The supremely excellent way of Christian love. This chapter has been in all ages the object of the special admiration of the Church. Would that it had received in all ages the loftier and more valuable admiration which would have been expressed by an acceptance of its lessons! Tertullian says that it is uttered "with all the force of the Spirit" ( totis Spiritus viribus ) . It is a glorious hymn or paean in honour of Christian love, in which St. Paul rises on the wings of inspiration to the most sunlit heights of Christian eloquence. Like the forty-fifth psalm, it may be entitled "A Psalm of Love." Valcknaer says that the "oratorical figures which illuminate the chapter have been born spontaneously in an heroic soul, burning with the love of Christ, and placing all things lower than this Divine love." In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 he shows the absolute necessity for love; in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 its characteristics; in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 its eternal permanence; in 1 Corinthians 13:13 its absolute supremacy.
The attributes of love.
Suffereth long, and is kind. Passively it endures; actively it does good. It endures evils; it confers blessings. Envieth not. Its negative characteristics are part of its positive perfection. Envy—"one shape of many names"—includes malice, grudge, jealousy, pique, an evil eye, etc., with all their base and numerous manifestations. Vaunteth not itself. The meaning would probably be most nearly expressed by the colloquialism, does not show off. It does not, for instance, "do its alms before men to be seen of them" ( Matthew 6:1 ). The Latin perperus , which is from the same root as this word, means "a braggart," or "swaggerer." Cicero, speaking of a grand oratorical display of his own before Pompey, says to Atticus, "Good heavens! how I showed myself off ( ἐνεπερπερευσάμην ) before my new hearer, Pompeius!" ('Ad. Art.,' 1 Corinthians 1:14 ). Is not puffed up. Has no purse proud or inflated arrogance." Love, therefore, is free from the characteristic vice of the Corinthian Church ( 1 Corinthians 4:6 , 1 Corinthians 4:18 , 1 Corinthians 4:19 ; 1 Corinthians 5:2 ; 1 Corinthians 8:1 ).
The immortality of love.
"Charity never faileth," etc. Amongst the many things which Paul predicates in this chapter concerning "charity," or love, is its permanence.
I. It will "never fail" as an ELEMENT OF MORAL POWER . Love is the strongest force in the soul.
1. It is the strongest sustaining power. Our present state is one of trial and sorrow. Burdens press on all, in all grades of society. Godly love is the best sustaining power under all. All Divine promises are made to the loving.
2. It is the strongest resisting power. We have not only burdens to oppress, but enemies to conquer and destroy. If love preoccupies the soul, temptations are powerless.
3. It is the strongest aggressive power. We have not only to bear up with fortitude under trials, and to resist with success temptations, but we have battles to fight and victories to win. Love is at once the inspiration and the qualification for the warfare. There is nothing so aggressive in the moral world as love. Man can stand before anything sooner than love. As a sustaining, resisting, aggressive power, love will "never fail."
II. It will "never fail" as a PRINCIPLE OF SOCIAL UNITY . Deep in the heart of man is the desire for union with his fellow. He wishes to flow with the race as waters with the stream. His ingenuity has been taxed for ages in the invention of schemes for union. Love alone can secure this; love only is the unifying force. We are only one with those we love with the moral affections of our nature. But we can only love the lovable. Love in the moral empire is what attraction is in the material. Love "never faileth" as a principle of social unity.
III. It will "never fail" as a SOURCE OF SPIRITUAL HAPPINESS . Love is joy.
1. It expels from the mind all elements unfavourable to happiness.
2. It generates in the mind all the dements of spiritual joy.
The nature and operation of love.
