If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, "Behold, we did not know this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not requite man according to his work?
I want to begin with a word to women who have had abortions and to the fathers who may have agreed to it, and to the grandmothers and grandfathers who may have demanded it. This will be a painful message but it is not a hopeless one.
Alongside the death of 20 million unborn humans stands the tragedy of over 10 million women enduring abortions and dealing with that loss. In the first ten months of its existence the organization called Women Exploited By Abortion grew from two women to 10,000 members who had had abortions but were now strongly pro-life (cited in Paul Fowler, Abortion, Multnomah, 1987, p. 172).
In 1981 the regional director of Suicides Anonymous testified to the Cincinnati City Council like this: "This Cincinnati group has seen 5,620 members in 35 months. Over 4,000 were women of whom 1,800 or more had had abortions. The highest suicide rate is in the 15 to 24 age group. There is a direct linkage between suicide attempts and [abortion]" (quoted in Fowler, Abortion, p. 195).
The reason for this is the depth and variety of the ongoing emotional effects of abortion. These may include discomfort with children, feeling victimized, feelings of self-hate, guilt, anger, depression, grief, regret, loss, preoccupation with aborted child, frequent crying, etc.
But here's the key word of hope. I spoke with one young woman in our church recently who had had an abortion and this is what she wanted me to stress. No one is cut off from Christ because of past sin—any past sin. What cuts a person off from Christ and the fellowship of his people is the endorsement of past sin. For the repentant there is forgiveness and cleansing and hope.
Beverly Smith McMillan opened the first abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. After a life-changing conversion to Christ she resigned. She confessed, "The good news that makes the Gospel so relevant today is that God forgives. I know from personal experience that the blood of Jesus can cover the sin of abortion" (quoted in Fowler, Abortion, p. 198). There are an increasing number of post-abortion support groups that help women discover and enjoy this forgiveness and healing.
One of the ironies in this whole affair is that women who have been through abortion can be one of the most powerful forces for life in our culture. And yet almost everything in the pro-life movement brings back such painful memories that it is hard to be involved. So I would just say, there is forgiveness, there is cleansing, there is healing, there is hope, and when you are ready, there is a great work to be done, and we await your help.
We begin now with a look at Proverbs 24:11:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
Nothing is said in the verse about the situation in mind. Is it captives taken in war about to be destroyed. Is it victims of vigilante justice? Is it an innocent person wrongly accused in court? Is it murder in the streets? Is it child-sacrifice to pagan gods? The text does not say what the situation is.
We Are Commanded to Intervene
This is typical of biblical proverbs. They are often very general guidelines for how the fear of God works itself out in day-to-day life. God expects us to have enough spiritual wisdom and enough experience from life and enough awareness of his Word to apply these proverbs appropriately.
Verse 11 is a general statement. And the reason it's general is so that we will not limit it to one group of humans and try to leave out another group. We must not limit it to Jews or white people or healthy people or rich people or intelligent people. It is general, not specific.
What, then, does it teach us to do? The duty of verse 11 could be stated like this: "If a group of humans is being taken away to death who ought not be taken away to death, the people who fear God ought to try to rescue them." Or, to use the words of the second half of the verse, "If there is a group of humans who are stumbling [literally: slipping] to the slaughter who ought not to be slipping to the slaughter, the people who fear God ought to try to hold them back from the slaughter." What is being commanded here is some kind of intervention from us when we become aware of humans being killed who ought not to be killed.
Sometimes the Slaughter May Be Cloaked
Then verse 12 anticipates an objection that some people will raise who didn't do anything to try to rescue those who were being taken away to death. It says, "If you say, 'Behold, we did not know this,' does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not requite man according to his work?"
This means that the writer here has in mind the possibility that the slaughter may be cloaked; it may be hidden or concealed or secret enough that people would claim with some plausibility that they didn't know it was going on.
There Will Be No Evasion with God
But the text says the plausibility will not hold with God. In other words the excuse of ignorance is not likely to stand up in God's courtroom. It may stand up in man's courtroom because man cannot weigh the heart. But God knows our motives and our awareness exactly. He sees through all our rationalizations and knows perfectly when we have neglected a duty out of ignorance or out of laziness or fear or apathy or preoccupation with lesser things. There will be no evasion with God.
Notice that the verse does not say, "You claim not to know about the slaughter, but God knows that you do know." It says something more radical. What it says is, "You claim not to know about the slaughter, but God knows how your heart works." In other words God not only knows what we really know inside. He also knows when our ignorance is guilty ignorance.
When we are called to account for our actions, he not only will say, "Why didn't you act this way if you knew this much?" He will also say, "Why did you allow yourself, in view of how much was at stake, to remain in such insensitive ignorance?" And he will know the answer before we give it, because he weighs the hearts of every one of us. "Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?"
