I am indeed a widow woman, and my husband is dead. And the handmaid had two sons; and they strove together in the field; and there was none to part them ; but the one smote the other, and slew him. And behold, the whole family is risen against thy handmaid: and they said, Deliver him that smote his brother, that we may kill him, for the life of his brother, whom he slew : and we will destroy the heir, also: and so they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall not leave to my husband name or remainder upon the earth. . . . I pray thee, let the king remember Jehovah, thy God, that thou wouldest· not suffer the revengers of blood to destroy any more, lest they destroy my son.-“II. SAMUEL xiv. 5-7, 11.
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 enenmy. 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 candidly, 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 clairns 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 malignant 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.
REVENGE NATURAL TO FALLEN MEN.
These things show their infernal origin; and they seem to be very unlovely, when we see them in others. But, it must be candidly 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.
THE REVENGER OF BLOOD.
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 his 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 hells.
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 despitefully 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 the same?” (Matthew v. 43-46.)
THE LITERAL IDEA.
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 crirne against his half-sister, who was Absalom’s full sister.
THE REPRESENTATIVE IDEA.
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 MENTAL STRUGGLE.
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.
THE TWO SONS.
There were two sons. The first son was the natural thought, which was the result of early states of life, when genuine truth was not known. But, as the mind opened to better things, a new birth was reached; i.e., truth was born in the spiritual mind.
Thus, in one sense, the two sons represent the natural thought and the spiritual thought, or the natural mind and the spiritual mind, or the truth as seen in these two minds, or two parts of the mind. Our first states of thought are natural, and somewhat, selfish, even if we know something of the truth. We may have the form of truth, without the spirit and life of truth. And ,then, states of mind arise, in which we seem to lose sight of the truth; that is, the truth seems to leave us in a widowed condition of mind. But, at the same time, there are crude and false ideas in our natural thought, and some truth stored up in our spiritual thought. And when these come into contact, in the field of practical life, strife will follow, because they are opposed to each other. And, if we are seeking regeneration, the truth in our spiritual mind will smite and slay the false ideas in our natural thought; i.e., will condemn and destroy them.
But, when the new truth thus opposes the old false ideas, the “whole family,” all the natural lusts and falsities of the natural mind, arise, and seek to destroy the new truth; to retaliate upon it, for its destruction of some false idea in the natural thought. But the mother, all that is good in the natural affection, appeals to the king, the ruling principle of the mind, to save her son.
For instance, in our unregenerate states, we look to the world and to self, and do not care for spiritual life. But, when regeneration has begun, by a marriage in our mind, of such truth and good as we have, our natural thought will still have many crude ideas, largely selfish and worldly; but our inward, spiritual mind will have some glimpses of genuine truth. And, when we come to act, in daily life, there will be a strife between the self-interest and. worldly policy of our natural thought, and the clear principles of our spiritual thought.
If both our natural and spiritual thought were in good order, there would be no occasion for any strife between them, nor for the death of either of them, Each could do its own work, on its own plane of life. But, when there are false ideas in our natural thought, these must be cast out by the spiritual truth. But, as soon as we determine that our selfish natural thoughts should be cast out, as false, the whole family of our natural tendencies to evil cry out for blood, and demand the destruction of the truth, which comes to destroy false ideas. Thus, the false ideas and the evil tendencies are banded together, as one family, for mutual offence and defence, and to prevent the regeneration of the mind.
As an illustration, take the feeling and thought of revenge. The natural thought believes in revenge. And the natural will desires revenge. But the spiritual thought sees that revenge is infernal in its character. Then there will be a strife in the mind, as soon as any practical action is needed in the case. This practical action is the field, in which the two sons strive against each other. Suppose some one has done us an injury, and returned evil for the good we have done him. What shall we do? Shall we hate him, and seek to retaliate upon him? Our natural mind argues that we shall revenge ourselves. But our spiritual mind, seeing in the light of spiritual truth, exposes the infernal character of all revenge, and, in fact, of all malignant anger,in every form, including envy, which is a form of malice.
