25th February 1838
“Though I have all Faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have no Charity, I am nothing.”
1 Cor. 13: 2.
I suppose that all thoughtful readers of the chapter from which these words are taken, have before now been struck with surprise at the varied characteristics which are there ascribed to the excellent grace called love, or charity. What is charity? St. Paul answers, by giving a great number of properties of it, all distinct and special. It is patient, it is kind, it has no envy, no self-importance, no ostentation, no indecorum, no selfishness, no irritability, no malevolence. Which of all these is it? for if it is all at once, surely it is a name for all virtues at once.
And what makes this conclusion still more plausible, is, that St. Paul elsewhere actually calls charity “the fulfilling of the Law:” and our Saviour, in like manner, makes our whole duty consist in loving God and loving our neighbour. And St. James calls it “the royal law;” and St. John says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (Rom. 13:10; Matt. 22:40; James 2:8; 1 John 3:14.) Thus the chapter from which the text is taken seems but an exemplification in detail of what is declared in general terms by these Apostles.
It is well too, by way of contrast, to consider the description of faith given elsewhere by the same Apostle, who, in the chapter before us, describes charity. In his Epistle to the Hebrews he devotes a much longer chapter to it: but his method in treating it is altogether different. He starts with a definition of it, and then he illustrates his clear and precise account of it in a series of instances. The chapter is made up of a repetition again and again, in Noah, in Abraham, in Moses, in David, and in the Prophets, of one and the same precisely marked excellence, called faith, which is such as no one can mistake. Again mention is made of it in the text; and then, though in a different Epistle, and in the midst of a train of thought altogether different, its description, as far as it goes, accurately agrees with what is said in the Hebrews; ” … faith, so that I could remove mountains;” which moreover is the very account of it given by our Lord, and expresses surely the same habit of mind as that by which Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, preached righteousness, obtained promises, renounced the world, waxed valiant in fight. How then is it that faith is of so definite a character and love so large and comprehensive?
Now the reason seems to be pretty much what at first sight is the difficulty. The difficulty is whether, if love be such as St. Paul describes, it is not all virtues at once; and I answer, that in one sense it is all virtues at once, and therefore St. Paul cannot describe it more definitely, more restrictedly than he does. In other words, it is the root of all holy dispositions, and grows and blossoms into them: they are its parts; and when it is described, they of necessity are mentioned. Love is the material (so to speak) out of which all graces are made, the quality of mind which is the fruit of regeneration, and in which the Spirit dwells; according to St. John’s words, “Every one that loveth, is born of God;” … “he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:7, 16.) Such is love, and, as being such, it will last for ever. “Charity,” or love, “never faileth.” Faith and hope are graces of an imperfect state, and they cease with that state; but love is greater, because it is perfection. Faith and hope are graces, as far as we belong to this world,—which is for a time; but love is a grace, because we are creatures of God whether here or elsewhere, and partakers in a redemption which is to last for ever. Faith will not be when there is sight, nor hope when there is enjoyment; but love will (as we believe) increase more and more to all eternity. Faith and hope are means by which we express our love: we believe God’s word, because we love it; we hope after heaven, because we love it. We should not have any hope or concern about it, unless we loved it; we should not trust or confide in the God of heaven, unless we loved Him. Faith, then, and hope are but instruments or expressions of love; but as to love itself, we do not love because we believe, for the devils believe, yet do not love; nor do we love because we hope, for hypocrites hope, who do not love. But we love for no cause beyond itself: we love, because it is our nature to love; and it is our nature, because God the Holy Ghost has made it our nature. Love is the immediate fruit and the evidence of regeneration.
It is expressing the same thing in other words, to say, as we may, that faith and hope are not in themselves necessarily graces, but only as grafted on and found in love. Balaam had faith and hope, but not love. “May I die the death of the righteous!” is an act of hope. “The word that the Lord putteth into my mouth, that will I speak,” is an act of faith; but his conduct showed that neither his faith nor his hope was loving. The servant in the parable, who fell down at his lord’s feet, and begged to be excused his debt, had both faith and hope. He believed his lord able, and he hoped him willing, to forgive him. He went out, and saw a fellow-servant who owed him a small sum, and he behaved at once unmercifully to him, and unthankfully by his lord. He had neither love of God, because he was high-minded, nor love of his brother, because he was hard-hearted. There are then two kinds of faith in God, a good faith and a worthless faith; and two kinds of hope in God, good and worthless: but there are not two kinds of love of God. Love must always be heavenly; it is always the sign of the regenerate. Faith and hope are not in themselves signs, but only that faith “which worketh by love,” and that hope which “loves the thing which God commandeth, and desires that which God doth promise.” In the text it is said, “Though I had all faith, yet without love I am nothing:” it is nowhere said, “Though I have all love, without faith I am nothing.”
