Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Romans 12.), the argument on the resurrection (ch. 14.), and the portraiture of love in this chapter. By this means we get a well defined view of the object without losing its connections. It is not as if we were looking at the Peak of Teneriffe rising out of the loneliness of the sea, but rather a Mont Blanc, one with the Alps, and yet a solitary form of majesty. Grandeur, as distinct from beauty and sublimity, requires some degree of isolation so as to produce an adequate impression. Here, then, the apostle makes a space for this grand delineation, every feature of which may be seen in concentrated light, and not a thing allowed to distract the eye. This is in itself a call to attention, a summons to the activity of our whole nature, and, in accordance herewith, he presents something more than a mere sketch or profile of love. It is a complete portrait. The features are individually given, and, at the same time, the expression which combines them in a most striking unity. First, then, we have the supreme excellence of love in contrast with the worthlessness of other gifts unaccompanied by its presence. Great stress was laid at that time on the gift of tongues. We are all 'Relined to set a high value on an exceptional endowment of speech. Eloquence passes for much even in a rude age; the North American Indian and the barbarous tribes of Asia acknowledge its power, while cultivated society is never stinted in admiration of its influence. And the possessor of it seldom fails to exaggerate its worth. Stated roughly, eloquent men appear to have a peculiar intensity of consciousness as respects this gift. They are singularly open to the seductions of popular applause, so much so, indeed, that the public approval which a scientific man, or a statesman, or a military hero would he unharmed by, is often ruinous to an orator. Not the common air, but the breath of the multitude, fragrant with adulation, feeds his lungs. This it is that arterializes his blood and sends it hot and poisonous to his brain. Of course, these Corinthians were the very persons to overvalue the gift of tongues. It was in the channel of their tastes and traditions. But the apostle teaches them that this wonderful power holds a subordinate rank. He does not depreciate it; no, he appreciates it to the full: "tongues of men" are associated with "the tongues of angels;" and yet, without love, the endowment is as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." What is it but mere noise, an idle tumult of the air? Unless love to God and man attend the gift, restrain its selfishness, destroy its vanity making tendency, and sanctify it to the welfare of others, it is worthless. But the second verse enlarges the thought. One may have the gift of prophecy and use his intellect with amazing skill and force so as to excite and captivate his hearers, and this, too, under the teachings of revelation, and, further, one may have insight into Divine secrets, and "understand all mysteries," and have them at command as "knowledge;" yet what is he without love? Can it be possible that this resplendent power could exist, and that other light kindled by love be utterly wanting? Observe, it is "all" mysteries and knowledge; the man explores every height and depth, and he has the freedom of the universe. Nay, superadd all faith, so that material nature falls in homage at your feet and the "mountains "remove in obedience to your will; but of what avail this expenditure of mighty energy, where the holiness of love is lacking? If, then, the man endowed with universality of utterance - "tongues of men and of angels;" and if the prophet with his clear and broad insight into the counsels of God, and before whose eye the panorama of distant events moves as a spectacle of today; if the miracle worker who transcends all natural capacities and exercises the delegated power of Jehovah in producing supernatural phenomena; - if these men and their gifts are compared to "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal," and verily are "nothing;" and though they are known as apostles, prophets, miracle workers, heroes of faith, instruments of the supernatural: if all these are nothingness itself without love, can anything more be said to intensify the excellence of love as a Divine principle and sentiment and impulse? The third verse answers this question. Charity, almsgiving, philanthropy, even self sacrifice at the stake, here come into view. How far may one go in the benevolent appropriation of earthly property and yet fall below the highest motive? St. Paul replies that he may "dole out" all he owns, do it gradually, do it cautiously, do it to the exhaustion of his resources, yet do it unmindful of that sovereign law which gathers into itself all other laws and imparts to them a virtue that makes them Divine. Nor is this all. One may have the philanthropic idea and sensibility so largely developed as to accept martyrdom, have the courage to face it unblenched, and to endure it with fortitude; but he may surrender life without the highest love. Love may be there - love of a truth, love of a cause, love of humanity - not necessarily the love, however, here under discussion; and hence, this distinctive Christian love, which includes the Divine and the human, being absent, the martyrdom is not for Christ's sake, and consequently is nugatory as to its Christian character. "It profiteth me nothing." If, now, such a doctrine as this rested on a ground solely ethical, we confess our inability to see how it could be accepted as a trustworthy view of human nature. Logic in itself has no fundamental principle from which it can be deduced. Philosophy as such, and as confined to what it finds in our constitution, would be compelled to reject a conclusion so alien to its spirit. On the other hand, the doctrine may be easily and heartily received On the score of Christian logic and philosophy. For, in the scheme of Christianity, human nature is a revelation from God. It is the Divine thought of this nature which we are to embrace, to cherish, to act upon. And if we admit, as we ought to do in the presence of such satisfactory evidence, that God has spoken to man of man, and disclosed to him the once hidden mystery of himself, as well as that other and infinitely greater "hidden mystery" of his redeeming purpose in Christ - if we acknowledge this, then we cannot impeach the wisdom, the justness, the stern truthfulness, of St, Paul's argument. The argument assumes that Christianity is of God, and, as such, advances to this point, namely, Christianity alone gives a full and complete view of our nature. Its ethical teachings, their reasons and motives and ends, are founded in Christ and in his relations to us. Our relations to him and to one another are subsequent considerations, and take their quality and bearings simply, solely, altogether, from him, the "Image of the invisible God," and the "Firstborn of every creature." Inasmuch, then, as the ideal of our nature is not as we see it in and by our own unaided consciousness, but in and by a consciousness illuminated and guided by the Holy Ghost, how could it be otherwise than that new intuitions occur, and that demands are made on us never imagined before? On this foundation St. Paul stands when he affirms that those endowments which charm, those splendid gifts that win enthusiastic admiration, even self sacrifice itself at the bidding of earth-born instincts, are nothing without that love which is purely a responsive affection, or, as St. John expresses it, "We love him because he first loved us. - L.
I. MISCONCEPTIONS HAVE TO BE REMOVED. E.g.:
1. The use of the word "charity" is ambiguous. It is often used as equivalent to tolerance, as in the phrase, "the judgment of charity;" and often as synonymous with "almsgiving," as in the sad proverb, "Cold as charity." Neither of these uses meets the requirements of the text.
2. "Love" is also an ambiguous word, being commonly applied to the feeling of attraction and attachment between young people of opposite sexes - a usage which evidently has no applicability here.
II. THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN LOVE HAS TO BE EXPLAINED.
1. It is between one human being and another. The question is not of reverent love to God, but of the mutual feelings of those endowed with the same spiritual nature.
2. It is a sentiment, and there is no love where there is simply a principle of action, cold and unimpassioned.
3. It is a sentiment which governs conduct, restraining men from injuring or slandering one another, and impelling them to mutual assistance.
III. THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN LOVE HAS TO BE TRACED.
1. Its true and ultimate origin is in the nature of God, who is love.
2. Its introduction among men is chiefly owing to the Lord Jesus, who was the gift of the Father's love, whose whole ministry to earth was a revelation of love, and whose benevolent conduct and sacrificial death were the fruit of love.
3. Its individual power and social efficacy are owing to the presence and operation of the Spirit of God. Not without significance is love mentioned first in the inventory of the fruits of the Spirit, which are these: love, joy, peace, etc.
IV. THE EXCELLENCY OF CHRISTIAN LOVE HAS TO BE EXHIBITED. This is done in this chapter, systematically, in several ways.
1. It is superior to the supernatural gifts generously bestowed upon the Church in the first age.
2. It is the motive to dispositions and actions of the highest degree of moral beauty.
3. It will survive all that is most prized by man as intellectually precious and desirable.
4. It is superior even to gifts, or rather graces, so lovely and admirable as are faith and hope. - T.
I. IN WHAT THE SUPERIORITY OF LOVE OVER SPEECH CONSISTS.
1. In the fact that the gift of tongues draws attention to the possessor himself, whilst charity goes forth from him who cultivates it to others. The gift in question was one splendid and dazzling. Whether it consisted in a power to speak intelligibly in foreign languages, or in the pouring forth of sounds - articulate, indeed, but not corresponding with any language known to the auditors - in either case it was a brilliant faculty, drawing all eyes to the speaker and all ears to his voice. On the other hand, the affectionate ministrant to the wants of his poor or afflicted neighbours would usually go his way unnoticed and unadmired. It is better that a man should be drawn out, as it were, from himself, than that his attention should be, because the attention of others is, concentrated upon himself.
