Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 40
Lord's Day 40
What does God require
in the sixth commandment?
I am not to dishonour, hate, injure,
or kill my neighbour
by thoughts, words, or gestures,
and much less by deeds,
whether personally or through another;
rather, I am to put away
all desire of revenge.
Moreover, I am not to harm or recklessly
Therefore, also, the government bears the sword
to prevent murder.
But does this commandment
speak only of killing?
By forbidding murder God teaches us
that He hates the root of murder,
such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of
and that He regards all these as murder.
Is it enough, then,
that we do not kill our neighbour
in any such way?
When God condemns envy, hatred, and anger,
He commands us
to love our neighbour as ourselves,
to show patience, peace, gentleness,
mercy, and friendliness toward him,
to protect him from harm as much as
we can, and to do good even to our
Q. & A. 105 – 107 Respect for Life
- Life is entirely God's gift; it belongs to him. He breathed the breath of life into man's nostrils. Of him it is said: “in whose hand is your breath” (Dan 5:23). Man is a most miraculous and priceless creature of God! That is why the Lord requires us to respect the life of our neighbour.
By forbidding homicide (i.e., wrongful killing) the Lord forbids all harm to the life of the neighbour. Further, we may not cause his life to be endangered (see Deut 22:8). Nor may we do this by others, not even by words (and words can harm terribly!), or gestures.
- Life is not only a physical phenomenon, it is also spiritual. That is why we may not dishonour, hate or injure the neighbour either. Nor may we desire to do so. Further, in the sixth commandment God forbids all envy and desire for revenge.
- The Answer explains that we are commanded to seek good for the life of the neighbour in every respect. We must love him and must show patience, peace, gentleness, mercy and friendliness towards him; and we must protect him from harm as much as we can. We must even do good to our enemies.
- This applies also to our own lives. We may not deliberately and unnecessarily endanger our lives through intemperance (eating, drinking, smoking, lewdness, excessive exertion, sports mania).
Every form of suicide (truly a form of cowardice) is forbidden.
- We must care for ourselves, both physically and spiritually. We must also use the gift of life to God's honour through faith in Christ Jesus.
- Self defence and war are commanded in extreme situations when there is no other solution. So also capital punishment is commanded for those who took the lives of their neighbours (or who caused the death of the neighbour by betrayal, e.g., in time of war). These are not attacks on life, but are for the protection of life. Hence, they are not murder. It is the duty of the government to carry out capital punishment, since it does not bear the sword in vain (Rom 13:4).
- Sometimes the Lord requires a person to sacrifice his own life in obedience to him in order to save the life of another person, or to remain faithful to him (martyrdom).
- Glorification of war.
- Anti-militarism (pacifism).
- Rejection of capital punishment.
- The doctrine of defencelessness (unilateral disarmament).
- Rejection of the duty of military service other than on the ground that one must “obey God rather than men” (Rom 5:29).
- To whom does life belong? What, therefore, must we do with our lives.
- Does God only forbid homicide in the sixth commandment? What else does he forbid?
- What does the commandment require in respect of the neighbour?
- What does the commandment forbid regarding one's own life? What does it require in this respect?
- Is capital punishment forbidden? What about war?
- When may one sacrifice one's own life?