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escaping from the crimes by which it had been incurred. The asylum of these institutions is not a resource for the vicious, but a refuge for the contrite. It offers to these poor creatures a retreat, not where they may sin, but where they may weep; not where they may rear the unblushing front of profligacy, but where they may bow the knee of humiliation ; where they may plead the merits and the blood of a crucified Redeemer, wbere they may strike upon their breasts and say, “ God be merciful to me a sinner !” It invites them, not to the abode of luxury and indolence, but to a retirement where they may “be quiet" and “do their own business,” and “get their own bread," and listen to the tender lessons of religion, and seek peace with an offended God, through the blood of the Lamb.
This, then, is the proper object of these institutions. It is not for hardened criminals, but for humble penitents. The objection therefore, as far as concerns the designs of Penitentiaries, is utterly without foundation.
But let us ask:--Is not the principle we are examining most strongly opposed to the spirit of the gospel?
Surely if there is a feature which may be said more than any other decidedly to belong to the religion of Jesus, it is that of tenderness to penitent sinners, — of mercy to the truly contrite. Reconciliation with God is the badge of profession to the ministers of the Gospel. The inscription which waves on their banners, and is stamped on their foreheads, is this :-“We are ambassadors of Christ; and beseech you, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled unto God.” It was to penitents our Lord peculiarly addressed himself : “Come unto me, ye that are weary and heavy laden.” It was such persons whom he considered as the specific objects of his mission : “I came to call sinners to repentance.” Of such persons he was continually in search: “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost,” Compassion to the penitent was the prominent characteristic, was the protruding feature, so to speak, of his own life and lessons. It was the great jewel which blazed in the very front of his crown of thorns. What is the direct aim of the objection which we are considering? It is this, - to tear this jewel from the brow of the Redeemer; or if, for our own safety, it is suffered to shine there, yet to take care that not a beam of it be transferred to our own character and dealings with the guilty, Christ, indeed, may possibly be permitted to encourage your penitence; or my penitence; to cheer us by the accents of his love, to sprinkle us with the sacrifice of his blood, and to clothe us with the spotless mantle of his merits. But, woe be to those who catch the spirit of their Master, and who venture to lift a penitent from the ground, even to place her in those arms of the Redeemer to which we ourselves must fly for refuge !
We therefore have no hesitation in affirming, that this objection to Penitentiaries is repelled by the whole spirit and letter of the gospel. Every page and syllable of the word of truth condemns it. Every minister of religion resists and condemns it, when he promulgates the very first principles of his religion. The Lord of Life, as he hangs on his cross for sinners, condemns it. All--all, unite in exclaiming, “ Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Again, the principle, that we are to beware of
giving encouragement to the returning penitent, is * wholly unsuited to the circumstances of man.
It might be reasonable, in a world as pure as it proceeded from the hands of its maker, to adapt our plans and institutions to the circumstances of innocent creatures. But is it not the general testimony of Scripture, that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”? that all are guilty, and need the pardoning efficacy of a Saviour's blood ? that all are corrupt, and need the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God? And although we had not the testimony of scripture, is not the fact of the fall, and consequent corruption of man, stamped upon every human being we meet ? is it not written in the title-page of our statute-books? is it not proclaimed in the crimes and the groans of our prisoners ? Banish, then, the principle of tenderness to the guilty, of compassion to the returning penitent, and you may plan institutions for a better world, but they are not fit for this ;-you may legislate for angels, but you place this world beyond the reach of your contrivances. Such objections in the mouth of fallen creatures are as preposterous as though a body of criminals should assemble, on the eve of their execution, to quench the beam of legislative mercy, to quicken the vengeance of the law, and to arm it with more tremendous penalties. No—it is not for creatures who, if they are men, are guilty menwho, if they approach the throne of heaven, must approach it by the steps of contrition—who, if they are saved, must be saved “by grace,” by the free and unmerited love of God in Christ;—it is not for them to rob others of the anchor to which they themselves must cling, or perish in the storm of eternal vens geance.
And now let us ask, whether this objection is not in the highest degree dishonorable to God. We are well aware, that one of the principal reasons why many persons object to any indulgence to those who, though they have been guilty, appear to be returning to God by sincere repentance; is that our hopes of their reform are ill-founded :-they cannot believe them to be real penitents ;-cannot indulge hopes of their radical conversion. And why? Is the task too hard for God to melt the hardened heart;—to burst the bonds of corruption ;-to pour the light and heat of religion into the dark and cold chambers of the unconverted soul? Who, then, clothed Ahab in sackcloth ? Who humbled the proud spirit of Manasseh? Who cast out the devils ; or accomplished the still more arduous task of casting out the lusts and passions of a Mary Magdalene ? Who brought the poor guilty woman to the feet of a Saviour; drew the large tear down her sorrowing face, and filled that heart with the love of a Saviour -a heart which had hitherto been the sty of the most impure appetites ? And who gave such permanence to those feelings of grief, and so strengthened and matured the young seed of religion in the hearts of these converts, that they became not the mere fugitive hearers, but, the doers of the word ; not the self-interested followers of the Son of God in the hour of his strength, and power, and greatness, but the sole attendants of his cross, and the tender mourners of his tomb ? However much mistake seems to prevail as to this subject, it is beyond dispute, that the most sincere contrition, and the most complete reform, often, through the merciful interference of the Divine Spirit, follow the commission of the grossest offences. Perhaps the of
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fender has been suddenly surprised into sin; and when convicted, starts, with horror, to discover the rapidity and awfulness of her fall. Perhaps she has been partly betrayed into sin by the unusual quickness of her feelings ; and those very feelings, in the hand of God, take alarm, and yield to the first touch of Divine grace on the soul. Add to this, that the man living in outward decency, and yet without a spark of religion, is not unlikely to be surrounded with the approbation of the world ; and, therefore, to find nothing in his circumstances or condition to rouse him to a sense of his danger. But the very clamour and disgrace, the hissings of scorn, and the tempest of rebuke, which follow a gross sin,_all conspire to lessen the risks of the offender's forgetting her crime, or underrating its consequences. The terrors of her situation are of themselves a salutary penalty ; by which an offended, yet compassionate God at once punishes the sinner, and warns her to “flee from the wrath to come.” They are calculated to act upon the offender as the “ earthquake" upon the jailor of Philippi ; and often does the guilty person cast herself at the feet of the minister of Christ, and in the heart-broken accents of contrition ask, “What must I do to be saved ?”
But let us not be mistaken. We do not state these truths as any palliative or apology for sin :God forbid! Sin is in every shape detestable to Him. But we investigate the influence of various orders of sins; and consider the probability of real repentance following them. We endeavour to convince the Pharisee, the man of decent, but of irreligious habits, that his state is more perilous, by far, than he conceives it to be. We endeavour to convince him, that he has no right to despair of the