This commandment forbids that barbarous and inhuman sin of murder, the first-born of the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:48). It forbids the first branded crime that we read of, wherein natural corruption, contracted by the Fall, vented its rancor and virulence: the sin of Cain that great instance of perdition who slew his brother Abel “because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1John 3:12). The murdering of another is a most heinous and black sin, a sin that God doth detect and bring to punishment, usually by some wonderful method of His providence. Murder dogs the consciences of those who are guilty of it with horrid affrights and terrors and hath sometimes extorted from them a confession of it when there hath been no other proof or evidence. The two greatest sinners that the Scripture hath set the blackest brand upon were both murderers: Cain and Judas. The one was the murderer of his brother; the other, first of his Lord and Master and then of himself.
God so infinitely hates and detests it that, although the altar was a refuge for other offenders, He would not have a murderer sheltered there. He was to be dragged from that inviolable sanctuary unto execution according to that law: “But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die” (Exodus 21:14). Accordingly, we read that when Joab had fled and taken hold on the horns of the altar, so that the messengers who were sent to put him to death durst not violate that holy place by shedding his blood, Solomon gave command to have him slain even there, as if the blood of a willful murderer were a very acceptable sacrifice offered up unto God (1Kings 2:28-31). Indeed, in the first prohibition of murder that we meet withal, God subjoins a very weighty reason why it should be so odious unto Him: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man, shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6). So that Homicidium est Decidium: “To slaughter, a man is to stab God in effigy. “ Though the image of God’s holiness and purity be totally defaced in us since the Fall, yet every man even the most wicked and impious that lives bear some strictures of the image of God in his [mind], the freedom of his will, and his dominion over the creatures. God will have every part of His image so revered by us that He esteems him that assaults man as one who attempts to assassinate God Himself.
Murder is a crying sin. Blood is loud and clamorous. That first blood that ever was shed was heard as far as from earth to heaven: “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). God will certainly hear its cry and avenge it.
But, not only he, whose hands are embrued in the blood of others but those also who are accessory are guilty of murder. As
(1) Those who command or counsel it to be done. Thus, David became guilty of the murder of innocent Uriah; and God, in drawing up his charge, accuseth him with it: “Thou hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon” (2Samuel 12:9).
(2) Those who consent to murder are guilty of it. Thus Pilate, for yielding to the clamorous outcries of the Jews, “Crucify him, Crucify him” (Luke 23:21), though he washed his hands and disavowed the fact, was as much guilty as those who nailed Him to the cross.
(3) He that concealeth a murder is guilty of it. Therefore, we read that in case a man was found slain and the murderer unknown, the elders of that city were to assemble, wash their hands, and protest “Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it” (Deuteronomy 21:6-7), intimating that if they had seen and concealed it, they had thereby become guilty of the murder.
(4) Those who are in authority and do not punish a murder, when committed and known, are themselves guilty of it. Thus, when Naboth was condemned to die by the wicked artifice of Jezebel although Ahab knew nothing of the contrivance until after the execution yet because he did not vindicate that innocent blood when he came to the knowledge of it, the prophet chargeth it upon him. “Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?” (1Kings 21:19). The guilt lay upon him, and the punishment due to it overtook him, although we do not read that he was any otherwise guilty of it than in not punishing those who had committed it.
And those magistrates who, upon any respect whatsoever, suffer a murder to escape unpunished are said to pollute the land with blood: “Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it ” (Numbers 35:31, 33).