“Thou shall not kill.” Ex. 20:13
It requires some careful thinking to gain a correct insight into the meaning of this command. The mistake can easily be made of seeing too much in this command, of making it cover acts which according to the mind of God it does not cover. The pacifist makes this mistake. The pacifist is one who is opposed to all war, who regards war as such, sin, a transgression of the command, “Thou shalt not kill.” For this command, so it is held, forbids all killing. The taking of life is thus wrong under any circumstance and for whatever reasons. The magistrate has power but not over the life of the citizens of the state. Murder is a crime not to be punished by death. For the law of God reads, “Thou shalt not kill.” Such is the view, and the one extreme. But if there are some who see too much in this command, there are others who see too little in it. I think now of the defenders of suicide and the exponents of so-called mercy-killings—killings done to put an end to the earthly existence of such to whom life has become unendurable on account of suffering that has reached the limit of what a human can bear. Killings of this character the sixth command does not concern. Such is the view and the other extreme.
Let us, concentrating on this command, lay hold on its meaning. It is hardly necessary to say that it is man, God’s rational-moral creature, that may not be killed by man. Long before God said to His people Israel, assembled at Mt. Sinai, “Thou shalt not kill,” He said to Noah, immediately upon the latter’s leaving the ark, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” But we must be more definite. He whom the Lord had before His mind, when He said, “Thou shalt not kill,” is one’s neighbor. The truth of this statement is borne out by certain instruction of Christ and by the way the tenth command reads. Said Christ to the lawyer who asked which of all the commands is the greatest, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy. God with all thy heart. . . . This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And then there proceeded out of the mouth of Christ this significant statement, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Thus the sixth command is suspended to the command, “Love thy neighbor. . . If so, the creature that may not be killed is precisely the neighbor. That it is specifically the neighbor, one’s fellow creature, that the words, written on the second table concern, is plain from the tenth command, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”
It was not really necessary for the Lord to say to you or to me, “Thou shalt not kill that Chinese in far away China.” Why should you want to lay hands on that creature. With thousands of miles between him and you, he moves not in your world. His path and your path therefore do not cross. His interests and your interests do not clash. He stands not in your way, is no hindrance to your success, is not the one by whose superior skill or cunning you are being overreached or defeated. You have nothing to do with him or he with you. As far as you are concerned, he does not exist. Why then should you want to do that creature any harm? There can be no reason. But there may be a reason why you should want to kill the neighbor. The two compounds of the word neighbor are the two words near and dweller. The neighbor is he or she who dwells near or next to one, such as one’s husband or one’s wife, one’s son and one’s daughter, one’s employer or employee, one’s competitor in business, one’s father and mother. The husband may be unreasonable. The wife may be a woman irresponsible or faithless as a wife. The son and daughter may be thankless and rebellious. Parents may be provoking. That employer may be a man without a heart, exploiting the people who work for him. That employee may be a lazy and unreliable person. And the competitor may be blocking your road to achievement. The believer has trials peculiar to himself. There is to him the neighbor that reviles for Christ’s sake. There is reason then why the Lord said—said, mark you, to His people—“Kill not thy neighbor.” That neighbor is your fellow man. You have him daily on your hands. You rub elbows with him in the home, in the factory, in the office, on the farm, in the church and in the state, in a word, in every sphere, He and you have one little world in common in which you both plan and struggle and strive to achieve. And you both are sinful, by nature, grasping, selfish and self-centered. It is true, you are a child of grace. Yet in you, that is, in your flesh there dwelleth no good thing, so that, if the neighbor gets in your way, which he is bound to do, you are tempted by your flesh to kill him. But kill not thou thy neighbor.
What is it to kill a fellow human? The Hebrew word for to kill is derived from a root form, the meaning of which is to break, crush, destroy. This meaning is identical to the sense of the English verb to kill. The old English is quellen meaning to crush. Thus to kill the neighbor is to crush, destroy him. Now this may be done in deed or solely in the intention, objectively or subjectively, in the outward theatre of life or solely in the heart. To kill in deed is to deal the neighbor the blow that results in his spirit departing from him, so that, as to the body, he returns to the dust and is no more. But that is not saying enough. If the sin forbidden by the sixth command is to stand out in our minds in all its hideous sinfulness, it must be viewed in the light of the intention of the killer, of what he would do to his victim, to the butt of his attack, were he able, and of what he actually does to him in his heart. The killer’s depriving his victim of life, actually springs from the desire to deliver the blow that will send him to eternal hell. The killer wishes his victim removed from the face of this earth not merely, but he very actually wishes him in the place of everlasting torment. Someone may ask, Can this be? This can be and is, however unlikely, at first thought, it may seem. Think of the violent quarrels between persons who fear not God. Such quarrels often if not usually end in blows. But before this end is reached, the parties to the quarrel have already damned each other to the greatest of all torment—the torment of hell. And while the quarrelers mix in combat, each blow that is dealt is accompanied by a curse. Verily the killer whom the Lord had before his mind when He said, “Thou shalt not kill,” wishes his victim in perdition. It is the blow, the killing, springing from this wish, the killing to which has been given the name of murder, that forms the sin to which the sixth command in the first instance has regard.
Once more, the blow that is dealt is intended to result in the victim’s disappearing in hell. Certainly the murderer does not wish his victim in heaven. If so, he would not fall on him and beat him with his fists but would pray for him and bless him. But the murderer blesses not but curses, and his wounding his victim in combat is representative of an attempt on his part to answer his own prayer—a prayer in which he invokes against his victim the greatest conceivable evil—the evil that is the portion of the damned. However if the extreme sinfulness of the sin of murder is to be clearly perceived, regard must be had firstly to the reason why a man will murder his neighbor and secondly to the creature murdered. The murderer kills his fellow man solely out of consideration not of God but of himself. The man stands in the killer’s way and must therefore be destroyed. The sin of murder is at bottom inordinate self-love. The murderer worships before the shrine of his own ego. And the fellow-man who will not worship with him, he destroys and thus considers not that this man was created in God’s image, is thus God’s creature, brought into being by God to worship Him. Created in God’s image was man. Yet this man, who should live that he, as God’s image-bearer, might serve and adore his Maker everlastingly, the murderer, as to his intention, utterly destroys and silences forever, because he stood in his way, or was not serviceable to him. That the murderer can only destroy the body of his victim does make the sinfulness of his deed less sinful. In judging him the Lord has respect to his heart, to motive and intention.
There are differing degrees of intensity of the sin of murder, corresponding to what it is that induces or constrains one to actually deprive the fellow-man of life. King David was afraid that he would be found out, if Uriah, whose wife he had defiled, were permitted to live, and so he killed him as driven by fear. It perhaps should not therefore be maintained that the taking of life, forbidden by the sixth command, is without exception the expression of a conscious wish and burning desire that the victim be damned forever. Yet murder and cursing go hand in hand. And the impulse under which sinful man murders is carnal hatred. Now it lies in the very nature of this hatred to be satisfied with nothing short of the victim’s being overtaken by the greatest conceivable evil. And this evil, as was said, is everlasting death. When Uriah, after having returned from the field of battle stubbornly refused to go home, David’s anger, it must be imagined, kindled. And this anger was the stirring of his flesh, of his carnal, wicked self. It sprang from the principle of sin that operated in his members. It was certainly not holy indignation. Herewith the sin of murder has been fully exposed.
Regard must now be had to the soil in which murders grow and from which they spring. This soul is the human heart. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies . . . .” (Matt. 15:19). The heart is the center or seat of ethical life, the spring of all our purposes, volitions, thoughts, and actions. Thus the moral life of a man partakes of the character of his heart. As this heart is, so he thinketh. For from out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders. . . .
This raises the question how a man murders. He murders first in thought. “For out of the heart proceedeth evil thoughts. . . .” and, such is the meaning of this scripture, of these thoughts one is murder. Mark you, the very thought is already murder. This corresponds with the teaching of 1 John 3:15, “Whoso hateth his brother is a murderer. . . .” According to this word, he who hateth his brother commits murder not merely but is as to his nature and the heart of his disposition a murderer. Hatred then is murder; and to hate is to murder, to destroy the one hated. Hatred however, is murder as it riots in the heart and its hidden recesses and in the conscious emotion, will and mind of man. Hence, the desire, the will, to destroy a fellow-human together with the murderous thought, by which is to be understood the mental act of destroying in the mind, imagination,—this is conscious hatred, which in turn is the crystallization of the soul’s energy or capacity for thought and volition as vitiated by the principle of sin that operates in it. Man is by nature a hater of God and the neighbor. In his subconscious soul, there in the heart of his disposition, he continually in unbroken continuity, destroys God. All his thoughts are that God is not.
Now the reason that hatred is the will or urge to destroy is that to hate is to abhor, detest, abominate, loathe. To hate is to be inflamed with extreme dislike.
Now hatred, the will to murder and the murderous thought, cannot remain hidden in the heart. It must become manifest and so it does through such organs of the body as the eye, the throat and the tongue, the countenance and in particular the brow, further, the hand and the foot. The throat of the hater is an open sepulchre; with his tongue he uses deceit; the poison of asps is under his lips; his mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; his feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in his ways; the way of peace he knows not, there is no fear of God before his eyes. (Rom. 2:13-18). The most violent manifestation occurs when hatred, leaping upon its victim, delivers the blow that kills. But hatred rarely will go to this extreme. Man lives too much in dread of the consequences of such deeds of violence. He usually goes no further than to confront the hated one with the signs and tokens of the murder that lurks in his bosom,—such tokens as the clenched fist, the frown, the murderous look and gesture, the spiteful word, the aloof manner, the cold reception, the studied indifference, the frigid politeness; or, arming himself with the weapon of slander, he tries to destroy the hated one through striking at his good name and reputation. As to these signs and tokens, just mentioned, they, too, are murder.
Sinful man destroys his fellow human in thought, which he can do in that he has been endowed by his Creator with the faculty of imagination, with the power to reproduce an object of sense previously perceived and also to recall a mental or spiritual state that has been previously experienced. Because man has this power he can and does first live inwardly, in his mind, the life that he lives before the eyes of his fellow men. In the morning, while he still lies upon his bed, the business executive produces before his mind’s eye his walk or life as he plans it for the day. In his mind he is at his desk in his office, reading his mail, dictating replies, holding conferences, meeting clients. In the state of righteousness, this image-producing faculty of man, called imagination, man yielded as a weapon of righteousness unto God. But he now yields it, together with all his endowments, as a weapon of unrighteousness unto sin. In the orb of his imaginative life, he is wholly consecrated to sin. In the words of the prophet, he devises iniquity, and works evil upon his bed (Micah 2:1a). This language is descriptive of the walk of life of the wicked, as they run it inwardly, within themselves. In their minds even they work the evil previously devised. The statement has respect solely to mental action. “When the morning is light”, so the prophet continues, “they practice it, because it is in the power of their hands”. So, too, the murderer in particular. He devises iniquity against the hated one and works it upon his bed. He reproduces before his mind’s eye the image of the hated one and his heart breathes out threatenings and slaughter against him. In his mind, he beats him with his fist, tramples him with his feet and damns him to hell. So are most murders committed, namely, inwardly, within the soul’s imaginative life.
Fallen man is by nature a murderer. But what is to be said of the true believer? Scripture teaches that, by virtue of his being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, he is delivered from the dominion and the slavery of sin in this life, yet only in principle. For Scripture also teaches that the believer continues to lie in the midst of death until the moment of his passing from this life and is still inclined to all evil. And the apostle’s confession is to the effect that sin dwelleth in him, that he finds a law, that, when he would do good, evil is present with him, that he sees another law in his members warring against the law of his mind and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members (Rom. 7). And the fact that the apostles were constrained by the Holy Spirit to direct to God’s believing people even exhortations such as this, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies and all evil speakings,’’ and this, “But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy. . .” the apostles’ so exhorting God’s people, implies, certainly, that these things dwell in believers despite their being regenerated. Malice dwells in them, that is, in their flesh. And anger and wrath. And malice is a species of hatred. And hatred is murder. Still inclined to all evil is the believer; thus inclined also toward murder. And when there is severe provocation, the murder that still dwells in his flesh bestirs itself. It begins to riot in his mind and will. It fills his eyes, and extinguishes the light in his countenance. Then the believer is aware of his members which are upon the earth, of a heart that breathes threatenings, of a mischief planning mind, of a mouth full of the bitterness of slander and cursing, of a deceit-using tongue, of an eye that kills by its look. These are the members that are to be mortified, that is, killed. These are the works of the flesh to be crucified. God’s believing people do so by His mercy. As constrained by God’s love, they cut off the offending hand, pluck out the offending eye, and cut out the offending tongue, They suppress the urge and curb the desire to kill. They purify themselves, their mouth of its curses and the mind of its mischief. They put on bowels of mercies.
The observations thus far made have respect to hatred that is sinful, depraved. There is also a hatred that is holy, a wrath that is just and an indignation that is righteous. God hates, abhors the wicked and hating them He destroys them. And He is Holy God. And as to man, when he left God’s hands, he did so as a creature endowed by His Maker with the capacity holily to love and thus also holily to hate. But man, subjecting himself to sin and consequently to death, corrupted his whole nature and thus also the nature of his love and his hatred. If he formerly hated darkness, the lie, he now hates truth, light, God and loves the lie. And his hatred of truth is love of the lie. However, if he be regenerated by the Spirit of Christ his hatred and his love, again partake of the nature of God’s. There is then also a hatred that is holy.
