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who are referred to in the text; and again in the next chapter, where Hosea exclaims,“ O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood, the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.” I call it a specimen of their character, for it would be contrary to all history and analogy, to suppose that this occurrence was a sudden outbreak of crime in a community that had until that period been moral and peaceful. Fully set in them to do evil as the hearts of men are, their passions do not venture to burst through the restraints of decent concealment until they have reason to know that the moral sense of the community will overlook or endure their crimes. The history in fact shows this to have been the case in Gibeah ; and the prophet speaks of the “deep corruption" of those days, as if it were characteristic of the people, whom he calls “the children of iniquity.” Their infamy had reached to the time of Hosea, a period of at least six hundred and fifty years from the occurrences which have been related ; it has come to our knowledge twenty-six hundred years later; it is part of the record which is given by inspiration of God, for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, and therefore it behoves us to revive and apply its lessons for our own benefit. The times in which we live seem to make this example peculiarly appropriate, and I shall therefore occupy the reinainder of this discourse in an attempt to secure this advantage.
I. It presents a general warning in reference to the corruption of public morals.
We can imagine what must have been the state of morals in Gibeah-a city of sufficient size to furnish seven hundred chosen men of war-when the dwelling of a citizen could be beset by a licentious mob with all the tumult of a riot, and the ruffians allowed to accomplish their purposes without a hand raised to punish them, or defend the helpless strangers. This is partly to be attributed to the absence of any civil authority; for, says the historian, “ in those days there was no king in Israel ; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”—(Judges 21 : 25.) But had not the public mind been dead to the commonest sentiment of hospitality, honor and virtue, such an outrage could not have been plotted, or been suffered to be perpetrated through several hours of disorder, closing in murder.
All that is wanting in any community to open the gates of vice, is to withhold the penalty of justice from offenders, and to relax the restraints of a pure public sentiment. Let intemperance,
for instance, be connived at by the laws, let drunkenness be made a matter of sport, let the opportunities and means of intoxication be multiplied by legislators, or the public functionaries, and let the public themselves esteem intemperate habits as no disqualification for stations of trust and honor, or for the alliances of life-and nothing more is wanting to secure the triumph of this corruption.
The same thing is true of all other forms of licentiousnesseven of that which has given infamy to the name of Gibeah. We need not expunge the seventh commandment from the decalogue in order to give a license to these transgressions. Satan has more art than to suggest such a measure. But let the moral sense of the public allow, under the name of fashion or custom, manners from which even the modesty of nature would shrink'; let our dwellings be open to receive publications which minister to an impure curiosity, pollute the mind, and accustom it to criminal recitals; let our children find this kind of entertainment in the newspapers we read and the books we buy; let us be careless as to the associates whom we encourage for ourselves or those within our control ; and when great crimes occur let us treat the parties to them as heroes and heroines, attributing their vices to imprudence, or even to their very innocence-by such means as these the corruption of the public morals is sooner secured than if a reward were offered for vice.
If we in this country, -we who live in the large cities or on the great thoroughfares which make accessible to us all the sources of corruption, domestic and foreign, which our large cities attract-if we are in any such danger, let us take timely warning by examples like that of Gibeah. Who shall set bounds to the growth of corruption when it is once suffered to take root ? How easy is prevention ! how hard is reformation! The authors of the crime recorded in the history before us are called “Sons of Belial.” The race is not extinct; and the imagination of Milton, in depicting the fiend himself, has struck upon some of the most characteristic marks of these corrupters of society :
“A fairer person lost not Heav'n; he seem'd
Timorous and slothful; yet he pleased the ear." II. The example of Gibeah shows that a corrupt state of morals is adapted to produce the most flagrant crimes.
The prevailing licentiousness was not satisfied with the secret pursuit of its objects. When the general standard of morality discountenances corrupt manners, the wicked adopt obscure and silent means of accomplishing their ends. Darkness and secrecy veil their habits from observation. But when, as in Gibeah, vice has become to some extent common, and fears no disgrace, it will become bold, both in its excesses and in its publicity. The history of the world is full of similar examples. We need not go far back, or far off, to find proof that this is the natural course of all sin. Licentiousness, assassination and suicide still hold intimate fellowship. A relaxation of moral principle cannot be confined to one particular. When the fear of God is thrown off as to one indulgence, what motive is left strong enough to restrain the corrupt heart from other crimes to which it is tempted. The bonds of religion and of society are rotted by such corruption, and can no longer serve either for union or restraint. Let the principles of common integrity, for example, become relaxed; let men adopt the idea that there is no obligation as to their contracts and debts, if their responsibility can be evaded by legal forms; let this' idea be adopted by governments, and the contracts of a commonwealth be annulled by statute, and its creditors defrauded by law, and a blow is struck at the very foundation of right and honesty, the result of which will soon be perceived in the general imbecility of moral principle in the community which sanctions or abides by such laws. Who can contemplate without amazement and shame the state of morals in our own country in this respect, compared with what it was before the late financial revolution disclosed the corruption that had been secretly spreading throughout our whole community? And who is not conscious that the discovery has tended to encourage the evil, and blunt our sensibili. ties to its enormity ?
III. The case of Gibeah furnishes a forcible illustration of the danger of giving any manner of countenance to iniquity.
The Benjamites, though the crime at Gibeah was so notorious, took no steps to punish the transgressors. When the other tribes appealed to Benjamin, and asked, as by the polity and customs of the nation they had a right to do, that the offenders should be delivered to them for punishment, they refused; and not only refused either to bring them to punishment themselves or to yield them up as public criminals, but immediately took measures to oppose the army of the nation by force. Thus they avowed the cause of the authors of the iniquity, and practically sanctioned their conduct. Thus they afford another exemplification of the extent to which moral corruption will carry a community. First, the citizens of Gibeah allow the violence and riot to proceed throughout a whole night unchecked; then the crime is passed by with impunity; and finally the whole tribe to which Gibeah belonged espouse the part of the murderers, and commence a civil war for their protection.
The first step was wrong, and therefore all that followed was wrong. The admonition which we ought to receive is of the sin and danger of allowing protection to any iniquity. Communities may furnish this protection, not only by openly espousing the cause of the violators of law, and forcibly rescuing them from punishment, but also by approving their course, exciting a clamor in their behalf, and expressing such a sympathy for the criminal as absorbs the regard due to justice and to the whole interests of the community; and above all, due to the holiness of God and His condemnation of all sin.
Civil society is founded for the protection of all its members. The administration of justice is consigned by common consent to the public tribunals; and the laws which these tribunals administer are those which the society has adopted as their compact and bond of union. Now this bond is as nothing unless the community which have thus associated themselves, submit to the dominion of their own laws, and sustain their impartial execution, so long as they remain their laws. They may change them in a constitutional manner; but so long as they exist every member of the body politic is under the most sacred obligations to obey and uphold them. They are the laws-not of the judges and juries and the executive--but the laws of the people, and these others are but their servants to apply them. He therefore cannot be a faithful citizen who attempts either to violate the law himself, or to prevent its just administration towards others.
The laws under which we live are so humane that no exception from this principle is admissible on the ground that the circumstances of a crime often demand the exercise of mercy. This may be true.
But the laws provide for such cases; and even mercy should be granted legally, and not demanded or compelled by violence. The trial by jury, the gradation of punishment, the prerogative of pardon vested in the Executive, are the legal provision for the adjudication of the penalty of transgressions. If it is an outrage on all law and authority for individuals to redress their own wrongs, or those of the public, by violence, without the trial of the criminal, it is no less an offence to screen a criminal from the operation of the law, or to rejoice in his escape.
We are guilty of encouraging iniquity when we justify crimes on the ground of the temptations and provocations which led to them. No good law allows such grounds of justification ; though they may be admitted to qualify the heinousness of the offence. The desperation of hunger may drive a man to robbery. The law will not hold him guiltless on this account; but it will mitigate his punishment, and vindicate its own purity, even if by no more than a nominal infliction. So the heat of passion may impel a man to take the life of another without previous deliberation. But though this characteristic of his offence may exempt him from the fate of the wilful murderer, it requires the severe punishment of the homicide in another form. For law is established on the very ground that the injuries which men may receive are not to be avenged by their own hands, but by the calm and just adjudication of the laws which they themselves framed or have voluntarily submitted to. If, therefore a man is injured, in person or property or reputation, he may not retaliate, or use violence to recover his rights, or redress his injuries, but he must seek his rights or redress in the way which he solemnly agreed to employ when he entered into the social compact; and if it should happen that the law is defective in the particular point of his wrong, he must abide the consequences of the oversight-he is bound to abstain from any private force to obtain his end. Once admit the principle that temptations or provocations, however great and extraordinary, authorize a man to avenge his own wrongs, and we take away the corner-stone of justice and of civilization; we dissolve the compact, and put the community into the disorganized condition of savage life, where every man is his own judge, and the only law is that of force.
If we should admit such a principle, where could we draw the line between what is criminal and what is justifiable? What great crimes are ever committed without temptation or provocation? Revenge, covetousness, jealousy, and lust, are the sources of nearly all the enormous crimes which bring men to the gibbet or the prison. But are not all these founded in the strongest influences of temptation and provocation? How shall we distinguish between the degrees of strength with which these dispositions impel a man to sin? How can we feel safe in determining that the passion which urged one man to commit an enormous crime was not so strong or so natural as that which impelled another to avenge it!
No! we may sympathize with the injured, and have our indgination aroused against the wrong-doer ; but we must say to the sufferer— Your hand is not the proper instrument to redress the wrong; the sin of another against you will not justify your sin against him, against the law of the land, and against God; and if as a Christian you will not forgive, and if as a good citizen you feel obliged to bring the offender to justice, you should take those steps which the laws prescribe for your guidance. We must sympathize with the laws, and with our families and society at large, which depend on their protection, as well as with the injured party. The Benjamites had great sympathy for the murderers whom justice demanded, but they had none for the man whose wife had been savagely destroyed, nor for the aged citizen who had showed them hospitality, and participated in their injuries.
It is to the withholding of public justice that we may in part attribute the growing disposition to seek revenge without invoking the arm of justice. Let the penalties of law be withheld, and the temptation to acts of private retaliation become greatly increased. Had not the Levite placed so much confidence in his nation, he might naturally have preferred to become the incendiary of Gibeah,