Adam Clarke Commentary
1 Corinthians 13
Charity, or love to God and man, the sum and substance of all true religion; so that without it, the most splendid eloquence, the gift of prophecy, the most profound knowledge, faith by which the most stupendous miracles might be wrought, benevolence the most unbounded, and zeal for the truth, even to martyrdom, would all be unavailing to salvation, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. The description and praise of this grace, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Its durableness; though tongues, prophecies, and knowledge shall cease, yet this shall never fail, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10. Description of the present imperfect state of man, 1 Corinthians 13:11, 1 Corinthians 13:12. Of all the graces of God in man, charity, or love, is the greatest, 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Though I speak, etc. - At the conclusion of the preceding chapter the apostle promised to show the Corinthians a more excellent way than that in which they were now proceeding. They were so distracted with contentions, divided by parties, and envious of each other‘s gifts, that unity was nearly destroyed. This was a full proof that love to God and man was wanting; and that without this, their numerous gifts and other graces were nothing in the eyes of God; for it was evident that they did not love one another, which is a proof that they did not love God; and consequently, that they had not true religion. Having, by his advices and directions, corrected many abuses, and having shown them how in outward things they should walk so as to please God, he now shows them the spirit, temper, and disposition in which this should be done, and without which all the rest must be ineffectual.
The XIII. Chapter of 1 Corinthians, from an Ancient MS.
This is the whole of the chapter as it exists in the MS., with all its peculiar orthography, points, and lines. The words with lines under may be considered the translator‘s marginal readings; for, though incorporated with the text, they are distinguished from it by those lines.
The tongues of men - All human languages, with all the eloquence of the most accomplished orator.
And of angels - i.e. Though a man knew the language of the eternal world so well that he could hold conversation with its inhabitants, and find out the secrets of their kingdom. Or, probably, the apostle refers to a notion that was common among the Jews, that there was a language by which angels might be invoked, adjured, collected, and dispersed; and by the means of which many secrets might be found out, and curious arts and sciences known.
Sounding brass - Χαλκος ηχων· That is, like a trumpet made of brass; for although; χαλκος signifies brass, and aes signifies the same, yet we know the latter is often employed to signify the trumpet, because generally made of this metal. Thus Virgil, when he represents Misenus endeavoring to fright away the harpies with the sound of his trumpet: -
The metal of which the instrument was made is used again for the instrument itself, in that fine passage of the same poet, Aeneid, lib. ix. ver. 603, where he represents the Trojans rushing to battle against the Volsciane: -
And again, in his Battle of the Bees, Geor., lib. iv. ver. 70: -
Examples of the same figure might be multiplied; but these are sufficient.
Tinkling cymbal - “The cymbal was a concavo-convex plate of brass, the concave side of which being struck against another plate of the same kind produced a tinkling, inharmonious sound.” We may understand the apostle thus: “Though I possessed the knowledge of all languages, and could deliver even the truth of God in them in the most eloquent manner, and had not a heart full of love to God and man, producing piety and obedience to the One, and benevolence and beneficence to the other, doing unto all as I would wish them to do to me were our situations reversed, my religion is no more to my salvation than the sounds emitted by the brazen trumpet, or the jingling of the cymbals could contribute intellectual pleasure to the instruments which produce them; and, in the sight of God, I am of no more moral worth than those sounds are. I have, it is true, a profession; but, destitute of a heart filled with love to God and man, producing meekness, gentleness, long-suffering, etc., I am without the soul and essence of religion.”
And though I have the gift of prophecy - Though I should have received from God the knowledge of future events, so that I could correctly foretell what is coming to pass in the world and in the Church: -
And understand all mysteries - The meaning of all the types and figures in the Old Testament, and all the unexplored secrets of nature; and all knowledge - every human art and science; and though I have all faith - such miraculous faith as would enable me even to remove mountains; or had such powerful discernment in sacred things that I could solve the greatest difficulties, see the note on Matthew 21:21, and have not charity - this love to God and man, as the principle and motive of all my conduct, the characteristics of which are given in the following verses; I am nothing - nothing in myself, nothing in the sight of God, nothing in the Church, and good for nothing to mankind. Balaam, and several others not under the influence of this love of God, prophesied; and we daily see many men, who are profound scholars, and well skilled in arts and sciences, and yet not only careless about religion but downright infidels! It does not require the tongue of the inspired to say that these men, in the sight of God, are nothing; nor can their literary or scientific acquisitions give them a passport to glory.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor - This is a proof that charity, in our sense of the word, is not what the apostle means; for surely almsgiving can go no farther than to give up all that a man possesses in order to relieve the wants of others. The word ψωμιζω , which we translate to feed the poor, signifies to divide into morsels, and put into the mouth; which implies carefulness and tenderness in applying the bounty thus freely given.
