But I say to you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,…
I. Then, I am to STATE THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF THIS PRECEPT. There are two kinds of love which we must distinguish here; the love of approbation or esteem, and the love of benevolence or good-will. The love of approbation and the love of benevolence are, then, very distinct in their own nature. Our Saviour, at the same time that He expressed His disapprobation and dislike of Jerusalem for stoning the prophets, yet exemplified a very benevolent and compassionate regard for it, for He wept over it. Even resentment does not exclude benevolence, and we are very often angry at a person for committing a fault, even because we love him. And as our Saviour loved and compassionated the Jews, though He abhorred their ungenerous treatment of Himself and the prophets; so we ought, with the same god-like generosity of soul, to love the man at the same time that we detest his vices; just as we may have an affectionate regard for a person that lies ill, but have an aversion to the disease he labours under. As to the extent and degrees of this duty, the Scripture nowhere enjoins an undistinguishing beneficence to men whether friendly or injurious. We ought to do the most good we can. Now, by singling out men of fortune, whatever relations may endear them to us, as the objects of our favour, we contribute little or nothing to their real enjoyments; but by being, what God is in a higher degree, the helper of the friendless and forlorn, we make the heart of one that was ready to perish sing for joy. In the former ease our bounty is like a shower to the ocean; in the latter it is like a shower to dry and thirsty ground. This is a very important rule, viz., that the extreme necessity of even our enemies, much more of other persons, is to take place of the mere conveniency of friends and relations, and that we ought rather to relieve the distressed than to promote the happiness of the easy; however the practice of it be disregarded by the world. But to proceed; the Scripture does not require any acts of kindness to our enemy which are confessedly prejudicial to our own interests: for we are not to love our neighbour better than ourselves. Our mercy to our enemies must not be so far extended as to expose us to the mercy of our enemies.
II. Having thus stated the nature and extent of this duty, I proceed, secondly, TO SHOW THE REASONABLENESS OF IT.
1. The great law of nature is an universal, active benevolence to the whole body of rational beings, as far as the sphere of our power extends. We were all sent into the world to promote one another's happiness, as being all children of the same Father, our Father which is in heaven. What Moses said to the contending Israelites is applicable to all mankind: "Why do ye wrong one another, since ye are brethren? " And no injuries can take away or cancel that unchangeable relation. For, do we do good to our nearest and dearest relations only because they are deserving? Do we not think ourselves obliged to serve them merely because they are relations? This relation is always a strong reason for doing good, when there is no stronger reason to supersede or set it aside. And this may serve to show, that however for. ward persons of the first distinction in civil and military offices may be to engross to themselves the character of heroism or any uncommon degree of virtue; a man in a private capacity may be as truly a hero in virtue, as they can be in a larger and more public sphere of action. He is like one of the fixed stars, which though, through the disadvantage of its situation, it may be thought to be very little, inconsiderable, and obscure by unskilful beholders; yet is as truly great and glorious in itself as those heavenly lights, which, by being placed more commodiously for our view, shine with more distinguished lustre. For he shows, by his complacency, that he would have done the same if his abilities had been equal to his inclinations.
2. An argument may be drawn from the consideration of our own happiness. Now to cultivate the sweet and kindly passions, to cherish an affectionate and social temper, to beget in ourselves, by repeated acts of goodness, a settled complacency, good will and benevolence to all mankind in general, is a constant spring of satisfaction. To contract an unrelenting malice, sullenness, and discontent, to let a sudden discomposure of mind ripen into a fixed aversion and ill-will, to have a savageness of nature and an insensibility to pity; what is this but to make our breast, which should be the temple of God, as it were a den of savage passions? In acts of severity, even when necessary, there is always something that is irksome to a gentle and compassionate spirit, something of a harsh and ungrateful feeling within accompanies them; like armour, which, though we may be obliged to put it on for our necessary self-defence, yet always fits uneasy, cumbrous, and unwieldy. Some cool-thinking villains there may be, who can lay plots to injure others with a steadfast and sedate malice, and with an untoward complacency; their minds being like those nights, which are very calm, silent, and close, and yet very black and dark; nights in which there reigns a sullen stillness. But men of this stamp are very rare: the generality of mankind, when they strive to make others uneasy, certainly disquiet themselves, and work out the ruin of other men, as they should do their own salvation, with fear and trembling.
3. A third argument for the love of our enemies may be drawn from the forgiveness of them. Now, the forgiveness of our enemies is a duty incumbent on us: because, in the first place, malice is, as I showed before, destructive of our happiness: because, secondly, we cannot with any reason ask that of God which we are not willing to bestow: because, thirdly, all private revenge, and consequently the desire of it too, is in the nature of the thing unlawful; since if it were allowed, it would draw a fatal train of consequences after it, and make the world an Aceldama, or field of blood. We know that the malignity of the offence rises in proportion to the dignity of the person whom we offend: now, most people are inclined to think themselves much greater than they are; and consequently to think the offence committed against them to be so too; the consequence of which is obvious, if we were commissioned to revenge ourselves. The mists of passion would represent injuries bigger than they are, and it would be impossible to proportion the punishment to the indignity. In short, it can never be reasonable, that one man's reputation, fortune, or life should be sacrificed to another man's passion and malice. How are we to behave ourselves to those whom we forgive? Are we to behave ourselves to them as to enemies? Not as to enemies: for then we do not sincerely forgive them. Besides, it is unnatural to have a cold indifference to the happiness or misery of our fellow-creatures, when our minds are divested of all rancour towards them. Benevolence will naturally shed abroad in our heart its kindly and gentle beams, when the clouds, which the unfriendly passions cast over the soul, are removed and dispersed.
4. A fourth argument may be drawn from the nature of God. No creature ought to counteract his Creator.
III. I proceed to show THE PRACTICABLENESS OF THIS DUTY. And here two sorts of men fall under our consideration:
1. Men of cool and deliberate malice, who, like lions lurking in secret places, can wait a considerable time, till, a convenient season offering itself, they spring to vengeance, and crush their unwary foe. Their resentment is like a massive stone, slowly raised; but, when once it is raised, on whomsoever it falls, it will grind them to powder.
2. The men of fire and fury, who immediately discharge the malignity of their passion in words or actions. As to the first set of men: it is certain that the same power of mind, which enables them to suspend the prosecution of their revengeful designs till a commodious opportunity, enables them likewise to get the better of their revengeful desires; for a passion so importunate and clamorous in its demands as revenge, if it cannot be curbed and controlled, cannot be suspended, and put off; and if it can be controlled, it can likewise be quelled and overcome. As to the second set of men, viz., the men of passion and fury, they indeed will tell you, "God forgive them, it is their infirmity which they cannot help: they are apt to be transported into unseemly words and actions; but the storm is soon over." These are the excuses of those, who, when their anger has spent itself, are very good-natured; and continue so, till fresh recruits of spirits enable their passions to take the field again. But the misfortune is, these notable excuses are quite spoiled, if we consider that these men can be, and are very often, upon their guard. They will not fall into an unseemly rage before a great person, whom they dread and revere. After all, it must be owned, that a provocation may be so shocking and flagrant, that nature may rebel against principle, and a desire of revenge may as naturally hurry away the soul as a whirlwind does the body. This is an extraordinary case, and no doubt a gracious God will make allowances for it. It is a common saying, that few people know their own weakness; but it is as true a one, that few people know their own strength till they are put to it, and resolved in the prosecution of any design. It has been often observed that our hatred is most implacable when it is most unjust.
IV. And lastly, TO CONCLUDE WITH SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE. Let US reflect, that we cannot expect to be benefited by our Saviour, as a full sacrifice for sin, unless we imitate Him, as a complete model of virtue; and this we cannot do without forgiving and loving our enemies. Can a mind think anything here worth an implacable animosity, whose comprehensive views are raised as high as heaven, and extended as far as eternity? Let us think what would become of us at the last decisive day, a day decisive of our eternal happiness or misery, if God should deal with us with the same unforgiving disposition as we would deal with others.
Parallel VersesKJV: But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,