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THE REGARD DUE TO CHRIST
Mark 12:6. They will reverence my son.
THERE are many passages of Scripture, wherein God speaks of himself as frustrated and disappointed by the conduct of his creatures. We are not however to suppose that events happened really contrary to the purposes he had fixed or the expectations he had formed: for it is certain that “he doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth;” and that “known unto him are all his works, from the foundation of the world.” The truth is, that God speaks after the manner of men, for the sake of accommodating himself to our low and feeble apprehensions; and therefore we must understand his words in a popular sense, without deducing from them all the conclusions which they may appear to warrant.
In the parable before us, he is represented as adopting an expedient, which, humanly speaking, could not fail of success. He had sent many servants to the Jews, in order to obtain from them the fruits of his vineyard: but some of them they had beaten, and others they had killed. “Having therefore One Son, his well-beloved,” he determined to send him, judging it impossible, as it were, that they should lift up their hands, or move their tongues against him; “They will reverence my Son.” But in the sequel of the parable we are informed, that, notwithstanding the numerous and solid grounds on which this expectation was formed, their hostility to him was more inveterate than it had been to any who had preceded him; and their treatment of him was the more cruel on account of the relation he bore to God, and the interest he claimed in the vineyard.
Conforming ourselves to the mode of speaking which God himself has suggested in the text, it will be proper to consider,
The grounds of his expectation—
If we were to confine the subject to Christ’s reception among the Jews, we should notice the peculiar circumstances of his incarnation, the spotless purity of his character, the multitude of his benevolent and stupendous miracles, and his perfect correspondence with all that had been predicted concerning him. But, that we may bring the subject home to our own bosoms, we shall omit these general topics, which interest us chiefly as proving his Messiahship, and shall notice others which mark more strongly the grounds of a believer’s attachment to him.
God then may well expect us to reverence his Son,
On account of the dignity of his person—
[Jesus, though born of a woman, differed infinitely from any other of the human race. He was, in an exalted and appropriate sense, the Son of God; “his only Son, his well-beloved.” He was God as well as man, “God manifest in the flesh.” As he was “perfect man, so was he also perfect God, equal with the Father as touching his Godhead, at the same time that he was inferior to the Father as touching his manhood.” Now if God had sent us an angel, or only a worm like ourselves, we ought to reverence him, because the authority of the king is to be acknowledged in his ambassador. But when he sends his co-equal, co-eternal Son, who is “Jehovah’s fellow,” even “God over all blessed for evermore,” ought we not to testify all possible respect for him? Surely when he comes to us in his Gospel, and declares who he is, and whence he came, it becomes us to bow the knee before him, and to welcome him from our inmost souls.]
On account of our extreme need of him—
[If we did not need a Saviour, we might disregard the Lord Jesus, on the principle that “the whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” But who amongst us is free from sin? or who can make compensation to God for his iniquities? Who can satisfy Divine justice, or avert the wrath which his sins have merited? If we cannot do these things, and God has sent his only dear Son to do them for us, ought we not to reverence his Son? Ought we not to receive him with the warmest gratitude and affection? Suppose that having sent his Son into this world, God were now to send him to the regions below, where millions of our fellow-creatures are enduring the punishment due to their transgressions: Would the unhappy sufferers disregard his offers of mercy as we do? Would they not throng him on every side, and vie with each other in rending the air with their acclamations and hosannas? Why then should not we do the same? for wherein do we differ from them, except in this, that we are under a sentence of condemnation, but on them the sentence is already executed? Surely God may well expect, that we should be as solicitous to escape the wrath we fear, as others would be to obtain deliverance from the wrath they feel.]
On account of the benefits he will impart to us—
[If we hoped for nothing more than to avoid the miseries of hell, methinks we could never sufficiently reverence that adorable Saviour who came to deliver us from them. But this is a small part only of the blessings which he will bestow upon us. He will introduce us to the presence of his heavenly Father, and give us the most delightful fellowship with him: He will rescue us from the dominion of sin and Satan, and transform us into the image of our God in righteousness and true holiness: He will even exalt us to thrones of glory, and make us partakers of the honour and felicity which he himself enjoys at the right hand of God. And when God was sending us his own Son to impart all these benefits, had he not good reason to say, “They will reverence my Son?” If a doubt had been suggested whether such a Benefactor would be welcomed upon earth, should we not have been ready to inveigh against the person who suggested it, as a calumniator of the human race?]
But events have happened widely different from this prediction. God, if we may so speak, has been disappointed in his expectations; and that too in an incredible degree. This will appear by considering,
The extent of his disappointment—
How the Lord Jesus was treated among the Jews, it is scarcely needful to mention. Those who are the least instructed amongst us know, that instead of being reverenced, he was loaded with all manner of indignities, and at last put to death, even the cruel and ignominious death of the cross. Amongst us, it may be thought, he meets with a more favourable reception: but in truth, God is as much disappointed in our conduct towards him, as in that of the Jews themselves: for,
His person is slighted—
[We do indeed externally revere the name of Jesus, and profess to call him our Lord and Saviour: but do we really reverence him in our hearts? Is he truly precious in our eyes? Is he “fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely?” Alas! how many days and months have we passed without so much as one affectionate thought of him! How many years might we spend in different families without hearing any heart-felt commendations of him, or being once exhorted to love and serve him! The excellencies of others are painted in glowing colours; the praises of statesmen and warriors are sounded forth in every place: but in Jesus we “see no beauty, no comeliness, for which he is to be desired:” nor have we any delight in celebrating the wonders of his love.]
His authority is disregarded—
[If we warn any person against such or such a line of conduct from the consideration of its being injurious to his health, his honour, or his interests, every word we utter will be duly weighed, and produce an effect suited to its importance. But if we say to any one, ‘Our blessed Lord requires this, or forbids that,’ we only excite a smile of contempt; and the person goes on his way without the smallest concern. Nor is this peculiar to some hardened rebels: it is found equally in persons of every age and every rank. If we call upon the rich to obey his voice, they are too much occupied about the world to attend to our exhortations: they bid us go to the poor, who alone need be subject to such restraints. When we exhort the poor to serve him, they tell us that they are not scholars; that they have no time to attend to such things; and that the rich alone, who have learning and leisure, can properly be expected to devote themselves to his service. When we address ourselves to the young, they reply that it will be time enough for them to think of religion some years hence. And when we speak to the old, and endeavour to bring them into subjection to Christ, they reply with anger, that they have not to learn their religion at this time of day; they do not like such novel notions; they have done to others as they would be done unto; and that they will go to heaven their own way.
We appeal to the observation and experience of all, whether this be not the way in which men almost universally treat the authority of Christ.]
His offices are superseded—
[Christ has undertaken, as a Prophet, to teach us; as a Priest, to make atonement for us: and, as a King, to rule over us. But do we seek to be taught by him in all things, conforming our sentiments gladly to his written word, and imploring earnestly the enlightening influences of his Spirit? Do we not rather lean to our own understanding, and adopt the sentiments of an ungodly world? Do we trust simply in his obedience unto death, renouncing unfeignedly every other ground of hope, and looking for acceptance solely through his blood and righteousness? Do we not rather substitute some works of our own in the room of his, or at least place some reliance on them instead of relying on him alone? How we set aside his kingly authority, has been already noticed. What shall we say then? Can God be pleased with this? Must it not be extremely painful to him to see all the offices which his dear Son undertook to execute for us, thus entirely superseded?
If any be disposed to contradict this statement, let them only look within, and, as in the presence of God, inquire whether they be really living by faith on Christ, and making use of him from day to day as their “wisdom, their righteousness, their sanctification, and redemption?” A candid examination of their own hearts will soon convince them, that their faith in Christ is rather nominal, than real; and that, while they acknowledge him as a Saviour, they do not cordially cleave unto him, or unreservedly embrace him.]
His cause and interests are opposed—
[One would imagine that they who do not reverence Christ themselves, would at least permit others to honour and adore him. But “the carnal mind is enmity against him;” and nothing will more effectually call forth that enmity, than a zealous endeavour to glorify his name. Men can see people on every side neglecting and despising Christ, and never once endeavour to reclaim them from their evil ways: but let any person begin to reverence Christ in his heart, and to manifest his regard to him by a suitable conversation, and they will instantly feel a fear and jealousy lest he should love and serve the Saviour too much. However excellent his conduct be, he will become an object of contempt and ridicule, in proportion as his love to Christ is influential on his heart and life. We appeal to matter of fact: Are not they who were respected and beloved while they were utterly regardless of Christ, considered as weak and contemptible as soon as ever they submit to his authority, and devote themselves to his service? Or, if their weight of character bear down this reproach, are they not lowered at least in the estimation of the world? It is a fact, that they are looked upon as signs and wonders; and that it is thought a disgrace by many even to be acquainted with them.
How astonishing then must be the disappointment of God the Father, when his only, his beloved Son is not merely rejected by the world whom he came to save, but is made a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, insomuch that an unfeigned attachment to him shall be sufficient to call forth their most contemptuous revilings, and, in many instances, their most cruel resentment!]
Those who are disappointing the expectations of their God—
[You doubtless have expectations respecting the manner in which you shall be treated in the day of judgment. You are saying, ‘My God will surely have mercy upon me, and will save my soul.’ But, if you are continually disappointing the expectations of your God, shall not you also be disappointed? Shall his hopes be frustrated, and yours realized; more especially when his are founded on such a reasonable basis, and yours are altogether groundless? Ah! be assured of this, that God will have respect to none who do not reverence his dear Son; and that Jesus himself will say at last, “Bring hither those that were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me.”]
Those who are endeavouring to fulfil the will of God—
[Thanks be to God! there are some who “honour the Son even as they honour the Father;” and whose delight it is to render him the fruits which he requires. Ye, beloved, shall be highly favoured of your God; for he has said, “Him that honoureth me, I will honour.” But shall ye receive honour from men? No, verily; for “the servant neither is, nor can be, above his Lord:” “if they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household.” “Marvel not then if the world hate you; but remember, that they hated Christ before they hated you:” and that, “if ye be hated for righteousness’ sake,” ye have reason to “glorify God on this behalf.” Only seek to express your reverence to Christ, not by needless singularities, but by solid and substantial piety; by bringing forth the fruits of righteousness to his praise and glory.]
DUTIES TO OUR EARTHLY AND OUR HEAVENLY KING
Mark 12:17. And Jesus answering, said unto them, Render to Cζsar the things that are Cζsar’s and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.
IT is said of Jesus, that “he spake as never man spake.” This was true, as to his general instructions: but it was more especially manifest, when, by the malice of his enemies, he was brought into circumstances wherein a merely finite wisdom would have been insufficient for his guidance. Such was the occasion now before us. He had spoken a parable which had greatly incensed his hearers, the Scribes and Pharisees. Had they dared, they would have seized him and put him to death: but, fearing the people, they determined to accomplish his ruin in a more specious way. They sent to him persons to ensnare him in his words, that so they might “deliver him up to the power and authority of the governor,” and accomplish through him what they dared not to perpetrate by themselves [Note: See Luke 20:19-20.]. It was in answer to a question put to him by them, that he gave the direction in my text: in considering which, I will point out,
The wisdom of it, as a reply to the question proposed—
[The persons sent to him were of two widely different castes: some were Pharisees, who were adverse to the dominion of the Romans, and encouraged the people to cast off their yoke; the others were Herodians, who were altogether in the interest of the Romans, and sought, by all possible means, to uphold their authority. Just at that time, it is probable, they were called upon to pay a tax levied by the Roman emperor; and much difference of opinion prevailed at Jerusalem about the obligation of the people to pay it. The Pharisees and Herodians were at issue upon the subject: and this afforded the Scribes and priests a good opportunity to ensnare our Lord. They prevailed on some from each of the contending parties, to “feign themselves pious and conscientious men;” and to go to our Lord, and submit their differences to his arbitration, under the idea that his judgment would be satisfactory and final. Accordingly they came, professing their perfect reliance on him; who, being taught of God, must certainly know what was right; and, being commissioned by God, would be equally unmoved by either the favour or the frowns of man: and they put the question plainly to him, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Cζsar, or not? Shall we give? or shall we not give [Note: ver. 14, 15.]?”
Now this question was very ensnaring: for, if he should determine the point in favour of the Herodians, the Pharisees would stir up the indignation of the people against him, as an enemy to their liberties: if, on the other hand, he should determine it in favour of the Pharisees, the Herodians would accuse him to the Roman governor, as guilty of sedition. If he should decline giving any answer, then they would both of them revoke the sentiments they had expressed respecting his divine mission; and would expose him to all, as either ignorant, or actuated by fear and carnal policy. Thus, humanly speaking, it was impossible he should escape the snare laid for him. Whatever he might either do or not do, they would be sure to find occasion against him.
But Jesus “saw their hypocrisy and their wickedness;” and, with a wisdom truly divine, bade them “shew him a penny,” a silver coin current at that time [Note: Worth about seven-pence halfpenny.]. On its being shewn him, he asked, “Whose image and superscription it bore?” They, not at all aware of the drift of his question, answered, “Cζsar’s;” thereby unwittingly acknowledging that they were under the dominion of Cζsar; seeing, that on no other supposition could they acknowledge his money as the current coin of the kingdom. Thus they were taken in their own snare: for on their answer to him was his reply founded: “Render, therefore, unto Cζsar the things that are Cζsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Thus, both the parties were disappointed in their malignant endeavours: and they departed from him, greatly wondering at the wisdom that had extricated him from the snare, in which it seemed impossible but that he must be taken [Note: See the last clause of the text.].]
But, in considering this reply, we must especially notice,
The importance of it, as a precept for general observance—
In it we see,
The extent of God’s requirements—
[Towards our earthly governors we have special obligations. They are God’s representatives and vicegerents upon earth: and the authority which they sustain, is no other than God’s own authority delegated to them. What our duty to them is, we may see fully set forth by St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans [Note: Romans 13:1-7. Cite this fully, and with a brief comment on it.]— — — And that duty we must discharge, “not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” Whilst we “fear God, we must honour the king.”
Towards God himself we are, of course, bound to render all possible obedience. All that we are, and all that we have, is his. We are his by creation, and his in a more especial manner by redemption. “We are bought with a price, even the precious blood of his only dear Son; and we are, therefore, bound to glorify him with our body and our spirit, which are his” — — —]
The harmony of them—
[These duties are by no means opposed the one to the other. The two tables of the law are in perfect harmony with each other. Doubtless God is to be obeyed in the first place: and if man’s requirements be contrary to his, the point is determined for us, (indeed every man’s own conscience will at once determine it.) “We must obey God rather than man.” But we should not without necessity place them in opposition to each other. We should rather place our duty to man in subordination to our duty to God; and so endeavour to perform the commands of both, that both may be honoured and both be pleased. The Pharisees had much to say for themselves against the right claimed by the Romans to govern that people [Note: Pompey had prevailed through the treachery of Hircanus, and not altogether by fair conquest,]. The Herodians, on the other hand, had much to say in support of the Roman government. But, circumstanced as they all were, our Lord, though afterwards accused of forbidding to pay tribute to Cζsar [Note: Luke 23:2.], determined it to be their duty to pay to Cζsar what belonged to Cζsar, no less than unto God what belonged to God. In conformity with which decision,]
I would recommend to all of you,
Integrity, in the discharge of your duty to man—
[There is in many a prevailing disposition to “speak evil of dignities.” This should on no account be indulged — — — Loyalty, even towards a Nero or a Saul, ought to be a very prominent feature in the Christian character. To defraud the revenue also, by the evasion of taxes, is a conduct of which every Christian should be ashamed — — —]
Spirituality, in the discharge of our duty to God—
[It is not a mere formal service that God requires, but the service of the heart. This, then, must be rendered unto God, “whose will should be done on earth as it is done in heaven” — — —]
THE RESURRECTION PROVED FROM THE PENTATEUCH
Mark 12:26-27. As touching the dead, that they rise; have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.
