Date Preached: November 7, 1999
Main Scripture Text: Romans 12:1–21; 13:1–4
“For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
- God Prohibits Revenge
- God Promises Retribution
III. God Provides Restraint
- We Should Believe in Capital Punishment to Obey God
- We Should Believe in Capital Punishment to Protect Society
- We Should Believe in Capital Punishment for the Good of the Criminal
- We Should Believe in Capital Punishment Because of the Justice of God
Be finding Romans Chapter 13. Title of the message: “Does a Loving God Believe in Capital Punishment?”
There has been much discussion today. The radio has been talking. The newspapers have been publishing information. Preachers have been going to Nashville making proclamation. I’m hearing very little about what the Bible has to say. It seems to me that more heat than light is being generated, and I want us to see what the Bible has to say. And the answer, of course, is not going to be from sentiment; the answer is not really going to come from logic. The answer is not going to come from do-gooders or hate either way. The answer must come from the Word of God.
So now notice in Romans chapter 13, beginning in verse 1: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God …” Now, the word power here you may substitute to word “authority,” because that is literally what the translation means. There are no authorities but of God. And the powers that be are ordained of God. Now, he’s not talking here about ordaining a minister to the Gospel ministry, but ordaining a public servant to the ministry of God. And he goes on to say in verse 2: “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: for they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation …”—the word damnation here does not necessarily mean consignment to hell. It’s a generic word, which means you are going to receive judgment in whatever realm the word demands—“… for rulers—that is civil magistrates, whether they be judges, or police, or governors, or presidents—… rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will thou then not be afraid of the power—that is, of the governmental authority? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For He—that is the governor, the magistrate, judge, the jailor, the warden, whomever he may be—is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain:—that is, he is not wearing the sword just for decoration—for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but for, also for conscience sake. And for this cause pay ye tribute also:—hate to tell you that, but that means taxes—for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”
Now, Romans chapter 12 and Romans chapter 13 are conjoined together. And I remind you that when the Bible was written there were no chapters with verses, with numbers going down the side. All of that has been added by the translators so that you and I can find our place in the Bible more easily, and sometimes I think it is divided into chapters to keep preachers from preaching too long. But, the divisions there, the numbers and all of that, were not given by divine inspiration, though they are most helpful. In this particular instance, though, chapter 12 and chapter 13 are one continuous thought. Now, we have to look at it.
Beginning in chapter 12, you’re going to see that a Christian has a three-fold relationship. First of all, we have a relationship with God—that’s verses 1 and 2, where he talks about “presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.” That is, I am to say to the Lord: “Lord, I don’t belong to me; I belong to you. I present myself to you.” I don’t want to say anymore about that. Our time will go from us. But then, beginning with chapters 9 through chapter 12, verses 9 through 16, we find about our relationship to other brothers and sisters in Christ. And he says: “Let love be without dissimulation—that means without hypocrisy—abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;” and so forth, talking now about our relationship to our fellows in Christ.
And then, the third relationship that he talks about—first of all our relationship to God; secondly, our relationship to our brothers and sisters; and then, thirdly, he talks about our relationship to those who are not in Christ, those who are in the world. And that’s, beginning with verse 17 and going down through verse 21, Romans 12. Now, I am going to read that: “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger …—not talking about those in the church, he is talking about our enemies—Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Now, he is talking here about how we are to act toward those who are not saved. Now, keep that in mind, and we’re going to endeavor to answer this question from the Word of God: “Should a person, who has taken the life of another person, forfeit his own life? Does the government have the right, indeed the duty and the responsibility, to put murderers to death? Is capital punishment a heinous thing? Is it barbaric? Is it cruel? Or, is it ordained from a loving God?” Again, I want to tell you that the answer is not going to come from sociology. It is not doing to come from bleeding hearts. It’s not going to come from vengeful people. It must come from the Word of God. Three great principles I lay upon your heart.
