The grace of charity, or love, of which so much is most admirably spoken by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, is absolutely essential to true godliness. So essential is it that, if we have everything beside, but have not charity, it profits us nothing. The absence of charity is absolutely fatal to vital godliness; so says the Holy Spirit in this chapter. When we read the apostle’s high encomiums of charity, we should not say, “This is a fancy virtue to which certain special saints have attained, and we are bound to admire them for it, but we need not imitate them.” Far from it. This charity is the common, everyday livery of the people of God. It is not the prerogative of a few; it must be the possession of all. Do not, therefore, however lofty the model may be, look up to it as though we could not reach it: we must reach it. It is put before us not only as a thing greatly desirable, but as absolutely needful; for if we excelled in every spiritual gift, yet if we had not this all the rest would profit us nothing whatever. One would think that such excellent gifts might benefit us a little, but no, the apostle sums them all up, and says of the whole, “it profits me nothing” (1 Cor 13:3). We must attain it, or we cannot enter into eternal life, for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to Him (Rom 8:9), and the Spirit of Christ is sure to bring about a love, which “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
What does this teach us at the outset, but that a salvation which leads to this must be of God, and must be shaped in us by His power? Such a comely grace can never grow out of our fallen nature. This glorious salvation unto pure love must be grasped by faith, and shaped in us by the operation of the Spirit of God. If we consider salvation to be a little thing, we bring it, as it were, within the sphere of human possibility, but if we set it forth in its true proportions as involving the possession of a pure, loving, elevated state of heart, then we perceive that it is a divine wonder. When we estimate the renewed nature aright we cry, “This is the finger of God,” (Exod 8:19) and right gladly do we then subscribe to Jonah’s creed, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). If charity be in any man and abound, God must have the glory of it; for assuredly it was never attained by mere natural effort, but must have been bestowed by that same hand which made the heavens.
Happily, though love has many difficulties, it overcomes them all, and overcomes them four times. There is such vitality in evil that it leaps up from the field whereon it seemed to be slain, and rages with all its former fury. First, we overcome evil by patience, which “bears all things.” Let the injury be inflicted, we will forgive it, and not be provoked: even seventy times seven will we bear in silence. If this suffice not, by God’s grace we will overcome by faith: we trust in Jesus Christ, we rely upon our principles, we look for divine succour, and so we “believe all things.” We overcome a third time by hope: we rest in expectation that gentleness will win, and that long-suffering will wear out malice, for we look for the ultimate victory of everything that is true and gracious, and so we “hope all things.” We finish the battle by perseverance: we abide faithful to our resolve to love, we will not be irritated into unkindness, we will not be perverted from generous, all-forgiving affection, and so we win the battle by steadfast non-resistance. We have set our helm towards the port of love, and towards it we will steer, come what may. Baffled often, love “endures all things.”
The Holy Ghost alone can teach men how to love, and give them power to do so. Love’s art is learned at no other school but at the feet of Jesus, where the Spirit of love rests on those who learn of him. The Spirit of God puts love into us, and helps us to maintain it, thus—first, love wins these victories, for it is her nature. The nature of love is self-sacrifice. Love is the reverse of seeking her own. Love is intense; love is burning; therefore she burns her way to victory. Love! Look at it in the mother. Is it any hardship to her to lose rest and peace and comfort for her child? If it costs her pain, she makes it pleasure by the ardour of her affection. It is the nature of love to court difficulties, and to rejoice in suffering for the beloved object. If we have fervent love to the souls of men, we will know how true this is.
Next to this, love has four sweet companions. There are with her tenderness that “bears all things,” faith that “believes all things,” hope that “hopes all things,” and patience which “endures all things,” and he that has tenderness, and faith, and hope, and patience has a brave quaternion of graces to guard him, and he need not be afraid. Best of all, love sucks her life from the wounds of Christ. Love can bear, believe, hope, and endure because Christ has borne, believed, and hoped, and endured for her. I have heard of one that had a twist: they say that he saw something that others never saw, and heard a voice that others never heard, and he became such a strange man that others wondered at him. Oh, that I had more and more of that most solemn twist which comes through feeling a pierced hand laid on my shoulder, and hearing in my ear a sorrowful voice, that selfsame voice which cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I would see that vision and hear that voice, and then—what then? Why, I must love; I must love; I must love. That would be the soul’s strange bias and sweet twist. Love makes us love; love bought us, sought us, and brought us to the Saviour’s feet, and it shall henceforth constrain us to deeds which else would be impossible. We have heard of men sometimes in a mad fit doing things that ordinary flesh and blood could never have performed. Oh to be distracted from selfishness by the love of Christ, and maddened into self-oblivion by a supreme passion for the Crucified. May the Lord of love look into our very eyes with those eyes which once were red with weeping over human sin: may he touch our hands with those hands that were nailed to the cross, and impress the blessed nailmarks upon our feet, and then may he pierce our heart till it pour forth a life for love, and flow out in streams of kind desires, and generous deeds, and holy sacrifices for God and His people.
Let us worship Him with the song “Power of Your Love”: