1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
I. THE NATURE AND USE OF THESE THREE GRACES.
1. Faith means a belief, on the testimony of God, of things which we do not perceive by our senses, and which we could not find out in any other way. It is directly opposed to sight, and signifies our looking to things invisible. It is the looking-out of the immortal spirit from its corporeal prisonhouse, to catch a glimpse of some nobler and happier form of existence. It is the commencement of spiritual life in the soul. It may be at first like the springing of seed sown, or like the movements of life in the newly breathing infant. But that, once commenced, is a momentous event; the birth of a principle which will continue to operate; the beginning of a life which will go on without end. Faith brings all the great truths and motives of the gospel so vividly before the mind, and keeps them so habitually present to the thoughts, as to prove a most powerful, practical, and purifying principle, carrying the views beyond things seen to things unseen, giving the soul a superiority over the power of this world, and so influencing effectually the whole conduct and course of life.
2. Hope means an expectation of those promised blessings as our eternal portion. Faith respects our belief of these blessings, as provided for all believers; hope respects our expectation of these blessings, as being ourselves believers. Faith gives our souls a connection with the Saviour, which secures our salvation, though our hope should be but low. Hope imparts to our souls a peace and support amidst the trials and duties of life, which, though not essential in any particular degree to our salvation, yet is requisite so far, as preventing despondency of mind under spiritual trials, as proving a source of the highest enjoyment to the heart of man in this world, and as supplying the strongest encouragement to steadfastness and diligence in God's service. It is not a mere confident expectation of safety and happiness, which might be a mere delusion, and which is too often strongest where the grounds are weakest; but it is closely connected with a humble acceptance of Christs salvation, and a cordial obedience to His commandments.
3. Charity is the sovereign principle from which every active service to God or man must flow.
II. THE PECULIAR EXCELLENCE OF CHARITY OR LOVE, AS THE GREATEST OF ALL THESE CHRISTIAN GRACES. Here, however, we must beware of separating one part of the Christian character from another; and while we exalt one grace, must not overlook or undervalue the rest. Observe then distinctly, that all these three must exist together, otherwise none of them can be genuine, "now abideth faith, hope, charity; these three." They must all be present, "these three"; all abide or dwell in company in our hearts, as heavenly principles, implanted there, and necessary to be there for our salvation. They are thus not only equally alike the work of Christ's Spirit; but they derive much of their respective excellences and uses from one another, and from operating along with one another. As well might you think of taking any part of the body out of its place, and speaking of its beauty and use, when thus separated from the rest of that living frame, as to take any of these graces by itself, and then speak of its use or excellence without the others. When it is said, therefore, that "the greatest of them is charity," it is, first of all, to be kept in mind that charity is nothing without the rest, and that from them it derives even much of its greatness. Charity is not the greatest, as if it could stand in the place of faith and hope. It is not great at all without them, and it cannot do their part; no more than the hand could do the office of the eye or the ear. It is nevertheless the greatest of all, as here declared.
1. Because it is the evidence of the rest, and the earnest of that salvation being begun in our souls, which they call us to seek and look for, as our portion.
2. Because it is the end, of which faith and hope are only the means. Faith and hope are the heavenly remedies, the health-giving streams, from which we must draw the reviving energy of Divine grace; but love is the spiritual soundness, that very state of health in the soul which is the end of these streams having been opened to us, and of our being invited to take freely their living waters. It is the celestial fruit, for the sake of which the root of faith is planted, and the blossoms of hope are cherished: it is "the fruit of the Spirit of all grace."
3. Because it is more particularly the Spirit of God Himself, the peculiar excellence which we are called to imitate in Him as our Father.
4. Because it is the most permanent of all these graces, and forms the principal occupation and enjoyment of the heavenly state.
(1) Inquire how far these three are abiding in your hearts, or how far at least you are desiring to have them there.
(2) Follow after charity, as the fruit, the evidence, the ornament of them all.
Parallel VersesKJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
WEB: But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.