« Prev Sermon XXVII. Of Loving Our Enemies. Next »



MAY 29, 1670.

Matthew v. 44.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies.

BEFORE we descend to the prosecution of the duty enjoined in these words, it is requisite that we consider the scheme and form of them as they stand in relation to the context. They are ushered in with the adversative particle but, which stands as a note of opposition to something going before: and that we have in the immediately preceding verse, Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies. Which way of speaking has given occasion to an inquiry, whether the duty here enjoined by Christ be opposed to the Mosaic law, or only to the doctrine of the scribes and Pharisees, and their corrupt glosses thereupon; some having made this and the next chapter, not only a fuller explication and vindication of the Mosaic law, but an addition of higher and perfecter rules of piety and morality to it.

For the better clearing of which point, I conceive that the matter of all the commandments (the fourth only, as it determines the time of God’s solemn worship 294to the seventh day, excepted) is of natural moral right, and by consequence carries with it a necessary and eternal obligation; as rising from the unalterable relation that a rational creature bears either to God, his neighbour, or himself. For there are certain rules of deportment suggested by nature to each of these; which to deviate from, or not come up to, would be irrational, and consequently sinful. So that such duties can by no means owe their first obligation to any new precept given by Christ, but, springing from an earlier stock, obliged men in all ages and places, since the world began. Forasmuch as that general habitude or relation (upon which all particular instances of duty are founded) which men bore to God, their neighbour, and themselves, upon account of their being rational creatures, was universally and equally the same in all. So that for a man to hate his enemy, or to be revengeful, or to be angry without a cause, or to swear rashly, or by looks, words, or actions, to behave himself lasciviously, were, without question, always aberrations from the dictates of rightly improved reason; and consequently, in the very nature of the things themselves, unlawful. For if there were not a natural evil and immorality in the aforesaid acts, nor a goodness in the contrary, but that all this issued from a positive injunction of the one, and prohibition of the other; what reason can be assigned, but that God might have commanded the said acts, and made them duties, instead of forbidding them? which yet certainly would be a very strange, or rather monstrous assertion, but nevertheless, by a necessity of sequel, unavoidable. From whence I conceive it to be very clear, that if the several particulars commanded or 295forbidden by Christ, in that his great sermon upon the mount, had a natural good or evil respectively belonging to them; Christ thereby added no new precept to the moral law, which eternally was and will be the same, as being the unalterable standard or measure of the behaviour of a rational creature in all its relations and capacities.

For we must not think, that when the law, either by precept or prohibition, takes notice only of the outward act, and the gospel afterwards directs itself to the thoughts and desires, the motives and causes of the said act; or again, when the law gives only a general precept, and the gospel assigns several particular instances reducible to the same general in junction, that therefore the gospel gives so many new precepts corrective or perfective of the aforesaid precepts of the law. No, by no means; for it is a rule which ever was and ever ought to be allowed in interpreting the divine precepts, that every such precept does virtually and implicitly, and by a parity of reason, contain in it more than it expressly declares; which is so true, that those persons, who impugn the perfection of the old moral precepts, and upon that account oppose the precepts of Christ to them, do yet find it necessary to maintain, that even the precepts of our Saviour himself ought to extend their obligation to many more particulars than are mentioned in them, and yet are not to be looked upon, as at all the less perfect upon that account. Which rule of interpreting being admitted, and made use of as to the precepts of the New Testament, why ought it not to take place in those of the Old also? And if it ought, (as there can be no shadow of reason to the contrary,) I dare undertake, that there will be no 296need of multiplying of new precepts in the gospel, as often as the Papists and Socinians have a turn to serve by them. For surely every new instance of obedience does not of necessity infer a new precept; and for that reason we may and do admit of several of the former, without any need of asserting the latter. The unity of a precept is founded in the general unity of its object, and every such general comprehends many particulars. The very institution of the two Christian sacraments, is rather the assignation of two new instances of obedience than of two new precepts. For Christ having once authentically declared that God would be worshipped by those two solemn acts, the antecedent general precept of worshipping God according to his own will, was sufficient to oblige us to these two particular branches of it, being thus declared; and indeed to as many more as should from time to time be suggested to our practice. For otherwise, if the multiplication of new particular instances of duty should multiply precepts too, it would render them innumerable, which would be extremely absurd and ridiculous.

And now, all that has been here alleged by us against the necessity of holding any new precepts added to the old moral law, as it obliged all man kind, (whether notified to them by the light of nature only, or by revelation too,) I reckon may as truly be affirmed of the law of Moses also; (still sup posing it a true and perfect transcript of the said moral law, as we have all the reason in the world to believe it was;) for were it otherwise, it would be hard to shew, what advantage it could be to the Jewish church to have that law delivered to them; but on the contrary, it must needs have been rather a snare 297than a privilege or help to them, as naturally giving them occasion to look upon that as the most perfect draught of their duty, when yet it required of them a lower degree of obedience than nature had before obliged them to; it being a thing in itself most rational, to suppose the latter declaration of a legislator’s mind to be still the fuller and more authentic. And therefore, if other duties had been incumbent upon the Jewish church by the law of nature, besides what were contained in the law of Moses; it is not imaginable how they could avoid the omission of those duties while they acquiesced in the directions of Moses as a full and sufficient rule of obedience, and had so much reason so to do. Which yet surely must have rendered the whole Mosaic dispensation by no means agreeable either to the wisdom or goodness of God towards his chosen people.

