RPM, Volume 19, Number 42 October 15 to October 21, 2017

The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

By Dr. Zacharias Ursinus


Question 105. What doth God require in the sixth command?

Answer. That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor, by myself or by another; but that I lay aside all desire of revenge: also, that I hurt not myself, or willfully expose myself to any danger. Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword, to prevent murder.

Question 106. But this command seems only to speak of murder.

Answer. In forbidding murder, God teaches us, that he abhors the causes thereof; such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge; and that he accounts all these as murder.

Question 107. But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?

Answer. No; for when God forbids envy, hatred and anger, he commands us to love our neighbor 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 unto our enemies.


The end or design of this commandment is the preservation of the life and health of the body, and so of the safety both of ourselves and of others. All those things, therefore, which have respect to the safety and preservation of our own life and the lives of others, are here enjoined; whilst, on the other hand, everything is prohibited which tends to the destruction of life, which may be said to include every unlawful injury, and every desire of inflicting a wrong which any one may cherish, with every expression of this desire. It is called murder in this prohibition, or commandment, not because God prohibits this alone, but that in removing the effect he may at the same time remove all the causes which contribute to it, and that embracing under the term murder, all the sins which are connected with it, he may, by showing its aggravated character, the more effectually restrain us from these sins, according to the rule, that when any particular virtue is commanded or vice forbidden, the general virtues and vices, or whatever is connected with it, is at the same time commanded or forbidden.

We must here show, 1. That this commandment enjoins and forbids not only what is external, but also what is internal. 2. That it prohibits any injury done to ourselves or others. 3. That it requires us to defend ourselves and others.

1. That this commandment prohibits and requires what is internal, is proven, 1. By this rule, that when an effect is commanded or forbidden, the cause is also understood as being commanded or forbidden. 2. From the design of this commandment. God does not will that we should injure any one. Therefore he also forbids the means by which we might inflict a wrong upon any one. 3. From the interpretation of Christ: "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." (Matt. 5:22.) Hence with external murder there is prohibited at the same time every wrong inflicted upon our neighbor, together with all the causes, occasions and signs of these injuries, such as anger, envy, hatred and desire of revenge.

2. This commandment prohibits every injury, or neglect not only to the lives of others, but also to our own life, inasmuch as the same causes are found in us, on account of which God will have us to regard the lives of others. These causes are, 1. The image of God, which we may not destroy either in ourselves or in others. 2. The likeness of nature, and our common origin from our first parents. For as our neighbor must not be injured and hurt by us because he is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, so we are to inflict no wrong upon ourselves, for the reason that no man ever yet hated his own flesh. 3. The greatness of the price, by which Christ has redeemed us and others. 4. The union, or conjunction, which there is between those who are members of Christ. Inasmuch now as these causes are in like manner found in us, it follows that this commandment forbids every injury or neglect which any one may inflict upon himself.

3. This commandment requires us to protect and defend our neighbor; for seeing that the law commands us not only to shun and avoid sin of every description, but also to practice that which is opposite thereto, it is evident that God does not only here forbid us to injure the life and safety of any one, but commands us at the same time, as far as it is in our power, to cherish and defend our neighbor.

The sum and substance of this commandment is, that we neither hurt by any external act our own life, or the life of another, nor practice any injury upon our own, or the bodily safety of another, neither by force, nor treachery, nor negligence; and that we do not desire, either in thought or will, any injury to ourselves or others, nor signify the same by any signs, or words; but that we, on the other hand, as much as in us lies, preserve and protect our own, as well as the lives of others, and so prove ourselves a blessing to all. Hence when this commandment declares, Thou shalt not kill, it signifies, 1. Thou shalt cherish no desire to kill either thyself or others; for what God does not will us to do, that he does not permit us to wish or desire. 2. Thou shalt not express or signify any desire to murder either thyself or others; for when God forbids any particular desire, he also forbids every expression of this desire, whether it be in the words, gesture or countenance of the person. 3. Thou shalt not put this desire into execution; for what God forbids any one to desire, or to signify by external signs, that he much more forbids to be executed. The opposite now of all this is, Thou shall aid and assist thyself and others, 1. In desire or heart. 2. In the signification of this desire. 3. In the execution of this desire. From this all the virtues of this commandment, as well as all the vices which are opposite thereto, take their origin. The vices which are for bidden in this precept of the Decalogue, tend to the destruction of life; whilst the virtues which it enjoins tend to the preservation of life, or the safety of men.

