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THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIAN CHARITY
1 Corinthians 13:1-3. 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. 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. 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.
IN the apostolic age, the Church enjoyed some advantages, to which we of this day are strangers. The vast variety of gifts which were vouchsafed to the primitive believers, tended greatly to fix their attention on the truths that were delivered, and to confirm the faith of those who heard them. On the other hand, these gifts were attended with some disadvantages; inasmuch as they gave rise to an unholy emulation in the persons who possessed them, and an undue partiality in those for whose benefit they were exercised. On the whole, we need not envy them their distinctions, since their gifts, how exalted soever they might be, were nothing in comparison of that which we, as well as they, are privileged to possess. Love is of more value than them all. Gifts might edify others; but love benefits ourselves: and, without love, all the gifts that men ever possessed were of no value. This is asserted by St. Paul in our text. But, as his assertions are of a very extraordinary kind, we shall endeavour to explain and vindicate them to your satisfaction.
In order to place the passage in its true point of view, we shall explain,
The principle itself—
[This throughout the whole chapter is called “charity.” The generality of commentators have expressed their regret that the word “love” had not been substituted in the place of “charity,” that being confessedly the true meaning of the term used in the original. But we do not conceive the translation to be open to the objection that is urged against it: for it is not possible for any one, who reads the chapter with attention, to imagine, that it relates exclusively to alms-giving: the most ignorant reader must see, that the principle, which is here called “charity,” is far more extensive, and can by no means have so limited a sense, as these objectors would suppose them to affix to it. We, on the contrary, think that the translators intentionally preferred the term “charity,” in order to mark distinctly that the principle here spoken of is love to man in its utmost latitude; but that it is love to man only, and not love to God. That it must be so limited, is evident from the whole preceding and following context. The Corinthians possessed many miraculous powers, which, though given them only for the edification of the Church, were exerted by them principally for vain-glorious and selfish ends. Hence the Apostle tells them, that they defeated the very ends for which these powers had been imparted, and trampled upon that principle of Christian love, which was of more value than all the powers that either men or angels could possess. Besides, all the properties which in this chapter are ascribed to love, shew it to have man, and man alone, for its object. And those who interpret the word as including love to God also, make the import of the whole chapter obscure and unintelligible. We therefore approve of the term “charity,” as giving to the passage its true, and definite, and more appropriate meaning.
Yet we must bear in mind, that it is Christian charity which is here spoken of; namely, charity founded on a regard to the authority of God who has enjoined it, and on a regard to Christ also, in and through whom all the human race may be considered as united in one great family. His example is no less binding upon us than the command of God: and therefore, though we confine the term to the love of man only, we understand by it such a love, as is founded altogether on Christian principles, and is combined with all other gracious affections.]
The assertions respecting it—
[Such in the Apostle’s judgment is the value and importance of Christian charity, that, without it all that we can possess is of no value, and all that we can do is of no value.
Without it, all that we can possess is of no value.—It is here supposed that a man may be able to speak with all the wisdom and eloquence both of men and angels; that he may possess a gift of prophecy so as to foretell future events; that he may have a perfect insight into all the most hidden mysteries of our religion, and an ability to solve all its difficulties; yea, that he may possess a faith whereby he may be able to remove mountains: and yet be destitute of this principle of universal charity. And certain it is that all these miraculous powers are independent of gracious affections, and have been more or less exercised by men, who, like Balaam, were altogether destitute of the grace of God. Supposing then a man to possess all these powers in their highest possible degree, and at the same time to be destitute of the principle of true charity, he would, as the Apostle says, be only “as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,” the most harsh and monotonous of all the instruments from whence any thing like music can be elicited.
Moreover, without this principle of charity, all that we can do is of no value. It is supposed here that a person may have such a fit of liberality as to give all his goods to feed the poor; and such a fit of zeal as to give his body to be burned; and yet be destitute of this principle. And certain it is, that there are principles in our fallen nature capable of producing these effects in men who have never received one atom of the grace of God, or felt one spark of true charity. Many thousands of our fellow-subjects in India are awful examples of this truth; men reducing themselves to the most wretched state of want and misery, and women voluntarily burning themselves upon the funeral piles of their deceased husbands; and this from no better principle than pride and vain-glory. Similar effects are produced also by a self-righteous principle; the unhappy devotees accounting nothing too much to do or suffer in order to recommend themselves to their senseless deities. Supposing then a man to do all this, and yet to be devoid of charity, “it would profit him nothing,” literally “nothing.” Not one of his sins would ever be removed by it; nor would he be advanced one single step towards the favour of God: he would be as poor, and wretched, and miserable as before.]
Now these, it must be confessed, are very strong assertions: and the idea of a man going from the flames of martyrdom to the flames of hell, is so shocking, that we scarcely know how to admit it for one moment. Yet is it really true that this may be the case; as is abundantly evident from the Apostle’s assertions; which now we will proceed,
Let it be remembered that the principle, which is here supposed to be wanting, is that of universal “charity.” And well may it be said, that, in the absence of that, all other things are of no value; for, where that is wanting, there can be,
No love to God—
[Here St. John will prove to us an infallible instructor. His words are plain and decisive: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is love.” “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen [Note: 1 John 4:7-8; 1 John 4:20.]?” Here he not only declares the vanity and falsehood of all pretensions of love to God, whilst we are destitute of love to man, but he appeals to us respecting it, as a matter that is self-evident and incontrovertible. For a man to pretend to obey the first table of the law, whilst he tramples habitually on all the duties of the second table, is an absurdity too glaring for any one seriously to maintain. If we are destitute of love to man, we cannot possibly be possessed of love to God.
Now then, we would ask, in what light must that man be viewed who has no love to God? Of what value are his gifts, how great or manifold soever they may be? Or of what value are his actions, how glorious soever they may be in the eyes of man? Can the man please God, when he does not love him? Can the man enjoy God, when he does not love him? Could he enjoy God even in heaven itself, if he did not love him? No: if it be only a fellow-creature whom we do not love, we have no pleasure in his presence, even though he himself be not the only source from whence our comfort might be drawn: how then could we be happy in God’s presence, when he would be the only spring from whence even one drop of pleasure could flow? Verily, to such a man, even heaven itself would be no heaven; or rather, it would be to him as the precincts of hell.]
No faith in Christ—
[Love is properly the fruit of faith. Mere carnal affection, or party-spirit, may exist without any knowledge of Christ: but Christian charity must spring from faith in Christ, even from that faith, which, as the Apostle says, “worketh by love [Note: Galatians 5:6.].” But here again the Apostle John shall be our guide. In immediate connexion with the fore-cited passages, he says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him [Note: 1 John 5:1.].” Here the argument is plain: every one that believes in Christ, loves God; and every one that loves God, loves those also who are begotten of him: consequently, if we love not those who are begotten of him, we have no love to God, nor any faith in Christ.
And what is the state of a man that has no faith in Christ? Can there be any value in any thing which he either has or does? He has no interest in Christ, no pardon of sin, no title to heaven, no hope beyond the grave: what signify then his pre-eminent talents, or his specious virtues? He may benefit others; but he cannot benefit himself: he may even “save others; but he himself will be a cast-away.” Yea, at this moment “he is in a state of condemnation, and the wrath of God abideth on him [Note: John 3:18; John 3:36.].”]
No real holiness of heart and life—
[The man that is destitute of charity tramples alike on both tables of the law. For, “the very end of the commandment, (the very end for which the law was given, and which it was principally intended to effect,) is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned [Note: 1 Timothy 1:5.]:” and this end not being answered, the whole law is made void. Again; St. Paul says, that “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself [Note: Galatians 5:14.]:” therefore, if this one grace is so connected with every part of the law as to fulfil it all, the want of this one grace must violate it all. Once more: it is said, “Put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness [Note: Colossians 3:14.]:” it is that by which all the graces that constitute perfection are bound together, just as the armour was by the girdle that enclosed it. This therefore being wanting, no grace whatever is found in its proper place: they are altogether scattered to the winds.
What then, we would again ask, is the state of such a man? a man that defeats the one end for which the law was given; that violates it in all its parts; and leaves at the disposal of every gust of passion all the graces which it was intended to combine? We think that nothing more is wanting to confirm all the strong assertions of the Apostle, or to shew that, whatever a man may either possess or do, without charity he is nothing but a tinkling cymbal; he will be nothing to all eternity, but a miserable, self-deceiving, self-ruined hypocrite.]
From this view of Christian charity, learn the importance,
Of understanding clearly its nature—
[Certain it is that the nature of Christian charity is but little known. In truth, had it not been so fully opened in the chapter before us, it may well be doubted whether any man upon the face of the earth would have fully understood it: or rather, it may be doubted, whether any man on the face of the earth does fully understand it even now. No part of it can be understood any farther that it is experienced in the soul: and the defects of men in the practice of it shew how defective must be their views of its extent and obligations. But, it is only in proportion as we understand it, that we can have any just standard whereby to estimate our own character, or any sure directory for our conduct. But God will judge us by his perfect law, whether we understand it or not. He does not reduce his demands to the measure which we choose to fix; but requires us diligently to learn his will, and then to do it “without partiality and without hypocrisy.” Our first object then must be to get a thorough insight into the requirements of his law, and then to set ourselves with all diligence to the performance of it.]
Of ascertaining our state in relation to it—
[Often should we bring ourselves to the touchstone, to try what our state is before God. We have seen how high we may be in the estimation of men, whilst yet we are nothing in the sight of God. Perhaps there are no persons more eminent in their own eyes, than those who attract great attention by their talents, or by liberality and zeal have high credit for their attainments. But such persons often fearfully deceive their own souls [Note: Galatians 6:3.]. If we would form a right judgment of our character, let us study this chapter thoroughly, and apply to our hearts and consciences every one of those properties by which Christian charity is there distinguished. Let us further study the character of the Apostle Paul, and of our blessed Lord himself: and thus shall we know, with some considerable measure of certainty, what is God’s estimate of us, and what his sentence will be upon us in the great and awful day.]
