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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Mark 12



Verses 1-12


(1-12) And he began to speak unto them by parables.—See Notes on Matthew 21:33-36. The parable which, like that of the Sower, and like that only, is related in all the first three Gospels, was one which had obviously impressed itself strongly, as that had done, on the minds of those who heard it, and was reproduced by independent reporters with an almost textual exactness.

A place for the winefat.—Better, simply, a vine vat.

Verse 2

(2) A servant.—The variations in the reports are, as has been said, few and slight, but it may as well be noted that St. Mark speaks of “one servant” having been sent, and then another, and another, and then many others, while St. Matthew divides them simply into two great groups. St. Mark, characteristically, seizes on the most vivid presentation of the facts.

Verse 4

(4) At him they cast stones.—The participle so rendered is wanting in the best MSS., and probably originated in a marginal note explaining how the labourers wounded the second servant.

Verse 6

(6) His well-beloved.—Added by St. Mark to St. Matthew’s briefer form, “he sent unto them his son.”

Verse 9

(9) He will come and destroy the husbandmen.—St. Matthew reports the words as having been spoken by ‘the by-standers. Here they form part of the parable itself. We may think of them as having been probably taken up and repeated by our Lord after they had been uttered by others.

Verse 11

(11) This was the Lord’s doing.—Better, This was from the Lord. The pronoun in the Greek is in the feminine, agreeing with the “head of the corner.”

Verse 12

(12) They sought to lay hold on him.—The pronoun carries us back to the “chief priests and scribes and elders” of Mark 11:27.

Verse 13

(13) They send unto him.—In Matthew the Pharisees are said to have “taken counsel,” or “held a council,” and then to have sent their disciples. Here the act appears more definitely as the result of a coalition of the two parties named. On the narrative as a whole, see Notes on Matthew 20:15-22.

To catch.—Better, to entrap.

Verse 14

(14) Thou regardest not the person of men.—The phrase is essentially Hebrew in its form, but had been made familiar by the Greek Version of the Old Testament.

Verse 15

(15) But he, knowing their hypocrisy.—St. Mark uses the specific word that describes the sin of the questioners, instead of the more general “wickedness” of St. Matthew. On the other hand, he omits the word “hypocrites” as applied to them by our Lord.

Verse 16

(16) Superscription.—Better, inscription, as in Matthew 22:20.

Verses 18-27

(18-27) Then come unto him the Sadducees.—See Notes on Matthew 22:15-22.

Verse 24

(24) Because ye know not the scriptures.—More literally, as in St. Matthew, not knowing the scriptures.

Verse 26

(26) How in the bush God spake unto him.—Better, at the bush, how God spake to him. The reference to the bush, not given by St. Matthew, is common both to St. Mark and St. Luke, and the order of the words in the Greek of both shows that they point to “the bush,” not as the place in which God spoke, but as the title or heading by which the section Exodus 3 was commonly described.

Verses 28-34

(28-34) And one of the scribes came.—See Notes on Matthew 22:34-40. St. Mark’s description is somewhat less precise than St. Matthew’s “one of them (i.e., the Pharisees), a lawyer.” The form of the question differs by the substitution of “first of all” for “great” commandment.

Verse 29

(29) Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.—The quotation is given more fully by St. Mark than by St. Matthew. The opening words (from Deuteronomy 6:4) were in common use under the name of the Shemà (the Hebrew for “Hear”), and formed the popular expression of the faith of Israel. To say the Shemà was a passport into Paradise for any child of Abraham.

Verses 29-31

The Two Commandments

The first is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.—Mark 12:29-31.

1. Jesus was surrounded by His enemies, who were determined to get some advantage over Him. They had challenged His authority and been worsted by His counter-question in reference to John the Baptist, and put to confusion by His parable of the Vineyard and the Husbandmen. They next sent some expert lawyers, hoping to entangle Him in a matter of politics, and were again brought to confusion by the unexampled discrimination of His answer. Then the Sadducees came forward with a speculative question concerning the future state and the relations existing there between man and wife, and they, in turn, were utterly routed by the deep discernment of the true nature of human relations in respect both to earth and heaven. Among the number of those who had come out to join with His enemies in bringing about His defeat, or, at least, to enjoy His discomfiture, was a scribe who, if an enemy, was at least a more candid one than his confederates. He had evidently been impressed with the singular mastery Jesus had shown over all the questions which had been put to Him, and His superior ability in all matters of casuistry; and especially was he surprised and pleased with His clear insight into the spiritual nature of things, as brought out in response to the question touching divorce as practised by the Jews and countenanced by Moses, and as to the future state of the dead. More candid than the rest, and compelled into a respectful attitude towards Jesus, he asked a question. It was not a captious one, as had been the others, but was asked with sincere intent. They, his companions, had challenged His authority; this scribe would now test His wisdom, for he perceived that there was more in Jesus than was to be found in a mere usurper and pretender. There can be no final authority where there is not final wisdom. So the scribe reasoned, and went straight to the question at issue, not by seeking minute interpretations of secondary duties, but by challenging Him on the one point which would bring out from Him an answer that would reveal the depth or shallowness of His authority as a teacher and commander of the people. “What commandment,” he asked, “is the first of all?”

2. It is not difficult to see why an honest and earnest teacher of the Law, as this man evidently was, should be anxious for an authoritative answer to this question. The Law was large and complex. It branched out into such innumerable details that it was clearly impossible for any one to follow it in every particular. If, then, salvation was to be had by obedience to the Law, which was the prevailing opinion of the time, it could only be by a fair average obedience; in which case it would be a vital question which part of the Law should be most insisted on. It was the function of the scribes and lawyers to explain the Law, and settle questions of conscience; and seeing no one could be expected to keep it all, it was eminently desirable that they should be able to say what was most essential, so that their disciples might make sure of so much, and then the risk of being rejected for not keeping the rest would be greatly reduced. If one could only be sure of, say, a single commandment which clearly took precedence of all the rest, one might make a special point of seeing to it, and content oneself with doing the best one could with the others. For surely it would be a terrible thing if some punctilious devotee who had tithed his mint and anise and cummin, and vexed his soul about a thousand little things, should find at the last that all was in vain because he had overlooked the first and great commandment.

3. The question ought to be of equal importance to the very large number of people in our day who believe in salvation by the keeping of the Law, or, as they would put it, by living good lives. What they believe in is a fair average goodness. They are fully aware of the distinction between right and wrong, and their idea is that if a man is right in the main, the wrong things he does will not be laid up against him. It is the same old idea of salvation by keeping the commandments; not all of them, for that is impossible, but as many of them as to make it evident that he is a good, well-meaning man, and therefore worthy of a good place in the life to come. What question, then, could be more vital to persons of that way of thinking than the one put here by the scribe—“Which is the first commandment of all?”

If you were to go to some recognised authority in commercial circles, the answer would probably be something like this: Pay your debts; be scrupulously honest: that is the first and great commandment. Let a man only be fairly honest and honourable in all his transactions with his neighbours: that is the main thing—as for the rest, a fair average goodness will be quite sufficient. Or, if you were to address the same question to some leader of fashionable society, the answer would be something like this: Be gentlemanly, or, Be lady-like. Perhaps a French phrase would be convenient, as it certainly would be appropriate: let everything in your appearance, dress, and behaviour be comme il faut. If English were preferred, the phrase might be “good form.”1 [Note: J. M. Gibson.]

4. Was this summary of the Law stated here by Jesus or by the lawyer? In St. Matthew’s narrative we are told that the lawyer asked Him the question, and that Jesus replied that the first and great commandment was to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and a second like unto it was this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. “On these two commandments,” He added, “hangeth the whole law and the prophets.” In St. Luke, however, the lawyer who stood up tempting Him put the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied by asking him how he read the law. The lawyer himself then summarised the law, in the formula, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself.” Jesus said, “Thou hast answered right: this do and thou shalt live.” And then the lawyer’s self-justification elicited the narrative of the Good Samaritan. It is quite possible, as Meyer supposes, that the lawyer in St. Luke is not the same as the one referred to in St. Matthew; and that the lawyer in St. Luke, knowing the formula which Jesus had already given as the summary of the law, asked his question to elicit an expected answer, intending to pose Him with the casuistical question, Who is my neighbour? In that case, he was disconcerted by the inquiry of Jesus, What is written in the law? How readest thou? and was obliged himself to give the summary which he expected from Jesus. It is this duplicate narrative which leaves us in doubt whether it was Jesus who first selected the two texts (Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18) and offered them as the most important feature of the law. But we need not be in any doubt as to His originality and Divine authority in characterising this twofold commandment as the pivot on which the whole law and the prophetic teaching turn. The Rabbis may have given to it a certain pre-eminence; Jesus pointed out that it was the whole law in germ and principle.

Whatever may be the degree of originality in this mode of handling the law, it is clear that Jesus by His precept and example struck out a totally new thought in ethics and religion by His application of the truth imbedded in the ancient law. If the Rabbis recognised a pre-eminence in the mighty precept, “Thou shalt love,” none the less they lost themselves and their hearers in an intricate maze of regulations which had little or nothing to do with love. But Jesus gave to the idea such a power and such an inclusiveness that He succeeded in absorbing all the precepts of His law in the one principle. His Apostles unquestioningly accepted this solution of all casuistry. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Romans 13:9). In St. James, the perfect law, the law of liberty, fulfils itself in service to sufferers and purity towards God (James 1:25-27). St. Peter sums up all his teaching in exhortations to love (1 Peter 3:8-9; 2 Peter 1:7). And St. John is so possessed with the thought, that tradition presents him, in the renunciation of all other doctrine, simply spreading his hands over the Church with the injunction: Little children, love one another.1 [Note: R. F. Horton.]

They asked Akiba, Rabbi wise and good,

“Which is the weightiest text in all the law?”

He answered slowly and with heart-felt voice,

“Thou shalt thy neighbour love e’en as thyself.”

“There is a weightier still,” Ben Asai said,

“‘This is the book that tells of Adam’s race.’

For that declares the brotherhood of man.”

It is admitted that neither of these two great commandments is in the strict sense original, because they are both to be found in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4; Leviticus 19:18). The originality of Jesus consisted in lifting them out of obscurity, and giving them their position of prominence in the Christian ethical system. How much this was required, especially by the second commandment, we at once see if we take the trouble of turning to the place where it occurs in the Book of Leviticus. There it stands side by side with a commandment not to make a garment mixed of woollen and linen cloth, and not to sow a field with divers kinds of seed. It is quite clear that in a position like that this commandment was virtually lost, and the original reader of the Law would have no conception of its importance. But Jesus lifted it out of its obscurity, and, raising it aloft, converted it into a vision of mankind as He conceived it to be, a family of brothers, a company of lovers.

Another service which Jesus did to this commandment, besides lifting it up out of obscurity into prominence, was the way in which He joined it with the first commandment. These two commandments both stand in the Old Testament, but they do not stand together. They are widely apart, with no apparent connection between them. But Jesus brought them together thus intimately so that they are closely related.

I remember a very able engineer telling me that a number of engineering inventions were made in connection with the building of one of our Glasgow bridges, by one of our most prominent engineers of genius, and he said to me that when other engineers came to see them they were perfectly mad with themselves that they had not made the discoveries, because they seemed to be so simple.1 [Note: J. Stalker.]


