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Lord meant here to establish, and it must be the governing principle of our lives.
Next to this in importance is another command, which you will find in the *2th vers? of the seventh chapter; "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." As the former precepts which we have been considering relate to God, this relates to man; it is the grand rule, by which we must in all cases regulate our conduct towards our neighbour; and it is a rule, plain, simple, concise, intelligible, comprehensive, and every way worthy of its divine Author. Whenever we are deliberating how we ought to act towards our neighbour in any particular instance, we must for a moment change situations with him in our own minds, we must place him in our circumstances and ourselves in his, and then whatever we should wish him to do to us, that we are to do to him. This is a process, in which, if we act fairly and impartially, we can never be mistaken. Our own feelings will determine our conduct at ence better than all the casuists in the world. • . But
But before we entirely quit the considera-* tion of this precept, we must take some notice-- of the observation subjoined to it, which -will requite a little explanation.
"Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." *
The concluding clause, this is the law and the prophets, has by some been interpreted to mean, this is the sum and substance of all religion; as if religion consisted solely in behaving justly and kindly to our fellow creatures, and beyond this no other duty was required at our hands. But this conclusion is as groundless as it is dangerous and un~ scriptural.
There are duties surely of another order, equally necessary at least, and equally important with those we owe to our neighbour.
There are duties, in the first place, owing to our Creator, whom we are bound to honour, to venerate, to worship, to obey, and to love with all our hearts and souls, and mind, and strength. There are duties owing to our Redeemer, of affection, attachment, gratitude,.
faith.in his divine mission, and reliance on the atonement he made for us on the cross. There are, lastly, acts of discipline, and self-government to be exercised over our corrupt propensities and irregular desires. Accordingly, in the very chapter we have just been considering, we are commanded to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. We are in another place informed, that the love of God is the first and great commandment, and the love of our neighbour only the second; and we are taught by St. James that one main branch of religion is to keep ourselves unspotted from the world *. It is impossible therefore that our blessed Lord could here mean to say, that our duty towards our neighbour was the whole of his religion; he says nothing in fact of his religion; he speaks only of the Jewish religion, the law and the prophets; ami o$ (these he only says that one of the great objects they have in view is to inculcate that same equitable conduct towards our brethren which he here recommended-f\ -';
* James i. 27.
f See chap. xxii. 40. Rom.xiii. 8. Gal. v. 14. jjnd Groiius on this verse.
Jjet no one then indulge the vain imagination that a just, and generous, and compassionate conduct towards his fellow creatures constitutes the whole of his duty, and will compensate for the want of every other Christian virtue.
This is a most fatal delusion j and yet in the present times a very common one. Benevolence is the favourite, the fashionable virtue of the age; it is universally cried up by infidels and libertines as the first and only duty of man; and even many who pretend to the name of Christians, are too apt to rest upon it as the most essential part of their religion, and the chief basis of their title to the rewards of the Gospel. But that Gospel, as we have just seen, prescribes to us several other duties, which require from us the same attention as those we owe to our neighbour; and if we fail in any of them,"we can have no hope of sharing in the beaefits procured for us by the sacrifice of bur Redeemer. What then God and -nature, a* well as Christ and his apostles, have joined to-
getheiy gether, let no man dare to put asunder. Let no one flatter himself with obtaining the re-^ wards, or even escaping the punishments of the Gospel, by performing only one branch of his duty; nor let him ever suppose that under the shelter of benevolence he can either on the one hand evade the first and great command, the love of his Maker; or on the other hand that he can securely indulge his favourite passions, can compound as it were with God for his sensuality by acts of generosity, and purchase by his wealth a general licence to sin. This may be very good pagan morality, may be very good modern philosophy, but it is not Christian godliness.
As it is my purpose to touch only on the most importantand most generally useful parts of our Saviour's discourse, I shall pass over what remains of it, and hasten to the conclusion, which is expressed by the sacred historian in these words: "And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes *." Both his * Matth.vii.28,29.
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