Of cultivating the growth of it in our souls—
[There is no measure of Christian charity with which we are to rest satisfied: we are always to be pressing forward for higher and higher attainments. St. Paul commends the Thessalonians, because “their faith grew exceedingly, and the charity of every one of them towards each other abounded [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:3.].” Let us seek to merit that commendation. It is in that way only that we can make our profiting to appear, or give evidence that we are growing from babes to young men, and from young men to fathers. Love is the image of God; and the more we increase in it, the more we adorn our Christian profession, and attain “a meetness for the heavenly inheritance.” Let us all then “follow earnestly this best of gifts;” and however much any of you may have attained, “we beseech you to abound more and more [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.].”]
A DESCRIPTION OF CHARITY
1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
OF all the subjects proposed to us in the Holy Scriptures, there is not one that deserves a deeper attention than that before us. If only we consider what is said of charity in the preceding verses, and reflect on the indispensable necessity of it to our acceptance with God, we shall be led to inquire diligently into its characteristic features, and its inseparable properties: we shall not satisfy ourselves with any specious appearances, or outward acts; but shall examine, whether, and how far, this divine principle exists in our hearts. To assist you in this inquiry, we shall enter minutely into the description here given of it; and endeavour to hold up a mirror, in which every one may behold his own face. It is but too common, when subjects of this kind are discussed, to apply them to others, rather than ourselves: but, if we would hear with profit, we must think of ourselves only; and implore of God the influences of his Spirit, that “the word may come, not in word only, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” to our souls.
There are here no less than fifteen particulars by which the principle of charity is distinguished. But we apprehend, that the two first are designed to give a general view of the subject; and that those which follow are the particulars comprehended under it.
The suffering patiently all kinds of evil, and doing cheerfully all kinds of good, are the constituent parts of true charity: and these are expressed by those two words, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind:” and St. Paul elsewhere sums up the whole of charity in these two things; “Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good [Note: Romans 12:21.].”
In fact, it is by these two terms that charity is depicted as existing and operating in the bosom of God himself: “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Here the words “goodness and long-suffering” are, in the original, the very same with those in the beginning of our text, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind:” from whence we may see that charity in us is of the same nature with charity in God; or, in other words, that it is a conformity of heart to God, whose name and character is love [Note: 1 John 4:16.].
It is yet further observable, that there is, in the original, a marked difference between the mode in which the general view of the subject is stated, and the particular parts of it are enumerated; there being no copulative to connect the verbs. This distinction is marked also very properly in our translation; the copulative “and” being put in italics, to shew that it is not to be found in the original.
This view of the text removes all appearances of tautology, and opens an easy way for the discussion of it.
Descending thus to the consideration of the different particulars, we notice, that there is a marked difference also in the statement of them, in the former part, as compared with the latter part; the former consisting wholly of negations; and the latter, of affirmations: and thus presenting to our view,
The evils it excludes—
These may fitly be distributed under five heads:
Envy: “Charity envieth not”—
[Envy is a repining at another’s prosperity, or good, which we ourselves desire to possess: and it is a principle deeply rooted in our fallen nature, insomuch that it may be seen to operate with great force even in children at the breast; so true is that testimony of the Apostle, “The spirit that dwelleth in us, lusteth to envy [Note: James 4:5.].” But how contrary is this to true charity! Can we conceive a mother to envy her own child any perfection it possessed, or any benefit that has been conferred upon it? or if there were such a mother, would she not, by the common consent of all men, be thought an unnatural monster, rather than a loving parent? Real love would lead her to rejoice in all the good that accrued to her child, though she herself were not a partaker of it: and this is the invariable operation of love, wherever it exists. Know then, that, whatever distinctions or benefits any other person may attain, whilst we ourselves have failed in the pursuit of them, we should feel only pleasure in his success; and if we grudge it him, and are disposed to detract from his merits, and to reduce him to a level with ourselves, we are actuated by the hateful principle of envy, and, in that instance at least, are destitute of the sublimer principle of love.]
Pride: “Charity vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up; doth not behave itself unseemly”—
[These three may properly be classed under the head of pride. The word which is translated “vaunteth not itself,” is in the margin translated. “is not rash:” and this perhaps is somewhat nearer to the original; which imports, that charity is not inconsiderate, insolent, and over-bearing. This is nearly allied with a conceit of one’s own attainment, and naturally leads to a violation of all that respect which is due to age, and station, and legitimate authority.
Yet to what an extent do these evils exist! how headstrong, how self-opinionated, how presumptuous are youth in general, especially where they can give vent to their dispositions without restraint! But love is modest, sober, temperate: it pays a just deference to the sentiments of others; and willingly submits to the dictates of maturer age, and riper judgment.
If then we speak and act without a due consideration of what others may think, or a proper regard to what others may feel, or in any way that does not befit our age, our rank, our character, we violate the duties of charity; which teaches us to “esteem others better than ourselves [Note: Philippians 2:3.],” and to guard with all possible care against every thing that may give just offence [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:32.], or weaken the influence of our exertions for the good of others. In a word, real charity will lead us to “prefer others in honour before ourselves [Note: Romans 12:10.],” and to take on all occasions the lowest place [Note: Luke 14:10.].]
