If you really keep the royal law stated in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.
In these verses James takes the high ground that "respect of persons" is a transgression of the law by which we are to be judged; anal one which, like every other, involves the guilt of breaking the whole law.
I. TO RESPECT PERSONS IS TO COMMIT SIN. (Vers. 8, 9.) It involves disobedience to "the royal law. This is a noticeable expression. Any Divine commandment may be described as royal," seeing that it emanates from the supreme Sovereign of the universe. Rather, however, may the moral law receive this epithet because it is regal in its own character. God's law is the law of love; and love is kingly. The Divine nature itself is the foundation of virtue; and "God is love." Hence the Divine law is the eternal rule and final standard of rectitude. It possesses supreme excellence and supreme authority. Every other system of legislation, and all other rules of duty, ought to be subordinate to "the royal law." This law, we know, cannot be unjust; for it is a transcript of the moral perfection of the Divine nature, and is therefore the Alpha and Omega of all laws. The royal law is to be fulfilled "according to the Scripture;" for, while its ultimate source is in the nature of God, the one authoritative record of it to which sinful men have access is to be found in the Bible. We must consult "the law and the testimony" if we would ascertain the edicts of the great King, and learn the "newness of the spirit" in which these are to be obeyed. God's Word lays bare before us our half-buried and forgotten moral convictions; it restores the weather-worn inscriptions upon the gravestones of our sin-dead hearts. The apostle cites, as the great precept which forbids respect of persons, the words of Leviticus 19:18, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself - the same precept which our Lord had employed as his summary of the principle underlying the last six commandments. We are to love our neighbor, i.e. any one to whom we have it within our power to become helpful, even although he may be a stranger and a Samaritan. Those who discharge this duty aright do well." But, enlightened love for ones neighbor is inconsistent with respect of persons. We may not limit the precept either to our wealthy neighbor or to our poor neighbor. Indeed, to show partiality is not so much to trait the precept as to discard it altogether. Favoritism is the outcome of selfishness, rather than of the love that "seeketh not its own." Those, therefore, who practice it are not guilty of a trifling impropriety, but of direct and palpable sin, both against the Old Testament law anti "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus."
II. TO TRANSGRESS IN ONE POINT IS TO TRANSGRESS THE WHOLE LAW. (Vers. 10, 11.) Let no one plead that respect of persons in the Church is so trivial a fault that it ought to be overlooked, especially in view of the social and pecuniary benefits which may be expected to result from it. The apostle assures us that partiality is a sin, and that he who indulges in it disobeys the whole moral law. To unthinking minds this latter assertion may sound very doubtful doctrine, leading them to ask - Is this statement of the nature of casuistry, or is it sober truth in the form of paradox? Does it not seem contrary to true moral perspective to affirm that a man who is noted for his blameless life "becomes guilty of all" when he "stumbles in one point"? Do not some sins, like some diseases, shut out the possibility of others which lie in an opposite direction? But a little consideration will reveal the deep moral truth of this saying. For:
1. The Lawgiver is one. (Ver. 11.) Every precept of the law possesses the same Divine authority. The sixth commandment is invested with the same solemn sanctions as the seventh. "God spake all these words." To disregard any one precept, therefore, is to violate the entire authority by which the whole Law has been ordained. It follows from this that:
2. The Law itself is one. How immeasurably "the royal law" is exalted, in its grand essential unity, above human systems of jurisprudence! The common law of England has to submit to have its defects supplied, and its rigors mitigated, by equity; but how very far yet are our common law and equity and statute law from coalescing into a unity! But the Divine legislation forms a perfect code; for it is a perfect reflection and expression of the mind or' God. The Bible jurisprudence knows no distinction between law and equity. It is independent of glosses and commentaries. It abhors legal fictions. Having for its Author the God of love, its vital unity is found in the principle of loving obedience. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). So, to "stumble in one point" is to break the whole law. For, as has been said, the law is a seamless robe, which is torn although only a part be torn; or a musical harmony, which is marred if one voice be singing out of tune; or a necklace of pearls, from which a single pearl cannot be dropped without breaking the string upon which the others hang, and letting them fall to the ground.
3. The spirit of obedience is one. True reverence for the law is inspired by love to the Lawgiver; and therefore obedience is impartial, and strives to be perfect. Our first parents, in eating the forbidden fruit, fell from the spirit of obedience, and dishonored the whole law. In like manner, the man who habitually breaks one of the commandments shows that in principle he is disloyal, and that he would transgress any other precept were he exposed to similar temptation to do so.
CONCLUSION. We should not be able to contemplate this subject without being impressed with such considerations as these:
1. The obligation which rests upon us to render perfect obedience to the law of God.
2. The impossibility of our doing so in our own strength, or during the present life.
3. The necessity of clothing ourselves with the righteousness of Christ. - C.J.
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
The good old word "neighbour" means one who, because he lives in a near dwelling or home, is specially related to us; and upon the relation which it signifies there have been builded more than one of the institutions of Anglo-Saxon civil society. From its earliest times among that people the bond between neighbours was so definite and intimate, that in the eye of the law one neighbour was held to be responsible for the security and well-being of another. If a man was murdered, the neighbours were in the first instance accounted responsible; and it was only when they had purged themselves by finding and convicting the real murderer, that they were held to be acquitted. So also in case of dispute or disagreement between any two neighbours, twelve or more of the other neighbours were summoned as an assize to determine the matter. There is no doubt that it was upon this ancient custom that our great institution of trial by jury was founded; and it is upon the same custom, the same ancient and sacred bond of neighbourhood, that what may be called the very corner-stone of our public liberty rests — that is, the right and the duty of local self-government in all matters not expressly delegated to the national power. Now, if we go back to first principles, we find that the enactment on which all human society rests is, the royal law given by God Himself and re-enacted by His Son. You will observe that love to one's neighbour is likened to love to God. Let us try, then, to get at the principle on which love to God must rest, and this will be the principle of love to our neighbour. Why, then, should we love God with heart, mind, soul, strength? It is because in God man finds the ideals which are the prototypes of all that is noble in himself, and which therefore he must love if he would be true to his own better nature and higher destiny. And the obligation of man to love his neighbour as himself lies in the fact that it is in his neighbour that man gets his clearest revelation of God — more clear than any revelation in words or works. It is in the soul of man when looked at with the eyes of neighbourliness that man gets his best vision of the majesty and beauty of God. Now in the light of these considerations, think first of the dignity and discipline that belong to society. If we take society now as we know it, the social intercourse of Christian men and women under well-known rules of politeness and good manners, we find that it has a dignity of its own that entitles it to be considered one of the loftiest results of Christian civilisation. It was not till comparatively recent times that this great commonwealth of men and women was organised in the civilised world; and even now it is only among the English-speaking peoples and their congeners that it has attained a free development. This great commonwealth has its own gentle and gracious laws; its silent tribunals which noiselessly but unerringly enforce them; its dignities, its honours, its joys, its labours, its duties, its delight's, the movements of which constitute the characteristic economy of modern civilised life. Now, the discipline of it will be apparent, when it is considered that the one principle which regulates it throughout is self-sacrifice. It is a great truth that the principle of the Cross underlies all good manners. Self-denial, self-control, self-sacrifice, the very essence of Christianity, are actually put into practice in the behaviour of good society. Men must restrain their baser impulses and instincts. Selfishness, if it exist at all, must at least be dissembled or concealed. Self-assertion must be abandoned. No man can even seem to be a gentleman who does not put into practice those principles of the Cross of Christ which the gospel commends to us; and no man can really be a gentleman unless be have those principles in his heart. The discipline of polite society, therefore, is of much importance in the culture of the Christian life, since it is the actual putting into practice of its principles, which, like all principles, cannot be fully appropriated until we use them. Little need be said of the educational influence of society. To see Christian men and women at their best; to turn toward them the best, side of our nature; to abjure pride; to banish self-seeking and selfishness; to follow, if only for an hour, lofty ideals; to enjoy the bright flashes of wit, the sustained delight of high converse; to think not of self but of others, and to lose one's self in gracious ministry to others — this of itself ought to be aa educating, ennobling employment, which would train men for ideal pursuits, both here and hereafter. And this brings me to my next topic — the dangers which beset society. First, there is selfishness — the selfishness which is always seeking its own good, its own advancement, its own advantage, in, through, or by means of society. This it is which so often makes society a mere vulgar competition, hospitality a mere sham and bargain, like the publicans giving merely to receive as much again. Akin to this danger, and no less base, is the frivolous or calculating worldliness which makes society a mere means of vulgar and pretentious display — a display which excludes the poor, which alienates classes, which works ruin to many a household, and which, like a dry-rot, soon makes the society where it prevails a mere sham. The last danger I shall mention is unreality. In society it is so easy to be unreal; to pretend to feel more than one does feel; to seem glad when one is not glad, and sorry when one is not sorry; to say smooth and false things, because smooth and false things are so easy to be said. What is the remedy? A return to the great first principle on which society is founded — love to one's neighbour because he is a neighbour, and because he is a man.
