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ing men without proofs, or merely upon the slight evidence of a single report. You will be careful to inform yourself of the particular circumstances connected with the action in question: and when no sufficient light appears to justify a peremptory verdict, you will conclude as candour and love direct. Thus in the numberless quarrels between near relations, and in contests about matters of property, it is common to hear violent accusations, which have no foundation, and plausible misrepresentations of each other by both the parties concerned. In the midst of which very few can know any thing with certainty, and therefore all are bound to suspend their judgment, and receive no ill impression from common fame.
With regard also to the characters of men, you will be charitable in your judgment. The commission of a single crime contrary to the tenor of the delinquent's life, you will never cruelly construe into an impeachment of his sincerity. You will not brand a man as an incorrigible villain ever after, because he was once guilty of a dishonest action towards yourself; nor proclaim another to be a mere hypocrite in religion, because you have once detected him in some wicked practice. You will not immediately, as the manner of a vindictive man is, cry out, that all pretence of conscience in such is only cant; and profession of the fear of God only a snare to entrap the simple, or a cloak to cover iniquity. On the contrary, you will remember how often the violence of temptation, suited to your constitutional sin, has been too mighty for you, or brought you to the very point of yielding. You will call to mind, that the best of men, those whom God himself has canonized as saints in glory, did not always persevere in the path of duty, without a blemish or å fall; they were overtaken with faults, though they soon abhorred themselves for them, and vanquished for the future their attempts. You will acknowledge it very possible for such frail creatures as men are, in their best state, to make a slip contrary to habitual practice, and acknowledged duty.
Fair evidences therefore of repentance will demand, in your opinion, a favourable judgment of those who have dishonoured their Christian profession; and lead you to conclude, that inward shame and secret sorrow for their fall, has exceeded all the open reproach which, as backsliders, they have brought upon themselves and religion.
With regard to the intentions of men, as in most cases they can with certainty be known to God only, you will esteem it your bounden duty to impute no evil, where it is not manifest, nor dare to allow the injurious surmise that such and such things spring from a bad design, when you have no proof to substantiate the charge.
In these, and in many other similar points, you will exercise a charitable judgment, because the command of your God and Saviour is most plain that you should.
Judge not” (that is, in cases where you cannot have a competent knowledge, and where God's law is silent) “that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”. Matt. vii. 1, 2.
Your obedience to this command will appear most reasonable, and be made easy by a witness in your own heart. For you are conscious how often you have acted uprightly, and yet have been charged with evil intentions. Your own conduct has often been cruelly misconstrued, often condemned, as being of quite another complexion than what you knew it to have been. You remember also how often you have done what you ought not, - what you promised and vowed you would not: that many prayers, much watchfulness, and obstinate conflicts were scarcely sufficient to gain you an established victory over your own wickedness. You know that when you fell, the fall was instantly lamented; and though in fact wounded grievously, you rose to renew the combat, earnestly striving to obtain deliverance from the
of your adversary Therefore, though you may be now a conqueror in the fight, you will feel for others in the situation in which you were once yourself: assured that men may really design nothing but the glory of God, and good-will to their fellow-creatures, though they may sometimes be betrayed into a breach of duty.
Such sentiments deeply impressed on your own heart, will form in you a habit of judging of your fellow-creatures with tenderness and mercy.
VI. It is a very distinguishing part of the temper of a real Christian, to Forgive and Love his enemies. Therefore, if you are entitled to the name you bear, your behaviour under provocations will be quite opposite to the custom of the world, and the impulse of corrupt nature. Is your character basely vilified ? you will refute the malicious slander, should it need an answer, without retaliating abuse for abuse, or blackening your defamers. Should your foes proceed from ill language to ill usage, you will still forgive; and prove the reality of your good-will towards them, by pitying them in their distress, by even serving them as occasion offers. And though in some cases the very grievous wrongs with which you may be oppressed, may justify and demand legal redress, your heart will burn with no animosity against your foes, whose violence has forced you to this method of self-defence. And to advance still one step higher, were the case ever to happen that you should be left in the power of bloody persecutors, who are determined, unless you
will renounce the Christian faith, to take away your life; yet, even here, so sublime is the holiness flowing from Christian principles,
5, you would feel a benevolent compassion towards your persecutors. You would pray for them to that God, before whom it is equally dangerous and impious to dissemble. You would intreat him to give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth, that their sin may be pardoned, and the joy of heaven finally become their portion.
