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Christ for the Israelites,' whom he calls his brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh,' though they were hardened unbelievers, and bitter enemies both to Christ and him!
As, however, we are not called to such proofs of our love, even for our friends, I instance these things only to shew the degree of that love which is required of us towards our enemies.
It does not follow nevertheless, that we are to love them as warmly as our friends and benefactors. We should be ready to lay down our lives for the brethren, though no more than their temporal safety and happiness were to be gained by the sacrifice. With the wicked, the treacherous, and malicious, we are not obliged to consort, as we do with wellhearted men. They would destroy us for the mere pleasure of doing mischief; whereas it is our duty to preserve ourselves for that good, which God, the church and our country have reason to expect from us. Were there, indeed, any probability of reclaiming men so unhappily minded, we ought to run all hazards, we ought to venture into the fire of their own raging passions, and even of God's wrath, which surrounds them, in order to pull them out. There is a possibility, that the inferior heats of their pride and anger may be extinguished in the prevailing sun-shine of our charity.
You observe, I speak not here of forgiveness, an easy duty, that may be performed on a selfish principle; but of doing good with a kind intention. To bless men we do not love, and to good to do them, is acting against the grain of our own hearts, and too much forced to last ; and to pray for them with affections cold and indifferent to them, is both contrary to the nature of prayer (which to be successful ought to be ardent), and a mockery of God.
Having hitherto inquired only what sort of enemies they are whom we ought to love, and in what sense or degree it is that we are to love them; the duty appears to flesh and blood, in the best natures, exceedingly difficult, and, in the worst, impossible. • What! to require it of man, weak, proud, passionate, and resentful man, not only that he should forgive, but do good for evil; and not only that
e should do good for evil, but do it out of love! love so very ten der and ardent, as, in some cases, to exceed even the
love of life! and to the most odious of men ! This is against nature, and men must be made over again before they can digest it. True, most true indeed. But was not the gospel given
. to change our nature, and make us over again into new creatures? Do you hope to enter into heaven with that very nature about you, which threw the devil out of it? It would be much easier to climb thither with your body, gross as it is. No, this proud, revengeful, stubborn nature must be subdued ; and a humble, a forgiving, a benevolent nature must be acquired in its place, or the company of angels, and the enjoyment of God for ever, must be given up. Heaven,' it is true, ' is taken by violence,' but by violence done to our own stubborn and refractory nature, not to the conditions of our covenant, nor the commands of Christ.
How then, in the 'last place, shall we bring ourselves to this love of our enemies? How shall we raise our groveling hearts to so high humility?
Before we enter on the expedients requisite for this purpose, it will be proper to observe, that nothing is more common than to feel contrary passions struggling for mastery in the same breast, and at the same time. How often is a father angry
with a child whom he loves ? and where is that anger which hath not some mixture of hatred in it? The brethren of Joseph were not without a degree of natural affection for him, when, through envy, they entertained a thought of putting him to death, as is plain from their relenting afterward, and selling him to the Ishmaelites. It frequently happens tható a man's foes are they of his own houshold,' his father, his son; and no foe can be so dangerous, because he cannot help loving them. One man naturally loves another, and if they are countrymen, neighbours, cr fellowChristians, the love is still the stronger. This, however, does not always hinder them from occasionally hating one another. Now, it is in the power of every considerate man to increase this love, or hatred, and to lessen and stifle the opposite turn of mind, by banishing from his thoughts the incentives of the one, and by dwelling on the motives to the other. A man may call down angels, or conjure up devils, in his own heart which he should choose to do, let reason judge.
If we would cherish the love of our fellow-creatures and fellow-Christians in our breast, howsoever injurious they may have been to us, we must, in the first place, earnestly desire and wish for this amiable disposition. There is but little time, and indeed, but little difference, between the earnest desire, and the actual acquisition of any Christian grace. Nothing comes between, but a vehement endeavour, and the assistance of God's spirit. The heart na. turally forms itself to that figure and turn, which it strongly wishes to cultivate; and if it is such a figure as God hath prescribed, he never fails to put his creating hand to a work so pleasing in his sight. Now, to excite in us this earnest, and prompt us to this vehement endeavour, nothing farther is required, than a due consideration of the necessity we are under of raising ourselves to the love enjoined by the text, as laid before you in what hath been already said.
In proportion to the strength of this desire, it will be so much the easier, first, to conquer our resentments, and then to replace them with the love required.
