Rev. denHartog is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
It has been some time since I wrote the first article for an intended series on “Life in the Covenant Home.” A very busy year in the ministry has made it difficult for me to continue to write articles for this series. It might be helpful for those reading this article to re-read the first article in the December 1, 2007 issue of the Standard Bearer. I intend to continue, the Lord willing, to write on subjects related to this general theme. I will do this by considering carefully what God says to us inDeuteronomy 6:6-9.
It is noteworthy that the beautiful example of covenant home life from the history of Israel given to us in Deuteronomy 6 follows from the Lord’s command through Moses to the children of Israel that they should “keep the commandments and statutes, and the judgments which the Lord commanded.” These in turn we must teach the covenant children that God has given to us. This is important even for us living many centuries after Moses and Israel and in a very different time and culture.
It is also of greatest significance that God gives the summary of His law at this time, but only the summary of the first table of this law. “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.” Love for God is the absolute and perfect requirement of God’s law. There is no keeping of the law without love for God. The whole book of Deuteronomy is full of repetitions of our important calling as God’s covenant people to be serious about the commandments of the Lord.
We are commanded by the law of God to love God “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might.” This means we are to love God with our whole being and at all times, with all that He has made us to be before His sight. There may be no division in our lives between love for God and love for the things of this world. There may be no half-hearted love or divided allegiance. Our love for God must be complete, perfect, and ardent devotion.
We confess the truth that doing this is by nature wholly impossible for us. As the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us, we are prone by nature to hate God and the neighbor. Even the most holy man has but a small beginning of the new obedience. Of this we are ashamed, and over this we grieve continually all the day long. This is the miserable reality concerning ourselves. We may not become complacent about this. We may have no rest in our souls until we by the grace and power of God’s love in us attain unto perfect love for Him.
We are not to love ourselves, but God. It is natural for us according to our sinful nature to love ourselves above all. This is often so obvious in our daily lives. We should be ashamed of this. This is our awful sinfulness. We must fight against self love and pride with all our might. If we love ourselves first, then we cannot love God first. We must deny ourselves, sacrifice ourselves for God’s sake, and count not even our own lives dear to us, because we love God above all.
There is no mere man that ever lived who loved God as God requires in His holy law. Only our Lord Jesus Christ was able to do that as perfectly as His heavenly Father requires. Because He loved God, it was His meat and drink to do the will of God. In that love He was obedient even to the shameful and agonizing death of the cross. We can love God only because of the atonement of Christ’s perfect love for God. By His perfect love He covered all of our shameful failure and sin in not loving God as we ought.
We love God because He first loved us. He shed His love abroad in our hearts by giving us His Spirit. There is no love of God in our hearts except that which is the fruit of the continual work of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. Our love must always again be revived and strengthened by God’s love for us.
In our modern-day world of ‘Christianity,’ much of which is only outward show and mere words (rather than sincerity of heart), it is common to put all the emphasis on love for the neighbor, so that concern for this eclipses the proper and central emphasis on love for God. We must however remember that love for God is the first and great commandment. The second commandment is that we love the neighbor. We must not turn the first and second commandments around in importance in our lives. There can be no true love for the neighbor, not even for our closest neighbor, our own spouse, wife or husband, and our covenant children, if we do not first of all love God.
True love for God must be hearty, warm and personal, and living. Love for God may not be something cold and impersonal, and merely formal and external.
We as Reformed people love the truth of the covenant, which we believe to be in its essence a living and personal knowledge of God and fellowship with Him. The reality of the covenant is the truth that God is our God and we are His people. We are His people only because He has personally chosen us to be His own, and because He has redeemed us by His sovereign grace and wonderful mercy and goodness from our wretched sinfulness. He has united us to Himself in the blessed bond of His love. He daily shows us His own covenant love and faithfulness. The covenant with God on our part must be that we love Him with perfect, holy, and ardent affection and delight. This must be evident in all our life and conversation, especially in our covenant home.
Love for God is the most holy and sublime and perfect love imaginable. The soul of man cannot reach any higher than knowing and loving God. God makes Himself known to us as the covenant God, and we love Him because He first loved us. Love for God means that with fear and trembling we know Him as He is in Himself. This is possible because He has revealed Himself to us and caused us in our hearts to experience this knowledge in a living and personal way. Love for God is love for His truth and love for His revelation to us in His own Word. Love for God is confessing and maintaining His truth. Love for God means that the knowledge of Him is the greatest joy of our life, that which is most precious to us, and the deepest satisfaction of our life. Love for God means that we love Him in all of His infinite perfections and majesty. We desire Him to be nothing other than what He has in grace made known concerning Himself in His most holy and perfect Word. Love for God is glorying in God and in His truth alone. It is worshiping God in His holy and glorious majesty and infinitely perfect attributes. It is fearing Him in a life of deepest humility, reverence, awe, obedience, and service.
We must show that we love God by loving our neighbor. In the covenant home our marriage was ordained by God to be a reflection of God’s covenant love and faithfulness. The love of God is pure and holy, and this must be reflected in the love that we have for our wife, our husband, and our children. The love of God towards us is shown in His amazing faithfulness to us even though we are repeatedly unfaithful to Him because of the continual weakness of our sinful natures. We must reflect His love to us in our relationships with our wife or husband and with our children in the covenant home. We show the love of God to our spouse by living in holy purity and faithfulness with him or her all the days of our life. As the Lord in love pities us, so must we have compassion for and pity upon our children. As God is holy and pure in Himself, our marriage must be kept from the impurity, immorality, and abomination of fornication and adultery. As God is faithful to us, we must show ourselves to be faithful in our covenant marriage and family. The deepest reason we must do this is for God’s sake, and for His glory!
Even worldly psychologists and those who want to teach men about proper family living will say that love is the most important thing. If love is not present in marriage and in the relationship between parents and children, there will be enmity and strife and bitterness that will lead to the misery and the profound sorrow of the breakdown of the home and family. The humanist teaches that this love is only manward and does not first of all need to be Godward. But we know that true love for our wife or husband and our children can only be there when first of all there is love for God in our hearts. It must be evident in the covenant home that the love for God is reflected in the marriage of husband and wife and in the whole perspective and atmosphere of this home. Children must be nurtured in the warm and blessed sphere of love for God. The spiritual reality of this love for God must immediately be evident when one enters our home. It is this love that makes a truly Christian home. We shall consider some of the implications of this in our next article.