A new commandment I give unto you
Source: Singing the Faith: 242
Words: Anonymous (John 13:34-35)
Music: Anonymous arr Paul Leddington Wright
Ideas for use
This is a song that can stand alone in a range of contexts: for example in quiet reflection as a lead in to worship; as a conclusion to a celebration of communion; as a sung response within prayers of intercession. (Equally, the music may be played gently underneath short spoken intercessions.) It is also a helpful “going out” song (“By this the world shall know that you are my disciples”, we sing, as we prepare to re-enter our working weeks).
This song, with no author or composer attribution, has been popular for very many years and widely published, including in the first edition of Mission Praise.
It sets the words of John 13: 34-35 verbatim.
As one commentator observes: “Jesus didn’t just command us to love each other. He said, ‘as I have loved you’, and those words are crucial. Jesus’ love for the disciples expressed itself in a much deeper way than a few kind words and deeds.” Jesus laid his life down for his friends, and those who follow him are challenged to do the same (cf. 1 John 3: 16).
“Laying down your life means choosing what is good for the person you love, rather than what you want for yourself. This kind of love can be expressed in many ways that have nothing to do with physical death.”
Don Burt from Ashford Methodist Church in Middlesex offers the intriguing suggestion that the tune for this hymn may have been drawn in the first instance from the once hugely popular “sacred cantata” “Olivet to Calvary” by the Victorian organist and composer, John Henry Maunder, often sung on Good Friday. The cantata’s fifth section is headed “A new commandment” and includes an aria on those words for baritone.
The opening phrases of that aria do indeed share a strong similarity with those in this popular song, though the development of the music is quite different.
A number of amateur performances of the cantata can be found on YouTube.