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Love is Life


Love Your Enemies! A Classic Sermon.

May 19, 2002

Author Note

This sermon is taken, somewhat abridged, from his book The Heart of the War, published in 1914, in the early stages of World War I.
This is his first appearance in Our Daily Bread.

Bible Reading

Ye have heard that it hath been said, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy." But I say unto you: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-47)

Reading from Swedenborg

In ancient times many things were symbolized by wars--which people called "the wars of Jehovah." These meant nothing but the battles fought by the church, and by those who belonged to the church--in other words, their temptations. And temptations are nothing but battles and wars against the evils within ourselves. So they are battles against the devil's mob, who set evils in motion and attempt to destroy the church and its people. Wars in the Bible have no other meaning. (Arcana Coelestia #1659.3)


t is well that we should be brought face to face with some of the radical truths of the Gospel. A tremendous struggle for power is going on. One needs but to read the official papers and the books put forth by statesmen and representative men of the nations at war, each with the avowed purpose of stating accurately how war came to be declared, to realize that the causes of the present conflict lie hidden within the clashing of political councils and the rupture of national agreements.

Within this war another conflict is waging. It is being pushed with great determination. The combatants are lively and they are strong. They are resourceful. They are contending for the right to rule the world. A writer in the Fortnightly Review says:

It is almost absurd to speak of the events of the past months as though they were merely incidents in a great and important campaign. There is nothing in history like them, so far as we are aware. . . . Is it not obvious that every nation engaged is not fighting for mere victory in battle, nor yet for extension of territory, but for something more important than these? They fight for the triumph of their respective ideas.

What some of these "ideas" are we are fast learning to understand. A new literature on the subject has sprung into existence. When war was first declared we heard the question at almost every hand: "What is it all about?" Others asked: "Is there anything that could not and should not be settled by arbitration?" We do not ask these questions today. We have to bow to the fact that peace conferences and Hague tribunals cannot control national rivalries, dispel national jealousies, or dissipate dreams of world supremacy. In the words of John Bigelow, written when this country offered its good offices to mediate between Russia and Japan:

It is not the roar of the guns nor the clatter of the swords that constitute war; and when these are silent war may go on even more fiercely than before. Hate, vengeance, jealousy, covetousness, ambition, treachery, cowardice survive in unimpaired vigor, with their inexhaustible arsenal of calumny, misrepresentation, intrigue, corruption, . . . and conspiracies at home and abroad. (from Peace Given as the World Giveth)

How true this is! But there is something still more momentous about this titanic struggle that has turned the greater part of Europe into a veritable inferno. No one planned that it should be so, but the real clash that has come is between the doctrine of life as taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ, and the new teaching that makes might not only the arbiter but the creator of right. From this invisible, but nonetheless real field of battle, one hears the shouts of leaders giving such orders as these:

Even an organization whose individuals forbear in their dealings with one another must, if it would live and not die, act hostilely toward all other organizations. (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future)

The greatest modern event--that God is dead; that the Christian God has become unworthy of belief--has now begun to cast its shadows over Europe. (ibid.)

It is a persistent struggle for possessions, power, and sovereignty which primarily governs the relations of one nation to another; and right is respected so far only as it is compatible with advantage. (Friedrich von Bernhardi, Germany and the Next War)

Yet rising above these hoarse shouts of defiance I hear the ringing words of an apostle:

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may withstand the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Statesmen have declared that the present war was inevitable. National jealousies, racial antipathies, conflicting ideas and ambitions have long been gathering for an outbreak. Of the deeper conflict within the war of which I speak--the religion of Jesus Christ assailed by the so-called new religion of valor--this is even more certainly true. Two such systems cannot live at peace with each other; and there can be no compromise between them. One or the other must rule. I quote from one of the ablest reviewers of the books that have been proclaiming the gospel of might, the late Professor J. A. Cramb, delivered a few months before the war--and having, therefore, a degree of prophetic quality:

In Europe as a whole, in the twentieth century, two great spirit forces contend for men's allegiance: Napoleon and Christ. The one, the representative of life-renunciation, places the reconciliation of life's discords and the solution of its problems in a tranquil but nebulous region beyond the grave; the other, the asserter of earth and of earth's glories, disregardful of any life beyond the grave, finds life's supreme end in heroism and the doing of great things, and seeks no immortality except the immortality of renown, and even of that he is slightly contemptuous. To Napoleon the end of life is power. . . . The law, on the other hand, which Christ laid upon men appears to be the law of self-effacement. The true Christist toils but for others; he prays but for others. He suffers for them; he dies for them; "Servus Servorum Dei"--slave of the slaves of God--was the proud subscription which the haughtiest of the medieval Pontiffs placed at the end of their letters. In Europe this conflict between Christ and Napoleon for the mastery over the minds of men is the most significant spiritual phenomenon of the twentieth century.

It is, to me, a matter of real significance that a man as thoroughly equipped for making a searching analysis of the European situation as was Professor Cramb should have come to the conclusion, even before the cloud of war appeared to be anything more than the size of a man's hand, that the forces that really are arrayed against each other are spiritual forces. This is the more significant because in this spiritual contest, Professor Cramb gives no clear intimation as to the side on which he himself is enlisted.

Yet his characterization of what the Christian religion is seems to me to be most unsatisfactory. It is nerveless. It is spiritless. It represents the blessings promised by that religion as reserved for an unknown future; overlooking the fact that it proclaims a present immortality and claims for every true follower of the Lord an amplification, and not a contraction, of his nature. One of the great descriptive utterances of the Christ was this:

I am come that they might have life; and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

And these words are of equal significance:

He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me hath [hath, not shall have] everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)

Throughout his book, Professor Cramb analyzes and writes as a historical critic, never as a churchman. This is so true that after tracing the influence that the Napoleonic spirit has exercised in England and in America, in Austria and Spain, in Italy and Russia, and in Germany--where, perhaps, it has had its most forcible expression--he concludes with these words: "Corsica . . . has conquered Galilee!"

Is the present war a sign that this verdict is not true? Or, if true, that then the most gigantic and terrible of all wars is necessary to reverse that verdict? The "Man of Destiny" cannot really prevail over the Son of Man. Rather has the divine warning been addressed to all rulers:

Be wise, now, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth: Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and ye perish in the way; for his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10-12)

I do not hesitate to express my belief that it is this clashing of spiritual forces that really lies at the heart of the war. If it is, then this is the time to face it. This is the time to enlist all our active spiritual forces and to call out our reserves. Would that the power divine might reach and rouse the better nature of the youth of our day, and save many of them from the disgrace of being spiritually numb when their minds should be tingling with spiritual excitement; when they should be roused out of their absorption in the mere fripperies of the world, and be stung out of self-satisfaction and a dilettante way of viewing the deep problems of life! Hear what some of the spiritual taunts and boasts are:

Religion is no more the dominant force in man's life. (Cramb)

Christianity is a religion of decadence. (Nietzsche)

We are not Christians. We have outgrown Christianity, not because our lives have been too far from it, but because they have been too near. (Nietzsche)

Would that he (Jesus) had remained in the desert, far from the good and righteous! . . . He died too soon. Had he lived to my age (38), he would have renounced his teaching. (Nietzsche)

Are our youth going to stand mutely by and let the religion of their fathers and of their childhood be thus set at nought? Must they not spring to their feet when they hear Bernard Shaw, "the most audacious of Nietzsche's disciples," declare that the superman "will snap his superfingers at all Man's present trumpery ideals of right, duty, honor, justice, religion, even decency"?

You cannot always evade the issue that presents itself here, O young men and young women! You cannot go gaily promenading through the lines of these spiritual combatants, drawn up in hostile array, and think to keep your soul always at ease. To be neutral here will proclaim your weakness and prove to be your disgrace. Christ the Lord must be obeyed or men must crucify him for good and all.

Believing as I do in the absolute difference in kind and degree between him and his kingdom and any human ruler and kingdom that can be named, something in me protests against this contrast between Christ and Napoleon as being most obnoxious. I had supposed that all comparisons between the Lord's sovereignty and that of any earthly ruler would never again be attempted after that memorable interview between the Son of Man and Pontius Pilate, when the former answered the latter's sneering question, "Art thou a king, then?" with the memorable words, "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth"; to which the other could only feebly reply, "What is truth?" (John 18:37, 38). I had not supposed that after that day on Golgotha the diadem of any earthly monarch would ever be put in comparison, much less in competition, with the crown of thorns.

But since this must be, let us face it. Let the issue be made sharp and clear. Let us take our places and not come under the condemnation of being afraid to cast our lot with one side or the other. In this deeper conflict, all differences of nationality disappear. Germans and Austrians will be found standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the men whom they are now fighting--and may we not continue to be mere lookers-on! The spirit of Napoleon or the spirit of the risen and glorified Lord! The law of natural might or the law of love! The right to rule or the right to serve! Which? And since a historical parallel is insisted on, then let history speak.

Do you remember the famous incident of Napoleon and the Lombard crown? The Lombard crown is "the most celebrated diadem in the world, and has been more revered than all others combined." It has been thus described:

It is a circle of broad gold plates so joined as to form a ribbon-like band, adorned with blue enamel, embossed with flowers, and set with a few large sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Neither the gold nor the gems nor the workmanship have given it the unique reverence which it still retains. Within the golden circle runs a thin rim of iron. Hence its name of the 'iron crown.' Millions since the days of Queen Theodelinde have believed that it was made from one of the nails that pierced the feet of him who was crucified at Golgotha. [The actual truth of this is in no wise essential to the present illustration. It is the belief in it that is significant.] Because of this belief, some of the most powerful monarchs in the world have sought to increase their glory by having this crown placed upon their heads. (William Burnet Wright, Ancient Cities)

Stand with me, then, in imagination in the great cathedral of Milan on the 26th of May, 1805. Napoleon, the great warlord, is there. An apparently invincible army that adores him is at hand. He is watched by a world that fears him. Grasping his sword, he takes the iron crown and places it on his head with the words: "God has given it to me; let him touch it who dares!"

Why has "the Man of Destiny" crowned himself with one of the nails believed to have pierced the feet of the Man of Galilee? Was it mockery? Was it bravado? Was it thoughtlessness? Or did this genius of war know that there was a power superior to him and his legions, whose favor he would gladly have secured? That proud head, drunk with the lust of power, claiming as the most sacred mark of honor and of might the coronation with that strip of iron believed to have nailed the Redeemer to the cross! Did he feel that Corsica had conquered Galilee that day? Or did this man of war know something that his champions and would be successors have not insight enough to know? Listen to him after his famous legions had been shattered and his dreams of world conquest had dissolved into defeat and exile:

There is not a God in heaven if a mere man was able to conceive and execute successfully the gigantic design of making himself the object of supreme worship by usurping the name of God.

And of the Gospel with its law of love what did he say?

The Gospel is more than a book; it is a living thing, active, powerful, overcoming every obstacle in its way.

Its truths, he declared, "follow one another like ranks of a celestial army." Does this sound as if Corsica had conquered Galilee? No man, he reminds Bertrand, has ever lived for whom, a century after his death, any individual would be willing to die. And yet after eighteen centuries, millions are in numberless ways laying down their lives for Jesus Christ. "I know men," he said simply, "and Jesus Christ is not a man."

Victor Hugo exclaims:

Cast your cannon of a hundred tons. Load it to the muzzle. Tip your shot with pointed steel. Apply the spark and you can send your bolt 1200 feet a second. In that second, light flashes 200,000 miles. That is the difference between Napoleon Bonaparte and Jesus Christ.

To which a wise student has added these significant words:

We think it only a part of the difference. The whole appears to us to be that Christ was Napoleon's Creator.

Does not the same incalculable distance mark the difference between the two laws of life for which they stand? One is the law of natural might, of great daring, of extraordinary determination, of ambition unashamed until crushed by defeat. For this there are many advocates, who proclaim it with confidence and determination. Might, they exclaim, not only makes right; might is right! It is the sure mark of a man. All weakness is to be despised and put out of the way.

Among all political sins, the sin of feebleness is the most contemptible: it is the political sin against the Holy Ghost. (Heinrich von Treitschke)

The other law of life against which this human law has arrayed itself with such fierceness and scorn is the law of love:

A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34)

Greater love hath no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

The issue between these two forces is clear. Through the text I have chosen, I have put the Christian form of it in the strongest possible terms:

Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

The new order, trying to fight its way to leadership, does more than claim that this is impossible, or that it is more than should be asked of any man. It affects a righteous indignation, and declares that it betokens weakness. And weakness, in its eyes, is the one unforgivable sin.

One must learn to love himself . . . so that one is sufficient unto himself, and does not run about in ways which are described as love of one's neighbors. (Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra)

And yet the Christian law does not stop with love to one's neighbor. Your neighbor is your supposed friend, who feels kindly to you, as you do to him. "And if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?" (Matthew 5:46). But your enemy! the man who has put some slight upon you, taken some mean advantage of you, done you some injury! "Love your enemies!" Do we cry: "Ah, but this is impossible! I cannot love a man who hates me or who is trying to do me harm." But the Lord says: You must, if you would really be a Christian.

This law of love seems well nigh impossible of fulfillment. But this is not really so. Let us have it clearly in mind what love actually is. It is not simply nor even chiefly an emotion. Love is a life. It is a state of the will. When you will to do good to another you love him in the truest and best sense. How many people think they love one another because they are aware of a certain emotional affection that prompts them to say kind and flattering things and to lavish favors upon each other? And yet some unfortunate word, some slight, some unkindness may change all this in a moment; and where we thought there was love before, now there is coldness, a sense of injury, and bitterness. It is then that we say: "I cannot love that man anymore. He is my enemy."

In that case, we never did love him. For the essence of love, as I said before, is to do good. It is to act toward a person in a way that will be most helpful to him. The dear intimacies may no longer be possible. But love must remain: the desire to help, and not to harm; to save, and not to destroy.

Christian love is the life of good will--the desire to do what will be for the best good of anyone and everyone, friend or foe. This love may sometimes require a course of treatment that will seem harsh. It may require the administration of severe punishment. If such is the situation, everything will depend on whether what is done is done with contempt, with vindictiveness, with that natural desire to "get even" and to be avenged, or whether it is done wisely and justly, and from the simple but holy desire to do what will be for the highest good of the person concerned.

Christian love, in other words, is that state of life in which one is trying to serve the best interests of another. Reduced to its simplest terms, it is the law of use--of rendering the truest service. You love a man not simply by pitying him, not always by saying endearing things to him or giving him money, but by conscientiously and without malice doing the very best you can for him. Our Lord said we should and we can treat even those who prove to be our enemies so. He did it; he did it absolutely. If our souls are open to his spirit, we can do it in our degree. The Lord says this is the true way in which to live. According to him, it is the one sure way to Christian manhood.

The leaders of the religion of might are pouring contempt upon this law of love. They are telling men that it is a sign of weakness. Weakness! That would seem to be the last charge to bring against such a way of life. Serving another; suppressing one's feelings of anger and revenge for the sake of another's good; sacrificing one's own interests that another may benefit--to charge this to weakness! Is this new philosophy as blind as it is heartless?

When Jesus our Lord girded himself as a servant, knelt before his disciples one after another, washed their feet--not excepting the heel that was lifted up against him--and accompanied this act with those simple but august words, "I am among you as one that serveth" (Luke 22:27), he was not showing weakness. He was exemplifying in his own person the most powerful, far-reaching law of life: the law of service. How pitiful, by contrast, do these words of one of the self-appointed apostles of might sound:

Do I counsel you to love your neighbor? I counsel you, rather, to shun your neighbor, and to love those farthest away! (Nietzsche)

I borrow the account of an actual incident. In the London Spectator a few years ago there appeared the following paragraph:

The medical world has reason to be proud of one of its members who died this week as the consequence of a really heroic act performed in the course of his professional duty. Dr. Samuel Rabbeth, a young man of only twenty-seven years, senior residential medical officer of the Royal Free Hospital, Gray's Inn Road, found, on Friday fortnight, that a child of four years of age, on whom a tracheotomy had been performed to relieve the breathing, must die of diphtheria unless a suffocating membrane was sucked away through a tube; and he risked and lost his life through diphtheria in the attempt to save the child's--which he did not succeed in saving at all. The risk was not one which professional etiquette in any way required him to run; but he ran it in the enthusiasm of his love for service, and he ought to be remembered as one of the noblest martyrs of duty.

Call it a misadventure, call it a rashness, call it tragic, but do not call it weakness; for it took courage--the courage of a devoted nature bent on service.

Facts are better than words. Do you know how the Salvation Army came into existence? This is the artless but thrilling account that the late General Booth has left of it:

I hungered for hell. I pushed into the midst of it in the East End of London. For days I stood in these seething streets, muddy with men and women, drinking it all in and loving it all. Yes, I loved it because of the souls I saw. One night I went home and said to my wife: "Darling, I have given myself, I have given you and our children to the service of these sick souls." She smiled and took my hand, and we knelt down together. That was the first meeting of the Salvation Army.

Was this weakness? Does this laying down of one's life for the good of others who are throwing their lives away betoken a small nature? Does it take any more real courage to go and level a rifle at a foe than, with every natural ambition for worldly position or comfort set aside, to labor "to seek and to save that which was lost"? (Luke 19:10).

The conscience of every man must prompt the answer; and if the conscience has been formed from the truths of God's Word there can be no doubt as to what that answer will be. And as a final word let me urge this fact: the truth of Christian love, proclaimed and made a living, redeeming force through Jesus Christ our Lord, has the support of the divine promises. Its ultimate triumph is asserted in unmistakable terms. Falsity and evil may spring up, causing strife and misery; but in the end the life of Christian love will prevail. The song of the angels will yet sway the world: "Peace on earth, good will to men" (Luke 2:14).

My faith is that we are standing in the dawn of a new and glorious day; a day promised by the Lord, when, not in person but in a fresh outpouring of his spirit of truth and love, there will be a new and wonderful development of man's true life upon the earth. I believe that a great spiritual warfare is now being waged; that the forces of falsity and evil are gathered together for one tremendous effort to overcome the Prince of Peace, and the truth of unselfish love that he has set before us. As a result of this conflict, I believe that his religion will become established as never before; that men will learn to interpret its truths with new wisdom and live them with greater faithfulness and with increasing joy.

Everything in the Word of God encourages such a belief. Its prophecies glow with the splendor of the divine expectations that they proclaim. It ought to mean much to us to realize this, and to know that the ultimate good is sure. It ought to rouse us. For this ultimate good cannot come of itself. The Lord is our leader, and his is the power that must prevail. Yet he must have those through whom his will can be done on earth as it is done in heaven. The Lord is our leader; who follows in his train?

Behold, then, this vision of the Son of Man going forth in the plenitude of his peaceful might conquering and to conquer:

And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon was called Faithful and True; in righteousness doth he judge and make war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many crowns; and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself. He is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood; and his name is called the Word of God. The armies that are in heaven followed him upon white horses clothed in fine linen, white and pure. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations. . . . And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written: King of kings, and Lord of lords! (Revelation 19:11-16)


O Lord, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, give unto thy servants that peace that the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness, through thy great mercy, O Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Julian Smyth