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ON THE DUTY OF LOVING OUR ENEMIES.
Matthew v. 43, 44, 45.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy
neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies ; bless them that curse you ; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven : for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
When our blessed Saviour prescribed to his disciples the rules of Christian life, he found it necessary to guard them against the false interpretations which the Scribes and Pharisees had, to the great injury both of public morals and of religious truth, put upon the Mosaic law. Those interpretations, and the practices that had grown out of them, were become so mischievous, that the law which was in itself “ holy, just, and good,” was, in effect, obsolete, and was
made instrumental to wickedness. He complains of this, either by express mention, or by inference, in almost every part of the Gospel history. We have an instance of it in the first verse of the text. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.” Here, the duty of loving their neighbour is clearly a part of the moral law-one half, indeed, of the decalogue, which God had delivered to Moses ; and by the object of love was to be understood, as our Saviour afterwards shewed, not merely a person who resided in the same vicinity with themselves, or who was a native or citizen of the same country, but every individual of the human species without distinction. The Scribes and Pharisees, however, chose to understand the word
neighbour” in its narrowest sense ; and in their commentaries that were grounded upon this false notion, they presumptuously taught the Jews, as an inference from this commandment, that they should “ hate their enemies.” Our blessed Lord, asserting the purity and comprehensiveness of that law which “ he came not to destroy, but to fulfil,” placed his own high authority in opposition to that of the commentators, and commanded his disciples to regard even their enemies as objects of love.
The effects of Christianity upon the social character of man, appear to conspicuous advantage in the virtue of benevolence. It is a virtue which Christ himself exercised upon all occasions during his abode on earth. All the charities of the soul, in their purest
features of sympathy and exertion, were peculiarly his :--and his last charge to his disciples was, “ that they should love one another, as he had loved them.” Harmony and unanimity are the perfection of benevolence, and are essential to it. When the heart is warmed with social affection, religion itself flourishes there; but without such affection, even our piety will be insincere. Now our brotherly love can never be perfect, so long as we are at enmity with any person whatever. We may preserve the purest and strongest attachments to our friends, and may assiduously “ do good to them that do good to us ;" but if our character is not benevolent, if we retain animosities, and do not both forgive and love our enemies, our Christian obedience will be defective, and our blessed Lord will regard us as aliens from his kingdom. The conquest of our resentments is necessary, not only in a religious point of view, but as a mark of wisdom, and as conducive to tranquillity of mind. How desirable it is, at all times, to be at peace with ourselves !-how refreshing and heart-easing to remove from our spirits any weight that oppresses them, and to restore to them that buoyancy and calmness which cannot co-exist with animosity, and which are essential to the health of our minds, not only as we are religious but as we are rational agents ! Delightful, also, it is, to see those countenances that before were wrinkled and clouded, -brightening, or, at least, tranquil, at meeting !-and to feel that the intercourses of life are extended by the restoration of mutual
peace. As long as the malignant passions are suffered to operate, we can possess neither the sedateness of wisdom, nor the cheerfulness of a friendly temper ; for though we may be otherwise at ease, our satisfactions will be interrupted by the rising emotions of spleen, and by the leaven of bitterness. Even “in the midst of laughter our hearts will be sorrowful,” from the intrusion of thoughts and feelings that rankle within us. These, too, will continue, and will grow upon us, if we do not carefully repress them :-our resentment will be a much greater torment to ourselves than to the persons who are the objects of it. Their minds will, most probably, be occupied with matters of more immediate concern to them than our likings or dislikings. If they have been the injured parties, they may look down upon us with an elevated contempt indeed ; but still without malice or enmity, -or with a dignified pity, without any mixture of anger. If they have been the injurers,--the same want of scrupulous principle, that has induced them to wrong us, may suffer them to feel satisfied with themselves afterwards, so as to be alike insensible to our uneasiness, and to their own vicious conduct. Our self-love will prompt us to overrate the harm that has been done, and theirs will equally prompt them to underrate it. Such is the weakness and such the folly, inherent in our common nature; and we should make it a part of our wisdom to guard against the suggestions of both. The government of the passions has always been regarded, even by those
who were not blessed with the light of revelation, but who collected their notions of religion and morality from the dimmer lamp of reason, as the proof and essence of magnanimity : and Solomon spoke the language both of philosophy and of pious duty, when he declared that “the discretion of a man deferreth his anger, and it is his glory to pass over a trans
Besides, our resentments are never so strong and invincible as we imagine them to be. Great injuries, like great afflictions, give a shock, at first, to the mind, and deprive us, perhaps, of our self-possession. They have a wild and overwhelming effect, which, however, is seldom lasting. We console ourselves under the assurance that they have been unmerited, and thus we the more readily recover our equanimity, -and are willing to forgive much, because we have suffered much. But mark the inconsistency of our tempers. It is the lighter offences, the trifling incidents of life, that generally give rise to the keenest enmities ; and that change, on a sudden, the clear and mild stream of former friendship into a turbid whirlpool of enmity. Again, some unexpected trifle that pleases us, shall as suddenly endear to us those whom we have been in the habit of regarding with dislike and antipathy. It is clear, then, that what we can do from mere whim and sensation, we may also do, if we choose, from the exercise of our understanding and from a sense of duty :--for it is always as easy to act from a settled principle, when once
* Prov. xix. ll.