Selfishness: “Charity seeketh not her own”—
[Throughout the whole of this description, the Apostle seems to have had in his eye some of those particular evils which abounded in the Church at Corinth. This more especially he had occasion to reprove, both in the preceding and subsequent context. Many of them were possessed of gifts, which they used chiefly for the advancement of their own honour, when they should have improved them solely for the Church’s good. And this disposition fearfully predominates in our fallen nature; “All men seek their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ [Note: Philippians 2:21.].” But true charity triumphs over all these narrow and contracted feelings: it teaches us not to seek our own ease, honour, and profit, but in entire subserviency to the good of others [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:33.]; and to become the servants of all for Christ’s sake [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:19.], sacrificing our just rights [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:15.], abridging our unquestionable liberty [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:13.], and accommodating ourselves either to the wishes or the prejudice of others [Note: Acts 16:3; Acts 21:26.], for the better promotion of their welfare. This is charity: but whereinsoever self predominates, so as to turn us from this blessed path, we are destitute of that heavenly principle, whose direction is, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth [Note: 1Co 10:24 and Philippians 2:4.].]
Wrath: “Charity is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil”—
[It not unfrequently happens in a family, that, in the estimation of him who is at the head of it, one member can do nothing that is good; and another member, nothing that is wrong. But whence arises this? Is it that the one is so perfect as never to err; and the other so depraved, as never to do right? No: the actions of the two are seen through a different medium; the one through the medium of prejudice, and the other of love. Now such a measure of partiality as can find no fault, is far from being desirable; nor is it any part of true charity. But charity keeps us from breaking forth into wrath against an offending brother; and suffers us not to impute evil intentions to him, to aggravate his offence. Where there is a continual disposition to find fault, and a readiness to fly out into a rage on trifling occasions,—where there is a proneness to put an unkind construction on every thing, and to judge persons with severity,—there is no charity. Let us but observe how ready we are to find excuses for any one we greatly love, or even for a favourite animal that has committed a fault, and we shall see immediately what would be our conduct towards our brethren, if we had real love to them in our hearts. How ingenious are we in finding excuses for ourselves, when we have done any thing amiss! and if self-love operate so towards ourselves, would not the love of our brethren prescribe somewhat of a similar measure towards them? Yes assuredly: we should “be slow to wrath,” as we find we are, comparatively at least, towards those whom we love; and ready to extenuate, rather than aggravate, what we cannot fully approve.]
Malice: “Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth”—
[To find pleasure in the fall or disgrace of another is the very essence of malice, the counterpart of Satan himself. Yet how universally prevalent is this malignant disposition! Has any person, especially one whom we have regarded as a superior or a rival, done any thing whereby he has lowered himself in the estimation of mankind? with what pleasure do we listen to the tale! what gratification do we feel in circulating the report! and what a satisfaction do we take, even whilst we profess to pity him, in the fall and degradation of our brother! If afterwards we find that the report was not true, or that there were circumstances which materially altered the real character of the action, do we feel the same pleasure in having our own judgment rectified, and in rectifying the misapprehensions of others? No: there is not the same gratification to our corrupt nature in believing and circulating the one, as in crediting and spreading the other: and therefore, whilst we are ready enough to propagate the evil, we leave truth to find its way as it can. But this is not the way in which love will shew itself: charity finds no pleasure in that which causes pain to another, or dishonour to God: but it is delighted with every thing which may tend to the advancement of God’s honour and our brethren’s good.]
In this copious description of charity, we see yet further,
The habits it keeps in exercise—
It “beareth,” or, as the word rather means, “covereth, all things”—
[Where love does not exist, there will be a readiness to spy out evil, and to spread the report of it far and wide: but where it reigns, there will be a disposition rather to cast a veil over our brother’s faults, yea and over his sins too; according as it is written, “Charity will cover a multitude of sins [Note: 1 Peter 4:8.].” Where the revealing of what we know is necessary for the maintenance of public justice, there love to the community will supersede the obligation of which we are now speaking: but where no necessity exists for exposing the shame of our brother, we ought as far as possible to conceal it, and to cast over it the mantle of love. This is what a man does towards those with whom he stands most intimately connected by the ties of consanguinity or friendship: and he will deal the same measure to all, in proportion as the general principle of Christian charity prevails in his soul.]
It “believeth all things”—
[This must of course be restricted to good: for to believe hastily all manner of evil would be directly contrary to love. In the things which we either see or hear, there must of necessity be a great deal which cannot come under our observation. Acts are visible; but the motives which lead to them are hid from us. Results too may be visible; but all the circumstances that led to them, and the precise manner in which they were brought about, may be very imperfectly known by us: and yet on these depends the innocence or criminality of the persons engaged in them. Now charity will not judge from outward appearances, or from partial information; but will suppose and believe that there are many things connected with the event, which, if fully known, would in some measure, if not altogether, justify the person condemned. In our courts of law, the judge always considers himself as, in some degree, counsel for the person accused. Now this is what we should all be, in our daily conduct: a person accused is, as it were, brought to our bar for trial: and, instead of pronouncing a sentence of condemnation upon him instantly on the statement of his accuser, we should suspend our judgment till we know what he has to say in vindication of himself: and if we are not likely to gain that fuller information, we should take for granted that there are some circumstances, though unknown to us, that would give a different colour to the transaction, and constrain us to give a sentence in his favour.]
