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thou /halt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these twc* commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
The question here propofed to Jesus by the lawyer, or" interpreter of the Mofaic law, took its rise probably from- .' a maxim, which seems to have been received among theScribes and Pharisees as a sirst 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 ielect 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 arofe a question, which were these great and important duties that ought to have the preserence to all the remand on which they might securely ground all their merit and all their pretences to the savor of God. And on this puestion a variety of sects were formed, under their respective leaders, who disputed about the chief duly much ifl the same manner as the ancient pagan philofophers did about the chief good; and exactly with the same benesit to themselves and to the world. •; ^
It was with a reserence therefore to these disputes, which . were so warmly agitated among the Pharisees, that the lawyer asked our Lord, "which was the great command* inent of the law:" Our Saviour's answer was, "thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with . all thy foul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and • great commandment." He decided therefore immediately in savor of the moral law, and yet with his usual pru- 1 dencedidnot neglect the ceremonial; for this very com* mandment of the low of God was written upon their phylacteries.
This then being declared by our Saviour himself to be the firJi of the commandments, must be considered by every Christian as standing at the head of that evangelical code of laws which he is bound to obey, and as entitled therefore to his sirst and highest regard. He is to love the Lord his God " with all his heart, with all his foul, and with all his mind:" and the chief test by which the Gofpel orders us to try and measure 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 " whofo keepeth God's word, in him verily is the love of God perfeSed\." The love of our Maker then is neither a mere unmeaning animal servor, nor a liseless formal worship or obedience. It consists in devoutness of heart as well as purity of lise; and from comparing together the different passages of Scripture relating to it, we may desine it to be such a reverential admiration of God's persections in general, and such a gratesul sense of his insinite goodness in particular, as render the contemplation and the worship of him delightsul to us, and produce in us a constant desire and endeavor to please him in every part of our moral and religious conduct.
This- is, in a sew words, what the scriptures mean by the love of God, and what our Lord here calls the First Ani> Great Commandment. It is justly so called for various reasons: because he who is the object of it is the sirst and greatest of all beings, and therefore the duties owing to him must have the precedence and pre-eminence 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 watersof religion take their rise, and branch out into all the various duties of human lise; because, in sine, it is, when servent and sincere, the grand masterspring of human conduct; the only motive sussiciently powersul to subdue our strongest passions, 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 neighbor as thyself."
By the word neighbor is here to be understood, every man with whom we have any concern; every one whostands in need of our kindness, and to whom we are- able
tn extend it; which includes not only our relations, friends, and countrymen, but even our enemies; as appears from the parable of the good Samaritan. The precept therefore requires us generally to love our sellow-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 affection which he has given us, yet there is no comparison between tbe strength of the two principles; and no man can or doe; love all mankind as well as he does himself. It vsApexf edly true; nor does the precept before us require it. The words are not thou shalt love thy neighbor as much as thyfelf, but thou shalt love thy neighbor 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 otvn happiness, as sar 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 neighbor, as sar as is consilient with the duty we owe to God and ourselves. But in all equal circumstances, our love for ourselves must have a priority in degree to the love we have for onr neighbor. If, for instance, my neighbor 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 neceflary 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 sar enough: nature will take sussicient care that we do not carry it too sar. It is in sact 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 neighbor as ourselves; for when we treat him exactly as we would expect and hope to be treated by him in the same cirenm
* Matth. vii, x%.
him as ourselves. And in this there is evidently no impossibility, no dissiculty, no obscurity.
These then are the two great commandments, on which we are told hang all the law and the prophets; that is, on them, as on its main foundation, rests the whole Mofaic dispensation; for of that, not of the Gofpel, onr Lord is, here speaking. To explain, establish, and consirm these two leading principles of human duty, was one of the chief objects of the law and the prophets. But it must at the same time be remembered (as I have shewn at large in a formar lecture*) that great and important as these two precepts consessedly are, they do by no means constitute the whole of the Christian fystem. In that we sind many essential improvements of the moral law, which was carried by our Saviour to a much higher degree of persection than in the Jewish dispensation, as may be seen more particularly in his sermon on the mount. We sind also in the New Testament all thofe important evangelical doctrines which distinguish the Christian revelation; more particularly thofe of a resurrection; of a suture day of retribution, of the expiation of our sins, original and personal, by the sacrisice of Christ, of sanctisication by the Holy Spirit, of justisication by a true and lively saith in the merits of our Redeemer. If therefore we wistt to form a just and correct idea of the whole Christian dispensation, and if we wish to be considered as genuine disciples of our divine Master, we must not content ourselves with observing only the two leading commandments of love to God and love to men, but we must look to the whole of our religion as it lies in the Gospel; we must endeavor to stand persect in all the will of God, and in all the doctrines of his Son, as declared in the Christian revelation; and after doing our utmost to sulsil all righteousness, and to attend to every branch of our duty, both with respect to God, our neighbor, and ourselves, we must sinally repofe all our hopes of salvation on the merits of our Redeemer, and on our belief in him as the way, the truth, and the lise.
I must now put a period to these Lectures for the present season; and if it should please God to perserve my jfe • for another year, I hope to sinish my observations on the gofpel of Sf Matthew; beyond which I roust not now extend my views. . '•m
In the mean while, from what 1 have observed in ther progress of these Lectures, I cannot help indulging a humble hope that they have not been unattended with some salutary effects upon your minds. But when, on the other hand, I consider that the time of year is now approaching, inwhich the gaitics and amusements of this vast metropolis are generally engaged in with incredstAe alacrity and ardour, and multitudes are pouring in from every part of the kingdom to take their share in them; and when I reccollect surther, that at this very period in the last year a degree of extravagance and wildness in pleasure took place, which gave pain to every serious mind, and was almost unexampled in any former times; I am not, I consess, without some apprehensions, that the famescene of levity and dissipation may again recur; and that some of thofe who now hear me (of the younger part more especially) may be drawn too sar into this sashionable: vortex, and loofe in that giddy tumult of diversion all remembrance of what has passed in this sacred place. - I must therefore most earnestly caution them against these sascinating allurements, and recommend to them that moderation, that temperance, that modesty in amusements, which their Christian prosession at all times requires; but for which at this moment there are reasons of peculiar weight and force*.
To indulge ourselves in endless gaieties and expensive luxuries, at a time when so many of our poorer brethren are, from the heavy pressure of unsavorable circumftan-: ces, in want of the most essential necessaries of lise, would surely manisest a very unseeling and unchristian dispofition in ourselves, and would be a most cruel and wanton aggravation of their sufferings.
* This Lecture was given in April 1S00, a time of great scarcity and extreme clearness of all the necessaries of lisc.