Imágenes de páginas

TKe chapter concludes with another remarkable precept, which may strictly be called a new commandment; for in no moral code is it to be found, till oui Lord gave it a place in his.

The precept is this: "Ye have heard it has been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But / say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray fa them which despitesully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the gooJ, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust*."

So noble, so sublime, and so benevolent a precept, wa, never before given to man; and it is one strong proof, among many others, of the originality of our Saviour's character and religion.

The Jews were expressly commanded to love their neighbor; but this injunction was not extended to their enemies, and they therefore thought that this was a tacit permission to bate them; a conclusion which seemed to be much strengthened by their being enjoined to Wage eternal war with one of their enemies, the Canaanites, to show them no mercy, but to root them out of the land. I" consequence of this, they did entertain strong prejudices and malignant sentiments toward every other nation but their own, and were justly reproached for this by the Roman historian; "apud ipsos misericordia in prompts adversus omnes alios hostile odiumf:" that is, towards each other they are compassionate and kind; towards all others they cherish a deadly hatred. But it ought in justice to be observed, that this remark of Tacitus might have been applied, with almost equal aptitude, both to his own countrymen the Romans, and to the Greeks, sor they gave to all other nations but themselves the name of barbarians; and having stigmatized them with this opprobrious appellation, they treated them as if they were in reality what they had wantonly thought sit to call tbeÆ'

* Matth. v. 43— 4s. f Tacit Hist. v. f.

They treated them with insolence, contempt, and cruelty; They created and carried on unceasing hostilities against them, and never sheathed the sword till they had extern minated or enslaved them.

In private live also, it was thought allowable to pursue thofe with whom they were at variance with the keenest resentment and most implacable hatred; to take every opportunity of annoying and distressing them, and not to rest till they had selt the severest effects of unrelenting vengeance.

In this situation of the world, and in this general serment of the malevolent passions, how seasonable, how salutary, how kind, how conciliatory was the command to love, not only our friends, nos only our neighbours, not only strangers, but even our enemies! How gracious that injunction, "/ say unto you, love your enemies; do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitesully use you, and persecute you!" And how touching, how irresistible is the argument used to ensorce it: "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sim to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust!"

It is remarkable that the philosopher Seneca makes use of the same argument, not exactly for the same purpose, but for a similar one. "If (says he) you would imitate the gods, conser savors even on the ungratesul, for the sun rises on the wicked, and the seas are open even unto pirates:" And again, "the gods show many acts of kindness even to the ungratesul*." It is highly probable that the philofopher took this sentiment from this very postage of St. Matthew; for no such sublime morality is, I believe, to be found in any heathen writer previous to the Christian revelation.

Seneca flourished and wrote after the Gospels were written, after Christianity had made some progress. Besides

. * Sea de. Bends' lib. c. 36. and c aS.

this, he was brother to Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, before whofe tribunal St. Paul was brought by the Jews at Corinth.f From him he would of course receive much insormation respecting this new religion, and the principal characters concerned in it; and from the extraordinary things he would hear of it from such authentic fources, his curiosity would naturally be excited to look a little surther into it, and to peruse the writings that contained the history and the doctrines of this new school of philosophy. This, and this only, can account for the sine strains of morality we sometimes meet with in Seneca, Plutarch, Marcus An,toninus, Epictetus, and the other philofophers who wrote after the Christian æra, and the visible superiority of their ethics to thofe of their predecessors before that period. But to return.

It has been objected to this command of loving our enemies, that it is extravagant and impracticable; that it is impossible for any man to bring himself to entertain any teal love for his enemies: and that human nature revolts and recoils against so unreasonable a requisition.

This objection evidently goes upon the supposition that we are to love our enemies in the same manner and degree, and with the same cordiality and ardour of affection, that we do our relations and friends. And if this were required, it might indeed be considered as a harsh injunction. But our Lord was not so severe a task-master as to expect this at our hands. There are different degrees of love as well as of every other human affection -r and these degrees are to be duly proportioned to the different objects of our regard. There is one degree due to our relations, another to our henesactors, another to our friends, another to strangers, another to our enemies. There is no need to desine the precise shades and limits of each, our own seelings will save us that trouble; and in that only case where our seelings are likely to lead us wrong, this precept of our Lord will direct us right.

And it exacts nothing but what is both reasonable and practicable. It explains what is meant by loving our f Acts xviii. i».

enemies in the words that immediately follow; "BleCs them that curse you, do gqpd to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitesully use you, and persecute you:" that is, do not rctaliat: upon your enemy; do not return his execrations, his injuries, and his persecutions, with similar treatment; do not turn upon him his own weapons, but endeavor to subdue him with weapons of a celestial temper, with kindness and companion. This is of all others the most effectual way of vanquishing an enraged adversary. The interpretation here given is amply consirmed by St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans, which is an admirable comment on this passage. "Dearly beloved, says he, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger seed him; if he thirst, give him drink. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good*." This then is the love that we are to show our enemies; not that ardour of affection which we seel towards our friends, but that lower kind of love, which is called Christian charity (for it is the same word in the original) and which we ought to exercise toward every human being, especially in distress. If even our enemy hunger, we are to seed him; if he thirst, we are to give him drink; and thus shall obtain the noblest of all triumphs, "we shall overcome evil with good." The world if they please may call this meanness of spirit; but it is in sact the truest magnanimity and elevation of foul. It is sar more glorious and more dissicult to subdue our own resentments, and to act with generosity and kindness to our adversary, than to make him seel the severest effects of our vengeance. It is this noblest act of selfgovernment, this conquest over our strongest passions, which our Saviour here requires. It is what constitutes the highest persection of our nature: and it is this perfection which is meant in the concluding verse of this chapter; Be ye therefore persect, as your Father which is in heaven is persectf;" that is, in your conduct towards your enemies approach as near as you are able to that persection of mercy which your heavenly Father manisests towards

[ocr errors]

his enemies, towards the evil and the unjust, on whom he maketh his sun to rise as well as on the righteous and the just. This sense of the word perft8 is established beyond controversy by the parallel passages in St. Luke; where, instead of the terms made use of by St. Matthew, "Be ye therefore perfta, as your Father which is in heaven is - persect," the evangelilt expressly says, "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is mercisul.* ,

This then is the persection which you are to exert your utmoft esforts to attain; and if you succeed in your attempt, your reward shall be great indeed; you shall, as our Lord assures you, be the children of the Most High.\

Having now brought these Lectures to a conclusion for the present year, I cannot take my leave of you without expressing the great comfort and satissaction I have derived from the appearance of such numerous and attentive congregations as I have seen in this place. That satissaction, if I ban at all judge of my own sentiments and seelings, does not originate from any selsish gratisication, but from the real interest I take in the welsare, the eternal welfare of every one here present; from the hope I entertain that some usesul impressions may have been made upon your minds; and from the evidence which this general earnestness to hear the word of God explained and recommeded affords, that a deeper sense of duty, a more serious attention to the great concerns of eternity, has, by the bleffing of God been awakened in your fouls. If this be so, allow me most earnestly to entreat you not to let this ardour cool; not to let these pious sentiments die away; not to let these good seeds be choaked by the returning cares aud pleasures of the world. But go, retire into your clofets, sall down upon your knees before your Maker, and servently implore him to pour down upon you the overruling influences of his Holy Spirit; to enlighten your understandings, to sanctisy your hearts, to subdue your passions, to eonsirm your good resolutions, and" enable you to resist, every enemy of your salvation.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »