1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.…
This chapter is a noble hymn; scarce anywhere else does Paul seem so wholly possessed with his subject. The very words themselves have something about them of the grace which they describe. They sound like angelic harmonies.
I. SEE HOW THE APOSTLE TEARS UP BY THE ROOTS MANY A SIGN OF ACCEPTANCE ON WHICH MEN ARE ACCUSTOMED TO RELY.
1. What a noble thing it is to have the power of speech to move men's souls! No wonder that men put such a price upon eloquence. However, so long as it is employed in mere worldly interests, whose soul is the better for it? If charity breathe into it and give it life, it is well. But if you substitute fine talking, dressed out with the names of God and Christ, it is not a blessing to you, but a curse. Learn to love, and away with the ready tongue and fluent profession.
2. Even in worldly matters, and, specially, in God's works, knowledge is a great and noble thing, and much more so when conversant with things Divine. But men are led to fancy that this is religion itself. But though your minds were so enlarged that they could contain all mysteries and all knowledge, yet if charity be not there, not only is all this knowledge cold and dead, majestic like some great building, but with no soul in it; but it profits nothing, it will not bring you on one step to heaven!
3. But to come to better things, e,g., faith. Great is the might that lies within it. Yet faith without love is no better than the belief of the evil angels, though it works miracles.
4. The apostle waxes bolder and denies the seal of salvation, even to beneficence, if it could exist alone. Nay, to that sublimest effort of faith, by which the martyrs gave their very bodies to the flames, he refuses the assurance of God's love if charity be absent. An admirable thing, if you please; so great as, perhaps, to be beyond the comprehension of most men in our age, when too many Christians would not sacrifice a finger to Christ, much less give the body to be burned! yet, in the lack of love as the source of it, it is not capable of profiting any of us at the great day of the Lord!
II. WHAT, THEN, IS THIS DIVINE VIRTUE?
1. As charity is not the mere giving to the poor, though that is a duty, so still less has the thing which counts all religion the same anything to do with this Divine grace. If the world's notion of charity be right, it is the easiest thing that can be; and you have only to be an infidel to have it.
2. Measure your charity, and frame your standard of it, by Him who is perfect truth and perfect love. You, then, who profess yourselves Christians, are you impatient to affronts and injuries, unable to bear anything that opposes your own will? if so, ye have not charity; for charity "suffereth long and is kind." Are you jealous of other men's praises and possessions, looking on them with an evil eye? if so, charity dwelleth not in you; for charity envieth not, etc.
2. This charity, which surpasses all other graces, does in deed and in truth contain them all. That it is no other than the Christian life; a manifestation in daily and hourly action of a Divine principle within, which testifies to its own heavenly origin. Christ is this living charity, and hath left an example that we should follow His steps. Aye, and He is still among you, not only stirring within the soul, but speaking oftentimes, and acting in the form of charity. Whenever you see a gentle and long-suffering spirit, there you see Christ! Whenever you see an earnest love for men's souls, and labour for them, there you see Christ. Christ is in His disciples, and His disciples in Him! They are one with Him, and He one with them, in a Divine and unspeakable unity!
(J. Garbett, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.