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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
Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to
rise * Sen. de Benef. lib. 4. c. 26. and c. 28. + Acts xviii. 12.
6 the gods
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, show many acts of kindness even to the ungrateful *." It is highly probable that the philosopher took that 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 wrate after the Gospels were written, and 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.f. 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 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 this only, 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 sups position that we are to love our enemies in the same manner and degree, and with the same cordiality and ardour of affection, that we da 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, his 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 overcome evil with good *.” This then is the love that we are to shew 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 to, wards every human being, especially in distress, If even our enemy hunger, we are to feed him; if he thirst, we are to give him drink; and thus shall obtain the noblest of all triumphs, we shall overcome evil with good.” The world if they please may call this mean, ness of spirit; but it is in fact the truest mag
* Rom. xü. 19-21,