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though a man should fly to the altar for refuge, if it is proved that he came presumptuously upon his neighbour to slay him with guile, he was to be taken away from the altar, that he might die. (Exod. xxi. 14.) Other cases, wherein, though the killing be wilful, it is not murder, are these: the slaying our enemies in a just war ; the killing another for the necessary defence of a man's own life, as when a man is attacked by robbers on the highway, or in his house by night, or by any violent assault which calls upon a man to consult self-preservation, even though he destroy the parties, it is not murder in the eye of God or man : the persons slain are the murderers, because they were pursuing an unlawful action, at the risk of their own and their neighbour's lives, which they need not have hazarded : and under the Jewish law, some other cases were added, with which we are not now concerned under the Gospel. In the case of war, it is expressly said, Num. x. 9, And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets : in which words we have a warrant for destroying our enemies in a just war, as indeed in many other parts of the word of God, who, as well in this : book, as the book of Deuteronomy, promises to be with his people against their enemies, and expressly orders the latter to be slain in various ways: neither therefore is this to be counted murder.
Having now explained to you the distinctions, and shown you that all killing is not to be viewed in the light of murder, since, in the case of inflicting death by just laws, God declared by his Apostle St. Paul, that the magistrate beareth not the sword in vain (Rom. xiii. 4), but that he is the minister of God (the revenger) to execute wrath upon him that doth evil; since, again, in time of war, he hath given open warrant for the destruction of our enemies, and that respecting accidental injury which occasions death, a man's punishment is remitted ; and lastly, that, by the laws of self-préservation, we are to repel force, even though the death of the assailant be the consequence ; I will proceed to describe the positive nature of the crime, and all its dreadful effects.
In every case where one man loses his life by the contrivance of another, whatever the motive or the means, and in whatever degree it is wilful and unlawful, it is murder in the sense of the sixth commandment: and the crime extends to more than one description of actual offence; for we are no less guilty of murder when we take the power into our own hands against ourselves, than when we employ violence against the life of others; for, on principles of religion, and under a sense of God's authority over his creatures, and his just right to their service, the great wickedness of a man's shortening his life is self-evident. And it is sufficient for the purpose of this subject, to observe, that all who are guilty of this rash, rebellious, and unnatural act, if in possession of sound reason, are certainly such as have not the fear of God before their eyes, no just notion of his power, of the holiness of his laws, of his truth, or of the nature of his providential government. God gives us life for the most wise and gracious purposes i religion teaches us, that the chief end of it is to try and prepare us for a perfect and endless state of happiness. The general cause of suicide, or self-murder, where the brain is not disordered, is disgust or despondency, in consequence of worldly misfortunes ; and what aggravates their effect is pride, want of fortitude, or a total deficiency of the religious principle ; for, if a man has brought his troubles upon himself, it is but justice that he should bear them with patience; at the worst, they may still lead him to repentance. If they are in consequence of terrible and unforeseen accidents, in which he had no share, it certainly argues less courage and greatness of mind to destroy himself, than to bear up against them. The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; it is only a wounded (guilty) spirit that seerns a fit object for despair. But, if the most unfor
tunate person living would view his case in the light of revelation, and consider the history of his life as composing part of that grand work of divine providence, which will one day be displayed to the glory of God, and as contributing to the greatest good of all his creatures, he would receive every visitation with a spirit that would soften its severity; and, instead of abusing the free-will and power given him, to his certain destruction, he would bear his trials with such submission to the divine will, as would tend to forward the wise purposes for which they were sent. As a man, therefore, did not receive life through his own power, he is as condemnable for putting an end to it in his own person, as in that of another : the crime is equal before God; it is defying his government, and making hiniself the judge of God's providential appointments. And this leads me to consider the fatal consequences and aggravation of this crime, whether in the case of suicide, or any other murder. In the former, even on the supposition there was to be no after-reckoning, it argues a spirit of dastardly selfishness, and that the person is wholly forsaken of God; for there is no situation wherein a man's life may not be of soine use to himself and the community. While he has years before him, he may make some reparation ; he may hope for God's pardon, if bis own conduct has been principally instrumental to his distress; by heroic exertions he may entertain good hope of better days in this life; and, at the worst, he had better be punished here than hereafter. By destroying himself, he often entails greater shame and misery on those connected with him, than if he had lived to struggle with misfortune; and he cuts himself off from the possibility of repentance, grace, and future acceptance. In short, there cannot be a stronger argument against this species of murder than that it was the practice chiefly of the ancient heathens, and still continues to mark the character of infidels and lunatics.
In regard to the murder of others, the effects are in some respects similar: the aggravations of the sin are very many, and very great ; first, it being above most others a heinous sin against the Almighty, who is the sole Lord of all his creatures, and who expressly declares himself to be in a singular manner offended and provoked by their destruction; and for this particular reason, which he adds after the words of my text; for, in the image of God made he mannot in respect to any bodily resemblance, but as to the excellence of his spiritual nature: therefore
any action that may contribute to ruin that nature, by depriving it of its eternal hapa piness, must be the most dreadful offence against God; for the person murdered is not only deprived of his life, and all the advantages he en