There are two ways in which we may contribute to the preservation of life; either by not injuring, or by rendering assistance to men. Hence there are two classes of virtues growing out of this commandment -- the former including those which do not injure the lives and safety of men, the other including those which contribute to the preservation of life, and the safety of men. The virtues included in the former class consist of three kinds; for we may not injure any one, viz, either being not injured or provoked; or being provoked; or in both respects, whether provoked or not. Particular justice which does wrong to no one is included in the first; in the second, gentleness and equity; in the third, peaceableness. The virtues contributing to the safety of man are two-fold; for we may be said to aid, either by repelling evils and dangers, or by doing good. The first method includes commutative justice, fortitude and indignation; the other includes humanity, mercy and friendship.

The virtues which do not injure the safety of men.

I. PARTICULAR JUSTICE, injuring no one, is that, which does not injure the life or body of any one, neither from design, nor from negligence, by whom we have not been injured, unless God require it at our hands. Or it is a virtue which carefully avoids every injury which might be inflicted upon our own, or upon the safety of our neighbor, whether it be by violence, deceit or negligence. This is expressed in the words of the commandment, Thou shalt not kill.

That which is opposed to this virtue, and condemned by this commandment, includes,

1. Every injury which may be inflicted, either by design or by negligence, upon our own, or upon the life and body of another. 2. Excessive lenity, by which it comes to pass that they are not punished, who ought to be punished by those who are vested with the power to do so.

II. GENTLENESS, or placability, or readiness to forgive, which is a virtue, governing and controlling anger, is not provoked without any cause, nor by one that is trifling in its character; and where there is a cause of just displeasure, it does not desire the destruction of the person inflicting the wrong; but is indignant at the reproach which is cast upon the name of God, or at the injustice and injury inflicted upon our neighbor -- it indulges no desire of revenging any injury however great it may be, but heartily desires the safety and well-being even of enemies, and those who deserve ill at our hands, and endeavors to contribute thereto according to its own ability and their necessity. Or it is a virtue which moderates anger, and shows itself in shunning all unlawful excitement, and so moderates that anger which is lawful, that it does not pass beyond the limits which God has prescribed, and does not burn with a desire of revenge, but extends pardon even to enemies notwithstanding their offenses and provocations have been great and heavy; so that the anger which is felt is not directed to the persons, but to the sins of the wicked, and that, too, in such a way that it desires the safety even of those who transgress under the most aggravated form. "Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth." (Matt. 5:5.)

The opposite of this virtue comprises, 1. Undue lenity, which is not to be indignant in view of shocking injuries, and which does not restrain or punish them, or is, at least, too remiss in prohibiting and suppressing them. 2. Hastiness of temper, with every form of unlawful and immoderate anger 3. Desire of vengeance, grudging and animosity.

III. EQUITY is a virtue closely allied to gentleness. It is the govern ness of stern justice (preserves a just proportion between punishment and crime) upon just and probable causes, as when in view of the crime itself, or our own duty, or the public and private safety of those who sin, or for the sake of avoiding offense, we yield somewhat of our right in punishing sins, or in demanding satisfaction for injuries received. "Let your moderation be known unto all men." (Phil. 4:5.)

The first thing which we may mention as opposed to this virtue is, immoderate severity or cruelty, as when there is no proper regard to the circumstances under which men do wrong, concerning which it is said, extreme right is extreme wrong. 2. Too great lenity, which shows itself in not being influenced by those things which ought to influence us, as when God commands, &c. 3. Partiality.

