Some time back I was preaching on Psalm 74:20, which reads in the ESV: ‘Have regard for the covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.’ In the KJV, however, the reading is ‘Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.’ In the nineteenth century this was often used as a missionary text, to demonstrate the need for Christian light to shine in heathen darkness.
Today such a view is regarded with hostility, as an example of cultural imperialism or even racism. However, I was struck by the comments of the great Charles Spurgeon on the text. He declared: ‘Heathenism is cruel. It is not changed in character since the days when parents made their children to pass through fire to Moloch. At this very day, for instance, infanticide prevails in China; and the “law,” says a book of authority – “the law, otherwise so rigorous, does not take the slightest cognisance of that crime, nor ever subjects those guilty of it to punishment. Every morning before it is light, wagons traverse the different quarters of the city of Pekin [i.e. Beijing] to receive the dead infants.” Well may they go “before it is light;” “the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.” “The missionaries of that city obtained details, which justify belief that the number of infants (chiefly females) destroyed there is upwards of three thousand annually.” Think of this same proportion, extended throughout that densely-peopled empire. Among the same people, suicide is also of frequent occurrence. What a contrast with the religion which stays the rash hand, and calls out, “Do thyself no harm!”
Spurgeon then went on to denounce the practice of suttee in India whereby widows were burnt on funeral pyres to accompany their deceased husbands into the next world.
One can only be struck by the clarity of Spurgeon’s condemnation of the evil of infanticide. The law of God is written on the hearts of all humanity (Rom.2:14-16), and we have to do our level worst to deny it. Female infanticide in modern day China and India has skewed their populations by millions, and caused some unease amongst some Western feminists, but they have generally managed to hold their tongues. After all, if the killing of infants identified as female is wrong, that has implications for the killing of all youngsters, born and unborn.
In the West, in some American states in particular, thelogical slide from the acceptance of abortion to the acceptance of infanticide has continued. In Virginia and New York, for example, aborted children born alive who are viable are allowed to be left to die. ‘Duty of care’ is a slippery term at the best of times, often denoting more about liability before insurance companies than compassion for human beings. Now it seems to have little meaning at all.
Biblically, we have every reason to believe that the rejection of the Christian revelation will lead to a debased view of what life is all about. In fact, that is what has already happened. There is an observable slide from worshiping the creature to mistreating the creature (Rom.1:18-32).
To Spurgeon, infanticide was obviously wrong because it was cruel, opposed to God’s will, an assault on humanity as God’s image, and part of a general pagan anti-life approach to the world. To the modern secularist, so far as there is a reasoned defence of abortion and infanticide (which can now be referred to as ‘post-birth abortion’ to disguise some of the reality), it is largely along the lines of human autonomy. There is no king in Israel, and we can do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25). There is nothing new about this. It has failed a thousand times down through the ages.
Christian faith and Christian ethics go together. It is hard to sustain the latter without the foundation to be found in the former. The saving of lives is connected to the saving of souls.
- Peter Barnes