Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Judicial Laws as the Standard for Determining Criminal Punishments (Rev. Thomas Houston)

"It is the penal code of heaven
--the rule by which alone, as
far as human society is
concerned we can measure
the magnitude of the crime
committed, and the proper
award of punishment which
it merits."
--Rev. Thomas Houston
The following quote was originally posted by Daniel F. N. Ritchie at the Confessional Puritan Board. Given in 1832 by the Rev. Thomas Houston, this quote persuasively argues that if we are to properly punish crimes against God's moral law, then we must base those punishments on the judicial law. 

4. Devising and executing wholesome laws. 
Just laws are themselves effective and powerful instruments for promoting the peace and prosperity, the present and future welfare of a community. The Christian Magistrate, by the authority of law, will seek to compass the objects of his appointment, and fulfil the responsibility attached to his office. The protection he extends to the Church must be legal protection. No such sanction must he ever give to the idolater, or to him who teaches lies in the name of the Lord. One eminent advantage the Magistrate, who takes the Divine law as the basis of his government, and who thus who are guided by mere human prudence or expediency in their measures. He has an unerring standard to which he can refer – an immutable and solid foundation, on which he may build with perfect safety. 
On this ground we plead, that the Christian Civil Magistrate should make the Divine law the grand instrument for advancing the interests of religion, and reaching the other high ends of his appointment. Were it required, I might insist further on that has been elsewhere advanced – that the Judicial law, in those parts of it that were not peculiar to the Jewish polity, forms the grand directory to the Christian Magistrate in the exercise of that part of his authority that respects the establishment of true religion, and its defence against the inroads of idolatry, blasphemy, and heresy.  
The moral law defines and declares the crime, but says nothing of the punishment. The Judicial law is the fence that God himself set round the precepts of the Decalogue, which are of universal obligation. It is the penal code of heaven – the rule by which alone, as far as human society is concerned we can measure the magnitude of the crime committed, [p. 90] and the proper award of punishment which it merits. Consider it entirely abrogated, and then, as far as related to the Civil Magistrate, the sanction of the Decalogue is removed. He has a sword still, but he is without directions how he may use it. Like a mariner without a compass, he is afloat on a sea of uncertainties, ready at every moment to be swallowed up by the tempestuous billows, or to be dashed to pieces of the rocks and quicksands that threaten his destruction. But the Christian Magistrate is not appointed God’s minister, and left thus without directions in performing the functions of his arduous office. His duty is clearly and minutely declared in their words of Him who is without variableness and shadow of turning, and whose law, like himself, is unchangeable. With this divine instrument in his hand, he has nothing to fear. Let him apply it faithfully, and leave the consequences with God. Then will his administration be crowned with success, and God’s glory and man’s good will be extensively promoted. 
Thomas Houston, The Christian magistrate: a discourse, with an appendix (Belfast: Stuart & Gregg, 1832), pp 90-1.

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