So is there also a curse that is holy. God curses His enemies. And the saints, being at one with God, will that He curse. And to this will they also give expression in their prayers. “Let their eyes be darkened,” so prayed the prophet of God, “that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be darkened and let none dwell in their tents. Add iniquity to their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” (Ps. 61:22-28). Essentially the same prayer Christ put upon the lips of His disciples, when He taught them to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” that is, “Rule us so by thy word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to thee; preserve and increase thy church; destroy the works of the devil, and all violence which would exalt itself against thee; and also, all wicked counsels devised against thy holy word; till the full perfection of thy kingdom takes place, wherein thou shalt be all in all.” (The construction placed upon this prayer by the Catechism). Finally, in the book of Revelations, chapter 8, the Lord appears as overtaking the wicked with His judgments in response to the prayers of all saints. The smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints (all the saints, vs. 3) ascend up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel takes the censor and fills it with the fire of the altar and casts it upon the earth. And there are voices, and thunderings and lightnings, and an earthquake.
There is then a hatred that is carnal, depraved, and a hatred that is holy. So, too, is there the curse that is holy, and the curse that is sinful. Whereas now sinful hatred is murder and seeing that the believer must hate darkness and by virtue of his being a lover of truth, light, and God Who is the Truth does indeed hate wickedness and the wicked, it is pertinent to ask how, when his soul fills with hatred and his anger kindles, he may know whether his hatred is of the flesh, carnal or of the Spirit and thus at least in principle holy and whether his prayer that God bring evil upon the wicked is carnal or holy. The answer to the question here put must be taken from Scripture. Carnal hatred and anger and the carnal cursing have their marks by which they may easily be recognized and known. And likewise hatred that dwells in the Spirit and is holy. This hatred, too, has its marks. Let us discern these marks. The man who hates carnally, hates because the object of his hatred hates him, speaks evil and rises up against him, is this his enemy. The man who hates holily hates not his but God’s enemies. Better said, he hates the one who does him evil because the evil-doer is God’s enemy, who strikes at God by striking at His people. He hates him therefore as God’s enemy but loves him as his enemy. Further, the man who hates carnally, commits himself and his case to self instead of to God. Instead of making room for God’s wrath, he must avenge self. And so he does. He does his enemy evil. He forms against him schemes of mischief. With his slandering tongue, he pursues the object of his hatred into every nook and corner of that world where he and his victim move and have their being. He kills his victim if not outwardly then inwardly, in his thoughts. This, certainly, is not the behavior of hatred kindred to God’s. Committing himself unto God, the man who loves holily, does well to and blesses such who revile him. Further, holy hatred both in God and in His people is a loathing of sin and thus of the reprobated wicked on account of what they are, namely, wicked ones, loathing holiness, the Holy One. Hence, he who loves holily will and must loathe also himself as to his members which are upon the earth and by the mercy of God he turns against these very members to mortify, kill, destroy them. There is therefore with a man who hates holily no respect of persons in this respect. It is plain that when a man sets himself to appraising his hatred, wrath, indignation, he should be on his guard against the deceitfulness of his own heart. One may conclude that it was the wickedness in a fellow human, neighbor—that stirred his anger, while in reality what riled him is not the wickedness in that neighbor but the mere circumstance that the neighbor in his wickedness did evil to his, the angry one’s, person. It is a rather remarkable phenomenon that wickedness in a fellow human does not begin to trouble us to any extent, until that human assails our person. How we then rage and foam. And when the storm has finally subsided, we begin to prate about our holy wrath and righteous indignation. But when we are again ready to be honest with ourselves and examine that wrath in the light of God’s Word, we cannot find an atom of holiness in it. Carnal wrath and hatred is like an intermittent spring. It wells up only now and then, when there is provocation. For its concern is not sin but personal injury; but holy hatred is a flame, steady and unquenchable as love.
And as to the holy curse, what is to be understood is that this curse as uttered by the prophets of Scripture is the word of God to the effect that God will save His people also through the destruction of His and His people’s adversary. Only if this sinful opposition be destroyed, can His kingdom appear in glory. This being true, all the saints, the saints of all ages, pray for the judgments of God over the world. But as often as they so pray, they must be constrained by the love of God and their souls must be bowed down under the weight of the heaviness of which Paul spoke when he said, “I say the truth in Christ. . . . that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” So far shall the believer be from praying the prayer of all saints as constrained by malice, that he shall do what Christ bids, namely, bless those who persecute him, pray for his enemies, pray for their salvation. Not that God’s believing people pray for the salvation of the reprobated. But the one who persecutes may be an elect. We think now of Paul.
But besides the curse that is holy, there is the curse that is carnal, the curse that springs from a hatred that is murder, thus the curse that is cursed, in that it is a prayer of the wicked that God destroy solely for his, the wicked one’s sake and pleasure, the object of his carnal wrath.
When God says, “Thou shalt not kill,” he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is the fulfillment of the law.