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countrymen the Romans, and to the Greeks, for 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 fit to call them. 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 exterminated or enslaved them.
In private life also, it was thought allowable to pursue those 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 felt the severest effects of unrelenting vengeance.
In this situation of the world, and in this general ferment of the malevolent passions, how seasonable, how salutary, how kind, how conciliatory was the command to love, not only our friends, not only our neighbours, not only strangers, but even our enemies ! How gracious that injunction, “ I say unto you, love
your enemies ; do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you!"? And how touching, how irresistible is the argument used to enforce it: “ 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 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, confer favours even on the ungrateful, 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 ungrateful.”* It is highly probable that the philosopher took this sentiment from this very passage 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 this, he was brother to Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, before whose tribunal St. Paul was brought by the Jews at Corinth.† From him he would of course receive much information respecting this new religion, and the principal characters concerned in it; and from the extraordinary things he would hear of it from such authentic sources, his curiosity would naturally be excited to look
* Sen, de. Benef. lib. 4. c. 26. 28.
+ Acts, xviii. 12.
a little further into it, and to peruse the writings that contained the history and the doctrines of this new school of philosophy. This, and only this, can account for the fine strains of morality we sometimes meet with in Seneca, Plutarch, Marcus Antoninus, Epictetus, and the other philosophers who wrote after the Christian æra, and the visible superiority of their ethics to those 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 real 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 ; 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 benefactors, another to our friends, another to strangers, another to our enemies. There is no need to define the precise shades and limits of each, our own feelings will save us that trouble ; and in that only case where our feelings 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 enemies in the words that immediately follow ; “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you ;' that is, do not retaliate upon your enemy; do not return his execrations, bis injuries, and his persecutions, with similar treatment; do not turn upon him his own weapons, but endeavour to subdue him with weapons of a celestial temper, with kindness and compassion. This is of all others the most effectual way of vanquishing an enraged adversary. The interpretation here given is amply confirmed 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, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink. Be not overcome of evil, but over
come evil with good."* This, then, is the love that we are to show our enemies; not that ardour of affection which we feel 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 feed
he thirst, we are to give him drink ; and thus shall obtain the noblest of all triumphs, 66 we shall overcome evil with good.” The world, if they please, may call this meanness of spirit; but it is in fact the truest magnanimity and elevation of soul. It is far more glorious and more difficult to subdue our own resentments, and to act with generosity and kindness to our adversary, than to make him feel 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 perfection of our nature : and it is this perfection which is meant in the concluding verse of this chapter ; “ Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect;"that is, in your conduct towards your enemies, approach as near as you are able to that perfection of mercy which your heavenly Father manifests towards 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 perfect, 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 perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," the evangelist expressly says, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful."
This then is the perfection which you are to exert your utmost efforts 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 satisfaction I have derived from the appearance of such numerous and attentive congregations as
ave seen in this place. That satisfaction, if I can at all judge of my own sentiments and feelings, does not originate from any selfish gratification, but from the real interest I take in the welfare, the eternal welfare of every one here present; from the hope I entertain that some useful impressions may have been made upon your minds; and from the evidence which this general earnestness to hear the word of God explained and recommended affords, that a deeper sense of duty, a more serious attention to the great concerns of eternity, has, by the blessing of God, been awakened in your souls. 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 choked by the returning cares and pleasures of the world. But go, retire into your closets, fall down upon your knees before your Maker, and fervently implore him to pour down upon you the overruling influences of his Holy Spirit ; to enlighten your understandings, to sanctify your hearts, to subdue your passions, to confirm your good resolutions, and enable you to resist every enemy of your
* Rom. xii. 19-21.'
# Luke vi. 36,
+ Matth. v. 48. || Matth. v. 45.
The world will soon again display all its attractions before you, and endeavour to extinguish every good principle you have imbibed. But if the divine truths you have heard explained and enforced in these Lectures have taken any firm root in your minds;
you are seriously convinced that Christ and his religion came from heaven, and that he is able to make good whatever he has promised, and whatever he has threatened, there is nothing surely in this world that can induce you to risk the loss of eternal happiness, or the infliction of never-ceasing punishment.
Least of all, will you think that this is the precise moment for setting your affections on this world and its enjoyments; that these are the times for engaging in eager pursuits after the advantages, the honours, the pleasures of the present life; for plunging into vice, for dissolving in gaiety and pleasures, for suffering every trivial, every insignificant object, to banish the remembrance of your Maker and Redeemer from your hearts, where they ought to reign unrivalled and supreme. Surely, amidst the dark clouds that now hang over us,* these are not the things that will brighten up our prospects, that will lessen our danger, that will calm our apprehensions, and speak peace and comfort to our souls. No, it must be something of a very different nature; a deep sense of our own unworthiness, a sincere contrition for our past offences, a prostration of ourselves in all humility before the throne of giace, an earnest application for pardon and acceptance through the merits of him who died for us (whose death and sufferings for our sakes the approaching week will bring fresh before our view,) an ardent
* In March, 1798,
desire to manifest our love and gratitude, our devotion and attachment to our Maker and our Redeemer, by giving them a decided priority and predominance in our affections and our hearts ; by making their will the ruling principle of our conduct; the attainment of their favour, the advancement of their glory, the chief object of our wishes and desires. These are the sentiments we ought to cultivate and cherish, if we wish for any solid comfort under calamity or affliction, any confidence in the favour and protection of Heaven ; these alone can support and sustain our souls in the midst of danger and distress, at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.
And how, then, are these holy sentiments, these heavenly affections to be excited in our hearts ? Most certainly not by giving up all our time and all our thoughts to the endless occupations, the never-ceasing gaieties and amusements of this dissipated metropolis; but by withdrawing ourselves frequently from this tumultuous scene, by retiring into our chamber, by communing with our own hearts, by fervent prayer, by holding high converse with our Maker, and cultivating some acquaintance with that unseen world to which we are all hastening, and which, in one way or other, must be our portion for ever.
Many of those whom I now see before me, have, from their high rank and situation in life, full leisure and ample opportunities for all these important purposes ; and let them be assured, that a strict account will one day be demanded of them in what manner, and with what effect they have employed the talents, the time, and the many other advantages with which their gracious Maker has indulged them.
And even those who are most engaged in the busy and laborious scenes of life, have at least one day in the week which they may, and which they ought to dedicate to the great concerns of religion. Let then that day be kept sacred to its original destination by all ranks of men, from the highest to the lowest. Let it not be profaned by needless journeys, by splendid entertainments, by crowded assemblies, by any thing, in short, which precludes either ourselves, our families, or our domestics, from the exercise of religious duties, or the improvement of those pious sentiments and affections which it was meant to inspire. Let me not, however, be misunderstood. I mean not that it should be either to the rich or the poor, or to any human being whatever, a day of gloom and melancholy, a day of superstitious rigour, and of absolute exclusion from all society, and all innocent recreation. I know of nothing in Scripture that requires this; I know of no good effect that could result from it. On the contrary, it is a festival,