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If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
YOU may remember that the second particular laid down for the prosecution of these words, was to assign the measures and proportions by which the duty of living peaceably was to be determined: which I shewed were contained within the bounds of lawful.
In my inquiries into which, I undertook the resolution of several cases. As, concerning the lawfulness of war; of keeping or breaking the peace with the magistrate; as also of duels. All which I have already finished; so that there remain only two more to be discussed. One of which is,
Whether it be lawful to repel force by force, so as to kill another in one’s own defence?
The matter of which question is very different from that about duels. For a duel is a fight freely and voluntarily undertook by the offer of one party, and the acceptance of the other. But this is a sudden, a violent, and unforeseen assault, in respect of him that is assaulted: who thereupon enters not into combat upon any precedent choice or deliberate appointment; but upon the sudden alarms of force and necessity, and the compulsions of an extreme danger.65
In which condition we are to suppose the man cut off from all possibility of flying, shut up from all succour by a rescue, or remedy by the law; but drove into those straits, both of place, time, and all other circumstances, that all evasion is rendered desperate and impossible, but through the blood of his adversary.
In this case I affirm it to be lawful for a man to save himself by destroying his enemy, and that upon these two reasons.
1. The first taken from that which we have already insisted upon; the great natural right of self-preservation: which right is as full in particular persons as in public bodies. It is the very firstborn of all the rudiments of nature; and the very ground and reason of its actions; not instilled by precept, but suggested by instinct. A man is no more instructed to this, than he is to be an hungry or thirsty, when nature wants its due refection. And that as to this particular the rights of nature are not abridged by Christian religion, will appear from the
Second argument, taken from that place where Christ commands his disciples to provide themselves swords: but to have allowed them the instruments of defence, and at the same time to have forbid the use of them as unlawful, had been highly irrational. I suppose Christ did not command those poor fishermen to wear swords for ornament only, as men do nowadays; but that he might countenance them in the management of their own preservation, amidst those many unjust violences and assaults, that were likely enough to attend men odious to the world for the promulgation of severe truths.66
Add to this the suffrage of the civil law, where the code in the Cornelian law de Sicariis utters itself thus: Is qui aggressorem vel quemcunque alium in dubio vitae discrimine constitutus occiderit, nullam ob id factum calumniam metuere debet. And further, in the Aquilian law, to the same purpose: Vim vi repellere omnes leges omniaque jura permittunt.
So that we have seen the verdict of nature, of Christ, and of the civil law, in the present case; and he whom these absolve is a just and an innocent person, whatsoever other law may condemn him.
Yet since nature, in the present corruption of mankind, is weak and dark, and so apt to misjudge of the necessity of self-defence; oftentimes making that to be so, which indeed is nothing else but an unnecessary fear or a sinful revenge; it being a very easy thing to clothe an unlawful action or design with a lawful name: therefore it concerns us so to assert the privilege, as to take off the danger; and this will be done by stating it under its due limitations.
In order to which, I shall endeavour to clear these three inquiries.
1st, What are those things, for the necessary defence of which it may be lawful to kill the unjust invader?
2dly, What are the conditions required to render that defence lawful?
3dly, Who are the persons against whom we may justly manage such a defence?
And first for the things that may be thus defended.
1. The first is life; the eminent and certain 67danger of which does lawfully unsheath every man’s sword in the defence of it. For where it is lawful to live, it is lawful to do all those things without which life cannot be preserved. Life is a purchase to be rated at the loss of all things else. He that loses it, loses all the world with it, and every thing dies, as to the fruition of the dying man. There is no reparation to be made for it, either in kind or any thing else, as in some degree it may be done in all other losses. For he that loses his friend or his honour may be repaid with an estate, though not to an equality of compensation. But a lost life can be repaid with no enjoyment, since it is the foundation of all other enjoyments; and no man enjoys any thing but the living.
For can we think that a pompous burial or a fine tomb will make the dead any amends, or to have a few mournful words spoken of him for fashion-sake, as, that he was an excellent person, and that it was a loss to the public that he should be snatched away by such a disaster; which words, being dead, he cannot hear; and if alive, perhaps would not much regard.
But all this while the man continues the portion of worms and rottenness, and the great injury of death maintains its full effect upon him. All after-honours and commemorations being but like the serving up of a banquet to a grave, or like the ceremony of courtship and compliment to the cold flints and the insensible rocks.
2. When a man is in imminent danger of the mutilation of a leg or an arm, or the like, it is lawful to prevent the loss of either by the death of the assailant. For who knows but the loss of a part 68may bring the destruction of the whole. Where the danger is indefinite, there the utmost and the greatest is to be feared, and proportion ably to be provided against.
The man perhaps in the issue of the conflict may lose but a finger, but thereupon his hand may gangrene, and then his arm, and from thence the mischief reach his heart: or he may receive but a blow only, which blow may sow the seeds of death in his body, in an imposthume, which shall grow and prevail, and at length break, and bear him to his grave. In which case there is no doubt but the man is murdered, though it be ten years before he dies, as truly as if he had breathed his last the very next minute. For he murders a man, who gives him a hurt, upon which death certainly and irrecoverably follows, whatsoever the time of it chance to be. The cause may have its effect, be the distance of time or place what it will, so long as it reaches it by the connection of a certain influence. And he that pulls one end of the chain, moves the remotest link of it as surely, as if he did it by an immediate touch.
But suppose that death should not follow upon the loss of a limb, and moreover (which is yet impossible) that the assaulted person knew so much, yet nature no less dictates the preservation of every part; it being as natural to a man to be entire and perfect, as to be, and to have all his limbs, as any one of them. Besides that it is often worse than death itself to live with the deformities and pains of a shattered, mangled body; as a burden to one’s self, and a contempt to others. From which miseries there are few, but, were it in their power, 69 would ransom themselves with the price of the world; and of their blood too, did not the awe of God and the terrors of another death keep them from breaking the uncomfortable prison of such a body, to pass to an eternal execution.
3. When a person’s chastity is invaded by force, it is granted on all hands to be lawful to kill the person that invades it. For this is as irreparable as life itself; it is lost but once, and if it should come in competition with life, it would be judged more valuable. Upon which ground, Tamar, had she had strength and courage enough, might have saved her brother Absalom the labour of killing Amnon, and prevented an unjust revenge by a just defence.
To lose one’s life is indeed a misery, but it is no dishonour; but the ravished person is dishonoured, her glory stained, and the lustre of that reputation by which she lives and stands accepted in the world, is blasted for ever.
I know no parent, who deserves to be a parent, who had not rather see a child dead, than defloured. Virginius rescued his daughter from the lust and violence of Appius Clodius the decemvir, by stabbing her dead with his own hand. I am not concerned to warrant his action; but surely it argues the value that the very heathen put upon their chastity, when the very design against it was thought fit to be prevented by the death of the innocent, and to be revenged upon the nocent, even to the subversion of a government.
4. In the fourth place, as for the preservation of estate or goods, the case admits of some more doubt. And there are opinions both for the affirmative and the negative.70
Those who hold the negative argue,
First, From the law of Moses, which, in Exodus xxii. 2, 3, distinguishes the case of a thief robbing by day and by night, allowing it for lawful to kill him, if he makes an invasion in the night; whereas if he is killed in the day, the same law avouches the man that killed him guilty of murder.
Of which difference, these two reasons are alleged.
(1.) Because it cannot be distinguished in the night, whether he comes barely to steal or to murder also; and therefore it is lawful to kill him, not considered merely as a thief, but upon just suspicion that he might come as a murderer.
(2.) Because goods taken away in the night leave the person robbed destitute of all means by which to discover the robber, and consequently of all legal means by which to recover what he had lost.
Ans. This is true, and upon the strength of this very ground I answer this argument brought from the Mosaic law, by affirming, that howsoever the letter runs, yet the design of that law was not to make every killing of a thief in the day-time murder, but that usually and ordinarily it was to be accounted so. For since the law makes it lawful to kill a thief in the night, because at that time all people being usually disposed to their rest, it supposes that there are no witnesses present, by whose means the injured man might have right against him at law: but unlawful to kill him in the day, because then it supposes that there may be witnesses, as for the most part there are. Yet since sometimes it so falls out, that there neither are nor can be any; it will follow, by analogy of reason, that a man under such circumstances is permitted to deal 71with a thief as in the night; since the very cause for which he was permitted to do it then, does equally take place now.
(2.) In the second place, some argue against the lawfulness of killing a robber for the preservation of our goods, from the tenor of the gospel, and the design of Christian religion; which bids the professors of it despise and trample upon these temporal things, and therefore certainly permits them not to prevent the loss of them with the blood of any one who should presume to take them. To this I answer, that the gospel commands us only to despise these things comparatively, in reference to spiritual and eternal felicities. Otherwise if the words be understood absolutely, it could not be lawful for us so much as to defend our lives; since some texts in the letter of them command us no less to despise these, than those other enjoyments.
I conclude therefore for the affirmative, that it is lawful for a man to defend his estate and goods against an unjust force, even with the death of him who offers that force, if they cannot be retained and possessed otherwise.
The reason is, because they are the means and support of life, and therefore are to be reckoned in the same account with life itself. If one should say, that it were lawful for a man to knock him on the head, that should offer to batter down his house to the ground before his face; but that he was by no means to touch him, in case he only took away the chief pillar, upon which the house leaned; notwithstanding that upon the removal of that pillar it must fall as unavoidably as if it were pulled down: surely such a distinction were grossly absurd and ridiculous.72
The case is the same here. Neither does that reply take off the argument, that a man may live though his estate be lost, as by labour, charity, or the getting of another. For this is accidental, and it may fall out otherwise. And every man is to look upon what he possesses as his only subsistence; since he is not certain, upon the loss of it, to have any other: nay, he is certain that at the present he has none; nor is like to have any for the future, unless some accident or opportunity of a livelihood offers itself, which he is not to suppose or build upon, it being wholly uncertain and contingent; especially, so as to take him off from his dependence upon that which is certain and present.
