PAUL'S PRAISE OF CHRISTIAN LOVE.
Paul's purpose in this chapter is to silence and humble haughty Christians,
particularly teachers and preachers. The Gospel gives much knowledge of
God and of Christ, and conveys many wonderful gifts, as Paul recounts in
Romans 12 and in First Corinthians 12. He tells us some have the gift of
speaking, some of teaching, some of Scripture exposition; others of ruling;
and so on. With Christians are great riches of spiritual knowledge, great
treasures in the way of spiritual gifts. Manifest to all is the meaning
of God, Christ, conscience, the present and the future life, and similar
things. But there are to be found few indeed who make the right use of
such gifts and knowledge; who humble themselves to serve others, according
to the dictates of love. Each seeks his own honor and advantage, desiring
to gain preferment and precedence over others.
2.. We see today how the Gospel has given to men knowledge beyond anything
known in the world before, and has bestowed upon them new capabilities.
Various gifts have been showered upon and distributed among them which
have redounded to their honor. But they go on unheeding. No one takes thought
how he may in Christian love serve his fellow-men to their profit. Each
seeks for himself glory and honor, advantage and wealth. Could one bring
about for himself the distinction of being the sole individual learned
and powerful in the Gospel, all others to be insignificant and useless,
he would willingly do it; he would be glad could he alone be regarded as
Mister Smart. At the same time he affects deep humility, great self-abasement,
and preaches of love and faith. But he would take it hard had he, in practice,
to touch with his little finger what he preaches. This explains why the
world is so filled with fanatics and schismatics, and why every man would
master and outrank all others. Such as these are haughtier than those that
taught them. Paul here attacks these vainglorious spirits, and judges them
to be wholly insignificant, though their knowledge may be great and their
gifts even greater, unless they should humble themselves and use their
gifts in the service of others.
To these coarse and mean people he addresses himself with a multitude
of words and a lengthy discourse, a subject he elsewhere disposes of in
a few words; for instance, where he says (Phil 2, 3-4), "In lowliness of
mind each counting others better than himself; not looking each of you
to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others." By way
of illustration, he would pass sentence upon himself should he be thus
blameworthy; this more forcibly to warn others who fall far short of his
standing. He says,
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels."
4. That is, though I had ability to teach and to preach with power beyond
that of any man or angel, with words of perfect charm, with truth and excellence
informing my message--though I could do this, "but have not love [charity],"
and only seek my own honor and profit and not my neighbor's, "I am become
sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal." In other words, "I might, perhaps,
thereby teach others something, might fill their ears with sound, but before
God I would be nothing." As a clock or a bell has not power to hear its
own sound, and does not derive benefit from its stroke, so the preacher
who lacks love cannot himself understand anything he says, nor does he
thereby improve his standing before God. He has much knowledge, indeed,
but because he fails to place it in the service of love, it is the quality
of his knowledge that is at fault. I Cor 8, 1-12. Far better he were dumb
or devoid of eloquence, if he but teach in love and meekness, than to speak
as an angel while seeking but his own interests.
"And if I have the gift of prophecy."
5. According to chapter 14, to prophesy is to be able, by the Holy Spirit's
inspiration, correctly to understand and explain the prophets and the Scriptures.
This is a most excellent gift. To "know mysteries" it to be able to apprehend
the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures, or its allegorical references,
as Paul does where (Gal 4, 24-31) he makes Sarah and Hagar representative
of the two covenants, and Isaac and Ishmael of the two peoples--the Jews
and the Christians. Christ does the same (Jn 3, 14) when he makes the brazen
serpent of Moses typical of himself on the cross; again, when Isaac, David,
Solomon and other characters of sacred history appear as figures of Christ.
Paul calls it "mystery"--this hidden, secret meaning beneath the primary
sense of the narrative. But "knowledge" is the understanding of practical
matters, such as Christian liberty, or the realization that the conscience
is not bound. Paul would say, then: "Though one may understand the Scriptures,
both in their obvious and their hidden sense; though he may know all about
Christian liberty and a proper conversation; yet if he have not love, if
he does not with that knowledge serve his neighbor, it is all of no avail
whatever; in God's sight he is nothing."
6. Note bow forcibly yet kindly Paul restrains the disgraceful vice
of vainglory. He disregards even those exalted gifts, those gifts of exceeding
refinement, charm and excellence, which naturally produce pride and haughtiness
though they command the admiration and esteem of men. Who would not suppose
the Holy Spirit to dwell visibly where such wisdom, such discernment of
the Scriptures, is present? Paul's two epistles to the Corinthians are
almost wholly directed against this particular vice, for it creates much
mischief where it has sway. In Titus 1, 7, he names first among the virtues
of a bishop that he be "non superbus," not haughty. In other words that
he does not exalt himself because of his office, his honor and his understanding,
and despise others in comparison. But strangely Paul says,
"If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love,
I am nothing."