So our text this morning makes three things clear.
First, it makes clear that when a group of humans are being killed who ought not to be killed, it is our biblical duty to intervene and to try to rescue them and to hold them back from the slaughter.
Second, the text makes clear that sometimes slaughter can be done with enough camouflage that people may try to make a plausible case that they did not really know what was happening.
Third, it makes clear that the excuse of ignorance is not likely to hold with God who not only knows what we really know in our hearts but also what we have willfully neglected to know.
Now I believe very strongly that this is God's word to us today concerning the slaughter of abortion. I believe this text is a clear call to action along with many others of a similar kind (Psalm 82:3–4; Isaiah 58:6–7; James 1:27; 2:14–17; 1 John 3:16–17; etc.).
But before I say more about that action, I need to at least mention in summary form why I think the unborn who are being taken away to death are indeed a group of humans who ought not to be killed in the abortion clinics of our city. And if the unborn are human beings, they qualify for protection under this text.
Are the Unborn Human Beings?
Here are some of my reasons for counting the aborted unborn as human beings in their own right.
They have been conceived by two human beings, not by two animals or a human and an animal. Therefore they are utterly unique in the animal kingdom. Genetically they are human, not whales or horses or apes.
2. God's Creative Work in the Womb
The Bible teaches that in the womb God is knitting together a person. Psalm 139:13 says, "Thou didst knit ME together in my mother's womb."
3. Personal Description in Scripture
In the Bible the unborn are referred to in personal terms. For example, in Genesis 25:22 Rebekah's pregnancy is described like this: "The children [the ordinary word for children or sons outside the womb] struggled together within her." Luke 1:41 says that "when Elizabeth [who was six months pregnant] heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb." The word for "babe" (brephos) is the same word used in 2:12 and 2:16 for the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (and in 18:15 for the infants being brought to Jesus). The unborn are not regarded impersonally in the Bible.
4. How They Look
The unborn look like you and me when they are being aborted. The science of fetology with its photography and ultrasound has opened a window on the womb that is breathtaking. We can now look at these little beings and let their face and eyes and nose and ears and hands and arms and feet and legs testify that they are one of us. There is no question anymore of aborting a mass of tissue or something like an egg yolk.
(Sheila Kitzinger's book, Being Born, gives clear pictures of what the baby looks like at the key stages of pregnancy. Most abortions happen after the seventh week of pregnancy. Midwest Health Center for Women four blocks from our church doesn't even quote prices on abortions before seven weeks. The 1987 fee schedule was 7–12 weeks: $195; 12.1–13.6 weeks: $260; 14+ weeks: $360. Much later than this they refer mothers to another facility for the abortion. In the Twin Cities St. Paul Ramsey does late abortions. I know of one several weeks ago of a 21 week old baby.)
Pictures matter. If someone asked you to look at a group of animals and identify which was a human, you would not have any trouble. You would do it on the basis of what it looks like. There is a human likeness. And the unborn have it as early as most abortions take place.
It is not only the still life photographs that make the humanity plain but also the moving pictures of their activity and their recoiling at pain.
5. They Will Grow Up If Left Alone
These little beings will grow up if left alone. If we do not intrude with violence on their life, they will come to maturity. They are not becoming human; they are growing "into the fullness of humanity that they already possess" (John Stott, Christianity Today, 5 Sept. 1980, p. 50f.).
6. Nothing to Disqualify from Being Human
Being tiny does not make them less human. We know this because we don't regard born infants as less human than adults even though they are humorously out of proportion with their big heads and short arms. We've just gotten used to looking at them at that funny stage—and we will get used to looking at the unborn at their stages too when we open our eyes!
Nor does not breathing make the unborn less human. I would not regard Noël as less human if she had to be sustained on a respirator for a few months.
Nor does the lack of rational abilities and language make the unborn less human. We don't hold that against a born infant and there is no reason we should hold it against an unborn infant.
Nor does the location of the unborn inside a woman's womb make it less human. Location is an irrelevant consideration in defining humanity. Nor does the dependence on another for its blood transactions make it less human—not any more than a person who lives by repeated dialysis.
In other words the things that are unusual about the life of the unborn do not disqualify him or her from the human family.
7. Ability to Live Outside the Womb at Earlier Ages
Finally, the unborn are humans because more and more of them at earlier and earlier ages can live outside the womb if cared for adequately. I have a picture here of Kenya King, born in Orlando Florida (four and a half months along). She weighed 18 oz. She is shown here healthy in her mother's arms at five pounds. Alongside this picture is a dead baby the same size as Kenya when she was born. The dead baby was killed by abortion.
