Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 13:1
St. Paul has been treating of spiritual gifts as they then existed in the Church—of tongues, of prophecy, and the like. They were things to be courted and attained if it might be so. Still, there was one thing better; one way of living and proceeding, which was far in excess of all these; a way of living and preaching which could do without gifts, but they could not do without it. And by enlarging on the latter negative fact he opens his description. He will show them this more excellent way, by asserting first how worthless every gift, every attainment, is without it, and in its absence.
I. 1 Corinthians 13:1 supposes the existence of the very highest supernatural gifts without largeness of love in the spirit and character. I take this verse to represent for us the endowment, as we understand it, with pre-eminent external gifts—gifts of accomplishment and acquirement to be shown and exercised before men. For of that kind was the gift of tongues. Let me not be understood as for a moment casting a slur on any of the elements of a liberal education, or as recognising the false and narrow view, which would measure that which is really useful to a man by so much only as is worn and torn in the great outward struggle of life. But if it be true that all these without Christian love are nothing, and that Christian love does not come by nature, but must be sought by culture, and by seeking God's blessing on diligent practice of it; then we have a right to expect that accomplishments and acquirements shall not be accounted the first thing, nor hold the first rank, but shall all be subordinated to the formation of this Christian character.
II. Is there not something very wrong in our land and our Church in this matter? We are not seeking after, we are not valuing, we are not encouraging, we are not even tolerating, the practice of large-hearted, universal, all-enduring Christian love. Hard thoughts are our common thoughts; bitter words our current words. Let us dare, knowing what we do, in a bitter and gainsaying generation, to maintain that love is first and midst and last in the Christian's practice.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vii., p. 104.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:1.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 191; J. Thain Davidson, Talks with Young Men, p. 61; E. H. Bradby, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 134. 1 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Corinthians 13:2.—W. T. Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 406; T. Kelly, Pulpit Trees, p. 267. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.—W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 20; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 58. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8.—J. Halsey, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxv., p. 168. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 235. 1 Corinthians 13:2.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 433; T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 296; J. G. Rogers, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 376.
1 Corinthians 13:3The statement of the text appears at first sight even to surpass in paradox those which precede it. For to one superficially considering the matter it seems almost impossible that a Christian man should bestow all his goods to feed the poor, and even give his body to be burned in self-sacrifice for country or friends, or the cause of Christ, and be destitute of the Christian grace of love. Yet, notwithstanding this paradoxical appearance, our text will clear up as we advance.
I. "If I bestow all my goods to feed the poor." The Apostle gives us this extreme example to cover by it all others, and to show that much less will they profit under the same defect. Let us take a few of them and trace the character described. Outward liberality may arise from various reasons. (1) A man may be liberal from the mere bent of his natural disposition. He may give to satisfy his wish and ease his desire of giving; true Christian charity gives in self-denial, often withholding where nature prompts to give, often giving where nature would fain withhold. (2) It is obvious that a man may bestow all his goods to feed the poor out of motives of mere display. (3) There may be a conscientious, a God-fearing bestowal, yet exercised in a hard rigid spirit of duty and legal obligation, without kindliness of heart or manner; just as we may deposit the seed, and the plant may appear, but may after all be nipped by unkindly skies and winds.
II. "If I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." The idea evidently is, of great sacrifices made, hardships undergone, privations and sufferings submitted to. It varies from the former one in this: that there the goods were sacrificed, here the person. All toil, all self-denial, all sacrifice, without love, profiteth nothing. Well, indeed, might it be written, that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," when it is so difficult for a man to deny himself without at the same time indulging himself, when that Divine grace which should be at the root of all self-sacrifice can be personated by its very opposite, and the counterfeit pass current with a man's self and with the Church of God!
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vii., p. 133.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:3.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 89. 1 Corinthians 13:4.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 111.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5I. "Love envieth not." Envy is the shadow of jealousy, apes its form and mimics its movements, but is constructed out of more airy material and clothed in darker garb. The jealous man grudges another advantages which he claims for his own; the envious man, advantages which he never dreams of as his own. Jealousy would do harm for self's sake; envy, for mere harm's sake. So the jealousy is the more selfish and human; envy, the more abandoned and diabolical. Christian love envieth not.
