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Christian and Jewish Ethics.
Lev. xix. 18; Deut. vi. 5 ; Matt. xxii. 37–40.
SOME special imprecatory passages having been considered in preceding sections, it is still to be sought, in what way the varied (though individually less striking) denunciations which are found elsewhere in the Old Testament, and may be said to pervade the Psalter, are to be reconciled with the forgiving spirit of the Gospel and the counsels of CHRIST. Do they indicate, as many affirm, a contrariety of principle between the Gospel and the Law? or do the two agree essentially, and differ only in phase; the one presenting certain principles in their most elementary form; the other exhibiting a later and continuous development of the same?
I. Comparisons of Old and New Testament Language.
1. The imprecations which abound in the Psalms would doubtless seem, for the most part, out of place, if transferred to the pages of a Gospel, or an Apostolic Epistle. This might be said, e.g. of such passages as:– Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make Thy way straight before my face... Destroy Thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions ; for they have rebelled against Thee' (Ps. v. 8, 10). "Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert. Because they regard not the works of the LORD, nor the operation of His hands, He shall destroy them, and not build them up' (xxviii. 4, 5). “Let me not be ashamed, O LORD: for I have called upon Thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave. Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous' (xxxi. 17, 18). 'Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery; and let the angel of the LORD persecute them. For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul' (xxxv. 4—7). “Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil. Let them be desolate for a reward of their shame that say unto me, Aha, aha' (xl. 14, 15). “But Thou, O LORD, be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them. By this I know that Thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me' (xli, 10, 11).
2. But, on the other hand, there are passages comparable with these in the New Testament itself. Thus (not to mention our Lord's denunciations of the scribes and Pharisees, in Matt. xxiii.) we may instance St Paul's words : Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the LORD reward him according to his works' (2 Tim. iv. 14). Here αποδώσει should perhaps be rendered as a simple future, and not optatively. But the variation thus introduced is less important than such variations are sometimes thought to be ; for the optative rendering would represent the Apostle as desiring that such and such a retribution might overtake the gainsayer; while, with the simple future, he would seem to contemplate the like issue as one to be desired. In any case, St Paul's words may be compared with those denunciatory passages in the Psalms which are to the same extent ambiguous, and may even be set down as, not improbably, a free citation of Ps. Χxviii. 4: δος αυτούς κατά τα έργα αυτών. The denunciatory expressions in the New Testament may be comparatively few; but the occurrence of even one would indicate either the recognition, in Christian theology, of principles in harmony with the severity of the former Dispensation; or a departure, under special circumstances, from the general law of Christ, which would require explanation, and might give rise to the conjecture that, in the Old Testament also, special considerations may be adducible in explanation of imprecatory passages.
3. That the difference in this matter between the Old Testament and the New is not one of principle, is further shewn by direct statements in the former, which are in complete harmony with the forgiving spirit of the latter. Thus, the Book of Proverbs dissuades from unseemly exultation over a fallen enemy, declaring it hateful in the sight of God: Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth, lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him' (Prov. xxiv, 17, 18). So in Job xxxi. 29, 30: 'If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him: Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul.' Again : 'Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin in him. 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. xix. 17, 18). In Deut. xxxii. 35, JEHOVAH speaks: ‘To Me belongeth vengeance, and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.' The first part of this verse is quoted, in Heb. x. 30, as predictive of Divine retribution to such as have done despite unto the Spirit of grace,' 'For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance
belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the LORD. And again, The Lord shall judge His people (Ps. cxxxv. 14). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.' But in Rom. xii. 19, the same passage from Deuteronomy is cited as a dissuasive from vindictiveness: 'If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.' The Law then contains the Gospel teaching; the Gospel illustrates the practice of the Law. What is the relation of the doctrine to the practice? How is Christian charity to be reconciled with legal severity?
II. An Interpretation of Rom. xii. 20, 21; Prov. xxv. 21, 22.
A solution of the difficulty above propounded is contained in the vexed passage : ‘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. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good' (Rom. xii. 20, 21). Bishop Patrick remarks, not quite conclusively, upon the coals of fire, &c. : 'If he have the least spark of goodness in him, it will work a change in his mind, and make him throw off all his enmities; or, if it have the contrary effect, he shall have so much the sorer punishment, and thou shalt not lose thy reward, which the Lord himself shall give thee.' Dean Alford thus states the case: “The expression àvē paras rupós occurs repeatedly in Ps. xviii., of the Divine punitive judgments. Can those be meant here? Clearly not, in their bare literal sense. For however true it may be that ingratitude will add to the enemy's list of crimes, and so subject him more to God's punitive judgment, it is impossible that to bring this about should be set as a precept, or a desirable thing among Christians. Again, can the expression be meant of the glow and burn of shame which would accompany, even in the case of a profane person, the receiving of benefits from an enemy? This may be meant; but it is not probable, as not sufficing for the majesty of the subject. Merely to make an enemy ashained of himself, can hardly be upheld as a motive for action. I understand the words, For in this doing, you will be taking the most effectual vengeance; as effectual as if you heaped coals of fire on his head. Although the above seems on the whole unsatisfactory, yet to heap coals of fire, &c., is most naturally taken as expressive of vengeance and destruction, as e. g. in Ps. xi. 6: Upon the wicked He shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. Hence, it is not likely that 'the expression is used in a good sense,' as some think, and as the following remarks of Dr Macknight express: ‘The metaphor,' writes this commentator, ‘is supposed to be taken from the melting of metals, by covering the ore with burning coals. This being understood, the meaning will be, In so doing, thou wilt mollify thine enemy, and bring him to a good temper. This no doubt is the best method of treating enemies. For it belongs to God to punish the injurious, but to the injured to overcome them, by returning good for evil.' Augustine concludes : ‘ut intelligas, carbones ignis esse urentes pænitentiæ gemitus, quibus superbia sanatur ejus, qui dolet se inimicum fuisse hominis, a quo ejus miseriæ subvenitur.'
There is, however, another way of explaining the difficult verse in question, which allows its most natural meaning to the phraseology employed. To heap coals of fire upon an enemy, would imply an uncompromising enmity, not to be satisfied by anything less than the extermination of the foe. In some sense, the Christian is supposed to desire such a consummation, and is encouraged in the attempt to compass it: nor does any difficulty arise in reconciling this with such precepts as, 'Love your enemies,' if it be remembered that the latter are plain practical directions for the conduct of life, while the verse under discussion deals more directly with first principles and the nature of things. In it the word ' enemy' stands, in part, as an abstraction, and signifies rather enmity and antagonism, than the individual in whom the enmity resides. The Christian may, or must, desire to root out the