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The Apostle is discoursing in this Chapter, on Spiritual Gifts, and Prophecy. He points out the great Advantage of ministering in the congregation in a Language suited to the Hearers. And the Apostle adds, some Instruction, for the better Order of Worship.
(1) Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. (2) For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. (3) But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. (4) He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. (5) I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh, with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. (6) Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? (7) And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? (8) For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (9) So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. (10) There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. (11) Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. (12) Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (13) Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. (14) For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. (15) What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
The Reader should observe, that here and elsewhere in the Scriptures, prophesying is a term used for preaching. See Matthew 7:22 . And, the prophesying, or preaching the Gospel, when commissioned, and sent by the Holy Ghost, is, as the Apostle saith, rather to be desired, than any other gifts. If the Reader would wish to mark the vast difference, in those sent from God the Holy Ghost, to those who run unsent; let him compare Acts 13:2-5 ; Jeremiah 14:14 and Jeremiah 13:21 with Acts 16:9-10; Acts 16:9-10 .
What Paul saith, of speaking in an unknown tongue, by which is meant, one that was not understood by the people, it is probable, he alluded to the use of the original Hebrew; which, though some of the more learned among men might be able to speak, was now, for the most part, a dead language. But, the most interesting part to be considered, in what the Apostle hath here said, in laying down regulations for the due observance thereof in divine worship, is what to hath delivered, concerning the gifts of God the Holy Ghost. All institutions in the Church of God, to make them profitable, must be excited at the first, directed, and influenced in every part, and both at beginning and end, be wholly under the sweet, and sanctifying operations of God the Spirit. We must pray with the Spirit, and sing with the Spirit, when either, or both, are done properly, or the whole is nothing worth in the sight of God. All the preparations of the heart, and the answers of the tongue, are from the Lord, Proverbs 16:1 . It is the Holy Ghost, which can alone excite a sense of want in the soul. It is the Holy Ghost, which can make sensible, where those wants from Christ's fulness can be alone supplied. It is the Holy Ghost alone, which can open a communication, between Christ and the soul, and give a refreshing, both in the spirit, and understanding, to the Lord's glory, and to his peoples' happiness. And very blessed it is, when the Lord's people are brought under the gracious impressions of God the Spirit, and know, and feel, and enjoy these things, in seasons of holy worship. Blessed is the people which know the joyful sound; they shall walk, 0 Lord, in the light of thy countenance! Psalms 89:15 .
(16) Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? (17) For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. (18) I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: (19) Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (20) Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. (21) In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. (22) Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
I have noticed in my Poor Man's Concordance, somewhat in relation to the Amen, we so frequently meet with in Scripture. So that I do not think it necessary in this place, to enlarge on it to the full. Nevertheless, in addition to what was there offered, I would remark, that over and above the very sweet and blessed sense it bears, in allusion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and as one of his express names; it hath other objects of significance, which merit our attention.
No doubt, in every sense of the word, its highest and best meaning refers to Christ; yea, means Christ himself: the Amen, the Faithful and true witness. And at every use of it, all the Church a God should pause with profound reverence, in the recollection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would consider it as Jehovah's verily; his unalterable Word, purpose, will, pleasure, delight, in Christ.
But, from what the Apostle here saith, of the unlearned saying Amen, at our giving of thanks, it should seem, that the use of it in the Church, was intended to express somewhat of no small importance. An ignorance of what had been said, or a misapprehension, or the want of an hearty and cordial consent to it, with perhaps other things of a like nature, made it exceptionable; and it then, became improper. Paul seems to lay the stress upon the ill use of it, that in that case, the person using it is not edified. The Amen, was an ancient custom in the old Church. And, no doubt, the use of it was with an eye to Christ, 1 Chronicles 16:36 ; Nehemiah 8:6 . We are told by some old writers, that the Jews had several ways of using the word; and according to that use, it had different significations. An hearty, long, and full Amen, was meant to intimate, everything of blessedness. On the contrary, a cold, short, and hasty expression of the word carried with it an idea, that the person was not sincere in what he said. Reader! while you and I bless ourselves, in our glorious Amen, Christ Jesus, the God of truth, we shall have all the true blessedness of the word; and at all times be able, to set to our Amen that God is true, Isaiah 65:16 .
I cannot pass wholly over without notice, what Paul saith, of the brethren being not children in understanding. It is a melancholy consideration, how many of God's dear children continue weak, in point of understanding, and remain but as babes in Christ the greater part of their life. I cannot call that man, any other than a child, a mere babe in grace, who never gets beyond the doubts and fears, the ups and downs, of unbelief. A maturity, and ripeness in grace, is known, by an establishment, and firmness, in the faith and hope of God's children. The beloved Apostle speaks of young men that were strong, and to whom he had written on that account; and the word of God abode in them, and they had overcome the wicked one, 1 John 2:14 . And herein lies the strength of such in the Lord. They are strong in the faith, that God is more honored, more glorified, by the obedience and death of Christ, as the sinner's Surety, and Representative; than God is dishonored, by the sinner's sins, and transgressions, and all his unworthiness. And hence, when established by grace, firm and unshaken in this most blessed principle: the man is no longer a child in understanding; but well taught, and well established of God. But, Reader! this is God's work; not man's. So the Lord saith: and so the Lord's people know. See 2 Corinthians 1:20-22 .
(23) If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? (24) But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: (25) And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. (26) How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (27) If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. (28) But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. (29) Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. (30) If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. (31) For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. (32) And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. (33) For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (34) Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. (35) And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (36) What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? (37) If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. (38) But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. (39) Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. (40) Let all things be done decently and in order.
I will only detain the Reader with a short observation, on what the Apostle hath here said, of a Gospel Church, and the conviction wrought by the Spirit of God, on the heart of a poor sinner, unexpectedly coming in, and beholding the Lord's people so assembled, and feeling the blessed influence of the Lord's grace upon his heart. What a lovely representation he hath made, of such a Church! And what an encouragement for the Lord's people to assemble! And who shall say, to what extent, such events are going on continually in life? Who shall calculate, the numbers savingly converted, under a preached Gospel, by God the Spirit, through the ministry of his blessed Word? The Apostle's description, of the secrets of the poor sinner's heart, being made manifest, and the falling down on his face, in open confession, of the Lord's word being armed with the Lord's power; are beautiful representations of the case. And, Reader! when you and I consider, that to this conviction of soul by the Holy Ghost, as the arrows of the Lord's quiver, in his sacred Word are directed, that all the Persons of the Godhead concur in the vast design : God the Father draws to Christ: John 6:44 . God the Son draws to himself: John 12:32 , and God the Spirit makes the Soul willing in the day of his power, Psalms 110:3 : what a wonderful work must it be in itself; and how vastly important in the sight of God? Reader! hath an effect like what the Apostle here described ever taken place in your heart? Have you felt, in the assembly of God's people; the word of the Lord, quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword? Heb 4:12 ; 2 Corinthians 10:5 . It is very blessed, when the word of God is confirmed in the soul; and when, as the Apostle saith, in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word is established : when God the Spirit himself; and by his word, works in the heart and conscience to the accomplishment of such striking effects, as are here described.
Passing by many very useful observations, which in relation to Church government, might he taken from this Chapter; I shall only request the Reader, to make one general improvement from the whole, with respect to what the Apostle here calls prophesying, or preaching. The absurdity he shews to arise from the preaching in an unknown tongue, is hardly more glaring, than that of preaching in a stile and language, unsuited to the capacities of the hearers, which is little less unknown also.
Nothing can be more evident, than that the whole design of the Gospel is to proclaim to fallen, sinful man, tidings of Salvation. When the Angels posted down from heaven to tell a lost world of the coming of a Savior; their preaching was short, but comprehensive, Behold! (said they) we bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
But let us suppose, that those angels had brought those tidings in a language, to a lost world, that no one understood; of what importance would have been their message? When a preacher speaks in a stile of studied elegance, high flown periods, and florid words, which the hearer cannot understand; of what avail is the whole sum and substance of his sermon? And in like manner, when the discourse is directed to expatiate upon the great excellency of virtue, and the happiness which will arise from a discharge of all the high duties of life; and when a poor sinner, with a sinful, sorrowful, broken heart, hears of this blessedness, but is conscious that he had done nothing to merit it, but his whole life meriting the reverse, in punishment; of what possible use can such preachers prove to a wounded soul like his? If indeed, preachers had to do with hearers not sinful, and polluted, who felt no concern for sin, because they had none to answer for; then, I confess, Moral Essays, as they are called, and harangues on the Loveliness of Virtue, might do very well to amuse, and gratify the pride of human nature. But, my Brother! my Brother! If every man be a sinner before God, and every man, as the Scriptures solemnly declares, standeth in need of salvation; oh! how needful must it be, to preach Christ plainly, fully, completely. Every preacher, sensible of the plague of his own heart, (and he who is not sensible of the plague of his own heart, is not fit, to be a preacher to others,) will rather, as Paul saith, speak five words with his understanding, and to be understood of others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. Lord Jesus! stop the mouths of those who run unsent: who preach they know not what! But oh! send out Pastors after thine own heart, which shall feed thy people with knowledge, and understanding.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29