Should a man put his whole estate into a jewel; either for concealment of his estate, as being otherwise in danger, or for some other advantage or convenience; and should be set upon for it by a thief upon the road, so that, all hope of rescue being out of the way, there remained no other means to preserve it but by killing the robber upon the place; I must confess, I can see no solid reason, why he might not do justice upon him, and right to himself, by sending him out of the world, with his blood upon his own head. If any excellent and pious persons have chose to do otherwise, the thief was beholden to them; and they have only quitted their own right, which lays no injunction at all upon others to quit theirs.
For if a man sets upon me in the highway to kill me, all grant that I may in my own defence kill him; but if he would only take my money, that, it seems, I must relinquish by any means rather than take his life. But let the reason of the difference be assigned. 73If I ask, what makes it lawful for me to kill him in the former case? it will be answered surely, to preserve my life. But I reply, Is not my life as much destroyed if I am starved, as if I am stabbed? And when my money is once gone, I am sure I may be starved, and none can assure me that I shall not. For am I certain that I shall find a bag of money or a table spread in the road, or that people will be so charitable, as upon free cost to keep me from hunger and cold? which annoyances, unless they will do so, must as surely despatch me, as either a rapier thrust into my bowels, or a bullet sent to my heart.
Neither is that further exception of any moment, that there is no proportion in point of value between the loss of money and the loss of a life. For in the present case my money, compared to my enemy’s life, is not to be considered barely as such a sum of money, but as it is the necessary support of my life: so that really, and in effect, the comparison is between his life and mine; in which I conclude myself warranted, by the rights and laws of nature, to prefer my own before his. Nay, if it were but a sixpence that he would rifle me of, and I had no other visible subsistence in the world but that poor sum, I might lawfully defend that, as I would myself, that is, with the death of my enemy; and count it as equal a stake against his life, as if it were ten thousand millions.
And thus I have shewn those four things which it is lawful for a man thus to defend; namely, life, limbs, chastity, and estate: where, before I pass any further, I shall add this, that whatsoever it is lawful for a man to do in these cases for himself, the 74same also is lawful for him to do in the same danger and extremity of his neighbour. The reason is, because the measure and standard of his love to his neighbour, is to be the love that he bears to himself.
Which yet, by the way, is to be understood under equal cases and circumstances; for though we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves, yet it follows not, but when the danger must inevitably fall upon one of us, we may preserve ourselves before our neighbour; because, in the same condition, we are bound to desire no more for ourselves, but that our neighbour should save us in the next place to himself; and therefore, by virtue of this precept, he can desire no more of us. In a word, we are to love our neighbour as ourselves, putting him into the same condition and circumstances in reference to us, as we are in reference to him: and therefore, as I myself could not in reason desire, but that my neighbour, in a danger equal to us both, should first defend himself; so my neighbour cannot deny, but that I should do as much for myself under this condition, as I allow him to do for himself under the same. But this by way of digression.
Certain it is, that the defence of our neighbour in his extremity engages us to all those extraordinary courses that we took for our own preservation. Upon this account it was, that Abraham armed his household, and slew kings for the rescue of -\his kinsman Lot, took captive by them, Genesis xiv. 14, 15. And there is no man, whose concerns and obligations terminate within himself; but he is a relative person, and must own a debt to friendship, to consanguinity, and society. For as in the natural body 75the whole is maintained by that sympathy and mutual feeling, that the members have of the condition of each other; by which, when any of them is in distress, it calls for and receives help and relief from all the rest: so it is, according to its proportion, in the political body, which is only an aggregate, artificial man. Every particular person lies under an obligation to come in to the succour of his endangered brother, as the hand would presently lift itself up in the defence of the leg or the face, to repel and beat off whatsoever would annoy them. And the contrary would be barbarous and absurd, a perverting of the designs of nature, which, by thus leaving the interest of every part single in itself, and divided from and independent upon the concernment of its fellows, would quickly draw a ruin and dissolution upon the whole fabric. That man who could stand and see another stripped or hacked in pieces by a thief or a rogue, and not at all concern himself in his rescue, is a traitor to the laws of humanity and religion; he commits murder with his eyes, and sheds blood by not striking a blow; and shall one day account to God for the guilt of that action, that was as criminally permitted by him, as done by the other.
2dly, I come now to the second thing, which is, to shew the conditions required to legalize such a defence of ourselves and fortunes. And they are these.
(1.) That the violence offered be so apparent, and withal so great and pressing, that there can be no other means of escaping it, but by killing the adversary: otherwise, if a man makes it great by his own presumptions and fears, and so makes it necessary 76to himself to repel that injury with a mortal wound from his rapier, which he might have done with a blow of a switch or a thrust of his arm, he is a murderer; nor will it excuse him to plead a danger which was only created by his own apprehensions. Thus in the late rebellion, when some persons, by the guilt of great villainies, had exasperated majesty, and so having deserved, were pleased also to fear the just consequences of their actions; they were so bold as to strike the first blow, and then so impudent as to say that they did it in their own defence. But that saying of Vibius Crispus, commended by Quintilian, may be here fitly applied, Quis tibi sic timere permisit? Fear greatens and redoubles every evil, it stretches the shadow, and enlarges the suspicion: but blood must not be shed upon surmise.
