Section 6 Love of Neighbor Is Not Dependent upon Manner of Men but Looks to God
Moreover, that we may not weary in well-doing (Gal 6:9), as would otherwise [immediately] and infallibly be the case, we must add the other quality in the Apostle’s enumeration: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind…is not easily provoked” (1Co 13:4-5). The Lord enjoins us “to do good” (Heb 13:16) to all without exception, though the greater part, if estimated by their own merit, are most unworthy of it. But Scripture subjoins a most excellent reason, when it tells us that we are not to look to what men in themselves deserve, but to attend to the image of God, which exists in all and to which we owe all honor and love. But in those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:10), the same rule is to be more carefully observed, inasmuch as that image is renewed and restored in them by the Spirit of Christ.
Therefore, whoever be the man that is presented to you as needing your assistance, you have no ground for declining to give it to him. Say, “He is a stranger”; the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you: for which reason he forbids you to despise your own flesh (Isa 58:7). Say, “He is mean and of no consideration”; the Lord points him out as one whom He has distinguished by the luster of His own image. Say that you are bound to him by no ties of duty; the Lord has substituted him as it were into His own place that in him you may recognize the many great obligations under which the Lord has [bound] you to Himself. Say that he is unworthy of your least exertion on his account; the image of God, by which he is recommended to you, is worthy of yourself and all your exertions. But if he not only merits no good, but has provoked you by injury and mischief, still this is no good reason why you should not embrace him in love and visit him with offices of love (Mat 6:14; 18:35; Luk 17:3). “He has deserved very differently from me,” you will say. But what has the Lord deserved? Whatever injury he has done you, when he enjoins you to forgive him, he certainly means that it should be imputed to himself. In this way only, we attain to what is not to say difficult but altogether against nature: to love those that hate us, render good for evil, and blessing for cursing (Mat 5:44), remembering that we are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image that, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them.
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