by Thomas Manton
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.—Mat. VII. 12.
T is a general complaint of the world that Christians are defective in the duties of the second table. Some hypocrites may be so, to mask over a dishonest life with a pretense of worship and godliness; but we are not to judge of the rest of the people of God by these, no more than we would judge of the glory of a street by the filthiness of the sink or canal, or of the sound grapes in the cluster by the rotten ones. For certainly all that have truly submitted to Christianity do find that religion doth influence their relations, and run out and issue itself in all the duties which they owe to man as well as unto God. And it was not a boast which Austin said to the heathens, ‘Let all the religions of the world produce such princes, such subjects, such husbands, wives, parents, children, as the Christian religion produceth.’ This was the glory of religion then, and it should not fall in our hands. Or possibly this may be the cause of it, unrenewed men which allow one another in their excesses, and glory in some kind of mutual civilities, may equal or overpass the godly therein. Look, as dogs excel men in the acuteness of smell, and the eagle in sharpness of sight, and many other beasts in other senses, because it is their excellency, so there are certain lower respects which the men of the world mutually pay one towards another, and they may excel in these as their peculiar worth.
But, however, be that complaint true or false, it concerns us to take notice of it, and to prevent all suspicion of this kind. And therefore we need to press moralities upon Christians, and that from the true root, the love of God; for that is the great mistake of this age, to set up a sort of false morality, and forget the true one that is built on faith in Christ and love to God.
Now, to set down each particular duty would be tedious. The life of man is short, and the law in all its necessary explications long and voluminous; and therefore to have a sure rule, and a short one, would be a very great advantage to us in this matter.
And this one direction which I have read to you out of the word of God will serve instead of all. It is a sure rule, for Christ gives it us, who is truth itself; and though it be short, it is full enough for our purpose, for here is the substance and quintessence of the law and prophets, all drawn into one compendious rule and abridgment of our duty, the best epitome that ever was. A sentence this is of such weight, that the Emperor Severus (as Lactantius reporteth out of Lampridius) was so taken with it, that, having heard it from some Jew or Christian, he wrote it in his palace, and caused it to be engraven in golden letters in the courts of justice, and to be proclaimed at the punishment of offenders. And therefore I shall briefly discourse of this rule, and present it to your serious consideration.
In the words there is:—
I. A rule of life: whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.
II. The commendation of it: for this is the law and the prophets.
III. The illative particle: therefore.
My business shall be to open these circumstances.
I. Here is the rule of life. This general precept may be considered in the affirmative or in the negative (for negatives are included in their affirmatives). The affirmative is in the text, ‘All those things that you would men should do unto you;’ the negative is in that noted saying, Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris—that which you would not have done to you, do not you to them. The one, the negative, conduceth to restrain injury; but the other, the affirmative, urgeth us to do good. The negative enforceth justice and equity in us to others; the affirmative, love and charity. Heathens by the light of nature were more sensible of negatives, that they should not hurt others in their body, goods, or good name, as we would not in either of these things be wronged ourselves; therefore Christ, passing that, layeth down the affirmative, of which nature is less sensible, of doing good to them, as we desire they should do to us in our extremities.
But because one cannot well be handled without the other, I shall begin with the negative consideration, which concerns right and justice to the persons, names, goods, and possessions of others. We are earnest to have fair dealing from others; we should be as earnest to yield the same again. There is no man but hath a quick sense of injuries done to himself. When we are wronged by lying, slandering, oppression, or by fraudulent bargain^ how will we discourse of equity, and plead for right upon these occasions? Why, the like tender respect, the like sense, should we have in our dealing with others; a8 you would not others should defame, oppress, or overreach you, so should not you do to them. In other men’s dealings with us we are masters, acute discerners of. right in our own case, able to teach what men ought to do; but in our dealing with others we are scarce scholars. We would be reverenced, commended, fairly used, have others tender of our credit; and if we be abused’ in, person, disgraced in speech, endamaged in goods or good name, we complain of the wrong. Therefore it was well said of Calvin, that it would be much better for mankind if we were as faithful learners of active duties as we are acute doctors concerning passives; that is, that we would not offer such usage to others as we would not be well pleased with ourselves, but give as we would receive.
