« PreviousContinue »
of the wild beast, his own brutish appetite and passion ; which hurries him on, first to revenge, and then to repentance for the folly which he hath been guilty of in gratifying so unreasonable a passion. For it very seldom happens, that any man executes an act of revenge, but the very next moment after he hath done it, he is sorry for it, and wisheth he had not done it : whereas patience and forgiveness do wisely prevent both the mischief to others, and the trouble to ourselves, which is usually consequent upon revenge.
iv. If we consider the perfection and prevalency of the examples which the gospel propofeth to us, to allure and engage us to the practice of this duty. And they are the examples of God himself, and of the Son of God in the nature of man.
1. The example of God himself. The scripture doth frequently set before us the goodness of God's common providence to finners for our pattern. And this is the argument whereby our blessed Saviour prefTeth the duty in the text upon us, in the verse immediately after it : That ye may be the children of your heavenly Father, who maketh his fun to rise on the evil and the good, and his rain to farl on the just and the unjust. The fame argument Seneca also urgeth to the same purpose : "How many (says “he) are unworthy of the light, and yet the day visits “ them?” And, speaking of the gods, “They bestow “ (says he) their benefits upon the unthankful, and are “ ready to help those who make a bad construction and « use of their kindness.” And almost in the
words of our Saviour : Etiam fceleratis fol oritur, &c. The “ sun riseth even upon the most vile and profligate per« sons, and the seas are open to pirates.
Thus is God affected towards those who are guilty of the greatest provocations towards him. He bestows upon them the gifts of his common providence; and not only so, but is ready to forgive innumerable offences to them for Christ's fake. This pattern the Apostle propofeth to our imitation, Eph. iv. 32. Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forbeuring one another, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's fake hath forgiven you. Chap. v. 1.' Be ye therefore imitators of God, as dear children. This teinper and disposition of mind is the prime ex
cellency and perfection of the divine nature; and who would not be ambitious to be like the most perfect and best of beings? And so our blessed Saviour concludes this argument in the last verse of this chapter, Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfeet; which St. Luke renders, Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father which is in heaven is merciful. in that very thing which we think to be so hard and difficult, you see that we have perfection itself for our pattern. And this example ought to be of so much greater force with us, by how much greater reason there is, why we should do thus to one another, than why God should do thus to us. Our offences against God are more and greater than any man ever was or could be guilty of towards us : besides that there are many considerations which ought to tie up our hands, and may reafonably restrain us from falling furiously upon one another, which can have no place at all in God. We may justly fear, that the consequence of our revenge may return upon ourselves, and that it may come to be our own case to stand in need of mercy and forgiveness from others : and therefore, out of necessary caution and prudence, we should take heed not to set any bad example in this kind, left it should recoil upon ourselves. We who stand so much in need of forgiveness ourselves, ought in all reason to be very easy to forgive others. But now the divine nature is infinitely above any real injury or suffering ; God can never stand in need of pity or forgiveness; and yet of his own mere goodness, without any interest or design, how low is he to anger, and how ready to forgive ?
And, which comes yet nearer to us, there is also the example of the Son of God, our blessed Saviour ; who in our nature, and in case of the greatest injuries and provocations imaginable, did practise this virtue to the height; and all this for our fakes, as well as for our example. So that he requires nothing of us, but what he himself submitted to with the greatest patience and constancy of mind in our stead, and wholly for our advantage. He rendered good for evil to all mankind, and shewed
greater love to us whilst we were enemies to him, than ever any man did to his friend.
He prayed for those that despitefully used him, and pera fecuted him. And this, not upon cool consideration, after the injury was done, and the pain of his suffers ings was over; but whilst the sense and smart of them was upon him, and in the very agony and bitterness of death : in the height of all his anguish, he poured out his soul an offering for the sins of men, and his blood a facrifice to God, for the expiation of the guilt of that very sin whereby they shed it; pleading with God in the behalf of his murderers, the only excuse that was possible to be made for their malice; that is, their ignorance ; and spending his last breath in that most charitable prayer for them, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
The last declaration which he made of his mind, was love to his enemies; and the last legacy he bequeathed, was an earnest request to God for the forgiveness of his persecutors and murderers.
