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LUKE, CHAP. X.-VERSE 29.
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my
The precepts of the law and of the gospel being conceived in general terms, and expressed in the most easy and familiar manner, men of speculative minds, whose business is rather inquiry than practice, have taken so much pains to adjust the limitations and restrictions which they conceive to be applicable to the general rule, that in many cases the duty has been lost in the explication ; and the precept has been so pared and cut to the quick by exceptions, that it is no longer of any use or service in common life.
The law of God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves ;' the interpretation of which will better come from our hearts than our heads; for we cannot help feeling the sense of our duty as long as we attend to the motions of nature within ourselves : our own wants and infirmities will show us the matter and the extent of our obedience; and self-love will direct us in the practice and execution : but when men come to speculate on the point, and to define the exact bounds of love, and to determine nicely how far the notion of neighborhood is to be extended, the event too commonly is, that there is but very little love left to be disposed of among our neighbors, and that it may the better hold out, but very few neighbors left to share in our love. Call a covetous man to the exercise of this duty in an instance of charity; show him a man oppressed with poverty and hunger, clothed in rags, and destitute
of all the comforts and supports of life, and bid him love this poor wretch as himself: he will tell you, perhaps, the law is excellent and good, and he does love the man, and pities his misfortunes; but he has nothing to spare : he is not obliged to love another better than himself; and therefore it is unreasonable to expect that he should straiten and pinch himself to enlarge the conveniences' of others : he grudges him no degree of love, and heartily wishes him at ease and in plenty; but cannot afford any thing towards it out of his little. Or perhaps he will question on what title this man pretends to be his neighbor : he is sure he never saw him before, nor ever heard that he lived near him; and if every body that will may claim to be his neighbor, there will be no end of it; and he may soon give his neighbors all he has, if every one that begs must be his neighbor. There is room in all other instances of our duty for the like subterfuges; and as long as men find comfort in such excuses for their negligence and disobedience, they will never want invention to furnish them.
It may seem strange perhaps that the laws of God should be liable to this usage: since being the transcript of perfect wisdom, and the work of him who not only knows, but foresees the secrets of all hearts, we might expect to find them so guarded and fenced about, and made so plain and express in all cases, that it should have been in no man's power to question the sense or meaning of the precept, or to cover his iniquity with the least umbrage of an excuse drawn from the interpretation of holy Scripture : but there are very good reasons to be given why the law of God is not so explicit and particular. Were the Scripture to descend into the consideration of all cases, and to state the exact bounds of our duty in all possible circumstances of life, we might say perhaps, with. out being much beholden to a figure -of speech, that the world itself could not contain the things that should be written. A law extending itself to such variety of cases and circumstances would be altogether useless, and men might grow old in sin and iniquity before they could possibly learn their duty, or extract the rules
proper for their own use, out of the infinite variety of laws, many of which have no respect to them or their circumstances.
Besides, God gave every man a law to direct him, when he made him a reasonable creature, and expects obedience in virtue of that law of nature. The gospel was given not to exclude, but to assist the exercise of reason : and therefore to require a law so exact and circumstantial, that there should be no room for the use or obedience of reason, is to preclude met from those nobler instances of duty which flow from the right use of their minds, and which are the proper sacrifice offered by a rational soul to God. The uprightness of a man, and the integrity of his mind, are as discernible in his application of the rules of the gospel, as by any outward acts whatever. A man who reads in the gospel that he ought to love his neighbor as himself, and from his own sense and reason supplies the law with this noble comment, that all the sons of men are his neighbors, is as much a better Christian than the man who extends the law only to his townsmen or his countrymen, as his neighborhood is more universal.
Farther, a law descending to every particular case would be of no manner of service in correcting the evil complained of: it is the perverseness of the will, and not the weakness of the understanding, that teaches men the evasions of the law: were the law more explicit, they would only take more pains to get rid of its obligations; for the plainness of the law will do but little in correcting the malignity of the will, which yet is the only thing that stands in need of an improvement. The command of loving our neighbor is so far from wanting to be en: larged, that I believe there is no right good Christian who thinks any mortal excluded from the benefit of it as it now stands : to what purpose then should it be enlarged ? Were it expressed in never so general terms, it might still be misunderstood or perverted by such as obstinately refuse to see. Suppose the law conceived in the fullest terms, and that it were said that every man in the world is to be esteemed our neighbor, and has a right to our love and assistance, and that it is our duty to do him good; and were this law, so expressed, to be made the standing rule of the courts of inquisition, what would the world be the better for it ? For as long as they will maintain that the greatest good they can do their brother is, in order to reform his supposed errors in religion, to whip him and torment him, to
sequester his goods and estate, or to deliver him over to the fire, the more universal their rule is, the worse it must fare with all the world : and whilst they have such notions of doing good, the only thing to be wished for is, that they might think it their duty to hạte all mankind.
Since therefore it is impracticable to give rules and directions for all possible cases, and to adjust the general laws of virtue and obedience to the great variety of circumstances incident to huinan life, without destroying the end of all laws, which are intended for directions and rules; but were they to take in all particular cases, would soon grow too voluminous to be service, able; there being no life long enough, no industry sufficient for such a study, and no memory strong enough to retain such a body of institutes: since reason and judgment would be of no farther use in virtue and obedience, were men in all cases limited by particular clauses and provisions; because it would be great presumption for men to exercise their reason and their judgment in order to govern and direct themselves, were the law of God so express and particular in all cases, as to exclude farther inquiry ; by which means the noblest instance of virtue, which is shown in the free choice that reason makes of what is good and amiable, guided by the general directions of God's law, would be oftentimes lost and impracticable: since likewise the end proposed to be served by such numerous and particular laws would not be obtained; but men would still find room to cavil at their duty, and be able to furnish pretences to evade it, as is evident from this plain reason, that it is not want of knowlege but of will to obey, which makes men wrest and torture the law of God : had they therefore more light from the most express directions, yet still their disinclination to virtue would be the same, and produce the same ill effects; and, consequently, were the laws of the gospel ever so much enlarged, the same difficulties would remain, as long as the same perverseness of will continues among men : from these considerations, I say, it does appear that the gospel is not to be charged with the doubts and disputes which often arise on the laws and precepts delivered in it, the gospel having all the perfection requisite in a law designed for the government and instruction of rational creatures ; but we must look out elsewhere to find the cause that may give us a satisfactory account why men so often and so widely differ on the plainest points of duty, and whence the difficulties and scruples grow, which perplex even the clearest precepts of Christian morality.
The text, if carefully attended to, will discover to us the cause to which this evil owes its growth and increase ; and the parable which our Saviour put forth, instead of a direct answer to the lawyer's question, will teach us where to seek and find the remedy.
Interpreters are not agreed in the meaning of the former part of the text, · But he, willing to justify himself, said ;' for it does not appear what occasion he had for any justification of himself: no accusation had been brought against him; nobody had charged him with any neglect or contempt of the law : so far otherwise, that our Lord had commended his wise answer, and promised him life if he obeyed the terms which he himself had proposed : ' And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right; This do, and thou shalt live :' on which immediately follow the words of the text, But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, and who is my neighbor ? Besides, it does not presently appear how any justification of himself could arise out of this question, or any answer that might be given to it. What fault did he mean to excuse by asking, · Who is my neighbor?' or how did his virtue or innocence depend on the answer that should be returned to this inquiry? These difficul. ties, I say, have led interpreters into different sentiments : but without examining their opinions, I shall propose to you one that seems to be the true, because the most easy and natural exposition of the place.
This lawyer came to our Lord, and tempting him, said, " What shall I do to inherit eternal life ?! Our Lord returns him to the law for an answer to his question, saying,
• What readest thou ?' He readily answered, that in the law he found that he was to love the Lord his God with all his might, and his neighbor as himself.' This account our Saviour approves, and says unto him, “ Thou hast answered right;' and adds, that if he would practise the law as well as he seemed to understand it, he was in no danger: • This do, and thou shalt live.' But in this part, relating to practice, the lawyer well knew how