For though indeed the moral law as a covenant promising life upon condition of absolute indefective obedience, be now of no use to justify, (sin having disabled it for that use through the incapacity of the subject,) yet as it is a rule directing our obedience, and a law binding to it, it still continues in full force, and will do as long as human nature endures. And as for the absolute perfection of it in the quality of a rule directing, and a law obliging, can that be more amply declared, and irrefragably proved, than as it stands stated and represented to us in the vast latitude of that injunction, Deut. vi. 5. and Levit. xix. 18. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself: I say, is there any higher degree of 298obedience which the nature of man is capable of yielding to his Maker than this?

Nevertheless there are some artists, I must confess, who can draw any thing out of any thing, who answer, that these words are not to be understood of absolutely all that a man can do; but of all that he can be engaged to do by the law as proposed under such an economy, namely, as enforced with temporal promises and threatenings; so that upon these terms, to love God with all the heart, &c. is to love him with the utmost of such an obedience, as laws, seconded with temporal blessings and curses, are able to produce. But to this I answer;

First, That the argument bears upon a supposition by no means to be admitted, to wit, that the law of Moses proceeded only upon temporal rewards and punishments: which is most false, and contrary to the constantly received doctrine of the Christian church; and particularly of the church of England, as it is declared in the sixth of her Articles. But,

Secondly, I add further, That the obliging power of the law is neither founded in, nor to be measured by, the rewards and punishments annexed to it; but by the sole authority of the lawgiver springing from the relation which he bears, of a creator and governor, to mankind, and consequently of the entire dependance of mankind upon him; by virtue whereof they owe him the utmost service that their nature renders them capable of doing him. And that, I am sure, is capable of serving him at an higher rate, than the consideration of any temporal rewards or punishments can raise it to; since oftentimes the bare love of virtue itself will carry a man further than these can; but however it is certain that eternal rewards 299can do so; which yet add nothing to our natural powers of obeying, though they draw them forth to an higher pitch of obedience. And can we then imagine that God would sink his law below these powers, by leaving some degree of love and service to himself absolutely within the strength and power of man, which he did not think fit by the Mosaic law to oblige him to, (when yet our Saviour himself promised eternal life to one, upon supposal of his performance of this law,) Luke x. 28. This certainly is very strange divinity. But after all, some may possibly reply, Does not the gospel enjoin us that perfection and height of charity which the law never did, in commanding us to lay down our life for our brother? 1 John iii. 16.

To which I answer, That this is a precept by no means absolute and universal, but always to be limited by these two conditions, viz. first, that the glory of God, and, secondly, that the eternal welfare of the soul of our brother indispensably requires this of us; upon the supposal of either of which I affirm, it was as really a duty from the beginning of the world, as it was from that very time that the apostle wrote these words; the very common voice of reason upon these terms, and under these circumstances, dictating and enjoining no less, as founding itself upon these two self-evident and undeniable principles, viz. that the life of the creature ought, when necessity calls, to be sacrificed to the glory of him who gave it; and secondly, that we ought to prefer the eternal good of our neighbour or brother, before the highest temporal good of our selves. Which manifestly shews, that this high in stance of charity (as extraordinary as it appears) did 300not at length begin to be a duty by any evangelical sanction, but was soever since there was such creatures in the world as men, and consequently that all, both Jews and Gentiles, (whether they actually knew so much or no,) would have sinned against this duty of charity, should they have refused to promote the glory of their Maker, or prevent the destruction of their brother’s immortal soul, being called thereto, by quitting this temporal life for the sake of either. And consequently that this is no such new precept to be reckoned by anno Domini, but as old as the obligations of charity and of right reason, discoursing and acting upon the dictates of that noble principle.

And now to apply this general discourse to the particulars mentioned in this chapter: I affirm, that Christ does by no means here set himself against the law of Moses, as a law either faulty or imperfect, and upon those accounts needing either correction or addition, but only opposed the corrupt comments of the scribes and Pharisees upon the law, as really contradictions to it, rather than expositions of it; and that for these following reasons:

First, Because the words in this sermon mentioned and opposed by Christ, are manifestly, for the most part, not the words of the law itself, but of the scribes and Pharisees. As for instance, Whosoever shall kill., shall be in danger of the judgment. And again in the next verse, He shall be in danger of the council. They all refer to the Pharisees’ way of expressing themselves; which manifestly shews, that it was their doctrine and words which he was now disputing against, and not the law itself; which this is by no means the language of.


Secondly, That expression, That it was said by those66   Some render it [to those.]of old time, was not uttered by Christ in his own person, but by way of prosopopoeia, in the person of the scribes and Pharisees, whose custom it was to preface and authorize their lectures and glosses to the people with the pompous plea of antiquity and tradition. As if Christ had bespoken them thus: You have been accustomed indeed to hear the scribes and Pharisees tell you, that this and this was said by those of old time: but, notwithstanding all these pretences, I tell you that the case is much otherwise, and that the true account and sense of the law is thus and thus. This, I say, is the natural purport and meaning of our Saviour’s words through out this chapter.

Thirdly, That passage in the 43d verse of the same, Ye have heard that it hath been said, Ye shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy, is so far from being the words of the Mosaic law, that Moses commands the clean contrary to the latter clause, Exod. xxiii. 4, 5. If thou seest thine enemy’s ox going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again; and if thou seest the ass of him who hateth thee lying under his burden, thou shalt surely help him. And if this was the voice of the law then, can we imagine that it would make it a man’s duty to relieve his enemy’s ox, or his ass, and at the same time allow him to hate or malign his person? This certainly is unaccountable and incredible.

Fourthly, If Christ opposed his precepts to those of the Mosaic law, then God speaking by Christ must contradict himself as speaking by Moses. For whatsoever Moses spoke, he spoke as the immediate 302dictates of God, from whom he received the law. But this is absurd, and by no means consistent with the divine holiness and veracity.

Fifthly and lastly, Christ in all this discourse never calls any one of the doctrines opposed by him the words of Moses, or of the law, but only the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, which shews that they, and they only, were the persons with whom he managed this whole contest.

Let this therefore rest with us as a firm conclusion; that Moses and Christ were at perfect agreement, whatever the controversy was between him and the Pharisees. And so from the scheme and context of the words, I pass to the duty enjoined in them, which is to love our enemies; the discussion of which I shall cast under these three general heads:

First, I shall shew negatively what is not that love, which we are here commanded to shew our enemies.

Secondly, I shall shew positively wherein it does consist.

Thirdly, I shall produce arguments to enforce it.

And first, for the first of these; what is not that love, which we must shew our enemies: this we shall find to exclude several things which would fain wear this name.

1. As, first, to treat an enemy with a fair deportment and amicable language, is not the love here enjoined by Christ. Love is a thing that scorns to dwell any where but in the heart. The tongue is a thing made for words; but what reality is there in a voice, what substance in a sound? and words are no more. The kindness of the heart never kills, but that of the tongue often does. And in an ill sense a soft answer 303may sometimes break the bones. He who speaks me well, proves himself a rhetorician or a courtier; but that is not to be a friend.

Was ever the hungry fed or the naked clothed with good looks or fair speeches? These are but thin garments to keep out the cold, and but a slender repast to conjure down the rage of a craving appetite. My enemy perhaps is ready to starve or perish through poverty, and I tell him I am heartily glad to see him, and should be very ready to serve him, but still my hand is close, and my purse shut; I neither bring him to my table, nor lodge him under my roof; he asks for bread, and I give him a compliment, a thing indeed not so hard as a stone, but altogether as dry. I treat him with art and outside: and lastly, at parting, with all the ceremonies of dearness, I shake him by the hand, but put nothing into it. In a word, I play with his distress, and dally with that which will not be dallied with, want and misery, and a clamorous necessity.

For will fair words and a courtly behaviour pay debts and discharge scores? If they could, there is a sort of men that would not be so much in debt as they are. Can a man look and speak himself out of his creditor’s hands? Surely then, if my words cannot do this for myself, neither can they do it for my enemy. And therefore this has nothing of the love spoken of in the text. It is but a scene, and a mere mockery, for the receiving that, cannot make my enemy at all the richer, the giving of which makes me not one penny the poorer. It is indeed the fashion of the world thus to amuse men with empty caresses, and to feast them with words and air, looks and legs; nay, and it has this peculiar privilege above all other fashions, 304that it never alters: but certainly no man ever yet quenched his thirst with looking upon a golden cup, nor made a meal with the outside of a lordly dish.

But we are not to rest here; fair speeches and looks are not only very insignificant as to the real effects of love, but are for the most part the instruments of hatred in the execution of the greatest mischiefs. Few men are to be ruined till they are made confident of the contrary: and this cannot be done by threats and roughness, and owning the mischief that a man designs; but the pitfall must be covered, to invite the man to venture over it; all things must be sweetened with professions of love, friendly looks, and embraces. For it is oil that whets the razor, and the smoothest edge is still the sharpest: they are the complacencies of an enemy that kill, the closest hugs that stifle, and love must be pretended before malice can be effectually practised. In a word, he must get into his heart with fair speeches and promises, before he can come at it with his dagger. For surely no man fishes with a bare hook, or thinks that the net itself can be any enticement to the bird.

But now, if these outward shews of fairness are short of the love which we owe to our enemies; what can we say of those who have not arrived so far as these, and yet pretend to be friends? Disdain and distance, sour looks and sharp words, are all the expressions of friendship that some natures can manifest. I confess, where real kindnesses are done, these circumstantial garnitures of love (as I may so call them) may be dispensed with; and it is better to have a rough friend than a fawning enemy: but those who neither do good turns nor give good 305looks, nor speak good words, have a love strangely subtile and metaphysical: for other poor mortals of an ordinary capacity are forced to be ignorant of that which they can neither see, hear, feel, nor understand. And thus much for the first negative. The love that we are to shew to enemies is not a fair external courtly deportment; it is not such a thing as may be learnt in a dancingschool, nor in those shops of fallacy and dissimulation, the courts and palaces of great men, where men’s thoughts and words stand at an infinite distance, and their tongues and minds hold no correspondence or intercourse with one another.

2. Fair promises are not the love that our Saviour here commands us to shew our enemies. And yet these are one step and advance above the former: for many fair speeches may be given, many courteous harangues uttered, and yet no promise made. And it is worth observing how some great ones often delude, and simple ones suffer themselves to be deluded, by general discourses and expressions of courtesy. As, “Take you no care, I will provide for you. I will never see you want. Leave your business in my hands, and I will manage it with as much or more concern than you could yourself. What need you insist so much upon this or that in particular? I design better things for you.” But all this while there is no particular determinate thing promised, so as to hold such an one by any real, solid engagement, (supposing that his promise were such,) but perhaps, when the next advantage comes in the way, the man is forgot and balked: yet still those general speeches hold as true as ever they did, and so will continue, notwithstanding all 306particular defeats; as indeed being never calculated for any thing else but to keep up the expectation of easy persons; to feed them for the present, and to fail them in the issue.

But now, as these empty glossing words are short of promises, so promises are equally short of performances. Concerning both which I shall say this, that there is no wise man, but had rather have had one promise than a thousand fair words, and one performance than ten thousand promises. For what trouble is it to promise, what charge is it to spend a little breath, for a man to give one his word, who never intends to give him any thing else? And yet, according to the measures of the world, this must sometimes pass for an high piece of love; and many poor unexperienced believing souls, who have more honesty than wit, think themselves wrapped up into the third heaven, and actually possessed of some no table preferment, when they can say, “I have such a great person’s promise for such or such a thing.” Have they so? Let them see if such a promise will pay rent, buy land, and maintain them like gentle men. It is at the best but a future contingent; for either the man may die, or his interest may fail, or his mind may change, or ten thousand accidents may intervene. Promises are a diet which none ever yet thrived by, and a man may feed upon them heartily, and never break his fast. In a word, I may say of human promises, what expositors say of divine prophecies, “that they are never understood till they come to be fulfilled.”

But how speaks the scripture of these matters? Why, in Rom. xii. 20. If thine enemy hunger , feed him; if he thirst, give him drink. It is not, Promise 307him meat and drink a week hence, that is perhaps two days after he is dead with thirst and hunger. He who lives only upon reversions, and maintains himself with hope, and has nothing to cover him but the clothes of dead men, and the promises of the living, will find just as much relief from them, as a man in the depth of winter feels the heat of the following summer.

But bare promises are so far from answering Christ’s precept of loving our enemies, that if they are not realized in deeds, they become a plague and a great calamity. For they raise an expectation, which, unsatisfied or defeated, is the greatest of torments; they betray a man to a fallacious dependance, which bereaves him of the succours of his other endeavours, and in the issue leaves him to inherit the shame and misery of a disappointment, and unable to say any thing else for himself, but that he was credulous, and the promiser false.

3. But thirdly and lastly, to advance a degree yet higher, to do one or two kind offices for an enemy, is not to fulfil the precept of loving him. He who clothes a naked man with a pair of gloves, and ad ministers to one perishing with thirst a drop or two of water, reaches not the measure of his necessity, but, instead of relieving, only upbraids his want, and passes a jest upon his condition. It is like pardoning a man the debt of a penny, and in the mean time suing him fiercely for a talent. Love is then only of reality and value when it deals forth benefits in a full proportion to one’s need; and when it shews itself both in universality and constancy. Otherwise it is only a trick to serve a turn and carry on a design.


For he who would take a cleanly, unsuspected way to ruin his adversary, must pave the way to his destruction with some courtesies of a lighter sort, the sense of which shall take him off from his guard, his wariness, and suspicion, and so lay him open to such a blow as shall destroy him at once. The skilful rider strokes and pleases the unruly horse, only that he may come so near him, as to get the bit into his mouth, and then he rides, and rules, and domineers over him at his pleasure. So he who hates his enemy with a cunning equal to his malice, will not strain to do this or that good turn for him, so long as it does not thwart, but rather promote the main design of his utter subversion. For all this is but like the helping a man over the stile, who is going to be hanged, which surely is no very great or difficult piece of civility.