And though I give my body to be burned - Ἱνα καυθησομαι· Mr. Wakefield renders this clause thus:
1.And though I give up my body so as to have cause of boasting: in vindication of which he, first, refers to Daniel 3:28; Acts 15:26; Romans 8:32; Philemon 1:20.
2.He says that there is no such word as καυθησωμαι .
4.He adds that burning, though a common punishment in after times, was not prevalent when this epistle was written.
Some of the foreign critics, particularly Schulzius, translate it thus: Si traderem corpus, ut mihi stigma inureretur: “If I should deliver up my body to receive a stigma with a hot iron;” which may mean, If I should, in order to redeem another, willingly give up myself to slavery, and receive the mark of my owner, by having my flesh stamped with a hot iron, and have not love, as before specified, it profits me nothing. This gives a good sense; but will the passage bear it? In the MSS. there are several various readings, which plainly show the original copyists scarcely knew what to make of the word καυθησωμαι , which they found in the text generally. The various readings are, καυθησομαι , which Griesbach seems to prefer; καυθησεται ; and καυθῃ ; all of which give little variation of meaning. Which should be preferred I can scarcely venture to say. If we take the commonly received word, it states a possible case; a man may be so obstinately wedded to a particular opinion, demonstrably false in itself, as to give up his body to be burned in its defense, as was literally the case with Vanini, who, for his obstinate atheism, was burnt alive at Paris, February 19th, a.d. 1619. In such a cause, his giving his body to be burned certainly profited him nothing.
“1.To speak with the tongues of men, among the Jewish interpreters, means, to speak the languages of the seventy nations. To the praise of Mordecai, they say that he understood all those languages; and they require that the fathers of the Sanhedrin should be skilled in many languages that they may not be obliged to hear any thing by an interpreter. Maim. in Sanh., c. 2.
“2.To speak with the tongues of angels, they thought to be not only an excellent gift, but to be possible; and highly extol Jochanan ben Zaccai because he understood them: see the note on 1 Corinthians 13:1.
“4.The moving or rooting up of mountains, which among them signified the removing of the greatest difficulties, especially from the sacred text, they considered also a high and glorious attainment: see the note on Matthew 21:21. And of his salvation, who had it, they could not have formed the slightest doubt. But the apostle says, a man might have and enjoy all those gifts, etc., and be nothing in himself, and be nothing profited by them.”
The reader will consider that the charity or love, concerning which the apostle speaks, is that which is described from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, inclusive: it is not left to the conjectures of men to find it out. What the apostle means is generally allowed to be true religion; but if he had not described it, this true religion would have been as various as the parties are who suppose they have it. Let the reader also observe that, not only the things which are in the highest repute among the Jews, but the things which are in the highest repute among Christians and Gentiles are those which the apostle shows to be of no use, if the love hereafter described be wanting. And yet, who can suppose that the man already described can be destitute of true religion, as he must be under an especial influence of God; else, how,
1st, could he speak all the languages of men? for this was allowed to be one of the extraordinary gifts of God‘s Spirit.
2.He must have Divine teaching to know the language of angels, and thus to get acquainted with the economy of the invisible world.
6.And without the most powerful and extraordinary assistance, he could not have a faith that could remove mountains, or miraculous faith of any kind: and the apostle supposes that a man might have all these six things, and not possess that religion which could save his soul! And may we not say that, if all these could not avail for salvation, a thousand times less surely cannot. How blindly, therefore, are multitudes of persons trusting in that which is almost infinitely less than that which the apostle says would profit them nothing!