The law which is here called royal is the law of love and righteousness, prescribing what duty to every one pertaineth, and it containeth that part of the law which in the second table is delivered, teaching us to love without contemning, to prefer one without disdain of another, to regard the rich without neglect of the poor brethren.
2. This law of love is therefore called the royal law —(1) Because it is from a king, not mortal but immortal: even the King of kings and Lord of lords, even from God.
3. This law, furthermore, is called royal because it is like the king's highway. So the law of God, which is the law of love, is open, plain, without turnings, of all men to be done.
4. The law of love being this royal law, and for these causes so called, it enjoineth men to love their neighbours as themselves.
(1)That God's law requireth love, who readeth the Scriptures and seeth not?
(2)The persons whom we must love are our neighbours, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
(3)The manner how we must love is, as ourselves. And every man unfeignedly, fervently, continually loveth himself, so must we also love our neighbours.
()The word "neighbour" in this royal law had, through the lapse of ages, acquired a narrow meaning, mainly because men's thoughts and sympathies were less comprehensive than the Divine purpose. But Christ gave new applications to it, and a more expansive spiritual interpretation. The neighbour with Him was no longer confined to the same tribe, or to the dwellers in the same valley or nation, but became co-extensive with human suffering and misfortune throughout the vast family of mankind. "Love thy neighbour as thyself." It is easy for most persons to love themselves, and to accept what appears to be for their own advantage. It is quite right, too, for a man to love himself. But his love to himself is not to be supreme and all-absorbing. He has to love other persons. The neighbour, you will observe, is put on the same level as self. Look at the question in this way. Suppose you loved others as well as you love yourself. That might be an agreeable thing to them to possess the confidence of your love; and suppose you in return were loved by them as much as they loved themselves, that ought to be a source of comfort to you. Put in this light the royal law does not seem a hard one, does it? And if it operated universally in society, and through all circles, the effect would be very beneficent and delightful, would it not? "Yea, doubtless," say you, "but that is not where the shoe pinches. It is when we have to love others, or the neighbour who does not love us, where the gist of the difficulty lies." Men ask, "Am I to love a man who does not love me, nay, who may be utterly indifferent to me or even hate me?" In a question of this nature no arguments we might urge would dislodge the man of carnal mind from his stronghold of indifference. But to a man who accepts the teaching of Christ we must affirm His Divine testimony (Matthew 5:44-48). This interpretation of the royal law by the Master Himself settles at once, for those who acknowledge His authority, the degree and manner in which we are to love our neighbours, whether friends or enemies. Our love to our neighbour is to exhibit the same qualities, sincerity, constancy, activity, as the love which we cherish for ourselves. Attempts have been made to exclude the element of degree from the meaning of the words "as thyself," on the ground that, from the constitution of human nature, obedience to such a command is impossible. But it would need much weightier reasons to prove that this thought of degree was not intended in the terms of the royal law. What is it in our neighbour we have to love as ourselves? And this suggests another question — What is it in "thyself" that thou hast to love? In what sense and to what extent is a man to love himself? Many persons love to pamper themselves, to indulge themselves, to amuse themselves; but these are as far from loving themselves truly, as the night from the day. For a man to love himself, as the Scriptures teach, means that he loves the best that is in him. I cannot love myself as I ought unless I keep my body, with all its powers and passions, under; unless I keep conscience and Christ enthroned in my heart. All that is false, cruel, deceptive, oppressive, slanderous, and dishonourable, I must repudiate, if I would love myself as the royal law teaches. We are not required by this royal law to love the sinful, the offensive, the evil characteristics and dispositions in our neighbour, any more than we are required to love these things in ourselves. But I am to love my neighbour in regard to things affecting his moral and spiritual well-being, and concerning his character and destiny for eternity. I am to help my neighbour to attain these higher, and holier, and better ends of his being, as certainly as I desire to help myself in the acquisition of these aims. Now briefly glance at the similarity of manner which love to self and love to the neighbour should exhibit. I ought to love myself with a sincere, active, and constant love. In like manner I am to display these same qualities in the love of my neighbour. Observe the wisdom and beauty of this saying, and how it is employed as a guide to a higher moral life. Self-love is ever present with us; inordinate self-love is the cause of most of the excesses and sins of our life. Christ takes hold of this very self-love and makes it the occasion and means of rising into a juster love of others. He appeals to the solicitude that we have regarding our own health, business reputation, and the desire to avoid self-injury, to cherish similar feelings toward others. The same motives that influence us in these things with respect to ourselves are to operate on behalf of our neighbour. If we are eagerly solicitous for our own spiritual welfare — our growth in peace, holiness, and righteousness of living, this, then, is to be the guide as to the manner and extent of our love for the spiritual good of our fellow-men. Love them in these ways as thou lovest thyself.
()Every man, so far as he is a man at all, is to be loved. But you will say, "That rule, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,' is in any case an impractical and an impossible rule." It is true that" as thyself" does not define the degree, it indicates the manner. Nor does it, of course, exclude differences. "Blood is thicker than water." We must love best our nearest and dearest, our brethren and companions, our fellow countrymen, the good, the worthy, the large-hearted, the household of faith. Still even with these limitations to minds tainted by selfishness and vulgarised by custom, the commandment still appears doubtless an Utopian rule. God's saints have felt it to be the most natural thing in the world. "I could have wished myself to be anathema from Christ," says St. Paul, "on behalf of my brethren." Smaller natures have been quite shocked by the expression, yet Moses had cried long before: "Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written." Danton in the French revolution was no Christian, yet even Danton could exclaim: "Be my name branded if only France be freed"; and the mission preacher who revived religious life in England exclaimed, "Let George Whitefield perish if God be glorified." Surely even we must often enough have had the feeling that we care more for those whom we love than for ourselves. Surely for our children we must have prayed with Enoch Arden, "Save them from this, whatever comes to me." In truth this care for others more than ourselves is the one distinguishing mark which separates the ignoble from the noble life. What is it which makes the life of frivolous, godless women, and debauched sottish men so inherently contemptible? It is their selfishness: they have shifted the centre of gravity from mankind to their own paltry greedy egotism; to whom applies the stern question of Carlyle, "Art thou a vulture, then, and only carest to get for thyself so much carrion?" Love to our neighbour has been the illumination of the world: it has kindled the scholar's lamp, and nerved the reformer's courage, and supported the statesman's strength, and enabled the truth-seeker to live on in the oppression of a perpetual sitting amidst corrupt Churches and an evil world. It is love to our neighbour which has over and over again purged the slum and built the orphanage and gathered little children into schools; it has bad compassion on the poor, it has given bread to the hungry, and covered the naked with a garment; it has held forth the Bible to the nations, it has launched the lifeboat, it has taken the prodigal by the right hand and opened the door of repentance to the harlot and the thief. It was love to our neighbour which burned like the fire of God upon the altar of their hearts, in a Carey, and a Livingstone, a Romilly, a Howard, a Clarkson; sent missionaries to the heathen, modified the ferocities of penal law, purified the prison, set free the slaves. It was love to our neighbour which, energising even an age of torpor and of mammon worship, sent Wesley to fan the flame amidst the dying embers of religion, and Gordon to toil among his ragged boys, and Coleridge Pattison to die by the poisoned arrows of savages, and Father Damien to waste away at loathly Molokai, a leper among the lepers. It is a dim reflection of the love of Him who lived and died to redeem a guilty world. It differentiates the worldly life and its low aims from the noble and Christian life as ready to do good even to them which despitefully use it and persecute it. Every true life comes nearest to the life of Christ by love to its neighbour, and this love which has next to nothing to do with any form of external religiosity is the essence and epitome of all pure religion; it is the end of the commandments; it is the fulfilling of the law.
()The doctrine which bases all the relations of employer and employed upon self-interest is a doctrine of the pit; it has been bringing hell to earth in large installments for a great many years. You can have hell in your factory, or you can have heaven there, just as you please. If it is hell that you want, build your business on the law of hell, which is — Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Out of that will come fightings perennial and unrelenting. If it is heaven that you want, then build your business on the law of the kingdom of heaven, which is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." That will put you in the path of peace.James Russell Lowell touched a chord, with a master hand, when, some little time ago, he said: "The Republic has gone on far too long on the principle 'I am as good as you,' and she must now begin on the other principle, 'You are as good as I.'" These two principles illustrate, most forcibly, the respective principles of superstition and religion, of selfishness and sacrifice. Going on the principle of superstition and selfishness, the old world sickened and died, slain by its own hand. "I am as good as you," filled the earth with "demons and chimeras dire," whose chief employment it was to prey upon their authors. Christianity struck the note of fraternity, and pride gave place to humility, when the apostles went forth to declare to all men, "You are as good as I."No one loves a person whom he does not wish should be better.
()If you fancy that your love of your neighbour is to go no further than desert, consider what your condition is like to be if God shall so deal with you; that is, according to your desert.
()The law may be called "royal" or "kingly," either —
1. In the sense in which Plato speaks (Minos 2:566), of a just law as kingly or sovereign, using the same adjective as St. James, or —
2. As coming from God or Christ as the true king, and forming part of the fundamental code of the kingdom. In a Greek writer the first would probably be the thought intended. In one like St. James, living in the thought of a Divine kingdom, and believing in Jesus as the King, the latter is more likely to have been prominent.
()When Athens was governed by the thirty tyrants, Socrates the philosopher was summoned to the senate house, and ordered to go with some other persons they named, to seize one Leon, a man of rank and fortune, whom they determined to put out of the way, that they might enjoy his estate. This commission Socrates flatly refused, and, not satisfied therewith, added his reasons for such refusal: "I will never willingly assist an unjust act." Chericles sharply replied, "Dost thou think, Socrates, to talk always in this high style, and not to suffer?" "Far from it," added he; "I expect to suffer a thousand ills, but none so great as to do unjustly."
()We may think that great workers must be so absorbed as to forget others. Not so with Turner. A painter had sent in a picture to the Academy. In opposition to the rest of the hanging committee, Turner insisted, "We must find a good place for this young man's picture." "Impossible I impossible! No room!" was the decision. Turner said no more, but quietly removed one of his own pictures and hung up the other in its place. On another occasion, when his picture of Cologne was hung between two portraits, their painter complained that Turner's bright sky had thrown his pictures into the shade. At the private view, an acquaintance of Turner's, who had seen the "Cologne" in all its splendour, led some friends to see the picture. He started back in amazement. The golden sky had become dim, and the glory was gone. He ran up to the artist," Turner, Turner! what have you been doing?" "Oh," whispered Turner, "poor Lawrence was so unhappy! It's only lampblack, it will all wash off after the exhibition." It was only a wash of lampblack over his sky; but in the doing of this deed his character was lit up with a glory all his own.
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