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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 13

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Verses 1-13

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

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.


Each of the apostles had a predominant feature of character. Paul’s was faith; John’s love. And yet it was not to John that the office was assigned of expounding his own especial grace. The reason for this is, if Paul had exalted faith only, and John love only, we might have conceived that the judgment of each was guided by his peculiarities of temperament. But when the gifted apostle counts gifts as nothing in comparison of love, no doubt remains.

The description of this grace (verse 4-7).

1. This is needed, because no single word can express its fulness. Many of these qualities are what we should assign to other graces, e.g., patience, “suffereth long”; generosity, “envieth not”; humility, “vaunteth not herself”; dignified demeanour, “doth not behave itself unseemly,” etc. But it is in the co-existence of all that the real life of the under-root of love was shown.

2. The apostle here describes a Christian gentleman. The difference between high-breeding or courtesy, i.e., manners of the court, the characteristic of the high-born, and Christian courtesy is, that the former gracefully insists upon its own rights; the latter gracefully remembers the rights of others. The Spirit of Christ does really what high-breeding only does outwardly. A high-bred man is urbane even to persons whom he is inwardly cursing; and hence the only true deep refinement comes from Christian love. And hence, too, we understand what is meant by elevating and refining the poorer classes. Christianity desires to make them all gentlemen. Only read this description of Christian charity, and conceive it existing in a peasant’s breast. Could he be rude, selfish, and inconsiderate? Would he not be a gentleman in heart?

The reasons for its superiority to gifts.

1. Its permanence--“Charity never faileth.”

(1) Prophecy--the power of interpreting Scripture, is a precious gift, but a time will come “when they shall not teach every man his neighbour, saying, Know the Lord, but all shall know Him from the least to the greatest.”

(2) Tongues, also, shall pass away. Suppose a man had known fifty languages in the days of St. Paul, how few would be of use now!

(3) Knowledge also “shall vanish away,” for it is but a temporary state of the human mind, e.g.,--

(a) That of the physician, which arises out of the existence of disease: were there no disease, his knowledge would disappear.

(b) It is the same with gifts of healing: when the time comes in which “they shall hunger no more, and thirst no more,” when sickness and death shall cease, this power shall be needless.

(c) So also with the knowledge of the lawyer. Were there no wrongs done, the necessity of legal knowledge would be at an end.

(d) The same with science, which is ever shifting and becoming obsolete. The science of St. Paul’s day is only curious now.

2. Its completeness. Gifts are only means to an end. Love remains, the perfection of our human being, just as stem, flower, bud, and leaf in the tree are all subservient to the fruit. St. Paul uses two illustrations to make this plain (verse 11, 12).

(1) Just what childhood is to manhood, the most advanced manhood is to our heavenly being. There are many things now which subserve a high purpose, but do not belong to the highest state. Patriotism, ambition, exclusive friendship, will then disappear, and be succeeded by higher impulses.

(2) Just what the going out of a room lighted through horn windows into the clear daylight would be to us now, will be the entrance of the purified spirit into God’s realities out of this world of shadows--of things half seen--of restless dreams (1 John 3:2). (F. W. Robertson, M.A.)


There is no royal road to learning, but there is one to heaven--charity. To love is to be in possession of eternal blessedness.

All gifts are of little worth if not directed and controlled by love (verses 1-3) Paul takes the gifts upon which the Corinthians prided themselves, and affirms that all these are useless if love does not regulate their operations.

1. One man noted for his eloquence. But suppose he uses his gift for his own advantage, or to stir up the passions of his audience!

2. Another has vast knowledge, but what is the use of it if he has not love to communicate it, and that in the best way? It is one of the most dangerous gifts a man can possess.

3. Faith is nothing without love.

4. Liberality is nothing without love (verse 3). You gave five pounds to a charitable restitution; why? Because you wanted to get rid of the collector, or because you thought it would bring custom?

5. Zeal without love is nothing. Paul says, “I can conceive of a man being burned through obstinacy or a false notion of heroism, but it will avail nothing if there is no love in his heart.” And so, now, it is possible to be zealously affected in a good cause from the worst of all motives, viz., self-exaltation.

A description of love (verses 4-8). The man who has real love in his heart is--

1. Long-suffering and generous.

2. Contented. “Charity envieth not.” Not that we should never strive for anything higher and better; but we should always be thankful for our position, and not constantly grumbling because some one else is a little ahead of us.

3. Humble. “Charity vaunteth not herself, is not puffed up.” Nothing is more offensive than that spirit of assumption which “pats one on the back,” and patronises as though it were an embodiment of the wisdom of all the ages.

4. Considerate of another’s feelings. “Doth not behave itself unseemly.”

5. Unselfish. “Charity seeketh not her own.” The motto of most is, “Take care of number one.”

6. Calm. “Is not easily provoked.” Love has power to command all the other faculties, and to make them obey.

7. Unsuspicious. “Thinketh no evil,” and with this may be put purity. “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” The best construction possible is put upon everything; on the other hand, where sin is really shown, love does not spare the sinner.

8. Magnanimous. “Beareth all things,” or “covereth all things.” The tendency of love is to hide rather than expose the faults of others instead of blazoning them abroad.

9. Trustful. “Believeth all things.” Not that the charitable man is credulous, but he “thinketh no evil,” i.e., when the conduct of others is concerned he always believes the best report.

10. Hopes for the best. “Hopeth all things.” When an investigation is going on Love says, “I hope that man will come out clear.”

11. Endures all things. Does not murmur or repine in times of sorrow--will bear anything for the welfare of another. Put all these characteristics together, and you have Jesus Christ, for in Him only do they all meet. Why, then, did Paul put such a high ideal before us? In order that we may try to reach it.

The greatness of love.

1. Gifts are transient. Those special gifts of tongues, etc., have long since passed away, and others have come in their place--eloquence, knowledge. These, however, are fleeting; but when these shall fail, Faith, Hope, and Charity will remain.

2. Love--it includes all.

3. Love is the perfection of knowledge (verses 9, 10). This is illustrated by his personal experience (verse 11). (A. F. Barfield.)


This chapter is a noble hymn; scarce anywhere else does Paul seem so wholly possessed with his subject. The very words themselves have something about them of the grace which they describe. They sound like angelic harmonies.

See how the apostle tears up by the roots many a sign of acceptance on which men are accustomed to rely.

1. What a noble thing it is to have the power of speech to move men’s souls! No wonder that men put such a price upon eloquence. However, so long as it is employed in mere worldly interests, whose soul is the better for it? If charity breathe into it and give it life, it is well. But if you substitute fine talking, dressed out with the names of God and Christ, it is not a blessing to you, but a curse. Learn to love, and away with the ready tongue and fluent profession.

2. Even in worldly matters, and, specially, in God’s works, knowledge is a great and noble thing, and much more so when conversant with things Divine. But men are led to fancy that this is religion itself. But though your minds were so enlarged that they could contain all mysteries and all knowledge, yet if charity be not there, not only is all this knowledge cold and dead, majestic like some great building, but with no soul in it; but it profits nothing, it will not bring you on one step to heaven!

3. But to come to better things, e,g., faith. Great is the might that lies within it. Yet faith without love is no better than the belief of the evil angels, though it works miracles.

4. The apostle waxes bolder and denies the seal of salvation, even to beneficence, if it could exist alone. Nay, to that sublimest effort of faith, by which the martyrs gave their very bodies to the flames, he refuses the assurance of God’s love if charity be absent. An admirable thing, if you please; so great as, perhaps, to be beyond the comprehension of most men in our age, when too many Christians would not sacrifice a finger to Christ, much less give the body to be burned! yet, in the lack of love as the source of it, it is not capable of profiting any of us at the great day of the Lord!

What, then, is this Divine virtue?

1. As charity is not the mere giving to the poor, though that is a duty, so still less has the thing which counts all religion the same anything to do with this Divine grace. If the world’s notion of charity be right, it is the easiest thing that can be; and you have only to be an infidel to have it.

2. Measure your charity, and frame your standard of it, by Him who is perfect truth and perfect love. You, then, who profess yourselves Christians, are you impatient to affronts and injuries, unable to bear anything that opposes your own will? if so, ye have not charity; for charity “suffereth long and is kind.” Are you jealous of other men’s praises and possessions, looking on them with an evil eye? if so, charity dwelleth not in you; for charity envieth not, etc.

2. This charity, which surpasses all other graces, does in deed and in truth contain them all. That it is no other than the Christian life; a manifestation in daily and hourly action of a Divine principle within, which testifies to its own heavenly origin. Christ is this living charity, and hath left an example that we should follow His steps. Aye, and He is still among you, not only stirring within the soul, but speaking oftentimes, and acting in the form of charity. Whenever you see a gentle and long-suffering spirit, there you see Christ! Whenever you see an earnest love for men’s souls, and labour for them, there you see Christ. Christ is in His disciples, and His disciples in Him! They are one with Him, and He one with them, in a Divine and unspeakable unity! (J. Garbett, M.A.)

Christian charity

Its nature. Charity means love. As to its properties, it comprises complacency, gratitude and benevolence. Its objects are--

1. God. This constitutes the first great commandment of the moral law; God is the object of love, as it comprises complacency in the contemplation of His perfections, and gratitude in the contemplation of His blessings.

2. Man. This is the second great commandment--the love required not excluding complacency and gratitude, but consisting principally in benevolence.

(1) To those who share the same spiritual privileges and are therefore in the highest sense brethren.

(2) To men simply as men. It is impossible for any one to be a Christian without being a philanthropist.

its manifestations.

1. Toward God.

(1) Belief of His truth. Faith produces love, but love in return lends a higher and more powerful energy to faith.

(2) The study of His character. We cannot conceive of love but as meditating upon its object.

(3) Obedience to His commandments. “If a man love Me, he will keep My words,” etc.

(4) Activity in His cause. They who are thus animated will desire that others may love Him also.

(5) Anticipation of His kingdom. Here it blends with hope.

2. To man. These manifestations are presented in the verses directly succeeding the text. Note the importance of these manifestations, in relation--

(1) To the Church. All that love can think and do, in forbearance, forgiveness, humility, sympathy, and benevolence, is demanded on behalf of those who are united in the same community with ourselves; and not only to these, but to all who own the Christian name. The whole Church must cultivate this towards the whole Church, ere it can ever approximate to the fulfilment of its responsibility, both in relation to the glory of God and the happiness of man.

(2) To the world. Beyond the manifestations presented here there is one which the present state of the unconverted world does most solemnly demand, viz., pity. Christianity calls on us to be almoners of the Divine bounty to the souls of men, and we have to carry to them the gospel. This will purify their pollution and redress their wrongs.

Its pre-eminence. Passing by the superiority of love to miraculous gifts or natural amiable dispositions, note two facts in which its pre-eminence consists.

1. Love partakes of the Divine nature. This cannot be stated of a large proportion of the other graces, viz., repentance, faith, hope, etc. But “God is love” (1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:16).

2. Love is perfected and perpetuated in the celestial state. Other graces prepare for heaven, but do not enter it, e.g., repentance, faith, etc. But love is there; and love is all. (J. Parsons.)

The unreality of religion without love

Nothing is more dangerous in religion than unreality. It may pass muster, and be undetected, in secular things, but it is soon discovered in people who profess and call themselves Christians. St. Paul had in the previous chapter rebuked the Corinthians for their mistaken view of spiritual things. He had done his utmost to lead them up to the realisation that they were then “as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal”--mere voice, and nothing more. He had also promised to show them a more excellent way. It is the way of charity, or perfect love.

A great fact. All things are valueless without love. Bishop Wordsworth describes this love (ἀγάπη) as “love to God and to man in God and for God” (1 Corinthians 8:1). The life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ show us the power of love over human hearts. He used no artifice, no violence, no ostentation. The great secret of His power was that His was the acme of love (John 15:13).

A great motive. St. Paul would have us look to our motives (1 Samuel 16:7). That is not always charity which seems so, just as “all is not gold that glitters.” The great motive is wanting. Even martyrdom, without love, is a hollow and useless sham. It is as worthless as a great sounding of brass and a tinkling of cymbals. It is a thing “without life, giving sound” (1 Corinthians 14:7).

A great characteristic. How are we to know, then, what is truly charity and what is not? We must test it. The genuineness of everything is discovered by tests.

1. That which looks like a sovereign is often discovered to be of base metal by its ring upon the counter, or by the application of an acid.

2. A house sometimes looks well built and habitable, but when the rain descends and the floods come, and beat upon it, the fall thereof is great (Matthew 7:27).

3. Those who seem to be our best friends are often actuated by the most selfish motives, and would be the last to give us help if we needed it. In all these cases the test brings out the true characteristics. The great characteristic of true charity is unselfishness. Wherever it is found, that quality will be at the root of all its actions.

A great consolation. All men long for something that will last. We live in a world of change. St. Paul answers, “Charity never faileth.” In love we have something which will not be old-fashioned in time or eternity. It will never wear out. (F. St. John Corbett.)

Love is God-like

It is the aim of religion to lift men out of their natural unregenerate selves, and, so far as their human nature is capable of such exaltation, to make them more like God: to produce and increase in them some feeble counterpart of that moral goodness which we worship in the perfection of the Divine Being. Now charity is the road which alone brings us on this heavenly journey, and each one of the several exhibitions of the same blessed spirit, which are detailed for us by St. Paul in the chapter now before us, is one more added to the golden steps that carry the Christian higher and higher towards the throne of God. I said that by the practice of charity men are made more like God, for, if we take those parts of the description of it which are applicable to the case, we shall find that they are a description not only of what man ought to aspire to be, but of what God Himself is, so far as He reveals Himself in His dealings with men. I do not mean that the picture was so intended, but that so it is. “Charity suffereth long and is kind”--and do not we find by daily experience that this benign long-suffering is one of the attributes of the Most High? If it were not so, where should we sinners be to-day? “Charity envieth not.” Of course the Creator cannot envy His creature, but it is conceivable that He might grudge him good: the heathen often surmise this of their gods: but our God “giveth to every man liberally’ and upbraideth not.” Charity “is not easily provoked.” “God is a righteous Judge,” says the Psalmist, “strong and patient, and God is provoked every day,” and yet, as he implies, still withholds the chastisement, “if a man will not turn,” then, and then only, “He will whet His sword.” Charity “thinketh,” or better, “imputeth not the evil”: and so our Father, instead of saddling us with our sins the instant we commit them, is ever ready to help us out of them, to rid us of them if only we will be rid, not to impute them to us, but to forgive and forget them for His dear Son’s sake. Charity “never faileth.” It is the very spirit of God’s treatment of man. It is because His love fails not, and never can fail, that we dare either enjoy the present or look forward to the future. Now the more excellent a way is, the harder it is to reach it and to walk in it: and if the principle of charity be at the root of God’s dealings with us, it need not surprise us that we find much difficulty in producing any genuine copy of the Divine pattern in our dealings with one another. And yet we must do so, or fail altogether in godliness. It may therefore be of service to take some three or four of the chief aspects of our many-sided life in which the exercise of charity is called for, and ask ourselves how far we exhibit or fail to exhibit it in them.

1. Take first our religion. If there be any subject in which our charity should be deep-seated and unquestionable, one would think it should be this. The solemn nature of the matter treated of, the deep importance of the issues, the sense of human feebleness and ignorance in face of the infinite and the unseen, the consciousness of our own personal failures and inconsistencies--these things, one would think, should make us very tender, both in judgment and act, towards other “seekers after God.” And yet nowhere is charity more starved and stunted than it is among the differing professors of a common faith. Imagine a number of travellers all bound for the same distant and as yet unvisited country, each furnished with a map of the road. The maps agree as to the main direction, and indeed have most of their chief features in common, but they vary often in minor particulars. Will they all fall to quarrelling and hate one another because of these differences? What hard thoughts, what harsh unsympathising judgments, the staunch Churchman often forms of his Dissenting brother, and his Dissenting brother forms of him! How suspicious and antagonistic is the attitude of Protestant to Catholic! But it may be urged, How can I look lovingly on my neighbour, and tolerate his ways and his opinions, when I believe them to be thoroughly mischievous? Am I to stand by and see error triumph unopposed? Certainly not; it is our duty to oppose it: but there are two ways of opposing it. The one is dogmatic, dictatorial, pugnacious. It will admit no possibility of weakness or imperfection in its own position, no element of good in that of the adversary. It hates compromise. It struggles for triumph, not for truth. The other is based on meekness and moderation. It believes that it has possession of a truth, but it claims no exclusive patent for proclaiming it. It sees, and cheerfully pays honour to, the truth and goodness which are mixed up with the error of an opposite party. It yearns not for triumph, but for harmony. Certainly, a man whose opposition is animated by this spirit is a very dangerous and effective combatant. He is not indifferent to truth: he is its devotee. What he is indifferent to is the triumph of a faction. The character looks fair and noble, surely, when thus sketched in the general, but when we come to try to work something of the pattern of it into the texture of our own daily lives, it will not harmonise with the stuff already there, and the business bristles with difficulties. Pride has to be overcome, dislike reasonable or unreasonable, ancient prejudices, our own self-esteem. This person or this party, whom you or I dislike, does not seem like other persons or parties.

2. We will turn now to another wide field of action-politics. The more deeply men feel, the more impatient of opposition are they apt to be, and the more angry at anything that runs counter to their own persuasions. Next to religion there is nothing of a public kind about which men feel more deeply than politics, and hence the frequent need in this sphere also of the blessed influences of a Christian charity. Difference of opinion has too often culminated in personal animosity, and it has seemed more hard than ever for political opponents to see any good in each other’s views, or any nobleness in their aims. If this be so, it becomes the special duty of the preacher to assert aloud the claims of charity to be reverenced and practised in the political arena. She would not stop the strife, but she would moderate it. It is as unchristian as it is foolish to impute bad or low motives to an opponent where there is any hope that we may be mistaken.

3. The next field over which we will cast a glance is that of literature. Surely in the great republic of letters, if nowhere else, every citizen will be candid and courteous towards his fellows! But it is not always so. Even great and good men have yielded to the temptation to be uncharitable here. It is a noble saying of Aristotle’s, when he is about to canvass Plato’s Theory of Ideas, that both being dear to him, it is a sacred duty to prefer the truth to Plato. Let us have the truth, here as in all other subjects, before all things; that of itself never can harm us, but let us have it spoken in love. The exclusive pursuit of truth is not inconsistent with the purest charity. The calm and patient examination of another’s arguments, the respectful consideration of his position, the readiness to be convinced of error where it can be shown to exist, the reluctance to impute ignorance or stupidity, the absence of all tinge of personality, the scorn of snatching a momentary victory at the expense of truth, which we mark in some great controversialist--how much more noble and powerful they are than whole reams of brilliant but insincere invective.

4. The relations which we have so far looked at have been all more or less of a public character: before concluding let us give our thoughts for a while to the demands of charity in the private region of domestic life. It is an old and a true saying that “Charity begins at home.” Here if anywhere the Christian should exhibit that spirit of forbearance, of unselfishness, of unwearying, uncalculating kindness, of optimism in judging of the characters, motives, actions of those about him, which are the parts of charity. The occasions for its exercise are as numerous as the hours of the day. Happy the family where this sweetest and wholesomest of influences reigns supreme, and is shared in by all its members. Such a household becomes the nursery of true public virtues. How unhappy are that man and woman who have linked their lot for life together, and yet have made no preparation to carry out the Divine behests of charity in the insignificant things of daily life. They may bear a brave face to the world, but what profit is that to them, if the simple sweetness of the domestic hearth be marred by peevishness, or hardness, or a cutting tongue, or wilfulness, or mere want of sympathy? We have thus traversed, in however cursory a manner, some of the great fields in which charity works. There are other fields on which we have not entered, nor is there much need to do so, for though “there be diversities of operations it is the same Spirit which worketh all in all.” If it be true that he that offends in one point of the law is guilty of all, no less is it true that he that has grasped what the genuine spirit of charity is in any one great relation of life will be able to understand it in all. (E. H. Bradby, M. A.)

Christian charity

William Tyndale, the translator of the Scriptures, had many enemies, who persecuted him with cruel hatred, but to whom he bore the tenderest charity. It is recorded that to some of them he said one day, “Take away my goods, take away my good name!--yet so long as Christ dwelleth in my heart, so long shall I love you not a whit the less.”

Charity difficult of attainment

A Brahman on hearing this chapter read, exclaimed, “Who can act up to that?” (Dr. Duff.)

Eloquence without charity

Two introductory truths are suggested by the context--

1. That there is great diversity in the talents with which heaven has endowed mankind. Some men are distinguished by one faculty and some by another. Some by the faculty of creating, some by the faculty of combining, some by the faculty of oratorically presenting, thought. These faculties exist in various degrees of strength; in some they are dwarfish, in some gigantic.

2. That without charity the highest kind and degree of talent is of little worth. Note--

That it is possible for eloquence of the highest type to exist without charity. We find it--

1. In party politics. Many party speeches, fashioned after the highest models and delivered with all the graces of the art, beat with selfish ambition and burn with envious spleen.

2. In party theology. Some of the discourses on polemic theology are, in all the attributes of true eloquence, unexcelled, but they are all aglow with acrimonious zeal for certain dogmas.

3. In party Churchism.

That eloquence of the highest type without charity is utterly worthless--“brass,” giving out a mere clanking sound. It is worthless--

1. In itself. What would you give for two pieces of brass forming a cymbal. Whatever their marketable value may be, for musical purposes they are not worth a “penny whistle.” What worth is there in an organism unless it has life? and what worth is there in sentences, however eloquent, unless they have charity?

2. In its influence. The sounds you get out of the cymbal produce rather an irritating than an inspiring or calming influence upon the listener. What moral good can speeches without charity accomplish? Eloquence without charity is like the roar of a winter’s north-easter, irritating and destructive; but eloquence with charity is like the quiet south-wester in spring, rearming all things into life and touching all things into beauty. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Charity, emblem of

The Egyptian hieroglyphic representing charity is a naked child, with a heart in his hand, giving honey to a bee without wings. The child represents the humility of charity; the heart in its hand, the cheerfulness of charity; giving honey to the bee without wings, the worthiness and helplessness of the object of charity.

The importance of charity


What is that charity which is the substance and reality of all true religion.

1. Negatively.

(1) Not mere almsgiving.

(2) Nor that kindly disposition which naturally distinguishes some persons without any religious principle.

(3) Nor any affection which by human skill and labour can be produced in human nature. Education and example do much to restrain the outward expression of the malevolent passions; nay, it is a part of courtesy to hide them, but they are still there.

2. Positively. Charity, as described here, is a grace only of regenerated human nature. It springs only from love to God. “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” Here the apostle speaks of this principle chiefly, as his subject required, in its acting towards men.

The manner in which the apostle enforces its importance and necessity. He places it--

1. Above all miraculous gifts. He does not depreciate them, but he exalts charity.

2. Above the most profuse almsgiving and the loftiest zeal.

3. Above knowledge.

4. Above faith and hope.


1. We see the tendency of men to mistake the external circumstances of religion for religion itself.

2. Let us elevate our views to the true character of the religion of Christ. Love is its principle, its vital flame.

3. Let us mark how much of religion exists in temper.

4. Rejoice in the prospect of a future state, which this chapter opens. (R. Watson.)

Charity, regard for

It is recorded of the excellent Bishop Ken, that when his copy of the Bible was examined after his death, it opened spontaneously at Paul’s great chapter of the Corinthians on charity. (J. Thomson.)

Charity, want of, not confined to theological circles

One doctor says bolus, and another says globule. Globule calls Bolus a butcher, and Bolus calls Globule a quack, and the hydropathist says, “Beware of pick-pockets.” And Bolus will not speak to Globule, though Globule says, “Let us make it up, and begin again”; and Bolus says, “Never; as long as I live I will leech and blister and cup and bleed and do things with scientific vigour.” (J. Parker, D.D.)

Charity, worthlessness of gifts without

All gifts, all graces, all talents, natural or acquired, are ungraceful, or wanting in that one essential, which is the complement or the supplement of them all, without this charity. Take it as of a circle, and it is wanting in that which makes it round. The lines from its centre do not go straight to its circumference. They are disproportioned; they are not equi-distant. Take it as of a building, and there is want of symmetry. The thing is deformed. It may have due length, but not due breadth. It may have breadth and length, but no depth. It may have due breadth, but not due height. It may have all these, but have no foundation. Such is any or every work without charity. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

Christian love

Its essentiality.

1. The apostle contrasts it with the highest and richest endowments possible to man.

(1) The mastery of all languages.

(2) To voice forth God’s purposes.

(3) To interpret all secret things and comprehend all truth.

(4) To be inspired with the highest supernatural faith.

(5) To be moved with the noblest philanthropy and by the spirit of martyrdom.

2. Though possessing all these highest gifts, the apostle declares that without love to God the Christian is nothing. Nothing--

(1) In view of God’s purpose of grace, to make His children to be “conformed to the image of His Son.”

(2) In view of the highest characteristic of the Divine nature. “For God is love.”

(3) In view of the essential attribute of Christian character--“He that loveth, not knoweth not God.” “This is life eternal to know Thee,” etc.

Its characteristics.

1. Long-suffering.

2. Tender-hearted.

3. Unenvious.

4. Meek.

5. Modest.

6. Not arrogant.

7. Unselfish.

8. Unresentful.

9. Unsuspecting.

10. Has no sympathy with sin.

11. Loves the truth.

12. Hides faults.

13. Charitable.

14. Sanguine.

15. Firm in trials.

Its superiority.

1. In permanence--

(1) To prophecies.

(2) To tongues.

(3) To knowledge.

2. In nature. Superior--

(1) To faith, because faith expresses helpless dependence on God, and love expresses the exercise of the most exalted attribute of God.

(2) To hope, because hope expresses desire for the good of ourselves, and love expresses desire for the highest good of others.

Practical lessons:

1. How opposite the Divine and human estimates of true glory.

2. How equal is God’s plan for human good. All cannot speak with tongues; all cannot master science and knowledge, but all can love.

3. Do we believe the testimony which the Holy Spirit bears in this chapter? (D. C. Hughes, A.M.)

Christian love

Gifts are of less value than graces. Still they are of great value. Do the best with all you have. Eloquence is useful in proclaiming truth. Insight is helpful to the teacher. Knowledge is needful: we cannot love an unknown person. Faith works wonders (Hebrews 6:1-20.). Almsgiving and faithfulness unto death are required. But all these without love are worthless in God’s sight. Yet, how often intellect, genius, and learning win the higher praises! A bright lad may be a bad boy. Without love teachers may fail.

Christian love is the chief grace. It is very different from natural love to kindred and to the world. It comes from God (Romans 5:5). It is to be shown to men. God requires it; His children need it; we are better, holier, happier for manifesting it. Love to men shows our love to God, as stars reflect the light of the sun. Love is here personified, for no Christian is yet so perfect as to sit for the portrait (verse 4). Love did not write the old proverb, “Forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” Kindness makes real gentlemen. Envy leads to unfairness and cruelty. Jealousy gives the eye a wrong cast. Love hushes boasting, reduces self-display, and takes the wind out of puffing pride. It imparts magnanimity, meekness, and a true estimate of one’s self (Romans 12:16-18; verse 5). In the school of love good behaviour and unselfishness are taught. Her pupils do not take mean advantage of each other, nor quick offence at trifles, nor keep a note-book of evil things. They learn politeness, fairness, self-possession, purity, and candour (verse 6). Love gives joy. Iniquity brings sorrow. We must hate sin (Romans 12:9) while loving the sinner. A loving heart is a home for truth. Falsehood knocks there in vain. Love and truth are boon companions (verse 7). It is hard to say, “Let the righteous smite me” (Psalms 141:5), and to bear a rebuke; it is harder to believe in the justice of it, to hope well of people who injure us, and to wait patiently for God to bring good out of our troubles (Genesis 45:5; Genesis 1:20). Love makes us docile, tolerant, trustful and trustworthy, hopeful, patient. It beareth--roofs over--things which should not be exposed. It is the ivy growing over castles once noisy with crimes (1 Peter 4:8).

Love is the ceaseless grace (verse 8). It is “a flower whose petals never fall off.” In heaven we shall not need the special uses of gifts which are now meant for the Church on earth. These uses shall cease (verses 9, 10). The partial loses itself in the complete. Dawn passes into day. Steps to heaven will be put away when we get there, and have all things that are promised. We are here to grow in knowledge in childhood and employ our gifts till we come to the full stature of Christian manhood (verse 11; Ephesians 4:11-13). Faith now helps us to see images of heavenly things; but it will end in sight. Still there will always be knowledge and trust. Hope will result in possession, and still there will be expectation (verses 12, 13). (W. M. Blackburn, D.D.)

The apostolic doctrine of love

1. This passage stands alone in the writings of St. Paul, both in its subject and its style. It is the climax of the Epistle. The evil tendencies of the Corinthian Church met their true correction in this gift, without which the Christian society would fall to pieces--just as the civil society had appeared to philosophers and statesmen to be doomed to dissolution without φιλία or mutual harmony. Unlike mere rhetorical panegyrics on particular virtues every word tells with double force because aimed against a real enemy. It is as though wearied with discussion against the sins of this Church, Paul had at last found the spell by which they could be overcome, and uttered sentence after sentence with the triumphant “Eureka.”

2. But the very style shows that it rises above any immediate or local occasion. On each side of this chapter argument and remonstrance still rage; but within it all is calm; the sentences move in almost rhythmical melody; the imagery unfolds itself in almost dramatic propriety; the language arranges itself with almost rhetorical accuracy. We can imagine how the apostle’s amanuensis must have paused, to look up into his master’s face at the sudden change in his style, and seen it as it had been the face of an angel, as this vision of Divine perfection passed before him.

The word Αγάπη, is peculiar to the New Testament. The verb is used in classical Greek, but only 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 (probably from its likeness in sound to the Hebrew words to represent ahab and agab, both expressive of passionate affection, drawn from the idea of panting after a desired object. The Greek world exhibited in a high degree the virtue of personal friendship, which was 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 to the modern notion of love (ἐρος) expressed either a merely sensual admiration of physical, or an intellectual admiration of ideal beauty. The Alexandrians expressed benevolence to man by the word “philanthropy” which was, however, 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 them all, is the “love” of the New Testament. It is not religion evaporated into benevolence, but benevolence taken up into religion--love of man for the sake of love to God; love to God showing itself in love to man.

Its origin. It is perhaps not too much to say that it was derived expressly from “the revelations of the Lord.” It is, in all probability, from the great example of the self-sacrificing love shown in the life and death of Christ, that love to man for the sake of love to God is the one great end of existence (John 13:34; John 15:13). Until Christ had lived and died this virtue was almost impossible. The fact of its having come into existence, the urgency with which the apostle dwells upon it, is itself a proof that He had lived and died as none other had lived and died. This is confirmed by observing that the word and idea which thus first appear in the writings of St. Paul receive their full meaning and development in those of St. John, who, without doubt, received them from the example and teaching of Christ.

The contrast between the apostolical view of love and later representations.

1. Usually it is employed for almsgiving, yet this is the very sense with which the apostle expressly contrasts his own employment of the word (verse 3).

2. Sometimes it is used for “toleration” or “forbearance,” as when we speak of a “charitable construction,” in “charity with our neighbours.” But this sense, though founded on “charity thinketh no evil,” and “is not easily provoked,” is inadequate. As there may be almsgiving without love, so there may be toleration without love. Here our conceptions of charity soon come to an end, but this new commandment of Christ and His apostle is exceeding broad. (Dean Stanley.)

Love, charm of

When Dr. Doddridge asked his little daughter, who died so early, why everybody seemed to love her, she answered, “I cannot tell, unless if is because I love everybody.” This was not only a striking but very judicious reply. It accords with the sentiment of Seneca, who gives us a lovecharm. And what do you suppose the secret is? “Love,” says he, “in order to be loved.” No being ever yet drew another by the use of terror and authority. (W. Jay.)

Love, comprehensiveness of

Love is the brightest star in the Christian firmament, and the fairest flower in the garden of God. It comprehends all virtue, honour, goodness, purity, sincerity, magnanimity, and whatever else can adorn the human character. For what is holiness but love supreme? and what is heaven but love perfected? and what are all the Christian virtues and graces but so many modifications of the same Divine principle? Mercy is love sparing the guilty; kindness, love blessing the needy; pity, love sympathising with the sufferer; justice, love rendering to all their due; beneficence, love distributing its bounty; gratitude, love reciprocating its favours; fortitude, love sustaining its burdens; penitence, love bewailing its sinfulness; fidelity, but love performing its promises. And what is faith but love confiding? zeal, but love contending? peace, but love reposing? joy, but love exulting? hope, but love expecting? patience, but love enduring? meekness, but love forbearing? And worship is love adoring the Divine Excellence; prayer, love supplicating its heavenly Father; praise, love pouring its glad melody into the ear of God; preaching, love proclaiming the riches of the love that passeth knowledge; the holy eucharist, love celebrating love’s sublimest mystery and transcending triumph; and all Christian work is love bringing its best sacrifice to the altar of the Love eternal, and laying its richest tribute at the nail-pierced feet. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Love, the essence of Christianity

Gustave Dore said to the Rev. Frederick Harford one day, “My friend, I am a Roman Catholic a professed Roman Catholic. I was baptized in that Church, and I stick to it: but if you wish to know my real religion I will tell it to you. It is contained in the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.” Then he recited it through from the beginning to the end, without hesitation or missing one word. When he had finished he turned to Canon Harford and said, “Have I made any mistakes? and--and, believing in that chapter as I do, might I be considered a Christian?” Canon Harford’s reply was, “Any man living up to that chapter might be called not only Christian, but Christianissimus.”

Love, the essence of religion

Nothing is more common than to find even those who deny the authority of the Holy Scriptures, yet affirming, “This is my religion.” Nay, even a Jew, a Spanish physician, then settled at Savannah, used to say with great earnestness, “Paul of Tarsus is one of the finest writers I have ever read. I wish the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians were written in letters of gold; and I wish every Jew were to carry it with him wherever he went.” He judged (and herein he certainly judged right) that this single chapter contained the whole of true religion. (John Wesley.)

Love: from God the source

As the water exhaled from the sea falls in refreshing rains and reviving dews upon field and forest, meadow and mountain, thirsty soil and withered herbage, and then by a thousand channels flows back again to the sea; so charity, coming forth from God, scatters its blessings among the children of men, and with its gathered revenue of love and praise returns to the bosom of God. God is its Alpha and Omega--the fountain whence it issues, and the ocean where it empties. Love to God is the tree; love to man is the delicious fruit it bears. Love to God is the mountain spring; love to man is the fertilising stream it sends singing through the landscape. We love God for His own sake, man for God’s sake; the child, because we love the Father. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Love: gifts compared with


Have no value in themselves; may occasion mischief; love is intrinsically excellent; gives value to everything.

Do not necessarily make a man useful; love makes him active and self-sacrificing.

Cannot save; love is salvation already begun. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Love: growth and power of

We know that in this world, love, like all the other of the higher emotions, is the weakest when we are young, and that it grows in power with exercise and age. We have to ripen in love as well as in all other things. A youth does not love as a middle-aged person can. Love is a thing first of leaves, then of blossoms, and at last of fruit. We sometimes connect together the manifestations of it which we see in this life, to get a large view of what it will be in the future life. In this world we occasionally see, in parents and brothers and sisters, or experience in ourselves, that which gives us a somewhat accurate conception of the Divine power of love which we shall possess in the world to come. There is nothing which love cannot do. It is the only thing that walks without touching the ground. It never grows weary. Nothing in the soul is superior to it. Let love be an active feeling there, and all the other faculties come eagerly before it, and willingly lay down their crowns and coronets at its feet. It governs without command. All other feelings open to it as flowers to the sun. There are ten thousand things in life from which we gain some idea of what this supereal nature is. What if every soul was affected by every other soul, as some are affected by those who have the mysterious power of sympathy, so that every chord in their nature quivers at the touch, as the chords of a piano quiver when the keys are touched? What if every soul were so royal with this spirit that each word, and look, and posture, and gesture, radiated joy and gladness upon every other soul? How blessed will be the time when there is this commerce, this freedom, this universality of this wonderful heart-power! How doth this Divine emotion cleanse both those who exercise it and those who receive its benefactions! By it God maintains the household. From its secret springs He nourishes the new generations of men. Even afar off from its source it shines with power enough to guide the world and lead men up the ways of civilisation. What, then, shall be its redemptive and educating power in heaven? (H. W. Beecher.)

Love: the gauge of true manhood

I do not distinguish men one from another merely by the difference of their thought-power. Still less do I distinguish them by the difference of their executive power. There must be a deeper gauge than these. Still less do I distinguish them by their external differences, as where one is high and another is low; where one is rich and another is poor; where one is wise and another is unwise. The point where true manhood resides is in the neighbourhood of love. In the copiousness, the variety, the endlessness, the sweetness, and the purity of the element of love, you shall find the measure that God applies discriminating between one and another. (H. W. Beecher.)

Love: importance of

Without love gifts are worthless.

1. They are inefficient.

2. Confer no real honour.

3. Profit us nothing before God.

Sanctified by love they are of inestimable worth.

1. The tongue is touched with fire.

2. The intellect is filled with spiritual light.

3. Faith triumphs over sin.

4. Good works are a sacrifice well pleasing to God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Love: the importance of

Love is the first outgoing of the renewed soul to God--“We love Him, because He first loved us.” It is the sure evidence of a saving work of grace in the soul--“The fruit of the Spirit is love.” It lies at the very foundation of Christian character; we are “rooted and grounded in love.” It is the path in which all the true children of God are found; they “walk in love”--the bond of their mutual union; their hearts are “knit together in love”--their protection in the spiritual warfare; they are to put on “the breastplate of love”--the fulness and completeness of their Christian character; they are “made perfect in love”--the spirit through which they may fulfil all the Divine acquirements; for “love is the fulfilling of the law”; that by which they may become like their Father in heaven, and fitted for His presence; for “God is love,” and heaven is a world of love. (Tryon Edwards, D.D.)

Love: indispensableness of

Though many external virtues may seem to exist without it. There might be--

1. Great gifts of speech.

2. Great grasp of understanding.

3. Great fulness of faith.

4. Great almsgiving.

5. Great martyr enthusiasm--yet with all this if a man has not love he is a spiritual “nothing,” a moral “nobody,” a nonentity in the great realm of being, where whosoever dwells in love dwells in God and God in him.

Because it inspires, ensures, and energises all such virtues. The virtues described are desirable. “Covet them.” But they are only ensured by love, and are certain to be found, and to be found in their fulness, where love is. It is the true inspiration and energiser. Without love such virtues are--

1. Mere sound.

2. Mere appearance “I am nothing”--only the semblance of moral manhood.

3. Mere abortive effort, “it profiteth me nothing”--it is labour in vain. Whereas not one of these virtues but will flourish where love is. St. Augustine’s great saying, “Love, and do what thou wilt” is warranted by “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” (U. R. Thomas.)

Love: extent of

Clever men can tell to a nicety the exact distance between the earth on which we live and the moon; they can even tell just how far the sun is from us. They can even measure how far it is from one of the twinkling stars that shine in the sky at night to another; they know the size of the stars, and their weight. But not even the cleverest of all the clever men that ever lived can say how far one single little loving deed can go, or say where its influence will end. Love is infinite and everlasting. When the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, he that loveth and “doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (Baldwin Brown, B.A.)

Love: the life of the soul

The soul may sooner leave off to subsist than to love; and, like the vine, it withers and dies if it has nothing to embrace. (R. South, D.D.)

Love: no gift like it

This is one of the passages of Scripture which an expositor scruples to touch. The bloom and delicacy passes from the flower in handling. But although this eulogium is its own best interpreter, there are points in it which require explanation and enforcement. Note--

The supremacy of love.

1. The extraordinary gifts of which the Corinthians were so proud may profit the Church, but they are no evidence of the ripe Christian manhood of their possessor.

(1) Suppose I speak all possible languages, and have not love, I am but a mere instrument played upon by another--sounding brass, etc.

(2) Take the gifts of prophecy, miracles, etc. Without love, however, they may profit others, they neither bring me into closer connection with Christ nor give assurance of my sound spiritual condition.

(3) Take almsgiving. The young ruler lacked but one thing: to sell his property and give to the poor. But, says Paul, “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,” etc., I may do this from a love of display, or from an uneasy sense of duty.

(4) But martyrdom? Well, at one period martyrdom became fashionable, just as suicide once became fashionable.

2. Too often it is a man’s snare to judge himself by what he does rather than by what he is. But no eye to advantage or to public opinion can enable a man to love. Love must be spontaneous from the soul’s self, the unconstrained, natural outcome of the real man. Love cannot be got up. It is the result of God entering and possessing the soul. “He that loveth is born of God.” And therefore it is that where love is absent all is absent. And yet how the mistake of the Corinthians is perpetuated from age to age. The Church is smitten with a genuine admiration of talent. Do parents sufficiently impress on their children that all successes at school and in early life are as nothing compared to the more obscure but much more substantial acquisition of a thoroughly unselfish spirit?

Its positive excellence (verses 4-7).

1. It is possible that Paul may have read the eulogium pronounced on love by the greatest of Greek writers five hundred years before: “Love is our lord, supplying kindness and banishing unkindness, giving friendship and forgiving enmity, the joy of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the gods; desired by those who have no part in him, and precious to those who have the better part in him; parent of delicacy, luxury, desire, fondness, softness, grace; careful of the good, uncareful of the evil. In every word, work, wish, fear--pilot, helper, defender, saviour; glory of gods and men, leader best and brightest; in whose foot steps let every man follow, chanting a hymn and joining in that fair strain with which love charms the souls of gods and men.” Five hundred years after Paul another eulogium was pronounced on love by Mohammed: “Every good act is charity; your smiling in your brother’s face; your putting a wanderer in the right road; your giving water to the thirsty, or exhortations to others to do right. A man’s true wealth hereafter is the good he has done in this world to his fellowman. When he dies, people will ask, What property has he left behind him? but the angels will ask what good deeds he has sent before him.” Thomas a Kempis dwells on its varied capacity. “Love,” he says, “ feels no burden, regards not labours, would willingly do more than it is able, pleads not impossibilities, because it feels sure that it can and may do all things. Love is swift, sincere, pious, pleasant, and delightful; strong, patient, faithful, prudent, longsuffering, manly, and never seeking itself; it is circumspect, humble, and upright; sober, chaste, steadfast, quiet, and guarded in all its senses.”

2. Paul’s description of the behaviour of love is drawn as a contrast to the unseemly and unbrotherly conduct of the Corinthians.

Its permanence.

1. As compared with gifts of which the Corinthians were so proud (verse 8). These gifts were for the temporary benefit of the Church. They were the scaffolding which no one thinks of when the building is finished, the school-books which become rubbish when the boy is educated, the prop which the forester removes when the sapling has become a tree. But knowledge? The knowledge of God and of Divine things--is not this permanent? No, says Paul.

(1) When a boy begins the study of Euclid, the first proposition he learns is absolutely accurate and true; he may add to it, but he can never improve upon it. His knowledge is imperfect in amount, but so far as it goes it is absolutely reliable. But when we are walking on a misty morning and see an object at a distance, our knowledge is imperfect in the sense of being dim, uncertain, inaccurate. We see that there is something before us, but whether a man or a gatepost we cannot say. A little nearer we see it is a man, but whether old or young, friend or no friend, we cannot say. Here the growth of our knowledge is from dimness to accuracy. Both the figures used by Paul imply that our knowledge of Divine things is of this latter kind. They loom, as it were, through a mist. We are at present in the state of childhood, which cherishes many notions destined to be exlploded by maturer knowledge.

(2) The other figure is still more precise. The word here rendered “glass” was a common figure among the rabbis to illustrate dimness of vision. If they wished to denote direct and clear vision, they spoke of seeing a thing face to face. They had a common saying, “All other prophets saw as through nine glasses, Moses as through one.” The rabbis, too, bad another saving, “Even as a king, who with common people talks through a veil, so that he sees them, but they do not see him, but when his friend comes to speak to him he removes this veil, so that he might see him face to face, even so did God speak to Moses apparently, and not darkly.”

2. Paul’s crowning testimony to the worth of love is given in verse13. He does not mean that love abides while faith becomes sight and hope fruition. For faith and hope pass away only in one aspect of their exercise. If by faith be meant belief in things unseen, this passes away when the unseen is seen. If hope be taken as referring only to the future state in general, then when that state is reached hope passes away. But faith and hope are really permanent elements of human life, faith being the confidence we have in God, and hope the ever-renewed expectancy of future good. But while faith maintains us in connection with God, love is the enjoyment of God and the partaking of His nature; and while hope renews our energy and guides our aims, it can bring us to no better thing than love. (M. Dods, D.D.)

Love: power and office of

Love confers on the gifts of the Spirit their proper character and work.

1. It renders the unintelligent utterance of ecstasy significant (verse 1).

2. It raises the gifts which are significant and powerful, such as prophecies and faith to the rank of moral virtues (verse 2).

3. It ensures for those gifts which are themselves moral virtues such as kindness to the poor or the sacrifice of one’s life for others; their fitting reward. (Principal Edwards.)

Love: the sum of all virtue

The nature of a truly Christian love. All true Christian love is one and the same in its principle, whatever the objects toward which it may flow.

1. It is all from the same Spirit influencing the heart. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of love, and when He enters the soul love also enters (Romans 15:30; Colossians 1:8; Philippians 2:1; Romans 5:5; 1 John 3:23-24; 1 John 4:12-13). 2, It is from the same motives. Both are loved for God’s sake.

The truth of the doctrine that all virtue is summed up in Christian love. We may argue this--

1. From what reason teaches of the nature of love.

(1) Love will dispose to all proper acts of respect to both God and man.

(a) Love to God will dispose a man to honour, worship, obey, put confidence in, submit to, and walk humbly with Him.

(b) Love to man disposes men to all duties towards their neighbours (Romans 13:10).

(2) Whatever performances or seeming virtues there are without love are unsound and hypocritical. If there be no love in what men do, then there is no true respect to God or men in their conduct; and if so, then certainly there is no sincerity.

2. From what the Scriptures teach us.

(1) Of the law and word of God in general (Romans 13:8; 1 Timothy 1:5; Matthew 22:40).

(2) Of each table of the law in particular (Matthew 22:38; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

3. From what the apostle teaches us viz., that “faith works by love” (Galatians 5:6). By this it is evident--

(1) That true love is an ingredient in true and living faith, and is what is most essential and distinguishing in it. A practical or saving faith is light and heat together, while that which is only a speculative faith is light only.

(2) That all Christian exercises of the heart and works of the life are from love; for we are abundantly taught in the New Testament that all Christian holiness begins with faith in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: We may use this subject in the way of--

1. Self-examination. From love to God springs love to man (1 John 5:1). Have we this love to the children of God? This love leads those who possess it to desire and endeavour to do good to their fellow-men (1 John 3:16-19). Is this spirit, which dwelt in Jesus Christ, in our hearts and lives?

2. Instruction. This doctrine shows us--

(1) What is the right Christian spirit (Luke 9:55). This may, by way of eminence, be called the Christian spirit; for it is much more insisted on in the New Testament than anything else.

(2) What is real Christian experience? Love is the sum and substance of it. When persons experience true comfort and spiritual joy, their joy is the joy of faith and love.

(3) The amiableness of a Christian spirit.

(4) The pleasantness of a Christian life (Proverbs 3:13-17).

(5) The reason why contention tends so much to the ruin of religion (James 3:16).

(6) What a watch and guard should Christians keep against envy and bitterness of spirit! For these things are the very reverse of the real essence of Christianity.

(7) Hence it is no wonder that Christianity so strongly requires us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

3. Exhortation. To seek a spirit of love; to grow in it more and more; and very much to abound in the works of love. (Jonathan Edwards)

Love: the test of religion

Is your religion the religion of--

Of profession.

Of intellect.

Of enthusiasm.

Of good works.

Of orthodoxy.

Or of love? (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Far, but not far enough


How far a man may go in religion, and yet be nothing.

1. We may speak well on religion, and yet be nothing. Beyond all doubt Judas had the power of speaking; and to all appearance there was no difference between his speaking and the speaking of every other of the twelve.

2. We may have knowledge, and be nothing. Had not Balaam great knowledge? Yet he never had the saving grace of God.

3. We may do miracles, and yet be nothing. Did not the magicians in Moses’ time do many wonderful things? Did not our Lord tell us that many in the last day shall say, “Lord, Lord, have we not in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them I never knew you”.

4. We may give all our substance, and yet be nothing in the sight of God. Many in the Middle Ages did so; many an old cathedral or religious house shows still what men did from false principles in the matter of giving money. It is not the quantity of our gifts, but the quality that God regards.

5. We may even die for our opinions, and yet be nothing. Has not many and many an one laid down his life before Juggernaut, and thus showed the sincerity of his belief in his poor, miserable, false idol? There is a zeal that is taught by the Spirit of God, and a zeal also that is “not according to knowledge.” These are solemn things. Let us not be content with a little religion. Remember Lot’s wife--how far she went; remember Demas, Judas Iscariot, the sixth of Hebrews.

What is this grace of charity, without which we are nothing ? I know no more simple definition of charity than this: “the mind that was in Christ Jesus” towards His fellow-men. (Bp. Ryle.)

Verse 2

1 Corinthians 13:2

And though I have the gift of prophecy … and have not charity, I am nothing.

Strong love

These are the words of a man of high culture, who could prophesy and work miracles, and had attained great faith, to the most learned nation in the world. See how he loads the scales and strikes the balance of head and heart !All the rest is as light as a feather compared with love.

Why should love rank thus high?

1. “God is love.” God has knowledge, and wisdom, and power infinite; but He is never said to be knowledge, etc. Love is His essence, the rest are His attributes: and whatever comes nearest to the image of God is the finest condition of man.

2. The greatest deed ever done was the result of “love.”

3. The first-fruit of the Holy Ghost is love. So we have a Trinity of love.

4. What brings salvation? Say that I believe every truth in the Bible. That is all nothing. “The devils believe and tremble.” But when I believe and feel it is all for me, it is mine immediately I love. I cannot help loving when it is so personal to myself, and that moment I am saved.

5. And what moves to good actions and makes them continuous? Love. There are plenty of things which will give impulse and start, but there is only love which will give continuance. “Love,” and only love, therefore, “is the fulfilling of the law”

6. What will be the subject of the great Judgment Day? Love. “Inasmuch as ye have done,” etc.

7. And what will heaven be? Perfect love.

8. And what is the whole summary of the law by which we try ourselves? “Thou shalt love.” That is the great subject of self-examination this Lent.

9. And why are we to be sorry for our sins, and so humble? From sorrow for having been so very ungrateful to so good a God. This is the true spirit of all Lenten exercises, without which it would not be acceptable to God, nor do us any good.

How is this prerequisite for all that is good and pleasing to God, and all that shall make our very being in His sight to be obtained?

1. Take clearer and loving views of God, always waiting and yearning to receive back His prodigal.

2. Take grand views of the power of the Cross. And as you see it, feel “That is all for me.”

3. Cherish every good emotion of the Holy Ghost. Especially look to Him as the love-maker, and ask Him to create love in that heart of yours.

4. And then, as working with Him, who is working in you, do stronger battle with your temper, pride, selfishness.

5. Then go and do some acts of love. Acts make motives, as well as motives make acts. Do acts of love, that you may get the spirit of love.

6. But remember above all that all life, which is life indeed, is the result of union with Him, who is the life. The life of love depends upon that union; without it, love will soon die. Having Christ, you will have love; but the more you have of Christ, the more you will always say, “I am nothing, because Christ is everything.” (J. Vaughan, M.A.)

Love superior to gifts

In its nature.

1. Noble as were these gifts, they were simply intellectual or executive, not moral. So distinct is charity, the moral product of the Spirit’s regenerating power, from these extraordinary gifts, that Paul in this discourse could eliminate it, and represent the highest endowments as existing without it. Look on the prophet of Midian. You can almost feel the thrill of his inspiration. And yet the name of Balaam is a synonym of the wickedness of all who love the wages of unrighteousness. Who can read the story of Jonah without admiration of his message and of contempt for the man? Our Lord gave to His twelve disciples power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, and Judas Iscariot was amongst them. The apostles had power to heal the sick, but not grace enough to prevent them from striving which should be the greatest. They had faith to cast out devils, but they all forsook Him and fled, and one denied Him. In this Corinthian Church, which seems to have been distinguished above all others in miraculous force, these gifts were accompanied with glaring inconsistencies.

2. Charity, on the other hand, is moral. It is the product of the Spirit in the moral nature. It is the single element of holy character; and all moral excellence must be traced back to love, even as under the searching analysis of the spectroscope it has been suggested that all material substances may be traced to a single element.

(1) God is love; but that love differs in its forms of expression with the different relations of its exercise. In relation to right and wrong, justice; in relation to need and suffering, mercy; in relation to pardon, grace.

(2) And so all human goodness is resolved into love.

(a) Love, in relation to God’s majesty, is adoration, worship; in relation to His will, submission; in relation to His command, obedience; to His superiority, humility; to His grace in Christ and to His declarations, faith; to His bestowals, gratitude.

(b) So love, in relation to human need, is beneficence; in relation to injury, meekness; in relation to trials, patience; and in relation to the want and the woe of a lost world for which Christ died, it is the pity and the love and the longing which find expression in intercession and in service.

3. Thus, in its very nature, is charity superior to all gifts. Gifts were a power conferred, charity is the Divine requirement; in gifts, God’s natural attributes are represented; in holy love, His moral perfection. Miraculous gifts are super-imposed by the Spirit. In love the Spirit communicates Himself to us in His own true nature. Love unites the soul in fellowship and sympathy with God, for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God.

In the fact that it was the end for which all, supernatural endowments were given. They were the scaffolding of that temple whose shrine is love. And so gifts of miraculous power would be withdrawn, but love would be eternal. There is no more need of miracles. But the Spirit’s distinctive work continues, and we receive not the power of Christ, but the Spirit of Christ; not the arm or the lips of Christ, but fellowship with the heart of Christ. No miracle so much declares the excellence and the might of the Spirit as the conversion of such a man as Bunyan, the production of such a character as that of John Howard, or such triumphant resignation as that of the dairyman’s daughter. Thus secondary are gifts, and thus pre-eminent is charity, intrinsically good, god-like, enduring. For this let the Church long rather than for the return of miracle, that thus, “ye being rooted and grounded in love,” etc. Conclusion:

1. There is entering into the religious thinking and experience of our time an element which greatly needs the antidote of this discussion. Men are eagerly gazing for prodigies of the Spirit, miracles of healing, etc.

2. So also what claims and aims to be a superior type of piety, places emphasis on what relates to intellect and power, rather than on character. Natural gifts now, like those that were supernatural, are desirable. Consecrated in love, they shall be sources of a princely Christian power; but gifts do not indicate the genuineness or the degree of holy devotion. Jesus has said that in the great day “many will say unto Me, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name,” etc. (A. H. Coolidge.)

The worthlessness of gifts without love

Prophecy--i.e., preaching. Great power of setting forth the truths of the gospel often co-exists with a bitter, exclusive, uncharitable spirit. Has not the hatred of theologians become a byword? Look at the language of so-called religious publications, and judge by it of that which is current where they circulate. What is our religious influence upon the world without, with all our preaching, religious meetings, reports, pleadings for good and for God? Are not our hospitals, reformatories, missions, church-buildings, struggling or languishing--striving to exist by continually strained artificial appeals from the pulpit and from the platform? Is it not true that, having this gift of utterance in abundance, yet as to any worthy effect on the vast mass of wealth and talent about us we are next to nothing? And this because of our want of love.

The understanding of mysteries and all knowledge.

1. What St. Paul intended we may gather from his own expressions, viz., the mystery of God’s purpose in revealing the gospel to the Gentiles; “in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He refers, therefore, to sacred things, and the knowledge of the truths of salvation.

2. There is such a thing as a very accurate and thorough knowledge of Christian doctrine; nay, more, a power of reasoning able to enter thoroughly into, and carry further, speculations on the deep things of God; and yet all this taken up and carried on in a cold and selfish and unloving spirit. Some of the soundest theologians have been some of the keenest haters. It is perhaps one of the commonest temptations of those who are much versed in theology to forget the necessity of allowing for those who differ from them. And what have been the consequences?

(1) A considerable portion of the knowledge of Divine things has remained shut up as the possession of one or other of the Churches.

(2) A proficient in doctrinal distinctions has almost always been a person dreaded and shunned as exclusive and narrow-minded.

Faith and power to work miracles.

1. Faith is realising belief in the truth of God. The faithful man not only yields assent to, but believes and lives in, God’s revelation concerning His Son. And that no less than this is meant is evident; for Paul’s supposition is dealt with also by our Lord, when He says, “No man that can do a miracle in My name can speak lightly of Me.”

2. I suppose, if we are to translate what is said into the language of our own day, we have a man working by means of faith great victories over himself and others, mighty in word and deed; and yet such an one is nothing. Why? Because these spiritual endowments are held and exercised in an unloving spirit. Thus even Divine truth loses its power for good: with such an one, even the birth of the Spirit is cut off in mid-youth, and comes to an untimely end: beneath such an one, even the Rock of Ages crumbles away like the shifting sand.

(1) We uphold essentials in a wrong spirit. Is our usual behaviour to, and method of speaking of, the so-called Unitarian such as to induce him to re-examine the grounds of a faith which can bring forth such fruits?

(2) We put that first which should be second. The first and indispensable care for every Christian and every Christian body is the spirit of love. No difference of belief can be truly conscientious unless it be subordinated to the spirit of love. If you are a Christian, you must love me before you can conscientiously differ from me. (Dean Alford.)

The life of the affections

1. Ours is an age of great intellectual activity. In former times, first physical strength, then birth or hereditary rank, then and almost till now, wealth, have successively been the measures of greatness. But now the aristocracy of the world is an aristocracy of intellect. But there is danger that, while we rejoice in having found something better than men used to seek and strive for, we may not recognise that which alone is supremely good. Religion is the life of the affections; and in the reverence now paid to intellect there is danger that religion be undervalued, and that the affections, which are its throne, receive much less than their due regard and cultivation.

2. By the religious life I mean a life, not of mere proprieties, but of love. It includes, first, the thankful recognition of a present God, and the exercise of the affections in worship and obedience; then and thence, the cherishing of sincere brotherly love towards our fellow-men.

The life of the affections is essential to the full development and healthy working of the intellect. The affections are our highest faculties. They have the nearest view of truth, and the strongest hold upon it. Of the men who have essentially connected their names with the progress of the race, there has been hardly one whose mind was not trained by religious faith. There exists an essential connection of cause and effect between the life of the heart and that of the mind, and the highest walks of intellectual greatness cannot be reached without the keenness, breadth, and loftiness of vision which religion alone can supply. There are many men who exert no intellectual influence, simply because they have no moral power. They are shrewd, well-informed, and of admirable executive capacity; and yet you cannot render them confidence, because their views are all sordid, narrow, and selfish.

Compare the life of the affections and that of the intellect as to the promise of success and attainment. In every path of intellectual effort the prizes are but for few. But the high places of moral excellence are within the reach of all. How much nearer absolute perfection can we approach in the moral than in the intellectual life! Our growth in knowledge is growth in conscious ignorance. But of the life of the affections, of that love which mounts to the throne of God, and excludes none of His children from its embrace, the Divine Teacher has said, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The wisest men have always been outgrown in a few generations. We look down on all ancient wisdom as men used to look up to it; and future generations will learn in their infant schools truths that have but just dawned upon the greatest minds of the present day. But a good man the world never outgrows, never looks down upon.

Compare the life of mere intellect with that of the afffctions as to the power of resisting temptation. It is a common idea that a clear mind and an accurate perception of the qualities and tendencies of actions are enough to save one from moral degradation. But I have known men, second to none of our day in mental power and culture, ensnared in palpable and gross meanness, and many of the highest mental endowments sleep in early graves dug by their own profligacy. But the affections, fixed on a present God, and filling the life with charity, have power over every meaner propensity of our nature. The soul that prays has ever at hand a name in which it can bid the tempter depart.

The life of intellect has its meridian and then its decline. One must expect to see more recent wisdom preferred to his own. And he who is thus set aside, if possessed of no moral resources, grows almost uniformly unhappy and misanthropic. But moral qualities fade not with declining years. The plants of our Heavenly Father’s planting are all evergreens. Nor yet is the good man, in his old age, thrust aside, or willingly spared from his post of duty. Veneration and love for him only grow the more intense and tender as his steps tremble on the margin of eternity.

It becomes every prudent man to take some account of that only event, death, which is sure to all. Did you know death to be close at hand, as it may be, is there anything in mere attainments which would nerve you to meet the last hour with serenity, confidence, and hope? (A. Peabody, D.D.)


The greatest thing in the universe is mind, and the greatest thing in mind is love. This love, however--

1. Is not the gregarious sentiment which links us to, and gives us an interest in, our species. All sentient creatures have this. It is a blessing, but not a virture. Man is no more to be praised or blamed for its existence than he is for the colour of his skin.

2. Nor is it theological love; that affection which one has for those of his faith and sect, but which will look coldly upon all besides--which reduces the gospel to a dogma, and man to a bigot.

3. Nor is it sacerdotal love--that love which speaks from ecclesiastical chairs about the cure of souls and Church extension, but whispers no accents of sympathy for the woes of the race.

4. But it is a generous moral sympathy for the race springing from love to the Creator. “If a man love God, he will love his brother also.” Jesus was the incarnation of this love, the love which alone can confer real worth on humanity. Man, without this love, is nothing--

In relation to nature. As nature would be nothing to a man whose senses were sealed up, or whose reflective faculty was paralysed, so it is nothing to a man who has not a loving heart. To such a man the world is merely a larder to feed him, a wardrobe to clothe him, a market to enrich him, or, at most, a riddle to amuse his intellect. Love entering the heart of a selfish man touches all nature into a new form. To the sensual, nature is gratification; to the thinker, it is theory; to the loving, it is heaven.

