Retaliation part 1

by John Thomas Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5:38-42 (Retaliation)

MATTHEW 5:38-42, NIV

38 You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

The spirit of retaliation is natural to the unregenerate mind. It belongs to the animal part of our nature. It creeps into our earliest feelings as little children. And it is one of the most difficult of evils to overcome.
Retaliation is the natural response of self-love to the attack of a supposed enemy. And, as long as a man is governed by self-love, he is swayed by the spirit of retaliation, expressing itself in some form of revenge. In fact, the natural man, when he speaks honestly, justifies the spirit of revenge. He feels no obligation to be good to those who have been unkind to him. He acknowledges, of course, as men have always acknowledged, in all ages, and in all countries, that it is evil to be unkind to those who have been kind to us; that ingratitude to a benefactor is among the meanest of sins; and yet he claims a right to hate those who have done evil to him. "Blood for blood" is the cry of the unregenerate natural mind, at all times, and in all places. And the recognition of this feeling has been expressed in the common saying, "Revenge is sweet." A wicked man will follow another for years, and at great expense, to retaliate upon him, for some real or imagined injury; to "get even with him."
Thus, we find the unregenerate man candidly saying, "I love those who love me, and I hate those who injure me, or who stand in the way of my desires, and interfere with my plans." And, if we trace this feeling further, we shall see that it leads to hatred of all persons whom we envy, or whom we have injured. Singular as it may seem, and unreasonable as it is, it is, nevertheless, true, that, although we may hate those who have injured us, yet the strongest hatred is that which we bear towards those whom we have injured, and who have not injured us; and especially if we have secretly injured them; and most especially if we have, at the same time, pretended to be friendly.

These things show their hellish origin; and they seem to be very unlovely, when we see them in others. But, it must be honestly acknowledged that the tendency to revenge exists in the natural mind of every person, until it is driven out, through repentance and reformation on the part of the person, and his regeneration by the Lord. We all have such evil tendencies, in some degree; but we differ very much as to our indulgence, or resistance, to such tendencies. Every merely natural-minded man feels that it is enough for him to do, to love his friends, and that he cannot avoid hating his enemies.
So strong was the spirit of revenge, in olden time, that there arose a custom of permitting the relatives of a murdered man to revenge his death by killing his murderer; and, if the murderer, himself, could not be reached, then his nearest relative might be killed, by the nearest relative of the murdered man.
It was regarded as the duty of the nearest male relation, or "next of kin," to avenge the death of his relative. And the next of kin was called "the revenger of blood" or the "avenger of blood." And, in time, the custom became worse and worse, until any relative of the murderer, however distant, and however innocent, might be slain by the revenger of blood, to retaliate for the first murder. A little innocent babe might be dragged from its mother's arms, and murdered before her eyes, to revenge the murder of some person unknown to him, committed by his most distant relative. And, to the extent to which we, to-day, harbor any ill-will, malice, or revenge towards any other person, we are indulging the very same spirit which drove the ancient Israelite to thirst for the blood of innocent persons, who happened to be relatives of murderers.
And if we do not resolutely resist the spirit of malignant anger, in all its forms, we shall often aim destructive blows at the life of the spiritual children, the growing affections and thoughts of a new and regenerate life, in ourselves, and in others. Malignant anger, in all its forms, whether open or secret, arises from the hades.
The spirit of Christianity is totally opposed to every form of malice and revenge. Jesus said to the multitudes, "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 which spitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father who 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 do the same?" (Matthew 5:43-46.)
In the literal sense, the text seems to have been a shrewd and successful parable, to secure David's pardon of Absalom for the murder of his half-brother, Amnon, who, himself, had committed an atrocious and unmanly crime against his half-sister, who was Absalom's full sister.
But the Israelitish dispensation was representative and all the particulars of the Israelitish life and customs, as recorded in the Sacred Scriptures, are representative of the conditions and activities of the human mind, in its unregenerate states, and in its spiritual journey out of evil into good.
Many things were permitted to the Israelites, because they could not be led except by means of representatives and symbols.
For instance, to a cruel and blood-thirsty people, the law of retaliation seemed very just; and no higher form of law could have held them in any better order of life. They were in such states of mind and life that fear could govern them, when love could not. And the law of retaliation, blood for blood, was the most external form of a certain spiritual law; that is, that our evils always bring upon ourselves the same evil that we intend and do to others. And the outward law, as it reaches the outward body of the man, is a representative of the inward law which exists in the mind's life.
Evil, of any kind, mentally indulged towards others, injures ourselves, because we make it a part of our own character. For instance, while we are hating another person, and secretly plotting against him, and doing all we can to injure him, in any way, we are even more surely plotting against our own spiritual life, and planning our own spiritual destruction; especially if we are seeking to injure one who has done good to us. And the same truths apply to the struggles of one principle against another, in our own minds. If our minds are divided, our natural tendencies to evil warring against the higher life of regeneration, which is beginning in our spiritual minds, every natural disposition to resist regeneration brings down upon its own head the penalty of its efforts to undo the Lord's work in our spirit.
The parable of our text presents a representative picture of the struggle between our natural mind and our spiritual mind.
For no man is regenerated without a struggle. The spirit of revenge, as a natural tendency, is born in every one of us. "Howbeit, this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting." And it is our duty to learn the teachings of the Lord's Word, and the doctrines of the church, from the Word, concerning these things; and then resolutely to bring these truths to bear upon our own evil tendencies, until the voice of the truth shall come before every evil tendency, as Nathan before David, not only preaching true theories, but also practically applying the truth to our actual feelings, thoughts, deeds, and words, and thus confronting each of them with the convincing argument, "Thou art the man!"
In the parable, the widow, deprived of her husband, represents the mind in a state of natural affection, deprived of its protecting and guiding truth. There is, in this state of the natural mind, a disposition towards truth, but now separated from the truth. This is the state of the mind, in many persons, at the beginning of regeneration. But there are other states in the mind. When the husband, the truth, was alive in the mind, there were certain conditions developed, as outbirths of natural affection and thought.

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