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This is a short, but interesting Chapter on Love. The Apostle speaks in the highest Commendation of it, and declares that it will abide forever.
(1) Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. (2) And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (3) And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
For the right apprehension of the Apostle's meaning, in this short, but beautiful Chapter, our first attention must be directed, under God the Spirit's teaching, to form a full conception of the word Charity, as here used by the Apostle. Confining it, as in modern times for the most part it is, to the mere act of alms giving, which is but a branch of it, and that a small branch too instead of taking the thing itself, in the whole sum and substance of it, the greatest errors have followed. And yet, the Apostle appears to have taken every caution necessary, to prevent such an evil, in the opening of the Chapter. For he no sooner enters upon the subject, in speaking of the great excellency of charity, in describing its superiority to the gift of prophecy, to all knowledge, and even to faith itself; but, as if to guard his Readers against such a perversion, as the supposing the charity he is extolling a mere alms giving, he declares, that he might bestow all his goods to feed the poor, yea, give his body to be burned, out of compassion to his fellow-creatures; and yet be void of that principle of charity he is here speaking of. A plain proof, that the charity he had in view, and which to commend forms the whole subject of this Chapter, is of an higher nature, than mere alms-giving. It will be the first, and chief object, therefore, of our concern, at our very entrance on this Chapter, to discover, under God the Spirit's teaching, what is here meant by Charity.
Now for the clear apprehension of the subject, let it be observed by the Reader, that the word, which the Translators of our Bible have here rendered charity, is in other places, rendered by them love; and strictly, and properly speaking, ought always to be so rendered: For Agape, which is the word here translated Charity, cannot have its full sense and meaning explained, by anything but love. Love, which is a branch from the love of God, as is there evidently intended to shew, (and as by and by will appear, when we prosecute the Chapter,) manifests in the Possessor, the electing love of God the Father, oneness and union with Christ; and that the regenerating power of God the Holy Ghost, hath passed upon that man's soul, who hath this love, which Paul declares to be greater than all the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, or faith. And without all question it is. For gifts of the highest nature, are but gifts; and they are but effects flowing from some cause. But the grace of love, arising out of a union with Christ, proves a oneness with Christ; and is, as our Lord told the Woman of Samaria, that water which Jesus said should be in his people, a well of water springing up into everlasting life, John 4:14 . And if the Agape, or love, Paul here refers to, be accepted, as it cannot but be accepted, upon the general, and most common principles of the Gospel; the sense of the passage is at once plain and evident: and all that follows in the Chapter, becomes beautiful, and interesting. Though I could speak, with all the ability, and head-knowledge of the highest order of created Beings, angels or men; (and what intellect of the greatest degree as creatures must the fallen angels possess? Luke 4:41 ), and though like Balaam, or like Caiaphas, I could foretell human events, Numbers 23:24 and John 11:49-52 : and though I had a clear head-apprehension of all the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven; and even a speculative faith, to be convinced, that in the case of God's people, mountains I might remove did I possess what they possess: though in the conviction from head-knowledge, that the Gospel is true; and I aimed, like Simon Magus, to purchase gifts by money, in giving all my goods to feed the poor, yea, endured martyrdom of the body, to purchase the salvation of my soul; yet all these, being wholly outward things, underived from the love of God, void of all grace-union with Christ, and not an atom of the whole springing from the quickening influences of God the Spirit; all would profit me nothing!
But now reverse the case. Suppose a truly regenerated child of God possessed of this love, (and which by regeneration he doth most truly possess,) this union with Christ, brings up after it, a participation in all Christ's communicable gifts, and graces; then, all the sweet and precious consequences follow, which that union begets in the soul. He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit, 1 Corinthians 6:17 . One, and the same spirit, actuates both. Christ, as the Head of his body the Church, communicates life, and all the blessed properties, which flow from that life in Him, to his people. Yea, Christ lives in his redeemed, maintains, and keeps up that life, by fresh communications momently from Himself. The love, ever flowing, and overflowing, in His heart, (for He is love itself, 1 John 4:16 ) flows into theirs. And thus the love which this Chapter treats of being a stream of that River which makes glad the city of God, Psalms 46:4 , rising from such a fountain produceth all those blessed effects which the Apostle here describes; and being the source and cause of those effects, cannot but transcend the gift of prophecy, all knowledge, and the understanding of all mysteries, yea, faith itself, as the act of the mind, this being the cause, from whence all these; as consequences, spring.