IT is no uncommon thing for persons to conclude a doctrine to be false, because it may be attended with difficulties which they are not able to solve. This is the great source of objection in the minds of infidels, who do not merely ask, “How can these things be?” but reject at once the plainest declarations of Scripture, because they cannot comprehend every thing relating to them. In this manner the Free-thinkers among the Jews discarded the greater part of the Scriptures, together with the most fundamental articles of their religion. They denied, for instance, the resurrection of the body, and it is supposed, the immortality of the soul also: and having, as they imagined, insurmountable objections to those doctrines, they came to propose them to our Lord, in full confidence that they should confound him, and overthrow the system which he was endeavouring to establish.
Their great objection was taken from the word of God itself, which appointed, that, if a man died childless, his brother should marry his widow, in order to raise up seed unto the departed person, and to prevent his name from being lost in Israel [Note: Deuteronomy 25:5-10.]. They, for argument’s sake, assumed a case, which certainly was within the sphere of possibility. They stated, that a man with six younger brothers died without children; and that, in compliance with the Divine command, his next brother married her; and he also died childless. In like manner all the brothers in succession married her, and all died without issue. Now, as the Sadducees imagined, that, if there were any future world, the same relationship as existed now must of necessity continue, they could not conceive which of the seven brethren would be acknowledged for her husband.
Our blessed Lord informed them, that they were quite mistaken about the nature of the future state; for that no matrimonial connexions would be formed there; but all would be, like the angels, wholly engrossed with spiritual delights: and, as to their secret thought that the resurrection was a thing impossible, they erred from an ignorance of what the Scripture had said respecting it, and of the power of God to effect it. Our Lord then called to their remembrance the passage of Scripture which we have just read; and which we will now consider,
As establishing the point at issue—
The Sadducees acknowledged only the five books of Moses as of divine authority: and therefore our blessed Lord, passing by the many plainer passages which are contained in the prophetic writings, adduced one from the book of Exodus [Note: Exodus 3:6; Exodus 3:16.], which, obscurely indeed, but certainly, contained the doctrine in question—
[God, when he spoke to Moses in the bush, announced himself to him as “the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.” Now this was two hundred years after the youngest of them was dead: and yet God speaks of the relation to them as still existing. But “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living:” the very title therefore which God assumed, implied that those persons were yet alive. Nor did it less forcibly imply, that their bodies also should be restored to life: for they, as men, consisted both of body and soul; and God was as much the God of their bodies as of their souls; and therefore if their bodies should never rise again, that relation had ceased with respect to their bodies. If it be said, that death had already terminated that relation; I answer, that their bodies were merely “sleeping in the dust” till the morning of the resurrection, when they shall awake to everlasting life; and that, as God was no less their God when they were asleep on their beds, than he was during the day, so is he their God now that they are sleeping in their graves, as much as he ever was, or ever will be. In respect of God, with whom all things, past and future, are ever present, and “who calleth things that be not, as though they were,” they are now alive, seeing that they certainly shall live at the last day [Note: This seems to be the true sense of these words, πάντεςγὰρ αἰτῷ ζῶσιν: Luke 20:38. See Beza’s note on the place. Most other commentators seem to mistake their import.].
But the terms here used to designate the Deity, imply, that that these patriarchs had an interest in him, and were partakers of blessings from him. But if their souls were not alive, they inherited no blessing from God; and if their bodies were not to rise, they would only be partially blessed: but they had served God with their bodies as well as with their souls: and therefore their bodies were entitled to a share of that reward which they had looked forward to, and in the prospect of which they had submitted to many hardships and privations: and that God, who had promised to be “their exceeding great reward [Note: Genesis 15:1.],” would not deprive them of their expected benefits.
What weight this argment may have with modern infidels, I know not; but it convinced and confounded all the Sadducees; insomuch that “not one of them dared to put any other question to him [Note: Luke 20:39-40.],”]
Let us proceed to consider the quotation,
As declaring the believer’s privileges—
All that the passage implied in reference to the patriarchs, it implies in reference to believers in every age. It implies,
That a relation subsists between God and them—
[The covenant which God made with Abraham was expressly made also with all his spiritual seed [Note: Genesis 17:7-8.]. His natural seed, as such, had no part in them: neither Ishmael nor Esau had any share in this covenant: it was confined, in the first instance, to him who was born after the promise; and afterwards to those who, like him, should be born of the Spirit [Note: Galatians 4:22-23; Galatians 4:30-31.]. Amongst these, the true believer is numbered, though he should have no relation to Abraham after the flesh. This is asserted by St. Paul in the plainest terms [Note: Galatians 3:7-9.], and consequently, every believer stands in the very same relation to God that Abraham himself did. Hear this, all ye who believe in Christ; every one of you may adopt the words of David, and say, “O God, thou art my God:” and, in saying this, you may claim all God’s perfections to be exercised for you, as much as ever they were exercised for the patriarchs of old.]
That covenant-blessings are provided for them—
[In the covenant were conveyed all spiritual and eternal blessings to those with whom it was made [Note: Genesis 12:2-3.]: and if we believe in Christ, they all belong to us [Note: Galatians 3:13-14.]. In the present life we have a portion infinitely superior to that of the mere worldling: all that he feeds upon is as husks, in comparison of that heavenly manna which the saints partake of; they have “angels’ food,” “a peace that passeth understanding, a joy unspeakable and glorified.” Whilst “the Egyptians were involved in darkness, the Israelites had light in their dwellings.” But “who can conceive what God hath prepared for them” in a better world? Were they possessed of no better portion than what they have here, he would be ashamed to call himself their God: but St. Paul says, “He is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city [Note: Hebrews 11:16.].” If then we truly belong to Christ, we may adopt the triumphant language of the Apostle, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ [Note: Ephesians 1:3.].”]
That in the last day these blessings shall be fully and eternally enjoyed—
[Whatever we possess in this world, it is only transient. The believer’s path is not always smooth: he has many trials; and “through much tribulation is his way to the kingdom.” But in heaven he has arrived at a state of unmixed, uninterrupted happiness. There, his soul is at perfect rest. Here, he groans by reason of sin; there, “having awaked up after the perfect likeness of his God, he is satisfied with it [Note: Psalms 17:15.].” Here, he has many interruptions to his bliss; there, nothing finds admittance that can for a moment cloud his joy [Note: Revelation 21:3-4.]. Here, he is dependent on others for a good measure of his happiness: but there no connexions can augment his bliss, nor can any operate to the diminution of it. In a word, “he is equal to the angels:” and as the patriarchs are now in the full fruition of that portion, so shall he shortly be, and “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of his God.”]
From this subject we may learn,
To make a practical use of the Holy Scriptures—
[We should not readily have conceived that such important truths were contained in the words of God to Moses, if our blessed Lord had not unfolded them to our view. But, in fact, there is in all the words of Scripture a depth which we cannot fathom. Of this we are not sufficiently aware; and therefore we content ourselves with a superficial view of them, without exploring diligently their contents. But our Lord teaches us to reflect on what we read: ‘Have ye not read so and so in the Book of Moses?’ and ought you not from thence to have learned such and such truths? ought you not to have drawn from it such and such conclusions? We entreat you then, brethren, to “mark, learn, and inwardly digest” what you read in the Holy Scriptures; and to treasure up the truths contained in them for the instruction, and comfort, and sanctification of your souls.]
To seek an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ—
[It is in Christ only that we become partakers of the blessings of God’s covenant: “If ye be Christ’s,” says the Apostle, “then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise [Note: Galatians 3:29.].” Till we be united to Christ by faith, we have no part or lot in his salvation. O that all would consider this! O that all would inquire, what evidence they have that they have ever come to Christ aright, and they are really “accepted in the beloved!” Brethren, flee to this adorable Saviour, and lay hold upon him, and cleave unto him with full purpose of heart; and then you may with confidence call God your Father, and say, “This God is our God for ever and ever.”]