The First Commandment

“The first is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”

From the time of Moses to the present hour, morning by morning and evening by evening, these words have been on the lips of every devout Jew. For three thousand five hundred years, in times of prosperity and in times of tribulation, has the testimony been heard without ceasing. Of no other religious watchword could the same thing be said. The strains sound through the ages like a Divinely authenticated and undying protest, not only against all systems of idolatry, but against legalism and letter-worship. Religion is love, the love of God and the love of our fellow-man, the union of a grateful reverence with a fine human ethic. With this utterance ever murmuring in Jewish homes through the long centuries, like a cadence of the unwearying ocean, no wonder Jesus should have said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law. I came not to destroy but to fulfil.”

i. First

1. This is the first commandment for these reasons—

(1) It is the first commandment on account of its antiquity; for this is older than even the ten commandments of the written law. Before God said “Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal,” this law was one of the commands of His universe. This commandment was binding upon the angels when man was not created. It was not necessary for God to say to the angels, “Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not steal,” for such things to them were very probably impossible; but He did doubtless say to them “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart”; and when first Gabriel sprang out of his native nothingness at the fiat of God, this command was binding on him. It was binding upon Adam in the garden; even before the creation of Eve, his wife, God had commanded this; before there was a necessity for any other command this was written upon the very tablets of his heart—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.”

(2) It is the first commandment for dignity. This commandment, which deals with God the Almighty, must ever take precedence of every other. Other commandments deal with man and man, but this with man and his Creator. Other commandments of a ceremonial kind, when disobeyed, may involve but slight consequences upon the person who may happen to offend; but this disobeyed provokes the wrath of God and brings His anger at once upon the sinner’s head.

(3) It is the first commandment for justice. If men cannot see the justice of that law which says, “love thy neighbour,” if there be some difficulty in understanding how I can be bound to love the man that hurts and injures me, there can be no difficulty here. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” comes to us with so much Divine authority, and is so ratified by the dictates of nature and our own conscience, that this commandment must take the first place for the justice of its demand.

2. This is the first, the absolutely first, commandment, expressing that which is of the first, the absolutely first, importance; expressing that, indeed, without which no other commandment can in any sense that God accepts be said to be obeyed at all. Before we do anything else, and in everything else we do, our whole being must be inspired with love for the Lord our God. Otherwise we cannot keep any of God’s commandments, as God counts keeping. Otherwise we cannot do anything good, as God counts good. Do what we may that appears to men to be righteous,—fast twice in the week; mortify ourselves by our own stern strength of will, till our life is joyless and passionless; observe a thousand and one traditions of men, till we are ready to drop with fatigue; deny ourselves all things in a spirit of ascetic pride,—God is not pleased in the least little bit unless our heart and mind and soul are full of love for Him, as the sole motive of all that we do. Bow and posture as we will, unless our hearts swell with a full tide of love for God it profiteth nothing. To quote the words of our great singer, unless our hearts swell with love for God with

Such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound or foam,

all genuflections and prostrations are the merest mimicry of reverence.

It is surely true to say that our growing sensitiveness to human sorrow may sometimes have blunted our sensitiveness to human sin, and again in no way more certainly than by adhering to the order of Christ’s two commandments can we ensure our recognition of the truth—absolutely vital to the Christian faith—of sin and its significance. The world has recently been enriched by the permanent memorial, drawn by a master hand, of one of the most striking personalities which—in our own land at least—the recent centuries have seen. Whatever opinion any man may have formed about the changes and chances of Mr. Gladstone’s eventful life, no reader of these illuminating volumes will, I imagine, be found to doubt the indomitable vigour of his religious faith. In a remarkable passage, headed “Religion the Mainspring,” the biographer has eloquently described that characteristic of the man. “All his activities,” says Lord Morley, “were in his own mind one. This is the fundamental fact of Mr. Gladstone’s history. Political life was only part of his religious life.… It was religious motive that, through a thousand channels and avenues, stirred him and guided him in his whole conception of active social duty.… Life was to him, in all its aspects, an application of Christian teaching and example.” When Mr. Gladstone himself records how the Bible had, at every crisis, been his stay, and recounts the very texts which, at special junctures in his earlier public life—the Oxford contest, his first Budget, the Crimean War, and so on—had, as he says, “come home to him as if borne on angels’ wings,” it grows clear and ever clearer that he had made his own the principle that, for the Christian man, the love of God comes first, and the love of man is its outcome and its fruit.1 [Note: Archbishop Davidson.]

Mazzini, all alone, as he tells us in his Autobiography, with the two great things in nature, the sky and the sea, felt the presence of God whose will was the redemption of Italy. Mazzini, in the strength of that knowledge, gave himself to serve his neighbours; he planned a revolt; he bound together the aspirations of the young; he held aloft a noble ideal; he encouraged, he rebuked, he restrained. Mazzini’s love, unlike that of his predecessor Rienzi, who took memories for hopes, was not a copy of other men’s love. He did not repeat in the nineteenth century the ways of a previous century; he came as a man with a mission; he did what he was bound to do; he had learnt God’s will, and with St. Paul he felt, “And woe is me if I do not obey.”2 [Note: S. A. Barnett.]

A child stood at the window of a baker’s shop, looking in with hungry eyes. A lady passing by took compassion on her. The little one received the purchased dainties without a word, until at parting she quaintly and pathetically said, “Be you God’s wife?” There was profound philosophy at the bottom of that. All true kindness proceeds from the best and noblest—yes, from God within us.1 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]

ii. The Lord is one

The Trinity of our faith means a distinction of persons within one common indivisible Divine nature. It implies, therefore, as its base, that the Divine nature is one and indivisible. It excludes the notion of gods many and lords many. For this reason God revealed the essential oneness of His being first; and it was only after Israel had, through many weary centuries and many bitter lessons, learned that truth, that Jesus did or could disclose to His disciples “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” On polytheistic soil no such revelation could have been, in the first instance, intelligible. Gentiles, accustomed to think of a throng of conflicting deities, would certainly have misunderstood it. It was to monotheistic Israel—to Israel, whose whole history had been one prolonged, and at the last successful, inculcation of this primary truth, “The Lord our God is one Jehovah,” that the later message could be sent with any hope of its being understood, that Jehovah’s name is the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. When you think how passionately the Hebrews of our Lord’s time clung to that peculiar tenet which their nation had been set in the heart of pagan polytheism on purpose to defend—the truth that God is one; and when you see at the same time how such Hebrews as John, Paul, and Peter came to revere Jesus the Son of God as equally to be worshipped with the Father, and received the invisible Spirit who came at Pentecost as no less truly a Divine Person, you must feel that this new revelation of a Trinity in God left quite unaltered their old faith that God is one. It was a mighty and a blessed addition to their knowledge of Jehovah; but it did not shake what they knew before—“Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our Lord is one Jehovah.”

The object of Moses in declaring the unity of God was to guard the Jews against idolatry; my object in dwelling on it is to claim from you the consecration of all your powers. A simple illustration will make both these points clear. Polygamy is contrary to the true idea of marriage; he who has many wives cannot love one of them as a wife should be loved. Equally is the ideal of marriage violated if a man cannot or will not render to his wife the homage of his whole nature. His affection itself will be partial instead of full, and his heart will be distracted, if, whatever her amiability may be, her conduct offends his moral sensibilities, if he cannot trust her judgment and accept her counsel, if she is a hindrance to him and not a help in the practical business of life. Many a man’s spiritual life is distracted and made inefficient, simply because his whole being is not engrossed in his religion; one-sidedness in devotion is sure to weaken, and tends ultimately to destroy it.1 [Note: A. Mackennal.]

In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours,

Faith and unfaith can ne’er be equal powers:

Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.

It is the little rift within the lute,

That by and by will make the music mute,

And ever widening slowly silence all:

The little rift within the lover’s lute

Or little pitted speck in garner’d fruit,

That rotting inward slowly moulders all.

It is not worth the keeping: let it go:

But shall it? answer, darling, answer, no.

And trust me not at all or all in all.2 [Note: Tennyson.]

There must be chivalry in our love for God. The old knights and cavaliers proved the worth of their love by winning repute for courtesy and gentleness, as well as for daring exploits. King Arthur made his knights of the round table swear

To love one maiden only, cleave to her,

And worship her by years of noble deeds,

Until they won her.

And thus he justified the vow:

I knew

Of no more subtle master under heaven

Than is the maiden passion for a maid,

Not only to keep down the base in man,

But teach high thought, and amiable words,

And courtliness, and the desire of fame,

And love of truth, and all that makes a man.

Notice these words under heaven. I am inclined to believe that the poet meant by them that he knew of no better influence in this world which lies under heaven’s canopy.1 [Note: L. R. Rawnsley.]

iii. Thou shalt love

What a strange and startling command, to be ordered to love! We can understand obedience in a thousand matters: we can allow and justify an order to do this, or to do that: we might even go so far as to concede the right to dictate what we should think and believe, so ignorant are we of the reality of things, so dependent on the condescension of wiser and holier men! But love? Love, surely, is the one thing we cannot but retain in our own possession: love, at least, we fancy, is our own: into its recesses, into its deep privacy, who is there that will dare to penetrate without our leave? Why, we ourselves hardly venture to intrude upon the hidden places of our own affections! Yet God assumes the entry even of this last refuge, this secret home: even hither He penetrates with His searching decrees: He lays down laws, He makes personal claims: “Thou shalt love me.” It is a rule of His dominion that He should be loved. Nor is it to be merely a vague goodwill that we are bound to give Him; nothing general, or loose, or impersonal, or impassionate will satisfy Him; it is vivid, impetuous, enthusiastic personal love that He orders us to feel for Him; nothing short of this will do at all; love without limit, love without reserve, love without a rival, love without an end, this is His rule, the law of His state: “Thou shalt love me with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.” Nor is this all. Our affections have yet more demands made upon them. Not only are they to be concentrated, in all their force, upon the Lord of this Kingdom, but they are to be distributed far and wide, over the whole length and breadth of the dominion. This, too, is to be done by order; we are under command to love every brother-man equally with ourselves: this, too, it appears, can be dictated to us.

It is said that one of the greatest statesmen that we have ever had, having gone to hear an evangelical preacher, was heard growling as he left the church, “Why, the man said that we were to love God,” evidently thinking that that was the very height of unreasonableness. And when Wilberforce attacked the fashion of religion in the beginning of the nineteenth century, this was the point on which he fixed—that not only was God not loved, but people did not even think that to love God was reasonable. Going to work philosophically, he demonstrated, first, that what he called passion—meaning love—is the strongest force in human affairs; and, secondly, that religion requires exactly such a stimulus, because of the difficulties that it has to overcome.

iv. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God

1. If any man—a little weary of the modern cant about charity—should ask, “Why does Christ lay so much stress on love? why does He declare the commandments which enjoin love of God and man to be the two commandments which include all others?” the answer is plain and clear. Selfishness is the root and essence of all sin; and love is the one passion that can conquer selfishness. When we do what our conscience condemns, it is because we seek thereby to advance our own interests, or supposed interests, or because we want to seize what we take for pleasure. We set up our own will against another and a higher Will. That is to say, in the last resort, sin is always selfishness, the selfishness which defeats itself. Whenever we do wrong, we are making self our centre—self-interest, self-gratification, self-love. This base passion is natural to us, or natural to that which is base in us; and, being natural, it is strong. The one passion that always masters it, that masters it for a time even in the basest and most grasping nature, is the passion of love. It is of the very essence of love that it is unselfish, that it prefers the welfare, the gain, or the pleasure of another to its own.

Love seeketh not itself to please,

Nor for itself hath any care,

But for another gives its ease,

And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.

It is only lust, that base and sensual counterfeit of love, which—

Seeketh only self to please,

To bind another to its delight,

Joys in another’s loss of ease,

And builds a hell in heaven’s despite.

