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1 Corinthians 12:1.—Gifts is a translators’ supplement; right in fact, as 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 show; slightly too precise in word. Almost certainly neuter, and so very general, “spiritual things.” Another of the topics laid before Paul for his discussion and guiding instructions.
1 Corinthians 12:2. Dumb.—In contrast with the “tongues,” which were, in the mind of the Corinthians, the most striking and choice charism of the Spirit; denying also to the idol, and attributing implicitly to the “demon” (1 Corinthians 10:19-20) the “oracles” of heathenism [possibly the diabolic correlatives of the “tongues” and of “inspiration”], Habakkuk 2:19; “dumb” also standing for the whole impotence and nothingness of the heathen idolatries, Isaiah 44:9-17; Isaiah 46:5-7; and particularly Psalms 115:4-7; in brief. Led.—A personal leading; as in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20; Ephesians 2:2 sq., etc. And, in a lower degree, by priestly or governmental authority, or by national and ancestral custom. Contrast the “leading” of the Spirit, Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18, and the intelligent, personal choice of Christ required and supposed in Christianity.
1 Corinthians 12:3.—“So then you may distinguish the voice of the Spirit from the voice of the evil spirit—the mere idol has no voice—by this test.” Observe “anathema.” In the synagogue this would be heard, “Jesus” being the simple personal name of the “Man of Nazareth” naturally employed by Jews. The Gentile denials of their Lord at the bidding or leading of demons took another form, that of participating in the heathen feasts (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). This test under another aspect appears in 1 John 4:2-3. But beyond this was a special “gift” of “discerning of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10). Lord.—“Verbum solenne in LXX. for Hebrew Jehovah” (Evans). So, in effect, but in reverse order, 1 John 5:1. Also Matthew 16:17 (Peter’s confession).
1 Corinthians 12:4.—Subject to this one unvarying characteristic and test of the Spirit’s presence and work in a man, there is “variety and distribution” of “gifts,” “manifestations” which reveal the presence of “the same Spirit” of God.
1. Observe (as R.V.) “diversities” in each case; same word.
2. Observe the Trinitarian form of the passage; the “practical and experimental,” as always, moulded over, and clothing, a skeleton of Trinitarian theology.
1 Corinthians 12:5. Administrations.—Human “ministrations,” “forms of service” (not official only), under the same Captain of the Army, the same Head of the House, the same King over the Redemption-realm.
1 Corinthians 12:6.—“Workings” for “operations.” “The effects, results, outward manifestations of the same inworking power.… The practical exhibitions of that power” (Ellicott).
1 Corinthians 12:7.—Not his personal profit, only or chiefly.
1 Corinthians 12:8-10.—Note
1. More accurately, the changing prepositions “through,” “according to,” “in”. The Spirit “is the channel through which they come, the standard with which they agree, the element in which they are possessed and used” (Beet). Also “three series,—intellectual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8), gifts conspicuously miraculous (1 Corinthians 12:9-10 a), gifts connected with ‘tongues’ (1 Corinthians 12:10 b)” (Beet). Note
2. Wisdom, more general, practical, discursive and argumentative; Knowledge, more restricted, theoretic or scientific, something more intuitive, e.g. as in Paul and John respectively (Stanley). Note
3. The “word” characterised by and specially the vehicle of, “wisdom” or “knowledge.” Note
4. Faith.—For miracle-working, as 1 Corinthians 13:2. Good case in Acts 3:16 : “His Name, through faith in His Name, hath made this man strong.” Note
5. Prophecy.—See Appended Note. So also for “tongues.”
1 Corinthians 12:11.—Observe the activity and will here attributed to the Holy Ghost, and the “sovereignty” with which He apportions His “gifts.”
THE BODY PARABLE
1 Corinthians 12:12. Christ.—The Great Unit in all God’s thought and purpose in the history of Redemption. So Galatians 3:16. Not the personal Christ, but the “Christ mystical.”
1 Corinthians 12:13.—Observe again the prepositions “in,” “into,” [“of;” query, recalling, 1 Corinthians 10:4? Also Evans would translate, “were drenched with,” denying any reference, in this third clause, to baptism]. “Into” might, grammatically, only mean “unto” or “for,” i.e. of the aim or purpose of baptism; whether more is found in the word depends upon a man’s whole reading and interpretation of New Testament teaching upon the topic. Cf. Galatians 3:27-28.
1 Corinthians 12:14-17.—Beet points out that the members—not merely the lowest, but those next to the highest—compare themselves, as men do, with others resembling, though superior to themselves. “I am not of the body” is said in the spirit of wounded vanity which fancies it has a grievance, and exaggerates it: “By the look of things I am not reckoned in the body,” and then flings itself out of fellowship: “Well then, I won’t be!” One (kind of) member, 1 Corinthians 12:14, and so 1 Corinthians 12:19-20.
1 Corinthians 12:18.—Cf. with 1 Corinthians 12:11; here the sovereign will is that of “God.” [Different words for will; this the fundamental, original determination underlying all the order of the world.]
1 Corinthians 12:22.—Many “necessary” members are incapable of self-defence (Beet). “Those more delicate portions of our bodily structure, external or internal, which, compared with the more obviously active and energetic members of the body, might seem to be somewhat feeble” (Ellicott). But Paul is designedly indefinite in his reference.
1 Corinthians 12:23.—“Alluding to the almost universal instinct of fitness or of decency which has dictated, on the one hand, the use of ornaments, on the other hand, the necessity of clothing” (Stanley).
1 Corinthians 12:25.—Expository again of the simple, original meaning of “schism” (1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 11:18). There is a conveyance of working inward upon the Body and its welfare, as well as upward upon the Head and His honour and will.
1 Corinthians 12:27.—Not merely “a body,” but “the body of Christ”; organic to Him as a man’s body is organic to him. (See Separate Homily.) In particular.—Rare expression, only here and in 1 Corinthians 13:9-10; 1 Corinthians 13:12. Choose between
(1) “Members of this imperfect earthly half of the one earthly-heavenly Church” (Evans); and, as most,
(2) “Each one of you made a member with his several part and function.” I.e. “Collectively the body; individually, the limbs” (Stanley).
1 Corinthians 12:28.—“First,” “secondarily,” etc., order not merely of enumeration, but of dignity; great “drop” at “then.” Two exceptional “orders” respectively begin and close the list: “apostles,” “tongues.” “Teachers,” who spoke without the exceptional and direct impulse of the “prophet” [moreover, the prophet declares new truth; the teacher expounds and applies truth already given], and without the ecstasy of the “tongue”-gifted men. “Helps,” vague, but perhaps doing such service as visiting the sick, etc.; “governments,” perhaps practical tact and faculty for administration of affairs and the management and direction of men, whilst not excelling as “teachers” or “miracle-workers.”
1 Corinthians 12:29-30.—Notice the insertion of “workers of.” Interpret.—Q.d. the “tongues” in which the others “spoke.” “Tongues” last, not to indicate Paul’s estimate of the gift as distinctly opposite to that of the Corinthians, but as being, as it were, an exceptional gift appended to the ordinary list.
1 Corinthians 12:31. Best.—“Greater” (; new reading); i.e. the more noble and useful amongst the foregoing list (1 Corinthians 14:1). But there is something better than the best, and this too, as the gifts were not, even in richly endowed Corinth, for all. More excellent.—Found also in Romans 7:13; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 4:17 (strengthened); Galatians 1:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7, 1 Corinthians 12:7.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—Whole Chapter
The topics here may be grouped around four words:—
A. The Diversity of gifts and offices.
B. The Unity of the body.
C. The Dependence of member upon member.
D. The Serviceableness of each member to the whole body.
1. The abundance of the gifts bestowed upon the Corinthian Church was matter of thankful wonder even to Paul (1 Corinthians 1:5). But the variety is as wonderful. It may be that in this chapter we have a generalised description of The Church and its endowments, rather than an exact sketch of this Church in particular. Yet with all abatements, the impression does remain that beyond most of the early Churches Corinth was a miniature of the greater Body in the completeness with which it exhibited in its midst every type of gift and character. Gifts distributed over many other Churches are all at least “sampled” in Corinth. “The body is not one kind of member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12:14).
2. There is no mechanical reproduction of any one type of member; they are not made and endowed to do one thing only, and all the same one thing. That is not God’s method; that is not the habit of Life. Wherever He works, wherever It is, there is variety. “As like as two peas in a pod;” but two peas lying side by side in their narrow green bed are not mechanical copies of each other. They are individual, even though the differences may be minute. There are no duplicate faces; no absolutely correspondent sides of the same face; no exactly symmetrical halves and lobes of bodies or of organs; no pair of leaves exactly balance each other as a “pair.” Ruskin, in his Modern Painters, has engraved a diagrammatic drawing of the scheme of ramification of a forest tree. It has a beauty; there is a beauty about the careful and exact work of a machine, and about the logically consequential correspondence of part with part, and the development of part from part. But no tree ever grew with such mechanically exact bifurcation of branches, or with such rigorous completeness and balance of parts. It is, as he calls it, a tree “drawn by a Clerk of the Works.” It is not the artist’s tree, nor the Creator’s tree, nor the living tree. However it may be, there is always diversity touching even the nearest correspondence. In the diversity of organ, and office, and function, in a body, and of member, and office, and function, in “The Body of Christ,” we have only a particular instance of the working out of one of God’s ruling “ideas” in nature. It is “a law” which holds good “in the natural and the spiritual world,” both. In the Body, men and women are “members in particular” (1 Corinthians 12:27); each having his own work, each made on his own pattern. “Gifts;” the “ministrations” of this man or that; the “workings” of the same underlying power of God in this or that Christian;—“diversity” is stamped on them all (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Nor does the application of the principle end as between class and class. Within the same class, all “apostles,” or all “prophets,” or all “helps,” or “governments,” or “tongues,” vary. No two apostles ever do the same work. [No two evangelists have given us the same gospel; each is individualised very strongly.] No two “teachers” ever caught and presented identically the same aspect of the whole round of truth.
3. There is order in the diversity, “first,” “second,” “thirdly,” “after that,” “then.” The apostle’s office was unique; the prophet’s office was passing away while men heard Paul speak of it; the tongues are silent; the miracle is done. But in the shorter list that remains the ranking is significant. “Teaching” heads the diminished enumeration; and yet what more necessary gift does the God Who “sets every man in the Church as it hath pleased Him,” and Whose Spirit in like manner “divides to every man severally as He will,” ever bestow upon a Church, than the men who have “helps, governments”? So long as human hearts are perverse, and their judgments fallible, and that too in different directions; the more the growth of the work of the Church forces “division of labour” upon those who are responsible for its welfare and its success; so long and the more will the man be in demand who can organise work, who can hit the right time for doing or beginning it, who is both master of broad schemes and is not overwhelmed with the small details of execution, who can rightly judge of character, and lay his hand exactly on the suitable human instrument, who can lead or govern men with all their variety, their touchiness, their vanity, their smallness of temper. “Helps,” “governments,”—these may rank after the supreme necessity of “teaching,” but in order they do not march far behind! And, most of all, the primacy of order is accorded to the “best gifts,” the most useful to the Church, the most honouring to the Master.
4. Nothing is more necessary to recognise than that the diversity is a limitation. It is of no use to be disappointed, or vexed, that the human instrument cannot always do every kind of work. It is of no use to blame, or to rate as if of lower value or fidelity, the man who is “very willing to do anything he is asked to do,” but who now and again is a disappointing, troublesome failure in some things he undertakes. Perhaps he was set to work he was not made for; he was not “set in the Body” to do that. Better to be thankful for his willing mind, and for his not infrequent usefulness or success. There are few, or no, really “all-round” men. There are no “all-round” members in a body. Also, the man himself will be saved from a morbid sensitiveness of self-reproach, by remembering that the differentiation of organ and function and power which is more and more the characteristic of more highly organised life, is a limitation in many directions, a real disqualification for many forms of service. His zeal for good may be as great, his consecration of himself to Christ as full and perfect and entire, his spirituality as deep and intense, as that of some more obviously and attractively successful member, with whom be is tempted to compare his own smaller, less obvious “results” and work. “Not one (kind of) member.” His concern is only with the whole-hearted devotion of himself, just for what he is, and for what he is not, just for what he can, and cannot, do, to the glory of Christ and the good of the Body. The Lord of the Church knows exactly where to put and use him; just where his special, if narrow, or humble qualification will be of most service, and where his limitations will be least detrimental, or not detrimental at all, to the growth of the Body and the work of Christ through It in the world. Consecration, intensity of spirituality, are in themselves an equipment for usefulness; but they will not make a foot do the work of a hand, or an ear, or an eye.
5. To remember that specialisation is limitation as well as qualification, will also save a man from, the feeling which finds expression in 1 Corinthians 12:15-17. It begins, be it noted, in a comparison of oneself with a “member” higher or more honourable; whether really so, or according to customary estimation. Possibly the comparison may at first have been the self-depreciating, needlessly condemning one just suggested in
4. But it is very apt to pass over into a fretful discontent that one is limited, and cannot do what the “hand” or “eye” can do, or win the credit they gain. The “foot” that begins by wishing it could do what the “hand” does, soon ends by murmuring that it cannot. And it is not a long step, it is one easily taken, when this disheartened disappointment lends itself to the leading of wounded vanity, to a pique which will do nothing, not even its own characteristic and intended office. “I am not the hand; I cannot do this or that which the hand does. Am I of any use in the Body? Am I really in it?” very readily is transformed into, “I am not the hand; I am no longer—I will not be—of the body.”
B. Unity.—“E pluribus unum.” All such judgments as have been suggested, even those which are honestly, humbly meant, are so many forms of self-centering. The safeguard against them, and their remedy, is to go deeper than the diversity, and see the profound, glorious unity.
I. What is it that is one?—
1. “The Body”; and, more wonderfully, “Christ.” The wife takes the husband’s name; Adam and Eve are “Adam”; the branches are, and can do, so utterly “nothing apart from Him,” Who is the very basis and source of their life, that He appropriates to Himself the name which ordinarily covers stock and branches: “I am the Vine.” Conversely, here the Head is so pre-eminent in importance amongst the components of a body—though it is no “head” apart from “the members”; cut off from it, they are so entirely without power, or will, or life; the head, moreover, so nearly completely expresses the man, that, for example, the picture of the head is taken as the picture of the man [“That is Mr. So-and so,” men say, when looking only at a bust]; that, in this Body, “Christ” covers Christ and His people,” [In Galatians 5:16 His name stands alone in the covenant promise: “to thy seed—which is Christ.” But it is manifestly no boon to Him personally which is thus conveyed and assured to “Christ.” To Him indeed, but to Him only for the sake of the wider “seed,” who, with Him, and in their union with Him, are “heirs” also “according to (the tenor of) the promise,” ib. 1 Corinthians 5:2-9).]
2. That Body, that “Christ,” “The Church” when so defined and vindicated, is always “one.” It is only the imperfect human expression of, and approximation to, this “one body,” which is outwardly divided, and even rent into antagonistic confession, and “communions”—(save the mark!)
II. How is it one?—
1. “One,” “Holy,” “Catholic,” “Apostolic,” are four “notes” of the Church, found in the earlier Christian creeds. The confessional and ecclesiastical definitions of the first have been very various, ranging between widely removed extremes of theory and teaching. At the one is the theory which sees no unity where there is not connection with an historically continuous organisation, of which an essential factor is a succession of orders inherent in one special line of ministry, ordained in one special manner, and presumed to stand in direct and authorising connection with the apostles themselves. At the other stands the theory which, beyond the unity of the particular congregation, sees no oneness but that of voluntary aggregation. Midway is a compromise attempted by those who—Anglican with diocesan episcopacy or Lutheran without it—only hope for or believe in the unity of national Churches. [Governmental, Gregarious, Geographical.]
2. But, as a matter of exposition, a point of outward, manifest, historical oneness so universal as baptism with (more or less of) water in the name of the Trinity, is very subordinate even in 1 Corinthians 12:13, where the “baptism” on which the stress is laid is that “in the one Spirit.” The unifying Headship of Christ itself is not in our passage so prominent as the unifying presence, and “work,” and “manifestation,” and endowments of the Spirit of God. Ubi Spiritus ibi Ecclesia. We customarily distinguish between “gifts” and “graces”; here they are alike “spiritual (things)” (so, literally, 1 Corinthians 12:1). All, and each several one, of them bespeak the presence of the indwelling Holy Ghost. Whether “through,” or “according to,” or “in” be Paul’s carefully chosen and varied word, i.e. whether He be the channel, or the regulating and testing norm, or the very life element in which they are enjoyed; every charism, ordinary and permanent, or extraordinary, and passing with the Apostolic age, brilliant, or useful merely—every one leads upward and backward to a common Original,—One Holy Ghost. These are all evidences of His presence Who is the life—not which, but—by which the Body lives. If each member lives, it is because it shares in Him the life of the whole. He “divides” not only His gifts, but Himself, “to every man.” “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). This Vine feels, in every tiniest twig and to the farmost tip of every finest tendril; this Body feels, in every most humble member, and most remote from the head, and to the very extremity of the last thread of each many-branching nerve; one common Life,—the Spirit of that special life which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2). The Unity is a unity of the life-element in the body, a life-element which not only holds together all the components of the living organism, but which by its presence holds in check the forces of disintegration and decay, the forces which make for “Death.”
3. The “gifts” speak of a unity of Source and Giver. The “cloven tongues” of Pentecost, rightly appreciated, exhibited this, at the very outset of the new order, the dispensation of the Spirit. The painters of uncritical centuries, often deriving their traditional conception from ill-instructed ecclesiastics, have generally given us a seated company of men and women, on the head of each of whom rests a split, pointed flame like that of a lamp. Every tongue is pretty much a copy of every other,—in utter antithesis to the diversity in unity of 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. Each head has its own tongue. Almost if it had been a Holy Ghost to each, working in each an almost precisely similar gift and manifestation! Whereas the truer reading exactly expresses the fact; which the real appearance also exhibited. Over the head of the one company hung the one flame-like appearance [a Shekinah-cloud?] darting “disparted tongues as of fire,” out and down, one to each several head. [With guarded use the (very) material illustration may serve: The unity of the source of the supply of gas and water through the thousand homes of a modern municipality. The light which cheers in a sickroom in some artisan’s cottage at the poorer end, is no separate and independent—candle-like, lamp-like—illumination; it is being every moment fed from the same source, and out of the same common body of illuminating material, as are the lights which are at that moment blazing in the drawing-rooms of the wealthiest of the “West End” homes. Every house in the place “drinks into” one and the same common central water-store. The water is not “mine” or “yours”; it is “ours.”]
4. The highest evidence of the unity of the Spirit is the common confession of the “Lordship” of “Jesus.” Even in Corinth, amongst “spiritual” men, though they be only of a “carnal” grade, there is agreement here. Here there is indeed “no schism in the body.” Every partisan of Paul or Apollos or Cephas joins heart and confession here: “Jesus Christ is Lord.” That shall one day be the confession of the whole sentient universe, in its every order of life and intelligence (Philippians 2:11; cf. Isaiah 45:23; Deuteronomy 5:8). Some shall pay it even then with an enforced submission and homage. Now many hearts will neither render the submission nor accord the homage. In the days of His humbled estate and veiled glory, the evil spirits now and again would cry out, as He drew near to them or to their human “temples,” “We know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24; cf. “Jesus I recognise,” Acts 19:15). But the full force of the statement may well amount to something less than a proclamation of His Godhead. Rate its value high as we may, it was an admission rather than a confession. It was wrung out from fear, and from the unholy recoil of evil at the very touch and presence of goodness; and it may be that it had often not a little malice in it, as an attempt to force on a premature avowal of Himself on the part of Jesus. He at least refused such testimony to Himself. (Cf. Peter’s “Depart from me, for,” etc., Luke 5:8.) A confession bursts irrepressibly forth from the reverent, trusting, adoring heart of a believer taught by the Spirit. The admission of the Galilæan demons had in the heart of it a curse. The lips said, “Thou art the Holy One of God”; the heart said, “Anathema be this Jesus!” The words here used suggest a strange scene in the little meeting-place of the Church at Corinth. “The prophets are prophesying” together (cf. 1 Samuel 19:20 sqq.); “a spirit” comes upon or enters into another worshipper, and he too shows all the outward accompaniments of the illapse of the prophetic Spirit. The “discerners of spirits,” with their intuitive perception [the Holy Ghost in one gift recognises Himself in every other], are perhaps absent. The new “prophet” is not at once to be “discerned” by the character of his utterances; they seem harmless, if not very profitable. But some hearts are not satisfied, and they inquire, “Wilt thou say, ‘Jesus is Lord’?” And the mask is dropped: “Lord? No! Anathema!” Or, the Christian hymn is being uplifted; the men endowed with “tongues” are glorifying in ecstatic praise God and His Christ; when suddenly a discord in the music! A scream of hate and rage cuts athwart the praise: “Jesus is Anathema!” That is no prophet whose gift is of the Spirit! It needs no special charism to “discern the spirit” in such a man. Less aggravated forms of this Jesus-hate were found then, and might be found now, in the Jewish synagogue. Here is a poor young girl who is denounced, or suspected, as a Nazarene. She is brought before the rulers of the synagogue. The test is short and simple: “Call this Jesus the Nazarene ‘Absalom’; call Him ‘The Hanged-one’ [Gallows-bird!]; call Him ‘the Bastard Branch’; curse Him; say that He is anathema!” Happy if, by some miracle of holy courage, the young heart does not quail, or if, while the lips blench with the strain of excitement, they will shape none of the accursed words. See her stand there, and at last break her silence in response to threatening, or warning, or appeal, with the cry of passionate devotion: “Jesus is Jehovah!” [How they would have got their answer, clear and sudden, from Paul of Tarsus, if conceivably they had put him to their test. “Call him ‘Anathema’!” Not anger, but conviction and love, make his voice ring out: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him—not Jesus—be anathema!” Speaking of the stories of Jesus in the Talmud, Dr. Geikie says: “Against (Him) no slander is too gross to be retailed by the Rabbis” (Life of Christ, ii. 624).] And yet more subtilly does the presence of the same aversion which may deepen into antipathy to Christ, betray itself in ordinary, decent men and women of to-day. No man who knows himself but remembers the averting of heart from Christ which made His name unwelcome, and aroused a real resentment, when His claims on heart and life were pressed with more earnestness than usual. What spirit is that? It is the fashion to exalt the character of the Man, the Teacher, the Universal Brother and Pattern, Jesus. But to accept and own practically His “Lordship”—that is another matter. To own that as a creed, indeed, did once become almost an epidemic fashion in stormy days in Constantinople, till one could hardly ask a carpenter or a shoemaker the simplest question about his trade and work without drawing forth by way of reply some fierce “Athanasian” sentence about the Trinity and the Godhead of the Son. But give the natural heart time and room to “grow” its tendencies to full blossom and fruit, remove the restraints of education and of conventional propriety or fear; men may then come to the rabid, destructive hate of Christianity and things Christian which not only disfigures the pages of some who ought to be calmly scientific writers, but which, in some times of Continental upheaval, has dared bitter words, and done black deeds, against everything of God and His Christ. How the natural heart will tolerate any religion which is content to be a mere set of opinions with no practical bearing upon life. English “good society” will play at Mahometanism, or at Buddhism—“esoteric” or other—or at Romanism or at “being High Church.” But as to taking up Christianity as a “craze”! Why, the thing insists on being lived out! Insufferable! Nor is it enough to say that this a revolt against any one particular presentation of Christianity and against its priesthood. It has in it the germ of that hatred of good as good, that hatred of God Incarnate which went at least near to ripening into the unpardonable “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” [Matthew 12:30-31; so closely connected with His sharply divisive word: “He that is not with Me is against Me!”] So, by a converse but analogous process, there is a Spirit—the Holy One—behind every real confession of the Lordship of Christ. “Flesh and blood” do not reveal this doctrine, nor reveal Him, to men. There is a knowledge of Christ which is part of the new world into which that man has passed who is himself made “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). The burst of revelation which came to Peter—or rather the sudden flash of insight which showed in Peter—near Cæsarea Philippi (Matthew 16:16-17); the sudden, overwhelming access of knowledge which silenced all the tests and requirements that Thomas was going to propose and insist upon, and left him with only one thing to do, only one thing to say—to fall prostrate and cry, “My Lord and my God!” [which is the manifest, (and if the word be permissible) the artistic, climax to the Gospel of John;—the confession of John the Baptist and of Nathanael, in chap. 1, lead up, through a succession of confessions, to this of Thomas, the last, most definite, most full, in its recognition of Christ as Lord];—these are distinctly grace,—“spiritual things” (1 Corinthians 12:1). The “faith” of 1 Corinthians 12:9 is indeed pretty certainly shown by its companion “gifts” to be miracle-working faith (cf. under Critical Notes). Yet it is only one phase, one operative presentation, of a larger “faith,” of which in every sense it is true that it is “by the same Spirit.” In 1 Corinthians 12:9 it is a Hand thrust into the unseen, “spiritual” world and grasping there the God from Whom it draws power for mighty works. But it is also, and more widely, true that it is an Eye to whose gaze all that world stands unveiled, “naked and open” as we are to the gaze of God. It begins already “to know even as we are known” (1 Corinthians 13:11). And the opened Eye is one of the gifts of the Spirit through Whose quickening men already “pass from Death unto Life.” Life has come into Death; the dead eye now lives and can see. Hence John’s close association of being “born of God” with “believing that Jesus is the Christ.” Or, as he gives it in varying statements: “Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” Or, again: “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:5; 1 John 4:15). No merely doctrinal “confession” or “faith” satisfies such statements. The stoutest and most orthodox champion of the Godhead of Jesus, whether against old Socinian, or later Unitarian, or modern Naturalistic, may, nevertheless, be no man “born of God.” Orthodoxy and Regeneration in such vital association make “orthodoxy” something far higher, deeper, than a matter of creed. The only man who knows a Divine Christ is the man who is “in Christ.” Other men may master the sections in the “Handbooks of Theology,” the “Institutes,” or the like, headed “Divinity of Christ”; they may become past-masters in the controversial literature of the topic; they may know completely the accustomed collection and formulation of the scattered and often inferential data, which, when marshalled in due order, are the basis of the doctrine; they may be expert of fence in dealing with the difficulties and the criticisms of the objector; weighing Scripture statements for, and the passages which in Scripture itself seem to be against; they may come up to the assured intellectual position that Revelation makes “Jesus Lord.” But even then they do not know Him; the belief which intellect has built up, intellect may destroy; the argumentative balance may by new considerations be made to turn against the doctrine; the Lordshíp of Jesus is only rooted in the surface stratum of their manhood; a storm of sceptical attack may uproot it. The spiritual man does not undervalue the arguments; they are most likely the ladder by which he climbed to the level of a true faith. They made him ready to believe. But he has now a direct intuition of Jesus as Lord, which he shares with ten thousand others, most of whom know nothing, nor can know, of the arguments. The same Spirit Whose indwelling in Him makes him live, makes the regenerate man know Christ and His Lordship. [Cf. another case of apparent connection of “salvation” with the acceptance of an historical proposition: “God raised Him from the dead;” and of a theological dogma: “I confess Jesus as Lord” (Romans 10:9). Of course “with the heart” makes all the difference. As here] the truth accepted into the creed also passes into, and is assimilated and reproduced in, the experience. The inward, spiritual life echoes and reproduces the outward, historical, Christian verity. Christ’s development of God’s word “in the Bush” (Matthew 22:32) brought out the profoundly fundamental truth that for God to say “I am Abraham’s God,” involved a natural capability of such a relation which is unshared by the brute creation, and which argued a soul not “dead and done with”; and further implied an actual, spiritual covenant relationship between God and the man. So for a man to say in any real sense, “Jesus is Jehovah,” he must have come a long way to have reached that point, and the truth must now carry him a long way further. To him “to live” must be, in fact, “Christ.” It will mean such a trust, such an habitual dependence, such a new principle of covenanted, faithful obedience, as the heart only renders to God when it has become “a new heart.” And it comes as a new revelation, (to speak inexactly) a fresh disclosure, to each man who comes to the saving knowledge of the truth. The man who knows Jesus his “Lord” knows also that he never said it or believed it to any practical intent until he learned it as a sinner “by the teaching of the Spirit of God.” The Spirit’s work is to testify of Christ. He is the great Preacher of Christ. He has but the one theme—Christ. And He has wrought in the Church of Christ, in all the ages and races and communions, a wonderful unity in the testimony, “Jesus is Lord”! The voice of the much-divided Church is one here!
5. Theology, more theology, always theology, underneath all the facts and teachings about the spiritual life! The theology may be presented by itself, as the skeleton may be dissected out from the body, and exhibited alone. But it is a hard, ugly thing; as the theology which is the “bony” frame giving shape and strength to 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, may be made to seem. Underneath the most noble form, underneath the most beautiful face, are a skeleton and a grinning skull. So we may not have the verses and their teaching, we may not have the experimental unity, without the Trinity. [Good example this of Pauline passages which assume the “Dogma,” and are Trinitarian in underlying, essential structure. Usually the Trinity is barely seen in the New Testament except in connection with Redemption.] “The Spirit,” “the Lord,” “God.” Here again there is order in the equality; there is diversity in the unity. It is not overpressing the suggestion of analogy between the Unity of the Godhead and the Unity of the Body: “That they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22). “All the capacities come from one Spirit; the different kinds of service are for the same Master; and the different results are produced by the same First Cause” (Beet). From one Source; under one Ruler; all, ultimately, through one God. It is the unity of streams which all derive precisely similar waters from the one fountain; of troops of different arms and training, fitted for different service, under the orders and fulfilling the plan of the same Captain; or of many classes of servants under the same great Master of the house; of living ones whose life and all its activities come from the vivifying, inworking hand of the one Living God. At how many points are the many units summed up; at how many points of rapport do the diversified hosts of the Christian army find themselves in contact, one host. The unity goes down to the springs of the very principle of Life, for the Body and for the individual member; it mounts up to the One Lord Christ, towards Whom every heart, every face, every life, converges, with adoration paid to Him “as to God” [said Pliny’s letter]; it broadens out until it takes into its holy compass and round all who in grace and gifts manifest the presence of the same Holy Ghost, all who serve for the love of the same Lord, all in whom stirs the same life of God. Blind they who “cannot see the wood for the trees,” who cannot see The Church for looking at the Churches! Can they not verify the “manifestations” of the same Spirit? or ascertain that the “ministrations” are for and under the same Christ? Can they question whether the energy, in this and that Church or man so absolutely identical in all its effects, is of the same God?
C. Dependence.—Interdependence—“No need of thee!” (1 Corinthians 12:21). That is not the voice of any component of the Body; it is not the intelligent voice of any member of a body. It sins against the very idea of an organism. And the Church is not an aggregation merely, like some chance heap of stones. It is not even an orderly structure merely, like a temple. The aggregation and order are those of an organic structure, those of a living organism. Put the statue of a man and a living man side by side, the very man (say) whose features and form and stature are copied, to the last degree of accurate correspondence. The one is made up of crystals, the other of living cells. How great the difference in the unity thus in each case set up. It may be mechanically an easier task to rend asunder cell from cell than crystal from crystal; more easy to damage the union and the unity of life than that of mere aggregation, though of the closest. [Against outward assault, the highly developed ecclesiastical, historic Church system is no doubt stronger in resisting power than the Church unity, whose one bond is an inner, vital one. The always dead, marble form persists unaltered for ever; the dead, cell-built form, which once was living, disintegrates with accelerating rapidity, from the moment the life departs.] But notice how the unity ends, as it began, with the mere contact of neighbour with neighbour. Each crystal of the statue-form is self-contained and perfect in itself: “I have no need of thee.” It receives nothing from, it gives nothing to, the next crystal on every side of it. It is nothing to the next, except that it happens to be next. As there are “Churches” whose unity has shrunk to little more than this, a unity of aggregation within the same four walls, for worship or for the enjoyment of some one preacher who happens to catch the ear of them all; or to a still more attenuated unity of bare registration upon the same Church roll. Paul’s frequent illustration of a temple is a little better. Upper stones are borne by those beneath them, and in their turn help to keep these in place, whilst also supporting others above themselves. Stone may lean against stone, and be upheld. But this “give and take” of support is mechanical, and it is all. It falls far short of that interchange of sympathy and help between the parts of a body, and between adjacent cells in the same organism, which makes the figure of “a body” so nearly perfect for the purpose of the Spirit’s teaching about the interdependence of the members of The Body. “God hath set the members in the body,” and in The Body, that member may help, and be helped by, member. An independence which should refuse to give anything to another, or should attempt to hold itself aloof in self-centered, self-contained, self-sufficing fulness of life, is utterly alien from His idea. Such “Christians” could never make a Church. [A selfish absorbency which will take all that the Church, or any member, can give, and yet forgets, or indolently neglects, to give to any in return, is equally alien to the idea.] Independency and selfish, parasitic dependency, stand equally condemned by the very principle of a body. Every single member has something to give me, which I need from him; every single member may demand from me all I have which can serve him. The debt of member to member is often very closely brought home to the heart, by some relation of circumstances which binds together a couple such as would have been supposed to be hopelessly incongruous opposites, in age, in social standing, or education, or mental calibre. Every Church can show its happy examples of the gladly acknowledged obligation of the rich master to his godly servant’s prayers and character; of the educated man’s manifold debt to the unlettered but saintly, Christian neighbour, with whom some “happy accident” in the providence of God has somewhat closely associated him. On the other hand, there are found not a few homely men and women, with good sense enough very thankfully to draw inspiration and help from the evident firmness of belief and from the cultured godliness of some educated Christian whom they know. It is pride, not gratitude, which is restless under this sense of indebtedness. The grateful, cheerful acknowledgment, “I have need of thee,” is politically, socially, as well as in the Church, the saving law of all happy corporate, organised life. The association and the reciprocal helpfulness are indeed much wider than the simple couplet “I … thee.” Member does often help member, in charming examples of direct and close personal association. There is often a tenderness and a beauty, which are in themselves a strength and a help, about this more easily and vividly realised help of individual to individual, which, when the relation is rather that of one to a great Whole, is lost, or is hardly so powerful a motive or bond. When, man to man, “the members have the same care one for another”; when the Christian is drawn to, and helps, some particular fellow-Christian; it is gloriously, and very practically, true that he is helping the whole Church. Few hearts can embrace “The Church”; but we can “love the brother whom we have seen.” Yet each may remember that the Whole does depend in some degree upon the One. No member but really puts something of value into the grand common stock, whilst in turn it is helped from the common store. Thus Dependence passes over into—
D. Serviceableness.—Indeed, it has been difficult under C. not to anticipate D.
1. A man’s gift is not his own, alone or chiefly. He is graced and gifted most of all for the sake of the common good and the common growth. The ideal of the Body’s increase is not the independent and isolated growth of member and member, however perfect, each by itself working out its own development. Conceivably a hand might grow whilst its fellow-hand, or the foot, might linger at infantile strength or weakness. But such irregularly distributed growth might really disturb, not only the harmony, but the very unity of the body. No; the ideal is, “Till we all come—pari passu—to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”; i.e. each member sharing in, keeping pace with, the development of the whole, till Head and Members stand forth one Body, one “perfect Man,” every part harmoniously and completely developed to manhood’s scale of size and strength (Ephesians 4:13). Toward this tends all the variety and distribution of the “spiritual (things)” of 1 Corinthians 12:1. It is designed for this. What one member is or has, or can do or be, or, under the training and discipline of the Spirit of God, can develop and can become,—all that is for the sake of all the rest. We may be sure it was pure instinct, however guided and organised, which originated the brief-lived community of goods in the sub-Pentecostal days in Jerusalem. The right heart of the “member” does not need schooling into this sharing of all the “good things” with which he himself is endowed. The very possession of any ability or faculty which can be laid under contribution for the welfare of a fellow-Christian or the Church, is in itself a claim for its use. The fitness for office is a call to undertake office. A hand ought to be doing a hand’s work. “To profit withal” must not be misunderstood (1 Corinthians 12:7). As matter of exegesis the “profit” thought of by St. Paul is the profit of the whole, not of the man himself. This latter is true, and is closely linked with the former. (God always does make duty to others and to Himself to go hand in hand with blessing to the man himself.) For his own sake, certainly, should a man strive to be at his best, his best, the fullest development of which he is capable,—eye, hand, foot, whatever be his place and capacity in the body. The men in the Parable of the Talents profit, with equal fidelity and with proportionate success, by the talents entrusted to them. But they are simply salient instances sufficient to illustrate the Lord’s principle. As a matter of fact, there will be many varying arrangements and gradations of faithfulness and increase. Five talents will sometimes only bring two, or even one, to the Master. Or, as in the complementary Parable of the Pounds, one talent may win two or even five. Each “member” should be growing to his best. He should be at his best for his own life’s sake. But what Paul here says, is that he should be at his best for Christ and for the body. Talent, faculty, unimproved or only half cultivated, is a sin against that law of serviceableness which lies at the very root of the idea of “His Body, the Church.” “Stir up the gift of God that is in thee,” is not an advice for Timothy only (2 Timothy 1:6). A gift is a fire which needs feeding and “poking”; God kindles it, but the man must guard and stir up the holy fire; not merely or most that his own life may be warmed and cheered by the blaze, but that “the Body” may be blessed by the gift that is in him. The possession is obligation. A Christian man may not deliberate or choose whether he will or will not give himself to serve his Lord and the Church. In what way he can, in that way he ought. He was made what he is, that he may be serviceable. He will receive his reward. The health of each several member is but a particular instance of the healthy life-condition of the whole body. If the whole man be in poor health, the hand is feeble, the foot begins to fail. As the man recovers, so under all ordinary conditions the foot or hand or eye renews its vigour. The most frequent form of the interdependence, as was shown above, is that which is mediate, through the body’s well-being as a whole; to which the part contributes, and out of which it receives its supply of blessing. So then, he that is at his best for the sake of the Body has his reward; he is at his best for himself. If, therefore, a man would get the utmost of advantage from the Divine institute, a Church, let him do his utmost of service, and be at his best of spiritual health, for the Church. But, once more, it is not merely interest; it is obligation. The body lives and grows by the active serviceableness of every member, whatever some aberrant member may do. The body never says to a member, “I have no need of thee.” “What am I? Hand, or eye, or foot, or ear, or what? What can I do for the Body? ‘Nothing?’ No; I am ‘set in the body’ with my own small capacity for something; I am not ‘of no use.’ Let the body, let the Head Himself, command me, and claim me, even me.” “Even me;” this leads up to 1 Corinthians 12:22-25. Ruskin has written his “Unto this last.” These verses are, in the political economy of the Church’s own life and social order, the Spirit’s “Unto this last.” We have—
2. The law of the least honourable; their real honour and their real obligation.—
(1) “Less honourable” is only by comparison true, and by accommodation. In the holy innocence of Eden all the body’s life was honourable and holy. In the holy fellowship of “the Body of Christ” there is no member who is not honourable. Holiness and helpfulness, to the full of the capacity and opportunity—these are real honour. Poverty, or ignorance, or humble capabilities are no dishonour; these may set some lower in the scale, but they are degrees of nobility, all of them. The honour upon the Head runs down to the skirts of His raiment. One needs not to force Paul’s analogy into minute and even unseemly detail, but his general drift is clear. The face may be left bare in its beauty or its rugged strength; it can take care for itself. But many another part needs defence and covering. There are men conspicuous in the Body, of conspicuous gifts; they show full in every eye. No fear but that they will be known and honoured. There, in them, the Body has its outlook upon the world; through them it communicates with the world. But for one, two, ten, such, there are the score, the hundred, the mass, of less-obtrusive gifts and position, never likely to attract much attention, or to win much applause, even from their fellows in the Body; and there are passive and quasi-internal, normally hidden, “organs” in the Body Itself. Delicate, sensitive, easily hurt, incapable of self-defence, they need the shield of the stronger membership. There are feet and hands which must oft do rougher, laborious offices in the many-sided work of the Church, or even the drudgery of the carrying of the rest to the field of their “more honourable” toil. They can do no thinking, or organising, or governing; they must do the obeying and the executing of the orders of the “comely” and “honourable” parts. Or, like ear and eye, they can utter nothing, can originate nothing, they are silent and receptive; they can “do nothing,” they are apt to say, nothing but receive light and sound for the guidance, the warning, the comfort of the rest. “Less honourable,” perhaps, but still “honourable.” They are of the body; they are in the body for its service. That is their honour. The body needs them.
(2) They are necessary. Indeed, perhaps one might push the figure so far as to say “indispensably necessary.” Certainly, in the actual physical structure, there are some small organs whose use is obscure; but he would be a bold, rash physiologist who should pronounce them superfluous, any smallest of them. Whilst we have been slowly and laboriously learning the function of this organ and the use of that part, they have been quietly doing their work and fulfilling their function, vindicating themselves as “wanted” in the whole economy of life. As certainly in the Body of Christ there are no dispensable members. The Body might live and grow, of course, without any one of them. But it would, pro tanto, be with an impoverished life. No member “of least account” (1 Corinthians 6:4) in the Church can withdraw his help and contribution, without making the Church the poorer. Happy that Church and its officers who know how to prize the service and worth of those “least honourable”! They cannot fill the pulpit, but they can sustain the preacher with sympathy and prayer. They cannot do much towards replenishing the treasury, but their devotion, their steady, year-in-year-out attention to their own little bit of work is an inspiration, or perhaps a rebuke, to the large givers and the prominent office-holders. They can create “an atmosphere” in whose sweet and healthy peace pastors and leaders and “workers” can pursue their tasks with hope and vigour. How much does “The Church,” in the largest sense, owe to its poor, to its pensioners, to the sick who can only suffer and pray, to the veterans who linger—not “lag superfluous”—upon the busy stage, where they can no longer play their active part, but where their very “style” is a formative tradition for the younger generation? These “less honourable” cannot do the fighting; they make no contribution to Apologetics. But they have been an “Apology for the Christian Religion” not easily ignored, less easily gainsaid or silenced. Written in no book, but exhibited in humble, “humdrum” lives. Without them the apologist defends Christianity in vain! How often life seems to have retreated to these hidden and humble members of the body, its last stronghold and safe asylum through days of widespread sickness or of epidemic worldliness! How often the quick spiritual “ears” have detected approaching mischief, which the bold, clear “eyes” ignored or disbelieved! There are a great host of members in the body who give it its sympathies, its sensibility, its heart; as there are many more who give, or who conduct and execute its plans and work. It were a hard, perhaps cruel, mighty machine without those; it were a weak, ineffectual thing without these. All are necessary; but the “least honourable” who are and who do that which brings little notice, and less public thanks and honour, are not “least necessary.” Happy and wise the Church which takes care not only for the defence and sustenance of such, but which puts upon retiring worth, upon humble godliness, upon sanctified routine workers, “more abundant honour.” On the whole topic it may be noted that when Menenius Agrippa availed himself of the figure of the Belly and the Members, to bring the Plebeians who had seceded to Mons Sacer (B.C. 494) into a humour to treat with the Patricians of the little Roman State; and when Plato illustrates a thought akin to that of our 1 Corinthians 12:26 by the community of the whole body in the pain of the wound given to a finger; they are on the track of one of the great thoughts—the archetypal ideas—of God in His ordering of Creation. Nor have these two, or St. Paul, any claim to have “discovered” the significant serviceableness of the figure of a human body to teach the laws of all “social life.” There would be as many such “discoveries,” as in any age, or race, or school there were thinking men. It is a particular case of the great principle, that the ultimate reason why things are what they are, and as they are, and not other and otherwise, is revealed to us as,—“Christ.” “All things were created in Him.” All the great thoughts of God have been perfectly spoken from the first in that “Word of God.” But these so aptly parabolic physical facts of the natural world, are partial, prelusive, and, so to speak, stammering utterances of these same ideas. The great trunk lines of idea and purpose in Creation all converge upon, all lead up to, all meet in, Christ. They are but returning to their point of origin: “Of Him,” originally, they are “unto Him” finally. Creation is full of Man from its earliest, geological antiquity onwards, upwards; and full of the Man (Hebrews 2:0) in Whom the ideal and history and destiny of Mankind are alone perfectly exhibited. The body’s highest function and purpose is to “speak concerning Christ and His Church” (Ephesians 5:32).
1 Corinthians 12:3. Jesus the Lord.
I. This singular declaration as to the essential evidence upon which Christianity rests belongs to the earliest records of our faith.—It was delivered at a time when the religion of Jesus was making its first attempts to convert men. Humanly speaking, it could not have been pronounced a success or a failure. Its Author had disappeared from earth about thirty-three years; and notwithstanding its swift propagation, and the unusual fervency and faithfulness of its disciples, the annals of sects would have cautioned a mere historian not too confidently to pronounce upon the ascending fortunes and future reign even of a religion so vastly superior to all other schools of theology and morals. Suppose Christianity, during the first two or three centuries, had failed.… I can then imagine that its champions, perceiving that their system could never be sustained by ordinary historic canons, would affect to despise such literal standards, and appeal to the convenient authorities of the supernatural. This, indeed, has been the course of several false religions; they have begun in myths, when life was simple and reason imperfect and credulous; but as the age became educated they evaded historic scrutiny by disclaiming history, and rested their claims for acceptance upon inspiration and revelation. The realm of the supernatural has been the inaccessible retreat of the priesthood. But the doctrines of our faith are not the accumulations of after thoughts, for the relief of priestly exigency. They were laid down once for all in the beginning of the Church, when that Church was an untried institute; and first and foremost among them was the Godhead of Jesus as a dogma based upon the evidence of inspiration.
II. The man Jesus, the Son of Mary, who lived in Palestine for thirty-three years; who acted as a man in connection with men, as a brother in the family of a house, as a human being in the functions of need and in the exigencies of distress; who at last died from the violence of murderous men; … is the Lord.… [Paul] meant all that was included in the Jehovah of the Old Testament.…
III. This tremendous truth … cannot be accepted without Divine help.—No man … can state it as the natural conviction of his judgment. The truth has a history, and yet history is not sufficient to demonstrate it. If it were clearly historic, it would never be disputed. When you tell me that Jesus Christ was born and lived in Palestine, and taught disciples, and died, I understand you; for you have narrated what appears to be a natural event. But when you tell me that Jesus is the Great God, … [and the Creator of all He saw and ate and used], … you transport me out from the sphere of intelligible statement and testimony into wonderland. I hear, but I understand not.… I do not mean that the Godhead of Christ is naturally inconceivable, or that the dogma itself shocks or violates my sense of what is possible, but simply that the doctrine is above me. I cannot reconcile it with the laws and impressions of nature as I know them. Say that Jesus was a man; … I will go to greater lengths of admiration than any other man ever commanded, for the greatest power earth has ever known or will know; but it must be human power. I can say he shall fill the domain alike of genius, science, empire; but I cannot say that Jesus is God unless you add some other power to my mind, or stimulate to unnatural intensity the powers I have. St. Paul affirms that no man can.… The history of controversy has repeated it in every age. It is echoed in every treatise of modern theological discussion. The intellectual spirit of the day is plainly in sympathy with it. No man in the merely natural circle of his attainments and convictions can say that Jesus is the Lord. Modern philosophers maintain this … as if it had been left to them to discover; whereas Paul asserted it from the first. They tell us that the Incarnation is to the last degree unintelligible; that they prefer holding fast to what they know, to floating about in depths of mystic speculation. This jealous adherence to fact and distrust of faith, which is sometimes put forth as the latest scientific judgment upon the claims of Christianity, dates as far back as St. Paul; and he has described this temper of mind with as much candour and accuracy as if he had been a philosopher himself: “The natural man,” etc. (1 Corinthians 2:14).
IV. The evidence by which this grand truth is affirmed … is the internal persuasion of the Holy Ghost.—Here we speak in parables to them that are without. The first step towards this confession is the conviction of sin by the Holy Ghost. I do not mean … of evil, wickedness, wrong. A man may be assured of these without any supernatural influence whatever; but a conviction of sin, of transgression against God’s law, of liability to eternal death—no man can feel this unless the personal presence of God is brought home to him; and this cannot be except through the revelation of the Holy Ghost. The misery following such a conviction will make a man strive against it, and learn by bitter failures his perfect helplessness. He seeks rest, a place of firmness for his feet; but the ground gives way; he “sinks in deep mire.” Preach Jesus to a man, with his guilt arrayed in terrors and his fears alarmed, with his self-despair and his eager cries for help, he not only sees no difficulty in accepting the Godhead of Christ, but he grasps it as the only truth that can give him comfort. A teacher of God can instruct him; a servant of God can intercede for him; an angel of God may minister with him: but the Son of God must save him. An inferior Christ would be nearer to him in rank, but a man Christ or an angel Christ would not be so near in sympathy as the Jehovah Christ. The soul bereaved of human help [finds] this the promise which lightens up her widowhood: “Thy Maker is thy husband.” That which makes Jesus our final resting-place is His Godhead; it is His equality with the Father which gives His blood an omnipotent potency as an atonement, which makes His priesthood irresistible and eternal, His presence illimitable.
V. How easy for those whom the Holy Ghost has convinced of sin, who under the tyranny of its power have imagined what a counter-power that must be which could redeem us from it, to admit that Jesus is God.… It is still all mystery to us; and yet it seems natural, as if it could not but have been. It wears a familiar face. like the mysterious world of nature around us, which, because we are part of it, looks very homely to us.… With our eyes open and our hearts touched by the revealing Spirit, we feel that we belong to the Gospel world; we are the active and intelligent recipients of its laws and blessings. Its stupendous wonders, although far distant from our comprehension, seem almost close to us in the clear atmosphere of a fellow-sympathy. They are ours, and we are theirs. The incarnation of God is the inscrutable event of the universe. And yet we have seen it with our eyes; we have looked upon, and our hands have handled it; our very children sing about it as if they understood it perfectly.—Abridged from report of a sermon by E. E. Jenkins, M.A.
1 Corinthians 12:27. The Body of Christ.
Observe, not merely, “Ye are a body”; though that has been the burden of the chapter. The give and take of support, and sympathy, and service, between part and part; the interdependence of part and part for life and growth; the diversity of capacity and function, all contributing to the welfare of the whole and of each part; all have been dwelt upon fully. All are as true of any organised society, any corporate life, as of the Church of Christ. But this is only what the members are to each other. Here Paul goes further. “Ye are a body; ye are Christ’s body; ye are a Body united to Him; ye are a body for Him; ye furnish Him with an instrument analogous to your own. What your body is to, and for, you; that ye are to, and for, Christ.” Most simply, then—
I. To us a body is the link between us and the outer world.—It mediates between the immaterial part in us and the material existences outside us. The immaterial in one man communicates with the immaterial in another through their two bodies. [If there be a “trans- or extra-corporeity of mind,” it is so obscure a fact as not yet to serve much in even an analogical way of imparting truth.] Such analogies may not be pressed far, but hold good thus far: We influence the outer world through the instrumentality of our bodily part; the outer world is known to us and affects us largely through the organs and sensations of our body. In somewhat similar fashion is Christ pleased that His Church should be a Body for Him, mediating between Him and the World. In one particular also the World reaches Him through His Body. Take this latter first.
(1) “Why persecutest thou Me?”—not “My people.” Saul reaches further, deeper, than he thought, as he “hales men and women to prison,” or “consents to” the stoning of Stephen, “persecuting the Way unto the death.” Not the hand or foot alone is touched or wounded; the Head is hurt; Christ feels the pain. The sufferings of the martyrs are the “afflictions of Christ” in a remarkable passage (Colossians 1:24; cf. 1 Peter 4:13); as though [in opposition to “began to do and to teach,” if that be the accepted meaning, Acts 1:1] Christ not only continued to do and to teach, but also to suffer, after “the day in which He was taken up.” As though His earthly life of a few years and His Church’s life of many centuries were one life, and one history, both of work and persecution; the centuries a continuation, an extension, of the thirty years; He assuming to Himself all the pain, as well as the toil and the success, of the Church’s life. The first Adam and his race fell as one; the second Adam and the new race of those who are “in Him” rise as one; they suffer as one. The old doctrine of (so-called) federal headship, or (in the modern phrase) the solidarity of successive generations, is an attempt to express particular phases of the great principles underlying this: “Touch a Christian, burn him, wrong him, persecute or hate him, you touch, burn, wrong, persecute, hate, Christ.” Let persecutor and persecuted remember that He is to be taken into the account.
(2) With freer use of the analogy, it may be said Christ reaches the world through His Body, through the activities of His Church. Whether man can act upon man and upon matter otherwise than though the body’s powers and organs, may be open to discussion upon carefully gathered evidence. There is no doubt that Christ can, and does. There is a sovereignty about times of visitation to Churches and to nations and generations; Christ sends forth wide influence, when the Church has asked little, done less, or herself been a Body out of health, too feeble to effect, or to initiate, anything. He is independent of His Body, as we are not of ours. Yet He does not only make large use of this His organ and instrument, but was largely pleased to make His work depend upon, and be conditioned by, and executed through, the activities of His people. As the body is organic to the man, so the Church is organic to Christ. Every member of a body is under the control of the will of the man. So the indwelling Christ rules in, as well as over, every member of His body. Humanly speaking, if the Church is not active, the world goes unreached, unsaved. Its activities are His, and are the usual and ordinary ones through which He expresses and effects His will and purpose in the salvation of the world.
1. The responsibility lying upon the Church always to be at its best of spiritual force and health, a fitting, serviceable instrument always ready to the will of the Head.
2. A ready test is provided, distinguishing between right and wrong activities of His Church. In what enterprises should it engage,—and in what not? What work should it, or should it not, undertake or be led into? Can the enterprise, the work, the activity, whether in fact or in proposal, be conceivably attributed to Christ Himself, and identified with Him? Could it be His activity? Within the limit thus to be traced out, activities and work are permissible. It may be a matter for further temporary or prudential limitation, whether the whole liberty shall be availed of; whether, e.g., all such social, humanitarian, philanthropic forms of service to man, as are perfectly conceivable as Christ’s own, shall be formally undertaken as part of the organised activities of a particular Church, or of The Church. There may be reasons rooted in the facts of fallen human nature, it may be part of the inevitable defect of the reality from an ideal condition of things, why, e.g., a Church “cannot,” without injury to its distinctively “spiritual” life or work, embark in any extended plan for the better housing of the poor, or in a great effort to purify the popular amusements, or itself to purvey purer ones. [If Christian men and women undertake such work, outside the machinery and organisations of their own particular Church or congregation, “The Church which is His Body” is really doing it.] It is palpably incongruous that some forms of amusement and of money-raising should be attached to the Church and its enterprises; they could not conceivably be attributed to Christ; they cannot be the action of His Body.
3. On the other hand, the principle makes some forms of activity obligatory upon the Church, and upon the Churches. E.g. can anything else be supposed but that Christ should desire His Gospel carried to the heathen, and to all lands where, if in name it is proclaimed, it has no real regenerating power upon society or upon individuals? The obligation of Missions, “Home and Foreign,” upon the Church of Christ can never be an open question. He must desire it; His Body is not revealing, or expressing, Him if it is not actively, aggressively “missionary.”
4. No doubt some deep connection between character and bodily form. Between character and face there is obviously often no little relation. An artist knows—without accepting the follies of palmistry—that there is character, the character, individuality, in the hands. By no means unimportant in his portrait. Perhaps an ideal corporeity would with perfect correspondence express the man, and men might know each other by their form. [Note, the “form of God”; and the old philosophic meaning and use of “form.”] However that be, it is no speculation that Christ’s Body, and every part of it, should express Him. There are, happily, Christian men and women in whom every one, who comes into contact with them, feels he has come into close contact with, has seen, Christ. The obligation not to misrepresent Him, the obligation to represent Him, lies upon the Church, because it is His Body. Hearts are asking, the world is asking, “We would see Jesus.” It ought to be possible to say, “Look at His Body.”
III. This relation to Christ differentiates the Church from all other corporations.—
1. It is not merely one amongst many societies and organised associations of the same order. No doubt He Who is the Ruler of human society and its every movement, takes care that no form of association between man and man but has the control of His hand. It subserves His purposes. It has a real relation to Him. But this corporation is unique. It has a unique relation to Him. He has assumed it into union with Himself. He is “Head over all things” for His body’s sake. “He is the Head of the Church.” Himself dwells in every member, as (to speak with caution) the man dwells in every organ, part, cell, of his body. It is a spiritual corporation.
2. An available test is in this provided, as to the legitimacy or otherwise, of methods for securing its growth and increase. “Can Christ and His Body, Christ in His Body, be conceived of as securing, e.g., numerical increase by the method actually practised, or proposed?” Growth in numbers, wealth, social status, political influence, may or may not be matters of rejoicing. They, and their causes, and methods, need bringing to the bar of a fine “spiritual” instinct, and trying there. They may be the very methods for a purely human society or enterprise; but can they be the methods of Christ and His Body?
1 Corinthians 12:20. A Living Unity requires:—
I. The combination of many members.
II. The harmonious arrangement of parts.
III. The inspiration of one Spirit.
IV. Co-operation for one common end.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 12:22-25. Observe:—
I. Life in its many forms is a system of compensations.
II. These compensations are wisely and equitably balanced.
III. Are designed to promote contentment, harmony, mutual care.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 12:31. “Something better than ‘Best.’ ”
[Not very accurate: “best” is really “greater.” So “covet” is “desire earnestly.” See this word in noteworthy contrast with “love” in 1 Corinthians 13:4, its bad side there being put foremost. It may be studied in Acts 7:9; 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:39; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Galatians 4:17-18 (with a playing upon its Janus-like ambiguity of meaning); James 4:2; Revelation 3:19.] The whole verse is well paraphrased in the resuming verse, 1 Corinthians 14:1. Two contrasts:—
I. “Gifts” and “way.”—Respectively accidents of life, these; exceptional; given to the few. The “way” is for all, for all time; it is the very path of life. Love, even in the natural sense, is the one thing which makes life worth living. It is the life of life. A loveless life, with all natural endowments highly cultivated with all social accessories which are usually accounted desirable, to the true, whole, healthy manhood, is Death.
II. “Covet” and “follow after” (1 Corinthians 14:1).—A passionate wooing; a quiet, persistently faithful wooing. The one is apt to be “jealous” as well as “zealous”; envious rather than emulous of the gifts of others. The other welcomes all, and makes room for all.
III. Love, without gifts, will, in the long-run, do more than gifts without love.
It may be convenient for the Bible-class to have the New Testament material about Prophets and Prophecy at one view.
(a) Spoken of in Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28.
(b) John and Christ ante-Pentecostal “prophets.” After Pentecost given to many (Acts 2:17-18; Acts 8:17; Acts 19:6; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 11:4-5). Individual cases are: [Barnabas (Acts 4:36, connecting παράκλησις with “paraclete”); Stephen (Acts 6:5; Acts 6:10; Acts 6:15);] Agabus (Acts 11:28; Acts 21:10); Silas and Judas (Acts 15:32); Manaen and Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13:1); [Timothy, “a man of God” (1 Timothy 6:11);] Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:8); Saul (Acts 13:1, though some in this list may only be “teachers”). Met with in Churches.—Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:20; where the gift was perhaps at a discount and “despised” as not so striking and showy as, say, “tongues”); Corinth (12, 14); Rome, as yet unvisited by any apostle (1 Corinthians 12:6); Ephesus (1 Corinthians 4:11).
(c) Nature of gift exemplified in New Testament.—A predictive power: famine in days of Claudius (Acts 11:27-30), [Acts 20:23]; Acts 21:4 [disciples elevated into prophets for the occasion, like so many in the regal period in the Old Testament]; Acts 21:10-14; [1 Timothy 4:1]. Knowledge of distant future to encourage the Church under present trial: 2 Peter 1:16, etc.; Acts 13:9-12; Acts 2:9-10 is a quasi-prophetic utterance founded on Isaiah 64:4, etc.
(d) Indicated in Luke 11:49 (“prophetsand apostles”); Matthew 23:34; Matthew 23:37; (1 Thessalonians 2:15; James 5:10; Revelation 20:9).
(e) Suggested in Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:5.
(f) False prophets speaking under demoniac agency: 1 Corinthians 12:3; Colossians 2:18; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 John 4:1-3.
(g) To be tested by the “analogy of faith” (Romans 12:6); or as in 1 Corinthians 12:3, or 1 John 4:1-2; prophets may “judge” prophets (1 Corinthians 14:29); the true gift is under a prophet’s control, and is no mere uncontrollable maniac possession.
(h) Add to (c), which in itself would give a very incomplete view of prophecy:—
Prediction was only an accident of Prophecy; it might be there; or it might not, as it happened. Some prophetic books of the Bible manifestly contain many prophecies—many more predict but seldom. The prophecy which, for example, in these Corinthian Epistles we see in lingering survival in the Christian Church, is hardly prediction at all. More often it would be better described as specially inspired preaching. What Christians in Corinth needed was not so much an unveiling of the future, though this had its helpfulness, and is exemplified in many cases noticed in the list above given, but rather an authoritative statement of the mind and will of God for their guidance in the present. They needed Preachers rather than Seers of the Future. So, in fact, all the prophets, Old Testament and New Testament alike, were first of all, and most of all, preachers declaring “present truth” to the men of their own time. It might happen, and in point of fact generally did happen, that this present truth was also eternal truth. Their message was then one for every age, and was put upon permanent record, especially when the word of the prophet was part of the ever-growing disclosure of and preparation for the Advent of a Redeemer. Then, further, their teaching was often illustrated by or conveyed in significant Facts. These might be facts of their own day, in which case the prophets became inspired chroniclers and historians, recording, and often commenting upon, what was even then becoming the Past. But they wrote history didactically; they delivered a message from God through the vehicle of history. Sometimes, and particularly when they were contributing to the divinely authentic account of Redemption, its purpose and historical development, their message could not be completely illustrated or delivered without bringing in the facts of the Future, and then they uttered predictions. But the prediction was also didactic in its purpose. When fulfilled, the predictions become credentials of the men and of the Book which contained their utterances. But the crowning utility of predicted facts is for teaching, and pre-eminently for teaching something new about Christ and His Redemption work. It was teaching by divinely anticipated History. Silas, e.g., as a prophet has his Old Testament counterparts in the many in the “schools of the prophets” who did their work and delivered their message of God’s truth without predicting at all. In Acts 21:4 are simple disciples elevated, for the occasion, into prophets, in close correspondence with the not few examples, particularly frequent in the books of Kings and Chronicles, of men on whom once, and once only, in their life there came down the Spirit of prophecy,—predictive prophets for the occasion, and for that only. In fact, the “prophets” and the “prophecy” of the New Testament must not be studied apart from those of the Old Testament; they are one continuous fact. But as we see it in the later pages of the Bible, it is a good illustration of the “law” that, however great may be the dispensation change at any point, God does not pass from “age” to “age” in history per saltum and abruptly. Between one “age” and the next, however revolutionary may be the change made, there are overlapping, persistent, lingering facts, for a time surviving the “age” of which they were specially characteristic. We see the line and the date of demarcation between Judaism and Christianity; the day of Pentecost is the definite beginning of the Christian Church. But this stands prefaced on the one side by the transitional three years’ ministry of Christ, and followed on the other by a few years during which the Jewish Temple and ritual linger on, dying and effete it is true, but hiding from the eyes of the contemporaries of the great change of “ages” the full significance of much that was taking place around them. In like manner Old Testament prophecy for a time lingers on, overlapping into Christianity, with its fuller gift of the Spirit. As the corpus of redemption facts and of redemption doctrine hastens to its completion, the office of the prophet [and Inspiration and Miracle also, in their proper definition and limitation as parts of and accompaniments of the Revelation of Redemption] is ceasing to be required. The “teacher” is more and more being left in possession of the field. “The apostles and prophets” are made the foundation of the Church, or its lowest courses of masonry resting on the Foundation, because the “prophets” were the one feature of the new order which most conspicuously linked it with the old to which the Jewish converts had belonged (Ephesians 2:20).]
1. As to the Gift of Tongues, our chief data are: (a) Mark 16:17, “They shall speak with [new;? the reading] tongues.” (b) Acts 2:1-13. (c) Acts 10:46, “They of the circumcision … with Peter … heard them (i.e. Cornelius and the rest) speak with tongues, and magnify God.” (d) Acts 19:6, When Paul laid his hands on the Johannean disciples at Ephesus, “they spake with tongues and prophesied.” (e) 1 Corinthians 12:14.
2. If in (a) “new” be retained, then there would appear to be some, but not much, support given to the idea of the Greek fathers that the gift was one of new linguistic powers. The Old Testament quotation in 1 Corinthians 14:21 may look in the same direction (but see Critical Notes there). In (b) there is clearly a distinction between the first outburst of “other (N.B. this) tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:4), and the address of Peter, which may well have been in Aramaic. After (b) there is no semblance of evidence of any added linguistic powers being given or needed. Greek and Aramaic would carry the Christian teachers almost anywhere. In Acts 14:11 Paul seems not to have used the “speech of Lycaonia,” nor perhaps to have understood the people until their acts showed their meaning.
3. The work, not of instruction, but of adoration, prayer, praise, seems in every case to have been the employment of the gift. Paul evidently relied on “prophesying” (1 Corinthians 14:1) and “teaching” as means of producing conviction. “Tongues” were only for “a sign,” to attract, and impress, the attention of the unbelieving world (1 Corinthians 14:22).
4. “Interpretation of the tongues” was, perhaps, from the nature of the case, in Acts 2:0 no “spiritual gift.” At Corinth it ordinarily required to be so, whether they were “tongues of men,” which happened to be unknown to the Corinthians, or “tongues of angels,” sounding like (incoherent?) noises, and belonging to no earthly dialect.
5. The word “tongue” (γλῶττα) decides nothing as to the nature of the gift, though in Acts 2:8 it does seem equivalent to “language” (διάλεκτος). Also the same word is used (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:14) both of the speech of the gifted ones and of the address of Peter. In the 70 it is used (in 1 Chronicles 25:1; Ezekiel 13:9) for “a musical, oracular intonation” (Smith, Bible Dict.). Some of the external accompaniments of the gift are suggested by the word “mad” (1 Corinthians 14:23); and by a comparison of Acts 2:13, “filled with new wine,” with Ephesians 5:18.]
[Stanley thus well combines the particulars contained in 12, 14, etc: “It was a trance or ecstasy, which, in moments of great religious fervour, especially at the moment of conversion, seized the early believers; and this fervour vented itself in expressions of thanksgiving, in fragments of psalmody or hymnody (? this) or prayer, which to the speaker himself conveyed an irresistible sense of communion with God, and to the bystander an impression of some extraordinary manifestation of power, but not necessarily any instruction or teaching, and sometimes even having the appearance of wild excitement, like that of madness or intoxication. It was a most emphatic sign to each individual believer that a power mightier than his own was come into the world” (Stanley, p. 257).]
“Schism” and “Heresy.”—“There are some important principles which are now generally accepted. These two violations of unity generally go together: the “heresy” being self-willed choice of private interpretation in opposition to Scripture, and the “schism” the following of a party. Few schisms can be named which have not been the result of doctrinal error; few leading heresies which have not issued in schisms. Here, however, there is a distinction. Heresy can never be perpetuated; but the result of schisms may. Ecclesiastical schism may be taken up by Divine wisdom into the development of the kingdom of Christ; having been in fact not schism in the sight of God, or soon losing the taint. Apparent schism may be the only cure of heresy. Many minor heresies may co-exist with holding the Head. But where, on the one hand, there is such infidel subtraction from the truth, or, on the other, such superstitious addition to it, as neutralise the fundamentals, separation may be inevitable and lawful.… Schism may be the sin of the community left as well as of the community leaving. But all this rises to the higher principle that the Spirit is the Giver of life corporate as well as individual. He quickeneth whom He will. The body is more than its raiment. Any such act of the sovereign Spirit must aim at the more effectual growth of the Church. He thus prevents unity from degenerating into stagnant uniformity.… Lastly, whenever the Spirit thus goes out of His way to divide existing Churches, He never fails to authenticate His own act; as Paul among the apostles was able to authenticate his vocation and work. As to heresy or self-willed and needless schism it is still one of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19), condemned of itself.” (Pope.)]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29