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Love Thy Neighbour.

Extracts from a discourse

By Dr. Jacob de la Motta.

לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך חוכיח תוכיח את עמיתך ולא תשא עליו חטא
תקם ולא תטר את בני עמך ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני ה׳

"Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not revenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord."—Leviticus 19.17, 18.

To manifest good-will towards our fellow-beings—to regard with love our brethren of the house of Israel—to extend to them the hand of fellowship, and commiserate their hapless condition—to vindicate their wrongs, and to reprove them in a becoming manner, are acts which bespeak in us the observance of some of the best divine ordinances and display respect for the instruction and words of our text. The fact has never been attempted to be questioned, impeached or denied, that there is a peculiar character and tone given to the performance of all kind offices, which enlist our best affections in favour of our fellow-creatures; and, there is an endearing something in the manner and demeanour,—in the fulfillment of those moral duties, that expands the mind, warms the heart, and excites the noblest principles of humanity. Who, that is possessed of common-place observation—who that is endowed with feelings sensibly alive to the heavenly attribute of commiseration—can be insensible to the performance of those pleasing duties, which have the tendency to better the condition, assuage the afflictions, relieve the wants, and protect the characters of his brothers, and save from destruction objects of his own stamp, the very prototypes of himself?

From such reflections are we frequently called to contemplate the conduct of some individuals who have unfortunately fallen in the labyrinth of indiscretion, and who have waged, in these particulars, open warfare with the human family. This too frequently and unhappily arises from the worst feelings,—from the ebullition of an easily excited and irascible temper, or from misguided judg­ment that runs counter to the dictates of reason. It is from a disregard for these excellent qualities of the heart, which should at all times be properly cultivated. It is from the frequent evidence of a dereliction from those noble characteristics of the mind, those conspicuous traits that render one man estimable in the eyes of another, and worthy the countenance of his Maker. Lamentable to state, we are too often called upon to behold flagrant deviations from the repeated injunctions of the Almighty, who instructed us to love each other, to exercise a reciprocity of good feeling, and with mutual dependence to make us the superior of his creation. It is only, then, by reverting to and properly estimating the words of Scripture, that we can avoid these improprieties: and it is only by denouncing such conduct when perceptible in others, that we can advance our moral and social virtues.

Let us, then, consider the force and magnitude of our text, and endeavour to ascertain, as briefly as this day's service will permit, what is comprehended in the several injunctions in relation to our duties to each other. First, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart." The very term hate conveys a repugnance to that meekness and moderation which God originally intended should constitute prominent traits in the character of man. The entertainment of hatred leads to the subversion of the best principles of the heart, thereby transmuting the finest into the basest qualities, and rendering the soul, the seat of all excellence, the receptacle for the blackest turpitude. It may be reasonably inferred, that the apprehended derangement and deterioration of what was intended to be good and exalting in the human character, led an all-wise Providence to lay it down in clear terms, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart."

Such is the influence,—such the predominance, and such the controlling power of this execrable trait, that, when once disco­vered, it makes the possessor despicable in the world, odious to society, and unacceptable to God. What, then, can equal this perverse passion? It occasions the most annoying perturbation, deranges the whole frame, entails the greatest misery, and ultimately results in complete discomfort. It incurs vengeance from above, and punishment on earth. Who that is familiar with the history of Cain and Abel—who that has looked into their individual dispositions as recorded in Holy Writ, will hesitate to declare that the death of Abel was produced by hatred? Envious of his brother's superior acquirements, jealous of the preferment manifested, Cain admitted the destroying passion hatred to revel in his breast; and soon it attained an ascendancy that led to the greatest excesses, incurring the wrath of God, and curses on himself and posterity. Sacred history records instances of deep-rooted hatred producing baleful injuries. The conduct of Joseph's brethren is a striking exemplification; but, as in similar circumstances that are daily presented to our observation, the Almighty averted the effects of the blackest designs, and was the instrument of changing hatred to love. Mark the conduct of Joseph when he recognized his brethren; instead of desiring to be avenged for injury previously received, he, with all the exalted meekness of a great and good man, received with forgiveness to his bosom the very persons whose hatred had caused them to conceive the perpetration of a most sinful act, which would have terminated in his death, but for the interposition of Him whose searching eye alone can penetrate the inmost recesses of the heart. This event presents an exemplification of the Scriptural doctrine, that evil designs, the result of hatred, can be frustrated by providential care, and made to terminate in good, when it is the least expected by the agents and the sufferers.