That which must warrant a man in this before God and his conscience, must be a danger as manifest as the light; a life even perishing, and in the very jaws of death: not an hazard that may be disputed, but an extremity that calls and cries, and admits of no answer but an immediate deliverance. And if in this case a life be taken away, he only is a murderer that deserved, not he that inflicted the blow.
(2.) It is required, that all possibility of recourse to the magistrate for a legal protection be taken away. In which case the law leaves every man to his own natural defence. For men are not made for laws, but laws for the good and preservation of men: and therefore, though they enjoin the injured person to fly to them for succour, yet, when he is surrounded with such circumstances as render 77 such access to them impossible; and in the mean time that life, for the preservation of which those laws were designed, is under an unavoidable danger, without flying to other remedies; should those laws tie a man’s hand in such a case, they were only snares and traps, and means to deliver a man naked and undefended to be devoured by his enemy.
But, as I observed before, war is a remedy upon the failure of law. And when the supreme and fatal law of necessity comes to be in force, all inferior obligations disband and vanish: and the law that tells a man that no particular person’s injury can take from him his right to live, ought to take place, and both to direct him what he is to do in this affair, and to absolve him when he has done.
(3.) In the third place, it is required that a man in the act of defending himself designs merely his own defence, without any hatred or bitter purpose of revenge towards the person who thus invades him. A lawful action may be depraved and changed by the intervenience of an ill intention. Jehu executed the command of God in extirpating the house of Ahab, and consequently that action of his was lawful; but yet we find that the same action was reckoned to him for sin, because a particular malice and design against Ahab’s house mingled with it, and so altered the whole complexion of the performance.
To discern whether a man in these defensive conflicts be acted by a purpose of self-defence, pure and unmixed from any spice of revenge, I confess is very difficult, in case the assault shall be continued till it determines in the death of one party. But if the defendant chance to prevail over the assailant to 78that degree, as to be able to secure himself from him without taking of his life; and yet shall not be brought to give over, or acquiesce, till he has despatched him: though his first stroke in this engagement was but defence, and so lawful; yet the sharpness of revenge growing upon his spirit in the midst of the action, it is to be feared that the last stroke was murder, and so will pass in the accounts of Heaven.
And thus much for the second thing, namely, to shew the conditions required to render the killing of another in our own defence lawful
3dly, The third, which I shall despatch in a word or two, is to inquire who are the persons against whom we may lawfully thus defend ourselves. And for this, I cannot conceive that any doubt can be raised, but concerning these two, a magistrate and a parent. As for the magistrate, the grounds that I have already laid of non-resistance, by virtue of every subject’s quitting his natural right of defending himself against the magistrate, and resigning up all power of resistance into his governor’s hands, sufficiently proves, that this doctrine gives no countenance to the subject in repelling any invasion made upon him by his prince.
But as for a parent; the son has made no such resignation of his right up to him. And therefore there are not wanting some casuists among the Jesuits, who have ventured to own the lawfulness of a man’s defending himself against parents as well as kings, and all superiors whatsoever; even with the death of those who shall invade him. But yet I affirm, that for a son in any case whatsoever to take away his father’s life, from whence, under God, he 79received his own, seems to imply such a turpitude in the thing itself, and to offer such a grievance to nature, that he is to choose to die rather than, upon any inducement of extremity, to stain his hands in the blood of his father. This I will grant, that in case a father shall unjustly assault the life of his son; his son may proceed to defend himself so far as to disarm him, shut him up, and bind him; but to kill him is unnatural and intolerable. And if a son cannot otherwise secure his life from his father’s violence, it is more eligible to die a thousand deaths, than to make such a monstrous and inhuman trespass upon so sacred a name and relation.
And thus I have endeavoured both to clear and to assert the doctrine of self-defence in its due latitude. In all which discourse I am not sensible that I have uttered any thing but the voice of nature, and the rightly explained sense of religion.
As for those who assert the contrary, and by taking from mankind all right of self-preservation, would have them still live in the world as naked as they came into it; I shall not wish them any hurt, but if I would, I could scarce wish them a greater, than that they might feel the full effect and influence of their own opinion.
IV. The fourth and last case to be resolved is; Since to prosecute another in courts of judicature is in its kind a certain breach of the mutual bond of peace, whether it be allowable for Christians thus to prosecute and to go to law one with another?
It may perhaps, at first sight, seem a strange and an insolent design, to bring a thing vouched by custom, owned by practice, and established by authority, under dispute: yet since it is no less our duty 80to be able to give a reason of what we do, than of what we believe; and since there are not wanting scriptures, to whose rules we profess to submit our practice, yet in appearance contrary to this; and since there are also some in the world, who think they have sufficient ground from those scriptures to entertain a contrary opinion; I conceive I may, without blame, enter into a disquisition of a thing already controverted; that so, by an impartial survey of the reasons of both sides, we may settle our future practice upon such sure grounds, that if it appears we have been in the wrong, we may be convinced, and brought off from, but if in the right, we may be confirmed in the thing hitherto allowed by us.
As for those who have been so bold as to arraign the courts of law themselves, they are the anabaptists; who succeed into all the principles and opinions of the old anabaptists, those sons of confusion, that once so infested Germany: concerning the nature of whose opinions I cannot but judge this, that those who own a design to remove and cast down all human laws and judgments, ought to be persons either absolutely, and even to a necessity innocent, or very highly malefactors; the former of which might oppose them as needless; the latter, as dreadful and destructive. As for their innocence; the stories of their barbarous 1 rebellions, murders, and the desolations made by them, have settled men’s judgments concerning that. And therefore, if their opinions grow from their guilt, in conjunction with their ignorance; as it cannot appear from what root else they should grow; I shall endeavour to remove the latter, leaving the laws themselves to deal with the former.81
In the management of this question, I shall, 1. Examine the arguments brought against the allowableness of Christians going to law. 2. Consider what may be argued and alleged for it. 3. Propose the conditions required to warrant men in such a practice.
1. First of all then, their arguments seem principally to bear upon two places of scripture.
(1.) The first is, that formerly hinted by me, and reserved to be discussed in its proper place here, which is in Matthew v. 40, where Christ determines that general precept of not resisting evil, to an utter abolition of all lawsuits; commanding every disciple of his, that in case any man will sue him at law, and take away his coat, he should let him have his cloak also. And certainly there is scarce any thing more indispensably necessary to a man’s subsistence, than his raiment. But now if a man shall be obliged even to relinquish this, and resign it up to the hand of violence, rather than to recover it by a legal trial, it must needs follow, that the rigour of this command cuts off all pretences of going to law whatsoever.
In answer to this, I cannot but observe, that it is the custom of this sort of men still to argue from the letter of scripture, in abstraction from the sense; and without any pondering either of the occasion, circumstances, or coherence of the text, immediately to fly and fasten upon the bare outside of the expression.
Two things, therefore, may be answered to this text.
1. That it is not certain, that what we render by suing at law signifies any such thing; the Greek is 82 τῷ θέλοντι σοι κριθῆναι; but κρίνομαι signifies to strive, war, and contend with another by force; so that it is all one with μάχεσθαι, καὶ ἐρίζεσθαί σοι. But to sue another at law is κρίνειν; and that with an accusative case, τῷ θέλοντί σε κρίνειν; and to be sued in the passive, κρίνομαι: according to which, τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι, taking σοι for ὑπὸ σοῦ, must signify, to him that is willing to be sued by thee at law: the meaning being this; He that has took thy coat from thee, and is willing to be brought by thee into a trial for it, to him give thy cloak also. Which sense, besides that it is highly incongruous, τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν should have gone before σοι κριθῆναι, and so the words have run thus: To him that is desirous to take thy coat., and then to go to law with thee for it: and not preposterously, To him that is desirous to go to law with thee, and to take thy coat, to him give thy cloak also; which is to make the going to law antecedent to the wrong or injury about which men go to law.
It is more probable therefore, that the sense of the text is this; If any one would unjustly contend with thee, and forcibly take away thy cloak, let him have thy coat also. According to which sense, the words speak nothing at all of the suits or trials at law. And this interpretation, grounded upon the propriety of the word, and so fully agreeing both with what goes before, and with what follows after, if any one will positively insist upon it, I do verily believe, cannot by any solid reason be disproved.
2. But because I think such respect is to be had to the translation, that it is not, but upon very urgent necessity, to be receded from; therefore, in the second place, I add,83
That these words are to be interpreted with analogy to the design carried on by Christ throughout this whole chapter, which is, to shew the perverse and sinful practice of the Jews, in which they were abetted by the pharisees; and withal to declare, of how much contrary a temper his disciples and followers ought to be.
Now the custom of the Jews was, upon the receiving any injury, to pursue that law of retaliation so fiercely and bitterly, that sometimes (as I have observed before) one private man would execute it upon another; and when they could not safely or conveniently do it themselves, but were forced to implore the help of the magistrate, and to drag the injurious person before him; yet they did it with so much acrimony and gall, and such designs of personal revenge, that it sufficiently appeared to any impartial or judicious eye, that in all their prosecutions of offenders they did not so much consult either the satisfaction of justice, or their own necessary reparation, as indeed seldom needing any at all, as they did the fruitless gratification of a remorseless, vindictive humour.
Hereupon Christ reads a contrary lecture of patience, meekness, and quietness to his disciples, telling them, that in case they should have any thing injuriously purloined from them, they should rather sit down under the loss of that and a much greater thing too, than with so much virulence and exasperation of mind, as was common amongst the Jews, and unreprehended, not to say countenanced by the pharisees, pursue the recovery of their former right. These words therefore do not absolutely prohibit them, being injured, to endeavour a just reparation; 84 but conditionally rather to quit the benefit of justice, than to follow it in a sinful manner.
