bound to treat him as our neighbour, that is, with love and kindness; for life is more than meat, and the body than raiment. If God vouchsafe the one, we ought not to withhold the other. But our Lord has put this out of all doubt, by commanding us to love even our very enemies: for if any body might have been excluded from our charity, our enemies most surely would have been of that number.

But how are we to love our Neighbour? The command saith, as we love ourselves.— Now, there is a vicious self-love, which is the fountain of all iniquity and injustice, and the very destruction of Christian charity. There is also a hellish love, when men, out of affection as they call it, desire to make others as wicked as themselves; who do indeed strive to please their neighbour, not for his good, and to edification, as the apostle directs, but to his destruction.

Now, neither the one nor the other of these is a Christian rule, to direct him what sort of love he should bear and exercise towards his neighbour; but this is the meaning of the command, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; that is, as men, fearing God, do love themselves. None but such receive it as a command; and to such only it is a direction how they ought to love their neighbour: for, in truth, men naturally love themselves better than their neighbour; and it is faith alone can change their sentiments: it is that which tells them, that they are made for eternity, and so is their neighbour; that God is our common father, and all we are brethren; that those who do not

love as brethren here, cannot possibly be happy hereafter; that this life is short, and has nothing in it to compare to the happiness of the next; and that nothing can recommend us more effectually to the love and favour of God, than a tender regard for our neighbour; and that it is for this reason he commands us to love him as ourselves; that is, sincerely, as in the sight of God.

It is an appeal to the consciences of men, who know very well how they love themselves; what satisfaction they take in their own welfare; how heartily they lament their own misfortunes; how solicitous they are to supply their own wants; how careful to hide their own defects and faults: how jealous of their own reputation; how ready to find excuses for their own weaknesses and oversights; and how apt to pardon themselves when they have done amiss.

Now any man, who lives in the fear of God, knows very well whether his heart stands thus affected towards his neighbour; if not, he is self-condemned, and cannot expect to be justified before God, if he believes that God has made the sincere love we bear to ourselves a rule of the love we should shew to others.

Thus much for the sincerity of our love. But then, for the manner of expressing this love, we are to consider, how God has commanded us to shew our love; how God himself treats those he loves. We know that God has appointed magistrates to punish evil-doers; that he has commanded his ministers to rebuke the disobedient, and to cast out of his church such as

shall obstinately refuse to obey his laws: we know with what severity he himself deals with sinners; but then this is because he loves them, and because he would love them eternally: he therefore bears with them, and when he punishes them, he does it with regret; he pities them, he gladly receives them when they return to their duty, and forgets all their past offences: and so do all his faithful servants, who know very well that wicked men do neither love God nor their neighbour, and that if they are not reclaimed in time, they are certainly undone for ever; and therefore it is God's express command,* Thou shalt not hate thy brother, thou shalt not suffer sin upon him, for that is indeed to hate him.

Thus much for the meaning of these words. II. We shall now consider them as an express, as an indispensable command of God,-as a law by which we shall be judged at the last day; and therefore it behoves us to obey it at our utmost peril.


We are not to question its reasonableness; for God cannot command what is otherwise. We are not to say it is hard to be understood for then the greatest part of men could not know what they are bound to. We are not to say it is impossible to be obeyed; for God has not given a law to his creatures, which he would not enable them to obey, if they are not wanting to themselves: so that obeyed it must be at the peril of our souls.

It is not a counsel, but a command. St. James

Lev. xix. 17.

calls it a royal law; St. John calls it the law of God; and our Lord calls it his law, by way of excellency.

What is all this for, but to make the strongest impressions upon our souls; and that we may strive with all our might to understand and obey it in the whole course of our lives? For no love is acceptable to God, but such as is paid in obedience to this command. And And yet, God knows, this is generally the last thing we think of, when we place our affections. We respect our betters, because it is in their power to favour us; we love others, because of their endowments; and others, because they are good neighbours, or agreeable company. But where is the command of God all this while thought of?

And this, good Christians, is the reason why there is so little true love, and so much uncharitableness in the world. Christians will not consider God as a lawgiver, who will reward and punish as men shall deserve; who, having given this positive command, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; it is our duty to obey, whatever our biassed reason or corrupt wills shall say to the contrary.

If this be the command of God, why then I shall not say, This man has not deserved it at my hands; that man has done me an injury, and I will have the pleasure of doing him another; such a man has said or done too much to be forgiven; I have an aversion for such a man, and I will not speak to him. Why then you are not a Christian:-this is the language of unbelievers.

A Christian is to sacrifice all his aversions to the good pleasure of God. And it is a sacrifice most acceptable to God, when, for his sake, we will do our neighbour no wrong, though we could propose the greatest gain to ourselves; when for his sake, and because he has commanded us not to do it, we dare not render evil for evil, though revenge is sweet to flesh and blood; when we will not bear malice in our hearts, though we could never so well conceal it from the eyes of men; when for his sake we forgive injuries, though it is in our power to return them; when we will not set at nought our brother, for the meanness of his condition, or the misfortunes that have befallen him; when we sincerely desire our neighbour's welfare, and take delight in his prosperity, whatever envy might prompt us to; when for God's sake, we are ready to do good, and glad to communicate of what he has given us, to comfort the afflicted, to visit the sick, to instruct the ignorant, to protect the oppressed, to reconcile differences, to succour those that stand in need, notwithstanding the trouble and the expense of these duties. When a man will deny himself, as Jesus Christ did, who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor; when those that are strong will bear with the infirmities of the weak, whatever pride would suggest to the contrary: -When these things are done in obedience to the command of God, they are then a most acceptable sacrifice to the Divine Majesty.

And let us seriously consider, that God has forbidden all things contrary to charity, not

« VorigeDoorgaan »