In the reign of queen Elizabeth, we read of one whom the grandees of the court procured to be made secretary of state, only to break his back in the business of the queen of Scots, whose death they were then projecting: like true courtiers, they first engage him in that fatal scene, and then desert him in it, using him only as a tool to do a present state job, and then to be reproached and ruined for what he had done. And a little observation of the world may shew us, that there is not only a course of beheading, or hanging, but also of preferring men out of the way. But this is not to love an enemy, but to hate him more artificially. He is ruined more speciously indeed, but not less efficaciously, than if he had been laid fast in a dungeon, or banished his country, or by a packed jury despatched into another world.


2. And thus having done with the negative, I come now to the second general thing proposed; namely, to shew positively what is included in the duty of loving our enemies.

It includes these three things.

1. A discharging the mind of all rancour and virulence towards an adversary. The scripture most significantly calls it the leaven of malice, and we know that is of a spreading and fermenting nature, and will in time diffuse a sourness upon a man’s whole behaviour: but we will suppose (which is yet seldom found) that a man has such an absolute empire and command over his heart, as for ever to stifle his disgusts, and to manage his actions in a constant contradiction to his affections, and to maintain a friendly converse, while he is hot with the rancour of an enemy; yet all this is but the mystery of dissimulation, and to act a part, instead of acting a friend.

Besides the trouble and anxiety to the very person who thus behaves himself. For enmity is a restless thing, and not to be dissembled without some torment to the mind that entertains it. It is more easily removed than covered. It is as if a man should endeavour to keep the sparks from flying out of a furnace, or as if a birth should be stopped when it is ripe and ready for delivery, which surely would be a pain greater than that of bringing forth.

He who is resolved to hate his enemy, and yet resolves not to shew it, has turned the edge of his hatred inwards, and becomes a tyrant and an enemy to himself: he could not wish his mortal adversary a greater misery, than thus to carry a mind always 310big and swelling, and ever ready to burst, and yet never to give it vent.

But on the other side, it is no pain for a man to ap pear what he is, and to declare a real principle of love in sensible demonstrations. Does a man therefore find that both his duty and his interest require, that he should deport himself with all signs of love to his enemies? let him but take this easy course, as to entertain the thing in his heart which he would manifest in his converse, and then he will find that his work is as natural and easy, as it is for fire to cast abroad a flame. Art is difficult, but whatsoever is natural is easy too.

2. To love an enemy is to do him all the real offices of kindness, that opportunity shall lay in our way. Love is of too substantial a nature to be made up of mere negatives, and withal too operative to terminate in bare desires. Does Providence cast any of my enemies’ concernments under my power; as his health, his estate, preferment, or any thing conducing to the conveniences of his life? Why, in all this it gives me an opportunity to manifest, whether or no I can reach the sublimity of this precept of loving my enemies.

Is my enemy sick and languishing, and is it in my power to cure him as easily, or to kill him as safely, as if I were his physician? Christianity here commands me to be concerned for his weakness, to shew him a remedy, and to rescue him from the grave; and in a word, to preserve that life which perhaps would have once destroyed mine.

Do I see my enemy defrauded and circumvented, and like to be undone in his estate? I must not sit 311still and see him ruined, and tell him I wish him well; which is a contradiction in practice, and an impudent, ill-natured sarcasm: but I must contribute my hearty assistance to discover the fraud, and to repel the force: and as readily keep him from being poor, as relieve him if he were. I must be as for ward in the pursuit of the thief who stole his goods who once plundered mine, as if the injury had light upon my friend, my kinsman, or myself.

And lastly, does it lie in my way to put in a word to dash or promote my enemy’s business or interest? to give him a secret blow, such a one as shall strike his interest to the ground for ever, and he never know the hand from whence it came? Can I by my power obstruct his lawful advantage and preferments, and so reap the diabolical satisfaction of a close revenge? Can I do him all the mischief imaginable, and that easily, safely, and success fully; and so applaud myself in my power, my wit, and my subtile contrivances, for which the world shall court me as formidable and considerable? Yet all these wretched practices and accursed methods of growing great, and rising by the fall of an enemy, are to be detested, as infinitely opposite to that innocence and clearness of spirit, that openness and freedom from design, that becomes a professor of Christianity.

On the contrary, amidst all these opportunities of doing mischief, I must espouse my enemy’s just cause, as his advocate or solicitor. I must help it forward by favourable speeches of his person, acknowledgment of his worth and merit, by a fair construction of doubtful passages: and all this, if need be, in secret, where my enemy neither sees nor hears me do 312him these services, and consequently where I have all the advantages and temptations to do otherwise. In short, the gospel enjoins a greater love to our enemies, than men, for the most part, nowadays shew their friends.

