A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, October 8, 1876, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *6/13/2012
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Ro 12:21]
1. This is a very pithy verse, and the form of it greatly assists the memory. It is worthy to be called a Christian proverb. I would recommend every Christian man to learn it by heart, and have it ready for use; for there are a great many proverbs, which convey a very different sense, and these are often quoted to give the weight of authority to unchristian principles. Here is an inspired proverb; carry it with you, and use it as a weapon with which to parry the thrusts of the world’s wisdom. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
2. Observe that the text appears to give us a choice between two things, and asks us to choose the better one. You must either be overcome by evil, or you must yourself overcome evil: one of the two. You cannot leave evil alone and evil will not leave you alone. You must fight, and in the battle you must either conquer or be conquered. The words before us remind me of the saying of the Scottish officer to the Highland regiment when he brought them up in front of the enemy and said, “Lads, there they are: if you dinna kill them they’ll kill you.” So Paul marshals us in front of evil, and like a wise general he puts us on our mettle by saying, “Overcome, or be overcome.” There is no avoiding the conflict, no making truce or holding parley, no suspension of hostilities after a brief skirmish, but the battle must be fought through to the end, and can only close with a decided victory for one or the other side. Soldier of Christ, do you debate long about which of the two to choose, victory or defeat?
3. To be utterly overcome by evil would be a very dreadful thing. I shall say very little about it, because I trust we shall, by divine grace, be upheld so as never to know by experience what it is to be overcome by evil! May we be “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” May we be happily ignorant of what it is to be vanquished by the powers of evil, and remain like the British drummer boy who did not know how to beat a retreat, for he had never had any use for such a thing. May we not know the dishonour and misery of being overcome by evil, because divine grace continually gives us the victory. When we are overcome by evil, even for a moment, it reveals the sad weakness of our spiritual life. We must be babes in grace and still sadly carnal, if sin is allowed to master us. If we were stronger in the Lord and in the power of his might we should overcome the world itself by faith: did not John write to young men and say, “You are strong, and have overcome the wicked one.” If we are overcome by evil, even for a moment, it will cause us great sorrow if we are in our right mind. A tender conscience will be greatly vexed as soon as defeat is sustained, and in looking back upon our fall, if we do fall, it will be a daily grief to us that we allowed ourselves to be overcome by evil at all. To be overcome by evil is dishonouring to our Lord, and opens the mouths of adversaries. Those who watch for our halting will be sure to make much of it. “Report it, report it,” they say, and they do report it through the length and breadth of the land, that a servant of Christ has been overcome by evil. And if to be overcome by evil were not occasional but were continuous, if it could be said of our whole life that we were overcome by evil, it would prove that we were not Christ’s; for he who is born of God overcomes the world. Our Lord Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” and he makes all his true disciples partakers of this victory. Only to conquerors are the great promises of the book of Revelation given — “To him who overcomes I will give to eat the hidden manna.” “He who overcomes I will make a pillar in the house of my God.” “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I also overcame and am sitting down with my Father on his throne.” To be defeated in the battle of life would prove that we did not belong to that conquering seed which, if its heel is bruised, shall nevertheless break the foes’ head. Settle it, then, in your minds that evil is to be overcome; it is a matter of necessity that we wage this war and succeed in it. We must triumph over the powers of darkness.
4. Few are the words, but weighty is the meaning of our text. In one provocative sentence the conflict is set before us, and the sword of the battle is put into our hands. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The only weapon which in this dread conflict we are permitted to use is good, and we may rest assured it will be sufficient and effective. To use any other weapon is not only unlawful but altogether impossible, for he who wields the sword of evil is no longer Christ’s soldier at all.
5. The reference in the text is to personal injuries, and therefore we shall confine ourselves to that one point, though the principle is capable of very great extension. In fighting with sin and error our weapons must be holiness and truth, and these alone: it is a wide subject, and I will not venture upon it. That personal injury is referred to in my text is clear from the preceding verses, “Dearly beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine: I will repay, says the Lord.’ Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him a drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head.”
