THE LAW OF GOD RELATIVE TO MURDERERS
March 18th, 1925
“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man.”Â—Genesis 9, 6.
One feels diffident in speaking upon a subject like the one in the words we have just read, but seeing it is a part of that Word which is given by inspiration of God, and is, therefore, profitable for instruction, and as we are enjoined to remember that “whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our learning”, and, having had these words resting upon the mind with some weight, I shall, as helped, speak thereupon and leave the service in the Lord’s hands. The aspect of the age reminds one of the teaching of the Holy Ghost relative to the things which will accompany the blowing of the sixth trumpet (Rev. 9, 21.) Solemn judgments of God, unsanctified, leave the human heart quite as obdurate as before. Apart from grace mightily working in us. God may send His sore plagues sweeping thousands into eternity, but “Neither repented they (the men not killed by the plagues) of their murders, nor their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts.” These four terrible crimes appear to increase today. “Murders,”Â—”Always have been committed,” true; but do they not multiply as to numbers, also as to the cruelty and Satanic craft in attempting to wipe out all traces of the foul deeds? “Sorceries,”Â—by which are meant illicit intercourse with spirits, the Old Testament witchcraft concerning which God said, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.” The doctrine of communication with spirits termed spiritualism is spreading, and, one judges, will be more prevalent than now. “Fornication,”Â—the breaking of the seventh commandmentÂ—the dissolution of the tie made by God which formed, in a sense, the foundation of human society. If the wishes of many are realised, marriage may, in all probability, be a thing relegated to the regions of lumber, and lust in its grossest form rampant. “Thefts,”Â—respect for another’s property and rights, using that word advisedly (we have no “rights” spiritually), is, to a good measure, in vogue today*, for which we would thank God. There are those who honestly respect the rights of another’s property or estate, but theft is still a crime appearing largely to increase, and that too in spite of the cleverest men being occupied continually, and they no small an army, in detecting and capturing the thief. These four terrible things mark the future of what is termed “Christian lands!” God leaves men to work out their own destruction when the Word of God is rejected, and in that solemn day all that is revolting in human nature rises to the top. Sad as these things are, what seems more sad is the spirit of toleration, of lessening the enormity of these evils, to be found in the
world, and, worse still, in the so-called churches. “Do not be too severe on the person who, in his sad moments, gets comfort from spiritualism; do not be too hard on the person who, in his weakness, breaks the seventh commandment; and, really, we must be very kind to the person who breaks into our homes or defrauds one of his estate; and do, by all means, pity the poor murderer, most certainly he must not be put to death.” It ill become those who know their own wretched fallen nature to hurl stones at anyone, but the Lord help us to consider what HE says of murder and the murderer, and may our pity be guided by His infallible standard!
1. God declares the murderer shall be put to death. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” is plainly a Divine law, and, so far as we know, has never yet been repealed. “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe,” is the language, not meaningless, of the Just Lawgiver. God will never contradict Himself as to the holiness and righteousness of His nature. Never either will He in any wise revoke that which is in full harmony with His holiness. His holiness is, like Himself, immutable and, therefore, the deep morality revealed in the law will ever be right, and all the vain attempts of vain man to make evil good must terminate, and that justly, in his own confusion. From a very early period this Divine law relative to a murderer appears to have been written in the conscience. Cain, the first murderer, had the solemn question put to him: “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground. Thou art cursed from the earth… a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.” Note Cam’s reply: “My punishment (not my sin) is greater than I can bear… and it shall come to pass that everyone that findeth me shall slay me.” Conscience told Cain that he deserved to die, and he feared that some man would be the executioner of the sentence of which God’s law written in his conscience told him he was worthy. We suggest, therefore, that fallen as Cain was (as we all are) this principle relating to murder was engraven upon the conscience even before the law of God was given by Moses. In the case of the first murderer God interposed, saying, “Whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” It is not frequent we find God interposing to save one from death who has committed murder (He only can do what He pleaseth), and, even in such a rare case, it does not follow that the Lord loses sight of the crime or fails to fulfil His own law, for no murderer hath part in the eternal state of bliss. There is eternal death as well as physical.
