Click here to get started today!
1. These need be very few; the language of the chapter is of the simplest, the thought inexhaustibly full.
2. Note, Paul, not John, writes this chapter on Love.
3. The “I” is not so much personal, as the ideal of a Christian life personified.
4. Connect closely with, begin reading at, 1 Corinthians 12:31. Also, go on from 1 Corinthians 13:13 to 1 Corinthians 14:1. Thus, then, the whole scheme of thought is: “Desire earnestly the greater gifts. Yet I show you something still greater, better. Look at Love! Love It. Covet It. Follow after It. Yet, as I was just now saying, desire earnestly the greater gifts, but Prophecy more than they.” The Order of Preference will therefore be:
(1) Prophecy rather than Tongues or the like Charisms;
(2) Love rather than even Prophecy, and much more than Charisms.
5. “Love,” of course, throughout. “Charity” is the Vulgate, and quasi-ecclesiastical, word; used in systems of Morals with a nearly technical sense. Our “charity” is in 1 Corinthians 13:3; and, less exactly, in 1 Corinthians 13:5,—“not provoked,” “thinketh no evil.”
1 Corinthians 13:1. Tongues.—Connect with the “tongues” of, e.g., chap. 14. Tinkling.—Clanging (R.V.); q.d. incoherent noise, as opposed to the ordered, significant “speech” of real music. Tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith,—most nearly to be desired as permanent endowments of the Church, but—nothing without love.
1 Corinthians 13:2. Perhaps Prophecy an occasional gift only; Knowledge a permanent one. Knowledge.—As in 1 Corinthians 1:5, etc. Faith.—Not saving faith—that always works by love (Galatians 5:6); but such faith as Samson’s or Gideon’s; such as in Mark 11:22-23. All.—As usual with St. Paul (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:16), “all kinds, and all degrees of every kind.” Remove mountains.—Familiar phrase to Paul, Rabbinically trained, as used of Rabbis eminent for acute or subtle judgment, enabling them to clear up difficult questions or solve the knotty points of Rabbinical disputations. But here, with the larger sense of Christ’s use of the words, Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21. Nothing.—I become before God, and in reality, what I was once in the judgment of the world (1 Corinthians 1:28).
1 Corinthians 13:3. Give my body.—Very expression in Daniel 3:28, LXX. Cases in 2Ma. 7:5; Jos., Wars, VII: 8,
7. There had not at this date been any Christian martyrdoms by fire. Note the variant reading.
1 Corinthians 13:4. Suffereth long.—“Longanimity” rather than “Magnanimity.” Look at James 5:7 (same word as here, twice); Luke 18:7. Puffed up.—As you Corinthians are (1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 4:18-19; 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 8:1).
1 Corinthians 13:5. Seeketh not its own.—Philippians 2:21; also 1 Corinthians 10:23-24. Easily.—Omit this; as, in similar case, “without a cause” (Matthew 5:22). Looks as if the simple statement of Scripture were too strong meat for some early transcribers! Thinketh.—Reckons, and reckons with; keeps no account of evil actually done or said; never assumes, or supposes, or infers, or expects evil, as a factor in reckoning or judging of men and conduct. [Perhaps also actively, as in Homily below.]
1 Corinthians 13:6.—Notice (R.V.) in unrighteousness, with the truth. More accurate. Love stands by the side of, and has fellowship with, truth. If it were (per imposs.) to rejoice in unrighteousness, it would stand apart from it, even in its joy.
1 Corinthians 13:7. Beareth.—Better than “covereth”; well illustrated in Paul himself (1 Corinthians 9:12). Endureth.—Same root as in word for “patience”; in New Testament always more than “submits to,” even if silently; “pressing on, and bearing up” (T. T. Lynch). Faith, Hope, Patience, in this sentence.
1 Corinthians 13:8.—No verbal contrast (such as in A.V.), “faileth … shall fail.” Words different. “Faileth … shall be done away,” So at end of verse, and in 1 Corinthians 13:10. Favourite word of Paul’s (almost exclusively). Worth while looking at Romans 3:3; Romans 3:31; Romans 4:14; Romans 6:6; Romans 7:2; Romans 7:6; 1 Corinthians 1:28; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 6:13; 1 Corinthians 6:13 : as above, 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:26; 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:11; 2 Corinthians 3:13-14; Galatians 3:17; Galatians 5:4; Galatians 5:11; Ephesians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Timothy 1:10; to make meaningless, powerless, or at least inoperative and valueless, in regard to some special purpose; so that it need no longer be taken into any account. Faileth.—Cf. Romans 9:6. Also cf. how Peter and James contrast the “falling” of the flower and the grass, with the “abiding word” of God. Love has the permanence of the “kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
1 Corinthians 13:9. In part.—Lit. “from a part.” Evans graphically says: “As we know the moon, deriving our knowledge of her from the one, only, side we ever see.” [May we add, seeing slightly round the edge of the known part, owing to the “libration”?]
1 Corinthians 13:10.—Stanley notes: Not when we come to it, but when it comes to us.
1 Corinthians 13:11.—“Perfect” with Paul, e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 3:1, commonly suggests the manhood of the Christian life, as opposed to its childhood. Hence the transition to the similar contrast of “manhood” and “childhood” here.
1 Corinthians 13:12.—“In a (metal) mirror,” more accurate. Yet we seem to see the images through the mirror. Also, “in an enigma,” for “darkly”; yet we must suppose that we have some clue, and can half solve it, or we should have no knowledge at all, not even “in part.” “Face to face” and “in an enigma” are borrowed from LXX of Numbers 12:8. Also “know fully”; such generally is the force of noun and verb with Paul. (See how, e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:9; Colossians 1:6; 1 Timothy 4:3; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 2:2, gain in force.)
1 Corinthians 13:13. Abideth.—Singular. Each passes as it were in review. What shall be the verdict? Faith? “It abideth.” Hope? “It abideth.” Love? “It abideth! Yes, and is greatest!” See this same triad in Colossians 1:4 sq.; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Titus 2:2, etc. The “theological virtues,” as distinguished from the “philosophical” or “cardinal,” wisdom, justice, valour, prudence.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS—Whole Chapter
The whole chapter breaks up into three paragraphs, grouping themselves around three central words:—
I. All-important, and Indispensable (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
II. All-enduring, and Invincible (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
III. All-outlasting, and Immortal (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).
So, then, we have A Sermon to the Church at Corinth, and to all other Churches whom it may concern. How truly Paul might have said, “I speak this to move you to shame.” He has shown them themselves, in their factions, their jealousies, their vanity, their “carnality” in its many-sided manifestations. And he has a good deal more to say yet. But, as if for relief to himself, he turns aside from the direct counsels and rebukes of the letter to look at and to show to them an ideal Christian life, which is pretty much everything that theirs is not. He is like Bunyan’s Interpreter, taking these Christians into “a little room” where sat “the two children, Passion and Patience, and Passion seemed to be much discontent, but Patience was very quiet.” “Passion” indeed, in their very gathering at the Lord’s Table; but what an atmosphere of peace here. “Corinthians, I have shown you yourselves. Look on that picture,—and on this! Do you not love Love? Will you not conform yourselves to this?” He is working on Divine lines, with Divine wisdom. Thus does the Paraclete convict (John 16:8) the world of Sin; by exhibiting Christ in the sharp and condemning contrast of His righteousness, that they may sit in judgment upon themselves and be saved.
I. You boast of your “tongues.”—In your Church gatherings here one, there another, starts up, all over the assembly, and utters his ecstatic, unintelligible words. Those less fortunate, as they think themselves, who have neither the tongue gift, nor the humbler but very useful gift of the interpreter, covet the showy, startling endowment. Well, give any one of you the Charism in its largest range and measure; add whatever vehicle of language, in any land, or race, or age, man’s thought may use for its expression; add, if you will—if God will—the speech of angels, and of beings belonging to orders unknown and unnamed by man; and then let him talk away! If there be no love in his life, none in his heart, he will have no real, no worthy, message! Clang! clang! goes the cymbal; loud, empty, meaningless. What is it worth? Let some plain man get up instead, and speak, as it were some simple, sweet strain of love’s coherent music, full of help and comfort for his tempted neighbour. That poor devil-driven Saul sitting next you wants David’s harping, not your brazen clanging. But is there no help in the next man there? He is “a prophet.” Pentecost has come; the very “servants and handmaidens” now share the gift of the grand men of the Old Covenant days. The written Word is not yet completed, to be God’s abiding Message and Messenger to men. We want the prophet as yet. Yes, there is help in him; he has from time to time a message from God for the congregation. (But so had Balaam, and so had Caiaphas, a message from God on their lips!) He has even been taken into long-hidden secrets of the counsels of God, and he comes forth a man to whom they are “mysteries” no longer. He is initiated; he has esoteric knowledge; and he is authorised to make them now the common property of you all. Indeed, “the deep things of God” are not wholly unsounded by the man of “knowledge.” Yes, there is help in him; but is there Love in him? No? Then he has much, and can give you much, but he is—nothing. A mere conduit-pipe, a mere vessel, to be thrown aside, when by him God has brought you blessing, and with no real part in it all whilst he conveys it. But try this other man. Subtler of intellect than any Rabbi of the schools of my youth, he can outdo them in “removing mountains.” Let him lead the company of scholars, and the mountain difficulties vanish and fall; there is a plain highway for the simplest learner who follows in his footsteps. And has, then, this man of acute intellect Love? He could even with strong faith, if need were, bow Nature to him, and make the very mountains to be moved, almost as if their Maker bade them be uprooted. (Let the thought be pardoned!) Yes? But has he Love? Is there Love for God and man behind all this miracle-working might? No? Then the Master will say, “Miracle-worker, but worker of iniquity, I never knew you! Depart!” It profiteth him nothing! The preacher himself, the office-bearer, the richly endowed worker, needs to beware. There are the gifts, these or those, more or fewer; but is there the Life, whose Spring of strength, whose Law, whose formative, governing Principle is, Love? If not, Paul’s verdict, God’s verdict, is—“nothing”! Love is all-important and indispensable.
II. But now what manner of men and women are the rank and file of the membership?—Fifteen marks are here of the Life which is Christian life indeed! Parade the members; bring them up to these official standards of requirement. This first cannot long bear to be unfairly rated and dealt with. He is soon on fire at a slight put upon him. He will not long be kept out of his rights. And as to those who thus give him less than his due, you will not find him putting himself out of the way to do them the least service; indeed, he has hardly time to be kind to anybody, even when the kindness is readily in his way, so eagerly busy is he speedily to right himself. This next has no good word, no kind thought, no thankful thought, for his neighbour who is doing better than himself in the world, and whose gifts are making his mark for him in the Church. He is eaten up with envy. The object of his envy is also in danger. See him come into the assembly of the Church, for business or for worship. It is almost with a swagger. You can almost see the insignia of his every office blazing upon his puffed-up bosom and enwreathed about his uplifted neck. He is highly gifted and able, and he knows it. He is inflated with the knowledge! Hear him speak, watch him at the business of the Church; it is a perpetual offence against all Christlike seemliness of word and spirit and behaviour. “Seeketh his own;” offices might be made for him; he accumulates them all, and himself is the centre to which all must converge. Try another. Those are not his faults; but take care how you vex him: he is “touchy,” and readily suspects an evil motive. Moreover, his memory keeps most accurate account of all wrong done to him. If an adversary of his makes a slip likely to damage fatally his case or his reputation, how he chuckles and “rejoices in the iniquity!” You hardly stir him to such joy when, perhaps at the price of no small struggle, Truth of principle, or character, or life, is gloriously exhibited. Try yet one more. He—or is it she?—bears everything with long patience and multiplied forgiveness; insists, as long as possible, on believing the best conceivable construction to be the true one, even though getting laughed at as “simple” for her pains; when her Belief is staggered by what seem stubborn facts, and can hardly persist longer in its “loving” estimate and judgment, then Hope steps in, and pleads that perhaps even yet things may be found to be different, or, if not, that perhaps the offender may some day repent; and if, driven out at last from even the refuge of her Hope, she can no longer help but know the simple, bad truth, then her Love will bear, and bear on, and bear up and onward with the brave endurance of the Patience of Love! Those others, the standard condemns them. This one will alone pass muster. And happily, these last are the staple of which Church life is woven. However it may have been in Corinth, the gifted ones and the great are not many in the Churches. There are always more of these plainer stones and common bricks in the building, than of the sculptured headstones and pillars and of the costly marbles. Happy the Church “enriched” with these long-suffering, kind, non-obtrusive, humble ones; of fair and seemly behaviour in every detail of speech and conduct; unselfish, hard to kindle with wrath, slow to remember wrong, and loth to suspect it; whose joy is the discovery and the triumph of the Right; incredulous of evil intent in anything, doggedly hopeful, even against “facts”; strongly patient of the inevitable worst. A Church composed of only such would conquer the world. Such Love is conquering all, even when it seems only to be enduring all. “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Such Love wins; it is invincible!
III. But now as to these “gifts,” God’s gifts.—Is there not something better? Has He no greater thing than these to give? You look around you, and see His distribution of temporal good. Evidently He does not appraise it very highly, or He would not give it so freely to men who do not love Him, or thank Him, or glorify Him in the use of it. Certainly, if it counted for as much with Him as it does with the men of the world, His children would never be left without it. He not only “knows how to give,” but gives, “good things to His children.” Look within your Church, and see how He gives these Charisms, to you factious, envious, impure Corinthians, rather than (say) to my dear, loving, blameless Philippian friends; to you, indeed, beyond any other Church. They are His endowments; not to be despised; each in its order and sphere and measure to be used for His work and glory. But beyond such gifts He values Character. It is the one eternally abiding enrichment of your life. You boast of your wide and deep “knowledge”; but it is accompanied by a wider and deeper ignorance. What is right is only outline, and very much will need revising or unlearning when the Perfect has come. Not a little of it will have lost all meaning and value in the new world of eternity; it was so entirely knowledge of, and adjusted to, this world of temporary things. You see only one aspect of any fact at once; from this partial view you gain only partial knowledge, relatively true. (Do not be dogmatic, and intolerant of the man who gets his own partial view exactly as you do yours. Let love remind you of that!) See all around things, as you will some day, and the knowledge of to-day will seem the mere A B C of the schooldays of God’s little children; your most confident judgments will seem the half-knowledge and often erroneous opinions of the boy. In the manhood of that life you shall “know,” as even now God “knows” you, and appraises you accordingly. You have deep insight into things? Why, you never get face to face with things themselves. You see, not realities, but their dim reflections in a mirror; and what you see is a very enigma, baffling you as you try to “know” it. You may call it “knowing” when in that world you learn without error, effort, hindrance. The “tongues” will hardly outlast your own age. “Prophecy” will more and more rapidly pass out of use as the Great Prophet begins more frequently and clearly and sufficiently to speak to His Church by His Word and His Spirit. Yourselves change and pass; and those things change and pass with you. Get hold of the one abiding wealth, Character, whose foundation is Love. Love is eternal as God Himself. Character will go forward when your unchanging Self goes forward, with a continuity of existence unbroken even in Death. Seek to have it God’s own “Character,” Love. The Life of Love finds its sphere as simply and naturally there as here. Love is the one grace which needs no modification to adjust it to the new conditions of life and employment in that world. Faith, “abiding” till then, will have perished in the moment of its consummation, dying as it sees what it believed for. Hope—our Christian hope, “abiding” till then—will have merged in enjoyment. Love “abides,” even then, All-outlasting and Immortal.
[Strictly belongs to 1 Corinthians 12:31, “A more excellent way.”]
Love’s “Way” of Life.—[I.e. “Life” as βίος, not as ζωή, the life which is lived, not by which man lives; the life that makes the matter of a biography, not that which animates the creatures of zoology.]
Introduction.—Observe the sobriety of Paul’s judgment. In reaction from the excesses, the irregularities, the vauntings of the men gifted with “tongues,” some would have gone to an extreme in the other direction, and would have suppressed their exercise altogether, or, if that were impossible, would have discredited and decried them (as perhaps, 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Paul, “speaking with tongues more than they all,” could hardly do this; yet his estimate of the “tongues” might well have been affected, adversely, by their abuse at Corinth, or, too favourably, by the fact of his own sense of the value of gifts. Some can praise no gift but their own, can value nothing but it, can do nothing but overpraise it; or can keep no clear vision and calm balance of judgment when a good thing is abused. Paul: “Covet earnestly the best gifts,” viz. knowledge, prophecy, tongues. “They are all good; prefer prophecy to tongues; but there is something better yet—Love.” And this love is not so much a gift or a point of character; it is a “way,” a path, in which all gifts are to be sought and employed.
I. A life;
II. A rule of life. [I.e. like the Jewish Halachah, it is “the Way,” and “the Rule” which marks out “the way.” Love is the one all-embracing Christian Halachah, a Christian preceptive Talmud condensed into a word.] In both senses a novelty.
I. A life.—
1. Striking that not wisdom, nor intellect, nor strength of character, is made the starting-point of the Gospel conception of life. No; but the one universally possible characteristic. The child, therefore, and the humble poor, the simple and unlettered, the scarce-recovered heathen, can live it. It is a “way” smooth for the feeblest foot, and level to the entrance and use of the lowliest. How few could hope to live the life of the philosopher or the ruler. All may live the life whose characteristic is love. The very conception of any other life must be to most a hidden secret. The conception of this style of life stands open to the thought and heart of all. All other ideals which teachers have sketched out and held up are for the few; this is for the many—for all.
2. [Cf. the description of the high-souled man in Aristotle, Ethics, 1 Corinthians 6:3 (as quoted in Luthardt, Moral Truths, p. 292). “It is also characteristic of him that he does not rush to places and opportunities which are highly esteemed, and where others have already played the first part; that he is in general but slowly roused except where a great honour or a great work is concerned,” etc. “He is candid, because he looks upon men with contempt; hence he is always inclined to speak the truth, except in cases when he ironically reserves his real opinion, a part which he may well play with respect to the multitude.” “Nothing can easily astonish him, because nothing is great in his eyes.” “Even in externals it is generally admitted that the gait of the high-souled man is slow, his voice deep and emphatic, his words few. For a man to whom few things are important is not inclined to haste, and he who regards nothing as great does not exert his voice.” All of which, when brought into the light of the New Testament, and judged in the presence of ideal human life as seen in The Man Christ Jesus, is simply Pride. As Luthardt adds: “So too the wise man, the Stoic ideal, is the representative of indifference towards men, and his morality is nothing more than cold resignation.”]
3. This is an ideal of life, moreover, which can be true for both man and God. Divine love translating itself into human expression, and exhibiting itself within the limits of human conditions, is seen in the God-Man, Who is in this, as in all else, the Mediator between, the Unifier of, God and man.
4. What a perplexity to reason that such a lovely ideal should have to suffer, to “endure”!
5. Moreover, it will not be content to exist as a mere passive virtue. It is very characteristic of Christianity throughout, that the strain of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 should seem to be one of endurance and self-contained goodness and peace. The points of character lie within the circle of the man’s own personal life, and that rather as he is acted upon by, than as he is an actor in, or himself affecting, other lives. Yet, as matter of experiment, it is clearly certain that neither in man nor God can a life whose germinant principle is Love, be merely passive, or patient; it will be active, going out all around in search of objects on which it may spend its force. The love of God has sought man out; it has always made the first approaches in view of reconciliation and fellowship. Though God’s love is not (in Butler’s words) “a bare and singular disposition to bestow happiness,” this is its inevitably prevalent characteristic. And in man, where it is, it acts. It is as busy as it is patient. It discovers reasons for doing good, and develops a wonderful ingenuity in discovering methods of accomplishing good. Love gives wonderful wisdom, and there is no other spring of persevering activity which will not at times, or altogether, find its force outmatched or outwearied and exhausted. “Love never faileth.”
II. A rule of life.—
1. All external directions and legislation must needs fail somewhere. Many cases will “crop up” which have not been, in so many words, provided against. Many rules will cease to be needed, or to be applicable. New rules are needed, often upon the instant, when there is no time for reference to authority, or indeed for any lengthy deliberation of the judgment. The one perfect legislator is a fully enlightened Love. No case can arise, so unexpectedly or so completely without precedent, but that a healthy heart, filled with that love which is the grace of the Spirit, will be equal to giving direction. Love will keep the moral sense active, the “touch” sensitive. It will need training, enlightening, informing, but it has in it an instinctive, native, legislative faculty. “What does God command? What does the Bible say?” “There is no express decision at all.” “What is customary?” “There has been no precedent within my knowledge.” “What does So-and so advise?” “There is no time to consult him.” “What does Love say? What would Incarnate Love have done? What would God’s love do?” A “law” for the occasion, which will not be far from the mark, will not be hard by that test to discover.
2. The niceties of justice, of courtesy, of kindness, between man and man can only be regulated by some such inner guiding “Law.” The finer points of personal bearing towards others, such as are expanded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, need inculcating upon the child. For self-assertion is natural to man, however much society “manners”—which are, in this particular, cut-flowers that once grew upon the root of Christian love—may repress or refine its manifestations (see Fragments from Robertson). [No more perfect “gentleman” than Cicero; but the natural heart shows in such a sentence from a letter to his intimate friend Atticus (1 Corinthians 1:14, as given in Farrar), “Heavens! how I showed off” (cognate word to Paul’s “vaunteth”) “before my new auditor, Pompeius!”] But the only absolutely effectual education or repression will be that of the instinct of Love acting from within. “As the man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7); most simply and truly, in that the real man is in the purposes of the heart, whether they come to the surface in expression or not; but also in the equally true sense that what the man is within that he will, in many points, certainly when “off his guard,” appear. “The man maketh the manners” (Evans, in Speaker), when the very germ and the summary also of the character is Love.
3. This is an atmosphere, an aroma, hanging about, given off by, a Christian life in every detail. It will control the desire for “gifts”; only those will be cared about which Love can use. It will control their exercise; they will only be employed for the purposes, and within the limits, which Love will allow. It is an inward “ointment which bewrayeth itself” [Proverbs 27:16, borrowing the illustration, though not the thought]. As the thought of a man is found by the “thought-reader” to betray itself in unconscious muscular action; so will the thought whose summing up is, most comprehensively, “Love,” betray itself in action, even when not directly intended by the man, or not distinctly adverted to by him. It makes, and marks, the “good man,” as distinguished from the “righteous man,” of Romans 5:7.
4. Give rules enough, and you may secure any required number of right acts; but you must get a right heart if you desire righteousness. Put love in, and you may get by outgrowth from within a Christlike life.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Without Love—Nothing!
