CHAPTER XXVII.—THE LAW, EVEN IN CORRECTING AND PUNISHING, AIMS AT THE GOOD OF MEN.
Let no, one then, run down law, as if, on account of the penalty, it were not beautiful and good. For shall he who drives away bodily disease appear a benefactor; and shall not he who attempts to deliver the soul from iniquity, as much more appear a friend, as the soul is a more precious thing than the body? Besides, for the sake of bodily health we submit to incisions, and cauterizations, and medicinal draughts; and he who administers them is called saviour and healer, even though amputating parts, not from grudge or ill-will towards the patient, but as the principles of the art prescribe, so that the sound parts may not perish along with them, and no one accuses the physician’s art of wickedness; and shall we not similarly submit, for the soul’s sake, to either banishment, or punishment, or bonds, provided only from unrighteousness we shall attain to righteousness?
For the law, in its solicitude for those who obey, trains up to piety, and prescribes what is to be done, and restrains each one from sins, imposing penalties even on lesser sins.
But when it sees any one in such a condition as to appear incurable, posting to the last stage of wickedness, then in its solicitude for the rest, that they may not be destroyed by it (just as if amputating a part from the whole body), it condemns such an one to death, as the course most conducive to health. “Being judged by the Lord,” says the apostle, “we are chastened, that we may not be condemned with the world." For the prophet had said before, “Chastening, the Lord hath chastised me, but hath not given me over unto death." “For in order to teach thee His righteousness,” it is said, “He chastised thee and tried thee, and made thee to hunger and thirst in the desert land; that all His statutes and His judgments may be known in thy heart, as I command thee this day; and that thou mayest know in thine heart, that just as if a man were chastising his son, so the Lord our God shall chastise thee."
And to prove that example corrects, he says directly to the purpose: “A clever man, when he seeth the wicked punished, will himself be severely chastised, for the fear of the Lord is the source of wisdom."
But it is the highest and most perfect good, when one is able to lead back any one from the practice of evil to virtue and well-doing, which is the very function of the law. So that, when one fails into any incurable evil,—when taken possession of, for example, by wrong or covetousness,—it will be for his good if he is put to death. For the law is beneficent, being able to make some righteous from unrighteous, if they will only give ear to it, and by releasing others from present evils; for those who have chosen to live temperately and justly, it conducts to immortality. To know the law is characteristic of a good disposition. And again: “Wicked men do not understand the law; but they who seek the Lord shall have understanding in all that is good."
It is essential, certainly, that the providence which manages all, be both supreme and good. For it is the power of both that dispenses salvation—the one correcting by punishment, as supreme, the other showing kindness in the exercise of beneficence, as a benefactor. It is in your power not to be a son of disobedience, but to pass from darkness to life, and lending your ear to wisdom, to be the legal slave of God, in the first instance, and then to become a faithful servant, fearing the Lord God. And if one ascend higher, he is enrolled among the sons.
But when “charity covers the multitude of sins," by the consummation of the blessed hope, then may we welcome him as one who has been enriched in love, and received into the elect adoption, which is called the beloved of God, while he chants the prayer, saying, “Let the Lord be my God.”
The beneficent action of the law, the apostle showed in the passage relating to the Jews, writing thus: “Behold, thou art called a Jew and restest in the law, and makest thy boast in God, and knowest the will of God, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law, and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, who hast the form of knowledge and of truth in the law." For it is admitted that such is the power of the law, although those whose conduct is not according to the law, make a false pretence, as if they lived in the law. “Blessed is the man that hath found wisdom, and the mortal who has seen understanding; for out of its mouth,” manifestly Wisdom’s, “proceeds righteousness, and it bears law and mercy on its tongue." For both the law and the Gospel are the energy of one Lord, who is “the power and wisdom of God;” and the terror which the law begets is merciful and in order to salvation. “Let not alms, and faith, and truth fail thee, but hang them around thy neck." In the same way as Paul, prophecy upbraids the people with not understanding the law. “Destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known." “There is no fear of God before their eyes." “Professing themselves wise, they became fools." “And we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully." “Desiring to be teachers of the law, they understand,” says the apostle, “neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned."