1 John 3:23
Those whose hearts are but little established in the grace of God have a tendency to shrink from the thought of commandments, because it has to them a tinge of Mount Sinai, rather than of Mount Zion; and, in their minds, the expression is associated with devouring fire, blackness, darkness, tempest and words too terrible to listen to, rather than with the words of grace which fell from His lips, who was full of grace and truth.
But we need to see that whatever word may be addressed to us by God, it must take the form of commandment, because it is the expression of His holy will concerning us, and there can be no mercy extended to the one who refuses to obey it. Thus the writings of the apostles to the churches were to be acknowledged as “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).
But nothing could be more different than the commandment addressed to the people through Moses, and that which has been addressed to us, by the Father through the Son. That which was spoken from Sinai could not be borne, because it was the declaration of God’s righteous claims upon the people, and a curse was pronounced upon all who did not answer to those claims. It was not the unfolding of what God was on behalf of man, but what man was to be, if he was to enter into blessing with God. And therefore what was enjoined they were not able to bear. Even the mediator of the old covenant quaked with fear in the presence of the Lawgiver, and all the people fled at the sound of His dread voice; but when God spoke in the Person of the Son, they who were privileged to hear wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of His mouth; and not only the godly, but all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him. What a contrast!
The commandment addressed to men through Christ struck no terror into the heart of the hearer, spoke not of death, condemnation, and curse, but of peace, love and everlasting life. It was the declaration of what God was for man, and to that the vilest could, and did, listen with wrapt attention, for surely never man spoke like this Man. The word was attractive to them, for whatever they might feel themselves to be, it gave them the impression of the goodness of God. It had not the tendency to lessen in their minds the sense of His righteousness and abhorrence of sin, but it made them conscious that for the most abandoned there was mercy and forgiveness. Moses had hitherto occupied them with themselves, and what they ought to be, and where the conscience was not utterly without feeling, they were sensible of his accusing and cursing; but here was One come to occupy them with God, to divert their attention from themselves, and to turn the heavenly sunshine of the Father’s grace and love upon their withered and frozen hearts.
How blessed was all this! What rest and peace it brought to the weary soul. He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” By this Man peace was preached; and into the disturbed and troubled breast there came a great calm. What a commandment! It is the Father’s addressed to us in the Son; and we draw near to hear it. It does not repel us, or drive us to a distance. It falls like the gentle rain upon the parched surface of the earth, and cheers and invigorates the drooping soul.
And yet it is the same Person we listen to whose voice once shook the earth, and sent trembling and dismay through the host of Israel. How different the commandment! How precious the word through Jesus to the heart disappointed with the unmendable badness of the flesh! And this is the Father’s commandment. Jesus says, “He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak” (John 12:49-50). He had a commandment from the Father as to all that should be declared by Him; and the commandment, I doubt not, was that in Him the Father should be perfectly revealed in all that He said and in all that He did. This commandment He fulfilled to the letter. He says, “He that has seen me has seen the Father;” and Peter says, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
This is the commandment which the Son received, and which He came to earth to fulfil, and which has such attraction for the weary soul. But there is also a commandment addressed to us, and which we are to obey. And what is it? It is to hear Him. “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one, another, as he gave us commandment.” Faith in His Son, and love to one another. These are two parts in the commandment—faith and love. Christ is the Object of faith. He must be because it is in Him that God has spoken to us. But He has not spoken to us in the same way by the Son, as He spoke to the people by Moses. Moses brought to the people what was required from them written upon two tables of stone. The Son has brought to us what God is, declared in Himself. The full light of the invisible and hitherto unseen God shone out in Him. All that God is, in the grace and love of His heart, has been declared by Him, especially in His death. I do not mean that in one way anything was brought to light in His death which was hidden in His life, but in His death all the love of God was declared in noonday splendour.
A man will sometimes, on the spur of the moment, do an act of magnanimity out of all proportion with his general character so that it stands alone in solitary greatness, entirely out of harmony with every other action of his life; and men contemplate it with astonishment. But this is not so with regard to the death of God’s beloved Son. His death is in the most perfect harmony with His whole life of self-sacrificing love; and the giving up of His life for His own, in obedience to the Father, could only be the culminating point of such a life as His. In His death the glory of that love to us shines before our eyes in all its perfection, so that we can say, “Hereby perceive we love, because he laid down his life for us.”
But in the laying down of His life for us, not only was His own love to us expressed, but it was the declaration of the love of God to us. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God has spoken to us in the death of Christ, and told out to us all the great love of His heart.
And thus is the Son the Object of faith. The light of God has reached us in Him. He could speak of Himself as the light, not only of the Jews, but of the world; He was a light to lighten the Gentiles. And He says, “While ye have the light believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” That light which has come into the world in Christ, begets, where it is received, a generation who are children of light, or of God because the light is the revelation of God, and where the light is believed in, God is believed in, and those who are children of light are children of God; and one great characteristic of the children of God is they love one another.
This brings us to the second part of the commandment. Christ is before the soul as the true God and eternal life, and we believe in Him. We hearken to Him. His word is sweet to our hearts. We meditate upon it, and keep it. It is life-giving. We hear, and our souls live, and live in the love of God; and “we know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.”
The commandment is not that we should love God. That was the commandment given from Sinai, without the revelation of the nature of the One whom man was to love. But by the Son, God has brought our hearts under the power of His love to us, and this love is to go out of our hearts to one another; and we cannot pretend to love God if the brethren are of little importance to us; “for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20). My brother is one who partakes of the divine nature, and if I see such an one, and love him not, it is a plain proof I do not love God.
I do not doubt our hearts go out to all who profess real faith in Christ, and we ought not to be suspicious, though many such might prove themselves to be reprobate; but there is, I think, such a thing as seeing your brother, that is one who does righteousness (chap. 2:29), and loves his brethren (chap. 4:7). Such is born of God; and if we love God, we will love all such when we see them, and love in the heart of any of us to God finds its expression towards the brethren.
This was what gave the apostle great encouragement, as to the saints. When he heard of their faith in Christ, and love to the saints, he gave thanks on their behalf, and prayed for them; and his joy was great when he knew that their faith was increasing and their love to one another abounding. And it is only in the measure in which our faith increases that our love to one another abounds; because it is only in the measure in which we take in the light of God’s love that we grow in love, and it is only as we get Christ before our souls, in whom that love has been expressed, that we take in that love. I doubt if it is in any other way that we increase in love to the saints, than as we get our own hearts acquainted with the love of God. The spring of love must be in us, and the stronger it gets the more will we be characterised by it, and the saints will come in for the overflow; and the more will they become warmed and comforted by the influence of our holy and true affection for them.
How good the commandment is! How pleasing to the heart of God when there is in us the desire to be better acquainted with it! And how accessible we find Him to be, and what holy boldness and confidence it gives us. “Whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And surely we may add “His commandments are not grievous.”