It “hopeth all things”—
[The reports we hear may be so full and circumstantial, and be corroborated by such a weight of evidence, that we can scarcely withhold our assent to the statement. Yet, if we cannot altogether believe that the accused person is less guilty than he is represented, we should “hope” it. We should not so definitively pass judgment on him, as if it were impossible for us to err; or as if more perfect information might not give us a more favourable view of his conduct. If we are compelled to condemn him for an evil act, we should hope that the act was not formed into a habit: or, if we are constrained to lament that his iniquities are become a habit, still we should hope that he is not altogether incorrigible; we should not despair of seeing a change in his favour, or give him over as altogether reprobate. This is the way in which a loving parent acts towards his son; and it is the way in which we should act towards all the human race: we should believe, where we cannot see; and hope, where we cannot believe; and cherish desire, where we can scarcely entertain a hope.]
It “endureth all things”—
[Much will we bear from a beloved object, many unkindnesses, and many injuries: and, especially if we have a prospect of ultimately benefiting his soul, we can bear up under his ill treatment with much long-suffering and forbearance. This at least is the proper effect of love; as we see in St. Paul, who says, “I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” It is not a slight provocation or two that love will overlook, but a long-continuance of provocations: it will forgive, not once, or seven times, but seventy times seven. It will continue to bless even the man that loads us with curses, and to accumulate benefits on him who seeks only to do us evil. It so endures evil, as “not to be overcome by it;” and makes such returns for it, as to “overcome it with good.” Its great aim is, so to “heap coals of fire on the head of an adversary, as to melt him into love.” In this consists the triumphs of the God of love; and in this will every one who is born of God endeavour to resemble his heavenly Father.]
Hence we may see,
How different is true religion from what men generally apprehend!
[Far be it from us to undervalue gifts of any kind, especially of those which have a favourable aspect on religion: and still less would we speak lightly of those alternations of hope and fear, of joy and sorrow, which many experience in their religious course. But still we must say, that vital religion is different from them all, as a building is from the scaffold that is used for its erection. Religion is a conformity to the Divine image: religion is the law of God written in the heart: religion is love; love in all its bearings, and in all its exercises. Happy would it be if this matter were better understood by those who profess religion: but, with too many, religion has its seat in the ear and in the tongue, rather than in the heart; and operates rather in a way of conceit and talkativeness, and uncharitable censures of those who differ from us, than in meekness and modesty, benevolence and beneficence, forbearance and forgiveness. But let no man deceive himself: just so much as we have of real, active, and habitual charity, so much we have of true religion, and no more.]
How little is there of true religion in the world!
[Look into the world, and see what are the dispositions and habits of all around us: what do we see, but pride and envy, wrath and malice, self-seeking and self-indulgence? The whole world is full of uncharitableness: nothing is to be seen or heard but mutual censures and bitter animosities. The real actings of love are as little prevalent, I had almost said, as in hell itself. The laws of the land, and the habits of society, keep many from those violent breaches of charity which would disturb the public peace: but their secret heart-burnings, towards those who have injured or insulted them, shew sufficiently how little there is of true charity in their hearts.
Would to God that this were not the case also in the Church of God! But it is a lamentable truth, that in Christian societies there is much of this unkind feeling in one towards another; brethren alienated from each other by some trifling differences, and even harder to be reconciled to each other than the ungodly world. “O tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ascalon, lest the uncircumcised triumph.” But let professors look well to this matter: for they shall be judged, not by their profession, but by their practice: and, however eminent they may be in the estimation of men, they will receive their doom from God, according to the actings of this principle in their hearts and lives.]
How thankful should we be for the rich provisions of the Gospel!
[Who amongst us could stand, if we were to be justified only by our obedience to this law? Who would venture his salvation upon it, even for one single day? Alas! “in many things we all offend:” there is not a human being who does not come very short of the requirements of perfect charity. We need then, all of us, to wash in “the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness;” and to seek an interest in that Saviour, who alone fulfilled the law in all its full extent.
Nor can we obey this law at all, any farther than we are assisted by divine grace. We need the influences of the Holy Spirit, to mortify and subdue the risings of uncharitableness within us. Whatever we may have attained, “the flesh still lusteth against the Spirit, so that we cannot do the things that we would.” But, blessed be God! the Holy Spirit is promised unto all who desire his gracious influences, and his operation shall be effectual for the ends and purposes for which he is given.
Whilst then we strive to be holy as God is holy, let us seek all our help from above, and “live by faith on the Son of God, who hath loved us, and given himself for us.”]
THE SAINTS’ VIEWS IN HEAVEN
1 Corinthians 13:9-12. We know in part, and we prophecy 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: nouw I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
IN the chapter before us, the Apostle expatiates upon the nature of true charity; developing it in all its properties, and in all its operations. And, having done this with a singular felicity of thought and expression, he declares the superiority of this grace above every thing else, whether gifts or graces; and that too, not only on account of its own intrinsic excellence, but on account of its duration; because, when all other things shall have passed away, this will endure through eternal ages.
