1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1. What a happy grouping, so familiar now that nothing seems more commonplace; but what an inspiration it was when it first flamed out of the soul of the great apostle!
2. We cannot forget that he had the advantage of Greek culture, so it is natural to suppose that he was led to the conception by the three graces. But what a contrast between the Greek and the Christian graces! The one represented chiefly the charms of outward beauty, winsomeness, gleefulness; the other were not mere embellishments of life, but its central forces, the deep springs of all that was true and beautiful and noble in character. Was not that a most significant change? The word "grace" retains its Greek as well as its Christian meaning in our language. We often use it in the old sense, e.g., "grace in every movement of the body," or "done with a very good grace"; but just think in what a different region of thought and life we are when we speak of grace in its profound Christian sense. There are those who have real grace in the heart, whose manners do but scant justice to that which is within them; and there are those who have succeeded in cultivating outward graces of manner, but are utterly devoid of grace within. Give us both the outward and the inward, if it be possible; but if it must be only one, let it be that which is real and deep and true.
3. But we must look at the triad of Christian graces. The apostle says that they abide while other good things pass away.
4. The contrast in regard to abiding is not between the graces among themselves, but between gifts and graces (ver. 8). This contrast between knowledge, as transitory, is especially interesting now that there is a disposition to speak of faith, etc., as the shadowy things which are rapidly vanishing away, while knowledge is the substantial thing which is sure to hold its ground. Is not faith giving way to agnosticism? Is not hope fading before pessimism? And is not the old idea that love is creation's final law giving way to the new philosophy which resolves everything into matter and force?
5. Is there any way of testing which is right? If only we could project ourselves forward, say, for 2,000 years, how very satisfactorily we could settle the matter! Would a learned man of the nineteenth century pass for a learned man of the thirty-ninth? Or would he be only as a child? But will not faith, etc., be as powerful and healthful factors in life as they are now? But we must not prophesy. But what if we look 2,000 years back? Where would the wise man of the apostle's time be alongside of our mighty men of science to-day? Imagine a conversation between Pliny, the elder, and Professor Huxley on biology. The great naturalist of the first century would have to go to school for twenty years before he was ready to begin. Would the apostle Paul have to go to school for twenty years before he could begin to talk with an advanced Christian of the nineteenth century on faith and hope and love? The learning of the time was not at all to be despised. Nor did the apostle at all despise it; only he recognises the fact that it is partial — that in course of time it will be obsolete. We may be sure that this would by no means please the gnostics of the day, as they called themselves. These learned men believed they had reached the ultimate truth. The apostle did not undertake to pronounce on the truth or falsehood of what they taught; only he plainly indicated that it would by and by be out of date, whereas the heavenly faith and hope and love which it was his high calling to set before men would last. Where are the gnostics now? I don't suppose there is one left in all the world. But faith, etc., inspire as many men now as they did then, and thousands of thousands more!
6. And many other knowledges have passed away besides that of St. Paul's day in the course of these nineteen centuries. A very striking illustration of this is to be found in the "Paradiso" of Dante. The science of his time is so completely out of date that, without a special study of it, it is impossible to understand what he means at all when he is trying to expound it; and after you do find what he means it is not of the slightest use or permanent value. Ah, but when he soars on the wings of faith and hope and love, we soar with him yet. And they were the same as the apostle's, only they were not entangled with the errors of the times. A most signal token this of an inspiration far transcending that of Dante. And here we can go back far more than eighteen centuries. Look at Genesis. There is the very oldest book in all the world. Is it obsolete? Compare it with the work of Dante in this respect, and what a contrast! People talk of the conflict between science and faith. There is no such conflict. It is only the conflict between old science and new. All our troubles with scientific opinions have come from our leaving the lofty regions of faith, etc., and descending into the troubled area of shifting scientific knowledge. the holy men of old who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, kept quite clear of all these questions. You don't find them pronouncing opinions on scientific subjects. They kept themselves to their own faith and hope and love.
7. The knowledge that many of us are ambitious, and rightly ambitious, to acquire will no doubt be of great service for many years to come; but faith, hope, and love are just as needful and serviceable for these years; and then their value by no means ends with these years, but lasts on and on for ever. They are the coin current in eternity. Without them we shall be paupers for eternity, however wise and learned and well-equipped for time.
(J. Monro Gibson, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.