Who Has Kept the Great Command? (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. ⁵You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." —Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Opening the Bible is like opening a box of 31,102 priceless jewels. The beauty of just one is enough to take our breath away, and yet that beauty can be lost when it is one among thousands of beauties. This week we have two gems to lift out of the box, examine, memorize, and marvel at their uniqueness and beauty. What makes these gems especially noteworthy is that our Lord Jesus singled one of them out as the “first and the great commandment” (Matthew 22:38) and the “most important” (Mark 12:29).
I would like to take us back 260 years to Sunday morning, November 8, 1857, where a standing-room-only crowd gathered at the great Music Hall in the Royal Surrey Gardens of London to hear C. H. Spurgeon preach for nearly an hour. He spoke on Mark 12:30, where Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5, our Fighter Verse this week. I read the whole sermon to help my soul contemplate the depth of the beauty of this portion of God’s Word. I will share some excerpts here but I commend the whole sermon to you.
After a substantial introduction in which Spurgeon explained why Jesus said this is the first and great commandment, he turned to “the duty” and “the measure of the duty” that this law demands. He stated simply that “the duty is that we should love God,” and then at great length, he described the various classes of people who forsake this duty, including “the infidel” and “the religious” of whom he says:
…you talk of God with great propriety, but you never talk of him with love. Your heart never bounds at the mention of his name; your eyes never glisten at the thought of his attributes; your soul never leaps when you meditate on his works, for your heart is all untouched, and while you are honoring God with your lips, your heart is far from him and you are still disobedient to this commandment…
What then is the measure of this duty? “How much,” Spurgeon asks, “am I to love God?” He answers by saying we should love him “supremely.” We love him with all our heart, more than our spouse, more than our children, more than our relatives. He says,
…we are not to love the dearest objects of our hearts as much as we love God. Ye may erect little thrones for those whom ye rightly love; but God’s throne must be a glorious high throne; you may set them on the steps but God must sit on the very seat itself…our heart is to have its whole being absorbed into God, so that God is the hearty object of its pursuit and its most mighty love…"all" is repeated again and again...the whole stirring up of the soul is to be for God only.
We also see that “we are to love him with all our souls…we are to love him with all our life; for that is the meaning of it. If we are called to die for God, we prefer God before our own life.” And we are to love God:
with all our mind. That is, the intellect is to love God. Now, many men believe in the existence of God, but they do not love that belief. They know there is a God, but they greatly wish there were none…the Christian never wishes any such thing. The thought that there is a God is the sunshine of his existence. His intellect bows before the Most High, not like a slave who bends his body because he must, but like the angel who prostrates himself because he loves to adore his Maker.
Last, our verse compels us to:
love God with all our strength, that is, actively. I am to throw my whole soul into the worship and adoration of God. I am not to keep back a single hour, or a single farthing of my wealth, or a single talent that I have or a single atom of strength, bodily or mental, from the worship of God.
At this point in the message, I doubt there was anyone in the great Music Hall at the Royal Surry Gardens who was feeling confident that they could meet the demands of this first and great commandment.
Now, what man ever kept this commandment? Surely, none; and no man ever can keep it. Hence, then, the necessity of a Savior. Oh! that we might by this commandment be smitten to the earth, that our self-righteousness may be broken in pieces by this great hammer of the first and great commandment! But oh! my brethren, how may we wish that we could keep it for if we could keep this command intact, unbroken, it would be a heaven below. The happiest of creatures are those that are most holy, and that unreservedly love God.
Right reflection on the law and on this great commandment should undo us, but embedded in this jewel is the glimmer of hope. “The LORD, our God.” He is our God. He is the LORD, and the LORD is our God! Spurgeon said, “He preserves thee. Thy table is spread, but he spread it for thee. The air that thou dost breathe is a gift of his charity; the clothes that thou hast on thy back are gifts of his love; thy life depends on him…thy life is absolutely dependent upon him.”
Never do we realize this utter dependency more than when we are confronted with the perfect law of God that we cannot perfectly keep, but still must perfectly keep. To this law we say:
Commandment, I cannot keep you, but my Savior kept you, and what my Savior did, he did for all of them that believe; and now, O law, what Jesus did is mine…my Savior kept it wholly for me, and he is my substitute; what I cannot do myself, my Savior has done for me…O law, shut your mouth forever, you can never condemn me; though I break you a thousand times, I put my simple trust in Jesus only, his righteousness is mine and with it I pay the debt and satisfy your hungry mouth.
Spurgeon concluded with an appeal to his hearers to cast themselves on Christ and pray:
Lord, give me a new heart, for this old heart never will love thee! Lord, give me a new life, for this old life is too vile. Lord, give me new understanding; wash my mind with the clean water of the Spirit; come and dwell in my judgment, my memory, my thought; and then give me the new strength of thy Spirit, and then will I love thee with all my new heart, with all my new life, with all my renewed mind, and with all my spiritual strength from this time forth and for evermore.
David Michael is co-founder and Executive Director of Truth 78. For 28 years (1986-2013) he served under the shepherding ministry of John Piper—the last 16 years as the Pastor for Parenting and Family Discipleship. He and his wife, Sally, have two daughters, a son-in-law, and three grandchildren. David says that memorizing Scripture has been one of the most effective ways to apply Philippians 4:8, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”