6. With regard to the evil of personal injury, the common method is to overcome evil with evil: let us talk about it. Secondly, the divine method is to overcome evil with good: let us speak of that; and this will no doubt exhaust our time. Since this is a very practical subject let us entreat the Holy Spirit to teach us the will of Christ, and then to enable us to obey it in all things. I shall be much disappointed if the subject does not humble as well as instruct us, and if it does this it will be well for us to flee at once to the blood of the atonement, so that we may be purged from former faults and cleansed for future holiness.
7. I. THE COMMON METHOD OF OVERCOMING INJURIES IS OVERCOMING EVIL WITH EVIL. “Give him a Roland for his Oliver.” “Give him as good as he sends.” “Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” “Be six to his half-dozen.” I might go on with a score of proverbs, all inculcating the sentiment of revenge, or at least of meeting evil with evil.
8. I have to observe that the overcoming by evil with evil is in the first place a most natural procedure. It suggests itself to any fool to overcome evil with evil; a lunatic or idiot would do that. You do not need to train your children to do it, it will be suggested in their infancy, and they will strike the floor upon which they fall, and beat the post against which they stumble, to punish it for their injure; it is natural, very sadly natural. A kind of instinct suggests it, the instinct of the worm which turns if it is trodden on. This instinct says, “Surely we are not to tolerate evil without resenting it, and what can we do better than to treat others as they treat us?” It must be admitted, also, that there is a show of justice about such a method of combating evil. Why should a man not be made to suffer who makes me suffer? And if he wrongs me why should I not defend myself and make him smart for making me smart? I freely admit that this is exceedingly natural, and has a show of justice about it. But to which part of us is it natural? Think for a minute. Is it natural to the newly created spirit which dwells in believers, or is it natural to us because there is a part of us which is animal? Is it the new man in us which suggests revenge? Or is it the flesh, the mere animal in us which strikes out to revenge itself? A moment’s reflection will let you see that the returning of evil for evil is natural to the animal nature, but that it is not, and never can be, natural to the newly created spirit whose nature is like the God from which it came, namely love, and gentleness, and kindness. “Good for evil is Godlike; good for good is man-like; evil for good is devil-like; evil for evil,” — what is that? I quote it to prove my point. It is beast-like; it is like the beast which kicks because it is kicked, gores because it is gored, and bites because it is bitten. Surely we cannot allow the lower part of our triple nature to dictate to our heaven-born Spirit. We cannot let the servant be the master. We will be natural, but the nature which we will follow shall be what we received in our regeneration, when we were made partakers of the divine nature, and enabled to escape the corruptions of the world. That returning evil for evil looks like the rough and ready justice I have confessed, but then is any man prepared to apply it to himself, and this rule of justice to his own case? Is he prepared to stand before God and receive evil for his evil? “He shall have justice without mercy who shows no mercy.” Is he willing to stand before God on the same terms as he would have the offending one stand before himself? No, our best, and indeed our only hope must lie in the mercy of God who freely forgives offences. We must look up to infinite love, and entreat the Lord to have mercy upon us according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses; and therefore we must render mercy to others. To repay evil for evil is natural, but may God deliver us from the nature which makes it natural! It is just, no doubt, after a fashion, but from that kind of justice may our Redeemer rescue us!
9. Again, it is admitted that the art of returning evil for evil is very, very easy. If, my dear friend, you make it a rule that no one shall ever insult you without having to pay for it, nor treat you with disrespect without meeting his match, you need not pray to God in the morning to help you to carry out your resolve. There will be no need to wrestle in prayer that you may be graciously enabled to take vengeance on your adversaries, and stand up for your rights: you can do that decidedly better by trusting in yourself than by looking to God; indeed you dare not look to God about it. The devil will help you, and between your own passion and the evil one, the thing may be very easily managed. There will be no reason for watchfulness, you need not be on your guard, or keep your spirit in check; on the contrary, you may give to the very worst part of your nature the greatest possible licence, and proceed according to the rage of your passionate spirit. Prayer and humility of mind will of course be quite out of the question. Nor will there be any need for faith; you will not commit your case to God and leave it there, you will fight your own battles, settle old scores as you go on, and place your dependence on fierce speeches, on your mighty fists, or on the law and the policeman. Christian graces will be too much in your way for you to think of them. Gentleness, meekness, forbearance, forgiveness — you will bid goodbye to these and cultivate the virtues of a savage or of a bulldog. All this is wonderfully easy, though it may be that before long it will turn out to be hard.
