Here is a discourse which Christ had with a Pharisee-lawyer, about the great commandment of the law. Observe,
I. The combination of the Pharisees against Christ, Matt. 22:34. They heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, had stopped their mouths, though their understandings were not opened; and they were gathered together, not to return him the thanks of their party, as they ought to have done, for his effectually asserting and confirming of the truth against the Sadducees, the common enemies of their religion, but to tempt him, in hopes to get the reputation of puzzling him who had puzzled the Sadducees. They were more vexed that Christ was honoured, than pleased that the Sadducees were silenced; being more concerned for their own tyranny and traditions, which Christ opposed, than for the doctrine of the resurrection and a future state, which the Sadducees opposed. Note, It is an instance of Pharisaical envy and malice, to be displeased at the maintaining of a confessed truth, when it is done by those we do not like; to sacrifice a public good to private piques and prejudices. Blessed Paul was otherwise minded, Phil. 1:18.
II. The lawyer’s question, which he put to Christ. The lawyers were students in, and teachers of, the law of Moses, as the scribes were; but some think that in this they differed, that they dealt more in practical questions than the scribes; they studied and professed casuistical divinity. This lawyer asked him a question, tempting him; not with any design to ensnare him, as appears by St. Mark’s relation of the story, where we find that this was he to whom Christ said, Thou are not far from the kingdom of God, Mark 12:34; but only to see what he would say, and to draw on discourse with him, to satisfy his own and his friends’ curiosity.
1. The question was, Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law? A needless question, when all the things of God’s law are great things (Hos. 8:12), and the wisdom from above is without partiality, partiality in the law (Mal. 2:9), and hath respect to them all. Yet it is true, there are some commands that are the principles of the oracles of God, more extensive and inclusive than others. Our Saviour speaks of the weightier matters of the law, Matt. 23:23.
2. The design was to try him, or tempt him; to try, not so much his knowledge as his judgment. It was a question disputed among the critics in the law. Some would have the law of circumcision to be the great commandment, others the law of the sabbath, others the law of sacrifices, according as they severally stood affected, and spent their zeal; now they would try what Christ said to this question, hoping to incense the people against him, if he should not answer according to the vulgar opinion; and if he should magnify one commandment, they would reflect on him as vilifying the rest. The question was harmless enough; and it appears by comparing Luke 10:27, 28, that it was an adjudged point among the lawyers, that the love of God and our neighbour is the great commandment, and the sum of all the rest, and Christ had there approved it; so the putting of it to him here seems rather a scornful design to catechise him as a child, than spiteful design to dispute with him as an adversary.
III. Christ’s answer to this question; it is well for us that such a question was asked him, that we might have his answer. It is no disparagement to great men to answer plain questions. Now Christ recommends to us those as the great commandments, not which are so exclusive of others, but which are therefore great because inclusive of others. Observe,
1. Which these great commandments are (Matt. 22:37-39); not the judicial laws, those could not be the greatest now that the people of the Jews, to whom they pertained, were so little; not the ceremonial laws, those could not be the greatest, now that they were waxen old, and were ready to vanish away; nor any particular moral precept; but the love of God and our neighbour, which are the spring and foundation of all the rest, which (these being supposed) will follow of course.
(1.) All the law is fulfilled in one word, and that is, love. See Rom. 13:10. All obedience begins in the affections, and nothing in religion is done right, that is not done there first. Love is the leading affection, which gives law, and gives ground, to the rest; and therefore that, as the main fort, is to be first secured and garrisoned for God. Man is a creature cut out for love; thus therefore is the law written in the heart, that it is a law of love. Love is a short and sweet word; and, if that be the fulfilling of the law, surely the yoke of the command is very easy. Love is the rest and satisfaction of the soul; if we walk in this good old way, we shall find rest.
(2.) The love of God is the first and great commandment of all, and the summary of all the commands of the first table. The proper act of love being complacency, good is the proper object of it. Now God, being good infinitely, originally, and eternally, is to be loved in the first place, and nothing loved beside him, but what is loved for him. Love is the first and great thing that God demands from us, and therefore the first and great thing that we should devote to him.
