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The Fire That Melts the Enemy

May 12, 2016

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

The germ of this most precious moral lesson was deposited  in the earth at an early peiiod of its history. In the laws of Moses it takes a form suited to the simplicity of primeval times: “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray thou shalt surely bring it back to him again” (Ex. xxiiL 4). Jesus in his day found it in the Pharisee’s hands, covered over with an encrustation of Rabbinical traditions, which not only obscured, but utterly perverted its meaning; as corrupted by the Jews the precept ran, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.” When the Lawgiver incarnate had stripped the encumbering glosses from his own command, the vital germ, released from the imprisonment of ages, budded and burst and blossomed in the Light : “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” (Matt v. 44, 45). This is the ripened fruit which the simple Mosaic precept produces for our use in the new dispensation; for Christ came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fufill. In the lips of Jesus the lesson  attained its fullest dimensions and divinest form. Paul, delighting in all things to follow his Master’s footsteps, took up the ancient law, as Solomon had expressed it and wove it for ornament and strength into his greatest treatise at its practical turning point : “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath : for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 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. 19-21)

But we have not reached the origin of this wonderful law when we have traced it up to Moses : his and all subsequent expres- sions of it are copies merely. The original is indeed a deep thing of God : that which he commands us to do to one another He had already done to us in the everlasting covenant. He saw mankind in active enmity against Himself. He visited his enemies not to condemn, but to save. He gave food to the hungry, and water to the thirsty. He gave all good in Christ. He gave that unspeakable gift to enemies. He gave it, as coals of fire, to melt the hardened. This is the pattern after which all true morality is fashioned : the soul of social duty is, “Love one another as I have loved you!”

To love an enemy is a principle that comes from heaven; it is not indigenous on earth. Even after it has been planted in a human heart its growth is generally stunted, for want of a soft soil and a genial atmosphere ; it is a tender exotic, and its fruit seldom comes to perfection in the cold damp field of the world. Some who seem to excel in other graces, fall far short here. This is peculiarly the “grace of the Lord Jesus.” One who knew it well represented it as the distinguishing feature of his work, that “while we were yet enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son ” (Rom. v. 10). Those disciples, accordingly, who walk most closely with their Master will be found to excel the most in this rare attainment. It is only when the same mind is in us that was also in Christ Jesus, that we love our enemies and do them good. When he was lifted up on the cross he gave out the key-note of the Christian life : “Father, forgive them.” The gospel must come in such power as to turn the inner world upside down ere any real progress can be made in this difficult department of social duty. When we learn like Paul to “long after” our neighbours “in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Phil. i. 8), we shall like him long after them all without exception. It is in proportion as a disciple loses the sense of his separate identity, and realizes his union as a member in the body of Christ, that his charity is able to cover the high provocations of those who deliberately do him wrong. As water, though it be actually low within the distributing channel, will rise again to the height of its source, so when the compassion that flows through a believer in the body is the very compassion that flows into him from Christ, it is a good of sufficient power to overcome the most formidable manifestations of evi. Practice directly depends on faith : when duty is difficult, faith must be strong. Accordingly it was when the Master enjoined his disciples to forgive an enemy seven times a day, that they cried out, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke xvii. 4, 5). They felt the force of mercy in their own hearts utterly inadequate to the difficult work which was pre- scribed, and with the true instincts of the new creature, sought a remedy suited to their want a sealed union of the empty channels with the upper spring of abounding grace.

– William Arnot

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