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LUKE VI. 35.
Love ye your enemies.
When, in the last discourse, we cited, as a key to the sense of this commandment, the assertion of the Apostle, that “ love is the fulfilling of the law,” we regarded the law, more particularly, as it was expounded by our Saviour; for, as Christians, it is incumbent on us to bear in mind that whereas the Jews, after the manner of human nature, had narrowed the sense and application of the divine law, He, besides having convicted them of an actual perversion of its meaning, has elicited its full import, and placed it clearly before us. In one most important instance, his construction of the law relating to our neighbour was conveyed in the very terms in which it was delivered—namely, in his teaching that the
law prohibited, not only the actual infliction of injury upon a fellow-creature, but the indulgence of such ideas and feelings as naturally predispose us to acts of aggression and injustice, or render us more easily accessible to temptations to commit them. This has been justly inferred from the terms of the tenth commandment, “ Thou shalt not covet;" but it should be remembered also, that the commandment under consideration was imposed upon the disciples of Moses in precisely the same language as that in which it is enjoined upon the followers of Christ ; * and it would be manifestly absurd to suppose that a commandment to love their neighbour as themselves applied a restraint to the outward conduct only, of those to whom it was delivered; leaving their feelings and dispositions, or the movements of their minds, to their own absolute choice and direction,
There was, however, a comprehension in the import of the divine law with regard to our neighbour, which appears to have been rather left to be collected by the more devout and considerate among the Israelites, than positively affirmed or specifically inculcated : conformably with the rude conceptions of an
* Lev. xix. 18.
early age in the history of our fallen species, and that state of minority with relation to spiritual privileges, in which the subjects of the Mosaic dispensation are represented in the apostolical writings. Our Saviour, indeed, very clearly recognised, or, rather, directly affirmed, a principle of condescension in the Deity, in the adaptation of his conduct towards the Jewish people : for example, in the matter of divorce. “ The Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife ? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you ?” (He had previously asserted one exclusive ground of divorce, and they now sought to fasten on him a charge of contravening the authority of Moses, the minister of the laws of God.) “ And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this precept;"* or, as his language is recorded by St. Matthew, “ Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.” of In all consistency, then, we may conclude, that
* Mark x. 5. * Matt. xix. 8.
the commandment, “ to love their neighbour as themselves,” was imposed on the Jews on à similar principle: that is, that the Almighty forbore to correct, and in a manner tolerated, a partial apprehension of their duty towards their fellow-creatures; reserving the special requirement of an universal and persevering benevolence to a future period, when His gracious purpose in behalf of mankind would be more clearly revealed, and more commanding inducements be supplied to the “ fulfilment of all righteousness” towards God and towards man.* To this view of our duty towards our
* The following consideration, however, on the application of the term “neighbour,” insisted upon in a valuable work on the religion of the Jews, may be of some weight on this subject :-" The Jewish religion introduced and incul" cated the great principle of benevolence, as far as it was “possible to practise it under the circumstances in which “the Hebrew people were placed, and the design for which “ it was selected. All the surrounding nations were ido“ laters, any intimate society with whom they were com“ manded to avoid : and no strangers could be permitted " to dwell amongst them, until they had renounced idola“ try; for such permission would have exposed the Jews “ to temptations too powerful for them to resist, as subse“ quent experience clearly proved. Hence the law particu“ larizes the children of their people, and the stranger who “ dwelt among them, having renounced idolatry, as the “ objects of their benevolence, lest it should be conceived “ to contradict those injunctions of the same law, which neighbour we would direct some farther attention; reminding Christians that they are called to cultivate a benevolence of a far higher character, more enduring in its nature, as well as wider in its scope, than was expected from mankind either in an ignorance of the Gospel, or a merely partial acquaintance with its principles even a benevolence which takes for its pattern the goodness of the Deity; seeking to be “merciful, as our Heavenly Father also is merciful,” *“ perfect, as He is perfect.”+
The fact which remarkably distinguishes our Saviour's exposition of the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, is, that he has extended the application of the term “ neighbour” to our enemies; and, moreover, has instructed us that it is in our observance of that commandment towards them that the Almighty regards us with especial approbation, and expressly vouchsafes us his acceptance
“ prohibited all connexion with their idolatrous neighbours, “ and all tolerance of idolaters within their own commu“ nity; for it cannot be doubted, that had the Jews been “ expressly commanded to love their neighbours, though " idolatrous, they would have mistaken the precept as a “ permission to tolerate their worship, and to partake their “ festivities.”—Graves on the Pentateuch, p. 137. * Luke vi. 36.
† Matt. v. 48.