Our text was spoken in the time of Noah. The Flood had taken place, the old world had been swept away in its guilt and filth, Noah and his family being spared, and here was the greatest Function of government given to Noah and his descendants; we say the greatest function of government, for what can be greater than the judicial taking of life? Surely all other governmental powers are implied in that, even as the parts are covered by the whole. God
then solemnly invested man with the judicial right to shed the blood of him who murders another, and, be it remembered too, that those who are appointed to govern (“the powers that be are ordained of God”) are accountable to the Judge of all for this part of their government as of all other parts. We need to pray for those in authority over us. In the solemn glories of Sinai God descended and spake, “Thou shalt not kill”, thus Himself forbidding the great crime of murder. Under no circumstances whatever, notwithstanding what may be the temptation thereto or the object thereofÂ—gain, lust, power or placeÂ—under no circumstance whatever shalt thou kill. God’s most holy, sacred, righteous nature must eternally be against all sin. It is nonsense, nay, it is blasphemy, to say “This law is Jewish only.” This law is the law of God’s holiness, and cannot be bounded by nationality or time. A mere ceremonial law may be limited to those to whom given, but a moral law (“the law is spiritual”) is founded in the very nature of Jehovah, and, therefore, applies to all races everywhere and for all time. It will never be right to kill another feloniously; it is wrong essentially and for ever so to do. The Gospel of Christ and the law in this solemn matter are one. Romans 13, 9. “A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person shall flee to the pit; let no man stay him.” Prov. 28,17, is the word of heaven. When Israel had entered into the Land of Promise the Lord confirms the same law. He made abundant provision for the person who unwittingly killed another. For such an one the six Cities of Refuge were appointed. Numbers 35, but for the wilful murderer it is declared repeatedly as a matter most weighty and to be obeyed, “The murderer shall surely be put to death” (see vss. 16, 17, 18, 21, 31, 33). Further, “Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death”; nothing can he offer to expiate his sin, no bribery, nothing less than his blood is the decree of God. Blood in murder stains deep: “The land is defiled thereby, and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.” When God sent His only begotten Son into this world it was not to make any sin, much less murder, appear as a tiny matter needing highly powerful magnifying glasses to see it. The Son of God incarnate taught the law in all its pitiless severity, and denounced all sin unsparingly. Many who bear His Name talk about the ‘spirit of Christ’ as if it were the surest mark of being most like Him to denounce the whole of the law and speak the highest of its transgressors, while He Himself said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil”; and He at once said, “Thou shalt not kill,” and added a spiritual thought thereto against which no man can stand (Matthew 5, 17, 21, 22). His incarnation, and life, and death are terribly belittled by all those (and they are many) who neither see nor feel sin in any act. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer”, is in the New Testament, and the Gospel places murder as a work of the flesh, “and they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of
God.” The Old and New Testaments join to condemn the crime of murder, and declare the spirit of our text.
2. The reason stated in the text is next to be considered “For in the image of God made He man.” So-called arguments should never be uttered, or, if uttered, never be heeded for one moment when God has stated such a reason, why a murderer should die. A God-given reason is sufficient surely, but, alas! God is not heeded today. He is not allowed a voice in the world He made and so mercifully sustains. Would that it were true only in and of the world, but the worldly in the churches are just as dead to His Word and contemptuous of His sayings. Let us, as helped, look at this reason. Image means likeness of a person or thing. Adam “begat a son in his own likeness, after his image”; in this case it means Adam’s son, Seth, was born with a fallen nature like unto his parents. God making man in HIS image means there is a likeness between the Creator and the created.
(a) In knowledge. God brought every beast of the field and every fowl of the air to Adam, and, whatsoever he called every living creature, that was the name thereof. What knowledge Adam had! How exact that knowledge too! Separate names given to every beast, bird, reptile, and all else that were createdÂ—names that cannot be improved upon to this dayÂ—names that correspond to the nature of the animal or bird. God is a God of knowledge, and here is the likeness of it in Adam.
(b) In purity, for man was made pure and upright, though since he has sought out many inventions which are sinful. Paul, by the Spirit, speaks of the new man being created in righteousness and true holiness which is after GodÂ—that is God-like.
