|« Prev||Sermon XVI. Preached December 6, 1676.||Next »|
WE have already shewn from these words, that their pretence to the love of God is both false and absurd, who do not join with it love to their brother. And by way of use or application we have animadverted upon the common temper and frame, so very unsuitable to what this scripture plainly requires and calls for; namely, the little love that appears among Christians in our days. And after we had pressed and recommended love to men universally considered, and shewn also that we are obliged in our carriage and practice to shew our love to men considered indefinitely, that is, every one with whom we have anything to do; it was observed, that some would fain indulge themselves in the neglect of this duty, and particularly in two cases think that they may challenge a dispensation. We therefore proposed to consider them severally. 1. The case of those who think themselves to be under no obligation to love wicked men, especially such as are persons of profligate wickedness. In speaking to which we have briefly shewn what sort of exercise, love ought to have in this case. The
2. Case is that of those who think they may be dispensed 160with or excused from loving those that are their enemies, which we now proceed to consider. In the former case, as we have observed, persons are prone to think they may be dispensed without of respect to God, or on his account; in the latter case out of respect to themselves. A great piece of hardship many think it to be compelled to love them who they know are no friends of theirs, but are continually contriving mischievous designs against them. What room or place there can be for the exercise of love in such a case, we shall here briefly shew you, and then upon what considerations it ought to be vigorously exercised.
(1.) For the former of these, on which I shall not insist very largely.
[1.] There ought to be the exercise of love, even to enemies, in calming and subduing whatever is contrary thereunto in ourselves. All opposite passions, and the workings of them must be restrained; every thing of anger, wrath, malignity, bitterness of spirit, revenge or vindictiveness more especially. Thus ought love to be exercised in the maintaining of a calm in our own minds and hearts, that there may be no tumultuations of any undue or forbidden passion upon any such account. Yea and again,
[2.] There ought to be love exercised in a more positive way; in forgiving or passing by whatever trespasses are done against us, as we expect to be forgiven ourselves. Love ought to be exercised to such even in doing them good; which is yet more possitive. “Do good,” says our Saviour, “to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.” Matt. v. 44. We should do them what good we can ourselves, and pray for them that they may have that good which we cannot procure for them. The order and gradation of this precept is very observable. We are first in general enjoined to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us; and then we are enjoined to do them good, and to pray for them. As if our Lord had said, “First do all the good you can to them yourselves; but when you are gone as far as you can, then engage and set on work an almighty agent by prayer. Pray that God would do them good when you can do them none.”
We should take heed of looking on this as a Platonical chimaera; as a thing that can only have place in the imagination, or as a matter altogether impracticable. Christ has enjoined us no impracticable things. And there have been great examples in the world, that of his own and others, who have been so influenced by the grace of God as to give demonstration that this was no impracticable matter. And have we never heard 161of any that have rendered themselves remarkable on this account? of those of whom it hath been said, “No man could take a readier course to make such a one his friend, than by doing him an injury?” I believe some of us have heard of such instances even in these lower dregs of time. This we should then fix with ourselves as our resolutions. “Doth any man make it his business and design to trouble and molest me? Is he from time to time seeking occasions to vex me? The next opportunity that occurs to me of doing that man a good turn, I will be sure to lay hold upon it. I will be even with him that way. If I can do him good, I will. This I would fix upon my heart as a law.”
(2.) I will now proceed to give you some considerations that evince to us the reasonableness of such an exercise of love to our enemies; to such as bear us ill will, and are ready to do us an ill turn. As
[1.] Consider it is the law and glory of Christianity to do so. That it is the Christian law is plain, and you have heard it al ready. You see how in the sermon on the mount, our Saviour reflects upon that mean, sordid, narrow principle of the Jews, which mostly in those times did possess and steer that people. “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, &c.” Matt. v. 43. He then plainly, as to the matter of the exercise of love, takes away the distinction between neighbour and enemy. Our Saviour will allow no such distinction. And it is very plain, that by neighbour and brother he means the same thing in that fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel, where expounding the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” according to its spiritual sense and meaning, he makes the object of that law to be our brother; plainly in tending by brother all those, whom it was unlawful to kill. “I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” It is plain he means anger and killing with respect to the same object. We are therefore to love our enemies under that common notion of brother. This, I say then, is most clear that our Lord Christ hath made this law with respect to enemies. Love them, bless them, pray for them, and do good to them, are his express precepts.
