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God's positive law, we see the indisputable obligation of keeping this commandment; if we are bound to show thus much respect to earthly parents, how should it move our gratitude towards our HEAVENLY FATHER, who is the author of our very being, and every blessing we enjoy ; by whose sovereign will and miraculous wisdom we were formed, and protected in our mother's womb; who was our hope when we yet hanged on our mother's breast; who from the cradle to the present moment has been our gracious defender and deliverer from every unseen mischief that might have befallen us, on our perilous journey, and who still preserves us to the end; and, what exacts our highest gratitude, holds forth the prize of life eternal, affords the means to help us in our warfare, and pardons all our sins. Here, my brethren, are blessings of such inestimable value, as demand a service proportionable to the obligation. Let us then pray for grace to keep not only this fifth commandment, but ALL God's holy laws, that so, in the end, we may be found faithful, and duly qualified to enter into the joy of our Lord; for whose sake and merits only, such mercy is held out to us unworthy creatures. To God be all due praise for ever and ever. Amen.
“ Thou shalt do no murder."
GENESIS, ix. 6. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his
blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man.
We learn from these words, that the law against this shocking crime was much more early than the delivery of the ten commandments. The dreadful effect of man's depraved nature, in consequence of listening to the tempter, soon discovered itself in this particular instance, by the most inhuman conduct of Adam's first-born. God put a curse upon Cain for this foul sin, which was worse than immediate death; and it is evident, that the law existed with the creation, since Cain expresses himself according to the sense of the text : And it shall come to
pass, that every one that findeth me shall kill me. But the Almighty, for the purposes of his high wisdom, set a mark upon Cain, to prevent this; and of the sufferings of his mind we may judge from this declaration, that his punishment was greater than he could bear.
The method I shall take in explaining this commandment, will be, first, to set forth the particular nature of the crime of murder, and its fatal consequences, and to distinguish between the different kinds :
Secondly, to consider it in a more spiritual point of view, by enumerating the principles and passions which lead to it, and by guarding the mind against the indulgence of all such thoughts as will render a man guilty before God, though he may not have committed the positive act that calls for the penalty of human laws.
1. Actual murder is of two kinds : voluntary, or wilful, and accidental murder. The word is of Saxon derivation, and signifies the act of killing, the taking away the life of a fellow-creature unlawfully, by what way or means soever it be done. In the Greek tongue, the commandment is expressed both in the Old and New Testament by one and the same word, though it is translated kill in the former, and murder in the latter, as our language admits of a distinction in the terms, defining that only to be murder which is voluntary and unlawful: and it is certain, that from the beginning the same distinction existed, because, when Cain declares his fear of being killed, he expresses himself by
a different word, since it could not have been murder to have taken him off (as the word of God speaks), who had already forfeited his life by the breach of the commandment. Now, had not God, for some particular and wise purposes, set a mark upon Cain to prevent his falling a victim to justice, the slaying of him would not have been murder, because the killing of him would not have been unlawful, but in positive compliance with the sentence of the commandment, which, though afterwards delivered in form, appears to have been understood previously to Cain's sin, because he expresses the just apprehension that every one that should find him would slay him ; and to prevent which act of just retaliation against him, the Lord set a mark upon him, or gave him some miraculous sign or assurance, that it should not so happen unto him, by declaring, whosoever slew Cain, vengeance should be taken on him sevenfold. But the killing of Abel was wilful and unnatural, and directly contrary to God's law. Therefore, to constitute the crime of murder, the act must be both designed and unlawful; because, if a man slay another without intention so to do, without malice aforethought, it is judged a misfortune, and not murder ; and accordingly the laws of the Hebrews provided for such cases. Thus we read, Exod. xxi. 13, that if a man lie not in wait for another, but God deliver him into his hand (that is, if God, in his providence, permit such accidents to happen as casual death by the hands of another), then, saith the Lord, I will appoint a place whither he shall flee. And again, as we see in Numbers, xxxv. 22, 23, 24, 25, If a man thrust at another suddenly, without enmity, or should cast upon him any thing without laying of wait, or with any stone wherewith a man may die, and seeing him not, he casteth it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm ; such a one was to be delivered out of the hands of the avenger of blood; he might retire to the cities of refuge, and be safe till the death of the high priest. But even from these very laws in favour of those who were guilty of manslaughter only, we may judge in what a serious light the shedding of blood was held.
2. Further, the killing must be unlawful, in order to distinguish from those cases in which though the killing be wilful, yet still it is not murder, nor forbidden by God as such: for example, the execution of justice, after a lawful manner (as the very punishment of murder), and by a lawful magistrate, as intimated so early as in Genesis, ix. 5, the verse preceding my text : Surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man: for whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.