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considering the circumstances of such a condition, though we have not shared in it ourselves, or especially from our own former feeling, would produce a tenderness and enlarged heart to others in misery; and it would induce us to an obliging and compassionate manner, as well as to give them our assistance itself; to do it cheerfully, without tedious intreaty, without a haughtiness of behaviour, with all the marks of good-will and complacency; for if we were in distress, we should think the value of a benefit greatly lessened by a disagreeable manner of conferring it.
In censures and reflections upon others, this rule will be of singular use. If we examine our own hearts, do we not think that we have reason on our side, when we blame others for meddling with our character to our disadvantage, while they have no concern with us? or for putting the worst construction upon doubtful actions ? or for spreading aceusations of us, before they are well assured of the truth of them ? or for proclaiming even our real faults, when they are not able to plead any justifiable reason for it from charity to others, or from the demands of justice? or for their not making reasonable allowances for lesser faults ? If they should, for instance, represent that as “a beam in our eye,” which they let pass as a mote in their own !” In such cases as these, should not we think ourselves aggrieved? Let us turn the tables, and beware of giving reason to others for any such complaints concerning us.
In case of provocations, this precept would be a good clue to our thoughts and actions. We should complain of the hastiness of our neighbour, if he were quick in resenting a word or action of ours, which we are conscious was not ill intended : of his severity and uncharitableness, if he should presently take advantage of a rash or unguarded expression or action, to expose us to disgrace, or expense, or punishment: and of his inexorableness and cruelty, if, when he had us at mercy,
he should not be ready to forgive, upon proper acknowledgement and reasonable satisfaction. If men were of this mind on all sides in the world, there would be few quarrels, or they would be short-lived, and not run into the pernicious and extravagant consequences which too often ensue upon them.
In the several relations of life, this would secure the peace and order both of families and communities, and of all ranks of people. Was but this precept ever present to the mind,
the greatest would be restrained from insolence, oppression, and tyranny; and, on the other hand, it would be as effectual to silence many murmurings and complaints of those in inferior stations, because superiors do not every thing to their mind, though they cannot charge them with injustice ; or because of some lesser faults, though for the main they fill up their stations well. If we were in their stations, should we be content to be arraigned at every one's humour, and censured without a crime alleged ? Should not we expect allowances for multiplicity of cares and various expectations from us. Let this teach us a decent behaviour to our governors. A son growing up to maturity, will not think it hard to continue his dutiful respect and submission to his parents, if he thinks what he should reasonably expect from children of his own : nor would parents willingly provoke their children to wrath, by causeless or immoderate severities, if they recollected that they once knew the heart of a child.
And, to mention no more, this rule would be of admirable use in religious differences. Had it been attended to, it would effectually have prevented the entrance of persecution into the world.
No man, then, would bear hard upon another, when he has it in his power, because of his different sentiments or practices in matters of religion, as long as he is peaceable and inoffensive ; for who would be willing to be so served himself? Every man, who has a conscience, must be sensible how uncomfortable a thing it is to offend it; and will reckon it in his own case an injury in the most tender point, if he is hindered from acting corresponding to it. Suppose but others to have as much conscience as you, and to be as tender of offending it; and you would never find in your heart to tempt them by severities to do so. The same principle would make Christians, in their debates about religion, very cautious of passing severe censures one upon another, of managing their contests with wrath and bitterness, or of marking others with the opprobrious names of Schismatics or Heretics : for who does not complain of such usage in his own case ?
I conclude with some reflections.
1. How happy would it be for the world, if the Christian institution was generally and heartily entertained ? this maxim was fairly inscribed on every heart, and all sorts o. people were resolved to conduct themselves by it, it would pro
duce a sort of heaven upon earth, and would revive a golden age. Bloody wars, and vexatious litigations, would soon cease ; private injuries, and domestic contests, would be laid asleep ; society would be pleasant, and commerce safe ; religion would flourish, prejudices abate, and truth prevail by its own evidence. It is a remarkable passage, which Lampridius tells us concerning one of the best of the Roman emperors, Alexander Severus, in his account of his life, that "if any of his army in a march stepped out of the road to plunder any man's possession ; according to the rank of the offender, either he was punished in the emperor's presence ; or, if his quality set him above corporeal punishment, the emperor would sharply expostulate with him, and say, Would you be willing to have this done unto your estate, which you have done to another?” And, says the historian, “ It was a common saying with him, which he had heard from some Jews or Christians, which he carefully retained, and which he ordered to be proclaimed by the common cryer, when he corrected any man, *Do not that to another which you would not have to be done to you.' He had such a love for this maxim, that he ordered it to be inscribed upon his palace, and upon the public works." And shall not we, who call ourselves Christians, pay an equal respect to it.
2. Of what importance to the whole of religion and goodness, is self-acquaintance and reflection ? Our obligations to God himself presuppose a knowledge of the natures he has given us, as the foundation in which they are laid. And so we see do all our duties to our fellow-creatures. If we were more conversant at home, that would be our best preparation for all the duties we owe to other beings without us, either to our Creator or our fellow-creatures.
3. This gives the strongest reason to acknowledge, that God's commandments are not grievous. They are founded in the reason of things, and our very nature and most familiar sentiments point to them. None of them are any farther unacceptable and ungrateful, than as we are gone off from the dictates of our natures : and, as far as we come to ourselves again, we shall relish God's commands.
4. How inexcusable, then, must it be in reasonable creatures, especially who profess Christianity, if they govern not themselves by this rule ! It must be acknowledged, with grief and shame, that the practice of the generality of nominal Christians is the reverse of this. Who would think, when he looks abroad into the world, and judges of things merely by the extravagances which may be seen every day, that the maxim in the text is a plain dictate of reason, to the justice of which every man is forced to assent? That our Lord and Master has prescribed it in the plainest terms ? That it is a rule applicable to the various cases of life? How comes it, that a precept so clear, so familiar, so comprehensive, yet has so little influence ? Certainly it is to be ascribed to one of these two things; either that men have this principle in their heads, but not in their hearts ; they are not altogether unacquainted with the notion, but their appetites and passions have the overbearing sway: or they forget this maxim, so as not to have actual recourse to it in the various cases of life. Whatever be the reason, we must certainly be speechless in the great day, if such a truth as this be either a doubtful or an useless speculation with us.
Let us, therefore, earnestly pray to God, that he will “write this law in our hearts," and that he will “ keep it for ever in the imaginations of the thoughts of our hearts.”
And let us not suffer it to lie dormant, but endeavour to have it ever present and ready for use ; that it may actually be “a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths.” How pleasant will our reflections be, when conscience can bear us this testimony ! When other men violate this rule in their behaviour to us, it will be a refreshing support to be conscious that we have not deserved it by an unrighteous conduct to them, nor returned their injurious usage. We may look up with the greater freedom and confidence to God, the common patron of the injured ; and in this, and all other applications to him, have the firmer hope of a gracious answer, when this is the temper of our minds. Yea, it will be a happy presage of our arrival åt last in the blessed world, where all the holy inhabitants are fully of this temper, and act eternally with uninterrupted barmony and concert one towards another.
Col. 111. 12. [middle of the verse.]
sidered as a branch of our duty to ourselves ; the regulation of our passions, as well as of our appetites, being a necessary part of self-government, which we owe to ourselves. But I have chosen rather to treat of it among the instances of a right temper to our neighbours, because the main expressions of it immediately relate to them.
And in the consideration of this grace, I shall proceed in the same method as I have done upon several others.
1. To explain the nature of it; and then,
I. I would explain the nature of Christian meekness.
The scripture leads us, indeed, to consider it partly in relation to God; but principally and most frequently in relation to men.
1. It may be considered in relation to God. There is a meekness which becomes us toward him ; and there are two remarkable instances of it.
(1.) A full and ready submission of soul to the authority of his word, so as not to suffer any prepossessions of sentiment, or former inclinations, to rise up against the significations of