1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1. In the text the word is translated charity. In Wickliffes time, however, love and charity were as nearly related as charity and benevolence are now. This can be understood if we will remember that charity and dear, in the sense of precious, belong to the one root. They spring from what was common enough when they were born — dearth or scarcity. Food was then precious, much esteemed, much loved. Then good bread was dear, not as it is now to us in money value merely, but in this primitive value of something to love, a small piece being given to the children sometimes on a Sunday, as a very precious thing.
2. What, then, is this love? It is a word traceable to many different roots. That could not be otherwise. Love would naturally be one of the very first things the most abject savages must find a name for, after getting a word to express each of the bare needs of life. The first time the man of the forest tried to win a maiden in some higher way than by carrying her off by force, he would need the word. The first time the mother had to tell of the mysterious glow in her heart toward her babe in its helplessness, she would need the word. And so love, in one root, is longing; in another, goodness; in another, preference; but, to me, the right rests at last in the Teutonic word leben — life. "This is life," these children of nature said, when they first began to be conscious of this glowing wonder in their hearts. "You are my life," the man said when he went to win the maiden; and the mother, when she caught her nursling to her heart. Love is to live; and not to love is not to live. And it was exactly the definition of John, when he wanted to tell of the nearest and dearest of all the relations the soul can hold to God.
3. And so, while faith is inreaching, and hope outlooking, love is inbeing. By faith I stand; by hope I soar, by love I am. Faith assures me, hope inspires me; love is me, at my best.
4. And it is only as we keep, close to this idea and fact that we can prevent love being confounded with other and baser things, that, getting mixed up with it in our own language, act like the baser metals mixed up in the coinage of a country, giving the real gold and silver a lower relative value, and debasing the whole fair standard of commonwealth. Love, for example, is not lust. Because love, for whatever may in itself be good, adds just so much as there is in what I love to life; while lust for that very thing exhausts life. When the young man, living in a room, eating in a restaurant, and troubled about more things than ever Martha was, feels at last how contracted and poor such a life is at the best, and says in his heart, "This is not living: I must get me a wife," whatever may be his idea of the wife he wants, the word he uses to describe his condition reaches away into the truth. It is not living: it is just half living, and probably not that. His heart is crying out for the rest of his life. But there is that calling itself love which is lust — something that seeks not a life, but an appanage to life, and reaps for its sowing a harvest of gray ashes. Love informs life; lust exhausts it. Love is the shining sun, lust is the wandering star.
5. But, beside such special applications, there is no direction in which we can turn but this spirit meets us with its sweet, solemn face. Consider the lesson we have learned in our war. When we plunged into that red sea, the gentlemen of England were looking on. The few said we should hold our own; the multitude said we had gone under. What made this difference? The few loved us, so that Faith stood square, and Hope plumed her wings, and they became the glad ministers of their leader and guide. The many did not love us. They had no faith in us and no hope for us, because they had no love. When a man really loves, it piles great stores of love into his heart; so that he may even come to some dreadful pass where faith and hope fail him, and yet love shall carry him through. When the father wants to put his son on the way to success, if he is a wise man, he most anxiously tries to find out where the lad's love lies; for there, he knows, he will have faith and hope, because the love will be a perpetual inspiration; while, to put him to what he can never love, will only exhaust and disgust him, until at last it is given up in despair.
(R. Collyer, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.