To enter fully into the Apostle’s views, we must notice, in succession,
His statement of the subject—
Whatever we possess here, we have it only “in part”—
[God, in his mercy, has given us a revelation: but this revelation contains but a very small part of what God might have revealed, if it had pleased him to do so. And the knowledge which we have of what he has revealed, is extremely partial and superficial. What know we of God, and his perfections? of Christ, and his offices? of the Holy Spirit, and his operations [Note: Matthew 11:27.]? What know we of the human heart, and its unsearchable depravity [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.]? What know we of the “riches of Christ [Note: Ephesians 3:8.],” and of all the wonders of redemption, “the length and breadth, and depth and height, of which surpass” all finite comprehension [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]? — — —]
And even what knowledge we do possess shall in the eternal world “be done away”—
[We shall have no need of the written word to teach us, when once we are brought into the presence of God; nor will our present imperfect conceptions of it abide with us. The word, which at present is to us as the polar star, will then vanish from our sight; and the views which we now have of it, like those of the early dawn, will be dispelled; both the one and the other giving way, as darkness before the noon-day sun — — — To what purpose would a man carry a taper in the day-time? Even so the light within us, and the light without, will add nothing to the brightness of the objects in heaven, or to the clearness of our perception of them, when once we shall behold them in their “perfect” state.]
But this will receive additional light from,
His illustration of it—
We all know how imperfect the conceptions of a child are, in comparison of what he possesses when he is become a man—
[A child speaks without reflection, chooses [Note: ἐφρόνουν, sapiebam. Compare Romans 8:5. the Greek.] without judgment, reasons [Note: ἐλογιζόμην.] without solidity: but, when he becomes a man he exercises all his faculties in a more appropriate and becoming manner. He no longer utters the unmeaning and senseless sounds which emanated from him in his infant state, or makes the trifling observations that befitted him when he first began to speak. Nor does he set his mind on things which are of no value, in preference to those that are of real and important use. Nor, though he still may err in his reasonings, does he any longer found his conclusions on premises which have no apparent connexion with them. His intellectual powers being expanded by use and exercise, he dismisses, as unworthy of him, the puerilities which he once affected.]
Still more imperfect are our present views of eternal things, in comparison of what they will be in a future state—
[Now “we see them all as in a mirror, darkly:” they appear to us as a riddle or enigma, which we cannot without great difficulty comprehend [Note: See the Greek.]. The incarnation of God’s only dear Son, his substitution in the place of sinful man, the atonement offered by him for sin, his intercession for us at the right hand of God, his appointment to be the Head of vital influence to his Church and people, our union with him by faith—what know we of these, and ten thousand other mysteries of our holy religion? the darkest riddle that ever was propounded is more level with our apprehension than these mysterious truths. And what know we of the felicity of heaven? What conception can we form of the soul’s exercises in its disembodied state; or of the glory of the Godhead, as shining forth to the view of the glorified saints and angels? Even the resurrection of the body, what know we about it? or what notion have we of a spiritual body? We must all confess, that our present views are so indistinct, as scarcely to deserve the name of knowledge. But when we shall behold God “face to face,” and “see the Lord Jesus Christ as he is,” then will our faculties be wonderfully enlarged, and our perceptions be infinitely more clear. O what views shall we then have of our own sinfulness, and of the Redeemer’s love! What an apprehension shall we then have of the perfections of our God, as united and harmonizing in the great work of redemption! Our knowledge will then arise, not, as now, from a variety of ideas communicated in succession to the mind, but from one intuitive perception: we shall see God, and the things of God, in some measure as God himself sees us: he sees the whole of us, even the inmost recesses of our souls, all at once, with equal clearness in every part: and somewhat of the same kind will be our knowledge of him, though, of course, in an infinitely lower degree: for “then shall we know even as also we are known.”]
In what light we should regard death—
[To an ungodly man, indeed, death will be terrible, beyond all conception; because it will introduce him to a perfect knowledge of all those terrors, which, in this world, he would not believe. But to the true Christian, death is the door of entrance into glory. It is the friendly messenger sent to us by God, in answer to that prayer of our blessed Saviour; “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me [Note: John 17:24.].” Who, then, would deprecate it? Who should not account it gain, and number it amongst his treasures [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22.]? Who should not desire to depart, that he may be with Christ [Note: Philippians 1:21; Philippians 1:23.]?” Methinks it is a shame to Christians to be wedded to life, except for the purpose of honouring God, and advancing in a meetness for the heavenly inheritance — — —]
In what light we should regard this present life—
[This is a state of childhood; and, as children are educated for the purpose of acting their part as men upon earth, so should we be preparing daily to act our part in heaven. We should now be searching into all those truths which will there be more fully revealed to us, and be obtaining those dispositions which will qualify us for the enjoyment of them — — — And here let me say, that the great and learned will do well to remember what they are; and the poor and unlearned will do well to look forward to what they will be. Our felicity above will be proportioned, not to our intellectual, but moral, attainments: and as, even in this world, “God often reveals to babes and sucklings what he has hid from the wise and prudent,” so much more, in the eternal world, will he most largely impart both knowledge and happiness to those who, in the present state, evince most fully the teachableness and humility of little children [Note: Matthew 18:1; Matthew 18:4.].