(c) In dominion. God exercises dominion over all and everything everywhere, and at all times. He gave to Adam dominion over all fish, fowl, cattle, and over all the earth; “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him.” Probably this feature is intended by the Spirit in 1 Cor. 11, 7. “For a man indeed aught not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God.” Dominion appears to be the particular subject discussed by the Apostle: “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”
(d) In happiness. God is the blessed Potentate, and man was truly happy in his creation: not a care in the world, nothing to hurt him, nothing that could injure him, no such thing as sickness, sorrow, or death, which we are so familiar with. Happy state truly, but Satan, in the deep sovereignty of God, soon spoiled all his happiness. God made man happyÂ—all his misery since came from his own wrongdoing.
But it may well be that one thing mainly intended in the text by the term image of God is that of immortality. “God only hath immortality,” essentially, and necessarily, but on man He bestowed immortality. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a
living soul.” And, when a man takes life, in the act of murder, he is striking at Almighty God Himself. The murderer, not knowing perhaps, in striking down his victim, is thereby striking with all his might at the most sacred rights of the Most High God, Who is alone the sovereign Giver of life, and Who only has the authority to take it away. Life and death are in His hands, and never will He allow this right to pass hence, and he who dares to rush upon the thick bosses (Job. 15, 26) of the Almighty in this particular “shall be put to death.” It might be easy to suggest various things which operate in one to perform this wicked crime, for the Spirit declares it to be a work of the flesh. The flesh can see money, or evil gratification, or supposed satisfaction of envy or malice in it, but it is all and always of the flesh. It is truly acting the part of the devil, for he was a murderer from the beginning, and killed both body and soul, for which sentence will be executed upon him as upon all murderers who die without grace.
3. The instrumentality by which the murderer shall be put to death is to be observed, namely, “By man shall his blood be shed.” That is to say, man is legally invested with the power of government. The law of inquest as seen in the Bible is very important; you have it in Deut. 21, 1-9. If one be found slain in the land, then, “Thy elders and thy judges shall come forth”; they were the competent people to inquire into the matter. Witnesses were to be called and their evidence duly weighed, and one witness only was insufficient to establish proof of murder: “Whoso killeth any person, the one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.” Numbers 35, 30. At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death. Deut. 17, 6. This is God’s plan, and though there is much to deplore in Old England, yet we have much cause to thank God that it is still the way in our highly-favoured land**. The judge thus becomes in a most solemn manner the “minister of God to thee for good.” That such must feel deeply the solemnity and painfulness of his position in sentencing one of his fellow-creatures to death can be imagined, but he must do it, if he would carry out the will of God in his position. “For he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Romans 13. Having thus, briefly, spoken upon the text, I would, in closing, remind you of five things: Â—
(a) When so many are endeavouring to remove the old landmarks that stand for law and order, it is most unwise for those professing the Name of Christ to say or do anything that tends to weaken (we say not destroy) obedience to that which has God’s warrant. It is very saddening to know that while one will cry out loud and strong against the act of murder, which is certainly condemned by the Lord, yet, such an one will pay no regard whatever to those many and useful precepts of the Word which govern (or should do) one’s personal, relative, and godly life. In the church of
God today, sorry to say, the same spirit of utter disregard for Divine authority and government is but too sadly evident. The spirit of the world in its worst form is slowly eating away the spirituality of the church. Condemn not the world for what is done in our own borders; if we see in the world “Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” what can we say when the same characters are to be seen in the church? Let us who hope for glory hereafter do nothing which would in any wise undermine good order in the home. State, and specially the church of the living God. The Saviour has told us violation of law shall abound, Matthew 24, 12, and with that “the love of many shall wax cold.” The Lord preserve His true people from the spirit of anarchy.
