Verse 13. "And now [in this present life" - abideth faith, hope, charity] These three supply the place of that direct vision which no human embodied spirit can have; these abide or remain for the present state.
Faith, by which we apprehend spiritual blessings, and walk with God.
Hope, by which we view and expect eternal blessedness, and pass through things temporal so as not to lose those which are eternal. Charity or love, by which we show forth the virtues of the grace which we receive by faith in living a life of obedience to God, and of good will and usefulness to man.
"But the greatest of these is charity." - Without faith it is impossible to please God; and without it, we can not partake of the grace of our Lord Jesus: without hope we could not endure, as seeing him who is invisible; nor have any adequate notion of the eternal world; nor bear up under the afflictions and difficulties of life: but great and useful and indispensably necessary as these are, yet charity or love is greater: LOVE is the fulfilling of the law; but this is never said of faith or hope.
IT may be necessary to enter more particularly into a consideration of the conclusion of this very important chapter.
1. Love is properly the image of God in the soul; for God is LOVE. By faith we receive from our Maker; by hope we expect a future and eternal good; but by love we resemble God; and by it alone are we qualified to enjoy heaven, and be one with him throughout eternity. Faith, says one, is the foundation of the Christian life, and of good works; hope rears the superstructure; but love finishes, completes, and crowns it in a blessed eternity. Faith and hope respect ourselves alone; love takes in both GOD and MAN. Faith helps, and hope sustains us; but love to God and man makes us obedient and useful. This one consideration is sufficient to show that love is greater than either faith or hope.
2. Some say love is the greatest because it remains throughout eternity, whereas faith and hope proceed only through life; hence we say that there faith is lost in sight, and hope in fruition. But does the apostle say so? Or does any man inspired by God say so? I believe not. Faith and hope will as necessarily enter into eternal glory as love will. The perfections of God are absolute in their nature, infinite in number, and eternal in their duration.
However high, glorious, or sublime the soul may be in that eternal state, it will ever, in respect to God, be limited in its powers, and must be improved and expanded by the communications of the supreme Being.
Hence it will have infinite glories in the nature of God to apprehend by faith, to anticipate by hope, and enjoy by love.
3. From the nature of the Divine perfections there must be infinite glories in them which must be objects of faith to disembodied spirits; because it is impossible that they should be experimentally or possessively known by any creature. Even in the heaven of heavens we shall, in reference to the infinite and eternal excellences of God, walk by faith, and not by sight. We shall credit the existence of infinite and illimitable glories in him, which, from their absolute and infinite nature, must be incommunicable. And as the very nature of the soul shows it to be capable of eternal growth and improvement; so the communications from the Deity, which are to produce this growth, and effect this improvement, must be objects of faith to the pure spirit; and, if objects of faith, consequently objects of hope; for as hope is "the expectation of future good," it is inseparable from the nature of the soul, to know of the existence of any attainable good without making it immediately the object of desire or hope. And is it not this that shall constitute the eternal and progressive happiness of the immortal spirit; viz. knowing, from what it has received, that there is infinitely more to be received; and desiring to be put in possession of every communicable good which it knows to exist?
4. As faith goes forward to view, so hope goes forward to desire; and God continues to communicate, every communication making way for another, by preparing the soul for greater enjoyment, and this enjoyment must produce love. To say that the soul can have neither faith nor hope in a future state is to say that, as soon as it enters heaven, it is as happy as it can possibly be; and this goes to exclude all growth in the eternal state, and all progressive manifestations and communications of God; and consequently to fix a spirit, which is a composition of infinite desires, in a state of eternal sameness, in which it must be greatly changed in its constitution to find endless gratification.
5. To sum up the reasoning on this subject I think it necessary to observe, 1. That the term faith is here to be taken in the general sense of the word, for that belief which a soul has of the infinite sufficiency and goodness of God, in consequence of the discoveries he has made of himself and his designs, either by revelation, or immediately by his Spirit. Now we know that God has revealed himself not only in reference to this world, but in reference to eternity; and much of our faith is employed in things pertaining to the eternal world, and the enjoyments in that state. That hope is to be taken in its common acceptation, the expectation of future good; which expectation is necessarily founded on faith, as faith is founded on knowledge. God gives a revelation which concerns both worlds, containing exceeding great and precious promises relative to both. We believe what he has said on his own veracity; and we hope to enjoy the promised blessings in both worlds, because he is faithful who has promised. As the promises stand in reference to both worlds, so also must the faith and hope to which these promises stand as objects. The enjoyments in the eternal world are all spiritual, and must proceed immediately from God himself. 5. God, in the plenitude of his excellences, is as incomprehensible to a glorified spirit, as he is to a spirit resident in flesh and blood. 6. Every created, intellectual nature is capable of eternal improvement. 7. If seeing God as he is be essential to the eternal happiness of beatified spirits, then the discoveries which he makes of himself must be gradual; forasmuch as it is impossible that an infinite, eternal nature can be manifested to a created and limited nature in any other way. 8. As the perfections of God are infinite, they are capable of being eternally manifested, and, after all manifestations, there must be an infinitude of perfections still to be brought to view. 9. As every soul that has any just notion of God must know that he is possessed of all possible perfections, so these perfections, being objects of knowledge, must be objects of faith. 10. Every holy spirit feels itself possessed of unlimited desires for the enjoyment of spiritual good, and faith in the infinite goodness of God necessarily implies that he will satisfy every desire he has excited. 11. The power to gratify, in the Divine Being, and the capacity to be gratified, in the immortal spirit, will necessarily excite continual desires, which desires, on the evidence of faith, will as necessarily produce hope, which is the expectation of future good. 12. All possible perfections in God are the objects of faith; and the communication of all possible blessedness, the object of hope. 13. Faith goes forward to apprehend, and hope to anticipate, as God continues to discover his unbounded glories and perfections. 14. Thus discovered and desired, their influences become communicated, love possesses them, and is excited and increased by the communication. 15. With respect to those which are communicated, faith and hope cease, and go forward to new apprehensions and anticipations, while love continues to retain and enjoy the whole. 16. Thus an eternal interest is kept up, and infinite blessings, in endless succession, apprehended, anticipated and enjoyed.
6. My opinion that faith and hope, as well as love, will continue in a future state, will no doubt appear singular to many who have generally considered the two former as necessarily terminating in this lower world; but this arises from an improper notion of the beatified state, and from inattention to the state and capacity of the soul. If it have the same faculties there which it has here, howsoever improved they may be, it must acquire its happiness from the supreme Being in the way of communication, and this communication must necessarily be gradual for the reasons already alleged; and if gradual, then there must be (if in that state we have any knowledge at all of the Divine nature) faith that such things exist, and may be communicated; desire to possess them because they are good; and hope that these good things shall be communicated.
7. I conclude, therefore, from these and a multitude of other reasonings which might be brought to bear on this subject, that faith and hope will exist in the eternal world as well as love; and that there, as well as here, it may endlessly be said, the greatest of these is love. With great propriety therefore does the apostle exhort, Follow after love, it being so essential to our comfort and happiness here, and to our beatification in the eternal world; and how necessary faith and hope are to the same end we have already seen.