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SIXTH COMMANDMENT.-KILLING ; WHEN LAWFUL, AND WHEN
Exodus XX. 13.-Thou shall not kill.
In the five preceding discourses, I have considered summarily several classes of duties, involved in the fifth Command. Had I no other object before me, beside the examination of this precept, I should feel myself obliged to investigate, also, the mutual duties of men in various other relations of life ; particularly those of husbands and wives, masters and servants, ministers and their congregations. All these, together with the duties of friends and neighbours, of the aged and the young, are, I think, obviously included in this precept; and are of sufficient importance to claim, not only a discussion, but a more extensive and minute investigation, than I have given to those, already examined. But a Work of this nature, although it may seem large, must necessarily be compendious. The field is too vast even to be wandered over by any single effort ; and many parts of it must be left unexplored by any traveller.
The command, which is given us in the text, is expressed in the most absolute manner: Thou shalt not kill. To kill, is the thing forbidden; and by the words it is forbidden in all cases whatever. Whenever we kill any living creature, therefore, we are guilty of a transgression of this command; unless we are permitted to take away the life in question by an exception, which God Himself has made to the rule.
This consideration of the absolute universality of the command in the text ought invariably to be remembered in all our comments upon it. These, it is ever to be remembered, are the words, which God Himself has chosen. They accord, therefore, with the dictates of Infinite Wisdom concerning ihis subject; and bind us with Infinite authority. Man cannot alter them. Man cannot lawfully originate an exception to them, nor in any other manner limit their import. Every comment upon them must, of course, be derived from the words themselves; or from other precepts; or from comments on this precept, found in other parts of the Scriptures. At the same time, a scrupulous attention to the words themselves will, if I mistake not, remove several difficulties concerning this subject, and contribute not a little towards settling, finally, some important doctrines of Morality.
In examining this subject I shall endeavour to point out,
1. Those instances in which life may be lawfully taken away, agreeably to scriptural exceptions under this law;
11. Some of those instances, in which life is destroyed in contradiction to this law.
1. I shall mention those instances, in which life may be lawfully taken away under scriptural exceptions to this law.
1. The life of Animals may be lawfully taken away in two cases : when they are necessary for our food; and when they are hostile and dangerous to us.
In Genesis ix. 3, God said to Noah and his sons, Every thing that moveth shall be meal for you : even as
herb have I given you all things. That this permission was necessary we know, because it was given. But if it was necessary; men had no right to eat the flesh of animals before it was given. The same thing is evident, also, from the terms of the permission, Even as the green herb have I given you all things. If God gave men all things, that is, all animals, to be their food; then men have no original, natural, or previous right to use them for food. Accordingly, the Antediluvians, abandoned as they were, appear, plainly, never to have eaten animal food. Noah and his descendants began this practice, under this permission. Here is found the only right of mankind to this food. Animals belonged originally, and solely, to their Creator. We, therefore, could have no right to their lives, unless He, who alone possessed that right, had transferred it to us.
From these observations it is plain, that Infidels, who deny the Divine revelation of the Scriptures, can plead no right to eat the flesh of animals. The only being, who can possibly communicate this right to us, is God: since He is the only Being, who possesses the right to dispose of them. But God has no where communicated this right to mankind, unless He has done it in the Scriptures. But this communication they deny to have been made; and are, therefore, without any warrant for the use of animal food. Nor can they ever make use of it, without contravening the dictates of a good conscience, and violating the plainest principles of justice and humanity.
The arguments, by which Infidels have endeavoured to defend this conduct in themselves, are, in my view, miserable fetches of a disingenuous mind, struggling hard to justify itself in a prac, tice, which it is loth to give up; and not the honest reasons of fair conviction. They are these. “ It is the analogy of nature, that the stronger should prey upon the weaker: that we feed animals, and have, therefore, a right to their lives, and their flesh, as a retribution for our kindness to them: and that, if we did not destroy them, they would multiply in such a manner, as ultimately to destroy us.
These reasons are characteristically suited to the mouth of a wolf or a tiger; but proceed with a very ill grace from the mouth
of a man.
Were a savage, of superior force, to attack an Infidel, plunder his
property, and destroy his life, in order to convert his Hesh into food; and were he, beforehand, to allege, as the justifying reason for this conduct, that it was the analogy of nature for the stronger to prey upon the weaker; the argument, it is believed, would scarcely satisfy the Infidel. Were the Or endued with speech, he might unanswerably reply to the allegation, drawn from the kindness of men to oxen, that their labour was an ample compensation for their food; and that men fed them for their own benefit, and not theirs. With respect to the third argument, he might ask, without fearing any reply: Where, and when, did oxen ever multiply in such a manner, as to become dangerous to mankind ? If infidels can be satisfied with these arguments for the use of flesh; we can no longer wonder, that they are equally well satisfied with similar arguments against the Revelation of the Seriptures.
The truth is; they are not thus satisfied with either the one or the other. Inclination, and not conviction, is, probably, the source of their conduct in both cases. Were they as scrupu. lous, as all men ought to be; they would, like the Hindoos, and even the Antediluvians, abstain entirely from eating the flesh of animals.
Animals, hostile and dangerous to men, God has not only permitted, but commanded, us to put to death; at least whenever they have intentionally destroyed human life. In Genesis ix. he says to Noah and his Children, Surely your blood of your lives, will I require ; at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man. Agrceably to this law, which makes animals in this situation punishable with death, the or, which gored a man, or woman, was commanded to be stoned. As the beast, which had perpetrated this act, could be punished only by men; men were required to put him to death. It will not, I suppose, be contended, that we are not
I warranted to anticipate this mischief, and prevent the tiger from shedding human blood, as well as to destroy him after his depredations are completed.
In all other cases we are unwarranted to take away the life of animals, because God has given us no warrant.
There are persons, who destroy their domestic animals by compelling them to labour beyond their strength, or their capacity of enduring fatigue. There are others, who beat them, under the influence of furious passions, in immoderate degrees; or afflict them by other exertions of violence and cruelty. There are others, who deny them the necessary food, and keep them, continually, half famished through hunger. There are others, who take away the lives of birds, fishes, and other small animals, for the mere purpose of indulging the pleasure of hunting, or fishing. And there are others still, who find an inhuman pleasure in merely distressing and torturing this humble and defenceless class of crea
tures. Of the first of these modes of cruelty, horseracing is a scandalous example. A brutal specimen of the last is presented to us in cockfighting.
A righteous man, says Solomon, regardeth the life of his beast; Proverbs xii. 10.; that is, a righteous man realizes, in a just manner, the value of the life of his beast, entertains a steady conviction, that he has no right either unnecessarily to shorten, or embitter it; and feels the solemn obligation, which he is under, to use all the means, dictated by humanity and prudence for preserving the life of those animals, which are under his care, and for rendering them comfortable.
In all these instances of cruelty the life of animals is not immediately taken away. But in all of them it is either suddenly, or gradually, destroyed; and often with greater cruelty, and more abominable wickedness, where the process is slow, than where it is summary. The spirit of this command is violated in them all.
Children, who are either taught, or permitted, to exercise cruelty towards animals in early life, are efficaciously fitted, in this manner, to exercise cruelty towards their fellow-men. If they escape the dungeon, or the gibbet, they will be little indebted for this privilege, to those, who had the charge of their education. It is remarkable, that the law, which punished murder with death, was immediately subjoined to the permission to take the life, and eat the flesh, of animals. In this fact, if I mistake not, the Creator has taught us, that the transition from shedding their blood to shedding that of man is so short, and obvious, as to render a new law necessary for the prevention of murder: a law, which, it would seem, had not been demanded by the circumstances of preceding ages.
2. The life of Man may, also, be lawfully taken away in certain cases, according to the Scriptures.
This may be done, in the first place, when this act is necessary for our own defence. A sufficient warrant for this is given us in the case of the thief, mentioned Exodus xxii. 2. If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die ; there shall no blood be shed for him. In this case, the thief was killed in the defence of a man and his family : and the act of killing him is plainly warranted. By parity of reason the warrant extends to all cases, which in substance compare with this. In other words, we are justified in putting to death the person, who assails the life of ourselves, or others, wrongfully, whenever our own defence, or theirs, makes it necessary
In every case of this nature, we are, however, indispensably bound to be sure, that we act only in the defence of ourselves or others; and that there are no perceptible means, beside this extreme one, of warding off the threatened evil. Wherever such means exist; it is our indispensable duty to employ them. We are
bound, also, in no case to take away life for an injury, already done; and in the indulgence of anger, malice, or revenge. At the same time, if the right invaded, or the injury to be done, is of moderate importance; we are prohibited from proceeding to this extremity.
On this ground alone, that it is an act of self-defence, can War be justified. Aggressive war is nothing but a complication of robbery and murder. Defensive war is merely the united efforts of several persons to defend themselves against a common inroad, or enemy. It is, therefore, equally lawful with self-defence in an individual. By aggressive war, here, I do not intend that, which is first commenced under the name of war; but the original outrage, or series of outrages, out of which the war has lawfully arisen, on the part of the injured nation.
A numerous, and on many accounts respectable, class of Christians, the Friends, have denied the lawfulness of war. It is to be wished, that the world would universally adopt the practice of these pacific men. But so long as the present disposition of mankind predominates; so long as men will attack, and destroy, the life, liberty, and property, of their fellow-men; defensive war is absolutely necessary, and absolutely lawful. A nation, which should adopt the contrary doctrine, would be undone. This society of Christians could not possibly exist in a national state. The province of Pennsylvania, and perhaps the rest of the British Col. onies together with it, came very near being finally destroyed by the prevalence of this very doctrine in its House of Representatives. Such a nation would publicly proclaim itself an unresisting prey to the rest of mankind; and, like the deer, would become a victim to the fangs of the wolf and the tiger.
That War is lawful in the abstract we know with certainty ; because it has been directly commanded, unequivocally approved, and miraculously prospered, by God. He commanded Israel to make war upon Amalek, until the name of that guilty nation should be blotted out from under heaven. In the same manner, He commanded them to make war upon the inhabitants of Canaan; and approved of their conduct in making war upon that people. In the same manner He commmanded the Israelites to make war repeatedly upon Midian and upon Hazor ; censured the tribe of Reuben, and by his Angel commanded the Israelites to curse Meroz, because they neglected, or refused, to make active exertions in this
He also miraculously aided the Israelites against Midian, Amalek, the Philistines, and others. See Exodus xvii. 8. Judges vii. 1 Samuel vii. and 2 Samuel v.
But all, that has been commanded, approved, and miraculously prospered, by God, is in itself right. For it is impossible, that God should either command, or approve of, that which is wrong. The only question, therefore, which can be rationally made in this