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legislation, in their institutions, political and religious ; for those of a moral tendency never vary. It is easy to discern in the spirit of the laws, what is the spirit of the nation ; to discern whether liberty or despotism, moderation or tyranny is predominant.
But the constitution of the commonwealth of Israel possesses distinctive features. It was formed by Divine Wisdoin long before it had a local residence wherein to act. The laws by which Canaan was to be governed, were enacted in the wilderness. Prescience made provision for cases which could not as yet have arisen. Republican equality was blended with absolute, unlimited theocracy; a liberty and a sovereignty established in perfect harmony, and yet both to their utmost extent. The Levitical part of the constitution was adapted to this state of things. The priesthood, in respect of property and possession, was reduced below the level of their brethren ; while by their office and employments, the homage paid and the provision made for them, they were raised above their fellows. They were appointed to minister at the altar of God; and it was his will, and it was reasonable, that they should live by it.
One of the last public services in which Moses was employed, is the settlement of this branch of the political economy-the establishment of religion, without which no state can long exist; and the appointment of a moderate, but certain and steady provision for its ministers.
Forty and eight cities, in all, with their suburbs, and an extent of territory around every one, not exceeding two thousand cubits, in all directions, were to be set apart for the tribe of Levi, and distributed by lot. As the lot was specially ordered by Divine Providence, the dispersion of this tribe over the whole land, there is good reason to believe, God in wisdom overruled favourably to the exercise of their sacred function. Of their other privileges and immunities, we are not now led to treat. The words we have read limit our attention to an institution, in many respects singular, and unexampled in the history of mankind-the appointment of six of the Levitical cities as places of refuge for the unintentional, and therefore less criminal manslayer. Respecting this institution, and its reason and design, the following particulars recommend themselves to our notice.
The provision here made refers to a case of singular importance to society; on which indeed the very being of society depends the security of human life against violence. To take away the life of another is the most atrocious offence which man can commit against man. The laws of every well-regulated community have accordingly marked it as the object of just vengeance, saying, in the language of the supreme Legislator, “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." But into the commission of this of fence, as of every other, circumstances of aggravation or alleviation may enter; and every wise legislator will take these into consideration; adapting the degree of punishment to the degree of criminality, distinguishing the action, as connected with, or separated from the intention. To the wilful and deliberate murderer no place was to serve as a sanctuary; to him the altar itself was to afford no protection. But a man may deprive his neighbour of life without incurring the guilt of murder ; and it must be imputed to him as a calamity, not a crime. To meet such a case, the provision in question was made ; and a refuge was provided for both the citizen and the stranger who might “ unawares," without malice or intention, occasion the death of another.
This refuge, however, was not wholly unrestricted, but subject to a variety of regulations, all calculated powerfully to impress on the minds of the people, an awful sense of the value put on the life of man by the great Legislator : and to serve as a caution not only against deliberate violence, but even against carelessness and inattention, where the life of another was concerned. Blood lies heavily, as it ought, on the head of him who sheddetin it, however innocently ; and the consciousness of it will ever be felt as a severe punishment by a sensible heart, though no judge arise to avenge it. But punishment to a certain degree was inflicted on the manslayer, by the very statute which appointed the refuge; and to the uneasy reflections arising from having been the unwilling instrument of a man's death, were superadded alarming apprehensions and painful restraints.
The first regulation limited the number of these cities to six, for the wbole commonwealth of Israel. Hence, an escape to a place of refuge must, in many instances, have been effected through much danger, exertion and labour; and the unhappy fugitive must frequently have felt all the bitterness of death in his solicitude to flee from it. Thus, while the finger of mercy pointed to the strong hold of safety, the voice of justice exclaiined, “ Flee for thy life, look not behind thee, lest thou perish; behold the avenger of blood is at thy heels."
But that the danger, and the anxiety resulting from it, might be diminished as far as the limited number of the cities would admit, it was determined by the lot that these should be dispersed at the most commodious distances, over the country; and it was expressly provided that three of them should be on each side the Jordan, in order to facilitate and secure escape at the seasons when that river overflowed its banks, and rendered a passage tedious, difficult or impracticable. In the same view, it has been affirmed, and seems probable, that the roads which led to these cities were formed and maintained at the public expense, and that their breadth was very considerable : that every obstruction was removed out of the way, bridges were thrown over interposing streams, and when roads happened to cross or separate, an index, inscribed with the word Refuge, pointed out the right course. And thus an institution humane in its design, was rendered more so, by the manner in which it was observed.
But again--the city was, in the first instance, to serve only as a temporary refuge, and afforded shelter only till inquiry was made into the fact, and judgement was solemnly given between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, upon evidence adduced. If criminal intention was proved, there was no remedy, blood demanded blood, the prisoner must be delivered up to the hands of justice. If otherwise, public protection was granted, and he was restored to his refuge. The ordinance having it in view not to prevent and suppress the truth, but to bring it openly and fully to light.
The innocence of the prosecuted party having been made clearly to appear, he was restored indeed to his refuge, but it became, at the same time, his prison. Exiled from his native possession, and from all that rendered it dear; doomed to live among strangers, to subsist on their bounty, perhaps to feel their unkindness or neglect, he must drag out a comfortless existence, to an unknown, uncertain period : or stir abroad under constant apprehension and hazard of his life. And confinement is still confinement, though in a place of safety, a city of refuge: and ignorance and uncertainty respecting the termination of our misery, are bitter ingredients in the cup of affliction. " It may outlast life,” sad thought! “ or consume the best and most valuable portion of my days. Unhappy that I am, to have introduced mourning into my neighbour's family, and desolated my own. Though I feel not the pangs of remorse, my heart is torn with those of regret; and blood, though shed without a crime, is a burden too heavy for me to bear.”
The last regulation on record respecting this subject, was a permission to the hapless manslayer to “return into the land of his possession," on the death of the high priest. The reason of this ordinance does not appear; but it contains a circumstance very affecting to the prisoner himself, and affecting
to all Israel. His release from confinement could be purchased only by death, the death of another; and that not of an ordinary citizen, but of the most dignified and respectable character in the republic. The weight of blood innocently shed, was at length to be removed ; but how ? Not by the demise of him who shed it, but of “the high priest which should be in those days." And may we not suppose a refugee of sensibility looking forward to this event with the mixed emotions of hope and sorrow? The very cause of his enlargement makes it to partake of the nature of a punishment. He dare harda ly wish for liberty, for it involved guilt deeper than what already lay upon his head ; deliberate devising the death of his neighbour, and taking pleasure in it.
Now, if guiltless homicide subjected the perpetrator of it to such accumulated danger, anxiety and distress, how atrocious in the sight of God must wilful murder be? And how sacred, in the sight of man, ought to be the life of his brother, and every thing relating to its preservation and comfort; his health, his peace, his reputation ? To attack him in any of these respects, is to level a blow at his head, or, where he feels more sensibly still, at his heart.
Let us review this last of the Mosaic institutions, and mark its reference to a clearer and more explicit dispensation : for it is too evidently “a shadow of good things to come.”
-The flying “ manslayer" is an affecting representation of what every man is by nature and by wicked works; an unhappy creature, who has of fended against his brother, violated the laws of society, broken his own peace of mind, and trampled on the divine authority, not only accidentally and unintentionally, but deliberately, presumptuously. His conscience, “like the troubled sea," cannot rest. What he feels is dreadful, what he fears is infinitely worse. With trembling Cain, he apprehends that every one who meeteth him will slay him; his multiplied crimes cry out of the ground for vengeance upon his head-while eternal, inflexible justice, like “ the avenger of blood," pursues him to the death. To flee from, or endure the wrath of an offended God, is equally impossible. All nature is up in arms against him; he is become a terror to himself ; the king of terrors aims his fatal dart, and hell follows after.
-The " refuge” provided by this statute for the unhappy man who had destroyed his brother, and troubled his own soul, prefigures the remedy prescribed by infinite wisdom for the recovery of a lost, perishing world—that dispensation of Divine Providence in which “ mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Fear not, guilty creature, there is hope concerning thee: thou shalt not die. The God whom thou hast offended, even he, “ hath found out a ransom ;" he hath “Jaid help on One who is mighty to save, even to the uttermost, them who come unto God through him." Cease from the anxious inquiry, “ Who shall ascend into heaven, to bring Christ down from above? Who shall descend into the deep, to bring up Christ again from the dead ?” “ The word is nigh thee,” and in this word the Lord “brings near his righteousness;" and his salvation. The name of Jehovah is as a strong tower, whoso runneth into it is safe. Prophets, apostles, evangelists, with one accord, point to the sanctuary, saying, “ This is the way, walk ye in it.” “Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope.” Here is “an highway"_" the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." The Saviour himself proclaims, “ Look to me, and be saved." " Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out."
