The Sermon On The Mount
The Golden Rule
"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."
"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." This single verse forms a distinct section, the ninth in this discourse of our Lord's. Its theme is that of equity and justice, which must regulate us in our dealings with one another. Its very brevity evidences the Divine wisdom of Him who spoke as never man spoke, for who else could have condensed so much into so few words? The manner in which this rule is enforced manifests the fundamental unity of the two economies: so far from the Gospel setting aside the requirements of the Law it establishes the same (Rom. 3:31). Analyzing our present verse we find it contains three things. First, a conclusion drawn from the context: "therefore." Second, a commandment which presents to us a standard of complete unselfishness: "whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Third, a commendation of that standard: "for this is the law and the prophets."
The opening "therefore" looks back to what Christ had said in the previous section (vv. 7-11). In it we behold the Divine Teacher making a practical application of what He had just said upon prayer, intimating that privilege and duty are never to be divorced, that blessings from God are to enable us the better to discharge our responsibilities unto men. "Fitly is the law of justice subjoined to the law of prayer, for unless we be honest in our conversation, God will not hear our prayers (Isa. 1:15, 17; 58:6, 9; Zech. 7:9, 13). We cannot expect to receive good things from God if we do not fair things and that which is lovely and of good report among men. We must not only be devout, but honest, else our devotion is but hypocrisy" (Matthew Henry). Alas, that this is so little insisted upon by the pulpit today; alas, that the impression is generally created that we may expect an answer to our petitions regardless of how we treat our fellows: God requires a conscientious performance of all the duties of civil righteousness as well as that we be earnest in acts of piety.
"How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." The connection between these two things, then, shows that in the practice of this golden rule Christians are to consider not only how they would be dealt with by men, but by God Himself, thereby elevating the precept high above the ethics of the heathen. Whatever usage we expect to meet with at the hands of God, the same in our measure must we dispense to others. How can we expect God to be merciful to us if we be merciless unto our neighbour? How can we expect Him to deal liberally with us if we are eaten up with selfishness? Let us not forget that whatever need others have of us, the same need have we of God. According as we sow sparingly or bountifully, so will our reaping be (2 Cor. 9:6). I am therefore to consider how God will deal with me if I am rigid, severe, and demand the uttermost farthing from those in my power.
It is also to be observed that a due regulation of our prayer life is indispensable if we are to be fitted for dealing properly with our fellows. All inordinate affection toward the world, which is the impulse that moves men to over-reaching practices, has its root in a distrust of God. "Were we daily to ask for all we want of Him, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and relying upon His promise to add other things as He sees them to be best for us, we should have no inclination to covetousness or injustice. But if instead of depending like sheep on the care of their shepherd we set off like beasts of prey to forage the world for ourselves, we shall often judge it to be wise and necessary to seize on that which equity forbids" (Andrew Fuller). It is only by dwelling in (not paying an occasional visit to) the secret place of the Most High that my heart will be prepared to act becomingly toward my neighbour. It is only by constant communion with Him who is both light and love that a spirit of righteousness and grace will actuate me in my relations with men.
"How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Consider the connection also in this manner: since your Father in heaven gives good things to you when you ask Him, make it your care to do good unto all who come within the sphere of your influence. "Be ye therefore followers [imitators] of God, as dear children" (Eph. 5:1). Since God has dealt bountifully with you, practice generosity and liberality unto men. Let not your conduct be determined by how your fellows treat with you, but rather by how God treats with you. How immeasurably does this holy and gracious standard from Christ exceed "the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" (5:20)! How far had they departed from the Law and the prophets! Nor need we fear that the unregenerate will take such an unfair advantage of our magnanimity that we shall be the losers thereby: "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord" (Eph. 6:8).
But how am I to determine what will be for the good of my neighbours? Thus: "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." This commandment consists of two parts: that which is to be ordered, namely our actions unto other men; the rule which is to regulate this, namely the law of justice and equity which is in every man by nature. Whatever you would desire and deem best for yourself were you in their place, that is what you must do unto others. Nothing less than such a standard of unselfishness is our rule of righteousness. "Christ came to teach us not only what we are to know and to believe, but what we are to do: what we are to do, not only toward God, but toward men; not only toward our fellow disciples, those of our own party and persuasion, but toward men in general, all with whom we have to do" (Matthew Henry). It is utterly vain to speak like angels when on our knees before God, if we act like devils in our transactions with men.
"The meaning of this rule lies in these three things. (1) We must do that to our neighbour which we ourselves acknowledge to be fit and reasonable, that the appeal being made to our own judgment, and the discovery of our judgment is referred to that which is our own will and expectation when it is our own case. (2) We must put other people upon the level with ourselves, and reckon we are as much obliged to them as they to us. We are as much bound to the duty of justice as they are, and they are as much entitled to the benefit as we. (3) We must in our dealing with men suppose ourselves in the same particular case and circumstances with those we have to do with, and deal accordingly. If I were making such a one's bargain, laboring under such a one's infirmities and afflictions, how would I desire and expect to be treated? And this is a just position, for we know not how soon their case may really be ours; indeed we may fear, lest God by His judgments should do to us as we have done to others, if we have not done as we would be done by" (Matthew Henry).
