It is hard to preserve just bounds of mercy and severity without a spirit above our own, by which we ought to desire to be led in all things.
How Those in Authority Should Act
In the censures of the church, it is more suitable to the spirit of Christ to incline to the milder part, and not to kill a fly on the forehead with a mallet, not shut men out of heaven for a trifle. The very snuffers [wick trimmers] of the tabernacle were made of pure gold, to show the purity of those censures whereby the light of the church is kept bright. The power that is given to the church is given for edification, not destruction.
How careful was Paul that the incestuous Corinthian (2 Cor. 2:7), if he repented, should not be swallowed up with too much grief. Civil magistrates, for civil exigencies and reasons of state, must let the law have its course; yet thus far they should imitate this mild king, as not to mingle bitterness and passion with authority derived from God.
Authority is a beam of God’s majesty, and prevails most where there is the least mixture of that which is man’s. It requires more than ordinary wisdom to manage it aright. This string must not be too tight, nor too loose. Justice is a harmonious thing. Herbs hot or cold beyond a certain degree, kill. We see even contrary elements preserved in one body by wisely tempering them together. Justice in rigor is often extreme injustice, where some considerable circumstances should incline to moderation; and the reckoning will be easier for bending rather to moderation than rigor.
Insolent behavior toward miserable persons, if humbled, is unseemly in any who look for mercy themselves. Misery should be a magnet for mercy, not a footstool for pride to trample on. Sometimes it falls out that those who are under the government of others are most injurious by waywardness and harsh censures, so disparaging and discouraging the endeavors of their superiors for public good.
In so great weakness of man’s nature, and especially in this crazy age of the world, we ought to take in good part any moderate happiness we enjoy by government, and not be altogether as a nail in the wound, exasperating things by misconstruction. Here love should have a mantle to cast upon lessor errors of those above us. Oftentimes the poor man is the oppressor by unjust clamors. We should labor to give the best interpretation to the actions of governments that the nature of the actions will possibly bear.