If thine enemy hunger, feed him - Do not withhold from any man the offices of mercy and kindness; you have been God's enemy, and yet God fed, clothed, and preserved you alive: do to your enemy as God has done to you. If your enemy be hungry, feed him; if he be thirsty, give him drink: so has God dealt with you. And has not a sense of his goodness and long-suffering towards you been a means of melting down your heart into penitential compunction, gratitude, and love towards him? How know you that a similar conduct towards your enemy may not have the same gracious influence on him towards you? Your kindness may be the means of begetting in him a sense of his guilt; and, from being your fell enemy, he may become your real friend! This I believe to be the sense of this passage, which many have encumbered with difficulties of their own creating. The whole is a quotation from Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22, in the precise words of the Septuagint; and it is very likely that the latter clause of this verse, Thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, is a metaphor taken from smelting metals. The ore is put into the furnace, and fire put both under and over, that the metal may be liquefied, and, leaving the scoriae and dross, may fall down pure to the bottom of the furnace. This is beautifully expressed by one of our own poets, in reference to this explanation of this passage: -
"So artists melt the sullen ore of lead,
By heaping coals of fire upon its head.
In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow,
And pure from dross the silver runs below."
It is most evident, from the whole connection of the place and the apostle's use of it, that the heaping of the coals of fire upon the head of the enemy is intended to produce not an evil, but the most beneficial effect; and the following verse is an additional proof of this.
Therefore, if thine enemy hunger - This verse is taken almost literally from Proverbs 25:21-22. Hunger and thirst here are put for want in general. If thine enemy is needy in any way, do him good, and supply his needs. This is, in spirit, the same as the command of the Lord Jesus Matthew 5:44, “Do good to them that hate you,” etc.
In so doing - It does not mean that we are to do this “for the sake” of heaping coals of fire on him, but that this will be the result.
Thou shalt heap - Coals of fire are doubtless emblematical of “pain.” But the idea here is not that in so doing we shall call down divine vengeance on the man; but the apostle is speaking of the natural effect or result of showing him kindness. Burning coals heaped on a man‘s head would be expressive of intense agony. So the apostle says that the “effect” of doing good to an enemy would be to produce pain. But the pain will result from shame, remorse of conscience, a conviction of the evil of his conduct, and an apprehension of divine displeasure that may lead to repentance. To do this, is not only perfectly right, but it is desirable. If a man can be brought to reflection and true repentance, it should be done. In regard to this passage we may remark,
(1) That the way to promote “peace” is to do good even to enemies.
(2) the way to bring a man to repentance is to do him good. On this principle God is acting continually. He does good to all, even to the rebellious; and he designs that his goodness should lead people to repentance; Romans 2:4. People will resist wrath, anger, and power; but “goodness” they cannot resist; it finds its way to the heart; and the conscience does its work, and the sinner is overwhelmed at the remembrance of his crimes.
(3) if people would act on the principles of the gospel, the world would soon be at peace. No man would suffer himself many times to be overwhelmed in this way with coals of fire. It is not human nature, bad as it is; and if Christians would meet all unkindness with kindness, all malice with benevolence, and all wrong with right, peace would soon pervade the community, and even opposition to the gospel might soon die away.
There is a science in dealing with those who seem especially weak. If we would teach others, we ourselves must first learn of Christ. We need broad views, that we may do true medical missionary work, and show tact in dealing with minds. MM 209.1
Those who are really the least in need of help are likely to receive the most of our attention. But we need to show special wisdom in dealing with those who seem inconsiderate and thoughtless. Some do not comprehend the sacredness of the work of God. Those of the least ability, the thoughtless, and even the indolent, especially demand careful, prayerful consideration. We must exercise tact in dealing with those who seem to be ignorant and out of the way. By persevering effort in their behalf, we must help them to become useful in the Lord's work. They will respond readily to a patient, tender, loving interest. MM 209.2
We are to cooperate with the Lord Jesus in restoring the inefficient and the erring to intelligence and purity. This work ranks equally in importance with the work of the gospel ministry. We are called upon by God to manifest an untiring, patient interest in the salvation of those who need divine polishing.—Letter 113, 1905. MM 209.3Read in context »