« PreviousContinue »
anger had boiled up to the height of fury itself, they would salute each other before evening, and "not suffer the sun to go down on their wrath :" thus resolving, that if passion had disturbed the quiet of the day, it should not prevent the repose of the night.
But this is negative, and shows us the evil sentiments we must avoid. The text gives us three distinct modes in which we are to "love our enemies." The first of these is blessing them. "Bless them that curse you." Oppose your benediction to their anathema; your benignity to their execration. The term is comprehensive, and signifies all kinds of good words, whether uttered of them, or spoken to them. Thus, the apostle Peter enjoins, "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing."* It is not only, therefore, commendable, but it is our religious duty to say all the good we can of an adversary in his absence, and check the tongue of slander if it begins to move. The second mode is doing good to them that hate us. We are to love not in word only, "but in deed, and in truth."+ Actions are the most intelligible expressions which man can employ to show the dispositions of his mind. In vain are the strongest declarations of benevolent feelings and intentions, unless they are confirmed by practical endeavours. This was the pious conduct of David, whose behaviour at once illustrates this part of the precept before us, and sets us an example worthy the most cordial and constant imitation. "False witnesses did rise up, they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good, to the spoiling of my soul." Such persons must have been enemies indeed; but how did he act towards them in return? "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting;
and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily as one that mourneth for his mother."* This was excellent-it was a delightful anticipation of the apostolic counsel: "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 ;"+ to subdue his obstinate temper, and mollify the bitterness of his spirit. thirdly, inasmuch as all we can do is very little, we must make intercession in their behalf: "Pray for them that despitefully use and persecute you." This, as one has observed, will be the surest evidence of our charity towards them. Words of meekness may be designed as a snare to entrap; and courtesy might be shown them to lull their suspicions, or gratify our pride, for it is more noble to forgive a foe than to crush him ;-but only true benevolence, and generous desires, will constrain us to present unfeigned supplication to heaven in their behalf. Such was the dying request of the first disciple whom the Captain of Salvation" honoured with the crown of Christian martyrdom: "And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this he fell asleep."+ Blessed man! May thy mantle fall on us, and may our slumbers at last be as sweet as thine! But a greater than Stephen is here. Hark! It is the voice of the Son of God, speaking in accents of the tenderest mercy, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."§ Thus, this "Apostle and High Priest of our profession," exemplified the exalted spirit of meekness and love which He requires of his disciples. This is the perfection of true charity. It is a high virtue to bless the man that "casts out our name as evil;" it is a higher virtue still, to labour
* Psalm xxxv. 11–14. ↑ Rom. xii, 23. ‡ Acts vii. 60. § Luke xxiii. 34.
for the good of those who hate us; but to take an enemy into our closet, there to make our fervent supplication to the throne of our common Parent for his prosperity and salvation—this is the highest of all. The happy Christian who has reached this moral altitude, this pinnacle of holy emulation, possesses the elementary principles of divine benevolence, in a larger proportion than is commonly enjoyed in this lower world. He is most like God, who "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good; and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." And this brings us to the last head of the discourse.
III. THE POWERFUL EXAMPLE, AND AFFECTING MOTIVE, BY WHICH OUR LORD ENFORCES OBEDIENCE
He might have urged the necessity of this dispositionfor without "charity I am nothing," whatever I may pretend to be. The duty which has now been explained is not one that we might discharge or omit, just as it happens to accord with our humour; neither is it to be regarded as a counsel of high perfection, which we may safely decline adopting; it is a precept equally binding on all men, with every other rule of the moral law; and he who shall deliberately resolve not to obey it, had better relinquish the Christian name with all possible diligence. In this case be our opinions as orthodox as revelation itself, and our zeal in their defence as unfainting as a martyr'sbe our prayers full of fervour, and our professions full of Christ-be our attainments in knowledge unrivalled, and our confidence of salvation unshrinking; yet we are "as sounding brass or a tinkling symbol,”—“ it profiteth us nothing."* In a word, the Saviour himself tells us, that "if we forgive not their trespasses, neither
1 Cor. xiii. 1-3.
will our Father forgive our trespasses."
If it be reason
able to seek pardon of God, it is but just that we should
exercise it to man.
But the Saviour takes other ground than this in the exhortation before us, and exhibits the conduct of the Most High as our model, thus drawing us "with the cords of a man, with bands of love." "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." In another Evangelist, the same argument is used to enforce the duty, with a slight variation in the words: "Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful, and to the evil." Now, there are two distinct branches in this argument, which must receive separate attention.
First. Observe the pattern set before us. It is the gracious and benignant conduct of the Universal Benefactor of man. The Saviour, in the text, establishes the doctrine of a divine providence, as extensive as creation, and as munificent as the necessities of the creature require. We are apt to look to second causes, and forget that "every good and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights," who is the Author of all our mercies and comforts. That there are intervening causes between the Supreme Governor of the earth, and the effects which we see in the natural world, is readily granted; nor can we determine where He stops to work immediately, and where He begins to work by instruments; but whether immediately, or otherwise all is from Him. "He openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing." "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness,
* Matt. vi 15.
† Luke vi. 35.
Psalm cxlv. 16.
and for his wonderful works to the children of men.' Remarkable displays of his superintending care and unceasing watchfulness over our interests and happiness, we sometimes acknowledge; but daily mercies, and the salutary succession of the seasons; "the rising of the sun, and the falling of the rain," how rarely are they the matter of devout thanksgiving at his throne! Yet on friends and foes his benevolence distils. In the greatness of his love, He causeth the same light to gild the habitation of the sinner and the saint; the same fruitful shower to soften and fertilize the field of the persecutor, and the promoter of his kingdom; and the same supplies to the one as the other. Every man hath the same sun, and moon, and stars, to guide his steps: and the same balmy breeze to refresh and invigorate his frame. And, what is more material, the "unjust" have the call of conscience, "the word of salvation," and the outward means of grace, as well as the "just." These are blessings which his hand bestows, without respect of persons. Ah! if the disciples of Christ were the only persons over whom the sun ever arose, and upon whom he shed his exclusive beams, what distinctions we should now behold! How dismal would be
the situation of the larger portion of the inhabitants of the globe. Well! but such palpable distinctions shall be made; "these shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal."+
Secondly. The consequence which will follow the imitation of divine benevolence,-"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." The character of God, in the dispensation of his mercy and beneficence, is at once the most frequent and endearing light in which He is exhibited to us in his word. "He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, for God is love."
Psalm cvii. 8.
+ Matt. xxv. 46.
1 John iv. 16.