(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 14)

God's Watch Over the Life of Man

Lord's Day 40

Psalter No. 13 st. 1, 2
Read Ezekiel 33:1-20
Psalter No. 3 st. 3, 4
Psalter No. 428 st. 7
Psalter No. 9 st. 2


    You have just heard that familiar verse in Ezekiel 33, which was
read to you: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the
death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live."
Now the question arises: how can you reconcile this text with what God
teaches us in His Word about Predestination, which includes not only
election but also reprobation. This reprobation is the decree of God
whereby from eternity in His sovereign good pleasure He foreordained in
which creatures He will glorify Himself by means of His avenging
justice in their eternal punishment in hell. Hence God has ordained
certain persons known to Him by name to eternal condemnation. How then
can the Lord tell us that He has pleasure in the sinner's conversion
and life? Is reprobation not called a being appointed to wrath, a being
appointed unto disobedience and being fitted for destruction?
    To understand this correctly, we must notice that reprobation does
not proceed from the righteousness of God, but from His Sovereignty.
Herein lies the distinction between reprobation and condemnation.
Reprobation is an act of Sovereignty, but condemnation is an act of
God's righteousness. The cause of reprobation does not lie in sin; sin
follows upon reprobation, and condemnation is the just reward of sin.
Thus we understand that the Lord has no pleasure in the death and
condemnation of the sinner as such, but He has pleasure in the
glorification of His attributes and perfections. God is the great
Potter, Who according to His pleasure, out of the same lump makes one
vessel unto honour and another unto dishonor. To that end the Lord
decreed not only to create, but also to reserve the wicked for the day
of evil. He decreed to permit sin. This means that the rejection of man
does not necessitate his sinning, but the wilful commission of sin is
followed by the righteous judgment of the three-fold death. Rejection
does not condemn, but the righteous sentence upon sin does.
    No, God has no pleasure in the destruction of His creature, nor in
that of the wicked, but God is good to all creatures and rains upon the
just and the unjust. It is His desire that the wicked live and that he
be found among those who hear the call to repentance, so that the
mercies of God may lead him to repentance. God is the God of life. He
is the Protector of life, because the breath of life comes from Him and
He alone has the right to take away the breath of life. Therefore in
the sixth commandment He has forbidden man to take his neighbor's life:
"Thou shalt not kill." We must now consider with one another this sixth
commandment as it is explained to us in the fortieth Lord's Day of the
Heidelberg Catechism.
    Lord's Day 40
105: What does God require in the sixth commandment?

A. That neither in thought, nor words, nor gestures, much less in
    deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor, by myself or
    by another; but that I lay aside all desire of revenge: also, that
    I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger.
    Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword to prevent

Q. 106: But this commandment seems only to speak of murder?

A. In forbidding murder, God teaches us that He abhors the causes
    thereof, such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge; and
    that he accounts all these as murder.

Q. 107: But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner
    mentioned above?

A. No; for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, He commands us to
    love our neighbor as ourselves; to show patience, peace, meekness,
    mercy, and all kindness towards him, and prevent his hurt as much
    as in us lies; and that we do good, even to our enemies.

    In this Lord's Day the instructor speaks about God's watchful care
over the life of man in which we consider:
      I. the commandment to the magistrates to avenge murder;
     II. the prohibition against arbitrary disposal of man's life; and
    III. the discovery of the root of the evil that dwells in us.
    Government is a divine institution. In Genesis 9 we read of that
institution, of the power which God gave to the civil authorities, and
of God's demand upon them to use that granted power. "Whosoever
sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image
of God made he man." Cain was punished by God Himself. But from the
days of Noah, God's justice is exercised through man. This does not
mean that each shall be his own judge. To the contrary, these words are
applicable: "Put up again thy sword into his place; for all that take
the sword shall perish with the sword." The power to punish another,
even with the death penalty, is given by God to the government. It is
armed with the sword to prevent murder.
    This word is an offense to all revolutionary powers who ascribe
sovereign power to the people. According to them, but contrary to the
Word of God, the government receives its power from the people.
Scripture says, "The powers that be are ordained of God." That
authority which is received from God goes so far that the government
has power over the life of the subject. The government must punish the
murderer with death. How dreadfully guilty are our rulers regarding the
demands of God's justice. Many times a judge demands only a few years
imprisonment. Often the prosecution is dropped or the murderer is
declared to be irresponsible. The theory of Lombroso has taken root. Is
it any wonder that human life is held in light esteem, and that one
murder follows upon another? How long shall God's demand be neglected
in our land to the destruction of our nation?
    The government must indeed be careful not to shed innocent blood,
which is done at times in unjust wars. The blood of thousands who are
slain in such battles shall be required from the hands of the rulers.
This does not mean that a lawful war may not be waged. Did not the Lord
richly bless our military forces in the war with Spain, and often
thereafter? Let us warn our boys against the anti militarism that is
becoming so strong again from various quarters in our days. What a
blessing it would be if there were still something of the spirit, the
confidence of faith, and the courage of our fathers in us and in our
children, to defend with our blood, if necessary, our God-given
heritage against any intruder. Thus the rulers do not bear the sword in
vain. But they must use the sword as required by God's justice, so not
to be guilty of the blood of the righteous. That blood will call for
vengeance from the holy and true Lord, Who will one day also judge the
rulers. It is according to the requirement of God's justice that
capital punishment be reinstated, so that the blood of him who has shed
another's blood be shed also.
    In the second place the Catechism says it is forbidden to dispose
of human life arbitrarily, when it says that I may neither in thoughts,
nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, dishonor, hate, wound, or
kill my neighbor.
    We are not to kill our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? This question
was once asked by a lawyer. What did the Lord answer? He answered with
another question, flowing from the parable o$ the good Samaritan:
"Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that
fell among the thieves?" A certain man fell among thieves which
stripped him and left him lying at the wayside half dead. A priest came
by, saw him and passed by on the other side. So also did a Levite. But
a certain Samaritan had compassion on him and saved his life. He could
also have asked, "Is that wretch my neighbor?"
    If you had asked that poor man, "Who is your neighbor?" what would
he have answered? "He that had compassion on me!" The Lord then said to
the lawyer, "Go, and do thou likewise." Let your conduct be such that
even your enemy says of you, "He is my neighbor." Do not try to excuse
yourself with the cunning question whether this or that man can be
considered your neighbor. God has made all mankind of one blood. In
that broad sense God's demand covers all our fellow men, whoever they
may be. For the basis of the commandment regarding the order of our
neighbor's life is according to Genesis 9, that God made man in His
image. It is indeed a heavy guilt that rests upon the murderers of
those who have been renewed after the image of Him that created them.
Think of the bitter persecutions of the church of God. The torturing
and murdering of God's children call to heaven for vengeance. The souls
of those who were slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which
they held, cry with a loud voice under the altar, saying, "How long, O
Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them
that dwell on the earth?" That day shall certainly come. How dreadful
then will be the lot of those who have distressed God's people and shed
their blood.
    This killing of a neighbor can be done personally or by another.
Personally, as Joab did when he smote Abner under the fifth rib in the
gates of Hebron, so that he died. Also when at the great stone that is
in Gibeon he smote Amasa, as he approached him, treacherously with a
kiss. Baanah and Rechab were also murderers who killed Ishbosheth, the
son of Saul, in his house, and were therefore punished by David with