(b) The seeds of all crimes ever committed we have within our hearts, and that statement is on the highest authority possible, even by Him Who is Truth. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man.” This is enough to cause any sober-minded person to walk lowly before a holy God. If we carry about with us daily and in all places such terrible material, who is he that can taunt another who may have done outwardly what one has done himself inwardly? If ever the grace of God enters your heart, you will be one who will daily beg of God to keep you from yourself. Surely the fall of man and his utter corruption thereby only adequately explains the foul deeds done by man. And you and I could do those self-same deedsÂ—deeds which make the country ring with excitement, and bring one to a sorrowful and shameful graveÂ—deeds which, if unforgiven by God, will meet us the other side of that shameful grave and be justly punished by Him Who judgeth righteously.
(c) One may say, “But I have not done those deeds outwardly, and, though it may be true I have the seeds of them within me, shall I be condemned at last with those who have actually done them?” It certainly is a great mercy God does restrain the human heart from running riot, for otherwise it is very evident there would soon be an end of the whole race, for such seeds would only produce destruction. And it is a great favour if one has been preserved from the actual committal of these and kindred deeds, yet he has nothing of which he may boast. The law of God looks beneath the surfaceÂ—goes to the root of thingsÂ—demands purity of heart, and will condemn all who have it not. Hence, the person who thinks he can escape verse 27 of Matthew 5 will find it another matter to face verse 28Â—in God’s sight. Just as he who has not taken a knife and plunged it into his victim will find it a vastly different matter to escape the charge of being “angry with his brother without a cause” Matthew 5, 22. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” I John 3, 15. The spirituality of the law is a very real and solemn truth. “The law is spiritual.” May we, therefore, remember that God looks on the heart. What a sight He must behold! His long-suffering is salvation surely.
(d) Our indebtedness to grace is truly amazing. If the Lord has
seen fit in His loving sovereignty to put His fear in our hearts, to place that “unctuous light to all that’s right, and a bar to all that’s wrong” in our breastsÂ—well, to say the least that can be said of itÂ— we simply cannot say how much we owe Him. Grace, which, when once given, is never taken away; grace, which is said to reign over the swelling tides of indwelling sin, which is so intimately connected with glory hereafter. Oh for grace in exercise to praise and bless the Giver! For grace from its inception to its consummation, with its innumerable manifestations and blessings, the Lord’s Name is to be praised by all His gracious people. “By the grace of God we are what we are.”
(e) The Gospel of Christ’s grace is sufficient to save a murderer. The weight of blood guiltiness must be terribly great, but God can bring one to feel it, to sorrow because of it, to pray for the pardon of it, and manifest His marvellous mercy in saving from it. Psalm 51. Manasseh’s sins were many and vile, one might say of him, he acted more like an incarnate devil than a human being. “He shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other,” yet God was entreated of him when he was humbled and afflicted. 2 Chron. 23, 19. Even the great Apostle to the Gentiles, while yet Saul, was a persecutor and waster (destroyer) of the Church of God. “When they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” is his own word, “and I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them unto strange cities.” But David, Manasseh and Paul are trophies of redeeming love; monuments of sovereign grace abounding to the chiefest of sinners. Each of them was brought to deep repentance, great self-loathing, godly hatred of his sins, but also to feel the sweets of rich atoning blood applied to the conscience. No murderer with the guilt of murder on his conscience hath eternal life, but if God is pleased to show mercy to such, none can stay His hand nor question His right to do as He please.
How full was the atonement Christ made when He died! How it went to the furthest point of the law for all His family, and how it magnifies that law, and makes it and Him honourable! If we have any real knowledge of His blood, we shall feel we are guilty of terrible crimes. Our sins will be felt as having a great deal to do with His unutterable sufferings. Little sinners want a little sacrifice and a small Christ, but real sinners, made conscious of their enormous crimes as God sees them to be, want a Saviour and “a great One” in every way. Such is Jesus, the Son of God, Who in order to save all sorts of sinners from the penalty and power of their sins, shed His Own blood. His Gospel is the only remedy for sin with all its woes: none is too great in sinnership for the Gospel to reach and save, while all who are saved thereby delight to do honour to Him Who, while He has said, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed,” SHED HIS OWN BLOOD to deliver His elect from the dominion of him who “was a murderer from the beginning”, and to save them from the murderous results of sin both here and hereafter.
*This indicates the sad decline in common honesty in the last 44 years.Â— 262
** This was spoken in 1925. What solemn changes have taken place in national legislation since then.