The Three Divine Sisters
1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

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. 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.). 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 : 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.

III. 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 (Psalm 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.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

WEB: But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.

The Supremacy of Love
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