Lord's Day 40 (1942) - Prof. Benne Holwerda
Note about the translator: Mr. Gilbert Zekveld was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to Canada as a young man. He farmed for many years in the Bowmanville area of Ontario where he was actively involved with Christian Reformed and later Orthodox Christian Reformed church life.
This sermon was delivered Sunday, December 20, 1942
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
In the sixth commandment the Lord begins to make demands for life in society. In the following commandments this is worked out in more detail, concerning marriage, property and name; but the Lord begins with this already in the sixth commandment. For he places us in the midst of other people and all kinds of relationships, in all possible situations; He binds us and all those living in society to His law; for He says: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
That is why this afternoon we will begin by saying that love is the fulfillment of the law. We are not ready with less, with a greeting, a gift, and much less by not pulling knives; we must love our neighbour like ourself. For love only is the fulfillment of the law. When the heart is not with it, you are a murderer with a friendly face.
But after saying this, we must just as strongly emphasize the other side, i.e., that love is the fulfillment of the law. That is to say: I cannot love without maintaining justice. Love is not just some sentimentality, some emotional feeling; love is much less speaking some well meant words: for love is the fulfillment of the law. When the law is left out, all friendliness is murder, all fellowship is manslaughter.
The latter too must always be emphasized. In our circles we have become used to setting a distance between justice as the less and cold, and love as the emotional and higher or better. We are of the opinion that those who respect justice are unable to love, for they are strict and therefore not merciful. Indeed, some say that those who love, cannot tolerate justice. Then there is a conflict between love and justice and we know not in what way we must love the enemy; and we know not anymore what it means to love the brother, for often his right is trodden under foot by the use of many nice words. But love is the fulfilling of the law; love is not being nice, but being just; "and what requires the Lord of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6: 8). Love and justice are ultimately one, we must remember that as often as God requires us to love. That is how the sixth commandmant demands the right of love, but at the same time love to do justice. How can it be different, while this commandment is given by Him Who glorified His righteousness and His mercy, His justice and His love, all at once in the cross of Christ? I speak to you of: Love and Justice in Society.
For the love of the sixth commandment is a love that:
1. confesses the restoration of justice.
2. maintains justice.
3. desires the fulfillment of justice.
1. In order to clearly understand the demand of the sixth commandment and willingly submit to it, we must first make clear the biblical meaning of "life". For life and death as we come into contact with this in practical life has given us a certain understanding, but that knowledge by experience is not near as rich and deep as the knowledge which the Lord reveals in His Word concerning this matter. As we see it, life is often little more than that we breathe, the heart beats and blood runs through the veins. Dying means then that breathing stops and the body becomes stiff and cold.
Someone, at one time, made the beautiful remark that in the Bible life is much more than just having breath. In the Bible it is that man has many relationships, has contacts on all sides, he exercises communication in all directions. He has many concrete relationships: he has ties to wife and children; he has a circle of neighbours and friends; he has a place where he works. Life is not only blood running through the veins, but it is being "in the midst of life", it means: to know and experience fellowship. Furthermore, life is: exercising fellowship, moving in all directions, loving your wife, caring for the children, greeting your aquaintances, in one word: have contact in all directions. That is life. Dying is: being plucked away from these many-coloured communications and connections.
When one of our loved ones dies, we know what life is; then we see it like the Bilbe sees it. Then we do not grieve because there lies a human being, motionless and cold; but there is all of a sudden that frightening void. "We miss him so much", the people say. All of a sudden they discover what life really is; exercising communication in a thousand and one little things. The other was around you all day, you spoke with the person; you cannot thrive and develop without communication with and from the other. That is why we say when there is a poor relationship: "there is no life there".
That is how the Bible speaks of it. That is the life the Lord gave to Adam. It was not that at the time his blood began to circulate - of course it did - but his life was that he had a wife beside him, without whom he could not live; he approached her with a smile; he went into the garden and loved it all. The world was open before him: he went into that world and all the creatures came to him; they found each other, for "he was greeted by the things that God created".
Just read Genesis 2 and see what life is. You will hear all creation sing in that chapter. All the animals came to him, they came, he did not need a whip or do a lot of shouting. His heart went out to all these things and he found connections at all places. That is life.
That is how you must read, in that deep and marvelous sense, the sixth commandment: thou shalt not kill. That is not just: you shall not take away a man's breath, you must not stop his heart from beating; but: you must live with him and communicate love in the place where -, and in the relationship in which the Lord placed him to you. You must love him, as you love yourself.
The neighbour like yourself: that is not making a balance, he some and you some, each 50%; it is not: make sure he does not get more than you. But it is: you must care for the neighbour, as you want him to care for you. You must fellowship with him as you would like him to fellowship with you. Your neighbour as yourself, that is not: some for both, but it is: everything together; giving everything and receiving everything in complete communion.
Of course, it does not mean you have to be the same to everybody. That could only be when people were abstract beings. But that is not how God created the world and that is why He does not demand of us to do the same for everybody. People are real and they stand in special relationships to you. There are many women, but only one of them is your wife; many children play in your street, but only a couple of them are yours. In your town live acquaintances and people you do not know. Some people are of your nationality, others are not; you have brothers in the Church and people that do not belong. But in that pluriformity, in these concrete relationships, you must love your neighbour, i.e., in that certain relationship in which the Lord placed him to you. You must love your wife as her husband, your children as their father, etc. In your marriage you must not say; you some and I some, but: everything is ours; in the circle of our friends, not: each his portion, but we all must give and receive everything in communion.
Now this is the strange part, that this sixth commandment is possible in this world. I don't mean that it is necessary, that God must forbid murder, because people do not respect life. What I really mean is, this is the marvel, that this commandment is possible, that again it is proclaimed. When the Lord forbids murder, it is indeed a dark word, but there is gospel behind it; the gospel that there is life; life that can be ruined, but that first has to be there. That commandment says first of all, there is fellowship in all relationships, there are bonds, there is contact. Behind this commandment too, there is the gospel. This is the will of Him Who led His people from Egypt; that means for us: He Who in Christ removes our life from corruption, from division and tearing apart. By His Spirit He again establishes communion; He makes roadways from the one to the other and makes us walk on them; He directs our hearts to each other and we seek each other again. Again, He makes it possible for us to deal with one another in fellowship and love.
That is the gospel of the sixth commandment: God restored the relationships: In Christ He made things right again. He put people, families, the nations back in their place. He joined their hearts together and paved the ways to each other. He did it. For this is not something we did. No, Lord's Day 32 says it different: Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image. He conquered death, and restored life. And that lifegiving-power-in-Christ, that made God gain victories by His people, for here the fellowship is again restored. Now the saying, "the dead of one is the bread of another", is not valid anymore, for there they are one body; and therefore no one can say to the other: I have no need of you. God makes alive in Jesus Christ, He establishes communion. Now it is again true: if one member suffers, all members suffer; if one member is glorified, all the members rejoice. They have communion in all things. This gospel that received its effect in the Church and there conquered death, that is the gospel that shines in the world. God's lifegiving and communion forming power appeared to all people. Gospel light, that was given to Israel, shines also outside of that circle among the strangers that are in the gates.
He who will fulfill the sixth commandment and love life must begin with: greeting God in Christ as the Lifegiver, and see His power that establishes communion, work in the Church, and making progress in the world. God requires here love; but that love begins with the confession that God restored justice, that He put them all in their place, communicating with each other.
2. And so that love required by this commandment is not something that we do ourselves, that comes from us, that we do by our own impulse, our own insight. But it is keeping and developping the communion that the Lord established. It is being His co-labourer in the reformation of life, in keeping and seeking communion, in entering the ways prepared by Him, to each other. That is, from your side having respect of the right, the relationships in which God has placed you to your fellowman.
Once more: that is real. It does not mean that you must not distinguish between one and the other. The sixth commandment will also reverence the right that God established. That is where you begin, with acknowledging the distinctions, that the Lord made after His good pleasure.
You must remember that, not to think about it would mean that you despised God's right. God requires that you love all, but that is no pretended friendliness to one and all. To love the neighbour means exactly: love him as man on this place and at this time, in his definite quality, in his whole special situation, in his relationship to you.
It is also not to love him, like you would love another, but to love the individual, as the Lord places him before you. You must love your wife with her very definite qualities as woman and in that way you may not love another, for the Lord has placed no other like her on your path. You may seek communion with all women, but that means: give all communion belonging to marriage to your own wife and refuse that to all the others. You must love the young, but don't forget you have a different task toward your own children than those of others: you may never play parent over the children of others. You must love all man, but that means at the same time that you see your own countrymen different from those that are foreigners. And only that is fulfilling the sixth commandment, when you maintain your own place in the family, and from thence maintain communion with the other members; when in communion with your family you make and maintain ties with other families; when as citizen of your nation you look for fellowship with other nations. For love is always concrete; love is always respecting relationships laid down by the Lord and of the right He established for that relationship. Love is, at all times maintaining the right, and will never go against it. When we love we don't say of others: they are people too; no, they are people, just like you and me; there are only real people over against other real people in very concrete realtionships.
I know, we can write this down on a piece of paper without difficulties. It is in everyday life that problems present themselves, expecially when there are tensions; when the breach shows, when war is at hand. What must we do in such a case? I already think of all the problems we have with self-defense, a state of emergency, capital punishment and war. Let me say it in one word: loving the enemy. This can be difficult. Christ says: when they hit you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek to them also. But may I not defend myself, can I do nothing about it? May we condone the police and the judicial system. Does the sixth commandment forbid every war?
Now I can give only some indications. Precisely from love as maintenance of God's justice. When someone attacks me and breaks the relationship, I cannot say: when he hits me, I can hit him back. To return evil for evil is from the evil one. But I may not tolerate all my neighbour does for the sake of a so-called love. I may not tolerate that he takes what is mine. Then I don't love him anymore, neither myself, neither the neigbhbour. I may not leave the basis of justice by returning evil for evil, for without it no society is possible. I only love when I maintain the judicial basis and attempt to bring my neighbour back to that basis; and when necessary drive him back with force.
Tolerance is no love and does not serve life; it is hate, for it allows the basis of communion to be undermined. There is only one love: resistance, not mine over against the neighbour, but defending the basis on which both of us must live. That is how it is with governments: they bear the sword, i.e., they can kill, to prevent murder. With force she maintains the judicial basis, on which the Lord placed us together. Her sword is instrument of life, for it serves justice and therefore love.
And really, that is how it is with war. I will not forget the tragedy of so many ruined lives, nor the sinfulness of man which in war is revealed in such a horrible way. But war as such is really, with all possible force, maintaining justice among the nations, refusing to relinquish the God-given rights, for then a society living in love is not possible anymore. War is really nothing but fighting to maintain the basis of peace among nations. Pacifism is always a preparation for war because it undermines justice.
Above all, in the Church we must maintain that love is maintaining justice. For also in Church, where the Lord inclined hearts and made ways to each other, we repeatedly face tensions. We experienced that in all kinds of polemics these past few years. And when there is fighting and disputing, many have the habit to throw up their hands and say: but love. Some make so much of brotherly love. They mean well and there was much sin in the polemics. But to speak of love all the time and cut off the discussions, that leaves the questions to fester and peace is not served. Paul "withstood Peter to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Gal. 2: 11). And at the convent of the apostles in Acts 15 there were serious differences.
They were not always nice to each other, and must have said the wrong things at times. Yet, that quarreling was an act of love, because they struggled with the question and demanded justice being done. Therefore, those who press for maintaining the right of the Church are no formalists, but they practice love and unity in the Spirit. For what requires the Lord of us, but to do justly and to love mercy? What else does He require than that we keep our promises? That is loving my neigbour in Church and seeking communion.
3. Love can never be separated from the right; even to the extent that love desires the fulfillment of what is right. In our circles too at times they had difficulties with an imprecatory psalm like Ps. 109. They could not square that psalm with the sixth commandment. But love always seeks to return self and the neighbour back to the basis of justice and refuses any other basis. And when the neighbour will not repent but takes away the basis of God's right from under society, that believer is swearing. Then the souls from under the altar pray for vengeance; then the Church boasts that Christ shall judge all His and mine enemies; and Psalm 104 ends with, "Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. Praise ye the Lord". They praise God because He restores relationships, maintains His rights in all the world and leaves no place for those that will not build their lives upon this. Is that murder of which the imprecatory Psalm speaks? But those people only loved the sixth commandment. In all relationships they will live and have communion with the neighbour after God's righteousness. Because they had become so perfect in love, that is why they hated all those who despised this love. They could not bear this world of murder; they desired the full revelation of life. That is why they said, "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee?"
That is also how the book of Revelation ends with, "Blessed are they that keep His commandments that they may have the right to eat of the tree of life. Those who loved God's righteousness, they shall live. But outside are murderers. When love has become perfect, then God's righeousness will have attained dominion in all relationships. There will be no one be able to again disturb life that is restored by God. For outside are the murderers. Hallelujah.
Sunday, December 20, 1942.