You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
I. THE DUTY.
1. Positive. This carries us beyond patience under insult and nonresistance to injury. The previous passage insisted on those duties only. It was negative in character, forbidding a wrong course of conduct; therefore obedience to it would be purely passive. Now we come to a positive and active duty - to love and aid.
2. Helpful. Love is a subjective sentiment, but it cannot confine itself to the breast of the person who cherishes it. It must flow out in deeds of kindness. Here is the key to the precept in the previous paragraph. By itself it seems to be impossible to carry out so extraordinary a rule; or, if it were put in practice, it looks as though it might be quite subversive of society. But it must be followed by the conduct now recommended. Bare non-resistance will not be successful. It will only end in the extinction of right and the triumph of aggressive evil. But non-resistance, sustained by active love to our enemies, will assume a very different character. Love is a more powerful weapon than the sword. We are to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21); to conquer our enemy by destroying his enmity, while we prove ourselves his friends.
3. Prayerful. Love is not sufficient to meet the hard heart of enmity. Only the gracious influences of the Spirit of God can do it. Therefore we are to pray for these. If we are wrongfully used, we may overcome our enemies by seeking for God to turn their hearts while we show them brotherly kindness.
II. ITS REASONABLENESS. This duty is so contrary to the ways of the world that it seems to be quite unnatural and unreasonable. But Christ shows that he has good grounds for demanding it of us.
1. The example of our Father in heaven. God is not only kind to the good. First, he shows infinite patience and forbearance. Then he goes beyond these passive excellences and manifests active beneficence in sending sunshine and rain to all sorts and conditions of men. Thus he is impartial in his kindness. He does not regulate his favours by our deserts. The very constitution and course of nature reveal this large, indiscriminate beneficence of God. Yet God maintains order in the universe, and ultimately effects the triumph of the right. Therefore kindness to enemies is not unnatural; it is the very method of nature. It is not unreasonable; it accords with God's wise way of governing the universe.
2. The obligations of Christianity. The law of resentment represents a low stage of moral development. If religious people follow this law, they are no better than the irreligious - "the publicans;" if Christians follow it, they are no better than the heathen - "the Gentiles;" i.e. Christian love as such only appears when we begin to love those whom we should not love if we were not following Christ. We prove our religion, not in those good things in which we agree with the irreligious, but in those by means of which we surpass them. Meanwhile no lower standard can be allowed to the Christian; he must aim at nothing less than the Divine example of perfection. - W.F.A.
Love your enemies.
I. Such resentment in excess is wrong, for anger produces anger; revenge, malice, and that without limit: an aggravation of misery; and such resentment is a painful remedy to him who suffers from it, and, if not a remedy, it becomes an unmixed evil: the gratification of this passion is never innocent except when necessary.
II. Love to our enemies is a duty; for it is part of the law of general benevolence, which, however, admits resentment, though not the abuses of it. Resentment is consistent with good-will. To love our enemies is not rant, unless benevolence is so; but is as reasonable as the opposite ix mischievous.
III. Reflections adapted to beget and strengthen the temper. Self-love is apt to magnify things amiss in others and lessen them in ourselves. So is anger. Moderation, therefore, is only common sense, trying to ascertain the truth; and is perfectly reasonable. The origin of wrong done is not generally malice, but some passion in itself, and within proper limits, allowable. The object of our resentment is himself a sufferer, and therefore a fit object of compassion. We ourselves need forgiveness, and a forgiving disposition is essential to it.
(Bishop Butler, D. C. L.)Man's nature is to be judged, not as to whether it is best in the abstract, but on a comparison with his circumstances. Here we have to consider —
I. The NATURE of the emotion. Sudden and deliberate. Sudden anger is an instinct, excited by violence or harm, not necessarily a wrong, and the end of this passion is the resistance or prevention of violence. Deliberate anger, or resentment, is a passion, excited by wrong or injury undeserved. Hence called indignation, which is not malice, and is stronger the more nearly the injury affects ourselves. The sense of wrong is essential to it, as is plain from the circumstances which aggravate the feeling.
II. The END for which the emotion is implanted: to prevent or remedy injury.
III. The ABUSES of the emotion of resentment. Sudden: passion, peevishness. Deliberate: resentment against such as innocently injure us; obstinacy in resisting evidence of innocence. Though liable to abuse, the emotion is important, as a balance against the weakness of pity, and in punishing crime. Hence fresh proofs of the reality of virtue, which has certain emotions on its side, and of the wisdom and goodness of God, who makes an instance of them, even the emotion of resentment.
(Bishop Butler, D. C. L.)
I. From the character of Christians. Disinterested benevolence. Deep sense of personal guilt which they maintain. Efficacy of Divine grace to work a radical change.
II. From the means of usefulness they are able to employ.
III. The commands of Jesus Christ.
IV. The Providence of God.
(Beriah Green.)dispositions: —
1. Remember your own feelings.
2. The evil in the city is permitted by God.
3. Recollect the unwearied patience of God.
4. The treatment the Saviour endured.
5. This will not make a Christian mean-spirited; were there any in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar that showed such greatness of soul as Daniel?
1. The supreme art of life, above all other arts, is the art of living together justly and charitably.
2. To get on with men will constitute the most persistent aim within the Christian disposition.
(H. W. Beecher.)
I. If we consider THE NATURE OF THE ACT here required, which is to love — the most natural, easy, and delightful of all the affections; whereas ill-will and revenge are troublesome and vexatious passions. The devising of mischief, accomplishment of it, and reflection upon it are uneasy.
II. If we consider THE QUALIFICATION OF THE OBJECT — Our enemy. The two great foundations of love are relation and likeness. Men alike and related in essential nature. The hatred of an enemy, if we make a right use of it, may prove of greater advantage to us than the civilities of our best friend; is better and less dangerous than the flatterer. Reconciled enemies often prove our best friends.
III. If we consider THE EXCELLENCE AND GENEROSITY OF THE THING ITSELF. It is the most perfect act of the most perfect of all graces — in spite of provocation.
IV. The PERFECTION AND PREVALENCY OF THE EXAMPLES which the gospel proposeth to us to allure to this duty.
1. The example of God Himself.
2. The example of Jesus Christ.It is objected that the bearing of injuries like this invites more.
1. Few so bad as to make so barbarous a return for generosity.
2. Christ never intended that our goodness should be void of all prudence.Learn:
1. Let us be careful how we make enemies, if it be thus difficult to love them.
2. How great ought our kindness to be to others.
3. The excellence of Christian religion which hath carried our duty so high.
4. The humanity of the Christian religion.
(Beecher.)1. The teaching of the New Testament is that love is the only religion.
2. It teaches that love is a comprehensive disposition.
3. There is no worship of God which is an equivalent or substitute for love. "If thou bring thy gift to the altar."
4. No man can love God except through the practice of loving men.
5. Love carries with it a double capacity, of perceiving an ideal excellence, and of loving men who represent the opposite. Love goes out to men, not according to their righteousness, but according to their needs.
6. True gospel love is a love that re-creates men.
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