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1 Corinthians 13

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Verses 1-13

1 Corinthians 13:0

The paean of love chanted at Ephesus under Nero for the poor saints of Corinth, has not perished with Corinth. Annihilated for ever, the magnificence of Nero's Corinth lies buried today beneath silent rubbish-mounds and green vineyards on the terraces between the mass of the Acrocorinthus and the shore of the gulf; nothing but ruins, ghastly remnants, destruction. The words of the paean, however, have outlasted the marble and the bronzes of the Empire, because they had an unassailable refuge in the secret depths of the soul of the people. The Corinthian Christians, who suffered other writings of St. Paul to be lost, preserved these; copies were taken and circulated; at the turning-point of the first and second century The Corinthians was already known at Rome, and probably St. Paul's other letters were also in circulation then in the Christian assemblies of the great Mediterranean coast cities, guarded with the gospels and other texts of the fathers as an heirloom and treasure.

Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 399.

Reference. XIII. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 135.

1 Corinthians 13:1

Speaking of an early friend, Joseph Fawcett, Hazlitt in his Table-Talk observes that 'he has made me feel (by contrast) the want of genuine sincerity and generous sentiment in some that I have listened to since, and convinced me (if practical proof were wanting) of the truth of that text of Scripture "That had I all knowledge and could speak with the tongues of angels, yet without charity I were nothing!" I would rather be a man of disinterested taste and liberal feeling, to see and acknowledge truth and beauty wherever I found it, than a man of greater and more original genius, to hate, envy, and deny all excellence but my own but that poor scanty pittance of it (compared with the whole) which I had myself produced!'

But was it thou I think

Surely it was! that bard

Unnamed, who Goethe said,

Had every other gift, but wanted love;

Love, without which the tongue

Even of angels sounds amiss?

M. Arnold, Heine's Grave.

But it was of Platen that Goethe spoke. In his conversations with Eckermann (1825) he remarks: 'We cannot deny that he has many brilliant qualities, but he is wanting in love. He loves his readers and his fellow-poets as little as he loves himself, and thus we may apply to him the maxim of the Apostle "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not love, I am become as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal".... He is deficient in love, and therefore will never produce the effect which he ought'

References. XIII. 1. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 96. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 11. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 47.

1 Corinthians 13:2

'Somehow,' says James Smetham, referring to De Quincey,' there is a Divine instinct within us which decides that pre-eminence using the term in its final sense shall not be given to mere intellectual strength and prowess.'

References. XIII. 2. H. M. Bate, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 776. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 7; ibid. vol. x. p. 124; ibid. (5th Series), vol. i. p. 144.

St. Paul's View of Sacrifice

1 Corinthians 13:3

It has been pointed out that St. Paul, when he wrote, Though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing, may have had an actual historical incident in view. A story is told by classical writers of an embassy sent to Augustus by Porus, an Indian king, attached to which was a fanatic who, under circumstances of which we have no information, publicly burnt himself at Athens. His tomb, according to Plutarch, was one of the sights of the city. It bore the inscription 'Zarmanochegas, the Indian from Bargosa, who after the fashion of his Indian forefathers made himself immortal, died here'. 'Now, Zarmanochegas is evidently the same word as Iramana-Karja, which means "teacher of the ascetics," and shows that its owner was not Braham, but Buddhist; while Bargosa may be taken as identical with Barygoza, a city in which we know Buddhism flourished at the beginning of the Christian era. What more likely than that Paul, whose eye had been attracted by the inscription "To the unknown God," should have seen this also, and should have heard the story of the strange self-immolation which was still fresh in the minds of men?'

Mr. Beard describes this as the only meeting-point that exists between Buddhism and Christianity, and it may well be that this exit by the gate of fire drew the thoughts of St. Paul. For the practice of suicide was hardly Greek, and took easier ways than through the flames. The death would thus be a wonder a wonder apparently heroic, but on deeper reflection alike vain and cowardly.

St. Paul's devotion was unbroken; but he testified that sacrifice by itself is nothing. The sacrifice which is the imitation of Christ must be moved by love, and must seek a worthy end. Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, applies to all such purposeless and theatrical displays. The great oblation which is our example as well as our propitiation, and his own daily dying, were of another order.

I. Why did Christ die? There is no difficulty in saying that He died for love. Trace the life-giving river to its fountain-head, and we see it spring in everlasting love. Though the deep human heart's first demand even in its fall is for justice; though St. Paul declares that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because first of all it reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith, yet it is the love of the Atonement that draws us out of the dreary years of routine and of sin, and gives us power to become true sons of God.

II. And now that we have fairly entered the political period of Christianity, whose watchword is charity, it is well to consider what self-sacrifice really is. It is not lavish giving. Though, says the Apostle, I give all my goods to feed the poor, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. A man whose whole income appears in subscription lists may or may not be charitable. In the war between the haves and the have-nots many will give lavishly to put off the day of reckoning. But what is surrendered from fear is not charity. Others, again, give from a sense of duty; they understand that they ought to part with one-tenth of their incomes; perhaps there is a lurking thought somewhere that God may prosper their business if they give Him some small share, but neither duty nor calculation is love. We believe there are in the Christian Church, that today looks so dead, so comfortable, so utterly deaf to its call, many thousand souls of the true Israel seeking to be led from the house of bondage. But their Moses will not put giving first. Love is first that love which can be learned nowhere but at the Cross. The Gospel is the reinstatement of love, and love is maintained only by the sacrifice. Philanthropy is very popular, but it is only an outer energy, and it has been well said that a virtue which is fashionable is next door to being out of fashion. Love is the condition of the Christian disentanglement.

Neither is voluntary suffering the true self-sacrifice. Love will find the way to its own expression. There will be no need to seek occasions of sacrifice. If we but look where next to plant our foot, we shall in due time discover all the length and all the winding of the way.

III. We shall thus come to understand the life of St. Paul in its sweetness, in its greatness, in its pain the life of constant suffering and constant triumph, the life that ever heard and never left unheeded the call to bonds and afflictions, the life that did not hurry to useless pains and unasked renunciations, the life that loved and was loved back, the life of a surrender that smoked day and night like the perfumes on the altar. And when all the years are full, when much has been attained, accomplished, foregone, we shall hear the last solemn call, My son, give Me thine heart, and go forth to our creating, redeeming, sanctifying God, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, and to Jesus.

W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 173.

References. XIII. 3. H. Jones, A Lent in London, p. 134. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 325.

1 Corinthians 13:4

Trying to be kind and honest seems an affair too simple and too inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mould; we had rather set ourselves to something bold, arduous, and conclusive; we had rather found a schism or suppress a heresy, cut off a hand or mortify an appetite. But the task before us is rather one of microscopic fineness, and the heroism required is that of patience. To be honest, to be kind to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to keep a few friends but these without capitulation above all, on the same grim condition, to keep friends with himself here is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy.

R. L. Stevenson, in A Christmas Sermon.

1 Corinthians 13:4

'Swift,' says Dr. Johnson, 'seems to have wasted life in discontent, by the rage of neglected pride, and the languishment of unsatisfied desire. He is querulous and fastidious, arrogant and malignant; he scarcely speaks of himself but with indignant lamentations, or of others but with insolent superiority when he is gay, and with angry contempt when he is gloomy.'

1 Corinthians 13:4

Those whom their virtue restrains from deceiving others, are often disposed by their vanity to deceive themselves.

Johnson, Life of Blackmore.

References. XIII. 4. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 333. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading (2nd Series), p. 84. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 222. XIII. 4-7. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 88. XIII. 4-8. H. Elvet Lewis, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 393. XIII. 4-13. Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 36. D. L. Moody, The Fulness of the Gospel, p. 90.

1 Corinthians 13:5

'Love,' says George Eliot, 'has a habit of saying "never mind" to angry self, who, sitting down for the nonce in the lower place, by-and-by gets used to it.'

There is no safer test of greatness than the faculty of letting mortifying words and insults pass unheeded, and of ascribing them, like many other mistakes, to the weakness and ignorance of the speaker merely, as it were, perceiving without feeling them.'


1 Corinthians 13:5

Charity is generous; it runs a risk willingly, and in spite of a hundred successive experiences, it thinks no evil at the hundred-and-first. We must be knowingly rash, that we may not be like the clever ones of this world, who never forget their own interests.


1 Corinthians 13:6

'I hold it a crime,' says Caleb Garth in Middlemarch, 'to expose a man's sin, unless I'm clear it must be done to save the innocent.'

References. XIII. 5. Archbishop Temple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 241. XIII. 6. C. S. Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 408.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Writing to a young friend on marriage, Henri Perreyve said: 'Love is not pleasure, it is not a mere selfish enjoyment, it is not the illusion of a coarse passion. He who loves gives himself above all; in its final expression, love is sacrifice. Therefore be alone is the true lover who sacrifices his rest, his joys, his fortune and if need be, life itself, for the being whom he ought to love on earth or in heaven. Those who marry ought to surrender themselves as the priest does in his sacred office, with devotion, with self-abandonment with joy, indeed, but with a solemn joy, which is closely akin to resignation, and which accepts suffering beforehand.'

Lettres de L'Abbé Perreyve (edition of 1903), p. 98.

1 Corinthians 13:7

'The many ties of acquaintance and friendship which I have, or think I have in life, I have felt along the lines, and they are almost all of them of such frail contexture, that I am sure they would not stand the breath of the least adverse breeze of fortune. But from you, my ever dear Sir,' writes Burns in 1787 to William Nicol, 'I look with confidence for the apostolic love that shall wait on me through good report and bad report.'

Coleridge makes the words 'beareth all things' the motto fur the following lines on Forbearance:

Gently I took that which ungently came,

And without scorn forgave: Do thou the same.

A wrong done to thee think a cat's-eye spark

Thou wouldst not see, were not thine own heart dark.

Thine own keen sense of wrong that thirsts for sin,

Fear that.

1 Corinthians 13:7

A friend is one who incessantly pays us the compliment of expecting all the virtues from us, and who can appreciate them in us.


Compare Cléante's outburst in Tartuffe (Act i. Scene 5):

Our age, my brother, has made plain to us

Some who may serve as glorious exemplars.

No trumpeters of virtue they; you mark

No vaunt intolerable in their lives; nay more.

Their piety is human, reasonable.

They blame not all we do, for that, they deem.

Smacks overmuch of arrogant pretence,

So, leaving proud words to the lips of others,

They make their actions a reproof to ours.

They build not on appearances of evil,

And quick are they to judge well of their neighbours.

No faction lurks in them, no sly intrigue,

Their only care is to live well and true.

They do not run the sinner harshly down,

But keep their hatred for the sin alone.

These, these the men for me! That's the true life.

That's the example for us all to follow.

1 Corinthians 13:7

It is not true that love makes all things easy; it makes us choose what is difficult.

George Eliot Felix Holt, ch. XLIX

1 Corinthians 13:8

'If you want a person's faults,' says Stevenson in his essay on Thoreau, 'go to those who love him. They will not tell you, but they know. And herein lies the magnanimous courage of love, that it endures this knowledge without change.'

References. XIII. 7. H. D. M. Spence, Voices and Silences, p. 197. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1617. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 218. XIII. 8. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 67. XIII. 8-10. T. G. Bonney, Sermons on Some of the Questions of the Day, p. 56. XIII. 8-12. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 162.

What Lasts

1 Corinthians 13:8 ; 1 Corinthians 13:13

We discern the run of the Apostle's thought best by thus omitting the intervening verses and connecting these two. The part omitted is but a buttress of what has been stated in the former of our two verses; and when we thus unite them there is disclosed plainly the Apostle's intention of contrasting two sets of things, three in each. The point mainly intended by the contrast is the transiency of the one and the permanence of the other.

I. What will Drop Away. Paul answers, 'prophecies, tongues, knowledge'. All our present modes of apprehension and of utterance are transient, and will be left behind. (1) Knowledge shall cease because the perfect will absorbs into itself the imperfect, as the inrushing tide will obliterate the little pools in the rocks on the seashore. (2) Knowledge will pass because here it is indirect, and there it will be immediate. 'We shall know face to face,' which is what philosophers call by intuition. (3) Modes of utterance will cease. With new experiences will come new methods of communication; as a man can speak, and a beast can only growl or bark.

II. What will Last? 'So then abideth these three, faith, hope, love.' The two latter come out of the former, and without it they are nought, and it without them is dead. (1) Faith breeds hope. There is the difference between earthly hopes and Christian people's hopes. The one basis on which men can rest is trust in Jesus Christ, His word, His love, His power, and for the heavenly future, in His Resurrection and present glory. (2) Faith, in like manner, is the parent of love. The abiding of all three is eternal abiding, and there is a heavenly as well as an earthly form of faith and hope as well as of love.

III. What Follows from all this? (1) Let us be quite sure that we understand what this abiding love is. Paul's notion of love is the response of the human love to the Divine, which Divine is received into the heart by simple faith in Jesus Christ. (2) Let us take this great thought of the permanence of faith, hope, and love as being the highest conception that we can form of our future condition. (3) Let us shape our lives in accordance with these certainties.

