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1 Corinthians 12

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Verse 1


‘Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.’

1 Corinthians 12:1

St. Paul is setting forth to the Corinthians in this letter which he addresses to them a particular aspect of spiritual things.

I. There are spiritual gifts which are bestowed upon a man to his own sanctification.

II. There are spiritual gifts which are bestowed upon him for the edification of others, for the benefit of the whole body. ‘The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal’—to do good with; and so we read the list which he puts before them—wisdom, knowledge, faith, the power of miracles, prophecy or preaching, the speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. We cannot allow for one moment that prayer and religious exercises are waste of time, withdrawing a man from the more solid activities and offices of life. We claim for spiritual research a power as great or greater than that which belongs to physical or intellectual research. Look at St. John Baptist, withdrawn from the activities and instruction of the world to the very edge of the desert, where, with his back turned to the prizes and distinctions of men, he gazed out upon God, and turned round to give the message to publican and Pharisee, to the soldier and the simple man, which should best meet his needs and aspirations. Who shall say that his magnificent protest to Herod against his sin has yet spent itself in force? Would to God we had more like him, with that irresistible force of spiritual conviction which is at once a reforming and a constructive power. It was a spiritual force, again, which enabled the fishermen to overthrow their enemies and convert the Empire.

III. We are taking men too much at their own valuation, and already we are beginning to find out our mistake. Every one can see for himself, who has eyes to see, that goodness, simple goodness, is still the greatest power in the world—that a man of sincere piety, who abhors compromise, and is not afraid of his principles, will carry all before him, and appeal to hearts which mere cleverness cannot reach or mere tact conciliate. Surely it is one of the most cheering symptoms of the day that we are still able to appreciate goodness; that although we are complacently spending money on a system of education in which religion has to fight its way to a scanty and grudged recognition, still, the type of man whom we admire is the good and the religious; not merely the morally uncorrupt, but the religiously true and pure.

IV. The duty laid upon us, not merely as men but as citizens, is tremendous.—We owe to God our perfection, we owe to ourselves our salvation, but we owe to the world around us our sanctification. The man who neglects his prayers and his church, who starves the Spirit within him, is depriving the world of a spiritual contribution to its welfare. He is as one who refuses to pay spiritual rates. For this the State looks in the elections which send men to her Parliament, not for clever men merely, but for good men. We look for men, once more, who, like a great statesman departed, go ‘from communion with God to the great affairs of State.’ We want good men, and not merely clever men, to fill our places of business, to write our books, and to minister to the future and completeness of our life. But why look wider? We each in the circle of our own life owe this contribution to the age in which we live, to the place which we fill. As far as we are concerned, let us be as those who concerning spiritual gifts are not ignorant, and who know that God has given them the spiritual powers which He bestows upon them, that they may profit withal.

—Rev. Canon Newbolt.


‘In the West Country, amidst the green fields and running streams, under the softly rounded hills of North Somerset, the tourist turns aside to see the remains of a Cistercian abbey, which still retains moulded in its buildings much of the domestic side of the religious life so suddenly arrested in the sixteenth century. Refectory, dormitory, cloister, common-room still remain, but the chapel has been razed to the ground, not one stone left upon another, save a few foundations to indicate its length and breadth, and a stone cross sunk in the ground to mark the site of the high altar, round which the religious life of that little community centred, where standing the traveller may still say, “Adorabo in loco quo steterunt Pedes Eius”—“I will adore in the place where stood His Feet.” This abbey is a type of many a living temple of God at this day. The devil has snatched at it, the world has coveted it, the flesh has desecrated it. The outward semblance remains diverted from its purpose, body and soul still serve the uses of some alien master, some lay impropriator, but the consecrated shrine of God’s Majesty is gone, the spirit no longer seeks God’s presence nor welcomes His approach.’

Verse 2


‘Ye were Gentiles.’

1 Corinthians 12:2

This was language which could only be applied to a section of the early Christians. The change which those had undergone, who had been brought out of the mire of heathenism that their feet might be set upon the solid rock of Christianity, was a change of a most marvellous and striking character. It sometimes served the purpose of the Apostle’s argument to recall to the memory of some among his converts and correspondents the condition in which Christ had found them, and from which He has rescued them.