And it is the particular glory of Christianity, that such a constitution as this is, is to be found in it as a law. This must be acknowledged to be peculiar to Christianity. “To love friends, that is common to all men; to love enemies, that is proper to christians;” as said an ancient in the Christian church long 162 ago. It is true indeed such a temper as this hath been well spoken of among the heathen: but a great deal more praised, than practiced; more applauded, than imitated. I remember one of them says, that “It is to imitate God himself not to hate any one at all, and more especially to terminate the exercise of our most fervent and complacential love upon the best.” And we have heard of some who in lower things have done somewhat like this. As a great man of Athens, when on a certain night one followed him all along the street, reviling him and calling him most injurious and contumelious names, as soon is he came to his own house, he only commanded his servants to light the man home again. And every man must acknowledge it an amiable and lovely thing, when but a specimen has appeared, though never so faint, of such a kind of practice.
But I say it is the peculiar glory of Christianity to form and habituate the spirits of those who are sincere unto this temper; that so the instances of this nature may not be rare, and that love may be exemplified in men’s course and behaviour, according as the occasions of human life do require. And who can but reckon it a glory? For is not every creature upon that account the more excellent as his spirit is more conformed unto God? It is with this enforcement that this law is given by our Saviour, in the verse immediately after the precepts before mentioned; “That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” As if he had said, Love your enemies, and do good to them that use you ill, that you may hold forth a visible resemblance of God; that his image in this kind may appear and shine in you; and that it may thereupon be made known to all whose children you are, and by whom you are begotten; that it may be seen, that there is a nature truly divine conveyed and transmitted into you, and so inwrought into your temper as demonstrate you to be the children of God. Certainly it is the glory of a creature to resemble its Maker; and by how much the more it does so, by so much the more glorious is that creature, for what is the glory or excellency found in the creature, but the reflection and impress of the divine excellency and glory? And again, in the
[2.] Place, let it be considered, that by this exercise of love to our enemies we make ourselves superior to them, according to the injunction which is laid upon us by the apostle: “Be not ye overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom. xii. 21. The latter part of the verse we may take notice of by and by. All the while that a man can continue and keep up a spirit of kindness, and benignity, and goodness to his enemies, 163it is plain he is not overcome; he is upon the upper ground, and hath unspeakably the better of them. And it is the easiest and surest defeat of malice that can be imagined or thought of. For it is certain where an ill-minded, mischievous person doth bend and set himself against such a one as you, he will not only set himself to hurt you but to vex you. It is not only your hurt that he aims at, but he would disquiet you, and put your mind to torture. So then it is plain, let a man have never so much hard usage from another, if there are manifest evidences that his spirit sinks not, but rather that he maintains a great spirit under all, it retorts the vexation upon him who designed it, and he himself alone is vexed who aimed at that design. Therefore he still keeps the superiority in this case, the temper of whose spirit remains within him placid, calm, and undisturbed; free from any unmanly, and most of all unchristian passions.
And it is love which hath that dominion, that it will not let such impure and unbecoming things as envy, hatred, or malice come into that state, which is all made up of goodness, kindness, and love. The strength of that gracious principle, working with its due vigour, expels and keeps them from coming into the soul, or making inroads there. And all this while there can be no vexation, no disquietude in the spirit of such a one. It is fortified, and so strengthened as to shut out what ever would disturb and break the peace within. And so he that hath set himself against you hath not his design, because, you are not overcome by him.
And to be sure whatever hand the devil hath in such attempts he is defeated; for he only desires you should sin against God, which certainly you do when you admit of any breach of charity. He does not care whether it be well or ill with you in external respects, only as it is a means to induce you to commit sin. So that if he stirs up a quarrel between any one and you his design is to transfer it between God and you; and having put it into the heart of any one to be your enemy, he would fain excite enmity in your heart against him, so as to render you God’s enemy. This is the design he wholly aims at. Now he is defeated thereof, when your spirit remains conform to the law of God in this case; and you are not conscious of any evil temper of spirit towards them, who are in the mean time, working you all the mischief that they can.
[3.] This temper of spirit carries in it, and a suitable deportment expresses, a holy, great, and generous independency upon external things. For any man’s ill will to you, and whatsoever effects there can be of it, are all to you external things. 164 Such a temper of spirit then, I say, shews your independency upon all outward things, and a superiority unto all external good and evil; that you do not take yourself to be greatly concerned in matters that are so foreign to you as such a man’s ill will, or any ill effects thereof. For whither can they reach if you do not betray yourself, or be false to yourself? “Fear not them that can kill the body only, and after that have no more that they can do.” Luke xii. 4. We are addressed to there as if we were hardly to reckon the concernments of the body any part of our own concerns.
So indeed some heathens have been wont magnificently to speak, reckoning up such things wherein good and evil may be said to consist; and upon stating the notions of the one, and the other, all the good and evil things of the body are cast out of the account. “For,” says one, “do you think I take my body to be ME, and this flesh to be myself?” And so another, “They can kill me, but they cannot hurt me.” So when one was to be beaten to death with hammers and axes, he cried out, “Strike on! thou mayest break in pieces this vessel of Anaxarchus, but him himself thou canst not touch.” And another discoursing upon that question, An injuria sit referenda? denies it peremptorily, and reasons against it most strongly. “A good man, says he, is neither capable of being affected with injury, nor of affecting any one with it. Injuries can properly have place only among ill men, who are upon that account offenders and breakers of laws. But among good men there is no one that can do an injury because he hath that virtue that will not let him; and he cannot suffer injury neither, because his virtue keeps it off, so as that it cannot have access to his spirit. It cannot invade or disturb his inward man. There is nothing to be detracted or taken from him by such an injury. For as to external good he doth not reckon it his, he cares not for it, and so parts with it without loss.”
Thus many of them have talked at a high rate, but it is the great concern of Christians that they may feel in themselves what may answer the import of such expressions; and as one said, “Live rather than talk great things. “And certainly it is a great thing when the temper of a man’s spirit is such, as that in all his course he shall discover an independency upon externals; so as to hold it forth that he is little concerned with, or moved by any kind of good and evil as can only reach the out ward man, which ends with his life, and will shortly be as if it had never been.
Such a temper of spirit as this is will soon keep a man out 165of the reach of this lower, and more troublesome sphere. He is above, liveth in another world, in another region. His mind and spirit are not within the reach of storms and tempests, but above that region which is liable to the stroke of such things; and so he continually keeps the possession of his own soul. It is a dominion over himself, a dominion in himself, the peace and tranquillity of reason that such a man enjoys. Thus says our Saviour, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” That is a thing not very remote and alien from that temper of spirit that we are speaking of. For what think we patience is? It is not a mere sturdiness of spirit, a stoutness by which we are able to endure whatever comes; but it is that sweet and pleasant tranquillity, that repose of rest and spirit, by which it remains undisturbed whatever evils fall out to be our lot in this evil world. It is not merely to be able to bear, but to bear well; to bear becomingly and with a composed and quiet temper of mind, which admits no ill impression or resentments under what it happens to be our lot to bear.
So it falls in with love, and is animated by it. Love is the life and soul of it. Patience towards him by whom I suffer evil, is influenced by love to him; and then that evil which I suffer by him signifies nothing. And it is by this I possess my own soul; otherwise, I am not master of myself, but am an impotent slave to this or that passion, raised and stirred up in me by this or that outward affliction. And thus I betray myself to an, injury, which otherwise could not hurt or touch me. And again
[4.] It is further to be considered that the person that maligns me, or suppose them to be many that do so, they may yet have many excellencies, and on other accounts may be very worthy persons. And it would be a useful consideration, to keep and preserve a good temper of spirit in us, and to quicken love to its due exercise, if we would turn off our eye from that one particular thing, the ill will they bear to us, and look upon, the many things that are good and commendable besides. And whatever, real goodness there is, that doth certainly challenge love. For what! do we think love is to have its exercise no where, but where there is perfect goodness? Then are we to love no creature at all.
