The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
The Sixth Commandment
"You shall not kill." Exodus 20:13
This commandment, as well as others, was greatly
perverted by the traditions and glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees. So
when our Savior came, the design of a part of his teaching was to rescue it
from perversion: "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother
will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,'
is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in
danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the
altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
Matthew 5:22-23. The general scope of this teaching of our Lord is to show
that not only actual murder is thus forbidden, but also all that leads to
it. A few preliminary remarks seem to be called for.
1. The command reads, "You shall not kill;" and upon the
face of it, we seem to be prohibited from taking the life of any creature.
But other Scriptures inform us, that it is lawful for us to eat the flesh of
animals, birds, and fish. Thus God says to Noah, "Every moving thing that
lives shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all
things," Gen. 9:3. This grant is the more remarkable as it was not made
until more than 2300 years after the creation. The New Testament fully
sustains this grant to Noah. Our Lord himself partook of animal food, Luke
24:42. And Paul says, "I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there
is nothing unclean of itself," Romans 14:14. And again, "Eat anything sold
in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, 'The earth
is the Lord's, and everything in it.'" 1 Cor. 10:25-26. And again, "Every
creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it is received with
thanksgiving," 1 Tim. 4:4. So that it is clear that we are not forbidden to
take the life of animals for food.
Nor is it wrong to take the life of animals which are
dangerous or ravenous. By miracle David slew a bear and a lion; and Paul
shook off the serpent into the fire. The law of self-preservation fully
justifies our destruction of injurious animals. But lest this liberty be
misunderstood, it is proper to state that all cruelty to the brute
creation is clearly forbidden. "God once made a dumb donkey to rebuke
the madness of a prophet," Num. 22:28. "A righteous man regards the life of
his beast." The emperor Domitian began his career of crime and cruelty by
torturing flies with a needle. Benedict Arnold, when a lad, delighted in
tormenting calves, colts, and lambs, thus preparing for his end of infamy.
2. There are three reasons why we are bound to be careful
of human life. The first is, that mankind are our brethren and our flesh.
Gen. 37:27; Isaiah 58:7; Acts 17:26, 28. The second is, that God made man in
his own image. Gen. 9:6. Although by the fall, man has lost the moral image
of God, yet he still has his natural image, consisting in his intellectual
nature, which though marred is not destroyed. A third reason is, a clear and
explicit command of God, hedging about human life with great care, as in
this commandment, and often elsewhere; so that God requires that every beast
that shall shed the blood of man shall itself be slain. Gen. 9:5; Exodus
3. Important as is the preservation of our own lives and
the lives of our fellow-men, yet we are not at liberty to use unlawful means
for that purpose. We may not lie, or steal, or swear falsely, or deny God's
truth—even to save life, our own or that of others. Gen. 12:12, 13; Romans
3:8; 1 Tim. 1:19, 20. Honor, truth, and conscience are worth more than life.
It was the devil (and not God) who said: "Skin for skin, yes, all that a man
has will he give for his life." Job 2:4.
4. There is nothing in this command forbidding us to take
the life of men, who are seeking our lives, if we have no other way of
escaping their malicious plots. This was clearly settled just after giving
the moral law from Sinai. "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so
that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed." Exodus 22:2. Our
Lord, himself, may allude to this law as of force in his day. Matt. 24:43.
The reason of the law is, that there is always a strong presumption that a
house-breaker will commit murder, if necessary to effect his nefarious
designs. Nearly the whole Christian world has united in declaring the right
of self-defense against murderous assaults.
5. Nor is there anything in this command prohibiting
war, when necessary for the defense of a nation, or for the recovery of
unquestioned rights. Gen. 14:13-16; Exodus 17:8-12; Judges 5:23; 1 Sam.
30:3-20, etc. John the Baptist called upon soldiers to "do no violence, and
accuse no man falsely, but be content with your wages," Luke 3:14; but he
never hinted to them that their calling was unlawful. Our Lord also greatly
commended the faith of the centurion, but never called on him to renounce
his profession. Luke 7:8, 9. While all this is so, the world ought not to
forget what Dwight says: "Aggressive war is nothing but a complication of
robbery and murder;" and what Robert Hall says: "War is nothing but a
temporary repeal of all the principles of virtue."
We are also warned in Scripture that war is full of
terrors and horrors. The prophet Isaiah thus describes war: "Howl, for the
day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the
Almighty. Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall
melt; and they shall be afraid; pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them;
they shall be in pain as a woman that travails; they shall be amazed one at
another; their faces shall be as flames. Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he
shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the
constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened
in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
Everyone that is found shall be thrust through. Their children also shall be
dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their
wives ravished. Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces, and they
shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare
children. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and
garments rolled in blood." Compare Jer. 4:19-31.
6. Although this commandment is against the murder of
men's bodies, and against all that may lead thereto, it could be by fair and
easy inference, shown that the murder of their souls is even more
dreadful; and we may therefore expect God to inflict the direst
judgments on those on whom the blood of souls is found. Ezek. 33:8. We are
now prepared to consider several classes of sins against this commandment.
"A tart temper never mellows with age, and a
sharp tongue is the only edged-tool which grows sharper with constant
1. Wrong FEELINGS.
1. One of the tempers very unfriendly to our own life and
the lives of others is discontent. When
indulged, there is no telling to what length it will go. It is very
deceitful, and comes to us under the most plausible pretenses. "A change of
situation is but a change of one class of trials, temptations, and duties
for another." "Hell and destruction are never full, so the eyes of man are
never satisfied." Proverbs 27:20. Discontent is well-near universal. Through
divine grace it does not reign in the righteous, but it annoys them. How
much pain it produces. "As a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man
that wanders from his place."
When discontent becomes strong and violent, it exhibits
itself in ill-nature towards man and in hard thoughts and wicked speeches
respecting God. It makes our fellow-creatures around us unhappy. 'It
converts us into "murmurers and complainers." Jude 16. It is entirely
counter to the Lord's prayer, "May Your will be done." It produces
languishing, and often ends in the destruction of human life. It would be
well if mankind had clear apprehensions of the sinfulness of discontent.
When it assumes a violent form and becomes impatient, it makes us quarrel
with providence, and foolishly declares life undesirable. The prophet sent
to warn Nineveh was in such a frame. "Now, O Lord, take, I beseech you, my
life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.... I do well to
be angry even unto death." Jonah 4:3, 9. How much more befitting was the
language of Job in his deep afflictions: "All the days of my appointed time
will I wait, until my change comes." Job 14:14.
Luther, seeing a bird light on a twig by his window, to
roost for the night, wrote: "Ah, dear little bird! he has chosen his
shelter, and is quietly rocking himself to sleep without a care for
tomorrow's lodging, calmly holding by his little twig, and leaving God to
think for him." Irrational creatures are as if they had more faith in God
than men who profess to know him.
2. Ambition is no
less against the spirit of this command. It may be very low in its aims, yet
if it rules a man, it will ruin him. One may "aspire to be a fool," he may
aim at being esteemed rough, or unpolished; or he may aim high, and desire
to subject thousands to his belief, or influence, or government. He may be
ready to wade through rivers of blood and build a throne on human skulls.
The deadly nature of this passion is often concealed under plausible names.
It is called spirit, energy, laudable emulation, etc. But in its
gratification, men often destroy soul and body, and become unjust enemies of
those who favor not their selfish aims. To such, how clear is the word of
God: "Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don't do it!" Jer. 45:5.
The higher the ambitious rise, the greater is their peril—and the more
tremendous will be their fall.
3. Nor is envy less
contrary to this commandment. It often destroys life. It is "a rottenness of
the bones." Proverbs 14:30.
"What makes the man of envy what he is
Is worth in others, vileness in himself,
A lust of praise, with undeserving deeds,
And conscious poverty of soul."
How some hearts sicken at rising merit, and growing
worth, and increasing credit in others! How embittered is rivalry! The
unsanctified heart dies within it at the advance of a competitor. The
hollow-hearted professor of religion sickens at the moral grandeur of a
church not of his sect. How envy detracts from the worth of good men. How it
destroys its subject. "Wrath is cruel, and anger is lutrageous, but who can
stand before envy?" Proverbs 27:4. It directly leads to murder. 1 John 3:12.
And yet how common it is. James 4:5. "The shadow does not more naturally
attend the sun than envy does favor." Boston: "Envy is the devil's two edged
sword drawn to slay two at once; the envious person himself, for he is like
a serpent gnawing its own tail—and the party envied." Proverbs 14:30, Job
5:2, Proverbs 27:4.