To all then I say, If ye will be men indeed, “put away childish things.” Put away your foolish communications, your corrupt affections, and your vain reasonings. Form your judgment, and exercise your inclinations, in accordance with the word of God. Begin to view things, here, as you will view them hereafter. Be no longer children, but men. If you look at the world around you, what are they but children of a larger growth? The dispositions and habits of those most advanced in life are, for the most part, not at all different from what they were in the earlier stages of their existence: earthly vanities still retain their ascendant over their minds; and the realities of the eternal world have as little influence over them as ever. Let it not be so, my brethren; but now begin to obtain those views, to cherish those desires, and to follow those pursuits, which a more enlightened judgment will dictate, and which will approve themselves as wise in the eternal world.]
FAITH, HOPE, AND CHARITY, COMPARED
1 Corinthians 13:13. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
THE scope of the whole chapter is, to shew the superiority of Christian love or charity to all the gifts that were so erroneously estimated, and so ostentatiously displayed, in the Church of Corinth. In the course of his argument, the Apostle enumerates the principal offices of charity, and marks with singular accuracy and minuteness its proper qualities. The last of the properties which he mentions is, that it “never faileth;” whilst all miraculous powers, of whatever kind they be, are but for the short period of this present life. They, he observes, will soon vanish; but this, instead of disappearing, will endure in uninterrupted exercise, and be continued in undeviating perfection for evermore. Thus incidentally he is led to speak of the whole experience of Christians in relation to the objects of their faith and hope: they view them all but indistinctly, and know them very imperfectly; having little better conception of them than of a riddle, or enigma [Note: See the original, and the marginal translation of ver. 12.], in which some leading particulars only are set forth; and the rest is left, as it were, as matter of conjecture. In short, Christians, not excepting the Apostle himself, are but children, in relation to the deep things of God; and, when they shall be exalted to heaven, they will discard all their puerile notions respecting them, just as they now do the weaknesses of childhood on their arrival at man’s estate [Note: ver. 11.]. The Apostle having thus, unintentionally as it were, been drawn from the consideration of miraculous gifts to the mention of Christian graces, proceeds to assert the superiority of love among the sister graces of faith and hope, as he had before shewn its superiority to all the miraculous powers that ever were possessed: “There now remain” (for constant use and exercise) “faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
To confirm this declaration, we will shew,
The distinguishing excellencies of faith and hope—
These, with love, form the cardinal graces of a Christian: and they are indispensable to his happiness, both in this world and in the world to come. That we may know how to appreciate their value, we will distinctly notice the excellencies,
[This, when infused into the soul by the Spirit of God, and called forth into exercise according to the will of God, is a principle truly wonderful. It beholds things that are invisible; and presents to the eye of the mind all the perfections and purposes of God himself. It is conversant with all that God has ever revealed; and especially with that stupendous mystery, the redemption of the world by God’s only dear Son, and the restoration of men to the Divine image by the influence and operation of the Holy Ghost. It goes farther still; and apprehends all that God has ever promised, and appropriates to itself all the blessings of his everlasting covenant. It seizes by a holy violence [Note: Matthew 11:12.] all that God is, and all that God has, even all his glory; and invests the soul with all of it, as its present and everlasting portion. It brings Christ himself down into the soul [Note: Ephesians 3:17.]; fills it with his love, and enriches it with all his fulness [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]. As for difficulties they all vanish, and are dispelled by the power of faith. There is a kind of omnipotence in this grace. No enemy can withstand it: “All things are possible to him that believeth.” The more dark our way is, the more scope there is for the exercise of this grace, and the more it triumphs. In this point of view, it, far beyond any other grace, reflects honour on God: it fixes on the Divine perfections, and calls every one of them to its aid: it presses even justice itself into its service; and never will let go its claims upon God’s mercy and truth: it finds quite sufficient encouragement in a single promise. See it in Abraham: he assured himself, that though Isaac should be slain and reduced to ashes, he should be raised again from the dead, and the promises should be fulfilled in him. And thus does faith operate in the hearts of all; and, in proportion as it operates, secures to us a victory over all the enemies of our salvation.]
[This is a less comprehensive grace than faith: for faith has respect to every thing that is revealed, whether past, present, or future; and to things evil, as well as good: whereas hope respects futurity only, and only that which is either really, or in its own conception, good. It is also a less honourable grace than faith: for its existence is derived from faith, and altogether dependent on it; and it has respect only to our own personal happiness, whilst faith rises above self, and seeks to advance the glory of God.
