Thursday, August 9, 2012

Decalogue: Sixth Command

At the risk of sounding repetitious, I wish to return to the preface to the Decalogue and note what I have insisted upon several times throughout this series, namely, that the whole of the Decalogue is founded upon God’s covenantal right over His people. So regardless of what other considerations there may be when one thinks of this command, first and foremost, it is God’s sovereign prerogative to give such commands and expect His covenant people to comply.

Without digressing into matters of what constitutes “murder” (i.e., killing in combat, etc.), let us first not that God, as Creator has the sovereign authority over life and death (1 Sam. 2:6). Therefore, murder is a usurpation of the divine right over life. Since we are mere creatures even the right over our own life is God’s. This is why the Church has always understood this Command to forbid suicide as well. Let me go on record as saying that it is obvious that abortion is forbidden by this Command as well. Abortion is the conscious ending of a life, hence it is murder. It is a grabbing of the power over life and death, which power belongs only to God.

With its typical wisdom, the Heidelberg Catechism (Q 106) argues the New Testament principle (1 John 3:15) of applying the Command’s prohibition to the internal causes of murder, not simply to the external act. Christ does this with several of the Commands in His Sermon on the Mount. The Heidelberg Catechism states: In forbidding murder, God teaches us, that he abhors the causes thereof, such as envy, (a) hatred, (b) anger, (c) and desire of revenge; and that he accounts all these as murder. (d)

It goes one further to explain (in the same way that the Westminster Shorter Catechism) that the Command has a positive side as well as negative. This means that something positive is enjoined upon us, not simply is something prohibited. So the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?” (Q 107) To which questions, it replies, “No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbour 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.”

Even in regards to a Command that seems so cut and dry, our culture’s sentimental understanding of both love and hate has colored our interpretation of this Command, often in ways directly at odds with its intent. What I have primarily in view is the tired-old, unbiblical refrain: “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” We must let Scripture define the terms. Let’s have an expert speak for us. Augustus Toplady writes that when love is ascribed to God it, “signifies his eternal benevolence, i.e., his everlasting will, purpose and determination to deliver, bless and save his people.” Later he writes, “When hatred is ascribed to God, it implies a negation of benevolence; or, a resolution not to have mercy on such and such men, not to endue them with any of those graces, which stand connected with eternal life.”

Someone is likely at this point and question my estimation of the “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” motto. What saith the Scripture? 
"The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity," Psalm 5:5
"The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates." Psalm 11:5
"There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers." Proverbs 6:16-19
Then, of course, there is Romans 9:13, “Esau I hated,” which simply means, “I did, from all eternity determine within Myself, not to have mercy on him.”

What is the point of this apparent digression? Simply this: We must never allow “love” for our fellow man to be an excuse for not rebuking and/or punishing sin. It is all too common to hear people equate biblical condemnation of sin with ‘judgmentalism.’ The implication is that any outspoken disapproval of sinful behavior is tantamount to damning to hellfire the sinner, who may yet after all be among the elect.  This is not a nation found anywhere in Scripture. The Bible is very cut and dry when it comes to naming and defining acts God classifies as sin. It is not hatred of our fellow man to point out his or her violation of God’s commands. This is what I meant when I mentioned our culture’s sentimentality. We have defined love as a maudlin, syrupy feeling that never permits its possessor to disagree, rebuke, censure or otherwise bring attention to faults, sins or errors. This is obviously not love in the biblical sense. How is it love to quietly let our neighbor persist in God-defying and soul-endangering behavior? Furthermore, if we love God we will be concerned about defending His honor than hurting our fellow man’s feelings. Actually, this is one of the reasons God has given the Decalogue! We are brought to a knowledge of sin and our need of Christ and His righteousness imputed to us precisely because the Decalogue exposes our sinful hearts. For God’s elect, this is a stupendous manifestation of His love.

(a) Prov.14:30; Rom.1:29
(b) 1 John 2:9-11
(c) James 1:20; Gal.5:19-21
(d) 1 John 3:15 

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