They are a sublime precept of patience, upon a wrong offered to our goods, parallel to those words, If any one smite thee on the right cheek, turn the other also; which enjoins the same measure of patience upon a wrong offered to our persons. And consequently, as heretofore, in the exposition of those, I shewed from Christ’s own practice, the best comment upon his precepts, that they were not to be understood according to the rigid import of the letter, as if every man were bound to covet injuries and to court affronts; so I affirm also, that this command is not to be exacted according to the bare surface of the words, but to be enlarged to the allowance and latitude of a figure, as being indeed just such another hyperbole. Which is a trope, that to set forth the greatness of a thing more emphatically, words it in expressions greater than really it is. And thus much in answer to what they argue from this place of scripture.
(2.) The next great place, which some think to speak as fully to their purpose as this, is that in 1 Cor. vi. 7, Now there is utterly a fault amongst you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do you not rather take wrong f why do you not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Which words certainly amount to a pregnant and full prohibition of all going to law, since they declare it to be our duty rather to suffer, nay, even to embrace any wrong, than by such means to recover our right.
But to this I answer,
1. That what we render a fault, is in the Greek 85 not ἁμάρτημα, but only ἥττημα, which signifies properly a weakness or defect; and such do not always, or of necessity, carry sin along with them. According to which sense, the apostle does not condemn their going to law, as a thing in itself sinful or unjust; but as low, and weak, and not answerable to that greatness and generosity of spirit, which became persons owning so excellent a profession.
2. But in the second place, admitting that the apostle’s design here is to discountenance this practice, not only as weak and illaudable, but also as sinful and disallowable; yet I affirm, that he accounted it not sinful from the very nature of the action, but only the irregularity of the circumstance; that they went to law upon every slight occasion, before unbelievers, in verse 1. And though to go to law be very allowable, yet for Christians to prosecute one another before the tribunals of infidels, for those injuries which they might fairly compromise by the arbitration and decision of persons of their own body, was a thing that reflected an high disgrace, and left a great scandal upon Christian religion; and consequently as great a guilt upon those who brought the scandal.
In short, the apostle here either reprehends them only for going to law before unbelievers, or barely for going to law, as being a thing utterly unjust in itself. If he designs only the former, as it is clear from the whole chain of the context from the first verse to the ninth that he does; then it concludes nothing against the latter, but that before a believing judge, and a Christian court, with a due observance of other circumstances, Christians may right themselves at law. But if it be said, that the apostle directs 86the edge of this reproof against the very action itself; then let it be made out, how the apostle can accord himself with himself, who suffers Christians to go to law before the saints, in ver. 1, Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Which shews, that what he prohibits under one, in the very same breath he permits under the other. Nay, he proceeds to give reasons why they should manage the judgment of these things themselves, in ver. 2, 3, If the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? And, know ye not that ye shall judge angels? how much more things pertaining to this life? And again, in ver. 5; I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man amongst you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? And now, is it not as clear from all these places, as if they were writ with a sunbeam, that the apostle’s intention is not levelled against their going to law, but against the persons before whom they did it? That they chose to discover and rip up the sores of the church, before such infidels as would deride them, rather than before Christians, who would endeavour to conceal and cure them.
The only thing that can be replied here, is, that in those primitive times of Christianity, the Christians had no tribunals or power of judging, as being under the jurisdiction of heathen potentates: and therefore what they did in order to the deciding of controversies and suits between man and man, they did not do as judges armed with the civil power, but as arbitrators chose and consented to amongst themselves, for the ending and composing of differences. 87And therefore, though it might be lawful to bring one’s cause before such judges, yet it cannot now be lawful to sue a brother in any of our courts, properly so called, as holding a power of jurisdiction from the magistrate.
But to this I answer; that this is so far from overthrowing or weakening the thing which it is brought to disprove, that it is a notable argument to confirm it: for if the apostles allowed it as lawful for them to bring their causes before Christians, that they might exercise a judicial act in deciding them, who yet were not endued with any legal, judicial authority from the magistrate; certainly it were highly strange and irrational, to prohibit men to seek for the same judicial acts, from such as were both Christians, and also empowered with such a judicial authority from the civil governor. In a word, it would amount to this; that Christians might try their causes before Christians, not having any legal jurisdiction for that purpose, but only the consent of the contending parties. But when the same persons come to have the stamp of public authority, enabling them so to do by virtue of their office; why then, all trials before them must presently cease to be lawful, and become only a betraying of the rights and privileges of believers. I shall say no more of this wild and inconsequent deduction, but that it is an argument fit to be found only in the mouth of those, whose custom it is to dispute against reason, and to fight against government.
3. The third argument against the allowableness of Christians going to law, is that strict command that lies upon them to forgive injuries, and consequently not to prosecute them in courts of judicature, 88forasmuch as these two seem utterly inconsistent.
But to this also I reply, that in most injuries we are to consider and distinguish two things: first, The right that is lost. Secondly, The offence done to whom it is lost. And though it may be my duty to forgive the offence done me by him that violently takes away my right; yet it follows not that I must therefore quit my right; but may, with full allowance of equity and piety, endeavour the regaining of that, while I fully remit the other.