I. Applicable to the Church.—This goes back to an earlier thought in this letter to Corinth (chap. 1). Over against the great, swelling, proud entities of the world, Paul there sets the non-entities of the Gospel. God had already set them in array over against each other. Forces intellectual, social, political, the inclinations of the natural heart, its judgments, its desires, its passions, were all against the early Church. But it “brought to nought things that are.” The “power and the wisdom” of God in Christ brought to nought “the power and the wisdom” of the princes of this “world.” The thing that was “despised,” and was “set at nought” in the valuation of the world [as the Stone Himself had been “set at nought”], “overcame the world.” The nothings conquered the somethings. And what was true of the Church was true of the individual Christian. The woman, the child, the slave, often won the master, the house. The Decian persecution seemed to bring the hopes and prospects and numbers and strength of the Church to their lowest. But many a sufferer in the Decian troubles lived to see, after no long interval, a Christian emperor upon the Imperial throne. It is true simply to say that God “saw to it” that His work triumphed. The power of God was in the victory. But His power works by means, and uses instrumentalities; it accomplishes its purposes through and by means of the conditions and elements of ordinary human nature and life. Regarding the matter from this point, one might, must, say that the secret of the victory was “Love.” “Charity” conquered. Force might have crushed force. [“They that take the sword,” in defending or extending the kingdom of Christ, “shall perish by the sword.”] But force broke itself upon Love. The waves found Love an immovable rock against which their power was dissipated in vain spray. The “meek inherited the earth” (“wielded the world,” as the Wycliffe gospel has it) because of their “meekness.” The reed-sceptre ruled, where the rod of iron could only have coerced. Love was the secret of resistance and of conquest. The meekness, the patience, the forgiveness of injuries, the kindness which laid itself out to compass the good of their very persecutors, [protesting (e.g. in Tertullian, Apol., c. 39) that it was loyal to the government and prayed for the emperor],—these were all aspects of Love, the love which was as new a thing to the world, in language and thought, as it was in life and facts. Without this, for the conquest of the world, the Church had been “nothing.” A lesson for all time. It is “a universal law” of the extension of the kingdom of Christ. If all the Church had been “enriched” with gifts as the Corinthians were (1 Corinthians 1:4-7); if literally all the Church had spoken with “tongues”; if Moses’ wish had been literally realised, “and all the Lord’s people had been prophets” (Numbers 11:29), and had had “knowledge” to which no thought of God in His purposes toward man was any longer “a mystery”; if miracle-working faith, instead of being confined to narrow limits of place and age, had been the every-day, mountain-moving, mighty power, always at the command of the Church; if every Christian had been as wealthy as a Barnabas, and as liberal, so that the charities of the Church, not only towards its own “poor,” but towards the poor outside its membership, had been a hundredfold greater than they have ever by any possibility been; if a whole Church had stood before the world “ready to be offered,” or actually offered, to death, and that by fire,—yet the world would not have been conquered. By such means it never will be. These things have their meaning and their use; they have been factors in the great result, which meant the empire won, and a Christianity associated with the permanently progressive, intelligent, world-affecting, race-leading civilisation of the centuries, ever since the victory over the empire. The miraculous gifts, for example, were, like the bell tolled to announce that the worship is going to begin, arresting attention, awaking interest, inviting to participation, but ceasing after their brief, initial work was done. Not without these things, perhaps; the martyrdoms were an exceedingly impressive argument to every heathen spectator. But even given these things, not without Love. Gifts; eloquence in the literature or the press of the Church; deep and broad philosophy in the exponents and defenders of Christianity; the almost miraculous power of enthusiasm and of strong faith in the doctrines, the fortunes, the future, of Christianity, or of a special creed or Church; charities; martyrdoms of ascetic, or laborious, spending of life,—these alone are but the body; Love is the soul. These may be the instruments; Love wields them, and the victory is hers. All these have been divorced from Love many a time. The learning and acuteness of apologetics and polemics and didactics have undergone a transfiguration as fearful as when a demon entered into and looked out from the eyes, and uttered himself through the lips, of perhaps some tender father or affectionate son; love has been cast out by a stronger spirit, of evil. Almsgiving has become bribery to buy adherents to a sect, or a method of earning merit for one’s own salvation, or even of winning applause of men. At one period there was almost an epidemic of madness for volunteered martyrdom, which did not wait for the informer, but thrust itself upon the notice of the heathen magistrates, men and women claiming to be noticed as Christians; the motive being, in fact, not Love’s witness, unto death, for the Master, but the same winning of merit. The asceticisms of nearly every section of the Church have been martyrdoms whose whole character is altered, whose value is gone, because they have become voluntary sufferings, inflicted as the purchase-price of merit; self-love, not love, thus being, with more or less subtilty, their motive. To God these are nothing. As giving to the Church any real hold of, or victory over, the world, though they may seem to achieve a temporary and limited admiration and success, if these be her armour or her weapons, the Church is nothing. God cannot work through a loveless Church.
II. Applied to the Christian man.—If the individual Christian have not, or lose, this characteristic and essential mark of life, he too has reverted to his old and true and native valuation before God. He is one of the “things that are not” (1 Corinthians 1:28),—“nothing!” “Of Him are ye.” All standing and life are of God and His grace. “Christ is made unto him” all that he is or has (1 Corinthians 1:29). “If he have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). And the “fruit of the Spirit” is “love.” “By this do all men know that he is a disciple, that he has love” (John 13:35). The charity of this chapter is the “love” of the Second Table (so-called) of the Law. But it has arisen out of “the love of God”—His to us—first “shed abroad in our heart” (Romans 5:5); with so close a connection that if the love of the brotherhood be wanting, it argues the absence of the love of the Father, and this, that the Father’s forgiving, adopting love (Romans 8:15-16) has never been known, or has been forfeited. Status, life, love—all with Paul are linked in vitally close association. A man may therefore test himself by this paragraph. “What must I do to be saved?” is one earlier form of the question. But afterwards, and frequently, “What must I be to reckon myself a Christian?” He may cast Paul’s inventory into analogous, modern forms, and say, “What have I?”
1. “Profession?”—It is something that a man can speak the “tongue” of God’s modern Israel—“the language of Canaan” (Isaiah 19:18). The dialect does not come naturally to, or sit with facility upon, the lips of a foreigner. It is the man who has “entered into the kingdom of God” by being “newborn” into it (John 3:3; John 3:5), and who has spoken it from his “new-birth” onward, who talks it “like a native.” He can detect the accent of a stranger who has merely “picked it up.” Yet the native citizen may lose his citizen heart without losing the old trick of speech. The prodigal among the swine will speak there with the gentleman’s accent he learnt at home from the father. “If a man say,” etc. (1 John 4:20). He may “say,” but lip evidence is not enough even for himself. Is that all? “Nothing!”
2. “Intellect?”—There may be, happily, the closest alliance between intellect, naturally of the highest and most highly trained, and Christian revelation. Its believers and defenders and exponents have by no means been fools or unversed in learning. Augustine, Pascal, Butler, would have been intellectual giants, whatever their creed or their theme. Yet whilst great gifts have been consecrated in all their abundance to the service of Christ, again and again have the great thinkers been also simple believers. Indeed, they may “play the man” in the fight for Truth; but they must, each of them, be “the little child” in order to be Christians in any real, personally beneficial, saving sense. Intellectual appreciation of Christianity; hearty approval of its ethics and laws; and mastery both of its difficulties and its supports; intense vehemence in its defence against opponents,—all these may be divorced from the distinctive love for Christ or for redeemed man. “Nothing!” The noblest intellect is a noble gift to offer upon the altar of consecration. It finds no small acceptance with God. But if only the intellect has grasped Christianity, the man is not yet a Christian. Indeed, he only as yet knows the externals of Christianity, as he might know and defend Buddhism or Mahometanism. The loving heart of the pardoned, regenerate sinner alone knows Christianity. The intellect may give allegiance to the system of Truth; the loving heart alone gives union with Christ. That makes the Christian. Without it, the adherent of one amongst many creeds of the world,—“Nothing!”
3. “Enthusiasm?”—A great power, which, when joined with the grip upon, and the allegiance of the intellect to, the Truth, makes a man a mighty worker. It may give “driving” power to the organiser and the ruler in the Church’s offices; it will to himself be a “staying” power. He may rouse others with his gift, a born leader of men. He may “pull things through” to a victory snatched out of the very jaws of defeat, when all but himself were despondent, or ready to yield. With enthusiasm and natural energy a man may “work” a Church as he would “work” a business, or some secular society, and may do it very successfully. But there come moments of self-revelation to men, when, under the searching light of the teaching Spirit, they discover that a passionate devotion to a particular Church, or to some special department of Christian work, with an enthusiasm and success which have made them bulk in the public eye as forefront “Christians” in labour and fruit, has been unaccompanied with the deep devotion of Christ Himself, without which men may “push” the business or the agencies of the Church as successfully, and in as secular a spirit, as they do their own business, or may be as devoted to the fortunes and interests of their Church or sect as they are,—and with precisely the same kind of devotion,—to their political party. “Nothing!”
4. “Good works and charities?”—[God’s estimate of “good works,” let it be remembered, is qualitative, not quantitative. Further:] These may have many meanings besides love. [There was more than a child’s fun in the definition, “ ‘Charity’ is giving poor folks old stuff you can’t use yourself.”]
(1) Mere weakness which cannot say, “No”;
(2) A self-indulgence which gives, to get as quickly as may be out of sight and mind the unpleasantly painful object of “charity”;
(3) An attempt to quiet conscience;
(4) An indolence which cannot bear the trouble of inquiring into the truth of the applicant’s case, and still less of undertaking the often extremely difficult task of discovering how really to help the case;
(5) A mere compliance with surrounding example or custom, from fear of singularity;
(6) Self-glory. Indeed, no “religious” action needs watching by the actor more closely than does charity; none more readily misleads the man himself; nothing more readily than almsgiving can be accomplished without “love.” The motive which prompts almsgiving may indeed be a very real and genuine benevolence of heart. But if it be benevolence which has no eye set upon Christ, nor draws inspiration from His love shed abroad within, it is not yet enough. “Dole” away! “Dole” until you are yourself a beggar! Is that all? “Nothing!”
5. “Devotion to self, self-denial, of the most rigorous, even to death?”—But whilst “death” may mean strength of principle, and of faith, it has meant, and may mean, stubbornness and obstinacy which would not go back of yield when once a position had been taken up and the man was publicly pledged to it; i.e. Pride. Labours or austerities that ruin health, or even end in death, may be the merest caput mortuum of a religious life, from which all that once gave them such imperfect meaning and value as they had, has evaporated. They may become the merest mechanics of a religious profession, from which all soul and love have departed. All these? Yet perhaps “Nothing!”
6. Happy, then, if by the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit—whether with or without some, or all, of these—the man’s self-examination says, “Yet I do love!” (cf.John 21:17; John 21:17).
1 Corinthians 13:2. Man-worth.
I. The greatest thing in the universe is Mind. The greatest thing in Mind is Love.—Whatever a human intelligence may be, have, or do, if destitute of love, it is nothing.
1. Not the gregarious sentiment which links us to our fellow-creatures. That is an instinct common to animal existence; in some men stronger than others, making those who possess it in the highest degree “amiable, good-natured.” Much domestic love and social benevolence is nothing but a development of this. It is a blessing, but not a virtue. There is no morality in it. It can feed the upas tree as well as nourish a tree of life.
2. Not theological love for one’s own faith and sect, which pours forth tender and pathetic benedictions upon all within the limits of one’s own creed, but fulminates anathemas upon all besides. This is not love; it is a demon working under the mask of the angel “Love.”
3. Nor sacerdotal love, “which speaks eloquently about the cure of souls and Church extension, but little about the physical and social woes of the race.” Priestly selfishness, not manly love.
4. We may describe, we cannot define, it as a generous moral sympathy for the race springing from love to the Creator. All real philanthropy will have its source in piety. Such love is no spasmodic emotion; it is an all-pervading element, the underground of character, the heart of the heart, the soul of the soul. It places man’s entire being in a right relation to God and the universe. It was incarnate in Jesus. This love alone can confer real worth on humanity. “What is he worth?” means not, “How much native force, spiritual attainment, or divine soul has he?” but, “How much money?” Gold outweighs soul in the social balance. Fill your purse, and though your soul be empty, you are great. “Wealth is the one thing needful; Mammon is God; love of the world is inspiration,”—such is the Gospel of the age!
II. Without this love, man is nothing spiritually—
1. In relation to Nature.—Whatever does not minister to the spiritual in man does not minister to himself. Nature gives sensuous pleasures, measured in variety and extent by the senses. To a sensuous man “the world is a larder to feed him, a wardrobe to clothe him, a market to enrich him; or, at most, a riddle to amuse his intellect.” She gives intellectual pleasures, but thinking is necessary to their participation; they flow from nature only when it is turned into a science; the fountains of mental pleasure are concealed until by the Moses-rod of philosophic thought the outward crust of the flinty rock is broken through. But the spiritual pleasures she gives are the highest. Nature is then looked at through the heart, the self. “It is not merely a table for the animal, or a problem for the thinker; but a loving home for the child, a temple for the adoring saint. To impart these highest joys of nature is Nature’s highest function.” Love entering into the heart of a sensuous, selfish, or merely intellectual man, touches all nature into a new form, burns up his old world, causes its elements to melt with fervent heat, its heavens to pass away, till he rapturously exclaims, “A new heavens and a new earth! The former things are passed away!” To the sensual, nature is gratification; to the thinker, it is theory; to the loving, it is heaven! Without love “I am nothing” in relation to the spiritual enjoyments of nature.
2. In relation to Providence.—Providence is only absolutely good when it is realised that its grand design is moral goodness; “not to make a Dives in time, but a Lazarus in eternity.” If Providence only raises a man to fortune, enriches him with knowledge, or lifts him to fame, and does not refine and purify his sympathies, expand and elevate his soul, it has been a bane rather than a boon. Material blessings to a bad, unloving heart are spiritual curses. The ten thousand influences of Providence—its sun, its rains, its gracious breezes—make the healthy germ rooted in the soil of love rise every day into new forms of beauty and life; but the tree with no such rooting is by them all only stripped of its remaining verdure, and hastened to its dissolution and decay. As the mortally diseased may say, “I am nothing to the health-giving economy of nature,” so the unloving may say, “I am nothing in relation to the spiritual blessings of Providence.” Romans 5:3 sqq. links the series Tribulation, Patience, Experience, Hope, Confidence that fears no Shame, “because the love of God,” etc. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” The very God of Providence can make them so work together for none others.
3. In relation to Christianity.—Love alone can interpret love; none but the loving can rise to the meaning of such a revelation of love as Christianity. Power in philosophic analysis, accuracy in dialectics, skill in criticism, will be incapable of understanding its essence and genius. They may understand Theology, but not Christianity. The one is for the intellect, the other for the heart; and only the heart of love can reach it. It is a real unction from the Holy One, [a charism of the Spirit] by which, alone, we know all things in Christianity. Still more, that which renders us incapable of entering into its meaning, unfits also for applying its “exceeding great and precious promises.” They are for the children of love, and for them only. Its sublime disclosures and its quickening spirit, its promises of mercy and its radiant glories,—without love to them “I am nothing.”
4. In relation to the community of the good.—The “city,” the “church,” the “family,” wherever they exist, have the same bond of union, the same condition of friendship, the same justifying principle, the same standard of work. Not wealth, learning, talent, birth. In corrupt “society” especially does the first make a man a respectable member of it, however callous or evil his heart. But in the great community of the good, love is everything. Whatever else a man may have, if he have not this, he is not admitted into their circle, he is excluded from their fellowship. To this glorious community, without love “I am nothing.”—Adapted from “Homilist,” New Series, i. 433.
1 Corinthians 13:5. “Thinketh no evil.”—“Does not reckon, or reckon with, evil, does not take evil into the account.” Such is the full meaning of the word, which is thus a very far wider grace than merely an absence of suspiciousness of spirit and judgment. “Suspects no evil” is included; but there is much more. It suspects none, and imputes none; it entertains no thought of resentment, and devises no evil.
I. Attributes no evil to others, nor thinks of such a thing.
II. Contrives no evil against others, nor thinks of such a thing.
1. There are problems in life, of exceeding complexity, questions for our judgment and foresight, which must be solved. Not the smallest element in the complexity is introduced in the very fact that the character and conduct of men and women are involved; and character and conduct are problems in themselves, problems within the problem, often of yet greater complexity. We do not understand ourselves, of whom we know the elements of the problem more fully than we can ever hope to do in the case of any one else. Yet who has not found the disentangling of motive, for example, of worthy from unworthy, of blamable from laudable, and the resulting judgment upon the moral quality of his own conduct, a thing past his own wisdom and skill? Who has not, therefore, had to cast himself wholly upon the mercy of the one judgment that is built upon all the facts, and those read with Absolute Wisdom and Absolute Justice? Not yet do we know even ourselves “as we are known.” And how much less others?
2. Yet we must form an estimate. The Master said, “Judge not,” yet directly after bade His disciples “cast not pearls before swine.” They must, then, be able to judge who are the swinish men. Officially, at any rate, men must often “judge” others, and must speak out at all cost their judgment, whoever may be condemned or ruined. No man with a moral sense awake can help forming, swiftly and instinctively, a judgment, favourable or unfavourable, upon a thousand things he sees in the character and conduct of men around him, or even upon what he hears—suspending, in this case, his judgment upon the man, until he learns whether the facts be as reported.
3. There is a blind, foolish confidence which will not hear, or see, or be told; a simplicity which is the sport and the prey of every rogue; a simplicity which “passes on and is punished.” Carried to that extent, it is folly, not honour; childishness, not childlikeness. But it is an error in an honourable direction. There is no type of man less noble or exalted than the man of preternatural shrewdness, whose boast it is that he can always see through the millstone, that he is never deceived, and that nobody ever can blind him, who “numbers, weighs, and measures” everybody in scales of unfailing accuracy, and who has no misgivings about his skill or his method, even though somehow those weighed by him are always “found,” at least a little, “wanting.” That is a hateful type of man whose cardinal maxims are that he “never trusts any man any further than he can see him,” and “never believes a man honest until he cannot any longer believe him a rogue.” In solving the problem of men, their characters and conduct, his rough-and-ready method always is to “think evil” first; he will always first assume that “evil” is one of the elements of the problem; he “reckons with” that.
4. One would have thought that experience would abate the self-confidence of such a habit of judgment. How often has fuller, later knowledge of the persons and the facts shown that all the harsh judgments were unfounded and unfair; that, indeed, all our thinking and talking has been waste of time and words, all our virtuous indignation was quite gratuitous, and our disturbed feelings were nothing but needless distress! We had been pronouncing a judgment where we had not all the facts. No doubt bitter experience will show the most guileless and unsuspecting that all men are not worthy of trust; but some are thus worthy in the highest degree, some are so in an unexpected degree, and the average of even the world is high. “Be wise as serpents, harmless as doves.”
5. In even the graver matters of moral conduct there is room for the moderating hand of experience to restrain hasty judgment. We have seen a man sin—there was no room for question; have heard him speak unadvisedly. But fuller knowledge of his education and training, consideration of the subtle influences of inherited-physical conditions, have not indeed destroyed his responsibility, but have lightened his blameworthiness a little, and have modified what must needs be our condemnation. Only One Eye can take in—where there has been manifestly a poor performance of duty, or a very clear failure—all the struggle that went on before, and the repentance that came after; all the fight in which the poor fallen fellow for a long time held his own, and conquered, until the one fatal moment when he failed and fell. When the wrong, supposed or real, impinges upon oneself, it is doubly hard to be fair. Yet experience ought to contribute to teach a Christian man to “think no evil,” or at least as the first stage to “believe all things” to be the best, and to hope for some extenuation and abatements, when there is no longer room for simple acquittal of all blame. Yet not experience, nothing but a Love, which is not an easy-going temperament, too indolent to be severe or to be angry, but a grace, will cast out the habit of “taking evil into account.” To Love, the first presumption will be in favour of something better than appears. It will not readily believe evil of any, nor, except with much reluctance, review a favourable estimate long ago formed. When Love is judge, it will always be on the prisoner’s side. An evil solution is the last thing it will look for in the problem. It will take precaution, but not entertain suspicion. It will first put the best construction upon what is confessedly staggering to confidence, or difficult to understand. It will begin by believing the best it can about any man; it will first credit him with all the best intentions which can reasonably be supposed,—believes whilst it can; hopes when it hardly can hope; endures when it really cannot believe the best. The shrewd man “rejoices in iniquity”; chuckles that his harsh judgment was verified and his acuteness vindicated. The man of love “rejoices in the truth”; and that, even when the “truth” of the man suspected or blamed, has proved his “shrewd” suspicions to have been groundless. Love, like God, hates sin, but loves to “cover” sin with a veil of forgiveness. It does not love to carry even the memory of evil.
7. Such an indisposition “to think evil,” in our common phraseology often appropriates to itself, in a special application, the name “charity.” But charity in judgment needs to be kept clearly distinct from laxity. Laxity plays fast and loose with the standard; charity is cautious in applying it to an individual man. “Toleration in some men’s mouths means liberty to be as careless about religion as they are themselves” (Guesses at Truth). Kindness before truth is no “Charity.” There are broad lines of wrong and right which no man who is a Christian can leave open to challenge, and by them it is inevitable that conduct [and, on similar lines, opinions or doctrines held] should be condemned. But he hesitates to condemn the man. The history of the word “heresy” shows how close, as matter of observation, is the connection between the state of the heart and will, and the results arrived at by the intellect. Yet whilst general principles of responsibility are clearly insisted upon, they are only with much reservation applied by “charity” to any particular man. The Divine Judge may exempt some when man’s charity cannot, and indeed, with its knowledge of the facts, ought not to acquit. Man may, with the purest heart and from the very intensity of loyalty to Christ and truth, condemn in error. And, at all events, love “thinketh no evil.” Especially in theological controversy, whilst each must “contend earnestly” for the aspect of the whole Truth which is given to him and to his Church to teach and defend, motives should not be lightly imputed; and it should not readily be supposed that the holder of what seems a mischievous doctrine will follow it to its logical consequences. He may; Facts may be too strong for Love; but at any rate Love does not begin “reckoning up” the man and his doctrine by “taking evil into account.”
II. Love plans no evil.—Here again Love is Godlike.
1. Need hardly nowadays take into any practical account positive religious persecution of any physical type. But there is need that a Christian man watch his own heart lest anything akin to revenge linger within. There may have been more than they know of personal feeling in some of the strong measures taken by professedly Christian men—who not infrequently were really such—against those who differed from them in theological opinion, or in some points of Christian or civil regulation or morality. The petty persecution, or annoyance, in an English village, which one form of religious faith may, with many a strange excuse and disguise to itself, devise against another, is something less than the love which “plans no evil.” In all opposition, whether of doctrinal controversy or practice, to condemn the opinion without bitterness, or distrust, or contempt, towards the man, is difficult. But love harbours no such evil, nor dreams of it; and casts it out, if it be found lurking within. No Christian man would ever deliberately plan harm gratuitously; nor even as a part of a revenge which calls itself “punishment”—no matter how greatly he has been wronged. To do so would be so utterly incongruous with the very life of God—the life of Love—as to argue either that there never had been any Christianity which was more than nominal, or that a real Christianity had declined and died. “Good for evil is Godlike; good for good is manlike; evil for evil is beastlike; evil for good is devil-like,” says old Mason. But what honest heart has not hated itself to find, if not exactly no unwillingness to see others “paying off his score” for him, yet at least a half-pleasure and satisfaction when some ill, which he would himself never have devised, falls upon the offender from some other source. The world’s wisdom checks the feeling so far as this (in the words of a Baralong proverb): “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls in the path; there are more slippery places in front.” A half-coward fear reminds a man tempted to ill-will that “curses, like chickens, come home to roost.” But this chapter lifts up the whole matter to a higher level, when it says, “Thinketh no evil,” towards, as well as of, another. Then the very wish to harm is gone. The thought of the offender suffering is foreign to the very instinct of the loving heart. It is a real pain to love to hear or see the wrong-doer suffer. Love cherishes no evil thought towards the offender. Godlike love has entirely and heartily cancelled the offence as well as foregone a penalty. [“Godlike.” Yet in the Parable of The Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:23-35) it is to be noted that while, as between servant and fellow-servant, there is to be no limit to mercy and forgiveness, yet, as between royal-master and servant-subject, there may, with perfect righteousness, be a final limit to both.] Nor indeed is this the whole work of love when this is made perfect. A mere negative abstinence from indulged evil in act or feeling may mean a great triumph for love over nature. It is grace, sometimes much grace. But more grace,* perfect grace, goes further. Not without the grace of the enlightening Spirit—we may gladly admit it—have Rabbis and heathen philosophers arrived at their maxim: “Do not unto others what you would not have them do to you.” And “do” includes “think,” “desire,” “plan.” But Love which is Christ’s, which is God’s, which is “a gift,” goes beyond the negative precept, and says, “Do what you,” etc. On the surface, indeed, Paul goes no further in Romans 13:10 : “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore Love is the fulfilling of the law.” But he means more The work of love is not perfect until the man “thinketh no evil” because he is so busy thinking some new good towards his fellow-man, “even towards the unthankful and the evil.” Even to such God is ever “thinking good.” Whether in God or man there is no room for thinking evil in a heart full of love.
1 Corinthians 13:8. Love’s Immortality.—It will never fail—
I. As an element of moral power.—It is the strongest force in the soul.
1. The strongest sustaining power. In every trial and sorrow, under every burden. It is the only power which can appropriate the upholding promises of God. These are all made to the loving.
2. The strongest resisting power. We have not only burdens, but enemies. If love preoccupies the soul, temptation will be powerless. No one can draw us astray unless in some degree he enlists our affections, and if love be centered on God we are immovable. Love builds around the soul an impregnable rampart against which the attacks of the enemy strike only to rebound.
3. The strongest aggressive power. We have burdens and enemies and battles, and victories to win. There is nothing in the moral world so aggressive as love; a fire that encompasses with its spreading flames all within its sphere. Man can stand before anything sooner than love; the heart opens to generosity, kindness, love, when it closes utterly, with bolted door, against selfishness or sternness or wrath.
4. All the energies of the soul grow under the influence of love as nature under the sky of spring. It is the atmosphere of an undying life. It “never faileth.”
II. As a principle of moral unity.—Isolation and division are repugnant to man’s nature. But in confederations based on political sympathy, or material interests, or theological dogmas, or mere carnal affinities, there is no soul union, no coalition of hearts. Love alone can secure this. But we can only love the lovable; but this is Love, that it invests another soul with beauty, and makes him worthy of the love of his fellows. Love is the gravitation of the moral realm. By it Christ binds His people into one. As a principle of social unity, between class and class, between high and low, all sorts and conditions of men, it never faileth; it is the only bond which does not.
III. As a source of spiritual happiness.—Love is joy. It casts out from the heart all that is inimical to happiness. The passions of men are the real miseries of their life; hatred, malice, anger, pride, revenge, covetousness ever unsatisfied, like “fear,” “have torment,” the torment of hell begun on earth. Love slays or is slain by all these. It creates all the elements of spiritual joy. “Love sets all the strings of life’s lyre to music, it brings the soul like a wandered orb from chaos, it links it to its own centre, and fills it with the light and life of heaven.” As a source of all spiritual happiness and joy it never faileth. Remember, this love is a grace, a gift, a spiritual thing, not native to the heart; it is the first in order and beauty of the cluster, one and manifold, “the fruit (not fruits) of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-24).—Adapted from “Homilist,” Third Series, iv. 165.
1 Corinthians 13:9. We Know in Part.
I. This is true of mere secular knowledge.—
1. Hitherto hardly more than two men have arisen who seemed to know everything about everything comprised within the learning of their age: Aristotle in the ancient world; Lord Bacon in the modern. For the most part men are satisfied with the study and mastery of one or two branches of learning. The tendency in our time is more and more to specialisation of study, to sub-division of the field. An Adam Clarke will hardly again, singlehanded, write an extended commentary on the whole Bible. A Hume will hardly again write a “History of England.” A single book of the Bible, a single period or reign or life—and that dealt with exhaustively—modern work tends in that direction. If men used to study a square mile with the naked eye, they now scrutinise a square inch with a microscope.
2. The man who most thoroughly knows his own section of a subject feels most fully how partial is his knowledge. The wisest student knows best how much is unknown. The beginner is the only man who thinks he knows much, or knows anything completely. As Burke said, the man who thinks he has got a clear idea may be quite sure he has got a little idea. Every student finds the little stream of inquiry on which he embarked in youth widening fast as the years pass on, till the very banks disappear, and just as he dies he finds himself launched out on a boundless ocean. Needless to tell the story of Sir Isaac Newton and his pebbles by the shore.
3. Then, putting together all the results of all the studies of all the wisest in all the ages, we still know only “in part.” In our own days, more than ever, the range of knowledge is widening fast; the firm conclusions of former days, and even of a few years ago, are sometimes rudely overthrown; they always need revising, and are always being added to and enlarged. He would simply be ridiculous who should say that this nineteenth century knows all about even the physical universe, or that no new applications of what has long been known will be discovered. We have unlocked the secrets of the Light, and have made the rays which started from the stars thousands of years ago tell what those stars are made of. Yet no man knows why moving a needle at one end of a wire which is being traversed by an “electric current”—that also a mere verbal symbol standing for an unknown fact—makes a similarly placed needle at the other end follow every movement of the first. Underneath all our boasted knowledge of the physical world lies the most profound ignorance of what in reality this Matter is, of whose forces and forms and properties we speak so confidently. We do not know what is the basis of phenomena. The metaphysics which underlie physics are a bottomless depth. Of what Spirit is, except that we judge by its manifestations that it must be totally opposite in nature to Matter, we are just as ignorant.
4. Obvious as all this is, it needs to be remembered, when bold voices claim and timid hearts fear, that this partial knowledge possessed by our century, and even that some particular scientist’s (comparatively) thorough knowledge of his small part of the whole field of research, has somehow affected the certainties of the Bible and Revelation. “We know in part” means, “Do not be in a hurry to triumph. Do not be in a hurry to fear.”
5. But what really has happened is only this: The lifelong student of the square inch becomes an authority on all matters of fact lying within it. Nobody more eagerly welcomes his facts than the intelligent Christian. Yet others can often make better use of, and more justly value, the facts than the discoverer himself; can better co-ordinate them with, and measure their bearing upon, the results of other students in other similarly narrow fields. There is a penalty to be paid by the specialist; and however well he may know his part, he does know only in part. He is often ignorant of, or little qualified to judge of, facts outside his own subject, because of his devotion to his own.
6. Simple, if not exactly ignorant, believers may remind themselves that they too know a great deal about the facts of the spiritual world and its life. The Bible and the Spiritual World have been their field, and they know it as well as the scientific inquirer knows his. Many an unlearned Christian is a specialist here, and can speak with authority. Many Christian men of fair culture know more of the facts of physical science than do some—happily, not all scientists—of the Bible and its Life. Moreover, any man may by industry and natural intelligence judge of the facts of the natural world; whilst the mightiest intellect without the opened eyes for spiritual things is utterly incompetent to judge of them.
7. The past has its lessons, e.g. Galileo. We see that the early defenders of Genesis as against Geology were defending with quite untenable arguments a crude Geology at which even unbelieving science laughs to-day. Defenders and assailants alike knew only in part. As they do to-day. Triumph and Fear are equally premature and unwarranted.
II. This is true of our knowledge of revealed things.—
1. Bible mainly concerned to reveal things not otherwise discoverable by us, and these only so far, and in such a manner, as required by its special purpose. We may almost press the phrase, “A lamp to our feet, and a light to our path.” See how a lantern held low gives light to a traveller. On a small, inner circle it sheds bright light; all within that circle is fairly clear, clear enough to walk by. On the edge of this is a penumbra of fainter illumination; and beyond, entire darkness. The landscape around, the heaven above, are left unillumined. And the bearer of the lantern is himself not seen at all, or only dimly by a few stray beams reflected from the inner circle of clear light.
2. What I am—a sinner; what I may be—a child of God, redeemed and saved; how the change from one to other condition may be wrought—by repentance and faith;—all these are within the circle of greatest light, though even it only gives sufficient knowledge of them to walk by. Just a little light as to how I came to be a sinner; but so little upon the question, e.g., how the death of Christ makes pardon available for me upon my believing, that some of the greatest minds have given up hope of discovering any nexus. [Perhaps the nexus most nearly indicated in Romans 3:25-26.]
3. Many another question, interesting, but not so urgent for solution, lies in the penumbra—half in light, half in shadow. E.g. if I am saved—what heaven is like; if I perish—what hell is; where both are; how spirits live disembodied; what the angels are and do; the nature of the resurrection body;—how we know these things “in part.”
4. Then how many questions lie in the unrelieved darkness beyond. Whence came evil? Why did God permit it to enter? to continue? Why did He not—if He did not—redeem fallen angels, as well as fallen man? Are there any other worlds, moral, sinning, redeemed? Or has God worked out this supreme specimen case of His “manifold wisdom” (Ephesians 3:10) on our little Earth alone? Hardly a word! Hardly a ray!
5. Then how little light on Him Who holds the light to our feet. Just a little reflected upon Him from His creation, and from the few revealed facts. E.g. we find, (a) One God, one only, clearly insisted upon everywhere; but also (b) Three Names, set side by side,—not more, nor fewer,—each spoken of as we speak of persons, and as we speak of God. Or we find two sets of statements—one leading up to the assertion, “Perfect Man”; the other to the conviction, “The True God and Eternal Life.” We put what we know into orderly, scientific shape, and announce our doctrines of the Trinity and of the Incarnation. But the best-instructed theological system-maker knows best that he knows only in part.
6. Text, then, becomes a word of caution in all thinkings and speculations upon the subjects included in revealed knowledge. The powers of our mind are limited. We shall get no more facts: the Book is complete. All we can hope to do is reverently and patiently to study the narrow field of clearest illumination; the good men and the great minds have been rewarded, ago after age, with a better knowledge of the old material.
7. A man, just beginning to think, just knowing enough to appreciate difficulties, and half feeling the force of objections, the answers to which, so far as any can be given at all, are as yet beyond him altogether, may remember with advantage that he knows, and never will get beyond knowing, in part. He may thus be saved from casting away—in haste of pride of newly awakened power, or in perplexity because of the fringing shadow around a by no means perfectly lighted inner circle—truth which he will afterwards find has moral certainty, probability of the very highest, sufficient at least for its reasonable acceptance as “a light to his feet.”
8. Also, it will save him from the unwisdom of refusing to order his life by the moral precepts of the Bible, because all around them are unsolved and insoluble moral perplexities, lying in the penumbra or the outer darkness. Text says: “Do not lose your head, nor in panic cast away difficult doctrines; be more modest than to suppose that you have settled all questions. Wait awhile, and, above all, do not reject the moral help of the Bible because there are “The Moral Difficulties of the Bible.”
III. True of the providences of life.—
1. Personal or domestic trial of many kinds staggers faith. To see a good man repeatedly and sorely smitten, or an “indispensable” man removed from the Work of God, when there seems no successor to arise.
2. God’s remedy is generally not explanation, but faith. “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe!” “What I do thou knowest not now,” etc.
3. Sometimes we do know His reasons “in part.” Years after, we see why He dashed our idol in pieces before our eyes. The greatly afflicted, godly man, e.g., could tell you, if you won his confidence, of secret tendencies to pride, to love of the world, to neglect of God, which were thus continually kept in check; perhaps he sees that they could only thus be kept in check.
4. Suppose the story of Martha and Mary unfinished, broken off at the return of their messenger bringing no Jesus and no message from Him. Suppose the story of Joseph recovered in an incomplete papyrus manuscript from an Egyptian tomb, and breaking off at the point where, in spite of the assurance that “Jehovah was with him,” it seems as if every new step, and even every refusal of temptation, has only helped him towards a prison, to lie there hopelessly under an unfounded accusation. How perplexing would be our knowledge of Jehovah and His ways, or of Jesus and His action! Because it would be knowledge derived only “from a part” (so the Greek, exactly rendered) of the facts. In our perplexed days let us understand that we are only midway in the story. Our wisdom, our peace, is to let the Divine Author finish the remaining chapters, and then let us justify Him.
5. So the common soldier, and even the subordinate commander, is learning the general’s plan of campaign only whilst he is helping to work it out. It is too soon to doubt or criticise it; foolish to refuse to obey because the whole great scheme of operations is only known to the Head which has conceived it.