IV. PEACEABLENESS, or a desire of peace and harmony is a virtue which consists in diligently and carefully avoiding all unnecessary occasions and causes of offense, discord, strife and hatred, and in reconciling those who are offended, either at us, or at others, and which for the sake of retaining or preserving peace does not shrink from troubles, or from the endurance of injuries, so long as there is no reproach cast upon the name of God, or grievous wrong inflicted upon our own safety or that of others. In a word, it is a virtue avoiding all offenses and occasions of anger and discord, and which at the same time endeavors to remove and bring to an end such strifes and misunderstandings as arise from time to time. There is opposed to this virtue, 1. Quarrelsomeness, which shows itself in giving and seizing occasions of strife, to which there is attached an eager desire or delight in contention, slandering, backbiting, whispering, &c. Hence all contentious persons, slanderers, backbiters, whisperers, &c., are here condemned. 2. Such a lenity as when any one desires to keep peace without any proper regard to the glory of God, or his own and neighbor's safety. This is a sinful gratification.

The virtues which contribute to the safety of men.

V. COMMUTATIVE JUSTICE IN PUNISHING is a virtue which preserves an equality between offenses and punishments, inflicting either equal punishments, or less in view of just and satisfactory causes, having a proper regard to the circumstances which should ever be taken into consideration in civil courts, for the sake of maintaining the glory of God, and the preservation of human society. For when God forbids the infliction of any wrong upon society, and wills that the magistrate be the defender and preserver of order according to the whole Decalogue, he also designs that those who manifestly and grossly violate this order be restrained and kept within proper bounds by just punishments. The magistrate, therefore, may be guilty of doing wrong not only in being cruel and unjustly severe, but also in being too lenient and in granting permission to certain persons to injure others. "Because thou hast let go out of thy hand, a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people." "He that killeth any man, shall surely be put to death." "Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death; but he shall surely be put to death. (1 Kings 20:42. Lev. 24:17. Num. 35:31.) This form of justice, therefore, belongs to this commandment.

Obj. It is here said, Thou shalt not kill. Therefore no one must be put to death consequently this justice is not comprehended in this commandment inasmuch as it cannot be maintained, without putting many to death. Ans. Thou shalt not kill, that is, not thou who art merely a private person, according to thy judgment and desire, when I do not command thee, and give thee any warrant from this law. But this does not do away with the office of the magistrate; "for he is the minister of God and does not bear the sword in vain." (Rom. 13:4.) Hence when the magistrate puts wicked transgressors to death, it is not man, but God who is the executioner of the deed. We may also reply to this objection by reversing the argument thus: Therefore some are to be put to death, lest human society be destroyed by thieves and robbers.

The opposite of this virtue is, 1. Cruelty, or too great severity. 2. Private revenge. 3. Lenity, when those are not punished who ought to be punished. 4. Partiality. Or to express it more briefly we may say that the opposite of commutative justice is injustice, which either does not punish at all, or else punishes unjustly.

VI. FORTITUDE is a virtue which braves such dangers as sound reasons requires us to meet and encounter for the glory of God, the salvation of the church and commonwealth, and for the preservation and defence either of ourselves or others against grievous wrongs and oppressions. The fortitude of the saints springs from faith, hope, and the love of God and our neighbor. Heroic fortitude is a special gift of God, as in the case of Joshua, Sampson, Gideon, David, &c. Warlike fortitude is the defender of justice, and the undertaker of just defence respecting ourselves and others, although it is not accomplished without great danger. War is either a necessary defence against such as are guilty of robbery, cruelty or oppression; or it is a just punishment for wicked outrages, which is undertaken by the force of arms by the ordinary power.

The opposite of this virtue comprises timidity, which shows itself in flying from necessary dangers; and presumption, or fool-hardiness in rushing into dangers unnecessarily.