death. David himself was no less guilty before God for the blood of
Uriah, although the king let the Ammonites kill him. Jezebel and Ahab
incurred great guilt of blood when they, under the appearance of
justice, by means of false witnesses, passed a sentence of death upon
Naboth, the Jezreelite, because of the vineyard of his fathers.
    The instructor therefore teaches that I may not kill my neighbor,
either by myself, or by another. Many murders are committed in the name
of justice. Many wars have been waged without any justification. They
were nothing but manslaughter on a large scale. Many lives are
sacrificed for revenge, and oftentimes under various cloaks. For
example, if I recall correctly, in 1913 during the strikes in our
harbors, 400 people lost their lives in loading and unloading the ships
because the strikebreakers sought revenge. There was not enough
evidence so they could not be prosecuted. But there was One Who saw it
all and with Him there is no lack of evidence. He will judge according
to His holy law: Thou shalt not kill.
    Also in regard to ourselves, God forbids murder. In suicide lies a
terrible transgression of the sixth commandment. What an awful
blindness, what a dreadful godlessness has come upon them that glorify
suicide. In the newspapers and in modern literature you often read the
most painful revelations. One paper spoke of a purging shot that the
murderer had to inflict upon himself to uphold the honour of his
family. This kind of information, given by those who do not follow
God's Word as their guide, poisons the minds of the people. Is it not
remarkable how the number of suicides is increasing among those who
reject God's testimony? Persons who turn their backs to God and reject
His law, have no power to stand in the midst of troubles. Let the
severely oppressed Germans, who have forsaken the God of Luther, be an
example to us. Everywhere the statistics tell of the great increase in
suicides. Suicide is accursed of God. Let those who confess God's Word
give a clear testimony against the spirit of the age that condones and
even glorifies suicide. Do not plead for the salvation of the
self-murderer and do not emphasize the possibility of repentance in the
last moments, or that there is only one unforgivable sin, the sin
against the Holy Spirit. Although you might wish to make an exception
for the insane person who takes his own life, as some of our fathers
have done, you should show everyone how terrible suicide is. There are
examples in God's Word to show us that the lot of the self murderer is
eternal condemnation. Ahithophel hung himself because his honour was
injured. He was the Judas of David's days. He went to his own place,
the same as he who betrayed the Son of man with a kiss. And was not
Saul also a reprobate?
    All of these died in their sins. On the other hand God remarkably
saved the jailer from suicide. His death was precious in the sight of
the Lord. How many examples are found in the lives of God's children,
when in deep convictions they were brought to the brink of the grave;
but God saved them in those terrible temptations. Often when I was with
persons who were blessed with discovering light in their souls and in
the heaviest fight of afflictions I saw that Satan's claw was not
permitted to lay hold on them, so that later they could sing:
        "The Lord has richly dealt with me,
        Delivered me from death's control,
        From sin and sorrow set me free."
    Here we should heed the admonition of our fathers, "Seek not a deep
way, but a clear way." Even though the severest temptations often bring
God's children to the brink of death, the Lord keeps His people from
    What about Samson then? Was not Samson a suicide? No. Read Hebrews
11, where this Judge who fought the battles against the enemies of God
and of Israel all alone, is counted among the heroes of faith: "By
faith Samson avenged himself by sacrificing himself." By faith Samson
was the victor in death. Samson was a type of Christ. Do not then hide
behind his act of faith to condone suicide, which is an act of unbelief
and despair.
    What does God require in the sixth commandment? That I kill neither
myself, nor any other. As it appears in the other commandments, so it
is true here also, that the Lord not only sees our actions, but also
notes the emotions of our soul, the thoughts, words and gestures. We
said that this commandment discovers the root of the evil that dwells
in us. The Lord says in Leviticus 19: "Thou shalt not hate thy brother
in thine heart." Thou shalt not kill in thy thoughts. Thou shalt not
wish that he who disturbs you may be taken away. It is murder before
God's judgment seat. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be
called the children of God. Words also make us guilty. There are sons
of men whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp
sword. "Ye have heard," said Jesus, "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' shall be in danger of the
council; but whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of
hell fire." It sprang from the root of murder when the multitude cried,
"Away with Him." "They gaped upon Me with their mouths, as a ravening
and roaring lion," as Christ complained of His suffering in the
prophetical psalm. It could be read on their faces what went on in
their hearts. They shot out the lip; they shook their heads. Cain's
face also showed what went on in his soul: his countenance fell. It is
necessary for us to listen to the words of the Catechism: "That neither
