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This is the crime expressly prohibited, but a positive duty should also be understood, that we are obliged, so far as we are able, to preserve our neighbour's life, by relieving him in extreme need, by succouring him in extreme danger, by admonishing him of any destructive mischief, when he appears tending unawares thereinto, the neglect of which things argueth a murderous disposition toward our neighbour, is in reasonable esteem, and in God's sight, a killing of him; for we mistake, if we think, with Cain, that we are not our brother's keepers, or are not bound when we are able to preserve his life.
The violation of which commandment is certainly the most heinous sin that can be committed of all those which are not immediately directed against God himself, or the persons which peculiarly represent him; and a sin which never can escape vengeance and due punishment from him. It is the greatest wrong to God, it is the extremest injury to our neighbour, it is the highest sort of uncharitableness, it is a principal offence against public society.
1. It is an exceeding wrong and affront done unto God, in assuming the disposal of his gifts, in dispossessing him of his rights, by robbing him of a creature, of his child, his servant, his subject, usurping in a high way his sovereign authority, his throne of majesty, his tribunal of justice, his sword of vengeance, to omit the sacrilege, as Philo speaks, committed herein by violating God's own image, which every man doth bear.
2.. It is also an extreme injury to the person, who is thereby deprived of an invaluable good, which can nowise be repaired or compensated; he that loses his life doth therewith lose all the good he possesseth or is capable of here, without any possibility of recovering it again. The taking therefore of life can be no suitable revenge, no reasonable satisfaction for any injury or damage received. It infinitely, in a manner, surpasseth all the evil which any man can sustain from another in his estate, or fame, or welfare of any kind; for those things have their measure, and may be capable of some reparation; but this is altogether extreme and irreparable. Add hereto, that not only all temporal good is hereby at once ravished from a man, but the soul also of the person may incur the greatest damage or hazard in respect to its future estate by being thus snatched away; the slayer not only robbeth his brother of his temporal life, but of his time of repentance and opportunity of making peace with God.
3. It is also the highest uncharitableness to deal thus with our neighbour, arguing that nothing of goodwill, of pity, of humanity toward him is left in us. To hate his brother to the death is the utmost pitch of hatred. If in imitation of our Saviour, and out of respect to him, we ought, as St John instructeth us, to be willing to lay down our lives for our brethren, how enormous a crime, how opposite to Christian charity, is to take away our brother's life! 4. It is likewise a main offence against the public, not only by unlawful bereaving it of a member and subject, but to its prejudice and dishonour, yea, so far as lies in us, to its subversion and dissolution, assuming to ourselves, and pulling away from it, its rights and prerogatives of judgment.
Such, briefly, is the direct intent and importance of this law, but our Saviour in his comment hereon hath explained and extended it farther, so as to interdict all, that anywise approaches in nature, or in effect tends, unto this heinous evil. He means to obstruct all the springs, and extirpate all the roots thereof, such as are rash, causeless anger, contumelious and despiteful language, reserving grudges or spite in our heart, not endeavouring speedily to reconcile ourselves to them who have done us injury or displeasure, for these things as they commonly do produce the act of murder, so they argue inclinations thereto, and consequently in moral account, which regardeth not so much the act as the will, are of the same quality therewith. They arise from the same bitter root of great uncharitableness, upon which score St John telleth us, that "He that hateth his brother is a murderer," and consequently, in effect, all malice, and spite, envy, hatred, malignity, and animosity, are here prohibited.
Matt. v. 21.
1 John iii. 15, 17.
THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.
After life, nothing commonly is more dear to men than the comforts of their conjugal estate, the enjoyment of that special affection and friendship, together with those instances of benevolence, which by divine institution and mutual contract, ratified by most sacred and solemn promises of fidelity, are reserved peculiar to that state; which enclosures, therefore, of his neighbour whoever shall invade or trespass upon, who shall anywise loose or slacken those holy bands, who shall attempt the affection or chastity of his neighbour's wife, doth most grievously offend God, and committeth, as Joseph, when he was tempted thereto, did call it, a great evil against God, against his neighbour, against himself, and against the common society of men. He violateth an institution, to which God hath affixed especial marks of respect and sanctity. He wounds his neighbour's honour and interest in the most tender part, wherein the content of his mind and comfort of his life are most deeply concerned. He as much, or rather
, more, dishonoureth and abuseth himself, not only by committing a fact of so high injustice, but by making himself accessory to the basest perfidiousness that can be. “Whoso committeth adultery lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped
away. For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts." He also offendeth against the public quiet and welfare, breeding inextricable confusions and implacable dissensions in families, so that hardly from
any other cause such tragical events have issued as from this. In fine, this crime is, as Philo calls it, “ loathsome unrighteousness, most odious to God," and “a fire," as Job representeth it, “that consumeth to destruction.” 2
But we must further also consider, that acts of this kind contain also in them another evil, that persons committing them do not only so highly wrong their neighbour, but defile themselves also by the foulest turpitude, in which respect the prohibition of all unlawful and irregular satisfactions to lustful appetite, all compliance with that great enemy of our souls, the flesh, all kinds of impurity and lasciviousness, not in act only, but in thought, in speech, in gesture, may be reduced to this law. Our Lord himself doth so interpret it as to make it include a forbidding of all unchaste desires, and Christianity doth in a most strict and special manner oblige us to all kinds of sobriety and modesty, of chastity and purity in body and spirit; enjoining us to “abstain from all fleshly lusts, as enemies to our souls, to mortify our fleshly members,” to “possess our vessels, or bodies, in sanctity and honour," not to have i Prov. vi. 34, 35.
? Job xxxi. 12.