have a stated ministry, sacramental rites, and the power of excommunication, and all this by Divine appointment; then it is hard to see why the consecration of one day in seven to the service of God, should be inconsistent with its spiritual character. So long as we are in the body, religion cannot be exclusively a matter of the heart. It must have its institutions and ordinances; and any attempt to dispense with these would be as unreasonable and as futile as for the soul, in this our present state of existence, to attempt to do without the body.
5. Another ground is often taken on this subject. The importance of the Sabbath is not denied. The obligation to keep it holy is admitted. It is declared to be sinful to engage in worldly avocations or amusements on that day; but it is denied that this obligation to consecrate the day to God rests upon any divine command. It is denied that the original sanctification of the seventh day at the creation binds all men to keep one day in seven holy to the Lord. It is maintained that the fourth commandment, both as to its essence and as to its accidents is abrogated; and, therefore, that there is no express command of God now in force requiring us to keep holy the Sabbath. The obligation is either self-imposed, or it is imposed by the Church. The Church requires its members to observe the Lord's Day, as it requires them to observe Christmas or Good Friday; and Christians, it is said, are bound to obey the Church, as citizens are bound to obey the state. But Protestants deny that the Church has power to make laws to bind the conscience. That is the prerogative of God. If the Church may do it in one case it may in another; and we should be made the servants of men. It is by this simple principle, that men are bound to obey the Church, that Rome has effectually despoiled all who acknowledge her authority of the liberty wherewith Christ has made his people free.
Most of the modern evangelical theologians in Germany say that the obligation to observe the Sabbath is self-imposed. That is, that every man, and especially every Christian, is bound to do all he can to promote the interests of religion and the good of society. The consecration of the Lord's Day to the worship of God is eminently conducive to these ends; therefore men are bound to keep it holy. But an obligation self-imposed is limited to self. One man thinks it best to devote Sunday to religion; another that it should be kept as a day of relaxation and amusement. One man's liberty cannot be judged by another man's conscience. Expediency can never be the ground of a universal and permanent obligation. The history of the Church proves that no such views of duty are adequate to coerce the conscience and govern the lives of men. The Sabbath is not in fact consecrated to religion, where its divine authority is denied. The churches may be more or less frequented, but the day is principally devoted to amusement. A German theologian says that the doctrine that the religious observance of the Sabbath rests on an express divine command, "prevails throughout the whole English-speaking part of Christendom," and that in the Evangelical Church in Germany, some either from a too legal view of Christianity, or from servile subjection to the letter of the Bible, or impressed by the solemn stillness of an English Sunday as contrasted with its profanation elsewhere, have ever been inclined to the same views. Although this writer, the representative of a large class, asserts his Christian liberty to observe one day above another, or all days alike, he admits that the religious observance of the Lord's Day is not a matter of indifference; on the contrary, he says that "its profanation (Verleztung) is a sin." To make a thing sinful, however, he says it is not necessary that it should be against an express divine command. A Christian's conscience, "guided by the word, and enlightened by the Spirit of God," is his rule of conduct. Conscience thus guided and enlightened, may enjoin or forbid much for which no explicit directions can be found in the Scriptures. No man denies all this; but a man's conscience is a guide for himself, and not for other people. If we hold fast the fundamental principle of our Protestant faith and freedom, "that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice," we must be able to plead express divine authority for the religious observance of the Lord's Day, or allow every man so to keep it or not as he sees fit. To his own master he stands or falls; to Him alone is he accountable for the use which he makes of his Christian liberty. But as no man is at liberty to steal or not to steal as he sees fit, so all "English speaking" Christians with one voice say, he is not at liberty to sanctify or profane the Sabbath, as he sees fit. He is bound by the primal and immutable law given at the creation, to keep one day in seven holy to the Lord.
If it be true that it is peculiar to the Anglo-Saxon race to hold this view of the obligation of the Christian Sabbath, then they have special reason for profound gratitude to God. God of old said to the Israelites, "Hallow my Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God." That is, it shall be for a sign that you are my people. So long as you keep the Sabbath holy I will bless you; when you neglect and profane it, your blessings shall depart from you. (Jer. 17:20–27.) If it be then the distinction of Anglo-Saxon Christians, that they are a sabbath-keeping people, it is one to be highly prized and sedulously guarded; and in this country especially, we should be watchful lest the influx of immigrants of other nationalities deprive us of this great distinction and its blessings.
It is a popular objection against the religious observance of the Lord's Day, that the labouring classes need it as a day of recreation. On this it is obvious to remark, (1.) That there are many grievous evils in our modern civilization, but these are not to be healed by trampling on the laws of God. If men crowd labourers into narrow premises, and overwork them in heated factories six days in the week, they cannot atone for that sin by making the Lord's Day a day for amusement. (2.) So far from Sunday, as generally spent by the labouring class, being a day of refreshment, it is just the reverse. Monday is commonly with them the worst day in the week for labour; it is needed as a day for recovery from the effects of a misspent Sunday. (3.) If the labouring classes are provided with healthful places of abode and are not overworked, then the best restorative is entire rest from ordinary occupations, and directing their thoughts and feelings into new channels, by the purifying and elevating offices of religion. This is the divinely appointed method of preserving the bodies and souls of men in a healthful state, a method which no human device is likely to improve.
How is the Sabbath to be Sanctified?
It may be said in general terms to be the opinion of the whole Jewish and Christian Church, that the sanctification required by God, consists not merely in cessation from worldly avocations, but also in the consecration of the day to the offices of religion. That this is the correct view is proved, (1.) Not only by the general consent of the people of God under both dispensations, but also by the constant use of the words to "hallow," to "make" or, "keep holy," and to "sanctify." The uniform use of such expressions, shows that the day was set apart from a common to a sacred use. (2.) From the command to increase the number of sacrifices in the temple service, which proves that the day was to be religiously observed. (3.) From the design of the institution, which from the beginning was religious; the commemoration of the work of creation, and after the advent, of the resurrection of Christ. (4.) In Leviticus 23, a list is given of those days on which there was to be "a holy convocation" of the people; i.e., on which the people were to be called together for public worship, and the Sabbath is the first given. (5.) The command is constantly repeated that the people should be faithfully instructed out of the law, which was to be read to them on all suitable occasions. To give opportunity for such instruction was evidently one of the principal objects of these "holy convocations." (Deut. 6:6, 7, 17–19; Josh. 1:8.) This instruction of the people was made the special duty of the Levites (Deut. 33:10); and of the priests. (Lev. 10:11, comp. Mal. 2:7.) The reading of the law was doubtless a regular part of the service on all the days on which the people were solemnly called together for religious worship. Thus in Deuteronomy 31:11, 12, we read, "When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law." Such was the design of the convocation of the people. We know from the New Testament that the Scriptures were read every Sabbath in the synagogues; and the synagogues were among the earliest institutions of the chosen people. 2 Kings 4:23, at least proves that at that period it was customary for the people to resort on the Sabbath to holy men for instruction. In Psalm 74:8, it is said of the heathen, "They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land." The word here rendered "synagogues," means "assemblies," but burning up "assemblies" can only mean places of assembly; as burning up churches, in our mode of expression, can only mean the edifices where churches or congregations are accustomed to assemble. What other places of assembling the Psalmist could refer to, if synagogues did not then exist, it is hard to understand. But admitting that synagogues were not common among the Jews until after the exile, which is a very improbable supposition, the fact that reading the Scriptures on the Sabbath was an established part of the synagogue service, goes far to prove that it was a sabbatical service long before the exile. (6.) The place of the fourth command in the decalogue; the stress laid upon it in the Old Testament; the way in which it is spoken of in the prophets; and the Psalms appointed to be used on that day, as for example the ninety-second, all show that the day was set apart for religious duties from the beginning. (7.) This may also be argued from the whole character of the old dispensation. All its institutions were religious; they were all intended to keep alive the knowledge of the true God, and to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. It would be entirely out of keeping with the spirit of the Mosaic economy to assume that its most important and solemn holy day was purely secular in its design.
It is admitted that the precepts of the decalogue bind the Church in all ages; while the specific details contained in the books of Moses, designed to point out the way in which the duty they enjoined was then to be performed, are no longer in force. The fifth commandment still binds children to obey their parents; but the Jewish law giving fathers the power of life and death over their children, is no longer in force. The seventh commandment forbids adultery, but the ordeal enjoined for the trial of a woman suspected of that crime, is a thing of the past. The same principle applies to the interpretation of the fourth commandment. The command itself is still in force; the Mosaic laws respecting the mode of its observance have passed away with the economy to which they belonged. It is unjust therefore to represent the advocates of the continued obligation of the fourth commandment, as Judaizers. They are no more Judaizers than those who hold that the other precepts of the decalogue are still in force.
There are two rules by which we are to be guided in determining how the Sabbath is to be observed, or in deciding what is, and what is not lawful on that holy day. The first is, the design of the commandment. What is consistent with that design is lawful; what is inconsistent with it, is unlawful. The second rule is to be found in the precepts and example of our Lord and of his Apostles. The design of the command is to be learned from the words in which it is conveyed and from other parts of the word of God. From these sources it is plain that the design of the institution, as already remarked, was in the main twofold. First, to secure rest from all worldly cares and avocations; to arrest for a time the current of the worldly life of men, not only lest their minds and bodies should be overworked, but also that opportunity should be afforded for other and higher interests to occupy their thoughts. And secondly, that God should be properly worshipped, his word duly studied and taught, and the soul brought under the influence of the things unseen and eternal. Any man who makes the design of the Sabbath as thus revealed in Scripture his rule of conduct on that day, can hardly fail in its due observance. The day is to be kept holy unto the Lord. In Scriptural usage to hallow or make holy is to set apart to the service of God. Thus the tabernacle, the temple, and all its utensils were made holy. In this sense the Sabbath is holy. It is to be devoted to the duties of religion, and what is inconsistent with such devotion, is contrary to the design of the institution.
It is however to be remembered that the specific object of the Christian Sabbath is the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. All the exercises of the day, therefore, should have a special reference to Him and to his redeeming work. It is the day in which He is to be worshipped, thanked, and praised; in which men are to be called upon to accept his offers of grace, and to rejoice in the hope of his salvation. It is therefore a day of joy. It is utterly incongruous to make it a day of gloom or fasting. In the early Church men were forbidden to pray on their knees on that day. They were to stand erect, exulting in the accomplishment of the work of God's redeeming love.
The second rule for our guidance is to be found in the precepts and example of our Lord. In the first place, He lays down the principle, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." It is to be remarked that Christ says, "the Sabbath was made for man," not for the Jews, not for the people of any one age or nation, but for man; for man as man, and therefore for all men. Moral duties, however, often conflict, and then the lower must yield to the higher. The life, the health, and the well-being of a man are higher ends in a given case, than the punctilious observance of any external service. This is the rule laid down by the prophet (Hosea 6:6): "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offering." This passage our Lord quotes twice in application to the law of the Sabbath, and thus establishes the general principle for our guidance, that it is right to do on the Sabbath whatever mercy or a due regard to the comfort or welfare of ourselves or others requires to be done. Christ, therefore, says expressly, "It is lawful to do well (καλῶς ποιεῖν, that is, as the context shows, to confer benefits) on the Sabbath days." (Matt. 12:12. See also Mark 3:4.)
Again, we are told by the same authority, that "the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are blameless." (Matt. 12:5.) The services of the temple were complicated and laborious, and yet were lawful on the Sabbath. On another occasion He said to his accusers, "If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:23, 24.) From this we learn that whatever is necessary for the due celebration of religious worship, or for attendance thereon, is lawful on the Sabbath.
Again in Luke 14:1–14, we read, "And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees, to eat bread on the Sabbath day, that they watched him. And, behold, there was a certain man before him, which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering, spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go.… And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them," etc., etc. This was evidently a large entertainment to which guests were "bidden." Christ, therefore, thought right, in the prosecution of his work, to attend on such entertainments on the Sabbath.
The frequency with which our Lord was accused of Sabbath-breaking by the Pharisees, proves that his mode of observing that day was very different from theirs, and the way in which He vindicated himself proves that He regarded the Sabbath as a divine institution of perpetual obligation. It had been easy for Him to say that the law of the Sabbath was no longer in force; that He, as Lord of the Sabbath, erased it from the decalogue. It may indeed be said that as the whole of the Mosaic law was in force until the resurrection of Christ, or until the day of Pentecost, the observance of the Sabbath was as a matter of course then obligatory, and therefore that Christ so regarded it. In answer to this, however, it is obvious to remark, that Christ did not hesitate to abrogate those of the laws of Moses which were in conflict with the spirit of the Gospel. This He did with the laws relating to polygamy and divorce. Under the old dispensation it was lawful for a man to have more than one wife; and also to put away a wife by giving her a bill of divorcement. Both of these things Christ declared should not be allowed under the Gospel. The fact that He dealt with the Sabbath just as He did with the fifth, sixth, and seventh precepts of the decalogue, which the Pharisees had misinterpreted, shows that He regarded the fourth commandment as belonging to the same category as the others. His example affords us a safe guide as to the way in which the day is to be observed.
The Sunday Laws
It is very common, especially for foreign-born citizens, to object to all laws made by the civil governments in this country to prevent the public violation of the Lord's Day. It is urged that as there is in the United States an entire separation of the Church and State, it is contrary to the genius of our institutions, that the observance of any religious institution should be enforced by civil laws. It is further objected that as all citizens have equal rights irrespective of their religious opinions, it is an infringement of those rights if one class of the people are required to conform their conduct to the religious opinions of another class. Why should Jews, Mohammedans, or infidels be required to respect the Christian Sabbath? Why should any man, who has no faith in the Sabbath as a divine institution, be prevented from doing on that day whatever is lawful on other days? If the State may require the people to respect Sunday as a day of rest, why may it not require the people to obey any or all other precepts of the Bible?
State of the Question
It is conceded, (1.) That in every free country every man has equal rights with his fellow-citizens, and stands on the same ground in the eye of the law. (2.) That in the United States no form of religion can be established; that no religious test for the exercise of the elective franchise or for holding of office can be imposed; and that no preference can be given to the members of one religious denomination above those of another. (3.) That no man can be forced to contribute to the support of any church, or of any religious institution. (4.) That every man is at liberty to regulate his conduct and life according to his convictions or conscience, provided he does not violate the law of the land.
On the other hand it is no less true,—
1. That a nation is not a mere conglomeration of individuals. It is an organized body. It has of necessity its national life, its national organs, national principles of action, national character, and national responsibility.
2. In every free country the government must, in its organization and mode of action, be an expression of the mind and will of the people.
3. As men are rational creatures, the government cannot banish all sense and reason from their action, because there may be idiots among the people.
4. As men are moral beings, it is impossible that the government should act as though there were no distinction between right and wrong. It cannot legalize theft and murder. No matter how much it might enrich itself by rapine or by the extermination of other nations, it would deserve and receive universal condemnation and execration, should it thus set at nought the bonds of moral obligation. This necessity of obedience to the moral law on the part of civil governments, does not arise from the fact that they are instituted for the protection of the lives, rights, and property of the people. Why have our own and other Christian nations pronounced the slave-trade piracy and punishable with death? Not because it interferes with the rights or liberty of their citizens but because it is wicked. Cruelty to animals is visited with civil penalties, not on the principle of profit and loss, but because it is a violation of the moral law. As it is impossible for the individual man to disregard all moral obligations, it is no less impossible on the part of civil governments.
5. Men moreover are religious beings. They can no more ignore that element of their nature than their reason or their conscience. It is no matter what they may say, or may pretend to think, the law which binds them to allegiance to God, is just as inexorable as the law of gravitation. They can no more emancipate themselves from the one than they can from the other. Morality concerns their duty to their fellow-men; religion concerns their duty to God. The latter binds the conscience as much as the former. It attends the man everywhere. It must influence his conduct as an individual, as the head of a family, as a man of business, as a legislator, and as an executive officer. It is absurd to say that civil governments have nothing to do with religion. That is not true even of a fire company, or of a manufactory, or of a banking-house. The religion embraced by the individuals composing these associations must influence their corporate action, as well as their individual conduct. If a man may not blaspheme, a publishing firm may not print and disseminate a blasphemous book. A civil government cannot ignore religion any more than physiology. It was not constituted to teach either the one or the other, but it must, by a like necessity, conform its action to the laws of both. Indeed it would be far safer for a government to pass an act violating the laws of health, than one violating the religious convictions of its citizens. The one would be unwise, the other would be tyrannical. Men put up with folly, with more patience than they do with injustice. It is vain for the potsherds of the earth to contend with their Maker. They must submit to the laws of their nature not only as sentient, but also as moral and religious beings. And it is time that blatant atheists, whether communists, scientists, or philosophers, should know that they are as much and as justly the objects of pity and contempt, as of indignation to all right-minded men. By right-minded men, is meant men who think, feel, and act according to the laws of their nature. Those laws are ordained, administered, and enforced by God, and there is no escape from their obligation, or from the penalties attached to their violation.
6. The people of this country being rational, moral, and religious beings, the government must be administered on the principles of reason, morality, and religion. By a like necessity of right, the people being Christians and Protestants, the government must be administered according to the principles of Protestant Christianity. By this is not meant that the government should teach Christianity, or make the profession of it a condition of citizenship, or a test for office. Nor does it mean that the government is called upon to punish every violation of Christian principle or precept. It is not called upon to punish every violation of the moral law. But as it cannot violate the moral law in its own action, or require the people to violate it, so neither can it ignore Christianity in its official action. It cannot require the people or any of its own officers to do what Christianity forbids, nor forbid their doing anything which Christianity enjoins. It has no more right to forbid that the Bible should be taught in the public schools, than it has to enjoin that the Koran should be taught in them. If Christianity requires that one day in seven should be a day of rest from all worldly avocations, the government of a Christian people cannot require any class of the community or its own officers to labour on that day, except in cases of necessity or mercy. Should it, on the ground that it had nothing to do with religion, disregard that day, and direct that the custom-houses, the courts of law, and the legislative halls should be open on the Lord's Day, and public business be transacted as on other days, it would be an act of tyranny, which would justify rebellion. It would be tantamount to enacting that no Christian should hold any office under the government, or have any share in making or administering the laws of the country. The nation would be in complete subjection to a handful of imported atheists and infidels.
Proof that this is a Christian and Protestant Nation
The proposition that the United States of America are a Christian and Protestant nation, is not so much the assertion of a principle as the statement of a fact. That fact is not simply that the great majority of the people are Christians and Protestants, but that the organic life, the institutions, laws, and official action of the government, whether that action be legislative, judicial, or executive, is, and of right should be, and in fact must be, in accordance with the principles of Protestant Christianity.
1. This is a Christian and Protestant nation in the sense stated in virtue of a universal and necessary law. If you plant an acorn, you get an oak. If you plant a cedar, you get a cedar. If a country be settled by Pagans or Mohammedans, it develops into a Pagan or Mohammedan community. By the same law, if a country be taken possession of and settled by Protestant Christians, the nation which they come to constitute must be Protestant and Christian. This country was settled by Protestants. For the first hundred years of our history they constituted almost the only element of our population. As a matter of course they were governed by their religion as individuals, in their families, and in all their associations for business, and for municipal, state, and national government. This was just as much a matter of necessity as that they should act morally in all these different relations.
2. It is a historical fact that Protestant Christianity is the law of the land, and has been from the beginning. As the great majority of the early settlers of the country were from Great Britain, they declared that the common law of England should be the law here. But Christianity is the basis of the common law of England, and is therefore of the law of this country; and so our courts have repeatedly decided. It is so not merely because of such decisions. Courts cannot reverse facts. Protestant Christianity has been, is, and must be the law of the land, Whatever Protestant Christianity forbids, the law of the land (within its sphere, i.e., within the sphere in which civil authority may appropriately act) forbids. Christianity forbids polygamy and arbitrary divorce, so does the civil law. Romanism forbids divorce even on the ground of adultery; Protestantism admits it on that ground. The laws of all the states conform in this matter to the Protestant rule. Christianity forbids all unnecessary labour, or the transaction of worldly business, on the Lord's Day; that day accordingly is a dies non, throughout the land. No contract is binding, made on that day. No debt can be collected on the Christian Sabbath. If a man hires himself for any service by the month or year, he cannot be required to labour on that day. All public offices are closed, and all official business is suspended. From Maine to Georgia, from ocean to ocean, one day in the week, by the law of God and by the law of the land, the people rest.
This controlling Influence of Christianity is Reasonable and Right
It is in accordance with analogy. If a man goes to China, he expects to find the government administered according to the religion of the country. If he goes to Turkey, he expects to find the Koran supreme and regulating all public action. If he goes to a Protestant country, he has no right to complain, should he find the Bible in the ascendancy and exerting its benign influence not only on the people, but also on the government.
The principle that the religion of a people rightfully controls the action of the government, has of course its limitation. If the religion itself be evil and require what is morally wrong, then as men cannot have the right to act wickedly, it is plain that it would be wrong for the government to conform to its requirements. If a religion should enjoin infanticide, or the murder of the aged or infirm, neither the people nor the government should conform their conduct to its laws. But where the religion of a people requires nothing unjust or cruel or in any way immoral, then those who come to live where it prevails are bound to submit quietly to its controlling the laws and institutions of the country.
The principle contended for is recognized in all other departments of life. If a number of Christian men associate themselves as a manufacturing or banking company, it would be competent for them to admit unbelievers in Christianity into their association, and to allow them their full share in its management and control. But it would be utterly unreasonable for such unbelievers to set up a cry of religious persecution, or of infringement of their rights and liberty, because all the business of the company was suspended upon the Lord's Day. These new members knew the character and principles of those with whom they sought to be associated. They knew that Christians would assert their right to act as Christians. To require them to renounce their religion would be simply preposterous.
When Protestant Christians came to this country they possessed and subdued the land. They worshipped God, and his Son Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world, and acknowledged the Scriptures to be the rule of their faith and practice. They introduced their religion into their families, their schools, and their colleges. They abstained from all ordinary business on the Lord's Day, and devoted it to religion. They built churches, erected school-houses, and taught their children to read the Bible and to receive and obey it as the word of God. They formed themselves as Christians into municipal and state organizations. They acknowledged God in their legislative assemblies. They prescribed oaths to be taken in his name. They closed their courts, their places of business, their legislatures, and all places under the public control, on the Lord's Day. They declared Christianity to be part of the common law of the land. In the process of time thousands have come among us, who are neither Protestants nor Christians. Some are papists, some Jews, some infidels, and some atheists. All are welcomed; all are admitted to equal rights and privileges. All are allowed to acquire property, and to vote in every election, made eligible to all offices, and invested with equal influence in all public affairs. All are allowed to worship as they please, or not to worship at all, if they see fit. No man is molested for his religion or for his want of religion. No man is required to profess any form of faith, or to join any religious association. More than this cannot reasonably be demanded. More, however, is demanded. The infidel demands that the government should be conducted on the principle that Christianity is false. The atheist demands that it should be conducted on the assumption that there is no God, and the positivist on the principle that men are not free agents. The sufficient answer to all this is, that it cannot possibly be done.
The Demands of Infidels are Unjust
The demands of those who require that religion, and especially Christianity, should be ignored in our national, state, and municipal laws, are not only unreasonable, but they are in the highest degree unjust and tyrannical. It is a condition of service in connection with any railroad which is operated on Sundays, that the employee be not a Christian. If Christianity is not to control the action of our municipal, state, and general governments, then if elections be ordered to be held on the Lord's Day, Christians cannot vote. If all the business of the country is to go on, on that as on other days, no Christian can hold office. We should thus have not a religious, but an anti-religious test-act. Such is the free-thinker's idea of liberty. But still further, if Christianity is not to control the laws of the country, then as monogamy is a purely Christian institution, we can have no laws against polygamy, arbitrary divorce, or "free love." All this must be yielded to the anti-Christian party; and consistency will demand that we yield to the atheists, the oath and the decalogue; and all the rights of citizenship must be confined to blasphemers. Since the fall of Lucifer, no such tyrant has been made known to men as August Comte, the atheist. If, therefore, any man wishes to antedate perdition, he has nothing to do but to become a free-thinker and join in the shout, "Civil government has nothing to do with religion; and religion has nothing to do with civil government."
We are bound, therefore, to insist upon the maintenance and faithful execution of the laws enacted for the protection of the Christian Sabbath. Christianity does not teach that men can be made religious by law; nor does it demand that men should be required by the civil authority to profess any particular form of religious doctrine, or to attend upon religious services; but it does enjoin that men should abstain from all unnecessary worldly avocations on the Lord's Day. This civil Sabbath, this cessation from worldly business, is what the civil government in Christian countries is called upon to enforce. (1.) Because it is the right of Christians to be allowed to rest on that day, which they cannot do, without forfeiting their citizenship, unless all public business be arrested on that day. (2.) Because such rest is the command of God; and this command binds the conscience as much as any other command in the decalogue. So far as the point in hand is concerned, it matters not whether such be the command of God or not; so long as the people believe it, it binds their conscience; and this conscientious belief the government is bound to respect, and must act accordingly. (3.) Because the civil Sabbath is necessary for the preservation of our free institutions, and of the good order of society. The indispensable condition of social order is either despotic power in the magistrate, or good morals among the people. Morality without religion is impossible; religion cannot exist without knowledge; knowledge cannot be disseminated among the people, unless there be a class of teachers, and time allotted for their instruction. Christ has made all his ministers, teachers; He has commanded them to teach all nations; He has appointed one day in seven to be set apart for such instruction. It is a historical fact that since the introduction of Christianity, nine tenths of the people have derived the greater part of their religious knowledge from the services of the sanctuary. If the Sabbath, therefore, be abolished, the fountain of life for the people will be sealed.
Hengstenberg, after referring to the authority of the Church and other grounds, for the observance of the Lord's Day, closes his discussion of the subject with these words: "Thank God these are only the outworks; the real fortress is the command that sounded out from Sinai, with the other divine commands therewith connected, as preparatory, confirmatory, or explanatory. The institution was far too important, and the temptations too powerful, that the solid ground of Scriptural command could be dispensed with.… It is as plain as day that the obligation of the Old Testament command instead of being lessened is increased. This follows of course from the fact that the redemption through Christ is infinitely more glorious than the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt, which in the preface to the Ten Commandments is referred to as a special motive to obedience. No ingratitude is blacker than refusing to obey Him who for our sakes gave up his only begotten Son." He had said before that the Sabbath "rests on the unalterable necessities of our nature, inasmuch as men inevitably become godless if the cares and labours of their earthly life be not regularly interrupted."2
§ 9. The Fifth Commandment
The general principle of duty enjoined in this commandment, is that we should feel and act in a becoming manner towards our superiors. It matters not in what their superiority consists, whether in age, office, power, knowledge, or excellence. There are certain feelings, and a certain line of conduct due to those who are over us, for that very reason, determined and modified in each case by the degree and nature of that superiority. To superiors are due, to each according to the relation in which he stands to us, reverence, obedience, and gratitude. The ground of this obligation is to be found, (1.) In the will of God, who has enjoined this duty upon all rational creatures. (2.) In the nature of the relation itself. Superiority supposes, in some form or degree, on the part of the inferior, dependence and indebtedness, and therefore calls for reverence, gratitude, and obedience; and, (3.) In expediency, as the moral order of the divine government and of human society depend upon this due submission to authority.
In the case of God, as his superiority is infinite the submission of his creatures must be absolute. To Him we owe adoration or the profoundest reverence, the most fervent gratitude, and implicit obedience. The fifth commandment, however, concerns our duty to our fellow-creatures. First in order and in importance is the duty of children to their parents, hence the general duty is embodied in the specific command, "Honour thy father and thy mother."
The Filial Relation
When a child is born into the world it is entirely helpless and dependent. As it derives its existence from its parents, so it would immediately perish without their assiduous and constant care. The parents are not only its superiors in knowledge, in power, and in every other attribute of humanity; but they are also the proximate source of all good to the child. They protect, cherish, feed, clothe, educate, and endow it. All the good bestowed, is bestowed disinterestedly. Self is constantly sacrificed. The love of parents to their children is mysterious and immutable, as well as self-sacrificing. It is a form of love which none but a parent can know. A mother's love is a mystery and a wonder. It is the most perfect analogue of the love of God.
As the relation in which parents stand to their children has this close analogy to the relation in which God stands to his rational creatures, and especially to his own people, so the duties resulting from that relation are analogous. They are expressed by the same word. Filial piety is as correct an expression as it is common. Parents stand to their dependent children, so to speak, in the place of God. They are the natural objects of the child's love, reverence, gratitude, confidence, and devotion. These are the sentiments which naturally flow out of the relation; and which in all ordinary cases do flow from it; so that Calvin is justified in saying that children destitute of these feelings, "monstra sunt non homines." This endearing and intimate relation between parents and children (which cannot exist where monogamy is not the law), binding all in the closest union which can exist among men, makes the family the corner-stone of the well-being of society on earth, and the type of the blessedness of heaven. The Church is the family of God. He is the Father, its members are brethren.
While the relative duties of parents and children must be everywhere and always essentially the same, yet they are more or less modified by varying conditions of society. There are laws on this subject in the Bible, which being intended for the state of things existing before the coming of Christ, are no longer binding upon us. It was unavoidable in the patriarchal state of society, and especially in its nomadic state, that the father of a family should be at once father, magistrate, and priest. And it was natural and right that many of the parental prerogatives necessary in such a state of society, should be retained in the temporary and transition state organized under the Mosaic institutions. We find accordingly that the laws of Moses invested parents with powers which can no longer properly belong to them; and sustained parental authority by penal enactments which are no longer necessary. Thus it was ordered, "He that curseth (or revileth, Septuagint ὁ κακολογῶν, Vulgate 'qui maledixerit') his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." (Exod. 21:17.) In the fifteenth verse of the same chapter it is said, "He that smiteth his father or his mother, shall be surely put to death." (Compare Deut. 27:16; Prov. 20:20; Matt. 15:4.) It may be remarked here, in passing, that our Lord's comment on this commandment given in Matthew 15:4–6, shows that the honouring of their parents required of children, does not mean simply the cherishing right feelings towards them, but as well the ministering to their support when necessary. Christ said to the Pharisees, "God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother; … but ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift (consecrated to God), by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, and honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free." That is, the Pharisees taught that a son might evade the obligation to honour, i.e., to support his father or mother, by saying that his property was consecrated to God.
The Mosaic law also enacted that "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them; then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gates of his place: and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of the city shall stone him with stones, that he die." (Deut. 21:18–21.)
Fathers under the old economy had the right to choose wives for their sons and to give their daughters in marriage. (Gen. 24; Ex. 21:9; Judges 14:2; Gen. 29:18; Gen. 34:12.) Children also were liable to be sold to satisfy the debts of their fathers. (Levit. 25:39–41; 2 Kings 4:1; Is. 50:1; Matt. 18:25.) These judicial enactments have passed away. They serve to prove, however, how intimate in the sight of God is the relation between parents and children. A father's benediction was coveted as the greatest blessing; and his curse deprecated as a fearful evil. (Gen. 27:4, 12, 34–38; 49:2 ff.)
In the New Testament the duty enjoined in the fifth commandment is frequently recognized and enforced. Our blessed Lord himself was subject to his parents. (Luke 2:51.) The Apostle commands children to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1), and to obey them in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. (Col. 3:20.) This obedience is to be not only religious, but specifically Christian, as the word Lord, in Ephesians 6:1, refers to Christ. This is plain because in ch. 5:21, the Apostle says that these specific duties are to be performed "in the fear of Christ;" because the Lord is always in the New Testament to be understood of Christ, unless the context forbids; and because especially throughout these chapters Lord and Christ are interchanged, so that it is evident that both words refer to the same person. Children are required to obey their parents in the Lord, i.e., as a religious duty, as part of the obedience due to the Lord. They are to obey them "in all things;" i.e., in all things falling within the sphere of parental authority. God has never committed unlimited power to the hands of men. The limitations of parental authority are determined partly by the nature of the relation, partly by the Scriptures, and partly by the state of society or the law of the land. The nature of the relation supposes that parents are to be obeyed as parents, out of gratitude and love; and that their will is to be consulted and respected even where their decisions are not final. They are not to be obeyed as magistrates, as though they were invested with the power to make or to administer civil laws; nor yet as prophets or priests. They are not lords of the conscience. They cannot control our faith or determine for us questions of duty so as to exonerate us from personal obligation. Being a service of love, it does not admit of strictly defined boundaries. Children are to conform to the wishes and to be controlled by the judgments of their parents, in all cases where such submission does not conflict with higher obligations.
The Scriptural rule is simple and comprehensive. It does not go into unnecessary details. It prescribes the general rule of obedience. The exceptions to that rule must be such as justify themselves to a divinely enlightened conscience, i.e., a conscience enlightened by the Word and Spirit of God. The general principle given in the Bible in all such cases is, "It is right to obey God rather than man."
This commandment has a special promise attached to it. This promise has a theocratical form as it stands in the decalogue, "That thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." The Apostle, in Ephesians 6:3, by leaving out the last clause generalizes it, so that it applies to no one land or people, but to obedient children everywhere. The promise announces the general purpose of God and a general principle of his providential government. "The hand of the diligent maketh rich," that is the general rule, which is not invalidated if here and there a diligent man remains poor. It is well with obedient children; they prosper in the world. Such is the fact, and such is the divine promise. The family being the corner-stone of social order and prosperity, it follows that those families are blessed in which God's plan and purpose are most fully carried out and realized.
As children are bound to honour and obey their parents, so parents have duties no less important in reference to their children. These duties are summarily expressed by the Apostle in Ephesians 6:4, first in a negative, and then in a positive form. "Ye fathers provoke not your children to wrath." This is what they are not to do. They are not to excite the bad passions of their children by anger, severity, injustice, partiality, or any undue exercise of authority. This is a great evil. It is sowing tares instead of wheat in a fruitful soil. The positive part of parental duty is expressed by the comprehensive direction, "but bring them up in the nurture (παιδείᾳ) and admonition (νουθεσίᾳ) of the Lord." The former of these words is comprehensive, the latter specific. The one expresses the whole process of education or training; the other the special duty of warning and correction. The "nurture and admonition" is to be Christian; that is, not only such as Christ approves and enjoins, but which is truly his, i.e., that which He exercises by his word and Spirit through the parent as his organ. "Christ is represented as exercising this nurture and admonition, in so far as He by his Spirit influences and controls the parent." According to the Apostle, this religious or Christian element is essential in the education of the young. Man has a religious as well as an intellectual nature. To neglect the former would be as unreasonable as to neglect the latter and make all education a matter of mere physical training. We must act in accordance with facts. It is a fact that men have a moral and religious nature. It is a fact that if their moral and religious feelings are enlightened and properly developed, they become upright, useful, and happy; on the other hand, if these elements of their nature are uncultivated or perverted, they become degraded, miserable, and wicked. It is a fact that this department of our nature as much needs right culture as the intellectual or the physical. It is a fact that this culture can be effected only by the truth instilled into the mind and impressed upon the conscience. It is a fact that this truth, as all Christians believe, is contained in the Holy Scriptures. It is a fact, according to the Scriptures, that the eternal Son of God is the only Saviour of men, and that it is by faith in Him and by obedience to Him, men are delivered from the dominion of sin; and therefore it is a fact that unless children are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, they, and the society which they constitute or control, will go to destruction. Consequently, when a state resolves that religious instruction shall be banished from the schools and other literary institutions, it virtually resolves on self-destruction. It may indeed be said that such a resolution does not imply that religious education is to be neglected. It simply declares that it is not a function of the state, that it is a duty which belongs to the family and to the Church. This is plausible, but it is fallacious.
1. All the education received by a large portion of the people of any country, is received in its primary schools. If that be irreligious (in the negative sense, if in this case there be such a sense), their whole training is irreligious.
2. It is to be remembered that the Christian people of a country are the Church of that country. The Christians of Antioch were the Church of Antioch, and the Christians of Rome were the Church of Rome. In like manner the Christians in the United States are the Church in the United States. As therefore the schools belong to the people, as they are their organs for the education of their children; if the people be Christians, the schools of right must be Christian. Any law which declares that they shall not be so, is tyrannical. It may be said that the law does not forbid Christians having religious schools, it only says that such schools shall not be supported by the public money. But the people are the public; and if the people be Christians, Christians are the public. The meaning of such a law, therefore, really is, that Christians shall not use their own money for the support of their own schools.
3. If Christian men therefore constitute a nation, a state, a county, a town, or a village, they have the right, with which no civil power can justly interfere, of having Christian schools. If any who are not Christians choose to frequent such schools, they should not be required to attend upon the religious instruction. They can derive all the benefit they seek, although they omit attendance on what is designed for the children of Christian parents.
4. It is true that Church and State are not united in this country as they ever have been in Europe. It is conceded that this separation is wise. But it is not to be inferred from that concession that the state has nothing to do with religion; that it must act as though there were no Christ and no God. It has already been remarked that this is as impossible as it would be for the state to ignore the moral law. It may be admitted that Church and State are, in this country, as distinct as the Church and a banking company. But a banking company, if composed of Christians, must conduct its business according to Christian principles, so far as those principles apply to banking operations. So a nation, or a state, composed of Christians, must be governed by Christianity, so far as its spirit and precepts apply to matters of civil government. If therefore the state assumes that the education of the people is one of its functions, it is bound in a Christian country,—a country in which ninety hundredths of the population consist of Christians,—to conduct the schools on Christian principles, otherwise it tramples on the most sacred rights of the people. This the people never will submit to, until they lose all interest in their religion. No one doubts that the Bible does require that education should be religiously conducted. "These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deut. 6:6, 7. and 11:19.) "He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children; that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments." (Ps. 78:5, 6, 7.) "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Prov. 22:6.) Fathers bring up your children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4.) These are not ceremonial or obsolete laws. They bind the consciences of men just as much as the command, "Thou shalt not steal." If parents themselves conduct the education of their children, these are the principles upon which it must be conducted. If they commit that work to teachers, they are bound, by the law of God, to see that the teachers regard these divine prescriptions; if they commit the work to the state, they are under equally sacred obligation to see that the state does not violate them. This is an obligation which they cannot escape.
5. When the Sunday laws were under discussion, on a previous page, it was urged that it would be unreasonable and unjust for a man who joined a business association of moral men, to insist that the affairs of the association should be conducted on immoral principles; if he joined a company of Christian manufacturers, it would be unjust for him to require that they should violate the laws of Christianity. So if a Christian should go to Turkey, it would be preposterous for him to insist that the Koran should be banished from the public schools. No less preposterous is it for any man to demand that Christians in this country should renounce their religion. Christianity requires that education in all its departments should be conducted religiously. If any set of men should found a school or a university from which all religious instruction should be banished, the law of the land would doubtless permit them to do so. But for the law to forbid that the religion of the people should be taught in schools sustained by the money of the people, ought not to be submitted to.
6. The banishment of religious influence from our schools is impossible. If a man is not religious, he is irreligious; if he is not a believer, he is an unbeliever. This is as true of organizations and institutions, as it is of individuals. Byron uttered a profound truth when he put into the mouth of Satan the words "He that does not bow to God, has bowed to me." If you banish light, you are in darkness. If you banish Christianity from the schools, you thereby render them infidel. If a child is brought up in ignorance of God, he becomes an atheist. If never taught the moral law, his moral nature is as undeveloped as that of a pagan. This controversy, therefore, is a controversy between Christianity and infidelity; between light and darkness; between Christ and Belial.
It is admitted that this subject is encumbered with practical difficulties where the people of a country differ widely in their religious convictions. In such cases it would be far better to refer the matter to the people of each school district, than by a general law to prohibit all religious instruction from the public schools. This would, in fact, be to make them infidel, in deference to a numerically insignificant minority of the people. It is constantly said that the state, if it provides for anything more than secular education, is travelling out of its sphere; that civil government is no more organized to teach religion than a fire company is. This latter assertion may be admitted so far as this,—that the same rule applies to both cases. That is, all individual men, and all associations of men, are bound to act according to the principles of morality and religion, so far as those principles are applicable to the work which they have to do. Men cannot lawfully cheat in banking, nor can they rightfully conduct their business on the Lord's Day. In like manner if God requires that education should be conducted religiously, the state has no more right to banish religion from its schools, than it has to violate the moral law. The whole thing comes to this: Christians are bound by the express command of God, as well as by a regard to the salvation of their children and to the best interests of society, to see to it that their children are brought up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;" this they are bound to do; through the state if they can; without it, if they must.
Obedience due to Civil Magistrates
If the fifth commandment enjoins as a general principle, respect and obedience to our superiors, it includes our obligations to civil rulers; we are commanded to "Submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God." (1 Peter 2:13–15.) The whole theory of civil government and the duty of citizens to their rulers, are comprehensively stated by the Apostle in Romans 13:1–5. It is there taught, (1.) That all authority is of God. (2.) That civil magistrates are ordained of God. (3.) That resistance to them, is resistance to Him; they are ministers exercising his authority among men. (4.) That obedience to them must be rendered as a matter of conscience, as a part of our obedience to God.
From this it appears,—First, that civil government is a divine ordinance. It is not merely an optional human institution; something which men are free to have or not to have, as they see fit. It is not founded on any social compact; it is something which God commands. The Bible, however, does not teach that there is any one form of civil government which is always and everywhere obligatory. The form of government is determined by the providence of God and the will of the people. It changes as the state of society changes. Much less is it implied in the proposition that government is a divine institution, that God designates the persons who are to exercise the various functions of the government; or the mode of their appointment; or the extent of their powers.
Secondly, it is included in the Apostle's doctrine, that magistrates derive their authority from God; they are his ministers; they represent Him. In a certain sense they represent the people, as they may be chosen by them to be the depositaries of this divinely delegated authority; but the powers that be are ordained by God; it is his will that they should be, and that they should be clothed with authority.
Thirdly, from this it follows that obedience to magistrates and to the laws of the land, is a religious duty. We are to submit to "every ordinance of man," for the Lord's sake, out of our regard to Him, as St. Peter expresses it; or for "conscience sake," as the same idea is expressed by St. Paul. We are bound to obey magistrates not merely because we have promised to do so; or because we have appointed them; or because they are wise or good; but because such is the will of God. In like manner the laws of the land are to be observed, not because we approve of them, but because God has enjoined such obedience. This is a matter of great importance; it is the only stable foundation of civil government and of social order. There is a great difference between obedience to men and obedience to God; between lying to men and lying to God; and between resistance to men and resistance to God. This principle runs through the Bible, which teaches that all authority is of God, and therefore all obedience to those in authority is part of our obedience to God. This applies not only to the case of citizens and rulers, but also to parents and children, husbands and wives, and even masters and slaves. In all these relations we are to act not as the servants of men, but as the servants of God. This gives to authority by whomsoever exercised a divine sanction; it gives it power over the conscience; and it elevates even menial service into an element of the glorious liberty of the sons of God. No man can have a servile spirit who serves God in rendering obedience to men. None but a law-abiding people can be free or prosperous; and no people can be permanently law-abiding who do not truly believe that "the powers that be are ordained of God." "Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power (those in authority), resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation (κρῖμα)." That is, God will punish them.
Fourthly, another principle included in the Apostle's doctrine is, that obedience is due to every de facto government, whatever its origin or character. His directions were written under the reign of Nero, and enjoined obedience to him. The early Christians were not called to examine the credentials of their actual rulers, every time the prætorian guard chose to depose one emperor and install another. The people of England were not free from their obligation to William and Mary when once established on the throne, because they might think that James 2 was entitled to the crown. We are to obey "the powers that be." They are in authority by the will of God, which is revealed by facts, as clearly as by words. It is by Him that "kings reign and princes decree justice." "He raiseth up one, and putteth down another."
Fifthly, the Scriptures clearly teach that no human authority is intended to be unlimited. Such limitation may not be expressed, but it is always implied. The command "Thou shalt not kill," is unlimited in form, yet the Scriptures recognize that homicide may in some cases be not only justifiable but obligatory. The principles which limit the authority of civil government and of its agents are simple and obvious. The first is that governments and magistrates have authority only within their legitimate spheres. As civil government is instituted for the protection of life and property, for the preservation of order, for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of those who do well, it has to do only with the conduct, or external acts of men. It cannot concern itself with their opinions, whether scientific, philosophical, or religious. An act of Parliament or of Congress, that Englishmen or Americans should be materialists or idealists, would be an absurdity and a nullity. The magistrate cannot enter our families and assume parental authority, or our churches and teach as a minister. A justice of the peace cannot assume the prerogatives of a governor of a state or of a president of the United States. Out of his legitimate sphere a magistrate ceases to be a magistrate. A second limitation is no less plain. No human authority can make it obligatory on a man to disobey God. If all power is from God, it cannot be legitimate when used against God. This is self-evident. The Apostles when forbidden to preach the Gospel, refused to obey. When Daniel refused to bow down to the image which Nebuchadnezzar had made; when the early Christians refused to worship idols; and when the Protestant martyrs refused to profess the errors of the Romish Church, they all commended themselves to God, and secured the reverence of all good men. On this point there can be no dispute. It is important that this principle should be not only recognized, but also publicly avowed. The sanctity of law, and the stability of human governments, depend on the sanction of God. Unless they repose on Him, they rest on nothing. They have his sanction only when they act according to his will; that is in accordance with the design of their appointment and in harmony with the moral law.
Sixthly, another general principle is that the question, When the civil government may be, and ought to be disobeyed, is one which every man must decide for himself. It is a matter of private judgment. Every man must answer for himself to God, and therefore, every man must judge for himself, whether a given act is sinful or not. Daniel judged for himself. So did Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego. So did the Apostles, and so did the martyrs.
An unconstitutional law or commandment is a nullity; no man sins in disregarding it. He disobeys, however, at his peril. If his judgment is right, he is free. If it be wrong, in the view of the proper tribunal, he must suffer the penalty. There is an obvious distinction to be made between disobedience and resistance. A man is bound to disobey a law, or a command, which requires him to sin, but it does not follow that he is at liberty to resist its execution. The Apostles refused to obey the Jewish authorities; but they submitted to the penalty inflicted. So the Christian martyrs disobeyed the laws requiring them to worship idols, but they made no resistance to the execution of the law. The Quakers disobey the law requiring military service, but quietly submit to the penalty. This is obviously right. The right of resistance is in the community. It is the right of revolution, which God sanctions, and which good men in past ages have exercised to the salvation of civil and religious liberty. When a government fails to answer the purpose for which God ordained it, the people have a right to change it. A father, if he shamefully abuses his power, may rightfully be deprived of authority over his children.
Obedience to the Church
The Apostle commands Christians "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls." "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God." (Heb. 13:17, 7.) Our Lord said to his disciples, that if an offending brother resisted other means to bring him to repentance, his offence must be told to the Church; and that if he neglected to hear the Church, he was to be regarded as a heathen man and a publican. (Matt. 18:17.)
The principles which regulate our obedience to the Church, are very much the same as those which concern our relation to the State,—
1. The visible Church is a divine institution. In one sense indeed it is a voluntary society, in so far as that no man can be coerced to join it. If he joins it at all, it must be of his own free will. Nevertheless it is the will of God that the visible Church as an organized body should exist; and every man who hears the Gospel, is bound to enroll himself among its members and to submit to its authority.
2. All Church power is of God, and all legitimate Church officers are his ministers. They act in his name and by his authority. Resistance to them, therefore, is resistance to the ordinance of God.
3. All the prerogatives of the Church and all the powers of its officers are laid down in the word of God.
4. The prerogatives of the Church are, first, to teach. Its great commission is to teach all nations. It is to teach what God has revealed in his word as to what men are to believe and what they are to do. Beyond the limits of the revelation contained in the Scriptures the Church has no more authority to teach than any other association among men. Secondly, the Church has the right and duty to order and conduct public worship, to administer the sacraments, to select and ordain its own officers, and to do whatever else is necessary for its own perpetuity and extension. Thirdly, it is the prerogative of the Church to exercise discipline over its own members, and to receive or to reject them as the case may be.
5. As to the external organization of the Church all Christians agree that there are certain rules laid down in the word of God which are of universal and perpetual obligation. All Christian churches, however, have acted on the assumption, that beyond these prescribed rules, the Church has a certain discretion to modify its organization and its organs to suit varying emergencies.
6. The visible Church being organized for a definite purpose, its power being derived from God, and its prerogatives being all laid down in the Scriptures, it follows not only that its powers are limited within the bounds thus prescribed, but also that the question, whether its decisions and injunctions are to be obeyed, is to be determined by every one concerned, on his own responsibility. If the decision is within the limits to which God has confined the action of the Church, and in accordance with the Scriptures, it is to be obeyed. If it transcends those limits, or is contrary to the word of God, it is to be disregarded. If therefore the Church through any of its organs should assume to decide questions of pure science, or of political economy, or of civil law, such decisions would amount to nothing. Or, if it should declare that to be true which the Scriptures pronounce to be false; or that to be false which the Scriptures declare to be true, such judgment would bind no man's conscience. And in like manner, should the Church declare any thing to be sinful which the word of God teaches to be right or indifferent; or that to be right and obligatory which that word pronounces to be evil, then again its teaching is void of all authority. All this is included in the principle that we must obey God rather than man; and that as to when obedience to man conflicts with our allegiance to God, every man from the nature of the case must judge for himself. No man can estimate the importance of these simple principles. It was by disregarding them that the Church came gradually to deny the right of private judgment; to subordinate the Scriptures to its decisions; and to put itself in the place of God. In this way it has imposed unscriptural doctrines upon the faith of men; made multitudes of things to be obligatory which God never enjoined; and declared the greatest sins, such as treason, persecution, and massacre to be Christian duties.
While, therefore, the duty of obedience to our superiors, and submission to law, as enjoined in the fifth commandment, is the source of all order in the family, the Church, and the State; the limitation of this duty by our higher obligation to God, is the foundation of all civil and religious liberty.
§ 10. The Sixth Commandment
This commandment, as expounded by our Lord (Matt. 5:21, 22), forbids malice in all its degrees and in all its manifestations. The Bible recognizes the distinction between anger and malice. The former is on due occasion allowable; the other is in its nature, and therefore always, evil. The one is a natural or constitutional emotion arising out of the experience or perception of wrong, and includes not only disapprobation but also indignation, and a desire in some way to redress or punish the wrong inflicted. The other includes hatred and the desire to inflict evil to gratify that evil passion. Our Lord is said to have been angry; but in Him there was no malice or resentment. He was the Lamb of God; when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; He prayed for his enemies even on the cross.
In the several commandments of the decalogue, the highest manifestation of any evil is selected for prohibition, with the intention of including all lesser forms of the same evil. In forbidding murder, all degrees and manifestations of malicious feeling are forbidden. The Bible assigns special value to the life of man, first, because he was created in the image of God. He is not only like God in the essential elements of his nature, but he is also God's representative on earth. An indignity or injury inflicted on him, is an act of irreverence toward God. And secondly, all men are brethren. They are of one blood; children of a common father. On these grounds we are bound to love and respect all men as men; and to do all we can not only to protect their lives but also to promote their well-being. Murder, therefore, is the highest crime which a man can commit against a fellow-man.
As the sixth commandment forbids malicious homicide, it is plain that the infliction of capital punishment is not included in the prohibition. Such punishment is not inflicted to gratify revenge, but to satisfy justice and for the preservation of society. As these are legitimate and most important ends, it follows that the capital punishment of murder is also legitimate. Such punishment, in the case of murder, is not only lawful, but also obligatory.
1. Because it is expressly declared in the Bible, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." (Gen. 9:6.) That this is of perpetual obligation is clear, because it was given to Noah, the second head of the human race. It was, therefore, not intended for any particular age or nation. It is the announcement of a general principle of justice; a revelation of the will of God. Moreover the reason assigned for the law is a permanent reason. Man was created in the image of God; and, therefore, whoso sheds his blood, by man shall his blood be shed. This reason has as much force at one time or place as at any other. Rosenmüller's comment on this clause is, "Cum homo ad Dei imaginem sit factus, æquum est, ut, qui Dei imaginem violavit et destruxit, occidatur, cum Dei imagini injuriam faciens, ipsum Deum, illius auctorem, petierit." This is a very solemn consideration, and one of wide application. It applies not only to murder and other injuries inflicted on the persons of men, but also to anything which tends to degrade or to defile them. The Apostle applies it even to evil words, or the suggestion of corrupt thoughts. If it is an outrage to defile the statue or portrait of a great and good man, or of a father or mother, how much greater is the outrage when we defile the imperishable image of God impressed on the immortal soul of man. We find the injunction, that the murderer should surely be put to death, repeated over and over in the Mosaic law. (Ex. 21:12, 14; Lev. 24:17; Num. 35:21; Deut. 19:11, 13.)
There are clear recognitions in the New Testament of the continued obligation of the divine law that murder should be punished with death. In Romans 13:4, the Apostle says that the magistrate "beareth not the sword in vain." The sword was worn as the symbol of the power of capital punishment. Even by profane writers, says Meyer, "bearing the sword" by a magistrate was the emblem of the power over life and death. The same Apostle said (Acts 25:11): "If I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die;" which clearly implies that, in his judgment, there were offences, for which the appropriate penalty is death.
2. Besides these arguments from Scripture, there are others drawn from natural justice. It is a dictate of our moral nature that crime should be punished; that there should be a just proportion between the offence and the penalty; and that death, the highest penalty, was the proper punishment for the greatest of all crimes. That such is the instinctive judgment of men is proved by the difficulty often experienced in restraining the people from taking summary vengeance in cases of atrocious murder. So strong is this sentiment that a species of wild justice is sure to step in to supply the place of judicial remissness. Such justice, from being lawless and impulsive, is too often misguided and erroneous, and, in a settled state of society, is always criminal. It being the nature of men, that if the regular, lawful infliction of death as a judicial penalty be abolished, it will be inflicted by the avenger of blood, or by tumultuous assemblies of the people, society has to choose between securing to the homicide a fair trial by the constituted authorities, and giving him up to the blind spirit of revenge.
3. Experience teaches that where human life is undervalued, it is insecure; that where the murderer escapes with impunity or is inadequately punished, homicides are fearfully multiplied. The practical question, therefore, is, Who is to die? the innocent man or the murderer?
Homicide in Self-Defence
That homicide in self-defence is not forbidden by the sixth commandment, is plain, (1.) Because such homicide is not malicious, and, therefore, does not come within the scope of the prohibition. (2.) Because self-preservation is an instinct of our nature, and therefore, a revelation of the will of God. (3.) Because it is a dictate of reason and of natural justice that if of two persons one must die, it should be the aggressor and not the aggrieved. (4.) Because the universal judgment of men, and the Word of God, pronounce the man innocent who kills another in defence of his own life or that of his neighbor.
It is conceded that war is one of the most dreadful evils that can be inflicted on a people; that it involves the destruction of property and life; that it demoralizes both the victors and the vanquished; that it visits thousands of non-combatants with all the miseries of poverty, widowhood, and orphanage; and that it tends to arrest the progress of society in everything that is good and desirable. God overrules wars in many cases, as He does the tornado and the earthquake, to the accomplishment of his benevolent purposes, but this does not prove that war in itself is not a great evil. He makes the wrath of man to praise Him. It is conceded that wars undertaken to gratify the ambition, cupidity, or resentment of rulers or people, are unchristian and wicked. It is also conceded that the vast majority of the wars which have desolated the world have been unjustifiable in the sight of God and man. Nevertheless it does not follow from this that war in all cases is to be condemned.
1. This is proved because the right of self-defence belongs to nations as well as to individuals. Nations are bound to protect the lives and property of their citizens. If these are assailed by force, force may be rightfully used in their protection. Nations also have the right to defend their own existence. If that be endangered by the conduct of other nations, they have the natural right of self-protection. A war may be defensive and yet in one sense aggressive. In other words, self-defence may dictate and render necessary the first assault. A man is not bound to wait until a murderer actually strikes his blow. It is enough that he sees undeniable manifestations of a hostile purpose. So a nation is not bound to wait until its territories are actually invaded and its citizens murdered, before it appeals to arms. It is enough that there is clear evidence on the part of another nation of an intention to commence hostilities. While it is easy to lay down the principle that war is justifiable only as a means of self-defence, the practical application of this principle is beset with difficulties. The least aggression on national property, or the slightest infringement of national rights, may be regarded as the first step toward national extinction, and therefore justify the most extreme measures of redress. A nation may think that a certain enlargement of territory is necessary to its security, and, therefore, that it has the right to go to war to secure it. So a man may say that a portion of his neighbour's farm is necessary to the full enjoyment of his own property, and therefore that he has the right to appropriate it to himself. It is to be remembered that nations are as much bound by the moral law as individual men; and therefore that what a man may not do in the protection of his own rights, and on the plea of self-defence, a nation may not do. A nation therefore is bound to exercise great forbearance, and to adopt every other available means of redressing wrongs, before it plunges itself and others into all the demoralizing miseries of war.
2. The lawfulness of defensive war, however, does not rest exclusively on these general principles of justice; it is distinctly recognized in Scripture. In numerous cases, under the Old Testament, such wars were commanded. God endowed men with special qualifications as warriors. He answered when consulted through the Urim and Thummim, or by the prophets, as to the propriety of military enterprises (Judges 20:27 f., 1 Sam. 14:37, 23:2, 4; 1 Kings 22:6 ff.); and He often interfered miraculously in behalf of his people when they were engaged in battle. Many of the Psalms of David, dictated by the Spirit, are either prayers for divine assistance in war or thanksgivings for victory. It is very plain, therefore, that the God whom the patriarchs and prophets worshipped did not condemn war, when the choice was between war and annihilation. It is a very clear case that if the Israelites had not been allowed to defend themselves against their heathen neighbours they would have soon been extirpated, and their religion would have perished with them.
As the essential principles of morals do not change, what was permitted or commanded under one dispensation, cannot be unlawful under another, unless forbidden by a new revelation. The New Testament, however, contains no such revelation. It does not say, as in the case of divorce, that war was permitted to the Hebrews because of the hardness of their hearts, but that under the Gospel a new law was to prevail. This very silence of the New Testament leaves the Old Testament rule of duty on this subject still in force. Accordingly, although there is no express declaration on the subject, as none was needed, we find the lawfulness of war quietly assumed. When the soldiers inquired of John the Baptist what they should do to prepare for the kingdom of God, he did not tell them that they must forsake the profession of arms. The centurion, whose faith our Lord so highly commended (Matt. 8:5–13), was not censured for being a soldier. So also the centurion, a devout man, whom God in a vision commanded to send for Peter, and on whom, and his associates, according to the record in the tenth chapter of Acts, the Holy Ghost came with miraculous gifts, was allowed to remain in the army of even a heathen emperor. If magistrates, as we learn from the thirteenth chapter of Romans, are armed with a right or power of life and death over their own citizens, they certainly have the right to declare war in self-defence.
In the early ages of the Church there was a great disinclination to engage in military service, and the fathers at times justified this reluctance by calling the lawfulness of all wars into question. But the real sources of this opposition of Christians to entering the army, were that they thereby gave themselves up to the service of a power which persecuted their religion; and that idolatrous usages were inseparably connected with military duties. When the Roman empire became Christian, and the cross was substituted for the eagle on the standards of the army, this opposition died away, till at length we hear of fighting prelates, and of military orders of monks.
No historical Christian Church has pronounced all war to be unlawful. The Augsburg Confession expressly says that it is proper for Christians to act as magistrates, and among other things "jure bellare, militare," etc. And Presbyterians especially have shown that it is not against their consciences to contend to the death for their rights and liberties.
It is conceivable that men who do not believe in God or in a future state of existence, should think it allowable to take refuge in annihilation from the miseries of this life. But it is unaccountable, except on the assumption of temporary or permanent insanity, that any man should rush uncalled into the retributions of eternity. Suicide, therefore, is most frequent among those who have lost all faith in religion. It is a very complicated crime; our life is not our own; we have no more right to destroy our life than we have to destroy the life of a fellow-man. Suicide is, therefore, self murder. It is the desertion of the post which God has assigned us; it is a deliberate refusal to submit to his will; it is a crime which admits of no repentance, and consequently involves the loss of the soul.
Duelling is another violation of the sixth commandment. Its advocates defend it on the same principle on which international war is defended. As independent nations have no common tribunal to which they can resort for the redress of injuries, they are justifiable, on the principle of self-defence, in appealing to arms for the protection of their rights. In like manner, it is said, there are offences for which the law of the land affords no redress, and therefore, the individual must be allowed to seek redress for himself. But (1.) There is no evil for which the law does not, or should not, afford redress. (2.) The redress sought in the duel is unjustifiable. No one has the right to kill a man for a slight or an insult. Taking a man's life for a hasty word, or even for a serious injury, is murder in the sight of God, who has ordained the penalty of death as the punishment for only the most atrocious crimes. (3.) The remedy is preposterous; for most frequently it is the aggrieved party who loses his life. (4.) Duelling is the cause of the greatest suffering to innocent parties, which no man has a right to inflict to gratify his pride or resentment. (5.) The survivor in a fatal duel entails on himself, unless his heart and conscience be seared, a life of misery.
§ 11. The Seventh Commandment
This commandment, as we learn from our Lord's exposition of it, given in his sermon on the mount, forbids all impurity in thought, speech, and behaviour. As the social organization of society is founded on the distinction of the sexes, and as the wellbeing of the state and the purity and prosperity of the Church rest on the sanctity of the family relation, it is of the last importance that the normal, or divinely constituted relation of the sexes be preserved in its integrity.
Among the important questions to be considered under the head of this commandment, the first is, Whether the Bible teaches that there is any special virtue in a life of celibacy? This is really a question, whether there was an error in the creation of man.
1. The very fact that God created man, male and female, declaring that it was not good for either to be alone, and constituted marriage in paradise, should be decisive on this subject. The doctrine which degrades marriage by making it a less holy state, has its foundation in Manicheeism or Gnosticism. It assumes that evil is essentially connected with matter; that sin has its seat and source in the body; that holiness is attainable only through asceticism and "neglecting of the body;" that because the "vita angelica" is a higher form of life than that of men here on earth, therefore marriage is a degradation. The doctrine of the Romish Church on this subject, therefore, is thoroughly anti-Christian. It rests on principles derived from the philosophy of the heathen. It presupposes that God is not the author of matter; and that He did not make man pure, when He invested him with a body.
2. Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures marriage is represented as the normal state of man. The command to our first parents before the fall was, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." Without marriage the purpose of God in regard to our world could not be carried out; it is, therefore, contradictory to the Scriptures to assume that marriage is less holy, or less acceptable to God than celibacy. To be unmarried, was regarded under the old dispensation as a calamity and a disgrace. (Judges 11:37; Ps. 78:63; Is. 4:1; 13:12.) The highest earthly destiny of a woman, according to the Old Testament Scriptures, which are the word of God, was not to be a nun, but to be the mistress of a family, and a mother of children. (Gen. 30:1; Ps. 113:9; 127:3; 128:3, 4; Prov. 18:22; 31:10, 28.)
3. The same high estimate of marriage, characterizes the teachings of the New Testament. Marriage is declared to be "honourable in all." (Heb. 13:4.) Paul says, "Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." (1 Cor. 7:2.) In 1 Timothy 5:14, he says: "I will, that the younger women marry." In 1 Timothy 4:3, "forbidding to marry" is included among the doctrines of devils. As the truth comes from the Holy Spirit, so false doctrines, according to the Apostle's mode of thinking, come from Satan, and his agents, the demons; they are "the seducing spirits" spoken of in the same verse. Our Lord more than once (Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7) quotes and enforces the original law given in Genesis 2:24, that a man shall "leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." The same passage is quoted by the Apostle as containing a great and symbolical truth. (Eph. 5:31.) It is thus taught that the marriage relation is the most intimate and sacred that can exist on earth, to which all other human relations must be sacrificed. We accordingly find that from the beginning, with rare exceptions, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, confessors, and martyrs, have been married men. If marriage was not a degradation to them, surely it cannot be to monks and priests.
The strongest proof of the sanctity of the marriage relation in the sight of God, is to be found in the fact that both in the Old and in the New Testaments, it is made the symbol of the relation between God and his people. "Thy Maker is thy husband," are the words of God, and contain a world of truth, of grace, and of love. The departure of the people from God, is illustrated by a reference to a wife forsaking her husband; while God's forbearance, tenderness, and love, are compared to those of a faithful husband to his wife. "As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee." (Is. 62:5.) In the New Testament, this reference to the marriage relation, to illustrate the union between Christ and the Church, is frequent and instructive. The Church is called "the Bride, the Lamb's wife." (Rev. 21:9.) And the consummation of the work of salvation is set forth as the marriage, or the marriage-supper of the Lamb. (Rev. 19:7, 9.) In Ephesians 5:22–33, the union between husbands and wives, and the duties thence resulting, are set forth as so analogous to the union between Christ and his Church, that in some cases it is hard to determine to which union the language of the Apostle is to be applied. It is a matter of astonishment, in view of all these facts, that marriage has so extensively and persistently been regarded as something degrading, and celibacy or perpetual virginity as a special and peculiar virtue. No more striking evidence of the influence of a false philosophy in perverting the minds of even good men, is afforded in the whole history of the Church. Even the Reformers did not escape altogether from its influence. They often speak of marriage as the less of two evils; not as in itself a good; and not as the normal and appropriate state in which men and women should live, as designed by God in the very constitution of their nature, and as the best adapted to the exercise and development of all social and Christian virtues. Thus Calvin says: "Unde constat et aliam quamlibet, extra conjugium, societatem coram ipso [Deo] maledictam esse; et illam ipsam conjugalem in necessitatis remedium esse ordinatam, ne in effrenem libidinem proruamus.… Jam quum per naturæ conditionem et accensa post lapsum libidine, mulieris consortio bis obnoxii simus, nisi quos singulari gratia Deus inde exemit; videant singuli quid sibi datum sit. Virginitas, fateor, virtus est non contemnenda: sed quoniam aliis negata est, aliis nonnisi ad tempus concessa, qui ab incontinentia vexantur, et superiores in certamine esse nequeunt ad matrimonii subsidium se conferant, ut ita in suæ vocationis gradu castitatem colant." That is, virginity is a virtue. Celibacy is a higher state than marriage. Those who cannot live in that state, should descend to the lower platform of married life. With such dregs of Manichean philosophy was the pure truth of the Bible contaminated, even as held by the most illustrious Reformers.
4. The teaching of Scripture as to the sanctity of marriage is confirmed by the experience of the world. It is only in the marriage state that some of the purest, most disinterested, and most elevated principles of our nature are called into exercise. All that concerns filial piety, and parental and especially maternal affection, depends on marriage for its very existence. Yet on the purifying and restraining influence of these affections the wellbeing of human society is in a large measure dependent. It is in the bosom of the family that there is a constant call for acts of kindness, of self-denial, of forbearance, and of love. The family, therefore, is the sphere the best adapted for the development of all the social virtues; and it may be safely said that there is far more of moral excellence and of true religion to be found in Christian households, than in the desolate homes of priests, or in the gloomy cells of monks and nuns. A man with his children or grandchildren on his knees, is an object of higher reverence than any emaciated anchorite in his cave.
5. Our Lord teaches that a tree is known by its fruits. There has been no more prolific source of evil to the Church than the unscriptural notion of the special virtue of virginity and the enforced celibacy of the clergy and monastic vows, to which that notion has given rise. This is the teaching of history. On this point the testimony of Romanists as well as of Protestants is decisive and overwhelming. It may be admitted that the Catholic clergy in this and in some other countries are as decorous in their lives, as the clergy of other denominations, without invalidating the testimony of history as to the evils of vows of celibacy.
Protestants, while asserting the sanctity of marriage and denying the superior virtue of a life of celibacy, do not deny that there are times and circumstances in which celibacy is a virtue: i.e., that a man may perform a virtuous act in resolving never to marry. The Church often has work to do, for which single men are the only proper agents. The cares of a family, in other words, would unfit a man for the execution of the task assigned. This, however, does not suppose that celibacy is in itself a virtue. It may also happen that a rich man may be called upon to undertake a work which would necessitate his disencumbering himself of the care of his estate, and subjecting himself to a life of poverty. The same is true of the state. In fact military service, for the great majority of the rank and file of an army, is an estate of forced celibacy so long as the service continues. And even with regard to the officers, the liberty to marry is very much restricted in the standing armies of Europe. There are times when marriage is inexpedient. Our Lord in foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem said, "Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days." It is the part of wisdom to escape such woes. When Christians had no security for life or home; when they were liable to be torn away from their families, or to have all means of providing for their wants taken out of their hands, it was better for them not to marry. It is in reference to such times and circumstances that the words of Christ, in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, were uttered, and the advice of the Apostle, in the seventh chapter of First Corinthians was given. The Pharisees asked our Lord whether a man could put away his wife at pleasure. He referred them to the original institution of marriage, as showing that it was intended to be an indissoluble connection. His disciples said, In that case it is better that a man should not marry. Our Lord replied: Whether it is better for a man to marry or not, is not a question for every man to decide for himself. "That the unmarried state is better, is a saying not for every one, and indeed only for such as it is divinely intended for." That is, those to whom the requisite grace is given, "Omnes hujus dicti capaces esse negans, significat electionem non esse positam in manu nostra, acsi de re nobis subjecta esset consultatio. Si quis utile sibi esse putat uxore carere, atque ita nullo examine habito, cœlibatus legem sibi edicit, longe fallitur. Deus enim, qui pronuntiavit bonum esse, ut viro adjutrix sit mulier, contempti sui ordinis pœnam exiget: quia nimium sibi arrogant mortales, dum se a cœlesti vocatione eximere tentant. Porro non esse omnibus liberum, eligere utrum libuerit, inde probat Christus, quia speciale sit continentiæ donum: nam quum dicit, non omnes esse capaces, sed quibus datum est, clare demonstrat non omnibus esse datum." Those to whom it is given to lead an unmarried life, as our Lord teaches (Matt. 19:10), are not only those who by their natural constitution are unfit for the marriage state, but those whom God calls to special service in his Church and whom He fits for that work.
The doctrine which Paul teaches on this subject is perfectly coincident with the teachings of our Lord. He recognizes marriage as a divine institution; as in itself good; as the normal and proper state in which men and women should live; but as it is necessarily attended by many cares and distractions, it was expedient in times of trouble, to remain unmarried. This is the purport of Paul's teachings in First Corinthians 7. No one of the sacred writers, whether in the Old or in the New Testament, so exalts and glorifies marriage as does this Apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians. He, therefore, is not the man, guided as he was in all his teachings by the Spirit of God, to depreciate or undervalue it, as only the less of two evils. It is a positive good: the union of two human persons to supplement and complement the one the other in a way which is necessary to the perfection or full development of both. The wife is to her husband what the Church is to Christ. Nothing higher than this can possibly be said.
No one can read the Epistles of Paul, especially those to the Ephesians and Colossians, without seeing clear indications of the prevalence, even in the apostolic churches, of the principles of that philosophy which held that matter was contaminating; and which inculcated asceticism as the most efficacious means of the purification of the soul. This doctrine had already been adopted and reduced to practice by the Essenes among the Jews. Farther East, under a somewhat different form, it had prevailed for ages before the Christian era, and still maintains its ground. According to the Brahminical philosophy the individuality of man depends on the body. Complete emancipation from the body, therefore, secures the merging of the finite into the infinite. The drop is lost in the ocean, and this is the highest and ultimate destiny of man. It is not therefore to be wondered at, that the early fathers came more or less under the influence of these principles, or that asceticism gained so rapidly and maintained so long its ascendancy in the Church. The depreciation of the divine institution of marriage, and the exaltation of virginity into the first place among Christian virtues, was the natural and necessary consequence of this spirit. Ignatius called voluntary virgins "the jewels of Christ." Justin Martyr desired celibacy to prevail to the "greatest possible extent." Tatian regarded marriage as inconsistent with spiritual worship. Origen "disabled himself in his youth" and regarded marriage as a pollution. Hieracas made "virginity a condition of salvation." Tertullian denounced second marriage as criminal, and represented celibacy as the ideal of Christian life, not only for the clergy, but also for the laity. Second marriage was early prohibited so far as the clergy were concerned, and soon came in their case the prohibition of marriage altogether. The Apostolical Constitutions prohibited priests from contracting marriage after consecration. The Council of Ancyra, A.D. 314, allowed deacons to marry, provided they stipulated for the privilege before ordination. The Council of Elvira, A.D. 305, forbade the continuance of the marriage relation (according to the common interpretation of its canons) to bishops, presbyters, and deacons on pain of deposition. Jerome was fanatical in his denunciation of marriage; and even Augustine was carried away by the spirit of the age. In answer to the objection that if men acted on his principles the world would be depopulated, he answered: So much the better, for in that case Christ would come the sooner. Siricius, Bishop of Rome A.D. 385, decided that marriage was inconsistent with the clerical office; and was followed in this view by his successors. Great opposition, however, was experienced in enforcing celibacy, and it required all the energy of Gregory VII. to have the decisions of councils carried into effect. Ultimately, however, the rule, so far as the clergy are concerned, was acquiesced in, and received the authoritative sanction of the Council of Trent. That Council decided, "Si quis dixerit, statum conjugalem anteponendum esse statui virginitatis, vel cœlibatus, et non esse melius, et beatius manere in virginitate aut cœlibatu, quam jungi matrimonio: anathema sit." On this assumed higher virtue of celibacy, in the preceding canon it was ordered: "Si quis dixerit, clericos in sacris ordinibus constitutos, vel regulares, castitatem solemniter professos, posse matrimonium contrahere, contractumque validum esse, non obstante lege ecclesiastica, vel voto: et oppositum nil aliud esse, quam damnare matrimonium; posseque omnes contrahere matrimonium, qui non sentiunt se castitatis, etiam si eam voterint, habere donum; anathema sit; cum Deus id recte petentibus non deneget, nec patiatur nos supra id, quod possumus, tentari."
Although the doctrine that virginity, as the Roman Catechism expresses it, "summopere commendatur," as being better, and more perfect and holy than a state of marriage, is made the ostensible ground of the enforced celibacy of the clergy, it is manifest that hierarchical reasons had much to do in making the Romish Church so strenuous in insisting that its clergy should be unmarried. This Gregory VII. avows when he says, "Non liberari potest ecclesia a servitute laicorum, nisi liberentur clerici ab uxoribus." And Melancthon felt authorized to say in reference to the celibacy of the clergy in the Church of Rome, "Una est vera et sola causa tuendi cœlibatus, ut opes commodius administrentur et splendor ordinis retineatur."4
As the Reformation was a return to the Scriptures as the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and as in the Scriptures marriage is exalted as a holy state, and no preëminence in excellence is assigned to celibacy or virginity; and as the Reformers denied the authority of the Church to make laws to bind the conscience or to curtail the liberty with which Christ had made his people free, Protestants pronounced with one voice against the obligation of monastic vows and of the celibacy of the clergy.
The Greek Church petrified at an early date. It assumed the form which it still retains, before the doctrine of the special sanctity of celibacy had gained ascendancy. It abides therefore by the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, and of Trullo, A.D. 692, which permitted marriage to priests and deacons. Those Greeks who are in communion with the Church of Rome enjoy the same liberty. Benedict XIV. declared in reference to them, "Etsi expetendum quam maxime esset, ut Græci, qui sunt in sacris ordinibus constituti, castitatem non secus ac Latini servarent. Nihilominus, ut eorum clerici, subdiaconi, diaconi et presbyteri uxores in eorum ministerio retineant, dummodo ante sacros ordines, virgines, non viduas, neque corruptas duxerint, Romana non prohibet Ecclesia. Eos autem, qui viduam vel corruptam duxerint, vel ad secunda vota, prima uxore mortua, convolarint, ad subdiaconatum, diaconatum et presbyteratum promoveri omnino prohibemus." In the Russian Church the priests are required to be married men; but second marriages are for them prohibited. The bishops are chosen from the monks and must be unmarried.
Marriage a Divine Institution
Marriage is a divine institution. (1.) Because founded on the nature of man as constituted by God. He made man male and female, and ordained marriage as the indispensable condition of the continuance of the race. (2.) Marriage was instituted before the existence of civil society, and therefore cannot in its essential nature be a civil institution. As Adam and Eve were married not in virtue of any civil law, or by the intervention of a civil magistrate, so any man and woman cast together on a desert island, could lawfully take each other as husband and wife. It is a degradation of the institution to make it a mere civil contract. (3.) God commanded men to marry, when He commanded them to increase, and multiply and replenish the earth. (4.) God in his word has prescribed the duties belonging to the marriage relation; He has made known his will as to the parties who may lawfully be united in marriage; He has determined the continuance of the relation; and the causes which alone justify its dissolution. These matters are not subject to the will of the parties, or to the authority of the State. (5.) The vow of mutual fidelity made by husband and wife, is not made exclusively by each one to the other, but by each to God. When a man connects himself with a Christian Church he enters into covenant with his brethren in the Lord; mutual obligations are assumed; but nevertheless the covenant is made with God. He joins the Church in obedience to the will of God; he promises to regulate his faith and practice by the divine word; and the vow of fidelity is made to God. It is the same in marriage. It is a voluntary, mutual compact between husband and wife. They promise to be faithful to each other; but nevertheless they act in obedience to God, and promise to Him that they will live together as man and wife, according to his word. Any violation of the compact is, therefore, a violation of a vow made to God.
Marriage is not a sacrament in the sense which in baptism and the Lord's Supper are sacraments, nor in the sense of the Romish Church; but it is none the less a sacred institution. Its solemnization is an office of religion. It should, therefore, be entered upon with due solemnity and in the fear of God; and should be celebrated, i.e., the ceremony should be performed by a minister of Christ. He alone is authorized to see to it that the law of God is adhered to; and he alone can receive and register the marriage vows as made to God. The civil magistrate can only witness it as a civil contract, and it is consequently to ignore its religious character and sanction to have it celebrated by a civil officer. As the essence of the marriage contract is the mutual compact of the parties in the sight of God and in the presence of witnesses, it is not absolutely necessary that it should be celebrated by a minister of religion or even by a civil magistrate. It may be lawfully solemnized, as among the Quakers, without the intervention of either. Nevertheless as it is of the greatest importance that the religious nature of the institution should be kept in view, it is incumbent on Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, to insist that it should be solemnized as a religious service.
Marriage as a Civil Institution
As a man's being a servant of God and bound to make his word the rule of his faith and practice, is not inconsistent with his being a servant of the state, and bound to render obedience to its laws; so it is not inconsistent with the fact that marriage is an ordinance of God, that it should be, in another aspect, a civil institution. It is so implicated in the social and civil relations of men that it of necessity comes under the cognizance of the state. It is therefore a civil institution. (1.) In so far as it is, and must be, recognized and enforced by the state. (2.) It imposes civil obligations which the state has the right to enforce. The husband is bound to sustain his wife, for example, and he is constrained by the civil law to the performance of this duty. (3.) Marriage also involves, on both sides, rights to property; and the claims of children born in wedlock to the property of their parents. All these questions concerning property fall legitimately under the control of the civil law. In many countries not only property, but rank, title, and political prerogatives are implicated with the question of marriage. (4.) It belongs to the state, therefore, as the guardian of these rights, to determine what marriages are lawful and what unlawful; how the contract is to be solemnized and authenticated; and what shall be its legal consequences. All these laws Christians are bound to obey, so far as obedience to them is consistent with a good conscience.
The legitimate power of the state in all these matters is limited by the revealed will of God. It can make nothing an impediment to marriage which the Scriptures do not declare to be a bar to that union. It can make nothing a ground of dissolving the marriage contract which the Bible does not make a valid ground of divorce. And the state can attach none other than civil pains and penalty to the violation of its laws concerning marriage. This is only saying that a Christian government is bound to respect the conscientious convictions of the people. It is a violation of the principles of civil and religious liberty for the state to make its will paramount to the will of God. Plain as this principle seems to be, it is nevertheless constantly disregarded in almost all Christian nations, whether Catholic or Protestant. In England, for example, it is still the law, that no member of the royal family can marry without the consent of the reigning sovereign. If this meant nothing more than that any member of the royal family thus marrying, should forfeit for himself and his children all right of succession to the crown, it might be all right. But the real meaning is that such a marriage is null and void; that parties otherwise lawfully married and whom God has joined together as man and wife, are not man and wife. This is to bring the law of man and the law of God into direct collision, and make the human supersede the divine. In Prussia a subordinate officer of the army cannot marry without the consent of his commander. If he should marry without that consent, it might be right to make him throw up his commission; but to say that his wife is not a wife, is not only untrue, but it is a monstrous injustice and cruelty. In England, until of late years, no marriage was valid unless solemnized in church, within canonical hours, and by a man in priest's orders. This law was designed specially for the protection of heiresses from the wiles of fortune-hunters. It might be just to determine that no marriage not thus solemnized should convey any right to property; but to say that parties married five minutes after twelve o'clock, noon, are not married at all, whereas had the ceremony been performed ten minutes sooner, they would be truly man and wife, shocks the conscience and common sense of men. So in this country before the abolition of slavery, according to the laws of our Southern States, no slave could marry. A young white man married a young woman, whom no one in the community supposed had a drop of African blood in her veins. It was proved, however, that she was a slave. Her husband purchased her, manumitted her, repudiated her, married another woman, and was received into the communion of a Presbyterian Church. The law of God was thus regarded as a mere nullity.
Because marriage is in some of its aspects a civil institution, to be regulated within certain limits, by the civil law, men have treated it as though it were a mere business engagement. They ignore its character as a divine institution, regulated and controlled by divine laws. Civil legislatures should remember that they can no more annul the laws of God than the laws of nature. If they pronounce those not to be married who, by the divine law, are married; or if they separate those whom God hath joined together, their laws are absolute nullities at the bar of conscience and in the sight of God.
Marriage is a compact between one man and one woman to live together, as man and wife, until separated by death. According to this definition, first, the marriage relation can subsist only between one man and one woman; secondly, the union is permanent, i.e., it can be dissolved only by the death of one or both of the parties, except for reasons specified in the word of God; and thirdly, the death of one of the parties dissolves the union, so that it is lawful for the survivor to marry again.
As to the first of these points, or that the Scriptural doctrine of marriage is opposed to and condemns polygamy, it is be remarked,—
1. That such has been the doctrine of the Christian Church in all ages and in every part of the world. There has never been a church calling itself Christian which tolerated a plurality of wives among its members. There could hardly be a stronger proof than this fact that such is the law of Christ. It is morally certain that the whole Church cannot have mistaken, on such a subject as this, the mind and will of its divine Head and Master.
2. Marriage as originally constituted and ordained by God was between one man and one woman. And the language of Adam when he received Eve from the hands of her Maker, proves that such was the essential nature of the relation: "And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.… Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh." (Gen. 2:23, 24.) Or, as our Lord quotes and expounds the passage, "They twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh." (Mark 10:8.) "The two," and no more than two, become one. This was not only the language of unfallen Adam in Paradise, but the language of God uttered through the lips of Adam, as appears not only from the circumstances of the case, but also from our Lord's attributing to them divine authority, as He evidently does in the passage just quoted. Thus the law of marriage as originally instituted by God, required that the union should be between one man and one woman. This law could be changed only by the authority by which it was originally enacted. Delitzsch remarks on this passage: "In these words not only the deepest spiritual union, but a union comprehending the whole nature of man, an all comprehending personal communion, is represented as the essence of marriage; and monogamy is set forth as its natural and divinely appointed form."
3. Although this original law was partially disregarded in later times, it was never abrogated. Polygamy and divorce were in a measure tolerated under the Mosaic law, yet in all ages among the Hebrews, monogamy was the rule, and polygamy the exception, as it was among other civilized nations of antiquity. Polygamy first appears among the descendants of Cain. (Gen. 4:19.) Noah and his sons had each but one wife. Abraham had but one wife, until the impatience of Sarah for children led him to take Hagar as a concubine. The same rule of marriage was observed by the prophets as a class. Polygamy was confined in a great measure to kings and princes. There was also an honourable distinction made between the wife and the concubine. The former retained her preëminence as the head of the family. Numerous passages of the Old Testament go to prove that monogamy was considered as the law of marriage, from which plurality of wives was a departure. Throughout the Proverbs, for example, it is the blessing of a good wife, not of wives, that is continually set forth. (Prov. 12:4; 19:14; 31:10ff.) The apocryphal books contain clear evidence that after the exile monogamy was almost universal among the Jews; and it may be inferred from such passages as Luke 1:5; Acts 5:1, and many others, that the same was true at the time of the advent of Christ.
With regard to the toleration of polygamy under the Mosaic law, it is to be remembered that the seventh commandment belongs to the same category as the sixth and eighth. These laws are not founded on the essential nature of God, and therefore are not immutable. They are founded on the permanent relations of men in their present state of existence. From this it follows, (1.) That they bind men only in their present state. The laws of property and marriage can have no application, so far as we know, to the future world, where men shall be as angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage. (2.) These laws being founded on the permanent and natural relations of men, cannot be set aside by human authority, because those relations are not subject to the will or ordinance of men. (3.) They may however be dispensed with by God. He commanded the Israelites to despoil the Egyptians and to dispossess the Canaanites, but this does not prove that one nation may, of its own motion, seize on the inheritance of another people. If God, therefore, at any time and to any people granted permission to practise polygamy, then so long as that permission lasted and for those to whom it was given, polygamy was lawful, and at all other times and for all other persons it was unlawful. This principle is clearly recognized in what our Saviour teaches concerning divorce. It was permitted the Jews under the Mosaic law to put away their wives; as soon as that law was abolished, the right of divorce ceased.
4. Monogamy, however, does not rest exclusively on the original institution of marriage, or upon the general drift of the Old Testament teaching, but mainly on the clearly revealed will of Christ. His will is the supreme law for all Christians, and rightfully for all men. When the Pharisees came to Him and asked Him whether a man could lawfully put away his wife, He answered, that marriage as instituted by God was an indissoluble union between one man and one woman; and, therefore, that those whom God had joined together no man could put asunder. This is the doctrine clearly taught in Matthew 19:4–9; Mark 10:4–9; Luke 16:18; Matthew 5:32. In these passages our Lord expressly declares that if a man marries while his first wife is living he commits adultery. The exception which Christ himself makes to this rule, will be considered under the head of divorce.
The Apostle teaches the same doctrine in Romans 7:2, 3: "The woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man." The doctrine of this passage is that marriage is a compact between one man and one woman, which can be dissolved only by the death of one of the parties. So in 1 Corinthians 7:2: "Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband," it is taken for granted that, in the Christian Church, a plurality of wives is as much out of the question as a plurality of husbands. This assumption runs through the whole New Testament. We not only never read of a Christian's having two or more wives; but whenever the duty of the marriage relation is spoken of, it is always of the husband to his wife, and of the wife to her husband. In the judgment, therefore, of the whole Christian Church, marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman to live together as husband and wife, until separated by death.
5. This Scriptural law is confirmed by the providential law which secures the numerical equality of the sexes. Had polygamy been according to the divine purpose, we should naturally expect that more women would be born than men. But the reverse is the fact. There are more men than women born into the world. The excess, however, is only sufficient to provide for the greater peril to life to which men are exposed. The law of providence is the numerical equality of the sexes; and this is a clear intimation of the will of God that every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband. Such being the will of God, as revealed both in his word and in his providence, everything which tends to counteract it must be evil in its nature and consequences. The doctrine which depreciated marriage, and made celibacy a virtue, flooded the Church with corruption. And everything in our modern civilization and modes of living which renders marriage difficult, and consequently infrequent, is to be deprecated, and if possible removed. That every man should have his own wife and every woman her own husband, is the divinely appointed preventive of the "Social Evil" with all its unutterable horrors. Every other preventive is human and worthless. Rather than that the present state of things should continue, it would be better to return to the old patriarchal usage, and let parents give their sons and daughters in marriage as soon as they attained the proper age, on the best terms they can.
