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The division of the Chapter being so absurd, I could not refrain from changing it, especially as I could not conveniently interpret it otherwise. For what purpose did it serve to connect with what goes before a detached sentence, which agrees so well with what comes after — nay more, is thereby rendered complete? It is likely, that it happened through a mistake on the part of the transcribers. However it may be as to this, after having commanded that regard should be had chiefly to edification, he now declares that he will show them something of greater importance — that everything be regulated according to the rule of love. This, then, is the most excellent way, when love is the regulating principle of all our actions. And, in the outset, he proceeds upon this — that all excellencies (774) are of no value without love; for nothing is so excellent or estimable as not to be vitiated in the sight of God, if love (775) is wanting. Nor does he teach anything here but what he does elsewhere, when he declares, that it is the end of the law, and the bond of perfection, (Titus 1:5,) and also when he makes the holiness of the godly consist entirely in this, (Colossians 3:14,) — for what else does God require from us in the second Table of the Law? It is not then to be wondered, if all our deeds are estimated by this test — their appearing to proceed from love. It is also not to be wondered, if gifts, otherwise excellent, come to have their true value only when they are made subservient to love.
1. If should speak with the tongues of men. He begins with eloquence, which is, it is true, an admirable gift, considered in itself, but, when apart from love, does not recommend a man in the estimation of God. When he speaks of the tongue of angels, he uses a hyperbolical expression to denote what is singular, or distinguished. At the same time, I explain it rather as referring to the diversity of languages, which the Corinthians held in much esteem, measuring everything by ambition — not by fruit. (776) “Make yourself master,” says he, “of all the languages, not of men merely, but even of Angels. You have, in that case, no reason to think, that you are of higher estimation in the sight of God than a mere cymbal, if you have not love.”
(775) Penn, in his Annotations, gives the following account of the term charity, as made use of in our English translation — “If the Latin version had not rendered
2.And if I should have the gift of prophecy. He brings down to nothing the dignity of even this endowment, (777) which, nevertheless, he had preferred to all others. To know all mysteries, might seem to be added to the term prophecy, by way of explanation, but as the term knowledge is immediately added, of which he had previously made mention by itself, (1 Corinthians 12:8,) it will deserve your consideration, whether the knowledge of mysteries may not be used here to mean wisdom. As for myself, while I would not venture to affirm that it is so, I am much inclined to that opinion.
That faith, of which he speaks, is special, as is evident from the clause that is immediately added — so that I remove mountains Hence the Sophists accomplish nothing, when they pervert this passage for the purpose of detracting from the excellence of faith. As, therefore, the term faith is (
(778) The reader will observe, that this is, in substance, what has been stated by Calvin previously, when commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:10. — Ed.
3.And if I should expend all my possessions. (779) This, it is true, is worthy of the highest praise, if considered in itself; but as liberality in many cases proceeds from ambition — not from true generosity, or even the man that is liberal is destitute of the other departments of love, (for even liberality, that is inwardly felt, is only one department of love,) it may happen that a work, otherwise so commendable, has, indeed, a fair show in the sight of men, and is applauded by them, and yet is regarded as nothing in the sight of God.
And if I should give up my body. He speaks, undoubtedly, of martyrdom, which is an act that is the most lovely and excellent of all; for what is more admirable than that invincible fortitude of mind, which makes a man not hesitate to pour out his life for the testimony of the gospel? Yet even this, too, God regards as nothing, if the mind is destitute of love. The kind of punishment that he makes mention of was not then so common among Christians; for we read that tyrants, at that time, set themselves to destroy the Church, rather by swords than by flames, (780) except that Nero, in his rage, had recourse, also, to burning. The Spirit appears, however, to have predicted here, by Paul’s mouth, the persecutions that were coming. But this is a digression. The main truth in the passage is this — that as love is the only rule of our actions, and the only means of regulating the right use of the gifts of God, nothing, in the absence of it, is approved of by God, however magnificent it may be in the estimation of men. For where it is wanting, the beauty of all virtues is mere tinsel — is empty sound — is not worth a straw — nay more, is offensive and disgusting. As for the inference which Papists draw from this — that love is therefore of more avail for our justification than faith, we shall refute it afterwards. At present, we must proceed to notice what follows,
4.Love is patient. He now commends love from its effects or fruits, though at the same time these eulogiums are not intended merely for its commendation, but to make the Corinthians understand what are its offices, and what is its nature. The object, however, mainly in view, is to show how necessary it is for preserving the unity of the Church. I have also no doubt that he designed indirectly to reprove the Corinthians, by setting before them a contrast, in which they might recognize, by way of contraries, their own vices.