Still however it is a grace of vast importance; and the entire absence of it is the most striking character of hell, where all are immersed in darkness and despair. This is the grace which encourages and supports the soul in all its conflicts with sin and Satan. In the panoply of God it holds a most conspicuous place: it is the helmet that protects the head, and the breast-plate that defends the heart: so that, where hope is kept in exercise, Satan cannot inflict any deadly wound. True, he may raise storms and tempests around the soul, and menace it with instant destruction: but hope casts “its anchor within the vail;” and, deriving thence “a sure and steadfast” support, defies the utmost efforts of our great adversary [Note: Hebrews 6:19.]. How often would the strongest believer have failed, if he had not received succour from this grace! “I should have fainted,” says David, “unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living [Note: Psalms 27:13.].” It was no less by this grace, than by faith itself, that the saints of old were enabled to endure the great fight of afflictions which they were called to sustain [Note: Hebrews 11:26; Hebrews 11:35.]. On this account hope is said to save us, no less than faith [Note: Romans 8:24-25.]: for though faith brings us into the way of salvation, it is hope that enables us to endure unto the end [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:58. Galatians 6:9.].]
After such a view of faith and hope, it will almost be thought, that no higher commendation can be bestowed on any other grace: but there is abundant scope yet left for shewing,
The superior excellence of charity—
Of the three graces, the Apostle expressly asserts, that “the greatest is charity.” And its superiority will be found,
In its nature—
[Faith and hope, how excellent soever they be, derive all their value from the objects on which they terminate. If they had respect only to human testimony, and temporal objects, they would be of little worth: it is their connexion with God and with eternity, that so elevates them in the scale of Christian graces. But charity has an essential goodness in itself, irrespective of any objects toward whom it may be exercised. If we could suppose that the whole human race both in heaven and earth were swept away, so that we could never find a being towards whom the grace of charity could be exercised, still would the disposition itself be good. As God himself would have been good, even though no creature had ever existed towards whom his goodness should be displayed; so would the grace of charity be good, though there never should be found any scope for its exercise. It is the image of God upon the soul. God himself has no higher character than love: and, if in this character we resemble him, we have the highest excellence of which our nature is capable.
Only let us consider what the existence of charity in the soul supposes. It supposes the subjugation of all the evils that are opposed to love; as pride, envy, hatred, wrath, selfishness; and the presence of all the virtues which were in Christ Jesus. They were all comprehended in this single word, love; and consequently, the existence of this grace in the soul most assimilates us to Christ, “in whom was no sin, and in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”
Nor should it be overlooked, that the production of love in the soul was the end for which all God’s other mercies were vouchsafed: for that even faith and hope were given; nor have they any value, any farther than they are conducive to this end: and consequently love, for which alone they are given, must be greater than they; just as health, for which alone medicine is given, is better than medicine, which is valuable only as it is subservient to the preservation, or re-establishment, of health. The end must of necessity be greater than the means.]
In its duration—
[Faith and hope must soon cease; the one terminating in sight, and the other being consummated in fruition. But not so the grace of love: that will endure to all eternity; the exercise of it being the one employment and blessedness of heaven. The other graces which have been instrumental to the formation of this, will be no longer wanted, when this is perfected in the soul: they will therefore be dismissed, as having no longer any scope for exercise.
But when the scaffolding is removed, the building will appear in all its glory, the most wonderful monument of the power and grace of Christ. Then indeed will Christ “be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe;” for every one of them will then “be fully like him, when they shall see him as he is.”
Thus, how excellent soever the graces of faith and hope may be, that of charity far excels them both: for those will find no place in heaven; but this will remain an everlasting source of blessedness to man, and an eternal theme of honour to our God.]
Seeing, however, that during this present life “these three remain,” and are to be cultivated with incessant care, we will close the subject with some directions for the exercise of them:
Keep them ever united in your hearts—
[No one of them can be dispensed with: if one be wanting, we must perish. We must indeed keep each of them in its place, and assign to each its proper office. We must not think that faith can save us, if it do not “work by love;” or that hope can benefit us, if it do not “purify us as Christ is pure;” or that love can supersede the necessity of faith in the work of our justification before God. We can be justified by faith only: but by love we must prove the truth of our faith. We must not imagine, that, because love is greater than faith, we are therefore to be saved by love. The eye is more excellent than the ear; but it cannot on that account perform the office of the ear, nor supersede the necessity of hearing, in order to the perfection of our present state: faith, hope, and love, have all their distinct offices, and must all be exercised for their respective ends;—faith, to justify our souls; hope, to keep us steadfast in our spiritual course; and love, to form our meetness for the heavenly inheritance. Let all then be sought, and all be exercised, that God may be glorified in all.]
Let them all be held fast, whatever trials you may have to encounter in the exercise of them—
[No one of them can be maintained without much difficulty. Your great adversary will assault them all in their turn. In Adam he succeeded to destroy them all: and he would succeed to root them out of our hearts also, if the Lord Jesus did not secure, by his continual intercession, the establishment of them in our souls [Note: Luke 22:31-32.]. Not that they can be maintained without strenuous and unintermitted exertions on our part. We must “watch and pray that we enter not into temptation:” and when temptation comes, we must “not stagger at the promises through unbelief, but be strong in faith, giving glory to God.” We must also “hold fast the rejoicing of our hope firm unto the end [Note: Hebrews 3:6.].” Under the influence of love too, we must “let patience have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” Thus shall we “grow up into Christ as our living Head;” thus shall we attain “the full measure of the stature” which he has ordained for us; and thus shall we be fitted for those regions of love, where we shall completely resemble Christ, and participate, with all the myriads of his redeemed, the glory and felicity of the God of love.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12