The Golden Rule 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. Perhaps no days have been more ingenious and industrious than our own in the endeavour to discover working principles and methods for everyday conduct. One that aroused much interest was contained in the phrase, "What would Jesus do?" It is a noble question, but its defect for the purpose for which it is devised is that the answer is not always either easy or obvious. It is an old instruction in dealing with your neighbour to put yourself in his place. It is a less easy thing, if you come to think of it, to put somebody else in your place. And when that somebody else is one no less august and unique than the Lord Christ Himself, the problem is not simplified. It seems sometimes as if this eagerness for a new formula of conduct springs from despair of the old. But perhaps it would be truer and fairer to say that it springs from ignorance of the old, springs from failure really to grasp and clearly to investigate the content of the old. There is no need to discover any new formula for the regulation of conduct. All legal and prophetic, all casuistical and spiritual wisdom still stands summarized and complete in the Golden Rule. It is the pith and marrow of all ethics; and obedience to it is the final achievement of all religion.

2. The word "therefore" in the text would seem to give it a connexion with what precedes, and it will be instructive to inquire the meaning of this connexion. Now if we look at the context, we shall find that at the seventh verse of the chapter the Lord commenced a new division of His sermon, of which division the text is the conclusion. He is speaking of prayer. He says, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"; and then He goes on to enforce the duty of prayer by reference to our own conduct towards our children, drawing the very plain conclusion that, if we with all our infirmities still answer our children's prayers, much more will our Heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him: up to this point all is clear and easy, but then follow apparently somewhat abruptly the words of the text, "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." How do these words hang on to the preceding part of the discourse? We shall understand this if we observe that in the exhortation to prayer in the context our Lord is in reality only taking up a point in the former part of His sermon; it is in the preceding chapter that He first introduces the subject of prayer, and in it He not only gives directions concerning prayer in general, but utters that particular form of prayer which has been used by His disciples ever since, known as the Lord's Prayer. Now if we look to this prayer, and then regard the clause of which the text forms the last verse as a recurrence to the same subject, we shall be able to understand why Christ began His Golden Rule with a "therefore," and so made it to hang upon what He had already said: for our Lord teaches us in His prayer to make our own conduct towards our brethren the measure of the grace which we venture to ask of God: "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us," - forgive us so, and only so - and this being the ground upon which we ask for forgiveness of sins, it is not to be much wondered at that He who taught us thus to pray should also teach us to be careful, lest our own conduct should condemn us and prevent our prayers from being heard; in fact, if we pray to God to deal with us as we deal with others, it is a necessary caution that we should be taught to deal with our neighbours as we would wish them to deal with us.

The principle here enunciated is fundamental, underpinning the whole structure of human society. It is equitable, because all men are more nearly on an equality than might be inferred from a consideration of their outward circumstances. It is portable, "like the two-foot rule" which the artisan carries in his pocket for the measurement of any work which he may be called to estimate. The Emperor Severus was so charmed by the excellence of this rule that he ordered a crier to repeat it whenever he had occasion to punish any person, and he caused it to be inscribed on the most notable parts of the palace, and on many of the public buildings.1 [Note: F. B. Meyer, The Directory of the Devout Life, 179.] 


to be continued