As part of his series on Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon called Nothing Can Make Up for Want of Sincerity in the Heart. His text was 1 Corinthians 13:3. The full sermon is found at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. The excerpt below is from the first application, where we find Edwards' common method of asking multiple questions to press the teaching into the hearts of his listeners. It has been updated for today's readers. Edwards' original is also reproduced at bottom for easy comparison.
We need to take a close look at ourselves to see whether or not we have sincere, divine love within our hearts. Many gathered in this place make a strong profession of faith and engage in many religious acts. Some of you carry out considerable acts to promote the things of our faith. But is all of it a mere show? It is possible that some of you believe that you suffer in an extreme way, or that you inconvenience yourself considerably for God? But do you have sincerity in your heart? We must test ourselves closely to see if our hearts are acting from the motive of divine love or from something else. If we examined ourselves rightly, we’ll no doubt find an abundance of hypocrisy. But do you find any sincerity?
God abominates great things without sincerity but accepts and delights in little things with sincerity. Indeed, a cup of cold water given to one of his followers with sincere love in the heart is worth more in God’s eyes than giving all of your possessions away to feed the poor without sincerity. A small act with sincerity is worth more than generously giving away the wealth of a kingdom or giving one’s own body away to be engulfed by the flames without sincerity. God will graciously accept even a little sincerity. You may examine your heart and find a great deal of hypocrisy, yet if you find just a little sincerity, God will not reject it in spite of the hypocrisy mixed with it.
Use may be of self-examination. If it be so, let this put us upon examining ourselves whether or no we have sincerity of heart. There are many here present who make a profession and a show of religion, and it may be some who seem to do considerable things in religion. And possibly they may think that their suffering is considerable, that they put themselves much out of their way for God. But let us inquire whether we have sincerity of heart.
Doubtless if we examine ourselves aright, we may see abundance of hypocrisy; but is there any sincerity? God abominates great things without sincerity; but he accepts and delights in little things when there is sincerity. A cup of cold water given to a disciple in sincerity is more worth in God's sight than all one's goods to feed the poor; yea, than the wealth of a kingdom given away, and besides a body offered up in the flames, without sincerity. And God accepts also of a little sincerity. Though there be a great deal of hypocrisy, yet if there be any sincerity, that little sincerity shall not be rejected because there is so much hypocrisy with it. And here it may be profitable for you to observe that there are these four things which belong to the nature of sincerity.