10. Now, I ask Christians, whether what is so very easy to the very worst of men can ever be the right procedure for those who ought to be the best of men. If the divine plan of love is difficult and requires great grace to enable you to follow it, and I freely admit that it does, if it is very difficult to maintain it, and will require much prayer, much watchfulness, and much conquest of yourself, is it not, therefore, the more sure to be right? As for what is so easy, let that be left to tax collectors and sinners, but as for you who have received more mercy from God than other men, should you not render more? You believe yourselves to be twice-born, you have received a new and heavenly life; what are you doing more than others? Ought you not to show that there is more in you than in others, by letting more come out of you than comes out of others? Much more is expected of us than of the unregenerate, naturally and rightly expectation runs high in reference to men who make such high professions; and if the professed Christian is no better in his daily conversation than the ungodly, depend upon it he is not a Christian man at all. We possess a higher life, and we are lifted to a nobler platform than the common sons of men, and therefore we must lead a nobler life and be guided by more sublime principles. Let the children of darkness meet evil with evil, and carry on their wars and fightings, their strifes and their envyings, their malice and their revenge: but as for you, oh believers, you are the children of the God of love, and love must be your life. You have been renewed in the spirit of your minds, and you must not be conformed to this world, but be transformed into the likeness of Christ your Master. Evil for evil should be a principle detested by you, and such should be your loving spirit that it ought to be no longer easy to repay evil with evil, but hard, yes impossible, to bring yourself to do anything of the kind. Revenge and fury should be as alien to the spirit of a child of God as they would be to an angel before the throne.
11. By many, to return evil for evil has been judged to be the more manly course. Years ago if a gentleman imagined himself to be insulted, it was necessary according to the code of honour then in vogue for him either to shed the blood of the offending person, or at least to expose himself to a similar peril of his life. Thank God, that murderous custom is now almost entirely gone from the face of the earth. The spirit of Christianity has by degrees overcome this evil, but there still remains in the world the idea that to stand up for yourself, just to let people know what you are, never to knuckle down to anyone, but to defend your own cause and vindicate your honour, has something extremely manly about it; but to yield, to submit, to be patient, to be meek, to be gentle, is considered to be unworthy of a man of spirit. They call it showing the white flag and being cowardly, though to my mind, he is the bravest man who can bear the most. Now, Christian men, who is your model of a man? You do not hesitate for a second, I am sure. There is only one model for a Christian man, and that is the man Christ Jesus. Will you then remember that whatever is Christly is manly, and whatever you think to be manly which is not Christlike, is really unmanly, as judged by the highest character of man. The Lord Jesus draws near to a Samaritan village, but they will not receive him, though he was always kind to Samaritans. Good John, gentle John, becomes highly indignant, and cries, “Lord, do you wish that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus meekly answers, “You do not know what kind of spirit you have: for the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” See him on another occasion: your Master has risen from his knees, with the bloody sweat still on his face; and Judas comes and betrays him, and they begin to handle him very roughly, and therefore, being highly provoked, brave Peter draws out his sword; and just to use it a little he cuts off the ear of Malchus. Hear how gently Jesus says, “Put your sword back into its place: for all those who take the sword shall perish with the sword”; and so he heals that ear at once. Was that manly, do you think? Was it manly to refuse to call fire from heaven, and to touch and heal the wounded ear? To me it seems superlatively manly, and may such be my manliness and yours. Look at our Lord again before the high priest, when an officer of the court, incensed by his gentle answers, strikes him on the cheek; what does Jesus say? Observe the difference between Christ and Paul. Paul says, “God shall strike you, you whited wall.” Bravo, Paul, that is speaking up for yourself! We cannot blame you, for who are we to censure an apostle? But look at Paul’s Master and hear his words, “If I have spoken evil bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike me?” Is not the example of Jesus the more noble, the more Godlike? No man for a moment can put the two side by side without feeling that the Lord’s conduct is by far the more sublime. It is not for us to imitate the servant of Christ when Christ himself excels him. Herein is victory when a man so overcomes himself that he replies to evil language with good and wise answers, but not with fierce and reviling words. Oh Christians, look at Christ, your Lord, who all his lifelong endured such opposition from sinners against himself; who when he was reviled did not revile again, but submitted himself to him who judges righteously; and who even on the cruel tree, when he was mocked by those around him, had nothing to say but this — “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Oh Man of men, be the criterion henceforth of all the manliness for which we strive, and if others consider the opposite to be manly let them consider it so who will, — we are not of their mind.
