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.
Before I proceed to the consideration of the different parts of this chapter, it may be necessary to examine whether the word αγαπη be best translated by charity or love. Wiclif, translating from the Vulgate, has the word charity; and him our authorized version follows. But Coverdale, Matthews, Cranmer, and the Geneva Bible, have love; which is adopted by recent translators and commentators in general; among whom the chief are Dodd, Pearce, Purver, Wakefield, and Wesley; all these strenuously contend that the word charity, which is now confined to almsgiving, is utterly improper; and that the word love, alone expresses the apostle's sense. As the word charity seems now to express little else than almsgiving, which, performed even to the uttermost of a man's power, is nothing if he lack what the apostle terms αγαπη, and which we here translate charity; it is best to omit the use of a word in this place which, taken in its ordinary signification, makes the apostle contradict himself; see 1 Corinthians 13:3; : Though I give all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. That is: "Though I have the utmost charity, and act in every respect according to its dictates, yet, if I have not charity, my utmost charity is unprofitable." Therefore, to shun this contradiction, and the probable misapplication of the term, Love had better be substituted for Charity!
The word αγαπη, love, I have already considered at large in the note on Matthew 22:37; and to that place I beg leave to refer the reader for its derivation and import. Our English word love we have from the Teutonic leben to live, because love is the means, dispenser, and preserver of life; and without it life would have nothing desirable, nor indeed any thing even supportable: or it may be taken immediately from the Anglo-Saxon lofa and lufa love, from lufan and lufian, to desire, to love, to favor. It would be ridiculous to look to the Greek verb φιλειν for its derivation.
Having said so much about the word love, we should say something of the word charity, which is supposed to be improper in this place. Charity comes to us immediately from the French charite, who borrowed it from the Latin charitas, which is probably borrowed from the Greek χαρις, signifying grace or favor, or χαρα, joy, as a benefit bestowed is a favor that inspires him who receives it with joy; and so far contributes to his happiness. The proper meaning of the word Charus, is dear, costly; and Charitas, is dearth, scarcity, a high price, or dearness. Hence, as in times of dearth or scarcity, many, especially the poor, must be in want, and the benevolent will be excited to relieve them; the term which expressed the cause of this want was applied to the disposition which was excited in behalf of the sufferer. Now, as he who relieves a person in distress, and preserves his life by communicating a portion of his property to him, will feel a sort of interest in the person thus preserved; Hence he is said to be dear to him: i.e. he has cost him something; and he values him in proportion to the trouble or expense he has cost him. Thus charity properly expresses that affectionate attachment we may feel to a person whose wants we have been enabled to relieve; but originally it signified that want of the necessaries of life which produced dearth or dearness of those necessaries; and brought the poor man into that state in which he stood so much in need of the active benevolence of his richer neighbor. If the word be applied to God's benevolence towards man, it comes in with all propriety and force: we are dear to God, for we have not been purchased with silver or gold, but with the precious (τιμιῳ αἱματι, costly) blood of Christ, who so loved us as to give his life a ransom for ours.
As Christians in general acknowledge that this chapter is the most important in the whole New Testament, I shall give here the first translation of it into the English language which is known to exist, extracted from an ancient and noble MS. in my own possession, which seems to exhibit both a text and language, if not prior to the time of Wiclif, yet certainly not posterior to his days. The reader will please to observe that there are no divisions of verses in the MS.
The XIII. Chapter of 1 Corinthians, from an Ancient MS.
Gyf I speke with tungis of men and aungels sotheli I have not charitee: I am maad as brasse sounynge, or a symbale tynking. And gif I schal habe prophecie and habe knowen alle mysteries and alle hunynge or science . and gif I schal have al feith so that I oder bere hills fro oo place to an other. forsothe gif I schal not have charite: I am nought. And gif I schal deperte al my goodid into metis of pore men. And gif I schal bitake my body so that I brenne forsothe gif I schal not have charite it profitith to me no thing. Charite is pacient or suffering . It is benyngne or of good wille . Charite envyeth not. It doth not gyle it is not inblowen with pride it is not ambyciouse or coveitouse of wirschippis. It seeketh not the thingis that ben her owne. It is not stirid to wrath it thinkith not yvil. it joyeth not on wickidnesse forsothe it joyeth to gydre to treuthe. It suffreth all thingis. it bileeveth alle thingis. it hopith alle thingis it susteeneth alle things. Charite fallith not doun. Whether prophecies schuln be bolde eyther langagis schuln ceese: eyther science schul be distruyed. Forsothe of the party we ban knowen: and of partye prophecien. Forsothe whenne that schal cum to that is perfit: that thing that is of partye schal be avoydid. Whenne I was a litil chiilde: I spake as a litil chiilde. I understode as a litil chiilde: I thougte as a litil chiild. Forsothe whenne I was a maad a mam: I avoydid tho thingis that weren of a litil chiild. Forsothe we seen now bi a moror in dercness: thanne forsothe face to face. Nowe I know of partye: thanne forsothe I schal know and as I am knowen. Nowe forsothe dwellen feith hoope charite. These three: forsothe the more of hem is charite.
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.
I had thought once of giving a literal translation of the whole chapter from all the ancient versions. This would be both curious and useful; but the reader might think it would take up too much of his time, and the writer has none to spare.
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.
There is much of this kind to be found in their cabalistical books, and in the books of many called Christians. Cornelius Agrippa's occult philosophy abounds in this; and it was the main object of Dr. Dee's actions with spirits to get a complete vocabulary of this language. See what has been published of his work by Dr. Casaubon; and the remaining manuscript parts in the Sloane library, in the British museum.
In Bava Bathra, fol. 134, mention is made of a famous rabbin, Jochanan ben Zaccai, who understood the language of devils, trees, and angels.
Some think that the apostle means only the most splendid eloquence; as we sometimes apply the word angelic to signify any thing sublime, grand, beautiful, etc.; but it is more likely that he speaks here after the manner of his countrymen, who imagined that there was an angelic language which was the key to many mysteries; a language which might be acquired, and which, they say, had been learned by several.
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: -
Ergo, ubi delapsae sonitum per curva dedere
Littora, dat signum specula Misenus ab alta
Aere cavo: invadunt socii, et nova praelia tentant,
Obscoenas pelagi ferro faedare volucres.
Aeneid, lib. iii. ver. 238.
Then as the harpies from the hills once more
Poured shrieking down, and crowded round the shore,
On his high stand Misenus sounds from far
The brazen trump, the signal of the war.
With unaccustomed fight, we flew to slay
The forms obscene, dread monsters of the sea.
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: -
At tuba terribilem sonitum procul aere canoro
Increpuit: sequitur clamor, caelumque remugit.
And now the trumpets, terrible from far,
With rattling clangour rouse the sleepy war.
The soldiers' shouts succeed the brazen sounds
And heaven from pole to pole their noise rebounds.
And again, in his Battle of the Bees, Geor., lib. iv. ver. 70: -
- namque morantes
Martius ille aeris rauci canor increpat, et vox
Auditur fractos sonitus imitata tubarum.
With shouts the cowards' courage they excite,
And martial clangours call them out to fight;
With hoarse alarms the hollow camp rebounds,
That imitate the trumpet's angry sounds.
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."
I have quoted several passages from heathens of the most cultivated minds in Greece and Rome to illustrate passages of the sacred writers. I shall now quote one from an illiterate collier of Paulton, in Somerset; and, as I have named Homer, Horace, Virgil, and others, I will quote Josiah Gregory, whose mind might be compared to a diamond of the first water, whose native splendor broke in various places through its incrustations, but whose brilliancy was not brought out for want of the hand of the lapidary. Among various energetic sayings of this great, unlettered man, I remember to have heard the following: "People of little religion are always noisy; he who has not the love of God and man filling his heart is like an empty wagon coming violently down a hill: it makes a great noise, because there is nothing in it."