2. In the fact that the grace of love is far more serviceable to the Church and to the world than the gift of tongues. There was a purpose subserved by this gift - it impressed carnal listeners, it was a proof to the Church itself of a special Divine presence. But love led men and women to sympathize with one another, to minister to the wants of the needy, to raise the fallen, to strengthen the weak, to nurse the sick, to comfort the bereaved, to rear the orphan. Thus its fruits vindicated its supremacy.
3. In the fact that the Lord Jesus loved, but never spake with tongues.
4. In the fact that the gift of tongues is but for a season, whilst love is indestructible and eternal.
II. BY WHAT COMPARISON THE SUPERIORITY OF LOVE IS ILLUSTRATED. The gift without the grace is likened to the sounding of brass, to the clashing of a cymbal of bronze. There is noise, but it is vex et proeterea nihil; there is no melody and no meaning. On the other hand, love is like a strain of exquisite music vibrating from the strings, warbling from a flute, or pealing from the pipes of an organ; or, better still, it is like the clear bell-like voice of a boy in some cathedral choir, rendering an immortal passage of sacred poetry to an air sounding like an echo from the minstrelsy of Paradise. The former arrests attention; the gong when struck produces a shock; but the latter sweetly satisfies the soul, then soothing and refreshing the spirit's longings for a heaven bern strain, and leaving behind the precious memory of a melting cadence. - T.
I. THE APOSTLE DECLARES THE NOTHINGNESS OF LIFE WITHOUT LOVE. He supposes some extreme cases.
1. The acquisition of all languages; the utmost facility of expression; the most splendid eloquence. He does not even limit to humanity, but adds, "and of angels," to show that no acquisition in this direction at all meets the case. The Corinthian Church was peculiarly proud of its "gift of tongues;" its love was not so conspicuous. Our glorying is often false glorying. That which is most praised is not always the most praiseworthy. We are apt to prize most what we should prize least. To talk is not the chief thing; to be is far more important. Talking power without love is noise without music, sounding brass, clanging cymbals. Heavenly language would lose its heavenliness without the royal grace.
2. The most extensive knowledge. Knowledge of the future, human knowledge, knowledge of the secret purposes of the Most High. To know is not enough. If the knowledge of the head does not rightly affect the heart it is thrown away. Knowledge is a splendid weapon, but it is in dangerous hands if it is not in those of love. We may know Christ - know very much about his person, his character, his work - and yet not be his. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy Name?... then will I profess unto them, I never knew you ' (Matthew 7:22, 23). Balaam, Caiaphas, and Judas are illustrations.
3. Startling faith. Judas wrought miracles; but how less than nothing, judged by true standards, was he! What profit if other mountains be removed and the mountain of selfishness be left! How sad to get so near the cross and to catch nothing of its spirit! Here is faith without the chief of works, which alone can prove its genuineness and power. Here is a faith which does not work by love, and is useless except for boast and display.
4. Abounding charity. The worth of charity lies not in what we give, but in how we give. The object for which the gift is bestowed does not determine its value; the motive prompting the gift does. We may give "all our goods," and that to "feed the poor," and yet perform no virtuous action. We can give lavishly from motives which rob our charity of all its charitableness. Men who give without love do not give; they invest. It is not a spiritual act; it is a commercial speculation. They invest and expect a large return - it may be of' distinction or applause, or something similarly self tending.
5. Unlimited self surrender. Though the body be given to the flames, yet all may be "nothing" A man may go to the stake for Christianity, and yet know nothing truly of Christ. There is a self sacrifice which is no self sacrifice. Man has fallen so low that he has originated false and worthless martyrdoms. In later centuries the history of the Church was blotted by some who sought martyrdom from motives of notoriety and vain glory. The martyr's crown may be sought by those who have not the martyr's spirit. The martyr is made, not by the burning of the body, but by the love which binds the truth to the heart, and will not let it go at any cost:
II. WHY IT IS THAT LIFE WITHOUT LOVE IS NOTHING.
1. Nothing can compensate for the moral quality. The motive is more than the deed. To do is nothing compared with to be. The internal is greater than the external.
2. Unless we have love we cannot be brought near to God. God is love. Love is of the Divine essence. If we are destitute of love we are destitute of that which is most conspicuous in God. When the great archangel fell he fell out of love. When we get power we do not grow away from Satan, nor when we get knowledge, nor when we do unusual deeds from selfish motives. When we get love we do. Love is never attributed to Satan; "love is of God." As we have love, so far we are like God. Satan has power, knowledge, and is doubtless willing to sacrifice much to secure his own cuds; if we have these, without love, we tend to grow into devils. Love is a redeeming, consecrating quality, which, pervading deeds, gives to them a new and God-like character. - H.
His charity is commended to us. It has been said that the "English word 'charity' has never risen to the height of the apostle's argument." At best it does but signify a kindly interest in, and forbearance toward, others. It is far from suggesting the ardent, active, energetic principle which the apostle had in view. And though the English word "love" includes the affection which springs up between persons of different sexes, it is generally understood to denote only the higher and nobler forms of that affection, the lower being stigmatized under the name of "passion." Charity, then, is to be regarded as the tone and motive to which God looks; things, actions, are accepted by him, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the spirit and character for which they find expression. The one acceptable feature to God, in all human action and relationship, is charity, and this the apostle illustrates by his panegyric on love.
I. MAN'S ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS AND WORKS ACCORDING TO THEIR APPEARANCE. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." Only in a very imperfect way can we estimate the motives of others. Our attention is occupied by incidents, and we form our impressions from the things actually done. Consequently our estimates are always incomplete and often unworthy; we misconceive what is really great and what is really little, and give our acceptance and our praise to things which will not endure the Divine searching. Of men who stand high in the esteem of their fellow men for their excellent talents and their good looking works, it must in truth be said, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting." "Thy heart is not right in the sight of God."
II. GOD'S ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS AND WORKS ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT AND THE MOTIVE WHICH UNDERLIE THE APPEARANCE. That motive God knows and judges perfectly. To him it is the real man. The appearance, the action, never deceives him. Man's show of virtue is fitly estimated. Upon God's estimate there are "many first who shall be last, and many last who shall be first." To true hearts it should come as an abounding satisfaction that while our fellow men may misconceive us, God never does. He "knoweth us altogether." And we can confidently appeal from the judgment of men to the judgment of God.
III. THE CHRISTIAN DUTY OF GAINING FULL DELIVERANCE FROM THE MAN STANDARD OF LIFE, AND UPLIFTING TO THE DIVINE STANDARD. Growing likeness to God - which is the Christian sanctifying - should involve our seeing things as God sees them, and judging and appraising them on God's principles and in God's ways. Illustrate this subject by the apostolic references to the gift of tongues; from the gift of prophecy; from the apparent fervour often seen on religious lives that are not deeply toned; from cases of mere generosity of natural disposition; and even from cases of martyr endurance which may be mere bravado, and not, to the heart-searching One, humble, fervent loyalty and love. - R.T.
charisms of language seem to have had an especial charm and value. It might be supposed that those possessions here mentioned - prophecy, unravelling of mysteries, and knowledge, especially of spiritual things - would have a deeper interest for such a one as Paul. And that he did prize these is not to be questioned. Yet such was his appreciation of love, that in this eulogium of it he sets it above those half intellectual, half spiritual gifts.
I. THESE GIFTS ARE IN THEMSELVES VALUABLE. There is nothing here said to disparage the gifts. On the contrary, they are introduced in a way which witnesses to their excellence. Prophecy is the speaking forth of the mind of God - a function the most honourable the mind can conceive. To understand and reveal mysteries would universally be acknowledged to be a high distinction. Knowledge ranks high in connection with a religion which addresses man's intelligence. All these are, so to speak, aspects of religion peculiarly congenial to a thoughtful Christian, and peculiarly advantageous to a Christian community.
II. BUT IT IS POSSIBLE THAT THESE GIFTS MAY BE OF NO VALUE TO THE POSSESSOR. That is, in case they be unaccompanied by love. The purely intellectual character is the unlovely character. The man may be the vehicle of truth, and yet the truth may pass through him without affecting his character, his spiritual position. Who does not know such men - men of Biblical scholarship, sound theology, great teaching power, yet loveless, and because loveless unlovely? To themselves they may be great men, and in the view of the Church; but in reality, and before God, they are nothing!