The charity or love which God recommends, the apostle describes in sixteen particulars, which are the following: -
Charity suffereth long - Μακροθυμει , Has a long mind; to the end of which neither trials, adversities, persecutions, nor provocations, can reach. The love of God, and of our neighbor for God‘s sake, is patient towards all men: it suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, and infirmities of the children of God; and all the malice and wickedness of the children of this world; and all this, not merely for a time, but long, without end; for it is still a mind or disposition, to the end of which trials, difficulties, etc., can never reach. It also waits God‘s time of accomplishing his gracious or providential purposes, without murmuring or repining; and bears its own infirmities, as well as those of others, with humble submission to the will of God.
Is kind - Χρηστευεται· It is tender and compassionate in itself, and kind and obliging to others; it is mild, gentle, and benign; and, if called to suffer, inspires the sufferer with the most amiable sweetness, and the most tender affection. It is also submissive to all the dispensations of God; and creates trouble to no one.
Charity envieth not - Ου ζηλοι· Is not grieved because another possesses a greater portion of earthly, intellectual, or spiritual blessings.
Charity vaunteth not itself - Ου περπερευεται· This word is variously translated; acteth not rashly, insolently; is not inconstant, etc. It is not agreed by learned men whether it be Greek, Latin, or Arabic. Bishop Pearce derived it from the latter language; and translates it, is not inconstant. There is a phrase in our own language that expresses what I think to be the meaning of the original, does not set itself forward - does not desire to be noticed or applauded; but wishes that God may be all in all.
Is not puffed up - Ου φυσιουται· Is not inflated with a sense of its own importance; for it knows it has nothing but what it has received; and that it deserves nothing that it has got. Every man, whose heart is full of the love of God, is full of humility; for there is no man so humble as he whose heart is cleansed from all sin. It has been said that indwelling sin humbles us; never was there a greater falsity: Pride is the very essence of sin; he who has sin has pride, and pride too in proportion to his sin: this is a mere popish doctrine; and, strange to tell, the doctrine in which their doctrine of merit is founded! They say God leaves concupiscence in the heart of every Christian, that, in striving with and overcoming it from time to time, he may have an accumulation of meritorious acts: Certain Protestants say, it is a true sign of a very gracious state when a man feels and deplores his inbred corruptions. How near do these come to the Papists, whose doctrine they profess to detest and abhor! The truth is, it is no sign of grace whatever; it only argues, as they use it, that the man has got light to show him his corruptions; but he has not yet got grace to destroy them. He is convinced that he should have the mind of Christ, but he feels that he has the mind of Satan; he deplores it, and, if his bad doctrine do not prevent him, he will not rest till he feels the blood of Christ cleansing him from all sin.
Doth not behave itself unseemly - Ουκ ασχημονει , from α , negative, and σχημα , figure, mien; love never acts out of its place or character; observes due decorum and good manners; is never rude, bearish, or brutish; and is ever willing to become all things to all men, that it may please them for their good to edification. No ill-bred man, or what is termed rude or unmannerly, is a Christian. A man may have a natural bluntness, or be a clown, and yet there be nothing boorish or hoggish in his manner. I must apologize for using such words; they best express the evil against which I wish both powerfully and successfully to declaim. I never wish to meet with those who affect to be called “blunt, honest men;” who feel themselves above all the forms of respect and civility, and care not how many they put to pain, or how many they displease. But let me not be misunderstood; I do not contend for ridiculous ceremonies, and hollow compliments; there is surely a medium: and a sensible Christian man will not be long at a loss to find it out. Even that people who profess to be above all worldly forms, and are generally stiff enough, yet are rarely found to be rude, uncivil, or ill-bred.
Seeketh not her own - Ου ζητει τα ἑαυτης· Is not desirous of her own spiritual welfare only, but of her neighbour‘s also: for the writers of the Old and New Testament do, almost every where, agreeably to their Hebrew idiom, express a preference given to one thing before another by an affirmation of that which is preferred, and a negative of that which is contrary to it. See Bishop Pearce, and see the notes on 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 10:24 (note), and 1 Corinthians 10:33 (note). Love is never satisfied but in the welfare, comfort, and salvation of all. That man is no Christian who is solicitous for his own happiness alone; and cares not how the world goes, so that himself be comfortable.
