The Sermon On The Mount
The Law and Love
"Ye have heard that it bath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say Unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you" (vv. 43 and 44). Few sections of the Sermon on the Mount have suffered more at the hands of expositors than has this one. Most of them, through failure to attentively weigh and rightly understand the whole context, have quite missed the scope of our passage. In consequence of such failure our Lord's design in these verses has been misapprehended, the prevailing but erroneous idea being held that they set forth the vastly superior moral standard of the New Covenant over that which obtained under Judaism. Many have wrongly defined its principal terms, giving too restricted a meaning both to "neighbor" and "love." Ludicrous indeed are the shifts made by some in the endeavors to harmonize their interpretation of these verses with the theological system to which they are committed.
How widely the commentators differ among themselves, and how ambiguous and unsatisfactory are their explanations will appear from the following quotations-taken from their remarks on "Love your enemies." "We cannot have complacency in one that is openly wicked and profane, nor put a confidence in one that we know to be deceitful; for are we to love all alike; but we must pay respect to the human nature, and so far honour all men; we must take notice with pleasure of that even in our enemies which is amiable and commendable; ingenuity, good temper, learning, moral virtue, kindness to others, profession of religion, etc., and love that, though they are our enemies. We must have a compassion for them, and a good will toward them" (Matthew Henry). That seems to us about as clear as mud. First, this eminent author virtually tells us that we cannot love an enemy: then he affirms we must respect any good qualities we can discern in them: and closes with the statement that we should wish them well.
Much to the same effect are the reflections of Thomas Scott, for though he begins by asserting it as a Christian duty to love our enemies, to regard them "with benevolence, to return good works and kind wishes to their revilings and imprecations, and beneficent acts to their injuries," yet he spoils this by adding: "As however there are various favors which He bestows only on His people, so our peculiar friendship, kindness and complacency must and ought to be restricted to the righteous; yea, gratitude to benefactors and predilections for special friends consist very well with this general good will and good conduct toward enemies and persecutors." Here again we are left wondering as to what our Lord really meant when He bade us "love your enemies."
Andrew Fuller sought to cut the knot by having recourse to the subtleties of the schoolmen, who insisted there are two different kinds of love, both in God and in man-wherein they confounded mere kindness with love. This writer said, "Much confusion has arisen on this subject from not distinguishing between benevolence and complacency. The one is due to all men, whatever be their character, so long as there is any possibility or hope of their becoming the friends of God; the other is not, but requires to be founded on character" (On love to enemies). The substance of which is that the love we exercise unto the enemies of God is of a totally different order from that which we bear to His children.
Stranger still is the method followed by the renowned John Gill in his effort to explain away Christ's injunction that we must love our enemies. "I apprehend, the love with which Christ exhorts His people to love their enemies is not to be understood quoad affectus (as respecting the internal affections of love): I cannot believe that Christ requires of me that I should love a persecutor as I do my wife, my children, my real friend, or brother in Christ; but quoad effectus (as to the effects), that is, I am required to do these things as they lay in my way and according to my ability, as a man would do to his neighbor whom he loves; that is, feed him when he is hungry, and give him drink when thirsty" (from Truth Defended).
The explanation given by Mr. Gill is the worst of them all, for it contains a most serious error, implying as it does that outward compliance with God's requirements will be accepted by Him even though the one spring from which all such actions must proceed be inactive. It is not the outward appearance, but the heart, God ever looks at. Now "love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10), and love is essentially a thing of the heart. Love is the fulfilling of the Law because love to God and to man is all that it requires. Real obedience is nothing more and nothing less than the exercise of love and the directing of it to what God has commanded. Strictly speaking, there is no ground for the distinction commonly made of internal and external obedience: all true obedience is internal, consisting in the exercise of love, and external obedience is simply the expression thereof. Consequently, external conformity to the Divine commands which proceeds not from love-holy affections-is worthless "dead works."
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy" (v. 43). As we have passed from section to section of Matthew 5, we have warned against and sought to repudiate the widely held mistake that Christ was here setting up a more spiritual and merciful law than the one which had been given at Sinai. In the verse just quoted we have additional proof, clear and conclusive, that our Lord was not engaged in pitting Himself against the law of Moses, but rather that He was concerned with the refuting and rejecting of the deadly errors of the Jewish teachers. The Pentateuch will be searched in vain for any precept which required the Israelites to entertain any malignity against their foes: thou shalt "hate thine enemy" was a rabbinical invention pure and simple.
"Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:18): such was the original commandment. Now our Lord was not referring to this Divine statute at all, but to the Pharisees' perversion of the same. True, they quoted the actual words, "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," but they misunderstood and misapplied them. The lawyer's question to Christ, "Who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:29), asked in order to "justify himself," revealed the error of the party to which he belonged, as our Lord's answer thereto made plain the scope of the term over which they stumbled. The Jewish rabbis restricted the word "neighbour" to friends or those closely related to them: to those of their nation and particularly those who belonged to their own party.
The term "neighbour" is used in the Old Testament in a twofold manner: a wider and more general, and a narrower and more specific. In its common usage it includes anyone with whom we may come into contact, having respect unto our fellow men. In its specific sense it signifies one who is near to us by ties of blood or habitation. But anyone who searches the Scriptures should have been left in no uncertainty as to the Spirit's meaning. "Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold" (Ex. 11:2): the reference here is to the Egyptians among whom Israel then lived. "Strangers," equally with "neighbours," are represented as the proper objects of such love as we bear to ourselves, and that, in the very chapter where the command to love our neighbour is recorded: "If a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him; but the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:33, 34).
So far from the Divine injunction, "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," being restricted to those who are amiable and friendly toward us, in more than one passage in the Law even an adversary in a law-suit is described as a neighbour: "When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judged between one and his neighbour" (Hebrew of Ex. 18:16). Hence the inference which the Pharisees should have drawn from the Divine statute would be, "Thou shalt love all men, even those who are seeking to injure thee." When God prohibited His people from bearing false witness against their neighbours, and when He forbade them coveting the wife of a neighbour (Ex. 20:16, 17), the prohibition must of necessity be understood without any limitation. Thus, the commandment to love their neighbours, properly understood, bade them to love all mankind.
As, then, this Divine precept commanded the Israelites to love all men, it most certainly prohibited the harboring of a malignant spirit against anyone. But not only did the Jewish rabbis unwarrantably restrict the injunction to love their neighbours, but they also drew from it the false and wicked inference "and hate thine enemy." How excuseless was any such conclusion appears from the fact that the command to love their neighbours was immediately preceded by the prohibition, "thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people" (Lev. 19;18), while verse 34 bids them to love as themselves any stranger living in their midst. To cherish any ill feeling against any enemy was directly opposed to both the letter and the spirit of the morality of the Law: no such sentiment was expressed in any form of words.
How utterly opposed to the Law itself was this evil conclusion of the rabbis will appear from the following scriptures. "If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him" (Ex. 23:4, 5). "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth; lest the Lord see, and it displease Him" (Prov. 24:17, 18). "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink" (Prov. 25:21). Nor were these unqualified precepts in any wise annulled by the special instructions Israel received through Moses and Joshua to destroy the wicked inhabitants of Canaan, for in so doing they were acting as the executioners of the righteous judgments of God, upon those who were so corrupt and vile that they were a public menace. Nor were they bidden to hate those miserable wretches. No foundation, then, was laid in those extraordinary judgments on the Canaanites for the general principle that hatred to enemies is lawful.
It may be objected to what has been pointed out above that there are some passages which seem to make against our contention. For example, we find David saying, "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with a perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies" (Ps. 139:21, 22). Upon these verses we may remark that first we must distinguish sharply between private and public enemies. The former is one who has done us some personal injury: even so, we must not hate him or retaliate. The latter is one who is in open and inveterate revolt against God, a menace to His cause and people: even so, though we righteously hate his evil cause and sins, we must not his person. So in the above passage, it was the public enemies of Israel and of God whom David hated.
From what has been before us we may see in the case of the rabbis two abuses of the Scriptures, dangerous and disastrous abuses, against which every teacher of the Word must most diligently guard, namely misinterpretation and the drawing of seemingly logical but false inferences. How necessary it is that terms of Holy Writ should be rightly defined, and what labour is demanded from the teacher (often the patient examination of scores and sometimes of hundreds of verses to discover how the Spirit has used a particular term) in order to achieve this; otherwise he is very liable to be guilty of causing error to pass muster for the Truth. Doubly solemn is that exhortation, "My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (Greek of James 3:1).
Again, from what has been before us we may discover an infallible mark of a false teacher: he is one who deliberately panders to the corrupt inclinations of his auditors, adapting his message to their perverted inclinations, wresting the Scriptures so as to secure their approbation. The teaching of the scribes and Pharisees was: Jews are required to love and do good unto their brethren after the flesh, but they are not only permitted, it is their bounden duty to cherish bitter enmity against the Gentiles. Such a doctrine was only too agreeable to the malignant and selfish principles of fallen human nature, and accordingly we find the Jews generally acted under its influence. "They readily show compassion to their own countrymen, but they bear to all others the hatred of an enemy" (Tacitus); while Paul describes them as "contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak unto the Gentiles that they might be saved" (1 Thess. 2:15, 16).
Finally, we may behold here the fruit of false doctrine, namely evil communications corrupting good manners. The Jews have ever been a people marked by strong passions-loving their friends fervently and hating their enemies intensely; and from the Pharisees' corrupting of the law of God so as to make it square with the prejudices of their disciples, the most evil consequences followed. Erroneous beliefs necessarily lead to erroneous conduct, for "as a man thinketh in his heart so is he." This principle is horribly exemplified in Romanism: their evil practices resulting from their false traditions. Thus, they regard their "places of worship" as more holy than any other buildings, and consequently many of the deluded papists never-engage in formal prayer except when they enter one of their "churches" or "cathedrals."
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies." From all that has been before us it should be quite plain that our Lord was not, in these words, pitting Himself against any Mosaic precept, nor even making an addition thereto: rather was He purging that Divine statute from the corruptions of the scribes and Pharisees, and revealing the scope and high spirituality of God's precepts. The love which the Divine Law demands is something vastly superior to what we call "natural affection": love for those who are nearest to us by ties of blood is but a natural instinct or feeling-found in the heathen, and in a lower degree among the animals. The love which the Divine Law requires is a holy, disinterested, and spiritual one. This is unequivocally established by the fact that our Lord linked inseparably together, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart" and "thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37, 39)-our neighbour must be loved with the very same love that God is.
"But I [God incarnate, the Giver of the original Law] say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you" (verse 44). In these words Christ does three things. First, He expressly refutes the error of the scribes and Pharisees, who restricted the term "neighbour" unto friends and acquaintances, and shows that it is so all-embracive as to include "enemies": verily, God's command is "exceeding broad" (Ps. 119:96). Second, He bluntly repudiates their evil teaching that an enemy is to be hated, affirming the very opposite to be the Truth, insisting that God commands us to love even those who hate and injure us. Third, He makes crystal clear what is signified by "love," namely a holy, inward, and spiritual affection, which expresses itself in godly and kindly acts. Thus we are assured beyond any shadow of doubt that the moral law is of Divine origin, for who among men had ever conceived such a precept as "love for enemies"?