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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
1 Corinthians 13
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 1-corinthians-13.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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1 Corinthians 13:1-13
The supremely excellent way of Christian love. This chapter has been in all ages the object of the special admiration of the Church. Would that it had received in all ages the loftier and more valuable admiration which would have been expressed by an acceptance of its lessons! Tertullian says that it is uttered "with all the force of the Spirit" (totis Spiritus viribus). It is a glorious hymn or paean in honour of Christian love, in which St. Paul rises on the wings of inspiration to the most sunlit heights of Christian eloquence. Like the forty-fifth psalm, it may be entitled "A Psalm of Love." Valcknaer says that the "oratorical figures which illuminate the chapter have been born spontaneously in an heroic soul, burning with the love of Christ, and placing all things lower than this Divine love." In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 he shows the absolute necessity for love; in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 its characteristics; in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 its eternal permanence; in 1 Corinthians 13:13 its absolute supremacy.
1 Corinthians 13:1
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. The case is merely supposed. The tongues of men are human languages, including, perhaps, the peculiar utterance of ecstatic inspiration with which he is now dealing. It is, perhaps, with reference to this latter result of spiritual exultation, at any rate in its purest and loftiest developments, that he adds the words, "and of angels." It is unlikely that he is referring to the rabbinic notion that the angels only understood Hebrew, and not Aramaic or other languages. The words are meant to express the greatest possible climax. The most supreme powers of utterance, even of angelic utterance—if any of the Corinthians had or imagined that they had attained to such utterance—are nothing in comparison with the universally possible attainment of Christian love. It is remarkable that here again he places "tongues," even in their grandest conceivable development, on the lowest step in his climax. And have not charity. It is deeply to be regretted that the translators of the Authorized Version here introduced from the Vulgate a new translation for the sacred word "love," which dominates the whole New Testament as its Divine keynote. Greek possesses two words for "love." One of these, eros, implying as it did the love which springs from sensual passion, was dyed too deeply in pagan associations to be capable of redemption into holier usage. It is characteristic of the difference between paganism and Christianity, that Plato's eulogy in the 'Symposium' is in honour of eros, not of anything resembling agapē. The apostles, therefore, were compelled to describe the ideal of the gospel life by another word, which expressed the love of esteem and reverence and sacred tenderness—the word agapē. This word was not indeed classical. No heathen writer had used it. But the verb agapao, corresponding to the Latin diligo, and bring reserved for this loftier kind of love, suggested at once the substantive agapē, which, together with the similar substantive agapesis (Jeremiah 31:3, etc.), had already been adopted by the LXX. and by Philo and in Wis. 3:9. The word is thus, as Archbishop Trench says, "born in the bosom of revealed religion". The Vulgate chose caritas (whence our "charity") to express this love of reason and affection, the dearness which reigns between human beings, and between man and God. This word, like agapē, is absolutely unstained with any evil association. If "charity" had been exclusively used for agapē, no objection need have arisen, although "love" is English while "charity" is Latin. But it was an Unmixed evil that, by the use of two different words for the same Greek word, English readers should have been prevented from recognizing the unity of thought on this subject which prevails among all the books of the New Testament (Matthew 22:37-40; 1 Peter 1:22; 1Jn 3:14; 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:8, etc.). To argue that the word "love" in English is not unmingled with unhallowed uses is absurd, because those uses of the word have never been supposed for a single moment to intrude into multitudes of other passages where love is used to render agapē. Who has ever dreamed of objecting on such grounds to the favourite hymn?—
"Faith and Hope and Love we see
Joining hand in hand agree;
But the greatest of the three
And the best is Love."
It is true that Lord Bacon admired "the discretion and tenderness of the Rhenish Version" in using the word "charitie," "because of the indifferencies and equivocation of the word [love] with impure love." But that objection, if it ever existed, has now been done away with by the use of "love" in such a multitude of other pure and lofty passages of Holy Writ. It is, therefore, a great gain that the Revised Version restored to this passage the word "love," which had been used by Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Geneva Bible. For in modern English usage the word "charity" is almost confined to "almsgiving," and that of a kind which is often made an excuse for shirking all real self denial, and for not acting up to the true spirit of love. Christian love is always and infinitely blessed, but the almsgiving which has usurped the name of "charity" often does more harm than good. I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; more literally, I have become booming brass, or clanging cymbal. My "tongues" without "love" become a mere discordant, obtrusive, unintelligible dissonance. The Greek word for "clanging" (alalazon) is an onomatopoeia, like the Hebrew name for cymbals, tseltselim (Psalms 150:5).
1 Corinthians 13:2
Prophecy. The power of lofty utterance belonged to Balaam and Caiaphas; yet it availed them nothing without love. "Lord, Lord," exclaim the troubled souls at the left hand, "have we not prophesied in thy Name?" Yet he answers them," I never knew you." All mysteries. Though I can speak of the secrets of God once hidden but now revealed (Matthew 13:11; Romans 16:27; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:3, etc.). And all knowledge. Insight into the deeper meanings of Scripture, etc. All faith. Not here meaning "justifying faith," or "saving faith," which can no more exist without showing itself in works than light can exist without heat; but fides miraculosa, reliance on the power to work wonders. Judas, for instance, must have possessed this kind of faith, and it was exercised by "many" who will yet be rejected because they also work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23). So that I could remove mountains. It has been supposed that this must be a reference to Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21. It is, however, much more probable that, if St. Paul derived the words from our Lord, they came to him by oral tradition. And the inference must in any case be precarious, for the phrase was so common among the rabbis that "remover of mountains" was one of their admiring titles for a great teacher. I am nothing. No expression could 'involve a more forcible rebuke to intellectual and spiritual pride.
1 Corinthians 13:3
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor. The five words, "bestow to feed the poor," represent the one Greek word psomiso, and after all do not give its force. It is derived from psomion, a mouthful, and so means "give away by mouthfuls," i.e. "dole away." It occurs in Romans 12:20 for "feed." Attention to this verse might have served as a warning against the often useless and sometimes even pernicious doles of mediaeval monasteries. Much of the "charity" of these days is even more uncharitable than this, and shows the most complete absence of true charity; as for instance the dropping of pennies to professional beggars, and so putting a premium on vice and imposture. To be burned. The reading is extremely uncertain. The change of a letter gives the reading, that I may glory (καυχήσωμαι for καυθήσωμαι). Perhaps the scribes thought that "death by burning" was as yet (A.D. 57) an unheard of form of martyrdom, though it became but too familiar ten or twelve years later in the Neronian persecution. St. Paul was, however, probably referring, not, as some have supposed, to branding, which would bare been expressed differently, but to the ease of the "three children," in Daniel 3:23, where the LXX. has, "They gave their bodies into the fire;" or to the various tortures and deaths by fire in 2 Macc. 7. At the burning of Ridley and Latimer, Dr. Smith chose this verse for his text. Its applicability is on a par with millions of other instances in which Scripture has been grossly abused by employing its letter to murder its spirit, and by taking it from the God of love to give it to the devil of religious hatred. The burning of a saint was a singular specimen of the Church's "love." It profiteth me nothing; literally, I am nothing benefited. A consideration of this verse might have shown the Christians of the early centuries that there was nothing intrinsically redemptive in the martyrdom into which they often thrust themselves.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The attributes of love.
1 Corinthians 13:4
Suffereth long, and is kind. Passively it endures; actively it does good. It endures evils; it confers blessings. Envieth not. Its negative characteristics are part of its positive perfection. Envy—"one shape of many names"—includes malice, grudge, jealousy, pique, an evil eye, etc., with all their base and numerous manifestations. Vaunteth not itself. The meaning would probably be most nearly expressed by the colloquialism, does not show off. It does not, for instance, "do its alms before men to be seen of them" (Matthew 6:1). The Latin perperus, which is from the same root as this word, means "a braggart," or "swaggerer." Cicero, speaking of a grand oratorical display of his own before Pompey, says to Atticus, "Good heavens! how I showed myself off (ἐνεπερπερευσάμην) before my new hearer, Pompeius!" ('Ad. Art.,' 1 Corinthians 1:14). Is not puffed up. Has no purse proud or inflated arrogance." Love, therefore, is free from the characteristic vice of the Corinthian Church (1Co 4:6, 1 Corinthians 4:18, 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 8:1).
1 Corinthians 13:5
Doth not behave itself unseemly (see 1 Corinthians 12:23; 1 Corinthians 14:40). Vulgar indecorum is alien from love, as having its root in selfishness and want of sympathy. "Noble manners" are ever the fruit of "noble minds." "Be courteous" (1 Peter 3:8). Seeketh not her own. Self seeking is the root of All evil (1 Corinthians 10:24, 1 Corinthians 10:33; Philippians 2:4; Romans 15:1, Romans 15:2). Is not easily provoked. The word "easily" is here a gloss. The corresponding substantive (paroxusmos, whence our "paroxysm") is used of the sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39). Love, when it is perfected, rises superior to all temptations to growing exasperated, although it may often be justly indignant. But, as St. Chrysostom says, "As a spark which falls into the sea hurts not the sea, but is itself extinguished, so an evil thing befalling a loving soul will be extinguished without disquietude." Thinketh no evil; literally, doth not reckon (or, impute) the evil. The phrase seems to be a very comprehensive one, implying that love is neither suspicious, nor implacable, nor retentive in her memory of evil done. Love writes our personal wrongs in ashes or in water.
1 Corinthians 13:6
Rejoiceth not in iniquity; rather, at unrighteousness. The rejoicing at sin, the taking pleasure in them that commit sin, the exultation over the fall of others into sin, are among the worst forms of malignity (Romans 1:32; 2 Thessalonians 2:12). The Greeks had a word, ἐπιχαιρεκακία, to describe "rejoicing at the evil" (whether sin or misfortune) of others (Proverbs 24:17); Schadenfreude, "malignant joy" (Arist., 'Eth.,' 2.7, 15). It is the detestable feeling indicated by the remark of La Rochefoucald, "that there is something not altogether disagreeable to us in the misfortunes of our best friends." Rejoiceth in the truth; rather, with the truth. There are many who "resist the truth" (2 Timothy 3:8); or who "hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18); but love accepts it, keeps it pure, exults in all its triumphs (Acts 11:23; 2 John 1:4).
1 Corinthians 13:7
Beareth all things (see on 1 Corinthians 9:12). Endures wrongs and evils, and covers them with a beautiful reticence. Thus love "covereth all sins" (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). Believeth all things. Takes the best and kindest views of all men and all circumstances, as long as it is possible to do so. It is the opposite to the common spirit, which drags everything in deteriorem partem, paints it in the darkest colours, and makes the worst of it. Love is entirely alien from the spirit of the cynic, the pessimist, the ecclesiastical rival, the anonymous slanderer, the secret detractor. Hopeth all things. Christians seem to have lost sight altogether of the truth that hope is something more than the result of a sanguine temperament, that it is a gift and a grace. Hope is averse to sourness and gloom. It takes sunny and cheerful views of man, of the world, and of God, because it is a sister of love. Endureth all things. Whether the "seventy times seven" offences of a brother (Luke 17:4), or the wrongs of patient merit (2 Timothy 2:24), or the sufferings and self. denials and persecutions of the life spent in doing good (2 Timothy 2:10). The reader need hardly he reminded that in these verses he has a picture of the life and character of Christ.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
The eternal permanence of love.
1 Corinthians 13:8
Never faileth. The word "faileth" (ἐκπίπτει) has two technical meanings between which it is not easy to decide.
1. It means, technically, "is never hissed off the stage like a bad actor," i.e. it has its part to play even on the stage of eternity. This is its meaning in classic Greek.
2. it means "falls away" like the petals of a withered flower (as in James 1:11; comp. Isaiah 28:4). Here, perhaps, the meaning is not technical, but general, as in Romans 9:6 and in the LXX. (Job 21:1-34 :43). But the reading may be simply πίπτει (falleth), as in א, A,B,C. They shall fail. This is not the same word as the one on which we have been commenting; it means "shall be annulled" or "done away;" and is the same verb as that rendered in the next clauses by "vanish away," "be done away" (Romans 9:10), and "put away" (Romans 9:11). Thus in two verses we have the same word rendered by four different phrases. No doubt the effect of the change sounds beautifully to ears accustomed to the "old familiar strain;" but it is the obvious duty of translators to represent, not to improve upon, the language of their author. In the Revised Version the stone word is rightly kept for the four recurrences of the verb. Tongues. Special charisms are enumerated to show the transcendence of love. Knowledge. This shall be only annulled in the sense of earthly knowledge, which shall be a star disappearing in the light of that heavenly knowledge which shall gradually broaden into the perfect day.
1 Corinthians 13:9
We know in part. The expression applies directly to religious knowledge, and should be a rebuke to the pretence to infallibility and completeness which is sometimes usurped by religious men.
1 Corinthians 13:10
That which is in part shall be done away. It will be lost in perfectness when we have at last attained to "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 3:14).
1 Corinthians 13:11
I understood as a child, I thought as a child; I felt as a child, I reasoned as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things; now that I am become a man, I have done away with childish things. No specific time at which he put away childish things is alluded to, but he means that "manhood" is a state in which childishness should have become impossible.
1 Corinthians 13:12
Through a glass; rather, through (or, by means of) a mirror. Our "glasses" were unknown in that age. The mirrors were of silver or some polished metal, giving, of course, a far dimmer image than "glasses" do. The rabbis said that "all the prophets saw through a dark mirror, but Moses through a bright one." St. Paul says that no human eye can see God at all except as an image seen as it were behind the mirror. Darkly; rather, in a riddle. God is said to have spoken to Moses "by means of riddles" (Numbers 12:8; Authorized Version, "in dark speeches"), Human language, dealing with Divine facts, can only represent them indirectly, metaphorically, enigmatically, under human images, and as illustrated by visible phenomena. God can only be represented under the phrases of anthropomorphism and anthropopathy; and such phrases can only have a relative, not an absolute, truth. Then; i.e. "when the perfect is come." Face to face. Like the "mouth to mouth" of the Hebrew and the LXX. in Numbers 12:8. This is the beatific vision. "We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). "Now we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). Then shall I know even as also I am known; rather, then shall I fully know even as also I was fully known, viz. when Christ took knowledge of me at my conversion. Now, we do not so much "know" God, but "rather are known of God".
1 Corinthians 13:13
And now. The "now" is not temporal (as opposed to the "then" of the previous verse), but logical. It sums up the paragraph. Abideth. These three graces are fundamental and permanent; not transient, like the charisms, on which the Corinthians were priding themselves, but which should all be "annulled." Faith, hope, charity. It might be difficult to see how "hope" should be permanent. But if the future state be progressive throughout eternity and infinitude, hope will never quite be lost in fruition. Even "within the veil," it will still remain as "an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19). The greatest of these is charity; more literally, greater than these is love. St. Paul does not explain why love is the greatest and best of the three. Various reasons may be given.
1. Love is the greatest, because it is the root of the other two; "we believe only in that which we love; we hope only for that which we love.
2. And love is the greatest because love is for our neighbours; faith and hope mainly for ourselves.
3. And love is the greatest because faith and hope are human, but God is love.
4. And love is the greatest because faith and hope can only work by love, and only show themselves by love. Thus love is as the undivided perfection of sevenfold light. Faith and hope are precious stones of one colour, as a ruby and a sapphire; but love, as he has been showing us throughout the chapter, is a diamond of many facets.
1 Corinthians 13:1
Eloquence without charity.
"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." Two introductory truths are suggested by the context.
1. That there is great diversity in the talents with which Heaven has endowed mankind. There are "diversities" of gifts. Whilst it is true that the apostle refers especially to miraculous gifts, those very gifts have their equivalents amongst men now. True, we have no miraculous gifts of tongues; but we have great linguistical scholars, men who are the masters of many languages. Though we have no miraculous gifts of prophecy, we have men of such a far sighted sagacity as to discern the signs of the times, and. foretell events destined to occur on the earth. Though we have not the miraculous gifts of healing, modern medical science invests some men with a healing power in some respects approaching the miraculous. In sooth, the unmiraculous endowments of the present day, exhibited in the various evolutions of art, science, philosophy, are more than an adequate compensation for the loss of the miraculous endowments of apostolic times. Some men are distinguished by one faculty and some by another. Some by the faculty of creating thought, some by the faculty of combining thought, some by the faculty of oratorically presenting thought. These faculties exist in various degrees of strength; in some they are dwarfish, in some gigantic.
2. That without charity the highest kind and degree of talent is of little worth. Indeed, in this chapter Paul says, in relation to the highest faculties, and to the highest services, that without this charity man himself is nothing: "I am nothing." Now, the text directs attention to one particular faculty, and that is eloquence. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels." Angels speak. Perhaps Paul had heard their oratory when he was caught up into heaven. He means, though he had eloquence of the highest type, without charity, it would be utterly worthless. Two thoughts are suggested.
I. That it is POSSIBLE FOR ELOQUENCE OF THE HIGHEST TYPE TO EXIST WITHOUT CHARITY. Why say, "possible"? It has ever existed and still exists, dissociated from this charity, this queen of virtues, or rather this root of all moral excellence.
1. We find it in party politics. Read the party speeches delivered at the hustings or in the House of Commons. Some of those speeches are fashioned after the highest models of oratory, and delivered with all the graces of the art, but utterly destitute of charity. They beat with selfish ambition and burn with envious spleen.
2. We find it in party theology. Some of the discourses on polemic theology are, in all the attributes of true eloquence, unexcelled if not unmatched; but how destitute of charity! They are all aglow with acrimonious zeal for certain dogmas of the brain.
3. We find it in party Churchism. During the month of May men appear on the platform of Exeter Hall who have spent many a laborious day, or week, it may be, in preparing a speech on behalf of some cause, before whose brilliancy the author hopes all other speeches will pale their fire. Read the most eloquent of these speeches; and for the most part how destitute of charity! Sect zeal reigns in all. The Protestant damns the Catholic, the Evangelical the Ritualist, the Church sneers at Dissent, and Dissent at the Church, and all agree in consigning pagans and heathen of every grade to nethermost perdition. The spirit of all the speakers, as a rule, at those busy manifestations of eloquence, is, "We are the wise men, and wisdom will die with us; the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are we."
II. That eloquence of the highest: type without charity is UTTERLY WORTHLESS. It is as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." The word ἀλαλάζον, from ἀλαλὴ or ἀλαλὰ, a war cry, properly denotes a loud cry or shout, such as is used in battle. Whilst the sound is anything but pleasant, the material is comparatively worthless, made of two pieces of common brass. The idea is worthlessness. Take the speech of a man whose idea of eloquence shall excel the theory of Quintilian, and whose practice shall excel that of Demesthenes himself; what is it if it has not charity? Paul would say, "brass," giving out a mere clanking sound.
1. It is worthless in itself. What would you give for two little pieces of brass forming a cymbal? Whatever their marketable value may be, for musical purposes they are not worth a "penny whistle." What worth is there in an organism unless it has life? and what worth is there in sentences, however eloquent, unless they have charity? There is no moral worth in any act or word apart from charity. In the sight of Heaven all else is mere rubbish. Without it, I with all my endowments, services, sacrifices, says Paul, am "nothing."
2. It is worthless in its influence. The sounds you get out of the "cymbal" are not musical, and they produce rather an irritating than an inspiring or calming influence upon the listener. What moral good can speeches without charity accomplish? They may shed some light upon the intellect, correct some error, but they have no power to win the soul of a man. They often irritate, but never soothe. Bigoted partisans are attracted by the clankings of their brass, but men pass by them as by a Punch and Judy show. Eloquence without charity is like the roar of a winter's northeaster, irritating and destructive; but eloquence with charity is like the quiet southwester in spring, warming all things into life and touching all things into beauty.
1 Corinthians 13:2, 1 Corinthians 13:3
"Though I have the gift of prophecy," etc.
1. The greatest thing in the universe is mind. All material systems would lack completeness and meaning were there no mind to observe, study, and worship the great Invisible.
2. The greatest thing in mind is love. Here the apostle teaches that whatever a human intelligence may be, if it is destitute of love it is nothing. What is this love without which humanity is nothing? It is not the gregarious sentiment which links us to and gives us an interest in our species. This is an instinct common to animal existence. We regard this element as a blessing, not a virtue. Nor is it theological love—the affection which one has for his own faith and sect, but which will look coldly and hardly on all besides. This is a demon working under the mask of an angel. It reduces the gospel to a dogma and man to a bigot. Nor is it sacerdotal love—the love which speaks from ecclesiastical chairs, consecrated altars and seats of political power, but whispers no accents of sympathy for the physical and social woes of the race. We call this priestly selfishness: not manly love. What, then, is love? We may describe it—for we cannot define it—as a generous moral sympathy for the race springing from love to the Creator. This is, in fact, the love that only can confer real worth on humanity. We observe—
I. That man without this love is nothing spiritually in relation to NATURE. We say spiritually; for we assume, of course, that the spiritual is the man. Whatever does not minister to this, does not minister to him. Nature has three kinds of pleasure to, impart—the sensuous, the intellectual, and spiritual. The last is the highest in the scale, and arises from a warm and living sympathy with the being, character, and purpose of the Creator of all. It is nature looked at through the heart, through the self. It is not sensation, but inspiration; not philosophy, hut poetry; not the letter of a science, but the spirit of lift. These are the highest joys of nature and the only real joys for man as man. To impart these is nature's highest function. But are they not confined entirely to the children of love? As nature would be nothing to the body of a man were his senses sealed up, and nothing to the intellect of a man whose reflective faculty was paralyzed, so it is nothing to the soul of a man who has not a loving heart. To the sensual nature is gratification, to the thinker it is theory, to the loving it is heaven. True it is, then, that without love "I am nothing" in relation to the spiritual enjoyment of nature.
II. That man without this love is nothing spiritually in relation to the PROVIDENCE THAT IS OVER US. If I have not love, I am nothing to providence. It ministers no real good to me as a spiritual existent—as a man. As the mortally diseased must say, "I am nothing to the health giving economy of nature," so the unloving may truly say, "I am nothing in relation to the spiritual blessings of providence." But love in the heart makes providence a minister for good, and for good only. Like the bee, it transmutes the bitterest fruit into honey. "All things work together for good."
III. That man without this love is nothing spiritually in relation to CHRISTIANITY. Love alone can interpret love. Christianity is a revelation of love, and none but the loving can rise to its meaning. Theology is one thing, Christianity is another, the one is a "letter," the other is a "spirit." Love is the single eye of the soul, and it fills the whole body with the light of life. Still more that which renders us incapable of entering into its meaning unfits at the same time from applying its provisions. It is a system of great and precious promises. But of all the sons of the earth is there one who, uninspired with love, dare apply a single promise? They are for the children of love, and them only. Without love, then, I am nothing in relation to Christianity.
IV. That man without this love is nothing spiritually in relation to the COMMUNITY OF THE GOOD. There is a great social system in the universe—a city, a Church, a family. There are myriads of beings who mingle together as citizens, fellow members of one Church, a family. Wherever they exist they have the same bond of union, the same condition of friendship, the same principle of inspiration, and the same standard of worth. What is that? In the great community of the good love is everything. "If I have not love, I am nothing to this community. Thou art learned, but though thou shouldst speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, thou art as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." Thou art gifted; prophetic genius is thine; thou art conversant with the arcana of science: thou hast faith too, orthodox, vigorous, and earnest; but though thou hast the "gift of prophecy" and understandest "all mysteries and all knowledge, "and though "thou hast all faith, so that thou couldst remove mountains, and hast not love, thou art nothing." Thou art liberal; but "though thou bestowest all thy goods to feed the poor, and though thou givest thy body to be burned, and hast not charity, it profiteth thee nothing."
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
The immortality of love.
"Charity never faileth," etc. Amongst the many things which Paul predicates in this chapter concerning "charity," or love, is its permanence.
I. It will "never fail" as an ELEMENT OF MORAL POWER. Love is the strongest force in the soul.
1. It is the strongest sustaining power. Our present state is one of trial and sorrow. Burdens press on all, in all grades of society. Godly love is the best sustaining power under all. All Divine promises are made to the loving.
2. It is the strongest resisting power. We have not only burdens to oppress, but enemies to conquer and destroy. If love preoccupies the soul, temptations are powerless.
3. It is the strongest aggressive power. We have not only to bear up with fortitude under trials, and to resist with success temptations, but we have battles to fight and victories to win. Love is at once the inspiration and the qualification for the warfare. There is nothing so aggressive in the moral world as love. Man can stand before anything sooner than love. As a sustaining, resisting, aggressive power, love will "never fail."
II. It will "never fail" as a PRINCIPLE OF SOCIAL UNITY. Deep in the heart of man is the desire for union with his fellow. He wishes to flow with the race as waters with the stream. His ingenuity has been taxed for ages in the invention of schemes for union. Love alone can secure this; love only is the unifying force. We are only one with those we love with the moral affections of our nature. But we can only love the lovable. Love in the moral empire is what attraction is in the material. Love "never faileth" as a principle of social unity.
III. It will "never fail" as a SOURCE OF SPIRITUAL HAPPINESS. Love is joy.
1. It expels from the mind all elements unfavourable to happiness.
2. It generates in the mind all the dements of spiritual joy.
1 Corinthians 13:9, 1 Corinthians 13:10
"We know in part." Partial knowledge is of four kinds.
I. There is a partial knowledge that is a NECESSITY. The knowledge of the highest intelligent creature must by the necessity of nature be partial. What he knows is as nothing compared with the knowable, still less with the unknowable. "Who by searching can find out God?"
II. There is a partial knowledge that is a CALAMITY. Our necessary ignorance is not a calamity; on the contrary, it is a benediction. The necessarily unknown acts as a stimulus to our intellectual faculties. But our ignorance of things that are really knowable must be ever more or less a disadvantage. Ignorance of true ethics, of political economy, agriculture, laws of health, beneficent rules of conduct, true religion, entails incalculable injuries. Ignorance of these things is the night, the winter, of intellect.
III. There is a partial knowledge that is SINFUL. A partial knowledge of our moral condition, the claims of God, the means of redemption, where a fuller knowledge is attainable, is a sin. Ignorance of Christ in a land of churches and Bibles, is a sin, and that of no ordinary heinousness. It is a calamity to the heathen; it is a crime to us.
IV. There is a partial knowledge that is BENEFICENT. Our ignorance of our future is a blessing. Were the whole of our future to be spread out before us, with all its trials and sorrows, and all the circumstances connected with our death, life would become intolerable; it is mercy that has woven the veil that hides the future.
CONCLUSION. Our partial knowledge should make us humble, studious, undogmatic. devout.
1 Corinthians 13:11
A child in time, a man in eternity.
"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." From all the writings of Paul you cannot select an extract more beautiful, significant, and valuable than this chapter. It touches that which is the root of the universe, the heart of God, and the fountain of all virtue and blessedness—love. The subject of the words under our notice is the Christian a child in time, a man in eternity.
I. This is the case in relation to SPEECH. "When I was a child, I spake as a child." Though the word "child" here properly denotes a babe, the apostle evidently uses it with no such limitation, for an infant neither speaks, thinks, nor understands. He denotes by it the human being in the first stages of intelligence and voluntary action. The speech of a child is often marked by incoherence and unintelligibility. It is irrelevant, disconnected, and broken. So is the speech of the sagest and most eloquent Christian here as compared with his language in eternity. The Christian's speech in eternity will be characterized:
1. By clearness. Our speech here, like that of children, is often unintelligible, mere jargon. The reason is that our conceptions are cloudy, half formed, and ill defined. Obscurity of language, either oral or written, is the result of confusion in thought. Clear speech requires a clear head. In heaven thoughts are clear and complete as balls of radiant crystal.
2. By reality. Our speech here, like that of children, is frequently nothing more than the vehicle of mental fantasies and conjecture. Words only embody and reveal the unsubstantial dreams of the mind. But speech in eternity is the organ of reality. Words there are things. They are truths made vocal.
3. By comprehensiveness. How meagre the vocabulary of a child! Our speech here, like that of children, is limited to a very small range of things. When it conveys truth, the truths are but very few; and they relate to a mere speck in the great universe of intelligence. Not so in heaven. The soul will range over the whole domain of facts, receive true impressions of all, and speak them out.
4. By sublimity. Our speech here, like that of children, is not of the most exalted and soul-inspiring character. The best only talk of the rudiments of truths which have become more or less theological platitudes. In heaven speech will be the vehicle of the most soul-inspiring and soul-unlifting realities. Every word will be electric, every sentence radiant and quickening as the sunbeam.
II. This is the case in relation to UNDERSTANDING. "I understood as a child." The Christian's understanding here is like that of a child in several respects.
1. In feebleness. The child's intellect, like his body, gets strength by nutriment and exercise. In the first stages it is very feeble. It is incapable of any great effort. It is thus with the Christian here. We say of such a man, "He has a great intellect." But in reality the greatest is very weak. How little the effort that the greatest intellect can make in search of knowledge! What a small amount of truth can the most vigorous hold within his grasp! In heaven the understanding will be strong, unencumbered by matter, unchecked by disease, unclouded by sin. It will grow young with age and strong with exercise,
2. In sensuousness. A child's understanding is under the control of the senses. It judges by appearances; it is taken up with the forms of things. Is it not so with the Christian. He is prone to "mind earthly things," "to judge after the flesh." The theology and the ritualism even of the most spiritual are coloured by sensuousness. The hell and heaven of Christendom are sensuous worlds.
3. In relativeness. The child judges of all things by their relation to himself. His father may be an author thrilling the intellect of his age, or a statesman directing the destinies of a nation, but the child knows nothing of him in those relations, As a father only he knows him. So with the understanding of a Christian, His conceptions of God are purely relative—Redeemer, Father, Master. Thus only is he regarded. Of what he is in himself, what he is in the universe, what he is in immensity, he understands nothing. In eternity we shall "see him as he is."
4. In servility. The child yields his understanding up to others, often allows it to be used as "clay in the hands of a potter." So it is often with Christians here. They are not generally independent in their inquiries. They put themselves in the hands of Churches and priests, and call them masters, Not so in heaven. Each with a full consciousness of his individuality will be independent in his investigations and conclusions.
III. This is the case in relation to REASONING. "I thought as a child." In the margin the word reasoned is put for "thought." The child reasons Logic is not mere art, it is an instinct in human nature. How does the child reason?
1. From an insufficiency of data. Having neither the power nor the opportunity of making an adequate observation and comparison, he draws his conclusions from passing impressions and unfounded conjectures. Thus it is often with the Christian here. His knowledge of the facts of God and the universe on which he reasons, is so limited that his conclusions are often inconclusive and puerile. The grave and. pompous discussions of our most learned theologues on the ways of God must appear to the ear of an angel as absurd as the prattle of children on the affairs of kingdoms does to us.
2. From the impulse of desire. In all cases the wish is the father to the thought. It is too often so with Christians here. Their likings control their logic. Not so in heaven. How sublime the difference between the Christian in time and the Christian in eternity! How vast the disparity between the speech, understanding, and reasoning of Saul, the little Jewish boy, and "Paul, the aged," the great theologian and sublime apostle! This is only a faint type of the difference between the Christian here and the Christian yonder.
CONCLUSION. This subject teaches:
1. The educational character of this life. The true view of this life is that it is a school for eternity. Here all souls are in a state of pupilage. Some are deriving the true advantages from the discipline, and some are not. Whilst thousands leave this school from year to year unimproved, incorrigible, utterly unfit for the services of eternity, worthless to God and the universe, others are being made "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." Brother disciples, be reconciled to this state. School days are not always the most pleasant. There are restrictions, disciplines, and studies, more or less painful. Struggle on till you "put away childish things," all that is childish in speech and understanding and reasoning. We shall leave this school soon for the family mansion and the grand inheritance.
2. The organic unity of man through all the scenes and stages of his being. Though the man here talks and. judges and reasons very differently to what he did when a child, he is nevertheless the same being. He is but the child more fully developed. He is but the sapling grown into the tree. It is so with the Christian in the other world. He is the same being as he was here, he is but the child grown into the man, freed from "all childish things." Man in heaven is but the child matured. We shall never be greater than men. Whatever is brilliant and great for us in the future will be but the development of the germs that slumber in us now.
3. The necessity of modesty in the maintenance of our theological views. In the light of this subject, how preposterous it is for poor frail, fallible man to set himself up as an authority in theological matters, to assume the priest, the bishop, the pope! "I do not know," says Sir Isaac Newton, "what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself by now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
1 Corinthians 13:12
The body the dark medium of spiritual vision.
"For now we see through a glass, darkly," etc. It needs no illustration to show that our vision of spiritual things is very dim. The cause of this is our subject—the medium is dark, that medium is the body. Through the five senses we gather all the lights that flash on our consciousness and form within us ideas. But why is it dark?
I. The body tends to MATERIALIZE THE CONCEPTIONS OF THE MIND. We "judge after the flesh."
II. The body tends to SWAY THE DECISIONS OF THE MIND. The desires of the flesh often move and master the soul.
III. The body tends to CLOG THE OPERATIONS OF THE MIND. Business, sleep, refreshment, exercise, disease,—all these interrupt the soul. Our visions of spiritual things being so dim:
1. None should pride themselves in their knowledge.
2. Atone should arrogate infallibility of judgment.
3. All should anticipate higher and fuller visions.
When the medium is removed, we shall see "face to face."
1 Corinthians 13:13
Love the greatest power in mind.
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity," etc. Love is here brought into comparison with two other great things in mind—faith and hope.
I. The CORRESPONDENCE between these three. The words imply:
1. That they are all great. The apostle speaks of the "greatest." "Faith" is a great thing. It implies reason, truth, and. the investigation of evidence. It is a great thing in business, in science, in society, as well as in religion. "Hope" is a great thing, too. It implies the recognition of good, a desire for good, and an expectation of good. It makes the greatest trials of the present bearable by bringing into the spirit the blessedness of the future.
2. That they are all permanent. There "abideth" faith and hope. In virtuous souls they are as lasting as life, as lasting as mind itself.
II. The SUPERIORITY of one over the others. "The greatest of these is charity." Why is it the greatest?
1. It is a virtue in itself. There is no moral virtue in faith and hope. They are, under certain conditions, necessary states of mind. But love—disinterested, godly love—is in itself a virtue.
2. It is that quality which alone gives virtue to all other states of mind. Where this love is not, faith and hope are morally worthless.
3. It is that state of mind by which the soul subordinates the universe to itself. The loving soul alone can interpret the universe.
4. It is that state of mind which links the spirit to all holy intelligences. Love is the attractive power that binds all holy spirits together.
5. It is that state of mind which includes the highest faith and hope. Love implies the both.
6. It is that state of mind which is in itself happiness. Love is happiness. We cannot say so of either faith or hope.
7. Love is the most God-like state of the soul. God is not faith or hope; "God is love." The Eternal does not believe or anticipate, but he does love—he is love. Love is the life of the soul. It warms every vein and beats in every pulse.
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Negative view of love.
Again and again, in St. Paul's writings, we have an epistle within the Epistle. Thus, the summation of practical duties (Romans 12:1-21.), the argument on the resurrection (1 Corinthians 14:1-40.), and the portraiture of love in this chapter. By this means we get a well defined view of the object without losing its connections. It is not as if we were looking at the Peak of Teneriffe rising out of the loneliness of the sea, but rather a Mont Blanc, one with the Alps, and yet a solitary form of majesty. Grandeur, as distinct from beauty and sublimity, requires some degree of isolation so as to produce an adequate impression. Here, then, the apostle makes a space for this grand delineation, every feature of which may be seen in concentrated light, and not a thing allowed to distract the eye. This is in itself a call to attention, a summons to the activity of our whole nature, and, in accordance herewith, he presents something more than a mere sketch or profile of love. It is a complete portrait. The features are individually given, and, at the same time, the expression which combines them in a most striking unity. First, then, we have the supreme excellence of love in contrast with the worthlessness of other gifts unaccompanied by its presence. Great stress was laid at that time on the gift of tongues. We are all 'Relined to set a high value on an exceptional endowment of speech. Eloquence passes for much even in a rude age; the North American Indian and the barbarous tribes of Asia acknowledge its power, while cultivated society is never stinted in admiration of its influence. And the possessor of it seldom fails to exaggerate its worth. Stated roughly, eloquent men appear to have a peculiar intensity of consciousness as respects this gift. They are singularly open to the seductions of popular applause, so much so, indeed, that the public approval which a scientific man, or a statesman, or a military hero would he unharmed by, is often ruinous to an orator. Not the common air, but the breath of the multitude, fragrant with adulation, feeds his lungs. This it is that arterializes his blood and sends it hot and poisonous to his brain. Of course, these Corinthians were the very persons to overvalue the gift of tongues. It was in the channel of their tastes and traditions. But the apostle teaches them that this wonderful power holds a subordinate rank. tie does not depreciate it; no, he appreciates it to the full: "tongues of men" are associated with "the tongues of angels;" and yet, without love, the endowment is as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." What is it but mere noise, an idle tumult of the air? Unless love to God and man attend the gift, restrain its selfishness, destroy its vanity making tendency, and sanctify it to the welfare of others, it is worthless. But the second verse enlarges the thought. One may have the gift of prophecy and use his intellect with amazing skill and force so as to excite and captivate his hearers, and this, too, under the teachings of revelation, and, further, one may have insight into Divine secrets, and "understand all mysteries," and have them at command as "knowledge;" yet what is he without love? Can it be possible that this resplendent power could exist, and that other light kindled by love be utterly wanting? Observe, it is "all" mysteries and knowledge; the man explores every height and depth, and he has the freedom of the universe. Nay, superadd all faith, so that material nature falls in homage at your feet and the "mountains "remove in obedience to your will; but of what avail this expenditure of mighty energy, where the holiness of love is lacking? If, then, the man endowed with universality of utterance—"tongues of men and of angels;" and if the prophet with his clear and broad insight into the counsels of God, and before whose eye the panorama of distant events moves as a spectacle of today; if the miracle worker who transcends all natural capacities and exercises the delegated power of Jehovah in producing supernatural phenomena;—if these men and their gifts are compared to "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal," and verily are "nothing;" and though they are known as apostles, prophets, miracle workers, heroes of faith, instruments of the supernatural: if all these are nothingness itself without love, can anything more be said to intensify the excellence of love as a Divine principle and sentiment and impulse? The third verse answers this question. Charity, almsgiving, philanthropy, even self sacrifice at the stake, here come into view. How far may one go in the benevolent appropriation of earthly property and yet fall below the highest motive? St. Paul replies that he may "dole out" all he owns, do it gradually, do it cautiously, do it to the exhaustion of his resources, yet do it unmindful of that sovereign law which gathers into itself all other laws and imparts to them a virtue that makes them Divine. Nor is this all. One may have the philanthropic idea and sensibility so largely developed as to accept martyrdom, have the courage to face it unblenched, and to endure it with fortitude; but he may surrender life without the highest love. Love may be there—love of a truth, love of a cause, love of humanity—not necessarily the love, however, here under discussion; and hence, this distinctive Christian love, which includes the Divine and the human, being absent, the martyrdom is not for Christ's sake, and consequently is nugatory as to its Christian character. "It profiteth me nothing." If, now, such a doctrine as this rested on a ground solely ethical, we confess our inability to see how it could be accepted as a trustworthy view of human nature. Logic in itself has no fundamental principle from which it can be deduced. Philosophy as such, and as confined to what it finds in our constitution, would be compelled to reject a conclusion so alien to its spirit. On the other hand, the doctrine may be easily and heartily received On the score of Christian logic and philosophy. For, in the scheme of Christianity, human nature is a revelation from God. It is the Divine thought of this nature which we are to embrace, to cherish, to act upon. And if we admit, as we ought to do in the presence of such satisfactory evidence, that God has spoken to man of man, and disclosed to him the once hidden mystery of himself, as well as that other and infinitely greater "hidden mystery" of his redeeming purpose in Christ—if we acknowledge this, then we cannot impeach the wisdom, the justness, the stern truthfulness, of St, Paul's argument. The argument assumes that Christianity is of God, and, as such, advances to this point, namely, Christianity alone gives a full and complete view of our nature. Its ethical teachings, their reasons and motives and ends, are founded in Christ and in his relations to us. Our relations to him and to one another are subsequent considerations, and take their quality and bearings simply, solely, altogether, from him, the "Image of the invisible God," and the "Firstborn of every creature." Inasmuch, then, as the ideal of our nature is not as we see it in and by our own unaided consciousness, but in and by a consciousness illuminated and guided by the Holy Ghost, how could it be otherwise than that new intuitions occur, and that demands are made on us never imagined before? On this foundation St. Paul stands when he affirms that those endowments which charm, those splendid gifts that win enthusiastic admiration, even self sacrifice itself at the bidding of earth-born instincts, are nothing without that love which is purely a responsive affection, or, as St. John expresses it, "We love him because he first loved us.—L.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The nature and operation of love.
The negative view having been presented, the apostle considers the mature and operations of this love, And one characteristic of it, he puts in the foreground of its excellences. It can suffer. A virtue that cannot suffer is hardly a virtue at all. Certainly it is not a virtue that can lay the least claim to divineness. Wedded love, parental love, philanthropic and patriotic love, have to undergo a discipline of pain and sorrow even to symbolize the higher affection of Divine love. This holy love, of which this chapter is so laudatory, derives its very essence from the "Man of sorrows." Short of realizing, in its measure, the agony in the lonely garden and the yet lonelier cross, it dare not, it cannot stop, since only there is its test found. A beautiful aestheticism, moral, perchance semi-spiritual, may follow the lowly Jesus of Nazareth through the windings of his Galilean and Judaean journeys, cling reverently to his person, spread the palm branches in his pathway, and shout its glad hosannas to his Name, and, after all, "forsook him and fled" may be the final record of its weakness. Only when he rises to the sacrificial height of his anointing as the Christ of God's Law and the Christ of God's love, and bears our sins in his own body on the tree—only here, where Jehovah "lets the lifted thunder drop," can the human soul be reconciled first to its own disciplinary sufferings, and learn afterwards, by many conflicts with self, to glory in the cross. But love not only suffers, it "suffereth long." It is patient—patient towards others, and, what is quite as important, patient with itself. And under all its sufferings, instead of being irritable, it is kind. Unsanctified suffering is usually morbid. It broods over its ills; it magnifies its afflictions; often, indeed, it makes us misanthropic. Sweetness of temper and tender outgoings of sympathy are not the common results of painful experiences, but the fruits of the Holy Spirit in them. Fortitude may be shown, and it may be naught but homage at the shrine of self. This love is of God. It takes to its heart God s thought of suffering as chastening, as correction, as the supreme moral necessity of a probationary life, through which we must pass to get any deep knowledge of ourselves. For it is never pleasure, but pain, that holds the key to the secret chambers, where the latent man awaits the voice of God bidding him arise and gird himself with immortal strength. Now, what effect on this love would ensue from suffering that had become habitual and wrought patience and silent enduringness into character? By suppressing a morbid regard for self and quickening the sympathies that give width to the inner life, what would be the specific result on the relations sustained to others? These Corinthians, as we have frequently noticed, were pulling down one and putting up another, were thoroughgoing partisans, were censorious and depreciatory towards those with whom they were disinclined to affiliate. What change for the better would love bring about? St. Paul answers, "Love envieth not." Observe how quickly he turns again to the negative aspects of this "supremely excellent way," and what vigour is imparted to the argument. At every step, contrast aids him by suggesting what love excludes, while its true qualities are set in bolder relief. Envy is pain at the sight of superior excellence in another, and is always a mark of blinding selfishness. According to one s temperament, it is displeasure or something worse, and usually contains an element of hatred.
"Men, that make
Envy and crooked malice nourishment,
Dare bite the best."
Of course it leads to strife. It is a fruitful cause of schism, and as schism was a terrible evil in the apostle's view, he could not fail to show its utter inconsistency with this cardinal virtue. Along with this he says, "Love vaunteth not"—a similar idea to the foregoing as to its bad temper, but unlike as to its mood of exhibition. Reference is here made to the foolish display of self importance after the manner of a swaggerer or braggart. Next comes the statement, "Is not puffed up," not inflated or swollen by self conceit; this is followed by, "Doth not behave itself unseemly"—is not uncourteous, but studies propriety of manner, and shows the instinct of a right demeanour, from which all good breeding proceeds. The art of behaviour is manifold. It is amenable to circumstances and classes, variable as to outward manifestations, suiting language and other demonstrations to the claims of occasion, and, in all this, its root principle is the same if it be truthful and sincere, since it loses sight of self and ministers to the happiness of others. Christian manners are the offspring of a Christian manner; the manners are external, the manner is internal; so that here, as in all else, form is created by spirit. The tones of the voice, the look of the eye, the muscular play of the countenance, are not physical facts only, but expressions and languages that have modulation, accent, emphasis, direct from the soul. Thus attended, our words take on other, fuller, more inspiriting meanings than those drawn from the dictionary; so that a man's face, figure, gesture, attitude, give a personal import to what emanates from his heart. If one compares the spiritual expression in the face of a Madonna by Raphael with the mere sensuous beauty of the face as depicted by antique art, he sees at once that Christianity has affected art to such an extent as to modify the laws of representation. "Expression is the vivid image of the passion that affects the mind; its language, and the portrait of its situation" (Fuseli). It is not extravagant to claim that Christianity has so far changed physiological expression as to spiritualize, and thereby to heighten, its quality and force. But why limit the change to art? The fact is that Christianity has had its effect—a very distinctive and appreciable effect—on what may be termed the physiology of manner, in the intercourse of society. We seldom think of it. We rarely number this among the myriad advantages Christianity has brought to man. Yet the fact is indisputable that Christianity has given to the human voice tones of strength and tenderness never before known, and to the human eye a depth of power, of stillness, of pathos, that, without its grace, had been impossible. Nor can we doubt that this is one of the numerous ways it has adopted to establish a closer relation between mind and matter, and educate the body for the glory of the resurrection. Passing from decorum while yet retaining the general idea in his grasp, St. Pant now mentions the unselfishness of love: "Seeketh not her own." If its deportment is never obtrusive, but always becoming; if it never uses its gifts to remind others of their inferiority, but orders its manners so as to avoid everything which might tend to inflame envy; it goes still further, and manifests its disinterestedness as the soul of the "supremely excellent way." To pursue its own honour and aggrandizement, as if it had a sole proprietary interest in itself and could only exist by existing for its own reputation, influence, happiness, is forestalled by its nature and operations. The "all things" are not its, but "yours," and "ye," one and all, "are Christ's." So he had argued in the third chapter. The echo of the great truth comes back again and again, and once more it is heard in this verse. What St. Paul has just said of love as suffering long, and as kind, as not envying and vaunting, nor conceited and indecorous, are as so many stepping stones to "seeketh not its own." Would it have anything in the universe for itself alone? If so, the very thing itself, the universe itself, would be changed into another thing and another universe, and be no more a joy and a blessedness, but a restraint and an evil and a curse. Instead of a palace, a prison; instead of sublime disinterestedness, sordidness and ceaseless descent in degradation; instead of an ideal in Christ, the idea of virtues as bare commercial utilities, and of the soul as a commodity valued by the market place. Have anything alone? This were loneliness indeed. It were grievous, it were misery, to be isolated even by goodness and greatness from the heart of humanity. It is painful to a true man to be reminded of his superiority at the expense of others, and whenever one welcomes this sort of homage and glorifies himself, he loses truth of manhood. To thank God that we are "not as other men are" is sheer Pharisaism, and all such thanksgiving is worship of self. Love has not a wish, a desire, an aim, an aspiration, bounded by the limits of itself; and as Jesus prayed, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, so is the prayer of the soul in all its greatest moments, and when the cross is nearest by, that it may be one with others, as it longs to be one with Christ and the Father. Every inch that a majestic oak goes upward or spreads laterally, down go its roots; further and wider they spread themselves out, tree above and tree below, preserving, each in its way, proportion and symmetry. And so with love. Reaching that high development indicated by capacity to suffer and yet be kind, by victory over envy and ostentation, and the transformation of daily manners into spiritual grace and beauty, it has so enlarged itself as to afford ample room even for the most generous and magnanimous emotions. It wants to be good and to be better, but where is the best? And as the years move on and the soul grows, this thought comes to be uppermost, "There is a better world;" and not alone in a better nature, and as a better being, but in a better world, it looks for its perfection. A world of love is its demand. The negative idea is still further unfolded in the words, "Is not easily provoked," or, "Is not provoked" (Revised Version). Much of peevishness, of anger, of resentment, springs from wounding the imaginary being whom we call by our name, fondle with our caresses, and idolize in our vanity. This deformed self, though apparelled in gaudy drapery and lifted to an exalted pedestal, is but too conscious of its blemishes and flaws, to be tolerant of criticism or amiable under exposure of its imperfections. It is quick to take umbrage. It is full of suspicion and keenly alive to neglect, real or supposed. A chronic ailment, this self conceit feels any fluctuation of circumstances and is acutely sensitive to wind and weather. On the other hand, love is not provoked; its temper is not quick, nor are its words hasty. How can it be otherwise, when it "thinketh no evil"? By governing its thoughts, it obtains that rare virtue of intellect which consists in no small degree of a mastery over associations and suggestions, and that is probably the most signal triumph of mind over its physical connections. "Imputeth not the evil" (Dr. Kling); "Taketh not account of evil" (Revised Version); and whereas the "evil" is real and palpable, it refuses to bear it in mind, and, by fixing attention and keeping it fixed on the wrong, to aggravate the impression. Here, as everywhere, mark the unity in our constitution. One cannot have a sore finger, or toothache, or painful limb, that the affection is not enhanced by directing thought to it. The blood is inflamed the more, and the nervous susceptibility augmented. So it is with the mind. Can we wonder, then, that St. Paul's insight detected the relation between thinking of injury or injustice, and the moral effect on character? And, finally, as to these repeated negatives, love "rejoiceth not in ininquity," or, "in unrighteousness," but "rejoiceth in [or, 'with'] the truth." It exults not at the overthrow and prostration of others. The downfall of another, even if that other made himself a rival, is no gratification. A human soul, a redeemed spirit, sank in that fall, and love cannot rejoice in such a calamity. "Rejoiceth in [or, 'with'] the truth." Love has been personified all along; truth is here personified. Love approaches moral truth, offers its congratulations, enters into its success, shares its joy. So, then, St. Paul approaches the close of this paragraph by the beautiful picture of love and truth side by side, and happy in the purity and glory of their fellowship. Looking back on the course of the argument, we see love as a meek and gentle sufferer, the traces of pain on its face, yet a sweet and holy reconciliation to the pangs long borne. We see kindness imprinted on the countenance. We discover no sign of envy, of pride and vanity, of overweening self regard, and, wherever the figure moves, its grace and charms are not blurred by unseemly demeanour. Most of all, its eye has an outward look, as if offering its heart to the service of others. And while unpleasant things occur, and wrongs are perpetrated, it is not made ahoy, nor does it nurse malice and resentment, nor rejoice at the retributions that overtake iniquity. Joy, indeed, it has, but its gladdest hours are those when love clasps hands with truth, and when seeketh not its own finds its highest realization in fellowship with truth. But the positive side of love must now be presented. It "beareth all things," that is, "hides to itself and to others" (Bengel), conceals or covers up the infirmities of others, which envy, pride, malice, would not expose, but delight in the exposure. A virtue is most glorious when it courts silence and prizes it as a beatitude. Unwitnessed patience and heroism are grandest when the soul asks no recognition, but abides with its consciousness alone in God. In his four statements in 1 Corinthians 13:7 this quiet bearing of the imperfections of other people is first mentioned. And. with what expressiveness of diction! "Beareth all things." That passive strength which bears life's burden is no sudden, still less an early, acquirement. It is a slow growth. Time, as a coworker with grace, has much to do with its excellence. Years only can give it maturity and years full of providence. Consider, too, what a co-education of the body is implied here, what a subduing of recreant nerves, what a check on the blood, what refusals to obey sensations, before one can learn the art of silence as to the faults that annoy and often vex. If it is thus that Christian character is rounded off, we cannot doubt that it is not attainable except through a tedious and protracted experience. But does this bearing with the faults of others comply with the requirements of social duty? Nay, says the apostle, love "believeth all things." It searches for good qualities in men who are disagreeable and even repulsive, and whatever its diligent scrutiny can bring to light amid the mass of infirmities overlaying better traits, yields it genuine pleasure. Colour blindness is not confined to the physical eye. Individuals who are sensitive to the faults of others, and habituated to criticizing them, are generally more affected by nervous annoyance than by conscience, and it commonly happens with such that they seldom look for any redeeming goodness. To estimate the force of circumstances, to study motives, to make charitable allowances, are alien to their tastes and temper. On the contrary, the instinct of love is to believe that others are better, or, at least, may be better, than they seem. So that while love is an heroic believer, it is also a wise doubter, and gives the unhappy idiosyncrasies of men the benefit of its doubts. Because of this, it "hopeth all things." Right believing is an expansive force in the intellect. It is a quickener of imagination. It finds reasons for confidence unknown to him who has the conceit of scepticism, and cherishes it for its own sake, and prides himself on it as a sign of intellectual acumen. Faith acts on the emotions. These two, imagination and sensibility, stimulate hope, that in turn rises above the senses and comprehends, to some extent, the mighty forces engaged on the side of goodness. The power of God in Christianity makes its way slowly to the heart, while Satanic influence is demonstrative to the eye. Hope is not left to itself, but is taught of Christ, who, in the days of his flesh, looked beyond humiliation, obloquy, death, to the glory waiting to invest him. So, then, we may say that large views and large hopes go together, and the grace that "believeth all things" also "hopeth all things." But is a great hope immediately gratified? Never; if it were it would lose its greatness. Hope is a beautiful education, and it is this by holding back its fulfilment and thereby expanding the soul's capacity for the fullest gratification. Hope must have time and opportunity to develop the sense of enjoyability in us before it bestows the reality. Each day of postponement goes onward to the day of realization, which is thousands of days in one. But it educates us in other forms. The delay of hope to meet our anticipations tests our strength and patience. Has the hope a firm hold on our souls? If so, its possessor "endureth all things." Through doubt and darkness, amidst adversity, despite opposing circumstances, love is persistent, and its persistency is the measure of its power. When we reach this ability to endure, waiting in serene patience, submissive to God's will, content with today for what it is in itself, anticipating a coming Joy, but leaving its birth hour to him who keeps the times and seasons for himself,—when we attain this point of experience, we are near the boundary of earthly growth. Passive excellence, such as that pointed out by the word "endureth," seems to be the final work of the Holy Ghost in the human heart. Fitly, therefore, St. Paul finds the climax of expressions (1 Corinthians 13:7) in "endureth all things." True, "beareth," "believeth," "hopeth," are alike related to "all things" with "endureth," and yet this is obviously the consummation of the idea pervading the apostle's mind. Fitly so, we have said, since men are accustomed to regard endurance as the mark of the highest power. It is a trained and balanced power. Body, soul, and spirit are present in the fulness of its strength. There is no disquiet in those sensibilities that are ever creating ripples on the surface of life. There is no agitation in those great depths that once heaved under the fury of the storm. Enduring love has entered into rest, and the repose is God like.—L.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Permanence of love.
Why is it that the numerous objects around us are transient? On every side they appeal to us, connect themselves with hope and fear, enter into our business, awaken enterprise and ambition, and even inspire ardent love; yet they are ever passing away. Now, there must be a discipline in all this, and Christianity assures us what it means. It is that we may be trained in the midst of evanescence for that which is permanent. And this presupposes that there is not only an immortal soul in man, but that, by reason of his present organization and its relations, certain of his functions and acquirements are purely temporary, while others are to live forever. In fact, there are functions and acquirements which do not wait for the death of the body. They fulfil their purpose and expire long before age overtakes us. Yet, says Wordsworth—
''Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe
It is in the spirit of a true and noble Christian philosophy that this great moral poet of the century sees no cause to "mourn nor murmur" because our nature has a rejecting instinct, which, as God ordains, throws off and leaves behind it tastes and habits that were once very useful as well as precious. Keeping in mind, then, that this rejecting instinct is an organic part of our constitution and has its allotted functions to discharge, we can appreciate all the more St. Paul's line of thought in the closing verses of this chapter. "Love never faileth." Its existence, activity, manifestation, will be perpetuated. The wonderful spiritual gifts of which he had said so much—prophecy, the ability to speak with tongues, knowledge—these should cease to exist. Although they proceeded from the Holy Ghost and were mightily instrumental for good in the incipient work of the Church, yet, nevertheless, they were to terminate. Scaffoldings were they all, useful as such, subserving most important ends, but mere scaffoldings, that could no longer remain when the edifice had been finished. What, then, is the ideal of the Church? it is not splendid endowments, for they are doomed to extinction, but the love "that never faileth." Whether the passing away of these gifts refers to the apostolic age or to "the age to come," matters nothing, since the idea of their discontinuation, rather than of the time it should occur, is foremost in St. Paul's mind. Imagine, then, his conception of love, when he could contemplate the Church as a vast body laying off these mighty accompaniments of its career, and yet, so far from being weakened, would be girded afresh with a power more resplendent and display it in a form infinitely more majestic. Disrobed of these habiliments, its contour would appear in the perfection of sublimity; its anatomy as an organism would be, as it were, transparent; the whole framework, the various parts, the ligaments binding them together, the circulating lifeblood, would disclose the single animating principle of love. Would it startle the Corinthians to learn that even knowledge should vanish away? "We know in part, and we prophesy in part." All knowledge cannot be meant, for love itself includes much knowledge, and, in its absence, would be simply emotional intensity. To possess the mere faculty of knowing would be worthless, if the mind could not retain the contents of knowledge and make them a portion integrally of itself. What the apostle teaches is that such knowledge as stands related to the present state and time, and grows directly out of imperfect human development, and shares the condition of all things earthly, is short lived and must terminate. Tongues shall cease, but the gift of speech shall not be lost. And he explains himself by saying that the gifts relating to prophecy and tongues were only partial, were exclusively adapted to a preliminary state of experience and activity, and completed their purpose in a temporary spiritual economy. We are here under specific, no less than general limitations, and, in certain directions, we are restrained more than in others. What the Spirit looks to is not knowledge alone, but to its moral aspects as well; to humility, meekness, self abasement, when the intellect is strongest, freest, and boldest; nor will he expand the understanding and its expressional force for their own sakes, but develop them only so far as subservient to an object higher than their immediate ends. Partial information, partial command of our mental faculties, partial uses of even the wisdom we possess—this is the law of limitation and restraint, under which the complex probation of intellect, sensibility, volition, aspiration, and outward activity, works out immeasurable results. Therefore, he argues, we now know and prophesy "in part;" at the best, we are fragmentary and incomplete; and yet this imperfection is connected with a perfect system and leads up to it. The perfection will come; the existing economy is its foreshadowing; nor could knowledge give any rational account of itself, nor could prophecy and tongues vindicate their worth, if the fuller splendours, of which these are faint escapes of light, were not absolute certainties of the future. Only when the "perfect is come" shall that which is "in part" be "done away." Institutions founded in providence and upheld by the Spirit are left to no chance or accident as to continuance, decay, extinction. God comes into them, abides, departs, according to the counsel of his will. If he numbers our days as living men, and keeps our times in his hand; if only his voice says, "Return, ye children of men;"—this is equally true of institutions. For the dead dust, man makes a grave; but the life of individuals, institutions, government, society, even the Church, is in God's keeping, and he alone says, "Return." How shall St. Paul set forth the relation of the partial to the perfect? A truth lacks something if it cannot be illustrated, and a teacher is very defective in ability when he cannot find a resemblance or an analogy to make his meaning more perspicuous and vivid. Truth and teacher have met in this magnificent chapter on ground reserved, we may venture to say, for their special occupancy and companionship. The great teacher sees the sublimest of truths in a glowing light, and most unlike Paul would he be if no illustration came to hand spontaneously. Is there something in the more hallowed moments of the soul that suddenly reinstates the sense of childhood? "When I was a child" in the heathen city of Tarsus, the capital of a Roman province; the mountains of Taurus and the luxuriant plain and the flowing Cydnus near by; the crowded streets and gay population and excited groups of talkers pressing on eye and ear; the festivals of paganism; the strange contrasts of these with the life in his Jewish home; his training under the parental roof; the daily reminders of the Law and the traditions of the Pharisees; what thoughts were they? Only those of a child, understood and spoken as a child. No ordinary child could he have been. Providence was shaping him then for an apostle, so that while the holy child Jesus was growing "in wisdom and stature" amid the hills of Nazareth and in the nursery of the virgin mother's heart, there was far away in Cilicia a boy not much younger, who was in rearing there, under very unlike circumstances, to be his chosen apostle to the Gentile world. Yet the boy Saul was but a child, and thought and spake "as a child." But is childhood disallowed and set off in sharp contrast with manhood? Nay; childhood is of God no less than manhood as to quality of being. What is contrasted is the childishness in the one case and the perfected manhood in the other. So that we suppose the apostle to mean that whatsoever is initial, immature, provisional, in the child, has been put away to make room for something better. The better implies the good, a childish good, indeed, and yet a good from the hand of God however mixed with earthly imperfections. Another movement occurs in the leading thought. Can one think of knowledge without an involuntary recurrence of the symbol of light? The symbol has quite supplanted the thing signified, and the enlightened man is more honoured than the knowing man. St. Paul proceeds to say, "Now we see through a glass, darkly;" the revealed Word of God is conveyed to us "in symbols and words which but imperfectly express them" (Hodge, Delitzsch); and yet, while there is a "glass" or mirror, and the knowledge or vision of Divine things is "darkly" given, there is a real knowledge, a true and blessed knowledge, for "we see." Enough is made intelligible for all the purposes of the spiritual mind, for all spiritual uses, in all spiritual relationships of comprehension, conscience, volition, affection, brotherhood; enough for probation, responsibility, culture, and lifetime growth. What in us is denied? Only curiosity, excessive appetencies of the faculties, habits of perception and judging superinduced in the intellect by the sensational portion of our nature,—these are denied their morbid gratification. A plethora of evidence is denied that faith may have its sphere. Over strength and over constraint of motive are denied that the will may be left free. Violent impulses of feeling are denied that the heart may be intense without wild and erratic enthusiasm, treasuring its life of peaceful blessedness in unfathomable depths like the ocean, that keeps its mass of waters in the vast hollows of the globe and uses the hills and mountains only to shape its shores. On the other hand, what is granted to the mind in the revelation of Divine truth? Such views of God in Christ as the soul can realize in its present condition and thereby form the one master habit of a probationary being, viz. How to see God in Christ. At present, we can only begin to see as by reflection in a mirror; and, as in the education of the senses to the finer work of earthly life the cultivation of the eye is the slowest and most exacting, the longest, the most difficult, and that too because the eye is the noblest of the special senses, so learn we, and not without much patient exertion, and oft repeated efforts to see God in Christ as made known in his gospel and providence and Holy Spirit. Yet the mirror trains the eye and prepares it to see God through no such intervening medium. The promised vision is open, full, immediate. We shall see him "face to face," says St. Paul. "We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is," declares St. John. And then partial knowledge shall expand into perfect knowledge, and we shall know after a new and Divine manner, for nothing less than this is the assurance: Know as we are known. "Glorious hymn to Christian love," as Dr. Farrar calls this chapter, what shall be its closing strain? "And now abideth" (remains or continues)—the same duration as compared with the evanescence of extraordinary gifts being ascribed to the three—"and now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love." Who can doubt it after reading this chapter? Here it stands beside the great gifts of the "tongues of men and of angels," and of the prophetic insight, and of miracle working, and of philanthropy and martyrdom, and, amid this splendid array, love is greatest. In what it does, it is greatest. In what it is, it is greatest. Here, finally, it is grouped with faith and hope, and yet the light that irradiates its form and features from the glory of God in the face or' Jesus Christ is a lustre beyond that of the other two, because the "greatest of these is love."—L.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
1 Corinthians 13:1
The word rendered "charity" in the Old Version, and "love" in the Revised Version of our New Testament, is not a classical substantive. It is emphatically a Christian term. And this need not be wondered at; for as the virtue itself is one, if not created, yet developed by Christianity, it is what might have been expected to find that the thing gave rise to the name. This chapter has been called a psalm of love, and is admired both for its elevated thinking and its melodious diction, whilst to such as are imbued with the true Christian spirit it is especially congenial and delightful.
I. MISCONCEPTIONS HAVE TO BE REMOVED. E.g.:
1. The use of the word "charity" is ambiguous. It is often used as equivalent to tolerance, as in the phrase, "the judgment of charity;" and often as synonymous with "almsgiving," as in the sad proverb, "Cold as charity." Neither of these uses meets the requirements of the text.
2. "Love" is also an ambiguous word, being commonly applied to the feeling of attraction and attachment between young people of opposite sexes—a usage which evidently has no applicability here.
II. THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN LOVE HAS TO BE EXPLAINED.
1. It is between one human being and another. The question is not of reverent love to God, but of the mutual feelings of those endowed with the same spiritual nature.
2. It is a sentiment, and there is no love where there is simply a principle of action, cold and unimpassioned.
3. It is a sentiment which governs conduct, restraining men from injuring or slandering one another, and impelling them to mutual assistance.
III. THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN LOVE HAS TO BE TRACED.
1. Its true and ultimate origin is in the nature of God, who is love.
2. Its introduction among men is chiefly owing to the Lord Jesus, who was the gift of the Father's love, whose whole ministry to earth was a revelation of love, and whose benevolent conduct and sacrificial death were the fruit of love.
3. Its individual power and social efficacy are owing to the presence and operation of the Spirit of God. Not without significance is love mentioned first in the inventory of the fruits of the Spirit, which are these: love, joy, peace, etc.
IV. THE EXCELLENCY OF CHRISTIAN LOVE HAS TO BE EXHIBITED. This is done in this chapter, systematically, in several ways.
1. It is superior to the supernatural gifts generously bestowed upon the Church in the first age.
2. It is the motive to dispositions and actions of the highest degree of moral beauty.
3. It will survive all that is most prized by man as intellectually precious and desirable.
4. It is superior even to gifts, or rather graces, so lovely and admirable as are faith and hope.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:1
Love and language.
It would seem that, of all gifts, the gift of speech, and especially that variety of it known as the gift of tongues, was most prized by the Christians of Corinth. Probably for this reason the apostle puts this in the forefront, when he compares other possessions and virtues with the grace of love.
I. IN WHAT THE SUPERIORITY OF LOVE OVER SPEECH CONSISTS.
1. In the fact that the gift of tongues draws attention to the possessor himself, whilst charity goes forth from him who cultivates it to others. The gift in question was one splendid and dazzling. Whether it consisted in a power to speak intelligibly in foreign languages, or in the pouring forth of sounds—articulate, indeed, but not corresponding with any language known to the auditors—in either case it was a brilliant faculty, drawing all eyes to the speaker and all ears to his voice. On the other hand, the affectionate ministrant to the wants of his poor or afflicted neighbours would usually go his way unnoticed and unadmired. It is better that a man should be drawn out, as it were, from himself, than that his attention should be, because the attention of others is, concentrated upon himself.
2. In the fact that the grace of love is far more serviceable to the Church and to the world than the gift of tongues. There was a purpose subserved by this gift—it impressed carnal listeners, it was a proof to the Church itself of a special Divine presence. But love led men and women to sympathize with one another, to minister to the wants of the needy, to raise the fallen, to strengthen the weak, to nurse the sick, to comfort the bereaved, to rear the orphan. Thus its fruits vindicated its supremacy.
3. In the fact that the Lord Jesus loved, but never spake with tongues.
4. In the fact that the gift of tongues is but for a season, whilst love is indestructible and eternal.
II. BY WHAT COMPARISON THE SUPERIORITY OF LOVE IS ILLUSTRATED. The gift without the grace is likened to the sounding of brass, to the clashing of a cymbal of bronze. There is noise, but it is vex et proeterea nihil; there is no melody and no meaning. On the other hand, love is like a strain of exquisite music vibrating from the strings, warbling from a flute, or pealing from the pipes of an organ; or, better still, it is like the clear bell-like voice of a boy in some cathedral choir, rendering an immortal passage of sacred poetry to an air sounding like an echo from the minstrelsy of Paradise. The former arrests attention; the gong when struck produces a shock; but the latter sweetly satisfies the soul, then soothing and refreshing the spirit's longings for a heaven bern strain, and leaving behind the precious memory of a melting cadence.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:2
Love and knowledge.
Different gifts have attractions for different minds. To the Corinthians the charisms of language seem to have had an especial charm and value. It might be supposed that those possessions here mentioned—prophecy, unravelling of mysteries, and knowledge, especially of spiritual things—would have a deeper interest for such a one as Paul. And that he did prize these is not to be questioned. Yet such was his appreciation of love, that in this eulogium of it he sets it above those half intellectual, half spiritual gifts.
I. THESE GIFTS ARE IN THEMSELVES VALUABLE. There is nothing here said to disparage the gifts. On the contrary, they are introduced in a way which witnesses to their excellence. Prophecy is the speaking forth of the mind of God—a function the most honourable the mind can conceive. To understand and reveal mysteries would universally be acknowledged to be a high distinction. Knowledge ranks high in connection with a religion which addresses man's intelligence. All these are, so to speak, aspects of religion peculiarly congenial to a thoughtful Christian, and peculiarly advantageous to a Christian community.
II. BUT IT IS POSSIBLE THAT THESE GIFTS MAY BE OF NO VALUE TO THE POSSESSOR. That is, in case they be unaccompanied by love. The purely intellectual character is the unlovely character. The man may be the vehicle of truth, and yet the truth may pass through him without affecting his character, his spiritual position. Who does not know such men—men of Biblical scholarship, sound theology, great teaching power, yet loveless, and because loveless unlovely? To themselves they may be great men, and in the view of the Church; but in reality, and before God, they are nothing!
III. IT IS LOVE WHICH MAKES THESE GIFTS VALUABLE TO THEIR POSSESSOR. How needful love is to impart a spiritual flavour and quality to these great endowments, is clear enough, i.e. to every enlightened mind.
1. Love infuses the spirit in which they are to be used. How differently the man of intellect or of learning uses his powers when his soul is pervaded by the spirit of brotherly love, every observer must have noticed. "Let all your things be done in charity" is an admonition appropriate to all, but especially so to the man of genius or of ability.
2. Love controls the purpose to which they are to be applied. Not for self exaltation, not for the advancement of a great cause, but for the general welfare, will love inspire the great to consecrate their talents, according to the mind and method of the great Master himself.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:2
Love and faith.
St. Paul was so emphatically the apostle of faith, that it is hard to believe that he wrote anything approaching to disparagement of that great and efficacious virtue. If he devoted a great part of his chief Epistle—that to the Romans—to an exhibition of the power of faith, it is not likely that here or anywhere he should write one word which could cast faith into the shade. And, in fact, the reference of the apostle in this passage is not to faith in Christ as a Saviour, but to that special faith m a special promise which was the means of enabling the possessor to perform great marvels—in the figurative language of Scripture, to remove mountains.
I. THIS LANGUAGE IS NOT IN DISPARAGEMENT OF THE FAITH WHICH WORKS BY LOVE. It is always taught in Scripture that faith precedes love; the heart must find Christ and rest in him and live from him, in order that it may love him. Confidence in a personal Saviour revealed in his words and life, in his sacrifice and triumph, will certainly awaken affection, more or less ardent according to the temperament and history of the individual believer. Strong faith is fitted to enkindle warm love.
II. WE ARE TAUGHT THAT "GIFTS" ARE NOT ALWAYS A SIGN OF PIETY. The faith which was so much admired and coveted in the primitive Church was confidence in a certain definite promise of the Lord of supernatural aid to those whose position rendered such aid expedient. The removal of mountains is, of course, a figure for the vanquishing of difficulties, and probably for the performance of miracles. It would seem that there were in the early Churches some who possessed this gift who had not the spiritual qualifications which were far more to be desired. And it is not to be denied that even now there are in all Christian communities men largely endowed with gifts of administration, learning, and eloquence, who yet are lacking in those first qualities of Christian character which are a sign of the Spirit's indwelling. Far more to be desired is simple faith in the Saviour than the faith which removes mountains and dazzles multitudes.
III. THESE LESSONS ARE ENFORCED BY THE CONSIDERATION THAT PAUL POSSESSED BOTH SUPERNATURAL GIFTS AND FERVENT CHARITY, AND WAS WELL ABLE TO COMPARE THE TWO. Never were wonders, miracles of moral power, wrought more manifestly, more repeatedly, than in the ministry of the great apostle of the Gentiles. If any had reason to boast, he had more. Yet to him his love to the Saviour, and his devotion to those for whom that Saviour died, were of far more consequence and value than all his supernatural gifts.
"Love is the brightest of the train,
And strengthens all the rest."
1 Corinthians 13:3
Love and almsgiving.
Of all the comparisons between love and other qualities, gifts, or practices, this is the one which sounds most strange to our ears. For in our minds charity and almsgiving are so closely associated that it scarcely seems possible that they should be placed in contrast one with the other. Yet so it is; and every observer of human nature and society can recognize both the insight and the foresight of the apostle in this striking, almost startling comparison.
I. ALMSGIVING MAY ORIGINATE IN INFERIOR AND UNWORTHY MOTIVES. The apostle supposes an extreme case, viz. that one should give away all his substance in doles to the poor; and he gives his judgment that such a course of action may be loveless, and, if loveless, then worthless. For it may proceed from:
1. Ostentation. That this is the explanation of many of the handsome and even munificent gifts of the wealthy, we are obliged to believe. A rich man sometimes likes his name to figure in a subscription list for an amount which no man of moderate means can afford. The publication of such a gift gratifies his vanity and self importance. His name may figure side by side with that of a well known millionaire.
2. Custom. A commentator has illustrated this passage by reference to the crowds of beggars who gather in the court of a great bishop's palace in Spain or Sicily, to each of whom a coin is given, in so-called charity. Such pernicious and indiscriminate almsgiving is expected of those in a high position in the Church, and they give from custom. The same principle explains probably much of our eleemosynary bestowment.
3. Love of power. As in the feudal days a great lord had his retinue and his retainers, multitudes depending upon his bounty, so there can be no question that individuals and Churches often give generously for the sake of the hold they thus gain upon the dependent, who become in turn in many ways their adherents and supporters.
II. ALMSGIVING MAY IN SOME CASES BE INJURIOUS. In fact, it often is so.
1. To the recipient. The wretch who lives in idleness on rich men's doles is degraded in the process, and becomes lost to all self respect, and habituated to an ignominious and base contentedness with his position.
2. To society generally. When it is known that the man who begs is as well supported as the man who works, how can it be otherwise than that demoralization should ensue? The system of indiscriminate almsgiving is a wrong to the industrious poor.
3. To the giver. For such gifts as are supposed, instead of calling forth the finer qualities of the nature, awaken in the breast of the bestower a cynical contempt of mankind.
III. NEVERTHELESS, TRUE CHARITY MAY EXPRESS ITSELF IN GIFTS. The man who doles away his substance in almsgiving, and has all the while no charity, is nothing; but if there be love, that love sanctifieth both the giver and the gift. For he who loves and gives resembles that Divine Being whose heart is ever filled with love, whose hands are ever filled with gifts.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:3
Love and self immolation.
It would seem that Paul had some anticipation of the approaching developments of Christian society. There is no ground for believing that, at the time when he wrote, any member of the Church of Christ had suffered at the stake for fidelity to principle and to faith. Such martyrdoms had occurred in Palestine, when the enemies of Jehovah had been triumphant and had wreaked their vengeance upon the faithful Jews. And even before Paul's decease, in Rome itself, Christians came to be the victims of the infamous Nero's brutality, and perished in the flames. Stronger language could not be used to set forth the superiority of love to zeal, fidelity, and devotion than this of St. Paul: "Though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing!"
I. THE READINESS TO DIE, AT THE STAKE OR OTHERWISE, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, IS GOOD. As the three Hebrew children were content to be cast into the burning, fiery furnace, as the faithful Jews died at the stake under the persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes, as Polycarp at over four score years of age gave his body to be burned, as the holy Perpetua suffered this martyrdom with willing mind, as in our own country at the Reformation many suffered in the fires of Oxford and Smithfield, so have multitudes counted their lives as not dear to them for the blessed Saviour's sake. It cannot but be that such sacrifice of self, such holy martyrdom, ever has been and is acceptable to Christ, who gave himself for us. For he himself has said, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
II. THE ABSENCE OF LOVE TAKES AWAY EVEN FROM THE VIRTUE OF MARTYRDOM. There is a story of a Christian of Antioch who, on his way to martyrdom, refused to forgive and be reconciled to a brother Christian. Such a case is an exact example of the zeal without love which the apostle here pronounces worthless. If Christian charity be absent where zeal is present, there seems reason to fear that the motives which induce to self immolation are pride, self glorification, and an inflexible obstinacy. If there be not love to Christ's people, there is no real love to Christ: "He that loveth God loves his brother also." It is strange to think that self delusion may go so far that men may suffer martyrdom without being truly Christ's. Yet so it is. And we may be reminded, from the possibility of this extreme case, how readily men deceive themselves and suppose that they are influenced by truly religious and distinctly Christian motives, when all the while self is the pivot upon which their whole conduct revolves. And it may be suggested to us how inexpressibly essential, in the judgment of our Lord and his Spirit, is that grace of love, the absence of which cannot be atoned for even by a passage through the fiery flames of martyrdom.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:4, 1 Corinthians 13:5
Love and our fellow men.
In this panegyric of charity, we find,
(1) in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, a statement concerning the indispensableness of charity to the Christian character,
(2) in 1 Corinthians 13:3-7, a list of the fruits of charity; and
(3) in the remainder of the chapter, a declaration of the eternity of charity. The second and third of these divisions contain a very pictorial personification of this delightful grace; the lovely features and beaming smile of charity shine upon us, and win our hearts. Several of these clauses exhibit the effects of the indwelling of Christian love upon the intercourse of social life.
I. LOVE IS LONG SUFFERING AS OPPOSED TO IMPATIENCE. There is no possibility of mixing with human society without encountering many occasions of irritation. Human nature is such that conflicts of disposition and of habits will and must occur. It is so in the family, in civil life, and even in the Church. Hence impatience and irritability are among the most common of infirmities. And there is no more sure sign of a disciplined and morally cultured mind than a habit of forbearance, tolerance, and patience. But Christianity supplies a motive and power of long suffering which can act in the case of persons of every variety of temperament and of every position of life. "Love suffereth long."
II. LOVE IS GRACIOUS AND KIND AS OPPOSED TO MALICE AND ILL WILL. There is no disposition known to human nature which is a more awful proof of the enormity of sin than malevolence. And the religion of the Lord Christ in nothing more signally proves its divinity than in its power to expel this demoniacal spirit from the breast of humanity. In fact, benevolence is the admitted "note" of this religion. The sterner virtues, as fortitude and justice, were admired and practised among the heathen, and celebrated by the moralists of antiquity. These and others were assumed by Christianity, which added to them the softer grace of love—love which justifies itself in deeds of benignity and loving kindness.
III. LOVE IS OPPOSED TO ENVY AID JEALOUSY. These are vices which arise from discontent with one's own condition as compared with that of others, and are justly deemed among the meanest and basest of which man is capable. Christianity proves its power of spiritual transformation by suppressing, and indeed in many cases by extirpating, these evil passions from the heart, and by teaching and enabling men to rejoice in their neighbours' prosperity.
IV. LOVE, AS OPPOSED TO ANGER, IS NOT PROVOKED WITH THE CONDUCT OF OTHERS. This must not be pressed too far, as though anger in itself were an evil, as though there were no such thing as righteous indignation. Christ himself was angry with hypocrites and deceivers; his indignation and wrath were aroused again and again. But the moral distinction lies here: to be provoked with those who injure us or pass a slight upon our dignity and self importance, is unchristian, but it is not so to cherish indignation with the conduct of God's wilful enemies.
