Posts Tagged ‘capital punishment’

Guilt and Punishment

October 21, 2008

Some time ago, an excellent lady sought an interview with me, with the object, as she said, of enlisting my sympathy upon the question of ‘Anti-Capital Punishment’. I heard the reasons she urged against hanging men who had committed murder, and, though they did not convince me, I did not seek to answer them. She proposed that, when a man committed murder, he should be confined for life. My remark was, that a great many men, who had been confined half their lives, were not a bit the better for it, and as for her belief that they would necessarily be brought to repentance, I was afraid it was but a dream. ‘Ah!’ she said, good soul as she was, ‘that is because we have been all wrong about punishments. We punish people because we think they deserve to be punished. Now, we ought to show them that we love them; that we only punish them to make them better. ‘Indeed, madam,’ I replied, ‘I have heard that theory a great many times, and I have seen much fine writing upon the matter, but I am no believer in it. The design of punishment should be amendment, but the ground of punishment lies in the positive guilt of the offender. I believe that, when a man does wrong, he ought to be punished for it, and that there is a guilt in sin which justly merits punishment.’ She could not see that. Sin was a very wrong thing, but punishment was not a proper idea. She thought that people were treated too cruelly in prison, and that they ought to be taught that we love them. If they were treated kindly in prison, and tenderly dealt with, they would grow up much better, she was sure. With a view of interpreting her own theory, I said, ‘I suppose, then, you would give criminals all sorts of indulgences in prison. Some great vagabond, who has committed burglary dozens of times–I suppose you would let him sit in an easy chair in the evening, before a nice fire, and mix him a glass of spirits and water, and give him his pipe, and make him happy, to show how much we love him.’ Well, no, she would not give him the spirits; but, still, all the rest would do him good. I thought that was a delightful picture, certainly. It seemed to me to be the most prolific method of cultivating rogues which ingenuity could invent. I imagine that you could grow any number of thieves in that way, for it would be a special means of propagating all manner of wickedness. These very beautiful theories, to such a simple mind as mine, were the source of much amusement; the idea of fondling villains, and treating their crimes as if they were the tumbles and falls of children, made me laugh heartily. I fancied I saw the Government resigning its functions to these excellent persons, and the grand results of their marvellously kind experiments–the sword of the magistrate being transformed into a gruel-spoon, and the jail becoming a sweet retreat for people with bad reputations.

The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon vol.1 ch.32