Now what is the difference between these babies? One was wanted and the other was not. And, brothers and sisters, that criterion for humanity will not be accepted in heaven! And it ought not to be accepted on the earth. The Bible is full of statements commanding love and protection for the unwanted.
I conclude, then, that the unborn are a group of humans who are not disqualified from the command of Proverbs 24:11 and that when the Bible says, "Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter," we have no right to put the unborn in a subhuman class that does not qualify for our rescue. We ought to rescue as many as we can.
Rescuing and Trespassing
Finally, I want to try to make the point that for some of us the kind of rescue efforts that involve trespassing are right and required. This is not the only way to obey Proverbs 24:11. But I want to show that it is one right way and that conscience may well require it of some of us.
The Law of Necessity
When those of us from Bethlehem who participated in the last rescue at Planned Parenthood were arraigned in court on January 6, each of us was given an opportunity to address the court. Here's what I said to Judge James Campbell.
Suppose that I lived next door to a very mean-spirited man who was so hostile that he put up "Do not trespass" signs all over the fence around his house mainly to keep me out. One day I hear children screaming from his back yard. I run to the fence and notice a little child choking on something. Instinctively I jump the fence, knowing it says no trespassing, and try to save the child. I'm too late. After a few days this mean-spirited man seeks a warrant for my arrest. I go into court and the judge, for reasons beyond his control, finds me guilty of trespassing and fines $50. Would I be disrespectful of the law, I asked Judge James Campbell, if I refused to pay?
He answered by saying, "In that case you should appeal the decision, because of a special legal reality called the law of necessity. But there are distinguishing facts between that case and this one."
So I asked if he would be willing to tell me what facts. He paused (as if to groan in his own spirit) and said, "The Supreme Court has ruled in Roe vs. Wade that abortion is not a crime."
The Law Prohibiting Trespassing
Now this is very crucial. Listen carefully. Last August during the rescues in Atlanta where hundreds of pro-life people were being arrested, Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church, and his deacons published a statement (attached to this message) denouncing the rescue tactics of Operation Rescue. They argued that the rescuers were not getting arrested for protesting abortion. They were getting arrested for trespassing. That, they said, does not qualify as a biblical instance of legitimate civil disobedience. The trespass law is a good law. But the Bible only condones breaking a law that 1) "requires an act which is contrary to God's Word," or 2) "prohibits an act which is consistent with God's Word." The trespass law, they say, does neither. So it is not right to break it.
Now that I have stood before the judge in Ramsey County Court, I know better why that is not true. He said very plainly that I should appeal the sentence if I were found guilty of trespassing to save the life of a child. I would NOT be guilty because of "the law of necessity." You are NOT GUILTY of crime or wrongdoing when you trespass to save life. That is what the judge said. That is what your conscience says. (See the law attached at the end of this message.)
The Legal Foundation of the Arrests
Then why are all these people being arrested and found guilty? NOT really because of the trespass law. (I think this is the mistake in the statement by First Baptist Church of Atlanta.) Every judge in this country would ignore the trespass law when saving life is at stake. This is not the law that is sending hundred to jail and giving fines to thousands. The legal foundation of the arrests and sentences of guilt is not the trespass law. It is Roe vs. Wade.
If Roe vs. Wade had not stripped the unborn of their humanity, it would be no crime to trespass to save them. Therefore when we trespass to try to save them, we are not offending against the trespass law at all. We are offending against Roe vs. Wade.
And that is biblical, even on the criteria of First Baptist Atlanta, because, in effect, Roe vs. Wade "prohibits an act which is consistent with God's Word," namely, the (legal!) protection of children. Legal, mind you, because, as the judge said, the "law of necessity" overrules the law of trespass when saving life is at stake.
A law which prohibits the legal effort to "rescue those who are being taken to death and to hold back those who are slipping to the slaughter" is the kind of law that Esther broke to save the Jews (Esther 4:16), and Obadiah broke to save the prophets (1 Kings 18:4–16), and Rahab broke to save the spies (Joshua 2:3–4), and Corrie Ten Boom broke to save the Jewish refugees, and many Germans should have broken near the concentration camps, and which many of us will break next Friday—to bear witness to the truth that even in a free land there is a limit beyond which government may not violate the law of God. Amen.
On the Friday following the Sunday on which this message was delivered at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Pastor Piper and four other staff and numerous members of Bethlehem were among the 130+ people arrested trying to save babies at Planned Parenthood of Minnesota on Ford Parkway, St. Paul. They were charged with trespassing and will be arraigned on February 3.
When asked to leave by the police the following response was given by the leader of the rescue. He read President Reagan's "Personhood Proclamation" (attached) and said that the people about to be killed in this building today are full citizens of the United States and we cannot move willingly and let them be destroyed.
The legal explanation for the legality of our act is given on an attached sheet.