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one of the most important of practical questions ; but not more as it applied to himself, than as it did to others; nor more, perhaps, as a practical truth than as a speculative assurance, intended as much to gratify the curiosity, as to enlighten and direct the conduct. Shaped as it is, however, “ What “ shall I do, and (by doing it) inherit everlasting “ life?”—it implies a conviction at bottom of the speaker's individual concern in the resolution of his inquiry; and a predisposition, inseparable from such a conviction, to act up to the solution so obtained. It was the consciousness of that personal concern in the satisfaction of the doubt, which appears to have prompted the question itself. And we should be bound to conclude, on the strength of such an assumption, that his conduct who put it, was that of an humble and sincere inquirer after saving truthaware of his own ignorance, disposed to be grateful for any knowledge which might be imparted to him—and already prepared to make the proper use of it in practice. Men who act from a sense of their personal interest, and with a view to consequences affecting themselves, cannot be deficient in sincerity.
The condescension of our Lord in reply to his inquiries, the full and satisfactory solution which he vouchsafed to both his doubts, are an argument that his questions were not unacceptable to him, either in themselves, or in the circumstances under which they were put; that the motive of the interrogator was innocent at least ; that his behaviour was decent and respectful; and that his solicitude on the points at issue was neither pretended nor unreasonable. If we examine the instances when questions were put to our Lord, in the course of his ininistry, on different subjects, sometimes with a good and sometimes with a bad intent; sometimes by friends, sometimes by enemies; we shall find, that though he answers them all, he does not answer them all alike, but according to the merits of the case, and the particular design and purpose which prompted the inquiry. If a question was proposed to him with an insidious view, however artfully framed and plausibly disguised; he fails not to shew that, by his power of discerning the thoughts, he was aware of the latent hypocrisy; nor to rebuke it openly. On one occasion, he reproved a certain inquirer for prefacing his address to him even by the epithet of good; though it seems from the narrative that he meant to apply it to him seriously. It is more than probable, therefore, that had there been any thing amiss in the conduct of the present inquirer—any thing though excusable, yet faultymuch more, any thing blamable and improper, like the indulgence of an idle curiosity—a desire to try our Saviour's knowledge-a wish to display himself—a captious spirit of disputation—or the hope of eliciting something from our Lord, which might be turned to his disadvantage with the people: the answer would have implied that Jesus was aware of it, and meant to reprove or rebuke it accordingly.
The same question, or one substantially identified with it, was twice afterwards put to our Saviour, and on each occasion was answered by him with the utmost readiness and plainness. The first of these instances was the conversation with the rich young ruler à; the second was the occasion when the question was proposed, “ What kind of commandinent is
a Matt. xix. 16–22. Mark x. 17–22. Luke xviii. 18—23. Harm. P. iv. 52.
great in the law ?” or “ What kind of command“ment is first of all b?” A singular encomium is pronounced on the inquirers, upon each of these occasions. Of the first of them, it is said, that Jesus loved him; that is, was moved with affection and good-will, directly excited by his behaviour, so much so as actually to invite him to become his disciple: of the second it is said, that before he put his question, he was induced to do so, out of an admiration of the wisdom just displayed in our Lord's answ to the Sadducees; and after he had put it, and received the reply, upon his expressing his entire concurrence in the answer, that our Lord himself commended the discreetness of his observations; and said of him, that with such sentiments, he was not far from the kingdom of God; he was already predisposed to become a Christian.
And that the question put upon this last occasion, was substantially the same with the present, may be inferred both from the reason of the thing, that the commandment which is greatest in the law, must be most effectual towards the attainment of everlasting life; and also because St. Luke, whose narrative of the proceedings on Wednesday in Passionweek, accompanies St. Matthew's and St. Mark's, before the time of this question and directly after it, entirely omits the account of the question. The most probable reason of the omission is, that the substance of the question, and of the answer returned to it, had been virtually anticipated by him, in the account of some former transaction : which must have been what passed on the present occasion. It is the rule of St. Luke to relate nothing of the saine kind twice. Indeed the substantial agreement of the two questions is proved by the agreement of the replies, respectively returned to them.
h Matt. xxii. 34–40. Mark xi. 28.-34. Harm. P. iv. 72.
The same two commandments are produced as the instances of the two greatest commandments in the law, on the second occasion, upon which the inheritance of everlasting life was made to depend, on the first.
The reply of the man himself to our Saviour's question, “ In the law what is written? how dost “ thou read ?”—proves much in his favour; that he possessed a mind, elevated above the level of his age, and enlightened with more than its partial knowledge; that he was as original a thinker, as a candid, and unprejudiced inquirer; that he had examined and meditated for himself, on the particulars of his duty, and had come to his own conclusions with a more correct judgment on certain nice and critical questions—with a clearer insight into the nature and design of the law, and a juster appreciation of the relative value of its different component partsthan most of his contemporaries possessed.
It is very true that, as lawyers, teachers of the law, and scribes were all denominations of one and the same class of persons', who by profession were the interpreters and expounders of the law; it is no wonder that one of their number should be familiar with the writings of Moses, and readily allege their contents. But it is truly a singular circumstance that, in answer to so general a question as this, In the law what is written ? he should lay his finger on two isolated, solitary texts; which no where
Cf. Luke xi. 44, 45. Mark xii. 38. Luke xx. 46.
follow each other in conjunction; which are scattered in the body of the law, a great distance apart, and could not easily be brought togetherd; which have no eminence nor distinction assigned them in the original, above the rest, and certainly are no where formally recommended, as singly equivalent to all the rest : that he should cite them too, as what they truly are, pregnant and comprehensive truths, including the substance of so much more, contained in the law besides; and that his choice of these two texts, as the most complete epitome of the rest of the law, should be so judicious and correct, as to draw from our Lord at the time a direct approval of it—that he had answered rightly; that he had cited what was indeed the sum and substance of all the law—and to be still more plainly confirmed hereafter, when in reply to a similar question, he himself produced the same two texts, with this remarkable declaration, that besides those two, there was no other commandment essentially different from them, or intrinsically possessed of a superior excellence and a stronger moral obligation; that the teaching both of Moses and of the prophets, hung upon and was suspended from these two-neither of them doing more than to explain and enlarge, to enforce and apply in various ways, the same two principles of religious, moral, and personal obligation, which together made up the whole duty of man.
4 The first occurs Deuteronomy vi. 5: " And thou shalt love “ the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, “and with all thy might.” The second, Lev. xix. 18:
“ Thou “shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of “ thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I
am the LORD.”