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interested ourselves in the happiness of our fellow men. He who has done this towards the meanest of the human race, has done it to his Saviour and Lord; and he shall receive abundant recompence. But against him whose life has been absorbed in exclusive selfishness, whose heart has felt no emotions of benevolence, no visitings of mercy, the gates of heavenly blessedness must be shut; for to such a spirit the happiness of heaven will be wholly uncongenial.
My brethren, language can add nothing to this representation; imagination can image to itself nothing more awful. On him, who can bring home this consideration to his mind, and still resist its influence, all other motives must be lost. From the sleep of such insensibility the voice of God alone can awake him.
LAW OF RETALIATION.
ROMANS, XII. 17.
Recompense to no man evil for evil. This passage is one of many
in the New Testament, in which, for the sake of greater brevity and impression, a general maxim of conduct is laid down, without being accompanied with an enumeration of the limitations and distinctions, which are to be observed in its practical application. The precept is, I conceive, intended rather to be descriptive of the character and disposition, which a christian should possess under the reception of injuries, than to regulate his actions in every specific instance. For it is evident that there are occasions when it is not only lawful, but laudable, to return evil on him, by whom evil is inflicted. Such for example, are the cases of punishment in the regular administration of justice; and such also is every instance of justifiable self-defence. If then the precept of the Apostle were under
stood as a universal prohibition of retaliation in every case, it is clear that the foundations of civil society would be broken up, cruelty and injustice could never be punished, and our religion would abandon its followers an unresisting prey to the most vicious and profligate of mankind.
That the Apostle did not intend that this precept should be understood in such a sense, is evident from a clause in the next verse; “ If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, live peaceably with all men." It is here clearly implied, that after a man has done all that is possible, as much as lies in him, it may sometimes be impossible to live at peace with all his fellow men.
But although the precept, when taken as a maxim of conduct, is to be received with some exceptions, when understood as descriptive of the character and disposition of a christian under the reception of injuries, it is universally and absolutely true. Such, we admit, is the condition of human life, that cases must occur, when even the laws of benevolence will require us to make the injurious man suffer for his injustice. But there is no case conceivable, even in imagination, in which we may be allowed to retaliate evil for the sake of evil; to inflict pain, with the simple intention of giving pain; in one word, with a spirit of revenge.
As it is impossible to deny that there are cases, in which retaliation is necessary for the mainte
nance of our just rights, and therefore justifiable, it will be the object of the present discourse to state some principles, which may assist us in determining when those cases exist; and to say something of the kind of retaliation which we may use, and the temper in which it should be exercised.
I. With regard to those cases of injury in which retaliation is justifiable, we remark first, that the injury must appear to be intentional ; secondly, that it must be of some real magnitude ; and thirdly, that it must be of a kind which retaliation can remedy, either by causing reparation to be made, or by preventing a repetition of the offence to ourselves or others. All the conditions of this rule must, I conceive, be satisfied, in order to make
any case of retaliation justifiable. I shall endeavour to illustrate each in its order.
1. We may say that an injury, which justifies retaliation, must be proved to be intentional—to have been done with an injurious design. This is a limitation of great importance, and if it were observed, would extinguish at once more than half the animosities of mankind. 6 Without knowing particulars, I take upon me,” says Butler, “ to assure all persons, who think they have received indignities or injurious treatment, that they may depend upon it as in a manner certain, that the offence is not so great as they themselves imagine.” We must remember our great liability to error, when we are judges in our own cause.
It is diffi
cult for a man of the strictest justice not to favour himself too much, in the calmest moments of solitary meditation; how much more then, when his passions are agitated by a sense of wrong, and his attention is engrossed by pain, interest, or danger. It is not enough that we know that we suffer by the conduct of another; it must be clear that he designedly or willingly makes us suffer. We are bound to inquire too, how much his fault is extenuated by mistake, • inadvertence or pardonable negligence. We must take care not to charge to design, what was the effect of accident. In the case of injuries done to ourselves we are in so peculiar a situation, that it is almost as difficult to see them as they really are, as for the eye to see itself. Self-love is in these cases a medium of a very singular kind.
It magnifies every thing which is amiss in others, while at the same time it lessens every thing amiss in ourselves. This seems to point us to the propriety of submitting our cause to the judgment of others, whose passions are cool, whose reason is unprejudiced, and above all, who are not interested to flatter us.
When we have done all this; when we have made every allowance for inadvertence and misunderstanding, for the partialities of self-love, and the false lights in which every thing is placed by anger; when we have collected the most ample evidence, and subjected our cause to unprejudiced revision; then, perhaps some of you