Lee Gatiss preaches part 2 of the “Homily of Christian love and charity.”
You have heard a plain and a fruitful description of charity, and how profitable and necessary a thing love is: how it stretches itself both to God and people, friend and foe, by the doctrine and example of Christ. You have also heard who may assure themselves whether they are loving people or not. Now let us continue on this same subject.
Love your enemies
The perverse nature of mankind, corrupted with sin and destitute of God’s word and grace, thinks it against all reason that someone should love their enemy, and in many ways is persuaded against this. Against all such reasons, we ought to set the teaching as well as the living of our Saviour Christ who, loving us when we were his enemies, teaches us to love our enemies. He patiently endured many reproaches for us, suffered beating, and most cruel death. Therefore we are not members of him if we will not follow him. Christ, says St. Peter, suffered for us, leaving an example that we should follow him (1 Peter 2:21).
Furthermore, we must consider that to love our friends is no more than thieves, adulterers, murderers, and all wicked people do. Jews, Muslims, non-believers, and even all brute beasts love those who are their friends, those from whom they earn their living, or get any other benefits. But to love enemies is the proper condition of those who are the children of God, the disciples and followers of Christ.
The disobedient and corrupt nature of people ponders deeply and repeatedly the offence and displeasure done to them by their enemies, and thinks it an intolerable burden to be bound to love those who hate them. But the burden should be easy enough if (on the other side) everyone would consider what displeasure they have done to their enemy in return, and what pleasure they have received from this. And if we find no equal or fair compensation, either in receiving such pleasure or in giving displeasure to them in return, then let us ponder the displeasures which we have given to Almighty God, how often and how grievously we have offended him.
If we wish to have God’s forgiveness, there is no other remedy but to forgive the offences done to us, which are very small in comparison to our offences against God. And if we consider that the one who has offended us does not deserve to be forgiven by us, let us consider again that we deserve far less to be forgiven by God. And although our enemy does not deserve to be forgiven for their own sake, yet we ought to forgive them for God’s love, considering how great and many benefits we have received from him, without deserving them, and that Christ expects us, for his sake, to forgive them their trespasses committed against us.
Love cherishes and corrects
Here there may arise a question that needs to be solved. If loves requires us to think, speak, and do well to everyone, both good and evil, how can officers of the law execute justice on criminals or evildoers with love? How can they put evil people in prison, take away their goods, and sometimes their lives, according to laws, if love will not suffer them to do so?
Here is a plain and a brief answer, that plagues and punishments are not necessarily evil of themselves. To an evil person they are both good and necessary, and may be executed according to love, and with love should be executed.
To speak of this further, you must understand that love has two roles, the one contrary to the other, and yet both are necessary for people of different sorts and disposition. One role of love is to cherish good and innocent people, not to oppress them with false accusations but to encourage them with rewards to do well and to continue in well doing, defending them with the sword from their adversaries. Just as the office of bishops and pastors is to praise good people for doing good, that they may continue to do so, and to rebuke and correct by the word of God the offences and crimes of all those who are disposed to do evil.
The other role of love is to rebuke, correct, and punish vice, without regard for people’s position or status, and is only to be used against those who are evil, and criminals or evildoers. It is as much the role of love to rebuke, punish, and correct those who are evil, as it is to cherish and reward those who are good and innocent. St. Paul declares to the Romans that the governing authorities are ordained by God, not to be a terror to those who do right, but to those who do wrong, to draw the sword to take vengeance against the one who commits the sin (Romans 13:1-4). And St. Paul bids Timothy stoutly and earnestly to rebuke sin by the word of God (1 Timothy 5:20). Both offices should be diligently executed, to fight against the kingdom of the devil: the preacher with the word, and the governors with the sword. Otherwise, they neither love God, nor those whom they govern, if (for lack of correction) they wilfully suffer God to be offended, and those whom they govern to perish.
Every loving father corrects his natural son when he does something amiss, or else he does not love him. In the same way, all governors of realms, countries, towns, and houses should lovingly correct those under their governance who are offenders, and cherish those who live innocently, if they have any respect to God and their office, or love for those they govern. And such rebukes and punishments of those who offend must be done in due time, lest by delay the offenders fall headlong into all manner of mischief, and not only be evil themselves, but also do harm to many others, drawing them by their evil example to sin and outrage after them. One thief may rob many people, and also make many thieves. One seditious person may allure many, and annoy a whole town or country. And love requires such evil people, who are great offenders against God and the commonwealth, to be cut from the body of the commonwealth, lest they corrupt other good and honest persons, like a good surgeon cuts away a rotten and festering limb because of the love they have for the whole body, lest it infect other limbs adjoining it.
Thus it is declared to you what true charity or Christian love is — so plainly, that no one should to be deceived. Whoever keeps this love, not only towards God (whom they are bound to love above all things) but also towards their neighbour, friend as well as foe — it shall surely keep them from all offending of God and people. Therefore note well this one short lesson: that by true Christian love, God ought to be loved above all, and all people ought to be loved too — good and evil, friend and foe. And we ought to do good to all, as we can: those who are good we ought to love, to encourage, and to cherish because they are good; and those who are evil we ought of love to procure and seek their correction and due punishment, so that they may by this either be brought to goodness, or at least that God and the commonwealth may be less hurt and offended.
If we thus direct our life, by Christian love and charity, then Christ promises and assures us that he loves us, that we are the children of our heavenly Father, reconciled to his favour, very members of Christ, and that after the short time of this present and mortal life, we shall have with him everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom of heaven. Therefore to him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.