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of relief for others that we would have applied to ourselves?" And the preachers of the gospel should place themselves in the room of their hearers, and say, " Do we labour in our closets, in our secret hours of retirement, and in our public ministrations, for the conversion and salvation of those who hear us, as we would have ministers do for us, if we were perishing in our sins, and in danger of eternal death? Do we take such pains to awaken the slumberers upon the borders of hell, as we ourselves would have others take, in order to awaken us out of such fatal slumbers? Do we study and contrive with what divine cordials we shall refresh and comfort the mourners in Zion, even as we should desire to be comforted and refreshed?" Such sort of self-enquiries as these, will lead us to the practice of our present duty, and solve many a difficult case of conscience better than turning over the largest volumes.
VIII. This sacred rule is a most comprehensive one, with regard to all the actions and duties that concern our neighbours. It is not confined merely to the practice of justice, but it extends much wider and farther: It is of mighty influence in the direction and practice of meekness, of patience, of charity, of truth and faithfulness, and every kind of social virtue, and a most happy. guard against every social vice. It would be endless to enter into all the special cases of vice and virtue, which relate to the social life, and to shew how much they are affected by this rule, and what divine advantages we may attain for the practie of morality, by keeping this one sentence ever upon our thoughts. Yet I cannot pass over so important a theme, without giving a short specimen of some of these advantages.
This golden precept would teach us how to regulate our temper and general behaviour in the world. Am I not willing to be treated in an affable and civil manner by those who converse with me? Let me treat others then with all becoming civility, and make it appear that christianity is a religion of true honour, and that a christian is indeed a well-bred man. Do I think it unreasonable that my neighbour, though he be my superior, should assume haughty airs and disdain me? Let me watch therefore against all such scornful speeches and disdainful airs, when I converse with one, who is inferior to me. Do I think it a grievous thing, that a man should break out into sudden passion against me, if I happen to speak a word contrary to his sentiment, or to set himself in a rage for a trifle? Let me set a strict guard then over all my passionate powers, and learn to bear opposition without impatience. Let me quench the first risings of sudden anger, lest they kindle into an ungoverned flame, and hurry me on to the practice of what I condemn in others.
This excellent rule would teach us tenderness and beneficence to those that are unhappy. We should never make a jest of the lame or the blind, the crooked or the deformed; we should never ridicule the natural infirmities of the meanest of our fellow-creatures, nor their providential disadvantages, if we did but put ourselves in the room of the blind and lame, the deformed and the poor, and ask whether we should think it just and reasonable to be made the mockery and the jest of those that behold us. We should certainly be inclined to visit the sick, and feed the hungry, to give drink to him that is a-thirst, and to secure the feeble and helpless from the oppression of the mighty, if we enquired of our own hearts, what treatment we should expect if we were hungry and thirsty, if we were sick and helpless.
This blessed command of our Saviour would incline us to reprove with gentleness, to punish with mercy, and never to censure others without a just reason, and a plain call of providence; for we ourselves desire and would reasonably expect this sort of treatment from others. If we carried this sentence always in our memories, should we blaze abroad scandalous reports before we know the truth of them? and publish doubtful suspicions of our neighbour's guilt? Should we blacken his character to the utmost, even where there is a real crime, and make no reasonable allownces for him? Should we perpetually teaze children, servants, or friends with old faults, and make their follies and miscarriages the matter of our delightful conversation? Should we censure every little deviation from the truth, as heresy? Should we pronounce anathemas and curses upon him that leaves out of his creed a few hard words which men have invented, or that differs from us in the business of meats, and days, and ceremonies? We ourselves think it hard to have doubtful reports of evil published concerning us, and suspicions blown up into guilt: We think it hard if our crimes are aggravated to the utmost, and no reasonable allowances are made: We find it very painful to us, and think it unreasonable to be ever teazed with the mention of our former follies, or to have our little differences from another's faith or worship to be pronounced heresy, and to be cut off from the church for it.
In short, if this blessed rule of our Saviour did but more universally obtain, we should never persecute one another for our disagreement in opinion, for we should then learn this lesson, that another has as much right to differ from me in his sentiment, as I have to differ from him. If this rule did but prevail amongst all that own the christian name; then truth, honesty and justice, meekness and love would reign and triumph through all the churches of Christ, and those vile affec
tions and practices of pride, envy, wrath, cruelty, backbiting, and persecution would be banished for ever from amongst us.
IX. It is not only a rule of equity and love to direct our whole conduct toward our neighbours in the social life, but it is also a rule of the highest prudence with regard to ourselves; and it promotes our own interest in the best manner: For if we make conscience of treating our neighbours according to all the justice and tenderness that this rule will incline us to, we may reasonably expect the same kind and tender treatment from those that are round about us. Such a practice will naturally engage the greatest part of mankind on our side, whensoever we happen to be assaulted or oppressed by the sons of malice or violence. Happy is that person who has gained the love of mankind, by making the love of himself a rule and measure of his actions toward them, and has piously followed that precept of the law of God, Love thy neighbour as thyself.
