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great High-priest, Jesus the Son of God, I may find grace ready to help me in the time of need.
Wean me, O Lord, from all the delights and hopes of flesh and sense? Mortify me to all the humours and joys of a perishing life, and a vain world. Arm my soul all over with a religi ous hardiness, that I may venture into the field of battle, and may scarce feel the wounds which I receive in thy cause. Give me the happy skill of diverting my fears, when I cannot at once subdue them, and lead me into proper employments of my heart and hand for this purpose.
I would live as under the eye of God. I would take notice of his hand in all the affairs of life, and all the dangers that attend me. I would learn of Moses to endure the fight of afflictions, as seeing him who is invisible. Let me hear thy voice, O Jesus, my Saviour, let me hear thy voice walking upon the waters; when I am tossed about upon the waves of distress and difficulty, speak to my soul, and say, It is I, be not afraid.
Surely I have had some experience of the Divine Presence with me in the midst of dangers: God has sometimes disappointed all my fears, and interposed his shield of power and love for my defence: Why should not I trust a faithful God, and that infinite goodness which I have already tasted of? I charge my conscience with the authority of thy word. O Lord, when thou forbiddest all my sinful fears, I would renounce them too, I would struggle to break these painful fetters, and fight against this inward slavery of the soul, these domestic tyrants. O that the spirit of power were always with me, to dispel the spirit of bondage.
I would be bravely prepared for the worst of sufferings, to which my circumstances in this life may expose me. I would be ready to meet contempt and scandal, poverty, sickness, and death itself. Jesus can support me in the heaviest distresses, though all the sorrows I fear should come upon me. He can bear me on the wings of faith and hope, high above all the turmoils and disquietudes of life: He can carry me through the shadow of the dark valley, and scatter all the terrors of it. Give me, O Lord, these wings of faith and hope, and bear me upon them through all the remains of my short journey in the wilderness: Make me active and zealous in thy cause while I live, and convey me safely above the reach of fear, through the valley of death, to the inheritance prepared for me in the land of light. Then my fears shall cease for ever, for enemies and dangers are not known in that land. There all our conflicts shall be changed into everlasting triumphs, while songs of honour and salvation ascend in a full choir to the grace that has made us overcomers. Amen.
The Universal Rule of Equity.
Mat. vii. 12.—All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them; for this is the law and the prophets.
WHEN our blessed Lord took upon him the public office of a prophet or teacher amongst men, he found it was not only neces sary to instruct them in the sacred mysteries of religion, and inform them of their duty to God his Father, and to himself; but he employed much of his ministry also, to teach them the practice of social virtue, and how they should behave toward their fellow-creatures. In the heathen world the rules of morality were lost in a great measure, as well as the rules of piety and worship; and the Jews, the peculiar people of God, had grossly corrupted both the one and the other. As our Saviour refined the practice of religion towards God, and raised it by his gospel, to a high and heavenly degree, beyond what mortals had known before, so he explained and established the rules of moral virtue, in a more glorious and convincing manner than the world had been acquainted with.
Read his life, and observe how often he takes occasion in the several seasons of his preaching, to give particular directions for our conduct toward our neighbours. But after all, he knew that the nature of man was corrupt, his passions strong, his memory frail, and that he would be ready to neglect, or for get his various sacred precepts, when there was most need to practise them; and therefore he thought it proper to give one short and comprehensive rule of equity to regulate all our conduct, that should be written as it were in our very souls: And this is contained in the words of my text, whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them; for this is the law and the prophets.
To dilate a little upon this subject, and refresh a living sense of it upon your memories and your consciences, I shall follow this method, and enquire,
I. What is the true meaning of this divine rule.-II. What is the special argument that our Lord uses in order to enforce it. III. Wherein the particular excellencies of it appear.-IV. I shall conclude with some reflections on this subject.
First, What is the true meaning of this rule?
