As to be perfectly just is an attribute in the Divine Nature, to be so to the utmost of our abilities is the glory of a man: such an one, who has the public administration, acts like the representative of his Maker.
The quality of the sentence does not, however, decide on the justice of it. Angry friendship is sometimes as bad as calm enmity. For this reason the cold neutrality of abstract justice is, to a good and clear cause, a more desirable thing than an affection liable to be any way disturbed. When the trial is by friends, if the decision should happen to be favourable, the honour of the acquittal is lessened; if adverse, the condemnation is exceedingly embittered. It is aggravated by coming from lips professing friendship, and pronouncing judgment with sorrow and reluctance. Taking in the whole view of life, it is more safe to live under the jurisdiction of severe but steady reason than under the empire of indulgent but capricious passion.
From the first records of human impatience down to the present time, it has been complained that the march of violence and oppression is rapid, but that the progress of remedial and vindictive justice, even the divine, has almost always favoured the appearance of being languid and sluggish. Something of this is owing to the very nature and constitution of human affairs; because, as justice is a circumspect, cautious, scrutinizing, balancing principle, full of doubt even of itself, and fearful of doing wrong even to the greatest wrong-doers, in the nature of things its movements must be slow in comparison with the headlong rapidity with which avarice, ambition, and revenge pounce down upon the devoted prey of those violent and destructive passions.
Mankind in general are not sufficiently acquainted with the import of the word justice: it is commonly believed to consist only in a performance of those duties to which the laws of society can oblige us. This I allow is sometimes the import of the word, and in this sense justice is distinguished from equity; but there is a justice still more extensive, and which can be shown to embrace all the virtues united.
Justice may be defined, That virtue which impels us to give to every person what is his due. In this extended sense of the word, it comprehends the practice of every virtue which reason prescribes, or society should expect. Our duty to our Maker, to each other, and to ourselves, are fully answered if we give them what we owe them. Thus justice, properly speaking, is the only virtue; and all the rest have their origin in it.
The surest and most pleasant path to universal esteem and true popularity is to be just: for all men esteem him most who secures most their private interest, and protects best their innocence. And all who have any notion of a Deity believe that justice is one of his chief attributes; and that, therefore, whoever is just is next in nature to Him, and the best picture of Him, and to be reverenced and loved.
No obligation to justice does force a man to be cruel, or to use the sharpest sentence. A just man does justice to every man and to every thing; and then, if he be also wise, he knows there is a debt of mercy and compassion due to the infirmities of mans nature; and that is to be paid: and he that is cruel and ungentle to a sinning person, and does the worst to him, dies in his debt and is unjust. Pity, and forbearance, and long-sufferance, and fair interpretation, and excusing our brother, and taking in the best sense, and passing the gentlest sentences, are as certainly our duty, and owing to every person that does offend and can repent, as calling to account can be owing to the law, and are first to be paid; and he that does not so is an unjust person.
Justice is the fundamental and almost only virtue of social life; as it embraces all those actions which are useful to society; and that every virtue, under the name of charity, sincerity, humanity, probity, love of country, generosity, simplicity of manners, and modesty, are but varied forms and diversified applications of this axiomDo unto another only that which thou wouldest he should do unto thee.