Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

nations whose legislation these writers so eloquently commemorate, are not a little indebted to the Hebrew sage for those qualities in their institutions which awaken our youthful enthusiasm. What can afford nobler themes of study than the master minds of our race? And what mind is more worthy to engage the profound attention of our age than his whose high mission, under Providence, it was to found a model government, combining, in so remarkable a degree, liberty with law-the freedom of the individual with the welfare of the community? The polity founded by that great man is as venerable for its wisdom, as it is for its antiquity. The best subsequent civilization has beyond all peradventure, been built upon that ancient law, which Moses, by divine direction, gave to the Hebrew people. The Jewish. lawgiver is, in many respects, the man for the present. He belongs not solely to the past, as too common prejudice imagines. The great principles of constitutional law and of civil and criminal jurisprudence, which he not only developed in theory, but embodied into a system, and reduced to practice in the administration of public affairs, are so many lessons of inspired wisdom, so many lights of experience, to direct the labours of statesmen and legislators to the end of time.

In his first lecture, Dr. Matthews, as already observed, considers the divine origin of civil freedom. He begins by remarking how fitly it corresponds with the uniform goodness of God, that he should give to the world a distinct revelation of his will on this subject. “Thy commandment is exceeding broad." There is an expansive power in the Bible, which reaches every want and condition of life. lt lays down, in terms brief and clear, general principles of duty, and then teaches how they are to be applied to the various relations which men sustain to one another, both social and civil. Now, unless our civil relations are wisely regulated, men can have no security in any of their enjoyments. Rulers and ruled should each know their appropriate sphere, and keep it; and their respective rights should be accurately defined, and carefully guarded. Tyranny, at the time of the exodus, had become the sorest of curses, and one from which mankind knew no means of escape. Everywhere the life, happiness, and liberty of the subject were at the will of the one man who wore the crown, and who, intoxicated with power, ruled over men as over herds of cattle. There was much in a wretchedness like this, rendering it fit for Him whose tender mercies are over all his works, to interpose for the purpose of showing how a nation should be governed so as best to secure its rights and liberties.

The same conclusion, as to the probability of a special divine interposition to teach the true principles of government, is warranted

[ocr errors]

by the known and admitted influence of freedom in developing the higher faculties of man.

“ 'Tis liberty alone that gives the flower

Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume." History verifies this sentiment. Its voice distinctly declares, that freedom is the great moving power in human affairs. Freedom, when combined with the higher element of Christianity, is the source of the mightiest and sublimest efforts of human genius. It is the grand instrument of human advancement. Its leading characteristic is energy; energy arousing the dormant strength of the masses of society; energy awaking to life and action the power that sleeps in the peasant's mind, the might that slumbers in the peasant's arm.

The grandest achievements of intellect, the noblest efforts of valour, the sublimest ministrations of benevolence, the richest fruits of human industry that have illustrated and adorned the annals of our race, have all sprung from this principle.

What was Holland before she became free? The minds of her people were as stagnant as the marshes that covered her soil. But freedom roused them to action; freedom warmed into vitality their lifeless energies ; freedom bridled the stormy waves of the German Ocean; freedom built and manned the ships that poured into her lap the riches of the world; freedom covered her boundless marshes · with a velvet carpet, and made them smile with fertility, and rejoice in abundance; freedom made her seminaries fountains of light to the nations, and her statesmen, jurists, lawyers, and divines, the oracles of their generation.

What was England before Magna Charta burst her chains and ended her thraldom? The extinction of fire and lights, enjoined upon her whole realm, when

“ The curfew toll'd the knell of parting day," was an apt emblem of the darkness which shrouded the minds of her people. Freedom wrought for her as it did for Holland. And what is England now? Pre-eminent among the nations of Europe, as our author beautifully says, “in all that the wise most seek to know, or the good most desire to know.” Her name resounds in all lands, her empire encircles the globe, her keels vex every ocean, her influence reaches to the ends of the earth, and “she sits like a queen on the lap of the ocean,” emitting a mild and healthful radiance on the surrounding darkness.

And what has freedom done, or, rather, what has it not done for us as a nation ? Impregnated and vivified by gospel principles, and · freed from corrupting alliance with royalty, it has, in an almost

[ocr errors]

incredibly brief space, raised this country from colonial bondage and insignificance to the rank and influence of a leading power among the nations of the earth. It has given her a career unparalleled for rapidity and brilliancy in all the annals of time. In resources, present and prospective, in available talent, in popular education, in religion and practical philanthropy, and in indomitable industry, to which obstacles are but incentives, we would not, at this moment, exchange conditions with the proudest nation on the globe.

Surely, then, as our author pertinently and forcibly argues, if freedom is thus interwoven with the improvement and happiness of our race, it may well be expected that whatever is essential to its establishment should be revealed in a volume which has the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. When we are taught that the Most High governs in the minutest concerns of life, even to the numbering of our hairs and the fall of a sparrow, can we suppose that he would fail to instruct men in the nature and importance of institutions by which everything valuable in their personal, social, and civil welfare is so deeply affected?

In his second lecture, Dr. Matthews gives an interesting and instructive view of “civil government, as ordained in the commonwealth of the Hebrews.” The first principle he finds in it, is government by representation, the election of rulers by the ruled, the public officer chosen by the public voice.' Chateaubriand has classed this principle among three or four discoveries that have created another universe. Where are we to seek the origin of it? Most nations know nothing of it even now. There was a time when all were ignorant of it. The question is, From what fountain did it spring? What nation first incorporated it into the frame of its government, and enjoyed the freedom which it insured?

Alison, in his History of Europe, traces it to the early councils of the Christian Church. Our author, with greater reason, we think, fraces it to the Hebrew constitution. He finds this principle operating in the appointment of the Jethronian prefects or judges.

Take you [choose, elect for yourselves] wise men, and understanding, and known among yourselves, and I will make them rulers over you,” are the words of Moses to his countrymen. It is evident that the people themselves were to select these officers, and that Moses was simply to inaugurate or induct them into office by suitable solemnities. Nor can there be any doubt that the object in view was the creation of a civil magistracy, of a species and in a form adapted to the existing wants of the nation. Here, then, in these proceedings, as Dr. Matthews thinks, and we think with him, we find the first precedent of elective and representative civil government. Three things are observable in the transaction:-1. The candidates were not to belong to any privileged class, but were to be taken “out of all the people;" and that on the alone ground of wisdom, ability, truth, righteousness, and piety-in one word, fitness. Nothing like caste, nothing like exclusive privilege, appears in the whole proceeding. 2. The voice of the people to be ruled was allpowerful in the choice and appointment of the men to rule. The direction, " Take you wise men,” &c., was given to "all Israel." 3. The induction into office was by an appropriate existing authority. Moses, who held his commission direct from Heaven, “ made them rulers;" that is, “invested them," as our author says, "with the authority to which the people had previously chosen them, and gave them a charge, which might well be adopted as a manual by every one who is called to the exercise of civil magistracy."

Dr. Matthews adduces other instances, in which the voice of the people was heard in the election of public officers. The twelve men, appointed to "search out the land” were chosen by the vote of “all Israel." So were the three men from each tribe, who were deputed to " go through the land and describe it, and divide it into seven parts," viz., for the seven tribes which remained without their inheritance. Later in the history of the republic, it is distinctly declared by the sacred historian, that "the people made Jephthah head and captain over them.” On the whole, there seems to be abundant evidence for believing and asserting, that the Hebrew government was a government of the people. The magistrate was chosen by the vote of the people; and, at the same time, integrity and competency were the only qualifications for office recognised as valid. Birth, it would seem, had nothing at all to do with it.

The second great principle which Dr. Matthews finds in the Jewish polity, is “a judiciary, which provided for the prompt and equal administration of justice between man and man.” The fundamental law on this point was, “ Judges and officers shalt thou make in all thy gates;" that is, in all thy cities and towns. Courts were so multiplied, that the administration of justice was brought to every man's door, and the people were effectually secured against the ruinous evil of the “law's delay.” With a judiciary so ramified, justice could be administered promptly, and without subjecting the parties to more than a reasonable expense in obtaining it. At the same time, the evils resulting from hasty or prejudiced decisions were wisely and effectively provided against by the establishment of high courts of appeal in the several tribes, and of a supreme court for the whole nation at Jerusalem.

The last prominent feature which our author finds in the polity

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

of the Hebrew commonwealth, is that of a confederation of the different tribes into one great nation. Examples of the happy influence of such a federative bond are seen in the United Netherlands, and still more in the United States of America.

The original model of such a confederacy is, beyond a doubt, found among the Hebrews. “Among them, the twelve tribes might fitly be called the twelve united states, united under one general government by a confederacy, which rendered the nation at large the only legitimate authority for purposes of general welfare. But, on the other hand, a careful examination of their polity and history will show that the tribes were not so absorbed by the national confederacy, as to lose their character of distinct states or communities. They maintained within themselves such an organization as furnished the most effective safeguards against the centralization of power, which has sometimes rendered civil freedom an easy prey to a daring usurper, or cost rivers of blood to defeat his purposes.” It is a circumstance, by no means unimportant or uninteresting, that these great elements of liberty were embodied in a written constitution, the first, undoubtedly, which the world ever saw.

Dr. Matthews meets an objection to this view of the nature of the Hebrew polity, growing out of its supposed repugnance to the commonly-entertained opinion respecting the theocracy. He observes truly, that the Hebrew government was a theocracy only in a limited

The Hebrews had their civil rulers like other nations-men who exercised authority over other men, and who were acknowledged throughout the land as its rightful magistrates. The author admits that Jehovah was the lawgiver, judge, and ruler of Israel, in a sense peculiar to himself; but, at the same time, he holds it to have been one object of his divine legislation to frame the enactments, which show how civil authority of man over man should be created, and how it should be administered so as best to promote the welfare of a people. He draws a natural, solid, and important inference from the fact that the Bible contains the origin of civil liberty, viz., that by the Bible alone it can be sustained and perpetuated in a nation. This inference is confirmed by the facts of history. He who ordained that light should shine from the sun, ordained also that liberty should flow from and be sustained by the Bible. If the Bible goes, liberty follows. It was so with the Hebrews. When “ the law of the Lord was not found," when it fell into general neglect and disuse, then the sun of their freedom and prosperity went down in darkness.

In his third lecture, Dr. Matthews presents an able and philosophical view of the general influence of emigration in changing and im

sense.

« PredošláPokračovať »