THE FINAL SECTION ON LOVE AS EXPOUNDED BY ALBERT BARNES IN HIS BIBLE COMMENTARY, ON 1 CORINTHIANS 13.
8. Charity never fails. Paul here proceeds to illustrate the value of love, from its permanency as compared with other valued endowments. It is valuable, and is to be sought because it will always abide; may be always exercised; is adapted to all circumstances, and to all worlds in which we may be placed, or in which we may dwell. The word rendered fails denotes properly to fall out of, to fall from or off; and may be applied to the stars of heaven falling (Mark 13:25), or to flowers that fall or fade (James 1:11; 1 Pet. 1:24), or to chains falling from the hands, etc; Acts 7:7. Here it means to fall away, to fail; to be without effect, to cease to be in existence. The expression may mean that it will be adapted to all the situations of life, and is of a nature to be always exercised; or it may mean that it will continue to all eternity, and be exercised in heaven for ever. The connection demands that the latter should be regarded as the true interpretation; see ver. 13. The sense is, that while other endowments of the Holy Spirit must soon cease and be valueless, love would abide, and would always exist. The argument is, that we ought to seek that which is of enduring value; and that, therefore, love should be preferred to those endowments of the Spirit on which so high a value had been set by the Corinthians.
But whether there be prophecies. That is, the gift of prophecy, or the power of speaking as a prophet; that is, of delivering the truth of God in an intelligible manner under the influence of inspiration: the gift of being a public speaker, of instructing and edifying the church, and foretelling future events; see Note, chap. 14:1. They shall fail. The gift shall cease to be exercised; shall be abolished, come to naught. There shall be no further use for this gift in the light and glory of the world above, and it shall cease. God shall be the teacher there. And as there will be no need of confirming the truth of religion by the prediction of future events, and no need of warning against impending dangers there, the gift of foretelling future events will be of course unknown. In heaven, also, there will be no need that the faith of God's people shall be encouraged, or their devotions excited, by such exhortations and instructions as are needful now; and the endowment of prophecy will be, therefore, unknown.
If there be tongues. The power of speaking foreign languages. They shall cease. Macknight supposes this means that they shall cease in the church after the gospel shall have been preached to all nations. But the more natural interpretation is, to refer it to the future life; since the main idea which Paul is urging here is the value of love above all other endowments, from the fact that it would be abiding, or permanent—an idea which is more certainly and fully met by a reference to the future world than by a reference to the state of things in the church on earth. If it refers to heaven, it means that the power of communicating thoughts there will not be by the medium of learned and foreign tongues. What will be the mode is unknown. But as the diversity of tongues is one of the fruits of sin (Gen. xi.), it is evident that in those who are saved there will be deliverance from all the disadvantages which have resulted from the confusion of tongues. Yet love will not cease to be necessary; and love will live for ever.
Whether there be knowledge; see Note, chap, 14: 8. This refers, I think, to knowledge as we now possess it. It cannot mean that there will be no knowledge in heaven; for there must be a vast increase of knowledge in that world among all its inhabitants. The idea in the passage here, I think, is, "All the knowledge which we now possess, valuable as it is, will be obscured and lost, and rendered comparatively valueless, in the fuller splendours of the eternal world; as the feeble light of the stars, beautiful and valuable as it is, vanishes, or is lost in the splendours of the rising sun. The knowledge which we now have is valuable, as the gift of prophecy and the power of speaking foreign languages is valuable, but it will be lost in the brighter visions of the world above. That this is the sense is evident from what Paul says in illustration of the sentiment in ver. 9,10. Now we know in part. What we deem ourselves acquainted with, we imperfectly understand. There are many obscurities and many difficulties. But in that future world we shall know distinctly and clearly (ver. 12); and then the knowledge which we now possess will appear so dim and obscure, that it will seem to have vanished away and disappeared, Macknight and others understand this of the knowledge of the mysteries of the Old Testament, or "the inspired knowledge of the ancient revelations, which should be abolished when the church should have attained its mature state;" a most … frigid interpretation. It is true, also, that not only shall our imperfect knowledge seem to have vanished in the superior light and glory of the eternal world but that much of that which here passes for knowledge shall be then unknown. Much of that which is called science is "falsely so called;" and much that is connected with literature that has attracted so much attention, will be unknown in the eternal world. It is evident that much that is connected with criticism, and the knowledge of language, with the different systems of mental philosophy which are erroneous; perhaps much that is connected with anatomy, physiology, and geology; and much of the science which now is connected with the arts, and which is of use only as tributary to the arts, will be then unknown. Other subjects may rise into importance which are now unknown; and possibly things connected with science which are now regarded as of the least importance will then become objects of great moment, and ripen and expand into sciences that shall contribute much to the eternal happiness of heaven. The essential idea in this passage is, that all the knowledge which we now possess shall lose its effulgence, be dimmed and lost in the superior light of heaven. But love shall live there; and we should, therefore, seek that which is permanent and eternal.
9. For we know in part. Comp. Note on chap. 12:27. This expression means "only in part;" that is, imperfectly. Our knowledge here is imperfect and obscure. It may, therefore, all vanish in the eternal world amidst its superior brightness; and we should not regard that as of such vast value which is imperfect and obscure … This idea of the obscurity and imperfection of our knowledge, as compared with heaven, the apostle illustrates (ver. 11) by comparing it with the knowledge which a child has, compared with that in maturer years; and (ver. 12) by the knowledge which we have in looking through a glass— an imperfect medium—compared with that which we have in looking closely and directly at an object without any medium. And we prophesy in part. This does not mean that we partly know the truths of religion, and partly conjecture or guess at them; or that we know only a part of them, and conjecture the remainder. But the apostle is showing the imperfection of the prophetic gift; and he observes, that there is the same imperfection which attends knowledge. It is only in part; it is imperfect; it is indistinct, compared with the full view of truth in heaven; it is obscure, and all that is imparted by that gift will soon become dim and lost in the superior brightness and glory of the heavenly world. The argument is, that we ought not to seek so anxiously that which is so imperfect and obscure, and which must soon vanish away; but we should rather seek that love which is permanent, expanding, and eternal.
10. But when that which is perfect is come. Does come; or shall come. This proposition is couched in a general form. It means that when any thing which is perfect is seen or enjoyed, then that which is imperfect is forgotten, laid aside, or vanishes. Thus, in the full and perfect light of day, the imperfect and feeble light of the stars vanishes. The sense here is, that in heaven—a state of absolute perfection—that which is "in part," or which is imperfect, shall be lost in superior brightness. All imperfection will vanish. And all that we here possess that is obscure shall be lost in the superior and perfect glory of that eternal world. All our present unsatisfactory modes of obtaining knowledge shall be unknown. All shall be clear, bright, and eternal.
11. When I was a child. The idea here is, that the knowledge which we now have, compared with that which we shall have in heaven, is like that which is possessed in infancy compared with that we have in manhood; and that as, when we advance in years, we lay aside, as unworthy of our attention, the views, feelings, and plans which we had in boyhood, and which we then esteemed to be of so great importance, so, when we reach heaven, we shall lay aside the views, feelings, and plans which we have in this life, and which we now esteem so wise and so valuable. The word child here denotes properly a babe, an infant, though without any definable limitation of age. It refers to the first periods of existence; before the period which we denominate boyhood, or youth. Paul here refers to a period when he could speak, though evidently a period when his speech was scarcely intelligible—when he first began to articulate. (BARNES LIKE MANY OF HIS DAY AND ALSO TODAY, BELIEVED WE WOULD "GET TO HEAVEN" WHERE THE FATHER AND CHRIST ARE NOW - SUCH IS NOT THE CASE; WE DO NOT GO TO HEAVEN OR HELL UPON DEATH. THE TRUTH OF DEATH AND THAT HEAVEN IS COMING TO EARTH, IS EXPOUNDED WITH MANY STUDIES ON MY WEBSITE - Keith Hunt). I spake as a child. Just beginning to articulate, in a broken and most imperfect manner. The idea here is, that our knowledge at present, compared with the knowledge of heaven, is like the broken and scarcely intelligible efforts of a child to speak compared with the power of utterance in manhood. I understood as a child. My understanding was feeble and imperfect. I had narrow and imperfect views of things. I knew little. I fixed my attention on objects which I now see to be of little value. I acquired knowledge which has vanished, or which has sunk in the superior intelligence of riper years. "I was affected as a child. I was thrown into a transport of joy or grief on the slightest occasions, which manly reason taught me to despise." —Doddridge. I thought as a child. Marg. Reasoned. The word may mean either. I thought, argued, reasoned in a weak and inconclusive manner. My thoughts, and plans, and argumentations were … such as I now see to be short-sighted and erroneous. Thus it will be with our thoughts compared to heaven. There will be, doubtless, as much difference between our present knowledge, and plans, and views, and those which we shall have in heaven, as there is between the plans and views of a child and those of a man. Just before his death, Sir Isaac Newton made this remark: "I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself by now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."—Beivsteris Life of Newton, pp. 300, 301. Ed. New York, 1832.
12. For now we see through a glass. Paul here makes use of another illustration to show the imperfection of our knowledge here. Compared with what it will be in the future world, it is like the imperfect view of an object which we have in looking through an obscure and opaque medium compared with the view which we have when we look at it "face to face." The word glass here means properly a mirror, a looking-glass. The mirrors of the ancients were usually made of polished metal; Ex. 38:8; Job 37:18. Many have supposed (see Doddridge, in loc. and Robinson's Lexicon) that the idea here is that of seeing objects by reflection from a mirror, which reflects only their imperfect forms. But this interpretation does not well accord with the apostle's idea of seeing things obscurely. The most natural idea is that of seeing objects by an imperfect medium, by looking through something in contemplating them. It is, therefore, probable that he refers to those transparent substances which the ancients had, and which they used in their windows occasionally; such as thin plates of horn, transparent stone, etc. Windows were often made of the lapis specularis described by Pliny (36: 22), which was pellucid, and which admitted of being split into thin laminae or scales, probably the same as miea. Humboldt mentions such kinds of stone as being used in South America in church windows.— Bloomfield. It is not improbable, I think, that even in the time of Paul the ancients had the knowledge of glass, though it was probably at first very imperfect and obscure. There is some reason to believe that glass was known to the Phenicians, the Tyrians, and the Egyptians. Pliny says that it was first discovered by accident. A merchant vessel, laden with nitre or fossil alkali, having been driven on shore on the coast of Palestine near the river Belus, the crew went in search of provisions, and accidentally supported the kettles on which they dressed their food upon pieces of fossil alkali. The river sand above which this operation was performed was vitrified by its union with the alkali, and thus produced glass. —See Edin. Ency., art. Glass. It is known that glass was in quite common use about the commencement of the Christian era. In the reign of Tiberius an artist had his house demolished for making glass malleable. About this time drinking vessels were made commonly of glass; and glass bottles for holding wine and flowers were in common use. That glass was in quite common use has been proved by the remains that have been discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. There is, therefore, no impropriety in supposing that Paul here may have alluded to the imperfect and discoloured glass which was then in extensive use; for we have no reason to suppose that it was then as transparent as that which is now made. It was, doubtless, an imperfect and obscure medium, and, therefore, well adapted to illustrate the nature of our knowledge here compared with what it will be in heaven. Darkly. Marg. In a riddle. The word means a riddle; an enigma; then an obscure intimation. In a riddle a statement is made with some resemblance to the truth; a puzzling question is proposed, and the solution is left to conjecture. Hence it means, as here, obscurely, darkly, imperfectly. Little is known; much is left to conjecture;—a very accurate account of most of that which passes for knowledge. Compared with heaven, our knowledge here much resembles the obscure intimations in an enigma compared with clear statement and manifest truth. But then. In the fuller revelations in heaven. Face to face. As when one looks upon an object openly, and not through an obscure and dark medium. It here means, therefore, clearly, without obscurity. I know in part; ver. 9. But then shall I know. My knowledge shall be clear and distinct. I shall have a clear view of those objects which are now so indistinct and obscure. I shall be in the presence of those objects about which I now inquire; I shall see them; I shall have a clear acquaintance with the divine perfections, plans, and character. This does not mean that he would know every thing, or that he would be omniscient; but that in regard to those points of inquiry in which be was then interested, he would have a view that would be distinct and clear—a view that would be clear, arising from the fact that he would be present with them, and permitted to see them, instead of surveying them at a distance, and by imperfect mediums. Even as also 1 am known. In the same manner, not to the same extent. It does not mean that he would know God as clearly and as fully as God would know him; for his remark does not relate to the extent, but to the manner and the comparative clearness of his knowledge. He would see things as he was now seen and would be seen there. It would be face to face. He would be in their presence. It would not be where he would be seen clearly and distinctly, and himself compelled to look upon all objects confusedly and obscurely, and through an imperfect medium. But he would be with them; would see them face to face; would see them without any medium; would see them in the same manner as they would see him…. the inhabitants of the heavenly world, have this knowledge: and when we are there, we shall see the truths, not at a distance and obscurely, but plainly and openly.
13. And now abides - Remains. The word means properly to remain, continue, abide; and is applied to persons remaining in a place, in a state or condition, in contradistinction from removing or changing their place, or passing away. Here it must be understood to be used to denote permanency, when the other things of which he had spoken had passed away; and the sense is, that faith, hope, and love would remain when the gift of tongues should cease, and the need of prophecy, that is, these should survive them all. And the connection certainly requires us to understand him as saying that faith, hope, and love would survive all those things of which he had been speaking, and must, therefore, include knowledge (ver. 8, 9,), as well as miracles and the other endowments of the Holy Spirit. They would survive them all; would be valuable when they should cease; and should, therefore, be mainly sought; and of these the greatest and most important is love. Most commentators have supposed that Paul is speaking here only of this life, and that he means to say that in this life these three exist; that "faith, hope, and charity exist in this scene only, but that in the future world faith and hope will be done away, and therefore the greatest of these is charity."—Bloomfield. See also Doddridge, Macknight, Rosenmuller, Clarke, etc. But to me it seems evident that Paul means to say that faith, hope, and love will survive all those other things of which he had been speaking; that they would vanish away, or be lost in superior attainments and endowments; that the time would come when they would be useless; but that faith, hope, and love would then remain; but of these, for important reasons, love was the most valuable. Not because it would endure the longest, for the apostle does not intimate that, but because it is more important to the welfare of others, and is a more eminent virtue than they are.
As the strain of the argument requires us to look to another state, to a world where prophecy shall cease and knowledge shall vanish away, so the same strain of argumentation requires us to understand him as saying that faith, and hope, and love will subsist there; and that there, as here, love will be of more importance than faith and hope…. But the greatest of these is charity. Not because it is to endure the longest, but because it is the more important virtue; it exerts a wider influence; it is more necessary to the happiness of society; it overcomes more evils. It is the great principle which is to bind the universe in harmony, which unites God to his creatures, and his creatures to himself, and which binds and confederates all holy beings with each other. It is therefore more important, because it pertains to society to the great kingdom of which God is the head, and because it enters into the very conception of a holy and happy organization. Faith and hope rather pertain to individuals; love pertains to society, and is that without which the kingdom of God cannot stand. Individuals may be saved by faith and hope; but the whole immense kingdom of God depends on love. It is, therefore, of more importance than all other graces and endowments; more important than prophecy and miracles, and the gift of tongues and knowledge, because it will survive them all; more important than faith and hope, because, although it may co-exist with them, and though they all shall live for ever, yet LOVE enters into the very nature of the kingdom of God; binds society together; unites the Creator and the creature ; and blends the interests of all the redeemed, and of the angels, and of God, into one.
A VERY FINE EXPOUNDING OF THIS WONDERFUL CHAPTER. AS STATED BY BARNES, PAUL HERE MAINLY PUTS LOVE IN THE CONTEXT OF HUMANITY; LOVE AS IT ACTS TOWARDS OTHER HUMAN BEINGS. BUT THERE IS ALSO A LOVE TOWARDS GOD IN THE CONTEXT OF THE GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORD LOVE.
WHERE DO WE FIND THAT FORM OF LOVE DEFINED FOR US IN SIMPLE AND EASY TO UNDERSTAND WORDS?
IT IS FOUND IN THE EPISTLES OF JOHN - 1, 2, 3, JOHN.
I WILL NOT WRITE THEM HERE, I WANT THE READER TO GO TO THESE EPISTLES, READ THEM ALL, AND FIND AND MARK THEM FOR THEMSELVES.
AFTER YOU HAVE DONE THIS, AFTER YOU HAVE MEDITATED UPON WHAT PAUL HAS WRITTEN HERE ON LOVE TOWARDS MANKIND; AFTER YOU HAVE FOUND AND MEDITATED UPON LOVE AS TOWARDS GOD; THEN YOU WILL SEE THE WHOLE.
THEN YOU SHALL KNOW WHY LOVE IS THE GREATEST OF ALL.
THEN YOU SHALL KNOW WHY JESUS THE CHRIST LIVED THE PERFECT LIFE OF LOVE - LOVE TOWARDS MANKIND AND LOVE TOWARDS GOD THE FATHER.