Great Texts of the Bible
But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.—1 Corinthians 13:13.
1. If St. Paul had left us nothing but this exquisite hymn in praise of heavenly love, he would have established his claim to be a great religious genius. Happily it loses nothing in the English Version. The scholars who translated the Bible for James I.’s government seldom failed to rise to a great occasion; and this chapter in the Authorized Version is one of the finest bits of prose poetry that have been written in our language. But the lyric rapture is St. Paul’s own. He was not, perhaps, a poet by nature; and a Rabbinical education was enough to dry up any but a very copious spring of poetic talent. But every now and then he is carried quite out of himself, and his words glow with a white heat of fervour and emotion. To read the thirteenth chapter after the twelfth, in which he discusses the relative merits of speaking with tongues and prophesying, is almost startling. “The more excellent way” once mentioned, the tide of pure inspiration flows swift and strong.
2. But even more remarkable than the sublime poetry of this chapter is the concluding verse: “Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” In this verse St. Paul has found an absolutely complete and satisfactory formula for the Christian character. Faith, hope, and love, with love in the place of honour—is not this Christianity in a nutshell? Within a few years after the Ascension, St. Paul has not only penetrated to the very heart of Christ’s teaching, but has given us the kernel of the whole Gospel in one of those illuminating phrases which are a necessity for every great movement. So at least the Church has always felt. The three emblematic figures of the “theological virtues,” as they were called, have been favourite themes of Christian art and Christian eloquence all over the world. What the cardinal virtues, Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance were to pagan antiquity; what Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity were to the French Revolution; what the Rights of Man were to the founders of the American Republic; what the three stages in the spiritual ascent—Purification, Illumination, Union with God—have been to mystics of all ages and countries, that Faith, Hope, and Love have been and are to the Christian. The imitation of Christ means the life of Faith, the life of Hope, the life of Love.
Greek philosophy had proclaimed four cardinal virtues—justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude. Christian philosophy, following St. Paul, has taught during nineteen centuries that there are three specifically Christian graces—they are more than virtues—three primary and fundamental spiritual dispositions, which must dominate and permeate all true Christian character—Faith and Hope and Love.
This is one of the greatest of the great texts of the Bible. Let us take it in six parts—
These Three Abide.
The Greatest of these Three.
1. St. Paul has written as vigorously of faith, if not with as much seraphic eloquence, as he here writes of love. He penned the most intellectual and profound of all his Epistles—that to the Romans—to indicate the essential excellence, the justifying and soul-saving power of faith. We who have come to receive the truth which filled and fired the soul of the Apostle Paul have learned that by faith the just live. It is a rational and necessary spiritual ingredient of the truest manhood. We regard it as the channel through which God’s righteousness pours into the soul; as our gate of access into the kingdom of grace, standing like the Propylæa at Athens before the Acropolis, and giving entrance to the temple not only of love, but also of wisdom. St. Paul went so far as to say that any moral activity into which this quality did not enter was vitiated and unworthy. In one of his letters he describes faith as the light by which the soul walks: “A light that never was on sea or land,” but which glows in the mind of man. To his thinking this virtue was so needful and important that the whole doctrine which he proclaimed he called by this name. He speaks of “preaching the faith” which he once persecuted, meaning by it both the Christian doctrine and the Christian Church. Our warfare he calls “the fight of faith”; so that in his thirteen letters, from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians to the letters addressed to Philemon, St. Paul sounds forth a thousand notes from this golden string.
2. What is the antithesis of faith? Is it Reason? Do I believe some things because I am convinced by evidence that they are true, and other things because the Church tells me to believe them, or because it is a meritorious act to force myself to believe them? Is faith an act of submission to authority? Is there any truth in the answer of the child, who, according to the story, said, “Faith means believing what you know to be untrue”? Look out some of the places where faith is mentioned in the New Testament, and see whether it is ever opposed to Reason. You will find that it never is: it is opposed to sight. Faith is not the acceptance of certain historical propositions on insufficient evidence. It is trust in God and goodness.
It is the resolution to stand or fall by the noblest and highest hypothesis that we can conceive. It is the spirit of Athanasius when he stood “against the world”; of Luther when he said, “God help me, I can do no otherwise”; of Job when he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”; of the three children in the furnace when they said, “He will deliver us out of thy hand, O King. But if not, we will not serve thy gods.” It is the spirit which has given courage to all the martyrs to face death. Faith is the confidence that somehow or other the right must triumph, that God is stronger than Satan.
I resolved that at any rate I would act as if the Bible were true; that if it were not, at all events I should be no worse off than I was before; that I would believe in Christ, and take Him for my Master in whatever I did; that assuredly to disbelieve the Bible was quite as difficult as to believe it; that there were mysteries either way; and that the best mystery was that which gave me Christ for a Master. And when I had done this I fell asleep directly. When I rose in the morning the cold and cough were gone; and though I was still unwell, I felt a peace and spirit in me I had never known before, at least to the same extent; and the next day I was quite well, and everything has seemed to go right with me ever since, all discouragement and difficulties vanishing even in the smallest things.1 [Note: Letter from Ruskin to his father in E. T. Cook’s Life of Ruskin, i. 271.]
(1) Faith is trust in the saving power of Christ.—“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” would seem to be the simplest of all directions. Many, in Apostolic times, hesitated to believe, but none hesitated as to what belief was. A heathen or pagan never asks a missionary what is meant by faith. The very simplicity of the act prevents its definition. Like time and space, the more we think about faith, the less we understand it. It must be felt, not analysed. It cannot be analysed. Many a Christian life has been mournfully chequered by dark and cheerless seasons, from the habit of thinking about faith instead of the object of faith, about the acts of the mind instead of the truths of God, the manner of believing instead of the testimony to be believed. Faith leads the soul to act on what it credits. It includes not only the belief of what is true, and the desire of what is good, but the choice of what is right. We may believe many things which have no possible connection with our conduct. Many of the propositions of Scripture are not the proper objects of trust, though they are of belief. We believe on the ground of evidence, we trust on the ground of character. We believe a truth, we trust a person. I might believe and not trust, but I cannot trust and not believe. So the specific act of faith which unites to Christ terminates upon His person, an existing, living, loving personality. It is not a doctrine concerning Christ that saves me, but trust in the saving power of Christ. It is not a specific theory of faith, but the practical grasp of faith, that saves. Salvation is not the formation of a right creed in my understanding; it is the quickening of a spiritual life in my soul.
Faith is that strong buoyant confidence in God and in His love which gives energy and spirit to do right without doubt or despondency. Where God sees that, He sees the spring and fountain out of which all good springs: He sees, in short, the very life of Christ begun, and He reckons that to be righteousness; just as a small perennial fountain in Gloucestershire is the Thames, though it is as yet scarcely large enough to float a schoolboy’s boat; and just as you call a small seedling not bigger than a little almond peeping above the ground, an oak; for the word “justify” means not to be made righteous, but to reckon or account righteous.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson, in Life and Letters, 335.]
I am not sure that we are much the better for our attempted definitions of Faith. Baxter connects it with the doctrine of the mystical union; Lampe defines it as a willingness to be saved by Christ; Halyburton and Owen as a cordial acceptance of the offer; Sandeman as simple belief in simple testimony. Well, a man is sometimes very little the better for a definition, and all these perplex as well as enlighten. But “none perish that Him trust”—none perish that Him trust.2 [Note: “Rabbi” Duncan, in Memoir of John Duncan, 414.]
(2) Faith is also trust in God as a Father.—If there is a word more expressive of Christian character than any other, it is this one: trust—trust in God. It is the secret source of all peace and serenity. It will comfort and sustain when nothing else can. It gives the child of God the delightful assurance that all his trials are disguised blessings, the appointment of a Father’s wisdom, and the infliction of a Father’s love. And death itself becomes the security and enlargement of life, a training for that holy intimacy with Himself which is to constitute the blessedness of the heavenly world. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” The bringing of good out of evil is His grand prerogative. He permits the evil in order to produce the good. The Christian’s character is formed more from his trials than from his enjoyments. The picture would have no beauty or effect without shade.
Christ’s faith in His Father was as conspicuous as His faith in the mission He had to accomplish, of which He said on the cross, “It is finished!” His vindication He left entirely in His Father’s hands, when He yielded up His spirit, in a complete surrender of self, saying, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!” I am not forgetting that He was the everlasting Word, the only begotten of the Father, when I speak thus, but I wish to remind you that He really became man—having limited Himself, having “emptied” Himself, as St. Paul said, that He might become the true Brother of humanity, the Son of Man, sharing with us, in everything save sin, the necessity and the blessedness of faith.1 [Note: A. Rowland, The Exchanged Crowns, 33.]
The faith of our time has had to pass through fiery furnaces of tribulation. It has survived the shock of losing its Infallible Church. It has survived the shock of losing its Infallible Book. It has surrendered, at the bidding of science, that latest voice of God—the Garden of Eden, and the world made in six days, and the dream of man’s primal innocence. It presumes no longer to penetrate dark mysteries. It cannot reconcile Foreknowledge and Free Will. It cannot reconcile the apparent cruelty of nature with the lovingness of God. It understands neither heaven nor hell. It has learnt to trust, humbly and without reserve, in Christ. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” That surely is the truest faith of all the ages, to have lived in an atmosphere of unbelief, to have faced and endured all the assaults of modern doubt, and still to trust “in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report, as dying, and behold we live, as chastened and not killed”—still, with deeper intensity than ever, to believe in God and Christ and Eternal Life.
I little see, I little know,
Yet can I fear no ill;
He who hath guided me till now
Will be my leader still.
No burden yet was on me laid
Of trouble or of care,
But He my trembling step hath stayed,
And given me strength to bear.
I came not hither of my will
Or wisdom of mine own:
That Higher Power upholds me still,
And still must bear me on.
I knew not of this wondrous earth,
Nor dreamed what blessings lay
Beyond the gates of human birth
To glad my future way.
And what beyond this life may be
As little I divine—
What love may wait to welcome me,
What fellowships be mine.
I know not what beyond may lie,
But look, in humble faith,
Into a larger life to die,
And find new birth in death.
He will not leave my soul forlorn;
I still must find Him true,
Whose mercies have been new each morn
And every evening new.
Upon His providence I lean,
As lean in faith I must:
The lesson of my life hath been
A heart of grateful trust.
And so my onward way I fare
With happy heart and calm,
And mingle with my daily care
The music of my Psalms 1 [Note: Frederick Lucian Hosmer.]
(3) It is enough to name one further aspect of faith: Faith is spiritual insight.—This is the way in which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews regards faith. He says it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” These words impress upon our minds the thought that, corresponding to all the longings which possess the Christian soul, to all the desires and yearnings which spring up within the soul that is earnestly striving to attain to the Christlike and Divine—corresponding to all these are glorious realities; that the up-springing desires shall not be in vain; that the soul which remains steadfast in hope, which clings with brave perseverance to the hopeful yearnings which from time to time unfold themselves to consciousness within its inward recesses, begins by-and-by to feel by anticipation the very substance of what it has hoped for within its grasp, by-and-by attains to the power of seeing before it in mystic vision the glorious spiritual realities, the thoughts of which presented themselves at first only as dimly discerned but irrepressible desires. Faith then is spiritual insight. It has been called the eye of the soul. It is more than this; it is the soul seeing, the soul beholding, the things of heaven; the soul looking upon the things not seen by the bodily eye—looking upon the glories of the spiritual world, upon the wonders of that invisible world which is ever around us, ever underlying the natural world.
By the aid of that mental insight, which, because it is directed towards matters of a scientific import, has been called scientific imagination, men have been able to have within their minds a vivid representation of the marvellous vibratory movements of the mysterious ether, and their rapid transmission in one vast tide of light through the infinite space around us. By the aid of the same power of imagination, that other swiftly-acting vibratory motion which has only in recent times become obedient to man’s control, that vibratory motion which enables us with magic speed to send tidings even to countries separated from us by ocean abysses and by wide-spreading continents,—by the aid of the same imaginative power, the mind is able to discern the vibrations of the all-pervading ether with which we associate the term electricity. God who thus endows that part of our inner being which we call the mind with marvellous powers, also endows that which we speak of as the soul—of which the mind is indeed but a faculty—with corresponding powers. Within all souls longing after a fuller knowledge of Divine things God is ever breathing the breath of a diviner life; and as this sacred breath—this Holy Spirit—abides with us to animate us, our enkindled spiritual imaginations discern more and more of the mystic glories of heaven towards which the longings of our souls have been directed. This spiritual imagination which enables us to see as in a vision the substantial realities which the soul has been possessed with longings for; which enables the soul to have a vivid conviction that it has entered upon the life of reconciliation with God, which enables it to discern the transcendent glory of the future life of ever-advancing union with the Divine, which enables it to discern the underlying import of such words as Atonement and Sacrament, to recognize the oneness of the life of the redeemed on earth and in heaven with the great life of God, to behold the unity which binds things seen with things unseen, the correspondence which exists between things natural and things spiritual,—this spiritual imagination which has such potency within us, is the Divine gift of faith which is defined for us in the Epistle to the Hebrews in such suggestive words.1 [Note: H. N. Grimley.]