- God Prohibits Revenge
First of all, number one, God prohibits revenge—God prohibits revenge. When you’re dealing with those who are not a part of the church, you have no right to take revenge. Look again—chapter 12, verse 19: “Beloved, avenge not yourself.” We are never to take revenge upon those who do us wrong. We rather are to give place to wrath. We are told not to seek revenge. Now, the Bible does not say we cannot protect ourselves. Now, I’m not going to talk about that right now, but the Bible does give the right of protection, but the Bible does not give the right for a child of God to seek vengeance or revenge. When you try to get even with another person, that is exactly what you do: you get even with him. He’s down here, and he does you wrong, and you say “he has done me wrong—I will get even.” You see what happens? That brings you down to his level; it doesn’t lift him to your level. Vengeance belongs to God; it doesn’t belong to you.
Now, later on, we are going to receive an offering in this building, and I hope that none of you will put your hand in the offering plate and take something rather than putting something in. Well, you say, “Pastor, I wouldn’t do that—that’s God’s money.” That’s exactly right. You wouldn’t steal from God. I hope you wouldn’t steal from anybody, but certainly you would not steal from God. When you take vengeance, you are taking that which belongs to God. You are laying your hands upon something that doesn’t not belong to you. Now, don’t worry about somebody getting off the hook. God says that He will repay. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.” Don’t ever think that any sin ever goes unpunished. Get that in your heart and mind: no sin goes unpunished. Even when you as a child of God go to heaven, you go to heaven because your sin was punished. Your sin wasn’t overlooked. Jesus took your punishment. He became your substitute. Your sin will be pardoned in Christ, punished in hell, but it will never be overlooked. God never, ever overlooks sin. “Vengeance is mine,” God says, “I will repay.” If we were to try to take vengeance, we would botch things up; we might do a bad job, or might not do a good enough job. God will take are of it; leave it with God, in spite of what your sense of justice says. So that’s the first thing: God prohibits revenge. Have you got it? Say, got it.
- God Promises Retribution
Okay, now, number two: God promises retribution. Look again now, in verse 19: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” Now, God promises retribution. God does not want us to live in a society where sin is not punished. There is an element in society that would like for there to be no retribution. The criminals want no retribution, no restraint. The rapists, the murders, the pornographers, the drug dealers, and Satan himself, want no restraint. If there were no restraint, no retribution, hell would have a holiday. Now, the reason I said that Romans chapter 12 and chapter 13 are linked together is in Romans chapter 12 God forbids us to take personal vengeance. God tells us not to take vengeance. As a matter of fact, we are to do good to our enemies. But God is talking there on a personal, not a governmental, level. So you read Romans chapter 12, verses 20 and 21: “if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Now, that’s the way we personally respond to those who are our enemies. Somebody says, “Well, that settles everything. Therefore the criminal is not to be punished.” No, that is not what is says. It just says you are not to do it. You are not to become a vigilante. You are not to take personal vengeance. Continue to read it all, and you will see the balance in the Word of God. In chapter 12, He tells us we are not to take vengeance. He says, “I will repay.” And then, in chapter 13, He tells us how He will do it.
III. God Provides Restraint
So, number one: God prohibits revenge. Number two: God promises retribution. Number three: God provides restraint. And that’s what I really want us to think about now—look in chapter 13, verse 1: “Let every soul—that is every one of us—be subject unto the higher powers”—the governmental authorities. “For there is no power—there is no authority—but of God: and the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power—that is the governmental authority—resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power—the authority? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he—that is the minister of God—For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid—underscore that—for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” We personally are not to take vengeance. But take chapter 12 and marry it to chapter 13, and you are going to understand the power of government, the purpose of government, and the prerogatives of government.
You and I are never to be a part of a personal vendetta. We are not to become vigilantes. We should never be part of a lynch mob. We are to leave that with God, and God has given the government the right and the responsibility to practice capital punishment.
When He talks about the sword now, He’s not talking about a jail. He’s not talking about a whip. He’s not talking about some civil tribunal that will assess a fine; He is talking about an instrument of death. And He says here that the governmental authority is not wearing that sword for decoration: “He bears not the sword in vain.”
Let me give you four reasons why the Bible teaches capital punishment, or why society should believe in capital punishment.