Let us remember that we live in a changeable world, and the scenes of life are continually shifting. I am now a master, and in possession of riches, and if I treat my servant, or any poor man insolently, I may expect the like insolent treatment if my circumstances sink, and reduce me to a state of poverty or service. But if I follow this golden rule of our Saviour, in treating my inferiors, I do, as it were, hoard up for myself a treasure of merit and benevolence amongst men, which I may hope to receive and taste of, in the day of my necessity and distress. Thus in behaving myself toward others according to this holy rule of friendship, I not only please and obey my God and my Saviour, but I happily secure my temporal interests also.
X. In the last place, to mention no more. This rule is fitted to make the whole world as happy as the present state of things will admit. It is not to be described nor conceived what a multitude of blessings and felicities the practice of this single precept would introduce among all mankind.
If we were not thus wrapped up entirely in self, in our own party, or in our own kindred, but could look upon our neighbours as ourselves, and seek their advantage together with our own, every man would become a diffusive blessing amongst his neighbours, and the mutual benefits of mankind would scatter happiness through all the world. In such a beneficent state as this, every man would be, as it were, a good angel to all that came within the reach of his commerce; this earth would be a little image of heaven; and our present social life amongst men would be a foretaste of our future happiness among saints and angels, In those glorious regions, every one rejoices in the welfare of the whole community and they have a double relish of their own per
sonal blessedness, by the pleasure they take in contributing to the blessedness of all their fellows.
Thus have I given a short and very imperfect account of the excellencies of this sacred rule of equity and love, and named some of the advantages it has above most other precepts of morality. It remains only that I make two or three reflections on so agreeable a subject.
Reflection I. In what a compendious method has our Saviour provided for the practice of all the moral duties enjoined by Moses and the prophets! For he has summed them up in a very few words, and reduced them to one short rule; but the extent and comprehension of it is universal, and almost infinite.Though we should forget twenty particular precepts of love and righteousness, yet if this be fresh in our thoughts, and always ready at hand, we shall practise all those particular precepts effectually, by the mere influence of this one general rule. It is true, it is a real advantage toward our practice of virtue and justice, to have the mind stored with special precepts, suited particularly to every case; but where the memory is defective, or other rules are not learned, this golden one will do very much towards supplying the place of many. Our Saviour himself grants this truth, when he says; This is the law and the prophets.
II. What divine wisdom is manifested in making this golden rule of equity a fundamental law, in the two most famous religions that ever God appointed to the children of men; that is, the Jewish and the christian! Love thy neighbour as thyself, was a rule appointed to the Jews; Lev. xix. 18. This is repeated by our Saviour; Mat. xix. 19. And a happy explication or comment on it given in my text, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so unto them; for this is the law and the prophets. There were none of the heathen philosophers that delivered this as a general law, in so strong, so universal, and so comprehensive a manner as our Saviour has done, though one or two of them offered some occasional hints of the same kind. But our Saviour appoints it as the grand rule of social virtue, amongst all the subjects of his kingdom; and he tells us too, that this is the sum and substance of the directions given by Moses and the prophets for the conduct of men toward their fellow-creatures.
The wisdom of this precept eminently appears herein: Our blessed Lord well knew that self-love would be a powerful temptation to inen, to turn them aside from the sacred laws of justice, in treating their neighbours; and therefore he wisely takes this very principle of self-love, and joins it in the consultation with our reason and conscience, how we should carry it toward our
fellow-creatures. Thus by his divine prudence, he constrains even this selfish and rebellious principle to assist our consciences and our rational powers, in directing us how to practise the social duties of life.
It was Christ the Son of God who gave laws to Moses for Israel before his incarnation, and it is he who is come in the flesh, as a preacher of righteousness to men, in these latter days; and in both these seasons of legislature, he has manifested this sacred wisdom: Ye know the heart of a stranger, saith the Lord, in his dictates to Moses; Ex. xxiii. 2. for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt; therefore thou shalt not oppress a stranger. And he gives us still the same general rule for our conduct; "Look into your own hearts, consider what human nature is, you know you are men of like frailty with others, enquire what treatment you would reasonably expect from your fellows, and be sure you practise in the same manner toward them."
: III. Since the wisdom of Christ thought fit to teach us rules of equity and righteousness amongst men, and has, as it were, extracted the very soul and spirit of all social duties, and summed them up in this short sentence: Let not the disciples of Christ forget this rule; nor let the most eminent and exalted christians think it beneath their study and their practice. The love of God and Christ is not the whole of our duty, nor can we be christians indeed, if we neglect to love our neighbour. How vain are all our pretences to faith in Christ, and piety toward God, if we grow careless in our conduct toward men? All our fancied attainments in the school of Christ, how are they disgraced and destroyed, if we abandon this rule of moral virtue, and treat our neighbours contrary to this divine principle of equity and love.
What shall we answer in the great judgment-day to an enquiring God, when in flaming fire he shall put us in mind: "I gave you a plain and easy rule of righteousness in my word, I wrote it in your hearts also, in very legible characters: If you had but looked carefully into your consciences, you might have read it there: But you resolved to sacrifice all to your lusts: you have wronged and defrauded your brethren, and exposed yourselves to my righteous sentence, for your wilful practice of unrighteousness against so plain a law.”
It is a just remark which has often been made on this occasion: "The heathen emperor Severus shall rise up in the judgment with such a generation of christians, and condemn them: For he, by the light of nature, was taught highly to reverence this precept," when he had learned it from the professors of christianity. You might read it upon the walls of his palace; it was engraven there to govern his court in the times of peace;