Brethren, I write no new commandment - There seems a contradiction between this and the next verse. But the apostle appears to speak, not so much of any difference in the essence of the precept itself, as in reference to the degrees of light and grace belonging to the Mosaic and Christian dispensations. It was ever the command of God that men should receive his light, walk by that light, and love him and one another. But this commandment was renewed by Christ with much latitude and spirituality of meaning; and also with much additional light to see its extent, and grace to observe it. It may therefore be called the Old commandment, which was from the beginning; and also a New commandment revealed afresh and illustrated by Christ, with the important addition to the meaning of Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye shall love the brethren so as to lay down your lives for each other. See the note on John 13:34.
Instead of αδελφοι, brethren, ABC, thirteen others, with both the Syriac, Erpen's Arabic, Coptic, Sahidic, Armenian, Slavonic, and Vulgate, with several of the fathers, have αγαπητοι, beloved. This is without doubt the true reading.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you - That is, what I am now enjoining is not new. It is the same doctrine which you have always heard. There has been much difference of opinion as to what is referred to by the word “commandment,” whether it is the injunction in the previous verse to live as Christ lived, or whether it is what he refers to in the following verses, the duty of brotherly love. Perhaps neither of these is exactly the idea of the apostle, but he may mean in this verse to put in a general disclaimer against the charge that what he enjoined was new. In respect to all that he taught, the views of truth which he held the duties which he enjoined, the course of life which he would prescribe as proper for a Christian to live, he meant to say that it was not at all new; it was nothing which he had originated himself, but it was in fact the same system of doctrines which they had always received since they became Christians. He might have been induced to say this because he apprehended that some of those whom he had in his eye, and whose doctrines he meant to oppose, might say that this was all new; that it was not the nature of religion as it had been commonly understood, and as it was laid down by the Saviour. In a somewhat different sense, indeed, he admits 1 John 2:8 that there was a “new” commandment which it was proper to enjoin - for he did not forget that the Saviour himself called that “new;” and though that commandment had also been all along inculcated under the gospel, yet there was a sense in which it was proper to call that new, for it had been so called by the Saviour. But in respect to all the doctrines which he maintained, and in respect to all the duties which he enjoined, he said that they were not new in the sense that he had originated them, or that they had not been enjoined from the beginning.
Perhaps, also, the apostle here may have some allusion to false teachers who were in fact scattering new doctrines among the people, things before unheard of, and attractive by their novelty; and he may mean to say that he made no pretensions to any such novelty, but was content to repeat the old and familiar truths which they had always received. Thus, if he was charged with breaching new opinions, he denies it fully; if they were advancing new opinions, and were even “making capital” out of them, he says that he attempted no such thing, but was content with the old and established opinions which they had always received.
But an old commandment - Old, in the sense that it has always been inculcated; that religion has always enjoined it.
Which ye had from the beginning - Which you have always received ever since you heard anything about the gospel. It was preached, when the gospel was first preached; it has always been promulgated when that has been promulgated; it is what you first heard when you were made acquainted with the gospel. Compare the notes at 1 John 1:1.
The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning - Is the “doctrine;” or is what was enjoined. John is often in the habit of putting a truth in a new form or aspect in order to make it emphatic, and to prevent the possibility of misapprehension. See John 1:1-2. The sense here is: “All that I am saying to yea is in fact an old commandment, or one which you have always had. There is nothing new in what I am enjoining on you.”
The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable. Isaiah 42:21. SD 48.1
The law of God's government was to be magnified by the death of God's only begotten Son. Christ bore the guilt of the sins of the world. Our sufficiency is found only in the incarnation and death of the Son of God. He could suffer, because sustained by divinity. He could endure, because He was without one taint of disloyalty or sin. Christ triumphed in man's behalf in thus bearing the justice of punishment. He secured eternal life to men, while He exalted the law, and made it honorable.31The Youth's Instructor, August 4, 1898. SD 48.2Read in context »
It is the Creator of men, the Giver of the law, who declares that it is not His purpose to set aside its precepts. Everything in nature, from the mote in the sunbeam to the worlds on high, is under law. And upon obedience to these laws the order and harmony of the natural world depend. So there are great principles of righteousness to control the life of all intelligent beings, and upon conformity to these principles the well-being of the universe depends. Before this earth was called into being, God's law existed. Angels are governed by its principles, and in order for earth to be in harmony with heaven, man also must obey the divine statutes. To man in Eden Christ made known the precepts of the law “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Job 38:7. The mission of Christ on earth was not to destroy the law, but by His grace to bring man back to obedience to its precepts. MB 48.1
The beloved disciple, who listened to the words of Jesus on the mount, writing long afterward under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, speaks of the law as of perpetual obligation. He says that “sin is the transgression of the law” and that “whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law.” 1 John 3:4. He makes it plain that the law to which he refers is “an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.” 1 John 2:7. He is speaking of the law that existed at the creation and was reiterated upon Mount Sinai. MB 48.2
Speaking of the law, Jesus said, “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” He here used the word “fulfill” in the same sense as when He declared to John the Baptist His purpose to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15); that is, to fill up the measure of the law's requirement, to give an example of perfect conformity to the will of God. MB 48.3Read in context »
“Herein is My Father glorified,” said Jesus, “that ye bear much fruit.” God desires to manifest through you the holiness, the benevolence, the compassion, of His own character. Yet the Saviour does not bid the disciples labor to bear fruit. He tells them to abide in Him. “If ye abide in Me,” He says, “and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” It is through the word that Christ abides in His followers. This is the same vital union that is represented by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The words of Christ are spirit and life. Receiving them, you receive the life of the Vine. You live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4. The life of Christ in you produces the same fruits as in Him. Living in Christ, adhering to Christ, supported by Christ, drawing nourishment from Christ, you bear fruit after the similitude of Christ. DA 677.1
In this last meeting with His disciples, the great desire which Christ expressed for them was that they might love one another as He had loved them. Again and again He spoke of this. “These things I command you,” He said repeatedly, “that ye love one another.” His very first injunction when alone with them in the upper chamber was, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” To the disciples this commandment was new; for they had not loved one another as Christ had loved them. He saw that new ideas and impulses must control them; that new principles must be practiced by them; through His life and death they were to receive a new conception of love. The command to love one another had a new meaning in the light of His self-sacrifice. The whole work of grace is one continual service of love, of self-denying, self-sacrificing effort. During every hour of Christ's sojourn upon the earth, the love of God was flowing from Him in irrepressible streams. All who are imbued with His Spirit will love as He loved. The very principle that actuated Christ will actuate them in all their dealing one with another. DA 677.2
This love is the evidence of their discipleship. “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples,” said Jesus, “if ye have love one to another.” When men are bound together, not by force or self-interest, but by love, they show the working of an influence that is above every human influence. Where this oneness exists, it is evidence that the image of God is being restored in humanity, that a new principle of life has been implanted. It shows that there is power in the divine nature to withstand the supernatural agencies of evil, and that the grace of God subdues the selfishness inherent in the natural heart. DA 678.1Read in context »