What if in that respect we apprehend such a man to be evil or to do evil, who bears ill will to us or to our way, and those who bear our character upon them; yet may they not have very good things in them besides? Such may be sober, prudent, learned persons, and useful men in the world. And what! must; all that good be lost and buried, only because they have some 166 particular animosity and ill will to us? It is too much to take our measure of what is to be loved, and what not, by ourselves and by our own interest; and it would argue a very private and narrow spirit, that we should judge of what is lovely and commendable, only by what has reference to us. We have no reasonable warrant to do so.
And perhaps it is a disputable thing that such and we differ in; and it is not altogether impossible, that they may be in the right, and we in the wrong. And it becomes such persons as we are, conscious to ourselves of human frailty, not to be too confident that every man is in the wrong who opposeth himself unto us. At least, it would become the modesty of christians to search so much the more, and inquire the more diligently into the matter, that they do not a double injury by being opposite to such persons wrongfully at first, and then persevering in it; and letting an unworthy, unsuitable temper of spirit obtain thereupon, and take place in them.
. Suppose we be unjustly maligned by certain persons, then we have certainly God on our side; and consequently have a very good cause if we do not spoil it. If such and such bear us ill will, and we on our parts maintain the law of love inviolate, we are well as to the matter we suffer for, and we shall be tolerably well as to the manner of suffering too. Suppose we suffer hard things through their ill will, this is not so much, so we do but quietly bear our wrong; but if we miscarry here, we perfectly spoil a good cause. Whereas before we were right as to the matter, now as to the manner of our suffering under any one’s displeasure, we have involved ourselves in guilt, and consequently have done so much to disoblige God from interesting himself for us. And certainly then we have done very ill for ourselves.
[6.] If we do suffer the displeasure and ill will of any unjustly with the effects thereof, and yet keep up love in our own hearts, those persons who injure us, do first a great deal more injure God. Therefore we have all the reason in the world to turn private, selfish anger upon that account, into a resentment of the indignity and offence done to the common Ruler and Lord of all. And certainly by how much more the exercise of our spirits worketh out towards him, his interests and concernments; so much the less shall we find ourselves prejudiced in our own spirits, by what does more directly tend to us, and hath an aspect that way. We shall less consider that he hath injured us, and so be less tempted to render ill for ill, and hatred for hatred. He hath injured him that made him as well as us, which is a superior thing and a greater crime. And 167therefore that anger which turned the other way before, ought to turn against the dishonour that is done thereby to God, and into pity of the offender, upon the account of the anger of God incurred thereupon. And it ought to be considered further,
[7.] That if any such do never so unjustly malign us, and therein wrong us, they wrong themselves much more. That would be a great allay to our passion to consider they slightly hurt us, but greatly hurt themselves. They are more injurious to themselves, than to those they design hurt unto. They do us but some external injury, but they wound themselves to the heart and soul. Sure then there ought to be that love in us, which should work pity in us upon that account. Nay further,
[8.] We ought to consider that if they have wronged us, we have at one time and in one way or other wronged ourselves worse. We have done ourselves more wrong, than all the men in the world or the devils in hell could ever have effected against us, with their combined powers. If we have long lived in this world strangers to God, wandering from him who is our life: if we have lived in impenitence, disobedience, and rebellion to him, and strangers to his converse; we have then infinitely more wronged ourselves, I say, than men or devils can possibly do. And yet we can tell how to love ourselves for all that. Why then shall we not know how to love them who do us unspeakably less wrong, and are in no possibility of being so prejudicial to us as we are to ourselves? We can be indulgent to ourselves, who have done more wrong and hurt; why not to them, who have done us less?
[9.] We shall do ourselves a great deal more wrong than it is possible for them to do us, if we requite them with ill will, and do not maintain the law of love inviolate to them. We shall do ourselves a greater injury than they can make us suffer, though it were in their power to do as much as one creature can do to another. For they can but hurt us externally, unless it be our own fault; but we hurt ourselves internally, if there be any unbecoming passion working or raging within. And what reason is there, because one giveth me a light scratch, that I must therefore give myself a mortal stab? And yet further consider,
[10.] That whatsoever exercise our love shall have in this kind it will rebound upon ourselves, and turn to our own great advantage. For, in the first place, we shall have present peace and tranquillity within, which is a great reward; and we shall 168 be also entitled unto that reward which is future, as all sincere obedience is, by the law of God and the Redeemer.
