The Beatles said "all you need is love." Could they be right?
I mean, given the high praise assigned to love in the Scriptures, such a suggestion isn't so far fetched. Before we get ourselves all concerned about various ethical issues, rules of conduct, principles, laws and behavior, maybe we could save ourselves a lot of time by just saying what Paul says in Colossians, "Most of all, let love guide your life [Col. 3:14]."
Could Murray's whole 265 page book be tossed aside and substituted with 5 little words: Love is all you need?
John Murray was a good teacher. And the greatest teachers, in my opinion, have always been the ones who anticipate the objections raised in the minds of their students, and address them. Jesus often did this. The apostle Paul did this. Great preaching, I believe, will always do this to some extent. Politicians, on the other hand, almost never do this. One of the most disappointing experiences I have had as a reader is when I read a book and the author seems unwilling to address the most obvious objections to his/her position. Sorry. I'm on a soap box. Returning to earth now.
So, as I said, Murray deals with the idea that a renewed heart is really all we need. It is as if he imagines a student raising his hand and saying that a true believer has "an intuitive sense of what is right and good [p. 19]." Case closed. Class dismissed. Everyone gets an "A" just by writing "LOVE" across the pages of every ethical exam planned for the semester.
Now, that might sound a little silly. But, he argues that we may not easily dismiss this suggestion, for it has, as he puts it, "an important stratum of truth [p. 20]." And he then goes on to show the force and strength of this line of thinking, quoting from various Scriptures about how the law is "written on the heart" and how "love is the fulfilling of the law." He approaches this subject as one who has thought it through deeply, and suggests that we are here approaching the very "cardinal issues of the biblical ethic [p. 22]"
In other words - Murray begins by taking time to put an opposing perspective in the best possible light, giving it the strongest possible arguments, and making it appear very plausible and logical.
Then he begins to gently, carefully and thoughtfully dismantle it.
At this point he demands his readers put on their thinking caps. He seems to almost apologize for what he calls a "rather extended discussion [p. 22]." He is going to take us through 6 steps and each one follows necessarily and logically on the other. The following is my abbreviated version of each step.
1. First, he affirms that love is, in fact, the fulfilling of the law. He shows that this means that apart from love, no fulfilling of the law is of any value. There must be love in the heart that drives the obedience. Without it, law-keeping is hypocrisy at best. He affirms that "from start to finish it is love that fulfills the law [p. 23]." Love, he says, is both "feeling" and "action." It constrains and compels. A "love" that does not find its fulfillment in law-keeping is not the sort of love spoken of in Scripture.
2. Love, he point out however, is itself a command. "We are commanded to love God and our neighbor [p.23]." Murray points out that we must beware the view of love that sees it as automatic or merely emotional. He says "We must resist the perverse conception of the nature of love that we cannot be commanded to love, that love must be spontaneous and cannot be evoked by demand [p. 23]." Here Murray argues that if we suggest Christianity now has "no commandments" and only "love" that we miss the very fact that love, itself, is a command.
3. Next, Murray shows that a careful look at Scripture teaches us that "law" and "love" are not interchangeable words. The Bible doesn't say that "love" IS the law. Love, rather, fulfills the law. Love moves the person to keep the law. He says "we may not speak of the law of love if we mean that love is itself the law." Love is not the law. Love keeps the law, fulfills the law, embraces the law.
4. Then, Murray looks at Scripture and shows that love has never been a sort of "autonomous" principle that worked apart from any law or commandments. He makes a strong point when he says "Even man in his innocence was not permitted to carve for himself the path of life; it was charted for him from the outset [p. 24]." If ever there was a time in human history where we could imagine that the only law was "love" it would have been in Eden. But we actually see that God gave Adam and Eve precepts and commands in Eden.
5. In fact, Murray shows, the idea of love working in an autonomous fashion would create all sorts of problems. What actions would this love take? What would love do? Would everyone's concept of love be considered equally valid? Throughout the history of God's dealing with His people, love was never expected to be a law to itself. Rather, Murray says that this love "has always existed and been operative in the context of revelation from God respecting His will [p.25]."
6. Finally, Murray argues that the meaning of the "law written upon the heart" is that a principle of love for God's law, and a desire to keep it from the heart, occurs within the redeemed. It is not that the demands of the law are suddenly inscribed on the heart, but the heart is changed to want to do the will of God.
Thus Murray brings this part of his introduction to a close. He suggests it is inconceivable that mankind in his original sinless state would need specific commands for behavior (which we know Adam and Eve were given), but that now we only need a general inclination to "love."
In typical John Murray fashion he makes his view of the matter crystal clear. He says that the "notion...that love is its own law...is a fantasy which has no warrant from Scripture and runs counter to the witness of the biblical teaching [p. 26]."
With all due respect to John Lennon, I guess it isn't quite true that all we need is love.
What Murray is arguing for in this part of the book is something I believe we all recognize, but don't equally apply in the spiritual realm as we do in the natural realm.
For example, if a husband says he "loves" his wife, but never tells her so, never does the things that please her, in fact is most often mean, selfish and cruel, then we all recognize there is something defective with his love. If an employee says that they "love" their job, but actually are very careless in how they work, sloppy, moody, show up late, and are rude to customers...we again perceive a somewhat inadequate type of love going on. A physician may say she loves her patients, but if she does nothing to study medicine and stay current on treating disease, her love is at best a lazy shortcut for the type of love that could heal the sick.
Do I love God? Then I'll do what He wants, as expressed by Him in His Word. I'll seek to understand the Bible and the patterns of behavior He approves of. We will, as Paul said to the Corinthians, "...make it our aim to please Him (2 Cor. 5:9)."
What type of behavior pleases God? That is the subject of Christian ethics. That is the content of this book, Principles of Conduct. Murray is going to begin to unpack this in the chapters ahead.