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:
"We may observe," says Dr. Lightfoot, "in those instances which are compared with charity, and are as good as nothing if charity be absent, that the apostle mentions those which were of the noblest esteem in the Jewish nation; and also that the most precious things that could be named by them were compared with this more precious, and were of no account in comparison of it.
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.
Those who have this pure love rejoice as much at the happiness, the honor, and comfort of others, as they can do in their own. They are ever willing that others should be preferred before them.
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.
True humility arises from a sense of the fullness of God in the soul; abasement from a sense of corruption is a widely different thing; but this has been put in the place of humility, and even called grace; many, very many, verify the saying of the poet: -
"Proud I am my wants to see;
Proud of my humility."
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.
The New Testament, printed in 1547, 4to., the first year of Edward VI., in English and Latin, has simply, is not provokeed to angre. The edition published in English in the following year, 1548, has the same rendering, but the orthography better: is not provoked to anger. The Bible in folio, with notes, published the next year, 1549, by Edmund Becke, preserves nearly the same reading, is not provoketh to anger. The large folio printed by Richard Cardmarden, at Rouen, 1566, has the same reading. The translation made and printed by the command of King James I., fol., 1611, etc. departs from all these, and improperly inserts the word easily, which might have been his majesty's own; and yet this translation was not followed by some subsequent editions; for the 4to. Bible printed at London four years after, 1615, not only retains this original and correct reading, it is not provoked to anger, but has the word love every where in this chapter instead of charity, in which all the preceding versions and editions agree. In short, this is the reading of Coverdale, Matthews, Cranmer, the Geneva, and others; and our own authorized version is the only one which I have seen where this false reading appears.
As to the ancient versions, they all, Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Itala, strictly follow the Greek text; and supply no word that tends to abate the signification of the apostle's ου παροξυνεται, is not provoked; nor is there a various reading here in all the numerous MSS. It is of importance to make these observations, because the common version of this place destroys the meaning of the apostle, and makes him speak very improperly. If love is provoked at all; it then ceases to be love; and if it be not easily provoked, this grants, as almost all the commentators say, that in special cases it may be provoked; and this they instance in the case of Paul and Barnabas, Acts 15:39; but I have sufficiently vindicated this passage in my note on that place, and given at large the meaning of the word παροξυνω ; and to that place I beg leave to refer the reader. The apostle's own words in 1 Corinthians 13:7, are a sufficient proof that the love of which he speaks can never be provoked. When the man who possesses this love gives way to provocation, he loses the balance of his soul, and grieves the Spirit of God. In that instant he ceases from loving God with all his soul, mind, and strength; and surely if he get embittered against his neighbor, he does not love him as himself. It is generally said that, though a man may feel himself highly irritated against the sin, he may feel tender concern for the sinner. Irritation of any kind is inconsistent with self-government, and consequently with internal peace and communion with God. However favourably we may think of our own state, and however industrious we may be to find out excuses for sallies of passion, etc., still the testimony of God is, Love is not provoked; and if I have not such a love, whatever else I may possess, it profiteth me nothing.
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: -
Superior beings, when of late they saw
A mortal man explain all nature's law,
Admired such wisdom in an earthly shape,
And show'd our Newton as we show an ape.
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.
The εσοπτρον or mirror, is mentioned by some of the most ancient Greek writers; so Anacreon, Ode xi. ver. 1: -
Αεγουσιν αἱ γυναικες,
Ανακρεων, γερων ει·
Ααβων ΕΣΟΠΤΡΟΝ αθρειπ
Κομας μεν ουκετ 'ουσας .
The women tell me,
Anacreon, thou art grown old;
Take thy mirror, and view
How few of thy hairs remain.
And again, in Ode xx. ver. 5: -
Εγω δ 'εσοπτρον ειην,
Ὁπως αει βλεπης με .
I wish I were a mirror
That thou mightst always look into me.
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!
In the Greek version the word εσοπτρον is not found but twice, and that in the apocryphal books.
