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ON THE LOVE OF OUR NEIGHBOUR.
MATT., CHAP. XIX. VERSE 19.
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
As I had by no means exhausted the subject of my address to you on the morning of last Sunday, I resume it now in order that I may place it in all its important bearings before you. The words of the Saviour in the passage to which I have called your attention are too explicit for evasion, too distinct to hang a doubt upon, too plain to be misunderstood. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." This is the bond of social intercourse, the test of that interchange of kindly feeling which we are commanded by Almighty God to entertain towards each other.
Now, as it is evident that the love of ourselves is the first law of nature, so is it equally evident that the love of our kind is the first law of
religion; "for by this," says Christ, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," and though the love of God be the first great commandment of the law, yet it is certain that we must first love man before we can love God; for as the Apostle justly argues, "he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"
It is abundantly evident to our own hearts, how deeply we are the objects of their anxiety, and the command of God incarnate leaves us at no loss to discover how deeply also our fellow creatures should be the objects of it; not only because they are united to us by the ties of human relationship, but because they are the beings whom God has created and by redemption adopted as his children, thereby supplying them, under the degradation of a broken covenant, with "the means of grace and the hope of glory."
We shall readily perceive that the command to love our neighbour as ourselves at once precludes the exercise of this feeling as a passion, since there is no sensuality attached to our love of self, the actuating motive of which is the advancement of our own interests, whether spiritual or temporal.
We are to consider that love has many modifications. It branches into numerous forms of
beautiful and varied luxuriance from one fruitful stem that gives vitality to all, imparting the fragrance which it derives from that pure source whence it emanates to every virtue under heaven. In the love of our kind are comprised all the better feelings of our humanity, and though we may not be warmed by that lively glow of affection towards our fellow creatures generally which animates our hearts towards those who are united to us by the more tender ties of consanguinity, we may nevertheless entertain for them the most benignant sentiments, and whatever their moral degradation, extend towards them those feelings which we should exercise towards ourselves, were we in a similar position. The fact is, that the exclusive love of kindred is more an arbitrary law of nature than of religion; for all have an equal right to our love, and they only are justly entitled to a larger measure of it, whether our kindred by blood or not, who have rendered themselves most fitting objects for the love of God. The principle of our duty in this respect is laid down by an inspired teacher; "be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." No provocation therefore can warrant the withholding our love from a kindred being, however he may neglect his duty towards us.
It is a hazardous thing to assume that a person is not entitled to our sympathies, because
he may appear depraved, or indeed because we may know him to be so. This will not justify our aversion of him, since he may still be an object of the divine mercy, however apparently criminal; and surely it cannot become us to hate him whom the love of Christ has rescued from eternal death, and restored to the felicities of his everlasting kingdom. Besides, in forming our judgments of others, it is essential that we should put the question home to our own bosoms, whether under similar incitements we should not have been similarly guilty; then let our self-love decide between ourselves and the delinquent whom we may feel disposed to condemn. If under such circumstances we should still love ourselves, it is equally our duty to love him, for as the Apostle declares, “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
We are all creatures of circumstances more or less, and we may rest assured that the amount of human guilt is measured by those circumstances. He who had only one talent was not expected to return ten, though he who had ten was expected to return more than one. Where all have sinned, even the most righteous," and come short of the glory of God," human virtue can be only relative. We are good only by relation to the circumstances under which we live. If a good man were found surrounded by