“Thou shall not kill. Ex. 20:13
It must not be supposed that the command, “Thou shalt not kill,” that is, “Kill thou not thy neighbor,” is being kept when we merely refrain from killing, hurting, hating the neighbor. The keeping of this command consists positively in loving our fellow man. And I now have reference to a definite man, neighbor. Love is the fulfilment of all the law thus also of the sixth command. It would seem that it is hardly necessary that we be told this. For the absence of hatred is respect of a definite individual spells the presence of love. That is to say, not to hate the individual is to love him and not to love him is to hate him. Neither to love nor to hate a brother, to be neither for nor against well- nor ill-disposed toward him, is impossible. This being true, it would seem that it is unnecessary for us to be told, in addition to our being forbidden to hate our brother, that we must love him. Yet it is necessary. For in our sinfulness we like to imagine that not love but indifference is the fulfillment of the law, that thus if we treat a brother, whom we find it hard to love, with indifference, we at least are not hating him, so that the requirement of the law is still being satisfied. Now this reasoning is wrong. Indifference is a species of hatred not only, but it is the most insufferable species of all. To be indifferent is to be neither hot nor cold. The church of the Laodiceans was neither hot nor cold. What Christ thought of this spiritual posture may be known from the words of rebuke which he addressed to this church, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (chap. 3:15, 16). That spiritual lukewarmness, indifference, is even more nauseating than coldness can be only because the former as well as the latter is at bottom sheer hatred, so that to be indifferent toward a brother is to hate him indeed. It is plain then that the keeping of the command, “Thou shalt not kill” consists in loving the brother, that in order to be free from the sin of hating him, we must love him.
If we like to imagine that all that the law requires of us is that we refrain from hating the brother, we also like to make ourselves believe that the law is being kept by us when we refrain from doing the brother injury. We are willingly ignorant of this that to refrain from doing the brother good is to do him injury, that it is only through our doing him well that we do him no evil. It is through one’s refraining from feeding a starving brother, that one permits him to perish. Thus it is only through one’s doing him well, which doing in this case consists in giving him bread, that one does him no evil. This is true all along the line of God’s law. It is only through our giving God glory, that we have not before His face other deities. It is only through our worshipping Him that we worship not the creature. It is only through our revering His name, that we take not His name in vain. It is only through our hallowing the Sabbath, that we desecrate it not. It is only through the children honoring their parents that they do not dishonor them. It is only through our giving the neighbor his due, that we do not steal from him. And so it is only through our loving the neighbor that we kill him not. Thus the command, “Thou shalt not kill” is at once a command to love—the neighbor. Let us then have regard to that action called love.
What is it to love the neighbor? This depends somewhat on whom the neighbor is. If he be a believer, then in the first instance to love him is to be drawn to him by, and to delight in, his true goodness. The mark of true love, of love that as to its nature is holy, is that it goes out to and embraces and rejoices in truth, perfection, holiness. Such is ever the working of love. God delights in Self, in the glory of His being. He delights in His children; for, being His creatures in Christ, they reflect His perfections. And these children delight in Him, whose praises they behold in Christ’s face. And they are drawn to and rejoice in one another, in the true goodness increated in their being by their redeemer-God. In the light of these observations, it is plain that love, as being, is to be defined as a holy bound of delight. Hence, he who loves holily, cannot delight in wickedness, in the wicked.
But there are still other actions which Holy Writ ascribes to love—the love of the neighbor. Actions they are which the Scriptures comprehend in one short clause—the clause, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor.” Exhorting his readers to owe no man anything, but to love one another, the apostle goes on to say, “For he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbor.” This is the other mark of true love. The meaning of this bit of instruction is not that loving is merely a negative action, a doing that consists only in refraining from working ill. To love is at once to work well. As has already been pointed out, it is only through our working well to the neighbor, that we work to him no ill. It lies in the very nature of love to work well. And to this working no limit must be set. For love worketh all manner of good. And the object of this working is every neighbor, the evil, and the good, the enemy that reviles and the friend that blesses. The disciples of Christ love also their enemies, not through their delighting in but through their blessing and praying for them. The disciples of Christ delight in one another but they delight not in the enemy. For the enemy of whom Christ spake, when He said, “Love thine enemies,” is an unprincipled person, persecuting God’s people. Him, therefore, the believer blesses. For him he prays. And the prayer is that God save him.
The statement was just made that it lies in the very nature of love to work good to. This statement is so very true. For love is the bond of delight. Now the desire in respect of the body or being that one delights in, is that it be well with that being. But he whom one hates and loathes, he is inclined to destroy. Loving God, His children bless Him; and they bless one another. Hating God, the wicked destroy Him in their thoughts. All their thoughts are that there is no God.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” So reads the second of the two commands to which hang all the law and the prophets. But the first of these—the first and the greatest—is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” If the whole heart and the whole soul and the whole mind must be given to God in love, how can there then be room in the heart for the neighbor? The neighbor whom we are charged to love, that is, cherish, delight in and have fellowship with is the neighbor who spiritually is like God, so that loving him is an action not contrary to but in full harmony with that of loving God. That neighbor is a man conformed according to the image of Christ, so that to love him is to love Christ’s own likeness, is thus to love God. Therefore, in the language of John, he who says that he loves God and hates his brother is a liar. And the reason is that this brother, being a redeemed one, shows forth the praises of God. Hence hatred of the brother spells of necessity hatred of God, and, conversely, the love of God includes love of the brother. A heart in which there is no room for the brother in Christ, is a heart in which there is no room for God. “For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen” (John 4:20). God cannot be seen except in the face of the brother. It is therefore utterly impossible, such is the reasoning of the apostle, to hate the brother and at once to love God.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self”. The man whose love is depraved and who thus loves unholily, as do the wicked, is capable of loving self only. And so he does. For, he loves such only who love him, his love of others is love of self. The requirement of the law is that we love ourselves and the neighbor and the neighbor as ourselves. We can do this only if we love holily, if the object of our love is solely true goodness, God, and if we and the neighbor be like God. Then we must love the neighbor, too, and the neighbor as self. For if the object of our love is God only, and if our neighbor, as well as we, be like God, why should we love ourselves and not our neighbor and not love him as ourselves? And why then should we not want to cherish and work well to our neighbor as well as to ourselves? There can be no reason. It is the man who loves depravedly, whose god is his lusts, who has no room in his affections for the neighbor. So then, rightly considered, the command, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” is equivalent to the command, “Be holy, for I thy God am holy.”
Scripture, as has also from time memorial the civil codes of the profane nations of the earth, distinguishes sharply between three kinds of killings, to wit, the premeditated or presumptuous killing, the killing for which one other than the deceased was held responsible on account of his neglect or failure to take necessary precautions, and the purely accidental killing (accidental in respect of men). The Mosaic law that touches on the first of these—presumptuous killing—is found in Deut. 19:11-14. A man, who hated his neighbor, and lied in wait for him, and rose up against him, and smote him mortally that he died, had to be delivered into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he might die. An example of the second kind of killings is found in Exodus 21:28, 29. If an ox gored a man or a woman, that they died, the ox had to be stoned, and his flesh might not be eaten. If the ox were wont to push with his horns in time past, and it had been testified to the owner, and still he had not kept him in, then he, the owner, too, had to be put to death. Otherwise he was acquitted. From this we learn that if the neighbor’s death is attributable to one’s neglect or carelessness, the neglectful or careless one may consider that he is being charged with murder by God the Supreme Judge of heaven and earth. The case of criminal neglect just cited—that of the ox known to have pushed with his horns in time past—is but one of a large class. The driver of a car, who runs down a pedestrian and kills him, murders in the sight of God if the cause of his mishap was his reckless driving, or certain mechanical defects of his car of which he was well aware but which he failed to have corrected, or his having disqualified himself for safe driving through his immoderate use of strong drink. Behind the wheel, the man who is ignorant of traffic rules is a menace. However, safe driving is largely, if not predominantly, a matter not of the head but of the heart. Under the eye of the police, the unprincipled person drives safely enough. But the safe driver is the man who truly fears God and who therefore trembles before the command, “Thou shalt not kill.” God does not wait with lodging His charge, until the reckless driver actually kills. The recklessness or the negligence that resulted in the killing is already murder. So, if, when behind the wheel one is tempted to give free rein to the urge to “step on it” just to satisfy a crave for speed and more speed, or to get some place in a terrific hurry for no reason whatever, and if the yielding to the temptation spells reckless driving and thus the exposing to loss or injury of human lives, let him hearken to the voice of the command, “Thou shalt not kill.”
The law of Moses also made provision for the accidental killings. A case at point is cited at Deut. 19:5, 6. It is the case of whoso killed “his neighbor ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past; as when a man goeth in to the wood with his neighbor to hew wood and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, that he die.” For this killer the law provided a way of escape; for “this man was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.” In agreement with instructions which God had given to Moses, Joshua appointed six cities of refuge, three on each side of the river Jordan: Kadesh in Galilee, Shechem in Ephraim, Kirjatharba in the mountain of Judah, and on the east side of the Jordan, Bezer in the wilderness, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golam in Bashan. To the nearest one of these, the slayer that killed any person unawares and unwittingly fled from the pursuing avenger of blood, a relative of the one unwittingly slain. Taking his stand at the entering of the gate of the city, the slayer declared his cause in the hearing of the elders of that city, who took him into the city, “and gave him place, that he might dwell with them” until the day set for his trial. On that day he was led to the place of the slaying, where he stood before the congregation in judgment. If it appeared that he was innocent of a capital crime, he was restored to the city of refuge, whither he was fled. Here he had to abide unto the death of the high priest. If at any time before the death of the high priest, he should leave the city of his refuge, the avenger, finding and slaying him, should not be guilty of his blood. After the death of the high priest, the slayer was permitted to return to the land of his possession (Num. 35:19-38). Thus whether the slayer had murdered, depended solely on how he had been disposed toward the one slain, at the time of the slaying. “If he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by lying of wait that he die; or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die; he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the avenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him (Num. 35:20).
In judging our deeds, how God looks at the heart! When there is a slaying, God, in judging passes by the outward deed and is occupied solely with the heart and its intent. If there is no evil intent, no charge of murder is lodged. It is out of the heart that murder proceeds. Yet even this slaying a man ignorantly or unwittingly, involved the slayer in some measure of guilt, as the circumstance that, if he, before the death of the high priest, left his city of refuge, the avenger, finding him, could slay him with impunity. Thus also for this slaying unwittingly, the slayer was held accountable. And justly so; for slayings of this character betoken carelessness on the part of the slayer. If the ax-man had carefully examined his ax, before he started hewing, the slaying might have been avoided. So, though not worthy of death, he was still deemed worthy of some punishment.
In the Heidelberg Catechism’s answer to the question, “What doth God require in the sixth commandment,” is contained also the clause, “that I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to danger.” Now the action denoted by the clause “that I hurt not myself,” is precisely that of the suicide, of one designedly destroying his own life. Does also this killing belong to the category of slayings forbidden and thus denounced by the sixth command? If so, the expounder of this command must treat also the subject of suicide, if his exposition is to be somewhat complete. My raising the question whether suicide belongs to the class of killings at which the sixth command strikes, may occasion surprise. Christian thinkers generally have always held to the view that the principles enunciated in the sixth command do extend to suicide.
Even the early Greeks deemed suicide unnatural and wrong. The first among pagan men to advocate suicide were the Stoics. The early church firmly opposed suicide. However of the church fathers, Eusebius, Chrysostom, and Jerome lauded the position that in times of persecution, Christian women might commit suicide to escape dishonor. But this position was condemned by Augustine and later also taken by the church councils, some of which forbade the suicide honorable burial. Suicide is condemned in the general Christian literature of the eighteenth century, and also in the writings of such men as Spinoza and Kant.
Assuredly, the sixth command does forbid suicide. But this must be shown. To merely quote this command is not sufficient. It does not satisfy the indeterminate—persons whose position is that suicide is a great sin but who are unable to discover in the sixth command such proof as for them is sufficiently conclusive. Their reasoning is that there are exceptions to this command, that thus there are slayings which this command does not at all concern, as for example, the magistrate’s shedding the blood of the man who shed man’s blood. And they wonder, do these indeterminate persons, whether also suicide might not be one of the slayings not forbidden by the sixth command.
In showing what bearing the sixth command has noon suicide, I must set out with the observation that the statement to the effect that there are exceptions to this command is fallacious. This command forbids murder and all such doings as partake of the character of murder. Any exception to this command would therefore have to be a murderous doing, so that to say that this command permits of exceptions is equivalent to saying that there are wicked doings, partaking of the character of murder, not prohibited by this command. This can be stated slightly differently. The sixth command concerns solely murderous acts. So, to say that there are exceptions to the sixth command is to say that there are exceptions to the law that forbids murder, is to say therefore that to murder is not without exception forbidden, so that it is possible to murder with impunity. To say that there are exceptions to the sixth command is as preposterously wrong as to say that there are exceptions to the law, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” or “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” What has occasioned the reasoning to the effect that there are exceptions to the sixth commandment is the mandate, “He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” But this mandate certainly is not to be regarded as forming an exception to the sixth commandment. Were this true, the civil magistrate of necessity commits murder, so often as he inflicts upon a murderer the punishment of death. But is there not conflict then between the sixth commandment and the mandate just quoted? Not at all. The sixth command as to its positive requirement places the magistrate under the necessity of loving even the murderer and as impelled by love, of doing him well. His inflicting upon the murderer the punishment of death, need not interfere with his loving him, with his pitying him in his woe. The believing magistrate, who takes the life of a murderer, does him evil. But whereas he is not the deviser of the evil, and is not as executioner being moved by malice but solely by the command of God, he, rightly considered does the murderer no evil. But the point that I wished to make is that there can be no exception to the sixth command nor to any of the other commands. The killings forbidden by the sixth command are solely the killings that involve in sin and guilt.
What is this sin? This has been explained in a previous article. But this sin must be standing out in our minds, if our eyes are to open to the extreme sinfulness of suicide. Once more, then, what is this sin—the sin forbidden by the command, “Kill not thou thy neighbor?” Consider once more that the neighbor was created in God’s image, and is thus God’s creature. And yet this man, so I wrote, this creature of God, who should live that he, as God’s image-bearer, might serve His Maker, the murderer destroys and thus silences, and this because the neighbor stood in his way, or was not serviceable to him. So then it is plain what the principle of conduct is from which the murderer acts—the principle namely that the neighbor is not God’s but his, the murderer’s, for him to do with as he chooses and to dispose of at will, and that thus the sin forbidden by the sixth command is the sin of one’s destroying his neighbor as impelled solely by inordinate self-love and that thus by hatred of God and the neighbor, so that the sixth command is to be paraphrased: “Imagine not in thy heart, O man, that thy neighbor belongs to thee, exists for thy pleasure, and that thus thou mayest do with him according as it pleases thee. Thy neighbor is God’s. In God’s image was he created. Therefore kill not thou thy neighbor.”
How sinful this act of one’s designedly taking his own life appears to be, in the light of these observations! The suicide is not his own but God’s. For in God’s image was he created. He therefore belongs not to himself but to God, so that if man may not destroy his neighbor, neither may he destroy himself. The suicide does so. Thus the principle of conduct from which he, too, acts is that he is his own and not God’s and that being his own it is his prerogative to decide whether he will live or die. Thus his sin, too, is that forbidden by the command, “Thou shalt not kill.” For, as compelled by inordinate self-love and by hatred of God, he destroys self, God’s creature. The suicide is a self-murderer.
Why do men take their own lives? It is said that about a third of the number of suicides may be traced to mental derangements, thus indicating a close connection between suicide and insanity. Suicide is born of despair and disgust with life, resulting from the soul’s lack of power, that is, grace to cope with severe conditions, and to stand against their pressure. It betokens the lack of that patience and hope—the Christian hope—that fails not in the most desperate situations. It is thus indicative of an unwillingness on the part of the suicide to humble himself under the mighty hand of God. The suicide’s taking his own life is his final attempt to deliver himself out of that hand. The suicide is thus at odds with God: the impulse under which he sheds his own blood is carnal self- pity and thus hatred of God.
It is small wonder then, that the Christian Church has utterly condemned the act of suicide. She does so, as she cannot but regard the act as an absolute negation of the fear of God. And therefore the question whether Christ committed suicide must certainly be answered in the negative. But how in view of what Scripture says of Him, can the conclusion be escaped that He did. Consider what Scripture says of Him, namely that He chose to die, that He came into the world to die, that He when His hour was come, deliberately sought death. He set His face to go to Jerusalem. He betook Himself to the very place where He knew His enemies were to seek him. He even commanded His enemies to take Him. And then there is this word from Christ’s own lips, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have right to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17, 18).
“No man taketh it from me. . . . I lay it down of myself.” If words have meaning, then what Christ here tells His people is that not man but that He Himself caused His own death, the separation of His human body and soul. True, men wanted to kill Him. And what they did to Him, no one but Christ could have borne without expiring. But no man took His life from Him. Christ took it from Him, namely His life. Well, if Christ, as He Himself says, took His own life, did He then not commit suicide? Does not the act of suicide consist precisely in one’s taking his own life? It does. Christ took His own life? He did. Yet He did not commit suicide. But how is the conclusion to be escaped that He did not? By pointing to the fact that His laying down His life, His dying was an act of obedience, in that it was done in response to the commandment which the Father had given Him? Appealing to Christ’s obedience does not avail here, except this obedience be set forth in its proper light. Suicide is an act of a mere man taking from him his life through his dealing himself a mortal wound. Now the man Jesus did not take from him Jesus the man the life of this man, thru this man dealing the human nature of Christ a mortal wound. Then the man Jesus would have committed suicide. What took place on the cross is this: The person of the Son of God caused the human nature with which He was personally united, to die. He, God the son, laid down the life of His human nature, caused a separation between His human body and soul. After three days, He, God the Son took that life again through His uniting His human soul and body in the resurrection. That life of the human nature and also its death was the life of God the Son by virtue of His being personally united with the human nature. The Son of God, the second person in the blessed trinity, could therefore speak of the life of the human nature as His, the Son’s life, and of the laying down of the life of that human nature as the laying down of His, the Son’s life.
Christ, then, did not commit suicide. And His dying obediently is, as has just been made plain, not the reason His death was not suicide. To say that Jesus died obediently and to add nothing to this, is still to maintain that Jesus committed suicide. The act of suicide is always sin. It would have been sin also as committed by Christ. He had not the commandment to commit suicide.
Among Christian people, suicide is extremely rare. It was just as rare among the covenant people of God of the Old Testament dispensation. But it is frequent among people who fear not God. Rare it is, among the people of God. It cannot be otherwise. For God’s believing people are regenerated unto a living hope. They have an only comfort in life and death. With body and soul they are and will to be not their own but they belong and will to belong to Jesus Christ, who satisfied for all their sins and by His Spirit assures them of eternal life. Hence, none of God’s people lives to himself and no one dieth to himself. For whether they live, they live unto the Lord; and whether they die, they die unto the Lord.
The question is sometimes asked whether the act of suicide is pardonable, whether the suicide can be pardoned and saved. It would seem not. Suicide is as pardonable as the sin of murder. Neither are unpardonable sins. The murderer on the cross is saved. However, it is only sins that are confessed that are forgiven. Now if sin is to be confessed, there must be opportunity. Now the suicide has no opportunity, the wound that he inflicts causes instant death often. The position is undoubtedly correct, that true believers do not commit this sin.