12. Dear friends, we are now bold to affirm concerning the old, easy, natural method of returning evil for evil that it does not succeed. No one ever did overcome evil by confronting it with evil yet. Such a course increases the evil. When the great fire was blazing at London Bridge it would have been a strange way of putting it out or keeping it under control if our firemen had lit another fire close to it, or had pumped petroleum upon it; yet I have known some to try to overcome the evil of a passionate temper in a man by becoming passionate themselves — rolling up another oil barrel to his fire, and so making it burn more furiously than ever! That is not conquering evil, nor is evil ever to be so conquered until water drowns the sea. A soft answer turns away wrath, but anger excites more anger and more sin. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindles, when it comes to be heaped up with fuel, and blown upon by furious winds.
13. What is worse, when we assail evil with evil we ourselves are already overcome: we have fallen into the very wrong which we complain about. As long as we can be calm and quiet we are victorious; but our breaking loose into a bad temper is our own defeat, and being overcome how can we overcome others? Brethren, the desire to return evil for evil does not succeed, because it injures us much more than it injures the person whom we seek to overcome. It has been said that the worst peace is better than the best war, and I believe almost anything is better than becoming angry. Scarcely any injury which we can ever sustain will so injure us as the injury which must happen to us from becoming angry and revengeful. Our enemies are not worth putting ourselves out about after all, and ten minutes of a palpitating heart, and of a disturbed circulation, causes us greater real damage in body than an enemy could inflict in seven years. Ten minutes of a fiery deluge overflowing the whole soul is a serious catastrophe, not to be often risked. Ten minutes in which you could not look Jesus in the face, ten minutes in which you would be ashamed to think of the Master’s being near, ten minutes of broken fellowship — why this is a very serious self-torture. Let us not permit it to please our foes. Alas, I have known professors to keep up this wrath for days and weeks. How it must harm a man to have his soul broiling all that time! To have his heart roasting in the fire of wrath. I feel it to be too painful to bear, even for a brief time; it is bad for us in every sense, it permanently harms the mind. Evil for evil is an edged tool which cuts the man who uses it: a kind of cannon which is most dangerous to those who fire it, both in its discharge and in its recoil. If you wished to destroy your enemy it would be wise to make him a present of this dangerous gun, and allow him to have the entire monopoly of it. I may truly say that when we oppose evil with evil, the evil which comes from us does us far more harm than any evil which we experience from others.
14. Again, the method of overcoming evil with evil does not bear inspection; it does not bear to be pondered and meditated on. Let any renewed man sit down for a minute after he has fallen into this practice, and ask himself as a Christian how he feels about it. He has usurped the place of God, for vengeance belongs only to the Judge of all the earth: how does he feel while acting as a usurper? Who am I that I should clamber to the throne of God and seize his sword and attempt to make myself judge and executioner among mankind? Will this bear consideration? Can a child of God see himself guilty of high treason against his King by acting like this? How does a man feel when he is on his knees and remembers what he has done? How does he say “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?” Do his eyes not fill with tears and is his heart not heavy with regret? How will your harsh speeches and fierce actions appear when viewed from your deathbed? Will railing, and fighting, and lawsuits be sweet memories there? Can such a thing as repaying evil with evil be the subject of our praise to God? Can we ever thank the God of love for enabling us to avenge ourselves? If we cannot pray about it, or praise about it, let us leave it alone. Is there anything about it which we could whisper in the ear of Christ? Is there anything in it that will help us to have closer fellowship with him? Is there anything in anger and wrath which will prepare us for the business of earth or for the bliss of heaven?