To look forward with joy to the eternal world—
[There will you meet all the glorified saints from Abel to the present hour. Not one of them is lost: God is still their God as much as ever. Dread not death, then, which shall introduce you to their company — — — Nor regret too deeply the loss of pious friends. Think that when you are following their bodies to the grave, their souls are in Abraham’s bosom, feasting at the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven. What kind of knowledge we shall have of each other then, we know not; but it is probable that, as there are no relative connexions, so neither are there relative partialities; but all will be like the angels of God, filled with love and joy to the utmost capacity of their souls. In one respect indeed, the blessedness of the just is not yet complete: because their bodies are not yet raised to a participation of it; but we may look forward to the morning of the resurrection, when all who have fallen asleep in Christ shall awake unto life, and possess both in body and soul the full and everlasting enjoyment of their God. Brethren, “Comfort ye one another with these words [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:18.]”—]
LOVE TO GOD, THE GREAT COMMANDMENT
Mark 12:28-30. And one of the Scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment.
IT is no uncommon thing for those who plainly declare the truth, to be beset by cavillers and objectors. Our blessed Lord, who spake as never man spake, endured continually this contradiction of sinners against himself. He had been captiously interrogated by Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees, and had put them all to silence. But he was again attacked by one of the Scribes, who either was, or thought himself, more subtle than any of those who had preceded him, and had already been confounded. It was a matter of controversy at that time whether were the greater, the rites of the ceremonial, or the commandments of the moral, law; and he applied to our Lord to give his opinion on the subject. The question being one of primary importance, our Lord referred to Moses, to whom all the disputants were ready to appeal, and by whose judgment they would consider the case as decided, and told them from him what they must consider as determined on the point [Note: Deuteronomy 6:4-5.].
But this point is of as much importance as ever: and therefore I will endeavour to shew,
What is the first and great commandment of all—
It is that which stands first in the Decalogue, and is marked with a solemnity peculiar to itself.
There is but one God, who is Lord of heaven and earth—
[The heathen worshipped many gods: and even the better informed amongst them thought that there were two great principles or powers, the one the author of all good, the other the author of all evil. But, in opposition to all such errors, our Lord informed him, that there was One eternally self-existent Being, from whom all other beings emanated and derived their existence: and that, as He was the One source of all, so he was the Lord and Governor of all, inspecting, controlling, ordering all things both in heaven and earth.
We are not to understand this as militating against the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead. If we so separated these Persons as to make their actions independent of each other, then we should indeed do, what the Jews are ready to impute to us, worship three Gods. But we acknowledge and maintain the unity of the Godhead, as much as they: yet, as God in many passages of Holy Writ has shewn us, that there is in that unity a distinction of persons, one called the Father, the other the Son, and the other the Holy Ghost, and that each of these persons has his own proper office in the economy of redemption, we admit that distinction, and look to each of those Divine Persons to accomplish, in us and for us, his proper office. Still we deny, as strongly as the Jews themselves, a plurality of Gods, and maintain, as Moses has here asserted, “The Lord our God is One Lord.”
In fact, as learned Jews thought that in these words some peculiar mystery was contained, so some of the early Christians thought that they saw in them a strong intimation of the doctrine of the Trinity in unity [Note: See Bishop Patrick on Deuteronomy 6:4-5.]. But I am always afraid of indulging the imagination upon topics so sacred and mysterious: and therefore I wave all notice of such doubtful matters; and the rather, because that the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead is so clearly and unquestionably revealed in other parts of Holy Writ. I content myself therefore with affirming, that in this passage (to say the least) there is nothing repugnant to it.]
Our duty towards him is, to “love him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength”—
[We are to admit no rival into our bosom. The creature indeed may be loved by us, in subserviency to him; but he must possess our supreme regards, and be served on all occasions with the utmost energies of our souls. Nothing is for a moment, or in the slightest possible degree, to alienate our affections from him, or in any respect to divide them with him (he will not receive a divided heart): whatever we have of understanding, will, or affections, they must all be employed for him without cessation, without abatement, and to the remotest period of our lives.
This is the duty of every living man, whether under the law, or under the Gospel: The heathen themselves are not exempt from it. The law itself was inscribed on the heart of man in his first creation; and, effaced as it has been by the introduction of sin, it must be again written on our hearts before we can ever behold the face of God in peace. Not even God himself can absolve us from this law: it is universally and unchangeably necessary to be observed by every child of man.]
Having answered the question thus far, I will proceed to shew,
Why this is called “the first and great” commandment [Note: Compare Matthew 22:38.]—
It is justly entitled to this honour,
Because obedience to it was the very end for which all our faculties were given us—
[We possess faculties far superior to any other creature upon earth. We have an understanding, whereby we may know God; a will, whereby we may devote ourselves to him; affections, whereby we may enjoy him; and bodily powers also, whereby we may serve and glorify him. These no other creature on earth possesses. Hence man has been called a religious animal; because he alone has those capacities which fit him for religious exercises. Now for what end were these peculiar faculties conferred upon us? Was it that we might exercise them upon earthly things? On earthly things indeed we may employ them in subserviency to God: but it was in order that we might know him, and serve him, and enjoy him, that they were imparted to us; and, if not so employed, they will ultimately prove a curse to us, rather than a blessing. It were better to have been born idiots or beasts, than to have been endowed with such high faculties, unless we improve them for the honour and glory of our God. Hence then this may well be called “the first and great commandment,” because it is that, for the observance of which all our faculties were conferred upon us.
It may also be called the first commandment,]
Because, till we obey that, it is not possible that we should obey any other—
[We are told in Scripture, that whatever knowledge we may possess, whatever faith we may exercise, whatever works we may perform, or whatever sufferings we may endure, it will be all of no account whatever, if it proceed not from a principle of love [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]. This is true, even as far as man is concerned; we must have love to him, if ever we would be accepted of God. But much more must we have love to God; because without a regard for his authority, and a zeal for his glory, every thing we do, however good it may be in itself, is a mere selfish act; originating from our own will, and tending to the advancement of our own honour. Love to God is necessary to constitute a religious act; and without it our very best actions are no better than splendid sins.
But further, this may be called the first commandment,]
Because obedience to it tends to the utmost perfection of our nature—
[If the joints of our limbs were dislocated, they must all be replaced in their sockets before our bodily powers could be restored. So it is with respect to our souls. All our faculties and powers have been deranged by sin, and rendered incapable of those exertions which constitute the duty and felicity of man. But let love to God once pervade them all, and they will all be reduced to order, and enabled to discharge the offices for which they were originally given. The understanding will have its capacity for the comprehension of divine truth renovated and enlarged: the will of itself will turn to every thing which God requires: and the affections will all fix on God as their proper centre, from which neither force nor attraction shall be able to divert them. Love to God will assimilate us to God himself. By “beholding and contemplating his glory, we shall be changed into his image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Once more: this may be called the first and great commandment,]
Because by obeying it we shall of necessity be led to obey every other—
[From which of the other commandments would any man who loves God desire to be released? There is not so much as one, that he would wish to have relaxed in any degree. They are all written in his heart; and he longs to have them inscribed there more and more clearly every day he lives. Could he have the desire of his soul, he would have “every thought of his heart brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”]
I think we have now seen abundant reason why love to God may well be regarded as “the first and great commandment.”
And now I beg your attention to that solemn admonition with which the command itself, both as published by Moses, and cited by our Lord, is introduced, “Hear, O Israel!” Yes, Hear, all of you, my beloved brethren:
“Hear this,” first, for your instruction, that ye may know to whom alone your allegiance is due—
[As for other gods, there are none that have any claim upon you, or indeed any existence, but in the imaginations of ignorant and ungodly men. There are men indeed who claim an authority over you: but their authority is not their own: it is God’s: and they are only as God’s deputies, to exercise it for him. Between husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, magistrates and subjects, there is a bond of rule on the one part, and of subjection on the other: but the rule must be for God, and the subjection to God: and then only are the reciprocal obligations duly performed, when respect is had to God’s authority and honour in the discharge of them [Note: Acts 4:19-20.].]
“Hear this,” secondly, for your humiliation, that you may see how grievously you have failed in your duty towards him—
[In order to form a right estimate of your character before God, you must bring yourselves to this test, and try yourselves by this commandment. But who can abide this test? Who can find any one action in his whole life that came up to the demands of this holy law? The more we bring our lives to this standard, the more we shall see the extreme deficiency of our best deeds, and the absolute need of crying with holy Job, “Behold, I am vile: I repent and abhor myself in dust and ashes.”]
“Hear this,” thirdly, for the elucidating of the Gospel salvation—
[It is a matter of offence to many, that they should be required utterly to renounce all dependence on their own righteousness, and to seek acceptance only through the righteousness of another, even the righteousness which is of God through faith in Christ. But who that tries himself by this commandment, will find so much as one righteous act performed by him throughout his whole life? Yet, in order to salvation, we must possess a righteousness fully commensurate with the utmost demands of the whole law. But where will such a righteousness be found? No where but in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence then is the necessity for fleeing to him, and laying hold on him, and casting ourselves altogether upon him, and embracing him as all our salvation, and all our desire. Understand this matter well, and the whole Gospel will be as clear as the meridian sun, and as acceptable as it would be to one already in hell.]
“Hear this,” lastly, for the regulating of your entire conduct through life—
From the very moment that you turn to God, you must aspire after the attainment here enjoined, and be satisfied with nothing less. And, in order to this attainment, you must contemplate deeply and continually the excellencies of the Divine character, and the innumerable obligations which he has conferred upon you. Above all, you must have impressed upon your minds the wonderful love he has manifested towards you in the gift of his only dear Son to die for you. This will have a constraining influence over your whole man, and will progressively transform you into his blessed image in righteous-and true holiness.]
LOVE TO OUR NEIGHBOUR
Mark 12:31. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
A QUESTION had been put to our Lord, What was the first and great commandment? To this he had answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” But, lest the Scribe should overlook his duties towards his neighbour, and plead perhaps the answer of Jesus as sanctioning such conduct, our Lord reminded him that there was another commandment, similar to that which he had already mentioned; namely, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
In discoursing upon this commandment, we shall shew,
What is the meaning of it—
Self-love is generally represented as a base affection of the mind; and doubtless it is so, as it exists in fallen man; because it is always inordinate, and excessive: but, as it existed in the heart of Adam in Paradise, it was a good disposition, and absolutely necessary for his well-being. It has even now its legitimate exercise; and when directed to its proper objects, and confined within its just bounds, it deserves our approbation, and affords a correct standard for our love towards others.
Agreeably to this idea, we should shew an affectionate regard to our neighbour,
In relation to his temporal welfare—
[If we were labouring under any bodily disease, or misfortune of any kind, we should wish our neighbour to sympathize with us, and if possible to relieve us. Such regard then should we shew to his person, participating his joys and sorrows, and, like the good Samaritan, exerting ourselves to the utmost for his good [Note: Luke 10:30-35.] — — —
Towards his property also we should maintain the same disinterested regard. We would not that another person should “wrong or defraud us in any matter:” we should wish to find in all his dealings the strictest integrity. Such then should be our conduct in all our intercourse with him. We should take a lively interest in whatever relates to him, and rather suffer wrong ourselves, than commit the smallest trespass upon him [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:7.]— — —
We should extend our concern also to his character. We are extremely hurt if others take up prejudices against us, and listen to vague reports, and even by true representations lower us needlessly in the estimation of our fellow-creatures. We should therefore be candid in the construction which we put upon his actions; and be ever ready to cast a veil over his infirmities [Note: 1 Peter 4:8.]: we should “hope and believe all” the good of him that circumstances will admit of [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:7.] — — —
We should consult as much as possible his peace and happiness. There are innumerable ways in which others may grieve us without speaking any thing false, or doing any thing palpably unjust: and there are many ways in which they may promote the comfort of our minds. And there is no one who would not wish to see a benevolent disposition exercised towards him. Such then is the spirit which we should maintain towards others: we should seek our happiness in making others happy; and if necessitated to grieve them for their good, we should feel no rest in our own minds till it was restored to theirs [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:2.] — — —]
In relation to his spiritual welfare—
[Men, it is true, have but too little concern about their own souls: and therefore we must speak of the self-love that ought to exist within them, rather than of that which actually does exist. Suppose then a number of persons to be sensible of the value of their souls, and to be earnestly desirous of obtaining mercy; would they not wish that one, whom they thought capable of instructing them, should labour to promote their eternal interests? Would they not wish that he should cheerfully endure reproach, or indeed even risk his own life, in order to effect their everlasting salvation? Such then is the concern we should express for the salvation of others; we should “greatly long after them in the bowels of Christ [Note: Philippians 1:8.];” we should “gladly spend and be spent for them, even though the more we loved them the less we were loved [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:15.]:” if we had a prospect of being “offered upon the sacrifice and service of their faith, we should consider it rather as a ground of congratulation and joy [Note: Philippians 2:17.],” than of sorrow and condolence: yea, we should actually, if called to it, “lay down our lives for the brethren [Note: 1 John 3:16.].”
It appears indeed, at first sight, that the love here inculcated, is to be confined to those of our own community [Note: Leviticus 19:18.]: but other passages in the same chapter prove, that it is to be extended even to strangers [Note: Leviticus 19:33-34.]; and our Lord’s illustration of it shews, that it must reach even to our enemies [Note: Luke 10:29; Luke 10:36-37.].]
Having, though very imperfectly, ascertained its meaning, let us proceed to inquire,
Wherein it resembles the foregoing commandment—
It is like the former,
[The duty of loving God comprehends every action, word, and thought that relate to God: and as the first four commandments are contained in that, so every thing relating to our neighbour is included in the love which we should bear towards him. St. Paul enumerates not only the prohibitions of adultery, or murder, or theft, or perjury, as implied in this commandment, but even that prohibition which relates to the inmost emotions of the soul, “Thou shalt not covet [Note: Romans 13:9-10.].” There is not a disposition of the mind towards our neighbour, which is not either a violation of this commandment, or a positive compliance with it — — —]
[What can be more excellent than love to God? It is the brightest ornament and perfection of our nature. Such is also the love of our neighbour. View it as it manifested itself in the Apostle Paul; and contrast the exercises of his mind with the selfishness which obtains in the world: how beautiful the one! how deformed the other! Let us only suppose all persons as studious to advance the interest of others, as they are to promote their own: let us suppose them as kind, as candid, as forbearing, as forgiving towards others, as they would wish others to be towards themselves: what a world would this be! it would be a very heaven upon earth — — — Truly, the commendation bestowed upon a compliance with this commandment [Note: James 2:8.], amply attests the mind of God respecting it — — —]
[Without the love of God, all that we can possess is of no value. The same also may we say respecting the love of our neighbour. On it, no less than on the former, do the law and the prophets depend [Note: Matthew 22:40.]: without it, all our pretences to the love of God are vain [Note: 1 John 4:20.]. We may have the most eminent gifts, and appear to exercise the most distinguished graces, and after all be “nothing” in the sight of God, if we be not under the influence of this Divine principle [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]. By this we fulfil the law [Note: Galatians 5:14.]; and therefore the want of it must constitute us transgressors of the deepest die — — —]
We may learn from hence,
How much we need a Saviour—
[Ignorant people not only reject the Gospel, but cut off also one half of the law, omitting what relates to God, and retaining only the duties of the second table. But we will suppose for a moment, that our duty to God is of no consideration; and that our duty to our neighbour comprehends all that we need regard; yet who will venture to rest his hopes upon this ground, that he has fulfilled his duty? Ah! we must be ignorant indeed, if we do not see that we have violated this commandment every day of our lives, and that “our mouths must be stopped as guilty before God.”
Put away then, my beloved brethren, your delusive hopes; and look for mercy through the merits of Him who fulfilled the law for you. It is through his vicarious sufferings that your selfishness must be pardoned [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.]; and through his obedience alone that you must find acceptance with God [Note: Romans 5:19.].]
How we may best approve ourselves to him who has become our Saviour—
[The fulfilling of this law is that which Christ regards as the most acceptable expression of our regard for Him. He has enforced it by new motives, and exemplified it in a new manner, and has taught us to consider our obedience to it as the best evidence of our sincerity. Behold, then, ye professors of religion, what ye have to do: get your self-love mortified, and your love to others strengthened and increased. Get your hearts enlarged towards enemies as well as friends (“for if ye love your friends only, what do ye more than others?”), and “let your love to them be without dissimulation.” There is indeed a peculiar love due to “the household of faith;” but though it should be superlatively exercised towards them, it should not be confined to them exclusively. Every human being should have an interest in your regards; and towards all, you should do as you would be done unto. Let this be the invariable rule of your conduct; so will you adorn your holy profession, and glorify your Father that is in heaven.]
EXCELLENCE OF THE MORAL LAW
Mark 12:32-34. And the Scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God, and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.
IT is the Christian’s duty to be ready at all times to “render a reason for the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear.” But there are some situations wherein this is extremely difficult. If a person obviously come only to cavil, we cannot but be pained on his account; and we are apt to feel a degree of irritation also on our own. But we ought to be much on our guard against the smallest degree of asperity, lest we increase the prejudices which we should labour to subdue. It is true, we have not in such cases much prospect of success: but we learn from the instance before us, that we ought not to despair.
It was a question much agitated amongst the Jewish doctors, What was the first of all the commandments; whether that relating to circumcision, (whereby they were admitted into covenant with God,) or that which respected sacrifices, (whereby they obtained acceptance with God,) or that about the Sabbath, (whereby they honoured God in a more especial manner,) or that respecting their phylacteries, (whereby they kept up the daily and hourly remembrance of God in their minds; for on their phylacteries, or borders of their garments, they wrote passages of the law,) or finally, whether the moral law were not superior to the ceremonial altogether? The Scribe who proposed this question to our Lord, though less captious than those who had preceded him, was under the influence of an improper spirit: yet our Lord returned to him, as he had done to all the others, a plain and incontrovertible answer, and thereby not only convinced his judgment, but in a very considerable degree conciliated his esteem, and disposed him for receiving further information.
The answer which our Lord gave to him has already been considered. That which we are now to attend to, is the Scribe’s reply; which naturally Suggests to us the following observations:
That the great practical duties of the law are supremely excellent—
The Scribe, not contented with the commendation bestowed upon the commandments by our Lord, gives them a decided preference to all the most sacred institutions of the Mosaic ritual: and in this he was perfectly correct: for, however excellent they were in their place, the love of God and our neighbour are of infinitely greater value.
The great practical duties of the law are good for their own sake; whereas the institutions of the ceremonial law were good only as means to an end—
[We must by no means depreciate the “burnt-offerings and sacrifices;” because they were the appointed means of reconciliation with God; they directed the attention of men to the great Sacrifice which was in due time to be offered; and they prepared the world for the coming of Christ. But still they had no intrinsic excellence: if separated from the ends of their institution, the blood of bulls and of goats was of no more value than “the cutting off a dog’s neck, or the offering of swine’s blood.”
But the love of God and our neighbour is really of inestimable value: it is the appropriate exercise of our faculties; and, if carried to the extent that is enjoined in the commandments, it would be an anticipation of heaven itself [Note: See 1 Samuel 15:22.]— — —]
The great practical duties of the law can be performed only by a renewed heart; whereas the institutions of the ceremonial law may be performed by the most abandoned of mankind—
[A wicked Balaam could offer sacrifices in abundance: but who can put forth all his intellectual and active powers in love to God and man? None, but he who has been renewed by the Spirit of God. It is not possible for an unregenerate man to offer such sacrifices as these: they are far too high, too pure, too spiritual: he may easily burn upon an altar the bodies of slain beasts; but he cannot “present his own soul a living sacrifice to God;” he cannot have that inflamed with the fire of divine love, unless he be regenerate and created anew in Christ Jesus — — —]
Respecting the practical duties of the law, we may farther observe,
That they are such as must commend themselves to the conscience of every candid inquirer—
To those who are blinded by prejudice and passion, the words of truth and soberness appear as folly and madness [Note: Our Lord compares the attempting to instruct such persons, to a casting of pearls before swine, who will only turn again and rend us. Matthew 7:6.]. But, as our Lord’s answer constrained the Scribe to confess that he had spoken truth, so must it prevail over every one that has a mind at all open to conviction. Let any one bring the great practical duties of the law to the test; let him propose as severe a test as he will; and we will venture to affirm, that the more they are scrutinized, the more excellent will they appear.
Are they reasonable?—YES.
[What can be more reasonable, than that we should love Him who is infinitely lovely, and who has so loved us as even to give his only dear Son to die for us? — — —]
Are they conducive to our happiness?—YES.
[Wherein does the happiness of heaven consist, but in the exercise of love? Conceive of the whole heart, and mind, and soul, and strength being occupied in love to God; and our neighbour being in all respects loved as ourselves, and treated by us in every thing, as in a change of circumstances we should wish him to treat us; must we not be happy? With every bad passion so subdued, and every Divine affection so exercised, we say again, could we fail of being happy? — — —]
Are they perfective of our nature?—YES.
[The want of love is that which debases us even lower than the beasts that perish. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib:” but we, with all our advantages, are blind to the highest excellency, insensible of the greatest obligations, and regardless of our best interests. No words can describe the full malignity of such a state. But let a principle of love possess our souls, and it instantly refines all our feelings, regulates all our dispositions, and transforms us into the very image of our God — — — More cannot be said in confirmation of this truth, than what St. John hath said, “God is love: and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him [Note: 1 John 4:16.].”]
Are they instrumental to the honouring of God—YES.
[We know of no other way in which God can be honoured; because these two commandments comprehend the whole of our duty. But by abounding in a regard to these, we may, and do, honour him. This our Lord has plainly declared; “Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit.” By the preaching of his word, his name is known; but it is by the practical effects of that word upon the hearts and lives of his people, that his image is reflected, and the efficacy of his grace displayed — — —]
A candid mind, we have said, must acknowledge the excellency of duties which are capable of standing so severe a test: and, for the encouragement of such candour, we observe,
That an approbation of them argues a state of mind favourable to the reception of the Gospel—
When there is a readiness to approve the boundless extent of these commandments, there must of necessity be,
An openness to be convinced of our lost estate—
[It is an ignorance of the spirituality of the law, that causes men to deny their desert of God’s wrath and indignation. They think that a very small degree of love to God, and a very partial regard to their fellow-creatures, is the whole of their duty: and, if they have not violated the commandments by some gross and flagrant transgression, they imagine, like the Rich Youth in the Gospel, that they “have kept them all from their youth up.” But let a person once acknowledge it his bounden duty to love God with all his heart, and all his understanding, and all his soul, and all his strength, and to love his neighbour in all things as himself, and he can no longer resist the conclusion, that his whole life has been one continued act of sin; for there has not been one day, one hour, one moment, wherein the frame of his mind has perfectly corresponded with the demands of the law. It was such a view of the law that made Paul confess himself a lost sinner, under a sentence of eternal condemnation; and was the first thing which overcame his aversion to the Gospel [Note: Romans 7:9.].]
A willingness to embrace the offers of salvation—
[This necessarily follows from the former. A man, who feels himself perishing, cannot despise an offer of deliverance. One who had not committed homicide, might view a city of refuge with indifference; but one who saw the pursuer of blood close upon him, would flee to it with all his might — — —]
A readiness to receive and improve the aids of God’s Spirit—
[No one can view the “exceeding breadth of these commandments,” without feeling the impossibility of keeping them by any strength of his own. While he thinks the law extends no farther than to the outward act, he supposes himself capable of performing all that is required: but when he sees that it reaches to the heart, he is easily persuaded, that he needs the agency of God’s Spirit to qualify him for a due discharge of his duty. He therefore will be glad to hear that God has “promised the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” He will think it no indignity to stand indebted to a Divine agency: on the contrary, while his approbation of the commandments inclines him to obey them, he will thankfully accept the proffered influences of the Spirit, and rejoice in the prospect of being “able to do all things through Christ who strengthened him.”]
These things necessarily resulting from a just knowledge of the law, and being the characteristic marks of those who embrace the truth, they must needs be also good preparatives for the reception of the Gospel.