In order to understand this rule aright, we must consider what it does not require, as well as what it does: For on the one side, some selfish necessitous and unreasonable persons may expect more from us than this rule obliges us to perform: And on the other side, a timorous and weak conscience may perhaps be led into a mistake, and think itself bound by this rule to perform some instances of kindness to others, which are utterly unreasonable and unrequired, and which might be injurious on other accounts to ourselves, or to our families, or to the rest of mankind.
We must remember then, that this rule does not mean to oblige us to give all that to another, or do all that for another, which we could possibly desire or wish to be bestowed upon us, or done for us; but whatsoever we could reasonably desire, and justly expect another should do to us, that we ought to do to him when he is in the like circumstances. All that in our calm and sedate thoughts we judge fit and proper another should do for us, that we should practise and do for him. Such requests as we could make to others, and could justify them to ourselves in our own consciences, according to the principles of humanity, the rules of civil society, and the rights of mankind, such we ought not to deny to others when they stand in need. Not all that a fond self-love would prompt us to ask, but all that our conscience tells us we might with reason expect.
I shall mention an instance or two, which will more fully explain what I mean.
A criminal under righteous condemnation for murder or robbery, may think thus with himself, Surely I would pardon the judge or the prince, if he were in my circumstances, therefore he ought to pardon me; Or the judge himself might think, I should be glad to be pardoned or not condemned if I were in the case of this criminal, therefore I will not condemn him. This sort of thoughts arising from unreasonable and unjust principles, either of a sinful self-love, or indulgence to iniquity, are not to be the measure of our actions nor expectations; these are not just and reasonable desires, nor can our own conscience in our sedate and calm enquiries judge so concerning them.
Again, if we were poor and starving, it may be we would be glad if our rich neighbour would settle upon us a competent estate sufficient to maintain us for the term of our lives; but this we cannot reasonably expect, or reasonably desire and demand; therefore we are not bound, be our circumstances never so large, to settle such a competency upon our poor neighbours, be their circumstances never so mean. We cannot rationally expect these things should be done unto us, we cannot equitably desire
them of another, therefore we are not bound to do thus to another.
But if we are placed as criminals at the bar of judgment, we may reasonably expect that all the favourable circumstances which attend our accusation, should be well weighed, and all the kind allowances made, which the nature of the charge or crime will admit; for our consciences would think it reasonable to allow so much to any criminal, if we ourselves were placed in the chair of magistracy. Or if we, through the frowns of providence, are poor and starving, we may reasonably expect our rich neighbour should bestow upon us a little of his bread, a little of his clothing, to supply our extreme necessities now and then; and thus much our neighbour may expect from us, when he is fallen into decay by the providence of God, while our circumstances are large, and we are well furnished for such bounty.
Thus you see the true intent and meaning of this universal law of equity, viz. That we practise toward our neighbour in such a manner as our own hearts and consciences would think it reasonable he should practise towards us in the like case. The Second enquiry was this. What special argument doth our Lord use to enforce the observance of this sacred precept? When our Saviour had laid down this general rule, he adds, "This is the law and the prophets;" that is, this is the summary of all the rules of duty, which are written in the law of Moses, concerning our carriage to our neighbour, and of all the laws which are explained by the succeeding prophets, and sacred writers under the Old Testament. They are all comprehended in this short line; Do to others, as you would have others do to you. It is very nearly the same thing, in other words with the law of Moses, Love thy neighbour as thyself; Lev. xix. 18. but it is much plainer and more intelligible: And indeed this rule of Moses is to be understood and interpreted, and applied in practice according to this plainer rule of Christ, thus, "Let thy love to thy neighbour be as great as thou canst reasonably expect or desire thy neighbour's love should be to thyself."
When our blessed Lord gives an abridgment or abstract of the ten commandments, he doth it in these words; Mat. xxii. 37, 38, 39. Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul, that is, love God above all things: this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; love thy neighbour as thyself; that is, consider him as a piece of human nature, as a second self, and imitate thy love to thyself in thy conduct toward him : Or, according to my text, it may be explained thus; enquire of thy own heart how thou wouldst have him love thee, and let this be the rule and measure of thy love to him. All our duties to God or man, all the commands of the first and the second table,