The Hippocratic Oath for physicians was written in the Fifth Century B.C. The third paragraph and the first describing rules for the profession reads: "I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage."” The words "do no harm" were never in the oath itself. In 1964, over two thousand five hundred years later, the oath was rewritten and "I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage" was removed. The line " Above all, I must not play at God" was added. The phrase “Do No Harm” is believed by many to be the first part of the old oath and while that is not true, “take care they suffer no hurt” is very close to that, yet its replacement: “I must not play at God” is not the same thing. While there is currently no legal obligation for medical students to swear an oath upon graduating, 98% of American medical students swear some form of oath but none contain the words “do no harm.”
When Methodism was in its infancy the people asked John Wesley to give them some rules to live by and work toward. Wesley looked at Scripture and he looked at what he was preaching to the people and he developed the General Rules of the United Societies. He developed three rules that are short, pithy, and easy to remember. They are “do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.” These were the standards that the people called Methodists were held to and worked toward. I wonder what life would be like if we all adopted "Do no harm". The core of the message of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. was certainly not to do harm. If we all lived by "Do no harm", how many would not have died in the name of God by Protestants, Catholics, Crusaders and Muslims alike if that rule had been followed throughout history? How many wars would not have been fought? Would the recent economic collapse in the U.S. and the world have happened had those in power had lived by those three words? How many bullies would not have hurt others, caused suicide or worse? Our doctors no longer say those words as a part of their oath and too many of our clergy certainly ignore them. Those three words should be a mantra for every one.
Wesley’s “Three Simple Rules” rules are: Do no harm, Do good, and Stay in love with God. We had Rev. Kay Burton from Arkansas visit us many years ago and she led an open-air crusade in the town center. She and her husband Bob, sent us a large number of copies of the book by Rueban P. Job titled “Three Simple Rules; A Wesleyan Way of Living” which we have given every new pastor we have ordained since receiving them, each one signed by the Reverends Bob and Kay Burton. Christ preached love, love to everyone, even one’s enemies. It is easy to see how Wesley came to summarize Christ’s message with “Do no harm, Do good, and Stay in love with God.” As we are still very close to New Year’s Day and many people like to make new year’s resolutions, may I suggest Wesley’s three simple rules. You can do it individually, as a Sunday School class, or as a church. If you can live the next year following those rules, you will be a better Christian, parent, friend, son or daughter, neighbor, and you will change not only your own life but that of others as well. Easy to remember, hard to do, but that is the message of Christianity and it is what sets real Christians apart from those who just go through the motions. They are also good rules for any missionary either in foreign or domestic service. So however it came into being, the phrase “Do no harm” is one we all should live by. Try it for just one day—it will change you.