15. It is bad, altogether bad. The best that I can say of it is that there may be rare occasions in which the provocation may be so great as to prevent others from condemning us, but then I must add that at such times we had better even then make no excuse for ourselves. The mind of Christ is that when struck on one cheek we turn the other also, and that in no case do we render to any man evil for evil. Beloved brethren, I beseech you by the mercies of God that you deplore for ever the method of seeking to overcome evil with evil, and that you follow the example of your Lord, taking his yoke upon you and learning from him, for he is meek and lowly in mind.
16. II. Let us now consider THE DIVINE METHOD OF OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD.
17. And here I freely admit, to begin with, that this is a very elevated mode of procedure. “Overcome evil with good! Ridiculous!” one says; “Utopian,” cries another; “It might do for Plato’s republic,” says a third, “but it will never do for ordinary, every day life.” Well, I shall not blush to admit that this is a very high course of conduct, and one which the mere worldling cannot be expected to follow, but we expect higher things from Christians. You have a high calling from God in Christ Jesus, and you are therefore called to a high ideal of character by your glorious leader, the Lord Jesus Christ. Brethren, if it is difficult I commend it to you because it is so; what is there which is good which is not also difficult? Soldiers of Christ love those virtues most which cost them the most. If it is hard to obtain, the jewel is all the more precious. Since there is sufficient grace to enable us to become like our Lord, we will labour after this virtue also, and obtain the great grace which its cultivation requires.
18. Notice that this text inculcates not merely passive non-resistance, though that is going a good way, but it teaches us active benevolence towards enemies. “Overcome evil with good,” with direct and obvious acts of kindness. That is, if any man has done you a wrong, do not only forgive it, but avenge it by doing him a favour. Dr. Cotton Mather was never content until he had bestowed a benefit on every man who had in any way done him an injury. If anyone has slandered you, or treated you unkindly in any way, go out of your way to serve him. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.” You might say “Well, I am sorry for him, but really he is such a vagabond, I could not think of relieving him.” Yet according to this Scripture, he is the very man you are bound to feed. If he is thirsty, do not say, “I hope someone will relieve him; I feel no animosity towards the man, but I am not going out of my way to give him a drink.” According to your Lord’s command, he is the man to whom you must give a drink. Go immediately to the well and fill your pitcher, and hurry to give him a drink at once, and without stint. You do not have merely to forgive and forget, but you are asked to inflict upon the malicious mind the blessed sin killing wound of your hearty and practical goodwill. Give a blessing for a curse, a kiss for a blow, a favour for a wrong. “Oh,” you say, “this is high, I cannot attain to it.” God is able to give you strength equal to this also. “It is hard,” you say. Ah, but if you take Christ to be your Master, you must do what he tells you, and instead of shrinking because his command seems difficult to flesh and blood, you must cry, “Lord, increase my faith, and give me more of your Spirit.” To forgive to seventy times seven would not be hard for Christ, for he did it all his lifelong, and it will not be hard for you if the same mind is in you which was also in Christ Jesus. It is to this that you are called. It is a sublime temper, and it is exceedingly difficult and needs divine grace, needs watchfulness, needs living near to God, but for these reasons it is all the more worthy of a follower of Jesus, and therefore we should strive for it with our whole heart.
19. The benefit of the method of returning good for evil is that it preserves the man from evil. If evil assails you, and you only fight it with good, it cannot harm you, you are invulnerable. If any man curses you, and you answer him with a blessing, it is clear that the curse has not harmed you. It has not made you full of curses, or else one would come out of you. If a man has slandered you, but you never return him a reproachful word, he has not harmed your real character; the dirt which he has thrown has missed you, for you have none to throw back at him. If when much provoked your temper still remains calm and quiet, the provocation has not touched you, the arrow has passed harmlessly by. The very thing your enemy wants is to make you to descend to his level of anger and malice, but, as long as having much provocation you remain unprovoked, you vanquish him. Believe me you are provoking your adversary terribly if you are quite calm yourself, you are disappointing him, he cannot inflict his poisoned arrows into you for you are clad in armour of proof. He tries to injure you, but he cannot; he fails to make you sin, and so he misses his mark. Do you not see what a wonderful armour it is? If God preserves you, so that you have nothing except good wishes and goodwill towards the man who hates you and seeks your ruin, then you are a conqueror indeed.
20. While this conduct protects you, it is the very best weapon of offence against the opposer. William Ladd had a farm in one of the states of America, and his neighbour, Pulsifer, was a great trouble to him, for he kept a breed of gaunt, long legged sheep, as active as spaniels, which would leap over almost any kind of fence. These sheep were very fond of a fine field of grain belonging to Mr. Ladd, and were in it continually; complaints were of no use, for Pulsifer evidently cared nothing for his neighbour’s losses. One morning Ladd said to his men, “Set the dogs on those sheep, and if that will not keep them out, shoot them.” After he had said that, he thought to himself, “This will not do. I had better try the peace principle.” So he sent to his men and countermanded the order, and rode over to see his neighbour about those troublesome sheep. “Good morning,” he said, but he received no answer: so he tried again, and got nothing but a kind of grunt. “Neighbour,” he said, “I have come to see you about those sheep.” “Yes,” Pulsifer replied, “I know. You are a pretty bad neighbour to tell your men to kill my sheep! You a rich man, too, and going to shoot a poor man’s sheep!” Then followed some very strong language, but Ladd replied, “I was wrong, neighbour, and I am sorry for it. Think no more about it. But, neighbour, we may as well agree. It seems I have got to keep your sheep, and it will not do to let them eat all that grain, so I came over to say that I will take them into my homestead pasture and I will keep them all the season; and if any one is missing you shall have the pick of mine.” Pulsifer looked confounded, and then stammered out, “Now, Squire, are you in earnest?” When he found that Ladd really meant to stand by the offer, Pulsifer stood still a moment and then said, “The sheep shall not trouble you any more. When you talk about shooting I can shoot as well as you; but when you speak in that kind and neighbourly way I can be kind too.” The sheep never trespassed into Ladd’s lot any more. That is the way to kill a bad spirit: this is overcoming evil with good. If one had begun shooting, and the other had followed suit, they certainly would have been both losers, and both been overcome; but when the offended one made kindness his only return the battle was over. I remember years ago — though I only quote it, not for my own praise, but as an illustration — a certain person, a very good man too, did not admire a course of action that I felt bound to take. He was very angry, and called upon me to express his objections. At last he said, “If you do that I shall expose you in a pamphlet.” I was in a gracious mood at that time, and was not to be ruffled in temper, nor yet turned from my course. I said to him quietly, “What do you think the pamphlet would cost?” “Oh,” he said, “I do not know, but whatever it costs I shall do it.” I answered, “Well, if you feel you ought to do it I should be sorry to see you go into debt, and therefore I will pay the printer’s bill. I will trust you to give a truthful account of the matter, and I am not at all ashamed to have my course of action made as public as possible; indeed I would rather it should be.” He said he should not like to take any money from me. “Well,” I replied, “perhaps you think that there might be some profits from the sale; you shall be quite welcome to them. Your own friends can print for you, I will find the money, and you shall have the profit.” I never heard any more about that pamphlet, and he is an exceedingly good friend of mine at the present moment, and will I hope always remain so.