The records of ages past relate many instances of this odious principle; some of the best men have been sacrificed by its agency. The fairest flower has been obscured, tranquility made to yield to disturbance, and happiness displaced by misery. Who, that suffers the imagination to roam among the variegated fields which our chequered life affords, can fail to perceive at a glance, the proneness of human nature to display that disposition which subverts all that is great and calculated to embellish and dignify our being? I cannot be too urgent in my solicitations to you, my brethren, to discountenance such conduct. Discard such feelings; entertain not such a degrading, debasing passion; pause and deliberate on its excess acid dangers. Would! that your humble brother who addresses you possessed the command of language to speak the true sentiments of the heart, the honest dictates of the mind: would! that his persuasive powers could interest and find ready access to the convictions of the transgressor. He would say to those whose listening ear may beat present directed to him, that hatred in its course has no bounds to satisfy a revengeful, ruthless spirit. It overleaps every avenue leading to morality, and exercises the basest means to demoralize all objects within the sphere of its influence. It seeks all opportunities for defaming the purest character, and for casting a stain where spotless virtue is known to exist. It resorts to device and tergiversation to carry a particular point; it lies in ambush, like the serpent, to seize on the prey unsuspicious of its movements, and to the extent of its power it inflicts the deadly wound. It puts on at times the most specious appearance, the better to delude, and, like the fabled Janus, bears a double front, and its ways are the passport for infamy. Why should we proceed? what injury has hatred not committed? what enormities has it not been guilty of? No device, no subtlety has been wanting to aid its vileness. Think, then, what most be the situation of that being who becomes the unfortunate victim of its monstrous powers. Who can escape, who can be secured from its shafts? To what a surprising extent has it not advanced? At one period, subterfuge and odious falsehood are used to give it the garb of plausibility, at another, it is known to enter the hospitable mansion, there to commence its depredations; there to vilify the unoffending inmates, and with an adder's tongue to diffuse poison on whomsoever it touches. What can equal the force of its depravity? It, in the language of the bard causes "the soul to shrink within itself, and makes loathsome the spring of all reflection. What an imperious mandate, that directed us to divest ourselves of hatred towards our brethren! And what can equal the attributes of Him, who, in order to fit us for his boundless blessings, and to cause us to obtain a seat in his kingdom of glory, pronounced through our great prophet Moses, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart," sternly enjoining on the children of Israel to live together in peace and harmony, as members of one family?

We approach now to the consideration of that part of our text which says, "Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him." Such is the nature of man, and such the frailties that too frequently accompany his actions while gliding down the stream of life, that reproof and good counsel may at times divert him from carrying out erroneous impressions, and save him from falling into the pitfalls of sin. The Almighty knew his proneness to indulge in the pursuit of error, and foresaw that by a misguided judgment he would be led into the vortex of destructive prejudice; and in order to lessen, or check this evil, he strictly ordered that man should rebuke his neighbour, and not suffer sin to rest on his head; inasmuch as timely and becoming admonition would restrain improper action, and the interposition of good counsel would have its beneficial tendency. Again, man naturally aspires to promotion and preferment, and these have been considered highly laudable when virtuous pursuits result in their attainment. But, who will deny that there are those, who, jealous and envious of commendable and merited distinction, stickle at nothing to frustrate the best intention, to destroy the best reputation, sully the prospects of honesty and uprightness, and occasion distress and commotion among the most meritorious? The utility of rebuking under such circumstances cannot be questioned. It becomes, then, an absolute duty to respect this command of God, by timely disclosing the folly, and pointing out the futility of attempting to injure our brother or neighbour. By interposing our efforts we may protect him from error, and not suffer sin to approach him. Reproof and proper advice likewise frequently save the thoughtless from falling into improprieties, and from the indulgence of feelings that degrade and debase human nature. We often fancy that we have suffered an injury though no cause for offence has been given, and allow this to influence our mind; and imaginary wrongs, arising from supposed injuries, lead to the most extravagant ideas, and often result in open hostility against the unoffending. How sinful to conceive an injury, when there is no ground even for suspicion? and how essential to avoid this error is it to consider well previously the result of such indulgence in others, when in our power to prevent it. There are those who from the best motives exert themselves to improve the general constitution of society, by ministering the best advice, and inculcating good-will and fellowship to the whole human family; while there are others who are engaged constantly in exciting petty feelings; in creating jealousy, originating slanders, weakening confidence, and aspersing the fairest characters. Indubitable proof of such human turpitude can be produced. How essential, then, the observance of that command which instructs us to rebuke our neighbour and not suffer sin upon him.