To impress the rule upon, you, I shall give four considerations in the negative sense.
1. That in the duties of the second table we have more light than we have in the first; for when Christ sets forth the sum of both the tables, Mat. xxii. 36, 37, he tells us that we must ‘love God with all our hearts, our souls, our strength, .and mind;’ but when he comes to the love of our neighbour, he gives a measure more easily discernible; we are to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves.’ Love will tell us what is good for ourselves. The love of God must be preferred both to ourselves and to our neighbours. And in guiding and expressing our love to God, we need many rules. Our desires of good to ourselves are a complete measure and rule of that respect we owe to our neighbours. This principle of self-love would show us what we owe to one another. But though nature discovers a God, and reason that this God should be worshipped, yet nature could never carve out such a worship as is proper to God, and as God likes; there needs a larger explication. Let a man be free from passion and from inordinate self-love, consider what he would have done to himself; this will direct him plainly what should be done to others that agree with us in the same common nature, and who have an original right with us in things that belong to justice and equity, and should be as fairly respected by us as we expect to be treated by them.
2. The breach of this rule is more evil in him which hath experimented the bitterness of wrongs or misery than in another; because experience giveth us a truer knowledge of things than a naked idea and conception of them. He that knoweth things by mere contemplation, doth but know them at a distance, and as it were afar off; but he that knoweth things by experience, 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 and disgraced, and remember how grievous it was when they did lie under any wrong. Look, as it is made an argument of confidence in Christ’s pity, because his heart was made tender by experience: he was tempted, he was despitefully used, he experimented all our sorrows; therefore ‘he is able’—that is, has a greater fitness—‘to succour those which are tempted,’ Heb. ii. 18. And in another place we read, that ‘He learned obedience by the things which he suffered,’ Heb. v. 8. Did Christ learn anything better, or improve his knowledge, which had ‘the Spirit without measure’? Yes, he might have an experimental learning and feeling. Thus, when he suffered things so regretful and contrary to that life he had assumed, he knew what it was to overrule the natural inclinations of life, and subordinate them to the will of God, and learn obedience by the things which he suffered, and will more compassionate when poor creatures are put upon duties against flesh and blood. And it is used as an argument why we should come to the throne of grace 1 with boldness: Heb. iv. 15, Because ‘we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with our infirmities,’ &c. He hath experimented them in his own person, he knows these things himself. And so Exod. xxii. 21, ‘Thou shalt not vex a stranger, nor oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ The people of Israel knew what it was to be exposed to the envy of the natives, where they had few friends and many enemies. But especially observe that Lev. xix. 33, 34, for there you have this great law repeated: ‘And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him; but the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be as one born amongst you, and thou shalt love him as thyself,’ Mark, what thou wouldst have done to thyself, do to the stranger. Why?’ For ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ They knew how burdensome it was to their souls to be under the yoke, how grievous a thing oppression was. Now suitably it concerneth all those which have lain under defamation, slander, and oppression, they should be mighty tender and careful how they speak of others, and what they do to others. They which have been servants themselves, and have felt the burden of heavy tasks and short allowance, hard and unmerciful usage from their masters, they should not exact all their labours, nor deal cruelly unto servants when they are masters themselves; for not only the law of God, but their own experience, will rise up in judgment against them, and increase the sting of their conscience. So the drift of that parable would do well to be considered in these times: Mat. xviii. 33, ‘That servant which had his own debt forgiven him, yet he plucked his fellow-servant by the throat. Shouldst thou not have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, as I had compassion on thee?’ When we are under restraint, and groan for our liberty, we would fain have an opportunity of glorifying God. If God should hear us in these kinds, should not we be like affected to our fellow-servants, and not seek to hunt every one, that do a little dissent from us, as vermin to death, and as unworthy to be allowed among us? A man which is in debt, how grievous is it when others deal rigorously with him? Now, for him to deal so with others is a double crime, as being a sin against a law and against experience. You complain to God in the bitterness of your soul, when ye are under these oppressions; so will they complain against you: therefore it is more evil in you. The—
3. Observation is this: That this rule is spiritual, and concerneth the inward man as well as the outward; not only actions, words, and practices (though it be said, whatsoever men do unto you), but the thoughts. The whole law of God is spiritual: Ps. xix. 7, ‘The law of God is perfect, converting the soul;’ not only guides the motions of the outward man, but reacheth to the workings of the heart. As is the first table, so is the second: for we are told, Mat. xxii. 39, ‘The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ How like to it? It is as spiritual as the first, and therefore not only what I do, but what I would think and purpose to do to others, is comprehended in it. Christ therefore speaks of adultery committed in the heart, by impure and wanton thoughts and desires. This rule, which concerns the whole second table, not only concerns the actions, but your dispositions and inclinations; and not only provides against hard speeches, and outward behaviour, but the secret grudgings in your hearts against others, that your affections may not be alienated from them. For mark, what is here, What ye would men should do to you, do the same to them. In other places it is, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself,’ Gal. v. 14; so that all the duties and practices which concern the good of our neighbour, must proceed from a principle of love. The justice of the second table, as required of Christians, is a justice tempered and excited by love. Though our outward acts be never so pleasant, yet if love be not at the bottom of it, it is not right. As 1 Cor. xiii. 3, ‘If I give all my goods to the poor, and have not charity, it signifieth nothing.’ You will think that is excessive charity, to give all my goods; yea, but if it be not done with love, it is nothing worth, not accepted, nor rewarded by God. And so we must refer these words not only to the outward man, but the principle of love which is in the heart.
4. Proposition: That all which, is done by virtue of this rule, must be done not only out of love to man, but out of love to God, and as an act of obedience. For when Christ gives us this direction, ‘Whatsoever ye would,’ &c., he doth not give it as a politic course, to establish peace in the world, out as a compendious rule to guide us in the duties of the second table. Self-love is the measure, but it is not the reason, ground, or principle of our actions. A measure it is, for we will certainly do right to ourselves; but to make it an act of obedience, so it is accepted of God. It is a common rule, all moral duties must be done as in and to the Lord; out of the love of God, fear of God, and obedience to his blessed majesty: therefore it is said, Eph. v. 21, ‘Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.’ That must be the great principle which swayeth us; not policy, or respect to our own interest, but conscience. There must be a right principle of motion, as well as a just action, if we will do exactly and according to the law of Christ. Therefore here is the great difference between a Christian and another man in the duties of the second table in his moralities; he turns second table duties into first table duties; it is a thing carried on throughout the whole scripture. Thus if he gives alms, his alms is a sacrifice; sacrifice is a duty of the first table, but alms is clearly a duty of the second table. So all his commerce (I do but instance in one for all); what he doth to men must be done in and to the Lord. So here in this very case, love to man, it is but a stream which comes from a higher fountain, and that is love to God. A Christian loves God first, and indeed he loves nothing but God, for he loves God in all his creatures. In men we love his natural image, but in the saints his spiritual image: 1 John iv. 21, ‘This commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also.’ Our love to our ordinary brother must be excited and measured by our love to God; and our love to our Christian brother, our fellow-saints, must be from the love of God: 1 John v. 1, ‘Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.’ So much for the negative part.
Secondly, Now let us come to the affirmative part, which established charity; for it is not enough if we do not hurt others, but we must do them good. Now charity is seen in two things both in giving and forgiving.