First. There is a great reward in this temper of spirit which it carries in itself. For do but consider what it is plain the law of Christ requires in this case. “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Matt. v. 44. Let us allow ourselves to pause here a little. What advantage is there in this temper of spirit, whereby a man without forcing, or straining the habitual frame thereof, desires the fulness of all good to them, who perhaps rashly or injuriously wish all harm to him! Certainly the very sense of those words, “Bless them that curse you,” if they were but transferred into and impressed upon our souls, is of unspeakably more worth than all the wealth of both the Indies. For a man to bear that temper of soul in himself, and to be able on reflection to conclude, though he be assaulted on all sides by the unjust displeasure of men, that there are yet no other but good propensions of kindness and mercy, tenderness and compassion, and a readiness to do them all the good lie can, as soon as ever he has an opportunity; the pleasantness of such a temper, if known and experienced, no one would change for the greatest advantage this world could afford him. How happy is it to be able to say with the apostle, “Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we intreat.” 1 Cor. iv. 12, 13. As if he had said, “He that looks into our ways, nay into our breasts, shall be able to discern nothing but calmness there; even an undisturbed composure of spirit, and benignity towards them who are full of malignity to us.” And
Secondly. This is that temper of spirit also to which the blessed God hath particularly promised a reward. “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.” Prov. xxv. 21, 22. Rom. xii. 20. It may be the person himself will not reward thee for so much good done to him. Concern not thyself for that; if he will not, God will. The Lord will reward thee for all that good which thou hast done, in lieu of the evil which he has done to thee. And I add,
Lastly, In this way you may quite conquer him at last, to whom you exercise love to that height. And how glorious a conquest is this! The apostle says in the forementioned place, which is quoted from the Proverbs, that you shall by this means, (by returning good for evil) “heap coals of fire upon his head.” I know there is a controversy about these words; some understand 169them in a good, others in an evil sense. Some say there by is meant, that you shall engage God on your side, and his wrath and vengeance shall vindicate your quarrel. Others think that we may understand by coals of tire, the melting warmth of love; which will dissolve and mollify the obdurate, malicious spirit of the unjust adversary. And I for my part make Rule doubt but that is the meaning, and I am the more induced to believe it from what we find conjoined in both these scriptures. It is in the Proverbs, “The Lord shall reward thee,” as one that hast been a subordinate benefactor to himself; who doth good to those, who carry it very ill towards him. But to this passage quoted by the apostle is subjoined this exhortation; “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” Your goodness makes you glorious conquerors, and will melt down your enemy, and subdue him to you at the long run.
And there is no way wherein we can contribute so much to the accomplishment of God’s promise, to wit, “If a man’s ways please the Lord, he will make his enemies to be at peace with him.” Prov. xvi. 7. And we have the most reason (though we are not to limit God as to the time or method of working things) to promise ourselves a happy issue and success this way, that is, to make our enemies at peace with us; when we in our whole deportment express and hold forth nothing but benignity, kindness, and sweetness to them, how ever harsh in their words and actions they are to us.
And we ought to bethink ourselves too (with which I shall conclude) that let us be put to forgive them never so much, God has forgiven us more. It is impossible they should ever offend us so much as we have transgressed against him. There fore let us not grudge to extend our love to our enemies, for if God had not done so to us, what had become of us? Miserable creatures had we been! “When we were enemies Christ died for us.” It was for enemies he laid down his life, and exposed himself to those cruel sufferings which he underwent. And when we expect eternal life by him, who hath done so much for enemies will we not at his word, and upon the obligation, of his own law, conform our spirits and practice to our utmost herein? For it is impossible we can have any enemies so injurious to us, as we have been to Christ; all which injury and wrong he is yet willing to bury in everlasting oblivion.170
|« Prev||Sermon XVI. Preached December 6, 1676.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version