The Nature And Object Of Penalty -- By: William W. Patton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 038:150 (Apr 1881)
Article: The Nature And Object Of Penalty
Author: William W. Patton


The Nature And Object Of Penalty

Rev. WM. W. Patton

This subject will appear to many to be simple and easily-handled, and there are authors whose statements and reasoning proceed upon that idea. There are, indeed, general definitions that can readily be adduced, and there are certain related ideas which are in everybody’s mind. Penalty, it may be said, is some form of suffering inflicted by those in authority because of an infraction of law. Theologians refer to it as the punishment which God justly inflicts upon those who commit sin. But when we go below the surface, and inquire into the relationships of penalty, we find ourselves compelled to consider fundamental questions concerning justice, benevolence, law, and government. And the matter is the more complicated because law and government assume so many forms, physical and moral, parental, civil, and divine. And, to increase the difficulty, the course of divine providence and the declarations of Scripture bring to our notice a remedial as well as a purely legal system of government, to which penalty sustains some relation.

Penalty being an instrumentality of moral government, intended to aid in securing its special objects, it is necessary

that we should have clear ideas as to the nature of moral government. Three things may be said to enter into it fundamentally. First, it is the control of moral beings in respects which bear upon the production of character and happiness. Moral beings are those who are capable of right and wrong conduct, and thus of moral character; who have those powers and susceptibilities which make possible holiness and sin. We do not attach moral character to material substance, nor yet to the lower orders of animal existence which manifest certain degrees of intelligence. This is because the nature is wanting to which morality pertains. What enters into that nature? Reason, sensibility, and will. There must be the faculty of reason in its higher form: that which takes note of moral distinctions; that which apprehends the imperial idea of right as an intuitive and necessary truth,—a truth depending on no will, yet implying an obligation resting upon all will, and back of which, in its simplicity, it is impossible to go. A being incapable of conceiving the eternal distinction between right and wrong cannot be a subject of moral government. He would have no conception of responsibility for conduct.

But reason alone will not suffice as a foundation for moral action. There must be sensibility also; or a capacity of enjoyment. A being naturally incapable of happiness is incapable of moral character, being incapable of exercising love. For while the mind recognizes the abstract idea of right as necessar...

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