- We Should Believe in Capital Punishment to Obey God
Number one: to obey God—to obey God. God has commanded it. God commanded it. In the dawn of civilization, God instituted the death penalty. In Genesis chapter 9 and verse 6, black print on white paper, the Bible says this, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” There is something so terrible, so horrible, so heinous, so hurtful, in taking another’s life, that God says if a man willingly, premeditatively takes another’s life, he is to forfeit his own life. Somebody says, “Pastor Rogers, doesn’t the Bible also say in the Ten Commandments ‘Thou shalt not kill?’ ” Yes, it does, but the word there for “kill” is the word that means “murder.” You do not murder somebody else. It has nothing to do with capital punishment; it deals with murder. And, when the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill,” in Exodus chapter 20, it does not prohibit capital punishment. If you have your Bibles, just turn over to the next chapter, Exodus 20.
In Exodus chapter 20, when God says, “Thou shalt not kill,” He is not prohibiting capital punishment. That’s Exodus chapter 20. Then, look in Exodus chapter 21 and verse 12. The Bible says, in the very next chapter, “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall surely be put to death.” Now, do you think Moses was insane when he wrote the book of Exodus, that in one chapter he said, no capital punishment, and the next chapter he says, the man that kills another man shall surely be put to death? Be reasonable. God wants you to see that you and I should not murder someone—“thou shall not kill”? If we do murder someone, in the next chapter, he says, “the murderer shall be put to death.” I cannot recall the number of times that I have seen people demonstrating against the death penalty, holding up a placard that says, “Thou shalt not kill.” What that says clearly and plainly is, “don’t do any murder.” And the next chapter says, “If you do, you are going to be put to death.”
Now, you say, “Pastor Rogers, that was in the Old Testament.” Indeed, it was, but both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach the death penalty, as we shall see later on. The first reason—the first reason—therefore, is obedience to the Word of God. The Bible is clear: no stutter, no stammer, no apology in this matter.
- We Should Believe in Capital Punishment to Protect Society
The second reason is to protect society. Now, I asked the question in the title of this message, would a God of love favor the death penalty? Yes. Why? Because He is a God of love. You see, God is against hate. God is against violence. God is against murder. God is against the taking of innocent life, and a loving God has ordained to do something about it. Some people have the idea that God is too good to punish murder. You’re wrong. God is too good not to punish murder. God is a loving God.
Now, there is a kind of love that is not love at all; it is a synthetic love. In Romans chapter 12 and verse 9, the Bible says, “Let love be without dissimulation.” Well, that’s a big word we don’t use often. What does is mean? Don’t let love be hypocritical. Don’t let love be feigned. Don’t let love be synthetic; let it be real love. A God of love doesn’t want your wife raped. He doesn’t want your child murdered. He doesn’t want you to be abused and robbed and killed in cold blood, because he is a God of love. Now, listen to me. Softness to the criminal is cruelty to the community. If you love people, you will hate sin.
Punishment, according to the Bible, should be swift, and it should be sure, in order to preserve the very fabric of society. Now, society is grievously sick. If you go to the doctor, and he tells you, you have cancer, and you need surgery—or at least he knows that you have cancer and you need surgery—and he prescribes an alcohol rub, that, to me, is not kindness. And any person who refuses to have surgery for a malignancy that will kill him in the course of non-surgery is suicidal. And, when a society refuses to deal with the criminal element, that society is suicidal. Now, people ask this question—and you will hear it argued all the time: “Is the death penalty a deterrent?” You’ve heard that. They say: “Well, it’s not a deterrent.” Well, the math is simple to Once a man that kills is put to death, he won’t kill anymore. He won’t kill anymore.
Henry the VIII, King of England, once pardoned a man who had committed murder. The man who was pardoned got out, and committed a murder again. They came back to Henry the VIII the second time and asked him to pardon the man again. Henry the VIII said, “I will not do it. He killed the first man; I killed the second man. But I will kill no more. He will be put to death.”
