1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
I. 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.
II. 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.
III. 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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.