4. Revenge is another
malignant exercise of the heart. Some of the more devilish exhibitions of it
will be considered hereafter. It manifests itself in the rencontres of
public assemblies. But often it works secretly, where all seems fair and
kind. It clandestinely attacks property, liberty, or reputation. Possibly it
becomes open, and indulges in innuendo, invective or scurrility; or it
delights in the envenomed retort, and with keen irony, biting sarcasm, or
scornful ridicule, assaults its object. "Dear friends, never avenge
yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, 'I will take vengeance; I
will repay those who deserve it', says the Lord. Instead, do what the
Scriptures say: 'If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty,
give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have
done to you.' Don't let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing
good." Romans 12:19-21
5. Sinful anger is
also contrary to the sixth commandment. All anger is not wicked. Jesus
Christ himself was angry. Mark 3:5. We are bound to express hearty and
decided displeasure at wrongs committed against ourselves or others. But
anger is sinful when it becomes outrageous, Proverbs 27:4; when we give way
to passion, so that reason is virtually dethroned; or when it is without
just cause, Matt. 5:22; or when it is of long continuance, Eph. 4:26; or
when it is accompanied with ill-will. It is not easy, yet it is possible to
"be angry and sin not."' Anger may rise in the bosom of a wise man,
but it abides only in the bosom of fools. "Let all bitterness, and
wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you with
all malice." Eph. 4:31.
It is peculiarly sinful to bring our angry feelings into
religion. "The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God." Seeker: "He
who would be angry and sin not—must not be angry with anything but sin."
James 1:20. "He who is slow to wrath, is of great understanding; but he who
is hasty of spirit exalts folly." Proverbs 14:29. See also Proverbs 16:32.
6. Hatred of our
fellow-men, in any degree and in every shape, is sinful. It is essentially
ill-will. Very properly does the apostle put it in the catalogue of works of
the flesh. Gal. 5:19-21. "He who says he is in the light and hates his
brother, is in darkness even until now." I John 2:9. "Whoever hates his
brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life
abiding in him." 1 John 3:15. "If any man says 'I love God,' and hates his
brother, he is a liar." 1 John 4:20. These Scriptures settle the question.
Hatred leads to actual murder, because it "stirs up strifes." Proverbs
(bitterness or resentment) is hatred of long standing, known in Scripture by
the epithets of hatred and perpetual hatred. Ezek. 25:15, 35:5. Rancour is
of course inveterate and exceedingly stubborn. It shows itself in shyness
and coolness of manner, in grudges and in heart-burnings. Where such a
sentiment possesses the heart, holiness cannot dwell. Left to himself, the
subject of such an affection will soon be prepared for any deed of violence.
8. One of the strongest exhibitions of depravity is the
spirit of unmercifulness. The Lord said,
"Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy." Matt. 5:7. The same
principle is asserted throughout the Scriptures. Yet behold the wretchedness
of our race. "And man, whose heaven-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn."
How often does the creditor take the debtor by the
throat, and sternly say, "Pay me wat you owe!" The poor man cries, "Have
patience with me, and I will pay you all." But the greedy monster wields all
his power to distress even friends, that in some way he may extort the
amount of his claims. Everywhere are found marks of this evil spirit. Oh how
will the injured, and abused, and wronged of the race arise and clank their
chains and show their scars, and pour abundant shame on the inhuman
wretches, who made their lives a burden! What would a tyrant monarch, a
tyrant governor, a tyrant husband, a tyrant father, a tyrant master, a
tyrant creditor, a tyrant officer do in heaven—where all is gentleness and
love? Ah, without repentance, he shall never see that holy, happy place. "He
shall have judgment without mercy, who has showed no mercy." James 2:13.
9. An unforgiving temper
is no less clearly sinful. The Lord says, "If you forgive not men
their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matt.
6:15. To pretend to forgive, only because we cannot otherwise be forgiven;
and to forgive but not forget—is not what the Lord requires. He, who
cherishes a sense of wrongs with an intention to requite them as soon as
occasion offers, can never truly pray, "Forgive us our debts—as we forgive
our debtors." When such a one reads that we must forgive a brother seventy
times seven, he does not even attempt conformity to this law.
10. Contempt is a
sentiment not to be cherished. Commonly its chief ingredients are
haughtiness and scorn. It forgets that God has made from one blood all
nations of men; that we are all sinners before God; and that the Almighty is
no respecter of people. Haughty scorner is the designation of an
11. Sometimes malice
shows itself at the downfall of others. But "he who is glad at calamities
shall not be unpunished." Proverbs 17:5. None but devils and those who are
of their father the devil, will exult because evil has come on a
12. Any unkind feeling
to men is sinful, and strictly forbidden by the spirit of the sixth
commandment. "Be kindly affectioned one to another."
13. Nor is ingratitude
an uncommon sin. An ancient heathen said, "If ingratitude were
punishable, there would not be courts enough in the world to try the
causes." Another said, "Call me ungrateful, and after that you can say no
more evil of me." How many are annually carried to the grave through the
ingratitude of those from whom better things might have been expected!
14. Of all the dispositions of the mind, perhaps none
leads to more frequent violations of the sixth commandment than
PRIDE. Leighton: "Pride is the spring of
malice and desire of revenge, and of rash anger and contention." Tully was
proud of his humble origin, and boasted that he was "the first of his
family." Others find fuel for this passion in the ancient respectability of
their households. Diogenes was proud of the lowliness of his circumstances;
while many are lifted up with their wealth. The disposition, which makes one
man put on purple and fine linen, makes another assume the roughness of a
voluntary humility. Men are proud of their parents, of their children, of
their brothers and sisters, of their companions, of their correspondents, of
their acquaintance, of their learning, of their ignorance, of their talents,
of their looks, of their success, of their education, or of their lack of
it, of their virtues, and even of their crimes. Yes, a man may be proud of
This pride fills men with self-conceit; it causes them to
speak in brash tones; it makes them stubborn, heady, intractable; it fills
them with the spirit of dictation; it kindles up fearful strife. "Only by
pride comes contention." Proverbs 13:10. The proud condescends to mix with
others only by the force of some reason like this: "A sunbeam contracts no
pollution by shining on a dung-hill." Pride fills our courts with litigants.
It leads to broils, disputes, and murders. Like salamanders, the proud live
in fire. Like Nabal, they are such sons of Belial that a man cannot speak to
them, without incurring their displeasure. They expect all others to be
humble; for pride in their fellow-men is very offensive to the proud. "Pride
with pride—will not abide." At times indeed when overawed, the proud will
cringe, and truckle, and show real harshness of spirit.
The Scriptures set themselves everywhere against pride.
"The proud and all that do wickedly, shall be burned up." Mal. 4:1. "A proud
heart is sin." Proverbs 21:4. "Everyone who is proud in heart is abomination
to the Lord." Proverbs 16:5. "God resists the proud, but gives grace unto
the humble." James 4:6.
2. Wrong WORDS. Another way of violating this
commandment is by sinful language. "Grievous words stir up anger." Proverbs
15:1. "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword." Proverbs
12:18. David complained, "My soul is among lions: and I lie even among those
who are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and
arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword." And again: "Behold they belch out
with their mouth; swords are in their lips." Again: "They whet their tongue
like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words."
Psalm 53:4; 59:7; 64:3.
In interpreting this precept, our Lord warned men against
saying Raca, which means vain fellow. Michal, David's wife, violated
this commandment when she scornfully said, "How the king of Israel has
distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of
his servants as any vulgar fellow would!" 2 Sam. 6:20.
The Lord also forbade us to apply to men in any provoking
way, the epithet fool, which signified not only that one is far from
wisdom, but also that he is wicked and ungodly. He who takes away the life
of a fellow creature by false testimony, is himself a murderer. Proverbs
6:16-19; 19:5. He who suborns others to do the same is a murderer. Acts
6:13. He who passes unjust sentence of death is a murderer, Proverbs 17:15;
1 Kings 21:9-14. He who rewards the righteous according to the work of the
wicked is a murderer. Isaiah 5:23. He who sees a fellow-creature in danger,
and warns him not, lies under blood-guiltiness. Lev. 19:17; Isaiah 58:1. He
who utters even the truth maliciously is in the same condemnation. 1 Sam.
22:9, 10; Psalm 53:1. He who speaks slightingly of justice, and is
regardless of truth, does what he can to spread the spirit of murder. Isaiah
59:4. He who perverts the sayings of his fellow-men, Matt. 26:60, 61; Psalm
He who by falsehood afflicts his neighbor, Psalm 1:20; he
who backbites with his tongue, Psalm 15:3; he who speaks evil of his
neighbor, Titus 3:2; he who turns tale-bearer, Lev. 19:16; he who disturbs
the peace of society by whispering, Romans 1:29; by mocking, Isaiah 28:22;
by reviling, 1 Cor. 6:10; in short, he who, by any form of speech annoys his
fellow-men, breaks up the peace of families, and fills upright men with
anxiety and sorrow, violates the spirit of this commandment.
