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The precept, however, as expressed by our Lord, is more forcible and comprehensive in its signification. If we are barely harmless and honest, we fulfil the strict meaning of the command in a negative sense; whereas, according to the words of our Saviour, it is not enough that we abstain from doing evil, but we are under an equal obligation to do good. We are here not only forbidden to injure one another, but we are positively commanded to do one another all the good in our power. The rule is also applicable to the disposition of the mind, as well as to the outward action. We think it reasonable and right that another should be well affected towards us, and should be actuated by a principle of benevolence. It is natural for one man to desire the good-will, as well as the good offices, of another; but the disposition alone to do good, unless attended with something more than good wishes and good words, will appear at all times to be an evasion, rather than the fulfilment of this precept; so that we may consider good-will and good offices inseparably connected, like faith and good works. Where one is, the other will be found, and one cannot exist without the other. In each case, the principle, if genuine, will operate and produce a correspondence in action, like cause and effect. The truth is, we are to consider what is just in every case; and what we think reasonable and right in itself, and (making it our own case) should think reasonable and right for another to practise towards us, we must remember to do ourselves. Every part of our behaviour towards others must be governed by this rule,—we must love our neighbour as ourselves; that is to say, we must love him with the greatest sincerity, for thus it is we would have our neighbour to love us; and we must make it manifest that we love him in sincerity and truth, by all the fruits and effects of love, by doing nothing of which he has cause to complain, and by doing all which he has cause to expect and demand from us.
Thus these two precepts of our Lord, All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; and Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, differ only in expression. Our whole duty to our neighbour is comprehended in each of them. One regards the principle, the other the action, and thus the one is implied in the other.
Having explained the rule, I proceed now,
II. To apply it to some particular instances, by way of illustration.
That this is a rule of honesty is too plain and evident to require any argument. Love, or charity, worketh no ill to his neighbour;* nothing injurious, nothing malicious, nothing unjust. When this law is impressed on the mind and conscience, it will erase all sordid and selfish feelings of the heart, and will establish those of generosity and kindness. The advantage which would be derived to civil society by the observance of this rule is beyond imagination great, for it
* Rom. xiii. 10.
would supersede the necessity of human laws, as it lays the axe to the root of every crime. Sincerity is another virtue no less inculcated by this commandment As no person is willing to be imposed on or deceived himself, he ought not to make use of fraud or deception in his dealings with others. Let no man go beyond or defraud his brother in any matter, is the express prohibition of God. We should not be hasty in giving our opinions on subjects of any importance; but when fairly called upon, we should give them honestly, without equivocation or disguise. When we speak as men, we should always speak as Christians, without hypocrisy or deceit. In this respect, let our communication be yea, yea; and nay, nay.
The same may be said respecting your professions and promises. We ought not to profess friendship unless we act as friends; and we ought not to promise what we do not intend to perform. This mode of conduct is far better than solemn looks or sanctimonious words, even the goodly words of Naphtali. (Gen. xlix. 21.)
Truth is so intimately connected with sincerity, that it cannot be separately mentioned or considered. Charity rejoiceth in the truth (saith the Apostle), and he cannot be a Christian who habitually practises falsehood and deceit. It is likewise an invariable rule of conduct for a Christian to speak evil of no man; and we are not only prohibited from speaking what is untrue and unjust, but also what is censorious and uncharitable. The best men are so attentive to their own failings and imperfections, that they have no inclination or desire to dwell and enlarge on the failings and imperfections of others. Generosity and kindness, as we have already observed, are implied in this divine precept. Whatever is either amiable or great in a noble and generous mind, will be found in one who makes this the rule of his conduct in life. We are here commanded to imitate the goodness of Him who maketh his sun to shine upon the just and upon the unjust, and who is continually bestowing his benefits upon the evil and the unthankful. Neither will this principle suffer us to be ungrateful. The same temper of mind that disposes a person to be generous, disposes him also to he grateful. The man who is most ready to oblige, will be most ready to acknowledge his obligations; he will be as far from undervaluing the favours he receives, as of over-magnifying those he confers; he will consider gratitude as a sacred duty, and will not fail to regard his benefactors with an affection proportionate to their kindness.
Another part of this duty is the forgiveness of injuries. Our Lord frequently inculcated this doctrine of mutual forbearance and forgiveness, making it an essential part of his religion. When one of his disciples came to him, and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against toe, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.* That is to say, • Matt, xviii. 21, 22.
without setting any bounds to thyself, as often as he repents of the injury done, so often shalt thou forgive him. We must forgive others as we hope for forgiveness ourselves from God. To be implacable and unforgiving is therefore inconsistent with the Christian character. All malice, hatred, and revenge, are strictly forbidden by the law of charity; nor can we indulge those evil and malignant passions without losing the favour of God and forfeiting the joys of heaven. If we show not mercy to one another, neither will God show mercy to us.
The last instance of a Christian disposition which I shall now mention, is compassion to the poor and the distressed. It is not enough that we refrain from doing evil, but we must learn to do good, as we have the opportunity, and the means afforded us, by the providence of God. And who is there that hath not the opportunity and the means of doing good in some way or other if he has the will? Benevolence, which means good-will, as it never fails in finding objects, will never fail in finding means (in some degree) to lessen the burden of human misery, and to increase the enjoyment of human happiness. If every one would endeavour to fulfil this duty in the best way he is able, we should see a great diminution of poverty and misery in the land. The moral law is very clear and explicit in teaching us this duty. If thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him.* And again: If there be among you a poor * Levit. xxv. 35.