There is, in truth, but one kind of crime which is committed by sound and disposing minds, and it is that form of murder which is called capital punishment. A man's life does not belong only to the community. It is a part of the universal scheme of life. Each of us is placed here by the divine law for divine and universal purposes, and there is nothing that can give us the right to legalize the taking of human life. We are committing a crime ourselves when we permit it, and it is the crime against the Holy Ghost, the higher law.
Look below the surface appearances; look into the depths of life. Here is a man to be hanged for his crimes tomorrow: we know what will happen to his body, but how about the soul to which that body belongs? In what condition will that go forth -- in sympathy with the human race, perhaps; at peace with man and the world? He will be, on the contrary, but little impressed as he leave life with the love of humanity, or with the love of the good, the beautiful, and the true. He knows nothing whatever about the divine nature within his human nature: as he sits there agonizing in the condemned cell, there is no atmosphere, no reminder of divine things about him, within or without.
"Love ye one another!" said the grand Nazarene: since this man was taken for his crime, he has had nothing to love or be loved by but the iron bars of his cage where he has been kept in a hideous silence and made to realize every moment that he is doomed, a thing, an outcast from humanity altogether. He has come to hate mankind -- which, truly, never gave him reason to do otherwise. He is at war with everything around him; his whole being is alive with bitterness against those who condemned him, with lust of revenge, with horror of what is approaching. He has heard preached this doctrine and that doctrine, from this pulpit or that, at one time or another, but never a word nor thought to give him any real understanding of himself.
He has not the enlightenment to know -- how should he have? -- that what we reap we have sown, and as we sow, we shall reap. He has missed all in life that might have helped him, and met with all that could possibly hinder and mar, and he has reveled in the lower side of his nature till now in the world's eyes he is the worst thing on earth. As far as we can, we allow him no memory but this: that he is accursed and unfit to be alive, and so must be pushed forth with every circumstance of degradation into the great unknown. All he can think of is how to save his body from being hanged: he is crazy under the scourgings of the thought and cannot be calm for an instant, and there is a hell of hells in his mind of which we can know nothing.
The soul is there -- a human soul is there -- he has still the spark of divinity within him, however faint recognition of it may have become. Because he is human, he is essentially divine. We know so little of life as yet. Of this man, this much may be said: though the soul has been shut out steadfastly from his consciousness and has found no way to express itself in his actions -- though he has been living apart from it and is sunk in the deepest degradation -- the immutable law that governs all life holds him in its keeping as it does the greatest of the saints, and I know that somewhere beyond death that divinity will open up vistas of hope for him, and the realization that the way he followed was mistaken and that other chances will be given him.
Truly, the divine law is more merciful than human law: beyond death there is peace, and knowledge of our greater selves, and recompense for what injustice the world may have done us. We human beings are divine -- born to evolve! We are sons of god, incarnate here to work out superb destinies for ourselves and the world we live in. But we should remember what deposit of thought, as it were, he has left on the brink of this world, and realize that when through the divine urge of the law he seeks his place on earth again, as he will -- as all must -- and takes up again the burden that he laid down, it is not in the halls of the learned we shall find him, nor in the places where beauty and truth abide. He will of necessity move to an environment akin to the thoughts and feelings with which he went out: such was the door of his exit, and such must be the door of his return.
Here is another aspect of it: for our own and our children's and our civilization's sake we should turn away from this legalized iniquity. We must consider the thought-influences that are pushed, so to say, into the mental atmosphere of the future child, there to stamp their image on its character. Some crime has been committed and is making a stir in the newspapers. Much feeling has been aroused against the man supposed to have committed it -- the case is being discussed in many homes -- and here is a woman about to become a mother. She listens to two or three such discussions, and under the psychological influence of the general opinion she admits into her mind the thought that the man should be hanged -- even she formulates it in words, and says, "I should like to see him hanged."
Think of the effect of such a thought, such feeling, such a desire taken as poison into her mind to flow as poison in her blood, upon the character and future of her unborn child. For when one stirs his lower nature to a desire for revenge he is arousing forces which then and there become an actual poison in his body. People are destroying themselves every day with their lust of vengeance and their hatred, not only destroying their higher and mental possibilities, but literally poisoning the very blood in their veins. Every atom is affected; and thus they prepare punishment for themselves, not far off in another world or state of being -- no hell is threatened -- but at the moment when the thought is conceived, here in this world, in their present bodies, physically, the poison begins to take effect. You have but to follow the lives of the people who are determined to do wrong to see how these forces are destroying them.