V. LOVE KEEPS NO ACCOUNT OF EVIL RENDERED. This trait in the character of the Christian is very beautiful. It is customary with sinful men to cherish the memory of wrongs done to them, against a day of retribution. Love wipes out the record of wrong doing from the memory, and knows nothing of vindictiveness or ill will.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:4, 1 Corinthians 13:5
Love and self abnegation.
Where there is sincere Christian love, that grace will not only affect for good the intercourse of human society, it will exercise a most powerful and beneficial influence over the nature of which it takes possession; changing pride into humility, and selfishness into self denial. And this is not to be wondered at by him who considers that for the Christian the spiritual centre of gravity is changed—is no longer self, but Christ.
I. LOVE DESTROYS BOASTFULNESS. It "vaunteth not itself." In some characters more than in others there is observable a disposition towards display. There may be real ability, and yet there may be the vanity which obtrudes the proofs of that ability; or there may, on the other hand, be an absence of ability, and yet the fool may not be able to conceal his folly, but must needs make himself the laughing stock of all. Love delights not in the display of real power or the assumption of what does not exist. How can it? When love seeks the good of others, how can it seek their admiration?
II. LOVE IS OPPOSED TO PRIDE. It "is not puffed up." The expression is a strong one; it has been rendered, "does not swell and swagger," "is not inflated with vanity." The explanation of this is clear enough. The pretentious and arrogant man has a mind full of himself, of thoughts of his own greatness and importance, Now, love is the outflowing of the heart's affection in kindliness and benevolence towards others. He who is always thinking of the welfare of his fellow men has no time and no inclination for thoughts of self exaltation, aggrandizement, and ambition. It is plain, then, how wholesome, purifying, and sweetening an influence Christianity introduces into human society; and how much it tends to the happiness of individuals, cooling the fever of restless rivalry and ambition.
III. LOVE IS INCONSISTENT WITH ALL UNSEEMLINESS OF DEPORTMENT. There is an indefiniteness about the language: "Doth not behave itself unseemly." Possibly there is a special reference to the discreditable scenes which were to be witnessed in the Corinthian congregation, in consequence of their party spirit, rivalry, and discord. But there is always in every community room for the inculcation of considerateness, courtesy, self restraint, and dignity. And the apostle points out, with evident justice, that what no rules or custom can produce is the spontaneous and natural result of the operation of Christian love.
IV. LOVE IS, IN A WORD, UNSELFISH; i.e. "seeketh not her own." Here is the broadest basis of the new life of humanity. Love gives, and does not grasp; has an eye for others' wants and sorrows, but turns not her glance towards herself; moves among men with gracious mien and open hands.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:6
The joy of love.
There is, perhaps, no test of character more decisive than this: in what is the chief pleasure of life placed? Where is satisfaction of the soul? Whence does joy proceed? If Christianity is indeed a revolutionary religion, it will effect a change here—in this vital respect. Even in St. Paul's time, it appeared that with Christianity a new force—the force of love—had been introduced into humanity, a force able to direct human delight into another and purer and nobler channel than that in which it had been wont to flow.
I. JOY NO LONGER FLOWS FROM THE PRESENCE AND PREVALENCE OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. It seems to attribute a fiendish spirit to human beings to suppose that they can anywhere and at any time be found to rejoice in wrong doing and unrighteousness. Yet it is, alas! possible for sinful men to take a malignant pleasure in the prevalence of sin; for it is the proof of the power of the moral forces with which they have allied themselves, of the victory of their own party. The iniquity of others serves to support and justify their own iniquity. And it must be borne in mind that there are cases in which designing men profit by deeds of unrighteousness, take the very wages of iniquity. Against such dispositions Christian love must needs set itself; for when iniquities prevail, happiness and hope take wings and fly away.
II. JOY FLOWS TO THE CHRISTIAN HEART FROM THE PROGRESS OF TRUTH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS. Truth is the intellectual side of righteousness, and righteousness the moral side of truth. There is, accordingly, a real antithesis between the two clauses of the text.
1. This joy is akin to the joy of God. The Father rejoices over the repenting and recovered child, the Shepherd over the restored, once wandering, sheep. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." And they who themselves are enjoying peace and fellowship with a reconciled God cannot but participate in the satisfaction with which that holy Being views the progress of truth and religion among men.
2. It is sympathetic with the gladness of the Saviour in the accomplishment of his gracious purposes. As Christ sees of the travail of his soul, he is satisfied; for the joy set before him, i.e. in the salvation of men, he endured the cross. And all who owe salvation to what Jesus did and suffered for man must needs experience a thrill of gratification when a rebel is changed into a subject by the grace of God.
3. It springs from the triumph of that cause which of all on earth is the greatest and most glorious. Every noble soul finds satisfaction in witnessing the advance of truth from the dim dawn towards the full meridian day for which he, in common with all God's people in every age, is ever toiling, hoping, and praying.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:7
Love and the conduct of life.
We are born into, and we live in the midst of, a system, vast and incomprehensible. Man is related to a thousand circumstances, and his moral life depends upon the principles which govern these relationships. It is by a sublime and spiritual intuition, itself an evidence of a Divine commission and apostolate, that St. Paul discerns the truth that love, when it takes possession of the Christian's nature, relates him anew and aright to "all things," i.e. to the whole system in which he finds himself, and of which indeed he forms a part.
I. Love "CONCEALETH ALL THINGS." The word is one which, perhaps, cannot be confidently interpreted. But it may and probably does mean "conceal "or "cover." And so rendered, how appropriate is it in this place! What so characteristic of true charity as the habit of covering up and concealing the faults and infirmities of our brethren? It is a difficult exercise, especially to an acute and candid mind; but because we see an error it is not necessary to publish it. There may be good done and harm avoided by hiding good men's infirmities and the human defects which are to be found even in an excellent cause.
II. Love "BELIEVETH ALL THINGS." There is no point at which the wisdom of this world and the wisdom which is of God come more violently into conflict than here. To worldly men it seems the height of folly to proceed in human life upon the principle of believing all things. This is, in their view, credulity which will make a man the prey of knaves and impostors. Now, the words of the text must not be taken literally. They commend a disposition opposed to suspicion. A suspicious man is wretched himself, and he is universally distrusted and disliked. Where there is reason to distrust a person, even charity will distrust. But, on the other hand, charity cultivates that strain of nobleness in character which prefers to think well of others, and to give credit rather than to question and disbelieve.
III. LOVE "HOPETH ALL THINGS." Here again we have portrayed a feature of Christian character which it needs some spiritual discipline and culture to appreciate. A sanguine disposition is often distrusted, and not unjustly. But we may understand that temper of mind which leads us to hope good things of our fellow men, and to view with confident expectation the progress of the truth over their nature.
IV. LOVE "ENDURETH ALL THINGS." This is to most men the hardest lesson of all. Many will cheerfully work from love, who find it no easy matter to suffer calumny, coldness, hatred, persecution, in a loving spirit and for Christ's sake. But we need the spirit of Divine charity to overlook all the assaults of men, and to pray for those who despitefully use us. This can and may be done when the whole nature is inspired with love to God and love to man.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:8
"Love never faileth."
Prophecies, tongues, knowledge,—these were all matters of immense importance in the Christian community at Corinth, whose members prided themselves upon their discernment, their intellectuality, their gifts. And they were not unimportant in the view of that one of the apostles whose mind was both more highly endowed by nature, and more sedulously and effectively disciplined by study, than was the case with his brethren. But let these excellent and beautiful things be brought into comparison with Christian love, and they vanish as the stars of night when the sun arises in his splendour and power.
I. THE CESSATION AND VANISHING OF INTELLECTUAL GIFTS.
1. What they were. They seem to have been supernatural gifts, highly prized by their possessors, and eagerly coveted by the members of the Christian societies generally. "Prophecy" was the faculty of uttering forth Divine truth. "Tongues" were supernatural utterances, probably of various kinds. "Knowledge" is here used in a special sense, equivalent to a peculiar spiritual illumination. Such were the gifts of which these Corinthians were wont to boast.
2. Why it is appointed that these gifts shall cease. Because they were bestowed to serve a temporary purpose, when the barque of Christianity had to be launched upon the sea of human society, when Christian doctrine needed a special introduction and a special authentication. There are certain parts of a plant which serve to protect it for a season, which disappear when the plant is mature. A scaffolding may be useful for a time; but when the building is completed, it has done its work, and is taken down and carried away. So with these gifts; good for a temporary purpose, they may be dispensed with when that purpose is attained.
II. THE UNFALLING LIFE OF LOVE.
1. Love is the special and permanent characteristic of the Christian economy. Observe its exemplification in such characters as the apostles Paul and John. And notice that whilst the special gifts referred to have passed away, charity remains the distinctive feature of the Church of Christ in all its varying circumstances and ministrations.
2. Love is permanent in the heavenly and eternal state. If faith shall then become trust without misgiving, and hope expectation without uncertainty, love shall then be adoration without coldness, affection without interruption. Love shall be supreme, and the great Centre of worship and adoration shall call forth all the affection of the countless host, whilst the members of that vast and glorious society shall find room for the infinite exercise of this peerless grace.
III. THE EXPLANATION OF THE SUPERIORITY AND SUPREMACY OF LOVE.
1. What calls it forth is permanent; there is no limit to the appeal for love made by the conscious universe and by its Lord.
2. What fosters and feeds it is permanent; there is no limit to the supply of the Spirit, the power, the grace, of God.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:9, 1 Corinthians 13:10
The partial and the perfect.
Christianity is an intellectual religion as distinct from religions of ritual and ceremony. It is propagated and maintained by preaching and by teaching. It encourages inquiry, study, science. And, accordingly, there is some danger lest those who seize upon this characteristic of Christianity should give way to the temptation of spiritual pride. It is well that the infirmity and imperfection of our knowledge should be brought vividly before our minds, as it is in this passage. At the same time, provision is made against discouragement by an assurance that the partial and transitory shall be succeeded by the perfect and the eternal.
I. OUR APPREHENSION AND COMMUNICATION OF TRUTH IS PARTIAL.
1. This is a result of the limitation of our powers. This may be a doctrine humbling to human pride, but it is not to be disputed. It should be observed that the apostle speaks of himself as well as of private Christians; and from this we infer that revelation and inspiration are alike conditioned by the very limited powers of man.
2. It is a result of the limitation of our opportunities. We can only know what is brought before us; we cannot create truth. It pleases God that only glimpses and whisperings of Divine truth should be afforded to us. Our knowledge is therefore partial, as is the measure of truth which its Author sets before us.
3. It is a result of the brevity of our life. Human life is short as compared with the universe in which it is passed, and which has so many sides of contact with our understanding. And if nature cannot be known in all its fulness by even the most diligent student, how shall revelation be mastered in a lifetime? There is a religious side to every truth of fact, and the man of science, if a Christian, need never be at a loss for material for religious contemplation and emotion.
II. THAT WHICH IS PARTIAL IS DESTINED TO PERISH. It cannot be meant that any truth shall cease to be truth, that any aspect of religion once justified shall so change its character as to be disowned. We have known Christ, and such knowledge is not transitory, for it is eternal life. But special gifts, like the variety of prophecy known in the primitive Church, served their purpose, and were no more. Our systems of theology, our presentations of doctrine, our modes of homiletic, are adapted, more or less, to our age and circumstances, but they are only for a season. Partial knowledge may be useful whilst perfect knowledge is impossible; but only then.
III. FOR THE PERFECT SHALL COME TO ABOLISH THE PARTIAL. The star shall not disappear because lost in the dense black cloud, but because it shall melt in the splendour of the day. Our prospect is not one to inspire melancholy; or if a shade of pensiveness pass over the soul in the prospect of the disappearance of what is so familiar and so dear, that pensiveness may well give way to content and hope when we look forward to the glory which shall be revealed.—T.
1 Corinthians 13:11
The babe and the man.
The half informed and the immature in character are sometimes puffed up with conceit and pride; whilst humility often comes with a higher wisdom and a riper experience. The Corinthians were crude and unformed; the apostle was enlightened and inspired; yet they were puffed up with spiritual pride, whilst he was lowly in heart and free from arrogance. Hence this language, which is poetry and piety at once.
I. THE LITERAL FACT OF HUMAN NATURE AND LIFE. Childhood has its own speech, its prattle and babble; the babe utters inarticulate noises, the child speaks words, but with indistinctness and with many mistakes. Childhood has its own feelings, some of them Very deep when inspired by trivial causes; feelings succeeding one another with rapidity in striking contrast. Childhood has its own thoughts, sometimes upon the most mysterious themes, always with little knowledge of the thoughts of others; thoughts unfounded, unjustifiable; thoughts, too, which may be developed into a larger and richer experience. Now, he who becomes a man puts aside these infantile ways. His language is articulate, perhaps elegant and precise, perhaps copious and poetical. His feelings are less easily roused, but they are deeper and more lasting. His thoughts range over heaven and earth, the past and the future; they "wander through eternity."
II. THE ANALOGY OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE BASED ON THIS FACT. This the apostle suggests and leaves his readers to work out in detail. There is an obvious resemblance between the life of the individual upon earth and the larger, longer life of the soul. As is childhood to manhood, so is this present state of being to the immortality beyond. This being so, there is a measure of probability that the resemblance extends where we cannot follow it. This is the argument of analogy; alike in many points, alike probably in more.
1. The future will be a development and expansion of the present. The speech and the feeling, the thoughts and the judgments, of the man are based upon those of the child. They are not radically different. Even so our earthly faith and hope and love, our earthly consecration, obedience, and praise, are the germ of the experiences and services.of the heavenly sanctuary. Heaven will witness the manhood of that intelligent piety, that devotion of heart and energy, of which earth has witnessed the infancy and childhood.
2. The future will immensely transcend the present. Great as is the difference between the acquirements of the child and those of the man, greater will be that between the religious knowledge and experience of earth, and what is reserved for us hereafter. It is vain for us to suppose that in this present state we can form any conception of the glorious future. We are now God's children, and we know not what we shall be. This we know: "We shall put away childish things."—T.
1 Corinthians 13:12
"Face to face."
He who looked into and, as it seemed, through the brazen disc saw a dim reflection of his own or his brother's features, or a misty representation or the landscape. But he who sees face to face sees, as by an immediate intuition, with nothing to hinder a perfect knowledge of perception. The comparison opens up to us a wonderful and most inspiring view of the perfection of the future, the heavenly state.
I. TRUE OF OUR KNOWLEDGE GENERALLY. The apostle speaks without any words limiting the application of his statement to religious realities. Man's pride of knowledge, notwithstanding his intellectual powers are limited in their range and in their efficacy. Some of the causes of this limitation we can see, and we can well believe that in another and higher state they may be removed. The senses or other avenues of perception may be multiplied in number and intensified in power. It may be that words—which are the medium of much of our knowledge—may be replaced by symbols more definite and instructive. Our feebleness of attention and application may be replaced by a vigour not possible in this body. Many things now known by inference may then be known by intuition. And whilst there may be a change in our own natural capacities and faculties, there may be also an enlargement of the material presented to our minds. And the search after truth may be more pure and disinterested as well as more vigorous. We are all aware that purity of heart is a condition of apprehending moral and spiritual truth; this condition will in heaven be perfected, and corresponding results may be expected.
II. TRUE ESPECIALLY OF WHAT MAY BE CALLED OUR RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE.
1. Of religious truth. This we now know sufficiently for all practical purposes; but we are often conscious that we see but glimpses and hear but whispers of the great truths upon which our higher life and deathless hopes depend. The progress made by the child as he advances to spiritual maturity is probably as nothing compared with the advance to be made by the Christian when the veil of sense and time falls off. The mysteries by which the mind has often been perplexed shall be revealed; the harmony of truths we could not reconcile shall be apparent; the reasons of regulations we could not understand shall become plain. The world, ourselves, society, life, all are now full of enigmas. Eternity shall provide the solution.
2. Of our knowledge of God in Christ. We do know Christ, and, notwithstanding the objections of philosophers, we have a real though very partial and inadequate knowledge of God himself; for Christ said, "He who hath seen me hath seen the Father also." There have been special revelations of God to specially favoured members of the human family; but hereafter, the vision shall be open, it shall be for all the purified and glorified. "We shall see him as he is." "We shall know [God] even as we are known." Well is this called "the beatific vision:" to behold and know him who is infinite in nature, eternal in existence, perfect in all moral attributes.
III. TRUE ALSO OF OUR KNOWLEDGE OF OUR SPIRITUAL KINDRED AND BRETHREN. There are many circumstances which hinder us from enjoying more than a superficial acquaintance with some of our nearest kinsmen and our daily associates. But in heaven there shall be no disguise, no restraint, no separation. Misunderstandings shall vanish; we shall see "face to face." Imagination pictures, upon the suggestion of this principle, the fellowship of pure delight to be enjoyed with all "saints," in "the assembly and Church of the Firstborn, whose names are written in heaven."—T.
1 Corinthians 13:12
Now, and then.
Divine knowledge is the truest riches of the intellect; Divine love, the dearest wealth of the heart. Love is greater than all gifts; greater than tongues and than prophecy, which shall pass away; greater even than knowledge, which here is but partial and progressive. How natural that St. Paul, whose mind was eager for knowledge, and whose life was so largely devoted to communicating it, should linger for a moment and think of knowledge such as it now is and such as it is destined hereafter to be!
I. THE PARTIAL KNOWLEDGE OF THIS PRESENT STATE. "We see as through a mirror, in an enigma."
1. Earth is a mirror dimly reflecting God's attributes. The glory, beauty, adaptations of nature, all speak of God. There is a reflection, and the wisdom, the power, the goodness, of the Creator may be recognized. Yet it is a dim reflection; lightning, tempest, and earthquake, sickness, anguish, and death, perplex the mind of the reflective observer. There is no complete and adequate solution here.
2. Life is a mirror dimly reflecting God's government. No careful, observant mind can fail to trace an overruling Providence in human life, in the life of the individual, anti in the life of the nation. Yet the reflection of a perfectly wise and righteous government, it must be admitted, is dim. We cannot always "justify the ways of God to men;" the heart often sinks at the sight of prosperous wickedness, of the slow progress made by truth and righteousness. The kingdom of God seems near us; but we ask, "Is it here?"
3. Revelation is a mirror dimly reflecting God's purposes. There has been doubtless a progressive removal of the veil which hides God from us. Yet this revelation has been chiefly for practical purposes. We look into revelation to satisfy our inquiries concerning the Divine nature, concerning the eternal life, and there meets our view a dim manifestation. We see, but we see "in an enigma."
II. WHY THE FUTURE STATE IS ONE OF CLEARER, FULLER KNOWLEDGE.
1. There may be a reason in ourselves. Spiritual childhood will develop into manhood; the imperfections of the body, the infirmities of human nature, the prejudices of the earthly life, will disappear, and our vision will be purged.
2. A reason in the character of our knowledge. The processes here and now are slow, hesitating, inferential. Hereafter it would seem that we shall know by intuition much which now we learn mediately and with much liability to error.
3. A reason in the manifestation itself. More material will be offered to our faculties; clearer light will beam upon us. In the vaster dominion then accessible, of which only a province is now within our reach, there will open up to the glorified as in a blaze, a sphere of Divine knowledge.
4. A reason in the circumstances and the society of heaven. Here opportunities are restricted; there they will be illimitable. Here fellowship is imperfect; there the society of glorified saints and blessed angels will be fitted to stimulate and encourage the soul by sympathy with all its lofty quests and aspirations.
5. A reason in the prolonged opportunity of eternity. The reflection often forces itself upon us: "Art is long, and time is fleeting." There is no time for the dirtiness to pass off the mirror upon which, as we gaze, we breathe. Yonder infinite opportunity invites the ardent spirit to intermeddle with all knowledge; we feel that we can but lose ourselves in a prospect so vast, illimitable, and glorious.
III. WHAT IT MAY BE EXPECTED WILL HEREAFTER BE CLEARLY KNOWN.
1. The past of our existence will then be seen in due perspective, and will be plain to the mind looking back upon it.
2. Light shall be east upon the mysteries of earth and time. What has been perplexing and inexplicable when beheld so near at hand shall be clear and unmistakable as the appointment of Divine wisdom and love, when looked down upon from yonder heights.
3. Christ himself shall be then seen "as he is," so as even his dearest and most congenial friends cannot know him now. "Then face to face," to be "changed into the same image, from glory to glory."—T.
1 Corinthians 13:13
"The greatest of these."
Paul has often been called the apostle of faith, in distinction from John, the apostle of love. This declaration, therefore, coming from Paul is the more valuable. No doubt what he saw of the Corinthian Christians, who disputed much concerning gifts, natural and supernatural, made the apostle specially sensible of the supreme necessity of charity. What men are—their character—is of more importance than what they have—their abilities. Paul was not the man to disparage faith, which holds so high a place in his writings, nor hope, which was so prominent a feature of his character. But the higher the estimation in which he held these virtues, the loftier was the position to which he raised the grace of love when he pronounced it the greatest and the most enduring of all virtues.
I. BECAUSE OF ITS NATIVE SOURCE AND ORIGIN. God cannot exercise faith or cherish hope; but he not only has love, he is love. Our virtues are largely creature virtues; this is the great attribute of the Creator himself.
II. BECAUSE OF ITS SUPREME MANIFESTATION TO MANKIND IN THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST. The Lord Jesus brought down the love of the Father to this world of ignorance, error, and sin. He revealed Divine love, which was indeed the motive of his advent, but which was also the prevailing and undeniable characteristic of his ministry, and the secret explanation of his willing and sacrificial death.
III. BECAUSE IT IS THE SPECIAL LAW OF THE LORD JESUS. His "new commandment'' was this: "Love one another." And he made obedience to this commandment the great test of discipleship: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." What takes so pre-eminent a place in the mind of the Monarch, what stands so obviously supreme among his laws, must necessarily be regarded by his loyal subjects with an especial reverence.
IV. BECAUSE IT IS THE END TO WHICH THE OTHER VIRTUES ARE MEANS. Faith is not an end; it is faith in a Divine Deliverer and in his promise of salvation; it is the means towards life eternal. Hope is not an end; it is hope of final and eternal fellowship with God; it is the means to steadfastness and to heaven. But love is an end in itself. Charity is the bond of perfectness; beyond this even Christianity cannot carry us. As the grace of faith and the grace of hope realize their purpose when they produce the grace of Christian love, it is obvious that the virtue which is their final purpose is greater than they. And this conviction is confirmed when we consider that, of all virtues, love is usually the most difficult and the last to be acquired. There have been confessors and martyrs Whose faith was firm and whose hope was bright, who yet did not arrive at the acme of perfect love. This is the test and the crown of spiritual maturity.
V. BECAUSE OF ITS SUPREME UTILITY. Society needs above all things to be penetrated with the spirit of charity, sympathy, and brotherly kindness. This is the radical cure for all its ills—this, and only this. What gravitation is in the physical realm, that is love in the moral Without it, all is disorder and chaos; with it, all is regularity and beauty. It represses hatred, malice, envy, and uncharitableness; it cultivates considerateness, pity, gentleness, self denial, and generous help.
VI. BECAUSE IT IS THE PECULIAR ELEMENT OF HEAVENLY BLESSEDNESS. Disputes have arisen as to whether or not faith and hope are found in heaven. But there is no difference of opinion as to the prevalence and eternity of the grace of love. For—
"Love is heaven, and heaven is love!"
HOMILIES BY E. HURNDALL
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Life without love.
I. THE APOSTLE DECLARES THE NOTHINGNESS OF LIFE WITHOUT LOVE. He supposes some extreme cases.
1. The acquisition of all languages; the utmost facility of expression; the most splendid eloquence. He does not even limit to humanity, but adds, "and of angels," to show that no acquisition in this direction at all meets the case. The Corinthian Church was peculiarly proud of its "gift of tongues;" its love was not so conspicuous. Our glorying is often false glorying. That which is most praised is not always the most praiseworthy. We are apt to prize most what we should prize least. To talk is not the chief thing; to be is far more important. Talking power without love is noise without music, sounding brass, clanging cymbals. Heavenly language would lose its heavenliness without the royal grace.
2. The most extensive knowledge. Knowledge of the future, human knowledge, knowledge of the secret purposes of the Most High. To know is not enough. If the knowledge of the head does not rightly affect the heart it is thrown away. Knowledge is a splendid weapon, but it is in dangerous hands if it is not in those of love. We may know Christ—know very much about his person, his character, his work—and yet not be his. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy Name?… then will I profess unto them, I never knew you ' (Matthew 7:22, Matthew 7:23). Balaam, Caiaphas, and Judas are illustrations.
3. Startling faith. Judas wrought miracles; but how less than nothing, judged by true standards, was he! What profit if other mountains be removed and the mountain of selfishness be left! How sad to get so near the cross and to catch nothing of its spirit! Here is faith without the chief of works, which alone can prove its genuineness and power. Here is a faith which does not work by love, and is useless except for boast and display.
4. Abounding charity. The worth of charity lies not in what we give, but in how we give. The object for which the gift is bestowed does not determine its value; the motive prompting the gift does. We may give "all our goods," and that to "feed the poor," and yet perform no virtuous action. We can give lavishly from motives which rob our charity of all its charitableness. Men who give without love do not give; they invest. It is not a spiritual act; it is a commercial speculation. They invest and expect a large return—it may be of' distinction or applause, or something similarly self tending.
5. Unlimited self surrender. Though the body be given to the flames, yet all may be "nothing" A man may go to the stake for Christianity, and yet know nothing truly of Christ. There is a self sacrifice which is no self sacrifice. Man has fallen so low that he has originated false and worthless martyrdoms. In later centuries the history of the Church was blotted by some who sought martyrdom from motives of notoriety and vain glory. The martyr's crown may be sought by those who have not the martyr's spirit. The martyr is made, not by the burning of the body, but by the love which binds the truth to the heart, and will not let it go at any cost:
II. WHY IT IS THAT LIFE WITHOUT LOVE IS NOTHING.
1. Nothing can compensate for the moral quality. The motive is more than the deed. To do is nothing compared with to be. The internal is greater than the external.
2. Unless we have love we cannot be brought near to God. God is love. Love is of the Divine essence. If we are destitute of love we are destitute of that which is most conspicuous in God. When the great archangel fell he fell out of love. When we get power we do not grow away from Satan, nor when we get knowledge, nor when we do unusual deeds from selfish motives. When we get love we do. Love is never attributed to Satan; "love is of God." As we have love, so far we are like God. Satan has power, knowledge, and is doubtless willing to sacrifice much to secure his own cuds; if we have these, without love, we tend to grow into devils. Love is a redeeming, consecrating quality, which, pervading deeds, gives to them a new and God-like character.—H.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Some characteristics of love.
The apostle gives a very beautiful description of some of the qualities of love. True love is—
I. PATIENT AND UNCOMPLAINING. It:
1. "Suffereth long," under provocation and injury.
2. "Is not easily provoked." Is not irritable—not allied to anger.
3. "Beareth all things." Is willing to bear burdens that others may be free. Rather hides than advertises injuries received. Does not revenge.
4. "Endureth all things." Neglect and persecution in a calm and Christian spirit.
II. KIND. Willing to perform good offices for others. Desires to be useful, obliging, helpful. Is kind after much suffering and ill usage. Is kind when showing mercy. Some show mercy unkindly, and utterly spoil the beauty of the deed.
III. HUMBLE. (1 Corinthians 13:4.) Does not lead to vaunting, as the possession of supernatural gifts did amongst the Corinthians. Is not puffed up with pride, which is closely related to party zeal, as in those at Corinth who cried "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos," etc. Does not seek to win praise or applause.
IV. UNSELFISH. "Seeketh not her own." Loses sight largely of self. The Corinthians cried, "I... I... I," because they had little love. Love is not filled with thoughts of her own rights; she thinks rather of the rights of others. "Envieth not." Is not jealous of the endowments of others; recognizes that "God hath set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him" (1 Corinthians 12:18).
V. DECOROUS. (1 Corinthians 13:5.) Keeps within the bounds of propriety; is courteous. Absence of love leads to gross disorders, as at the Lord's table at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:21, 1 Corinthians 11:22).
VI. CHARITABLE IN JUDGMENT, "Thinketh no evil." Does not delight to impute motives. Does not make the worst, but the best of things. Does not gloat over the evil done.
VII. PURE. "Rejoiceth not in iniquity [or, 'unrighteousness'], but rejoiceth with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Is not in sympathy with evil. Is not pleased to see it, but pained. When the truth triumphs, love rejoices.
VIII. TRUSTFUL. "Believeth all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). Is not suspicious. Does not esteem doubt and distrust the chief virtues. Believes all that can with a good conscience be believed to the credit of others.
IX. HOPEFUL. "Hopeth all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). Hopes when others without love have ceased to hope; is loth to regard any as hopeless. Hopes for good rather than for bad from men. Is not allied to despondency and despair. Is anchored in God and hopes on. Thus sweetly does the apostle chant the praises of true Christian love.—H.
1 Corinthians 13:12
I. OUR PRESENT IGNORANCE. Our knowledge of Divine things (for these are here chiefly referred to) resembles that which we obtain of natural objects when we see them "through a glass," or rather "reflected in a mirror." And ancient mirrors, of which the apostle speaks, were by no means so perfect as modern ones. Made of imperfectly polished metal, they gave but a very defective representation of objects reflected. The imperfection of our present knowledge is thus strikingly illustrated. We see now "darkly," or "in an enigma," and the enigma often puzzles us not a little. Our present ignorance arises from:
1. Imperfection in the mirror. Though the Scripture be inspired of God, yet it reveals plainly only necessary truth. Other truth is set forth in figure or is barely hinted at. So that we do not find by any means in God's Word a solution of all mysteries. We see much in it—we may see all that we need to see; but it is still a book of mystery, a mirror which only partially reflects the great realities. Then the mirror is often blurred.
(1) Defects and errors in translation if we read only in our mother tongue; and if we have the modern "gift of tongues," it is often difficult to determine the precise meaning of a word or passage.
(2) Defects in exposition on the part of teachers. Other mirrors, such as nature and the course of human events, furnish us with knowledge of Divine things; but these mirrors, in the hands of men, and under the influences of evil, have become warped and misshapen, consequently the reflections are more or less distorted. We have further to reflect that no mirror could perfectly reflect what we desire to know.
2. Imperfection in our vision. We do not by any means see all that is reflected. Now dust is in our eyes, and now tears, and we see comparatively little. We have many ophthalmic disorders which impair our sight.
3. Dimness of the light in which we live. The haze of sin is around us; the atmosphere is darkened by evil; the beams of the Sun of Righteousness have to break through much fog.
4. We move as we gaze. Our life is rapid. We snatch hurried glances at things Divine. We do not see as much as we might see. The most of us might get longer seasons of quiet contemplation if we would. Not a few need to learn the wisdom of sacrificing the little for the great; alas! so many sacrifice the great for the little. We must do this and that and the other; and we never pause to ask the question—Why must we? It comes to this piece of folly—we must do the little and trivial; there is no need for us to do the great and the all important! For these and other reasons our present condition is largely one of ignorance. Still we should be thankful
(1) that we see something;
(2) that we can see enough for life and duty.
II. OUR FUTURE KNOWLEDGE. Hereafter things will be changed. No longer shall we see in a mirror darkly, but "face to face." Our life will not then be a study of reflections. The atmosphere will then be purer. Our vision will be corrected and perfected. Earthly distractions will cease. Then remark how perfect our knowledge will be. Our knowledge of truth will be like God's knowledge of us: "Then shall I know even as also I am known." God sees us through and through, and is acquainted with all our ways; so hereafter shall we know those things which are now perplexing mysteries to us. The insoluble will then be solved, the contradictories reconciled. In our sphere then we shall be "perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). We shall know God more truly; for "we shall see him as he is." Note: The path of piety is the path of knowledge. The promise of the solution of great mysteries is made to the godly. Part of the torment of the lost may consist in the distraction occasioned by mysteries which for them have no promise of solution. This is the cause of not a little suffering and sorrow here; it may be such a cause hereafter, and a more intense cause. Believers are sometimes ridiculed for credulity, fancifulness, indifference to "facts." But believers are on the way towards the very highest know]edge and the completest grasp, in all their significance, of the greatest facts of the universe. Now we are but children, and concerned with things which, in comparison with "things to come," are childish (though in the child and the childish things there are the true germs of what in fuller development belong to the man and manly things); hereafter we shall become men, and put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).—H.