A retrospect of this kind is fitted to yield certain manifest advantages.

I. It tends to foster true repentance and humiliation.—When St. Paul described the vices and crimes of heathenism in all their hideousness, he would add, turning, as it were, to his converts, ‘Such were some of you.’ A reflection fitted to repress pride and to call forth sentiments of contrition and abasement.

II. Is fitted to reawaken sincere gratitude.—To whose compassion and interposition was it owing that they had been delivered from such bondage, darkness, death? Divine grace must receive all the praise and thanks. If ye who were Gentiles—idolaters—are now Christians, how shall you sufficiently adore the favour and condescension of the source of all mercy that such a change has passed upon you?

III. Is adapted to quicken resolutions to progress in faith and holiness.—If these Corinthian Christians had been called from idolatry to the fellowship and service of the Saviour, how could they so effectively prove the reality of the transition, and fulfil the obligation into which they had entered, as by living to the praise of Him Who had called them out of darkness into light? This is a motive which, in a measure, all Christians should feel, which should have influence over all hearts and lives.


‘The evil of my former state

Was mine, and only mine;

The good in which I now rejoice

Is Thine, and only Thine.

The darkness of my former night,

The bondage—all was mine;

The light of life in which I walk,

The liberty—is Thine.’

Verse 3


“No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the holy Ghost.’

1 Corinthians 12:3

This supreme gift of knowledge of God, though given along with other gifts from the very beginning, was not given at first in perfection. All religions that are religions at all know some truth about God, but they differ very greatly from one another in what they know. We might, indeed, find it difficult to understand how the same Holy Spirit can teach men such different ideas of what God is, were it not that the explanation is plainly set down for us in the Old Testament Scriptures. There are two points in that wonderful story of the revelation of God’s nature: first, the revelation was gradual; second, that at every new revelation there was a sharp crisis, there was a controversy between those who were willing to accept the Spirit’s further guidance and those who refused it. And this was the consequence, that the old religion, which had once been true so far as it went, ceased to be true by rejecting the new light, and became the very enemy of the truth. It is true that all men who worship God anywhere, under whatever name they worship Him, are worshipping God in spirit; and yet it is equally true, and it may be a much more important truth, that he who, having known God as Jove, refuses to accept the revelation of God as Jehovah, if it comes to him with all the difference that the new name implies; or, again, the man who, having known God as Jehovah, refuses if it comes to him to accept the revelation that Jesus is Lord, with all the difference that the new name implies, is, by his refusal, doing despite to the same Holy Spirit which first inspired him to worship at all.

Stories from the ancient history may serve to illustrate St. Paul’s meaning in the text, because the Apostles, just like the old prophets, were calling on their nation to take one new step forward as the Holy Ghost added a new revelation to what had gone before, and the temptation for religious men of their day, as in old days, was to say this: ‘What we have is enough; we know the whole truth about God already through the prophets. We want no more revelation. This Jesus is a deceiver. It is mere blasphemy His making Himself equal to God; He is therefore anathema.’ ‘No,’ says St. Paul. ‘No,’ say all the Apostles; ‘but the same Holy Spirit which led your fathers, even though but a remnant, to accept every revelation of God as it came hitherto will lead you to accept also this final revelation that in Jesus Christ is all the fulness of the Godhead, that He is no deceiver—no, nor no prophet, but the Lord, the Incarnate God, and that with Him the revelation of God is therefore, at last, final and complete.’

I. No new revelation.—We have accepted that teaching; we are Christians. We believe Jesus Christ was the Incarnate God; that the revelation of God in Him was final; since then there has been no new revelation.

II. But there has begun, and there has gone forward in the Church, a process of unfolding gradually the revelation that Christ brought of the Father, of displaying it piece by piece to the world and to the Church, and that Christ foretold would be the case when He said, ‘When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth … for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you.’ Take Christ’s revelation and display it to the Church, and this process of displaying in the Church, in this age and in that, of sides of Christianity that the previous ages have disregarded, is a process of extraordinary interest to the students of the Christian faith. For each age seems to have found something in Jesus Christ which fitted especially the age, and its absorption in some one great idea made it more or less indifferent to others. But here, again, more often at the beginning of a new period, the new side of truth just becoming visible has had to fight for its life. It showed first in the heart of some prophet; it has made its way slowly among the few whose hearts and minds, being sincere, are open to new truth; and it has been rejected by that conservative majority of good men, slow of heart to believe the prophetic, which has so often resisted the leading of the Holy Ghost into fresh truth about Jesus Christ. Time would fail to illustrate the process through the Christian centuries.

( a) Take for one example the Reformation. The Reformation was an appeal from ideas of God which had grown up among the people in an unlearned age, and had gradually received the sanction of the Church—an appeal from that authority to Christ. And we believe that that Reformation, in its essence, was the work of the Holy Ghost. But you know at what a cost that was achieved.

( b) Take, again, a question that presses the criticism of the Bible documents. The Reformation, we say, won for us the liberty to read our Bible for ourselves. Well, we have that liberty, and we thank God for it, whether or no we use the privilege of reading our Bible. But even to-day, if a man happens to be a scholar, and says what he finds in his Bible—points out, for example, that books once thought to be a single whole are composite, or that Leviticus, once thought earlier than Deuteronomy, is later, or that the four Gospels are not simply as they stand, four independent witnesses to Christ, but they incorporate in various proportions earlier documents, there still goes up from certain quarters a cry against what is called the Higher Criticism. Of course there is a bad criticism. There has been much foolish criticism as well as what is good; but, then, what is bad must be met and exposed by what is good. Criticism can only be met by criticism. There is no sense in preaching a holy war against criticism as such. And how ungrateful such a war is, as well as foolish! Consider how vastly more interesting criticism has made the Bible.

( c) In every problem of Christian affairs there is always new light to be won by those who from their heart believe Jesus to be Lord, because as they ponder the sacred record the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them their true meaning. The past century gained much new understanding of Christian philanthropy. I suppose that was the side on which it took hold of the religion of Christ, philanthropy, the love of the brethren. It would be quite impossible now, thank God, for a man who could write a hymn like the hymn ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,’ to be the captain of a slave ship, as Newton was, thinking no harm in slavery, thinking it not anti-Christian. But we have still very much to learn from the social teaching of Jesus, much that we should do well to lay to heart.

The Spirit of Jesus is a Spirit of wisdom as well as of love, is a Spirit of right judgment, and the ideal philanthropy, the true wisdom, is not to empty it of its Divinity. May the Holy Ghost convince us more and more that Jesus is Lord, and may He direct our hearts more and more into the truth as it is in Jesus.

Rev. Canon Beeching.



Why is it that ‘no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost’? The reason is twofold. It is found partly in the understanding of man and partly in his will.

I. The will has an intelligent instinct of its own.—We believe, at least to a great extent, that which we wish to believe; and we wish to believe, most of us, that which will not cost us much in the way of effort or in the way of endurance. We wish this and no more, always supposing us to be left to ourselves with the average human nature and instinct which our first father has bequeathed to us. The Holy Spirit must intervene so far as to restore freedom to the human will, thereby preventing its mischievous action upon the understanding. The greater the practical demands of a given truth, the more needed is the high impartiality of the will; and therefore in no case is it more necessary than in that of believing our Lord’s divinity, which, when it is really believed, leads to so much and demands so much.

II. A second reason is found in the understanding.—If a man was to rise above the prejudices of the time—if he was to see what those words, those acts, that character really meant—if he was to understand how the Cross was as much a revelation of Divine love as the Transfiguration was a revelation of Divine glory, he must have been guided by a more than human teacher; he must have been taught by the Spirit to say, ‘Jesus is the Lord.’


‘The Holy Spirit must first work in your heart before you can have truth, or any one real, spiritual thought. Yes, and every time that you have another and another and another good thought, and every time that that thought swells into a desire, or clothes itself in a word, or takes expression in an action, the Holy Ghost has been there: it is and must be all to the praise of the glory of His grace. He was beforehand with you. He was the agent—you the recipient; He was the seed—you the receiver of that seed; He was the peace—you experienced the enjoyment of the peace bestowed. And is not this placing God the Holy Ghost where He ought to be placed—to behold Him as much the first prime cause and mover in the whole spiritual world, as the Father, by His will and mandate, in the material universe? The matter you see was first in the Father’s mind: it took substance at His word, and became matter: equally so the Spirit wills into a man faith: the breathing of the Holy Ghost in the soul removes the chaos, and there is beauty, life, and order. I think it is the only place which He can occupy in the scheme of man’s salvation: to be the all and in all: the Alpha and the Omega.’

Verse 4


‘Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.’

1 Corinthians 12:4

This is a lesson of surpassing moment to the Church in these trying times. We need courage, we need boldness, we need living faith. Above all else, we need faith in the spiritual vitality of the Church.

I. If the Church is a living thing with the Spirit of God for her vital principle, then He must be manifesting in her the gifts necessary for her work and her sustentation.—What do we mean by ‘gifts’? Whatever is needed for her ‘to profit withal.’ Whatever is necessary for her to do her work by, whether towards her own children or towards the hostile world. And therefore it is a sign of a woeful want of faith when Christian men look coldly or timidly on agencies issuing from the Church’s bosom to meet the wants of the age, merely because they are not exactly what were in use a generation ago, or when they themselves were young. Let us take the case of the present age. Its characteristics here in England are pre-eminently special. Its problems are peculiarly social. We have aggregations of human beings such as the Christian world has never known, and which outside of England can nowhere be found. If you grant the Church is a living organism, you must expect that she will throw out some agencies adapted to the need. If you grant that her life is a Divine and spiritual one, you must expect that some Divine and spiritual ‘gift’ will be vouchsafed to cope with the unparalleled emergency.

II. The lesson is one for parishes as well as for churches in their larger aggregates.—New needs are but the occasion of new gifts of the Spirit. And new methods, when they spring up harmoniously with the Church’s principles, are to be treated as fresh indications of the fount of spiritual life which is ever fresh within her. Slight them, suspect them, look on them coldly, if you will; but beware that you be not turning away from the very marks and tokens that God is still with you. The mission-chapel in the dark corners of our towns, the parish confraternity of young men whose hearts God has touched with zeal for Him and love for man, the sisterhood, the mission, all these things within our parochial boundaries may be as truly the ‘spiritual gifts’ of our day and hour as ever were the manifold gifts of highly gifted Corinth. And if our Church is not to be untrue to her Lord and her vital principle, she will not be slow to utilise the ‘lay agencies’ which are springing up around us and asking her for work. Why is not the order of Readers recognised as a ‘gift’ for which she is responsible? And the Brotherhoods—why are they not incorporated into her system and utilised? Alas! We have not faith in our own vitality. We judge by human expediency, by worldly wisdom and chilly human precedent, and we forget the Divine precedent and the Divine rule of the Apostolic Church and the doctrine of ‘spiritual gifts.’

III. We can all do something, it may be but little, but still it is something. In our conversation and in ordinary society we may at least speak reverently of every work of faith, putting down the sneers of worldly men and timid Christians, and we can all make it our prayer that we at least may not be like the Jews, whose condemnation was, that they ‘knew not the day of their visitation.’


‘Life in action takes many forms. If it did not it would not be life. Mechanism can do much; but a machine can only do the one thing it was made to do. Life involves the idea of self-adaptation, and with adaptability comes the idea of variety in outward seeming. So the variety of outward seeming is but a testimony to the inward unity of life. A tree springs from one root and is all fed by the same sap. And yet the same sap is the vital force which is seen under the various results of bark and woody fibre, of leaf and flower and fruit. Each of these is but another form in which the one energy is manifested, and each of these contributes its share to the well-being of the whole. So in the Church. There is one self-determining vital force, and that is the Holy Spirit of God.’

Verses 4-6


‘Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God Which worketh all in all.’

1 Corinthians 12:4-6

The text treats of three sorts of diversities, tracing them to their respective unities. The unity finds its expression in diversity, and the diversity its life and motive in unity. Let us consider these units and triplets.

I. Three aspects of one life.

( a) In its gifts. ‘There are diversities of gifts.’ Every man, every creature, has his own gifts. ‘What hast thou that thou hast not received?’ ‘Stir up the gift that is in thee.’

( b) In its spheres of service. ‘There are differences of administrations,’ or rather ‘ministrations.’ There are many ways open to a Christian to serve God and his generation. His daily life which he lives among men, in his family, his business, at his work—all are spheres of ministration.

( c) In its powers of communication. ‘There are diversities of operations.’ The hand finds many things to do, and with God’s help can do them with its might. While seeking out and entering new fields of usefulness, a man is to be busy meanwhile in daily work.

II. Three revelations of one God.

( a) As giving inward grace. This is described as the part of the ‘Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit is at once the greatest gift to the soul and the grand Giver. He takes of the things that are Christ’s and gives them unto us.

( b) As giving motive and scope. ‘Differences of ministrations, but the same Lord.’ Whatever we do, we are to do heartily as unto the Lord. Christ’s great love to us is the motive and measure of all our activities.

( c) As giving effective co-operation. ‘Diversities of operations, but the same God worketh all in all.’ ‘Who is sufficient for these things? My strength is sufficient for thee, and My strength is perfect in weakness.’ God gives the increase, and so we may well be heartened both to devise and work.

III. Three attitudes of one soul.

( a) Prayer. Gifts imply prayer. ‘He gives the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.’ It is true that God bestows natural gifts unasked; but the grace that is needed to enable us to employ these gifts aright is only to be had from God by prayer.

( b) Devotedness. Our ministrations are to be devoted to Him Who loved us and gave Himself for us. What an example of devotedness Jesus has given us! For our sakes ‘He sanctified Himself.’

( c) Faith. ‘The same God worketh all in all.’ We are to have faith in the power of God to work by our feeble instrumentality so as to bring about great results.

Verse 7


‘The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.’

1 Corinthians 12:7

Do you not see how the lesson which St. Paul was teaching applies to all our Christian life among one another? Whatever any of us has, or is, he only has, or is, just what God has chosen him to have or to be.

I. We often wonder at the inequalities we see in life.—It often seems strange to people that some should be so very poor, and others so very rich—some so very clever, and others so very stupid—that some persons should have the advantages of a first-rate education, and others no education at all—that some should have strong health and be able to be so active, while others are weak and delicate and can do so little.

II. Then, again, we often wonder at what we think the imperfect way in which advantages are given to men.—We see a man gifted with great talents, but wanting in the health to use them, as we should say, to the best advantage. Or one man is persevering but dull, when if he had but half the abilities of another person who cannot persevere, he might do great things, as we say. Or as to money, we see a very benevolent, generous person without the means to carry out his benevolence; or a person of shining talents left in what we think obscurity.

III. What is all this meant to teach us than that what we call our own distinction, or our own success, is not the object for which God gives us our abilities, or our money, or our health, or any of our powers. Whatever we are, or have, is God’s doing and God’s arranging, and we are to use our capacities for His service and the good of our neighbours, and not for our own selfish advantage. If God had meant a man’s talents to be used solely for his own advancement, it would have been just as easy for God to have taken care that every clever man should have the best of educations, and the strongest health, and the most perfect freedom from interruptions. If God had meant all these things for our distinction it would have been quite as easy for Him to have arranged them so. But we see just the reverse.

IV. And from this we learn two things mainly:—

( a) How to look at ourselves and our own lot and our own abilities.

( b) How to look at other people in their lot and station.

As to ourselves, we learn never to value ourselves for any talent God has given us; and we learn never to murmur because there is (as we say) something wanting in our lot which, if we had it, would enable us to succeed so much better than we do.

As to other people, we learn never to despise any one else, or to think ourselves better than they are because we have some advantages which they have not. Quick, clever people are very apt to be impatient with slow people. Rich people are apt to despise poor people. People of strong health are apt to look down on the sickly or the delicate.

All this is wrong. God has divided to each his gift. No one is without some gift. It is our business to see that whatever our gift is we use it ‘to profit withal’ in the sphere in which God has placed us.

Verse 18


‘But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased Him.’

1 Corinthians 12:18 (R. V.)

What is meant by Church Reform? This has nothing to do with pressing for a revision of the Reformation settlement; it has nothing to do with any restatement or new statement of doctrine. Its rôle is a simple reversion to original type. Its scope is the reforming of the government of the Church of England on old lines—lines laid down in apostolic days, adhered to long subsequently, and followed consistently in the best ages, and in the healthiest and purest communities possessing the Christian name.

I. For two centuries our Church has been without the power of self-government.—Its members have as members no voice in the administration of its affairs. It is to-day a Church without a constitution. Two hundred years ago it ceased as an autonomous body to exist. In 1702 William III died, and with him died Convocation. Not that Convocation afforded a constitution to the Church of which it was the mouthpiece, but Parliament which accredited Convocation did. For Parliament in those days was itself a Church Assembly. All its members were professedly members of the National Church. Government by Parliament was self-government for the Church. In 1717 Convocation, which for fifteen years had been practically in abeyance, was finally prorogued; and until our own times (1861), no licence from the Crown was granted to it to proceed to business. From the time Parliament ceased to represent the Church of England till the revival of the Ecclesiastical Assembly—i.e. during a period of one hundred and forty-four years—our Church had no properly constituted means, recognised by the State, even of deliberating on its own affairs. This means of deliberating was granted afresh at the date we have named; but, as we are all aware, it is solely a deliberative assembly, and as such has no governmental power. And, as at present constituted, we are heartily glad that it has none. Convocation in no true sense represents the Church. It does not even represent the clergy. With its revival came a certain inadequate degree of representation.

II. But the imperfect representation of the clergy is nothing to our present purpose.—It is the fact of the absence of the laity from this assembly to which we wish to draw attention. True, there is the House of Laymen, formed a few years back. But there is a view to take of this assembly which involves a reproach. What are the laity doing deliberating apart from the clergy? Does this represent any conciliar antagonism between pastors and people? Not at all. Why, then, this separation between the two bodies? It has arisen from the circumstances that the lay members of our Church have not in modern times been sufficiently instructed in their true position and rights, and therefore have not troubled themselves to assert that position and those rights.

III. And what fresh life it would infuse into our parochial organisations if parochial church councils with real power, resident in wisely chosen hands, were at the back of them all; and what frequent troubles would be altogether avoided, if (as would necessarily be the case) patrons would be compelled to put themselves into communication with such bodies when an appointment had to be made, and the clergy would have to do the same, and surely in the vast majority of cases would be thankful to do the same, when any serious changes of ritual were in contemplation. I, for one, trust the strong common sense, the seasoned judgment of the laity of the Church too fully to entertain much fear that the power thus granted would be used otherwise than wisely.

IV. Fellow-members of Christ our Head, we are members of one another.—God hath set us, each of us, in the body, that we may contribute to the original life and growth of the body. One member may not say of another, ‘I have no need of thee.’ Baptized into one spirit, eating the same spiritual meat, we are linked together in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity.

( a) There is a vulgar opinion abroad that the clergy only consult the laity when they want their financial support, while it is often overlooked that this support is sought not for themselves, but for work in which the people are primarily interested. But the clergy who long for the administrative co-operation of the lay-members of our Church say in effect, ‘We seek not yours, but you.’ We want your comradeship in the Church’s undying feud with sin and evil of every kind; we want your living voices awakened after two centuries of silence in the counsels of the Church; we want to understand you, and your strong practical ways of looking at life and life’s problems, better than we ever can, as long as the lack of a Church constitution deprives us of half the benefits of corporate cohesion.

( b) And perhaps we want to be understood a little better by you (I speak now of the laity at large), understood better, and thus to secure that mutual confidence which is the tonic of associated labour; we want to have our faulty clerical methods corrected, not by the critic who criticises just because he has no power to correct, but by the partner in counsel who has the power, and therefore uses it with the wisdom and humility which a sense of responsibility is calculated to promote.

V. If our Church is to do her great work in the future efficiently, this question calls for speedy but most careful consideration. Questions of detail bristle around it, but the fundamental inquiry is the first issue. Shall the voice of the Society once more be heard?

—Bishop Alfred Pearson.

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.