In relation to Providence. If I have not love, Providence ministers no real good to me. I am amidst its influences, not like the healthy man, feeling “the buoyant throbbing of new life flowing from salubrious wind and quickening scenes, but like one whose system is the subject of a mortal disease, having no power to appropriate the healthy elements. As the mortally diseased must say, I am nothing to the health-giving economy of nature, so the unloving must say, I am nothing in relation to the spiritual blessings of Providence. But love in the heart makes Providence a minister for good--and for good only. Like the bee, it transmutes the bitterest fruit into honey; like the AEolian harp, it turns the wildest wind into music. “Tribulation worketh patience,… because the love of God is shed abroad, in the heart.”

In relation to Christianity.

1. Christianity is a revelation of love, and none but the loving can rise to its meaning. Mind destitute of this generous element, however powerful in philosophy, etc., will be as incapable of understanding it as the wayward boy the workings of a mother’s heart, or the frozen-souled miser Howard’s philanthropy.

2. Still more, that “which renders us incapable of entering into its meaning, unfits at the same time from applying its overtures. It is a system of “great and precious promises,” “which offer God’s strength in weakness, His guidance in perplexity, etc. But is there one who, uninspired with love, dares apply a single promise?

In relation to the community of the good. Wherever they exist they have the same bond of union, the same principle of inspiration, and the same standard of worth. What is that? Wealth, learning, talent, birth? Such is the corrupt state of society here, that if a man have any of these, especially the first, he is recognised as a respectable member, however cold and callous his heart. But in the great community of the good love is everything. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Intellect without love

How much can it achieve?

1. It is capable of inspiration.

2. Can penetrate to mysteries.

3. Acquire all knowledge.

How little is it worth? It cannot--

1. Change its heart.

2. Conquer sin.

3. Please God.

4. Secure heaven. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Knowledge without love

There is a well-authenticated tradition of a famous argument between that great scholar and divine Bishop Horsley, and Dr. Cyril Jackson, dean of Christ Church. They sat late into the night debating the question whether God could be better reached through the exercise of the intellect, or through the exercise of the affection. Unwillingly, but step by step, the bishop, who advocated the claims of intellect, retreated before the arguments of his friend, till at length, in a spirit which did no less honour to his humility than to his candour, he exclaimed, “Then my whole life has been one great mistake.” Certainly that conclusion had been already anticipated by St. Paul; and the extreme antagonist theory, whether put forward by primitive Gnostics, or by paradoxical schoolmen, or by the cold sceptics of the last ago, has never found an echo in the great heart of the human family. For men perceive that a pure intellectualism is apt to fall short even of the lower measures of duty. When it is unbalanced by a warm heart and a vigorous will, the mere cultivation of mind makes a man alternately selfish and weak. Selfish; if, for instance, to the prosecution of a private speculation or to the assertion of a private theory, the faith, the moral vigour, the broadest and highest interests of others are sacrificed or postponed. Weak; when the entire man is cultivated intellect and nothing else, neither love nor resolution; when the clearness of intellectual perception contrasts grimly with the absence of any practical effort; when mental development, instead of being the crowning grace of a noble character, is but as an unseemly and unproductive fungus, that has drained out to no purpose the life and strength of its parent soul. Instead of protecting and illustrating that Truth which really nerves the will for action, intellect has too often amused itself with pulverising all fixed convictions. It has persuaded itself that it can dispense with those high motives, without which it is itself too cold and incorporeal a thing to be of practical service in this human world. It has learnt to rejoice in its own selfish if not aimless energy; but it really has abandoned the highest work of which it was capable; it has left to an unintellectual enthusiasm, to men of much love, if of inferior mental cultivation, the task of stimulating and guiding the true progress of mankind. (Canon Liddon.)

Faith and love

1. What is charity? St. Paul answers by giving a great number of properties of it. Which of all these is it, for if it is all at once, surely it is a name for all virtues? And what makes this conclusion still more plausible is that St. Paul calls charity “the fulfilling of the law”: and our Saviour makes our whole duty consist in loving God and our neighbour. And St. James calls it “the royal law”: and St. John says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”

2. It is well, by way of contrast, to consider the description of faith in Hebrews 11:1-40, which starts with a definition of it, and is then illustrated in a series of instances. How then is it that faith is of so definite a character, and love so large and comprehensive?

3. Now the reason is what at first sight is the difficulty. The difficulty is whether, if love be such as here described, it is not all virtues at once. In one sense it is, and therefore St. Paul cannot describe it more definitely. It is the root of all holy dispositions, and grows and blossoms into them: they are its parts; and when it is described, they of necessity are mentioned. Love is the material out of which all graces are made, and as being such, it will last for ever. “Charity.” or love, “never faileth.” Faith and hope are graces of an imperfect state, and they cease with that state; but love is greater, because it is perfection. Faith will be lost in sight, and hope in enjoyment; but love will increase more and more to all eternity. Faith and hope are means by which we express our love: we believe God’s Word, because we love it; we hope after heaven, because we love it. Faith, then, and hope are but instruments or expressions of love; but as to love itself, we do not love because we believe, for the devils believe, yet do not love; nor do we love because we hope, for hypocrites hope, who do not love. Balaam had faith and hope, but not love. “May I die the death of the righteous”! is an act of hope. “The word that the Lord putteth into my mouth, that will I speak,” is an act of faith; but his conduct showed that neither his faith nor his hope was loving. The servant in the parable, who fell down at his lord’s feet, and begged to be excused his debt, had both faith and hope. He believed his lord able, and he hoped him willing, to forgive him. But he had neither love of God nor of his brother. There are then two kinds of faith in God, a good and a worthless; and two kinds of hope, good and worthless: but there are not two kinds of love of God. In the text it is said, “Though I had all faith, yet without love I am nothing”: it is nowhere said, “Though I have all love, without faith I am nothing.” Love, then, is the seed of holiness, and grows into all excellences, not indeed destroying their peculiarities, but making them what they are.

4. But here it may be asked, whether Scripture does not make faith, not love, the root, and all graces its fruits. I think not. In our Lord’s parable of the Sower we read of persons who, “when they hear, receive the word with joy,” yet having no “root,” fall away. Now, receiving the word with joy, surely implies faith; faith, then, is certainly distinct from the root. However, it is allowable to call faith the root, because, in a certain sense at least, works do proceed from it. And hence Scripture speaks of “faith working by love.” And in this chapter we read of “faith, hope, and charity,” which seems to imply that faith precedes charity (see also 1 Timothy 1:5). In what sense, then, is faith the beginning of love, and love of faith? I observe faith is the first element of religion, and love, of holiness; and as holiness and religion are distinct, yet united, so are love and faith. Faith is to love as religion to holiness; for religion is the Divine law as coming to us from without, as holiness is the acquiescence in the same law as written within. Love is meditative, tranquil, gentle, abounding in all offices of goodness and truth; and faith is strenuous and energetic, formed for this world, combating it, training the mind towards love, fortifying it in obedience, and overcoming sense and reason by representations more urgent than their own. Moreover, it is plain that, while love is the root out of which faith grows, faith by receiving the wonderful tidings of the gospel, and presenting before the soul its sacred objects, expands our love, and raises it to a perfection which otherwise it could never reach. And thus our duty lies in faith working by love; love is the sacrifice we offer to God, and faith is the sacrificer. Yet they are not distinct from each other except in our way of viewing them. Priest and sacrifice are one; the loving faith and the believing love. Faith at most only makes a hero, but love makes a saint; faith can but put us above the world, but love brings us under God’s throne; faith can but make us sober, but love makes us happy. (J. H. Newman, D.D.)

Faith and charity

The unity of the Bible is a unity of spirit within a changeful individual variety. The writers care little for seeming contradiction. St. James and St. Paul would have smiled if they heard their several views of faith pitted against one another. They would have said, “We are at root agreed, but we each follow a different radius from the same centre.” St. Paul would have been exceedingly surprised if he had heard that the text was considered as in the slightest degree lessening the full value of Christ’s saying, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,” etc. In fact, St. Paul balances this statement as Christ Himself would have done, and we shall follow him to-day, and balance the glory of faith by the glory of charity. The phrase is strange on the lips of the apostle who, more than all the others dwelt on faith; but for that very reason it has additional force. Note--

The need of this balance.

1. There have been times when faith has been insisted on, and love put in the background. Men had faith--they did remove mountains--but they grew to be nothing because they lost love, and the mountains were only removed to be rebuilt. Wherever we look in the history of religion we find that faith without love does nothing for the progress of man.

2. There have been times when love has been so insisted on as to put the necessity for a clearly conceived statement of faith into the background.

(1) Such teaching made religious life first too sentimental, and then often hysterical. The idea of God lost the sternness necessary to check sin, and the result was a widespread immorality.

(2) Another form of the same thing is found in those who maintain that love to man is enough, without faith in God; and the result is that while the body is helped and the mind strengthened, the soul, left untouched, grows hard. The history of philanthropy without faith in God is written in loss of the culture of the highest feelings, in despondency, and often in revolutionary excess. Mazzini saw that with regard to the French Revolution. Faith in God, in his view and in that of all great prophets, was necessary as the balance of love of man.

Faith in God is nothing without love of man, and nothing without love of God.

1. It is nothing without love of man.

(1) There is a faith without love which takes scorn for its companion. It arises chiefly in those who have become one-sided from having been brought up in a closed circle of opinions. They despise then those who contradict them, just as the one-sided scientist despises those who deny theories which seem proved to him, or as the extremely cultured person has scorn of him whom he calls a Philistine. The religious man suffers more than the rest, for the very life of his religion is love to man, and he ceases, in proportion as he loses love, to be religious at all. With scorn, how can you befit all things for men, believe and hope all things for them, endure all things that they may advance? The faith in God which has in it any scorn of others is without charity, and is nothing, and you who have, or seem to have it, are also nothing.

(2) Another kind of faith which has a tendency to lose love--the impetuous faith. It is full of love to man, of longings for his progress. It believes and hopes all things for all men, and in idea it does not fail in love. But in practical life it sometimes sins against love for the very sake of love. Suppose that a man who feels that faith in God, as a Father of men, and in immortality as the destiny of man, are the very pillars of the universe, meet those who quietly deny these truths, he will feel this denial, not as a personal insult, as the man who scorns others does, but as an injury done to the whole human race he loves. But the intensity of his feeling will lead him into violence of his words; and forgetting that the question is for God, the advocate of charity forgets that charity doth not behave itself unseemly, and does not seek her own. The result is, his faith and he are for the time nothing. He has done harm to God’s cause, and to his own influence. What should be his guard?

(a) He should remember that the questions he supports do not stand by his support, but by God’s. He should have truer faith; for in losing love he has also in reality lost faith. If his faith were firm, he would not think that a few doubts or many sceptics could shake the pillars of heaven.

(b) And he should recall in society the words, “Love beareth all things.” Make love the ceaseless companion of faith, and then faith will not fail. Make faith intense enough, and then love will not fail.

2. There is a faith in God without love of God, which is also nothing.

(1) Faith in a creed only, and not in a Divine Spirit that dwells within us. Such a faith leaves you a nothing, and in itself it is nothing also--the mere froth of the wave. But love of God in marriage with faith in a creed about Him are living powers. It is all the difference between saying, “I believe that the seamen of England in some small ships destroyed the great Armada, and it is an interesting story,” and saying, “I believe it, and I love my nation for it; I rejoice to belong to a people capable of such great doing, and every drop of my blood thrills when I hear the tale.” That is faith and love together, and it produces results in thought and action. So mere faith in God’s fatherhood is only assent to a statement; but when we feel Him as our Father, our whole heart, brimming over with love, grows passionate with desire to be like Him, and do His will.

(2) Faith in God without love of Him may be faith in an abstract idea to which we give His name. We may confess Him as the Thought that makes the universe, or as the Order that keeps it in harmony, or as the Movement that builds or unbuilds it. And it is wise and right to so believe. But, first, it is not a belief which will do for the whole of life. It is not human; it may do for rocks and stones and trees, but not for men, women, and children. It may do to explain the earthquake and the outburst of the morning, but not the shattered heart or the rapture of the soul. It may satisfy us as we see the building of the crystal, but it will not satisfy us as we watch the building up of our child’s character. Nor will it satisfy us as we consider through ages past the upbuilding of the human race, for into that upbuilding an almost infinite disorder seems to enter--sin and sorrow, and it would seem aimless sacrifice. Oh, then, in order to be at rest, to be able to work and worship with hope and joy, to have the heart to be something and not nothing, we must add love of God to faith in God. For only when we love Him do we understand and feel that He loves us, and that His love will make clear and right at last, not only the tangle of our child’s character, but the tangled web of the whole world of men. (Stopford A. Brooke, M.A.)

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 13:3

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and … give my body to be burned.

True charity

“Though i bestow all my goods to feed the poor.” Literally, “bestow all my substance in food”: turn it all into charitable doles. Well, all this lavish benevolence will bring no profit if unaccompanied with love.

1. A man may be liberal from the mere bent of his natural disposition.

(1) “But is it not a blessed thing to have such a disposition? “Yes; but the brightest lamp leaves many corners dark and cheerless, while the bright day spring flows into every nook. So it is with the human character, according as natural liberality, or Divine love, prompts it to action. Under the first, much may be bright and lovely, but there will ever be left lurking spots of darkness--enmities, prejudices, partialities, etc.; whereas, if lighted up by Divine love, all these will be resisted and vanish by degrees, and the man will become just and large-hearted. The naturally liberal may give to satisfy his wish and ease his desire of giving; true Christian charity gives in self-denial, often withholding where nature prompts to give; often giving where nature would fain withhold.

(2) Of those who bestow largely without the spirit of love, the indiscriminate almsgiver is one of the chief examples. Not one of the characteristics of love here described is in operation upon him. The indolent giving way to an amiable propensity, the hypocritical getting rid of a troublesome duty, must not for an instant be confounded with the yearning and painstaking self-denial of Christian love.

2. A man may bestow all his goods to feed the poor, out of motives of mere display.

(1) “But is it not a laudable thing to give as befits a man’s station and income?” That depends on the motive. One man bestows up to the mark which is required of him. If he goes further than this, he expects, and gets, no small share of credit. But in this I can see nothing laudable. But another man bestows as responsible to God. He acts not up to, but down upon his earthly position; not as sparing that which is his own, but administering that which is not his own. Now, love is set free, and in that alone is capable of working great and lasting good.

(2) But such is the infirmity of our nature, that the existence of a motive is by no means a guarantee for its full operation. There may be conscientious bestowal in a hard, rigid spirit of duty, without kindliness of heart or manner, just as the seed may appear in the plant, but after all be nipped by unkindly skies and winds. And of a bestowal so defective, what our text says is true. Note how true it is found to be in our public legal provision for the poor. Not that we could in our present state of society do without such a provision. But no one thanks us for it, no one is softened by it: all look to it as a sort of right, and feel no gratitude to its bestowers.

“If i give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing”--i.e., all toil, all sacrifice, etc. How different would have been the history of the world and the Church, if this had been borne in mind by Christians!

1. How many lamentable instances have we seen of self-denial on a vast scale, followed by rule and prescription, where every sign of the spirit of love was wanting; nay, where hatred and rancour not only burned in men’s breasts, but led on to wars and massacres, nominally for the truth’s sake! On what is the greatest amount of self-denying labour spent among men? What answer could be given, but that it is but after all for ulterior objects?

2. And then rise to a higher kind of sacrifice. How often do we see men earnestly devoting themselves, even without any prospect beyond, to the interest or advancement of some favourite scheme, the maintenance of one side of some debated question? Sometimes substance, and family, and peace of mind, are offered generously up; many a man is a wreck of some hopeless voyage, but evermore fitting himself out again for undertaking it afresh. Then again, as in the former case, but here even more, there is temptation, from the very glory of self-sacrifice, to make it unworthily. Often have the words of our text been literally verified. The body has been burned, but no flame of love was lit up in the soul: the martyr has met death with smiles perhaps on his persecutors, but with unsubdued polemical hatred. And many who have not reached this consummation have stripped themselves of all they had, and have gone forth into deserts, there to become renowned in the eyes of the Church, and thence to launch their anathemas upon others, wiser perhaps and better than themselves. Well indeed might it be written, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. And just in proportion to this character of our hearts is the necessity of constant and unwearied watchfulness, that in our own case neither our bestowals nor our self-denials may be without love, but indeed all prompted and regulated by it. And how may this be? Now as at the first, by the Spirit of God. (Dean Alford.)

Jewish charity

The Jews, according to Maimomides, reckoned eight degrees of charity in almsgiving. The first was, to give, but with reluctance or regret. The second was, to give cheerfully, but not in proportion the need of the recipient. The third was, to give proportionately to the need, but not without solicitation and entreaty on the part of the poor. The fourth was, to give unsought and unsolicited, but putting the gift into the hand of the receiver, and that even in the presence of others, exciting in him the painful feeling of shame. The fifth was, to give in such a way that the beneficiary should know his benefactor without being known of him, as those did who folded money in the corners of their cloaks that the poor as they passed might take it unperceived. The sixth was, to give knowing the objects of the giver’s bounty, but remaining unknown to them, after the manner of these who conveyed their alms by some secret agency to the dwellings of the indigent, making it impossible for them to ascertain the source of their relief. The seventh was, to give both unknowing and unknown, like those benevolent persons who deposited their gifts privately in a place prepared for that purpose in the temple and in every synagogue as you are supposed to do in the alms-boxes at the door, from which the most respectable poor families were regularly supplied without ostentation or observation. The eighth and most meritorious of all was, to anticipate charity by preventing poverty, to help the worthy brother by satisfying the claims of his creditors, assisting him to redeem some forfeited portion of his inheritance, furnishing him remunerative employment, or putting him in the way of obtaining it, so that he should be able to secure an honest livelihood without the hard necessity of holding out an empty hand to the rich. These were the eight steps in their golden stairway of charity, but the highest of them does not rise to the level of the Pauline platform; for a man might give all his goods to feed the poor, and yet have no charity; and wanting this, his utmost alms, showered from the top of the ideal stairs, shall profit him nothing. (J. Cross, D.D.)

The greatest performances and sufferings vain without charity

There may be great performances and sufferings without love.

1. Great performances (Philippians 3:3; Luke 18:11-12). Many have been exceeding magnificent in their gifts for pious and charitable uses from fear of hell, hoping thereby to make atonement for their sins, others from pride, or from a desire for reputation.

2. Great sufferings. Many have undertaken wearisome pilgrimages, or spent their lives in deserts, or suffered death, of whom we have no reason to think they had any sincere love in their hearts. In the Crusades thousands went voluntarily to all the dangers of the conflict, in the hope of thus securing the pardon of their sires and the rewards of glory hereafter. And history tells us of some that have yielded themselves to voluntary death, out of mere obstinacy of spirit. Many among the heathen have died for their country, and many as martyrs for a false faith.

Whatever men may do or suffer, they cannot make up for the want of love.

1. It is not the work or the suffering that is, in itself, worth anything in the sight of God. “The Lord looketh not on the outward appearance, but on the heart.”

2. Whatever is done or suffered, yet if the heart is withheld from God, there is nothing really given to Him.

3. Love is the sum of all that God requires of us. And it is absurd to suppose that anything can make up for the want of that which is the sum of all that God requires. As to things without the heart, God speaks of them as not being the things that He has required (Isaiah 1:12), and demands that the heart be given to Him, if we would have the external offering accepted.

4. If we make a great show of respect and love to God, in the outward actions, while there is no sincerity in the heart, it is but hypocrisy and practical lying unto the Holy One (Psalms 78:36).

5. Whatever may be done or suffered, if there be no sincerity in the heart, it is all but an offering to some idol. In all such offerings, something is virtually worshipped; and whatever it is, be it self, or our fellow-men, or the world, that is allowed to usurp the place that should be given to God, and to receive the offerings that should be made to Him.

Conclusion: It becomes us to use the subject--

1. In the way of self-examination. If it be indeed so--that all we can do or suffer is in vain, if we have not sincere love to God in the heart--then it should put us upon searching ourselves whether or no we have this love in sincerity in our hearts. There are these things that belong to sincerity--

(1) Truth--that is, that there be that truly in the heart of which there is the appearance and show in the outward action (Psalms 51:6; John 1:47).

(2) Freedom. Christ is chosen and followed because He is loved.

(3) Integrity--wholeness. Where this sincerity exists, God is sought, and religion is chosen with the whole heart.

(4) Purity.

2. To convince the unregenerate of their lost condition. If by all you can do or suffer, you cannot make up for the want of love, then it will follow that you are in an undone condition till you have obtained God’s regenerating grace to renew a right spirit within you.

3. To exhort all earnestly to cherish sincere Christian love in their hearts. If it be so, that this is of such great and absolute necessity, seek it with diligence and prayer. God only can bestow it. (Jon. Edwards.)

Goodness without love

Its common forms.

1. Benevolence.

2. Attachment to the truth.

Its worthlessness.

1. It cannot please God.

2. It fails in motive.

3. It profits nothing. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Vanity of self-immolation

E.g., when a Buddhist ascetic leaps upon the blazing pyre, immolating his body that he may immortalise his spirit, what does it profit him? Nothing; the fanatic is in love with himself, and with no one else; he seeks his own soul happiness, whether in the shape of a coming deification or a present glorification of self. It is quits possible that this image of a Buddhist priest with his “ineffectual fires” suggested the thought of this text to Paul; more especially as this text was written in 57 A.D., before the outbreak of Nero’s fiery persecution. The apostle, just before his visit to Corinth, had been staying in Athens, where he had certainly seen an altar to the “unknown God,” and had probably seen or heard about, “the tomb of the Indian,” with its epitaph, “Here lies Zarmanochegas, who made his own self immortal.” (Canon Evans.)


The cynic philosopher Peregrinus, who was for a considerable time a Christian, burnt himself publicly at the Olympic games, in imitation, as he said, of Hercules; ending a life of extravagance and villainy by an act of the wildest vainglory and ambition. During the dark ages it was no uncommon thing for religious bigots to prove the tenets of their faith by the fervency of their zeal, and their obstinacy was often taken for strength of argument. Under the pontificate of Alexander VI a certain monk in Italy offered himself to be burnt in confirmation of opinions which he professed. This was received as an incontestable proof of their truth, till another monk arose, as obstinate as the former, and made the same offer to establish opinions directly contrary. The history of all ages and countries abounds with examples of inflexible zealots who are ready to burn others, or to be burnt themselves, for the cause which they espouse; for zeal hath no necessary connection with truth, and as little with charity. (A. McDonald.)

Verses 4-8

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Charity suffereth long, and is kind.

Christian love

Suffers long. The Greek denotes having the power “to hold the mind long,” i.e., it is the opposite to rash anger. There are persons who, when they are afflicted by Providence, or provoked by man, are unable to hold their minds. Like the water which has mastered the dam, so do some men’s unhappy feelings rise and overspread their families and neighbourhood. But when one has failed in his duty towards the charitable man it may grieve him, but he seeks for grace to bear the trial. He holds his mind long; and while not forgetful of the demands of justice, is influenced by the spirit of forgiveness.

Is not easily provoked. If a man’s spirit be fully imbued with an affectionate complacency towards God and man, he is not thrown into bitter resentments by unjust usage. He is “slow to wrath.” Provocations must and will arise. The state of the health, mind, temperature, circumstances, will make a man more disposed to fretfulness or reserve, one day than another. “Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” A family pique has overthrown an empire, and a bodily sensation directed the course and given the feeling to a man’s life! But the spirit of the charitable man does not soon become acid. His injured feelings do not ferment into vinegar.

Beareth all things, or “covereth all things.” “Hatred stirreth up strife, but love covereth all sins.” As you would conceal a defect in your person, or cover up what was offensive on your grounds, so does the spirit of the gospel lead us to hide a brother’s infirmities from the animadversion of others. The spirit of envy and revenge would lead you to speak of the misconduct of others with exasperated feelings. But here an objection has arisen. “How unmanly is this charity which you commend! Are we then to be trampled upon? “Not so: love can feel injured, and seek redress, but not recklessly and bitterly; and when in pursuit of her rights she is all the while calm and kind and universally benevolent.

Endureth all things. Christian love remains under its burdens. Bad usage from man and affliction from God it teaches us to sustain. Let the conduct of Christ illustrate the spirit of His own religion. He was not impatient with the ignorant, or revengeful upon His persecutors. (Isaac Taylor.)

Features of love

These features are--

Manifold. There are some landscapes that are almost tame; some faces not featureless, but not marked and vivid. Not so with love. It is the landscape of Devonshire rather than Lincolnshire; of Switzerland rather than Holland. Read this description--there is no monotony, eye bright, brow clear, lips strong and definite.


1. There is the presence of all that could complete character. Patience, kindness, joy, fortitude. “Strength and beauty are in the sanctuary”; the full diapason of the music of morals.

2. There is the absence of any element that could be disfigurement or discord. “Envieth not, is not puffed up,” etc.

Beautiful. There is not one virtue in this description that is not like a splendid Corinthian column. Nothing deforms the landscape, nothing disfigures the face. Rather every element heightens the loveliness. There is not only a wealth, but a wealth of the beauties of love.

Permanent. “The grass withers, the flowers fade”; even “the human face Divine” grows old, the brow wrinkled, the eye dim, the mouth weak. The beauty of love is imperishable. “Love never faileth.” The word “faileth” pictures either a flower whose petals never fall off, or an actor “who is never hissed off the stage, has its part to play on the stage of eternity.” (U. R. Thomas.)

Christian love

Why has the Church assigned this chapter to Quinquagesima Sunday, the Sunday immediately preceding the season of Lent? We shall be able to answer that question if we consider what the season of Lent means, and why it has been set apart as a season of special humiliation, self-mortification, and prayer. Lent is the introduction to Good Friday and Easter Day. It is meant to prepare us better to realise and understand the great mystery of godliness, the unsearchable riches of God’s truth, so beautifully summed up in the words of Jesus (Luke 18:31-33). We cannot take one step forward into the knowledge of God’s truth without love. Love is the very first condition without which it is impossible to see even the outside of the great mystery of godliness. Let a man look at the Cross of Christ, and without the light of love it will be foolishness to him, Or let him look at the power of God manifested in the resurrection of Christ, and without the light of love: it will be a riddle to him. Love is the microscope which reveals the hidden and deep things which the careless eye scans without any sense of their inexpressible beauty and value. You have noticed, have you not, on a calm and sunny day, how softly and how beautifully the clear bright sky above us is reflected in the still surface of some deep pool of water? The sky, you know, is, as it were, received into the bosom of the water. Now, God’s truth is just like the sky above; and the heart that is full of love--love to God and love to man--the heart that is steeped in love is just like the still surface of the deep and steady pool. It can receive the truth into itself and reflect it. If we suffer the gusts of passion, of hatred, and envy, and malice, and uncharitableness, and ill-will to sweep over our hearts and ruffle them, we shall become quite incapable of receiving and discerning the truth. We shall be no longer like the steady lake which receives the glorious sky so beautifully into its bosom, and mirrors it back so faithfully. Surely, then, we have great need to pray for love; we have great need to pray that God will send His Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity. Where shall we find anything fairer, anything pleasanter to behold or more joyful to possess than charity? Is selfishness, or ill-will, or pride, or vanity, or any other thing that is not of God, either more beautiful to look upon, or more delightful to hold, than charity? Oh, then, let us, as the apostle bids in the first words of the next chapter, “follow after charity.” So doing, we shall be laying hold of that which is imperishable. (Canon D. J. Vaughan.)

Love as a regulator

1. Every great engine is brought to precision of movement, to the quiet and steady exertion of power, by means of a governor or regulator. The world is full of jarrings and disturbances, and man finds a strange warfare going on in his own breast. Such was the state of things when Christ came. He saw the need of some Divine principle of life to act as a regulator both in the individual and in society. This regulator is love: the life of the soul; the all-pervasive and all-controlling energy of our spiritual being.

2. The apostle, in his vivid analysis of this Divine principle, looks upon it as embodied in character. He tells how this lovely personage will think, speak, and act in the midst of unloveliness and sin. He views love as a person in her attitude--

Towards self.

1. She is modest and unassuming. “She vaunteth not herself.” While she maintains a true self-respect and a wise estimate of her own worthiness she never displays arrogance or self-conceit.

2. “She seeketh not her own.” The belittling limitations of selfishness are not permitted to dwarf the outgoings of her generous heart.

Towards the truth.

1. This is one of affectionate desire and rejoicing. Here truth is also personified. Both experience profound satisfaction in the enlightenment and ennobling of man.

2. In reference to truth and its ultimate triumph love is also trustful and hopeful. “She believeth all things.” This does not signify credulity, for there is nothing so wise and discerning as love. Discerning but not doubtful, she rejoices to accept every revelation or manifestation of God.

3. Her temperament, or, better, her faith is buoyant and cheerful. “She hopeth all things.” Expects good instead of evil; is not foreboding and gloomy; trusts a kind Providence; believes in the possibilities of men.

Towards others.

1. “Love suffereth long.” In the face of provocation where others would be vehement with passion, she maintains her own serene dignity. This is almost identical with “not easily provoked,” “beareth all things,” “endureth all things.” These manifold expressions reveal love as a personage of great moral strength, as well as of unrivalled loveliness. She maintains constant equipoise of spirit.

2. “Is kind.” Her self-forgetful love makes her gracious, benignant, generous, and forgiving under all circumstances.

3. “Envieth not.” Competition is the most conspicuous trait of men in their relations one with another. To live without envy is a miracle of grace.

4. “Does not behave itself unseemly.” She has a delicate discernment of what is appropriate at all times and places; is never indecorous or unrefined.

5. “Thinketh,” or “ taketh not account of evil.” Not suspicious or self-seeking by nature, she does not impute evil to others.

6. “Rejoices not in unrighteousness.” The world seems to take delight in the downfall of others. Yet love grieves and blushes at another’s immorality. (D. W. Pratt, M.A.)

Love suffereth

What? Unkindness, opposition, injury, etc.


1. Long.

2. Patiently.

3. Without resentment.


1. For Christ’s sake.

2. For man’s sake.

3. In hope. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Love suffereth long

I once undertook a duty the like of which I would never attempt again. A widow lady had a son--a poor prodigal. He had spent his all, and was fast making inroads upon his mother’s little competence. Some friends had suggested that I should call upon her, and offer a gentle expostulation. I did so. I fancy that I can see her now--her white hair and her widow’s cap. She patiently heard my message, but she turned to me in tears, and said, “Yes, Mr. Garrett, you are very kind, you mean well, and all you say is true; but still, after all, he is my son!” (C. Garrett.)

The long-suffering of chastity

is not feebleness, cowardice, indifference, nor imbecility; but a principle perfectly consonant with the largest mental endowments, the loftiest aims and the noblest endeavours, with freedom of speech, firmness of purpose, and unwearied perseverance in well-doing; while it is totally opposed to all temporising expedients, vacillating policies, and inconstant endeavours. Christ is our example of long-suffering charity; yet witness how He clears His Father’s temple of the sacrilegious throng, and rebukes the wickedness of the Scribes and Pharisees. It is the depth of the river, not its shallowness, that makes it so smooth and gentle in its flow; and the mountain stream, which in the drought of summer went brawling from rock to rock and from pool to pool, with a thousand disturbances of its surface and misdirections of its course, now, when the autumn rains have fallen, or the winter snows have melted, and tributary torrents have swollen it to full flood, guides with an evenness and beauty between its green banks, with a placidity of strength and a unity of might which, while pleasant to behold, is terrible to withstand. Even so charity, subordinating all the feelings and faculties of the soul to one Divine impulse, and consecrating all to one holy and benevolent purpose, flows on with a mild and gentle majesty, undisturbed by rude speeches and unkind actions, and never diverted from its aim by the annoying accidents of society, straight forward to the vast ocean of blessed being, its destined union with God in Christ, and all that is great and good and happy in the universe. The tranquil meekness of charity, therefore, is perfectly consistent with true grandeur of soul, and of all true grandeur of soul is itself an essential element; even as the most perfect harmony consists with the mightiest tones in music, and the nicest cultivation of plants contributes to their most stately forms and most luxuriant fruitfulness, and the careful discipline of domestic animals results in the development of superior stature, with more strength of muscle, and greater fleetness of course, and whatever else belongs to the utmost perfection of their nature. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity disposes us meekly to bear injuries

Meekness is a great part of the Christian spirit (Matthew 11:1-30). And meekness, as it respects injuries received from men, is called long-suffering, the fruit of the true Christian spirit (Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:1-2; Colossians 3:12). Note--

Some of the kinds of injuries that we may receive from others. Some injure others--

1. In their estates by unfairness and dishonesty in their dealings.

2. In their good name, by reproaching or speaking evil of them behind their backs.

3. In their thoughts, by unjustly entertaining a low esteem of them (Job 5:21; Psalms 140:3).

4. In their injurious treatment.

How such injuries ought meekly to be borne.

1. The nature of the duty enjoined. It implies that injuries should be borne--

(1) Without doing anything to revenge them.

(2) With the continuance of love in the heart, and without those passions that tend to interrupt and destroy it.

(3) Without our losing the quietness and repose of our own minds and hearts (Luke 21:19).

(4) With willingness to suffer much in our interests and feelings for the sake of peace, rather than do what we have opportunity, and perhaps the right, to do in defending ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:7).

2. Why it is called long-suffering.

(1) Because we ought meekly to bear not only a small injury, but also a good deal of injurious treatment from others.

(2) Because in some cases we should be willing to suffer a great while in our interests, before we improve opportunities of righting ourselves.

How that love, which is the sum of the Christian spirit, will dispose us meekly to bear such injuries.

1. Love to God and Christ has a tendency to dispose us to this; for it--

(1) Disposes us to imitate Him, and therefore disposes us to such long-suffering as He manifests (Exodus 34:6; Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:12-16).

(2) Disposes us thus to express our gratitude for His long-suffering exercised toward us.

(3) Tends to humility, which is one main root of a meek and long-suffering spirit (Ephesians 4:2).

(4) Disposes men to have regard to the hand of God in the injuries they suffer, and not only to the hand of man, and meekly to submit to His will therein (2 Samuel 16:5; 2 Samuel 16:10).

(5) Sets us very much above the injuries of men.

(a) Because nothing can ever really hurt those that are the true friends of God (Romans 8:28; 1 Peter 3:13).

(b) Because the more we love God, the more we shall place all our happiness in Him.

2. Love to our neighbour will dispose us to the same. Long-suffering and forbearance are always the fruit of love (Ephesians 4:1-2; Proverbs 10:12).

Conclusion: The subject--

1. Exhorts us all to the duty of meekly bearing the injuries that may be received from others. Consider--

(1) The example that Christ has set us (2 Corinthians 10:1). He meekly bore innumerable and very great injuries from men.

(2) If we are not disposed meekly to bear injuries, we are not fitted to live in the world, for in it we must expect to meet with many injuries from men (Matthew 10:16).

(3) In this way we shall be most above injuries. He that has established such a spirit that the injuries received from others do not disturb the calmness of his mind, lives, as it were, out of their reach.

(4) The spirit of Christian long-suffering, and of meekness in bearing injuries, is a mark of true greatness of soul (Proverbs 16:32; Proverbs 14:29; James 3:13).

(5) The spirit of Christian long-suffering and meekness is commended to us by the example of the saints.

(6) This is the way to be rewarded with the exercise of the Divine long-suffering toward us (Psalms 18:25-26; Matthew 7:2; Matthew 7:14-15).

2. But some, in their hearts, may object--

(1) That the injuries they receive from men are intolerable.

(a) Do you think the injuries you have received from your fellow-man are more than you have offered to God?

(b) Do you not hope that as God hitherto has, so He will still bear with you in all this, and that notwithstanding all, He will exercise toward you His infinite love and favour?

(c) When you think of such long-suffering on God’s part, do you not approve of it, and think well of it, and that it is not only worthy and excellent, but exceeding glorious?

(d) If such a course be excellent and worthy to be approved of in God, why is it not so in yourself?

(e) Would you be willing, for all the future, that God should no longer bear with the injuries you may offer Him, and the offences you commit against Him?

(f) Did Christ turn again upon those who injured and insulted and trod on Him, when He was here below; and was He not injured far more grievously than ever you have been?

(2) That those who have injured you, persist in it, and do not at all repent, but go on doing it still. But what opportunity could there be for long-suffering, if injury were not persisted in long?

(3) That your enemies will be encouraged to go on with their injuries. But you do not know this, for you have not an insight into the future, nor into the hearts of men. And, beside, God will undertake for you if you obey His commands; and He is more able to put a stop to the wrath of man than you are (Romans 12:19). (Jon. Edwards.)

The patience of love

Its manifestations. There may be a world where love is not strained and taxed as it is here. Here there is certainly scope for the manifestation of patience in--

1. The relationships of life.

2. The antagonisms of life.

3. The philanthropy of life.

And in all these it is claimed and will be manifested in--

(1) Gentleness,

(2) Unsuspiciousness,

(3) Tolerance,

(4) Forgivingness,

(5) Continuance.

Its beauty. Love is--

1. Sensitive, yet patient. Not hard and servile.

2. Anxious, yet patient. Eager, not apathetic.

The explanation. Because love cares for the beloved rather than for self. Self is thrown away in the interests of others, the welfare of others, This patience and all the powers of love are in its self-sacrifice. (U. R. Thomas.)

The patience of Christ’s love

God suffereth Himself to be conceived in the womb of a mother, and abideth the time: and being born, waiteth to grow up: and being grown up, is not eager to be acknowledged, but putteth a further slight upon Himself, and is baptized by His own servant, and repelleth the attacks of the tempter by words only. When from the Lord He became the Master, teaching man to escape death, having well learned, for salvation’s sake, the forgiving spirit of offended patience: He strove not: He cried not: the shattered reed He did not break, the smoking flax He did not quench--God did put His own Spirit in His Son with perfection of patience. None that desired to cleave to Him did He not receive: no man’s table or house did He despise. Yea, Himself ministered to the washing of His disciples’ feet (even of him who betrayed Him). He scorned not the sinners nor the publicans. He was not angry with that city which would not receive Him. He healed the unthankful. He gave place to those who laid snares for Him. He, at whose side, if He had desired it, legions of angels from heaven would at one word have been present, approved not the avenging sword of even a single disciple. In Malchus the patience of the Lord was wounded. Wherefore also He cursed the works of the sword for ever after, and by the restoration of soundness to him whom He had not Himself hurt, He made satisfaction through patience, the mother of mercy and charity. The Lord Jesus is long-suffering and kind: is patient and gentle. I pass in silence the Crucifixion, for it was for that that He came in the world: yet, was there need of insult, alas! that He might undergo death? But being about to leave the world, He desired to be filled to the full with the pleasure of patience. He is spit upon, is beaten, is mocked, is foully clothed, and still more foully crowned. Wondrous constancy in long-suffering and patience! (Tertullian.)

Charity is considerate

Louis XIV in a gay party at Versailles thought he perceived an opportunity of relating a facetious story. He commenced but ended abruptly and insipidly. One of the company soon after leaving the room, the king said, “I am sure you must all have observed how uninteresting my anecdote was. I did not recollect till I began that the turn of the narrative reflected very severely on the immediate ancestor of the Prince Armigue, who has just quitted us; and on this as on every occasion, I think it far better to spoil a good story than to distress a worthy man.” (W. Baxendale.)

Love is kind

1. In spirit.

2. In action.

3. To all.

4. At all times.

5. Without selfish ends. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The kindness of love

Like the last word, this is one in frequent use by our apostle. He employs it--

1. As an avowal of his own attitude to men.

2. As an injunction to others.

3. As a description of God.

The thing he here indicates is rather the fragrance of the whole flower of love than any one of its petals, the lustre of the entire diamond rather than any one of its facets. Kindness is--

A charm of the Christian life. The word is a beautiful word, and is the expression of a beautiful grace; sometimes being rendered gentleness, goodness--in the Rheims’ version-benignity. It is not simply a manner, but a moral loveliness that shines through all manner.

An obligation of the Christian life. It is not an ornament to be worn at option, but the constant garb of our life, not a work of supererogation, but a necessary, essential, and elemental duty. (U. R. Thomas.)

The kindness of Christian charity

It is like the teeming cloud, emptying its copious blessing upon the thirsty soil. It is like the swelling stream, overflowing its banks to enrich the plantations of the valley. It is like the fruitful field, pouring its golden harvest into the exhausted granary. It is like the generous oak, shaking the genial dew from its branches upon the humbler herbage at its roots. Nay, it is like God’s incarnate love, walking the sinful world, chasing sorrow from the abodes of men, shedding the light of immortality into the valley of the shadow of death, and amidst the dissonances of human selfishness singing a melody which charms the angels down from heaven! (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity benignant

In things lawful and things indifferent it bends to the partialities and predilections of others, studying to please all for their good to edification. It would not needlessly crush the wing of an insect, much less inflict upon a rational and immortal being an evil remediless and everlasting. It is eminently pacific and conciliatory; as far as possible without any compromise of the Christian law, endeavouring to live peaceably with all men, and labouring in many ways to promote the harmony of human society. As the sea is composed of drops, and the earth is compacted of atoms, and the daylight is only a profusion of inappreciable rays, and forest and field are refreshed and beautified by millions of imperceptible particles of dew, so it is the aggregate of little things that makes the happiness or unhappiness of domestic and social life; and charity is attentive to the minutest circumstance that can affect the comfort and welfare of mankind, planting here a lily and there a rose where she cannot convert the whole desert into a paradise, pouring in a thousand tiny rivulets to swell the great ocean of human blessedness, and thus impressing the universal conviction of her kindness. (J. Angell James.)

Longsuffering and kindness

Dr. M’Crie, in his life of the late Sir Andrew Agnew, M.P., says; “We were speaking one day of the difficulty of confessing Christ before the world. It was affecting to hear Sir Andrew acknowledge this difficulty, who had borne Christ’s reproach so manfully in all places. He told me, that when he first began to take up the cause of the Sabbath, there were many worldly men who disliked him so much that they seemed anxious to stare him out of their company, and that he had felt this particularly at the New Club. One honourable baronet, not satisfied with this species of annoyance, when he saw that Sir Andrew had courage enough to despise it, and to frequent the club regularly every day notwithstanding, began speaking at him, and acting as rudely as he could towards him. One morning Sir Andrew was waiting for his breakfast at the club, when the baronet to whom I allude came in, apparently in great agitation. Sir Andrew, perceiving this, asked him if anything was wrong; to which he replied that his lady had last night had an attack of paralysis, and that she was dangerously ill. Sir Andrew said he felt for him sincerily, and expressed his sympathy warmly. Next morning he met him again with his two sons, who had come to see their mother, and he asked for Lady--with much interest. The answer was that he had been sitting up with her all night, and that she was no better. Ultimately, however, she did recover; and on one occasion afterwards, the baronet referred to came up to Sir Andrew, and with feeling that did him great honour, said, ‘Sir Andrew, there are many people who like to laugh at you and abuse you, because of your Sabbath principles, and I confess that I have been among the number, but I trust I shall never so far forget myself again.’

Charity disposes us to do good

The nature of the duty of doing good to others. And here three things are to be considered, viz.

1. The act. Persons may do good--

(1) To the souls of others, which is the most excellent way of doing good.

(2) In outward things, and for this world (Matthew 25:35-36). in three ways Christianity requires us to do good to others.

(a) To give to others (Luke 6:38).

(b) To do for others (1 Thessalonians 2:9; Hebrews 6:10).

(c) To suffer for others (Galatians 6:2; 1 John 3:16).

2. The objects of this act are often spoken of in the Scriptures by the expression, “our neighbour” (Luke 10:29, etc.). We are to do good--

(1) Both to the good and to the bad (Matthew 5:43).

(2) To friends and enemies (Matthew 5:44).

(3) To the thankful and the unthankful (Luke 6:35).

3. The manner in which we should do good to others. This is expressed in the single word “freely.” This seems implied in the words of the text; for to be kind is to have a disposition freely to do good. And this doing good freely implies--

(1) That our doing good be not in a mercenary spirit (Luke 6:35; Luke 14:12-14).

(2) That we do it cheerfully or heartily, and with real good-will to the one we would benefit (1 Peter 4:9; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Romans 12:8; Deuteronomy 15:10).

(3) That we do it liberally and bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 9:11; Deuteronomy 15:8; Proverbs 11:25; 2 Corinthians 9:6).

That a Christian spirit will dispose us thus to do good to others. And this appears from two considerations.

1. The main thing in that love which is the sum of the Christian spirit is benevolence, or good-will to others (Luke 2:14).

2. The most proper and conclusive evidence that such a principle is real and sincere is its being effectual. The proper and conclusive evidence of our wishing or willing to do good to another is to do it. The Scriptures therefore speak of doing good as the proper and full evidence of love (1 John 3:18-19; James 2:15-16).


1. What a great honour it is to be made an instrument of good in the world (Genesis 12:2). Eastern kings and governors used to assume to themselves the title of benefactors, that is, “doers of good,” as the most honourable that could think of (Luke 22:25).

2. Thus freely to do good to others, is but to do to them as we would have them do to us.

3. How kind God and Christ have been to us (2 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Peter 1:4).

4. What great rewards are promised to those that freely do good to others (Psalms 18:25; Acts 20:35; Matthew 25:34-40). (Jon. Edwards.)

Charity envieth not.--

Charity not envious

To see that envy is utterly incompatible with charity, we need but glance at some of its characteristic qualities and fruits.

Charity is disinterested goodness; envy is unmingled selfishness. It would grasp all riches, absorb all enjoyment, engross all admiration and esteem. Every superior and every rival would it destroy, and live alone in an impoverished or depopulated universe. The envious man, like Gideon’s fleece, would absorb every particle of moisture that falls from heaven, and leave all around him dewless as the desert.

Charity is the brotherhood of the heart; envy is as malicious as it is selfish. Joseph was hated by his brethren because he was beloved by his father, and because his dream made him their superior. And Haman was full of indignation against Mordecai because he held a high place in the favour of the king. And the same evil spirit inflamed the wrath of Saul against David. The envious man resents the good of others, as if it were an injury to himself. Envy is like the ocean, which because it cannot shine as the firmament does, would shroud the starry lustre of the latter with its vapoury exhalations. Nay, in order to enjoy the glimmer of its own rushlight, it would extinguish the sun and leave the world in darkness.

Charity is a meek and gentle spirit; envy is as outrageous as it is malicious. It is “cruel as death and insatiable as the grave.” There is in its hate an inhuman fierceness, in its action a diabolical fury, which respect no dignity, reverence no sanctity, pause abashed at no splendid array of virtue. What slew Caesar, and banished Cicero and put out the eyes of Belisarius, but a merit too great for wealth to reward or envy to endure? Envy murdered Abel at his altar, and nailed the Son of God upon the Cross. Envy first blighted the bloom of paradise, and ever since it has raged through the scene of its ruin, filling the earth with dire confusion, and every evil work; and well saith the wisest of ancient monarchs, “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous, but who can stand before envy?”

Charity is ready unto every good work; envy is mischievous. There is no injury it would not inflict upon its happier neighbour. It would poison your peace and blacken your fame. Who shall set bounds to its wickedness, or limit its baleful power? Has it not rifled the richest treasuries, thwarted the shrewdest policies, conquered the mightiest warriors, and subverted the proudest thrones? If there is any exemption from the inflictions of envy, it is only in the case of those who have nothing for which they can be envied, whose obscurity is their fortress, whose poverty is their panoply. The tornado may spare the willows, but woe to the oaks! Never pitying, never relenting, envy follows its victim to the very grave, and tramples upon his ashes, and desecrates his memory, and persecutes his posterity.

Charity is free from deceit; envy is hypocritical. Pride, anger, gluttony, drunkenness, etc., are ordinarily frank and open. But envy, conscious that it is an unnatural disposition, having more the rancour of a fiend than the temper of a man, and branded by common consent with a stigma deep and foul, conceals its real nature. As Bishop Ball says, “It is indeed a most reputable and orthodox vice, a regular church-going sin, dressing like virtue and talking like piety. It has a great zeal for religion, a keen sense of public justice, and is much shocked at the inconsistencies of good people. It exults when the hypocrite is unmasked and exclaims--‘Ah! I told you so; I always suspected him.’ It is also most benevolent; and when adversity overtakes a brother, prays devoutly that it may be the means of promoting his humility and other Christian graces.”

Charity is fraught with Divine peace and contentment; envy is miserable. Hating and hated, can it know anything of a good conscience and a cheerful mind? Deceitful and treacherous, must it not be like the troubled sea that cannot rest? Baffled and chagrined, will it not become desperate, and turn its fangs upon itself, and devour its own vitals? Conclusion: Charity and envy are as much opposed as light and darkness. Charity is from above; envy is from beneath. Charity is the fruit of the Spirit; envy is the work of the flesh. Charity is the outgrowth of the new heart; envy is the product of the carnal mind. Charity is as pure as the mountain stream; envy is as foul as the city sewer. Charity is as harmless as the gentle dove; envy is as deadly as the viper’s fang. Charity is as tranquil as the summer evening; envy is as restless as the troubled sea. Charity is as tender and pitiful as an angel; envy is as heartless and cruel as a demon. Charity is the spirit of Christ and the temper of heaven, envy is the rankling selfishness which makes the immitigable woe of the lost, the wormwood and gall transfused through all the faculties and feelings of a reprobate immortality. No two principles could be more antagonistic and irreconcilable. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity inconsistent with an envious spirit

The nature of envy.

1. A spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own (Esther 5:13; Numbers 11:29; Genesis 37:11).

2. A dislike of their persons for it (Esther 5:9; Genesis 37:4-5).

Wherein a Christian spirit is the opposite of such a spirit. A Christian spirit--

1. Disallows of the exercise and expressions of such a spirit.

2. Tends to mortify its principle and disposition in the heart (Philippians 4:11).

3. Disposes us to rejoice in the prosperity of others (Romans 12:15).

Why it is that a Christian spirit is thus the opposite of a spirit of envy.

1. A spirit and practice entirely contrary to an envious spirit is much insisted on in the precepts of Christ and His apostles (Romans 13:13; 1Co 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:21, etc.).

2. These precepts are strongly enforced--

(1) By the Christian scheme of doctrine. For there we are told how God has not begrudged us His well-beloved Son, nor the highest honour and blessedness in and through Him. How far Christ was from begruding us anything that He could do for or give us!

(2) By its history. And particularly is this true of the history of the life of Christ, and the example He has set us.

3. The true spirit of Christian love will dispose us to yield to the authority of these precepts, and to the influence of the motives enforcing them.

(1) By its own immediate tendency; for love does not grudge, but rejoices at the good of those who are loved.

(2) By inclining us to humility. It is pride that is the great root and source of envy.

Conclusion: The subject--

1. Should lead us to examine ourselves, whether we are in any degree under the influence of an envious spirit.

2. Exhorts us to disallow and put away everything approaching to it. (J. Edwards.)

On envy

Envy is a sensation of uneasiness arising from the advantages which others are supposed to possess above us, accompanied with malignity towards those who possess them. The character of an envious man is universally odious. All disclaim it; and they who feel themselves under the influence of this passion carefully conceal it. But it is proper to consider that among all our passions, both good and bad, there are many different gradations. Sometimes they swim on the surface of the mind, without producing any internal agitation. They proceed no farther than the beginnings of passion. Allayed by our constitution, or tempered by the mixture of other dispositions, they exert no considerable influence on the temper. Though the character in which envy forms the ruling passion be one too odious to be common, yet some tincture of this evil disposition mixes with most characters in the world. The chief grounds of envy may be reduced to three.

Accomplishments, or endowments of the mind. The chief endowment for which man deserves to be valued is virtue. This forms the most estimable distinction among mankind. Yet this, which may appear surprising, never forms any ground of envy. No man is envied for being more just, more generous, more patient, or forgiving than others. This may, in part, be owing to virtue producing in every one who beholds it that high degree of respect which extinguishes envy. But probably it is more owing to the good opinion which every one entertains of his own moral qualities. Some virtues, or at least the seeds of them, he finds within his breast. Others he vainly attributes to himself. Those in which he is plainly deficient he undervalues; on the whole he is as worthy as his neighbour. The case is different with regard to those mental abilities and powers which are ascribed to others. As long as these are exerted in a sphere of action remote from ours, and not brought into competition with talents of the same kind, to which we have pretensions, they create no jealousy. They are viewed as distant objects, in which we have not any concern. Even then, envy is, properly speaking, not grounded on the talents of others. For here, too, our self-complacency brings us relief; from the persuasion that, were we thoroughly known, and full justice done to us, our abilities would be found not inferior to those of our rivals. What properly occasions envy, is the fruit of the accomplishments of others; the pre-eminence which the opinion of the world bestows, or which we dread it will bestow, on their talents above ours. Mere rivality, inspired by emulation, would carry no reproach; were not that rivality joined with obliquity, and a malignant spirit; did it not lead to secret detraction, and unfair methods of diminishing the reputation of others. Let such as are addicted to this infirmity consider how much they degrade themselves. Superior merit of any kind always rests on itself. Conscious of what it deserves, it disdains low competitions and jealousies. They who are stung with envy, especially when they allow its malignity to appear, confess a sense of their own inferiority; and, in effect, pay homage to that merit from which they endeavour to detract. But in order to eradicate the passion, and to cure the disquiet which it creates, let such persons further consider how inconsiderable the advantage is which their rivals have gained by any superiority over them. They whom you envy are themselves inferior to others who follow the same pursuits. Public applause is the most fluctuating and uncertain of all rewards. Within what narrow bounds is their fame confined? With what a number of humiliations is it mixed? To how many are they absolutely unknown? Among those who know them, how many censure and decry them?

Advantages of fortune, superiority in birth, rank, and riches, even qualifications of body and form, become grounds of envy. Among external advantages those which relate to the body ought certainly to hold the lowest place, as in the acquisition of them we can claim no merit, but must ascribe them entirely to the gift of nature. Yet envy has often showed itself here in full malignity. It would have proved a blessing to multitudes to have wanted those advantages for which they are envied. How frequently has beauty betrayed the possessors of it into many a snare, and brought upon them many a disaster? Short-lived at the best, and trifling at any rate, in comparison with the higher and more lasting beauties of the mind. But of all the grounds of envy among men superiority in rank and fortune is the most general. Hence the malignity which the poor commonly bear to the rich, as ingrossing to themselves all the comforts of life. Alas! all this envious disquietude which agitates the world, arises from a deceitful figure which imposes upon the public view. False colours are hung out: the real state of men is not what it seems to be. The order of society requires a distinction of ranks to take place; but, in point of happiness, all men come much nearer to equality than is commonly imagined. The poor man possesses not, it is true, some of the conveniences and pleasures of the rich; but, in return, he is free from many embarrassments to which they are subject. When you think of the enjoyments you want, think also of the troubles from which you are free. Often, did you know the whole, you would be inclined to pity the state of those whom you now envy.

Superior success in the course of worldly pursuits is a frequent ground of envy. Among all ranks of men competitions arise. Wherever any favourite object is pursued in common, jealousies seldom fail to take place among those who are equally desirous of attaining it. “I could easily bear,” says one, “that some others should be more famous, should be richer than I. It is but just that this man should enjoy the distinction to which his splendid abilities have raised him. It is natural for that man to command the respect to which he is entitled by his birth or his rank. But when I and another have started in the race of life, upon equal terms, and in the same rank, that he, without any pretension to uncommon merit, should have suddenly so far outstripped me; should have engrossed all that public favour to which I am no less entitled than he;--this is what I cannot bear; my spirit swells with indignation at this undeserved treatment I have suffered from the world.” Complaints of this nature are often made by them who seek to justify the envy which they bear to their more prosperous neighbours. But if such persons wish not to be thought unjust, let me desire them to inquire whether they have been altogether fair in the comparison they have made of their own merit with that of their rivals? and whether they have not themselves to blame more than the world for being left behind in the career of fortune? The world is not always blind or unjust in conferring its favours. Supposing, however, the world to have been unjust with regard to you, this will not vindicate malignity and envy towards a more prosperous competitor. You may accuse the world, but what reason have you to bear ill-will to him? You, perhaps, preferred the enjoyment of your ease to the stirs of a busy or to the cares of a thoughtful life. Ought you then to complain if the more laborious have acquired what you were negligent to gain? Consider that if you have obtained less preferment you have possessed more indulgence and ease. The causes that nourish envy are principally two, and two which, very frequently, operate in conjunction: these are pride and indolence. The connection of pride with envy is obvious and direct. The high value which the proud set on their own merit, the unreasonable claims which they form on the world are perpetual sources, first of discontent, and next of envy. When indolence is joined to pride the disease of the mind becomes more inveterate and incurable. Pride leads men to claim more than they deserve. Indolence prevents them from obtaining what they might justly claim. Disappointments follow; and spleen, malignity, and envy rage within them. As, therefore, we value our virtue or our peace, let us guard against these two evil dispositions of mind. Let us be modest in our esteem, and by diligence study to acquire the esteem of others. So shall we shut up the avenues that lead to many a bad passion, and shall learn, in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content. Finally, in order to subdue envy, let us bring often into view those religious considerations which regard us particularly as Christians. Let us remember how unworthy we are in the sight of God; and how much the blessings which each of us enjoy are beyond what we deserve. Let us nourish reverence and submission to that Divine government which has appointed to every one such a condition in the world as is fittest for them to possess. (H. Blair, D.D.)

Charity not envious

Envy is one of the most malignant and, if we except vanity alone, the most empty of all human passions. Other affections have some good thing in view either real or apprehended; but envy has nothing for its object except an ill-natured pleasure in the hurt of our neighbour. Charity is quite inconsistent with envy, and, whenever it prevails, expels that malicious passion from the heart. Has God bestowed on others larger measures of knowledge and understanding, of honour and respect, of riches, of power and authority, of any blessing, spiritual or temporal? The charitable man, though eclipsed in these respects, does not look up to those who eclipse him with an envious eye. He takes not an ill-natured pleasure in the disappointments and misfortunes, in the decline and fall of those above him He does not attempt, by malicious detraction, to depreciate the merits of those who excel; and, though unable to rise to their standard, he does not enviously endeavour to bring them down to his own, and to keep all mankind on a level with himself He considers worldly blessings as the gifts of God, who may bestow them on what persons and in what degrees He pleases; and, satisfied with his own condition, he rejoices to see the glory of the giver advanced and the ends of the gift answered, who ever may be chosen by Providence for the accomplishment of these ends. (A. Donnan.)

Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.--

Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up

The evils indicated.

1. Assumption.

2. Vanity.

Their offensiveness. They imply--

1. Contempt for.

2. Disregard of the feelings and claims of others.

Their consequent inconsistency with love. Love--

1. Is humble in spirit and deportment.

2. Willingly offends none. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Charity vaunteth not itself

“It was my custom in my youth,” says a celebrated Persian writer, “to rise from my sleep, to watch, pray, and read the Koran. One night as I was thus engaged, my father, a man of practised virtues, awoke. ‘Behold!’ said I to him, ‘thy other children are lost in irreligious slumbers, while I alone wake to praise God.’ ‘Son of my soul,’ said he, ‘it is better to sleep than to wake to remark the faults of thy brethren.’” (Family Circle.)

Vaunting inconsistent with love

We think we need not love God less, nor our neighbourless, by a little harmless talking of ourselves. But we do. We rob God, because in vaunting we forget that it all comes from Him, and we cannot possibly have anything whatever to vaunt or to boast of. We rob our neighbour because, unconsciously perhaps, we put him in a lower position than ourselves, and look down upon him, or we may make him envious of us. And we rob ourselves, because we deprive ourselves of the reward of any good we may have done. The grace of charity is deprived of its bloom, or indeed of its fruit, by vaunting or boasting. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

Diffidence of love

Of all feelings, there is none of which men need be so little ashamed of as true love, and none which so much puts on all the appearance of shame. For love is born behind blushing defences. And after it has won its victories and subdued to itself the whole of life, it then more than ever has in it the necessity of hiding itself. For love, like the blood in the human body, though it be the cause of all the life that appears, is itself hidden within the veins and never seen. (H. W. Beecher.)

Charity not proud

To vaunt is to boast, to make an ostentatious display of our own qualities or achievements, it is the language of pride.

the nature of pride.

1. It is not to be confounded with that courtly demeanour which is so natural to some people, and so suitable to certain ranks in society. This is the use of our dignity, not the abuse of it.

2. It is an over-valuing of self. Was there ever a time when this hateful vice was more prevalent than it is at present? Does not the age vaunt its enlightenment and its progress? Do not persons of all classes vaunt their superiority in one respect or another? There is a pride of birth, of wealth, of power, of knowledge, of morality, and even of humility.

The repugnance of such a spirit to charity. Charity is unselfish; pride is one of the many forms of selfishness. Charity yields to its neighbour due honour; pride claims all respect and honour for its own dignity. Charity accords to every man his proper place and merit; pride aims to impress its brother with a mortifying sense of his inferiority. Charity tenderly regards your sensibilities, and carefully avoids giving you offence; pride tramples upon all courtesy, and cares not whom nor how deeply it wounds. Charity sheds a benign influence over the heart, expanding it to all that is noble and magnanimous; pride folds the soul in upon itself, freezing up the genial springs of sympathy and affection. Charity is the spirit of those who veil their faces before the throne of God, and the temper of Him who for our sake humbled Himself to the death of the Cross; pride is the spirit of rebellion which of old, seeking to exalt itself against the God of love, plunged headlong into hell. Charity knows something of angelic blessedness; pride shares the misery of Satan. (J. Cross, D.D.)

