The Ever Remaining Debt
“Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)
Apparently paradoxical debt of love!
You owe it, you pay it, you still owe it!
A debt which accumulates as you pay, which never decreases though you pay!
An obligation which, though you always faithfully fulfill it, is never fulfilled!
Owe no man anything, render unto every man his dues, above all do not fail to render to every man the dues of love, yet acknowledge that you still owe the debt of loving one another.
In your various and manifold relationships to your fellowmen you meet with many obligations, many debts you must pay, in virtue of the fact that these relationships are of God. There is the relationship of man and wife, of parent and child, of brother and brother, of master and servant, of teacher and pupil, of the “powers that be” and their subjects. There are relationships into which you voluntarily enter, relations of contract, relations of buyer and seller, relations of partnership in business or industry. There are relationships resulting from deeds of charity and mercy, the relation of benefactor and beneficiary. And in these different relations we owe honor to whom honor, fear to whom fear, tribute to whom tribute, custom to whom custom, pecuniary debts to whom money, gratitude is whom gratitude is due.
Owe no man anything!
It must not be said of the Christian, redeemed through the precious blood of the Lord Jesus, liberated from the power of sin, who presents his body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, who refuses to be conformed to this world, who is being transformed by the renewal of the mind, and who professes to prove and approve what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God,—of that child of God it must not be said that he fails to acknowledge his debts, is behind in meeting his obligation, of whatever kind it may be.
It belongs to the fear of the LORD to know one’s relation to others and in that position to do the will of God!
The Christian child does not refuse to pay the debt of honor to his parents, the Christian wife finds it no burden to pay the debt of obedience to her husband, the Christian servant willingly honors his master, the Christian subject to his king; the Christian that receives a benefit is not loath to say thanks, the Christian that owes a pecuniary debt has no rest until it is paid.
Owe no man anything!
Such is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God!
Owe nothing, except to love one another!
Not as if you may be behind in the payment of love’s debt!
But having paid, acknowledge that you still owe!
Love one another!
And not of a mere disposition of the heart, but of the actual manifestation of love, of the deed of love the Word of God here speaks.
Of love that is the fulfillment of the law, and that never worketh ill, always good to the neighbor!
Of love as an obligation, of a debt that is being paid!
Yet, love must be unfeigned: there must needs be love in the heart before one can love, and one must needs love before he can perform the deed of love and meet love’s obligation.
Love! What is it?
It must not be confused with that affection, emotion, feeling of attraction, that is known as “natural love”, that reveals itself in a quickly drying tear when the object of love is lost, or in a fast fading smile when its object is present. A mother loves the babe at her breast and rejoices in its possession, grieves when she is bereaved of it, yet this love, which is found even among animals, is but a natural image of the love of which the text makes mention. A young man feels attracted to the maiden of his choice and expresses his ardent love to her, yet, even this natural attraction is not the same as the love of our text. Love is not in the blood, it is in the mind, in the will, in the heart. It is not a feeling but a strong disposition; it is no emotion but a power; it is not physical or natural, but ethical and spiritual; it is a mighty moral, spiritual-ethical force that determines the attitude of the whole man, of the very person in relation to the object of his love.
It is known as a mighty desire, longing for, striving after fellowship with its object in the light, in the sphere of righteousness.
There is no love in the darkness of sin.
Love is the bond of perfectness!
It perfects him that loves and would perfect him that is loved. It desires the happiness, the true bliss of its object, that true and pure state of blessedness which is possible only in the light, in the sphere of truth, righteousness, holiness, perfection. It forevermore seeks to realize the good of the neighbor.
Love worketh no ill to the neighbor!
The hatred of sin always worketh ill to the neighbor, even though that neighbor should be the object of natural attraction and love to him that so worketh the evil. Hatred can appear very sweet and affectionate, yet it seeks to destroy. Sometimes it openly plots and works evil, in malice and envy, in slander and backbiting, in reproach and mockery, in deceit and robbery, in bloodshed and murder. Or again, it maintains the appearance of love and affection, while it entices its objects into the ways of sin, destruction, and hell. A natural, unregenerate mother may be filled with a strong, ardent affection, a mother’s love for the child of her womb, but when she teaches it to love the world and its corruption, she very actually hates the child. A young man that entices his lady-love to commit the sin of adultery at the same time that he strongly professes his love, hates her nevertheless.
Hate worketh ill to the neighbor!
Hence, all the problems in the world that are insoluble, social, economical, political, national, international. Hence, the depressions, revolutions, wars, murders, robberies, lies. If men could hear and do the Word of God as it exhorts us to love one another, the problems would solve themselves, for love worketh no ill to the neighbor!
Directly and indirectly love worketh good to its object.
It contemplates what is good, it desires what is good, it wills what is good, it strives after what is good, it speaks the good, it accomplishes the good. . . .
Always the good.
The real, the true, the eternal good, which is to be had only in the sphere of light, in the way of righteousness.
Hence, love can be very stern.
Even as what is really the hatred of sin, because it is enmity against God, may appear very sweet and tolerant and affectionate, so love often is very severe, uncompromising, and intolerant.
For, it is the fulfilling of the law!
Never can love have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.
It must needs seek righteousness and rebuke the sinner.
For, love is of God!
Love one another!
Owe no man anything but to love one another!
There appears to be a contradiction here: love one another—love every man.
Love one another is addressed to the church, and that brethren in the Lord ought to love and are in a position to love one another, because they love God, is readily understood.
But the scope of love appears to be unlimited here: owe no man anything, render to every man his dues, love worketh no ill to the neighbor. And how can love embrace all? Is not love, in its nature, jealous, exclusive, partial? Does not love cease to be love when it would make no distinction? Is not even the love of God particular? And does not the psalmist teach us to exclaim: “Should I not hate them, Lord, that hate Thee? I hate them with a perfect hatred?
True, love is always particular, because it is of God!
Love as fellowship, reciprocal love, the love of one another can exist, can live and flourish only among men in whom is the love of God. It is not found in darkness. It cannot breathe in the atmosphere of unrighteousness. It does not manifest itself as a bond between the wicked. For, by nature we are enemies of God, hateful and hating one another. Neither is it possible that this bond of perfectness should unite the righteous and the wicked. Only where the love of God is the common life, the sphere in which men live, can they love one another.
Yet: owe no man anything but to love one another!
And, even though it be true that we hate the enemies of God with a perfect hatred, is it not also true that the Word of God enjoins us to love our enemies and pray for them that persecute us?
Love cannot be fellowship with the wicked enemies of God.
It cannot mean that righteousness and unrighteousness become reconciled to each other, that light and darkness blend in perfect harmony, that there is established a state of peace between Christ and Belial. Love does not put on another yoke with the unbeliever, cannot have delight in his unfruitful works of darkness, does not laugh, play, sing, accomplish the lusts of the flesh with the children of disobedience. It hates these, abhors them, rebukes them and condemns the world.
Yet, even so love pays its debt!
Even to its enemies! Always it reveals itself to all men as love!
It works no ill to the neighbor, to no neighbor!
Love does not curse but prays; it does not lie but speaks the truth; it does not deceive but walks in uprightness; it does not steal, defraud, hurt, murder, slander, backbite, but seeks the advantage of the neighbor.
It never entices to sin, but rebukes unrighteousness!
Love is the fulfilling of the law.
Love is of God!
Ever remaining obligation!
For as such, as an obligation, as a debt which you owe to the neighbor, love, actual love, love manifested in the deed of love, is here presented to us.
It is a must!
You must love me; I must love you!
And when you and I meet this obligation and pay this debt of love, we have done nothing that was not required of us.
On the contrary: as we pay the debt accumulates, as we meet this obligation of love it still remains. Other debts you pay, you obtain your receipt, the obligation ceases, you owe no more; this debt you pay and continue to pay, but it ever renews itself, you keep on owing the same debt. No matter how much you pay, it never decreases. You cannot be excused ever from paying. In vain is the attempt to be relieved of this obligation by objecting that you have already loved the neighbor very much and revealed your love in a thousand ways, while he never showed any tokens of appreciation. You must still love him. You cannot object that your love is wasted, that it is never reciprocated, that you are wholly disappointed,—the debt remains. Love continually, faithfully, perfectly, and still acknowledge that you owe the debt of love!
For, he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law!
And the law is of God!
And God is love! And love is of God! And it is His unchangeable will that His love-life be manifested in the relation of His children to one another as well as to Himself. His family in Christ must reflect His own love-life which He lives in infinite perfection as the triune God! And, therefore, you must fulfill the law of love. Your love-debt to the neighbor is not based on his love to you, neither rooted in his appreciation of your love, but is your obligation to Him that called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, that you might be to the praise of the glory of His grace and show forth His virtues!
And how gloriously the love of God was manifested!
For, He loved us while we were still enemies!
He loved us with a never ceasing, eternal love, not because we loved Him first, but because He is love and for His own Name’s sake. And how He loved! For in this was manifested the love of God towards us, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!
Deeper than the deepest ocean; higher than the highest heavens!
Beloved, if God so loved us, how ought we to love one another!
Never ceasing obligation!
For, only by His grace it is that the must of love becomes a delight of the heart!
How else could we pay this debt of love unless to love were our delight?
And how could our hearts find delight in the love of one another except through the grace of Him that loved us?
Enemies of God we are, and for that very reason enemies of one another, hateful and hating one another, as we are by nature. There is no love in the heart of sinful man, who loves the darkness rather than the light. He cannot love; he will not love; he cannot will to love; he has even forfeited the right to the blessing of love. Nothing could possibly persuade him to love. You cannot instruct him to love. He cannot be trained to love. Even the manifestation of the love of God in the cross of our Lord will not induce him to love!
But God’s love is poured out in our hearts!
The love wherewith He loved us in the death of His Son is wrought in our deepest being, so that we know it, experience it, taste it, desire it, seek it. And with the love of Him who loved us first we love Him too and seek His fellowship, walking in the light!
And with His own love, wherewith we love Him, we also love one another!
For, love is of God, always of Him!
Herman Hoeksema – 1939