In the book of the Wisdom of Solomon 7:26, speaking of wisdom the author says: "She is the brightness of the everlasting light, και εσοπτρον ακηλιδωτον, and the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness." In Ecclus. 12:11, exhorting to put no trust in an enemy, he says: "Though he humble himself, and go crouching, yet take good heed and beware of him, and thou shalt be unto him, ὡς εκμεμαχως εσοπτρον, as if thou hadst wiped a looking glass, (mirror), and thou shalt know that his rust hath not altogether been wiped away." All these passages must be understood of polished metal, not of glass, which, though it existed among the Romans and others, yet was brought to very little perfection; and as to grinding and silvering of glass, they are modern inventions.
Some have thought that the apostle refers to something of the telescopic kind, by which distant and small objects become visible, although their surfaces become dim in proportion to the quantum of the magnifying power; but this is too refined; he appears simply to refer to a mirror by which images were rejected, and not to any diaphanous and magnifying powers, through which objects were perceived.
Possibly the true meaning of the words δι 'εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι, through a glass darkly, may be found among the Jewish writers, who use a similar term to express nearly the same thing to which the apostle refers. A revelation of the will of God, in clear and express terms, is called by them מאירה אספקלריא aspecularia maira, a clear or lucid glass, or specular in reference, specularibus lapidibus, to the diaphanous polished stones, used by the ancients for windows instead of glass. An obscure prophecy they termed נהריא דלא אספקלריא aspecularia dela naharia, "a specular which is not clear."
Numbers 12:6; : If there be a prophet - I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and I will speak unto him in a dream; Rab. Tanchum thus explains: "My Shechinah shall not be revealed to him, מאירה באספקלריא beaspecularia maira, in a lucid specular, but only in a dream and a vision."
On Ezekiel 1:4, Ezekiel 1:5; : And I looked, and behold a whirlwind - a great cloud, and a fire unfolding itself, etc.; Sohar Chadash, fol. 33, says: "This is a vision נהרא דלא באספקלריא beaspecularia dela nahara, by an obscure or dark specular."
From a great variety of examples produced by Schoettgen it appears that the rabbins make a great deal of difference between seeing through the lucid glass or specular, and seeing through the obscure one. The first is attributed only to Moses, who conversed with God face to face, i.e. through the lucid specular; and between the other prophets, who saw him in dreams and visions, i.e. through the obscure specular. In these distinctions and sayings of the ancient Jews we must seek for that to which the apostle alludes. See Schoettgen.
The word αινιγματι, which we render darkly, will help us to the true meaning of the place. The following is Mr. Parkhurst's definition of the term and of the thing: "Αινιγμα, from ηνιγμαι, the perfect passive of ισυιττω, to hint, intimate, signify with some degree of obscurity; an enigma, in which one thing answers or stands in correspondence to, or as the representative of, another, which is in some respects similar to it; occurs 1 Corinthians 13:12; : Now - in this life, we see by means of a mirror reflecting the images of heavenly and spiritual things, εν αινιγματι, in an enigmatical manner, invisible things being represented by visible, spiritual by natural, eternal by temporal; but then - in the eternal world, face to face, every thing being seen in itself, and not by means of a representative or similitude."
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.
It may be necessary to enter more particularly into a consideration of the conclusion of this very important chapter.
11. The power to gratify, in the Divine Being, and the capacity to be gratified, in the immortal spirit, will necessarily excite continual desires, which desires, on the evidence of faith, will as necessarily produce hope, which is the expectation of future good.
12. All possible perfections in God are the objects of faith; and the communication of all possible blessedness, the object of hope.
13. Faith goes forward to apprehend, and hope to anticipate, as God continues to discover his unbounded glories and perfections.
14. Thus discovered and desired, their influences become communicated, love possesses them, and is excited and increased by the communication.
15. With respect to those which are communicated, faith and hope cease, and go forward to new apprehensions and anticipations, while love continues to retain and enjoy the whole.
16. Thus an eternal interest is kept up, and infinite blessings, in endless succession, apprehended, anticipated and enjoyed.
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