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SER MON XII.
I COR. xiii. 13.
AND NOW ABIDETH FAITH, HOPE, AND CHA.
RITY, THESE THREE ; BUT THE GREATEST
W E do not often, I believe, find in Scrip
VV ture one virtue set above another. The authority of God, on which they all rest, in some degree equalises them. It was under some idea of this kind, that an inquiring lawyer asked our Saviour, which was the great commandment? Our Saviour mentioned the first : but immediately subjoined, that the second' was like unto it; and that equally on these two depended the law and the prophets. Yet, if he had meant to give the great commandment, at the head of the VOL. III. K
d ecalogue; decalogue, a distinguished place, it is only an exception we might expect.
Notwithstanding however this general idea of equality, we find, in the passage I have just read, three Chriftian virtues compared, and one of them placed in a higher rank than the other two.
This is rather singular, as it does not obviously appear, why charity should be placed before faith and hope. I shall endeavour therefore to explain the difficulty.--I shall firft examine the three virtues of faith, hope, and charity apart. I shall, secondly, endeavour to point out a reason for the apostle's giving a preference to the last: and, thirdly, draw a conclusion from the whole.
With regard to faith, fome people include in it the whole range of duty both to God and man. And this is very true: for as all Christian virtues flow from it, they may all be said to be included in it. In this sense, no doubt, every good Christian will subscribe to faith, as the sum of religion. But it certainly is not always taken in this enlarged sense. St. Paul may sometimes, in a concise argument, consider faith as another word for Christianity; but in various passages, and particularly in the
paffage before us, it seems not to be considered *** in this comprehenfive light, but as a simple act, stript of all its adjunéts, and means only a belief in the life and death of Christ, and the great work of Redemption. This is sometimes calied a mere historical faith: and if it proceed no farther it deserves a stigma. But the Christian life, as well as the natural life, must have its first princip'e, or beginning; and historical faith, if it must be so called, is that first principle.
This seems to be the idea which is adopted in qur church creeds. In them we are taught, that the Christian's faith consists in believing the cire cumstances of the life and death of our Saviour, and in the work of Redemption. Christian vir. tues, no doubt, are supposed to follow this faith. All I mean is, that our public creeds suppose the faith of a Chriftian to originate from Scrip tural evidence.
But we are sometimes told, that faith is the imniediate work of God—that it is impressed inftantaneously by divine inspiration on the heart. .
If so, it wants no evidence-Nor was it necessary, that our blessed Saviour should inculcate what was spontaneously given. .
Without God's allistance, every good Christian must allow, we can do nothing. We can no more be religious without it, than we can breathe or move without it. But in all these things, our own endeavours must co-operate. He who should fit down with his arms and legs folded, waiting till God should put him in motion, would be ridiculous; and he, who should walk about, and say, I move without any assistance from God, would be impious. It is just so in faith. He who should say, my own good works will do nothing for me, faith is all, seems to me an enthusiast: and he who should say, my own good works are all I want, is certainly not a Christian.
We conclude therefore from the whole, that although faith is sometimes considered in an extenfive fense, as comprehending all Chriftian virtues, it is sometimes considered fimply in itself, as grounded merely on evidence, and implying nothing more than a belief in Jesus Christ. In this sense I fuppose the word faith is considered in the passage before us. It cannot be supposed to include every virtue, for then it would include charity, from which it is plainly distinguished.
Hope is the next virtue we examine. Now hope, fimply considered, is no virtue at all. I desire to obtain an advantage. I use the best means in my power; and I hope they will succeed. But there is nothing here that denominates hope to be virtuous. It is its connection with heaven that gives hope a religious value.
It is so in other virtues. Men have only one set of moral qualities: but they differ in value, according to the end they have in view, and the motive that governs them. I am grateful to my benefactor. The affection is amiable. But when my gratitude looks up to God, it is of a much more purified and exalted nature. It is grounded on my trust in an invisible Creator. I believe what my friend tells me. There is not much in that. But when I believe what God tells me, my belief becomes religious faith, and God is pleased to accept it for righteousness.
It is so in hope. Though there is nothing valuable in my hoping for any earthly good, which I think it probable may arrive; yet when I transfer that hope to heaven, it takes a religious cast, and becomes a virtue. My earthly hope is grounded on nothing perhaps but my own prudence, and