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all the dictates of the law and prophets depend on these two com mandments.
Then we answer the design of the law, then we obey the prophets, then we fulfil the commands of Moses, and of Christ, when we give to God our supreme love, and when we put ourselves in the room of our neighbour, and then carry it toward him, according to the love we expect he should bear us. This is loving our neighbours as ourselves, and this love is the fulfilling of the law; Rom. xiii. 10. When our Saviour delivers the words of my text, it is as if he had said to us, "If ye would practise all the duties that you owe to your fellow-creatures, and fulfil all the laws of the second table, in the most compendious and perfect manner, remember and practise this one general direction, deal with the rest of mankind as your conscience judges they should deal with you." But this leads me to the
Third enquiry, viz. wherein do the peculiar excellencies of this rule appear:
This golden rule hath many excellent properties belonging to it. I shall mention a few on purpose to impress it on your con sciences with more conviction, pleasure and power.
I. It is a rule that is easy to be understood, and as easy to be applied by the meanest and weakest understanding. It is so plain, that what is said by Isaiah concerning all the precepts of the gospel, is more eminently true of this; it is a highway of holiness, and the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein; Is. xxxv. 8. The laws of man are often expressed in such obscure language and terms of art,. that they puzzle us to find out the meaning of them: And the nice distinctions and subtle reasonings of men, oftentimes add to their darkness, and raise new disputes: But this is a law that every man understands; nor is it easy to be clouded by the comments and glosses of crafty men, if we are but sincerely resolved to judge and practise according to it. By the means of this rule, they who never studied the civil law, nor took pains in enquiring the moral dictates of the light of nature; they who never examined the statutes of a nation, nor the rules of natural justice, are all furnished with a law or rule of equity in their own minds, by which to manage their whole practice, with regard to their neighbours. Those who are not capable of long trains of reasoning, or of applying several general rules to all their particular cases: yet are able to look into their own hearts, and to ask this easy question," Would I myself be content to have others deal thus with me? Why then should I deal thus with another ?"
II. It is a very short rule, and easy to be remembered: The weakest memory can retain it; and the meanest of mankind may carry this about with them, and have it ready upon all occasions.
It is of admirable use, to solve a thousaud cases of conscience that may arise on the sudden, and may perplex our minds with difficulty. "It lies ready," says a considerable author, "for present use upon all exigencies and occasions. We can scarce be so far surprized by an immediate necessity of acting as not to have time for a short recourse to this rule, or room for a sudden glance, as it were, upon it in our minds, where it rests and sparkles always like the urim and thummim on the breast of Aaron.
If we have no written cases of conscience, no books at hand to direct our practice, if we have no faithful minister near us, no wise and pious friend to consult on a sudden occasion, this one rule, written in the heart, may serve instead of all other helps. This blessed precept strikes a sudden and sacred light into the mind, where the case may seem intricate: It shines upon our way, and makes our path plain, where an honest and scrupulous conscience might be just before bewildered in the dark, and not know how to act. "Practise that, O man! toward thy neighbour, which thou art convinced thy neighbour should practise toward thee."
III. This excellent precept of Christ, carries greater evidence to the conscience, and a stronger degree of conviction in it, than any other rule of moral virtue. As I said before, that a little reason will serve to apply it, so I say now, there is not much need of reasoning to find it out; for we fetch the proof of it from within ourselves, even from our own inward sensation and feeling. If we would know what is just and equitable to do to our neighbour, we need but ask our own inward sense, and our conscience together, what we would think equitable and just to receive from him? Thus there is but one and the same measure of justice, by which we must mete it out to ourselves and others; and that measure lies within us, even in the heart. We are very sensible of benefits and injuries that we ourselves receive, and this very sense of injuries and benefits, is, as it were, transcribed into our conscience, from the tenderest part of our own souls, and becomes there a rule of equity, how we should treat our neighbours.
It is a most righteous precept of the ancient Jewish law, and of universal obligation; Deut. xxv. 13, 14, 15. Thou shalt not have in thy bag, or in thine house, divers weights, and divers measures; a great and a small: That is, one wherewith to buy, and another wherewith to sell; but thou shalt have a perfect and just weight; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have. This precept as soon as it is mentioned, strikes the conscience with conviction of the justice of it: And what is said here of traffic and dealing, holds as truly of the general commerce between man and man, in all the ordinary and extraordinary affairs of life: That mutual exchange of
good offices, whereby society is upheld, must be regulated in the same manner, and by the same rule; and the immediate conviction of the equity of it, doth as strongly strike the conscience. There must be a perfect weight, and a just measure, saith the author before-cited, by which all men are mutually obliged to regulate their conduct, in acting and suffering, in commanding and obeying, in giving and receiving and this can be no other than the equal and righteous rule of the text; the doing in all cases and to all persons, even as we would be done unto. There is no one so absurd and unreasonable, as not to see, and acknowledge the absolute equity of this command in the theory, however he may swerve and decline from it in his practice." For, it is founded not only in the reason of things, and in the common share, and equal interest that we all have in human nature; but it is also written in the most sensible and the tenderest part of our constitution; and from thence it is derived to the mind and judgment, as a law of behaviour towards our fellow-creatures.
IV. Hence it comes to pass, that it is a precept particularly fitted for practice, because it includes in it a powerful motive to stir us up to do what he enjoins. This character of it, I borrow from the same author, who talks thus upon it: "Other moral maxims propose naked truths to the understanding, which operate often but faintly and slowly on the will and passions, the two active principles of the mind of man: But it is the peculiar character of this rule, that it addresseth itself equally to all these powers, even to the passions, and the will, as well as the understanding. It not only directs, but influences; it imparts both light and heat; and at the same time that it informs us clearly what we are to do, excites us also in the most tender moving manner, to the performance of it; for in truth, its seat is not more in the brain, than in the heart of man: It appeals to our very senses themselves, and exerts its secret force in so prevailing a way, that it is even felt as well as understood by us.'
"There is nothing that we know, that gives a man so true and lively a sense of the sufferings of others, or restrains him so powerfully from doing unrighteous and oppressive things, as his having smarted formerly himself under the experience of them. Now the supposing another man's ill usage to be our own; is the giving ourselves a present sense, as it were, and a kind of feigned experience of it; which doth, for the time serve all the purposes of a true one."
V. It is such a rule, as if well applied, will almost always secure our neighbour from injury, and secure us from guilt, if we should chance to hurt him. God will not impute guilt to us, if we should happen to mistake in a point of doubtful en
quiry, and to hurt our neighbour by a conscientious obedience to this rule.
I say, it will almost always secure us from injuring our neighbour, I cannot say, it is always an absolute, infallible, and certain rule of right and wrong; for our knowledge of the eternal rules of right and wrong is but imperfect; neither our own heads or hearts, are furnished with all the various and particular principles of equity. A mere enquiry into our own hearts or consciences, can never give us a perfect knowledge of the abstracted rules of justice: Nor can it determine us to the certain practice of it, in all the most intricate cases, unless these perfect rules of justice were fully written in the heart of every man. But under the present circumstances of mankind, in this poor, ignorant, and corrupt state of human nature, it appears to be the best, the most righteous, the most secure, and the most universal rule that ever could be invented or given to men; for it will certainly secure and prevent every man from injuring his neighbour in all cases, except where he himself is willing and content to receive equal injury: And I am sure, self-love will tell us, that these cases are exceeding few.
It is evident therefore, that an honest man will scarce ever mistake in keeping close to this rule. And if I should then happen to do an injury to my neighbour, instead of strict equity, yet I can appeal to God, and say, I endeavoured to apply this rule to my conscience, in the present circumstances, with the utmost sincerity. I acted no otherwise to my neighbour, than I desired or judged it reasonable for my neighbour, to act towards me in the like case. And surely my unavoidable mistake will not be imputed to me as a crime, where I have honestly followed the rule my Saviour has given me, and acted therein according to the best capacity of my judgment.
VI. It is a rule as much fitted to awaken us to sincere repentance upon the transgression of it, as it is to direct us to our present duty. This rule abides in the bosom of a christian, it dwells so near him, that it is, as it were, mingled with conscience itself; and by this means it becomes not only a safe guide, but a sharp reprover too: It soon puts us in mind where either inclination or practice warps toward injustice and deceit. Have we never felt our conscience sting us with a bitter reflection derived from this rule, when we have neglected in any instance to fulfil our duty to our neighbour? I am sure if we kept it much in view, we could neither practise injustice with ease of mind, nor dwell long under this guilt, without some inward reproaches: If the precept had not power enough to restrain us from present sin, yet it would spur us on to serious and speedy repentance. H h
[Here the sermon may be divided, if it be too long to beread in a family at once.]
VII. It is a most extensive rule, with regard to all the stations, ranks and characters of mankind for it is perfectly suited to them all: And I think it may be said, that it is equally useful to the rich and the poor, to the buyer and the seller, to the prince and to the peasant, to the master and the servant: They all come under the single rule of duty and justice: This should govern them in all their conduct. Be your condition, O christians, what it will in the world, do but put yourselves into the circumstances of one another, in your own thoughts, for a moment, and ask what is reasonable to be done to yourselves? And your consciences will return a speedy and easy answer what you should do to
Let the tenant say, "If I were a landlord, what should I think reasonable that my tenant should pay me?" And the landlord should ask himself," Were I tenant, what should I claim of my landlord?" I would have the master enquire, "What should I expect, if I were a servant, at the hand of my master?" And let the servant say, "What, if I were a master, should I expect from the hands of one that served me?" Parents should ask themselves," if I had been a negligent child, and guilty of some trifling offence, could I think it just my father should be in such a passion with me?" And the son should enquire, " if I were a father, would I not think it reasonable my child should obey me in such particular instances or commands?" Thus the landlord and tenant, thus the master and servant, thus the father and the son may come to an adjustment of their mutual obligations.
The merchant should say to himself, " if I were an artificer, should I think it reasonable that the labour of my hands, and the sweat of my brows, should be screwed down to so cheap a price?" The seller of goods should say, " If I were the buyer, would I think it just to have such corrupt or faulty wares put into my hands? Am I willing to have my necessity, my ignorance, or unwariness thus imposed upon ?" And the buyer should ask himself," If I were the seller, should I bear to have my goods thus run down and depreciated below the just value?”
The learned professions may also learn their duty from this rule. The lawyer should say to himself," What if I were the client should I think it equitable to have my cause so long delayed, by so many shiftings and escapes, from a determination?" The physicians and the surgeons should put themselves in the places of their sick and wounded patients, and say, " Do we prescribe never a potion, or use never a plaister more than we would think proper for ourselves, if we were languishing under the same sickness or wounds? Do we take the same safe and speedy methods