Its Scope Matthew 7:12

All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets. - Matthew 7:12

1. The rule does not cover all behaviour and all conduct. It has nothing to say of a man's private attitude and relation to God. It has nothing to say of our behaviour when we are alone - in those times when some men and women are conscious of least responsibility, because their thoughts, desires, or actions do not bring them into any sort of contact with other people. It is therefore not in the nature of spiritual discipline; it is not given to regulate the secret inner life of a man's thoughts and feelings. It applies to a man's dealings with his fellows, the multitudinous occasions when the orbit of his life intersects the orbits of other lives, and these other orbits intersect his; and thus it clearly contemplates that the life of the Christian will be a life necessarily rich in social duties and responsibilities and opportunities.

Froude, in his Erasmus, relates a curious incident in the life of Ignatius Loyola. Loyola, one day, met with a copy of the New Testament. He took it up, opened it, and began to read it. But after a short time he threw it down, because, he said, "it checked his devotional emotions." Froude thinks it very likely did. He found here a religion taught the supreme expression of which was in absolute righteousness, truth, and charity. "If any man deemeth himself to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, is not just, fair, honourable, open, merciful, that man's religion is vain." Loyola said this sort of thing checked his devotional emotions! Well, if so, it was high time they were checked. For they were running to seed, and not growing, under due discipline, to flower and fruit. In the religion of Jesus, the ethical, the practical, is the ultimate. To keep the Golden Rule is to fulfil the Law and the prophets.1 [Note: C. S. Horne, The Model Citizen, 140.]

2. Like other general precepts, it will not bear to be taken slavishly in the letter. The worth of a precept is rather to suggest a temper or attitude of mind than to determine precisely what in a given case ought to be done. It is a superficial and therefore a bad morality, not merely defective, but unwholesome and misleading, that attempts to prescribe for conduct by precise regulations. Human life is too free and various to be governed by such methods. You may, without any great ingenuity, imagine cases in which it would be undesirable and wrong to carry out literally our Lord's injunction, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them." Perhaps the most obvious instance is flattery. There are tens of thousands of people who flatter their fellow-men because they like it and expect it themselves. And on the principle that you are simply to do to others what you wish them to do to you, it is unexceptionable. Clearly the criticism is that you ought not to wish for flattery yourself; in other words, to make the Golden Rule adequate and true, we must have some guarantee that what we wish to receive from others is what we ought so to wish.

But there is a far more difficult case for the application of the Golden Rule than this. Suppose that you have fallen into some gross sin, and incurred a very severe punishment, what may we assume you would wish that men should do to you? In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the answer would be, "Let me off the penalty." Are we, then, to go on to assume that it is your duty to remit all punishment, however deserved, because of your sense that you would wish it to be remitted if you were in the wrongdoer's place? The social conscience has said No; the Christian conscience says No. It is not a question of what you might happen to wish if you were simply an irresponsible and religiously uneducated being, but of what you would wish if you were subject to the spirit and discipline of Christianity. In this latter case you would wish that your sin should be punished, your offences corrected; and consequently you would not do to others an injustice and call it mercy, because you were weak enough to desire it for yourself.

to be continued