3. The last and crowning instance of our love to our enemies is to pray for them. For by this a man, as it were, acknowledges himself unable to do enough for his enemy; and therefore he calls in the assistance of Heaven, and engages omnipotence to complete the kindness. He would fain outdo himself, and therefore, finding his own stores short and dry, he repairs to infinity. Prayer for a man’s self is indeed a choice duty, yet it is but a kind of lawful and pious selfishness. For who would not solicit for his own happiness, and be importunate for his own concerns? But when I pray as heartily for my enemy as I do for my daily bread; when I strive with prayers and tears to make God his friend, who himself will not be mine; when I reckon his felicity amongst my own necessities; surely this is such a love as, in a literal sense, may be said to reach up to heaven. For nobody judges that a small and a trivial thing, for which he dares to pray: no man comes into the presence of a king to beg pins. And therefore, if a man did not look upon the good of his enemy, as a thing that nearly affected himself, he could not own it as a matter of a petition, and endeavour to concern God about that with which he will not concern himself. And upon the same ground also is inferred the necessity of a man’s personal endeavouring the good and happiness of his enemy: for prayer without endeavour is but an affront to the throne of grace, and a lazy throwing that which is our own duty upon God. 313As if a man should say, God forgive you, God relieve and comfort you, for I will not. But if to pray for an enemy be a duty, surely the manner in which we do it ought to be so too: and not such as shall turn a supplication for him into a satire against him, by representing him in our prayers under the character of one void of all grace and goodness, and consequently a much fitter object for God’s vengeance than his mercy. And yet there was a time in which this way of praying was in no small vogue with a certain sort of men, who would allow neither the gift nor spirit of prayer to any but themselves. For if at any time they prayed for those whom they accounted their enemies, (and that only because they had done so much to make them so,) it could not be properly called an interceding with God for them, but a downright indicting and arraigning them before God, as a pack of graceless wretches and villains, and avowed enemies to the power and purity of the gospel. This and the like, I say, was the devout language of their prayers, sometimes by intimation, and sometimes by direct expression: and thus, under the colour and cover of some plausible artificial words, it was but for them to call those whom they maligned Antichrist, and themselves the kingdom of Christ, and then they might very laudably pray for the pulling down of the one, and the setting up of the other, and thereby no doubt answer all the measures of a sanctified, self-denying petition.77   See something upon the like subject, vol. i. p. 431. But as those days are at an end, so it were to be wished that such kind of praying were so too; especially since our church, I am sure, has so much charity, as 314to teach all of her communion to pray for those who are not only enemies to our persons, but also to our very prayers.

And thus I have endeavoured to shew what it is to love our enemies; though I will not say that I have recounted all the instances in which this duty may exert itself. For love is infinite, and the methods of its acting various and innumerable. But I suppose that I have marked out those generals which all particulars may be fairly reduced to.

And now, before I proceed to the motives and arguments to enforce the duty, I shall, to prevent some abuses of this doctrine, shew what is not inconsistent with this loving our enemies: and that is, to defend and secure ourselves against them. I am to love my enemy, but not so as to hate myself: if my love to him be a copy, I am sure the love to myself ought to be the original. Charity is indeed to diffuse itself abroad, but yet it may lawfully begin at home: for the precept surely is not unnatural and irrational; nor can it state the duty of Christians in opposition to the privileges of men, and command us tamely to surrender up our lives and estates as often as the hands of violence would wrest them from us. We may love our enemies, but we are not therefore to be fond of their enmity. And though I am commanded when my enemy thirsts, to give him drink, yet it is not when he thirsts for my blood. It is my duty to give him an alms, but not to let him take my estate. Princes and governors may very well secure themselves with laws and arms against implacable enemies, for all this precept: they are not bound to leave the state defenceless, against the projects, plots, and insurrections of those who are pleased to think themselves 315persecuted, if they are not permitted to reign. We may, with a very fair comportment with this precept, love our enemies persons, while we hate their principles, and counterplot their designs.

I come now to the third and last thing, viz. to as sign motives and arguments to enforce this love to our enemy; and they shall be taken,

1. From the condition of our enemy’s person.

2. From the excellency of the duty.

3. From the great examples that recommend it. And,

For the first of these, if we consider our enemy, we shall find that he sustains several capacities, which may give him a just claim to our charitable affection.

1. As, first, he is joined with us in the society and community of the same nature. He is a man; and so far bears the image and superscription of our heavenly Father. He may cease to be our friend, but he cannot cease to be our brother. For we all descended from the same loins, and though Esau hates Jacob, and Jacob supplants Esau, yet they once lay in the same womb: and therefore the saying of Moses may be extended to all men at variance; Why do ye wrong one to another, for ye are brethren? If my enemy were a snake or a viper, I could do no more than hate and trample upon him: but shall I hate the seed of the woman as much as I do that of the serpent? We hold that God loves the most sinful of his creatures so far as they are his creatures; and the very devils could not sin themselves out of an excel lent nature, though out of an happy condition.

