God so loved the world! (John iii, 16). -- But how can I, who believe in the love God has for man, refuse to love whom God has loved so exceedingly? And why should I wonder, Lord, that Thou art so exacting in demanding of me, with threats of lightning Wrath, that I too love my fellow men out of regard for Thy incomprehensible Love?
In this precept God shows Himself exacting: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Matt. xix, 8). Self-love is the standard and a high one it is. In the human heart is lodged no affection more widespread, more profound, more unquenchable and ready to serve than the love of self. If we analyse ourselves carefully, if we take apart this complicated machinery of human nature, we shall find that our whole being, our whole life, with all its variety of phenomena and manifestations, with all its long list of appetites and tendencies, comes down to but one thing: that boundless, limitless love we have for ourselves. According to that model, then, I am commanded by My Lord and God to love others: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. And that there might be no mistake about it, God, in His ten commandments, has devoted seven of them to the various works of love towards my neighbor; three for Himself, seven for man. So jealous is He of the honour and welfare of the children of Adam that He does not leave a single human value without a wall of defence, without the shield and flashing sword of a divine precept: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, etc., etc.
"Little children... a new commandment I give to you: that you love one another as I have loved you... By this shall all men know that you are my disciples..." The distinctive feature, the hallmark, the unmistakable sign of discipleship of Christ is going to be, not so much faith or miracles or even martyrdom for Christ, as their love for one another. The precept is new by reason of the manner and author of its promulgation; not Jehova, at whose touch the mountain-tops burst into angry flames; but the Word, made flesh and blood for our sakes, who took upon Himself, as it were, our common touch, our own gentle mode of human speech. It is new, by reason of the place where the precept was given: not the wild rugged peaks of Sinai wrapped in lightning and thunder, but the familiar and heart-to-heart talk of a father among his children after supper; not Jaweh in glorious pomp and splendour, but Jesus of Nazareth, girded with a towel, like a slave, on His knees at Judas's feet, washing and kissing them. The command of love issues from under the feet of the man consumed with fiendish rancour! It is also new in the preamble introducing the command; not the solemn, awe-inspiring I am the Lord thy God (Ex. xx, 2), but that most tender: Filioli mei! my darling children!
New also is the standard model of our love for our neighbor. Formerly it was: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; now it is: love one another as I have loved you. Love for myself, self-love, which is so liable to delusion and perversity, and which I must renounce if I am to become a true disciple of Christ is not sufficient a model for other loves; I must take my standard from the incomparably wise, unconquerable, disinterested, infinite love with which the Good Shepherd feels for His sheep.