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ment; that they see but a few scattered fragments of the vast scheme of Providence; that creatures themselves ignorant, weak and criminal, must be much disqualified to “hold the balance and the rod;” that every transgression of the divine law merits death; that “fools” only “make a mock at sin.” Let the whole earth tremble before Him “who will by no means clear the guilty:” who has denounced “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish against every soul of man that doeth evil,” while to the humble and contrite in heart, he proclaims his name, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin,” Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them who hate him; but showing mercy to thousands of them that love him and keep his commandments,” Exod. xx. 5, 6. —In the leader and commander of Israel behold, once more, a man exalted far above all temporary, all selfish concern; occupied only with the interest of truth and justice, the duties of his station, the prosperity of his charge, the glory of Him who had conferred it upon him. In this last object his whole soul is absorbed. He walks already on air, and beholds the world under his feet; but forgets not that he is yet in it, and that in every state, and at every period of existence, a rational being may promote, and ought to be studying how he may best promote, the honour of his Creator, by administering justice, or extending mercy to his fellow-creatures. Consider him well; and, in your sphere, with the means and ability you enjoy, go and do likewise—and God grant us all wisdom to know and do what is well-pleasing in his sight.
Mnd the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan, into the land of Canaan, then ye shall appoint you cities, to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killethany person at unawares. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, antil he stand before the congregation in judgment. ...And of these cities which ye shall give, siac cities shall ge have for refuge. Ye shall ; three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge. These sia: eities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person una. wares may flee thither.—NUM. xxxv. 9–15.
HUMAN laws are generally the result of expe. rience, not the provision of foresight. Occasion dictates the encouragement to be given, the restraint to be imposed, the punishment to be inflicted. The multiplication of new and extraordinary cases, must of course swell the statute book; through change of circumstances some institutes must sink into disuse and oblivion, and others rise into existence and force. Hence the variety, the opposition, the contradiction of
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different codes of law, not only in different countries, but in the same country at different periods. I here are, at the same time, certain general and fixed principles of law applicable to every state of society; which, founded in eternal, unchangeable truth and justice, are in perpetual force, and of universal obligation. Divested of every thing arbitrary, local and temporary, they address themselves to the understanding and conscience of every man, and irresistibly carry conviction with them. The genius, character and progress of any people, a sagacious observer will be able to trace, with tolerable accuracy, in their 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 whither liberty or despotism, moderation or tyranny is predominant. But the constitution of the commonwealth of Israel possesses distinctive features. It was formed by divine Wisdom 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, with
out 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 vengence, 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 offence, 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 sheddeth 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 eities to six, for the whole 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 exclaimed, “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