“A new commandment I give unto
you, that ye love one another.”—
In connection with the Holy Spirit’s work of shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts, the question arises: What is the meaning of Christ’s word, “A new commandment I give unto you”? How can He designate this natural injunction, “To love one another,” a new commandment?
This offers no difficulty to those who entertain the erroneous view that during His ministry on earth Christ established a new and higher religion, to supersede the antiquated religion of Israel.
They assert that the ancient religious ideas of the Jews were crude, defective, and primitive, even far below pagan morality. Among Israel themselves it was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. For their enemies they pursed vindictive hatred. They sang imprecatory psalms. And to crown all, they indulged the bloodthirsty desire of dashing the enemy’s innocent babes against the stones. Among this rude and barbarous people Jesus arose to proclaim a higher and nobler religion. He said: “Ye have heard it was said of old time, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!’ but I say: ‘Resist him not that is evil.’ ‘Ye have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt hate thine enemy’; but I say unto you: ‘Love your enemies.’ And whatever shortsighted Moses may have taught ancient Israel, I, Jesus, give you a new commandment, that ye love one another.”
In this sense the words “new commandment "offer no difficulty. “New,” representing the Christian religion, is opposed to the “old,” which stands for the Mosaic law. But however plausible, this representation is thoroughly false and contradicted by obvious facts.
And after this introduction He continues: “Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy.”
Hence it is unfair to say that the Old Testament teaches a low and unholy morality, for it inculcates the very opposite. The words disapproved by Jesus are found not in the Old Testament, but in the writings of the liberal rabbis. “Liberal,” we say, for many of the rabbis did not support this interpretation. This shows that a man actually lowers himself when he lays upon the lips of Jesus a charge against the Old Testament which can be preferred only against the liberal rabbis.
Without going into the details of
Hence it is evident that this whole representation, as tho the new commandment of love opposed the Mosaic commandment of hatred, can not for a moment be maintained. And apart from this, the divine law of Sinai can not be anything but a perfect law; and Jesus, Himself being its Author, can not contradict Himself.
In order to prevent the drawing of such pernicious inference from the words “a new commandment,” St. John declares emphatically: “And now I beseech thee, lady, not as tho I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another”
The way is now open to arrive at the right understanding of this new commandment, especially with reference to the subject under treatment.
Jesus and the disciples have entered the inner sanctuary of His passion. Golgotha discloses itself. The painful strife of the feet-washing and of the expulsion of the traitor is ended. And during these solemn moments Jesus speaks of His departure, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and of the new relation which henceforth God’s people shall sustain to the Messiah. From Paradise to the Lord’s return there is but one salvation for all the elect, but one way in which all walk, but one gate through which all must pass. The whole redemptive work flows from one unchangeable counsel. And herein lies the unity of the Old and New Covenants.
But, altho we fully acknowledge this unity, we may not overlook the fact that, in different dispensations and circumstances, the
The subject of Christ’s conversation before, He entered Gethsemane was this change of the mutual position and relation. He strongly emphasizes the new fact of the coming of the Holy Spirit to be their Comforter. He Himself will depart, but their treasure will be even richer and more glorious. Hence they need not fear. They will receive the Holy Spirit whom He will send them from the Father. Not as tho the Holy Spirit had not wrought already for and in Israel’s saints; for then faith and salvation would have been impossible. In fact, His work in the souls of men is as old as the generation of the elect, and originates in Paradise. But to the saints under the Old Covenant this operation came from without; while now, being freed from the fetters of Israel, the body of the Church itself becomes the bearer of the Holy Spirit, who descends upon it, dwells within it, and thus works upon its members from within.
This is the new thing. This is Pentecost. This is all the difference between the dispensation before and after Christ’s Resurrection. This is His promise to and for His disciples and for all His saints.
And in this connection Christ speaks of the new commandment, that they should love one another. The same love commanded them by Moses was now to affect them in a different way, since by His departure they were to enter into a different relation. It is not a rare occurrence when the children of the same family, suddenly orphaned, feel as it were a more intimate relation to each other than they ever felt before, and at their parents’ grave pledge one another a new love. As they stand at the open sepulcher and look at each other, they suddenly feel a sensation in their hearts hitherto unknown; it is the realization of a new relation. It is the old, and yet a new love, with a new conception, a new motive, a new consecration.
And this new love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church. It is like the difference between carrying water with great exertion from a distant fountain, and having a stream from that fountain flow by one’s own door, from which he can drink copiously, by whose invigorating scent he feels his spirits revived, into which he can throw himself for a refreshing bath. The Holy Spirit comes with glorious blessings to the children of God under the New Covenant. They drink, not with scant measure, but from a full and overflowing cup. They revel in the fulness of eternal Love, And He that creates this blessedness is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whom Jesus has sent from the Father.
Calvin College. Last modified on 08/11/06. Contact the CCEL.