6. As all the permanently obligatory laws of God are founded on the nature of his creatures, it follows that if He has ordained that marriage must be the union of one man and one woman, there must be a reason for this in the very constitution of man and in the nature of the marriage relation. That relation must be such that it cannot subsist between one and many; between one man and more than one woman. This is plain, first, from the nature of the love which it involves; and secondly, from the nature of the union which it constitutes. First, conjugal love is peculiar and exclusive. It can have but one object. As the love of a mother for a child is peculiar, and can have no other object than her own child, so the love of a husband can have no other object than his wife, and the love of a wife no other object than her husband. It is a love not only of complacency and delight, but also of possession, of property, and of rightful ownership. This is the reason why jealousy in man or woman is the fiercest of all human passions. It involves a sense of injury; of the violation of the most sacred rights; more sacred even than the rights of property or life. Conjugal love, therefore, cannot by possibility exist except between one man and one woman. Monogamy has its foundation in the very constitution of our nature. Polygamy is unnatural, and necessarily destructive of the normal, or divinely constituted relation between husband and wife.
Secondly, in another aspect, the union involved in marriage cannot exist except between one man and one woman. It is not merely a union of feeling and of interests. It is such a union as to produce, in some sense, identity. The two become one. Such is the declaration of our Lord. Husband and wife are one, in a sense which justified the Apostle in saying as he does, in Ephesians 5:30, that the wife is bone of her husband's bone, and flesh of his flesh. She is his body. She is himself (5:28). Such is this union that "Qui uxorem repudiat, quasi dimidiam sui partem a seipso avellit. Hoc autem minime patitur natura, ut corpus suum quisque discerpat." What all this means it may be hard for us to understand. It is certain,—(1.) That it does not refer to anything material, or to any identification of substance. When Adam said of Eve, "This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh," he doubtless referred to her being formed out of his body. But as these words are used by the Apostle to express the relation of all wives to their husbands, they must be understood of something else than identity of substance. (2.) The oneness of man and wife, of which the Scriptures speak, cannot be understood in any sense inconsistent with their distinct subsistence or personality. They may be very different in character and destiny. The one may be saved, the other lost. (3.) It is evident, however, that the meaning of the strong language of Scripture on this subject is not exhausted, by representing the marriage union as being merely one of affection; or by saying that the husband is the complement of the wife and the wife of the husband; that is, that the marriage relation is necessary to the completeness of our nature and to its full development in the present state of existence; that there are capacities, feelings, and virtues which are not otherwise or elsewhere called into exercise. All this may be true, but it is not the whole truth. (4.) There is, in a certain sense, a community of life between husband and wife. We are accustomed to say, and to say truly, that the life of parents is communicated to their children. Each nation and every historical family has a form of life by which it is distinguished. As, therefore, the life of a father and the life of his son are the same, in that the blood (i.e., the life) of the parent flows in the veins of his children; so in an analogous sense the life of the husband and wife is one. They have a common life, and that common or joint life is transmitted to their offspring. This is the doctrine of the early Church. The Apostolical Constitutions say: ἡ γυνὴ κοινωνός ἐστι βίου, ἑνουμένη εἰς ἕν σῶμα ἐκ δύο παρὰ θεοῦ.
The analogy which the Apostle traces out in Ephesians 5:22–33, between the conjugal relation and the union between Christ and his Church, brings out the Scriptural doctrine of marriage more clearly than perhaps any other passage in the Bible. No analogy is expected to answer in all respects, and no illustration borrowed from earthly relations can bring out all the fulness of the things of God. The relation, therefore, between a husband and his wife, is only an adumbration of the relation of Christ to his Church. Still there is an analogy between the two, (1.) As the Apostle teaches, the love of Christ to his Church is peculiar and exclusive. It is such as He has for no other class or body of rational creatures in the universe. So the love of the husband for his wife is peculiar and exclusive. It is such as he has for no other object; a love in which no one can participate. (2.) Christ's love for his Church is self-sacrificing. He gave himself for it. He purchased the Church with his blood. So the husband should, and when true, does, in all things sacrifice himself for his wife. (3.) Christ and his Church are one; one in the sense that the Church is his body. So the husband and wife are in such a sense one, that a man in loving his wife loves himself. (4.) Christ's life is communicated to the Church. As the life of the head is communicated to the members of the human body; and the life of the vine to the branches, so there is, in a mysterious sense, a community of life between Christ and his Church. In like manner, in a sense no less truly mysterious, there is a community of life between husband and wife.
From all this it follows that as it would be utterly incongruous and impossible that Christ should have two bodies, two brides, two churches, so it is no less incongruous and impossible that a man should have two wives. That is, the conjugal relation, as it is set forth in Scripture, cannot by possibility subsist, except between one man and one woman.
1. If such be the true doctrine of marriage, it follows, as just stated, that polygamy destroys its very nature. It is founded on a wrong view of the nature of woman; places her in a false and degrading position; dethrones and despoils her; and is productive of innumerable evils.
2. It follows that the marriage relation is permanent and indissoluble. A limb may be violently severed from the body, and lose all vital connection with it; and husband and wife may be thus violently separated, and their conjugal relation annulled; but in both cases the normal connection is permanent.
3. It follows that the state can neither constitute nor dissolve the marriage relation. It can no more free a husband or wife "a vinculo matrimonii," than it can free a father "a vinculo paternitatis." It may protect a child from the injustice or cruelty of its father, or even, for due cause, remove him from all parental control, and it may legislate about its property, but the natural bond between parents and children is beyond its control. So the state may legislate about marriage, and determine its accidents and legal consequences; it may decide who, in the sight of the law, shall be regarded as husband and wife, and when, or under what circumstances, the legal or civil rights and privileges arising out of the relation shall cease to be enforced; and it may protect the person and rights of the wife, and, if necessary, remove her from the control of her husband, but the conjugal bond it cannot dissolve. All decrees of divorce "a vinculo matrimonii," issued by civil or ecclesiastical authorities, so far as the conscience is concerned, are perfectly inoperative, unless antecedently to such decree and by the law of God, the conjugal relation has ceased to exist.
4. It follows from the Scriptural doctrine of marriage that all laws are evil which tend to make those two whom God pronounces to be one; such laws, for example, as give to the wife the right to conduct business, contract debts, and sue and be sued, in her own name. This is attempting to correct one class of evils at the cost of incurring others a hundred-fold greater. The Word of God is the only sure guide of legislative action as well as of individual conduct.
5. It need hardly be remarked that it follows from the nature of marriage, that next to murder, adultery is the greatest of all social crimes. Under the Old Dispensation it was punishable with death. And even now it is practically impossible to convict a husband of murder who kills the man who has committed adultery with his wife. This comes from human laws being in conflict with the laws of nature and of God. The law of God regards marriage as identifying a man and his wife; the laws of the state too often regard it as merely a civil contract, and give an injured husband no redress but a suit for damages for the pecuniary loss he has sustained by being deprived of the services of his wife. The penalty for adultery, to be in any due proportion to the magnitude of the crime, should be severe and degrading.
6. The relative duties of husband and wife arising out of their relation, may be expressed in a few comprehensive words. The husband is to love, protect, and cherish his wife as himself, i.e., as being to him another self. The duties of the wife are set forth in the time-honoured Christian formula, "love, honour, and obey."
The question has been mooted, Whether a polygamist, when converted to Christianity, should be required to repudiate all his wives but one, as a condition of his admission into the Christian Church? The answer to this question has been sought from three sources: First, the Scriptural doctrine of marriage; secondly, the example of the Apostles when dealing with such cases; and thirdly, from a consideration of the effects which would follow from making monogamy an indispensable condition of admission to the Church.
As to the first point, it is admitted by all Christians, that it is the law of God, the law of Christ, and consequently the law of the Christian Church that polygamy is sinful, being a violation of the original and permanently obligatory law of marriage. As every man who enters the Church professes to be a Christian, and as every Christian is bound to obey the law of Christ, it seems plain that no man should be received into the communion of the Church who does not conform to the law of Christ concerning marriage. The only question is, Whether Christ has made a special exception in favour of those who in the times of their ignorance, contracted the obligations of marriage with more than one woman? It is of course possible that such an exception might have been made. It would be analogous to the temporary suspension of the original law of marriage in favour of the hardhearted Jews. Has then such an exception been made? This is the second point to be considered. It concerns a matter of fact. Those who assume that such an exception has been made, are bound to produce the clearest evidence of the fact. This is necessary not only to satisfy the consciences of the parties concerned, but also to justify a departure from a plainly revealed law of God. It would be a very serious matter to set up in a heathen country, a church not conformed in this matter to the usual law of Christendom. Missionaries are sent forth to teach not only Christian doctrines but Christian morals. And the churches which they found, profess to be witnesses for Christ as to what He would have men to believe, and as to what He would have them to do. They ought not to be allowed to bear false testimony. It is certain that there is no clear and definite expression of the will of Christ, recorded in the New Testament, that the case contemplated should be an exception to the Scriptural law of marriage. There is no instance recorded in the New Testament, of the admission of a polygamist to the Christian Church. It has, indeed, been inferred from 1 Timothy 3:2, where the Apostle says, a bishop must be "the husband of one wife," that a private member of the Church might have more wives than one. But this is in itself a very precarious inference; and being inconsistent with Christ's express prohibition, it is altogether inadmissible. The meaning of the passage has been much disputed. What the Apostle requires is that a bishop should be in all respects an exemplary man: not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; the husband of one wife, i.e., not a polygamist. This no more implies that other men may be polygamists, than his saying that a bishop must not be greedy of filthy lucre and not a brawler, implies that other men may be covetous or contentious. According to another and widely accepted interpretation of the passage in 1 Timothy 3:2, and the corresponding passage in Titus 1:6, the injunction of the Apostle is that a man who has been married more than once, must not be appointed a bishop or presbyter. If this be the true meaning of the Apostle, his language affords still less ground for the argument drawn from it in favour of the lawfulness of polygamy in church members. If even second marriage was forbidden to presbyters, a fortiori must polygamy be regarded as inconsistent with the law of Christ.
This interpretation was very generally adopted in the early Church, during the Middle Ages, and by Romanists, and is sustained by many of the recent commentators. Bishop Ellicott decides in favour of this interpretation. His reasons are,—(1.) The opinion of the early writers and of some councils. (2.) The special respect paid among pagans to a woman who was "univira." (3.) The propriety, in the case of ἐπίσκοποι and διάκονοι, of a greater temperance. (4.) And the manifestation of a greater sanctity (σεμνότης) of a single marriage, which he thinks is indicated even in Scripture (Luke 2:36, 37). The objections to it are,—
In the first place, that it rests on an unscriptural view of marriage. According to the Bible, marriage is a better, higher, and holier, because the normal state, than celibacy. It was only in the interest of the doctrine of the peculiar sanctity of celibacy, that this interpretation was adopted by the fathers.
In the second place, it rests on the no less unscriptural assumption of the superior holiness of the clergy. No higher degree of moral purity is required of them than of other men, for the simple reason that every man is required to be perfectly holy in heart and life. The interpretation in question gained the stronger hold of the Church as the doctrine of "the grace of orders," and of the priesthood of the clergy gained ascendancy. When the Reformation came and swept away these two doctrines, it removed the two principal supports of the interpretation in question. It is not to be admitted that there can be anything unholy in second marriages, which an infinitely holy God declares to be lawful (Rom. 7:3), nor can it be conceded that the clergy are holier than other believers, seeing that the only priesthood in the Church on earth is the priesthood common to all believers.
In the third place, the interpretation which makes the Apostle interdict second marriages to bishops and deacons, is contrary to the natural meaning of the words. The parallel passage in Titus 1:5, 6, reads thus: "That thou shouldest, … ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, etc;" εἴ τις ἐστὶν … μιᾶς γυναικὸς, ἀνήρ, 'if any one is at this present time the husband of one wife.' It is the present state and character of the man that are to be taken into the account. He might before have been unmarried, or even a polygamist, but when ordained, he must, if married at all, be the husband of but one woman. "Qui sit: non autem, Qui fuerit," says Calvin in his comment on 1 Timothy 3:2. And on Titus 1:6 he says, "Qui defuncta uxore alteram jam cœlebs inducit, nihilominus unius uxoris maritus censeri debet. Non enim eligendum docet qui fuerit maritus unius uxoris, sed qui sit." Whichever of these interpretations of 1 Timothy 3:2, be adopted, whether we understand the Apostle to forbid that a polygamist, or that a man twice married, should be admitted to the ministry, in neither case does the passage give authority to receive a polygamist into the fellowship of the Church. Considering, then, that monogamy is the undoubted law of Christ; considering that we have no evidence that He made an exception in favour of heathen converts; and considering the great importance that churches, founded in heathen lands, should bear true witness of the doctrines and precepts of Christianity, it would seem clear that no man having more than one wife should be admitted to Christian fellowship.
The third aspect of this question concerns the effects of enforcing the Christian law of marriage in heathen lands. It is urged that this would result in great cruelty and injustice. For a man to cast off women whom he had engaged to protect and cherish, to abandon not only them but their children, it is said, cannot be reconciled with any right principle. To this it may be replied,—(1.) That in many heathen countries it is not the husband who supports the wives, but the wives who support the husband. They are his slaves, and sustain him by their labour. There would be no great hardship in his setting them free. (2.) But when this is not the case, it does not follow that because a man ceases to regard several women as his wives, he should cease to provide for them, and for the welfare of his children. This in any event, as a Christian, he is bound to do.
It is also suggested, as a difficulty in this matter, that it is hard to determine which of his several wives a converted polygamist should retain. Some say, that it is the one first married; others say, that he should be allowed to make his own selection. If marriage among the heathen were what it is in Christian countries, there would be no room for doubt on this subject. Then the first contract would be the only binding one, and all the rest null and void. But in the Christian sense of the word there has been no marriage in any case. There has been no promise and vow of mutual fidelity. The relation of a heathen polygamist to the women of his harem, is more analogous to concubinage than to Christian marriage. The relation of a heathen polygamist to his numerous wives, is so different from the conjugal relation as contemplated in Scripture, as to render it at least doubtful whether the husband's obligation is exclusively, or preëminently, to the woman first chosen. This is a point of casuistry to which those who expect to labour in heathen countries should direct their attention. The Romish Church decides in favour of the first wife. The Roman Catechism says: "Atque ob eam rem fieri intelligimus, ut, si infidelis quispiam, gentis suæ more et consuetudine, plures uxores duxisset, cum ad veram religionem conversus fuerit, jubeat eum Ecclesia ceteras omnes relinquere, ac priorem tantum justæ et legitimæ uxoris loco habere."
The questions which call for, at least a brief consideration, under this head are, (1.) What is divorce, and what are its legitimate effects? (2.) What are the Scriptural grounds of divorce? (3.) What are the Romish doctrine, and practice on this subject? (4.) What are the doctrine and practice of Protestant Churches and countries? (5.) What is the duty of the Church and of its officers in cases where the laws of the state on this subject are in conflict with the law of God? Works on civil and canon law, when treating of divorce, take a much wider range than this, but the points above indicated seem to include those of most interest and importance to the theologian.
Divorce; its Nature and Effects
Divorce is not a mere separation, whether temporary or permanent, "a mensa et thoro." It is not such a separation as leaves the parties in the relation of husband and wife, and simply relieves them from the obligation of their relative duties. Divorce annuls the "vinculum matrimonii," so that the parties are no longer man and wife. They stand henceforth to each other in the same relation as they were before marriage. That this is the true idea of divorce is plain from the fact that under the old dispensation if a man put away his wife, she was at liberty to marry again. (Deut. 24:1, 2.) This of course supposes that the marriage relation to her former husband was effectually dissolved. Our Lord teaches the same doctrine. The passages in the Gospels, referring to this subject, are Matthew 5:31, 32; 19:3–9; Mark 10:2–12; and Luke 16:18. The simple meaning of these passages seems to be, that marriage is a permanent compact, which cannot be dissolved at the will of either of the parties. If, therefore, a man arbitrarily puts away his wife and marries another, he commits adultery. If he repudiates her on just grounds and marries another, he commits no offence. Our Lord makes the guilt of marrying after separation to depend on the ground of the separation. Saying, 'that if a man puts away his wife for any cause save fornication, and marries another, he commits adultery'; is saying that 'the offence is not committed if the specified ground of divorce exists.' And this is saying that divorce, when justifiable, dissolves the marriage tie.
Although this seems so plainly to be the doctrine of the Scriptures, the opposite doctrine prevailed early in the Church, and soon gained the ascendancy. Augustine himself taught in his work "De Conjugiis Adulterinis," and elsewhere, that neither of the parties after divorce could contract a new marriage. In his "Retractions," however, he expresses doubt on the subject. It passed, however, into the canon law, and received the authoritative sanction of the Council of Trent, which says,2 "Si quis dixerit, ecclesiam errare, cum docuit et docet, juxta evangelicam et apostolicam doctrinam, propter adulterium alterius conjugum matrimonii vinculum non posse dissolvi; et utrumque, vel etiam innocentem, qui causam adulterio non dedit, non posse, altero conjuge vivente, aliud matrimonium contrahere; mœcharique eum, qui, dimissa adultera, aliam duxerit, et eam, quæ, dimisso adultero, alii nupserit; anathema sit." This is the necessary consequence of the doctrine, that the marriage relation can be dissolved only by death. The indisposition of the mediæval and Romish Church to admit of remarriages after divorce, is no doubt to be attributed in part to the low idea of the marriage state prevailing in the Latin Church. It had its ground, however, in the interpretation given to certain passages of Scripture. In Mark 10:11, 12, and in Luke 16:18, our Lord says without any qualification: "Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband, committeth adultery." This was taken as the law on the subject, without regard to what is said in Matthew 5:31, 32, and 19:3–9. As, however, there is no doubt of the genuineness of the passages in Matthew, they cannot be overlooked. One expression of the will of Christ is as authoritative and as satisfactory as a thousand repetitions could make it. The exception stated in Matthew, therefore, must stand. The reason for the omission in Mark and Luke may be accounted for in different ways. It is said by some that the exception was of necessity understood from its very nature, whether mentioned or not. Or having been stated twice, its repetition was unnecessary. Or what perhaps is most probable, as our Lord was speaking to Pharisees, who held that a man might put away his wife when he pleased, it was enough to say that such divorces as they were accustomed to, did not dissolve the bonds of marriage, and that the parties remained as much man and wife as they were before. Under the Old Testament, divorce on the ground of adultery, was out of the question, because adultery was punished by death. And, therefore, it was only when Christ was laying down the law of his own kingdom, under which the death penalty for adultery was to be abolished, that it was necessary to make any reference to that crime.
It has been earnestly objected to the doctrine that adultery dissolves the marriage bond, that both parties, the guilty as well the innocent become free, and either may contract a new marriage. If this be so, it is said, that all that a man, who wishes to get rid of his wife, has to do, is to commit that offence. He will then be at liberty to marry whom he chooses. To this it might be a sufficient answer to say that the objection bears rather against the wisdom of the law, than against the fact that it is the law; or in other words, the objection is against the plain meaning of the words of Christ. But it is to be remembered, that adultery is a crime in the sight of man as well as in the sight of God, and as such it ought to be punished. Under the old dispensation it was punished by death; under the new, it may be punished by imprisonment, or by prohibition of any future marriage. Christ leaves the punishment of this, as of other crimes, to be determined by his disciples in their civil capacity. All He does is to teach what its effects are, "in foro conscientiæ," as to the marriage bond.
Grounds of Divorce
As already stated, marriage is an indissoluble compact between one man and one woman. It cannot be dissolved by any voluntary act of repudiation on the part of the contracting parties; nor by any act of the Church or State. "Those whom God has joined together, no man can put asunder." The compact may, however, be dissolved, although by no legitimate act of man. It is dissolved by death. It is dissolved by adultery; and as Protestants teach, by wilful desertion. In other words, there are certain things which from their nature work a dissolution of the marriage bond. All the legitimate authority the state has in the premises is to take cognizance of the fact that the marriage is dissolved; officially to announce it, and to make suitable provision for the altered relation of the parties.
Under the preceding head it has already been shown that according to the plain teaching of our Saviour the marriage bond is annulled by the crime of adultery. The reason of this is, that the parties are no longer one, in the mysterious sense in which the Bible declares a man and his wife to be one. The Apostle teaches on this subject the same doctrine that Christ had taught. The seventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians is devoted to the subject of marriage, in reference to which several questions had been proposed to him.
He first lays down the general principle, founded on the Word of God and the nature of man, that it is best that every man should have his own wife and every wife her own husband; but in view of the "present (or imminent) distress," he advises his readers not to marry. He writes to the Corinthians as a man would write to an army about to enter on a most unequal conflict in an enemy's country, and for a protracted period. He tells them: 'This is no time for you to think of marriage. You have a right to marry. And in general it is best that all men should marry. But in your circumstances marriage can only lead to embarrassment and increase of suffering.' This limitation of his advice not to marry, to men in the circumstances of those to whom the advice is given, is not only stated in so many words in verse 26, but it is the only way in which Paul can be reconciled with himself or with the general teaching of the Bible. It has already been remarked, that no one of the sacred writers speaks in more exalted terms of marriage than this Apostle. He represents it as a most ennobling spiritual union, which raises a man out of himself and makes him live for another; a union so elevated and refining as to render it a fit symbol of the union between Christ and his Church. Marriage, according to this Apostle, does for man in the sphere of nature, what union with Christ does for him in the sphere of grace.
Having thus given it as a matter of advice that it was best, under existing circumstances, for Christians not to marry, he proceeds to give directions to those who were already married. Of these there were two classes: first, those where both husband and wife were Christians; and secondly, those where one of the parties was a believer and the other an unbeliever, i.e., a Jew or a heathen. With regard to the former he says, that as according to the law of Christ the marriage is indissoluble, neither party had the right to repudiate the other. But if, in violation of the law of Christ, a wife had deserted her husband, she was bound either to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled to her husband. The Apostle thus impliedly recognizes the principle that there may be causes which justify a woman's leaving her husband, which do not justify a dissolution of the marriage bond.
With regard to those cases in which one of the parties was a Christian and the other an unbeliever, he teaches, first, that such marriages are lawful, and, therefore, ought not to be dissolved. But, secondly, that if the unbelieving partner depart, i.e., repudiates the marriage, the believing partner is not bound; i.e., is no longer bound by the marriage compact. This seems to be the plain meaning. If the unbelieving partner is willing to continue in the marriage relation, the believing party is bound; bound, that is, to be faithful to the marriage compact. If the unbeliever is not willing to remain, the believer in that case is not bound; i.e., bound by the marriage compact. In other words, the marriage is thereby dissolved. This passage is parallel to Romans 7:2. The Apostle there says, a wife "is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband." So here he says, 'A wife is bound to her husband if he is willing to remain with her; but if he deserts her, she is free from him.' That is, wilful desertion annuls the marriage bond. This desertion, however, must be deliberate and final. This is implied in the whole context. The case contemplated is where the unbelieving husband refuses any longer to regard his believing partner as his wife.
This interpretation of the passage is given not only by the older Protestant interpreters, but also by the leading modern commentators, as De Wette, Meyer, Alford, and Wordsworth, and in the Confessions of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. Even the Romanists take the same view. They hold, indeed, that among Christians marriage is absolutely indissoluble except by the death of one of the parties. But if one of the partners be an unbeliever, then they hold that desertion annuls the marriage contract. On this point Cornelius à Lapide, of Louvain and Rome, says, "Nota, Apostolum permittere hoc casu non tantum thori divortium sed etiam matrimonii; ita ut possit conjux fidelis aliud matrimonium inire." Lapide refers to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Ambrose in support of this opinion. The Canon Law, under the title "Divortiis" teaches the same doctrine. Wordsworth's comment on the passage is, "Although a Christian may not put away his wife, being an unbeliever, yet if the wife desert her husband (Χωρίζεται) he may contract a second marriage."
The Romanists indeed rest their sanction to remarriage in the case supposed, on the ground that there is an essential difference between marriage where one or both the parties are heathen, and marriage where both parties are Christians. This, however, makes no difference. Paul had just said that such unequal marriages were lawful and valid. Neither party could legitimately repudiate or leave the other. The ground of divorce indicated is not difference of religion, but desertion.
There is a middle ground taken by many, both ancients and moderns, in the interpretation of this passage. They admit that desertion justifies divorce, but not the remarriage of the party deserted. To this it may be objected,—
1. That this is inconsistent with the nature of divorce. We have already seen that divorce among the Jews, as explained by Christ, and as understood in the apostolic Church, was such a separation of man and wife as dissolved the marriage bond. This idea was expressed in the use of the words ἀπολύειν, ἀφιέναι, Χωρίζειν, and these are the words here used.
2. This interpretation is inconsistent with the context and with the design of the Apostle. Among the questions submitted to his decision, was this, 'Is it lawful for a Christian to remain in the marriage relation with an unbeliever?' Paul answers, 'Yes; such marriages are lawful and valid. Therefore if the unbeliever is willing to continue the marriage relation, the believer remains bound; but if the unbeliever refuses to continue the marriage, the believer is no longer bound by it.' To say that the believer is no longer bound to give up his or her religion, which seems to be Neander's idea, or is not bound to force himself or herself upon an unwilling partner, would be nothing to the point. No Christian could think himself bound to give up his religion, and no one could think it possible that married life could be continued without the consent of the parties. The question, in this sense, was not worth either asking or answering.
3. Desertion, from the nature of the offence, is a dissolution of the marriage bond. Why does death dissolve a marriage? It is because it is a final separation. So is desertion. Incompatibility of temper, cruelty, disease, crime, insanity, etc., which human laws often make grounds of divorce, are not inconsistent with the marriage relation. A woman may have a disagreeable, a cruel, or a wicked husband, but a man in his grave, or one who refuses to recognize her as his wife, cannot be her husband.
It is said, indeed, that this doctrine makes marriage depend on the option of the parties. Either may desert the other; and then the marriage is dissolved. The same objection was made to our Lord's doctrine that adultery destroys the marriage bond. It was said that if this be so, either party might dissolve the marriage, by committing that crime. As the objections are the same, the answer is the same. As adultery is a crime, so is desertion; and both should be punished. The question is not what these crimes deserve, but what are their legitimate effects, according to the Scriptures, on the marriage relation.
That desertion is a legitimate ground of divorce, was therefore, as before mentioned, the doctrine held by the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingle, and almost without exception by all the Protestant churches.
Doctrine of the Church of Rome
Marriage is thus defined in the Roman Catechism: "Matrimonium est viri, et mulieris maritalis conjunctio inter legitimas personas, individuam vitæ consuetudinem retinens." The clause "inter legitimas personas," is explained by saying, "Qui a nuptiarum conjunctione legibus omnino exclusi sunt, ii matrimonium inire non possunt; neque, si ineant, ratum est, exempli enim gratia: qui intra quartum gradum propinquitate conjuncti sunt, puerque ante decimum quartum annum, aut puella ante duodecimum, quæ ætas legibus constituta est, ad matrimonii justa fœdera ineunda apti esse non possunt." The clause, "Individuam vitæ consuetudinem retinens," it is said, "indissolubilis vinculi naturam declarat quo vir, et uxor colligantur."
Marriage is to be contemplated under two aspects. It is an institution founded in nature, and therefore exists wherever men exist. It is a lawful institution among the heathen as well as among Christians. But as it is an ordinance of God it has a character among those who know the true God and thus regard it, far higher than it has for those who are the worshippers of false gods. And, therefore, marriage, under the old dispensation, had a much higher character than it had among the heathen. Nevertheless, among Christians marriage is something far more sacred than it was under the Mosaic economy. Christ had raised it to the dignity of a sacrament.