Is not easily provoked - Ου παροξυνεται· Is not provoked, is not irritated, is not made sour or bitter. How the word easily got into our translation it is hard to say; but, however it got in, it is utterly improper, and has nothing in the original to countenance it. By the transcript from my old MS., which certainly contains the first translation ever made in English, we find that the word did not exist there, the conscientious translator rendering it thus: - It is not stirid to wrath.
Thinketh no evil - Ουλογιζεται το κακον· “Believes no evil where no evil seems.” Never supposes that a good action may have a bad motive; gives every man credit for his profession of religion, uprightness, godly zeal, etc., while nothing is seen in his conduct or in his spirit inconsistent with this profession. His heart is so governed and influenced by the love of God, that he cannot think of evil but where it appears. The original implies that he does not invent or devise any evil; or, does not reason on any particular act or word so as to infer evil from it; for this would destroy his love to his brother; it would be ruinous to charity and benevolence.
Rejoiceth not in iniquity - Ου χαιρει επι τῃ αδικιᾳ· Rejoiceth not in falsehood, but on the contrary, rejoiceth in the truth: this meaning αδικια has in different parts of the Scriptures. At first view, this character of love seems to say but little in its favor; for who can rejoice in unrighteousness or falsity? But is it not a frequent case that persons, who have received any kind of injury, and have forborne to avenge themselves, but perhaps have left it to God; when evil falls upon the sinner do console themselves with what appears to them an evidence that God has avenged their quarrels; and do at least secretly rejoice that the man is suffering for his misdeeds? Is not this, in some sort, rejoicing in iniquity? Again: is it not common for interested persons to rejoice in the successes of an unjust and sanguinary war, in the sackage and burning of cities and towns; and is not the joy always in proportion to the slaughter that has been made of the enemy? And do these call themselves Christians? Then we may expect that Moloch and his sub-devils are not so far behind this description of Christians as to render their case utterly desperate. If such Christians can be saved, demons need not despair!
But rejoiceth in the truth - Αληθεια· Every thing that is opposite to falsehood and irreligion. Those who are filled with the love of God and man rejoice in the propagation and extension of Divine truth - in the spread of true religion, by which alone peace and good will can be diffused throughout the earth. And because they rejoice in the truth, therefore they do not persecute nor hinder true religion, but help it forward with all their might and power.
Beareth all things - Παντα στεγει . This word is also variously interpreted: to endure, bear, sustain, cover, conceal, contain. Bishop Pearce contends that it should be translated covereth all things, and produces several plausible reasons for this translation; the most forcible of which is, that the common translation confounds it with endureth all things, in the same verse. We well know that it is a grand and distinguishing property of love to cover and conceal the fault of another; and it is certainly better to consider the passage in this light than in that which our common version holds out; and this perfectly agrees with what St. Peter says of charity, 1 Peter 4:8: It shall cover the multitude of sins; but there is not sufficient evidence that the original will fully bear this sense; and perhaps it would be better to take it in the sense of contain, keep in, as a vessel does liquor; thus Plato compared the souls of foolish men to a sieve, and not able, στεγειν δια απιστιαν τε και ληθην , to contain any thing through unfaithfulness and forgetfulness. See Parkhurst and Wetstein. Some of the versions have στεργει , loveth, or is warmly affectioned to all things or persons. But the true import must be found either in cover or contain. Love conceals every thing that should be concealed; betrays no secret; retains the grace given; and goes on to continual increase. A person under the influence of this love never makes the sins, follies, faults, or imperfections of any man, the subject either of censure or conversation. He covers them as far as he can; and if alone privy to them, he retains the knowledge of them in his own bosom as far as he ought.
Believeth all things - Παντα πιστευει· Is ever ready to believe the best of every person, and will credit no evil of any but on the most positive evidence; gladly receives whatever may tend to the advantage of any person whose character may have suffered from obloquy and detraction; or even justly, because of his misconduct.
Hopeth all things - Παντα ελπιζει· When there is no place left for believing good of a person, then love comes in with its hope, where it could not work by its faith; and begins immediately to make allowances and excuses, as far as a good conscience can permit; and farther, anticipates the repentance of the transgressor, and his restoration to the good opinion of society and his place in the Church of God, from which he had fallen.
Endureth all things - Παντα ὑπομενει· Bears up under all persecutions and mal-treatment from open enemies and professed friends; bears adversities with an even mind, as it submits with perfect resignation to every dispensation of the providence of God; and never says of any trial, affliction, or insult, this cannot be endured.
Charity never faileth - Ἡ αγαπη ουδεποτε εκπιπτει· This love never falleth off, because it bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things; and while it does so it cannot fail; it is the means of preserving all other graces; indeed, properly speaking, it includes them all; and all receive their perfection from it. Love to God and man can never be dispensed with. It is essential to social and religious life; without it no communion can be kept up with God; nor can any man have a preparation for eternal glory whose heart and soul are not deeply imbued with it. Without it there never was true religion, nor ever can be; and it not only is necessary through life, but will exist throughout eternity. What were a state of blessedness if it did not comprehend love to God and human spirits in the most exquisite, refined, and perfect degrees?
Prophecies - shall fail - Whether the word imply predicting future events, or teaching the truths of religion to men, all such shall soon be rendered useless. Though the accurate prophet and the eloquent, persuasive preacher be useful in their day, they shall not be always so; nor shall their gifts fit them for glory; nothing short of the love above described can fit a soul for the kingdom of God.
Tongues - shall cease - The miraculous gift of different languages, that soon shall cease, as being unnecessary.
Knowledge - shall vanish away - All human arts and sciences, as being utterly useless in the eternal world, though so highly extolled and useful here.
For we know in part - We have here but little knowledge even of earthly, and much less of heavenly, things. He that knows most knows little in comparison of what is known by angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. And as we know so very little, how deficient must we be if we have not much love! Angels may wonder at the imperfection of our knowledge; and separate spirits may wonder at the perfection of their own, having obtained so much more in consequence of being separated from the body, than they could conceive to be possible while in that body. When Sir Isaac Newton had made such astonishing discoveries in the laws of nature, far surpassing any thing that had been done by all his predecessors in science from the days of Solomon; one of our poets, considering the scantiness of human knowledge when compared with that which is possessed by the inhabitants of heaven, reduced his meditations on the subject to the following nervous and expressive epigram: -
These fine lines are a paraphrase from a saying of Plato, from whom our poet borrows without acknowledging the debt. The words are these: ανθρωπον ὁ σοφωτατος προς θεον πιθηκος φανειται· “The wisest of mortals will appear but an ape in the estimation of God.” Vid. Hipp. Maj. vol. xi. p. 21. Edit. Bipont.
We prophesy in part - Even the sublimest prophets have been able to say but little of the heavenly state; and the best preachers have left the Spirit of God very much to supply. And had we no more religious knowledge than we can derive from men and books, and had we no farther instruction in the knowledge of God and ourselves than we derive from preaching, our religious experience would be low indeed. Yet it is our duty to acquire all the knowledge we possibly can; and as preaching is the ordinary means by which God is pleased to instruct and convert the soul, we should diligently and thankfully use it. For we have neither reason nor Scripture to suppose that God will give us that immediately from himself which he has promised to convey only by the use of means. Even this his blessing makes effectual; and, after all, his Spirit supplies much that man cannot teach. Every preacher should take care to inculcate this on the hearts of his hearers. When you have learned all you can from your ministers, remember you have much to learn from God; and for this you should diligently wait on him by the reading of his word, and by incessant prayer.
But when that which is perfect - The state of eternal blessedness; then that which is in part - that which is imperfect, shall be done away; the imperfect as well as the probationary state shall cease for ever.
When I was a child - This future state of blessedness is as far beyond the utmost perfection that can be attained in this world, as our adult state of Christianity is above our state of natural infancy, in which we understand only as children understand; speak only a few broken articulate words, and reason only as children reason; having few ideas, little knowledge but what may be called mere instinct, and that much less perfect than the instinct of the brute creation; and having no experience. But when we became men-adults, having gained much knowledge of men and things, we spoke and reasoned more correctly, having left off all the manners and habits of our childhood.