Sometime ago, and I kept in my files an article from the National Enquirer in which it interviewed a 21-year-old man named Carl Junior Isaac who was convicted of six murders. He claimed to have murdered fifteen people, boasted about it, but he was convicted for murdering six people. He said his goal was to murder 1,000 people. In the interview, they asked him what he thought of capital punishment. I want you to hear what this murderer said—and I quote: “The death penalty should be in place to prevent people, like me, from killing again. The death penalty always used to deter me, because I knew I would die for murder. I would walk into a place to stick it up, and would think twice about blowing that man away. But when you know you won’t fry, and the worst you can get is life, and maybe parole later, why not get rid of the evidence? As long as killers know all they will get is life, they will keep right on killing—and that includes me.” And then, Isaac laughed about the time a judge let him off. The judge said, “Give me your word that you will go straight, and I will set you free.” “Imagine that,” Isaac sneered. And I said, “I promise, Your Honor.” Isaac said the judge was a dumb old blankety-blank. “I promise, Your Honor, if you will let me go, I won’t do it anymore.”
Recently, in our Commercial Appeal, just last month, I read this article—you read it also, many of you. It was last month, in October 1999. The heading was “Restroom Slayer Asks Death Penalty.” This is from Vista, California:
A drifter, who murdered a third grade boy in a beach restroom, told jurors that he would kill again if given the chance, and recommended they sentence him to death. Here’s what he said—and I quote: “My whole purpose in life is to help destroy your society.” Brandon H. Wilson told the juror—this was in the paper just last month. The twenty-year-old man spoke against the advice of his lawyer, as jurors decide between life in prison and an execution. Matthew Cecchi was killed on November the 14th at a family reunion at Oceanside Harbor. Wilson admitted that he crept up behind the nine-year-old boy in the restroom, slashed his throat, and stabbed him five times in the back. In a calm deliberate voice, Wilson told jurors that he felt no remorse. “I would do it again in a second, if I had the chance,” he said, as the boy’s mother, Sharon Cecchi, gasped from her front row courtroom seat, and said: “Execute me!” “Execute me!” that man said, “If I had the chance, I would do it again in a second.”
Now, we believe that capital punishment is a deterrent. Now, let me read something here that came out of the newspaper last month also. Of course I’ve been clipping the newspaper, because this has all been going on. This happened right over here in Arkansas. The Commercial Appeal, October the 5th, 1999: “Escaped Killer May Have Killed Again Before Capture.” Varner, Arkansas:
A murderer, who taunted his victim’s family after being spared the death penalty, broke out of an Arkansas prison, and may have killed again before he was captured Monday in Missouri, police said …—skipping part of the article—… Williams was convicted September 14th of killing a college cheerleader. He chuckled when his life prison sentence was announced the next day. Turning to the woman’s family, and saying, “You thought I was going to die, didn’t you?’ The cheerleader’s father remembered Williams’ behavior on Monday. ‘He was cold. He had no remorse. He had no feelings for anything,’ Rick Heard said. ‘He turned around and cursed at us several times. Then one time, he just totally turned around and smiled, as if to say, ‘I’m going to get away.’ ” And that’s exactly what he did: he got away.
By the time the escape was noticed, Cecil Barron, age 57, had been found dead on his farm about 4 miles northwest from the prison, shot in the head and back. His truck was stolen, and several guns were missing from his home …
It’s a long article; those are just a few parts of it.
I tell you one thing folks—again the math is simple: the people who do that killing will do no more killing, if they are put to death. If they’re not, what have they got to lose, except a life sentence, and an opportunity to escape?