Lastly, "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. I am the Lord." To bear anger or ill-will against another, is of all principles the most degrading. It is calculated to diminish a man in his own estimation, if he reflects, he is doing an injury to his fellow-creature. God never intended we should be hostile to each other. He never sent us into existence to be a scourge to our species, or to entertain enmity. To bear ill-will bespeaks a wretched state of existence, evidences great barbarity. To behold a fellow-mortal writhing under mental torture, to see him oppressed with trouble and disquiet, and to delight in such a scene, is the manifestation of savageness that excites the greatest abhorrence. What gratification can be produced in deranging the tranquility of another? what delight to soil a spotless reputation? what satisfaction can be conveyed in being instrumental in opposing the prosperity and advancement of one of the house of Israel? Was it intended that one class or one individual should float on the stream of prosperity, and others should sink and be finally lost? Does it afford pleasure to see our neighbour about to fall in disgrace, and can we gaze on his downfall with apathy and cold indifference? who can be so obdurate as not to extend willingly a helping hand for his salvation? How much more noble and dignified is it to exalt than to oppress!

The encouragement of hatred, may be compared to the fostering a viper that is certain to infuse a poison; no age, sex, or condition, can escape its destructive influence. Yet like iniquity, it may triumph for a while; yet its reign can be of but short duration. Remorse must follow, and with it contrition with all its concomitants.

There is One above, who watches our actions and searches our thoughts. It is He alone who is capable of frustrating the brightest hope, not frail deluded man—it is He alone who can avenge the oppressor's wrong doings, and save the unsuspicious from the snares of the designing. Let black-hearted enmity stalk uninterruptedly, there is One who is able to oppose the stately march, and can enervate the greatest power, and vice can therefore never hope to triumph ultimately, nor unjust authority hope to prevail in the end. How ennobling, therefore, how worthy the conduct of the good man, who shuns hatred as he would a pestilence, and views the despoiler of character as a scourge to society! He bears no grudge against his people, he loves his neighbours; his heart is the receptacle of those philanthropic emotions which are intended always to be excited in the cause of an injured fellow-creature; his ear is ever attentive to his wrongs, he delights in his prosperity; he is seen actively employed in devising means to obtain the regard and esteem of his associates; he covets not their good name; he envies not their growing greatness; he places no stumbling-blocks in their way, to mar their progress in the path of preferment; his imagination is not perpetually engaged in engendering reports to the injury of any one; he is above low device, and is never seen busily engaged in traducing characters that have stood the test of scrutiny, and defied reproach. No! despising all unrighteous principles, he presents in himself a picture of all that is moral, virtuous, and commendable. But above all, he evinces his respect for the command of his God, who expressly lays it down, that "Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but that thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

Be it, then, our care to discountenance those who are regardless of this command, and let it be our constant study to love our brethren, and not oppress them. So shall we meet the reward due to virtuous principles and meritorious actions. So shall we, while gliding down the stream of life, meet no obstruction in our progress to that place, the abode of the righteous, and the heaven of all excellence.

Almighty God! The supreme judge and disposer of all! Extend thine infinite goodness and mercy to our people wheresoever dispersed. Bestow thy protection to the man of thy creation, of all sects and creeds; shed thy benediction on this congregation, and on all congregations assembled this day to praise thy great name. Endow us with a portion of thy divine attributes, that we may keep in the path of righteousness to the honour of thy name, and the exaltation of the house of Israel. Amen!