VII. INDIGNATION, or zeal is, from a love of justice, and from a regard to our neighbor, to be indignant on account of some grievous or outrageous wrong inflicted upon the innocent, and which, according to the ability which any one possesses, endeavors to repel and revenge the wrong according to the commandment of God. Or, it is a virtue which is justly provoked and indignant on account of reproach cast upon the name of God and on account of some grievous wrong by which either God, or our neighbor is injured.

There is opposed to this, 1. Unjust anger. 2. Lenity, or remissness, which shows itself when there is no just grief or indignation felt in view of grievous injuries, and when there is no disposition to avenge them.

VIII. HUMANITY, or philanthropy, specially and properly so called, is a true and sincere good will, and desire to perform towards men what we desire others to perform towards us, with a declaration of good will in such words, actions and duties as are fit and becoming. Or it is benevolence in the mind, will and heart towards others, and a declaration of it in such words, actions and duties, as are possible and proper. This virtue is likewise called in the holy Scriptures the love of our neighbor. Philosophy terms it humanity. All men, by this virtue, perform towards others what they desire others to perform towards themselves. "Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." (Gal. 6:10.)

The opposite of this virtue comprises, 1. Inhumanity, or moroseness, which either omits doing those things which humanity requires, or does the opposite. 2. Ill-will, or envy, which shows itself in grief at the good and prosperity of others, and in a desire to secure this good to itself, or at least to avert it from others. Mir nicht, Dir nicht. 3. Self-love, with a neglect of our neighbor. 4. Unlawful gratification.

IX. MERCY is a grief felt in view of the calamities and misfortunes of the innocent, or such as fall through weakness and infirmity, with a desire and attempt to mitigate these calamities. Or it is a virtue which pities good men in their calamities, or those who sin through ignorance or infirmity, and which desires to remove their misfortunes, or at least alleviate them as much as justice will admit of, and which rejoices not in the calamities even of such as are our enemies. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." (Matt. 5:7.)

There is opposed to this virtue on the side of want, 1. A want of mercy, or cruelty and hard-heartedness, which is seen in not having compassion upon those whom we ought to commiserate. 2. Rejoicing in the calamities of others. And on the side of excess we may mention lenity, as that which spares those whom God wills to be punished, which is a cruel mercy, by which society itself is injured, and also the person that is spared.

X. FRIENDSHIP, a species of humanity, is a true and mutual good will between good men, formed by a knowledge which each party has of the other's virtues, or by the performance of such duties towards each other as are becoming and possible. "A man that hath friends must show himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." (Prov. 13:24.)

The extremes of friendship are, 1. Enmity. 2. Neglect of friends. 3. Readiness in contracting and breaking friendship. 5. Flattery. 6 Unjust gratification.

A table of the sixth commandment:

The sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill,

1. Forbids every unlawful injury inflicted upon our own or our neighbor's life & safety. Our neighbor may be injured either:

A. By forsaking him, or by not assisting him according to our ability, which includes neglect of the duties which are required for the preservation of life.

B. By wronging or injuring him, which is done either

1.) By external force, or violence, as by,
a.) Murder.
b.) Slandering.
c.) Injuries of every description
2.) By internal affections such as,
a.) Anger
b.) Hatred
c.) Desire of revenge

2. Commands the preservation of our own and of our neighbor's life and safety. This is done either,

A. By not injuring anyone. Those ought not to injure others who are,

1.) Not provoked, which belongs to justice

2.) Who are provoked, which is the province of gentleness and equity

3.) Whether provoked or not, which is peculiar to peaceableness
B. By rendering assistance to others. This is done either,

1.) By repelling injuries from our neighbor, which is done by,
a.) Commutative justice is punishing
b.) Fortitude
c.) Indignation

2.) By helping our neighbor as,
a.) By humanity
b.) By mercy
c.) By friendship
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