IV. Chap. 1 Corinthians 2:9. 1 Corinthians 13:10 shows that Heaven is not meant: “God hath revealed them to us by His Spirit.” Yet of the highest, richest, ripest, Christian experience and knowledge it is to the last true: What we know, we only know in part, because we know only from a part of the fulness of possibility for us in Christ. We never shall know otherwise than in part, even in this.
1 Corinthians 13:11. Childhood and Manhood.
Introduction.—The natural a parable of the spiritual world. So we speak, because in that order we become acquainted with them. But probably we approach nearer to the order of the Creator’s thought when we think backwards or downwards from the spiritual to the natural. The analogies which we discover rest upon the fact that the natural has been modelled upon the lines of the spiritual. As this life is to the life hereafter, so is childhood to manhood. [Cf. the use of this same illustration in 1 John 2:12-14.] Yet the practical order for thought reverses this, and begins with the natural. The part of “prophecy” was soon fulfilled; the completed Word and the teaching Spirit have superseded it. “Tongues” soon “failed”; sooner perhaps than prophecy. “Knowledge,” in the special sense in which used in this letter from 1 Corinthians 1:5 onward, perhaps may be said to have remained, “abiding” until the eternal life comes, with its larger, fuller facts, and its “face-to-face” vision of them. Yet if it has long persistence, it has no eternal permanence such as “Charity” has, which “never faileth.” The character of this cannot be altered by the passage from time into eternity,—as we divide the one unbroken duration;—its mission and work will never be ended. But as to knowledge, We are now in the childhood stage of powers and knowledge. In the expression of what we do know (“I spake”), in the reception of new knowledge (“I understood”), in the reasoning to new knowledge from what is already given us (“I thought”), our limitations and language and methods are those of children. How our cousins—the angels; how our grownup (“perfect”) brothers and sisters who have left school—the glorified ones in heaven; must smile at such boasted knowledge and such wise talk of the Corinthians! “Listen to the pretty prattle of those children down yonder!” “With what schoolboy certainty of brand-new knowledge of the elements of a subject do these clever Corinthian men pronounce down there upon all things in heaven and earth! And they are as proud of the little bit they have learned as a child is of his first, juvenile recitation which he has got by heart.” There is nothing to despise about the child’s lesson and learning. It is the pride which spoils all!
1. Mathematical science alone has a perfect language adequate to express its truth. [Yet axioms and postulates, preliminaries to all knowledge, which must be granted though they cannot be proved, confess limitation to lie at the very basis of all mathematical knowledge.] Because being only concerned with matter and its relations its medium of communication is homogeneous with the matter to be conveyed. Shall we have by-and-by an equally adequate “mental” vocabulary, and be able without ambiguity or doubt to arrive at an absolute philosophy? (So queries Isaac Taylor, Physical Theory.) “Abstract intellectual philosophy (putting out of question the general rectification of sentiments and notions accruing from the influence of Christianity) remains where and what it was in the bright times of Grecian intelligence. The preliminary work of fixing the sense of terms and of advancing axioms has still to be done anew by every professor of these studies; and his labour is scarcely completed before it is broken up and cast away by his successors. This incertitude appears to admit of no remedy.” (Taylor, p. 116.)
2. With what imperfect a vehicle of language are we furnished for the expression of the thoughts and facts of the spiritual world here and hereafter. They are almost entirely represented to us, and spoken of by us, in words which are condensed illustrations, whose appropriateness and serviceablencss depend upon some real analogy between the spiritual fact and the natural illustration. [E.g. all the terminology of the doctrine of the Trinity—“Fatherhood,” “Sonship,” “Spirit”; the descriptive terminology customary in the matter of the rewards and penalties of the eternal world—“fire,” “crown,” “thrones,” and the like; and to some extent the terminology of experience—“election,” “adoption,” “redemption,” “reconciliation,” and so forth.] The analogical term is true so far as it is intended to hold good, true for the point it is intended to illustrate; but term needs checking with term, analogy with analogy, the strength of one supplementing the weakness of another, the truth of one complementing the defect or (what soon becomes) the falsehood of another; and even thus the whole round of truth is only approximately expressed.
3. Controversy has oftener arisen from the defective vehicle on both sides with which thought has to be expressed, than from any other one cause. For this reason also is controversy, whether written or oral,—but especially oral,—of so little value in ascertaining or vindicating truth, even when prejudice, or passion, or interest do not interfere. Words mean so very diverse things to different ears, and on different lips. Quite fortuitous suggestions are started in the mind of both by the words of the opponent, and these again give a colouring to the words employed; till at last men get weary of bringing each other back to the point or of settling the meaning of terms, and they fight for victory, and not for truth. Or, as one mind wearies sooner than the other, and, to cover weakness or defeat, resorts to sophistry, the imperfection of the vehicle is again in evidence.
4. To the dwellers in the world of “manhood,” and to our own “manhood” some day, how amusing, and perhaps even grotesque, are the views of the future state which men have imagined for themselves, and have preached to others; arriving at their strange result by insisting too precisely on the analogical and symbolic phrases which alone are given to us to use. Men have pressed the words of childhood until their heaven has been as fantastic as their hell. They have built up a future upon words derived from the present. They are the best words which could be given us; perhaps the only language our childhood can be taught to employ. But the children should not be too positive about the things behind the words. They are not falsehoods because they are only imperfect vehicles of expression, but the more men outgrow their childhood the more carefully will they employ even the terminology of things spiritual.
5. The “tongues” point out, rather than lead us in, a way for thought and inquiry, as we see how the higher reaches of Divine knowledge beggar all the human vocabulary and create a new one of their own, intelligible enough to another man who also is exalted to the level of the world of which it is the “tongue,”—whether as Paul was, who heard and understood the “unutterable” tongue of “Paradise” in the time of his ecstasy, or as every “interpreter of tongues” became competent. So, again, the “groanings” of human spirits, led out by the Divine Spirit, after the future estate of the “glorified” children of God, become “unutterable” (Romans 8:28). All the highest experiences of the spirit soon pass language, and tend to incoherency, or to impossibility, of expression; even to the man himself they become vast even to vagueness, passing even the grasp of thought. Even our childhood—in both nature and grace—thinks and feels and knows more than it can say.
6. But when at last we move amongst the things themselves, we may hope for a language as “manlike” as our knowledge of the facts, not as the occasional experience of an ecstasy or of some special exaltation.
II. Perception and reception of knowledge.—
1. Much, not all, of our knowledge comes to us conditioned by the possibilities of the five physical senses. The physical organ is as much a barrier to, as an avenue of, knowledge. We may (with Taylor again) speculate upon the possibly great enlargement of our perceptive faculties, which now are thus rather limited than helped by our five adits of sensation. “What of a body percipient all over, and percipient of new properties?” There will then at least be no distraction for thought arising from the need of attending to the body’s wants. Nor any hindrance from the varying degrees of bodily disorder or sickness. We need be no materialists to understand the suggestion that perhaps a perfect bodily organisation might permit of a plenary memory. Now, not only are the past leaves never wholly open before us, but also “the paper is frail and the ink fades, so that a complete record is never kept, and old or hasty or careless records become easily illegible” (Taylor, p. 75).
2. Even the mental capacity is manifestly as yet only that of childhood. [Story of Augustine, pondering his work on the Trinity, watching the child digging a hole in the sand of the seashore. “What for, child?” “To put the sea in!” “What else am I doing, to try to apprehend the being and the manner and existence of God?”] “Plunge the gill-pot into the ocean, and it will only hold a gill-potful” (Maclaren; coram me, H. J. F.). Because of our natural limitations, as often as because of our moral unreadiness, must He say to us: “I have many things to say to you, but ye cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). If it “doth not yet appear what we shall be,” it is no desire for reticence or concealment which hides our future estate and its “manhood” from our “childhood’s” knowledge. It is in great part the impossibility which confronts and baffles the teacher of the child, when he attempts to convey some idea or fact to which there has been nothing analogous in the experience or acquired knowledge of the pupil. The child cannot comprehend the man. “You will understand when you get older. I cannot explain to you yet.” When, e.g., bereaved hearts go out into the obscure hereafter, with yearning arms outstretched following the dear one, and asking the always recurrent round of questions about the other life—“what they are like there,” “how we shall meet them next,” “where they are,” and so on—may we not believe that the sympathetic Elder Brother Who has done so much to bring life and immortality into clear light, would gladly comfort these hearts by telling more, if only it could be told? “What is heaven like?” “I will tell you when we meet there.” The child must stop there. We can only grow past that barrier to knowledge.
III. Reasoning to and search after new facts.—
1. Will there ever be an immediate knowledge of facts, an intuitive perception of truth? It was said of Clerk Maxwell that it seemed almost impossible for him to reason wrongly on a problem of mathematics applied to physical inquiry. Can we conceive that power, exceptional, and even in him limited to its one topic, extended to all topics, and that in all men? Some men seem to possess a power of “shorthand thinking” which is suggestive of a world where the power may be enlarged and the process be abbreviated. [True, to us the process of inquiry has a charm; but that is a means, not an end, an arrangement to make the scholar more willing to take the trouble over “childhood’s” lessons.]
2. “A considerable portion of abstract science stands under this condition, and is assented to rather because the denial of it involves some impossibility than because the truth itself can be brought to stand out clearly to view” (Taylor, p. 101). Reductio ad absurdum is a confession of our “childhood” and its limitation of thought.
3. There is the danger of specialisation in study, though this is a necessity, and on the whole a good thing. [See Homily on “We know in part.” See again Taylor, p. 94:] “This division of labour in the world of mind … is peculiarly disadvantageous in its bearing on the elevated themes of theology, which, because they are in the most absolute sense universal, are not to be apprehended by any single faculty of the mind, but stand in such a manner related to our entire intellectual and moral constitution, as that it is only when every faculty in harmonious and simultaneous exercise is actively engaged upon them that they can be readily embraced.” But this is “childhood” passed and “manhood” come.
4. How we are beset with prejudices and fallacies at every step! How easily deceived by self-interest! How we blunder and stumble on our way to truth! How much we owe to accident! And how much to Revelation pure and simple! [E.g. the bulk of chap. 15 is bare revelation.] And yet the Bible itself is only a book “written for schools,” for the scholars in the elementary, the lower, forms here. How seldom we see all round a truth! If we ever do! We know and argue “in part” [lit. “from a part”]. We are reading an “enigma,” of which we have not yet got all the key. Like Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, we are doomed to see, not things themselves, but their images in a mirror, and that only of poor material. When manhood comes, the key to the riddle will be ours. We shall see into the very heart of things, as even now we ourselves “are known.” We shall see things, realities, “face to face.” [Cf. Numbers 12:8, and suggest] every full-grown man in Christ shall, with Christ, be a high priest who may go direct into the Presence, and “pure in heart”—adult in holiness as in powers—“shall see” and know God!
1 Corinthians 13:13. Greatest because Godlike.—All three—Faith, Hope, Charity—are of God; but Charity alone is in God. He implants Faith and Hope in us; He shares Love with us. He cannot believe anything, or hope for anything; absolute knowledge shuts out faith and hope. We believe and hope, in our partial ignorance; He can only know. There is a degree of pain in Faith and Hope which is incompatible with the absolute rest and fulness of happy satisfaction of His nature. Faith often brings strain upon heart and mind; Hope is itself really a disquiet, something lower than rest, even though there be an element of pleasure in it [which distinguishes it from the anticipation of Fear].