3. Wicked PLOTS. Men are not free from the
guilt of breaking this precept, when they command or contrive the death of
others; as when Saul bid Doeg kill the Lord's priests; or when David told
Joab to put Uriah in the front of the battle; or when they counsel and
advise the ruin of moral character, as did Jonadab, 2 Sam. 13:1-29; or when
men stand by and consent to outrages against others, Acts 8:1; or by failing
to give faithful warning, Ezek. 3:18; or by giving their voice to put men in
offices which they are not capable of filling, and from their incompetency
sad evils result, 1 Tim. 5:22.
4. QUARRELING. Perhaps no form of social evil
is more degrading, or leads to more misery, than base quarrelling. It makes
a hell upon earth. See Gal. 5:15.
5. Wrong ACTS. All expressions of the evil
passions already spoken of are acts contrary to this commandment. Of this
kind are all looks and gestures of a menacing, malignant, revengeful,
violent, irritating, spiteful or tormenting character; all oppression,
Isaiah 3:15, smiting, maiming and wounding, Num. 35:16, 21, Proverbs 28:17,
or doing anything which tends to the destruction of human life, Exodus
Some things suggested by this commandment require a more
particular consideration. Let us therefore inquire,
6. Is SUICIDE Criminal? It cannot be denied
that the value set upon our own lives is in many cases very small. Mr. Hume,
of the eighteenth century, wrote in favor of suicide; and since his time
societies for the encouragement of self-destruction have been formed in many
parts of Europe. Their baneful influence has also been extended to America.
Mr. Hume's reasoning is truly shocking to pious minds. He says: "In the
sight of God every event is alike important; and the life of a man is of no
greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster." This sounds well
in the ears of profane men. Yet every man knows that there is no truth in
it. Though lessons may be learned from the lowest of God's works, yet
Infinite Wisdom has never given to the world the history of an oyster for
its instruction. But God has inspired many men to write the lives of others,
and has preserved them to us in the canon of Scripture. The reckless
question of Mr. Hume: "Where is the crime of turning a few ounces of blood
out of their channel?" is as applicable to murder as to suicide; and what
further license can the murderer possibly ask than to be allowed to plead at
the tribunal of public justice that he has committed no crime by turning a
few ounces of blood out of their course? With all his acuteness, Mr. Hume
terribly confounds the plainest distinctions. He says: "When I fall upon my
own sword, I receive my death equally from the hands of the Deity, as if it
had proceeded from a lion, a precipice, or a fever." If this sentence has
any meaning, it is that the willful, deliberate taking of our own lives is
the same as dying by the providence of God, when he permits us to fall under
the influence of pestilence, or of wild beasts. And if that is true, then we
are no more criminal for killing a man than we are for seeing him die of a
The whole argument in favor of suicide goes on the
supposition of the truth of these principles, which are clearly false.
1, That man has a right to dispose of his own life;
whereas none but the Author of our existence can lawfully do so;
2, that we are competent judges of the question whether
we have lived long enough or not; whereas a large proportion of mankind have
been very useful after they supposed they could do no more good;
3, that we owe no obligations to parents, or children, or
others, who may be dependent upon our exertions; whereas we may entail upon
them untold miseries by taking our own lives;
4, that God has not legislated on the subject; whereas
the sixth commandment clearly forbids it;
5, that salvation is not an object worth seeking; whereas
it is the only thing claiming our supreme attention;
6, that it is heroic to sink under distress or play the
coward in suffering wrong; whereas a large part of the best moral lessons,
taught by example, has been delivered to mankind in the depths of
It is not necessary to use any harsh language respecting
the entire class of people, who may be left to take their own lives. In some
cases, no doubt, reason is dethroned before the fatal act is committed.
While we may charitably hope that this is so, it is an appalling fact that
the Scriptures do not mention a single instance of any godly man
committing this sin. Three cases are given in Holy Scripture. One is
that of Saul, a man of violent passions, who sought to compass the
death of his own son, Jonathan, and of his son-in-law and deliverer, David;
an open transgressor of the divine will, who, before the close of life,
committed crimes which he knew ought to be punished with death. Another is
that of Ahithophel, a wily statesman, a man of unusual political
sagacity, but wholly unprincipled, and a traitor against King David. The
third was that of Judas Iscariot, for years a thief, consummating his
crimes by betraying his Redeemer. There can be no hope of the salvation of a
man who, in the exercise of his reason, commits this crime.
So unmanly is suicide, that even Aristotle has condemned
it: "For a man to die merely that he may avoid poverty or trials is not
courage, but sheer cowardice. It declares that he lacks sufficient fortitude
to encounter them." Of the self-destroyer a poet says:
"He thought, but thought amiss, that of himself
He was entire proprietor; and so,
When he was tired of time, with his own hand,
He opened the portals of eternity,
And sooner than the devils hoped, arrived In hell."
7. The Duel. The duel is a combat with deadly
weapons between two people agreeably to previous arrangements. It differs
from a boxing match, because in that no weapons are used. It differs from a
rencounter, because that is a sudden combat without premeditation. These may
be as immoral and as fatal in their consequences as the duel. But neither of
them is so called.
1. The modern duel is maintained to avenge personal or
family insults. It can in no way be justified. "You shall not kill," is the
plain command of him that made us. No acumen can reconcile duelling with
this prohibition. The law is clear. No exception is made in other parts of
the divine code. The contrariety between this practice and the law of God,
is manifest. The statute is unrepealed.
2. The duel includes in it also the guilt of suicide. As
man has no right to take his own life, so he has no right wantonly to expose
it to destruction. He who without any call of Providence knowingly puts
himself in needless peril, contracts the guilt of suicide. Nor can we plead
for duellists, which in some cases we may for suicides—that they are insane.
Duellists themselves admit that it would be murder to call to the field any
unfortunate fellow-creature, whose reason had fallen from its throne. The
duellist is mad in no other sense than that the sorcery of sin has bewitched
him. His blood, if shed, is, in a fearful sense, on himself. Even if from
the first, he intends to fire his own weapon into the air, yet if he exposes
his body to the gunfire of an antagonist, he is in heart a self-murderer. If
he dies in the duel, he has done what the law of nature and the word of God
forbid, and incurred the heinous guilt of dying in an act which admits of
neither reparation nor repentance.
"No murderer has eternal life abiding in him." This is as
true of him who kills himself as of any other murderer. Before his
conversion, J. A. Haldane fought a duel, and as he raised the pistol, he
prayed, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," Life of Haldane, p.
61. Such prayers are vain and are commonly admitted to be so. They are
3. Moreover duelling is in its very nature murderous. The
weapons chosen are the weapons of death. The efforts of each party are
almost without exception for the destruction of his antagonist's life. The
fact of a malignant animosity is proven by all the circumstances attending
duels. The deliberate aim of a deadly weapon at a fellow-creature determines
the act to be murderous in design, and if life is taken, to be murder in
fact. This is indeed strong but not rash language. Matthew Hale says, "This
is a plain case, and without any question. If one kills another in fight,
even upon the provocation of him that is killed, this is murder." Judge
Foster says, "Deliberate duelling, if death ensues, is, in the eye of the
Sir Edward Coke says, "Single combat between any of the
king's subjects is strictly prohibited by the laws of the realm, and on this
principle, that in states governed by law, no man, in consequence of any
injury whatever, ought to indulge the principle of private revenge."
Blackstone, supported by Coke, says: "Murder is when a person of sound
memory and discretion, unlawfully kills any reasonable creature, with malice
aforethought, either express or implied." The applicability of this
definition to the crime of killing in a duel, will be granted by all, except
so much as relates to malice aforethought. Even a part of this will not be
denied, namely that if there be malice at all, it is aforethought. Is there
malice at all? The forbidden act of shooting with intent to kill is clearly
malice implied. Is it not also malice expressed? The authority last cited
says, "This malice aforethought is the grand criterion which now
distinguishes murder fromn other killing; and this malice prepense is not so
properly spite or malevolence to the deceased in particular, as any evil
design in general; the dictate of a wicked, depraved, and malignant heart.
Express malice is when one with a sedate, deliberate mind and formed design,
does kill another, which formed design is evidenced by external
circumstances discerning that inward intention; as lying in wait, antecedent
menaces, former grudges, and concerted schemes to do some bodily harm. This
takes in the case of deliberate duelling, where both parties meet avowedly
with an intent to murder; thinking it their duty and claiming it as their
right, to wanton with their own lives and those of their fellow-creatures;
without any authority or warrant from any power either human or divine, but
in direct contradiction to the laws both of God and man. These statements of
principles are clear. They are made by lawyers and judges, not by divines
and moralists. Their authors cannot be suspected of any wild, religious
fervor, or of any foolish devotion to a fine-spun theory in ethics. Killing
in a duel, then, is murder; intent to kill in a duel, is intent to commit
murder. Milder terms ought not to be employed.
