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Charity and kind Offices, the best Conquest over an
ROMANs xii. 21.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. THE HE advice is short, comprised in a few words: but it is
withal full and instructive, and carries a great deal of good matter in it. It relates to our behaviour towards our enemies; shewing both what we ought not to do, in that case, and what we ought. The Apostle's manner of wording the thing is observable ; for there is a particular force and beauty in the very expression. Being sensible, that the forgiving an injury, or the not revenging it, is commonly looked upon as a kind of yielding and submitting to an adversary, (which is what the pride of human nature is most averse to,) he prudently anticipates the thought, and gives it quite another turn; handsomely insinuating, that all desire of revenge is yielding and submitting to an enemy; is as much as confessing, that he has disturbed, pained, and disconcerted us to that degree, that we are no longer able to command our temper, and to be really masters of ourseloes. Overflowing with rage and resentment, upon such occasions, is betraying a littleness of mind, and proclaiming our own defeat. It is as good as declaring, that the enemy has got within us, has thrown us off our guard, and put us into disorder and confusion. Whereas, if a man can stand the shock unmoved, and be above being concerned at it, he undoubtedly shews a more manly spirit, and true greatness of mind. He is then seen to be master over his passions, and above being disturbed by little things : and there is none so generous a way of conquering an enemy, as the letting him see, that the worst he can do shall not so much as ruffle him, or put him out of humour. “ Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with
The text then consists of two parts, or precepts; the one negative, and the other positive : of which I shall treat in their order.
1. The negative part, or precept, comes first : “ Be not overcome * of evil.” Suffer not any affront or injury to get the better of you, to afflict and conquer you. More distinctly; suffer it not to get the better of your reason, your piety, or your charity : for if it does so, you are really vanquished and worsted by it.
1. I say, let not any affront or injury have the superiority over your reason, considering yourself now only as a man, without taking in the additional consideration of your being a Christian also.
Reason is designed for the governing part of man, which is to regulate and command the passions. While reason holds the reins, and keeps its seat of government, all is right and regular, and a man is master of himself: but if the passions get the upper hand, and domineer over reason, the person, for the time, is, as it were, quite unmanned, and is driven on to any the most extravagant freaks and follies, below the dignity of his nature. A man can never expose himself more to the attacks of his enemy, than when he suffers himself to be heated into a passion, and thereby thrown off his guard. While he can command his temper and preserve his reason, he will know and consider what he does, and conduct with prudence and discretion ; and will at length very probably both defend himself, and become superior to his adversary: but if once he lets go his reason, and resigns himself up to heat and passion, he both exposes his own safety, and surrenders his person to the mercy of his adversary. A passionate furious warrior neither sees an advantage nor knows how to use it: while he is all fire, and no conduct, he does but expose his forces, and at length becomes himself an easy prey to the enemy. But a man of cool and steady courage, who does nothing precipitately, nothing rashly, he is the man that maintains his ground, and comes off victorious in the end. Let reason preside always in any private contests between man and man : and by the help of reason, all will proceed regularly, and with honour and advantage. Reason will consider always, not what the offender, or injurious person might deserve, but what may be prudent and proper for the offended party to do. Perhaps the injury is slight, not deserving notice, or deserving only contempt. Whatever it be, there is more dignity and greatness of mind shewn in being above feeling it, than in fretting at it. Recenging it is still worse, because it betrays still greater impatience; besides that it is imprudent, as provoking the adversaries, and bringing on fresh injuries; which again will call for rejoinders, and so on in an endless circulation. This is, generally speaking, the case as to revenge: so that, if we consider it merely upon a rational foot, apart from religion, there appears to be very little sense or discretion in it. And as to greatness of mind, every one must be sensible, that it is brave and generous to put up wrongs and overlook offences ; and that they, generally, are persons of the weakest and feeblest minds, who are most sensible of injuries, and most impatient for revenge.
Seeing then that wrath and revenge is really nothing else but the triumph of passion over reason, and of folly over discretion and good sense ; every wise man would take care to assert and maintain the superiority of his reason, and not suffer himself to be enslaved and overcome by mean and foolish resentments.
2. But further, to advance to a yet higher consideration, put the case thus, or in these terms : suffer not any affronts or injuries to get the better of your piety, or of your duty towards God.
We learn from Scripture at least, if not from the light of nature, that all manner of vengeance belongs to God alone ; so that the taking upon us to avenge ourselves is presuming too far, is usurping upon the undoubted rights and prerogative of the Supreme Being. “To me belongeth vengeance and recompense," says Almighty Goda; or, as St. Paul words it and explains it at the same time, “Vengeance is mine ; I will repay b." God permits us not to revenge or resent our own wrongs. We are no more than fellow creatures and fellow servants one with an.
a Deut. xxxii. 35.
b Rom. xii. 19.
other: and if any offence be committed, it is sufficient for us to refer the complaint to him, the Judge of all, and our common Lord and Master. This is no more than every master of a family will demand; that any disputes or differences in his family among his servants be decided by him, and left to his censure and correction. God is an all-knowing Judge, and will exactly weigh the merits of the cause; and will, first or last, do us justice most effectually, when we are really wronged, if we leave it to him. But if we take the affair into our own hands, and resolve to do ourselves justice, we do not only run the risk of provoking and bringing upon us fresh injuries from men ; but as we are provoking God all the time, we take the likely way to draw down his vengeance, not upon our enemies, but upon our own heads. The question then, in case of offences, lies plainly thus : will you leave it to God to punish them as they deserve; or will you
take the matter into your own hands? Supposing the injury done you to be real and great, it may be better indeed for your enemies that you should take it in hand, to revenge it ; but it is much the worse for yourselves. Human power, at best, is weak and frail ; and, besides, is under the irresistible check and control of the Divine hand; so that it is infinitely uncertain, whether a man, ever so much disposed to revenge, can effect it. But if God undertakes to do vengeance, he does it effectually, and no arm can resist him. I say then, that in case of real injuries, the surest method of having them revenged is to commit the cause to God. And this is certainly the best and safest inethod that the injured party can take, in order to have redress and satisfaction. God can recompense us a thousand ways for any wrongs we receive at the hands of men: and if we entirely commit our cause to him, he will not only do us justice, but will shew us mercy also, and make us ample amends.
But a question here arises by the way, whether, after a man has referred his cause to God, laying aside all thoughts of revenging himself, he may then pray to God to avenge him; or may take pleasure in observing that the Divine vengeance has fallen down upon his adversary. Much may
be pleaded on both sides ; but I must not run out into too tedious a digression. I shall however offer a few hints, and as briefly as may be. Our blessed Lord upon the cross prayed for his murderers ; “ Father, forgive them,” &c. And St. Stephen also did the like; “ Lord, lay not this sin to their
charge.” And even under the Old Testament, Solomon is commended, that, among other things in his prayer, he had not asked “ the life of his enemies c. All this looks as if we were neither permitted to take vengeance ourselves upon any man, nor so much as to desire, or to take pleasure in, the Divine vengeance when brought upon our enemies; though one might think it should be matter of joy and comfort to us, as being of God's doing, being also a kind of vindication of our own innocency, or of the justice of the cause we had engaged in.
On the other hand, it inay be observed, that there are many passages in the Old Testament, in the Psalms more especially, which look like plain imprecations upon the wicked: and even in the New Testament, God comforts his elect, by assuring them, that “ he will avenge them speedily,” that is, of their adversaries, as appears by what goes before d; which seems to suppose, that God's avenging a good man of his enemies
may reasonable ground of joy and comfort to him. Add to this, that St. Paul, speaking of Alexander the coppersmith, as of one who had done him much evil, immediately subjoins, “ The Lord reward “ him according to his works e;" which is a kind of imploring God's judgments upon him. And lastly, when St. Paul says, “ If thy
enemy hunger, feed him; and if he thirst, give him drink,” he enforces his advice by this consideration ; “ for in so doing thou "shalt heap coals of fire on his head f;" which words, in their most natural construction, and as interpreted by the context, seem to mean, that in so doing thou shalt accumulate the Divine vengeance upon him, if he repents not. All which looks as if it were allowable, in some cases, both to imprecate the Divine vengeance upon adversaries, and to rejoice in it when it comes.
I have thus briefly represented the force of the arguments on both sides the question, for every reasonable man to judge of; and I will not presume to be dogmatical and positive either way: but what seems to me to come nearest to the truth is as follows.
The peace of the world is much concerned in this; that we never avenge ourselves, but refer all vengeance to God. This is the main thing; and if this be carefully observed, we may be the less solicitous about the rest. There is a just pleasure which a good man may take, in seeing the Divine vengeance fall upon very