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THE PINNACLE OF CHRIST'S CHURCH.
MATT. v. 43, 44.
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.
THE law of God, more perfect than those of men, having required it of his people to love one another as neighbours,' which no human law ever did; the false interpreters of this divine law, as if a rule of contraries might here have place, did, in obedience to an untoward nature, and to unassisted reason, give it as a law too, that an Israelite 'should hate his enemy.' Barbarous conclusion! But so agreeable was it to the natural pride and resentments of mankind, that no ordinance of God was ever kept with equal strictness, as Christ and his disciples, though far from enemies to any one, did but too fully experience.
But our blessed instructor, having in my text repeated, and on other occasions confirmed, the law, not only condemns the foul conclusion of its interpreters, but, to the infinite surprise of those who heard him, and directly against the grain of a corrupt nature in all men, commands all Christians to love their enemies.'
Here the law, as enjoining somewhat of but little virtue, namely, the love of those who love us, the virtue of a mere beast, is left far behind, and a precept advanced, which sets its foot on all the pride, passion, cruelty, and, I may adď, on great part of the wrong reasonings and false politics of the world; while it raises its beautiful head to heaven, and inspires us with the glorious ambition of imitating infinite perfection, and becoming the children of him who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
Having heard the command of Christ, not to those alone, who through a superior understanding, and a higher pitch of spirit, seem destined to uncommon victories, or a crown of martyrdom, but to every Christian; let no one of us, prompted by his own baseness of mind, or by that inbred humbler his pride, presume to excuse himself on the footing of an affected humility, and say; let those who set up for heroism, try if they can bring themselves to a love of their enemies. I must build my hopes on much lower foundations, or not hope at all. I may perhaps find in my heart to forgive; but that heart forbids me to love, and yet I hope to be saved, as well as others.
Do you in good earnest? Saved by Christ, while you proudly kick against his precepts? You talk of low foundations; but had you true humility, you would want little more to prepare you for the love of your enemies. Your resentments are the natural children of your pride. Some other Saviour must be found for you, if you will neither obey nor imitate, to the uttermost of your power, that only Saviour, who prayed for his enemies, who gave his life for his enemies, which he had never done, had he not loved them more than his life. You must bend your mind, though ever so much stiffened by an untoward nature, to this command of Christ, as well as to the rest, or you can have no part in him. None can be saved, nor admitted into that society whereof love is the soul, but the children of God. Now God will own none for his children, but such as are like him, like him in this, as well as in his other features, kindness to the unthankful, and beneficence towards the injurious, on the only sincere and lasting principle, the real love of their enemies.
Christ, you see, begins with the principle, love your enemies,' as with the root, and afterward proceeds to the fruit, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,' &c. He then gives you the reason, that you 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,' as well on those who rebel as on those who obey. And, to let you see, that, if you mean to be the disciple of Christ, more will be expected of you, than of others who are not, more than mere natural morality can teach; he goes on to expostulate
with all, and even to upbraid you, who are for obeying him only so far as ease and pleasure go hand in hand with duty, saying, 'for, if you love them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans and sinners,' the worst sort of men, the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even
the publicans so?'
Having thus shewn you what, in this instance, he expects you should be; not grateful only, but generous; not just only, but merciful; not a man of ordinary or moral goodness only, but a Godlike man; he concludes with an exhortation to the most exalted virtue, 'be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.' As he is perfect God,' so be ye, as far as human nature can admit improvement, ' perfect men.'
You may sometimes forgive your enemies, nay, and repay their injuries with good offices, because you are well assured, that if you do not forgive, you shall not be forgiven;' if you do not good for evil to others, God will not do it to you. But Christ requires you should do it on a principle of love, on that principle which God acts by towards you, on that great, if not only, principle of eternal enjoyment, which, like a golden chain, binds all that are good together, and to God, their head. If this is not your motive, but self only, as of one who expects to be dealt with, just as he deals, your grounds for hoping acceptance in the sight of God may fail you. Self alone will never carry you above yourself; whereas it is not the gratification of so narrow a passion, nor the enjoyment of so poor a being, that you are to aim at, but the gratification of a love as boundless as that God, and those heavenly hosts which are its proper objects.
