In Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume 3, Harmony of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, he harmonizes his exegetical thoughts on Deuteronomy 10:12-13, Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 6:5. Often times in preaching where law and gospel are not rightly distinguished, passages such as Deuteronomy 6:5 or Matthew 22:37-40 will be referenced in passing and leave the listener with the impression they can actually do this law in the manner required by God in this life. God actually requires that his law be obeyed perfectly in word, thought, and deed. When a sermon uses a passage such as Deuteronomy 6:5 without suggesting that we fail to obey God’s law perfectly as required yet Christ fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law in our place, it can leave one more than a bit hopeless. God’s Word is to be preached carefully to the people of God so that we are neither left to exalt nor despair in ourselves. As the people of God gather to hear His Word preached, the Gospel should be proclaimed in such a way that genuine believers are comforted in Christ, built up in the faith, and propelled to live in loving obedience to our covenant Lord and loving our neighbor more and more as the day of Christ approaches. Below I have included the entire section from Calvin’s Commentary on these three passages. However, it is of particular interest to gain an understanding of Calvin’s view regarding how we fail to love God and neighbor as we should, as perfection requires:
Deuteronomy 10:12.And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require? After having expounded each Commandment in its order, it now remains for us to see what is the sum of the contents of the Law, and what the aim and object of its instructions. For Paul elicits its true use, when he declares that its end is “charity, out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned,” (1 Timothy 1:5,) since even then it had its false interpreters, who, he says, had “turned aside unto vain jangling,” when they swerved from that object. Now, as it is contained in two Tables, so also Moses reduces it to two heads, that we should love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves; for, although he does not unite the two in one passage, yet Christ, by whose Spirit he spoke, ought to suffice to explain to us his intention, (Matthew 22:37 for, when He was asked what was the great Commandment of the Law, He replied that the first indeed was, that God should be loved, and the second like unto it, regarding the love of our neighbor; as if He had said, that the whole perfection of righteousness, which is set before us in the Law, consists of two parts, that we should serve God with true piety, and conduct ourselves innocently towards men according to the rule of charity. The same is the sense of Paul’s words, for the faith, which is there called the source and origin of charity, comprehends in it the love of God. At any rate, the declaration of Christ stands sure, that nothing is required of us by the Law, but that we should love God, together with our neighbors. From hence a short and clear definition may be laid down, that nothing is required unto a good life except piety and justice. 174
Paul, indeed, seems to add a third clause, when he says, that “the grace of God hath appeared, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” (Titus 2:11, 12) but this σωφροσύνη, (soberness,) is there added as the seasoning, so to speak, of a just and pious life; and assuredly no one will prove that he aims at holiness and integrity, unless by living chastely, honestly, and temperately. Thus, where the service of God is omitted,175 and the doctrine of the Law confined to the love of our neighbor alone, it is not so much that religion is put out of sight 176 it is not so much to bury religion, and what concerns the first table, as to give testimony of it by its fruits. — Fr. (sepelitur,) as that the proof of it is made to rest on serious self-examination; for since it is the way with hypocrites to cover themselves with ceremonies as with a mask of sanctity, whilst they are puffed up with pride, burn with avarice and rapacity, are full of envy and malice, breathe out threatenings and cruelty, and are abandoned to filthy lusts, Christ, in order to disperse these clouds of pretense, declares that the three chief points in the Law are “judgment, mercy,” and fidelity,177 is nothing else than strict integrity; not to attempt anything by cunning, or malice, or deceit, but to cultivate towards all that mutual sincerity which every man wishes to be pursued towards himself.” See also Inst., book 2. ch. 8. sect. 52. (Matthew 23:23) and elsewhere, discoursing of the righteousness of the Law, He makes no mention of the First Table. (Matthew 19:18.)
For the same reason, Paul calls charity the fulfillment of the Law, (Romans 13:8,) and elsewhere, “the bond of perfectness.” (Colossians 3:14.) Still, nothing was further from their intention than to draw us away from the fear of God, that we might devote ourselves to our duties towards men, as I have already shown from another passage, where Christ, in summing up the Law, begins with the love of God. And Paul, where he teaches that we should be altogether perfect, if faith works in us by love, (Galatians 5:6,) does not omit the cause and principle of a good life. And thus are reconciled the passages which else might appear contradictory, via, that holiness is perfected in the fear of the Lord, when “we cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” (2 Corinthians 7:1) and “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Galatians 5:14) that is to say, because our piety cannot otherwise make itself clear by certain proof, unless we behave justly and harmlessly towards men. 178 Again, since “our goodness extendeth not to” God, so it is perceived what our mind is by our performance of the duties of the Second Table, as it is said in the Psalm, “my goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints that are in the earth, in whom is all my delight,” 179 (Psalm 16:2, 3) for how will any one boast, (as John says,) that he loves God, whom he does not see, if he loveth not his brother with whom he is familiarly united? (1 John 4:20.) Since, therefore, falsehood is thus detected, God exercises us in piety by mutual charity; and hence John concludes, that “this Commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (1 John 4:21.)
Before, however, I say any more of these two precepts, we must observe the end of the Law as it is described by Moses; “Now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul?” For, although he further eulogizes the Law, because it prescribes nothing which nature does not itself dictate to be most certain and most just, and which experience itself does not shew us to be more profitable, or more desirable than anything else, still, at the same time, he reminds us what is the means by which it is to be kept. 180 Therefore he sets before us at the same time the fear and the love of God; for, inasmuch as God is the Lord, He justly desires to be feared in right of His dominion; and, inasmuch as He is our Father, He requires to be loved, as it is said in Malachi 1:6. Let us learn, therefore, if we would set ourselves about keeping the Law, that we must begin with the fear of God, which is hence called the “beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10.) But, since God has no pleasure in extorted and forced obedience, love is immediately added. And this deserves to be well weighed, that whereas there is nothing pleasanter than to love God, still it always occupies the first place in all His service. Surely he must be more than iron-hearted who is not attracted by such kindness; since, for no other cause, does He invite and exhort us to love Him, than because He loveth us; nay, He has already prevented us with His love, as is said in 1 John 4:10. Meanwhile, we may at the same time gather, that nothing is pleasing to God which is offered “grudgingly or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7.) It is true that Paul is there speaking of alms-giving; but this voluntary and hearty inclination to obey, such as we see in good and ingenuous children, who take delight in subjection to their parents, ought to be extended to all the actions of our lives. And assuredly the reverence which is paid to God flows from no other source than the tasting of His paternal love towards us, whereby we are drawn to love Him in return; as it is said in Psalm 130:4, “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” Whenever, then, we hear what Scripture constantly inculcates; “O love ye Jehovah, 181 all ye his meek ones!” (Psalm 31:23.) let us remember that God shews Himself loving towards us, in order that we may willingly and with becoming cheerfulness acquiesce in what He commands.
The perfection which is here required shews with sufficient clearness how far we are from a thorough obedience to the Law. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength. However much we strive, our efforts are weak and imperfect, unless the love of God has possession of all our senses, and all our desires and thoughts are altogether devoted to Him, whilst all our endeavors are also directed to Him alone. But every one is abundantly convinced by his own experience, in how many ways our minds are carried away to vanity; how many corrupt affections creep over us; how difficult it is for us to restrain and overcome the evil motions of our flesh. Surely the very best wrestler, with all his strivings, is hardly able to make advances in this spiritual warfare; and if it be a great attainment not to faint altogether, certainly none will dare to boast that he comes near the mark which is set before us in the Law. In short, whenever worldly snares and foolish appetites insinuate themselves upon us, we must so often feel that some part of our soul is empty of the love of God, since otherwise nothing repugnant to it would penetrate there. The word heart here,182 as elsewhere, is not used for the seat of the affections, but for the intellect; and, therefore, it would have been superfluous to add διάνοιας, as the Evangelists have done, unless for the purpose of removing all ambiguity; but because this signification was not commonly in use among the Greeks, they have not hesitated to add a word of their own in explanation. Those, however, who are well acquainted with the teaching of Moses, are not ignorant that the word heart is equivalent to mind; for he elsewhere says, “The Lord hath not given you an heart to understand,183 and eyes to see, unto this day,” (Deuteronomy 29:4) but the expression would have been obscure to the Greeks, as being unusual in their language.184
18. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
18. Diliges proximum tuum sicut to ipsum.
18. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. What every man’s mind ought to be towards his neighbor, could not be better expressed in many pages that in this one sentence. We are all of us not only inclined to love ourselves more than we should, but all our powers hurry us away in this direction; nay, φιλαυτία (self-love) blinds us so much as to be the parent of all iniquities. Since, therefore, whilst we are too much given to love ourselves, we forget and neglect our brethren, God could only bring us back to charity by plucking from our hearts that vicious passion which is born with us and dwells deeply in us; nor, again, could this be done except by transferring elsewhere the love which exists within us. On this point no less has the dishonesty betrayed itself than the ignorance and folly of those185 who would have the love of ourselves come first: “The rule (say they) is superior to the thing regulated by it; and according to God’s commandment, the charity which we should exercise towards others is formed upon the love of ourselves as its rule.” As if it were God’s purpose to stir up the fire which already burns too fiercely. Naturally, as I have said, we are blinded by our immoderate self-love; and God, in order to turn us away from this, has substituted our neighbors, whom we are to love no less than ourselves; nor will any one ever perform what Paul teaches us to be a part of charity, viz., that she “seeketh not her own,” (1 Corinthians 13:5,) until he shall have renounced himself.
Not only those with whom we have some connection are called our neighbors, but all without exception; for the whole human race forms one body, of which all are members, and consequently should be bound together by mutual ties; for we must bear in mind that even those who are most alienated from us, should be cherished and aided even as our own flesh; since we have 186 seen elsewhere that sojourners and strangers are placed in the same category (with our relations; 187 and Christ sufficiently confirms this in the case of the Samaritan. (Luke 10:30.)
174 “Que la somme de bien vivre est d’honorer Dieu, et converser justement avec les hommes;” that the sum of a good life is to honor God, and to demean ourselves justly towards men. — Fr.
175 “En d’aucuns passages;” in some passages. — Fr.
176 “Ce n’est pas tant pour ensevelir la religion, et ce qui concerne la premiere table, que pour en rendre tesmoignage par fruits;”
177 Faith. — A.V. “Faith (says C. Harm. of Evang., vol. 3. 90,)
178 “Innoxie” — Lat. “En bonne simplicite” — Fr.
179 “Voluntas mea.” — Lat.
180 “Quel est le moyen de bien garder la Loi, quand on saura ou elle nous mene;” what is the means of properly keeping the Law, when we know whither it leads us. — Fr.
181 “O love the Lord, all ye his saints.” — A.V. See C.’s version, Calvin Society’s edition. “Misericordes ejus, i.e., quotquot sensistis bonitatem ejus.” — Vatablus in Poole’s Synopsis.
182 The word לבב, lebab, the heart, is “extensively applied to the mind, and includeth the mind and every faculty, action, passion, disposition, and affection thereof, as thoughts, understanding, reasoning, memory, will, judgment, wisdom, counsel; desire, love, hatred, courage, fear, joy, sorrow, anger.” — Taylor’s Concordance. See C. on Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:33, and Luke 10:27, in Harmony of Evangelists: (Calvin Society’s translation,) vol. 3, p. 58
183 “An heart to perceive.” — A.V.
184 The last sentence omitted in Fr.
187 Added from Fr.)