First Published c1880
THOUGH I speak with the tongues of men and
of angels, and have not love, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling
cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries,
and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove
mountains, and have not LOVE I am nothing. And 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.
suffereth long, and is kind;
vaunteth not itself is not puffed up,
not behave itself unseemly,
not her own,
not easily provoked,
not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there
be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is
come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I
spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I
became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass,
darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even
as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, Love, these three; but the
greatest of these is Love. -- I COR 13.
THE GREATEST THING
IN THE WORLD
EVERY one has asked himself the great question of
antiquity as of the modern world: What is the summum bonum--the supreme
good? You have life before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest
object of desire, the supreme gift to covet?
been accustomed to be told that the greatest thing in the religious world is
Faith. That great word has been the key-note for centuries of the popular
religion; and we have easily learned to look upon it as the greatest thing in
the world. Well, we are wrong. If we have been told that, we may miss the mark.
I have taken you, in the chapter which I have just read, to Christianity at its
source; and there we have seen, "The greatest of these is love." It
is not an oversight. Paul was speaking of faith just a moment before. He says,
"If I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains, and have not love, I
am nothing. "So far from forgetting, he deliberately contrasts them,
"Now abideth Faith, Hope, Love," and without a moment's hesitation,
the decision falls, "The greatest of these is Love."
And it is
not prejudice. A man is apt to recommend to others his own strong point. Love
was not Paul's strong point. The observing student can detect a beautiful
tenderness growing and ripening all through his character as Paul gets old; but
the hand that wrote, "The greatest of these is love," when we meet it
first, is stained with blood.
this letter to the Corinthians peculiar in singling out love as the summum
bonum. The masterpieces of Christianity are agreed about it. Peter says,
"Above all things have fervent love among yourselves." Above all
things. And John goes farther, "God is love." And you remember
the profound remark which Paul makes elsewhere, "Love is the fulfilling of
the law." Did you ever think what he meant by that? In those days men were
working their passage to Heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments, and the
hundred and ten other commandments which they had manufactured out of them.
Christ said, I will show you a more simple way. If you do one thing, you will
do these hundred and ten things, without ever thinking about them. If you love,
you will unconsciously fulfill the whole law. And you can readily see for
yourselves how that must be so. Take any of the commandments. "Thou shalt
have no other gods before Me." If a man love God, you will not require to
tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of that law. "Take not His name in
vain." Would he ever dream of taking His name in vain if he loved Him? "Remember
the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Would he not be too glad to have one day
in seven to dedicate more exclusively to the object of his affection? Love
would fulfill all these laws regarding God. And so, if he loved Man, you would
never think of telling him to honour his father and mother. He could not do
anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him not to kill. You could only
insult him if you suggested that he should not steal -how could he steal from
those he loved? It would be superfluous to beg him not to bear false witness
against his neighbour. If he loved him it would be the last thing he would do.
And you would never dream of urging him not to covet what his neighbours had.
He would rather they possessed it than himself. In this way "Love is the
fulfilling of the law." It is the rule for fulfilling all rules, the new
commandment for keeping all the old commandments, Christ's one secret of the
had learned that; and in this noble eulogy he has given us the most wonderful
and original account extant of the summum bonum. We may divide it into
three parts. In the beginning of the short chapter, we have Love contrasted;
in the heart of it, we have Love analyzed; towards the end we have Love defended
as the supreme gift.
PAUL begins by contrasting Love with other things that
men in those days thought much of. I shall not attempt to go over those things
in detail. Their inferiority is already obvious.
contrasts it with eloquence. And what a noble gift it is, the power of playing
upon the souls and wills of men, and rousing them to lofty purposes and holy
deeds. Paul says, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and
have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." And
we all know why. We have all felt the brazenness of words without emotion, the
hollowness, the unaccountable unpersuasiveness, of eloquence behind which lies
contrasts it with prophecy. He contrasts it with mysteries. He contrasts it
with faith. He contrasts it with charity. Why is Love greater than faith?
Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charity?
Because the whole is greater than the part. Love is greater than faith, because
the end is greater than the means. What is the use of having faith? It is to
connect the soul with God. And what is the object of connecting man with God?
That he may become like God. But God is Love. Hence Faith, the means, is in
order to Love, the end. Love, therefore, obviously is greater than faith. It is
greater than charity, again, because the whole is greater than a part. Charity
is only a little bit of Love, one of the innumerable avenues of Love, and there
may even be, and there is, a great deal of charity without Love. It is a very
easy thing to toss a copper to a beggar on the street; it is generally an
easier thing than not to do it. Yet Love is just as often in the withholding.
We purchase relief from the sympathetic feelings roused by the spectacle of
misery, at the copper's cost. It is too cheap--too cheap for us, and often too
dear for the beggar. If we really loved him we would either do more for him, or
contrasts it with sacrifice and martyrdom. And I beg the little band of
would-be missionaries and I have the honour to call some of you by this name
for the first time--to remember that though you give your bodies to be burned,
and have not Love, it profits nothing--nothing! You can take nothing greater to
the heathen world than the impress and reflection of the Love of God upon your
own character. That is the universal language. It will take you years to speak
in Chinese, or in the dialects of India. From the day you land, that language
of Love, understood by all, will be pouring forth its unconscious eloquence. It
is the man who is the missionary, it is not his words. His character is his
message. In the heart of Africa, among the great Lakes, I have come across
black men and women who remembered the only white man they ever saw
before--David Livingstone; and as you cross his footsteps in that dark
continent, men's faces light up as they speak of the kind Doctor who passed
there years ago. They could not understand him; but they felt the Love that
beat in his heart. Take into your new sphere of labour, where you also mean to
lay down your life, that simple charm, and your lifework must succeed. You can
take nothing greater, you need take nothing less. It is-not worth while going
if you take anything less. You may take every accomplishment; you may be braced
for every sacrifice; but if you give your body to be burned, and have not Love,
it will profit you and the cause of Christ nothing.
AFTER contrasting Love with these things, Paul, in three
verses, very short, gives us an amazing analysis of what this supreme thing is.
I ask you to look at it. It is a compound thing, he tells us. It is like light.
As you have seen a man of science take a beam of light and pass it through a
crystal prism, as you have seen it come out on the other side of the prism
broken up into its component colours--red, and blue, and yellow, and violet,
and orange, and all the colours of the rainbow--so Paul passes this thing,
Love, through the magnificent prism of his inspired intellect, and it comes out
on the other side broken up into its elements. And in these few words we have
what one might call the Spectrum of Love, the analysis of Love. Will you
observe what its elements are? Will you notice that they have common names;
that they are virtues which we hear about every day; that they are things which
can be practised by every man in every place in life; and how, by a multitude
of small things and ordinary virtues, the supreme thing, the summum bonum,
is made up?
The Spectrum of Love has nine ingredients:--
Patience . . . . . . "Love suffereth
Kindness . . . . . . "And is kind."
Generosity . . . . "Love envieth not."
Humility . . . . . . "Love vaunteth not
itself, is not puffed up."
Courtesy . . . . . . "Doth not behave itself
Unselfishness . . "Seeketh not her
Good Temper . . "Is not easily
Guilelessness . . "Thinketh no evil."
Sincerity . . . . . . "Rejoiceth not in
iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth."
kindness; generosity; humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good temper;
guilelessness; sincerity--these make up the supreme gift, the stature of the
perfect man. You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to
life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the
unknown eternity. We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to
man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ made much of peace on
earth. Religion is not a strange or added thing, but the inspiration of the secular
life, the breathing of an eternal spirit through this temporal world. The
supreme thing, in short, is not a thing at all, but the giving of a further
finish to the multitudinous words and acts which make up the sum of every
no time to do more than make a passing note upon each of these ingredients.
Love is Patience. This is the normal attitude of Love; Love passive,
Love waiting to begin; not in a hurry; calm; ready to do its work when the
summons comes, but meantime wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.
Love suffers long; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things.
For Love understands, and therefore waits.
Love active. Have you ever noticed how much of Christ's life was spent in doing
kind things--in merely doing kind things? Run over it with that in view
and you will find that He spent a great proportion of His time simply in making
people happy, in doing good turns to people. There is only one thing greater
than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our
keeping; but what God has put in our power is the happiness of those
about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.
greatest thing," says some one, "a man can do for his Heavenly Father
is to be kind to some of His other children." I wonder why it is that we
are not all kinder than we are? How much the world needs it. How easily it is
done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. How
superabundantly it pays itself back--for there is no debtor in the world so
honourable, so superbly honourable, as Love. "Love never faileth".
Love is success, Love is happiness, Love is life. "Love, I say, "with
Browning, "is energy of Life."
life, with all it yields of joy and woe
And hope and fear,
Is just our chance o' the prize of learning love--
How love might be, hath been indeed, and is."
Love is, God is. He that dwelleth in Love dwelleth in God. God is love.
Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without
procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy;
especially upon the rich, who often need it most; most of all upon our equals,
where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There
is a difference between trying to please and giving pleasure Give
pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure. For that is the ceaseless and
anonymous triumph of a truly loving spirit.
shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do,
or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me
not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
"Love envieth not" This is Love in competition with others. Whenever
you attempt a good work you will find other men doing the same kind of work,
and probably doing it better. Envy them not. Envy is a feeling of ill-will to
those who are in the same line as ourselves, a spirit of covetousness and
detraction. How little Christian work even is a protection against un-Christian
feeling. That most despicable of all the unworthy moods which cloud a
Christian's soul assuredly waits for us on the threshold of every work, unless
we are fortified with this grace of magnanimity. Only one thing truly need the
Christian envy, the large, rich, generous soul which "envieth not."
after having learned all that, you have to learn this further thing, Humility--
to put a seal upon your lips and forget what you have done. After you have been
kind, after Love has stolen forth into the world and done its beautiful work,
go back into the shade again and say nothing about it Love hides even from
itself. Love waives even self-satisfaction. "Love vaunteth not itself, is
not puffed up."
ingredient is a somewhat strange one to find in this summum bonum: Courtesy.
This is Love in society, Love in relation to etiquette. "Love doth not
behave itself unseemly." Politeness has been defined as love in trifles.
Courtesy is said to be love in little things. And the one secret of politeness
is to love. Love cannot behave itself unseemly. You can put the most untutored
person into the highest society, and if they have a reservoir of love in their
heart, they will not behave themselves unseemly. They simply cannot do it.
Carlyle said of Robert Burns that there was no truer gentleman in Europe than
the ploughman-poet. It was because he loved everything--the mouse, and the
daisy, and all the things, great and small, that God had made. So with this
simple passport he could mingle with any society, and enter courts and palaces
from his little cottage on the banks of the Ayr. You know the meaning of the
word "gentleman." It means a gentle man--a man who does things
gently, with love. And that is the whole art and mystery of it. The gentleman
cannot in the nature of things do an ungentle, an ungentlemanly thing. The
un-gentle soul, the inconsiderate, unsympathetic nature cannot do anything
else. "Love doth not behave itself unseemly."
"Love seeketh not her own." Observe: Seeketh not even that which is
her own. In Britain the Englishman is devoted, and rightly, to his rights. But
there come times when a man may exercise even the higher right of giving up his
rights. Yet Paul does not summon us to give up our rights. Love strikes much
deeper. It would have us not seek them at all, ignore them, eliminate the
personal element altogether from our calculations. It is not hard to give up
our rights. They are often external. The difficult thing is to give up
ourselves. The more difficult thing still is not to seek things for ourselves
at all. After we have sought them, bought them, won them, deserved them, we
have taken the cream off them for ourselves already. Little cross then,
perhaps, to give them up. But not to seek them, to look every man not on his
own things, but on the things of others--id opus est. "Seekest thou
great things for thyself? "said the prophet; "seek them not."
Why? Because there is no greatness in things. Things cannot be great. The only
greatness is unselfish love. Even self-denial in itself is nothing, is almost a
mistake. Only a great purpose or a mightier love can justify the waste. It is
more difficult, I have said, not to seek our own at all, than, having sought
it, to give it up. I must take that back. It is only true of a partly selfish
heart. Nothing is a hardship to Love, and nothing is hard. I believe that
Christ's yoke is easy. Christ's "yoke" is just His way of taking
life. And I believe it is an easier way than any other. I believe it is a
happier way than any other. The most obvious lesson in Christ's teaching is
that there is no happiness in having and getting anything, but only in giving.
I repeat, there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving.
And half the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. They
think it consists in having and getting, and in being served by others. It
consists in giving, and in serving others. He that would be great among you,
said Christ, let him serve. He that would be happy, let him remember that there
is but one way--it is more blessed, it is more happy, to give than to receive.
ingredient is a very remarkable one: Good Temper. "Love is not
easily provoked." Nothing could be more striking than to find this here.
We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak
of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament,
not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man's character.
And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place;
and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most
destructive elements in human nature.
peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often
the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but
perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled,
quick-tempered, or "touchy" disposition. This compatibility of ill
temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems
of ethics. The truth is there are two great classes of sins--sins of the Body,
and sins of the Disposition. The Prodigal Son may be taken as a type of
the first, the Elder Brother of the second. Now society has no doubt whatever
as to which of these is the worse. Its brand falls, without a challenge, upon
the Prodigal. But are we right? We have no balance to weigh one another's sins,
and coarser and finer are but human words; but faults in the higher nature may
be less venial than those in the lower, and to the eye of Him who is Love, a
sin against Love may seem a hundred times more base. No form of vice, not
worldliness, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to
un-Christianise society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking up
communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating
homes, for withering up men and women, for taking the bloom off childhood; in
short, for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, this influence stands
alone. Look at the Elder Brother, moral, hard-working, patient, dutiful--let
him get all credit for his virtues--look at this man, this baby, sulking
outside his own father's door. "He was angry," we read, "and
would not go in." Look at the effect upon the father, upon the servants,
upon the happiness of the guests. Judge of the effect upon the Prodigal--and
how many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of God by the unlovely
characters of those who profess to be inside? Analyze, as a study in Temper,
the thunder-cloud itself as it gathers upon the Elder Brother's brow. What is
it made of? Jealousy, anger, pride, uncharity, cruelty, self-righteousness,
touchiness, doggedness, sullenness--these are the ingredients of this dark and
loveless soul. In varying proportions, also, these are the ingredients of all
ill temper. Judge if such sins of the disposition are not worse to live in, and
for others to live with, than sins of the body. Did Christ indeed not answer
the question Himself when He said, "I say unto you, that the publicans and
the harlots go into the Kingdom of Heaven before you." There is really no
place in Heaven for a disposition like this. A man with such a mood could only
make Heaven miserable for all the people in it. Except, therefore, such a man
be born again, he cannot, he simply cannot, enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For it
is perfectly certain-- and you will not misunderstand me--that to enter Heaven
a man must take it with him.
see then why Temper is significant. It is not in what it is alone, but in what
it reveals. This is why I take the liberty now of speaking of it with such
unusual plainness. It is a test for love, a symptom, a revelation of an
unloving nature at bottom. It is the intermittent fever which bespeaks
unintermittent disease within; the occasional bubble escaping to the surface
which betrays some rottenness underneath; a sample of the most hidden products
of the soul dropped involuntarily when off one's guard; in a word, the
lightning form of a hundred hideous and un-Christian sins. For a want of
patience, a want of kindness, a want of generosity, a want of courtesy, a want
of unselfishness, are all instantaneously symbolized in one flash of Temper.
is not enough to deal with the temper. We must go to the source, and change the
inmost nature, and the angry humours will die away of themselves. Souls are
made sweet not by taking the acid fluids out, but by putting something in--a
great Love, a new Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. Christ, the Spirit of Christ,
interpenetrating ours, sweetens, purifies, transforms all. This only can
eradicate what is wrong, work a chemical change, renovate and regenerate, and
rehabilitate the inner man. Will-power does not change men. Time does not
change men. Christ does. Therefore "Let that mind be in you which was also
in Christ Jesus." Some of us have not much time to lose. Remember, once
more, that this is a matter of life or death. I cannot help speaking urgently, for
myself, for yourselves. "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones,
which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about
his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." That is to
say, it is the deliberate verdict of the Lord Jesus that it is better not to
live than not to love. It is better not to live than not to love.
and Sincerity may be dismissed almost with a word. Guilelessness is the
grace for suspicious people. And the possession of it is the great secret of
personal influence. You will find, if you think for a moment, that the people
who influence you are people who believe in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion
men shrivel up; but in that atmosphere they expand, and find encouragement and
educative fellowship. It is a wonderful thing that here and there in this hard,
uncharitable world there should still be left a few rare souls who think no
evil. This is the great unworldliness. Love "thinketh no evil,"
imputes no motive, sees the bright side, puts the best construction on every
action. What a delightful state of mind to live in! What a stimulus and
benediction even to meet with it for a day! To be trusted is to be saved. And
if we try to influence or elevate others, we shall soon see that success is in
proportion to their belief of our belief in them. For the respect of another is
the first restoration of the self-respect a man has lost; our ideal of what he
is becomes to him the hope and pattern of what he may become.
rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." I have called this
Sincerity from the words rendered in the Authorized Version by
"rejoiceth in the truth." And, certainly, were this the real
translation, nothing could be more just. For he who loves will love Truth not
less than men. He will rejoice in the Truth--rejoice not in what he has been
taught to believe; not in this Church's doctrine or in that; not in this ism or
in that ism; but "in the Truth." He will accept only what is
real; he will strive to get at facts; he will search for Truth with a humble
and unbiased mind, and cherish whatever he finds at any sacrifice. But the more
literal translation of the Revised Version calls for just such a sacrifice for
truth's sake here. For what Paul really meant is, as we there read,
"Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth," a
quality which probably no one English word--and certainly not Sincerity--adequately
defines. It includes, perhaps more strictly, the self-restraint which refuses
to make capital out of others' faults; the charity which delights not in
exposing the weakness of others, but "covereth all things"; the
sincerity of purpose which endeavours to see things as they are, and rejoices
to find them better than suspicion feared or calumny denounced.
for the analysis of Love. Now the business of our lives is to have these things
fitted into our characters. That is the supreme work to which we need to
address ourselves in this world, to learn Love. Is life not full of
opportunities for learning Love? Every man and woman every day has a thousand
of them. The world is not a play-ground; it is a schoolroom. Life is not a
holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how
better we can love What makes a man a good cricketer? Practice. What makes
a man a good artist, a good sculptor, a good musician? Practice. What makes a
man a good linguist, a good stenographer? Practice. What makes a man a good
man? Practice. Nothing else. There is nothing capricious about religion. We do
not get the soul in different ways, under different laws, from those in which
we get the body and the mind. If a man does not exercise his arm he develops no
biceps muscle; and if a man does not exercise his soul, he acquires no muscle
in his soul, no strength of character, no vigor of moral fiber, nor beauty of
spiritual growth. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich,
strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character--the
Christlike nature in its fullest development. And the constituents of this
great character are only to be built up by ceaseless practice.
Christ doing in the carpenter's shop? Practicing. Though perfect, we read that
He learned obedience, He increased in wisdom and in favor with
God and man. Do not quarrel therefore with your lot in life. Do not complain of
its never-ceasing cares, its petty environment, the vexations you have to
stand, the small and sordid souls you have to live and work with. Above all, do
not resent temptation; do not be perplexed because it seems to thicken round
you more and more, and ceases neither for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That
is the practice which God appoints you; and it is having its work in making you
patient, and humble, and generous, and unselfish, and kind, and courteous. Do
not grudge the hand that is molding the still too shapeless image within you.
It is growing more beautiful though you see it not, and every touch of
temptation may add to its perfection. Therefore keep in the midst of life. Do
not isolate yourself. Be among men, and among things, and among troubles, and
difficulties, and obstacles. You remember Goethe's words: Es bildet ein
Talent sich in der Stille, Doch ein Character in dem Strom der Welt.
"Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of
life." Talent develops itself in solitude--the talent of prayer, of faith,
of meditation, of seeing the unseen; Character grows in the stream of the
world's life. That chiefly is where men are to learn love.
how? To make it easier, I have named a few of the elements of love. But these
are only elements. Love itself can never be defined. Light is a something more
than the sum of its ingredients--a glowing, dazzling, tremulous ether. And love
is something more than all its elements-- a palpitating, quivering, sensitive,
living thing. By synthesis of all the colours, men can make whiteness, they
cannot make light. By synthesis of all the virtues, men can make virtue, they
cannot make love. How then are we to have this transcendent living whole
conveyed into our souls? We brace our wills to secure it. We try to copy those
who have it. We lay down rules about it. We watch. We pray. But these things
alone will not bring Love into our nature. Love is an effect. And only
as we fulfill the right condition can we have the effect produced. Shall I tell
you what the cause is?
turn to the Revised Version of the First Epistle of John you will find these
words: "We love, because He first loved us." "We love," not
"We love Him" That is the way the old Version has it, and it
is quite wrong. "We love--because He first loved us." Look at
that word "because." It is the cause of which I have spoken.
"Because He first loved us," the effect follows that we love, we love
Him, we love all men. We cannot help it. Because He loved us, we love, we love
everybody. Our heart is slowly changed. Contemplate the love of Christ, and you
will love. Stand before that mirror, reflect Christ's character, and you will
be changed into the same image from tenderness to tenderness. There is no other
way. You cannot love to order. You can only look at the lovely object, and fall
in love with it, and grow into likeness to it And so look at this Perfect
Character, this Perfect Life. Look at the great Sacrifice as He laid down
Himself, all through life, and upon the Cross of Calvary; and you must love
Him. And loving Him, you must become like Him. Love begets love. It is a
process of induction. Put a piece of iron in the presence of a magnetized body,
and that piece of iron for a time becomes magnetized. It is charged with an
attractive force in the mere presence of the original force, and as long as you
leave the two side by side, they are both magnets alike. Remain side by side
with Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and you too will become a
center of power, a permanently attractive force; and like Him you will draw all
men unto you, like Him you will be drawn unto all men. That is the inevitable
effect of Love. Any man who fulfils that cause must have that effect produced
in him. Try to give up the idea that religion comes to us by chance, or by
mystery, or by caprice. It comes to us by natural law, or by supernatural law,
for all law is Divine. Edward Irving went to see a dying boy once, and when he
entered the room he just put his hand on the sufferer's head, and said,
"My boy, God loves you," and went away. And the boy started from his
bed, and called out to the people in the house, "God loves me! God loves
me!" It changed that boy. The sense that God loved him overpowered him,
melted him down, and began the creating of a new heart in him. And that is how
the love of God melts down the unlovely heart in man, and begets in him the new
creature, who is patient and humble and gentle and unselfish. And there is no
other way to get it. There is no mystery about it. We love others, we love
everybody, we love our enemies, because He first loved us.
Now I have a closing sentence or two to add about Paul's
reason for singling out love as the supreme possession. It is a very remarkable
reason. In a single word it is this: it lasts. "Love," urges
Paul, "never faileth." Then he begins again one of his marvellous
lists of the great things of the day, and exposes them one by one. He runs over
the things that men thought were going to last, and shows that they are all
fleeting, temporary, passing away.
there be prophecies, they shall fail" It was the mother's ambition for her
boy in those days that he should become a prophet. For hundreds of years God
had never spoken by means of any prophet, and at that time the prophet was
greater than the king. Men waited wistfully for another messenger to come, and
hung upon his lips when he appeared as upon the very voice of God. Paul says,
"Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail" This Book is full of
prophecies. One by one they have "failed"; that is, having been
fulfilled their work is finished; they have nothing more to do now in the world
except to feed a devout man's faith.
talks about tongues. That was another thing that was greatly coveted.
"Whether there be tongues, they shall cease." As we all know, many,
many centuries have passed since tongues have been known in this world. They
have ceased. Take it in any sense you like. Take it, for illustration merely,
as languages in general--a sense which was not in Paul's mind at all, and which
though it cannot give us the specific lesson will point the general truth.
Consider the words in which these chapters were written--Greek. It has gone.
Take the Latin--the other great tongue of those days. It ceased long ago. Look
at the Indian language. It is ceasing. The language of Wales, of Ireland, of
the Scottish Highlands is dying before our eyes. The most popular book in the
English tongue at the present time, except the Bible, is one of Dickens's
works, his Pickwick Papers. It is largely written in the language of
London streetlife; and experts assure us that in fifty years it will be
unintelligible to the average English reader.
goes farther, and with even greater boldness adds, "Whether there be
knowledge, it shall vanish away." The wisdom of the ancients, where is it?
It is wholly gone. A schoolboy to-day knows more than Sir Isaac Newton knew.
His knowledge has vanished away. You put yesterday's newspaper in the fire. Its
knowledge has vanished away. You buy the old editions of the great
encyclopedias for a few pence. Their knowledge has vanished away. Look how the
coach has been superseded by the use of steam. Look how electricity has
superseded that, and swept a hundred almost new inventions into oblivion. One
of the greatest living authorities, Sir William Thomson, said the other day,
"The steam-engine is passing away." "Whether there be knowledge,
it shall vanish away." At every workshop you will see, in the back yard, a
heap of old iron, a few wheels, a few levers, a few cranks, broken and eaten
with rust. Twenty years ago that was the pride of the city Men flocked in from
the country to see the great invention; now it is superseded, its day is done.
And all the boasted science and philosophy of this day will soon be old. But
yesterday, in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the faculty
was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other day his
successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the
University to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject that were
no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: "Take every
text-book that is more than ten years old, and put it down in the cellar.
"Sir James Simpson was a great authority only a few years ago: men came
from all parts of the earth to consult him; and almost the whole teaching of
that time is consigned by the science of to-day to oblivion. And in every
branch of science it is the same. "Now we know in part. We see through a
tell me anything that is going to last? Many things Paul did not condescend to
name. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; but he picked out the great
things of his time, the things the best men thought had something in them, and
brushed them peremptorily aside. Paul had no charge against these things in
themselves. All he said about them was that they would not last They were great
things, but not supreme things. There were things beyond them. What we are
stretches past what we do, beyond what we possess. Many things that men
denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary. And that is a favorite argument
of the New Testament. John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply
that it "passeth away." There is a great deal in the world that is
delightful and beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great and
engrossing; but it will not last. All that is in the world, the lust of the
eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, are but for a little while.
Love not the world therefore. Nothing that it contains is worth the life and
consecration of an immortal soul. The immortal soul must give itself to
something that is immortal. And the only immortal things are these: "Now
abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love."
think the time may come when two of these three things will also pass away
--faith into sight, hope into fruition. Paul does not say so. We know but
little now about the conditions of the life that is to come. But what is
certain is that Love must last. God, the Eternal God, is Love. Covet therefore
that everlasting gift, that one thing which it is certain is going to stand,
that one coinage which will be current in the Universe when all the other
coinages of all the nations of the world shall be useless and unhonored. You
will give yourselves to many things, give yourselves first to Love. Hold things
in their proportion. Hold things in their proportion. Let at least the
first great object of our lives be to achieve the character defended in these
words, the character, -- and it is the character of Christ--which is built
I have said
this thing is eternal. Did you ever notice how continually John associates love
and faith with eternal life? I was not told when I was a boy that "God so
loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in
Him should have everlasting life." What I was told, I remember, was, that
God so loved the world that, if I trusted in Him, I was to have a thing called
peace, or I was to have rest, or I was to have joy, or I was to have safety.
But I had to find out for myself that whosoever trusteth in Him--that is,
whosoever loveth Him, for trust is only the avenue to Love--hath everlasting life
The Gospel offers a man life. Never offer men a thimbleful of Gospel. Do not
offer them merely joy, or merely peace, or merely rest, or merely safety; tell
them how Christ came to give men a more abundant life than they have, a life
abundant in love, and therefore abundant in salvation for themselves, and large
in enterprise for the alleviation and redemption of the world. Then only can
the Gospel take hold of the whole of a man, body, soul, and spirit, and give to
each part of his nature its exercise and reward. Many of the current Gospels
are addressed only to a part of man's nature. They offer peace, not life;
faith, not Love; justification, not regeneration. And men slip back again from
such religion because it has never really held them. Their nature was not all
in it. It offered no deeper and gladder life-current than the life that was
lived before. Surely it stands to reason that only a fuller love can compete
with the love of the world.
abundantly is to live abundantly, and to love forever is to live forever.
Hence, eternal life is inextricably bound up with love We want to live for ever
for the same reason that we want to live tomorrow. Why do you want to live
tomorrow? It is because there is some one who loves you, and whom you want to
see tomorrow, and be with, and love back. There is no other reason why we
should live on than that we love and are beloved. It is when a man has no one
to love him that he commits suicide. So long as he has friends, those who love
him and whom he loves, he will live; because to live is to love. Be it but the
love of a dog, it will keep him in life; but let that go and he has no contact
with life, no reason to live. The "energy of life" has failed.
Eternal life also is to know God, and God is love. This is Christ's own
definition. Ponder it. "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee
the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Love must be
eternal. It is what God is. On the last analysis, then, love is life. Love
never faileth, and life never faileth, so long as there is love. That is the
philosophy of what Paul is showing us; the reason why in the nature of things
Love should be the supreme thing--because it is going to last; because in the
nature of things it is an Eternal Life. That Life is a thing that we are living
now, not that we get when we die; that we shall have a poor chance of getting
when we die unless we are living now. No worse fate can befall a man in this
world than to live and grow old alone, unloving, and unloved. To be lost is to
live in an unregenerate condition, loveless and unloved; and to be saved is to
love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth already in God. For God is love.
have all but finished. How many of you will join me in reading this chapter
once a week for the next three months? A man did that once and it changed his
whole life. Will you do it? It is for the greatest thing in the world. You
might begin by reading it every day, especially the verses which describe the
perfect character. "Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not;
love vaunteth not itself." Get these ingredients into your life. Then
everything that you do is eternal. It is worth doing. It is worth giving time
to. No man can become a saint in his sleep; and to fulfill the condition
required demands a certain amount of prayer and meditation and time, just as
improvement in any direction, bodily or mental, requires preparation and care.
Address yourselves to that one thing; at any cost have this transcendent
character exchanged for yours. You will find as you look back upon your life
that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are
the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. As memory scans the
past, above and beyond all the transitory pleasures of life, there leap forward
those supreme hours when you have been enabled to do unnoticed kindnesses to
those round about you, things too trifling to speak about, but which you feel
have entered into your eternal life. I have seen almost all the beautiful
things God has made; I have enjoyed almost every pleasure that He has planned
for man; and yet as I look back I see standing out above all the life that has
gone four or five short experiences when the love of God reflected itself in
some poor imitation, some small act of love of mine, and these seem to be the
things which alone of all one's life abide. Everything else in all our lives is
transitory. Every other good is visionary. But the acts of love which no man
knows about, or can ever know about--they never fail.
Book of Matthew, where the Judgment Day is depicted for us in the imagery of
One seated upon a throne and dividing the sheep from the goats, the test of a
man then is not, "How have I believed?" but "How have I
loved?" The test of religion, the final test of religion, is not
religiousness, but Love. I say the final test of religion at that great Day is
not religiousness, but Love; not what I have done, not what I have believed,
not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of
life. Sins of commission in that awful indictment are not even referred to. By
what we have not done, by sins of omission, we are judged. It could not
be otherwise. For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of
Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain. It
means that He suggested nothing in all our thoughts, that He inspired nothing
in all our lives, that we were not once near enough to Him to be seized with
the spell of His compassion for the world. It means that:--
"I lived for myself, I thought for
For myself, and none beside--
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
As if He had never died."
It is the Son of Man before whom
the nations of the world shall be gathered. It is in the presence of Humanity
that we shall be charged. And the spectacle itself, the mere sight of it, will
silently judge each one. Those will be there whom we have met and helped: or
there, the unpitied multitude whom we neglected or despised. No other Witness
need be summoned. No other charge than lovelessness shall be preferred. Be not
deceived. The words which all of us shall one Day hear, sound not of theology
but of life, not of churches and saints but of the hungry and the poor, not of
creeds and doctrines but of shelter and clothing, not of Bibles and
prayer-books but of cups of cold water in the name of Christ. Thank God the
Christianity of to-day is coming nearer the world's need. Live to help that on.
Thank God men know better, by a hairsbreadth, what religion is, what God is,
who Christ is, where Christ is. Who is Christ? He who fed the hungry, clothed
the naked, visited the sick. And where is Christ? Where?--whoso shall receive a
little child in My name receiveth Me. And who are Christ's? Every one that
loveth is born of God.
Note: This teaching is
probably in the public domain, and if that is correct, all are welcome to use