LOVE THE SPIRIT'S FRUIT RECEIVED BY FAITH.
7. We hold, and unquestionably it is true, that it is faith which justifies
and cleanses. Rom 1, 17; 10, 10; Acts 15, 9. But if it justifies and purifies,
love must be present. The Spirit cannot but impart love together with faith.
In fact, where true faith is, the Holy Spirit dwells; and where the Holy
Spirit is, there must be love and every excellence. How is it, then, Paul
speaks as if faith without love were possible? We reply, this one text
cannot be understood as subverting and militating against all those texts
which ascribe justification to faith alone. Even the sophists have not
attributed justification to love, nor is this possible, for love is an
effect, or fruit, of the Spirit, who is received through faith.
8. Three answers may be given to the question. First, Paul has not reference
here to the Christian faith, which is inevitably accompanied by love, but
to a general faith in God and his power. Such faith is a gift; as, for
instance, the gift of tongues, the gift of knowledge, of prophecy, and
the like. There is reason to believe Judas performed miracles in spite
of the absence of Christian faith, according to John 6, 70: "One of you
is a devil." This general faith, powerless to justify or to cleanse, permits
the old man with his vices to remain, just as do the gifts of intellect,
health, eloquence, riches.
9. A second answer is: Though Paul alludes to the true Christian faith,
he has those in mind who have indeed attained to faith and performed miracles
with it, but fall from grace through pride, thus losing their faith. Many
begin but do not continue. They are like the seed in stony ground. They
soon fall from faith. The temptations of vainglory are mightier than those
of adversity. One who has the true faith and is at the same time able to
perform miracles is likely to seek and to accept honor with such eagerness
as to fall from both love and faith.
10. A third answer is: Paul in his effort to present the necessity of
love, supposes an impossible condition. For instance, I might express myself
in this way: "Though you were a god, if you lacked patience you would be
nothing." That is, patience is so essential to divinity that divinity itself
could not exist without it, a proposition necessarily true. So Paul's meaning
is, not that faith could exist without love, but on the contrary, so much
is love an essential of faith that even mountain-moving faith would be
nothing without love, could we separate the two even in theory.
The third answer pleases me by far the best, though I do not reject
the others, particularly the first. For Paul's very first premise is impossible--"if
I speak with the tongues of angels." To speak with an angelic tongue is
impossible for a human being, and he clearly emphasizes this impossibility
by making a distinction between the tongues of men and those of angels.
There is no angelic tongue; while angels may speak to us in a human tongue
men can never speak in those of angels.
11. As we are to understand the first clause--'If I speak with the tongues
of angels"--as meaning, Were it as possible as it is impossible for me
to speak with the tongues of angels; so are we to understand the second
clause "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains"--to mean, Were
it as possible as it is impossible to have such faith. Equally impossible
is the proposition of understanding all mysteries, and we must take it
to mean, Were it possible for one to understand all mysteries, which, however,
it is not. John, in the last chapter of his Gospel, asserts that the world
could not contain all the books which might be written concern ing the
things of the kingdom. For no man can ever fathom the depths of these mysteries.
Paul's manner of expressing himself is but a very common one, such as:
"Even if I were a Christian, if I believed not in Christ I would be nothing";
or, "Were you even a prince, if you neither ruled men nor possessed property
you would be nothing."
"And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor."
12. In other words, "Were I to perform all the good works on earth and
yet had not charity- having sought therein only my own honor and profit
and not my neighbor's--I would nevertheless be lost." In the performance
of external works so great as the surrender of property and life, Paul
includes all works possible of performance, for he who would at all do
these, would do any work. Just so, when he has reference to tongues he
includes all good words and doctrines; and in prophecy, understanding and
faith he comprises all wisdom and knowledge. Some may risk body and property
for the sake of temporal glory. So Romans and pagans have done; but as
love was lacking and they sought only their own interests, they practically
gave nothing. It being generally impossible for men to give away all their
property, and their bodies to be burned, the meaning must "Were it possible
for me to give all my goods to the poor, and my body to be burned."
13. The false reasoning of the sophists will not stand when they maliciously
deduct from this text the theory that the Christian faith is not effectual
to blot out sin and to justify. They say that before faith can justify
it must be garnished with love; but justification and its distinctive qualities
as well are beyond their ken. Justification of necessity precedes love.
