Question About the Greatest Commandment
Mark 12:28-34
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him…

I. PUERILITIES OF THE PHARISEES. The Pharisees busied themselves about the letter of the Law, but had little practical acquaintance with its true spirit. The Jews generally divided the commandments of the Law into the preceptive and prohibitory - the "Do" and the "Do not;" nor was there anything amiss in this. But the Pharisees, we are told, counted the affirmative precepts, and found them as many as the members of the body; they counted the negative, and reckoned them equal in number to the days of the year, viz. three hundred and sixty-five; they then added them together, and found that the total made up the exact number of letters in the Decalogue. They also divided the commandments into great and small - the more important and the less important, or the heavy and the light; those of greater weight being such commandments as related to the sabbath, circumcision, sacrifice, fringes, and phylacteries. They did not stop with puerilities of this sort, but descended to trifling minutiae, which we have neither time nor wish to record. Some of their distinctions were of a more mischievous kind, such as preferring the ceremonial to the moral Law, the oral to the written Law, and the trifles of the scribes to the teachings of the prophets. They also taught that obedience to certain commandments atoned for the neglect of others; in some measure like persons in much more recent times, who

"Compound for sins they are inclined
By damning those they have no mind to."

II. THE WHOLE DUTY OF MAN. Our Lord rebuked by his answer those miserable trivialities of the Pharisees, who seemed disposed to bring him into conflict with one or other of the contending parties, headed respectively by Hillel and Shammai. The subject of the question was one about which the schools of these great Jewish schoolmen differed. If he decided in favor of the one, he necessarily offended and lost in reputation as a public religious Teacher with the other; or perhaps they hoped to bring him into contradiction with an answer to the same question which he had sanctioned with his approval. Our Lord shoved aside their rabbinical quibbles, and passed by their hair-splittings and contendings about such petty trifles, to the neglect at once of the spirit and the really weightier matters of the Law. And as "whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all," our Lord, instead of singling out or specifying any particular commandment of the Law, states two comprehensive precepts which embrace the whole Law; and not only so - he not only reduces the ten commandments of the Decalogue to these two precepts, but underlying these two precepts is one single principle into which they are both capable of being resolved. He thus simplifies the statement of moral duty into a single principle, and that principle itself expressed in the one word "love;" for "love is the fulfilling of the Law."

III. THE SUPREMACY OF LOVE. It has been conjectured that our Lord, when quoting in reply the passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, one of the four Scriptures usually inscribed on the parchment slips of the tephillin, or phylacteries, and called Shema, "Hear," from beginning with this word, pointed to the lawyer's tephillin. This would add to the pictorial or graphic nature of the reply; but nothing could be added to the beauty of the words quoted. He cites the preface, teaching the unity of God in opposition to polytheism, and then proclaims the love of God as the source, and love to man as similar and only second thereto. But whence comes this love? Not by nature, for by nature we are "hateful, and hating one another;" only, therefore, by the new birth, when we partake of a new nature; for "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things having passed away, and all things having become new." Once we love him who first loved us, we are in the proper position for loving our Father in heaven and our fellow-man on earth. The manifestation of this love to man is doing to others as we wish others to do to us, and this exercise of the so-called, and properly so-called, golden rule, is loving our fellow-man as a brother, and son of the same heavenly Father; while our love to that Father is supreme, influencing the affections of the heart, the faculties of the mind, the spiritual powers of the soul or life, and employing the whole strength of all and each of these. God is worthy of all this - worthy of our best affections, worthy of our earliest and strongest love. The practice of this principle would make this earth a paradise, restoring it to all the freshness and happiness of its first and early dawn; rather, would it make a heaven upon earth. - J.J.G.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?

WEB: One of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together. Knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the greatest of all?"

Sorces of Heresy
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