As to the conquest of our resentments, nothing will so properly begin the work as taking down our pride, and labouring to reduce our minds to a true Christian humility. In most cases, anger, which suppresses the natural and religious love we bear to all men, proceeds from pride alone, and in the rest, when the attack is not directly made on our honour, we are too apt to think it more or less concerned, and to give it a vote in our revenge.
Here we should review the long and mortifying catalogue of infirmities or sins on record in our consciences, that we may be sensible how little of honour or 'esteem is really due to us, or could be reasonably claimed by us, were the shameful truth known as well to the world, as it is to ourselves. And though, on looking inward, where we are but partial and imperfect judges, we should come out somewhat magnified in our own conceit, this ought to be no rule to others, who know not the dignity of our personages.
Were the act of contempt, whatever it is, immediately thrown on us by the hand of God, so far from stomaching or complaining, we should confess it but a share of what we deserve. Now, it is really, though not immediately, inflicted by that providential hand, which often makes men,
sometimes the meanest of men, its instruments « to pour contempt even on princes,' and therefore to resent it, is indirectly to fly in the face of God.
In no case, not so much as even in thought, should we ever assume to ourselves more merit, or more importance than we are sure we have in his sight, who knows us perfectly. To do otherwise, is to usurp, and that by deceit and hypocrisy, on the opinion of the ignorant, wherein there is, indeed, somewhat so very base and low, that it is a wonder how any one guilty of it, can possibly entertain a high thought of himself.
Of all our sins, the presumptuous are the most offensive in the sight of God. David prays' to be kept back from them,' that he may be innocent from the great transgression,' for which there was no sacrifice allowed in the law. Presumption, and pride, the true parent of presumption, were the chief ingredients in the unpardonable sin. Almost all our sins, especially when we sin against light and the reproofs of our own consciences, partake, more or less, of this fearful aggravation. Consider now, what there is, or can be, in you, so likely to make amends for your past pride and presumption, as the opposite virtues of humility and self-mortification. Could you enter thoroughly into this thought, you would lick the feet of an insulting enemy, with more pleasure than you ever tasted, during your whole life, in the sweetest act of revenge.
The second expedient to quell our resentments which stifle, for the time, our love of mankind, is through the eye of sound experience and faith, to examine the value of those things, about which we quarrel with one another, such as our worldly interests, our credit among a few neighbours, our points of ceremony and precedence, matters of no great moment in themselves, and trifles, too contemptible for children to contend about, if compared to the infinitely greater things, wherein, as Christians, we are concerned. Christian ask himself, whether it becomes a candidate for heaven, for a crown of endless glory, to be angry about a pin. It may shock, but it must be said, that our bitter and implacable resentments about earthly things, thoroughly refute, and render even ridiculous, all our professions of Christianity. Do not say you are a Christian, if you have
not ‘ removed your affection from things on earth, and set it on things above;' neither presume to call yourself a rational creature, in case your professions and actions are more at variance than you and your enemies. Take care, you are not your own bitterest enemy. • He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. Whosoever hateth his brother, is a murderer, hath the spirit of a murderer, and we know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.' Is then the very principle of eternal life destroyed in you by your anger and hatred ? And for what? Could you admit the light, and see that which you are in danger of losing for ever, the cause of your hatred would be too minute to be visible.
The third expedient for the reduction, if not the prevention, of our resentments, is, to stay, ere our passion is suffered to boil over in retaliation, and weigh the injury coolly in the balance of that reason God hath given us, in order to find out how far it ought to be deemed an injury, indeed, whether it is really an injury or not. Men frequently nourish in the depths of a festering heart, the most malignant resentments, which on better lights, on cooler reflections by themselves, or on some after explanation with the other party, they find utterly groundless, and built only on the air of their own suspicions, or on that which hath issued from the poisoned mouths of mischief-makers.
As to our own suspicions or apprehensions of an injury, they will, if we do not take care to prevent it, be so realized and magnified by the imagination, that not even a repetition of provocations could more effectually increase our resentment. This infirmity of our minds we may learn from experience as well as from the words of the wise man ; ' the beginning of anger is as when one letteth out water,' which, if ever so little way is made for it, will quickly widen the passage, and pour out with redoubled force, till it becomes as difficult to stop it, as to gather it up again or recal it. Here humanity, charity, and reason should be called to our assistance, in order to make head against the growing passion in time. It is natural, but of most pernicious consequence, to chafe our resentments by suffering the imagina