The following excerpt is from Edwards' 1738 sermon Love the Sum of All Virtue. This is the first sermon in the Charity and Its Fruits series. The quote is modernized for today's readers. However, for the sake of comparison, Edwards' original version is reproduced at bottom. The complete updated sermon is included in the book Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God: Updated to Modern English. Edwards' original sermon is found at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. For a nicely edited and printed version of the whole sermon series, see Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God's Love, edited by Kyle Strobel.
The Doctrine of 1 Corinthians 13:1–3: Christian love (agape) is the inner goodness and outer action that flows from genuine salvation in Christ, and it is the one thing that distinguishes true Christians from others.
The passage mentions several other things besides genuine Christian love. Each item in the list is an excellent quality that people in their natural state can possess to one degree or another, and these are the most significant things that anyone can have in terms of privilege and performance. But Paul states emphatically that none of them have any value whatsoever without love. If one of them had some kind of saving power, then it would have some value on its own apart from love. But none of them have saving power in themselves.
He lists so many things that we typically think have great value, and on a purely natural level, they do. But Paul maintains that none of them provide a person with any ultimate profit unless they are coupled with love. In fact, nothing has any value unless it’s combined with love. A man can have and be whatever he wants, yet without love, all that he has and does is worthless. No love, no value. Surely, this means that love is the greatest thing we can have. It is the life and soul of true religious devotion. Any religion that does not teach and practice love bears the name religion in vain. Any person whose spiritual motives do not include love is practicing a dead and empty religion.
In our passage, Paul points out faith in particular as being nothing without love. Even if a person has the type of powerful faith that can move mountains, it’s nothing without love, a momentary patch of fog, vain and empty, like a body without the spirit.
Doctrine: All that virtue which is saving, and distinguishing of true Christians from others, is summed up in Christian or divine love.
This appears from the words of the text, because so many other things are mentioned which natural men may have. And the things which are mentioned are of the highest kind which it is possible natural men should have, both of privileges and performances. And it is said they avail nothing without this. If any of them were saving, they would avail something without it. And by the Apostle's mentioning so many and so great things, and then saying of them all that they profit nothing without charity, we may understand that there is nothing which avails anything without it. Let a man have what he will, and let him do what he will, it signifies nothing without charity. Which surely implies that charity is the great thing, and that everything which has not this some way or other contained or implied in it is nothing; signifying as much as that this is the life and soul of all religion, without which other things that bear the name of motives are empty and vain. And particularly faith is here mentioned as being nothing without it. That faith which has not love in it, though it be to such degree that men could remove mountains, yet is nothing, like an empty, vain thing, and like the body without the spirit.