Now here we are directed,
[1.] To love God as ours; Thou shalt love the Lord they God as thine. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other God; which implies that we must have him for our God, and that will engage our love to him. Those that made the sun and moon their gods, loved them, Jer. 8:2; Jdg. 18:24. To love God as ours is to love him because he is ours, our Creator, Owner, and Ruler, and to conduct ourselves to him as ours, with obedience to him, and dependence on him. We must love God as reconciled to us, and made ours by covenant; that is the foundation of this, Thy God.
[2.] To love him with all our heart, and soul, and mind. Some make these to signify one and the same thing, to love him with all our powers; others distinguish them; the heart, soul, and mind, are the will, affections, and understanding; or the vital, sensitive, and intellectual faculties. Our love of God must be a sincere love, and not in word and tongue only, as theirs is who say they love him, but their hearts are not with him. It must be a strong love, we must love him in the most intense degree; as we must praise him, so we must love him, with all that is within us, Ps. 103:1. It must be a singular and superlative love, we must love him more than any thing else; this way the stream of our affections must entirely run. The heart must be united to love God, in opposition to a divided heart. All our love is too little to bestow upon him, and therefore all the powers of the soul must be engaged for him, and carried out toward him. This is the first and great commandment; for obedience to this is the spring of obedience to all the rest; which is then only acceptable, when it flows from love.
(3.) To love our neighbour as ourselves is the second great commandment (Matt. 22:39); It is like unto that first; it is inclusive of all the precepts of the second table, as that is of the first. It is like it, for it is founded upon it, and flows from it; and a right love to our brother, whom we have seen, is both an instance and an evidence of our love to God, whom we have not seen, 1 John 4:20.
[1.] It is implied, that we do, and should, love ourselves. There is a self-love which is corrupt, and the root of the greatest sins, and it must be put off and mortified: but there is a self-love which is natural, and the rule of the greatest duty, and it must be preserved and sanctified. We must love ourselves, that is, we must have a due regard to the dignity of our own natures, and a due concern for the welfare of our own souls and bodies.
[2.] It is prescribed, that we love our neighbour as ourselves. We must honour and esteem all men, and must wrong and injure none; must have a good will to all, and good wishes for all, and, as we have opportunity, must do good to all. We must love our neighbour as ourselves, as truly and sincerely as we love ourselves, and in the same instances; nay, in many cases we must deny ourselves for the good of our neighbour, and must make ourselves servants to the true welfare of others, and be willing to spend and be spent for them, to lay down our lives for the brethren.
2. Observe what the weight and greatness of these commandments is (Matt. 22:40); On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets; that is, This is the sum and substance of all those precepts relating to practical religion which were written in men’s hearts by nature, revived by Moses, and backed and enforced by the preaching and writing of the prophets. All hang upon the law of love; take away this, and all falls to the ground, and comes to nothing. Rituals and ceremonials must give way to these, as must all spiritual gifts, for love is the more excellent way. This is the spirit of the law, which animates it, the cement of the law, which joins it; it is the root and spring of all other duties, the compendium of the whole Bible, not only of the law and the prophets, but of the gospel too, only supposing this love to be the fruit of faith, and that we love God in Christ, and our neighbour for his sake. All hangs on these two commandments, as the effect doth both on its efficient and on its final cause; for the fulfilling of the law is love (Rom. 13:10) and the end of the law is love, 1 Tim. 1:5. The law of love is the nail, is the nail in the sure place, fastened by the masters of assemblies (Eccl. 12:11), on which is hung all the glory of the law and the prophets (Isa. 22:24), a nail that shall never be drawn; for on this nail all the glory of the new Jerusalem shall eternally hang. Love never faileth. Into these two great commandments therefore let our hearts be delivered as into a mould; in the defence and evidence of these let us spend our zeal, and not in notions, names, and strifes of words, as if those were the mighty things on which the law and the prophets hung, and to them the love of God and our neighbour must be sacrificed; but to the commanding power of these let every thing else be made to bow.