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MATTH. XXII. 39.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself.
This is the latter part of our Saviour's answer to the question, which is the great commandment in the law ? He had already answered sufficiently, by saying, it was the love of God. But most of the Jews before whom he spoke, thought the best proof of their fulfilling that duty was a scrupulous exactness in some, or all of the ceremonial precepts that God had enjoined them. And on the merit of this, they indulged themselves in great hardness of heart, even towards their brethren of the same religion; and in utter disregard, if not implacable hatred, of all who were of a different religion, perhaps of a different sect only. So that, if he had carried his reply no further, his hearers, who had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge*, would in all probability have understood him according to their own preconceived notions, and never have suspected him of designing to condemn their superstition and uncharitableness. Therefore he immediately subjoins, from the express words of Moses t, another commandment, which, if they misinterpreted the first, might shew them their mistake; and if they did not, would plainly appear, to any considerate person, like unto it in its nature, and second in its dignity and use; Thou shalt
+ Lev. xix. 18.
• Rom. X. 2.
love thy neighbour as thyself. But this also the Jews contrived to explain in a wrong manner, that they might gratify wrong inclinations. For which reason he took an opportunity to set them right. And besides the Jews, multitudes of others both before and ever since, have done the same thing. Nay some, not content with perverting, and so disobeying, have directly found fault with it.
Yet whoever believes in a wise and good Ruler of the world, must believe it to be his will, that humanity should be practised amongst men : and whoever feels in himself kind affections, must think the exercise of them his duty. But then doubts are raised, who are intitled to our kindness, and in what degree: both which points therefore the precept, now before us, briefly determines. And I shall explain and vindicate its determinations, by shewing you the meaning, first, of the word neighbour ; secondly, of the expression, loving him as ourselves : and proving in some measure all the way, but principally at the conclusion, the reasonableness and necessity of having so much regard for so many as the text requires.
I. Our neighbour then commonly signifies in Scripture, and not seldom in heathen writers, every person who is placed within our reach and influence. Accordingly, St. Paul, instead of saying, he that loveth his neighbour, saith, he that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law*. We have usually the most frequent opportunities of doing good to those who live with us, or near us. But if any one, however distant from us, or unknown to us, particularly wants our help, he is, in effect, by that very thing, brought near us for the time, and put under our care. God's benevolence is absolutely universal: ours should be extended as far
Rom. xiii. 8.
as it can : and the extent of men's power being extremely various and uncertain; (for the meanest subject may sometimes, by one single discovery, do more general service to mankind, than the greatest monarch is capable of) the word neighbour hath this peculiar advantage, and therefore propriety, that it contracts or enlarges its signification, just as the case demands; and either takes in the extremities of the globe, or confines itself to our own home.
Some have carried their public-spiritedness too far; and piqued themselves on manifesting goodwill to their fellow-creatures, by undertakings out of their province, and even beyond their abilities; while their proper neighbours, those with whom they had close connexions, and their proper business, that which their circumstances bound them to mind, were disregarded : an injudicious conduct, when it proceeds from the best intentions; but highly blameable, if vanity, or a meddling temper, be the source of it: on which head these persons would do well to examine themselves. But the far more ordinary fault is the opposite one : narrowing the bounds of our friendly dispositions; and excluding those from the benefit of being our neighbours, who have a right to it.
The principle causes of this are three: hatred, pride, and selfishness.
1. One chief ground of hatred long hath been, and is, diversity of faith or worship: of which case we have a most remarkable instance, Luke x. 25, &c. There a certain lawyer standing up, and tempting our Saviour with the question, What shall I do to inherit eternal life; he draws from his own mouth the answer, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour 'as thyself: then tells him, Thou hast answered right: This do, and thou
shult live. But he, willing, as the Evangelist observes, to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour ? imagining, no doubt, as the sequel shewed, and as most of his countrymen thought at that time, and many ages after*, if they do not still, that none but the members of his own communion deserved the name: and that all others were to be deemed unrelated to him, and held in abhorrence. This abominable notion our blessed Lord might have confuted by numerous passages of the Old Testamentt: but he thought it more useful to humble the vain man, by convicting him from the testimony of his conscience, and making him confess, without perceiving it, how unjust his interpretation was. For this end he tells him the moving story, that you all know, of the Jew and the Samaritan; of which two nations the former detested the latter beyond all others; and having easily brought him to declare, that the Samaritan had acted the neighbourly part, as he ought, to the Jew, it evidently followed that a Jew, upon occasion, should act the same part to a Samaritan. Which thinkest thou was neighbour to him that fell amongst the thieves? And he said, he that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go and do thou likewise. 0 that all Christians of all denominations had learned, or would yet learn, from hence and from the whole tenour of the Gospel, what some of them in particular aré lamentably ignorant of, or worse : that kindness and tenderness, and much more justice and equity, are due to those of every sect and party, from whom they differ the most widely: and due, as a condition of their inheriting eternal life.
# See Lightfoot's Harm. of New Test. and on this History. + Exod. xxii. 21. xxiii. 9. Lev. xix. 33, 34. Deut. x. 19, &c.
Another thing, which often withholds our kind regard from very fit objects of it, and excites hatred to them, is rivalship in profit, advancement, affection, reputation. And we may see in the world, perhaps feel in ourselves, if we examine, as we every one should, that competitions, not only about matters of some weight, but the merest trifles, can turn the best neighbours, the nearest relations, the dearest friends, into absolute strangers, if not bitter enemies. Nay the bare success of others, where we neither were nor could be their competitors, is enough sometimes to alienate our hearts from them to a strange degree. Yet surely we ought not to be hated by others, either for aiming at, or obtaining advantages, by any fair means; nor consequently they by us. Nay, should they, in such a case, thwart an important interest of ours, to secure an inconsiderable one of their own : even this, though a sad defect of generosity, may in strictness of speech be no injustice.
But further, supposing a man hath directly done us a palpable injury, still he is our neighbour. Perhaps it was ignorantly, or inadvertently, or from such frailty, as we and all men are liable to : or it is but a slight or a single offence: or we had provoked him to it; or received favours from him, that overbalance it, or he hath good qualities in other respects, that intitle him to our esteem. Or if he be, on the whole wicked: yet possibly he is not incorrigible. While we are too much offended to bear with him, our heavenly Father, whom he hath much more offended, bears with him; and is graciously trying all methods to reclaim him. You will say, “ God cannot be hurt by his wickedness.” Why, neither need you. By patience, you may always turn it to your spiritual improvement: by prudence, you may generally avoid