A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 162.

References. XIII. 8, 13. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 186.

1 Corinthians 13:9 ; 1 Corinthians 13:12

Bishop King of Lincoln wrote, in his paper on Clerical Studies:

'This conviction of our own ignorance is one of the most prominent and valuable features in the system of Bishop Butler.

'It is after all only what St. Paul has told us, that we know in part ( ἐκ μέρους γὰρ γινώσκομεν ). But it was the forgetfulness of this which led to the weakness of the great systems of the schoolmen in the Middle Ages. They were tempted by the desire for intellectual scientific completeness to add connecting pieces of their own invention, instead of, as Lord Bacon says, being content to have breaks and chasms in their system, and to cry out, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" It is the forgetfulness of this condition of partial knowledge which has placed the modern Roman Church in such a perilous position, allowing herself to be led on by the popular desire to have everything defined and made plain, "howbeit," as Hooker said, "oftentimes more plain than true".

'This seems to me to be most important for us to remember in the Church of England at the present time, with the pressure of modern Romanism on the one side, and the desire for secular scientific knowledge on the other. We must not be afraid to say, ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους , and one of the best ways, I think, to be convinced of one's ignorance is to try to know.

'It is a matter not for pride but for thankfulness that hitherto the clergy of the Church of England have been better educated than the clergy of any other part of Christendom, but from different causes it is an obvious fact that men are now being ordained who have not had the same opportunities, which most of us had, of knowing how much there is that they do not know. It is more than ever, therefore, important that we should all continue reading, that we may preserve the condition so favourable to true humility and be ready for the gift of faith. Let this be a watchword for the Church of England, ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους .

The Love and Wisdom, of God, p. 337.

References. XIII. 9. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 106. A. Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 166. XIII. 10. H. Windross, The Life Victorious, p. 65.

Christian Manhood

1 Corinthians 13:11

If there be those among us, who, like the young ruler, 'worshipping Christ,' and 'loved' by Him, and obeying His commandments from their youth up, yet cannot but be 'sorrowful' at the thought of giving up their pleasant visions, their childish idolatries, and their bright hopes of earthly happiness, such I bid be of good cheer, and take courage. What is it your Saviour requires of you, more than will also be exacted from you by that hard and evil master, who desires your ruin? Christ bids you give up the world; but will not, at any rate, the world soon give up you? Can you keep it, by being its slave? Will not he, whose creature of temptation it is, the prince of the world, take it from you, whatever he at present promises? What does your Lord require of you, but to look at all things as they really are, to account them merely as His instruments, and to believe that good is good because He wills it, that He can bless as easily by hard stone as by bread, in the desert as in the fruitful field, if we have faith in Him who gives us the true bread from heaven? Daniel and his friends were princes of the royal house of David; they were 'children well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, cunning in knowledge, and understanding science'; yet they had faith to refuse even the literal meat and drink given them, because it was an idol's sacrifice, and God sustained them without it. For ten days of trial they lived on pulse and water; yet 'at the end,' says the sacred record, 'their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat'. Doubt not, then, His power to bring you through any difficulties, who gives you the command to encounter them. He has showed you the way; He gave up the home of His mother Mary to 'be about His Father's business,' and now He but bids you take up after Him the cross which He bore for you, and 'fill up what is wanting of His afflictions in your flesh'. Be not afraid it is but a pang now and then, and a struggle; a covenant with your eyes, and a fasting in the wilderness, some calm habitual watchfulness and the hearty effort to obey, and all will be well. Be not afraid. He is most gracious, and will bring you on by little and little. There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in His excellency on the sky. The Eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He knows no variableness, neither shadow of turning; and when we outgrow our childhood, we but approach, however feebly, to His likeness, who has no youth nor age, who has no passions, no hopes, nor fears, but who loves truth, purity, and mercy, and who is supremely blessed, because He is supremely holy.

J. H. Newman, from the Sermon on Christian Manhood.

1 Corinthians 13:11

O what a wilderness were this sad world,

If man were always man, and never child.

Hartley Coleridge.

Horace Walpole used to say that Gray 'was never a boy,' and Coleridge confesses that at school 'I became a dreamer, and acquired an indisposition to all bodily activity; and I was fretful, and inordinately passionate; and as I could not play at anything, and was slothful, I was despised and hated by the boys; and because I could read and spell, and had, I may truly say, a memory and understanding forced into almost unnatural ripeness, I was flattered and wondered at by the old women.... Alas! I had all the simplicity, all the docility of the little child, but none of the child's habits. I never thought as a child, never had the language of a child'.