The spirit of charity an humble spirit

As, on the one hand, it prevents us from envying others what they possess, so, on the other, it keeps us from glorying in what we possess ourselves.

What humility is.

1. A sense of our own comparative meanness.

(1) As regards God (Genesis 18:27).

(2) As regards our fellow-creatures. Man is very mean as compared with multitudes of a superior rank in the universe, and most men are mean in comparison with many of their fellow men. He that has a right sense and estimate of himself in comparison with God, will be likely to have his eyes open to see himself aright in all respects. All this would apply to men considered as unfallen beings. But humility in fallen men implies a sense of a tenfold meanness.

(a) Man’s natural meanness consists in his being infinitely below God in natural perfection, and in God’s being infinitely above him in greatness, power, wisdom, majesty, etc.

(b) The truly humble man, since the fall, is also sensible of his moral meanness and vileness (Isaiah 6:5; Job 42:5-6; Psalms 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; Matthew 5:3).

2. A disposition to a corresponding behaviour and conduct. Without this there is no true humility. The devils and damned spirits see much of their comparative littleness before God in some respects. Note--

(1) Some things in our behaviour toward God to which humility will dispose us.

(a) To acknowledge our meanness or littleness before God.

(b) To be distrustful of ourselves and to depend only on God.

(c) To renounce all the glory of the good we have or do, and to give it all to God (Psalms 115:1).

(d) Wholly to subject ourselves to God.

(2) It disposes to a behaviour toward men answerable to our comparative meanness. It tends--

(a) To prevent an aspiring and ambitious behaviour amongst men (Jeremiah 45:5; Romans 12:16).

(b) An ostentatious behaviour (Matthew 23:5).

(c) An arrogant and assuming behaviour (Philippians 2:3; Ephesians 3:8).

(d) A scornful behaviour (Romans 12:16).

(e) A wilful and stubborn behaviour (Rom 12:19; 1 Corinthians 6:7; Matthew 5:40-41).

(f) A levelling behaviour (Romans 13:7; Titus 3:1).

(g) A self-justifying behaviour (James 5:16; Psalms 141:5).

The spirit of charity is an humble spirit.

1. It implies and tends to humility.

(1) It implies humility. And this appears plain from two considerations: because a sense of the loveliness of God is peculiarly that discovery of God that works humility; and because, when God is truly loved, He is loved as an infinite superior.

(2) It also tends to humility.

(a) Love inclines the heart to that spirit and behaviour that are becoming the distance from the beloved. The devils know their distance from God, but they are not reconciled to it. And so love to man, arising from love to God, disposes to an humble behaviour toward them, inclining us to give them all the honour and respect that are their due.

(b) Love to God tends to an abhorrence of sin against God, and so to our being humbled before Him for it.

2. It tends to draw forth such exercises of love as do especially imply and tend to it. The gospel leads us--

(1) To love God as an infinitely condescending God

(2) To love Christ as an humble person (Philippians 2:6-8; Matthew 10:24; Matthew 1:25; Matthew 20:25-28; John 13:13-16).

(3) To love Christ as a crucified Saviour.

(4) To humble exercises of love, because it leads us to love Christ as one that was crucified for our sakes.


1. Note the excellency of a Christian spirit (Proverbs 12:26; 1 Peter 3:4).

2. Examine yourselves, and see if you are indeed of an humble spirit (Habakkuk 2:4; James 4:6).

3. Let strangers to the grace of God seek that grace, that they may thus attain to this spirit of humility (Proverbs 16:5; Proverbs 6:16; Proverbs 29:23; 2 Samuel 22:28; Isaiah 23:9).

4. Let all be exhorted earnestly to seek much of an humble spirit, and to endeavour to be humble in all their behaviour toward God and men. (Jon. Edwards.)

Charity not vain

Charity endeavours to conceal its good works as the sea conceals its pearls and the earth its gold. It is not the ambitious sunflower that lifts its gaudy head on high, and expands its inodorous petals to the broad light of the noon; but the unobtrusive violet that hides its delicate beauty in the bank of a shady brook, and from its green seclusion perfumes the dewy twilight. Intent only on doing good, it cares nothing for the applause of the world, and seeks to build no temple to its own fame. Aming only at blessing others, it is comparatively a small matter whether it win another’s blessing or incur another’s curse. It sends no herald to announce its advent, blows no trumpet to proclaim its purpose, unfurls no banner to catch the eye of the world, saith to no son of Rechab, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord”; but, like its Divine example, goes about doing good, without causing its voice to be heard in the street, or letting the left hand know what the right hand doeth; and like those holy and blessed creatures who minister to the heirs of salvation and shed a thousand blessings from wings unseen, it conceals its beneficent agency even from its beneficiaries. King Hezekiah lost his royal treasures by an ostentatious display of them to the Assyrian embassy; and Chrysostom tells us that virtues, like precious stones, must be concealed to be kept; for if we display them publicly, we lose them, and vain-glory is the one thief that has robbed many of their treasure laid up in heaven. But this celestial visitant in the abodes of men carries her jewels in a safe casket--hides them in her own heart, while she herself lies hidden in the secret place of the Most High, and abides secure under the shadow of the Almighty. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity opposed to vanity and pride

The Siamese Twins seem to have been two perfect human beings, each possessing all the functions of life complete, though so bound together that the sundering of the ligament would probably have been fatal to both.

Thus pride and vanity are two vices so closely related that they are seldom found apart, yet so distinct that we ordinarily have no difficulty in their identification and discrimination. Like two plants springing from the same root, they are both the products of selfishness, alike partaking of its qualities, but differing in form and aspect. Pride is an undue estimate of self; vanity is an inordinate desire of the esteem of others. The former makes a man odious; the latter renders him ridiculous.

Charity is equally opposed to both. Humble, it is opposed to pride; modest, it is opposed to vanity. Humility and modesty, though as intimately related to each other, are as perfectly distinct as pride and vanity. Humility is opposed to pride, modesty is opposed to vanity. The former is the inward feeling of lowliness, the latter is its outward expression. The one makes a man sensible that he merits but little, the other renders him moderate in his demands and expectations. Both, therefore, are essential attributes of charity. Notwithstanding their distinction, it is difficult to separate them; for they run into each other, like the blending of two shades in painting, or two tones in music. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity not boastful

Charity does not boast of its connections, and talk of the dignity of its family, the lustre of its ancestors, the fortune and rank of its relations, and its intercourse with the great; as little does it magnify itself on account of its external possessions, and set forth in lofty terms its own riches, its credit and interest among men, its power and authority over others. Neither does it vaunt of its personal accomplishments and exalt itself above those whom it seems to excel in point of learning and knowledge, of wit and courage, of dexterity and address, or of beauty and strength. It does not even boast of its own good deeds, and take undue praise to itself from the things it has done and the actions it has performed. In every ease charity forbids us to seek our own gratification in the diminution of that of our neighbour whom we should love as ourselves. It modestly declines to talk concerning itself, and avoids every subject in conversation which tends to elevate its own merit, and to place that of another in an inferior point of view. (A. Donnan.)

Doth not behave itself unseemly.--

Love doth not behave itself, unseemly

The conduct it avoids.

1. Ill mannered.

2. Reproachful.

3. Unbecoming age, station, and place.

The conduct it observes.

1. It honours all men.

2. Seeks to please all.

3. Specially regarding the civilities of life; treating superiors with respect and inferiors with consideration. (J. Lyth, D.D.)


is acting contrary to a scheme to form which is becoming, or due, or right. It is, in fact, to be deformed; for there is a deformity of mind as well as a deformity of body: and just as deformity may affect various members of the body, so also may it affect various qualities of the mind or soul. Hence we get an enormous range for this word unseemliness. Beauty is the very-type or attribute of God’s creation. All things, as they originally left the Creator’s hand, were beautiful, being “very good.” All things were “seemly” and “comely.” Sin alone marred their fair proportion, and their seemliness and comeliness. Sin alone introduced deformity and undue proportion. Man was created “seemly” in the image of God. The impress of God’s love was upon the soul of man. God is love--charity. So love is not, and cannot, and doth not, behave itself “unseemly,” unlike the image upon which it was formed or fashioned. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

The seemliness of the charity of Christ

What dignity and yet what condescension! what perfect self-possession and yet what abandonment of self! what purity, what modesty, what retiredness! what humility in the King of heaven, without any loss of dignity, making fishermen His companions and intimate friends! He eats with the Pharisee, and yet is a guest of publicans and sinners! He is left alone with the woman taken in adultery and pardons her. He welcomes the Magdalen and forgives her. He converses with the woman of Samaria, to the astonishment of His disciples. He despises none. He hides not His face from shame and spitting. He gives His back to the smiters in the flagellation or scourging. He dies the shameful death of the Cross! and in all that unseemliness Divine charity is most seemly, most dignified, most attractive, most loving, most charitable. Yes, in His person, the person of very charity herself. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

Pleasant behaviour

Accurate fitting of the parts of a machine is not all that is needed. Oil is required. Our life functions bring us together. Something is needed to make all work smoothly. Good manners, courtesy, pleasant behaviour is this oil which is needed. Some say: What have we to do with good manners between master and workmen? Every creaking bearing in the social machine means loss of power. All heating and friction must be avoided. “Fair words butter no parsnips,” is an old adage. But they do much in a shop where the assistants are attentive and obliging. Customers will he more likely to come. So in all things. The faculty of mastership is largely behaviour. The man on a committee who is courteous is worth two who are not. Courteous manners and fair words, if they do not put money in the pocket, sweeten life and make it more endurable. (Brooke Herford.)

Charity not uncourteous

Of unseemliness there are many varieties, alike the fruit of selfishness, and equally alien to charity, which is the most effectual conservator of good manners. There is--

A forward and officious behaviour. But charity is never meddlesome. It is pride and vanity that makes men “busybodies in other men’s matters.”

An uncivil and disrespectful behaviour. Who has not met with those who affect what they call honest bluntness, who feel above all conventional forms, and care not how many they disgust by their brusquery? Charity, however, considers the tastes and customs of society, and restrains from all that is offensive to the best culture? Christian love produces the most genuine politeness, and the best Christian is the most perfect gentleman or lady.

An invidious emulation and ambition. But charity, content with her own position, caring little for the honours of the world, practically heeds the words of her Divine Master--“Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister,” etc.

A noisy and blustering ostentation. Nothing is farther from charity than display. If gifted, she exhibits no anxiety to impress the world with the superiority of her endowment. If she achieves anything for the improvement of humanity, she is influenced by no desire to be applauded of men. If she has cast her spiritual sounding-line into the deep things of God, she still owns with him who was not a whit behind the very chiefest of the apostles, “I am less than the least of all saints.”

An arrogant and supercilious deportment. But charity, minding not high things, condescends to men of low estate. The disciple of the lowly Man of Nazareth, without desiring to destroy the just distinctions of social life, conceals his rank so far as duty will permit, and unites his advantages with such affability and gentleness as shall render them attractive to all.

An obstinate and imperious will. Some people are always setting up their own judgment as the standard, and their own decision as the law. On the contrary, he who is under the influence of charity yields gracefully to the opinions and preferences of his brethren, except where such compliance involves some dereliction of truth and duty.

An unseemly self-confidence and self-reliance. Charity looks to a higher wisdom for guidance and a higher power for strength; and feels itself, in the presence of God, as less than nothing and vanity.

An unseemly haste and impetuosity of spirit, which it is the tendency of charity to moderate, and one of its chief offices to control. How often, from this very infirmity, did St. Peter subject himself to mortifying rebuke and bitter sorrow!

An unseemly inconsistency and incongruity of deportment, a want of harmony between the manners and the profession of the Christian. Charity in the heart is the temper of Christ. Charity in the action is the imitation of Christ. Charity in the character is Christ’s unmistakable image. Now what ought that man to be who professes to furnish to the world a miniature likeness of the Incarnate Perfection? Verily, he should be harmless and blameless, holy in all manner of conversation. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity doth not behave itself unseemly

It inspires a disposition to please, and leads to that propriety of conduct which is so beautiful in itself and so acceptable to mankind. It is always unwilling to give offence, and leads us studiously to avoid, both in conduct and speech, whatever may seem unbecoming in ourselves and offensive to others. It introduces civility into conversation, and guards against that harshness and indelicacy of expression which are inconsistent with good manners, and hurt the feelings of mankind. It restrains a petulant disposition of mind, and permits not men to take freedoms which are impertinent and disrespectful to those around them. It checks that spirit of arrogance and ambition which breaks in upon the peace of society and the happiness of mankind. Charity does not arrogate to itself more honour and respect than is justly due to its rank, and necessary to the order of society. It avoids giving offence by standing on little points of honour, and insisting on precedency from a conceit of superior station or distinguished ability, nor does it thrust itself into offices above its ability and beyond its sphere, to the subversion of order and the hurt of society. In every situation and under all circumstances of life, charity guards against improper behaviour, and allows not men to act in a manner unbecoming the station they hold, the abilities they possess, or the period of life they are in. (A. Donnan.)

Seeketh not her own.--

Love seeketh not her own

Love is unselfish.

1. Seeketh not her own honour, pleasure, advantage.

2. Inordinately, injuriously, mainly.

Is, on the contrary, self-sacrificing.

1. In its endeavours to benefit others.

2. Which is the very essence of love, as exemplified by Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Love; seeketh not her own

Paul showeth the temper of mind, on account of which “Charity doth not behave herself unseemly.” She “seeketh not her own,” for the beloved she esteems to be all: and to benefit her beloved she doth not so much as count the thing unseemliness. This is friendship, that the lover and the beloved should no longer be two persons divided, but, in a manner, one single person, a thing which nohow takes place except from love. Seek not, therefore, thine own, that thou mayest find thine own: for he that seeks his own, finds not his own. Wherefore also the same St. Paul says, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.” (S. Chrysostom.)

Love seeketh not her own

Like seeks like. Charity seeks charity, or God, who is Love. It cares little or nothing for aught else. It knows that all the rest will come in time. It remembers how it is written, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” How deadly opposed this true charity is to that cruel, cold, worldly maxim, that “Charity begins at home.” Ah! yes, it forgets that Charity was once homeless, and had not where to lay His head, in order to procure for us an eternal home in the heavenly Fathers mansions. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

Christ sought not His own

The life of Divine charity, which is the life of Jesus Christ, was a life summed up in one word as a, life of search, a seeking for souls. So ever He sought them, by day and by night, in the crowded streets of the city and in the desert places, on the mountain-side and on the sea-shore, in the house of the Pharisee, as equally as in that of the publican; amongst Gentile kings as amongst Jewish peasants, amongst the rich as amongst the poor, amongst the learned doctors as amongst the ignorant common people, in Bethlehem as at Calvary, in the cradle as on the Cross, at the beginning of His earthly life as at the end of it, at the beginning of His passion as at the end of it, from the nailing on the bitter tree to the last sigh, or the loud cry of His departing spirit. He seeks not His own, He sought no relief for Himself, He prays for His enemies, He prays for His mother, He prays for the beloved disciple, He prays for the thief on the cross; for in seeking them He, by that very fact, interceded for them. And even when He prays for Himself, it is such a prayer as can only be understood by including all. He is forsaken, derelict, left, as it were, the hull of that which had once been a gallant ship, left at the mercy of the waves, and all only that we should not be forsaken. When He thirsts, He thirsts only to be thirsted for. In commending His Spirit to the eternal Father, He commends our spirits and souls to the keeping of that Father’s love. He descends to the lower parts of the earth to proclaim, not His own victory, or He only proclaims it that the good news of the redemption should be proclaimed to the spirits in prison. He rises, as a pledge of our resurrection. He ascends, that we may now in heart and mind ascend, and when the time comes, also our body ascend with Him, be glorified with Him, and with Him continually dwell. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

Unselfish people

Who are the best loved people in the community? I answer unhesitatingly they are the unselfish. They are those who have drunk deepest of the spirit of Christ. They are those who have the most effectually cut that cursed cancer of self out of their hearts, and filled its place with that love that “seeketh not its own.” This beautiful grace sometimes blooms out in most unexpected places. It was illustrated by the poor lad in the coal-mine when a fatal accident occurred, and a man came down to relieve the sufferers, and the brave boy said to him, “Don’t mind me; Joe Brown is a little lower down, and he’s a’most gone, save him first! There are enough “Joe Browns” who are lower down in poverty, and ignorance, in weakness and in want than we are, and Christianity’s first duty is to save them. It was to save sinners that Jesus died on Calvary. He who stoops the lowest to rescue lost souls will have the highest place in heaven. Will it not be these unselfish spirits who will have John’s place up there on the Saviour’s bosom and will be “the disciples whom Jesus loves”? (T. L. Cuyler.)


Here is a little story which tells better than a dictionary can the meaning of the word “disinterestedness.” The late Archdeacon Hare was once, when tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge, giving a lecture, when a cry of “fire” was raised. Away, rushed his pupils, and forming themselves into a line between the building, which was close at hand, and the river, passed buckets from one to another. The tutor, quickly following, found them thus engaged. At the end of the line one youth was standing up to his waist in the river. He was delicate and looked consumptive. “What,” cried Mr. Hare; “you in the water, Sterling; you so liable to take cold!” “Somebody must be in it,” the youth answered; “why not I as well as another?” The spirit of this answer is that of all great and generous doing. Cowardice and coldness, too, say: “Oh, somebody will do it,” and the speaker sits still. He is not the one to do what needs doing. But nobility of character, looking at necessary things, says: “Somebody must do it; why not I!” And the deed is done.

Unselfishness makes happiness

James Freeman Clarke describes in his fragment of autobiography a journey from Massachusetts to Kentucky in the days before the railroad. He noticed, he says, that the tone of a stage coach party often depended upon the temper of a single individual. A cross, ill-natured, complaining fellow would make all the other passengers cross, ill-natured, and complaining. “Once,” he says, “when going through the Cattaraugus woods, where the road was mostly deep mire and there was every temptation to be cross or uncomfortable, one man so enlivened and entertained our party, and was so accommodating and good-natured that we seemed “to be having a pleasant picnic, and the other inmates of the coach took the same tone. I, therefore, found it best for my own sake, as soon as we took our places in the coach for a long journey, to manifest an interest in my fellow passengers, and their comforts; offering, for example, to change places with them if they preferred my seat to their own, and paying them such little attentions as are always agreeable. It happened almost always that the other passengers would follow this lead, and take pains to be civil and accommodating.”

Charity the opposite of a selfish spirit

The nature of that selfishness of which charity is the opposite. Observe--

1. That charity is not contrary to all self-love. If Christianity tended to destroy a man’s love to himself and his own happiness, it would tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity. The saints and the angels love their own happiness; otherwise they would not be happy; far what one does not love he cannot enjoy. Nor is it unlawful, for God’s law makes self-love a rule by which our love to others should be regulated (Matthew 19:19). And the same appears also from the fact that the Scriptures are full of motives which work on self-love.

2. That the selfishness which charity is contrary to, is only an inordinate self-love. This consists--

(1) In its being too great comparatively; either by love to God and to man being too small, as it is in many Christians, or by its being none at all, as is the case with the unregenerate. In some respects, of course, wicked men do not love themselves enough; for they do not love the way of their own happiness; and in this sense it is said of them that they hate themselves, though, in another sense, they love self too much.

(2) In placing that happiness in things that are confined to himself. And when it is said that charity seeketh not her own, we are to understand it of her own private good--good limited to herself (Philippians 2:21; 2 Timothy 3:2).

How charity is contrary to such a spirit.

1. It leads those who possess it to seek not only their own things, but the things of others.

(1) It seeks to please and glorify God (Ephesians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

(2) It seeks the good of our fellow-creatures (Philippians 2:4; 1Co 10:24; 1 Corinthians 10:33; Romans 14:2) for--

(a) It is a sympathising and merciful spirit (Colossians 3:12; James 3:17; Psalms 37:26). It is--

(b) A liberal spirit (Hebrews 13:16; Galatians 6:10).

(c) It disposes a person to be public-spirited. A man of a right spirit is not a man of narrow and private views, but is greatly interested and concerned for the good of the place in which he resides, and the society of which he is a member (Jeremiah 29:7; Luke 7:5; Esther 4:16; Romans 9:1-3). Especially will the spirit of Christian love dispose those that stand in a public capacity, such as that of ministers, and magistrates, and all public officers, to seek the public good.

2. It disposes us, in many cases, to forego and part with our own things, for the sake of others (Acts 21:13; 1 John 3:16).

Some of the evidence sustaining the doctrine. This appears from--

1. The nature of love in general. It is of a diffusive nature, and espouses the interests of others.

2. The peculiar nature of Christian or Divine love. Though all real love seeks the good of those who are beloved, yet all other love, excepting this, has its foundation, in one sense, in the selfish principle. So it is with the natural affection which parents feel for their children, and with the love which friends have one to another. But as self-love is the offspring of natural principles, so Divine love is the offspring of supernatural principles, for it embraces enemies as well as friends.

3. The nature of this love to God and to man in particular.

(1) From the nature of this love to God. The Scriptures teach that those who truly love God, love Him so as wholly to devote themselves to Him and His service (Mark 12:30).

(2) From the nature of this love to man.

(a) We are required to love our neighbour as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39).

(b) We are to love others as Christ hath loved us (John 13:34). In John 15:12 Christ calls it His commandment.

(i) Christ has set His love on His enemies (Romans 5:8; Romans 5:10).

(ii) Such was Christ’s love to us, that He was pleased, in some respects, to look on us as Himself (Matthew 25:40).

(iii) Such was the love of Christ to us, that He spent Himself for our sakes.

(iv) Christ thus loved us, without any expectation of ever being requited by us for His love.

Conclusion: Let me dissuade all from a selfish spirit and practice, and exhort all to seek that which shall be contrary to it. In addition to the motives already presented, consider--

1. That you are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:19).

2. That by your very profession as a Christian, you are united to Christ and to your fellow-Christians (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

3. That, in seeking the glory of God and the good of your fellow-creatures, you take the surest way to have God seek your interests and promote your welfare. (Jon. Edwards.)

Christian self-sacrifice

Love seeketh not her own.

1. To the injury of others.

2. Regardless of the welfare of others. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves, even blessing those who curse us.

3. Self-sacrifice is involved. A mother shows it, for her children’s sake. Paul for his kinsmen. Christ, for our sakes, became poor.

4. In efforts for the good of others. Love seeketh not her own, as the great end of life and action. This is not the central mainspring--self-worship or the credit which may be gained of men.

What does love seek?

1. The glory of God. This is a privilege, a gratification, and not a dreaded task.

2. The welfare of others Charity begins, but does not end, at home.

3. The welfare of Christ’s cause.

What does love gain?

1. Her own true honour. Christ, who “emptied Himself,” receives now the adoration of earth and heaven. The unselfish shall hear at last, “Come, ye blessed.”

2. Her own highest blessedness. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

3. Her highest usefulness. Unselfish love is the mightiest of moral forces. Example is powerful, but behind that is the subtle power of character. This is the highest power of the preacher. The same mind which is in Jesus should be in us. (W. W. Woodworth.)

Charity seeketh not her own

Love seeks the happiness of its object, and not mere self-interest. I do not say that all religion is employed about the interest of others. Love for character is a love for that which regards our own interest as well as that of others. Some of the exercises of religion transact with God directly about our own interest, and contemplate God as standing related to our own interest, and consist in those feelings of gratitude, trust, hope, and dependence which have immediate reference to our own interest. I will endeavour to set before you some of the leading attributes of true religion. Its vital principle consists in that love which “seeketh not her own.” Although it has more to do with personal concerns than with the concerns of any other individual, yet so far as the interest of others comes into view, it does, when perfect, love a neighbour as one’s self. It respects all beings that are clearly seen, according to their moral excellence. Of course it delights in the character of God more than in that of all created beings, and it regards his happiness more than theirs. Here, then, you have the picture of a real Christian. His care is more for the honour of God and the interest of His kingdom than for his own happiness. He really loves God better than himself. What a noble and lovely temper is this! How vast the difference between such a man and the sordid wretch who cares not what becomes of God or His kingdom provided he is safe! This will let you into a view of the character of God. Such love fills his heart. His whole heart is fixed on the public good. His own happiness consists in promoting that and in enjoying that. His benevolence therefore hates sin and takes the form of holiness. It was benevolence which founded a moral government, to secure the holy order and happiness of the creation. From this view of the character of God we may discover the different motives which excite the Christian and the hypocrite to love him. The Christian loves him because he is love, and has set his heart on the happiness of the universe. He delights in God’s wisdom and power because it is their nature to contrive and execute glorious purposes for the general happiness. But the selfish man loves God only as a personal friend--because he has done him good, and as he hopes, intends to save him. He loves to meditate on God’s milder attributes, because he regards them as pledges of his salvation. And now he is full of joy and praise and love, and is melted into tears by a sense of God’s mercies to him, and is willing to do many things for his heavenly Friend. But his love is worthless because it is selfish. We may also see from what different motives the Christian and the hypocrite rejoice that God reigns. The Christian rejoices that all things are under the Divine direction, because in this he sees a security that all things will be conducted for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom. The hypocrite rejoices that God reigns, because if his friend has the management of affairs, he trusts it will fare well with him. The view we have taken of the nature of charity will help us to discover the excellent nature of the Divine law. Look again at that amiable man who loves the interest of God’s kingdom better than his own, who pities and relieves the hungry and the naked; whose heart is under this dominion of justice and universal benevolence. Well, this is the model which the law of God has formed. Were the law universally obeyed, it would fill the world with just such characters. It enjoins nothing but love and its fruits. And what does it forbid? Here is a selfish wretch who would burn a house and send a whole family to perdition for the sake of robbing it of a few shillings. Here is another who would demolish the throne of God and bury the universe under its ruins, for the sake of being independent. What a satanical temper is this! Well, this, and nothing but such as this, the Divine law forbids. How clear it is that this law is the friend of the universe! Here again the true character of God comes out to view. This spirit must be in Him or it could not flow forth in His law. We now see how certain it is that a good man will love the Divine law. He has the very temper of the law in his heart, and he sees that the happiness of the universe rests on the principles which the law contains. We may now see from what different motives the Christian and the hypocrite oppose sin. The good man abhors sin as being a transgression of the Divine law, an enemy of God and His kingdom; but the selfish man, having connected together the ideas of sin and misery, resists sin merely as an enemy to himself. We are now prepared to discover how charity will regard the atonement and mediation of Christ. Had it proclaimed that the penalty should never be exeuted, it would have ruined the law, and the Sufferer might better have remained in heaven. But it pronounced exactly the opposite truth. The obedience of Christ likewise honoured the law. Let us now examine the general grounds on which a benevolent man will approve of this way of salvation. He wishes well to the universe, and is prepared to approve of any measure which is conducive to the public happiness. These are some of the ways in which that charity which “seeketh not her own” will act towards God, His government, His law, and towards sin and the gospel. I pray you to bring your religion to this test. If it does not agree with this, cast it from you as a viper that will sting you to death. (E. D. Griffin, D.D.)

Charity the opposite of an angry spirit

What is that spirit to which Christian love is the opposite of a wrathful disposition? It is not all anger that Christianity is opposite to (Ephesians 4:26). Anger may be undue and unsuitable in respect to--

1. Its nature, i.e., when it contains ill-will, or a desire of revenge. We are required by Christ to pray for the prosperity even of our enemies (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:14). And so revenge is forbidden (Leviticus 19:18; Romans 12:19; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8).

2. Its occasion, i.e., when it is without any just cause (Matthew 5:22). And this may be the case--

(1) When there is no fault in its object. Many are of such a proud and peevish disposition, that they will be angry at anything that is troublesome, whether anybody be to blame for it or not. And it is a common thing for persons to be angry with others for their doing well, and that which is only their duty.

(2) When persons are angry upon small and trivial occasions. Some are of such a fretful spirit, that they are put out of humour by every little thing in the family, society, or business, that are no greater faults than they themselves are guilty of every day.

(3) When our spirits are stirred at the faults of others chiefly as they affect ourselves, and not as they are against God. We should never be angry but at sin.

3. Its end. When we are angry--

(1) Without considerately proposing any end to be gained by it.

(2) For any wrong end.

4. Its measure. When it is immoderate--

(1) In degree. Sometimes men’s passions rise so high that they act as if beside themselves.

(2) In its continuance (Ecclesiastes 7:9; Ephesians 4:26). If a person allows himself long to hold anger towards another, he will quickly come to hate him.

How charity is contrary to it.

1. It is directly, and in itself, contrary to all undue anger, for its nature is good-will.

2. All its fruits, as mentioned in the context, are contrary to it. It is contrary to--

(1) Pride, which is one chief cause of undue anger.

(2) To selfishness. Love, or charity, is contrary to anger. It is because men seek their own that they are malicious and revengeful.

Conclusion: Consider how undue anger--

1. Destroys the comfort of him that indulges it.

2. Unfits persons for the duties of religion (Matthew 5:24).

3. The angry men are spoken of in the Bible as unfit for human society (Proverbs 22:24-25; Proverbs 29:22). (Jon. Edwards.)

Is not easily provoked.--

Love is not easily provoked

The self-command of love. Under passion it is--

1. Cool, not passionate.

2. Calm, not stolid.

3. Patient, not peevish.

4. Serious, not sarcastic.

5. Forgiving, not resentful.

The secret of its power--humility, enlightenment, pity for the offender, steadfast reliance on God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Charity not easily provoked

After an intimate acquaintance with Archbishop Leighton for many years, and having been with him by night and by day, at home and abroad, in public and private, I must say I never saw him in any temper in which I myself would not wish to be found at death. (Bp. Burnet.)

Charity not easily provoked

St. Remigius, Archbishop of Rheims, foreseeing that a year of famine was approaching, stored up a quantity of grain for the poor of his flock. Some drunkards set fire to his granaries, and the Saint hearing of it, mounted his horse and rode to the spot to save the corn. Finding, however, that the fire had gained too great power, he quietly dismounted, and approaching the fire, stretched out his hands as if to warm himself, observing: “To an old man a fireplace is always acceptable.”

On the government of the temper

To be “not easily provoked,” to be slow in taking offence, and moderate in the expression of resentment--in one word, a good temper seems to be generally reckoned rather among the gifts of nature, the privileges of a happy constitution, than among the possible results of careful self-discipline. We speak of our unhappy temper as if it were something that entirely removed the blame from us, and threw it all upon the peculiar sensitiveness of our frame. The excuse is as absurd as it is mischievous. It is to say, “I have great need of self-control; therefore I will take no care about controlling myself; I have much to acquire of a truly Christian spirit; therefore I need take no pains in studying it.” It is granted that there may be great differences of natural constitution, just as there are great differences of outward situation. A sickly frame may, in itself, be more disposed, than one which has always been healthy, to a fretful and irritable temper. Particular circumstances, also, may expose some to greater vexations than others. But, after all this is granted, the only reasonable conclusion appears to be, that the attempt to govern the temper is more difficult in some cases than in others, not that it is, in any case, impossible. I now proceed to lay down some rules for its government. The first I derive not only from the opinion that a bad temper is nothing else than the strength and waywardness of selfish feelings habitually indulged, but from the connection in which I find the apostle’s description of that good temper which is one characteristic of charity--Charity “seeketh not her own.” Now it appears to me that the reverse of this is pre-eminently true of a bad temper. It is continually seeking its own--its own convenience, ease, comfort, pleasure; and therefore it cannot bear that these things should be forgotten or interrupted.

1. The first rule, therefore, which I would mention for the government of the temper is, guard against the indulgence of a selfish feeling even in your best purposes; beware, even when you think you are entirely occupied with the welfare of others, lest there be some lurking self-will which is seeking to be gratified.

2. Another caution which will frequently be found of use, and particularly in our intercourse with those to whom it is of most consequence that our temper should be gentle and forbearing, is this: avoid raising into undue importance in your own minds the little failings which you may perceive in others, or the trifling disappointments which they may occasion you. How much uneasiness and provocation do we seek, both for ourselves and our friends, if we fret ourselves into anger on an occasion which requires, perhaps, only a gentle word; or if we think it necessary to wear a frown, when every purpose of correction might as well, if not better, be effected by a good-tempered smile.

3. Again, if you wish to follow after that charity which “is not easily provoked,” do not forget, in the opposition or disappointment of which you may feel inclined to complain, to make due allowance for the situation, feelings, or judgments of others; do not forget that these cannot always be expected to be in unison with your own.

4. Another rule for the government of the temper, closely connected with the last, if indeed it can be separated from it, is, always put the best construction on the motives of others, when you do not understand their conduct. Do not let it be your immediate conclusion, that they must have intended to neglect or offend you, that they cannot possibly have a good reason for their behaviour.

5. It will further be a great help to our efforts, as well as our desires, for the government of the temper, if we consider seriously the natural consequences of hasty resentments, angry replies, rebukes impatiently given or impatiently received, muttered discontents, sullen looks, and harsh words. It may safely be asserted that the consequences of these and other varieties in which ill-temper can show itself, are entirely evil. The feelings which accompany them in ourselves, and those which they excite in others, are unprofitable as well as painful. They lessen our own comfort, and tend rather to prevent than to promote the improvement of others. After considering the effects of a bad temper, even when connected with good intentions, we shall be the more disposed to practise another method which may be mentioned, for correcting or guarding against it in ourselves. I have already advised a restraint to be placed upon hasty feelings of anger or dissatisfaction; but we should check the expression of those feelings. If our thoughts are not always in our power, our words and actions and looks may be brought under our command; and, if I mistake not, a command over these will be found no mean help towards obtaining an increase of power over our thoughts and feelings themselves. There are not wanting either reasons or rules for the government of the temper, even when we have serious cause for complaint or censure. Let it be that the language or conduct of another has done us real and great injustice. Is this more than we ought to expect, or to be prepared for bearing, in a world where, among other purposes, we are placed to be exercised by trials of Christian patience? A good temper is the natural and constant homage of a truly religious man to that God whom he believes to be love, and to dwell in those who dwell in love. To confirm us in the resolution of making our religion effectual as a help and a rule in the government of our tempers, we shall do well to consider, frequently, the proofs of its efficacy for such a purpose which we may find in the examples of those who have been remarkable for their meekness and patience. These examples will familiarise us with the fact, that such things have been borne; they will accustom us to consider a patient endurance of them a regular part of our religious duties; they will accustom us to think it the business of a Christian to watch over every weakness to which be knows himself subject. Cherish in your minds a spirit of prayer. The help of religion is best sought in connection with supplication to Him who is the source and end of religion. The calmness and seriousness of reflection are best secured by making the pause allowed for communion with our own wisest thoughts, a pause also for communion with Him who is the giver of wisdom. (A. R. Beard.)


1. Provocation is but the calling forth in us, and from us, some emotion, by some external circumstance which in some way or other affects us. It is perhaps the evil from within us, answering to, and going forth to meet the evil from without us. There is probably some dangerous, tender spot in the character or temperament of every one of us which is peculiarly susceptible to provocation. It may vary from time to time. It may shift from one point to another, just as pain sometimes shifts from one member to another. We know also that certain conditions of the atmosphere, or postures of the body, or certain things which affect our senses, affect each of us according to the sensitiveness of any particular sense. So it is with the mind. One thing which one person will bear without the least annoyance will entirely disturb another; or again, certain people will have the peculiar gift of saying, or looking, or having a manner which almost, in spite of ourselves, seems so easily to provoke us, and cause us to be wanting in kindly feeling. There are persons who somehow always contrive to say the right things at the wrong times, or are out of tune with us altogether. When we are in great trouble, they talk trivially; or they console us with just the very things that do not afford us the very least consolation; or when our minds are full of some important business, they detain us with some imaginary trouble of their own, or some story about their neighbour. Our charily, our courtesy, is chafing under it, and at last we are fairly “easily provoked,” and, indeed, if we knew where to draw the line--justly.

2. Much depends, however, by what is meant by the word “provoked” here. The word is such an everyday word, that we can be at no loss to attach a meaning to it in its ordinary sense. When we hear such expressions as “I was provoked beyond endurance,” or even of things which fall out in the order of providence, that favourite expression, “It is so provoking,” when we come to sound, means really neither more nor less than that our mind has, for the time being, lost its equilibrium, and therefore we are so far forth out of charity with God and our neighbour. Of course the range of such an expression is enormous. It may go from a hasty passing phrase to the deadly sin of anger, malice, and all uncharitableness. At any rate, it is the beginning of sin; and, says the wise man, the “beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water”; that is to say, no one knows when or where it will stop.

3. No doubt one common form that this sin takes with us is irritability of temper. We call it sometimes constitutional irritability. We may excuse it in others, but we must not excuse it in ourselves. It can be overcome. It must be overcome, though it cost us twenty-two years’ work, as it is said to have cost a great saint. Charity is not irritable, nor easily irritated, we may translate the text.

4. To show its great danger, and how it may take any one of us at unawares, remember that one hasty word, spoken under provocation, deprived Moses of the possession of the promised land. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

Irritable temper: unrestrained, and restrained by grace

A quick and fiery temper, easily excited and irritable under small provocations, ought to be regarded as a misfortune and a disadvantage. By such a temper, ungoverned and unchecked, a man may be driven to acts of violence, and even to deeds of blood; partially restrained, it will hurry him into acts of indiscretion, and involve him in controversies and disputes; but let such a temper be brought under the dominion of grace, and it is precisely the temper which creates zeal, which rouses the soul to the gracious self-denyings of noble doing for the sake of God and His truth, to a bold resistance of what is wrong, and an enthusiastic pursuit of what is good. (Dean Hook.)

Thinketh no evil.--

Charity thinketh no evil

Suspects no evil.

Imputes no evil.

Entertains no thought of resentment.

Devises no evil. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Charity thinketh no evil

As self-love makes us think well of ourselves, so charity makes us think well of our brethren. Judge unkindly it cannot; condemn officiously it never will. Upon everything said or done, it puts the best construction possible in the case. No evil report will it believe without evidence; no test of character will it accept but that which God hath ordained; no follower of Christ will it discard because his views and feelings do not quadrate in all respects with its own. To mere surmise and rumour it will not listen for a moment; and from the malicious whispers of the tale-bearer it averts its ear with a holy disgust. When forced to believe evil of another, it accepts the fact with manifest reluctance, takes no pleasure in reporting it, finds many a palliation for the offence, and spreads its broad mantle over the multitude of sins. To talk of the good of its neighbours is its special delight, to set forth their virtues and commend their worthy deeds. In every opportunity of communicating pleasure it rejoices with unfeigned joy, and with instinctive horror shinks from inflicting needless pain. The counsels of avarice and ambition it opposes with all its might; and by every mild and gracious means at its command counteracts the deadly influence of pride, envy, anger, malice, and revenge. Stemming the torrents of vice and error, it seeks to rescue the perishing and edify the faithful--to make the miserable happy, and the happy happier still. In the closet it originates schemes for blessing humanity, and goes forth into society for their execution. At night it devises deeds of mercy upon its bed, and in the morning rises radiant as the dawn to perform the benevolent purposes with which it sank to rest. (J. A. James.)

Love thinketh no evil

No one is perhaps half as bad as he is represented, and many of the faults and failings of our neighbours exist only in our own disordered minds. If you have a flaw in your window glass, the loveliest view seen through it will be ugly and distorted. So if you have a flaw in your mind, if you look uncharitably, unlovingly at others, you will see nothing but evil in them. So much depends upon our way of looking at things. I have heard of a man who, coming home late one night, complained that he had been followed by an ill-looking person. It turned out that this was his own shadow. (H. J. W. Buxton.)

Thinketh no evil

That was a well-deserved rebuke given by a gentleman, whose wife said of a neighbour, “He is very kind to the poor, but it may be more for the sake of praise than doing good.” To which the husband replied, “Look here, Mary, when you see the hands of our clock always right, you may be sure that there is not much wrong with the inside works.” The tendency to sit in judgment upon each other’s motives is a very common fault, especially among young people. It crops up more frequently n the freedom of home intercourse than anywhere else, consequently that is just in the place where its first manifestations should be nipped in the bud. The charity that “thinketh no evil” is a rare but most desirable possession. (The Brooklet.)


1. Each man’s thoughts are a world to himself. We all of us have an interior world to govern, and he is the only king who knows how to rule his thoughts. We are very much influenced by external things, but our true character is found within. It is manufactured in the world of our thoughts, and there we must go to influence it. He whose energy covers his thoughts, covers the whole extent of self.

2. In some degree our thoughts are a more true measure of ourselves than even our actions. Our thoughts are not under the control of human respect. No one knows anything about them. There are thousands of things which we are ashamed to say, or to do, which we are not ashamed to think. It is not easy for our thoughts to be ashamed of themselves. They have no witnesses but God. Religious motives can alone have a jurisdiction over them.

3. If a man habitually has kind thoughts of others, not because he happens to be of an easy-going disposition, but on supernatural motives, that is, as a result of grace, he is not far from being a saint.

4. Kind thoughts imply a great deal of thinking about others. This, in itself, is rare. But they imply also a great deal of thinking about others without the thoughts being judgments of their conduct, or criticisms. This is rarer still. Active-minded people are naturally the most prone to find fault, and such must, therefore, make kind thoughts a defence against self. By sweetening the fountain of their thoughts they will destroy the bitterness of their judgments. But kind thoughts imply a great nearness to, and a close contact with God. Kind thinking is an especial attribute of God, because He is not extreme to mark what is done amiss: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses.”

5. Nobody can judge men but God, and we can hardly obtain a higher or more reverent view of God than that which represents Him to us, as judging men with boundless charity.

6. The habit of judging others, that is, of thinking evil, requires a long process to eradicate it. We must concentrate ourselves upon it to keep it in check, and this check is to be found in kind interpretations in suspecting, not evil, but good motives. We must come to esteem very lightly our sharp eye for evil on which we perhaps prided ourselves as cleverness in detecting, or, as we called it, unmasking it. We forget that all this may be, that there is a terrible possibility, or even a probability of its being, a huge uncharitableness. No doubt knowledge of character may be a talent, but it is the hardest talent of all to manage. We are sure to continue to say clever or sharp things as long as we are by way of judging others. Sight is a great blessing, but there are times and places in which it is far more blessed not to see. Of course we are not to grow blind to evil, but we must grow to something higher and something truer than a quickness in detecting or suspecting evil, if we would have anything of that blessed “charity,” that love which “thinketh no evil.”

7. Have we not always found that, on the whole, our kind interpretations were truer than our harsh ones? What mistakes have we not made in judging others? But have they not almost always been on the side of harshness? We have roused, and perhaps given vent to our righteous indignation. All at once the whole matter is explained in some most simple way, and we are lost in astonishment that we should never have thought of it ourselves. On the other hand, how many times in life have we been wrong, when we put a kind construction on the conduct of others?

8. The practice of kind thoughts tells most decidedly on our spiritual life. It leads to great self-denial about our talents and influence.

9. Thinking no evil, that is, thinking kind thoughts, endows us with great facility in spiritual things. It opens and widens the paths of prayers. It enables us to find God easily, because God is Love.

10. Above all, it is one of the main helps to the complete government of the tongue. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

Charity opposed to censoriousness

The nature of censoriousness. It consists of a disposition to think evil with respect to--

1. The state of others. It often shows itself in a disposition to think the worst of those about us, whether they are worldly men or Christians.

2. The qualities of others. It appears in a disposition to overlook their good qualities, or to make very little of them; or to make more of their ill qualities than is just; or to charge them with those ill qualities which they have not.

3. The actions or speech of others. This spirit discovers itself--

(1) In judging them to be guilty of evil actions without any evidence that constrains them to such a judgment (1 Timothy 6:4; Psalms 15:1-3; Proverbs 17:4).

(2) In a disposition to put the worst constructions on their actions. But here it may be inquired, “Wherein lies the evil of judging ill of others, since it is not true that all judging ill of others is unlawful? And where are the lines to be drawn? “To this I reply, that there are persons appointed on purpose to be judges, in civil societies, and in Churches, and that particular persons, in their private judgments of others, are not obliged to divest themselves of reason, that they may thus judge well of all. And therefore we are not forbidden to judge all persons where there is plain and clear evidence that they are justly chargeable with evil. But the evil of that judging wherein censoriousness consists, lies--

(a) In judging evil of others when evidence does not oblige to it, or in thinking ill of them when the case very well allows of thinking well of them (Proverbs 18:13).

(b) In a well-pleasedness in judging ill of others.

How a censorious spirit is contrary to charity.

1. It is contrary to love to our neighbour.

(1) We see that persons are very backward to judge evil of themselves. And, therefore, if they loved their neighbour as themselves, love would have the same tendency with respect to him.

(2) We see that persons are very backward to judge evil of those they love.

(3) We see, also, universally that where hatred and ill-will towards others most prevail, there a censorious spirit most prevails.

2. A censorious spirit manifests a proud spirit. And this, the context declares, is contrary to the spirit of charity.

Conclusion: This subject--

1. Sternly reproves those who commonly take to themselves the liberty of speaking evil of others. How often does the Scripture condemn backbiting and evil-speaking! (Psalms 50:19-20; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:1; Psalms 15:3).

2. Warns all against censoriousness, either by thinking or speaking evil of others, as they would be worthy of the name of Christians.

(1) How often, when the truth comes fully out, do things appear far better concerning others than at first we were ready to judge.

(2) How little occasion is there for us to pass our sentence on others. Our great concern is with ourselves (1 Corinthians 4:5).

(3) God has threatened, that if we are found censoriously judging and condemning others, we shall be condemned ourselves (Romans 2:3). (Jon. Edwards.)


The character of Aunt Henderson in “Kitty Trevylyan” is a very suggestive and instructive one. Her conversation consisted chiefly in compassionate animadversions upon the infirmities of her neighbours. In this, of course, she was perfectly conscientious, thinking it a matter of much importance that we should observe the follies and errors of others, in order to learn wisdom and prudence from them. Now Aunt Henderson is scarcely an imaginative personage. The world is full of just such people who seem to regard the rest of mankind as a set of defective specimens expressly designed to teach them moral perfection, just as children at school have ungrammatical sentences placed before them to teach them grammar. But I cannot help thinking, with Kitty, that the children may learn more from the correct sentences than from the incorrect, and that it is far more pleasant to have the beautiful right thing before one than the failure; nor can I believe, any more than she, that others are sent into the world to be a sort of example of error and imperfection, even to make Aunt Henderson and other conscientious people of the same kind quite perfect by the contrast. Aunt Henderson and her followers seem to be the very opposite of St. Paul’s charity in this chapter; for they enjoy a sort of selfish gratification in the mistakes and misdoings of their neighbours, and dwell upon them with a malicious self-complacency of which they are scarcely conscious; while it is among the most conspicuous qualities of charity, and by no means the least beautiful of the portraiture, that she “taketh not account of evil” (R.V.). (J. Cross, D.D.)

Censorious judgment

Who is not acquainted with people who are expressing unfavourable opinions of others and, without any apparent concern about the consequences, look upon everybody with suspicion? and a very small circumstance is to them a sufficient indication of insincerity or wickedness. The soundness of your faith they question because you happen to differ with them in some unimportant matter of opinion. Your worship may be as hearty and as spiritual as their own; yet, because you do not conform perfectly to their ritual, you are denounced as a Romaniser or a schismatic. They judge all by their own standard, measure all by their own iron bedstead, and make no account of the modifying influences of education and society. Even the fatherly chastisements of Divine Providence they misinterpret; and, like Job’s miserable comforters, pronounce the metal spurious because it has been submitted to the furnace. If the motive of an act is not perfectly obvious, they are apt to give it a bad construction, though a good one were quite as easy. A general remark is made in company, and some one present thinks it applicable to himself, and forthwith angrily appropriates it, though the speaker had no more thought of him than of Julius Caesar. Absorbed in meditation or conversation, you unconsciously pass an acquaintance in the street without speaking to him, and the casual oversight is set down against you as an intentional incivility. I recollect once to have given lasting offence by failing to recognise on the instant an old friend whom I had not met for many years, though I was never in my life more innocent of unfriendly intention. On another occasion I incurred the displeasure of a lady by my inability to identify her behind a veil, which rendered her face as invisible as the moon in a total eclipse, and the crime I believe was never forgiven. Censorious people commonly see motes in others’ eyes through beams in their own, and none are more to be suspected than those who are always suspecting their neighbours. Their knowledge of human nature is obtained at home, and their fears of you are only the reflected images of their own, evil hearts. They resemble the surly mastiff, that sidles growling toward the mirror, mistaking his own likeness for a foe. Full of evil surmisings, they cannot afford to suspend their judgment and wait for explanation or evidence; blot, impelled by the bad spirit within them, they rush blindly to the bench and thunder forth their anathema against the supposed delinquent. How eagerly they take up an evil report, and how industriously they circulate it! Hearing a vague rumour, than which nothing is more uncertain in such a world as this, they believe without a particle of evidence, and never take the trouble to inquire into the grounds of the suspicion; but roll the delicious slander as a sweet morsel under their tongues, and feed on the imaginary imperfection of their neighbours with the zest of a vulture upon the slain. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity thinketh no evil

This is not to say that love is blind to iniquity or slow, on occasion, to reprove it. The most scathing denunciation that ever was heard, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, how shall ye escape the damnation of hell!” fell from the lips of Incarnate Love. But love has nothing in common with a censorious spirit. Love puts the best construction on everything it sees. It thinketh no evil. Let us note some of the reasons why we should, as far as possible, speak well of our fellow-men.

It is Christ like. How sympathetic and gracious and helpful He ever was! He had a kind word for the magdalen, a pitying glance for the dying thief.

Consider our ignorance. Who are we that we should assume to know what passes in a human breast? How little we understand the conditions, the environment, the sore temptations, of those who fall into sin!

1. Of justice we know little or nothing. Let us leave that to an omniscient God. Our function is with mercy. That falls measurably within our sphere of knowledge, and we are safe to administer it.

We work incalculable injury by our uncharitable treatment of others. There are people who would not prick their neighbours with a bodkin, yet do not hesitate, as Swift says, to--

“Convey a libel with a frown,

And wink a reputation down.”

They would not steal a farthing, but rob their neighbours without scruple of that which is better than life. It is related that when the martyr Taylor was dying at the stake one of the bystanders cast a flaming torch which struck his eyes and blinded them “and brake his face that the blood ran down his visage.” This was base, cowardly, brutal beyond words. But it was not more base, more brutal, or more cowardly than to injure a man in his reputation, to put him to an open shame by blackening his honour.

We live in glass houses. We are none of us any better than the law requires, none of us any better than we ought to be. We have all sinned and come short of the Divine glory; and, strange to tell, the faults which we are most prone to criticise in others are those which are most deeply seated in ourselves. Tell me the general drift of a man’s aspersions and I will show you his darling sin. It would be prudent in us all to take advantage of that provision which in courts of justice excuses a witness from testifying against a culprit when to do so would incriminate himself. It takes a rogue to catch a rogue. All captious criticism is in the nature of State’s evidence.

We are on our way to judgment. And here we are making the rule which will apply to ourselves at that great day. “Judge not,” said the Master, “that ye be not judged. For with what judgment,” etc. The Moslems say that two spirits are set to guard the actions of every man. At night they fly up to heaven and report to the recording angel. The one says, “He bath wrought this good, O angel! Write it ten times!” The other says, “He hath wrought this evil; but forbear, O angel, yet seven hours, in order that he may repent!” It is true that God delighteth in mercy. But it we want it we must here accord it.

In dealing ungraciously with others we lose the blessed opportunity of kindness. There is no telling “what good may he done by a word of sympathy and helpfulness, one of those “words in due season” which are like apples of gold in pictures of silver. In the prison at New Bedford there is a man serving out a life sentence who some years ago had a strange experience. He had previously been regarded as one of the most desperate and dangerous inmates. He had planned outbreaks and mutinies, and been repeatedly punished in vain. His heart was full of bitterness. But one day in June a party of strangers came to visit the institution, an old man with several ladies and one little girl. It happened that this prisoner had just been assigned for some misdemeanour to the menial task of scrubbing the corridor. The warden, leading the visitors about, saw him, sulky and morose, at the top of the stairway. “Jim,” he called, “come and carry this little girl up.” The convict scowled and hesitated. The little girl at the foot of the stairway held out her arms and said, “If you will, I’ll kiss you.” He looked at her seriously a moment, then slowly came down, and lifting her upon his shoulders as tenderly as any father could have done, carried her to the upper corridor. She raised her face. He gravely stooped and kissed it, then returned to his task. And they say at the New Bedford jail that he has never been the same man since that day. The kindness of that child in some way transformed his life. (D. J. Burrell, D.D.)

On candour

Religion and government are the two great foundations of order and comfort among mankind. Government restrains the crimes which would be subversive of society, secures the property, and defends the lives of its subjects. But the defect of government is, that human laws can extend no farther than to the actions of men. Religion supplies the insufficiency of law by striking at the root of those disorders which occasion so much misery in the world. Its professed scope is to regulate, not actions alone, but the temper and inclinations. By this means it ascends to the sources of conduct. We are led to this reflection by the description given in the context of charity, that great principle in the Christian system. He justly supposes, that, if the temper be duly regulated, propriety of action will follow, and good order take place in external behaviour.

Let us consider what this description of charity imports. You will easily perceive that the expression in the text is not to be understood in a sense altogether unlimited; as if there were no occasion on which we are to think unfavourably of others. To view all the actions of men with the same degree of complacency would be contrary both to common understanding and to many express precepts of religion. Religion renders it our duty to abhor that which is evil. The virtue inculcated is that which is known by the name of candour. It is necessary to observe that the true candour is altogether different from that guarded, inoffensive language and that studied openness of behaviour which we so frequently meet with among men of the world. Smiling, very often, is the aspect, and smooth are the words, of those who inwardly are the most ready to think evil of others. That candour which is a Christian virtue consists not in fairness of speech, but in fairness of heart. It may want the blandishment of external courtesy, but supplies its place with generous liberality of sentiment. Its manners are unaffected, and its professions cordial. It is perfectly consistent with extensive knowledge of the world, and with due attention to our own safety. In that various intercourse which we are obliged to carry on with persons of every different character, suspicion, to a certain degree, is a necessary guard. It is only when it exceeds the bounds of prudent caution that it degenerates into vice He makes allowance for the mixture of evil with good, which is to be found in every human character. He expects none to be faultless; and he is unwilling to believe that there is any without some commendable quality. In the midst of many defects he can discover a virtue. Under the influence of personal resentment he can be just to the merit of an enemy. He is not hasty to judge, and he requires full evidence before he will condemn. As long as an action can be ascribed to different motives, he holds it as no mark of sagacity to impute it always to the worst. Where there is just ground for doubt, he keeps his judgment undecided. When he must condemn, he condemns with regret. He listens calmly to the apology of the offender. From one wrong opinion he does not infer the subversion of all sound principles; nor from one bad action conclude that all regard to conscience is overthrown. He commiserates human frailty; and judges of others according to the principles by which he would think it reasonable that they should judge of him. In a word, he views men and actions in the clear sunshine of charity and good-nature, and not in that dark and sullen shade which jealousy and party-spirit throw over all characters.

To recommend, by various arguments, this important branch of Christian virtue.

1. Let us begin with observing what a necessary requisite it is to the proper discharge of all the social duties. Accordingly, love, gentleness, meekness, and long-suffering are enumerated as distinguishing fruits of the Spirit of Christ. But it is impossible for such virtues to find place in a breast where the propensity to think evil of others is predominant. Charitable and candid thoughts of men are the necessary introduction to all good-will and kindness. They form, if we may speak so, the only climate in which love can grow up and flourish. A suspicious temper checks in the bud every kind affection. It hardens the heart, and estranges man from man. It connects humanity with piety. For he who is not given to think evil of his fellow-creatures, will not be ready to censure the dispensations of his Creator. Whereas the same turn of mind which renders one jealous and unjust towards men, will incline him to be querulous and impious towards God.

2. In the second place, as a suspicious uncharitable spirit is inconsistent with all social virtue and happiness, so, in itself, it is unreasonable and unjust. In order to form sound opinions concerning characters and actions, two things are especially requisite, information and impartiality. But such as are most forward to decide unfavourably are destitute of both. Instead of possessing, or even requiring, full information, the grounds on which they proceed are frequently the most slight and frivolous. Nothing can be more contrary both to equity and to sound reason than such precipitate judgments. The motives of the actor may have been entirely different from those which you ascribe to him; and, where you suppose him impelled by bad design, he may have been prompted by conscience and mistaken principle. Admitting the action to have been in every view criminal, he may have been hurried into it through inadvertency and surprise. He may have sincerely repented; and the virtuous principle may have now regained its full vigour. No error is more palpable than to look for uniformity from human nature, though it is commonly on the supposition of it that our general conclusions concerning character are formed. Mankind are consistent neither in good nor in evil. In the present state of frailty all is mixed and blended. The strongest contrarieties of piety and hypocrisy, of generosity and avarice, of truth and duplicity, often meet in one character. There are few cases in which we have ground to conclude that all goodness is lost. Placed, then, in a situation of so much uncertainty and darkness, where our knowledge of the hearts and characters of men is so limited, and our judgments concerning them are so apt to err, what a continual call do we receive for candour!

3. In the third place, what the sources are of those severe and uncharitable opinions which we are so ready to form. Were the mind altogether free from prepossession and bias, it might avail itself to more advantage of the scanty knowledge which it possesses. It is one of the misfortunes of our present situation that some of the good dispositions of human nature are apt to betray us into frailties and vices. Thus it often happens that the laudable attachment which we contract to the country or the church to which we belong, or to some political denomination under which we class ourselves, both confines our affections within too narrow a sphere, and gives rise to violent prejudices against such as come under an opposite description. Not contented with being in the right ourselves, we must find all others in the wrong. They rashly extend to every individual the severe opinion which they have unwarrantably conceived of a whole body. Was there ever any great community so corrupt as not to include within it individuals of real worth? Besides prepossessions of this nature, which sometimes mislead the honest mind, there are other, and much more culpable, causes of uncharitable judgment. Pride is hurt and wounded by every excellence in which it can claim no share; and, from eagerness to discover a blemish, rests upon the slightest appearance of one, as a satisfying proof. When rivalry and competition concur with pride, our desire to espy defects increases, and, by consequence, the grounds of censure multiply. Where no opposition of interests takes place, envy has too much influence in warping the judgment of many. A person of low and base mind naturally imputes to others the sentiments which he finds congenial to himself.

4. In the fourth place, that suitable to the sources whence a jealous and suspicious temper proceeds, are the effects which it produces in the world, the crimes and mischiefs with which it fills society. It possesses this unhappy distinction beyond the other failings of the human heart, that while it impels men to violent deeds, it justifies to their own apprehension the excesses which they commit. Amidst the uproar of other bad passions, conscience acts as a restraining power. As soon as the tumult subsides, remorse exerts its influence, and renders the sinner sensible of the evil which he has done. But the uncharitable man is unfortunately set loose from any such check or control. Through the infatuation of prejudice, his judgment is perverted; conscience is misled. The first-fruits of an evilthinking spirit are calumny and detraction, by which society is so often embroiled, and men are set at variance with one another. But, did it proceed no farther than censorious speech, the mischief would be less. Much greater and more serious evils frequently ensue. What direful effects, for instance, have often flowed from rash and ill-founded jealousy in private life! In public life, how often have kingdoms been shaken with all the violence of war and rebellion, from the unjust suspicions which subjects had conceived of their rulers; or the rash jealousy which princes had entertained of their people! But it is in religious dissensions chiefly that the mischievous power of uncharitable prejudice has displayed its full atrocity. Let us attend particularly to one awful instance of the guilt which men may contract, and of the ruin which they may bring upon themselves, through the want of fairness and candour. The nation of the Jews were almost noted for a narrow and uncharitable spirit. When John the Baptist and our blessed Lord appeared among them, because the former was austere in his temper, and retired in his life, they pronounced of him that he had an evil spirit; and because the latter was open and sociable in His manners, they held Him to be destitute of that sanctity which became a prophet. Their prejudice against our Lord took its first rise from a most frivolous and contemptible cause. “Is not this the son of the carpenter? Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

5. In the fifth place, as a suspicious spirit is the source of so many crimes and calamities in the world, so it is the spring of certain misery to the person who indulges it. His friends will be few; and small will be his comfort in those whom he possesses. Believing others to be his enemies, he will of course make them such. So numerous and great are the evils arising from a suspicious disposition, that of the two extremes it is more eligible to expose ourselves to occasional disadvantage from thinking too well of others, than to suffer continual misery by thinking always ill of them. It is better to be sometimes imposed upon than never to trust. Safety is purchased at too dear a rate when, in order to secure it, we are obliged to be always clad in armour, and to live in perpetual hostility with our fellows. This is, for the sake of living, to deprive ourselves of the comfort of life. The man of candour enjoys his situation, whatever it is, with cheerfulness and peace.

6. In the sixth place, that there is nothing which exposes men in a more marked and direct manner to the displeasure of the Almighty than a malignant and censorious spirit. I insist not now on the general denunciations of Divine wrath against malice and hatred. Let us only consider under what particular description the Spirit of God brings this crime of uncharitable judgment. It is declared to be an impious invasion of the prerogative of God, to whom alone it belongs to search all hearts, and to determine concerning all characters. On the whole, it clearly appears that no part of the government of temper deserves attention more than to keep our minds pure from uncharitable prejudices, and open to candour and humanity in judging of others. The worst consequences, both to ourselves and to society, follow from the opposite spirit. Let us beware of encouraging a habit of suspicions, by forming too severe and harsh opinions concerning human nature in general. Darkened as the Divine image now is among mankind, it is not wholly effaced. Much piety and goodness may lie hidden in hearts that are unknown to us. Vice is glaring and loud. The crimes of the wicked make a noise in the world, and alarm society. True worth is retired and modest, and requires particular situations to bring it forth to public notice. The aged and the unfortunate, who have toiled through an unsuccessful life with long experience of the falsehood and fraud of evil men, are apt to he the most severe in the opinions which they entertain of others. For such, their circumstances may be allowed to form some degree of apology. (H. Blair, D.D.)

Censorious judgments--their evil effects

As the magicians of Egypt, it is said, imitated Moses and Aaron in turning their rods into serpents, but were not able to turn the serpents again into rods, so a censorious spirit can make an evil thing out of a good, but cannot recover the good again out of the evil. It can make an honest man look like a villain, a sober man like a drunkard, a modest man like a libertine, a devout man like a hypocrite; but what power has it to revive the fair fame it has blasted, and undo the terrible mischief it has done? The poison once poured upon the mind can never be recalled. Your evil surmise is readily received by others as censorious as yourself; your whispered suspicion is taken up by a hundred willing tongues, and confirmed and magnified by a thousand more, till it becomes a common report which no one dares to doubt; but when, convinced of your error and sorry for your imprudence, you wish to retract or modify your statement, you speak to averted ears and minds already prejudiced. The remedy comes too late; the poison has done its work. You have made the serpent; you cannot remake the rod. (H. Blair, D.D.)

Verse 6

1 Corinthians 13:6

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.

Charity cannot rejoice in iniquity, but must rejoice in the truth

Iniquity expresses unevenness or inequality--a want of rectitude or moral principle. In its largest comprehension, as here used by St. Paul, it is the great falsehood brought in by the father of lies, antagonising the goodness of the Creator, and working infinite evil to His creatures. Warring against the love of God, it tends to subvert His authority and spread disorder and anarchy throughout His empire. How, then, can charity rejoice in iniquity? Desiring the welfare of an intelligent universe, how can she rejoice in that which must result only in wretchedness and ruin?

The truth is the exact opposite of iniquity, and therefore the legitimate object of charity’s rejoicing it indicates that which is fixed, settled, solid, certain, constant, according to fact or reality, to be confidently believed and relied upon. The truth by pre-eminence is God’s gracious revelation to man contained in His written Word. The truth in human practice and human character is conformity of heart and life to the principles and requirements of that revelation. (J. Cross, D.D.)

The purity of love

It has no pleasure in sin.

1. In the commission of it.

2. In the contemplation of it in others.

3. In the sufferings it occasions.

Its joy is in the truth (righteousness).

1. In the practice of it.

2. In the triumph of it.

3. The effects of it. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Rejoicing in iniquity

Some are never content till they have arrested somebody’s career of usefulness or honourable success, or cast a blight over some unblemished reputation, or marred the peace of stone harmonious family, or inflicted a wound upon some unsuspecting heart. For these ends they pry into your business matters, your social relations, your domestic concerns, the sacred privacy of your chambers, with a diligence worthy of the highest virtue, and an impertinence not unworthy of the lowest vice. They whisper a scandalous surmise, and enjoin the strictest secrecy, well knowing that they are giving it to every bird of the air, and sowing it broadcast on the winds of heaven. With a baseness of which Satan himself might be ashamed, they write an anonymous letter, rank with the poison of false kindness; making the postmaster an unconscious partner in their despicable enterprise, and converting the ever-welcome letter-carrier at your door into a messenger of hell. In their cowardly ambuscade they sit concealed, and by proxy play their masked batteries upon their victim, who knows not whither “to turn, nor which way to escape, nor whose the hand that wounds him. With what a fiendish satisfaction do they enjoy the mischief they have done! with what an under-chuckle of infernal glee watch the writhings of the anguish they have caused. The Comanche is more humane in his warfare; the rattlesnake is more honourable in its attack. Such a one could laugh at chains, dance in dungeons, jest over guillotines, amuse himself with inquisitorial engines, enjoy his orgies on battle-fields reeking with blood, and with his boon companions--as my own eyes have seen--make a gambling-table of his brother’s grave! He could trifle at the death-bed of a Paine or a Voltaire, frolic merrily around the Saviour’s Cross, and find his sweetest music in the dirge of ruined souls. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Delighting in the defective

Erasmus tells of one who collected all the lame and defective verses in Homer’s works, but passed over all that were excellent. So these, if they can spy anything defective and evil, they observe it, and gather all they can together, but will take no notice of that which is good and praiseworthy; like the kite who flies over the fair meadows and flowers, and lights only upon the carrion, or like flies that love only to be upon the sore, galled places of the horse’s back. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)

Rejoicing with the truth

The gospel is the truth of God because it is the absolute wisdom, the Divine philosophy, of which all the efforts of the human intellect, and all the partial lights that had broken from heaven, were but the dawn (cf. Galatians 2:5; Eph 1:13; 3 John 1:3; all an echo of John 14:6)

. This revelation of God bursts upon man with the fulness of joy. The Son of Man Himself has been anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows, and He appoints also unto the mourner beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Abraham saw the day of Christ and was glad. The gladness of the early Church attracted the notice of the historian (Acts 2:46). We may conjecture that it was her joy that created song and broke forth even in ecstatic utterance. Who is not struck with the profound sadness of the later paganism of Greece and Rome? A Christian apostle alone can address to his readers without irony the exhortation to “rejoice evermore.” In this hymn to love St. Paul personifies the gospel, and represents it as rejoicing. The truth rejoices in its power to create love; for as Augustine says, “the victory of truth is love.” Then love created by the truth rejoices in the loveliness of the truth and rejoices with the truth in its love creating energy. It is the joy of the shepherd when he has found the lost sheep; the joy of the father when the prodigial has returned; of holy angels and of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Principal Edwards.)

Rejoicing with the truth

Charity does not only rejoice in the possession of truth, for that would be selfishness, but rejoices with it whenever she finds it in others. Possessing the whole truth herself, and yet being too humble and too loving to be arrogant in the possession of it, she rejoices as a part of herself, as it were very grains of truth in masses of error, by attracting them to herself by the truth which they hold, or seem to hold, or that remnant of a righteousness, which is, or seems to be, still left in them: remnants of righteousness even in the life of the unrighteous. Just as a magnet draws to itself grains of true metals out of a mass of sand, so she draws others to the whole truth. (J. B. Wilkinson, B.A.)

True grace in the heart tends to holy practice in the life

Negatively, the apostle declares that charity is opposed to all wickedness, or evil practice; and, positively, that it tends to all righteousness, or holy practice.

Some arguments in support of the doctrine.

1. Holy practice is the aim of that eternal election which is the first ground of the bestowment of all true grace (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:10; John 15:16).

2. That redemption, by which grace is purchased, is to the same end (John 17:19; Colossians 1:21-22; Titus 2:14).

3. That saving conversion in which grace is commenced in the soul is to the same end (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:7).

4. That spiritual knowledge and understanding, which are the inward attendants of all true grace in the heart, tend to holy practice.

5. From the more immediate consideration of the principle of grace itself, from which the same will be seen. And here--

(1) Because the faculty which is the immediate seat of it is the faculty of the will, which is the faculty that commands all a man’s actions and practice. The will is the fountain of the practice, as truly as the head of a spring is the fountain of the stream that flows from it.

(2) It is the definition of grace, that it is a principle of holy action. What is grace but a principle of holiness in the heart? And if grace be a principle, what is it a principle of, but of action?

(3) The nature of a principle of grace is to be a vital principle.

(4) Grace is an exceedingly powerful principle (2 Timothy 3:5).

The truth of the doctrine with respect to the particular Christian graces. This is the case--

1. With respect to a true and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:6; James 2:18).

(1) The conviction of the understanding and judgment, which is implied in saving faith, tends to holy practice. If men are really convinced of the truth of the things they are told in the gospel, about salvation and an eternal world, it will act in such a manner as will tend to their obtaining this salvation.

(2) So does that act of the will which there is in saving faith. He that, by the act of his will, does truly accept of Christ as a Saviour, accepts of Him as a Saviour from sin, and not merely from the punishment of sin.

(3) So does all true trust in God. And herein a true trust differs from all false trust. A trust in God in the way of negligence, is what in Scripture is called tempting God; and a trust in Him in the way of sin, is what is called presumption, which is a thing terribly threatened in His Word. But he that truly and rightly trusts in God, trusts in Him in the way of diligence and holiness.

2. All true love to God. Love to our fellow-creatures always influences us in our actions. He that loves money is influenced in his practice by that love, and kept by it in the continual pursuit of wealth. And so he that truly loves God is also influenced by that love in his practice.

3. All true repentance. In the original, the word signifies a change of the mind; and men are said to repent of sin when they change their minds with respect to it.

4. All true humility. He that is sensible of his own unworthiness, will be disposed, by a sense of it, to carry himself accordingly both before God and man.

5. All true fear of God which is a holy solicitude or dread lest we should offend God by sinning against Him.

6. The spirit of thankfulness, and praise, which leads us to render again according to the benefits received.

7. Christian weanedness from the world, and heavenly-mindedness.

8. The spirit of Christian love to men. If the spirit of love to man be sincere, it will tend to the practice and deeds of love (Romans 13:9-10).

9. A true and gracious hope. A false hope tends to licentiousness--to encourage men in their sinful desires and lusts, and to flatter and embolden them even when they are in the way of evil. But a true hope tends to stir men up to holiness of life, to awaken them to duty, and to make them more careful to avoid sin, and more diligent in serving God (1 John 3:3).


1. We may see one main reason why Christian practice and good works are so abundantly insisted on in the Scriptures as an evidence of sincerity in grace (Matthew 7:16-20; John 14:21-24; Ephesians 5:6; Ephesians 5:6).

2. In view of this subject, let all examine themselves, whether their grace is real and sincere.

(1) Has your supposed grace such influence as to render those things in which you have failed of holy practice, loathsome, grievous and humbling to you?

(2) Do you carry about with you, habitually a dread of sin (Genesis 39:9)?

(3) Are you sensible of the beauty and pleasantness of the ways of holy practice?

(4) Do you find that you do particularly esteem and delight in those practices that may, by way of eminence, be called Christian practices, in distinction from mere worldly morality?

(5) Do you hunger and thirst after a holy practice?

(6) Do you make a business of endeavouring to live holily, and as God would have you, in all respects?

(7) Do you greatly desire that you may know all that is your duty? (Jon. Edwards.)

Charity rejoicing with truth

There is a bold double personification--Charity is one person; Truth is another. Truth is rejoicing, and charity, or Christian love, rejoices with her. Truth is by definition reality, or the thing that is; and for St. Paul the sum of all reality, the embodiment of all that is, the revelation of God in Christ. Moral truth, intellectual truth, all meet and harmonise in truth revealed. There is nothing in nature, there is nothing in thought, there is nothing in virtue outside and apart from Him who calls Himself in so many words “ the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “Charity rejoiceth not at iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth.” It is not needful to dwell at any length on the negative statement, “Charity rejoiceth not at iniquity.” It can be no charity to take pleasure in unrighteousness. St. Paul makes it the very climax of wickedness to do so. But there are, at least, two cautions on this subject which ought never to be left unspoken. Records of crime solemnly judged, and terribly punished, if in any sense capable of corrupting us, carry with them their formidable lessons of consequence and of retribution. Even these, in all journals fit for circulation, are records not of offensive particulars, but of reserved and reticent generalities. What shall we say, then, of fictitious narratives of vice, vulgar or fashionable, of tales of which the very point of interest lies in their immorality, of novels presupposing and taking for granted a state of opinion in which profligacy is the rule, and virtue is the exception, in which modesty is made silly and ridiculous, and vice interesting, heroic, and charitable? Can any reprobation be too strong for the writers of such fiction, or any prohibition be too positive of its tolerance in Christian homes? The second caution needs to be spoken. Take heed how ye hear, and how ye read, in what spirit you look upon the crimes and vices of the sinful, what mind and heart you bring to the contemplation, whether it be the “considering thyself lest thou also be tempted,” or the proud feeling which thanks God that he (the beholder) is not as other men are; whether it be the wicked sympathy which gloats over the sin, or the Christian which bewails and weeps over the sinner. “Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth.” Other texts tell, as we have seen, of the struggles and hardships here below, of the truth which is the gospel. This one passage, perhaps almost alone tells of its joys. Then truth sometimes rejoices. It is a delightful thought. Let us give it room. Have we seen no triumphs of the gospel? By the nature of the ease they will come, on different evidence than that by which the victories of earthly conquerors are decided. There will be no assaults, no bombardments, no smoking ruins, and no blood-stained battle-fields to show where the gospel has taken an onward step towards that universal reign which is not the dream nor the vision, but the sure word of prophecy for the Christian. And yet the gospel triumphs have not been few. Traceable directly to the influence, slow, but sure, of Christian principles--of principles which had no place and no existence until Christ died--there have been such results as these: the elevation of women; the emancipation of the slave; the higher conception of the sanctity of life, whether shown in the diminution and greater mercifulness of war, or shown in the mitigation of a Draconic statute-book; the amelioration of the lot of the pauper, the lunatic, the prisoner, and the captive; the institution of hospitals for every form of disease, and associations for every enterprise of benevolence; the advance, let none gainsay it, of public opinion in its estimate of honour, humanity, and virtue; the improvement of habits, domestic and national; and the gracious and generous sacrifices by which education has become the enthusiasm of senate and people--its promotion recognised as a primary duty; its condition made a very test of a standing or falling State. Surely all these things, and a thousand others not included in that enumeration, show that the truth has rejoiced, and charity has rejoiced with her. But it is, no doubt, in her more through and more secret workings that the words of the text are more strikingly justified. It is but a tentative and distant approach that we can make to St. Paul’s feeling, while we speak only of the triumphs of the gospel in a wide field and on a large scale. It is in the individual life that truth exercises the most salutary and saving of her influences. It is there that the light is kindled that is to shine before men to the Father’s glory. Oh! it is not by magnificent attempts of a feeble or shallow conviction, aiming at great things in proportion to its neglect of the smaller, that the real cause of the real gospel is promoted, and made honourable. (Dean Vaughan.)

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 13:7

Beareth … believeth … hopeth … endureth all things.

Love’s labours


The multitude of love’s difficulties.

1. The difficulties of love are many, for the apostle sets forth the opposing armies as four times “all things.” You will have to contend with “all things”--

(1) Within yourself. Nothing in your original nature will help you. God has put within you a new life, but the old life seeks to smother it.

(2) In the persons whom you are called upon to love. The best of the saints will try your patience; and as for the ungodly, everything in them will oppose the drawings of your love.

(3) In the world, for the world lieth in the wicked one, and all its forces run against love.

(4) In hell. The prince of the power of the air leads the van, and the host of fallen spirits eagerly follow him. Speak of crusades against the Paynim, what a crusade is this against hate and evil! Yet we shrink not from the fray.

2. Though love has many difficulties, it overcomes them all, and that four times.

(1) By patience, which “beareth all things.” Let the injury be inflicted, we will forgive it.

(2) By faith: we trust in Christ, and look for Divine succour, and so we “believe all things.”

(3) By hope: we rest in expectation that gentleness will win, and that long-suffering will wear out malice.

(4) By perseverance: we abide faithful to our resolve to love, we will not be irritated into unkindness. Baffled often, love “endureth all things.”

3. Love conquers on all four sides. Love makes a hollow square.

(1) Does God seem to smite love with afflictions? She “beareth all things.”

(2) Do her fellow Christians treat her ill? She believes everything that is good about them, and nothing that is injurious.

(3) Do the wicked rise against her? She hopes that yet they may be brought to a better mind.

(4) Do all her spiritual foes attack her with temptations and insinuations? She turneth patience against them, and by God’s grace “endureth all things.”

4. Love conquers in all stages of her life.

(1) She begins in conversion, and the powers of evil are at once aroused to seek her destruction. Then she “beareth all things.”

(2) She gathers strength, and “believing all things,” confesses her faith, and her fellow Christians are confirmed.

(3) Advancing a little farther, though often disappointed, she “hopes all things.”

(4) And when infirmities and old age come, and she can do little else but sit still, she still perseveres, and accepts even death without complaining, for love “endureth all things.”

The triumph of love’s labour. Her labours are fourfold.

1. In bearing all things. “Bear” might be translated “cover.” The two ideas may be blended, however. Love bears all things in silence, concealing injuries as much as possible even from herself.

(1) Think of this word “covers.”

(a) In reference to the brethren. It is not honourable to men or women to be common informers. Love stands in the presence of a fault, with a finger on her lip. She imitates the pearl oyster. A. hurtful particle intrudes itself and, unable to eject the evil, it covers it with a precious substance extracted out of its own life, by which it turns the intruder into a pearl. I would desire to keep ready for my fellow Christians a bath of silver, in which I could electroplate all their mistakes into occasions for love. As the dripping well covers with its own deposit all that is placed within its drip, so would love cover all within its range with love, thus turning even curses into blessings.

(b) As to “bearing all,” apply the text mainly to trials in dealing with the unconverted. Ignore any repulsiveness that there may be in them. Bear with their ignorance of the gospel, their hardness of heart, and their jests. Would you see the perfection of the charity that beareth all things? Behold your Divine Lord. Oh, what He has covered!

2. In believing all things. In reference--

(1) To our fellow Christians. True love believes good of others as long as it can, and when it is forced to fear that wrong has been done, gives the accused the benefit of many a doubt. When the thing is too clear, love says, “Yes, but the friend must have been under very strong temptation,” or else that the good man must have been mistaken. Love’s blind eye is to the fault, and her bright is for the excellence. It is said that once, in the streets of Jerusalem, there lay a dead dog, and every one reviled it. One spoke of its currish breed, another of its lean and ugly form, etc.; but one passed by who said, “What white teeth it has!” Men said, as He went on His way, “That is Jesus of Nazareth.” Surely it is ever our Lord’s way to see good points wherever He can.

(2) To the unconverted. She does not believe that they are converted, but she believes that their conversion is possible, and expects that the word she speaks will be God’s instrument of salvation. Do you want a model of this? Look to your Divine Master once again. He had no faith in man’s goodness, for “He knew what was in man”; but He had great faith in what could be done in men and for them, and for the joy that was set before Him in this He endured the Cross, despising the shame.

3. In “hoping all things.” Love never despairs.

(1) Hope all things about your brethren, and if you should be forced to see sad signs in them, yet, remember that some of the brightest believers have had their faults. Remember yourself, lest you also be tempted.

(2) As to the unconverted, you will never do anything with them unless you hope great things about them. When the good Samaritan found the poor man half dead, if he had not hoped about him he would never have poured in the oil and the wine, but would have left him there to die. Would you see a model of this? Our blessed Lord despaired of none, but went after those whom others would have given up.

4. In enduring all things. This is perhaps the hardest work of all, for many people can be affectionate and patient for a time, but the task is to hold on year after year. In reference--

(1) To our fellow Christians, love holds out under all rebuffs. If your brethren are angry without a cause, be sorry for them, but do not let them conquer you by driving you into a bad temper.

(2) To the unconverted. Our Lord said, “I will make you fishers of men.” If you go out fishing for souls you will have to endure all things, for some whom you have been seeking for a long time will grow worse instead of better.

The sources of love’s energy. Love’s art is learned at no other school but at the feet of Jesus, where the Spirit of love doth rest on those who learn of Him. Love wins these victories, for--

1. It is her nature. The nature of love is self-sacrifice.

2. She has four companions. Tenderness that “beareth all things”; faith that “believeth all things”; hope and patience which “endureth all things.”

3. She sucks her life from Christ. Love can bear, believe, hope, and endure because Christ has borne, believed, and hoped, and endured for her. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The wide scope of love

Grief is near-sighted, and holds its trouble close up, but love is long-sighted, and takes the events of life, and looks at them in all points of view, and sees how they look against the east, and how against the west, how toward the north, and how toward the south, how above and how below, how against one background, and how against another. Love looks upon a thing all around, in its germs and in its fruits, in its presence and in its coming. It sympathises not with the limitation of grief, but with the largeness of that love of humanity which is in every event. (H. W. Beecher.)

The magnanimity of love

Beareth (covereth) all things--with a mantle of charity--as far as circumstances will admit.

Believeth all things.

1. To the advantage of its neighbour.

2. Until convinced by the clearest evidence.

Hopeth all things.

1. Good of others.

2. Or that can possibly alleviate the wrong.

3. Or contribute to its amendment.

Endureth all things when there is no relief.

1. Without a murmur.

2. Without resentment.

3. Without reproach. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Charity beareth all things

The real meaning of the word is “concealeth.” It does the very thing which it is always asking God to do, hides its face from, and shuts its eyes to, the sins of others. It is charity which applies to itself what it asks of God in the Miserere, and in the De profundis. It turns away its face from the sins of others, and in that deep of God’s love it buries and conceals them.

1. It is terrible to think what a keen eye we have for each other’s faults. It is sad to think how clever we are at ferreting them out, either for our own or for our neighbour’s amusement. Even the dead are sometimes not suffered to rest unmolested in their graves. True it is that they are out of the reach of the tongue of slander or uncharitableness, but the sin is not the less great for all that.

2. Now charity, so far from injuring the reputation of any person by exposing their faults, not only conceals them, but protects these very persons, and interposes a shield, as it were, between them and the attack of their enemies. The very meaning of the word protect is to hide or conceal, by interposing some object between one who would seek to injure another. No doubt, from time to time, cases will arise where faults have to be brought to light and plainly told. But we must make quite sure that it is our business to find them out, and when we do speak, to be careful that we are not gratifying any prejudice of our own.

3. But to bear all things, in the sense of concealing the faults of others, is indeed to have a Christ-like spirit. It is to resemble Him very closely. It is to walk very closely in His loving footsteps. When need arose our gentle Lord was stern and strong in His reproofs. But how often He passes over faults! How ready He is to make excuses for or to conceal or hide them! Let two instances alone suffice: first, in the case of the woman taken in the deadliest of deadly sins. Then, again, on the Cross. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

Charity willing to undergo all sufferings in the way of duty

Explain the doctrine. It implies that those that have Christian love--

1. Are willing not only to do, but also to suffer, for Christ (Luke 14:27).

2. Have the spirit to undergo all the sufferings to which their duty to Christ may expose them. They are willing to undergo all sufferings

(1) Of all kinds.

(a) Reproach and contempt (2 Corinthians 12:10).

(b) Hatred and ill-will (Matthew 10:22).

(c) Losses in their outward possessions (Philippians 3:8); in their ease and comfort (2 Corinthians 6:4-5).

(d) Persecution (Hebrews 11:35-36):

(e) Death itself (Matthew 10:39).

(2) Of all degrees, like pure gold, that will bear the trial of the hottest furnace.

Some reason or proof of the doctrine.

1. If we have not such a spirit, it is an evidence that we have never given ourselves unreservedly to Christ. It is necessary to our being Christians that we should give ourselves to Him, wholly, only, and for ever.

2. They that are truly Christians, so fear God, that His displeasure is far more terrible than all earthly afflictions and sufferings.

3. They that are truly Christians, have that faith whereby they see that which is more than sufficient to make up for the greatest sufferings (2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 11:24-26).

4. If we are not willing to close with religion, notwithstanding all the difficulties attending it, we shall be overwhelmed with shame at last (Luke 14:28-33).

5. Without this spirit which the text implies, we cannot be said to forsake all for Christ. If there be any one kind or degree of temporal suffering that we have not a spirit to undergo for Christ, then there is something that we do not forsake for Him (Luke 14:26, etc.).

6. Without this spirit we cannot be said to deny ourselves in the sense in which the Scriptures require us to do it (Matthew 16:24-25).

7. It is the character of all the true followers of Christ that they follow Him in all things.

8. It is the character of true Christians that they overcome the world (1 John 5:4).

9. The sufferings in the way of duty are often, in the Bible, called temptations or trials, because by them God tries the sincerity of our characters as Christians (1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:12-13).


1. How happy those persons are represented in the Scriptures to be who have a spirit to suffer, and do actually suffer, for Christ (Matthew 5:10-12).

2. What glorious rewards God has promised hereafter to bestow on those that do willingly suffer for Christ (Matthew 19:29; 2 Timothy 2:11-12).

3. How the Scriptures abound with blessed examples of those that have suffered for Christ’s sake! (Jon. Edwards.)

Charity believeth all things

Go tell a mother of the faults of her absent son. You must adduce the clearest evidence before she will yield her reluctant credence: and even then it is not yielded without many misgivings and conjectural qualifications in favour of her child. She demands whether you yourself witnessed the things of which you speak, or whether your informant were a truthful and unprejudiced person, or whether the report may not have originated in some unfriendly motive, or whether there be not some circumstance in connection with the facts that would give them a different aspect, or whether after all it were not some other child instead of her own. Rather than credit the report of her darling’s culpability, she would believe a dozen persons in error, or even guilty of malicious falsehood. But, on the other hand tell her of the good and noble conduct of her boy; unexceptional deportment, his studious habits and proficiency in learning; and instantly you see the glad conviction beaming in her eye, and mantling all her features with sunny joy; and perhaps she adduces many confirmations of your encomium, and tells you the finest things concerning her son, and expatiates enthusiastically upon his rare and noble qualities. What is it but love that renders her so incredulous to what is said against him, and so ready to receive without abatement or qualification all that is uttered in his praise? And Christian love, operating in another sphere, differs nothing in this respect from natural maternal affection, powerfully inclining the heart to faith in the moral excellence of its object. The apostle tells us that “faith worketh by love “; is it not equally true that love worketh by faith?(J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity believeth all things

If we really love a person we implicitly trust him. So, and in a far higher degree, if we really love God we cannot but believe in Him. True it is that the actions of our friends often perplex us, and even distress, but for all that we do not lose our love for them, and if our love be a rightly founded love, we do not lose our confidence in them. So must it be with God and us, our love and trust in Him must be so implicit and so unquestioning, that we must be ready with Job to say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” It is just the want of this child-like trustful faith which makes us suspicious about our fellow-men, and which, at the same time, makes us cold and incredulous, or unbelieving in our religion. On the one hand we are always afraid of being imposed upon or unduly influenced, on the other we are afraid of believing too much, and so we are apt to be reserved, to hold back coldly, not only from our fellow-men, but from God. Limits, and rightly there must be somewhere, but to believe too much is always safer than to believe too little: and probably to be imposed upon many times is safer and more charitable than to hold back once when we ought to go forward. (J. B. Wilkinson, M.A.)

The faith of love

Operates in manifold directions.

1. There is a sense in which it finds exercise towards God. The heart that loves God is not tormented with the mysteries of His Providence. The lips of love say, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” In the midst of inscrutable events in individual or national life, the filial child of God “believeth all things” about His wisdom and love.

2. It finds frequent exercise in relation to the imperfections of friendship. Often in social life there is need for the best construction to be put upon some word or some action. Love so believes in the beloved that it eagerly puts that construction.

3. It finds exercise in relation to mankind generally. With the true “enthusiasm of humanity,” its views of men, its interpretations of men are inspired by a faith it is very unwilling to forego. And thus, as long and as far as possible, it “believeth all things.”

Is an unspeakable gain to men. For who cannot see that to have--

1. Unbroken repose in God’s government.

2. Ungrudging trust in friendship, and--

3. Unfaltering belief in humanity, exerts the highest influences on--

(1) Piety.

(2) Philanthropy? (U. R. Thomas.)

All the graces of Christianity connected

The manner in which they are connected.

1. They always go together. Where there is one, there are all, and where one is wanting, all are wanting.

2. They depend upon one another. One cannot be without the others. To deny one would in effect be to deny another, and so all.

3. They are, in some respects, implied one in another. Thus, e.g., humility is implied in faith, etc.

Some reasons of their being thus connected and dependent.

1. They are all from the same source (1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:6).

2. They are all communicated in the same work of the Spirit, namely, conversion. There is not one conversion of the soul to faith, and another conversion to love, etc.

3. That they all have the same root and foundation, namely, the knowledge of God’s excellence (Psa 9:10; 1 John 3:6; 1 John 4:7).

4. That they all have the same rule, namely, the law of God (James 2:10-11).

5. They have the same end, viz., God.

6. They are alike related to one and the same grace, namely, charity, or Divine love, as the sum of them all.


1. The subject may aid us to understand in what sense old things are said to be done away, and all things become new, in conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17). A true convert, the moment he is converted, is possessed not of one or two, but of all holy principles, and all gracious dispositions.

2. Hence, also, they that hope they have grace in their hearts may try one grace by another; for all graces go together. If persons think they have faith, they should inquire whether their faith was accompanied with repentance, etc. And so persons should examine their love by their faith. (Jon. Edwards.)

Charity hopeth all things

The limitation. We must tie our hope to God’s promise, and limit one duty by another, our hope by our prayers. What God commands me to pray for, what He hath promised to give, may raise my hope, Some things there are which are not to be numbered “amongst this all.” Some things are “as good as nothing”; and my estate may be bettered in being without them. Some things are worse than nothing; and my estate will be far worse if I have them. Some things are “indifferent,” neither good nor evil; and a bare “if” may make it either good or evil to hope for them. Some things are evil “in their own nature,” and a great sin it is to hope for these. Some things appear evil to us, viz., affliction, poverty, disgrace: and these I am so far from hoping for, as that I may pray against them.

The extension.

1. All good things. For, to wait for the twilight with the adulterer; to catch at all opportunities which may be as steps to bring to the pinnacle of honour; to have “our eyes still watching upon the prey,” is not hope, but lust, or ambition, or covetousness.

2. Future, absent goods; goods at a distance. For when the object is present, hope is no more. Charity “is patient” (verse 4), draws in its breath, as it were, and stayeth, and defers, and prolongs itself (Romans 8:25).

3. Matters of difficulty. For hope loves to struggle with its object, and sometimes is increased by opposition, and made bolder by being frighted. But if the object be “at hand and cheap,” my hope is lazy and asleep; “hope above hope, hope against hope” (Romans 4:18), that, is hope indeed. The way of hope is hard and rugged. She passeth by the pomp of the world, and she treadeth dangerous paths. If a serpent be in the way, she feareth not; if a flower, some pleasing object, she gazeth not; but presses on forward, over riches and poverty, over honour and disgrace, over all relations and dependencies, and striveth forward to her object.

4. Good things, though hard to obtain, yet “possible.” For charity is not foolish and indiscreet: it ploughs not, the air, nor sows upon the rocks. What is easy and at hand cannot raise a hope and what is impossible overwhelms and swallows it. What is ready to fall into my bosom, I need not hope for: and what I cannot have doth scarce produce a wish, much less beget a hope. (A. Farindon, D.D.)

Charity hopeth all things

Suppose the matter is investigated. What will charity do now? She “hopeth all things.” May not some palliation be found which will relieve the case of its darker features? First appearances are often deceptive, circumstantial evidence is frequently fallacious, and even direct testimony cannot always be relied upon; and charity hopes that, though many things now look suspicious, some future discovery or explanation will make the innocence of the accused perfectly clear to all. People often form an unfavourable opinion of others from some error of their own, or from an ex-parte statement by a third person; and charity hopes that, when the other side comes to be heard, the opposing testimony may be sufficient to obliterate the false or passing impression already thus produced. Some speakers are always using superlatives; and charity hopes that the affair, having passed from tongue to tongue, a little embellished or exaggerated by every repetition, will be found less flagrant than at first represented. The world is largely given to lying, and defamation is one of the most prevalent vices of society, and envious tongues can never rest till they have blasted some overshadowing reputation or checked the career of some ambitious rival; and charity hopes that the allegation may turn out in the end to be altogether groundless, the despicable work of one of those depraved souls who are always trying to put out another’s light that their own may shine the brighter. Wrong-doing sometimes originates in ignorance or infirmity, in misinformation or misjudgment, where there is no evil motive, where the intention is even friendly and benevolent; and charity hopes that, while the deed itself wears a questionable aspect, it may yet be made to appear that the error was more in the head than in the heart, that it was rather an involuntary mistake than an intentional wrong, and that better information in the future will prevent its repetition. The sinner is not always incorrigible, the worst offenders have occasionally been reformed, and no one ought to be delivered over to Satan for the first or second delinquency; and charity hopes that, if the accused is really guilty, and guilty to the full extent of the finding, he is not yet quite past all power of recovery, but may by proper means be brought to repentance and plucked as a brand from the burning. In short, amidst all that is unfavourable and discouraging, charity hopes on, hopes ever; unwilling to abandon her efforts in behalf of the beloved delinquent, still pursuing him with prayers and tears and tender remonstrances. Who has not seen the Christian mother patiently bearing With the irregularities of a wild and wayward son, hoping to reclaim him from his wicked ways, even when all others have given him up in despair? Who has not seen the meek and long-suffering wife, after years of cruel annoyance and guilty provocation, planning, toiling, watching, night and day, in hope of recovering a debauched and abandoned husband out of the snare of evil habit and vicious companionship, and raising him up from his moral degradation to the dignity of a virtuous and sober life? (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity hopes for others

As we build up ourselves, so must we edify others also, “in our most holy faith”; and as we hope for all things for ourselves, so must we reserve a hope for those also who are tied in the same link and bond of love. When we see a house tottering, we must not make our censure a wind to blow it down; but hope that even a broken beam, a loose rafter, nay, the very rubbish itself, may in time be made a sound part of the building. When I see my brother fall, I must lend him my hand to help him up. If my hand will not help him, I must lend him my pity and compassion and prayer. And when all the rest fail, I must give him my hope. Charity hath an eye abroad as well as at home; nor doth she nurse up hope for herself alone, but makes it as catholic as the Church, nay, as the world. Saith Cicero, “Hope lasteth as long as life lasteth, nor can it expire but with the soul.” And bow desperately soever we see our brother plunged in sin, yet we must hope well that his sickness is not unto death. And indeed why should we not hope well of every man, suppose he were a Judas, and by our Christian industry strive to recover his drooping soul, and to revive the flame of charity in his breast, which may warm him into a temperate hope? How know we but that the word of God through our ministry may of this stone raise up a child unto Abraham? Let our weak brother be “lame hand and foot,” sick in head and heart; yet as long as there is life in him, our charity must visit him, and our hope make us active to his recovery; otherwise, like unskilful physicians, we shall suffer him to die under our hands, and then pretend his disease was incurable. The priest and the Levite, who saw the man wounded on the way, and passed by on the other side, are not proposed as patterns of our imitation, but the Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). How sinful soever a man be, yet if he come behind, and but touch the hem of Christ’s garment, the grace of God may cure him. Nay, were he dead in sin, who knows what God may do? (A. Farindon, D.D.)

The hopefulness of love

This quality of love follows as a consequence from the last-named element, viz., “faith.” While this hopefulfulness is again a source of the next quality--endurance. The hopefulness of love.

Is attested by

1. Its nature. For love will not let go any ground for expecting the best things concerning the admired, or for anticipating the best things concerning even the pitied. Unwilling to forebode ill, it is sanguine ever of good.

2. Its history. Love is always known to be declining when it is unhopeful. The infinite love is the God of hope.

Gives life and beauty to love. Whilst love is a source of hope, hope again feeds the lamp of love. It suggests the better explanation of what seems mysterious in human or in Divine procedure, and thus it endows love with an eye that never grows dim. (U. R. Thomas.)

Charity endureth all things

Like the storks of Delft that when the city was burning, having vainly tried, to carry off their callow young, resolutely remained and perished in the effort to protect them, charity first exhausts all her energies in the service of miserable man, and then sacrifices herself for those she could not save. Rather, like the Roman soldier who kept his place at the Herculanean Gate of Pompeii till the fiery storm entombed him where he stood, she maintains her position to the last, and will be found erect in full armour at her post when the world’s catastrophe shall fall. As J. A. James says, “Her energies increase with the difficulty that requires them,” says the writer just quoted; “and, like a well-constructed arch, she becomes firmer by what she has to sustain.” Charity is not a spark falling into the ocean, nor a snowflake descending into the voice, no; but a mass of gold cast into the furnace, and surviving the flame by which it is purified. Unchanged and unchangeable as her Lord, charity is superior to all adversity, to all hostility, to all the powers of earth and hell. Censures, slanders, curses, threatenings, cannot daunt her heroic spirit; nor losses, exiles, prisons, scourges, crosses, wear out her energies. She lies calm among the lions, and walks unharmed in flames. She smiles at the inquisitor’s engine, and triumphs at the martyr’s stake. Wearing her fetters more proudly than royal lady ever wore her jewels, and glorying in her wreath of thorns more than oriental princes in their diadems, she lives on through a thousand tribulations, invincible to the last hour of life, exulting in the last agony of death, and serenely falling asleep on the bosom of her Beloved, to awake satisfied with His likeness in the glory of immortality. (J. Cross, D.D.)

The endurance of love

Though not wholly dissimilar from the virtue described in the word “beareth,” which suggested to us the tolerance of love, the characteristic here asserted is not precisely the same. This indicates the force of love to sustain quietly and to survive all persecutions and distresses inflicted by others. Indeed, our word “endure” embodies the thought very completely.

Love has to endure much This is strange, but it is true. Love is not requited with love, but often with misunderstanding and even with hatred. Error hates truth, selfishness hates love. Christ’s biography supplies the climax of the proof of this. But all loving bears witness to the same experience. Does not God endure much?

Love is able to endure much. The distresses and persecutions that seem to have force enough in them to blast and burn out all they oppose, have been again and again as harmless to love as the fiery furnace to the three Hebrew youths. Fierce fire cannot consume it; many waters cannot quench it. (U. R. Thomas.)

Verses 8-10

1 Corinthians 13:8-10

Charity never faileth;… prophecies shall fail;… tongues shall cease;… knowledge shall vanish away.

Charity never faileth

As the living principle in the heart of believers. In its essence it is the love of God within a man. It may vary indeed in its apparent intensity. It may seem almost extinguished; but, like the fire on the altar of sacrifice, it still exists, and is soon fanned up again into a flame when Jesus smiles. “Of itself,” says Poole, “it will never desert a man in this life, unless it be first deserted by him through deadly sin.”

As an active grace of the Christian life on earth.

1. View it in any of its manifestations.

(1) Beneficence and self-denying liberality--“the poor ye have always with you”; and a claim ever arises from these.

(2) Forgiveness of injuries, while these abound--and so long as human nature is what it is they will abound--every day affords occasions in which it is called for.

(3) Kindness and forbearance to the faults and failings of others: in the present imperfect state such must ever be expected.

2. Nor less than this is it adapted to all circumstances and situations of life: to the poor and the rich, etc. There is no position in which the believer can possibly be found in which charity will not be an ornament and a delight. It will add glory to, and preserve the soul from, the dangers of the day of prosperity; and it will equally cheer it in the day of adversity.

3. It is adapted to every period of time, to the hour of death, to the day of judgment, yea, to heaven itself.

4. And so, in a more extended sense, and as regards the condition of the Church, no less than in individual cases. It is adapted to times of persecution and to times of peace; when the world frowns or when the world smiles. Charity is the best preservative against, as it is the only cure for, those petty jealousies which equally disgrace the Church and dishonour God.

In supplying motives to exertion in the Redeemer’s cause. In its comprehensiveness, it takes in the entire race, and aims at no lower object than to “make known His ways upon earth; His saving health among all nations.”

As to the durability of its existence. It will last for ever, and live in heaven, as the life of glory there. Death cannot annihilate it. “Love is heaven, and heaven is love.” To have it, therefore, now is to possess the foretaste of eternal joys. (J. T. Smith, M.A.)

Charity never faileth


How gifts fail.

1. Prophecy must be accomplished.

2. Tongues superseded.

3. Knowledge vanish before a brighter manifestation.

How love never fails.

1. Its work is never done.

2. Its necessity can never be superseded.

3. Its expression may be perfected, but in heaven as on earth its nature is the same.

The inference.

1. Love is better than gifts.

2. Should be more earnestly desired. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Charity never faileth

As a gift.

1. The apostle had been speaking of temporary gifts. Supernatural endowments were granted to the Church for a season only. The apostle intimates that there is a gift of richer value, and that the time would come when these would be bestowed no longer, and when that only would remain.

2. What a catastrophe would it be were it to become extinct! But it cannot fail. So wide a channel was made for it by the mission of the Son of God, that to stop its onward flow were as impossible as to prevent the rolling of the ocean’s waves. Love as it dwells in the believer’s breast is only a reflection of the love of the Creator. Hence it is a gift which never fails.

3. The gift of charity will never fail on earth, how then is it possible that it should fail in heaven? The period will arrive when not only miracles will cease, but even the ordinary means for the edification of the Church. But love will even then abide. Upon the blessed inhabitant of the upper sanctuary it will stream in richest plenitude, direct from the eternal throne.

An active virtue.

1. It is a gift, but it is a gift to be employed, and on its exercise depends its value. Nor does it ever fail in this respect. It is ever seeking to do good, and to pour its gifts and blessings on the hapless sons of man.

(1) Its pity never fails. Wherever it beholds an object of distress, its efforts are put forth to give relief.

(2) Its liberality never fails. It is like an angel of mercy, which is never wearied with conferring favours, and never says you ask too much.

(3) Its ingenuities never fail. It is ever occupied in forming schemes to carry out its generous designs. Spurious or defective charity may fail, but true charity will never fail.

2. Look again into the eternal world. How active is the principle of love among the hosts of heaven! On earth, love is more or less mixed up with other things; in heaven it will be free from all defect. The family will be one. They will have one common interest. Each will contribute to the happiness of all. Jealousies will not be there. No envious feelings can be there indulged.

A source of pure and elevated enjoyment. What is so constant as the joy that springs from the activities of benevolence? Man’s happiness will ever be increased in proportion to the largeness of his soul. When other springs of pleasure are dried up, this will continue to flow in copious and refreshing streams. In heaven, our Father’s house, love will be more pure, more elevated, and more fervent; and hence it will be there, as it is on earth, but in a far higher measure, the source of never-ending satisfaction and delight. (Thornley Smith.)

Charity never faileth

It is a noble plant, full of vigorous life, that allows insects and reptiles to feed upon its bark and leaves, but grows on in silence and rears its head in beauty and majesty, and throws out its branches on all sides to the wind and the light, bright and fragrant with bloom and bending with abundant fruit. (J. A. James.)

Love never fails

As an evidence of pardon (Luke 7:47). The woman who was a sinner loved much because she had much forgiven. To whom little is forgiven the same loveth little.

As an element of acceptable obedience (1 Corinthians 13:3). The acts of the unconverted are not considered by God. There is but meagre satisfaction in this passage for the moralist. Without love to Jesus our best deeds do not avail before God (Matthew 25:40). Doing for the brethren is doing for Jesus. An act of kindness or deed of love done for a child, far away from home and in need of sympathy and care, is regarded by the parent as a favour done to him. The mother is better pleased than if the deed of love had been done unto her.

As an element of acceptable service (Revelation 2:4-5). The Church at Ephesus had left her first love; therefore the service she rendered was not pleasing to God. She must do her first works, which were seasoned with love, and cease to perform her duties mechanically in order that her efforts might be acceptable to God (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Love is also the power-element of service.

As a sin resisting power (John 14:15). Love to Jesus produces righteousness. It enables us to keep the commandments, and is therefore a sin-resisting power (John 14:21).

As an aggressive power (2 Corinthians 5:14). The constraining love of Jesus made Paul the aggressive man he was.

As a sustaining power (John 21:17). Peter repented, because he had in him the germ of true love for Jesus, and was sustained. Judas repented from remorse, and ultimately destroyed himself. Love to Jesus sustained Polycarp, Stephen, Latimer, Ridley, the martyrs, and the persecuted in all ages.

In producing confession (John 12:42-43). When men love position and power and the praise of men more than Christ they will not confess Him. When men love Jesus supremely they are swift to confess Him as Lord and Saviour (Romans 10:10).

As a preparation for heaven (1 Corinthians 16:22). Without love to Christ no one is meet for heaven, but is devoted to destruction. The wrath of God abideth on him. (Hom. Review.)

The immortality of love

It will never fail as--

An element of moral power. It is the strongest--

1. Sustaining power.

2. Resisting power. Love builds around the soul a rampart, invulnerable.

3. Aggressive power. We have not only to bear up under trials, and to resist temptations, but we have battles to fight. There is nothing so aggressive in the moral world as love. Man can stand before anything sooner than love.

A principle of social unity. Deep in the heart of man is the desire for union with his fellow, isolation and division are naturally repugnant to his social nature. His ingenuity has been taxed for ages in the invention of schemes for union. As the result we have confederations based on political sympathy, material interests, theological dogmas, mere carnal affinities; but we are only one with those we love. But we can only love the lovable.

A source of spiritual happiness. Love is joy.

1. It expels from the mind all the elements unfavourable to happiness.

2. It generates in the mind all the elements of spiritual joy. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

The imperishableness of love

Either of the two explanations of this word “faileth,” viz., “falls down,” or is “hissed off the stage,” conveys the same impression concerning love, namely, that it is permanent, it will never “fall down” from inanition, nor be “hissed off” because superseded. All the beauties of love, unlike those of face or landscape, are permanent. The imperishableness of love--

Is indicated by its capacity of meeting all demands made upon it.

1. This is the conclusion from the previous assertions of this passage.

2. This is the result of our observation of every-day life. True levels equal to any exigency. It survives all else.

Is a striking contrast to almost all else in human experience.

1. This is the declaration of the passage following our text. All else “ceases,” “vanishes,” is “done away.”

2. This is confirmed by human experience. Love is the great protest of our immortality.

Is explained by its being divine not only in its origin and sustenance, but in its nature. Love is of God, and God’s love never faileth, “His mercy endureth for ever.” Ours is not an imitation of His, but an inspiration from it. His love is the life of ours. Hence ours is deathless. (U. R. Thomas.)

Charity unfailing and everlasting

Immortality is the crown of virtue. Riches perish, laurels wither, beauty fades, the fires of genius burn out, and the proudest monuments crumble. Even in Christianity there are many things which are only of temporary utility. Already all that splendid array of miraculous powers that distinguished the Apostolic Church is numbered with the things that were. For these were only the instruments and auxiliaries of that Divine system of which charity is the vital principle. These were only the temporary scaffolds of that spiritual temple of which charity is the precious material. We may change many of our opinions and practicers, and yet be Christians. But this great central principle of our religion cannot be sacrificed, without the subversion of Christ’s throne on earth. It was proverbially the spirit of the first believers, and will be equally the temper of the last. (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity towards the dead

The Duke of Marlborough and Lord Bolingbroke were in opposite political interests, and on most occasions ranged against each other. Some gentleman, after the death of the great commander, speaking of his character and avarice, appealed to Bolingbroke for confirmation. To his honor, he replied, “The Duke of Marlborough was so great a man that I quite forget his failings.” (W. Baxendale.)

The Holy Spirit for ever

The Spirit of Christ is given to His people everlastingly, to influence and dwell in them (John 14:16-17).

There are other fruits of the Spirit besides that which summarily consists in love, wherein the Spirit of God is communicated to His Church.

1. Extraordinary gifts, miracles, inspiration, etc.

2. Ordinary gifts. These, in all ages, have more or less been bestowed on many unconverted men, in common convictions of sin, common illuminations, and religious affections.

All these other fruits of the Spirit are but for a season, and either have already ceased, or at some time will cease. As to the miraculous gifts, they are but of a temporary use, and cannot be continued in heaven. And as to the common fruits of the Spirit, with respect to the persons that have them, they will cease when they come to die; and with respect to the Church, they wil1 cease after the day of judgment.

Love is that great fruit of the Spirit that never fails. Consider the Church--

1. With respect to its members, as--

(1) It never fails in this world (Romans 8:38-39).

(2) And it ceases not when the saints come to die. When the apostles went to heaven, they left all their miraculous gifts behind. But they carried love with them to heaven, where it was perfected.

2. As a body. Though other fruits of the Spirit fail in it, this shall never fail. Of old, when there were interruptions of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit there never was any interruption of this. And at the end of the world when the Church shall be settled in its eternal state, and all common and miraculous gifts shall be at an end, love shall be brought to its most glorious perfection in every individual member of the ransomed Church above.

This reason for the truth of the doctrine which has thus been presented, viz., that love is the great end of all the other fruits and gifts of the Spirit. It is the end to which all the miraculous gifts that ever were in the world, are but the means. They were only means of grace, but love is grace itself; and not only so, but the sum of all grace. Application:

1. There seems to be no reason to think that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are to be restored to the Church in the times of her latter-day prosperity and blessedness. Prophecy and miracles argue the imperfection of the state of the Church, rather than its perfection. For they are designed as a support, or as a leading-string, to the Church in its infancy, rather than as means adapted to it in its full growth. And then again that state will not be more glorious than the heavenly state; and yet the apostle teaches, that in the heavenly state all these gifts shall be at an end, and the influence of the Spirit in producing Divine love only shall remain.

2. The subject should make persons exceedingly cautious how they give heed to anything that may look like a new revelation, or that may claim to be any extraordinary gift of the Spirit.

3. The subject teaches how greatly we should value those influences and fruits of the Spirit which are evidences of true grace in the soul, and which are all summarily included in love. (Jon. Edwards.)

Heaven, a world of love

The cause and fountain of love in heaven.--The God of love Himself dwells there, and this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light.

The objects of love that it contains.

1. There are none but lovely objects in heaven (Revelation 21:27). All the persons that belong to the blessed society of heaven are lovely. The Father of the family is lovely, and so are all His children. There are no false professors or hypocrites there.

2. They shall be perfectly lovely. There are many things in this world that in the general are lovely, but yet are not perfectly free from that which is the contrary.

3. All those objects that the saints have loved above all things here while in this world shall be in heaven.

The subjects of love in heaven. And these are the hearts in which it dwells. In every heart in heaven love dwells and reigns. The heart of God is the original seat or subject of love. The love of God the Father flows out toward Christ the head, and to all the members through Him. And the light of their love is reflected in the first place, and chiefly back to its great source. There is no enemy of God in heaven; but all, as His children, love Him as their Father.

The principle of love in heaven.

1. As to its nature. It is altogether holy and Divine.

2. As to its degree. It is perfect. The love that dwells in the heart of God is absolutely perfect. The love of angels and saints to God and Christ is perfect in its kind, or with such a perfection as is proper to their nature. It is perfect with a sinless perfection, and perfect in that it is commensurate to the capacities of their nature.

The excellent circumstances in which love shall be expressed and enjoyed in heaven.

1. It is always mutual. It is always met with answerable returns of love--with returns proportioned to its exercise.

2. Its joy shall never be interrupted or damped by jealousy.

3. There shall be nothing within themselves to clog or hinder it in the saints. In this world they find much to hinder them in this respect.

4. It will be expressed with perfect decency and wisdom.

5. There shall be nothing to keep us at a distance from each other, or to hinder our most perfect enjoyment of each other’s love.

6. We shall all he united in very near and dear relations.

7. All shall have property and ownership in each other. Love seeks to have the beloved its own; and Divine love rejoices in saying, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”

8. We shall enjoy each other’s love in perfect and uninterrupted prosperity.

9. All things shall conspire to promote our love, and give advantage for mutual enjoyment.

10. We shall know that we shall for ever be continued in the perfect enjoyment of each other’s love.

The blessed effects and fruits of this love, as exercised and enjoyed in these circumstances.

1. The most excellent and perfect behaviour of all the inhabitants of heaven toward God and each other.

2. Perfect tranquillity and joy.


1. If heaven be such a world as has been described, then we may see reason why contention and strife tend to darken our evidence of fitness for its possession.

2. How happy those are who are entitled to heaven! But here some may be ready to say, “Without doubt; but who are these persons? By what marks may they be distinguished?”

(1) They are those that have had the principle or seed of the same love that reigns in heaven implanted in their hearts in regeneration.

(2). They are those who have freely chosen the happiness that flows from the exercise and enjoyment of such love as is in heaven, above all other conceivable happiness.

(3) They are those who, from the love that is in them, are, in heart and life, in principle and practice, struggling after holiness.

3. What has been said on this subject may well awaken and alarm the impenitent.

(1) By putting them in mind of their misery, in that they have no portion or right in this world of love (Revelation 22:15).

(2) By showing that they are in danger of hell, which is a world of hatred. (J. Edwards.)

Transitiveness of gifts

All our present knowledge is limited in its range, defective in its evidence, incomplete in its nomenclature, and inadequate in its current media of communication; and these must be exchanged for clearer conceptions, ampler comprehensions, fuller demonstrations, better forms of expression, and easier methods of acquisition; and that which we value ourselves so much for possessing will vanish away in the superior revelations of eternity, as vanish the stars in the light of the rising sun. The practical sciences, the mechanic and aesthetic arts, and the teeming literature of the world--what will be their utility in the glorious life to come? If they were not necessary to man in the innocence of Eden, how can they be necessary to him in his “paradise regained”? What need of your agricultural, horticultural, and botanical systems, when the earth is restored to its original fertility, adorned with flowers that never fade, and fruits that never fail, among which wander all animals in the perfection of their strength and beauty? What demand for your theories of political economy, and the science of government, when God shall set His own King upon His holy hill of Zion? What call for architectural skill, and the arts of the sculptor and the painter--of the lapidary, the jeweller, and the chemist--amid the perfect forms and faultless hues of the New Jerusalem? How shall your lame and limping poetry and your feeble and faltering music presume to lift a note or strike a string amid the joyous minstrelsy of the redeemed and the unfallen, rolling forth as the sound of many waters and mighty thunderings? And what work shall be found for the legal profession where all: obey the royal law of love? and what service for the medical faculty where the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick? And what use will there be for their geographical and astronomical books--your maps of the earth and charts of the sky--when men shall be as angels, with glorious spiritual bodies, quick as the light and discursive as thought? And how shall the historian and the philologist employ their ample lore, when the confluent streams of history are lost in the ocean of eternity, and all the languages and dialects of the babbling earth have given place to the one tongue of the universal kingdom? And the author and the orator--what will they do when there is no more error to be corrected nor vice to overcome--when truth requires no farther apology and virtue no further vindication? And the statesman and the warrior--where shall their vocation be when all power and authority are given to the glorified Son of man--when nation shall never again lift up sword against nation, but “the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever”? And the preacher, the theologian, and the critical commentator--what shall become of their functions when “the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and He shall dwell among them”--when “the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the world as the waters cover the sea”--when “all shall know Him from the least even unto the greatest”? And all your schools, colleges, universities, what place will be found for these in the original fatherland and everlasting dwelling of truth? Yea, and the very Bible; what is it but a primer for children, an elementary treatise for those who have just entered their novitiate and begun their studies for eternity, to be laid aside when we graduate into the higher spheres of intellectual and moral perfection? (J. Cross, D.D.)

Charity enduring: gifts transient


Gifts are temporary.

1. Imperfect in their nature.

2. Adapted to an imperfect state.

3. Must consequently pass away.

Love is eternal.

1. In its own nature.

2. Is the end of all gifts.

3. Must endure in a perfect state of being. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Charity abiding: gifts transient

When Eliot the missionary to the Indians was an old man, his energy never sustained the slightest abatement, but, on the contrary, evinced a steady and vigorous increase. As his bodily strength decayed, the energy of his being seemed to retreat into his soul, and at length all his faculties seemed absorbed in holy love. Being asked shortly before his departure how he did, he replied, “I have lost everything; my understanding leaves me, my utterance fails me, my memory fails me; but I thank God my charity holds out still; and I find that it rather grows than fails.” (J. H. Hinton.)

Knowledge vanisheth away

In my time in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the faculty was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other day, just before I left Scotland, his successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the University to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject (midwifery) that were no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: “Take every book that is more than ten years old and put it down in the cellar.” Knowledge has vanished away. Sir James Simpson was a great authority ten years ago--twelve years ago; men came from all parts of the earth to consult him; and the whole knowledge of that day, within that short period, is now consigned by the science of to-day to the cellar. How true are the words of Paul: “We know in part, and we prophesy in part”! (Prof. Henry Drummond.)

The vanishing gnosis

How can knowledge ever vanish away? As long as there are sentient beings in the universe, so long must there needs remain the objects of the emotional faculty; as long as there are intelligent beings, so long must the objects of the intellectual faculties survive. The imperfect knowledge of yesterday may become less imperfect to-day, and may approximate to fulness of knowledge to-morrow. Unless we can conceive of a life--the higher life--without consciousness and intelligence, we cannot conceive how there should ever come a time, or ever exist conditions, when (for personal beings whose personality is not annihilated) knowledge should ever vanish away. Of all men that ever lived the apostle was the last man who would have put forth so dreary a view of the future state as his words at first sight seem to indicate. To him the blessedness of the life beyond the veil was supremely desirable, because in the spiritual world darkness and error would vanish, not light and knowledge. Who is content with the utmost range of knowledge attainable by creatures such as we? Who would care for a life where the yearning to know would find itself without an object? But how if this word γνῶσις, which our translators have rendered by the word knowledge, connote an idea which its English representative fails to convey? How if the γνῶσις of the apostle has proved untranslateable because we have never seriously studied its history, and so have failed to grasp its meaning? What then? Then may not a more careful scrutiny get rid of the difficulty which the passage as it stands represents? Nay! May not that passage contain the enunciation of a great law which the Church of Christ, by losing sight of, would be sure to suffer serious damage? Now it would be unadvisable to attempt anything like an exhaustive examination of the use of this word by St, Paul, or of the meaning it may be found to bear in the several passages in which it occurs. This much, however, is apparent to any careful reader of the Epistles, that the word γνῶσις was a term which was very familiar to St. Paul’s readers, and that it was an ambiguous term of whose ambiguity the apostle on occasion did not disdain to avail himself. He speaks of a γνῶσις which is none other than the beatific vision which the saints of God have dreamt of, and which is the object of their loftiest hopes. But he speaks of a γνῶσις, too, which does not deserve to be called such. He speaks of a γνῶσις which will admit of no addition and no imperfection in its fruition, and of a γνῶσις which is by no means inseparable from the notion of childish dependence, of defective methods in arriving at it, even of a certain measure of empiricism. Nor is this all; it becomes evident on further examination that this ambiguous term was used at times to connote not merely intellectual apprehension, but a formulated summary of conclusions arrived at, the result of speculations which, when thus formulated, the intellectual faculty was required to accept as an authoritative setting forth of truth. In other words, this γνῶσις was a summary of dogmatic teaching which might be imperfect in its statements and yet serve a worthy purpose, though essentially limited in its view, and intended only as a step in the right road; or it might be not only imperfect but dangerous, delusive and mischievous, because it expressed conclusions arrived at from assumptions which were mere dreams, and so would necessarily be a γνῶσις falsely so called. In the one case it might be a Christian γνῶσις, which was good as far as it went. In the other case it was a competitive γνῶσις which its supporters set up as antagonistic to any expression of Christian belief, a summary of theosophic or mystical dogma with no real basis of truth on which to stand. Yet of both one and the other, the first being partial and so inadequate, the second being erroneous and so having no real vitality, the apostle says--“As for knowledge it shall vanish away.” But is not this the great law abundantly observable in the history of all science in its various branches? Is it not the fact that in the department of pure mathematics the science of algebra slumbered for centuries, and when the awakened intellect of men resumed inquiries which for ages had been laid aside, the new discoveries or the new methods compelled the new thinkers to use new formulae, such new formlae being necessitated by established facts on the one hand and becoming the very conditions of progress in the apprehension of truth on the other? The dogma of yesterday had served its purpose, it expressed elementary truths which the childhood of the human mind had arrived at, but that which seemed final yesterday became antiquated or rudimentary to-day. When men are brought face to face with new truths, or with new aspects of truth, or compelled to investigate truth from a new standpoint, that moment they are compelled to resort to new expressions, to adopt new formulae, that is, to enunciate new dogmas, the old knowledge is in process of vanishing away. But truth is one thing, dogma is another. The formulae may suffer change, but the truth formulated changes not. But here it may be suggested that a distinction must be made between such truths as are formulated in theological dogmas, and those which are arrived at by the methods employed in the exact sciences. In fact so loose is our language and so vague is our vocabulary when we approach the discussion of questions in which our religious convictions and sentiments are supposed to be concerned, that nothing is more common than the assumption expressed or implied that scientific truth and what people call Divine truth are in some mysterious way moving as it were in different orbits, in different planes, and that what holds good of the one does not at all hold good of the other. What! Is not all truth Divine--all or none? Yes, and is not all truth a truth of science--all or none?--truth, that is, which is once formulated with sufficient precision for the logical faculty to exercise itself upon, however much or however little the higher reason may have helped us to embrace it before we had learnt to express it in scientific terms? It is in vain to attempt to evade the question which is being more and more rudely forced upon us. The question, Is there such a science as theology? science based upon axioms which are indisputable, requiring postulates which are reasonable, pursuing its inquiries according to strictly logical methods, engaged upon the investigation of facts and their correlation, weighing the significance of conflicting testimony, and fearlessly hailing the discovery of any new law? Is it a science whereby our race may hope to advance to the apprehension of some eternal truths? a science not one whit the less a science because it has a domain of its own? If not, it is hardly worth our while to trouble ourselves about it. Though even then observe, that the facts of the spiritual life remain. On the other hand, if it be a science, no matter in what stage it may at any moment be said to be, then assuredly it is only what we should expect, that this same story which history has to tell of other sciences should be found to be true of this one also. And that is exactly what we do find. Take whatever science you please, music, medicine, astronomy, and what is more certain than that that science has arrived at a certain point and then has ceased to be studied by competent students, and its further advance been arrested for centuries; the dogmas of such science, formulated a thousand years ago, being accepted as absolutely true, and assumed to have something like finality. For ages astronomers assumed that the sun moved round the earth--that was at any rate a dogma about which there could not conceivably be any dispute--a dogma above all others which could claim for itself catholicity, and stood alone as answering the most rigid conditions of catholicity. For ages the formulated science of architecture helped men to raise up to heaven those stupendous structures which are likely to last as the wonder and envy of mankind as long as the race lasts. And yet into that formulated science the very conception of the properties of the arch never entered. What appear to us the elementary truths of the science had no place in the early dogmas of architecture. In all these instances we are met by the historic fact that every science which deserves to be called such has had, must have, its periods of growth and rapid development, and its periods of torpor and repose. Men have grown weary or despairing of solving certain great problems, and have thrown them aside to deal with others. Then the tide has turned, and they have gone back with fresh enthusiasm and reawakened curiosity to the old difficulties, prepared themselves to attack them, perhaps from new points of view, perhaps according to new methods. And then new discoveries have been made, sometimes the results of patient years of research, sometimes by a flash of what we call genius, and sometimes they had been forced upon those who, by earnest toil and seriousness of aim and greatness of purpose, have put themselves into the attitude or receiving new truths and qualified themselves for expressing those truths in formulae which were necessary expansions of the development from previous dogmas. The time had come for the old γνῶσις to vanish away! And now another question comes to us. Granted that theology too is a science. In what stage may we venture to say that we find it now? The more we reflect upon it the more do we find ourselves compelled to acknowledge that theology, as a science, is, and has been for long, in a condition of torpor; it is, as it were, taking its repose, it has gone to sleep. But if theology as a science may be said to be asleep, even though it be exhibiting no signs or evidence of awakening activity, slumber is not death, it need not even imply exhaustion; it may be only heathful repose before the dawning of a new day. Even though they would persuade you that the old theology has received its quietus and the old dogmas are moribund or dead, be not afraid. It is the great law that every γνῶσις when it has served its purpose must vanish away, but only to be replaced by another γνῶσις which shall be grander and larger and more profound than that which we possess. Be not afraid to say the theology of the fourth century may not have been the theology of the second, nor the theology of the sixteenth century the theology of the twelfth, and peradventure the theology of the twentieth century may be very, very different in its dogmas and its formulae from anything that we can conceive of now. This science, too, may find another Copernicus to whom God may grant strange revelations, revelations, or if you dislike the word, discoveries, such as come to the holy and humble men of heart, guileless and true, such revelations as may perforce necessitate revolutions in our methods of investigation, in the terminology we employ, in the calculus which may be placed at our disposal. At least assure yourselves that imperfect light is better than darkness, and cloudland a better region to live in than chaos. (A. Jessopp, M.A.)

