I used to say: "What is the use of taking up a law like this in an audience where, probably, there isn't a man who ever thought of, or ever will commit murder?" But as one gets on in years, he sees many a murder that is not outright killing. I need not kill a person to be a murderer. If I get so angry that I wish a man dead, I am a murderer in God's sight. God looks at the heart and says he that hateth his brother is a murderer.
First let us see what this commandment does not mean.
It does not forbid the killing of animals for food and for other reasons. Millions of rams and lambs and turtle-doves must have been killed every year for sacrifices under the Mosaic system. Christ Himself ate of the Passover lamb, and we are told definitely of cases where He ate fish Himself and provided it for His disciples and the people to eat.
It does not forbid the killing of burglars, etc., in self-defence. Directly after the giving of the Ten Commandments, God laid down the ordinance that if a thief be found breaking in and be smitten that he die, it was pardonable. Did not Christ justify this idea of self-defence when He said: "If the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up?"
It does not forbid capital punishment. God Himself set the death penalty upon violations of each of the first seven commandments, as well as for other crimes. God said to Noah after the deluge -- "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed;" and the reason given is just as true to-day as it was then -- "for in the image of God made He man."
What it does forbid is the wanton, intentional taking of human life under wrong motives and circumstances. Man is made in God's image. He is built for eternity. He is more than a mere animal. His life ought therefore to be held sacred. Once taken, it can never be restored. In heathen lands human life is no more sacred than the life of animals; even in Christian lands there are heartless and selfish men who hold it cheap; but God has invested it with a high value. An infidel philosopher of the eighteenth century said: "In the sight of God every event is alike important; and the life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster." "Where is the crime," he asked, "of turning a few ounces of blood out of their channel?" Such language needs no answer.
THE VALUE OF A MAN.
Let me give you a passage from H. L. Hastings: "A friend of mine visited the Fiji Islands in 1844, and what do you suppose an infidel was worth there then? You could buy a man for a musket, or if you paid money, for seven dollars, and after you had bought him you could feed him, starve him, work him, whip him, or eat him -- they generally ate them, unless they were so full of tobacco they could not stomach them! But if you go there to-day you could not buy a man for seven million dollars. There are no men for sale there now. What has made the difference in the price of humanity? The twelve hundred Christian chapels scattered over that Island tell the story. The people have learned to read that Book which says: 'Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ'; and since they learned that lesson, no man is for sale there."
Men tell me that the world is getting so much better. We talk of our American civilization. We forget the alarming increase of crime in our midst. It is said that there is no civilized country on the globe where murder is so frequently committed and so seldom punished.
There is that other kind of murder that is increasing at an appalling rate among us -- suicide. There have been infidels in all ages who have advocated it as a justifiable means of release from trial and difficulty; yet thinking men, as far back as Aristotle, have generally condemned it as cowardly and unjustifiable under any conditions. No man has a right to take his own life from such motives any more than the life of another.
It has been pointed out that the Jewish race, the people of God, always counted length of days as a blessing. The Bible does not mention one single instance of a good man committing suicide. In the four thousand years of Old Testament history it records only four suicides, and only one suicide in the New Testament. Saul, king of Israel, and his armor-bearer, Ahithophel, Zimri and Judas Iscariot are the five cases. Look at the references in the Bible to see what kind of men they were.
OTHER KINDS OF MURDER.
But I want to speak of other classes of murderers that are very numerous in this country, although they are not classified as murderers. The man who is the cause of the death of another through criminal carelessness is guilty. The man who sells diseased meat; the saloon-keeper whose drink has maddened the brain of a criminal; those who adulterate food; the employer who jeopardizes the lives of employees and others by unsafe surroundings and conditions in harmful occupations, -- they are all guilty of blood where life is lost as a consequence.
When I was in England in 1892, I met a gentleman who claimed that they were ahead of us in the respect they had for the law. "We hang our murderers," he said, "but there isn't one out of twenty in your country that is hung." I said, "You are greatly mistaken, for they walk about these two countries unhung." "What do you mean?" "I will tell you what I mean," I said; "the man that comes into my house and runs a dagger into my heart for my money, is a prince compared with a son that takes five years to kill me and the wife of my bosom. A young man who comes home night after night drunk, and when his mother remonstrates, curses her grey hairs and kills her by inches, is the blackest kind of a murderer."
That kind of thing is going on constantly all around us. One young man at college, an only son, whose mother wrote to him remonstrating against his gambling and drinking habits, took the letters out of the post-office, and when he found that they were from her, he tore them up without reading them. She said,
"I thought I would die when I found I had lost my hold on that son."
If a boy kills his mother by his conduct, you can't call it anything else than murder, and he is as truly guilty of breaking this sixth commandment as if he drove a dagger to her heart. If all young men in this country who are killing their parents and their wives by inches, should be hung this next week, there would be a great many funerals.
How are you treating your parents? Come, are you killing them? This sixth commandment follows very naturally after the fifth, -- "Honor thy father and thy mother." Don't put any thorns in their pillows and make their last days miserable. Bear in mind that the commandment refers not only to shooting a man down in cold blood; but he is the worst murderer who goes on, month after month, year after year, until he has crowded the life out of a sainted mother and put a godly father under the sod.
THE WORDS OF CHRIST.
Let us look once again at the Sermon on the Mount, that men think so much of, and see what Christ had to say: "Ye have heard that it has been 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, (an expression of contempt), shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, (an expression of condemnation), shall be in danger of hell fire." "Three degrees of murderous guilt," as has been said, "all of which can be manifested without a blow being struck; secret anger -- the spiteful jeer -- the open, unrestrained outburst of violent abusive speech."
Again, what does John say? "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him."
Did you ever in your heart wish a man dead? That was murder. Did you ever get so angry that you wished any one harm? Then you are guilty. I may be addressing some one who is cultivating an unforgiving spirit. That is the spirit of the murderer, and needs to be rooted out of your heart.
We can only read man's acts -- what they have done. God looks down into the heart. That is the birthplace and home of the evil desires and intentions that lead to the transgression of all God's laws.
Listen once more to the words of Jesus: "From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts -- adulteries -- fornications -- murders -- thefts -- covetousness -- wickedness -- deceit -- lasciviousness -- an evil eye -- blasphemy -- pride -- foolishness. . . ."
May God purge our hearts of these evil things, if we are harboring them! Ah, if many of us were weighed now, we should find Belshazzar's doom written against us -- "Tekel -- wanting!"