This golden rule is God's witness in every human heart. Each one has so much regard for himself as quickly to feel when he is wronged, and to pass censure on the one injuring him. He has only then to apply this principle to his conduct unto others and the right or wrong of his actions must instantly appear. Hereby we are taught to abstain from everything which would injure our neighbour, either in his body, estate or good name-such as lying, slandering, dishonesty, oppression. Nature itself teaches men this, for would they have men defame, rob or oppress them? Then let them avoid such reprehensible practices toward others. For the rule is not treat with men according as they deal with you, but act toward them as you would desire them to act toward you. It is the corruption of nature, the yielding to sinful inclinations, which moves men to seek their own temporal advantage and advancement by the loss and debasing of others. Alas, how far, far away is the world from God and His righteousness.
How this precept cuts at the very root of all the pretensions and sophistries used by men in their endeavors to justify crooked ways and practices. How often they plead, "We must live," though they like not to think that in a short time they also must die-"and after death, the judgment"! Here these selfish creatures are reminded that their fellows also must live, and have rights equal to their own. However the unscrupulous may seek to excuse their dishonest tricks of the trade, unmerciful employers grinding the faces of their employees, harsh tyrants demanding their full pound of flesh from widows and orphans under the plea of "business is business," let them come nearer home and inquire whether they would like to be dealt with thus were the positions reversed. "The money-lender may pretend he pleases the poor, but his help is no better than he is, that gives a draught of cold water to one that is in a burning fever, which seems pleasant at the first but after increases his sufferings" (W. Perkins). Were this rule heeded, the light weight, short change, and adulterated commodities would be unknown.
This rule applies not only to giving, but forgiving, for as long as we are in this world there will be infirmities and offences, and thus the mutual need of forgiving and receiving forgiveness. "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a complaint against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Col. 3:13). If we resent the idea that others should require flawless perfection from us, then we must not demand it from them. If we desire that our fellows view our unwitting failures with the eyes of charity, then we must cultivate the same attitude. If we refuse to forgive those who trespass against us, God will not forgive us our trespasses (Matthew 6:15). "Take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others" (Eccl. 7:21, 22). The meaning is, be not over affected when others speak evil of you, for you know that you are not guiltless of that very thing; therefore, meekly forbear. The realization that the flesh is still in us, and the knowledge that we are compassed about with infirmities, should make us pardon those who wrong us.
Let us mention another direction in which this precept needs to be applied: where there are differences of religious opinion. Had this principle been acted upon, then persecution in all its manifold and cruel forms would have been unknown. Where is the man who would acknowledge it to be right and proper to persecute him for his conscientious convictions or for that conduct which is the necessary result of them? Then if he deems such punishment to be unmerited and unjust in his own case, by what principle can he regard such punishment as being deserved by his fellows? Religious controversies will obtain while ever men differ in their views, and regard the Truth as valuable, but they would be conducted very differently from what they are if those who engaged in them acted according to this golden rule. Imputation of unworthy motives, scurrilous language, personal abuse, malignant insinuations, and all the unworthy resorts by which polemical discussions are so generally marred would be thrown to the winds, and clear statement and fair argument take their place.
By this precept we are taught the secret of how to preserve a good conscience in all our dealings with men in the world. If we are regulated by this rule in our actings with others, our hearts will condemn us not. For many particulars, express precepts are given in the Scriptures telling us what to do and what not to do, and they are strictly to be observed by us. But where we lack any specific command from God, then we are to fall back upon this general rule and search our conscience as to how we would have men deal with us in a similar case or circumstance, and act accordingly with them. This will make us jealous of the reputation of our neighbour, prevent us making false and injurious statements and cause us to be cautious of heeding and circulating any evil reports. We should then treat others with the same courtesy and kindness as we would wish to be treated by them. We should refrain from subjecting them to those slights and neglects which, were we in their place and they in ours, we should feel unpleasant and undeserved.
"It is a peculiar excellence of this rule of our Lord that it not only shows us our duty, but its obvious tendency is to persuade us to perform it. It brings duty before the mind in a peculiarly inviting form. It not only enlightens the mind, but inclines the heart. Self-love is the great obstacle in the way of doing our duty to our neighbour. Our Lord makes even self-love become, as it were, the handmaid of justice and charity. Having led us to change places with our neighbour, to feel what are our rights, and how unreasonable it would be to withhold them, He then says, These are his rights, and you will be the unreasonable person to deprive him of them. We are made, as it were, to declare what is our neighbor's due, when we suppose we are only considering what was our own; and we cannot, without the shame of conscious inconsistency, refuse to him what we clearly see, were we in his place, we should account it unreasonable and unjust to be deprived of" (John Brown).
From all that has been pointed out it follows that the breach of this rule is more evil in the case of one who has tasted personally the bitterness of unmercifulness and injustice at the hands of others than those who have not done so, because experience gives a truer and closer knowledge of things than a bare concept of them imparts. He who knows things by mere contemplation knows them at hand and feels the smart of them. Therefore conscience should work more in them by way of restraint because they know what it is to be oppressed or disgraced and remember how grievous it was when they lay under a wrong. "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Ex. 22:21): the Hebrews knew from painful experience what it was to be friendless under heavy yoke and cruelly afflicted, and therefore should be the last people to oppress any strangers who came into their hands. Servants who have groaned under heavy tasks ought to make the kindest and most considerate masters and mistresses if Providence raises their station in the world.
It should also be pointed out that this rule, like all the Divine precepts, is spiritual, and concerns the inward man as well as the outward: bearing upon our thoughts as well as our words and actions. The whole Law of God is spiritual (Rom. 7:14). "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul" (Ps. 19:7): it is a guide riot only for the motions of the body, but also for the intents and workings of the heart. As is the first table, so is the second: "the second is like unto it" (Matthew 22:39). How so? It is as spiritual as the first, and therefore not only what I "do" but also what I think and purpose to do unto others is comprehended in it. As we saw in Matthew 5, Christ speaks of murder and adultery committed in the heart, by spiteful anger and revengeful thoughts, by wanton desires and imaginations. Thus secret grudgings in our hearts against others are forbidden, that our affections be not alienated from them. Our neighbour is to be loved as ourselves, and therefore the justice and equity required by this rule is a righteousness which proceeds from a principle of love.
It will thus be seen that this golden rule is not only a guide to conduct but a revealer of sin to the saints, for who that knows his own heart will say that he measures up to it? Yet "Let all who habitually neglect or violate this law recollect that whatever be their profession they are not Christians. Even now Christ is saying to them 'Why call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?'" (John Brown). How few real Christians there are, then, in the world. How many are most resolute in standing up for their own rights, yet have no regard for the rights of others; who are very strict in demanding prompt payment from their debtors, yet are exceedingly slack in meeting the dues of their creditors; who hotly resent being slandered, yet care nothing of other men's names; who are very hurt when friends fail to sympathize with them in their trouble, vet are callously indifferent to the sorrows of their neighbours. It is vain to parade our orthodoxy in doctrine and prate about the communion we enjoy with Christ, while we pay little or no attention to this important precept. God will not accept our worship if our conduct unto our fellows contradicts our Christian profession.
"For this is the law and the prophets." This clause contains a commendation of the preceding commandment. It is no strange and harsh task which I am setting before you, says Christ, but one which God has required from His people since the beginning. That golden rule is in fact a remarkable epitome of the second table of the Moral Law, an abridgment of the duties there demanded by it. "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" is a gathering up into one compendious maxim of all that the Old Testament teaches concerns our converse and commerce with men. That golden rule is the sum of what the Law and the prophets taught about the law of equity and justice between man and man. In this declaration "For this is the law and the prophets" Christ placed His imprimatur upon the authenticity and authority of the Old Testament scriptures, for our Lord had never backed up His own teaching with anything less than an appeal unto that which was and is the very Word of God. The doctrine of Moses and the prophets is of equal weight and worth as the doctrine of Christ.
Perhaps a brief amplification is called for by the last sentence above. If we compare Christ and Moses and the prophets, we must distinguish between their doctrine and their persons. The doctrine of Moses and the prophets is equal to the doctrine of Christ in two ways: first in certainty of Truth, for they spoke nothing other than the very Word of God, and Christ did no more. Second, in efficacy and authority for the binding of conscience, theirs being thus equal with His. Yet the person of Christ is infinitely above the persons of Moses and the prophets, for He is God incarnate, whereas they were but holy men; He is the Author and Fountainhead of Truth, whereas they were only the amanuenses and channels thereof. Therefore Christ's doctrine more binds us to obedience than the doctrine of the Old Testament because the Person delivering it is of more excellency: this is forcibly argued in Hebrews 1:1, 2; 2:1 ("we ought to give the more earnest heed"); 12:25 (" much more.").
The Old Testament taught the imperative duty of seeking the good of our neighbour as emphatically and clearly as does the New. It plainly and repeatedly forbade the doing of anything which would in any wise injure him. "Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:18). "If thou meet thy neighbour's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again" (Ex. 23:4): clearly that was enunciating the principle, do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. "Thou shalt not harden thy heart nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him. and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, and that which he wanteth" (Deut. 15:7, 8). "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth" (Prov. 24:17). "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink" (Prov. 25:21). Thus we may perceive the error and senselessness of those who claim that the New Testament contains a higher morality and spirituality than the Old.