Justice

Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy; for thou renderest to every man according to his work.

— Psalm 62 v.12

Suppose my watch has been taken from my pocket; I lay hold of the thief, who is proved guilty and sentenced to a just imprisonment: have I had justice done me? The thief may have had justice done him—but where is my watch? I remain a man wronged. The thief, the man that did the wrong, is the only one who can set the wrong right. God may be able to move the man to right the wrong, but God himself cannot right it without the man. If my watch is found and returned to me, is the account settled between me and the thief? I may forgive him, but is the wrong removed? By no means. But suppose the thief to repent; suppose that it is out of his power to return the watch, but he comes to me and says he is sorry and begs me to accept what little he is able to give as a beginning of atonement. Should I not feel that he had done more to make up for the injury inflicted than the mere restoration of the watch, even by himself, could accomplish? Would there not lie, in his confession, submission, and initial restoration, an appeal to the divinest in me, a sufficing atonement as between man and man? Should I feel it necessary, for the sake of justice, to inflict some certain suffering as demanded by righteousness? The punishing of the wrong-doer makes no atonement for the wrong done. How could it make up to me for the stealing of my watch that the man was punished? The wrong would be there all the same. I am not saying the man ought not to be punished—far from it; only that the punishment nowise makes up to the man wronged. Punishment may do good to the man who does the wrong, but that is a thing as different as it is important.