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In this essay we would call attention to the words of Jesus spoken at the occasion of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the upper-room. We refer to the following from Jesus’ mouth: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.”

It will not be gain-said by anyone who carefully reads the text, that the central and all-controlling subject of Jesus is: love for one another. We should notice that this content of the new commandment, namely, that we love one another, is not merely stated by Jesus in a very off-hand way. It is not a mere detail in the text, nor is it a fragmentary statement. On the contrary, it is a complete statement of the central and all-controlling commandment of Christ to His disciples, and to all who will believe through their word of preaching.

Attend to the following in the text.

In the first place notice that Jesus repeats this “love for one another” not less than three times. Says He: I give you a new commandment: That ye love one another. Again Jesus qualifies this love by adding: “Even as I have loved you in order that ye also love one another”. And, finally, the Savior adds: All shall know that ye are my disciples by this ear-mark: that ye have love one for another.

The commandment here is: the mutual love that believers in Christ have for each other, the love of those who gather as guests at the table of the fellowship of the New Testament in His blood.

Two matters stand forth in bold relief in this commandment of Christ to us. The first is, that Jesus, in here speaking of our loving one another, places His finger upon the very heart of the law of God, He touches upon the spiritual covenant nature of God’s law. This is not a mere cataloging of precept upon precept, and of commandment upon commandment, here a rule and there a law, so that we can look it up in file number so and so. The commandment of Jesus does not at all allow for a division into greater and lesser commandments, nor does it allow for a sphere of indifferent things, (adiaphora). Nor is there left any room for a mere externalization of the commandments, a mere keeping of the letter of the law. All this is radically cut off by Jesus in this one commandment, that we love one another. Indeed Jesus here refers to the very essence of the keeping of the law of God.

It is for this very reason that he does not give a prohibition. He does not come with the “thou shalt not”, but rather with the positive: “Love ye one another”.

The second matter that strikes our attention in this commandment of Christ is, that Jesus in speaking of the keeping of the law of God, directs attention only to the second table of the law: that we love one another, or: that we love our neighbor as ourselves. This fact is indeed noteworthy. Let us ask ourselves the question why Jesus here thus speaks.

It ought to be clear, first of all, that no one should jump at the hasty conclusion that Jesus in speaking of the second commandment forgets about the First Commandment. Pray, how could Jesus exclude from His teaching the first and great commandment, namely, that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength? Would Jesus standing here at the table of the New Testament in His blood disjoin in His High-priestly soul and in His prophetic mind, what He at an earlier occasion had shown to be joined together? Would that upon which all of “the law and the prophets” depend, simply be set aside here? To ask this question is to answer it.

Nay, the Son of Man does not forget any of all the words of God; least of all of the primordial relationship of the two tables of the law; of that law which He has a perfect ear to hear and which he at this moment is fulfilling in His humiliation to the cross!

But, then, why does Jesus here not say: And this is the new commandment, that ye love God above all. Why not? Someone may remark that this is a dangerous question to ask. Then, too, it may be objected that it is impossible to answer such a question as to why Jesus did not express a certain thought-content. The latter we readily grant. Still we would like to determine from the Scripture just what the purpose and intent is of Jesus’ words here spoken in the upper room. It is from this point of view that we ask: Why did Jesus say just these words here recorded in the text under consideration, and why did he, in the light of the correct interpretation of the words spoken, not speak differently. And so we inquire: why does Jesus here make the content of the new commandment: that we love one another?!

The answer is undoubtedly to be sought in the fact, that Jesus is here standing at the table of the New Testament in His blood. He is standing in the midst of His brethren. And they are brethren only because of what He is doing and because of what He shall do for them in this night in which He is betrayed. He will, by His blood, break down the middle wall of partition consisting in commandments and ordinances, and will reconcile all His brethren unto God, making them one new man. So he makes peace for all His own whether they be Jews or Gentiles, male or female, bond or free, Barbarian or Scythian. All are one new man in Christ, in which He is to be all in all.

Well, now, since Jesus thus stands here He speaks of the commandments to them as they are constituted the new manhood, the new creation of God in Christ. And He says: love one another. For in this loving of one another in Christ we know that we have passed from death into life. It is this brother whom we see that Jesus speaks of. In fact all the brethren see each other. Him we must love. Shall we then love God too? Yes, but we cannot be loving God whom we do not see if we do not love the brethren whom we see. I John 4:20. And to this John adds: And this commandment have we from him, that, he who loveth God, love his brother also! Jesus, therefore, does not separate the first and the second commandment, but He brings the matter of our loving God “down to earth” in His new commandment that we love one another.

Loving each other as brethren and sisters is an indication that we love God with hearts that are indeed purified from an evil conscience, by hearts that have been established before God by almighty grace and saving love. It is a remarkable fact, that Jesus, in instructing His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, also teaches concerning the will of God for all who enter into the Kingdom. In Matt. 2:19 ff., Jesus speaks of the righteousness that is more overflowing than that of the Pharisees and Scribes. Then He shows that He indeed did not come to destroy the law and the prophets by elucidating in detail upon the commandments contained in the second table of the Law of God. It is here among men that we are in the proving grounds of our being perfect; of our being children of our Father in heaven.

It is for this latter reason that Jesus here gives the content of the new commandment to be that we love one another.

There is still another element in this word of Jesus to which I wish to call attention at this time. We refer, of course, to the fact that Jesus calls the commandment that we love one another a new commandment. We ask: in what sense of the word is this commandment new? Does this imply that this is the first time that this commandment had ever been promulgated from the lips of Jesus, or from that of the prophets who came before Him?

When we look rather carefully at this commandment that we love one another it strikes us that it really is the second commandment like unto the first and great commandment. It is a part of the Great Shamah, of the “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord!” And taken in this sense it indeed is not a new commandment at all, but the old commandment of God. For is this not the commandment that was in the mind of God when He spoke by Himself, when He spoke in monologue: Let us make man after our image and likeness? And was this not the implied commandment to Adam in Paradise? And did not this commandment stand, even after the fall and before the Protevangel was spoken to Adam and Eve in Paradise? And is this not the essence of the law for all men inside and outside of the covenant-sphere, even from Adam to Moses? And is it not the heart of the law given at Sinai, even though it is there accompanied with thunder, lightnings, darkness and tempest? Is it not the law as sung of by Psalmists, prophets, and by bards of old?

Surely, this must be the old, old commandment.

Yet, Jesus calls it new. New it therefore must surely be. And we do well to give heed to this light of the Prophetic Word in a dark place. New commandment? What does it mean?

Probably the key to the proper interpretation is given us most clearly and unmistakably in 1 John 2:7, 8. “Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard. Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth.”

Now in this passage we would notice especially the latter part, it sheds light on the notion of the “new commandment”. This new commandment is the “thing that is true in the Church and in Jesus”. It is the shining of the true light. It is the manifestation of the love of God through Christ in His church in the world.

But why is it called “new”?

The answer is no doubt, that Christ has come to take away all of the sins and the guilt of us who believe, the sins and guilt of all of His own given Him by the Father. In so doing God performs a new work under the sun. He makes all things new! All things are made new in the new Covenant in Christ’s blood He remembers our sins no more and He writes His law through the preaching of the Word and by the operation of the Holy Spirit into our hearts, so that we are a very willing people in the day of this His power. This willingness is a new willingness, it is a love and delight in the commandments and precepts of God. The redeemed, the renewed Church, the new creation of God sings: O, how love I Thy law, it is my meditation all the day.

Christ has made the law of God for us new, fresh, lovely. What the law could not do in that it was weak through sin Christ hath performed in the likeness of sinful flesh, condemning sin in the flesh, that the just demand of God be fulfilled in us.

And now this just command is the object of our love. It teaches us wisdom, we who are the simple. It comes to us as a command, indeed! Yet, it is a new commandment! For it comes to us as we are believers and it stimulates us to believing action of love. Of believing action of having love for one another. And so the newness of God’s work comes to manifestation before the eyes of all men in this: that we have love one for another.

Standing at the table of the New Testament in His blood, Jesus preaches the post-communion sermon. Well, may we emulate this sermon as the church has always done. Let us learn to love each other not merely in words, but to manifest it toward one another in very deed.

Loving one another we will silence the contempt of those who are without. We shall indeed be a peculiar people of the living God in the midst of this world. So let us keep this new commandment, whether we be rich or poor, great or small, owing each other nothing except to love one another. The new commandment entails a wondrous debt. It must always be paid and yet is still always owed!