We know in part

The illuminated page of nature, on which God has written so many disclosures of His power and love--how small a portion of its wonders is man yet able to understand! Look at the tree which rises before your window, and shields you from the summer sun. You are familiar with its form, its foliage, and its flowers. But can you tell what is going on within it? Can you explain how it is, that, when the winds of autumn are singing their vesper hymn, the tree listens to their warning--how it forms and folds its leaves and blossoms, to have them ready for another spring? No. In the history of the simplest things in the vegetable and animal world there is much that man does not and cannot understand. Come, then, to our knowledge of human nature itself--how imperfect it is! how many new pages are opened from time to time which fill us with wonder and dismay! Perhaps you are able to tell how men will feel and act under the common circumstances of life; but who can tell the measure of the soul, or how deep and far man’s powers and passions, in their wild energy, can go? We can understand benevolence in its common measure, when it gives what it does not want to others; but can we comprehend that love which warms and fills the martyr’s heart? Passing finally to the knowledge of the Most High--are not clouds and darkness round about Him as of old? “Canst thou by searching find out God?” Let those who have tried it reply. A short time before his death, Newton said, “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Here, then, we shall be told to reflect on human imperfection and be humble; for we see how little way the sight of man extends, how little man is able to know. But let us read our own nature aright. That “we know in part” is not humiliating; it is the ground and necessary condition of man’s chief prerogative, and of the only perfection of which he is capable. Consider the difference between human and Divine perfection, and this will be plain to every eye. Divine perfection consists in attributes, each and all of them unbounded, except by the impossibility of being greater. Divine power extends to all things that power can do; Divine wisdom embraces everything that exists, or will exist, or ever has existed; Divine holiness is holiness which cannot be enlarged nor exceeded. The perfection of these attributes is, that they can be no greater than they are. To God nothing can be added. But human perfection, by which I mean the greatest height to which humanity can aspire, consists in continual progress--in continually advancing towards perfection. It is plain, then, that to “know in part” is not humiliating; it is not even an imperfection; it is a happy and honourable condition of our existence, for which we should be grateful to Him who made us. Had we been differently created, it must have been like the animals. What they know, they know in full; to them there is nothing “in part.” What they know, they know as well in the first years of their existence as the last. And if man had not been created as he is, to “know in part,” it must have been so with him; he must have had the instinct of an animal, the perfection of animals, for he could not have the perfection of God. Seeing, then, that improvement is the perfection to which human nature must aspire, let us next observe how this limited knowledge tends to induce and encourage it in every field of thought. Look again at the world of nature. Its wonders do not manifest themselves at once; if they did, the mind could not embrace them, or if it could, a heavy satiety, a lethargic self-satisfaction, would take the place of that restless energy which makes man labour and suffer to extend his knowledge. Everything opens gradually, as the sun rises, not full-orbed and fiery red, but gently heralded by the grey light and the kindling clouds. When you first point out to an intelligent child the wonders of nature, he fixes upon you his soft, dark, earnest eyes. The world seems enchanted. He asks where these things were hidden, that he never saw them before. He enjoys a deep delight, he finds a luxury in this gradual illumination of mind, to which he would have been a stranger had not God created him to know but in part. And so in maturer years, if the mind is kept from stagnation, into which it too readily subsides. Let a man give his attention to any department of knowledge, and he soon gives it his heart. He will leave all man loves at home, and encounter all man dreads abroad. The least new discovery fills him with rapturous joy. The glad energy, the intense devotion, with which he engages in the chase of knowledge, gives an idea of the manner in which the souls of the just will study the works and ways of God, and find everything radiant with happiness and eloquent with praise. It is the same with moral truth; by which I mean all truth which relates to God and to the nature and destiny of men. Our knowing but in part inspires that earnest desire to know more, which is compared to hunger and thirst for wisdom--a desire of truth which always burns in the breasts of those who are enlightened by the Word of God. With respect to mankind, also, it is true that partial knowledge inspires a desire to know more. I mean a real knowledge, for I would not give this name to that meaner sagacity which teaches us to distrust mankind. Who are they that complain most of men? They are those who dwell apart, who have none but selfish interests and pleasures, who never lift a hand to do good for others--these are they who talk of the fraud and falsehood of their race, while the lovers of mankind are those who go about doing good. The young always have this desire to know more of others. Alas, that rids generous affection should be driven back to their hearts, disappointed and dismayed, by what they see and hear! They find their parents talking with cold severity of others--of all others--of any others--even their nearest friends; and they listen with wonder and pain. Mankind are thrown apart and kept so; those cords of humanity, which untied would have been strong as the sheet-anchor’s cable, become singly as weak as the silk-worm’s thread, and the purpose of Christianity is not answered, which is to reconcile them to each other and make the divided one. So our knowing God but in part inspires an earnest desire to know more. It leads us on in religious improvement, and it makes that improvement a succession of bright revelations, in which man is continually learning what he thirsted to know. There are many things in the dispensations of Heaven which the thoughtful long to know, as the prophets and kings of ages past desired to look into the mysteries of God. “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” This hope of knowing hereafter is an anchor to the soul; it saves it from being wrecked in its own doubts and fears; it keeps it true to itself and its destiny, till it reaches the world where the wonders of Providence are unfolded to its astonished view, and it can read and understand them all. Above all, I would say that we cannot complain of the limitation of our knowledge till we make a better improvement of what we already know. Enough is already known to make us wise unto salvation. It remains that we apply it to our hearts and lives. (W. B. O. Peabody, D.D.)

Now I know in part

The Scriptures abound in reflections upon the weakness and short-sightedness of the human mind. Now, it is observable that the atheist and sceptic have taken up the strain of Scripture, and striven to turn,, its weapons against itself and its friends. “How blind and weak, how poor and miserable,” they repeat, “the creature to whom you yet assign so splendid a destiny! “I accept the issue which atheism and infidelity thus present. I will reason for the magnificent prospects of man on the very ground here taken, of his weaknesses and diseases, his griefs and fears. I will show that there is no incongruity in Holy Writ, when in one breath it tells of man’s miseries and vanities, and in the next of his unending life and glories. For, “I know in part”: what does this mean, but that I have an idea of more knowledge than I actually possess, believe myself capable of greater acquisitions, and see the domain of wisdom stretching out beyond my present reach, and inviting my further pursuit? Why be straitened in my limits, but that my true element is the unbounded? Could we glorify man’s present spiritual advances, and celebrate the complete beauty of his intellectual furniture, the argument for immortality would not be so strong. We might think the mind had drunk its fill here, and accomplished its destiny. The same argument might be pushed as to all the limitations, sadnesses, and defects of our nature. With what a wreck of plans and hopes, enterprises and calculations, is the shore of eternity strewn! If the soul’s measure be in this weaver’s shuttle of time, with no threads woven to reach across the span of earth, death is untimely and the tomb premature. Look out upon all nature, and see the exquisite perfection of every object there. From the blade of grass to the everlasting stars, there is no deviation from the law of order or the line of beauty. Everything seems to accomplish its work, and fulfil its design. There is nothing more to be wished or expected. The astronomer detects no lawless course, no really, however for a time apparently, irregular or straying motion. So perfect is nature, from the fine dust of the balance to the revolutions of the sky. But the human mind rises up the vast, lonely exception to this hair-breadth completeness of the world. Recogniser of the perfection of all things else, itself alone is imperfect. It conceives of a knowledge transcendent. It conceives of a purity shaming its pollution. It conceives of a blessedness to which earth’s joys are but glimpses of light and breakings in a stormy sky. Now God, the perfect One, deals not in fragments, like some weak human artist who may overlay the walls of his chamber with attempts at an entire beauty. But if this human soul, in the very beginning of its aspirings, is to cease at death, then there is a fragment indeed, one colossal frustration and stupendous anomaly. Man, whom He made the lord of the universe, is the broken column, while everything beside is whole! Were there any sign of the soul’s filling out its defects and putting away its limitations, the argument would be less strong. But its growth, marked at any point, followed in any direction, requires still a lengthened being. A late traveller observed in the city of Jerusalem the fragment of an arch on the wall of the temple; and, tracing it according to the principles of its construction, concluded it must have been designed to spring as a bridge across the adjoining valley. So, if this little arc of the human mind, which we can here trace, be constructed upon true principles, it must mount over the dark valley of the shadow of death, the stream of time must flow away beneath it while the course of an immortal destination opens before it. Else, denying this, we charge the Supreme Architect with fault. I would, then, found an argument for immortality on the apostle’s declaration, “Now I know in part.” Even did I adopt Hume’s philosophy of universal scepticism, I should still say the intellect is made for truth, and must have time for its inquiry and doubt to end in the satisfactions of knowledge. I know this is the commonly accepted mode of reasoning. I know it is usual to draw religious arguments from man’s positive abilities; but I would draw them from his vast defects. It is usual to draw them from his great triumphs; I would draw them from his signal failures. The train of reflections to which our text has led, accords with the old tenor of Scripture. The gospel of Christ speaks no flattering words to our vanity; it paints in no high colours our powers and acquirements. It rather digs beneath the highblown pride, fond fancy, and blind self-complacency of the human soul, to lay the foundation of that structure, which shall reach to heaven, in its feeling of weakness, in its confession of ignorance, in its sense of unworthiness, in its pangs of grief, and prayers for Divine aid. (C. A. Bartol.)

Life: partial and perfect

The Christian’s experience of Christ is in this life only partial: partial love is followed by partial knowledge.

1. He knows something of the welcome of Jesus.

2. He knows something of communion with Jesus.

3. He knows, too, in part, the spirit of service to Jesus.

4. A Christian knows also, in part, likeness to Christ.

But all these brightest moments, these deepest joys, these noblest moods, are to be eclipsed, forgotten, counted as nothing, “when that which is perfect is come.” To the Christian this is coming. All else is going. What, then, can compare with the claims and the charms of the spiritual life? Suppose there were on earth a country where, in health, that which is perfect had come; where, in purity of character, that which is perfect had come; where, in all the tender relations of domestic life, that which was perfect had come; where, in society and in government, in cottage and in palace, that which is perfect had come; where, in man, and field, and air and sky, that which was perfect had come;--how ships would groan with human cargoes destined for its shores! In comparison, fields of gold and seas of pearl would cease to draw. Yet the brightest conception of such a state falls immeasurably below what the dying Christian finds in heaven. (Benjamin Waugh.)

The limitations of knowledge

The familiar context in which these words occur gives a peculiar colour to them. St. Paul in his estimate of the most conspicuous endowments of a Christian, places knowledge--the progressive knowledge of observation and reflection--in contrast with love. He sets the intellectual over against the moral. He implies that the knowledge of which he speaks belongs to the present in its essence, while love belongs to the present only in its form. But in doing this he does not disparage knowledge; on the contrary he reveals it in its true nobility. Christ declared (John 17:17) truth to be the medium of man’s consecration. Under the necessary conditions of life knowledge is the minister of love. I wish to consider the limitation of knowledge and not the destination of knowledge. “We know in part.” The fact itself is one which we shall do well to realise more distinctly than by a general acknowledgment. When this is done I hope that we shall see sufficient reasons for holding that this necessary incompleteness of our knowledge, which is at first sight disappointing, is, when duly weighed, fitted to bring stability to the results of labour, that it satisfies the conditions of progress, that it offers hope in the face of the dark problems of the present age.

1. We know in part. This limitation is imposed upon us triply. Of all that is, of all that even we with our present faculties feel must be, we can know but a small fraction. Our knowledge is limited in range. And, again, our knowledge of that small fraction of being which is in any way accessible to us is bounded and conditioned by our human powers. Our knowledge is limited in form. And, yet once more, of theft which man could know, being what he is, if the personal powers and the personal experience of the race were concentrated in a single representative, what an infinitely small portion is embraced by one mind! Our knowledge is limited by the circumstances of life. So far the fact itself that we know in part is unquestionable and unquestioned. No one who ever presumptuously maintained that “man is the measure of all things,” ventured also to assert that “all things” which he measures owe their being to him. No one who has considered the slow development of the powers which man now enjoys in what appears to us to be his maturity would be willing to admit that his faculties exhaust in kind or in degree the possible action of being. Our knowledge, I repeat, is inevitably partial in regard of the object, and of the subject, and of the conditions of its acquisition. In each respect an infinite mystery enwraps a little spot of light. But while upon reflection we admit that our knowledge is thus limited, we do not, I think, commonly take account of the momentous significance of the fact. Many of us who are ceaselessly busy with our daily occupations do not habitually feel it. Many who have distinctly realised it, deliberately put it out of sight. That which we cannot know in the way of earthly knowledge is for us, they say, as if it were not. St. Paul follows a better way. He teaches us to see that these mysteries, and the full sense of limitation which they bring with them, are an important factor in our lives. He rounds life off on this side and that, not with a sleep, but with the glory of the invisible. And is it not true that we are made stronger as well as humbler by lifting up our eyes to the sky which opens with measurable depths above the earth on which we are set to work?

2. We know in part the fullest recognition of this fact is not only helpful but essential for the fulfilment of our several tasks. The practical or deliberate disregard of this relation of all our knowledge to the unknown brings with it urgent dangers. On the one hand we are tempted to make our own knowledge, our own thoughts, our own experience, an absolute standard. On the other hand we are tempted to apply a dominant method to subjects which do not admit it. There is no one, I suppose, who has not been sorely tried by both temptations. It requires a serious effort to enter with a living sympathy into the character of another man, or of another class, or of another nation, or of another course of thought: to feel, not with a sense of gracious superiority but of devout thankfulness, that here and there that is supplied which we could not have provided: to acknowledge how peculiar gifts or a peculiar environment, how long discipline or an intense struggle, have conferred upon others the power of seeing that which we cannot see. But it is to breadth of hope, to self-denial, to patience that we are called, as those who believe and seek to live as believing that we know in part. The immediate circumstances in which we are placed need, as we must feel, the exercise of such graces. There is on all sides an overpowering passion for clearness, for decision, for results which can be measured on demand. Art and history are trammeled by realism. A restless anxiety for fulness and superficial accuracy of detail diverts the forces which should be given to an interpretation of the life. We begin to think that when we can picture to ourselves the outside of things we have mastered them. So it is also in many respects with opinion. We are told that we must make our choice definitely between this extreme and that; that there can be no mean; that a logical necessity demands one precise conclusion or the other. In this way we lose insensibly the present consciousness of the great deeps of life. Portraiture becomes photography, and faith is represented by a phrase. The reflections from the mirror, the shadows on the wall of the cave, are taken for the realities which these fleeting signs should move us to seek. There is no outline in nature, however convenient or even necessary we may find it to draw one. A closer view of this one-sided and dominant realism, which is characteristic of our generation, shows what is at once its final issue and its remedy. For it is not fanciful, I think, to connect it with the great successes of the method of physical inquiry. We try, perhaps even without knowing of what spirit we are, to make the same method supreme over all knowledge. Meanwhile we are neglecting a different lesson which physics have to teach us and which we have not yet learnt. However paradoxical the statement may appear, physical study more than any other brings the invisible vividly before us. The world of the man of science is not the scene of conflict and disorder which we look upon with our untrained eyes, but an order of absolute law which he finds by the interpretation of a larger experience. He pierces beneath the seen to that which it indicates. So far he has read the thought of God. His partial knowledge is a sign for the moralist and for the theologian.

3. We know in part. We have seen that acceptance of this fact enables us to meet and to use the dangers and the lessons of limited views. The same words describe the process by which our efforts are made effective. We advance towards the limits of our attainable knowledge by the help of every fragmentary movement. We look upon the fullest vision of the truth in the combination of parts held separately. This is the Divine law of spiritual progress and of spiritual apprehension. It is not that any one mind or any one race can evolve the last deductions from the primal facts. The manifold endowments of the nations are made contributory in due order to the unfolding of the universal gospel. The history of Judaism and the history of Christianity prove the truth beyond doubt. Spiritual knowledge and with it spiritual life is furthered by the introduction into it of new elements from without. The seed which has the principle of life gathers from all around that by which the life is manifested in the fulness of its beauty. It has often been pointed out how every critical stage in the progress of earlier revelation was marked by the action of new races upon the people of God. Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, quickened fresh thoughts in Israel, and brought to light fresh mysteries in the Law. The Son of Man entered on the patrimony of the race made ready for His use. The course of Christianity up to the present time exhibits the accomplishment of the same law on a larger scale and with a more pervading application. Judaism was limited and preparatory. The Divine Presence was symbolised for the fathers by a cloud or by a glory. But Christianity is absolute and final. For us the Divine Presence is “the Word made flesh,” “the man Christ Jesus.” It is no longer any part of man, or any part of mankind to which the message of God is addressed or entrusted. The experience of our own lives offers an illustration of this growth through assimilation and loss. The unfolding of our separate powers is able to bring home to us what is fulfilled on a colossal scale in the broad history of human progress. One faculty after another is called into dominant activity, and yields in its turn to some fresh claimant. And here comes the trial of faith. We are tempted, as it may be, to linger with a vain regret round that which is ready to vanish away or to hasten prematurely the advent of that which is not yet mature. But the faith deals with all in a process of life. The conviction that every result, every triumph, every prize is given us to use and not to keep, saves us from the peril of stationariness and from the peril of innovation. He cannot rest who knows that the counsel of God is not yet accomplished.

4. And surely this paradox is the very joy of life. We know all: and we have still much to learn. Our strength is to feel that the end which is given to us is not yet gained. As long as there is movement there is hope. Because the central fact of our faith reaches to the utmost bounds of our being: because to the last our knowledge is limited, we bring together with loving reverence all that has been accumulated in the past, and we stand ready to welcome the new light which shall reveal the old treasures in fresh glory. It is not strange then that there should at all times be difficulties. Difficulties guide men to new regions of work for Christ’s sake. We can feel, I repeat, in these different directions, in the spheres of personal life, of human fellowship, of cosmical dependence, how our partial knowledge witnesses to the existence of regions of vital energy not essentially unattainable but hitherto necessarily unexplored: we can feel that the darkest riddles of life lose their final gloom when we refuse to acknowledge that their solution must be found in the facts which we have been so far able to grasp: we can feel that the gospel of Christ incarnate and ascended deals with these latest questionings not by accident or by accommodation, but in its inmost nature: we can feel as the problems rise before us that our historic creed contains the answer to them, though it has not yet been drawn out, that our needs have not been left uncared for by eternal love, that it is through the sternest searchings of heart that the growing fulness of the truth is realised. The sorest trial of very many now is the sad suspicion that Christianity does not cover all which we know to be. Perhaps we have given colour to the fear by our own narrowness of sympathy. But from the first it was not so. And it is true still, true always, that our faith conquers not by the suppression or by the dissimulation of difficulties, but by interpreting them or by placing them in their right relation to what we see of the whole constitution and circumstances of the world. We do not then appeal to ignorance, but to the conditions of a partial knowledge: we do not transfer our hope to an imaginary scene, but find the pledge of its fulfilment in a completer revelation of this in which we toil and suffer: we do not offer any intellectual formulas as exhaustive and absolute, but we claim that now and at all times the faith should be regarded in connection with every human interest; we do not affirm the limitation of knowledge as a bar to inquiry, but as a bar to finality.

We know in part.

1. The words are a consolation. No one has ever set before himself a high ideal of work for the truth’s sake without sadly noting at the close of his labour the scantiness of his achievements. His difficulties, perhaps, have grown clearer, but they have not grown less. At last he finds himself left face to face with mysteries, which appear in the form of irreconcilable opposites. The fundamental mystery of his finite being responsible to the Infinite repeats itself in many forms. There is no escape from conditions of thought which he feels to be inapplicable to spiritual existences. Happy is he only when he knows that what he sees, what he can see, is but a fragment of that glory which all the powers of all the ages will not exhaust in its fulness. We inherit and we transmit our inheritance to others, with the slender accessions we have made. So it is that we are bound one to another, and while we contend to the uttermost for the truth which is given to us, we find a place opened for other labourers.

2. They are a promise. The knowledge is partial, but the object is not illusory. We may not he able to see much, but the appearances which we observe answer to something which is eternal. This conviction is sufficient to inspire us with hope. We are so constituted that we cannot but group together the scattered facts which come before us, and interpret them in some fashion. Looking to them we can cherish the signs of a wider order in the moral world which has not yet been realised.

3. They are a prophecy. Now we see in a mirror darkly, but then face to face. The mode of knowledge will be changed, but He who is revealed in many parts and in many ways is Himself unchangeable. Perfect knowledge now would be the sentence of spiritual death: “the whole can increase no more, is dwarfed and dies.” But, let us thank God, we know in part; and we know Him that is true. We do not rest in what we are, or in what we can attain to, but in what God is, in whose imago we are made. (Bp. Westcott.)

Knowledge in part

In guarding our talk thus, we are helped by the analogies of those who know less than we do, and who cannot know as much as we do. A blind man, for instance, does not know as much about colour as people who see. Nor does a man who is colour-blind. They may imagine what colour is, and they can talk about their imaginations. But they must not prophesy. That is, they must not proclaim the truth about colour. They do not know what the truth is, and they do not even know the meaning of the words they use. The analogy with our ignorance is precise. For such people sometimes think they know. In the same direction is the advance which mankind has made since those prehistoric days of the cave-dweller. If to the poor savage of the limited experience of that early time I said, “Your God can give at the same instant His present command to you who are here and to other men on the other side of the world,” he would hardly understand my language; and, so far as he did understand it, he would tell me I lied. In the first place, he would not know what I meant by the other side of the world. In the second place, he would say that one God could not be in two places. But, with the steady progress of the world, all this changes. Any telegraph boy sees one will acting in a dozen places, and his imagination and conception carry him into a much wider range than that which he sees. On a thousand lines the world understands that it has advanced from that feeble knowledge of that savage life. Just so far as it understands this, does the same world make out that it knows only in part now, and looks forward, with a confidence akin to certainty, to a coming time and a larger life, in which it shall know more. All such instances from history help us in our lives of to-day, and in looking forward for to-morrow. History, indeed, is always useless, unless we extort from it such lessons. If the cave-dweller or the Eskimo of to-day knew only in part what seems wholly necessary to your life and mine, in just the same fashion is it probable--it is well-nigh certain--that where I know only in part there is more knowledge which my successors will have--nay, which I myself may have, in a life not cumbered by this body. (E. E. Hale, D.D.)

Verses 9-10

1 Corinthians 13:9-10

We know in part, and we prophesy in part.

We know in part

The imperfection of our knowledge.

1. We know but little.

2. That little is mixed with much error.

3. Includes much that is useless.

4. Is very imperfectly apprehended.

Its causes.

1. Intellectual.

2. Physical.

3. Moral.

Its lessons.

1. Humility.

2. Docility.

3. Distrust of our own understanding.

4. Hope. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

We know in part

The apostle says this not simply of the “wisdom of this world,” but of Divinely-given knowledge. A reverence not according to knowledge has led Christians to forget this, and to argue as if inspired writers gave us final and complete knowledge about the ways of God. This is not so, and hence much that is fragmentary even in Scripture, and representations which cannot be harmonised yet.

The part we do not know--by far the greater part; and the more we know, the more we seem not to know--as the outside of a circle gets larger as the inside is increased. Only beginners are proud of their acquirements; discoverers, who stand upon the boundaries of human knowledge, gazing with earnest eyes over the boundless untrodden region beyond, feel themselves unable to spell out the very alphabet of the universe of God.

1. What do we know about the material world? Men observe that things have certain appearances, and that changes occur with a certain regularity; but why they appear so, and how these changes take place, which obviously are the most important points to understand, belong to the part we do not know. Why a star moves or a plant grows, it is useless to ask an astronomer or a botanist.

2. So in the spiritual world. How much of goodness and how much of trial make up the facts and events of our lives! But what can we know about them--how they come, and why? What an amount of ingenuity we spend upon these questions, and how much are we perplexed! But vain are our endeavours to get at the meaning.

3. It is the same in regard to the great facts of the Christian revelation. “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Why was that necessary? How was it possible? That is the part we do not know; and we must content ourselves, having appropriate evidence, with the fact that it is so. Paul’s eager mind did indeed press against the furthest boundaries of inspired knowledge; but he once stopped with, “O the depth of the riches,” etc., and then turned to practical matters.

The part we no know. It is natural to us to appreciate what we lack, and to undervalue what we have. In this, as in other respects, we are but children of a larger growth. As a thousand natural wonders and beauties lie at our feet which we have not eyes attentive enough to see, or minds awake enough to study, or hearts big enough to love: so with the marvels of Christ and Christianity, of which our tongues often speak parrot-like in hymns and prayers, yet the rich significance of which we seldom feel. Our prayer should be, “Lord, open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.” (T. M. Herbert, M.A.)

We know in part

We wish we knew more. To appreciate the fact that we know but little, and to understand some of the reasons why, will help us to be more reconciled to our own ignorance and to that of others, and will contribute to remove some of the obstacles that lie in the way of a completer knowledge.

We are born with an eye graduated to some particular truth or truths, and not with a vision that spreads itself with equal facility over all truths.

1. It is no fault of ours that we cannot see the Southern Cross. That constellation does not form part of the heavens under which God intended us to live. If it had fallen to our lot to dwell in Patagonia, then we should have lived under its blaze, and it would then have been impossible for us to make out the Great Bear. No eye is able to see everything, and each eye has an outlook of its own.

2. Truth is like a diamond, and you must shift your position in order to catch the particular flash from each individual facet; which is what in the matter of truth we do not and cannot do. We can migrate from latitude to latitude, and skip from street to street; but as regards truth, we can change neither our nationality nor our address; truth is fixed, and we are born fixed in our relation to it. We are individually created into a specific angle with the truth. Truth individualises itself to each eye and makes only minute donations to each. It is with us in this respect much as it is with objects in their relation to a sunbeam, where one sort of material will pull the blue out of it; another the green; another the red, and so on through the entire bundle of colour bound up in a white ray. In the same way, each mind picks the particular truth that is native to it.

3. It is the way we are made. It has its advantages; some one aspect of truth we have power to take hold of and to feel keenly. It results in each man having his own little patch of truth to cultivate, and by that means he doubtless gets more produce on to the world’s market than he would do if he had a whole hundred acre lot to cultivate scatteringly.

4. That ought to keep us steadily at work on constructive lines, not destructive ones; telling what little we do see and know, and letting the rest go. A star is not brilliant because I happen to see it; it is brilliant because--it is brilliant. Exactly so it is of a truth. If there is some reality that your mind looks right into, but that your Christian neighbour has no sense of and no care for, it is not because he is a theological idiot, but because your little star does not happen to shine where he stands.

We allow the one particular bent that we are born with to assert a despotism over us.

1. If, e.g., there is some particular truth of God’s Word that we have a native bias for, we shall be almost certain to make that determine for us the portions of Scripture that we shall admit to our thought and our confidence; much as the one glowing constellation that is in the direct range of our vision will be almost certain to prevent our scouring around to detect others imperfectly disclosed.

2. The same holds of other books as well as of the Bible. Look at the library of any Christian thinker, and you will be able to determine what his theological bent is. The very particularity of his view operates to keep it narrow, and his will only be those that he can use as whet-stones upon which to whet his particularity down to a thinner edge.

3. Then, too, the habit of thinking along some congenial line, not only weakens our interest in truth lying upon other lines, but sometimes even impairs our power of appreciating truth lying upon them. Just as a creature needs a different bodily construction to enable him to live upon land from what he does to exist in water, so, to a certain degree, a different equipment is required to live and think in a region of spirit from what is required to adapt one to a world of matter; and the more exclusively we are habituated to the former, the more awkward it will make us when we undertake to make any headway in the latter. Some of us use our scientific faculties so little that they become aborted and we lose all power to appreciate scientific facts. And the converse of that is equally true.

4. So that in these days, when there is being so strong a pressure brought to bear in behalf of those branches of knowledge that deal with matter only, if you want your boy to be a Christian, see to it that he gets his mind trained in those faculties that will especially be called in play in the discernment and appreciation of spiritual truth.

By a deliberate act of our own will we veto the truth.

1. Truth depends for its power upon the concurrence of the mind as much as light depends for its power on the concurrence of the eye. A truth coming to us always knocks at the door and then stands outside waiting till some one comes and answers. No man is likely to be persuaded against his will. We personally decide just how much God’s Word shall do for us and how far it shall go with us. The preacher never drives it in; we let it in, and just as far as we choose. Good hearing is a far more difficult art than good preaching.

2. Christ had perfect confidence in the truth, and He had just as much confidence that when once the heart had taken the truth fairly in, something would come of it; the parable of the sower teaches that. It may rain as hard as ever it did in the days of old Noah, but the rain will start no grass so long as the downpour falls on to frozen ground.

There are certain elements of Christian knowledge that can come only with the years and indeed with the centuries.

1. Experience is the only perfect teacher. We can of course crowd ourselves with facts, but that is not wisdom. Wisdom is gained by the process of somehow letting the threads of truth weave themselves into the tissue of our own life; and therefore it is not a thing to be hurried any more than you can hurry the growing of the corn. You will have to visit the country before ever you will quite understand what you have so painstakingly learned. Experience is expository; the Bible illuminates us but we illuminate the Bible. We make the Bible ours by our becoming its. We do not understand the publican until we have been on our knees by his side. We do not fathom the story of the prodigal until we have returned from the far country and have known what it is to stand in restored relations with that father. Is there any one of us who feels that he has more than merely begun to understand this chapter?

2. The simple change, too, that comes with our steady departure from childhood to manhood brings us on to a new side of some matters. Perhaps we have found out that life is not what we once thought it was going to be. Possibly the present is not quite so real as it used to be, and very likely the great future is growing upon us. One day I was looking at two large telescopic photographs of the moon, one taken when it was at its full, the other a week later. In the latter, some of the mountains that showed dull and lustreless in the earlier view, came out bright, as in the meantime the sun had passed along to the point where it could illumine the evening slopes, I remarked this to the dealer whose hair had been whitened by the years. “Yes,” he said, very quietly, but quite cheerily, withal, “Yes, the lights are very differently arranged when you get into the last quarter.” (C. H. Parkhurst, D.D.)

Limited knowledge

Knowledge is not always good. It profited our first parents little. God knew this then and He knows it now. Consider--

The assumption made--“Now we know.” It is knowledge that makes man better than the brute, that makes him like God, that develops his power, that is his salvation. We know, indeed, and therefore stand out before the heathen, the Jews, the early Christians. We have privileges which are peculiarly our own, and which none have ever enjoyed before.

The limitation enforced. “We know in part.” Of all things finite, human knowledge is the most limited. It is limited--

1. In its range.

2. In power.

The significance implied. This state of limited human knowledge has its purpose.

1. It places us in our own proper position. We are tempted to make our own knowledge an absolute standard. We fix rules for morality, doctrine; we organise parties and call them perfect, because we imagine our knowledge is perfect; but the authors can only see in part. It requires a serious effort to understand that others have the power of seeing what we cannot see.

2. It alters the whole tone of our spiritual life on earth. It should

(1) Remove fear, for what appears to us to be dark may in reality be light.

(2) Remove doubt, for we must trust.

(3) Lessen grief, for trials may be blessings in disguise.

The privilege bestowed. Our present limited knowledge is to some extent a blessing.

1. It gives us something to look forward to--“Then we shall know even as we are known.” All mysteries shall one day be revealed, and then all errors shall cease.

2. It prevents much sorrow. How fearful to know all that is before us!

3. It engages our thoughts on the practical rather than the theoretical. Love is the practical duty at present; for we can love even if we cannot know. (J. J. S. Bird, M.A.)

Partial knowledge

There is a partial knowledge that is--

A necessity. The knowledge of the highest creature must by the necessity of nature be partial. What he knows is as nothing compared with the knowable, still less with the unknowable. “Who by searching can find out God?”

A calamity. Our necessary ignorance is not a calamity, but a benediction. It acts as a stimulus. But ignorance of knowable things must be ever a disadvantage. Ignorance of ethics, political economy, laws of health, religion, entails incalculable injuries. Ignorance of these things is the night, the winter of intellect.

Sinful. A partial knowledge of our moral condition, the claims of God, the means of redemption, where a fuller knowledge is attainable, is a sin. Ignorance of Christ in a land of churches and Bibles is a sin, and theft of no ordinary heinousness. It is a calamity to heathens, it is a crime to us.

Beneficent. Our ignorance of our future is a blessing. Were the whole of our future to be spread out before us, with all its trials, sorrows, death, life would become intolerable; it is mercy that has woven the veil that hides the future. Conclusion: Our partial knowledge should make us humble, studious, undogmatic, devout. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Our partial knowledge


A discipline to diligence.

1. We require our children to know, and then we give them, not the knowledge that they seek, but the key of that knowledge. Doubtless the teacher imparts knowledge, but his greater function is in wisely keeping it back until it is fairly won. So God teaches without telling; sets alluring objects of knowledge almost within sight and reach; sets ajar the doors of science, and writes up, “Ask, and ye shall receive,” etc.

2. And no faithful seeker seeks in vain. Perhaps he finds somewhat other than he sought, as Saul sought the straying asses and found a kingdom. Men sought by alchemy for the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life, etc., and found them not, but found marvellous things in the quest, and by and by found themselves at the splendid portals of the great treasure-house of modern chemistry. Geography explored unknown seas for a new route to Cipango and Cathay, and lo! a new continent was given as her reward. Astrology adventured out vaguely among the stars, seeking she knew not what, and became transfigured into astronomy.

3. But ever with what is given is something yet reserved. Each new discovery discloses new questions yet to be answered. And what is true in the study of material things is even more impressively true in the higher study of man, and duty, and God. “Ye shall know, if ye shall follow on to know the Lord.”

A discipline to humility and patience. And so good a discipline is it that they who have learned the most are commonly the humblest, for they know how inadequate their knowledge is. For running through the very midst of human life, in its most intimate concerns, is a line of unanswerable questions. Along the seam between will and motive, foreknowledge and responsibility, eternity and time, spirit and matter, the absolute and the conditioned, are ranged the antinomies over which the only wisdom is to despair and be patient. And that is the wisdom which after these six thousand years of discipline, theology and philosophy are only now at last beginning to learn.

A discipline to charity towards others whose knowledge is yet more narrowly limited or is on a different side from ours. We are vexed at their narrowness, and do not think what reason we give them or others to be vexed at ours. Probably none of us are aware where our knowledge is nearest akin to ignorance and error. Likely enough it is at the very point where we are most positive. We need, as a training in charity, to “look upon the things of others” as well as “upon our own things.” Vinet says, “The men of two hundred years hence will be looking back with astonishment on some monstrous error that was unconsciously held by the best Christians of the nineteenth century.” This is the constant story of the past. And it is right that we should be reminded of it; not that we should cease to hold the truth or hold it with timorous or hesitating grasp, but that we should learn to hold the truth no longer in unrighteousness or in self-righteousness, but in love.

A discipline to faith. We speak of a man of great and settled faith, meaning a learned, confident theologian, who has surveyed and triangulated the whole field of sacred knowledge. Eternity, Trinity, Atonement, all these are quite clear and definite to him. Nay, rather, he is a man, so far as this goes, of no faith at all. He has not the necessary antecedent condition of faith that should bring him to the feet of the great Teacher, and to lay his hand in that of the only Guide. And you who, vexed by doubts and uncertainties and limitations, have been wont to say, “But for these I might believe,” learn now to speak in a higher strain, and say, “In spite of these--no; because of these I must--I do believe. To whom can I go but to Him who hath the words of eternal life? Blessed be God, who hath fenced up my way of knowledge that so I might learn to feel for the leading of His hand, and walk by faith, not by sight.”

A discipline to hope. It is not for always, this which is in part, even though it is expedient for us now. It is the dimness which turns our mind toward the day-star and the coming dawn. This hunger and thirst unsatisfied are a continual promise of the coming time when I shall be filled. In this mood I can well afford to await that glorious time for which I am not yet prepared, but for which God is preparing me, when that which is perfect shall have come and these things which are in part shall be done away--when I shall see face to face and know even as I am known. (L. W. Bacon, D.D.)

Present defect and future perfection

A statement of present defect.

1. The gifts themselves.

(1) The knowledge is not ordinary but extraordinary, being the effect of supernatural influence (1 Corinthians 12:8).

(2) The gift of prophecy comprehended much. Sometimes it meant the power of foretelling future events; sometimes celebrating the praises of God by a Divine afflatus; sometimes the power of teaching the doctrines of the gospel by the influence of the Holy Spirit of God. So it means here.

(3) We may, however, apply the terms to that more ordinary knowledge and teaching which is the present qualification of all who have received the Spirit and have the knowledge of the truth of God. This is knowledge which none can possibly surpass, and which very few can equal.

2. The imperfection ascribed to these gifts.

(1) The Spirit of God never gave a full development of all His revelations. Even the apostles themselves did not know all that it was possible to know respecting Jesus Christ. Paul, with all his knowledge, says, “I have suffered the loss of all things--that I may know Him.” And as the knowledge was imperfect, so was the prophecy. The inspired apostle found himself on the shore of a boundless ocean, and exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches!” etc.

(2) And so to us the same imperfection attaches most strongly. The pride of our nature may induce us to imagine otherwise; but that pride will very soon be checked. The man who has studied the hardest, who has been most frequently wrapt into visions of future times--even he must still say, “I know in part--I prophesy in part.” And I would ask a Christian of the highest class, if any illuminations, in which he has been enabled hitherto to rejoice, have permitted him yet to say, “That which is perfect is come”? Consider what you know of God--of His government of the universe, of the councils of His will, and of the connection of these with His actions--and then say how incomplete is your knowledge! Consider what you know of the mediatorial influence of Christ--of the fall transformation of the soul into His image--of the future state. You have, it is true, facts to believe, but you cannot comprehend their fulness; you study, you meditate, you explore--but you are soon lost; and you come to the conclusion, “I know in part.”

(3) And then some will say, “Where there is so much mystery, there should be no faith.” But if you will reason thus on religion, extend your reasoning to life, to nature, to all around you. You know that you live; you sit, you think, you hear, you speak; but how soon will you find your knowledge, even on these subjects, limited and nonplussed! Here we must be content to see imperfectly--to comprehend as in enigma. We can only stand as it were on the threshold of the temple; it is in the future age that the veil will be rent, that the inner sanctuary will be open to our gaze, and the fire that burns on the golden altar revealed.

3. The reasons on which this imperfection is founded.

(1) Man’s moral pollution. The most sinful are always the, most ignorant. Adam by transgression lost much of his knowledge; and in proportion as transgression increased, ignorance abounded. Sin has a tendency to pervert the imagination, and forms an hindrance in the way of attaining the pure and sublime knowledge of religion.

(2) Man’s intellectual weakness. There is much in Divine knowledge that we have not a capacity for knowing. Engaged as we all are on material objects, and able to see only through the medium of our senses, what wonder is it if we be compelled to confess, “We know in part”?

(3) The designs of God in connection with man’s present and future state. It is not the design of God that we should know all. The future state is to make up for the defects of the present. It is this which makes heaven an object of such ardent desire to the Christian.

An anticipation of future perfection.

1. In regard to some future state of the Church upon earth. Look at the Church in our own day; see how abundantly our information has increased. Yet the Church is now in a very imperfect state compared with what it shall be in the last days; then “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” None shall say to his neighbour or his brother, “Know the Lord,” etc.

2. In reference to the state of the Church in heaven. Then it will be truly said, “That which is perfect is come.”

(1) A perfection of purity.

(2) Of power.

(3) Of knowledge.

(4) Of happiness. (J. Parsons.)

Present imperfection and future perjection


The imperfection of our present condition.

1. Gifts are but partially distributed.

2. Are imperfect.

3. Are adapted to a state of imperfection.

The perfection of heaven.

1. Certainly anticipated.

2. Implies the removal of all imperfection and its causes.

3. The consummation of our nature and its consequent happiness. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Verse 10

1 Corinthians 13:10

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

The perfect state

What hope have we of it?

1. Founded on human instinct.

2. Confirmed by revelation.

3. Secured by faith.

What relief will it bring?

1. The removal of all defect.

2. Consequently of all sorrow.

What happiness does it promise? The perfection of our condition.

1. Physical.

2. Intellectual.

3. Moral.

4. Social. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The Christian doctrine of the perfectibility of man

Futurity is the greatness of man, and hereafter is the grand scene for the attainment of the fulness of his existence.

1. When depressed by conscious littleness of being, yet feeling that he should not be little, man may look to futurity and exclaim, “I shall be great yonder! the immense futurity is mine! I may be content to be poor awhile in the prospect of that!”

2. It is most gratifying to see the Divine revelation connecting the condition of perfection, on any terms, in any sense, at any future period, with human nature. Looking at man, we seem to see a vast collection of little beginnings, attempts, failures--so that the perfectibility of man is ridiculed as one of the follies of philosophic romance. Then how delightful is it to see revelation itself, pronouncing it as possible!

3. This prediction of something “perfect” to come, relates to knowledge. This is somewhat surprising. It seems much more easy to conceive of perfection in holiness. But knowledge is not a state of the dispositions, but an intellectual relation with anything which can come within the sphere of its apprehension. All things in the stupendous totality of existence are subjects for knowledge. To hear, then, of perfection in knowledge, in any, the most limited, accommodated sense, is very marvellous.

Let us attempt to realise to our imagination such a state.

1. The lowest point we can take is the exclusion of error. So that if the manner of apprehending be intuition, the objects will be made clearly self-evident; if by reasoning, the evidence will be explicit and the reasoning process infallible. It could not but be in the heavenly state a painful thing for the spirit, after exulting in the reception of a portion of knowledge, to find out that it had been imposed on.

2. It will be perfectly adequate to the infallible direction of all the activities of the superior state. Those activities we may well believe to be of vast extent and endless variety, and an infallible knowledge--what to do, and when, and by what means--will be vouchsafed.

3. Knowledge will doubtless be perfect in that we shall possess as much of it as is indispensable to our happiness, and be sensible that we do so. We shall not be in the condition of John, who looked on the sealed book and “wept” because there was none to open it.

4. We shall possess always as much knowledge as for the time our faculties are actually capable of. Here there are a vast number of things kept in the dark from us, which we could understand if they were but declared; and there is sometimes a most restless wish to know them. Imagine then a continual enlargement of the intellectual capacity, and as it enlarges, a continual influx of new knowledge to fill it.

We should take some advantage of the apostle’s contrast between “that which is in part,” and that “perfect” which is to come. Note--

1. The imperfect, partial nature of our means of knowledge. The senses, the grand inlets of our knowledge, must and do convey it in a most imperfect manner. Through them the spirit can receive only reports and images of the things. How it wishes to come at the things themselves! Language, again, is a most imperfect medium for the conveyance of knowledge, being framed upon our imperfect knowledge and partaking of all its defects. But “when that which is perfect is come,” the mode, the medium, the instruments of our receiving and conveying knowledge must be something immensely different, whether or not in analogy with the present means. If there are to be senses and any artificial instruments of knowledge analogous to the present, let them be but as much superior to these as a “spiritual body,” made like the glorified body of Christ, will be superior to this “earthy,” mortal one, and it will suffice. But whatever shall be the means and manner of apprehending--the apprehension must be incomparably more intimate than in this world to satisfy the exalted intelligence. And that it will be so, the apostle intimates, “I shall know even as also I am known.”

2. How emphatically our present knowledge is but “in part “ as to the number and extent of the things known! Just think how many can be answered of all the questions we can ask. “When that which is perfect is come,” it will not bring an answer to all possible inquiries; but it will be amazing and delightful to see what a multitude of things, of which we had but the faintest glimpses before, are brought into perfect manifestation. What a revelation there may be--

(1) In the vast enlargement of the mind’s own proper power of knowing, while it looks from a higher eminence over a wider field.

(2) In the direct disclosures and communications which the Divine Being may beneficently make.

3. But all these anticipations remind us but the more forcibly how we here “know but in part.”

(1) So “in part,” that just the part which we want to attain is divided off from our reach. It seems as if a dissevering principle or a dark veil fell down exactly at the point where we think we are near upon the knowledge we are pursuing.

(2) So “in part,” that we sometimes feel as if a disproportionate weight is thrown upon our faith. In our partial view, appearances may seem against what we nevertheless are required most firmly to believe. It is difficult to maintain this faith, but is happily aided by the Divine assurance that one day we shall know “when that which is perfect is come.”

(3) So “in part,” that in many things we see far more of the evil than of the good. But we are sure that there must be a decided predominance of good in the empire of Him who is infinite in wisdom, power, and goodness. And the anticipation of clearly seeing it so is a delightful radiance from heaven on our present dark abode.

(4) So “in part,” that we cannot agree one with another. The “part” itself contains those shades and perplexities among which men must greatly differ. But when the “perfect comes,” the grand illumination of each spirit will be rendered inconceivably delightful by coincidence of judgment. (J. Foster.)

Verse 11

1 Corinthians 13:11

When I was a child, I spake,… understood, … thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.


1. This is the only reference which the apostle makes to his childhood, and without dwelling on the connection, the reference is beautiful and touching. He was born at Tarsus, of respectable parents, tentmakers probably. Whether he had brothers we cannot tell, but he had a sister, for “his sister’s son” came to him (Acts 23:1-35.) “Circumcised on the eighth day,” his name was then called Saul, probably after the first king of Israel, who was of the same tribe. For the first few years of his life we may suppose him, like other children, chiefly given to play; while the daily associations of Jewish life and character would gradually mould his being. It would seem that he had a pious ancestry and kindred, for he says, “I serve God from my forefathers.” Daily worship, reading from Old Testament Scripture, mingled with his earliest experiences, and unconsciously influenced his mind. That home of his childhood was intensely Jewish. A “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” we must suppose him to have been educated with intense abhorrence for Christians and Christ. It is in reference to such things as these, he thought, when he used these significant words.

2. Turning from the apostle to ourselves, we might pursue a similar train of thought with regard to our childhood.

(1) “When I was a child,” one would say, “I was surrounded, not like Saul, with religious influence, but with everything that was bad.”

(2) “My childhood,” another would say, “was spent in what ought to have been a happy home, but misunderstanding and discord made it anything but that, and the effect is I am a misanthrope.”

(3) “Mine,” a third would say, “was the childhood of frivolity and fashion. In all senses my childhood and youth were ‘vanity.’ I was trained a trifler, and, as the result, I am mentally and morally a dwarf.”

(4) “When I was a child,” another would say, “I was trained for heaven and for Christ, and so long as memory lasts, the recollection of my childhood will be to me an impulse to duty and a lustre to life,” and so on. But now let us look at what is common to childhood as such.

How beautiful the Divine arrangement according to which childhood gradually unfolds! He who formed our first parents complete could as easily have done so with us. But it is best as it is.

1. God has given us forms of beauty everywhere, but nowhere more strikingly than in the openings of life.

2. More than this, He has thus multiplied enjoyment. Each age, as each season, has its peculiar joys.

3. We see, too, an indication of the way in which the great Worker works always--ever gradually. Childhood gradually unfolds into youth. We foolish creatures are in haste for results; God teaches us alike in nature, providence, and grace to wait and be patient.

4. While thus acting what benefit does He secure? How great the benefit to the young, teaching them lessons of docility, patience, submission; and to adults forbearance, watchfulness, etc. Imagine life without childhood, home without children.

5. If there were no higher advantage, what a benefit is the naturalness of the arrangement! The child speaking, thinking, understanding “as a child,” not trying to do more; so often rebuking thus our unreal and artificial modes of adult life.

How important that we should recognise this Divine arrangement, and seek to obey it!

1. Recollect the capacity of the child in your teaching. He speaks “as a child,” and will only understand you as you do the same, and then not according to your meaning of the words, but his own, for he thinks “as a child.”

2. Recognise this, too, in your expectations. You may not expect too much. They think and feel “as children,” and not even grace will destroy the force of child nature. Nor ought you to wish it.

How obvious our duty, such being the condition of childhood!

1. You, dear children, must be willing to submit to such training as your condition requires.

(1) Obedience is the first lesson God expects you to learn. Nor forget that disobedience to parents, or those who for the time stand in their place, is a great sin. Remember on the one hand Hophni and Phinehas, and Absalom, and on the other Timothy and Jesus. “Honour thy father and thy mother,” which is the first commandment with promise.

(2) Seek the Saviour. Of Josiah we read that when but eight years old his heart was tender, and he feared God. Your hearts are tender, not yet “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”; while they are so, submit to the guidance of Jesus!

2. Parents, teachers, see that your duty is wisely and faithfully fulfilled. Strive to have an intelligent appreciation of what your work is. In each of those minds and characters under your care are latent powers. You are to develop them. How? As the sun does the bud of the flower--by shining upon them. Only thus will they unfold to you.

How much encouragement is afforded to those who are the guides and instructors of childhood.

1. Were the material on which you are called to act stereotyped, your task would be hopeless. It is because it is so plastic that you may work with the prospect of success. We cannot tell how early the Spirit of God may work upon the opening mind of children.

2. Remember what God has said about this seed-time! “Cast thy bread upon the waters, and thou shalt find it after many days.” Whence have the majority of Christian men and women had their origin? Has it not been from the ranks of pious families, Christian schools? (J. Viney.)

Childish things

1. “There is a time for everything,” and “God hath made everything beautiful in his time.” We do not love the frost in spring. It is out of its season, but when, in December, it gives its own peculiar beauty to the landscape, we welcome it. So with the other seasons.

2. The spring, summer, autumn, and winter of our being are beautiful only in their time. Precocious childhood, prolonged infancy, or premature decay excite other feelings than those of admiration. Childishness is beautiful in its time, but only in its time. It would be a sad world if it were stripped of all the beauty and joy given to it by the innocence and playfulness of children. He is a hard man who can frown on the “childish things” so unworthy the man, but so natural in them.

3. This life of ours is a parable introduced by the apostle to describe our inner spiritual life. There are the “babes in Christ,” who require to be fed with milk; “little children,” in whom the good seed is giving the promise of fruit; “young men,” deficient in the wisdom which long experience alone can supply, but full of hope and zeal; “strong men,” the pillars of the Church, the leaders in enterprise; and fathers, who, as shocks of corn, are fully ripe and ready to be gathered into the garner. This progressive improvement we ought all to manifest.

4. There is something belonging to our childhood which we should seek always to preserve--its freshness, humility, and truthfulness. Between childlikeness and childishness there is the widest difference. Christ’s life teaches us that it is possible to unite the understanding of the man with the heart of the child. What are the childish things to be put away with our advancing intelligence and experience?


1. The understanding of a child is necessarily feeble and his views crude; but we expect, as years pass on and education does its work, that the various faculties shall begin to develop themselves.

2. God dealt with the Jews as with children He did not give the substance of the truth, but only types and shadows--a series of pictures. So, too, the requirements of the law were designed for children. There was not the simple exhibition of erie great principle which the people were themselves to apply, but a multitude of distinct enactments. But the law has done its work as a schoolmaster, and now we are brought to Christ to receive other teaching, and walk after another rule, even the perfect law of liberty and love.

3. There are many, however, who would always be Jews. They love that which appeals to the senses, and have little sympathy with the purely spiritual aspects of religion. They want a system of exact law, drawing distinct lines of separation between the right and the wrong, and have no idea of that mighty, all-pervading principle of self-consecration begotten at the Cross. It is needful that we put away these childish things, and let men understand that our religion consists not in the submission to priestly authority, or the discharge of a dreary routine of sacred duties, or even in the cherishing of certain religious sentiments, but in the rule of an enlightened conscience, sprinkled from dead works in the blood of Christ, and taught by the Spirit of our God. We would walk not as those who are without law, but under the law to Christ. To feel that religion must not be a mere piece of mechanism, a skeleton without a soul, but a life of godliness--to find in well-kept Sabbaths and sacred ordinances helps to the attainment of this end--to rest with all a child’s dependence on Christ, and yet to show a man’s energy in Christian effort, these are among the highest attainments of Christian knowledge and the best evidence of spiritual maturity.


1. It is perfectly natural for a child to attach undue value to his own surroundings. He has never seen the great city, and he ascribes to his little town an undone importance. He has never looked on the mountain, and the little hillock is to him a towering height. He has never wandered on the banks of some wide-spreading stream, and therefore he counts the rivulet with which he is familiar a river. How strong these feelings are we may perhaps learn from our own experience. Even after time, travel, and reading have enlarged our views, we are inclined to think that the little town with which we were familiar in early days was superior to others until a visit serves to break the spell.

2. The same feature is to be found in men whose want of education leaves them still in a state little better than that of children. There are dwellers in a remote part of our coventry who astonish strangers by their simple faith in the superiority of their own district.

3. How absurd this sounds--yet is it only a type of what we may see continually in religious things.

(1) There are numbers who, in this respect, are nothing but children. They have never gone beyond the narrow confines of their own little community. Their reading is restricted to a certain class of authors who look at the truth from their standpoint. The result can only be a cramped intellect and a narrow heart. They do not see that there are other sides of truth. Their own poor sect is to them the Church of Christ. Such men are holding fast by “childish things.” Greater breadth of view and truer charity of sentiment should characterise those who have become men. We cannot read the story of the Church without seeing that God has honoured men of the most opposite views and temperaments. We cannot take up our books of praise without having the same truth impressed upon us.

(2) Here, however, as almost everywhere, there are opposite extremes against which we have to guard. The very idea of breadth has been brought into disrepute by the way in which some have employed it. The man who holds fast by his own deep and intelligent convictions of doctrine and duty is pronounced narrow. On the other hand, if a man desires to tone down the gospel to the supposed tastes of men until it has been robbed of all that is distinctive and glorious in its revelations, he is esteemed broad. No wonder that devout men should look with some feeling of dread upon these broad views of Christianity. Yet is it deeply to be lamented if in their recoil they are provoked to an un-Christian narrowness. Because others indulge in a latitudinarianism which trenches on unbelief, we are not to yield ourselves to the sway of a bigotry which can tolerate no difference of opinion. Liberty is a precious Christian right, not to be surrendered or compromised, even though unwise friends have abused its privileges. Charity is the chief of the graces, and though its sacred name may often be employed to cloak indifference, or even to excuse hostility to Divine truth, yet must we not fail to cultivate and manifest it in all our controversies. He shows the breadth of Christian manhood who is able to preserve fidelity without the sacrifice of charity.


1. A child is necessarily weak, and only by slow degrees gains that muscular strength necessary for the discharge of the various functions of his physical life. His first efforts are sure to be failures. He lacks confidence even more than strength, for as yet he knows not his own power. But when the child becomes a man, we desire to see robustness and vigour.

2. So may it be expected that the first efforts of the Christian after holiness will be marked by weakness and attended with frequent failure. In the glow of his first love the young disciple fancies that nothing will be too hard for him to achieve. But soon experience teaches him--the evils of years cannot be repaired in a day--habits cannot easily be abandoned--passions that have been masters are not content to become subjects. But we have a right to expect that advancing years will bring with them increasing strength. What we have most to deplore is, that so many fail to manifest this progress. They are content to be as they have been for years. They sin and repent, make confession of their guilt, and straightway return to sin again. Possibly life is not extinguished, but assuredly it is very feeble and unhealthy. (J. G. Rogers, B.A.)

The child and the man

The contrast is very striking. “I spake as a child.” When the child begins to speak, how broken the utterance is! The mother’s ear, sharpened by love, is able to comprehend it; but the stranger finds the task too hard for him. “I understood as a child.” How weak the understanding is--how uncertain--how liable to err! “I thought as a child.” But what a poor illogical affair my reasoning was! What a marvel it is, the change of a little child into a man! The infant boy, Saul, in his nursery at Tarsus, and the man making Felix tremble, and Mars Hill ponder. But he uses this change in himself for the sake of illustration. Note--

The advance from Judaism to Christianity. Judaism was the childhood of the Church. I do not say this to insinuate any doubt of its Divine origin. The child is as much the creature of God as the man: just so, it is as clear that He spake by Moses as by Christ. But still there is a marked difference between the two dispensations.

1. Judaism was adapted to those who, in religious knowledge and experience, were children. You teach the little ones chiefly through the eye: give them picture books, and assume pictorial attitudes. So the tabernacle was a picture-gallery, teaching precious truth--but to the senses mainly to reach the mind.

2. How different are the institutions of the gospel! Here are no altars, no priests. The Church has got out of the nursery into the study; and Christians are treated not as children, but as men. We are taught--especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews--that the ordinances of Judaism were merely figures for the time till Christ should come; but now what need of the type, when we have the antitype? Our sacraments are just the exceptions that prove the rule.

3. But see the tendency of the present day. It is to crush the manhood of the Church of Christ, and bring us back to a religion of ceremonies again. Ritualism is a second Judaising of the Church--a coming back to the nursery and babyhood again.

The advance from early piety to mature.

1. Early piety is one of the loveliest things I know--like the blossoms of the apple-tree in spring, or the first faint light on the horizon. Yet it is a very imperfect thing. The blossoms are not the fruit--the dawning is not the day. The young Christian is only a little child in the family of God.

2. But let him become a man in Christ Jesus--what an advance! The blossoms have gone--but here is the tree filled with the fruits of righteousness; the dawning has disappeared--but it is only swallowed up in the sunrise. There was a time when Paul knew little more than that he bad been a great sinner, and lay wholly at the mercy of the Lord. But he lived “to comprehend with all saints the breadth and length,” etc. Oh, to attain a full manhood of Christian character! to have the greatest peace, to do the greatest good, to bring God the greatest glory!

The advance from the earthly state to the heavenly. This was what the apostle had chiefly in his mind.

1. He describes the earthly state of Christians as imperfect. What a lesson of humility! This great gifted man acknowledges how much he cannot teach! “We know in part.” And so with the very aptest of scholars. John Howe says, “Many of our conceits, which we thought wise, we shall then see cause to put away as common trash”; and Owen, “Notwithstanding all our confidence of our high attainments, all our notions of God are but childish in respect of His infinite perfections.” Down, then, with our foolish pride, our arrogant assumption!

2. But what is there awaiting us? We are looking through a dim window now, and things outside are a riddle; but then the window will be thrown open, and we shall see face to face (verse 12; 1 John 3:2), and the clear sight of Jesus shall complete our transformation. All that was dim in us shall become luminous, and we shall perfectly reflect the image of our Lord.

3. The change must begin here. We must be new-born babes on earth, if we are ever to reach maturity in heaven. “Except a man be born again,” etc. Then we shall look down on this dim spot, and say, Then I was a child, but now I am a man. (F. Tucker, B.A.)

The child and the man

The feelings and thoughts of a child are true and just, in so far as they are the natural impression of the objects to which they relate. They are neither irrational nor false, but inadequate. The impression which the sight of the heavens makes on the mind of the child, is for the child a just and true impression. The conception which it forms of what it sees is correct in one aspect of the great object contemplated. Yet that impression is very different from that which is made on the mind of the astronomer. In like manner our views of Divine things will hereafter be very different from those which we now have. But it does not thence follow that our present views are false. They are just as far as they go, they are only inadequate. It is no part of the apostle’s object to unsettle our confidence in what God now communicates by His Word and Spirit to His children, but simply to prevent our being satisfied with the partial and imperfect. (C. Hodge, D.D.)

Childhood and manhood

The saint’s childhood.

1. Speech corresponds with tongues (verse 8).

2. Understanding with prophecy.

3. Thought with knowledge.

The saint’s manhood.

1. Perfect power of expression.

2. Glorified intellect.

3. Full revelation of God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The Christian a child in time, a man in eternity

This is the case in relation to--

Speech. “I spake as a child.” The Christian’s speech in eternity will be characterised--

1. By clearness. Our speech here, like that of children, is often unintelligible, mere jargon. The reason is our conceptions are ill-defined. Clear speech requires a clear head. In heaven thoughts are clear, and complete as balls of radiant crystal.

2. By reality. Our speech here, like that of children, is frequently nothing more than the vehicle of mental fantasies and conjecture. But speech in eternity is the organ of reality. Words there are things. They are truths made vocal.