-The very act of flying from " the avenger of blood," argued a consciousness of criminality, and an apprehension of danger; and the course directed to a city of refuge, indicated a knowledge of its appointment, and of the pripom
ileges pertaining to it. In this we behold the character of the convinced, peniteot sinner, condemned of his own conscience, stripped of every plea of self-righteousness, alarmed with the terrors of “the wrath to come,” encouraged by the declarations of the mercy of God in Christ, apprehending "salvation in no other,” perceiving no way to escape but this, he flees " for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before him," even to “ Him who is mighty to save;" to that “ blood which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel ;" to "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world :" saying, in the words of the psalmist, “ O Lord, thou art my refuge ; return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.” “In Jehovah alone have I righteousness and strength ; " " he also is become my salvation."
The safety of the manslayer depended, not on having arrived at, but on remaining in the city of his refuge." To leave it prematurely was as fatal as to be overtaken on the way that led to it. The grace of the gospel, in like manner, is extended, not to him who, convinced of sin, and trembling with apprehension of judgement to come, has fled for refuge, to the great Propitiation for sin, but to him who abideth in Christ. As there is a “ believing to the saving of the soul ; so there is a " drawing back unto perdition :" aud “Do man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Hence the solemn injunction and warning of Christ himself, " Abide in me, and I in you-if a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered : and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." "He that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved." The great Apostle and High Priest of our profession lives forever ; there is therefore “no more going out." "In returning and rest shall we be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength."
-The sanctuary provided and opened, equally for the distressed Israelite and “ the stranger," is a happy prefiguration of the indiscriminating mercy, the unlimited extension of the gospel salvation. “In Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us." He “ came and preached peace to you which were far off, and to them which were nigh; and through him, we both have an access by one Spirit unto the Father.” The gospel of Christ is “ the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." It announces “ glory, honour and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." "For there is no respect of persons with God.” Blessed dispensation, which hath abolished all invidious distinctions ! " where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision por uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all, and in all !" Who art thou then, O man, who “ judgest thy brother ? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother ?" He is a man like thyself, a criminal as thou art; for him also Christ died, and for his admission, as for thine, the door of mercy stands open, the city of refuge strengthens its walls, expands its gates.
I conclude with suggesting a few hints, which will serve to evince the glorious superiority of the object prefigured, over the figure ; of “the very image of the things," above “ the shadow of good things to come." The institition under review was a provision for one particular species of offence and distress, and for a case which could occur but in rarer instances. Indeed the whole history of Israel furnishes not a single one. But the provisions of the “ better covenant-established upon better promises,” extend to every species, and to every instance of guilt and misery. They are made not only for the heedless and the unfortunate, the weak and the helpless, but for the stouthearted and presumptuous, for deliberate offenders and backsliding children, for the very chief of sinners. Whatever, O man, be thy peculiar "weight, and the sin that doth more easily beset thee;" whatever “the plague of thine heart," or the error of thy life, behold " help laid for thee on One mighty to save.” “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." Hear, and accept his kind invitation, “ Come to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Look to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” “ Him that cometh I will in no wise cast out.” The cities of Israel served as a temporary reprieve from a sentence of death, which, though the hand of the " avenger" was restrained, the hand of nature was speedily to execute. The manslayer might be overtaken by it, in the very city of his refuge. But the believer's security under the gospel never fails, never terminates. He is “ passed from death unto life;" he “ shall never perish.” “ There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." * Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that jus. tifieth: who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again.” “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand; my Father which gave them me is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” Under the law, the death of the high priest, the final era of release to the manslayer, was an event entirely casual, often distant, always uncertain. Under the gospel, that death, which is the sinner's deliverance, the soul's ransom, is an event forever present, perpetually producirg its effect. Christ, " by one offering, hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." " This man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.”
“ We ought, therefore, to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we let them slip.” For if the intentional murderer was to be dragged from God's altar, to suffer the punishment of his crime; and if the manslayer, who despised and neglected his refuge, fell a just sacrifice to the resentment of “the avenger of blood," and to his own presumption and neglect of the merciful ordinance of God; " how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?” “He that despised Moses's law died without mercy, under two or three witnesses : of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace ?” “For if we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgement, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."* " Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”+ “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” I “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings; behold we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God. Truly in vain is salvation looked for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains : truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.”
* Heb. x, 28, 29, 26, 27, 31.
+ Isai. Iv. 6, 7.
? Cor. vi. 2.
Jer. č. 22, 28.