The negative view having been presented, the apostle considers the mature and operations of this love, And one characteristic of it, he puts in the foreground of its excellences. It can suffer. A virtue that cannot suffer is hardly a virtue at all. Certainly it is not a virtue that can lay the least claim to divineness. Wedded love, parental love, philanthropic and patriotic love, have to undergo a discipline of pain and sorrow even to symbolize the higher affection of Divine love. This holy love, of which this chapter is so laudatory, derives its very essence from the "Man of sorrows." Short of realizing, in its measure, the agony in the lonely garden and the yet lonelier cross, it dare not, it cannot stop, since only there is its test found. A beautiful aestheticism, moral, perchance semi-spiritual, may follow the lowly Jesus of Nazareth through the windings of his Galilean and Judaean journeys, cling reverently to his person, spread the palm branches in his pathway, and shout its glad hosannas to his Name, and, after all, "forsook him and fled" may be the final record of its weakness. Only when he rises to the sacrificial height of his anointing as the Christ of God's Law and the Christ of God's love, and bears our sins in his own body on the tree—only here, where Jehovah "lets the lifted thunder drop," can the human soul be reconciled first to its own disciplinary sufferings, and learn afterwards, by many conflicts with self, to glory in the cross. But love not only suffers, it " suffereth long." It is patient—patient towards others, and, what is quite as important, patient with itself. And under all its sufferings, instead of being irritable, it is kind. Unsanctified suffering is usually morbid. It broods over its ills; it magnifies its afflictions; often, indeed, it makes us misanthropic. Sweetness of temper and tender outgoings of sympathy are not the common results of painful experiences, but the fruits of the Holy Spirit in them. Fortitude may be shown, and it may be naught but homage at the shrine of self. This love is of God. It takes to its heart God s thought of suffering as chastening, as correction, as the supreme moral necessity of a probationary life, through which we must pass to get any deep knowledge of ourselves. For it is never pleasure, but pain, that holds the key to the secret chambers, where the latent man awaits the voice of God bidding him arise and gird himself with immortal strength. Now, what effect on this love would ensue from suffering that had become habitual and wrought patience and silent enduringness into character? By suppressing a morbid regard for self and quickening the sympathies that give width to the inner life, what would be the specific result on the relations sustained to others? These Corinthians, as we have frequently noticed, were pulling down one and putting up another, were thoroughgoing partisans, were censorious and depreciatory towards those with whom they were disinclined to affiliate. What change for the better would love bring about? St. Paul answers, " Love envieth not ." Observe how quickly he turns again to the negative aspects of this "supremely excellent way," and what vigour is imparted to the argument. At every step, contrast aids him by suggesting what love excludes, while its true qualities are set in bolder relief. Envy is pain at the sight of superior excellence in another, and is always a mark of blinding selfishness. According to one s temperament, it is displeasure or something worse, and usually contains an element of hatred.
"Men, that make
Envy and crooked malice nourishment,
Dare bite the best."
Of course it leads to strife. It is a fruitful cause of schism, and as schism was a terrible evil in the apostle's view, he could not fail to show its utter inconsistency with this cardinal virtue. Along with this he says, " Love vaunteth not" —a similar idea to the foregoing as to its bad temper, but unlike as to its mood of exhibition. Reference is here made to the foolish display of self importance after the manner of a swaggerer or braggart. Next comes the statement, "Is not puffed up," not inflated or swollen by self conceit; this is followed by, "Doth not behave itself unseemly "—is not uncourteous, but studies propriety of manner, and shows the instinct of a right demeanour, from which all good breeding proceeds. The art of behaviour is manifold. It is amenable to circumstances and classes, variable as to outward manifestations, suiting language and other demonstrations to the claims of occasion, and, in all this, its root principle is the same if it be truthful and sincere, since it loses sight of self and ministers to the happiness of others. Christian manners are the offspring of a Christian manner; the manners are external, the manner is internal; so that here, as in all else, form is created by spirit. The tones of the voice, the look of the eye, the muscular play of the countenance, are not physical facts only, but expressions and languages that have modulation, accent, emphasis, direct from the soul. Thus attended, our words take on other, fuller, more inspiriting meanings than those drawn from the dictionary; so that a man's face, figure, gesture, attitude, give a personal import to what emanates from his heart. If one compares the spiritual expression in the face of a Madonna by Raphael with the mere sensuous beauty of the face as depicted by antique art, he sees at once that Christianity has affected art to such an extent as to modify the laws of representation. "Expression is the vivid image of the passion that affects the mind; its language, and the portrait of its situation" (Fuseli). It is not extravagant to claim that Christianity has so far changed physiological expression as to spiritualize, and thereby to heighten, its quality and force. But why limit the change to art? The fact is that Christianity has had its effect—a very distinctive and appreciable effect—on what may be termed the physiology of manner, in the intercourse of society. We seldom think of it. We rarely number this among the myriad advantages Christianity has brought to man. Yet the fact is indisputable that Christianity has given to the human voice tones of strength and tenderness never before known, and to the human eye a depth of power, of stillness, of pathos, that, without its grace, had been impossible. Nor can we doubt that this is one of the numerous ways it has adopted to establish a closer relation between mind and matter, and educate the body for the glory of the resurrection. Passing from decorum while yet retaining the general idea in his grasp, St. Pant now mentions the unselfishness of love: " Seeketh not her own." If its deportment is never obtrusive, but always becoming; if it never uses its gifts to remind others of their inferiority, but orders its manners so as to avoid everything which might tend to inflame envy; it goes still further, and manifests its disinterestedness as the soul of the "supremely excellent way." To pursue its own honour and aggrandizement, as if it had a sole proprietary interest in itself and could only exist by existing for its own reputation, influence, happiness, is forestalled by its nature and operations. The "all things" are not its, but "yours," and "ye," one and all, "are Christ's." So he had argued in the third chapter. The echo of the great truth comes back again and again, and once more it is heard in this verse. What St. Paul has just said of love as suffering long, and as kind, as not envying and vaunting, nor conceited and indecorous, are as so many stepping stones to "seeketh not its own." Would it have anything in the universe for itself alone? If so, the very thing itself, the universe itself, would be changed into another thing and another universe, and be no more a joy and a blessedness, but a restraint and an evil and a curse. Instead of a palace, a prison; instead of sublime disinterestedness, sordidness and ceaseless descent in degradation; instead of an ideal in Christ, the idea of virtues as bare commercial utilities, and of the soul as a commodity valued by the market place. Have anything alone? This were loneliness indeed. It were grievous, it were misery, to be isolated even by goodness and greatness from the heart of humanity. It is painful to a true man to be reminded of his superiority at the expense of others, and whenever one welcomes this sort of homage and glorifies himself, he loses truth of manhood. To thank God that we are "not as other men are" is sheer Pharisaism, and all such thanksgiving is worship of self. Love has not a wish, a desire, an aim, an aspiration, bounded by the limits of itself; and as Jesus prayed, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, so is the prayer of the soul in all its greatest moments, and when the cross is nearest by, that it may be one with others, as it longs to be one with Christ and the Father. Every inch that a majestic oak goes upward or spreads laterally, down go its roots; further and wider they spread themselves out, tree above and tree below, preserving, each in its way, proportion and symmetry. And so with love. Reaching that high development indicated by capacity to suffer and yet be kind, by victory over envy and ostentation, and the transformation of daily manners into spiritual grace and beauty, it has so enlarged itself as to afford ample room even for the most generous and magnanimous emotions. It wants to be good and to be better, but where is the best? And as the years move on and the soul grows, this thought comes to be uppermost, "There is a better world;" and not alone in a better nature, and as a better being, but in a better world, it looks for its perfection. A world of love is its demand. The negative idea is still further unfolded in the words, "Is not easily provoked," or, "Is not provoked" (Revised Version). Much of peevishness, of anger, of resentment, springs from wounding the imaginary being whom we call by our name, fondle with our caresses, and idolize in our vanity. This deformed self, though apparelled in gaudy drapery and lifted to an exalted pedestal, is but too conscious of its blemishes and flaws, to be tolerant of criticism or amiable under exposure of its imperfections. It is quick to take umbrage. It is full of suspicion and keenly alive to neglect, real or supposed. A chronic ailment, this self conceit feels any fluctuation of circumstances and is acutely sensitive to wind and weather. On the other hand, love is not provoked; its temper is not quick, nor are its words hasty. How can it be otherwise, when it "thinketh no evil"? By governing its thoughts, it obtains that rare virtue of intellect which consists in no small degree of a mastery over associations and suggestions, and that is probably the most signal triumph of mind over its physical connections. "Imputeth not the evil" (Dr. Kling); "Taketh not account of evil" (Revised Version); and whereas the "evil" is real and palpable, it refuses to bear it in mind, and, by fixing attention and keeping it fixed on the wrong, to aggravate the impression. Here, as everywhere, mark the unity in our constitution. One cannot have a sore finger, or toothache, or painful limb, that the affection is not enhanced by directing thought to it. The blood is inflamed the more, and the nervous susceptibility augmented. So it is with the mind. Can we wonder, then, that St. Paul's insight detected the relation between thinking of injury or injustice, and the moral effect on character? And, finally, as to these repeated negatives, love " rejoiceth not in ininquity," or, "in unrighteousness," but "rejoiceth in [or, 'with'] the truth." It exults not at the overthrow and prostration of others. The downfall of another, even if that other made himself a rival, is no gratification. A human soul, a redeemed spirit, sank in that fall, and love cannot rejoice in such a calamity. " Rejoiceth in [or, 'with'] the truth." Love has been personified all along; truth is here personified. Love approaches moral truth, offers its congratulations, enters into its success, shares its joy. So, then, St. Paul approaches the close of this paragraph by the beautiful picture of love and truth side by side, and happy in the purity and glory of their fellowship. Looking back on the course of the argument, we see love as a meek and gentle sufferer, the traces of pain on its face, yet a sweet and holy reconciliation to the pangs long borne. We see kindness imprinted on the countenance. We discover no sign of envy, of pride and vanity, of overweening self regard, and, wherever the figure moves, its grace and charms are not blurred by unseemly demeanour. Most of all, its eye has an outward look, as if offering its heart to the service of others. And while unpleasant things occur, and wrongs are perpetrated, it is not made ahoy, nor does it nurse malice and resentment, nor rejoice at the retributions that overtake iniquity. Joy, indeed, it has, but its gladdest hours are those when love clasps hands with truth, and when seeketh not its own finds its highest realization in fellowship with truth. But the positive side of love must now be presented. It " beareth all things," that is, "hides to itself and to others" (Bengel), conceals or covers up the infirmities of others, which envy, pride, malice, would not expose, but delight in the exposure. A virtue is most glorious when it courts silence and prizes it as a beatitude. Unwitnessed patience and heroism are grandest when the soul asks no recognition, but abides with its consciousness alone in God. In his four statements in 1 Corinthians 13:7 this quiet bearing of the imperfections of other people is first mentioned. And. with what expressiveness of diction! "Beareth all things." That passive strength which bears life's burden is no sudden, still less an early, acquirement. It is a slow growth. Time, as a coworker with grace, has much to do with its excellence. Years only can give it maturity and years full of providence. Consider, too, what a co-education of the body is implied here, what a subduing of recreant nerves, what a check on the blood, what refusals to obey sensations, before one can learn the art of silence as to the faults that annoy and often vex. If it is thus that Christian character is rounded off, we cannot doubt that it is not attainable except through a tedious and protracted experience. But does this bearing with the faults of others comply with the requirements of social duty? Nay, says the apostle, love " believeth all things." It searches for good qualities in men who are disagreeable and even repulsive, and whatever its diligent scrutiny can bring to light amid the mass of infirmities overlaying better traits, yields it genuine pleasure. Colour blindness is not confined to the physical eye. Individuals who are sensitive to the faults of others, and habituated to criticizing them, are generally more affected by nervous annoyance than by conscience, and it commonly happens with such that they seldom look for any redeeming goodness. To estimate the force of circumstances, to study motives, to make charitable allowances, are alien to their tastes and temper. On the contrary, the instinct of love is to believe that others are better, or, at least, may be better, than they seem. So that while love is an heroic believer, it is also a wise doubter, and gives the unhappy idiosyncrasies of men the benefit of its doubts. Because of this, it "hopeth all things." Right believing is an expansive force in the intellect. It is a quickener of imagination. It finds reasons for confidence unknown to him who has the conceit of scepticism, and cherishes it for its own sake, and prides himself on it as a sign of intellectual acumen. Faith acts on the emotions. These two, imagination and sensibility, stimulate hope, that in turn rises above the senses and comprehends, to some extent, the mighty forces engaged on the side of goodness. The power of God in Christianity makes its way slowly to the heart, while Satanic influence is demonstrative to the eye. Hope is not left to itself, but is taught of Christ, who, in the days of his flesh, looked beyond humiliation, obloquy, death, to the glory waiting to invest him. So, then, we may say that large views and large hopes go together, and the grace that "believeth all things" also "hopeth all things." But is a great hope immediately gratified? Never; if it were it would lose its greatness. Hope is a beautiful education, and it is this by holding back its fulfilment and thereby expanding the soul's capacity for the fullest gratification. Hope must have time and opportunity to develop the sense of enjoyability in us before it bestows the reality. Each day of postponement goes onward to the day of realization, which is thousands of days in one. But it educates us in other forms. The delay of hope to meet our anticipations tests our strength and patience. Has the hope a firm hold on our souls? If so, its possessor "endureth all things." Through doubt and darkness, amidst adversity, despite opposing circumstances, love is persistent, and its persistency is the measure of its power. When we reach this ability to endure, waiting in serene patience, submissive to God's will, content with today for what it is in itself, anticipating a coming Joy, but leaving its birth hour to him who keeps the times and seasons for himself,—when we attain this point of experience, we are near the boundary of earthly growth. Passive excellence, such as that pointed out by the word "endureth," seems to be the final work of the Holy Ghost in the human heart. Fitly, therefore, St. Paul finds the climax of expressions ( 1 Corinthians 13:7 ) in "endureth all things." True, "beareth," "believeth," "hopeth," are alike related to "all things" with "endureth," and yet this is obviously the consummation of the idea pervading the apostle's mind. Fitly so, we have said, since men are accustomed to regard endurance as the mark of the highest power. It is a trained and balanced power. Body, soul, and spirit are present in the fulness of its strength. There is no disquiet in those sensibilities that are ever creating ripples on the surface of life. There is no agitation in those great depths that once heaved under the fury of the storm. Enduring love has entered into rest, and the repose is God like.—L.
Love and our fellow men.
In this panegyric of charity, we find,
I. LOVE IS LONG SUFFERING AS OPPOSED TO IMPATIENCE . There is no possibility of mixing with human society without encountering many occasions of irritation. Human nature is such that conflicts of disposition and of habits will and must occur. It is so in the family, in civil life, and even in the Church. Hence impatience and irritability are among the most common of infirmities. And there is no more sure sign of a disciplined and morally cultured mind than a habit of forbearance, tolerance, and patience. But Christianity supplies a motive and power of long suffering which can act in the case of persons of every variety of temperament and of every position of life. "Love suffereth long."
II. LOVE IS GRACIOUS AND KIND AS OPPOSED TO MALICE AND ILL WILL . There is no disposition known to human nature which is a more awful proof of the enormity of sin than malevolence. And the religion of the Lord Christ in nothing more signally proves its divinity than in its power to expel this demoniacal spirit from the breast of humanity. In fact, benevolence is the admitted "note" of this religion. The sterner virtues, as fortitude and justice, were admired and practised among the heathen, and celebrated by the moralists of antiquity. These and others were assumed by Christianity, which added to them the softer grace of love—love which justifies itself in deeds of benignity and loving kindness.
III. LOVE IS OPPOSED TO ENVY AID JEALOUSY . These are vices which arise from discontent with one's own condition as compared with that of others, and are justly deemed among the meanest and basest of which man is capable. Christianity proves its power of spiritual transformation by suppressing, and indeed in many cases by extirpating, these evil passions from the heart, and by teaching and enabling men to rejoice in their neighbours' prosperity.
IV. LOVE , AS OPPOSED TO ANGER , IS NOT PROVOKED WITH THE CONDUCT OF OTHERS . This must not be pressed too far, as though anger in itself were an evil, as though there were no such thing as righteous indignation. Christ himself was angry with hypocrites and deceivers; his indignation and wrath were aroused again and again. But the moral distinction lies here: to be provoked with those who injure us or pass a slight upon our dignity and self importance, is unchristian, but it is not so to cherish indignation with the conduct of God's wilful enemies.
V. LOVE KEEPS NO ACCOUNT OF EVIL RENDERED . This trait in the character of the Christian is very beautiful. It is customary with sinful men to cherish the memory of wrongs done to them, against a day of retribution. Love wipes out the record of wrong doing from the memory, and knows nothing of vindictiveness or ill will.—T.
Love and self abnegation.
Where there is sincere Christian love, that grace will not only affect for good the intercourse of human society, it will exercise a most powerful and beneficial influence over the nature of which it takes possession; changing pride into humility, and selfishness into self denial. And this is not to be wondered at by him who considers that for the Christian the spiritual centre of gravity is changed—is no longer self, but Christ.
I. LOVE DESTROYS BOASTFULNESS . It "vaunteth not itself." In some characters more than in others there is observable a disposition towards display. There may be real ability, and yet there may be the vanity which obtrudes the proofs of that ability; or there may, on the other hand, be an absence of ability, and yet the fool may not be able to conceal his folly, but must needs make himself the laughing stock of all. Love delights not in the display of real power or the assumption of what does not exist. How can it? When love seeks the good of others, how can it seek their admiration?
II. LOVE IS OPPOSED TO PRIDE . It "is not puffed up." The expression is a strong one; it has been rendered, "does not swell and swagger," "is not inflated with vanity." The explanation of this is clear enough. The pretentious and arrogant man has a mind full of himself, of thoughts of his own greatness and importance, Now, love is the outflowing of the heart's affection in kindliness and benevolence towards others. He who is always thinking of the welfare of his fellow men has no time and no inclination for thoughts of self exaltation, aggrandizement, and ambition. It is plain, then, how wholesome, purifying, and sweetening an influence Christianity introduces into human society; and how much it tends to the happiness of individuals, cooling the fever of restless rivalry and ambition.
III. LOVE IS INCONSISTENT WITH ALL UNSEEMLINESS OF DEPORTMENT . There is an indefiniteness about the language: "Doth not behave itself unseemly." Possibly there is a special reference to the discreditable scenes which were to be witnessed in the Corinthian congregation, in consequence of their party spirit, rivalry, and discord. But there is always in every community room for the inculcation of considerateness, courtesy, self restraint, and dignity. And the apostle points out, with evident justice, that what no rules or custom can produce is the spontaneous and natural result of the operation of Christian love.
IV. LOVE IS , IN A WORD , UNSELFISH ; i.e. "seeketh not her own." Here is the broadest basis of the new life of humanity. Love gives, and does not grasp; has an eye for others' wants and sorrows, but turns not her glance towards herself; moves among men with gracious mien and open hands.—T.
Some characteristics of love.
The apostle gives a very beautiful description of some of the qualities of love. True love is—
I. PATIENT AND UNCOMPLAINING . It:
1. "Suffereth long," under provocation and injury.
2. "Is not easily provoked." Is not irritable—not allied to anger.
3. "Beareth all things." Is willing to bear burdens that others may be free. Rather hides than advertises injuries received. Does not revenge.
4. "Endureth all things." Neglect and persecution in a calm and Christian spirit.
II. KIND . Willing to perform good offices for others. Desires to be useful, obliging, helpful. Is kind after much suffering and ill usage. Is kind when showing mercy. Some show mercy unkindly, and utterly spoil the beauty of the deed.
III. HUMBLE . ( 1 Corinthians 13:4 .) Does not lead to vaunting, as the possession of supernatural gifts did amongst the Corinthians. Is not puffed up with pride, which is closely related to party zeal, as in those at Corinth who cried "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos," etc. Does not seek to win praise or applause.
IV. UNSELFISH . "Seeketh not her own." Loses sight largely of self. The Corinthians cried, "I... I... I," because they had little love. Love is not filled with thoughts of her own rights; she thinks rather of the rights of others. "Envieth not." Is not jealous of the endowments of others; recognizes that "God hath set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him" ( 1 Corinthians 12:18 ).
V. DECOROUS . ( 1 Corinthians 13:5 .) Keeps within the bounds of propriety; is courteous. Absence of love leads to gross disorders, as at the Lord's table at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 11:21 , 1 Corinthians 11:22 ).
VI. CHARITABLE IN JUDGMENT , "Thinketh no evil." Does not delight to impute motives. Does not make the worst, but the best of things. Does not gloat over the evil done.
VII. PURE . "Rejoiceth not in iniquity [or, 'unrighteousness'], but rejoiceth with the truth" ( 1 Corinthians 13:6 ). Is not in sympathy with evil. Is not pleased to see it, but pained. When the truth triumphs, love rejoices.
VIII. TRUSTFUL . "Believeth all things" ( 1 Corinthians 13:7 ). Is not suspicious. Does not esteem doubt and distrust the chief virtues. Believes all that can with a good conscience be believed to the credit of others.
IX. HOPEFUL . "Hopeth all things" ( 1 Corinthians 13:7 ). Hopes when others without love have ceased to hope; is loth to regard any as hopeless. Hopes for good rather than for bad from men. Is not allied to despondency and despair. Is anchored in God and hopes on. Thus sweetly does the apostle chant the praises of true Christian love.—H.
The grace of charity.
When we speak of charity ( ἀγάπη ) it is in the sense attached to the word in the New Testament. We do not speak of promiscuous and impulsive almsgiving, in which there is often but the veriest morsel of charity, and which, in our condition of society, is almost an unmitigated evil, tending as it does to the maintenance of an indigent and pauperized class. We do not speak of that kind of natural affection ( ἔρος ) which binds men together with the ties of family and friendship. Charity, as a grace of the gospel, is altogether larger and more comprehensive than these things. It is first the love of the whole human race, as being the objects of the love of God, our common Father, and the redeemed of his mercy. Then it is this spirit of love, ever seeking for us, and ever finding expression in, acts of generous kindness, thoughtfulness, and good will. In its larger, nobler meaning, charity is something peculiarly Christian; something that springs up only in that soul which has felt the love of God in its own redemption.
I. CHARITY IS THE GREATEST OF GRACES IN THE WIDTH OF ITS SPHERE , Other graces have particular things with which they are more intimately concerned; special parts of our life on which they throw the light of their charm; special times in which they operate. But charity covers the whole life and relationships of the Christian; his inner thoughts, his uttered feelings, his conduct and intercourse, the associations of the family and society, and also his relations with the dependent, the poor, and the suffering., Look at some of the spheres thus irradiated with the golden light of charity.
1. The sphere of a brother's opinions. "Believeth all things." Many find it easy to be charitable towards their brethren in almost everything except their opinions. Think of the bitternesses, separations, and conflicts arising from differences of political opinion, from differences of denominational opinion, from differences of theological opinion. In these matters what a sad worldful of uncharity we have to mourn over. We cannot, indeed, with the utmost stretch of charity, receive all opinions; it is impossible to delude ourselves into the acceptance of all forms of doctrine, as though all may be true. Not in that sense does charity enable us to "believe all things." Charity is a grace exercised concerning persons holding opinions, not concerning opinions separated from the persons holding them. The religious questionings which agitate the hearts of our fellow men are altogether too solemn, the yearnings of the human heart everywhere after the standard of righteousness, the pardon of sin, the peace of God, and light beyond the grave, are altogether too serious and anxious, to permit us to speak of any one—of the Catholic, or the Unitarian, or the Hindoo, or the Mohammedan, or the island savage—save in terms of deepest and most sincere sympathy.
2. The sphere of a brother's failings. "Beareth all things." How ready we are to push right down a brother who has begun to slip! What strong things we say about the faintings and errors of others! How loudly we talk about the imperfections in the character and conduct of others! How easily we forget our own "beams," and, with malicious delight, swell out the "motes" in our brothers' eyes! Charity teaches us to say nothing at all about our brother if we cannot say something good.
3. The sphere of a brother's sorrows. "Seeketh not her own." Perhaps we may call this the principal sphere of charity, as it is certainly the easiest. There is so much of natural feeling to help us in this case, while in other cases our natural feelings may be opposed to our charities. What a peculiarly earthly and human sphere of charity this is! There are no sufferers lying on sick beds for us to tend in heaven; no hungry ones for us to feed; no imprisoned ones for us to visit; no naked ones for us to clothe. Perhaps the exercises of charity in the midst of worldly sorrows are intended to prepare us for the yet higher charities of the eternal world. Charity finds so extensive a sphere for its present operations because so little of human sorrow is simple, so often it is complicated—complicated by peculiarly distressing circumstances, complicated by poverty, by mental anguish, etc. For sorrows pure and simple there may be no more needed than sympathy; for sorrow complicated with other kinds of trouble there is needed charity, which takes up sympathy into itself, and goes on to express itself in generous gifts and kindly deeds.
4. The sphere of a brother's sins. "Rejoiceth not in iniquity." If charity towards a suffering brother is the easiest effort, charity towards a sinning brother is the hardest. It is very hard to be charitable towards one who has sinned, when the sin touches others rather than ourselves. It is the Divine triumph to be charitable when the wrong is done to ourselves.
II. CHARITY IS THE GREATEST OF THE GRACES BECAUSE OF THE DIFFICULTY WITH WHICH IT IS ATTAINED . It is so difficult because of the separating influence of sin. Sin broke up the fellowship of the human family, and filled the world with opposing interests. Charity has to heal up these great wounds, and temper these opposing relations, and make the human family one again. Charity cannot be won by any of us save as the issue of a constant, earnest struggle. Charity is only the final result of a day by day endeavour to think charitably of others, and act charitably towards them in their opinions, their failings, their sorrows, and their sins.—R.T.