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THE LOVE OF GOD.
DEUT. vi. 5. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
It is scarcely necessary to remind you, that the books of Moses contain the whole body of the laws, religious, moral, and civil, by which the Jews were governed ; nor, although I have for the sake of distinction enumerated them under three heads, as relating to the separate obligations of duty towards God, towards their neighbours, and towards the state, are you ignorant that they were all in one sense religious, inasmuch as they were imposed by divine authority, so that every law could claim for itself more peculiar reverence than is due to mere human enactments, as being an immediate commandment of God. Yet, although they were all so solemnly sanctioned, it appears that, in the course of time, there arose a frivolous question among
this people, as to which was the greatest, the most important, the most necessary to be observed, of all those numerous laws. The question seems to imply a general deficiency of true religious principle; for how could a really pious man think of asking, “In what particular duty that God has enjoined, does He most require my obedience ? ” Such a man would not for a moment believe that it is more pardonable to disobey in some instances, than in others; for he who duly respects the authority, will feel himself bound to pay equal attention, on all occasions, to every thing which that authority has ordained. The question itself therefore betrays the prevalence of an outward, and ceremonial religion, of that sort of religion, which wears the “form of godliness, without possessing the power of it;” it could have occurred only to men, who were desirous to keep up a shew of devotion, while they were not influenced by the spirit of piety ; to men, who felt their duty towards God to be a labour and a task that encroached upon their liberty, instead of a pleasing service performed with a willing heart; to men, whose religion was an encum
brance, instead of a delight; to men, in short, who were more anxious to find out what was the very least required of them, than how they might most fully testify their allegiance and fidelity to God. I will not say that such an irreligious feeling was peculiar to the Jews; I wish we had no examples of it among Christians ; however, such must have been their feeling, when they proposed that unreasonable question to our Saviour, “ Master, which is the great commandment of the law ?” And most wisely was the question answered, and most deservedly was the feeling, that prompted it, rebuked by his reply. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind ; this is the first and great commandment." For, although by that reply, Christ appeared to sanction the opinion, that there was one commandment of especial importance, and pre-eminent in obligation above all the rest, yet he judiciously selected one out of the whole body of the Mosaic law, which included all the rest, which could not be observed separately, and to the neglect of the others, but which in itself implied the necessity of universal obedience. He singled out that one, which expresses and comprehends the very spirit and essence of all religion ; not such a law, as could gratify the indolence of a cold and formal worshipper, and induce him to fancy that an exact and punctual attention to it might relieve him from what he considered the burthen of religion, and compensate for carelessness and negligence in other matters, but one, with which all the others were intimately and inseparably connected. For if this one be strictly obeyed, and if God be really loved with all the powers of the soul, and affections of the heart, the mind can no longer rest satisfied with a partial obedience to him, but will of necessity endeavour to cultivate perfect holiness, entire and unreserved submission to his will, in all things. By this answer therefore, those who
tempted ” him, were unwarily trapped in their own devices; they were at once instructed, and reproved, and confounded, so great was the wisdom with which he spake! No wonder indeed, that his enemies were abashed, and that
no man from that day forth durst ask him any more questions."
My brethren, with Godis no variableness, neither shadow of turning;” as in the government of the natural world, consisting of such various and dissimilar parts, there are a simplicity, and uniformity, and harmony, which indicates the presence of one and the same divine mind pervading the whole, so there is a consistency and oneness (if I may so speak) in the great and fundamental principles, which He has at different times revealed, for the guidance of his rational creatures. Particular rules were necessary for the Jews, under their peculiar circumstances, which are not necessary for any other people ; minute regulations were imposed on them, which are not required in the case of persons free from the temptations to idolatry, to which they were on every side exposed. These laws, therefore, not being adapted to the world in general, are repealed, and annulled ; but the great principle of love to God, as the Maker, Governor, and Benefactor of all mankind, remains ever the same, and unchangeable, and doubtless will remain the same throughout all the ages of Eternity, the first and great commandment. It is the same law that rules the holy Angels, who with perfect obedience do the will of God in Heaven; the same law, that will hereafter bind together, in their several ranks and gradations, all the united children and servants of one Almighty Father, and Supreme Lord, in that kingdom of universal harmony, where willing subjects only shall be assembled together, and from which “all things that offend, and they which do iniquity,” shall be for ever excluded.