in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures I dishonor, hate, wound or kill my
neighbor." One word can open a sea of bitterness; one gesture can
release deadly venom. Do not have a thought in your mind of the death
of your neighbor. God reads what is deep in our hearts and His
commandment renders us guilty. Lay aside all desire of revenge. God is
Judge! No man may, even in civil life, revenge himself. Much more must
we let God pass judgment. "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but
rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I
will repay,' saith the Lord." That must cause us to keep silence, even
though men are unjust to us. That must kill the seeds of vengeance in
our hearts. God judges and punishes all unrighteousness. Just give it
into His hands. It is our nature to stand upon our rights and not move
an inch. But one impression of God's holy justice and of His all-ruling
providence makes us abandon all thought of revenge and be still in God.
    In this way we must exercise tender care for the life of our
neighbor and of ourselves. I must see to it that I do not hurt myself,
or willfully expose myself to any danger. Should we not be filled with
a holy aversion to the recklessness of our days? How many lives are
lost in what is regarded so highly as sport? Just think of the air
races and auto races. Would we not have to share the guilt of the death
of those who recklessly risk their lives to please the public, if we
should take our place among the spectators?
    To live sparingly or to excess are also threats to life. I have
known people, some still living, although they had no children, were
too stingy to eat properly by using some of the thousands they
possessed; who shivered with cold in their homes rather than make an
adequate fire. They neglected their own lives. So it is also with the
glutton and the winebibber. To both of them God calls, "Thou shalt not
    We shall pass by the evil of murder before birth that is spreading
so terribly in these pleasure-seeking times. It all springs from the
bitter root of murder. By sin we have become hateful and hating one
another. By nature we are prone to hate God and our neighbor. This
becomes evident if the Lord removes restraint. People have praised the
civilization of man, and thought such heights had been attained that
this testimony concerning man could be given the lie. Humanism builds
its philosophy upon the notion that man is good, not evil. But what a
bitter awakening was experienced during World War II with that cruel
slaughter of millions of people. Was this the civilized mankind they
praised? Who can have confidence any longer in discussions carried on
upon that basis? Who can confide in the nice words spoken at a round
table? Who can believe in an enduring peace? Who can expect anything
good from a United Nations? God's Word teaches us something else. The
future will tell of wars and rumors of wars. We must take our stand
upon that basis. In all deliberations we must consider the corrupt
state of man. If God should let us go, the whole world would be a den
of murderers. It is God only Who still holds sins in check. In His
common grace, God still gives something other than hatred, envy and
murder, that may still live in our hearts. Natural love is a gift of
God. Woe unto us if we neglect that gift and preach hatred and envy
instead of peace. Woe unto us if God abandons us to the folly of our
own hearts. The world works its own destruction, and prepares for a
future so dreadful, that even natural love will be lacking. What a
degeneracy the prophet Jeremiah already points out when he speaks not
of pitiless women, degenerate creatures such as have always been found
in the world, but of pitiful women whose hands have sodden their own
children. These had become their meat.
    Oh, that we might banish envy, hatred, and anger, revenge and
covetousness out of our hearts. Envy is the rottenness of the bones.
Cain's envy caused his countenance to fall. Is not envy, especially in
our days, visible on many faces? There is also the irreconcilable
hatred that filled Esau's heart. Twenty years of wandering could not
moderate that hatred. Spiritual Edom bears a perpetual hatred against
spiritual Israel, even to this day! How many cherish hatred in their
hearts, and will not forgive. Such are even found among God's people.
Many remain estranged from one another. Deep wounds have been made
between members of the same church and among those who sit together
under the Word of the living God.
    How terrible also is wrath, the evil transport of rage. The Lord
commanded, "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the
children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
Let us be angry with evil, and not be as Eli, who frowned not upon his
boys. Be ye angry and sin not. Bitter vengeance dwelt in Lamech's soul.
"I have slain," said he, "a man to my wounding, and a young man to my
hurt." Revenge is the fruit of hatred. Revenge acts as its own judge,
and the justice of the Lord is not acknowledged. Let everyone search
his heart. How often vengeful thoughts dwell in our hearts. Although we
do not utter such wickedness, although we do not execute it in deeds,
oftentimes in thought we avenge ourselves on those who oppose us. We
try to find means of repaying the injustice or what we feel to be an
injustice, done unto us. In that matter we are guilty before God. He
exhorts us: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give
place unto wrath. May we receive heart renewing grace to sing with
David as we now shall sing with each other from Psalm 119:
    O how I love Thy law! Yea Thou can't see
    Through all the day it is my meditation;
    By Thy commandments, Lord, Thou madest me
    More wise than all who seek my ruination;
    Thy testimonies evermore shall be
    The perfect source of all my inspiration.
            Psalter No. 428 st. 7
    What a dreadful destruction sin has brought about! How deeply man
has fallen, even though he was once the crown jewel of creation. Though
we may have been given a very meek spirit so that we can bear injustice
and be silent, God demands more than a certain Stoical submission. Does
our instructor not tell us that we must love our neighbor as ourselves
and show patience, peace, meekness, mercy and all kindness toward him;
also prevent his hurt as much as in us lies, and that we do good, even
to our enemies?
    This is no place for cunning questions. Loving our neighbor as
ourselves refers to the kind of love, not to the degree of love. This
loving does not exclude the care for our own needs. But this
requirement is indeed the weightiest for the greatest egoist. As you
love yourself, so you must love your neighbor, that is, with your full
heart. For God has made us one people of one blood. Oh, what has sin
brought about! It wrought havoc, and filled us with hatred and enmity.
Fulfilling God's commandment is impossible for us. He who looks only to
the letter of the law and has not learned to look deeper by the
discovering light of God's Spirit, may imagine that he can satisfy
God's justice to a degree. But he deceives himself. God demands love,
and we have none. O how necessary it is that our hearts be renewed by
regenerating grace, so that the love of God may be shed abroad in our
hearts. Through that love, God's people learn to slay their enmity and
learn to love their neighbor. Yes, then the principle of loving our
enemies is even wrought within. Let us learn from God's people, how the
realization that we are created for an eternity, can fill them with
compassion for their neighbors. When the love of Christ is shed abroad
in their hearts, they would want to convince the greatest enemy of the
possibility of being saved by the blood of the Lamb. That love makes us
meek, draws us away from disputes and quarrels. It endures all things.
Out of the root of this love grows the true keeping of this
commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." If we have true knowledge of self,
we will exercise patience with our neighbor. The more we learn to know
our own hearts, our sins and our shortcomings, the easier it will be
for us to bear with our neighbors. May the discovering work of the Holy
Spirit be given to us. It would keep us from much sin. They who keep
the sixth commandment will seek true peace. They are the peacemakers.
Blessed are the peacemakers. In their hearts there is something of the
peace that passes all understanding. Peace with God causes us to have
peace with the beasts of the field. When this prevails, it seems that
everything proclaims peace in the blood of the cross. How should we
then live in enmity with our neighbor? If something of that peace may
be known and enjoyed, meekness will be one of the unmistakable
evidences, to show that such a one is born in Zion. The meek and the
merciful are called blessed. Hardness is an evidence that we lack the
soul-humbling influence of grace. In all conscience convictions, man
remains in his hard state of nature. By grace alone the heart of stone
is removed and a heart of flesh is given in its stead.
    The heart of flesh has sympathy for the suffering of one's neighbor
and will show meekness, mercy and all kindness. Neither the Priest nor
the Levite kept God's commandment in this manner. It is also against
our nature to do well toward our enemies. We rather wish him evil. If
he is slandered, opposed or harmed, we do not take his part, nor arise
to defend him. But God's commandment requires this of us.
    Who now is not guilty in these matters? Is our nation not guilty of
transgressing the law that murder must be punished by death? Let us
loudly demand the return of capital punishment. It is the commandment
of God, the transgression of which shall not go unpunished. Let us put
our hand in our own bosom. Of how many murders are we guilty, even
though we were prevented from committing the actual deed? God considers
envy, hatred, anger and desire for revenge, to be murder. How often did
that evil fill our hearts and we wished our neighbor were dead?
    Unconverted ones, seek atonement in the blood of Christ. He has
opened heaven for murderers. Do not rely upon a calm, resigned
character, which may be yours by nature. Sometimes an unconverted
person can put a child of God to shame; but the root of love is lacking
and therefore any true fulfilling of God's commandment is also lacking.
Desire the renewing of your heart. We must become new creatures in
Christ, or we destroy our own lives and drag our neighbors with us to
eternal destruction.
    The Lord grant us continually to experience His love, and give us
growth in the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self; both of which
go hand in hand, so that we may walk in love. Herein is our love made
perfect, that whosoever abideth in love, abideth in God and God in him.
For we love Him because He first loved us. Amen.

Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2
(continued in part 15...)

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