Now we see through a glass, darkly - Δι ‘ εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι . Of these words some literal explanation is necessary. The word εσοπτρον which we translate a glass, literally signifies a mirror or reflector, from εις , into, and οπτομαι , I look; and among the ancients mirrors were certainly made of fine polished metal. The word here may signify any thing by which the image of a person is reflected, as in our looking, or look in glass. The word is not used for a glass to look through; nor would such an image have suited with the apostle‘s design.
And again, in Ode xx. ver. 5: -
In Exodus 38:8, we meet with the term looking glasses; but the original is מראת (maroth), and should be translated mirrors; as out of those very articles, which we absurdly translate looking Glasses, the brazen laver was made!
Now I know in part - Though I have an immediate revelation from God concerning his great design in the dispensation of the Gospel, yet there are lengths, breadths, depths, and heights of this design, which even that revelation has not discovered; nor can they be known and apprehended in the present imperfect state. Eternity alone can unfold the whole scheme of the Gospel.
As - I am known - In the same manner in which disembodied spirits know and understand.
And now [in this present life] abideth faith, hope, charity - These three supply the place of that direct vision which no human embodied spirit can have; these abide or remain for the present state. Faith, by which we apprehend spiritual blessings, and walk with God. Hope, by which we view and expect eternal blessedness, and pass through things temporal so as not to lose those which are eternal. Charity or love, by which we show forth the virtues of the grace which we receive by faith in living a life of obedience to God, and of good will and usefulness to man.
But the greatest of these is charity - Without faith it is impossible to please God; and without it, we can not partake of the grace of our Lord Jesus: without hope we could not endure, as seeing him who is invisible; nor have any adequate notion of the eternal world; nor bear up under the afflictions and difficulties of life: but great and useful and indispensably necessary as these are, yet charity or love is greater: Love is the fulfilling of the law; but this is never said of faith or hope.
1.Love is properly the image of God in the soul; for God is Love. By faith we receive from our Maker; by hope we expect a future and eternal good; but by love we resemble God; and by it alone are we qualified to enjoy heaven, and be one with him throughout eternity. Faith, says one, is the foundation of the Christian life, and of good works; hope rears the superstructure; but love finishes, completes, and crowns it in a blessed eternity. Faith and hope respect ourselves alone; love takes in both God and Man. Faith helps, and hope sustains us; but love to God and man makes us obedient and useful. This one consideration is sufficient to show that love is greater than either faith or hope.
2.Some say love is the greatest because it remains throughout eternity, whereas faith and hope proceed only through life; hence we say that there faith is lost in sight, and hope in fruition. But does the apostle say so? Or does any man inspired by God say so? I believe not. Faith and hope will as necessarily enter into eternal glory as love will. The perfections of God are absolute in their nature, infinite in number, and eternal in their duration. However high, glorious, or sublime the soul may be in that eternal state, it will ever, in respect to God, be limited in its powers, and must be improved and expanded by the communications of the supreme Being. Hence it will have infinite glories in the nature of God to apprehend by faith, to anticipate by hope, and enjoy by love.
1.That the term faith is here to be taken in the general sense of the word, for that belief which a soul has of the infinite sufficiency and goodness of God, in consequence of the discoveries he has made of himself and his designs, either by revelation, or immediately by his Spirit. Now we know that God has revealed himself not only in reference to this world, but in reference to eternity; and much of our faith is employed in things pertaining to the eternal world, and the enjoyments in that state.
6.My opinion that faith and hope, as well as love, will continue in a future state, will no doubt appear singular to many who have generally considered the two former as necessarily terminating in this lower world; but this arises from an improper notion of the beatified state, and from inattention to the state and capacity of the soul. If it have the same faculties there which it has here, howsoever improved they may be, it must acquire its happiness from the supreme Being in the way of communication, and this communication must necessarily be gradual for the reasons already alleged; and if gradual, then there must be (if in that state we have any knowledge at all of the Divine nature) faith that such things exist, and may be communicated; desire to possess them because they are good; and hope that these good things shall be communicated.
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