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fully acquired it. He will assuredly hear our prayers; and the aids of his Holy Spirit will accompany our endeavours, and bring them to a good effect.
Whether we are to love our enemies as intensely as we love our friends ? and, whether it is possible to do so ? are questions which our stubborn hearts, more inclined to casuistry than to the simplicity of Christian obedience, will, perhaps, propose to us ;—but they are not questions to which we should attend; for they arise from that same pharisaical spirit which our Saviour condemns in the text. We are to interpret our Lord's command according to the letter of it, remembering that the contemplated purpose of his holy religion is, to abolish enmities altogether, to erase from our bosoms every malevolent impression, and to heighten our charities both by self-denial and by social affection, that Christians may form one universal and exemplary brotherhood. External conciliations, where there is the shew but not the reality of forgiveness, are foreign to the intention of the Gospel. They are the contrivances of a narrow-minded cunning, which is incompatible with the integrity and with the enlarged spirit of Christianity. Insensibility and hypocrisy are no parts of Christian policy, much less of Christian virtue. Nothing short of the actual fulfilment of his command, in its literal and obvious meaning, will be imputed to us for obedience. St. Paul supplies us with an expressive counterpart to his blessed Master's injunctions with regard to this duty. · If,” says he, quoting the words of Solomon,*
* Prov. xxv 21, 22.
“ Thine enemy hunger, feed him ; if he thirst, give him drink ;—for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head,”-as if he had said, thou shalt melt him into kindness towards thee, as metals are melted by the coals that are heaped upon them.
We are to leave to the Almighty the punishment of our enemies' faults. “Vengeance is mine ; I will repay, saith the Lord.” We intrude upon his prerogative, and thus add to the number of our own sins, if we presume to “ avenge ourselves,”-and if we will not “ rather give place unto wrath.” Though his “sun rises on the evil and on the good, and though he sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,”—yet he will vindicate his own justice :-he does not allow us, who ourselves are sinners, to do it.
“ Bless, therefore, them that curse you.” How bitter soever may be the revilings with which we are attacked, the Christian religion does not, in this particular, sanction the principle of retaliation. It is a school of magnanimity and prudence ;-teaching us not to imitate those ungoverned vices of men which are equally a mark of their wickedness and folly ; but rather, to regard them with a benevolent pity. It is instructive to see how beautifully the doctrines of our Saviour's Apostles harmonize with his own ; and how excellent a commentary they form upon many passages in the Old Testament. We have in St. Peter's first epistle, * a striking example of it, bearing upon the present division of my text.—“Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another:
* 1 Peter iii. 8-12, compared with Ps. xxxiv. 12–16.
love as brethren, be pitiful, bé courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing ; but contrariwise blessing ; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil, and do good ; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”
“Do good to them that hate you.” The sentiment of forgiveness and of conciliation, if it is not exerted and put to the proof by suitable actions, is but hatred in disguise : for how can our good will be sincere, when it consists in bare professions, or when it slumbers within our hearts, without being awakened to any useful effort. It is “ by their fruits” that the Christian virtues are known ;-and “ he that doeth righteousness is righteous.” An inactive benevolence is almost a contradiction in terms : it is as absurd as calling our blessed Saviour “ Lord, Lord,” while we neglect to perform his injunctions. The precept “ though they curse, yet bless those,” would be nugatory, if it did not imply correspondent acts of friendship and charity. But the Scriptures abound with examples, as well as with precepts. “I have delivered,” says David, “him that without cause is mine enemy."'* “I behaved myself as though it had been my friend or brother.” Of this,
* Ps. vii. 4.
his generous behaviour to Saul was an instance. In Joseph also, we have an example of the same kind ; for his good offices to his injurious brethren afford the finest lesson of active benevolence that we meet with in the history of any mere man. I say, in the history of any mere man ; for our blessed Lord stands in a higher character. Yet as His human actions are a rule to us in every respect in which they are capable of imitation, we must take his conduct not merely as an illustration of his own precepts, but also as an example to us his disciples. His kindnesses towards his enemies were unlimited ; for all men were in fact, his enemies,—and it was on that very account, that he took our nature upon him, and suffered on the cross.
Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” In adding this injunction to the others, our Saviour has shown his exquisite knowledge of human nature, and has put our obedience to the strictest proof. He knew that it was possible for men to affect a love for their enemies, even when they did not feel it ;-to speak well of them, as a matter of courteous policy,—and to make them objects of their beneficence, merely to gratify a proud and magnanimous sentiment of superiority ; - but that in the solemn acts of prayer, when they are humbly pouring forth the secrets of their hearts before God,—there is no place for self-delusion, or for dissimulation. We sincerely love our enemies, when we sincerely pray for them ; because prayer is one of
the highest instances of love, and cannot comprehend any other objects than those that have engaged our purest affections. I say, our purest affections ;--for there are things, which, in the misguided cravings of our hearts, we may desire, but which, notwithstanding, we cannot make the subject of our petitions to the Almighty,- because we know that he will not approve them. The most difficult exertions of the virtue of charity is wisely put to this test :-a security for our performance of the duty, our prayers for the forgiveness of our own sins will not be heard, unless “ we forgive every one his brother their trespasses." In this particular, again, our blessed Lord's example is a commentary on his precepts; for even in his dying agonies, he prayed for his murderers—“ Father, forgive them ; for they know not what they do.”
If we follow that example, and obey his commands, we shall be in a higher sense than mere words can denote, “the children of our Father which is in heaven." His sustaining providence includes the preservation of all men, whether good or bad. Our benevolence should be as impartial, -and, in proportion to its possibilities of exertion, as diffusive. It should comprehend both friends and enemies ;-for if they are thought worthy of his preservation, they surely are worthy of our kind regard, and can we flatter ourselves that we are really better than they ? In all of them, even in the worst, there are some good qualities, which, though perhaps not visible to us, are known to him, who seeth not as man seeth ;