Warren Mills. Freedom Publishing, 2019, (p397)
ISBN 9780648497769.

“Very good indeed” is the author’s answer to the question in the title: How Good is the Golden Rule?

Warren Mills, a retired Australian businessman, sets out his case that the Golden Rule—“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—is, in some respects at least, the apex of what it means to live God’s way. It is, he argues, “the Secret of the Ages because it teaches us about what love is, and how love works in our relationships – with God and with each other.”

Mills spent most of his life in Baptist congregations, and now worships in an evangelical Anglican congregation in Melbourne.

Early in the book he describes himself as “really a contrarian, grumpy old Bible-basher who has staked his life on the Lordship of Jesus Christ”. He intermingles his own life experiences and reflections (church, country, family and so on) with perspectives from Scripture and from other authors. It isn’t a memoir, but it isn’t any sort of academic treatise either. It is accessible, if perhaps a little more discursive (and thus longer) than might be strictly necessary.

Wide recognition of the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule isn’t unique to the Bible and Mills draws attention to both positive and negative versions (e.g. “don’t do this, if you don’t want it done to you”) found in a wide variety of ancient traditions. He notes that “despite Jesus’ endorsement of it, the Golden Rule in its most basic form is non-religious and may be implemented initially without reference to God”.

With the emphasis on the “initially” perhaps that sounds roughly right. The rule is a good guide to life, and many traditions recognise it. And yet for the strong and ruthless, caring nothing for God, it is an empty injunction: as the ancient Greek historian Thucydides put it “the strong will do what they do, and the weak will suffer what they must”.  What would motivate a desire to live by the Golden Rule—at least to those beyond close family—without some inkling of the divine?

More than the Golden Rule is required

Even for those of us who have been received into the family of God, in our own strength we will always fall short of the standard implied by the Rule. Good as the rule is—and Mills is surely right about that—it is almost as nothing without God’s grace, and without the equipping and prompting of the Holy Spirit.

The call to repentance—a deepening awareness of our own sin—a dependence on God’s mercy, and a longing to grow in holiness should surely trump the Golden Rule as the touchstone for the disciple of Christ? Mills knows all this, and much of it comes through as the book proceeds, but his book is built around the primacy of the Rule.

Many will appreciate Mills’s book, including his accounts of the way he learned more, sometimes the hard way, about grace and about love, for God and for others. His writing is suffused by a desire to see Christians grow in grace and godliness, and by a desire to see society called (back?) towards recognising its need for God.

As I read it, I was both thankful for God’s hand in the author’s life and prompted to ponder afresh my own discipleship. But there is a scriptural standard even more demanding than the Golden Rule, to love as God loved us, who sent his Son to pay the price of our sin.

Review: Michael Reddell