But to come down again to our immediate subject, unless your heart is really warmed with love towards your enemies, it cannot hope to be proof against new and repeated provocations; you cannot be long indifferent. If you do not love, you will hate; and he that hateth,' as the Spirit tells us by St. John, is a murderer.' There is no expecting forgiveness and good offices, that fruit so infinitely wholesome to the peace of Christ's church, and so infinitely delicious to the taste of God, but from its own
proper tree; and what that is, Christ hath told you in these words, love your enemies.'
To sum up all, you cannot be a member of Christ, who healed, who prayed for, who blessed his persecutors; nor a child of God, who is kind unto the unthankful and the evil; nor consequently can you be with God and Christ for ever, if you do not imitate God, if you do not obey Christ, if you do not love your enemies. This being as plain and true, as the word of God, or the gospel of Christ, can make any thing, we ought to know,
First, who are our enemies in the sense of the precept; Secondly, what it is to love them according to the purport of that precept;
And, thirdly, how we may bring ourselves to this love.
In the first place, all are not our enemies whom we are apt to mistake for such. He who reproves our follies, or thwarts our bad designs, or corrects us for our faults, is our friend; and not to love him for so doing, is to be our own enemy.
Neither are those to be looked on as enemies who prosecute us for, or give evidence of, our crimes before a court of justice. This they do as friends to civil society, as lovers of truth and right; and to regard them for it as our enemies, is to declare war with mankind and common justice.
Farther, they are not always to be set down in the catalogue of our enemies, at least in our Saviour's sense, who speak ill of us, or do us injuries, for perhaps we have furnished occasion to the unfavourable report, or given provocation to the unkind treatment. In all cases we only hate where we lay the blame. To do otherwise, is to act like idiots. Now, here we are to blame ourselves, and should hate ourselves, had we only the low degree of modesty to think we may do wrong; or of impartiality, to find, we have done wrong, when every body else perceives it.
Neither do they rank themselves properly, and in our Saviour's sense, among our enemies, who think ill of us, or treat us but indifferently, through mere mistake. Our consciences tell us, they take us for quite other persons than we really are, and that perhaps on such appearances, thrown
out by our own indiscretion, as we ourselves always yield to in the like cases. They strike in the dark at somewhat too like us, but not at us; and shall we return the blow, or hate them for their error, without confessing, that we act like brutes rather than rational creatures?
None of these are our enemies in Christ's sense, but our neighbours and brethren, whom, as such, we are to love on the footing of common charity, if not of common justice.
No, our enemies, whom in the text we are commanded to love, are they who hate us without cause,' or rather, without the appearance of a just cause, and who have given the infallible signs of that hatred in acts of injustice or cruelty, perhaps for doing good, and even possibly to themselves. Such were the enemies of Christ and his apostles, whom nevertheless they loved, blessed, prayed for, and persevered in doing good to.
That these are the enemies our Saviour commands us to love, is plain, not only from his representing them as 'cursing, hating, despitefully using, and persecuting us;' but from his comparing them with the enemies of God, who fight against his goodness with their wickedness.
These being the men whom the text commands us to love, we ought, in the second place, to consider what it is to love them according to the purport of the precept.
Our Saviour's example, in this case, as well as in most others, is the best comment on his law. He, we know, so loved his enemies, as to bear every thing at their hands, to do them the most kind and affectionate offices on all occasions, and to lay down his life for them at last, in order, if possible, to save them from eternal misery.
Could we, by our death, so save the souls of our enemies, the charity prescribed in my text, would undoubtedly require it of us; nor would it, by any means, require too much; for what is the offering of our lives for the salvation of others, but the offering of a trifle, on comparison, not our own, but the property of God, in order to confer an infinite benefit on our fellow creatures? What is our death, who otherwise must soon die however, as criminals, not martyrs, to the eternal death of one who shares the same nature with us! How far is this short of the charity of St. Paul, who declared with an oath that he could wish to be accursed from