And that this is not a mere verbal distinction without a difference, is evident from hence: that supposing that somebody robs me of my goods, and I recover them all to the value of the utmost farthing; yet still after this recovery it is certain that the man has done me an injury, and reason and religion will oblige him to ask me forgiveness; which it could not do, supposing that the wrong did not continue, even after I was repossessed of what I had lost.
It is clear therefore, that the prosecution of one’s right at law does yet leave a fair scope for the exercise of forgiveness; and consequently that they may not exclude or justle out one another.
I cannot think of any thing else in scripture that seems to cast any probability of favour upon this opinion: and therefore looking upon the proof of it as desperate upon this account, I proceed to the second thing; which is to shew what may be argued for the allowableness of Christians prosecuting their rights in courts of judicature.
But beforehand I shall premise this: That the ground upon which all such prosecutions proceed 89is twofold. 1. Restitution; and, 2. Punishment. That is, a man is sued either to restore what he has took from another; or brought into court for some offence or mischief done by him, for which, since no restitution can be made, he is to sustain some penalty for the satisfaction of the law. In which two cases, though it is obvious to see that a man may prosecute another for the restitution of something took from him, without any thoughts of bitterness or revenge; yet since the punishment of another cannot at all redound to my advantage or reparation, it may be inquired, what can warrant a man in his prosecution of another, only to bring him to this, without being chargeable with the designs of revenge.
To this I answer; that his obligation and subjection to the community, of which he is a member, engages him to this. For every man is bound to endeavour the good and preservation of the public, and consequently to prosecute a thief or a murderer, though personally they have not injured him, forasmuch as such persons have made a breach upon society and common justice; which requires a reparation: yea, and that so strictly, that if a man is robbed, though, being master of his own right, he might choose whether upon that score he would prosecute him for such robbery; yet since by the same there is an injury done to the public, which he cannot pardon, the law binds him to prosecute the robber; and makes him liable to be prosecuted himself, in case he should not. I conclude therefore, that all these prosecutions of a man in the courts of law are just and allowable. And so I pass to the arguments for the proof of the assertion; which are these.90
1. To endeavour the execution of justice in the proper acts of it between man and man, is allowable before God, and not repugnant to religion: but without going to law, there can be no such endeavour for the execution of justice, and consequently it is to be admitted. That the former is not repugnant to religion is clear; for then justice and religion would be contrary, which would be to cast an high aspersion upon both.
Justice is the noblest dictate issuing from the principles of improved nature, and nature, which is the law of God written in our hearts, cannot contradict his law as it is written in his word. God cannot write the same thing a duty in one law, and a sin in the other. Justice came down from heaven, and descended upon mankind, as a communication of a divine perfection flowing from him whose great attribute is to be the Just One, and the re warder of every man according to his works.
As for the assumption of the argument, that the exercise of this great blessing of the world, justice, cannot take place, unless it be lawful to prosecute offenders before courts and judges; it is a thing that requires no laborious proof. For can we expect that thieves and murderers should come and surrender their persons to the vengeance of the law freely, and of their own accord, as scorning all arrests, and preventing attachments by sheriffs, constables, and such other unnecessary instruments of force? Will they arraign themselves, be both jury and evidence, and stand convict by the generous openness of their own confession?
When and where do we read of any instance or example of such strange transactions? When men 91by frequent villainies have lost even common honesty, may justice expect satisfaction from their ingenuity? But these are unlikelihoods not to be insisted upon; and we may well venture the issue of the whole controversy upon this, that when these things come to pass, then the prosecution of causes at law will cease to be allowable.
2. The second argument is this; that if Christian religion absolutely prohibits and disallows all pursuit of a man’s right at law, then the strict observance of this religion unavoidably draws after it the utter dissolution of all government and society; a sad consequence, but naturally issuing from such an antecedent.
For does not society consist in a due distinction of propriety amongst men, and in their peaceable and secure enjoying that, of which they are proprietors? Do not all public bodies bear upon the great basis of meum and tuum between particular persons, and upon the provision it makes to protect those persons in their respective titles to what they possess?
And moreover, is not the foundation of all just possession a just acquisition; as by gift, labour, or the like, by which the world shares the common benefits of nature, dividing to each man his portion, and enclosing it to him from the encroachment and pretences of all others? These things, I suppose, must be granted to be the very fundamentals and first uniting principles of society.
But now, if there be no coercive power to call men to account for their actions; when the world shall be infested with the violent and the unjust, who will not labour, but yet possess; who are nobody’s heirs, and yet will inherit; raising a new 92claim, upon force, rapine, and oppression: what will become of order, of propriety, and right? all those hinges upon which the affairs of mankind and the peace of nations move and depend?
He that has the strongest arm, the sharpest sword, the boldest front, and the falsest heart, must possess the world. Whatsoever he grasps must be his own; right and possession will be terms convertible. The meek and the injured part of mankind shall retain a right to nothing, but to patience under the insultations of the mighty and the unjust, and shall see that they can be lawfully nothing else but miserable, when the very plea of the law itself is rendered unlawful.
And, what is the greatest misery of all, these bonds of oppression must be bound upon men by the ties of religion. Thieves rob us of our goods, and then this robs us of our remedies. And men will persuade us, that Jesus Christ makes it our duty to be poor, wretched, injured, forlorn, and destitute, as often as it shall please the lawless avarice and insolence of our enemies to make us so.