Compare Wordsworth's lines written upon visiting Milton's rooms at Cambridge:

Yea, our blind Poet, who in his later day

Stood almost single; uttering odious truth

Darkness before and danger's voice behind,

Soul awful if the earth has ever lodged

An awful soul I seemed to see him here

Familiarly, and in his scholar's dress

Bounding before me, yet a stripling youth

A boy, no better, with his rosy cheeks

Angelical, keen eye, courageous look,

And conscious step of purity and pride.

'Looking back upon all this period of his early years,' says Sainte-Beuve, 'Gibbon is careful to point out that the golden age of life's morning, which all praise, never existed for him, and that he "never knew the happiness of childhood". I have already noted the same thing with regard to Volney. Those who have lacked such maternal care, the early bloom and blossom of tender affection, the varied charm which imbues our early impressions, are more easily detached from the religious feeling than other people.'

1 Corinthians 13:11

'Do as a child but when thou art a child,' says Sir Thomas Browne in his Christian Morals, 'and ride not on a reed at twenty. He who hath not taken leave of the follies of his youth, and in his maturer state scarce got out of that division, disproportionately divideth his days, crowds up the latter part of his life, and leaves too narrow a corner for the age of wisdom.' Again, in his Religio Medici (I. 42), he observes sadly: 'I find in my confirmed age the same sins I discovered in my youth; I committed many then because I was a child; and because I commit them still, I am yet an infant Therefore I perceive a man may be twice a child, before the days of dotage.'

In his Walden, Thoreau tells of a vigorous Canadian wood-chopper who came to him. 'But the intellectual and what is called spiritual man in him were slumbering as in an infant He had been instructed only in that innocent and ineffectual way in which the Catholic priests teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man, but kept a child.'

Compare also the account, quoted from Rousseau in Hazlitt's essay on 'A Sun-dial,' of how he sat up 'with his father reading romances, when a boy, till they were startled by the swallows twittering in their nests at daybreak, and the father cried out, half angry and ashamed allons, monfils; je suis plus enfant que toi .'

Compare Goldsmith's lines on Italy in The Traveller:

Here may be seen, in bloodless pomp arrayed,

The paste-board triumph and the cavalcade;

Processions form'd for piety and love,

A mistress or a saint in every grave.

By sports like these are all their cares beguiled,

The sports of children satisfy the child.

It were well if none remained boys all their lives; but what is more common than the sight of grown men, talking on political or moral or religious subjects in that off-hand, idle way which we signify by the word unreal? 'That they simply do not know what they are talking of,' is the spontaneous, silent remark of any man of sense who hears them.

Newman, The Idea of a University, p. xvii.

References. XIII. 11. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 78. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 199. H. S. Holland, Old and New, p. 181. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. pp. 8 and 16. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 318. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 31. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 470; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 26.

Through a Glass Darkly

1 Corinthians 13:12

This fragment of Inspiration appears in the Revised Version thus: 'For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I have been known'. Some critics, however, prefer another and fuller rendering; 'For now we see by means of a mirror, darkly, or in a riddle; but then face to face: now I know in part; then shall I fully know even as also I was fully known'. But it is an open question whether the reference made is to a medium of silver or polished metal which can only reflect objects, or to that of thin horn or pellucid stone used by the ancients. No matter, each figure admirably illustrates the thought of the writer.

I. The imperfection of the present is the first thought brought out in this passage. The medium of our vision is now defective. Nature is a mirror which reflects God; but the primal transgression has shattered it, so that it now gives but misty or distorted views of Him. The Bible, too, is as full a revelation of God as it can be; but its representations, albeit very sublime, are necessarily figurative, and therefore contain truth only in a relative form. So of nearly all the Divine facts. There is, however, one fact 'the faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation' which shines brilliantly on its holy pages as noontide sun on cloudless skies (1 Timothy 1:15 ). The capacity of our mind is also now limited. Were the medium never so perfect, we could take but slight advantage of it, because we are, in a mental and moral sense, like the man whose blindness was only half healed, and who, when asked by Jesus what he saw, replied, 'I see men as trees walking'. Sin has so weakened and darkened our mind, that we often call good evil, and evil good. We now see by means of a piece of burnished metal, or through a plate of horn or translucent stone; consequently, we know only in part; and a child may ask a question which a philosopher could not answer.

II. But the perfection of the future is what we look forward to. The vision will then be unobstructed. It will be as immediate as the 'mouth to mouth' with which the I AM spoke to the leader of Israel (Numbers 12:8 ). 'Face to face.' 'This is,' as an eloquent divine remarks, 'the beatific vision' absolutely clear and direct A thick cloud necessarily intervened between Jehovah and Moses; but how the latter yearned to see the face of the former! (Exodus 33:18 ). To grant such a request would have proved fatal to the beholder. Not so in the great future. Oh what transporting views will then be had of God! When the angels front His throne, they veil their faces with their wings; but the redeemed and glorified have no wings. With God and them it is 'face to face': no cloud on His face; no veil on theirs! And, if they see God thus in heaven, what can hinder them from seeing their friends 'face to face' there, and knowing them again? The mind will then be perfected. 'Now,' we are known of God rather than He is known of us; 'then,' God will be fully known by us; yet not so fully as He knows us, because His knowledge of us is absolutely complete from the beginning, whereas our knowledge of Him will ever be progressive. We shall spend the golden ages of the great future in the rapt contemplation of His infinite perfections as exhibited in the face of Jesus Christ. There will be no mysteries then: the full-orbed light of eternity will illumine all worlds, all beings, and all things.


1 Corinthians 13:12

I. It has ever been a mark of Christianity that it kept men alive to the mysteries around them. The souls that have drunk most deeply of the Christian doctrine are the souls who have most felt the mystery of life. And yet, perhaps, there never was a time in which the sense of mystery was less present than today. How far that dying out of the mysterious may be traced to the decline of living faith is a question that might admit of much discussion. But there are other causes which I should like to indicate. (1) One is the tyranny of facts under which we live. There is no man more apt to be blind to the great mysteries than the specialist, and this is pre-eminently the age of specialism. (2) And then again this is an age of machinery, and there is little mystery in a machine. 'So many hundred hands in this mill,' says Charles Dickens in Hard Times, 'so many hundred horse steam power. It is known, to the force of a single pound-weight, what the engine will do.... There is no mystery in it.' (3) And then this is an age of travel. The world is explored into its darkest corners. Knowledge has come, and perhaps a little wisdom with it; but the older sense of the world's mystery has gone.

II. I think, then, that it is supremely important in these times that we should endeavour to keep alive the sense of mystery. And I am sure that the Lord Jesus Christ always meant it to have large room in His disciples' hearts. (1) Think, for example, of what our Lord meant by unbelief. 'Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?' Had they only felt the mystery of the Divine, touching and girding even the angry waters, they had been less disquieted out at sea. That was what Jesus meant by unbelief; not a mind that denies, but a spirit that disowns. (2) And then you remember that other declaration: 'Except ye become as little children'. You cannot even see the kingdom of God unless within you is the heart of childhood, and all things are mysterious to the child.

III. It is notable, too, that Jesus deepened the mystery of everything He touched. (1) Take one of His leading words like life, for instance. When I think of what life meant in the old pagan world, how shallow it was, how sensuous and short, and when I compare that with the life that is in Christ I feel at once how the mystery of life is deepened in passing through the hands of Jesus Christ. (2) Or take the thought of death. Christ has illumined death; but has He banished its mystery? He hath taken away its sting, but deepened its mystery. (3) Take the thought of God. God was a Sovereign once, now He is Father, and there are more mysteries in Fatherhood than in Kingship. Christ has intensified the mystery of God.

G. H. Morrison, Sunrise: Addresses from a City Pulpit, p. 12.

1 Corinthians 13:12

In his essay on Clough's poems, Bagehot describes how 'the best of us... strive, more or less, to "make the best of both worlds". We know that the invisible world cannot be duly discerned, or perfectly appreciated. We know that we see as in a glass darkly, but still we look on the glass. We frame to ourselves some image which we know to be incomplete, which probably is in part untrue, which we try to improve day by day, of which we do not deny the defects but which nevertheless is our "all"; which we hope, when the accounts are taken, may be found not utterly unlike the unknown reality. This is, as it seems, the best religion for finite beings, living, if we may say so, on the very edge of two dissimilar worlds, on the very line of which the infinite, unfathomable sea surges up, and just where the queer little bay of this world ends, we count the pebbles on the shore, and image to ourselves as best we may the secrets of the great deep.'

Most men's minds are dim mirrors, in which all truth is seen, as St. Paul tells us, darkly; this is the fault most common and most fatal; dulness of heart and mistiness of sight, increasing to utter hardness and blindness; Satan breathing upon the glass, so that if we do not sweep the mist laboriously away, it will take no image.

Ruskin, Stones of Venice (III.

To be entirely just in our estimate of other ages is not difficult it is impossible. Even what is passing in our presence we see but through a glass darkly. The mind as well as the eye adds something of its own, before an image, even of the clearest object, can be painted upon it.

Froude, on The Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Newton, Pascal, Bossuet, Racine, and Fénelon, that is to say, the most enlightened men on earth, in the most philosophical of all ages, and in the full vigour of their spirit and their age, have believed in Jesus Christ; while the great Condé, on his deathbed, repeated these noble words, 'Yes, we shall see God as He is, face to face'.


1 Corinthians 13:12

I wait and wonder: long ago

This wonder was my constant quest,

Wonder at our environing,

And at myself within the ring:

Still that abides with me, some quest

Before my footsteps seems to lie,

But quest of what I scarcely know,

Life itself makes no reply:

A quest for naught that earth supplies,

This is our life's last compromise.

W. Bell Scott.

To the Minnow every cranny and pebble, and quality and accident of its little native Creek may have become familiar: but does the Minnow understand the Ocean Tides and periodic Currents, the Trade-winds and Monsoons, and Moon's Eclipses; by all of which the condition of its little Creek is regulated, and may, from time to time ( un miraculously enough) be quite overset and reversed? Such a minnow is Man; his Creek this planet Earth; his Ocean the immeasureable All; his Monsoons and periodic Currents the mysterious Course of Providence through Æons of Æons.

Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (III. 8).

'Madam,' Samuel Rutherford wrote once to Lady Kenmure, 'ye must go in at heaven's gates, and your book in your hand, still learning.'

References. XIII. 12. Bishop Bickersteth, Sermons, p. 50. J. Cumming, Penny Pulpit, No. 1506, p. 185. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 10. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. i. p. 164. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1002. Llewelyn Davies, The Purpose of God, p. 80. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 382; ibid. vol. i. p. 452; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 358.

The Geometry of Life

1 Corinthians 13:13

It is a deep saying of the Greek philosopher Plato that 'God geometrises'. And this means that God is the grand Geometrician of the Universe and has constructed it on geometrical principles.

A complete life is geometrical. It is a triangle, and its three sides are Work, Love, and Religion. They must all be there, and if one of them be lacking, the triangle is broken, the life is incomplete.

I. Work. This is the base of the triangle. It is the foundation of life. Work is a necessity, and it is a sacred thing. Here I would specially address young men, and I would say to you: Recognise the sacredness of your work, whatever it may be, and accept it as God's appointment, as the work which He has given you to do. I know that you are often discouraged because it seems so trivial and commonplace, because it has so little outcome and offers so little prospect of promotion. But recognise it as the will of God concerning you, and you will find it transfigured and invested with a new significance.

Quiet acceptance of the lot which God in His providence has appointed to us, and faithful performance of the work, often so hard and distasteful, which He has given us to do that is the way to a larger heritage and a loftier service.

II. Love. Work alone is not enough. Even if it be not mere drudgery, it is a selfish thing, so we must bring in Love. Love carries us out of ourselves; it redeems our lives from 'miserable aims that end with self,' and makes our work a gracious ministry. It lifts our horizon and broadens our world.

III. Religion. This completes the triangle. If Work without Love be drudgery, Love without Religion is tragedy. What is the use of loving if it must end with a green mound in the churchyard, with a tender memory and a vain regret?

There comes to my remembrance here an incident of my own ministry. Death had suddenly visited a home and carried off a little child. It was a cruel blow to the poor mother. She was a widow, and the little maiden had been the light of her eyes and the gladness of her heart. I feared that the sorrow would crush her, but she bore up bravely; and afterwards she said to me: 'I am sure that I would have lost my reason but for the promise of meeting my wee lassie again in the Father's House'.

This is the supreme blessing of Religion. It gives Love permanence. It teaches us that Death is, in St. Bernard's phrase, 'the Gate of Life'. It draws aside the veil and discovers to us the broad and beautiful world of Eternity, and the Holy City where the inhabitant never says, 'I am sick,' and no mourners go about the streets, and the Father's House where there are many mansions and where, by the mercy of Jesus, we shall all meet again on the eternal Sabbath morning.

David Smith, Man's Need of God, p. 15.


1 Corinthians 13:13

The whole civilised world has come round at any rate, in theory to the teaching of St. Paul. The verdict of the popular magazine of today is, that cleverness may be a great thing, and learning a great thing, but a greater than these is Love. Pick up a philosophical treatise on ethics, and, in a more cumbrous style, you will find the same thing said. What comes out as the ultimate basis of conduct in such books? Is it not Altruism? But Altruism, after all, is but a cumbrous name for Love, and was taught the world by Christ, and therefore the verdict of the ethical treatise is the verdict of St. Paul. Or take again practical life. Let a man be kind-hearted and generous, and there is nothing that he is not forgiven today. The popular verdict of the day is that sobriety is a great thing and honesty is a great thing, but 'a greater than these is Love'. And if this is so with regard to man's opinion of man, it is even more forcibly true with regard to man's opinion of God.

I. What has Love Done? The old-world stories of the Bible are but the beginning of all the stories of self-sacrifice endured by father for children, by children for father, by brother for brother, and friend for friend; and a great chorus from all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues cries, 'This hath Love done'. Nor is it only the love of relatives and of friends. Who is this spare man with the stern, severe face who is searching the arches of London with his lantern? This is Lord Shaftesbury. Again, what is this which comes looming up before us today? Why do I speak of the Cross as it stands up clearer and clearer before our eyes? Because what the Cross gives is the most overwhelming answer to our question, 'This hath Love done, this!'

II. If then Love hath done this, What is Love? (1) The first answer which springs from its manifestation in the Cross is, 'God is Love'. (2) And if the first thing about Love is that it is Godlike, the second follows from the first, and that is, it is indestructible. (3) And thirdly, love is unselfish.

III. Have we got this Love? To be without Love is to be without God, and to be without God is to be lost. The old idea of the ancients was that fire was stolen from heaven; but whether fire was stolen from heaven or not, Love only comes from heaven. Only by keeping our hearts throbbing with His can we truly love.

Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Banners of the Christian Faith, p. 32.

Imperishable Jewels

1 Corinthians 13:13

Their order is instructive. Faith is the root. Hope springs out of faith, what faith believes hope expects. And love is the fruit produced by faith and hope. All three abide: faith abideth, hope abideth, love abideth.

I. Faith. Our Lord taught St. Thomas the happiness of faith when He said: 'Happy are they that have not seen, and yet have believed' (St. John 20:29 ). As to the origin of saving faith, it is of God. Its object is Christ and Christ only. Faith is the Yes of the heart to the promises and propositions of God.

II. Hope. God is 'the God of hope' (Romans 15:13 ). 'We are saved in hope' (Romans 8:24 ), i.e., hope is the element in which we are saved.

III. Love. 'Love is the crown of faith and hope.' There are two elements of earthly happiness. I mean, if you would be happy in your life you must have some one to love, and something to do. Apply this to spiritual things and you will see how true it is. Some One to love: Christ, Something to do: for Him. Remember this: these three graces are gifts. Surely we may well add St. Augustine's prayer to our other prayers: 'Lord, give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt'.

F. Harper, The Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 560.

1 Corinthians 13:13

The Americans have many virtues, but they have not Faith and Hope. I know no two words whose meaning is more lost sight of. We use these words as if they were as obsolete as Selah and Amen.

Emerson, on Man the Reformer.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope, Faith and Love at God's high altar shine,

Lamp triple-branched, and fed with oil divine.

Two of these triple-lights shall once grow pale,

They burn without, but Love within the veil.

R. C. Trench.

'I suppose,' says George Eliot in a letter of 1862 to Miss Hennell, 'no wisdom the world will ever find out will make Paul's words obsolete, "Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity".'

A man's love is the measure of; his fitness for good or bad company here or elsewhere.

O. W. Holmes,

Elsie Venner (ch. XVII.).

References. XIII. 13. W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, 1905-7, p. 20. L. D. Bevan, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 266. T. H. Bell, Persuasions, p. 69. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Christian World Pulpit, vol: liii. p. 124. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 182. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 193. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 119. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i. p. 219. E. T. J. Marriner, Sermons Preached at Lyme Regis, p. 231. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 74. A. J. Palmer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 36. Alfred Rowland, The Exchanged Crowns, p. 29. R. J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 235. XIV. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 391.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-corinthians-13.html. 1910.
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