- We Should Believe in Capital Punishment for the Good of the Criminal
So, number one: For obedience to the Word of God. Number two: As a deterrent to crime. Number three: For the good of the criminal. Now, notice, look in Romans 13 and verse 3—he says here, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” Did you know that the best thing that could happen to murderers is to be afraid to commit murder? “Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?—that is, authority. Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
Now, the idea is plain that there is to be terror in the heart of evildoers. The problem today is that the terror is not in the heart of evildoers. The problem today is that terror is in the heart of citizens. Little ladies who go to the grocery store in the evening are afraid to go to the grocery store at night, afraid they may be mugged, raped, robbed, or killed. It’s the wife who has to stay home at night alone while her husband is on a business trip. It’s boys and girls who are walking alone to school, who are in terror. Now, the death penalty should be practiced for the welfare of the criminal, to keep him from committing more times. When the principle of restraint has been taken away, you have not been kind to the criminal; you have been cruel to the criminal. You have tantalized and enticed him into more crime. He does not realize that judgment is coming upon him, and it is swift and sure. And you say, what about the man who has been sentenced to death? Is it kind to him? In a sense, it is. Number one: he can say, at least I am paying for my crime. Number two: he knows the time of his death. He knows that thus-and-such a time, I am going to die. I submit to you, if there ever were a time when a man was going to get right with God, that would be the time. Many people don’t know when they are going to die. At least there is a strange benefit to the death sentence that a man knows that he is gong to meet his Maker, a God of justice, and he is going to do it very soon. And time and time and time again, have we seen those on death row repent of their sin and give their heart to Jesus Christ.
Now, the government is there to cause terror in the hearts of evildoers. Now, some say statistics don’t show that the death penalty is a deterrent. I beg to differ. As a matter of fact, there were ten years when the death penalty was put in limbo, more or less, outlawed. And during that ten-year period, the number of murders in the United States almost doubled. There were 10,000 murders in 1967, that increased to 19,000 by 1978. During the time that executions were in decline, murders were rising exponentially. In 1955, there were 76 executions and 7,000 murders. In 1972, there were no executions and 18,000 murders; in 1978, no executions, 19,555 murders.
As a matter of fact, a professor, Gordon Tullock of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, concluded this; he did research. He said, “Eighty percent of people who seriously think about crime think about punishment as a deterrent, except for the sociologists, and they wrote all the books.” (And then, Professor Isaac Ehrlich of the University of Chicago, who, incidentally, is himself not a proponent of capital punishment, nevertheless stated this: that his studies indicate that if the death penalty were really enforced, eight murders would be prevented for every one execution. Execute one murderer, you save eight innocent people. Others looked at Dr. Ehrlich’s research, and decided that he was wrong by a factor of five, and they said that for each execution at least fifty murders would be deterred.
- We Should Believe in Capital Punishment Because of the Justice of God
Reason number four that I believe in the death penalty is the justice of God. Now, we have talked about the love of God, and God loves society—but the justice of God. God is a holy God. And “He is a minister of God to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil,” verse 4. Verse 5: “Therefore you must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. “God is a God of wrath. Now, some people have tried to get that out of the Bible, but you cannot get that out of the Bible. God is a God of love; He’s also a God of wrath. Now, when you take part of the truth that God is a God of love, and try to make that part of the truth all of the truth, that part of the truth becomes an untruth. God is also a God of wrath.
We have the idea today that people are not wicked, but they are weak. They are not sinful, but they are sick. They are not evil, but they are ill. And, therefore, what they need to have is they need to somehow to be trained not to be bad. They need to be rehabilitated. That’s what behavioral psychology is all about. And I grant you, some people are sick. And a person who has no concept of what he is doing should never be put to death. A person who is beyond his own control should never suffer capital punishment. But not all people are sick; some people are sinful and wicked. Some people are cold-blooded, premeditated murders. And for these people, the principle is not one of restoration. The principle is one of retribution. God is a God of retribution.
Do you believe that people without Christ die and go to hell? If we had more hell in the pulpit, we’d have less hell in the community. God is a God of retribution. Do you think that if God let somebody go to hell for a while, God says, Well, are you sorry now? I’m going to let you out. Have you learned your lesson? No. No. The purpose of hell is not restoration. The purpose of hell is shear punishment. You know, I believe if the Supreme Court, if they could vote on it, they would outlaw hell as cruel and unusual punishment. They would say, God, that’s un-American. You don’t have any right to do that. But you cannot take the doctrine of hell out of the Bible.
Not all judgment is meant to be remedial. Some are the pure law of sin and judgment. Now, indeed, there are times when mercy should be given. But mercy can never be given until justice is established. There needs to be a law. And against that law then sometimes mercy can be extended.
