For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet…
A religion which can announce this as its distinctive principle needs bring no further credentials of its heavenly origin. Michael Angelo need not carve his name on his own statuary, nor Raphael write his on his pictures. The song tells you what is the bird which sings. And so our text is unlike the trees that spring out of merely human soil. Its fragrance and its fruit announce it to be a slip from the tree that grows in the midst of the Paradise of God, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
I. LOVE IS THE SUBSTANCE OF THE DEMANDS OF THE LAW; it is their very essence and quintessence.
1. A tree may have a thousand branches, and ten thousand leaves, all of them having a different direction and shape; but they all arise out of life. So all the commandments are but the outward forms of an inward spirit, and that spirit is love.
2. Law does not fall so pleasantly on the ear as love. It is like a spiked wall between us and tempting fruit; or like the warning guide-post, "No road this way," precisely at the spot where the path seems to lose itself in the most enchanting scenery. But this is a false view of law. Love could not be the fulfilling of it if it were of this nature, but the abolishing of it. For what is law? A wanton restraint, a needless burden, the arbitrary exaction of a superior authority, and thus superfluous circumscription of our liberty, and wilful limitation of our pleasures? No! It is but such a limitation and restraint as secures for each man the largest sweep of liberty. It is true that if there were no human laws, certain individuals would be able to indulge their wills and passions over a much wider field; but what of the people generally? The man who can go beyond his just bounds of right, can only do so by invading the bounds of another. This is the essence of tyranny. Liberty can only live where law is the supremest thing. No man resents a just law, but he who is at heart an enemy to the righteous claims of his fellow-men. Law is a hedge; but no hedge is thorny and repulsive to a man who does not wish to break through and trample upon the sacred privileges of his neighbour.
3. Can you find a law of God which is in itself, and on all sides of it, a dark and repulsive thing? I know of no law of His which has not in its very heart this command, "Be happy." This has ever been the view of good men. "Oh! how love! Thy law! it is daily my delight." "Great peace have they that love Thy law." "Of law," Hooker has said, "there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power; both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in differing sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy."
II. OBEDIENCE IS TO ARISE FROM LOVE.
1. There may be what men esteem the fulfilling of a law for which they have no respect. There is the fulfilling —
(1) Which arises from fear, and despots may feel flattered and feel safer as they see a population pale with terror at their power. But that power is always the safest which inspires love. The law of God can never be obeyed through terror. Only think of a man obeying God because he dreads Him. Think of him saying, "If God were not as powerful as He is, I would set my heel upon His laws; but I am no match for Him, and therefore I submit and obey." Nay, you neither submit nor obey. You might do this in the case of an earthly king, whose laws are satisfied if they receive an external obedience. But God is a King and a Father, who says, "Thou shalt love"; not, "Thou shalt dread the Lord thy God." He is a Monarch whose laws you cannot obey except by loving Him. He clearly discriminates between what seems obedience and what is. "This people draweth nigh unto Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." You fathers know that it is not worth the name of obedience if your child serve you from dread of consequences.
(2) Which is prompted by a mere sense of interest. This is little better than that we have just considered. Of course obedience brings sooner or later its own reward. But there is a great difference between pursuing a course which is profitable, and pursuing it because it is profitable. A faithful servant of a monarch may be paid for his service; but if he serves only for his pay, he is not a faithful servant. Will it be said that this seems to strike against the promises of the joys and glories of Heaven? No, they are far more gracious gifts than wages. When Christ says, "I will make thee ruler over many things," it is not because we have deserved it. And hence the saints in heaven cast their crowns at the feet of Him that sits upon the throne, saying, "Thou art worthy, O Lord," etc. And the crowns are not given to those who have served for gain; they are given to those who have served from love. The fulfilling of the law from love creates now its own heaven within the man.
2. The law of service is the law of love. This was so with Christ. "I delight to do Thy will, O God." And the service we render to Christ must be like that. "Lovest thou Me?" etc. And this truth applies equally to our relations to our fellow-men. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." There is far too much of the spirit, in these times, which regards men as so many competitors on the great arena of life, each one feeling that he loses what another gains, and that he must do the best for himself, leaving the weaker to go unpitied to the wall. But Christ came to teach us a holier and more blessed law, viz., that we are all brethren, brethren in nature, brethren in Him, because He partook our nature, and "is not ashamed to call us brethren."
(E. Mellor, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
WEB: For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not give false testimony," "You shall not covet," and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."