Fourth attack: The Pharisees ' question concerning the great, commandment. ( Mark 12:28-34 .)
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; κυ ì ριον το Ì ν Θεο ì ν σου . Christ enunciates the two great moral precepts of God's Law, not, indeed, stated in these words in the Decalogue, but implied throughout, and forming the basis of true religion. Heart … soul … mind. The Septuagint has "mind, soul, strength." The expressions mean generally that God is to be loved with all our powers and faculties, and that nothing is to be preferred to him. It is difficult to define with any precision the signification of each term used, and much unprofitable labour has been expended in the endeavour to limit their exact sense. "Quum," as Grotius says, "vocum multarum cumulatio nihil quam intensius studium designet." It is usual to explain thus: Heart; which among the Hebrews was considered to be the seat of the understanding, is here considered as the home of the affections and the seat of the will. Soul; the living powers, the animal life. Mind; διαμοι ì ᾳ , intellectual powers. These are to be the seat and abode of the love enjoined.
I. THE QUESTION OF THE LAWYER .
1 . The gathering of the Pharisees. The multitude were astonished at the wisdom, the deep and holy teaching, of the blessed Lord. He had answered the pretended difficulties of the Sadducees, and had proved the great doctrine of the resurrection from the very books which they prized most highly. The Pharisees heard that he had put their adversaries to silence. They came together. Their feelings, doubtless, were various: many of them were angry and troubled at the Lord's success and popularity; some were vexed at his superiority in theological argument,—he had done what they could not do; some few had better motives.
2 . The lawyer. He had beard the Lord reasoning with the Sadducees; like the scribes mentioned by St. Luke ( Luke 20:39 ), he perceived that he had answered them well, that he knew far better than himself the meaning of that Law of Moses which the scribes and lawyers professed to understand and to teach. He asked him a question, tempting him. We must not take it for granted that the intention was evil. The word may mean no more than "trying" him, as "God did tempt Abraham," trying his faith; as the Queen of Sheba came to "prove Solomon with hard questions." We know from St. Mark's narrative that the lawyer or scribe belonged to the better class of Pharisees. He recognized the wisdom of our Lord, and felt the truth and holiness of his words. "Which is the great commandment in the Law?" he said; or, as the words may perhaps be rendered, "What sort of commandment is great?" He may have been thinking of the Pharisaic distinction of commandments into great and small, heavy and light.
3 . The Lord ' s answer.
II. THE COUNTER QUESTIONS OF THE LORD .
1 . The first question. The Pharisees were still gathered together; most of them were filled with jealousy and hatred. All so understood the great truth of the unity of the Godhead as to suppose it impossible to regard the expected Messiah as other than merely human. Hence the Saviour's question, "What think ye concerning the Christ [the Messiah]? whose Son is he?" They thought the answer easy. They knew that the Scripture had said that the Christ cometh of the seed of David; they had said so before ( John 7:42 ), and now they answered at once, "The Son of David."
2 . The second question. Jesus quoted the hundred and tenth psalm—a psalm regarded by the rabbis as Messianic, "The Lord said unto my Lord [Jehovah said unto Adoni], Sit thou at my right hand." How could David speak of the Christ as his Lord? How could the Son of David be the Lord of David? David spoke in the Spirit, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. How did they, the teachers of Israel, understand those sacred words? They could not answer him. They did not deny the Messianic character of the psalm, as, alas! some do without good reason now. They believed that the psalm was David's, and that he was speaking of the Christ; but they did not know, as we know, that Christ "was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead;" that he was "God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the substance of his mother, born in the world." We can answer the Lord's question readily; we know the Christian faith. The Pharisees could not answer him a word; and none from that time durst ask him any more questions.
1 . "The great commandment is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God." Keep that commandment, and you are safe; neglect it, and no exactness of external obedience will atone for that neglect.
2 . The second commandment is like it: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." It is the rule which must guide the Christian in his relations to others.
3 . "What think ye of Christ?" He is the Son of God; he became for our sake also the Son of man. He is our God, our Saviour, our Example, our Life, our All in all.
The two commandments.