One does not love until he has become godly and righteous. Love does not
make us godly, but when one has become godly love is the result. Faith,
the Spirit and justification have love as effect and fruitage, and not
as mere ornament and supplement. We maintain that faith alone justifies
and saves. But that we may not deceive ourselves and put our trust in a
false faith, God requires love from us as the evidence of our faith, so
that we may be sure of our faith being real faith.
THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN LOVE.
"Love suffereth long, and is kind."
14. Now Paul begins to mention the nature of love, enabling us to perceive
where real love and faith are to be found. A haughty teacher does not possess
the virtues the apostle enumerates. Lacking these, however many gifts the
haughty have received through the Gospel, they are devoid of love.
First, love "suffereth long." That is, it is patient; not sudden and
swift to anger, not hasty to exercise revenge, impatience or blind rage.
Rather it bears in patience with wicked and the infirm until they yield.
Haughty teachers can only judge, condemn and despise others, while justifying
and exalting themselves.
15. Second, love is "kind." In other words, it is pleasant to deal with;
is not of forbidding aspect; ignores no one; is kind to all men, in words,
acts and attitude.
16. Third, love "envieth not"--is not envious nor displeased at the
greater prosperity of others; grudges no one property or honor. Haughty
teachers, however, are envious and unkind. They begrudge everyone else
both honor and possessions. Though with their lips they may pretend otherwise,
these characteristics are plainly visible in their deeds.
17. Fourth, love "vaunteth not itself." It is averse to knavery, to
crafty guile and double- dealing. Haughty and deceptive spirits cannot
refrain from such conduct, but love deals honestly and uprightly and face
18. Fifth, love is not "puffed up," as are false teachers, who swell
themselves up like adders.
19. Sixth, love "doth not behave itself unseemly" after the manner of
the passionate, impatient and obstinate, those who presume to be always
in the right, who are opposed to all men and yield to none, and who insist
on submission from every individual, otherwise they set the world on fire,
bluster and fume, shriek and complain, and thirst for revenge. That is
what such inflating pride and haughtiness of which we have just spoken
20. Seventh, love "seeketh not her own." She seeks not financial advancement;
not honor, profit, ease; not the preservation of body and life. Rather
she risks all these in her is no such thing as the Church of Christ nor
as true Christians. Many erring spirits, especially strong pretenders to
[ed. the text abruptly ends here]
21. Eighth, love "is not [easily] provoked" by wrong and ingratitude;
it is meek. False teachers can tolerate nothing; they seek only their own
advantage and honor, to the injury of others.
22. Ninth, love "taketh not account of [thinketh no] evil." It is not
suspicious; it puts the best construction on everything and takes all in
good faith. The haughty, however, are immeasurably suspicious; always solicitous
not to be underrated, they put the worst construction on everything, as
Joab construed Abner's deeds. 2 Sam 3, 25. This is a shameful vice, and
they who are guilty of it are hard to handle.
23. Tenth, love "rejoiceth not in unrighteousness [iniquity]." The words
admit of two interpretations: First, as having reference to the delight
of an individual in his own evil doings. Solomon (Prov 2, 14) speaks of
those who "rejoice to do evil." Such must be either extremely profligate
and shameless, characters like harlots and knaves; or else they must be
hypocrites, who do not appreciate the wickedness of their conduct; characters
like heretics and schismatics, who rejoice when their knavery succeeds
under the name of God and of the truth. I do not accept this interpretation,
but the other. Paul's meaning is that false teachers are malicious enough
to prefer to hear, above all things, that some other does wrong, commits
error and is brought to shame; and their motive is simply that they themselves
may appear upright and godly. Such was the attitude of the pharisee toward
the publican, in the Gospel. But love's compassion reaches far beyond its
own sins, and prays for others.
24. Eleventh, love "rejoiceth with [in] the truth." Here is evidence
that the preceding phrase is to be taken as having reference to malicious
rejoicing at another's sin and fall. Rejoicing in the truth is simply exulting
in the right-doing and integrity of another. Similarly, love is grieved
at another's wrong-doing. But to the haughty it is an affliction to learn
of uprightness in someone else; for they imagine such integrity detracts
from their own profit and honor.
25. Twelfth, love "beareth all things." It excuses every failing in
all men, however weak, unjust or foolish one may be apparently, and no
one can be guilty of a wrong too great for it to overlook. But none can
do right in the eyes of the haughty, who ever find something to belittle
and censure as beyond toleration, even though they must hunt up an old
fence to find the injury.