Let me give you one of the great proofs in the New Testament besides the passage that we are looking at right now. Paul the apostle, a brilliant man, was arrested by the governmental authorities. He was charged with the crime of insurrection. That is, it was a capital crime in that day, worthy of death. Paul was taken before Festus, who was the Roman authority. And, of course, Paul had been falsely accused, and here is what Paul said, in Acts chapter 25, verses 10 and 11: “Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged:—underscore that—“where I ought to be judged, for to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die …”—now, that’s very clear. Paul said, Look, I am standing here in the courtroom. If I am guilty of a capital crime, I refuse not to die—“… but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.” Wonderful balance. In Bible times, as in this time, a criminal should have the right to appeal the adjudication of the court, and no stone should be left unturned, so that an innocent person would not be accused, adjudicated, and executed in a capital case. Now, Paul said, I have not been properly accused. I appeal to Caesar.
In the Bible, the Bible made it very clear, in capital cases, that a person is to be tried extremely carefully—in the mouth of two or more witnesses shall a thing be established. In the Bible, if a man bore false testimony in a capital case, the man himself would be put to death. That might be a good idea today, don’t you think also? The man himself would be put to death. In the Bible, there were cities of refuge where a person who felt that he was being falsely accused could flee to a city of refuge, until the judges would come, and judge carefully.
Remember this, that Jesus never diminished the law of God. Jesus never diluted God’s law. Matthew chapter 5, verse 17—Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Jesus never watered down justice. Have you ever thought about the fact that God Himself practiced capital punishment? God put one whole society in the gas chamber—the flood. Two gases—hydrogen and oxygen: put them together and make water. He put a whole society in a gas chamber. God is a God of wrath, and a God of justice. Somebody says, But, Pastor, what about the possibility that an innocent person who never really committed a capital crime may be judged guilty, sentenced to death? Look up here, and let me tell you something: in this imperfect world in which we live, innocent people suffer. But I want to remind you, innocent people are often killed by criminals also. The greater damage is always in the other direction. We are already condemning many innocent to death, as murderers, with no fear, are left free on the streets, or free to escape from prison and commit that crime again.
Now, be reasonable: many innocent people are going to die. The Bible is a book that makes sense. If we are going to err on any side, it would be far better to err on the side that protects the many than to protect the few. And it would be very rare. Sometimes it does happen that an innocent person is put to death. But, again, I remind you, that many innocent people in this land will die tonight, because this society has been slack on enforcing the law of God. The Bible says that there is no fear of God before there eyes. The government is meant to have terror to the evildoer.
Paul Harvey said this, concerning the death penalty in Kentucky, and I want you to listen to it. Here’s Paul Harvey, who said what he says in his own inimitable way: “It is now the honest people who are locked up in their homes or places of business, while the pursuit of happiness has become the exclusive right of the criminal. Today’s society should be blaming the criminals, but instead it is blaming itself. Just because someone is underprivileged, they do not have a right to steal and to kill. And a big majority of the underprivileged don’t buy it either. Some legislators have visited prisons to see what we’re doing to criminals. Shouldn’t they also visit hospitals and convalescent homes and cemeteries to see what criminals have done to us? In no other nation are the rights of wrongdoers, however vicious, so jealously protected, while the rights of the victims are so callously trampled. Every wanted poster—every wanted poster—in the post office includes a long string of previous offenses; a career in which the odds are 1 in 100 that the criminal will get caught, and 1 in 500 that he will go unpunished. Does the death penalty serve as a deterrent? Evidence shows that it does. Not one of the 162 killers executed in Kentucky has killed anyone since.” So said Paul Harvey.
Now, what must we do? Well, first of all, we need to pray for a national revival. Government can’t make us good. All government can do is to restrain evil. When people say you can’t legislate morals, they’re 100 percent correct. There’s not a law on earth that can make you love me; so I have to have a law to keep you from killing me. We don’t legislate morals; we legislate against immorality. And it is wrong to kill; it is wrong to take another’s life. You and I don’t need to spirit of revenge. We don’t need to rejoice when anybody is put to death. When people harm us personally, we are to show them love. We are to return good for evil—that’s what the Bible teaches; that is what Jesus taught us to do. We cannot become vigilantes. We must look to God. If we have a government in this state, or in this nation, that is too weak to punish a crime, then we must work for a better government. Because ultimately, we get the kind of government we deserve.