21. To remain quiet is generally the way to baffle an adversary; indeed there is no weapon with which he can wound you. If you will not yield so as to give railing for railing, what is to be done with you? It is much the same as when a certain duke proclaimed war against a peaceful neighbour, who was resolved not to fight. The troops came riding to the town, and found the gates open as on ordinary occasions. The children were playing in the streets, and the blacksmith was at his forge, and the shopkeepers at their counters, and so, pulling up their horses, the soldiers enquired, “Where is the enemy?” “We do not know. We are friends.” What was to be done under the circumstances but to ride home? So it is in life, if you only meet evil with good the bad man’s occupation is gone.
22. It has sometimes happened that evil men have been converted into good men, and conquered like this in the very best possible way by seeing the patient Christian return good for evil. Some years ago a wicked, reprobate sailor was engaged in tarring a vessel, and while he was at his work there came along an old man well known in the district as a Christian. One of the sailor’s mates standing by said to him, “Jack, you could not provoke that man; he is such a gentle spirited man you could not put him out of temper.” Jack was quite sure he could, and it became the subject of a wager. The wicked fellow took his bucket of tar with which he was tarring the keel, and dared to throw it right over the good old man. It was a most shameful assault, and the fellow deserved the utmost penalty of the law. The old man turned around and calmly said to him, “The Lord Jesus Christ has said that he who offends one of his little ones will find that it were better for him that a millstone had been tied around his neck, and that he were cast into the sea: now, if I am one of Christ’s little ones, it will be very bad for you.” Jack slunk back dreadfully ashamed of himself. What was more, the old man’s quiet face haunted him; night after night he woke up, and in his dreams he saw that old man; and those tremendous words, “that it were better for him that a millstone were around his neck,” broke him down before the mercy seat of God. He asked and found pardon; he sought out the old man, confessed his fault, and received forgiveness. Who would not have a bucketful of tar thrown over him if it would save a soul? Now, suppose the old man had turned on him, and uttered some fiery language, or struck at him, — who could have blamed him? But then there would have been no triumph of grace in the Christian, and no conversion in the sinner. God has often made use of a gentle, meek, quiet, forbearing spirit to be the power with which he subdues the lion-like rebel, and turns the course of ill disposed and ungodly men. He makes them see how terrifying goodness is, how strong is gentleness, how omnipotent is love.
23. Returning good for evil, again reflects great honour upon Christ. I do not know of anything which makes the blind world see so much of the glory of Christ as this. When one of the martyrs was being tortured and tormented in a horrible way, the tyrant who had caused his sufferings said to him, “And what has your Christ ever done for you that you should bear this?” He replied, “He has done this for me, that in the midst of all my pain, I do nothing else except pray for you.” Ah, Lord Jesus, you have taught us how to conquer, for you have conquered. There are many mighty names on the battle roll of earth, but your name is not there: there is another conflict more stern and noble, and you stand at the head of the heroes who are engaged in it. Read the name, my brethren, it is written in his own blood, “Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, the chief of those who overcome evil with good.” Who among you will say, “Write down my name, Sir, beneath my Lord the Lamb, for in that battle I would have a share, and on those lines I would fight the foe?” Remember you must do it or you cannot be like him, and if you are not like him, you do not have his spirit, and “if any man does not have the spirit of Christ, he is not his.”
24. I will not explain how this principle can be carried into other things, for there is no time, but I will close by noticing that everything that is admirable may be said of this method of overcoming evil with good. It is so noble, it is so becoming to one whom God has lifted up to be his child, that I commend it to every man of sanctified feeling. A Christian man is the noblest work of God, and one of the noblest features of a Christian man is his readiness to forgive and the cheerfulness with which he seeks to repay good for evil. The Emperor Adrian, before he reached the throne, had been grievously insulted. When he had attained the imperial purple he met the man who had used him so badly. The guilty person was, of course, dreadfully afraid of his mighty foe. He knew that now it only needed a wish from the Emperor, and his life would be ended. Adrian cried out, “Approach. You have nothing to fear; I am an Emperor!” Did this heathen feel that his dignity lifted him above the baseness of revenge? Then, my brethren, let those whom Christ has made kings to God scorn to render evil for evil. Say, “I am a Christian, and my resentments are over. What can I do to serve you?” I could have fought you to the death previously, but now I am dead myself and born again, and having begun a new life, behold Christ has made all things new. My animosities are buried in his tomb, my revenges are lost in the abyss into which he has cast my sins; and now as a new man in Christ Jesus, my life shall be love, for he has said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you, so that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise upon the evil and on the good.”