Canst thou discern—beneath all outward seeming,
The hidden meaning, oft concealed from sight?
The secrets wherewith nature’s heart is teeming,
The deep soul-vision of a clearer light?
Say, dost thou understand the whisper’d token,
The promise breath’d from every leaf and flower?
And dost thou hear the word ere it be spoken,
And apprehend love’s presence by its power?
Canst thou discover in the lives around thee,
How small events to mighty issues lead?
And does the storm’s voice nevermore astound thee,
Since every God-sent message thou canst read?
Then, Heaven-gifted thou, to whom is broken
Th’ eternal revelation, calm and clear—
As they to whom, long since the words were spoken,
“He that hath ears to hear”—yea, let him hear.1 [Note: Una, In Life’s Garden, 93.]
1. The question occurs to us sometimes, more or less consciously, why hope should be ranked so high, placed on a level with faith and love. We can understand why faith should be so singled out; it is the foundation of the whole structure of religion; it is the bond between the creature and his invisible Maker and God; it is the special title of his acceptance; it is the ground of his self-devotion and obedience, of his highest and noblest ventures. Still more can we understand it of love; for love brings us near, in the essential qualities of character, to Him whom we believe in and worship; love is the faint and distant likeness of Him who so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son to save it; love must last and live and increase, under whatever conditions the regenerate nature exists, the same in substance, however differing in degree, in the humblest penitent on earth and in adoring saint or seraph in the eternal world. But hope is thought of, at first sight, as a self-regarding quality; something which throws forward its desires into the future, and dwells on what it imagines of happiness for itself. And hope, of all things, is delusive and treacherous; it tempts to security and self-deceit; it tempts us to dreams which cannot be realized, which divert us from the necessary and wholesome realities which do concern us: it is the mother of half the mistakes, half the fruitless wanderings, half the unhappiness of the world. How comes it that such a quality is placed on a level with faith and love? What need of encouragement to what men are only too ready to do of themselves?
So far from being always considered a virtue, Hope has been stigmatized as a dangerous deceiver or as a luxury not to be indulged in by the weak. “Hope,” says the Athenian in Thucydides, “the procuress of peril, cannot indeed destroy, though she may harm, those of her employers who have a reserve to fall back upon: but to those who risk their all upon the issue of her services—and a costly servant she assuredly is—she unmasks herself only in the moment of their ruin, when her victims have no resource left to defend themselves against her recognized treachery.” Poets in the same strain cry shame upon this delusive phantom, and protest that they are—
—tired of waiting for this chymick gold,
Which fools us young, and beggars us when old.
“Hope,” says Owen Feltham, “is the bladder a man will take wherewith to learn to swim; then he goes beyond return, and is lost.” And Lee,—
Hope is the fawning traitor of the mind,
Which, while it cozens with a coloured friendship,
Robs us of our best virtue,—resolution.
The twentieth century is as sad as Marcus Aurelius. Our music is sad. Our poetry—when we get any—is sad. Our drama, when it is serious, is half-morbid. Our greatest writers of fiction are pessimists, and deem a good ending, not only bad art, but false to fact. Our preachers—Heaven pardon them!—seem somehow to have lost fire and hope, and preach as though Christ were indeed in the ship, but asleep. Our philosophy has culminated in the insane ravings against God and man of Nietzsche, or, for the more reverent, in the pathetic Epicureanism of Omar—
One moment in Annihilation’s Waste,
One moment, of the Well of Life to taste,
The Stars are setting and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing—oh, make haste.1 [Note: W. Hudson Shaw.]
2. But it is not really strange that St. Paul should raise hope to a Christian temper of the first order. St. Paul was a student of Scripture and of the history of his people and of religion in the world. And what is on the surface of the Bible is the way in which from first to last it is one unbroken, persistent call to hope—to look from the past and the present to the future. Its contents, we know, are manifold and various; the subjects which it treats are widely different, and it is different in different parts of it in its way of treating them; it is the record of enormous changes, of a great progressive advance in God’s dispensations and of man’s light and character, of the long and wonderful education of the Law and the Prophets; its story of uninterrupted tendency is strangely chequered in fact; bright and dark succeed one another with the most unexpected turns—lofty faith and the meanest disloyalty, great achievement and unexpected failure, lessons of the purest goodness and most heartfelt devotion with the falls and sins of saints, blessing and chastisement, the patience of God, and the incorrigible provocations of His people. In spite of all that is wonderful and glorious in it, it sounds like the most disastrous and unpromising of stories; and yet that is not its result. For amid the worst and most miserable conditions there is one element which is never allowed to disappear—the strength of a tenacious and unconquerable hope. Hope, never destroyed, however overthrown, never obscured even amid the storm and dust of ruin, is the prominent characteristic of the Old Testament. All leads back to hope, hope of the loftiest and most assured kind, even after the most fatal defeats, of changes which seem beyond remedy. The last word is always hope.
The whole Bible, from first to last, is one unbroken, persistent call to hope. Some of the most wonderful and soul-stirring words of revelation are those in which hope is spoken of. “The God of hope”—“We are saved by hope”—“Jesus Christ who is our hope”—“Christ in you, the hope of glory”—“Begotten again into a living hope”—these are expressions which only familiarity could deprive of their commanding power.
We call St. Paul the Apostle of Faith, and rightly. Equally the great teacher who, in a sudden moment of unique inspiration, recalling what Jesus was when He lived on earth, gave us the 13th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, was the Apostle of Love. But just as truly, perhaps even more emphatically, was St. Paul, above all things else, an Apostle of Hope. It is impossible to mistake it; he was himself the very embodiment of the Christian grace he taught. He never defined it, but his whole life illustrated what he meant. Save in his argumentative passages, it is his characteristic word always when exhorting, trying his hardest to help. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope.” “Sorrow not, even as the rest, which have no hope.” “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.” That is the note which peals like a trumpet through all the Pauline Epistles.1 [Note: W. Hudson Shaw.]
3. Even the common sense of mankind tells us that life would be but a poor shrunken thing without hope; and even the poet who reviles its “chymick gold,” marvels at the fascination which it still imparts to the future in spite of our monotonous and oft-repeated experience of the flat unprofitable past—
Strange cozenage! Who would live past days again?
Yet all hope pleasure from what still remain.
Surely the common sense of the world is right. While recognizing that hope may be an evil if it makes us careless or indolent, trustful to chance or to luck or to interpositions of Providence rather than to our own energies and skill, we cannot fail to see that hopelessness is a still greater evil, paralysing energy and neutralizing skill. No business in life, however purely intellectual, can dispense with hope as a stimulus to activity. That impulse which the immediate pressure of pleasure or pain gives to irrational animals, hope gives to human beings, who are endowed with the faculty or necessity of looking forward. Who could toil on through threescore years or more in hopelessness? “Work without hope,” says Coleridge, “draws nectar in a sieve”; and, indeed, what possibility is there that any human being, however richly endowed with genius, should ever produce the durable results that come from harmonious and continuous effort, or give birth to anything but the perishable expressions of a mere spasmodic outburst, if he had no durable hope of anything in heaven or earth?
Hope is the minister of strength. When I think of the virtue called Hope two pictures come to my mind. One is the work of a great living painter: it is a piece of symbolism, a gracious, frail, pathetic figure, the eyes blinded with a veil, the head bent and turned on one side with the intentness of a listener to catch the music sounded on the one unbroken chord of her lyre, on which all strings but this are gone. A touchingly beautiful conception; but this is human hope, not Divine. The other picture is the very familiar one which may have met your eye on many a church window—a figure not pathetic, weak, forlorn, but strong and brave as Fortitude; and in her hand not the lyre of broken strings, but the stout shaft and the iron grappling hooks of her mighty anchor; the anchor which entereth into that within the veil, the deeps of the world unseen, and from thence, whatever storm may swing their surface, holds the soul fast.1 [Note: J. H. Skrine, The Heart’s Counsel, 118.]
To the quenchless hope in their souls all the strong heroes of the past, from Leonidas to King Alfred, from Alfred to Hildebrand, from Hildebrand to Cromwell and Lord Chatham and Washington and Mazzini, have owed their power. Without it, Religion, facing the stubborn mass of humanity’s sin, is paralysed. To the Christian the shield of faith is no whit more essential than the helmet of hope. Only to men of undying hope, able contagiously to kindle courageousness in their fellows, will the dead weight of the insensate evil of this universe ever yield. There will be no great Day of the Lord until such leaders arise.
Then sound again the golden horn with promise ever new,
The princely doe will ne’er be caught by those that slack pursue,—
Yes! sound again the horn of Hope, the golden horn!
Answer it, flutes and pipes, from valleys still and lorn;
Warders from your high towers, with trumps of silver scorn,
And harps in maidens’ bowers, with strings from deep hearts torn,
All answer to the horn of Hope, the golden horn!
4. Hope elevates and strengthens and inspires. This is why it is one of the great elements of the religious temper; this is why it ranks with faith and love. It is one of the great and necessary springs of full religious action. There may be a faith almost without hope; a faith which still believes, though it can see nothing; a faith which refuses to be comforted, which will not let the distant picture of better things rise before it, but yet trusts, even in the darkness, to God’s truth and goodness. It is the deep and awful faith of him who said, “Though he slay me yet will I trust in him”; of the cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is the touching and childlike confidence of the prophet—“Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” But the human spirit can hardly stand long the strain of a hopeless faith; one or other of the elements will assert its supremacy. And hope is the energy and effort of faith; the strong self-awakening from the spells of discouragement and listlessness and despair.
What gives its moral value to hope, what makes it a virtue and a duty, is that in its higher forms it is a real act and striving of the will and the moral nature; and if any one thinks that this is an easy process he has yet much to learn of the secrets of his own heart. It is an act, often a difficult act, of choice and will, like the highest forms of courage. It is a refusal to be borne down and cowed and depressed by evil; a refusal, because it is not right, to indulge in the melancholy pleasure, no unreal one, of looking on the dark side of things. It is so that hope plays so great a part in the spiritual life; that it fights with such power on the side of God.
Millions of men are digging and toiling twelve hours each day; and God hath sent forth hope to emancipate them from drudgery. The man digging with his pick hath a far-away look as he toils. Hope is drawing pictures of a cottage with vines over the doorway, with some one standing at the gate, a sweet voice singing over the cradle. Hope makes this home his; it rests the labourer and saves him from despair. Multitudes working the stithy and deep mines sweeten their labour and exalt their toil by aspiring thoughts. Thinking of his little ones at home, the miner says: “My children shall not be as their father was; my drudgery is not for self, but for love’s sake; the sweat of my brow is oil in the lamp of love; I will light it to-night on the sacred altar of home.” Here is the secret of the rise and reign of the people. This explains all man’s progress in knowledge and culture. As the fruits and flowers rise rank upon rank in response to the advancing summer, so all that is most refined and exalted in man’s mind or heart bursts forth in new ideals, reforms, revolutions, in response to the revelation of that personal presence from whom all hope and aspiration incessantly proceed.1 [Note: N. D. Hillis, The Investment of Influence, 285.]
5. What is the use, it is asked, of bidding us hope without giving us first some certain or probable reality to hope about? The faculty of hope is like the faculty of reason so far as this, that both must have some foundation of facts whereon to work. Give us a permanent and reasonable object of hope and we shall be only too glad to hope; but without such an object we must be content to be hopeless. We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled, even though the fooling may lead us along a path of happiness. Better the hopeless path of truth than the fool’s paradise of comfortable delusions.
(1) The whole universe, when illuminated by the light that streams upon it from the Cross of Christ, furnishes us with a durable object of hope in the Fatherhood of the Maker of the world, who, in the course of many ages, is conforming man to the Divine image. The hope of the ultimate perfection of all things, based upon the sense of the Divine Fatherhood, is the source of all healthy activity in men. In the strength of this hope we can look all evil in the face without blenching, and beneath the abyss of sin discern the vaster abyss of the Divine love.
(2) But what shall we say to those who tell us that about the future we may reason but have no right to hope? Our reply will be that we cannot reason about the future without taking into account the evidence that the world was made by a good and wise Being who has given us many faculties tending to happiness and righteousness, which faculties He cannot have intended to fust in us unused; and among the highest of these faculties stands hope. Furthermore we may point out that healthy natural hope, though it may work through illusions, does not delude. There is no deception in the Divine Providence which leads the human soul from the cradle to the grave under the guidance of unfulfilled hopes. Hope, like faith, may be literally, but it is not spiritually, deceptive: the spirits of heaven are not like the fiends—
That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.
Of the word of God’s promises we may assert the direct opposite. That word is never “kept to our ear” and never “broken to our hope.” Just as the faith or trust of the child in the father (who to him is as a God) is not a delusion but a truth enwrapped in illusion, so it is with the natural hopes of childhood and of every age; with the aspirations of a generous youth and the ambitions of a virtuous man. These neither “fool us when young” nor “beggar us when old”; but, on the contrary, each bright cloud of hope, breaking as the traveller is allured onward by it from one stage to another in his lifelong upward journey, reveals a brighter cloud within, to break in its turn and to disclose a still brighter interior splendour, till at last those heights are reached where all clouds shall vanish away, and the mind shall be prepared to receive the direct rays of the Sun of righteousness.
The characteristic of waning life is said to be disenchantment. Old men in general are inclined to check the zeal and damp the ardour of their younger followers. A shrewd observer of life has said that youth is an illusion, manhood a struggle, old age a regret. “How many young men,” says a great idealist, “have I not hailed at the commencement of their career, glowing with enthusiasm, and full of the poetry of great enterprises, whom I see to-day precocious old men, with the wrinkles of cold calculation on their brow; calling themselves free from illusion when they are only disheartened; and practical when they are only commonplace.” But believing men experience no disillusionment. The leaves of hope never wither on souls that are rooted in God. Joseph when dying looks forward with calm and perfect confidence, knowing that glorious things, and ever more glorious, must be, because God is. “What is this Better, this flying Ideal, but the perpetual promise of the Creator?” God lives though a hundred Josephs die. The two characteristics of the Hebrew mind were the upward and the forward look, the one directed to God in the present, the other to His coming in increasing power and grace in the future. Optimism was the distinction of the Hebrews. “In the absence of Hope and of an ideal of progress, we strike upon one great difference between the classical Greeks and the Hebrews.” Among the ancient races the Hebrew was like a watcher standing on a high mountain top, scanning the horizon and catching the first beams of coming day, while others were still hidden in darkness. The very heart-cry of the Hebrew race is heard in such words as these—
My soul looketh for the Lord
More than watchmen look for the morning;
Yea, more than watchmen for the morning.1 [Note: J. Strachan, Hebrew Ideals, ii. 65.]
6. Our hope is for others and for ourselves.
(1) It is for ourselves here and now.—There must often be much to distress and alarm us in the course of things which interest us now—evils which seem without remedy, defeats which seem final, perplexities through which we cannot see our way, dark and gloomy clouds rising in menace over our familiar world. To hope seems to us then like deluding ourselves; we call it optimism, and instinctive dislike to pain, a determination not to see the cruel truth. And yet how often has it appeared in the upshot of things that if in the darkest times any had been bold enough to hope he would have been amply justified?
What must have been the feelings of Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries, when, just as Christianity seemed to have won its way into the Roman Empire, they saw the fierce northern barbarians break into it, and the heathen triumph over religion and civil order? Which would then have seemed the judgment of sober good sense—the despondency which saw only the frightful mischief, or the bold hope which saw in the barbarians the seed of a great Christendom? Yet, who would have been right and who wrong?
“It has come,” wrote the soberest and also the loftiest of Christian thinkers in the last century, “I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry; but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious.” The ominous symptom has certainly not grown less ominous; but could even the calm and large mind of Bishop Butler have embraced the thought that with this, not diminished, perhaps aggravated, there might also come a steady growth of energy and fervour and deepening practical purpose in the Church and religious men, such as he had certainly not seen, and could not look for?
Hope about ourselves should be encouraged. It is no proof of devoutness to be always shedding penitential tears, or to be so sensible of our own weaknesses as to be despondent about our future. Victory is generally the guerdon of those who expect it, confident in the Tightness of their cause, and the help of omnipotence on the side of right. When King Ramirez, in the year 909, vowed to deliver Castile from the shameful tribute imposed by the Moors of one hundred virgins delivered annually, he collected his troops and openly defied their King Abdelraman.
The king called God to witness, that come there weal or woe,
Thenceforth no maiden tribute from out Castile should go,—
“At least I will do battle on God our Saviour’s foe,
And die beneath my banner before I see it so.”
He fought with courage but without hope of victory, and after a furious conflict was defeated on the plain of Clavijo. But that night (the legend says), while he was sleeping, St. Jago appeared to him in vision, and promised him the victory. Next morning he called his officers about him, and told them his dream; inspired them also with hope of heavenly aid; and that day the enemy was overwhelmed by the Christian warriors, and ever since the war-cry of Spain has been “Santiago.”1 [Note: A. Rowland.]
The worst of all the woes that trouble faithful hearts is despair of ever conquering our sins, of ever becoming what the Lord Christ would have us be. The modern man, Sir Oliver Lodge tells us, is not troubling much about his sins. I do not know about that. This I am sure of, that earnest Christians trouble about nothing so much. While we are young, while we are yet in the glad spring-time, the hope of victory is ever present. When we have entered upon the dull, dusty paths of middle age, there comes a horrible weariness of the conflict. Disappointment, disillusionment of ourselves, drag us down. Like the Celtic race, we are always setting forth to the war, always to return vanquished. Year by year our hearts grow harder and seem to ossify. The old sins we loathe are with us still; new sins that we never dreamt of assault us. Character seems not to advance, but to retrograde, and the enthusiastic impulses of youth have fled. What shall save us now, in the second critical period of life, but the grace of Christian hope, which is not temperament, is not human quality at all, but a blessed boon from God? By that gladdening spirit alone shall despair be quelled, demons exorcized, the old energy of youth recovered, the battle renewed.1 [Note: W. Hudson Shaw.]
Nowhere, perhaps, is Hope in relation to one’s own future more beautifully illustrated than in the noontide scene in Pippa Passes. Phene, a Greek girl, has become the wife of Jules, a French sculptor. The union is the result of a cruel joke practised upon him by some students who owed him a grudge; and the sculptor finds, when it is too late, that the refined woman by whom he fancied himself loved is but an ignorant girl of the lowest class, of whom also his enemies have made a tool. Her remorse at seeing what man she had deceived disarms his anger, and marks the dawning of a moral sense in her. And this is what she says—
You creature with the eyes!
If I could look for ever up to them,
As now you let me,—I believe, all sin,
All memory of wrong done, suffering borne,
Would drop down, low and lower, to the earth
Whence all that’s low comes, and there touch and stay
—Never to overtake the rest of me.
All that, unspotted, reaches up to you,
Drawn by those eyes! What rises is myself,
Not me the shame and suffering; but they sink,
Are left, I rise above them. Keep me so,
Above the world!
Both he and she are saved.2 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 119.]
(2) It is for ourselves in the hereafter.—For it is simply the most literal fact that God has set before us, in another state of being, the most wonderful future, which is within the certain reach of every single one of us: as much, as certainly, within our reach, as anything that we know of, which we could obtain tomorrow. This is the plain, clear, certain promise, without which Christianity is a dream and a delusion. The life and destiny of each individual man runs up to this; this is what he was made for; for this he has been taught, and has received God’s grace, and has been tried, and has played his part in the years of time. It is the barest of commonplaces; and yet to any one who has tried to open his mind to its reality and certainty, it must have come with a strange and overpowering force—new on every fresh occasion, like nothing else in the world. For it is one thing to look forward to some great general event, the triumph of the saints of God, the final glory of the great company of the redeemed; one thing to look at all this from the outside, as a spectator by the power of imagination and thought. It is quite another, when it comes into your mind that you yourself in the far-off ages, you yourself, the very person now on earth, are intended to have your place—your certain and definite place—in all that triumph, in all that blessedness, in all that glory; and yet surely, to any one that will, this is the prospect; this, and nothing less.
Just come from heaven, how bright and fair
The soft locks of the baby’s hair,
As if the unshut gates still shed
The shining halo round his head!
Just entering heaven, what sacred snows
Upon the old man’s brow repose!
For there the opening gates have strown
The glory from the great white throne.1 [Note: Harriet Prescott Spofford.]
(3) It is for others.—That ye may abound in hope, says St. Paul,—hope for ourselves, hope for our neighbour, hope for the world. Be the sin of our heart what it may, and seventy times seven the falls of the past, in Christ we know that sin shall have no more dominion over us. Be the sin of our neighbour what it may, love hopeth all things, and without love we are nothing. Be the sin of the world what it may, we know who came to take it away. His arm is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear the great and bitter cry that cometh up from earth to heaven. We may give up hope when the Saviour of the world confesses Himself defeated, and all-ruling Love retires for ever baffled from the battlefield of human wickedness: but until then Christ calls us to set our hope on Him, and to bear witness of it to the world.
In the England of John Wesley, numbers of men were his peers in faith. Butler, Toplady, Romaine, John Newton, had as firm a grip on what faith can reach as he, and said words as noble for it. But Wesley had more hopefulness in his little finger than any other man of them had in his whole body. And so it was, that, wherever Wesley went, men caught the contagion of his great hope, and then ran tirelessly as long as they lived, kindling over all the world. Macaulay does well to say that no man can write a history of England in the last century, who shall fail to take into account Wesley’s vast influence in the common English life.1 [Note: R. Collyer, The Life That Now Is, 68.]
It is to be regretted that Edna Lyall’s religious stories are being neglected. They are full, not only of artistic power, but likewise of rich Christian instruction. In one she describes one of her characters in this significant fashion: “Carlo had the rare and enviable gift of seeing people as they might have been under happier circumstances, and the still rarer gift of treating them as such.” The life of Christ was full of this enviable hopefulness. Read how He dealt with sinners, and you will rejoice to find that His compassion dwelt upon them in their sin.2 [Note: J. A. Clapperton, Culture of the Christian Heart, 117.]
Dr. Westcott has told us—what those who are acquainted with the poet’s works will recognize as a statement of fact—that Browning “has dared to look on the darkest and meanest forms of action and passion, from which we commonly and rightly turn our eyes, and he has brought back for us, from this universal survey, a conviction of hope.” As a single specimen of this, we may refer to the scene described in the brief poem bearing the title, “Apparent Failure.” It is a picture of the Morgue in Paris, into which the poet entered to gaze upon the ghastly spectacles that there presented themselves—the bodies of men who hated life, or whose ideals were shattered, or whose hearts were broken. And, after plucking up courage to look fearlessly upon them all, trying to conceive what such a sight represented, how each victim came to meet with his terrible fate, he sums up his reflections thus—
My own hope is, a sun will pierce
The thickest cloud earth ever stretched;
That, after Last, returns the First,
Though a wide compass round be fetched;
That what began best, can‘t end worst,
Nor what God blessed once, prove accurst.3 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 121.]
1. Now consider the greatest of the three—charity or Christian love. It is no use studying Greek or Latin to find out what Christian love is. The dictionaries to consult here are our own hearts in relation to our nearest and dearest, the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, and St. John’s pregnant phrase, “God is love.” Christian love is the feeling begotten in our hearts towards God and towards our fellow-men by the penetration into our hearts of the sense of the love of God to us when He gave His Son to die for us. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins … we love, because he first loved us.” That is at once the natural and the supernatural history of Christian love.
Nothing suggests better what Christian love is than Giotto’s drawing of “Charity” in Padua. It is a corrective to all that misconception of love which left room for such a phrase as “cold as charity.” This is how Ruskin describes the drawing: “Usually Charity is nursing children or giving money. Giotto thinks there is little charity in nursing children: bears and wolves do that for their little ones; and less still in giving money. His Charity stands trampling upon bags of gold—has no use for them. She gives only corn and flowers (with her right hand); and God’s angel (to whom she looks) gives her, not even these—but a Heart.”1 [Note: R. J. Drummond, Faith’s Certainties, 240.]
The great religions of the world are distinguishable from each other by some supreme characteristic. Thus, the genius of Hinduism is mysticism, that of Buddhism is asceticism, that of Parseeism is dualism, that of Mohammedanism is fanaticism, that of Confucianism is secularism,—and that of our own faith is altruism, or love. No other inference than this is possible from the teachings of the New Testament. There God is represented as sending His Son to the earth because He loved, and He in this way “commends” His love; and then St. John, seeking to sum up His nature in a single word, exclaims: “God is love!”2 [Note: G. C. Lorimer, The Modern Crisis in Religion, 233.]
