Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Q. 67: Which is the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Q. 68: What is required in the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

Q. 69: What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbour, unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto. (WSC)

The primary reason undergirding the sixth commandment can be found in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” God has made man in his own image. To kill a human is to offer violence to God, desecrating his image. Instead, humans are owed a basic respect due to being made in the image of God, a respect which includes all lawful endeavors to preserve human life.

This commandment has great relevance to many contemporary issues. For example, it forbids abortion, because a person’s right to life depends not on independence or mental capacity, but on his or her identity as a human, made in the image of God, which begins at conception. It also forbids racism, that is, animosity, contempt, or injustice on the basis of race, for all people groups are descended from Adam, made in the image of God.

This law against killing is not without exception, as Genesis 9:6 makes clear. The duty to preserve and vindicate human life sometimes requires the taking of human life under God’s authority. It is just to take human life in cases of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense, although even in these cases the Bible gives us directions, qualifications, and limits.

On the other hand, the law does more than prohibit murder. It prohibits causing death by carelessness. It prohibits the attitudes, words, and practices that dishonor the image of God and shows violence to human life. It requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others. In general, we might summarize the command with these points:

1. Avoid murderous thoughts (1 John 3:15-18, Titus 3:3), but respond to injury with love (Matt. 5:43-45).

2. Avoid murderous and reviling words (Matt. 5:21-22, James 3:6-10), but use kind and courteous speech (Titus 3:2) and promote peace (Matt. 5:9, Rom. 12:18).

3. Avoid murderous acts (Genesis 9:3-6), but defend and support human life by responsible and charitable provision (James 2:15-16, 1 Tim. 5:8), care for health (1 Tim. 5:23, Prov. 17:22, 23:19-21, Eccl. 10:17, 2 Kings 20:7), self-defense (Ex. 22:2), and supporting the state’s role in public justice (Rom. 13:4, Prov. 31:8-9).

4. Avoid or prevent situations that needlessly endanger yourself or others (Deut. 22:8, Prov. 1:10-11, 15-16).

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother

Q. 63: Which is the fifth commandment?
Answer: The fifth commandment is, Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Q. 64: What is required in the fifth commandment?
Answer: The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals. (WSC)

The fifth commandment commands us to honor our fathers and mothers. This honor is expressed through obedience, deference, reverence, and care in old age, as I have explained in more detail here. Parents give us life. We begin as helpless infants in their hands, to be nourished and brought up unto maturity by them. We do not come into this world independent and sovereign. We are cast upon our parents and receive a wealth of unearned benefits from them and from past generations. Our basic attitude toward them then ought to be one of reverence and gratitude, of filial piety.

The catechism recognizes that this command has many implications that are brought out in the rest of Scripture. Scripture uses the terms of “mother” and “father” to describe, not only natural parents, but other superiors as well (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:1-2, 1 Cor. 10:1, Gen. 45:8, 2 Kings 5:13, Is. 49:23, Acts 7:2, Phil. 1:10). Similar honor is to be given, as the Larger Catechism says, to “all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.” And being given this honor and/or authority, these superiors are therefore responsible to God for its use. Superiors have obligations to those under them. The brief answers of the Shorter Catechism on this commandment are greatly expanded in questions and answers 123-133 of the Larger Catechism.

All of this is quite contrary to the egalitarianism is that is common in our society. It should be noted that the catechism uses the terms “superiors, inferiors, or equals” to refer to rank and status, not value. As Paul says, while the members of the body are different, yet every member of the body is essential, and none should be despised (1 Cor. 12). Scripture speaks of a spiritual equality which coexists with the structured order of society (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:21-24, Job 31:13-15, 1 Peter 3:7). These truths are complementary, because the order that God has appointed in society does not pit us against each other (although human depravity does), but obligates us to each other for our mutual good. In his design, we are interdependent, born into a web of human relations, in which each contributes and receives over the course of his or her life, with obligations binding together the weak and strong.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

A.A. Hodge on the Kingdom of God

"[The kingdom of God] was symbolized in the throne of David in Jerusalem and the Jewish theocracy, and it was visibly set up in its higher spiritual form when the long-promised Son of David, having redeemed his people on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to the heavens and sat down at the right hand of God. This kingdom is not one among the many competing kingdoms of the earth. It is antagonistic to the kingdom of Satan only: all the natural kingdoms of men, except in so far as they are compromised with the kingdom of Satan, are penetrated and assimilated and rendered subservient to its own ends by the kingdom of God. All other kingdoms have their rise, progress, maturity and decadence, while this kingdom alone is eternal, growing broader and waxing stronger through all ages until its consummation in the city of God."
-A.A. Hodge, "The Kingdom Of Christ," Popular Lectures on Theological Themes (1887)

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Sanctifying or Profaning the Sabbath

Q. 61: What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
Answer: The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

Q. 62: What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
Answer: The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God's allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the sabbath day. (WSC)

The fourth commandment tells us to observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy. We do this by resting from our normal activities and by using the time for the worship of God, as well as for deeds of mercy and necessity. 

Accordingly, the commandment forbids us from omitting these duties or carelessly performing them. To show contempt for God’s worship is to show contempt for him (Malachi 1:6-7, 13-14). Even though the day is a day of rest, yet this rest should not be taken to the excess of idleness, such that we neglect what should be done on the day. 

The day is also profaned by unnecessary and distracting thoughts, words, or works, as well as by sin, which should be avoided every day. Examine your thoughts, words, and works on the sabbath day and consider whether they are fitting for the day. Do they aid piety, show mercy, or meet necessities that cannot be delayed? Isaiah 58:13 tells us that the sabbath day is honored when you do not go your own way, or seek your own pleasure, or talk idly. Pleasure itself is not forbidden, but we are directed to take pleasure in the observance of the day, calling the Sabbath "a delight." 

God gives several arguments to support this command. This command is reasonable, for he gives us six days for our own callings, for our “worldly employments and recreations.” This command is just, for the day is his day, “the sabbath of the Lord thy God.” To put it to common use is to steal from God. This command is also supported by God’s own example, for he rested one day in seven when he made the world. Furthermore, this command is for our own good, for God blessed the sabbath day, so that we are blessed in the observance of it. Not only is God glorified, but we are refreshed and edified by this holy rest and by the means of grace in the fellowship of the saints.