1 Corinthians 13:2
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith…
1. What is charity? St. Paul answers by giving a great number of properties of it. Which of all these is it, for if it is all at once, surely it is a name for all virtues? And what makes this conclusion still more plausible is that St. Paul calls charity "the fulfilling of the law": and our Saviour makes our whole duty consist in loving God and our neighbour. And St. James calls it "the royal law": and St. John says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
2. It is well, by way of contrast, to consider the description of faith in Hebrews 11, which starts with a definition of it, and is then illustrated in a series of instances. How then is it that faith is of so definite a character, and love so large and comprehensive?
3. Now the reason is what at first sight is the difficulty. The difficulty is whether, if love be such as here described, it is not all virtues at once. In one sense it is, and therefore St. Paul cannot describe it more definitely. It is the root of all holy dispositions, and grows and blossoms into them: they are its parts; and when it is described, they of necessity are mentioned. Love is the material out of which all graces are made, and. as being such, it will last for ever. "Charity." or love, "never faileth." Faith and hope are graces of an imperfect state, and they cease with that state; but love is greater, because it is perfection. Faith will be lost in sight, and hope in enjoyment; but love will increase more and more to all eternity. Faith and hope are means by which we express our love: we believe God's Word, because we love it; we hope after heaven, because we love it. Faith, then, and hope are but instruments or expressions of love; but as to love itself, we do not love because we believe, for the devils believe, yet do not love; nor do we love because we hope, for hypocrites hope, who do not love. Balaam had faith and hope, but not love. "May I die the death of the righteous"! is an act of hope. "The word that the Lord putteth into my mouth, that will I speak," is an act of faith; but his conduct showed that neither his faith nor his hope was loving. The servant in the parable, who fell down at his lord's feet, and begged to be excused his debt, had both faith and hope. He believed his lord able, and he hoped him willing, to forgive him. But he had neither love of God nor of his brother. There are then two kinds of faith in God, a good and a worthless; and two kinds of hope, good and worthless: but there are not two kinds of love of God. In the text it is said, "Though I had all faith, yet without love I am nothing": it is nowhere said, "Though I have all love, without faith I am nothing." Love, then, is the seed of holiness, and grows into all excellences, not indeed destroying their peculiarities, but making them what they are.
4. But here it may be asked, whether Scripture does not make faith, not love, the root, and all graces its fruits. I think not. In our Lord's parable of the Sower we read of persons who, "when they hear, receive the word with joy," yet having no "root," fall away. Now, receiving the word with joy, surely implies faith; faith, then, is certainly distinct from the root. However, it is allowable to call faith the root, because, in a certain sense at least, works do proceed from it. And hence Scripture speaks of "faith working by love." And in this chapter we read of "faith, hope, and charity," which seems to imply that faith precedes charity (see also 1 Timothy 1:5). In what sense, then, is faith the beginning of love, and love of faith? I observe faith is the first element of religion, and love, of holiness; and as holiness and religion are distinct, yet united, so are love and faith. Faith is to love as religion to holiness; for religion is the Divine law as coming to us from without, as holiness is the acquiescence in the same law as written within. Love is meditative, tranquil, gentle, abounding in all offices of goodness and truth; and faith is strenuous and energetic, formed for this world, combating it, training the mind towards love, fortifying it in obedience, and overcoming sense and reason by representations more urgent than their own. Moreover, it is plain that, while love is the root out of which faith grows, faith by receiving the wonderful tidings of the gospel, and presenting before the soul its sacred objects, expands our love, and raises it to a perfection which otherwise it could never reach. And thus our duty lies in faith working by love; love is the sacrifice we offer to God, and faith is the sacrificer. Yet they are not distinct from each other except in our way of viewing them. Priest and sacrifice are one; the loving faith and the believing love. Faith at most only makes a hero, but love makes a saint; faith can but put us above the world, but love brings us under God's throne; faith can but make us sober, but love makes us happy.
(J. H. Newman, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.