(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 Beloved! 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 murder. 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. I 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. II 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 suicide. 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 kill." 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...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc2-14.txt .