III. IT IS LOVE WHICH MAKES THESE GIFTS VALUABLE TO THEIR POSSESSOR. How needful love is to impart a spiritual flavour and quality to these great endowments, is clear enough, i.e. to every enlightened mind.
1. Love infuses the spirit in which they are to be used. How differently the man of intellect or of learning uses his powers when his soul is pervaded by the spirit of brotherly love, every observer must have noticed. "Let all your things be done in charity" is an admonition appropriate to all, but especially so to the man of genius or of ability.
2. Love controls the purpose to which they are to be applied. Not for self exaltation, not for the advancement of a great cause, but for the general welfare, will love inspire the great to consecrate their talents, according to the mind and method of the great Master himself. - T.
I. THIS LANGUAGE IS NOT IN DISPARAGEMENT OF THE FAITH WHICH WORKS BY LOVE. It is always taught in Scripture that faith precedes love; the heart must find Christ and rest in him and live from him, in order that it may love him. Confidence in a personal Saviour revealed in his words and life, in his sacrifice and triumph, will certainly awaken affection, more or less ardent according to the temperament and history of the individual believer. Strong faith is fitted to enkindle warm love.
II. WE ARE TAUGHT THAT "GIFTS" ARE NOT ALWAYS A SIGN OF PIETY. The faith which was so much admired and coveted in the primitive Church was confidence in a certain definite promise of the Lord of supernatural aid to those whose position rendered such aid expedient. The removal of mountains is, of course, a figure for the vanquishing of difficulties, and probably for the performance of miracles. It would seem that there were in the early Churches some who possessed this gift who had not the spiritual qualifications which were far more to be desired. And it is not to be denied that even now there are in all Christian communities men largely endowed with gifts of administration, learning, and eloquence, who yet are lacking in those first qualities of Christian character which are a sign of the Spirit's indwelling. Far more to be desired is simple faith in the Saviour than the faith which removes mountains and dazzles multitudes.
III. THESE LESSONS ARE ENFORCED BY THE CONSIDERATION THAT PAUL POSSESSED BOTH SUPERNATURAL GIFTS AND FERVENT CHARITY, AND WAS WELL ABLE TO COMPARE THE TWO. Never were wonders, miracles of moral power, wrought more manifestly, more repeatedly, than in the ministry of the great apostle of the Gentiles. If any had reason to boast, he had more. Yet to him his love to the Saviour, and his devotion to those for whom that Saviour died, were of far more consequence and value than all his supernatural gifts.
"Love is the brightest of the train,
I. ALMSGIVING MAY ORIGINATE IN INFERIOR AND UNWORTHY MOTIVES. The apostle supposes an extreme case, viz. that one should give away all his substance in doles to the poor; and he gives his judgment that such a course of action may be loveless, and, if loveless, then worthless. For it may proceed from:
1. Ostentation. That this is the explanation of many of the handsome and even munificent gifts of the wealthy, we are obliged to believe. A rich man sometimes likes his name to figure in a subscription list for an amount which no man of moderate means can afford. The publication of such a gift gratifies his vanity and self importance. His name may figure side by side with that of a well known millionaire.
2. Custom. A commentator has illustrated this passage by reference to the crowds of beggars who gather in the court of a great bishop's palace in Spain or Sicily, to each of whom a coin is given, in so-called charity. Such pernicious and indiscriminate almsgiving is expected of those in a high position in the Church, and they give from custom. The same principle explains probably much of our eleemosynary bestowment.
3. Love of power. As in the feudal days a great lord had his retinue and his retainers, multitudes depending upon his bounty, so there can be no question that individuals and Churches often give generously for the sake of the hold they thus gain upon the dependent, who become in turn in many ways their adherents and supporters.
II. ALMSGIVING MAY IN SOME CASES BE INJURIOUS. In fact, it often is so.
1. To the recipient. The wretch who lives in idleness on rich men's doles is degraded in the process, and becomes lost to all self respect, and habituated to an ignominious and base contentedness with his position.
2. To society generally. When it is known that the man who begs is as well supported as the man who works, how can it be otherwise than that demoralization should ensue? The system of indiscriminate almsgiving is a wrong to the industrious poor.
3. To the giver. For such gifts as are supposed, instead of calling forth the finer qualities of the nature, awaken in the breast of the bestower a cynical contempt of mankind.
III. NEVERTHELESS, TRUE CHARITY MAY EXPRESS ITSELF IN GIFTS. The man who doles away his substance in almsgiving, and has all the while no charity, is nothing; but if there be love, that love sanctifieth both the giver and the gift. For he who loves and gives resembles that Divine Being whose heart is ever filled with love, whose hands are ever filled with gifts. - T.
I. THE READINESS TO DIE, AT THE STAKE OR OTHERWISE, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, IS GOOD. As the three Hebrew children were content to be cast into the burning, fiery furnace, as the faithful Jews died at the stake under the persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes, as Polycarp at over four score years of age gave his body to be burned, as the holy Perpetua suffered this martyrdom with willing mind, as in our own country at the Reformation many suffered in the fires of Oxford and Smithfield, so have multitudes counted their lives as not dear to them for the blessed Saviour's sake. It cannot but be that such sacrifice of self, such holy martyrdom, ever has been and is acceptable to Christ, who gave himself for us. For he himself has said, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
II. THE ABSENCE OF LOVE TAKES AWAY EVEN FROM THE VIRTUE OF MARTYRDOM. There is a story of a Christian of Antioch who, on his way to martyrdom, refused to forgive and be reconciled to a brother Christian. Such a case is an exact example of the zeal without love which the apostle here pronounces worthless. If Christian charity be absent where zeal is present, there seems reason to fear that the motives which induce to self immolation are pride, self glorification, and an inflexible obstinacy. If there be not love to Christ's people, there is no real love to Christ: "He that loveth God loves his brother also." It is strange to think that self delusion may go so far that men may suffer martyrdom without being truly Christ's. Yet so it is. And we may be reminded, from the possibility of this extreme case, how readily men deceive themselves and suppose that they are influenced by truly religious and distinctly Christian motives, when all the while self is the pivot upon which their whole conduct revolves. And it may be suggested to us how inexpressibly essential, in the judgment of our Lord and his Spirit, is that grace of love, the absence of which cannot be atoned for even by a passage through the fiery flames of martyrdom. - T.
mature and operations of this love, And one characteristic of it, he puts in the foreground of its excellences. It can suffer. A virtue that cannot suffer is hardly a virtue at all. Certainly it is not a virtue that can lay the least claim to divineness. Wedded love, parental love, philanthropic and patriotic love, have to undergo a discipline of pain and sorrow even to symbolize the higher affection of Divine love. This holy love, of which this chapter is so laudatory, derives its very essence from the "Man of sorrows." Short of realizing, in its measure, the agony in the lonely garden and the yet lonelier cross, it dare not, it cannot stop, since only there is its test found. A beautiful aestheticism, moral, perchance semi-spiritual, may follow the lowly Jesus of Nazareth through the windings of his Galilean and Judaean journeys, cling reverently to his person, spread the palm branches in his pathway, and shout its glad hosannas to his Name, and, after all, "forsook him and fled" may be the final record of its weakness. Only when he rises to the sacrificial height of his anointing as the Christ of God's Law and the Christ of God's love, and bears our sins in his own body on the tree - only here, where Jehovah "lets the lifted thunder drop," can the human soul be reconciled first to its own disciplinary sufferings, and learn afterwards, by many conflicts with self, to glory in the cross. But love not only suffers, it "suffereth long." It is patient - patient towards others, and, what is quite as important, patient with itself. And under all its sufferings, instead of being irritable, it is kind. Unsanctified suffering is usually morbid. It broods over its ills; it magnifies its afflictions; often, indeed, it makes us misanthropic. Sweetness of temper and tender outgoings of sympathy are not the common results of painful experiences, but the fruits of the Holy Spirit in them. Fortitude may be shown, and it may be naught but homage at the shrine of self. This love is of God. It takes to its heart God's thought of suffering as chastening, as correction, as the supreme moral necessity of a probationary life, through which we must pass to get any deep knowledge of ourselves. For it is never pleasure, but pain, that holds the key to the secret chambers, where the latent man awaits the voice of God bidding him arise and gird himself with immortal strength. Now, what effect on this love would ensue from suffering that had become habitual and wrought patience and silent enduringness into character? By suppressing a morbid regard for self and quickening the sympathies that give width to the inner life, what would be the specific result on the relations sustained to others? These Corinthians, as we have frequently noticed, were pulling down one and putting up another, were thoroughgoing partisans, were censorious and depreciatory towards those with whom they were disinclined to affiliate. What change for the better would love bring about? St. Paul answers, "Love envieth not." Observe how quickly he turns again to the negative aspects of this "supremely excellent way," and what vigour is imparted to the argument. At every step, contrast aids him by suggesting what love excludes, while its true qualities are set in bolder relief. Envy is pain at the sight of superior excellence in another, and is always a mark of blinding selfishness. According to one's temperament, it is displeasure or something worse, and usually contains an element of hatred.
