The Two Great Commandments

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, June 13, 2010

Our text is the familiar passage from the New Testament where the Lord summarized everything that we need to know about religion into one easily remembered phrase: Jesus said to him, "’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (MAT 22:37-40)

This statement had additional power because it was given in the midst of a confrontation between Jesus and both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were firing "what if" questions at Him, hoping to get Him to say something that would trip Him up, something that they could then use against Him. To their enormous frustration, He answered their questions with other questions, parried their thrusts, and turned their hate-filled attacks into opportunities to teach eternal truths.

His teaching about the great commandments had particular power to that audience, for He drew them from the laws of Moses, a source and an authority that they all agreed upon:

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Deu. 6:5)

‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:18)

And once again, after leading them to a point where they demanded that He give them a definitive statement of His position, the power and obvious truth of what He said silenced them. It is said that after this exchange, they never dared to question Him (in public) again.

For today, our purpose is to take a closer look at the several individual elements of this statement to understand the individual parts more clearly so that we can have a fuller understanding of the whole statement.

The heart and soul represent the two parts of the mind. In many passages of the Word it is said "from the heart and from the soul," or "from the whole heart and from the whole soul," and by this is signified that it is from all the will and all the understanding. That man has two faculties, namely, will and understanding, may be known to everyone; also that the will is a separate faculty from the understanding, for we are able to understand good and truth and yet will what is evil and false.

From the beginning man was so created that his will and understanding should make a one, so that he should not think one thing and will another, nor will one thing and think another. Such is the state with the celestial, and such it was in the celestial church, which was called "Man" or "Adam." But with the spiritual, or in the spiritual church, one faculty has been separated from the other, that is, the understanding from the will; and the man is reformed by the Lord as to the intellectual part, and in this there is formed a new will and a new understanding (see n. 863, 875, 895, 897, 927, 928, 1023, 1044, 2256).

The celestials of the Most Ancient Church had a will and understanding that were unified into one, and while their will was entirely good, that gave them the quality and character of the angels themselves. But it was also their downfall, for when the will became corrupted, it took the understanding with it, and the fall was terrible and complete.

So, the will and understanding were separated from then on. Unlike the celestials, we are able to tolerate evils in our will because we are able to will one thing and think another – we can want to do something, but know that it is wrong, and compel ourselves to act contrary to our own will.

Of course, the beauty of this is that such self compulsion allows the Lord to implant a new will in our elevated understanding that is united, and so, gradually, we approach the angelic state through our own efforts (and the Lord’s power) and eventually become angels with a unified will and understanding.

The new will which is from the Lord, in this part, is what is called "heart," and the new understanding is what is called "soul;" and when it is said, "from all the heart and from all the soul," by this is meant from all the will and from all the understanding.

This is what is meant by "heart and soul" in Moses: Thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength (Deut. 6:5).

The heart and soul also represent a person’s life and faith:

In the Word throughout mention is made of "the heart" and of "the soul," and by "the heart" is signified the life of love, and by "the soul" the life of faith.

… They who are in love to the Lord and are called celestial, constitute in the Grand Man or heaven the province of the heart; and they who are in faith in the Lord and thereby in charity toward the neighbor constitute the province of the lungs.

From all this it can be seen what is properly meant in the Word by "the heart," and what by "the soul;" as in the following passages: Thou shalt love Jehovah thy God from all thy heart, and from all thy soul, and from all thy strength (Deut. 6:5).

It is said that they should "love Him from all the heart, from all the soul, and from all the strengths," by which is signified with all that is in man.

From the natural point of view, can we imagine life in a physical body without either a heart or lungs? We need both for life, and so both together represent life itself in all its complexity of forms.

"From the heart" denotes from the will in which is the good of love; "from the soul" denotes from the understanding in which is the truth of faith, thus from faith, which two are of the internal man;

"from all the strengths" denotes from the things that belong to the understanding and the will in the external man.

They who have separated faith from love do not even know what faith is. When thinking of faith, some imagine it to be mere thought, some that it is thought directed toward the Lord, few that it is the doctrine of faith. But faith is not only a knowledge and acknowledgment of all things that the doctrine of faith comprises, but especially is it an obedience to all things that the doctrine of faith teaches.