26. Thirteenth, love "believeth all things." Paul does not here allude
to faith in God, but to faith in men. His meaning is: Love is of decidedly
trustful disposition. The possessor of it believes and trusts all men,
considering them just and upright like himself. He anticipates no wily
and crooked dealing, but permits himself to be deceived, deluded, flouted,
imposed upon, at every man's pleasure, and asks, "Do you really believe
men so wicked?" He measures all other hearts by his own, and makes mistakes
with utmost cheerfulness. But such error works him no injury. He knows
God cannot forsake, and the deceiver of love but deceives himself. The
haughty, on the contrary, trust no one, will believe none, nor brook deception.
27. Fourteenth, love "hopeth all things." Love despairs of no man, however
wicked he may be. It hopes for the best. As implied here, love says, "We
must, indeed, hope for better things." It is plain from this that Paul
is not alluding to hope in God. Love is a virtue particularly representing
devotion to a neighbor; his welfare is its goal in thought and deed. Like
its faith, the hope entertained by love is frequently misplaced, but it
never gives up. Love rejects no man; it despairs of no cause. But the proud
speedily despair of men generally, rejecting them as of no account.
28. Fifteenth, love "endureth all things." It endures whatever harm
befalls, whatever injury it suffers; it endures when its faith and hope
in men have been misplaced; endures when it sustains damage to body, property
or honor. It knows that no harm has been done since it has a rich God.
False teachers, however, bear with nothing, least of all with perfidy and
the violation of plighted faith.
29. Sixteenth, love never faileth; that means, it abides forever, also
in the life to come. It never gives up, never permits itself to be hindered
or defeated by the wickedness or ingratitude of men, as do worldly individuals
and false saints, who, immediately on perceiving contempt or ingratitude,
draw back, unwilling to do further good to any, and, rendering themselves
quite inhuman, become perfect misanthropes like Timon in his reputation
among the Greeks. Love does not do so. It permits not itself to be made
wicked by the wickedness of men, nor to be hindered in well-doing. It continues
to do good everywhere, teaching and admonishing, aiding and serving, notwithstanding
its services and benefits must be rewarded, not by good, but by evil. Love
remains constant and immovable; it continues, it endures, in this earthly
life and also in the life to come. The apostle adds, "Whether there be
prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall
cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away." Love he commends
above all other endowments, as a gift that can never pass, even in the
life to come. Those other gifts, the boast of the false apostles, are bestowed
only for this present life, to serve in the administering of the ministerial
office. Prophecy, tongues, knowledge, all must cease; for in yonder life
each individual will himself perceive perfectly and there will be no need
for one to teach another. Likewise, all differences, all inequalities,
shall be no more. No knowledge and no diversity of gifts is necessary;
God himself will be all in every soul. I Cor 15, 28.
30. Here Paul gives utterance to the distinction between the life of
faith here below and that heavenly life of divine vision. He would teach
that we have in this life and the other the same possession, for it is
the same God and the same treasures which we have here by faith and there
by sight. In the objects themselves there is no difference; the difference
consists in our knowledge. We have the same God in both lives, but in different
manner of possession. The mode of possessing God in this life is faith.
Faith is an imperfect, obscure vision, which makes necessary the Word,
which, in turn, receives vogue through the ministry, tongues and prophecy.
Without the Word, faith cannot live. But the mode of possessing God in
the future life is not faith but sight. This is perfect knowledge, rendering
unnecessary the Word, and likewise preaching, tongues and prophecy. These,
then, must pass. Paul continues,
"We know in part, and we prophesy in part."
31. "We know in part"; that is, in this life we know imperfectly, for
it is of faith and not of sight. And we "prophesy in part"; that is, imperfectly,
for the substance of our prophecy is the Word and preaching. Both knowledge
and prophecy, however, reveal nothing short of what the angels see--the
one God. "But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part
shall be done away."
He proves this by way of illustration and contrasts the child with the
man. To children, who are yet weak, play is a necessity; it is a substitute
for office and work. Similarly, we in the present life are far too frail
to behold God. Until we are able, it is necessary that we should use the
medium of Word and faith, which are adapted to our limitations.
