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But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, say, ing, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob! God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
This answer of our Saviour's has by some been thought to be obscure, and not to go directly to the point of proving a resurrection, which the Sadducees denied, and which their objection was meant to overthrow. In our Lord's reply, no argument seems to be advanced, nor any plain text of scripture produced to establish the doctrine of a resurrection of the body, and its re-animation by the soul. It is only contended, that as God declares himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the souls of those persons must still be in existence in a separate state; because God could not be said to be the God of those who were no longer in being. This is undeniable. But how (it is said) does this prove a resurrection? To explain this, it must be observed, that Christ's answer consists of two parts: in the first, he solves the difficulty started by the Sadducees respecting a resurrection, by telling them that it arose entirely from their not attending to the power of God, which could effect with the utmost ease what to them appeared impossible; and from their ignorance of the state of human beings in heaven, which resembled that of angels, and required not a constant succession to be kept up by marriage. The case therefore they had stated respecting the marriage of the seven brethren with one woman was a very unfortunate one, because it happened that in heaven there would be no such thing as marriage; which destroyed at once the whole of that objection which they deemed so formidable. In the second part he completely subverts the false principle on which their disbelief of a resurrection and a future state was entirely founded. This principle was, that the soul had no separate existence, but fell into nothing at the dissolution of its union with the body. This we learn from the Acts of the Apostles,*
Chap. xxii. 8.
where it is said, "that the Sadducees believe neither angel nor spirit:" and from Josephus, who tells us, that the Sadducees held that the soul vanishes (as he expresses it) with the body, and rejected the doctrine of its duration after death.* It was this principle, therefore, which our Saviour undertook to overthrow, which he does effectually in the 31st and 32d verses, by shewing it to be a clear inference from the words of scripture,† that although the bodies of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had long been in their graves, yet their souls had survived, and were at that moment in exist. ence. From hence it necessarily followed that the soul did not perish with the body, as the Sadducees believed, but that it continued in being after death; and at the general resurrection would be again united with the body, and live for ever in a future state of happiness or of misery.
But though arguments may be confuted, and absurdities exposed, the thorough-paced caviller is not easi ly silenced. One should have thought that the disgraceful failure of so many attempts to surprize and ensnare Jesus, would have taught his adversaries a little modesty and a little prudence: but these are qualities with which professed disputers and sophists do not usu. ally much abound. When therefore, the Pharisees had heard that Jesus had put the Sadducees to silence, instead of being discouraged from making any more experiments of that nature, they were gathered together, probably to consult how they might renew their attacks upon him with more success, Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Sunaphanizei tois somasi. Antiq. I. xviii. c. 2. p. 793. Ed. Huds,
The question here proposed to Jesus by the lawyer, or interpreter of the Mosaic law, took its rise probably from a maxim, which seems to have been received among the Scribes and Pharisees as a first principle, namely, that such a multiplicity of precepts as the law contained was too great for any one to observe; and therefore all that could be required was, that each should select to himself one or two great and important duties, on account of which, if inviolably observed, his transgressions in other respects would be overlooked. But then immediately arose a question, which were these great and important duties that ought to have the preference to all the rest, and on which they might securely ground all their merit and all their pretences to the favor of God. And on this question a variety of sects were formed, under their respective leaders, who disputed about the chief duty much in the same manner as the ancient pagan philosophers did about the chief good; and exactly with the same benefit to themselves and to the world.
It was with a reference therefore to these disputes, which were so warmly agitated among the Pharisees, that the lawyer asked our Lord," which was the great commandment of the law?" Our Saviour's answer was, "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment." He decided therefore immediately in favor of the moral law, and yet with his usual prudence did not neglect the ceremonial; for this very commandment of the love of God was written upon their phylacteries.
This then being declared by our Saviour himself to be the first of the commandments, must be considered by every Christian as standing at the head of the evangelical code of laws which he is bound to obey, and as entitled therefore to his first and highest regard. He is to love the Lord his God" with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his mind:" and the chief test by which the Gospel orders us to try and meaure our love to God is, the regard we pay to his commands. "He
that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, says our Lord, he it is that loveth me."* St. John in still stronger terms, assures us, that "whoso keepeth God's word, in him verily is the love of God perfected."The love of our maker then is neither a mere unmeaning animal fervor, nor a lifeless formal worship or obedience. It consists in devoutness of heart as well as purity of life; and from comparing together the different passages of Scripture relating to it, we may define it to be such a reverential admiration of God's perfections in general, and such a grateful sense of his infinite goodness in particular, as render the contemplation and the worship of him delightful to us, and produce in us a constant desire and endeavour to please him in every part of our moral and religious conduct.
This is, in a few words, what the scriptures mean by the love of God, and what our Lord here calls the FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. It is justly so called for various reasons: because he who is the object of it is the first and greatest of all beings, and therefore the duties owing to him must have the precedence and preeminence over every other; because it is the grand leading principle of right conduct, the original source and fountain from which all Christian graces flow, from whence the living waters of religion take their rise, and branch out into all the various duties of human life; because, in fine, it is, when fervent and sincere, the grand masterspring of human conduct; the only motive sufficiently powerful to subdue our strongest pas sions, to carry us triumphantly through the severest trials, and render us superior to the most formidable temptations.
Next to this in order and in excellence, or, as our Saviour expresses it, like unto it, is, that other divine command, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy
By the word neighbour is here to be understood, every man with whom we have any concern; every one who stands in need of our kindness, and to whom we
* John, xiv. 21.
† 1 John, ii. 5.
are able to extend it; which includes not only our re lations, friends, and countrymen, but even our enemies; as appears from the parable of the good Samaritan. The prccept therefore requires us generally to love our fellow creatures as we do ourselves.
To this it has been objected that the precept is impracticable and impossible. Self-love, it is contended, is a passion implanted in our breasts by the hand of God himself; and though social love is also another af fection which he has given us, yet there is no comparison between the strength of the two principles; and no man can or does love all mankind as well as he does himself. It is perfectly true; nor does the precept befor us require it. The words are not thou shalt love thy neighbour as much as thyself, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; that is, thou shalt entertain for him an affection similar in kind, though not equal in degree, to that which thou entertainest for thyself. Our self-love prompts us to seek our own happiness, as far as is consistent with the duties we owe to God and to man. Our social love should in the same manner prompt us to seek the happiness of our neighbour, as far as is consistent with the duty we owe to God and ourselves. But in all equal circumstances, our love for Ourselves must have a priority tn degree to the love we have for our neighbour. If, for instance, my neighbour is in extreme want of food, and I am in the same want, I am not bound to give him that food which is indispensably necessary for my own preservation, but that only which is consistent with it. The rule in short can never be mistaken by any man of common sense. Our business is to take care to carry it far enough: nature will take sufficient care that we do not carry it too far. It is in fact nothing more than what we are taught by another divine rule very nearly allied to this, and which all men allow to be reasonable, equitable and practicable; "whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them."*
This is precisely what is meant by loving our neighbour as ourselves; for when we treat him exactly as we *Matth. vii. 12.