Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be restrained; where there is knowledge, it will be dismissed.
"Not for this
Charity never faileth;... prophecies shall fail;... tongues shall cease;... knowledge shall vanish away.I. AS THE LIVING PRINCIPLE IN THE HEART OF BELIEVERS. In its essence it is the love of God within a man. It may vary indeed in its apparent intensity. It may seem almost extinguished; but, like the fire on the altar of sacrifice, it still exists, and is soon fanned up again into a flame when Jesus smiles. "Of itself," says Poole, "it will never desert a man in this life, unless it be first deserted by him through deadly sin."
II. AS AN ACTIVE GRACE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE ON EARTH.
1. View it in any of its manifestations.(1) Beneficence and self-denying liberality — "the poor ye have always with you"; and a claim ever arises from these.(2) Forgiveness of injuries, while these abound — and so long as human nature is what it is they will abound — every day affords occasions in which it is called for.(3) Kindness and forbearance to the faults and failings of others: in the present imperfect state such must ever be expected.
2. Nor less than this is it adapted to all circumstances and situations of life: to the poor and the rich, etc. There is no position in which the believer can possibly be found in which charity will not be an ornament and a delight. It will add glory to, and preserve the soul from, the dangers of the day of prosperity; and it will equally cheer it in the day of adversity.
3. It is adapted to every period of time, to the hour of death, to the day of judgment, yea, to heaven itself.
4. And so, in a more extended sense, and as regards the condition of the Church, no less than in individual cases. It is adapted to times of persecution and to times of peace; when the world frowns or when the world smiles. Charity is the best preservative against, as it is the only cure for, those petty jealousies which equally disgrace the Church and dishonour God.
III. IN SUPPLYING MOTIVES TO EXERTION IN THE REDEEMER'S CAUSE. In its comprehensiveness, it takes in the entire race, and aims at no lower object than to "make known His ways upon earth; His saving health among all nations."
IV. AS TO THE DURABILITY OF ITS EXISTENCE. It will last for ever, and live in heaven, as the life of glory there. Death cannot annihilate it. "Love is heaven, and heaven is love." To have it, therefore, now is to possess the foretaste of eternal joys.
(J. T. Smith, M.A.)
I. HOW GIFTS FAIL.
1. Prophecy must be accomplished.
2. Tongues superseded.
3. Knowledge vanish before a brighter manifestation.
II. HOW LOVE NEVER FAILS.
1. Its work is never done.
2. Its necessity can never be superseded.
3. Its expression may be perfected, but in heaven as on earth its nature is the same.
III. THE INFERENCE.
1. Love is better than gifts.
2. Should be more earnestly desired.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. AS A GIFT.
1. The apostle had been speaking of temporary gifts. Supernatural endowments were granted to the Church for a season only. The apostle intimates that there is a gift of richer value, and that the time would come when these would be bestowed no longer, and when that only would remain.
2. What a catastrophe would it be were it to become extinct! But it cannot fail. So wide a channel was made for it by the mission of the Son of God, that to stop its onward flow were as impossible as to prevent the rolling of the ocean's waves. Love as it dwells in the believer's breast is only a reflection of the love of the Creator. Hence it is a gift which never fails.
3. The gift of charity will never fail on earth, how then is it possible that it should fail in heaven? The period will arrive when not only miracles will cease, but even the ordinary means for the edification of the Church. But love will even then abide. Upon the blessed inhabitant of the upper sanctuary it will stream in richest plenitude, direct from the eternal throne.
II. AN ACTIVE VIRTUE.
1. It is a gift, but it is a gift to be employed, and on its exercise depends its value. Nor does it ever fail in this respect. It is ever seeking to do good, and to pour its gifts and blessings on the hapless sons of man.(1) Its pity never fails. Wherever it beholds an object of distress, its efforts are put forth to give relief.(2) Its liberality never fails. It is like an angel of mercy, which is never wearied with conferring favours, and never says you ask too much.(3) Its ingenuities never fail. It is ever occupied in forming schemes to carry out its generous designs. Spurious or defective charity may fail, but true charity will never fail.
