« AnteriorContinuar »
tells Cornelius and his friends, Act*x. 28. "Ye know that it is an unlawful thing, for a man that is a Jew, to keep company, or come unto one of another nation: but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." And we find how hardly digested this step of Peter's was at first, even by the converted Jews; they "contended with him, because he went in to men uncircumcised, and did eat with them," chap. xi. 2, 3. They went so far as to deny the common offices of humanity, or at least not to think themselves obliged to show them to any but a brother Jew; for which a heathen poet justly lashes them, that they would not shew the way, or discover a spring to quench one's thirst, to any but those of their religion; though he misrepresents the matter, when he makes this a precept of the law of Moses, for there is no such precept in it.
Judaicum ediscunt, et servant, et metuunt jus,
Jvteval, Sat. 14.
The case was this: God had singled them out from other nations to be his peculiar people, and distinguished them by a more immediate government of his own. Now they understood their laws, even the moral itself, to be only the political laws of their community, and only to be observed toward their brethren of that favoured nation.
But Christ hath extended the community, to which our love is due, to all mankind with whom we have to do.
He plainly puts this extensive sense upon the term, "our neighbour," in Luke x. There, as well as in the text, he sums up our duty in "loving God, and loving our neighbour as ourselves," ver. 27- The person who was in conference with him, asks him thereupon, "And who is my neighbour?" .ver. 29. Christ in return put a case, whether it was real, or supposed, is of no consequence, That a man falling into the hands of thieves on the road, was left by them in great distress. A Jewish priest, and afterwards a Levite, passed by, but neglected to give him any relief. These might be supposed to excuse themselves by saying* that they were not sure this miserable man was a Jew, and therefore passed him by. At length another passenger, who was a Samaritan, came up to the place, and upon the mere sight of a man in distress, without staying to ask who or what he was, very tenderly compassionated and relieved him. Now, upon this case Christ appeals to the lawyer that had asked him, **'Who is my neighbour f with another question in return, ver. 36, "Which Bow of those three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among thieves?" Which performed the most neighbourly part to him? The lawyer could not help acknowledging, "He that shewed mercy on him." Then said Jesus unto him, u Go and do thou likewise," ver. 37.; though it should be a Samaritan that falls in thy way, though he should be a stranger, though he should be an enemy. The Jews and Samaritans had the greatest abhorrence one of another. Both shewed it in their treatment of Christ. The Samaritans at one time "would not receive him" into one of their cities, ** because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem," Luke ix. 53. On the other hand, when some of the Jews were in a rage at Christ, they knew not a more opprobrious name to throw out against him, than to call him a Samaritan, with an addition as black as hell, John viii. 48. "Say we not well, that thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil?"
Now, the scene of• the case which Christ put being in Judea, between Jerusalem and Jericho, it might well appear most probable to the Samaritan, that the distressed person was a Jew, and therefore not one whom he could consider as a brother in religion, but rather as an enemy; yet, being a fellow-creature in misery, he thought that alone sufficient to entitle him to offices of .humanity. And herein Christ proposes him for our imitation.
We see then the comprehensive latitude in which Christ would have us to understand our neighbour. Not only, according to the usual sense of the word, our neighbours in stated vicinity of abode; or those we call relations: or such to whom we are peculiarly attached by previous acquaintance, or intimacy and friendship; or those from whom we have received, or may have a prospect of receiving benefits: not only good men, or those who are of "the household of faith though these and the like distinguished circumstances of some • from others, may oblige us to a peculiar affection, and to more particular and frequent ways of expressing it; yet all men are to be esteemed our neighbours, within the design of the command, who partake of the human nature, and because they do so.
II. I am to inquire, what is intended by loving our neighbour.
It is plain, that is designed for a summary of the duties of the second table or of those we owe to the rest of mankind; as loving God is of those we owe to him. So the apostle explains it, Rom. xiii. 8, 9. "He that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt no bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And again, Gal. v. 14. "All the law," that is, relating to our neighbour, "is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
It is such a value for him, upon account of the exellencies of the rational nature which he hath in common with ourselves, as disposes us not to deny him any of his just rights, or do him any harm, and, on the other hand, to have a hearty goodwill to him, and to be ready to express it in all the proper offices of kindness and beneficence, as we have a just call and opportunity for it.