Reader! let you and I pause, and for a moment to consider, the vast importance of possessing this life-giving principle, without which, all head-knowledge, and all alms-giving, are nothing worth. What awful mistakes, have thousands made, and are now daily making; on the subject of charity? What commutations have been offered to bribe God, with his own gifts? What Alms-houses, Hospitals, Churches, and a long catalogue of splendid charities have been set up to purchase Heaven? Yea, what martyrdoms voluntarily entered into, in the gift of the body, for the site of the soul? And all the while; the whole as foreign to the love of God the Apostle hath here so blesssedly spoken of, as darkness to light! Reader! depend upon it, the love which comes not from God, never riseth to God. Nothing can ascend higher than its source. What begins in man; must end in man. What one of the Apostles was commissioned by the Holy Ghost to teach the Church, concerning the Lord's Wisdom, in opposition to man's wisdom; may with equal truth be applied of divine love, contrasted to man's love. This wisdom which, descendeth not from above, is earthly, sensual, devilish. But the wisdom which is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of Mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy, James 3:17; James 3:17 .
(4) Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, (5) Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; (6) Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; (7) Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
The Apostle having in the preceding verses spoken so highly of charity, in general terms; now begins to describe the special instances of this Christian grace, somewhat more particularly. If the Reader will number the several very sweet, and striking qualities, Paul hath noted down, of charity , he will discover, that there are no less than sixteen peculiarities, in commendation of it, which he hath enumerated. And, indeed, such a lovely principle, and flowing from such a source, may well be supposed, as diffusing itself in various streams, everywhere around.
I beg the Reader to observe also, how much the Apostle hath heightened the representation, by personifying charity under those several features of character. It seems all along, as if Paul is speaking of a person, and not simply of this grace given to a person. And is it a violence to this scripture, or will it be thought imaginary, if I were to say, might not Paul have his Lord in view all along, as he drew the portrait? Of whom but Jesus, can it be strictly said : seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil, beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things! Surely, none but Jesus, comes up to this character! Yes! thou Almighty burden-bearer; of thee, and thee alone, can it be truly said : Thou hast borne our sins, and carried our sorrows. Even now, thou art bearing the cares of all thy Church, and the persons of all thy people. And while, through all the present time-state of thy redeemed, thou art bearing all in the arms of thy love; shortly, when this time-state is over, thou wilt bear them everyone home to thine eternal glory.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
I beg the Reader to pause over the opening of this paragraph, and to ponder well what is said, of the never-failing quality of Christ, in proof of what I remarked, at the entrance on this Chapter. Nothing can be more decisive in point, that the Apostle under the Holy Ghost, is all along speaking of this charity, this love, not as simply the effect of grace in the soul, but a branch of that grace itself; that grace-union with Christ, which being from Christ, and in Christ, yea, maintained, and kept alive by communications which Christ imparts to his members, is in Christ as the cause . And hence the Apostle saith, it never faileth. Now this can be said of no other Christian grace, in the sense in which love is here spoken of. Hope will be done away, when the thing hoped for is enjoyed. Faith will be lost in sight, when the object, not seen, but believed in, is revealed in open vision. Prophecies shall fail, when all the grand events predicted are fulfilled; and there is nothing relating to the kingdom, to need their further ministry. Tongues will also cease, when language, now necessary to communicate thoughts, will be no longer wanted. And all the knowledge of the earth, suited to the childhood of our present existence, will be superseded, in the ripeness of perfection, in Heaven. But, amidst all these failures, this charity, this love, being from Christ and in Christ, and as such, being immortal, incorruptible, and everlasting, cannot fail, but abideth forever. Reader! Think how truly blessed the principle itself must be, and what a palpable testimony it brings with it to the child of God in the possession of it, of the everlasting love of God, in and through the Person, work, and glory, of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the effectual grace of God the Holy Ghost