2. Look again into the eternal world. How active is the principle of love among the hosts of heaven! On earth, love is more or less mixed up with other things; in heaven it will be free from all defect. The family will be one. They will have one common interest. Each will contribute to the happiness of all. Jealousies will not be there. No envious feelings can be there indulged.
III. A SOURCE OF PURE AND ELEVATED ENJOYMENT. What is so constant as the joy that springs from the activities of benevolence? Man's happiness will ever be increased in proportion to the largeness of his soul. When other springs of pleasure are dried up, this will continue to flow in copious and refreshing streams. In heaven, our Father's house, love will be more pure, more elevated, and more fervent; and hence it will be there, as it is on earth, but in a far higher measure, the source of never-ending satisfaction and delight.
(J. A. James.)
Hom. Review.I. AS AN EVIDENCE OF PARDON (Luke 7:47). The woman who was a sinner loved much because she had much forgiven. To whom little is forgiven the same loveth little.
II. AS AN ELEMENT OF ACCEPTABLE OBEDIENCE (ver. 3). The acts of the unconverted are not considered by God. There is but meagre satisfaction in this passage for the moralist. Without love to Jesus our best deeds do not avail before God (Matthew 25:40). Doing for the brethren is doing for Jesus. An act of kindness or deed of love done for a child, far away from home and in need of sympathy and care, is regarded by the parent as a favour done to him. The mother is better pleased than if the deed of love had been done unto her.
III. AS AN ELEMENT OF ACCEPTABLE SERVICE (Revelation 2:4, 5). The Church at Ephesus had left her first love; therefore the service she rendered was not pleasing to God. She must do her first works, which were seasoned with love, and cease to perform her duties mechanically in order that her efforts might be acceptable to God (vers. 1, 2). Love is also the power-element of service.
V. AS AN AGGRESSIVE POWER (2 Corinthians 5:14). The constraining love of Jesus made Paul the aggressive man he was.
VI. AS A SUSTAINING POWER (John 21:17). Peter repented, because he had in him the germ of true love for Jesus, and was sustained. Judas repented from remorse, and ultimately destroyed himself. Love to Jesus sustained , , Latimer, Ridley, the martyrs, and the persecuted in all ages.
VII. IN PRODUCING CONFESSION (John 12:42, 43). When men love position and power and the praise of men more than Christ they will not confess Him. When men love Jesus supremely they are swift to confess Him as Lord and Saviour (Romans 10:10).
VIII. AS A PREPARATION FOR HEAVEN (1 Corinthians 16:22). Without love to Christ no one is meet for heaven, but is devoted to destruction. The wrath of God abideth on him.
I. AN ELEMENT OF MORAL POWER. It is the strongest —
1. Sustaining power.
2. Resisting power. Love builds around the soul a rampart, invulnerable.
3. Aggressive power. We have not only to bear up under trials, and to resist temptations, but we have battles to fight. There is nothing so aggressive in the moral world as love. Man can stand before anything sooner than love.
II. A PRINCIPLE OF SOCIAL UNITY. Deep in the heart of man is the desire for union with his fellow, isolation and division are naturally repugnant to his social nature. His ingenuity has been taxed for ages in the invention of schemes for union. As the result we have confederations based on political sympathy, material interests, theological dogmas, mere carnal affinities; but we are only one with those we love. But we can only love the lovable.
III. A SOURCE OF SPIRITUAL HAPPINESS. Love is joy.
1. It expels from the mind all the elements unfavourable to happiness.
2. It generates in the mind all the elements of spiritual joy.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
I. IS INDICATED BY ITS CAPACITY OF MEETING ALL DEMANDS MADE UPON IT.
1. This is the conclusion from the previous assertions of this passage.
2. This is the result of our observation of every-day life. True levels equal to any exigency. It survives all else.
II. IS A STRIKING CONTRAST TO ALMOST ALL ELSE IN HUMAN EXPERIENCE.
1. This is the declaration of the passage following our text. All else "ceases," "vanishes," is "done away."
2. This is confirmed by human experience. Love is the great protest of our immortality.
III. IS EXPLAINED BY ITS BEING DIVINE NOT ONLY IN ITS ORIGIN AND SUSTENANCE, BUT IN ITS NATURE. Love is of God, and God's love never faileth, "His mercy endureth for ever." Ours is not an imitation of His, but an inspiration from it. His love is the life of ours. Hence ours is deathless.
(U. R. Thomas.)
(J. Cross, D.D.)
(W. Baxendale.)I. THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST IS GIVEN TO HIS PEOPLE EVERLASTINGLY, TO INFLUENCE AND DWELL IN THEM (John 14:16, 17).
II. THERE ARE OTHER FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT BESIDES THAT WHICH SUMMARILY CONSISTS IN LOVE, WHEREIN THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS COMMUNICATED TO HIS CHURCH.
1. Extraordinary gifts, miracles, inspiration, etc.
2. Ordinary gifts. These, in all ages, have more or less been bestowed on many unconverted men, in common convictions of sin, common illuminations, and religious affections.
III. ALL THESE OTHER FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT ARE BUT FOR A SEASON, AND EITHER HAVE ALREADY CEASED, OR AT SOME TIME WILL CEASE. As to the miraculous gifts, they are but of a temporary use, and cannot be continued in heaven. And as to the common fruits of the Spirit, with respect to the persons that have them, they will cease when they come to die; and with respect to the Church, they wil1 cease after the day of judgment.
IV. LOVE IS THAT GREAT FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT THAT NEVER FAILS. Consider the Church —
1. With respect to its members, as —(1) It never fails in this world (Romans 8:38, 39).(2) And it ceases not when the saints come to die. When the apostles went to heaven, they left all their miraculous gifts behind. But they carried love with them to heaven, where it was perfected.
2. As a body. Though other fruits of the Spirit fail in it, this shall never fail. Of old, when there were interruptions of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit there never was any interruption of this. And at the end of the world when the Church shall be settled in its eternal state, and all common and miraculous gifts shall be at an end, love shall be brought to its most glorious perfection in every individual member of the ransomed Church above.
V. THIS REASON FOR THE TRUTH OF THE DOCTRINE WHICH HAS THUS BEEN PRESENTED, viz., that love is the great end of all the other fruits and gifts of the Spirit. It is the end to which all the miraculous gifts that ever were in the world, are but the means. They were only means of grace, but love is grace itself; and not only so, but the sum of all grace. Application:
1. There seems to be no reason to think that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are to be restored to the Church in the times of her latter-day prosperity and blessedness. Prophecy and miracles argue the imperfection of the state of the Church, rather than its perfection. For they are designed as a support, or as a leading-string, to the Church in its infancy, rather than as means adapted to it in its full growth. And then again that state will not be more glorious than the heavenly state; and yet the apostle teaches, that in the heavenly state all these gifts shall be at an end, and the influence of the Spirit in producing Divine love only shall remain.
2. The subject should make persons exceedingly cautious how they give heed to anything that may look like a new revelation, or that may claim to be any extraordinary gift of the Spirit.
3. The subject teaches how greatly we should value those influences and fruits of the Spirit which are evidences of true grace in the soul, and which are all summarily included in love.
(Jon. Edwards.)I. THE CAUSE AND FOUNTAIN OF LOVE IN HEAVEN. — The God of love Himself dwells there, and this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light.
II. THE OBJECTS OF LOVE THAT IT CONTAINS.
1. There are none but lovely objects in heaven (Revelation 21:27). All the persons that belong to the blessed society of heaven are lovely. The Father of the family is lovely, and so are all His children. There are no false professors or hypocrites there.
2. They shall be perfectly lovely. There are many things in this world that in the general are lovely, but yet are not perfectly free from that which is the contrary.
3. All those objects that the saints have loved above all things here while in this world shall be in heaven.
III. THE SUBJECTS OF LOVE IN HEAVEN. And these are the hearts in which it dwells. In every heart in heaven love dwells and reigns. The heart of God is the original seat or subject of love. The love of God the Father flows out toward Christ the head, and to all the members through Him. And the light of their love is reflected in the first place, and chiefly back to its great source. There is no enemy of God in heaven; but all, as His children, love Him as their Father.
IV. THE PRINCIPLE OF LOVE IN HEAVEN.
1. As to its nature. It is altogether holy and Divine.
2. As to its degree. It is perfect. The love that dwells in the heart of God is absolutely perfect. The love of angels and saints to God and Christ is perfect in its kind, or with such a perfection as is proper to their nature. It is perfect with a sinless perfection, and perfect in that it is commensurate to the capacities of their nature.
V. THE EXCELLENT CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH LOVE SHALL BE EXPRESSED AND ENJOYED IN HEAVEN.
1. It is always mutual. It is always met with answerable returns of love — with returns proportioned to its exercise.
2. Its joy shall never be interrupted or damped by jealousy.
3. There shall be nothing within themselves to clog or hinder it in the saints. In this world they find much to hinder them in this respect.
4. It will be expressed with perfect decency and wisdom.
5. There shall be nothing to keep us at a distance from each other, or to hinder our most perfect enjoyment of each other's love.
6. We shall all he united in very near and dear relations.
7. All shall have property and ownership in each other. Love seeks to have the beloved its own; and Divine love rejoices in saying, "My beloved is mine, and I am his."
8. We shall enjoy each other's love in perfect and uninterrupted prosperity.
9. All things shall conspire to promote our love, and give advantage for mutual enjoyment.
10. We shall know that we shall for ever be continued in the perfect enjoyment of each other's love.
VI. THE BLESSED EFFECTS AND FRUITS OF THIS LOVE, AS EXERCISED AND ENJOYED IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. The most excellent and perfect behaviour of all the inhabitants of heaven toward God and each other.
2. Perfect tranquillity and joy.Conclusion:
1. If heaven be such a world as has been described, then we may see reason why contention and strife tend to darken our evidence of fitness for its possession.
2. How happy those are who are entitled to heaven! But here some may be ready to say, "Without doubt; but who are these persons? By what marks may they be distinguished?"(1) They are those that have had the principle or seed of the same love that reigns in heaven implanted in their hearts in regeneration.(2). They are those who have freely chosen the happiness that flows from the exercise and enjoyment of such love as is in heaven, above all other conceivable happiness.(3) They are those who, from the love that is in them, are, in heart and life, in principle and practice, struggling after holiness.
3. What has been said on this subject may well awaken and alarm the impenitent.(1) By putting them in mind of their misery, in that they have no portion or right in this world of love (Revelation 22:15).(2) By showing that they are in danger of hell, which is a world of hatred.
(J. Cross, D.D.)
I. GIFTS ARE TEMPORARY.
1. Imperfect in their nature.
2. Adapted to an imperfect state.
3. Must consequently pass away.
II. LOVE IS ETERNAL.
1. In its own nature.
2. Is the end of all gifts.
3. Must endure in a perfect state of being.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
(J. H. Hinton.)
(Prof. Henry Drummond.)γνῶσις, which our translators have rendered by the word knowledge, connote an idea which its English representative fails to convey? How if the γνῶσις of the apostle has proved untranslateable because we have never seriously studied its history, and so have failed to grasp its meaning? What then? Then may not a more careful scrutiny get rid of the difficulty which the passage as it stands represents? Nay! May not that passage contain the enunciation of a great law which the Church of Christ, by losing sight of, would be sure to suffer serious damage? Now it would be unadvisable to attempt anything like an exhaustive examination of the use of this word by St, Paul, or of the meaning it may be found to bear in the several passages in which it occurs. This much, however, is apparent to any careful reader of the Epistles, that the word γνῶσις was a term which was very familiar to St. Paul's readers, and that it was an ambiguous term of whose ambiguity the apostle on occasion did not disdain to avail himself. He speaks of a γνῶσις which is none other than the beatific vision which the saints of God have dreamt of, and which is the object of their loftiest hopes. But he speaks of a γνῶσις, too, which does not deserve to be called such. He speaks of a γνῶσις which will admit of no addition and no imperfection in its fruition, and of a γνῶσις which is by no means inseparable from the notion of childish dependence, of defective methods in arriving at it, even of a certain measure of empiricism. Nor is this all; it becomes evident on further examination that this ambiguous term was used at times to connote not merely intellectual apprehension, but a formulated summary of conclusions arrived at, the result of speculations which, when thus formulated, the intellectual faculty was required to accept as an authoritative setting forth of truth. In other words, this γνῶσις was a summary of dogmatic teaching which might be imperfect in its statements and yet serve a worthy purpose, though essentially limited in its view, and intended only as a step in the right road; or it might be not only imperfect but dangerous, delusive and mischievous, because it expressed conclusions arrived at from assumptions which were mere dreams, and so would necessarily be a γνῶσις falsely so called. In the one case it might be a Christian γνῶσις, which was good as far as it went. In the other case it was a competitive γνῶσις which its supporters set up as antagonistic to any expression of Christian belief, a summary of theosophic or mystical dogma with no real basis of truth on which to stand. Yet of both one and the other, the first being partial and so inadequate, the second being erroneous and so having no real vitality, the apostle says — "As for knowledge it shall vanish away." But is not this the great law abundantly observable in the history of all science in its various branches? Is it not the fact that in the department of pure mathematics the science of algebra slumbered for centuries, and when the awakened intellect of men resumed inquiries which for ages had been laid aside, the new discoveries or the new methods compelled the new thinkers to use new formulae, such new formlae being necessitated by established facts on the one hand and becoming the very conditions of progress in the apprehension of truth on the other? The dogma of yesterday had served its purpose, it expressed elementary truths which the childhood of the human mind had arrived at, but that which seemed final yesterday became antiquated or rudimentary to-day. When men are brought face to face with new truths, or with new aspects of truth, or compelled to investigate truth from a new standpoint, that moment they are compelled to resort to new expressions, to adopt new formulae, that is, to enunciate new dogmas, the old knowledge is in process of vanishing away. But truth is one thing, dogma is another. The formulae may suffer change, but the truth formulated changes not. But here it may be suggested that a distinction must be made between such truths as are formulated in theological dogmas, and those which are arrived at by the methods employed in the exact sciences. In fact so loose is our language and so vague is our vocabulary when we approach the discussion of questions in which our religious convictions and sentiments are supposed to be concerned, that nothing is more common than the assumption expressed or implied that scientific truth and what people call Divine truth are in some mysterious way moving as it were in different orbits, in different planes, and that what holds good of the one does not at all hold good of the other. What! Is not all truth Divine — all or none? Yes, and is not all truth a truth of science — all or none? — truth, that is, which is once formulated with sufficient precision for the logical faculty to exercise itself upon, however much or however little the higher reason may have helped us to embrace it before we had learnt to express it in scientific terms? It is in vain to attempt to evade the question which is being more and more rudely forced upon us. The question, Is there such a science as theology? science based upon axioms which are indisputable, requiring postulates which are reasonable, pursuing its inquiries according to strictly logical methods, engaged upon the investigation of facts and their correlation, weighing the significance of conflicting testimony, and fearlessly hailing the discovery of any new law? Is it a science whereby our race may hope to advance to the apprehension of some eternal truths? a science not one whit the less a science because it has a domain of its own? If not, it is hardly worth our while to trouble ourselves about it. Though even then observe, that the facts of the spiritual life remain. On the other hand, if it be a science, no matter in what stage it may at any moment be said to be, then assuredly it is only what we should expect, that this same story which history has to tell of other sciences should be found to be true of this one also. And that is exactly what we do find. Take whatever science you please, music, medicine, astronomy, and what is more certain than that that science has arrived at a certain point and then has ceased to be studied by competent students, and its further advance been arrested for centuries; the dogmas of such science, formulated a thousand years ago, being accepted as absolutely true, and assumed to have something like finality. For ages astronomers assumed that the sun moved round the earth — that was at any rate a dogma about which there could not conceivably be any dispute — a dogma above all others which could claim for itself catholicity, and stood alone as answering the most rigid conditions of catholicity. For ages the formulated science of architecture helped men to raise up to heaven those stupendous structures which are likely to last as the wonder and envy of mankind as long as the race lasts. And yet into that formulated science the very conception of the properties of the arch never entered. What appear to us the elementary truths of the science had no place in the early dogmas of architecture. In all these instances we are met by the historic fact that every science which deserves to be called such has had, must have, its periods of growth and rapid development, and its periods of torpor and repose. Men have grown weary or despairing of solving certain great problems, and have thrown them aside to deal with others. Then the tide has turned, and they have gone back with fresh enthusiasm and reawakened curiosity to the old difficulties, prepared themselves to attack them, perhaps from new points of view, perhaps according to new methods. And then new discoveries have been made, sometimes the results of patient years of research, sometimes by a flash of what we call genius, and sometimes they had been forced upon those who, by earnest toil and seriousness of aim and greatness of purpose, have put themselves into the attitude or receiving new truths and qualified themselves for expressing those truths in formulae which were necessary expansions of the development from previous dogmas. The time had come for the old γνῶσις to vanish away! And now another question comes to us. Granted that theology too is a science. In what stage may we venture to say that we find it now? The more we reflect upon it the more do we find ourselves compelled to acknowledge that theology, as a science, is, and has been for long, in a condition of torpor; it is, as it were, taking its repose, it has gone to sleep. But if theology as a science may be said to be asleep, even though it be exhibiting no signs or evidence of awakening activity, slumber is not death, it need not even imply exhaustion; it may be only heathful repose before the dawning of a new day. Even though they would persuade you that the old theology has received its quietus and the old dogmas are moribund or dead, be not afraid. It is the great law that every γνῶσις when it has served its purpose must vanish away, but only to be replaced by another γνῶσις which shall be grander and larger and more profound than that which we possess. Be not afraid to say the theology of the fourth century may not have been the theology of the second, nor the theology of the sixteenth century the theology of the twelfth, and peradventure the theology of the twentieth century may be very, very different in its dogmas and its formulae from anything that we can conceive of now. This science, too, may find another Copernicus to whom God may grant strange revelations, revelations, or if you dislike the word, discoveries, such as come to the holy and humble men of heart, guileless and true, such revelations as may perforce necessitate revolutions in our methods of investigation, in the terminology we employ, in the calculus which may be placed at our disposal. At least assure yourselves that imperfect light is better than darkness, and cloudland a better region to live in than chaos.
(A. Jessopp, M.A.)
(W. B. O. Peabody, D.D.)
(C. A. Bartol.)
1. He knows something of the welcome of Jesus.
2. He knows something of communion with Jesus.
3. He knows, too, in part, the spirit of service to Jesus.
4. A Christian knows also, in part, likeness to Christ.But all these brightest moments, these deepest joys, these noblest moods, are to be eclipsed, forgotten, counted as nothing, "when that which is perfect is come." To the Christian this is coming. All else is going. What, then, can compare with the claims and the charms of the spiritual life? Suppose there were on earth a country where, in health, that which is perfect had come; where, in purity of character, that which is perfect had come; where, in all the tender relations of domestic life, that which was perfect had come; where, in society and in government, in cottage and in palace, that which is perfect had come; where, in man, and field, and air and sky, that which was perfect had come; — how ships would groan with human cargoes destined for its shores! In comparison, fields of gold and seas of pearl would cease to draw. Yet the brightest conception of such a state falls immeasurably below what the dying Christian finds in heaven.
(Benjamin Waugh.)John 17:17) truth to be the medium of man's consecration. Under the necessary conditions of life knowledge is the minister of love. I wish to consider the limitation of knowledge and not the destination of knowledge. "We know in part." The fact itself is one which we shall do well to realise more distinctly than by a general acknowledgment. When this is done I hope that we shall see sufficient reasons for holding that this necessary incompleteness of our knowledge, which is at first sight disappointing, is, when duly weighed, fitted to bring stability to the results of labour, that it satisfies the conditions of progress, that it offers hope in the face of the dark problems of the present age.
1. We know in part. This limitation is imposed upon us triply. Of all that is, of all that even 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. Our knowledge is limited in form. And, yet once more, of theft which man could know, being what he is, if the personal powers and the personal experience of the race were concentrated in a single representative, what an infinitely small portion is embraced by one mind! Our knowledge is limited by the circumstances of life. So far the fact itself that we know in part is unquestionable and unquestioned. No one who ever presumptuously maintained that "man is the measure of all things," ventured also to assert that "all things" which he measures owe their being to him. No one who has considered the slow development of the powers which man now enjoys in what appears to us to be his maturity would be willing to admit that his faculties exhaust in kind or in degree the possible action of being. Our knowledge, I repeat, is inevitably partial in regard of the object, and of the subject, and of the conditions of its acquisition. In each respect an infinite mystery enwraps a little spot of light. But while upon reflection we admit that our knowledge is thus limited, we do not, I think, commonly take account of the momentous significance of the fact. Many of us who are ceaselessly busy with our daily occupations do not habitually 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 life off on this side and 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 measurable depths above the earth on which we are set to work?
2. We know in part. the fullest recognition of this fact is not only helpful but essential for the fulfilment of our several tasks. The practical or deliberate disregard of this relation of all our knowledge to the unknown brings with it urgent dangers. On the one hand we are tempted to make our own knowledge, our own thoughts, our own experience, an absolute standard. On the other hand we are tempted to apply a dominant method to subjects which do not admit it. There is no one, I suppose, who has not been sorely tried by both temptations. It requires a serious effort to enter with a living sympathy into the character of another man, or of another class, or of another nation, or of another course of thought: to feel, not with a sense of gracious superiority but of devout thankfulness, that here and there that is supplied which we could not have provided: to acknowledge how peculiar gifts or a peculiar environment, how long discipline or an intense struggle, have conferred upon others the power of seeing that which we cannot see. But it is to breadth of hope, to self-denial, to patience that we are called, as those who believe and seek to live as believing that we know in part. The immediate circumstances in which we are placed need, as we must feel, the exercise of such graces. There is on all sides an overpowering passion for clearness, for decision, for results which can be measured on demand. Art and history are trammeled by realism. A restless anxiety for fulness and superficial accuracy of detail diverts the forces which should be given to an interpretation of the life. We begin to think that when we can picture to ourselves the outside of things we have mastered them. So it is also in many respects with opinion. We are told that we must make our choice definitely between this extreme and that; that there can be no mean; that a logical necessity demands one precise conclusion or the other. In this way we lose insensibly the present consciousness of the great deeps of life. Portraiture becomes photography, and faith is represented by a phrase. The reflections from the mirror, the shadows on the wall of the cave, are taken for the realities which these fleeting signs should move us to seek. There is no outline in nature, however convenient or even necessary we may find it to draw one. A closer view of this one-sided and dominant realism, which is characteristic of our generation, shows what is at once its final issue and its remedy. For it is not fanciful, I think, to connect it with the great successes of the method of physical inquiry. We try, perhaps even without knowing of what spirit we are, to make the same method supreme over all knowledge. Meanwhile we are neglecting a different lesson which physics have to teach us and which we have not yet learnt. However paradoxical the statement may appear, physical study more than any other brings the invisible vividly before us. The world of the man of science is not the scene of conflict and disorder which we look upon with our untrained eyes, but an order of absolute law which he finds by the interpretation of a larger experience. He pierces beneath the seen to that which it indicates. So far he has read the thought of God. His partial knowledge is a sign for the moralist and for the theologian.
3. We know in part. We have seen that acceptance of this fact enables us to meet and to use the dangers and the lessons of limited views. The same words describe the process by which our efforts are made effective. 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. This is the Divine law of spiritual progress and of spiritual apprehension. It is not that any one mind or any one race can evolve the last deductions from the primal facts. The manifold endowments of the nations are made contributory in due order to the unfolding of the universal gospel. The history of Judaism and the history of Christianity prove the truth beyond doubt. Spiritual knowledge and with it spiritual life is furthered by the introduction into it of new elements from without. The seed which has the principle of life gathers from all around that by which the life is manifested in the fulness of its beauty. It has often been pointed out how every critical stage in the progress of earlier revelation was marked by the action of new races upon the people of God. Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, quickened fresh thoughts in Israel, and brought to light fresh mysteries in the Law. The Son of Man entered on the patrimony of the race made ready for His use. The course of Christianity up to the present time exhibits the accomplishment of the same law on a larger scale and with a more pervading application. Judaism was limited and preparatory. The Divine Presence was symbolised for the fathers by a cloud or by a glory. But Christianity is absolute and final. For us the Divine Presence is "the Word made flesh," "the man Christ Jesus." It is no longer any part of man, or any part of mankind to which the message of God is addressed or entrusted. The experience of our own lives offers an illustration of this growth through assimilation and loss. The unfolding of our separate powers is able to bring home to us what is fulfilled on a colossal scale in the broad history of human progress. One faculty after another is called into dominant activity, and yields in its turn to some fresh claimant. And here comes the trial of faith. We are tempted, as it may be, to linger with a vain regret round that which is ready to vanish away or to hasten prematurely the advent of that which is not yet mature. But the faith deals with all in a process of life. The conviction that every result, every triumph, every prize is given us to use and not to keep, saves us from the peril of stationariness and from the peril of innovation. He cannot rest who knows that the counsel of God is not yet accomplished.
4. And surely this paradox is the very joy of life. We know all: and we have still much to learn. Our strength is to feel that the end which is given to us is not yet gained. As long as there is movement there is hope. Because the central fact of our faith reaches to the utmost bounds of our being: because to the last our knowledge is limited, we bring together with loving reverence all that has been accumulated in the past, and we stand ready to welcome the new light which shall reveal the old treasures in fresh glory. It is not strange then that there should at all times be difficulties. Difficulties guide men to new regions of work for Christ's sake. We can feel, I repeat, in these different directions, in the spheres of personal life, of human fellowship, of cosmical dependence, how our partial knowledge witnesses to the existence of regions of vital energy not essentially unattainable but hitherto necessarily unexplored: we can feel that the darkest riddles of life lose their final gloom when we refuse to acknowledge that their solution must be found in the facts which we have been so far able to grasp: we can feel that the gospel of Christ incarnate and ascended deals with these latest questionings not by accident or by accommodation, but in its inmost nature: we can feel as the problems rise before us that our historic creed contains the answer to them, though it has not yet been drawn out, that our needs have not been left uncared for by eternal love, that it is through the sternest searchings of heart that the growing fulness of the truth is realised. The sorest trial of very many now is the sad suspicion that Christianity does not cover all which we know to be. Perhaps we have given colour to the fear by our own narrowness of sympathy. But from the first it was not so. And it is true still, true always, that our faith conquers not by the suppression or by the dissimulation of difficulties, but by interpreting them or by placing them in their right relation to what we see of the whole constitution and circumstances of the world. We do not then appeal to ignorance, but to the conditions of a partial knowledge: we do not transfer our hope to an imaginary scene, but find the pledge of its fulfilment in a completer revelation of this in which we toil and suffer: we do not offer any intellectual formulas as exhaustive and absolute, but we claim that now and at all times the faith should be regarded in connection with every human interest; we do not affirm the limitation of knowledge as a bar to inquiry, but as a bar to finality.We know in part.
1. The words are a consolation. No one has ever set before himself a high ideal of work for the truth's sake without sadly noting at the close of his labour the scantiness of his achievements. His difficulties, perhaps, have grown clearer, but they have not grown less. At last he finds himself left face to face with mysteries, which appear in the form of irreconcilable opposites. The fundamental mystery of his finite being responsible to the Infinite repeats itself in many forms. There is no escape from conditions of thought which he feels to be inapplicable to spiritual existences. Happy is he only when he knows that what he sees, what he can see, is but a fragment of that glory which all the powers of all the ages will not exhaust in its fulness. We inherit and we transmit our inheritance to others, with the slender accessions we have made. So it is that we are bound one to another, and while we contend to the uttermost for the truth which is given to us, we find a place opened for other labourers.
2. They are a promise. The knowledge is partial, but the object is not illusory. We may not he able to see much, but the appearances which we observe answer to something which is eternal. This conviction is sufficient to inspire us with hope. We are so constituted that we cannot but group together the scattered facts which come before us, and interpret them in some fashion. Looking to them we can cherish the signs of a wider order in the moral world which has not yet been realised.
3. They are a prophecy. Now we see in a mirror darkly, but then face to face. The mode of knowledge will be changed, but He who is revealed in many parts and in many ways is Himself unchangeable. Perfect knowledge now would be the sentence of spiritual death: "the whole can increase no more, is dwarfed and dies." But, let us thank God, we know in part; and we know Him that is true. We do not rest in what we are, or in what we can attain to, but in what God is, in whose imago we are made.
(E. E. Hale, D.D.)
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