[179] “You are not to kill.”

[180] We have now dealt with both the spiritual and the civil government, that is, divine and parental authority and obedience. However, here we leave our own house and go out among the neighbors in order to learn how we should live among them, how people should conduct themselves among their neighbors. Therefore neither God nor the government is included in this commandment, nor is their right to take human life abrogated. [181] God has delegated his authority to punish evildoers to the civil authorities in the parents’ place; in former times, as we read in Moses [Deut. 21:18–20*], parents had to judge their children themselves and sentence them to death. Therefore what is forbidden here applies to individuals, not to the governmental officials.

[182] This commandment is easy enough to understand, and it has often been treated because we hear Matthew 5 every year in the Gospel lesson, where Christ himself explains and summarizes it: We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting. It forbids anger except, as we have said, to persons who function in God’s stead, that is, parents and governing authorities. Anger, reproof, and punishment are the prerogatives of God and his representatives and are to be meted out to those who transgress this and the other commandments.

[183] But the occasion and need for this commandment is that, as God well knows, the world is evil and this life is full of misery. Therefore he has erected this and the other commandments to separate good and evil. Just as there are many attacks against all the commandments, so here, too, we must live among many people who do us harm, and thus we have reason to be their enemy. [184] For example, when your neighbors see that you have received from God a better house and property, or more possessions and good fortune than they, it irritates them and makes them envious of you so that they slander you.

Thus by the devil’s prompting you acquire many enemies who begrudge you every blessing, whether physical or spiritual. When we see such people, our hearts in turn rage, and we are ready to shed blood and take revenge. Then follow cursing and blows, and eventually calamity and murder. [185] Here God, like a kind father, steps in and intervenes to settle the quarrel before it turns into real trouble and one person kills the other. In short, God wants to have everyone defended, delivered, and protected from the wickedness and violence of others, and he has placed this commandment as a wall, fortress, and refuge around our neighbors, so that no one may do them bodily harm or injury.

[186] The meaning of this commandment, then, is that no one should harm another person for any evil deed, no matter how much that person deserves it. For wherever murder is forbidden, there also is forbidden everything that may lead to murder. Many people, although they do not actually commit murder, nevertheless curse others and wish such frightful things on them that, if they were to come true, they would soon put an end to them. [187] Everyone acts this way by nature, and it is common knowledge that no one willingly suffers injury from another. Therefore, God wishes to remove the root and source that embitters our heart toward our neighbor. He wants to train us to hold this commandment always before our eyes as a mirror in which to see ourselves, so that we may be attentive to his will and, with heartfelt confidence and prayer in his name, commit whatever wrong we suffer to God. Then we can let our enemies rave and rage and do their worst. Thus we may learn to calm our anger and have a patient, gentle heart, especially toward those who give us cause to be angry, namely, our enemies.

[188] This, then is the brief summary of this commandment (to impress it most clearly upon the common people what this commandment means by “not killing”). First, we should not harm anyone, either by hand or deed. Next, we should not use our tongue to advocate or advise harming anyone. Furthermore, we should neither use nor sanction any means or methods whereby anyone may be mistreated. Finally, our heart should harbor no hostility or malice against anyone in a spirit of anger and hatred. Thus you should be blameless in body and soul toward all people, but especially toward anyone who wishes or does you evil. For to do evil to someone who desires good for you and does you good is not human but devilish.

[189] In the second place, this commandment is violated not only when we do evil, but also when we have the opportunity to do good to our neighbors and to prevent, protect, and save them from suffering bodily harm or injury, but fail to do so. [190] If you send a naked person away when you could clothe him, you have let him freeze to death. If you see anyone who is suffering from hunger and do not feed her, you have let her starve. Likewise, if you see anyone who is condemned to death or in similar peril and do not save him although you have means and ways to do so, you have killed him. It will be of no help for you to use the excuse that you did not assist their deaths by word or deed, for you have withheld your love from them and robbed them of the kindness by means of which their lives might have been saved.

[191] Therefore God rightly calls all persons murderers who do not offer counsel or assistance to those in need and peril of body and life. He will pass a most terrible sentence upon them at the Last Day, as Christ himself declares. He will say: “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” That is to say, “You would have permitted me and my family to die of hunger, thirst, and cold, to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, to rot in prison or perish from want.”

[192] What else is this but to call these people murderous and bloodthirsty? For although you have not actually committed all these crimes, as far as you are concerned, you have nevertheless permitted your neighbors to languish and perish in their misfortune. It is just as if I saw someone who was struggling in deep water or someone who had fallen into a fire and I could stretch out my hand to pull him out and save him, and yet I did not do so. How would I appear before all the world except as a murderer and a scoundrel?
[193] Therefore it is God’s real intention that we should allow no one to suffer harm but show every kindness and love. [194] And this kindness, as I said, is directed especially toward our enemies. For doing good to our friends is nothing but an ordinary virtue of pagans, as Christ says in Matthew 5[:46–47*].

[195] Once again we have God’s Word by which he wants to encourage and urge us to true, noble, exalted deeds, such as gentleness, patience, and, in short, love and kindness toward our enemies. He always wants to remind us to recall the First Commandment, that he is our God; that is, that he wishes to help, comfort, and protect us, so that he may restrain our desire for revenge. [196]

If we could thoroughly impress this on people’s minds, we would have our hands full of good works to do. [197] But this would not be a preaching for the monks. It would too greatly undermine the “spiritual walk of life” and infringe upon the holiness of the Carthusians. It would be practically the same as forbidding their good works and emptying the monasteries. For in such a teaching the ordinary Christian life would be worth just as much, indeed much more. Everyone would see how the monks mock and mislead the world with a false, hypocritical show of holiness, because they have thrown this and the other commandments to the winds, regarding them as unnecessary, as if they were not commands but counsels. Moreover, they have shamelessly boasted and bragged of their hypocritical calling and works as “the most perfect life,” so that they might live a nice, soft life without the cross and suffering. This is why they fled into the monasteries, so that they might not have to suffer wrong from anyone or do anyone any good. [198] Know, however, that these works, commanded by God’s Word, are the true, holy, and divine works in which he rejoices with all the angels. In contrast to them, all human holiness is only stench and filth, and it merits nothing but wrath and damnation.