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SERMON XXXVII.

THE FIRST AND GREAT COMMAND; OR, THE LOVE OF GOD.

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AMANTISSIME Deus, fons omnis gratiæ, accende in me, per spiritum tuum, purissimam amoris tui flammam, ut super omnia te diligam; largire ut hoc amore impletus e vivâ experientiâ alios doceam, ut et ego ipse, et qui me audiunt, in tui imaginem magis magisque transformemur; propter perfectum amorem Redemptoris nostri. Amen.

MARK Xii. 32, 33, 34.

AND THE SCRIBE SAID UNTO JESUS, WELL, MASTER, THOU HAST SAID THE TRUTH, FOR THERE 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.

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MAKE choice of these words, as being the same in effect which our Lord has elsewhere affirmed to be the sum and substance of the Law and the Prophets: that is, these are what all God's revelations to mankind are designed to explain and enforce.

But then I the rather chose these words, as spoken by a Jew, to shew, that the Jewish and

* See Psalm xcvii. 10. John xiv. 21, 23. Eph. iii. 17, 18. 1 John iv, 19. v. 3.

Christian religions do both aim at the very same thing; and that such as were truly spiritual, ▾ in all ages, knew very well, that all outward institutions, from the beginning, were only in order to promote the love of God, and of our neighbour amongst men.

For this is the meaning of the scribe's saying, that to love God with all the heart, and one's neighbour as himself, is more than whole burntofferings and sacrifices; that is, the love of God, and of our neighbour, is a more indispensable duty than all the sacrifices in the world. Not as if sacrifices could have been neglected, having been appointed from the beginning, and without which there was no remission of sins;* but we are hence to learn, that the end of all religion is to create, or to preserve, the love of God, and of our neighbour, amongst men.

St. Paul uses a way of speaking very like this, when he saith,† Circumcision is nothing; that is, it will not render a man more acceptable to God, unless it obligeth him to love God, and to keep his commandments.

St. Paul would not have us to conclude from these words, that a Jew under the law might at his pleasure have neglected to circumcise his children; for this was, by God's appointment, a visible sign by which his church and people were distinguished from all others, and by that sacrament sanctified to himself. It was a seal of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his seed, that he would be their God; and that they should neither have, nor love, any

* Hleb. ix. 2.

t1 Cor. vii. 19.

other God besides him. Circumcision therefore, was nothing; that is, it would not avail any of the seed of Abraham to have been circumcised, unless he bound himself by that ordinance to love the Lord with all his heart.

Saint Peter saith, in effect, the same of baptism:* Baptism (saith he) doth now save us, or becomes a means of salvation; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, not as it is an outward visible sign, but, (as it supposes,) a good conscience inquiring of God, to know and to love him; or, as it obliges all who are baptised to live according to the will of that God to whom they are dedicated in baptism.

Lastly; St. Paul saith of preaching,† Neither is he that planteth any thing, nor he that watereth; but (that is, in comparison of) God that giveth the increase. Not that preaching and hearing are, under the gospel, indifferent things, which men may value or despise at their pleasure; the Spirit assuring us to the contrary,―That such as will not hear cannot believe, and consequently cannot be saved. But this is what we are to learn from these words of the text, and from such like expressions in holy scripture: namely, that the end and design of all outward ordinances in religion are, and ever were, to bring men to the knowledge and love of God, and of their neighbour; and that as, on one hand, outward institutions are not, at our peril, to be neglected or despised;-for that would be to despise the means of grace, or the merciful provision which God has ordained to make us

* 1 Pet. iii. 21.

+ 1 Cor. iii. 7.

happy; neither, on the other hand, are they to be depended on as sufficient to salvation, unless they lead us to the love of God, and of our neighbour.

Thou art not far (saith Jesus Christ) from the kingdom of heaven; that is thou hast a right apprehension of the meaning and design of all religious duties, and you are in a fair way of becoming a Christian; for you confess that the love of God, and of your neighbour, is the end of all religion; and the Christian religion, of all others, will soonest lead you to the love of God, and of your neighbour: You are not therefore far from the kingdom of heaven. For when you come to be a Christian, you will have the same opinion of the outward duties of Christianity, as you now have of the Jewish sacrifices; you will not depend upon them any farther than as they are means of obtaining a divine nature, of uniting the soul to God; or as they are expressions of that love which men owe to God, and to their neighbour.

You will say, for instance, that to love God with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul and strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, (that is, to deal with him with justice and charity;) is more than alms, than fasting, than prayers, or than any other outward duties of Christianity. Not that you will dare to omit or slight these, since they are appointed by God for attaining that love which of all things is most acceptable to him. But then you will not rest in these, as if they were any farther well-pleasing to God, than as they

are the most proper methods of restoring us to the image of God, in which we were at first created; that is, in leading us the very shortest way to the love of God and of our neighbour, which, as was said before, is the very end and design of the christian religion, as you acknowledge it was of the Jewish; for you say with

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truth and discretion, That to love the Lord God with all the heart and soul, and one's neighbour as himself, is more than whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.

And this is the reason why these are by our Lord called the two great commands; namely, because all the rest of God's commands were given in order to create and preserve the love of God, and of our neighbour.

The first command (for instance) forbids us to place our happiness, our dependence, any where but on God; for if we once believe that any thing can make us more happy than he that made us, we cannot but love that thing better than God.

For this reason the scriptures call a covetous man an idolater, because such a man looks upon riches as sufficient to procure him the greatest comfort; he desires them, he depends upon them, he loves them, above all things.

The holy scriptures say the same of the glut ton, that he makes his belly his god; that is, he thinks of it, he loves it, with all his heart.

That our minds, therefore, may not be carried away from God, this command obliges us to look upon him as the author of all the good that ever we had, or can enjoy; and the more persuaded

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