1 Corinthians 13:13
The three graces.
These are faith, hope, love.
I. THEIR EXCELLENCE.
1. Faith. Unites us to Christ; secures our forgiveness, justification, sanctification, final and complete redemption. It is the great power in our present life: "The just shall live by faith."
2. Hope. Brightens the present by brightening the future. In distress we have hope of deliverance; in sickness, of restoration or translation to the painless life; in sin, of holiness; in sorrow, of joy; in the world, of heaven. Without hope, how could we live? And the Christian's hope is the brightest and most joy bringing conceivable.
3. Love. What a wilderness the world would be without love! Society would disintegrate; families would be wrecked; nations would fall. Love is the salt which checks the tendencies toward corruption. And love in its highest relation—love to God—elevates and purifies us, and brings to us the purest delights of which this life is capable.
II. THEIR CONTINUANCE. "Now abideth." We may be devoutly thankful for this. Sometimes we are prone to regret that what we call the "extraordinary gifts" of the Church have ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8); but if instead of losing these we had lost the others, how infinitely impoverished we should have become! Faith, hope, love: these are sufficient for all our present needs. Miraculous gifts ceased because it was best for them to cease. They were suited to the infancy of the Church; but the necessity for them having passed away, they have disappeared. The spiritually miraculous gifts of faith, hope, and love abide evermore with the Church in this world.
III. THE CHIEF OF THE THREE. "The greatest of these is love."
1. Longer continuance. Hereafter faith will be lost in sight and the objects of present hope will be attained. Now "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). "Faith is the substance of [or 'assurance of'] things hoped for" (Hebrews 11:1) "We are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" (Romans 8:24). As the special gifts of prophecy, miracles, and tongues disappeared when they would no longer have proved of service, so hope and faith will cease when their appointed task is finished, and love alone will reign on through the everlasting ages. Confidence in God will not cease, of course, nor the looking forward to further delights and Divine blessings; but these do not answer to the faith and hope which are ours in this world of darkness. Faith and hope mean to us, now, effort, struggle, difficulty; these things will "pass away."
2. More useful to others. Faith saves us; hope cheers us; love sends us out after our fellows. The former are chiefly self tending; the latter is expansive. Still faith is the root of love, and our hope makes us more helpful, but love, pre-eminently and most directly, is concerned in the welfare of those around us.
3. Makes us like God. God is not faith; God is not hope: "God is love." As true love grows in us, God grows in us. When true love is impressed upon us, the Divine image is re-impressed (Genesis 1:26).—H.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Charity puts the acceptableness on all gifts and works.
The Revised Version renders "charity" as "love." Explain "charity;" distinguish from "almsgiving," and from the love that is connected with human relationships. If we could intelligently use the word "charity" to express God's love for us, we should be able to use it intelligently of the love which we have, as Christians, for each other, and of the love that must tone and temper the use of all Christian gifts. Charity is the considerateness and care for others which finds expression in self denial for their welfare. Charity is the spirit in a man which leads him to put others before self. Our Lord's life on the earth was a life of charity; love for men, longing for their highest good, and readiness to suffer, if by suffering he could do them good, are its characteristic features. His charity is commended to us. It has been said that the "English word 'charity' has never risen to the height of the apostle's argument." At best it does but signify a kindly interest in, and forbearance toward, others. It is far from suggesting the ardent, active, energetic principle which the apostle had in view. And though the English word "love" includes the affection which springs up between persons of different sexes, it is generally understood to denote only the higher and nobler forms of that affection, the lower being stigmatized under the name of "passion." Charity, then, is to be regarded as the tone and motive to which God looks; things, actions, are accepted by him, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the spirit and character for which they find expression. The one acceptable feature to God, in all human action and relationship, is charity, and this the apostle illustrates by his panegyric on love.
I. MAN'S ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS AND WORKS ACCORDING TO THEIR APPEARANCE. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." Only in a very imperfect way can we estimate the motives of others. Our attention is occupied by incidents, and we form our impressions from the things actually done. Consequently our estimates are always incomplete and often unworthy; we misconceive what is really great and what is really little, and give our acceptance and our praise to things which will not endure the Divine searching. Of men who stand high in the esteem of their fellow men for their excellent talents and their good looking works, it must in truth be said, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting." "Thy heart is not right in the sight of God."
II. GOD'S ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS AND WORKS ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT AND THE MOTIVE WHICH UNDERLIE THE APPEARANCE. That motive God knows and judges perfectly. To him it is the real man. The appearance, the action, never deceives him. Man's show of virtue is fitly estimated. Upon God's estimate there are "many first who shall be last, and many last who shall be first." To true hearts it should come as an abounding satisfaction that while our fellow men may misconceive us, God never does. He "knoweth us altogether." And we can confidently appeal from the judgment of men to the judgment of God.
III. THE CHRISTIAN DUTY OF GAINING FULL DELIVERANCE FROM THE MAN STANDARD OF LIFE, AND UPLIFTING TO THE DIVINE STANDARD. Growing likeness to God—which is the Christian sanctifying—should involve our seeing things as God sees them, and judging and appraising them on God's principles and in God's ways. Illustrate this subject by the apostolic references to the gift of tongues; from the gift of prophecy; from the apparent fervour often seen on religious lives that are not deeply toned; from cases of mere generosity of natural disposition; and even from cases of martyr endurance which may be mere bravado, and not, to the heart-searching One, humble, fervent loyalty and love.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
The grace of charity.
When we speak of charity (ἀγάπη) it is in the sense attached to the word in the New Testament. We do not speak of promiscuous and impulsive almsgiving, in which there is often but the veriest morsel of charity, and which, in our condition of society, is almost an unmitigated evil, tending as it does to the maintenance of an indigent and pauperized class. We do not speak of that kind of natural affection (ἔρος) which binds men together with the ties of family and friendship. Charity, as a grace of the gospel, is altogether larger and more comprehensive than these things. It is first the love of the whole human race, as being the objects of the love of God, our common Father, and the redeemed of his mercy. Then it is this spirit of love, ever seeking for us, and ever finding expression in, acts of generous kindness, thoughtfulness, and good will. In its larger, nobler meaning, charity is something peculiarly Christian; something that springs up only in that soul which has felt the love of God in its own redemption.
I. CHARITY IS THE GREATEST OF GRACES IN THE WIDTH OF ITS SPHERE, Other graces have particular things with which they are more intimately concerned; special parts of our life on which they throw the light of their charm; special times in which they operate. But charity covers the whole life and relationships of the Christian; his inner thoughts, his uttered feelings, his conduct and intercourse, the associations of the family and society, and also his relations with the dependent, the poor, and the suffering., Look at some of the spheres thus irradiated with the golden light of charity.
1. The sphere of a brother's opinions. "Believeth all things." Many find it easy to be charitable towards their brethren in almost everything except their opinions. Think of the bitternesses, separations, and conflicts arising from differences of political opinion, from differences of denominational opinion, from differences of theological opinion. In these matters what a sad worldful of uncharity we have to mourn over. We cannot, indeed, with the utmost stretch of charity, receive all opinions; it is impossible to delude ourselves into the acceptance of all forms of doctrine, as though all may be true. Not in that sense does charity enable us to "believe all things." Charity is a grace exercised concerning persons holding opinions, not concerning opinions separated from the persons holding them. The religious questionings which agitate the hearts of our fellow men are altogether too solemn, the yearnings of the human heart everywhere after the standard of righteousness, the pardon of sin, the peace of God, and light beyond the grave, are altogether too serious and anxious, to permit us to speak of any one—of the Catholic, or the Unitarian, or the Hindoo, or the Mohammedan, or the island savage—save in terms of deepest and most sincere sympathy.
2. The sphere of a brother's failings. "Beareth all things." How ready we are to push right down a brother who has begun to slip! What strong things we say about the faintings and errors of others! How loudly we talk about the imperfections in the character and conduct of others! How easily we forget our own "beams," and, with malicious delight, swell out the "motes" in our brothers' eyes! Charity teaches us to say nothing at all about our brother if we cannot say something good.
3. The sphere of a brother's sorrows. "Seeketh not her own." Perhaps we may call this the principal sphere of charity, as it is certainly the easiest. There is so much of natural feeling to help us in this case, while in other cases our natural feelings may be opposed to our charities. What a peculiarly earthly and human sphere of charity this is! There are no sufferers lying on sick beds for us to tend in heaven; no hungry ones for us to feed; no imprisoned ones for us to visit; no naked ones for us to clothe. Perhaps the exercises of charity in the midst of worldly sorrows are intended to prepare us for the yet higher charities of the eternal world. Charity finds so extensive a sphere for its present operations because so little of human sorrow is simple, so often it is complicated—complicated by peculiarly distressing circumstances, complicated by poverty, by mental anguish, etc. For sorrows pure and simple there may be no more needed than sympathy; for sorrow complicated with other kinds of trouble there is needed charity, which takes up sympathy into itself, and goes on to express itself in generous gifts and kindly deeds.
4. The sphere of a brother's sins. "Rejoiceth not in iniquity." If charity towards a suffering brother is the easiest effort, charity towards a sinning brother is the hardest. It is very hard to be charitable towards one who has sinned, when the sin touches others rather than ourselves. It is the Divine triumph to be charitable when the wrong is done to ourselves.
II. CHARITY IS THE GREATEST OF THE GRACES BECAUSE OF THE DIFFICULTY WITH WHICH IT IS ATTAINED. It is so difficult because of the separating influence of sin. Sin broke up the fellowship of the human family, and filled the world with opposing interests. Charity has to heal up these great wounds, and temper these opposing relations, and make the human family one again. Charity cannot be won by any of us save as the issue of a constant, earnest struggle. Charity is only the final result of a day by day endeavour to think charitably of others, and act charitably towards them in their opinions, their failings, their sorrows, and their sins.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 13:12
The nature of the future knowledge.
"Then shall I know even as also I am known." Better read, "I was known," i.e. known or apprehended of Christ. St. Paul's thought appears to be that soul culture brings the true, full knowledge and power. A man knows only in the measure of the progress of the work of Divine grace in him; and what we may call perfect knowledge can only come when we are ourselves morally perfected, wholly sanctified, through the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Two points claim consideration.
I. THE NATURE AND LIMITATIONS OF MAN'S PRESENT KNOWLEDGE. It is dependent on our senses. Show that this means that our knowledge is limited to the spheres with which our senses stand related. Even transcendent and so called supernatural things cannot be conceived until set under sensible forms and figures. We can only transcend nature by the help of nature. The senses limit even the imagination. It may be shown that God's world is set ready for just the creatures he has put in it; and if any other than the sensible world is to be opened to us, we must be changed, renewed, regenerated, and so new sensibilities and capacities must be given and developed. Illustrate that the world of science is the proper sphere for men who have only senses and intellect. It is a vast sphere, a wonderful sphere, but only a limited sphere; and since researches or observations within it are dependent on the frailty of the instruments used, no absolute truth of science can ever be obtained. Illustrate from the observations of astronomers. No conclusion can be affirmed with absolute certainty because the disturbing conditions of the atmosphere can never be perfectly estimated in connection with any experiment. Then add to this frailty of the senses the influence of sin on man when his attention is directed to moral questions. No man can hope, of himself, to attain the perfect moral truth. Illustrate from the sadly mixed systems of all the great classical or modem moralists, and plead that the key to all truth is the vision of God which comes with the soul's conversion and regeneration. Here on earth a man knows nothing aright until he knows God, as manifested in the person of his Son.
II. THE NATURE AND LIMITATIONS OF MAN'S FUTURE KNOWLEDGE. It will not be imprisoned in sense forms or figures. It will come by soul faculties, of which our bodily senses are but suggestive types. It will come out of new spheres and new relations. It will take new thought forms. It will replace observation by insight, so it will need no verification. It will bear relation to moral character, and not to intellectual endowments. It will be the apprehension men may gain, when the blinding influence of sin and self love are wholly passed away, and spiritual insight has no clouds or veils to pierce through. But man's future knowledge, however wonderful it may be, must still be limited, forever it can but be the knowledge of a created being. He can never know God, never know more than God may be pleased to reveal of himself and of his ways.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 13:13
The immortality of all graces.
"Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three." The word "abideth" is significant, as applied to each of the three great graces. While so much must "pass away," why may faith, hope, and charity be said to abide? Because they are the dress of souls, not of bodies. They are things belonging to character, not merely to conduct. Souls pass through into new spheres of existence, taking with them all that is peculiar to them. We shall step into the eternal world with just the clothing of character—the garments of faith, love, and hope—which we had put on our spirit in our mortal sphere. More or less distinctly we all have an idea that faith and hope are powers peculiar to our present mortal and earthly condition. We think we shall no longer need them when we have reached to heaven. We think that only love, charity, will go with us there. Yet can it be that we shall ever get past "faith"? Is "sight" anything more than another and a higher form of "faith"? Shall we ever lose "hope"? As long as we remain creatures, not creators, we shall surely have to believe and hope and love.
I. THE IMMORTALITY OF LOVE. We may infer this from the abiding character of love in this life. All kinds of love tend to abide; they even strive to increase and grow. Life may greatly change with us, multiplied sorrows may come to us, but there are some who love us, whose love keeps on, and can neither change nor pass. True mother love abideth. True wifely love abideth. True friendship love abideth. We go out into the eternal world with such love folded like holy robes about our spirits. And that kind of love which we call Christian love—charity—has the same power of abiding. Let it but be gained in the early days of our Christian life, and it wilt stay and grow, widening and adorning the Christian spirit down to its time of passing through. If love thus abides in Christian life, can it be possible that death, which is but the servant of Christ—Christ's hall porter or gate keeper—should be able to master it, overcome it, and finish it? But we may further argue the immortality of love from every view of the heavenly state that is presented to us, and every conception we can form of it. It is the place of union; the uniting bond must be love. It is a home; the one sanctifying power in a home is love. It is the place where God is all in all, and "God is love." Those whom God teaches to love he teaches to love forever.
II. THE IMMORTALITY OF FAITH. What is the proper idea of faith? It is the relation in which we ought to stand to things above us, higher than we are. It is our "evidence of things not seen." As long as there is anybody in the world wiser than ourselves, we shall have to believe what they say. Get the very wisest man that ever lived on earth, if there is in heaven one spirit wiser than he, he will have to believe—to take on trust—what the wiser spirit may say. And the holiest archangel must believe what the all wise God may say. Change them as we may, know as we are known, grow with giant strides as the eternal hours pass by, stilt we can never overtake or outgrow God. As long as we are creatures we shall be, in knowledge as well as in power, below our Creator. While we keep our being we shalt have to believe—we shall have to trust. If we have the true spirit wrought in us, we shall never want to get beyond faith. For the creature it is the highest blessedness that he is found willing to trust. To wish to see is to rebel. It is to wish to be God, and take the place of God. Enough for us to be forever the children of God, and it is a very foolish child who wants to get beyond trust. Heaven is so beautiful, because we shall there be children at home forever; perfected in faith, in childlike trust, and safe in the protection and the shadow of the eternal Father. We are learning to believe by the experiences of our human lives, but it would be a sad thing if we were only learning something which we should lose when we came to die, even if we exchanged it for something better. Of this we may rest assured, that in learning to trust we are learning for the heavenly and immortal spheres.
III. THE IMMORTALITY OF HOPE. In this life hope seems to change, but in reality it abides, only changing its objects. The old man hopes quite as truly as the young man, though not with the same passionate intensity. The change into the eternal spheres is more evident to the senses, but it is not more real, than the change from the boy to the man; surely in his second, glorified, manhood man wilt keep his power of hoping, only setting it on new and higher and eternal things. If we are still to grow in the eternal world, we must have something ever before us and above us to hope for. If we know that we may become wiser, truer, stronger, holier than we are, we cannot keep from hoping that we may become such. And heaven cannot possibly be a mere stereotyping of the sanctifyings wrought through our Christian life on earth, In seeking, then, for faith, hope, and charity, we are seeking the heavenly treasures, the things that are abiding and eternal. They are the "treasure in the heavens, which faileth not."—R.T.