2. Note three things in the very conception of love.
(1) It is a personal relation.—The word may, indeed, be used loosely of our mere liking for inanimate or impersonal objects; it may be degraded to express an animal passion. But all such uses of the word are either abuses of its meaning or are figurative. As the modern poet of chivalry has exquisitely expressed it: “True love’s the gift which God has given to man alone beneath the heaven;” it is “the tie, which heart to heart, and mind to mind, in body and in soul can bind.” The discriminating genius of the Greek language has marked the absolute difference of this love from the lower forms of passion by assigning special words to each; and there are some who have regretted that no similar distinction has been maintained in our own language. But, we may perhaps be permitted to think, there is another point of view from which the absence of any such verbal distinction may appear prompted by a true instinct in a Christian nation. It was necessary for a Greek to recognize sensual passion as one form of human relationship. But the Christian best expresses the lofty ideal which is ever before his eyes, and best exemplifies that charity which thinketh no evil and which believeth all things, by refusing to contemplate men and women as united by any lower tie than that of love, or by refusing to contemplate our lower nature except in the light shed upon it by the higher.
(2) Love is the highest relation which one personal being can assume towards another.—It seems necessary to insist upon this characteristic in it, because its true nature is often obscured by its association with mere abstractions. It is not with humanity but with human beings that love is concerned; and such mere intellectual abstractions are useful only so far as they assist us in placing ourselves in that individual relation to individuals in which love finds its existence and its sphere of action. That which the Apostle has in view in his glowing description of this virtue is not a vague emotion of the heart, but the self-sacrifice, the devotion, the patience which are evoked in one soul by the presence of another.
The degree in which this gracious virtue of love can be evoked in our nature must depend upon the personal relations in which we are placed. The relation, perhaps, may be sometimes and in some measure an ideal one; but the vision of a person must be brought before the soul, if its highest faculties are to be aroused and its noblest emotions drawn forth. We all know, and it is the privilege of a generous youth to feel with peculiar vividness, what an ennobling effect is produced upon our nature by love, in the true sense of the word, thus aroused towards a kindred soul; while we also know and feel how intimately and essentially this influence is dependent on the personal character of the relation. It was the favourite theme of our greatest poets in the most splendid period of our literature, and perhaps of our national life; and in Spenser’s lofty verse the vision of love and beauty, and the vision of heavenly love and beauty, are so closely associated that they seem to merge into one another. But poets of less spiritual flight, and more concerned with the ordinary passions of human nature, have similarly depicted their heroes as rising to their noblest heights under the inspiration of this generous passion. When St. Paul discerns in the true relation of husband and wife a picture of the relation of Christ to His Church, he justifies and sanctifies these transcripts from nature, and welds together in essential union the most human and the most Divine aspect of love. Where, indeed, even in the light of the Gospel, shall be found more touching illustrations of some of the excellencies which the Apostle ascribes to charity, than in the personal affections of a gracious family life? The love which suffers long and is kind, which envies not, which seeks not her own, which is not easily provoked, which thinks no evil, which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things,—is not this the love of mothers and of wives, the devotion of true sons and husbands? What an astonishing power there is in such love and such devotion to suppress the selfishness in a man or a woman, and to arouse all the faculties of our nature in the service of the person to whom we are devoted!1 [Note: Dean Wace.]
(3) It needs a perfect Person to satisfy its desires.—For the question arises, whether all these stirrings of heart towards men like ourselves, all these quickenings of the moral and spiritual pulse can be more than the first awakenings of the human soul towards its true destiny—that of communion and union with a perfect Person. With respect to all these emotions, even the truest and most beautiful, when viewed independently of higher relations, in how lamentable a degree is illusion blended with them! Those illusions are often the mockery, the cruel and unworthy mockery, of maturer years; and they are not less often the bitter disappointments of tender and faithful hearts. But suppose a love open to human nature which should be subject to no such illusion; imagine a Person revealed to men and women on whom they could lavish the inexhaustible stores of their affection, their admiration, their devotion, and be sure that all, and more than all, would fall short of what was due, and be a feeble response to the infinite reality: and what might not then be expected to be the influence produced upon our nature? We have the answer in this chapter, which was, in fact, the response elicited from the soul of St. Paul by the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the love of the Saviour for him and his responsive love for the Saviour.
Perfection, or at least blessedness, in some form or other, has been proved by experience to be the ineradicable desire of the soul of man. That desire may, indeed, be dulled for a time, or chilled by despair. But such an acquiescence in imperfection brings with it, like the disappointed philosophy of the ancient world, a decay of energy, an abandonment of hope, in every sphere of life, and relaxes the spring of all noble thoughts and emotions. “Be ye perfect” is a command which is implied in all others, and is one of their main animating motives; and, in offering the means for this perfection, the Gospel possesses one of its deepest claims upon our spirits.1 [Note: Dean Wace.]
Gather us in, Thou Love that fillest all,
Gather our rival faiths within Thy fold,
Rend each man’s temple veil and bid it fall,
That we may know that Thou hast been of old;
Gather us in.
Gather us in: we worship only Thee;
In varied names we stretch a common hand
In diverse forms a common soul we see;
In many ships we seek one spirit-land;
Gather us in.
Each sees one colour of Thy rainbow light;
Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven
Thou art the fulness of our partial sight,
We are not perfect till we find the seven;
Gather us in.
3. To whom, then, is our love directed?
(1) It is love to God in Christ.—The immediate and supreme object of love is the ever-blessed God. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” This is the first commandment. And with God as the centre of the heart, all the faculties and all the powers have unbounded scope for their operation.
I spoke to H—about the worship of the Virgin, and he thought one reason for its prevalence is, that it puts before men the more affectionate side of truth; and he deplored the want of a more large appeal to the affections in Protestantism, saying that we worship Christ, but none of us love Him. I was silent, but the result of a scrutiny into my own mind was that, with an exception, I scarcely love any one, or anything else, and that not because of any reference to His love for me, which somehow or other never enters into my mind, but solely in consequence of what He is and was, according, at least, to my conception of Him and His mind and heart. I do not know that this consciousness pleased me, because it presented itself rather as a deficiency than as a power—a lack of human sympathy, the existence of a continually increasing number of repellent poles in my constitution, which isolate me from my species, and make my antipathies more marked than my sympathies. Whereas St. John’s conception of genuine love for Him was that of an affection trained in love for beings who exhibit the same Humanity which was in Him, in weaker images, in the various relationships of life. “If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” Through the visible as a school we rise up to the appreciation of the invisible. Now my nature forces me to reverse the order, or rather to skip the first steps, for I certainly have some sympathy—dreamy, perhaps useless—with the invisible—invisible personality, justice, right; but there they end, and almost never go on, or go back, to the visible and human. Those lines you have often quoted, of Burns—
I saw thee eye the general weal
With boundless love—
express a feeling which I can only imagine, not realize, except by a sort of analogy which is dreamy.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson, in Life and Letters, 341.]
The very blessed in Paradise, beholding the infinite Beauty of God, would faint and fail from longing to love Him more if His most Holy Will did not fill them with His own sweet Rest. But they love His sovereign Will so entirely that theirs is wholly merged in it, and they rest content in His Content, willing to submit to the limit Love puts to love. Were it not so, their love would be alike delicious and poignant—delicious in the possession of so great a gift, poignant in the intensity of desire for more. Thus God in His Wisdom sends perpetual shafts into the hearts of those who love Him, to teach them that they do not love Him nearly so much as He deserves to be loved. And be sure that the man who does not crave to love God more does not as yet love Him well enough. There is no “enough”; and he who would stop short in what he has attained, has attained but little, be sure.1 [Note: St. Francis de Sales.]
(2) It is love to man.—We cannot love God without loving man. The love of God is the love of man expanded and purified. To love man is to love God. The testimony of St. John, the disciple of love, is decisive on this point. His love to God was unearthly, pure, spiritual; his religion had melted into love, and here is his account: “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” According to him, it is through the visible that we appreciate the invisible, through the love of our brother that we grow into the love of God. At the same time, true love for man must flow primarily from love to God. The love of God is the root, the love of man the fruit; the love of God is the fountain, the love of man is the stream in which it flows. Both are parts of one whole, links of one chain, threads of one cord which binds us to God, descending from Him to us, and lifting us up to His very being, which is love.2 [Note: J. Davies.]
I read the other day of a girl, a convert from heathenism in the Sandwich Islands, where Father Damien lived. She had a class of little children, and she wished to know which of them continued heathen and which had accepted Christianity. In her simplicity, uncontaminated by conventionalities and traditions which mislead us, she said to each child in her class, “Do you love your enemies?” If the child answered, “Yes,” the unsophisticated teacher said, “Then you are a Christian; stand here.” If the child answered, “No,” she said, with equal decision, “Then you are a heathen; stand on the other side.” Thus did the girl in the Sandwich Islands divide the sheep from the goats; and thus will her Saviour divide them on the last day.3 [Note: H. P. Hughes, The Philanthropy of God, 40.]
The Teacher earnestly desired to return to his post. I pled with him to remain at the Mission House till we felt more assured, but he replied,—“Missi, when I see them thirsting for my blood, I just see myself when the Missionary first came to my island. I desired to murder him, as they now desire to kill me. Had he stayed away for such danger, I would have remained Heathen; but he came, and continued coming to teach us, till, by the grace of God, I was changed to what I am. Now the same God that changed me to this can change these poor Tannese to love and serve Him. I cannot stay away from them; but I will sleep at the Mission House, and do all I can by day to bring them to Jesus.”1 [Note: John G. Paton, i. 195.]
Have we got this love? Have we got it as a city, as a Church, and as individuals? Have we got it as a city? I suppose that many would answer that by an eulogium upon the charity of London. We should have flowing articles upon the generosity with which we support our hospitals and our asylums and our refuges. But I have during this last week come across certain facts which I feel it my duty to place before you this afternoon. As the Bishop of East London, it is, I think, natural that, considering for a thousand years the head of every hospital in Europe was Bishop of the place, the Bishop of East London should take a great interest in East London hospitals. I took first the London Hospital, that lifeboat, as it were, which goes up and down the sea of suffering humanity in East London, to cure it and to save it. I thought that the charity of London would, at any rate, be sufficient to support a great institution like the London Hospital. What do I find? I find that the love of London has allowed a deficit of £30,000 in the last two years; that so cramped are they that they have to build, and yet have no money to build with; and that to carry on their work efficiently at all they want £10,000 a year more. I pass to the Victoria Park Consumptive Hospital, and I pass with the memory of having seen at least fifty of my East-end friends die of consumption before my eyes in the last nine years. I go to the Consumptive Hospital, and what do I find? Out of 162 beds only 60 can be used for lack of funds. One hundred and two patients are passed as suitable, and yet of those 102 none can be taken in. Four women, passed a few weeks ago, have all died before their time to go in came. Those 102 beds are left vacant because the love of London is not sufficient for the purpose. I go to the Children’s Hospital. One would have thought that the charity of a great city would look after its children. But what do I find at the North-Eastern Hospital for children? I find the Hospital crammed with children, and another wing an urgent necessity, and yet the only £2000 which has been given was not given by some one who hates creeds and who goes in for the service of man without creeds, but was obtained from a distinctly Church charity as the first contribution to the new wing. I say, then, that as a city we have not risen yet to the true standard of love. Have we as a Church?1 [Note: Bishop Winnington Ingram, Banners of the Christian Faith, 43.]
“O happy souls, O radiant souls, what songs are ye outpouring?
What passionate, pure prayers are these from earth to heaven soaring?
What mystic gifts of love and grace are these your words imploring
From God, for your neighbour and your enemy?”
Our souls are all afire with love—with love our hearts are glowing,
The mystic peace that Jesus gives our joyous strains are showing;
For lo! our love can not be hid—our brimming love out-flowing
To God, and our neighbour and our enemy.
“But what of those who sought your harm—who joyed at your mistaking,
What place have they in this your chant—in these your prayers, partaking?
Are your pure souls—your tender hearts—with love and longing breaking
For God, and your neighbour and your enemy?”
Our souls are filled with heavenly peace—our hearts with love untiring,
And Jesus with His radiant love our feeble love is firing,
Till nought we crave but love for all, in this our joyous choiring
From God, for our neighbour and our enemy.2 [Note: Margaret Blaikie, Songs by the Way, 54.]
(3) It is love to the brethren.—The love of the brethren is often referred to as distinguished from love; the one having reference to moral character, the other to the race in general. “Be kindly affectioned one to another.” “Be ye all of one mind, … love as brethren.”
Gibbon has discussed the reason of the wonderful expansion of Christianity at the outset of its career, and he has alleged five causes: the zeal of the primitive Christians, their doctrine of immortality, the miraculous powers of the Apostolic Church, her pure morality, and the union and discipline of the Christian republic. And these, no doubt, were efficient causes, but Gibbon has overlooked the strongest of all. The reason why Christianity spread over the world and won the nations, was that the Christians understood the blessed secret of love as the Lord had taught it. It is said by Tertullian that in those early days the heathen would often exclaim: “See how they love one another!” All this changed, and during the days of bitter controversy over the doctrine of the Person of Christ, when the Christians were wrangling and excommunicating and persecuting one another, it was said by a Latin historian that their hatred of each other exceeded the fury of savage beasts against mankind. It was then that Christianity lost its power, and if we would recover the ancient power, we must rediscover and practise the ancient secret.1 [Note: D. Smith.]
In Samoa, Stevenson had left his small hut and removed into a large house. There had not yet been time for Love to line it. Stevenson felt sad and weary, and had forgotten to bespeak his nightly coffee and cigars. Whilst he was thinking, the door quietly opened and the native boy entered carrying the tray with that on it for which he longed. Stevenson said in the native tongue, “Great is your forethought.” The boy corrected him and said, “Great is the love.”2 [Note: A. R. Simpson, These Three, 47.]
The writer remembers a curious expression used by a Mohammedan who had become a Christian and then relapsed, “Un ki muhabbat dekhke, bhul gaya; un ki dushmani dekhke, yad aya,” “Their (the Christians’) love made me forget my religion; their hostility made me remember it.”3 [Note: C. Field, The Charm of India, xi.]
4. But God in Christ is the source as well as the object of love. Where are we to look for the inspiration that breathed into the idea of “love” that intense spirituality—that perfect purity and almost infinite longing and desire, which demanded almost a new word to meet a new conception, as much in advance of all that the heathen world knew as the Gospel of St. John transcends all the Greek philosophies? The answer to this question is to be found, at least in the first instance, in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, as reported to us in that very Gospel—the spiritual Gospel, as it has been well called—of the beloved Apostle; to the effect that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
So kindly was His love to us,
(We had not heard of love before),
That all our life grew glorious
When He had halted at our door.
So meekly did He love us men,
Though blind we were with shameful sin,
He touched our eyes with tears, and then
Led God’s tall angels flaming in.
He dwelt with us a little space,
As mothers do in childhood’s years,
And still we can discern His face
Wherever Joy or Love appears.
He made our virtues all His own,
And lent them grace we could not give,
And now our world seems His alone,
And while we live He seems to live.
He took our sorrows and our pain,
And hid their torture in His breast,
Till we received them back again,
To find on each His grief impressed.
He clasped our children in His arms,
And showed us where their beauty shone,
He took from us our grey alarms,
And put Death’s icy armour on.
So gentle were His ways with us,
That crippled souls had ceased to sigh,
On them He laid His hands, and thus
They gloried at His passing by.
Without reproof or word of blame,
As mothers do in childhood’s years,
He kissed our lips in spite of shame,
And stayed the passage of our tears.
So tender was His love to us,
(We had not learned to love before),
That we grew like to Him, and thus
Men sought His grace in us once more.1 [Note: Coningsby William Dawson.]
When the Jubilee Singers first visited our shores in 1873, an old believer used to repeat constantly the refrain of one of their songs, “Free grace and dying love.” The love of Christ constrained her. “Rabbi” Duncan rose up from the Professor’s chair, and walked up and down the platform as he discoursed on the Crucifixion with his students. “Ay, ay, d’ye know what it was—dying on the cross, forsaken by His Father—d’ye know what it was? What? What? It was damnation—and damnation taken lovingly.” The love of Christ constrained him.2 [Note: A. R. Simpson, These Three, 45.]
It was for me that Jesus died, for me and a world of men
Just as sinful, and just as slow to give back His love again;
And He didn‘t wait till I came to Him, but He loved me at my worst;
He needn‘t ever have died for me if I could have loved Him first.3 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]
We have looked at Faith, Hope, and Love separately. Now let us see them acting and re-acting the one on the other.
“Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three.” In thus speaking of these cardinal virtues of the Christian character, it is evident that St. Paul means to distinguish them from one another. He speaks of them as “these three,” and thereby represents them to us as three several virtues, each holding its own place, and serving its own purpose, to which it is peculiarly adapted, and in which the others are incapable of superseding it. Each one of that blessed triad of Christian graces has its own proper province in the spiritual life allotted to it. And each has important functions to discharge, which none but itself is capable of executing. Faith can be no substitute for love in the way of fulfilling the great duties of practical religion. And as little can love be any substitute for faith in the way of appropriating the merits of the Saviour, and thereby securing our justification in the sight of God. What St. Paul has elsewhere said of the several offices in the Christian Church is equally applicable to the leading graces of the Christian character—that all of them are useful and needful in their respective spheres, like the various organs and members of the human body; and that no one among them can set aside another any more than the hand can dispense with the services of the foot, or the eye undertake to perform the functions of the ear.
But while in this statement faith, hope, and love are thus represented as numerically distinct, they are notwithstanding very intimately associated, as having the closest mutual affinity and dependence. All three must abide together, in order to the perfection of each other, as well as of the whole character into which they enter. God has joined them; and man must not attempt to sever them. Faith must animate the mind with hope, and “work by love,” in order to show its genuineness as that living and operative faith of which alone the Scriptures have approved. Hope, if it do not rest on the good foundation which faith has laid for it, is altogether visionary and unwarranted; and if it do not elevate the soul unto the unfeigned love of God and man, it is spurious or hypocritical. And love, if it be not originated by faith and sustained by hope, is merely an instinctive impulse of nature, accidental in its attachments, and limited to the sphere of visible things, and thus differing most essentially from that evangelical love of which it is written, that “the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.”
1. Faith and Hope.—Faith and hope are twin sisters, and hardly to be known apart; both as beautiful as they can be, and alike beautiful, and very often indeed mistaken each for the other. Yet this need never be; because between them there is this clear difference, that while hope expects, faith inspects; while hope is like Mary, looking up-ward, faith is like Martha, looking at-ward; while the light in the eyes of hope is high, the light in the eyes of faith is strong; while hope trembles in expectation, faith is quiet in possession. Hope leaps out toward what will be: faith holds on to what is; hope idealizes, faith realizes; faith sees, hope foresees.
The trouble with some men is, that, while they hold on to the faith, they have lost hold of the hope of their religion. And so they inspect but they do not expect; they believe in what has come, but not in what is coming. So they expire after they have ceased to inspire; they die, but they do not make many live. You get a grand lesson on this matter, as you go from the mouth to the springs of the Rhine. Passing through the fog and mist of Holland, as through a stagnant, grassy sea, you stretch upward, league after league; and, as you go, the country gradually changes. The air grows clearer, the prospect finer; everything that can stir the soul begins to reach down toward you, and touch you with its glory. But the higher you go, the harder is your going; only the deepening beauty never fails you. So at last you come into Switzerland, where the blue heavens bend over you with their infinite, tender light; and the mountains stand about you, in their white robes, glorious as the gates of heaven, with green valleys nestling between, which, but for sorrow and sin, are beautiful as Paradise. And all about you is a vaster vision, and within you an intenser inspiration than can ever be felt on the foggy flats below. It is the difference between faith alone, and faith and hope together.1 [Note: R. Collyer, The Life that Now Is, 64.]
By faith Jacob, when a-dying, leaves his children a legacy of hope in God. He looks upward in faith and forward in expectancy. His religion makes him sanguine and prophetic. “Behold,” he said, “I die: but God shall be with you” (Genesis 48:21). The words are suggestive of infinite possibilities. The One remains while the many change and pass. When man dies, God lives on, and faith in the real presence of a living God is the spring of eternal hope. Faith is the power by which men grasp the future, the unseen, the Divine, by which they maintain their expectant look, by which they remain optimists in spite of all the evil of the world. Dying saints are enabled to bequeath messages of comfort to after ages, because they are sure that the God who has so greatly blessed themselves has greater blessings in store for their posterity. True religion bids them expect a brighter day to dawn and a happier society to come into being. Jacob, dying in Goshen, the proverbial land of plenty, sees something still better than Goshen. His conviction of the goodness of God kindles an ardent and unquenchable hope of the amelioration of the state of his people. The vision of God is always accompanied by the vision of a better and happier world.2 [Note: J. Strachan, Hebrew Ideals, ii. 150.]
In the career of Columbus faith and hope supported each other. So sings the American poet, Maurice Francis Egan—
Who doubts has met defeat ere blows can fall;
Who doubts must die with no palm in his hand:
Who doubts shall never be of that high band
Which clearly answer—Present! to Death’s call:
For Faith is life, and, though a funeral pall
Veil our fair Hope, and on our promised land
A mist malignant hang, if Faith but stand
Among our ruins, we shall conquer all.
O faithful soul, that knew no doubting low;
O Faith incarnate, lit by Hope’s strong flame,
And led by Faith’s own cross to dare all ill
And find our world!—but more than this we owe
To thy true heart; thy pure and glorious name
Is one clear trumpet call to Faith and Will.
2. Faith and Love.—Faith is energetic love. Divinely implanted love, spiritually inspired self-surrender increases every faculty of knowledge, deepens every impression made by truth, opens the eye which indifference or passion had blinded, purifies the gaze which prejudice or evil bias had corrupted and obscured, and so makes the trembling faith which can only cry, “I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” grow, burn, gleam with holy enthusiasm, until it cries, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded.”
I have been writing lately on the subject of Keble’s lines (Hymn for Sunday next before Advent). I have little doubt that the Church of Borne has paid far more attention than we have to that which forms the subject of this hymn—the treatment of penitence. She has more power to soothe, because she dwells chiefly on that which is the most glorious element in the nature of God—Love. Whereas Protestantism fixes attention more on that which is the strongest principle in the bosom of man—Faith.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson, in Life and Letters, 244.]
I ask not for Thy love, O Lord: the days
Can never come when anguish shall atone.
Enough for me were but Thy pity shown,
To me as to the stricken sheep that strays,
With ceaseless cry for unforgotten ways—
O lead me back to pastures I have known,
Or find me in the wilderness alone,
And slay me, as the hand of mercy slays.
I ask not for Thy love; nor e’en so much,
As for a hope on Thy dear breast to lie;
But be Thou still my shepherd—still with such
Compassion as may melt to such a cry;
That so I hear Thy feet, and feel Thy touch,
And dimly see Thy face ere yet I die.1 [Note: George John Romanes, Life and Letters, 267.]
In 1836 James Field, of Cork, called for the third time on an unsaved woman to whom he had been introduced. She cried out to him, “Oh, sir, I do not love God!” He replied, “What have you to do with loving God? How can you love until you apprehend His love to you? and this you cannot do until you believe. It is folly to think of loving God before you obtain pardon.” Tears gushed from her eyes, and she said she had never understood it before. As the two prayed, God set her soul at liberty, and then she found she could love God, because He first loved her. It was the gift of pardon that filled her heart with the love of gratitude.2 [Note: J. A. Clapperton, Culture of the Christian Heart, 68.]
3. Hope and Love.—Who has not experienced what he and others call Christian hope, but which on close analysis is found to be little better than a faint and feeble desire after better things, and a desponding cry of the soul for what is just a grade better than blank despair? This is not the hope that saves. Contrast it with the full evidence of things hoped for, which is imparted by living faith. Let desire be large, and expectation strong; let hope embrace all Divine promises, and it becomes a vast capacity for blessedness, and often bursts out in solitary places and on dark nights into songs of rejoicing. Then is revealed what the Apostles call “patience,” born of quiet waiting, with a smile upon its face, reflecting all the lustre of the Divine manifestation. Tribulation and sorrow are but the crucible in which this precious quality and energy of soul is refined. “This hope maketh not ashamed,” and can never be disappointed, because it is a veritable foretaste of its own object—it is the earnest and foretaste of the purchased possession. What leads the soul from hope to hope, from the faint uplifting of the wearied weeping eye to the “hope full of immortality”? St. Paul gives us the answer: “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.”
Do you not think that the ordinary standpoint of so-called Christian teaching is undergoing a destruction, and that the devil’s travesty is waning? Terrorism is no real factor in Christianity. Surely Christianity is the response which follows the recognition of Love and its beneficent purpose of Universal beatitude. In that atmosphere the heart beats freely and fully, for it breathes the Hope which Love begets. We ought to breathe the Hope before we attempt to deal with the distresses of life; then should we be armed with the Sympathy that is powerful, and not merely with the sympathy that is the recognition of a common woe.1 [Note: R. W. Corbet, Letters from a Mystic of the Present Day, 150.]
Yesterday, after reading Romance of Rose, thought much of the destruction of all my higher power of sentiment by late sorrow; and considered how far it might be possible to make love, though hopeless, still a guide and strength.2 [Note: Ruskin in E. T. Cook’s Life of Ruskin, ii. 267.]
Is any grieved or tired? Yea, by God’s will:
Surely God’s Will alone is good and best:
O weary man, in weariness take rest,
O hungry man, by hunger feast thy fill.
Discern thy good beneath a mask of ill,
Or build of loneliness thy secret nest:
At noon take heart, being mindful of the west;
At night wake hope, for dawn advances still.
At night wake hope. Poor soul, in such sore need
Of wakening and of girding up anew,
Hast thou that hope which fainting doth pursue?
No saint but hath pursued and hath been faint;
Bid love wake hope, for both thy steps shall speed,
Still faint yet still pursuing, O thou saint.3 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poems, 164.]
4. Faith, Hope, Love.—When St. Paul takes three words, and couples them with a verb in the singular, he is not making a slip of the pen, or committing a grammatical blunder which a child could correct. But there is a great truth in that piece of apparent grammatical irregularity; for the faith, the hope, and the love, for which he can afford only a singular verb, are thereby declared to be in their depth and essence one thing, and it, the triple star, abides, and continues to shine; the three primitive colours are unified in the white beam of light. Do not correct the grammar, and spoil the sense, but discern what he means when he says, “Now abided faith, hope, love.” For this is what he means, that the two latter come out of the former, and that without it they are naught, and that it without them is dead.
(1) Faith is the rightful attitude of self and our neighbour to God: Hope is the recognition and welcome of God’s purpose for self, and our neighbour: Love binds God, self, and our neighbour in the perfect bond of the Divinely purposed harmony.
You have seen that famous picture of the French artist Millet, “The Angelus.” You remember the scene which it depicts—a very homely and, at the first glance, prosaic scene: a potato-field and two figures, a man and a woman, surrounded by the implements of their toil. It is a dull, bleak landscape, and away across the level tract you see a village with the church-spire rising above the lowly roofs. It is evening, and the bell has rung out its call to prayer. Its silvery chime has reached the ears of the two labourers, and after the devout manner of their country they have hearkened to its call. They have dropped their tools, and they are standing erect, with bowed heads and folded hands, in the attitude of prayer. I once heard an interpretation of this picture from my old teacher, the late Professor Henry Drummond. There, he said, are the three elements of a complete life—Work, God, and Love. The field, the spade, the basket, and the barrow—there is Work; the bowed heads and the folded hands—there is Religion; the two, a man and a woman, whatever be their relationship—there is Love. And this is precisely the idea of the saying of St. Paul in our text.1 [Note: D. Smith, Man’s Need of God, 16.]
So Faith shall build the boundary wall,
And Hope shall plant the secret bower,
That both may show magnifical
With gem and flower.
While over all a dome must spread,
And Love shall be that dome above;
And deep foundations must be laid,
And these are Love.
(2) Though separated in the representation, faith, hope, and love are really inseparable companions, closely united, not only to every Christian, but also to each other. What, indeed, is faith without hope and love? A cold conviction of the intellect, but without life-awakening power in the heart, or mature fruit in the life. Without hope, faith would never behold heaven; but even if it could enter therein, heaven would lack its highest bliss. What is hope without faith and love? At most, an idle dream from which we soon shall sadly wake; a fragrant blossom in the garden, fading before it has brought forth fruit. And, lastly, what is love without hope or faith? The welling forth, perhaps, of natural feeling, but in no degree a spiritual principle of life. If love believes not, it must die; and if it hopes not in the same measure as it loves, it is then the source of unparalleled suffering. Thus, whichever of these three sisters we would separate from the others, in so doing we have subscribed her death-warrant; nay, even if two of them remain together, the brightness of their beauty is dimmed whenever the third has disappeared.
That the whole substance of religion was faith, hope, and love; by the practice of which we became united to the will of God; that all beside is indifferent, and to be used only as a means, that we may arrive at our end, and be swallowed up therein, by faith and love.
That all things are possible to him who believes, that they are less difficult to him who hopes, that they are easier to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues.1 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 23.]
I remember reading about an English barrister, of refined mind but speculative tendencies, who had reached such a depth of Pyrrhonism, alike in philosophy and religion, that he had lost all faith in positive truth. His Christian wife grieved over him all the more that she perceived about him symptoms of incipient consumption. One day, however, as he lay on the sofa, she saw him gazing upwards, as if on some object, with an expression of soft delight and almost rapture. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “Do you know, I have begun to conceive hope.” “Hope of what?” “I don’t know, but somehow I have hope.” Ah! the haze was dissolving, phantoms were crystallizing into concrete realities and the transporting “hope” of finding solid footing on the rock of positive truth. Right speedily came that faith which overcometh the world—a childlike reception of the Gospel of Christ—terminating, and at no distant period, in a tranquil departure to the region of unclouded light.2 [Note: D. Brown, Memoir of John Duncan, 78.]
John Knox, in his History of the Reformation, has preserved a beautiful comparison of faith, hope, and charity by Patrick Hamilton, the Scottish martyr. Says Hamilton: “Faith cometh of the Word of God, Hope cometh of Faith, and Charity springeth of them both. Faith believes the Word, Hope trusteth after that which is promised by the Word, and Charity doeth good unto her neighbour, through the love which she hath to God, and gladness that is within herself. Faith looketh to God and His word; Hope looketh unto His gift and reward; Charity looketh unto her neighbour’s profit. Faith receiveth God; Hope receiveth His reward; Charity looketh to her neighbour with a glad heart, and that without any respect of reward. Faith pertaineth to God only, Hope to His reward, and Charity to her neighbour.”
Let love weep—
It cometh, that day of the Lord divine;
And the morning star will surely shine
On the long death-night of sleep.
Let faith fear,—
The unending light comes on apace;
The path leads homeward from this place;
Through the twilight home must appear.
Let hope despair,—
Let death and the grave shout victory,—
That flush of the morning yet shall be,
Which shall wake the slumberers there!
THESE THREE ABIDE
1. Amidst all that changes and is destined to pass away, three things there are, St. Paul tells us, that abide. Just as in a world of shadows and uncertainties we have learned to postulate as fundamental certainties three incontestable realities, God, self, and our neighbour; so amid the variety of external and transient manifestations of the religious life there remain unchangeably three activities or functions of the soul, which are perpetually concerned with these fundamental certainties. Much of the detail of religion is an accommodation to present necessities and will pass away when it has served its temporary purpose; but behind and beneath lie three essential and eternal principles of spiritual life—Faith, Hope, and Love.
2. The popular interpretation reads “now” as temporal instead of logical—identifying it with the “now” of 1 Corinthians 13:12, though the Greek words differ—as though the Apostle meant that for the present faith and hope “abide” with love, but love alone “abides” for ever. But St. Paul puts the three on the same footing in respect of enduringness—“these three” in comparison with the other three of 1 Corinthians 13:8—pointedly adding faith and hope to share and support the “abiding” of love; love is greater among these, not more lasting.
It is curious that this meaning has been so generally missed by readers of the passage. Learned readers, as well as unlearned, have failed to observe it. You may frequently see it assumed, in hymns and other religious literature, that faith and hope, instead of being associated with love in this quality of permanence, as St. Paul declares them to be, are contrasted with it, in that they are transitory, whilst love is eternal. “Faith will vanish into sight; Hope be emptied in delight; Love in heaven will shine more bright.” Such language is plausible enough to be generally accepted. But it is at variance with St. Paul’s view. The passage we are considering is not one of doubtful meaning; no competent interpreter could question that St. Paul’s purpose is to say that faith, hope, love, all three abide; and that by “abide” he means that they have not the changing and transitory character which belongs to other things of which he has been speaking. It is true that he is asserting the supreme glory of love; it is greater, he says, than faith and hope. But these two sister graces share with it the significant distinction that they all abide.
3. The chief point, then, to be noticed in this statement, is the permanence it ascribes to those graces of which it speaks. It represents “faith, hope, and love, these three,” as all alike abiding. Formerly the Apostle had said this of love in particular, declaring in the 8th verse that “love never faileth.” But now, in repeating the statement, he extends it to the other two, ascribing to them also the same durability that he had previously noticed as an attribute of love. No doubt it was the design of the Apostle to point out in this respect the very striking contrast between these three essential graces, by which at all times the Christian character must be distinguished, and those extraordinary gifts bestowed on the early Christian Church, which, however remarkable and useful while they endured, were only intended to continue for a season.
If, loving well the creatures that are like yourself, you feel that you would love still more dearly creatures better than yourself—were they revealed to you;—if striving with all your might to mend what is evil, near you and around, you would fain look for a day when some Judge of all the Earth shall wholly do right, and the little hills rejoice on every side; if, parting with the companions that have given you all the best joy you had on Earth, you desire ever to meet their eyes again and clasp their hands,—where eyes shall no more be dim, nor hands fail;—if, preparing yourselves to lie down beneath the grass in silence and loneliness, seeing no more beauty, and feeling no more gladness—you would care for the promise to you of a time when you should see God’s light again, and know the things you have longed to know, and walk in the peace of everlasting Love—then, the Hope of these things to you is religion, the Substance of them in your life is Faith. And in the power of them, it is promised us, that the kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.1 [Note: Ruskin, The Bible of Amiens (Works, xxxiii. 174).]
4. When we have looked backward and seen these three graces to be thus identical and unchanging in stages of human growth which are in mental conditions so far separated from each other, we shall have confidence in them as we look forward even beyond the grave. Are we to part with faith hereafter? Only if we give to the name Faith some narrow interpretation. Not, surely, if it is filial trust in the Father. It cannot be part of the reward of the future state that the children of God should cease to be filial, or to cherish that confiding trust in the Fatherly wisdom and goodness which was perfectly exhibited in the perfect Son of God. No; if childlike faith has continued from yesterday until to-day, we may know it to be of a nature to continue and abide for ever. But must not hope, as they say, be swallowed up in fruition? Not, it would seem, until the whole work of the Divine creation and government be brought to a standstill. Such an end is beyond the reach of our faculties to imagine. But the death of a Christian will not leave him without objects of hope. After each of us dies there will be plenty of evil still to be purged out of God’s world; there will be endless evolutions of the Divine purpose for the revealing of the Divine glory. Those that have gone before us, we may well believe, instead of having ceased to hope, are now hoping more earnestly, more continuously, more joyfully, more calmly, than we are. Of the continuance of love in the life to come one need say nothing, as it has not been possible to fall into the mistake of supposing that love could be stopped by death unless all conscious existence be believed to be stopped by it also.
We are very much accustomed to speak of faith as destined in the future world to give place to vision, and of hope as destined, in like manner, to end in full fruition. This view is taken in the last verses of our 49th Paraphrase, of which the chapter before us is the groundwork. And by frequently using that beautiful Paraphrase, we have probably been led, without much consideration, to assume that love alone shall exist in heaven, while faith and hope shall be altogether superseded. But is there any solid Scriptural ground for such an assumption? There is nothing in the text itself to warrant it. Nor am I aware of any other passage that has ever been formally brought forward to confirm it. No faith in heaven! What, then, are we to make of those texts which speak of the glorified saints as “eating of the hidden manna,” partaking of “the fruit of the tree of life,”—following the Lamb of God whithersoever He may lead them—and as guided by Him—to “living fountains of waters.” Surely these expressions are as significant as words can be of a life of unceasing faith in the Redeemer. It is quite true that many of those things which are now objects of faith, shall hereafter be objects of sight. But it would be a very rash and sweeping conclusion thence to infer that in a future world there shall be no room and no occasion for faith at all. Unless, indeed, we are to be made absolutely omniscient at the very first moment of our entrance into the heavenly mansions, there must still remain a field, though not indeed the same field as that which we now have, for the exercise of faith. And then, in so far as faith can be held to consist in confidence towards God or dependence on the Saviour, we may surely venture to say that instead of ceasing in the world to come, it will be more fully developed and more perfectly maintained. With respect to hope, again, it is not to be questioned that many of those things to which it is for the present directed shall in our future state be actually possessed, so that they cannot then be hoped for any longer. But does it follow that, after this life is ended, the Christian will have absolutely nothing whatever to hope for? Will it be nothing for the departed spirits of the faithful to anticipate the resurrection of their bodies, and to look forward to the triumphant issues of the coming judgment? And even when these glorious events have been consummated, will there not still remain the animating prospect of continually augmenting knowledge, unceasingly advancing happiness, and progressively increasing spiritual excellence to all eternity? We must either suppose that all that heaven has to give is to be enjoyed at once by the spirits of the redeemed when first they are translated thither, and that there is no progress of any kind to be afterwards made by them from glory to glory; or else we must allow that there is still something in reserve for them, besides what they at first attain, as a fit and proper object of Hope.1 [Note: T. J. Crawford, The Preaching of the Cross, 349.]
5. Faith, hope, and love, these three represent the spiritual or Christian life, called also the eternal life, in the soul of man. It is this that has in its history and essential nature the witness of permanence. St. Paul found comfort in the evident progress from the more imperfect to the less imperfect which is to be traced in a part of our human nature. But he also derived comfort, and the more indispensable comfort, from contemplating the signs and working in man of the perfect and eternal Divine nature. And in order to realize that this which seemed to him best in man was really unchanging, he must have looked at it as he did at the changing forms of mental conception, in the stage of human childhood. In the child—he implies, if he does not fully affirm—he found the spiritual affections at least as admirable as in the man. These things, faith and hope and love, he perceived, manifest themselves with heavenly beauty in the young; they are also the signs of God’s truest presence in the instructed and experienced man, and they will stand the shock of death, and remain with us, in virtue of their imperishable and eternal nature, in the dimly imagined world that lies on the other side of the grave.
So with our youths. We once taught them to make Latin verses, and called them educated; now we teach them to leap and to row, to hit a ball with a bat, and call them educated. Can they plough, can they sow, can they plant at the right time, or build with a steady hand? Is it the effort of their lives to be chaste, knightly, faithful, holy in thought, lovely in word and deed? Indeed it is, with some, nay, with many, and the strength of England is in them, and the hope; but we have to turn their courage from the toil of war to the toil of mercy; and their intellect from dispute of words to discernment of things; and their knighthood from the errantry of adventure to the state and fidelity of a kingly power. And then, indeed, shall abide, for them and for us, an incorruptible felicity, and an infallible religion; shall abide for us Faith, no more to be assailed by temptation, no more to be defended by wrath and by fear;—shall abide with us Hope, no more to be quenched by the years that overwhelm, or made ashamed by the shadows that betray:—shall abide for us, and with us, the greatest of these; the abiding will, the abiding name of our Father. For the greatest of these is Charity.1 [Note: Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies (Works, xviii. 186).]
i. Faith Abides
1. There is a common saying, which ninety out of a hundred people think comes out of the Bible, that “faith is lost in sight.” There is no such teaching in Scripture. True, in one aspect, faith is the antithesis of sight. St. Paul does say, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” But that antithesis refers only to part of faith’s significance. In so far as it is the opposite of sight, of course it will cease to be in operation when we shall know even as we are known, and see Him as He is. But the essence of faith is not the absence of the person trusted, but the emotion of trust which goes out to the person, present or absent. And in its deepest meaning of absolute dependence and happy confidence, faith abides through all the glories and the lustres of the heavens, as it burns amidst the dimnesses and the darknesses of earth. For ever and ever will dependence on God in Christ be the life of the glorified, as it was the life of the militant, Church. No millenniums of possession, and no imaginable increases in beauty and perfectness and enrichment with the wealth of God, will bring us one inch nearer to casting off the state of filial dependence which is, and ever will be, the condition of our receiving them all. Faith “abides.”
2. But how can faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, remain in the very presence of the realities themselves? There we shall see face to face. So it is clear that faith cannot be altogether the same as here. But in every essential point, it will be the same. For what is the ground of faith? What leads me to act on God’s word, though I have never seen God, have never heard His voice? Is it not that I trust God, that I am content to leave myself in His hands, that I have confidence in His doing all things well? Is not this the essence of faith in ordinary life? Is it not that we trust one another, and have confidence in men doing their duty, and so we leave important matters to be transacted for us by others, having faith in them, as we express it? And in this its ordinary sense, will not faith remain in our new and higher state of being? Will not entire and unwavering trust in God form a component of the character of the saints in glory—a confidence compared to which the most perfect assurance ever attained here below is but doubt, an entire resting for the present and for the future on His wisdom and His love, of the perfect value of which we know nothing here?
Caesar Malan’s death-bed seemed to those who witnessed it the most surprising of all his achievements. Said the doctor to me one day on leaving him, “I have just beheld what I have often heard of, but what I never saw before. Now I have seen it, as I see this stick I carry in my hand.” “And what have you seen?” I asked. “Faith, faith,” he answered; “not the faith of a theologian, but of a Christian! I have seen it with my eyes”.1 [Note: The Life, Labour, and Writings of Caesar Malan, 459.]
3. It would be a most serious mistake to think that there ever was a time in the history of our creation in the past, that there is any part of the infinite creation now, that there ever will be a time in the history of any conceivable creation of the future, in regard to which it has been, is, or shall be true that the spiritual life of creatures made in the image of God is not lived by faith in God. For what is the life of faith but the living, not independently and with self-reliance, but by the receiving of the life of God? And how can it accord with the relation between the Creator and the creature, that there should ever be any other spiritual life than this?
I singularly moved
To love the lovely that are not beloved,
Of all the Seasons, most
Love Winter, and to trace
The sense of the Trophonian pallor on her face.
It is not death, but plenitude of peace;
And the dim cloud that does the world enfold
Hath less the characters of dark and cold
Than warmth and light asleep;
And correspondent breathing seems to keep
With the infant harvest, breathing soft below
Its eider coverlet of snow.
Nor is in field or garden anything
But, duly looked into, contains serene
The substance of things hoped for, in the Spring,
And evidence of Summer not yet seen.1 [Note: Coventry Patmore.]
ii. Hope Abides
1. Hope shares the prerogative and dignity of love, to stand on the wreck of worlds and gaze on the eternal Face which sinners may not see and live. The works of God shall pass away. The law of decay is not more plainly written on our mortal bodies than on the mightiest star that walks the frozen verge of heaven. Even spiritual gifts shall perish, unless faith and hope and love throw over them the asbestos robe of immortality. If prophecies there be, they shall be needed no more; if tongues there be, they shall cease; if knowledge there be, it shall be needed no more: but hope along with faith and love abideth evermore. There is room and work for hope even in the world where we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. If heaven is not poorer than earth, there must be unmeasured room for hope in revelations far beyond all that sinners can ask or think—revelations rising through the years of eternity, but always revelations of our Heavenly Father’s love in Christ.
2. It is no more a Scriptural idea that hope is “lost in fruition” than it is that faith is lost in sight. Rather that future presents itself to us as the continual communication of an inexhaustible God to our progressively capacious and capable spirits. In that continual communication there is continual progress. Wherever there is progress there must be hope. And thus the fair form which has so often danced before us elusive, and has led us into bogs and miry places and then faded away, will move before us through all the long avenues of an endless progress, and will ever and anon come back to tell us of the unseen glories that lie beyond the next turn, and to woo us farther into the depths of heaven and the fulness of God. Hope “abides.”
3. What is hope? The expectation of things to come—good things; brighter, better, fuller life. And the surer the expectation, the truer the hope. In the first dawn of the world’s history, was not this hope an inspiration? Indeed it is the very perversion of hope that we see exemplified so strikingly in the desire to be wise, to be as gods (Genesis 3:5-6). And in our world to-day, is it not the glorious heritage of the sons of God, anticipated by hope, that makes the present not only bearable but instinct with strength, and fraught with victory? And can we conceive of any other world, or of any other state of life, where hope is not? where the goal is already reached, and only the dull monotony of existence is left? Nay, hope shines on the forehead of every happy world, as of our poor, sinful, struggling world. And in the immortal future shall hope cease? Nay, for that would be our doom. But rather, “for ever and ever”—or “unto the ages of the ages,” as implying the opening up of an ever-growing history—there shall be the joyous expectation of fuller, richer, and more glorious life.
We can imagine only one condition from which hope is for ever shut out; but one place over the portal of which is inscribed, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” But in heaven, where the spirit shall be refined and quickened and exalted to the utmost, shall the keenest of all its pleasures, the life of all its delights, the spur of all its exertions, be absent? Hope disappointed indeed there shall be none, for hope shall be based on certainty; the eye of the soul shall rest, not on the flitting visions of earthly bliss, but on the calm realities of perfect knowledge. Hope deferred there shall be none; no more sickness of heart at long waiting; for the state of trial will be over, the perfect work of patience will be accomplished, and the hand which here is often stretched out till it wearies and stiffens and cannot grasp the object which it has reached, will there have but to open and be filled. But hope in all its blessedness, in all its fulness of joy, shall abide for ever.1 [Note: 1 H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, i. 130.]
Bury Hope out of sight,
No book for it and no bell;
It never could bear the light
Even while growing and well:
Think if now it could bear
The light on its face of care
And grey scattered hair.
No grave for Hope in the earth,
But deep in that silent soul
Which rang no bell for its birth
And rings no funeral toll.
Cover its once bright head;
Nor odours nor tears be shed:
It lived once, it is dead.
Brief was the day of its power,
The day of its grace how brief
As the fading of a flower,
As the falling of a leaf,
So brief its day and its hour;
No bud more and no bower
Or hint of a flower.
Shall many wail it? not so:
Shall one bewail it? not one:
Thus it hath been from long ago,
Thus it shall be beneath the sun.
O fleet sun, make haste to flee;
O rivers, fill up the sea;
O Death, set the dying free.
The sun nor loiters nor speeds,
The rivers run as they ran,
Thro’ clouds or thro’ windy reeds
All run as when all began.
Only Death turns at our cries:—
Lo the Hope we buried with sighs
Alive in Death’s eyes!1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poems, 137.]
iii. Love Abides
1. Love is the eternal form of the human relation to God. It, too, like the mercy which it clasps, “endureth for ever.” It is greater than its linked sisters, because, whilst faith and hope belong only to a creature, and are dependent and expectant of some good to come to themselves, and correspond to something which is in God in Christ, the love which springs from faith and hope not only corresponds to, but resembles, that from which it comes and by which it lives. The fire kindled is cognate with the fire that kindles; and the love that is in man is like the love that is in God. It is the climax of his nature; it is the fulfilling of all duty; it is the crown and jewelled clasp of all perfection. And so “abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Round among the quiet graves,
When the sun was low,
Love went grieving,—Love who saves;
Did the sleepers know?
At his touch the flowers awoke,
At his tender call
Birds into sweet singing broke,
And it did befall
From the blooming, bursting sod
All Love’s dead arose,
And went flying up to God
By a way Love knows.1 [Note: Louise Chandler Moulton.]
2. The first thing about love is that it is Godlike, the second follows from the first, and that is, it is indestructible—
They sin who tell us love can die.
With life all other passions fly,
All others are but vanity.
In Heaven ambition cannot dwell,
Nor avarice in the vaults of Hell.
Of earth, these passions of the earth,
They perish where they have their birth,
But love is indestructible:
Its holy flame for ever burneth.
From Heaven it came, to Heaven returneth,
Full oft on earth, a troubled guest,
At times deceived, at times oppressed,
In Heaven it finds its perfect rest.
It soweth here in toil and care,
But the harvest-time of love is there.
When the last day is ended,
And the nights are through
When the last sun is buried
In its grave of blue;
When the stars are snuffed like candles,
And the seas no longer fret;
When the winds unlearn their cunning,
And the storms forget;
When the last lip is palsied
And the last prayer said—
Love shall reign immortal
While the worlds lie dead!
THE GREATEST OF THESE THREE
St. Paul, when he assigns the pre-eminence to love, has no intention of depreciating the value, still less of dispensing with the necessity, of those other graces to which he prefers it. For it is remarkable that he who in this passage extols love in a strain which none of the other writers of the New Testament has ever reached is the same who has also dwelt more largely and more forcibly than all the others on the inestimable preciousness of faith and hope,—attaching, indeed, to these two principles, and more particularly to faith, a measure of importance which men have objected to as, in their judgment, altogether inordinate and unwarranted.
Yet the first thing that strikes us is, that the whole civilized world has come round—at any rate, in theory—to the teaching of St. Paul. To an educated Roman of the time of St. Paul it would have seemed the most ridiculous assertion possible that the greatest of all virtues was love. To die with a smile on his face, to wrap himself up in the toga of his reserve, to be self-contained and absolutely self-controlled, that was his ideal, and a grand one, too, up to a certain point; but the attitude of Marcus Aurelius, for instance, towards Christianity, shows us that the educated Roman of the day would have heard with something like contempt that “the greatest of these is love.” And yet to-day take up any magazine—the most anti-Church magazine that you can find—and look to see what is its teaching about social matters. What is it that the popular magazine puts before us as the greatest thing of all? Away with creeds! Away with dogmas! But what is important? The service of man; doing good to one’s fellows! The verdict of the popular magazine of to-day is, that cleverness may be a great thing, and learning a great thing, but a greater than these is love. Or pick up a philosophical treatise on ethics, and, in a more cumbrous style, you will find the same thing said. What comes out as the ultimate basis of conduct in such books? Is it not Altruism? But Altruism after all is but a cumbrous name for love, and was taught to the world by Jesus Christ; and therefore the verdict of the ethical treatise is the verdict of St. Paul, that “the greatest of these is love.” Or, again, take practical life. Who is the villain that is hissed off the stage not only of the theatre but of real life? Is it the dishonest man? Is it the drunkard? No! It is the hard-hearted man; it is the man with no sympathy; it is the man with no kindness. Let a man be kind-hearted and generous, and there is nothing that he is not forgiven to-day. You will find his victims waiting round the corner to give him another chance. He may break every statute in the Statute Book, but if he is kind and affectionate everything is forgiven him. The popular verdict of the day is that sobriety is a great thing and honesty is a great thing, but a greater than these is love.
There are people who believe they could have improved this thirteenth verse of the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. I have found one man who, if he had been acting as amanuensis, and St. Paul had said, “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, and the greatest of these is love “—he would have held up his hands and said, “No, Paul, that is a mistake; put compact organization of the visible church for the word love, and you will have it right.” There are multitudes of people in the churches who believe that the outer form of the organization of the church has more to do with religion conquering the world than love. I have known a man who, if he had been there, would have insisted that the word beauty should be substituted for the word love. There are other men who would have substituted the word music, so that it would read: “And now abideth faith, hope, music, these three; but the greatest of these is music.” There is another class of men who would have said, “Paul, you should substitute conscience for the word charity, so that it shall read: And now abideth faith, hope, conscience, these three; and the greatest of these is conscience.” I suppose there are not fewer than twenty-five people here this morning who would have seconded the suggestion. There are others who would have substituted for this word love the word zeal: “And now abideth faith, hope, zeal, these three; but the greatest of these is zeal.” There are many who, if they had been there, would have substituted for the word love the phrase sound doctrine: “Now abideth faith, hope, sound doctrine, these three; but the greatest of these is sound doctrine.”1 [Note: J. R. Thompson, Burden Bearing, 152.]
Why is Love the greatest? There are many reasons.
1. Love is likest God.—Faith and hope, from their nature, are recipients, while it is of the nature of love to be communicative, and thus to be possessed of that higher blessedness which the Lord Jesus ascribes to giving before receiving. Faith and hope, too, are necessarily expressive, in all who exercise them, of imperfection and dependence, and as such can be attributed only to subordinate creatures. We cannot ascribe to God anything that resembles them. He who knows all things, and can do all things of Himself, has no room for relying on the testimony or aid of others. And He who is infinitely blessed in the possession of a Divine fulness cannot be said to hope, or to lack anything that could be hoped for. But love, on the contrary, is the attribute of superior natures. It is held by the highest creatures in common with their Creator. It belongs to the character of Him in whom all fulness dwells. Indeed it is His pre-eminent and crowning attribute; and the more we attain of it, so much the more do we approach Him in His Divine excellence, so much the more are we fitted to share in His unutterable blessedness. “Beloved,” saith an Apostle, “let us love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God; God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
Faith and hope belong to finite beings only, while love is not thus limited. It is an attribute of the Divine: nay, it is the very name of God. “God is not faith,” says the commentator Bengel in his epigrammatic way, “and God is not hope, but God is love.”
(1) It follows that love interprets God.—The quickest, the truest, the fullest interpretation of God comes through love. How do you know a man? Do you know a man when you describe him by saying he is so many feet high, weighs so many pounds, his hair is of such a colour, his eyes are of such a hue, he is engaged in such a business, he lives in such a house? Is that a description of the man? Is that the way you interpret and analyse a man? We begin to know a man when we find out the master passion of his nature, and we never know anything about him until we understand that. You may know ever so much about a man externally, you may know ever so much about him intellectually, but until you know what quickens it all, and colours it all, and directs it all, until you have followed the subtle windings of his soul, and know in what dispositions and purposes the man has his hidden life, you will never know him.
(2) And it makes us like God.—For to all the extent we possess and cherish it, we are like God, and partakers of a Divine nature. The possessor of it is not merely a passive recipient of good, a shrivelled, sordid abject, turning all his thoughts and desires inward on his own littleness; he becomes, like his Maker, a pattern, a source of good; a centre of diffusive benevolence; a fountain whose streams irrigate the earth; a sun whose light and heat dissipate the rigours of night and winter, and dispense the blessings of day and summer.
2. Love is greatest because it is the end of redemption.—Love, we are told, is the end of the commandment. It is so, whether by “the commandment” we understand the Law or the Gospel. As for the Moral Law, what is its sum or substance but love to God and love to man? And as for the Gospel, what is its grand design but to rescue men from a state of enmity against God and against one another, to restore them, not only to the Divine favour, but to the Divine image, of which Love is certainly the characteristic and prevailing feature; and by writing upon their hearts that great law of Love, in which all the Divine statutes are summarily comprehended, to bring them into cordial submission to the will of God, and to win from them a cheerful and thorough obedience to His commandments? This is unquestionably the ultimate design of the Gospel. Finding men “without hope” and “without God in the world,” living in enmity, distraction, and alienation, it aims at raising them from their sin and selfishness to the love of God and of the brethren. As necessary means for the accomplishment of this purpose, faith and hope are of inestimable importance, bringing as they do the Gospel to bear upon us, with all its sanctifying and love-inspiring influences. But still, as being mainly means, they are subordinate to the end or final result to which they are conducive; just as the scaffolding, though necessary, is less valuable than the finished building that is erected by the use of it, or as the sowing of the seed, however indispensable, is of less consideration in itself than the reaping of the precious and abundant grain. Faith is the leaf, hope is the blossom, but love is the fruit of the tree of righteousness; and here, too, the leaf and the blossom are for the sake of the fruit. Only we must think of these, not as giving place to each other in time, but as flourishing together on the same eternal stem. Faith may rely on the mercies and promises of God, and hope may anticipate their full and final enjoyment; but love is that actual consummation of blessedness, begun on earth and to be perfected in heaven, to which these other excellent graces are subsidiary, and from their subservience to which they derive their chief importance.
True religion is a radical thing, that is, it goes to the root of matters. Paul tells us that great and needful for a complete life as faith and hope may be, it is Love—supreme, absolute Love, which is the one essential. Love is the only religion; there is no true religion which is loveless. You may have everything else—orthodoxy, intelligence, faith, whatever you like, but if you have not got love you are as a lantern without light, and as a man without a soul.1 [Note: Quintin Hogg, 302.]
(1) It is therefore most beautiful.—God has revealed His benevolence in the beautiful, and the beautiful is the image of His benevolence. Real affection always tries to express itself similarly. In Divine Worship we bring the tribute of our music, or our flowers,—even one poor flower may mean much—and seek to make everything attractive in the sanctuary. So in our human relations, love tries to make everything beautiful. It adorns the home, adds a touch of colour here and there, the presence of some garden trophies. When a wife professes it for a husband, or a mother for her child, and is willing to leave everything untidy, gloomy, neglected, or when a father is harsh and glum and never thinks of helping, something is radically wrong. In impoverished homes we see the difference—in one the pathetic endeavour to make all charming, in the other, the disposition to leave everything unclean and hideous.
I once read of a school where there was a very plain girl. Somewhat cruelly her companions would remind her of her lack of attractions. The school-teacher saw the depressing effect on her of this treatment. One day she handed her a coarse lump covered with black earth, and said: “This is like yourself; only plant it.” The schoolgirl took it home and obeyed, not understanding. Out of it grew a Japanese lily. Then she perceived. And in the progress of time love in her soul imparted a heavenly charm to her character and to her face as well.1 [Note: G. C. Lorimer, The Modern Crisis in Religion, 249.]
“As to other points,” said John Milton, “what God may have determined for me I know not, but this I know—that if He ever instilled an intense love of moral beauty into the breast of any man, He has instilled it into mine. Ceres, in the fable, pursued not her daughter with a greater keenness of inquiry than I, day and night, the idea of perfection.2 [Note: N. D. Hillis, The Investment of Influence, 261.]
(2) It is most peaceful.—There is a majesty of Divine serenity in love. We always associate a holy calm with God. When it is said that a thousand years with Him are as one day, we immediately think of Him as moving reposefully. Our Saviour in all the strain of His tempted and tempestuous life invited the world to come to Him for rest. Wherever there is hate there must be agitation, uncertainty, and possible anarchy. Peace comes when we are at peace with the God of peace, and with our fellow-beings.
Columba renounced the warlike frenzy of his youth and became a leader in the creative arts of peace and the preacher of supernatural hopes. He made Iona a centre of light and loveliness. And when he came to die his end was full of holy quietness. He sent this message to his spiritual children: “Let peace and charity, a charity mutual and sincere, reign always among you.” St. Cuthbert also was gentle and composed. During his wanderings when his followers were sad, he would say: “Never did man hunger who served God faithfully;” and beholding the eagle above, he would add: “by it even food can come.” When a snow-storm in Fife hedged him in, one said to him: “The snow closes the road along the shore to us;” another added: “The storm bars our way over the sea.” St. Cuthbert answered: “There is still the way of heaven that lies open.”1 [Note: G. C. Lorimer.]
3. Love is greatest in influence.—Love is described in the context as “seeking not her own.” Equally boundless with the others in its views, it looks constantly abroad, without any regard to self, opens the heart and hand to all whom it can benefit, and makes it its sole aim and never-ceasing vocation to promote the glory of God and the welfare of all mankind. Unlike the two kindred graces here compared with it, it leads the Christian to regard himself not as an isolated being, whose chief concern is to secure his own spiritual interests, but as a member of that great family of which God is the Father and all men are brethren, and in which the members ought ever to be linked together by the sacred bonds of amity and peace.
Love is more than pity. Pity stands in the porch, its eyes watching the poor wayfarer who comes wearied and footsore, ragged and perishing. And pity bids the servant search if there is any scrap of meat and any cast-off clothing that can be spared. But look again, pity stands and watches more intently; the face is changed; the tears gather; the man is stirred; he runs. In spite of rags and wretchedness, he falls upon the wanderer’s neck. He kisses him and presses him to his heart. The wondering servant comes forth with a crust or two of bread, and an old coat. No indeed, that might do for pity, but this is love. “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” That is love. Pity saw the wants, and would give what it could spare; but love saw the son, and could not give enough.
Love found upon the battle’s edge
A coward fleeing from the strife;
And sent him forth his heart in pledge,
Valiant thro’ life.
Love touched dumb lips that could not pray,
And lo, they uttered prayer and song;
Love hath so subtle sweet a way,
Love is so strong.
It is because love is the first fact of all facts in the Gospel of Christ that the Gospel is fitted to be a universal Gospel. All men have hearts, and love is the same thing to every heart. An idea is not the same thing to every mind, but love is the same thing to every heart. A loving smile on the face of a Christian woman in China does not require to be translated into Chinese in order to be understood by a Chinaman. A child can perfectly interpret the sweetness in its mother’s face long before it can translate into thoughts of its own the words she utters. If thought is the soul’s prose, love is its music, and we know that music will steal easily into many a spot to which words stiffly articulated would be coldly refused admittance.
(1) It secures obedience.—“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” In this exhortation, love to Christ is the mighty energy that produces holy obedience. The loving eye is quick to discern the will, the wish of the beloved. The heart which truly loves cannot break one of the least of these commandments. Even if the commandment seem arbitrary, it is enough that He who is supremely loved has said, “This do in remembrance of me.” That is enough. Such motive is sufficient. It is simple, clear, and explicit. The obedience which is the witness, the pledge, the consequence of love, and is neither formal nor perfunctory, but the outcome of a self-sacrificing affection, is alone well-pleasing.
(2) It is the source of knowledge.—“He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” This is true of other objects of both love and knowledge, as certainly as it is true of the love and knowledge of the Lord God. We do not know any thing, any person, any science, until we love it. The “dry light” needed for scientific pursuit is the eye unbleared by prejudice, unfilled with tears of foolish and inappropriate emotion, not an eye which does not flash with love. It is sometimes said that “love is blind.” Cupid has been imaged with shaded eyes. No greater mistake can be made. Love has microscopic eyes to see both the faults and excellences of the beloved objects. What a world this would be if mothers could see in all children the Divine attractions and worth which they do see in their first-born; and if lovers could see in all persons the wonderful lovableness they easily discern in one another! It is only the lover of truths, of persons, of countries, of great causes and principles, who really and veritably knows them.
“Love seeks not to limit its devotion but to find opportunities of expressing it. Would you know God? I say to you, discover what true love means. Get your heart so full of it that it will send you forth in God’s Spirit seeking to save the lost, yearning to redeem the erring and sinful, binding up the broken-hearted, drying streaming eyes, and comforting them that mourn; get such a love as that into your soul, and you need look no further for an image of God. Moreover, not only is it true that every one that loveth knoweth God, but it is equally true that you will know God just to the extent that you really love and no more.”1 [Note: Quintin Hogg, 304.]
4. Love is the greatest because it embraces and harmonizes the rest.—It is love that gives faith and hope their very life. How can we truly trust where we love not? In that case faith is but a selfish grasping after one’s own good. But, inspired by love, it is the grateful acceptance of the love of God, as in itself the best gift, and the pledge of all good gifts besides. Hope likewise, without love, is but the selfish anticipation of one’s own joy. But, as inspired by love, it is the glad expectancy that God will work all things according to His good pleasure.
But Love an everlasting crown receiveth;
For She is Hope, and Fortitude, and Faith,
Who all things hopeth, beareth, and believeth.2 [Note: Ruskin.]
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