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First then, the therefore here seems to be drawn from the Words immediately going before, which commanded their exercising the Duty of Love in a perfecter Degree than other Men, and recommended the Pattern of Almighty God himself in that Matter. And what makes it so much the more probable that they are to be restrained to this Aspect, is, that St Luke, vi. 36. concludes the like Discourse concerning the Love of Enemies, with these Words: Be ye therefore Merciful, asyour Fathet is ollo Merciful. From whence it would seem that the Perfection here enjoined, is only a Perfection of Love and Mercy; and that not so much to the Degrees of the Acts of Mercy, in which there is no Proportion between God's Mercy and ours, as to the Extent of the Object to both Friends and Foes, in which we are exprefly required to imitate him.
And as to the Doubt arising from this Interpretation, how this can be called Perfection, fince a Man may extend his Charity to both Friend and Foe, and yet be vitious in other respects ; it
be easily answered, if the Words are taken in this Sense, that it appears plainly from the Context that the Perfection spoke of is not an absolute, but a comparative Perfection, and that the Comparison lies between the Love enjoined by the Scribes and Pharisees, which was restrained to Friends and Brethren, and the Love of God, which was extended to all; the more perfect of which is here recommended, being that of which God has given us the Example. I cannot but approve of this Sense, as being both subject to the least Difficulty, and most agreeable to the Context, and to the Harmony of the two Evan
gelists who give us the Account of this Sermon, But then,
Secondly, The other Sense of Perfection is not to be past by, whereby it is extended to all moral Perfections in general ; first, because by a Parity of Reason, if the Example of God is to be followed in Patience, and Love of Enemies, it ought likewise to be followed in all other parts of Holiness. And secondly, because this being the Conclusion of this Discourfe concerning the perfecting the Law, it is no way improper that it be extended to the whole, since the Words will fairly bear it: Especially since Perfection in other Passages of Holy Scripture is Interpreted in this comprehensive Sense; we being frequently exhorted, to be Holy as God is Holy, and to be perfect and entire, wanting nothing, &c.
1. To begin with the first, that the Love of Enemies is here called Perfection comparatively, to wit in respect of the Love of Friends, which to it is but a lower Degree of Duty. For clearing of this point it will be requisite to make out these two Things.
1. That there are several Degrees of Virtue, and several Forms as it were of Proficiency in it.
2. That the Love of Enemies is one of the highest of those Degrees, or Forms of Proficiency.
1. First, That there are several Degrees of Virtue. If we observe our Saviour's Discourse from the 20th Verse to the End of this Chapter, we shall find that for these 28 Verses together, he is only pointing out to his Disciples, that is, to all Christians, the higher and more perfect Degrees of Duty, in which it was necessary, that their
Righteousness should exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. For instead of abstaining only from the gross Sin of (a) Murder, they are strictly prohibited angry Thoughts, and affronting Words against their Neighbour. Instead of the outward ceremonious Way of (6) Worship, they are commanded to approach to God, with Hearts clear from Malice, Hatred, and Contention. Instead of abftaining only from the gross Sins of (c) Fornication and Adultery, he teaches them how to restrain the inward Lustings of their Hearts, and to govern their Eyes, and all their other Members, that they be not Instruments of Uncleanness. Instead of diffolvable (d) Marriages, and the frequent Changes, which under Pretext of the Liberty of Divorce were in use among
the Jews ; he enjoins a perpetual strict Band of Friendship betwen Man and Wife, and takes away the Liberty of Divorce, except in Case of Infidelity to the Marriage-Bed. Instead of abstaining from (e) Perjury, he teaches a strict Abstinence from Oaths in common Conversation. Instead of the (f) Retaliation of Injuries, he teaches them to forgive them, and to return Good for Evil. And lastly, instead of the Love of (8) Friends, and being kind only to those of our own Sect and Party, he teaches the Love of Enemies, in Thought, Word, and Deed. And then shuts up all with this (5) Exhortation to Perfection, whereby
(a) Ver. 21, 22. (b) Ver. 23, 24, 25, 26. (c) Ver. 27, 28, 29, 30. (d) Ver. 31, 32.
(e) Ver. 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 (f) Ver. 38, 39, 40, 41, 42,
() Ver. 43, () Ver. 48.
44, 45, 46, 47.
Í do not quote
they might grow up into a more perfect Resemblance of their Heavenly Father. So that there is nothing plainer than that all along these 28 Verses, he shews them both the lower and the higher Degrees of Virtue ; and exhorts them not to rest in the lower, but to come up to the higher and more perfect Degrees of it. these only to prove this of the Degrees of Virtue from our Saviour's Authority ; but the Instances he gives, and the Reasons with which he clears up and Asserts this Doctrine, are so convincing, that it is a full Proof, both from Authority and Reason, of the Point we are now upon, that there are several Degrees of Virtue, and several Forms of Proficiency in it. And so I pass on to the next,
2. That the Love of Enemies is one of the highest of those Degrees, or Forms of Proficiency. I observe there are some very noble but difficult Duties, which are praised as Instances of Perfection, or Signs of a Man who has made a good Progress in Holiness and Virtue : Such as Humility, for it is said, Mat. xviii. 4. that be that bumbles himself is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven ; so is a Readiness to part with all for Christ's Sake. Our Saviour faid to the young Man in the Gospel, Mat. xix. 21. who had carefully kept the Commandments from his Youth, If thou wilt be perfeet, go and fell that thou hast, and give to the Poor, and thou shalt have Treasure in Hea
Such likewise is a Spirit of Unity and brotherly Love: When our Saviour prayed for this Grace to his Disciples, he words it thus, that they may be perfect in one, John xvii. 23. Such likewise is great Patience, Jam. i. 4. But let
Patience have her perfeet Work, that ye may
be perfeet and entire, wanting nothing. Such likewise is the good Government of the Tongue. If any Man offend not in Word, the same is a perfect Man, Jam. iii. 2. And lastly, to name no more, such is Love and Charity, Col. iii. 14.
Where after the Apostle had enumerated a great many Virtues, he adds, and above all these Things put on Charity, which is the Bond of Perfectness. Now the very Top of Charity is this, of the Love of Enemies; as the Force of our Saviour's Argument in my Text plainly implies, where after he had set the Love of Enemies as something peculiar to Christianity, as the doing something more than others; the Corollary he draws from that Discourse is: Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect ; having a little before taken notice of that part of God's Perfection, that he makes his Sun to rise on the Evil and on the Good, and sends Rain on the Just, and on the Unjuft.
And as we have the Authority of Holy Scripture for this, that the Love of Enemies is a great Part of Christian Perfection, Reason is consonant to Scripture in this matter, whether we consider the great Dignity or the great Difficulty of this Duty.
As to the Dignity of it, St Paul tells us that Love is the fulfilling of the Law, as working no ill to our Neighbour, neither in the Sins of Commission or omission. But some perhaps may object, that though a Man does his Duty to his Neighbour, he may
deficient in his Love to God. I answer, that no Man can love his Neighbour as he ought, but must love him for God's fake, and with an Eye to him. The giv