Love, then, is the seed of holiness, and grows into all excellences, not indeed destroying their peculiarities, but making them what they are. A weed has stalk, leaves, and flowers; so has a sweet-smelling plant; because the latter is sweet-smelling, it does not cease to have stalk, leaves, and flowers; but they are all pleasant, because they come of it. In like manner, the soul which is quickened with the spirit of love has faith and hope, and a number of faculties and habits, some of which it might have without love, and some not; but any how, in that soul one and all exist in love, though distinct from it; as stalk, leaves, and flowers are as distinct and entire in one plant as in another, yet vary in their quality, according to the plant’s nature.
But here it may be asked, whether Scripture does not make faith, not love, the root, and all graces its fruits. I think not; on the contrary, it pointedly intimates that something besides faith is the root, not only in the text, but in our Lord’s parable of the Sower; in which we read of persons who, “when they hear, receive the word with joy,” yet having no “root,” (Luke 8:13.) fall away. Now, receiving the word with joy, surely implies faith; faith, then, is certainly distinct from the root, for these persons receive with joy, yet have “no root.” However, it is allowable to call faith the root, because, in a certain sense at least, works do proceed from it. And hence Scripture speaks of “faith working by love,” which would imply in the form of expression that faith was prior to love. And again: in the chapter in which the text occurs, we read of “faith, hope, and charity,” an order of words which seems to imply that faith precedes love, or charity. And again, St. Paul says elsewhere, “The end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned;” (1 Tim. 1:5.) where faith is spoken of as if it were the origin of love.
This must be granted then; and accordingly a question arises, how to adjust these opposite modes of speaking; in what sense faith is the beginning of love, and in what sense love is the origin of faith; whether love springs from faith, or faith from love, which comes first, and which last. I observe, then, as follows:—
Faith is the first element of religion, and love, of holiness; and as holiness and religion are distinct, yet united, so are love and faith. Holiness can exist without religion; religion cannot exist without holiness. Baptized infants, before they come to years of understanding, are holy; they are not religious. Holiness is love of the Divine Law. When God regenerates an infant, He imparts to it the gift of His Holy Spirit; and what is the Spirit thus imparted but the Law written on its heart? Such was the promise, “I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” And hence it is said, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (Heb. 8:10; 1 John 5:3.) God comes to us as a Law, before He comes as a Lawgiver; that is, He sets up His throne within us, and enables us to obey Him, before we have learned to reflect on our own sensations, and to know the voice of God. Such, as if in a type, was Samuel’s case; he knew not who it was who called him, till Eli the priest told him. Eli stands for religion, Samuel for holiness; Eli for faith, Samuel for love.
Love then is the motion within us of the new spirit, the holy and renewed heart which God the Holy Ghost gives us; and, as being such, we see how it may exist in infants, who obey the inward law without knowing it, by a sort of natural service, as plants and trees fulfil the functions of their own nature; a service which is most acceptable to God, as being moral and spiritual, though not intellectual. And this, for what we know, may be the state of those little ones who are baptized and taken away before they have learned either to reason or to sin. They may be as the stones of the Everlasting Pavement, crying out continually in praise to God; dimly visible, as if absorbed in the glory which encompasses God’s throne; or as the wonderful wheels described by the Prophet, which were living, yet in a way instrumental; for in heaven, where there is no gross matter, the very framework of the Temple is composed of spirits.
Love, then, is the life of those who know not an external world, but who worship God as manifested within them. Such a life however can last but a little while on earth. The eyes see and the reason embraces a lower world, sun, moon, stars, and earth, and men, and all that man does or makes; and this external world does not speak of God upon the face of it. It shows as if it were itself God, and an object of worship, or at least it becomes the creature of a usurper, who has made himself “the god of this world.” We are at once forced to reflect, reason, decide, and act; for we are between two, the inward voice speaking one thing within us, and the world speaking another without us; the world tempting, and the Spirit whispering warnings. Hence faith becomes necessary; in other words, God has most mercifully succoured us in this contest, by speaking not only in our hearts, but through the sensible world; and this Voice we call revelation. God has overruled this world of sense, and put a word in its mouth, and bid it prophesy of Him. And thus there are two voices even in the external world; the voice of the tempter calling us to fall down and worship him, and he will give us all; and the voice of God, speaking in aid of the voice in our hearts: and as love is that which hears the voice within us, so faith is that which hears the voice without us; and as love worships God within the shrine, faith discerns Him in the world; and as love is the life of God in the solitary soul, faith is the guardian of love in our intercourse with men; and, while faith ministers to love, love is that which imparts to faith its praise and excellence.
And thus it is that faith is to love as religion to holiness; for religion is the Divine Law as coming to us from without, as love is the acquiescence in the same Law as written within. Love then is meditative, tranquil, pure, gentle, abounding in all offices of goodness and truth; and faith is strenuous and energetic, formed for this world, combating it, training the mind towards love, fortifying it in obedience, and overcoming sense and reason by representations more urgent than their own.
Moreover it is plain, that, while love is the root out of which faith grows, faith by receiving the wonderful tidings of the Gospel, and presenting before the soul its sacred Objects, the mysteries of the faith, the Holy Trinity, and the Incarnate Saviour, expands our love, and raises it to a perfection which otherwise it could never reach.
And thus our duty lies in faith working by love; love is the sacrifice we offer to God, and faith is the sacrificer. Yet they are not distinct from each other except in our way of viewing them. Priest and sacrifice are one; the loving faith and the believing love.
And thus I answer the question concerning the connection of love and faith. Love is the condition of faith; and faith in turn is the cherisher and maturer of love; it brings love out into works, and therefore is called the root of works of love; the substance of the works is love, the outline and direction of them is faith.
This being so, surely we need not be surprised at St. Paul’s language, as in the text and verses following. Love is the true ruling principle of the regenerate soul, and faith ministers to it. Love is the end, faith the means; and if the means be difficult, much more is the end. St. Paul says that faith which could remove mountains will not avail without love; and in truth, faith is only half way (as it were) to heaven. By faith we give up this world, but by love we reach into the next world; and it often happens from one cause or another, men are able to get as far as the one, without going on to the other. Too true is it, that the mass of men live neither with faith nor love; they live to themselves, they love themselves selfishly, and do not desire any thing beyond the visible framework of things. This world is their all in all. But I speak of religious persons; and these, I think, will confess that distaste for the world is quite a distinct thing from the spirit of love. As years go on, the disappointments, troubles, and cares of life, wean a religious mind from attachment to this world. A man sees it is but vanity. He neither receives, nor looks for enjoyment from it. He does not look to the future with hope; he has no prospects; he cares not for the world’s smile or frown; what it can do, what it can withhold. Nay, even his friends are nothing to him; he knows they cannot help him really in his greatest needs, and he has no dependence that they will be continued to him. And thus in the course of time, with a very scanty measure of true divine love, he is enabled, whatever his sphere is, to act above the world, in his degree; to do his plain straightforward duty, because reason tells him he should do it, and because he has no great temptations seducing him from it. Observe, why he keeps God’s commandments; from reason, because he knows he ought, and because he has no strong motives keeping him from doing so. Alas! not from love towards those commandments. He has only just so much of the spirit of love as suffices to hinder his resignation from being despondency, and his faith from being dead. Or again, he has had experience of the misery of a laden conscience, the misery of the pollution involved in the numberless little sins of every day, the odiousness of his pride, vanity, fretfulness, wilfulness, arrogance, irritability, profaneness, hardness of heart, and all the other evils which beset him; and he desires earnestly to be cleansed,—yet rather from dislike of sin than direct love of God and Christ.
This then is that middle state in which some of us may be standing in our progress from earth to heaven, and which the text warns us against. It tells us that faith at most only makes a hero, but that love makes a saint; that faith can but put us above the world, but that love brings us under God’s throne; that faith can but make us sober, but love makes us happy. It warns us that it is possible for a man to have the clearest, calmest, exactest view of the realities of heaven; that he may most firmly realize and act upon the truths of the Gospel; that he may understand that all about him is but a veil, not a substance; that he may have that full confidence in God’s word as to be able to do miracles; that he may have such simple absolute faith as to give up his property, give up all his goods to feed the poor; that he may so scorn the world, that he may with so royal a heart trample on it, as even to give his body to be burned by a glorious martyrdom; and yet—I do not say, be without love; God forbid! I do not suppose the Apostle means there ever was actually such a case, but that it is abstractedly possible; that no one of the proper acts of faith, in itself, and necessarily, implies love; that it is distinct from love. He says this,—that though a person be all that has been said, yet unless he be also something besides, unless he have love, it profiteth him nothing. O fearful lesson, to all those who are tempted to pride themselves in their labours, or sufferings, or sacrifices, or works! We are Christ’s, not by faith merely, nor by works merely, but by love; not by hating the world, nor by hating sin, nor by venturing for the world to come, nor by calmness, nor by magnanimity,—though we must do and be all this; and if we have love in perfection we shall,—but it is love makes faith, not faith love. We are saved, not by any of these things, but by that heavenly flame within us, which, while it consumes what is seen, aspires to what is unseen. Love is the gentle, tranquil, satisfied acquiescence and adherence of the soul in the contemplation of God; not only a preference of God before all things, but a delight in Him because He is God, and because His commandments are good; not any violent emotion or transport, but as St. Paul describes it, long-suffering, kind, modest, unassuming, innocent, simple, orderly, disinterested, meek, pure-hearted, sweet-tempered, patient, enduring. Faith without Charity is dry, harsh, and sapless; it has nothing sweet, engaging, winning, soothing; but it was Charity which brought Christ down. Charity is but another name for the Comforter. It is eternal Charity which is the bond of all things in heaven and earth; it is Charity wherein the Father and the Son are one in the unity of the Spirit; by which the Angels in heaven are one, by which all Saints are one with God, by which the Church is one upon earth.
PPS IV, 21