25. Good for evil is nobly congruous with the spirit of the gospel. Were we not saved because the Lord rendered to us good for evil? The spirit of the law is “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” but the spirit of the gospel is, “I forgive you freely: your many iniquities and vast transgressions are all blotted out for Christ’s name’s sake, therefore be compassionate towards others.” Forgiveness is one fruit of the gospel, and doing good in return for evil is another. Should not the spirit of every Christian man be one of unconquerable love? For by unconquerable love he is saved.
And, beloved, this spirit of forgiveness is the Spirit of God, and he
who has it becomes like God. If you would rise to the highest level
of being, rise to the condition of a being who can be injured, and
yet forgive. To be just is something, scarcely for a righteous man
would one die; but to be merciful and kind is much more, since for a
good man some would even dare to die — such is the enthusiasm which a
loving spirit will kindle. Rise above mere righteousness into the
divine atmosphere of love. But whether men love you or not is a small
matter; whether you conquer them or not is also a little matter,
but that you should conquer evil, that you should be victorious over
sin, that you should receive from your Lord at the last the “Well
done, good and faithful servant,” and that you should be like God in
your nature, this is of the utmost importance to you, for this is
heaven. Heaven is to have self dethroned to be purged of all anger — to
be delivered from all pride. Heaven is in fact to be Godlike. May we
be made so through Jesus Christ our Saviour, by the work of his Holy
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Ro 12]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “God the Father, Adoration of God — Stand Up and Bless The Lord” 175]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Humility — The Mind Of Jesus” 706]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Jesus Christ, Life on Earth — His Divine Example” 262]
God the Father, Adoration of God
175 — Stand Up and Bless The Lord
1 Stand up and bless the Lord,
Ye people of his choice;
Stand up and bless the Lord your God,
With heart and soul and voice.
2 Though high above all praise,
Above all blessing high,
Who would not fear his holy name,
And laud and magnify?
3 Oh for the living flame
From his own altar brought
To touch our lip, our minds inspire,
And wing to heaven our thought!
4 There with benign regard,
Our hymns he deigns to hear;
Though unreveal’d to mortal sense,
The spirit feels him near.
5 God is our strength and song,
And his salvation ours;
Then be his love in Christ proclaim’d
With all our ransom’d powers.
6 Stand up and bless the Lord;
The Lord your God adore;
Stand up, and bless his glorious name,
Henceforth for evermore.
James Montgomery, 1825.
The Christian, Humility
706 — The Mind Of Jesus
1 Jesus! exalted far on high,
To whom a name is given;
A name surpassing every name,
That’s known in earth or heaven:
2 Before whose throne shall every knee
Bow down with one accord;
Before whose throne shall every tongue
Confess that thou art Lord.
3 Jesus! who in the form of God
Didst equal honour claim,
Yet, to redeem our guilty souls,
Didst stoop to death and shame.
4 Oh may that mind in us be form’d
Which shone so bright in thee;
May we be humble, lowly, meek,
From pride and envy free.
5 May we to others stoop, and learn
To emulate thy love;
So shall we bear thine image here,
And share thy throne above.
Thomas Cotterill, 1812.
Jesus Christ, Life on Earth
262 — His Divine Example
1 My dear Redeemer and my Lord,
I read my duty in thy Word;
But in thy life the law appears
Drawn out in living characters.
2 Such was thy truth, and such thy zeal,
Such deference to thy Father’s will,
Such love, and meekness so divine,
I would transcribe and make them mine.
3 Cold mountains and the midnight air
Witness’d the fervour of thy prayer;
The desert thy temptation knew,
Thy conflict and thy victory too.
4 Be thou my pattern; make me bear
More of thy gracious image here;
Then God the Judge shall own my name
Amongst the followers of the Lamb.
Isaac Watts, 1709.