By John Angell James
"Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good."
I.We cannot fail to observe, and to admire, the tact displayed by Simeon Green in accomplishing his object, and in subduing the churlish and malignant spirit of Reuben Black. His weapon was kindness, which is the most powerful thing in the world. He employed kind actions rather than kind words. Reuben was not a man to be talked much with. He would not bear that; he must be dealt with—and even his savage heart was susceptible to the power of love. How mighty is love! But in subduing such a heart as this, we must be judicious, choosing the best time and the best manner. We must be uniform, not kind at one time and harsh at another, but always alike and always kind. And we must be persevering. We must not expect to be successful at once. Many efforts may appear to be quite in vain; but we must still persevere. Simeon Green was often defeated, but he was sure that by patient continuance he would conquer at last—and he did so. And if we would succeed, let us add prayer to labor, and beg the help of God's Spirit to aid our endeavors—to give us control over our own tempers, and to soften the heart we wish to subdue.
II.We see in this narrative a striking exemplification of that true practical Christianity, which, both by the example and words of its Divine Author, and by the precepts of His holy apostles, teaches us to love our enemies. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don't hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks from you, and from one who takes away your things, don't ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them." (Luke 6:27-31). These are the words of Christ; and how exactly did He act up to them Himself when He prayed for His murderers, and died for His enemies. To the same effect is the language of Paul, "But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good." To return evil for evil is beastlike. To return evil for good is fiendlike. To return good for good is manlike. But to return good for evil is Godlike. This is true practical Christianity, and the fulfilling of both law and gospel.
III.How much the forgiveness of injuries and this victory over our own temper and our neighbor's, also tend to happiness. Sin is misery. Malice is torment to the soul which indulges it, and though it is said "revenge is sweet," it is the sweetness of honey—accompanied with a sting! A quarrelsome temper is its own punishment; while on the other hand a forbearing and forgiving one is a perpetual feast. Reuben was never happy—his bad temper involved him in constant troubles with his neighbors; while Simeon was ever happy. His conscience told him he did right, and he had the unutterable delight of seeing his ill-natured neighbor at length subdued.
IV.What a happy world we would live in, if all people acted upon the principles and plan of Simeon Green—that is, if all people lived under the influence of the Bible. What a cruel and wicked spirit is that of infidelity, which would rob us of the Scriptures and abandon us to our own corrupt passions, to worry and tear one another! The influence of the Christian religion, if it were universally and powerfully felt, would put a stop to the wars of nations, to the divisions and alienations of families, and to the quarrels of neighbors. Infidelity would take away the great peacemaker—and leave us to the fury of our own bad passions.
V.We see what encouragement we have to pursue the works of peace and the conquests of love. Kindness could never have a more unpromising subject than Reuben Black. He seemed abandoned to his evil temper, even by those who could bear with ordinary churls. It required, it is admitted, unusual patience and forbearance to subdue such a ferocious and snarling creature. But Simeon, conscious of the power of persevering and untiring kindness, and of his own unruffled spirit, smilingly said, "I shall kill him." And he did. Now let us try. Perhaps we have neighbors as bad, almost so at any rate, as Reuben Black; and we may be able in this way to kill them too. But if we should not, our kindness will return into our own bosoms, and if we cannot make our neighbors better, we shall at any rate improve ourselves.
VI.Can we read such a narrative, and admire the patience and kindness of man, and not think of the infinitely greater loving-kindness of God? "For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!" (Romans 5:6-8). What were all the offences of this quarrelsome man against the neighbor who so generously forgave him and returned good for evil; compared with a thousandth part of our sins against God? And yet God freely forgives all the offences of those who truly repent, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. This conduct of Simeon Green is, in his measure—just God's way toward us. He follows us with kindness to subdue us with mercy—"I drew them," said he, when speaking of the Israelites, "with cords of a man, with bands of love." Reader! can you stand out against this any longer? See how he loved you! Not only has he showered upon you, notwithstanding your manifold and aggravated sins, the bounties of His providence; but He has sent His Son to die for those very sins upon the cross—"Do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience—not recognizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" Repent! Believe! Love!
VII.Since this forgiving temper, and this disposition to overcome evil with good, are required of us all, and required in absolute perfection, how impossible is it for any one of us to be justified in the sight of God, by the works of the law! And this temper to overcome evil with good is required, for this is the love which is the fulfilling of the law. Have we kept it perfectly, are we constantly keeping it? Alas! alas! in how many thousand instances have we broken it, and, indulging a spirit of revenge, have returned evil for evil! Must we not say then, "If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared." Yes, by faith in Jesus we can obtain that righteousness which makes the sinner just. Quit, then, quit all dependence upon your own righteousness, and look by faith to Him who "is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." "In Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love." "Now abides faith, hope and love—but the greatest of these is love."