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I CORINTHIANS, xiii. 13.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three:
but the greatest of these is charity.
The apostle, in this remarkable chapter, shews the Corinthians, that the most splendid and useful of those miraculous powers, which they emulously coveted and ostentatiously displayed, were far inferior in value to sanctifying grace : yea, that when united with the deepest knowledge of divine mysteries, the most self-denying liberality, and the most vehement zeal, they were nothing without charity; and did not so much as prove the possessor to be a real Christian of the lowest order. He then describes charity, as a man would define gold, by its distinguishing properties, which are the same in a grain as in a ton; but the more a man possesses, and the less alloy is found in the mass, the richer he is.--And having shewn, that charity would never fail; whereas miraculous powers would cease, and knowledge itself would be swallowed up and lost in the perfect light of heaven, he adds, “ And now abideth faith, hope,
charity, these three; but the greatest of these is
charity.”—It is evident, that he meant to sum up, in these three radical graces, the grand essentials of vital Christianity, to which all other holy affections may be referred. But as the word charity is now used for one peculiar expression of love, which is equivocal, and may be counterfeit: it will render our discussion more perspicuous to substitute love in the place of it; it being well known that the original word is generally thus translated. I shall endeavour, therefore,
1. To consider separately, the peculiar nature, exercise, and use of faith, hope, and love.
II. To shew in what respects love is tlie greatest of the three; and how this agrees with the doctrines of salvation by grace, and justification by faith alone.
The subject before us, my brethren, is of the greatest importance, and often fatally misunderstood. Let me then beg a peculiar measure of your attention, and let us lift up our hearts to God, beseeching him to
open our understandings, that we may understand the scriptures,"
and be guided into the knowledge of his holy truth.
I. Let us consider separately the peculiar nature, exercise, and use of faith, hope, and love.
We begin with faith. That peculiar act of the understanding, by which we avail ourselves of information, in those things which fall not under our own observation, and which do not admit of proof in a way of reasoning, is called faith or believing. If we credit testimony without sufficient grounds, we are unreasonably credulous: if we refuse to believe testimony, which has sufficient grounds of credibility, we are unreasonably incredulous. It is therefore extremely absurd to oppose reason and faith, as if contrary to each other; when in fact, faith is the use of reason in a certain
and in cases which confine us to that peculiar exercise of our rational powers. Believing may be distinguished from reasoning, and in some cases opposed to it: but in opposing faith and raason, the friends of Christianity have given its enemies an advantage, to which they are by no means entitled.
It is evident to all observing men, that the complicated machine of human society is moved, almost exclusively, by that very principle, which numbers oppose and deride in speaking on religion. Testimony received and credited, directs the determinations of princes and councils, of senates and military commanders, of tribunals and commercial companies, in their most important deliberations: and did they refuse to act, without self-evidence, demonstration, or personal knowledge; all their grand affairs must stagnate. But human testimony, though often fallacious, is deemed credible: they believe, decide, and carry their decisions into execution.-- In the common concerns of life too, we believe a guide, a physician, a lawyer, and even those who provide our food; and the incredulous sceptick in such cases must be ruined, or starved, or perish by disease.
But “if the testimony of man be great, the tes
timony of God is greater. The scripture is “the sure testimony of God; making wise the
simple.” It relates facts, which God hath attested; states doctrines which he hath immediately revealed; promises and assurances concerning the -future, which he hath engaged to accomplish; and commands and ordinances, which he hath thus enforced with clearness and authority. All these things are intimately connected with our duty, safety, and felicity; they are made known for our warning, encouragement, and instruction : faith receives the information, and this excites and directs the believers activity. We may reason soberly and humbly concerning the evidences of
- 2 Tim. iji. 15--17.
revelation, and the meaning of scripture: but when these points have been ascertained, our reasonings are at end; for either faith receives the testimony of God, or unbelief makes him a liar.
Faith strictly speaking is, the belief of the 'truth;' with the application of it to ourselves, and a perception of its importance, holiness, excellency, and suitableness to our characters and circumstances. It is the gift and operation of God : for many of the truths, revealed in scripture, are so contrary to our pride, prejudices, and worldly lusts, that no evidence is sufficient to induce our cordial belief of them; till our minds have been prepared by preventing grace. “The “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spi“rit of God; for they are foolishness to him : “ neither can he know them, because they are “ spiritually discerned. ” True faith should therefore be sought by earnest prayer; and lively gratitude is due to God from those that do believe.
Faith appropriates the declarations of scripture respecting things past, present, and future; whether they appear dreadful or desirable. The believer credits the testimony of God, concerning his own essential nature and perfections, and the righteousness of his law and government. In the same manner, he obtains information respecting
11 Cor. ii. 14.