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care of him; and whatsoever thou mayest spend more than " these, I, when I am coming back again, will repay thee. “ 36 Which then of these three seemeth to thee to have been a
neighbour of him that had fallen among the robbers ?” 37 And he said, “ He that did the kindness to him.” Jesus therefore said unto him, “Go thy way, and do thou in like wise.”
PRELIMINARY MATTER. THE parable of the good Samaritan might have been called, with more propriety, the parable in answer to the question, Who is my neighbour ? and this denomination would have intimated the occasion out of which it arose. The expediency of replying to such an inquiry by an example, may be shewn hereafter : but as even this particular question arose out of a conversation on a more general subject, between our Lord and a certain lawyer, we shall not be prepared to enter with advantage either on the question, or on the parable which assigns the reply to it, until we have considered the particulars of the previous discourse.
No part of the gospel history, according to St. Luke, is related with less mention of special circumstances, like those of time and place, than this : no doubt, because such mention was perfectly immaterial to the narrative itself; the moral uses of which were abundantly sufficient to render the present incident worthy of record, solely on its own account. All that we can infer with respect to these circumstances is, that our Saviour was teaching in one of the synagogues—if not of Capernaum, yet probably of some other of the towns of Galileewhen a certain lawyer, or teacher of the law, stood up, and proposed the question, which was the foundation of the subsequent discourse; “What shall I do, “ and inherit everlasting life ?”
It can scarcely be necessary to explain the terms of an inquiry like this. The phrase, everlasting life, it may be taken for granted, refers to the life to come; and even the idea of inheriting this life, though originally derived from the Hebrew idiom, is too familiar to readers of the New Testament, not to be readily understood. With respect to any further questions, as, whether the expectation of a life to come was always entertained among the Jews; or if not, at what time it began to be current with them—and the like; these are inquiries, on which we have no need to enter at present. We have good grounds for asserting that the doctrine of a future life was not unknown to the Jews of our Saviour's time; and that the expectation of it then, was one of the articles of the popular belief, whether it had always been so or not. The question now proposed would itself be a proof of this fact; were no other evidence of it supplied, by a variety of allusions besides, in the gospel accounts. The idea of inheriting any thing supposes the possible possession of it hereafter, but excludes the idea of its actual possession at present. No one could inquire what was to be done to inherit everlasting life, who did not know beforehand that everlasting life was to be inherited on certain terms; though he might not yet know the particular nature of the terms themselves. We must have inferred then, from the words of the question, that the Jew who put it, believed everlasting life to be promised, on certain conditions ; and possible to be inherited hereafter, by compliance with the conditions here; though he did not know what the conditions were: and we inust have inferred from the answer returned to it, that the promise which conveyed the assurance of that life, was virtually contained in the law of Moses, and the statement of the conditions to which its inheritance was attached, was actually so.
It seems to me a more interesting, as well as a more necessary subject of inquiry, preliminary to our present business, which is the consideration of the series of questions and replies out of which the parable ultimately arose—to investigate and do justice to the nature of the motive, which prompted the interrogator on this occasion, to put both his first and his second question : especially, as in speaking of each of these questions, the language of the evangelist is calculated apparently to produce one construction of the character of that motive, and the circumstances of the case themselves, such as they are recorded, to justify another. Whether the language of St. Luke does necessarily lead to this construction, will be considered hereafter. At present, we may observe, that if the motive of the inquirer, who stood up to put the question to our Saviour, in the first instance, was not innocent and venial, it was of course captious and sinister; of which two constructions of its nature, that which appears to me the most just and reasonable, as well as the most charitable, is, on many accounts, the former.
If we except those two expressions of the evangelist's, the meaning of which will be discussed by and by, there is nothing on the face of the narrative, to raise a suspicion of the simplicity of the interrogator's motives, or inconsistent with the favourable impression otherwise produced by his conduct. The manner in which he is supposed to have put his inquiry to our Lord, had nothing disrespectful in it: nor in putting a question to him was he doing a thing contrary to the custom of the age and nation, or what a public teacher of acknowledged ability and competent authority, among the Jews, was not liable at all times, to have done to him. If he was not previously a disciple of Jesus, yet by assurning the attitude and address of a scholar, he acknowledged him, apparently, for his master, pro hac vice, and professed a willingness to be taught by him, on the point in question.
To ask for information on any subject was so far a confession of his own ignorance about it; to ask for instruction on the subject of eternal life, implied not only that, but a sense of the importance and value of knowledge on such a point, above all others. To ask for information with this view, from our Lord especially, was virtually to acknowledge that he only was capable of affording it: that he only could resolve the inquiry so much more personal than every inquiry, what may be hoped for, what is to be feared, beyond the grave; he only could convey the assurance, so much more interesting than all other assurances, what must be done to secure the good and to eschew the evil, both of them the possible consequences of a life to come.
We cannot conceive a question, which could have been put to a teacher, like our Lord, not only with less indecorum, but with more of propriety than this; nor any point of practical concern to moral agents, on which an humble and sincere searcher after truth, would more naturally desire satisfaction from a competent authority. I have already observed, that the inquiry takes it for granted, everlasting life was to be obtained; but implies a doubt or an ignorance, by what means, or on what conditions. Now the stronger the certainty of a life to come, the more important is the practical question resulting, what is to be done with a view to its attainment. Serious minds the more habitually they are impressed with the conviction of the one, the more exclusively they are fixed on the decision of the other. The more certain they are of a life to come, and of the future personal consequences of an hereafter to all, the more deeply they are interested in the present, the immediate—the preliminaryconsideration, what influence this belief should have on their own conduct, in what way this futurity is likely to affect themselves. And if the Jews, in our Saviour's time, were more or less generally convinced of the article of faith, but were still divided in opinion on the question of practice, arising out of it; that would be only an additional argument with a pious and reflecting mind, the more eagerly to seek the solution of its doubts wherever it was to be satisfactorily obtained ; and not willingly to remain in ignorance and uncertainty, where every thing depended on knowledge and assurance, and the want of either was full of danger to so important and personal a concern, as the individual's everlasting welfare.