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and good hope of his blessing : to which we cannot acquire a stronger title, than by that method, which procured, as we read in Scripture, to the Father of the Faithful and his descendants, a benediction so distinguished, both temporal and spiritual: Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. For I know him, that he will command his children and his houshold after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that, which he hath spoken of him *.

• Gen. xviii. 18, 19.

SERMON XV.

MATTH. XXII. 37, 38.

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.

THESE words contain the former part of our blessed Lord's answer to the question, Master, which is the great Commandment in the law ? It was put to him by one of the scribes or lawyers, the authorized instructors of the people, tempting him: that is, designing to make trial of his knowledge, and the soundness of his doctrine. For the man's intention plainly appears to have been no worse than this, from his immediate approbation of our Saviour's judgment; and the gracious assurance he received in return, that he was not far from the kingdom of God, as we read in the parallel place of St. Mark*,

Which of the Commandments is the greatest, may seem to us a question of more curiosity than importance: because undoubtedly the least, as well as the greatest, ought to be observed. Yet still it was a point of some consequence in itself: since two precepts might interfere: and men be obliged to omit one in order to obey the other: now in such cases it was material to know which they should prefer. But the notions entertained amongst the Jews increased the necessity of a right decision of this doubt t.

• Mark xii. 34. + Vid. Schoetgenii Hor. Heb. et Talm. in loc.

They divided the injunctions of the law, as appears
from their books yet remaining, into weighty and
light ones. The former, they held, a man must keep
strictly, if he would enter into life* eternal: but the
latter, some of them affirmed, had only a small re-
compense belonging to them, and that in this world;
so that a man might neglect them, one Rabbi saith
trample upon them, without much danger. Nay, there
were teachers of considerable reputation amongst
them, who asserted, that God had given his people so
great a number of precepts with this view, that, by
observing, any one, meaning probably any of the
weighty ones, they might obtain salvation t. This
was very bad: but their opinions, which were the
weighty ones, made it worse yet. Some insisted that
those alone were weighty, the transgressors of which,
it was expressly threatened in the law, should be cut
off; and all the rest light. Some held the third
Commandment, some the fifth, some the observation
of the Sabbath, some that of circumcision, to be the
weightiest. In our Saviour's time, it seems by the
reply which the Scribe made him, that sacrificing was
commonly thought the principal article of the law.
And indeed many passages, not only in the Gospels,
but in the Prophets, evidently shew, that the nation
in general were fond of exalting the ceremonial pre-
cepts above the moral ones, because they found them
less disagreeable. In themselves, it must be owned,
the former were a heavy yoke, though in their cir-
cumstances it had long been a needful one. But to
bad men nothing is so heavy, as reforming their
hearts and lives. It is true, their sacrifices, and all
their observances, rightly interpreted, required this, in

* Matth. xix. 17.
+ Pocock on Hos. xiv. 2. cites this from Ikkarim, l. iii. c. 29.

!

order to their final acceptance with God. But the outward act being a matter of great form and punctuality, and sometimes expence too, they easily persuaded themselves of what they had a great mind to believe, that a scrupulous performance of such troublesome and shewish duties would certainly be sufficient, whatever their inward dispositions and common behaviour might be. Yet, at the same time, the Essenes, no inconsiderable sect amongst them, though affecting privacy, and probably therefore not appearing in the History of the Gospels, ran into the contrary extreme: and, professing great sanctity of manners, omitted the temple-sacrifices intirely*.

In such a state of things as this, it was natural to ask the sentiments of so remarkable a teacher as our blessed Lord: and very important, both for the instruction of the people and for his own character, that he should declare them. Undoubtedly he had now a fair opportunity of securing the applause of the multitude and their leaders, by an answer suitable to the notions in vogue; instead of gaining, as he did by contradicting them, only the single approbation of one good man. But for this cause came he into the world, that he should bear witness unto the trutht: which yet he did with such prudence, as never to prejudice the least part of it in his zeal for the greatest. When he blamed the Scribes and Pharisees for preferring the minutest of ritual observances to the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith, he added immediately, These ought ye to have done, and not to Leave the other undone I. In the text he proceeds with the same caution: and well

. Philo, Liber quisquis virtuti studet, vol. ii. p. 457. ed Mang. Joseph. Ant. 1. xviii. c. I, + John xviii. 37.

Matth. xxiii. 23.

knowing how prone men are to draw false consequences from the truest doctrines, not content with deciding which was the first and great Commandment, he assures them, that the second, a very comprehensive one, was of the same nature and obligation with it: nay, for yet fuller security, subjoins a declaration, that though to these were subordinate, yet with these were connected, whatever things else the Scripture had required. 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. Here then we see the whole system of our duty, standing on its proper foundation, and exhibited to our view in its natural order: beginning with the love of God, proceeding to the love of our fellow-creatures, and perfected in a careful attention to every regard of every kind owing to either; which we cannot pay, without a virtuous government of ourselves.

The love of God is the subject to be explained at present: which I shall do by shewing.

I. Its nature.
II. The importance of it in point of duty.
III. Its influence on our happiness.

IV. The methods which infinite wisdom hath employed, to cultivate it in our minds.

I. Its nature.

Various affections cannot fail to arise in our hearts from contemplating the attributes and actions of our Maker. His eternity and presence every where must needs raise in us wonder and astonishment. His

* Aben Ezra saith, the love of God is, nisan ba www. the root of all the Commandments. Buxt. Floril,

p. 278.

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