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altogether inoffensive, and yet must produce, if we are guilty, unavoidable conviction.
But here indeed it must be acknowledged, that some people, especially at times, are wicked and wild enough to reject, with indignation, even the most respectful proposals of their trying a case by any law, but their own will and pleasure: and that others may pretend to have made in their thoughts this change of persons, which our Lord enjoins, and yet not have made it in earnest. They may say (for it is very soon said), that they have already sufficiently examined the matter; and should be well content to receive the treatment, which they propose to give: that they cannot but know, whether they have consulted and answered themselves, and they are under no obligation to consult or answer any one else: the rule recommended to them makes every man his own judge, and they have judged accordingly, as well as they are able, and are very clear in their sentiments. Now undoubtedly every one, that will, may assert this, or any thing, falsely. And it is very true, that the direction in the text is of no manner of use, as none can be, to those who are absolutely resolved not to be directed. But such as have
But such as have any fairness of heart remaining, let them be otherwise ever so far gone at any time in unreasonableness, may possibly still be brought to themselves, by having it put home to them: “Would you really be willing, that others, if “they had power, should determine concerning you, “ in the same haughty and careless, or the same angry “and vehement disposition, which you now show con“cerning them ?" You say you would : but is it not in order to maintain your ground any how, when you are pressed ? For your own sake, as well as your neighbour's, deal fairly with yourself: and remem
ber, that God sees infallibly, whether you do; nay, that men will guess, and seldom err. If you are cool, search whether interest or contempt or indolence do not secretly warp your judgment; and think whether they ought. If you are warm, first compose your heart, and then consult it. Wait without acting, till the tempest is over; and when you hear within
the small still voice*, that follows, be as-, sured, that then, and not before, God and your conscience speak to you, and tell you what you should do. But were such remonstrances to prove ever so vain, it would be no just objection against the usefulness of the rule. For if the proud, or covetous, or thoughtless, or passionate, will not apply it fairly; much less will they apply any other. And if they could be persuaded to apply it, as none have so much need of it, none would receive so much advantage from it.
But a farther objection may be, that not only some cannot be induced to make trial of this change of persons; but others, who in all appearance make it as well as they can, do not succeed in it: but either draw wrong conclusions, or know not how to draw any. Yet surely in general, if ever there was a precept, that required little time and pains to comprehend and practise it, such is that before us. The commandment which I command thee this day, is not hidden from thee, neither far off ;—but the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it t. Still some attention and care is requisite in every thing. And one point, to which we should attend with very great care, is, in asking the question, “Would we be treated thus ?” to lay aside as much as possible, out of our thoughts, that the * 1 Kings xix. 11, &c.
+ Deut. xxx. 11. 14.
answer given to it is immediately to be turned the other way. Unless we do this, it
Unless we do this, it may be feared, we shall seldom answer honestly; at least, unless we diligently recollect at the same time, that where doing right is most contrary to our present interest or inclination, it will contribute most to our present honour and peace of conscience, and to our future and final happiness. Another very needful caution is, that in order to find, what our judgment would be, were all circumstances changed, we must be sure to leave out no circumstances, that are material, in favour of the opposite side. Most of them indeed will flow into our mind of themselves, provided it be fairly opened to them. However we must honestly seek for the remainder, nay suppose them, if we have reason, though they do not appear; dwell of them so as to feel its proper force, and then determine.
But here one plea more may be alleged : that sometimes men cannot reckon up all circumstances, and therefore cannot place themselves in the condition of the other : they know it not sufficiently to say, what they should think, if they were in it. Why this, it must be owned, doth happen. And though we may pretend ignorance falsely, to excuse ourselves from trying what we foresee would go against us : yet they must be very partial or very inconsiderate, who are not frequently sensible, that they want knowledge of facts, or skill to judge concerning them: or at least have cause to doubt, whether the opinion, that seems to them the most likely, be indeed the true one. But even here our Saviour's rule will be of great service. For if we endeavour to make use of it, and find we cannot with any certainty ; we shall at least be strongly reminded of our own fallibility: and our doubt in determining which is in strictness the right part, will direct us, without any doubt, to take the mild, the gentle, the good-natured part, as being the safest error, should it prove one. However, there are methods of assisting our judgments considerably. If we have formerly been in the condition, in which we now desire to place ourselves; we must recollect what we thought then. If we know any wise and good persons, who are in that condition at present; we must observe or enquire, what they think; and presume, that we should think like them, were we situated like them. The general persuasion of mankind should always have more than a little weight with us, where it is not evidently wrong. And most of us have great need, in supposing that the contrary case was ours, to make large allowances for its not being really ours, and therefore not striking us near so strongly, as that which is.
By the help of such precautions as these, duly observed, we should so very seldom either mistake, or hesitate in the use of the precept before us, that every day would afford us new proof of our Lord's declaration concerning it: This is the law and the prophets : to which one of the oldest and most eminent of the Jewish doctors * approached very nearly, when he said, This is the law: the rest is the explication of it. But here it cannot be meant, that by this method we are to learn our duty either to God, with whom it would be shocking irreverence to suppose a change of persons; or to ourselves, where there is no other person to change with ; but merely to our fellow creatures. And our Saviour, who hath elsewhere told us that the love of our Maker is the first and great commandment *, and hath enjoined the strictest moral government of those inclinations which are confined the most entirely within our own breasts, could never intend to tell us in the text, that right behaviour to our neighbour was the sole thing, about which we need be solicitous. And therefore he could only design to say, that this rule would point out to us the whole of what Heaven required of us, respecting that behaviour. Just as if, in common life, we were told on any occasion, “ This “ is all that you have to do ;" we must apprehend the words, however general, to signify, all that belonged to the point, which was then in the mind of the person who spoke; not all that belonged to other points, about which, at that instant, he had no thoughts of speaking
* R. Hillel, the elder, said to live about the time of Christ. This saying is cited from the Talmudic tract intitled, Schabbath, by Vorst. de Ad. NS. c. 10., and Otho Lex. Rabb, in Odium.
And that, by means of this one precept, we may steer with innocence through all the dangers of social life, I hope you have sufficiently seen cause to believe, though a fuller examination into particulars will give you fuller satisfaction. It only remains, that we apply it faithfully to that purpose in our continual intercourse with each other, in our daily self-examinations, in the solemn preparations of our hearts for the Lord's Supper: begging of God, in the appointed Gospel manner, that pardon for our many transgressions of this and all his holy laws, and that grace to observe them better for the future, which our failures and weakness render so needful : giving glory to him, and humbly taking comfort to ourselves, when our endeavours have proved successful. These things we must each resolve to practise
* Matth. xxii, 38.