Meditations on Practical Christianity

Romans 12:21  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Verse 21. " Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." This short verse should be the Christian's motto through life. How beautiful, how heavenly, how unselfish, how Christ-like, when displayed in all its practical effects on the many details of real life! How God-like, who overcame all our evil with His good in Christ our Lord! " And now he would have us to be imitators of him in this grace, which wins the victory in his sight and to our own consciousness, even when we may seem most down-trodden before the world. For this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith—faith working by love." 1 John 5:44For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4).
The burden of this beautiful chapter of precepts is plain. We are never to conquer evil by evil, but to treat our enemies with kindness. In the world we shall often have to experience evil in some form, but we must never allow ourselves to be provoked to the indulgence of a spirit of retaliation. The first display of temper is defeat; the enemy has gained a victory. Men in general suppose that to resent an injury is only to show a proper spirit. But the Christian's rule is Christ; not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.*
reflections on practical christianity.
We may search all the books of the most admired writers in the world; we may examine every code of morals, ancient and modern; but where shall we find such maxims as have just been the theme of our meditations? How unlike all human thoughts, laws, and systems! And even where the letter of the human law may correspond with the divine, the grand motive to its observance is wanting. The men of the world could not possibly understand the motives by which these duties of love are enjoined; such speak of what are called the laws of honor. The Christian may forget—alas! the great majority seem to have forgotten altogether—that these precepts of love naturally flow from the great doctrine of salvation by grace, and that he is thereby created in Christ Jesus unto good works, and ought to be their living expression. We may be very self-complacent over some small matter in which we made a fair show of returning good for evil, or at least in ceasing to quarrel with our fellow-Christian; but did we " put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering. Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Col. 3:12, 1312Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. (Colossians 3:12‑13).) It is natural to be well pleased with ourselves when we have taken no active part in the dispute, but mere negatives are infinitely below the sublime thought of the position and aggressive love of Christ in His disciples. " He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." (1 John 2:66He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (1 John 2:6).) This is the Christian's standard, and God will never lower it to suit the selfishness of man.
The harmony between the Old and the New Testament on this great subject of christian morals is perfect. Love in all ages must be the same as to its nature; it is too expressive in its character to be satisfied with mere negatives, or bare desires. The natural man would as soon think of cutting off his right hand as stretching it out to feed an enemy in distress; but not so the true disciple of Jesus, who died for His enemies.
We have a fine instance of this divine love in operation in the prophet Elisha; 2 Kings 6:21, 2221And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them? 22And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master. (2 Kings 6:21‑22). The Syrians, who had been smitten with blindness, were led by the prophet into the midst of Samaria. The king of Israel, judging this to be a favorable opportunity to be revenged on his enemies, exclaimed, " My father, shall I smite them, shall I smite them? And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master. And he made great provision for them; and when they had eaten and drank he sent them away, and they went to their master. So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel." This was Godlike; this was divine; but most foreign to every thought of the king of Israel. " Shall I smite them, shall I smite them?יי being repeated, argues a readiness to shed blood on the part of the king. " Never," says Bishop Hall, in his Contemplations on this passage, " Never did the king of Israel see a more pleasing sight than so many Syrian throats at his mercy.....But the charitable prophet soon gives an angry prohibition of slaughter. Thou shalt not smite them.... If it be victory thou aimest at, overcome them with kindness. Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink.
" Oh, noble revenge of Elisha, to feast his persecutors! to provide a table for those who had provided a grave for him! These Syrians came to Dothan full of bloody purposes to Elisha: he sends them to Samaria full of good cheer and jollity. Thus, should a prophet punish his pursuers. No vengeance but this is heroical, and fit for christian imitation. The king of Israel hath done that by his feast which he could not have done by his sword. The bands of Syria will no more come by way of ambush or incursion into the bounds of Israel."
We have another equally noble example of the power of love in the most degenerate times of Judah. 2 Chron. 28:1-151Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father: 2For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim. 3Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. 4He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. 5Wherefore the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter. 6For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the Lord God of their fathers. 7And Zichri, a mighty man of Ephraim, slew Maaseiah the king's son, and Azrikam the governor of the house, and Elkanah that was next to the king. 8And the children of Israel carried away captive of their brethren two hundred thousand, women, sons, and daughters, and took also away much spoil from them, and brought the spoil to Samaria. 9But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded: and he went out before the host that came to Samaria, and said unto them, Behold, because the Lord God of your fathers was wroth with Judah, he hath delivered them into your hand, and ye have slain them in a rage that reacheth up unto heaven. 10And now ye purpose to keep under the children of Judah and Jerusalem for bondmen and bondwomen unto you: but are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God? 11Now hear me therefore, and deliver the captives again, which ye have taken captive of your brethren: for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you. 12Then certain of the heads of the children of Ephraim, Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, and Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai, stood up against them that came from the war, 13And said unto them, Ye shall not bring in the captives hither: for whereas we have offended against the Lord already, ye intend to add more to our sins and to our trespass: for our trespass is great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel. 14So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the congregation. 15And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them, and gave them to eat and to drink, and anointed them, and carried all the feeble of them upon asses, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brethren: then they returned to Samaria. (2 Chronicles 28:1‑15). The prophet, Oded, met the children of Israel carrying into captivity two hundred thousand of their brethren, the children of Judah and Jerusalem, including women, sons, and daughters. But in place of slavery, through the touching appeals of the Lord's prophet, they were all set at liberty, and not only at liberty, but with every mark of tender affection. " And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them, and gave them to eat and to drink, and anointed them, and carried all the feeble of them upon asses, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm-trees, to their brethren; then they returned to Samaria."
We will only notice one other passage in the Old Testament, the one from which the apostle quotes, showing clearly that both were inspired by the same Spirit, and that the one stamps the other with divine authority. " 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." (Prov. 25:21, 2221If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: 22For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee. (Proverbs 25:21‑22).) Having dwelt at some length on the general bearing of this text, we would now conclude our reflections by earnestly entreating all our readers not to entertain the thought, so common, that all these precepts are impracticable; that they are only ideal, something to be admired, but never to be actually practiced. This is unbelief, the suggestion of Satan, the language of the world and of our own corrupt hearts. Rather let us adopt the language of the apostle, and say, " I can do ail things through Christ which strengthened me;" and surely this among the rest. May the Lord Himself give us to drink deeply into His blessed spirit, so that the duty which now appears to be an impossible task, a heavy cross, may become our pleasure, our delight, our willing service. Philippians iv. 13; 1 Peter 3:8, 98Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8‑9).