If it be asked, Why all our duty to our neighbour, as well as to God, is summed up in love? there are two principal reasons to be assigned for it.
1. Because a due temper of mind to our neighbour, as well as to God himself, is necessary to our acceptance. It is no purpose that we may attend to the principle, as well as to the external act, in this as in all other parts of our duty. Inward love to our neighbour, is the first thing which the spiritual law of God requires from us; and so ill-will and enmity are the first transgressions of it. Though they pror ceed no farther than the heart, though our neighbour should receive no actual prejudice from them; yet they would make us transgressors in God's account, if we should "be angry with another without a cause," Matt. v. 22. If we should entertain a secret grudge, or malice, or envy, or unjust contempt in the heart, though it should never break out, though external appearances should be ever so fair ; yet these things will make us criminal in the sight of God.
2. Because all the particular branches of our duty to our neighbour, will most naturally and easily flow from love ta him. If a real inward love to men could be separated from the proper outward effects, then that would by no means be sufficient. The pretence of love may be separated from the fruits of it; and that without doubt will fail of acceptance. And, therefore, we have that caution, 1 John iii. 18. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue (only,) but in deed and in truth."
But, therefore, all is comprehended in love, because genuine love will lay the most pleasing and powerful constraint upon us, to perform the several particular duties which are required from us. A man that loves his neighbour, will be pushed on by that affection to do the same things to him, which God requires of him as an act of obedience; so that nothing, as one elegantly says, will remain to turn his temper into obedience, but to direct his attention, and to perform the effects of love in obedience to God, which he is strongly excited to by his own loving disposition.
Justice, and beneficence, or charity, comprehend all our duties to our neighbour; and sincere love will effectually prompt to both. If we truly love our fellow-creatures, that will easily obviate any temptation to do them injury, in any concern we have with them, and will not suffer us to be wanting in any known point of duty to them. St Paul gives this as a reason for comprehending all under love, that it necessarily includes in it a disposition to righteousness, Rom. xiii. 10. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." And St John tells us, that it will make us inoffensive, 1 John ii. 10. "He that loveth his brother, abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him," that is, this will secure him against giving just ground of offence.
And it will equally dispose to the performance of all good offices. It will be a "law of kindness:" not only make us *.* harmless and blameless," but studious to do good, and to treat all as persons we love. Charity or love hath all those excellent properties assigned to it, which we find in 1 Cor. xiii. 4——7- because it has the most extensive influence to produce them all: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up; doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
III. We are to consider, what is implied in the measure prescribed for the love of our neighbour, that we should love him as ourselves.
1. This plainly supposes the lawfulness of some self-love.
The love of ourselves is not, indeed, in so many words made the matter of a precept, as the love of God and of our neighbour are; because we have it by instinct of nature, and necessarily,, so that we can divest ourselves of it, without putting off humanity at the same time. We need not, therefore, an exhortation to self-love in general, because it is not indeed a matter of choice, we cannot help it. All that is proper to be the subject of a command, is the regulation of this natural principle; a direction of us to our truest interest, that we may not pursue a false scent in our general tendency toward happiness. And this is the business of God's commands, in keeping of which there is great reward, our duty being made our interest. All God's promises, and threateuings, and warnings, are an appeal to this natural principle; they suppose it to be lawful to seek our own welfare, and commendable to take the truest measures for promoting it.
We not only may, but ought to love and seek the welfare of our bodies, as far as that consists with our superior interests. ** No man," says the apostle, "ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it," Eph. v. 29-; no man in his right wits. And for our truest self, our souls, our Saviour represents the folly of neglecting the care of them, Luke ix. 25. ** What is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself?"
When, therefore, it is made a term of being Christ's disciple, that a man "must deny himself," Luke ix. 23. it only signifies, that he must be content to deny his own sinful inclinations, and irregular passions, and sometimes his present ease and humour, and secular interests, but all for the sake of his greater interests, to advantage himself in a higher degree. And when it is described as one of the bad characters of the last