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1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing. 4Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; 6rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; 7beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. 11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. 13But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
8. Love never faileth Here we have another excellence of love — that it endures for ever. There is good reason why we should eagerly desire an excellence that will never come to an end. Hence love must be preferred before temporary and perishable gifts. Prophesyings have an end, tongues fail, knowledge ceases Hence love is more excellent than they on this ground — that, while they fail, it survives.
Papists pervert this passage, for the purpose of establishing the doctrine which they have contrived, without any authority from Scripture — that the souls of the deceased pray to God on our behalf. For they reason in this manner: “Prayer is a perpetual office of love — love endures in the souls of departed saints — therefore they pray for us.” For my part, although I should not wish to contend too keenly on this point, yet, in order that they may not think that they have gained much by having this conceded to them, I reply to their objection in a few words.
In the first place, though love endures for ever, it does not necessarily follow that it is (as the expression is) in constant exercise. For what is there to hinder our maintaining that the saints, being now in the enjoyment of calm repose, do not exercise love in present offices? 793793 “En secourant et aidant presentement a ceux qui sont en ce monde;” — “In presently succouring and aiding those that are in this world.” What absurdity, I pray you, would there be in this? In the second place, were I to maintain, that it is not a perpetual office of love to intercede for the brethren, how would they prove the contrary? That a person may intercede for another, it is necessary that he be acquainted with his necessity. If we may conjecture as to the state of the dead, it is a more probable supposition, that departed saints are ignorant of what is doing here, than that they are aware of our necessities. Papists, it is true, imagine, that they see the whole world in the reflection of light which they enjoy in the vision of God; but it is a profane and altogether heathenish contrivance, which has more of the savor of Egyptian theology, 794794 “See Institutes, volume 1. — Ed. than it has of accordance with Christian philosophy. What, then, if I should maintain that the saints, being ignorant of our condition, are not concerned in reference to us? With what argument will Papists press me, so as to constrain me to hold their opinion? What if I should affirm, that they are so occupied and swallowed up, as it were, in the vision of God, that they think of nothing besides? How will they prove that this is not agreeable to reason? What if I should reply, that the perpetuity of love, here mentioned by the Apostle, will be after the last day, and has nothing to do with the time that is intermediate? What if I should say that the office of mutual intercession has been enjoined only upon the living, and those that are sojourning in this world, and consequently does not at all extend to the departed?
But I have already said more than enough; for the very point for which they contend I leave undetermined, that I may not raise any contention upon a matter that does not call for it. It was, however, of importance to notice, in passing, how little support is given them from this passage, in which they think they have so strong a bulwark. Let us reckon it enough, that it has no support from any declaration of scripture, and that, consequently, it is maintained by them rashly and inconsiderately. 795795 “C’est folie et presomption grande a eux de l’affermer;” — “It is great folly and presumption in them to affirm it.”
Whether knowledge, it will be destroyed. We have already seen the meaning of these words; but from this arises a question of no small importances whether those who in this world excel either in learning, or in other gifts, will be on a level with idiots in the kingdom of God? In the first place, I should wish to admonish 796796 “En premier lieu, i’admoneste et prie;” — “In the first place, I admonish and beseech.” pious readers, not to harass themselves more than is meet in the investigation of these things. Let them rather seek the way by which the kingdom of God is arrived at, than curiously inquire, what is to be our condition there; for the Lord himself has, by his silence, called us back from such curiosity. I now return to the question. So far as I can conjecture, and am able even to gather in part from this passage — inasmuch as learning, knowledge of languages, and similar gifts are subservient to the necessity of this life, I do not think that there will be any of them then remaining. The learned, however, will sustain no loss from the want of them, inasmuch as they will receive the fruit of them, which is greatly to be preferred. 797797 “Qui est plus excellent sans comparaison;” — “Which is, beyond comparison, more excellent.”
He now proves that prophecy, and other gifts of that nature, are done away, 798798 “Seront un iour abolis;” — “Will one day be done away.” because they are conferred upon us to help our infirmity. Now our imperfection will one day have an end. Hence the use, even of those gifts, will, at the same time, be discontinued, for it were absurd that they should remain and be of no use. They will, therefore, perish. This subject he pursues to the end of the chapter.
9. We know in part This passage is misinterpreted by most persons, as if it meant that our knowledge, and in like manner our prophecy, is not yet perfect, but that we are daily making progress in them. Paul’s meaning, however, is — that it is owing to our imperfection that we at present have knowledge and prophecy. Hence the phrase in part means — “Because we are not yet perfect.” Knowledge and prophecy, therefore, have place among us so long as that imperfection cleaves to us, to which they are helps. It is true, indeed, that we ought to make progress during our whole life, and that everything that we have is merely begun. Let us observe, however, what Paul designs to prove — that the gifts in question are but temporary. Now he proves this from the circumstance, that the advantage of them is only for a time — so long as we aim at the mark by making progress every day.
10. When that which is perfect is come “When the goal has been reached, then the helps in the race will be done away.” He retains, however, the form of expression that he had already made use of, when he contrasts perfection with what is in part “Perfection,” says he, “when it will arrive, will put an end to everything that aids imperfection.” But when will that perfection come? It begins, indeed, at death, for then we put off, along with the body, many infirmities; but it will not be completely manifested until the day of judgment, as we shall hear presently. Hence we infer, that the whole of this discussion is ignorantly applied to the time that is intermediate.
11. When I was a child He illustrates what he had said, by a similitude. For there are many things that are suitable to children, which are afterwards done away on arriving at maturity. For example, education is necessary for childhood; it does not comport with mature age. 799799 “Elle ne conuient point a ceux qui sont en aage de discretion;” — “It does not become those who are at the age of discretion?’ So long as we live in this world, we require, in some sense, education. We are far from having attained, as yet, the perfection of wisdom. That perfection, therefore, which will be in a manner a maturity of spiritual age, will put an end to education and its accompaniments. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, (Ephesians 4:14,) he exhorts us to be no longer children; but he has there another consideration in view, of which we shall speak when we come to that passage.
12. We now see through a glass Here we have the application of the similitude. “The measure of knowledge, that we now have, is suitable to imperfection and childhood, as it were; for we do not as yet see clearly the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, and we do not as yet enjoy a distinct view of them.” To express this, he makes use of another similitude — that we now see only as in a glass, and therefore but obscurely. This obscurity he expresses by the term enigma 800800 The original term αἴνιγμα, (enigma,) properly means, a dark saying It is employed by classical writers in this sense. See Pind. Fr. 165. Aeseh. Pr. 610. The Apostle is generally supposed to have had in his eye Numbers 12:8, which is rendered in the Septuagint as follows: Στόμα κατὰ στόμα λαλήσω αὐτῶ ἐν ἔιδει, καὶ οὐ δι ᾿ αἰνίγματων; — “I will speak to him mouth to mouth in a vision, and not by dark sayings.” — Ed
In the first place, there can be no doubt that it is the ministry of the word, and the means that are required for the exercise of it, that he compares to a looking-glass For God, who is otherwise invisible, has appointed these means for discovering himself to us. At the same time, this may also be viewed as extending to the entire structure of the world, in which the glory of God shines forth to our view, in accordance with what is stated in Romans 1:16; and 2 Corinthians 3:18. In Romans 1:20 the Apostle speaks of the creatures as mirrors, 801801 “Et l’Apostre, en l’onzieme aux Heb., d. 13, nomme les creatures, miroirs;” — “And the Apostle, in Hebrews 11:13, speaks of the creatures as mirrors.” There is obviously a mistake here in the quotation. Most probably Calvin had in his eye Hebrews 11:3, as a passage similar in substance to Romans 1:20, quoted by him in his Latin Commentary. — Ed. in which God’s invisible majesty is to be seen; but as he treats here particularly of spiritual gifts, which are subservient to the ministry of the Church, and are its accompaniments, we shall not wander away from our present subject.
The ministry of the word, I say, is like a looking-glass For the angels have no need of preaching, or other inferior helps, nor of sacraments, for they enjoy a vision of God of another kind; 802802 “Ils ont vn autre iouissance de la presence de Dieu;” — “They have another enjoyment of the presence of God.” and God does not give them a view of his face merely in a mirror, but openly manifests himself as present with them. We, who have not as yet reached that great height, behold the image of God as it is presented before us in the word, in the sacraments, and, in fine, in the whole of the service of the Church. This vision Paul here speaks of as partaking of obscurity — not as though it were doubtful or delusive, but because it is not so distinct as that which will be at last afforded on the final day. He teaches the same thing in other words, in the second Epistle — (2 Corinthians 5:7) — that,
so long as we dwell in the body we are absent from the Lord;
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Our faith, therefore, at present beholds God as absent. How so? Because it sees not his face, but rests satisfied with the image in the mirror; but when we shall have left the world, and gone to him, it will behold him as near and before its eyes.
Hence we must understand it in this manner — that the knowledge of God, which we now have from his word, is indeed certain and true, and has nothing in it that is confused, or perplexed, or dark, but is spoken of as comparatively obscure, because it comes far short of that clear manifestation to which we look forward; for then we shall see face to face 803803 “The blessed God’s manifestation of himself,” say’s Mr. Howe, “is emphatically expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:12 — of seeing face to face, which signifies on his part, gracious vouchsafement, — his offering his blessed face to view, — that he hides it not, nor turns it away, as here sometimes he doth, in just displeasure. And his face means, even his most conspicuous glory, such as, in this state of mortality, it would be mortal to us to behold; for ‘no man,’ not so divine a man as Moses himself, ‘could see his face and live.’ And it signifies, on their part who are thus made perfect, their applying and turning their face towards his, viz., that they see not casually, or by fortuitous glances, but eye to eye, by direct and most voluntary intuition; which, therefore, on their part, implies moral perfection, the will directing and commanding the eye, and upon inexpressible relishes of joy and pleasure, forbidding its diversion, holds it steady and intent.” Howe’s Works, (Lond. 1834,) p. 1016. — Ed. Thus this passage is not at all at variance with other passages, which speak of the clearness, at one time, of the law, at another time, of the entire Scripture, but more especially of the gospel. For we have in the word (in so far as is expedient for us) a naked and open revelation of God, and it has nothing intricate in it, to hold us in suspense, as wicked persons imagine; 804804 “Comme imaginent les moqueurs et gens profanes;” — “As scoffers and profane persons imagine.” but how small a proportion does this bear to that vision, which we have in our eye! Hence it is only in a comparative sense, that it is termed obscure.
The adverb then denotes the last day, rather than the time that is immediately subsequent to death. At the same time, although full vision will be deferred until the day of Christ, a nearer view of God will begin to be enjoyed immediately after death, when our souls, set free from the body, will have no more need of the outward ministry, or other inferior helps. Paul, however, as I noticed a little ago, does not enter into any close discussion as to the state of the dead, because the knowledge of that is not particularly serviceable to piety.
Now I know in part That is, the measure of our present knowledge is imperfect, as John says in his Epistle, (1 John 3:1,2,) that
we know, indeed, that we are the sons of God,
but that it doth not yet appear, until we shall see God as he is.
Then we shall see God — not in his image, but in himself, so that there will be, in a manner, a mutual view.
13. But now remaineth faith, hope, love. This is a conclusion from what goes before — that love is more excellent than other gifts; but in place of the enumeration of gifts that he had previously made, he now puts faith and hope along with love, as all those gifts are comprehended under this summary. For what is the object of the entire ministry, but that we may be instructed as to these things? 805805 “En ces trois choses;” — “In these three things.” Hence the term faith has a larger acceptation here, than in previous instances; for it is as though he had said — “There are, it is true, many and various gifts, but they all point to this object, and have an eye to it.”
To remain, then, conveys the idea, that, as in the reckoning up of an account, when everything has been deducted, this is the sum that remains For faith does not remain after death, inasmuch as the Apostle elsewhere contrasts it with sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7,) and declares that it remains only so long as we are absent from the Lord We are now in possession of what is meant by faith in this passage — that knowledge of God and of the divine will, which we obtain by the ministry of the Church; or, if you prefer it, faith universal, and taken in its proper acceptation. Hope is nothing else than perseverance in faith For when we have once believed the word of God, it remains that we persevere until the accomplishment of these things. Hence, as faith is the mother of hope, so it is kept up by it, so as not to give way.
The greatest of these is love. It is so, if we estimate its excellence by the effects which he has previously enumerated; and farther, if we take into view its perpetuity. For every one derives advantage from his own faith and hope, but love extends its benefits to others. Faith and hope belong to a state of imperfection: love will remain even in a state of perfection. For if we single out the particular effects of faith, and compare them, faith will be found to be in many respects superior. Nay, even love itself, according to the testimony of the same Apostle, (1 Thessalonians 1:3,) is an effect of faith Now the effect is, undoubtedly, inferior to its cause.
Besides, there is bestowed upon faith a signal commendation, which does not apply to love, when John declares that it is our victory, which overcometh the world. (1 John 5:4.) In fine, it is by faith that we are born against that we become the sons of God — that we obtain eternal life, and that Christ dwells in us. (Ephesians 3:17.) Innumerable other things I pass over; but these few are sufficient to prove what I have in view — that faith is, in many of its effects, superior to love. Hence it is evident, that it is declared here to be superior — not in every respect, but inasmuch as it will be perpetual, and holds at present the first place in the preservation of the Church.
It is, however, surprising how much pleasure Papists take in thundering forth these words. “If faith justifies,” say they, “then much more does love, which is declared to be greater.” A solution of this objection is already furnished from what I have stated, but let us grant that love is in every respect superior; what sort of reasoning is that — that because it is greater, therefore it is of more avail for justifying men! Then a king will plow the ground better than a husbandman, and he will make a shoe better than a shoemaker, because he is more noble than either! Then a man will run faster than a horse, and will carry a heavier burden than an elephant, because he is superior in dignity! Then angels will give light to the earth better than the sun and moon, because they are more excellent! If the power of justifying depended on the dignity or merit of faith they might perhaps be listened to; but we do not teach that faith justifies, on the ground of its having more worthiness, or occupying a higher station of honor, but because it receives the righteousness which is freely offered in the gospel. Greatness or dignity has nothing to do with this. Hence this passage gives Papists no more help, than if the Apostle had given the preference to faith above everything else.