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THE LAW OF GOD.-THE SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT.-LOVE
TO OUR NEIGHBOUR.
MARK xii. 31.–And the second is like ; namely this ; Thou shall love thy neighbour
as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
IN several preceding discourses, I have considered the great duties of Love, Reverence, and Humility, towards God, and Resignation to his will ; and given a summary account of the other duties of Piety. I shall now proceed to an examination of the Second Command.
In this precept, we are required to love our Neighbour as ourselves. In canvassing the duty, here enjoined, I shall consider,
1. Its Nature; and, II. Its Extent.
I. I shall make a few observations concerning the Nature of this duty.
Before I proceed directly to this subject, it will be proper to remind my audience, that, in the discourse concerning Love, considered as an Attendant of Regeneration, I exhibited it at length as a disinterested disposition; and, in this particular view, exhibited its Nature, so far as is necessary to this system. Nothing further will be needed under this head, except an explanation of the degree, in which we are required to love our neighbour, expressed in the words as thyself.
This phraseology has been very differently understood by different persons. Some have supposed it to contain a direction, that we should love our neighbour with the same kind of Love, which is exercised towards ourselves. This plainly cannot be its meaning. The love, which we usually and naturally exercise towards ourselves, is selfish and sinful. Such a love, as this, may be, and often is, exercised towards our children, and other darling connexions; and wherever it exists, is, of course, sinful; and cannot, therefore, have been commanded by God. At the same time, it is physically impossible, that we should exercise it towards our fellow-creatures at large; the real objects of the affection required in the text; as I shall have occasion to show under the second head. Others have insisted, that we are required to love them in the same manner, as ourseldes. This cannot be the meaning. For we love ourselves inordinately, unreasonably; without candour, or equity; even when the kind of Love is really Evangelical. Others, still, have supposed, that the command obliges us to love our neighbour in exactly the same degree in which we ought to love ourselves. This interpretation, though nearer the truth than the others, is not, I apprehend, altogether agreeable to the genuine meaning of the text. It has, if I mistake not, been heretofore shown satisfactorily, that we are, in our very nature, capable of understanding, realizing, and feeling, whatever pertains to ourselves more entirely, than the same things, when pertaining to others; that our own concerns are committed to us by God in a peculiar manner; that God has made it in a peculiar manner our duty to provide for our own ; especially for those of our own households; and that, thus, a regard to ourselves, and those who are ours, is our duty in a peculiar degree. To these things it may be justly added, that we are not bound to love all those, included under the word neighbour, in the same degree. Some of these persons are plainly of much greater importance to mankind, than others; are possessed of greater talents, of higher excellence, and of more usefulness. Whether we make their happiness, or their excellence, the object of our love; in other words, whether we regard them with Benevolence, or Complacency; we ought plainly to make a difference, and often a wide one, between them; because they obviously, and exceedingly, differ in their characters and circumstances. A great, excellent, and useful man, such as St. Paul was, certainly claims a higher degree of love from us, than a person totally inferior to him in these characteristics.
Besides, if this rule of entire equality had been intended in the command, we ought certainly to have been enabled, in the natural sense, to perform this duty. But it is perfectly evident, that no man, however well disposed, can exactly measure, on all occasions, the degree of love, exercised by him towards his neighbour, or towards himself; or determine, in many cases, whether he has, or has not, loved himself and his neighbour in the same degree. It is plain therefore, that, according to this scheme, we cannot, however well inclined, determine whether we do, or do not, perform our duty. But it is incredible, that God should make this conduct our duty; and yet leave us, in the natural sense, wholly unable to perform it.
For these and various other reasons I am of opinion, that the precept in the text requires us to love our neighbour, generally, and indefinitely, as ourselves. The love, which we exercise towards him, is ever to be the same in kind, which we ought to exercise towards ourselves ; regarding both ourselves and him as members of the intelligent kingdom ; as interested, substantially, in the same manner, in the divine favour; as in the same manner capable of happiness, moral excellence, and usefulness; of being instruments of glory to God, and of good to our fellow-creatures; as being originally interested alike in the death of Christ, and, with the same general probability, heirs of eternal life. This explanation seems to be exactly accordant with the language of the text. As does not always denote exact equality. Frequently it indicates equality in a general, indefinite sense; and, not unfrequently, a strong resemblance, approximating towards an equality. There is no proof, that it intends an exact equality in the text.
In many cases; for example in most cases of commutative justice, and in many of distributive justice; it is in our power to render to others, exactly, that which we render to ourselves. Here, I apprehend, exactness becomes the measure of our duty. The love, which I have here described, is evidently disinterested ; and would, in our own case, supply motives to our conduct so numerous, and so powerful, as to render selfish affections useless to us. Selfishness, therefore, is a principle of action totally unnecessary to intelligent beings, as such; even for their own benefit.
II. The Love, here required, extends to the whole Intelligent Creation. · This position I shall illustrate by the following observations:
1st. That it extends to our Families, Friends, and Countrymen, will not be questioned.
2dly. That it extends to our Enemies, and by consequence to all Mankind, is decisively taught by our Saviour in a variety of Scriptural passages. Ye have heard, that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto yoru, Love your enemies ; bless them that curse you ; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father, who is in headen: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil, and on the good; and sendeth rain on the just, and on the unjust. Matt. v. 43, &c. And again ; For if ye love them who love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. But I say unto you, lode ye your enemies; and do good, and lend; hoping for nothing again : and
your reward shall be great: and ye shall be called the children of the Highest. Luke vi. 32, 35. The term, ' neighbour, in this precept, is explained by Christ, at the request of a Scribe, in the parable of the good Samaritan: Luke x. 25 : and, with unrivalled force, and irresistible conviction, is shown to include the worst and bitterest enemies. Concerning this subject the Scriptures have left no room for debate.
At the same time, it cannot but be satisfactory, and useful, to examine this subject, as it appears in its nature, and is connected with other kindred moral subjects.
It is well known, that the Pharisees held the doctrine, that, while we were bound to love our neighbour, that is, our friends, it was lawful to hate our enemies. It is equally well known, that multitudes in every succeeding age have imbibed the same doctrine; and that in our own age, and land, enlightened as we are by the sunshine of the Gospel, there are not wanting multitudes, who adopt the same doctrine; and insist, not only that they may law
fully hate their enemies, but, also, revenge themselves on such, as have injured them, with violent and extreme retribution.
On this subject I observe,
1st. That the command, to love our enemies, is enforced by the Example of God.
This is the very argument, used to enforce this precept by our Saviour. Love ye your enemies ; and do good to them that hate you: and ye shall be called the children of the Highest : for he is kind to the evil and unthankful. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father, who is in heaven, is merciful. The example of God is possessed of infinite authority. We see in it the conduct, which infinite perfection dictates, and in which it delights ; and learn the rules of action, by which it is pleased to govern itself. All that is thus dictated, and done, is supremely right and good. If we wish our own conduct to be right and good; we shall become followers of God, as dear children, in all his imitable conduct, and particularly in that, which is so strongly commended to our imitation. Christ also, who has presented to our view in his own life the conduct of God, in such a manner, as to be more thoroughly understood, and more easily copied by us, has in his prayer for his murderers, while suspended on the cross, enforced the precept in the text with unrivalled energy. Nothing could with greater power, or more commanding loveliness, require us to go and do likewise.
To hate our enemies is directly opposed to the authority, and the glory, of these examples. The examples are divinely excellent and lovely: the conduct opposed to them is, of course, altogether vile and hateful. Accordingly, this conduct is exhibited to us for the purpose of commending the same precept, also, to our obedience, as the conduct of the worst of men. These love their friends, and hate their enemies; even publicans and sinners do this; and all who do this, and nothing more, bear a moral resemblance to Publicans and sinners.
2dly. If we are bound to love those only, who are friends to us, we are under no obligation to love God, any longer than while he is our friend.
If we are not bound to love our enemies; whenever God becomes an enemy to us, we are not bound to love Him. Of course, those who are finally condemned, are freed from all obligation to love God, because he is their enemy. In refusing to love him, therefore, they are guilty of no sin; but are thus far perfectly innocent, and perfectly excellent; because they do that, which is perfectly right. Neither the happiness, nor the excellence, of God furnishes any reason, according to this scheme, why we should regard him either with benevolence
or coinplacency. In the same manner, every person, in the present world, can, by committing the unpardonable sin, release himself from all obligation to love his Maker; because in this manner he renders God his enemy Vol. II.
In the same manner, every person, under a sentence of reproba. tion, is released from his obligation to love God; and persons of both these characters are thenceforth entirely innocent and unblameable. According to this doctrine also, sinners can, and do, continually lessen their obligation to love God, in proportion as they make him more and more angry with them day by day. By advancing, therefore, in a course of opposition and disobedience to God, they advance nearer and nearer to an unblameable life and character.
3dly. According to this doctrine, good men are not bourd, in ordinary cases, to love sinners.
That sinners are, ordinarily, enemies to good men, will not be questioned: that they, often, are very bitter enemies, cannot be denied. If, then, this doctrine be true; good men are, plainly, not bound to love them, nor, of course, to befriend them; to relieve their distresses ; to promote their happiness; nor to seek their salvation.
4thly. According to this doctrine, sinners are not, ordinarily, bound to love each other.
Sinners are not only enemies to good men, but to each other. In every such case, they are relieved from all obligations to love each other; and so long as they continue to be enemies, are justified not only in the sight of man, but in the sight of God also, in withholding their love, and the expression of it, from each other. Let us now, for a moment, attend to the necessary,
and practical, consequences of this doctrine. A moral being, whose moral conduct is such, as to justify us in withholding our love from him, cannot be regarded with indifference; but must of course be hated; and, so far as I can see, may justifiably be hated, because his character is really hateful. But if it be right to hate our enemies, it is undoubtedly right to exhibit our hatred of them in its proper expressions ; such as censure, punishment, and hostilities. On this principle, mankind would contend with each other, in their public and private controversies, on the ground, that it was right; because it was dictated by conscience, and not merely by passion. He, who beheld an enemy, would be justified in hating him; and he, who was thus nated, would, on the same ground, be justified in reciprocating the hatred. To express this justifiable" hatred in quarrels would be equally accordant with rectitude; and men would fight each other, on a new basis of principle. Revenge would be accounted doing God service. The persecutor, burning with rage against the miserable victims of his cruelty, exulting in his successful ravages of humán happiness, and smiling over the tortures of the rack, and the agonies of the flame, would with new confidence say, “Let the Lord be glorified." War, instead of being the conflict of pride, avarice, ambition, and wrath, would be changed into an universal crusade of piety: and new Mohammeds would stalk through the world, to execute righteousness by