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Commentary On Corinthians Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

4. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

4. Caritaspatiens est, benigne agit, caritas non aemulatur, caritas non agit insolenter, non inflatur:

5. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

5. Non agit indecenter, non quaerit sua ipsius, non provocatur, non cogitat malum:

6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

6. Non gaudet obiniustitiam, con gaudet autem veritati.

7. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

7. Omnia fert, omnia credit, omnia sperat, omnia sustinet.

8. Charity 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.

8. Caritas nunquam excidit: sive prophetiae abolebuntur, sive linguae cessabunt, sive scientia destruetur.

4. Love is patient. He now commends love from its effects or fruits, though at the same time these eulogiums are not intended merely for its commendation, but to make the Corinthians understand what are its offices, and what is its nature. The object, however, mainly in view, is to show how necessary it is for preserving the unity of the Church. I have also no doubt that he designed indirectly to reprove the Corinthians, by setting before them a contrast, in which they might recognize, by way of contraries, their own vices.

The first commendation of love is this -- that, by patient endurance of many things, it promotes peace and harmony in the Church. Near akin to this is the second excellence -- gentleness and lenity, for such is the meaning of the verb chresteuesthai A third excellence is -- that it counteracts emulation, the seed of all contentions. Under emulation he comprehends envy, which is a vice near akin to it, or rather, he means that emulation, which is connected with envy, and frequently springs from it. Hence where envy reigns -- where every one is desirous to be the first, or appear so, love there has no place.

What I have rendered -- does not act insolently -- is in the Greek chresteuesthai Erasmus has rendered it, is not froward. It is certain that the word has different significations; but, as it is sometimes taken to mean -- being fierce, or insolent, through presumption, this meaning seemed to be more suitable to the passage before us. Paul, therefore, ascribes to love moderation, and declares that it is a bridle to restrain men, that they may not break forth into ferocity, but may live together in a peaceable and orderly manner. He adds, farther, that it has nothing of the nature of pride. That man, then, who is governed by love, is not puffed up with pride, so as to despise others and feel satisfied with himself.

5. Doth not behave itself unseemly Erasmus renders it |Is not disdainful;| but as he quotes no author in support of this interpretation, I have preferred to retain its proper and usual signification. I explain it, however, in this way -- that love does not exult in a foolish ostentation, or does not bluster, but observes moderation and propriety. And in this manner, he again reproves the Corinthians indirectly, because they shamefully set at naught all propriety by an unseemly haughtiness.

Seeketh not its own. From this we may infer, how very far we are from having love implanted in us by nature; for we are naturally prone to have love and care for ourselves, and aim at our own advantage. Nay, to speak more correctly, we rush headlong into it. For so perverse an inclination the remedy is love, which leads us to leave off caring for ourselves, and feel concerned for our neighbors, so as to love them and be concerned for their welfare. Farther, to seek one's own things, is to be devoted to self, and to be wholly taken up with concern for one's own advantage. This definition solves the question, whether it is lawful for a Christian to be concerned for his own advantage? for Paul does not here reprove every kind of care or concern for ourselves, but the excess of it, which proceeds from an immoderate and blind attachment to ourselves. Now the excess lies in this -- if we think of ourselves so as to neglect others, or if the desire of our own advantage calls us off from that concern, which God commands us to have as to our neighbors. He adds, that love is also a bridle to repress quarrels, and this follows from the first two statements. For where there is gentleness and forbearance, persons in that case do not, on a sudden, become angry, and are not easily stirred up to disputes and contests.

7. Beareth all things, etc. By all these statements he intimates, that love is neither impatient nor spiteful. For to bear and endure all things is the part of forbearance to believe and hope all things is the part of candor and kindness. As we are naturally too much devoted to self, this vice renders us morose and peevish. The effect is, that every one wishes that others should carry him upon their shoulders, but refuses for his part to assist others. The remedy for this disease is love, which makes us subject to our brethren, and teaches us to apply our shoulders to their burdens. (Galatians 6:2.) Farther, as we are naturally spiteful, we are, consequently, suspicious too, and take almost everything amiss. Love, on the other hand, calls us back to kindness, so that we think favorably and candidly of our neighbors.

When he says all things, you must understand him as referring to the things that ought to be endured, and in such a manner as is befitting. For we are not to bear with vices, so as to give our sanction to them by flattery, or, by winking at them, encourage them through our supineness. Farther, this endurance does not exclude corrections and just punishments. The case is the same as to kindness in judging of things.

Love believeth all things -- not that the Christian knowingly and willingly allows himself to be imposed upon -- not that he divests himself of prudence and judgment, that he may be the more easily taken advantage of -- not that he unlearns the way of distinguishing black from white. What then? He requires here, as I have already said, simplicity and kindness in judging of things; and he declares that these are the invariable accompaniments of love. The consequence will be, that a Christian man will reckon it better to be imposed upon by his own kindness and easy temper, than to wrong his brother by an unfriendly suspicion.

8. Love never faileth Here we have another excellence of love -- that 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? 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, 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.

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 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.

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