Imágenes de páginas

and our own Ames, Marshall, Story and Kent, there is not a civilized nation, of either ancient or modern times, which has not borrowed from the laws of Moses whatever is most essential to the administra

tion of justice between man and man, or between nation and nation. The rules of evidence in conducting trials; the principles upon which verdicts should be rendered, both in civil and criminal cases ; together with the great institution of Trial by Jury, are all found in greater or less development in the statutes and ordinances given from God to the Hebrews; and just in proportion as they are well understood and faithfully carried out, are a community safe in their rights, whether of person or of property.

There is still another prominent feature of the Hebrew commonwealth, which we will briefly notice. We here see different tribes so confederated as to form one nation. Such a confederacy, we are told by accomplished statesmen, is of essential importance to the stability and strength of a republic embracing either a numerous population or an extensive territory. In the republics of Italy, as Venice and others, we see the evils resulting from the want of this federative bond; and we have examples of its happy influence in the United Netherlands, and more especially among ourselves in America. The original model for it, you find 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 that 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.

Here it should be added, that these great elements of freedom which we have enumerated, as ordained for the Hebrews, were embodied in a written Constitution. No nation can expect to preserve its civil privileges unless they are secured and perpetuated in a record which both rulers and ruled can

read, to which both can refer, and which is binding on both. Accordingly it was enjoined on Joshua, and others who succeeded him in authority, that they should“ observe to do according to all that was written in the Book of the Law." Had the enactments promising liberty, safety and justice to the people, been left to be handed down by oral tradition or testimony, they would soon have become changed, as the will of ambitious or designing rulers might have dictated. But here they were rendered stable and permanent in a code which might be called the Magna Charta of the Hebrew State.

Such were the essential and leading principles of civil freedom in the Hebrew commonwealth ; and their happy influence was felt in the nation during the long period of four hundred years. The system, as a distinct form of government, was introduced by Moses at the Mount of Horeb, and lasted during his life, the life of Joshua, and the lives of others, who successively “judged Israel,” until it was superseded by the introduction of monarchy in the days of Saul. During these four centuries events of paramount importance transpired. The whole economy of Old Testament worship was ordained and brought into general observance, the people were led through the wilderness and established in the land promised to their fathers, and their name became feared and respected by surrounding nations. A succession of men were raised up so renowned that their names are commemorated and embalmed in the New Testament, for their wisdom, their courage, and their piety. “ What shall I more say?" says Paul," for the time would fail me to tell you of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah, of David also, of Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword; out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” The condition of the nation during this period, is several times referred to in their subsequent history as pre-eminently distinguished for the faithful respect shown to the ordinances of religion, and for the general prevalence of prosperity in the land. Howcver great may have been the zeal and liberality of Josiah for restoring and observing the passover after it had been long neglected, the utmost that could be said of the occasion was, “surely there was not holden such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, or of the kings of Judah.” And when David receives assurance of future prosperity to the nation, it is described to be such as prevailed when God “commanded judges to be over his people Israel.” The calamities that befėl the commonwealth were often occasioned by their neglect to maintain the government in its entireness, which God had prescribed for them; and in every instance their suffering and degradation are shown to be in consequence of "their turning away from the Lord," in order to demonstrate by a repeated and convincing record, that no people can have civil freedom without true religion; and that where they cease to serve and honor the Most High, they prepare the way for anarchy within, and for defeat and oppression from without. Indeed to impress that truth on the nations of the earth, seems to have been one great end for which the “ Book of Judges” was written.*

From the view we have taken of the principles embodied in the civil Constitution of the Hebrews,

we see

1. The error of supposing the Government to have been a pure Theocracy. It was a Theocracy only in a limited sense. Every reader of their history must know that the Hebrews had, like other nations, their civil rulers, men who exercised authority over other men, and who were acknowledged throughout the land as its rightful magistrates. While, then, we admit that the Most High, on fitting occasions, claimed to be the lawgiver, judge and ruler of Israel, in a sense peculiar to himself; we hold itto have been a part 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.

* Note F.

« AnteriorContinuar »