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Chapter 1: The Meaning of the Sixth Commandment 

The person of my neighbor is the other man in my life. It is the man that has the same talents and powers and gifts as I have, and whose talents and gifts limit mine, and therefore limit my person. He is the man that stands next to me. He occupies the same position as I do in shop or office, in school or church, in state or society, and whose position in life therefore limits my position. The neighbor is the man whose interests are closely linked up with my interests, even so that the latter are limited and circumscribed by the former. The neighbor is the man who crosses my path in life, and whose interests often conflict with mine. He probably is the better man, the man with more talents and gifts than I have, and who strives for the better position in life. He is the man that in church demands that I move up in the pew, so that he may have the end seat; the man that honks his horn behind me on the road when I drive my automobile, so that he may pass me. He is, moreover, the man whose person demands of me that I sacrifice myself for his sake, that I deny myself, that for his sake I endanger my own life. The neighbor is the man who lies on the roadside between Jerusalem and Jericho, attacked by highway robbers, who stripped him and wounded him and left him half dead. He was a neighbor to the Levite, the priest, and the good Samaritan, although only the last named recognized him as his neighbor. And finally, the neighbor is even my enemy, who hates me, persecutes me, and accuses me of all kinds of evil, speaking falsely. In one word, the neighbor is the man whom God places on my path, whose name limits my name, and whose position circumscribes my position. He is the other man in my life. 

That this is true is already evident from the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” In a sense it is, of course, true that everybody is my neighbor. The Hottentot and the Kafir, the Chinese and the Indian,—all men are my neighbors, although I have never seen them, met them face to face, although I have no contact with them and they do not limit my name and position. But it is also evident from the sixth commandment that strictly speaking this is not the meaning of the term neighbor. For it is not likely that I will ever kill a person that lives in distant lands, or even a man with whom I have no dealings whatsoever. In fact, it is very easy for me to deceive myself into believing that I am a very good neighbor when, in church or at a mission conference, I am so moved with compassion for the soul of the poor heathen that I put five dollars in the collection plate—although, if that same poor heathen in the body ever crossed my path, I would probably hate him, and thus murder him. And therefore, it is well to understand that the sixth commandment has no reference to the distant neighbor, but to the one that lives very close to me and whose person in every way limits mine. 

Now, the one spiritual root of murder is hatred of the neighbor. This is literally expressed in Scripture, I John 3:15: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” This is also implied in I John 3:11, 12: “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” And the same is implied in the teachings of Jesus concerning murder in Matt. 5:21, 22: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (dumb-bell, empty-head), shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” To hate the neighbor, therefore, is murder before God. 

Hatred is not mere feeling or sentiment or emotion. It is much more than that. Of course, it is also a feeling, a feeling of strong dislike and aversion, a feeling of loathing, of abomination and abhorrence. But this feeling is nevertheless rooted in the intellect and will of man, and ultimately in the heart. The intellect judges that something or someone is evil, whether that judgment is objective and based on the truth, or whether it is merely subjective and false. And when the object is thus presented to the will, it detests it, inflicts evil upon it, and seeks to destroy it. Hatred, therefore, is fundamentally an ethical attitude or force, and is rooted in the heart of man. Hatred as such is, of course, not sinful. It all depends upon the question: what is the object of our hatred? It is possible to speak of a holy hatred, so that hatred becomes a spiritual, ethical virtue. The saints are admonished to hate evil. Ps. 97:10. The psalmist declares in Psalm 119:104: “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” Cf. also vs. 128. In Psalm 119:163, we read: “I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love.” In Amos 5:15 the people of God are admonished: “Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.” And in the well-known chapter of Romans 7:15: “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that do I.” Nor is this hatred of the people of God directed only to sin and evil in the abstract, but also to evildoers and those that are enemies of God. When Jehoshaphat returned home from aiding the wicked king Ahab in his battle against the Syrians, the prophet of the Lord came to him, and said to him: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord 7 Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord.” And in Ps. 139:21, 22 the psalmist, inspired by the Spirit of God, exclaims: “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? And am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” Although, therefore, in Scripture we are admonished to love our enemies, it is a spiritual impossibility to love the enemies of God. Such hatred, that is principally rooted in the love of God, is holy. God Himself hates evil, and hates all the workers of iniquity. In that sense hatred is merely the antithesis of love in the heart and life of the Christian; and therefore is perfectly holy. 

However, this is not the hatred that is the root of murder. Holy hatred is always an expression of the love of God, is hatred for God’s sake. But hatred that kills the neighbor is rooted in enmity against God. Its object is not the evildoer as such, but is the neighbor in his position as neighbor next to me. To hate the neighbor is not to will him in his position, in his God-given and God-appointed position as a person that limits my position in the world. Hatred of the neighbor, therefore, is principally rooted in hatred of God. One that hates the neighbor exactly in his position as neighbor, in which he is placed next to the one that hates him, rebels against God, who placed him there, and says in his heart, and presently openly to the neighbor himself: “I do not want you there.” It is this hatred that naturally leads the one that hates to the act of removing him from his position, and therefore, to the act of destroying him. Such is murder. Murder is every attack upon the neighbor that is motivated by enmity against God and by hatred of the neighbor, that removes the neighbor from his rightful and God-ordained position as neighbor next to you. 

That one root of hatred reveals itself in various forms, bears various fruits in human consciousness and life. The Heidelberg Catechism enumerates some of these when it says that “In forbidding murder, God teaches us, that he abhors the causes thereof, such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge.” Hatred may merely manifest itself as unholy anger, that is, as anger without a cause, or as anger for your own sake. It is, of course, possible to be angry with a man in a holy sense. In that sense the Christian must be angry and filled with indignation whenever the cause or name of God is attacked. But unholy anger is anger without a cause, or for a wrong cause,—the cause is in you. And in that unholy anger you hurt, wound, dishonor, or kill your neighbor, remove him from his position. Or that same hatred may blossom forth in the corrupt fruit of envy. Envy, one of the most despicable expressions of a corrupt and sinful heart, is that attitude over against the neighbor that reveals itself in a disposition of jealousy and malice because the neighbor prospers, and prospers more than you; or he prospers in a position or way in which you want to prosper, and cannot because the position of the neighbor is such that he limits yours. Envy and jealousy are the cause of much dissension and corruption not only in the world, but also in the church of Jesus Christ. They are roots of bitterness, that cause strife and contention, and often disrupt the church. Then also this root of hatred reveals itself in a desire of revenge. We have been insulted, or in other ways injured by the neighbor. And now we contemplate revenge. We seek an opportunity, that may perhaps never come and never be realized, but upon which we contemplate nevertheless, to inflict upon the neighbor injury for injury and insult for insult. Even if our revenge only expresses itself in saying to the neighbor, “Raca,” or, “Thou fool,” we are, according to the Lord’s teachings, guilty of murder and in danger of hell fire. All these, and other corruptions of the sinful heart, are the causes of murder. And these causes are counted for the deed by the Lord our God. 

In Question and Answer 105 the Catechism also teaches us that this deed of murder can be committed in various degrees. It can be done in thought, or by words or gestures, as well as by the actual deed of killing the neighbor. Moreover, the deed of murder can be committed by myself or by another, and consists not only in the final act whereby I deprive the neighbor of his life, but also in any evil I may inflict upon him, as for instance, by dishonoring him or by wounding him. You may therefore inflict evil upon the person of your neighbor only in thought, and that thought before God is murder. Or again, you may hurt your neighbor by your sharp tongue and your dagger-like words. The reference here is, of course, not to false testimony: this must be discussed under the ninth commandment. The Catechism when it speaks of words by which you commit the sin against the sixth commandment, does not refer to slander and backbiting or to false testimony against the neighbor, but is thinking of all such words of reproach and contempt, of all words which you address directly to the neighbor with murder in your eyes. By such speech you mean to murder your neighbor just as well as the highway man murders him when he, takes his revolver and shoots him. Thus, you can murder your neighbor with mere gestures. You do not even have to speak to kill your neighbor. There are many gestures of contempt and scorn and utter disdain, such as a contemptuous smile, the pulling up of your nose, the raising of your eyebrows, not to speak of other gestures by which you may literally kill the neighbor. All this, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, is murder before God, rises from a heart that is filled with hatred against the neighbor, and therefore is motivated in its deepest root in enmity against the most high. 

Just a word may be said here about the suicide. The Catechism refers to this when it says: “also, that I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger.” Also the act of committing suicide falls under the sixth commandment, because it is principally rooted in enmity against God and hatred of the position in which God has placed a man. Either by his own fault and sinful life, or by the hand of God over him, his position has become unbearable. He is led in a way of hopeless suffering, from which there is no way out in this life, and he removes himself from his God-ordained position in the world. Or he has ruined his life by living in corruption and lasciviousness, until his very bones are rotted by disease, and he imagines that he can find a way out of his misery by killing himself. Or again, a man is ruined financially and being hopelessly in debt, he seeks the easiest way out by committing suicide. The suicide is not a brave man, but a wicked coward, who has not the moral courage to stand and function in the position in which God has placed him. This, of course, does not apply to cases of insanity. Nor does it apply to Samson, who in the epistle to the Hebrews is classified with the heroes of faith. It was no doubt by faith that Samson called upon the name of Jehovah and said: “O Lord Jehovah, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only, this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” And the Lord heard Samson’s prayer, so that he took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the whole house rested, leaned upon them with his right hand and with his left, and said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Samson was a Nazarite. And although in his entire career he plainly revealed the corruption of his sinful heart, yet he fought the battles of the Lord. And as a Nazarite he died, and by dying slew the enemies of the Lord and of His people. But the real suicide is a man that is motivated by hatred against God and hatred of his God-given position in life, and who simply removes himself from that positon to open his eyes in hell. 

Chapter 2: The Sword-power and the Sixth Commandment 

How, in the light of the sixth commandment, must we judge about capital punishment and the waging of war by the government? What is the Christian’s individual responsibility when he executes the sentence of the judge by taking a criminals life, or, when he is called by the government to military service. 

The first question is not so difficult to answer. 

First of all, it ought to be evident from all Scripture that capital punishment is demanded by God. 

This is evident already from Romans 13:4, according to which the magistrates are invested with the power of the sword: “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” The sword certainly is the instrument whereby the evildoer, that is, the murderer, is beheaded. This is also clearly the meaning of Gen. 9:5, 6: “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Also in Lev. 24:17: “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.” And again, in Numbers 35:31: “Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall surely be put to death.” Hence, when the magistrate punishes the murderer with death, this is not the same as if a private person kills his neighbor. But rather, through that magistrate it is God who executes the deed of capital punishment. To punish the murderer with death, therefore, is certainly not a violation of the sixth commandment, but is directly demanded by God. And no sentimental reasons, or false humanitarian motives, can ever be an excuse for disobeying the command of God. Nor is the hangman, who executes the deed, responsible to God for it. Even when he personally should judge that in a certain case justice miscarried, and that the person whom he is called to deprive of his life was not guilty of murder, not he, but the judge, the magistrate, is responsible before God for the execution of capital punishment. 

But what about war? May the Christian participate in the wars of this world, or must he refuse military service? 

According to the strict pacifist, wars as such must be condemned. Therefore, it follows that a Christian must be a conscientious objector, and refuse to participate in any war.

This, however, has never been the stand of the Reformed churches. That war may be waged by the government is not clearly and definitely expressed in our own Confessio Belgica, or Netherland Confession, Article 36; nor is it literally expressed in Articles 39 and 40 of the French Confession of Faith, although it is certainly implied in these confessions. But it is clearly maintained in some of the later Reformed confessions. Thus, already in the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, 1571, it is stated: “The laws of the realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences. It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the magistrate to wear weapons, arid serve in the wars.” This is literally repeated in the Irish Articles of Religion, 1615. In Chapter 23 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647, we read: “God, the supreme Lord and king of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good, and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called thereunto; in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth, so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasion.” The Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter 30, speaks of the magistrates as follows: “The chief duty of the civil magistrate is to procure and maintain peace and public tranquility: which, doubtless, he shall never do more happily than when he shall be truly seasoned with the fear of God and true religion—namely, when he shall, after the example of the most holy kings and princes of the people of the Lord, advance the preaching of the truth and the pure and sincere faith, and shall root out lies and all superstition, with all impiety and idolatry, and shall defend the church of God. For indeed we teach that the care of religion does chiefly appertain to the holy magistrate. 

“Let him, therefore, hold the word of God in his hands, and look that nothing be taught contrary thereunto. In like manner, let him govern the people committed to him of God, with good laws, made according to the word of God in his hands, and look that nothing be taught contrary thereunto. Let him hold them in discipline and in duty and in obedience. Let him exercise judgment by judging uprightly: let him not respect any man’s person, or receive bribes. Let him protect widows, fatherless children, and those that be afflicted, against wrong: let him repress, yea, and cut off, such as are unjust whether in deceit or by violence. For he hath not received the sword of ‘God in vain.’ (Rom. 13:4). Therefore let him draw forth this sword of God against all malefactors, seditious persons, thieves, murderers, oppressors, blasphemers, perjured persons, and all those whom God has commanded him to punish or even to execute. Let him suppress stubborn heretics (who are heretics indeed), who cease not to blaspheme the majesty of God, and to trouble the church, yea, and finally to destroy it. 

“And if it be necessary to preserve the safety of the people by war, let him do it in the name of God; provided he hath first sought peace by all means possible, and can save his subjects in no way but by war. And while the magistrate does these things in faith, he serves God with those works which are good, and shall receive a blessing from the Lord. 

“We condemn the Anabaptists, who, as they deny that a Christian man should bear the office of a magistrate, deny also that any man can justly be put to death by the magistrate, or that the magistrate may make war, or that oaths should be administered by the magistrate, and such like things. 

“For as God will work the safety of his people by the magistrate, whom it is given to be, as it were, a father of the world, so all subjects are commanded to acknowledge this benefit of God in the magistrate. Therefore let them honor and reverence the magistrate as the minister of God; let them love him, favor him, and pray for him as their father; and let them obey all his just and equal commandments. Finally, let them pay all customs and tributes, and all other duties of the like sort, faithfully and willingly. And if the common safety of the country and justice require it, and the magistrate do of necessity make war, let them even lay down their life, and spend their blood for the common safety and defense of the magistrate, and that in the name of God, willingly, valiantly, and cheerfully. For he that opposes himself against the magistrate does provoke the wrath of God against him.”