In addition to serving as the 25th President of the United States, William F. McKinley achieved the rank of major in the Union Army during the Civil War and served two terms in the United States House of Representatives. During one of his congressional campaigns he was followed from place to place by a reporter for a paper of the opposite political party. The reporter was shrewd and persistent; always at work, quick to see an opportunity and skilled in making the most of it. While Mr. McKinley was annoyed by the misrepresentation to which he was almost daily subjected, he could not help admiring the skill and tenacity with which he was assailed. His admiration, too, was not unmixed with compassion.
On one occasion the reporter was ill, poorly dressed and had an annoying cough. That night Mr. McKinley took a closed carriage to a nearby town at which it had been announced he would speak. The weather was wretchedly raw and cold. He had not gone far when he heard that cough and knew that the reporter was riding with the driver in the exposed seat. McKinley called to the driver to stop so he could get out.
“Get down off that seat, young man,” he said. The reporter obeyed, thinking the time for vengeance had come. “Here,” said Mr. McKinley, taking off his overcoat, “You put on this overcoat and get into the carriage.”
“Major McKinley,” said the reporter, “I guess you don’t know who I am. I have been with you the whole campaign, giving it to you every time you spoke, and I am going over tonight to rip you to pieces if I can.”
“I know,” said Mr. McKinley, “but you put on this coat and get inside and get warm so you can do a good job at it.”
How easy it is to be kind to our friends and admirers—to those we love and hold in high esteem, but should we not with equal compassion show kindness to those who would do us harm and disservice? Consider the actions of king David toward his adversaries: “False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.” (Psa. 35:11-14) David’s attitude toward those who sought to do him harm was that of kindness, mercy, and compassion. Rather than seeking retribution on his enemies he prayed for their wellbeing. He did not seek to do them evil, but to the contrary treated them as a friend. And for such an attitude he was blessed by God! The phrase “and my prayer returned into mine own bosom” means that the blessings he had petitioned God for his detractors were given to him instead.
Kindness that we show our enemies may result in great blessings and even a change of heart on their part also. To the Romans Paul wrote, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:19- 21) The heaping of coals of fire upon the head of our enemy through doing good does not indicate that by doing good to them we will harm them! Such an interpretation of the passage contradicts the very premise on which Paul makes the statement. The meaning is that our doing good might produce a sense of guilt that will cause our enemy to repent. We should not be overcome with evil, that is, allow evil done to us cause us to desire to do evil to another, but rather overcome the evil done to us with good.
Jesus taught, “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 which is in heaven:” (Matt. 5:43-46). Jesus came to offer salvation not only to the good of humanity but also to the evil; He died for both the lovely and the unlovable. Christ gave us the supreme example of love—are we walking in His footsteps?