The primary point that it teaches, and that which men should obey, is love to the Lord, and love toward the neighbor, for if a man is not in this, he is not in faith.

This the Lord teaches so plainly as to leave no doubt concerning it, in Mark. In Matthew, the Lord calls the former of these the "first and great commandment" and says that "on these commandments hang all the law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:37-41). The "law and the Prophets" are the universal doctrine of faith, and the whole Word.

What’s the "whole Word"?

It shall be briefly told what are truths of faith from love. Truths of faith from love are truths which love dictates, thus which derive their being from love. These truths are living, because the things which are from love are living. Consequently the truths of faith from love are those which treat of love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor, for these are the truths which love dictates.

The whole Word is the doctrine of such truths; for in its spiritual sense the Word treats solely of things which belong to the Lord and the neighbor, thus which belong to love to the Lord and toward the neighbor. It is from this that the Word is living.

This is meant by the statement that "on these two commandments hang the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:34-40); "the Law and the Prophets" denote the Word in its whole complex.

The Law and the Prophets, that is, the universal doctrine of faith together with all its knowledges, consists in love to the Lord and in love toward the neighbor; as is manifest to all from the Lord’s words in Matthew … and … Mark.

The "law and the prophets" is an idiomatic way of referring to the whole of the Word – the law being the books of Moses, and the prophets being all the rest (except the historical books). Thus this phrase teaches that the whole of the Word is founded on these two essential truths, the love of the Lord, and the love of the neighbor.

These concepts were first taught to the Jewish church in the books of Moses, they were then affirmed as truths for the Christian Church when Jesus Himself taught them in Matthew and Mark, and they became truths for the New Church when John also teaches them in the book of Revelation when he speaks of the two witnesses.

Two olive trees and two lamp stands seen in John’s vision, the represent the two essential doctrines of the New Church. Not surprisingly, these essential doctrines are love of the Lord and love of the neighbor!

One of the great questions of philosophy throughout the ages has been how can a Divine God conjoin Himself with that which is not Divine – His created beings? For our part, what can we do, as finite, limited minds accomplish that would attract God’s attention to us, let alone His love?

The answer lies in this simple concept. God does not conjoin Himself with the finite human mind, but rather He created that mind with the capacity to receive and understand divine truths from the Word. He then conjoins Himself to that which is divine in us.

So the question for us is, how do we get divine truths into our minds so that God can conjoin Himself with them, and consequently with us? We make the truths of the Word our own simply by living them:

That man is capable not only of thinking about God but also of loving Him is evident from the two commandments of God Himself, which read thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Matt. 22:37-39; Deut. 6:5).  That man is able to obey God’s commandments, and that this is loving Him and being loved by Him, is evident from the following: Jesus said, He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself unto him (John 14:21). Amen.


First Lesson:

(Mat 22) {34} But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. {35} Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, {36} "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" {37} Jesus said to him, " ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ {38} "This is the first and great commandment. {39} "And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ {40} "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

Second Lesson:

TCR 369. (1) It is by conjunction with God that man has salvation and eternal life. Man was so created as to be capable of conjunction with God; for he was created a native of heaven and also of the world, and so far as he is a native of heaven he is spiritual, while so far as he is a native of the world he is natural; and the spiritual man can think of God and perceive such things as are of God; he can also love God, and be affected by what is from God; from which it follows that he is capable of conjunction with God. That man can think of God and can perceive such things as are of God, is beyond all doubt; for he can think of the unity of God, of the Esse of God, which is Jehovah, of the immensity and eternity of God, of the Divine love and wisdom, which constitute the Essence of God, of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence; of the Lord the Savior His Son, and of redemption and mediation; also of the Holy Spirit, and finally of the Divine trinity; all of which are of God, yea, are God. Moreover, he can think also of the operations of God, which are chiefly faith and charity, and of other things which proceed from these two. [2] That man is capable not only of thinking about God but also of loving Him is evident from the two commandments of God Himself, which read thus:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Matt. 22:37-39; Deut. 6:5).

That man is able to obey God’s commandments, and that this is loving Him and being loved by Him, is evident from the following:

Jesus said, He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself unto him (John 14:21).


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