The great commandments.
This passage of the Gospel affords common ground, upon which those who lay the greatest stress upon Christian doctrine may meet with conciliation and harmony those who are wont to insist most upon Christian morality. Here is a statement, upon the highest authority, as to what God requires of man, as to what man owes to God and to his fellow-men. "Do this, and thou shalt live!" It is a sublime view of the great purposes of our spiritual being. Beyond this religion cannot go; for this is the end for which our nature was framed, for which revelation was vouchsafed. Yet who can read these requirements of a holy and benevolent Creator and Ruler without feeling that by himself they have not been fulfilled? The man must be besotted by self-conceit, or must have silenced conscience, who claims to have loved God with all his powers, or to have uniformly loved his neighbor as himself. The purer, the more stringent the Law, the deeper the humiliation and contrition of the transgressor. What, then, more fitted to induce sinners to receive the gospel with faith and gratitude than these words of Jesus? What can make so welcome the tidings of Divine forgiveness secured through the redemption wrought by the Savior on the cross? And, further, as we meditate upon this ideal of a beautiful and acceptable moral life, how profoundly are we impressed with a sense of our own weakness! And surely this must lead us to seek and to accept the aid of the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit at once of power and of love! Thus the inculcation of Christian morality naturally suggests the doctrines upon which we build our hopes for time and for eternity. On the other hand, in the presence of these inspiriting words of the Master, how is it possible for the candid and the faithful to rest in that view of the gospel which represents religion as merely securing the forgiveness of sin, and immunity from wrath and punishment? Here is a summons to a spiritual, a self-denying, and a benevolent life.
I. THE QUESTION PROPOSED TO JESUS .
1 . In itself it was a worthy, a noble question. Unlike the trifling and ridiculous riddle propounded by the Pharisees, it was an inquiry becoming on the part of the scribe who urged it, and fit for the consideration and judgment of the holy Master himself. It respected commandments, and thus acknowledged the rule of a just God, and the duty of man's obedience and submission. It concerned morality—the highest of all human interests. It evinced an evident desire to do what was right, and to give precedence to what should be acknowledged best. There can be no nobler inquiry than this—What is the will of God? What is the duty of man? What shall I do?
2 . In its spirit and purport, the question was commendable. The questioner observed that Jesus had answered well; that he had solved with marvellous wisdom the difficult question of the Pharisees; that he had dealt skilfully and conclusively with the cavilling of the Sadducees. The limits of civil submission are an interesting branch of study; the future life is of all speculative questions the most engrossing to the thoughtful; but of even wider interest are the foundation, the character, the means, of human goodness. The inquiry as to the first of commandments was put as a testing question, but in no captious spirit; it was the expression of a desire to learn—to learn from the highest authority, to learn the most sacred principles of moral life. And not to learn only, but doubtless to practice the lesson acquired.
II. THE ANSWER OF JESUS TO THE SCRIBE . There was no hesitation in the Master's reply to the question proposed; the challenge was at once taken up. And consummate wisdom was shown in the reference to the Mosaic Law, the very words of which were quoted. Thus the right-minded were conciliated, yet at no expense, but rather by the manifestation, of truth. And the hostile were silenced; for who of the Jewish rabbis could call in question the authority of their own sacred books? When we look into the substance of the response, several remarkable facts become apparent.
1 . Love is represented as the sum of the Divine commandments. The Pentateuch contained the injunctions our Lord repeated, but they were included in a vast body of precepts and prohibitions. It could scarcely be said with justice that love was the most prominent of the Mosaic commandments. Christ's independence, discernment, and legislative authority were shown in his fixing upon the two requirements which occur in different books and in different connections, and in bringing them out into the light of day, and exhibiting them as in his view of surpassing importance, and so promulgating them as the laws of his spiritual kingdom through all time. God himself is love; Christ is the expression and proof of the Divine love; and it is therefore natural and reasonable that love should be the law of the Divine kingdom, the badge of the spiritual family.
2 . The Object of supreme love is God himself. The personality of God is assumed, for we cannot love an abstraction, a power; only a living being, who thinks, feels, and purposes. The unity of God is asserted; for although, when Jesus lived on earth, the Jews were no longer subject to the temptation to idolatry, such temptation had beset them when the Law was originally given, and for a long period subsequently. The relationship between God and man is presumed—"thy God;" for he is ours and we are his. The claims of God are implied; his character, his treatment of men, his redeeming love in Christ. "We love him, because he first loved us."
3 . The description and degree of love demanded are very fully stated in the text. The expression is a very strong one: "With all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength." Attempts have been made accurately to discriminate among these. But it seems sufficient to say that the love required in such language is cordial and fervent; cordial, as distinguished from mere profession, and fervent, as distinguished from lukewarmness and indifference. The whole of our nature is expected to combine, so to speak, in this exercise. Not only so, but God is to be regarded as the supreme Object of affection and devotion. He demands the first place in our heart; and those who see his grace in Christ cannot find it hard to offer what he demands.
4 . Love to man follows upon love to God. It may, indeed, in order of time, in some measure precede and prepare for it. But in the moral order, in the order of obligation, love to God comes first, and, indeed, furnishes the one sound and safe basis for human love. The designation of the objects of this love deserves notice; they are our "neighbors." We must interpret this term in the light of our Lord's answer to an earlier question put to him by a certain lawyer: "Who is my neighbor?" In the parable of the good Samaritan Jesus then laid a broad foundation for human charity. Not our own family, or Church, or nation, but all mankind, are to be regarded with good will, and treated, not only with justice, but with kindness. Practically, those have a claim upon our kindly feeling and good offices whom Providence brings into any contact with us in human society. Remark the measure of this love: "As thyself." It is, then, right to love self; but in subordination to Divine love, and in accordance with love to neighbors. The test is an effective one, and can always be applied; the Law is parallel with the golden rule, "Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you." The dependence of this law upon the preceding is obvious. Christianity bases morality upon religion; we love our fellow-men as the children of God, because he loves them and for his sake.
5 . Love, to be acceptable, must display itself in practical forms. The love we cherish toward God should lead to worship and to obedience—in a word, to a religious life. The love we entertain to our fellow-men will reveal itself in the demeanour, the language, and still more in the conduct. Helpfulness, self-denial, liberality, forbearance, are all fruits of love; which is destructive of discord, malice, and envy, of jealousy, hatred, and persecution. Here is the power to banish the vices, and the remedy to heal the spiritual maladies which afflict mankind!
III. THE SCRIBE 'S APPROVING CONSENT TO CHRIST 'S REPLY .
1 . He thus proved his independence of judgment. Others, when answered and silenced by Jesus, retired discomfited, but unconvinced. This rabbi, with a mind candid and open to the truth, receives the Lord's saying as sufficient and decisive, and renders his own consent and approbation in the words, "Thou hast well said."
2 . He shows his pleasure in the grand utterances of inspiration by repeating the language which Jesus had quoted—language evidently both familiar to him and congenial to his character.
3 . His boldness and spirituality are apparent in his stating, what Jesus had implied, the superiority of the heart's affection to all service of the hands.
IV. THE COMMENDATION EXPRESSED BY JESUS .
1 . The position of the lawyer was very different from that of others. There were many who were "far" from God's kingdom. The Pharisees for the most part by their formality, the Sadducees by their scepticism and arrogance, the publicans and sinners by their vices, the multitude by their ignorance,—these were far from the kingdom. Amongst those who may justly be so described are always some who are outwardly numbered among the religious, as well as multitudes who are without God, and manifestly have no hope.
2 . There were several respects in which this scribe approached the spiritual kingdom of the Savior.
V. THE RESERVATION AND QUALIFICATION IN OUR LORD 'S APPROVAL . If there was so much that was admirable in the spirit and the language of this student and expositor of the Law, what was lacking? If he was near the kingdom, what separated him from it, and prevented him from entering in? This question we cannot answer with certainty; we can only surmise. There may have been an inadequate sense of sin; his admiration of Jesus may have come short of true faith in him; and he may have been unready to make a complete surrender of himself to the Lord Jesus. At all events, we have no difficulty in enumerating various hindrances which, as a matter of fact, do keep outside of the kingdom those who are very near its confines. Christ's dominion is one which cannot be entered except through the door of repentance and of faith. True subjects come in sincere and childlike humility, and receive the welcome promised; by the new birth they enter the new life of the kingdom. The laws of the kingdom are spiritual, and demand spiritual conformity. And the King is enthroned in the heart as well as in society. You must become as little children in order that you may enter the kingdom of God.
1 . Let faith work by love in Christian natures; and let those who love Christ prove by their spirit and their actions the sincerity of their love.
2 . Let those who are near the kingdom, instead of resting in their nearness, regard this as a reason why they should, without delay, enter the gates before which they stand.
The Law akin to the gospel, but inferior to it.
I. True RELIGIOUS INQUIRY IS ENCOURAGED BY CANDOUR AND SPIRITUAL INSIGHT ON THE PART OF RELIGIOUS TEACHERS . Matthew tells us that the Pharisees came together top the same place." when they saw the disscomfiture of the Sadducees; and "then one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying." Mark introduces him as one of the scribes. In the one Gospel the motive and encouragement are represented as experienced by the Pharisaic party in general; in the other they are represented as individually felt and acted upon. There were, therefore, elements of earnestness and spirituality amongst the Pharisees, and these were called forth by our Saviours teaching. They were now in a more favorable attitude for receiving the truth than they had ever been before. As to the idea expressed by "tempting," it need not be understood in a sinister sense, but generally as proving, testing, etc. Our Lord did not crush the spirit of inquiry, but courted it. They felt that there was more in him than they could explain, and that his knowledge of Scripture was spiritual and profound, and therefore they wished to discover what he could possibly have to tell them that was not already taught by Moses or his prophetic exponents. He had all but converted his enemies and critics into his disciples. He had infected them with his own spirit of religious earnestness. Of this mood the "lawyer" was the mouthpiece. He pushes inquiry to its highest point, and desires to know the chief duties of religion.
II. THE BEST MODE OF ANSWERING SUCH INQUIRY IS THAT WHICH PRESENTS THE SPIRIT AND SUBSTANCE OF DUTY , OR TRUE RELIGION IN ITS UNITY AND UNIVERSALITY . " Deuteronomy 6:4 . This is not given as a part of the Law of Moses, but as the principle of all service. Le Deuteronomy 19:18 contains a similar principle for all social duties" (Godwin). Passing over all matters of mere ceremonial, and questions of less or more, he lays hold of the spirit of the Law and presents it to his inquirer. It is out of the very heart of the hook of ceremonies (Leviticus) that the duty to neighbors is extracted. He declares "the three unities of religion:
and compels the agreement and admiration of his questioner. "Note also the real reverence shown in the form of address, 'Master,' i.e. 'Teacher, Rabbi.' He recognized the speaker as one of his own order" (Plumptre). All religion is summed up by him in a "great commandment," viz. the love of God, and that is shown in its earthward aspect to involve loving our neighbor as ourselves. That true religion is not ceremonial but spiritual is thus demonstrated; and in quoting the highest utterances of the prophets, the scribe but endorses and restates the same doctrine. Teacher and inquirer are therefore theoretically one. But more is needed; and towards the attainment of this the stimulus is given, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. " This meant that—
III. SUCH INQUIRY CAN ONLY BE SATISFIED AND CROWNED BY ACTING UPON ITS HIGHEST SPIRITUAL CONVICTIONS . "The words are significant as showing the unity of our Lord's teaching. Now, as when he spoke the sermon on the mount, the righteousness which fulfils the Law is the condition of the entrance into the kingdom of God ( Matthew 5:19 , Matthew 5:20 ). Even the recognition of that righteousness as consisting in the fulfillment of the two commandments that were exceeding broad, brought a man as to the very threshold of the kingdom. It is instructive to compare our Lord's different method of dealing, in Luke 10:25-37 , with one who had the same theoretical knowledge, but who obviously, consciously or unconsciously, minimized the force of the commandments by his narrowing definitions" (Plumptre). "The kingdom of heaven is, for the moment, pictorially represented as localized, like the ordinary kingdoms of the world. The scribe, walking in the way of conscientious inquiry, and thus making religious pilgrimage, had nearly reached its borderland. He was bordering on the great reality of true religion, subjection of spirit to the sovereign will of God" (Morison). This state can only be attained to by conversion, the identification of the sinner through faith with the righteousness of the Savior, and the indwelling of the Spirit of God. It is thus scientific conviction becomes moral, and we are able to carry into effect what we know to be true and right.—M.
The essence of religion.
I. THE LEADING IDEA FOR THE INTELLIGENCE . The unity of God, his personality, his supreme lovableness. "All love is lost save upon God alone."
II. The leading maxim for the will. To love one's neighbor as one's self. Kant said, trying to translate the gospel into his own dialect, "Act so that the maxim of thy will may be the principle of an universal legislation."
III. The moral surpasses the ritual in religion. Surpasses it by including it with itself. Nothing can be offered to God dearer than a just and a loving life. Love, in fact, is the measure of life's worth. And he who believes and acts upon these principles is recognized by Christ as being a Christian.—J.
Parallel passage: Matthew 22:34-40 .—
Question about the greatest commandment.
I. PUERILITIES OF THE PHARISEES . The Pharisees busied themselves about the letter of the Law, but had little practical acquaintance with its true spirit. The Jews generally divided the commandments of the Law into the preceptive and prohibitory—the "Do" and the "Do not;" nor was there anything amiss in this. But the Pharisees, we are told, counted the affirmative precepts, and found them as many as the members of the body; they counted the negative, and reckoned them equal in number to the days of the year, viz. three hundred and sixty-five; they then added them together, and found that the total made up the exact number of letters in the Decalogue. They also divided the commandments into great and small—the more important and the less important, or the heavy and the light; those of greater weight being such commandments as related to the sabbath, circumcision, sacrifice, fringes, and phylacteries. They did not stop with puerilities of this sort, but descended to trifling minutiae, which we have neither time nor wish to record. Some of their distinctions were of a more mischievous kind, such as preferring the ceremonial to the moral Law, the oral to the written Law, and the trifles of the scribes to the teachings of the prophets. They also taught that obedience to certain commandments atoned for the neglect of others; in some measure like persons in much more recent times, who
"Compound for sins they are inclined
By damning those they have no mind to."
II. THE WHOLE DUTY OF MAN . Our Lord rebuked by his answer those miserable trivialities of the Pharisees, who seemed disposed to bring him into conflict with one or other of the contending parties, headed respectively by Hillel and Shammai. The subject of the question was one about which the schools of these great Jewish schoolmen differed. If he decided in favor of the one, he necessarily offended and lost in reputation as a public religious Teacher with the other; or perhaps they hoped to bring him into contradiction with an answer to the same question which he had sanctioned with his approval. Our Lord shoved aside their rabbinical quibbles, and passed by their hair-splittings and contendings about such petty trifles, to the neglect at once of the spirit and the really weightier matters of the Law. And as "whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all," our Lord, instead of singling out or specifying any particular commandment of the Law, states two comprehensive precepts which embrace the whole Law; and not only so—he not only reduces the ten commandments of the Decalogue to these two precepts, but underlying these two precepts is one single principle into which they are both capable of being resolved. He thus simplifies the statement of moral duty into a single principle, and that principle itself expressed in the one word "love;" for "love is the fulfilling of the Law."
III. THE SUPREMACY OF LOVE . It has been conjectured that our Lord, when quoting in reply the passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 , one of the four Scriptures usually inscribed on the parchment slips of the tephillin , or phylacteries, and called Shema , "Hear," from beginning with this word, pointed to the lawyer's tephillin. This would add to the pictorial or graphic nature of the reply; but nothing could be added to the beauty of the words quoted. He cites the preface, teaching the unity of God in opposition to polytheism, and then proclaims the love of God as the source, and love to man as similar and only second thereto. But whence comes this love? Not by nature, for by nature we are "hateful, and hating one another;" only, therefore, by the new birth, when we partake of a new nature; for "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things having passed away, and all things having become new." Once we love him who first loved us, we are in the proper position for loving our Father in heaven and our fellow-man on earth. The manifestation of this love to man is doing to others as we wish others to do to us, and this exercise of the so-called, and properly so-called, golden rule, is loving our fellow-man as a brother, and son of the same heavenly Father; while our love to that Father is supreme, influencing the affections of the heart, the faculties of the mind, the spiritual powers of the soul or life, and employing the whole strength of all and each of these. God is worthy of all this—worthy of our best affections, worthy of our earliest and strongest love. The practice of this principle would make this earth a paradise, restoring it to all the freshness and happiness of its first and early dawn; rather, would it make a heaven upon earth.—J.J.G.