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On overcoming Evil with Good.
ROMANS, xii. 21.
Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good.
IN this world we all know that we must reckon
upon a mixture of goods and evils. Some of the evils are owing to the appointment of Providence in this state of trial; many of them are the fruits of our own guilt and misconduct. The goods and the evils of our state are so blended, as often to render the whole of human life a struggle between them. We have to contend both with the evils of fortune, and with the evils of our own depravity, and it is only he who can in some measure overcome both, that is to be esteemed the wise, the virtuous, and the happy man. At the same time, amidst the evils of different kinds which assault us, there is a principle of good derived from Heaven, by which we may hope to acquire strength, and through Divine assistance be enabled to overcome the evils of our state. This is the subject of the exhortation in the text, Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good. Taken in its most extensive sense, as respecting the different kinds of evil, which we have to overcome, the exhortation may be understood to comprise the three following particulars. In the first place, Be not overcome by the injuries you meet with in the world, so as to pursue revenge. Secondly, Be not overcome by the disasters of the world, so as to sink into despair. Thirdly, Be not overcome by the evil examples of the world, so as to follow them into sin. But in all those cases, overcome evil with good. Overcome injuries, by forgiveness. Overcome disasters, by fortitude. Overcome evil examples, by firmness of principle.
I. Be not overcome by the injuries you meet with in the world, so as to pursue revenge. from the context, that this was the primary object which the Apostle had in his view in this exhortation. He refers to the injuries which the primitive Christians were constantly suffering from their persecutors. Instead of being so much overcome by these as to be intent on revenge, his exhortation in the verses preceding the Text is, 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. But it is not in times only of persecution and general distress, that this exhortation is needful. We must in every state of society reckon upon meeting with unreasonable men, and encountering their bad usage. This is one of the evils inseparable from our present state. No station is so high, no worth so distinguished, no innocence so inoffensive, as to secure us entirely against it. Sometimes the violence of enemies, sometimes the ingratitude of friends, will ruffle our spirits. Where we think that we have merited praise, we will be in hazard of meeting reproach. Envy will rise unprovoked; and calumny, from its secret place, will dart its envenomed shafts against the most deserving. Such is the consequence of the present depravity of our nature, and of the disordered state in which human affairs lie. The fondness of self-love is always apt to amuse us with too flattering prospects of what life is to produce for us, beyond what it produces for others. Hence our impatience and irritation upon every injury we suffer; as if some new and unheard-of thing had befallen us; and as if we alone were privileged to pass through the world, untouched by any wrong. Whereas, if we were disciplined to think of the world, and of the tempers of those around us, as a wise man ought to think, the edge of this impatience would be taken off. When we engage in any undertaking, we ought to say to ourselves, that in the course of it we will have to do, more or less, with selfish, crafty, unprincipled men. These men will naturally act as their evil nature prompts them. They are the thorns and brambles that we must expect to encumber and to gall us in many of the paths of life.
of the paths of life. We must not hope to reap grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles. Wild dogs will naturally bark; and beasts of prey
; naturally seek to devour.
Now, when thus situated, how are we to act for overcoming the evils we have already endured, or are in hazard of still farther enduring from others ? To provide for safety and defence, is unquestionably allowable and wise. But are we also to lay plans for future revenge ? - Were this the course to be followed, what would the consequence be, but to
render the life of man a state of constant hostility, where provocations and resentments, injuries and retaliations, would succeed one another without end; till the world became like a den of wild beasts, perpetually attacking and devouring one another ? No, says the Apostle, overcome evil with good. Disarm and overcome your enemies, by forgiveness and generosity. This is the principle of good, which you are to oppose to their evil. Teach them thereby, if not to love, at least to honour and respect you. While
take proper precautions for present safety, provide for the future, not by studied plans of revenge, but by fortitude of mind, by prudent behaviour, and superior virtue. Herein you show no unmanly tameness or cowardice. Religion means not to suppress the proper feelings of honour, nor the sense which every man ought to have of dignity of character, and the rights which belong to him. These
supported to the full, without a mean thirst for revenge, and a fierce desire of returning evil for evil.
By the magnanimity of forgiveness, you gain an important victory in overcoming, not perhaps your enemy,
your own wrathful and violent passions. Whereas he, who in such conjunctures knows no other method of proceeding, but that of gratifying resentment, is, in truth, the person who is overcome. For he has put it in the power of his enemy to overthrow his repose, and to gall and embitter his mind. By forgiving and despising injuries, you assume a superiority over your adversary, which he will be obliged to feel. Whereas, if
provocations to blow you up into fierce revenge, you have given him the advantage. You confess yourself hurt
His evil has overcome your good. He
has fixed a dart within
endeavour to pull out; and by the attempts you make, you
: only exasperate and inflame the sore. Seldom is there any punishment which revenge can inflict, more severe than is suffered by him who inflicts it. The bitterness of spirit, the boilings of fierce passions, joined with all the black ideas which the cruel plans of revenge excite, produce more acute sensations of torment, than any that are occasioned by bodily pain. When bad men have behaved injuriously toward us, let us leave them to themselves, and they will be sufficiently punished by their own vices. Their wickedness is no reason why we should ren. der ourselves unhappy, or afford them the gratification of having it in their power to deprive us of peace.--I shall only add farther on this head, that a
. passion for revenge has been always held to be the characteristic of a little and mean mind. Never was any man distinguished as a hero, or recorded in the annals of history as a great man, to whom this quality of generous forgiveness of evil did not conspicuously belong. We know how eminently it shone in the character of Him whom we justly venerate as the model of all perfection; whose dying breath was employed in apologizing and praying for those who were shedding his blood.
II. Be not overcome by the misfortunes of life, so as to sink into despair. This is another view of that evil which we are called upon to overcome by good; and is the sense in which evil is most generally understood, and is most dreaded by men. Although by inoffensive and blameless behaviour we should escape, in a great degree, from the injuries of bad men; yet,