T owards the end of the nineteenth century, on a chilly spring afternoon, a group of men and women from different parts of England met together to listen to the most famous preacher of the day, eager to hear what he had to say.
However, having spent eight months travelling in various countries of the world, engaged in the exhausting work of evangelisation, the preacher felt completely drained and empty. He looked at the small audience, attempted a few phrases, then gave up. The Spirit of God had not touched him that afternoon.
Feeling sad and not knowing quite what to do, he turned to another missionary who was among those present. The young man had recently returned from Africa and might have something interesting to say, and so the preacher asked him to speak in his place.
The people who had gathered in that garden in Kent felt slightly disappointed.
No one knew who this young missionary was. In fact, he wasn’t even really a missionary. He had decided not to be ordained as a minister because he had doubts that this was his true vocation.
In search of a reason to live and in search of himself, he had spent two years in deepest Africa, inspired by the example of other people in pursuit of an ideal.
The audience in that garden in Kent were not at all pleased with this change of speaker. They had gone there in order to hear a wise, famous, experienced preacher, and now they were going to have to listen to a young man who, like them, was still struggling to find himself.
However, Henry Drummond – for that was the missionary’s name – had learned something.
He asked someone to lend him a Bible and then he read out a passage from St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
E veryone listened in respectful silence, but they still felt disappointed. Most of them knew the passage well and had already meditated upon it long and hard.
The young man might at least have chosen something more original, more exciting.
When he finished reading, Henry closed the Bible, looked up at the sky and began to speak.
* * *
All of us, at some point, have asked the same question that every generation asks:
What is the most important thing in life?
We want to use our days well, because no one else can live our lives for us. So we need to know where we should focus our efforts, what our supreme goal in life should be?
We are used to being told that the greatest treasure in the spiritual world is Faith. Many centuries of religion rest on that one simple word.
Do we consider Faith to be the most important thing in the world? If so, we are quite wrong.
If we do, at some point, believe that, then we might as well stop