Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning, September 4th, 1881, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."1 Corinthians 13:7.
HE grace of charity, or love, of which so much is most admirably spoken in this chapter, is absolutely essential to true godliness. So essential is it that, if we have everything beside, but have not charity, it profiteth us nothing. The absence of charity is absolutely fatal to vital godliness; so saith the Holy Ghost in this chapter. When, then, you read the apostle's high encomiums of charity, do not say, "This is a fancy virtue to which certain special saints have attained, and we are bound to admire them for it, but we need not imitate them." Far from it. This charity is the common, everyday livery of the people of God. It is not the prerogative of a few; it must be the possession of all. Do not, therefore, however lofty the model may be, look up to it as though you could not reach it: you must reach it. It is put before you not only as a thing greatly desirable, but as absolutely needful; for if you excelled in every spiritual gift, yet if you had not this all the rest would profit you nothing whatever. One would think that such excellent gifts might benefit us a little, but no, the apostle sums them all up, and saith of the whole, "it profiteth me nothing." I pray that this may be understood of us at the very beginning, lest we should manage to slip away from the truth taught us by the Holy Ghost in this place, and should excuse ourselves from being loving by the notion that we are so inconsiderable that such high virtue cannot be required of us, or so feeble that we cannot be expected to attain to it. You must attain it, or you cannot enter into eternal life, for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his, and the Spirit of Christ is sure to beget the charity of our text, which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
From its firm base as soon as I."
If once taught in the school of Christ to turn love to every point of the compass, and so to meet every assault against our heart, we have learned the secret of victory.
It seems to me that I might read my text as if it said that love conquers in all stages of her life. She begins in conversion, and straightway those that mark her birth are angry, and the powers of evil are at once aroused to seek her destruction. Then she "beareth all things." Let them mock, love never renders railing for railing: Isaac is not to be provoked by Ishmael's jeers.
She gathers strength and begins to tell out to others what she knows of her Lord and his salvation. She "believeth all things," and so she confesses her faith, and her fellow Christians are confirmed by her witness. It is her time of energy, and so she tries to woo and win others, by teaching them the things which she believes.
She advances a little farther; and, though often disappointed by the unbelief of men and the coldness of her fellow Christians, she nevertheless "hopes all things," and pushes on in the expectation of winning more of them. Her dove's eyes see in the dark, and she advances to victory through ever-growing conflict.
Ay, and when infirmities thicken upon her, and old age comes, and she can do little else but sit still, and bear and believe and hope, she still perseveres, and accepts even the stroke of death itself without complaining, for love "endureth all things."
I do not think I need say more upon the difficulties of love. I am sure that every experienced person knows that these difficulties are supreme, and that we require superlative grace if we are to master them. Love does not ask to have an easy life of it: self-love makes that her aim. Love denies herself, sacrifices herself, that she may win victories for God, and bring blessings on her fellow-men. Hers is no easy pathway, and hers shall be no tinsel crown.
II. Secondly, let us survey THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE'S LABOUR. Her labours are fourfold.
First, in bearing all things. The word here rendered "bear" might as correctly have been translated "cover." You that have the Revised Version will find in the margin, "Love covereth all things." "Covereth" is the meaning of the word in ordinary Greek, but Paul generally uses the word in the sense of "bear." Our translators, therefore, had to choose between the usual meaning and the Pauline usage, and they selected Paul's meaning, and put it down in the first place as "beareth," giving us in the margin the other sense of "covereth." The two ideas may be blended, if we understand it to mean that love bears all things in silence, concealing injuries as much as possible even from herself.
Let us just think of this word "covers" in reference to the brethren. True love refuses to see faults, unless it be that she may kindly help in their removal. Love has no wish to see faults. Noah's younger son discovered and declared the shame of his father, but his other sons took a garment and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father: after this fashion does love deal with the sins of her brethren. She painfully fears that there may be something wrong, but she is loath to be convinced of it: she ignores it as long as she can, and wishes that she could deny it altogether. Love covers; that is, it never proclaims the errors of good men. There are busybodies abroad who never spy out a fault in a brother but they must needs hurry off to their next neighbour with the savoury news, and then they run up and down the street as though they had been elected common criers. It is by no means honourable to men or women to set up to be common informers. Yet I know some who are not half so eager to publish the gospel as to publish slander. Love stands in the presence of a fault, with a finger on her lip. If anyone is to smite a child of God, let it not be a brother. Even if a professor be a hypocrite, love prefers that he should fall by any hand rather than her own. Love covers all injuries by being silent about them, and acting as if they had never been. She sitteth alone, and keepeth silence. To speak and publish her wrong is too painful for her, for she fears to offend against the Lord's people. She would rather suffer than murmur, and so, like a sheep before her shearers, she is dumb under injury.
I would, brothers and sisters, that we could all imitate the pearl oyster. A hurtful particle intrudes itself into its shell, and this vexes and grieves it. It cannot eject the evil, and what does it do but cover it with a precious substance extracted out of its own life, by which it turns the intruder into a pearl. Oh, that we could do so with the provocations we receive from our fellow Christians, so that pearls of patience, gentleness, long-suffering, and forgiveness might be bred within us by that which else had harmed us. I would desire to keep ready for my fellow Christians, a bath of silver, in which I could electroplate all their mistakes into occasions for love. As the dripping well covers with its own deposit all that is placed within its drip, so would love cover all within its range with love, thus turning even curses into blessings. Oh that we had such love that it would cover all, and conceal all, so far as it is right and just that it should be covered and concealed.
As to bearing all, taking the words as they stand in our version, I wish to apply the text mainly to our trials in seeking the conversion of the unconverted. Those who love the souls of men must be prepared to cover much when they deal with them, and to bear much from them in silence. When I begin to seek the conversion of anyone, I must try as much as ever I can to ignore any repulsiveness that there may be in his character. I know that he is a sinner, else I should not seek his salvation; but if he happens to be one who has fallen very low in the esteem of others, I must not treat him as such, but cover his worst points. You cannot possibly bring the Samaritan woman who has had five husbands into a right state of mind by "wondering that he spake with the woman." Thus the disciples acted, but not so their Master, for he sat on the well and talked with her, and made himself her willing companion that he might be her gracious Saviour; he ignored her sin so far as to converse with her for her good.
You will not long have begun this holy work before you will discover in the heart you seek to win much ignorance of the gospel. Bear with it, and bring forward the text which sheds light on that darkness, and teach the truth which will remove that error. Ere long you will have to contend with hardness of heart, for when a man knows the truth he is not always willing to receive it. Bear it, and be not vexed. Did you not expect the heart to be hard? Do not you know what business you are upon? You are sent to turn men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God. Be not astonished if these things should not prove to be child's play. In addition to this perhaps you will have ridicule poured upon you; your attempts to convert will be converted into jests. Bear it; bear all things! Remember how the multitude thrust out the tongue at your Lord and Master when he was dying, and be not you so proud as to think yourself too good to be laughed at. Still speak concerning Christ, and whatever happens, bear all things. I will not attempt to make a catalogue of your provocations, you shall make one yourself after you have tried to convert men to Christ; but all that you can possibly meet with is included in my text, for it says, "beareth all things." If you should meet with some extraordinary sinner who opens his mouth with cruel speeches such as you have never heard before, and if by attempting to do him good you only excite him to ribaldry and blasphemy, do not be astonished; have at him again, for charity "beareth all things," whatever they may be. Push on and say, "Yes, all this proves to me how much you want saving. You are my man; if I get you to Christ there will be all the greater glory to God." O blessed charity, which can thus cover all things and bear all things for Christ's sake.
Do you want an example of it? Would you see the very mirror and perfection of the charity that beareth all things? Behold your divine Lord. Oh, what he has covered! It is a tempting topic, but I will not dwell on it. How his glorious righteousness, his wondrous splendour of love, has covered all our faults and all their consequences, treating us as if he saw no sin in Jacob, neither perversity in Israel. Think what he bore when he came unto his own and his own received him not! What a covering was that when he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." What a pitying sight of the fearful misery of man our Lord Jesus had when holy tears bedewed those sacred eyes! What a generous blindness to their infamous cruelty he manifested when he prayed for his bloodthirsty enemies. O beloved, you will never be tempted, and taunted, and tried as he was; yet in your own shorter measure may you possess that love which can silently bear all things for the elect's sake and for Christ's sake, that the multitude of the redeemed may be accomplished, and that Christ through you may see of the travail of his soul.
Now let us look at the second of love's great labours. You have heard of the labours of Hercules, but the fabulous hero is far outdone by the veritable achievements of love. Love works miracles which only grace can enable her to perform. Here is the second of themlove "believeth all things." In reference, first, to our fellow Christians, love always believes the best of them. I wish we had more of this faith abroad in all the churches, for a horrid blight falls upon some communities through suspicion and mistrust. Though everything may be pure and right, yet certain weak minds are suddenly fevered with anxiety through the notion that all is wrong and rotten. This unholy mis-trust is in the air, a blight upon all peace: it is a sort of fusty mildew of the soul by which all sweet perfume of confidence is killed. The best man is suspected of being a designing knave, though he is honest as the day, and the smallest fault or error is frightfully exaggerated, till we seem to dwell among criminals and to be all villains together. If I did not believe in my brethren I would not profess to be one of them. I believe that with all their faults they are the best people in the world, and that, although the church of God is not perfect, yet she is the bride of One who is. I have the utmost respect for her, for her Lord's sake. The Roman matron said "Where my husband is Caias I am Caia"; where Christ is King, she who stands at his right hand is "the queen in gold of Ophir." God forbid that I should rail at her of whom her Lord says, "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee." True love believes good of others as long as ever it can, and when it is forced to fear that wrong has been done, love will not readily yield to evidence, but she gives the accused brother the benefit of many a doubt. When the thing is too clear, love says, "Yes, but the friend must have been under very strong temptation, and if I had been there I dare say I should have done worse;" or else love hopes that the erring one may have offended from a good though mistaken motive; she believes that the good man must have been mistaken, or he would not have acted so. Love, as far as she can, believes in her fellows. I know some persons who habitually believe everything that is bad, but they are not the children of love. Only tell them that their minister or their brother has killed his wife, and they would believe it immediately, and send out for a policeman: but if you tell them anything good of their neighbour, they are in no such hurry to believe you. Did you ever hear of gossips tittle-tattling approval of their neighbours? I wish the chatterers would take a turn at exaggerating other people's virtues, and go from house to house trumping up pretty stories of their acquaintances. I do not recommend lying even in kindness, but that side of it would be such a novelty that I could almost bear with its evils for a change. Love, though it will not speak an untruth in praise of another, yet has a quick eye to see the best qualities of others, and it is habitually a little blind to their failings. Her blind eye is to the fault, and her bright is for the excellence. Somewhere or other I met with an old legendI do not suppose it to be literally true, but its spirit is correct. It is said that, once upon a time, in the streets of Jerusalem, there lay a dead dog, and everyone kicked at it and reviled it. One spoke of its currish breed, another of its lean and ugly form, and so forth; but one passed by who paused a moment over the dead dog, and said, "What white teeth it has." Men said, as he went on his way, "That is Jesus of Nazareth." Surely it is ever our Lord's way to see good points wherever he can. Brethren, think as well as you can even of a dead dog. If you should ever be led into disappointments and sorrows by thinking too well of your fellow-men, you need not greatly blame yourself. I met, in Anthony Farrindon's Sermons, a line which struck me. He says the old proverb has it, "Humanum est errare," to err is human, but, saith he, when we err by thinking too kindly of others we may say, "Christianum est errare," it is Christian to err in such a fashion. I would not have you credulous, but I would have you trustful, for suspicion is a cruel evil. Few fall into the blessed error of valuing their fellow Christians at too high a rate.
In reference to the unconverted this is a very important matter. Love "believeth all things" in their case. She does not believe that the unconverted are converted, for, if so, she would not seek their conversion. She believes that they are lost and ruined by the Fall, but she believes that God can save them. Love believes that the precious blood of Christ can redeem the bondslaves of sin and Satan, and break their iron chains; she believes that the power of the Holy Spirit can change a heart of granite into a heart of flesh. Love, therefore, believing this, believes also that God can save this sinner by herself, and she therefore begins to speak to him, expecting that the word she speaks will be God's instrument of salvation. When she finds herself sitting next to a sinner, she believes that there was a necessity for her to be there, even as Christ must needs go through Samaria. She saith to herself, "Now will I tell to this poor soul what Christ hath done, for I believe that even out of my poor lips eternal life may flow, and in such a babe as I am God may perfect praise to his own glory." She does not refrain from preaching Christ through fear of failure, but she believes in the great possibilities which lie in the gospel and in the Spirit of God, and so she deals earnestly with the man next her. She believes in her own principles, she believes in the grace of God, she believes in the power of the Spirit of God, she believes in the force of truth, she believes in the existence of conscience, and so she is moved to set about her saving work. She believeth all things.
Brethren, do you want a model of this? Then I beseech you look to your divine Master once again. See him in the morning when the sheep are counted, missing one of them, and so full of faith is he that he can find the lost one, that he leaves the ninety and nine, and cheerfully enters the pathless wilderness. See how he bounds over the mountains! How he descends the ravines! He is seeking his sheep until he finds it, for he is fully assured that he shall find it. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, for his faith is great in the salvation of men, and he goes forth to it believing that sinners shall be saved. I delight in the deep, calm faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had no faith in man's goodness, for "he knew what was in man"; but he had great faith in what could be done in men and what could be wrought for them, and for the joy that was set before him in this he endured the cross, despising the shame. He had faith that grand things would come of his salvationmen would be purified, error would be driven out, false-hood would be slain, and love would reign supreme.
Here is the second grand victory of love, she "believeth all things." Herein let us exercise ourselves till we are skilled in it.
Love's third great labour is in "hoping all things." Love never despairs. She believes in good things yet to come in her fellow-men, even if she cannot believe in any present good in them. Hope all things about your brethren. Suppose a friend is a member of the church, and you cannot see any clear signs of grace in him, hope all things about him. Many true believers are weak in faith, and the operations of grace are dim in them; and some are placed in positions where the grace they have is much hindered and hampered: let us take these things into consideration. It is hard to tell how little grace may yet suffice for salvation: it is not ours to judge. Hope all things, and if you should be forced to see sad signs in them, which make you fear that they have no grace, yet, remember that some of the brightest believers have had their faults, and grave ones too. Remember yourself, lest you also be tempted. If you cannot hope that these persons are saved at all, hope that they will be, and do all that you can to promote so blessed an end.
Hope all things. If thy brother has been very angry with thee without a cause, hope that thou wilt win him; and set about the task. If thou hast tried and failed, hope to succeed next time, and try again. Hope that though thou hast failed seven times, and he still speaks bitterly, yet in his heart he is really ashamed, or at least that he will be so very soon. Never despair of your fellow Christians.
As to the unconverted, you will never do anything with them unless you hope great things about them. When the good Samaritan found the poor man half dead, if he had not hoped about him he would never have poured in the oil and the wine, but would have left him there to die. Cultivate great hopefulness about sinners. Always hope of them that they will be saved yet: though no good signs are apparent in them. If you have done your best for them, and have been disappointed and defeated, still hope for them. Sometimes you will find cause for hope in the fact that they begin to attend a place of worship. Grasp at that, and say, "Who can tell? God may bless them." Or if they have long been hearers, and no good has come of it, still hope that the minister will one day have a shot at them, and the arrow shall pierce through the joints of the harness. When you last spoke to them there seemed a little tenderness: be thankful for it, and have hope. If there has been a little amendment in their life, be hopeful about them. Even if you can see nothing at all hopeful in them, yet hope that there may be something which you cannot see, and perhaps an effect has been produced which they are endeavouring to conceal. Hope because you are moved to pray for them. Get other people to pray for them, for as long as they have some one to pray for them their case is not given over. If you get others to pray, there will be another string to your bow. If they are very ill, and you cannot get at them, or they are on their dying beds, still have hope about them, and try to send them a message in some form or other. Pray the Lord to visit and save them; and always keep up your hope about them. Till they are dead let not your hope be dead.
Would you see a model of this? Ah, look at our blessed Lord, and all his hopefulness for US: how, despairing of none, he went after those whom others would have given up. If you ask a proof, remember how he went after you. Will you despair of anybody since Christ did not despair of you? Wonders of grace belong to God, and all those wonders have been displayed in many among us. If you and I had been there when they brought the adulterous woman taken in the very act, I am afraid that we should have said, "This is too bad; put her away, she cannot be borne with." But oh, the hopefulness of the blessed Master when even to her he said, "Woman, where are thine accusers? Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more." What wonderful patience, and gentleness, and hopefulness our Lord displayed in all his converse with the twelve! It was a noble hopefulness in Christ which led him to trust Peter as he did: after he had denied his Master with oaths, our Lord trusted him to feed his sheep and lambs, and set him in the forefront of apostolic service. He has also had compassion on some of us, putting us into the ministry, and putting us in trust with the gospel, for he knew what love would do for us, and he was certain he could yet make something of us to his own glory.
The last victory of love is in enduring all things, by which I understand a patient perseverance in loving. This is perhaps the hardest work of all, for many people can be affectionate and patient for a time, but the task is to hold on year after year. I have known some men earnestly check their temper under provocation, and bear a great many slights, but at last they have said, "There is an end to everything: I am not going to put up with it any longer. I cannot stand it." Blessed be God, the love that Christ gives us endureth all things. As his love endured to the end, so does the love which the Spirit works in us endure to the end.
In reference first to our fellow Christians, love holds out under all rebuffs. You mean that I shall not love you, my good man, but I shall love you. You give me the rough side of your tongue, and make me see that you are not a very lovable person, but I can love you notwithstanding all. What? Will you do me a further unkindness? I will oppose you by doing you a greater kindness than before. You said a vile thing about me; I will not hear it, but if it be possible I will say a kind thing of you. I will cover you up with hot coals till I melt you; I will war against you with flames of love till your anger is consumed. I will master you by being kinder to you than you have been unkind to me. What hosts of misrepresentations and unkindnesses there are; but if you go on to be a true Christian you must endure all these. If you have to deal with people who will put up with nothing from you, take care to be doubly patient with them. What credit is there in bearing with those who bear with you? If your brethren are angry without a cause, be sorry for them, but do not let them conquer you by driving you into a bad temper. Stand fast in love; endure not some things, but all things, for Christ's sake; so shall you prove yourself to be a Christian indeed.
As to your dealing with the unconverted, if ever you go into the field after souls, be sure to carry your gun with you, and that gun is love. You gentlemen who go out shooting partridges and other birds at this time of the year, no doubt find it a pleasant pastime; but for real excitement, joy, and pleasure, commend me to soul-winning. What did our Lord say, "I will make you fishers of men." If you go out fishing for souls you will have to endure all things, for it will come to pass that some whom you have been seeking for a long time will grow worse instead of better. Endure this among the all things. Those whom you seek to bless may seem to be altogether unteachable, they may shut their ears and refuse to hear you; never mind, endure all things. They may grow sour and sullen, and revile you in their anger, but be not put about by them, let them struggle till they are wearied, and meanwhile do you quietly wait, saying to yourself, "I must save them." A warder who has to take care of insane persons will frequently be attacked by them, and have to suffer hard blows; but what does he do? Strike the patient and make a fight of it? No, he holds him down and pins him fast; but not in anger, for he pities him too much to be angry with him. Does a nurse with a delirious patient take any notice of his cross words, and grumbling, and outcries? Not she. She says, "I must try to save this man's life," and so with great kindness she "endureth all things." If you were a fireman, and found a person in an upper room, and the house was on fire, would you not struggle with him rather than let him remain in the room and burn. You would say, "I will save you in spite of yourself." Perhaps the foolish body would call you names, and say, "Let me alone, why should you intrude into my chamber?" But you would say, "Never mind my intrusion; I will apologize afterwards for my rudeness, but you must be out of the fire first." I pray God give you this blessed unmannerliness, this sweet casting of all things to the wind, if by any means you may save some.
If you desire to see the mirror and the paragon of persevering endurance, look you there! I wish you could see it. I wish these eyes could see the sight as I have sometimes seen it. Behold the cross! See the patient Sufferer and that ribald multitude: they thrust out the tongue, they sneer, they jest, they blaspheme; and there he hangs, triumphant in his patience, conquering the world, and death and hell by enduring "all things." O love, thou didst never sit on a throne so imperial as the cross, when there, in the person of the Son of God, thou didst all things endure. Oh that we might copy in some humble measure that perfect pattern which is here set before us. If you would be saviours, if you would bless your generation, let no unkindness daunt you; let no considerations of your own character, or honour, or peace of mind keep you back, but of you may it be said, even as of your Lord, "He saved others, himself he could not save."
Have not I shown you four grand battles far excelling all the Waterloos, and Trafalgars, and Almas, and Inkermans on record? Heroes are they that fight and win them, and the Lord God of love shall crown them.
III. I close by noting THE SOURCES OF LOVE'S ENERGY. The time is gone, as I thought it would be, but it has brought us round in a circle to where we started from. The Holy Ghost alone can teach men how to love, and give them power to do so. Love's art is learned at no other school but at the feet of Jesus, where the Spirit of love doth rest on those who learn of him. Beloved, the Spirit of God puts love into us, and helps us to maintain it, thusfirst, love wins these victories, for it is her nature. The nature of love is self-sacrifice. Love is the reverse of seeking her own. Love is intense; love is burning; therefore she burneth her way to victory. Love! Look at it in the mother. Is it any hardship to her to lose rest and peace and comfort for her child? If it costs her pain, she makes it pleasure by the ardour of her affection. It is the nature of love to court difficulties, and to rejoice in suffering for the beloved object. If you have fervent love to the souls of men, you will know how true this is.
Next to this, love has four sweet companions. There are with her tenderness that "beareth all things," faith that "believeth all things," hope that "hopeth all things," and patience which "endureth all things," and he that hath tenderness, and faith, and hope, and patience hath a brave quaternion of graces to guard him, and he need not be afraid. Best of all, love sucks her life from the wounds of Christ. Love can bear, believe, hope, and endure because Christ has borne, believed, and hoped, and endured for her. I have heard of one that had a twist: they say that he saw something that others never saw, and heard a voice that others never heard, and he became such a strange man that others wondered at him. Oh, that I had more and more of that most solemn twist which comes through feeling a pierced hand laid on my shoulder, and hearing in my ear a sorrowful voice, that selfsame voice which cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" I would see that vision and hear that voice, and thenwhat then? Why, I must love; I must love; I must love. That would be the soul's strange bias and sweet twist. Love makes us love; love bought us, sought us, and brought us to the Saviour's feet, and it shall henceforth constrain us to deeds which else would be impossible. You have heard of men sometimes in a mad fit doing things that ordinary flesh and blood could never have performed. Oh to be distracted from selfishness by the love of Christ, and maddened into self-oblivion by a supreme passion for the Crucified. I know not how otherwise to put my thoughts into words so that they may hint at my burning meaning. May the Lord of love look into your very eyes with those eyes which once were red with weeping over human sin: may he touch your hands with those hands that were nailed to the cross, and impress the blessed nailmarks upon your feet, and then may he pierce your heart till it pour forth a life for love, and flow out in streams of kind desires, and generous deeds, and holy sacrifices for God and for his people. God grant it, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON1 Corinthians 13.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"797, 264, 439.