Marriage a Sacrament
The word sacrament is one of vague and various meaning. Sometimes it means that which is sacred or consecrated; sometimes that which has, or is intended to have a sacred meaning; i.e., an external sign of some religious truth or grace; sometimes a divinely appointed external rite instituted to be a means of grace; and sometimes a divinely appointed external sign that contains and conveys the grace which it signifies. It is in this last sense that the word is used by Romanists; and it is in this sense they teach that marriage is a sacrament. The principal Scriptural authority for this doctrine they find in Ephesians 5:32, where, as they understand the passage, the words τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο μέγα ἐστίν, rendered in the Vulgate, "Sacramentum hoc magnum est," are spoken of marriage. According to this version and interpretation, the Apostle does indeed directly assert that marriage is a mystery. But (1.) The words do not refer to marriage, but to the mystical union between Christ and his people as appears from the Apostle's own explanation in the following clause: "I speak concerning Christ and the Church." The two subjects, the union of husband and wife and the union between Christ and his people, had been so combined and interwoven in the preceding verses, that it would have been difficult to determine to which the words, "This is a great mystery," were intended to refer, had not the Apostle himself told us. But (2.) Even if the Apostle does say that the marriage union is a great mystery, which in one sense it clearly is, that would not prove that it is a sacrament. The word "mystery," as used in the Bible, means something hidden or unknown; something which can be known only by divine revelation. Thus the Gospel itself is repeatedly said to be a mystery (Eph. 3:3–9); the future conversion of the Jews is said to be a mystery (Rom. 11:25); the incarnation is said to be the great mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16); and anything obscure or enigmatical is called a mystery (Rev. 17:5); thus the mystery of the seven candlesticks is their secret meaning. If, therefore, Paul says that marriage is a great mystery in the sense that no one can fully understand what is meant when God says that husband and wife are one, or even in the sense that marriage has a sacred import, that it is a symbol of a great religious truth, this is what all Protestants admit and what is clearly taught in Scripture. Paul had himself just set forth marriage as the great analogue of the mystical union of Christ and the Church. (3.) Admitting still further that marriage was properly called "sacramentum," that would prove nothing to the purpose. That Latin word had not the sense attached to it by Romanists until long after the apostolic age. It has not that sense even in the Vulgate. In 1 Timothy 3:16, the manifestation of God in the flesh is declared to be the "great mystery of godliness," which the Vulgate translates "magnum pietatis sacramentum;" but Romanists do not hold that the incarnation is a sacrament in the ecclesiastical sense of that term. The Latin Church, however, having gradually come to attach to the word the idea of a divinely appointed rite or ceremony, which signifies, contains, and conveys grace, and finding, as the words were understood, marriage declared in Ephesians 5:32 to be a "sacramentum," it came to teach that it was a sacrament in the same sense as baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Romanists then teach that marriage is a sacrament not merely because it is the sign or symbol of the union of Christ and his Church. The Roman Catechism says, (1). That no one should doubt "quod scilicet viri, et mulieris conjunctio, cujus Deus auctor est, sanctissimi illius vinculi, quo Christus dominus cum Ecclesia conjungitur, sacramentum, id est, sacrum signum sit." If this were all, no Protestant could object. (2). But Romanists teach that marriage is a sacrament because it not only signifies but also confers grace. The ceremony, including the consent of the parties, the benediction, and the intention of the priest, renders the bride and groom holy. It sanctifies them. "Ex opere operato," it transforms mere natural human love into that holy spiritual affection which renders their union a fit emblem of the union of Christ and the Church. On this point the Council of Trent says:2 "Gratiam, vero, quæ naturalem ilium amorem perficeret, et indissolubilem unitatem confirmaret, conjugesque sanctificaret, ipse Christus, venerabilium sacramentorum institutor, atque perfector, sua nobis passione promeruit." It would be a great blessing if this were so. Facts, however, prove that the sacramental efficacy of matrimony no more so sanctifies husbands and wives as to make their mutual love like the holy love of Christ for his Church, than baptism confers (to those not opposing an obstacle) all the benefits, subjective and objective, of the redemption of Christ. If the sacramentarian theory were true, all Christians would be perfect and Christendom would be paradisiacal.
Marriage between Christians, according to Romanists, is indissoluble. Neither adultery nor desertion justifies divorce. Death alone can sever the bond. It is not to be inferred from this, however, that marriage is a more sacred institution among Romanists than among Protestants. Any departure from Scriptural rules is sure to work evil. The denial that adultery destroys the marriage bond, leads naturally, and in fact has led, not only to render that crime more frequent, but also to unscriptural devices to remedy the injustice of forcing a husband or wife to maintain the conjugal relation with a guilty partner. One of these devices is the multiplication of the causes of separation "a mensa et thoro"; and another still more unscriptural, is the multiplying the reasons which render marriage null and void "ab initio." No less than sixteen causes which render marriages null are enumerated by Romish theologians.
The causes which justify separation without divorce, are vows, adultery, apostasy, and crimes. Under the last head they include cruelty and prodigality. If the parties had not been baptized, divorce "a vinculo" was allowed when one of the partners became a Romanist and the other refused to, and also for any serious crime. The whole matter is in the hands of the Church, which claims the right of making and unmaking impediments to marriage at pleasure. "Si quis dixerit Ecclesiam non potuisse constituere impedimenta, matrimonium dirimentia, vel in iis constituendis errasse; anathema sit." At one period the Church of Rome made consanguinity within the seventh degree an impediment to marriage; at present it forbids marriage within the fourth degree inclusive. "The old Catholic theory of marriage," says President Woolsey, "was practically a failure in all its parts, in its ascetic frown on marriage, in its demand from the clergy of an abstinence not required from the Christian laity, in teaching that nothing but death could release the married pair from their obligations. When it sought for impracticable virtue, and forbade to some what God had allowed to all, it opened a fountain of vice with the smallest incitement to virtue."
Laws of Protestant Countries concerning Divorce
It has already been shown that Protestants, making the Scriptures their guide, taught that the dissolution of the bond of marriage was allowable only for the two offences of adultery and wilful desertion. So far as the churches and their confessions are concerned, this is still the doctrine of almost all Protestant denominations. When, however, marriage came to be regarded as essentially a civil contract, it gradually fell under the jurisdiction of the state, and laws were passed varying in different countries, as legislators were influenced by mere views of justice or expediency. The legislation of all European nations was greatly influenced by the old Roman law; and, therefore, when marriage was removed from the exclusive jurisdiction of the Church, the laws concerning it were more or less adopted from that ancient code. The Roman laws concerning divorce were very lax. Mutual consent was, even after the Roman emperors became Christian, regarded as a sufficient reason for dissolving the bond of marriage. When the Church gained the ascendancy over the State, and the pope became the virtual legislator of Christendom, divorce for any reason was forbidden; and when and where the pope in his turn was dethroned, there was a general tendency to return to the laxity of the Roman legislation.
England was an exception to this rule. It discarded less of popish usages than any other Protestant nation. For a long time after the Reformation no special law concerning divorce was passed. The ecclesiastical courts could decree separation "a mensa et thoro," but a full divorce "a vinculo" could be obtained only by a special act of Parliament. Under the reign of the present sovereign all such questions were removed from the ecclesiastical courts and remitted to a civil tribunal. That tribunal is authorized to grant judicial separation "a mensa et thoro" on the ground of adultery, or cruelty, or desertion without just cause for two years and upward; and dissolution of marriage on account of simple adultery on the part of the wife, or aggravated adultery on the part of the husband. Such divorce gives both parties liberty to contract a new marriage. "On the whole, with serious defects," says President Woolsey, "it seems to us to be an excellent law. It does honour to the Christian country where it is in force, and it is certainly a great improvement on the former mode of regulating divorce in England." It may be a good law in comparison with the lawlessness that preceded it, and in comparison with the lax legislation of other Protestant nations, but it is not good so far as it is not conformed to the Scriptures. The New Testament makes no such distinction as is made in this law, between adultery on the part of the wife and the same offence on the part of the husband. And it is not good in not allowing wilful desertion to be a legitimate ground of divorce, if, as Protestants almost universally believe, the Bible teaches the contrary.
In France the laws of the Romish Church were in force until the Revolution. That event threw everything into confusion, and the sanctity of marriage was in a great degree disregarded. Under the empire of the first Napoleon, the civil code allowed divorce, (1.) for simple adultery on the part of the wife; (2.) for aggravated adultery on the part of the husband; (3.) for outrages and cruelty; (4.) for the condemnation of either party to an infamous punishment; and (5.) for mutual persistent consent. The restoration of the Bourbons put an end to these laws and led to the entire probibition of divorce.
Among the Protestants of Germany, the views of the Reformers, as a general thing, controlled the action of the several states on this subject until about the middle of the eighteenth century, when the laws of marriage were greatly relaxed. Göschen attributes this change in a great measure to the influence of Thomasius († 1728), who regarded marriage as merely a civil institution designed for the purposes of the state, and which, therefore, might be set aside whenever it failed to answer the desired end. The present law of Prussia, although an improvement on the previous legislation, is far below the Scriptural standard. Besides adultery and wilful desertion, it makes many other offences grounds of divorce, for example, plots endangering the life or health of the other party; gross injuries; dangerous incompatibility of temper; crimes entailing an infamous punishment; habitual drunkenness and extravagance; and deliberate mutual consent, if there be no children fruit of the marriage to be dissolved.
The United States
The laws of the several states of this Union on the subject of divorce vary from the extreme of strictness to the extreme of laxness. In South Carolina no divorce has ever been given. The effect of refusing to regard adultery as a dissolution of the marriage bond is, as proved by the experience of Catholic countries, to lead the people to regard that crime as a pardonable offence. It was indictable. In New York adultery is the only ground of divorce; but separation from bed and board is granted for cruelty, desertion, and refusal on the part of the husband to make provision for the support of the wife. In several of the other states, besides adultery and desertion, many other grounds are made sufficient to justify divorce; of these grounds the following are the principal: imprisonment, neglect to provide for the maintenance of the wife, habitual drunkenness, and cruelty. In some states the whole matter is left to the discretion of the courts. In the laws of Maine it is said that divorce "a vinculo" may be granted by any justice of the Supreme Court, "when in the exercise of a sound discretion, he deems it reasonable and proper, conducive to domestic harmony, and consistent with the peace and morality of society." The law of Indiana says divorce may be granted for any cause for which the court deems it proper. In Rhode Island to the enumeration of specific causes is added, "and for any other gross misbehaviour and wickedness in either of the parties, repugnant to and in violation of the marriage covenant." In Connecticut the statute passed in 1849 allows divorce for "any such misconduct as permanently destroys the happiness of the petitioner and defeats the purpose of the conjugal relation."
Duty of the Church and of its Officers
There are certain principles bearing on this subject which will be generally conceded, (1.) Every legislative body is bound to conform its enactments to the moral law. This may be assumed as a self-evident proposition. (2.) Every Christian legislature is bound to conform its action to the laws of Christianity. By a Christian legislature is meant one which makes laws for a Christian people. It is not necessary that it should represent them as Christians, to be their agents in teaching, propagating, or enforcing the principles of the Christian religion. It is enough to constitute it a Christian legislature that the great body of its constituents who are bound to obey its laws are Christians. No one hesitates to say that Italy, Spain, and France are Catholic countries; or that England, Sweden, and Prussia are Protestant. As all the powers of legislatures are derived from the people, it is irrational to suppose that the people would delegate to their representatives authority to violate their religion. No legislature of a Christian state, therefore, can have the right to make laws inconsistent with the Christian religion. This principle, so reasonable and obvious, is conceded in the abstract. No state in this Union would dare to legalize adultery or bigamy. Before the Reformation all questions concerning marriage were under the jurisdiction of the Church; after that event they were, in Protestant countries, referred to the authorities of the state. "It never, however," says Stahl, "entered the minds of the Reformers, to assert that marriage was purely a civil institution, to be determined by civil, and not religious laws, or that the testimony of the Church as to the divine laws of marriage was not a binding rule for the legislation of the state." And in still more general terms he declares that "What the Church as such [the body of Christians] testifies to be an unchangeable divine law, 'jus divinum,' and upholds within its sphere, is the impassable rule and limit for the legislation of a Christian state."3
3. No act of any human legislature contrary to the moral law can bind any man, and no such act contrary to the law of Christ can bind any Christian. If, therefore, a human tribunal annuls a marriage for any reason other than those assigned in the Bible, the marriage is not thereby dissolved. In the judgment of Christians it remains in full force; and they are bound so to regard it. And on the other hand, if the state pronounces a marriage valid, which the Bible declares to be invalid, in the view of Christians it is invalid. There is no help for this. Christians cannot give up their convictions; nor can they renounce their allegiance to Christ. This state of conflict between the laws and the conscience of the people, is the necessary consequence, if a body making laws for a Christian people disregards an authority which the people recognize as divine.
4. The laws of many of the states of this Union, on the matter of divorce, are unscriptural and immoral. If the former, they are the latter in the view of all who believe in the divine authority of the Bible. If the Scriptures be the only infallible rule of faith and practice, they contain the only standard of right and wrong. The moral law is not something self-imposed. It is not what any man or body of men may think right or expedient. It is the revealed will of God as to human conduct; and whatever is contrary to that will is morally wrong. If this be so, then there can be no doubt that the divorce laws of many of our states are immoral. They contravene the law of God. They annul marriages for other reasons than those allowed in Scripture, and even, in some cases, at the discretion of the courts. They pronounce persons not to be man and wife, who by the law of God are man and wife. They pronounce those to be legally married, whose union Christ declares to be adulterous. That is, they legalize adultery. This is a conclusion which cannot be avoided, except by denying either the authority of the Bible, or that it legislates on the subject of marriage. If marriage were a mere civil compact, with regard to which the Scriptures gave no special directions, it might be regulated by the state according to its views of wisdom or expediency. But if it be an ordinance of God; if He has revealed his will as to who may, and who may not intermarry, and who, when married, may or may not be released from the marriage bond, then the state has no more right to alter these laws than it has to alter the decalogue, and to legalize idolatry or blasphemy. There is no use in covering this matter over. It is wrong to regard anti-Christian laws as matters of small importance.
The action of the state in this matter is not merely negative. It does not simply overlook or refuse to punish the violation of the Scriptural law of divorce, but it intervenes by its positive action, and declares that certain parties are not man and wife, between whom, according to the law of God, the bond of marriage still subsists. It condemns bigamy, but it sanctions what the Bible pronounces bigamy. The law of the state and the law of God, in this regard, are so opposed to each other, that he who obeys the one violates the other.
5. As the Church and its officers are under the highest obligations to obey the law of Christ, it follows that where the action of the state conflicts with that law, such action must be disregarded. If a person be divorced on other than Scriptural grounds and marries again, such person cannot consistently be received to the fellowship of the Church. If a minister be called upon to solemnize the marriage of a person improperly divorced, he cannot, in consistency with his allegiance to Christ, perform the service. This conflict between the civil and divine law is a great evil, and has often, especially in Prussia, given rise to great difficulty.
As all denominations of Christians, Romanists and Protestants, are of one mind on this subject, it is matter of astonishment that these objectionable divorce laws are allowed to stand on the statute-books of so many of our states. This fact proves either that public attention has not to a sufficient degree been called to the subject, or that the public conscience is lamentably blinded or seared. The remedy is with the Church, which is the witness of God on earth, bound to testify to his truth and to uphold his law. If Christians, in their individual capacity and in their Church courts, would unite in their efforts to arouse and guide public sentiment on this subject, there is little doubt that these objectionable laws would be repealed.
The Social Evil
This is not a subject to be discussed in these pages; a few remarks, however, in reference to it may not be out of place.
1. It is obviously Utopian to expect that all violations of the seventh commandment can be prevented, any more than that the laws against theft or falsehood should never be disregarded.
2. The history of the world shows that the instinct which leads to the evil in question can never be kept within proper limits, except by moral principle, or by marriage.
3. To these two means of correction, therefore, the efforts of the friends of virtue should be principally directed. There can be no efficient moral culture without religious training. If we would reform our fellow-men, we must bring and keep them from the beginning to the end of their lives under the influence of the truth and ordinances of God; to accomplish this work is the duty assigned to the Church. Besides this general moral culture, there is needed special effort to produce a proper public sentiment with regard to this special evil. So long as the seventh commandment can be violated without any serious loss of self-respect or of public confidence, one of the strongest barriers against vice is broken down. If loss of character as certainly followed a breach of the seventh commandment, as it follows theft or perjury, the evil would be to a good degree abated. This is already the fact with regard to certain classes. It is so with regard to women; and it is so in the case of the clergy. If a minister of the gospel be guilty of this offence, he is as certainly and effectually ruined as he would be by the commission of any other crime short of murder. The same moral law, however, binds all men. Theft in the case of one man is, in its essential character, just what it is in the case of any other man.
4. The divinely appointed preventive of the social evil is laid down in 1 Corinthians 7:2: "Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." That there are serious difficulties, in the present state of society, in the way of frequent and early marriages, cannot be denied. The principal of these is no doubt the expensive style of living generally adopted. Young people find it impossible to commence life with the conveniences and luxuries to which they have been accustomed in their fathers' houses, and therefore marriage is neglected or postponed. With regard to the poorer classes, provision might be made to endow young women of good character, so as to enable them to begin their married life in comfort. Arrangements may also be made in various ways to lessen the expense of family living. The end to be accomplished is to facilitate marriage. Those who are so happy as to find in a dictum of Scripture the ultimate reason and the highest motive, may see the end to be attained, although, as in the present case, they are obliged to leave the means of its accomplishment to experts in social science.
That certain marriages are prohibited is almost the universal judgment of mankind. Among the ancient Persians and Egyptians, indeed, the nearest relations were allowed to intermarry, and in the corrupt period of the Roman Empire, equal laxness more or less prevailed. These isolated facts do not invalidate the argument from the general judgment of mankind. What all men think to be wrong, must be wrong. This unanimity cannot be accounted for, except by assuming that the judgment in which men thus agree is founded on the constitution of their nature, and that constitution is the work of God. There are cases, therefore, in which the "vox populi" is the "vox Dei."
The Ground or Reason of such Prohibitions
The reason why mankind so generally condemn the intermarriage of near relations cannot be physical. Physiology is not taught by instinct. It is, therefore, not only an unworthy, but is an altogether unsatisfactory assumption, that such marriages are forbidden because they tend to the deterioration of the race. The fact assumed may, or may not be true; but if admitted, it is utterly insufficient to account for the condemnatory judgment in question.
The two most natural and obvious reasons why the intermarriage of near relations is forbidden are, first, that the natural affection which relatives have for each other is incompatible with conjugal love. They cannot coexist. The latter is a violation and destruction of the former. This reason need only be stated. It requires no illustration. These natural affections are not only healthful, but in the higher grades of relationship, even sacred. The second ground for such prohibitions is a regard to domestic purity. When persons are so nearly related to each other as to justify their living together as one family, they should be sacred one to the other. If this were not the case, evil could hardly fail to occur, when young people grow up in the familiarity of domestic life. The slightest inspection of the details of the law as laid down in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus, shows that this principle underlies many of its specifications.
J. D. Michaelis, in his work on the law of Moses, makes this the only reason for the Levitical prohibitions. He goes to the extreme of denying that "nearness of kin" is in itself any bar to marriage. His views had great influence, not only on public opinion, but even on legislation in Germany. That influence, however, passed away when a deeper moral and religious feeling gained ascendancy.
Augustine advanced a theory on this subject, which still has its earnest advocates. He held that the design of all these prohibitory laws was to widen the circle of the social affections. Brothers and sisters are bound together by mutual love. Should they intermarry the circle is not extended. If they choose husbands and wives from among strangers, a larger number of persons are included in the bonds of mutual love. "Habita est ratio rectissima charitatis, ut homines quibus esset utilis atque honesta concordia, diversarum necessitudinum vinculis necterentur; nec unus in uno multas haberet, sed singulæ spargerentur in singulos; ac sic ad socialem vitam diligentius colligandam plurimæ plurimos obtinerent." Thus it would come to pass, "Ut unus homo haberet alteram sororem, alteram uxorem, alteram consobrinam, alterum patrem, alterum avunculum, alterum socerum, alteram matrem, alteram amitam, alteram socrum: atque ita se non in paucitate coarctatum, sed latius atque numerosius propinquitatibus crebris vinculum sociale diffunderet."
A writer in Hengstenberg's "Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung," adopts and elaborately vindicates this theory. He endeavours to show that it answers all the criteria by which any theory on the subject should be tested. These marriages are called "abominations;" and he asks, Is it not shameful that the benevolent ordinance of God for extending the circle of the social affections should be counteracted? They are called "confusion," because they unite those whom God commands to remain separate. It also accounts for the propriety of the intermarriage of brothers and sisters in the family of Adam; for in the beginning the circle of affection did not admit of being enlarged. It even meets the case of the Levirate law which bound a man to marry the childless widow of his brother. The law which forbids the marriage of relations, holds only where the relationship is close. There must, therefore, be cases just on the line beyond which relationship is no bar to marriage. And with regard to those just within the line, there must be considerations which sometimes outweigh the objections to a given marriage. That God dispensed with the law forbidding the marriage of a man with his brother's widow, when the brother died without children, this German writer regards as impossible. "Evil," he says, "may be tolerated, but not commanded." He adds that it provokes a smile (man muss es naiv nennen) that Gerhard finds an analogy between the case in question and the permission given to the Israelites to despoil the Egyptians. It is probable that the venerable Gerhard would smile at the writer's criticisms. In the first place, God can no more allow evil than He can command it. An act otherwise evil, ceases to be so when He either allows (i.e., sanctions) it, or commands it. If He commands a man to be put to death, it ceases to be murder to put him to death. There are two principles of morality generally accepted and clearly Scriptural; one of which is, that any of those moral laws which are founded, not on the immutable nature of God, but upon the relations of men in the present state of existence, may be set aside by the divine law-giver whenever it seems good in his sight; just as God under the old dispensation set aside the original monogamic law of marriage. Polygamy was not sinful as long as God permitted it. The same principle is involved in the words of Christ, God loves mercy and not sacrifice. When two laws conflict, the weaker yields to the stronger. It is wrong to labour on the Sabbath, but any amount of labour on that day becomes a duty, if necessary to save life. In the case of the Levirate law, the prohibition to marry a brother's widow, yielded to what under the Mosaic economy was regarded as a higher obligation, that is, to perpetuate the family. To die childless was considered one of the greatest calamities.
The question, however, concerning the rationale of these laws is one of minor importance. We may not be able to see exactly in all cases why certain things are forbidden. The fact that they are forbidden should satisfy the reason and the conscience. The two important questions in connection with this subject, to be considered, are, first, is the Levitical law respecting prohibited marriages still in force? and, second, how is that law to be interpreted, and what marriages does it forbid?
Is the Levitical Law of Marriage still in force?
1. It is a strong à priori argument in favour of an affirmative answer to that question, that it always has been regarded as obligatory by the whole Christian Church.
2. The reason assigned for the prohibition contained in that law, has no special reference to the Jews. It is not found in their peculiar circumstances, nor in the design of God in selecting them to be depositaries of his truth to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. The reason assigned "is nearness of kin." This reason has as much force at one time as at another, for all nations as for any one nation. There was nothing peculiar in the relation in which Hebrew parents and children, Hebrew brothers and sisters, and Hebrew uncles and nieces, stood, which was the ground of these prohibitions. That ground was the nearness of the relationship itself as it exists in every and in all ages. There is, therefore, in the sight of God, a permanent reason why near relations ought not to intermarry.
3. If the Levitical law be not still in force, we have no divine law on the subject. Then there is no such sin as incest. It is an offence only against the civil law, and a sin against God only in so far as it is sinful to violate the law of the state. But this is contrary to the universal judgment of men, at least of Christian men. For parents and children, brothers and sisters, to intermarry is universally considered as sin against God, irrespective of any human prohibition. But if a sin against God, it must be forbidden in his Word, or we must give up the fundamental principle of Protestantism, that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of our faith and practice. As such marriages are nowhere in the Bible forbidden except in the Levitical law, if that law does not forbid them, the Bible does not forbid them.
4. The judgments of God are denounced against the heathen nations for permitting the marriages which the Levitical law forbids. In Leviticus 18:3, it is said, "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their ordinances." This is the introduction to the law of prohibited marriages, containing the specification of the "ordinances" of the Egyptians and Canaanites, which the people of God were forbidden to follow. And in the twenty-seventh verse of the same chapter, at the close of these specifications, it is said, "All these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled." Again, in ch. 20:23, still in reference to these marriages, it is said, "Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nations which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them." This is a clear proof that these laws were binding, not on the Jews alone, but upon all people and at all times.
5. The continued obligation of the Levitical law on this subject is also recognized in the New Testament. This recognition is involved in the constant reference to the law of Moses as the law of God. If in any of its parts or specifications it is no longer obligatory, that is to be proved. It contains much which we learn from the New Testament was designed simply to keep the Hebrews a distinct people; much which was typical; much which was a shadow of things to come, and which passed away when the substance was revealed. It contained, however, much which was moral and of permanent obligation. If God gives a law to men, those who deny its perpetual obligation are bound to prove it. The presumption is that it continues in force until the contrary is proved. It must be hard to prove that laws founded on the permanent social relations of men were intended to be temporary.
Besides this general consideration, we find specific recognitions of the continued obligation of the Levitical law in the New Testament. John the Baptist, as recorded in Mark 6:18 and Matthew 14:4, said to Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip's wife. It matters not, as to the argument, whether Philip was living or not. The offence charged was not that he had taken another man's wife, but that he had taken his brother's wife. It may be objected to this argument that during the ministry of John the Baptist the law of Moses was still in force. This Gerhard denies, who argues from Matthew 11:13, "All the prophets and the law prophesied until John," that the Baptist's ministry belongs to the new dispensation. This may be doubted. Nevertheless John expressed the moral sentiment of his age; and the record of the fact referred to by the Evangelists whose Gospels were written after the Christian Church was fully organized, is given in a form which involves a sanction of the judgment which the Baptist had expressed against the marriage of Herod with his brother's wife. It is also to be remembered that the Herodian family was Idumean, and therefore, that a merely Jewish law would have no natural authority over them.
The Apostle Paul, moreover, in 1 Corinthians 5:1, speaks of a man's marrying his step-mother as an unheard of offence. That this was a case of marriage and not of adultery is plain because the the phrase γυναῖκα ἔχειν is never used in the New Testament except of marriage. This, therefore, is a clear recognition of the continued obligation of the law forbidding marriage between near relations, whether the relationship was by consanguinity or affinity.
6. The Bible everywhere enforces those laws which have their foundation in the natural constitution of men. That this Levitical law is a divine authentication of a law of nature, may be inferred from the fact that with rare exceptions the intermarriage of near relations is forbidden among all nations. Paul says that the marriage of a man with his step-mother was unheard of among the heathen; i.e., it was forbidden and abhorred. Cicero exclaims, "Nubit genero socrus.… O mulieris incredibile et præter hanc unam in omni vita inauditum!" Beza says, It must not be overlooked that the civil laws of the Romans agree completely in reference to this subject with the divine law. They seemed to have copied from it.2
No Christian Church doubts the continued obligation of any of the laws of the Pentateuch, of which it can be said that the reason assigned for their enactment is the permanent relations of men; that the heathen are condemned for their violation; and that the New Testament refers to them as still in force: and which heathen nations under the guidance of natural conscience have enacted.
How is the Levitical Law to be interpreted?
Admitting the Levitical law of marriage to be still in force, the next question is, How is it to be interpreted? Is it to be understood as specifying the degrees of relation, whether of consanguinity or of affinity, within which intermarriage is forbidden? or, is it to be viewed as an enumeration of particular cases, so that no case not specifically mentioned is to be included in the prohibition?
The former of these rules of interpretation is the one generally adopted; for the following reasons:—
1. The language of the law itself. It begins with a general prohibition of marriage between those who are near of kin. Nearness of kindred is made the ground of the prohibition. The specifications which follow are intended to show what degree of nearness of kindred works a prohibition. This reason applies to many cases not particularly mentioned in Leviticus 18 or elsewhere. The law would seem to be applicable to all cases in which the divinely assigned reason for its enactment is found to exist.
2. The design of the law, as we have seen, is twofold: first, to keep sacred those relationships which naturally give rise to feelings and affections which are inconsistent with the marriage relation; and secondly, the preservation of domestic purity. As the natural affections are due partly to the very constitution of our nature, and partly to the familiarity and constancy of intercourse, and the interchange of kindly offices, it is natural that in the enumeration of the prohibited cases regard should be had, in the selection, to those in which this familiarity of intercourse, at the time the law was enacted, actually prevailed. In the East the family is organized on different principles from those on which it is organized in the West. Among the early Oriental nations especially, the males of a family with their wives remained together; while the daughters, being given in marriage, went away and were amalgamated with the families of their husbands. Hence it would happen that relatives by the father's side would be intimate associates, while those of the same degree on the mother's side might be perfect strangers. A law, therefore, constructed on the principle of prohibiting marriage between parties so related as to be already in the bonds of natural affection and who were domesticated in the same family circle, would deal principally in specifications of relationships on the father's side. It would not follow, however, from this fact, that relations of the same grade of kindred might freely intermarry, simply because they were not specified in the enumeration. The law in its principle applies to all cases, whether enumerated or not, in which the nearness of kin is the source of natural affection, and in which it leads to and justifies intimate association.
3. Another consideration in favour of the principle of interpretation usually adopted, is, that the opposite rule would introduce the greatest inconsistencies into the law. The law forbids marriage between those near of kin; and, according to this rule, it goes on alternately permitting and forbidding marriages where the relationship is precisely the same. Thus, a man cannot marry the daughter of his son; but a woman may marry the son of her daughter; a man cannot marry the widow of his father's brother, but he may marry the widow of his mother's brother; a woman cannot marry two brothers, but a man may marry two sisters. These inconsistencies might be intelligible if the law were a temporary and local enactment, designed for a transient state of society; but they are utterly unaccountable if the law be one of permanent and universal obligation. A rule of interpretation which brings uniformity and consistency into these enactments of Scripture, is certainly to be preferred to one which renders them confused and inconsistent.
The cases specifically mentioned are: 1. Mother. 2. Stepmother. 3. Grand-daughter. 4. Sister and half-sister, "born at home or born abroad," i.e., legitimate or illegitimate. 5. Aunt on the father's side. 6. Maternal aunt. 7. The wife of a father's brother. 8. Daughter-in-law. 9. Brother's wife. 10. A woman and her daughter. 11. A wife's grand-daughter. 12. Two sisters at the same time.
The meaning of Leviticus 18:18, has been much disputed. The question is, Whether the words אִשָּׁה אֶל־אֲחֹתָהּ, "a woman to her sister," are to be understood in their idiomatic sense, "one to another," so that the law forbids bigamy, the taking of one wife to another during her lifetime; or, Whether they are to be taken literally, so that this law forbids a man's marrying the sister of his wife while the latter is living. It is certain that the words in question have in several places the idiomatic sense ascribed to them. In Exodus 26:3, "Five curtains shall be coupled together one to another," literally, "a woman to her sister;" so in verse 5, the loops take hold, "a woman and her sister;" ver. 6, the taches of gold unite the curtains, "a woman and her sister." Also in ver. 17. Thus also in Ezekiel 1:9, it is said, "their wings were joined one to another," "a woman to her sister;" and again in ch. 3:13. The words therefore admit of the rendering given in the margin of the English version. But it is objected to this interpretation in this case: (1.) That the words in question never mean "one to another," except when preceded by a plural noun; which is not the case in Leviticus 18:18. (2.) If this explanation be adopted, the passage contains an explicit prohibition of polygamy, which the law of Moses permitted. (3.) It is unnatural to take the words "wife" and "sister" in a sense different from that in which they are used throughout the chapter. (4.) The ancient versions agree with the rendering given in the text of the English Bible. The Septuagint has γυναῖκα ἐπʼ ἀδελφῇ αὐτῆς; the Vulgate, "sororem uxoris tuæ."
In this interpretation the modern commentators almost without exception agree. Thus Maurer renders the passage: " 'Uxorem ad (i.e., præter) sororem ejus ne ducito,' i.e., Nolli præter tuam conjugem aliam insuper uxorem ducere, quæ illius soror est." Baumgarten's comment is: "From the fact that the prohibition of the marriage of a wife's sister is expressly conditioned on the life of the former, we must infer with the Rabbins, that after the death of the wife this marriage is permitted. True, the degree of affinity is here the same as in ver. 16, but there the relationship is on the male, here on the female side; this makes a difference, because under the Old Testament the woman had not attained to the same degree of personality and independence as the man." Rosenmüller says: "Uxorem ad sororem ejus ne ducas, duas sorores ne ducas in matrimonium, scil. בְחֵיֶּיהָ in vita ejus, i.e., uxore tua vivente. Non igitur prohibet Moses matrimonium cum sorore uxoris mortuæ." Knobel says: "Finally, a man shall not marry … the sister of his wife, so long as the latter lives.… To marry one after the other, after the death of the other, is not forbidden."4 Keil understands v. 18 in the same way. It forbids, according to his view, a man's having two sisters, at the same time, as his wives. "After the death of the first wife," he adds, "marriage with her sister was allowed."
The inference which these writers draw from the fact that in this passage the marriage of a wife's sister is forbidden during the life of the wife, that the marriage of the sister, after the death of the wife, is allowed, is very precarious. All that the passage teaches is, that if a man chooses to have two wives, at the same time, which the law allowed, they must not be sisters; and the reason assigned is, that it would bring the sisters into a false relation to each other. This leaves the question of the propriety of marrying the sister of a deceased wife just where it was. This verse has no direct bearing on that subject.
The cases not expressly mentioned in Leviticus 18, although involving the same degree of kindred as those included in the enumeration, are: 1. A man's own daughter. This is a clear proof that the enumeration was not intended to be exhaustive. 2. A brother's daughter. 3. A sister's daughter. 4. A maternal uncle's widow. 5. A brother's son's widow. 6. A sister's son's widow. 7. The sister of a deceased wife.
As nearness of kindred is made the ground of prohibition, and as these cases are included within "the degrees" specified, the Church has considered them as belonging to the class of prohibited marriages. It is, however, to be considered that the word "prohibited," as here used, is very comprehensive. Some of the marriages specified in the Levitical law are prohibited in very different senses. Some are pronounced abominable, and those who contract them are made punishable with death. Others are pronounced unseemly, or evil, and punished by exclusion from the privileges of the theocracy. Others again incur the penalty of dying childless; probably meaning that the children of such marriages should not be enrolled in the family registers which the Jews were so careful to preserve.
As this distinction is recognized in the law itself, so it is founded in the nature of the case. As nearness of kin varies from the most intimate relationship to the most distant, so these marriages vary in their impropriety from the highest to the lowest degree. Some of them may, in certain cases, be wrong, not in themselves, but simply from the obligation to uphold a salutary law. That is, there may be cases to which the law, but not the reason of the law applies. For example; a man may go thousands of miles from home and marry: his wife would stand in a very different relation to her husband's brothers, than had she lived in the same house with them. The law forbidding a woman to marry the brother of her deceased husband, would apply to her; but the reason of that law would affect her in a very slight degree; nevertheless, even in her case, the law should be observed.
There is another obvious remark that ought to be made. Strong repugnance is often felt and expressed against the Levitical law, not only because it is regarded as placing all the marriages specified on the same level, representing all as equally offensive in the sight of God, but also from the assumption that all the marriages forbidden are, if contracted, invalid. This is a wrong view of the subject. It is inconsistent with the law itself, and contrary to the analogy of Scripture. The law recognizes a great disparity in the impropriety of these marriages. Some, as just remarked, are utterly abominable and insufferable. Others are specified because inexpedient or dangerous, as conflicting with some ethical or prudential principle.
It is in this as in many other cases. The Mosaic law discountenanced and discouraged intermarriage between the chosen people and their heathen neighbours. With regard to the Canaanites, such intermarriages were absolutely forbidden; with other heathen nations, although discountenanced, they were tolerated. Joseph married an Egyptian; Moses, a Midianite; Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter. Such marriages, in the settled state of the Jewish nation, may have been wrong, but they were valid. Even now under the Christian dispensation, believers are forbidden to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. It does not follow from this that every marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is invalid. These remarks are not out of place. The truth suffers from being misapprehended. If the Bible is made to teach what is contrary to the common sense, or the intuitive judgments of men, it suffers great injustice. No man can force himself to believe that a man's marrying the sister of a deceased wife is the same kind of offence as a father's marrying his own daughter. The Bible teaches no such doctrine; and it is a slander so to represent it.
The laws of God are sacred. They are founded, not only on his infinite wisdom, but also on the nature of his creatures, and, therefore, should be sedulously observed. There may, in some cases, be honest difference of opinion as to what the law or will of God is, but when ascertained, it is our wisdom and duty to make it the rule of our conduct. This is so obvious that the statement of it may seem entirely superfluous. It is so common, however, for men professing to be Christians to make their own feelings, opinions, and views of expediency, the rule of action for themselves and others, that it is by no means a work of supererogation, to reiterate on all proper occasions the truism that there is no wisdom like God's wisdom, and that men are never wise except when they follow the wisdom of God as revealed in his Word, even when they have to do it blindly.
There are certain principles which underlie the marriage laws of the Bible, which all men in their private capacity and when acting as legislators, would do well to respect,—
1. The first is, that marriage is not a mere external union; it is not simply a mutual compact; it is not merely a civil contract. It is a real, physical, vital, and spiritual union, in virtue of which man and wife become, not merely in a figurative sense, but really, although in a mysterious sense, one flesh. This is not only expressly declared by Christ himself to be the nature of marriage, but it is the doctrine which underlies the whole Levitical law on this subject. Nearness of kin is expressed constantly by saying that one is "flesh of the flesh" of the other, שְׁאֵר בְשָׂרוֹ, "Carnem carnis suæ s. corporis sui esse cognatam propinquam, quæ est ut caro ejusdem corporis." According to the Scriptures, therefore, husband and wife are the nearest of all relations to each other. According to the spirit, and most of the legislation of the present age, they are no relations at all. They are simply partners. If one member of a business firm die, his property does not go to his partner, but to his own family; so if a wife die, without children, her property does not go to her husband, but to her third or fourth cousins. They, in the eye of the law, are more nearly related to her than her husband. This is not the light in which God looks upon marriage.
2. The second principle which underlies these marriage-laws is, that affinity is as real a bond of relationship as consanguinity. Fully one half of the marriages specified in Leviticus are prohibited on the ground of affinity. The same form of expression is used to designate both kinds of relationship. Those related to each other by affinity are said to be "flesh of the flesh," one of the other, just as blood relations; because all the specifications contained in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus are included under the general prohibition contained in the sixth verse, "None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him;" under this head are included step-mothers; mothers-in-law; step-daughters; sisters-in-law (as when a man is forbidden to marry the widow of his brother); uncle's wife, etc. These relationships are traced out in the line of affinity, just as far as they are in that of consanguinity. The declaration, therefore, contained in the Westminster Confession, "The man may not marry any of his wife's kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband's kindred nearer in blood than of her own," is a simple and comprehensive statement of the law as laid down in Leviticus. In saying that affinity is as real a bond of relationship as consanguinity, it is not meant that it is as strong. A daughter is a nearer relation than a step-daughter, or daughter-in-law; a mother than a step-mother; a sister than a sisterin-law. This, as we have seen, is recognized in the law itself. The Bible asserts nothing inconsistent with fact or nature. In making affinity a real bond of kindred, it is meant that it is not merely nominal, or conventional, or arbitrary. It has its foundation in nature and fact.
Mr. Bishop, in his elaborate work on "Marriage and Divorce," says, "A truly enlightened view will doubtless discard altogether affinity as an impediment, while it will extend somewhat the degrees of consanguinity within which marriages will be forbidden." He also teaches2 that "the relationship by affinity" ceases "with the dissolution which death brings to the marriage.… If, when a man's wife dies, she is still his wife, then, of course, her sister is still his sister.… If, on the other hand, the wife is no more the wife after her death, then is her sister no more the sister of the husband. And though men who have no other idea of religion than to regard it as a bundle of absurd and loathed forms, may not be able to see how the termination of the relationship by the death of the wife is of any consequence in the case, yet men who discern differently and more wisely, will discover nothing unseemly in practically acting upon a fact which everybody knows to exist."
It is very evident that Mr. Bishop never asked himself what, in the present connection, the word "relationship" means. Had he had any clear idea of the meaning of the word, he never could have written the above sentences. By relationship is here meant the relation in which parties stand to each other; and that, in the case supposed, is a matter of feeling, affection, and intimacy. This relationship is not dissolved by the death of the person through whom it arose. A wife's sister continues to cherish to her widowed brother-in-law the same sisterly affection after, as before her sister's death. She can live with him, guide his house, and take charge of his children, without the slightest violation of her self-respect, and without fear of incurring the disrespect of others.
Besides, if relationship by affinity is dissolved by death, then a son may, on the death of his father, marry his step-mother, which Paul says (1 Cor. 5:1) was not tolerated among the heathen. We have not come to that yet. On the principle of Mr. Bishop, a man may marry his mother-in-law, his daughter-in-law, and, on the death of the mother, his step-daughter. All this the Bible forbids; and whatever religion in some of its manifestations may be, the Bible, surely, is not "a bundle of absurd and loathed forms." It is the wisdom of God, in the presence of which the wisdom of man is foolishness.
3. The great truth contained in these laws is, that it is the will of God, the dictate of his infinite and benevolent wisdom that the affections which belong to the relation in which kindred (whether by consanguinity or affinity) stand to each other, should not be disturbed, perverted, or corrupted by that essentially different kind of love which is appropriate and holy in the conjugal relation; and that a protecting halo should be shed around the family circle.
§ 12. The Eighth Commandment
This commandment forbids all violations of the rights of property. The right of property in an object is the right to its exclusive possession and use.
The foundation of the right of property is the will of God. By this is meant, (1.) That God has so constituted man that he desires and needs this right of the exclusive possession and use of certain things. (2.) Having made man a social being, He has made the right of property essential to the healthful development of human society. (3.) He has implanted a sense of justice in the nature of man, which condemns as morally wrong everything inconsistent with the right in question. (4.) He has declared in his Word that any and every violation of this right is sinful.
This doctrine of the divine right of property is the only security for the individual or for society. If it be made to rest on any other foundation, it is insecure and unstable. It is only by making property sacred, guarded by the fiery sword of divine justice, that it can be safe from the dangers to which it is everywhere and always exposed.
Numerous theories have been advanced on this subject. These theories have had a twofold object: the one to explain the nature and ground of the right; the other to explain how the right was originally acquired. These objects are distinct and should not be confounded.
1. The modern philosophical theory that might is right, that the strongest is always the best, includes indeed both these objects. If being is the only good, and if it is true the more of being the more of good, then he who has the most of being, he in whom the infinite is most fully revealed, has the right to have and to hold whatever he chooses to possess.
2. If a regard to our individual well-being be the only ground of moral obligation, then a man has the right to whatever will make him happy. He may, and he certainly would, make a great mistake, if he supposed that taking what does not belong to him would promote his happiness; but he is restrained from such injustice only by a sense of prudence. He is entitled to have whatever in fact would make him happy, and for that reason.
3. If regard to the general good, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or expediency, as Paley makes it, be the rule and ground of duty, then it will always be a matter of opinion, a matter on which men will ever differ, what is, and what is not expedient. One might think that a community of goods would promote the greatest good, and then he would, at least in his own conscience, be entitled to act on that principle. Others might think that agrarianism, or the periodic distribution of all the land of the country in equal portions among the people, would promote the general good, and then that would be to them the rule of action. There would be no end to the devices to promote the greatest good, if the rights of men rested on no other foundation than that of expediency.
Some of the most distinguished legal and philosophical writers of the present age teach that "property is founded on utility." With some, however, utility is not the ground, but rather the test of human rights and duties. The fact that an institution or a course of conduct is conducive to the public good, is not so much the reason why it is right, as a proof that it is right and in accordance with the will of God. "God designs the happiness of all his sentient creatures. Some human actions forward that benevolent purpose, or their tendencies are beneficent and useful. Other human actions are adverse to that purpose, or their tendencies are mischievous or pernicious. The former, as promoting his purpose, God has enjoined. The latter, as opposed to his purpose, God has forbidden. He has given us the faculty of observing; of remembering; and of reasoning; and by duly applying those faculties, we may collect the tendencies of our actions. Knowing the tendencies of our actions, and knowing his benevolent purpose, we know his tacit commands." It is no doubt true that it is a fair and conclusive argument that a thing is right or wrong in itself and conformed or opposed to the will of God, that its tendency is of necessity and always to produce, on the one hand, good, or, on the other, evil. But this is a roundabout way of getting at the truth. Whether an institution or a course of action be useful or not, must be a matter of opinion. And if a matter of opinion, men will differ about it; and the opinion of one man, or even of the majority of men, will have no authority over others. God has revealed his will in his Word, and in the constitution of our nature. Paul says that even the heathen "do by nature the things contained in the law," that the law is "written in their hearts." (Rom. 2:14, 15.) Property is sacred, not because in our opinion it is a useful institution, and hence inferentially approved by God, but He has said in the Bible, and says in every man's conscience, "Thou shalt not steal." Mr. Austin's theory does not prevent his teaching that "property jus in rem," depends on "principles of utility."
4. Paley says also that "the real foundation of our right [to property] is the law of the land." He admits, however, that the law may authorize the most flagitious injustice. He therefore makes a distinction between the words and the intention of the law; and adds: "With the law, we acknowledge, resides the disposal of property; so long, therefore, as we keep within the design and intention of a law, that law will justify us, as well in foro conscientiæ, as in foro humano, whatever be the equity or expediency of the law itself." The law of the land has indeed legitimately much to do with questions of property; but the right itself does not rest upon that law, and is, in the sight of God, independent of it. The right exists prior to all law of the state. The law cannot ignore that right. It cannot rightfully deprive a man of his property, except in punishment of crime, or on the ground of stringent necessity, and, in the latter case, with due compensation. Property, however, is not the creature of the law. No unjust law gives a title to property, valid in the sight of God; that is, a title which should satisfy a conscientious man in entering upon its possession and use. Even when the law is not unjust, it may work, not legal, but moral injustice. A will, for example, may clearly express the wishes and intention of a testator, but for some clerical or technical error be set aside and the property go to a person for whom it was not intended. Such person would have a legal, but not a morally valid title to the property. Good men are sometimes heard to say: "We will take all the law gives us;" in saying this, they do not apprehend the full meaning of their words; it amounts to saying that in matters of property they will make the law of the land, and not the law of God, the rule of their conduct.
5. It is a very common doctrine that the right of property is founded on common consent, or on the social compact. Men agree that each man may appropriate to himself a portion of what originally is common to all. But this consent only recognizes a right; it does not create it. If a man takes a glass of water from a stream common to all, it is of right his; and he has no need to appeal to any compact or consent to justify his appropriating it to himself. The question how a man acquires a right to property, and the nature of the right itself, as before remarked, are different questions, although intimately related.
6. Both are included in the common theory on the subject. If a man puts under culture a portion of unappropriated land, it is for the time being his, on the principle that a man owns himself, and therefore the fruits of his labour. Exclusive possession and use of the land in question are necessary to secure the man those fruits; he has, therefore, the right to the land as long as he uses it. If he abandons it, his right ceases. On the other hand, if his use is continued, so as to involve occupancy, his right of possession becomes permanent. It is on this principle men act in mining districts in unoccupied lands. Each man, the first comer, stakes out for himself a claim; this he works, or is entitled to keep to himself. If he abandons it and goes elsewhere, it ceases to be his. If he permanently occupies it, it is permanently his. The right of property is thus made to rest on occupancy and use; in other words, on labour. But even this, according to Blackstone, is not a natural right. "All property," he says, "must cease upon death, considering men as absolute individuals, and unconnected with civil society: for then, by the principles before established, the next immediate occupant would acquire a right in all that the deceased possessed. But as, under civilized governments which are calculated for the peace of mankind, such a constitution would be productive of endless disturbances, universal law of almost every nation (which is a kind of secondary law of nature) has either given the dying person a power of continuing his property, by disposing of his possessions by will; or, in case he neglects to dispose of it, or is not permitted to make any disposition at all, the municipal law of the country then steps in, and declares who shall be the successor, representative, or heir of the deceased; that is, who alone shall have a right to enter upon this vacant possession, in order to avoid that confusion which its becoming again common would occasion." On the same page, speaking of the right of inheritance, he says: "We are apt to conceive at first view that it has nature on its side; yet we often mistake for nature what we find established by long and inveterate custom. It is a wise and effectual, but clearly a political establishment; since the permanent right of property, vested in the ancestor himself, was no natural, but merely a civil right." He had said before,2 "Necessity begat property; and in order to insure that property, recourse was had to civil society, which brought along with it a long train of inseparable concomitants; states, government, laws, punishments, and the public exercise of religious duties." This seems to be inverting the natural order of things. Disregard of the moral law would result in endless evil, and there is an absolute necessity that its commands should be observed and enforced; but the obligation of the law does not rest on that necessity; it is altogether anterior and independent of it. So the right of property is anterior and independent of the necessity of its being held sacred, in order to secure the wellbeing of mankind. The fact is, that the right of property is analogous to the right of life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. It does not come from men; it is not given by man; and it cannot be ignored, or arbitrarily interfered with by man. It rests on the will of God as revealed in the constitution of our nature and in our relation to persons and things around us.
7. Stahl, the distinguished German jurist, gives substantially the following account of the matter. Man was formed out of the earth; but a divine spirit was breathed into him. He is, therefore, on the one hand, dependent on the material world; on the other, exalted above it. He is placed here as its lord and owner. The things of the outer world are given to him for the satisfaction of his physical wants, and of his spiritual necessities. He, therefore, has power and right over things external, and they must be permanently and securely under his control. This is the foundation of the right of property. Property is the means for the development of the individuality of the man. The manner in which it is acquired and used, reveals what the man is; his food, clothing, and habitation; his expenditures for sensual enjoyment, for objects of taste, of art, and of science, and for hospitality, benevolence, and the good of society; and the consecration of his acquisitions to the interests of a higher life,—these in their totality as they rest on the right of property, make out a man's portrait. Property, however, is specially designed to enable a man to discharge his moral duties. Every man has duties of his own to perform; duties which belong to him alone, not to others, not to society; duties which arise out of his personal vocation and standing, especially such as belong to his own family. Therefore he must have what is exclusively his own. Property, therefore, is not intended for mere self-gratification or support; nor is it a mere objectless mastery over things external; it is the necessary means to enable a man to fulfil his divinely-appointed destiny. Herein lies the divine right of property!
The right of property, therefore, is not founded on the law of the land, or on any explicit or implied contract among men; but upon the law of nature. It is true that natural, as distinguished from positive laws, have been differently explained. "As the science of ethics," says Lord Mackenzie, "embraces the whole range of moral duties, its province is evidently much wider than that of jurisprudence, which treats only of those duties that can be enforced by external law." The duties, however, which can be thus enforced are of two kinds; those which arise from the natural, and those which arise from common or statute law. "By the law of nature," says Chancellor Kent,3 "I understand those fit and just rules of conduct which the Creator has prescribed to man as a dependent and social being, and which are to be ascertained from the deduction of right reason, though they may be more precisely known and more explicitly declared by divine revelation." Cicero, teaches that God is the author of natural law, and that its duties are of unchangeable obligation. He says, "Nec erit alia lex Romæ, alia Athenis, alia nunc, alia posthac; sed et omnes gentes et omni tempore una lex et sempiterna et immutabilis continebit, unusque erit communis quasi magister et imperator omnium deus."
Lord Mackenzie gives the doctrine of Cicero the sanction of his own judgment: "Where," he says, "the law of nature absolutely commands or forbids, it is immutable and of universal obligation, so that, although it may be confirmed, it cannot be controlled by human laws without a manifest violation of the divine will."
In these days, when so many are disposed to throw off the authority of God, and regard marriage and property as mere creatures of the law, which may be regulated or ignored at the caprice or will of the people, it is well to remind them that there is a law higher than any law of man, enforced by the authority of God, which no man and no community can violate with impunity.
Although the right of property involves the right of absolute control, so that a man can do what he will with his own, it does not follow that this right is unlimited, or that the civil law has no legitimate control over the use or distribution of his property. A man has no right to use his knowledge or strength to the injury of his fellow-men; neither can he use his property so as to make it a public nuisance; nor can he devote it to any immoral or hurtful object; nor can he dispose of it by will so as to militate against the public policy. Of course, as different nations are organized on different principles, the laws regulating the use and distribution of property must also differ. Among the Hebrews the land of Canaan was originally distributed equitably among the several families. The head of the family had not the unrestricted control of what was thus given him. He could not finally alienate it. His sons, not his daughters, unless there were no sons, were his heirs. The first-born had a double portion. (Deut. 21:15 ff.) These limitations of the right of property were ordained by God, in order that the ends of the theocracy might be accomplished. God saw fit to render it impossible that any large portion of the land should be engrossed by one or by a few families. In England public policy has assumed that it is important to maintain a powerful order of nobility. To secure that end the laws of primogeniture and entail have been long in force, with the result that the greater part of the land in Great Britain is in the hands of comparatively few families. This unequal distribution of propperty has gone on rapidly increasing, so that Hugh Miller, when editor of the "Edinburgh Witness," said that England was now like a pyramid poised on its apex. In France the right of a testator to dispose of his property is very much limited. "If any one die without issue or ascendants, he may leave his whole property to strangers; but if a man at his death has one lawful child, he can only so dispose of the half of his estate; if he leave two children, the third; and if he leave three or more children, the fourth." In Scotland "if a man die without either wife or issue, his whole property is at his own disposal; if he leave a wife and issue, his goods or personal property are divided into three equal parts, one of which goes to his wife as jus relictæ, another to his children as legitim (i.e., legitima portio), and the third is at his own disposal; if he leave no wife, he may dispose of one half, and the other half goes to his children, and so e converso, if he leave no children, the wife is entitled to one half, and he may bequeath the other." These facts are referred to simply as illustrations of the way in which the law, both divine and human, may limit the exercise of the right of property while the sacredness of that right, as higher than any human law, is fully recognized.
Community of Goods
Community of goods does not necessarily involve the denial of the right of private property. When Ananias, having sold a possession, kept back part of the price, Peter said to him: "While it remained was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" (Acts 5:4.) Any number of men may agree to live in common, putting all their possessions and all the fruits of their labour into a common fund, from which each member is supplied according to his wants. This experiment was tried on a small scale and for a short time, by the early Christians in Jerusalem. "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.… Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the Apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man as he had need." (Acts 4:32–35.) Some indeed say that these passages do not imply any actual community of goods. Having "all things common" is understood to mean, "No one regarded his possessions as belonging absolutely to himself, but as a trust for the benefit of others also." This interpretation seems inconsistent with the whole narrative. Those who had possessions sold them. They renounced all control over what was once their own. The price was handed over to the Apostles and distributed by them or under their direction.
On the narrative as given in the Acts it may be remarked,—
1. That the conduct of these early Christians was purely spontaneous. They were not commanded by the Apostles to sell their possessions and to have all things in common. There is not the slightest intimation that the Apostles gave any encouragement to this movement. They seem simply to have permitted it. They allowed the people to act under the impulse of their own feelings, each one doing what he pleased with his own.
2. It can hardly be deemed unnatural that the early Christians were led into this experiment. To us the wonders of redemption are "the old, old story," inexpressibly precious indeed, but it has lost the power of novelty. In those to whom it was new it may well have produced an ecstatic bewilderment, which led their judgment astray. There are two great truths involved in the Gospel, the clear perception of which may account for the determination of those early converts to have all things in common. The one is that all believers are one body in Christ Jesus; all united to Him by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; all equally partakers of his righteousness; all the objects of his love; and all destined to the same inheritance of glory. The other great truth is contained in the words of Christ, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." It was no wonder, then, that men whose minds were filled with these truths, were oblivious of mere prudential considerations.
3. This experiment, for all that appears, was confined to the Christians in Jerusalem, and was soon abandoned. We never hear of it elsewhere or afterwards. It has, therefore, no preceptive force.
4. The conditions of the success of this plan, on any large scale, cannot be found on earth. It supposes something near perfection in all embraced within the compass of its operation. It supposes that men will labour as assiduously without the stimulus of the desire to improve their condition and to secure the welfare of their families as with it. It supposes absolute disinterestedness on the part of the more wealthy, the stronger, or the more able members of the community. They must be willing to forego all personal advantages from their superior endowments. It supposes perfect integrity on the part of the distributors of the common fund, and a spirit of moderation and contentment in each member of the community, to be satisfied with what others, and not he, may think to be his equitable share. We shall have to wait till the millennium before these conditions can be fulfilled. The attempt to introduce a general community of goods in the present state of the world, instead of elevating the poor, would reduce the whole mass of society to a common level of barbarism and poverty. The only secure basis of society is in those immutable principles of right and duty which God has revealed in his Word, and written upon the hearts of men. And these truths, even if acknowledged as matters of opinion, lose their authority and power if they cease to be regarded as revelations of the mind and will of God, to which human reason and human conduct must conform.
Communism and Socialism
Heaven is not higher than "the lower parts of the earth," than the principles and aims of the early Christians were exalted above those of the modern advocates of the community of goods. This idea is not of modern origin. It appears in different forms in all ages of the world. It entered into the scheme of Plato's Republic, for in his view private property was the chief source of all social evils. It was included in the monasticism of the Middle Ages. Renunciation of the world included the renunciation of all property. Voluntary poverty was one of the vows of all monastic institutions. It was adopted by many of the mystical and fanatical sects which appeared before the Reformation, as the Beghards, and "Brethren of the Free Spirit," who taught that the world should be restored to its paradisiacal state, and that all the distinctions created by law, whether of social organization, property, or marriage, should be done away. At the time of the Reformation the followers of Münzer adopted the same principles, and their efforts to carry them into practice led to the miseries of the "peasant-war." All these movements were connected with fanatical religious doctrines. The leaders of these sects claimed to be inspired, and represented themselves as the organs and messengers of God.
Modern communism, on the contrary, so far as its general character is concerned, is materialistic and atheistic, and in some of its forms pantheistic. This is consistent with the admission that some of its advocates, as St. Simon, Fourier, and others, were sincere and benevolent men. Some of them, indeed, said that they only desired to carry out the principle of brotherly love so often inculcated by Christ. Communism and socialism are not properly convertible terms, although often used to designate the same system. The one has reference more especially to the principle of community in property; the latter to the mode of social organization. With Fourier, the former was subordinate to the latter. He did not entirely deny the right of property, but insisted that society was badly organized. Instead of living in distinct families, each struggling for support and advancement, men should be gathered in large associations having common property, and all labouring for a common fund. That fund was to be distributed according to the capital contributed by each member, and according to the time and skill employed in the common service. Proudhon, immortalized by the book in which the question "What is property?" is answered by saying, "Property is theft," makes the rule for the distribution of the common fund to be the time devoted to labour. Louis Blanc puts capital, labour, and skill out of consideration, and makes the wants of the individual the only rule of distribution. It is common to all these schemes that the right to property in land or its productions is denied. The two latter deny to a man all property in his own skill or talents; and the last, even in his labour, so that the idlest and least efficient member of society should, according to it, receive as much as the most industrious and useful.
The denial of the right of property is, to a great extent, connected with the rejection of religion and of marriage. Marriage, next to religion and property, was declared to be the greatest means of social misery. Children were not to belong to their parents, but to the state; inclination and enjoyment were to be the motive and the end and the rule of life.
France has been the birthplace and the principal seat of Communism in its modern form. The principles involved in the system have made wide progress in other countries, and leavened to a fearful extent the minds of the labouring classes both in Europe and in America. Organization and combination among the scattered millions said to be included in the membership of this society have given it an importance which has forced itself on the attention of almost all Christian states. What the principles and aims of this formidable body are, it is not easy satisfactorily to state. There has been no authoritative annunciation of principles recognized by all the affiliated societies. They differ, within certain limits, doubtless, among themselves. Some find their fit representatives in the Communists of Paris as they revealed themselves during the current year (1871). Others would shrink from the excesses which rendered the name of Communists an object of execration and abhorrence in all parts of the civilized world. Enough, however, is known of the designs of the society in question, to render it certain that its success would involve the overthrow of all existing governments; in placing all power in the hands, not of the people, but of a particular class, the operatives, the proletariat (the men without land); in the dissolution of society as at present organized; the abolition of private property; the extinction of the family; the abrogation of all marriage laws; and the proscription of religion, and especially of Christianity, as a public evil. Such are the avowed objects of some of the leaders of the movement, and such are the logical consequences of the principles advocated by the more reticent of their number.
It is a historical fact that Communism had its origin in its modern form in materialistic atheism; in the denial of God, who has the right to give laws to men, and the power and the purpose to enforce those laws by the retributions of justice; in the belief that the present life is the whole period of existence allotted to men; and that the enjoyments of this life are, therefore, all that men have to desire or expect. These principles had long been inculcated by such men as Rousseau, Voltaire, d'Holbach, Diderot, and others. To produce a conflagration, however, there must be not only fire, but combustible materials. These materialistic principles would have floated about as mere speculations, had there not been such a mass of suffering and degradation among the people. It was minds burdened with the consciousness of misery and the sense of injustice which were inflamed by the new doctrines, and which burst forth in a fire that for a time set all Europe in a blaze. We must not attribute all the evil either to the infidels or to the people. Had it not been for the preceding centuries of cruelty and oppression, France had not furnished such a bloody page to the history of modern Europe.
"L'Internationale" for March 27th, 1870, expressed succinctly the object of the International Society: "The rights of the working-men, that is our principle; the organization of the working-men, that is our means of action; social revolution, that is our end." It is "working-men," artisans, not the mass of the people, educated or uneducated; but a single class whose interests are to be regarded. It is not a political revolution, the change of one form of government for another, that is the end aimed at; but a social revolution, a complete upturning of the existing order of society.
As this institution is looming up with such portentous aspect in every direction, the question is, How is it to be met, and its influence counteracted? Open outbreaks may be suppressed by force, but the evil cannot be healed by any such means. Artillery is inefficient against opinions. If Communism, as organized in this society, owes its origin to the causes above specified, the rational method of procedure is, to correct or remove those causes. If Communism is the product of materialistic Atheism, its cure is to be found in Theism; in bringing the people to know and believe that there is a God on whom they are dependent and to whom they are responsible; in teaching them that this is not the only life, that the soul is immortal, and that men will be rewarded or punished in the world to come according to their character and conduct in the present life; that consequently well-being here is not the highest end of existence; that the poor here may hereafter be far more blessed than their rich neighbours; and that it is better to be Lazarus than Dives. It will be necessary to bring them to believe that there is a divine providence over the affairs of the world; that events are not determined by the blind operation of physical causes; but that God reigns; that He distributes to every one severally as He pleases; "that the Lord maketh poor and maketh rich;" that it is not the rich and the noble, but the poor and the lowly, that are his special favourites; and that the right of property, the right of marriage, the rights of parents and magistrates, are all ordained by God, and cannot be violated without incurring his displeasure and the certain infliction of divine punishment. To imbue the minds of the mass of the people, especially in great cities, will be a slow and difficult work; but it is absolutely necessary. If Materialism and Atheism are practically embraced by the mass of any community, it will inevitably perish. The religious training of the people, however, is only one half of the task which society has to accomplish, to secure its own existence and prosperity. The great body of the people must be rendered comfortable, or at least have the means of becoming so; and they must be treated with justice. Misery and a sense of wrong are the two great disturbing elements in the minds of the people. They are the slumbering fires which are ever ready to break out into destructive conflagration.
Violations of the Eighth Commandment
It may well be doubted whether society is more in danger from the destructive principles of Communism, than from the secret or tolerated frauds which, to so great an extent, pervade almost all the departments of social life. If this commandment forbids all unfair or unjust appropriation of the property of others to our own use or advantage, if every such appropriation is stealing in the sight of God, then theft is the most common of all the outward transgressions of the decalogue. It includes not merely vulgar theft such as the law can detect and punish, but,—
1. All false pretences in matters of business; representing an article proposed for purchase or exchange to be other and better than it is. This includes a multitude of sins. Articles produced at home are sold as foreign productions, and the price asked and given is determined by this fraudulent representation. Shawls of Paris are sold as Indian; wines manufactured in this country are sold as the productions of France, Portugal, or Madeira. It is said that more Champagne wine is drunk in Russia than is made in France. More cigars are consumed in this country, under the name of Havanas, than Cuba produces. A great part of the paper made in the United States bears the stamp of London or Bristol. This kind of fraud has scarcely any limit. It does not seem to disturb any man's conscience. Worse than this is the selling things as sound and genuine, which in fact are spurious and often worthless. So wide-spread is fraud in matters of trade that it has become a legal maxim, "Let the buyer take care of himself." He should expect to be cheated, and therefore is required to be always on his guard. It is not uncommon to hear men say to a clergyman, "If I were dealing with a man of business, I would of course try to cheat him; for I know he would try to cheat me. But as you are not a man of business, I make an exception in your case, and will deal honestly."
Under this head of false pretences comes the adulteration of articles of food, of medicine, and of the materials for clothing. The extent to which this is carried is fearful. The English Parliament not long since appointed a commission to examine into the adulterations of articles of food sold by the green grocers in London. The result of the examination was that only six out of every hundred of the specimens collected were pure, i.e., were what they were represented or declared to be. There is no reason to suppose that London is peculiar or preëminent in this kind of fraud. The same complaint is made of the adulteration of drugs. This evil was so great that some governments have taken the preparation of medicine for their navies and armies into their own hands. If we are to believe the public papers, the greater part of the wines and other liquors, spirituous and malt, sold to the public, are not only adulterated but mixed with poisonous drugs. The clothing furnished soldiers in active service, exposed to all the severities, and changes of weather, was and often is, made of worthless materials. There would be no end to the enumeration of frauds of this kind. A prominent English journal recently said that the great part of the revenue of the British government was taken up in endeavouring to prevent and detect frauds against the public.
2. Another large class of violations of the eighth commandment comprises attempts to take undue advantage of the ignorance or of the necessities of our fellow-men. It is of the nature of theft if a man sells an article knowing it to be of less value than he to whom he offers it for sale takes it to be. If a man is aware that the credit of a bank is impaired, or that the affairs of a railroad, or of any other corporation, are embarrassed, and takes advantage of that knowledge, to dispose of the stock or notes of such corporations to those ignorant on the subject, demanding more for them than their actual worth, he is guilty of theft, if the command, "Thou shalt not steal," forbids all unfair acquisition of the property of our neighbour. In like manner all unfair attempts to enhance or depress the value of articles of commerce, are violations of the law of God. Unfounded reports are often designedly circulated to have this enhancing or depressing effect on values, so that advantage may be taken of the unwary or uninformed. It is an offence of the same kind to engross commodities to enhance their price. "He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it." (Prov. 11:26.) Again it is a violation of the law to take advantage of the necessities of our fellow-men and to demand an exorbitant price for what they may need. In the recent dreadful conflagration in Chicago a thousand dollars were demanded for the use of a horse and wagon for a single hour. It may be said that there is no fixed standard of value; that a thing may be worth what it costs the man who owns it; or what it is worth to the man who demands it; or what it will bring in open market. If an hour's use of the horse and wagon was worth more to the man in Chicago than a thousand dollars, it may be said that it was not unfair to demand that sum. If this be so, then if a man perishing of thirst is willing to give his whole estate for a glass of water, it would be right to exact that price; or if a man in danger of drowning should offer a thousand dollars for a rope, we might refuse to throw it to him for a less reward. Such conduct every man feels would be worthy of execration. The fact is that things have an intrinsic value, however determined, which cannot be enhanced because our suffering fellow-men may be in pressing need of them.
3. This commandment forbids also depriving men of property, on the ground of any mere technical flaw, or legal defect in their title. Such defect may be the effect of unavoidable ignorance; or loss by shipwreck, fire, theft, or other so called accident, of the evidence of their right. The law may in such cases be inexorable: it may be on the whole right that it should be so, but nevertheless the man who avails himself of such defect to get possession of his neighbour's property, breaks the command which says, "Thou shalt not steal;" i.e., thou shalt not take what in the sight of God does not belong to you. Gambling falls under the same category where advantage is taken of the unwary or unskilful, to deprive them of their property without compensation. It is, however, impossible to enumerate or to classify the various methods of fraud. The code of morals held by many business and professional men is very far below the moral law as revealed in the Bible. This is especially true in reference to the eighth commandment in the decalogue. Many who have stood well in society, and even in the Church, will be astonished at the last day to find the word "Thieves" written after their names in the great book of judgment.
§ 13. The Ninth Commandment
This commandment forbids all violations of the obligations of veracity. The most aggravated of this class of offences is bearing false witness against our neighbour. But this includes every offence of the same general character; as the command thou shalt not kill, forbids all indulgence or manifestation of malice.
The command to keep truth inviolate belongs to a different class from those relating to the Sabbath, to marriage, or to property. These are founded on the permanent relations of men in the present state of existence. They are not in their own nature immutable. God may at any time suspend or modify them. But truth is at all times sacred, because it is one of the essential attributes of God, so that whatever militates against, or is hostile to truth is in opposition to the very nature of God. Truth is, so to speak, the very substratum of Deity. It is in such a sense the foundation of all the moral perfections of God, that without it they cannot be conceived of as existing. Unless God really is what He declares Himself to be; unless He means what He declares Himself to mean; unless He will do what He promises, the whole idea of God is lost. As there is no God but the true God, so without truth there is and can be no God. As this attribute is the foundation, so to speak, of the divine, so it is the foundation of the physical and moral order of the universe. What is the immutability of the laws of nature, but a revelation of the truth of God? They are manifestations of his purposes. They are promises on which his creatures rely, and by which they must regulate their conduct. If those laws were capricious, if the same effects did not uniformly follow from the same causes, the very existence of living beings would be impossible. The food of one day might be poison the next. If a man did not reap what he sowed, there could be no security for anything. The truth of God, therefore, is written on the heavens. It is the daily proclamation made by the sun, moon, and stars in their solemn procession through space, and it is echoed back by the earth and all that it contains.
The truth of God, too, is the foundation of all knowledge. How do we know that our senses do not deceive us; that consciousness is not mendacious? that the laws of belief which by the constitution of our nature we are forced to obey, are not false guides? Unless God be true there can be no certainty in anything; much less can there be any security; we can have no confidence in the future: no assurance that evil will not ultimately triumph over good, darkness over light, and confusion and misery over order and happiness. There is, therefore, something awfully sacred in the obligations of truth. A man who violates the truth, sins against the very foundation of his moral being. As a false god is no god, so a false man is no man; he can never be what man was designed to be; he can never answer the end of his being. There can be in him nothing that is stable, trustworthy, or good.
There are two classes of sins which the ninth commandment forbids. The first is, all forms of detraction; everything which is unjustly or unnecessarily injurious to our neighbour's good name; and the second, all violations of the laws of truth. This latter, indeed, includes the former. Bearing false witness, however, being the definite thing forbidden, should be separately considered.
The highest form of this offence is bearing false testimony in a court of justice. This includes the guilt of malice, falsehood, and mockery of God; and its commission justly renders a man infamous, and places him outside of the pale of society. As it strikes at the security of character, property, and even of life, it is an offence which cannot be passed by with impunity. The false swearer is, therefore, a criminal in the sight of the civil law, and subject to public disgrace and punishment.
Slander is an offence of the same character. It differs from the sin of bearing false witness, only in not being committed in a judicial process, and in not being attended by the same effects. The slanderer, however, does bear false witness against his neighbour. He does it in the ears of the public, and not in those of a jury. The offence includes the elements of malice and falsehood against which this command is specially directed. The circulation of false reports, "tale-bearing," as it is called in Scripture, is indicative of the same state of mind, and comes under the same condemnation. As the law of God takes cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart, in condemning an external act it condemns the disposition which tends to produce it. In condemning all speaking ill of our neighbour, the Scriptures condemn a suspicious temper, a disposition to impute bad motives, and an unwillingness to believe that men are sincere and honest in the avowal of their principles and aims. This is the opposite of that charity which "thinketh no evil," "believeth all things, hopeth all things." It is still more opposed to the spirit of this law, that we should cherish or express satisfaction in the disgrace of others, even if they be our competitors or enemies. We are commanded to "rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep." (Rom. 12:15.)
The usages of life, or the principles of professional men, allow of many things which are clearly inconsistent with the requiremants of the ninth commandment. Lord Brougham is reported to have said in the House of Lords, that an advocate knows no one but his client. He is bound per fas et nefas, if possible, to clear him. If necessary for the accomplishment of that object, he is at liberty to accuse and defame the innocent, and even (as the report stated) to ruin his country. It is not unusual, especially in trials for murder, for the advocates of the accused to charge the crime on innocent parties and to exert all their ingenuity to convince the jury of their guilt. This is a cruel and wicked injustice, a clear violation of the command which says, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."
1. The simplest and most comprehensive definition of falsehood is, enunciatio falsi. This enunciation need not be verbal. A sign or gesture may be as significant as a word. If, to borrow Paley's illustration, a man is asked which of two roads is the right one to a given place, and he intentionally points to the wrong one, he is as guilty of falsehood as if he had given the wrong directions in words. This is true; nevertheless there is a power peculiar to words. A thought, a feeling, or a conviction is not only more clearly revealed in the consciousness when clothed in words, but it is thereby strengthened. Every man feels this when he says, "I believe;" or, "I know that my Redeemer liveth."
2. The above definition of falsehood, although resting on high authority, is too comprehensive. It is not every enunciatio falsi which is a falsehood. This enunciation may be made through ignorance or mistake, and therefore be perfectly innocent. It may even be deliberate and intentional. This we see in the case of fables and parables, and in works of fiction. No one regards the Iliad or the Paradise Lost as a repertorium of falsehoods. It is not necessary to assume that the parables of our Lord, are veritable histories. They were not designed to give a narrative of actual occurrences. Intention to deceive, therefore, is an element in the idea of falsehood. But even this is not always culpable. When Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to slay the male children of their countrywomen, they disobeyed him. And when called to account for their disobedience, they said, "The Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty." (Ex. 1:19, 20.) In 1 Samuel 16:1, 2, we read that God said to Samuel, "I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons. And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord." Here, it is said, is a case of intentional deception actually commanded. Saul was to be deceived as to the object of Samuel's journey to Bethlehem. Still more marked is the conduct of Elisha as recorded in 2 Kings 6:14–20. The king of Syria sent soldiers to seize the prophet at Dothan. "And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the LORD, and said, Smite this people I pray thee with blindness. And He smote them with blindness, according to the word of Elisha. And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way neither is this the city: follow me and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria. And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the LORD opened their eyes, and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria;" that is, in the hands of their enemies. The prophet, however, would not allow them to be injured; but commanded that they should be fed and sent back to their master. Examples of this kind of deception are numerous in the Old Testament. Some of them are simply recorded facts, without anything to indicate how they were regarded in the sight of God; but others, as in the cases above cited, received either directly or by implication the divine sanction. Of our blessed Lord himself it is said in Luke 24:28, "He made as though (προσεποιεῖτο, he made a show of) he would have gone further." He so acted as to make the impression on the two disciples that it was his purpose to continue his journey. (Comp. Mark 6:48.) Many theologians do not admit that the fact recorded in Luke 24:28, involved any intentional deception; because the "simulatio non fuerit in verbis veritati contradicentibus, sed in gestibus veritati consentientibus. Christus … agebat, ut qui iturus esset longius, et revera iturus fuerat, nisi rogatus fuisset a discipulis, alia fortasse ratione se iis manifesturus.… Alii dicunt, simulationem fuisse tentatoriam, æque ac illam, quæ in Abrahami historia a scriptore sacro commemoratur Gen. 22:2. In eandem sententiam descendunt Beausobre et L'Enfant, qui in notis gallicis ad Luc. 24:28, ita scribunt: C'est un feinte innocente et pleine d'amour, par laquelle Jésus-Christ veut éprouver la foi de ses disciples. Ainsi en usent les medicins à l'égard des malades, et les pères à l'égard de leurs enfans."
It is the general sentiment among moralists that stratagems in war are allowable; that it is lawful not only to conceal intended movements from an enemy, but also to mislead him as to your intentions. A great part of the skill of a military commander is evinced in detecting the intentions of his adversary, and in concealing his own. Few men would be so scrupulous as to refuse to keep a light in a room, when robbery was apprehended, with the purpose of producing the impression that the members of the household were on the alert.
On these grounds it is generally admitted that in criminal falsehoods there must be not only the enunciation or signification of what is false, and an intention to deceive, but also a violation of some obligation. If there may be any combination of circumstances under which a man is not bound to speak the truth, those to whom the declaration or signification is made have no right to expect him to do so. A general is under no obligation to reveal his intended movements to his adversary; and his adversary has no right to suppose that his apparent intention is his real purpose. Elisha was under no obligation to aid the Syrians in securing his person and taking his life; and they had no right to assume that he would thus assist them. And, therefore, he did no wrong in misleading them. There will always be cases in which the rule of duty is a matter of doubt. It is often said that the rule above stated applies when a robber demands your purse. It is said to be right to deny that you have anything of value about you. You are not bound to aid him in committing a crime; and he has no right to assume that you will facilitate the accomplishment of his object. This is not so clear. The obligation to speak the truth is a very solemn one; and when the choice is left a man to tell a lie or lose his money, he had better let his money go. On the other hand, if a mother sees a murderer in pursuit of her child, she has a perfect right to mislead him by any means in her power; because the general obligation to speak the truth is merged or lost, for the time being, in the higher obligation. This principle is not invalidated by its possible or actual abuse. It has been greatly abused. Jesuits taught that the obligations to promote the good of the Church absorbed or superseded every other obligation. And, therefore, in their system not only falsehood and mental reservation, but perjury, robbery, and assassination became lawful if committed with the design of promoting the interests of the Church. Notwithstanding this liability to abuse, the principle that a higher obligation absolves from a lower stands firm. It is a dictate even of the natural conscience. It is evidently right to inflict pain in order to save life. It is right to subject travellers to quarantine, although it may grievously interfere with their wishes or interests, to save a city from pestilence. The principle itself is clearly inculcated by our Lord when He said, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice;" and when He taught that it was right to violate the Sabbath in order to save the life of an ox, or even to prevent its suffering. The Jesuits erred in assuming that the promotion of the interests of the Church (in their sense especially of the word Church) was a higher duty than obedience to the moral law. They erred also in assuming that the interests of the Church could be promoted by the commission of crime; and their principle was in direct violation of the Scriptural rule that it is wrong to do evil that good may come.
The question now under consideration is not whether it is ever right to do wrong, which is a solecism; nor is the question whether it is ever right to lie; but rather what constitutes a lie. It is not simply an "enunciatio falsi," nor, as it is commonly defined by the moralists of the Church of Rome, a "locutio contra mentem loquentis;" but there must be an intention to deceive when we are expected and bound to speak the truth. That is, there are circumstances in which a man is not bound to speak the truth, and therefore there are cases in which speaking or intimating what is not true is not a lie. The Roman moralists just referred to, answer the question, Whether it is ever lawful to lie? in the negative. Dens, for example goes so far as to say: "Non licet mentiri (i.e., to utter what is not true, as he defines the word 'mendacium') ad avertendum mortem aut interitum Reipublicæ, vel quæcunque alia mala: in hujusmodi perplexitatibus debent homines confugere ad auxilium Dei, angeli custodis," etc. This is a sound rule, provided the obligation to speak the truth exists. It is far better that a man should die or permit a murder to be committed, than that he should sin against God. Nothing could tempt the Christian martyrs to save their own lives or the lives of their brethren by denying Christ, or by professing to believe in false gods; in these cases the obligation to speak the truth was in full force. But in the case of a commanding general in time of war, the obligation does not exist to intimate his true intentions to his adversary. Intentional deception in his case is not morally a falsehood. Although the Romanist theologians lay down the rule that a mendacium is never lawful, and although they define mendacium as stated above, yet they teach that if a confessor is asked whether he knows a fact confided to him in the confessional, he is at liberty to answer, No; meaning that he does not know it scientia communicabili. That is, he is authorized, according to their own definition of the word, to tell a downright falsehood. He may be right to reply to the question, Whether he knows a fact communicated to him in his character of confessor, by saying, "I am not at liberty to answer;" but it is hard to see how he could be justified in a direct falsehood.
In order to include the third element entering into the nature of criminal falsehood, Paley defines a lie to be a violation of a promise. Every violation of a promise is not a lie, for it may not include the other elements of a falsehood; but every lie is a violation of a promise. It arises out of the very nature of human society, and from the relation in which men of necessity stand to each other, that every man is expected to speak the truth, and is under a tacit but binding promise not to deceive his neighbours by word or act. If in any case he is guilty of intentional deception, he must be able to show that in that particular case the obligation does not exist; that is, that the party deceived has no right to expect the truth, and that no virtual promise is violated in deceiving him. This is certainly the fact in military manœuvres, and in some other cases of rare occurrence.
This, however, is not always admitted. Augustine, for example, makes every intentional deception, no matter what the object or what the circumstances, to be sinful. "Ille mentitur," he says, "qui aliud habet in animo, et aliud verbis vel quibuslibet significationibus enuntiat." Again he says,2 "Nemo autem dubitat mentiri eum qui volens falsum enuntiat causa fallendi: quapropter enuntiationem falsam cum voluntate ad fallendum prolatam, manifestum est esse mendacium." He reviews the cases recorded in the Bible which seem to teach the opposite doctrine. This would be the simplest ground for the moralist to take. But, as shown above, and as generally admitted, there are cases of intentional deception which are not criminal.
Kinds of Falsehood
Augustine divides falsehood into no less than eight classes. But these differ for the most part simply as to their subject matter, or their effects. The division as given by Thomas Aquinas and very generally adopted since, is into three classes; the pernicious, the benevolent, and the jocose. Under the first head come all falsehoods which are instigated by any evil motive and are designed to promote some evil end. It includes not only the direct enunciation of what is false, but also all quibbling or prevarication.
This class includes also all cases of mental reservation. It should be said in justice to the teachers of Moral Theology in the Romish Church, that, although the Jesuits made themselves so obnoxious by asserting the propriety of mental reservation, they at least in general terms condemn it. "Restrictio mentalis," says Gury, "est actus mentis verba alicujus propositionis ad alium sensum quam naturalem et obvium detorquentis vel restringentis." This he says is unlawful, because it is "simpliciter mendacium." It is true these theologians make serious modifications of this rule. It is only of reservation "proprie mentalis," that is, when the true meaning of the speaker cannot be detected, that this condemnation is pronounced. If it be possible, from the circumstances or the mode of expression, to know what he means, the rule does not always apply. There are cases in which it is allowable to permit a man to deceive himself. Under this head is brought in the case above referred to. It is said that a confessor may properly say that he does not know a thing, when he means that he does not know it as a man, or with a knowledge that is communicable. So it is said that if a man be asked by one who has no right to interrogate him, whether he has committed a crime, he may say, No; meaning none that he was bound to confess. So also it is taught that public persons, ambassadors, magistrates, advocates, etc., may use mental reservation in its wider sense. In like manner a servant may say his master is not at home, whom he knows to be in the house, because such denial so often means that the person inquired for does not wish to be seen. This opens a very wide door of which not only Jesuits, but men professing to be Protestants and Christians freely avail themselves. To an unsophistical mind all the instances above specified are cases of unmitigated falsehood.
The extent to which the Jesuits carried the principle of mental reservation is a matter of notoriety. The three rules by which they perverted the whole system of morals, and which threatened to overturn the very foundations of society, and which led at one time to the suppression of the order, were,—
1. The doctrine that the character of an act depended solely on the intention. If the intention be good, the act is good; whether it be falsehood, perjury, murder, or any other conceivable crime. Pascal quotes the Jesuit moralist Escobar as laying down the general principle, "that promises are not binding unless there was an intention of keeping them, at the time they were made." On the same principle, that the intention determines the character of the act, the murder of Henry III. in 1589; of the Prince of Orange in 1584; of Henry IV. of France in 1610; and especially the massacres on the feast of St. Bartholomew, were all justified. This principle is not confined to the Jesuits. When in 1819 young Sand murdered Kotzebue, the poet, from political motives, he not only justified the act to the last, but perhaps the general sentiment among his younger countrymen was that of approbation. Even De Wette, the distinguished theologian and commentator, in a letter of consolation to the mother of Sand, spoke of the assassination as "a favourable sign of the times." It was regarded very much as the killing of Marat by Charlotte Corday is regarded by the public to this day. When the doctrine comes to be formalized as a moral principle that the intention determines the character of the act, so that murder committed for the good of the Church or the State is commendable, then the law of God is set at nought and the bonds of society are unloosed.
2. The doctrine of probability. If it was probable that an act was right there was no sin in committing it, although in the conviction of the agent the act was wrong; and an act was probably right, if among the moralists there was a difference of opinion on the subject.
3. The above-mentioned doctrine of mental reservation. It was taught that a man might innocently swear he did not do a certain thing, provided he said to himself, not audibly to others, "I mean I did not do it ten years ago." All these different kinds of lying, though referred to different heads by the Jesuit teachers, belong properly to the class of pernicious falsehoods, such as the law of God utterly condemns.
The second class, called "mendacia officiosa," includes all falsehoods uttered for a good object. Such as those told the sick by their attendants, to comfort or encourage them; those told by detectives for the discovery of crimes; or those which are designed to prevent evil or secure good for ourselves or others. All such falsehoods are pronounced by Romanists to be venial sins, mere peccadilloes. The example given by Dens, in the place referred to, of this class of sins, is the case of a man having money, denying that he has it to avoid being robbed. This is very different from the doctrine of Augustine, who teaches that it is unlawful to lie to save life, or even to save a soul.2 Augustine's position is consistent with what was said above, that there are occasions on which a higher obligation absolves from a lower, as our Lord himself teaches. But that principle applies to the case of falsehood only when the enunciation of what is untrue ceases to be falsehood in the criminal sense of the word. It has been seen that three elements enter into the nature of falsehood properly so called, (1.) The enunciation of what is false. (2.) The intention to deceive. (3.) The violation of a promise; that is, the violation of the obligation to speak the truth, the obligation which rests upon every man to keep faith with his neighbour. In military manoeuvres, as above remarked, there is no expectation, and no right for expectation, that a general will reveal his true intentions to his adversary, and therefore in that case deception is not falsehood, because there is no violation of an obligation. But when a confessor was called upon by a heathen magistrate to say whether he was a Christian, he was expected, and bound to speak the truth, although he knew the consequence would be a cruel death. So when a man is asked if he has money about him, he is expected to speak the truth, and has no right to lie any more than a Christian had a right to lie to save his life. The doctrine that "mendacia officiosa" are only venial sins, rests on the principle that the intention determines the character of the act. The simple Scriptural rule is, that he who does "evil that good may come," his "damnation is just."
It is a fact of experience, that, so far as our inner life at least is concerned, exorbitant attention to how to do a thing destroys the ability to do it. An adept in logic may be a very poor reasoner; and a man who spends his life in studying the rules of elocution may be a very indifferent orator. So a man versed in all the subtleties of casuistry is apt to lose the clear and simple apprehension of right and wrong. Professor Gury has for the motto of his book on moral theology, the words of St. Gregory: "Ars artium regimen animarum." Very true, but it is a bad way to lead a man to a given point to put him into a labyrinth. These books of casuistry only serve to mystify the plainest subjects. Indulging in such subtleties can hardly fail to lead to the adoption of false principles. It is very plain that the man who was at once a prince and a bishop, could not well be drunk as prince and sober as bishop; yet, as we have seen, these books teach that a priest may lie as a man, and yet speak truth as a vicar of God. The plain directions of the Word of God and a conscience enlightened by his Spirit, are safer guides in matters of duty than all the books on moral theology the Jesuits ever wrote. This is not saying that morals are not a proper subject of study, or that there is not a call in that field for the exercise of discrimination and distinction. The objection is not to the study of morals, but to inordinate devotion to that department, and to the perplexing and perverting subtleties of casuistry.
Pious fraud was reduced by Romanists to a science and an art. It was called economics, from οἰκονομία, "dispensatio rei familiaris," the discretionary use of things in a family according to circumstances. The theory is founded on the principle that if the intention be lawful, the act is lawful. Any act, therefore, designed to promote any "pious" end is justifiable "in foro conscientiæ." This principle was introduced at an early period into the Christian Church. Mosheim attributes to it a heathen origin. He says that the Platonists and Pythagoreans taught that it was commendable to lie to promote a good end. The evil, however, had probably an independent origin wherever it appeared. It is plausible enough to rise spontaneously in any mind not under the control of the Word and Spirit of God.
Augustine had to contend against this error in his day. There were certain orthodox Christians who thought it right falsely to assert that they were Priscillianists in order to gain their confidence and thus be able to convict them of heresy. This brought up the question whether it was allowable to commit a fraud for a good end; in other words, whether the intention determined the character of the act. Augustine took the negative of the question, and argued that a lie was always a lie, and always wicked; that it was not lawful to tell a falsehood for any purpose whatever. "Interest quidem plurimum," he says, "qua causa, quo fine, qua intentione quid fiat: sed ea quæ constat esse peccata, nullo bonæ causæ obtentu, nullo quasi bono fine, nulla velut bona intentione facienda sunt.… Cum vero jam opera ipsa peccata sunt; sicut furta, stupra, blasphemiæ, vel cætera talia; quis est qui dicat causis bonis esse facienda, ut vel peccata non sint, vel quod est absurdius, justa peccata sint? Quis est qui dicat: ut habeamus quod demus pauperibus, faciamus furta divitibus; aut, testimonia falsa vendamus, maxime si non inde innocentes læduntur, sed nocentes potius damnaturis judicibus eruuntur?" He specially condemns all "pious frauds," i.e., frauds committed in pretended service of religion.
Notwithstanding the authority of Augustine, the doctrine that it was right to use fraud in efforts to promote the interests of the Church, was openly avowed by some of his contemporaries and many of his immediate successors, and during the Middle Ages was the practical rule of the Romish Church, as it is at the present day. Among the early advocates of this lax principle of morals is found the name even of Jerome. In his epistle to Pammachius, he says, that in teaching, a man is bound to be honest, but in dealing with an adversary, he may do what he pleases; it is right "nunc hæc nunc illa proponere. Argumentari ut libet, aliud loqui, aliud agere, panem, ut dicitur, ostendere, lapidem tenere." The principle that the intention sanctifies the deed, is clearly asserted by John Cassian, a disciple of Chrysostom. Falsehood, he says, is like poison: taken moderately and in illness, it may be salutary; but if taken inopportunely, it is fatal. "Non enim Deus verborum tantum actuumque nostrorum discussor et judex, sed etiam propositi ac destinationis inspector est.… Ille tamen intimam cordis inspiciens pietatem, non verborum sonum, sed votum dijudicat voluntatis, quia finis, operis et affectus considerandus est perpetrantis."3
The principle having been once admitted that it is right to deceive in order to accomplish a good object, there was no limit set in practice to its application. Hence,—
1. Even from the earliest times genuine works of the apostolic fathers were corrupted by interpolations; and works were issued bearing the names of authors who were dead long before the works were written. Besides the apocryphal books which are now admitted to be spurious, the Letters of Ignatius, a portion of which are generally received as authentic, were so corrupted as to be the source of an extended and permanent evil influence. Of these letters there are, as is well known, three recensions, the larger containing fifteen epistles, the shorter, and the Syrian, founded on a Syriac translation. The larger collection is given up by scholars as spurious; as to the others, many who admit their authenticity, insist that they are more or less corrupted by interpolation.
The so-called "Apostolical Constitutions" are a collection of rules or canons derived partly from the New Testament, partly from the decisions of early provincial councils, and partly from tradition; all, however, imposed on the Church as of apostolical authority. As the number of councils increased there was a necessity for renewed collections of their decisions. These collections included "decretals" issued by the Bishop of Rome; both classes being included under the name of "canons," these collections were gradually consolidated into the Canon Law. It was a natural and easy method of imposing on the Church to insert spurious decretals in the collections from time to time, and to found on these forgeries exorbitant pretensions to priestly dignity and power. The most notorious of these impositions is what is known as the Decretals of Isidore, Bishop of Seville, the most distinguished writer of the seventh century. He died A.D. 636. The collection which went under his name did not make its appearance until the ninth century. It contains many genuine decretals and canons, but also many that are manifest forgeries. The author of the collection and of the spurious documents it contains is unknown. Its date is fixed by Gieseler between 829 and 845. These decretals "were soon circulated," says that historian, "in various collections, appealed to without suspicion in public transactions, and used by the popes, from Nicolaus I., immediately after he had become acquainted with them (864), without any opposition being made to their authenticity, and continued in undiminished reputation, till the Reformation led to the detection of the cheat. On these false decretals were founded the pretensions of the popes to universal sway in the Church; while the pretended 'donatio Constantini M.,' a fiction of an earlier time, but soon adopted into them, was the first step from which the papacy endeavoured to elevate itself even above the state." The authenticity of these documents was first seriously attacked by the Magdeburgh Centuriators, who were answered by the Jesuit Turrianus. "The question was decided by Dav. Blondelli Pseudoisidorus et Turrianus vapulantes, Genev. 1628. The Ultramontanists, though they admit the deception, deny the revolution of ecclesiastical principles caused by it." These decretals attribute to the pope absolute supremacy over the Church, over patriarchs, bishops, and priests. To him an appeal lies in all questions of doctrine, and his decisions are final. The gift of Constantine conferred on the pontiff more than imperial dignity and power. It conveyed the sovereignty of the city of Rome, of Italy, and of the western provinces. Among other things it says, "Et sicut nostram terrenam imperialem potentiam, sic ejus (Petri) sacrosanctam Romanam Ecclesiam decrevimus veneranter honorari, et amplius quam nostrum imperium terrenumque thronum, sedem sacratissimam b. Petri gloriose exaltari: tribuentes ei potestatem et gloriæ dignitatem, atque vigorem et honorificentiam imperialem. Unde ut pontificalis apex non vilescat, sed magis quam imperii dignitas, gloria et potentia decoretur, ecce tam palatium nostrum, ut prædictum est, quam Romanam urbem, et omnes Italiæ, seu occidentalium regionum provincias, loca et civitates præfato beatissimo Pontifici nostro Sylvestro, universali papæ, contradimus atque relinquimus: et ab eo et a successoribus ejus per hanc divalem nostram, et pragmaticum constitutum decernimus disponenda, atque juri sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ concedimus permansura."3
The second great class of pious frauds by which the Church of Rome has for ages endeavoured to sustain its errors and confirm its power, is that of pretended miracles. On this subject it may be remarked,—
1. That there is nothing in the New Testament inconsistent with the occurrence of miracles in the post-apostolic age of the Church. The Apostles were indeed chosen to be the witnesses of Christ, to bear testimony to the facts of his history and to the doctrines which He taught. And among the signs of an Apostle, or necessary credentials of his commission, was the power to work miracles. (Rom. 15:18, 19; 2 Cor. 12:12.) When the Apostles had finished their work, the necessity of miracles, so far as the great end they were intended to accomplish was concerned, ceased. This, however, does not preclude the possibility of their occurrence, on suitable occasions, in after ages. It is a mere question of fact to be decided on historical evidence. In some few cases the nature of the event, its consequences, and the testimony in its support, have constrained many Protestants to admit the probability, if not the certainty of these miraculous interventions. Among the controversial writings which the great questions in debate in the late Vatican Council have called forth, there are two of special interest which have already been translated and circulated in this country. The one is entitled "The Pope and The Council,"2 a series of papers written by German Catholic scholars of distinction. It is a historical argument against Ultramontanism. Among other things it demonstrates that the claims of the Ultramontanists have been sustained by a regular system of forgeries in all ages of the Church.
The other work is by the late Abbe Gratry, one of the most distinguished Romish ecclesiastics of France, whose death has just been announced. In these masterly letters the writer establishes two points, as he says truly beyond the possibility of rational denial. The first is, that the popes have erred when speaking "ex cathedra," and therefore are not infallible; and the second, that the claims of Papal infallibility have been sustained by the most bare-faced and persistent forgeries and frauds. Both of these points are proved specially in the case of Pope Honorius. Yet, sad to say, this eminent man, not long before his death, submitted to the decree of the Vatican Council by which the infallibility of the Pope was made an article of faith. He said he "erased" all he had written against that doctrine.
2. During the first hundred years after the death of the Apostles we hear little or nothing of the working of miracles by the early Christians. On this point Bishop Douglass says, "If we except the testimonies of Papias and Irenæus, who speak of raising the dead, … I can find no instances of miracles mentioned by the fathers before the fourth century, as what were performed by Christians in their times, but the cures of diseases, particularly the cures of demoniacs, by exorcising them; which last, indeed, seems to be their favourite standing miracle, and the only one which I find (after having turned over their writings carefully and with a view to this point): they challenged their adversaries to come and see them perform." The fathers of the fourth century freely speak of the age of miracles as past; that such interpositions, being no longer necessary, were no longer to be expected. Thus Chrysostom says: "Ne itaque ex eo, quod nunc signa non fiunt, argumentum ducas tunc etiam non fuisse. Etenim tunc utiliter fiebant, et nunc utiliter non fiunt." And Augustine says: "Cur, inquiunt, nunc illa miracula, quæ prædicatis facta esse, non fiunt? Possem quidem dicere, necessaria fuisse priusquam crederet mundus, ad hoc ut crederet mundus."4 However these declarations may be reconciled with the fact that these fathers, themselves, give accounts of what passed for miracles in their day, they at least show that in their view there was such a difference between the Scriptural and ecclesiastical miracles that they did not belong to the same category. Although these miracles were unfrequent in the early ages of the Church, yet they rapidly increased in number until they became matters of every day's occurrence.
3. They admit of being classified on different principles. As to their nature, some are grave and important; others are trifling, childish, and even babyish; others are indecorous; and others are irreverent and even blasphemous. Professor Newman, one of the richest prizes gained by the Romanists from the Church of England in this generation, is candid enough to admit the contrast between the Scriptural and what he calls ecclesiastical miracles. Of the former, he says, "The miracles of Scripture are, as a whole, grave, simple, and majestic: those of ecclesiastical history often partake of what may not unfitly be called a romantic character, and of that wildness and inequality which enters into the notion of romance." He says,2 "It is obvious to apply what has been said to the case of the miracles of the Church, as compared with those in Scripture. Scripture is to us a garden of Eden, and its creations are beautiful as well as 'very good,' but when we pass from the Apostolic to the following ages, it is as if we left the choicest valleys of the earth, the quietest and most harmonious scenery, and the most cultivated soil, for the luxuriant wildernesses of Africa or Asia, the natural home or kingdom of brute nature, uninfluenced by man." A more felicitous illustration can hardly be imagined. The contrast between the Gospels and the legends of the saints, is that between the divine and the human and even the animal; between Christ (with reverence be it spoken) and St. Anthony. Another principle on which these ecclesiastical miracles may be classified, is the design for which they were wrought or adduced. Some are brought forth as proofs of the sanctity of particular persons, or places, or things; some to sustain particular doctrines, such as purgatory, transubstantiation, the worshipping of the saints and of the Virgin Mary, etc., some for the identification of relics. It is no injustice to the authorities of the Church of Rome, to say, that whatever good ends these miracles may in any case be intended to serve, they have in the aggregate been made subservient to the accumulation of money and to the increase of power. The amount of money drawn from the single doctrine of purgatory and the assumed power of the keys over that imaginary place of torture, is beyond all computation. And the whole fabric of priestly power, the most absolute and the most dreaded ever exercised over men, would fall to the ground if it were not the belief of the people, founded mainly on "lying wonders," that the priests have power to forgive sin, to save or to destroy souls at will, or at discretion. If this doctrine be false, the whole Romish system is false. Romanists, therefore, have everything at stake on this question. Bishop Jeremy Taylor, writing to a lady "seduced to the Church of Rome," said long ago, "All the points of difference between us and your Church are such as do evidently serve the ends of covetousness and ambition, of power and riches."
4. A fourth general remark on this subject is, that it is no just matter of reproach to the authorities and people of the Romish Church that they believed in these false miracles. Faith in the frequently recurring interference of supernatural influences in the affairs of men, was for ages universal. Even so late as the seventeenth century Protestants as well as Catholics, of all ranks, believed in ghosts, witches, necromancy, and demonocracy. Cotton Mather's "Magnalia" is a match for the Legends of the Saints.
5. It is not that Romanists believed in the frequent occurrence of miracles, but that they propagated reports of miracles, knowing them to be false; that this was done for the purposes of deceit; that this is persisted in to the present day; and that the honour, truth, integrity, and infallibility of the Church are pledged in support of their actual occurrence. The truth of Christianity depends on the historical truth of the account of the miracles recorded in the New Testament. The truth of Romanism depends on the truth of the miracles to which it appeals. What would become of Protestantism if it depended on the demonology of Luther, or the witch stories of our English forefathers. The Romish Church, in assuming the responsibility for the ecclesiastical miracles, has taken upon itself a burden which would crush the shoulders of Atlas. These "lying wonders" are endorsed, not only by the negative action of the authorities of the Church, by allowing them to be believed and cited in proof of its doctrines and divine mission; not only by the recognized expounders of its faith referring to them and asserting their truth; but also by solemn official action of the highest ecclesiastical dignitaries, including a long succession of popes. As no one could be canonized unless his saintship was sustained by at least four miracles, when any one was proposed for canonization a commission was appointed to ascertain the facts of his life, and especially of the miracles which he wrought. This commission reported to the Pope, who, if satisfied, decreed the enrolment of the candidate in the list of saints. These official documents contain the record of the most trivial, and, on other grounds, most objectionable miracles. And to such miracles the Church of Rome has given her sanction, and on the truth of these it must stand or fall.
There are, however, two special and standing miracles to which Romanists are fully committed, and which in the judgment probably of nine tenths of the educated men in Christendom are bare-faced impostures. The Church of Rome by its highest dignitaries and representatives asserted and still continues to assert that the house in which the Virgin Mary dwelt in Nazareth was, when that city fell into the hands of the infidels, transported by angels and deposited at Loretto, a village a few miles from Ancona in Italy. The first step in this transportation occurred in 1291 from Nazareth to Dalmatia; the second in 1294 to the neighbourhood of Recanati; and the third in 1295 to its present location. The house is thirty feet long, fifteen wide, and eighteen high, and is built of wood and brick. It is now greatly adorned, having a silver door and a silver grating, and stands in the midst of a large church erected over and around it. Its shrine was enriched with offerings of priceless value, and is regarded as the Mecca of Italy; the number of pilgrims amounting sometimes to two hundred thousand in a single year. The annual income of the house, apart from presents, is stated to be thirty thousand dollars. The original house is said to be a fac-simile of hundreds of others in the neighborhood of Ancona. It is obvious that such a frail building could not, without a miracle, have been preserved thirteen hundred years; another miracle would be required to identify it after so long a period; another stupendous miracle to account for its transportation to Dalmatia; and two more nearly as great to explain its reaching its present location. The only conceivable design of all these miracles, must be to sustain the doctrines and authority of the Romish Church, and to pour money into its treasury. Both these objects they have accomplished to a wonderful degree. No man who is not prepared to accept all these miracles without a particle of evidence, can rationally believe in the Church of Rome.
The other standing miracle for which the Romish Church is responsible before the whole world, is the annual liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius at Naples. The tradition concerning him is, that he was thrown by his heathen persecutors into a heated oven, where he remained three days uninjured. He was afterwards exposed to wild beasts, who became as lambs in his presence. He was finally beheaded, A.D. 305. A woman is said to have caught and preserved a portion of his blood. This with other of his remains was carried to Naples, being identified as usual by a miracle, as it is said, "Neapolitani beatum Januarium revelatione commoti sustulerunt." The blood, preserved with great care in the cathedral, is contained in two crystal vials, a larger and smaller one. In its ordinary state it is a hard substance, sometimes represented as filling the vial, and sometimes as appearing in a hard round lump. The blood of other saints is said to liquefy on the anniversaries of their martyrdom, but the blood of Januarius becomes liquid whenever the vial containing it is brought near to the skull of the saint, which is still preserved. It turns readily when good is impending, and refuses to change when evil is at hand. It thus serves the purpose of an oracle. It is annually produced and exhibited to crowds of devotees gathered in the cathedral on the first Sunday of May, and also on the nineteenth day of September and twentieth of December, and at other times on extraordinary emergencies. To this miracle the Church of Rome is fully committed as it is exhibited every year under the eyes of the pope and the highest dignitaries of the Church. There is not a particle of evidence for the facts above stated concerning this saint, which may not be pleaded for any one of the thousands of stories of fairies and witches with which the histories of all nations abound, except the liquefaction of the blood. As to that, however, it is to be said that there is no evidence that the substance contained in the vial is blood; or if blood, that it is human blood; or if human, that it is the blood of Januarius; or if his, that the cause of the liquefaction is bringing the vial into proximity to the saint's cranium. All that the people are allowed to see, the change of a dark-red solid substance into a fluid, any chemist could effect at five minutes' notice. It is true, as Dr. Newman admits, that these miracles do not so much prove the truth of the Church, as the Church proves the truth of the miracles. Then what are they worth.
Relics are the remains of sacred persons and things, which are not only to be cherished as memorials, but to which "cultus" or a certain degree of religious worship is due, and which are imbued with supernatural power. They heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, soundness to the maimed, and even, at times, life to the dead. Of these the Catholic world is full. Dr. Newman in his "Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England," delivered after his reconciliation with the Church of Rome, says, "At Rome there is the True Cross, the Crib of Bethlehem, and the Chair of St. Peter; portions of the Crown of Thorns are kept at Paris; the Holy Coat is shown at Tréves; the Winding-sheet at Turin: at Monza the iron Crown is formed out of a nail of the Cross; and another nail is claimed for the Duomo of Milan; and pieces of Our Lady's habit are to be seen in the Escurial. The Agnus Dei, blest medals, the Scapula, the cord of St. Francis, all are the medium of divine manifestations and graces."2
There is here opened an illimitable field for pious fraud. First, in palming upon the credulous people spurious relics, and, secondly in falsely attributing to them supernatural power. It has been proved in many cases that remains passed off as relics of the saints were bones of animals. In other cases it is impossible that all should be genuine, as bodies, or the same parts of bodies, of one and the same man are exhibited in different places. There is, as has often been asserted, enough wood of the true cross, held sacred in different localities, out of which to construct a large building. Writing not long after the alleged discovery of the cross on which the Saviour died, Cyril of Jerusalem says, "Sanctum crucis lignum testatur, quod ad hodiernum usque diem apud nos conspicitur, ac per eos qui fide impellente ex eo frusta decerpunt orbem fere totum hinc jam opplevit." And again, he speaks of "crucis lignum, quod per particulas ex hoc loco per totum orbem distributum est." St. Paulinas, who is one of the long list of witnesses quoted in defence of the veneration of relics, says "that a portion of the cross kept at Jerusalem gave off fragments of itself without diminishing." This is the only way in which the fact in question can be accounted for. If this solution be not admitted, then it must be acknowledged that, at least, the great majority of the portions of the cross now on exhibition must be spurious. There is no historical evidence of any value that any portion of the true cross has been preserved. Nothing was heard of it until A.D. 327. About that time, according to the legend, the Empress Helena, in searching for the Holy Sepulchre, found at the depth of thirty feet from the surface of the earth, three crosses, assumed to be those mentioned in the Gospels. The true cross was identified, some say, by its inscription; others, by a sick woman being touched by the one and the other without effect, but restored to perfect health the moment the true cross came in contact with her body. Others say that a corpse was restored to life by the touch of the true cross. In reference to this account it may be remarked, (1.) That there is a strong antecedent improbability that the crosses used on Calvary were ever buried. The assumption that it was the custom of the Jews to bury those implements of torture, rests on a very precarious foundation. (2.) The cross was a very slight structure, as it could be borne by one man; and, therefore, if buried superficially, as it must have been at first, it could hardly have continued undecayed three hundred years, especially considering the ploughings and overturnings to which the Holy City was subjected. (3.) The historical evidence in support of this legend is of little account. Cyril of Jerusalem, twenty years after the date assigned to the discovery, does indeed say that the true cross was then in Jerusalem, as Jerome does some sixty years later, but neither of them makes any mention of Helena in connection with the cross or the sepulchre. It may, therefore, be admitted that what passed for the true cross was then in Jerusalem, but the account of its recovery and identification remains without support. (4.) The historian Eusebius, a contemporary and eye-witness, makes no mention of the finding of the cross, an event the belief in which agitated all Christendom, and led to the immense aggrandizement of the bishopric of Jerusalem. It is inconceivable that such an event, if within his knowledge, should have been passed over in silence by such a historian, who had so much at heart to enchance the glory of his patron the Emperor. (5.) Calvary and the sepulchre we know were without the city. The place where the cross is said to have been found is in the centre of the modern city. Whether the city has so changed its limits as to bring the place of the crucifixion and burial of Christ within its boundaries, is a much debated question. Dr. Robinson, one of the most reliable of explorers, says, "The hypothesis which makes the second wall so run as to exclude the alleged site of the Holy Sepulchre, is on topographical grounds untenable and impossible." That is, assuming the truth of the statement of the Evangelists that Christ was crucified without the walls, it is topographically impossible that the alleged site of the Holy Sepulchre should be the true one. And thus the whole foundation of the legend of finding the cross on that spot falls to the ground. Dr. Robinson winds up his long discussion of this question in the following words: "Thus in every view which I have been able to take of the question, both topographical and historical, whether on the spot or in the closet, and in spite of all my previous prepossessions, I am led irresistibly to the conclusion, that the Golgotha and the tomb now shown in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are not upon the real places of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. The alleged discovery of them by the aged and credulous Helena, like her discovery of the cross, may not improbably have been the work of pious fraud. It would perhaps not be doing injustice to the Bishop Macarius and his clergy, if we regard the whole as a well laid and successful plan for restoring to Jerusalem its former consideration, and elevating his see to a higher degree of influence and dignity."2
Dr. Newman says we must either admit the discovery of the cross, or believe the Church of Jerusalem guilty of imposture. It is hard to decide how much is due in this matter to fraud, and how much to superstitious credulity. That both prevailed for ages in the Church is an undoubted historical fact. Are we to believe all that Gregory of Nyssa said of Gregory of Neo-Cæsarae, or what the fathers relate of St. Anthony; are we to admit all the legends of the saints, to avoid charging credulity or fraud against good men? It is lamentable that good men advocated the principle that it is right to deceive for a good end. It is undeniable that the doctrine of pious frauds has been avowed and acted upon in the Church of Rome ever since it began to aspire to ecclesiastical supremacy. Was not the pretended donation of Italy by Constantine to the pope a fraud? Are not the Isidorian Decretals a fraud? Are not the miracles wrought in proof of the delivery of souls from purgatory, frauds? Is not the alleged house of the Virgin Mary at Loretto a fraud? Is not the foot-print (ex pede Hercules) on a marble slab in the Cathedral of Rouen, a fraud? Is not the feather from the wing of the Archangel Gabriel preserved in one of the Cathedrals of Spain, a fraud? The whole Catholic world is full of frauds of this kind; and the only possible ground for Romanists to take is, that it is right to deceive the people for their good. "Populus vult decipi," is the excuse a Romish priest once made to Coleridge in reference to this matter.
Secondly, pious frauds are practised, not only in the exhibition of false relics, but also in falsely attributing to them supernatural power. Dr. Newman says: "The store of relics is inexhaustible; they are multiplied through all lands, and each particle of each has in it at least a dormant, perhaps an energetic virtue of supernatural operation." Bellarmin of course teaches the same2 doctrine. Cyril of Jerusalem says, "Et Elisæum qui semel et iterum suscitavit, dum viveret, et post mortem: vivus resurrectionem per suam ipsius animam operatus est, ut autem non animæ solum justorum honorarentur, sed crederetur etiam in justorum corporibus jacere vim, projectus in monumentum Elisæi mortuus prophetæ corpus attingens, vitam concepit, 4 Kin. 4:13, ut ostenderetur, absente etiam anima inesse vim corpori sanctorum propter animam justam, quæ in eo habitaverat." Dr. Newman says that miracles wrought by relics are of daily occurrence in all parts of the world. It is not that people are favourably affected by them through the imagination or feelings, but that the relics themselves are imbued with supernatural power. Thus Dr. Newman, one of the most cultivated men of the nineteenth century, has come round to the pure, simple, undiluted fetichism of Africa.
Our Lord warned his disciples against being deceived by lying wonders. The Bible (Deut. 13:1–3) teaches that any sign or wonder given or wrought in support of any doctrine contrary to the Word of God, is, without further examination, to be pronounced false. If, therefore, such doctrines as the supremacy of the pope; the power of priests to forgive sins; the absolute necessity of the sacraments as the only channels of communicating the merits and grace of Christ; the necessity of auricular confession; purgatory; the adoration of the Virgin and of the consecrated wafer; and the worship of saints and angels, are contrary to the Holy Scriptures, then to a certainty all the pretended miracles wrought in their support are "lying wonders;" and those who promulgate and sustain them are guilty of pious fraud. If, therefore, as Newman says, The Catholic Church, from east to west, from north to south, is, according to our conceptions, hung with miracles; so much the worse. It is hung all over with the symbols or ensigns of apostasy.
§ 14. The Tenth Commandment
Is a general prohibition of covetousness. "Thou shalt not covet," is a comprehensive command. Thou shalt not inordinately desire what thou hast not; and especially what belongs to thy neighbour. It includes the positive command to be contented with the allotments of Providence; and the negative injunction not to repine, or complain on account of the dealings of God with us, or to envy the lot or possessions of others. The command to be contented does not imply indifference, and it does not enjoin slothfulness. A cheerful and contented disposition is perfectly compatible with a due appreciation of the good things of this world, and diligence in the use of all proper means to improve our condition in life.
Contentment can have no other rational foundation than religion. Submission to the inevitable is only stoicism, or apathy, or despair. The religions of the East, and of the ancient world generally, so far as they were the subject of thought, being essentially pantheistic, could produce nothing but a passive consent to be borne along for a definite period on the irresistible current of events, and then lost in the abyss of unconscious being. The poor and the miserable could with such a faith have little ground for contentment, and they would be under the strongest temptation to envy the rich and the fortunate. But if a man believes that there is a personal God infinite in power, wisdom, and love; if he believes that God's providence extends over all creatures and over all events; and if he believes that God orders everything, not only for the best on the whole, but also for the best for each individual who puts his trust in Him and acquiesces in his will, then not to be contented with the allotments of infinite wisdom and love must be folly. Faith in the truths referred to cannot fail to produce contentment, wherever that faith is real. When we further take into view the peculiar Christian aspects of the case; when we remember that this universal government is administered by Jesus Christ, into whose hands, as He himself tells us, all power in heaven and earth has been committed, then we know that our lot is determined by Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, and who watches over his people as a shepherd watches over his flock, so that a hair of our heads cannot perish without his permission. And when we think of the eternal future which He has prepared for us, then we see that the sorrows of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us, and that our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, shall work out for us a far more exceeding and an eternal weight of glory; then mere contentment is elevated to a peace which passes all understanding, and even to a joy which is full of glory. All this is exemplified in the history of the people of God as recorded in the Bible. Paul could not only say, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11); but he could also say: "I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake." (2 Cor. 12:10.) This has measurably been the experience of thousands of believers in all ages. Of all people in the world Christians are bound in whatsoever state they are therewith to be content. It is easy to utter these words, and easy for those in comfort to imagine that they are exercising the grace of contentment; but when a man is crushed down by poverty and sickness, surrounded by those whose wants he cannot supply; seeing those whom he loves, suffering and wearing away under their privations, then contentment and submission are among the highest and rarest of Christian graces. Nevertheless, it is better to be Lazarus than Dives.
The second form of evil condemned by this commandment is envy. This is something more than an inordinate desire of unpossessed good. It includes regret that others should have what we do not enjoy; a feeling of hatred and malignity towards those more favoured than ourselves; and a desire to deprive them of their advantages. This a real cancer of the soul; producing torture and eating out all right feelings. There are, of course, all degrees of this sin, from the secret satisfaction experienced at the misfortunes of others, or the unexpressed desire that evil may assail them or that they may be reduced to the same level with ourselves, to the Satanic hatred of the happy because of their happiness, and the determination, if possible, to render them miserable. There is more of this dreadful spirit in the human heart, than we are willing to acknowledge. Montesquieu says that every man has a secret satisfaction in the misfortunes even of his dearest friends. As envy is the antithesis of love, it is of all sins the most opposed to the nature of God, and more effectually than any other excludes us from his fellowship.
Thirdly, the Scriptures, however, make mention most frequently of covetousness under the form of an inordinate desire of wealth. The man of whom covetousness is the characteristic has the acquisition of wealth as the main object of his life. This fills his mind, engrosses his affections, and absorbs his energy. Of covetousness in this form the Apostle says it is the root of all evil. That is, there is no evil—from meanness, deceit, and fraud, up to murder—to the commission of which covetousness has not prompted men, or to which it does not always threaten to impel them. Of the covetous man in this sense of the word the Bible says, (1.) That he cannot enter heaven. (1 Cor. 6:10.) (2.) That he is an idolater. (Eph. 5:5.) Wealth is his God, i.e., that to which he gives his heart and consecrates his life. (3.) That God abhors him. (Ps. 10:3.)
This commandment has a special interest, as it was the means, as St. Paul tells us, of leading him to the knowledge of sin. "I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." (Rom. 7:7.) Most of the other commandments forbid external acts, but this forbids a state of the heart. It shows that no external obedience can fulfil the demands of the law; that God looks upon the heart, that He approves or disapproves of the secret affections and purposes of the soul; that a man may be a pharisee, pure outwardly as a whited sepulchre, but inwardly full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness.
From Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge