Faith, Hope, Love.

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Cor. 13:13).

1919 331 Now, by the grace of the Lord, and the ministry of the Spirit, these three have an abode on the earth; but they came from heaven. They flourish in the wilderness, but they are the planting of the Lord. These three! The finger of God is pointing to them as the objects on earth that He loves best to look upon — as the fragments remaining yet of a lost paradise, and the earnests of a coming heaven.

These three coalesce and constitute one whole. To break off one is to destroy the integrity 0f the body, and leave the other members to decay. With a view to the exposition and application of the text, let us consider first, the specific nature of each — "faith, hope, love,"; secondly, the mutual relations of all "these three"; and third, the superior magnitude of the last — "the greatest of these is love."

First, the specific nature of each — "faith, hope, love."

"Faith." As to its origin, it is the gift of God; as to its operation, it is the work of the Spirit; as to its object, it fastens on Christ; as to its exercise, it is the disciple's own act. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he believeth not on the only begotten Son of God."

"Faith" designates the act of the sinner when he accepts Christ from God on God's own terms. It is the man's own deed, and yet it is utterly destitute of merit. If lost, helpless sinners of mankind reject the salvation which is offered in the gospel, that rejection is a substantial addition to their guilt; but if they accept it, the act of accepting constitutes no righteousness. The Scriptures make 'much of faith — "precious faith"; "thy faith hath saved thee"; "without faith it is impossible to please God."

Faith is the first stone of the building, but it is not the foundation. It is the act of cleaving to Christ, but all its value depends on the worth of the Christ to whom you cleave. A man may have faith — real, ardent, energetic faith — in saints and images, and priests and relics; yet his faith does not save him. A drowning man puts forth his hand and seizes with more than natural energy a bit of froth that dances on the crest of a wave; his hand cleaves it like air, and he sinks helpless in the deep. He is lost, not for want of precision in his aim, or of energy in his grasp, but for want of truth and power in the phantom to which he fled. Our help is laid on One that is mighty. Christ saves to the uttermost. On the person, and righteousness, and sacrifice, and resurrection, of Immanuel, the soul must lean, when the burden of sin would weigh us down to the second death. "Christ is God's," and when "ye are Christ's" all is well. "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."

Beware how you come to Christ. Come worthless, empty, guilty. Come to Him before you have anything, and to Him for all. If you cover yourself beforehand with preparations in order that you may be somewhat more worthy of His acceptance, and consequently somewhat less indebted to His forgiving love, you lose all. If any rag of self-righteousness come between a sinner and the Saviour, it will keep them separate. Naked and bleeding must the branch be laid upon the naked and bleeding tree in the process of engrafting. If any covering were first wrapped round it, the branch would never draw life — the tree would never give it. So, in conversion, a soul 'stricken through with the consciousness of guilt, and naked of goodness, must cleave to Christ crucified, for pardon and righteousness. Any work of yours, by way of recommending you, will be a non-conductor through which the light of life from. the Saviour cannot run into the dead. To this effect is the pointed and startling protest of the apostle' against the inborn and inveterate legalism of even converted Jews: "Behold, I Paul, say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing" (Gal. 5:2). In the matter of a sinner's salvation, Christ is all, or nothing. The cleaving of the destitute for all to the fulness of the Godhead bodily in the incarnate Son — this, this is faith.

"Hope." Blessed hope! If you did not know by tasting how sweet it is, I would labour in vain to tell you. It is a light shed down from heaven to cheer a dark and troubled scene. It is like moonlight borrowed from the sun to mitigate the darkness, which it cannot dispel. Hope is adapted to a transitory, imperfect state. Its office is to diminish, in some measure, the sorrows of the present, by drawing beforehand on the stores of future joy.

Applied to the richest gifts of God and the highest interests of man, hope reaches from earth to heaven, and fastens the anchor of the soul within the veil, where it is sure and steadfast, so that the expectation of eternal rest may enable the weary to bear with patience the tossing of time's troubled sea.

But remember "he never had a hope who never had a fear." Hope is the tenant not of a heart that was never broken, but of a heart that has been broken and healed again. A pure, bright, star fixed high in heaven, it reaches with its rays the uplifted eye of the weary pilgrim. But stars shine not in the day; the darkness brings them out. So grief summons hope to the aid of the sufferer. When the ransomed rise from the sleep of the grave, and open their eyes on the dawning of' an everlasting day, this gentle star, which had often soothed them in the night of their pilgrimage, will nowhere be found in all the upper firmament; for, in presence of the Sun of righteousness, hope, no longer needed, no more appears.

"Love." Some fragments of this heavenly thing survive the fall, and flourish in our nature. It is beautiful even in ruins. As an instinct in families, when it is not entirely covered and choked by rank vices growing near, it seems one feature left of man's first likeness to his Maker. But feeble, changeable, and impure, is all the love that is born with us. At the best it expatiates only on a low level, and expatiates irregularly, intermittently, even there. The love which is strung on with kindred graces in our text, is the work of the Spirit in renewed men.

The emotion only is named, not its objects. Love is like a fire burning, or a light shining. If such a flame is kindled in your hearts, its rays will stream forth indiscriminately in every direction. They will fall impartially on great and small, on good and evil. Upward, downward, and all around, flows love — love to God in heaven, and to men on earth — love to the good, who deserve our esteem, and to the evil, who need our compassion.

But while, in the text itself, the object of love is not expressly specified, the preceding portion of the chapter is wholly occupied with love in its lower exercise love to our fellow-creatures of humankind. The thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians is dear to the church of Christ, as a comment, ever fresh and sparkling like a flowing stream, on the second great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." But from the upper spring this nether channel must be fed. We must be lifted up to the first commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," and thence the stream of love will freely flow. "Faith in the Lord Jesus," is the first characteristic of a true christian, and "love to all the saints," is the second.

Incidentally we shall learn more about the nature of love, when, in the progress of our illustration, we are called to consider its magnitude. In the effort to estimate its quantity, light will be thrown upon its kind.

Secondly, the mutual relations of all — "these three." Hitherto we have spoken of them as three rings lying beside each other; now we speak of them as three links within each other, so as to constitute a chain. A chain of three links presents two joinings. Under this head accordingly, two things claim our attention, viz., the relation between faith and hope, and the relation between hope and love.

The relation between faith and hope. Faith, as we have seen, leans upon Christ, and hope hangs by faith. Faith's hold of a Saviour in your life, and the consciousness of that hold makes you hopeful. There is, indeed, a species of hope which has no connection with faith. Houses built upon the sand present a goodly appearance while the day is fair. Men first wish that God were not so just as the Bible represents him to be, and thereafter believe their own lie. The hope which they hug is not a living hope. In the hour of need it will be as rottenness in the bones."

Among the fallen, every good thing; whether material or spiritual, is counterfeited. The Scriptures speak specifically of a living hope; there must, therefore, be a dead one. Of "a hope that maketh not ashamed"; there must, therefore, be one that will make its possessor ashamed when the day shall reveal its falsehood. If, in a place of danger, you saw a chain whose uppermost link was surely fixed in the living rock, and whose link, a goodly iron ring, was vibrating invitingly near, you might be induced, by the prospect of an easy deliverance, to venture your body's weight upon its seeming strength. If that lowest link were not within the one above it, but only attached externally by some brittle twig, you would exchange the slippery place of danger for the plunge into inevitable death. It is like the fall of a sinner who has risked his soul for the great day on a hope not linked to faith. The same scripture that speaks of a living hope reveals incidentally how we may reach it — "begotten us again into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:4). How has that strong nether ring got into the equally strong upper ring, so that they form one chain, and safely bear their burden? In the fires. It was brought to a white heat ere it could be welded in. It is by a similar process that a soul's hope is admitted into living faith, and so becomes living too. A cold heart in contact with the dead letter of the truth will not suffice, although the two are fitted to each other with all the exactitude of a confession. There must be a melting heat. It is when the heart flows down like water under the glow of redeeming love, that hope is fixed on faith, and faith is fixed on Jesus, never to part again.

When hope is thus held up, you may load it freely. It will bear any strain. Having such support, you count the heaviest afflictions light, because they are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed. In presence of this blessed comforter, death seems the Father's servant, sent to bring the children home. The grave becomes the place where the Lord lay, and through the opening which He made in its dark sides shine the resurrection of the just, and a glorious immortality. All these are enjoyed by anticipation, like grapes of Eshcol brought out into the wilderness to be tasted before the time, and it is hope hope depending on faith — that flies as on eagle's wings across the separating flood, and refreshes the pilgrim in the later stages of his journey with first-fruits of the promised land.

The relation between hope and love. Self-sacrificing human love is the product of Christian faith. The fear of God is the true source of genuine regard for man. Christ's life is the example and His word gives the law of love. But while remotely and generically love leans on christian faith, immediately and specifically it depends on the hope of a christian. Hope leans on faith, and love on hope. Love, the beauteous top-stone, on the house of God, could not maintain its place aloft, unless faith, resting directly on the rock, were surely laid beneath; but it is not the less true, that both its elevation and its beauty are due to other graces of the Spirit, which are piled, course over course, upon faith.

The only true love is love that will bear and do in behalf of its object. The chapter which our text concludes is one grand anthem on love. The grace which is enjoined, described, and almost sung throughout, is not a name, but a substance. Its two elements are action and suffering. The two sides of living love are meekly to bear evil, and energetically to do good, in behalf of every brother, according to his need and your opportunity. Christ's example is its rule — "Love one another as I have loved you."

Such is love; but love will languish unless blessed hope be underneath. The analogy of a plant is frequently in the Scriptures joined with that of a building, in order that both together may more fully represent the christian life. Love's manifold efforts, as represented in the body of this chapter, stretching out in every direction, and leaving no space unoccupied, are like the branches of a fruit-tree. A single stem supports and supplies them all, while itself in turn is supported and supplied by the root. So hope, itself sustained by faith, sustains love in its turn — energetic, outspreading, fragrant, fruitful love.

May we not say that even Jesus was, in this respect, made like unto His brethren? Hope in the heart of the Man of sorrows bore Him through His labours of love. He, too, "for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame". (Heb. 12:2). Hope of the glorious issue sustained His Spirit through all. The Master, like the servant, had "respect to the recompense of the reward."

The history of Jehoshaphat supplies an example of hope and love in their true reciprocal relation. A difficult enterprise, the reformation of a lapsed nation lay before Him. He made the attempt, and succeeded. The land was full of idols; the people steeped in ignorance. His task was to spread the word of God, and restore His worship. He formed his plan, chose his agents, and set to work. It was a scheme of national education, founded on revealed religion, and applied to an ignorant idolatrous population. The good king never ceased till the work was done; and the secret of his success is recorded, for our use, in those few simple words of his history, his heart was lifted up in "the ways of the LORD." A sinking heart would not have sustained a working hand through the labour of love which Jehosaphat undertook and performed.

Some persons, not professing to be Papists, look on hope with suspicion, as if it were almost a sin. They act as if they expected to make a future life safe by making the present life bitter. It is an error — an error that dishonours God and injures men. To crush hope neither engenders faith, nor briny forth holiness. A false hope, indeed, is dangerous, but what false thing is safe? Do not exterminate the coin because counterfeits are rife. Beware lest faithfulness degenerate into misanthropy! Beware lest you hurt Christ's little ones — lest you quench the joy of the Lord in a true disciple's breast! When a ministry, swayed by the one-sided tendencies of an age, or race, or locality, crushes every rising stem of hope, by digging constantly and unskilfully among the rocks of humility, it produces a swarm of idle professors, who complain of their sinfulness in order to prove their saintliness, but no good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

1919 345 Hope is a grand essential quality to be sought for in missionaries. Despondency clogs exertion more and more, as it sinks, until it reach despair, and then exertion entirely ceases. Other things being equal, a hopeful christian will be a better witness for God in the heathen's sight than a desponding one. Hope is the mainspring of labouring love — hope in the Lord, first for yourself and then for your neighbour. There is a lion on the path of every one who would go forth upon the world to win souls to the Saviour. The savage African will not give earnest heed to anything; the subtle Asiatics expend all their earnestness on idols. Unbelief is graven in the very being of the Jews by the uninterrupted habits and prejudices of sixty generations; and, mystery of iniquity, throughout the jurisdiction of Rome, a consummate knowledge is successfully wielded to propagate and perpetuate a consummate ignorance.

Among ourselves, the young are vain, and the aged covetous; the rich are proud, and the poor regardless. On a survey of the field, they who walk by sight pronounced effort vain; and desponding christians, although they say less, will not do more. But one hopeful, loving heart will chase a thousand of these difficulties, as wind drives smoke, away. He who trusts in Christ walks by faith; and he who walks by faith will hope; and he who hopes will love; and he who loves will work; and he who works will win — will win souls to God.

Thirdly, the superior magnitude of the last" the greatest of these is love."

In two distinct aspects love is the greatest of all — in its work on earth, and its permanence in heaven.

In its work on earth it is the only one of the three that reaches other men, and directly acts upon them for their good. "Thy faith hath saved thee," Christian! but what can it do for thy brother? It does not reach him. It is a secret in your own breast. Its power is great, but it is the power of a root, not of a branch. It operates by sustaining and stimulating other graces. Specifically and expressly, "faith worketh by love."

Hope, in like manner, begins and ends in the heart of a disciple. These two departments of the kingdom lie "within" its loyal subjects. They send forth other missionaries, but do not themselves go forth. Such is the nature of both faith and hope that they will not thrive if they are frequently exposed to view. Do not show me thy faith or thy hope; but show me, by love's suffering and doing, that both love's blessed constituents prosper in your soul, The less that your hope, as such, protrudes itself on the notice of mankind, the better for its own health; but the more it swells within your breast, the more of love will it send forth to bless the world.

On the contrary, it is the nature of love to come out. Unless it act, and act on others, it cannot be. Love does not begin and end with the lover. Its essence is an outgoing. These three exercises of a human spirit have objects which they grasp, each its own. Faith fastens on Christ, hope on heaven, but love on humankind. It will not, it cannot let the world alone. All the neighbours know it, feel it. Love is like Him who "went about doing good."

Thus, in its actual contact with the world and time, love is the largest of the three. Love teaches the ignorant, clothes the naked, feeds the hungry. Love reproves, sin, withdraws temptation, leads back the wanderer to the path of righteousness. Love translates the Bible into every human tongue, and strives to introduce it into every human dwelling. "Love is the fulfilling of that law which came latest from the Lord's own lips, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel unto every creature.

A tree stands in a lawn alone, and has stood there while three generations of its owners have successively been carried past it to the grave. It grows in a sheltered spot, and in a generous soil. Having no neighbours near, it has occupied the ground with its own roots, and the air with its own branches. You observe the tree from a distance, and pronounce it a lovely object in the landscape; but you see only the branches. It appears as one great symmetrical mass of green, globular or conical, according to its kind, towering high into heaven above, and beneath, leaning on the sward all round. It has, you know, a strong straight stem bearing, and a deep, wide-spread root, nourishing all these branches; but the stem and the root are invisible. As you come nearer you may get glimpses of the stem, and by digging in the earth you may discover and expose the roots. But both of these are in position withdrawn from view, and in bulk diminutive. The roots, the stem, the branching top — these three constitute the tree — but the greater of these, for beauty or for fruitfulness — the greatest of these is the collective head of leafy, blossoming, fruit-producing branches.

Precisely such an object on the broad field of scripture is this thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. At the bottom, living and life-giving, but small in dimensions, and almost concealed from view, you find faith and hope, the nourishing root and supporting stem; but love springs up and spreads out on every side, and fills the observer's eye. Behold the multitudinous, miscellaneous, intertwined and radiating branches; how sweet-scented and fruitful each; how great and gorgeous the united whole! "Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, cloth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

In its permanence in heaven. Faith and hope are unspeakably precious to [those who were] sinners; but in their present form at least they are in their nature partial and temporary. If there hath been no sin they would not have been needed; and when sin has been completely removed, they will be needed no more. It is true that in faith and hope grow all the love which constitute the heaven of the redeemed; but it is equally true that when love is perfect, the faith and hope which bore it will disappear.

On this side, the terrestrial image of the spiritual fact is found, not in the tree which flourishes as freshly as ever after the grandson of its planter has been gathered to his fathers in a good old age; but in the feebler, yet twofold more precious and necessary grain stalks which germinate, and fructify, and die, within. the compass of a year. In spring and summer the tender roots and soft green stems of his field absorb all the care of the husbandman. His life is bound up in these, and he cherishes them accordingly. If these fail, all is lost. But in autumn, when the ripened grain is stored in safety, he sees, without regret, both roots and stems rolling into dust. Such, in relation to eternity, are the faith and hope which grow from the seed of the word in broken hearts during the preparatory season of time. When the love which they bear is fully ripe it will be stored to keep for ever, and they will be left behind. "Love 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."

Nor is there any cause for jealousy in this sisterhood of grace. To make love great — to make love greatest — does not make faith less. The more precious the ripened fruit is discovered to be, the more value will be set upon the only root which bears it. Love is greatest; and of that greatest thing none worthy of the name is owned by men on earth or in heaven, except that which has grown on faith. Does not this doctrine magnify the office of faith?

On the other hand, does anyone comfort himself with the thought that he possesses faith, the one essential for a sinful creature, although he is, in point of fact, neglecting the labour which love both demands and supplies? What is his faith? A root that bears nothing: a stump. "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him" (James 2:14)? Faith, if it hath not the "works" on which all true love ever toils, "is dead, being alone."

Those who draw their life from Christ may well expand their strength in his cause. "Rooted in him" (Col. 2:7), they have access to all the fulness of the Godhead bodily: they might — they should be — "fat and flourishing." Getting much through faith from the world's Saviour, they should do much by love for a sinful world. If the hidden root be living, the ripening fruit should be good and great. W.A.