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by the narrative in question. If we can answer them satisfactorily, let us pray God to perfect whatever may be yet lacking in us ; and if we cannot, let us be induced to ponder the necessity of immediate repentance for our past neglects.
3. We are hence taught how very hazardous it is to pronounce a final judgment upon what is called circumstantial evidence.—The case of Benjamin was precisely of this sort. Every circumstance appeared to bear upon the establishment of his guilt; yet he was innocent as the child unborn.
Never, indeed, was there a more lively illustration than in the case before us of the incompetency of this sort of evidence. Never was there a case in which the presumptions against the accused looked stronger. A cup, a silver cup, was amissing; and who oould have taken it but the strangers that came down to Egypt to buy corn? They had been in the Governor's house, and, suspicious-looking persons as they were, there was every reason to believe that they had cast an evil eye upon the cup, and taken the first occasion to conceal it. Pursuit is made. A charge is preferred against them, and, like practised rogues, they indignantly and solemnly disavow it. Nay, like hardened villains, they call heaven to witness that they are innocent, and even have the effrontery to pretend that the one, if one there be, in whose possession it is found shall die. Search is at length made, and, after all the protestations and solemn appeals that they had uttered, the silver cup is found in their youngest brother's sack; and then, when the discovery was made, so confused and terrified they looked! Could any thing be more clearly made out, so far as circumstantial evidence goes, than the guilt of these men? True, indeed, nobody had ever seen them take the cup; but they were suspected of it; it was found in their possession; and every other particular of the case strengthened the conviction. The circumstances, indeed, were such as could not fail to make a strong impression upon the mind of any jury; and yet, after all, Benjamin and the rest of them were quite as innocent as they pretended.
We say, therefore, that nothing is more dangerous or unjust than to condemn a fellow-creature, be the appearances what they may, on evidence of this sort. Yet we have strong reason to believe that this has repeatedly happened. The innocent have been wrongfully charged, unjustly condemned, and unrighteously put to death merely because the verisimilitudes of their guilt were strong. For years after their execution they were believed guilty, until at length either some additional circumstance was discovered that gave a different complexion to the affair, or the conscience of the real criminal was aroused to make confession of the truth. Blunders such as these are a stain to the judicial records of almost every country under heaven, and the knowledge of them ought to render those to whom judgment is committed exceedingly jealous of the particular evidence to which we refer. Circumstantial evidence, it should be remembered, is valuable, not in supplying the defect of positive or direct testimony, but only in so far as it corroborates that testimony. It may justly enough be made use of to cast additional light upon existing evidence, but not to constitute a separate and independent ground of judgment.
4. We may hence learn the baseness of ingratitude; —Although Joseph's brethren were truly innocent of the crime charged against them, yet the steward, on the supposition of their being guilty, insinuated this as an aggravation of it, that they had rendered evil for good. Had it been true that any one of them took from the Governor's house that cup of silver, it would have been a horrible offence against the ordinary civilities of life. To have been feasted at the Ruler's expense, and so hospitably entertained by him that they even felt themselves at perfect ease in his presence, and, after all this, to abuse his goodness by carrying away with them a piece of valuable furniture! Than this what could be more base and villainous? The very thought of it was intolerable to themselves: "God forbid," said they, "that thy servants should do according to this thing."
Let us, then, ever remember that as it is our bounden duty even to do good for evil, it will be most shameful for us, in any one instance, so far to forget our obligations to those who have befriended us as to render evil for good. Let the kindnesses and courtesies which are extended to us be inscribed on marble, while we write the injuries that are done to us upon sand. An ungrateful man is, by common consent, regarded as a monster in human nature. And according as the good done to him was great, his ingratitude is deemed proportionably odious.
Shall it be said, then, and justly said, that ingratitude to our earthly benefactors is base and abominable, and yet nothing be thought of ingratitude to God, from whom every good and perfect gift comes down? Is there a single comfort that we enjoy but proceeds either directly or indirectly from him? Has not he watched over every step of our journey through life? Before we could ask him to bless us, had he not loaded us with benefits? Are not the food which we eat and the water which we drink of his creating? And although these things are obtained by the labours of industry, is it not owing to his bountiful arrangement that secondary causes are so blessed? Has not he borne with us when perverse, healed us when sick, and provided for us when in want? If earthly friends have shown us kindness, was it not He who gave them the power, and put it into their hearts? And, more than all, has he not given his own dear Son to suffer and to die that we might be happy eternally? How base, then, to be unthankful unto Him, or to prove forgetful of his benefits! Let us beware, then, lest that should be said by Him of us which was said concerning Judah of old—" What more could have been done to my vineyard that was not done in it? Wherefore, then, when I looked for grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?"
A PROFERED SUBSTITUTION.
The speech of Judah in behalf of Benjamin has been long and justly admired as a perfect specimen of artless and unaffected eloquence. Indeed, there is almost nothing within the range of ancient or modern oratory that can stand a comparison with it. The aim of the speaker was to prevail upon the Egyptian Governor to show mercy to a brother, in whose safety the very life of an affectionate parent was bound up; and to accomplish that object he let nature take her own way. In fact, he says nothing either more or less than she bids him. Nothing material is omitted, nothing irrelevant introduced. Had he studied the rules of oratory all his life long, he could not have done better. It was nature that filled his mouth with arguments, and taught him what to say. "Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth spake." Yes, here, in the infancy of the world, we find a plain and simple-hearted man pleading before a mighty governor with an eloquence which the greatest masters of that art in a more polished age would have deemed themselves happy even to approach. Here is an oration which men of the finest taste in modern times have pronounced unrivalled in its structure, and worthy of being held up as the happiest illustration of rhetorical laws; and yet it is certain that of these Judah knew literally nothing.