"Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,
and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth
me nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:3
[1.] There is great reason to fear that it will hereafter be said
of most of you who are here present, that this scripture, as well as all
those you have heard before, profited you nothing. Some, perhaps, are not
serious enough to attend to it; some who do attend, will not believe it;
some who do believe it, will yet think it a hard saying, and so forget
it as soon as they can; and, of those few who receive it gladly for a time,
some, having no root of humility, or self-denial, when persecution ariseth
because of the word, will, rather than suffer for it, fall away. Nay, even
of those who attend to it, who believe, remember, yea, and receive it so
deeply into their hearts, that it both takes root there, endures the heat
of temptation, and begins to bring forth fruit, yet will not all
bring forth fruit unto perfection. The cares or pleasures of the world,
and the desire of other things, (perhaps not felt till then) will grow
up with the word, and choke it.
[2.] Nor am I that speak the word of God any more secure from
these dangers than you that hear it. I, too, have to bewail "an evil heart
of unbelief." And whenever God shall suffer persecution to arise, yea,
were it only the slight one of reproach, I may be the first that is offended.
Or, if I be enabled to sustain this, yet, should he let loose the cares
of the world upon me, or should he cease to guard me against those pleasures
that do not lead to him, and the desire of other things (than knowing and
loving him), I should surely be overwhelmed, and, having preached to others,
be myself a castaway.
[3.] Why then do I speak this word at all? Why? Because a dispensation
of the gospel is committed to me: And, though what I shall do to-morrow
I know not, to-day I will preach the gospel. And with regard to you, my
commission runs thus: "Son of man, I do send thee to them; and thou shalt
say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; -- whether they will hear, or whether
they will forbear."
[4.] Thus saith the Lord God, "Whosoever thou art who wilt enter
into life, keep the commandments." (In order to this, "believe in the Lord
Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.") "Forsake not the assembling together,
as the manner of some is." In secret, likewise, "pray to thy Father who
seeth in secret," and "pour out thy heart before him." Make my word "a
lantern to thy feet, and a light unto thy paths." Keep it "in thy heart,
and in thy mouth, when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by
the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." "Turn unto me
with fasting," as well as prayer; and, in obedience to thy dying Redeemer,
by eating that bread and drinking that cup, "show ye forth the Lord's death
till he comes." By the power thou shalt through these means receive from
on high, do all the things which are enjoined in the Law, and avoid all
those things which are forbidden therein, knowing that if ye offend in
one point, ye are guilty of all." "To do good also, and to distribute,
forget not;" -- yea, while you have time, do all the good you can unto
all men. Then "deny thyself, take up thy cross daily;" and, if called thereto,
"resist unto blood." And when each of you can say, "All this have I done,"
then let him say to himself farther, (words at which not only such as Felix
alone, but the holiest soul upon earth might tremble) "Though I bestow
all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,
and have not love, it profiteth me nothing."
It concerns us all, therefore, in the highest degree, to know,
I. The full sense of those words, "Though I bestow all my goods to feed
the poor, and though I give my body to be burned;"
II. The true meaning of the word love; and,
III. In what sense it can be said, that without love all this profiteth
As to the First: It must be observed that the word used by St. Paul properly
signifies, To divide into small pieces, and then to distribute what
has been so divided; and, consequently, it implies, not only divesting
ourselves at once of all the worldly goods we enjoy, either from a fit
of distaste to the world, or a sudden start of devotion, but an act of
choice, and that choice coolly and steadily executed. It may imply, too,
that this be done not out of vanity, but in part from a right principle;
namely, from a design to perform the command of God, and a desire to obtain
his kingdom. It must be farther observed, that the word give signifies,
actually to deliver a thing according to agreement; and, accordingly, it
implies, like the word preceding, not a hasty, inconsiderate action, but
one performed with open eyes and a determined heart, pursuant to a resolution
before taken. The full sense of the words, therefore, is this; which he
that hath ears to hear, let him hear: "Though I should give all the substance
of my house to feed the poor; though I should do so upon mature choice
and deliberation; though I should spend my life in dealing it out to them
with my own hands, yea, and that from a principle of obedience; though
I should suffer, from the same view, not only reproach and shame, not only
bonds and imprisonment, and all this by my own continued act and deed,
not accepting deliverance, but, moreover, death itself, -- yea, death inflicted
in a manner the most terrible to nature; yet all this, if I have not love,
(the love of God, and the love of all mankind, 'shed abroad in my heart
by the Hold Ghost given unto me') it profiteth me nothing."
Let us inquire what this love is, -- what is the true meaning of the word?
We may consider it either as to its properties or effects: And that we
may be under no possibility of mistake, we will not at all regard the judgment
of men, but go to our Lord himself for an account of the nature of love;
and, for the effects of it, to his inspired Apostle.
The love which our Lord requires in all his followers, is the love of
God and man; -- of God, for his own, and of man, for God's sake. Now, what
is it to love God, but to delight in him, to rejoice in his will, to desire
continually to please him, to seek and find our happiness in him, and to
thirst day and night for a fuller enjoyment of him?
As to the measure of this love, our Lord hath clearly told us, "Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." Not that we are to love
or delight in none but him: For he hath commanded us, not only to love
our neighbour, that is, all men, as ourselves; -- to desire and pursue
their happiness as sincerely and steadily as our own, -- but also to love
many of his creatures in the strictest sense; to delight in them, to enjoy
them: Only in such a manner and measure as we know and feel, not to indispose
but to prepare us for the enjoyment of Him. Thus, then, we are called to
love God with all our heart.
The effects or properties of this love, the Apostle describes in the
chapter before us. And all these being infallible marks whereby any man
may judge of himself, whether he hath this love or hath it not, they deserve
our deepest consideration.
"Love suffereth long," or is longsuffering. If thou love thy neighbour
for God's sake, thou wilt bear long with his infirmities: If he want wisdom,
thou wilt pity and not despise him: If he be in error, thou wilt mildly
endeavour to recover him, without any sharpness or reproach: If he be overtaken
in a fault, thou wilt labour to restore him in the spirit of meekness:
And if, haply, that cannot be done soon, thou wilt have patience with him;
if God, peradventure, may bring him, at length to the knowledge and love
of the truth. In all provocations, either from the weakness or malice of
men, thou wilt show thyself a pattern of gentleness and meekness; and,
be they ever so often repeated, wilt not be overcome of evil, but overcome
evil with good. Let no man deceive you with vain words: He who is not thus
long-suffering, hath not love.
Again: "Love is kind." Whosoever feels the love of God and man shed
abroad in his heart, feels an ardent and uninterrupted thirst after the
happiness of all his fellow-creatures. His soul melts away with the very
fervent desire which he hath continually to promote it; and out of the
abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. In his tongue is the law of
kindness. The same is impressed on all his actions. The flame within is
continually working itself away, and spreading abroad more and more, in
every instance of good-will to all with whom he hath to do. So that whether
he thinks or speaks, or whatever he does, it all points to the same end,
-- the advancing, by every possible way, the happiness of all his fellow-creatures.
Deceive not, therefore, your own souls: He who is not thus kind, hath not
Farther: "Love envieth not." This, indeed, is implied, when it is said,
"Love is kind." For kindness and envy are inconsistent: They can no more
abide together than light and darkness. If we earnestly desire all
happiness to all, we cannot be grieved at the happiness of any.
The fulfilling of our desire will be sweet to our soul; so far shall we
be from being pained at it. If we are always doing what good we can for
our neighbour, and wishing we could do more, it is impossible that we should
repine at any good he receives: Indeed, it will be the very joy of our
heart. However, then, we may flatter ourselves, or one another, he that
envieth hath not love.
It follows, "Love vaunteth not itself;" or rather, is not rash or hasty
in judging: For this is indeed the true meaning of the word. As many as
love their neighbour for God's sake, will not easily receive an ill opinion
of any to whom they wish all good, spiritual as well as temporal. They
cannot condemn him even in their heart without evidence; nor upon slight
evidence neither; nor, indeed upon any, without first, if it be possible,
having him and his accuser face to face, or at the least acquainting him
with the accusation, and letting him speak for himself. Every one of you
feels that he cannot but act thus, with regard to one whom he tenderly
loves. Why, then, he who doth not act thus hath not love.
I only mention one more of the properties of this love: "Love is not
puffed up." You cannot wrong one you love: Therefore, if you love God with
all your heart, you cannot so wrong him as to rob him of his glory, by
taking to yourself what is due to him only. You will own that all you are,
and all you have, is his; that without him you can do nothing; that he
is your light and your life, your strength and your all; and that you are
nothing, yea, less than nothing, before him. And if you love your neighbour
as yourself, you will not be able to prefer yourself before him. Nay, you
will not be able to despise any one, any more than to hate him. (Nay, you
will think every man better than yourself.) As the wax melteth away before
the fire, so doth pride melt away before love. All haughtiness, whether
of heart, speech, or behaviour, vanishes away where love prevails. It bringeth
down the high looks of him who boasted in his strength, and maketh him
as a little child; diffident of himself, willing to hear, glad to learn,
easily convinced, easily persuaded. And whosoever is otherwise minded,
let him give up all vain hope: He is puffed up, and so hath not love.
It remains to inquire, in what sense it can be said that "though I bestow
all my goods to feed the poor, yea, though I give my body to be burned,
and have not love, it profiteth me nothing."
The chief sense of the words is, doubtless, this: That whatsoever we
do, and whatsoever we suffer, if we are not renewed in the spirit of our
mind, by "the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given
unto us," we cannot enter into life eternal. None can enter there, unless
in virtue of covenant which God hath given unto man in the Son of his love.
But, because general truths are less apt to affect us, let us consider
one or two particulars, with regard to which all we can do or suffer, if
we have not love, profiteth us nothing. And, First, all without this profiteth
not, so as to make life happy; nor, Secondly, so as to make death comfortable.
1. And, First, without love nothing can so profit us as to make
our lives happy. By happiness I mean, not a slight, trilling pleasure,
that perhaps begins and ends in the same hour; but such a state of well-being
as contents the soul, and gives it a stead, lasting satisfaction. But that
nothing without love can profit us, as to our present happiness, will appear
from this single consideration: You cannot want it, in any one single instance,
without pain; and the more you depart from it, the pain is the greater.
Are you wanting in longsuffering? Then, so far as you fall short of this,
you fall short of happiness. The more the opposite tempers -- anger, fretfulness,
revenge -- prevail, the more unhappy you are. You know it; you feel it;
nor can the storm be allayed, or peace ever return to your soul, unless
meekness, gentleness, patience, or, in one word, love, take possession
of it. Does any man find in himself ill-will, malice, envy, or any other
temper opposite to kindness? Then is misery there; and the stronger the
temper, the more miserable he is. If the slothful man may be said to eat
his own flesh, much more the malicious, or envious. His soul is the very
type of hell; -- full of torment as well as wickedness. He hath already
the worm that never dieth, and he is hastening to the fire that never can
be quenched. Only as yet the great gulf is not fixed between him and heaven.
As yet there is a Spirit ready to help his infirmities; who is still willing,
if he stretch out his hands to heaven, and bewail his ignorance and misery,
to purify his heart from vile affections, and to renew it in the love of
God, and so lead him by present, up to eternal, happiness.
2. Secondly. Without love, nothing can make death comfortable.
By comfortable I do not mean stupid, or senseless. I would not say,
he died comfortably who died by an apoplexy, or by the shot of a cannon,
any more than he who, having his conscience seared, died as unconcerned
as the beasts that beasts that perish. Neither do I believe you would envy
any one the comfort of dying raving mad. But, by a comfortable death, I
mean, a calm passage out of life, full of even, rational peace and joy.
And such a death, all the acting and all the suffering in the world cannot
give, without love.
To make this still more evident, I cannot appeal to your own experience;
but I may to what we have seen, and to the experience of others. And two
I have myself seen going out of this life in what I call a comfortable
manner, though not with equal comfort. One had evidently more comfort than
the other, because he had more love.
I attended the first during a great part of his last trial, as well
as when he yielded up his soul to God. He cried out, "God doth chasten
me with strong pain; but I thank him for all; I bless him for all; I love
him for all!" When asked, not long before his release, "Are the consolations
of God small with you?" he replied aloud, "No, no, no!" Calling all that
were near him by their names, he said, "Think of heaven, talk of heaven:
All the time is lost when we are not thinking of heaven." Now, this was
the voice of love; and, so far as that prevailed, all was comfort, peace,
and joy. But as his love was not perfect, so neither was his comfort. He
[had] intervals of [anger or] fretfulness, and therein of misery; giving
by both an incontestable proof that love can sweeten both life and death.
So when that is either absent from, or obscured in, the soul, there is
no peace or comfort there.
It was in this place that I saw the other good soldier of Jesus Christ
grappling with his last enemy, death. And it was, indeed, a spectacle worthy
to be seen, of God, and angels, and men. Some of his last breath was spent
in a psalm of praise to Him who was then giving him the victory; in assurance
whereof be began triumph even in the heat of the battle. When he was asked,
"Hast thou the love of God in thy heart?" he lifted up his eyes and hands,
and answered, "Yes, yes!" with the whole strength he had left. To one who
inquired if he was afraid of the devil, whom he had just mentioned as making
his last attack upon him, he replied, "No, no: My loving Saviour hath conquered
every enemy: He is with me. I fear nothing." Soon after, he said, "The
way to our loving Saviour is sharp, but it is short." Nor was it long before
he fell into a sort of slumber, wherein his soul sweetly returned to God
that gave it.
Here, we may observe, was no mixture of any passion or temper contrary
to love; therefore, there was no misery; perfect love casting out whatever
might have occasioned torment. And whosoever thou art who hast the like
measure of love, thy last end shall be like his.
[Section numbers in brackets follow the Bicentennial Edition.]