"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." (1 Corinthians 13:13)
FAITH, by divines, has been divided into four different sorts--Historical, Temporary, Miraculous, and Justifying:--the first three are of no use in the salvation of the soul. Many have a temporary faith, and for a while believe the doctrines of the Gospel, in the letter only, and receive it with joy, but these in temptation, tribulation, or persecution for the word's sake, or by some lust or other being too strong for them, fall away. Miraculous faith, or faith that removes mountains, is seen in some in these days. I take the faith that Paul says removes mountains to be that which will go on in a profession against a great many obstacles and obstinately, at the same time being opinion only, the professor having neither a broken heart, nor any love to God; and after all it profits nothing. But, besides these, James tells us of a dead faith, and describes it by its being without works; he opposes to it Abraham's faith, which was proved to be genuine by its works, when it worked by love in the offering up of his son.
Abraham's faith laid hold of Christ and brought him into his heart with all his saving benefits, but that faith that brings nothing in never honors God. Faith is God's gift, and not the production of man--but then the question is, how is this faith communicated, that we may see if we have it? In order to solve this question, we are told, "By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, (Heb. 11:7) etc.: here is, first (though not first expressed), the warning of God: faith, which is a fruit of the Spirit, credited this warning; and sure enough it is that God's warning is applied to the heart and conscience by the power of the Holy Ghost, or it never will be believed. It is said, "of things not seen as yet," which was the deluge of the old world. But in us it is of the Judgment day and the dreadful end of all who die in their sins, with out sins at the same time discovered to us, and set before us, and we made to believe that God is privy to them all, and also made to fear that for these he will tear us to pieces; (Ps. 50:22) then, and not till then, we begin to look for a way of escape.
Noah was warned; this warning he believed, and saw the destruction coming on; it was attended with fear, which moved him to prepare an ark:--without faith and fears we never begin in truth to look out for a way of escape from the wrath to come. The ark, as a place of safety or security, may be a type of Christ, though in other respects a type of the Church. And faith, which is God's gift--and fear, of his own implanting--both act and move by God's word; and will never suffer the soul that is possessed of them to be at rest, till it find security from wrath and ruin in Christ Jesus. This is ever to be found in Paul's ministry, for he tells us, wherever he went, he preached repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. God's call by Abraham was heard and believed, for by faith, when he was called, he obeyed and went out; but never enjoyed true friendship nor reconciliation till he embraced Christ in the promise. Whoever, then, is warned of things not seen as yet, and made to believe this warning, can never rest till he finds Christ and has that faith which is the gift of God.
This faith we must have before we can understand Paul's meaning in the text, who says, Now abideth, in this world, whilst we are in it, or in this present time, abideth, remains, or continues with us, faith, hope, and charity, but the greatest of these is charity. Now faith abides with them to whom it is given for various purposes, one of which is that we may be sojourners with God:--by faith Abraham sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country etc.--this is a mark of real faith, not to look upon ourselves as at home in this world, but as passing through it to a heavenly country;--he dwelt in tabernacles, moveable habitations,--not sitting down in one place, as if this world was his home--which could only be accomplished by faith's laying hold of a better country. This also may be seen in the case of Moses: "by faith Moses, when he was come to years," when he was come to manhood, was seized in his heart with convictions by the Spirit, which showed him his own state, and the state of the Egyptians, and all the world; this by faith was firmly believed, the effects of which were seen in his casting off his adoption by Pharaoh's daughter and his heirship to the crown; "choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, having respect to the recompense of the reward."
Another evidence of true faith is that a just man is to live by; the apostle says, The life that I now live (while I am in the flesh), I live by the faith of the Son of God; but prior to this he lived by his own good deeds, till the commandment came, and sin revived, then he died, and death, in the sentence of the Law, reigned over him, till Christ was revealed in him, and it is plain he ever after lived on him, by him, and in him. By this faith of Christ he found access into the grace, favor, and love of God--by this faith, acceptance with God--by this faith of Christ, and for the sake of this Christ he expected every fresh supply of grace and strength according to his day of trials, and through this faith, which centered in Christ and in the promises of God in him, he expected to be kept--expected, did I say?--he believed God would keep him from evil to the end, and give him a crown of righteousness and glory; and every possessor of true faith lives in the same manner, if not in so high a degree.
Faith also abides for us to walk by; "faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. The eye hath not seen nor the ear heard, nor the heart conceived (to the full, yea, but very little,) what God hath prepared for them that love him;" the natural eye, or the eye literally, can see nothing of these things, all that is seen is seen by faith, and so it is written, "we walk by faith and not by sight:" faith credits the reality of those things it discovers by the word and expects the enjoyment of them, takes up the cross, following Christ, denying self; and thus he that walks by faith follows those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Another thing for which faith abides is to fight the good fight of faith. Paul says, "I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith." In this fight (says he), "we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places;" these he calls the wiles of the devil, besides the carnal appetites of flesh and blood; these last, Paul tells us (and we feel it), lust against the Spirit, but faith, as a grace of the Spirit, mightily helps us to mortify these lusts, as may be seen in Moses, when by faith he became crucified to all the world. The wiles of the devil, who is a powerful adversary and rules worldly men in darkness and in all manner of wickedness, will not let them that have escaped his kingdom, and are installed into the kingdom of God, be in quiet if he can have access to them, as may be seen in the case of Job and others; some he tempts violently to blaspheme, to think hard thoughts of God, to rebel against his sovereignty, to doubt of his goodness, and to disbelieve his lovingkindness; he tells us we are hypocrites, we have no real work of God in us, and are destitute of the real grace of God, or we should never feel such things as work in us.
Now what can be done in this battle, if faith be wanting? If the issue of this battle depended on man, he would lose the day, but Christ is not only the author, but the finisher, of faith, and will not let it fail until it has done its last work, and that is, as Mr. Huntington says, to make a dying bed easy. When Paul himself was hardly beset with these powers of darkness, he was enabled to take the weapon, called by John Bunyan, All-prayer, and besought the Lord for deliverance, for power to stand, and also to overcome; and this was granted to the prayer of faith, so that we see, in these battles, faith's business is to fight in Jesus' might, and not in human strength. Paul says, the girdle of truth is of excellent use in this battle, notwithstanding all that the devil may say against it by his suggestions to our hearts or by any of his servants to our faces; therefore it is absolutely necessary that the truth be received and held fast in faith and love. The breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the hope of salvation as a helmet, with the sword of the Spirit, the word of God--these are of indispensable use in the fight of faith, and are all brought into action according as they are needed. In this way we have to wrestle with or against these powers of darkness, and are made overcomers also by the Holy Ghost's power working faith in our hearts to lay hold of and oppose those to all the fiery darts of the devil; all such as are blest with true faith being sure, in one way or another, to have it tried; but let the battle be never so hot they have the promise of being finally more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
Another reason Paul assigns why faith abides with us in that, having done all, we may stand: he tells the Corinthians that he had no dominion over their faith, but was a helper, by his ministry, of their joy; for by faith ye stand." Again, "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand:" and in Psalm 20, you may see how faith acts to keep her standing. The Psalmist says, "some trust in chariots and some in horses;" but "the taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man nor in the strength of a horse; but he taketh pleasure in those that fear him and in those that hope in his mercy;" and these are such as renounce themselves and trust only in the Son of God; which is seen in the next words, "but we will remember the name of the Lord our God." Then it follows that those who trust in themselves, or in any thing short of Christ, are sure to be brought down and fail:--"they are brought down and fallen;" but we, who remembered the name of Christ, which God says he will make to be remembered by all his elect, in all generations, as the only object of faith for their salvation, to them these words follow, "but we are risen and stand upright." Now none can stand upright before God but by faith in Christ; nor shall any others stand the fiery trial that shall try every man's work, nor yet in the judgment-day--for "the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous."
It seems certain, by Heb. 11, that all that by faith obeyed God came out of the world; that they were sojourners here, and walked with God: "these," says Paul, "all died in faith;" that is, in the article of death, they trusted wholly to what Christ was to do and to suffer for them for their happy admission into heaven itself; and they also died in the faith of the resurrection of the body to a glorious immortality. It is expressly said of some of these worthies that from the death they were threatened with they would not accept deliverance upon terms unworthy their profession, and the reason assigned is that they might obtain a better resurrection. It is also said of these that they had not received the promise; Christ was not as yet come in the flesh, nor had he as yet fulfilled the law by his own obedience, nor as yet suffered for them in his own body on the tree; but that made no difference, for faith apprehended all this as sure, and Christ Jesus became the end of their conversation, as he is of ours, and he is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
I have only to speak of one other part of the life of faith, a living on the providence of God, in which most, if not all, are exercised at one time or another. When trials of this sort attend us, we look for precedents in the word, which, when found, are taken as pleas to the throne of grace; by which it is manifest there must be some faith in God, or such a conduct would not be pursued. Examples of this sort are manifold in the word of God, and it is sweet at times to look and see that we have not sought in vain. Many, many times has this been my employ, and often have I seen his hand displayed in my behalf, to the humbling of my heart and the praise of his name.
"Now abideth faith, hope;" which last is the next thing in the text. All men by nature have a hope, but it is only the hope of the wicked, which sooner or later must give up the ghost. The hypocrite has a hope, and his hope is mentioned in Job 8, and there also is described his character; and it is the same which the Saviour gives of the stony ground hearer--he is green before the sun of persecution, temptation, or tribulation comes upon him; joyful in his profession, and never otherwise;--no brokenness of heart; no sorrow from a sense of his sin and depravity; his roots only see the place of stones;--and when the above trials come on, he is carried away, or withers in his profession. Another part of the character of a hypocrite is given in Matt. 23; in outward things they are very busy, have a fair outside, yet their heart, not being cleansed, is in the same state it ever was, passing over judgment, mercy, faith, and the love of God. Judgment laid to the line of the precept, and applied to the conscience, they never felt; therefore mercy is not needed by them, nor faith to believe in it, and of course, if no faith, no love; for faith is said (when mercy is received) to work by love.
It is the work of God to beget us to a lively hope, or a hope of life; but the destruction of a false hope precedes this. All light seated only in the head can never accomplish this, nor would this false hope ever be given up, if God himself did not destroy it, which is done by the Lord's wreathing our transgressions as a yoke about our necks, and binding them there, so that none can loose us but himself. Under this yoke Ephraim cries out, "Thou hast chastised me as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke;" (Jer. 31:18) but "it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, he sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him; he putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope." It is in this valley of trouble that a door is opened unto us. "I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness (to her wits' end, seeing no way out), and (then) speak comfortably" or friendly to her heart:--"remember thy word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope." "I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope." (Hosea 2:14,15) When once a soul is raised to hope, and a knowledge of interest in Christ is longed for, or a revelation of Christ to the soul, and when faith lays hold of him and gives him a dwelling in the heart, this is "God's mystery among the Gentiles, Christ in you the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27)
Another thing hope is exercised about is a knowledge of the forgiveness of sins:--"and now" says the Psalmist, "what wait I for? my hope is in thee; deliver me from all my transgressions, and make me not the reproach of the foolish;" and whenever the blood of Christ is felt in its efficacious power upon the conscience, it cleanseth from all sin, and speaketh there better things than the blood of Abel, that crieth for vengeance. Mercy comes through this. Another thing hope is exercised upon is for that which, Paul says, is not seen; "for what a man seeth why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." (Rom. 8:24,25) And this thing hoped for is a life in glory; "for if in this life only we have hope in Christ, then are we of all men most miserable." (1 Cor. 15:19) The followers of Christ deny themselves and take up the cross, let it be whatever it may; and in this sense, as the Saviour declares, he that loses his life in this world shall find it: at times, such can rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The resurrection of the body is another thing hope has to do with. God hath subjected the body of believers to this vanity in hope: "in hope of the resurrection of the dead am I called in question." (Acts 23:6) A man who has felt the evil of sin, and who in this tabernacle ofttimes groans, hopes there is a time coming when he shall be delivered in every sense from the bondage of corruption, and feel no contrariety to God; which hope shall be realized at the raising of the body from the grave; for this mortal shall then put on immortality, and this corruptible put on incorruption; then shall be brought to pass this saying, "Death is swallowed up in victory."
Eternal life in the presence of God is another thing hope for: "in hopes of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised in Christ before the world began." (Titus 1:2) This present life, to a Christian, has its various changes, troubles, and afflictions, and death comes in the end: but when eternal life is entered into, there will be no more curse, no more wrath, mourning, nor sorrow; "For upon mount Zion God hath commanded the blessing, even life for evermore," (Ps. 133:3) and to mount Zion above all the saints shall come "with singing and everlasting joy upon their heads, they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (Isa. 35:10; Isa. 51:11)
"Now abideth faith, hope, charity; but the greatest of these is charity." The praises of charity, given us in this chapter, are contrasted with great gifts and great works. The tongues of men, be they ever so numerous, and the eloquence of angels, be it ever so great, without charity, are but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. The gift of prophecy, understanding all mysteries and all knowledge, and all faith, so as to remove mountains, without charity, is all nothing; to give all one's goods to feed the poor, and our body to be burned, may be done without charity, and so profit nothing. From this it is plain that charity, in its highest sense, and in Paul's meaning, is the love of God to us and in us. This love in the saints suffereth long for Christ and under persecution, is even kind to the persecutors, as has been often seen. "Charity envieth not;" the love of Christ enjoyed will set a person down at the feet of Christ sweetly contented and envying none.
"Charity vaunteth not itself:" as when undeserved love has conquered the heart of a stubborn sinner, who went on rashly in his own way, and, if not prevented, would have destroyed himself; such an one has nothing of his own to brag or boast of; he is a debtor for all grace given to him; he feels all to be a free gift: "it is not puffed up;" knowledge puffeth up, says Paul, but charity edifieth, and also keeps a person low in his own eyes, and such an one esteems others better than himself. Unseemliness it abhors, but whatsoever is lovely it esteems: "seeketh not her own" exclusively; this is most to be observed in the saints' first love; at this time there is, from love enjoyed, a most vehement desire for others to enjoy the good they have got, and great pains are taken that, if possible, they may find it: such love others as themselves. "Is not easily provoked;" love enjoyed will put up with that which, in any other state, would not be borne with: the martyrs gave abundant proofs of this under the manifold torments of their enemies. "Thinketh no evil;" love is of God; all evil thinking and doing, too, comes from the spawn of the wicked one.
"Rejoiceth not in iniquity:" one who has felt the evil of sin and his own miserable state by reason of sin, cannot rejoice in iniquity; "but rejoiceth in the truth;" mercy and truth having met together in Christ, and righteousness and peace embracing each other in him, all harmonizing together in the salvation of such a wretch, makes him love the truth and rejoice in it. "Charity beareth all things;" it will, for Christ's sake, bear the heat and burden of the day, whatever it may be; the saints, by this grace, bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill this law of Christ; also the taunts of scorners and the temptations that lie in their way, "for many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it." (Songs 8:7) "It believeth all things:" with doubting saints, this, at the first sight, dazzles their eyes; but look a little, and we shall see the truth of Paul's assertion, and fully consent to it. "After the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets." (Acts 24:14) Faith, which works by love, is that which avails; and love in the heart will sweetly subject us to the truth recorded both in the law and in the prophets.
"Charity hopeth all things." This may be seen in some of the most trying circumstances the children of God have been exercised with. David when driven out by Saul into a dry and thirsty land, where no waters of the sanctuary could be found, poured out his soul within him; for he says his "tears were his meat day and night, while his enemies said continually, Where is thy God?" How now, David? why does not he in whom you trusted when you slew Goliath appear for you? where is he now? "I had gone," with love and joy in my heart, "to the house of God with them that kept holy day," and love draws my heart that way now: then "why art thou cast down, O my soul? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance;" for his presence is salvation, and he will bring me to his habitation.
Jonah in the whale's belly is an instance of charity hoping all things; for whose case could be more desperate than his? If he had not had love in his soul, you would never have heard the language that flowed from the fullness of his heart. Daniel in the lion's den, and the three children in the fiery furnace, love to their God, and hope in him, led them boldly on, and their expectations were fully answered. The saint of God in affliction, though he may not be able to see his way, yet, if he has had any sense of the love of God in his heart (and be sure, if he be a saint, he has had this love more or less)--I say this love will cause him to hope in God, that he will make a good end with him.
"Charity endureth all things:" blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive a crown of life. The love of Christ has caused some to endure stoning to death, others to be sawn asunder, to wander about in goat-skins and sheep-skins, to be destitute of the common comforts of life, being afflicted and tormented; it has caused them to endure mocking, scourgings, bonds, and imprisonments. This made Paul endure to be beaten with rods; and although the most of these things mentioned, and many more, are attributed to faith, we know it was that faith that worketh by love, which caused them to endure all these things, and according to Paul, it is the strongest cord; for "charity never faileth." Prophecies, tongues, knowledge, shall fail, cease, and vanish away; but not so charity; "no other change shall that sustain, save only to increase." We are compared to children in this chapter; our understanding, knowledge, and light, not being as yet come to maturity, will never be perfect till all imperfection is done away. Therefore we are in this world, as Mr. H. says, inlaid with faith, hope, and love; and while here, these are to be exercised. What faith views as good, hope expects, and love contemplates and delights in: "but the greatest of these is charity."
This charity is not in any by nature; "not that we loved God, but that he loved us," and "we love him because he first loved us." The carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God; "so then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom. 8:7) God has promised to circumcise the hearts of his elect, that they may love him, that they may live. Paul the persecutor had no love in his heart when persecuting the saints; but when God showed mercy on him, when God revealed his Son in him, and his sins were washed away by the blood of God's suffering Son; he tells us, "the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, with faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus;" (1 Tim. 1:14) and why charity is called the greatest you may read, when the Pharisees asked the Lord Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the law, he answered, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself, there is no other commandment greater than these; on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Christ fulfilled both these, or we could not have been saved.
This love in God towards his elect is from everlasting to everlasting. Christ having loved his own, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1) It is also said, God made a marriage for his Son: so it may be understood; the Son is called the bridegroom, and his church the bride. And here we may see that charity is the greatest, because of its duration; it never faileth; it hath a most vehement flame, as may be seen in Christ when he laid down his life for his church. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Christ loved the church and gave himself for it; and all this that she might be presented to himself a glorious church, not having spot nor wrinkle nor any such thing. (Eph. 5:27) "Charity never faileth;" when natural love to an object is felt, it is known to be the strongest passion of all; and when the love of Christ is felt, that soul will never be fully satisfied till he sees him as he is.