The first commendation of love is this — that, by patient endurance of many things, it promotes peace and harmony in the Church. Near akin to this is the second excellence — gentleness and lenity, for such is the meaning of the verb
What I have rendered —does not act insolently — is in the Greek
(781) The distinction between the. first and second of the commendations here bestowed upon love is stated by Bloomfield as follows:
(782) This rendering is followed in two of the old English translations, viz. Tyndale (1534) and Cranmer (1539.) “Love doth not frowardly.” — Ed.
(783) Interpreters are by no means agreed as to the precise import of the original term
(785) Bloomfield considers the distinction between this clause and the preceding one to be this, that the former “refers to pride as shown in words, and the latter to “the carriage and bearing, to denote pride and haughtiness on account of certain external advantages. A similar view is taken by Barnes, who considers the former clause as referring to “the expression of the feelings of pride, vanity,” etc.; and the latter, to “the feeling itself.” — Ed.
5.Doth not behave itself unseemly Erasmus renders it “Is not disdainful;” but as he quotes no author in support of this interpretation, I have preferred to retain its proper and usual signification. I explain it, however, in this way — that love does not exult in a foolish ostentation, or does not bluster, but observes moderation and propriety. And in this manner, he again reproves the Corinthians indirectly, because they shamefully set at naught all propriety by an unseemly haughtiness. (786)
Seeketh not its own. From this we may infer, how very far we are from having love implanted in us by nature; for we are naturally prone to have love and care for ourselves, and aim at our own advantage. Nay, to speak more correctly, we rush headlong into it. (787) For so perverse an inclination the remedy (788) is love, which leads us to leave off caring for ourselves, and feel concerned for our neighbors, so as to love them and be concerned for their welfare. Farther, to seek one’s own things, (789) is to be devoted to self, and to be wholly taken up with concern for one’s own advantage. This definition solves the question, whether it is lawful for a Christian to be concerned for his own advantage? for Paul does not here reprove every kind of care or concern for ourselves, but the excess of it, which proceeds from an immoderate and blind attachment to ourselves. Now the excess lies in this — if we think of ourselves so as to neglect others, or if the desire of our own advantage calls us off from that concern, which God commands us to have as to our neighbors. (790) He adds, that love is also a bridle to repress quarrels, and this follows from the first two statements. For where there is gentleness and forbearance, persons in that case do not, on a sudden, become angry, and are not easily stirred up to disputes and contests. (791)
(786) The proper meaning of the verb
(790) Granville Penn translates the clause as follows: “Seeketh not what is not its own, ” — in accordance with the reading of the Vat. MS.
(791) The last clause of the verse, which is in our translation, thinketh no evil, is rendered by Bishop Pearce, “meditateth no mischief ” — a sense in which the expression (p.424)
7.Beareth all things, etc. By all these statements he intimates, that love is neither impatient nor spiteful. For to bear and endure all things is the part of forbearance to believe and hope all things is the part of candor and kindness. As we are naturally too much devoted to self, this vice renders us morose and peevish. The effect is, that every one wishes that others should carry him upon their shoulders, but refuses for his part to assist others. The remedy for this disease is love, which makes us subject to our brethren, and teaches us to apply our shoulders to their burdens. (Galatians 6:2.) Farther, as we are naturally spiteful, we are, consequently, suspicious too, and take almost everything amiss. Love, on the other hand, calls us back to kindness, so that we think favorably and candidly of our neighbors.
When he says all things, you must understand him as referring to the things that ought to be endured, and in such a manner as is befitting. For we are not to bear with vices, so as to give our sanction to them by flattery, or, by winking at them, encourage them through our supineness. Farther, this endurance does not exclude corrections and just punishments. The case is the same as to kindness in judging of things.
Love believeth all things — not that the Christian knowingly and willingly allows himself to be imposed upon — not that he divests himself of prudence and judgment, that he may be the more easily taken advantage of — not that he unlearns the way of distinguishing black from white. What then? He requires here, as I have already said, simplicity and kindness in judging of things; and he declares that these (792) are the invariable accompaniments of love. The consequence will be, that a Christian man will reckon it better to be imposed upon by his own kindness and easy temper, than to wrong his brother by an unfriendly suspicion.
