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§ 10. The Sixth Commandment.

Its Design.

This commandment, as expounded by our Lord (Matt. v. 21, 22), forbids malice in all its degrees and in all its manifestations. The Bible recognizes the distinction between anger and malice. The former is on due occasion allowable; the other is in its nature, and therefore always, evil. The one is a natural or constitutional emotion arising out of the experience or perception of wrong, and includes not only disapprobation but also indignation, and a desire in some way to redress or punish the wrong inflicted. The other includes hatred and the desire to inflict evil to gratify that evil passion. Our Lord is said to have been angry; but in Him there was no malice or resentment. He was the Lamb of God; when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; He prayed for his enemies even on the cross.

In the several commandments of the decalogue, the highest manifestation of any evil is selected for prohibition, with the intention of including all lesser forms of the same evil. In forbidding murder, all degrees and manifestations of malicious feeling are forbidden. The Bible assigns special value to the life of man, first, because he was created in the image of God. He is not only like God in the essential elements of his nature, but he s also God’s representative on earth. An indignity or injury inflicted on him, is an act of irreverence toward God. And secondly, all men are brethren. They are of one blood; children of a common father. On these grounds we are bound to love and respect all men as men; and to do all we can not only to protect 363their lives but also to promote their well-being. Murder therefore, is the highest crime which a man can commit against a fellow-man.

Capital Punishment.

As the sixth commandment forbids malicious homicide, it is plain that the infliction of capital punishment is not included in the prohibition. Such punishment is not inflicted to gratify revenge, but to satisfy justice and for the preservation of society. As these are legitimate and most important ends, it follows that the capital punishment of murder is also legitimate. Such punishment, in the case of murder, is not only lawful, but also obligatory.

1. Because it is expressly declared in the Bible, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” (Gen. ix. 6.) That this is of perpetual obligation is clear, because it was given to Noah, the second head of the human race. It was, therefore, not intended for any particular age or nation. It is the announcement of a general principle of justice; a revelation of the will of God. Moreover the reason assigned for the law is a permanent reason. Man was created in the image of God; and, therefore, whoso sheds his blood, by man shall his blood be shed. This reason has as much force at one time or place as at any other. Rosenmüller’s comment on this clause is, “Cum homo ad Dei imaginem sit factus, æquum est, ut, qui Dei imaginem violavit et destruxit, occidatur, cum Dei imagini injuriam faciens, ipsum Deum, illius auctorem, petierit.325325Scholia in Vetus Testamentum, Leipzig, 1795. This is a very solemn consideration, and one of wide application. It applies not only to murder and other injuries infficted on the persons of men, but also to anything which tends to degrade or to defile them. The Apostle applies it even to evil words, or the suggestion of corrupt thoughts. If it is an outrage to defile the statue or portrait of a great and good man, or of a father or mother, how much greater is the outrage when we defile the imperishable image of God impressed on the immortal soul of man. We find the injunction, that the murderer should surely be put to death, repeated over and over in the Mosaic law. (Ex. xxi. 12, 14; Lev. xxiv. 17; Num. xxxv. 21; Deut. xix. 11, 13.)

There are clear recognitions in the New Testament of the continued obligation of the divine law that murder should be punished with death. In Romans xiii. 4, the Apostle says that the 364magistrate “beareth not the sword in vain.” The sword was worn as the symbol of the power of capital punishment. Even by profane writers, says Meyer, “bearing the sword” by a magistrate was the emblem of the power over life and death. The same Apostle said (Acts xxv. 11): “If I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die;” which clearly implies that, in his judgment, there were offenses, for which the appropriate penalty is death.

2. Besides these arguments from Scripture, there are others drawn from natural justice. It is a dictate of our moral nature that crime should be punished; that there should be a just proportion between the offence and the penalty; and that death, the highest penalty, was the proper punishment for the greatest of all crimes. That such is the instinctive judgment of men is proved by the difficulty often experienced in restraining the people from taking summary vengeance in cases of atrocious murder. So strong is this sentiment that a species of wild justice is sure to step in to supply the place of judicial remissness. Such justice, from being lawless and impulsive, is too often misguided and erroneous, and, in a settled state of society, is always criminal. It being the nature of men, that if the regular, lawful infliction of death as a judicial penalty be abolished, it will be inflicted by the avenger of blood, or by tumultuous assemblies of the people, society has to choose between securing to the homicide a fair trial by the constituted authorities, and giving him up to the blind spirit of revenge.

3. Experience teaches that where human life is undervalued, it is insecure; that where the murderer escapes with impunity or is inadequately punished, homicides are fearfully multiplied. The practical question, therefore, is, Who is to die? the innocent man or the murderer?

Homicide in Self-Defence.

That homicide in self-defence is not forbidden by the sixth commandment, is plain, (1.) Because such homicide is not malicious, and, therefore, does not come within the scope of the prohibition. (2.) Because sell-preservation is an instinct of our nature, and therefore, a revelation of the will of God. (3.) Because it is a dictate of reason and of natural justice that if of two persons we must die, it should be the aggressor and not the aggrieved. (4.) Because the universal judgment of men, and the Word of God, pronounce the man innocent who kills another in defence of his own life or that of his neighbor.



It is conceded that war is one of the most dreadful evils that can be inflicted on a people; that it involves the destruction of property and life; that it demoralizes both the victors and the vanquished; that it visits thousands of non-combatants with all the miseries of poverty, widowhood, and orphanage; and that it tends to arrest the progress of society in everything that is good and desirable. God overrules wars in many cases, as He does the tornado and the earthquake, to the accomplishment of his benevolent purposes, but this does not prove that war in itself is not a great evil. He makes the wrath of man to praise Him. It is conceded that wars undertaken to gratify the ambition, cupidity, or resentment of rulers or people, are unchristian and wicked. It is also conceded that the vast majority of the wars which have desolated the world have been unjustifiable in the sight of God and man. Nevertheless it does not follow from this that war in all cases is to be condemned.

1. This is proved because the right of self-defence belongs to nations as well as to individuals. Nations are bound to protect the lives and property of their citizens. If these are assailed by force, force may be rightfully used in their protection. Nations also have the right to defend their own existence. If that be endangered by the conduct of other nations, they have the natural right of self-protection. A war may be defensive and yet in one sense aggressive. In other words, self-defence may dictate and render necessary the first assault. A man is not bound to wait until a murderer actually strikes his blow. It is enough that he sees undeniable manifestations of a hostile purpose. So a nation is not bound to wait until its territories are actually invaded and its citizens murdered, before it appeals to arms. It is enough that there is clear evidence on the part of another nation of an intention to commence hostilities. While it is easy to lay down the principle that war is justifiable only as a means of self-defence, the practical application of this principle is beset with difficulties. The least aggression on national property, or the slightest infringement of national rights, may be regarded as the first step toward national extinction, and therefore justify the most extreme measures of redress. A nation may think that a certain enlargement of territory is necessary to its security, and, therefore, that it has the right to go to war to secure it. So a man may say that a portion of his neighbour’s farm is necessary to the full enjoyment 366of his own property, and therefore that he has the right to appropriate it to himself. It is to be remembered that nations are as much bound by the moral law as individual men; and therefore that what a man may not do in the protection of his own rights, and on the plea of self-defence, a nation may not do. A nation therefore is bound to exercise great forbearance, and to adopt every other available means of redressing wrongs, before it plunges itself and others into all the demoralizing miseries of war.

2. The lawfulness of defensive war, however, does not rest exclusively on these general principles of justice; it is distinctly recognized in Scripture. In numerous cases, under the Old Testament, such wars were commanded. God endowed men with special qualifications as warriors. He answered when consulted through the Urim and Thummim, or by the prophets, as to the propriety of military enterprises (Judges xx. 27 f., 1 Sam. xiv. 37, xxiii. 2, 4; 1 Kings xxii. 6 ff.); and He often interfered miraculously in behalf of his people when they were engaged in battle. Many of the Psalms of David, dictated by the Spirit, are either prayers for divine assistance in war or thanksgivings for victory. It is very plain, therefore, that the God whom the patriarchs and prophets worshipped did not condemn war, when the choice was between war and annihilation. It is a very clear case that if the Israelites had not been allowed to defend themselves against their heathen neighbours they would have soon been extirpated, and their religion would have perished with them.