3. By comprehensiveness. How meagre the vocabulary of a child! Our speech here, like that of children, is limited to a very small range of things. Not so in heaven. The soul will range over the whole domain of facts, receive true impressions of all, and speak them out.

4. By sublimity. Our speech here, like that of children, is not of the most exalted and soul-inspiring character. In heaven every word will be electric, every sentence radiant, and quickening as the sunbeam.

Understanding, “I understood as a child.” The Christian’s understanding here is like that of a child in several respects.

1. In feebleness. The child’s intellect, like his body, in the first stages is very feeble. It is incapable of any great effort. It is thus with the Christian here. We say of such a man--he has a great intellect. But in reality what a small amount of truth can the most vigorous hold within his grasp! In heaven the understanding will be strong, unencumbered by matter, unchecked by disease, unclouded by sin. It will grow young with age and strong with exercise.

2. In sensuousness. A child’s understanding is under the control of the senses. It judges by appearances. Is it not so with the Christian? He is prone to “mind earthly things,” “to judge after the flesh.”

3. In relativeness. The child judges of all things by their relation to himself. His father may be an author or a statesman, but the child knows nothing of him in those relations. As a father only he knows him. So with the understanding of a Christian. His conceptions of God are purely relative. Redeemer, Father, Master. Thus only is He regarded. What He is in Himself, what He is in the universe, he understands nothing. In eternity we shall “see Him as He is.”

4. In servility. The child yields his understanding up to others. So it is often with Christians here. Not so in heaven. Each with a full consciousness of his individuality will be independent in his investigations and conclusions.

Reasoning. “I thought as a child.” How does the child reason? From an insufficiency of data. Having neither the power nor the opportunity of making an adequate observation and comparison, he draws his conclusions from passing impressions and unfounded conjectures. Thus it is often with the Christian here. His knowledge of the facts of God and the universe on which he reasons is so limited, that his conclusions are often inconclusive and puerile.

2. From the impulse of desire. In all cases his wish is the father to the thought. It is too often so with the Christian here. Their likings control their logic. Not so in heaven.

Conclusion: This subject teaches--

1. The educational character of this life. The true view of this life is that it is a school for eternity. Be reconciled to this state. Struggle on till you “put away childish things.” We shall leave this school soon for the family mansion and the grand inheritance.

2. The organic unity of man through all the scenes and stages of his being. Though the man here talks and judges and reasons very differently to what he did when a child, he is nevertheless the same being. Man in heaven is but the child matured. We shall never be greater than men.

3. The necessity of modesty in the maintenance of our theological views. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

True manliness

True manliness means the putting away childish things--rising out of the weakness and frivolity of childhood to the stature of a ripe Christian. Consider what are the chief characteristics of childhood. We see much that is pleasant and winning in them--openness, simplicity, a comparative innocence, and an absolute ignorance of many evil things. But we see, also, much that is not pleasant to see. Now we are not to put away the better things of childhood; but retaining these we are to put away--

Silliness. There are many things that we pardon in a child because it is a child. If a child makes a foolish remark, or does a foolish act, we say, in excuse, “He is but a child--he will be wiser by and by.” But if, when the child grows up, and is still not wiser, we say, by way of reproach, that he is childish and ought, at his age, to know better.

Selfishness. All young children show this more or less. Hence the greediness in children and their egotism, the frequent use in their mouth of the words “I” and “me.” And this is a fault which all parents should try to correct. But a selfish child has the excuse of ignorance; but a selfish young man or woman has not this excuse. They do know better. While this fault remains uncorrected in us we have not made, and we cannot make, any progress in true religion Learn from your Lord and Example to think of, to care for, to give to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive!

Want of self control. They only are to be accounted manly who are masters of themselves, who act from reason not from passion. Remember what St. Paul says, “Every one that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things”--in meat, drink, speech, pleasure, pursuit of earthly gains. The way to self-mastery is to be on the watch against all excess, all inordinate affection; to bring your bodies into subjection to the law of your mind; to look in all you do, not at what is most pleasant; but at what reason and conscience enjoin. (R.D. B. Rawnsley, M.A.)

Analogy between our present state and a state of childhood

I might observe that our pursuits, our cares, our sorrows, and our joys are too often like those of children, low, trifling, and frivolous. Were we properly affected and informed, we should pursue nothing eagerly but virtue. But how far is this from being the general temper of mankind! Where can we find true manliness and integrity--a steadiness not to be shaken by low passions--a love of truth not to be warped by silly prejudices, and an elevation of mind not to be depressed by the temptations and trials of this world? Children are apt to be wayward, and fickle, and capricious--one moment displeased with what the moment before they admired--delighted with toys, and grieving when a foolish fancy cannot be gratified. Such is also the case with men; nor can I view a courtier, who sets his heart upon a ribbon, in any higher light than I do a child who cries for a trinket, or is proud of his fine clothes. Our levities and inconstancies, our variable and peevish humours, our groundless attachments, our unreasonable prejudices and gross mistakes, all show our weakness, and prove us to be in the infancy of our existence. But it will be proper to explain this subject more distinctly, and to carry our ideas a little higher.

1. Let us, therefore, consider that our present existence, compared with our future, is a childhood in respect of its duration. We are to exist for ever. What, then, is this life? How justly may it be called our childhood? The strict truth is, that it is no more than our entrance into being--our birth into the vast creation--the first glimmering of light at the dawn of day.

2. A gain, this life is our childhood in respect of improvement. At our best state in this world we may say of ourselves, with the utmost propriety, that we know nothing, and are nothing. We now mistake presumption for knowledge, a strange imagination for a sound understanding, and the delusions of passion for the perceptions of truth. Hereafter our intellectual powers will acquire vigour. We shall see intuitively those truths which we now are obliged to make out by long and intricate deductions.

3. I might go on to observe to you that we are now children in respect of power and dignity. Fluctuating at best and very feeble is our present condition. Hereafter our condition will be more fixed and stable. Our powers will be enlarged, and we shall rise to a dignity and weight in the universe of which we can now form no conception.

4. But it is necessary that I should endeavour to give you a yet more accurate view of this subject by observing to you that this life answers to the idea of a childhood, as it is an introduction to, and a state of education for, another and a higher state. Infancy prepares for childhood, and childhood for manhood. As we pass through these several stages, we are continually becoming more and more familiarised to the scene in which we are placed. And it is easy to perceive that were we to be brought into life full grown, or to be made men without passing through infancy and childhood, we should be totally incapable of relishing life, and as unfit for it as we should be for conversation, had we never been taught language; or for enjoyment and happiness, were we destitute of senses. Thus is the beginning of our existence here a natural and necessary preparation for mature life; and in like manner the whole of our mature life itself is a necessary preparation for that future life on which we are to enter at death. Should you ask me here in what manner, and by what means, this life is thus an education for another, I would answer, that it is so particularly by the instruction and the habits which are the necessary consequence to all of passing through this life; but that it is so principally by that instruction in righteousness, and those habits of self-government and virtue which we are put upon acquiring in this life. Virtue, you must always remember, is the grand condition of happiness under the Divine government. Without this we cannot be qualified for permanent existence, or any honourable situation in the universe. It is this, therefore, that we must chiefly be placed here to learn. It is proper to add, that as the Author of nature has so ordered our circumstances in this world as to make early life fit to be an education for mature life, so likewise has He so ordered our circumstances in mature life as to adapt it to the purpose of an education in virtue. We cannot proceed a step in life without finding opportunities for practising some virtue, without being required to resist some temptation, to check some wrong tendency, to discharge some duty, to govern some passion, to cherish some grace, or to stand some trial. Another sense in which our education in this world for another corresponds with our education in early or mature life, is the necessity we are under in both capacities of submitting to spirit and, sometimes, painful discipline, the reason and uses of which we may not be able to understand. Children are trained up by restraint and correction, the tendency of which they do not see, and which, therefore, they are apt to think hard and severe. So it is with us, as probationers and candidates for eternity. It is obvious that our happiness when men depends in a great degree on our conduct when young; and that the turn we take, the habits we contract, and the bent that is given us as we grow up from infancy to maturity, determine the colour and fate of all our subsequent days. Idleness and laziness in youth form a manhood void of worth and dignity; and a worthless and vicious manhood forms a wretched old age. On the contrary, virtuous, faithful, modest, sober, and well-educated youths always come out with advantage into the world. Such is the dependence of our happiness in the successive stages of the present life on our conduct in those which have preceded them; and such, likewise, is the dependence of our happiness in our future stages of existence on our conduct in our present existence. Every particular of what I have just observed of the latter, holds with respect to the former, and our seeing this to be the order of the Divine government in the one case, should silence all objections to the credibility of it in the other. Our education in youth for manhood (we all know) may miscarry, and through negligence and vice leave us deficient, ignorant, worthless, and unhappy; or, on the contrary, it may attain its end, lay the foundation of subsequent honour, and make us wise, and worthy, and respectable. The same is true of our whole education here for eternity. This also may miscarry; and instead of qualifying us for the habitations of the just, and a place among superior beings, it may leave us fit associates only for evil beings, or issue in our ruin; and one of the most terrifying of all reflections is, that in both cases these miscarriages are common.

I shall conclude with desiring your attention to the following reflections.

1. It leads us to reflect on the wisdom of God in ordering the scenes of our existence. He causes us to rise gradually, and to qualify ourselves for happiness, as a necessary condition of obtaining it.

2. The subject on which I have been discoursing should teach us patience under the trials of life, and reconcile us to all present difficulties.

3. The observations I have made should render us earnest in our endeavours to make this life what it is designed--a preparation for a better life--an introduction to glory--an education for the joys of angels. (R. Price, D.D.)

The diversity of character belonging to different periods of life

The apostle, by placing the characteristic of childhood in the speech, may possibly be understood to intimate that a child speaks before he thinks. Whether this be here particularly intended or not, it is certainly a fault very observable in such children as are not restrained, but very unbecoming and inconvenient in men. We readily and fully excuse a child who speaks without care or thought. Gaiety and inattention are natural to his age, and neither the subject nor the matter of his prate can be important. He talks of trifles only, and as they appear to his puerile conception. But when the mind is employed upon many subjects, the speech will of course be deliberate; some degree of slowness and gravity will still prevail in it, and a greater degree when the points under consideration are more difficult or more interesting. A mature understanding has constant, gentle exercise in the government of the tongue; and either remissness on the one hand, or eagerness on the other, will certainly betray itself in the discourse. Faults of these opposite kinds are to be found in young men of different dispositions; but both are to be referred to the same childish folly of speaking before they think. And thus a young man, by declaring opinions before he has well considered them, becomes afterwards unable ever to consider them without prejudice, and his thoughts, which should have governed his speech, are enslaved by it. Another part of the character of a child is, that he speaks all he thinks. Intending no ill, and suspecting none, he communicates all his sentiments and designs without reserve or caution. But the same unlimited openness is not suitable to the transactions among men. He cannot expect any success, nor indeed any reputation among them, who has not some degree of discretion and reserve and habitual secrecy. Nor is it only in the conduct of business, and to guard his own interests, that a prudent man will be often silent. He will not too freely discuss the characters of other men, nor speak too much of himself, lest he incur the reproach, in one case, of envy or ill-nature; in the other, of self-conceit or arrogance.

The next note, by which the apostle distinguishes the characters of a man and a child, is taken from the difference of their inclinations. Those of a child are always governed by trifles. The things which strike his fancy, which offer him immediate pleasure, how minute, how momentary soever, are the objects of his pursuit. But manly prudence includes in it attention to different kinds of good; the power of comparing them with regard both to their itenseness and duration; and the habit of resisting the allurements of trifling, short-lived pleasures, and of being directed by views of greater and more lasting happiness. He who suffers his mind to be continually engaged by mere amusements, and drawn away by them from every serious employment worthy of a rational being, whether of furnishing himself with useful knowledge and virtuous habits at one period of life, or at another of providing for the interests of a family, a neighbourhood, or the public; though his years may not be few, nor his amusements the same as in his childhood, is yet in the eye of reason still a child: not indeed in innocence, for a constant attachment to things of little value is not a little criminal; but in folly and perverseness.

In the judgment consists the third great distinction between the characters of a man and child. With little experience, and less exercise of his rational faculties, a child cannot have formed for himself any principles on which he may build real knowledge. He must of necessity learn many truths without the proper evidence of them, which yet he may afterwards by slow degrees discover. Nor are they the principles of knowledge only which he receives implicitly. Rules of conduct also he gathers from examples before he is able to understand their foundations. But it becomes a man to judge and act for himself: to examine as a critic, not receive as a disciple, all the reasoning proposed to him, and to direct his conduct by his own judgment, not by a blind submission to examples. He who takes his opinions without inquiry, though from the most accurate philosopher, has no more real knowledge than the child who takes them from his nurse. For in science that only is our own which we have earned by our attention and labour. What is cast upon us from the stores of others, without our claim or merit, loses its value in passing, and cannot enrich us. And he who in the regulation of his life is influenced by foolish fashions of which he has formed no judgment, or can give no approbation, may be justly charged with the negligence or the weakness of a child. (W. S. Powell, D.D.)

Childish and manly love

Let us examine this love as it manifests itself in the child, and afterward in the man. Love in childhood is but love “in part.” It is lovely and lovable, but it is not perfect; it is not the truest love. The love of manhood takes up the germ of love in the child, like as the tree absorbs and develops the germ in the seed. The child’s love is love, but it is founded in ignorance, and is the creature of impulse.

That the attainment to manhood in love costs an effort. You are not only to develop out of the child’s love, but you are to “put away childish things.”

Manhood in love puts away only childishness, not childlikeness. All that is good is to be kept by the growing man. The child’s love is gentle, sincere, confiding, honest, simple; retain all this, and add to it, by putting away the “childish” peevishness, and ignorance, and vacillations.

1. One of the weaknesses of a child is his longing to outgrow childhood the apple-tree in blossom is beautiful. So is the perfect tree. A child when a child, a man when a man, are alike beautiful.

2. One of the greatest magnets on earth is a little child. A child is a purifier of our evil thoughts and passions. All that is thus excellent in the child retain, cultivate, put not away.

The cultivation of a manly love, free from childishness, is worthy of manhood.

1. When the powers of manly love are enlarged, it is easy to rid ourselves of childishness.

2. Manly love is quite likely to assert itself as we approach manhood.

3. Manly love is of the highest worth “Greatest of these” is love.

4. Manly love moves the hand as well as the heart. It is self-sacrificing and yielding.

5. It is invincible. Becomes strong by “long suffering.” It “endures all things.”

In conclusion--

1. How can we be content with the unripe and the imperfect? We should become men; not be fickle, impulsive, ignorant in our love.

2. Paul’s love enabled him to endure as a good soldier. His life was not child’s play. Be strong, be manly; “put away childish things” in manly love. (Thomas Armitage, D.D.)

On the duties belonging to middle age

As there are duties which belong to particular situations of fortune, so there are duties also which result from particular periods of human life.

I begin with observing that the first duty of those who are become men is, as the text expresses it, to put away childish things. The season of youthful levities, follies, and passions is now over. Some things may even be graceful in youth, which, if not criminal, are at least ridiculous, in persons of maturer years. It is a great trial of wisdom to make our retreat from youth with propriety. It becomes us neither to overleap those boundaries by a transition too hasty and violent; nor to hover too long on one side of the limit when nature calls us to pass over to the other. There are particularly two things in which middle age should preserve its distinction and separation from youth; these are levities of behaviour, and intemperate indulgence of pleasure. Higher occupations, more serious cares, await you. Turn your mind to the steady and vigorous discharge of the part you are called to act. This leads me--

To point out the particular duties which open to those who are in the middle period of life. The time of youth was the preparation for future action. In old age our active part is supposed to be finished, and rest is permitted. Middle age is the season when we are expected to display the fruits which education had prepared and ripened. In this world all of us were formed to be assistants to one another. The wants of society call for every man’s labour, and require various departments to be filled up. No one is permitted to be a mere blank in the world. This is the precept of God. This is the voice of nature. This is the just demand of the human race upon one another. One of the first questions, therefore, which every man who is in the vigour of his age should put to himself is, “What am I doing in this world? What have I yet done, whereby I may glorify God, and be useful to my fellows? Do I properly fill up the place which belongs to my rank and station?” In fine, industry, in all its virtuous forms, ought to inspirit and invigorate manhood. This will add to it both satisfaction and dignity; will make the current of our years, as they roll, flow along in a clear and equable stream, without the putrid stagnation of sloth and idleness. Idleness is the great corrupter of youth, and the bane and dishonour of middle age.

To guard with vigilance against the peculiar dangers which attend the period of middle life. It is much to be regretted that in the present state of things there is no period of man’s age in which his virtue is not exposed to perils. Pleasure lays its snares for youth; and, after the season of youthful follies is past, other temptations, no less formidable to virtue, presently arise. The love of pleasure is succeeded by the passion for interest. In this passion the whole mind is too often absorbed; and the change thereby induced on the character is of no amiable kind. It deadens the feeling of everything that is sublime or refined. It contracts the affections within a narrow circle, and extinguishes all those sparks of generosity and tenderness which once glowed in the breast. In proportion as worldly pursuits multiply, and competitions rise, ambition, jealousy, and envy combine with interest to excite bad passions, and to increase the corruption of the heart. To these, and many more dangers of the same kind, is the man exposed who is deeply engaged in active life. No small degree of firmness in religious principle, and of constancy in virtue, is requisite, in order to prevent his being assimilated to the spirit of the world, and carried away by the multitude of evildoers. Let him therefore call to mind those principles which ought to fortify him against such temptations to vice. Let not the affairs of the world entirely engross his time and thoughts. From that contagious air which be breathes in the midst of it, let him sometimes retreat into the salutary shade consecrated to devotion and to wisdom. In order to render this medicine of the mind more effectual, it will be highly proper--

That, as we advance in the course of years, we often attend to the lapse of time and life, and to the revolutions which these are ever effecting. In this meditation, one of the first reflections which should occur is, how much we owe to that God who hath hitherto helped us; who hath guided us through the slippery paths of youth, and now enables us to flourish in the strength of manhood. Bring to mind the various revolutions which you have beheld in human affairs, since you became actors on this busy theatre. To the future, we are often casting an eager eye, and fondly storing it, in our imagination, with many a pleasing scene. But if we would look to it, like wise men, let it be under the persuasion that it is nearly to resemble the past in bringing forward a mixture of alternate hopes and fears, of griefs and joys. While we thus study to correct the errors, and to provide against the dangers which are peculiar to this stage of life, let us also--

Lay foundation for comfort in old age. That is a period which all expect and hope to see; and to which, amidst the toils of the world, men sometimes look forward, not without satisfaction, as to the period of retreat and rest. But let them not deceive themselves. A joyless and dreary season it will prove if they arrive at it with an unimproved or corrupted mind. First, he who wishes to render his old age comfortable, should study betimes to enlarge and improve his mind; and by thought and inquiry, by reading and reflecting, to acquire a taste for useful knowledge. This will provide for him a great and noble entertainment when other entertainments leave him. Among the measures thus taken for the latter scenes of life, let me admonish every one not to forget to put his worldly affairs in order in due time. (H. Blair, D.D.)

Expansion of mind

The narrow dogma makes no allowance for the expansion of men’s hearts and brains, and therefore becomes obsolete. The society which is based on rigid bigoted small rules and pedantic formulas breaks up, because no arrangements have been made for the inevitable expansion of the hopes and opinions of its members. There must be room for expansion. This is perfectly well understood in the arts, and practical men make proper arrangements in obedience to this law. The bars of furnaces must not be fitted tightly at their extremities, but at least must be free at one end, otherwise in expanding they would split the masonry. In making railways a small space is left between the successive rails, for if they touched, the force of expansion would cause them to curve or would break the chairs. Water pipes are fitted to one another by means of telescopic joints, which allow room for expansion. In every department there must be provision made for expansion. (Scientific Illustration.)

Preparatory processes

It frequently happens that the very insects which we most admire, which are decorated with the most brilliant colours, and which soar on the most ethereal wings, have passed the greater portions of their lives as burrowers beneath the surface of the earth. The well-known Mayfly or ephemera, so delicate in its gauzy wings, so marvellous in its muscular power, which enables the newborn being to disport itself in the air for a period which, in comparison with our own lives, is equal to at least forty years, and passing the greater portion of its terrestrial existence as an inhabitant of the air--has spent a life of some three years or more hidden from human gaze. Let this fact remind young people who are impatiently anxious to soar high in the world’s notice, that there are preparatory processes necessary for aerial spirits.. The orator sustains the flight of his eloquence all the better, and the figures of his rhetoric are all the brighter, because he spends the first portion of his life burrowing in the useful obscurity of a library. Away from all distractions, in the seclusion of reading and meditation, he acquires the intellectual powers which enable him to rise to his proper sphere. (Scientific Illustration.)

Human development

Man in the infancy of his being.

1. His speech imperfect, childish.

2. His understanding weak, limited, easily deceived.

3. His thought and reasoning, trifling, foolish, erring.

Man in the course of development.

1. Under instruction and discipline.

2. Accumulating experience.

3. Looking forward in hope,

Man in his maturity.

1. Fully developed in heaven.

2. Bids farewell to the toys of earth.

3. Has clearer perceptions, grander views, nobler objects. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The present life the infant state of man

Note the truth of this.

In regard to mankind in general. Man is a more noble being than he appears, and was designed for nobler ends than he attains.

1. If God expended so much labour in creating men and the world they live in, that they might be happy and illustrate His glory, their present existence, unconnected with a future state, shows neither His wisdom, goodness, nor justice, but casts obscurity over them all. Men do not here receive the punishment due to their sins nor arrive at the perfection either of their powers or happiness.

2. The Author of our being, who designed us for immortality, placed us in this infant state to ripen as for a glorious and eternal manhood. Our greatest growth here, compared with our future dimensions, does not transcend the size of children. This world is only the nursery, or the cradle in which souls yet in swaddling bands are rocked for immortality.

3. How miserably do they overlook the dignity of man who contemplate him only in the present life. What wretched miscalculation to consume all their cares in making provisions for this infant state, and neglect to provide for the happiness of a vigorous and eternal manhood.

In regard to worldly men. Their views, tastes, knowledge, pleasures, etc., all bespeak them children. Compared with the high and noble end for which they were made, what trifles they are pleased with and they pursue! Compared with the dimensions and dignity of a glorified saint, the wealth of Croesus and the honours of Caesar are mere playthings. Are they not children? Mark how they pursue their little pleasures without any dignified and manly aim--what want of foresight for their future well-being. Subject to disappointments and sorrows, the children often fret and cry. They speak as a child, understand as a child, etc. Ah! when will they become men and put away childish things? Cast aside your toys and raise your thoughts to objects worthy of men--to the kingdom and glory of God--to infinite interests and immortal concerns. Many deem it manly to neglect religion, and account it childish to yield to piety. But they appear to angels as one would appear to us who at the age of fifty should busy himself in making houses in the sand. And it would have been better for them always to have remained children. A child is satisfied with his baubles: but they, possessed of capacities which nothing but God can fill, remain restless and uneasy with all their toys about them.

In regard to Christians themselves.

1. They speak of Divine things as a child, using expressions which no more reach the extent of the subject than the prattling of children about the moon conveys a full idea of that luminary. They had no other language for these subjects than that of Scripture, which, being adapted to the weakness of our apprehensions, is little more than an association of images borrowed from sensible objects. But when they arrive at manhood they will use a language expressive of things as they are--a language no longer darkened with the shadow of figures, but taken from the very light of the subjects themselves, and as luminous as truth.

2. Here their conceptions of heavenly things are extremely crude. All are largely mingled with ideas borrowed from sensible objects. But when they arrive at manhood their conceptions will be correct.

3. In this life their understandings are feeble and contracted, are darkened by ignorance, are perverted by prejudice, are liable to errors and misconstructions of the Word of God. But in heaven they will all see eye to eye, and be united in the most sublime and delightful views of Divine truth. Here they are limited to a very imperfect knowledge of God’s will, and are often pressed with doubts respecting their duty; but there all duty will be made plain. Here their views are confined to a small circle; “there they will take in the universe, Here, with all the helps they enjoy, they know but little of God; there they will see as they are seen and know as they are known. No longer limited to the hopes and anticipations of childhood, they will have arrived at the full attainment of their supreme good. No longer confined to the company of children, they will enjoy the society of the glorious army of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, etc. No longer limited to the low pursuits of this infant state, all their faculties will be employed in the most noble, parts of the Divine service. How vastly their powers will be enlarged cannot now be told. Was Newton a child? Was Solomon a child? What then is a man? (E. D. Griffin, D.D.)

Verse 12

1 Corinthians 13:12

For now we see through a glass darkly.

Seeing darkly

We see through a glass darkly.

1. There is a literal significance in these words. With our physical organs of vision we do not see essential realities. This is an elementary law of optics; our sensuous vision is only a mirror upon which realities cast shadows.

2. We see our fellow-men with double veils between ourselves and them--they hidden from us in a drapery of flesh, and we looking through the glazed windows of our own organism. How much do we really know of them? The lesson here is that we should think more charitably of our fellow-men. Under the hardest concealment there is some goodness that shrinks from exposing itself, and the most careless and frivolous have their moments of thought and devotion. If ever one man is truly revealed to another, it is only by the agency of love and sympathy. The lightnings of the satirist do not rend open the door of the deepest heart.

3. So it is with the forms and objects of the actual world, the chemist, the botanist, the physiologist, after all how much below the rind have they pierced? How soon they are balked? The moment they get below forms and positions, and certain relations of things, everything becomes as impalpable as the shapes that pass over the surface of the mirror. Science, with all it has achieved, is merely a catalogue of appearances; its terminology is merely a set of equivalents, words masking the deep facts which we do not know. The chemist boasts that he can almost reconstruct the original tissues of the human frame. But what then? He cannot give life; nay, he cannot even tell what it is.

4. Astronomy is the oldest and most complete of all the sciences. Yet the questions in Job are just as applicable to our day as to his. It is a singular fact that objects which are the most remote from us fall within the arrangements of this most complete science. The nearer we get to our personality, the more deep the problems become. Astronomy is so satisfactory only because we are not near enough to it to touch the real problems which it presents. The most familiar objects--how the grass grows, how the fingers move--become to us unexplainable. And if, then it is thus with the more familiar objects, how is it with unknown realities or those which are known only by intermediate revelations?

5. Now if the creations of God which are most intimate are confessedly but as shadows of shapes upon a mirror, how must it be with the infinite God Himself? We behold Him only through His works, and there as in a glass darkly. And so in regard to His providential dealings with us. We cannot take in the vastness of God’s plan, surely, if we cannot take in the essence of His works! We behold only processes, parts of things. As the child that might come into the laboratory of his father, the chemist, could not begin to comprehend from the transaction in which the father was engaged the great work at which he aimed, so we, children all of us, in a thousand years see but one of God’s processes, and yet we talk and act as though we saw the whole, and challenge the Almighty because everything is not made clearly consistent with our idea of His goodness. God’s most beneficent agencies appear to us only in shadow at the best. And thus it is that even the most beneficent providences of God sometimes appear like the ministers of wrath. We see but the transient aspects of death; it is but a shadow on the mirror, and this is a lesson for our faith in all the workings of God.

Although we see darkly, we do see something.

1. It is not a mere reflection, it is a reality behind the reflection. There are shadows, but there never is a shadow without something to cast a shadow. And remember also it is we who see darkly, not that the things themselves are dark. Faith, therefore, is the only legitimate conclusion from the capacity of seeing at all.

(1) What do you make of these instincts of something higher and something better that have prevailed in all ages of the world and in all souls? are all these the images of nothingness? How can we have the shadows without the substance, or have the forms of things mirrored before us that do not exist in reality?

(2) And then the affections, the great working of man’s love, there is the thing that Paul fell back upon in this chapter. Man’s love assures us that in this depth of nature in which God has planted within us there must be something higher and better.

2. There is great grandeur in the fact that Christianity has not made a full revelation of the things to come. There is a reason for that in the discipline we need. Gradual growth must develop us and make us all that we should be; Christianity should not reveal everything to us. But at the same time, as a religion of benevolence, Christianity would have informed us if these great primary instincts played us false. Jesus Christ would have told us if these affections of Our nature prophesied untruly. Yes, we see darkly, but we do see. And in that fact there is proof that we shall see better face to face.

3. Even with this dim, imperfect mirror there are degrees of seeing. We all see darkly enough--the clearest-sighted of us--but sometimes there is a film upon the eye of the observer as well as upon the mirror.

(1) Sometimes men have their eyes darkened all over with the scales of appetite, so that all that they see is distorted, is made abominable.

(2) And sometimes then see nothing on the mirror of this life but a gigantic image of self. Like the giant of the Hartz Mountains, they see projected upon life merely an enlarged idea of their own wants and of their own greatness.

(3) But there are men who apprehend the reality of things which come darkly, and feel that there is a substance back of those shadows.

4. It is a momentous period in our being when a man awakes to a sense of realities. That is conversion to come to a sense that there are spiritual realities beyond our present vision, to come to a sense that our souls, God, Christ, eternity are real. (E. H. Chapin, D.D.)

The body, the dark medium of spiritual vision

It needs no illustration to show that our vision of spiritual things is very dim. The cause of this is our subject: the medium is dark, that medium is the body. Through the five senses we gather all the lights that flash on our consciousness and form within us ideas. But why is it dark? The body tends--

To materialise the conceptions of the mind. We “judge after the flesh.”

To sway the decisions of the mind. “The desires of the flesh “ often move and master the soul.

To clog the operations of the mind. Business, sleep, refreshment, exercise, disease, all these interrupt the soul. Our visions of spiritual things being so dim. Conclusion:

1. None should pride themselves in their knowledge.

2. None should arrogate infallibility of judgment.

3. We should anticipate brighter and fuller visions, when the medium is removed, and we “see face to face.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)

The enigma of life

The idea seems to be that just as when a man looks into a metal mirror, such as the ancients used, sees only a dim and ghost-like reflection of himself; so we, gazing ever upon the world of the known, see at best but a shadow of the truth. And just as a man puzzling over a riddle which is insoluble, sees a half, or some less or greater portion, of the meaning wrapped up in it, so it is with reference to all our knowledge. It does but amount to a guess more or less near or wide of the truth. Truth is wrapped in a riddle, life is a great and unexplained parable, but what urges us on is the feeling that by and by we shall stand face to face with the reality, and shall no more have to content ourselves with its mere representation.

The enigma of life. An enigma is a form of thought and speech which half reveals and half conceals the soul of truth. If you take any of those proverbs which form the current thought-coin of the world, you will find it to be only a hint of the truth to which it points. Hence almost every such saying may be capped by others which express the exact opposite. There are proverbs which tell us that to live for the day is the best wisdom, others which tell us to “consider the end;” some which emphasise the value of money, others which warn that loss is more profitable than gain. For we are many-sided creatures, and truth, to seem like truth at all, must be chameleon-like in its aspect. Our Saviour deliberately taught the multitude in riddles, which are but transcripts of that immense parable of nature and human life on which we are ever gazing.

1. Nature is full of oracles which never say quite clearly what is meant. God addresses us in an oblique, not in a direct manner. There are times of anxiety when we wish it would please God to speak to us no more in these riddles. But if the wish were granted it would be unbearable, and your prayer would soon be that this excess of knowledge might be again hidden from your soul.

2. What an enigma is human nature! Few of us know anything but the surface. The great masters in poetry go a little below, but not far. What is human nature? Good or evil? Or, neither good nor evil, but a mixture or conflict, a result determined by education and circumstance? None but the ignorant will undertake to answer such questions oft-hand. You or I know as much about it as Calvin or as Shakespeare, which is not much. The soul is the enigma of enigmas. It is the meeting-point of heaven and hell. It is the scene of contention of good and evil spirits. The angel and the demon, the saint and the sinner, are in each heart. We look from day to day into the mirror of conscience, and see an image fainter or clearer of self. We note changes in that self, yet find that self the same. Sometimes that image frightens us, and again, under the spell of music or of prayer, a celestial glory falls upon that image.

What is the temper of mind that befits usin presence of this enigma?

1. Evidently a lowly habit, the very opposite of all conceit and dogmatism about the great problems of existence. Things mean much more than they seem to any one of us. Humility, the sense that our opinions are very partial, begets slowly a truer judgment of the relative value of things. We learn to appraise the contents of the world, and gradually to give them their right place in the scale of spiritual value. And we may learn, above all, better to know our own place and value, somewhere between the highest and the lowest point.

2. And thus, through lowliness, we may reach patience and leisure of mind; for we must not be hasty or impatient if we would live with God. Our eagerness to come to conclusions and to set the world to rights may imply a forgetfulness that the world is in God’s charge, not ours. Our anxiety to get to a terminus seems to ignore that we have all eternity before us. Every great subject requires to be re-examined, every great book to be re-studied and revised. The forms of our religion must undergo incessant change; its essence abides, for the spirit of Jesus is the essence of Christianity. This is rooted not in any particular sort of intellectual acquirement, but simply in love. Love alone abideth.

Love is the last solution of the enigma of life. As a principle in our own minds, love, says St. Paul, is greater than either faith or hope. The moment the spring of love dries in the heart, that moment we cease to believe and to hope. If we are true to love in the little world we govern, it cannot well be doubtful that He is true to love in the vast world He governs. The cause of any serious infidelity that exists lies here; men doubt whether God is as loving as themselves. But whence came your own love? You did not create it, and will you deny the Giver in the very strength of His gift? We cannot explain the problem of existence, but we can feel that that is already explained in the mind of God. In proportion as we live in God’s love, shall we find the faith, and the hope, and the courage to face the facts of life, so long as those qualities are needed. (Prof. E. Johnson.)

Christian mysteries

Why God has mingled with the revelation of His will to man so much that is confessedly obscure. Note--

That the obscurity is nothing more than is to be expected from analogy. It is remarkable that mysteries sensibly multiply as knowledge increases. In every direction we soon reach the limits of human knowledge. How little does the educated man know of the mysteries connected with our bodily frame; but let the physiologist speak, and he will tell you that every separate member and vessel and nerve of the human frame is full of mystery. The peasant that turns up the ground, and casts in the seed, perceives no mystery in its growth; but the philosopher, who understands the wonderful process of vegetation, is conscious of difficulties which he cannot solve in its several stages towards maturity. Since, then, there is so much that is mysterious in the natural world, revelation is the production of the same Being, and bears the same characteristic feature of its great Original.

The mysterious part of Christianity arises from the very nature of the Christian revelation. The truths which it announces transcend the comprehension of the human mind. “Who can by searching find out God, who can find out the Almighty to perfection?”

1. The doctrine of three persons in one God is an instance of this. The mystery does not consist in any ambiguity of language, but in the nature of the subject; not in the teacher, but in the small ability of the scholar.

2. The facts of revelation are accompanied with a similar difficulty. They do not come under human observation. Redemption through Christ is a series of operations which stands alone, belongs to a class of its own, and is not to be judged of by the measuring line of human policy. As well might a man, ignorant of the rules of art, pass his judgment on its most finished production. As well might the babe of yesterday exercise his faculties on the higher problems of nature, as men attempt to estimate the wisdom, love, and mercy that shine in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “His ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts,” etc.

3. The regeneration of the soul transcends the common observation. It is a fact taught; us by revelation, and experienced by the subject of it; but is only to be studied and known by others through the medium of its results.

4. The resurrection from the dead is not in accordance with our experience. We have no means of ascertaining the account of this truth. There is clearly no impossibility in it. The same power that formed our bodies may obviously reconstruct them. It is a field of Divine operation into which we cannot enter, and the mode in which the work will be accomplished is among the secrets of the Deity.

The mystery that accompanies revelation tends to increase the efficacy of the gospel.

1. It tends to humble us before God, which is the great end of the gospel. God is worthy of universal adoration, and the elements of this exercise of the mind are awe and reverential feeling. But this state of mind can never be produced by anything that we fully understand. Familiarity breeds contempt. The more distinctly we realise the limits of our knowledge the deeper will be our impression of the grandeur of the Divine mind. The wisdom of God, in His restorative system of mercy, abases man in the very faculty which caused our fall. He humbles us at the very root of the tree of knowledge, teaching us to submit our understandings to the guidance of His Word.

2. It tends to excite our diligence in examining Divine truth. The obscurity that conceals it is a reason for continuing our researches. God has made His revelation of a kind to try our best faculties. Were all that is to be known easy of apprehension it would be a departure from the usual mode of Divine procedure. In nature the most valuable is not found upon the surface. Gold is dug from the bowels of the earth, and pearls are gathered from the depths of the ocean.

3. It is necessary to make us more desirous of heaven, where we shall enjoy perfect knowledge. The attainment of the loftiest intellect on earth is but the alphabet of knowledge, compared with what we shall know hereafter.

4. It lies at the foundation of the Christian’s hope. It must be mysterious that God should so love a ruined world. (S. Summers.)

Now and then

Paul had just been speaking of the “child” and the “man,” and no doubt that but dimly represents the difference between the “Now” in this world and the “Then” in the world to come.


1. Our present organs of vision implied in “we see.” These are our mental and spiritual powers of apprehension and knowledge. Through these we learn all we know of God. But these organs are weak and defective by reason--

(1) Of sin.

(2) Want of proper activity and culture.

2. Our present medium of seeing--“through a glass darkly.” Spiritual and Divine things are seen only by reflection, and that which reflects is incapable of giving a full representation, because of--

(1) Its own defectiveness.

(2) Our defective vision.

(3) The magnitude of that which is to be revealed.

The “glass” through which we see consists of three things--

(a) Nature.

(b) Revelation.

(c) Providence.

These three represent God in His works, His words, and His ways. But that there is mystery and darkness about them who is vain enough to deny? That God is seen in these we all admit; but when, with our weak vision, we peer into these reflectors, what more can we say than that “we see through a glass darkly.”


1. Our future organs of vision will be very much the same as “now”; but how greatly developed and improved no mortal may know. The comprehensive knowledge, the strength and sweep of vision enjoyed by the redeemed may defy the powers of the most daring imagination to conceive.

2. Our future medium of seeing--“face to face.” No glass any more, but blessed contact--actual presence.

(1) The enormity of sin.

(2) The love of God in the gift of His Son.

(3) The righteousness of God’s moral government. (T. Kelly.)

Now and then

There is all the difference between viewing an object through an obscure medium and closely inspecting it with the naked eye. “Now we see through a glass darkly” in a riddle! So weak are our perceptions that plain truths often puzzle us. It is a matter of congratulation that we do see, though we have much cause for diffidence, because we do but “see through a glass darkly.” Thank God we do know; but let it check our conceit, we know only in part. Note--

Some things that we do see now, which we are to see more fully and distinctly hereafter.

1. Ourselves. To see ourselves is one of the first steps in true religion. The mass of men have never seen themselves. They have only seen the flattering image of themselves.

(1) We have been taught to see our ruin in the fall and our actual sinfulness. But in heaven we shall see, as we have not yet seen, how desperate a mischief was the fall, and the blackness of sin as we have never seen it here.

(2) We know to-day that we are saved; but that robe of righteousness which covers us now, as it shall cover us then, will be better seen by us.

(3) Here we know that we are adopted; but there we shall know better what it is to be the sons of God, for here it doth not yet appear what we shall be, there shall we not only see the estates that belong to us, but actually enjoy them.

2. The Church.

(1) We know there is a Church of God, but there we shall know something more of the numbers of the chosen than we do now, it may be to our intense surprise. There we shall find some amongst the company of God’s elect whom we in our bitterness of spirit had condemned, and there we shall miss some who, in our charity, we have conceived to be perfectly secure.

(2) We shall understand then what the history of the Church has been in all the past, and why it has been so strange a history of conflict and conquest.

3. The providence of God.

(1) We believe all things work together for good to them that love God; but still it is rather a matter of faith than a matter of sight with us. Then some of us will say, “I have fretted and troubled myself over what was, after all, the richest mercy the Lord ever sent.”

(2) We shall there, perhaps, discover that wars, pestilences, and earthquakes are, after all, necessary cogs in the great wheel of the Divine machinery; and He who sits upon the throne at this moment will then make it manifest to us that His government was right.

4. The doctrines of the gospel and the mysteries of the faith. How much more of authentic truth shall we discern when the mists and shadows have dissolved; and how much more shall we understand when raised to that higher sphere and endowed with brighter faculties none of us can tell.

5. Jesus. We have seen enough of Him to know that “He is altogether lovely”; we can say of Him, He “is all my salvation and all my desire.” Yet when we once get to the court of the Great King we shall declare that the half has not been told us. The streets of gold will have small attraction to us, and the harps of angels will but slightly enchant us, compared with the King in the midst of the throne. We shall see Jesus.

6. The pure in heart shall see God. God is seen now in His works and in His Word. Little indeed could these eyes bear of the beatific vision, yet we have reason to expect that, as far as creatures can bear the sight of the infinite Creator, we shall be permitted to see God.

How this very remarkable change shall be, effected.

1. No doubt many of these things will be more clearly revealed. Here we are in the dim twilight; there we shall be in the blaze of noon. God has declared something of Himself by His prophets and apostles. He has, through His Son, spoken more plainly. These are the first steps to knowledge. But there the only-wise God shall unveil to us the mysteries, and exhibit to us the glories of His everlasting kingdom. The revelation we now have suits us as me, clad in our poor mortal bodies; the revelation then will suit us as immortal spirits.

2. Here we are at a distance from many of the things we long to know something of, but there we shall be nearer to them.

3. We shall be better qualified to see them than we are now. It would be an inconvenience for us to know here as much as we shall know in heaven. But up there we shall have our minds and our systems strengthened to receive more, without the damage that would come to us here from overleaping the boundaries of order, Divinely appointed.

4. Besides, the atmosphere of heaven is so much clearer than this. Here there is the smoke of daily care, the constant dust of toil, the mist of trouble perpetually rising.

The practical lessons.

1. Gratitude. Let us be very thankful for all we do see. Those who do not see now even “through a glass darkly,” shall never see face to face.

2. Hopefulness. You shall see better by and by.

3. Forbearance. Our disputes are often childish. Two persons in the dark have differed about a colour. If we brought candles in they would not show what it was; but if we look at it to-morrow morning we shall be able to tell. How many difficulties in the Word of God are like this! Not yet can they be justly discriminated; till the day dawn the apocalyptic symbols will not be all transparent to our own understanding. Besides, we have no time to waste while there is so much work to do.

4. Aspiration. It is natural for us to want to know, but we shall not know as we are known till we are present with the Lord. We are at school now; we shall go soon to the great university of heaven, and take our degree there. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Now and then

Now we see all things in the “mirror” of our own experience. It is impossible for either child or man to travel beyond the stage of knowledge, or experience, to which he has reached in his ideas and judgment 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--

1. God.

2. The Saviour.

3. Heaven.

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 find that “not the half has been told us.” (Clerical World.)

The now and then of life

The present life, in and by itself, is imperfect. Its completeness consists alone in viewing it as a part of a more complete whole. The present life is but a side, necessitating, to its completeness, another side. Viewed as a part of an entire whole, its discrepancies are corrected, its mysteries partially solved, and its significance and importance immeasurably enhanced. Note--

The extremes of life, as viewed relative to time:--“now” and “then.” These extremes are parts of the same piece, only different in place, and perhaps also in circumstances and relations. The “now” and “then” of life--

1. Are dependent upon each other. The “then” of life is dependent upon the “now” of it as to its fact and character. There must be some antecedent “now” before there can be an anticipative “then.” The “now” would be worth but little without the “then,” any more than to-day could be highly prized without a hope of tomorrow. The “then” inspires us in our present discouragements, or depresses us in its anticipation. The “then”of life influences our minds as we view it applicable to our state and character. The guilty receives it with fear, the innocent with joy.

2. Are extremes only possible in conscious reality to superior beings. “Now” belongs to all existences alike; but only a rational being can conceive in thought of the future, and he, as a moral being, can anticipate it through his hope or fear.

3. Have in them all provided and possible for us. All the past crowds the present, and will follow us, in some form or other, to the future. All that is needed to fill the present hour and fit us for the future is given us in the “now,” and all the blessings and privileges of the.heaven of the future will be included in the “then.” Whatever you need is within the compass of the “now”: whatever you hope and wish is comprehended in the “then.”

4. Present themselves very differently to our conviction and faith. The present is a matter of direct consciousness, the future is a matter of inference. Our experience is all in the “now.” We look at the “then” through promises and hope. The religion of the present would not only be absurd without the future, but groundless and impossible.

5. Are comprehensive only of one order. The moral order of truth and rectitude which obtains “now” will be the same “then.” The authority which demands certain things “now” will be in force and unchanged “then”; nor will the essential powers of man be different “then” to what they are “now.”

6. May be extremely different, and in no case will they be identical. “Now” we maybe happy and successful, but there may a “then” when these will not be our portion any more. Let the “now” be true and right, and the “then” will have its hope and brightness.

The superiority of the “then” over the “now.” As regards--

1. The mode of perception. In this state we behold spiritual objects through a glass. All the means and things in our earthly state are but glasses to show something unseen and spiritual above sense and our present imperfect perceptions. What is the universe but one glorious glass to show us the more glorious Maker? And what is the Bible but a glass of the Divine and spiritual in man and the universe? Christianity, in all its means and ordinances, is a glass to us of the real and spiritual above and beyond themselves. But with all the assistance of our glass media our perception is feeble of things invisible and eternal. And why? Is it in our glasses or our way of using them, or in a deficiency in our spiritual perception? Partly in all these. But in our future state it will be face to face. There will be no veil over the face of things, and many things we use are things for rude childish condition: the condition of manhood will dispense with them as unfit and useless. In the “then” condition of our being, the distance will be reduced into nearness, the attitude will be advantageous, the expression will be clear and in sight, and the powers of the soul will be strengthened and matured.

2. Clearness. In this state of things we see nothing perfectly clear. But in our future state not only win our perceptions be more acute and perfect, we shall not be subject to delusions and illusions, which so much confuse and mar our perceptions in this world.

3. The degree of knowledge. We in part know something about most things, but in the light of another day we shall probably learn that our profoundest knowledge is but a small part. The present condition of things does not allow us to know except in part. The imperfections of our senses, the weakness and afflictions of our minds and bodies, the cares and anxieties of life, the want of means, the shortness of life, and other obstructions, are things which prevent our knowledge being anything but very partial. But such imperfection is not to be always our lot. “Then we shall know as now we are known.” We shall know holy intelligences as they shall know us. As they and we are but part of the same family, and they the most perfect, their knowledge of us appears to be a natural conclusion. As they know us in our lower home, so shall we know them in their higher one. As they know us in our trials, so shall we know them in their joys. Though our knowledge of God will be infinitely less perfect of Him than His is of us, yet He will be known to us as real, as a fact, as we are to Him.

The advancement of life as viewed between the present and the future, Advancement, in some form or other, is seen everywhere. Life is a school for it, and everywhere there are suitable means and agents. This law runs through Christian life, and never is suspended, either in time or eternity.

1. It is a personal advancement. The few cannot procure it for the many, or the many for the few.

2. It is the advancement of the good and true in life--from the childhood of weakness to the manhood of strength.

3. It is a thing of consciousness to its subjects. The advancement which is outside our conscious knowledge must be outside our will, faith, and activity, for the thing that is written there we have in common with them. Such an advancement is the one of a plant or a brute, and not of a rational man.

4. It is an advancement which is comprehensive of all requisite life. It is complete both in quality and degree.

5. It is an advancement above the power of common and natural means to produce. (T. Hughes.)

Present knowledge and future

The imperfection of our present knowledge of Divine things. It is said to be twofold, an imperfection of kind and an imperfection of degree.

1. The first is illustrated by two comparisons.

(1) We see by means of a mirror; that is to say, it is a reflection of truth we have at present, not the very truth itself. The copy is both defective and misleading. How often is the face of the mirror occupied with other images! How often is the vision distorted by passion or guilty remembrance!

(2) We see darkly, in a riddle, enigma, or dark saying. Our knowledge comes to us through words, the source of so much misunderstanding and confusion. We apply a human language to measure Divine things. What is infinity, eternity? Each a riddle.

2. But our present knowledge is also imperfect in degree. “I know in part.” Our great difficulty in religion is to know how to combine. We have several portions of Divine truth communicated to us, but in many cases without the connecting link--God’s justice and mercy: His hatred of sin, and permission of the existence of evil; man’s free will and God’s free grace. But we know that God sees them in one. And “what I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”

The future perfection of our knowledge.

1. “But then face to face.” Our knowledge of truth will be direct; not by reflection, but by intuition. And it will be personal. Face to face implies a person: “The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

2. “Even as I was known.” Therefore our knowledge will be thorough; through and through. God is a heart-searching God. And it will be comprehensive. God’s insight is large as well as minute. Notwithstanding a fault, He sees a servant; notwithstanding a good quality, He sees an enemy. Seeing minutest qualities, He judges of the character as a whole. We also shall see God’s truth in its reconciling harmony and perfect unity. The imperfection of our present knowledge of Divine things must make no one idle in the pursuit of it. In this also, “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given.” Finally, though many of our theologies may be contradicted, nothing that we have known of the living Saviour Himself will be contradicted, nothing that we have learned of Him by experience, or seen of Him in prayer. (Dean Vaughan.)

The knowledge of God

What Paul prophesies for man, Christ already possesses. Paul says, “Some day I shall know God as God knows me.” Jesus says, “As God knows me, even so I do now know God.” This is man’s highest hope. It has been realised already in the man Christ Jesus. Thus we know that our hope is not a vain hope.

1. “God knows me,” says St. Paul. That was his fundamental conviction. But that conviction involved another. If the Father knew the child, it must be in the child’s power to know the Father. Paul was no agnostic. Known perfectly, he knew but in part; but the time would come when he should know as he was known. And this certainty of a future knowledge was itself a present knowledge.

2. This future knowledge means perfect obedience in the future; perfect harmony between the child’s action and the Father’s will. When Jesus said, “The Father knoweth Me,” He meant, “God has a will for every act of Mine” And when He said, “I know the Father,” He meant, “In every act of Mine, I do the Father’s will.” So with us. With perfect freedom answering to every will of God. There alone is peace and power. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)

Imperfect knowledge

Perhaps you are inclined to ask, Why are there mysteries at all in the revelations vouchsafed by God to man? Why should not the truths which it is of importance for us to know, be declared in language level to our capacities, and involving in them nothing to stagger our belief, or perplex our reason? I would meet this question with another, Why are there mysteries in the works of God? Why is this material universe filled with “wonders which we cannot explain? and why are the design and objects for which an immeasurable portion of it was created, altogether concealed from us? There are persons of such sluggish and unthinking habits that thy live constantly in the midst of marvels without ever bestowing a thought upon them; and yet these very men who take all for granted, and never even appear to be aware of these everyday miracles, are apt, all at once, to grow scrupulous and over-cautious, and to demand proofs such as cannot be supplied, when they are called to give their assent to the mysteries of inspiration. Others there are who make the human mind their study; and surely there cannot be a subject more open to constant observation and intimate search than this. And yet, to teach us, as it would almost seem, how very limited our knowledge is, and how much there is to be believed which cannot be understood, these very inquiries into our own mental actions and endowments, appear to be, of all others, the least attended with any conclusive or satisfactory results. Others, again, there are who, building upon the unchangeable foundation of abstract truths, have investigated the laws which govern the heavenly bodies, and traced the handiwork of God in the glories of the firmament. But this very pursuit, which of all others most magnifies the capacities of the human mind, and seems to elevate our race to rank but a little lower than the angels, what does it open to us but fresh mysteries, and fresh demands upon our faith and humility? That there are mysteries both in nature and revelation, affords therefore some presumption that, since in this respect at least the systems are not opposed to each other, both may have the same author. But this presumption is strengthened when we trace the analogy further, and consider the rules which seem to hold alike in the mysteries of nature and in those of revelation. In the first place, they are matters which we are not qualified to understand; and in the second, they would not profit us at all, in our present state of existence, even if we could understand them. The mode of our present existence and the arrangements needful for its support, are familiar, and to a certain extent intelligible to us; but what conception could by any means be conveyed to us of existences and qualities unlike our own? The utmost stretch of human language could only express to us what they were not; and so far therefore from having any information communicated to us, we certainly might be more perplexed, but not wiser, than we were before. If this be true respecting the inhabitant of some other planet, must it not be equally true respecting the nature of the unseen world of spirits, and of the supreme and eternal God who reigns there? And, again, if we could understand them, what advantage would it be to us? Should we be better able to control our passions, by being informed about those who had no such passions to control? Should we be directed to a better use of our own faculties, by hearing of a race who had no pursuits or qualities in common with ourselves? God permits, and science enables us to learn, just so much with regard to the heavenly bodies, their orbits, and variations, as may in any way conduce to the enlargement of our understanding, or our general well-being. To allow more than this, to pamper an unseemly and useless curiosity, would not be in agreement with the unfathomable wisdom of Him who does nothing in vain. The application of the same limit to the revelations contained in His Word is sufficiently obvious. But there is a still further analogy in the practical results which follow from the existence of these mysteries, and which they were doubtless intended to effect. What can so forcibly inculcate humility as the experimental proof of our own ignorance and infirmity? And if such be the salutary lesson which nature’s mysteries impress upon a thinking and a well-ordered mind, do not the mysteries of revelation enforce the same upon the student of God’s will and Word? But further than this, they also indirectly serve to promote the acquirement of most important truths. The philosopher, in his attempts to investigate that which is inexplicable by human powers, has often been led incidentally to the discovery of much real knowledge; and he, whose curiosity may have led him to open the Bible with the view of displaying his own sagacity in unravelling its marvels, may, in the end, have not only had his vanity chastened and, corrected, but his soul enriched with some treasure of Divine wisdom, revealing juster views of himself, and better hopes and desires than he had entertained before. Surely, then, the analogy between the mysteries of the material universe and the revealed Word of God; the rules which appear to hold respecting both; and the practical results to which both are calculated to lead, would teach us to ascribe them to one gracious and incomprehensible Author, and to acquiesce in them, without one shadow of misgiving or inquisitive discontent. But besides this, there is another reason why mysteries must form a necessary part of a revelation proceeding from heaven, and at, other practical consequence of their existence to be deduced from the text. If the Word of God contained only just what we could understand, might we not with some show of reason doubt whether it could be God’s Word at all? Might we not say, “The Supreme Being would surely never have interfered to instruct His people, where their own natural powers might have proved a sufficient guide. That which man can understand so clearly in all its bearings, it is hardly too much to say that man might have discovered; and the absence of everything which calls for submissive faith is no weak argument against its Divine original”? Mysteries then may, in some sort, be called the very credentials of a revelation. But again; I said that there is a practical consequence of the existence of mysteries in the gospel of our salvation, to be deduced from the expressions of St. Paul in the text. We are anxious to understand all mysteries and all knowledge. He tells us where this yearning shall be satisfied to the uttermost. It shall be in that kingdom of glory where we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face; where we shall not know in part, but know even as we are known. He that would reach to such intellectual sublimities must have had his soul purified to a meetness for the society of angels, and for approaching the more immediate presence of the Eternal. And further yet, the illustration taken by the apostle may aptly represent the posture of mind which befits the aspirant after heavenly wisdom. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child.” What are the characteristics of a good and intelligent child? His curiosity; his simplicity; his ready acquiescence in such explanations as he may receive upon the subjects of his inquiries: his cheerful confidence in his instructors, and his willing obedience to their injunctions. (T. Ainger, M.A.)

The imperfection of our present knowledge

The properties of our present knowledge which the apostle here mentions.

1. This may refer to the extent or objects of our knowledge.

(1) It is partial. Compare the views of a worm or any minuter insect with those of a man who has the largest and most comprehensive sight of the works of nature, and you have a faint image of the unknown difference there is between our present and future sphere of knowledge.

(2) We know but in part even those few things that do fall within the compass of our present knowledge. There is not the least particle of matter we see, or the least dust of earth we tread on, but what puzzles the most penetrating and philosophic minds. We see only the outside of things, their external properties, their dimensions, form, figure, and colour; but as to their essence or internal substance, the cohesion of their constituent parts, and the laws of that cohesion, we can give no account at all of them. And if we know so little of material, how much less do we know of spiritual substances, which we have much fewer helps and opportunities of being acquainted with! And if we examine our knowledge of abstracted truths, or points of speculation and reason, how very defective does it appear!

2. Our knowledge is not only partial, but very indistinct. We see through a glass. This glass is twofold--reason and faith; by which we realise and represent to the mind future, distant, and invisible things. And happy is it for us that we have these excellent glasses to assist the eye of the mind, whose sight without the help of both would be very short and very defective. But the unhappiness of it is that these glasses, though very excellent in themselves, are often obscured and spoiled by the mists of errors, passions, and prejudices which hang upon them, and make them unable to penetrate through the darkness which lies between them and the distant objects they are intended to descry, which render our sight of those objects very obscure and indistinct. Not to say that imagination, as a false medium, often comes between, which enormously magnifies some objects and diminishes others as much.

3. Our present knowledge is not only very confined and indistinct, but very uncertain also. Our best knowledge is often but mere conjecture, and that conjecture may depend only on mere fancy, arising from a particular state or motion of the animal spirits, and resting more on mechanical than rational supports. For we not only see through a glass, but darkly. Future things are as yet concealed from us, wrapped up in allegory, riddle, or dark enigma, which gives us only a few indirect hints or a mystical representation of the thing intended, by which we are left to guess it out. And hence it is that multitudes form no notion at all concerning the objects of abstract science, whilst some are very dubious in the right, and others very confident in the wrong. And not only matters of abstruse speculation, but the plainest things in religion are by many but uncertainly understood. Not that the things themselves are uncertain, but it is uncertain whether the persons that boast the greater knowledge of them do form a conception of them that is certainly right, especially considering the medium they look through--that is, the lusts, passions, and prejudices with which they are beset.

4. The last view which the apostle gives us of the deficiency of human knowledge in the present state is by comparing it with that of children or infants. We are as yet in our non-age, and but children in understanding. Children, you know, through the immaturity of their faculties, the liveliness of their fancy, the strength of their passions, and inexperience of their age, are very liable to be mistaken; to take up with the first notions that are instilled without examination, to retain the first impressions that are made, whether right or wrong, to be fond of the little knowledge they have, to be confident in it, and to despise others for the want of it; whilst persons of greater sense, experience, and understanding, see that all their confidence is owing to their ignorance, and look upon them with pity. But not with half so much pity as we shall look upon ourselves hereafter when, emerged out of this obscurity in which we dwell, we look back from that region of light upon this land of darkness, and consider all our former ignorance, errors, false judgment, confidence, and prejudices, when we were but children in knowledge; when we saw through a glass darkly, and knew but in part, and spake and reasoned and thought as mere infants in understanding.

What kind of knowledge the apostle is here speaking of.

1. How partial, indistinct, uncertain, and low is our knowledge of the ever-blessed God! We diminish His Divine dignities in all our thoughts; we depreciate His excellencies in our most elevated conceptions: when we put our mind to the utmost stretch to form the sublimest ideas of His eternal glories, how soon do we find it overwhelmed with the weight of so astonishing a subject! For ah! how can immensity be confined in a hand’s breadth? Here all finite faculties are entirely swallowed up, like a drop in the ocean, and we are lost in astonishment at the poverty of our powers.

2. It is but very little we know of ourselves. We know not the wonders either of our external or internal frame; the faculties of our nature; our capacities for service and happiness; the motives and springs of our conduct; the passions that govern us; the conduct and improvement of our superior powers; the influences to which they are liable; the purposes to which they are to be directed, and the manner in which they are to be employed in order to our happiness and usefulness, for which ends we received them. And which is worse, we do not so much as know either our ignorance or knowledge; we shut our eyes upon the former and wonderfully admire the latter, though it be, perhaps, but little better.

3. Our knowledge of Divine and religious things in general is exceedingly defective. It is sad to see what amazing ignorance there is amougst a multitude even of Christians about the great things of religion; and that not only in the deep and disputable mysteries of it, but in some of its most plain and important principles; nay, about the essential nature and most substantial truths of it, and even the plainest parts of practical religion; and this not only amongst the lowest order of men who have had no advantages of education, but among persons of a more elevated rank, who have had sufficient opportunities of being better instructed; but having no heart to improve the prize put into their hands, are apt to despise it as a very unnecessary part of learning, and neither value others the more for having it, nor themselves the less for wanting it.

4. How inscrutable are the ways of Providence! If we turn but our eyes to the government of this lower world, we are soon lost in the mazes of infinite wisdom, and can never in the least conceive how good can arise from so much visible evil, order out of so much confusion, and beauty out of so much deformity. And yet that ,all things under the government of God are well and wisely managed we cannot doubt. But if we turn our thoughts to other worlds and other species of created beings (of which, without doubt, there are innumerable), all under the wise care and government of the same Almighty and Universal Monarch who is the daily object of our adoration, how do we blush and mourn under our present ignorance, and look upon ourselves and all our knowledge comparatively as nothing, and less than nothing, and vanity!

Whence it is that all our best attainments in knowledge are at present so very poor and defective.

1. Our mental powers themselves are at present but very feeble and defective.

2. The powers of the human mind at present are not only weak, but miserably confined and cramped in their operations by the union of the soul with a crazy and corruptible body.

3. Our sphere of knowledge is here very much contracted. Alas! what knowledge of the world or men can be expected from one who hath lived all his life in a dungeon?

4. Under all these disadvantages, the time that is here allowed us for attaining knowledge is very short.

5. How often are we diverted from this pursuit! How many avocations do we meet with from the world and the affairs of it, which necessarily claim a good part of our attention and care, and rob us of that time which might have been more usefully employed in augmenting the furniture of the mind!

6. How often are we perplexed, entangled, and bewildered by our own prejudices and those of others, whereby we are often turned aside from the right path of wisdom, and put upon a wrong scent. So that instead of making a progress in the right way of knowledge, we have enough to do to recover our wanderings from it. And it is sometimes the main business of the latter part of life to retract the errors of the former. “To what end, now,” perhaps you will be apt to say, “have you given us this very diminutive view of human knowledge?”

I answer--

1. To excite our most ardent desires after that world of light and liberty where, disencumbered from our present embarrassments, we shall enjoy the pleasures of pure and perfect science.

2. To show how very little reason the most understanding man on earth has to be vain of his knowledge.

3. That holy, humble, upright souls, who have had but few means and opportunities of attaining knowledge, may not be too much discouraged under a consciousness of their present ignorance. (J. Mason, A.M.)

The perfection of our future knowledge

The properties of our future knowledge.

1. It will be distinct and clear; no longer confused and obscure as it now is while we look through a glass.

2. It will be certain and satisfying; no longer conjectural and enigmatical as it now is while we look through a glass darkly.

3. It will be perfect and complete in its kind; and no longer defective as it now is whilst we know but in part, for we shall then know even as we are known.

Some of the various objects of it.

1. The most glorious and felicitating object of our thus improved and enlightened understanding will be the ever-blessed God Himself. It is true the great and blessed God, as a pure and perfect Spirit, can never be seen with bodily eyes. But we must not think that the soul is capable of no distinct and clear perceptions but what it receives by means of bodily organs. It has even now a power of realising and ascertaining, of contemplating and enjoying things that are not seen. And when our mental powers shall be unconfined, enlarged, and improved, as we are sure they will be in heaven (and we know not but there may be new faculties superadded, suitable to the new objects of contemplation), we shall then as distinctly and clearly discern and contemplate spiritual and invisible objects, as we now do material ones by an eye of sense.

2. Then shall we begin to know ourselves. For whatever it may be thought, man is as yet one of the greatest mysteries to himself; that is a subject about which he knows as little as almost anything which falls within the compass of his understanding. Then he will begin to think as an immortal creature ought to do, which he very rarely does now, whilst his mind is sensualised, his understanding cramped, his sentiments debased, and his heart captivated by low and earthly things. Then will he look up to his original with perpetual adoration and joy, and live up to the dignity of an intelligent and immortal being, made for the honour of his great Creator, in whose praise and service all his powers will be for ever delightfully employed.

3. Our sense of religious and Divine things will then be strong, comprehensive, and clear. Then only shall we begin to be infallible, and perhaps be ashamed of our former ignorance when we thought ourselves most so. Then shall we discern the wrong paths in which we trod, as plainly as a benighted traveller at the rising of the morning sun, and be able, it may be, to trace our errors up to their original, the first wrong impression we received which insensibly turned us aside from the path of truth, which we were never able afterwards to recover, whilst at the same time we shall adore the guard and guidance of Divine grace which preserved our feeble and fickle minds from imbibing errors of a more dangerous and pernicious tendency.

4. Glorious and surprising then will be the new discoveries we shall make in the works of God. The hidden mysteries of nature which now lie too deep for our ken, and baffle all our most exquisite and laborious research, will then lie open to our view, and we shall have an intuitive knowledge of what it now costs us the study of an age to attain an imperfect notice of.

5. What a sweet and sublime entertainment will the enlarged mind enjoy in contemplating the wise and wondrous ways of Providence!

What just and solid reasons we have to believe that our knowledge hereafter wilt, be so complete and satisfying.

1. Because we are sure that in heaven there will be nothing wanting to perfect the happiness of a glorified spirit.

2. Its powers, capacities, and desires will be then inconceivably enlarged and opened, and consequently the objects and extent of its knowledge must be proportionably increased.


1. Let us remember that all the natural powers and faculties of the mind will then be in their full strength and maturity.

2. Our sphere of knowledge will then be vastly enlarged.

3. The enlarged powers of our mind will then be free from all their present encumbrances.

4. We shall have no wrong prejudices and prepossessions to overcome or guard against, by which our free progress in true knowledge is now so much obstructed.

5. We shall then meet with no more avocations to divert us from the pursuit of knowledge.

6. This speedy progress in knowledge we shall make, not only a few years, but to all eternity. (J. Mason, M.A.)

The joy of revelation

Now we see in a mirror darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know fully, even as also I am known fully. What joy, what exultation, what ardour, what longing there is in these words! They carry us far on and far away--far on beyond this present time of this passing world, far away from the scenes of this present life. “Then”--when time and change and varying seasons are past--then, when the alternations of cloud and sunshine are over--when doubt, and difficulty, and perplexity have been left behind--then I shall know fully. Then, in a sense more complete than the words have ever yet borne, I shall be able to say, “The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” His vision has reached the innermost shrine. Like another St. John, a “door has been opened to him in heaven.” A voice has said to him, “Come up hither and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.” But for what was the apostle’s heart yearning? He was yearning for the full knowledge of God (ἐπιγνῶσις). Yes, but what made him yearn for that knowledge? Because he had known the joy of knowledge. “Now I know in part, but then shall I know fully.” But is, then, knowledge a joy? All things round us witness to the fact that knowledge is believed to be a source of happiness. And does not every advance in knowledge make us eager for a further advance still, as mountain climbers find fresh peaks still luring them on to the delight of further efforts? Are we not ready to cry out ,gain and again with the apostle, “We know only in part”? And if this be so with all forms of mere earthly knowledge, must it not be far more so with heavenly knowledge? These strange powers which we possess of thought, of reflection, of consideration, of meditation, of insight, of memory, of intuition, of investigation, were not given us that they might be spent only on what one of our poets calls so well “these earth-born idols of this lower air.” Man was not made only that he might know the records of history, the niceties of language, the wonders of physical science, the conclusions of mathematics. We were created with all our powers of mind that we might know God. Not in vain has theology been called “Scientiarum Scientia.” The science of all sciences is the knowledge of God. Aye, and it was the joy of this knowledge which was filling the apostle’s heart when he wrote these words, “Then shall I know fully, even as also I am known fully.” Already he knows God in the tenderness of His Fatherhood, in the fulness of His pardoning love, in the atonement wrought out by the Son of God, in the might of the indwelling Spirit, in the richness of the gifts poured out on, poured into the Church. That knowledge has grown upon him more and more since the day when the pleading voice of his Lord broke in upon him with the question, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” Every past revelation has brought to him an increase of faith, of hope, of love, of peace, of happiness, and joy, and has taught him to realise more fully what will be the exceeding bliss of the complete revelation of God to those who are brought to see Him face to face. So rejoicing, so hoping, so expecting, so yearning, lie cries out, “Then shall I know fully, even as also I am fully known.” All bars all hindrances, all veils will be withdrawn. And now let us see how the joy of this knowledge came so to grow in the mind of St. Paul. First, clearly, because he set himself with intense earnestness to receive in all its vividness and distinctness the revelation that came from God. He felt deeply the tenderness of God in making known the truth. He felt as strongly the responsibility of man for receiving into his mind the fulness of truth in all its purity, in preserving it from all error that might dim or disturb it. No doubt ever crossed his mind that God could be known. Still less did he question the power of God to reveal Himself. How should not the best of all Fathers teach His children? Then quick upon the thought of this love of God came the feeling that if God is so loving as to tell to His children the secrets of their own nature--their sin, their fall, the way of their recovery, and of their union with Himself, nay, if God goes further still and tells them even the secrets of the mystery of His own being, then the children in very gratitude must be ready to learn in its fulness the lessons that the Heavenly Father has given them. So see how jealously St. Paul ever guards the truth. Not an angel from heaven is to persuade us to receive any other gospel than that which we have received. Yes, indeed, the knowledge of God grew upon his soul because he set himself to use in their fulness and exactness all the Divine utterances of truth. He was the unswerving disciple of a Master that spoke with authority, and he taught men to observe all things which that Master had commanded. Is not this the secret of the growth of knowledge of God--the getting clearly before the soul the things that He has taught? To us, as to him, it will bring a higher joy than any other kind of knowledge can bring. In us, as in him, it will waken up a thirst for a fuller, a more complete knowledge. To us, as to him, the knowledge which we have already as a gift from God, will be a pledge that it is the will of God to carry to their highest perfection the revelations which even here have been so full of joy. “Now I know in part, but then shall I know fully, even as also I am fully known.” “Even as also I am fully known.” As we hear these words a new thought comes breathing out through them. It was not only because he had been so careful to receive the revelation that comes from God that the knowledge of God had grown in the soul of the apostle. No, he had known God personally, something as one friend knows another; nay, in a manner more intimate. There had been between him and God the close communion of the creature with the Creator, of the redeemed with the Redeemer, of the spirit of man with the indwelling and sanctifying Spirit. There is no knowledge which so grows, which so blesses, as the knowledge which the soul gains by living in close communion with God. Oh! live, move, act, speak, think as in His sacred, loving, penetrating presence. “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” Live with souls kept consciously ever open to His influences. In the power of the Holy Ghost press into an ever closer union with the living Christ till He lives more wholly in you and you more wholly in Him. Then, then indeed, the joy of knowing God will grow more and more upon you. The sacred doctrine of the Trinity, the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost will be no mere abstract truth to you. It will be a revelation of a love personal to yourself in the light of which you will live. (R. W. Randall, M.A.)

The future state a self-conscious state

A moment’s reflection will convince any one that the article and fact of death must of itself make a vast accession to the amount of a man’s knowledge, because death introduces him into an entirely new state of existence. Foreign travel adds much to our stock of ideas, because we go into regions of the earth of which we had known only by the hearing of the ear. But the great and last journey that man takes carries him over into a province of which no book, not even the Bible itself, gives him any distinct cognition, as to the style of its scenery or the texture of its objects. But death carries man over into the new and entirely different mode of existence, so that he knows by direct observation and immediate intuition. A flood of new information pours in upon the disembodied spirit, such as he can,or by any possibility acquire upon earth, and yet such as he cannot by any possibility escape from in his new residence. But not only does the exchange of worlds make a vast addition to our stores of information respecting the nature of the invisible realm, and the mode of existence there, it also makes a vast addition to the kind and degree of our knowledge respecting ourselves, and our personal relationships to God. This is by far the most important part of the new acquisition which we gain by the passage from time to eternity, and it is to this that the apostle directs attention in the text. The latter clause of the text specifies the general characteristic of existence in the future world. It is a mode of existence in which the rational mind “knows even as it is known.” It is a world of knowledge--of conscious knowledge. In thus unequivocally asserting that our existence beyond the tomb is one of distinct consciousness, revelation has taught us what we most desire and need to know. The future, then, is a mode of existence in which the soul “knows even as it is known.” But this involves a perception in which there is no error, and no intermission. For the human spirit in eternity “is known” by the omniscient God. If, then, it knows in the style and manner that God knows, there can be no misconception or cessation in its cognition. Here, then, we have a glimpse into the nature of our eternal existence. It is a state of distinct and unceasing knowledge of moral truth and moral objects. The cognition is a fixed quantity. Given the soul, and the knowledge is given. If it be holy, it is always conscious of the fact. If it be sinful, it cannot for an instant lose the distressing consciousness of sin. In neither instance will it be necessary, as it generally is in this life, to make a special effort and a particular examination, in order to know the personal character. Knowledge of God and His law, in the future life, is spontaneous and inevitable; no creature can escape it. If the most thoughtless person that now walks the globe could only have a clear perception of that kind of knowledge which is awaiting him upon the other side of the tomb, he would become the most thoughtful and the most anxious of men. It would sober him like death itself. It is only because a man is unthinking, or because he imagines that the future world will be like the present one, only longer in duration, that he is so indifferent regarding it. (T. W. Shedd, D.D.)

Of a future state

Was such an obscure and imperfect discovery of another life worthy to proceed from God? Does it not afford some ground, either to tax His goodness or to suspect the evidence of its coming from Him? It plainly appears to be the plan of the Deity, in all His dispensations, to mix light with darkness, evidence with uncertainty. Whatever the reasons of this procedure be, the fact is undeniable. If, then, the future state of man be not placed in so full and clear a light as we desire, this is no more than what the analogy of all religion, both natural and revealed, gave us reason to expect. But such a solution of the difficulty will be thought imperfect. It may, perhaps, not give much satisfaction to show that all religion abounds with difficulties of a like nature. Let us call upon the sceptic, and desire him to say what measure of information would afford him entire satisfaction. This, he will tell us, requires not any long or deep deliberation. He desires only to have his view enlarged beyond the limits of this corporeal state. Instead of resting upon evidence which requires discussion, he demands the everlasting mansions to be so displayed, if in truth such mansions there be, as to place faith on a level with the evidence of sense. What noble and happy effects, he exclaims, would instantly follow, if man thus beheld his present and his future existence at once before him! But let us pause and suspend our admiration, till we coolly examine the consequences that would follow from this supposed reformation of the universe. Consider the nature and circumstances of man. Introduced into the world in an indigent condition, he is supported at first by the care of others: and, as soon as he begins to act for himself, finds labour and industry to be necessary for sustaining his life and supplying his wants. Mutual defence and interest give rise to society; and society, when formed, requires distinctions of property, diversity of conditions, subordinations of ranks, and a multiplicity of occupations, in order to advance the general good. In a word, by the destination of his Creator and the necessities of his nature, man commences at once an active, not merely a contemplative being. Religion assumes him as such. Suppose, now, that veil to be withdrawn which conceals another world from our view. Let all obscurity vanish; let us no longer “see darkly, as through a glass”; but let every man enjoy that intuitive perception of Divine and eternal objects which the sceptic was supposed to desire. The immediate effect of such a discovery would be to annihilate in our eye all human objects, and to produce a total stagnation in the affairs of the world. All the studies and pursuits, the arts and labours, which now employ the activity of man, which support the order, or promote the happiness of society, would lie neglected and abandoned. Those desires and fears, those hopes and interests, by which we are at present stimulated, would cease to operate. Human life would present no objects sufficient to rouse the mind, to kindle the spirit of enterprise, or to urge the hand of industry. Whatever is now attractive in society would appear insipid. In a word, he would be no longer a fit inhabitant of this world, nor be qualified for those exertions which are allotted to him in his present sphere of being. But all his faculties being sublimated above the measure of humanity, he would be in the condition of a being of superior order, who, obliged to reside among men, would regard their pursuits with scorn, as dreams, trifles, and puerile amusements of a day. But to this reasoning it may perhaps be replied, that such consequences as I have now stated, supposing them to follow, deserve not much regard. Would not such a change prove the highest blessing to man? Is not his attachment to worldly objects the great source both of his misery and his guilt? How far the change would contribute to his welfare comes to be considered. If there be any principle fully ascertained by religion, it is that this life was intended for a state of trial and improvement to man. His preparation for a better world required a gradual purification carried on by steps of progressive discipline. The situation, therefore, here assigned him was such as to answer this design by calling forth all his active powers, by giving full scope to his moral dispositions, and bringing to light his whole character. Hence it became proper that difficulty and temptation should arise in the course of his duty. Such is the plan of Divine wisdom for man’s improvement. But put the case that the plans devised by human wisdom were to take place, and that the rewards of the just were to be more fully displayed to view, the exercise of all those graces which I have mentioned would be entirely superseded. Their very names would be unknown. The obscurity which at present hangs over eternal objects preserves the competition. Remove that obscurity, and you remove human virtue from its place. You overthrow that whole system of discipline by which imperfect creatures are, in this life, gradually trained up for a more perfect state. From what has been said, it now appears that no reasonable objection to the belief of a future state arises from the imperfect discoveries of it which we enjoy; from the difficulties that are mingled with its evidence; from our seeing as through a glass, darkly; and being left to walk by faith, and not by sight. It cannot be otherwise, it ought not to be otherwise in our present state. The evidence which is afforded is sufficient for the conviction of a candid mind, though not so striking as to withdraw our attention from the present world, or altogether to overcome the impression of sensible objects. In such evidence it becomes us to acquiesce, without indulging either doubts or complaints. For, upon the supposition of immortality, this life is no other than the childhood of existence; and the measures of our knowledge must be proportioned to such a state. In a word, the whole course of things is so ordered that we neither, by an irregular and precipitate education, become men too soon, nor, by a fond and trifling indulgence, be suffered to continue children for ever. Let these reflections not only remove the doubts which may arise from our obscure knowledge of immortality, but likewise produce the highest admiration of the wisdom of our Creator. The structure of the natural world affords innumerable instances of profound design, which no attentive spectator can survey without wonder. In the moral world, where the workmanship is of much finer and more delicate contexture, subjects of still greater admiration open to view. We have now seen that the darkness of man’s condition is no less essential to his well-being than the light which he enjoys. His internal powers and his external situation appear to be exactly fitted to each other. In order to do justice to the subject, I must observe that the same reasoning which has been now employed with respect to our knowledge of immortality is equally applicable to many other branches of intellectual knowledge. Thus, why we are permitted to know so little of the nature of that Eternal Being who rules the universe; why the manner in which He operates on the natural and moral world is wholly concealed. To all these, and several other inquiries of the same kind which often employ the solicitous researches of speculative men, the answer is the degree of knowledge desired would prove incompatible with the design and with the proper business of this life. It is therefore reserved for a more advanced period of our nature. One instance, in particular, of Divine wisdom is so illustrious, and corresponds so remarkably with our present subject, that I cannot pass it over without notice; that is the concealment under which Providence has placed the future events of our life on earth. “How cruel is Providence!” we are apt to exclaim, “in denying to man the power of foresight, and in limiting him to the knowledge of the present moment!” But while fancy indulges such vain desires and criminal complaints, this coveted foreknowledge must clearly appear to the eye of reason to be the most fatal gift which the Almighty could bestow. If, in this present mixed state, all the successive scenes of distress through which we are to pass, were laid before us in one view, perpetual sadness would overcast our life. Hardly would any transient gleams of intervening joy be able to force their way through the cloud. Precisely in the same manner, as by the mixture of evidence and obscurity which remains on the prospect of a future state, a proper balance is preserved betwixt our love of this life and our desire of a better. The longer that our thoughts dwell on this subject the more we must be convinced that in nothing the Divine wisdom is more admirable than in proportioning knowledge to the necessities of man. Instead of lamenting our condition, that we are permitted only to see as through a glass, darkly, we have reason to bless our Creator, no less for what He hath concealed than for what He hath allowed us to know. From the whole view which we have taken of the subject, this important instruction arises, that the great design of all the knowledge, and in particular of the religious knowledge which God hath afforded us, is to fit us for discharging the duties of life. No useless discoveries are made to us in religion. Let us, then, second the kind intentions of Providence, and act upon the plan which it hath pointed out. Checking our inquisitive solicitude about what the Almighty hath concealed, let us diligently improve what He hath made known. Before I conclude, it may be proper to observe that the reasonings in this discourse give no ground to apprehend any danger of our being too much influenced by the belief of a future state. The bias of our nature leans so much towards sense that from this side the peril is to he dreaded, and on this side the defence is to be provided. Let us, then, walk by faith, Let us strengthen this principle of action to the utmost of our power. (H. Blair, D.D.)

Present knowledge imperfect but sufficient

We see darkly--very darkly.

1. We are in a world full of mystery. Every step we take, the great, deep problems strike us which we are unable to solve.

(1) Day fades away into night, the night blossoms out into day; the stars walk up and down the vault of night. We cannot but wonder why. Say that it is because the earth revolves on its axis, and moves round in its orbit, but where is the force that drives it along its path? Astronomy only magnifies the mystery. I see other worlds flying in every conceivable direction and at all possible velocities; and yet the power, the thing I want, does not come out to me. I push the mystery perhaps one step, and taking that step, I plunge again into the darkness, to ride on as my fathers have been riding through all the past, unsoothed by definitions, and formulas.

(2) But somebody says, “Why, it is gravity that holds the world in its path.” And so I dig down to the earth for this giant whose arms are so long and whose grip is so almighty, but I do not find him; and after my weary search I sit back in despair, muttering “Gravity!” and I know no more than I did before. Nature, like the man who gave the empty casket to the highwayman and kept the jewels, has given us names and kept the secret--the power.

(3) Oh I but you say, chemistry settles that. She has gone into the world and parcelled it out, saying, “This is oxygen, that is nitrogen, and that is carbon,” etc. So I walk along quietly after her, and say, What is oxygen, what is carbon? I’ll call this carbon every time I see it in the future. I used to call it coal: and yet my soul is fed no more by carbon than it was by coal. The term does not change the fact. My poor heart cries out for the power behind this. Where did it come from? Who stored the fires in its dark bosom? Who gathered the sunbeams of so many centuries and stored them into coal? That is the power I want, and not the name.

(4) But chemistry has taken up the microscope, and says, “Now we have it; we have got things in the very act of beginning to be; we have seen them actually wriggling up into life.” Yes, wriggle before they existed. I am sure I see very darkly here.

(5) Suppose we go into the domain of my thoughts. This is something that you may call psychology--what can that do after all? Why, it takes up what I call my thought--gives its outer history, tells somewhat of its worth; but that is all it does. There is something behind the thought; here is the mystery it cannot touch at all.

2. Now, we are in this one universe, and should it be strange if, when we come to the things concerning eternal verities, there should be some darkness; if nature has cast a shadow over all things here, need we stumble, or be alarmed, if concerning spiritual and eternal things we see through a glass darkly? What if I cannot understand the mysteries of the incarnation, the Trinity, regeneration and resurrection--what of all that? Is it not rather the demonstration that we are under the administration of one God. May I not bring as many difficulties and arguments against the facts of your personal experience in every-day life as you can bring against the experience and facts of this spiritual and eternal life?

But we do see something. Though we cannot define it. Look at two or three mountain-peaks that indicate to us the inner line that possibly we cannot pass, and even surveying may not definitely define.

1. One mountain-peak is the fact of revelation itself. I do not mean the arguments by which we sustain that this book is from God, but rather the fact of the communication of God to us. There it stands. Here we are in the universe; somebody brought us here; we did not make ourselves; we cannot trace our pedigree back through the ages. Yet we are here, and so circumstanced that we must do somebody’s will in order to have peace; and to do it, we must know it. We cannot reach it with our reason. We have not instinct. The animals monopolise that. Will He not come out to me? Will he take such wonderful care of His meanest creatures, and leave His best to die in the darkness? I do not see very clearly, but I see something.

2. Here is another peak--the Book itself, said to be from God. A wonderful document!--too much in it for us to comprehend; full of mysteries, yet so simple and plain in most of its parts, that it has been the food of the common people for all the centuries. It is so compact and self-sustaining, that it has defied the sharpest criticism of eighteen centuries. There it is; fifteen hundred years in the shop being made, written by forty different men, separated, as far as possible, both in station and in culture. Yet somehow these forty men tell one story, and so telling it, that as we read it we feel that it is true, because they got one inspiration. They tell the history of the race into sin, and through sin up into redemption; and where one lets go, another takes hold, so that it is one story. I do not know how it was inspired; but there is the fact. It may be dark about the depths of the book, but it is infinitely darker outside of it. Outside we have nothing; here we do have something. I do see One said to be the Son of God, the Lamb of. God who taketh away the sin of the world, giving to me the fact of peace. I cannot fathom it. Indeed, I do not know why I am cold or why I am warm; but I know when I am cold and when I am warm. I am not able to understand exactly how it is that this that I see lifted on Calvary lifts me up into a better life, but it does.

3. Here is the Church opposed by every possible power, with no human instrumentality to commend it, and yet here it is. Yesterday it was a weakling, with only a dozen followers; to-day it masters all the peoples of the earth and brings them toward itself. (Bp. Fowler.)

Partial knowledge

A calamity, when it is traceable to--

1. Early training in prejudice.

2. False teaching.

3. Inability to learn.

A crime, when owing to--

1. Prayerlessness.

2. Wilfulness.

3. Lethargy.

4. Inattention.

5. Forgetfulness.

A blessing, when it causes--

1. Faith to be exercised.

2. Inquiry to be evoked.

3. Filial fear to be displayed.

An argument for--

1. Humility.

2. Praise.

3. Hope.

4. Alarm. (Stems and Twigs.)

Present knowledge partial but suffcient

In this imperfect and preparatory stage of our existence we have just light sufficient to command our belief in matters essential to our salvation, to direct us in the discharge of our duties to God and to one another, and conduct us to a home where we shall see clearly and know perfectly the sublime truths which have so often baffled and perplexed our reason. This is all we need, and all that God hath given. He would have us walk by faith, which is opposed alike to open vision and to perfect knowledge. The Bible stands like a waymark, pointing the pilgrim to the celestial city, but furnishing him no needless information concerning either the country of his sojourn or the scenery of his destination. The full disclosure of that which is unseen and eternal, at present, we could bear no better than the infant of an hour could bear the unsoftened splendours of the noontide sun; nor could we possibly grasp the ample sphere of truth any more than the arms of a child could embrace the moon it so much admires, or than the ken of a cricket could sweep the solar system and comprehend the stellar universe. Truth is infinite, and its study is to occupy the redeemed intellect for ever, and its discovery or development is to constitute one of the chief elements of our endless felicity; but what must be the vastness and variety of that knowledge which is constantly to afford fresh interest to the employments of eternity! and how can we hope to attain unto it in this brief infancy of our being? (J. Cross, D.D.)

Heaven a state of perfection in knowledge

There are many considerations which show how vast will be the attainments of the glorified spirit.

1. All causes of ignorance and error will then be entirely removed. Here below, not only the body of flesh, but still more the body of sin, darkens our understandings. But in heaven, sin will no longer becloud our minds; prejudices will be eradicated, the passions, refined, purified, and directed to their proper object, will only aid us in the pursuit of truth; and the cares and pleasures of the world can no longer affect us.

2. Our intellectual faculties will be greatly strengthened. Our faculties shall ever be in vigorous exercise, never requiring to be relaxed, always penetrating and active; our imaginations ever unclouded; our memories never losing the knowledge we have acquired.

3. Much of our improvement depends upon the society with which we associate. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.” We shall be companions of the redeemed in the world of felicity.

4. There the redeemed shall be instructed by the all-wise God (Revelation 21:22).

5. The knowledge of the saved will be increasing throughout eternity.

What shall be the objects of our knowledge? The glorified saints shall know God--

1. In His nature.

2. His attributes.

3. His works of creation.

4. His works of Providence.

5. Redemption through the blood of Jesus.

6. The Word of God.

What will be its chief properties. Our knowledge shall be--

1. Immediate and intuitive. Instead of the labour, cares, processes of reasoning, that are here necessary, we shall have only to open our souls for the reception of that celestial light which will flow into them from God, the source of light.

2. Full and adequate, both in variety and degree, and certain and infallible.

3. Transforming.

4. Beatifying.

5. Unfading and eternal.

Conclusion: This subject--

1. Is calculated to animate Christians and comfort them. You now lament that you know so little of God and the Redeemer; wait till the light of eternity shall burst upon your view, and then you “shall know even as you are known.”

2. Leads us to lament the doom of men of unsanctified genius and learning.

3. Should give us consolation on the death of pious friends. You may again meet them, advanced in knowledge and perfect in bliss. (H. Kollock, D.D.)

Recognition in heaven

1. There is something very solemn in this anticipation of my future being; “Then shall I know even as also I am known”; that there will be a clearness and certainty around me, no prejudice, no distorting medium, no unsettling estimate, no tremulous light; and that this same clearness and certainty will not only shine around, but through me, so that as little possible as it is for me to mistake anything will it be for others to mistake me; I can no longer wear a mask; I can no longer practise an imposition; I intuitively know, and as intuitively am known.

2. It is a relief, in considering that universal perception which we shall take of others, and others shall take of us, to institute the inquiry, Will Christian friends then meet--will they recognise each other? We cannot withstand a thought of the past. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain. In casting my eye over the present assembly, I am only struck with bereavement and loss; I know not whither to turn to find some friend of my youth. But is there an absolute privation? We must think of heaven as aa existing reality. We speak of it as if forgetting that it is only future to us. But our brethren, sainted and glorified in heaven, have their present beatitudes, splendours, and songs. Let us think of them, therefore, as only separated from us by a veil, which will soon be torn aside. Will there be those who shall be ready to welcome us? Shall there be those whom we ourselves remember? This is not a barren speculation; it is that which surely has engaged every thinking mind and every susceptible heart. “Oh, renowned day,” exclaimed the Roman orator, “when I shall have reached the Divine assemblage of those minds with which I have congenial predilections, and shall escape this untoward and uncongenial throng!” “We but depart,” said the lyrist of the same nation, “to meet our AEneas, and our Tully, and our Ancus.”

The contrary conclusion implies a destruction which is quite opposite to the dealings of God with our nature. If I do not know in heaven those whom I have known here, there must have taken place an imperfection in my mind. We must suppose that God blots out some of the exercises of the recollection. But this seems quite opposite to His ordinary dealings with us; and therefore, unless there was the strongest proof that we should not, know each other, we should argue that it was contrary to all that we might infer. Now, heaven is the consummation of our present happiness. And what makes us happier upon earth than mutual acquaintance? “I have no greater joy,” said the beloved disciple, “than to hear that my children walk in truth”: and was that joy entirely torn from his spirit when he passed from this world of distraction and discord to that region where all was love? Besides, it is impossible to think that all will be without a history and without a name; some, we know, will be preeminent; we shall sit down with Abraham, and with Isaac, and with Jacob, in the kingdom of God. And will all other spirits flit before us unstoried and nameless?

But let Scripture decide.

1. When David thought of his dying child, he agonised in fasting and in prayer; when that child was taken away he found encouragement. “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” That his head should recline on the same clod? Nay; here is an intimation of immortality and of the communings of two spirits in that immortality. And the same remark may be made when the pious are said to be “buried with their fathers.” It is chilling and repulsive to think that the cemetery only is referred to, and that there is no mingling of the departed except in the dust of the sepulchre.

2. There are other phrases in the latter portion of the Christian Scriptures which we think are absolutely decisive. “Knowing,” says the apostle, “that He who raised up the Lord Jesus Christ, shall also raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.” And again, he adjures those to whom he writes, “ by our gathering together unto Jesus Christ.” Now there seems to be a banishment of all point and of all spirit, unless you suppose that they will know each other. To prove how disinterested was the spirit and purpose of the first Christian teachers, they always rested their labours upon a reward, which consisted in the glory of those spirits whom they had saved. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and our joy.” “That I may rejoice in the day of the Lord that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” “Look to yourselves, that ye receive a full reward.” “ That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Now this cannot, for a moment, be separated from the recognition of those who were the fruits of their ministry (see particularly 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

3. When standing near the grave of Bethany, our Lord says, “Thy brother shall rise again”; was it that that brother was to be absorbed and lost in the myriads of spirits; so that the sisters who had lately laid him in the grave should see him and know him no more?

4. The process of judgment seems to include this recognition of each other. A cup of cold water given to a disciple in the name of Jesus shall not be without its reward. The Saviour, specifying those who are before Him, shall say, “I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat,” etc. Now, this is reflected in the persons of those who are in the crowd: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”

5. Then, when we go further, and consider the Christian doctrine upon she destruction and overthrow of death. “O grave, where is thy victory?” Now, this implies that all that death has done of evil and of pain shall be compensated. But what has been a more bitter consequence of death than bereavement? How, if that is never repaired, can it be said that death has no sting, that the grave has no victory?

6. But think of the happiness of the heavenly world. Will all remembrance of that world which we have left be suspended? Shall we not think of the means of our conversion--what we have done for others--what others have done for us? Hear the new language: “Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” Is not this a rush of the past upon the soul? Is not this like living again? Conclusion: We are not at all, however, unconscious that objections may be raised against this doctrine. If we recognise our beloved friends, must we not deplore the absence of those who, whatever was their guilt, were dear to our bosoms, and were twined around our hearts? But remember that you are perfect in heaven. You cannot conceive of that which is perfect in heaven without the most entire acquiescence, in what God has arranged, or what God has suffered. (R. W. Hamilton, D.D.)

Individual recognition in eternity

Subordinate arguments. Testimony in its favour might be drawn--

1. From the constitutional sociality of our nature, that renders such an expectation as our mutual recognition hereafter conducive to our happiness, heaven being the scene where all the innocent sources that contribute to felicity would be probably accumulated.

2. From our enlarged capacities of knowledge and enjoyment in a future state.

3. From the common assent of mankind in all ages.

4. From the incidental inference drawn from the like general belief of mankind in the appearances of the dead, and their being recognised by the parties to whom they appeared, as was undoubtedly the case in the instances of Moses and Elias on the Mount of Transfiguration, and of “the bodies of the saints” that arose after our Lord’s resurrection.

5. From the analogy of sleep, the Scriptural type of death, the persons of individuals, both dead and living, being clearly identified in the dreams of the night, and therefore leading to the inference that such persons would be equally identified after they and we shall have “fallen asleep in Jesus.”

The scriptural argument.

1. Old Testament (1 Samuel 28:11, etc.). If a parted spirit and a living man could be mutually recognised, then it is even more probable if both individuals had departed they could equally recognise each other. David, indeed, proposes an express comfort to himself from such an expectation, when bereaved of his child (2 Samuel 12:29, etc.). Where would be the special consolation in the father’s being lost to the child, as the child had been lost to the father, if death were the final extinction of the power of recognition and recovery each of the other?

2. New Testament. In the parable of Dives and Lazarus not only does the rich man recognise Lazarus, but converses with him, and Lazarus is represented “in Abraham’s bosom,” i.e., in terms of close intimacy with Abraham. The reply of our Lord to the Sadducees, in Matthew 22:1-46, implies that if men in the resurrection are to resemble the angels, men will enjoy the like privilege of “knowing each other, even as they are known.” This view may be further confirmed from 1 Corinthians 15:54. The angels sing this: the angels, then, must recognise in the redeemed spirits who had died, or how could they triumph over their escape from and defeat of death? But not only angels triumph in the victory of their brethren from the flesh; St. John (Revelation 7:13) tells us of “one of the elders,” i.e., an Old Testament saint, who was perfectly acquainted with the persons and the antecedent trials of some triumphant souls. Moreover, death was the effect and penalty of sin. If man had not sinned, the union of earthly attachments and relationships, for aught we now, had been immortal. If in Christ all the effects of sin shall be abolished, man will be reinstated, though with much superadded glory, in all the privileges which he originally enjoyed, and therefore with a capacity of renewing and perpetuating his communion with them, over whom “death shall have no more dominion.” Again, in Luke 13:28, it is stated as one of the peculiar aggravations of the anguish of lost souls that they should recognise in the realms of glory those who had not been so highly favoured as themselves.

3. Again, there is a moral necessity for individual remembrance at least in the scene of judgment. “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, to give an account of the deeds done in the body” (Matthew 25:34, etc.; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; Hebrews 13:17). Thus the penitent thief makes the fact of his recognition the burthen of his dying prayer, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!” and had there been any error or mere fanaticism in the hope, Jesus would have corrected it; but, on the contrary, He sanctioned and established it in the tender answer--“To-day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” “The Lord knoweth them that are His” here; “His name shall be in their foreheads” there; and thus each shall recognise another, and all their common Lord. Conclusion: But if we shall rejoice to recognise our friends in heaven, must we not be grieved at the absence of others, in hell? The consequence is not necessary. The Lord may give His risen people large capacities for joy without a single capacity for sorrow. Angels are said to “joy over the penitent sinner,” but they are never said to be grieved for the reprobate sinner. May not the enlarged views of Divine perfections into which the glorified saints will be admitted serve to swallow up every inferior impression? “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight!” (J. B. Owen, M.A.)

Recognition of friends in heaven

Luther, the night before he died, was reasonably well, and sat with his friends at table. The matter of their discourse was whether we shall know one another in heaven or not. Luther held it affirmatively, and this was one reason he gave: Adam, as soon as he saw Eve, knew what she was, not by discourse, but by Divine revelation; so shall we in the life to come. (J. Trapp.)

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 13:13

And now abideth faith, hope, charity.

Faith, hope, and charity

Faith, the fundamental principle of Christianity. It is not mere belief, but trust. It is faith that gives to Christianity its whole name, character, and nature. And faith gives a man a new relationship to God. It makes him son of God and joint-heir with Christ. Therefore, the man who has faith in Christ will be a good living man, showing his faith by his works.

Hope, the consequence of faith. If a man believes in the Son of God, he shall not perish, but have everlasting life. If we firmly believe this promise it will give us hope of its fulfilment. Hope is the anchor that sustains the Christian in all the storms of time, the chain that connects him with the future amid all its difficulties. What would life be without it, even in a worldly sense? The anticipation of something better bears us up amid many of the world’s trials. But even the best of our worldly hopes is of a transitory and uncertain character, but the heavenly hope is sure and steadfast. Hope is not only a privilege and a blessing; it is part of a Christian’s duty. A man who sits down and desponds loses the very anchor of his ship.

Charity. First, faith the root and trunk, then hope the branches, then charity the fruit, the highest development of the Christian character, the practical part of Christianity. Faith is the inward union of the soul with Christ; hope is the support which gives us strength to battle with the present; charity the outward manifestation of what we feel within. Only realise that the gospel is love, and then you realise its beauty and realise its glory. (J. J. S. Bird, B.A.)

Faith, hope, and charity

The nature or each or these graces.

1. Faith. Now faith means belief; and evangelical and saving faith is believing the gospel. The gospel contains an account of man’s ruin by sin, and of his redemption by Christ, and these things, when believed, produce an important effect upon our state and character.

2. Hope is the desire, combined with the expectation, of some future good; and Christian hope is the desire and the expectation of all the good which is promised to believers in the Word of God.

(1) Its objects include all the blessings belonging to the kingdom of grace and of glory. As Christians we have much in possession, but more in prospect.

(2) Its foundation is the gospel of Christ. The reason which we have for the hope that is in us is derived from the exceeding great and precious promises which God has given to us in His Word, the fulfilment of which is secured to us by the blood of Christ, by the oath of God, and by the faithfulness of the Divine character. We hope therefore because we believe.

(3) Its influence. It encourages our prayers; for the hope of receiving inspires confidence in asking. It promotes our holiness; “for every man that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pare.” And it is a source of peace and consolation and joy.

3. Charity or love.

(1) Love to God includes in it gratitude to Him for His goodness; approbation of His character; cheerful obedience to His commands; desire for the enjoyment of His favour, and for increasing conformity to His image.

(2) Love to our fellow-creatures in general is “goodwill to men.”

(3) Love to the brethren is love to Christians as such. It includes approbation of their characters as well as benevolence to their persons.

The union which subsists among the three. They are united.

1. In their source. Diversified as they are in their nature and operations, they have each their source in God. The heart of man, which is naturally “deceitful above all things,” etc., cannot be the fountain of streams, so pure and hallowed as these three. Faith, we are told, is “the fruit of the Spirit” and “the gift of God.” Hope has the same Divine origin, for it is “the God of hope, who fills you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” And love is equally of God, for “God is love,” and it is His love which is shed abroad in our hearts. And as “these three” are thus united in God, their source and giver, it is from God alone that you are to seek them, by earnest and by persevering prayer.

2. In their residence--the heart. The body, the soul, and the spirit are not more necessary to compose a living and a perfect man than are faith and hope and love to constitute a living and a perfect Christian; for were any one of these three wanting, there would be a fatal deficiency in the character. He therefore, by whom that character is formed, begins it by the gift of faith, but completes and perfects it by the addition of hope and love. There is not one of them with which a Christian can part. You cannot, e.g., part with faith; for we are saved by faith, and without faith it would be impossible to please God. You cannot part with hope; for without hope we should be of all men the most miserable. And you cannot part with love; for that would be to lose the very image of God; for “he that loveth not knoweth not God.” As therefore in an arch you cannot part either with the foundation-stones or with the key-stone in the centre, without ruin to the whole fabric, so you cannot part with any one of these three graces without becoming absolutely “nothing.”

3. In their influence.

(1) To purify the heart, for our hearts are “purified by faith”; “every man that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure”; no man can love God without becoming “a partaker of His holiness.”

(2) In prosperity, in supplying the Christian with sweeter pleasures than earthly things can yield, and in keeping him unspotted from the world. His faith beholds an inheritance, “incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away”; his hope seeks fruition in “joy unspeakable and full of glory”; and his love leads him to choose God as his invaluable portion, and to declare, “whom have I in heaven but Thee?” etc.

(3) In adversity, in bringing strength and consolation to the soul.

The superiority of charity to both faith and hope, “The greatest of these is charity.” The epithet of “great” belongs, to each, and they are far superior to natural talents and even to miraculous endowments. Love is the greatest of the three, because--

1. It is the only grace which is exercised by God Himself.

2. It is the grace for the sake of which faith and hope are produced and exercised. Love is the sacred temple which faith and hope are employed in building, and needful as their presence and exertions are now, whilst the temple is rising, yet when the topstone is brought forth, and when the cloud of glory has filled the holy place, their assistance will no longer be required, and they may rest from their labours.

3. It is capable of putting forth greater energies, and of performing greater achievements.

4. It is eminently and almost entirely a social grace. Faith and hope are in a great measure personal graces.

5. It alone is eternal in its duration. Faith, like the venerable lawgiver, ascends Mount Pisgah, views the promised land, and dies. Hope, bright and cheering as the morning star, grows dim, and fades, amidst the splendours of the rising and meridian sun. But Charity, immortal in her existence as the soul she inspires, and as the God from whom she came, ascends, like Elijah, in a charier, of fire, and is translated to the realms of life and joy. (T. Alexander.)

Faith, hope, and charity

Let us then inquire--

What faith, hope, and charity are.

1. Faith has respect to things either unseen or future.

2. Hope is desire and expectation of good.

3. Charity is love to God and love to man. There may be in our text a special reference to love to man, including the love of complacency towards the good, and a love of compassion towards even the vilest of the vile.

The excellence of faith and hope.

1. Faith is excellent contemplated--

(1) Intellectually. The power of realising existing objects and past and future events is a power of incalculable value, without which man would not be man. Most of our knowledge is obtained through the medium of books and oral instruction, which we have read and heard and have believed. Even common conversation owes much of its interest to the faith which we have in one another. In commerce the importance of a promise to pay and of believing that promise is most apparent. Trial by jury, on which the question of life or death often depends, would be useless were faith in civil society impossible.

(2) Morally.

(a) A man “whose word is as good as his bond” is universally and deservedly esteemed. He is a man who can be believed.

(b) But the moral excellence of faith is most of all apparent in its reference to God. Faithfulness as clearly belongs to God as either justice or mercy; and when we trust in Him without fear, we “give to Him the glory due to His name.”

(c) Faith exerts a beneficial interest on the entire character of man as exposed to temptation. For his conflict the moral soldier is furnished with “the shield of faith”. “This is the victory that over-cometh the world,” etc.

(d) It is essential to our salvation. It is to a Christian what grasping the hand of a friend would be to a drowning man.

2. Hope is excellent, because--

(1) It is the next best thing to actual possession (Romans 8:24). It is the earnest of heaven.

(2) It neutralises if not annihilates the misery which great affliction might otherwise create; “these light afflictions, which are but for a moment,” etc.

The surpassing excellence of charity.

1. It is more disinterested than either faith or hope.

2. It is the perfection of man.

3. It is eternal.

4. Although charity is before faith and hope in point of excellence, faith is first in order of time. (J. Burder, M.A.)

Faith, hope, charity

1. It is proof of the importance of this Divine trio that they are universally necessary. Excellent and wonderful are the gifts of healing, etc.; precious and indispensable are those more ordinary gifts through which the edification of Christ’s body is provided for; but they are not gifts of which it can be said that a man must possess them in order to be saved.

2. The practical value of these three gifts is enhanced by the fact that they are universally attainable. Miraculous gifts might, even in the age of miracles, be sought without success; and they were withdrawn long ago. But of the gifts of faith, hope, and love, we can say that “every one that seeketh findeth,” and it is a man’s own fault if he has them not.

3. There is a remarkable pairing and grouping of these graces in the Scripture (1 the 1:14: Ephesians 6:23; Galatians 5:6). Observe also the coupling of faith and hope (1 Peter 1:21; Colossians 1:23). We also find them grouped all together (Colossians 1:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3).

4. The admirable nature of these graces is proclaimed by the functions assigned to them as part of the Christian’s heavenly armour (Ephesians 6:16). Consider them--

In a general way.

1. Love has the first place in point of time. There was a time when there was, and could be, no faith and no hope; but the gospel tells us of an everlasting love. What is declared of the Word is true of love (John 1:1).

2. While love can, and does, dwell wherever faith and hope find a home, it makes its chief abode in a quarter to which they have no access. But love takes a higher flight. God neither believes nor hopes; but God loves.

3. All three are springs of human action. But love is more; it is a spring of action on the part of God. Faith and hope beget great deeds; but they are only the deeds of men after all. Love awakens to action the powers of omnipotence, and God arises at its summons.

As graces which are found in every real Christian’s heart. When thus considered, love is the greatest of them all.

1. It excels in respect of its success and range. The Christian’s love is the companion of his faith and hope in all their exercises, and goes forth upon the object on which they lay hold: but it is also the companion and follower of God’s love, and makes for the objects of Divine regard.

2. It carries off the palm among the graces, because it imparts a likeness to God. God is love. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil.”

3. The disinterestedness of love gives it pre-eminence. Love’s office is to give. Faith and hope are exercised in the reception and anticipation of benefits. Love “seeketh not her own.”

4. The greatness of love may be estimated by its relation to holiness. Faith, indeed, is a holy principle, and holiness is the result of its influence and operation. So hope also is a holy principle, purging away the defilement of sin. Every man that hath it in him, purifieth himself, as Christ is pure. But love is holiness itself--the end for which these means and instruments are employed.

5. Love is greatest in respect of the ultimate importance of the part it has to act.

(1) There are various respects in which faith and hope are greater than love. Take the case of a man convinced of his guilt, and longing for pardon and acceptance with God. Love can do nothing there. When the jailer cried, “What must I do to be saved?” it was faith that was summoned to the rescue. Take the ordinary case of God’s people on earth, exposed to danger from the world. Love would be borne down and put to death, did not faith cover love with the buckler of its protection. Or take the case of one who is visited with protracted trials and afflictions. Is it love that will keep him from despair? No. That is the office of hope.

(2) But then the offices of faith and hope now glanced at do not last for ever. The time is coming when there will be no such work as we have spoken of for faith and hope to do. We do not say that faith and hope will then disappear. For the redeemed will always trust in God, and look to Jesus; and in viewing the eternity that stretches out before them, they shall be animated by a hope on which there will never be a cloud. But faith and hope will not continue in the front of the scene. They will then confess themselves to be but the handmaids of love, and will make way for love by withdrawing into the shade: Having nursed and defended love in her infancy, and watched over her ripening years, and having, at last, conducted her to the steps of her destined throne, their work is comparatively finished. Then will be the glorious reign of love. (A. Gray.)

Faith, hope, love

The specific nature of each.

1. Faith. As to its origin, it is the gift of God; as to its operation, it is the work of the Spirit; as to its object, it fastens on Christ; as to its exercise, it is the disciple’s own act the Scriptures make much of faith--“Precious faith”; “Thy faith hath saved thee”; “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith is the first stone of the building, but it is not the, foundation. Our help is laid on One that is mighty. But beware how you come to Christ. Any work of yours, by way of recommending you, will be a non-conductor through which the light of life from the Saviour cannot run (Galatians 5:2).

2. Hope is adapted to a transitory, imperfect state. Its office is to diminish the sorrows of the present by drawing on the stores of future joy. It is the tenant, not of a heart that was never broken, but of a heart that has been broken and healed again. A pure, bright star fixed in heaven, it reaches with its rays the uplifted eye of the weary pilgrim. But stars shine not in the day; the darkness brings them out. So grief summons hope to the aid of the sufferer. When the ransomed rise from the sleep of the grave, this gentle star, which had often soothed them in the night of their pilgrimage, will nowhere be found in all the upper firmament; for in presence of the Sun of Righteousness hope, no longer needed, no more appears.

3. Love. Some fragments of this heavenly thing survive the fall and flourish in our nature. It is beautiful even in ruins. We shall learn more about its nature when we are called to consider its magnitude.

The mutual relations of all. Hitherto we have spoken of them as three rings lying beside each other; now we speak of them as three links within each other, so as to constitute a chain.

1. The relation between faith and hope. Faith leans on Christ, and hope hangs by faith. There is, indeed, a species of hope which has no connection with faith. If in a place of danger you saw a chain whose uppermost link was surely fixed in the living rock, and whose lowest link--a goodly, iron ring--was vibrating invitingly near, you might be induced to venture your body’s weight upon its seeming strength. If that lowest link were not within the one above it, but only attached externally by some brittle twig, you would exchange the slippery place of danger for the plunge into inevitable death. It is like the fall of sinner who has risked his soul for the great day on a hope not linked to faith.

2. The relation between hope and love. Hope leans on faith, and love on hope. Love will languish unless blessed hope be underneath. Love’s manifold efforts, stretching out in every direction and leaving no space unoccupied, are like the branches of a fruit tree. A single stem supports and supplies them all, while itself in turn is supported and supplied by the root. So hope, itself sustained by faith, sustains love in its turn. Hope in the heart of the Man of Sorrows bore Him through His labours of love (Hebrews 12:2). Hope is the mainspring of labouring love--hope in the Lord, first for yourself, and then for your neighbour.

The superior magnitude of the last.

1. In its work on earth. It is the only one of the three that reaches other men and directly acts upon them for their good.

(1) “Thy faith hath saved thee,” but what can it do for thy brother? It operates by sustaining and stimulating other graces--“Faith worketh by love.”

(2) Hope in like manner begins and ends in the heart of a disciple. The less that your hope, as such, protrudes itself on the notice of mankind, the better for its own health; but the more it swells within your breast, the more of love will it send forth to bless the world.

(3) On the contrary, it is the nature of love to come out. Unless it act on others it cannot be. Love teaches the ignorant, clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, and is the fulfilling of that law which came latest from the Lord’s own lips: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel unto every creature.”

2. In its performance in heaven. (W.Arnot, D.D.)

Faith, hope, love

1. What a happy grouping, so familiar now that nothing seems more commonplace; but what an inspiration it was when it first flamed out of the soul of the great apostle!

2. We cannot forget that he had the advantage of Greek culture, so it is natural to suppose that he was led to the conception by the three graces. But what a contrast between the Greek and the Christian graces! The one represented chiefly the charms of outward beauty, winsomeness, gleefulness; the other were not mere embellishments of life, but its central forces, the deep springs of all that was true and beautiful and noble in character. Was not that a most significant change? The word “grace” retains its Greek as well as its Christian meaning in our language. We often use it in the old sense, e.g., “grace in every movement of the body,” or “done with a very good grace”; but just think in what a different region of thought and life we are when we speak of grace in its profound Christian sense. There are those who have real grace in the heart, whose manners do but scant justice to that which is within them; and there are those who have succeeded in cultivating outward graces of manner, but are utterly devoid of grace within. Give us both the outward and the inward, if it be possible; but if it must be only one, let it be that which is real and deep and true.

3. But we must look at the triad of Christian graces. The apostle says that they abide while other good things pass away.

4. The contrast in regard to abiding is not between the graces among themselves, but between gifts and graces (1 Corinthians 13:8). This contrast between knowledge, as transitory, is especially interesting now that there is a disposition to speak of faith, etc., as the shadowy things which are rapidly vanishing away, while knowledge is the substantial thing which is sure to hold its ground. Is not faith giving way to agnosticism? Is not hope fading before pessimism? And is not the old idea that love is creation’s final law giving way to the new philosophy which resolves everything into matter and force?

5. Is there any way of testing which is right? If only we could project ourselves forward, say, for 2,000 years, how very satisfactorily we could settle the matter! Would a learned man of the nineteenth century pass for a learned man of the thirty-ninth? Or would he be only as a child? But will not faith, etc., be as powerful and healthful factors in life as they are now? But we must not prophesy. But what if we look 2,000 years back? Where would the wise man of the apostle’s time be alongside of our mighty men of science to-day? Imagine a conversation between Pliny, the elder, and Professor Huxley on biology. The great naturalist of the first century would have to go to school for twenty years before he was ready to begin. Would the apostle Paul have to go to school for twenty years before he could begin to talk with an advanced Christian of the nineteenth century on faith and hope and love? The learning of the time was not at all to be despised. Nor did the apostle at all despise it; only he recognises the fact that it is partial--that in course of time it will be obsolete. We may be sure that this would by no means please the gnostics of the day, as they called themselves. These learned men believed they had reached the ultimate truth. The apostle did not undertake to pronounce on the truth or falsehood of what they taught; only he plainly indicated that it would by and by be out of date, whereas the heavenly faith and hope and love which it was his high calling to set before men would last. Where are the gnostics now? I don’t suppose there is one left in all the world. But faith, etc., inspire as many men now as they did then, and thousands of thousands more!

6. And many other knowledges have passed away besides that of St. Paul’s day in the course of these nineteen centuries. A very striking illustration of this is to be found in the “Paradiso” of Dante. The science of his time is so completely out of date that, without a special study of it, it is impossible to understand what he means at all when he is trying to expound it; and after you do find what he means it is not of the slightest use or permanent value. Ah, but when he soars on the wings of faith and hope and love, we soar with him yet. And they were the same as the apostle’s, only they were not entangled with the errors of the times. A most signal token this of an inspiration far transcending that of Dante. And here we can go back far more than eighteen centuries. Look at Genesis. There is the very oldest book in all the world. Is it obsolete? Compare it with the work of Dante in this respect, and what a contrast! People talk of the conflict between science and faith. There is no such conflict. It is only the conflict between old science and new. All our troubles with scientific opinions have come from our leaving the lofty regions of faith, etc., and descending into the troubled area of shifting scientific knowledge the holy men of old who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, kept quite clear of all these questions. You don’t find them pronouncing opinions on scientific subjects. They kept themselves to their own faith and hope and love.

7. The knowledge that many of us are ambitious, and rightly ambitious, to acquire will no doubt be of great service for many years to come; but faith, hope, and love are just as needful and serviceable for these years; and then their value by no means ends with these years, but lasts on and on for ever. They are the coin current in eternity. Without them we shall be paupers for eternity, however wise and learned and well-equipped for time. (J. Monro Gibson, D.D.)

Faith, hope, charity

These three graces form the essential elements of the Christian character. They are principles implanted in the heart of every true Christian by the Holy Spirit, and always exemplified in his outward walk and conversation.

The nature and effects of faith, hope, and charity.

1. Faith, in its general signification, is credit given to testimony. It is a principle upon which we are continually acting in the ordinary concerns of life. Now the faith spoken of in the text is precisely the same principle, only having a different object and resting upon higher testimony. We cannot penetrate the recesses of the Divine counsels. Faith is a cordial assent to the truth of all the declarations of God’s Word. “Entering into the daily habits and experience of the Christian, this principle is the spring of his most holy tempers, exertions, attainments, and consolations. He lives--he walks--he stands--he perseveres--he fights--he conquers and triumphs, by faith.”

2. Hope is a lively expectation of obtaining those things which we desire; and when we are led by faith to a knowledge of our real condition, we shall obviously desire nothing so much as deliverance from that condition. The principal object of hope will, therefore, be the attainment of eternal salvation through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Hope differs from presumption. When thus grounded upon the everlasting covenant which has been confirmed by the oath of Jehovah, it does afford strong consolation to the true Christian.

3. Charity, like faith and hope, is a stranger to the natural heart. And oh! what a splendid character does it present to us! “How glorious is it as an emanation of Divine goodness when compared with the usual habits of men; when viewed in contrast with the habitually selfish doings of many men, who even profess and call themselves Christians!” It is, at the same time, a character so elevated, that it needs a certain measure of Christian grace to perceive and to love its excellencies.

In what the superiority of charity consists.

1. It is more excellent in its nature. Perfect excellency can be found only in God Himself. It is by this grace, then, that the restoration of the Divine image takes place in our hearts.

2. It is more advanced in order. That is, it ranks higher in the scale of attainment. We must possess faith and hope before we can be actuated by the principle of love. They are the means; this is the end. It is the prize itself of which faith and hope must gradually put us in possession. A magnificent edifice cannot be erected without scaffolding; yet the building is greater than the scaffolding, being the sole end for which that is necessary: and when it is finished the scaffolding is removed as an useless encumbrance.

3. It is more expansive in its exercise. There is a degree of selfishness in faith and hope. They benefit him only who possesses them.

But love, like the sun in the firmament, diffuses its blessings far and wide, and sheds a kindly influence all around.

1. Let us, in conclusion, first, use these graces as a test of our state.

2. Let us seek to abound more in them. (R. Davies, M.A.)


1. Why should hope be placed on a level with faith and charity? We can understand why faith should be so singled out; it is the foundation of religion, the bond between the creature and God. Still more can we understand it of charity, for charity is the likeness of God. But hope is thought of at first sight as a self-regarding quality, and something delusive and treacherous.

2. But it is not really strange that St. Paul should raise hope to a Christian temper of the first order. St. Paul was a student of Scripture, and what is on the very surface of the Bible is the way in which, from first to last, it is one unbroken, persistent call to hope. Hope, never destroyed however overthrown; hope, never obscured amidst the storm and dust of ruin, is the paramount characteristic of the Old Testament, all leads back to hope; if ever it dies, it revives again larger and more confident than before.

Hope elevates and strengthens and inspires. This is why it is one of the greatest elements of the religious temper. There may be a faith almost without hope, a faith which believes though it can see nothing in God’s truth and goodness; “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” But hope is the energy of vigorous faith, the strong self-awakening from discouragement and despair. What gives its moral value to hope, is that, in its higher form, it is a real act and striving of the will and moral nature. Like the highest forms of courage, it is a refusal to be borne down and cowed by evil, a refusal to dwell on the dark side of things. It is thus that hope plays so great a part in the spiritual life, that it fights with such power on the side of God; for it not only receives, welcomes, trusts in God’s promises, but it throws into them life and reality.

Hope is a great instrument of spiritual and moral discipline. We are saved by hope. Long waiting is God’s appointed order for the generations of men. All kinds of fortunes befall the Church, befall us all who are going through our trial time, and we often are tempted to be tired, and oppressed, and out of heart. There must often be much to distress and alarm us, evils which seem without remedy, defeats which seem final. To hope seems to us then like deluding ourselves. And yet how often has it happened in the upshot of things that, if in the very darkest times of history any one had been bold enough to hope, he would have been amply justified! We need not blind ourselves to facts; we have our part to do, and we must deal with it as we may, and as we ought. But the God of hope calls to us out of the darkness, and we are unfaithful to Him if in our wilfulness we shut our ears to His voice and dwell despondingly on the future which is in His hands.

But all that here invites and demands hope is but little to that which is to be when all here shall have been past and over.

1. We may dare to look forward to be sinless. Think of what you know of your own conscience, of your own temptations, of your own fall, of your own struggles for forgiveness and restoration, and then think what it will be to have left all that behind.

2. Then, whatever the function and employment of that perfect state may be, whatever work God may have for us to do, we shall have the will and the power to do it as the angels do. The divided service, the broken purpose, the double mind, the treacheries of the will, the blindness of sell-deceit, the laggard indolence, all that now mars and cripples our sincerest obedience, will then have been purged away, and in all the fulness of truth we shall know how to serve Him with our whole heart.

3. There, in infinite measure, will be all that calls for human affection, and there human affections will he raised to new powers and strength, transfigured, purified, glorified; and there, in ways we cannot dream of now, we shall be brought near to Christ, and be like unto Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (Dean Church.)


1. The root of the word in Anglo-Saxon means, to open the eyes wide and watch for what is to come, as we have seen children do when they expect to see some wonder or receive some gift. Indeed, there is another word closely akin--the word expect, watching for what is to come, the obverse of inspect, looking at what has come.

2. These meanings are the delicate dividing line between Faith and Hope. While Hope expects, Faith inspects; while Hope is like Mary, looking up-ward, Faith is like Martha, looking at-ward; while the light in the eyes of Hope is high, the light in the eyes of Faith is strong; while Hope trembles in expectation, Faith is quiet in possession. Hope leaps out toward what will be, Faith holds on to what is; Hope idealises, Faith realises; Faith sees, Hope foresees.

3. And so it comes that in religion faith is conservative, while hope is progressive. Passing on the Rhine through the fog and mist of Holland as through a stagnant sea, you stretch upward league after league; and as you go the country gradually changes, the air grows clearer, the prospect finer. But the higher you go, the harder is your going. So at last you come into Switzerland, where all about you is a vaster vision, and within you an intenser inspiration than can ever be felt on the foggy flats below. It is the difference between faith alone and faith and hope together.

4. Consider hope, however, as a positive matter. Why, you say, hope is the most intangible thing a man can entertain. “Hope,” says Owen Feltham, “is the bladder a man will take wherewith to learn to swim; then he goes beyond return, and is lost.” But what says Paul? He makes our life a battle, and every man a soldier, and it is not enough that the heart be protected by the shield of faith, the head must be guarded also by the helmet of hope: the one is as indispensable as the other. And a brief glance at the life about us will soon convince you that the man is right, that as Dr. Johnson said, our powers owe very much of their energy to our hope; and whatever enlarges hope exalts courage; and, where there is no hope, there is no endeavour. Here is Cyrus Field conceiving the idea of binding the Atlantic with a cord. In carrying out his idea, the man has two servants to help him--the faith that it can be done, and the hope that he shall do it. With these aids he goes to work. Faith steadies him; hope inspires him. Faith works; hope flies. Faith deliberates; hope anticipates. Faith lets the cable go, and it breaks, and is lost. “Nay, not lost,” cries hope, and fishes it up again. Here is Garibaldi conceiving the idea of a new Italy. He has faith and hope. Austria, Naples, and Rome are against him. But no man knows, or can know, what faith and hope together can do in a man of the pattern of Garibaldi. What they have done for Italy will go ringing down the ages. Very curiously, if you will again, you can see the power of faith without hope illustrated in China. When our ancestors were savages they had advanced about where they are now. But who shall say that China, with the noble qualities no doubt she has, might not have had a peerless place in the world, had she held herself hopeful and expectant, continually, toward every new idea and discovery?

