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Authors: Paulo Coelho

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BOOK: The Supreme Gift
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They disappeared.

The Egyptians built pyramids and carved their writing on monuments that are still there today. The Egyptians continue to exist as a nation, but their original language has disappeared.

Take these examples in any sense you like, even in the literal sense.

Although it was not Paul’s main concern, it can at least help us to understand what he meant. The Letter to the Corinthians, which we have been reading and discussing, was written originally in ancient Greek.

If we went to Greece with the original text, very few people would be able to decipher it.

1,500 years ago, Latin dominated the world, that domination has long since ceased. Look at indigenous languages: they are fast disappearing. The original languages of Wales and Scotland are dying before our eyes.

The most popular book in England at the present time – with the exception of the Bible – is
The Pickwick Papers
by Charles Dickens. It is largely written in the English of the London streets. Scholars say that, in fifty years’ time, the book will be unintelligible to the average reader.

Then Paul goes still further and adds: ‘
As for knowledge, it will pass away.

Where is the wisdom of the ancients? It has vanished completely. Nowadays, a boy at secondary school knows far more than the discoverer of the Law of Gravity, Sir Isaac Newton, knew in his day. The newspaper that brings us the news in the morning is thrown away each night. We can buy encyclopaedias from ten years ago for a few pence, because the scientific discoveries described in their pages are now completely outdated.

The horse-drawn carriage was replaced by steam. And electricity, in turn, is threatening to replace steam, relegating to obscurity hundreds of inventions that have only just been born. One of our greatest living authorities, Sir William Thomson, said at a meeting: ‘The steam-engine is passing away.’

‘As for knowledge, it will pass away.’

In the back yard of every workshop we see wheels, levers and cranks eaten away by rust. Twenty years ago, those same parts were objects that filled their owner with pride.

Now they represent nothing, apart from a heap of useless old iron.

All the science and philosophy of our day, of which we are so proud, will soon be old.

Some years ago, the greatest figure in Edinburgh was Sir James Simpson, who discovered chloroform, the precursor of anaesthesia. Recently, the university librarian asked the scientist’s nephew to pick out the books by his uncle that were no longer of use to the students.

The nephew said to the librarian: ‘Take every text-book that is more than ten years old and put it down in the cellar.’

Sir James Simpson was a person of great importance; scientists from all over the world came to consult him.

Meanwhile, his discoveries – and almost all the discoveries of his day – have been consigned to oblivion.

‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.’

Can you tell me anything that is going to last for ever? Paul did not bother to name many things. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; he picked out only the things important in his time, the things to which the best men of the day devoted themselves. And he brushed them peremptorily aside.

Paul had nothing against those things in themselves. He does not speak ill of them. He said only that they would not last. They were important things, but they were not supreme gifts.

There were things beyond them.

What we are is more than what we do and far more than what we own. Many things that men call sins are not sins; they are feelings and lapses that will soon disappear.

Ephemeral.

That is a favourite argument of the New Testament. John does not say that the world is wrong; he says that ‘it passes away’.

There are many beautiful things in the world, important things that delight and absorb us, but they will not last. Everything in the kingdom of this world – pride and the pleasures of the eye and of the flesh – are here but for a moment.

Therefore, do not love the things of the world. Nothing that the world contains is worth the devotion and time of an immortal soul. The immortal soul should give itself to what is immortal.

And the only immortal things are: Faith, Hope and Love.

Some might say that two of those things also pass away: Faith, when we feel and experience the presence of God, and Hope, when our hopes are fulfilled.

What is certain, though, is that Love will last.

God, the Eternal God, is Love. Therefore seek out Love, that eternal moment, the only thing that will remain when the human race has reached the end of its days. Love will always be the only coinage accepted in the Universe when all the other coinages of all the nations have become useless and valueless.

If you choose to give yourself to many things, give yourself first to Love, and everything else will follow. Give to each thing its proper value.

 

* * *

 

Give to each thing its proper value.

Let the great objective of your lives be to find to find sufficient strength to defend that idea and build a life with Love as its main reference point, as did Christ, who built his whole life around Love.

I said that Love is eternal. Have you ever noticed how often John associates Love with eternal life? When I was a child, I was not told that ‘God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should have everlasting life.’

What I was told, I remember, was that God so loved the world that, if we trusted in Him, we would have peace, rest, joy and safety. I had to find out for myself that this wasn’t quite true, that all those who trust in Him – that is, all those who love Him, because trust is the only avenue to Love – would have eternal life.

The Gospels speak to us of a new life, therefore do not offer your fellow man only peace, rest, joy and safety. Instead, tell him how Christ came into the world to give us all a life abundant in Love, and therefore abundant in salvation, a life long enough for us to devote ourselves to learning to Love.

That is the only way that the words of the Gospel can make sense and touch body, soul and spirit, and give to each part a goal and an aim.

Many of the spiritual texts we read today are addressed only to one part of our nature.

They offer peace, but do not speak of life.

They discuss Faith and forget about Love.

They talk about justification, not regeneration.

And so we end up drifting away from the spiritual search, because it has failed to keep us on the path.

Let us not make that mistake. Let it be clear that for us only Total Love can compete with the love of the world.

 

To love abundantly is to live abundantly.

To love for ever is to live for ever. Eternal life is inextricably bound up with Love.

Why do we want to live for ever? Because we hope that tomorrow will bring us someone we can love. Because we want to live another day with the person we love beside us. Because we want to find someone who deserves our Love and who, in turn, will know how to love us as we deserve to be loved.

That is why, when a man has no one to love him, he feels a great desire to die. As long as he has friends, people who love him and whom he loves too, he will live.

Because to live is to love.

Even love for an animal – a dog, for example – can justify the life of a human being. But if he loses that loving bond with life, any reason to go on living will disappear too.

The ‘energy of life’ will go.

Eternal life means to know Love. God is Love. John says: ‘This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.’

Whatever your belief or faith, first seek out Love. Everything else will follow.

Love is eternal, because God is eternal.

 

* * *

 

Love is life.

Love never ends and life will not end while there is Love.

That is what Paul is showing us, that, in all created things, Love is present as the Supreme Gift, because Love remains when all other things pass away.

Love is here, it exists in us here and now. It is not something that will be given to us after we die. On the contrary, we will have very few chances to learn Love when we are old if we do not seek it out and practise it now.

No worse fate can befall a man than to live and die alone, unloving and unloved.

To love is to be saved.

Not to love or be loved is to be damned.

And he who takes joy in love already takes joy in God, because God is Love.

 

 

 

 

I
have all but finished this very long sermon, but, first, I want to propose something: how many of you would like to join me in reading this part of Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians at least once a week for the next three months. A man did that once and it changed his life completely.

Or you could start by reading the letter every day, especially the verses that describe the kind of behaviour that goes with Love:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy.

Put those ingredients into your life. From then on, everything you do will be eternal. It’s worth spending a little time learning the art of Love.

No man becomes a saint in his sleep; he must pray and meditate.

In the same way, any improvement, in any direction, requires preparation and care.

Address yourselves to living a life that is a full and proper one. If you look back, you will see that the best and most important moments of your life were those in which the spirit of Love was present.

When we look at our past – and ignore the transitory pleasures of life – we will see that the important moments of our existence were those in which we experienced Love, unnoticed acts of kindness that we did for those around us, unimportant things sometimes, but which, for a fraction of a second, made us feel as if we had already entered eternal life.

I have seen almost all the beautiful things that God created. I have enjoyed almost all the pleasures a man can experience. However, when I look back at my past, there are only four or five brief moments when I did something that was a poor imitation of God’s Love.

Those are the moments that justify my existence. Everything else is transitory. Any other good or virtue is mere illusion. Those small acts of Love that no one noticed, that no one knows about, justify my life.

Because Love endures.

 

* * *

 

Matthew gives us a classic description of the Final Judgment: the Son of Man is seated upon a throne and, like a shepherd, is dividing the sheep from the goats.

At that moment, the most important question for a human being to ask will not be: ‘How did I live?’ but ‘How did I love?’

The final test of every search for salvation will be Love. What we did or believed or achieved will be of no account.

None of that will count. What will count is how we loved our fellow men and women.

The mistakes we made will not even be remembered. We will be judged by the good we neglected to do, because to keep Love locked up inside us is to go against the spirit of God, it is proof that we never knew Him, that He loved us in vain, and that His Son died in vain.

Not loving means saying that God never inspired our thoughts, our lives, and that we never came close enough to Him to be touched by His exuberant Love. It means:

 

‘I lived for myself, I thought for myself,

For myself and none beside,

Just as if Jesus had never lived,

as if He had never died.’

 

It is before God that the nations of the world will be reunited. It is in the presence of all men that we will be judged.

And each man will judge himself.

Gathered there together will be those we met and helped. Also present will be those we scorned and denied. There will be no need to call for witnesses, because our own life will be there as evidence of what we did.

 

No other charge – apart from a lack of Love – will be laid upon us.

Be quite sure, the words we will hear on that day will come not from theology, not from the saints, not from the churches.

They will come from the hungry and from the poor.

They will come not from creeds and doctrines.

They will come from the naked and the homeless.

They will come not from Bibles and books of prayer.

They will come from the glasses of water that we gave or did not give.

 

* * *

 

Who is Christ?

He who fed the poor, clothed the naked and visited the sick.

 

Where is Christ?

‘Whoever receives a little child in my name receives me.’

 

And who is with Christ?

‘Whoever loves has been born of God.’

 

* * *

 

By the time the young man had finished speaking, the sun had already set. The people got up in silence and went to their houses. They would never forget that day for as long as they lived. They had been touched by the Supreme Gift and wanted that afternoon to be remembered for a very long time.

 

‘Although, of course, it will not be remembered for ever,’ thought one of them. For as the young man quite rightly said: ‘Only Love endures.’

 

About the author

H
enry Drummond was born in Scotland in 1851. When still a young man, he decided to travel the world in search of the meaning of life. Although he had been preaching to small communities since he was twenty-two years old, he systematically refused to enter the clergy, choosing instead to devote himself to teaching natural sciences in Glasgow.
The Greatest Thing in the World
, published in 1890, is his most important work and became known around the world as one of the most beautiful texts ever written about Love.

BOOK: The Supreme Gift
10.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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