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SERMON XXI.

ON THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT.

EXODUS, CHAP. XX. VERSE 12.

Thou shalt not kill.

In the very express commandments of the Decalogue we shall find that there is an extension in the application beyond what the bare words, upon a mere literal view of them, may seem to convey. And indeed if it were not so, many Christians might plead innocence in having violated these commandments, who really have greatly infringed them in the spirit though not in the letter. The criminality of murder is obvious to every one.

It is an offence at once terrifying and detestable; and yet the moral guilt may be often brought home to those who shrink from and abhor the literal act. There are many who have been the occasion, the volun

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tary occasion too, of another's death, that will often rest satisfied in the assumption of innocence only because they have not, like the ruthless assassin, plunged a knife into the bosom of their victim. But let it not be imagined that the commandment before us applies solely to the overt act of killing; for as we may

kill without being guilty of murder, so also may we be guilty of the one without doing the other; the intent, more than the actual deed, constituting our moral turpitude. We may violate this law in various ways without making ourselves the identical instruments of a fellow creature's death, since both the cause and the instrument bear an equality of guilt.

St. John has afforded us a sufficient commentary upon the words of our text, whereby we may see that a violation of the law expressed in it extends beyond the simple act of killing. “ He that hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” We shall perceive by this expressive commentary upon the sixth commandment, that there is a moral as well as a personal violation of it;—that both equally amount to the crime which it prohibits, and are consequently liable to the same penalty.

We shall now consider in what consists the direct, and in what the virtual, though not the literal breach of this commandment. I need

not take up your time by showing that open, deliberate murder, which the laws of all Christian countries punish with death, is an infraction of the divine interdict under our notice, but shall confine myself, in this division of the subject, to duelling and suicide ; two modes of murder which, even in these our times, have their advocates and defenders.

The commandment to which we are now directing our attention is-" Thou shalt not kill.” Wherever therefore we do kill intentionally, where it is our own deliberate act and deed, however we may attempt to extenuate the crime by those pleas, which what are termed the laws of honour supply, we must undoubtedly violate this prohibitory law of God. He indeed who deprives another of life by accident is innocent of the crime of murder; for an action which has no foundation in the will of the agent is not properly a moral action, and consequently cannot be criminal. Neither in war can there be any criminality attached to killing, because the action of those who kill is not properly their own, but that of the government which employs them. Whatever degree of guilt therefore may attach to such an action, the responsibility belongs to the latter, certainly not to the former: and that wars have frequently been, and no doubt still frequently are, the appointment of divine wisdom, the whole history of the Jews

sufficiently attests. However therefore we may view it, the command of the text stands absolute, and is not to be evaded under any pretence of mere factitious right.

The laws of honour, as they are absurdly termed,—that is those which justify a murderous retaliation for injury,,carry their own contradiction upon the very face of them, since they are confined to the higher classes of society; as if the social obligations of all classes were not the same; as if that could really be dishonourable in a prince which would not be equally so in a peasant; as if the essential attributes of moral excellence could be restrictively appropriated, or could be different in a man of high or low degree; as if any moral law could apply exclusively to the former rank; as if, in short, the immutable laws of God could be contravened or abrogated by the mere exculpatory laws of man.

In fact the laws of honour-) mean of honour based upon

the mere maxims of the world, apart from the sanctions of religion-are in reality no laws, and therefore cannot be binding upon any one. They are often nothing more than the arbitrary customs of rash and headstrong spirits, who having, as they imagine, discovered a justification for the worst enormities, think to shield themselves under the imposing shadow of a name-or rather under the sanction of

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