First, In giving: ‘What you would men should do to you, do you the same to them.’ Be as ready to do good as to receive good. A man is never in a right frame of spirit until he takes as much delight in doing others good as he would take in having good done to himself; nay, more; for our Lord tells us that ‘it is a more blessed thing to give than to receive,’ Acts xx. 35. Why a more blessed thing? Because this comes nearest to the nature of God, who gives all, and takes of none. And therefore, as we would imitate God in other things, we should in this also; for all God’s works should leave an impression upon us; his election should make us choose him and his ways; his love, to love him; his giving should make us to give. As a child hath part for part, limb for limb, answerable to his father, so should a child of God answer God in all his moral perfections, especially in his goodness. ‘As you come behind,’ saith the apostle, ‘in no gift, so do not come behind in this also,’ 2 Cor. viii.
7. And the rule of Christ here is that which doth enforce this (‘As ye would,’ &c.), do you afford to others that comfort, that succour, that relief in all their distresses, which you would desire they should afford to you if you were in the same case, and in the same distress? Alas! you will say, pity should be showed to a man by his friend; and will you be merciless, and shut tip your bowels, and not show this pity to others? If you were pined with hunger, and your children cry for bread, and you have none to give them, would you not complain of the hardness of their hearts which have this world’s goods, and shut up their bowels against them, and not dispense anything to their necessities? Why, if you know the heart of an indigent person, it cannot but move you to observe this rule. And the rather, because usually with what measure we mete to others, it is recompensed into our bosoms by God’s providence; for whatever need others have of us, we have infinitely more of God, and there will a time come when we shall be as destitute before God as they are before you. For instance, in a time of sickness, when all outward helps fail: Ps. xli. 1 , ‘Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will consider him in time of trouble.’ Why, he that is affected with another’s condition as his own, when it is a time of trouble and distress with him, and it may be his brother cannot help him, then the Lord will help him, either in sickness or trouble of conscience; when all outward comforts are as the white of an egg, when the poor perplexed sinner cries, Mercy! mercy! the Lord will show him mercy as he did to others: Mat. v. 7, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ Those that only seek to enrich themselves, and solace themselves with mirth and pleasure in the good things they have, must not expect the like promises. But those which have been merciful, bountiful, and ready to help others, God delights to show them mercy; and when they are most destitute, they shall find that God takes notice of this, that they were ready to relieve others.
Secondly, In forgiving, the same rule holds. A necessary duty; for while we are here in the world, there will be weaknesses and offences, and we need mutually to forgive, and to take pardon. It is said, Col. iii. 13, ‘Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.’ See the same, Eph. iv. 32, ‘Forgiving one another, as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ Mark, he proceeds upon this principle that Christ layeth down: ‘Whatsoever ye would,’ &c. We are in the world and in the flesh, and therefore should not rigidly exact upon the failings of others, lest they or others deal so with us when our turn comes. We need pardon in this kind, for we give offence: Eccles. vii. 21, 22, ‘Take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; for oftentimes also thine heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.’ The meaning is, we should not be over-affected with others speaking ill of us, because we know we have spoken ill of others, and should pass it by with meekness and neglect; therefore the consideration of our passions and of our infirmities should move us to pardon. We have been, or may be as bad as they; we have been once, Titus iii. 3, ‘foolish and disobedient,’ led by our unruly appetites and desires, therefore we should show meekness to them. Ay, and we may be surprised again: James iii. 1, ‘My brethren, be not many masters, for in many things we offend all.’ Be not many masters, that is, severe, masterly, or supercilious, if another be fallen and hath offended us, for we shall receive the greater condemnation.
The apostle argueth from, another argument, Col. iii. 13; and Eph. iv. 32, ‘Forgive others, as God hath for Christ’s sake forgiven us.’ There is no man can wrong us as much as we trespass against God; and though we are but as the drop of the bucket, and the small dust of the balance, yet our great and many sins are freely forgiven to us; therefore it should prevail with us freely and easily to pardon one another. The scripture urgeth this. Oh, when we consider Christ’s example, how Christ hath forgiven us; when we consider the greatness of the wrongs which he pardons, sins that are of a scarlet and crimson dye, Isa. i. 18; when we consider our own baseness in comparison of him, Isa. xl. 22, ‘Who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers;’ and when we consider his omnipotency to right himself of the wrongs done to him, how he ‘can cast body and soul into hell fire;’ surely this should move us to forgive others. Yea, and it is not only a motive, but a rule. Forgive others, as God forgives us; what is that? Sincerely, not hypocritically; freely, not unwillingly; fully, not by halves; irrevocably, not for a time only; but as God forgives and casts all our sins into the depth of the sea, so should we forgive and pass by the sins of others.
Christians, shall I urge another argument in this case, what need there is of forgiveness? Hereby a man overcometh himself, hereby he shames the party that did him wrong, and hereby he takes God’s course to get the victory over the person which hath done him the wrong. Hereby he overcometh himself, his own nature, which thirsteth after revenge: Prov.
xvi. 32, ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.’ He is able to rule himself, so it is his glory; he doth overcome that revengeful and froward disposition which is in his own nature. And hereby he overcomes and shames the party that did him wrong; there is no such way to do this as by forgiveness. Thus David did overcome Saul, 1 Sam. xxiv. 17, when David had him at an advantage and spared him, Saul said to David, ‘Thou art more righteous than I.’ Oh, what a victory was this, to overcome that fierce man’s heart and reconcile him. And you keep God’s way in overcoming him; it is God’s prescribed course that you should thus overcome him by kindness and meekness: Rom. xii. 21, ‘Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
But wherein must we express this forgiveness towards others? As to the wrong to be forgiven, we must consider it either as an offence against God, or sometimes against public laws, or as it is an offence against us. So far as it is an offence against God or the public laws, here we have not power to forgive, and punishment is due to the common good, Poena debetur. The Lord himself, that forgives us, and forgives for Christ’s sake, hath secured the honour of his governing justice by satisfaction; and if the law requires it, we cannot intermeddle there, only we must pray to God earnestly for them, that is our duty, James iv. 15; and in some cases we may intercede with the magistrate to take off the penalty, and are so bound.
This forgiveness implieth two things—a removal of an inward grudge, and a readiness to do all duties of love and kindness to them.
1. A removal of an inward grudge and endeavours after private revenge: Lev. xix. 17-18, ‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in anywise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him; thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Thou shalt not bear a grudge against him, for then you hate him in your heart.
2. There must be a readiness to do all duties of love and kindness to him who hath done the wrong, as God ministereth occasion and ability. There are many laws for this: Exod.
xxiii. 4-5, ‘If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again; if thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lie under his burthen, and wouldst forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him;’ Luke vi. 27, ‘Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you.’ Now, so far are we bound to remit the private grudge because of the offence done to us, and also to take all occasions to do them good.
Object. But whether may not we have recourse to the magistrate for the recovery of our right, and reparation of our wrongs?
Ans. Certainly we may, provided we go not to law for trifles; for when we go to law for small matters, and that before infidels, the apostle reproves it, 1 Cor. vi. 2; and when after all lawful means and courses are used before, for taking away the occasion, as ver. 5, ‘Is there not a wise man among you to take up the difference?’ And when it is not with a spirit of revenge and rigour, for a Christian should show his moderation in all things, Phil. iv. 5, and his lenity, gentleness, and readiness to forgive. But if it be out of a spirit of revenge, not the conscience of justice, we abuse God’s ordinance to our private passions, Rom. xiii. 3.
Having thus explained the law, let me vindicate this rule.
1. It seems not to be so perfect a rule. Because many desire and wish much evil to themselves, should they desire evil to others? As he that would be drunk, should he make another drunk? and he that commits filthiness, should he entice others? Ans. The meaning is not what we do in a passion, which works not the righteousness of God, but it is meant of a regular will; not that we do with evil desires, as that we do in right reason, that which you do well informed, well advised, free from discomposed passion; what is according to the law of nature engraven upon your hearts, which is most legible in our own case; what the law of nature would judge to be the duty of other men to do. It is not meant of inordinate sinful desires.