2. There is no more deep and permanent pleasure in life than that which comes from the return of love and friendship from those whom you have steadily tried to train and teach, and set forward in life; for whom you have laboured, and sacrificed your own delights, and limited your expenditures, that you might make life easier and brighter to them hereafter. The steady love of children to their parents is the one all-compensating reward of all their toils. Now this love of being loved, strongest in the noblest natures, is evidently an image of something deeper still in God our Father, hard as it is at first to think that we can give any pleasure to Him. But so it must be. If Christ speaks of doing always those things which please Him, why should not we? Enoch had this testimony that he “pleased God.” Divine service ceases when we lose the idea of giving pleasure to God by loving Him and doing His will. The popular loss of this idea is, perhaps, the chief loss of modern religious thought. And it is a loss fatal to enthusiasm in religious life. The glow of a “good conscience” is the Lord’s witness to His delight in a disinterested action, or in a sincerely grateful song.

God who registers the cup

Of mere cold water, for His sake

To a disciple rendered up—

Disdains not His own thirst to slake

At the poorest love was ever offered:

And because it was my heart I proffered,

With true love trembling at the brim,

He suffers me to follow Him

For ever!1 [Note: R. Browning.]

3. Let no man deceive you with vain words, when he would carry the whole matter into some region high above you, and say that the love of the Invisible God must differ in nature from that which we have all felt toward the created. The love which God bespeaks is that very feeling which makes you hurry back to your home from a journey—and encroach upon night-hours that you may write that letter which is the communion of the absent—and thrill with a joy which cannot deceive, when you casually meet, eye to eye and heart to heart, one from whom years and lands and all save thoughts have divided you—and weep bitter tears at the grave of him whom disease or accident, consumption or drowning, have torn from you prematurely—the love is this love—no colder or calmer, no duller or less exciting—when God, not man, is its object.

Have you never seen a young mother with her babe upon her arm, sitting, with steady gaze of unspeakable love fixed upon her little one, pouring down upon it from her soul-lighted countenance a radiance of tenderness which might awake almost a stone to life, and waiting, with finger upon those infant lips, till they opened in a smile, and the answering guileless eyes dissolved in the sunbeams of a love which could not speak its meaning, but which more than satisfied and repaid her for all her sorrow and her sleepless care? Even so may one see, as in a vision, the Soul in the arms of God, who is Father and Mother both; who hath bestowed on it His own life and redeemed it for eternal joys; but as yet it lies passive and unintelligent in the warm Divine embrace, and all the return that it can make for the “love that passeth knowledge,” and for the adoption, and the covenants, and the treasures of everlasting joy, is but as an infant’s smile—a flickering ray of sunlight which lasts but for a moment, and which gives but faint promise of the strong filial love of maturity. Now, if the young mother is satisfied, is not God, who made her, satisfied too? If the one reads in the faint and vanishing light of her baby’s features the pledge of her son’s love and devotion when he becomes a man, shall not the everlasting God understand the smile of His little children, and value it infinitely as the promise of a love that shall strengthen with the ages, and never, never die?1 [Note: Edward White.]

Maternal love is an instinct; but there are instincts which breathe the divine.2 [Note: Golden Thoughts of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania (tr. by H. S. Edwards), 18.]

Pour out thy love like the rush of a river.

Wasting its waters for ever and ever,

Through the burnt sands that reward not the giver;

Silent or songful thou nearest the sea.

Scatter thy life as the summer showers pouring.

What if no bird through the pearl rain is soaring?

What if no blossom looks upward adoring?

Look to the life that was lavished for thee.

4. How shall we know that we love God?

(1) If we love God we shall have preference for God’s society. We count very precious indeed the society of those we love. Their presence is our joy. We long for their company when absent. We hasten back to them at the first opportunity. We regret interruptions. So the man that loves God desires His society; communion with God is his highest joy. Nothing may compare with the preciousness of fellowship with his Redeemer. He suffers nothing to interrupt his intercourse with God. Did not Sir Thomas Abney leave the Lord Mayor’s banquet at the hour of evening worship—though he himself was Lord Mayor—that he might go and commune with God?

(2) If we love God we show preference for His service. We are prepared to do anything for those we love. When away from home we scan their letters and read between the lines to divine their will, that we may please them. We plan beforehand, and display that forethought which is one of the best signs of love. We are willing to make considerable sacrifices for their sakes. We give our time, energy, money, thought, and talent ungrudgingly for them. And in all these sacrifices there is the element of joy. We are glad to do it, we want to do it, because we love them. Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days for the love he had to her.

If we would know whether or not we love God, we have to ask ourselves just this, whether our love of God builds up for us and through us and in us a life of moral conduct, a life of habit which, down to the smallest details, differs from other men who do not love God. Far from love being a vague, unreal, shadowy, remote thing, it is the very core and heart of conduct, and it is to build up a law, and we are to ask ourselves, “Do I speak more truth because I love God? Am I more honest, more sincere, because I love God? Am I more thankful, more unselfish, more kindly, more pleasant, more gay, more helpful, because I love God?” If I love God it must make me so at each point, in each tiny detail of my life—in the workshop, in the street, at home.

5. And now let us consider how the love of God is to be cultivated.

(1) You never—either in nature or in grace—you never love an abstraction, you never love an abstract thing. God must be a personal God to you before you can love Him. He must be more than that. You must have a sense of property in Him. He must be your own God. It is when you can say “my” that you grow fond. Thomas said, “My Lord, and my God!” Even as God always says to us, “Thou art Mine.” For so we have it—pointedly and emphatically and purposely here: “The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

(2) Presence is essential to love, even in human love. If you have not a presence in fact, you always have it in fancy. And the more you love, the more you make a presence in fancy. You realise it. There is an imaginary presence of the person you love always with you. So it must be with the Divine love. You must be conscious of a Presence, if you would love God. God has always provided for this in the Old Testament—“My presence shall go with thee”; which Moses so appreciated that he said he would not take a step without it. And in the New Testament the last promise of the Gospel is, “I am with you alway.”

(3) But there is another process—deeper and more mystic—by which love is gendered, and love is fostered. God, that He might be known, and that, being known, He might be loved, took the form of the loveliest and sweetest and most attaching Being that ever walked the earth. And when that would not do, He came to us by a Spirit which, being a part of Himself, is a “Spirit of love,” and that Spirit infuses Himself into our spirit. Through that Spirit we are actually united to that dear One, who was incarnate for us for that very end. So we have that one great secret of the highest order of love, union. There is union of Spirit with spirit. And there is union of the whole man with the humanity of Jesus. There is no love like union, the love grows fond, intense, eternal. It is entire love. The love itself is part of God. The love rests. Our whole being gathers itself up to one focus, and the demand becomes possible, and the duty becomes a necessity: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

When one of the Roman Emperors—after a great triumph, a military victory—was coming back to Rome, he went up the Appian Hill in great state, with his foes dragged at his chariot wheels. Many soldiers surrounded him, adding to his triumphant entry. On going up the hill, a little child broke through the crowd. “You must not go there,” said the soldiers, “that is the emperor.” The little child replied, “True, he is your emperor, but he is my father!”1 [Note: James Vaughan.]

Be Thou the well by which I lie and rest;

Be Thou my tree of life, my garden ground;

Be Thou my home, my fire, my chamber blest,

My book of wisdom, loved of all the best;

Oh, be my friend, each day still newer found,

As the eternal days and nights go round!

Nay, nay—Thou art my God, in whom all loves are bound!2 [Note: George MacDonald.]

v. With all thy Heart, and with all thy Soul, and with all thy Mind, and with all thy Strength

The fourfold repetition of the word “all” lays great emphasis on the entirety of the love. This does not mean that the love of God excludes all other love—for then, indeed, the second commandment would contradict the first. But it means that our love for God is to be supreme, admitting no rivalry. Nor is it implied that no progress in this perfect love is possible. To-day we love God to our utmost capacity; to-morrow our capacity may be enlarged, and still we are to love God with all our enlarged capacity. Thus there need be no limit to the growth of love. Our nature shall go on to expand for evermore, and our expanding nature shall evermore be filled with God.

Heart—Soul—Mind—Strength.—These distinctions are not nominal; they are not the urgent reiterations which seek to press upon the mind an all-important interest; they mark not different degrees, but different kinds of love, each of which is needed to make our piety complete, to preserve devotion from being partial in its directions or morbid in its fruits, to bring our whole nature into the fulness of its relations with Him who is both the Object and the Nourisher of all our faculties. With his heart man appreciates God’s mercies; with his soul he appreciates God’s holiness, the living impulses of His Spirit; with his mind he appreciates the majesty and order of God’s thought; with his strength he adores and imitates the constancy of God’s will, the righteousness of His rule; but it is very possible for one of these principles or affections to be in a state of high vitality, while others are torpid and unused, not exerting the energy that is in them to make us like to God. For this is the end of every faculty and affection we possess, to draw us towards Him in whom it perfectly exists, and from whom it receives inexhaustible supplies.

No man completely and worthily loves any noble thing or person unless he loves it with his mind as well as with his heart and soul and strength. That will not, I think, be very hard to see. Take, for instance, your love for some beautiful scene of nature. There is somewhere upon the earth a lovely, lordly landscape which you love. When you are absent from it, you remember it with delight and longing. When you step into the sight of it after long absence, your heart thrills and leaps. While you sit quietly gazing day after day upon it, your whole nature rests in peace and satisfaction, Now, what is it in you that loves that loveliness? Love I take to be the delighted perception of the excellence of things. With what do you delightedly perceive how excellent is all that makes up that landscape’s beauty—the bending sky, the rolling hill, the sparkling lake, the waving harvest, and the brooding mist? First of all, no doubt, with your senses. It is the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the sense of feeling which in the glowing cheek is soothed or made to tingle, the sense of smell which catches sweet odours from the garden or the hayfield,—it is these that love the landscape first; you love it first with all your senses. But next to that what comes? Suppose that the bright scene is radiant with associations; suppose that by that river you have walked with your most helpful friend; upon that lake you have floated and frolicked when you were a boy; across that field you have guided the staggering plough; over that hill you have climbed in days when life was all sunshine and breeze. That part of you which is capable of delightedly perceiving these associations as they shine up to you from the glowing scenery, perceives them with delight and takes the landscape into its affection. You love the scene with all your heart. But yet again, suppose a deeper faculty in you perceives the hand of God in all this wondrous beauty; suppose a glad and earnest gratitude springs up in you and goes to meet the meadows and the sky; suppose that all seems to tell to some deep listening instinct in you that it was all made for you, and made by one who loved you; suppose that it all stands as a rich symbol of yet richer spiritual benefits of which you are aware; what then? Does not another part of you spring up and pour out its affection—your power of reverence and gratefulness; and so you love the landscape then with all your soul. Or yet again, if the whole scene appears to tempt you with invitations to work: the field calling you to till it, and the river to bridge it, and the hill to set free the preciousness of gold or silver with which its heart is full and heavy. To that you respond with your powers of working; and then you love the scene with all your will or all your strength. And now, suppose that, beyond all things, another spirit comes out from the landscape to claim another yet unclaimed part of you; suppose that unsolved problems start out from the earth and from the sky. Glimpses of relationships between things and of qualities in things flit before you, just letting you see enough of them to set your curiosity all astir. The scene which cried before, “Come, admire me,” or “Come, work on me,” now cries, “Come, study me.” What hangs the stars in their places and swings them on their way; how the earth builds the stately tree out of the petty seed; how the river feeds the cornfield; where lie the metals in the mountains—these, and a hundred other questions, leap out from the picture before you and, pressing in, past your senses and your emotions and your practical powers, will not rest till they have found out your intelligence. They appeal to the mind, and the mind responds to them; not coldly, as if it had nothing to do but just to find and register their answers, but enthusiastically perceiving with delight the excellence of the truth at which they point, recognising its appropriate task in their solution; and so loving in its distinctive way the nature out of which they spring.

It is possible to love God with the heart and not to love Him with the soul. It is possible to have a most tender sense of mercies and to have no craving for holiness. It is possible to bless God for His goodness and to have no fellowship with His perfections, no desires that find their rest in the rectitude of His Will, in the truth and order of His ways, in His purpose for every one of us, even our sanctification—nay, to find in these the inaccessible heights, the incommunicable properties, that remove Him from us, that make our God an awful Being, whom we know not as a Father. I do not say that in God’s view goodness and holiness are inseparable in their nature, but that with men it is a possible thing to love with the heart Him who renews our mercies day by day, and yet with the soul to have no longings after the Holy One, no affections hungering and thirsting after spiritual perfection, to see no beauty in Him that we should desire Him. And this it is which explains many of those anomalies in piety which rash men, spirits of judgment, without the charity of wisdom, set down at once to hypocrisy and pretence. It is possible to have some of the elements of devotion in a state of quick sensibility, and to be nearly destitute of other and higher ones. It is possible to be tenderly alive to goodness, promptly moved by kindness and undeserved mercies, and to have a very defective sense of moral obligation and very feeble desires for spotlessness of soul.1 [Note: J. Hamilton Thom.]

1. With all thy Heart.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy heart”; i.e. the love must be sincere. The words of our mouth, and the actions of our life, may seem to betoken love. A man may profess great things, and do great things, and others may account him a good Christian. Men may laud his deeds, and applaud his words; but great deeds and high-sounding words do not constitute love, and God requires a love that, whatever may be its manifestation and profession, has its true seat and centre in the heart. Every man lives two lives—an outer life, lived before men, and an inner life, lived in his own inmost nature, and known thoroughly only to himself and God. The inner life and the outer may correspond, the one being the reflex of the other; and in that case the man is, so far, a true man. Or the one may belie the other, the conduct not truly indicating the motive, but making pretentious demonstration of motives that do not exist; in which case the man is a hypocrite.

2. With all thy Soul.

While the word “heart,” referring to man’s inmost being, denotes a true will, a thorough devotion of principle and purpose, the word “soul,” referring to man’s emotional nature, implies the ardent co-operation of our feelings. Feeling alone cannot constitute love, but it will add greatly to its beauty, and augment its force. If there be first of all sincere devotion, then the glow of fervent feeling is grateful to God, it helps, by reaction, to increase the strength of our devotion itself, and it contributes a spontaneity of eager impulse which makes the service of our love to be joyful, generous, and free.

The love of the soul, which is delight in God’s holiness, adds to the love of the heart, which is delight in His goodness, the glow of a stronger spirit than its own, and sustains it in existence at times when, if left to itself, it could only feed upon its memories, which then would look inconsistent and perplexing, the present appearing to be all unblessed and dark.1 [Note: J. Hamilton Thom.]

3. With all thy Mind.

There is a love of God with the mind, there is a love of truth, a thirst for knowledge, a craving for light, an intense and genuine desire, which in some high natures is a deep passion to see things as God sees them; there is a realm of order and of intellectual glory, a starry world which men enter with a feeling of worship, knowing it is alike boundless and inviolable; there is a child-like adoration for the god-like power that rules by reason, and makes all gross and outward things move in obedience to the law of the Eternal thought. The faculties that find their exercise in this sphere are among the mightiest we possess, unwearied by toil, insatiable in appetite; and God opens to them Himself, invites to the contemplation of His wisdom, provides for them worlds of science more ideal than art, more real than matter; and so, in addition to the gratitude of the heart and to the devotion of the soul, draws upon Himself the calm delight, or the rapt transport, of the intellectual being.

We are certain that the minds of the great theologians, from Paul to Maurice, loved their truths. We are sure that Shakespeare’s intellect had an affection for its wonderful creations. The highest glory of the great students of natural science to-day is in the glowing love of which their minds are full for Nature and her truths. It is the necessity of any really creative genius. It is the soul of any true artistic work. Without it the most massive structures of human thought are as dead and heavy as the pyramids. With it the slightest product of man’s mind springs into life, and, however slight it be, compels and fascinates attention.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]

The demand is for “all the mind,” as well as for “all the heart and all the soul”; our intelligence must have full scope if our love of God is to be full. Consider the ever enlarging range of human intelligence; how the mystery of one age becomes the knowledge of another, and the mind strengthens by all the truth which it apprehends. Consider the quenchless instinct of inquiry, and the pure satisfaction which comes from the acquisition of knowledge and the exercise of reason. Consider, too, the wide field which allures the mind to search into it, and the nobler thoughts of God which are the result of honest intellectual endeavour. Are all these things temptations to be resisted? only intended to baffle and delude us? It would wrong the excellence of God thus to imagine; our personal affection for Him should suffer if it were so. If our reason is to be offered up a sacrifice to our piety, it must be a living sacrifice, not a dead one. Not in dooming it to lie by, quiescent and disused, while we surrender ourselves the victims of fancy and tradition; but in earnest, honest exercise of it, putting it under the control of that Spirit who is the brooding force of creation and the inspiration of revealed wisdom, do we present it to God in “reasonable service.”2 [Note: A. Mackennal.]

4. With all thy Strength.

The love must be instinct with a living, practical energy. Not only are the sincerity, the fervour, and the intelligence of our love to be characterised by firmness, and steadfastness, and strength, but the intrinsic energy of the love itself is to pass into the energies of devotion in the outer life. While man’s whole inner nature—will, feelings, and intellect—is called to consecrate itself to God, the practical activity of life must co-operate in the consecration, thus making the love living, manifest, and real.1 [Note: T. F. Lockyer.]

That word strength needs a frequent re-telling of its meaning. It means not simply power to do, though that is thought of more than anything else in speaking of strength. But there is a greater test, and a greater revealing, of strength than that. There is the greater strength that can patiently endure, and do it serenely. The strength of not-doing and not-speaking, when that is the thing most needed, though all the tendency and temptation are to a spilling out at lip and hand, is infinitely more than the strength of action.2 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Home Ideals, 102.]

Spirit of God! descend upon my heart;

Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;

Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,

And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,

No sudden rending of the veil of clay;

No angel visitant, no opening skies;—

But take the dimness of my soul away.

Hast Thou not bid us love Thee, God and King?

All, all Thine own—soul, heart, and strength, and mind;

I see Thy cross—there teach my heart to cling.

O! let me seek Thee,—and O! let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;

Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear;

To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;

Teach me the patience of unanswer’d prayer.

I know Thee glorious! might and mercy all,

All that commands Thy creatures’ boundless praise;

Yet shall my soul from that high vision fall,

Too cold to worship, and too weak to gaze?

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,

One holy passion filling all my frame;

The baptism of the heaven-descended dove,

My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.3 [Note: George Croly.]


The Second Commandment

“The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”

Our Lord had been asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” and in His answer He seems deliberately and with some emphasis to go beyond that which had been asked; He tells not only the first but the second. He speaks as though that first great demand of Almighty God upon the heart of man, that first great law for the saints, that first beginning, foundation, of the saintly character, as though that were essentially twofold; as though it were impossible to enunciate the first of all the commandments without linking with it immediately the second. Musicians, I believe, tell us that when one note is struck other kindred notes immediately wake up from it, aroused by it; so that those who have a keen and true and sensitive ear can immediately hear the kindred notes following from that which has been first struck. And so it seems to be with this note that is struck by the voice of God in the hearts of His saints. The first great commandment of the love of God wakes, as it were, a second and a kindred note; and our Lord goes on immediately to speak of the second, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Those who truly, purely, clearly hear that first note of the Divine bidding cannot fail to hear immediately, waking, as it were, out of the heart of the first sound, the second, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Unless this second commandment is held in the closest dependence upon the first, it will prove a very imperfect guide to the wise discharge of our brotherly duties. For until we know and love God, we can love ourselves only with a blind instinct; we know not where our real blessedness is, and in loving others even as we love ourselves we could cherish for them only poor and ignorant desires. It is after our spiritual nature has been awakened to the love of God, and is fixed on Him as its end and rest, that to love others as we love ourselves becomes a perfect, practical rule, as well as a right affection; for then only, to consult for their happiness as we consult for our own, includes their true blessedness, and makes us their friends and helpers on that course.1 [Note: J. Hamilton Thom.]

i. The Second is like

1. Think of one instance which may bring before us how strangely the human heart can deceive itself in this regard, how strangely forgetful it can be of that which seems so obvious a truth, that the love of God and the love of our neighbour are held together in the closest bond of likeness. Think of a man who lies perhaps dying, and who knows that he has made an unrighteous and harsh will, in which is embodied some bitter grudge; that there in that which he leaves behind him, to represent his mind towards his fellow men in some way when he is gone, there is his last expression concerning some unforgiven wrong, concerning some cherished hatred, concerning some quarrel that he has been too obstinate or too proud ever to make up, he leaves it there in his will; and he is dying, and he is going into the presence of God, and he would say that his hope is in God, and he knows that all future bliss must be in the presence and in the love of God; and yet while He thinks of that, he can leave behind him so flagrant a denial of all that is meant by the love of one’s neighbour.

2. Can we see in what the likeness lies? Why does our Lord tell us so expressly of it? In what does it consist? Let us think of three bonds of likeness between the first and the second commandment.

(1) The second commandment is like the first in that it is laid upon us all by the same authority, with the same emphatic necessity. Just as we are all bound by the first commandment, all alike, whatever our diversity of temperament, whatever our past, whatever our difficulties, all alike bound by the first commandment to the love of God, so are we all, without exception, bound to the love of our neighbour. As no power can conceivably dispense us from the love of God, so can nothing acquit us if we fail in the love of our neighbour.

(2) The second commandment is like the first in this, that both, with the same penetration, with the same exacting demand, pass behind all that men see of our life, all our outward acts, all even that we say, pass right through it all to the inmost affections of the heart. As it is required of us not simply that we shall do what God bids us, not simply that we shall offer Him this or that act of religious worship, but that we shall love Him with all our heart and soul, so is it demanded of us not simply that we shall do our duty by our neighbour, not simply that we shall deal fairly with him, but that we shall love him.

(3) It is like the first in this, that one and the same example is set before us for them both—one and the same example, even our Lord Jesus Christ. As He is our Teacher, our Guide, our Pattern in the love of God, as He came to teach us, He, the filial heart and mind towards God, as He came to teach us to love God with the love of little children, so we look to Him as our pattern, our one great example in the love of our fellow-men. Yes, we look to Him upon the cross, and we say to ourselves, “There is the pattern of the fulfilment of the second commandment.”

Never drive a wedge between the two, for they are most effectually fulfilled together, and not apart. St. John seems to imply that it is easier to love the visible brother whom we have seen than to love the God whom we have not seen. Either failure, however, implies a defect of love in the character. If there is a sufficient moral motive-power in the man’s heart to carry his love up to the heights of heaven, there will be a sufficient motive force to carry it to those with whom he stands in daily relationship.1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]

Many good people have withdrawn themselves from all share in public life and work, with the idea that thus they can be more devoted to the culture of their own spiritual life, and to the promotion of the Kingdom of Christ. No one can question the love and devotion of these people. They are among the excellent of the earth. They look up, but do not look down. It is not their goodness that needs rebuke, but rather the selfishness of it. I am not quite ignorant of this danger. I have sometimes had peeps into the inner side of politics and public action. And when I have seen the self-seeking, the glorification of money-bags, and noticed how men who had wealth, but had no ability or fitness for public place and office, who hardly had character, have been put forward as heroes, I have said I will withdraw from all public life and strife and will devote myself to my church, and to my work as a minister. Then God has come to rebuke me, and has said to me, “Is not everything which is for the good of your fellows your true and proper work as a Christian?” There is nothing the man of God should not touch. And everything he touches should be better for it. He should be like the sunlight, bringing healing and blessing where-ever he comes.1 [Note: C. Leach.]

ii. Thou shalt love thy Neighbour as thyself

1. “How,” it is asked, “can I fulfil it? I have done my best, and I cannot make myself love a man I do not like; there is a tract of my life that lies beyond control, I simply cannot fulfil this second commandment.” There are six things that men forget when they so speak.

(1) First of all, they forget, surely, who gave the commandment. Who told me to love my neighbour as myself? Did He not know, could He not read, the human heart? Did He not understand what He was saying to me, and what my nature is in which He bids me fulfil His commandment? Am I to look to Him, my Maker, my Redeemer, my Judge, and tell Him, “This commandment which Thou, O Lord, hast laid on me, I cannot keep, I am not made to keep it, it is not within my power”? Can we say that when we remember who gave the commandment?

(2) In the second place, when men so speak, are they not forgetting the lives of the saints? Are we not of one nature, with the same difficulties, with them? Had not they to struggle? and are not we to struggle? and why should that obedience which was possible to them be impossible to us? When you say, “I cannot love So-and-so, I cannot fulfil that commandment,” imagine the words coming from the lips of St. John, or St. Bernard, or St. Francis; think of them saying such a thing as that! One cannot, surely, conceive that they would have allowed themselves to press that as an excuse.

(3) Again, do we not really recognise in some spheres of life that men can command, control their love? Should we be satisfied with a father who pleaded that he could not love his children? Should we say that the inability to love his children which he pleaded could be real, could be a final answer, could excuse him from the love he owed them? Surely we do recognise the control over affection.

(4) Remember, again, that it is one thing to like and another to love; and often when people say they cannot love, do they not mean they cannot like? Now liking is, of course, a much lower thing than loving, a much poorer, more earthly thing than loving; and as it is poorer and lower and more earthly, so very often it may be harder. For liking may be sometimes, to some extent, a matter of temperament, of sympathy, of taste; but love is a matter of duty, and therefore for love, at all events, we can turn to the grace of God, and often when we find it hard to like, we may find it, God helping us, more possible to love.

(5) Let us once more ask ourselves, have we really tried all we can do? We say that we have done what we can to love some one whom we find it hard to love: have we really done what we can? have we, at all events, done what our Lord would bid us do? The seventy times seven—have we come near that limit of endurance? And if anybody imagines that he has come near that limit of endurance, let him take a further one, which certainly is that by which he will be judged: has he come near the limitation of the forbearance and the love of God? Yes, if we have forgiven, if we have put away the past seventy times seven times, still we are challenged by that which we know of our own lives, and of God’s dealings with us. Have we ever come near the forbearance and the forgiveness that have been granted to us?

(6) And last of all, when a man talks of being unable to fulfil the second commandment, surely he is forgetting what grace means—the grace of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart, the strength that is made perfect in weakness, the very love of God poured into the heart of man. Are we not forgetting all that that means when we say that anything to which our Lord bids us, anything to which He, our Pattern, bids us, is impossible for us?1 [Note: Bishop Paget.]

We are told to love incompatible members of the families and kindreds with which we are associated, and perhaps they are occasions of irritation to us, thorns stabbing our most densely massed and delicate nerve-processes. We are told to love our neighbours who are silly, selfish, bad-tempered, void of fine scruples, vicious. It is like telling us to scale a citadel on whose smooth, steep walls there is not a crumb of foothold. But if we first love God with all our hearts, we shall find the earlier commandment become a scaling ladder by which we may attempt the dizzy heights of the second. Through the strength received by loving the infinitely perfect, we shall do what for the moment seems quite impossible. There is nothing to chill or turn back the love we give to Him who is an infinitely worthy object of it. He is ever true, upright, merciful, perfect. If I can attain the habit of loving God, I find a starting-point for all other loves which are binding upon me; and I shall love and help the least attractive, because He loves them and seeks their salvation.1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]

A lad of eight, who had been half beaten to death by a brutal father, was waiting at the prison gates to welcome back the father when he had finished his term of hard labour.2 [Note: Ibid.]

Every man takes care that his neighbour shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he begins to care that he do not cheat his neighbour. Then all goes well. He has changed his market-cart into a chariot of the sun. What a day dawns when we have taken to heart the doctrine of faith! to prefer, as a better investment, being to doing; being to seeming; logic to rhythm and to display; the year to the day; the life to the year; character to performance.3 [Note: Emerson.]

2. How do we love ourselves? Not for the goodness that is in us, with the delight of a moved and grateful heart; nor for the holiness that is in us, in the reverential contemplation of our own spiritual rectitude, with the affections of the soul; nor for our insight into God’s thoughts, for the reach of our knowledge, for our empire over Truth, for the harmonies between our reason and the universe around us, with the love and worship of the mind; nor yet for the glow of life that pervades our being, and sets all our energies to turn our aspirations into spiritual fact and substance, for the sake of the joy that comes out of a strong and devoted will, making sacrifices of the lower things for what it holds most dear;—not in this way, nor for these things, do we love ourselves; and so, therefore, we may not withhold our love from our neighbour because he cannot be loved in this way, nor for these things. We love ourselves by desiring our own blessedness, by wishing and seeking our own good, by shunning and deprecating needless pain, pain to which we are not called by submission or conformity to God, or by love for man; and this is the lowest love we must feel for our neighbour, to have benevolent affections; and as the test of such affections, where opportunity is, to render beneficent service towards all mankind. I say the lowest love, because there are many men who are worthy of a higher love, even of some measure of that kind of love with which we love our God.

A man’s estimate of himself will determine his estimate of others, and you may securely argue back from his treatment of others to his theory of himself. Self-respect is the very antithesis and prohibition of selfishness. This explains the personal goodness of benevolent men, and the personal badness of churlish men. At first sight it is very puzzling that this should be the case. Why, for example, are sensual men almost invariably also cruel? This is one of the best authenticated ethical concords: self-indulgence and forfeiture of sympathy go together. You may see it in societies; you may see it in individuals; you may in some degree see it in yourself. The explanation lies in a nutshell. A sensual man has a very low view of himself; he treats himself as an animal; he sees in his own nature nothing noble and inherently worthy of respect, and he carries that view of manhood into his intercourse with others.1 [Note: H. H. Henson.]

It is fit that we should be obliged to love our neighbour equally with ourselves, because all charity beneath self-love is defective, and all self-love above charity is excessive.2 [Note: Isaac Barrow.]

An old weaver in England used to make this prayer each morning, “Lord teach me to respect myself.” This was a right prayer. I am a man made in God’s likeness and after His image; it is my duty to make the most of myself, not for self’s sake alone, but for the sake of others and the glory of God. It is my duty to realise the vast possibilities of my life and the destiny which is divinely intended for me.3 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]

3. But who is our neighbour? Christ has answered that question. The Good Samaritan finds a neighbour where he finds a suffering man. “Go thou,” says the Saviour, to whoever would waste the time of action in cavil or speculation, in vain talk about goodness when the work remains undone—“Go thou and do likewise.” No doubt he whom we find in the most urgent need is the nearest neighbour to our love; but, as a rule, those who are brought into close personal connection with ourselves through any of the natural relationships of life, seem to be marked out by the finger of God as the objects of special thoughtfulness.

The first step in the ascent of love rises in our own dwelling. From our very threshold it goes up to the eternal throne. Here, too, is “the house of God,” and here “the gate of heaven.” A heart unloving among kindred has no love towards God’s saints and angels. If we have a cold heart towards a servant, or a friend, why should we wonder if we have no fervour towards God?1 [Note: Cardinal Manning.]

The rabbis say that once upon a time there were two affectionate brothers who tilled the same farm. On a certain night, after the gathering of the harvest, one of them said to his wife, “My brother is a lonely man, who has neither wife nor children; I will go out and carry some of my sheaves into his field.” It happened that, on the same night, the other said, “My brother has wife and children, and needs the harvest more than I I will carry some of my sheaves into his field.” So the next morning their respective heaps were unchanged, and thus it happened night after night, until at length, one moonlight night, the brothers with their arms full of sheaves met midway face to face. On that spot the Temple was built, because it was esteemed to be the place where earth was nearest heaven.2 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]

4. There is no conceivable circumstance, no change in a man’s inward character or outward condition, that ought to deprive him of this degree and quality of Love. Whatever he may be in himself, though degraded by every vice,—whatever he may be in his relations to us, though inflamed by every malignant passion, and clothed with an accidental power of wounding us where we are most vulnerable, it is impossible, without approaching to his level and partaking of his malignity, that the desire for his good, the best desire that we entertain for ourselves, should ever cease; and the more imminent seems the utter wreck he is making of his peace, the more of earnestness will naturally be breathed into our wishes, and, if the way opens, into our efforts for his rescue.

(1) We are not to understand that God requires us to take precisely the same interest in every other man’s career that we take in our own, for this would be to contradict our individuality. But we are to regard our neighbour as equal with ourselves in the sight of God, and as therefore entitled to the same treatment at our hands that we should expect at his. This will ensure the observance of Christ’s golden rule, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them” (Matthew 7:12).

(2) Moreover, we are to remember that our fellow-men are not only equal, but in a very true sense identified with us in Christ. We are one in origin, in nature, and in destiny, and one in the privilege and blessing of the great redemption. Their interests are the same as ours, their happiness is interwoven with ours, their future is blended with ours. Therefore we should look upon all men as brothers, and render to each a brother’s love. This will inspire a devotion which mere justice could not prescribe. It will allow of tireless toil to promote their good, even when such good is undiscerned and unappreciated by themselves; of longsuffering patience, in the face of their resistance of good service and resentment of our love itself; yea, even of sacrifice for others, willing, cheerful, eager, like our Lord’s (1 John 3:16).1 [Note: T. F. Lockyer.]


The Two Commandments and Christ

1. The Christian who receives this commandment differs from the Jew of old, not in having another God to worship, or in having different demands made upon him, but in having the same God more fully revealed to him. The God whom we worship is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,—the Jehovah of the national Jewish covenant. But, under the new covenant, we do not call Him Jehovah. A Christian ought to have deeper and wider conceptions concerning God than were possible to a Jew. He ought to think of Him more habitually as the God of the universe and of the whole human race, loving His children impartially, and dealing with them equally. Such thoughts are in harmony with our wider range of knowledge, with the acquirements and habits of modern civilisation. But Christian views of the nature and character of God, such as recognise most largely the all-pervading operations of Divine love and justice, have not grown out of the science and culture of modern times. They are due to that revelation of the Father which was made in Christ. As the first believers studied the nature of God, not in books, however holy, or in commandments, however imperative, but in the person of the Son of Man, the horizon of their thoughts was inevitably widened. They saw all mankind embraced in the Son of Man. They discerned the lofty and spiritual character of the relation between God and men. They saw what a perfect fatherliness there is in the love of God towards men; they saw that men’s love towards God must be free, enlightened, and spiritual. To the Israelite of old God was known primarily as the Being who had given a promise to Abraham and to his seed, then as the Jehovah, or I AM, from whom the law proceeded. He gained his acquaintance with the name and nature of the invisible God through national forms and symbols, and through acts of providence and government which especially concerned his nation. Various limitations necessarily attended such a knowledge of God, and these limitations are associated with the Jewish name of God. But to the Christian, God is primarily the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of the Son of Man.

Therefore the law, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength, so far from having been weakened, must have become only more stringent and absolute. The Jew was commanded to love God because God had called out his race and had delivered it from bondage, and placed it in a good land, and continually manifested Himself in new favours to His people. We are called upon to love God because He has so loved us as to send His only-begotten Son that we might be reconciled to Him and might have the life of sonship, and because by His Spirit He is ever speaking words of grace and comfort and hope to our souls.1 [Note: J. Ll. Davies.]

2. Notice how strictly all the new commandments of the Kingdom are included in love to God and love to man. The conviction slowly grows upon us that every requirement which is not immediately referable to the precept, Thou shalt love, may be safely eliminated from the Christian law. This is the hall-mark of all the genuine laws of the Kingdom. If we find a law without the hall-mark we may safely disregard it. On the other hand, every commandment which receives this stamp immediately becomes obligatory. The Sermon on the Mount, viewed microscopically, presents a broad surface of precepts which cover life in this world and in the world to come; but viewed telescopically it resolves itself into the large and lucent planet of love, which shines in the heavens as Hesper-Phosphor, the star of evening and of morning. If only we could gain love in its divine fulness, we should “know all mysteries and all knowledge.”1 [Note: R. F. Horton.]

3. The reply of Jesus to the question concerning the commandments teaches us that the express intent of the decalogue is to secure such behaviour towards God and man as shall comport with true love; and that therefore, if only our hearts are right with God and with man, the full purpose of the law will be attained, for “love is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:10). It is only by the grace of the Gospel, however, that such fulfilment of the law is made possible; for “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:10; 1 John 4:19). Nor is this true merely of our love to God; for the love of our neighbour likewise needs the interpreting of the Cross: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” And “hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us” (John 13:34; 1 John 3:16). A new interpretation, and a new inspiration, have come to us through the exceeding love of our Saviour Christ; so that, real as was the law of holiness graven by God on the tablets of the heart, and august as was the majesty of its proclamation on the Mount, yet doubly, tenfoldly, more real and strong, and ineffably sacred, is the love that now lights it up with new meaning, and “constraineth us” (2 Corinthians 5:14) to its eager and free fulfilment.2 [Note: T. F. Lockyer.]

As the ample moon,

In the deep stillness of a summer even

Rising behind a thick and lofty grove,

Burns, like an unconsuming fire of light

In the green trees; and, kindling on all sides

Their leafy umbrage, turns the dusky veil

Into a substance glorious as her own;

Yea, with her own incorporated, by power

Capacious and serene. Like power abides

In man’s celestial spirit; virtue thus

Sets forth and magnifies herself; thus feeds

A calm, a beautiful, and silent fire,

From the encumbrances of mortal life,

From error, disappointment—nay, from guilt;

And sometimes, so relenting justice wills,

From palpable oppressions of despair.1 [Note: W. Wordsworth.]

The Two Commandments


Brooks (P.), Sermons in English Churches, 22.

Channing (W. E.), The Perfect Life, 3.

Cox (S.), Expositions, 4th Ser., 88.

Davies (J. LI.), Spiritual Apprehension, 54.

Dykes (J. O.), The Law of the Ten Words, 35, 207.

Dykes (J. O.) Sermons, 123.

Gibson (J. M.), The Glory of Life on Earth, 21.

Goulburn (E. M.), The Pursuit of Holiness, 72.

Holland (H. S.), Logic and Life, 199.

Horne (C. S.), The Rock of Ages, 113.

Horton (R. F.), The Commandments of Jesus, 63.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, 4th Ser., 582.

Lewis (H. Elvet), The Unescapeable Christ, 234.

Lockyer (T. F.), The Inspirations of the Christian Life, 35.

Mackenzie (W. L.), Pure Religion, 38.

Manning (H. E.), Sermons, iv. 285.

Pattison (M.), Sermons, 3.

Pentecost (G. F.), Bible Studies: Mark, 119.

Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, 4th Ser., 261.

Selby (T. G.), The Alienated Crown, 138.

Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, iii. No. 162.

Thorn (J. H.), A Spiritual Faith, 93.

Thorn (J. H.), Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 2nd Ser., 330.

Vaughan (C. J.), Family Prayer and Sermon Book, i. 568.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xii. No. 879.

Wilberforce (B.), Feeling after Him, 121.

Wilson (J. M.), Rochdale Sermons, 210.

Christian World Pulpit, viii. 200 (Mackennal); xxiv. 157 (Jackson), 402 (Beecher); xxviii. 232 (Rawnsley); xxxi. 165 (White); xxxviii. 38 (Rawnsley); xli. 298 (Armstrong); xliv. 358 (Barnett); xlvi. 340 (Bartlett); lviii. 54, 149 (Stalker); lxiv. 257 (Davidson), 276 (Henson).

Church of England Pulpit, xxxvii. 292 (Silvester); lvi. 194 (Davidson).

Church Pulpit Year Book, iv.

Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., viii. 159 (Proctor).

Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., vi. 321 (Paget); x. 298 (Vaughan).

Homiletic Review, xxxii. 35 (Burrell).

Sunday School Times, xxxiii. 273.

Verse 31

(31) And the second is like, namely, this . . .—Better, And the second is this. The better MSS. omit “like.”

Verse 32

(32) Well, Master, thou hast said the truth.—Better, Well hast Thou said truly that there is one God. The words seem intentionally repeated from Mark 12:14, but are uttered now, not with the covert sneer of the hypocrite, but in the sincerity of admiration. Note also the real reverence shown in the form of address, “Master,” i.e., “Teacher, Rabbi.” He recognises the speaker as one of his own order. This, and all that follows, is peculiar to St. Mark, and is an addition of singular interest, as showing the existence among the scribes of some who accepted our Lord’s teaching as to the spiritual meaning of the Law, and were able to distinguish between its essence and its accidents.

Verse 33

(33) Is more than all whole burnt offerings . . .—There is a fervour in the eloquence of the scribe’s answer which indicates the earnestness, almost the enthusiasm, of conviction. Such teaching as that of 1 Samuel 15:22, Ps. 1. 8-14, Micah 6:6, had not been in vain for him.

Verse 34

(34) Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.—The words are significant as showing the unity of our Lord’s teaching. Now, as when He spoke the Sermon on the Mount, the righteousness which fulfils the law is the condition of the entrance into the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:19-20). Even the recognition of that righteousness as consisting in the fulfilment of the two commandments that were exceeding broad, brought a man as to the very threshold of the Kingdom. It is instructive to compare our Lord’s different method of dealing, in Luke 10:25-37, with one who had the same theoretical knowledge, but who obviously, consciously or unconsciously, minimised the force of the commandments by his narrowing definitions.

And no man after that durst ask him.—St. Mark states the fact before, St. Matthew after, the narrative that now follows.

Verse 35

(35) While he taught in the temple.—The locality is named by St. Mark only, but it is all but implied in the other two Gospels.

Verse 36

(36) David himself said by the Holy Ghost.—St. Mark is more emphatic in ascribing the words of David to the influence of the Holy Spirit than either St. Matthew, who simply quotes, or St. Luke, who uses the more general phrase “in spirit.” (Comp. 2 Peter 1:21.)

Verse 37

(37) And the common people.—Better, the great body of the people. Stress is laid on the multitude, not on the social condition, of those who thus heard gladly.

Verses 38-40

(38-40) In his doctrine.—Better, in His teaching. See Notes on Matthew 23:1-7. St. Mark’s report is characteristically brief as compared with St. Matthew, and would seem to have been drawn from the same source as St. Luke’s (Luke 20:45-47).

Verse 40

(40) Which devour widow’s houses.—Here the word has a special force as coming after the mention of the feasts. They seek the highest places at such banquets, our Lord seems to say, and when there, this is what they feast on. The special charge is not reported by St. Matthew in this connection, but occurs in Matthew 23:14, where see Note. The better MSS., indeed, omit it even there. The relative pronoun gives a wrong idea of the construction. We have really a new sentence. “They that devour . . . these shall receive . . .”

Verse 41

(41) And Jesus sat over against the treasury.—The narrative that follows is found in St. Luke also, but not in St. Matthew. The word used is not the “Corban” of Matthew 27:6, and is, perhaps, more definitely local. The treasure-chamber of the Temple would receive the alms which were dropped into the trumpet-shaped vessels that stood near the entrance for the purpose of receiving them, but they probably contained also the cups and other implements of gold and silver that were used in the Temple ritual.

Cast money into.—The word indicates primarily copper or bronze coin, but probably, like the French argent, had acquired a wider range of meaning.

Verses 41-44

All that She Had

And he sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they which are casting into the treasury: for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.—Mark 12:41-44.

This beautiful incident, as recorded by the evangelists St. Mark and St. Luke, is immediately followed by Christ’s prophecy of the overthrow of the Temple. We have before us a picture-study in contrasts.

1. A scene Within the Temple.—It occurred in the Women’s Court, where the Treasury, or the thirteen brazen chests, popularly known as “the Trumpets,” were kept. The offerings cast at certain seasons into these “Trumpets” were devoted mainly to the maintenance of the sacred building and to defraying the expenses of Divine worship. To this fund every pious Jew was expected to contribute. Before the birth of Christ a movement had been inaugurated by Herod the Great for the completion and adornment of the Temple, and the furtherance of this work of national piety was regarded as a patriotic as well as a religious duty. This public giving was part of the established routine of the holy place, and the publicity of it was, no doubt, calculated upon as a spur to generosity. The religious Jew of those days was not above parading his good deeds, and if he gave a handsome sum to the Temple fund he preferred to do it in the presence of admiring spectators and with a certain amount of dramatic effect. Those rich men had no idea that the eyes of “the Judge of quick and dead” were resting upon them. And this, of course, is quite as true of the poor widow, concerning whom our Lord spoke those penetrating words of appreciation and foresight, as it was of the self-satisfied givers of large sums.

2. The Temple from Without.—We in these days of modern civilisation, and with our colder northern temperament, can perhaps scarcely realise the pride and glory of the Jewish heart in that wonderful structure. It was associated with the antiquity of their nation, and seemed to stand like a visible link connecting them with their glorious forefathers of the olden time. Around it clustered all those emotions of patriotism which burned so fiercely in the Hebrew nature; while with its awful Holy of Holies and mystic altars, it became the symbol of the sublime worship of the one Jehovah which had for ages made their nation stand in lonely pre-eminence as the single witness for the true Lord of men. So that the trinity of emotions—Nationality, Patriotism, Devotion—which marked the national character of the Jews, were all centred on that Temple at Jerusalem.

In the disciples these feelings must have existed, but they had become softened, and in one sense deepened, by the influence of the Saviour. The grandeur of the Temple had excited the awe and wonder of their boyhood, but their associations with it had been strengthened by the change wrought in them through the companionship of Christ. He had told them of the Father in heaven; and as they worshipped before the veil that hid the burning glory, His house became more truly the house of God. He had told them of a Kingdom of heaven; and as they heard on the great feast days the Psalms of David rolling through its archways, they must have felt more than ever that that kingdom was near. So that on that evening, as they were going out with Christ to the Mount of Olives, and the gold and marble of the Temple shone resplendent in the setting sun, it was most natural that their enthusiasm should burst forth in the admiring cry—“Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!”

3. These two pictures taken together present a significant contrast. While the disciples were wondering at the majestic carved stone-work as a great offering dedicated by man to God, Christ had seen in the trembling gift of the widow an offering equally great in the eye of heaven—the offering of a loyal heart. Others, too, had brought their offerings, gifts which in the world’s eye might even be comparable to the glorious stones, while presumably this poor woman’s offering had passed unnoticed save by the eyes of One in whose estimation she had brought “more than all.” The stones of the Temple and the widow’s heart! The disciples saw God’s dwelling-place in the house of stone, with its Holy of Holies and altar of sacrifice; Christ saw it in the devoted heart of a widow. This idea characterised all His teaching; it is the inner motive and heart, as He constantly proclaimed, that God regards, and it is in the spirit that He must be served. “The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” This poor woman, unknown and unnoticed except by the Divine eye, had come in her poverty, and had given all she had for God’s service—there was the true altar of sacrifice.

I asked an art critic why he did not consider a certain painting under observation a real work of art. He answered: It lacks enthusiasm. I think the artist who painted it was not enthusiastic and not positive enough. The result shows in a painting which just misses being good.1 [Note: E. W. Wilcox.]

4. She was simply one of a crowd, and as uninteresting and unpromising probably as are the members of any crowd; but the fact that she was, outwardly at least, uninteresting, makes it interesting that Christ was interested in her, and it is one of the features of our Lord’s character that He was impressed by unpromising people. Whoever it might be that He was dealing with He seemed to feel that He had a good deal to go upon. No one, we should say, appeared to Him ordinary. We cannot fail to have been struck with what must have seemed to us the apparently haphazard way in which He selected His disciples. It would seem as though any one whom He ran across, as He was walking along the edge of the Sea of Galilee, would answer well enough for a disciple, and so for an apostle—not, be it understood, as a disparagement of the position which He selected them to fill, but as a recognition that even “common” men were so uncommon as to be inherently able to fill the position. He could doubtless have continued His walk along the seaside and have selected another twelve just as competent as the first twelve, if He had cared at that time to have so many. And certainly it is not venturing much to presume that He could have come into any of our cities and congregations, and have found a dozen people with natural qualifications that would have made them as capable as Peter, James, and John, and the rest, to lay, in co-operation with Himself, the foundations of the Christian Church.

The moon and the stars are commonplace things,

And the flower that blooms and the bird that sings;

But dark were the world and sad our lot

If the flowers failed and the sun shone not;

And God, who studies each separate soul,

Out of commonplace lives makes His beautiful whole.1 [Note: Susan Coolidge.]

The subject may conveniently be treated in two parts:

Christ’s Unerring Judgment

Opportunity and Responsibility


Christ’s Unerring Judgment

1. There is not so much difference between a bat’s eye and an eagle’s as there is between the insight, as we call it, of ordinary men and the insight of Jesus. The whole universe and every detail of it becomes changed to our eyes directly we catch a glimpse of any part from the standpoint of Jesus Christ How tawdry are the pomps and the magnificences which we admire, and how splendid are the lowly eternities which we despise.

A public meeting was held at a certain English town in the interests of Foreign Missions. The chairman was reading out a list of donors. “Mr. So-and-So, a hundred guineas.” Tremendous cheering. “Mr. So-and-So, £50.” Great cheering. “Mr. So-and-So, £20.” Much cheering. “Mr. So-and-Song of Solomon , 6 d.” No cheering. Not being pleased at this cool reception of a gift which probably cost as much sacrifice, or possibly more than any of the foregoing, the chairman, amidst breathless silence, exclaimed: “Hush, I think I hear the clapping of the pierced hands.” The audience keenly felt the rebuke.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]

So with the Lord: He takes and He refuses,

Finds Him ambassadors whom men deny,

Wise ones nor mighty for his saints He chooses,

No, such as John or Gideon or I.

He as He wills shall solder and shall sunder,

Slay in a day and quicken in an hour,

Tune Him a music from the Sons of Thunder,

Forge and transform my passion into power.2 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, St. Paul.]

2. The beauty of the poor widow’s act, commended by our Lord, lay in its entire unconsciousness of self, and of the moral value of what she was doing. We all see that both the moral and the æsthetic quality of her act would have sunk to a much lower level if she had known that the eyes of the promised Messiah of her race were upon her, or that her modest offering would be spoken of in distant climes and future ages wherever the story of man’s redemption should be told. In that case the elements of calculation and of reward would have mingled with her motives.

It matters not what we seem to be to ourselves or others, but only how God looks upon us when we pray to Him. This you may take as the test and proof of anything you say, do, or think; and of the real importance of any event that happens to you: What difference does it make when you come to appear before God in prayer? Will it render you more acceptable or not? Let any one notice each day—there can be no better rule or safeguard—what will render him in his hours of prayer most acceptable with God. There can be no better standard or measure of the real value of all things than this.

I thank Thee I am not my own,

But have to live in Thee alone,

Each passing day, each passing hour,

To live in Thy great power.

Whate’er to-day, to-morrow brings,

’Tis all Thine Hand, Thine orderings.3 [Note: Ibid.]

3. The extravagance of love.—It undoubtedly was an imprudent thing for a woman to do, for perhaps at a later hour of the same day she was unable to meet the necessities of her subsistence; but a beautiful intention we like all the better if it is not too careful and too calculating. Her act is like that of Mary when she broke her alabaster cruse and poured the costly spikenard on her Saviour’s head. If Mary had been more economical with the spikenard less of its fragrance might have floated down to our own day. Both acts were extravagant and reckless, but their very recklessness is one of their charms.

I was preaching a missionary sermon in the village of L’Original, in the province of Quebec, to a congregation of forty. A student who was with me pointed out an old Roman Catholic lady who had come to hear the missionary sermon. My subject was “China and her need.” At the close of the sermon this lady rose and left the building. I feared that I had said something which gave her offence. But while we were singing the last hymn she returned, walked to the front of the church and handed a piece of money to the steward, who afterwards told me what she said, and they were precious words. “Take that and give it to that man for China, and may God bless him and save the heathen. I only have thirty cents, five of which I brought with me for collection, but when I heard of China’s need I thought I would go home and get the twenty-five cents and give it, and keep the five cents for myself.” I shall ever see in that old lady, whose name is unknown to me, a facsimile of that “certain poor widow” casting her two mites into the treasury, and I believe that the word of commendation from the Christ will be no less in the one case than in the other.1 [Note: G. I. Campbell.]

In the long run all love is paid by love,

Though undervalued by the hosts of earth;

The great eternal government above

Keeps strict account and will redeem its worth.

Give thy love freely; do not count the cost;

So beautiful a thing is never lost

In the long run.2 [Note: Ella Wheeler Wilcox.]

4. Another thought which the story told by the Evangelist may suggest to us is that each single life is an offertory, a contribution, made to the great sum of human influences and examples. Every day, in our business and in our time of leisure, by the words we speak, by the force of our example, direct or indirect, by the unconscious revelations we make of our true selves, by the standards we apply to our own conduct and that of our fellow-men, by the opinions we express, the aims we pursue, the moral principles we support or discourage, we are casting something of our own into that invisible treasury which will abide there as a witness for or against us.

Some faint resemblance to this idea of a common treasury to which all in their several ways contribute may be seen in the demands and expectations of men and women when united in social groups. What the writers of the New Testament call “the world” has its own code of unwritten laws, together with its own peculiar sanctions. If you desire to stand well with “people in society” you must contribute something towards the general stock of comfort, of pleasure, or of amusement—something that ordinary minds, not overburdened with intelligence, can appreciate. Either you must be rich, and spend your money freely in lavish entertainments, in which case much will be forgiven you; or you must have a reputation for being clever; or you must have done something remarkable; or you must possess the happy knack of saying or doing the right thing in awkward situations. In one way or another, by self-assertion or by tact and adroitness, you must prove yourself to be an important social unit, and then you may count upon your special contribution to the world’s treasury being stamped with approval. The unpardonable offence is to be a cipher, to stand for nothing that a materialised society values or cares for. It is in this way that the vulgarised minds interpret the Gospel precepts, “Give, and it shall be given to you.” “To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly.” The rich and powerful are welcome as the “benefactors” of society, and society rewards them with its smiles. Modest and humble goodness may pass by with its slender offering, rich only in the coin of love and self-sacrifice, but such coinage has no appreciable value in the eyes of the “children of this world.” They are not concerned to ask whether your motives are pure and disinterested or whether your so-called “charity” is but a form of self-advertisement. All they care to know is how much you are able to give as your solid contribution to the material wealth and enjoyment of this life, which are, in their judgment, the only things that have any real value.1 [Note: J. W. Shepard.]


Opportunity and Responsibility

i. The Value of Sacrifice

Christ had looked on the woman who, with her heart bowed in desolation and sorrow, had given her all to God, and He declared that, small as that was in itself, it was the truest and greatest offering that could be made. Here we find a great principle. The greatness of the outward act of surrender is nothing,—the perfectness of the inner spirit is alone of value in the eye of God. This is a truth which we seldom fully realise, and yet it is one which, if realised, would transform our whole life. We are perpetually prone to measure sacrifice by the outward appearance, while Christ points to the least act which is done with the surrender of the heart’s life as the greatest sacrifice of all. Doubtless this is partly because the external greatness of a sacrifice gratifies our self-glorying spirit—we like to do a thing which seems to be a great dedication, and which flatters our self-love by its greatness. Or it is partly because it is far easier to us to do a great thing which does not necessitate self-surrender than to do a small thing which demands it. We call it a great thing, and rightly so, to spend a life in toilsome service, to give up home and friends and live in strange lands, forgetting that this may not involve more sacrifice than patiently to bear our lot, wherever it may be, than to perform the constant but unnoticed self-denials of an obscure life, and accept without murmuring the unknown and unrewarded toils of each day. This tendency pervades all our judgments. We judge men’s acts by their outward forms rather than by the spirit which impelled them—we are so apt to regard only the great Temple stones. The principle uttered by Christ with regard to the widow’s gift reverses our common notions; before it, our distinctions between great and small vanish. It is the all—the very heart of the offerer that God asks for, the outward form of the sacrifice is of little worth. There are many unknown heroes and silent martyrs now whom the world passes by. It is not the great outward act, but the perfect yielding of the soul, that constitutes the sacrifice which God will not despise.

In the worship described in the vision in the Apocalypse “the four-and-twenty elders fall down before him that sat upon the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne” (Revelation 4:10). They lay their crowns, the symbol of their attainments, at the feet of Him that sitteth upon the throne; and while these glorified saints are thus offering themselves in delighted homage in heaven amidst surroundings that tell of perfect joy and peace, some poor struggling Christian upon earth has broken away with tears and an aching heart from what he loves most, that he may do more thoroughly what he believes to be the will of God. The principle that moves both is the same—sacrifice and self-oblation; only here the will is being purified and cleansed, loosening itself with pain from the creatures to which it clings inordinately, that in faith, and often with little sensible love, it may give itself to God. There, in that picture in heaven, we see the result; there is no more need of struggle or effort, the will is free, bound for ever into the will of God, and it is the joy of the soul for eternity to cast itself and all it possesses at the feet of its Creator.

“What can I spare?” we say:

“Ah, this and this,

From mine array

I am not like to miss:

And here are crumbs to feed some hungry one:

They do but grow a cumbrance on my shelf”:—

And yet, one reads, our Father gave His Son,

Our Master gave Himself.1 [Note: Frederick Langbridge.]

ii. The Sacrifice of our Substance

St. Paul says, “We are not our own, we are bought with a price”; therefore, strictly speaking, we have nothing to give, and yet it is true that Christ, who gives us all, condescends to receive back our gifts. Observe, however, how our Lord receives them, observe how He passes judgment on those who cast their gifts into His treasury. He does not condemn the rich who that day brought their offerings. He does not say how much they ought to have given, whether or not they ought to have given more; but He makes no honourable mention of them. One of the evils of our day is an ostentatious parade of what rich persons give for charitable and religious purposes. This kind of parade is in direct opposition to our Lord’s conduct on the occasion before us. He did not call the attention of the disciples to what He saw till this poor widow had cast in her two mites. The sums which the rich men gave are not named at all. How unlike is this precious passage in New Testament history to what is too common in modern reports, where the larger sums, with their donors’ names, are specified first, and then the lesser ones are massed in one amount under the head of small sums!

Christ sees the workman’s sixpence, and how much it is in relation to his weekly wages. The subscription of a thousand pounds from “many who are rich” is not, in His eyes, half so much. The offerings of the very poor make a deep impression on His heart. He specially calls the attention of the disciples to the greatness of least gifts. He excites their reverence and wonder by speaking of a poor widow who had cast in “more than all.” To the treasury of the Temple her offering was next to nothing, but it was very great in the sight of God. How easily and reasonably she might have said, “My two mites are much to me, but they will not make the treasury noticeably richer: I will keep them for my own need”; instead of which, she kept her need, and gave her money, all that she had. And Jesus has built her an eternal monument: she cast in more than they all.

“Poor widow” indeed! but in a sense quite different from that in which Christ uses the words. Her name is unknown, her deed immortal, but verily she hath been made a packhorse for more stinginess than any other character of history. Surely we may well be thankful that her name is not known, else we would have had societies bearing it while belying her character. We talk about our “mite,” of course referring to her, and there is no near relationship between the two. She did not foretell, or after tell, what she gave. We do both. She gave two mites, we give what we call a mite—and generally speaking it is, but not much like the widow’s. “She of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living”; but we of our superfluity cast in what we happen to have with us or feel like giving, and this is a mite, but rarely all our living. Usually it does not affect our living in the least.

“I would my gift were worthier!” sighed the Greek,

As on he goaded to the temple-door

His spotted bullock. “Ever of our store

Doth Zeus require the best; and fat and sleek

The ox I vowed to him (no brindled streak,

No fleck of dun) when through the breaker’s roar

He bore me safe that day, to Naxos’ shore;

And now, my gratitude, how seeming weak!

But here be chalk-pits. What if I should white

The blotches, hiding all unfitness so?

The victim in the people’s eyes would show

Better therefor;—the sacrificial rite

Be quicklier granted at thus fair a sight,

And the great Zeus himself might never know.”

We have a God who knows. And yet we dare

On His consuming altar-coals to lay

(Driven by the prick of conscience to obey)

The whited sacrifice, the hollow prayer,

In place of what we vowed, in our despair,

Of best and holiest;—glad no mortal may

Pierce through the cheat, and hoping half to stay

That Eye before whose search all souls are bare!

Nay, rather;—let us bring the victim-heart,

Defiled, unworthy, blemished though it be,

And fling it on the flame, entreating,—“See,

I blush to know how vile in every part

Is this my gift, through sin’s delusive art,

Yet ’tis the best that I can offer Thee!”1 [Note: Margaret J. Preston.]

iii. The Sacrifice of Ourselves

1. What do we mean by the word ourselves? Christ has said, “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it. For what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what should a man give in exchange for his life?” This, then, is what we mean by ourselves: our time, our talents, our desires, our affections, in short, all that which makes up our life; and Christ has taught us that nothing short of ourselves is an offering worthy of Him. This may be called the ideal way of looking at the subject.

“Two mites, which make a farthing.” Is that merely the Evangelist’s explanation, or is he quoting Christ? It would have been like Him to give the equation; for no one reckons as He the value of human love. She had two mites. Had she had the farthing in one piece it might have been different; but while there are two pieces there is always room for a double heart. It is not in money only that we are tempted to halve with God. Our talents, our time, our love, our conscience—let us keep half and give God the other!1 [Note: H. Elvet Lewis.]

I beheld Him

Bleeding on the accursed tree:

Heard Him pray, “Forgive them, Father!”

And my wistful heart said faintly,

“Some of self, and some of Thee!”

I once read a book which suggested that the words, “My Master,” should be worn next the heart, next the will, sinking into the very springs of both, deeper every day. The writer says: “Let us get up every morning with this for the instantaneous thought that my Master wakes me. I wake, I rise, His property. Before I go out to plow, or feed, or whatever it may be, upon His domain, let me, with reverent and deep joy, go into His private chamber, as it were, and avow Him as my Master, my Possessor; absolute, not constitutional; supremely entitled to order me about all day, and, if He pleases, not to thank me at the close.”2 [Note: D. Farncomb, The Vision of His Face, 70.]

That He had always been governed by love without selfish views; and that having resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found good reason to be well satisfied with his method. That he was pleased, when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.3 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 8.]

2. Three practical lessons arise.

(1) A lesson of duty.—We are so tempted to say, “Had we only great opportunities of service, were we only free from these passing cares, we would dedicate our lives to God.” Meanwhile this wonderful life is passing, never to return, and nothing is done. Every man may be spiritually heroic. Beneath every trouble or disappointment, small and insignificant as they may seem, lies God’s opportunity.

Believe that the work you are appointed to do is God’s work, and you will always find scope for the heavenly spirit, and for living out the principle which Christ indicated when He pointed to the widow’s mite. It is true that this makes life a very difficult thing,—it is supremely hard to live to God in small things. But forget not that He who saw the widow’s offering sees you, and He who guides the stars binds up the broken heart.1 [Note: K. L. Hull.]

There is a great deal in the Bible about things we might be inclined to call “trifles.” I think God wants to remind us at every turn that He is carefully taking note of all the little details of life. Nearly two thousand years ago a man was doing a lowly act of service—just carrying a pitcher of water into a house in Jerusalem. How little he thought, as he walked along the street, that this trifling everyday action would never be forgotten. How little he imagined that God was weaving him and his pitcher into the most wonderful story the world has ever known. Two of the Evangelists mention that man, who was doing a servant’s work, just before the greatest of the Jewish Passovers was kept, as if they wished to impress us with God’s attention to common things. They may seem trifling to us, but nothing is trifling to Him.2 [Note: D. Farncomb, The Vision of His Face, 99.]

Jesus hath many lovers of His Heavenly Kingdom, but few bearers of His cross. He hath many desirous of consolation, but few of tribulation. All desire to rejoice with Him; few are willing to endure anything for Him or with Him. But they who love Jesus for the sake of Jesus, and not for some special comfort of their own, bless Him in all tribulation and anguish of heart, as well as in the state of highest comfort.3 [Note: Thomas à Kempis.]

That we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, for He regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.4 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 22.]

(2) A lesson of encouragement.—Live to God in all things—consider no sacrifice too great or too small—do your best in everything as in His sight, and you will find Him everywhere. “The trivial round, the common task,” will be glorified with a heavenly spirit, and the great stones in God’s temple of the world will shine with the radiance of Divinity. Thus you will be revealing the Divine life to the world. Men and women consecrated to God in all things are the living temples of the Lord, through which His presence is manifested. Ask not, “Where is my work in the battle of the ages?” It is there, close to your side, if “whatsoever your hand finds to do, you do it with your might.”

“He called unto him his disciples.” Why did He not call the widow also? His “well done” would have transfigured her whole life. Christ values the deed, and the soul that shines through it, too highly to spoil them by praising too soon. He keeps His “well done” till we are fit to hear it. Who can tell the patience of His love? the self-restraint of His sympathy? There must be many a weary servant of His, with disappointed hands and bleeding heart, who almost wins Him to divulge, too soon, the healing secret of “that great day,” but He is wise, and longsuffering, hushing the whispers of heaven lest they reach our ears too soon. He let her return into the shadow of her lonely life and win her obscure victories in the strength of her own soul; some morning, when the angels hear, He will say—“I saw it.” And she will only bow her head lower, in adoring wonder. The soldier must come home for his medal; the worker must wait till evening for his wages. What He gives now is a sense of peace within, a feeling of victory over self.1 [Note: H. Elvet Lewis.]

It is enough! With Him no good is lost;

All has its own just value: All the cost—

The sacrifice by which our work is done—

Revealed before Him stand:

Already in His hand

The fragments have been gathered into one.2 [Note: E. H. Divall, A Believer’s Rest, 137.]

(3) A lesson of warning.—The Jews had come to see God only in the Temple at Jerusalem. As a consequence they became formalists—the surrender of their souls was forgotten, and the splendid Temple fell! So now and ever; forget the Divinity of all life, and the temple of your soul will become desolate.3 [Note: E. L. Hull.] A service which is merely formal becomes degrading; it seeks a reward outside itself. But when Christ fills the temple of the soul, all service is based on love and brings its own reward.

Love is the greatest thing that God can give us, for Himself is Love; and it is the greatest thing we can give to God, for it will also give ourselves, and carry with it all that is ours. Let our love be firm, constant, and inseparable; not coming and returning like the tide, but descending like a never-failing river, ever running into the ocean of Divine excellency, passing on in the channels of duty and a constant obedience, and never ceasing to be what it is, till it comes to what it desires to be; still being a river till it be turned into a sea, and vastness, even the immensity of a blessed eternity.1 [Note: Jeremy Taylor.]

I into life so full of love was sent,

That all the shadows which fall on the way

Of every human being could not stay,

But fled before the light my spirit lent.

They said, “You are too jubilant and glad;

The world is full of sorrow and of wrong,

Full soon your lips shall breathe forth sighs—not song!”

The days wear on, and yet I am not sad.

They said, “Too free you give your soul’s rare wine;

The world will quaff, but it will not repay.”

Yet into the emptied flagons, day by day,

True hearts pour back a nectar as divine.

Thy heritage! Is it not love’s estate?

Look to it, then, and keep its soil well tilled.

I hold that my best wishes are fulfilled,

Because I love so much, and will not hate.2 [Note: Ella Wheeler Wilcox.]

All that She Had


Horton (R. F.), The Cartoons of St. Mark, 249.

Hull (E. L.), Sermons Preached at King’s Lynn, 3rd Ser., 213.

Lewis (H. Elvet), in Women of the Bible, ii. 195.

M‘Neill (J.), Regent Square Pulpit, ii. 65.

Maturin (B. W.), Some Principles and Practices of the Spiritual Life, 73.

Pulsford (J.), Loyally to Christ, 60.

Purves (P. C), The Divine Cure for Heart Trouble, 113.

Shepard (J. W.), Light and Life, 192.

Christian World Pulpit, xix. 44 (Walters); lxiv. 179 (Parkhurst).

Treasury, xxi. 479 (Hallock).

Verse 42

(42) And there came a certain poor widow.—The position of the narrative gives to the description all the vividness of contrast. Among the “many” who cast in much must have been some at least of the Pharisees who devoured widows’ houses. Here was a widow whose house had been devoured, and who yet showed by her act that she kept the two great commandments, which the scribes themselves declared to be above all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Two mites, which make a farthing.—The “farthing” is one of the Latin words which characterise this Gospel, and represents the quadrans, or fourth-part of a Roman as. The primary meaning of the word rendered “mite” is “thin” or “tiny.”

Verse 43

(43) And he called unto him his disciples.—The act was significant. He sought to teach them to judge of acts by other than a quantitative standard. For him the widow’s mites and the ointment that might have been sold for 300 pence stood on the same level, so far as each was the expression of a generous and self-sacrificing love.

Verse 44

(44) They did cast in of their abundance . . . she of her want.—The contrast between the two Greek words is somewhat stronger: They of their superfluity . . . she of her deficiency. We recognise the same standard of judgment, possibly even an allusive reference to our Lord’s language, in St. Paul’s praises of the churches of Macedonia, whose “deep poverty” had “abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

Even all her living.—This was not necessarily involved in the act itself, but the woman may have become known to our Lord in one of His previous visits to Jerusalem, or we may see in the statement an instance of His divine insight into the lives and characters of men, like that shown in the case of the woman of Samaria (John 4:18).


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Mark 12:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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