5. And this fact of hope and its influence has some important applications.

(1) To religion. It is entirely essential “to remember that, when this man tells his friends to take for a helmet the hope of salvation, he meant the hope he himself was rushing through the world to proclaim. In the England of John Wesley numbers of men were his peers in faith. But Wesley had more hopefulness in his little finger than any other man of them had in his whole body. And so wherever Wesley went men caught the contagion of his great hope, and then ran tirelessly as long as they lived, kindling over all the world.

(2) To life generally. Young men and women, with this life mainly before you, get this hope. Make sure that there is not a day but brings you nearer to some Divine surprise of blessing, some great unfolding of God’s wry glory. Men and women in middle life, with the bloom gone from some things that seemed very beautiful as they lay glistening in the dew of the morning, whatever you do, never let a painful inspection rob you of a great expectation. If, as you live, you try to live faithfully, then, as the Lord liveth, try to live hopefully, or you will miss the better half of your living. (R. Collyer, D.D.)


1. In the text the word is translated charity. In Wickliffe’s time, however, love and charity were as nearly related as charity and benevolence are now. This can be understood if we will remember that charity and dear, in the sense of precious, belong to the one root. They spring from what was common enough when they were born--dearth or scarcity. Food was then precious, much esteemed, much loved. Then good bread was dear, not as it is now to us in money value merely, but in this primitive value of something to love, a small piece being given to the children sometimes on a Sunday, as a very precious thing.

2. What, then, is this love? It is a word traceable to many different roots. That could not be otherwise. Love would naturally be one of the very first things the most abject savages must find a name for, after getting a word to express each of the bare needs of life. The first time the man of the forest tried to win a maiden in some higher way than by carrying her off by force, he would need the word. The first time the mother had to tell of the mysterious glow in her heart toward her babe in its helplessness, she would need the word. And so love, in one root, is longing; in another, goodness; in another, preference; but, to me, the right rests at last in the Teutonic word leben--life. “This is life,” these children of nature said, when they first began to be conscious of this glowing wonder in their hearts. “You are my life,” the man said when he went to win the maiden; and the mother, when she caught her nursling to her heart. Love is to live; and not to love is not to live. And it was exactly the definition of John, when he wanted to tell of the nearest and dearest of all the relations the soul can hold to God.

3. And so, while faith is inreaching, and hope outlooking, love is inbeing. By faith I stand; by hope I soar, by love I am. Faith assures me, hope inspires me; love is me, at my best.

4. And it is only as we keep, close to this idea and fact that we can prevent love being confounded with other and baser things, that, getting mixed up with it in our own language, act like the baser metals mixed up in the coinage of a country, giving the real gold and silver a lower relative value, and debasing the whole fair standard of commonwealth. Love, for example, is not lust. Because love, for whatever may in itself be good, adds just so much as there is in what I love to life; while lust for that very thing exhausts life. When the young man, living in a room, eating in a restaurant, and troubled about more things than ever Martha was, feels at last how contracted and poor such a life is at the best, and says in his heart, “This is not living: I must get me a wife,” whatever may be his idea of the wife he wants, the word he uses to describe his condition reaches away into the truth. It is not living: it is just half living, and probably not that. His heart is crying out for the rest of his life. But there is that calling itself love which is lust--something that seeks not a life, but an appanage to life, and reaps for its sowing a harvest of gray ashes. Love informs life; lust exhausts it. Love is the shining sun, lust is the wandering star.

5. But, beside such special applications, there is no direction in which we can turn but this spirit meets us with its sweet, solemn face. Consider the lesson we have learned in our war. When we plunged into that red sea, the gentlemen of England were looking on. The few said we should hold our own; the multitude said we had gone under. What made this difference? The few loved us, so that Faith stood square, and Hope plumed her wings, and they became the glad ministers of their leader and guide. The many did not love us. They had no faith in us and no hope for us, because they had no love. When a man really loves, it piles great stores of love into his heart; so that he may even come to some dreadful pass where faith and hope fail him, and yet love shall carry him through. When the father wants to put his son on the way to success, if he is a wise man, he most anxiously tries to find out where the lad’s love lies; for there, he knows, he will have faith and hope, because the love will be a perpetual inspiration; while, to put him to what he can never love, will only exhaust and disgust him, until at last it is given up in despair. (R. Collyer, D.D.)

The three Divine sisters

When those three goddesses, say the poets, strove for the golden ball, Paris adjudged it to the queen of Love. Here are three celestial graces striving for the chiefdom; and our apostle gives it to love. Not that other daughters are black, but that Charity excels in beauty (Proverbs 31:29). All stars are bright, though “one star may differ from another in glory.” These are three strings often touched: faith, whereby we believe all God’s promises to be true, and ours; hope, whereby we wait for them with patience; charity, whereby we testify what we believe and hope. He that hath fallen cannot distrust; he that hath hope cannot be put from anchor; he that hath charity will not lead a licentious life, for “love keeps the commandments.” Let us treat them--

1. Comparatively.

1. Faith is that grace which makes Christ ours, and all His benefits. God gives it (1 Corinthians 12:9); by the Word preached (Romans 10:17); for Christ’s sake (Philippians 1:29). This virtue is no sooner given of God, but it gives God (Romans 8:32). “Without this it is impossible to please God “ (Hebrews 11:6). Let us not otherwise dare to come into His presence.

2. Hope is the sweetest friend that ever kept a distressed soul company; it beguiles the tediousness of the way, all the miseries of our pilgrimage.

(1) It holds the head whilst it aches, and gives invisible drink to the thirsty conscience. It is a liberty to them that are in prison, and the sweetest physic to the sick. St. Paul calls it an anchor (Hebrews 6:19). Let the winds blow, and the storms beat, and the waves swell, yet the anchor stays the ship. It breaks through all difficulties, and makes way for the soul to follow it. It teacheth Abraham to expect fruit from a withered stock; and Joseph in a dungeon to look for the sun and stars’ obeisance. Though misery be present, comfort absent, though thou canst spy no deliverance, yet such is the nature of hope, that it speaks of future things as if they were present (Romans 8:24).

(2) These are the comforts of hope. Now, that you may not be deceived, there is a thing like hope, which is not it. There is a bold and presumptuous hope, an ignorant security and ungrounded persuasion, the very illusion of the devil, that how wickedly soever a man shall live himself, yet still he hopes to be saved by the mercy of God. Against this hope we shut up the bosom of consolation.

3. Charity is an excellent virtue, and therefore rare. The proper and immediate object of our love is God. This is the great commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” etc. The subordinate object is man, and his love is the effect of the former cause, and an actual demonstration of the other inward affection. Love is the abridgment of the law, the new precept of the gospel. Luther calls it the shortest and the longest divinity: short, for the form of words; long, yea, everlasting, for the use and practice; for “charity shall never cease.”


1. The distinction between faith and hope is nice. I will reduce the differences into three respects.

(1) Of order: Paul gives faith the precedency (Hebrews 11:1-40.). Hope may in some sort be said to be the daughter of faith. For it is as impossible for a man to hope for that which he believes not, as for a painter to draw a picture in the air. Indeed, more is believed than is hoped for; but nothing is hoped for which is not believed.

(2) Of office: faith is the Christian’s logic; hope his rhetoric. Faith perceives what is to be done, hope gives alacrity to the doing it. The difference between faith and hope is that between wisdom and valour. Valour without wisdom is rashness, wisdom without valour is cowardice. Faith without hope is knowledge without valour to resist Satan; hope without faith is rash presumption and an indiscreet daring.

(3) Of object: faith’s object is the absolute word and infallible promise of God: hope’s object is the thing promised. Faith looks to the word of the thing, hope to the thing of the word. So that faith hath for its object the truth of God; hope, the goodness of God. Faith is of things both good and bad, hope of good things only. A man believes there is a hell as truly as he believes there is a heaven; but he fears the one, and hopes only for the other. In some sense hope excels faith. For there is a faith in the devils. Hope, a confident expectation of the mercy of God; this they can never have. This is the life of Christians, and the want makes devils (1 Corinthians 15:19).

2. Charity differs from them both. These three Divine graces are a created trinity; and as there the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from them both; so a true faith begets a constant hope, and from them proceeds charity. “Thus is God’s temple built in our hearts,” saith Augustine: the foundation whereof is faith; hope the erection of the walls; charity the perfection of the roof. In the godly all these three are united. We believe in God’s mercy, we hope for His mercy, and we love Him for His mercy. Faith says, there are good things prepared: hope says, they are prepared for me: charity says, I endeavour to walk worthy of them.

Superlatively. “The greatest of these is charity.”

1. Objections.

(1) The principal promises are made to believers. So no less a promise is made to lovers (Romans 8:28). “God,” saith the Psalmist, “is near to those that call upon Him,” but He is within those that love Him (1 John 4:17).

(2) If charity be greater than faith, then is not man justified by faith only. Inconsequentillation! St. Paul commends not love for the virtue of justification. A prince doth excel a peasant: shall any man therefore infer that he can plough better, or have more skill in tillage? A philosopher doth excel a mechanic, though he cannot grind so well as a miller, or limn so cunningly as a painter. Faith is able to justify of itself, not to work of itself (Galatians 5:6). The hand alone can receive an alms, but cannot cut a piece of wood without an axe or some instrument. Faith is in the Christian’s hand: add love to it, and it worketh by love. So that the one is our justification before God, and the other our testification before men.

2. Wherein consisteth this high transcendency of charity?

(1) For latitude, love is the greatest. Faith and hope are restrained within the limits of our particular persons. “The just man lives by his own faith,” and hopes good to himself; but love is like the vine (Psalms 80:8), or the sun in the sky, that throws his comfortable beams upon all, and forbears not to warm even that earth that beareth weeds.

(2) For perpetuity. Faith lays hold on God’s gracious promise for everlasting salvation; hope expects this with patience; but when God shall fulfil His word, and us with joy, then faith shall be at an end, hope at an end, but love shall remain between God and us an everlasting bond.

(3) For the honour and likeness it hath unto God. Faith and hope make not a man like God, but charity doth.

(4) In respect of its titles, charity excelleth. It is the new commandment: faith was never called so. It is the bond of perfection: faith is not so termed. It is the fulfilling of the law: where hath failed such a title?

(5) Charity is more noble, for it is a better thing to give than to receive. Faith and hope are all of the taking hand.

(6) For manifestation. Faith and hope are things unseen, and may be dissembled, but charity cannot be without visible fruits; therefore the only trial of faith and hope is by charity. Conclusion: Why speaks Paul of no more than three? St. Peter mentions eight (2 Peter 1:6), and St. Paul in another place nine (Galatians 5:22). Why are all these left out here? Because they are comprehended under these three: as to the trade of a stationer, some are required to print, some to correct, some to fold, others to bind, and others to garnish; yet all belongs to one trade There be many rays, and but one sun.

2. As these three fair sisters came down from heaven, so the devil sends up three foul fiends from hell: against faith, infidelity; against hope, desperation; against charity, malice. He that entertains the elder sister “is already condemned” (John 3:18). He that embraceth the second, bars up against himself the possibility of all comfort, because he offends the mercy of God, and tramples under foot that blood which is held out to his unaccepting hand. He that welcomes malice, welcomes the devil himself. (T. Adams.)

The three sisters

If I were to sketch a picture of these three sisters, I should not make--as is often done--three graceful figures, beautiful in countenance and expressive in form and attitude, twining their arms together. That may be very artistic and imaginative; it is not very practical. I should rather paint them as in one room together. Faith, bending over a book--the Book of God--her face all glowing with hallowed emotion, yet full of the deep calm of Divine, inward peace, as she reads the “exceeding great and precious promises.” Hope, sitting in the window-seat, and gazing, with earnest, dreaming eyes, and face serenely bright, upon the setting sun; watching intently, as the amber clouds open their gates, and, in fancy, admit her into the city of everlasting light. Love, turning her tender looks now on the one sister, and now on the other, and smiling a smile caught from Christ, as she thinks of the widow and the fatherless, cheered and comforted by the garments at which her hands are working. (R. Tuck, B. A.)

The three graces

Their excellence..

1. Faith. It unites to Christ. It secures our justification. It is the great power in our present life: “The just shall live by faith.”

2. Hope. It brightens the present by brightening the future.

3. Love. What a wilderness the world would be without love!

Their continuance. It is better to have lost the extraordinary gifts than these graces.

Their relative value. Love the greatest.

1. It has longer continuance.

2. It is more useful to others.

3. It makes men like God in character. (Clerical World.)

The triple graces

Things and beings appear, in many cases, by some law of universal power and faithfulness, in groups and clusters--stars, e.g., and flowers, animals, etc. The same law gives existence to villages and towns. It is a rare thing when people like to live far away from others. The same element runs through all in religion. People of the same views, motives, and feelings collect together for sympathy and assistance. The same law governs politics, science, commerce. You will find virtues and graces in groups. Consider--

These triple graces in themselves, and some things wherein they differ. They are in the mind; apart from the mind they can have no existence. In themselves they are abstractions, which can have no existence but as parts or actions of some other fit subjects.

1. Faith is the confiding attitude of the mind, relying on stone object or resource believed by itself, by evidence or experience sufficient to sustain or meet its wants and wishes. It is the power of uniting weakness with strength, need with plenty, misery with happiness, man’s sinfulness and despair with Divine grace and merciful provision.

2. Hope is the soul turning its face to the good and happiness of the future. It is the vanguard of the soul, on its travel forward in the wilderness of life.

3. Charity is the attitude of the soul embracing the lovely and the pure. It is the cultivated state of the soil of the soul, like a well-weeded, pulverised garden, bearing rich and fragrant flowers. The soul in this state morally is both strong and happy; but to make it safe and broad it needs the light and evidence of faith, and the prophetic eye and encouragement of hope.

4. Though these graces belong to one system, they differ--

(1) In the way they view their objects. Faith seeks its object through the light of evidence, hope through the good and the happy, and charity through the beautiful and lovely.

(2) In the conscious sentiments they produce in the soul. Faith makes the soul strong and confident, hope sanguine and anxious, and charity satisfied and happy.

(3) In the soil they grow in, and the elements which feed and mature them. Faith grows in the soil of intelligence, and is fed by reason, evidence, and experience; hope grows in sympathy with the future, and a desire to know and possess its goodness, and is fed by its own intuitive faith and possession of the good and the happy; charity grows in tenderness, beneficence, and the social feeling of the soul for communion with the beautiful and lovely, and is fed by manifestation of love, faith, and hope.

(4) In their action, and the way they express themselves. Faith acts boldly, and expresses itself fearlessly; hope acts more timidly, and expresses itself with patience and submission; charity acts calmly, expressing itself with chastened sweetness and joyful exaltation.

(5) In the service they render to the soul. Faith educates its intelligence, and would perserve it from dull blindness and superstitious ignorance; hope sustains and encourages it in the dark day and weary night of its earthly abode; and charity educates it, in all its sentiments, into refinement and beauty, so as to make it a happy companion to itself and others.

In their union and necessity.

1. They are united,

(1) In their source. Every good gift finally must be traced to one common fountain of Divine goodness.

(2) In common sympathy and attachment. They are made for one another; they could not live apart.

(3) In their work and end. What one cannot do the other does; and what they cannot do separately they complete unitedly.

(4) In the means of their strength and advancement--the Spirit of God, through the provision of the economy of grace.

2. Their necessity in the system of Christian life. They are needful--

(1) As means by which the soul of man can apprehend the different sides in the economy of truth and Divine provision.

(2) To develop and perfect the soul in its various sides and powers.

(3) From the demands made upon man.

(a) For daily duty.

(b) For warfare and defence.

The pre-eminence of charity. It is the greatest--

1. In the quality of its nature. It has a refinement and purity which is not to be found in the same manner and degree in the others. “God is love.” Love is the Divine nature in man.

2. In the sway of its power. Faith is power, and has done mighty works; so is hope, and has long and far walked over arid and thorny lands to its Canaan of good; but when faith falters and hope faints, love supports and comforts still.

3. As a source of comfort and happiness to the soul. The company of love is always sweet.

4. As it approaches the nearest to God. God is in the hand of faith, He is in the eye of hope, but He is in the heart of love.

5. In useful results.

6. As the greatest advancing power. No one can advance in anything much unless he loves it.

7. In attraction and motive. Love drives no one away; it draws to itself even those who are void of any impelling motive in themselves.

The abiding character of these graces. There is a prevalent belief that faith and hope are only transient. But what is the evidence of such a belief? It is said that faith and hope will be done away with, because all will be seen in heaven. But surely I need it as a power of confiding trust, when I see the object as well as when I do not see it. Is hope also not requisite relative to the continued safety and duration of the good we possess, as much as the possession of the unseen? But we cannot accept of the assertion that all will be seen and possessed at once in heaven. Can all the future be packed into one moment? Can all its objects and visions be contracted into one small point? It is again said, but all will be safe. But do I not want faith to comfort me as well as to defend me, to unite me with God, as well as to put me under His shield? Do I not also want hope in the enjoyment of the good, as well as in the search after it? Nothing good we have will be taken from us, but perfected. In order to sustain this view, note--

1. These powers are essentially united together, so as to make one system of power in the mind.

2. They are alike powers of the soul. Christianity has not created them; it has only directed them to higher objects, purified their quality, and given them new direction and impetus. If one of them were to be done away with, the soul would be incomplete, and would be unfit to do its work and enjoy its blessings. If the triangle were deprived of one of its sides, it would no longer be a triangle; so if one of these triangular sides of the soul were done away with, it would no longer be the rational and responsible identical soul which man has in this world; he would not only be a different being, but a smaller and a less perfect one than now he is.

3. Faith and hope are essential to dependent and limited beings. We cannot think it possible for finite beings to exist without them, for the source of their being, and the comprehension of their good, are all outside themselves.

4. The continuance of faith and hope is needful for the perpetuation of love. Could you love a person or an object in whom or in which you have no faith? And is not your hope for the good and the beautiful a part of your love towards them?

5. It is difficult to think that happiness is possible in the absence of faith and hope.

6. They are among the noblest of the gifts of God, and such things are not given to be recalled or destroyed. (T. Hughes.)

The three graces

Whatever may be the path of our future experience we shall need as much as ever, perhaps more, the “abiding” sense of the presence and help of this holy and beautiful sisterhood of Christian virtues.

Faith. Faith has wings; but unlike the wings that Solomon gives to riches, faith is busy in gathering instead of scattering her treasures. Faith has wings because she is “a stranger and sojourner” on the earth. But although without a home here she has a home, and mounting up with the wings of eagles, she lives in a congenial clime, “seeing him who is invisible.” Matthew Henry says, “We cannot expect too little from man, nor too much from God.” But in God we can have faith. His wisdom is without the admixture of error; His heart infinitely kind; His power without restraint.

Hope. Faith has wings, and like the wings of the cherubim in Ezekiel’s vision, they are “full of eyes”; and these eyes are full of sparkling hope. By a strange paradox, the castles built by sense are vapoury visions, while the buildings of faith are substantial and enduring. Hope builds on faith, and faith builds on God, “that our faith and hope may be in God.” Faith is the child in the house, who knows his filial relationship though the parent is absent. Hope is the child at the window, expecting the parent’s return. A prisoner, detained in his cell for some supposable reason, after he had received his pardon, would be saved both by faith and hope; faith, in the word that announced his pardon would assure him of salvation; the prospect of release from his prison cell would be his bright hope; at the hour of his departure he would “receive the end of his faith”--full deliverance.


1. Love is “greatest” by reason of its dignity. Both faith and hope are receptive in their character; but love is communicative, therefore is it “greatest,” for “it is more blessed to give than to receive”!

2. Love is “greatest” by reason of age--it is the eldest. Love can say--before faith and hope were “I am.” It was the flower of Eden, but its first growth was not there, for it was transplanted from the garden of heaven, and blossomed in the bosom of God “from everlasting.”

3. Love is “greatest” by reason of its strength. “Love is strong as death.” How firm a hold does death take of its captives! This aspect of love has several relations.

(1) There is God’s love to us. When we see this we are taken captive by love at its will. It is a power magnetic. We love because first loved.

(2) There is our love to God. How weak, alas! the measure of it; but how potent its quality! No motive for service can be compared with it; nor anything in service sustain like it.

(3) Hence our power with men. As God “commendeth His love to us” by His love, and we by love commend our service to God, so must we commend ourselves to men. Love makes us kingly, and hearts are ever ready to do homage to all who rule with love’s sceptre. (Anon)

The Christian’s abiding graces

The nature and use of these three graces.

1. Faith means a belief, on the testimony of God, of things which we do not perceive by our senses, and which we could not find out in any other way. It is directly opposed to sight, and signifies our looking to things invisible. It is the looking-out of the immortal spirit from its corporeal prisonhouse, to catch a glimpse of some nobler and happier form of existence. It is the commencement of spiritual life in the soul. It may be at first like the springing of seed sown, or like the movements of life in the newly breathing infant. But that, once commenced, is a momentous event; the birth of a principle which will continue to operate; the beginning of a life which will go on without end. Faith brings all the great truths and motives of the gospel so vividly before the mind, and keeps them so habitually present to the thoughts, as to prove a most powerful, practical, and purifying principle, carrying the views beyond things seen to things unseen, giving the soul a superiority over the power of this world, and so influencing effectually the whole conduct and course of life.

2. Hope means an expectation of those promised blessings as our eternal portion. Faith respects our belief of these blessings, as provided for all believers; hope respects our expectation of these blessings, as being ourselves believers. Faith gives our souls a connection with the Saviour, which secures our salvation, though our hope should be but low. Hope imparts to our souls a peace and support amidst the trials and duties of life, which, though not essential in any particular degree to our salvation, yet is requisite so far, as preventing despondency of mind under spiritual trials, as proving a source of the highest enjoyment to the heart of man in this world, and as supplying the strongest encouragement to steadfastness and diligence in God’s service. It is not a mere confident expectation of safety and happiness, which might be a mere delusion, and which is too often strongest where the grounds are weakest; but it is closely connected with a humble acceptance of Christs salvation, and a cordial obedience to His commandments.

3. Charity is the sovereign principle from which every active service to God or man must flow.

The peculiar excellence of charity or love, as the greatest of all these Christian graces. Here, however, we must beware of separating one part of the Christian character from another; and while we exalt one grace, must not overlook or undervalue the rest. Observe then distinctly, that all these three must exist together, otherwise none of them can be genuine, “now abideth faith, hope, charity; these three.” They must all be present, “these three”; all abide or dwell in company in our hearts, as heavenly principles, implanted there, and necessary to be there for our salvation. They are thus not only equally alike the work of Christ’s Spirit; but they derive much of their respective excellences and uses from one another, and from operating along with one another. As well might you think of taking any part of the body out of its place, and speaking of its beauty and use, when thus separated from the rest of that living frame, as to take any of these graces by itself, and then speak of its use or excellence without the others. When it is said, therefore, that “the greatest of them is charity,” it is, first of all, to be kept in mind that charity is nothing without the rest, and that from them it derives even much of its greatness. Charity is not the greatest, as if it could stand in the place of faith and hope. It is not great at all without them, and it cannot do their part; no more than the hand could do the office of the eye or the ear. It is nevertheless the greatest of all, as here declared.

1. Because it is the evidence of the rest, and the earnest of that salvation being begun in our souls, which they call us to seek and look for, as our portion.

2. Because it is the end, of which faith and hope are only the means. Faith and hope are the heavenly remedies, the health-giving streams, from which we must draw the reviving energy of Divine grace; but love is the spiritual soundness, that very state of health in the soul which is the end of these streams having been opened to us, and of our being invited to take freely their living waters. It is the celestial fruit, for the sake of which the root of faith is planted, and the blossoms of hope are cherished: it is “the fruit of the Spirit of all grace.”

3. Because it is more particularly the Spirit of God Himself, the peculiar excellence which we are called to imitate in Him as our Father.

4. Because it is the most permanent of all these graces, and forms the principal occupation and enjoyment of the heavenly state.

(1) Inquire how far these three are abiding in your hearts, or how far at least you are desiring to have them there.

(2) Follow after charity, as the fruit, the evidence, the ornament of them all. (J. Brewster.)

The greatness of faith and hope

Here are three great and good things--man’s untroubled confidence in the wisdom, power, and lovingkindness of his Father in heaven; man’s happy and confident expectation of all that which the Divine Word does describe and promise; and man’s living likeness to the pity, patience, long-suffering, and graciousness of his God--faith, hope, and charity. These three great and good things have one attribute in common--they all abide. In many respects faith is unlike hope, and both of them essentially differ from charity. But in the permanence of their power and glory they are alike great. They are not transient things speedily rendering a little service, and then passing away for ever; they are not things which may be of value to-day, but will be of no use to-morrow. In this respect the apostle contrasts them with other things of worth and power mentioned in the preceding verses of the chapter, but which were designed only for special circumstances and for temporary service. Those which did not abide were the miraculous gifts possessed by the first preachers of the Cross and their immediate successors. In forcible contrast to those things which were only transient and which belonged only to the age of the Church’s infancy and feebleness, there are these three which abide--faith, hope, and charity. Their beauty is immortal, they are unfailing sources of power, and must be found in the Church militant as long as time shall last and the earth shall preserve its place amidst the circling worlds. Yes, prophets may fail, and miracles may cease, but the world will always need men who calmly trust in God, and steadfastly look for brighter days and better things, and whose hearts are being restored to the lost image of their Creator. Amidst all changes, and let perish what will perish, there must abide these three--faith, hope, charity. You are aware that it is not my purpose now to speak of the greatest of these essential and abiding graces. I am to speak only of the greatness of the first and second--faith and hope. The mistake is to disparage faith in order to extol charity; the mistake of thinking that because charity is supreme in its greatness and blessedness, faith must be a little matter and of little moment. It is a folly on our part to suppose we can magnify one virtue by depreciating another. If a man were to come to me and say, “I do not think much of this belief, this faith, this trust, about which you speak so much, charity is the greatest thing,” the reply is very obvious: “Yes, charity is greater than faith, but if faith be the trifling thing you represent it, charity may be greater and yet not be a giant.” He who dwarfs faith dwarfs charity also; he who magnifies faith and hope, does also magnify that charity which is greater than they. If I can show you how great faith in God is; how much it has to do with the peace of a man’s conscience, with the joy of a man’s heart, with the vigour of his spiritual life--how it arms and nerves a man for conflict with evil; how it shields him in temptation and sustains him in affliction; if I can show you how great a thing hope is, how it has power to make a dark present bright with a light borrowed from a far-off future; how it strengthens men for work, and puts courage into the fainting spirit, I shall have helped you to form a juster judgment of the greatness of the love which surpasses both these graces. It is not often that charity and hope, are spoken of as rivals. Men do not often slight hope in order to extol charity. Faith suffers most from this rivalry, and I shall now leave hope and confine my remarks entirely to faith, contenting myself with what I have said of the greatness of hope. In pursuing my task, I shall not attempt any metaphysical analysis or elaborate description of faith. The inspired apostle, with all his peerless gifts, did not adopt that difficult method of treating the subject. In the immortal chapter in the letter to the Hebrews, there is only one brief definition, and there is no description or analysis. Like a practical man of God as he was, the apostle showed faith at work, and left men to learn its worth and power from its labour and its results. I shall try to show you faith in action; and as we see what it can do, and what it enables men to do, we shall surely be persuaded that, though it is not so great as love, it is still very great, and blessed. I shall venture to take my first illustration from that tender and touching story told by our Lord, which never loses its freshness or force. A younger son was eager for freedom, and greedy of pleasure. In every scheme that he formed for his future felicity the central idea was that he should be free from all restraint--have nothing to do and everything to enjoy, acknowledge no law but his own devices, obey no lord but his own dominant passions. He demanded his patrimony, gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, where he wasted his substance in riotous living. One excess followed another till everything was gone, and revelry and luxury had to be exchanged for wretchedness and want. When his delusive dreams were ended, he awoke to seriousness and sadness. The madness of passion passed away and he came to himself. At once his thoughts reverted to the home he had forsaken, to the father against whom he had sinned. He determined to retrace his wandering steps, and revisit the bright and happy spot where he knew, by personal experience, that love ruled and plenty prevailed. But there was something deeper in the prodigal’s heart than his sense of shame, and something stronger than his consciousness of guilt; it was his confidence in his father’s lovingkindness. He doubted not, he did not mistrust. He was covered with shame and ignominy, in which his kinsfolk must participate. His hope was created and sustained by his faith in his father’s compassion. By his faith be was saved. If he had been destitute of that, he could not have begun the journey, or, beginning it, he could not have persevered in it. Doubtless, conscience and memory were busy, and sometimes they would suggest the question, “Will you be accepted, will not the door be shut against you, will they acknowledge you for a kinsman, a brother, a son?” And then would faith rise and subdue these fears, and would say, “Take courage, poor fainting heart!--push on in thy homeward way, love waits for thee; there, love longs for thy coming, and will give thee pardon, peace, and dignity again.” Was not his faith a great thing to the returning prodigal? Did not it render to him service which charity could not have rendered? Men and brethren, my companions in transgression, there are times when our most urgent want is, not charity to each other, but a living faith in a gracious God. Our own hearts condemn us, and we remember that God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things. In such seasons, the great thing to give us peace and hope is an unfaltering trust in the compassionate love of Him who has made provision for our pardon in the death of His own Son. Having seen the worth of faith in the heart of a penitent sinner, let us next glance at its importance to the great sufferer. The experience of St. Paul will furnish us with an illustration. There are some people who are so complaining, and who so parade their troubles that when first we know them we think them the most afflicted of mankind. There are others so bright and cheerful that their woes are much hidden from us. When we do realise the multitude and magnitude of his troubles, we are amazed that his contentment and joy could live through them all. The secret is found in his unfailing faith that God was supreme, and would ordain nothing which was not good, and would permit nothing which he could not overrule for good. Faith goes to the home where for years they have been’ vainly striving to cast out poverty; to the home where affliction has long had power, and where sorrow in some ghastly form has made its dwelling-place; she goes where the chamber is darkened, the hearth desolated, and the heart broken by the presence of death, and she is questioned as to the final outcome of all these labouring evils. What are they, and what are they doing? She answers in most emphatic tones, “They are God’s workpeople. They are helping to weave robes of light for the glorified to wear, and to construct crowns for the redeemed to cast at the Redeemer’s feet, and to make joy-cups from which the dwellers in heaven shall drink!” Reason responds, “I cannot see that they are God’s servants, much less can I see that they are working for such ends as you affirm.” Again faith replies, “I know you are too dim-sighted to see this, but I am not too feeble to believe it.” The faith which can contemplate the sorrows of life in this spirit may not be the greatest of the graces, and yet be able to serve as efficiently under circumstances in which charity could not meet our greatest necessity. It is of little direct use to preach long homilies about charity when troubles are many, and calamities are crushing. If we be wise we shall then urge the sufferer to cherish simple faith in the God of love. We shall say, “Believe that He who gives is also He who takes away! He changes His methods of action sometimes; but He never changes His wisdom for folly, His love for unkindness.” The faith in God by which temptation was defeated and the tempter was silenced, and by which the Son of Man came off more than a conqueror in that dread conflict, on whose issues the destinies of our race seemed to hang, cannot be a little thing! Thousands of Christ’s disciples have used the same shield with like happy issues. They have been in difficulty and poverty, and have been tempted to make their escape by sinful methods. By their trust in God they have triumphed. The faith in God and the Saviour which enables a man to look into the face of the King of Terrors must not be slighted or scorned. Blessed be the well-grounded Christian confidence which can meet death with this greeting: “ Thou art God’s faithful messenger to me. Thou canst not destroy me. I am sure that through darkness is the way to everlasting light, and through the anguish of mortality is the way to the glories of immortality. Thou art only come to make me begin to live.” In the Word of God the origin and fruitfulness of religion are always associated with faith. Is religion called “a life”? The life we live is by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Is religion called a pilgrimage? We walk by faith. Is the religious man assaulted? By faith we stand. Is he a warrior? He is told “above all” to take the shield of faith. Does he set his heart on complete triumph? This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. (C. Vince.)

The three stages

The threefold development of religion in the soul. Faith, hope, and charity are not absolutely distinct principles. In each there is a fusion of the other two. In dealing with the bold characteristics of religious advancement, we must seek, not differences, but stages.

1. Faith is the apprehension of the truth as the means of our salvation.

2. Hope is the apprehension of salvation by the truth.

3. Charity is the outflow of salvation from the heart. The stages are evident--faith finds the Saviour, hope delights in Him, but love desires to exhibit Him to others for their acceptance. We are justified by faith, delighted by hope, consecrated by love.

The last stage is greater than its forerunners.

1. Charity assimilates the heart to the life of Christ. Faith brings us to the Saviour, but love makes us like Him.

2. Love makes the Church a power for good. The generous heart is the power which brings the love of God to bear on men’s stubborn hearts. There is no cross too heavy, and no sacrifice too great for love.

3. The influence of love is more abiding. Faith will be turned into sight, and hope into possession, but love will continue the ruling passion of the world. (Weekly Pulpit.)

The greatest grace

Charity is--

Intrinsically excellent. Faith and hope, however good and useful, derive their value from the limitation of our nature.

1. Faith is necessary because we have not personal knowledge of objects. What is beyond the range of our bodily organs and intuitive feelings is alone an object of faith.

2. And so there is implied in hope something more or better than we have; only those that are imperfectly blessed can hope. Faith implies something without, hope something beyond, us.

3. God cannot believe, for “He fills immensity”; He cannot hope, for “He inhabits eternity.” But He can love; and the more we have of this gracious disposition, the more we are assimilated to that glorious Being who “giveth all things” and “needeth not anything,” who has no necessity but that of doing good.

The most independent grace. Faith and hope, however rich and strong, are recipients, to a great extent. But it is the glorious distinction of charity that, instead of recognising a good that exists, it forms a plan of originating one that is not. This is its description: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; seeketh not her own.” While faith and hope are the ample vessels of grace, charity is its free fountain; while they are its reverent worshippers, it is its self-denying missionary. They accept, but it dispenses; they regard self, it looks not on its own things, but on the things of others.

The end of which faith and hope are means. Whatever is imparted to us, in the form of present truth and prospective good, is with a view to some result. God can have no lower or other design than the sanctification of our entire nature: and what is that but the shedding of His love abroad in it by the Holy Ghost, constraining us to all good works? “Love is the fulfilling of the law,” and of the gospel. Faith is the nourishment of love, hope is its luxurious entertainment. Faith is the soil in which it grows, hope is the bright sunshine that quickens and beautifies it. Love cannot be intelligent unless it be taught of God, and cannot be free and cheerful unless He smile upon it.

Permanent. In a sense doubtless we shall believe and hope in a future state; but in that state there will be the realised enjoyment of the main objects of present belief and pursuit. In that state will be fulfilled, not comparatively as here, but to a glorious extent of accomplishment, the strong representations of our context. We shall “see face to face,” we shall “know even as we are known.” But love will undergo no change of this sort: its change will be of another kind. The perfection that lessens the need and intensity of other graces will increase the power and enlarge the sphere of love. Conclusion:

1. If charity is the greatest, so manifestly let us beware of losing sight of its pre-eminent excellence. Many put faith before it. Forgetting the real nature and office of faith, they dishonour the charity that dwells in others, and suppress instead of cherishing it in themselves. No spectacle of Christian error is more painful than that of a man taking his stand on faith and violating charity. If we must err at all, let it be on the side of the “greatest” thing; and, erring or not, let us never forget that whatever is accurate in belief, and pleasant in hope, is far exceeded by love, and has its use and worth only in its promotion.

2. Ponder the emphatic words of verses 1-3. What a thought, for a man to be nothing! nothing, and yet gifted with spiritual faculties; speaking angelic tongues; though impoverishing himself to relieve his brethren; though yielding up His life in defence of faith! Oh, receive the love of God into your hearts, and that shall be in you a fountain of all charity; you shall love like God as well as rejoice in His love: and be something for ever! (A. J. Morris.)

The crowning grace

Do not mistake Paul, as though he derogated from faith and hope. He says they are great, though love is the greatest.

In point of rank. Faith and hope are of the operation of God, but love is from His heart: by love we are let into God. We are called to be strong in faith, to abound in hope, but to be perfect in love! We are to put on the shield of faith, the helmet of hope, but, above all, put on charity.

1. It decides the genuineness of faith and hope. Faith cannot work without love--it is the animation of faith. And hope maketh not ashamed, “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” Faith some times has doubts, hope has fears, charity always hopes; yea, when faith and hope both stop, charity believeth, hopeth, does their work.

2. It is the end, of which faith and hope are but the means; the labour of love raises the top stone. Faith is the root, hope the buds, love is the fruit of the Christian’s tree.

3. Faith and hope are essential to man as a sinner, but love was his religion before he was a sinner, and it is now by love that he rises above his fall and forms alliance with heaven. Love is the religion of heaven 1 Wonder not, then, that love is the foremost fruit of the Spirit, the end of the commandment, the fulfilling of the law--the royal law--that it sits on the throne--the queen of graces.

In point of utility. Faith and hope are selfish graces--private props. Charity is to others like the sun in the firmament--goes about doing good. Personally, she visits the sick, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked; has a wise head, and attentive ear, a quick eye, a heart! makes others’ woes, etc.; has an eloquent tongue, an open hand: “When the ear heard me, then it blessed me, and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me.” Thus she pursues her way; if contradicted, is not easily provoked; whatever is said of her, she thinketh no evil; she overlooks not the temporal interests of man, but chiefly regards the spiritual, and such as take in the good of the world.

In point of duration--abideth for ever. Faith and hope are Moses. Love is Joshua. Faith and hope supply here the place of vision: “We see through a glass darkly,” etc. In an evangelical sense, faith and hope are not in heaven; we are to hope to the end; but no end in heaven. Learn--

1. Wherein real Christianity consists. In creeds? professions? No! but in Divine principles, holy tempers, benevolent actions. Orthodox opinions, etc., unaccompanied with faith, hope, and charity, are fruitless.

2. The excellency of real Christianity. It brings faith, it inspires hope, it fills with the love of God; and when this principle is universal in the world!

3. Is this religion ours? A man is better known by what he loves than by his faith and hope. Who loves strong drink, we know who he is. So, if man love God, we know who he is! Now we look for the effects of this love in his life and conversation. Does your faith work by love? (J. Summerfield, A.M.)

Crowning love

Crown pride, and cause it to walk through the chambers of the soul, and there are many faculties which hide themselves and say, “I will not bow down to Pride, if it be king over me.” Crown vanity, and there will be many parts of the soul that will not yield to this newly-crowned king, but will say, “Nay, I am higher than thou, and I will never bow down to King Vanity.” Crown the reason, and there are many feelings that will say, “We will no more rise up before crowned Reason, and own it our king, than the flowers will rise up before an iceberg and call it summer.” Crown beauty, and there will be commotion in all the soul; but there is not in all the soul one single faculty that, under stress of temptation, under provocation, or under trial, will call out, “O King Beauty, save me!” Crown the conscience, and although more of the faculties of the soul will follow that than any other of the leaders I have assumed, yet what will ensue? Crown conscience--its crown is of iron; its sceptre is relentless. If conscience be king, the soul has a despot on the throne; and often and often there be many members of a man’s nature that reluct, and resist, and refuse to obey. Bring into the ascendancy love, and crown it, and there is not one part of reason that doth not before love say, “It is my master.” There is nothing in all the imagination that is not willing to twine round about love and say, “Love rules; and it truly inspires.” Pride and vanity, and all the ambitious forces of the soul, will bow down in the train of love; and if that stand king in the soul, all the fortuities can find their place, and harmoniously move round about the well-adjusted centre. It is the only feeling around which you can reconstruct the human character. (H. W. Beecher.)

The supremacy of love

Love is supreme because--

It was the exercise of this virtue that made possible our deliverance from sin. “God so loved the world,” etc. It was Christ’s love that constrained Him to do and suffer so much that the sinner might be restored. Of all the Divine attributes it is love that stands out in grandest outline.

There is no other virtue like it to inspire sacrifice. Love for God and for man inspired Grace Darling to imperil her life to rescue wrecked mariners from a watery grave. It moved an Elizabeth Fry to abandon home to find the criminal in his cell, and lead him to a higher life. It induces the minister of the Cross to endanger life, that he may save his heathen brother.

There is no other so effective for winning and maintaining the good-will of our fellow-men. The man of eminence, intelligence, or affluence is envied if not hated at times by those less fortunate; but a loving man unites all classes to him, and even conquers our enemies and compels their love in return. “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself,” says Napoleon, “founded great empires; but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions are ready to die for Him.” William Penn, who lived for many years in the midst of six warring Indian tribes in harmony and peace, assured his dusky brethren of the forest, “The great God of heaven has written His law of love upon our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love, to help, and to do good to each other; and to-day we meet you in the broad pathway of love and good-will, hoping no advantage may be taken on either side.” While other colonists were building forts and displaying their arms, and hence involved in trouble and war, the flowers of prosperity and peace blossomed in the footprints of William Penn.

There is no other virtue that so gladdens the heart and enriches the life. Love is to the heart what summer is to the year, maturing all the noblest and grandest fruits. The man in whose heart the spirit of love abides has a sort of music within to which he may march all the day long without exhaustion. His work, whether spiritual or manual, on Sunday or Monday, is no servitude, for duty becomes a delight. Love “oils” the complex machinery of his whole being, and thus prevents the daily friction that is such an enemy to human life. Where there is love for one’s work there will be no reluctance or hanging back, for love is an impelling motive. (W. G. Thrall.)

The supremacy of love

Higher than morality, higher than philanthropy, higher than worship, comes love. That is the chiefest thing. When we have that, we reach the very thing for which the New Testament scheme was administered. Love! it is that which brings forth out of obscurity the hidden God which we seek. Send forth all the powers of the soul to search for God, and there is not one of them which, making inquisition according to its own nature, can find Him out and reveal Him, except this Divine Spirit of love! Put wings of imagination on Conscience, and let it fly forth. Say to it, “Go, and find thy God!” Flying through night and through day; above and beneath; among clouds and thunder; through darkness and through light; it would return at length, wing-tired, only to say, “I have found marks of God, in law, in pain, and penalty; I have seen the traces of thunder, and the path of lightning, and the foundations of eternal power; but nowhere have I found the full God.” Give the wings of faith to Reason, and send it, in turn, forth from east to west, around the earth, and through the heavens, to see if by searching it can find out God; and it shall say, “I have seen the curious work of His hand, and have marked the treasures that He hath heaped up. The whole earth is full of His glory, and the heavens are unsearchable by us. What God hath done I have felt, but God Himself is hidden from my sight.” Let Fear, equipped with faith, pursue the same errand. It would not even know which way to fly, and, turning downward, groping or flying directly amidst infernal things, it would rehearse a catalogue of terrors, of gloomy fears, or brooding superstitions; but the bright sun-clad God it could not see. Let Reverence go forth. But what there is in reverence can never interpret what there is in God. This feeling can touch the Divine orb but in a single point. And the Heavens would say to Reverence, “Such an one as you seek is not in me”; and Hell would say, “He is not in me”; and Earth and Time would repeat, “He is not in us!” It is only Love that can find out God without searching. Upon its eyes God dawns. Wherever it looks, and whatever it sees--that is God; for God is love. Love is that regent quality which was meant to reveal the Divine to us. It carries its own light, and, by its own secret nature, is drawn instantly toward God, and reflects the knowledge of Him back upon us. (H. W. Beecher.)

Love the greatest power in mind

The correspondence between these three.

1. It is implied by the apostle that they are all great. He speaks of “the greatest.” Faith is a great thing. It implies reason, truth, and the investigation of evidence; it is a great thing in business, in science, in society, as well as religion; it is a power that removes mountains. See a record of its brilliant achievements in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Hope is a great thing too. It implies the recognition of good, a desire for good, and an expectation of good; it bears as an angel into the brightness of the future; it makes the greatest trials of the present bearable by bringing into the spirit the blessedness of the future.

2. It is implied by the apostle that they are all permanent. There “abideth.”

The superiority of one of the three. The greatest of these three is charity. Why is it the greatest?

1. It is a virtue in itself. There is no moral virtue in faith or hope. They are under certain conditions necessary states of mind; but love, disinterested, godly love, is in itself a virtue. It is in truth the substratum of all virtuous states.

2. It is that quality which alone gives virtue to all other states of mind. Where this love is not, faith and hope are morally worthless. They are trees without one leaf of virtue on their branches.

3. It is that state of mind by which the soul subordinates the universe to itself. The loving soul can alone interpret the universe. The loving soul alone appropriates the universe. “All things work together for good to them that love God,” etc.

4. It is that state of mind which links the spirit to all holy intelligences. Love is the attractive power that binds the holy universe together. Faith and hope are not so.

5. It is that state of mind which includes the highest faith and hope. Love implies the both.

6. It is that state of mind which is in itself happiness. Love is happiness. We cannot say so either of faith or hope.

7. Love is the most Godlike state of the soul. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

The greatness of charity

Charity has a greatness whether considered as a principle, a motive power, or a perfecting grace of character. And first of all, what is to be understood by charity? It is not that sentimental thing that often goes by its name, that has no appreciation for principles, sees no importance in doctrines, and imagines the world can be saved as well by error as by truth. I have four reasons why charity is the greatest of great things.

1. Its endurance. Prophecies fail when the thing prophesied takes place. Love has a continuous life. If there is anything destined to immortality that thing is love.

2. Hence the next reason for esteeming charity as the greatest of great things, and that is, the nothingness of all things without it. Prophetical insight, the profuse distribution of wealth, and the bravery of martyrdom its If, all--all are hollow where charity is not. So true it is that charity is the greatest of great things. It gives a Divine substance to human graces, and at its bidding that which otherwise were but perishing beauty starts, like Jairus’s daughter, from its shroud, and moves to beautify the home and give happiness there as only the true daughter can.

3. But again, charity is the greatest of great things, because it sways the will. Duties that we love not are clogs. He that clings to the world rather than to Christ must look the solemn fact in the face--that he loved the world more than Christ, and that love sways his will. It is not inability--it is not natural or moral infirmity of the will that keeps us from becoming more godly. It is our loves--our affections that are more fed and strengthened by sinful desires than by angels’ food.

4. And this suggests the fourth reason why charity is to be esteemed the greatest of great things, and that is, it is the fulfilment of the law. He that wishes to do something as God does all things has only this to do--exercise a pure love--an enduring, an edifying, a will-swaying love. He who performs one act of disinterested benevolence, acts so far on the high plane of the Deity. (H. Bacon.)

The pre-eminence of charity

Before proceeding to examine some of the proofs of the :pre-eminence of charity let us for a few moments glance at the thing itself, for the more clearly we discern what this charity is, the more clearly we see its fulness and perfection, the more rightly we shall believe in its pre-eminence, the more ready we shall be to say, “Faith does well, hope does well, the other graces of the Christian character do well, but this charity excels them all.” Look at some of the proofs of the pre-eminence of charity. Faith must be immortal, because man can never dispense with his confidence in God. Heaven will not destroy the need for that, but will perfect the child-like trust. Hope can never die out, for a noble, blessed being, a child of the Infinite must always be aspiring to greater :perfection, and reaching to the days which are before.

1. Charity, to my view, is the greatest of the three graces, because it is the most God-like. Faith believes the Bible, hope rests upon it, charity enlarges the Bible. There is more light to break forth over God’s Word, and the loving heart will be the first to catch it. This helps to give charity the pre-eminence.

2. Charity is pre-eminent, inasmuch as it is the greatest stimulant to labour. The world is so fashioned, man is so placed that there is always a great and urgent need for work. It is work that turns the wilderness into a paradise, which levels mountains and fills up valleys. Hope is a great aid to diligence. The ploughman would not plough, by reason of the cold, if he were not encouraged by hope, and shown in anticipation the verdure of the next spring, the blossoms of the next summer, and the harvest of the next autumn. But ofttimes there is work to be done when faith is feeble and hope is ready to die, and then love alone can strengthen the labourer for the task. In the sick chamber there must be weary watchfulness and diligence, hope cannot sustain, nor can faith; but the care is as tender and the diligence is as great as ever, because love is present in the heart of the watcher and the worker, and love sustains when every other support has failed. We want men who will love the world, and who will work for its enlightenment, for its emancipation and its redemption, when difficulties are great, when progress is almost invisible, and when faith and hope are ready to die.

3. The way to obtain this charity is to live close to Him in whom this charity was perfectly exemplified. I must remind you of an old story concerning the tomb of Orpheus, who was so skilled in melody. It was said that the nightingale which built her nest nearest to the tomb had always the sweetest song. Here is a man, a Divine man; Divine pity was expressed in human tears, Divine love worked through human hands, Divine charity was exemplified in human love. He who lives nearest to Jesus will become the most perfect in this charity, and will win the brightest crown within his grasp. (C. Vince.)

The supremacy of love

1. The first thing that must strike every mind, apart from the exceeding beauty of the description, is the many-sidedness of the quality portrayed. It is not one virtue, such as that to which in common speech we have limited the name of charity, but all virtues in one that the apostle is here describing.

2. But the many-sidedness of love is not the only ground of its supremacy. St. Paul next draws attention to its permanence. “Love never faileth,” and in this respect he again contrasts it with those spiritual gifts which first occasioned the mention of it.

3. And this brings us to the last of the contrasts suggested in this marvellous chapter. Love is not only above all gifts, it is many-sided while they are single; it is permanent while they are fleeting; but it is chief also among the graces which abide, because while they are in their very nature incomplete, it is already stamped with the mark of perfection. Truth may change, or rather the opinions which passed for truth, but the blessed three, faith, hope, and love, shall abide; faith the evidence, hope the earnest, love the very foretaste of heaven. There is no putting of these away as childhood passes into manhood. They were born with our birth, they will follow us to the grave. They are, whether we will or no, the links which bind us to the invisible. And of these love is the greatest, greater than faith, which is trust in God; greater than hope, which is desire after Him. It is the source of them both. It is God’s own likeness already revealed in our hearts. Doubtless in this our present state, love is very far from perfect--God knows how weak it is, how partial, how selfish--but in so far as it is love, I say, it has upon it the stamp of perfection. It is the grace which brought Christ down to earth. It is the grace, the only grace that raises man to heaven. Is your life and mine in any sense an endeavour to follow after the pre-eminent grace of love? To decide the question, let us take St. Paul’s description, and honestly try ourselves thereby. (E. M. Young, M.A.)

Charity suggestive of important lessons

In this single word Christianity sums up all social morality. There is no analogy to this in any other religion or philosophy. Did Greece or Rome, Egypt or Assyria, ever rear an altar to such a goddess? And who looks for any acknowledgment of her from heathenism now? And the vaunted philanthropy of socialistic philosophy, with all other modern substitutes for the gospel, is but a caricature of the Christian principle.

How strongly does this standard of character contrast with that of the world! Who is the man that the age delighteth to honour? Is it the gentle, loving disciple of Jesus? Nay, is it not the proud, selfish, and ambitious?

His account of charity sheds a reproving light upon national antipathies and war. Why should the geographical and political divisions of the globe sever the bonds of human brotherhood and limit the sphere of Christian benevolence? Can Christ’s followers be murderers? and what is war but wholesale murder?

How severely does charity condemn the bigotry of sectarian prejudice and the bitterness of religious controversy! Why should some difference of opinion in matters not fundamental alienate from one another hearts that were else one in Christ? If we differ in many things, do we not agree in more? and are not those in which we agree much more important than those in which we differ?

In the light of our exposition, how are we to estimate the guilt of those who cause ruinous divisions in the household of faith? If it is so good and pleasant a thing for brethren to dwell together in unity, who shall measure the mischief done by breaking up the family? If charity is the bond of perfectness, the test of Christian character, the best recommendation of the gospel, and the condemnation of a discordant world, what words shall suffice to express the repugnance of every true disciple to that wicked schismatical spirit which often wounds it so recklessly or murders it outright? (J. Cross, D.D.)


Charity is the love of God for Himself above all things, and of man for God and in God. It shows itself in outward acts of love to man, or labour for God. Acts of love strengthen the inward fire of love; and love, which puts itself not forth in deeds of love, would go out, as fire without fuel; but they do not first light it. In God, Love is Himself, and God who is Love, giveth His Spirit who is Love, to pour abroad love into our hearts. Love then is the source and end of all good. Without it, nothing avails; with it, thou hast all things. “Love,” says St. Laurence, “is the beginning of all good, because it is from God, and moves to Him. Love is the means of all good, for it is according to God, and fashioneth our deeds aright. Love is also the end of all good; for it is for the sake of God, and directeth our works, and bringeth them to the right end. It is the end of sins, because it destroyeth them; the end of the commandments, because it perfecteth them; it is the end of all our toils, the end of all ends to us, for our rest is in life everlasting, but God is the end in whom we rest.”

Whence hath love its birth? In the infinite love of God, charity is greater than faith and hope and any other grace, because it has its source in that which God is. Hence then it is love which gives the value to all deeds of faith, or devotion, or toil, or love, or martyrdom; because love is of God, and refers all to God. Noble self-denying deeds may be for man’s praise or in self-complacency; chastity may be proud; alms-giving, vain-glorious. Active service may be its own reward; death itself may be undergone amid obstinacy. Love hath no end but God, seeketh nothing but Himself for Himself. All virtues are but forms of love, for she is the soul of all. “Temperance,” says Augustine, “is love, keeping itself pure and undefiled for God. Fortitude is love, readily enduring all things for the sake of God. Justice is love which serveth God alone, and so hath command over all things subject to man. Prudence is love, distinguishing what helpeth it towards God, from what hindereth it”; or, “Love, kindled with entire holiness towards God, when it coveteth nothing out of God, is called temperance; when it willingly parteth with all, is called fortitude.” The worldly, careless, covetous, hard-hearted, the lovers of pleasure, cannot love God, but neither do they desire to love Him.

Holy men have distinguished four stages of love.

1. The first state of fallen man is, alas! to “love himself for himself.” In this state, he rather fears God than loves Him.

2. Yet man needs God; and so he begins by faith to seek after and love God, because he needs Him. And so he is brought to a second stage of love, to love God for man’s own sake. Much as a man might value the sun, because it warms him and ripens his corn, so man makes himself his centre, and loves God because he needs Him. Yet God so humbleth Himself, that He willeth even thus to be loved. Nay, He has therefore surrounded us with the blessings of nature, that all things around us may teach us to love God, because He made them “very good.” Yet in some such way might a heathen love. It is a Christian form of this love of God for man’s own sake, if a man loves Him, because He has redeemed him, because, without Him, he cannot be saved, and he hopes to be saved by Him.

3. Next God becomes known to the soul, and consequently sweet to it; and so, having “tasted that the Lord is good,” he passes to the third degree, and loves God for His own sake. Yet even in beginning to love God for His own sake, there is a snare lest men should love God for sensible sweetnesses and the consolations which, when He sees good, He gives in prayer or the Holy Sacrament; and so He often withdraws these comforts, and leaves the soul in darkness, after showing her His light, and in dryness, after having bathed her in His sweetness, that He may prove the soul that she follows Him, not for the loaves and fishes, but for love of Himself alone. This is a pure chaste love, which loves God not for any gifts of His, not even for everlasting bliss as His gift. Pure love would not be contented with all the glories and brightness and beauty of heaven itself: it stops short of nothing, it could be satisfied with nothing, but the love of God Himself. It loves God “because He is good “; and so it loves the will of God, and becomes conformed to it, and wills, or wills not, not for its own pleasure, but for the will of God.

4. And so the soul is formed towards that last stage of love, of which, blessed are they who have for a moment some faint glimpse in this life, but which is life eternal, that man should love himself only for the sake of God. In this the soul, borne out of itself with Divine love, losing itself in a manner, as though it were not, emptied of itself, “goeth forth wholly into God, and cleaving to God, becometh one spirit with Him, so that it may say, ‘My flesh and my heart faileth, but Thou art the God of my heart and God my portion for ever.’” For since God is the centre of all things, so the soul, when perfected, must will to be nothing but what God wills; to be, only that He may live in it; to be dissolved, as it were, and wholly transfused into the will of God. Of these stages of love, the love of God only for one’s own sake, is blessed as a step towards that which is better; yet there is much danger lest, if God gives a man not what he wills, or what he wills not, he should lose what love he seemed to have. Thus people have become embittered or impatient through misfortunes, as though God had dealt hardly with them, and have thrown off the love of God.

How, then, are we to know whether we have love; how gain it? The tests whereby we may know whether we have this love of God for Himself are also the means of gaining it, or of increasing it. How is it with those whom you dearly love on earth? Be this the proof of your love of God.

1. You gladly think of them, when absent. You are glad to turn from converse with others, to speak with them. One word or look of theirs is sweeter than all which is not they.

2. You are glad to hear of those you love; you are glad when others speak good of them.

3. You love anything which belongs to them

4. You gladly suffer for them.

5. You have no other will than theirs.

6. You are jealous for their honour.

7. For their sake you value not any outward things which others prize.

8. You do all things for their sake and count nothing too little, nothing too great to do for them. Conclusion: Faint not, any who would love Jesus, if ye find yourselves yet far short of what He Himself who is love saith of the love of Him. Perfect love is heaven. When ye are perfected in love, your work on earth is done. There is no short road to heaven or to love.

Do what in thee lies by the grace of God, and He will lead thee from strength to strength, and grace to grace, and love to love.

1. Be diligent by His grace to do no wilful sin; for sin, wilfully done, kills the soul, and casts out of it the love of God.

2. Seek to love nothing out of God. God re-makes a broken heart and fills it with love. He cannot fill a divided heart.

3. Think often of God. For how canst thou know or love God if thou fillest thy mind with thoughts of all things under the sun, and thy thoughts wander to the ends of the earth, and thou gatherest them not unto God?

4. Bring all things, as thou mayest, nigh to God; let not them hurry thee away from Him.

5. Be not held back by any thought of unworthiness or by failures from the childlike love of God.

6. Be diligent, after thy power, to do deeds of love. Think nothing too little, nothing too low, to do lovingly for the sake of God. Bear with infirmities, ungentle tempers, contradictions; visit the sick, relieve the poor, etc.

7. Where, above all, shouldest thou seek for His love but in the feast of His love? Without it, ye cannot have any true love. (E. B. Pusey, D.D.)

Christian love

Is the essential principle of all genuine religion. We love God because He first loved us. This affection is in every case called forth into its strength by the manifested affection of the Redeemer. Here, then, is a test for universal use in self-examination. It is love that makes the Christian. It is not talent (verse 1). It is not gifts (verse 2). It is not merit (verse 3).

Is the principle of all genuine social life. “If God so loves us, we ought also to love one another.” Christians--

1. Are the children of one Father’s household, and hence must love each other as kindred.

2. Are under equal exposures. The world drives up against them on the outside; they should therefore organise for mutual defence.

3. Have all the same work; and it is time we comforted each other with a comparison of tasks and of patience under them.

Is the principle of eminent zeal.

1. There is no comfort in work where there is not love as the motive of it. God loved the world; Christ loved the souls He died to redeem; Christians are moved by love for those around them; or else the work is drudgery, and can never claim blessing.

2. What will not love do and dare? With only an earthly object Love swam the Hellespont, and gave a name to every hero who holds out a torch. With no more than filial strength, it sent Coriolanus back from treason at the gates, and delivered Rome from downfall.

3. But then, how gentle this love is also! This is the only natural force that works by tenderness. It made Paul weep, it filled the eyes of Jesus with tears. Yet there is no effeminacy in it. John, who spoke most about it, was a “son of thunder.”

4. Such love is effective when everything else would fail. “I came to break your head,” once said a rough man to Whitefield, with a big stone in hand; “but by the grace of God you have broken my heart.”

Is the principle of heavenly enjoyment. This wonderful charity issues in a completeness at the limit of life, that the life itself which it tenanted never knew nor even suspected: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,” etc. (C. S. Robinson, D.D.)

Greatest of these is charity.--

Other graces not to be disparaged

When the apostle speaks so highly of charity, he does not mean to disparage the other graces. They also are altogether beautiful, considered apart from charity; only charity has such a sun-like excellence, that in its presence all star-like beauty, and even all moon-like beauty, seem to grow dim and fade, as stars and moon do when the light of day comes to fill our sky. Compare the diamond with a common wayside stone, and we may not be greatly impressed by its beauty and superiority, for the contrast is too great. But set that diamond in a royal crown, encircle it with pearls, let it compare with other jewels, with ruby, and garnet, and emerald, then the depths of its crystal purity are so impressive, and the flashing of its light is so exquisite. Put charity alongside humbleness, bowels of mercies, long-suffering, or forgiving, and then it seems to gather up into itself their charms, and throw over them its charms, and shine forth in the wry midst of them the “bond of perfectness.” (R. Tuck, B.A.)

The greatness of charity in the width and extent of its sphere

Other graces have particular things with which they are more intimately connected and concerned--special parts of our lives on which they throw the light of their charms, special times in which they actively operate. They are like the winds that blow sometimes, or the rain that falls sometimes, or the snow that covers the earth sometimes, or the lightning that purifies sometimes. But charity is like the Divine sunlight, that shines on always, works always, tempers the winds, and warms the rains, and dissipates the mists, and melts the snow. Sometimes seen and felt, sometimes unseen, but never ceasing its influence, and recognising no earth-limits to its sphere. Charity covers the whole life and relationships of the Christian--his inner thoughts, his uttered feelings, his conduct and intercourse, the associations of the family and society, and also his relations with the dependent, the poor, and the suffering. (R. Tuck, B.A.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/1-corinthians-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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