So that, if any example ought to be dear to us, and effectually to engage us to the imitation of it, this of our blessed Saviour should; since the injuries which he suffered, have saved us from suffering, and the greatest blessing and happiness that ever befel mankind, is due to this excellent example : and then, with what confidence, nay, with what conscience, can we pretend to share in the benefits of this example, without imitating the virtues of it?
Can we seriously contemplate the excessive kindness and charity of the Son of God to the finful sons of men, after all our bitterest enmity towards him, and most cruel and injurious usage of him; and all this charity exercised towards us, whilst he was under the actual sense and suffering of these things; and yet not be provoked by an example fo admirable in itself, and of such mighty advantage to us, 10 go and do likewise ?
But notwithltanding the power of these arguments to persuade to this duty, I must not dissemble Tome obje&tions, which are, I believe, in many of your minds against it; and to which, for the full clearing of this
matter, it will be fit to give some satisfaction. And they.
1. That this precept in the text does not seem so well to agree with another of our blessed Saviour's in another evangelist, Luke xvii. 3. 4. If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him ; and if he repent, forgive him: and if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent ; thou jhalt forgive him. Here our blessed Saviour seems not to require forgiveness, unless he that hath done the injury declare his repentance for it. But the text plainly requires us to forgive those who are so far from repenting of their enmity, that they still pursue it, and exercise it upon us. Thus our Lord teacheth us, and thus he him. self practised towards his persecutors.
But this appearance of contradiction will quickly vanilh, if we consider that forgiveness is sometimes taken chiefly for abstaining from revenge. And so far we are to forgive our enemies, even whilst they continue so, and though they do not repent: and not only fo, but we are also to pray for them, and to do good offices to them; especially of common humanity: and this is the meaning of the precept in the text. But sometimes forgiveness does signify a perfect reconciliation to those that have offended us, so as to take them again into our friendship; which they are by no means fit for, till they have repented of their enmity, and laid it aside. And this is plainly the meaning of the other text.
II. It is further objected, That this seems to be a very imprudent thing, and of dangerous consequence to ourselves; becaule by bearing one injury fo patiently, and forgiving it so easily, we invite more; and not only tempt our enemy to go on, but others also by his example to do the like: which will make ill-natured men to provoke us on purpose, with a crafty design to wrest benefits from us : for what better trade can a man drive, than to gain benefits in exchange for injuries ?
To this I answer three things.
1. It is to be feared, that there are but few so very good, as to mah :this kind return for injuries ; perhaps, of those that call themselves Christians, not one in a hundred. And he is not a cunning man that will venture
to make an enemy, when there is the odds of a hundred to one against him, that this enemy of his will take the first opportunity to take his revenge upon him.
2. It is also on the other hand to be hoped, that but very few are so prodigiously bad, as to make so barbarous a return for the unexpected kindness of a generous enemy. And this is encouragement enough to the practice
of this duty, if there be a probable hope that it will ' have a good effect; and however, if it should fall out
otherwise, yet this would not be reason enough to discourage our goodness; especially since the kindness which we do to our friends, is liable alınost to an equal objection, that they may prove ungrateful, and become our enemies; it having been often seen that great benefits, and such as are beyond requital, instead of making a man more a friend, have made him an enemy.
3. Our Saviour never intended, by this precept, that our goodness should be blind, and void of all prudence and discretion ; but that it should be so managed, as to make our.enemy sensible both of his own fault, and of our favour; and so as to give him as little encouragement, as there is reason for it, to hope to find the like favour again upon the like provocation. Our Saviour commands us to do the thing ; but hath left it to our prudence, to do it in such a manner, as may be moft effectual, both to reclaim the offender, and likewise to fecure ourselves against future and further injuries.
III. Lastly, It is objected, What can we do more to our best friends, than to love them and bless them, than to do good to them and to pray for them ? And are we then to make no difference betwixt our enemies and our friends ?
Yes, surely: and so we may, notwithstanding this precept; for there are degrees of love, and there are benefits of several rates and sizes. Those of the first rate we may with reason bestow upon our friends; and with those of a fecond or third rate there is all the reason in the world why our enemies should be very well contents ed. Besides that we may abstain from revenge, yea, and love our enemy, and wish him and do him good; and yet it will not presently be necessary, that we ihould take him into our bosom, and treat and trust him as