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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Protecting the Innocent

Thus says the LORD: “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand

of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor

shed innocent blood in this place.”

Jeremiah 22:3

Today we complete our study of Question 135 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the

duties required in the Sixth Commandment?” The final part of the answer states, “The duties

required in the Sixth Commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavours, to preserve

the life of ourselves and others by…comforting and succouring the distressed, and protecting

and defending the innocent.” Last time we examined the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts

and saw how true obedience must be sincere. Today we consider how we are especially required

to give aid to those most in need of it.

Notice how the Westminster divines apply God’s Word to the inner man where it reveals “the

thoughts and intents of the heart,” (Heb. 4:12). Their exposition of the sixth commandment in

Question 135 presented first, our duty to resist evil thoughts and passions and avoid situations or

occasions that might excite them. Next, they set forth our responsibility for godly self-defense in

order to protect life, all the while trusting in God’s sovereignty and wisely maintaining good

mental and physical health. Then, with sound exegesis they established the positive aspect of our

obedience; proving from Scripture that true compliance to “Thou shalt not murder,” obligates us

to form and maintain such godly thoughts, intentions, words, and practices that would promote

and safeguard human life. Finally, in the last section of the Answer given above, we see our duty

to carefully be on the side of equal justice for all.

Many times Scripture expresses a particular concern for the stranger, the orphan, or the widow as

in the text from Jeremiah at the head of this article. This emphasis is not because God plays

favorites, but it is due to the fact that in the society of ancient Israel, these particular categories of

people often had the least ability and power to defend themselves or their possessions from the

unscrupulous. Thus, our perfectly just God repeatedly declares that those who strive for equal

justice for all by protecting the plundered and punishing the plunderers are doing His work, and

will be blessed and rewarded by Him. For whenever we stand against evil and strive to do what is

right (according to truth and not according to our own biases) we are doing the Lord’s work.

Consequently, the primary duty of the king of Israel—who was to rule according to the will of

God—was to establish and execute equal justice for all throughout the land. Justice demands

treatment according to our actions, not according to our economic status or political power: “You

shall do no injustice in judgment.You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the

mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Lev. 19:15). Because every human life is

equally valuable, all human life is to be judged equally under the same standard. Any difference

in treatment denies this equality.

Apart from God’s gracious influence, sinful human beings will often take what they have not

rightly earned if they think they can get away with it—whether by breaking laws or using political

power to create unjust laws. Thus, the king of Israel was to enforce justice by holding everyone

equally accountable under the same legal standard. You and I are not kings. God does not

require us to establish justice in the land. However, it is our duty, wherever we are and with

whatever power and influence we have, to stand against unjust oppression. Today’s oppressors

often wield power by claiming victimhood or that they are on the side of “justice.” And yet it is

clear from their actions that they are the ones who are exercising an unjust bias. If we are to truly

keep the sixth commandment, we must value each human life equally, by treating all people

according to their own actions under the same just standard according to the Word of God.


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