Its Standard Of Duty 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 Golden Rule surpasses all formulas of justice by bringing the case before our loving, trembling, sensitive self, and begging that it be tried in the light and justice of all this light of self-love, self-joy, and self-agony. We know how near and dear a thing one's own self is. The moment we step away from our consciousness we lose our mental grasp upon the phenomenon of right or wrong. We can look upon a suffering man, sick or wounded, with comparative peace, because our knowledge will not travel away from our own consciousness. We may say, "Poor man, poor child, we pity you," but we are so cut off from his pain that an infinite gulf lies between our feelings and the sufferer's agony. But let that pain, that sickness, that dying, come to self, and how quickly the heart measures all the depths of the new sorrow.

It was reported that one of the victims of the Cuban massacre offered a million dollars if the savages would spare his life. The death of others, the common calamities of life had not filled with tremor that heart naturally brave; the grief of death at large had been, as it were, spoken in a foreign language not to be understood by him, but now the grim monster was coming up against self, it was his heart that was to be pierced with balls, not yours, nor mine, but his own, bound to earth, to friends, to country, to home and its loved ones; his was to pour out its blood and sink into the awful mystery of the grave. This was the vivid measurement of things that made the hero try to buy sunshine and home and sweet life with gold. When it comes to any adequate measurement of life's ills or joys, the only line which man can lay down upon the unknown is the consciousness within, the verdict of this inner self.1 [Note: D. Swing, Truths for To-Day, i. 39.]

2. It has consequently been alleged that this precept falls short, as a rule of morality, of what the inspiring principle of a good man's life ought to be, and what the best men, in their better moments, have really aimed at. It puts, to a man's heart and conscience, his fellow-men only on the same level as himself. It seems to start from a regard for self, to recognize the claims of self. It is a nobler morality - this is what has been alleged - that calls upon men to love their neighbours not merely as well as, but better than, themselves. To live for others, quite suppressing and subordinating self, may be the high ideal, the inspiring principle, of a good man's efforts. Such a man should think, not "How should I wish my neighbour to behave towards me?" but "How can I serve my neighbour? How can I do most good, regardless of my own pleasure or interest, to those around me?"

Of course the general feeling is that the laws of conduct laid down in the Gospels are only too high, too exacting; that they require to be toned down and qualified before they can be applied to the practice of ordinary life. The morality of the Sermon on the Mount has been regarded as something exceptional, something ethereal, that might have suited the first disciples or the saints in later ages who have retired from the world, but "too good for human nature's daily food." And Christian expositors have generally felt called upon to show that the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven, as laid down by the Lord Jesus in these discourses, were essentially such as men might act upon and ought to act upon, though they may seem to enjoin an almost romantic or chimerical suppression of self and superiority to the world. Still, it is possible to argue that to love my neighbour as myself and to do to him as I should wish him to do to me, is a rule which assumes that I am caring for myself, and which does not aim at doing more than placing my neighbour on a level with myself in my estimate of his claims upon me.

The answer is that the disciple of Jesus Christ is not only to love his neighbour as himself, but to love the Lord his God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. And this latter commandment, the first and great one, has much to do with a man's relations to his fellow-men. It would, we might almost say, be enough of itself, if the second were not, for the sake of explicitness, added to it.

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," is the first and great commandment. Nothing comes before first, and nothing can get before this - nothing can take its place. The second commandment is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour"; but you cannot get to the second until you have taken in the first. The essential thing in religion is loving God, loving God in Jesus Christ. Religion begins here. A gospel of love for men, with no antecedent love for God, is a gospel without life. But the second commandment must always follow the first. Both are essential. As love for man counts for nothing if there be not first love for God, so love for God, if there be no love for man, is not genuine. The fountain of religion is always the love of God in us. But if there be the fountain, the well of water springing up in us, there will also be streams of water pouring out, rivers flowing forth, to cheer, refresh, and bless the land.

While I love my God the most, I deem
That I can never love you overmuch:
I love Him more, so let me love you, too.
Yea, as I understand it, love is such,
I cannot love you if I love not Him;
I cannot love Him if I love not you.1 [Note: J. R. Miller, The Blossom of Thorns, 224.]

(1) In the first place we notice that this standard imposes upon us the duty of doing justice to our neighbour. The desire for justice is so universal that we may call it an instinct of human nature. What is history, as we find it in every age, but one long series of efforts to obtain justice? These efforts have been among the strongest of all motive powers towards moral, social, political, and religious progress. To-day we are often told that we are living in the midst of a social movement of almost world-wide scope, and we are also told that the chief cause of this movement, the force of which is the principal factor in its momentum, is "a passionate desire for justice." This is probably true; but it is also true that apparently many of those who are taking a leading part in the movement have by no means a clear idea of the exact nature of justice, and that they have a still less clear conception of the conditions which must be fulfilled in order to obtain it. History teaches us that far too often justice appears to mean the redressing of any injustice which people themselves may suffer, by inflicting some injustice upon others. Thus the object is defeated by the means employed to attain it.

To dispense justice one must be possessed of the cultivated attributes of manhood. A kind heart and a desire to do good are a very insufficient equipment with which to take our neighbour's affairs into our own hands. We require far more equipment than these, if we are to treat him with the justice which is his due. What we must remember is that the text requires a very strong qualification, one doubtless assumed by Christ, and one which must not be forgotten by us. Thus it should be read, "All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you (if you were equipped with full knowledge to perceive and skill as perfect as possible to decide what was best for you), even so do also unto them, for to enable you to do this is the purpose and the object of the whole course of Divine revelation."

The one divine work, the one ordered sacrifice is to do justice; and it is the last we are ever inclined to do.… Do justice to your brother (you can do that whether you love him or not), and you will come to love him. But do injustice to him, because you don't love him, and you will come to hate him.1 [Note: Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive, § 39 (Works, xviii. 420).]

When Napoleon, with his companions, was climbing the steep defile of St. Helena they met a peasant with a bundle of faggots upon his head. The aide-de-camp signalled to the peasant to step aside. But Napoleon rebuked his officer, exclaiming, "Respect the burden! Respect the burden!" It was the sense of justice that was voiced in these words of the soldier, for Napoleon had been himself a peasant boy, and he wished to do to a burden-bearer that which he had asked others to do for him when as a child he carried his bundle of faggots down the mountain side.2 [Note: N. D. Hillis.]

(2) But, in the second place, the Christian must not draw the line at justice; he must exercise mercy and forbearance. God has made us neighbours of hundreds and thousands in this land - the poor, the degraded, the unattractive; the crippled and the handicapped, the diseased and the infirm; children sufferers, adult sufferers; lives suddenly broken, seemingly spoiled and ruined by accident, lives suddenly menaced by internal disorder, bright lives blighted, strong lives emaciated. We think of some for whom life has suddenly resolved itself into a condemned cell, with nothing to look forward to but dying; the great army of the incurable waiting, some with smiles of brave anticipation, some with sobs of weakness and despair, the inevitable hour. Yes, God has made these our neighbours. And if we were in their place! If we were the condemned, the pain-stricken, the crippled, the diseased, and they were here to-day in our places, in health and hope, what should we wish that men should do for us? The question answers itself. We should long that all that skill and care and comfort and kindness can do should be done for us in our lamentable lot. If a man lives a dissolute life, and nature begins to exact her penalties and wrecks the physical frame, we maintain a costly staff of physicians and an expensive system of hospitals to stand between that man and the direct consequences of his evil living. Logically, that is indefensible. But there are higher principles in life than the merely logical. And we have concluded that life is so sacred, and its opportunities are so precious, that we will direct all our skill and all our care to enlarging and extending life's opportunities for every man, even for the worst.

There are vessels on our seas that bear an ill name, and have an evil notoriety. But let the worst of these run upon the rocks, and the men of your lifeboats will not stay to haggle about character and deserts. They will do for the worst what they would do for the best. Such is the inspiring influence of our Christian conception. Christ Himself died for an evil world that was in peril of shipwreck.1 [Note: C. S. Horne, The Model Citizen, 148.]

3. It is not too much to say that the spirit of the Golden Rule created a new atmosphere for the world. But it needed to be illumined and reinforced, and this our Lord proceeded to do. If the Golden Rule is the high-water mark of the other teaching, it is the lowest round in the ladder which Christ begins to climb. Where the other teachers stopped on the hill of aspiration and difficulty, Jesus begins, and rushes on and up to hitherto undreamed-of heights. At the beginning of His ministry He said, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." After three years of self-abnegating service He parted the curtains, and showed them the heights where perfect love had her dwelling-place, from which she beckoned men out of the low plains of selfishness up to the realms where perfect truth and beauty have their dwelling-place. "A new commandment I give unto you" - that abrogates that lower Golden Rule - "that ye love one another, as I have loved you." The Golden Rule was a mere embodiment of absolute justice; Christ proposes to break the alabaster box of love unmerited and undeserved. "As I have loved you" - what word is this? For three years He had shown them the pattern of earth's most glorious friendship. Jesus has not done unto the Twelve simply and alone what He would have the Twelve do unto Him. He has done more. Peter denies His Master, and Jesus stretches forth His hand and draws Peter up out of the abyss, and gives the sceptre of power and the keys of influence into Peter's hand.

The solid blocks or tables on which the Ten Commandments were written were of the granite rock of Sinai, as if to teach us that all the great laws of duty to God and duty to man were like that oldest primeval foundation of the world - more solid, more enduring than all the other strata; cutting across all the secondary and artificial distinctions of mankind; heaving itself up, now here, now there; throwing up the fantastic crag, there the towering peak, here the long range which unites or divides the races of mankind. That is the universal, everlasting character of Duty. But as that granite rock itself has been fused and wrought together by a central fire, without which it could not have existed at all, so also the Christian law of Duty, in order to perform fully its work in the world, must have been warmed at the heart and fed at the source by a central fire of its own - and that central fire is Love - the gracious, kindly, generous, admiring, tender movements of the human affections; and that central fire itself is kept alive by the consciousness that there has been in the world a Love beyond all human love, a devouring fire of Divine enthusiasm on behalf of our race, which is the Love of Christ, which is of the inmost essence of the Holy Spirit of God. It is not contrary to the Ten Commandments. It is not outside of them, it is within them; it is at their core; it is wrapped up in them, as the particles of the central heat of the globe were encased within the granite tables in the Ark of Temple.1 [Note: A. P. Stanley, History of the Church of Scotland, 8.]