It may come as a surprise to many, but as the Puritans enjoyed mental immersion in every Biblical topic, the idea of love was no exception. Perhaps the modern church fools itself to reckon it is much more whole-hearted in its pursuit of love, but this is a vast deception. Jonathan Edwards preached voluminously on the topic and many others often wrote or preached about it.
The real difference between modern approaches to the idea of love, and Puritan ones, is not a matter of how heartfelt they or we are, but of how precise. As you read these excerpts from Scougal’s sermon entitled “The Indispensable Duty of Loving Our Enemies”, you may find that, not only does Scougal compel heartfelt affection, but thoughtful affection as well.
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies.
While we travel through the wilderness of this world, much of the comfort of our pilgrimage depends on the good correspondence and mutual services and endearments of our fellow-travellers: therefore our blessed Savior, whose precepts are all intended for perfection and felicity, fitted to procure to us both the good things of this world, and that which is to come, has taken especial care to unite the minds of men in the strictest bonds of friendship and love: he has been at great pains by his precepts, and by his example, by earnest persuasions and powerful motives, to smooth our rugged humours, and calm our passions, and take off the roughness from our natures, which hinders us from joining together. To love those who have obliged us, is that which nature might, teach, and wicked men practise; to favor those who have never wronged us, is but a piece of common humanity: but our religion requires us to extend our kindness even to those who have injured and abused us, and who continue to do and wish us mischief, and that we never design any other revenue against our most bitter and inveterate enemies, than to wish them well, and do them all the good we can, whether they will or not; for unto “those that hear him,” Our Savior says, ” Love your enemies.”
The persons whom we are commanded to love are called our “enemies”. Lest we should mistake them, they are clearly described in the following words: the fountain of their enmity is within – they are those “who hate us”, who envy our happiness, who wish our misery, and abhor our persons and society. But were this fire kept within their breast, though it might scorch themselves, it could not prejudice us; but “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”, their malice sharpens their tongues. They are farther described, as those that “curse us”; they vent their wrath in oaths and imprecations, secret calumnies and open reproaches: nor are their bands always bound up, they “use us despitefully” and procure us mischief.
Now, if our love be extended to all these, we shall hardly find any whom we dare exclude. Of our private enemies there can be no question, but what shall be said of the enemies of our country, and of our religion?
First, for the enemies of our country, I see no warrant to exclude them from our charity: we may indeed lawfully oppose their violent invasion, and defend our rights with the sword, under the banner of the public magistrate; but all this may be done with as little malice and hatred, as a Judge may punish a malefactor: the General may be as, so void of passion as a LORD Chief Justice, and the soldier as the executioner. But charity will oblige a Prince never to have recourse to the sword, till all other remedies fail; to blunt the edge of war by sparing as much as may be the shedding of innocent blood, with all other barbarities that use to accompany it, and to accept. of any reasonable capitulation.
We come, next, to the enemies of our religion. Indeed there are many who are so far from thinking them to be among the number of those whom they are obliged to love, that they look upon it as a part of their duty to hate them: their zeal is continually venting itself in fierce invectives against Antichrist, and every thing they are pleased to call Antichristian and they are ready to apply all the prophecies and imprecations of the Old Testament in their very prayers against those that differ from them; and ordinarily the animosities are greatest where the differences are least; and one party of a reformed Church shall be more incensed against another, than either against the superstition and tyranny of Rome, or the carnality of the Mahometan faith: yea, perhaps, you may find some who agree in, and only differ in several ways of expressing, the same thing, and yet can scarce look on one another without displeasure and aversion.
But, alas! how much do these men disparage that religion for which they appear so zealous! How much do they mistake the spirit of Christianity! Are the persons whom they hate, greater enemies to, religion, than those who persecuted the Apostles and martyrs for professing it? And yet these were the persons whom our Savior commanded his disciples to love, and himself did pray for those that crucified him: and severely checked the disciples, when, by a precedent brought from the Old Testament, they would have called for fire from heaven on those that would not receive them, telling them, they knew not what spirit they were of. They did not consider by what spirit they were prompted to such cruel inclinations; or, as others explain it, they did not yet understand the temper and genius of Christianity, which is”pure and peaceable, gentle and meek, full of sweetness, and full of love.”
If men would impartially examine their hatred and animosities against the enemies of their religion, I fear they would find them proceed from a principle which themselves would not willingly own. Pride and self-conceit will make a man disdain those of a different persuasion, and think it a disparagement to his judgment, that any should differ from it. Mere nature and self-love will make a man hate those who oppose the interest of that party which himself has espoused. Hence men are many times more displeased at some small mistakes in judgment, than the greatest immoralities in practice. Yea, perhaps they will find a secret pleasure in hearing or reporting the faults or scandals of their adversaries.
Certainly the power of religion rightly prevailing in the soul, would mould us into another temper: it would teach, us to love, and pity, and pray for the person, as well as hate and condemn the errors they are supposed to espouse: it would make us wish their conversion, rather than their confusion, and be more desirous that God would fit them for another world, than that he would take them out of this. We may indeed wish the disappointment of their wicked purposes; for this is charity to them, to keep them from being the unhappy instruments of mischief in the world; but he that can wish plagues and ruin to their persons, and delights in their sins, or in their misery, has more of the devil than the Christian.