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Rom. xii. 20.
THEREFORE, IF THINE ENEMY HUNGER, FEED HIM; IF HE THIRST, GIVE HIM DRINK; FOR, IN SO DOING, THOU SHALT HEAP COALS OF FIRE ON HIS HEAD."
These words are quoted literally by the Apostle Paul, from the 25th chapter of the Book of Proverbs, and afford a signal evidence that the same Divine Spirit which inspired the author of this epistle, spoke also to the understanding, and to the heart of him who wrote that truly profound book. For the sentiment contained in these words, forms a distinguishing and characteristic feature of that mind, and of that morality which God only enlightens and approves, whilst it passes a repeal on such rigorous precepts as “
for and a tooth for a tooth,” which was the decision, not only of retributive justice under the Mosaic law, (accommodated as that law was to the hardness of the human heart) but which is more or less, the natural propensity, and the serious intention of every heart, which the exhortation in the text has not brought under its benign influence. Nor is this exhortation confined to the negative prohibition of forbearing to retaliate. It does not merely soften down the severity of feelings, which might plead a sort of justification in the unprovoked injuries that may have excited them, or in the repeated aggravations they may have endured. It makes no stipulation in behalf of insulted honour, nor any compromise for the indulgence of a little wrath. But forbidding every limitation to generosity, it nobly transcends those barriers beyond which, the pride and the selfishness, and the vindictive temper of our fallen nature would seldom permit any of us to pass, and silencing every rising opposition of the heart, it teaches us to look upon our enemies with the eyes and with the compassion of a friend, when circumstances arise by which they may be recommended to our commiseration, and to our relief;—“ if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.” What a world would this wicked world become, did all who call themselves Christians, and who profess to take the word of God for the rule of their conduct, act in a manner thus worthy of such a word, and of such a rule! Enmities and wrath, and strife, would cease, whilst the return of good for evil would finally produce a reciprocity of good! And we are assured, that thus it shall be before this world has fulfilled the great destiny towards which it is in progress, when, (as the Prophet Isaiah most eloquently expressed it,) “ the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ; and the calf, and the young lion and fatling together, and a little child shall lead them;"—when “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain saith the Lord.” Men, more hostile and unrelenting, and unforgiving towards their fellow-men, than are the beasts of the field, which a blind instinct exasperates, shall all partake of the same kind and gentle nature; and the earth which they inhabit, no longer under curse, shall be called “ the holy mountain of the Lord.” This is that happy period, which, in scholastic theology, is called the millenium, or the thousand years of an earthly paradise, but which, in Scripture language, designates only a long space of time to commence at an appointed season, previous to the dissolution of this present world. And how is this great change to be effected? This also, is distinctly mentioned by the Prophet, “ for, the earth,” says he, “ shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” It is “ the knowledge of the Lord,” or the genera prevalence of Christian truth “ which shal perform this.”
My Christian friends, we may lay it down as a maxim, or self-evident truth, that the instrument by which the Lord effects any thing, at any time, is equally powerful in his hand, to do the same thing, at all times. It is not surprising then, that although the instances of its effectnal operation may be rare, the precept in the text should even now have some to respect it, and some to obey it, and that moral actions, more especially of this nature, should find, in the religion of Christ, their appropriate and most powerful, and in many
instances, their only support. I shall proceed to illustrate this important truth, in the case before us. We are here enjoined to give meat and drink even to an enemy suffering under the want of both these primary necessaries of life, “if thine enemy hunger, feed him ; if he thirst, give him drink,” and to this is annexed what may at first sight, and in its obvious import, appear a motive little suited to such an end,
for, in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”
There is, however, in the text, though it is
not so directly expressed, a previous motive which contains a more immediate and personal obligation to the same duty. It is to be found in the Christian contemplation of the word enemy.
The Apostle is here exhorting the persons to whom he wrote, to humility, to brotherly love, and finally, that “as much as in them lay,” they should “live peaceably with all men.'
He had been “beseeching” them to do so, “by the mercies of God” manifested to themselves, “ in that while” they
were yet sinners, and ungodly and enemies, Christ died for” them. Now, suppose this most illustrious instance of Divine love, to have made a due impression on the heart of
any man, and to have led him, as, in such a case, it naturally would lead him, to reason seriously on the character and condition of those enemies, for whom the Scriptures inform us that Christ died, and what would be the consequence? Would it not be the conviction, and the consciousness of his own share in the
general accusation? Would it not be the abasing · recollection of those numerous instances of neglect, of provocation, and of enmity, by which he had himself shewn his insensibility, and his ingratitude to the exceeding great love and mercy of his God?
of his God? And would not con victions so solemn and so just, as they were