Love, the Sum of All Virtue
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, ant have not charity, I am become as counting brass, or ; tinkling cymbal Ant though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; ant though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow stow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profited me nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:1¬3
In these words we observe First, that something is spoken of as of special importance, and as peculiarly essential in Christians, which the apostle calls CHARITY. And this charity, we find, is abundantly insisted on in the New Testament by Christ and his apostles,-more insisted on, indeed, than any other virtue.
But, then, the word "charity," as used in the New Testament, is of much more extensive signification than as it is used generally in common discourse. What persons very often mean by " charity," in their ordinary conversation, is a disposition to hope and think the best of others, and to put a good construction on their words and behaviour; and sometimes the word is used for a disposition to give to the poor. But these things are only certain particular branches, or fruits of that great virtue of charity which is so much insisted on throughout the New Testament. The word properly signifies or that disposition or affection whereby one is dear to another; and the original (agape) which is here translated "charity," might better have been rendered " love," for that is the proper English of it: so that by charity, in the New Testament, is meant the very same thing as Christian love; and though it be more frequently used for love to men, yet sometimes it is used to signify not only love to men, but love to God. So it is manifestly used by the apostle in this Epistle, as he explains himself in chapter viii. 1- " knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth," &c. Here the comparison is between knowledge and charity and the preference is given to charity, because knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And then, in the nest two verses, it is more particularly explained how knowledge usually puffs up, and why charity edifieth; so that what is called charity in the first verse, is called loving God in the third, for the very same thing is evidently spoken of in the two places. And doubtless the apostle means the same thing by charity in this thirteenth chapter, that he does in the eighth; for he is here comparing the same two things together that he was there, viz. knowledge and charity. "Though I have all knowledge, and have not charity, I am nothing and again, " charity never faileth, but knowledge, it shall vanish away." So that by charity here, We are doubtless to understand Christian love in its full extent, and whether it be exercised towards God or our fellow¬creatures.
And this charity is here spoken of as that which is, m a distinguishing manner, the great and essential thing: which will appear more fully when we observe,
Secondly, what things are mentioned as being in vain without it, viz. the most excellent things that ever belong to natural men; the most excellent privileges, and the most excellent performances. First, the most excellent privileges, such as preaching with tongues, the gift of prophecy, understanding all mysteries, faith to remove mountains, &c.; and secondly, the most excellent performances, such as giving all one's goods to feed the poor, and the body to be burned, &c. Greater things than these, no natural man ever had or did, and they are the kind of things in which men are exceedingly prone to trust; and yet the apostle declares that if we have them all, and have not charity, we are nothing. The doctrine taught, then, is this:
THAT ALL THE VIRTUE THAT IS SAVING, AND THAT DISTINGUISHES TRUE CHRISTIANS FROM OTHERS, IS SUMMED UP IN CHRISTIAN LOVE. This appears from the words of the text, because so many other things are mentioned that natural men may have, and the things mentioned are of the highest kind it is possible they should have, both of privilege and performance, and yet it is said they avail nothing without this; whereas, if any of them were saving, they would avail something without it.
And by the apostle's mentioning so many and so high things, and then saying of them all, that they profited nothing without charity, we may justly conclude, that there is nothing at all that avails anything without it. Let a man have what he will, and do what he will, it signifies nothing without charity; which surely implies that charity is the great thing, and that everything which has not charity in some way contained or implied in it, is nothing, and that this charity is the life and soul of all religion, without which all things that wear the name of virtues are empty and vain.
In speaking to this doctrine, I would first notice the nature of this divine love, and then shew the truth of the doctrine respecting it. And
I. I would speak of the nature of a truly Christian love. And here I would observe,
1. That all true Christian love is one and the same in it's principle. It may be various in its forms and objects, and may be exercised either toward God or men, but it is the same principle in the heart that is the foundation of every exercise of a truly Christian love, whatever may be its object. It is not with the holy love in the heart of the Christian, as it is with the love of other men. Their love toward different objects, may be from different principles and motives, and with different views; but a truly Christian love is different from this. It is one as to its principle, whatever the object about which it is exercised; it is from the same spring or fountain in the heart, though it may flow out in different channels and diverse directions, and therefore it is all fitly comprehended in the one name of charity, as in the text. That this Christian love is one, whatever the objects toward which it may flow forth, appears by the following things:-
First, It is all from the same Spirit influencing the heart. It is from the breathing of the same Spirit that true Christian love arises, both toward God and man. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of love, and when the former enters the soul, love also enters with it. God is love, and he that has God dwelling in him by his Spirit, will have love dwelling in him also. The nature of the Holy Spirit is love; and it is by communicating himself, in his own nature, to the saints, that their hearts are filled with divine charity. Hence we find that the saints are partakers of the divine nature, and Christian love is called the " love of the Spirit " (Rom. xv. 30), and " love in the Spirit,, (Col i. 8), and the very bowels of love and mercy seem to signify the same thing with the fellowship of the Spirit (Phil. ii. 1). It is that Spirit, too, that infuses love to God (Rom. v. 5); and it is by the indwelling of that Spirit, that the soul abides in love to God and man (1 John iii. 23, 24; and iv. 12, 13). And,
Second, Christian love, both to God and man, is wrought in the heart by the same work of the Spirit. There are not two works of the Spirit of God, one to infuse a spirit of love to God, and tile other to infuse a spirit of love to men; but in producing one, the Spirit produces the other also. In the work of conversion, the Holy Spirit renews the heart by giving it a divine temper (Eph. iv. 23); and it is one and the same divine temper thus wrought in the heart, that flows out in love both to God and man. And,
Third, When God and man are loved with a truly Christian love, they are both loved from the same motives. When God is loved a right, he is loved for his excellency, and the beauty of his nature, especially the holiness of his nature; and it is from the same motive that the saints are loved ¬ for holiness" sake. And all things that are loved with a truly holy love, are loved from the same respect to God. Love to God is the foundation of gracious love to men; and men are loved, either because they are in some respect like God, in the possession of his nature and spiritual image, or because of the relation they stand in to him as his children or creatures ¬ as those who are blessed of him, or to whom his mercy is offered red, or in some other way from regard to him. Only remarking, that though Christian love be one in its principle, yet it is distinguished and variously denominated in two ways, with respect to its objects, and the kinds of its exercise; as, for example, its degrees, I now proceed, (Please click here to continue reading: Love the Sum of All Virtue)