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The Greatest Thing In The World

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The Greatest Thing In The World Empty The Greatest Thing In The World

Post  Admin on Sun 01 Feb 2009, 8:28 pm

The Greatest Thing In The World

by Henry Drummond

First Published c 1880

THOUGH I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I
am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the
gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and
though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not LOVE
I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though
I give my body to be burned, and have not Love, it profiteth me nothing.

Love suffereth long, and is kind;

Love envieth not;

Love vaunteth not itself is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly,

Seeketh not her own,

Is not easily provoked,

Thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all

Love 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. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when
that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done
away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I
thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For
now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in
part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith,
hope, Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.--I COR xiii.

EVERY one has asked himself the great question of antiquity as of the
modern world: What is the summum bonum--the supreme good? You have life
before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest object of desire,
the supreme gift to covet?

We have been accustomed to be told that the greatest thing in the
religious world is Faith. That great word has been the key-note for
centuries of the popular religion; and we have easily learned to look upon
it as the greatest thing in the world. Well, we are wrong. If we have been
told that, we may miss the mark. I have taken you, in the chapter which I
have just read, to Christianity at its source; and there we have seen, "The
greatest of these is love." It is not an oversight. Paul was speaking of
faith just a moment before. He says, "If I have all faith, so that I can
remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. "So far from forgetting,
he deliberately contrasts them, "Now abideth Faith, Hope, Love," and without
a moment's hesitation, the decision falls, "The greatest of these is Love."

And it is not prejudice. A man is apt to recommend to others his own
strong point. Love was not Paul's strong point. The observing student can
detect a beautiful tenderness growing and ripening all through his character
as Paul gets old; but the hand that wrote, "The greatest of these is love,"
when we meet it first, is stained with blood.

Nor is this letter to the Corinthians peculiar in singling out love as
the summum bonum. The masterpieces of Christianity are agreed about it.
Peter says, "Above all things have fervent love among yourselves." Above all
things. And John goes farther, "God is love." And you remember the profound
remark which Paul makes elsewhere, "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Did
you ever think what he meant by that? In those days men were working their
passage to Heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments, and the hundred and ten
other commandments which they had manufactured out of them. Christ said, I
will show you a more simple way. If you do one thing, you will do these
hundred and ten things, without ever thinking about them. If you love, you
will unconsciously fulfil the whole law. And you can readily see for
yourselves how that must be so. Take any of the commandments. "Thou shalt
have no other gods before Me." If a man love God, you will not require to
tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of that law. "Take not His name in
vain." Would he ever dream of taking His name in vain if he loved Him?
"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Would he not be too glad to have
one day in seven to dedicate more exclusively to the object of his
affection? Love would fulfil all these laws regarding God. And so, if he
loved Man, you would never think of telling him to honour his father and
mother. He could not do anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him
not to kill. You could only insult him if you suggested that he should not
steal -.how could he steal from those he loved? It would be superfluous to
beg him not to bear false witness against his neighbour. If he loved him it
would be the last thing he would do. And you would never dream of urging him
not to covet what his neighbours had. He would rather they possessed it than
himself. In this way "Love is the fulfilling of the law." It is the rule for
fulfilling all rules, the new commandment for keeping all the old
commandments, Christ's one secret of the Christian life.

Now Paul had learned that; and in this noble eulogy he has given us the
most wonderful and original account extant of the summum bonum. We may
divide it into three parts. In the beginning of the short chapter, we have
Love contrasted; in the heart of it, we have Love analysed; towards the end
we have Love defended as the supreme gift.


PAUL begins by contrasting Love with other things that men in those
days thought much of. I shall not attempt to go over those things in detail.
Their inferiority is already obvious.

He contrasts it with eloquence. And what a noble gift it is, the power
of playing upon the souls and wills of men, and rousing them to lofty
purposes and holy deeds. Paul says, "If I speak with the tongues of men and
of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling
cymbal." And we all know why. We have all felt the brazenness of words
without emotion, the hollowness, the unaccountable unpersuasiveness, of
eloquence behind which lies no Love.

He contrasts it with prophecy. He contrasts it with mysteries. He
contrasts it with faith. He contrasts it with charity. Why is Love greater
than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater
than charity? Because the whole is greater than the part. Love is greater
than faith, because the end is greater than the means. What is the use of
having faith? It is to connect the soul with God. And what is the object of
connecting man with God? That he may become like God. But God is Love. Hence
Faith, the means, is in order to Love, the end. Love, therefore, obviously
is greater than faith. It is greater than charity, again, because the whole
is greater than a part. Charity is only a little bit of Love, one of the
innumerable avenues of Love, and there may even be, and there is, a great
deal of charity without Love. It is a very easy thing to toss a copper to a
beggar on the street; it is generally an easier thing than not to do it. Yet
Love is just as often in the withholding. We purchase relief from the
sympathetic feelings roused by the spectacle of misery, at the copper's
cost. It is too cheap--too cheap for us, and often too dear for the beggar.
If we really loved him we would either do more for him, or less.

Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice and martyrdom. And I beg the
little band of would-be missionaries and I have the honour to call some of
you by this name for the first time--to remember that though you give your
bodies to be burned, and have not Love, it profits nothing--nothing! You can
take nothing greater to the heathen world than the impress and reflection of
the Love of God upon your own character. That is the universal language. It
will take you years to speak in Chinese, or in the dialects of India. From
the day you land, that language of Love, understood by all, will be pouring
forth its unconscious eloquence. It is the man who is the missionary, it is
not his words. His character is his message. In the heart of Africa, among
the great Lakes, I have come across black men and women who remembered the
only white man they ever saw before--David Livingstone; and as you cross his
footsteps in that dark continent, men's faces light up as they speak of the
kind Doctor who passed there years ago. They could not understand him; but
they felt the Love that beat in his heart. Take into your new sphere of
labour, where you also mean to lay down your life, that simple charm, and
your lifework must succeed. You can take nothing greater, you need take
nothing less. It is-not worth while going if you take anything less. You may
take every accomplishment; you may be braced for every sacrifice; but if you
give your body to be burned, and have not Love, it will profit you and the
cause of Christ nothing.

AFTER contrasting Love with these things, Paul, in three verses, very
short, gives us an amazing analysis of what this supreme thing is. I ask you
to look at it. It is a compound thing, he tells us. It is like light. As you
have seen a man of science take a beam of light and pass it through a
crystal prism, as you have seen it come out on the other side of the prism
broken up into its component colours--red, and blue, and yellow, and violet,
and orange, and all the colours of the rainbow--so Paul passes this thing,
Love, through the magnificent prism of his inspired intellect, and it comes
out on the other side broken up into its elements. And in these few words we
have what one might call the Spectrum of Love, the analysis of Love. Will
you observe what its elements are? Will you notice that they have common
names; that they are virtues which we hear about every day; that they are
things which can be practised by every man in every place in life; and how,
by a multitude of small things and ordinary virtues, the supreme thing, the
summum bonum, is made up?

The Spectrum of Love has nine ingredients: --
Patience . . . . . . "Love suffereth long."
Kindness . . . . . . "And is kind."
Generosity . . . . "Love envieth not."
Humility . . . . . . "Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up."
Courtesy . . . . . . "Doth not behave itself unseemly."
Unselfishness . . "Seeketh not her own."
Good Temper . . "Is not easily provoked."
Guilelessness . . "Thinketh no evil."
Sincerity . . . . . . "Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the

Patience; kindness; generosity; humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good
temper; guilelessness; sincerity--these make up the supreme gift, the
stature of the perfect man. You will observe that all are in relation to
men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near
to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity. We hear much of love to God;
Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven;
Christ made much of peace on earth. Religion is not a strange or added
thing, but the inspiration of the secular life, the breathing of an eternal
spirit through this temporal world. The supreme thing, in short, is not a
thing at all, but the giving of a further finish to the multitudinous words
and acts which make up the sum of every common day.

You can read the entire essay at
http://www.twoliste ners.org/ Greatest% 20Thing%20in% 20the%20World. htm (

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