I. Love brings the rest of God into the life.—“He will rest in His love” (Zephaniah 3:17) is an incidental illustration of the perfect Rest of the nature of God who is Love. Just as the one absolute Wrong, the one absolute Sin, under all conditions of life—human, angelic, diabolic, creaturely—is “a Lie” with its “Darkness”; as the one absolute Holiness, common to God and to His creatures, is “Truth,” “Light”; so the one absolute Happiness, common to God and to His intelligent creatures, is Love. Truth and Love are the two facts which, without modification of definition, can be lifted up from the creaturely life and associated with and attributed to the Divine. They are “true in Him and in us.” They have come down from Him to us. How much of the pain of life is created by man’s own passionate, evil heart! Circumstances are not men’s curse, except when their heart makes them such. How happy, e.g., would many a man be—with abundant reason to be happy—if it were not for “envy” (1 Corinthians 13:4) of some other who started with him in the race of life, and who seems to have outstripped him in wealth or position and social consideration! All the good he has is spoiled because he has not that other man’s “good.” Love would help him to enjoy his own, and would give him an added joy in the happiness of his companion who is no longer his competitor. Is any life more uneasy, more full of unrest, than that of the “unseemly,” “self-vaunting,” “puffed-up” man who is ever “seeking his own”? The simplest word is a “provocation,” where none was intended; the diseased sensitiveness of vanity “thinks evil of” and construes into a slight, or an insult, the most utterly innocent act. There is a horse-leech hunger for praise ever craving “more” and “more”; even flattery is better than nothing; yet lingering good sense will often penetrate its disguise, and shrewdly enough, but to the bitter disappointment of the vain heart, discern its worthlessness or perhaps even its intention covertly to mock or to sting. Everybody is suspected of an intention to give less than due consideration; nobody is quite trusted to be simply, sincerely, directly kind in anything said or done or intended. A wretched life is often that of the man or woman of “society,” the very breath of whose nostrils is the homage of others, whose life is a long struggle for social precedence; “first in a village rather than second at Rome!” How great the deliverance wrought by the love of 1 Corinthians 13:4-5! How great the rest! And where evil has been intended, it may be dealt with in either of two ways. It may be taken at the worst construction and valuation; it may be pondered and brooded over, with a creative power in the brooding which can create a world of ordered and intended evil intention out of nothing! It may be talked of, growing more and more disquieting as each word unconsciously gives it an exaggerating touch, until it blots out all the brightness of life, and is a cloud of blackness overhanging all. The love that “covers,” that “hopes” against facts, that “suffers long” and “endures,” that, above all, is actively kind to even the wrong-doer,—that brings rest. No lubricator for the inevitable frictions and irritations of life like Love! The proud man, the boastful man, the passionate, angry man, the envious man, the suspicious man, the covetous man,—they are perpetually creating for themselves occasions of pain and disquiet. They “rub everybody the wrong way”; everybody “rubs them the wrong way.” Life is not God’s, but the devil’s; not heaven, but hell. Life is torment, not rest. But God’s life is rest. Love sets the “grain” of life another way; it grudges no man what he has; it is thankful for what itself is; it keeps a deaf ear and a blind eye for much that could only give pain if it were attended to, or admitted into the heart; hoping much; judiciously, forbearingly, patiently, ignoring a great deal. Life grows brighter; things run more smoothly. Even as a point of practical prudence, and of personal peace and happiness, love is the better working principle, and in its self-contained, satisfied resourcefulness would give peace—a peace not unworthy to be a far-off, yet true, adumbration of His peace Who within Himself has an all-sufficient, all-satisfying fulness and perfect peace. And this must needs be so entirely the fruit of a new heart, renewed by grace in the image of God, that on this account also love brings contentment, rest, peace.
II. Love imitates God.—The word is Paul’s. “Be ye imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love, even as Christ loved you,” etc. (Ephesians 5:1-2); which again stands in the closest relation to Ephesians 4:31-32, that bids Christian men to put away “wrath and bitterness,” and a train of other evil passions, and, above all, to “forgive,” with a “tenderhearted kindness,” not unworthy to be compared with the love of “God in Christ” which forgave them. The paragraph here, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, obviously contains some particulars [e.g. “believeth,” “hopeth”] which can find no parallel or precedent in God. But it may well be studied in the light of the example of Jesus Christ, Whose love to sinners may have been the germ of the revelation to Paul of this noble grace, Charity, and of its Divine pre-eminence. In the only passage where Christ speaks of His “heart” (Matthew 11:29) He is “meek,”—a trait which is not less precious that it is so human in its conception and presentation of Him. If He were not “meek,” what hope had there often been for sinful men, refusing His appeals, ignoring His claims to their allegiance, repaying with rebuff His loving appeal to them? That He is the embodiment of a Divine Love which “suffereth long” and “endureth all things,” is the very hope of men. It is an instructive comment upon “is not provoked,” to read the sequel (Matthew 12:9-21) of the story of the healing of the withered hand. The Pharisees were provoked to a plot of murderous malice. How shall Jesus reply to it? The same power which had restored the man’s hand might well “wither” all theirs into helplessness. Indeed, He who could so heal could kill. What will He do to such men? What He actually did was to “withdraw Himself from them”; in kindness to them simply putting it out of their power as yet to compass His death, by getting out of their way and going quietly somewhere else. What were they as against Him but “bruised reeds” which a touch would have broken? What to His holiness but the offensive, smoking lamp-wick which prompts every man who smells it, to make an end of the offence by extinguishing the remains of fire? But no; “He shall not strive nor cry.” [Shall we say “shall not behave Himself unseemly”; or that “Divine Power shall not”?] Such “bruised reeds He will not break … until,” etc. Love brings the judgment to an issue, either in a victory of coercive power, which constrains outward submission, or of inwardly subjecting force, which wins a victory over a willing captive, who is conquered by, and assimilated to, the Love that conquers. With how much in human hearts must Divine love needs “put up” (to use the human, homely word) often through long years! What an offence to the very nature of God Himself must the heart and words and whole bearing be, of the man whom love’s absence leaves to develop the self-assertion, the impatience of injury, the suspicious temper, the self-seeking, which are suggested by 1 Corinthians 13:4-7! And how wholly like Christ is the love which “vaunteth not itself, seeketh not its own”! The “mind that was in Christ Jesus” is in point of exact and precise exposition (in Philippians 2:4-5) the spirit which makes every man “look also on the things of others.” “Equality with God” was “His own”; but He forewent its glorious manifestation and accompaniments for our sake, and “emptied Himself.” The man who loves rather to stand aside, if so he may give another pleasure or honour; who, instead of fussing and fuming if he is not ever to the front, is content to go his way and do his work faithfully and steadily, day after day, whether it brings much recognition, or little, or none; who is content, if no principle is involved, nor any public interest, to “pocket” a good deal of opposition, injury, unfair or even mischievous comment and conduct; who is willing to yield perhaps more than a little of his absolute and abstract right and due, for peace’ sake and for Christ’s sake (“moderation,” Philippians 4:5), rather than be for ever “fighting for his right,” or “standing upon his offended dignity,” perhaps with a nervous apprehension of its being infringed upon which betrays his insecure tenure of his position; such a man is bringing down to the level of the trivialities of common life the same “mind,” the same “love,” which, far up amongst the spiritualities and the eternities, showed out consummately glorious in Christ. And “he that hath seen Christ hath seen the Father.” Love that is Christlike is Godlike too. Somebody has proposed to borrow the painter’s title, and to write over this chapter the words, “Portrait of a gentleman.” It would be absolutely true to say, “Portrait of a Christian.” And our verses (4–7), though not the whole chapter, in many points—not all—might be made to serve as a portrait of Christ. The love which assimilates us thus closely to Him may well be greatest.
1 Corinthians 13:13. Love Greatest.
I. Remarkable that the three great doctrinal writers of the New Testament—Paul, John, Peter—all agree that the highest of Christian graces is charity, or love. Peter the man of humility, Paul the man of faith, agree with John (1 Peter 5:5; 1 Peter 4:8; 2 Peter 2:4; 2 Peter 2:8). What a relief such a digression as this must have been to Paul, after the long discussions of such questions as meats offered to idols, the pitiable disorders and sad misapprehensions in connection with the meaning and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and the use and abuse of miraculous gifts! “We can imagine a new glow coming into his face, as he is lifted out of the murky fog of controversy into the light of heaven itself; and although it is needful for him, on account of the weakness of those for whom he is writing, to descend into the pettiness of their disputes once again, for a while he forgets everything save the vision of perfect love presented to him as a reward for his own reflection of it. In a still rapture he sees behind the veil, almost as he knows that he one day shall see, face to face, and in words that can never die, he reveals to us this perfect ideal of love, which would be man’s could he but know even as he is known.”
II. What is this best of all possessions?—Certainly not giving money to the poor (see 1 Corinthians 13:3). “Nor a weak concession to the opinions of others, or a blind eye to their failings. St. Paul knew nothing of that spurious form of charity which refuses to find fault with opinions however erroneous, or with conduct however sinful. ‘Love’ gives a truer representation of Paul’s meaning; but even this is open to misrepresentation, since it is frequently used to describe a love which, however pure, has in it much of exclusiveness and of self. Perhaps we best get at the true meaning of the idea by defining it as that particular kind of love which God has for us. It is that desire to give and to bless which is ready to bestow itself even where it meets with no response. This is the Divine Charity.”
III. Why this greater than all gifts? Why the greatest of Christian graces? In what sense greater than faith and hope?—
1. It is most like God Himself. In creation, God is love. In grace, God is love. “In glory, God is love. He can receive nothing that can add to His greatness. All that He does is a pouring forth of love.… God is just, is true, patient, unchanging, all-powerful. These are all parts of His love. Without these He would not be perfect love.”
2. It is eternal.—Gifts, however useful or attractive, fail. “They are concerned with temporal things, and are in their nature temporal. The knowledge of art, of science, of law, must one day become obsolete; although the lessons learned and the habits acquired in gaining such knowledge will be endless, the knowledge itself must cease when the subject-matter ceases. [But is there not a “knowledge” of Memory?] So long as there are our fellow-creatures in existence, so long is there scope for love. Even of those spiritual graces which will outlast all material things, charity is greatest. Faith and hope also ‘abide’ and are eternal. Faith is that confidence in God which can never be out of place even in the heavenly habitations; hope is the yearning after the wider future which we believe will never cease to be gratified fully and endlessly. But Charity is greater, an emanation from God Himself, reflecting itself in His creatures, and shining through them upon each other; the very atmosphere of heaven. In such an element we shall live and move and have our being. By such a perfect law shall we all be governed.”
IV. How to be obtained?—“Follow after.” “Have fervent charity.” A command of God can be obeyed.
1. Ask for it.—This fire can only be kindled from Heaven. “To God we must turn to learn what ‘love’ is. Only in His light can we see light; only because He first loved us can we learn to love Him and our neighbours in Him.” “The life of Jesus is a picture of the perfect love of God. He was the Charity that suffereth long and is kind, that is not puffed up and doth not behave itself unseemly, that seeketh not her own and is not easily provoked. Had not the Lord to bear with men’s littlenesses and vanities? Must not the disciple learn from Him to bear all things, to believe all things [this; cf. John 2:24-25], to hope all things [?], to endure all things [yes]?” Useful to note down in the life of Jesus incidents which illustrate Paul’s words. By such close and intimate study of Him—as an artist has some great work of art continually in his presence, that he may be filled with its influence, even when not consciously studying it—we learn, and are enabled, to imitate Him. At stated times set ourselves diligently to meditate upon Him; but always we may have the sweet influence of His presence, and may learn and win His Own “Charity.”
2. Do the things which love demands.—There is nothing of the Divine Charity in loving those to whom we feel drawn. Romans 5:8—“whilst we were yet sinners, God loved us”—points us to some one who has injured us, or made himself disagreeable, who is a successful rival, who has an unpleasant name. “Have you any unkind feeling toward such? Should you be secretly pleased to hear that something ill had befallen them? God has given them to you as an opportunity of cultivating charity. Seek opportunities of doing kindness to such persons! Speak kindly about them when their acts or characters are discussed. If it is in your power, promote their interests. If not, pray for them; you cannot long dislike a person whose name is daily in your prayers. Persevere in such a course; you will find your mind undergoing a change, even a renewal. Think, when tempted to be uncharitable, how the Master would have acted in your place. If you learn no more, you will at least learn this—“Charity never faileth”—Canon Vernon Hutton, abridged from “Clerical World,” i. 371.
[The whole chapter may be surveyed thus:—]
I. Sanctifies every gift,
II. Sweetens every duty,
III. Is the one bond between time and eternity, the earthly life and the heavenly.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 13:10. The Perfect State.
I. What hope we have of it.—Founded in human instinct. Confirmed by revelation. Secured by faith.
II. What relief it will bring.—The removal of all defect. Consequently of all sorrow.
III. What happiness does it promise?—The perfection of our physical, intellectual, moral, social condition.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 13:11. Human Development.
I. Man in the infancy of his being.—His speech imperfect, childish. His understanding weak, limited, easily deceived. His thought and reasoning trifling, foolish, erring.
II. Man in course of development.—Under instruction and discipline. Accumulating experience. Looking forward in hope.
III. Man in his maturity.—Fully developed in heaven. Bids farewell to the toys of earth. Has clearer perceptions, grander views, nobler objects.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 13:4-5. “Envieth not,” etc.—(For a Bible-reading)
1. “Envy” one of the last things to die. A great victory of grace to be able to see another preferred at our expense, or with a comparison for us disadvantageous, and simply to rejoice in his prosperity.
2. “Vaunteth not.”—With the real modesty which means humility. Not inviting compliments on one’s modesty. An outward modesty which is just transparent, transpirent humility.
3. “Not … unseemly.”—Acts with a fine sense of propriety; no conventional polish merely, or code-etiquette of drawing-rooms, but a fine sense of what is essentially polite.
4. “Seeketh not her own.”—Thinks of others, sympathises with others; puts them first (Philippians 2:4). Yet wonderful to see how if a man—to be Christlike—postpones his own interests and wants, God takes care for these. Love will keep our spirit, remembering that others have interests and claims. The true happiness of family life is the resultant of competing, conflicting claims adjusted by love and mutual surrender.
5. “Not provoked.”—Most frequently by our plans being set aside. The man who always goes straight to his goal is apt to be impatient if others will neither lead, “nor yield,” “nor follow,” nor stand aside. Little interruptions of our plans the hardest to bear unruffled.
6. “Thinketh no evil.”—Lose the spirit of love, and you begin to suspect. The worst is then the first verdict upon conduct which occurs to us. (Then as in Homily.)
1 Corinthians 13:12. Now and Then—The child and the man—this describes the difference between Now in this world and Then in the world of light.
I. Now we see all things in the “mirror” of our own experience.—Impossible for child or man to travel beyond the stage of knowledge or experience to which he has reached in his ideas and judgments of things. The uncivilised barbarian of the wilds cannot be made to realise by description the wonders of a great modern city. Thus through an imperfect mirror of knowledge and feeling we now see:
2. The Saviour;
II. Then we see all things by actual presence and contact.—“Face to face.”
1. The glory of God;
2. The love of the Saviour;
3. The wonders of heaven. So shall “we know even as we are known.” The child becomes a man. Imperfection of knowledge and experience give way to the perfection of both. Then, like the Queen of Sheba, we shall feel that “not the half has been told us.”—Clerical World, ii. 361.
Fragments from F. W. Robertson on chap. xiii.—“No man can conquer the world except by Faith (1 John 5:5); no man can resemble God but by Love.” “There is a thing which we call high-breeding or courtesy; its name proclaims that it is the manners of the Court, and it is supposed to belong exclusively to persons highly born. There is another thing which we call Christian courtesy. The difference between the two is, that high-breeding gracefully insists upon its own rights; Christian courtesy gracefully remembers the rights of others.” “The Spirit of Christ does really what high-breeding only does outwardly. A highbred man never forgets himself, controls his temper, does nothing in excess, is urbane, dignified, and that even to persons whom he is inwardly cursing in his heart or wishing far away. But a Christian is what the world seems to be. Love gives him a delicate tact which never offends, because it is full of sympathy. It discerns far off what would hurt fastidious feelings, feels with others, and is ever on the watch to anticipate their thoughts. And hence the only true refinement—that which lies not on the surface, but goes deep down into the character—comes from Christian love.” [Assuming that “tongues” meant a faculty of speaking “foreign” languages only miraculously, and pro hac vice, known to the speaker, he says:] “It is remarked that this faculty gives more cause for vanity than any other.… We see that the expert linguist is generally found more proud of his gifts, and more vain, than the deep thinker and knower: so with the Corinthians, this gift produced more vanity than the more useful ones of prophecy and teaching.”
The word ἀγαπή.—The word is, in this sense, altogether peculiar to the New Testament. The word, as a substantive, is entirely unknown to classical Greek. The only passage supposed to be exceptional, one in Plutarch’s Symposium, is a misreading. “The [corresponding] verb, indeed, is used in classical Greek, but in the lower sense of acquiescence, esteem, or caressing. It is in the LXX. we first find it employed to designate what we call ‘love,’ and it is there introduced to represent [the Hebrew] ahab and agab, both words expressive of passionate affection, drawn from the idea of panting, aspiring after a desired object. The substantive is almost entirely used for sexual love [Jeremiah 2:2; 2 Samuel 13:15; Canticles throughout]. It only occurs besides, in a more general sense, in Ecclesiastes 9:1; Ecclesiastes 9:6.… In the New Testament, on the other hand, when used simply, and unexplained, it is equivalent to benevolence based on religious motives. The Old Testament (in the word ahab) exhibited the virtues both of conjugal affection and of friendship ‘passing the love of women’; it exhibited also, throughout the Psalms, the same passionate devotion transferred from man to God; it exhibited, lastly, the same feeling emanating from God Himself towards His peculiar people, the spouse of His choice, the daughter of Zion. The Greek world exhibited in a high degree the virtue of personal friendship, which was, indeed, so highly esteemed, as to give its name (φιλία) to affection generally. Domestic and conjugal affection, strictly speaking, there was not. The word which most nearly approaches the modern idea of love (ἔρως) expressed either a merely sensual admiration of physical beauty or … an intellectual admiration of ideal beauty.… At Alexandria … benevolence to man as man, expressed in the word ‘philanthropy,’ occupies a very prominent position in the writings of Philo. But whilst this quality breaks through the narrow limits in which the passionate yearning of the Hebrew dispensation was confined, it loses its intensity. It becomes an abstraction to be panegyrised, not a powerful motive to be acted upon. In contradistinction to all these, and yet the crown and completion of all, is the Love of the New Testament. While it retains all the fervour of the Hebrew aspiration and desire, and of the personal affection of the Greek, it ranges through as wide a sphere as the comprehensive benevolence of Alexandria. Whilst it retains the religious element that raised the affections of the Hebrew Psalmist to the presence of God, it agrees with the classical and Alexandrian feelings in making its chief object the welfare of man. It is not Religion evaporated into Benevolence, but Benevolence taken up into Religion. It is the practical exemplification or the two great characteristics of Christianity—the union of God with man, the union of religion with morality; Love to Man for the sake of Love to God; Love to God showing itself in Love to Man.” [Stanley, Corinthians, in chap. 13, who proceeds:] “It is, perhaps, vain to ask by what immediate means the new idea was introduced to the Apostle’s mind, … perhaps not too much to say that this is one of the ideas derived expressly from what he calls ‘the revelations of the Lord.’ It is, in all probability, from the great example of self-sacrificing love shown in the life and death of Jesus Christ, that the Apostle, and through him the Christian world, has received the truth that love to man for the sake of God is the one great end of human existence.… Until Christ had lived and died, the virtue was almost impossible.… We can hardly doubt that, as in the case of St. John, it was drawn from the example or the teaching of Christ Himself.”
1 Corinthians 13:13. Love and Hope and Faith.—Love and hope are united with, and included in, this faith. For faith’s appropriation does not take place without love’s surrender. All hearty appropriation requires surrender to that which we appropriate, whether such appropriation result from faith or knowledge. All true knowledge requires that we should both love and be engrossed by the object to be known. I cannot fully believe in and accept the love of another, unless there is the surrender of love within my own heart. So neither is religious faith unaccompanied by love. Love is the present life of religion. And this present life is accompanied by hope’s assurance of the future, for God is a God of the future, and I cannot rejoice in present communion with Him without being happily certain of enjoying it in the future. Love and hope combine with faith in the one harmonious whole which we designate the religious life.—Luthardt, “Fundamental Truths,” 155.
1 Corinthians 13:13. Charity.—In the New Testament this is reserved for man’s widest obligation to his neighbour; it is the one term which is common to heaven and earth in this sense. It is more than the limited love of the brethren which in us answers to God’s favour to His own; St. Peter makes the distinction very clear, “and to brotherly kindness, charity” (2 Peter 1:7). This noblest of all the graces belongs by prescriptive right to all departments of ethics. As appointed to regulate the universal relations of mankind, it has a very wide family of virtues under it, which may be subdivided as in a certain sense active and passive, or rather positive and negative.
1. It is Philanthropy in the conventional use of the word to signify practical care for the well-being of the race which knows no limits, but extends, whether as Benevolence or Beneficence, to man as such. The word φιλανθρωπία, however, is used only of God; it is not used expressly of the God-man, though the only passage in which it occurs attributes this sentiment to God our Saviour. Kindness is natural regard to our kind; therefore not employed to denote the Divine regard, for which the word is Lovingkindness, though this is extended to all the works of the Divine hand. Charity, or love, as the duty which every man owes to his fellow-man, presides over a wide range of obligations, from the supreme Self-sacrifice which is ready “to lay down, our lives” in imitation of Him who “laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16), down to the gentlest act of Courtesy which sheds its charm upon common life, blending love and justice into one.
2. But its most impressive exhibitions are such as are called forth in imitation of the Divine charity. Such is Mercy; strictly speaking God alone can be merciful; but in the same sense as man may “sin” against man he is bound to be “merciful” to the offender, and to forgive him, if need be, seven times in a day.… Longsuffering belongs to God alone; we, following the Divine example, are required to practise Forbearance, which is the disposition not to press to the uttermost our claims against a fellow creature. This is by the Lord called Compassion, and Pity, and Forgiveness: “Shouldest thou not have had compassion … as I had pity?” etc. (Matthew 18:33). All these affections towards universal man are required of those who bear the Divine image as restored in Christ. Throughout the New Testament this unlimited charity, meditating the most unbounded forbearance, is inculcated as a grace taught of God to those who in union with Christ partake of His Spirit. Our Lord denounces the vice that seems to honour love while it robs it of its perfection as absolutely universal.… “Love thy neighbour, but hate thine enemy. But I say unto you,” etc. (Matthew 5:43; Matthew 5:48). St. John, in his last Epistle, the supplement and complement of all Scripture, gives this its strongest expression. He, like all the writers of the New Testament, but more directly than any other, makes the charity of redemption the standard of universal duty: “Hereby perceive we love.… He laid down His life.… We ought,” etc. (1 John 3:16). Not for the brethren only, however; these words must be conformed to the precept of the Saviour, who commends to us the perfection of the Father’s impartial love as our standard. And if the love of God in the Atonement is made the example, it is made the source of our strength to copy it. “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. Hereby we know … He hath given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:12-13).—Dr. Pope, “Camp. of Theol.,” iii. 233.
Faith and Hope.—Faith differs from hope in the extension of its object, and in the intension of degree. St. Austin [Enchirid., c. 8] thus accounts their differences. Faith is of all things revealed; good and bad, rewards and punishments; of things past, present, and to come; of things that concern us, and of things that concern us not: but Hope hath for its object things only that are good and fit to be hoped for, future, and concerning ourselves: and because these things are offered to us upon conditions of which we may so fail as we change our will, therefore our certainty is less than the adherence of Faith; which (because Faith relies only upon one proposition, that is, the truth of the Word of God) cannot be made uncertain to themselves, though the object of our Hope may become uncertain to us, and to our possession. For it is infallibly certain that there is heaven for all the godly, and for me amongst them all, if I do my duty. But that I shall enter into Heaven, is the object of my Hope, not of my Faith [?]; and is so sure, as it is certain I shall persevere in the ways of God.—Jeremy Taylor, “Holy Living,” iv., § 2.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17