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Chapter 26.—That in Certain Peculiar Cases the Examples of the Saints are Not to Be Followed.

But, they say, in the time of persecution some holy women escaped those who menaced them with outrage, by casting themselves into rivers which they knew would drown them; and having died in this manner, they are venerated in the church catholic as martyrs.  Of such persons I do not presume to speak rashly.  I cannot tell whether there may not have been vouchsafed to the church some divine authority, proved by trustworthy evidences, for so honoring their memory:  it may be that it is so.  It may be they were not deceived by human judgment, but prompted by divine wisdom, to their act of self-destruction.  We know that this was the case with Samson.  And when God enjoins any act, and intimates by plain evidence that He has enjoined it, who will call obedience criminal?  Who will accuse so religious a submission?  But then every man is not justified in sacrificing his son to God, because Abraham was commendable in so doing.  The soldier who has slain a man in obedience to the authority under which he is lawfully commissioned, is not accused of murder by any law of his state; nay, if he has not slain him, it is then he is accused of treason to the state, and of despising the law.  But if he has been acting on his own authority, and at his own impulse, he has in this case incurred the crime of shedding human blood.  And thus he is punished for doing without orders the very thing he is punished for neglecting to do when he has been ordered.  If the commands of a general make so great a difference, shall the commands of God make none?  He, then, who knows it is unlawful to kill himself, may nevertheless do so if he is ordered by Him whose commands we may not neglect.  Only let him be very sure that the divine command has been signified.  As for us, we can become privy to the secrets of conscience only in so far as these are disclosed to us, and so far only do we judge:  “No one knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him.”8080    1 Cor. ii. 11.  But this we affirm, this we maintain, this we every way pronounce to be right, that no man ought to inflict on himself voluntary death, for this is to escape the ills of time by plunging into those of eternity; that no man ought to do so on account of another man’s sins, for this were to escape a guilt which could not pollute him, by incurring great guilt of his own; that no man ought to do so on account of his own past sins, for he has all the more need of this life that these sins may be healed by repentance; that no man should put an end to this life to obtain that better life we look for after death, for 18 those who die by their own hand have no better life after death.


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