8.Love never faileth Here we have another excellence of love — that it endures for ever. There is good reason why we should eagerly desire an excellence that will never come to an end. Hence love must be preferred before temporary and perishable gifts. Prophesyings have an end, tongues fail, knowledge ceases Hence love is more excellent than they on this ground — that, while they fail, it survives.
Papists pervert this passage, for the purpose of establishing the doctrine which they have contrived, without any authority from Scripture — that the souls of the deceased pray to God on our behalf. For they reason in this manner: “Prayer is a perpetual office of love — love endures in the souls of departed saints — therefore they pray for us.” For my part, although I should not wish to contend too keenly on this point, yet, in order that they may not think that they have gained much by having this conceded to them, I reply to their objection in a few words.
In the first place, though love endures for ever, it does not necessarily follow that it is (as the expression is) in constant exercise. For what is there to hinder our maintaining that the saints, being now in the enjoyment of calm repose, do not exercise love in present offices? (793) What absurdity, I pray you, would there be in this? In the second place, were I to maintain, that it is not a perpetual office of love to intercede for the brethren, how would they prove the contrary? That a person may intercede for another, it is necessary that he be acquainted with his necessity. If we may conjecture as to the state of the dead, it is a more probable supposition, that departed saints are ignorant of what is doing here, than that they are aware of our necessities. Papists, it is true, imagine, that they see the whole world in the reflection of light which they enjoy in the vision of God; but it is a profane and altogether heathenish contrivance, which has more of the savor of Egyptian theology, (794) than it has of accordance with Christian philosophy. What, then, if I should maintain that the saints, being ignorant of our condition, are not concerned in reference to us? With what argument will Papists press me, so as to constrain me to hold their opinion? What if I should affirm, that they are so occupied and swallowed up, as it were, in the vision of God, that they think of nothing besides? How will they prove that this is not agreeable to reason? What if I should reply, that the perpetuity of love, here mentioned by the Apostle, will be after the last day, and has nothing to do with the time that is intermediate? What if I should say that the office of mutual intercession has been enjoined only upon the living, and those that are sojourning in this world, and consequently does not at all extend to the departed?
But I have already said more than enough; for the very point for which they contend I leave undetermined, that I may not raise any contention upon a matter that does not call for it. It was, however, of importance to notice, in passing, how little support is given them from this passage, in which they think they have so strong a bulwark. Let us reckon it enough, that it has no support from any declaration of scripture, and that, consequently, it is maintained by them rashly and inconsiderately. (795)
Whether knowledge, it will be destroyed. We have already seen the meaning of these words; but from this arises a question of no small importances whether those who in this world excel either in learning, or in other gifts, will be on a level with idiots in the kingdom of God? In the first place, I should wish to admonish (796) pious readers, not to harass themselves more than is meet in the investigation of these things. Let them rather seek the way by which the kingdom of God is arrived at, than curiously inquire, what is to be our condition there; for the Lord himself has, by his silence, called us back from such curiosity. I now return to the question. So far as I can conjecture, and am able even to gather in part from this passage — inasmuch as learning, knowledge of languages, and similar gifts are subservient to the necessity of this life, I do not think that there will be any of them then remaining. The learned, however, will sustain no loss from the want of them, inasmuch as they will receive the fruit of them, which is greatly to be preferred. (797)
(794) “See Institutes, volume 1. — Ed.
He now proves that prophecy, and other gifts of that nature, are done away, (798) because they are conferred upon us to help our infirmity. Now our imperfection will one day have an end. Hence the use, even of those gifts, will, at the same time, be discontinued, for it were absurd that they should remain and be of no use. They will, therefore, perish. This subject he pursues to the end of the chapter.
9.We know in part This passage is misinterpreted by most persons, as if it meant that our knowledge, and in like manner our prophecy, is not yet perfect, but that we are daily making progress in them. Paul’s meaning, however, is — that it is owing to our imperfection that we at present have knowledge and prophecy. Hence the phrase in part means — “Because we are not yet perfect.” Knowledge and prophecy, therefore, have place among us so long as that imperfection cleaves to us, to which they are helps. It is true, indeed, that we ought to make progress during our whole life, and that everything that we have is merely begun. Let us observe, however, what Paul designs to prove — that the gifts in question are but temporary. Now he proves this from the circumstance, that the advantage of them is only for a time — so long as we aim at the mark by making progress every day.
10.When that which is perfect is come “When the goal has been reached, then the helps in the race will be done away.” He retains, however, the form of expression that he had already made use of, when he contrasts perfection with what is in part “Perfection,” says he, “when it will arrive, will put an end to everything that aids imperfection.” But when will that perfection come? It begins, indeed, at death, for then we put off, along with the body, many infirmities; but it will not be completely manifested until the day of judgment, as we shall hear presently. Hence we infer, that the whole of this discussion is ignorantly applied to the time that is intermediate.
11.When I was a child He illustrates what he had said, by a similitude. For there are many things that are suitable to children, which are afterwards done away on arriving at maturity. For example, education is necessary for childhood; it does not comport with mature age. (799) So long as we live in this world, we require, in some sense, education. We are far from having attained, as yet, the perfection of wisdom. That perfection, therefore, which will be in a manner a maturity of spiritual age, will put an end to education and its accompaniments. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, (Ephesians 4:14,) he exhorts us to be no longer children; but he has there another consideration in view, of which we shall speak when we come to that passage.
12.We now see through a glass Here we have the application of the similitude. “The measure of knowledge, that we now have, is suitable to imperfection and childhood, as it were; for we do not as yet see clearly the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, and we do not as yet enjoy a distinct view of them.” To express this, he makes use of another similitude — that we now see only as in a glass, and therefore but obscurely. This obscurity he expresses by the term enigma (800)
In the first place, there can be no doubt that it is the ministry of the word, and the means that are required for the exercise of it, that he compares to a looking-glass For God, who is otherwise invisible, has appointed these means for discovering himself to us. At the same time, this may also be viewed as extending to the entire structure of the world, in which the glory of God shines forth to our view, in accordance with what is stated in Romans 1:16; and 2 Corinthians 3:18. In Romans 1:20 the Apostle speaks of the creatures as mirrors, (801) in which God’s invisible majesty is to be seen; but as he treats here particularly of spiritual gifts, which are subservient to the ministry of the Church, and are its accompaniments, we shall not wander away from our present subject.
The ministry of the word, I say, is like a looking-glass For the angels have no need of preaching, or other inferior helps, nor of sacraments, for they enjoy a vision of God of another kind; (802) and God does not give them a view of his face merely in a mirror, but openly manifests himself as present with them. We, who have not as yet reached that great height, behold the image of God as it is presented before us in the word, in the sacraments, and, in fine, in the whole of the service of the Church. This vision Paul here speaks of as partaking of obscurity — not as though it were doubtful or delusive, but because it is not so distinct as that which will be at last afforded on the final day. He teaches the same thing in other words, in the second Epistle — (2 Corinthians 5:7) — that,
so long as we dwell in the body we are absent from the Lord;
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Our faith, therefore, at present beholds God as absent. How so? Because it sees not his face, but rests satisfied with the image in the mirror; but when we shall have left the world, and gone to him, it will behold him as near and before its eyes.
Hence we must understand it in this manner — that the knowledge of God, which we now have from his word, is indeed certain and true, and has nothing in it that is confused, or perplexed, or dark, but is spoken of as comparatively obscure, because it comes far short of that clear manifestation to which we look forward; for then we shall see face to face (803) Thus this passage is not at all at variance with other passages, which speak of the clearness, at one time, of the law, at another time, of the entire Scripture, but more especially of the gospel. For we have in the word (in so far as is expedient for us) a naked and open revelation of God, and it has nothing intricate in it, to hold us in suspense, as wicked persons imagine; (804) but how small a proportion does this bear to that vision, which we have in our eye! Hence it is only in a comparative sense, that it is termed obscure.
The adverb then denotes the last day, rather than the time that is immediately subsequent to death. At the same time, although full vision will be deferred until the day of Christ, a nearer view of God will begin to be enjoyed immediately after death, when our souls, set free from the body, will have no more need of the outward ministry, or other inferior helps. Paul, however, as I noticed a little ago, does not enter into any close discussion as to the state of the dead, because the knowledge of that is not particularly serviceable to piety.
Now I know in part That is, the measure of our present knowledge is imperfect, as John says in his Epistle, (1 John 3:1,) that
we know, indeed, that we are the sons of God,
but that it doth not yet appear, until we shall see God as he is.
Then we shall see God — not in his image, but in himself, so that there will be, in a manner, a mutual view.
(800) The original term
(803) “The blessed God’s manifestation of himself,” say’s Mr. Howe, “is emphatically expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:12 — of seeing face to face, which signifies on his part, gracious vouchsafement, — his offering his blessed face to view, — that he hides it not, nor turns it away, as here sometimes he doth, in just displeasure. And his face means, even his most conspicuous glory, such as, in this state of mortality, it would be mortal to us to behold; for ‘no man,’ not so divine a man as Moses himself, ‘could see his face and live.’ And it signifies, on their part who are thus made perfect, their applying and turning their face towards his, viz., that they see not casually, or by fortuitous glances, but eye to eye, by direct and most voluntary intuition; which, therefore, on their part, implies moral perfection, the will directing and commanding the eye, and upon inexpressible relishes of joy and pleasure, forbidding its diversion, holds it steady and intent.” Howe’s Works, (Lond. 1834,) p. 1016. — Ed.
13.But now remaineth faith, hope, love. This is a conclusion from what goes before — that love is more excellent than other gifts; but in place of the enumeration of gifts that he had previously made, he now putsfaith and hope along with love, as all those gifts are comprehended under this summary. For what is the object of the entire ministry, but that we may be instructed as to these things? (805) Hence the term faith has a larger acceptation here, than in previous instances; for it is as though he had said — “There are, it is true, many and various gifts, but they all point to this object, and have an eye to it.”
To remain, then, conveys the idea, that, as in the reckoning up of an account, when everything has been deducted, this is the sum that remains For faith does not remain after death, inasmuch as the Apostle elsewhere contrasts it with sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7,) and declares that it remains only so long as we are absent from the Lord We are now in possession of what is meant byfaith in this passage — that knowledge of God and of the divine will, which we obtain by the ministry of the Church; or, if you prefer it, faith universal, and taken in its proper acceptation. Hope is nothing else than perseverance in faith For when we have once believed the word of God, it remains that we persevere until the accomplishment of these things. Hence, as faith is the mother of hope, so it is kept up by it, so as not to give way.
The greatest of these is love. It is so, if we estimate its excellence by the effects which he has previously enumerated; and farther, if we take into view its perpetuity. For every one derives advantage from his own faith and hope, but love extends its benefits to others. Faith and hope belong to a state of imperfection: love will remain even in a state of perfection. For if we single out the particular effects of faith, and compare them, faith will be found to be in many respects superior. Nay, even love itself, according to the testimony of the same Apostle, (1 Thessalonians 1:3,) is an effect of faith Now the effect is, undoubtedly, inferior to its cause.
Besides, there is bestowed upon faith a signal commendation, which does not apply to love, when John declares that it is our victory, which overcometh the world. (1 John 5:4.) In fine, it is by faith that we are born against that we become the sons of God — that we obtain eternal life, and that Christ dwells in us. (Ephesians 3:17.) Innumerable other things I pass over; but these few are sufficient to prove what I have in view — that faith is, in many of its effects, superior to love. Hence it is evident, that it is declared here to be superior — not in every respect, but inasmuch as it will be perpetual, and holds at present the first place in the preservation of the Church.
It is, however, surprising how much pleasure Papists take in thundering forth these words. “If faith justifies,” say they, “then much more does love, which is declared to be greater.” A solution of this objection is already furnished from what I have stated, but let us grant that love is in every respect superior; what sort of reasoning is that — that because it is greater, therefore it is of more avail for justifying men! Then a king will plow the ground better than a husbandman, and he will make a shoe better than a shoemaker, because he is more noble than either! Then a man will run faster than a horse, and will carry a heavier burden than an elephant, because he is superior in dignity! Then angels will give light to the earth better than the sun and moon, because they are more excellent! If the power of justifying depended on the dignity or merit of faith they might perhaps be listened to; but we do not teach that faith justifies, on the ground of its having more worthiness, or occupying a higher station of honor, but because it receives the righteousness which is freely offered in the gospel. Greatness or dignity has nothing to do with this. Hence this passage gives Papists no more help, than if the Apostle had given the preference to faith above everything else.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany