• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Protecting Human Life

Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:4NIV


Today we continue to study Question 135 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?” The second part of the answer states, “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others… by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations…” Last time we looked at how the value of human life, which is based upon man being created in God’s image, forms the foundation for the sixth commandment. Today we begin to consider specific ways we must protect human life.


The first murder took place through an act of unjust violence. Cain “rose up against Abel his brother and killed him,” (Gen. 4:8). If Cain had first been assaulted by Abel, then he would not only have been allowed to, but he would have been required to defend his life against the attack. Here the use of violence to defend human life would have been justified. Thus, the Catechism not only recognizes the distinction between murder and self-defense, but it requires that we do all that we can to defend our own lives and the lives of others. Consequently, flowing out of our Christian roots, many Western nations have “Good Samaritan” laws, which require people to give reasonable assistance to those who are in peril.


Another duty in protecting human life is to patiently bear the hand of God. This obligation recognizes that God is sovereign and that all suffering and hardship are ultimately from Him for our good. We are certainly allowed to pray for God to have mercy on us and to do all that we can (short of sinning) to remove the difficulty — in fact we should do these things! However, if at the end of the day we are not able to be delivered from the hardship, we must, like Paul, endure the thorn in the flesh and trust in God that it is from Him, and therefore, for our good.


Likewise, if we are truly going to protect our own lives and the lives of others, we should seek to be healthy in spirit and in body. Quietness of mind and cheerfulness of spirit call us to live peaceably and joyfully as much as possible. In all things we should remember that this is our Father’s world, and so we should often be cheerful, knowing He loves us and is working all things for our good (Rom. 8:28). Likewise, we should not go out of our way to take on any unnecessary stress or anxiety, which only causes vexation in our souls. So, for example, we should seek advancement in our vocations, which is honoring to God, but not to the point where we are working so much that we cannot rest or relax, which is dishonoring to Him. We should seek to meet our obligations in our relationships to love one another, but not to the point where I am constantly seeking to please everyone all the time. There needs to be balance between our duties. Of course emergency situations and very important events may call for extraordinary measures and efforts, but those times must come to an end. We cannot serve God by destroying ourselves. We must take care of our souls and rest our minds and allow for quiet times of prayer and meditation, even as our Lord did while He was on the earth. At times we see Him staying up all night in prayer (Luke 6:12) or wrestling with great stress, as in the Garden of Gethsemane. At other times we find Him asleep in the boat (Matt. 8:24), or resting by a well (John 4:6), because He was weary and knew He needed to take care of His mind and body.


So also, too much of a good thing can be bad for us. Eating, drinking, working, sleeping are all necessary for man. In and of themselves they are good, so long as we do not overindulge in them, which is not only sinful but harmful to us mentally and physically. At this place in the Catechism, “physic,” which refers to medicine and other scientifically developed or recommended practices, can be good for us, but its abuse can be harmful. Additionally, we need to consider the advice of experts by the light of the Word of God. If following the doctor’s orders requires me to sin, I cannot do it. May God grant us all the wisdom, grace, and courage to honor Him by protecting our own lives and the lives of others.

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)