"For now we see in a mirror [through a glass] darkly; but then face
32. Faith, Paul tells us, is like a mirror, like a riddle. The actual
face is not in the glass; there is but the image of it. Likewise, faith
gives us, not the radiant countenance of eternal Deity, but a mere image
of him, an image derived through the Word. As a dark riddle points to something
more than it expresses, so faith suggests something clearer than that which
it perceives. But in the life to come, mirror and riddle, faith and its
demonstration, shall all have ceased to be. God's face and our own shall
be mutually and clearly revealed. Paul says, "Now I know in part; but then
shall I know fully even as also I was fully known [know even also as I
am known]." That is, God now knows me perfectly, clearly and plainly; no
dark veil is upon myself. But as to him, a dark veil hides him from me.
With the same perfect clearness wherewith he now knows me, I shall then
know him--without a veil. The veil shall be taken away, not from him, but
from me; for upon him is no veil.
THE GREATEST CHRISTIAN VIRTUE IS LOVE.
"But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of
these is love."
33. The sophists have transgressed in a masterly manner as regards this
verse. They have made faith vastly inferior to love because of Paul's assertion
that love is greater than faith and greater than hope. As usual, their
mad reason blindly seizes upon the literal expression. They hack a piece
out of it and the remainder they ignore. Thus they fail to understand Paul's
meaning; they do not perceive that the sense of Paul concerning the greatness
of love is expressed both in the text and the context. For surely it cannot
be disputed that the apostle is here referring to the permanent or temporary
character respectively of love and other gifts, and not to their rank or
power. As to rank, faith only, but the Word, surpasses love; for the Word
is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe. Rom 1,16. Yet the
Word must pass. But though love is the fruit of the Word and its effect,
it shall never be abolished. Faith possesses God himself. It possesses
and can accomplish things; yet it must cease. Love gives and blesses the
neighbor, as a result of faith, and it shall never be done away.
34. Now, Paul's statement that love is greater than faith and hope is
intended as an expression of the permanence, or eternal duration, of love.
Faith, being limited as to time comparison with love, ranks beneath it
for the reason this temporary duration. With the same right I might say
that the kingdom of Christ is greater upon earth than Christ. Thereby I
do not mean that the Church in itself better and of higher rank than Christ,
but merely that covers a greater part of the earth than he compassed; he
was here but three years and those he spent in a limited sphere, whereas
his kingdom has been from the beginning and is coextensive with the earth.
In this sense, love is longer and broader than either faith or hope. Faith
deals with God merely in the heart and in this life, whereas relations
of love both to God and the whole world are eternal. Nevertheless, as Christ
is immeasurably better and higher and more precious than the Christian
Church, though we behold him moving in smaller limits and as a mere individual,
so is faith better, higher and more precious than love, though its duration
is limited and it has God alone for its object.
35. Paul's purpose in thus extolling love is to deal a blow to false
teachers and to bring to naught their boasts about faith and other gifts
when love is lacking. His thought is: "If ye possess not love, which abides
fore, all else whereof ye boast being perishable, ye will perish with it.
While the Word of God, and spiritual gifts, are eternal, yet the external
office and proclamation of Word, and likewise the employment of gifts in
their variety shall have an end, and thus your glory and pride shall become
as ashes." So, then, faith justifies through the Word and produces love.
But while both Word and faith shall pass, righteousness and love, which
they effect, abide forever; just as a building erected by the aid of scaffolding
remains after the scaffolding has been removed.
36. Observe how small the word "love" and how easily uttered! Who would
have thought to find so much precious virtue and power ascribed by Paul
to this one excellence as counterpart of so much that is evil? This is,
I imagine, magnifying love, painting love. It is a better discourse on
virtue and vice than are the heathen writings. The model the apostle presents
should justly shame the false teachers, who talk much of love but in whom
not one of the virtues he mentions is found.
Every quality of love named by him means false teachers buffeted and
assaulted. Whenever he magnifies love and characterizes her powers, he
invariably makes at the same time a thrust at those who are deficient in
any of them. Well may we, then, as he describes the several features, add
the comment "But you do very differently."
37. It is passing strange that teachers devoid of love should possess
such gifts as Paul has mentioned here, viz., speaking with tongues, prophesying,
understanding mysteries; that they should have faith, should bestow their
goods and suffer themselves to be burned. For we have seen what abominations
ensue where love is lacking; such individuals are proud, envious, puffed
up, impatient, unstable, false, venomous, suspicious, malicious, disdainful,
bitter, disinclined to service, distrustful, selfish, ambitious and haughty.
How can it consistently be claimed that people of this stamp can, through
faith, remove mountains, give their bodies to be burned, prophesy, and
so on? It is precisely as I have stated. Paul presents an impossible proposition,
implying that since they are devoid of love, they do not really possess
those gifts, but merely assume the name and appearance. And in order to
divest them of those he admits for the sake of argument that they are what
in reality they are not.