4. Both human and divine laws properly guard the life of
man with much caution. Blackstone says: "If any man in a populous town
throws carelessly from a house-top any tile or timber, and gives no notice
to the crowd that is usually passing below, though he may see no one, yet if
one thereby be killed, it is not merely man-slaughter, but it is murder, and
the law assigns the reason that such conduct is an expression of malignity
against all mankind; and even if he gives loud warning, and yet it be in a
place where many people usually pass, and one be killed, it is
man-slaughter, and is punishable by the laws."
The same principle was incorporated into the law of
Moses, Exodus 21:29. It is right. If these things are so, by what principle
is he turned loose unpunished, who not only is careless about human life,
but who trains himself to the skillful use of deadly weapons that he may
destroy it, meets a fellow-creature by arrangement and takes away his life?
Divine law is no less loud and clear in its demands for the punishment of
blood-shedding. This point will be argued at length in a succeeding section.
PLEAS FOR DUELLING. In defense of duelling, it is
sometimes pleaded that the practice is in accordance with a body of rules
fit for the government of gentlemen, commonly called The Code of Honor.
Whenever a code is mentioned, we naturally ask for the enacting power. Who
made the code of honor? God did not. All its principles are repugnant to his
revealed will. Nor has any competent authority sanctioned them. Nearly all
legislatures have condemned them. Yet some are so bold as to dignify them
with the name of The Commandments, thus adding profaneness to other sins.
Two of these Digests of the laws of crime are before us. A statement of even
half their provisions would show their absurdity, their cruelty, and their
wantonness. They are sufficiently bloody to satisfy the most diabolical
malice. Even in America, some of their leading principles are these: Some
insults cannot be compromised or settled without fighting. Words ac not
satisfy words, nor blows, blows. Seconds go armed to the field, first to
shoot the adversary of his principal, if he shall take any advantage; and
secondly, to keep the other second in order. If principals will not fight,
seconds are to pronounce them cowards, and abandon them on the field. You
are not bound to fight a minor, unless you have made a companion of him. You
are bound to fight a respectable stranger. Seconds have absolute control
after a challenge is given and accepted. Time may always be claimed to make
A code with such provisions is shockingly immoral. It
violates all the charities of life. It tramples on the laws of God. It
defies the statutes of the land. It reputes forbearance as weakness, and
forgiveness a baseness. It exalts diabolical passions to a seat among the
highest virtues. It puts revenge and murder above meekness and patience. It
is also full of absurdities. It places the aggressor and the aggrieved upon
the same footing; or if the former be the best shot or the smallest mark, it
gives him the advantage. If a man be injured and complain, by this code he
may be compelled to lose his life and to write his wife a widow and his
children fatherless. There is hardly an end to the absurdities which may be
fairly drawn from its rules. This code is useless. It elicits no truth. It
determines not who is innocent, and who is guilty. By common consent it
proves no man brave; it seldom proves him a coward. It does not even prove
one a good marksman or a good swordsman. In 1815, the English almost
invariably killed the French officers with the sword. Yet the former were
unskilled and the latter were experts in its use. Very often: in our own
land, the less skillful in the use of weapons has killed his adversary.
This code is very bloody, not only in its laws, but also
in its results. During the first eighteen years of the reign of Henry the
Fourth, four thousand gentlemen perished by duels in France alone. In one
hundred and seventy-two consecutive duels, sixty-three people were killed,
and ninety-six wounded, forty-eight of them desperately. This latter
statement is made on the faith of an official paper prepared in England. A
few years ago, four people were killed in four successive duels in the same
vicinity. This code smells horribly of blood. Why will men worship this
Some plead for the code of honor that it maintains
courage among men. True courage is indeed an enviable quality. But what is
it? Is it recklessness of life? Does it delight in blood? No man has true
courage except so far as he is a godly man. "The righteous are as bold as a
lion, but the wicked flee when no man pursues." Burke: "The only real
courage is generated by the fear of God. He who fears God, fears nothing
else." Addison: "Courage is that heroic spirit inspired by the conviction
that our cause being just, God will protect us in its prosecution." Seneca:
"Courage is properly the contempt of hazards according to reason; but to run
into danger from mere passion is rather a daring and brutal fierceness than
an honorable courage." Pages from similar sources and to the like effect
might be cited.
The Duke of Sully, speaking of duels, says, "That which
arms us against our friends or countrymen, in contempt of all laws, as well
divine as human, is but a brutal fierceness, madness, and real timidity."
True courage is calm, just, mild, firm, reasonable. To such a quality, good
men do reverent obeisance. It is truth and justice sitting on a throne of
virtue. It has no malignity. It never thirsts for vengeance. But is the
duellist brave after his bloody work? Is he not timid, nervous, melancholy?
Does he not often seem to anticipate the pains of hell? A dreadful sound is
in his ears. A good writer says, "How fares it with him in the court of
conscience? Is he able to keep off the grim arrests of that? Can he drown
the cry of blood, and bribe his own thoughts to let him alone? Can he fray
off the vulture from his heart, that night and day is gnawing his heart, and
wounding it with ghastly and amazing reflections?"
Shall we award to such a system the meed of honor? The
demand can never be granted. Humanity and God forbid it. Honor is a sacred
thing. Honor is not lawless, is not cruel, delights in the approbation of
the good, and abhors the infliction of misery. Honor is humane, generous,
tenderhearted. Honor casts from her even her own rights, when insisting on
them does a great wrong to others. Honor never willingly mingles the tears
of widows and orphans with the blood of husbands and fathers. Honor looks at
the things of others, bows to the majesty of law, listens to the conclusions
of reason, and obeys the voice of God.
Can anything be done to arrest this evil? Yes! Public
sentiment can rectify it. Good laws can be enacted. Good men can execute
them. If all good men and all public functionaries would show like mildness
and firmness, like sympathy for the suffering, and like determination not to
swerve from duty, there would soon be a change. Let mothers teach their sons
that killing in a duel is murder. Let wives soothe their irritated husbands
and assert their rights not to be left mourning widows. Let young ladies
discountenance the gallants who come into their society reeking with blood.
Let the press and the pulpit utter just and solemn notes of remonstrance.
Is any tempted to commit this sin? Here are good answers,
any one of which is sufficient to justify him in declining. You shall not
kill—the Almighty. It is the glory of a man to pass over a
transgression—Solomon. I am not afraid of fighting, but I am afraid
of sinning—Colonel Gardiner. I neither am, nor wish to be a murderer—a
Tis hard, indeed, if nothing will defend
Mankind from quarrels but their fatal end;
That now and then a hero must decease,
That the surviving world may live in peace.
Perhaps at last close scrutiny may show
The practice dastardly, and mean, and low;
That men engage in it, compell'd by force,
And fear, not courage, is its proper source;
The fear of tyrant custom, and the fear
Lest fops should censure us, and fools should sneer,
While yet we trample on our Maker's laws,
And hazard life for any or no cause.
8. Murder. All men admit murder to be a crime.
Nor do they doubt that it is a fearful crime, even when attended with the
fewest aggravations. None but the divine Lawgiver is competent to decide on
the heinousness of any sin as against himself. No mortal is capable of
knowing all the bearings of any sin in a moral government that has no end.
But murder is an offence so obviously atrocious that man can judge
somewhat of its mischievous effects in this life. It is the strongest
expression of malignity against our fellow-creatures. It is commonly the
result of pride, or cruelty, or avarice, and always of impiety. It supposes
a long process of hardening the heart and indulging wicked passions. But
even the temporal consequences of murder are fully known to God only. Every
man sustains relations to his family, his country, and the universe, which
no finite mind can gauge. Then every life is worth untold millions to its
Both in Hebrew and Greek the same word is rendered life
and soul. And, indeed, the connection between them is such that the loss of
the former may be the loss of the latter. The murder of an unregenerate man,
forever puts him beyond the reach of renewing grace and pardoning mercy. In
speaking of duelling, murder has been sufficiently defined. Within the last
half century, unusual opposition to the capital punishment of murder has
been manifested in many quarters. Against it forms of expression full of
railing and bitterness are frequently employed. One cries out against the
orthodox Christian world: "The gallows and the gospel, Christ and the
hangman." Those who deny eternal punishment seem particularly anxious to
have the death penalty abolished. An ex-president of the United States, some
years since, declared for the abolition of capital punishments. Some
legislatures have fallen in with the popular error.
HAS GOD SETTLED THIS QUESTION? Our appeal is to his word.
"Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Gen. 9:6. This
command was not given to the Jews, but to Noah, the second universal father
of the human race. It is limited to no time or nation. It has never been
repealed. A wholesome law ought to continue while the reason for it
continues. That is given in these words: "For in the image of God made he
man." So that killing man is a very different thing from killing any other
creature. It is a despising of God, whose natural image every man bears. To
murder a man is to blot out this image of God. This interpretation of this
law is agreed upon by Rivet, Le Clerc, Selden, Grotius, Michaelis,
Rosenmuller and numerous other eminent scholars. Nor is this the only
instance in which God has expressed his will.
The command to Noah was given sixteen hundred and
fifty-seven years after the creation. Nine hundred and fifty-six years
later, God ordained judicial regulations for the Jewish commonwealth. Into
that code he incorporated these explicit teachings. "He who smites aman so
that he dies, shall surely be put to death." And to show that no refuge was
to be allowed him, God adds, "You shall take him from my altar that he may
die." Exodus 21:12, 14. A year afterwards, God said again to Moses, "He who
kills any man shall surely be put to death." Lev. 24:17. Thirty-eight years
later, God gave minutely the law of murder and manslaughter, provided for
the trial of all charged with either crime, gave particular rules according
to which sentence was to be given, repeatedly stated that murderers should
be put to death.
This law is the basis of the laws of most Christian
countries on this subject. It reads thus: "If a man strikes someone with an
iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to
death. Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes
someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to
death. Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he
hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to
death. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets
him, he shall put him to death. If anyone with malice aforethought shoves
another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in
hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be
put to death; he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer
to death when he meets him. "'But if without hostility someone suddenly
shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally or, without seeing
him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he
was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, the assembly must judge
between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The
assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood
and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled. He must stay there
until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.
"'But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to
which he has fled and the avenger of blood finds him outside the city, the
avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. The
accused must stay in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest;
only after the death of the high priest may he return to his own property.
"'These are to be legal requirements for you throughout the generations to
come, wherever you live. "'Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death
as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to
death on the testimony of only one witness. "'Do not accept a ransom for the
life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.
"'Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so
allow him to go back and live on his own land before the death of the high
priest. "'Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the
land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been
shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land
where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the
Israelites.'" Numbers 35:16-34
A clearer revelation of God's mind and will could not be
made. Nor is this any ceremonial regulation. It is the wisdom of God
expressed to a famous people for the guidance of their conduct in criminal
proceedings. These laws given by God were carefully executed by the best
kings, that ruled over that people. By the command of Solomon, Joab was put
to death, even while holding fast to the horns of the altar; for he had
killed two innocent men, "more righteous and better than he." 1 Kings
2:28-34. This case is the more remarkable as Joab had rendered eminent
military services to the country. Again, God expressly says, "A man
tormented by the guilt of murder will be a fugitive till death; let no one
support him." Proverbs 28:17. The same doctrine is taught by Christ: "All
those who take the sword shall perish with the sword." Matt. 26:52. This
saying was a proverb among the Jews. Its import was precisely the same with
that of the words: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be
shed." The meaning is, he who, under a government of laws, takes the sword
into his own hand, for private revenge, and slays a man, shall himself be
put to death by the sword of public justice.
The same is taught by Paul. Of the civil magistrate, he
says: "For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong,
be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government
is God's servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong."
Romans 13:4. It is true that this passage does not confine capital
punishment to the case of murder. But none will deny that if the death
penalty should be inflicted on any, it should be on the willful murderer.
The sword in this passage clearly points to death, as it was used for
beheading. The apostle admitted the correctness of the same doctrine, in his
argument before Festus. "If I be an offender, or have committed anything
worthy of death, I refuse not to die," Acts 25:11; thus clearly implying
that there were crimes properly punished with death; and that, if proven on
the apostle, he would admit the justice of the death penalty against
And in the very last book of Scripture, we have the same
doctrine taught: "He who kills with the sword, must be killed with the
sword." Rev. 13:10. It is true this passage is not a precept, but a
prediction respecting the doom of bloody persecutors, who are wholesale
murderers. Yet it is a prophecy which Jehovah has caused and will ever cause
to be wonderfully fulfilled. Let bloody tyrants beware how they shed the
blood of innocent men; for He who is higher than the highest regards. With
an awful vengeance, even in this life, he commonly marks so heinous sin.
Often in providence does "the Lord comes out of his place to punish the
inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth also shall disclose
her blood, and shall no more cover her slain." Isaiah 26:21.
Thus speak the Scriptures. The general consent of mankind
in all ages and under all dispensations since the flood, would lead to the
same conclusion. Blackstone: "Murder is a crime which shocks human nature,
and which is, I believe, punished almost universally throughout the world
with death." The consent of mankind approaches as near universality on this
as on any other subject. Perhaps as few men have held that murder should not
be punished with death, as have professed their belief that there was no
God. The force of the argument is this: 'When men in every variety of
circumstances, civilized and uncivilized, crude and refined, Jews,
Mohammedans, Christians and Pagans, have generally agreed to any principle
and acted upon it, its propriety is manifest.' There has never been a
mistake among mankind of all descriptions, on any moral subject so
wide-spreading as the opinion that murder should be punished with death. The
experiment of sparing the lives of murderers has been fully tried. The world
is now considerably less than six thousand years old. Yet for the first
sixteen centuries and a half, capital punishment was not inflicted. In his
adorable sovereignty, God made a great experiment, beginning in the family
of Adam. The first man ever born was a murderer—the murderer of his own
brother. He was constantly apprehensive of death. "It shall come to pass
that everyone that finds me shall slay me." Gen. 4:14. But God sacredly
guarded his life, and threatened dreadful vengeance on any who should touch
him. Gen. 4:15. His punishment was expulsion from the visible church,
expressed by the words, "He went out from the presence of the Lord," Gen.
4:16; together with his own reflections and the remorse of his conscience.
Did his mental anguish and expulsion from the congregation of the righteous
deter men from murder? No! Lamech soon followed his example, saying to his
wives: "I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If
Cain shall be avenged seven fold, truly Lamech seventy and seven fold." Gen.
4:23, 24. Nor did the thing stop here. Men went from bad to worse, until
"the earth was filled with violence." Gen. 6:11. The wickedness of man grew
so rapidly that God swept from the face of the earth every breathing thing;
those saved in the ark alone excepted. And no sooner had Noah come out of
the ark, and become heir of the new world, than God enacted that henceforth
murder should be capitally punished.
Nor do the lessons of history stop here. The Jewish
commonwealth, in some form or other, existed for more than fifteen hundred
years. Whenever, in the kingdom of Judea, the magistrates were faithful in
punishing murder with death, peace and prosperity succeeded. But whenever
they became remiss in this matter, the nation groaned in misery. One of the
States of America, (Michigan) about the middle of the nineteenth century,
abolished capital punishment. The Grand Jury at Detroit, in 1852, under the
solemnities of an oath said: "The increase of the crimes of murder and
manslaughter, since the abolition of capital punishment, not only among us,
but throughout our State, has become most manifest and alarming. The records
of the courts of this County show that at each of the four terms, there has
been at least one aggravated case of murder—and at one term two cases.
Whereas, previously to the existing law, no conviction of murder had ever
been had by any of the courts of the State. These facts we regard as a proof
of an alarming disrespect for, and undervaluing of human life, legitimately
referable to a change of the legislation upon this subject."
However men may fortify themselves with plausible
arguments in favor of a sickly philanthropy, yet so exceedingly outrageous
and shocking are some of the crimes which are committed, that it requires,
not an ardent love of truth and commendable firmness, but an obstinacy of
temper to stand up and say, they ought not to be punished with death. For a
crime of deep dye, a man was sentenced to confinement, in a penitentiary,
for a term of years. His treatment was mild. His tasks were moderate, and
yet in cold blood he killed a kind and faithful officer. What would sickly
philanthropists do in this case? Would they have him sentenced to the
penitentiary? He was already there. Would they sentence him for life? How
many faithful keepers might he kill before the law would assert its majesty
in behalf of the lives of guards and wardens? Abolish the penalty of death,
and trustworthy men could not be found to keep our prisons. Abolish capital
punishments, and mankind will return to the old practice of avenging blood.
Some have argued respecting capital punishment upon
entirely false principles. Some assert that punishment can be justified only
upon the ground of the right acquired by society, when men enter into that
state, to prevent an evil-disposed person from repeating an offence. Others
say that the only justification of punishment is found in the hope that the
criminal may thereby be reformed. Others say that the right to punish is
based upon the obligation of society to deter those, who have not yet
offended, by exhibiting examples of the misery of criminals. Yet others
contend that all punishment is merely for reparation, and should be of such
a kind as to gain that end. Some have laid down all these as the foundations
of punishment. Let us look at these statemets.