Even war, which is the rage of mankind, and observes no laws but its own, yet offers quarter to an 316enemy; I suppose, because enmity does not obliterate humanity, nor wholly cancel the sympathies of nature. For every man does, or, I am sure, he may see something of himself in his enemy, and a transcript of those perfections for which he values himself.

And therefore those inhuman butcheries which some men have acted upon others, stand upon record, not only as the crimes of persons, but also as the reproach of our very nature, and excusable upon no other colour or account whatsoever, but that the persons who acted such cruelties upon other men first ceased to be men themselves; and were indeed to be reckoned as so many anomalies and exceptions from mankind; persons of another make or mould from the rest of the sons of Adam, and deriving their original, not from the dust, but rather from the stones of the earth.

2. An enemy, notwithstanding his enmity, may be yet the proper object of our love, because it some times so falls out, that he is of the same religion with us, and the very business and design of religion is to unite, and to put, as it were, a spiritual cognation and kindred between souls. I am sure this is the great purpose of the Christian religion; which never joins men to Christ but by first joining them amongst themselves: and making them members one of another, as well as knitting them all to the same head. By how much the more intolerable were our late zealots, in their pretences to a more refined strain of purity and converse with God, while in the mean time their hearts could serve them to plunder, worry, and undo their poor brethren, only for their loyal adherence to their sovereign; sequestering 317and casting whole families out of their houses and livings, to starve abroad in the wide world, against all the laws of God and man; and who to this day breathe the same rage towards all dissenters from them, should they once more get the reforming sword into their hands. What these men’s religion may teach them, I know not, but I am sure it is so far from teaching them to love their enemies, that they found their bitterest enmities and most inveterate hatreds only upon religion; which has taught them first to call their malice zeal, and then to think it their duty to be malicious and implacable.

3. An enemy may be the proper object of our lore, because, though perhaps he is not capable of being changed, and made a friend by it, (which, for any thing I know, is next to impossible,) yet he is capable of being shamed, and rendered inexcusable. And shame may smooth over his behaviour, though no kindness can change his disposition: upon which account it is, that, so far as a man shames his enemy, so far he also disarms him. For he leaves him stripped of the assistance and good opinion of the world round about him; without which, it is impossible for any man living to be considerable, either in his friendships or his enmities.

Love is the fire that must both heap and kindle those coals upon our enemy’s head, that shall either melt or consume him. For that man I account as good as consumed and ruined, whom all people, even upon the common concern of mankind, abhor for his ingratitude, as a pest and a public enemy. So that if my enemy is resolved to treat me spite fully, notwithstanding all my endeavours to befriend 318and oblige him; and if he will still revile and rail at me, after I have employed both tongue and hand to serve and promote him, surely I shall by this means at least make his virulent words recoil upon his bold face and his foul mouth; and so turn that stream of public hatred and detestation justly upon himself, which he was endeavouring to bring upon me. And if I do no more, it is yet worth while, even upon a temporal account, to obey this precept of Christ, of loving my enemy. And thus much for the first general argument to enforce this duty, grounded upon the condition of my enemy’s person.

2. A second motive or argument to the same shall be taken from the excellency of the duty itself. It is the highest perfection that human nature can reach unto. It is an imitation of the divine goodness, which shines upon the heads, and rains upon the fields of the sinful and unjust; and heaps blessings upon those who are busy only to heap up wrath to themselves. To love an enemy is to stretch humanity as far as it will go. It is an heroic action, and such an one as grows not upon an ordinary plebeian spirit.

The excellency of the duty is sufficiently proclaimed by the difficulty of its practice. For how hard is it, when the passions are high, and the sense of an injury quick, and power ready, for a man to deny himself in that luscious morsel of revenge! to do violence to himself, instead of doing it to his enemy! and to command down the strongest principles and the greatest heats, that usually act the soul when it exerts itself upon such objects.

And the difficulty of such a behaviour is no less declared by its being so rarely and seldom observed 319in men. For whom almost can we see, who opens his arms to his enemies, or puts any other bounds to his hatred of him but satiety or disability; either because it is even glutted with having done so much against him already, or wants power to do more? Indeed where such a pitch of love is found, it appears glorious and glistering in the eyes of all, and much admired and commended it is; but yet for the most part no otherwise than as we see men admiring and commending some rare piece of art, which they never intend to imitate, nor so much as to attempt an imitation of. Nothing certainly but an excellent disposition, improved by a mighty grace, can bear a man up to this perfection.

3. The third motive or argument shall be drawn from the great examples which recommend this duty to us. And first of all from that of our blessed Saviour, whose footsteps in the paths of love we may trace out and follow by his own blood. He gave his life for sinners; that is, for enemies, yea, and enemies with the highest aggravation; for nothing can make one man so much an enemy to another, as sin makes him an enemy to God.

I say unto you, Love your enemies, says Christ, that is, I emphatically, I who say it by my example as much as by my precept. For Christ went about doing good, Acts x. 38. Yea, and he did it still in a miracle. Every work that he did was equally beneficial and miraculous. And the place where he did such wonders of charity was Jerusalem, a city red with the blood of God’s messengers, and paved with the skulls of prophets; a city, which he knew would shortly complete all its cruelty and impiety in his own murder, though he was the promised and 320long expected Messias. And in the prologue to this murder, his violent attachment, when one of his enemies was wounded, he bestowed a miracle upon his cure: so tender was he of his mortal enemies. Like a lamb, that affords wherewithal both to feed and clothe its very butcher; nay, and while he was actually hanging upon the cross, he uttered a passionate prayer for the forgiveness of his murderers: so desirous was he, that though they had the sole acting, yet that he himself should have the whole feeling of their sin. In fine, now that he sits at the right hand of his Father, triumphant, and governing the world, from whence he could with much more ease confound his most daring enemies, than the most potent grandee can crush his meanest and most servile dependants; yet he treats them with all the methods of patience and arts of reconcilement, and in a word, endures with much long-suffering those vessels of wrath, who seem even resolved to perish, and obstinately set to fit themselves for destruction.

And now, though, after such an example, this sort of argument for the loving our enemies can be carried no higher, yet, blessed be God, that is not so wholly exhausted by any one example, but that it may be carried further; and that by several instances, which, though they do by no means come up to a just comparison with it, yet ought to be owned for noble imitations of it. And such an one this happy day affords us, a day consecrated to the solemn commemoration of the nativity and return of a prince, who having been most barbarously driven out of his kingdoms, and afterwards as miraculously restored to them, brought with him the greatest, the brightest, and most stupendous instance of this virtue, 321that, next to what has been observed of our Saviour himself, was ever yet shewn by man; providence seeming to have raised up this prince, as it had done his father before him, to give the world a glorious demonstration, that the most injured of men might be the most merciful of men too. For after the highest of wrongs and contumelies that a sovereign could suffer from his subjects; scorning all revenge, as more below him than the very persons whom he might have been revenged upon, he gloried in nothing so much as in giving mercy the upper hand of majesty itself, making amnesty his symbol or motto, and forgiveness the peculiar signalizing character of his reign; herein resembling the Almighty himself, (as far as mortality can,) who seems to claim a greater glory for sparing and redeeming man, than for creating him. So that, in a word, as our Saviour has made love to our enemies one of the chiefest badges of our religion, so our king has almost made it the very mark of our allegiance.

Thus even to a prodigy merciful has he shewn himself; merciful by inclination, and merciful by extraction; merciful in his example, and merciful in his laws, and thereby expressing the utmost dutifulness of a son, as well as the highest magnanimity and clemency of a prince; while he is still making that good upon the throne which the royal martyr his father had enjoined upon the scaffold; where he died pardoning and praying for those whose malice he was then falling a victim to: and this with a charity so unparalleled, and a devotion so fervent, that the voice of his prayers, it is to be hoped, drowned the very cry of his blood. But I love not to dwell upon such tragedies, save only to illustrate the height 322of one contrary by the height of another; and therefore, as an humble follower of the princely pattern here set before us, I shall draw a veil of silence over all; especially since it surpasses the power of words sufficiently to set forth, either the greatness of the crimes forgiven, or of the mercy that forgave them.

But to draw to a close: we have here had the highest and the hardest duty perhaps belonging to a Christian, both recommended to our judgment by argument, and to our practice by example; and what remains, but that we submit our judgment to the one, and govern our practice by the other? And for that purpose, that we beg of God an assistance equal to the difficulty of the duty enjoined; for certainly it is not an ordinary measure of grace that can conquer the opposition that flesh and blood, and corrupt reason itself, after all its convictions, will be sure to make to it. The greatest miseries that be fall us in this world are from enemies; and so long as men naturally desire to be happy, it will be naturally as hard to them to love those who they know are the grand obstacles to their being so. The light of nature will convince a man of many duties which it will never enable him to perform. And if we should look no further than bare nature, this seems to be one cut out rather for our admiration than our practice. It being not more difficult (where grace does not interpose) to cut off a right hand, than to reach it heartily to the relief of an inveterate implacable adversary. And yet God expects this from us, and that so peremptorily, that he has made the pardon of our enemies the indispensable condition of our own. And therefore that wretch, (whosoever he was,) who, being pressed hard upon his deathbed to 323pardon a notable enemy which he had, answered, “That if he died indeed, he pardoned him; but if he lived, he would be revenged on him:” that wretch, I say, and every other such image of the devil, no doubt, went out of the world so, that he had better never have come into it. In fine, after we have said the utmost upon this subject that we can, I believe we shall find this the result of all, that he is an happy man who has no enemies, and he a much happier who has never so many, and can pardon them.

God preserve us from the one, or enable us to do the other. To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

« Prev Sermon XXVII. Of Loving Our Enemies. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection