1 Corinthians 13:2
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith…
The unity of the Bible is a unity of spirit within a changeful individual variety. The writers care little for seeming contradiction. St. James and St. Paul would have smiled if they heard their several views of faith pitted against one another. They would have said, "We are at root agreed, but we each follow a different radius from the same centre." St. Paul would have been exceedingly surprised if he had heard that the text was considered as in the slightest degree lessening the full value of Christ's saying, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed," etc. In fact, St. Paul balances this statement as Christ Himself would have done, and we shall follow him to-day, and balance the glory of faith by the glory of charity. The phrase is strange on the lips of the apostle who, more than all the others dwelt on faith; but for that very reason it has additional force. Note —
I. THE NEED OF THIS BALANCE.
1. There have been times when faith has been insisted on, and love put in the background. Men had faith — they did remove mountains — but they grew to be nothing because they lost love, and the mountains were only removed to be rebuilt. Wherever we look in the history of religion we find that faith without love does nothing for the progress of man.
2. There have been times when love has been so insisted on as to put the necessity for a clearly conceived statement of faith into the background.
(1) Such teaching made religious life first too sentimental, and then often hysterical. The idea of God lost the sternness necessary to check sin, and the result was a widespread immorality.
(2) Another form of the same thing is found in those who maintain that love to man is enough, without faith in God; and the result is that while the body is helped and the mind strengthened, the soul, left untouched, grows hard. The history of philanthropy without faith in God is written in loss of the culture of the highest feelings, in despondency, and often in revolutionary excess. Mazzini saw that with regard to the French Revolution. Faith in God, in his view and in that of all great prophets, was necessary as the balance of love of man.
II. FAITH IN GOD IS NOTHING WITHOUT LOVE OF MAN, AND NOTHING WITHOUT LOVE OF GOD.
1. It is nothing without love of man.
(1) There is a faith without love which takes scorn for its companion. It arises chiefly in those who have become one-sided from having been brought up in a closed circle of opinions. They despise then those who contradict them, just as the one-sided scientist despises those who deny theories which seem proved to him, or as the extremely cultured person has scorn of him whom he calls a Philistine. The religious man suffers more than the rest, for the very life of his religion is love to man, and he ceases, in proportion as he loses love, to be religious at all. With scorn, how can you befit all things for men, believe and hope all things for them, endure all things that they may advance? The faith in God which has in it any scorn of others is without charity, and is nothing, and you who have, or seem to have it, are also nothing.
(2) Another kind of faith which has a tendency to lose love — the impetuous faith. It is full of love to man, of longings for his progress. It believes and hopes all things for all men, and in idea it does not fail in love. But in practical life it sometimes sins against love for the very sake of love. Suppose that a man who feels that faith in God, as a Father of men, and in immortality as the destiny of man, are the very pillars of the universe, meet those who quietly deny these truths, he will feel this denial, not as a personal insult, as the man who scorns others does, but as an injury done to the whole human race he loves. But the intensity of his feeling will lead him into violence of his words; and forgetting that the question is for God, the advocate of charity forgets that charity doth not behave itself unseemly, and does not seek her own. The result is, his faith and he are for the time nothing. He has done harm to God's cause, and to his own influence. What should be his guard?
(a) He should remember that the questions he supports do not stand by his support, but by God's. He should have truer faith; for in losing love he has also in reality lost faith. If his faith were firm, he would not think that a few doubts or many sceptics could shake the pillars of heaven.
(b) And he should recall in society the words, "Love beareth all things." Make love the ceaseless companion of faith, and then faith will not fail. Make faith intense enough, and then love will not fail.
2. There is a faith in God without love of God, which is also nothing.
(1) Faith in a creed only, and not in a Divine Spirit that dwells within us. Such a faith leaves you a nothing, and in itself it is nothing also — the mere froth of the wave. But love of God in marriage with faith in a creed about Him are living powers. It is all the difference between saying, "I believe that the seamen of England in some small ships destroyed the great Armada, and it is an interesting story," and saying, "I believe it, and I love my nation for it; I rejoice to belong to a people capable of such great doing, and every drop of my blood thrills when I hear the tale." That is faith and love together, and it produces results in thought and action. So mere faith in God's fatherhood is only assent to a statement; but when we feel Him as our Father, our whole heart, brimming over with love, grows passionate with desire to be like Him, and do His will.
(2) Faith in God without love of Him may be faith in an abstract idea to which we give His name. We may confess Him as the Thought that makes the universe, or as the Order that keeps it in harmony, or as the Movement that builds or unbuilds it. And it is wise and right to so believe. But, first, it is not a belief which will do for the whole of life. It is not human; it may do for rocks and stones and trees, but not for men, women, and children. It may do to explain the earthquake and the outburst of the morning, but not the shattered heart or the rapture of the soul. It may satisfy us as we see the building of the crystal, but it will not satisfy us as we watch the building up of our child's character. Nor will it satisfy us as we consider through ages past the upbuilding of the human race, for into that upbuilding an almost infinite disorder seems to enter — sin and sorrow, and it would seem aimless sacrifice. Oh, then, in order to be at rest, to be able to work and worship with hope and joy, to have the heart to be something and not nothing, we must add love of God to faith in God. For only when we love Him do we understand and feel that He loves us, and that His love will make clear and right at last, not only the tangle of our child's character, but the tangled web of the whole world of men.
(Stopford A. Brooke, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.