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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Proverbs 25

 

 

Verse 21-22

DISCOURSE: 809

RETURNING GOOD FOR EVIL

Proverbs 25:21-22. If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for thou shall heap coals of fire upon his head; and the Lord shall reward thee.

THE morality both of the Old and New Testament is the same. Some have imagined, that because our blessed Lord said, “A new Commandment give I unto you,” he has in his Gospel enlarged the duties of his followers beyond what was required by the moral law. But no command of his was new in itself, but only in its circumstances; as being enjoined from new principles, and illustrated by new examples. Morality does not depend on any arbitrary appointment: it arises out of the relation which we bear to God as our common Parent, and to each other as Brethren: and, irrespective of any express revelation of it, “To love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves,” must of necessity be the duty of every child of man. Had our blessed Lord increased the demands of the moral law, either the Law must have demanded too little of us, or the Gospel must demand too much. But neither of these is the case: the requirements both of the one and of the other are the same, as far as morals are concerned. Love is acknowledged to be the fulfilling of the Law, and the great commandment of the Gospel also. But to love our enemies is the utmost extent to which this duty is carried, either in the Law or Gospel: yet is this enjoined, as we see, under the Mosaic dispensation; which is a clear proof, that it is not, as many erroneously suppose, a requirement peculiar to the Christian code. The very words of our text are cited by the Apostle Paul, as inculcating all that Christianity itself requires on this head [Note: Romans 12:19-20.]: only there is one point in our text which adds greatly to its interest, and which has determined us to select the original words for our consideration, rather than the Apostle’s citation of them.

From the words before us we shall be led to consider,

I. The duty inculcated—

Certainly the love of enemies was never regarded as a duty by any of the heathen philosophers. Whatever might be occasionally spoken by them in praise of magnanimity, the love of enemies, and the rendering of good for evil under all circumstances, was never admitted by them as a proper principle and rule of conduct. Such a principle is directly contrary to all our natural sentiments and feelings.

By nature we all are inclined to render evil for evil—

[There is not a child that does not manifest this disposition, as soon as it begins to act: nor is there any one whose own experience will not furnish him with unnumbered proofs, that this is the natural bent of his own heart. Circumstances may indeed prevent us from retaliating injuries in an open way: the person that has inflicted the injuries may be out of our reach; or be too powerful for us to contend with; or be so low, as to be deemed unworthy of our notice. But in our hearts, we shall find the vindictive principle strongly operative, disposing us to take pleasure in any evil that may have befallen our enemy, and to decline yielding him any service, which, under the influence of a better principle, we might have rendered him. The man under the workings of hatred scarcely thinks of his enemy but with pain, and with a direct reference to the injuries received from him: and though from want of opportunity he may not retaliate, he has in him the spark, which might soon, by a concurrence of circumstances, break forth into a flame. In proof of this we need only see how this spirit has operated in others; sometimes rankling for years, till an opportunity to gratify itself should offer; and sometimes bursting forth at once into furious resentment. The sons of Jacob, Simeon, and Levi, full of indignation against Shechem for defiling their sister Dinah, formed a plan to murder, not Shechem only, but every male of the city in which he dwelt: and, to put them off their guard, and disable them for resistance, they devised a scheme the most hypocritical, and most infernal that could enter into the heart of man; having succeeded in which, they executed their bloody purpose without pity and without remorse [Note: Genesis 34:13-15; Genesis 34:25.]. In Absalom’s bosom the determination to avenge the wrongs which his sister Tamar had sustained, and to expiate them by the blood of Amnon, her offending brother, rankled two full years; till by artifice he was enabled to effect his murderous design [Note: 2 Samuel 13:15; 2 Samuel 13:28.]. More rapid, but not less cruel, was the vindictive wrath of David, when Nabal had refused to recompense his services in the way he desired: he instantly hasted with an armed force to cut off Nabal, and every male belonging to his numerous household [Note: 1 Samuel 25:21-22.]. Alas! alas! what is man, when left to the workings of his own corrupt nature? His every thought accords with that Pharisaic principle, “Thou shalt love thy friend and hate thine enemy.”]

But religion requires us to render good for evil—

[Every species of revenge it absolutely forbids, even in thought. “Say not, I will do so to him, as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work [Note: Proverbs 24:29.].” To this effect were those ordinances of Moses: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people: but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself [Note: Leviticus 19:18.].” And, “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou must surely bring it back again to him: and if thou seest his ass lying under his burthen, and wouldst forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help him [Note: Exodus 23:4-5.].” Thus by the law of Moses the secret alienation of heart was to be counteracted by the exercise of actual kindness and benevolence. But the words of our text are stronger still, and especially as they are cited by the Apostle Paul. The idea conveyed by him is, that we must not merely give our enemy bread and water when he needs it, but must feed him with the tenderness of a mother towards her little infant [Note: ψώμιζεαὐτόν, Romans 12:20.]. O what a victory does this suppose over all the vindictive feelings of our hearts!

We have a beautiful instance of this recorded in the history of Elisha. The prophet was surrounded by an army of Syrians, determined to apprehend and destroy him. By a power communicated to him from above, he smote them all with blindness, and then conducted them into the heart of Samaria. The king of Israel having gained this advantage over them, would have slain them: but the prophet said. “Thou shalt not smite them; but shalt set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master [Note: 2 Kings 6:21-22.].” Such is the disposition which we also are called to exercise towards our most inveterate enemies. We must “bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us [Note: Matthew 5:44.].” If they should have offended against us ever so often, even seventy times seven, we are still to retain the same disposition towards them, and to manifest it the very instant they express regret for the unkindness they have shewn us [Note: Matthew 18:22.]. Nor are there to be any other bounds to our forgiveness, than those which the Lord Jesus Christ has affixed to his: we are to forgive others “even as Christ has forgiven us [Note: Ephesians 4:32.]:” and, if we refuse to do so, our doom is sealed: “So also shall the Lord do unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses [Note: Matthew 18:35.].”]

Such is the duty which we are called to perform: but, that we may not be deterred by the arduousness of it, let us consider,

II. The encouragement given us to perform it—

If we act thus, we have reason to hope,

1. That we shall overcome the hatred of our enemy—

[Certain it is, that no enemy was ever yet won by a vindictive conduct. We may, it is true, silence him by power: but we never can gain his affections by any thing but love. And this will, if not always, yet sometimes, prevail: as St. Paul intimates, when he says, “Be not overcome of evils; but overcome evil with good [Note: Romans 12:21.].” Indeed, where there is a spark of ingenuousness left, we cannot but hope that such benevolence as this will at last prevail. We have some remarkable instances of this in the life of David. Saul had persecuted him with most relentless and bitter animosity: yet, when David twice had him in his power, and could easily have destroyed him, he spared his life; and by this generosity constrained his persecutor to confess his own extreme injustice, and to take shame to himself for his own malignant and cruel proceedings [Note: 1 Samuel 24:4; 1 Samuel 24:11; 1 Samuel 24:16-19; 1 Samuel 26:12; 1 Samuel 26:21; 1 Samuel 26:25.]— — — Such effects we also may hope to see produced on our enemies. It is well known that metals are fused, not by putting fire under them, but by heaping also coals of fire upon them: and thus shall the hard hearts of our enemies be melted by accumulated instances of undeserved love. True, we cannot convert their souls by this; for nothing but omnipotence can effect so great a work as the conversion of a soul: but we may reasonably expect to appease their wrath, perhaps also to slay their enmity against us: and one such victory will be a rich recompence for all the forbearance we have ever exercised, and all the love we have ever displayed.]

2. That we shall be rewarded by our God—

[This is plainly asserted in our text; and to all who conform thenuelves to the direction before us shall the promise be assuredly fulfilled.

It shall be fulfilled here: for such conduct will bring unspeakable peace into the soul. It is said, that revenge is sweet: but with infinitely greater propriety may it be said, that the returning of good for evil is sweet. The one is a malignant pleasure, such as we may suppose Satan himself felt, when he had prevailed, as he thought, against the Lord of life and glory: but the other is such a sacred pleasure as Christ himself felt, when he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” What satisfaction did David experience, when, in consequence of Abigail’s interposition, he had changed his mind in relation to Nabal, and sacrificed his resentment to a sense of duty! Again and again did he bless her for diverting him from his purpose [Note: 1 Samuel 25:32-33.]. And we also, whenever love rises superior to resentment, and enables us to render good for evil, shall find unspeakable comfort springing up in our souls.

But the promise shall be yet more fully accomplished hereafter. Every act of patient self-denial and of generous love will be noticed by God with special approbation; and, if a cup of cold water given to a disciple for Christ’s sake shall in no wise lose its reward, much less shall services rendered to an enemy for his sake pass unnoticed. St. Peter tells us, that we are called to such trials, and carried through them in a triumphant manner, on purpose “that we may inherit a blessing [Note: 1 Peter 3:9.].” But the point is repeatedly asserted by our Lord himself: “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy:” “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven [Note: Luke 6:37.].” Let this thought occupy the mind; and the performance of the duty will be a delightful task.]

Address—

1. Guard against those reasonings which favour the indulgence of a vindictive spirit—

[You will be sometimes inclined to think that the exercise of resentment is necessary; and that if some displeasure be not manifested, your enemies will be emboldened to proceed to still further outrages. But look at the command of God; and, if this be clearly on the side of forbearance and love, say to every contrary suggestion, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me.”]

2. Set the Lord Jesus Christ before you as your example—

[There are many passages in the Psalms which seem to breathe a spirit of revenge [Note: Particularly Psalms 109. throughout.]: but these are frequently only prophecies, which might properly have been translated in the future tense: and when they are clearly imprecations, as sometimes they doubtless are, they are spoken in the person of the Messiah, who had a right either to denounce or imprecate judgments on those who obstinately rejected all the offers of his grace. David, when speaking in his own person, manifested the same spirit that becomes us [Note: Psalms 35:13-14.]. But David was a fallible man, like unto us: as we have seen in the case of Nabal. Look therefore to the Lord Jesus Christ himself, in whom was no sin. When you were enemies, He left the bosom of his Father for you: yea, “when you were yet enemies, he died for you” — — — I need say no more. Set him before you, and your way will be clear: and, if you look to him for all needful succour, his “grace shall be sufficient for you,” and you shall be able to do all things through the strength he will impart.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Proverbs 25:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/proverbs-25.html. 1832.

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