Had the primitive Christians owned this to have been the genius and true intent of what they professed, it would quickly have hissed Christianity out of the world, as the bane of government, and the destroyer of whatsoever was settled, regular, and excellent amongst men. It would have exposed it both to the scorn and hatred of all governors. And the setting up the profession of it in any kingdom would have been like the bringing of a public plague into the bowels of a nation; or the courting of a foreign invasion, to trample down all before them with ruin and confusion. For surely the removal of all courts of judicature would have had no less mischievous effects upon a people, than either of those annoyances. But had this been the design of Christianity, there is no doubt but all nations would have stood upon their guard, and kept it off like a pest; and courts of judicature would sooner have suppressed this religion, than this religion could have beat down those courts.
I conclude therefore, that it is far from the purpose of Christ’s doctrine to forbid injured persons to take their course at law; under the gospel, courts are to be as much open as churches. And to plead the cause of the afflicted, the fatherless, and the widow, is but part of that great office which God has honoured, by sometimes assuming it to himself. Christianity came to invest the world with new helps and privileges, and not to abridge men of their old. This religion has provided no asylum for thieves or murderers; it neither secures nor sanctifies wrong or oppression. And therefore that opinion, which lays this as a block in their way who would proceed to a legal recovery of their rights, is to be rejected, as absurd and insufferable.
Yet since men are too prone to stretch their just allowances beyond their bounds, to abuse privileges, and to spoil a due action by undue circumstances of prosecution; I shall therefore, in the third and last place, briefly propose those conditions that are required to warrant men in their law-proceedings and contentions. And they are three.
1. First, that a man takes not this course against any one, but upon a very great and urgent cause. Every little wrong and trespass is not a sufficient warrant for me to disturb my neighbour’s peace, 94and to make him miserable. It must be a loud and a clamorous injury, that has broke in upon a man’s reputation or estate, so that one cannot be entire nor the other safe without a reparation, which must give him a lawful call to use so sharp a remedy.
But those uncharitable, unworthy motives, that usually act men in these prosecutions, sufficiently declare how much they deviate from the rules of religion: for what more usual than such kind of speeches; “I will spend five hundred, a thousand pounds, but I will have my will.” So that, it seems, it is not so much to have right, as to have their will, for which some go to law. But let me say to such, that God will spend a thousand, nay, ten thousand curses upon them, but that he will fully punish such a wicked and unmerciful disposition.
2. Supposing that the wrong is great, and calls for reparation, yet in the next place it is required that a man be willing, upon any tolerable and just terms, to agree with his adversary, rather than to proceed to a suit: otherwise he does not sacrifice to justice or to necessity, but to a litigious humour and an ill-nature, that loves contention for contention’s sake, and descends to it, not as a remedy, but a recreation: he designs not to advantage himself, but to afflict and harass his adversary; and therefore is willing to undergo the trouble and misery of following the suit himself, only for the base pleasure of seeing another miserable.
For surely it must be a very strange height of virulence, that shall make a man thus prefer the continuance of a quarrel before an amicable composure of it! when Providence is pleased to order the state 95of things so, that litigiousness is not only a great, but also a very troublesome, laborious, and costly sin. A man cannot be wicked in this respect, but with the expense of much money, the labour of long attendances, and the anxiety of much care. And when a man has wisely made a shift to recover one hundred pound with the expense of three, and for many terms run up and down, backwards and forwards, sedulously and industriously to no purpose; he will find those words of the apostle to the Corinthians, ready upon every slight cause to prosecute one another at law, Why do you not rather take wrong? why do you not suffer yourselves to be defrauded? to have been not so much a lesson of piety, as of policy, thrift, and good husbandry. And surely if we compare the charges, vexation, and noise of a suit, with that pitiful design which for the most part is drove at by it; if thus contentiously to go to law be a sin, as undoubtedly it is; why then we need look no further, nor enjoin such an one any other penance, but that he should go to law again.
3. But thirdly and lastly, supposing that both the wrong is in itself very great, and no satisfaction or conditions of agreement are offered by him that did it, but that the injured person must of necessity commence a suit against him; yet then it is required, that he manage it by the rule of charity, and not with any purpose to revenge himself upon his adversary. But certainly it is a very rare thing, and seldom found, to see a man of so clear a breast, so sincere a design, as to have waded through such prosecutions without any interposal of vindictive thoughts. The action indeed (as I have proved) is 96in itself lawful, but the person that is to manage it is weak and sinful, and it is ten to one but his corruption strikes in, and bears a share in what he does; and then the issue of the whole business turns but to the accounts of sin: and when the suit is ended here below, there is an action of revenge brought against him in the court above. And therefore, though he who thus chooses to right himself, does lawfully; yet (except in cases of extremity) certainly that man does more safely, who considers that he is but weak, and so offers not himself to the temptation.
And thus I have finished the resolution of the last case propounded, and I hope have stated the controversy with that truth and equality, that I have not at all derogated from the law of God, while I asserted the laws of men.97
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