It is admitted that some of the fore-mentioned things are
occasionally gained by punishment. But neither severally nor jointly are
they the ground on which it proceeds. If the right to punish is based upon
the obligation of society to prevent an evil-disposed person from repeating
an offence, none will deny that capital punishment gains that end, and puts
it quite out of the power of the culprit again to disturb society. So that
the mere admission of this principle would be no argument for the total
abolition of the death penalty. But this statement of the matter does not
furnish a principle sufficiently broad to cover every case of punishment.
Some sentences are but light and temporary. They bear no proportion to the
strength of men's passions for doing wrong. Yet severer penalties would by
all enlightened men be esteemed excessive. But the great objection to this
principle is, that it makes a man suffer, not for what he has done, but for
fear he will hereafter do something wrong. He asks his country, "Why do you
restrain my liberty?" The reply is, "We are afraid you will injure men if
you are allowed to go at large." This reply suits the case of a man
restrained under a writ of lunacy, or subjected to quarantine, no less than
that of the culprit. He sees no justice in the case. He asks if society is
not afraid that some men, going at large, will commit as great offences as
himself; and the community must be very small, in which men could not be
found, of whose future good conduct there was as little guaranty as of his.
Some of the worst men in every country are going at large. Mere prevention
therefore is not the basis of punishment.
Nor is the reformation of the criminal the ground
of punishment. Incidentally it may sometimes be effected; and if in crimes
of a lower grade one mode of punishment is found more conducive to
reformation than another, and the ends of government can all be secured—that
mode should be preferred. But who gave society a right to imprison men in
order to reform them? No such grant of power is anywhere found. Surely God
never gave it. When he would rescue men from vice and sin, it is by his
blessed gospel. Besides, if society punishes only that she may reform bad
men, then as soon as they are reformed they ought to be discharged. Would
this be proper? And if reformation be the ground of punishment, then all
penal sentences ought to be indefinite as to time, and the punishment should
last until the reformation is effected.
Universalists urge this point with great zeal. Their
chief argument is, that all suffering, under the government of God, is for
the good of the sufferer, and that therefore the same principles should
obtain in human society. But the argument is false. All suffering under
God's government is NOT for the good of the sufferer. What benefit have the
fallen angels ever reaped from their chains of darkness? What blessing has
ever come on the Sodomites for their suffering the vengeance of eternal
fire? When Paul says that "all things work together for good," he limits the
statement to "those who love God, to those who are the called according to
his purpose." To such it is a glorious truth that their afflictions do them
eternal good. But where is the like declared concerning those who hate God
and are ordained to a fiery condemnation?
And even if reformation were the ground of punishment, no
man, before the judgment-day, can certainly know that capital punishments
for high crimes are not preceded by as many conversions to God and thorough
reformations as any other modes of punishment whatever. We have inspired
authority for believing that one man publicly executed for his crimes was
truly penitent. Doubtless there have been others.
But do not our wisest men confess that our penitentiaries
are seldom, if ever, places of penitence? Neither is the utility of example
to others any ground for punishing a man. Punishment may deter some men from
crimes; but it may be seriously questioned whether even this influence is
not greatly overestimated. It has become proverbial, that punishments so
inflicted as to afford a spectacle, have in many cases a hardening effect.
Be this as it may, when did society acquire the right of punishing one man
for the good of others? If it has such a right, why may it not exhibit the
innocent in a posture of shame and under false accusation, for the benefit
of the public?
Nor is reparation the ground of punishment. If in
cases purely civil, where no felony is charged, this is the great end of
punishment, yet in the case of murder, reparation is wholly and absolutely
impossible. No tears, no repentance, no toils, no sacrifice of worldly goods
can restore life to the murdered man, or the husband and father to his
The true ground of punishment is JUSTICE. The penalty
of law is to be inflicted because it is right. If the murderer deserves
death; if his guilt is so enormous that no other punishment is adequate; if
God has pronounced death the proper penalty; if criminals themselves,
whenever their consciences are awakened and enlightened, do acknowledge the
justice of their sentence; then we have a sure foundation on which to
vindicate our laws. Justice, eternal inflexible justice is the sole
ground of the right of punishment. And it is ground enough. "Whoever
sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."
9. Intemperance. Modern usage has almost
confined the word intemperance, unless otherwise explained by the
connection, to the excessive use of intoxicating drinks. In this sense let
us consider it for a little while. No form of vice is more contrary to the
true spiric of the sixth commandment, and none brings more misery on
society. Its sweep is wide and fearful. Every profession and every community
have furnished victims to this destroyer. The annals of this miserable vice
are written in blood. Its statistics rise high and tell us of hundreds of
thousands of drunkards and of hundreds of thousands more reduced to
pauperism or seduced to crime—by intemperance. They tell us of millions of
gallons of intoxicating drink annually consumed. For every hour in the year
it is calculated that at least one drunkard passes to the retributions of
Nor is intemperance in any case a slight evil. To its
subjects it brings complicated forms of disease, and pains of the most
excruciating character. "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who
has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who
linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine." Proverbs 23:29, 30.
Loss of integrity frequently attends intemperance. Little by little the
inebriate loses his once sacred regard to truth, to contracts, to promises
and all engagements. At the same time, the fatal stab is given to the best
and kindliest sentiments of the heart. Petulance and irritability supplant
love and tenderness. Self-respect commonly dies early in this career, and
the inebriate begins to herd with the degraded. Reputation cannot long stand
such assaults, and by degrees public esteem and confidence are withdrawn. In
his sober moments, the drunkard's bosom will be wrung with anguish. Shame,
remorse, and the darkness of guilt are followed by the perishing of hope. He
deplores his dreadful captivity, but has neither courage, nor expectation of
bursting its bonds. Loss of property commonly follows close on the heels of
While intemperance does not always lead its victims to
the commission of crimes, yet more than three-fourths of all the felonies in
the land are traceable to this source. The worst thing attending
intemperance is its direct and invariable tendency to destroy both soul and
body in hell. "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the
kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor
idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor
thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will
inherit the kingdom of God." 1 Cor. 6:9, 10. For the impenitent, unreformed
drunkard, there is no salvation. God has determined that matter already,
True, the context of the passage just cited shows that drunkards may be
converted: "Such were some of you," says Paul to the Corinthians. But
how seldom does the drunkard turn to God. When the direct tendency of a sin
is to make the whole man sottish and even less than a man, how feeble is the
hope we can entertain that he will turn and live.
The case of the drunkard is very discouraging. It is hard
to convince him either of his sin or his danger. He is full of confidence in
his own strength. He is persuaded that the meltings of nature, which he
sometimes feels, are a sign that all is not lost. His conscience is seared;
his understanding is terribly darkened. Numbers of such die, giving fearful
evidence to the last that they were wholly impenitent.
Nor are the evils of this sin confined to him who drinks.
Others come in for a large share. The father, who had begun to depend on his
son; the mother, who thought that she had borne a man; the wife, who had
dreams of earthly happiness; the sisters, who had once been proud as they
saw his manly bearing—all now find that honor is forsaking him, and that
their hopes must soon perish. His children are often filled with terror at
his approach. He is no longer the kind and judicious friend of the poor, the
widow and the orphan. He is a pest to his neighborhood. His will might read
thus: "I give and bequeath to society a ruined character, a wretched
example, and a memory that shall rot. I give and bequeath to my parents,
shame, sorrow and (so far as I am concerned) a childless old age. I give and
bequeath to my brothers and sisters, deep humiliation at the mention of my
name. I give and bequeath to my wife, a broken heart, an early widowhood, a
shattered constitution, poverty and an early grave. I give and bequeath to
each of my children, poverty, ignorance, and the remembrance that they had
an monstrous father."
Multiply all these evils by hundreds of thousands and you
will have something like the true result. But there are other evils of a
general nature connected with intemperance. Time is wasted. Prisons are
multiplied. Taxation is greatly increased. Property is destroyed; justice
perverted; idleness fostered; riots encouraged; life jeoparded; and morality
and religion made to bleed. Hell follows in its train. He who indulges in
wine and strong drink shall find that "in the end it bites like a poisonous
serpent; it stings like a viper!" Proverbs 23:32.
Where the population is crowded, the statistics of this
sin are most appalling. When London had a population of 2,350,000 souls, it
had a total of 471,000 people steeped in crime, demoralization and vice; of
whom 180,000 were habitual hard drinkers. The vices of the rest were akin to
this. All these evils are quite unnecessary. Strong drink laid aside, all
the affairs of life would move on better than they do. The strongest man
noted in history never tasted such stimulants. In certain cases alcoholic
drinks are proper for medicinal purposes. "Give strong drink unto him that
is ready to perish, and wine unto those that are of heavy hearts." "Drink no
longer water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your often
infirmities," Proverbs 31:6; 1 Tim. 5:23. Medical skill, or our knowledge of
our own constitutions must determine when we need such aid to our health. In
all other cases, the consciences of men are left free to abstain if they
The principle of voluntary abstinence is not new.
By solemn vows, the Nazarites were bound to it. John the Baptist never drank
wine. For thousands of years the Rechabites have been wholly abstinent.
Every generation furnishes such cases. It is said, on good authority, that
one of the petty kingdoms of Africa has never permitted the introduction of
intoxicating drinks, and while surrounding kingdoms are torn with internal
wars, and are sinking under the power of many evils, among which are the
usual attendants of intemperance; this kingdom remains quiet, industrious
and prosperous. Kidnapping and the slave-trade are unknown.
The Scriptures give very solemn warnings against seducing
men into this vice. "How terrible it will be for you who make your neighbors
drunk! You force your cup on them so that you can gloat over their nakedness
and shame. But soon it will be your turn! Come, drink and be exposed! Drink
from the cup of the Lord's judgment, and all your glory will be turned to
shame." Hab. 2:15, 16.
10. The low estimate of human life. Perhaps
there never was a century in which mankind have been more disposed to think,
and speak, and act, as if human life were a trifle, than the present. This
remark is fearfully true of the country in which this volume is likely to be
most read. In his Thanksgiving sermon, preached Nov. 24, 1853, H. A.
Boardman, says: "It is scarcely a figure to say that the history of many a
steamboat and railroad line, in the Union, has been written in blood. The
statistics would probably show, that a greater number of travelers perish by
these agencies in our country, than in all the rest of the civilized world
combined. An accident which destroys a single human being, or three or four,
is nothing thought of. Even those which involve the destruction of scores of
lives produce but a temporary ripple in the current of public feeling, and
are presently forgotten. Men are allowed to erect buildings which may tumble
down of their own frailty, and bury a crowd of inhabitants beneath their
ruins. Steamboats of such fragile construction are permitted to navigate our
tempestuous lakes and dangerous sea-coast, that there is less to wonder at
when we hear that they have gone down into the abyss, with a load of'
passengers, than when they survive a violent storm. Conductors and engineers
may whirl their crowded trains into other trains, down precipices, and into
drawbridges; and superintendents of management may so frame their
arrangements as almost to insure the frequent recurrence of these disasters,
without exposing themselves to penalties. Homicides are rapidly multiplying;
and, with occasional exceptions, justice is slow in securing the murderers,
and slower still in convicting and punishing them.
Society has so far reverted towards its primitive
condition, that even in our older States, the practice has become common of
carrying deadly weapons, and avenging affronts, real or imaginary, with
instant death. The generation of young men now coming forward in our cities,
seem to think it manly to wear dirks and pistols, and to use them on the
slightest provocation. Approximating to savages in their equipments, they
resemble them no less in the value they put upon human life. And if matters
proceed much further in this direction, the shooting of a man will soon come
to be looked upon as very little more than the shooting of a beast. If these
practices were properly rebuked—if the force of law or of public sentiment
were adequately employed to repress them—it might be out of place to cite
them in this connection. But they meet with a degree of tolerance which
indicates anything but a just appreciation of their enormity on the part of
the community. As the natural result of these things, the feeling of
personal insecurity has become very general. The unavoidable hazards of
traveling are so multiplied, that a journey is a source of incessant
anxiety, from its commencement to its close, both to travelers themselves,
and their friends and families. Even in traversing the streets of a
metropolis, people feel that they are liable to plunge, inadvertently, into
some unprotected pitfall, or to be crushed by having building materials or
bales of merchandise precipitated upon them from above. Nor can thoughtful
parents rid themselves of solicitude for the safety of their sons, lest they
may some day be brought home to them 'in their blood,' victims to that
fashionable code which makes every man the avenger of his own wrongs, and
converts into a 'wrong' every hasty utterance or passionate gesture. That
this insensibility to the true value of life, is a mark of our imperfect
civilization, is a humiliating truth which it were quite useless to deny.
If there is any gauge by which the progress of a people
from barbarism to refinement can be tested, it lies in the estimate they
attach to human life, and the pains which are taken to preserve and
prolong it. If a nation fails in this point, the defect is one which admits
of no compensation. It is idle to talk of its arts and arms, its literature
and religion, its wise laws, its schools, its contented and thriving
populations—if it holds human life at a cheap rate, the less it boasts of
its cultivation the better. Other nations, certainly, will concede to it
nothing beyond a second or third rate type of civilization, while it is
disfigured by one of the radical characteristics of barbarism.
Much innocent blood is shed. Violent deeds abound. One
terrible tragedy follows another with rapidity. Lately seventeen murderers
were executed in one day. Fightings, assassinations, duels, suicides, and
deliberate murders for revenge or for money, are reported with an alarming
frequency. The cause of this deplorable state of things is to be found in
human depravity. But why should this depravity now manifest itself, in
so unusual a degree, in this particular form? The following answers may not
include all that should be said, but they point to some leading influences
which have a fearful potency for evil.
1. One fruitful source of crime has been the expectation
of impunity. Many have argued, some have legislated, and more have practiced
on the belief that no crime ought to be capitally punished. This has
increased the hope of impunity, so that some have declared their belief that
death would follow no crime.
2. The country has been and is still flooded with books
which mightily stir up all the principles of wickedness. Novels or
narratives of fact, have dressed up the burglar, the robber, the assassin,
the duellist, the murderer—in mirthful colors, and held him forth to the
youthful mind as a hero to be admired. These books are exceedingly common,
are offered for sale in almost every train of cars, and are filling the
pockets of thousands who never read any book suited to improve their morals.
3. Very corrupt religious doctrines extensively pervade
portions of the lower classes; among them are Universalism, Deism,
Spiritualism, and other infidel delusions. One who has for a long time
visited prisoners in jails and penitentiaries, declares his belief that
nine-tenths of our convicts disclaim the doctrine of eternal punishment.
These maintain their doctrines with just such arguments as are heard from
Universalist pulpits and infidel clubhouses.
4. The intemperate use of intoxicating drinks is terribly
on the increase, especially among the classes who commit these bloody
crimes. The liquors drunk are often terribly drugged. Reason is frequently
dethroned. At all times the blood is overheated, or the temper roused, and
so the poor victim of strong drink is kept ready for anything.
5. Gambling in its worst forms is also fearfully
prevalent. It fosters the worst passions, and hardens the heart beyond
almost all other vices. It has its schools and "hells" almost everywhere.
Its leaders are among the most desperate men in the world.
6. The practice of wearing side-arms, now so common, is a
great provocative of blood-shedding. It makes men familiar with the
instruments of death, and so diminishes their horror of blood-shedding. It
awakens apprehension that another is armed, and so leads to a speedy resort
to these weapons in case of any difficulty.
11. Intolerance and persecution.
Every man has a pope in him—Luther. Intolerance is
the parent of persecution. It refuses to let others alone, if they differ
from us in views or sentiments. It takes a very wide scope in this respect.
Galileo was persecuted for his views on science. Whately well remarks that
if his cotemporaries could have answered his arguments, they would not have
persecuted his person. No little of this intolerance is still manifested
even among some modern philosophers. To differ from them is to incur their
scorn and their ill-will. Another matter on which men are intolerant is the
subject of politics. How often does the vehemence of partisans rise to
invective and deadly malice. Men are oppressed for utterances which are as
honest and as harmless as any held by their adversaries. But religious
doctrine and worship have for many ages furnished the ground of the
bitterest intolerance. It ought exceedingly to warn those, who are inclined
to be bitter towards others for difference of religious belief or practice,
that there is no unerring judge of truth and error upon earth, and that none
have more egregiously erred than those who have made the highest pretensions
to ability to discriminate between truth and error.
Beza says that such was the "folly, ignorance, ambition,
wickedness of many bishops in the best times, that you would suppose the
devil to have been president in their assemblies." John Owen says, "I would
acknowledge myself obliged to any man that would direct me to a council,
since that mentioned in Acts 15, which I may not be free from the word of
God to assert, that it, in something or other, went astray."
The solemn challenge of Scripture is, "Who are you that
judges another man's servant? To his own master he stands or falls." Romans
14:4. Who but God is competent to decide on the aims, hopes, fears, desires,
convictions, failings, darkness, misapprehensions and invincible prejudices
of men? Oh that men had the spirit qf Salvian, when he said of some of his
cotemporaries, "They are heretics, but know it not; heretics to us, but not
to themselves: nay, they think themselves so right, that they judge us to be
heretics; what they are to us, that are we to them: they err, but with a
good mind, and for this cause God shows patience towards them."
One of the saddest things attending this spirit is that
intolerance begets prejudice, and persecution, persecution. No doubt this
evil has existed from the first. But it comes to the Western World through
Pagan Rome, which admitted no worship and no doctrine but such as was
established and approved by those who claimed authority in such matters.
This was the ground of that great clamor made at Philippi respecting the
preaching of Paul and Silas: "They teach customs which it is not lawful for
us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans." Acts 16:21. Nor has there
been anything new uttered for centuries in favor of intolerance.
The defense of it, made as early as the time of Augustus
Caesar was, that "They, who introduced new deities draw many into
innovations, from which arise conspiracies, seditions, secret meetings—which
are in no way profitable for the commonwealth." The other great ground of
defense of persecution was that the worship of new gods was a dishonor and a
provocation to those already worshiped, and thus they sent calamities upon
the people. It is a fact worthy of note, that persecution has never been
raised against any man or people, whose opinions or practices have been
fairly dealt with by adversaries. This is illustrated on almost every page
of the history of spiritual despotism. Owen says, "The course accounted so
sovereign for the extirpation of error—was first invented for the
extirpation of truth."
Even persecutors have at times admitted the faultless
character of their victims. Louis XII, with all his bitterness against the
people of Mirindol, said: "Let them be heretics, if you please, but
assuredly they are better than I and my Catholics." Thus far in the history
of persecution generally, the punished have been far better than the
punishers. Nor has persecution checked the progress of anything but
truth. Many a time has it been confessed that so far from suppressing heresy
by the sword and fagot, it has thereby been exceedingly spread and
established. When a man's followers honor him in his life as a saint, they
count him a martyr as soon as you shed his blood.
The fact is, that where heresy in religion exists, it is
a spiritual disease, and so ought to have a spiritual remedy. The Christian
church, for more than three centuries after the ascension of her Lord,
neither knew nor thought of the carnal weapons of intolerance for the
extirpation of wrong opinions or wrong practices in religion. Marcion
reproved a great errorist in strong terms; Irenaeus says he would have no
fellowship with heretics; Cyprian says, "Neither eat, nor talk, nor deal
with them." Ignatius says: "Count them enemies, and separate from them who
hate God; but for beating or persecuting them, that is proper to the heathen
who know not God, nor our Savior; do not you so."
How terribly God has followed persecutors with his sorest
judgments, can be seen in Jortin's remarks on Church History, in the
fifteenth volume of Owen's Works, p. 229, and indeed in many other writings.
One good, not sought by persecutors, has been brought out
of their cruel practices. It has given God's people an opportunity to
illustrate the true character of a Christian.
After pagan Rome lost its power, papal Rome took up the
trade of intolerance and persecution in the most fearful manner. In the
Apocalypse, John speaks of that corrupt communion thus: "I saw the woman
drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of
Jesus." Rev. 17:6. That the Church of Rome is in her fixed principles and
uniform practice intolerant and cruel, is as easily proved as any other
The creed of Pope Pius IV, issued Dec. 1564, after the
decrees of the Council of Trent, and sworn to by every clergyman in that
communion, contains these sentences: "I acknowledge the holy catholic and
apostolical Romish church, to be mother and mistress (Magistram) of all
churches; and I promise and swear true obedience to the Roman Pontiff,
successor of the blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and Vicar of Jesus
Christ. Also, all other things handed down, defined and declared by the
sacred canons and general councils, and chiefly by the most holy of Trent, I
undoubtingly receive, profess, and, at the same time, all things contrary,
and all heresies whatever condemned, rejected, and anathematized, I, in like
manner, condemn, reject, and anathematize. And this true Catholic faith, out
of which no one can have salvation, which at present I voluntarily profess
and truly hold, I promise, vow, and swear," etc.
Here we have a clear and full declaration that all
protestants and their children sink down to perdition. The oath taken by
every Roman Catholic Bishop contains, among other things, this sentence:
"Heretics, schismatics, and rebels—I will to my power persecute and oppose."
In the year 1582, there was published at Rheims, a copy of the New
Testament, with various notes, etc. This work, in several editions, has been
frequently approved, sanctioned and published, by various Romish bishops.
Here are some of the notes: "The insufficient and pretended church service
of England, being in schism and heresy, is not only unprofitable, but also
damnable." "If the temple of the Jews was a den of thieves, because of
profane and secular merchandise; how much more now, when the house appointed
for the holy sacrifice and sacrament of the body of Christ is made a den for
the ministers of Calvin's bread." "The prayers and services of heretics are
not acceptable to; yes, are no better than the howling of wolves." "A
Christian is bound to burn and deface all heretical books." "The translators
of the English Protestant Bible ought to be abhorred to the depths of hell."
"Justice and vigorous punishment of sinners is not forbidden, nor the
church, nor the Christian princes blamed for putting heretics to death." "To
say that a heretic, evidently known to die obstinately in heresy, is damned,
is not forbidden. Where heretics have unluckily been received for fear of
troubling the state, they cannot be suddenly extirpated—the weeds must grow
while the church obtains power, then eradicate them from the soil." "The
zeal of a Catholic ought to be so great towards all heretics and their
doctrines that he should give them the curse—the execration—the anathema,
though they were ever so dear to him—though they were his parents."
On the Thursday before Easter, in every masshouse in the
world, where service is conducted, unless public sentiment restrains the
priest, there is read the Papal Bull, entitled In Coena Donini. The second
clause of this Bull contains the excommunication of all Hussites, Wiclifites,
Lutherans, Zuinglians, Calvinists, Huguenots, Anabaptists, Trinitarians, and
other apostates from the faith; and all other heretics, by whatever name
they are called, or of whatever sect they be," etc., etc. The sixth
paragraph utterly curses all the civil powers, who impose new taxes without
the consent of the Roman court. A more shamelessly wicked, cruel, and
malignant document was probably never sent forth to the world. The phrase
anathema 'let him be accursed,' occurs more than one hundred and twenty
times in the canons and acts of the council of Trent. Paul said, "Bless, and
curse not," Romans 12:14. But Rome thunders forth her curses on all hands.
She sends forth as bitter anathemas against those who do not believe all the
falsehoods and absurdities found in the Apocrypha. With her, every dogma is
fundamental; every principle essential. Here are some of the decisions of
the canon law: "The Roman faith destroys all heresy and tolerates none."
"The Roman church admits no heresy, for the Catholic religion must be
kept without spot." "It is permitted neither to think nor to teach otherwise
than the court of Rome directs." "He who is separated from the church can
neither have his sins pardoned, nor can he enter the kingdom of heaven."
"Heretics may be excommunicated after death." The object of this canon was
the confiscation of property by the church. Many a time the bones of the
dead have been exhumed and burned in fulfillment of this horrible doctrine.
When jackals dig up the dead, it is to fulfill the law of their animal
nature. The property of heretics must be confiscated for the good of the
church." "Advocates and notaries, who defend heretics, or assist them by
writings or deeds, shall be adjudged infamous, and deprived of their
office." "Statute laws of the civil power, by which inquisitors of heresy
are impeded or prohibited are null and void." "Heretics shall not be
interred in ecclesiastical ground."
How fearfully these wicked principles have been carried
out, history records. At least two million Jews and fifty million
Christians are supposed to have perished by the hand of this cruel power.
The Duke of Alva, in a short time hanged and beheaded eighteen thousand
Protestants, besides thousands put to death by his ruffian soldiery. At the
command of Pope Paul III, twenty-four villages were burnt to ashes, and
thousands of people, men, women and children murdered. It is supposed that
not less than one million Waldenses have suffered death to gratify Romish
bigotry and cruelty. St. Bartholomew's day, in 1572, will be ever memorable
in France. It was the time fixed for the indiscriminate butchery of
Protestants. It swept away seventy thousand people in the space of a few
hours. The Dublin University Magazine for June, 1842, contains an account of
a copy of a medal ordered by the Pope to be struck in commemoration of this
shocking wholesale murder.
But enough of these horrible annals. Let all men express
their detestation of all persecution and intolerance. God abhors them. 1
Cor. 13:1-8. Jesus Christ prayed for even his murderers.
12. Hard-heartedness, etc., etc.
Besides the things already noticed, it is clear that this
commandment in its spirit and scope forbids and condemns hard-heartedness to
the suffering poor, Matt. 25:42, 43; Jas. 2:15, 16; all immoderate passions,
Jas. 4:1; oppression of every kind, Isaiah 3:15; devotion to carnal
pleasures, Eccl. 11:9; overtaxing the bodily powers of ourselves or others,
Eccl. 4:8; Exodus 2:23, 24; excess in food or drink, Luke 21:34; Proverbs
23:20, 21; in short all that tends to disturb the peace of people, families
or communities, Romans 14:19; 2 Tim. 2:22; or needlessly to shorten human
life, Proverbs 28:17.