I beg the Reader not to overlook the very beautiful figure, which the Apostle hath been pleased to adopt, by way of illustration, of the present twilight of our existence, compared to what it will be, when the full display of knowledge shall be no longer seen through a medium. Children at the best; but in education, the objects are all too bright to be let in upon our tender organs of vision, in their own full lustre. The eye of the new born soul doth discern somewhat of the King in his beauty. In the Lord Jesus we behold beams of divine glory, sufficient to raise our most earnest desires, for a greater knowledge of Him, greater delight in Him, and greater longings for a conformity to Him. But all, and everything, connected with the Person, fulness, grace, and glory of Christ, open to objects so bright and dazzling, that our highest attainments, are no more than as those, who see through a glass darkly. God's Christ and God's chosen the infinite greatness and wonders of Christ's Person, God and Man in One, and the infinite dignity, efficacy, and fulness, of his blood and righteousness, his, love for us, and his grace manifested to us, what he is in himself, and what he is to his body the Church; these glorious and momentous objects, are too overwhelming to the mind, to be looked at in full prospect of vision; that it is best suited to our present state of minority, we see but in part, until that which is perfect is come, when all our imperfect views will be done away. But it ought to affect our minds, with a joy unspeakable and full of glory, that, though now we behold Christ through mediums only, yet ere long, we shall see him face to face; and know, even as we are known. Very blessedly the Prophet speaks to this point, when comforting the Church : In that day, the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his Ancients, gloriously. Isaiah 24:23 . So infinitely surpassing all splendor, will be Christ's glory, and the reflection of it upon his people, that the glory of the sun in its meridian lustre, shall be but as the blushing of the morning; and the moon's light shall be but as paleness: Christ shining upon his Church, making small, and diminishing, all kneeled brightness.
I admire the blessed conclusion, with which the Apostle ends the Chapter, in drawing the different qualities of faith, hope, and charity, by the way of the more exalting the latter. Faith abideth with the believer, being a grace of the Spirit in the believer, and from his operation in the soul; it therefore abideth to the very last. Yea, regenerated souls, not only live believing, but die believing. The Covenant-love of God in Christ, with regenerated souls, are the same in life and death. These all (saith the Holy Ghost by his servant the Apostle) died in faith, Hebrews 11:13 . So hope, in like manner, rests in the full assurance, of all the unseen things engaged for, in the covenant. Hope realizeth them, substantiateth them, and considers them sure. Hence it is called, a blessed hope, Titus 2:13 , But, both faith and hope cease; When the soul enters Heaven; for their offices are forever done away. For what a man seeth, he can no longer hope for, Romans 8:4 . But charity, the love which is a branch of the love of God in Christ, flowing from his heart into ours, remains forever; and therefore, in this sense, is greater than both. Precious Jesus! oh! for a portion of that love, that charity, which is the Lord's gift, and not man's creating; and which, as it comes from God, so doth it lead to God, and will find room for exercise, forever.
Who can read this sweet Chapter, in the relation of Charity, and in the many lovely qualities, with which the Apostle hath so beautifully set it forth, without having the mind at once directed to Jesus, who is all that is here said, and abundantly more, even Charity in the fall, complete, and finished representation of it. Yes! thou dear Lord! everything of love, lovely, and loving, shines in thee, in one rich constellation. What love, what charity, was that of thine, which prompted thine infinite mind, before all worlds, to set thine affections upon our nature; and at the call of God thy Father, to betroth thy Church to thyself forever! And, what charity, what love, passing all knowledge, when after creation-work had taken place in the earth, and thy Church had treacherously departed from thee, to assume our nature, and die the just for the unjust to bring us to God! And, what an everlasting, unwearied, boundless affection, of love and charity; in cleansing, sanctifying, washing in thy blood, cloathing in thy righteousness, making comely in thy comeliness, and bringing thy Church through all the time-state here below, until thou shalt bring her home to the eternal world above, to present her to thyself, a glorious Church, to her joy, and thy praise, forever! Oh! for grace, to contemplate the God - Man, in whom alone, all love and charity centers; and from whom alone, all the manifestations of both, must be derived.
Blessed Lord! let it be my happiness to learn, from the contemplation of thyself, and from what is said in this sweet Chapter; that the most splendid talents, and most showy services, no pompous language or head-knowledge of all mysteries, neither the largest display of alms-giving, no, nor the martyrdom of the body, can recommend to God: nothing short of the love of God in the heart, can profit the soul. Oh for that washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, shed upon us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Lord!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18