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13. Love

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8Charity 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. 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

8. Love never faileth Here we have another excellence of lovethat 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.”


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