A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
What are Christ's parting instructions to His Church? How are His followers to vanquish all the banded opposition of the world? Does He counsel them to amass wealth? to secure high offices? to acquire learning? to equip fleets and armies? to employ craft and intrigue? No, the first disciples were poor, destitute of learning, humble and despised, nor did they ever kill or wound a single human being. The power with which the Redeemer arms His Church is love.
I. THE COMMANDMENT.
1. Love is the only badge by which the Church of Christ is known (ver. 35). Armies have their banners, and families their heraldry. In the days of Christ, Jews and Gentiles had their emblems — different sects and schools being distinguished by symbols and mottoes. At this day, churches called Christian glory in names, titles, orders, and parade. But there is only one badge of the true Church which will be recognized and honoured by "all men." "The banner over us is love."
2. Love is the only law by which a Church of Christ is to be governed. Church government! — how much pride, prejudice, ambition, selfishness, cruelty, have been sanctified by this phrase. A king dabbling with astronomy once said, Had I been present when God arranged the solar system, I could have made some important suggestions. So vain men have thought as to the Saviour's regulation of His Church, and they have sought to improve His system. As in the natural world the Creator secures order without monotony, by forming each particle of matter with its own peculiar properties, and throwing around all substances the law of gravitation; so in the Church, there are many members and diversities of gifts, etc., but the law of love binds all into one harmonious whole. If love reign in a church, it will almost supersede discipline.
3. When from the internal administration of the Church we turn to its outward enterprise, we find a mission entirely of love. It is this which makes the gospel the religion suited to all climes and ages.
4. It is love which is to secure the perpetuity, and final and universal triumph of the Church. Force, stratagem, heredity, prescriptive authority, are the foundations of earthly kingdoms. Christ founded His empire on love.
5. Love is the glory, the happiness, the perfection of the Church of Christ. It is greater than faith and hope, because it comprehends them both; for it "hopeth all things, believeth all things." We every day see loving hearts hoping against hope, and trusting in spite of the basest perfidiousness. Love, indeed, is the crowning flower in which all the Christian graces will expand and bloom in eternity. The highest heaven knows nothing more exalted and blessed than love.
II. IN WHAT SENSE IS IT NEW.
1. In the new principle to which it appeals. It is not attachment to a human being for his natural excellencies, but complacency in the image of God reflected by him. "Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him."
2. In its extent — embracing all who are the children of God. All other ties and relations are subordinated to this religion — this new spiritual affinity which rebinds us to Christ and to each other. Separated from God, men are walled off from each other by selfish and hostile distinctions. To repair these unnatural breaches, the "Son of God" became the "Son of Man," that He might attract us all to God, and unite us all to one another by new and heavenly ties.
3. Its spirituality. It is love not only for the bodies, but for the souls of our brethren. How few really and practically recognize the soul. In Christ's teachings the soul is everything. He heeded neither the trappings of the prince nor the rags of the beggar. Beneath all, through all, He saw a soul whose dignity and worth transcend finite thought. The only charge which His enemies could ever prove against Him was, "This man receiveth sinners." And, catching His spirit, what a new passion inflamed the souls of His disciples.
4. Its comprehensiveness; for it embraces and renders superfluous all other commands.
III. THE EXAMPLE BY WHICH IT IS ENFORCED — "As I have loved you." A love —
1. How attentive! as considerate and assiduous as the love of a woman.
2. How confiding! "Having loved His own, which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." Often had they been faithless. Yet He trusts them, opens His whole heart to them, and commits His cause to their keeping.
3. How condescending! Stooping to the most menial office of kindness and hospitality (vers. 4, 5).
4. How compassionate! He not only pronounces every sin, however aggravated, pardonable, if only against Himself, but He is ingenious in finding apologies for all the weaknesses, even for the baseness and treachery, of those whom He had trusted.
5. How disinterested! He entirely forgets Himself when His friends are in sorrow or danger.
(R. Fuller, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.