Originality of mind may be as much apparent in a wise selection from what is old as in the creation of what is new. Some of the most striking teaching of our Lord is of this character. Jesus Christ did not repudiate the Old Testament, nor did he despise its truths because his own went further, but he pointed out what was most important in the ancient revelation, and rescued this from the oblivion into which it had fallen with many people in their scrupulous attention to the petty details of external observances. Thus he met the tempting question of the Pharisees by weighty words from their own Law, the very solution of which was a revelation and a rebuke of Pharisaic formalism.
I. CHRIST CALLS US BACK TO FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES . The error of the rabbis lay in a tendency to confuse the minds of their scholars and to obscure the essential truths of revelation by directing too much attention to minute questions of casuistry. A similar mistake was made by the Schoolmen in the Middle Ages, although these masters of hair splitting delighted in the discussion of less practical subjects. We are always in danger of missing the essential truths of our faith in the consideration of distracting details. But Christianity is a religion of principles. This is most characteristic of the New Testament.
1 . These principles are fundamental .
2 . They admit of wide and varied application .
3 . They must be obeyed internally —in thought and heart.
II. THE ROOT PRINCIPLE OF CHRISTIAN CONDUCT IS LOVE . This was found in the old Law; it belonged to Judaism, because it is always the source of the best life. But it is most prominent and powerful in Christianity. The gospel reveals the love of God, and it instils a spirit of love in man. So essential is this that no one can be accounted a Christian who is hard-hearted and utterly selfish, however saintly he may be in other respects. Love is shown in two principal relations.
1 . It seeks the welfare of those who are loved— the honour of God and the good of fellow men.
2 . It delights in fellowship with those who are loved. Christian love draws us nearer to God and nearer to one another.
III. GOD IS THE FIRST OBJECT OF CHRISTIAN LOVE .
1 . He deserves love.
2 . He claims love. God is not indifferent to our attitude towards him. He cannot be if he loves us. In his own wonderful fatherly love he seeks the affection of his children. Therefore a cold morality, or a philanthropy that ignores God, is not sufficient.
IV. MAN IS THE SECOND OBJECT OF CHRISTIAN LOVE . In practice we cannot separate the second commandment from the first. St. John tells us that we cannot love God if we do not love our brother ( 1 John 4:20 ). In loving what is good in man we love God. Therefore neither commandment can be taken without the other. If it were possible to seek God alone, that would not please him. He does not desire us to be so absorbed in heavenly contemplation as to forget earthly duties. The Christian ritual is the ministry of brotherly charity ( James 1:27 ).
To all this it may be objected that we cannot love on command. True. But
The greater commandments.
The Jews made many distinctions about the commandments of God, calling some "light," others "weighty," others "little," others "great." According to their estimating, therefore, some commandment must be "greatest." Some of them contended that the law of the sabbath was the greater commandment, some the law of sacrifice, some that of circumcision, and some pleaded for the wearing of phylacteries. They now referred the resolution of this vexed question to Jesus, who astonished them by giving precedence to love. The Talmud reckons the commandments at six hundred and thirteen; of which three hundred and sixty-five are negative, and two hundred and forty-eight affirmative; but our Lord's enumeration is two, for that all the Law is fulfilled in love to God and man. This is so in the nature of the case.
I. LOVE PRESUPPOSES ESTIMATION .
1 . God reveals himself that he may be supremely loved.
2 . Man is to be loved as reflecting the image of God.
II. LOVE IDENTIFIES ITSELF WITH ITS OBJECT .
1 . So in loving God the lover is ennobled.
(a) As it impels to the most arduous duties for the glory of God.
(b) As it makes us willing to submit to the severest sufferings for the glory of God.
2 . The second commandment is " like unto " the first.
(a) In having superiority over all except the first.
(b) As being also a precept of love, an efflux of the same principle, directed to our neighbour.
III. LOVE WOULD HAVE ITS OBJECT WORTHY OF ITSELF .
1 . This it has in God.
2 . This it seeks in our neighbour.
(a) If he is virtuous, love will not detract, but emulate.
(b) If he is honoured, love will not be envious, but pleased.
(c) If he becomes wealthy, love will not covet, but pray that he may not suffer damage by that which has proved ruin to many.
(a) If he is sick and suffering, love will not be unconcerned, but will visit and comfort him.
(b) If he is disappointed, love will not exult, but encourage him.
(c) If he is disgraced, love will not chuckle and give currency to the scandal, but will help to deliver him from the snare of the devil.
3 . It will make sacrifices in this service.