Thus complete is the nature, and thus wide the extent of the forgiveness and love which you will exercise, O Christian, towards your enemies.
The arguments which convince you of the reasonableness and absolute necessity of this temper, are, as they need to be, remarkably strong and affecting. Your knowledge of God in his government and redemption of the world, will lead you utterly to condemn and to oppose the first risings of malice, or of hatred, even against your bitterest foes. For you are thoroughly sensible what manner of affronts and insults the great God daily receives. You consider the condition of the persons who offer them, and the obligations they are under to him. You remember the glory of the Most High, the ample means he has in his power instantly to avenge his injured name, and to destroy
his daring adversaries in a moment. At the same time you behold him slow to anger, full of long-suffering, and of great mercy; not willing that any should perish, but waiting for many months, nay many years, in patient compassion towards them that hate him.
This adorable temper in the God of heaven, so conspicuous in the government of his providence, shines still brighter to your mind in the plan of man's redemption. By serious meditation on this scheme, you will be led, O Christian, to reason thus with yourself; “Had God been provoked with his enemies, as I am so impatiently inclined to be with mine; had he been prone to resentment, or wanting in the riches of mercy, what had become of us all? of a world in arms against him? Had God loved those only who first loved him, or waited to give his inestimable blessing, till we sinners had made the first advance, where had been the means of grace; where the glad tidings of salvation? God, on the contrary, commendeth his love to us, in that when we were yet enemies, Christ died for us. How inexcusable then, how desperately wicked must it be in me, to want love for a fellow-servant, though a fellow-sinner, since God has had so much compassion on us all.”
Further, The force of this argument in proof of the reasonableness of loving your enemies, is still considerably more increased by your own experience of God's grace and tender mercy to yourself.
You remember how long you lived in forgetfulness and in horrid contempt of God; as if you had been independent of him, or he unworthy of your notice: how long you were seeking your happiness in the pursuits of vanity, without enquiring, -Where is God my Maker ? You know he suffered you to survive all this insolence of affront to him. In the midst of it, his mercy was not estranged from you; he still protected, still provided for you: he preserved you from dying in a reprobate condition. At length he crowned his goodness towards you, by giving you grace to see the guilt of sin, and the effi cacy of the Saviour, and by forgiving and forgetting all the evil you had done against him. This very long, and very gracious indulgence of your heavenly Father towards you, manifests the hideous deformity of a vindictive spirit, and enables you to see how monstrous it must be in you to listen to its dictates; or not to return love, whatever injuries you have received, when the God of glory both has dealt, and still continues to deal so graciously with you.
Therefore, though some violent provocations may suddenly kindle resentment, and prompt you to cherish the thought of returning evil for evil, soon the conviction of God's patience and love towards yourself, will make the transient intention appear full of injustice and ingratitude to God, and totally unbecoming your guilty state before him. Thus the hell-engendered spark of revenge will quickly expire, and love instead of resentment, reign within. Besides these arguments, the full credit which you,
0 Christian! give to every Scripture declaration, will dispose you to resist every rising sentiment of ill-will against your enemies. You are assured by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, that no one who harbours the least degree of malice or hatred in his heart, can stand within the limits of mercy till that detestable spirit is subdued. So highly offensive is it to God, whenever found in such guilty sinful creatures as we are, that it renders us incapable even of praying, without increasing our sin: for the tongue which holds any correspondence with a heart envenomed by hatred, does but call for a curse, when it calls upon God in those words which Christ has taught us, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us;" the man who does not forgive his enemies, calls in these words for justice on himself instead of compassion. The petition, dreadfully inverted, sounds thus in the ears of God, “ Forgive not me my trespasses, as I do not forgive them that trespass against me.” And if any man persist in hatred of his foes, God will answer him according to this true meaning of his prayer.
In such a forcible manner are you taught, O Christian, to forgive and love your enemies. And whilst these considerations prove to you beyond question both the reasonableness and the absolute necessity of the duty, the grace of God is promised to your prayer, that, what with man is impossible, may through the Spirit's influence, be accomplished by you. For though injuries so affect, so irritate