As the essential principles of morals do not change, what was permitted or commanded under one dispensation, cannot be unlawful under another, unless forbidden by a new revelation. The New Testament, however, contains no such revelation. It does not say, as in the case of divorce, that war was permitted to the Hebrews because of the hardness of their hearts, but that under the Gospel a new law was to prevail. This very silence of the New Testament leaves the Old Testament rule of duty on this subject still in force. Accordingly, although there is no express declaration on the subject, as none was needed, we find the lawfulness of war quietly assumed. When the soldiers inquired of John the Baptist what they should do to prepare for the kingdom of God, he did not tell them that they must forsake the profession of arms. The centurion, whose faith our Lord so highly commended (Matt. viii. 5-13), was not censured for being a soldier. So also the centurion, a devout man, whom God in a vision commanded to send for Peter, and on whom, 367and his associates, according to the record in the tenth chapter of Acts, the Holy Ghost came with miraculous gifts, was allowed to remain in the army of even a heathen emperor. If magistrates, as we learn from the thirteenth chapter of Romans, are armed with a right or power of life and death over their own citizens, they certainly have the right to declare war in self-defence.

In the early ages of the Church there was a great disinclination to engage in military service, and the fathers at times justified this reluctance by calling the lawfulness of all wars into question. But the real sources of this opposition of Christians to entering the army, were that they thereby gave themselves up to the service of a power which persecuted their religion; and that idolatrous usages were inseparably connected with military duties. When the Roman empire became Christian, and the cross was substituted for the eagle on the standards of the army, this opposition died away, till at length we hear of fighting prelates, and of military orders of monks.

No historical Christian Church has pronounced all war to be unlawful. The Augsburg Confession326326I. xvi. 2; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. p. 14. expressly says that it is proper for Christians to act as magistrates, and among other things “jure bellare, militare,” etc. And Presbyterians especially have shown that it is not against their consciences to contend to the death for their rights and liberties.


It is conceivable that men who do not believe in God or in a future state of existence, should think it allowable to take refuge in annihilation from the miseries of this life. But it is unaccountable, except on the assumption of temporary or permanent insanity, that any man should rush uncalled into the retributions of eternity. Suicide, therefore, is most frequent among those who have lost all faith in religion.327327It is estimated that one death out of 175 in London is suicide; in New York, one in 172; in Vienna, one in 160; in Paris, one in 72. It is a very complicated crime; our life is not our own; we have no more right to destroy our life than we have to destroy the life of a fellow-man. Suicide is, therefore, self murder. It is the desertion of the post which God has assigned us; it is a deliberate refusal to submit to his will; it is a crime which admits of no repentance, and consequently involves the loss of the soul.



Duelling is another violation of the sixth commandment. Its advocates defend it on the same principle on which international war is defended. As independent nations have no common tribunal to which they can resort for the redress of injuries, they are justifiable, on the principle of self-defence, in appealing to arms for the protection of their rights. In like manner, it is said, there are offences for which the law of the land affords no redress, and therefore, the individual must be allowed to seek redress for himself. But (1.) There is no evil for which the law does not, or should not, afford redress. (2.) The redress sought in the duel is unjustifiable. No one has the right to kill a man for a slight or an insult. Taking a man’s life for a hasty word, or even for a serious injury, is murder in the sight of God, who has ordained the penalty of death as the punishment for only the most atrocious crimes. (3.) The remedy is preposterous; for most frequently it is the aggrieved party who loses his life. (4.) Duelling is the cause of the greatest suffering to innocent parties, which no man has a right to inflict to gratify his pride or resentment. (5.) The survivor in a fatal duel entails on himself, unless his heart and conscience be seared, a life of misery.

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