In the light of this spiritual truth, we see that all our angry, envious, and revengeful feelings and thoughts are evil, and are infernal in their character. The grand truth of Christian love, love even to those who hate us and persecute us, arises, in its might, and strikes down the natural falsity of retaliation. And now, perhaps, we think we have secured ourselves in goodness, and have expelled all our envious and angry feelings and thoughts.
But no! there is more work to do, before we shall be secure. In our thought, the truth has stricken down the falsity; and we see what is good and what is evil. But, behind that apparently dead falsity, there is a “whole family” of evil affections and false thoughts, which are at once aroused to activity. For, all our evils and falsities have a common origin and character, and they are all banded together as one family; and, if we smite one of them, we strike a blow at them all. And they all arise, and take the part of the falsity that we have put down. They come trooping up, out of our unregenerate nature, and cry for the death of the spiritual truth, which dares to molest one of their family. For they know that the moment the spiritual truth gains a foothold in the practical conduct of life, it will increase in power, until all evils and falsities are cast out. And so these evils and falsities fight for their own life, when they take the part of any member of their family.
And, of course, they argue their right to destroy that truth, because it has destroyed one of their relatives, one of the great family of falsities.
For instance; though we have reasoned ourselves out of the idea of direct revenge for injuries done to us, or supposed to have been done, yet all our natural cunning, our worldly policy, our self-conceit, our over-sensitiveness, our pride, our envy, and every other tendency to evil, will join with every false thought in our natural mind, to attempt to kill the practical influence of the spiritual truth, and to prevent it from controlling our actual conduct. Many pretended reasons will arise in the natural thought, to show that, at least in our present instance, it is our duty to punish the one who has injured us, or who is trying to injure us; that the public good demands it; or that we must put the person in such a position that he cannot do any more evil. By means of such arguments, the family of our natural evils and falsities, as revenger’s of blood, attempt to destroy the actual use of the spiritual truth which we have theoretically adopted. And the cunning of these evils and falsities is shown in the fact that, in a proper sense, some of their arguments are true. But our evils are using them for a bad purpose.
INDIFFERENCE IN INJURY.
And it is necessary to remember, also, that, to be indifferent as to whether our words or doings injure others, is as bad, in spirit, as to intend to injure them; for indifference shows an entire absence of Christian love. We always carefully guard the interests of those whom we love; and the spirit of Christianity requires us to love, and carefully to guard, the spiritual interests of all men.
Christian love requires us to act for the spiritual good of those who do evil to us, and to work in such manner as will be most likely to reach them. It is necessary to remember that it is just as evil, in us, to be revengeful in return for an injury, as it was for the evil-doer to do the injury to us.
Putting down all revengeful feelings and thoughts, and entering into the glorious experience of Christian love, we can ascend the mountain of human character, far above the dust and smoke and clouds that hover about the lower planes of sensuous life; we can rise to grander heights of spiritual life, into whose sacred precincts the infernal spirit of anger never can intrude.
RE-UNITING THE TWO SONS.
Enlightened rational thought can finally unite the two sons the natural thought and the spiritual thought, and make them co-operate in harmony, until, both in our inward and our outward thoughts, we are guided by ” the self-evidencing reason of love.” And, in this high state, we look upon those who injure us as persons in misery, needing our help.
THE EVIL-DOER THE REAL SUFFERER.
For the real sufferer is not the one to whom the injury is done, but the one who intends and does the injury; for, upon the doer the injury recoils with double power. He injures his own spiritual life. He joins with the infernal spirits, in making himself very miserable at heart. And, if he succeeds in making us angry and revengeful, in return, he drags us down with him. But, as we rise above the spirit of retaliation, and return love for hatred, and good for evil, we rise far beyond any real injury; and then, the intended injury becomes a means of our higher development; a temptation, permitted for our spiritual good. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for. righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew v. 10.)
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903