1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Here are three great and good things — man's untroubled confidence in the wisdom, power, and lovingkindness of his Father in heaven; man's happy and confident expectation of all that which the Divine Word does describe and promise; and man's living likeness to the pity, patience, long-suffering, and graciousness of his God — faith, hope, and charity. These three great and good things have one attribute in common — they all abide. In many respects faith is unlike hope, and both of them essentially differ from charity. But in the permanence of their power and glory they are alike great. They are not transient things speedily rendering a little service, and then passing away for ever; they are not things which may be of value to-day, but will be of no use to-morrow. In this respect the apostle contrasts them with other things of worth and power mentioned in the preceding verses of the chapter, but which were designed only for special circumstances and for temporary service. Those which did not abide were the miraculous gifts possessed by the first preachers of the Cross and their immediate successors. In forcible contrast to those things which were only transient and which belonged only to the age of the Church's infancy and feebleness, there are these three which abide — faith, hope, and charity. Their beauty is immortal, they are unfailing sources of power, and must be found in the Church militant as long as time shall last and the earth shall preserve its place amidst the circling worlds. Yes, prophets may fail, and miracles may cease, but the world will always need men who calmly trust in God, and steadfastly look for brighter days and better things, and whose hearts are being restored to the lost image of their Creator. Amidst all changes, and let perish what will perish, there must abide these three — faith, hope, charity. You are aware that it is not my purpose now to speak of the greatest of these essential and abiding graces. I am to speak only of the greatness of the first and second — faith and hope. The mistake is to disparage faith in order to extol charity; the mistake of thinking that because charity is supreme in its greatness and blessedness, faith must be a little matter and of little moment. It is a folly on our part to suppose we can magnify one virtue by depreciating another. If a man were to come to me and say, "I do not think much of this belief, this faith, this trust, about which you speak so much, charity is the greatest thing," the reply is very obvious: "Yes, charity is greater than faith, but if faith be the trifling thing you represent it, charity may be greater and yet not be a giant." He who dwarfs faith dwarfs charity also; he who magnifies faith and hope, does also magnify that charity which is greater than they. If I can show you how great faith in God is; how much it has to do with the peace of a man's conscience, with the joy of a man's heart, with the vigour of his spiritual life — how it arms and nerves a man for conflict with evil; how it shields him in temptation and sustains him in affliction; if I can show you how great a thing hope is, how it has power to make a dark present bright with a light borrowed from a far-off future; how it strengthens men for work, and puts courage into the fainting spirit, I shall have helped you to form a juster judgment of the greatness of the love which surpasses both these graces. It is not often that charity and hope, are spoken of as rivals. Men do not often slight hope in order to extol charity. Faith suffers most from this rivalry, and I shall now leave hope and confine my remarks entirely to faith, contenting myself with what I have said of the greatness of hope. In pursuing my task, I shall not attempt any metaphysical analysis or elaborate description of faith. The inspired apostle, with all his peerless gifts, did not adopt that difficult method of treating the subject. In the immortal chapter in the letter to the Hebrews, there is only one brief definition, and there is no description or analysis. Like a practical man of God as he was, the apostle showed faith at work, and left men to learn its worth and power from its labour and its results. I shall try to show you faith in action; and as we see what it can do, and what it enables men to do, we shall surely be persuaded that, though it is not so great as love, it is still very great, and blessed. I shall venture to take my first illustration from that tender and touching story told by our Lord, which never loses its freshness or force. A younger son was eager for freedom, and greedy of pleasure. In every scheme that he formed for his future felicity the central idea was that he should be free from all restraint — have nothing to do and everything to enjoy, acknowledge no law but his own devices, obey no lord but his own dominant passions. He demanded his patrimony, gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, where he wasted his substance in riotous living. One excess followed another till everything was gone, and revelry and luxury had to be exchanged for wretchedness and want. When his delusive dreams were ended, he awoke to seriousness and sadness. The madness of passion passed away and he came to himself. At once his thoughts reverted to the home he had forsaken, to the father against whom he had sinned. He determined to retrace his wandering steps, and revisit the