"Men, that make
(1) in vers. 1-3, a statement concerning the indispensableness of charity to the Christian character,
(2) in vers. 3-7, a list of the fruits of charity; and
(3) in the remainder of the chapter, a declaration of the eternity of charity. The second and third of these divisions contain a very pictorial personification of this delightful grace; the lovely features and beaming smile of charity shine upon us, and win our hearts. Several of these clauses exhibit the effects of the indwelling of Christian love upon the intercourse of social life.
I. LOVE IS LONG SUFFERING AS OPPOSED TO IMPATIENCE. There is no possibility of mixing with human society without encountering many occasions of irritation. Human nature is such that conflicts of disposition and of habits will and must occur. It is so in the family, in civil life, and even in the Church. Hence impatience and irritability are among the most common of infirmities. And there is no more sure sign of a disciplined and morally cultured mind than a habit of forbearance, tolerance, and patience. But Christianity supplies a motive and power of long suffering which can act in the case of persons of every variety of temperament and of every position of life. "Love suffereth long."
II. LOVE IS GRACIOUS AND KIND AS OPPOSED TO MALICE AND ILL WILL. There is no disposition known to human nature which is a more awful proof of the enormity of sin than malevolence. And the religion of the Lord Christ in nothing more signally proves its divinity than in its power to expel this demoniacal spirit from the breast of humanity. In fact, benevolence is the admitted "note" of this religion. The sterner virtues, as fortitude and justice, were admired and practised among the heathen, and celebrated by the moralists of antiquity. These and others were assumed by Christianity, which added to them the softer grace of love - love which justifies itself in deeds of benignity and loving kindness.
III. LOVE IS OPPOSED TO ENVY AID JEALOUSY. These are vices which arise from discontent with one's own condition as compared with that of others, and are justly deemed among the meanest and basest of which man is capable. Christianity proves its power of spiritual transformation by suppressing, and indeed in many cases by extirpating, these evil passions from the heart, and by teaching and enabling men to rejoice in their neighbours' prosperity.
IV. LOVE, AS OPPOSED TO ANGER, IS NOT PROVOKED WITH THE CONDUCT OF OTHERS. This must not be pressed too far, as though anger in itself were an evil, as though there were no such thing as righteous indignation. Christ himself was angry with hypocrites and deceivers; his indignation and wrath were aroused again and again. But the moral distinction lies here: to be provoked with those who injure us or pass a slight upon our dignity and self importance, is unchristian, but it is not so to cherish indignation with the conduct of God's wilful enemies.
V. LOVE KEEPS NO ACCOUNT OF EVIL RENDERED. This trait in the character of the Christian is very beautiful. It is customary with sinful men to cherish the memory of wrongs done to them, against a day of retribution. Love wipes out the record of wrong doing from the memory, and knows nothing of vindictiveness or ill will. - T.
I. LOVE DESTROYS BOASTFULNESS. It "vaunteth not itself." In some characters more than in others there is observable a disposition towards display. There may be real ability, and yet there may be the vanity which obtrudes the proofs of that ability; or there may, on the other hand, be an absence of ability, and yet the fool may not be able to conceal his folly, but must needs make himself the laughing stock of all. Love delights not in the display of real power or the assumption of what does not exist. How can it? When love seeks the good of others, how can it seek their admiration?
II. LOVE IS OPPOSED TO PRIDE. It "is not puffed up." The expression is a strong one; it has been rendered, "does not swell and swagger," "is not inflated with vanity." The explanation of this is clear enough. The pretentious and arrogant man has a mind full of himself, of thoughts of his own greatness and importance, Now, love is the outflowing of the heart's affection in kindliness and benevolence towards others. He who is always thinking of the welfare of his fellow men has no time and no inclination for thoughts of self exaltation, aggrandizement, and ambition. It is plain, then, how wholesome, purifying, and sweetening an influence Christianity introduces into human society; and how much it tends to the happiness of individuals, cooling the fever of restless rivalry and ambition.
III. LOVE IS INCONSISTENT WITH ALL UNSEEMLINESS OF DEPORTMENT. There is an indefiniteness about the language: "Doth not behave itself unseemly." Possibly there is a special reference to the discreditable scenes which were to be witnessed in the Corinthian congregation, in consequence of their party spirit, rivalry, and discord. But there is always in every community room for the inculcation of considerateness, courtesy, self restraint, and dignity. And the apostle points out, with evident justice, that what no rules or custom can produce is the spontaneous and natural result of the operation of Christian love.
IV. LOVE IS, IN A WORD, UNSELFISH; i.e. "seeketh not her own." Here is the broadest basis of the new life of humanity. Love gives, and does not grasp; has an eye for others' wants and sorrows, but turns not her glance towards herself; moves among men with gracious mien and open hands. - T.
I. PATIENT AND UNCOMPLAINING. It:
1. "Suffereth long," under provocation and injury.
2. "Is not easily provoked." Is not irritable - not allied to anger.
3. "Beareth all things." Is willing to bear burdens that others may be free. Rather hides than advertises injuries received. Does not revenge.
4. "Endureth all things." Neglect and persecution in a calm and Christian spirit.
II. KIND. Willing to perform good offices for others. Desires to be useful, obliging, helpful. Is kind after much suffering and ill usage. Is kind when showing mercy. Some show mercy unkindly, and utterly spoil the beauty of the deed.
III. HUMBLE. (Ver. 4.) Does not lead to vaunting, as the possession of supernatural gifts did amongst the Corinthians. Is not puffed up with pride, which is closely related to party zeal, as in those at Corinth who cried "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos," etc. Does not seek to win praise or applause.
IV. UNSELFISH. "Seeketh not her own." Loses sight largely of self. The Corinthians cried, "I... I... I," because they had little love. Love is not filled with thoughts of her own rights; she thinks rather of the rights of others. "Envieth not." Is not jealous of the endowments of others; recognizes that "God hath set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him" (1 Corinthians 12:18).
V. DECOROUS. (Ver. 5.) Keeps within the bounds of propriety; is courteous. Absence of love leads to gross disorders, as at the Lord's table at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:21, 22).
VI. CHARITABLE IN JUDGMENT, "Thinketh no evil." Does not delight to impute motives. Does not make the worst, but the best of things. Does not gloat over the evil done.
VII. PURE. "Rejoiceth not in iniquity [or, 'unrighteousness'], but rejoiceth with the truth" (ver. 6). Is not in sympathy with evil. Is not pleased to see it, but pained. When the truth triumphs, love rejoices.
VIII. TRUSTFUL. "Believeth all things" (ver. 7). Is not suspicious. Does not esteem doubt and distrust the chief virtues. Believes all that can with a good conscience be believed to the credit of others.
IX. HOPEFUL. "Hopeth all things" (ver. 7). Hopes when others without love have ceased to hope; is loth to regard any as hopeless. Hopes for good rather than for bad from men. Is not allied to despondency and despair. Is anchored in God and hopes on. Thus sweetly does the apostle chant the praises of true Christian love. - H.
ἀγάπη) it is in the sense attached to the word in the New Testament. We do not speak of promiscuous and impulsive almsgiving, in which there is often but the veriest morsel of charity, and which, in our condition of society, is almost an unmitigated evil, tending as it does to the maintenance of an indigent and pauperized class. We do not speak of that kind of natural affection (ἔρος) which binds men together with the ties of family and friendship. Charity, as a grace of the gospel, is altogether larger and more comprehensive than these things. It is first the love of the whole human race, as being the objects of the love of God, our common Father, and the redeemed of his mercy. Then it is this spirit of love, ever seeking for us, and ever finding expression in, acts of generous kindness, thoughtfulness, and good will. In its larger, nobler meaning, charity is something peculiarly Christian; something that springs up only in that soul which has felt the love of God in its own redemption.
I. CHARITY IS THE GREATEST OF GRACES IN THE WIDTH OF ITS SPHERE, Other graces have particular things with which they are more intimately concerned; special parts of our life on which they throw the light of their charm; special times in which they operate. But 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., Look at some of the spheres thus irradiated with the golden light of charity.
1. The sphere of a brother's opinions. "Believeth all things." Many find it easy to be charitable towards their brethren in almost everything except their opinions. Think of the bitternesses, separations, and conflicts arising from differences of political opinion, from differences of denominational opinion, from differences of theological opinion. In these matters what a sad worldful of uncharity we have to mourn over. We cannot, indeed, with the utmost stretch of charity, receive all opinions; it is impossible to delude ourselves into the acceptance of all forms of doctrine, as though all may be true. Not in that sense does charity enable us to "believe all things." Charity is a grace exercised concerning persons holding opinions, not concerning opinions separated from the persons holding them. The religious questionings which agitate the hearts of our fellow men are altogether too solemn, the yearnings of the human heart everywhere after the standard of righteousness, the pardon of sin, the peace of God, and light beyond the grave, are altogether too serious and anxious, to permit us to speak of any one - of the Catholic, or the Unitarian, or the Hindoo, or the Mohammedan, or the island savage - save in terms of deepest and most sincere sympathy.
2. The sphere of a brother's failings. "Beareth all things." How ready we are to push right down a brother who has begun to slip! What strong things we say about the faintings and errors of others! How loudly we talk about the imperfections in the character and conduct of others! How easily we forget our own "beams," and, with malicious delight, swell out the "motes" in our brothers' eyes! Charity teaches us to say nothing at all about our brother if we cannot say something good.
3. The sphere of a brother's sorrows. "Seeketh not her own." Perhaps we may call this the principal sphere of charity, as it is certainly the easiest. There is so much of natural feeling to help us in this case, while in other cases our natural feelings may be opposed to our charities. What a peculiarly earthly and human sphere of charity this is! There are no sufferers lying on sick beds for us to tend in heaven; no hungry ones for us to feed; no imprisoned ones for us to visit; no naked ones for us to clothe. Perhaps the exercises of charity in the midst of worldly sorrows are intended to prepare us for the yet higher charities of the eternal world. Charity finds so extensive a sphere for its present operations because so little of human sorrow is simple, so often it is complicated - complicated by peculiarly distressing circumstances, complicated by poverty, by mental anguish, etc. For sorrows pure and simple there may be no more needed than sympathy; for sorrow complicated with other kinds of trouble there is needed charity, which takes up sympathy into itself, and goes on to express itself in generous gifts and kindly deeds.
4. The sphere of a brother's sins. "Rejoiceth not in iniquity." If charity towards a suffering brother is the easiest effort, charity towards a sinning brother is the hardest. It is very hard to be charitable towards one who has sinned, when the sin touches others rather than ourselves. It is the Divine triumph to be charitable when the wrong is done to ourselves.
II. CHARITY IS THE GREATEST OF THE GRACES BECAUSE OF THE DIFFICULTY WITH WHICH IT IS ATTAINED. It is so difficult because of the separating influence of sin. Sin broke up the fellowship of the human family, and filled the world with opposing interests. Charity has to heal up these great wounds, and temper these opposing relations, and make the human family one again. Charity cannot be won by any of us save as the issue of a constant, earnest struggle. Charity is only the final result of a day by day endeavour to think charitably of others, and act charitably towards them in their opinions, their failings, their sorrows, and their sins. - R.T.
I. JOY NO LONGER FLOWS FROM THE PRESENCE AND PREVALENCE OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. It seems to attribute a fiendish spirit to human beings to suppose that they can anywhere and at any time be found to rejoice in wrong doing and unrighteousness. Yet it is, alas! possible for sinful men to take a malignant pleasure in the prevalence of sin; for it is the proof of the power of the moral forces with which they have allied themselves, of the victory of their own party. The iniquity of others serves to support and justify their own iniquity. And it must be borne in mind that there are cases in which designing men profit by deeds of unrighteousness, take the very wages of iniquity. Against such dispositions Christian love must needs set itself; for when iniquities prevail, happiness and hope take wings and fly away.
II. JOY FLOWS TO THE CHRISTIAN HEART FROM THE PROGRESS OF TRUTH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS. Truth is the intellectual side of righteousness, and righteousness the moral side of truth. There is, accordingly, a real antithesis between the two clauses of the text.
1. This joy is akin to the joy of God. The Father rejoices over the repenting and recovered child, the Shepherd over the restored, once wandering, sheep. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." And they who themselves are enjoying peace and fellowship with a reconciled God cannot but participate in the satisfaction with which that holy Being views the progress of truth and religion among men.
2. It is sympathetic with the gladness of the Saviour in the accomplishment of his gracious purposes. As Christ sees of the travail of his soul, he is satisfied; for the joy set before him, i.e. in the salvation of men, he endured the cross. And all who owe salvation to what Jesus did and suffered for man must needs experience a thrill of gratification when a rebel is changed into a subject by the grace of God.
3. It springs from the triumph of that cause which of all on earth is the greatest and most glorious. Every noble soul finds satisfaction in witnessing the advance of truth from the dim dawn towards the full meridian day for which he, in common with all God's people in every age, is ever toiling, hoping, and praying. - T.
i.e. to the whole system in which he finds himself, and of which indeed he forms a part.
I. Love "CONCEALETH ALL THINGS." The word is one which, perhaps, cannot be confidently interpreted. But it may and probably does mean "conceal "or "cover." And so rendered, how appropriate is it in this place! What so characteristic of true charity as the habit of covering up and concealing the faults and infirmities of our brethren? It is a difficult exercise, especially to an acute and candid mind; but because we see an error it is not necessary to publish it. There may be good done and harm avoided by hiding good men's infirmities and the human defects which are to be found even in an excellent cause.
II. Love "BELIEVETH ALL THINGS." There is no point at which the wisdom of this world and the wisdom which is of God come more violently into conflict than here. To worldly men it seems the height of folly to proceed in human life upon the principle of believing all things. This is, in their view, credulity which will make a man the prey of knaves and impostors. Now, the words of the text must not be taken literally. They commend a disposition opposed to suspicion. A suspicious man is wretched himself, and he is universally distrusted and disliked. Where there is reason to distrust a person, even charity will distrust. But, on the other hand, charity cultivates that strain of nobleness in character which prefers to think well of others, and to give credit rather than to question and disbelieve.
III. LOVE "HOPETH ALL THINGS." Here again we have portrayed a feature of Christian character which it needs some spiritual discipline and culture to appreciate. A sanguine disposition is often distrusted, and not unjustly. But we may understand that temper of mind which leads us to hope good things of our fellow men, and to view with confident expectation the progress of the truth over their nature.
IV. LOVE "ENDURETH ALL THINGS." This is to most men the hardest lesson of all. Many will cheerfully work from love, who find it no easy matter to suffer calumny, coldness, hatred, persecution, in a loving spirit and for Christ's sake. But we need the spirit of Divine charity to overlook all the assaults of men, and to pray for those who despitefully use us. This can and may be done when the whole nature is inspired with love to God and love to man. - T.
"Not for this
I. THE CESSATION AND VANISHING OF INTELLECTUAL GIFTS.
1. What they were. They seem to have been supernatural gifts, highly prized by their possessors, and eagerly coveted by the members of the Christian societies generally. "Prophecy" was the faculty of uttering forth Divine truth. "Tongues" were supernatural utterances, probably of various kinds. "Knowledge" is here used in a special sense, equivalent to a peculiar spiritual illumination. Such were the gifts of which these Corinthians were wont to boast.
2. Why it is appointed that these gifts shall cease. Because they were bestowed to serve a temporary purpose, when the barque of Christianity had to be launched upon the sea of human society, when Christian doctrine needed a special introduction and a special authentication. There are certain parts of a plant which serve to protect it for a season, which disappear when the plant is mature. A scaffolding may be useful for a time; but when the building is completed, it has done its work, and is taken down and carried away. So with these gifts; good for a temporary purpose, they may be dispensed with when that purpose is attained.
II. THE UNFALLING LIFE OF LOVE.
1. Love is the special and permanent characteristic of the Christian economy. Observe its exemplification in such characters as the apostles Paul and John. And notice that whilst the special gifts referred to have passed away, charity remains the distinctive feature of the Church of Christ in all its varying circumstances and ministrations.
2. Love is permanent in the heavenly and eternal state. If faith shall then become trust without misgiving, and hope expectation without uncertainty, love shall then be adoration without coldness, affection without interruption. Love shall be supreme, and the great Centre of worship and adoration shall call forth all the affection of the countless host, whilst the members of that vast and glorious society shall find room for the infinite exercise of this peerless grace.
III. THE EXPLANATION OF THE SUPERIORITY AND SUPREMACY OF LOVE.
1. What calls it forth is permanent; there is no limit to the appeal for love made by the conscious universe and by its Lord.
2. What fosters and feeds it is permanent; there is no limit to the supply of the Spirit, the power, the grace, of God. - T.
I. OUR APPREHENSION AND COMMUNICATION OF TRUTH IS PARTIAL.
1. This is a result of the limitation of our powers. This may be a doctrine humbling to human pride, but it is not to be disputed. It should be observed that the apostle speaks of himself as well as of private Christians; and from this we infer that revelation and inspiration are alike conditioned by the very limited powers of man.
2. It is a result of the limitation of our opportunities. We can only know what is brought before us; we cannot create truth. It pleases God that only glimpses and whisperings of Divine truth should be afforded to us. Our knowledge is therefore partial, as is the measure of truth which its Author sets before us.
3. It is a result of the brevity of our life. Human life is short as compared with the universe in which it is passed, and which has so many sides of contact with our understanding. And if nature cannot be known in all its fulness by even the most diligent student, how shall revelation be mastered in a lifetime? There is a religious side to every truth of fact, and the man of science, if a Christian, need never be at a loss for material for religious contemplation and emotion.
II. THAT WHICH IS PARTIAL IS DESTINED TO PERISH. It cannot be meant that any truth shall cease to be truth, that any aspect of religion once justified shall so change its character as to be disowned. We have known Christ, and such knowledge is not transitory, for it is eternal life. But special gifts, like the variety of prophecy known in the primitive Church, served their purpose, and were no more. Our systems of theology, our presentations of doctrine, our modes of homiletic, are adapted, more or less, to our age and circumstances, but they are only for a season. Partial knowledge may be useful whilst perfect knowledge is impossible; but only then.
III. FOR THE PERFECT SHALL COME TO ABOLISH THE PARTIAL. The star shall not disappear because lost in the dense black cloud, but because it shall melt in the splendour of the day. Our prospect is not one to inspire melancholy; or if a shade of pensiveness pass over the soul in the prospect of the disappearance of what is so familiar and so dear, that pensiveness may well give way to content and hope when we look forward to the glory which shall be revealed. - T.
I. THE LITERAL FACT OF HUMAN NATURE AND LIFE. Childhood has its own speech, its prattle and babble; the babe utters inarticulate noises, the child speaks words, but with indistinctness and with many mistakes. Childhood has its own feelings, some of them Very deep when inspired by trivial causes; feelings succeeding one another with rapidity in striking contrast. Childhood has its own thoughts, sometimes upon the most mysterious themes, always with little knowledge of the thoughts of others; thoughts unfounded, unjustifiable; thoughts, too, which may be developed into a larger and richer experience. Now, he who becomes a man puts aside these infantile ways. His language is articulate, perhaps elegant and precise, perhaps copious and poetical. His feelings are less easily roused, but they are deeper and more lasting. His thoughts range over heaven and earth, the past and the future; they "wander through eternity."
II. THE ANALOGY OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE BASED ON THIS FACT. This the apostle suggests and leaves his readers to work out in detail. There is an obvious resemblance between the life of the individual upon earth and the larger, longer life of the soul. As is childhood to manhood, so is this present state of being to the immortality beyond. This being so, there is a measure of probability that the resemblance extends where we cannot follow it. This is the argument of analogy; alike in many points, alike probably in more.
1. The future will be a development and expansion of the present. The speech and the feeling, the thoughts and the judgments, of the man are based upon those of the child. They are not radically different. Even so our earthly faith and hope and love, our earthly consecration, obedience, and praise, are the germ of the experiences and services.of the heavenly sanctuary. Heaven will witness the manhood of that intelligent piety, that devotion of heart and energy, of which earth has witnessed the infancy and childhood.
2. The future will immensely transcend the present. Great as is the difference between the acquirements of the child and those of the man, greater will be that between the religious knowledge and experience of earth, and what is reserved for us hereafter. It is vain for us to suppose that in this present state we can form any conception of the glorious future. We are now God's children, and we know not what we shall be. This we know: "We shall put away childish things." - T.
I. TRUE OF OUR KNOWLEDGE GENERALLY. The apostle speaks without any words limiting the application of his statement to religious realities. Man's pride of knowledge, notwithstanding his intellectual powers are limited in their range and in their efficacy. Some of the causes of this limitation we can see, and we can well believe that in another and higher state they may be removed. The senses or other avenues of perception may be multiplied in number and intensified in power. It may be that words - which are the medium of much of our knowledge - may be replaced by symbols more definite and instructive. Our feebleness of attention and application may be replaced by a vigour not possible in this body. Many things now known by inference may then be known by intuition. And whilst there may be a change in our own natural capacities and faculties, there may be also an enlargement of the material presented to our minds. And the search after truth may be more pure and disinterested as well as more vigorous. We are all aware that purity of heart is a condition of apprehending moral and spiritual truth; this condition will in heaven be perfected, and corresponding results may be expected.
II. TRUE ESPECIALLY OF WHAT MAY BE CALLED OUR RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE.
1. Of religious truth. This we now know sufficiently for all practical purposes; but we are often conscious that we see but glimpses and hear but whispers of the great truths upon which our higher life and deathless hopes depend. The progress made by the child as he advances to spiritual maturity is probably as nothing compared with the advance to be made by the Christian when the veil of sense and time falls off. The mysteries by which the mind has often been perplexed shall be revealed; the harmony of truths we could not reconcile shall be apparent; the reasons of regulations we could not understand shall become plain. The world, ourselves, society, life, all are now full of enigmas. Eternity shall provide the solution.
2. Of our knowledge of God in Christ. We do know Christ, and, notwithstanding the objections of philosophers, we have a real though very partial and inadequate knowledge of God himself; for Christ said, "He who hath seen me hath seen the Father also." There have been special revelations of God to specially favoured members of the human family; but hereafter, the vision shall be open, it shall be for all the purified and glorified. "We shall see him as he is." "We shall know [God] even as we are known." Well is this called "the beatific vision:" to behold and know him who is infinite in nature, eternal in existence, perfect in all moral attributes.
III. TRUE ALSO OF OUR KNOWLEDGE OF OUR SPIRITUAL KINDRED AND BRETHREN. There are many circumstances which hinder us from enjoying more than a superficial acquaintance with some of our nearest kinsmen and our daily associates. But in heaven there shall be no disguise, no restraint, no separation. Misunderstandings shall vanish; we shall see "face to face." Imagination pictures, upon the suggestion of this principle, the fellowship of pure delight to be enjoyed with all "saints," in "the assembly and Church of the Firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." - T.
I. THE PARTIAL KNOWLEDGE OF THIS PRESENT STATE. "We see as through a mirror, in an enigma."
1. Earth is a mirror dimly reflecting God's attributes. The glory, beauty, adaptations of nature, all speak of God. There is a reflection, and the wisdom, the power, the goodness, of the Creator may be recognized. Yet it is a dim reflection; lightning, tempest, and earthquake, sickness, anguish, and death, perplex the mind of the reflective observer. There is no complete and adequate solution here.
2. Life is a mirror dimly reflecting God's government. No careful, observant mind can fail to trace an overruling Providence in human life, in the life of the individual, anti in the life of the nation. Yet the reflection of a perfectly wise and righteous government, it must be admitted, is dim. We cannot always "justify the ways of God to men;" the heart often sinks at the sight of prosperous wickedness, of the slow progress made by truth and righteousness. The kingdom of God seems near us; but we ask, "Is it here?"
3. Revelation is a mirror dimly reflecting God's purposes. There has been doubtless a progressive removal of the veil which hides God from us. Yet this revelation has been chiefly for practical purposes. We look into revelation to satisfy our inquiries concerning the Divine nature, concerning the eternal life, and there meets our view a dim manifestation. We see, but we see "in an enigma."
II. WHY THE FUTURE STATE IS ONE OF CLEARER, FULLER KNOWLEDGE.
1. There may be a reason in ourselves. Spiritual childhood will develop into manhood; the imperfections of the body, the infirmities of human nature, the prejudices of the earthly life, will disappear, and our vision will be purged.
2. A reason in the character of our knowledge. The processes here and now are slow, hesitating, inferential. Hereafter it would seem that we shall know by intuition much which now we learn mediately and with much liability to error.
3. A reason in the manifestation itself. More material will be offered to our faculties; clearer light will beam upon us. In the vaster dominion then accessible, of which only a province is now within our reach, there will open up to the glorified as in a blaze, a sphere of Divine knowledge.
4. A reason in the circumstances and the society of heaven. Here opportunities are restricted; there they will be illimitable. Here fellowship is imperfect; there the society of glorified saints and blessed angels will be fitted to stimulate and encourage the soul by sympathy with all its lofty quests and aspirations.
5. A reason in the prolonged opportunity of eternity. The reflection often forces itself upon us: "Art is long, and time is fleeting." There is no time for the dirtiness to pass off the mirror upon which, as we gaze, we breathe. Yonder infinite opportunity invites the ardent spirit to intermeddle with all knowledge; we feel that we can but lose ourselves in a prospect so vast, illimitable, and glorious.
III. WHAT IT MAY BE EXPECTED WILL HEREAFTER BE CLEARLY KNOWN.
1. The past of our existence will then be seen in due perspective, and will be plain to the mind looking back upon it.
2. Light shall be east upon the mysteries of earth and time. What has been perplexing and inexplicable when beheld so near at hand shall be clear and unmistakable as the appointment of Divine wisdom and love, when looked down upon from yonder heights.
3. Christ himself shall be then seen "as he is," so as even his dearest and most congenial friends cannot know him now. "Then face to face," to be "changed into the same image, from glory to glory." - T.
I. OUR PRESENT IGNORANCE. Our knowledge of Divine things (for these are here chiefly referred to) resembles that which we obtain of natural objects when we see them "through a glass," or rather "reflected in a mirror." And ancient mirrors, of which the apostle speaks, were by no means so perfect as modern ones. Made of imperfectly polished metal, they gave but a very defective representation of objects reflected. The imperfection of our present knowledge is thus strikingly illustrated. We see now "darkly," or "in an enigma," and the enigma often puzzles us not a little. Our present ignorance arises from:
1. Imperfection in the mirror. Though the Scripture be inspired of God, yet it reveals plainly only necessary truth. Other truth is set forth in figure or is barely hinted at. So that we do not find by any means in God's Word a solution of all mysteries. We see much in it - we may see all that we need to see; but it is still a book of mystery, a mirror which only partially reflects the great realities. Then the mirror is often blurred.
(1) Defects and errors in translation if we read only in our mother tongue; and if we have the modern "gift of tongues," it is often difficult to determine the precise meaning of a word or passage.
(2) Defects in exposition on the part of teachers. Other mirrors, such as nature and the course of human events, furnish us with knowledge of Divine things; but these mirrors, in the hands of men, and under the influences of evil, have become warped and misshapen, consequently the reflections are more or less distorted. We have further to reflect that no mirror could perfectly reflect what we desire to know.
2. Imperfection in our vision. We do not by any means see all that is reflected. Now dust is in our eyes, and now tears, and we see comparatively little. We have many ophthalmic disorders which impair our sight.
3. Dimness of the light in which we live. The haze of sin is around us; the atmosphere is darkened by evil; the beams of the Sun of Righteousness have to break through much fog.
4. We move as we gaze. Our life is rapid. We snatch hurried glances at things Divine. We do not see as much as we might see. The most of us might get longer seasons of quiet contemplation if we would. Not a few need to learn the wisdom of sacrificing the little for the great; alas! so many sacrifice the great for the little. We must do this and that and the other; and we never pause to ask the question - Why must we? It comes to this piece of folly - we must do the little and trivial; there is no need for us to do the great and the all important! For these and other reasons our present condition is largely one of ignorance. Still we should be thankful
(1) that we see something;
(2) that we can see enough for life and duty.
II. OUR FUTURE KNOWLEDGE. Hereafter things will be changed. No longer shall we see in a mirror darkly, but "face to face." Our life will not then be a study of reflections. The atmosphere will then be purer. Our vision will be corrected and perfected. Earthly distractions will cease. Then remark how perfect our knowledge will be. Our knowledge of truth will be like God's knowledge of us: "Then shall I know even as also I am known." God sees us through and through, and is acquainted with all our ways; so hereafter shall we know those things which are now perplexing mysteries to us. The insoluble will then be solved, the contradictories reconciled. In our sphere then we shall be "perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). We shall know God more truly; for "we shall see him as he is." Note: The path of piety is the path of knowledge. The promise of the solution of great mysteries is made to the godly. Part of the torment of the lost may consist in the distraction occasioned by mysteries which for them have no promise of solution. This is the cause of not a little suffering and sorrow here; it may be such a cause hereafter, and a more intense cause. Believers are sometimes ridiculed for credulity, fancifulness, indifference to "facts." But believers are on the way towards the very highest know]edge and the completest grasp, in all their significance, of the greatest facts of the universe. Now we are but children, and concerned with things which, in comparison with "things to come," are childish (though in the child and the childish things there are the true germs of what in fuller development belong to the man and manly things); hereafter we shall become men, and put away childish things (ver. 11). - H.
i.e. known or apprehended of Christ. St. Paul's thought appears to be that soul culture brings the true, full knowledge and power. A man knows only in the measure of the progress of the work of Divine grace in him; and what we may call perfect knowledge can only come when we are ourselves morally perfected, wholly sanctified, through the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Two points claim consideration.
I. THE NATURE AND LIMITATIONS OF MAN'S PRESENT KNOWLEDGE. It is dependent on our senses. Show that this means that our knowledge is limited to the spheres with which our senses stand related. Even transcendent and so called supernatural things cannot be conceived until set under sensible forms and figures. We can only transcend nature by the help of nature. The senses limit even the imagination. It may be shown that God's world is set ready for just the creatures he has put in it; and if any other than the sensible world is to be opened to us, we must be changed, renewed, regenerated, and so new sensibilities and capacities must be given and developed. Illustrate that the world of science is the proper sphere for men who have only senses and intellect. It is a vast sphere, a wonderful sphere, but only a limited sphere; and since researches or observations within it are dependent on the frailty of the instruments used, no absolute truth of science can ever be obtained. Illustrate from the observations of astronomers. No conclusion can be affirmed with absolute certainty because the disturbing conditions of the atmosphere can never be perfectly estimated in connection with any experiment. Then add to this frailty of the senses the influence of sin on man when his attention is directed to moral questions. No man can hope, of himself, to attain the perfect moral truth. Illustrate from the sadly mixed systems of all the great classical or modern moralists, and plead that the key to all truth is the vision of God which comes with the soul's conversion and regeneration. Here on earth a man knows nothing aright until he knows God, as manifested in the person of his Son.
II. THE NATURE AND LIMITATIONS OF MAN'S FUTURE KNOWLEDGE. It will not be imprisoned in sense forms or figures. It will come by soul faculties, of which our bodily senses are but suggestive types. It will come out of new spheres and new relations. It will take new thought forms. It will replace observation by insight, so it will need no verification. It will bear relation to moral character, and not to intellectual endowments. It will be the apprehension men may gain, when the blinding influence of sin and self love are wholly passed away, and spiritual insight has no clouds or veils to pierce through. But man's future knowledge, however wonderful it may be, must still be limited, forever it can but be the knowledge of a created being. He can never know God, never know more than God may be pleased to reveal of himself and of his ways. - R.T.
have - their abilities. Paul was not the man to disparage faith, which holds so high a place in his writings, nor hope, which was so prominent a feature of his character. But the higher the estimation in which he held these virtues, the loftier was the position to which he raised the grace of love when he pronounced it the greatest and the most enduring of all virtues.
I. BECAUSE OF ITS NATIVE SOURCE AND ORIGIN. God cannot exercise faith or cherish hope; but he not only has love, he is love. Our virtues are largely creature virtues; this is the great attribute of the Creator himself.
II. BECAUSE OF ITS SUPREME MANIFESTATION TO MANKIND IN THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST. The Lord Jesus brought down the love of the Father to this world of ignorance, error, and sin. He revealed Divine love, which was indeed the motive of his advent, but which was also the prevailing and undeniable characteristic of his ministry, and the secret explanation of his willing and sacrificial death.
III. BECAUSE IT IS THE SPECIAL LAW OF THE LORD JESUS. His "new commandment" was this: "Love one another." And he made obedience to this commandment the great test of discipleship: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." What takes so pre-eminent a place in the mind of the Monarch, what stands so obviously supreme among his laws, must necessarily be regarded by his loyal subjects with an especial reverence.
IV. BECAUSE IT IS THE END TO WHICH THE OTHER VIRTUES ARE MEANS. Faith is not an end; it is faith in a Divine Deliverer and in his promise of salvation; it is the means towards life eternal. Hope is not an end; it is hope of final and eternal fellowship with God; it is the means to steadfastness and to heaven. But love is an end in itself. Charity is the bond of perfectness; beyond this even Christianity cannot carry us. As the grace of faith and the grace of hope realize their purpose when they produce the grace of Christian love, it is obvious that the virtue which is their final purpose is greater than they. And this conviction is confirmed when we consider that, of all virtues, love is usually the most difficult and the last to be acquired. There have been confessors and martyrs Whose faith was firm and whose hope was bright, who yet did not arrive at the acme of perfect love. This is the test and the crown of spiritual maturity.
V. BECAUSE OF ITS SUPREME UTILITY. Society needs above all things to be penetrated with the spirit of charity, sympathy, and brotherly kindness. This is the radical cure for all its ills - this, and only this. What gravitation is in the physical realm, that is love in the moral Without it, all is disorder and chaos; with it, all is regularity and beauty. It represses hatred, malice, envy, and uncharitableness; it cultivates considerateness, pity, gentleness, self denial, and generous help.
VI. BECAUSE IT IS THE PECULIAR ELEMENT OF HEAVENLY BLESSEDNESS. Disputes have arisen as to whether or not faith and hope are found in heaven. But there is no difference of opinion as to the prevalence and eternity of the grace of love. For -
"Love is heaven, and heaven is love!" T.
I. THEIR EXCELLENCE.
1. Faith. Unites us to Christ; secures our forgiveness, justification, sanctification, final and complete redemption. It is the great power in our present life: "The just shall live by faith."
2. Hope. Brightens the present by brightening the future. In distress we have hope of deliverance; in sickness, of restoration or translation to the painless life; in sin, of holiness; in sorrow, of joy; in the world, of heaven. Without hope, how could we live? And the Christian's hope is the brightest and most joy bringing conceivable.
3. Love. What a wilderness the world would be without love! Society would disintegrate; families would be wrecked; nations would fall. Love is the salt which checks the tendencies toward corruption. And love in its highest relation - love to God - elevates and purifies us, and brings to us the purest delights of which this life is capable.
II. THEIR CONTINUANCE. "Now abideth." We may be devoutly thankful for this. Sometimes we are prone to regret that what we call the "extraordinary gifts" of the Church have ceased (ver. 8); but if instead of losing these we had lost the others, how infinitely impoverished we should have become! Faith, hope, love: these are sufficient for all our present needs. Miraculous gifts ceased because it was best for them to cease. They were suited to the infancy of the Church; but the necessity for them having passed away, they have disappeared. The spiritually miraculous gifts of faith, hope, and love abide evermore with the Church in this world.
III. THE CHIEF OF THE THREE. "The greatest of these is love."
1. Longer continuance. Hereafter faith will be lost in sight and the objects of present hope will be attained. Now "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). "Faith is the substance of [or 'assurance of'] things hoped for" (Hebrews 11:1) "We are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" (Romans 8:24). As the special gifts of prophecy, miracles, and tongues disappeared when they would no longer have proved of service, so hope and faith will cease when their appointed task is finished, and love alone will reign on through the everlasting ages. Confidence in God will not cease, of course, nor the looking forward to further delights and Divine blessings; but these do not answer to the faith and hope which are ours in this world of darkness. Faith and hope mean to us, now, effort, struggle, difficulty; these things will "pass away."
2. More useful to others. Faith saves us; hope cheers us; love sends us out after our fellows. The former are chiefly self tending; the latter is expansive. Still faith is the root of love, and our hope makes us more helpful, but love, pre-eminently and most directly, is concerned in the welfare of those around us.
3. Makes us like God. God is not faith; God is not hope: "God is love." As true love grows in us, God grows in us. When true love is impressed upon us, the Divine image is re-impressed (Genesis 1:26). - H.
abideth faith, hope, charity, these three. The word "abideth" is significant, as applied to each of the three great graces. While so much must "pass away," why may faith, hope, and charity be said to abide? Because they are the dress of souls, not of bodies. They are things belonging to character, not merely to conduct. Souls pass through into new spheres of existence, taking with them all that is peculiar to them. We shall step into the eternal world with just the clothing of character - the garments of faith, love, and hope - which we had put on our spirit in our mortal sphere. More or less distinctly we all have an idea that faith and hope are powers peculiar to our present mortal and earthly condition. We think we shall no longer need them when we have reached to heaven. We think that only love, charity, will go with us there. Yet can it be that we shall ever get past "faith"? Is "sight" anything more than another and a higher form of "faith"? Shall we ever lose "hope"? As long as we remain creatures, not creators, we shall surely have to believe and hope and love.
I. THE IMMORTALITY OF LOVE. We may infer this from the abiding character of love in this life. All kinds of love tend to abide; they even strive to increase and grow. Life may greatly change with us, multiplied sorrows may come to us, but there are some who love us, whose love keeps on, and can neither change nor pass. True mother love abideth. True wifely love abideth. True friendship love abideth. We go out into the eternal world with such love folded like holy robes about our spirits. And that kind of love which we call Christian love - charity - has the same power of abiding. Let it but be gained in the early days of our Christian life, and it wilt stay and grow, widening and adorning the Christian spirit down to its time of passing through. If love thus abides in Christian life, can it be possible that death, which is but the servant of Christ - Christ's hall porter or gate keeper - should be able to master it, overcome it, and finish it? But we may further argue the immortality of love from every view of the heavenly state that is presented to us, and every conception we can form of it. It is the place of union; the uniting bond must be love. It is a home; the one sanctifying power in a home is love. It is the place where God is all in all, and "God is love." Those whom God teaches to love he teaches to love forever.
II. THE IMMORTALITY OF FAITH. What is the proper idea of faith? It is the relation in which we ought to stand to things above us, higher than we are. It is our "evidence of things not seen." As long as there is anybody in the world wiser than ourselves, we shall have to believe what they say. Get the very wisest man that ever lived on earth, if there is in heaven one spirit wiser than he, he will have to believe - to take on trust - what the wiser spirit may say. And the holiest archangel must believe what the all wise God may say. Change them as we may, know as we are known, grow with giant strides as the eternal hours pass by, stilt we can never overtake or outgrow God. As long as we are creatures we shall be, in knowledge as well as in power, below our Creator. While we keep our being we shalt have to believe - we shall have to trust. If we have the true spirit wrought in us, we shall never want to get beyond faith. For the creature it is the highest blessedness that he is found willing to trust. To wish to see is to rebel. It is to wish to be God, and take the place of God. Enough for us to be forever the children of God, and it is a very foolish child who wants to get beyond trust. Heaven is so beautiful, because we shall there be children at home forever; perfected in faith, in childlike trust, and safe in the protection and the shadow of the eternal Father. We are learning to believe by the experiences of our human lives, but it would be a sad thing if we were only learning something which we should lose when we came to die, even if we exchanged it for something better. Of this we may rest assured, that in learning to trust we are learning for the heavenly and immortal spheres.
III. THE IMMORTALITY OF HOPE. In this life hope seems to change, but in reality it abides, only changing its objects. The old man hopes quite as truly as the young man, though not with the same passionate intensity. The change into the eternal spheres is more evident to the senses, but it is not more real, than the change from the boy to the man; surely in his second, glorified, manhood man wilt keep his power of hoping, only setting it on new and higher and eternal things. If we are still to grow in the eternal world, we must have something ever before us and above us to hope for. If we know that we may become wiser, truer, stronger, holier than we are, we cannot keep from hoping that we may become such. And heaven cannot possibly be a mere stereotyping of the sanctifyings wrought through our Christian life on earth, In seeking, then, for faith, hope, and charity, we are seeking the heavenly treasures, the things that are abiding and eternal. They are the "treasure in the heavens, which faileth not." - R.T.