The New Commandment

John 13:34-35.---' A new commandment I give to you, That ye love one another; 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 to another.'

What was there so peculiar in the nature of the commandment that Jesus described it as new? It was not His first mention of love as a Christian duty. But the love here enjoined was something other and more than any He had hitherto taught. As the context shows, it is the circle of the disciples to which the Master is now confining His regard, and it is about their mutual relations that He is now concerned. Their love as brethren [philadelphia] is to be, not a contradiction or exclusion, but a concentration and intensification of their love as a men for their fellow-men [philanthropia].

When Jesus called His disciples to be with Him as His daily companions, He took the first step towards the formation of the Christian society; but the common bond was attachment and devotion to Himself. The withdrawal of His visible presence, and all that it meant for the company of His followers, necessitated the provision of another motive and means of unity, in order that the society not only might be preserved as it had hitherto been, but might even make progress in becoming more completely one. On the other hand, the memory of what Jesus had been, taught, and wrought must be kept vivid, and expectation of His return in power and glory intense; on the other hand, the hostility of the world around must be dared, and its persecution must be endured in bearing witness to the Risen and the Returning Lord. For so great a trust and so hard a task isolated individuals would have been altogether insufficient; only a society held closely in firmly together could avail for such a burden and such a battle.

While the Christian Church even in the Apostolic Age fell far short of perfect obedience to the perfect teaching and example of Jesus, yet this commandment of love was recognized and obeyed. Not only do we find it echoed again and again in the First Epistle of John and brotherly love represented as the distinctive feature of the Christian community in contrast with the hostile world; but a very practical application was given to it in what has been described as the communism of the Jerusalem fellowship. St. Paul wrote the hymn of love in First Corinthians 13, which, as the connection with the preceding chapter shows, referred to the fellowship of believers within the Christian Church. In his comparison of the Christian society to a living body, he is not describing an ideal altogether unrelated to actuality, for the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit were realized in a Koinonia, a community of life, a participation in common gifts, a mutual service. It was in the communion of the Holy Spirit that the new commandment was fulfilled in the Apostolic Church. As the Church grew in numbers and closeness of the fellowship could not be maintained; and yet as late as the end of the second century [in A.D. 190] Tertullian testifies to the fact that the heathen world bore its unwilling witness, "See how these Christians love one another."

In his commentary on Paul's letter to the Galatians, Jerome reports a tradition current in his day, that when St. John, the beloved disciple, was very old and unable to walk, and was carried before the congregation in Ephesus, he was wont to repeat again and again the words of Jesus, "Little children, love one another." When asked why he said this so many times, his reply was, " It is the Lord's commandment, and if only be fulfilled it is enough.

The new commandment not only commends itself to the conscience by its nature, it makes its appeal to the heart by its reason. It is the love of Christ which constrains the brotherly love of Christians. In presenting as its motive His own love to His disciples, 'because I have loved you, that ye also love one other,' Jesus reveals His secret. He shows the meaning, worth, and aim of all His dealings with His disciples, of all his teaching and training of them. There was a restraint and reserve and the relation of Jesus to His disciples in His earthly ministry which might lead us to misunderstand its character apart from such revealing moments and utterances. Terms of endearment were seldom upon his lips; His disciples would never have thought, as mystics of a later age even dared to do, of searching the Song of Songs for epitaphs to apply them. Yet what a glimpse into His heart is given us in the saying about His disciples: 'Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother' [Mark 3:34, 35]. We shall not understand that saying aright if we suppose that Jesus appreciated natural relationships less than any other men. He so spoke because He appreciated spiritual relationships so much more than these have ever been by other men.

Love, then, had been the motive of all His teaching and all His training. He did desire and expect love towards Himself. But the love He sought was no narrow, selfish attachment to His person, but rather a participation in His purpose, an absorption in His spirit, a submission to the same Divine will as he so constantly and absolutely served. He had loved His disciples, not that they might love Him in any such individualist affection, but that they might love one another, in a social devotion.

This new commandment of Jesus is a judgment of, and a challenge to, Christendom. In the early centuries it was obeyed in such measure as to impress even the hostile world; but during many centuries the Christian Church has represented to the world discord rather than the unity. What quarrels more bitter have there been than theological disputations? What hatred more fierce than sectarian antagonism? What persecutions more persistent than those of heresy by orthodoxy? Even the memorial feast---symbol not only of the Masters dying love, but also of the disciples' fellowship in remembering His death---has become a bone of contention, and not a bond of union.

How is the discordant Christendom to be brought to harmony? Only in Christ's own way. It is love which alone is a bond in which there is no bondage. It is not a common creed, code, ritual, or polity that can restore unity, which is not uniformity, but admits diversity. It is very doubtful whether one universal ecclesiastical organization would be a benefit to mankind; for it would probably exalt authority, and repress freedom; it would aim at fixity, and shrink from progress. Those who or so possessed by the desire for visible unity in such an organization forget that love can make itself visible to all men apart from any such means. Charity, tolerance, sympathy, cooperation are all possible without uniformity. We must welcome as a Christian brother, and be ready to join in the fellowship of the Lord's Supper with every man who confesses Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We must go hand in hand with men of all denominations in making our own land in all its institutions and relations thoroughly Christian. We must fight with them shoulder to shoulder in the battle of the Lord against heathenism. The disciples were made loving only by the love of Christ, so the unity of Christendom depends on its union with Him. Only as He abides in His Church, and His Church in Him, will it be one, even as Father and Son abide in oneness.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha