Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets.— Matthew 7:12.
THESE words being brought in by way of inference from something said before, we must look back a little, to find out the relation of them to the former verses. At the seventh verse Christ commands to ask of God those things which we want; to encourage us to ask, he promises we shall receive; to induce us to believe this promise, he puts a temporal case: Our earthly fathers, who are evil, give us good things when we ask them; how much more easily may we believe this of a good God, of Infinite Goodness! Now, as we desire God should give us those things we ask, so we should do to others; and not only so, but universally in all other things, what we would that men should do to us, that we should do to others. That men should do unto you—Though the persons be expressed, yet we may take it impersonally, by an usual Hebraism; as if it had been said, “Whatever you would should be done unto you,” leaving the person to be supplied in the largest sense: thus, Whatever you would should be done unto you by God or men: This is the Law and the Prophets—That is, this is the sum of the Old Testament, so far as concerns our duty to our neighbour.
The observation which ariseth from the words is this:—
The great rule of equity in all our dealings with men is this,—to do as we would be done unto.
This rule hath been otherwise expressed, but not more emphatically in any other form of words than this here in the text. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:39.) This requires that we should bear the same affection to our neighbour which we would have him bear to us; but the rule in the text expressly requires that we should do the same offices to others, which we would have them do to us. Severus the emperor, as the historian† tells us, did learn this rule of Christians, and did much reverence Christ and Christianity for it; but he expressed it negatively: Quod tibi non vis, alteri ne feceris.‡ Now this forbids us to do injuries to others, but doth not so expressly command us to do kindnesses and courtesies.
In speaking to this rule, I shall give you,
I. The EXPLICATION of it.
II. The GROUNDS of it.
III. The INSTANCES wherein we ought principally to practise it.
I. For EXPLICATION.—The meaning of it is this: Put thyself into the case and circumstances of every man with whom thou hast to do; that is, suppose thou wert he and as he is, and he were thyself and as thou art: that, then, which thou wouldest desire he should do to thee, that do thou to him; and that which thou wouldest be unwilling he should do to thee, do not thou do to him. Now, this is an exact rule; for we are very curious in determining our own privileges, and what duty others owe to us. Just so much as we take to ourselves, we must allow to others; what we expect from others when we are in such circumstances, we must do the same to them in the like. And this is a plain and easy rule. Many men cannot tell what is law or justice or right in such a case; many cannot deduce the laws of nature one from another; but there is no man but can tell what it is that he would have another man do to him. Every man can take his own actions, and put them into the other scale, and suppose, “If this that I do now to another were to be done to me, should I like it, should I be pleased, and contented with it?” And thus, by changing the scales, his own self-love, and self-interest, and other passions, will add nothing to the weight; for that self-interest which makes a man covetous, and inclines him to wrong another man for his own advantage, makes him likewise, when the scales are changed, unwilling that another man should wrong him. That self-conceit which makes a man proud, and apt to scorn and despise others, makes him unwilling that another should contemn him.