bright and happy spot where he knew, by personal experience, that love ruled and plenty prevailed. But there was something deeper in the prodigal's heart than his sense of shame, and something stronger than his consciousness of guilt; it was his confidence in his father's lovingkindness. He doubted not, he did not mistrust. He was covered with shame and ignominy, in which his kinsfolk must participate. His hope was created and sustained by his faith in his father's compassion. By his faith be was saved. If he had been destitute of that, he could not have begun the journey, or, beginning it, he could not have persevered in it. Doubtless, conscience and memory were busy, and sometimes they would suggest the question, "Will you be accepted, will not the door be shut against you, will they acknowledge you for a kinsman, a brother, a son?" And then would faith rise and subdue these fears, and would say, "Take courage, poor fainting heart! — push on in thy homeward way, love waits for thee; there, love longs for thy coming, and will give thee pardon, peace, and dignity again." Was not his faith a great thing to the returning prodigal? Did not it render to him service which charity could not have rendered? Men and brethren, my companions in transgression, there are times when our most urgent want is, not charity to each other, but a living faith in a gracious God. Our own hearts condemn us, and we remember that God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things. In such seasons, the great thing to give us peace and hope is an unfaltering trust in the compassionate love of Him who has made provision for our pardon in the death of His own Son. Having seen the worth of faith in the heart of a penitent sinner, let us next glance at its importance to the great sufferer. The experience of St. Paul will furnish us with an illustration. There are some people who are so complaining, and who so parade their troubles that when first we know them we think them the most afflicted of mankind. There are others so bright and cheerful that their woes are much hidden from us. When we do realise the multitude and magnitude of his troubles, we are amazed that his contentment and joy could live through them all. The secret is found in his unfailing faith that God was supreme, and would ordain nothing which was not good, and would permit nothing which he could not overrule for good. Faith goes to the home where for years they have been' vainly striving to cast out poverty; to the home where affliction has long had power, and where sorrow in some ghastly form has made its dwelling-place; she goes where the chamber is darkened, the hearth desolated, and the heart broken by the presence of death, and she is questioned as to the final outcome of all these labouring evils. What are they, and what are they doing? She answers in most emphatic tones, "They are God's workpeople. They are helping to weave robes of light for the glorified to wear, and to construct crowns for the redeemed to cast at the Redeemer's feet, and to make joy-cups from which the dwellers in heaven shall drink!" Reason responds, "I cannot see that they are God's servants, much less can I see that they are working for such ends as you affirm." Again faith replies, "I know you are too dim-sighted to see this, but I am not too feeble to believe it." The faith which can contemplate the sorrows of life in this spirit may not be the greatest of the graces, and yet be able to serve as efficiently under circumstances in which charity could not meet our greatest necessity. It is of little direct use to preach long homilies about charity when troubles are many, and calamities are crushing. If we be wise we shall then urge the sufferer to cherish simple faith in the God of love. We shall say, "Believe that He who gives is also He who takes away! He changes His methods of action sometimes; but He never changes His wisdom for folly, His love for unkindness." The faith in God by which temptation was defeated and the tempter was silenced, and by which the Son of Man came off more than a conqueror in that dread conflict, on whose issues the destinies of our race seemed to hang, cannot be a little thing! Thousands of Christ's disciples have used the same shield with like happy issues. They have been in difficulty and poverty, and have been tempted to make their escape by sinful methods. By their trust in God they have triumphed. The faith in God and the Saviour which enables a man to look into the face of the King of Terrors must not be slighted or scorned. Blessed be the well-grounded Christian confidence which can meet death with this greeting: " Thou art God's faithful messenger to me. Thou canst not destroy me. I am sure that through darkness is the way to everlasting light, and through the anguish of mortality is the way to the glories of immortality. Thou art only come to make me begin to live." In the Word of God the origin and fruitfulness of religion are always associated with faith. Is religion called "a life"? The life we live is by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Is religion called a pilgrimage? We walk by faith. Is the religious man assaulted? By faith we stand. Is he a warrior? He is told "above all" to take the shield of faith. Does he set his heart on complete triumph? This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
Parallel VersesKJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.