II. "Love vaunteth not itself." This quality is expressed in the original by a rare and remarkable word, the exact meaning of which it is somewhat difficult to assign. "Displayeth not itself" would be nearer the point. He who would love must be self-renouncing. All true love is a self-sacrifice where love is general; self-seeking cannot be general also. But with those who love display, self-seeking is general and unfailing. Self is ever before them as an object to be served, and to be surrounded by a halo of the good opinions of others. Love neither claims honour to self where others interfere, nor is solicitous for that honour in general.
III. Love is not puffed up, not only does not exhibit self, but has not any high thoughts of self at all. If we would possess this first Christian grace, we must study and strive and pray that the all-powerful force of God's spirit may dwell and rule in our hearts, and obliterate that vanity and self-regard from which we are never safe under the influence of merely this world's benevolence.
IV. "Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own." Christian love is on all occasions mindful of apparently slight proprieties of tone and manner and behaviour. There is no self-display, there is no self-merit, there is no unseemly behaviour, just because there is no self-seeking in the character.
H. Alford, Sermons, vol. vii., p. 130.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.—S. Pearson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 1; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 318.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7"Love Suffereth Long, and is Kind.".
I. We have here brought before us the two sides, the passive and the active sides, of a loving disposition. "Love suffereth long." It is perhaps remarkable that this feature should be presented to us first of all, as if suffering, enduring some trial, were a matter of course. It reads us a lesson as to the kind of world in which we Christians have to live. The true Christian knows, and will know, no limit to his endurance. It is not his good fortune that he can put up with this or that much of provocation, but it is his principle to do it. He practises and prays over it, and he goes and does it. Some of the noblest victories which the Church has seen of habitual forbearance and unfailing longsuffering have been hard victories, gained over a rebellious and unkindly disposition; battles for right, and won by men, with whom they were indeed battles, with whom, not only their own propensities, but friends around them, and the world in which they were dwelling, placed barriers almost insuperable against their exercise of this first of Christian graces. One Christian who thus reflects his Master's image calm and unbroken will win more souls to Christ than ten of those who hate the sinner by discountenancing the sin.
II. "Love is kind." The word by which this is expressed is a somewhat remarkable one. It signifies, in its simple and first meaning, "practises rendering of service," "practises kindness," and that sort of kindness which is good and profitable and cheering and consoling. So that this kindness of which it is said, "Love suffereth long, and is kind," is no mere blandness of manner, nor soothing tone of voice, though these naturally enter in as part of such kindness; but it is a willingness to be serviceable and to help others, an easiness of access, an easiness of being entreated, and genial, open, sunny presence, not repelling, not precluding application for help. All have it in their power to suffer long and to show substantial kindness.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vii., p. 150.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.—J. H. Thom, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 2nd series, p. 121; E. Gifford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 113; E. J. Hardy, Ibid., vol. xxxiii., p. 153; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 93. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.—B. Jowitt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 392.
1 Corinthians 13:5Individual Faithfulness.
I. No sincere worker for God is long left with nothing to do; for God's ways and works are very manifold. Martha is working one way while she is providing for her Lord, Mary at another while she listens humbly at His feet. Savonarola serves his Lord in one way with his mighty thunderings; Fra Angelico in another with his soft pictures. The man with one talent may more laudably and more faithfully serve God than he with five.
II. This faithfulness is incumbent on every one of us. Think not that to do our duty in life, to give back to God something better than the crumbling dust of corrupting bodies and the leprosy of dwarfed and dwindling souls, needs, on our part, any magnificent theatre, any superhuman endeavour, any unobtainable eminences. That is not it: it needs only to travel round the quiet walk with God, to which every one of us is pledged by baptism. Externals will not save us; neither fast nor feast, nor service, nor general respectability, nor religious scrupulosity, nor to bow the head like a bulrush, nor to say "Lord, Lord"; nor will anything avail us but that life of obedience which is the true test of the forgiven penitent.
III. Beyond all doubt it is carelessness as to individual duties which makes the world what it is. It is the neglect which comes of the personal sinfulness and the personal insincerity of millions. To hearts once purified from self and touched by the grace of God nothing is dearer than to help earth's immense and trampled multitudes by saving souls for whom Christ died. We have but one life given us, but one second, that is, in God's eternity, but it becomes majestic as part of one great living whole, and every true life is only a true life at all in as far as it is the continuation of the one great life of love, of which the one object was to seek and to save the lost.
F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 113.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:5.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 250. 1 Corinthians 13:5, 1 Corinthians 13:6.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 11; Ibid., vol. xxiii., p. 394.
1 Corinthians 13:5-7I. Love is not easily provoked. This characteristic follows upon "seeketh not her own," and very naturally self-regard is the great secret of easy provocation. It may be hidden self-regard, lurking in the by-ways of the character; the generous and self-denying man is often easily provoked, but it is just because self-love has been driven, it may be, from the citadel, yet is still in possession of the outworks. We are, in this wreck of our nature, such strange inconsistent compounds, that self may be subdued in one province of our being, while it is reigning with full sway in another—nay, may seem to be deposed and bound, while at the same time and place it is dictating its laws and all but supreme. The very nature of the case compels us to say that wherever there is the habit of sudden provocation there self is as yet unsubdued, and the love which was Christ's is not yet completely established in the character.
II. Love thinketh no evil, or better, imputeth not the evil—viz., the evil intended in the slight or insult at which it refuses to be provoked. This slowness to provocation, like the other qualities of which we have treated, is no mere accident of disposition, no mere insulated excellence; it arises from, and is the natural sequence on, a whole chain of causes, all sprung from the highest fact, the existence and ruling in the heart of that pure self-renouncing love, of which it is one of the signs.
III. Love rejoiceth not over iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth. Her sympathies are with the truth, and by the truth is meant that whole class of words and deeds which is opposed to the former thing in which she rejoiceth not—viz., iniquity: in other words, all those things elsewhere mentioned by the Apostle, as being true, honest, and lovely, and of good report.
IV. The concluding clauses of this description of the attributes of Christian love surpass, by generalising, the rest. "Love endureth all things." This surpasses all the rest, and worthily concludes the goodly catalogue of Love's excellences.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vii., p. 179.
1 Corinthians 13:6The Rejoicing of Charity.
As St. Paul depicts the features and behaviour of his Divine charity, are there not many whose feeling would be, that while beautiful and sublime enough, it could hardly have much to do with joy? She suffereth long, is slow to assert herself, or insist upon her rights, seeketh not her own, refuseth under grievance to be easily provoked, beareth all things, endureth all things. And then in the midst of the Apostle's description of what love does, and how she comports herself, comes the word "rejoiceth." Yes, unloving men may not understand it, unloving men may not credit it, but love is far from being a joyless thing. Great joy-waves visit and sweep it, great joy-swellings rise within it, that are all its own, and which no man knoweth save he in whose breast it rules; while in the very heart of its painfullest yearnings and solicitudes, and its hardest sacrifices, a secret bliss lies smiling, like green verdure beneath the snow.
I. It is the distinction of St. Paul's charity that its moral sensibilities are too delicate and acute to admit of its rejoicing in aught that covers any iniquity or bears any taint of it, that where others can be satisfied and happy because the injustice of the thing is not apparent to them, does not strike them, discerning it at once, and deeply feeling the injustice, cannot be content or pleased. The secret of the difference lies in its superior fineness and purity of nature.
II. But see now, when the Apostle proceeds to exhibit the joy of that love whose withholding from joy has been noted, what do we find him placing over against iniquity as its opposite? We might have expected that it would be rectitude or integrity, instead of which he writes "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." The reference is, of course, to the truth of Christ. That was the truth which absorbed him, the truth that fell from the lips and breathed in the life of Christ; and in it he saw the inspiration and the strength of all goodness, a Divine power for the purification of man and society, the grand instrument of moral quickening and nutrition; he opposed it, in writing, to iniquity, out of the fulness of his persuasion that it was pre-eminently a righteous-making force, mighty above all else to cleanse and rectify. Theology was to Paul the most practical and sweetly useful of sciences—even the science of raising men to truer, purer life, through the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus the Lord. Hence the joy of the love that could not abide iniquity, and mourned over it, must needs be found, his heart told him, in the diffusion of truth.
S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Norwood, p. 126.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:7.—G. Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism, p. 213; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1617; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 513. 1 Corinthians 13:8.—H. J. Wilmot Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. i., p. 123; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 164; G. Dawson, Sermons on Disputed Points, p. 152; A. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 452; 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.—Roberts, Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 332. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 401.
1 Corinthians 13:9I. "We know in part." This limitation is imposed upon us briefly. Of all that is, of all that ever we, with our present faculties, feel must be, we can know but a small fraction. Our knowledge is limited in range. And again, our knowledge of that small fraction of being, which is in any way accessible to us, is bounded and conditioned by our human powers. The universe with which we deal is not only a fragment of the whole, but it is a fragment shaped by the laws of our organisation. Our knowledge is limited in form. And yet once more, of that which man could know, being what he is, if the personal powers of the personal experiences of the race were concentrated in a single representation, what an infinitely small portion is embraced by a single mind! The angel who was seen in Augustine's vision emptying the ocean with a shell, gives no untrue image of the disproportion between the possibilities of humanity and the attainments of individual labour. Our knowledge is limited by the circumstances of life. Although we admit that our knowledge is thus limited, we do not commonly take account of the momentous significance of the fact. Many of us who are ceaselessly busy with our daily occupations do not feel it. Many who have distinctly realised it deliberately put it out of sight. That which we cannot know in the way of earthly knowledge is for us, they say, as if it were not. St. Paul follows a better way. He teaches us to see that these mysteries, and the full sense of limitation which they bring with them, are an important factor in our lives. He rounds off life on this side and on that, not with a sleep, but with the glory of the invisible. And is it not true that we are made stronger as well as humbler by lifting up our eyes to the sky, which opens with immeasurable depths above the earth on which we are set to work?
II. "We know in part." The fullest recognition of this fact is not only helpful but essential for the fulfilment of our several tasks. It needs but little observation to notice how swiftly an exclusive fashion of opinion passes away; how a partial philosophy reigns for a spell as universal, and then is neglected, and then is despised. But the Christian faith is the heir of all. It can welcome a new lesson, and it can shelter one which has grown unpopular. It is hospitable to forces whose claims to supremacy it combats. It draws strength from truths with which its enemies have assailed it. Even when it is impressed most deeply by the spirit of the age, it never lays aside its catholicity.
III. "We know in part." But we advance towards the limits of our attainable knowledge by the help of every fragmentary movement. We look upon the fullest vision of the truth in the combination of parts held separately. "We know in part," but the practical knowledge is, in its measure, the progressive symbol of the absolute. The Lord's words are in continuous fulfilment, "I have told you all things"; and yet He adds—ought I not to say, and therefore He adds?—"I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now."
Bishop Westcott, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, May 12th, 1881.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:9.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 136; W. Baxendale, Ibid., vol. xxxii., p. 134. 1 Corinthians 13:9-11.—G. Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism, p. 1.
1 Corinthians 13:11Christian Manhood.
I. Consider our love of the pleasures of life. I am willing to allow that there is an innocent love of the world, innocent in itself. God made the world, and has sanctioned the general form of human society, and has given us abundant pleasures in it. I do not say lasting pleasures, but still, while they are present, really pleasures. It is natural that the young should look with hope to the prospect before them. They fancy themselves rising in the world, distinguished, courted, admired, securing influence over others, and rewarded with high station. James and John had such a dream when they besought Christ that they might sit at His side in the most honourable places in His kingdom. Now, such dreams can hardly be called sinful in themselves and without reference to the particular case; for the gifts of wealth, power, and influence, and much more of domestic comfort come from God, and may be religiously improved. But, though not directly censurable, they are childish—childish in a Christian who has infinitely higher views to engross his mind, and as being childish excusable only in the young.
II. But there are other childish views and habits besides which must be put off while we take on ourselves the full profession of a Christian, and these, not so free from guilt as those which have been already noticed; such as the love of display, greediness of the world's praise, and the love of the comforts and luxuries of life. Let us take it for granted, as a truth which cannot be gainsaid, that to break with the world and make religion our first concern, is only to cease to be children; and again, that, in consequence, those Christians who have come to mature years, and yet do not even so much as this, are in the presence of the angels of God an odious and unnatural spectacle and mockery of Christianity. God knows no variableness, neither shadow of turning; and when we outgrow our childhood, we but approach, however feebly, to His likeness, who has no youth nor age, who has no passions, no hopes, nor fears, but who loves truth, purity, and mercy, and who is supremely blessed, because He is supremely holy.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 336.
Present and Future Knowledge.
I. Our present love is exactly the same with our future love; it differs only in degree. But our knowledge here is altogether of a different nature to that which we are to have by-and-by. For now we know nothing. We know things only by their reflection; there is no direct acquaintance with anything; we are not capable of it yet. It is like seeing the object in a mirror. And remember the ancients, having no glass, had only metal, and therefore indistinct mirrors. We see reflections, not realities, and those reflections through the medium in which we look at them, confused, or, as it is in the original, riddled.
II. What are the practical duties which are to grow out of the fact of the decided insufficiency of human knowledge? (1) First let us learn that our province is more with love than with knowledge. Our knowledge is essentially and intentionally limited. It is given to us under a prescribed restriction. But love has no limitation. (2) Seeing that our knowledge is intended to be very small, let us take care that we hold it modestly. For it is not the oneness of knowledge, but the integrity of charity, which is to hold together the Church. Shall we fight over the mirror, when we ought each to be helping the other to be looking into it more closely, and trace the fine lines of truth which God exhibits to eyes that watch? (3) And never let us forget that this imperfection which abases all science, both human and Divine, is part of God's great plan in reference to another world. There every man will know, what the Christian has begun to see a little already, that this world is all a shadow, that what we do not see is the substance, and that all we look upon is a mere shadow of the invisible substances. Begin, as soon as you can, to deal with that world as the substance and with this world as the shadow.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 5th series, p. 168.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:11.—J. Burton, Christian Life and Truth, p. 94; Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 158; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 250; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 31; Ibid., vol. iv., pp. 8, 16.
1 Corinthians 13:12The First Five Minutes after Death.
I. At our entrance on another state of existence we shall know what it is to exist under entirely new conditions. What will it be to find ourselves with the old self—divested of that body which has clothed it since its first moment of existence—able to achieve, it may be, so much,—it may be, so little; living on, but under conditions which are so entirely new. This experience alone will add no little to our existing knowledge, and the addition will have been made during the first five minutes after death.
II. And the entrance on the next world must bring with it a knowledge of God such as is quite impossible in this life. His vast, His illimitable life, will present itself to the apprehension of our spirits as a clearly consistent whole—not as a complex problem to be painfully mastered by the efforts of our understandings, but as a present, living, encompassing Being who is inflecting Himself upon the very sight, whether they will it or not, of His adoring creatures. "Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty"—they were words of warning as well as words of promise.
III. At our entrance on another world we shall know ourselves as never before. The past will be spread out before it, and we shall take a comprehensive survey of it. One Being there is who knows us now, who knows each of us perfectly, who has always known us. Then, for the first time, we shall know ourselves even as also we are known. We shall not have to await the Judge's sentence; we shall read it at a glance, whatever it be, in this new apprehension of what we are.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1098.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 1002; G. Huntington, Sermons for Holy Seasons, p. 157; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 98; M. Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 233; Talmage, Old Wells dug Out, p. 286; A. Craig, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 221; H. Wonnacott, Ibid., vol. xvii., p. 238; Tinling, Ibid., vol. xx., p. 392; E. Johnson, Ibid., vol. xxii., p. 184; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., pp. 95, 137; vol. viii., p. 82; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 124.
1 Corinthians 13:13I. There are three Christian graces as distinguished from all imperfect and transitory gifts—which shall never pass away, but abide for ever—which, in the perfect state, shall constitute between them the character of the glorified children of God. These three are faith, hope, and love. But of these three greatest, which no perfection of eternity shall ever supersede or absorb, the greatest is love—not the only enduring one when the others have passed away; that, though high praise, would not be so high as is here intended—but, of the three enduring ones, the greatest, first in comparison, not only with the passing gifts of time, but with the enduring graces of eternity; not only a never-fading flower, as contrasted with all ours which fade, but of the immortal blooms which "flower aloft, shading the fount of life," itself the brightest and the fairest.
II. (1) Faith abides for ever. But how can faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, remain in the very presence of the realities themselves? It is clear that faith cannot be altogether the same as here. But will not entire and unwavering trust in God form a component of the character of the saints in glory? And faith will not be lost in certainty, simply because the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him are not bare facts, but living and unfathomable truths, to exercise all man's renewed powers to all eternity. (2) And, if faith abides, hope abides also. It shall not be lost in joy, just because joy will not be one great pleasure once imparted, but springs ever welling up afresh, pleasures at His right hand for evermore. (3) Love is the greatest by comparison with the others, (a) because their chief work was accomplished when the higher state was entered, in which its chief work lies; (b) because faith and hope are but the conditions of the employment of the glorified, whereas love is the employment itself.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i., p. 119.
I. Faith must abide with us always if we are to be blessed creatures. No distinction which belongs to God's Divine order can be abolished. Faith and sight may both be perfected; the invisible things may become more real and certain to us than the things of sense. We may be sure that they are the substances apart from which the others would be mere shadows. Hereafter this world, which has been so full of unfathomed secrets, may disclose them and their deepest signification to the purified searcher. Every sense may put forth its fullest energy. The glorified body may be fit to understand the glorified earth. Faith and sight may be the divinest allies, instead of being, as they so often are with us, murderous antagonists. But neither will usurp the other's place. There will be no confusion in their functions. Such confusions are the effect of our twilight; they will be scattered in God's perfect day.
II. It is impossible to speak of faith without alluding to hope, seeing that faith is said to be "the substance of things hoped for." What can be the things hoped for of which the Apostle tells us? Are they the same with the glory of which the Prophet Isaiah discourses? If so, consider how far the fruition of such a hope can be said to extinguish it. Is not the hope of the glory of God the hope of that which is infinite, which must be always unfolding itself more to him who is in communion with it, which must therefore be always kindling fresh hope? Hope has faith for its substance, because it has God for its substance, God for its end. That comes from Him, and can only be satisfied in Him. Not, indeed, that because He is the ground and ultimate satisfaction of hope it disdains any inferior objects. All things shine in His light; all things glow with His life. But, for that very reason, the pettiest man, the pettiest insect and reptile, must be beyond the comprehension, not of us, but of saints and angels; they must be ever filled with the hope of apprehending a little more of that Divine secret which God sets before them for their endless inquiry and admiration. Surely it is in this babyhood of an existence that we dream of grasping the waters in the hollow of our hand or of finding the end of the rainbow! When we come to our manhood, and begin to see things as they are, we shall cry out, not with terror or shame or discouragement, but with awe, thanksgiving, hope, "How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!"
III. And thus, I conceive, we arrive naturally and in order at the Apostle's conclusion, "The greatest of these is charity." That must be greatest without which the other two could not be. That must be greatest without which they could have no object. A being who is not perfect charity is no object on which faith can rest. It must always be seeking some other, it must always be flickering and uncertain while it is directed towards him. A being who is not perfect charity is no object for hope. As long as it lasts, it must look some day or another to escape from the atmosphere which surrounds him, into some clearer, warmer region. Therefore, if faith abides, if hope abides, charity must abide. Because that is the fixed eternal substance, they have substance. Because that cannot fail, they are not to fail.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i., p. 219.
1 Corinthians 13:13I. Love is of God's nature—faith and hope are only of God's creation and appointment. God loves, but God neither believes nor hopes.
II. Love being of God's nature, and faith and hope being of God's creation and endowment merely, it follows that charity is the senior of faith and hope.
III. Believing and hoping give no direct affinity to the Divine nature, but love secures real oneness with God.
IV. Love fills a nobler sphere than either faith or hope. Faith embraces testimony only, but love embraces the testifier. Hope has regard to the future only, but love has regard to all duration.
V. Love is enforced by the highest examples.
VI. The very spirit of the Christian dispensation is the spirit of love.
VII. The work assigned to Christian charity on earth is the mightiest work. Within the individual it is one important evidence of his salvation.
S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 2nd series, p. 137.
I. Whence hath love its birth? In the infinite love of God, in the essence of God. Faith and hope are towards God. They are graces put into the soul by God, whereby the soul should cling to Him, hold fast by Him, long for Him. But faith and hope can have no likeness in God. They are the virtues of the creature when absent from its Creator, companions of its pilgrim state. In heaven neither angels nor saints hope or believe, but see and know and feel and love. On this ground, then, is charity greater than faith and hope, and any other grace, because it has its source in that which God is. Love contains all virtues; it animates all; but itself is beyond all. For they are concerned with human things and human duties, with the soul itself, or its fellow-men, with deeds which shall cease when our earthly needs and trials and infirmities cease; love bears them up to God, looks out of all to Him, does all to Him, and in all sees Him, soars above all and rests not until she finds her rest in the all-loving bosom of God.
II. Holy men have distinguished four stages of love. (1) The first state of fallen man is to love himself for himself. (2) The second is to love God for the man's own sake. Such is the love of most who love God at all. (3) The third should love God for His own sake. (4) The last stage is that man should love himself only for the sake of God. In this, as holy men have spoken, the soul, borne out of itself with Divine love, forgetting itself, losing itself in a manner as though it were not, not feeling itself and emptied of itself, "goeth forth wholly unto God and cleaving to God, becometh one spirit with Him." This is life eternal, that" God should be all in all, that the creature should be nothing of itself, except the vessel of the life and love of God.
E. B. Pusey, Sermons from Advent to Whitsuntide, vol. ii., p. 41.
I. The specific nature of each of these graces. (1) Faith. (a) As to its origin, it is the gift of God; as to its operation, it is the work of the Spirit; as to its object, it fastens upon Christ; as to its exercise, it is the disciple's own act. (b) Faith designates the act of a sinful man when he accepts Christ from God on God's own terms. It is the first stone of the building, but it is not the foundation. (2) Hope. It is a light shed down from heaven to cheer a dark and troubled scene. It is like moonlight borrowed from the sun to mitigate the darkness, which it cannot dispel. Hope is the tenant, not of a heart that was never broken, but of a heart that has been broken and healed again. (3) Love. Some fragments of this heavenly thing survive the fall and flourish in our nature. It is beautiful even in ruins. But feeble, changeable, and impure is all the love that is born in us. At the best it expatiates on a low level, and expatiates irregularly, intermittently, even there. The love which is strung in with kindred graces in our text is the work of the Spirit in renewed man.
II. The mutual relations of all. Faith leans on Christ, and hope hangs by faith, and love leans on hope. Love, the beauteous top stone on the house of God, could not maintain its place aloft, unless faith resting directly on the rock were surely laid beneath; but it is not the less true, that both its elevation and its beauty are due to the graces of the Spirit, which are piled, course over course, upon faith.
III. The superior magnitude of love. In two distinct aspects love is the greatest of all the graces: (1) in its work on earth, and (2) in its permanence in heaven.
W. Arnot, Roots and Fruits, p. 1.
References: 1 Corinthians 13:13.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. i., p. 106; R. W. Church, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 37; E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 42; G. Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism, p. 205.—E. B. Pusey, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 41; R. W. Church, Advent Sermons, p. 88; E. A. Abbott, Oxford Sermons, p. 86; C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons Chiefly Practical, p. 39; Church of England Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 85; L. Campbell, Some Aspects of the Christian Ideal, p. 175; T. J. Crawford, The Preaching of the Cross, p. 342; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 74; R. Tuck, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 346; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 89; vol. viii., pp. 98, 99, 224; W. Dorling, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 61; R. W. Church, Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 417. 1Cor 13—H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 148; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 425. 1 Corinthians 14:1.—W. Webb Peploe, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 161; R. Tuck, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 248. 1 Corinthians 14:1-4.—F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 186. 1 Corinthians 14:2-9.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 355. 1 Corinthians 14:10.—J. Stannard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 91; Morlais Jones, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 172. 1 Corinthians 14:12.—G. W. McCree, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 231.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.