The Shorter Catechism, 20
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Q67: Which is the sixth commandment?
A: The sixth commandment is, "Thou shalt not kill."
See Exod. 20:13 and Deut. 5:17.
Q68: What is required in the sixth commandment?
A: The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life, and the life of others.
If "you shall not kill", then you shall, on the contrary, try to keep alive. We have therefore to endeavour, in a lawful way, to preserve both the life of our own, and of the others. Let we look to Job, who did all he could do, to help others and to preserve their lives. He says of himself that "the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me", Job 29:13. So, there was one ready to perish; Job helped him out his troubles, and therefore his blessing came upon him. Was there any in danger of life through want of clothing? Job helped him, for he says, "If I have seen any perish for want of clothing!" Job 31:19. And in another place you are commanded to "open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction", (Prov. 31:8), that is, help all those that be in danger of such harms that may lead to their destruction; open your mouth, and speak for their benefit, that they may be saved. Asaph says that we should "defend the poor and fatherless", and "deliver the poor and needy", Ps. 82:3, 4. And Isaiah admonishes his people with these words: "Learn to do well; seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow", Isa. 1:17.
Further, we also should care for our own lives. Paul writes: "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it", Eph. 5:28,29. Let us not endanger ourselves, as the reckless youths do, and as the hunger strikers do, and many others. Solomon tells us that "The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh", Prov. 11:17.
So, the command "thou shalt not kill", implies that we try to preserve in all lawful ways both our own life, and the life of other people.
Q69: What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A: The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbour unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.
This commandment, "thou shalt not kill", forbids in the first place the taking away of our own life. To commit suicide is forbidden by God, because you shall not kill. Therefore, when the keeper of the prison supposed that the prisoners had been fled, and had drawn out his sword to kill himself, "Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here", Act. 16:28. "You shall not kill", that is: "do yourself no harm". In another place we read: "Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?" Eccl. 7:17. So, if one is too wicked, or foolish, he causes himself to die before his time. His evil behaviour and foolishness shorten his own life. Also this is forbidden, because "you shall not kill".
In the second place, this commandment forbids to take away the life of our neighbour unjustly. It is forbidden to shed the blood of your neighbour, because it is written: "whoso sheddeth manís blood, by man shall his blood be shed", Gen. 9:6. We also know that "he that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death", Exod. 21:12.
Besides that this commandment forbids suicide, and to take away anotherís life unjustly, it also forbids all things that can lead to that. For example, if one were to deprive one of his food, his acting tends to the death of that person. This is cruel of course, but yet these things happen too much. If one is in danger of death, and you pretend to know nothing, and turn yourself away from him, then you transgress this commandment. You were able to save him, but you did as if you saw nothing, and are therefore guilty when he perishes. It is sin "if thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain, if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not", Prov. 24:11,12. God preserves our lives, and shall we then refuse to help others that are in danger? Let this be far from us, because it is written "thou shalt not kill".