[Such was our Lord’s judgment in reference to the Scribe, when he had heard his approbation of the moral law. And to every one who manifests such a disposition, we may say with our Lord, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”]
We shall now conclude with a word,
[Surely they who indulge prejudices against the truth, and cavil at the Gospel instead of embracing it, should well consider how awful their condition is: for if one who, like this Scribe, yields to conviction, and acknowledges that conviction before his ungodly companions, and exposes himself thereby to shame and reproach for conscience’ sake, may yet be only near to the kingdom of God, and not a partaker of it, what must be the state of cavillers, and of those who reject the truth?
They also who approve of the truth in their hearts, and shew a decided regard for those who preach or profess it, should take care not to rest in such a state. For to what purpose is it to be “not far from the kingdom of God,” if they be not after-wards brought into it? To what purpose is it to be “almost Christians,” if they do not become such altogether? To what purpose is it to have “a name to live,” if yet they continue “dead?” The Wise Virgins only, who had oil in their lamps, were admitted to the wedding-feast; the others who had the lamps without the oil, the appearance but not the reality of grace, were excluded from it. Alas! what a mortification must it be to such in the eternal world, to find that once they were not far from the kingdom, but that, after all, they fell short of a participation of it; that they dropped into hell, as it were, even from the gate of heaven! O! I would most earnestly caution you against sleeping in such imminent danger, and against resting in any thing short of a thorough conversion.]
[We trust there are many who, when they hear the demands of the law, and the declarations of the Gospel, are ready to say, “Well, Master, thou hast said the truth.” To such then we would address ourselves in the most encouraging terms; ye “are not far from the kingdom of God.” Only go on a little further, and you will be brought effectually into the kingdom. Seek to know the way of God more perfectly. Make your inquiries, if you will, provided you make them in a candid spirit. But endeavour to improve all opportunities of instruction. The word of God to you is, “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.” Be thankful for the light ye enjoy, and for the smallest disposition to improve it. Take heed, however, that your knowledge lead you to Christ, and produce suitable effects upon your hearts and lives: so will you become members of Christ’s kingdom on earth, and finally be partakers of his heavenly kingdom.]
NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Mark 12:34. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.
OUR blessed Lord has given us this caution: “Give not that which is holy unto dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine [Note: Matthew 7:6.].” But, in following this suggestion, we must be careful not to judge precipitately, but to give to every one an opportunity, at least, to manifest the real dispositions of his mind. Such was our Lord’s conduct, in relation to the different descriptions of persons who conversed with him. There came to him many who sought only to ensnare him, and “catch him in his words [Note: ver. 13.].” They, however, put on an appearance of sincerity, and addressed him with great respect [Note: ver. 14.]: and therefore, notwithstanding he saw through their design, he answered the questions which they proposed to him [Note: ver. 15–17 and 18–27.]. After he had put both the Herodians and the Sadducees to silence, a Scribe from among the Pharisees, with no better intention than the former, put a question to him, though of a less ensnaring kind [Note: Compare Matthew 22:34-36.]. This person seems to have been instigated by others, rather than to have followed the bent of his own mind: and the benefit of returning a courteous answer, even to captious inquiries, now strikingly appeared; for he was convinced by the instruction he received; and by shewing the docility of his own mind, he elicited from our Lord that gracious testimony, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
It shall be my endeavour,
To confirm the declaration of our Lord—
The question asked by the Scribe was, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Our Lord replied, That it was that which enjoined us to “love God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength: and that the second was like unto it, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself [Note: ver. 28–31.].” In this answer the Scribe fully acquiesced; and thereby he shewed, that “he was not far from the kingdom of God.”
Now, observe what his acquiescence implied. It indicated,
[This was a knowledge which was by no means common amongst the Scribes and Pharisees at that day. They laid a very undue stress upon outward rites and ceremonies; and upon circumcision in particular, (as many amongst ourselves do upon baptism,) as though that were of itself sufficient to secure a man’s acceptance with God. The having of Abraham for their father, was, in their estimation, a sure title to heaven [Note: Matthew 3:9.]; whilst an obedience to the moral law was with them only a secondary concern. This Scribe, however, was better instructed. He saw that the requirements of the moral law were of primary and indispensable obligation; and that, without an obedience to them no person could have a well-grounded hope of God’s favour.
Now then I say, that this degree of knowledge, deeply fixed in the mind, and openly avowed, is an excellent preparation for the kingdom which our blessed Lord came to establish upon earth. Where this measure of light exists in the soul, we cannot but hope that it shall be so augmented by the Gospel, as ultimately to guide a man into the way of peace.]
[Our blessed Lord had silenced the former querists; but he had not so convinced them, as to elicit any approbation of his sentiments. They were too full of prejudice to make any such acknowledgment; and would have been glad enough to justify their own views, if they had known what reply to make. He, on the contrary, was open to conviction: he would not reject knowledge, because of the person by whom it was imparted; nor would he close his eyes, or shut his ears, because his instructor was a man hated and despised: he would receive truth from whatever quarter it came; and entertain it in his mind without jealousy and without fear.
What if the Gospel which we preach were so heard; and truth were thus freely suffered to make its way to the heart? Verily the kingdom of God would be far more enlarged amongst us, than ever it has yet been. And the same may be said of every place under heaven, where the Gospel is faithfully administered.]
[There was not in this Scribe a mere acquiescence in the truth proposed to him, but a most cordial approbation of it. He dilates upon our Lord’s words with evident pleasure; and adds to them, what was not necessarily required, a declaration, that those two commandments, of the supreme love to God, and of loving our neighbour as ourselves, were “more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” Now this was in the very teeth of all that the Pharisees maintained. There was among them, and there exists to a vast extent amongst ourselves, an idea, that if a man were punctually observant of all the rites and ceremonies of religion, he must of necessity be in a good state before God. But this Scribe justly sets down the outward observances of religion as of no account, if the person performing them be not animated by love to God and man. Rites and ceremonies are of no value, but as means to an end: whereas love is of infinite value, for its own sake: it is a conformity to God: it is the image of God upon the soul of man.
Now this the Scribe both saw and felt: and, wherever such a feeling is, verily the man may well be said to be “not far from the kingdom of God.”]
Taking, then, our Lord’s declaration as unquestionably true, I will proceed,
To found upon it some salutary advice—
I will address myself,
To those who answer to this character—
[There are many, and doubtless many here present, in whom is found a good measure of knowledge, and candour, and piety; whilst yet the best that can be said of them is, that “they are not far from the kingdom of God.”
It will be asked, of course, What are the defects of this character? and what needs to be superadded to it, in order to bring a man fully into the kingdom of God? I answer, There must be in him these three things: first, a sense of his undone state, on account of having violated this law; next, a dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ, as having fulfilled this law for us; and, lastly, a determination of heart, through grace, to fulfil it ourselves. Without the first of these, a broken and contrite spirit, whatever be a man’s other qualities, he is not yet upon the threshold of God’s sanctuary. Without the next, that is, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, he has not knocked at the door; for “Christ is the door, through which alone any man can enter in [Note: John 10:9.].” And without the last, obedience to God’s commands, whatever his profession be, it is clear that he has not entered in at that door: for if he had, his faith would be demonstrated by his works.
Now, then, to the regular and well-disposed part of you, I would affectionately offer this advice: Take it not for granted that you are right before God; but weigh yourselves in the balance of the sanctuary, and search wherein it is that you are found wanting. Religion does not consist in knowledge nor in candour, nor in what I have ventured to call piety; by which I mean, an approbation of what is good: it consists in a thorough conversion of the soul to God, in a way of deep penitence, and simple faith, and unreserved obedience: and till these be found in you really, deeply, abidingly, you are not really partakers of the kingdom of God. You may be “not far from it;” but you are not in it; nor do the blessings of it belong to you. I pray you, mistake not the appearance of religion for the reality; nor ever rest till you have attained a clear, decisive evidence that you are indeed the Lord’s.]