Would a God of love allow capital punishment? Yes, He will. As a matter of fact, He has commanded it, because He is love. It is not that God is too good to punish the criminal; God is too good not to punish the criminal. And, listen to me: for the criminal’s sake, there needs to be a law to keep him from committing these kinds of crimes—to strike terror in his heart, to know that if he does this, there will be justice and judgment; it will be sure, and it will be swift.
One last word about capital punishment: did you know that Jesus suffered capital punishment? Did you know that Jesus, on the cross, suffered capital punishment, and he was innocent, but God allowed it? Do you know why God allowed it? Jesus was taking my place, and Jesus was taking your place. Do you know who really—the bottom line—put Jesus to death? Almighty God. The Bible says, in Romans chapter 8, that God spared not His own Son. The Bible says, in Isaiah chapter 53, that it pleased the Lord to bruise him; Jehovah has put him to death. Why? Because you and I deserve the death penalty. You say, Well, what? We’ve never killed anyone. No, we’ve been guilty of a sin greater than that. And that’s the sin of treason against Heaven’s King. We are sinners by birth, sinners by nature, sinners by choice, and sinners by practice. But, thank God, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, took our place, died on the cross, suffered capital punishment, that we might have eternal life.
That’s what it’s all about. I don’t rejoice when anybody’s put to death. I am pro-life, not pro-death. That’s the reason I believe in capital punishment. My heart breaks to think that anybody would have to be put to death. I took a course in criminology when I was in college. I visited Rayford Prison. I went in to that chamber where they put people to death. I sat down in the electric chair. I put my hands up to the electrodes. I put my feet down by the electrodes. And I tried to imagine what it would be like for a man to sit in that chair. And a chill went over me when I thought about it. It is a terrible and a horrible thing, but I cannot get around the fact that a God of love, who loves us so much, believes that we must—we must—deal this way with a criminal element.
Let’s bow our heads in prayers. Heads are bowed; eyes are closed. Friend, do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? I am not asking, are you religious? Not asking, are you a Baptist? I’m not asking, are you a good person? In the first place, you’re not. For the Bible says, “There is none that doeth good, no not one.” I’m asking, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Has he come in to your heart? Do you have a vital relationship with Him? Are you twice-born? You can be tonight. May I lead you in a prayer? But, first of all, may I tell you that God loves you tonight, and He wants to save you. And He will save you, no matter what you’ve done, or who you are. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses from all sin. I promise you, on the authority of His Word, that He will cleanse you, and make you His child, if you’ll pray and receive Him as your personal Savior. He died for you. He paid your sin debt with His blood, and now you must receive what He did, by faith.
Pray this prayer: Dear God—that’s right; just speak to Him—I am a sinner. I’m lost. I need to be saved. And I want to be saved. My sin deserves judgment, but I beg for mercy. Jesus, you told me that you would save me, if I trust you. I do trust you now, like a child, with all of my heart. Come into my heart. Forgive my sin. Save me, Jesus. Would you pray that? Save me, Jesus. Pray it from your heart. Pray it and mean it. Save me, Jesus. Did you ask Him? Then thank Him. Just by sheer faith, just take the gift now, and thank Him. Say, “Thank you, Jesus, for saving me. I receive it by faith. I stand on Your Word. I don’t look for a sign; I don’t ask for a feeling. I stand on Your Word. I claim You now as my Lord and Savior. And now, Lord Jesus, because You have saved me, I will live for You. I turn from all I know to be wrong, and I choose to follow You. I’m weak, so You will have to help me, Lord. But I will live for You, not in order to be saved—that’s a sheer gift—but because You’ve saved me. Begin now to make me the person You want me to be, and help me never to be ashamed of You. Give me the courage to make it public. In Your name I pray. Amen.”