To those who have not even attained this character—
[How many are there that are yet full of ignorance, and prejudice, and aversion to the truth! — — — What, then, must I say of you? Can I administer to you the encouragement which our Lord gave to the inquiring Scribe? Must I not rather say, that you are far from the kingdom of God? and if you are far from that kingdom, consider, I pray you, to what kingdom you are near; even to the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of the wicked one? I grieve to suggest to any of you so painful a thought: but I appeal to you, whether your state be not one of extreme danger: for if, whilst possessing all that this Scribe possessed, you may yet have no part in the Gospel kingdom, it surely becomes you to tremble at your state, and to cry mightily to God, if peradventure you may at last find admission into it, and be saved for ever. Possibly this counsel may be neglected by you, as that of Christ was by the Pharisees of old. But judge ye in what light they now view their past obduracy. But their weeping now is of no avail. I pray God that you, my brethren, may now improve the opportunity afforded you, and may seek the Lord whilst he may be found, and call upon him whilst he is near.]
To those who are really admitted into the Redeemer’s kingdom—
[See how to act towards those who are yet without. “Be always ready to give to every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear [Note: 1 Peter 3:15.].” And be particularly careful to encourage good appearances wherever you may find them. Our blessed Lord, looking upon the Young Man in the Gospel, “loved him;” notwithstanding he knew, that, when his professions should be put to the test, they would be found delusive [Note: Mark 10:21-22.]. And this is to be a pattern for us. What if our Lord, who knew the design of this Scribe, had given him a repulse at first, instead of answering his question? The man would have been hardened in his wickedness; instead of being, as we would fondly hope he was, brought effectually into the kingdom of God. Learn, then, tenderness towards such characters; and “instruct in meekness them that oppose themselves; if God peradventure may give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth; and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, by whom they are led captive at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:25-26.].”
At the same time, shew to all around you what it is to be really partakers of Christ’s kingdom. Shew by your life and conversation what the character of his subjects is; and seek to be daily growing in a meetness for that kingdom which awaits you at your departure hence. Determine, through grace, that “having a promise of entering into God’s rest, nothing shall induce you to come short of it.” Think what a terrible disappointment it must be to any soul to find itself not far from the kingdom of God, and yet not in it; and to fall from the very gates of heaven into the bottomless abyss of hell. Determine, I say, that nothing shall divert you from your course, or retard you in it: but that, with God’s help, you will “so run as to obtain the prize.”]
THE WIDOW’S MITE
Mark 12:41-44. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury: for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
THE morality of the Gospel is applauded by most: yet there are few who do not, by their explanations and comments, deprive it of half its excellence. The “turning of the left cheek to him who has smitten us on the right;” the “surrendering of our cloak to him who has already taken away our coat;” the “forgiving of an offending brother, not only seventy times, but seventy times seven;” these, and other precepts of a sublime import, are reduced to little more than an abstinence from revenge; so anxious are men to reduce the Scripture to their own practice, rather than to elevate their practice to the standard of God’s word. The same would be done in reference to the great duty of liberality; but happily an example is set before us which cannot possibly be explained away. Had the conduct of this poor widow been merely set forth in a way of precept, instead of being exhibited in actual life, it would have shared the fate of those other precepts, and have been pared down to a general commendation of self-denying charity. But here is no opportunity afforded us for talking about Eastern metaphors, and figurative expressions; here is a plain simple fact, decidedly approved by Him who cannot err; and consequently, it may be regarded as an illustrious example, which, as far as we may be in similar circumstances, we shall do well to follow.
Let us consider,
Our Lord’s commendation of the widow—
[In the temple there was a treasury, where all who felt their hearts disposed to make a voluntary offering to the Lord, were enabled to do it: and the money so collected was expended in the service of the sanctuary, either in sacrifices that were to be offered, or in the wood, and salt, and other things necessary for the offering of them. Depraved as that generation was, the custom of contributing freely for these purposes very generally prevailed: it seems, that “the people” in general, and not merely a few liberal individuals, “cast in” their contributions. Many that were rich contributed largely: but a poor widow, who possessed only a single farthing in the world, gave that, even “all her living.”
Now it may well be doubted whether there be a man upon earth who would not have disapproved of this act, if our Lord himself had not expressly commended it: they would have blamed it as unnecessary, as useless, as presumptuous: unnecessary, because God could not require any offering at the hands of one who was so indigent; useless, because a farthing towards the expenses of the temple was literally no more than a drop in the ocean; and presumptuous, because to cast away her all, was to tempt God, and to expect a further supply from him, when she was throwing away the supply he had already afforded her.
But our blessed Lord took pains, (if we may so speak,) to express his approbation of it. “He called his Disciples to him,” to inform them of it, and to declare to them his sentiments respecting it. We do not apprehend that he knew the circumstances from any conversation he had had with her: he had no need to be informed by others, because he himself was omniscient: and he declared without hesitation, that this donation of hers, small as it might appear, and highly indiscreet, was indeed both great and good: it was great, inasmuch that it exceeded all the accumulated presents of the rich who had contributed; since they had only given a part of their property, “out of their abundance;” whereas “she, of her want, had given all that she possessed, even all her living:” it was also good, because she had given it with a single eye to the glory of God; and God, who knew the motive by which she had been actuated, accepted it as “an offering of a sweet-smelling savour.”]
Let us now turn our attention to,
The instruction to be gathered from it—
Among many other lessons we may learn from it,
How to estimate charity—
[We are apt to estimate it by the amount that is given on any occasion: but this affords no proper criterion for judging of real charity: that must be judged of, first, by the proportion which the donation bears to the ability of the donor; and, next, by the disposition and design of him that gives it. Donations that are large in the actual amount, may yet be small, when taken in connexion with the donor’s opulence: whilst the smallest gifts, as in the instance before us, may be truly great, on account of the indigence of him that bestows them. This is told us by St. Paul, who says, that “God accepts them according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not a:” if only there “be [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:12.] willing mind,” the amount of the gift makes no difference in his eyes [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:12.]. That which gives every thing its chief value is, its being done with an unfeigned desire to please and honour him. Without that we may give all our goods to feed the poor, and yet have not one atom of that charity which will be approved of our God [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.].]
How to practise it—
[Much was there in the conduct of that poor widow that is deserving of imitation. We should dispense our charity secretly. We are well assured, that there was nothing of ostentation in her upon this occasion; else our Lord would not have bestowed such commendation upon her. She wanted none to be spectators of her liberality; it was sufficient for her that God was privy to it. Thus “our left hand should not know what our right hand doeth.” There are occasions indeed, when, for the sake of example, it is necessary that our liberality should be known: but, when that is not the case, we should rather affect privacy, and be satisfied with approving ourselves to God.
We should also dispose of our money cheerfully. She needed not to be urged to it: she was happy in serving God [Note: “Ready …willing.” See 1Ti 6:18 and 2 Corinthians 9:7.]: and doubtless, instead of imagining him indebted to her for any service she could render, she considered herself infinitely indebted to him for the disposition he had given her.
We should also impart liberally of what we possess. If any be disposed to set aside her example as singular, and not intended for our imitation, we appeal to similar conduct in the Churches of Macedonia; where, in the midst of deep poverty, they abounded unto the riches of liberality; and gave, not only according to their power, but even beyond their power, being willing of themselves, and praying the Apostle with much entreaty to be the distributor of their alms [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:2-4.]. We may indeed be foolishly prodigal in giving where the occasion does not require it: but, if we have really an eye to the honour of God, we need fear no excess. Many may proudly talk of giving their mite; but we shall not find many that will really do it: but the more we can deny ourselves for God, the more acceptably shall we serve him.]
How to act on the present occasion [Note: If this be the subject of a Charity Sermon, a comparison may here be instituted, between the occasions for exertion; and the urgency of the particular occasion be insisted on. It may also be stated, that, if carnal sacrifices were offered to God by means of the contributions in the one case, the spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving will abound in the other. It may also be suggested, that the Lord Jesus has his eye upon the treasury, and is observant of every one, to mark, both what he gives, and by what motive he is actuated: and that he will bear testimony to our liberality in the day of judgment, and confer on us a reward proportioned to it. 2 Corinthians 9:6.]—
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Mark 12". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany