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1 Corinthians 12:1-31
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
The particular gifts to which St. Paul was referring were not exactly as a whole like anything that is to be witnessed in the Church now. They produced effects which challenged the attention of the eye and the ear, and were calculated to fire the imagination. St. Paul mentions nine of these gifts. Of these the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom and prophecy, were such as might be found on no inconsiderable scale at the present day diffused in the Church of Christ. The word of wisdom would seem to be an eminent power of apprehending revealed truth in its relations towards the general field of human thought and human knowledge--as we should say, of apprehending it philosophically. The word of knowledge implies an insight into the several departments of revealed truth, and into their mutual relations towards each other; while prophecy means not simply prediction of the future, but especially the power of stating truth and duty clearly and forcibly to others. And the gift of faith here mentioned would he probably something distinct from the faith of ordinary believers--an extraordinary illumination of the believing soul, making God and the world unseen so vividly present to it that all obstacles to duty seem for the time straightway to vanish. This, too, is to be found in some gifted Christians in all ages of the Church. The five other gifts are at least less ordinary. There were Christians at Corinth who had the gift of healings, and others a more extended gift of working miracles; cases, these, plainly, in which the fire of the Holy Ghost, possessing, enlightening, warming the believing soul, made itself felt through the soul and body of the believer upon surrounding nature, and produced effects for which no natural causes that were known would account. Others, again, had the gift of discerning spirits--something deeper, that is, than any insight into character, although analogous to this great and uncommon gift. A power they had of seeing in other souls the exact endowment with which the Holy Ghost had furnished them--what in them was really the work of grace--what only the counterfeit of nature. Others, again, spoke with tongues--probably, as at Pentecost, in foreign languages, sometimes with a view to missionary work among the strangers who were to be found about the port and in the streets of Corinth; probably also, and more frequently still, in a mystic language to which no known human tongue corresponded, yet in which an entranced and illuminated soul might at times alone be able to express itself. Others, again, had the gift of interpreting tongues--:probably the mystic language of devotion, which, but for the gifted interpreter, would have died away upon the ear of the audience without leaving even an idea behind. It was natural that the exercise of such endowments as these should have led to a great deal of discussion at Corinth, where the subject was continually and practically brought before the eyes and ears of Christians. Questions were eagerly asked; they were often hastily and erroneously answered. They were at last referred to the apostle. St. Paul answers these questions, and in doing so he lays down principles of permanent and vital importance. First, every single gift, he says, even the very least, is important, because all come from a single source--the Divine and eternal Spirit living and working in the Church of Christ. Secondly, he rules that the gifts do differ in importance, and that their importance is to be measured by their practical value to the soul and to the Church of Christ. On this account he decides that the gift of tongues which excited such extraordinary ,enthusiasm at Corinth is really a less important gift than the relatively quiet and tame gift of teaching or prophecy, simply because the latter is of greater service to others--of greater service to the Church. Thirdly, he will not allow that the possession of any gift whatever ought to make the possessor an object of jealousy. Being a gift it implies no sort of merit in the possessor at all, but only in the giver. It is given, too, not for the advantage, not for the credit of the possessor of it, but simply for the good of the Church at large. No gift, accordingly, could be possessed by the heathen outside the Church who cursed the blessed name of Jesus; and no gift rendered its possessor independent of others in the holy body, or could be wholly monopolised for the advantage of the possessor. The eye could not possibly say to the foot, “I have no need of thee.” And, lastly, all these gifts were inferior to those which were shared by all Christians, even the very humblest in a state of grace--love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, especially the graces of faith, of hope, of charity. Especially were they inferior to the last and greatest of these, the grace of charity--the love of God for His own blessed sake because He is what He is; the love of man in and for God. The importance of this knowledge to us at the present day appears to me to be undeniable, for we live at a time when men are disposed to ignore the very existence of the spiritual world--the presence and action of the Holy Comforter upon the souls of men. This is, perhaps, partly a reaction from some fanatical ideas about His work which were to be found here and there in a past generation; but it is much more largely due, I apprehend, to the immense place which the material universe holds in the thoughts and especially in the imaginations of the present generation. We have explored the realm of matter; we have subjugated it; we have made it at once our friend and our slave in ways undreamt of by our forefathers. Beneath all material splendour, even the greatest, there is at bottom an aching void, because man was made for something higher and nobler than matter--because he cannot find his real satisfaction in matter. He was made for God, and all that reminds man of his real destiny--yes, I will say it, of his true nobility--has a claim upon his ear and upon his heart that cannot be permanently ignored. And when the apostle cries, “Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant,” he touches a chord to which man sooner or later responds, because in his deepest self man is, and knows himself to be, a spirit. His real self is a deeper and more central thing than can be touched by these merely outward surroundings; and therefore man cannot permanently, even in this very metropolis of the world’s material civilisation, forget that higher gifts than any which matter can furnish him are really within his reach, and that he does not well to be ignorant of them. But then some who know that something higher than matter is their true aim and portion do not always fix their eye upon the really spiritual. They mistake intellect for spirit. But man’s reason and thought is but an instrument of his deepest self--of his indestructible personal being. Spiritual gifts are higher, far, than merely intellectual gifts. The latter imply nothing as to the moral excellence of the inmost being itself. Voltaire’s brilliancy was undeniable, but who would exchange solid peace of soul for a power of making the epigrams which delighted Paris, but which could not bring one hour of true rest or happiness to their gifted author? Do I say that material or intellectual gifts are worthless? God forbid! They have, too, come from Him. His gifts to the old heathen world, its astonishing cultivation of reason, of fancy, of language, its vast and varied efforts in the way of constructive enterprise, its burning passion, its abundant genius for art, its vigorous talent for administration and for government, were and are still worthy as coming from Him. Even although these gifts were frequently, or, rather, almost as a matter of course, misused, debased, by the pervading presence of sin, they were in themselves admirable, and we do well to honour and admire them if only because of their Author. And all that He has given in addition to the modern world, outside the kingdom of His Son, and independently of it--our material and intellectual progress in all its departments--is matter not for depreciation, still less for secret fear, but for thankful and generous acknowledgment, if only we remember that there are higher gifts beyond; that, when our architects, our merchants, our engineers, our historians, our poets, our metaphysicians, have done their best, there still remains a sublimer sphere from which an apostle whispers, “Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.” Doubtless we here touch, as so often in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, upon mystery--that is to say, upon a truth of the reality of which we are convinced, but the full account and reason of which is, in our present state of being and knowledge, beyond us. Who shall attempt to picture, much less to describe, the process whereby He, the Eternal, the Uncreated, overshadows, enwraps, penetrates, moulds, changes, burns, our finite and created spirits, bathing them, if we will, through and through with His light and with His warmth, endowing them with powers which, according to the original terms of their natural structure, are altogether strange to them, fitting them by anticipation here, amid the scenes of sense and time, for a higher and a better world? Who indeed shall say, since who knows enough of the nature and intrinsic capacities of spirit to attempt the description? From age to age the gifts of the Spirit may vary in their form; substantially they are the same to the very end of time; and, next to the atoning death of Jesus Christ and the power of His blood to cleanse our sins, there is no fact of equal practical importance to human beings who are living and must die. In conclusion, one or two practical considerations. Now these words furnish us with a guide to the true idea of education, with a test and criterion of some current educational theories. When I hear of schemes of education which are only schemes for packing the mind full of facts, and which include among those facts almost everything except what bears upon that one subject which it is of most importance for a human being to know, a voice from above sounds in my ears, “Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren of this generation, I would not have you ignorant.” What will it profit to have measured and weighed out the whole realm of matter--to have explored and studied all the achievements of human thought; if, after all, God’s gifts to the soul--His gifts of a new birth, of a real redemption, of a new insight into truth, of a robe wherein one day the soul may appear even before Him in His sanctity and in His justice without trembling and without confusion--if these are altogether ignored? So, too, in the sentence of the apostle I see a rule for forming friendship. Perhaps before the idea of a universal brotherhood in Christ had dawned upon the conscience of the world, a single sincere attachment between two human beings had a significance which we to-day can with difficulty appreciate. But, at any rate, the ancients were right in estimating very highly the moral importance of friendship; for a friend--and there is scarcely a truth which a young man ought more carefully to lay to heart--a friend at once reflects and moulds character. His influence penetrates in a thousand ways into the recesses of thought and of feeling. He leaves his mark there, most assuredly. He is a help or a hindrance; he is a blessing or a curse, as the case may be. What is his real character? What are the qualities of his heart? What, properly speaking, are his spiritual endowments? What is his amount of faith in the unseen--of hope in an eternal future--of love of God and of man? And, lastly, here is a rule for all steady and systematic efforts at self-improvement. Let us make the most of the means of grace, as they are termed, while we may. Of the certificated channels through which these gifts must reach us--of prayer, first of all, of the Divine Scriptures, of the holy sacraments--life is too short, my brethren, to allow any man to know or to do everything. There is much of which we may safely, and even profitably, be ignorant; but as immortal beings we dare not ignore, we dare not neglect, the gifts which the eternal Spirit bestows upon us here that hereafter they may robe us in a happy immortality. (Canon Liddon.)
Concerning spiritual gifts
1. This Epistle is well fitted to disabuse our minds of the idea that the primitive Church was in all respects superior to the Church of our own day. We turn page after page and find little but contention, errors, immorality, etc.
2. At this point, however, the primitive Church is differentiated from our own, and it would have been surprising had the revolution which Christianity introduced not been accompanied by abnormal manifestation. The new Divine life, suddenly poured into human nature, stirred it to unusual power. People who yesterday could only condole with their sick friends, found today that they could impart to them vital energy. Men brought up in idolatry and ignorance suddenly found their minds filled with new and stimulating ideas which they felt impelled to impart.
3. The Spirit of Christ does not produce these manifestations now because--
(1) They are no longer required. When you sow a plot you stick twigs round it that the unseen plant may not be trodden down, but when the plants have become as tall as the twigs, then these are useless. So miracles helped the young Church’s growth; but she has now become sufficiently visible and understood to need them no more.
(2) The disturbances produced by the first impact of these new’ Christian forces could not be expected to continue. New political or social ideas suddenly possessing a people, as at the French Revolution, inspire with an energy which cannot be normal.
4. Nothing could be more natural than that these gifts should be overrated. They came to be prized for their own sake, and, as usual, what was useful could not compete with what was surprising.
5. Paul now explains the object of these gifts and the principle of their distribution.
(1) He reminds them that their previous history sufficiently explained their need of instruction (1 Corinthians 12:1-2). The first thing needed to guide them, therefore, was a criterion by which they could judge whether so-called manifestations of the Spirit are genuine or spurious (1 Corinthians 12:3). Very early men were found in the Church who could not reconcile themselves to the accursed death of Christ. They believed in His gospel, miracles, kingdom, but the Crucifixion was a stumbling-block. And so they held that the Divine Logos descended upon Jesus at His baptism, but abandoned Him before the Crucifixion. This degradation of Jesus was not to be tolerated, and to own His lordship was the test of a man’s Christianity. And this is the only sure test to-day. No wonderful works he may accomplish prove his possession of Christ’s Spirit (Matthew 7:22-23).
(2) And as to the gifts themselves, they should be no cause of discord, for they have everything in common: they have their source in God; they are for Christ’s service; they are forms of the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
(3) The new life assumed various forms and sufficed for all man’s needs. As the sun in spring develops each seed according to its own special character, so with this new spiritual force. Christian influence does not clip all men after one pattern like trees in an avenue, but causes each to grow according to his own individuality, one with the rugged irregularity of the oak, another with the orderly richness of the plane.
6. That society is an organism similar to the human body, is not an exclusively Christian idea. It was a common Stoic doctrine, and in the earliest days of Rome Menenius Agrippa uttered his fable which Shakespeare has helped to make famous. But although this comparison is not new, it is now being more seriously and scientifically examined and pushed to its legitimate conclusion. Paul suggests--
I. That the unity of Christians is a vital unity (1 Corinthians 12:13). This unity is not a mechanical unity, as of shot in a bag; nor a forced unity, as of wild beasts in a menagerie; nor a unity of mere accidental juxtaposition, as of passengers in a train. But as the life of the human body maintains all the various members and nourishes them to a well-proportioned and harmonious growth, so is it in the body of Christ.
II. That the efficiency of the body depends upon the multiplicity and variety of its members (1 Corinthians 12:17; 1 Corinthians 12:19). The lowest forms of life have either no distinct organs or very few; but the higher we ascend the more numerous and distinctly differentiated are the organs. The same law holds good of society. Among uncivilised tribes each man is his own farmer or huntsman, and his own priest, butcher, cook, and clothier. But as men become civilised the various wants of society are supplied by different individuals, and every function is specialised. The same law necessarily holds true of the body of Christ. In a society in which Christianity is just beginning to take root, it may fall to one man to do the work of the whole Christian body, etc. But as it advances towards a perfect condition its functions and organs become as multifarious and distinct as the organs of the human body. Every member therefore has something to contribute to its good and to the work it does. And it is for him to discover what his Christian instincts lead him to. The eye does not need to be told it is for seeing, or the hand that it is for grasping. And where there is true Christian life, it matters not what the member of Christ’s body be, it will find its function, even though that function is new in the Church’s experience.
III. That as there is to be no slothful self-disparagement in the body of Christ, so must there be no depreciation of other people (1 Corinthians 12:21). When zealous people discover new methods, they forthwith despise the normal ecclesiastical system that has stood the test and is stamped with the approval of centuries. One method cannot regenerate and Christianise the world any more than one member can do the whole work of the body. Paul goes even further, and reminds us that the “feeble” parts of the body are “the more necessary”; the heart, the brain, the lungs, etc., are more necessary than the hand or the foot, the loss of which no doubt cripples, but does not kill. So in the Church it is the hidden souls who, by their prayers and domestic godliness, maintain the whole body in health and enable more conspicuously gifted members to do their part. Contempt for any member of the body of Christ is most unseemly and sinful.
IV. That “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal,” and not for the glorification of the individual. However beautiful any feature of a face may be, it is hideous apart from its position; so is the Christian who attracts attention to himself and does not subordinate his gift to the advantage of the whole body of Christ. If in the human body any member is not subservient to the one central will, that is recognised as disease: St. Virus’ dance. If any member ceases to obey the central will, paralysis is indicated. And equally so is disease indicated wherever a Christian seeks his own ends or his own glorification, and not the advantage of the whole body. (M. Doris, D.D.)
Of spiritual gifts
1. The ancient prophets had clearly predicted that the Messianic period should be attended by a remarkable effusion of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord, before His crucifixion, promised to send the Holy Ghost (John 14:1-31., etc.), and after His resurrection He said, “These signs shall follow them that believe,” etc. (Mark 16:17-18; cf. Acts 1:5). On the day of Pentecost these promises and prophecies were literally fulfilled.
2. The peculiarity of the new dispensation consisted--
(1) In the general diffusion of these gifts. They were extended to all classes--
(2) In their wonderful diversity.
3. Under circumstances so extraordinary it was unavoidable that many disorders should arise.
(1) Some claimed to be the organs of the Spirit, who were deluded or impostors.
(2) Some were dissatisfied with their gifts, and envied those whom they regarded as more highly favoured.
(3) Others were inflated, and made an ostentatious display of their powers.
(4) Many persons were desirous to exercise their gifts at the same time.
4. To the correction of these evils the apostle now devotes himself. Note--
I. The criterion by which they might decide whether those who pretended to be the organs of the Spirit were really under His influence. Do they blaspheme Christ or do they worship Him? If they recognise Jesus as Lord, then they are under the influence of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).
II. These gifts, whether viewed as graces of the Spirit, or as forms of ministering to Christ, or the effects of God’s power, are but different manifestations of the Holy Ghost, and are all intended for the edification of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
III. Their arrangement.
1. The word of wisdom and the word of knowledge.
2. Faith, the gift of healing, the power of working miracles, prophesying, and the discerning of spirits.
3. The gift of tongues and their interpretation (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).
IV. They are not only the fruits of the spirit, but are distributed according to His sovereign will (1 Corinthians 12:11).
V. There is in this matter a striking analogy between the Church and the human body. For--
1. As the body is one because animated by one spirit, so the Church is one because of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
2. As the unity of life in the body is manifested in a diversity of organs and members, so is the indwelling of the Spirit by a diversity of gifts and offices.
3. As the very idea of the body as an organisation supposes this diversity in unity, the same is true in regard to the Church.
4. As in the body the members are mutually dependent, and no one exists for itself alone, so also in the Church.
5. As in the body the position and function of each member are determined by God, so also these gifts are distributed according to the good pleasure of their Author.
6. In the body the least attractive parts are those which are indispensable to its existence, and so in the Church it is not the most attractive gifts which are the most useful.
VI. Inferences from this analogy.
1. Every one should be contented with the gift which he has received just as the hand and the foot are contented with their position and office in the body.
2. There should be no exaltation of one member of the Church because of his gifts.
3. There must be mutual sympathy between the members of the Church, as there is between the members of the body. One cannot suffer without all the others suffering with it. No one lives, or acts, or feels for itself alone, but each in all the rest (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Conclusion: What the apostle had said with regard to these spiritual gifts, applies in all its force to the various offices of the Church, which are the organs through which the gifts of the Spirit are exercised (1 Corinthians 12:28-31). (C. Hodge, D.D.)
I. The distribution of spiritual gifts.
1. The distribution is as varied as that of bodily and earthly gifts.
(1) One penetrates into the depths of the wisdom of God in nature, history, human life, and in the plan of salvation.
(2) Another communicates the sum of human knowledge in books or by speech.
(3) To another there is given a special spiritual power which is able to sustain him under the most trying circumstances.
(4) Or there are gifts of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues. Our own time is not wanting in spiritual gifts. Think of the spirit of investigation, and of the multitude of singers, preachers, leaders, and praying men. No village is too small in which may not be found a trace of spiritual gifts.
2. There are gifts enough, but no one person possesses them all. Hence all man-worship is entirely out of place. No self-exaltation is permissible. Every one has his limitations, which he cannot transcend without paying the penalty. And hence all discontent at our time and art is also out of order.
3. Every one has some kind of a gift. Often there creeps over us a feeling of gloom in view of more glorious gifts and greater successes on the part of others. But in God’s sight humility and fidelity are of more avail than glory and splendour. Employ, then, thine own gifts without envy and without hindrance. He that cannot construct a magnificent park can plant roses in his little family garden.
II. The right use of spiritual gifts.
1. “There are diversities of gifts,” but what is the Spirit whence they come and which they serve? The greater the gifts the greater the responsibility; a Saul becomes a Paul, but how many have reversed this course!
2. “There are differences of administrations.”
3. There are diversities of operations.
4. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. (K. Gerok, D.D.)
Spiritual gifts and inspiration
I. The apostle lays down a broad general principle respecting spiritual inspiration (1 Corinthians 12:3).
1. This made the broad separation between the, Church and the world, and is far above all distinctions as to gifts. It is far more important to ascertain that a man is a Christian than what sort of Christian he is (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). In what we differ from the world and not in what we differ from other Christians consists our distinction in the sight of God. Does baptism teach of a difference between Christians (1 Corinthians 12:13)? There are varieties, but they are all of “the selfsame Spirit.”
2. Let us bring this home personally. What is it that waked up the energies of these Corinthians most? Was it that which stimulated the apostle at Athens (Acts 17:16)? or was it rather the difference between party and party? What is it that wakes up the polemical energies of this day? Is it opposition to evil, or is it opposition to some doctrine held by other Christians? Were half the energy spent in trampling down sin which is spent in religious controversy, the kingdom of God will soon be established in this world; but “if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
II. The place and value assigned by St. Paul to differences of spiritual gifts.
1. These differences are the very conditions of Christian unity. The distinction between a society and an association is that artificial association binds man to man on the principle of similarity, while natural society binds men together in diversity. The idea of the Church presented in the Bible is that of a family which is not a union of similarity, for the father differs from the mother, etc., and yet together they form a most blessed type of unity.
2. St. Paul carries on this principle, and draws out of it special personal duties; he says that gifts are granted to iudividuals for the sake of the whole Church. After this he applies the principle to--
(1) Those possessed of inferior gifts. These are--
(a) Not to envy. Observe here the difference between the Christian doctrine of unity and equality, and the world’s doctrine of levelling all to one standard. The intention of God is not that the rude hand should have the delicacy of the eye, or the foot power of the brain, but to proclaim the real equality of each in mutual sympathy and love.
(b) Not to despond. There are few temptations more common to ardent spirits than to repine at their lot, believing that in some other situation they could serve God better. St. Paul says that it is the duty of every such man to try to be himself, to do his own duty; for here in this world we are nothing apart from its strange and curious clockwork; and if each man had the spirit of the Cross it would not matter to him whether he were doing the work of the mainspring or of one of the inferior parts.
(2) Those gifted with higher powers. These duties were--
(a) Humility. They were not to despise those who were inferior. As with the natural body the rudest parts are the most useful, and the delicate parts require most care, so is it with the body politic; the meanest trades are those with which we can least dispense.
(b) Sympathy (1 Corinthians 12:26). How little, during eighteen hundred years, have the hearts of men been got to beat together! Nor can we say that this is the fault of the capitalists and the masters only, it is the fault of the servants and dependents also. (F. W. Robertson, M.A.)
The work of the Spirit in modern life
What the apostle saw the Divine Spirit doing on the limited area of the early Church, we can see Him doing at large in modern civilised society. Wherever the minds of men are kindled into activity, redeeming them from the thraldom of merely animal existence, there the inspiration of the Divine Spirit is at work. Of this the grandest forms are--
I. The satisfaction of the passionate desire filling so many hearts, eagerly asking, what is true? For that is equivalent to, What is Divine? What is it that really represents to us God’s thought and way of working?
1. This gift of the Spirit of truth is condemned by the worldly-minded, because it leads men to question what seems settled.
2. Men under the inspiration of this Spirit are not all impelled into the same departments of inquiry.
(1) One man goes off upon the scientific track and wants to know the truth about the outboard universe.
(2) Others again, feeling that mountains and rivers and animals can tell them little about the most entrancing matter, turn to ask, What is the nature of God and His relation to man? That which inspires this question is the voice of the great Father saying within us, “Seek ye My face.”
II. The revelation of beauty.
1. The faculty which perceives the beautiful, wrought on by the Divine Spirit, was never so generally active as at the present day.
(1) One of the most remarkable developments of the human mind is its recent awaking to the beauty and poetry of the external nature. The elder poets and painters did not go to nature for the inspiration of their masterpieces, but to man and to mythology. People travel in thousands over seas and continents to see a grand waterfall, or a sublime range of mountains.
(2) Musical thought and feeling again has never attained to such wonderful expression, and in the whole history of the world we have never heard such bursts of glorious song as we have heard from Bach, Handel, etc.
2. I know that neither poetry, nor painting, nor music, will of themselves renew a man’s moral nature; but if you can inspire along with the love of truth and goodness a love of the grand and the beautiful, you have done a great deal to assist the more direct religious influences.
3. The day will come when religion shall be more closely associated with its natural friends of culture and art, and in combination shalt consecrate the family life and drive out the demon of intemperance.
III. The gift of goodness or beneficence.
1. Gifts of healing were among the spiritual gifts, and we must surely reckon them amongst the most precious gifts vouchsafed to modern days. Human life is besieged by a whole army of diseases and dangers, both of mind and body, so that he who gives his whole mind and energy to prevent, or to heal them, is a gift of God to the sufferer. When every medical man shall become a deep student of his art, seeking for all the new light which God sends, untrammelled by the traditions merely of his profession, he will become a faithful minister of that Spirit who has called him to His Divine work, and an unspeakable blessing to society.
2. “Government” is another item. This, whether local or imperial, must be regarded as one of the greatest of modern boons. Any one who helps to govern a city well, to promote the health and security of its inhabitants, even though he may get scant gratitude for his services, is as clearly a minister of God as he who preaches the gospel. And any man who helps to govern a nation well, who seeks to lead a people on by just laws and wise policy, stands in the front rank among God’s eminent servants. The prosperity of a whole nation depends upon such men being at the helm of the national ship.
3. Gifts of speech have become ours in a far more wonderful way than those of the Apostolic Church. The universe has become vocal, and the distant sun and planets are full of speech, telling us something of their own tale. The buried monuments of extinct empires have arisen to tell us the story of their history. Languages which were spoken in the grey dawn of the world speak to us again through the labours of scholars who have wrought at ill-requited work. Nearly all the speech and dialects now spoken in the wide world have been mastered and made intelligible to us. The eastern world speaks to the western as easily as two persons conversing in the same room, and the telegraph girdles the globe with fiery thought and flashing speech. And consider how the channels of communication from mind to mind are multiplied in all civilised communities. There is the greatest of all modern miracles--the daily newspaper, and it would be endless to speak of the books and periodicals that are printed in all departments of inquiry or imagination. And then consider how God has gifted some men with the powers of speech as orators. Think what this modern English tongue becomes in their use of it--flexible, rich, majestic, for the expression of every variety of thought and feeling. (C. Short, M.A.)
The unity of the Christian Church is its diversity
1. There are various believers, but one faith (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).
2. There are various ordinances, but one Ordainer (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
3. There are various operations, but one work (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). (Pastor Pfeiffer.)
The Christly assembly
Every member of this community--
I. Has passed through a radical change (1 Corinthians 12:1-2).
1. This is a change from the spirit of the Gentiles or the world to the Spirit of Christ--the most radical change that can take place in a man.
2. This is described--
(1) Negatively. No man who has experienced it has anything irreverent or profane in his spirit towards Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3).
(2) Positively (1 Corinthians 12:3). “Can say,” not of course merely the words, for all could easily do that, but with the heart and life.
3. This is the production of the Holy Ghost. No man is a member of the true Church who has not come under the control of the Spirit of Christ. There are such who are found in no Church, and there may be Curches where no such are found. All such, however, wherever found, belong to the Church of the “firstborn written in heaven.”
II. Has received special endowments from God (1 Corinthians 12:4-12).
1. These may be divided into--
(1) Those of intellect. “Wisdom,” “knowledge,” etc.
(2) Those of “faith,” operating faith in words, deeds, and “discernment.”
(3) Those of langunge. “Tongues,” speaking and interpreting.
2. Now all responsible men have--
(1) Intellect of some kind and amount.
(2) Faith of some sort. Man has an instinctive tendency to believe, hence his credulity is proverbial. And he is necessitated to believe: he could not carry on the business of life without faith.
(3) A language of some kind or other.
3. The man who has come into possession of the Christly Spirit and purpose, and is thus a member of the genuine Church, will receive--
(1) A new force and elevation of intellect.
(2) A new object and energy of faith.
(3) A new style and emphasis of expression, a new tongue.
4. This great variety of endowments reveals--
(1) The sovereignty of the Spirit. Why did He bestow any at all? Still more, why so different to different men? The only answer is because it pleased Him so to do. “He worked all things after the counsel of His own will.”
(2) His affluence. He is the inexhaustible Fountain, not only of all life, but of all spiritual endowments.
(3) His benevolence. All these varied endowments are for “profit.”
5. Since all our endowments are the free gifts of God, there is no reason for those of the humblest to be dissatisfied, nor for those who have the most splendid to be exultant.
III. Should regard these endowments as parts of a vital whole, ie., of the “body of Christ.” As the soul resides in, directs, and reveals itself in the body, so Christ in the true Church (1 Corinthians 12:12, etc.). Great is the variety in the various faculties, organs, and parts of the human body. Some are larger and more comely than others, but each, even the most insignificant and uncomely, are equally essential (1 Corinthians 12:22, etc.). How preposterous would it be for one part of the body to contend with another for importance and supremacy! Yet not more absurd than for one member of a Church to contend with another. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
1 Corinthians 12:2
Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols.
The great change and its obligations
I. The condition of the heathen.
1. Worshippers of dumb idols.
2. Carried away by their lusts.
3. Led by the devil and his agents.
II. This condition was yours.
1. Literally in past times.
2. Spiritually in your own former experience.
III. The change in you has been effected by God’s grace.
1. Through the gospel.
2. By the agency of others.
3. Hence your obligation to send it to the world.
Christianity and heathenism
Two things are here expressed--
I. The dead silence of the state of heathenism--the idols standing voiceless, with neither mouths to speak, nor ears to hear--silent amongst their silent worshippers. “The oracles are dumb.” This is contrasted with the music and speech of Christianity, “the sound of a mighty, rushing wind,” “the voice of many waters,” which resounded through the whole Church in the diffusion of the gifts, especially of prophesying and tongues.
II. The unconscious irrational state of heathenism, in which the worshippers were blindly hurried away by some overruling power of fate, or evil spirit of divination or priestly caste, without any will or reason of their own to worship at the shrine of inanimate idols. This is contrasted with the consciousness of an indwelling Spirit, moving in harmony with their spirits, and controlled by a sense of order and wisdom. Possibly there is the further intention of impressing the superiority of the conscious over the unconscious gifts of the Spirit. (Dean Stanley.)
No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and … no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost.
The first thing needed by a Church so inexperienced was to know what was the true character of the Divine influence. The apostle says every utterance, be it prophecy, tongue, or doctrine, which amounts to saying “Jesus is accursed,” is not Divinely inspired. But to whom can we attribute this language? To the Jews or unbelieving Gentiles who treated Jesus as an impostor, and saw in His ignominious and cruel death a token of the Divine curse (1 Corinthians 1:23)? No; for how could Christians be tempted to esteem such as inspired? Besides, we have here to do with discourses uttered in church; and how would anti-Christians have been allowed to speak there? Does, then, Paul admit the possibility of discourses from Christians to this effect? Remember the powerful fermentation of religious ideas then called forth by the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, the apostle speaks of teachers newly arrived in Corinth, who preached another Jesus and raised a different spirit to that which the Church had received. It was therefore not only another doctrine, but another breath, a new principle of inspiration, which these people brought with them. In 1 Corinthians 16:22 he devotes to anathema certain persons who love not Jesus when the Lord shall come, which would be very severe if it were not a return for the anathema which they threw in His face. How was this possible in a Christian Church? We must observe the term “Jesus,” detecting the historical and earthly person of our Lord, and hear in mind that from the earliest times there were people who, offended at the idea of the ignominious punishment of the Cross, and the unheard abasement of the Son of God, thought they must set up a distinction between the man Jesus and the true Christ. The first had been, according to them, a pious Jew. A heavenly Being, the true Christ, had chosen Him to serve as His organ while He acted below as the Saviour of humanity. But this Christ from above had parted from Jesus before the Passion, and left the latter to suffer and die alone. It is easy to see how, from this point of view, one might curse the Crucified One who appeared to have been cursed of God on the Cross, and that without thinking he was cursing the true Saviour, and while remaining without scruple a member of the Church. Cerinthus taught this doctrine, and Epiphanius affirms that this Epistle was written against him. The Ophites, or serpent worshippers, too, who existed before the end of the first century, asked those who wished to enter their churches to curse Jesus. In stating this first negative criterion, the apostle therefore means: However ecstatic in form or profound in matter may be a spiritual manifestation, if it tends to degrade Jesus, to make Him an impostor or a man worthy of the Divine wrath, if it does violence in any way to His holiness, you may be sure the inspiring breath of such a discourse is not that of God’s Spirit. Such is the decisive standard which the prophets, e.g., are summoned to use when they sit in judgment on one another (chap. 14:29). (Prof. Godet.)
The denial of Christ
I. Its forms.
1. Infidelity makes Him an impostor.
2. Socinianism robs Him of His Divinity.
3. Impenitence and unbelief resist His claims and authority.
4. All by denying practically declare Him accursed.
II. Its cause. The want of the Spirit. Hence a man is governed in his views and conduct either by a depraved reason or corrupt natural sense.
III. Its consequences.
3. Ruin. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The confession of Christ
I. What it implies.
1. A full conviction of His supreme authority as Lord and Christ.
2. A believing trust in Him.
3. A willing submission to His authority.
II. How is it elicited? By the Holy Ghost, who--
4. Sanctifies--him that believeth. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The confession that Jesus is Lord by the Holy Ghost
I. The general impotency of man in spiritual duties. Here we see--
1. The universality of our loss in Adam. No one hath any power to do this. Which notes their blasphemy that exempt any man from the infection of sin.
2. Where this impotency lies--in man. “No man.” Which notes their blasphemy that say man may be saved by his natural faculties as he is man.
3. By just occasion of that word “can,” is able, we see also the laziness of man who, though he can do nothing effectually and primarily, yet does not do so much as he might do.
II. What this spiritual duty is wherein we are all so impotent.
1. An outward act, a profession; not that the outward act is enough, but that the inward affection alone is not enough neither. To think it, to believe it, is not sufficient; we must say it, profess it.
2. And what?
(1) That Jesus is: not only assent to the history, and matter of fact that Jesus was, and did all that is recorded of Him, but that he is still that which He pretended to be. Caesar is not Caesar still, nor is Alexander, Alexander; but Jesus is Jesus still, and shall be for ever.
(2) That He is the Lord. He was not sent hither as the greatest of the prophets, nor as the greatest of the priests; His work consists not only in having preached to us, nor in having sacrificed Himself, thereby to be an example to us; but He is Lord. He purchased a dominion with His blood. He is the Lord, not only the Lord paramount, but the only Lord, no other hath a lordship in our souls and no other any part in saving them but He.
III. This cannot be done but by the Holy Ghost.
1. All recalls but one are excluded, and therefore that one must necessarily be hard to be compassed. The knowledge and discerning of the Holy Ghost is a difficult thing.
2. As all other means are excluded, so this one is included as necessary. Nothing can effect it but having the Holy Ghost, and therefore the Holy Ghost may be had. (J. Donne, D.D.)
Jesus the Lord
I. The truth that Jesus is the Lord. The man Jesus for thirty-three years acted as a man in connection with men, and at last died. This man is the Lord. The word he uses is almost invariably the translation of Jehovah in the LXX., a version in common use among the apostles. Now if Paul, as a Jew, called Jesus Jehovah, he must have demanded for Him all those attributes which his nation was wont to associate with that name; and that he did claim these attributes for Jesus no candid and qualified reader of his sermons and epistles can doubt.
II. This tremendous truth is so transcendent that it cannot be accepted without Divine help. No man of himself can affirm it--can state it as the natural conviction of his judgment. When you tell me that Jesus was born, lived, taught, and died, I understand you; for you have narrated a natural event; but when you tell me that Jesus is the great God, you transport me from the sphere of intelligible statement and testimony into wonderland. I do not mean that the Godhead of Christ is naturally inconceivable, but simply that the doctrine is above me. I cannot say that Jesus is God unless you add some other power to my mind, or stimulate to an unnatural intensity the powers I have. St. Paul affirms that no man can: and if St. Paul had not affirmed it we should have found it out. The history of controversy has repeated it in every age. Modern philosophers maintain this in a spirit of boasting, ill concealed beneath an affectation of scientific certainty; as if it had been left for them to discover; whereas Paul asserted it from the first. 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 receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” etc.; neither can he know them. The natural men have been unconsciously repeating Paul’s words from his day to ours. Now there is a portion of this wonderful truth which is historic--the works and the resurrection of Jesus. These were visible facts, and might be supposed to lie within the realm of observation and testimony. But see how the natural men treat them--as they dare not treat any other history. They first say that Jesus cannot be God, and then they read the gospels to explain away New Testament facts. I do not blame these men because they are unable to say that Jesus is the Lord, any more than I would rate a blind man for not knowing the sun; but I should censure the blind man if he declared there was no sun because he could not see it.
III. The evidence by which this grand truth can be affirmed. The internal persuasion of the Holy Ghost. This leads us at once into the region of the supernatural. Here we part company with the wise, and the scribe, and the disputer of this world. Here we speak in parables to them that are without. The Spirit is the author of the expression or manifestation of the Christian religion. The lips of prophets were touched, and the pens of scribes were moved, by Him; the holy child Jesus was conceived by Him; the dispensing of the glad tidings, that that child was a light to lighten the Gentiles, was entrusted to Him. Now, the first step towards the confession of the Godhead of Christ is the conviction of sin by the Holy Ghost. The misery following such a conviction of sin will make a man strive against it, and learn by bitter failures his helplessness. When I preach Jesus to a man in this state, 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. He wants a God-mediator because he has sinned against God. He must take his forgiveness from Him against whom he has sinned; and, being pardoned, he must render Him the full and loyal service of his heart and life. That which makes Jesus our final resting-place is His Godhead: that which gives an omnipotent potency to His blood is His equality with the Father. How easy for those whom the Holy Ghost has convinced of sin, and who have imagined under the tyranny of its power what a counter-power that must be which could redeem us from it--how easy for such to admit that Jesus is God! (E. E. Jenkins, D.D.)
The impossibility of truly believing and savingly confessing Christ, but by the Holy Ghost
I. The statement in the text needs explanation. It does not mean that a person cannot repeat the words, “Jesus is the Lord,” but by the Holy Ghost. What, then, is the true meaning, of the text? It is that none can without the Holy Spirit make this confession--
1. With a firm belief of its truth.
2. With a firm reliance on Him for salvation. In order to our relying on Jesus Christ for salvation two things are necessary.
(1) We must feel our need of such a salvation.
(2) We must believe that there is such a provision made for our salvation in Christ Jesus, neither of which we can do without the influence of the Holy Spirit.
3. With a full purpose of living to His glory.
II. We are here instructed--
1. In the nature of true religion. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ lies at the foundation of all true religion. That glorious truth, “Jesus is the Lord,” that He who died upon the Cross for our sins is “the Lord,” this truth is the great turning point of salvation, and whoever truly believes it is brought into a state of salvation. By the belief of this glorious truth he is also prepared for God’s service, to confess Him before men, and to maintain a conduct, according to His will, in the face of all difficulties from within and from without.
2. In the need of the Holy Spirit. We cannot know and believe that “Jesus is the Lord” so as to have our hearts savingly affected by it, so as to depend on Jesus as our Saviour, so as to be renewed thereby after His image in righteousness and true holiness. To attain this faith the special operation of the Holy Ghost is needful.
3. The peculiar office of the Holy Ghost. How He works, and by what means. (G. Maxwell, B.A.)
The work of the Holy Ghost necessary to man
I. The need of the Spirit’s work. It is a matter of needful preliminary consideration, that we dwell upon the guiltiness of our own nature. And no man wants more evidence than that which he finds concurrently upon the page of the Bible and in the volume of his own heart; he has only to look into the former to see what is holy and right and good; he has only to look into the latter in order to see how utterly we have departed therefrom. And this condition is not to be changed by any power which we can set in motion. It is not to be changed by the force of education. It is true that we may train and discipline our children to a certain outward course; we may bind upon them the necessity of maintaining a certain line of conduct, but this has nothing to do with the heart. It is not even by the ordinances of God’s appointment that we can ensure the conversion of souls.
II. The mode of the Spirit’s operations. It is a marvellous work which is wrought upon the soul of every man who passes from a state of nature into a state of grace. It is a change of desires, hopes, purposes, objects--a new birth. We can trace it by its results; we cannot always trace it by its accomplishment. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. But we are certain that if the effect be really and truly wrought upon any man the results will be manifest. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” etc. When the evil has been removed, when the hardness has been subdued, when the door of the understanding has been opened to admit the truth of Christianity, and when the door of the heart has been unclosed to all its blessed influences, the man comes to pursue earnestly and diligently those things for which he had once no esteem. (S. Robins.)
Faith a gift of the Spirit
Perhaps there is no one habit which Scripture attributes more often, either explicitly or implicitly, to the agency of the Holy Spirit than a sound and lively faith; and there is none, therefore, which the soul will more carefully seek and cherish. Faith, in the sense in which we are here concerned with it, is the belief of a professed revelation of God to man, on the authority of God who made it, and a lively faith is such a conviction of its truth as causes it to operate as a motive on our affections and lives. It is itself, then, a habit of the intellect, and appears, so far, to become moral only at the point where it influences, rather than is influenced by, the will. And in this light, as a moral motive, coupled too, as it often is in Scripture, with those effects which it should produce on the will, there seems no greater difficulty in viewing faith as a work of the Spirit than in so regarding repentance, love, or obedience. But in the prior intellectual process--the conviction of the understanding by the force of proof--there is a difficulty which has been felt probably by most minds. There appears, as far as can be seen, no more reason to seek or expect Divine interposition to correct or prevent a logical error, than to stay the effects of any physical power which we ourselves have set in motion. Either would be a miracle which God may work, but which we have no authority to suppose He will. We can no more refuse to believe what is proved, or believe what is destitute of apparent proof, than the eye can reject or change the forms and colours thrown by external objects on the retina. How then can the reception of a doctrine by the reason be affected by the operations of Divine grace? If it is proved, must it not be believed? This difficulty, however, such as it is, is not peculiar to Scripture, or religious truth, or the question of the Holy Spirit’s influence. It belongs equally to the acknowledged fact that, on almost every subject, men, apparently of equivalent power of intellect, with precisely the same evidence before them, arrive at widely different conclusions. Thus it is every day in history, in politics, in much that is called science, in the judgment we form of each other’s characters and conduct, and even in the credit that is given to alleged events almost within the sphere of our own observation. Whether it be that a partial and temporal blindness of the judgment is superinduced by the force of passion and the tension of the will; or whether, as seems more probable, attention, the optic glass, or rather the eye of the mind, is directed by the prevailing emotion excited by the subject in question, with more intensity on a certain class of considerations bearing upon it, while others it glances over slightly, or entirely disregards--even as the bodily eye gazing fixedly on one object is as blind for the time to all the rest as if they were not--so that from all the topics which should have been considered in due weight and measure, it culls those only which lead to the desired conclusion, or gives them such undue prominence in the field of vision that the judgment, deceived and misled, arrives, at a partial, though acceptable, decision--these are questions which may be left to the metaphysician to solve. It is enough for us that the fact is admitted, that everywhere, but in the necessary truths of demonstrative reasoning, the conclusions of reason are actually modified by the wishes, interests, or prejudices of the reasoner; so that belief is not merely the result of intellect, but is, in perhaps a large majority of cases, the mixed product of the moral and intellectual faculties combined. And if this be true where the feelings and passions are only remotely affected, and should not be so at all, how much more will it have place when the subject-matter is religion, which must teach the tenderest part of our moral nature; which strikes on hopes and fears; which bears directly on every affection, passion, motive, habit, and act; which, if admitted to be true, requires a complete revolution in the whole inner man and in great part of the outward conduct. The choice of arrangement of the materials with which reason is to work is much in the power of the will; and the will is prejudiced, and cannot, or will not, honestly do its part. It is not, then, surprising that our Lord should have attributed unbelief always to moral, never to purely intellectual causes (see John 3:18-20; John 5:40-44; John 7:17). It will follow, too--which is the point more immediately before us--not only that in the formation of a sound and living faith there is room for the agency of the Holy Spirit, but that without His aid such faith cannot exist. For if the character of our belief depends not merely on the correctness of the reasoning process, but much more on prior operations of the will, by which the antecedents and materials of reason are selected and arranged, and if our moral nature is in our unregenerate state warped and impaired so as to have a disinclination to what is good and a bias to what is evil, it is evident that the gospel, placed before such a tribunal, must be tried by a prejudiced and incapable judge; that, being wished false, and admitting of objections capable of being magnified and coloured into refutations, it is certain to be found false; and that nothing can rectify the balance of judgment, and place truth on an equal footing with falsehood, but the same external and Divine power which changes and renews the will of man, and enables it to love right instead of wrong, and to desire in all things to know and to do God’s will. Let us now, in further illustration of what has been said, endeavour to trace in one or two instances the process by which moral causes, acting on the intellect, may lead to avowed or practical belief.
1. In a certain class of minds infidelity and heresy alike seem to owe their origin to intellectual pride. To believe is to, adopt the same opinions which have been the creed of multitudes before, and to be confounded in the mass of unreasoning minds which have received implicitly the same traditionary tenets. Objections, on the other hand, have an air of novelty. There is at least the appearance of power in striking out difficulties. It is an intoxicating pleasure to feel different from other men--that is, in our own judgment, superior to them--and the brain often reels under it. Besides this, there is a prejudice against the gospel from the mere circumstance of its being old. In every science new discoveries are making daily. In history, in politics, in science, men have been long mistaken, why not in religion also? With such feelings and prepossessions the mind catches up objections to Christianity, or to some of its doctrines, as just what it was expecting to find. It dwells on them; it magnifies them by the exclusion of other presumptions, till they fill the field of mental vision and leave no room for truth. Humility and faith are kindred gifts of the same Spirit.
2. Another source of unbelief is even more evidently moral. It arises when the soul would hide from God after displeasing Him by wilful sin. Some, for example, smother accusing thoughts in worldly amusements and the dissipation of frivolous gaiety. But many--far more, probably, than can be known till the secrets of all hearts are disclosed--take refuge in a kind of partial unbelief. There are difficulties in revelation, and in some of its doctrines--light as a feather, indeed, when weighed impartially in the balance against the accumulated evidences of truth, but not of course without weight when poised and pondered over by themselves. Such the writhing soul is glad to seize. Suppose the gospel should not be true? his obligations are imaginary, and his guilt and ingratitude are unreal. (Bp. Jackson.)
The necessity of Divine influence in the study and use of Holy Scripture
I. What progress may be made in the study and use of Scripture without the special influence of the Holy Spirit.
1. It is obvious that, without such special influence of the Spirit of God, it is possible to arrive at a merely speculative belief in the truth of Scripture. Men of keen faculties in other pursuits do not forfeit them on approaching the Word of God.
2. It is possible for an individual, without the special influence of the Holy Spirit, to obtain a general acquaintance with the contents of the sacred volume. The strongest eye will make the largest discoveries.
3. It is possible, without the special influence of the Holy Spirit, to feel the highest admiration for parts of the sacred volume.
4. Such an individual may proceed clearly and strikingly to display the contents of the sacred volume to others. He may be a man of lively imagination, and conjure up the most attractive images for the illustration of the truth. He may be a master in composition and therefore able to describe forcibly what he sees distinctly. But, nevertheless, all these powers and faculties may be called into action without the operation of any principle of piety, and therefore without the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on the soul.
II. What is that knowledge and use of Scripture of which the Holy Ghost must be considered as the exclusive Author.
1. It is by the Holy Spirit we are led to make a personal application of the holy Scripture to our own case.
2. It is the Spirit of God alone who endears the promises of Scripture to the heart. They nominally called Christ “Lord” before, but they now use the expression in a higher and more appropriate sense. They are entirely His. They “yield their members as instruments of righteousness” to Him.
3. It is the Holy Spirit alone who brings the Word of God effectually to bear upon the temper and conduct. As soon as this new influence is felt on the soul our chains begin to drop from us.
1. Let the text teach us not to confound the results of our natural powers with the fruits of the Spirit.
2. Let the text teach us the transcendent importance of seeking habitually and devoutly the presence and influence of the Spirit of God.
3. If He does not lead us to “say that Jesus is the Lord”--to acknowledge Him, practically and spiritually, as our Redeemer, our Saviour, our Teacher, our Example--the whole of Scripture is as to us a dead letter, and we have “received the grace of God in vain.” (J. W. Cunningham.)
The Lordship of Jesus the ground of unity
I. There are reasons for believing that the expression, “Jesus is Lord,” was the primitive form of Christian creed, out of which all other more elaborate forms have grown (Philippians 2:11).
1. This simple formula contains in germ the whole faith, both objectively and subjectively. We cannot heartily accept this without accepting with it the truths of His incarnation, atonement, resurrection, reign. It includes also all that we need for our own spiritual welfare. If He is Lord, we are His, He is ours.
2. So full and so mighty is this confession of faith that we cannot heartily make it save by the power of the Holy Ghost (cf. St. Matthew 16:16-17)
. To make it on the authority of others, or because our reasoning faculties have been convinced of its truth, is not sufficient. It is real only when the Holy Spirit has convinced our spirit that it is a living truth.
II. From the above considerations we can gain some guidance is the search after unity among Christians. If the essential primitive creed that “Jesus is the Lord” be held spiritually--
1. It may be permitted us to differ as to the exact methods in which He works upon our spiritual being. St. Paul allows that there are diversities of gifts, differences of administration, differences of operation.
2. We shall learn not to contradict the spiritual experiences of others because they have been gained by methods differing from our own. Our creed is a creed of affirmations, not of denials. The spiritual education of St. Peter differed from that of St. John, and both differed from that of St. Paul or St. James, yet they are united in their belief in the one Lord. (Canon Vernon button.)
The teaching of the Spirit of God
I. The lesson we are to learn, to say. “Jesus is the Lord.”
1. It is but short, but it is the whole gospel. Here is Jesus, “a Saviour” and “the Lord,” and as they are joined together in one Christ, no man must put them asunder. If we wilt have Christ our Saviour, we must make Him our Lord: and if we make Him our Lord, He will then be our Saviour. Had He not been the Lord, the world had been a chaos, the Church a body without a head, a family without a father, an army without a captain, a ship without a pilot, and a kingdom without a king.
2. What it is to say it. It is soon said: it is but three words. The devils themselves did say it (Matthew 8:29). And if the heretic will not confess it, saith Hilary, “what more fit to convince him than the cry of the devils themselves?” The “vagabond Jews” thought to work miracles with these words (Acts 19:13). To say it taketh in the tongue, the heart, the hand, i.e., an outward profession, an inward persuasion, a constant practice answerable to them both.
(1) We are bound to say it (Romans 10:9; 1 John 4:15).
(a) But if to say it were sufficient, there needed no Holy Ghost to teach it. We might learn to say it as the parrot did to salute Caesar. And indeed, if we take a survey or the conversation of most Christians, we shall find that our confession is much after the fashion of birds.
(b) Some dare not but say it for very shame, lest those they live with should confute them. Yet the voice may be for Jesus and the heart for Mammon. “It is a voice, and no more.” Thus they may name Him who never name Him but in their execrations.
(2) As there is “a word floating on the tongue,” so there is the word of the heart, when by due examination we are well persuaded that Jesus is the Lord. We call it “faith,” which as a fire will not be concealed (Jeremiah 20:9; Psalms 39:3; Psalms 116:10). Sometimes we read of its valour (Hebrews 11:33); its policy (2 Corinthians 2:11), its strength; but that faith should be idle, or speechless, or dead, is contrary to its nature. Now there are many who maintain the truth, but by those ways which are contrary to the truth (2 Timothy 3:5); crying, “Jesus is the Lord,” but scourging Him with their blasphemies, and fighting against Him with their lusts. Therefore--
(3) That we may truly say it, we must speak it to God as God speaketh to us; who, if “He saith it, will make it good “ (Numbers 23:19). And as He speaketh to us by His benefits, so must we speak to Him by our obedience. For if He be indeed our Lord, then shall we be under His command.
II. The teacher. As the lesson is difficult, we must have a skilful master.
1. Good reason that the Holy Ghost should be our teacher. For as the lesson is, such should the master be. The lesson is spiritual; the teacher a Spirit. The lecture is a lecture of piety; and the Spirit is a Holy Spirit. It is not sharpness of wit, or quickness of apprehension, or force of eloquence, that can raise us to this truth.
2. “Christ dwelleth in us by His Spirit” (Romans 8:11). Who teaches us--
(1) By sanctifying our knowledge of Christ; by showing us the riches of His gospel, and the majesty of His kingdom, with that evidence that we are forced to fall down and worship.
(2) By quickening, enlivening, and even actuating our faith. For this Spirit “dwelleth in our hearts by faith,” maketh us to be “rooted and grounded in love,” enableth us to believe with efficacy (Ephesians 3:17).
3. A teacher then He is. But great care is to be taken that we mistake Him not, or take some other spirit for Him. And it doth not follow, because some men mistake and abuse the Spirit, that no man is taught by Him. Because I will not learn, doth not the Spirit therefore teach? And if some men take dreams for revelations, must the Holy Ghost needs lose His office?
4. But you will say perhaps that “the Holy Ghost was a teacher in the apostles’ times, but doth He still keep open school?” Yes, certainly. Though we be no apostles, yet we are Christians; and the same Spirit teacheth both. And by His light we avoid all by-paths of dangerous error, and discern, though not all truth, yet all that is necessary.
III. His prerogative. He is our “sole instructor.”
1. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” And there are diversities of teachers, but the same Spirit.
(1) The Church is “the house of learning,” and “the pillar of the truth.”
(2) The Word is a teacher: and Christ by open proclamation hath commanded us to have recourse unto it.
(3) We are taught also by Christ’s discipline.
2. All these are teachers; but their authority and efficacy is from the Spirit. The Church, if not directed by the Spirit, were but a rout or conventicle; the Word, if not quickened by the Spirit, “a dead letter”; and His discipline a rod of iron, first to harden us, and then break us to pieces. But the Spirit bloweth upon His garden the Church, and the spices thereof flow (Song of Solomon 4:16); He sitteth upon the seed of the Word, and hatcheth a new creature, a subject to this Lord; He moveth upon these waters of bitterness, and then they make us “fruitful to every good work.” Conclusion: Wilt thou know how to speak this language truly, that “Jesus is the Lord,” and assure thyself that the Spirit teacheth thee so to speak? Mark well then those symptoms of His presence.
1. That He is a Spirit, and the Spirit of God, and so is contrary to the flesh, and teacheth nothing that may flatter or countenance it, or let it loose to insult over the spirit.
2. That He is “a right Spirit” (Psalms 51:10); not now glancing on heaven, and having an eye fixed and buried in the earth.
3. That He is a Spirit of truth. And it is the property of truth to be always like unto itself, to change neither shape nor voice. (A. Farindon, B.D.)
Who have, and who have not, the Spirit
I. Who do not speak by the spirit of God, and have not His influences. “They that call Jesus accursed” (Leviticus 27:21; Leviticus 27:28).
1. The test put on Christians by their persecutors was, that they should revile and blaspheme Christ. Pliny, writing to Trajan, says, “When they” (the Christians) “could be induced to call on the gods … and, moreover, to revile Christ, to none of which things it is said that those who are in reality Christians can be compelled, I thought they ought to be released.” And the Jews not only uttered blasphemies against Christ themselves, but extorted them, if possible, from those they apprehended to be His disciples (Acts 26:11). The apostle, therefore, here signifies that those who reviled Christ had not the Spirit. This is applicable to those who in any way detract from the glory of Christ, or that do not acknowledge Him to be Lord.
2. It includes--
(1) All that blaspheme Him, or account Him, an impostor; as all infidels, heathens, Jews, Mohammedans, and whoever does not acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah (John 8:24; 1 John 4:3).
(2) All that reject Him (Acts 4:11).
(a) As a Teacher, not receiving the whole of His doctrine as infallibly true.
(b) As a Mediator, not making His atonement or intercession the ground of their justification (Romans 9:31; Romans 10:3).
(c) As a Saviour from sin and its consequences.
(d) As a King, by disobeying His laws. For, as the chief end for which the Holy Spirit is given to us is to glorify Christ, if we neglect, or be indifferent about, Him, it is certain we are not inspired by that Spirit.
II. Who have the Holy Spirit? All that “say that Jesus is the Lord.”
1. What is implied in saying this? To say so is--
(1) To believe and confess that, although He was despised and persecuted, yet He was the Lord Christ promised to the patriarchs, foretold by the prophets (Malachi 3:1; Psa 110:1; 1 John 4:2; Matthew 16:16); anointed and qualified to be our Teacher, our Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20-21; Hebrews 2:14), our Saviour, our Owner, our King (Philippians 2:11), our Lord and Master (Romans 14:7-9), our Judge (Romans 14:9-12).
(2) To believe and confess Him to be the Son of God, in a sense that no other being is His Son (1 John 4:15; Matthew 16:16; Hebrews 1:3, etc.); therefore, to be the “heir” and “lord of all”--to be “Immanuel, God with us” (Romans 9:5). It is impossible He should sustain His offices, or be our Lord, if He be not God.
2. The importance of it.
(1) It is the end of His life, death, and resurrection, that He should be acknowledged such (Philippians 2:6-11).
(2) It is necessary to our salvation, and certainly connected with it (Romans 10:8-10; 1 John 4:13-15).
(3) It tends to the glory of God, and the salvation of others.
3. It can only be said “by the Holy Ghost.” It must be said--
(1) In the mind believingly and sincerely; therefore, it must proceed from knowledge which we cannot have but by the Spirit (Matthew 11:27; 1Co 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:12; John 16:13-15; Ephesians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
(2) In the heart, affectionately (Romans 10:10; and 1 Corinthians 16:22; 1 Peter 2:7-8); but this love we cannot have but by the Spirit (Romans 5:5).
(3) With lips, openly, whatever it may cost (Romans 10:9; 2 Timothy 2:8-14; Matthew 10:25; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 10:32-39), which we cannot do of ourselves, or without faith and a new birth (1 John 5:4-5), and, therefore, without the Spirit.
(4) By the life, consistently. (J. Benson.)
I. What does this statement mean? The Holy Ghost must--
1. Convince us of its truth.
2. Reveal to us its importance.
3. Inspire us to trust in it.
II. Upon what is it based? It is--
1. Necessarily a matter of revelation.
2. Contrary to the carnal mind.
3. Superior to human reason. (W. W. Wythe.)
Divine grace necessary to the right appreciation of revealed truth
It seems a very simple thing to say that Jesus is the Christ, and yet the apostle declares that no man can do this but by the Holy Ghost. This is cutting down human power to a very low point indeed; and if that be so, then must the whole of Revelation be a sealed book to us, unless laid open by the Spirit of God.
I. The text does not assert the incompetency of the human understanding in matters of religion. Though the understanding was greatly injured by the fall, nevertheless in the main it still faithfully executes its part. But it can only judge of things according to the representations laid before it; and if those representations be incorrect, it may deliver a wrong judgment, and yet be no ways in fault. E.g., we lay a case before a lawyer; he delivers a favourable opinion; nevertheless, when we go into court, the verdict is against us. Now, it is possible enough that the lawyer may have been to blame, but the case may not have been fairly submitted to him; a colouring may have been thrown over certain facts, which has distorted them. Then surely the lawyer is not in fault.
II. The understanding may be deceived.
1. By the senses. Let us suppose a man born with impaired senses, but with a clear understanding. Suppose that his eye distorts everything, or is unable to discriminate colours; suppose his touch imperfect, or his ear faulty. Now what will the powers of the man’s understanding avail him when such senses make their report? Would he not himself require to be made the subject of a rectifying process ere he could frame any true and fitting conceptions of the world in which he is placed?
2. By the affections. There are in all of us faculties by which we love and by which we hate certain things; the former is in right order if it fix on nothing but what is worthy of our love, and the latter if it fix on nothing but what is worthy of our hatred. But if, like the diseased eye or ear, they misrepresent objects, what will the understanding be able to do, seeing that the impression transmitted to it of evil may make it seem good, and of good may make it seem evil? And is not man in his natural state a being with depraved affections, though he may not be a being with vitiated senses? By nature he regards as worthy of his best love what God would have him despise, and gives his aversion to that which God would have him value; he seeks happiness where God asserts that it cannot be found, and denies that it exists where alone God would place it. The task demanded from the understanding by religion is, that it determine that in God is man’s chief good, and that in obedience to God is also true happiness. But whilst the affections in their natural state give preference to some finite good and shrink from God’s service, how can the understanding deliver the verdict required by religion any more than it could form a correct notion of a tree, if the senses represent it as lying on the ground in place of springing from it?
III. The Holy Spirit is required to work on that by which the understanding is deceived, i.e., in the heart; removing the corrupt bias from the affections, and purifying them so that they shall find their chief good in God, ere the head can apprehend the great truths of the gospel, confess their force, and bow to their authority. Men often profess to count it very strange that we should make them out incapable of understanding spiritual things, when they have confessedly so much power in other departments of knowledge. The proper answer is, that the affections are to spiritual things what the senses are to natural things. If, then, the affections misrepresent the objects of which they have to give impressions to the understanding, the result will be of the same kind as if the work were done by the senses. The Holy Ghost did not come to give a new understanding, for there was strength enough in the head; He came to set in order those faculties through which the understanding is necessarily influenced. And it follows indubitably, from such passages as our text, that until a man has submitted himself to the influences of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the meaning of the Bible, and yield himself to the duties of religion. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
Real submission to Christ the effect of Divine influence
I. The manner in which a true Christian is here described.
1. He says “Jesus is the Lord.” The term “Lord” is here used to signify Christ’s Messiahship, including His authority and dominion. “He is Lord of all.” Christ has authority--
(1) To teach, to prescribe the faith of His followers, to enact laws for His Church, to direct and command in all things pertaining to our present duty, and our hopes for the future.
(2) To rule. As Lord of all, He is the head of that mediatorial government which externals over the world, for the sake of His Church which is in the world. His reign is a reign of grace. His throne is in the hearts of the faithful, who are made willing in the day of His power, and find their pleasure in their obedience.
(3) To pardon and save. When on earth He had power to forgive sins; and He is now “exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give remission of sins.” We are required to look unto Him, that we might be saved.
(4) He will hereafter come in the clouds of heaven with all authority to judge.
2. But what is meant by saying that Jesus is the Lord?
(1) That to say it aright you must cordially receive Christ, and trust in Him as your Redeemer and Saviour (John 1:12-13).
(2) With this is connected a spirit of submission, and a practical acknowledgment of His lordship over us. To say He is the Lord, and yet to refuse to obey Him, is to mock Him with vain words.
(3) To this must be joined those exercises of the mind which are the proper workings of faith, the fruits of the Spirit of grace.
II. The work of the Holy Spirit in producing a cordial subjection to Christ the Lord.
1. The human mind shows a reluctance to that spiritual reception of the gospel which is meant by saying that Jesus is the Lord.
2. It is not to be expected that the heart, under this wrong bias, will cure itself. Nor can so desirable a change be effected, except by our heavenly Father’s gracious assumption of this work to Himself (Ezekiel 36:26). The scriptures connect the sanctification of the Spirit with the belief of the truth. What occasions the rejection of the authority of Jesus the Lord? Is it not ignorance and unbelief? And how shall these be removed but by instruction and evidence? These are to be obtained from the Word of God, and it is by means of His own truth as there revealed that souls are renewed and reconciled. His Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and “worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
1. Let us infer, for our improvement, the great importance of the work of the Holy Spirit in the concerns of our salvation.
2. Let us all carefully use the means whereby our souls may be quickened to all holy obedience. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer )
1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
Diversities of gifts
1. The glory of the Apostolic Church was not merely in her faith, zeal, conversions, or martyrdoms; but above all, and as their source--in the possession of the Holy Spirit.
2. Her miraculous gifts have been long laid aside; but the Holy Spirit is still the glory of the Church, endowing her with even nobler gifts; and of them the text is still true. There is variety in unity.
I. In spiritual, endowments.
1. There is the greatest diversity--
(1) In the natural order.
(a) Take a family. One has more ability than another, and the abilities run in such different lines as make the same treatment or destination impossible.
(b) Take the little world of school. Each boy has his own capacity, one seemingly promising, another the opposite according to our artificial standard--a standard to be reversed in after life.
(c) Take the greater world. What diversities here--the orator, and the man of no utterance, but a man of deeds; the poet and the stern man of facts, etc. And all these diversities are for the well-being of man, and we are not to despise any of them.
(2) Now granting that religion is the work of the same God, should we not anticipate a kindred diversity in His spiritual gifts? All Christians have their spiritual talents, some five, some two, etc., but every man according to several ability. All God’s children--
(a) Are taught of the Lord by a Divine illumination. But how great the diversity between the apostle soaring in inspired vision and the unlettered Christian who simply knows her Bible true--her Saviour sufficient.
(b) Are, in common, partakers of like precious faith; but here there are diversities between the faith that staggers not at promised impossibilities, and the faith that can only say, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.”
(c) Love Christ. But what striking diversities between the love that rejoices to surrender all for Him, and the love that can but keep the garments unspotted and is ever ready to wax cold! From this diversity, then, it follows that some will become more remarkable for faith, some for love. Some have the grander, sterner qualities predominating; others have the softer, more gentle.
2. Over all these diversities there is a pervading unity of the one Spirit that creates and sustains them. As all the diverse works of nature prove the unity of the Creator, so all the gifts of grace bear the broad arrow of His hand. Some are like great rivers diffusing fertility through an empire, sustaining a mighty population on their banks, and bearing great navies on their bosom; others are as little rills, which serve only to gladden the eyes of a household or two, and then disperse into the great waters; yet all of them are channels, filled with the same living water; each has its own flow from the one mountain range, each is of the like quality, each has its own separate beauty.
(1) The humblest gifts of grace have a use and a value, surpassing all gifts of genius and wealth, and are not to be despised. True science finds its field not merely in scanning the firmament, but in studying the flowers.
(2) Nay, the more lowly and obscure these graces are, the more they are like Him whose chief glory shines in His condescension. The humblest gifts are the Divinest, for they do not inflate the heart with the sense of its own greatness. And in a higher world, may it not be found that these humble ones were the highest in God’s esteem, because the least mixed up with self?
II. In spiritual ministry. “Property has its rights, it has also its duties”--so have natural gifts. And the greater a man’s powers, the more sacredly is he bound to minister to the welfare of humanity. And all gracious powers are held by the like condition. The Church is like a great palace where every man has his post, and the humblest ministry is as necessary as the most distinguished. In a great steamship, it is not enough that there be the master to issue instructions, the pilot to steer, the engineer to control its mighty powers; but there must be those who perform the meanest services, else all the skill and power of the others will be useless. So in the Church. What lives of power and productiveness were those of Paul, Luther, Knox, etc. How insufficient seem other ministries in comparison; yet the faithful steward of a few things is as useful in his way and as honourable as the faithful occupant of the most splendid office. There is a ministry of--
1. Parental instruction. You cannot transfer this to another hand, even were you anxious to do so to the wisest and best. You alone can travel the pathway to the affections and confidence of the youthful heart. For your children’s sake and for your own soul’s sake, renounce not this ministry. It is your noblest blessedness and theirs to have these children made yours by the double tie of nature and of grace.
2. Sympathy. This brings us into immediate communion with the Spirit of Jesus, who has consecrated all the sorrows of humanity by His own. In the Primitive Church this office was heralded by gifts of healing. These are gone, but we can sympathise with distress, and by that chord touch the heart, and gain a hearing for Christ. “Mercy is twice blessed,” etc.
3. Liberality. What a magnificent power of blessing to the Church is a rich man who, with a heart delivered from selfishness, is willing to use his Master’s stores in his Master’s service!
4. Prayer. The Church is mightiest on her knees.
III. In spiritual operations. Nothing could be more infinitely varied than the operations of God in nature and in providence. There is the tempest, as well as the soft west wind; the gentle breath of spring, and the summer heat. And there are corresponding diversities in God’s dealings with the sinner.
1. In the act of preparation for, or in the want of it. In the sunrise in our own land the darkness of night gradually passes into the pale grey of dawn, the grey into the saffron, and the saffron into the ruddy tints of morning, and how these in their turn melt away in the bright light they herald. Whereas, in tropical lands the sun rises at once. And is it not the same with the dawn of new life on the soul? I have stood on the sea-shore, and for a considerable time could not tell whether the tide was coming in or going out. Again, I have stood beside it when its mass of waters was tossed by the fierce tempest, and when it swept all before it, as it rolled its mighty waves to the shore. And in these different aspects of the ocean we have a picture of the diverse experiences of the soul in passing through the great change. Take the case, e.g., of Lydia and the gaoler, John and Paul.
2. In the after experience of the Christian life. Some advance with uninterrupted progress. There are others whose course is like that of Israel of old in the wilderness. With some, the course is all among the deep shady valleys; others are walking on the high ground, always in the sun. The one class go on their way with joy and singing, the other advance with timid step, going, and weeping as they go. But however opposite the experiences of God’s children, and however diverse their paths, they are all led by the right way, by the one Spirit to the one home. (J. Riddell.)
Diversities of gifts
God hath distributed variety of gifts and graces in different degrees amongst His people. Every man hath his proper gift of God, and the gifts and graces of all are this way made useful and beneficial. Job was exemplary for plainness and patience; Moses for faithfulness and meekness; Josiah for tenderness. Athanasius was prudent and active; Basil heavenly and of a sweet spirit; Chrysostom laborious and without affectation; Ambrose reserved and grave. One hath quickness of parts, but not so solid a judgment; another is solid, but not so ready and quick. One hath a good wit, another a better memory, a third excels them both in utterance. One is zealous, but ungrounded, another well principled, but timorous. One is wary and prudent, another open and plainhearted. One is trembling, another cheerful. Now, the end and use of Churchfellowship is to make a rich improvement of all by a regular use and exercise of the gifts and graces found in every one. One must impart his light, and another his warmth. The eye, viz., the knowing man, cannot say to the hand, viz., the active man, I have no need of thee. Unspeakable are the benefits resulting from spiritual and orderly communion; but they are all cut off by dissentions; for as faith is the grace by which we receive all from God, so love is the grace by which we share the comfort of all among ourselves. (J. Flavel.)
Diversity of nature
Break off an elan bough three feet long, in full leaf, and lay it on the table before you, and try to draw it, leaf for leaf. It is ten to one if in the whole bough (provided you do not twist it about as you work) you find one form of a leaf exactly like another; perhaps you will not even have one complete. Every leaf will be oblique, or foreshortened, or curled, or crossed by another, or shaded by another, or have something or other the matter with it; and though the whole bough will look graceful and symmetrical, you will scarcely be able to tell how or why it does so, since there is not one line of it like another. (J. Ruskin.)
Unity in diversity
I. Intellectual progress consists in discovering the unity which underlies all diversity. In early ages everything appeared to be totally different from everything else. “God’s many and lords many” found in the material universe a convenient playground for their manifold caprices. The history of science is a record of the discovery in this primeval chaos of the unifying principal of law. Phenomena that seemed altogether dissimilar have turned out to be merely different operations of the same force. The apple which falls to the ground once seemed to have nothing in common with the moom which does not so fall; but now we know that both are equally under the control of gravity. Shooting stars may even yet appear to many to be extreme examples of lusus naturae; but investigation has proved that these eccentric objects contain animal remains which shows that in the most distant parts of the universe the same biological forces were ages ago at work which are in operation here and now.
II. This unity in the midst of diversity is to be found, also, in the spiritual sphere.
1. There are “diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” These gifts may be roughly divided into the secular class, which includes gifts of teaching, healing, and government; and the religious class, which includes those of prophecy and of tongues. What the gift of tongues precisely was I do not know; but the unholy emulation to possess it St. Paul shows was foolish and wrong. In comparison with charity or enthusiasm of man for men it was nothing worth. The crucial test by which spiritual gifts may be known, and their relative value determined, was “profit.” Even a secular endowment, such as the power of healing, becomes a gift of the Spirit to him who uses it for the welfare of his fellow-man. Such a desire is an inspiration that can only come from above, and this inspiration transforms what would otherwise be a mere natural endowment into a gift of the Spirit. The mistake of the Corinthians was similar to one not uncommon in the present day. It is sometimes imagined that a clergyman, as such, is in a unique degree under the guidance of the Spirit. In spiritual matters there is no exclusive prerogative. I pity the clergyman who has never been ministered unto when he went to minister. Profitableness is the test of spiritual gifts. He is the most highly gifted man who does the most good.
2. Not only do different gifts proceed from the same Spirit, but there are different developments of the same gift. The office of the Spirit is not to provide us with an infallible set of doctrines, or with an immaculate set of actions; but to give us powers, instincts, emotions, and sentiments, which will be differently developed in different individuals and according to different circumstances. “God fulfils Himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” Barren uniformity is death. Our spiritual life consists in our co-operation with God, and the co-operation of different individuals under different circumstances leads of necessity to a diversity of opinions and practices. The same desire to honour God may manifest itself in the most diverse ways. Some think it incumbent to go through an elaborate ritual, while to others a bold simplicity will seem more in harmony with worship. Some will feel that music draws them heavenwards; others that it ties them down to earth. Some will find that they can hardly pray without a form of words; others that they can hardly pray with it. There are diversities of working, yet it is the same God who worketh. What we have to look for in the spiritual as in the physical spheres is not uniformity but unity--the unity manifested through diversity.
3. This is a lesson which many find it very hard to learn. Some time ago the author of “Religious Denominations” was told that in the North of Scotland there was a sect nearly dying out, the members of which were peculiarly sure that they alone were in the way of salvation. He went to the house of the chief representative of this expiring sect. The man was away, but the wife admitted that they had lost member after member from unsoundness of views, until at last, as she pathetically put it, “There is only just myself and my husband left, and I am not so very sure of him.” Now, we may smile at this foolish old woman, yet she is only an extreme specimen of many who seem to find supreme comfort in the assurance that God’s Spirit is working only in the very select few who agree in doctrine and practice with themselves.
4. In heaven, if not on earth, men will discover that their differences were much less, and their agreement much greater than at the time appeared. All honest seekers after God are in heart united, whether they know it or not; though distinct as the billows, they are one as the sea; though distinct as the colours of the rainbow, they are as the pure white light which those colours compose. The mount of truth has many paths; those who are ascending it by different ways look too often upon each other with suspicion and contempt; but they will all be led onwards and upwards by the Holy Ghost, till eventually they find themselves standing side by side before the throne of the Eternal. (Prof. Momerie.)
Unity with diversity
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,” but there are distinctions in the Divine nature: in the Old Testament He is called Elohim, plural noun joined to singular verb; and in the New He is spoken of as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Again, the moral law is also one summed up, like the Divine character, in love; but it has a diversity of applications. There is unity with variety in--
I. The works of God.
1. In the matter of the universe. Matter is the same in all time and in all space. Chemistry and geology both prove this. But in what a diversity of modes does it appear: in earth, water, air, and fire; in the trunks, branches, fruits, etc., of plants; in the bones, muscles, etc., of animals.
2. In the forces of the universe. The sum of force is always one and the same. If you consume it in one form it appears in another. A large portion of it coming from the sun is taken up by the plant, which is eaten by the animal, and becomes in us the power which we use to serve our purposes. But in what a diversity of modes does this force appear; in matter attracting matter, and holding atoms and worlds together; in elements combining according to their affinities; driving our steam engines, heating our homes, quivering in the magnetic needle, blowing in the breeze, smiling in the sunshine, striking in the lightning, and living in every organ of the body; ever changing and yet never changing; imparting unceasing activity, and yet securing an undisturbed stability.
3. In the orderly arrangement of the matter and forces of the universe. He who created the elements and their properties has so disposed them that they fall in order like the stones in a large building, or soldiers in companies, every one with a duty to discharge. The issue is--
(1) Beneficent and highly complex laws, such as the revolution of the seasons. What a number of agencies, e.g., are involved in the periodical return of spring.
(2) The adaptation of law to law, so as to bring about individual events. This is what constitutes providence. This providence is general, reaching over the whole, because it is particular providing for every being, and for all wants.
4. In our mental talents and tastes. The mind is suited to the position in which it is placed in the world, and the world is adapted to the minds which are to observe and use it. Man’s intellect, formed after the image of God, delights in unity with variety, and nature presents these everywhere.
II. In the word of God. This was written at very different times by different men in different styles and about different topics: but there is unity from beginning to end. It is one creed in regard to God, Christ, man, this world and the world to come. This arises--
1. From the circumstance that there is one God inspiring the writers. As “the Lord our God is one Lord,” so the Word He has inspired is also one. While “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God,” it “is profitable” for a variety of purposes.
2. From the whole being a development of the one plan of redemption. There is a universal harmony in nature, but somehow a discordant element has been introduced. Looking within, we find conscience indicating that man is not at peace with God nor with himself. Looking without, we see wars, bloodshed, disease, disappointment, and death. All these things can be traced directly or indirectly to sin. Now the Word of God reveals a way by which this discordance is removed. In its evolution the plan assumes various forms, the patriarchal, the Jewish, the Christian. But it is substantially the same along the whole line. God appears everywhere as a holy God, saving sinners through the suffering of His Son. Except in the degree of development there is no difference between God as revealed in Eden, on Sinai, and on Calvary. The first book of Scripture discloses to us a worshipper offering a lamb in sacrifice, and the last shows a lamb as it had been slain in the midst of the Throne. In heaven they “sing the song of Moses the servant of God and of the Lamb.”
3. From the unity with variety in the experience of believers. In essential points the experience of all is alike, and has been so from the beginning; but because the Spirit works in a certain way in the breast of one believer, this is no reason why He should work in the same way in the heart of every other. He suits His manifestations to the difference of their state and character.
III. There is an accordance between the works and Word of God and yet there is a difference.
1. Both come from God and therefore reflect His character, but in a somewhat different light. The works manifest His power and His wisdom; the Word His holiness on the one hand and His mercy on the other.
2. There are times when science and Scripture seem to contradict each other; but only as one branch of science may seem to be inconsistent with another. Geology, e.g., requires long ages to explain its phenomena, whereas astronomy seems to say, that so long time has not elapsed since the earth was formed by the rotation of nebulous matter, every one believes that sooner or later the seeming inconsistencies will be cleared up. Account for it as we may, there is a general correspondence between Genesis and geology, and with such correspondences we may leave the apparent irreconcilabilities to be explained by future investigation. At times it is not easy to reconcile profane history with Scripture; but ever and anon the monuments of Egypt, Nineveh, and Moab, tell us that the Old Testament gives us a correct picture of the state of the nations in ancient times.
3. I might dwell on the numerous analogies between nature and revelation. Both give the same expanded views of the greatness of God; the one by showing His workmanship, the other by its descriptions. “The heavens declare,” etc. Both show that there is only one God; the works, which are bound in one concatenated system, and the Word when it declares that “the Lord our God is one Lord.” Note--Two points brought into prominence by recent science.
(1) The operation of evolution. It is not proved, as some would aver, that there is nothing but development. For there cannot be development without some previous seed. We see a like operation in the kingdom of grace the Jewish economy is developed out of the Patriarchal, the Christian out of the Jewish; and the seed planted eighteen hundred years ago has become a wide-spread tree.
(2) The state of things in which we are placed. The frivolous may feel as if the Scriptures have drawn too dark a picture of our world; but all who have had large experience of human life acknowledge that the account is a correct one. How much of history is occupied with the narrative of desolating wars. We boast of our splendid cities, but in every one of them you will find crime and misery fermenting. There are warring elements in every human bosom, and in every society. Any one seeking to remove the causes of discord will be sure to irritate and to meet with determined opposition. The greatest men have been martyrs, who, in order to pull down the evil, have had themselves to perish. And science gives the same picture. What mean these discoveries of worlds being formed out of warring elements? What means the “struggle for existence”? Science, as well as Scripture, shows that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. The two are thus seen to be in curious correspondence; but they differ in this, that while both speak of a troubled day, the latter and more comforting revelation assures us that “at evening time there shall be light.” (J. McCosh, D.D.)
On the face of a watch are three workers, and an ignorant man would conclude that the second hand was the most important. But you might remove that, and even the minute hand, and yet be able to tell the time if the steady hour hand were left. So there are diversities of operations in the Church, and we are liable to form wrong conclusions as to their relative value. We have little fussy men, who can turn round sixty times before another man will turn round once, but they are not always the most reliable as to spiritual time, nor are they the most important workers in the Church. What we want is men and women of steady, reliable character, on the dial of whose conduct the true time is always registered. I once went into a clockmaker’s at noon, and the clocks were striking the hour. There were “diversities of operations,” but “the same spirit” actuated them all, viz., to tell everybody that it was twelve o’clock. It was amusing to hear little clocks tip off the whole twelve before larger ones had got more than nicely begun. But each did its own work, according to its own promptings, and found no fault with others because they had different methods of doing the same thing. The effect of a quarrel would have been loss of time and damage. I learn from this--
1. That all Christians should be busy at their great life-work.
2. That Christian activity must be prompted and controlled from within.
3. That uniformity of method is impossible, and therefore that each should work in his own way, and find no fault with those whose methods may differ.
4. That method is quite secondary. What is the quality of the work done? Let me describe the clocks I saw.
I. The clock that did not strike. A fine-looking clock, which only told the time to the eye, whereas others told it to the ear as well. Now, as a rule, all true Christians are made to strike, but now and then you will come across one who appears to lack the striking weight or the bell; but, in many cases, if you look on the dial of their conduct you will find it unvarying as the sun. I have often lain awake at night wondering what time it was, when suddenly the faithful clock struck off the answer. It is a great blessing to the world, in the midst of its moral darkness, that there are so many Christians who fearlessly publish the time.
II. The clock that made only a buzzing noise. It went through all the motions of striking without making one the wiser as to what it was trying to tell. So some well-meaning people go through all the motions of bearing witness for the Master, but no one can understand them. This, however, is in very many instances the result of habit or inconsistency. I knew a most powerful political speaker who, in relating his Christian experience, seemed to be afraid of everybody present; and I know good sisters, whose voices can ring all over the place, who can only mumble their Christian experience.
III. The clock that struck too much. There was a clock that appeared to like to hear itself strike, and was little short of a nuisance: yet the bending of a little wire, about the eighth of an inch, would have made it as orderly as any in the room. So those who pray and speak too long in our churches only require a gentle, brotherly suggestion, and the trouble in many cases would be at an end, yet not in all. For, when very highly tempered, the wire sometimes breaks in bending, and then I have known them to sink themselves in ill-natured silence, and scarcely as much as tick in public afterwards. Some of these great talkers are very poor tune-keepers. I have heard them strike off “Twelve o’clock, spiritual noonday here,” when the hands on the dial of their conduct scarcely indicated spiritual sunrise.
IV. The clock that needed starting. I thought perhaps it was out of gear or not wound up, but the gentleman told me that it was in going order, but that he had forgotten to start it. So there are persons who just need the gentle touch of Christian encouragement to start them in the path of righteousness. And in the Church there are many who would pray in the prayer-meeting, labour in the Sunday-school, or give liberally if they once got started.
V. The clock that was not plumb--which was just in the act of stopping. There was something under it. How many church members are swayed all to one side by things that are inconsistent with the Christian character. While in such an attitude you may ask, but you can receive no spiritual blessings.
VI. The one feature the clocks all had in common. I noticed amid all the “diversities” of size, mechanism, and “operations,” that all these clocks had a tendency to run down. So with all Christians. You may be as punctual at church, and as exemplary in your department as usual, and be running down all the time. The pendulum of profession may continue to wag when the mechanism is clogged with the dust of worldliness or forbidden pleasures. No Christian can run on time, if left to himself, for a single hour. What, then, must be the condition of those who live loose from God six days out of seven. Some clocks are so made that they can run for weeks and keep good time; but I never knew a Christian that could do it, and I have known many who gave it a fair trial. Conclusion: I well remember my first watch. Sometimes it would rattle off an hour in fifteen minutes, while at other times it could not make an hour in twenty-four. I spent a good deal of time in finding out the time and giving it to my watch, by turning the hands into proper position. My father at length, to save time I presume, took it to the watchmaker, and I thought my watch was ruined as the man took it to pieces, but when the job was done, it could keep its own hands to the true time without any help from mine. Many in our churches act towards themselves as I did towards that old watch. Their inner mechanism is clogged and deranged by the dust and defilement of sin. When they perform any Christian duties it is all mechanical and outside work with them. You cannot keep time from the outside. You must come under God’s cleansing and regulating hand before you can run the way of His commandments. (T. Kelly.)
The dispensation of the Spirit
The ages of the world are divisible into three dispensations.
1. Of the Father when God was known as a Creator; creation manifested His eternal power and Godhead.
2. Of the Son when God manifested Himself through man; the Eternal Word spoke through the inspired and gifted of the race. Its climax was the advent of the Redeemer.
3. Of the Spirit in which God has communicated Himself by the highest revelation, as a Spirit mingling with a spirit. There is a twofold way in which the operations of the Spirit may be considered.
I. Spiritual gifts conferred on individuals. In verse 28 these are divided into two classes; the first are those capacities which are originally found in human nature, elevated and enlarged by the gift of the Spirit; the second are those which were called into existence by the sudden approach of the same influence. Just as if the temperature of this northern hemisphere were raised suddenly, and a mighty tropical river were to pour its fertilising inundation over the country, the result would be impartation of a vigorous and gigantic growth to the vegetation already in existence, and at the same time the development of life in seeds and germs which had long lain latent in the soil, incapable of vegetation in the unkindly climate of their birth. Consider--
(1) The natural gifts.
(a) Teaching is a gift, natural or acquired. To know is one thing; to have the capacity of imparting knowledge is another.
(b) Healing is no supernatural mystery; long and careful study of physical laws capacitate the physician for his task.
(c) Government, again, may be learned, but there are some who never could so acquire it. Some men seem born to command. Now the doctrine of the apostle was, that all these are transformed by the Spirit so as to become almost new powers.
(2) Supernatural gifts. Of these we find two pre-eminent gifts.
(a) The gift of tongues was not merely the imparted faculty of speaking foreign languages; it would rather seem that the Spirit of God, mingling with the soul of man, so glorified its conceptions, that the ordinary forms of speech were found inadequate for their expression. In a far lower department, when a man becomes possessed of great ideas, his language becomes broken, But it often happens that when perfect sympathy exists, incoherent utterances--a word--a syllable--is quite as efficient as elaborate sentences. On the day of Pentecost all who were in the same state of spiritual emotion as those who spoke understood the speakers; to those who were sceptically watching, the effects appeared like those of intoxication. A similar account is given in chap. 14.
(b) The gift of prophecy seems to have been a state of communion with the mind of God, more under the guidance of reason than the gift of tongues.
2. Upon these gifts we make two observations.
(1) Even the highest were not accompanied with spiritual faultlessness. Disorder and vanity might accompany these gifts, and the prophetic utterance itself might be degraded to mere brawling, therefore St. Paul declared the need of subjection and rule over spiritual gifts; the spirits of the prophets were to be subject to the prophets; if those endowed with tongues were unable to interpret what they meant, they were to hold their peace. There is nothing precisely identical in our own day with these gifts, but there are those which stand in a somewhat analogous relation. The flights of genius appear like maniac ravings to minds not elevated to the same level, and are perfectly compatible with moral disorder. The most gifted of our countrymen was “the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind.” The most glorious gift of poetic insight is too often associated with degraded life.
(2) The gifts, which were higher in one sense, were lower in another; as supernatural gifts they would rank thus--tongues--prophecy--teaching; but as blessings to be desired, this order is reversed. The principle upon which that was tried was that of a utility whose measure was love (1 Corinthians 14:19). Our estimate is almost the reverse of this: we value a gift in proportion to its rarity. One of our countrymen has achieved for himself extraordinary scientific renown, but the same man applied his rare intellect to the construction of that simple lamp which had been the guardian of the miner’s life. The most trifling act which is useful is nobler in God’s sight than the most brilliant accomplishment of genius.
II. The spiritual unity of the Church--“the same Spirit.” There are two ideas of unity: sameness of form and identity of spirit. Some have fondly hoped to realise an unity for the Church of Christ which should be manifested by uniform expressions in everything. There are others who have thrown aside entirely this idea as chimerical; and who, perceiving that the law of the universal system is manifoldness in unity, have ceased to expect any other oneness for the Church of Christ than that of a sameness of spirit, showing itself through diversities of gifts. Among these was Paul.
1. All real unity is manifold. Feelings in themselves identical find countless forms of expression. In the world as God has made it one law shows itself under diverse, even opposite manifestations.
2. All living unity is spiritual, not formal. You may have a unity shown in identity of form; but it is a lifeless unity. The illustration given by the apostle is that of the human body. Uniformity here would have been irreparable loss--the loss of every part that was merged into one. The body’s unity is the unity of a living consciousness which animates every separate atom of the frame, and reduces each to the performance of a function fitted to the welfare of the whole.
3. None but a spiritual unity can preserve the rights both of the individual and the Church. Some have claimed the right of private judgment in such a way that every individual opinion becomes truth, and every utterance of private conscience right; thus the Church is sacrificed to the individual; and the universal conscience, the common faith, becomes as nothing. Again, there are others who, like the Church of Rome, would surrender the conscience of each man to the conscience of the Church. Spiritual unity saves the right of both in God’s system. It respects the sanctity of--
(1) The individual conscience. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” The belief of the whole world cannot make that thing true to me which to me seems false.
(2) The individual character. Out of the millions of the race, a few features diversify themselves into so many forms of countenance, that scarcely two could be mistaken for each other. There are no two leaves on the same tree alike; nor two sides of the same leaf, unless you cut and kill it. Each man born into this world is a fresh new soul intended by his Maker to develop himself in a new fresh way. (F. W. Robertson, M.A.)
The gifts of Christianity
Christianity claims to be, and is, in the belief of all its truest sons, a universal religion. And consider what that means. It means that it is a religion for all peoples, whatever their land, whatever their character; for the emotional races of the south as well as for the sterner and harder dwellers in the north, for the subtle and dreamy oriental as for the strong and practical inhabitant of the west. It means that it is a religion for all ages; that it can adapt itself to changing times. It means that it is a religion for all classes; that it can appeal to the rich as to the poor, to the cultivated intellect of the few as to the untrained reason of the many, to woman as to man, to the child as well as to the old. It means that it is a religion for all temperaments. Let us see what right Christianity has to claim to be and to do all this. Through what agencies dues it work? Are they fitted to make it accomplish the end of its being? Let us never forget, in the first place, that the one great agency to which it must look, nay the one which is its very life and inspiration, is the Holy Spirit of God. Without Him there can be no religion, no Christianity; without His work and influence no soul of man can be born again unto the kingdom of heaven. And if there is one attribute of His working which is dwelt upon more than another in the Bible it is its diversity. You cannot set limits to it; you cannot assign reasons for it. It can seize hold of a self-seeking Balaam or a narrow-souled Saul and make them its mouthpieces as easily as it can rest upon an Elijah, or a John the Baptist, or a St. Paul. It is on this boundless power, this power to change and to exalt, this power to fire the various capacities of men, to give them new strange gifts, that the apostle dwells so eloquently in this passage in the Corinthian epistle. And then pass on to another agency, which is in one sense not another, but the same; I mean the Book which the Spirit of God has inspired and which the Church of Christ bears in her hand for the teaching of the nations. What is the character of it? Not, as might have been expected, a short and logical and exact book of reference. The Bible is a book of what marvellous variety! Truly a book of marvellous diversity and yet of no less marvellous unity, for the golden thread of God’s purpose of salvation in Christ runs through it and binds it in one from its beginning to its end. There is yet another agency which Christianity must use, and that is the Church. St. Paul, in the passage on which I am dwelling, makes it clear that here too, in his view, is to be the same diversity in unity. The Church is to be one, to know but the “one Body, and one Spirit, and one Hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all”: and yet it is to find place and play for all manner of minds and characters, as the body finds work for all its differing members. “God fulfils Himself in many ways”; there is room in the church for all temperaments, and characters, and minds; her true aim as a Church is to follow up the work of the Spirit, not to attempt to manufacture Christians after a single exemplar, but rather to take what is strongest and best in the character of each, and to make it do service to God; not to crush the enthusiasm out of a St. Paul, or the independent thought out of an Augustine, or the artistic power out of a Fra Angelico, or the poetry out of a Milton, or the scientific spirit out of a Livingstone, but to turn their special gifts to God’s ends and consecrate them to all holy purposes. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, differences of ministries, but the same Lord, diversities of operations, but the same God which worketh all in all. And yet, in spite of this universality of which we have been boasting, it is useless to shut our eyes to the fact that there is much failure to mourn over, much success that is only partial at best, in the progress of Christianity. Are there no Christians who have faith without charity, whose belief in Christ is a belief of the mind, whose religion is dogma without love, bigotry without humility? We may well ask, if Christianity is what, it claims to be, whence come these failures? And when we set ourselves to, answer that question, the first thing we find is that one failure is due to another. If the religion of Christ has failed in this or that part of the world, it is because it has not got thoroughly hold of the nation which preaches it. Yes, if we want to find the explanation of the comparative failure of Christianity among the races of the world, or among the labourers of our own land, we must seek it in this, that we are only one-sided Christians ourselves. But then we carry our inquiries a step further back. Why is it that there is so much of this one-sided Christianity? And the answer to that is that men do not entirely realise the ideal which is set before them. For that ideal is this--that every part, and power, and capacity, and tendency within them must be illuminated and inspired by the Spirit of God, given over to His supremacy and to His government, subordinated and made obedient to His will. Man is a many-sided being; and it is not enough, it is not the whole of the religion of Christ, if the intellect is convinced but the conscience silenced, if the emotions are kindled and the life untouched. The surrender, if surrender it is to be called where surrender means victory, must be complete; the service of the heart to God, if service it be where service is perfect freedom, must be unreserved and unqualified. But I shall be told very likely that I am contradicting myself; that a surrender, a service, a uniformity, a harmony so complete is practically just that dead level, that absence of diversity, which just now I disclaimed. But that is not so. God asks you for all your powers, but He does not ask you to exert them all in equal measure; He does not demand the same interest, the same fruit from your mind and heart if one is by nature greater than the other. He leaves you free. Thus with one man religion is the consecration of his intellect to God. The truth of Christ’s message and mission has come upon him like a revelation; it fills his thoughts; the conviction that has seized him bears him on like a flood; it is life to him now to learn more and more of the knowledge of God. Or, again, with another, religion is the consecration of the will and the affections; the salt which saves him from moral corruption and decay. The strength of his life, the flower of his service to God, is not intellectual, but moral and spiritual. His part in the great warfare is less an active one than one of stedfastness and rest. In quietness is His strength. And yet once more: the religious life may be the consecration of the energies. We are familiar all of us with men who have neither exceptional ability nor any singular power of self-restraint; but whatever they do they do it with their might, seeing but one thing in front of them and making for that with every power and capacity that they possess. Theirs is no ambition to be in the vanguard of the march, but to save the stragglers and strengthen the weary and the weak as they falter and fail. Well for you if God’s Spirit takes your intellect and makes it His own; well for you if He uplifts you to a life of holiness lived in the very presence of God; but if neither of these lots may be yours, then pray Him to make you one of His workers, wherever your field may lie. (H. A. James, B.D.)
Diversities of gifts in the Church
The work of God, the life of His Church--how strange, confused, and mixed, and accidental it looks, as we pass our eyes over the surface! And St. Paul, here, in my text, is looking on at his Church at Corinth; and he is hard pressed by accidents of circumstance, and by local details. Disordered as it may all look in its crude outward scene, to him, looking below, it is all under the control of a single principle, it is all the evidence of a single Supreme Agent. There is no accident and no chance, but everywhere one determining Force, and that Force is the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost. He it is who is the swing of all these eddying motions. Wherever men believe, it is He who makes faith possible; and all varieties of human character, all the distinctions of personal peculiarities, do but display His solitary activity. Wherever and however, and so far as, men, through whatever means, loyally confess that the Man Jesus is the Christ of God, there we are to recognise, and to reverence, the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has no higher task than that which is set for it, and circumscribed for it, by the body of Christ. Wherever it speaks or works, it will be perfectly certain to make Jesus, the Man, prominent and emphatic. It will testify to His authority; it will make yet more precious His bodily appearance; it will magnify His historical position. Nothing that lowers the importance of Jesus, or dissolves His supremacy, or makes light of His unique value, can come from the Spirit. “No man, speaking with the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed.” The Incarnation, then, operates upon the world of man with perfect regularity of law through the one Agent. He is the Worker, this Spirit of God; what, then, is His work? how does He apply the Incarnation of Jesus Christ to men? He does so in two modes, that to the outsider might seem contradictory, but which are but the effects of this one cause. First, the effect of the Spirit’s stirring is seen in the outburst of spiritual gifts. Each soul is quickened by a new impulse; it thrills with a sense of fresh-born vitality; and new powers spring forth, and gifts break out from it. St. Paul watched the Spirit at work in that new church of his at Corinth; and how strong was that new wine, and how fiery the flame--how loud and full the prophecy! Each soul, made alive in Jesus, is brimming with the glory of its new endowment, the stress and storm of the Spirit are shocking these souls into ecstasy. Here it was intellectual insight, there it was prophetic vision; here it was spiritual passion, there it was administrative capacity. That was the outcome of the Spirit, the outbreak of individual freedom from experience. And then St. Paul looked, and there was another vision and another sight altogether. There he saw arising a stately and orderly fabric, the Church of God, the body of Christ. There he watched it, laying limb to limb, until the body came together, by joints and sinews, compacted together and bonded. There was the double vision: on the one side, an inner inspiration of individual souls exalted, varied, and ecstatic; on the other side, an outer assertion of visible order, administrative, complete, whole, and harmonious. And yet here was this point: contradictory as these effects might look, they are the symptoms, the outcome of one and the same Spirit. If the Spirit that quickens the individual gifts be the same that builds up the corporate Church, then, on the one hand, the inner and private experiences of souls need not view with suspicion and dislike the discipline of ecclesiastical rule or theological formulae; neither, on the other hand, ought the ecclesiastical system to condemn or distrust the freedom of individual spiritual experiences. Let us take the first point. These individual spiritual experiences, however manifold and varied, in being required to harmonise themselves with the Church order and with the formulated creed, are not asked to yield to some arbitrary restraint, to submit their claims to some general convenience not their own, to conform to a conventional expedient, necessary, perhaps, but still a bondage. Every corporate rule springs out of the same source as the individual experience. The Spirit that gives inner special personal experience is the same Spirit that builds the Church. In asserting their own peculiarities, no one gift can attribute a value to itself which it must not by the same necessity attribute to all the rest, for its one value comes to it from the Spirit in which they equally share. Whatever prerogative one gift possesses, that same advantage must all the other gifts possess. That purpose with which He allots the gift to this man must be the same with which He allots that other gift to that other. He who authorises the gift authorises the end, and if that ultimate purpose have no valid right, neither has the gift. And what is that purpose?--edification--the building of the body of Christ, the edification of all separate individual capacities to the enrichment of the corporate Church. If the Spirit who fills and frames the ecclesiastical fabric is still and always the Spirit that stirs into action all the manifold variety of individual gifts, then the Church, the system, ought not to have to condemn or dislike these inner spiritual experiences. Yet there is a very natural repugnance here. To us, loving the sweet calmness of the Spirit’s orderly working, there cannot but be a shock as we face the turmoil and confusion which often beset the outbursts of His work in individual souls. Surely here is something repellent, something out of harmony with God’s mind, something out of kinship with Christ’s ancient heritage! So many instinctively feel, and, when they feel so let them remember that the Spirit always has its double manifestation, remember that the same Spirit which shapes the sweet fabric which they love so dearly is the same Spirit who, as He stirs in the individual soul, shapes it into those passionate outbursts; those upheavals, they are His proper material, out of which He delights to build; not another spirit enkindles them, but He Himself. And, as He raises them, so He will not confront them as a foe, but will approach them as One who is at home with them, who is aware of their inner significance, who can greet them as a friend. True, He may have many a great lesson yet in store for these experiences. He does not for a moment desire that they should remain as they are in their present temporary disorder. But, for all that, He will not come to them as that which is to Him alien, shocking, or distressing. He will know the secret that is alive in all this stormy outpouring? As it bends down, then, in gracious seemliness, it will be in fullest sympathy. “Come to Me,” it will be saying to all souls made alive in the Spirit, “come under My discipline, conform to My rule, not because you are bad, or dangerous, or human, or erring, not because you need some arbitrary external repression, but come to Me and obey My gift. You are already My own, of My malting, My inspiration. I awoke you because I needed you; I have a place for you in the work; for Me and by Me you were made; find, then, in Me your peace.” And for ourselves we will remember, finally, that there is but one rule laid down by St. Paul to govern all our treatment of gifts and spiritual experiences, whether in ourselves or others--the rule of love, of edification. Love, first in relation to gifts not our own. Love will rejoice to recognise by how many paths men are brought to Christ, to recognise how infinite are the resources of the Spirit. It will be quick to recognise how sacred are individual diversities. It will respect all it can, find work in all it can, just because it is the very character and note of the one Spirit to exhibit His excellence in infinite diversity of operation. The first aim of love is to make its gift intelligible to all, useful to all, a common possession, a common good, and a common joy. (Canon Scott Holland.)
The gifts of the Spirit
I. Their nature. They are--
1. Ordinary. These the Spirit conveys to us through our own endeavours, as he who both makes the watch and winds up the wheels of it may be said to be the author of its motion. Amongst these we may rank oratory, philosophy, etc. And God ordinarily gives these to none but such as labour hard for them. God is ready to do His part, but not to do His own and ours too.
2. Extraordinary. These are entirely from God, as, e.g., the gifts of miracles, healing, etc., which might indeed be the object of men’s admiration and envy, but never the effect of their endeavours. Some will perhaps inquire how long these extraordinary gifts continued in the Church. Just as long as the settling of a new religion in the world required. Wherefore the purpose of miracles being extraordinary, and to serve only for a time, they were not by their continuance to thwart their design, nor to be made common by their being perpetual. The exact period of their duration can hardly be assigned; but certain it is that now these are ceased, and that upon as good reason as at first they began. For when the spiritual building is completed, to what purpose should the scaffolds any longer stand?
II. Their diversity. What is meant by this diversity of gifts. Note here--
1. Something by way of affirmation, which is variety. This variety is--
(1) For use. In the Church there are, and must be, several members having their several uses and stations (verse 28); the employment of so many parts subserving the joint interest and design of the whole--as the motion of a clock is a complicated motion of so many wheels fitly put together; and life itself but the result of several operations, all issuing from and contributing to the support of the same body (verses 29, 30). As in the natural body the eyes do not speak, nor the tongue see, so neither in the spiritual is every one who has the gift of prophecy endued also with the gift and spirit of government, etc. Now God has use of all the several tempers and constitutions of men, to serve the Church by. E.g.--
(a) Some men are of a sanguine and cheerful disposition. And these are fitted for the airy, joyful offices of devotion. Again, there are others of a reserved arid severe temper, and these are the fittest to serve the Church in a retirement from the world, and a settled composure of their thoughts to meditation, and in dealing with troubled consciences.
(b) Some, again, are of a fervent spirit; and God serves His Church even by these as being particularly fitted to preach the rigours of the law to obstinate sinners. And on the contrary, there are others again of a gentler genius, and these are serviceable to speak comfort and refreshment to the weary, etc. And thus the gospel must have both its Boanerges and its Barnabas; the first, as it were, to cleanse the air and purge the sold, before it can be fit for the smiles of a Saviour.
(2) For ornament--to dress and set off the spouse of Christ. Where would be the beauty of the heavens and the earth; where would then be the glory and lustre of the universe, if our senses were forced to be always poring upon the same things without the quickening relish of variety? And, moreover, does not such a liberal effusion of gifts equally argue both the power and the bounty of the giver?
2. As this diversity of the Spirit’s gifts imports variety, so it excludes contrariety; different they are, but they are not opposite. There is no jar or contest between them, but all are disposed of with mutual agreements and a happy subordination; for as variety adorns, so opposition destroys. The spirit of meekness and the spirit of zeal, e.g., do equally serve and carry on the great end and business of religion.
III. Their lessons.
1. If the Spirit works such variety and multitude of supernatural gifts, it is but rational to conclude that He is a being superior to nature, and so God.
2. This great diversity of the Spirit’s gifts may read a lecture of humility to some, and of contentment to others. God, indeed, has drawn some capital letters, and given some men gifts, as it were, with both hands; but for all that none can brag of a monopoly of them. He has filled no man’s intellectual so full, but he has left some vacuities that may sometimes send him for supplies to lower minds. Moses with all his knowledge and ruling abilities required Aaron’s elocution; and he who “speaks with the tongue of angels” may yet be at a loss when he comes to matters of controversy. And this should prevent the despondency of the meanest understandings (verses 21, 22). Let not the foot trample upon itself because it does not rule the body, but consider that it has the honour to support it. Nay, the greatest abilities are sometimes beholding to the very meanest. The two talents went into heaven as easily as the five.
3. We have here a touchstone for the trial of spirits; for such as are the gifts, such must be also the Spirit from which they flow.
4. This emanation of gifts from the Spirit assure us that knowledge and learning are by no means opposite to grace; since we see gifts as well as graces conferred by the same Spirit. (R. South, D.D.)
1. The same Spirit.
2. The same Lord.
3. The same God.
2. Administrations or offices.
3. Operations or works.
The three real are the ground of all. The three personal are from whence those come. The three actual are whether they will.
(2) So divided as to make manifest.
(3) So made manifest as not only--
(a) To make a show but to some end.
(b) That end to be not “the hurt or trouble,” but “the good.”
(c) The good, not private, of ourselves, but common, of the whole body of the Church. (Bp. Andrewes.)
1 Corinthians 12:5-6
There are differences of administration, but the same Lord.
The agencies of the Church
I. Are widely diversified.
1. Every branch has its own sphere.
2. Every member his own office.
(1) Differing in character, importance, scope.
(2) Yet all necessary.
II. Are under the control of the same Lord--Christ, who--
1. Appoints every man his duty.
2. Supplies him with grace.
3. Observes and rewards his conduct.
III. Are directed to one end. Hence the meanest office--
1. Is honourable.
2. Is useful.
3. Should be faithfully fulfilled. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Differences of administrations
Glycera, the flower-girl, knew so well how to diversify the combination and arrangement of her flowers, as with the same flowers to make a great variety of nosegays. So that when the painter Pausias tried to emulate her skill he failed, for he could not vary his painting so many ways as Glycera did her nosegays. Thus the Holy Ghost disposes and arranges with so much variety the instructions of devotion which He gives us by the tongues and pens of His servants that, although the doctrines are always the same, the treatises which are made out of them are very different, according to the different ways in which they are put together. (St. Francis de Sales.)
There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God.
The diversity of the Divine operations
These words suggest practical reflections as to--
I. The vast variety of classes for whom Christian work is carried on. Such work is work--
1. For all varieties of need.
(1) Bodily. The hospital; the sanitary enterprise of any form is included.
(2) Mental. All true educational work, not least of all when it aims at fixing a ladder that shall rise from the gutter to the university, is included.
(3) Moral. Every crusade for temperance and chastity is included.
(4) Spiritual. The proclamation, in its manifold fulness, of the gospel that converts, comforts, and edifies is included.
(5) National. Right endeavour in the cause of peace, of land reform, etc., is included.
2. For the needs of people of all ages--the child, the youth, the adult, the aged.
3. For the needs of people of all places. The prediction as to the usefulness of the men of the early Church (Acts 1:8) seems to hint at what we call
(1) City missions--“witnesses for Me in Jerusalem.”
(2) Home missions--“and in all Judaea.”
(3) Colonial missions--“and in Samaria.”
(4) Foreign missions--“and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
II. The vast variety of means by which Christian work is carried on. There are methods in which the individual is a potent force, and others in which the elaborate machinery fulfils a useful function. There are spheres for highest culture, and others for simplest speech, domains for the pen and for the tongue. True Christian enterprise is hydra-handed. It touches the unnumbered strings on the great harp of humanity, sometimes gently, as with the delicacy of woman’s fingers, and sometimes mightily, as with the smiting of a seraph’s hand.
III. The one motive spirit under whose influence Christian work is carried on. In all and through all who are true to Christ there is one impelling motive, i.e., love to Him. This is the great unifying force at the central heart of all Christly men. (U.R. Thomas.)
The Divine operations
I. Are richly exemplified--
1. In nature.
2. In the Church.
II. Are wonderfully varied.
III. Are singularly harmonious.
IV. Exhibit the glory of the one God--His
3. Love. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The diversity of the Spirit’s operations
The witnessing of the Spirit admits of degrees. Just as a rich man’s window may be wider than a poor man’s, and so the sun may make his house the more light, that the things within it may be better discerned, yet the poor man may really enjoy the beams of the sun, and see what is in his house; so the poorest, the weakest believer may know the Spirit hath shined into his heart, as well as others that enjoy brighter beams than he hath been acquainted with. (T. H. Leary, D.C.L.)
1 Corinthians 12:7-11
The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
The manifestation of the Spirit
As there are diversities of gifts, so are there diversities of measures in which these gifts are bestowed. Three degrees of the power of the Spirit are mentioned in Scripture.
I. For some special occasion. This is but transitory and occasional. It was granted to men in ancient times, as when Balaam prophesied and Samson displayed his strength. The phrase generally used for this is, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” the subject of this influence was not necessarily a man of holy life He was but used as an instrument, and for the hour brought into acquiescence with the Divine will.
II. For salvation. This is the continuous possession of the Spirit as a new life. It is described in such terms as “led by the Spirit,” “walking after the Spirit,” “to be spiritually minded,” which “is life.” The entrance into this state is regeneration--the inclination of the will to God. This is “eternal life.”
III. For exalted service. This is the new life in its fulness, the flowering and fruiting of the plants of Divine grace. It is called being “filled with the Spirit.” It is the development of Christian life, at times attained by a sudden influx of the Divine power, and termed the baptism of the Holy Ghost. (J. Hunt Cooke.)
Grace given to individuals for the general good
By the word “manifestation” is intended the same thing as is set forth in the phrases, “gift,” “administration” and in this context, doubtless, the allusion is to miracles. By the phrase, “profit withal,” is to be understood, for the advantage of others, i.e., as the context proves, of the Church in the first instance, and then, through the Church, of the world at large. The transition from the miraculous gifts of early times to the graces in which the Spirit is now more commonly manifested, is easy and appropriate; the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every one of you to profit withal. What, then, are the manifestations of the Spirit which are peculiar to no one age of the Church? There is a manifestation of the Spirit in the miracle of a changed heart, evidenced by a holy life, and by this manifestation of the Spirit, God now speaks to men, and calls upon those thus gifted to profit the brethren. Is a man meek, gentle, longsuffering, temperate, and kind? He is so to use these graces as to profit others. Is a man blessed with joy and peace? He is, through the instrumentality of these gifts, to profit others. Has a man a strong faith? He is to exercise it to the general benefit. Has a man clever and vigorous hope, well grounded on Christ; he is to exercise himself to the general advantage. Is one full of charity? Such a one needs not to be told he is to be solicitous for his fellows. Let us see in what manner this may be done, and let us take the several particulars in the order just enumerated. Is any meek, gentle, longsuffering, temperate, and kind? Let him remember that his example is much needed in an age of retaliation, impatience, and extremes! I will pass on now to consider the case of him who is blessed with joy and peace. And let those who thus are warranted in relying on the favour of God, and who derive an awful joy, and not fear alone, from the contemplation of His holiness, let such love to recollect how they may profit the Church by speaking of their own consolation to the mourning penitent. Have you the gift of faith? It is that yon may profit others. First, by its instrumentality in keeping your spiritual life vigorous, whereby you may be an example in all things. One holy example is better than a thousand sermons. The former may convince, the latter must. But there is another way in which we are called upon to exercise our faith to the advantage of all. Faith alone can give our prayers audience in the presence chamber of Divinity. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much; but prayer is not, cannot be effectual unless it be the prayer of faith. Pray for the conversion of sinners, and the good estate of the Church through the guidance of her great and glorified Head, Christ Jesus. So those whose hope is strong will do well to let their conviction that they are walking humbly with their God incite them to build others up in the same reverent confidence; while those whose love comes up to the gospel’s standard will be fain to benefit others; nay, in benefiting others it is that this manifestation of the Spirit is made. He who believes, and he who hopes, may forget that the Body is not one member, but; many; and so they may come to forget that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to them to profit others; but he who loves cannot forget this; hence “love is the fulfilling of the law.” Hence, charity is the chiefest grace, the most valuable for time, no less than the only one needed in eternity! He who loves is using the gift of grace for the general good; he is a living member of the Body of Christ. (A. Watson, M.A.)
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
In the first verse of this chapter St. Paul proposeth to himself an argument, which he prosecuteth the whole chapter through, and, after a profitable digression into the praise of charity in the next chapter, resumeth again at the fourteenth chapter, spending also that whole chapter therein; and it is concerning spiritual gifts, “Now, concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant,” etc. These gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit of God, bestowed on them for the edification of the Church, the Corinthians, by making them the fuel either of their pride in despising those that were inferior to themselves, or of their envy in malicing those that excelled therein, abused to the maintenance of schism, and faction, and emulation in the Church. For the remedying of which evils the apostle entereth upon the argument, discoursing fully of the variety of these spiritual gifts, and who is the author of them, and for what end they were given, and in what manner they should be employed, omitting nothing that was needful to be spoken anent this subject. In this part of the chapter, entreating both before and after this verse of the wondrous great, yet sweet and useful variety of these spiritual gifts, he showeth that howsoever manifold they are, either for kind or degree, so as they may differ in the material and formal, yet they do all agree both in the same efficient and the same final cause. In the same efficient cause, which is God the Lord by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:6), “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” And in the same final cause, which is the advancement of God’s glory, in the propagation of His gospel and the edification of His Church, in this verse, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” By occasion of which words we may inquire into the nature, conveyance, and use of these gifts. First, their nature in themselves and in their original; what they are, and whence. They are the works of God’s Spirit in us, “the manifestation of the Spirit.” Secondly, their conveyance unto us--how we come to have them, and to have property in them; it is by gift: “It is given to every man.” Thirdly, their use and end; why they were given us, and what we are to do with them. They must be employed to the good of our brethren and of the Church; it is given to every man “to profit withal.” Of these briefly, and in their order, and with special reference ever to us that are of the clergy. By “manifestation of the Spirit,” here our apostle understandeth none other thing than he doth by the adjective word χαρίσματα in the first, and by the substantive word χαρίσματα in the last verse of the chapter Both which, put together, do signify those spiritual gifts and graces whereby God enableth men, and especially Churchmen, to the duties of their particular callings for the general good. Such as are those particulars, which are named in the next following verses, the word of wisdom, the word knowledge, faith, the gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. All which, and all other of like nature and use, because they are wrought by that one and selfsame Spirit, which divideth to every one severally as He will, are therefore called πνευματικὰ, “spiritual gifts”; and here φανέρωσις τοῦ πνεύματος, “the manifestation of the Spirit.” The word “Spirit,” though in Scripture it have many other significations, yet in this place I conceive it to be understood directly of the Holy Ghost, the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity. For first, in 1 Corinthians 12:3, that which is called the Spirit of God in the former part, is in the latter part called the Holy Ghost. “I give you to understand that no man, speaking by the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Again that variety of gifts, which in 1 Corinthians 12:4 is said to proceed from the same Spirit, is said likewise in 1 Corinthians 12:5 to proceed from the same Lord, and in 1 Corinthians 12:6 to proceed from the same God, and therefore such a Spirit is meant, as is also Lord and God, and that is only the Holy Ghost. And again, in those words in 1 Corinthians 12:11 : “All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” The apostle ascribeth to this Spirit the collation and distribution of such gifts according to the free power of His own will and pleasure, which free power belongeth to none but God alone, “Who hath set the members every one in the body, as it hath pleased Him.” Which yet ought not to be so understood of the Person of the Spirit; as if the Father and the Son had no part or fellowship in this business. For all the actions and operations of the Divine Persons (those only excepted which are of intrinsical and mutual relation) are the joint and undivided works of the whole three Persons, according to the common known maxim, constantly and uniformly received in the Catholic Church, Opera Trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa. And as to this particular concerning gifts the Scriptures are clear. Wherein, as they are ascribed to God the Holy Ghost in this chapter, so they are elsewhere ascribed unto God the Father, “Every good gift and every perfect giving is from above, from the Father of Lights” (James 1:1-27.), and elsewhere to God the Son, “Unto every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:1-32.). Yea, and it may be that for this very reason in the three verses next before my text, these three words are used: “Spirit” in 1 Corinthians 12:4, “Lord” in 1 Corinthians 12:5, and “God” in 1 Corinthians 12:6, to give us intimation that these spiritual gifts proceed equally and undividedly from the whole three Persons: from God the Father, and from His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and from the eternal Spirit of them both, the Holy Ghost, as from one entire, indivisible, and co-essential Agent. But for that we are gross of understanding, and unable to conceive the distinct Trinity of Persons in the unity of the Godhead, otherwise than by apprehending some distinction of their operations and offices to usward, it hath pleased the wisdom of God in the holy Scriptures, which being written for our sakes were to be fitted to our capacities, so far to condescend to our weakness and dulness as to attribute some of those great and common works to one person, and some to another, after a more special manner than unto the rest; although indeed and in truth none of the Three Persons had more or less to do than other in any of those great and common works. This manner of speaking Divines used to call appropriation. By which appropriation, as power is ascribed to the Father, and wisdom to the Son, so is goodness to the Holy Ghost. And therefore, as the work of creation, wherein is specially seen the mighty power of God, is appropriated to the Father; and the work of redemption, wherein is specially seen the wisdom of God, to the Son; and so the works of sanctification and the infusion of habitual graces, whereby the good things of God are communicated unto us, is appropriated unto the Holy Ghost. And for this cause the gifts thus communicated unto us from God are called πνευματικὰ, “spiritual gifts,” and φανέρωσις τοῦ πνευματος, “the manifestation of the Spirit.” We see now, why Spirit? but then, why manifestation? The word, as most other verbals of that form, may be understood either in the active or passive signification. And it is not material, whether of the two ways we take it in this place, both being true, and neither improper. For these spiritual gifts are the manifestation of the Spirit actively, because by these the Spirit manifesteth the will of God unto the Church, these being the instruments and means of conveying the knowledge of salvation unto the people of God. And they are the manifestation of the Spirit passively too, because where any of these gifts, especially in any eminent sort, appeared in any person, it was a manifest evidence that the Spirit of God wrought in him. As we read it (Acts 10:1-48.), that they of the circumcision were astonished “when they saw that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gifts of the Holy Ghost,” if it be demanded, But how did that appear? it followeth in the next verse, “For they heard them speak with tongues,” etc. The spiritual gift, then, is a manifestation of the Spirit, as every other sensible effect is a manifestation of its proper cause. We are now yet further to know that the gifts and graces wrought in us by the Holy Spirit of God are of two sorts. The Scriptures sometimes distinguish them by the different terms of χάρις and χαρίσμα; although those words are sometimes again used indifferently and promiscuously, either for other. They are commonly known in the schools and differenced by the names of Gratice gratum facientes and Grutiae gratis datae. Which terms, though they be not very proper (for the one of them may be affirmed of the other, whereas the members of every good distinction ought to be opposite), yet because they have been long received (and change of terms, though haply for the better, hath by experience been found for the most part unhappy in the event, in multiplying unnecessary book-quarrels)we may retain them profitably, and without prejudice. Those former, which they call Gratum facientes, are the graces of sanctification, whereby the person that hath them is enabled to do acceptable service to God in the duties of His general calling; these latter, which they call Gratis dates, are the graces of edification, whereby the person that hath them is enabled to do profitable service to the Church of God in the duties of His particular calling. Those are given Nobis, et Nobis, both to us and for us, that is chiefly for our own good; these Nobis, sed Nostris, to us indeed, but for others; that is, chiefly for the good of our brethren. Those are given us ad salutem, for the saving of our souls; these ad lucrurm for the winning of other men’s souls. Those proceed from the special love of God to the person, and may therefore be called personal, or special; these proceed from the general love of God to His Church, or yet more general to human societies, and may therefore rather be called ecclesiastical or general gifts or graces. Of the first sort are faith, hope, charity, repentance, patience, humility, and all those other holy graces, “fruits of the Spirit,” which accompany salvation. Wrought by the blessed and powerful operation of the Holy Spirit of God, after a most effectual but unconceivable manner, regenerating, and renewing, and seasoning, and sanctifying the hearts of His chosen. But yet these are not the gifts so much spoken of in this chapter; and namely in my text, every branch whereof excludeth them. Of those graces of sanctification, first, we may have indeed probable inducements to persuade us that they are, or are not, in this or that man. But hypocrisy may make such a semblance that we may think we see spirit in a man in whom yet there is nothing but flesh, and infirmities may cast such a fog that we can discern nothing but flesh in a man in whom yet there is spirit. But the gifts here spoken of do incur into the senses and give us evident and infallible assurance of the Spirit that wrought them; here is φανερωσις, a “manifestation of the Spirit.” Again, secondly, those graces of sanctification are not communicated by distribution--Alius sic, alius vero sic. Faith to one, charity to another, repentance to another; but where they are given they are given all at once and together, as it were strung upon one thread and linked into one chain. But the gifts here spoken of are distributed, as it were, by dole, and divided severally as it pleased God, shared out into several portions, and given to every man some, to none all; for “to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another” the word of knowledge,” etc. Thirdly, those graces of sanctification, though they may and ought to be exercised to the benefit of others, who by the “shining of our light” and the “sight of our good works” may be provoked to glorify God by walking in the same paths; yet that is but utilitas emergens, and not finis proprius; a good use made of them upon the bye, but not the main proper and direct end of them, for which they were chiefly given. But the gifts here spoken of were given directly for this end, and so intended by the giver to be employed for the benefit of others and for the edifying of the Church; they were given “to profit withal.” It then remaineth to understand this text and chapter of that other and later kind of spiritual gifts, those graces of edification, or gratiae gratis datae, whereby men are enabled in their several callings, according to the quality and measure of the graces they have received, to be profitable members of the public body, either in Church or Commonwealth. Under which appellation (the very first natural powers and faculties of the soul only excepted, which, flowing a principiis speciei, are in all men the same and like), I comprehend all other secondary endowments and abilities whatsoever of the reasonable soul, which are capable of the degrees of more and less, and of better and worse; together with all subsidiary helps any way conducing to the exercise of any of them. Whether they be, first, supernatural graces, given by immediate and extraordinary infusion from God; such as were the gifts of tongues and of miracles, and of healings, and of prophecy properly so called, and many other like, which were frequent in the infancy of the Church, and when this Epistle was written, according as the necessity of those primitive times considered God saw it expedient for His Church. Or whether they be, secondly, such as philosophers call natural dispositions, such as are promptness of wit, quickness of conceit, fastness of memory, clearness of understanding, soundness of judgment, readiness of speech, and other like, which flow immediately a principiis individui, from the individual condition, constitution, and temper, lure of particular persons. Or whether they be, thirdly, such as philosophers call intellectual habits, which is, when those natural dispositions are so improved and perfected by education, art, industry, observation, or experience, that men become thereby skilful linguists, subtle disputers, copious orators, profound Divines, powerful preachers, expert lawyers, physicians, historians, statesmen, commanders, artisans, or excellent in any science, profession, or faculty whatsoever. To which we may add, in the fourth place, all outward subservient helps whatsoever, which may any way further or facilitate the exercise of any of the former graces, dispositions, or habits, such as are health, strength, beauty, and all those other bona corporis, as also bona fortunae, honour, wealth, nobility, reputation, and the rest. All of these, even these among them which seem most of all to have their foundation in nature, or perfection from art, may in some sort be called πνευματικὰ, “spiritual gifts”; inasmuch as the Spirit of God is the first and principal worker of them. Nature, art, industry, and all other subsidiary furtherances, being but second agents under Him, Him and as means ordained. And now we have found out the just latitude of the spiritual gifts spoken of in this chapter, and of the manifestation of the Spirit in my text. From whence not to pass without some observable inferences for our edification, we may here first behold, and admire, and magnify the singular love, and care, and providence of God for and over His Church. Those active gifts, and graces, and abilities which are to be found in the members of the mystical body of Christ, are a strong manifestation that there is a powerful Spirit of God within, that knitteth the whole body together, and worketh all in all and all in every part of the body. Secondly, though we have just cause to lay it to heart, when men of eminent gifts and place in the Church are taken from us, yet we should sustain ourselves with this comfort, that it is the same God that still hath care over His Church. And therefore we may, not doubt but this Spirit, as He hath hitherto done from the beginning, so will still manifest Himself from time to time, unto the end of the world; in raising up instruments for the service of His Church, and furnishing them with gifts. Thirdly, where the Spirit of God hath manifested itself to any man by the distribution of gifts, it is but reason that man should manifest the Spirit that is in him, by exercising those gifts in some lawful calling.
II. Consider we next, and in the second place, the conveyance of these gifts over unto us; how we come to have a property in them, and by what right we can call them ours. The conveyance is by deed of gifts; the manifestation of the Spirit “is given to every man.” Understand it not to be so much intended here that every particular man hath the manifestation of the Spirit, as that every man that hath the manifestation of the Spirit hath it given him and given him withal to this end, that he may do good with it. The variety both of the gifts meet for several offices, and of the offices wherein to imply those gifts, is wonderful; and no less wonderful the distribution of both gifts and offices. But all that variety is derived from one and the same fountain, the Holy Spirit of God; all those distributions pass unto us by one and the same way, of most free and liberal donation. Possibly thou wilt allege thy excellent natural parts--these were not given, but thou broughtest them into the world with thee; or thou wilt vouch what thou hast attained to by art and industry--and these were not given thee, but thou hast won them, and therefore well deservest to wear them. Deceive not thyself. But the truth is, the difference that is in men in regard of these gifts and abilities ariseth neither from the power of nature nor from the merit of labour, otherwise than as God is pleased to use these as second causes under Him. Whatsoever spiritual abilities we have, we have them of gift and by grace. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man. A point of very fruitful consideration for men of all sorts, whether they be of greater or of meaner gifts. And first, all of us generally may hence take two profitable directions; the one, if we have any useful gifts, whom to thank for them; the other, if we want any needful gifts, where to seek for them. I must now turn more particularly to you to whom God hath vouchsafed the manifestation of His Spirit in a larger proportion than unto many of your brethren, giving unto you, as unto His firstborn, double portion of His Spirit, as Elisha had of Elijah’s, or perhaps dealing with you yet more liberally, as Joseph did with Benjamin, whose mess, though he were the youngest, he appointed to be five times as much as any of his brethren. It is needful that you, of all others, should be put in remembrance, that those eminent manifestations of the Spirit you have, were given you. First, it will be a good help to take down that pride which is so apt to engender in the soul through abundance of knowledge, and to let out some of the corruption. It is a very hard thing to know much, and not to know it too much. Secondly, every wise and conscionable man should advisedly weigh his own gifts, and make them his rule to work by, not thinking he doth enough if he do what law compelleth him to do, or if he do as much as other neighbours do. But thirdly, though your graces must be so to yourselves, yet beware you do not make them rules to others. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man; let no man be so severe to his brother as to look he should manifest more of the Spirit than he hath received. Now, as for you to whom God hath dealt these spiritual gifts with a more sparing hand, the freedom of God’s distribution may be a fruitful meditation for you also. First, thou hast no reason, whosoever thou art, to grudge at the scantness of thy gifts, or to repine at the Giver. How little soever God hath given thee, it is more than He owed thee. He hath done thee no wrong, may He not do as He will with His own? Secondly, since the manifestation of the Spirit is a matter of free gift, thou hast no cause to envy thy brother whose portion is greater. Thirdly, if thy gifts be mean, thou hast this comfort withal, that thy accounts will be so much the easier. Merchants that have the greatest dealings are not ever the safest men. And how happy a thing had it been for many men in the world if they had had less of other men’s goods in their hands. The less thou hast received, the less thou hast to answer for. Lastly, remember what the preacher saith in Ecclesiastes 10:10 : “If the iron be blunt, then he must put to the more strength.” Many men that are well left by their friends and full of money, because they think they shall never see the bottom of it, take no care by any employment to increase it, but spend without either fear or wit; whereas, on the contrary, industrious men that have but little to begin withal, yet by their care and providence, and painstaking, get up wonderfully. It is almost incredible what industry, and diligence, and exercise, and holy emulation are able to effect, for the bettering and increasing of our spiritual gifts; so, though thy beginnings be but small, thy latter end shall wonderfully increase. By this means thou shalt not only profit thyself in the increase of thy gifts unto thyself, thou shalt also profit others by communicating of thy gifts unto them. Which is the proper end for which they were bestowed, and of which we are next to speak. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. To profit whom? it may be himself. It is true, “If thou art wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself,” said Solomon; and Solomon knew what belonged to wisdom as well as another. He that is not good to himself, it is but a chance that he is good to anybody else. He that hath a gift, then, he should do well to look to his own, as well as to the profit of others, and as unto doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16), so as well and first to take heed unto himself, that so doing he may save himself as well as those that hear him. This, then, is to be done; but this is not all that is to be done. In wisdom we cannot do less; but in charity we are bound to do more than thus with our gifts. You see, then, what a strong obligation lieth upon every man that hath received the Spirit to call his gifts into the common treasury of the Church, to employ his good parts and spiritual graces so as they may some way or other be profitable to his brethren. It was not only for the beautifying of His Church that God gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; but also, and especially, for more necessary and profitable uses; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). The stomach eateth, not to fill itself, but to nourish the body; the eye seeth, not to please itself, but to espy for the body; the foot moveth, not to exercise itself, but to carry the body; the hand worketh, not to help itself, but to maintain the body. Now this necessity of employing spiritual gifts to the good and profit of others, ariseth first from the will and the intent of the Giver. My text showeth plainly what that intent was. The manifestation of the Spirit was therefore given to every man, that he might profit withal. Certainly, as nature doth not, so much less doth the God of nature make anything to no purpose, or barely for show, but for use; and the use, for which all these things were made and given, is edification. He that hath an estate made over to him in trust and for uses, hath in equity therein no estate at all, if he turn the commodities of the thing some other way, and not to those special uses for which he was so estated in it. It is a just thing with the Father of Lights, when He hath lighted any man a candle by bestowing spiritual gifts upon him, and lent him a candlestick, too, whereon to set it, by providing him a stay in the Church, if that man shall then hide his candle under a bushel and envy the light and comfort of it to them that are in the house, either to remove his candlestick or to put out his candle in obscurity. As the intent of the Giver, so, secondly, the nature and quality of the gift calleth upon us for employment. It is not with these spiritual gifts, as with most other things, which, when they are imparted, are impaired, and lessened by communicating. Here is no place for that allegation of the virgins, “Lest there be not enough for you and for us.” These graces are of the number of those things that communicate themselves by multiplication, as the seal maketh impression in the wax, and as fire conveyeth heat into iron, and as one candle findeth a thousand, all without loss of figure, heat, or light. Had ever any man less knowledge, or wit, or learning, by teaching of others? Had he not rather more? Thirdly, our own insufficiency to all offices, and the need we have of other men’s gifts, must enforce us to lend them the help and comfort of ours. Surely, then, those men, first of all, run a course strangely exorbitant, who, instead of employing them to the profit, bend those gifts they have received, whether spiritual or temporal, to the ruin and destruction of their brethren. Abusing their power to oppression, their wealth to luxury, their strength to drunkenness, their wit to scoffing, atheism, profaneness, their learning to the maintenance of heresy, idolatry, schism, novelty. Be persuaded, in the second place, all you whom God hath made stewards over His household, and blessed your basket and your store, to “bring forth of your treasures things both new and old;” manifest the spirit God hath given you, so as may be most for the profit of your brethren. Thirdly, since the end of all gifts is to profit, aim most at those gifts that will profit most, and endeavour so to frame those you have in the exercise of them, as they may be likeliest to bring profit to those that shall partake of them. “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” You cannot do more good unto the Church of God, you cannot more profit the people of God by your gifts, than by pressing effectually these two great points, faith, and good works. These are good and profitable unto men. I might here add other inferences from this point, as namely, since the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every one of us, chiefly for this end, that we may profit the people with it, that therefore, fourthly, in our preaching we should rather seek to profit our hearers, though perhaps with sharp and unwelcome reproofs, than to please them by flattering them in evil; and that, fifthly, we should more desire to bring profit unto them than to gain applause unto ourselves. (Bishop Sanderson.)
The gifts of the Holy Spirit
I. Profitable. Some are more showy, others are more useful.
1. For the conversion of sinners.
2. For the edification of saints.
1. The word of wisdom.
2. The word of knowledge.
3. Faith, such as became the confessors and martyrs (Hebrews 11:1-40.).
4. Gifts of healing (Acts 3:4).
5. Working of miracles.
6. Prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
7. Discerning of spirits (Acts 5:3-4; Acts 5:9).
8. Divers kinds of tongues (Acts 2:4).
9. The interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27).
III. Bestowed upon each and all by the same spirit (verse 11). Let there be no rivalry in the Churches.
IV. Should unify the Church into one body (verses 12, 13).
V. Should be coveted earnestly (verse 31). To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly. (L. O. Thompson.)
Diversity of operations, but one Spirit
Note the specific methods of the Spirit’s operation--
I. In the church.
1. As a breath, wind. See Ezekiel’s vision of the valley, Christ breathing on His disciples, and the rushing, mighty wind of Pentecost. Symbol of life, quickening inspiration.
2. Refreshment. Water the type. “If any man thirst,” “ I will pour water,” etc. Fertilising, cleansing of the outward.
3. Inward purifying. Fire the symbol. “He shall baptize with … fire.” “I am come to send fire on earth.” Also of vital warmth, zeal, fervour.
4. Consecration. Anointing. Oil the type. Settling apart, enduing with power.
II. With the world.
1. A reprover (John 16:8-11).
2. Strives with men (Genesis 6:3; Acts 7:51).
3. Enlightens by revealing Christ.
4. Regenerates by awakening faith in Christ. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The distribution of gifts in the Church is
I. Liberal. To every man.
II. Wise. Designed for the profit of--
1. The individual.
2. The whole Church.
1. Wisdom and knowledge contribute to enlargement of view.
2. Faith to edification and increase.
3. Gifts of healing, etc., to the confirmation of the truth.
IV. Sovereign. By the Spirit--as He will--hence all glory belongs to God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
1 Corinthians 12:11
But all these things worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.
The work of the Spirit
I. Christ promised that He would be present with His Church unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). And this is that which differenceth His Church from any other society. If Christ be not present there is no Church. The foundation is wanting; and where there is no foundation, the higher the building, or the more glorious its appearance, the sooner it will fall.
II. Christ is thus present with His Church principally and fundamentally by His Spirit (John 14:1-31; John 15:1-27; John 16:1-33). Christ hath no vicar but the Spirit. Some say that Christ is no otherwise present than by outward ordinances. I grant that these are pledges of His presence, and instruments wherewith, by His Spirit, He doth effectually work. But make them Christ’s whole presence, and we have no better Church state than the Jews.
III. This presence of the Spirit is promised, and given unto the Church by “ an everlasting covenant “ (Isaiah 59:21).
IV. It is from hence that the ministry of the gospel is “the ministry of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6-8).
1. There were never but two ministrations, the one the ministration “of the letter and of death,” the other “of the Spirit and of life”; the one of the law, the other of the gospel. Any other is antichrist’s.
2. The ministration of the Spirit must signify--
(1) That the Spirit is the efficient of the ministration, giving spiritual gifts to the ministers of the gospel, to enable them to administer all gospel ordinances to the glory of Christ and the edification of the Church.
(2) The communication of Him, and so the effect of the ministration (Galatians 3:2). Then it follows that, so long as there is the preaching of the gospel, there is the communication of the Spirit.
V. The general end, why the Spirit is thus promised unto the Church. God hath promised unto Christ a kingdom and Church in the world for ever (Psalms 72:17; Isaiah 9:7; Matthew 16:18). The accomplishment of this promise must depend upon the Spirit. If He should cease as to either of His operations, either in working internal saving grace or spiritual abilities for gospel admimistrations, the Churh must cease.
VI. The Holy Ghost thus promised and given furnishes the ministers of the gospel with spiritual abilities in the discharge of their work; and without it they are no way fitted for it.
1. Read Matthew 15:14-30. Note in this parable--
(1) That wherever Christ calls and appoints a minister in His house, He gives him spiritual abilities for that work by the Holy Ghost. He set none at work, but He gave them talents.
(2) For men to take upon them to serve Christ who have received none of these spiritual abilities is a high presumption, and casts reflection on Christ, as if He called to work and gave no strength, as though He called to trade and gave no stock, or required spiritual duties and gave no spiritual abilities.
(3) Those who have received talents or gifts of the Holy Ghost are to trade with them.
2. Read Romans 12:4-8. Note here--
(1) That this discourse concerns the ordinary state of the Church in all ages.
(2) That gifts are the foundation of all Church work.
(3) That not only does work depend on the administration of gifts, but the measure of work depends upon the men, sure of gifts (Ephesians 4:8-13).
VII. As spiritual gifts are bestowed unto this end, so they are necessary for it. The way whereby the world lost the spiritual ministrations of the gospel was by the neglect and contempt of spiritual gifts, whereby alone they can be performed.
VIII. That there is a communication of spiritual gifts in all gospel ordinances we know by experience. This is derided by scoffers, but we plead the experience of humble Christians who have a spiritual acquaintance with these things. (J. Owen, D.D.)
The operations of the Spirit are
I. Rich in their variety. Gifts--
1. Of power.
2. Of grace.
II. Free in their dispensation.
III. Sovereign in their distribution.
IV. Beneficial in their design. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Variety in unity
I. The divine worker.
1. “Every good and perfect, gift is from above.” Bezaleel and Aholiab were filled with the Spirit of God even as Moses and Aaron. The tact of the man of business, the fancy of the poet, the skill of the scientist are all from Him.
2. So in the spiritual sphere. Spiritual life is His gift; that life is preserved by His renewing, and all its progressive developments must be referred to Him. All aspirations after purity, all high purposes of consecration are from Him. In whatever way we are able to strengthen the Church and bless the world, the gift is a talent entrusted to us by Him.
3. There is great comfort in this thought. Men who have done eminent service pass away, and sometimes the anxious inquiry will arise, Where shall the host of the Lord find its leaders? Fear not! His gifts never fail, and His Church can never be abandoned. Moses died, but Joshua conducted the people to the promised land. Stephen fell a martyr, but the gap in the ranks was more than filled by Saul. Our Lord told the disciples that it was good for them that even He should be taken away, that the Comforter might come.
II. The characteristic of His works. Variety in unity. Variety is everywhere a condition of strength and beauty.
1. We should soon weary of landscapes in which the same features were ever reproduced. There would have been little beauty in the firmament if star had not differed from star in glory.
2. Intellect has been able to render humanity real service because it has had “diversities of gifts.” We want men of science and men of action to reduce their thoughts to practice; some to give strong and noble impulses, and others to apply the check of caution and experience; some to bear us aloft to the world of fancy, others to detain us among the hard realities of life.
3. So in the highest region of all.
(1) The ages of the Church’s story have been marked by different characteristics. There have been missionary ages, ages of defence, ages of quiet building to which we owe the great works of our theology, ages of pulling down so as to reform, to purify, to revive, and ages of suffering--heroic times. Here is variety, and the wise observer will see the presence of God’s Spirit in all, and admire the wisdom that has made all contribute to the prosperity of the Church.
(2) So is it with the various sections into which the Church has been divided. Men formed with different powers and temperaments, trained amid diversified circumstances, are sure to arrive at different conclusions. As to questions of Church polity, some will be sticklers for authority, while others will be concerned to maintain the rights of the individual Christian. In ritual some will attach importance to external beauty, others will refuse to depart from primitive simplicity. Some may be moved by an irrepressible enthusiasm, others will adhere to a mere formal service. Some may state truth in a way which may be offensive to men of culture, while others may seek to present it philosophically and disgust men of earnest heart. Yet everywhere we may feel that the work of the Church is more thoroughly done as the result of the diversified agencies enlisted on its behalf.
(3) The same manifoldness is seen, too, in individual character and experience. The story of no two souls is exactly alike.
(a) There are varieties of agency. Always the same truth must be the power of God unto salvation, but there are many avenues by which it obtains admission to the soul, and gains power and dominion there. In one the conscience is awakened to agonising convictions of sins; others are led by soft and gentle hands into the ways of peace. Lydia and the jailor were converted in the same city by the agency of the same apostle; but to the one the Spirit came in the “still small voice”; to the other He spoke in the terrors of an earthquake. Some are brought to enter the kingdom through a great “fight of afflictions,” and others are drawn as “ by the cords of love.” Here the work is instantaneous, there gradual. One is converted by the appeal of the preacher, another by solitary meditation on the truth, another by the artless words of a little child.
(b) There are diversities in the result. In all there is faith in Jesus, but with innumerable points of difference. In some there is a burning enthusiasm, in others holy quiet. One is all activity and daring; another, like Mary, loves to sit at the feet of Jesus. One is a Boanerges, another a Barnabas. These, then, are the phenomena, and they are just such as we might have expected. “The wind bloweth where it listeth.” Sometimes its music is soft and sweet, anon it is clear and shrill, and again it is deep, solemn, and sad.
1. We have here a rebuke of intolerant exclusiveness. There is a strong tendency in most men to expect that piety should be cast in one mould, and fashioned after one pattern.
2. We have a call to earnest diligence. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. Whatever gift the Spirit bestows on any man--by whatever impulse He stirs the soul, the design is that the talent should be used for the advancement of Divine glory. (J. Guinness Rogers, B.A.)
Ethnic and Christian views of Divine influence
So much of our knowledge comes through the senses, it is not wonderful that many persons believe that all our knowledge comes through the senses. So large a part of our time is occupied with this outward world of sights and sounds, no wonder many think that this is all we have to do with. What is spirit, what is soul, but a higher development of matter? What do we know of either, except what we see through forms of material organisation? This is modern materialism, which does not deny spirit but maintains that all we know of it is what comes to us from without, through forms of matter. It is not curious that multitudes of men should have been materialists; for matter impresses itself constantly and necessarily on all. But the really curious fact is that the great majority of mankind should have always been Spiritualists; believing in spirit more than in matter--in the infinite more than the finite; believing not in evolution, but emanation; accepting as the origin of the universe a dropping downward out of the infinite, into the finite, or a creation of the world by the Gods.
I. Christianity differs from all other religions, in maintaining the universality of this influence. Other religions, so far as I know, have limited inspiration, either to a few select souls, as prophets and saints; or, secondly, to some select class; as priests; or, thirdly, to those who sought it by seclusion, by meditation, by solitary prayer, by self-denial, going apart into caves and cells to macerate the body by starvation and asceticism. But on the day of Pentecost, in the first words which Peter said, he declared that the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled--“It shall come to pass, in the last days, saith the Lord, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy.” Accordingly, through the Book of Acts, and in all the Epistles, we find that wherever the gospel was preached, all were told that they were to receive the Holy Spirit. All Christians were inspired; but their inspiration showed itself in different ways. It inspired some of them with knowledge, helping them to a clear sight of truth. It inspired some of them with wisdom, helping them to see what was the best thing to be done in any emergency. It inspired some of them with faith, enabling them to feel the presence and love of God amid bereavement, loneliness, bitter disappointment, and sharp trial. It inspired some of them to be good physicians, tender and careful nurses of the sick. If they saw a man or a woman who had a gift of healing, they said, “She is inspired by the Holy Ghost to heal disease, as the Apostle Paul is inspired to preach.” Gifts were special, but the inspiration was universal; one and the same for all, from the lowest to the highest. God was in every heart in this happy community of brothers and sisters. This, therefore, is one of the characters of the true Christian doctrine of Divine influence, that God’s influence comes to all of us whenever we wish for it. This is what Jesus says: “If a hungry child asks his father and mother for bread, will they give him a stone? No! Do you think, then, “that if any of you ask God for power to do right and be right, He will not give it to you? So certain it is that God will give His Holy Spirit to them who ask Him.”
II. According to the New Testament, the Divine influence is not only universal, but it is continuous, constant, a never-flowing stream, descending into every open soul. It is not only for all men, but it is at all times. Undoubtedly there are seasons when the human heart is more tender, more susceptible, more open to Divine influence, than at other times. So in this opening season of the year, the seeds and buds are more susceptible to the influence of the sun. The buds are swelling by millions on the trees; every day they become a little larger; presently they open into delicate, soft leaflets; then they hang out their pretty forms more and more unfolded. Some immense force is pushing them from within, and attracting them from without. The small plant in the sick girl’s window in some narrow city lane feels the same influence; the weeds and grasses over ten thousand miles of latitude feel the influence. Every twenty-four hours swells this tide of vegetable life which flows in upon us like the ocean. Thus, too, there are doubtless spring seasons in the human soul, when we are more susceptible to Divine influence than at other times. God is not necessarily nearer than at other times, but our hearts are turned more towards Him.
III. A third peculiarity of the Christian view of Divine influence is, that it considers inspiration as natural, rational and practical.
1. It is rational. It does not come to confuse she mind, but to give it more insight, deeper knowledge. Part of our knowledge comes to us from the outward world by observation; but another part, and often the best part, comes to us from within, by intuition.
2. The Divine influence, according to Christianity, is not only rational, but also practical. We have seen that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of “healing.” We also read of the “gifts” of “helping,” of “governing,” of “discerning of spirits.” One man who believes in inspiration, and looks up for it, will be filled with a Divine power of helping those in difficulty, of showing them what they ought to do, of lending a hand to a weak brother or sister. Another man will, in answer to his inward prayer, be gifted with executive ability to direct and guide and govern. We know how some persons can govern without seeming to govern. Some are born leaders, but some are also inspired leaders. They are enabled by a power not their own to guide, repress, restrain, uplift, and bring together many hearts, till they beat as one. This is also a gift of the Holy Ghost. And others are made discerners of spirits. The eye is made clear and penetrating to discern shams. The hypocrite and deceiver is unmasked in their presence. These various powers of the soul are all as much quickened and fed and vitalised by the Holy Spirit as that of the prophet who speaks with the tongue of men and angels, or the rapt devotee who wears the stones with his knees in constant prayer. It is one spirit by which all God’s servants are baptised into that one body, the invisible church of good men and women.
3. Although this influence is supernatural it is also natural. The Divine life, flowing down through human souls into the world, must be, and is in harmony with the same Divine life flowing down into the world through external nature. Consequently, wherever God sends a fuller tide of religious inspiration into any period, it is followed by a greater growth of art, science, knowledge and civilisation. What we ought to believe, therefore, is that God is always inwardly near to us, in the depths of our soul, and always ready to strengthen us, and lighten our darkness, when we turn inward to Him. But it is a mistake to speak of any irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit. God respects our freedom, and, if we choose to resist these tender attractions and illuminations, they are never forced upon us. Let us not harden ourselves against the voice within, whether it comes to give us better insight into truth, or to show us how acceptably to work: whether it open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our hands to act, our lips to speak, or our hearts to love. (James Freeman Clarke.)
One Spirit, many gifts
But now these best gifts of God, as well as all His other gifts, are in danger of being profaned by men. And it seems that the Corinthians did profane them. They employed the power of speaking new languages, as well as other spiritual gifts, to their His glory, and not to God’s glory alone. His mystical body, the Church, is like His natural body, or any of our bodies, in respect that although it is made up of many members, each having its own office, yet it is truly, strictly, mysteriously one. What makes it one, and binds it together, is the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in each person’s soul and body, to unite him truly to Jesus Christ. Thus are Christians put in mind of the one Church, to which all alike belong; and they are also put in mind of the diversity of gifts, whereby each member is made different from another. First, to the weaker and less honourable member he says, you are not to be cast down nor discontented, as if no one cared for you, because others have higher places than you. “Nay,” it might be said, “you surely have in you the same life, the same blood, that any other limbs of the body have. The pulse which beats in you comes from the heart, the power and will which guides you from the head; you are as much a member of the Man as any of the limbs which are most precious. If you hear instead of speaking, if you move instead of ruling, if you act instead of ordering, you are not therefore the less parts of the body.” And much more should we quiet with the same gracious words all discontented and envious thoughts. Are you not a member of Christ? and what is it, in comparison of so great mercies, if another man is more learned, more respected, richer; or healthier than you are? The weak then are not to envy the strong, and the strong on the other hand are not to despise the weak. “The eye is not to say to the hand, I have no need of thee; neither again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” Those who are above others, either in learning or in dignity, are of course in some danger of becoming proud and contemptuous. Let this then be the lesson settled in our hearts; to believe that we are Christian brethren indeed, and to cherish in our hearts true brotherly feeling one towards another. Now, then, with this deep faith in Christ’s Holy Spirit, as having really been given to dwell in our hearts, let us think on any other person, whomsoever we will, as being also partakers of the same Spirit. Consider; if he were partaker of the same blood with us, if it were our brother or sister after the flesh, should we not be full of love for him? Again, because this Spirit deals not with all exactly alike, but divides to every man severally as He will, how should the remembrance of Him fail to make us content in our places, orderly and diligent in our duties? since wherever we are in God’s work, He assigned us our place. Are you then a rich and prosperous person? do not trust in your own riches: beware of thinking that you can do without the poor, that you need them not. Are you, on the contrary, a poor man? Then beware how you allow yourself to think sadly on the rich, as being better off than you are. Such thoughts are too likely to end in repining and envy. Again, are you in comparison learned? are you able to read the Scriptures? yet do not trust in your reading: do not think that you can make out your duty, and save yourself well enough: you still need the prayers of Christ’s afflicted and poor. Are you, on the other hand, an ignorant person, and does it mortify you to see and feel that you know much less than most others? care not for it, but turn your thoughts to the infinite and wonderful truth, which, as we all know, belongs to us and to the very wisest alike. Are you so far blameless as to have kept, by God’s mercy, your soul and body from wilful deadly sin? You know it is altogether the work of God’s Spirit: believe and think of this; it will keep you from pride and self-righteousness. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the Tracts for the Times.)
1 Corinthians 12:12
For as the body is one, and hath many members … so also is Christ.
Of the great variety of men’s characters in the Church
The law of variety in unity obtains--
I. In nature.
1. No two leaves of the same tree, no two faces, even of twins, entirely correspond. Science, however, is continually bringing to light an unity and simplicity of type in things apparently different. What objects can present a greater superficial difference than quadrupeds and fishes, both of which, however, being vertebrates, are formed on the same general plan?
2. And the resemblance is not only of ground-plan, but of agency. The same power of gravitation which ties the planets to the sun, and retains them in their orbits, causes the leaf or the fruit to fall to the ground. The same power of electricity which rives the oak, attracts light substances towards chafed sealing-wax. The same refraction of the rays of the sun produces the rainbow, and makes the tiny dewdrop to twinkle with the prismatic colours.
3. The various parts of the universe work together for one end. Strong forces are at work in and around the earth, which, if allowed unlimited sway, might peril the planet’s existence; but they play into one another’s hands, and hold one another in equipoise.
II. In the Word of God. The Scriptures are a collection of books written under various circumstances at different times. We have histories, biographies, poetry, aphorisms, prophecies, rituals, letters. But however dissimilar, they are one organic whole, knit together by a certain plan and principles. The prophecy of the Seed of the woman, which should bruise the serpent’s head, is manifestly the nucleus round which the whole Bible has formed itself. The entire Old Testament looks forward to Messiah historically, typically, and prophetically.
III. In the Church. Shall we not expect to find the same feature here, for the Church, quite as much as Nature and Scripture is God’s workmanship?
1. The members of the Apostolic Church had various gifts, the phenomena of which were different, but all the results of the agency of one Spirit, and all working together for the glory of one Saviour. These supernatural gifts had something in the natural endowments of the possessor’s mind corresponding to them. Thus, e.g., corresponding to the gift of tongues, some persons have now a great facility of acquiring languages; corresponding to the girt of prophecy, we find in others a natural gift of high and fervid eloquence; some persons even nowadays have such a wonderful art of imparting what they know, that we can hardly be said to have lost the gift of teaching; others are admirably adapted for government; while even the gift of miracles itself rests on the power of mind over matter, of which power we have exemplifications in a natural way even nowadays.
2. The character and temperament of each individual Christian is different from that of his neighbour. Thus St. John represents the contemplative and studious disciple. St. Peter is the great bulwark and rock of the Church, breasting its perils and responsibilities gallantly, before St. Paul appears; Apollos is an eloquent declaimer, “mighty in the Scriptures”; Barnabas has a still small voice of consolation; while Paul, in powers of physical and mental endurance, in the expansiveness of his affections, is God’s chiefest instrument for the diffusion of the glad tidings. These are some of the moulds in which Christian character was cast, and in which we may expect that it will continue to be cast nowadays.
1. Let us not distress ourselves that we were not brought to God in the same way as some others. God’s ways of influencing the human mind for good vary, first, with the original character of the mind, on which the Holy Ghost has to operate; and, secondly, with the acquired shape which that mind has taken from circumstances in which it has been thrown. On the same page of Scripture there is the record of Lydia, who became a Christian through the gentle opening of the heart, and of the gaoler who was shaken with strong alarm, as if over the pit of hell; nothing else would have broken bonds so firmly riveted.
2. Our method of serving God must depend on our capacities, endowments, position, and opportunities. It may not be a high or a widely influential work which we are doing for God, but then He may not have called us to such a work. “I would undertake to govern a hundred empires,” said Dr. Payson, “if God called me to it, but I would not undertake to govern a hundred sheep unless He called me.”
3. Learn a lesson of large charity. We ought, if rightly minded, to rejoice in the exuberance and variety of the spiritual gifts possessed by Christians, just as we delight in the rich variety of Nature or the Word of God. God’s purpose is that each Christian should exhibit, in the peculiarity of his circumstances, education, moral temperament, and mental endowments, a new specimen of redeeming love and grace. By various discipline here He fits and polishes each living stone for the place which it is destined to occupy in the spiritual temple; and when all the stones are made ready, He will build them together each into his place, and exhibit to men and angels their perfect unity. (Dean Goulburn.)
Different work given to different people
If we examine a thistle we find that each of the purple fringes of which the head is composed is a distinct flower, so that the plume of the thistle is not, in reality, one flower, but a collection of flowers. Each part has its own work to do, and is changed in shape or colour, according to its work. One part produces honey; another attracts, by its colour, insects to fertilise the plant; another helps to produce seed. Each part has its own excellent quality, and the effect of their combined labour is to promote the welfare of all. (H. Macmillan, LL.D.)
The Church: unity in diversity; diversity in unity
The apostle’s discourse is of spiritual gifts. These were largely distributed among the Christians of Corinth--to largely, it would seem, for the grace that went along with them. The diversity in unity here affirmed by the apostle of the gifts communicated to the early Church, pertains to the Church in its entire structure. It is, in fact, the law of its composition--an identity of character and experience, combined with an endless diversity in the details. The most palpable exemplification of this law is that which is offered by the diverse outward forms in which the Church exists. It is not the visible Church which the apostle affirms to be one; but the true Church--the Church made up of the regenerated and saved, who are confined to no one communion, and are known to God alone. But it is not without its significance that He has permitted the visible Church to be cast in many separate moulds. He might have prescribed a polity with such distinctness, and enjoined it in such terms of authority, that all churches would have conformed to it. But He saw fit so to frame His instructions on this subject as to leave room for a diversity of interpretation. The fact is indisputable, that to one class of minds this form of worship is the more edifying; to another, that. In this view we may refer to the visible Church as illustrating the principle of diversity in unity. The principle, however, finds its legitimate sphere within the brotherhood of real believers. This phrase, in fact, defines the sense in which they are affirmed to be one; they are “real believers”: this makes them one. So the apostle teaches in the passage before us: The body of Christ (the Church) is one: “for (verse 13) by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free.” It is through the anointing of the Spirit men are born again, and so engrafted into Christ as to become members of His body. This is the communicating of a new nature which makes them one, as really as the natural birth, the possession of a common humanity, makes them one. External diversities are of no consequence in either case. The child of the hovel, the wigwam, the palace, it matters not where or when he is born, he inherits the common nature and belongs to the race. So with the new birth, it merges all outward distinctions.
1. This unity includes a common head. “Christ is the Head of the Church.” Union with Christ is indispensable.
2. It denotes, further, a oneness of faith. Diversities of belief there certainly are among real believers. All Christians concur in the necessity of “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
3. They are also of one purpose. The various members of the body, controlled by a single will, work together for the same ends. The members of Christ’s mystical body have a common aim.
4. They are united, too, by the bonds of a mutual sympathy. In the human body, if one member suffers, all suffer; if one rejoices, all rejoice. But this unity is not monotony. The Church is one. But it is one as the body is one; as the animal kingdom is one; the vegetable; the mineral; the whole realm of nature. The formula of definition in all these cases is, Unity in diversity, and diversity in unity. The Christian Church began in this way, and began gloriously. The Day of Pentecost supplied the mould in which it was to be cast. “Parthians and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians.” What an assemblage was this! And as it set out, so it has continued. Contemning all distinctions of climate, empire, language, and religion, the Church has gone on, gathering into its ample fold people of all lands and tongues and faiths; cementing them into one harmonious whole; and that, without disturbing the elements which mark their several nationalities. But we may see this diversity in unity without convening the Church Ecumenical. It is the law of the kingdom everywhere. In the apostolic age, the household of faith comprised persons of every rank and occupation. And this variety has been perpetuated. The ministry has never been without its Johns and Pauls, its Thomases and Peters, its sons of thunder and its sons of consolation. Let me name Baxter, Owen, Bunyan, Jeremy Taylor, Bishop Hall, the Wesleys, the Erskines, Romaine, President Edwards, Whitefield, Dwight, Robert Hall, Chalmers, Davies, Mason, the Alexanders. What a galaxy is this! Every star is brilliant; but no two shine with the same lustre. And as with the ministry, so with the people. To delineate the variety which pertains to the many members of the one spiritual body would be to describe the numerous sorts of people aggregated in a community. For the Church recruits itself indifferently from the vast outlying masses of humanity. It appropriates to itself all ages, sexes, and conditions. Of course the training to which it subjects them demands the lopping off of excrescences and the healing of disorders which, neglected, would consume the life. But within the wise and wide limitations prescribed by the Divine Husbandman, it allows all the trees and shrubs transplanted into its enclosure to follow out each the law of its own growth. The pine is not expected to become an oak; nor the orange a vine; nor the violet a rose. This rule is observed even in respect to the methods by which the dead branches are engrafted into the True Vine and made alive. It is the prerogative of the one Almighty Spirit to effect this; here is the unity. But He does it in a great variety of modes; here is the diversity. Nor in conversion only. He carries the same variety of modes and means into the culture and development of the immortal germ deposited in regeneration. The efficiency in all instances is His own. And the one agency He has Himself prescribed, in His Word. But who can describe the paths along which He leads His people, and the endless combinations of proverbial and gracious influences by which He conducts them step by step up the acclivities of the higher life, and fashions them to the “likeness of the heavenly”? The fact is patent to every one. Let us advert to a few of the more important aspects in which it offers itself to our contemplation.
It will not be difficult to show that this Divine law of diversity in unity is as essential to the proper perfection of the Church as it is morally beautiful.
1. Let me begin with this latter thought, the moral beauty of this arrangement. This is not a thing to be argued. Beauty is a matter not of logic, but of feeling. Its appeal is to a constitutional susceptibility. And it is a part of our constitution to crave variety. We do not want, painting to be all of one colour, nor a tune of one strain. The ocean would pall upon us if it were always still or always boisterous. We grow weary of looking day by day at the same people in the same situation, unless they are our intimate friends. And as to our friends, we would not have them all alike if we could. It is one of the charms of the domestic state, the variety there is in families. He who made man made the Church; and of course adapted it to this as well as to every other part of his nature. No one can complain of the New Testament as a monotonous book; nor feel that when be has seen one of its personages he has seen all. We love the Church all the more because its unity, like that of a garden, effloresces in a grateful variety of fruits and flowers.
2. The principle of diversity in unity upon which the Church is constructed illustrates the power and efficacy of Divine grace. The palpable fact which meets the eye is that while grace is more than a match for depravity in its worst forms, it renews and elevates all the nobler traits of humanity; and in either case, without disturbing identity of character. In man’s hands these various types of character might be bent or broken; they could never be renewed. Changed they might be, but not changed without sad contortion or mutilation. Too often has the experiment been tried. A wonderful achievement it is, as wonderful in power as in love, that of imbuing a whole community with a new life, from its very nature pervading, elevating, and controlling, and yet so incorporating it with all the natural faculties and functions as to aid their proper working and their true development. We cite it as one of the fruits of that diversity in unity which enters radically into the constitution of the Church.
3. It is still more to our purpose to refer to the wisdom, perhaps we may say the necessity, of this principle, in view of the mission assigned to the Church. It is not for man to say that anything is absolutely necessary to God in effecting His purposes which He has not declared to be so. But we may speak of the perfect adaptation of the principle we are considering, to the ends for which the Church was established. Not to name other topics, the Church is appointed to be, under God, the Teacher and Guide of the world. Its business is to disciple all nations. It needs, therefore, labourers of every sort and every variety of talent. With fewer gifts in kind, some portions of its work would be neglected. If it is to carry Christianity through the globe, it must have men whose constitutions and training fit them for the various climates of the earth. It must have men of iron nerve who can face dangers. It must have men of the requisite scholarship to grapple with strange languages and preach to strange peoples. In its home-field there is room for the exercise of every kind of gift. A scheme so vast demands a corresponding variety and affluence of talents. And this want is provided for in that diversity which, as we have seen, enters into the constituency of the Church. There are ministers of every grade of culture and with every kind of gifts. How, otherwise, could the ministry fulfil its design? The people vary indefinitely. And who can survey the broad acres which the Church is cultivating, without rejoicing in the combination of gifts employed in carrying forward the work? A radical part of this agency lies in the silent power of example; the simple routine of a quiet and upright life. Some are breaking up the fallow ground. Some are sowing. Some are nurturing the precious grain. And others reaping and gathering the crop. But all are servants of the great Taskmaster.
The unfolding of such a subject suggests the practical lessons which grow out of it.
1. One is a lesson of instruction and encouragement in respect to religious experience. We have seen that this is of no uniform type. Certain elements are essential, but beyond these it partakes of a very great variety. We are not, then, to set up this or that instance of conversion, nor this or that form of the Christian life, as the standard by which all others are to be tested. God has His own methods for bringing men into His kingdom. The only safe or authorised mode of trying our state is to come to the law and the testimony.
2. As unity in diversity is the law of the Church, it is the duty of all its members to cherish and promote the spirit of unity. The apostle points out the effect of a schism among the members of the body, as illustrative of a divisive spirit among the members of the Church. The divisions among Christians have always been the opprobrium of religion.
3. As diversity in unity is the law of the Church, let us try to learn what are our own gifts, and to fill each his own place. To learn what this is, we must ask His teaching in prayer. We must consider our situation and circumstances. We must endeavour to find out what gifts we have, and how they can be used to the best purpose.
4. There is one other lesson which I would gladly enforce if the time would permit, viz., a lesson of charity in judging of the Christianity of others. (H. A. Boardman, D.D.)
Christ the head, the Church His body
The appellation “Christ” is here applied, not to the person or our Lord, but to His Church, intimating that she is identified with her Saviour; and being given to the Church as a body, indicates the harmony and union of all its parts.
I. The union of believers with Christ. This is here represented as corresponding with that which subsists betwixt the head and the members of the body. (Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 1:18). This reminds us that Christ is--
1. The same nature with ourselves, even as the head is of the same nature with the body (Heb 4:16-17).
2. The governing power in the Church, as the head is of the body. In the head the eyes are stationed like watchful sentinels; the ears receiving the information conveyed by sound; the organs of taste and smell discerning things that differ, and contributing eminently both to our safety and to our enjoyment; the tongue, the interpreter of thought: there, in short, is the countenance, the seat of beauty, giving to man an impress of dignity not found in any of the inferior animals. Now the superior endowments of this capital of the human frame afford a fit emblem of the honour and supremacy of Him who is constituted our spiritual Head.
3. The vital principle, the source of life and feeling to the whole body. Christ our Head, in whom dwell all wisdom and all power, imparts and sustains the principles of the spiritual life.
II. Their relation to one another.
1. The members of the body are many, and differ exceedingly, and yet in a machine so complex each movement and circumvolution is exactly fitted for its specific end. Of the many bones, e.g., of the hand or foot, not one could change its place without injury to the limb to which it belongs. In like manner, every muscle, nerve, and artery has its own place and office, which no other could supply. So in the mystical body of Christ there are many members, with each its own office. One Christian excels in the intelligence of the eye, another in the discrimination of the ear: one has the activity and adaptation of the band, another the firmness and perseverance of the foot: one has the energy of the arm, another the tenderness of the bosom (verses 4-11).
2. This diversity occasions a dependence of the several members upon one another (verses 21, 22). Let no believer, however mean, be discouraged; let no believer, however eminent, presume that he is independent. The analogy suggests the mutual sympathy that should subsist among believers (verse 26). The tenderness each should cherish our fellow-Christians, the zeal each should render.
4. This mutual co-operation has the happiest results. In the natural body, when the eye is quick to discern, the hand diligent to execute, the foot steady to pursue, the ear open to hear, and the tongue ready to return a right answer, the combined exertion of our powers secures ends which their separate and unconnected attempts could never have attained. In like manner the efforts of the several members of the body of Christ are then successful when they are honestly and affectionately combined. (H. Grey, D.D.)
The Church the body of Christ
I. What this implies. That its members, like a living organism, are--
1. Animated by one spirit (verse 13).
2. Mutually dependent (verses 14-18).
3. United for one end (verses 19, 20).
II. What it requires in the several members.
1. Humility and contentment (verses 21-24).
2. Unity and sympathy (verses 25, 26).
3. Gratitude and fidelity (verses 27-31). (J. Lyth, D.D.)
1 Corinthians 12:13-20
For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.
Of union with Christ
I. How Christ’s redemption is applied to a sinner. By uniting the sinner to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). Men must not think to stand afar from Christ, but must unite with Christ, and so partake of the redemption purchased by Him, as the poor widow drowned in debt, by marrying the rich man, is interested in his substance.
II. There is a real union betwixt Christ and believers. Consider--
1. The terms by which this union is expressed. Christ is said to be in believers (Colossians 1:27; Romans 8:10), and they in Him (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is said to dwell in them, and they in Him (John 6:54). They are said to abide in one another (John 15:4). Believers have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). They are so joined as to be one Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17).
2. The several real and proper unions which it is resembled to. The vine and the branches (John 15:5); the head and the body (Ephesians 1:22-23); merit eaten and the eater (John 6:56); yea, to that betwixt Father and Christ (John 17:21).
3. If this union be not a true and real one, the sacrament of the supper is but a bare sign, and not a sea1.
III. What is that union. There are three mysterious unions in our religion--the substantial union of the three persons in one Godhead; the personal union of the Divine and human natures in Jesus Christ; the mystical union betwixt Christ and believers, which is that wherein Christ and believers are so joined that They are one Spirit and one mystical body (1 Corinthians 6:17 and text). In this union the whole man is united to a whole Christ. The believing soul is united to Him (Ephesians 3:17). His body also is united to Him (1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:14). They are united to Him in His Divine nature (Colossians 1:27), and in His human nature (Ephesians 5:30), and so through the Mediator unto God (2 Corinthians 6:16).
IV. The bonds of this union. All corporal union is made by contact; but Christ is in heaven, and we on earth, and so we can have no such union with Him; and if we had, what would it profit? (John 6:63.) But this union is spiritual (1 Corinthians 6:17), and so are the bonds of it. And they are two.
1. The Spirit on Christ’s part, whereby He taketh and keepeth hold of us (1 John 3:1-24. ult.). And the distance betwixt Christ and believers, as great as is betwixt heaven and earth, cannot hinder the joining of our souls and bodies to His, since the Spirit is an infinite Spirit, everywhere present.
2. Faith on the believer’s part (Ephesians 3:17). Thereby the believer apprehends, takes, and keeps hold of Christ. It is by that we receive Christ (John 1:12), come unto Him (John 6:35), and feed on Him (verse 56). And its fitness for this.
V. The author and efficient cause of this union.
1. The Spirit of Christ comes in the Word, and enters into the heart of the elect sinner dead in sin (Galatians 3:2).
2. That quickening Spirit works faith (Ephesians 2:8; Colossians 2:12). Hereby the soul lays hold on Christ, and actually unites with Him.
VI. The. Properties of this union.
1. A true, real, and proper union, not a mere relative one.
2. A spiritual union (1 Corinthians 6:17).
3. A mysterious union (Ephesians 5:32; Colossians 1:27).
4. A most close and intimate union (1 Corinthians 6:17; John 6:56; Ephesians 5:30).
5. An indissoluble union (John 10:28-29).
6. It is the leading, comprehensive, fundamental privilege of believers (1 Corinthians 3:23). All their other privileges are-derived from and grafted upon this--their justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. (T. Boston, D.D.)
Unity in Christ the secret of man’s life: “all one” by faith in Christ, the one life of all
There is a joy familiar to you, from the experience of daily life, which may assist you in understanding the nature of the blessing to be derived from the Lord’s Supper. All of you have felt refreshed by meeting a friend. The very sight of him may have done you good, like a medicine. If you have ever tasted the blessedness of communion with a Christian friend, you will understand still better the nature of this spiritual food. The Ethiopian eunuch tasted it when he went on his way rejoicing, after Philip had come up into his chariot, and conversed with him about the One of whom he was reading. Still more did the two disciples learn the lesson on the way to Emmaus, where they met with Jesus, although in the guise of another-man, a fellow-traveller on the road. They had “meat to eat” of which others knew nothing, while He was thus manifesting Himself to them in another way than He does to the world. They and He were becoming one in spirit. They were growing up into Him, drinking into His spirit. Before they parted they had become one.
I. Elsewhere, as well as at the communion table, communion with Christ makes Christians one, and so feeds their spirits. This oneness is food to man’s spirit, and is to be found in Christ alone, so that it is the secret of true Christians. All men in their spirits are seeking this oneness, more or less conscious that it is the food of their spirits, the secret of happiness; in fact, eternal life. Without faith in Christ this oneness is not attained at all, and therefore man’s spirit, starved, stinted of its appropriate nourishment, remains unsatisfied, and is tormented with unquenchable longings, and disappointment in all the broken cisterns to which he resorts. Faith it is that gives friendship its substance, its strength, its eternal life; that alone keeps man from hungering and thirsting after some better nourishment suited to his spirit’s immortal nature and eternal longings. Faith alone binds the bond of perfectness between master and servant, between buyer and seller, between ruler and subject, between the citizens of one community or the members of one Christian Church. In all these, and the other channels of intercourse between man and man, without faith love is awanting, or is impure and imperfect. The parties, therefore, do not become one. For love is unity. Man’s delusion is to expect unity without love, and love without faith. Men know that they cannot be happy till they become one; but they believe that they can become one without drinking into Christ’s one spirit, without being rooted and grounded in the love of God, without becoming one as the Father and the Son are one, through faith beholding in the Son the revelation of the Father, claiming sonship in Christ, and, therefore, brotherhood in the Lord, and thus coming to reconciliation in the Redeemer. Communion with Christ alone feeds man’s spirit; and it is food in proportion to his faith, and love, or charity. It is food by bringing him in spirit and in truth into God’s presence, into the secret of the Lord, into the revelation of God’s grace and glory in the covenant, and in the kingdom, into conscious fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, in all his fellowship with his fellow-Christians and fellow-men.
II. Sacramental communion brings “all into one,” and, so far as it does so, is a communion feast--faith discerning the Lord’s body--believers there and thus becoming one in spirit.
1. They feast by coming, through Christ’s body and blood discerned by faith, all to one Father. Saw you ever the child that was long away from home in the moment of his glad return, rushing into his mother’s arms, pressed to his father’s bursting heart, welcomed back into the bosom of the family that have been counting the years of his absence, and watching for the blessed hour when they shall see him again, one of their circle in everything? Did not the soldier thus returning, from this or that battle-field and long campaign, find it food to his drooping heart to feel himself one again, and still one as ever, or more than ever, with those whom he loved and left behind sorrowing? Still more did not the prodigal, received back to forgiveness, live again, breathe freely, return to life and renew his strength, as he heard his father’s lips once more pronounce, “My son,” and knew that there was a father’s heart still welcoming him upon earth, however unworthy he had proved himself by his misconduct? So it is to the communicant in the bread and wine of the communion. They point to the body broken for him, to the blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of his sins, and thus to the bond of perfectness between him and the living God his Father in heaven. They bring him near consciously, and ill spirit, to that Father.
2. They feast by coming, through Christ’s body and blood discerned by faith, to one another, and nearer all to one another. It is a family feast, one Father’s board spread for all the members of His one family, without respect of persons. All are brethren, who are to sit side by side at one table, eat one common bread, and drink one cup of communion, the cup of brotherhood. Without the spirit of brotherhood we have nothing better than the shadow. Our feast is a counterfeit, a work of the flesh. Nay, it is worse, a substitution of the lust of the flesh for the love of the Spirit. “Little children, love one another.” This is the feast. It is a feast of love; and those only who love one another in the Lord are communicants here; those only have communion in the body and blood. The “new commandment” is the law of the communion table, the bond of perfectness in the new covenant.
3. They feast by coming near, or nearer, through the body and blood discerned by faith, to that kingdom of God in which all are one. In that body and blood we are to discern written the new covenant in Christ, the kingdom of God and of heaven brought near, so near that we can claim the place of citizens, and enter into a blessed fellowship with all, whether on earth or in heaven, who bow the knee to Jesus, and call Him Lord, taking on them His yoke. In the name of Jesus we are to receive and use all, calling nothing “common or unclean,” which He hath sanctified. This is the liberty of the children of God, a liberty which we are to guard with the utmost jealous, but which we are also to beware of abusing. Our life in this kingdom is to be a life of God--heavenly, holy, Christ-like--“not of the world, as He was not of the world.” (R. Paisley.)
The sameness of religion
We often read of water, of living water, of drawing water out of the wells of salvation, and of thirsting and drinking. By which expressions are undoubtedly meant the inward spirit and experience of religion, with the many comforts and blessings of it. Now, says the apostle, whatever be our character or circumstances in other respects, yet having felt the renewing influence of the grace of God, we have been all made to drink into one spirit. We have all hungered and thirsted after righteousness, have all been led to the same fountain-bead, and have all, in our different proportion, drank of the same Divine blessings which freely and largely flow thence.
I. As to that diversity of natural and external circumstances which attends the profession of religion, it will be necessary to take a general view of it, in order to set the contrast in the stronger light, and especially as the apostle himself directs us to it in the very text.
1. It is obvious to every one, that there is a wide difference among those who fear God, in respect of their outward and worldly circumstances. Religion is not confined to any particular nation or age of the world, nor to any particular rank or condition of men.
2. There is a remarkable difference among good men as to their intellectual capacities and their natural tempers. These, be they what they may, are not the tests by which the characters of the disciples of Jesus are to be decisively determined.
3. The difference may be considerable, in respect of the particular dispensations, forms, and means of religion they may be under. The same degree of light hath not been enjoyed, nor hath the same mode of worship obtained from the beginning.
4. The diversity there is of spiritual gifts infers no real diversity as to religion itself.
5. There may be, and often is, a difference as to the degree of religion, though it still retains the same nature. There are, in the language of Scripture, babes, young men, and fathers in Christ; some weak, and others strong in faith.
II. Wherein consists that uniformity in religion which our text mentions as a peculiar commendation of its real and intrinsic excellency.
1. By the sameness of religion is here meant, the exact similarity there is in the spirit and temper of all good men. As the several individuals of mankind are all made of one blood, and as the same faculty of reason in a greater or less degree is common to each of the human species, so what the Scripture calls “a new creature” is one Divine or spiritual nature common to all the people of God.
2. The main expressions of inward religion may be comprised in this short account of it. It first humbles the heart of man--then inspires it with Divine hopes and joys--by this means refines and sanctifies it--and so makes it capable of a pure love and exalted friendship. And in respect of each of these particulars there is an exact uniformity, at least in a degree, among all the people of God. They have all been made to drink into the same spirit.
III. The grounds or reasons of this uniformity.
1. They are all of the same nature. It is acknowledged indeed that there is a strength of genius, and a softness of natural temper in some, which renders them more amiable than others; yet the principal outlines of human apostacy are much the same in all. This inference is likewise with the same force of reason to be drawn from a contemplation--
2. Of the one grand source or origin whence religion is derived. It is from above, the offspring of God, and the genuine fruit of the influence and operation of His Spirit. Now as no fountain can send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter, so we may be very sure that what is the effect of a Divine influence on the souls of men must be of the same pure and spiritual nature and tendency. And for the like reason we may safely conclude in the general, that however the circumstances of particular persons may in some respects differ, yet the manner of the Divine operation on the hearts of men is much the same. Religion will begin then in our humiliation, and advance through various degrees of sanctification, till it rises to a perfection of happiness and glory in the heavenly world.
3. The great and important ends which religion proposes, clearly evince the simplicity and uniformity of it. The glory of God, our own happiness, and the welfare of society are acknowledged to be the principal objects of this great concern. (S. Stennett, D.D.)
Christians ingrafting into Christ
I. What is this body of Christ, which the Spirit of God doth ingraft His people into? First, it is the Church of God; as the apostle saith (Colossians 1:18), “He is the head of the body, the Church.” So that the Church is the body of Christ, that same peculiar company of men and women, as St. Peter calls them, “You are a chosen generation, a peculiar people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). The author to the Hebrews calls them, “the assembly of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23). Now I call this invisible, for though their persons, and courses, and manner of life be seen and known, and they may be known who they are, yet all of them were never known, nor ever will be (2Ti 2:39). Secondly, it is such a company as is gathered out of all nations under heaven; as St. John speaks (Revelation 7:9). Thirdly, this same godly company are a company of predestinated men unto eternal life. Fourthly, it is such a godly company as is gathered by the Word of God. The Word of God gathers them together. Fifthly, they are such a company as are made one, knit and combined together in Christ, though themselves are never so many, and never so remote and distant from one another. It is true, you are different among yourselves: one is a master, another a servant, one is a rich man, another a poor man--so there is a difference; but they are all one in Christ Jesus, they have all one and the selfsame faith, they have all one and the selfsame Father, there is but one Lord, and one Spirit to quicken and unite them all. Thus we see what this body of Christ is.
II. Now in the second place, what is it to be put into this body; to be implanted into it? I answer--First, it is a part of a man’s ingrafting into Christ; for the ingrafting of a man into Christ, and into the body of Christ, are not two things, but God doth them by one and the selfsame act, as you may see (Romans 12:5). It must needs be the same work, for the putting a man into Christ in whom are the other members, that very act makes a man to have fellowship with Christ, together with all the other members. Secondly, this likewise is done by faith. Then in the third place, it makes a man have a common life with all the rest of the members of Jesus Christ. As you may see (Colossians 3:4), “When Christ which is our life shall appear, ye also shall appear with Him in glory.” Christ who is our life. In the fourth place, it makes a man to be of one consent with all the people of God everywhere (Zephaniah 3:9). Fifthly, all this is for mutual profit, and help, and care, and sympathy.
III. In the third place we must show, that the spirit doth this, and why he doth it. First, that it is the Spirit that unites and tieth all these members together. This makes them hang together, therefore it is called the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). Now the reason why the Spirit of God doth do this, is--first, because none else besides the Spirit is able to do it. For by nature we are woefully different from the body of Christ, we are of another nature, of another kind, of another life; nay, we are contrary to it. Secondly, there is none so fit as the Spirit of God to do it. Thirdly, how the Spirit of God doth this; and that is two ways, as the Scripture reveals to us. The one is, by being one and the same Spirit in all the members of Christ. He comes into them, and dwells in them as one and the selfsame Spirit, and so makes up this union. The same Spirit that was in Paul was in Peter; and so all the rest of the members of Christ one and the selfsame Spirit is in them (1 Corinthians 3:16). Secondly, the Spirit doth this by uniting and tying a knot between these members. He doth unite them, and make them hang together in one; He makes them to be of one heart.
IV. Now I come to the uses. First, is it so that the Spirit of God doth unite all the saints of God together in one body? Then here we may see the reason of the difference of men in the world. Some companies have a different spirit; but all the saints of God have the Spirit of God which makes them hang together. Secondly, doth the Spirit of God join all the saints of God together in one body? Then that which God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Thirdly, here we may see how to try our acquaintance, and whether the company we join ourselves unto be good or no. If our company be right, the Spirit of God tieth the knot. The last use is this: is it so that the Spirit of God joins all the saints of God together in one body? Then we should have a fellow-feeling with all the members of Christ. But how shall we have a fellow-feeling with the members of Christ? First, we must inform ourselves as much as we can concerning one another. Secondly, we should visit our fellow-members. As it is said of Moses, though he were a great courtier in Pharaoh’s court, yet he went out to look upon his brethren’s burdens (Exodus 2:11). Thirdly, we should lay to heart their afflictions. (W. Fenner.)
The true unity of the Church
I. Is spiritual.
1. In its nature.
2. In its origin.
II. Surmounts all earthly distinctions.
1. Of nationality.
3. Of condition. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
For the body is not one member, but many.--
Round about God is a universe of connections. Nothing stands single. The economy of universal administration is that of borrowing and lending. The root takes from the soil; the soil from the sun. There is no bulk of matter so large that it can stand alone by itself. The great worlds all lean on each other. Systems depend on systems, as worlds on worlds. They are “all parts of one stupendous whole.” From inanimate nature turn to human society. Here we find the same law.
1. We can trace it in all the stages of man’s development. What is there so dependent as a babe? What do we not all owe to mother-love and father-love? How many eyes saw for us, how many feet ran for us, etc., when we were young. Furthermore, when the babe has become a man he is more dependent than ever. For man is dependent to the extent of his wants; and as a man grows, a great crop of wants grow up with him.
2. Indeed, society is only a partnership, and is more a confession of weakness than a proof of strength. Society is only a polite system of borrowing and lending. We talk of men being the architects of their own fortunes, of being self-made. But how? Because in them was the power of absorption. Their minds had in them that imperial quality which enabled them to tax the sources of all knowledge, and compel the universe of matter and of thought to bring tribute to the feet of their growth. But plant any man or woman rightly, i.e., give them favourable connections, and they will grow. Plant them wrongly, and their growth will be checked.
3. Consider the favourable connections in which men to-day, in this country, stand. Formerly, everything was against the individual. Government, religion, wealth robbed him indeed, the old civilisations were organised robbery of the individual. To-day government is nothing, religion is nothing, unless they assist man. The world, in all its combinations of law and love, has become his friend. If he is ignorant, it helps him to knowledge; if rude, it teaches him the lesson of refinement; if poor, it pushes him up toward riches; if blind, it teaches him to see with his fingers; if dumb, it instructs his lips to talk without sound. The whole drift of modern civilisation is to make man’s connections benevolent and helpful. Under such conditions it is a shame for one not to succeed. Knowledge, virtue, manliness, and womanliness, piety, to-day are possible to all.
4. It is through the connections which the civilisation of his age weaves around a man that he ministers benevolence unto men, rather than by any self-created channels. There is a conscious benevolence, but what a man gives by his hand is nothing compared to what he gives through his activities. It is only as we apprehend how closely we are connected with people that we become sympathetic with them. Love demands contact, and is grown by it. If you desire to love men, go among them. Why do men call so fine an instrument as human nature base, when it is only loosened in its strings and weakened in its frame? Cannot the frame be rebraced and the strings strung anew? And when this has been done, and the hand of the Maker sweeps it again, and the latent harmonies roll forth, shall it be base then? And it is only as you live in close connection with men that you can ever know how splendid they are in their possibilities. Christ took human nature in order to know it. He loved men because they were brethren. And so to-day the saviours of men are the lovers of men. To help a man’s body out of a slough you must take hold of it with your hands and lift, and so to help a man’s mind and soul up your mind and soul must take hold of his and lift.
5. There is no other way by which society can be held together save by the principle of mutual benevolence, ministering to mutual dependence. The strong must bear the infirmities of the weak, or the universal order of creation would become chaotic and destructive. For the universe is peopled with weakness. Look at the natural kingdom. How few are the oaks, and how many are the rushes! Yet there is not a spire of grass, a bird, nor a worm, so low and weak as to be beneath God’s care. And if the strong should ignore the principle of love, the world would be swept backward and downward to the depth in which it lay when Christianity was born. Not only, however, do the strong help the weak, but the weak help the strong. The grasses give protection to the roots of the oak. And so, through all the orders of life, from trees to men, you will find that the humble things are needed by the proud and the lofty. The millionaire needs the tailor more than the tailor needs the millionaire. The branches of the tree need the soil more than the soil needs the branches. Therefore, if any of you who are poor, and have few talents, have been saying, We are of no use; if we only had talents, or money, or knowledge, or power, we might help people; say so no more, for however small and weak and lacking, you are not lacking, you are not useless. If you cannot be great trees, be grasses only, and know that grasses beautify the world.
6. The author of our religion, above all other men, recognised the responsibility of His human connections. He lived amid the weakness of the world, and did what He could to make it strength. The people were not slow to apprehend His goodness nor to love Him for it. They followed Him in throngs; and as they followed He continued to do them good. All this was done for our example. (W. H. H. Murray.)
1 Corinthians 12:20-25
But now are they many members, yet but one body.
The members of the body of Christ
I. Their unity. “One body.”
II. Their diversity. The eye, the hand, etc.
III. Mutual dependence.
IV. Admirable compensations.
V. Common interests. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
A living unity requires
1. The combination of many members.
2. The harmonious arrangement of parts.
3. The inspiration of one Spirit.
4. Co-operation for one common end. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
“I stood awhile ago and looked at a drinking-fountain. A marble angel, beautifully sculptured, stood pointing to heaven. Then came polished granite inscribed with gilt letters, and massive slabs of stone. But I noticed that the water came through a small brass pipe, and the people drank from an iron cup attached to an iron chain. And the marble angel pointing heavenwards would have done nobody any good but for the brass pipe and iron cup. Think if the pipe had said, ‘If they do not make me of gold I will not belong to the thing’; or if the cup had said, ‘I must be of silver, or I shall be ashamed to be there at all.’ No, I thought I heard the music of the three--common water, common cup, common pipe--all co-operating to furnish the refreshing draught.”
Every one should keep to his own station
In the ringing of bells, whilst every one keeps his due time and order, what a sweet and harmonious sound they make! All the neighbour villages are cheered with the sound of them. But when once they jar and check each other, either jangling together or striking preposterously, how harsh and unpleasing is that noise! So that as we testify our public rejoicing by an orderly and well-tuned peal, so, when we would signify the town is on fire, we ring the bells backward in a confused manner. It is just thus in Church and commonwealth: when every one knows his station and keeps their due ranks, there is a melodious concert of comfort and contentment; but when either states or persons will be clashing with each other, the discord is grievous and extremely prejudicial. (J. Spencer.)
“It was only the other day,” says one, “I noticed a lofty hill, crowned with a sturdy and thick wood. ‘How often,’ I reflected, ‘have the proud tops of those trees shaken off “the injuring tempest!” In many a storm they have battled nobly, and conquered. Had these trees been scattered over the surrounding hills, each separate and alone, these noble branches would long ere this have been broken and peeled by the pelting of many a storm. The rushing wind would have long ago twisted and split these exposed trunks, or would have carried them down into the valley beneath. At present they shelter and sustain each other, bidding defiance to the tempest.’ I noted down the thought, as illustrative of the benefits of church-fellowship.”
And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee.--
The least of service to the greatest
1. It is beautiful to observe what close links there are between the several classes in a community, and how the breaking of any one would go far towards dislocating the whole social system. “The king himself is served by the field”; the throne is connected with the sod; the illustrious occupant of the one depends on the tiller of the other. It is literally from the -field that all the arts and comforts of civilised life spring. When you look on a community; with its nobles, merchants, preachers, men of science, artificers, you may perhaps think little of the peasantry. Yet you have only to suppose the peasantry ceasing from their labours, and there would be an almost immediate arrest on the businesses and enjoyments of our stirring community. A land covered with palaces, but without cottages would be a land of costly sepulchres. Does not this effectually expose the preposterousness of that pride which would put a slight on the poor.
2. But let us consider this great fact under a somewhat more practical point of view. Suppose the case of a community from which was banished everything like want, so that, though gradations of rank might still exist, there should be everywhere sufficiency. This is a state of things for which many philanthropists ardently long, as the very perfection of the social system. But we know not how to join in this longing for universal affluence. The country in which it would be hardest to make progress in genuine piety would be that in whose habitations none were to be found requiring the succours of Christian benevolence. One of the most fatal tendencies in our nature is the tendency to selfishness. And who can fail to see that the having amongst us objects which continually appeal to our compassions is wonderfully adapted to the counteracting that tendency? Why, then, should we hesitate to pronounce the poor among the benefactors of a community? We can imagine such a revolution in the circumstances of this country, that many of its public structures might no longer be required for the purposes to which they were originally devoted. But it would not be the downfall of our warehouses, museums, or arsenals which could fill us with apprehension for the spiritual well-being of our people. Whilst you swept away buildings which belong to us as a rich, intelligent, and powerful people, we should feel that though there might be much in the removal that was humiliating, there might be much also that was profitable. But when you come to remove structures reared for the shelter of the miserable, we should feel the removal an indication that henceforward there would be little appeal to the sympathies of the heart, and we could therefore anticipate the rapid growth of selfishness. It may be perfectly true that the indigent cannot do without the benevolent, but it is equally true theft the benevolent cannot do without the indigent. Whensoever you give ear to a tale of distress, and you contribute according to your ability to the relief of the suppliant, you receive as well as confer benefit. The afflicted one keeps, by his appeal, the charities of your nature from growing stag, ant, and thus may be said to requite the obligation.
3. It were easy to enlarge on the utter uselessness of orders or individuals who may be likened to the more honourable members of the body, were there not other orders or individuals who may with equal fitness be likened to the less honourable. Of what avail, for example, would be the courage and skill of a general without troops to obey his commands? of what the ingenuity of the engineers, were there no labourers to employ his inventions? of what the wisdom of the legislator, without functionaries to carry his measures into force? If Christian ministers be likened to the eye or the head, they depend on the very lowest of the people as they prosecute their honourable and difficult employment. For if the presence of suffering be the great antagonist to selfishness, the poor of his flock must be a clergyman’s best auxiliaries, seeing that they help to keep the rest from that moral hardness which would make them impervious to his most earnest remonstrance. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
I. Is a general law.
1. In nature.
2. In the world.
3. In the Church.
II. Arises out of--
1. Individual imperfection.
2. Difference of position and function.
III. Is divinely ordained.
1. For the common benefit.
2. By promoting mutual--
(3) Unity. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Working men, hear!
So thoroughly is society balanced, that if you harm one part you harm all. The man who lives in a mansion and the man who breaks cobble stones affect each other’s misfortune or prosperity. Dives cannot kick Lazarus without hurting his own foot. They who throw Shadrach into the furnace get their own faces scorched. What if the eye should say, “I am overseer of this physical anatomy; I despise those miserable fingers!” What if the hand should say, “I am a first-class workman; if there is anything I hate it is the eye, which does nothing but look!” Oh, silly eye! how soon you would die if you had not the hand to support and defend you! Oh, silly hand, you would be a mere fumbler in the darkness if it were not for the eye. Relief will come to the working classes of this country through--
I. A better understanding between capital and labour. Their interests are identical; what helps one helps both; what injures one injures both. Show me any point in the world’s history where capital was prospered and labour oppressed, or where labour was prospered and capital oppressed. Show me any point in the last fifty years where capital was getting large accumulation, and I will show you the point at which labour was getting large wages. Show me a time when labour was getting large wages, and I will show you the point where capital was getting large profits. Every speech that capital makes against labour or that labour makes against capital is an adjournment of our national prosperity. When capital maligns labour it is the eye cursing the hand. When labour maligns capital, it is the hand cursing the eye. The distance between capital and labour is only a step, and the labourers there will cross over and become capitalists, and the capitalists will cross over and become labourers. Would to God they would shake hands while they are crossing. The combatants in the great war are chiefly men who have never been obliged to toil, and men who could get labour but will not have it. I want it understood that the labourers are the highest style of capitalists. Their investment is their muscles, nerves, bones, skill, health.
II. Co-operative association. That plan by which labourers become their own capitalists. Thomas Brassey declared, “Co-operation is the one and only solution of the labour question; it is the sole path, by which the labouring classes, as a whole, will ever get their share in the rewards and honours of our advanced civilisation.” Thomas Hughes, Lord Derby, John Stuart Mill, men who gave half their lifetime to the study of this question, all favour co-operative association. Our working people will he wiser after a while, and the money they fling away on hurtful indulgences they will put into co-operative associations, and they will become capitalists.
III. More providence and forecast. “Oh,” you say, “you ought not to talk that way in the hard times.” I tell you hard times are not always to stay. I know working men who are in a perfect fidget till they have got rid of their last dollar. A young man worked hard to earn his six or seven hundred dollars yearly. Marriage day came. The bride had inherited five hundred dollars, and spent every dollar on the wedding dress. Then the young man took extra evening employment, which almost extinguished his eyesight! Why? To lay up something for a rainy day? No; that he might get a hundred and fifty dollars to get his wife a sealskin mantle. A minister told me, in Iowa, that his church and the neighbourhood had been impoverished by the fact that they put mortgages on their farms in order to send their families to the Philadelphia Centennial. It was not respectable not to go to the Centennial. Now, between such fools and pauperism there is a very short step. Easy and hard times change. In times of peace prepare for war. I have no sympathy for skinflint saving, but I plead for Christian providence. Some people think it is mean to turn the gas low when they go out of the parlour. Saving is mean or magnificent according as it is for yourself or for others.
IV. More thorough discovery on the part of employers that it is best for them to let their employees know just how matters stand. I knew a manufacturer who employed more than a thousand hands. I said to him, “Do you ever have any trouble with your workmen? Do you have any strikes?” “No. Every little while I call my employes together, and I say, ‘What you turned out this year isn’t as much as we got last year. I can’t afford to pay you as much as I did. Now, you know I put all my means into this business. What do you think ought to be my percentage, and what wages ought I to pay you? Come, let us settle this.’ And we are always unanimous. When we suffer, we all suffer together. When we advance, we all advance together, and my men would die for me.” But when a man goes among his employes with a supercilious air, and drives up to his factory as though he were the autocrat of the universe, he will have strikes, and will see at the end that he has made an awful mistake.
V. The religious rectification of the country. Labour is appreciated and rewarded just in proportion as a country is Christianised. Why is our smallest coin a Benny, while in China it takes six or a dozen pieces to make one penny? Show me a community that is infidel, and I will show you a community where wages are small. Show me a community that is thoroughly Christianised, and I will show you a community where wages are comparatively large. Our religion is a democratic religion. It makes the owner of the mill understand he is a brother to all the operatives in that mill. I do not care how much money you have, you have not enough money to buy your way through the gate to heaven. I do not care how poor you are, if you have the grace of God in your heart no one can keep you out. The religion of Christ came to rectify all the wrongs of the world, and it will yet settle this question between labour and capital. The hard hand of the wheel and the soft hand of the counting.room will clasp each ether in congratulation yet. The hard hand will say, “I ploughed the desert into a garden”; the soft hand will reply, “I furnished the seed.” the one hand will say, “I thrashed the mountains”; the other will say, “I paid for the flail.” The one hand will say, “I hammered the spear into a pruning-hook”; the other hand will answer, “I signed the treaty of peace that made that possible.” Then capital and labour will lie down together, and there will be nothing to hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mount, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it! (T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.)
Nay, much more are those members of the body which seem to be more feeble necessary.
Power of the feeble
I. The gifts of the first rank. They are of two kinds.
1. Supernatural--such as, speaking in unknown tongues, curing diseases, prophesying.
2. Natural, relating to--
(1) The heart;
(2) The Intellect.
II. The feebler gifts.
3. Purity of manners and of thought.
6. Activity in God’s cause.
7. Charity--that is, true love.
III. The fact that these obscure gifts are the most necessary to--
1. The individual who possesses them.
2. The Church. (A. Vinet, D.D.)
The uses of the feeble
I. The true Church has members seemingly feeble.
1. There are those who are destitute of that to which the world attaches the idea of power.
(1) Great wealth is power in the world’s estimation, and he that is without it is feeble. But the most perfect excellence appeared in the form of worldly destitution; hence Christ seemed a root out of a dry ground, without form or comeliness. High officialism is power in the estimation of the world. It sees power in the general marshalling his armies, in the statesman guiding the destinies of his country, etc. But one long life of goodness down in the region of obscurity, where many Christians live, passes away unnoticed.
(2) Great mental endowments are power in the estimation of the world. But the majority of Christians are not often blessed with such endowments, and therefore, however good, they seem feeble.
2. There are those who work out their mission in a quiet and unostentatious spirit. All who have most of the spirit of their Master thus work. The most powerful things are the most silent. Gravitation wheels suns and systems about immensity without noise.
II. The seemingly feeble members are vitally necessary. It is important to have men of great endowments in the Church. Such men have often rendered signal service in the cause of truth. But the Church may get on without great endowments, but dies without piety. Great piety is more “necessary” than great endowments--
1. To the individual. The latter not only often exist apart from the former, but often militate against it by fostering pride. Genius often lights a torch that leads the soul astray.
2. To the Church. It is not the reasonings of the philosopher, the eloquence of the orator, that have done most for the Church, but the holy lives, the earnest prayers, of humble saints.
3. To the world. What does society require most at the present moment? More science, laws, inventions, openings for trade? No; but more embodied piety. This is the salt which can alone prevent its corruption, the light that can reveal to all the path of peace.
Conclusion: Our subject--
1. Shows that the conditions of our highest interests are available to all. If our well-being and influence for good depended upon great talents, the case of the millions would be hopeless, but consisting as it does in simple goodness, all can attain the happiness they seek.
2. Urges us to recognise and reverence goodness wherever seen. See it in the humblest cottage, and in a frame worn and wan with poverty; and, seeing it, honour it as a ray from “The Father of Lights.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
A place for the feeblest
At the outbreak of the American Civil War there were many sturdy men who were thoroughly heart and soul with the movement for the liberation of the slaves. Many of them were small farmers who could hardly be spared from their farms; but still, where there’s a will there’s a way. One day about this time a gentleman was going along the highway, and he saw a small boy at the plough. He asked how it was that he was obliged to do work that was not the work of a lad at all, but of a grown man. “Well, you see, sir’,” said the lad, “father’s fighting, and mother’s praying, and I’m working. We’re all doing what we can!”
The feeble are necessary
Feeble souls are like those tracks of land which have neither depth nor richness of soil, yet, however arid, produce something to serve the world. The sandy and stormy deserts of the Cape are covered with heath of every line and form, to beautify the scene and to charm the traveller’s eye. Even so the feeblest soul can display some phase of feeling and character that shall add a beauty to its sphere. The world wants the heath as well as the oak, and the genial heavens shine alike on both. “Even the most feeble are necessary.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
1 Corinthians 12:25-26
There should be no schism in the body.
Schism may be destructive
A screw in the crank of an engine of an express train at full speed thus addressed itself to the surrounding machinery: “I’m very small, but exceedingly important. Without me the whole fabric would come to grief. Upon me depends the successful working of the whole engine. Now just you observe how important I am!” and then without more ado the screw leapt from its socket, involving the whole train in hopeless wreckage. (Great Thoughts.)
I. Its nature.
1. Its rise--a division of opinion. In this stage it existed among the hearers of the Saviour concerning the Messiahship of Jesus; and John informs us “so there was a division (schism) among the people because of Him.” While it proceeds no further, it becomes the obvious duty of believers to endeavour by earnest prayer, diligent investigation of the Scriptures, and calm friendly conference, to come to the same mind.
2. Its progress--a breach of friendship, either by unkind words or unkind treatment, by partial or obvious neglect, from a want of love to the brethren and concern for their interest and welfare, or from regarding any member or members of the Church as inferior, useless, or unnecessary.
3. Its results.
(1) It divides the interests of the people of God.
(2) It destroys the spirit of prayer.
(3) It exposes religion to contempt.
(4) It brings misery or ruin to the individual who excites or promotes it.
II. The duty of believers as respects it.
1. By exercising great care in the admission of persons into the Church.
2. By watchfulness over our own tempers--guarding against every proud, haughty look, word, or action. We must cultivate mutual forbearance, and impartiality in our treatment of, and expressions concerning, our fellow-members, and the ministers of the gospel. We must be very watchful over the tongue. Many schisms have commenced in an unguarded trifling word. We must shun all false doctrines.
3. By submission to Church discipline.
4. By prayer. Communion with God conforms us to His image, and that image is love. (J. Hicks.)
In general there can be no such thing as schism but in cases where there, is an obligation to unity and communion; so that in order to define the nature of it we must find out some centre of union which is common to all Christians.
1. As for uniformity of sentiment in matters of speculative belief, that can never be the common centre of Christian unity, because it is in the nature of things impossible. For in order to this, all mankind must have exactly the same strength of understanding, the same advantages, the same manner of education, the same passions, prejudices, and interests. Besides, if all Christians must concur in the same way of thinking about every controversy in religion, whose opinion shall prevail, and be made the public standard? Are the majority to decide for us? How shall we determine, without collecting the vote of every individual, who are the majority? Are the majority always in the right? Or must we, for the sake of uniformity, profess (believe we cannot) against truth and reason? Will not this make all religion dissimulation and hypocrisy? But if uniformity of opinion cannot be secured in this way, shall we not be governed by the most learned and pious Christians, who are neither influenced by irregular passion, nor swayed by criminal prejudice? I answer, that who are really the most learned and pious will be matter of endless dispute, and can never be certainly fixed. They are fallible as well as others; and have frequently maintained such principles as derogate highly from the honour of God, and are of vast disservice to religion. It appears then from what has been said, that to endeavour to bring all mankind to the same sentiments in matters of religious controversy is an absurd, romantic scheme, and represents religion as nothing else but outward formality, artifice, and craft. The same may be said of uniformity in external modes of worship and discipline, viz., that this, likewise, cannot be a necessary term of Christian communion. For it will be altogether as difficult to determine who are to settle external rites and ceremonies, and forms of Church-government, as articles of speculative belief. Besides, the lawfulness, expediency, or Divine authority of any particular form is as much a matter of private opinion as the truth or falsehood of doctrinal propositions; and therefore it is as natural to expect a variety of sentiments about it. Let me add to this, that a variety of sentiments in religion, while moderation and mutual charity are maintained, can do no hurt, whereas an attempt to introduce public uniformity has been a constant source of schisms in the Church, and will infallibly keep alive a spirit of animosity. And finally, when there is a difference of opinions, and a variety of outward forms, this is just such a state of things as wise man would expect, if all were honest and impartial inquirers; whereas if one set of principles and the same scheme of worship were universally to prevail, it would not look like human nature; it would have nothing of the appearance of sincerity; and, consequently, must lead an indifferent spectator to conclude that religion was all complaisance, courtliness, and carnal policy, and did not spring from a conviction of the understanding, or a free deliberate choice.
2. I would make a few observations, relating to the nature and guilt of schism, and so conclude.
(1) It appears, that let there be ever so many differences amongst Christians, as long as mutual charity is preserved there cannot be the guilt of schism. A man that holds the common faith of the gospel, leads a holy life, behaves peaceably, and has charity for all, notwithstanding the little varieties by which they are distinguished from each other, does not differ from any church so far as it is formed on the essential principles of Christianity; but only takes that liberty of judging for himself which reason allows and revelation comfirms to him; a liberty to differ from fallible expositions of Scripture, from civil constitutions, or ecclesiastical ordinances of rather less authority.
(2) Differences among Christians are not only innocent while unity of affection is preserved, but there are many cases in which a separation from a particular church is absolutely necessary.
(3) None who are truly honest, who are not swayed by irregular passions, or vicious prejudices, but, upon a deliberate impartial inquiry, according to their capacity and advantages, think themselves obliged, in conscience, to dissent from their brethren; no such persons as these, I say, can possibly incur the guilt of schism. For this would be to make honesty itself a crime; and at the same time that we suppose it a man’s duty to act according to the light and directions of his conscience, to reproach and condemn him for it. And shall not we treat involuntary errors with candour and humanity? (James Foster.)
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.--
The sufferings of all in the sufferings of one
Look upon this--
I. As a fact.
1. The sufferings of the unfortunate in a community affect each. The sufferings of the merchant whose business breaks down, of the agriculturist whose crops fail, of the operatives who are thrown out of work, affect more or less each individual in the State.
2. The sufferings of the criminals in a community affect each. There is the swindler whose schemes, after enriching his own coffers, break down, spreading disasters far and wide. There is the murderer, whether by assassination or by war, his sufferings, for sufferings he has, affect all in some way or other. The record of the assassin’s life, trial, and execution, brings a pang into many a heart. So also wars bring suffering, in some form or other, to every individual in a community.
3. The sufferings of the non-industrious in a community affect each. There are tens of thousands in every civilised community who lounge their existence away in drawing-rooms, clubs, and taverns: they consume all and produce nothing. They sigh out their miserable existence under the weight of ennui; each one of the community is more or less affected. The common stock of human subsistence depends upon labour, and is limited: they therefore who partake of that stock without labour are social thieves. These sufferings may be in body, through deprivation of some comfort, or necessary, or in mind.
(1) By a painful sense of responsibility.
(2) By a painful sense of disgust for the race. Who can see human nature swindling, murdering, idling, debauching, without feeling ashamed of the race to which he belongs.
II. As a duty. We are commanded to “bear each other’s burdens,” to “weep with those that weep,” etc., in fact, to follow Christ. And what was Christ? The incarnation of a Divine philanthropy. Now, the duty of every man is, as a member of the race, to suffer by practical philanthropy with and for a suffering world: so suffer for it as to pray, labour and die for it, if need be.
1. Do not be too severe on criminals. The vilest criminal that England ever produced has been nursed and matured by the conjoint influences of each man’s life: each member of the State has contributed a something to produce it.
2. Live to purify the moral atmosphere of the world. One day we believe the atmosphere of the world will be so pure with holiness that human snakes and poisonous reptiles will no longer live therein. Contribute your part to this end, send into it the noblest thoughts, to circulate and breathe into it the purest influences of love and light. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The unity of the body in suffering
As when by chance a thorn is planted in the heel, all the body manifests a fellow-feeling; back, hands, stomach, and thighs are drawn together, hands like attendants or esquires approach the wounded part and proceed to extract the painful fixture; head stoops, eyes look sad, the brow is delved with parallels of solicitude. (Chrysostom.)
The unity of the body in suffering
When one’s finger is hurt such is the fellow-feeling which spreads along the body to the soul until it reaches the ruling principle, that, the whole condoling with the part afflicted, the man says not “my finger is in pain,” but I have a pain in my finger. (Plato.)
Membership of a body
1. Was there ever a truer remark than that of the text? A particle of dust in the eye, an irritable nerve in one tooth, a sprain in the foot, and what an instant cessation of the enjoyment of life! What does a day’s pleasure become when an aching head or an inflamed eye has to be carried about through it? On the other hand, when one member is specially honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Imagine that a particle of dust has lurked in the eye for a night and a day; now imagine it removed, and what a positive sense of pleasure is diffused through the whole frame! Every other part is found as it were to congratulate the relieved part. Such is the truth from which St. Paul here draws his spiritual lesson.
2. It is not good for man to be alone; in one sense it is not possible. A poor, stunted character would that be which was wholly self-contained. That is what fallen human nature runs to; but it does not love it when it sees it in a living example. No one thinks selfish a term of praise. And God, well knowing this tendency, has interposed at every turn to save us all from it.
I. He has set us in families, and the tendency of family life is to counteract selfishness. What do we see to be the effects of the practical want of a home? But alas, we may live in exemplary, Christian homes, and not learn the lesson of membership of a body; not learn the debt of gratitude which the eye owes to the hand for obeying its indication, and the head to the foot for executing its mandate; not learn how a son should deport himself towards a mother, or a brother deal with a sister.
II. That which, for one part of the human family, can be done only by the home, is done for another by various subsidiaries. What especially qualifies a public school to be of use in forming the character is the fact that it is a body, an organised whole made up of parts, each one of which has its own definite work, which yet affects and is affected by every other. I know nothing so satisfactory, in connection with school games, as their influence in leading boys to value skill or strength not so much as a means of individual success or reputation, but as a means of security for the success or reputation of the school. It remains to be seen whether the school feeling will bear good fruit hereafter. And that it may do so, let us pray that school patriotism may be carried into its legitimate field. If, e.g., you see one of your schoolfellows sin, suffer with him; give yourself no rest till you have done something to save a soul from death.
III. Patriotism is one of the ways in which the feeling of collective life ought to be shown. God has designed our country to be the highest object but one of our thoughts and cares on earth.
IV. But we are the body of Christ, and members in particular. See that you live together as those who are so. Let no act ever be done inconsistent with the proper working of the various parts and members of the whole Christian body. Never say to yourselves, I am too insignificant to be of any account amongst Christ’s members, nor to another, we have no need of thee. Christ’s object in having an earthly body is that we may help one another. Be not selfish in your religion: heaven is not so won. The individual life will be healthy and vigorous in proportion as it expands and diffuses itself towards those around. Let not Christian life be the beauty of a few exotics scenting a room; but rather that of a garden of the Lord, watered, tended, and bearing fruit; in the full light, in the free air; having in the midst of us that tree of life, the leaves of which are not for the privilege of the few, but for the healing of the nations. (Dean Vaughan.)
The benevolence of the gospel
I. God bestows upon us nothing merely on our own account but for the good of others. We should all sympathise in the sorrows, and rejoice in the joys, of each other, as if they were our own. This principle is not peculiar to the Church. It enters into the very idea of a society, that we are reciprocally affected by whatever affects every member.
1. Take, e.g., the family. Let but the youngest and the least considerable suffer, and what a shade of sadness is spread over the whole household! When the family grows up to maturity, it might, at first, seem as though the chain which once bound them so closely together had been severed. The thought of each other rarely breaks in upon the pressing cares of each one’s daily occupation. But let any of these brothers attain to high distinction, and what a lustre is at once reflected on all who bears his name! Or let a member disgrace himself by crime, and how mournfully the disgrace settles down upon his kindred.
2. But we are members of a larger society. Our happiness in the community is subject to the same law. If our fellow-men around us suffer, we shall suffer also, unless we do all in our power to relieve them. Let a deadly epidemic alight upon some neglected neighbourhood, and it will be wafted to the dwellings of the opulent, and the pestilence will utter in solemn accents the words of the text.
3. Take a more extensive field. How often has the form of social organisation been constructed for the sole benefit of the few, rather than the whole! You will see the face of the land here and there beautified by the mansions of the proprietors, while the million, the children of ignorance and vice, herd together in cabins like brutes. All this goes on quietly, it may be, for generations. At last, some famine or some giant act of oppression maddens the multitude to frenzy, and all at once the fabric of government which ages had cemented crumbles into dust.
4. Or we may observe the relations of a single individual to a whole nation. Suppose that a Government lays its hand unrighteously upon the smallest portion of the property of a citizen. It may be, for instance, the ship-money of Hampden, or the trifling tax on tea that inaugurated the American revolution. At once the shock is felt by the remotest citizen of the realm. One member has suffered, and all the members have suffered with it. By inflicting injustice on a single citizen, the Government has outraged the moral sentiment of the nation. And it must retrace its steps; or else, unless the love of liberty be wholly extinguished, a revolution must ensue.
II. If God has made our happiness to depend upon the course of life here indicated, He has done so to teach us His will. A moral necessity is thus laid upon us. We cannot live to ourselves without doing violence to our conscience and incurring the consequences of disobedience to God. But, in a matter of so much importance, we are not left to the unassisted light of natural religion. The Bible teaches us this doctrine on every page. Our Father imposes upon us no duty of which He has not set us the example. We are to imitate His boundless beneficence, by using the talents of every kind which He has committed to us for the good of others. We are to imitate His self-sacrificing love in the plan of redemption, by carrying the good news of salvation to the lost. Such was the Spirit of Christ, and we are told that unless we have the Spirit of Christ we are none of His. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Conclusion: We are spending our probation under the most solemn of all possible conditions. The choice between two modes of life is presented to every one of us. Will you live unto yourself, and lose your own soul, or will you live unto God, and enter into the rest that remaineth? Now is the time for decision. (J. Wayland, D.D.)
St. Paul was thinking mainly of moral, not of physical, sufferings. The Church at Corinth had been guilty of grave crimes which ought, he contends, to be felt as a misfortune weighing upon all. Does our estimate of crime correspond to the spirit of these words? It is notorious that our interest in a great trial is just that we feel in a novel. It is very interesting, very horrible, but we have nothing to do with it. We observe the criminal as if he were a wild creature in the Zoological Gardens; and then when he is convicted and sentenced we say, “He is rightly served; let us have no maudlin sentimentality; society is well rid of the rascal.” And so we shut up our novel and fall back on tamer subjects--our everyday duties--till some new excitement presents itself. Now is this justifiable, Christian or warranted by the facts? Note--
I. The principles which ought to govern a Christian’s thought in his estimate of a great criminal case.
1. Every criminal is, to a certain extent, the product of the spirit of the society in which he has passed his life. Just as certain marshy districts are favourable to the growth of noxious insects or diseases, so particular moods of popular feeling are favourable to the growth of crime. Of course no criminal is altogether the helpless unconscious victim of his circumstances. A man’s free will is never necessarily enslaved by anything external to himself. Yet most of us are largely governed by the influences amidst which we pass our lives. For many to breathe an atmosphere of moral corruption is to become almost inevitably criminal. Now who is responsible for this atmosphere? “Not I” would be the answer of most of us, and no doubt we have not contributed directly to this or that particular crime; but have we contributed nothing to that state of feeling which makes the crime natural to the criminal? Nay, there is a general stock of moral evil in the world to which we all contribute by the sin we commit just as every small house in London does its little something to thicken the air. And this touches us all like the common atmosphere we all breathe. If one suffer, therefore, all of us should suffer with him.
2. All guilt is relative to a man’s opportunities in the sight of God. Our Lord insists again and again that a man’s responsibility exactly corresponds with his opportunities of knowing what is right. “Woe unto thee, Chorazin,” etc. “To whom much is given,” etc. This we practically ignore. We think of the poor man who has been denied our advantages as if he had acted from the same level of knowledge, etc., that we occupy. But his grave crime may, in him, mean less unfaithfulness to light and grace than what we deem our little peccadilloes. If we kept this in mind when one member suffered we should all suffer with him.
3. There should be a deep sincere conviction of our own condition as sinners before God; we shall then have no heart to be hard on others. Our own capacity for evil is only checked by the grace of God. “If it were not for the grace of my Maker,” says St. Augustine, “I should have been the worst of criminals.”
II. What have been, what ought to be the effects of this Christian way of looking at crime?
1. The softening of the penalties of criminal law. The conscience of society stays its hand with the whisper, “Who art thou that judgest another?”
2. Constant efforts to cut up its roots by schools, reformatories, Christian charity, etc.
3. The resolve to live nearer to God ourselves. We cannot influence legislation, or found institutions for the reformation of criminals, but we can all do something within our own souls which will help to purify the corrupt moral utmost, here. (Canon Liddon.)
Or one member be honoured all the members rejoice with it.
The duty of all to rejoice at the honour given to their brethren
I. Rejoicing is a Christian duty--required--
1. On our own account.
2. On account of others. Here an unselfish sympathy with another’s honour--not merely not to envy it, but to rejoice in it.
II. What this rejoicing at the honour paid to others may be the means of. Of--
1. Increasing their joy.
2. Demonstrating your love and sympathy.
3. Engaging and confirming their love to you. (T. Robinson.)
1 Corinthians 12:27
Niw ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
The body of Christ
I. True Christians, as the body of Christ, manifest His personal presence among men. In Christ incarnate “God was manifest in the flesh.” Just as really is Christ manifest in His Church.
II. The body of Christ reveals the mind of Christ. So closely do body and mind correspond, that the mind sometimes fashions the body to its own character. Essential characteristics, if not every thought and feeling, are revealed in gesture, gait, and countenance. The human body of Christ served the same purpose in expressing His mind. Now He has another manifestation. He is formed in us and thus expresses Himself as truly as once through flesh and blood. These “living epistles are known and read of all men,” written over with Christ’s thoughts, as those thoughts were once written on His own face. We are Christians only so far as we embody and reveal Christ to men.
III. These members of Christ’s body are the instruments for the execution of His will. The body is the servant of the soul. Such was Christ’s body on earth. It is now laid aside for other organs, even His Church, who are “members of His body, of His flesh and His bones”. Here is the radical idea of Christian service. We are not independent to follow our own purposes, but the will of Christ. While the hands and feet are involuntary instruments moved by the soul, the organs of Christ’s body act freely, although God worketh in them to will and to do of His good pleasure. Though not losing identity or individuality, they are so assimilated to each other and to Christ that they freely act together with the harmony of the most nicely adjusted machine. Again, Christ now is not limited to any spot at once, but is everywhere, in every Christian heart. Were He to get complete possession of all the members of His body and of all the agencies which they command, what rapid and sweeping successes would He achieve! When the Church is sanctified, when no member is paralysed or dormant or reluctant, but the whole are “clear as the sun, fair as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners,” how soon will the world be redeemed! (H. Mead, D.D.)
The body of Christ
The chemist mixes his various elements together in the battery, and when they are brought together, and the conditions are fulfilled, electricity is there. He does not summon electricity from some remote distance; but already dormant in these elements was the electric power, and when they are combined, instantly the electric power springs into existence. So Christ says, “In each one of you Christians there is a dormant power. I am in you, but there is more of Me in all of you together than there is in any one of yon separate and individually; and when you have combined around My banner and My name to do My will, there springs into existence, not merely the strength that comes from union, but the Diviner help that comes from this, that I am in the midst of that organisation, the spirit that inspires the body.” It becomes at once more than human--it becomes Divine--the body of Christ. (Lyman Abbott.)
The body of Christ
God has chosen the most familiar objects to be the emblems of Christ and His Church--tree, rock, house, wheat, bread, and here the human body. In the “body.”
I. All life is is the head. If you separate the smallest particle of the body from it, that moment it dies. And so the Church is in such union with Christ that if you wilfully break the union by sin or unbelief, you are, spiritually, as dead as an amputated limb!
II. All feeling and all springs of power and action lie in the head. When any spot in the body is injured, a nerve communicates the fact to the brain, and there is the suffering. And then, from the brain, a nerve communicates back to the injured place what is to be done under the circumstances. And so whatever touches any living member of the Church, either for weal or woe, it goes up at once to Christ; and from Him again there flows down to you the never-failing cords of His sympathy, guidance, and power.
III. The different parts of our body are all held together by their meeting in the one head. So there is no real unity of Christians, except as they all meet and unite in the one Christ. Christ is, and must be, the centre piece of the arch of unity. If that centre piece is not there, the arch will fall!
IV. No one part of the body can communicate with another except through the head. My right hand cannot touch my left but through the head. Just so it is in the Church. All true service and charity must be through Christ. If I have been kind to any one it is the Head has done it, from first to last.
V. Some members are counted “more honourable” and some less, but all belong to the same “head,” and so share in the same dignity. So it is with the Church. The poorest, meanest man that walks this earth, if he be a “child of God,” is in the Head. You meet him there; he is equal with you there. Conclusion:
1. Away with all selfishness, pride, isolation! We are all one body.
2. This principle reaches beyond this world. In heaven itself there is “the Body of Christ.” And there is nothing greater than that. The saints in glory are my fellow-members in it. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
The body of Christ and its members
I. The Church is the body of Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:12; Colossians 1:24)
1. Note the resemblances.
(1) As the body reveals the soul, so the Church reveals Christ. What we love is in our friends, not the body. That is but the casket. But we know nothing of their souls except through the body. They are revealed to us by the glance of the eye, the tone of the voice, the deeds of love. So Christ is never seen directly. The salvation of men depends on the Church’s revelation of Christ.
(2) As the soul acts by the body, so Christ acts through the Church. The soul is the seat of the affections and motives, but the body must carry out its purposes. The soul of the parent goes out after the children who are scattered over the world. The body must write with pen and ink the messages of love. A neighbour longs to help some sick one. The body must be robbed of sleep that the neighbour may be helped. So Christ, the soul of the Church, loves and desires to save all men. But wherever men are saved, it is usually by the action of “His body, the Church.”
(3) As the soul speaks through the body, so Christ speaks by the Church (1 Corinthians 6:1-5; Matthew 18:17-18).
2. If all this be true--
(1) How great is the honour which Christ has put upon us!
(2) How great is our responsibility!
(3) How important that we should see to it that we do not become a body without a soul--a Church without Christ!
II. Individual Christians are members in particular, i.e., each in his appointed place. The teaching of the previous verses is--
1. That we are all members or parts of the body of Christ. We may have nothing that brings us into prominence, and yet we are component parts of the body. Without us it would be incomplete.
2. That we all have a part in the work of the body. No part of a living body is without a function which it alone can perform. So in the body of Christ our office may be a humble one, but it is one to which we are Divinely appointed.
3. That the meanest offices are often most important. How the disorder of one small obscure part of the body hinders the whole;--pleurisy or tic! So in the body of Christ. If the Church is hindered we need to make it a personal matter. “Lord, is it I?” Again, the less prominent offices in the Church are just now more necessary. We have had much preaching; we want religion lived in little things. (J. Ogle.)
The body of Christ and its members
There are several analogies between our bodies and the Church as the body of Christ, viz.
I. These are our bodies because our spirits possess and animate them. So Christ’s spirit vitalises the Church.
II. Our physical and psychical natures are so closely joined that they constitute a virtual unity. So Christ says of His Church, “As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us.”
III. Our spirits are in most sensitive sympathy with all parts of our bodies. If any part is cut or bruised, to that at once goes the mind in painful consciousness. So Christ bears all our sorrows, and carries our grief in His sympathetic spirit.
IV. Our spirits are alert that they may defend and otherwise help the bodily members. If a missile comes near, it is the soul that, looking through the eyes, sees it and warns the nerve to spring the muscle that moves the proper part of the body to avoid it. Such is Christ’s watchfulness for His people.
V. Our spirits frequently, in their deeper wisdom, order the body to receive pain--e.g., to present a hand to the surgeon’s knife, to endure fatigue, etc. So Christ ordains suffering for the discipline of His people.
VI. Our spirits impart the strength of their courage to our bodies, that they may endure pain without flinching, the resolute will holding the shrinking nerve; moral courage the source of truest physical heroism. So Christ’s grace is sufficient for us,
VII. Our spirits are constantly training our bodies to easy, almost unvolitional obedience, e.g., we learn to do, as if instinctively, many things that at first are performed only with difficulty--to strike the notes on a piano, to read without definite thought of the letters, all that we mean by “second nature.” So Christ is training our souls to obey His precepts with liberty, without constant pressure of the sense of duty. Perfect sainthood will be as natural as the processes of physical motion.
VIII. Our spirits are constantly modifying the aspect of our bodies, stamping character upon the countenance, and expressing disposition by manner and mien. So Christ, by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, sanctifies us.
IX. Our spirits keep our bodies alive so long as they are associated. There can be no death until the soul is withdrawn; then only does the tabernacle of the flesh fall. So Christ is the life of all the members of His body. And as His promise is, “Lo, I am with you alway,” we can never die. “Because I live ye shall live also.” (J. M. Ludlow, D.D.)
Union of Christians with Christ, and with each other
I. The union of Christ with His Church. This is sometimes illustrated by images borrowed from the relations of domestic life: those of master and servants, parent and children, husband and wife; sometimes by images derived from works of art, or from natural history: He Himself represents it by the union of the vine with its branches. The Scripture idea of Christ represents Him as identified with the Church, which is called the fulness or complement of Christ: so that Christ would want something essential to Him, without the Church. In the text believers are styled His body, which implies--
1. The participation of a common nature. In the former part of this chapter the apostle had spoken of the union of Christians, and those who participate of one Spirit. Christ makes them all His own, by the communication of His own Spirit; just as the natural members are united with the head. They receive, out of His fulness, grace for grace. Notwithstanding the difference of nature and of office between Him and them, yet the graces of Christians are of the same origin, and nature, with His. Every real Christian is animated by the same views, desires, tempers, principles of conduct, with his Divine Master. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” The difference between Christians and men of the world is not a difference in degree; it is a difference in nature.
2. The direction which Christ has over His Church. He is the supreme authority who prescribes all our duties. All religion emanates from Him as Lord of all. It is the work of the Spirit to establish His authority in the heart: a sceptre by which He gently, yet effectually, subdues His people.
3. The affectionate union which subsists between both. The Church is loved by Christ as His body, endeared to Him by the most tender ties. In love to it He descended from His throne to the Cross. Such love as the Father has to Him He has to the Church. And, by analogy, we ought to have the same love to Him, manifested by walking in His steps, consecrating ourselves to Him who so loved us. Like loves like; and if Christ is the pattern and friend of His people, how entire, intense, and constant, ought to be our devotedness to Him!
II. The union of Christians with each other. “We are members in particular.”
1. Every member of the natural body, however mean, feeble, and obscure, is a member; so should no Christian be overlooked, however humble, since he stands in a sacred relation to Jesus Christ. To despise the image of God in the natural man implies a profane disregard of that God who made man in His own image; but to despise this image in the spiritual man is a higher species of impiety.
2. There exists an affection and sympathy between all the members. In the system of animal life, which is probably a modification of the spirit that animates the whole, the functions of all the rest are affected by one. Thus Christians are to feel for each other, “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ”; they are not to say, as Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
3. There is no schism in the body, so long as it is in a natural and healthful state; otherwise it tends to decay. Thus, for one member of Christ to envy others, is as unnatural and destructive as a division in the animal system.
4. There are different offices in the body; some parts are organic, as the eye, the ear; these are instruments of sense, and peculiarly important. Thus, in the Church, some are apostles, some evangelists; but all are not such, yet each has his own place and use; each may contribute his portion to the general good. (R. Hall, M.A.)
Members of Christ and their service
“A member of Christ.” Now, what “member” will you be? If you are “a member of Christ,” you must do the member’s part. If you say, “I will be like the hand,” what will you do? You must work usefully with your hand, you must work for God, you must give to God. Or, with your feet, you must run with messages. Be very useful. Think, “Perhaps I shall be a missionary, with my feet beautiful on the mountains, to the heathen. I will do it for Christ’s sake.” Or, “I will always listen to good things.” Be the ear. Or, with the eye, look at the beautiful things from heaven. Or, like the tongue, speak of God, of goodness, and of happiness. Then you are a useful “member of Christ.” Remember, if you have got Christ in your heart, then you are “a member” indeed. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
1 Corinthians 12:28-31
And God hath set some in the Church, first apostles.
The words which I have taken as my text occupy, you will remember, a somewhat exceptional position. They occur in the midst of what seems at first a systematic classification of gifts in the apostolic Church and the functions resting on those gifts: they come in between “gifts of healing” and “diversities of tongues.” The two terms do not meet us elsewhere in the writings of the New Testament. It is open to us, under the view of interpreters, to identify them respectively with the offices of the deacons, and bishops, and elders of the Church; but it is also open to us to believe that the terms occur to St. Paul’s mind as covering, each of them, a special class of supernatural gifts, or of natural gifts purified and illumined by the higher gifts, of the course of which the diaconate and presbyterate were indeed the representative exponents, but which were to be found also in those who are not called to either of those special functions. Every member of that Church which the Eternal Spirit governs and sanctifies has a vocation. The history of the word which we render “helps” sufficiently explains its meaning--to lay hold as with a firm and loving hand on one who totters and stumbles and is on the point of falling. That is its sense as I find it in an old lexicon. In that sense it meets us in the words St. Paul addressed to the ministers of Ephesus when he bids them so minister that they may “support the weak,” a sufficient proof, I take it, that we may not limit the word to the function of the diaconate, As in every grace, so in this; what from one point of view is a special gift of God is from another the development of a natural capacity, and with the capacity there is a natural delight in its exercise. The wild flower, which on the wayside might have been withered by the parching winds or degenerated into a weed, is transplanted into the paradise of the great Gardener, and watered by the dew of His blessing and fostered by the warmth of the eternal sunshine of His love it becomes a goodly flower, bright in its varied hues and fragrant as the spices of Lebanon. The observer of the child nature will tell you, from experience well confirmed, that there are few children in whom this desire to help is not, in a greater or less measure, a motive spring of action. They delight in their little gifts: little ministries and services to parents, to brothers, sisters, friends, and teachers. All they seek is a recognition by Word or look, by loving glance or smile, that their service is appreciated. Their labour of love, however small it may be, is its own exceeding great reward. The next stage of life to most men is for the most part less favourable to the growth of the ministering spirit. The life of the public school, with its struggle for existence, its inevitable self-assertion, its competitive exercise. The boy has to learn to make a just estimate of his powers of body and mind, to assert his own rights, sometimes also to uphold the rights of others by fighting for them. It is well on the whole it should be so. To be weak is miserable, and strength of body, brain, and will, cannot be secured without collision. When these early years are over, and the boy passes into the man, it is at once right and wise to form a distinct plan. To yield to the passing impulse of the moment is to drift he knows not whither. What forms of help-work, then, are possible for those living, as you live, in the midst of tasks and duties? Of that which has seemed to some the chief, if not the exclusive meaning of the helps St. Paul speaks of, “supporting the weak,” in the sense of ministering to the sick, I do not suppose you have much experience or opportunities. That gift belongs more, on the whole, to women than to men, and your efforts at direct nursing might perhaps be clumsy and inefficient. For those who are without that special call for ministration, it may not be a bad training of their capacity for service to visit sometimes the wards of the hospital to read to the patients there, or talk with them, or better still, as meeting what is often a real want with the disabled poor, write letters for them to their friends. A more familiar and easy form of help given to the weak is found, I need hardly say, in the work of teaching the young. And then among the functions of true friendship there is that of helping the weak, not in body, but in mind and will. You may know one who has been dear to you as a brother, companion in sports or studies, who is infirm of purpose, drifting on the impulse of sin, on the waves of doubt. I know all too well the difficulty of that form of helping, the hindrances of shyness, reserve, self-distrust, which check the utterance of the faithful words that may avert the threatened evil. You fear to make matters worse, to lose your hold on affections which are as yet unstable only. Among the means of work those of helping those whom we call the poor hold, of course, a permanent place. Their lot is in the nature of the case for the most part a hard one, even if they have fallen in the struggle for existence through no fault of their own. More often, it may be, their lot is all the worse because it is made harder by their faults. Help in this case calls for the higher gift of government. Happily, in this instance, the guidance is not far to seek. Work in subordination to others, to the minister of a parish or to the society which by its very title undertakes to organise charity, supplies the missing link. To love all you can and to help all you can is the true way to the highest culture, and works out a higher spiritual completeness than any forms of aestheticism, asceticism, and shall I say athleticism, in which, according to men’s character and temper, they too often seek for that completeness. I have dwelt chiefly upon the manifestation of the gift--the ἀντιλήψεις of which I have spoken. I must say something as to the source from which it springs, the source which is the secret of its permanence. One hears much of the religion of Humanity, of the altruism which they oppose alike to the ordinary self-consciousness of mankind and to the loving charity of the mind of Christ. That religion, it is said, supplies us with a sufficient motive for the love of sacrifice, if not what that sacrifice implies, the sacrifice of self. I believe no striving to serve is without its fruit, that in this life or in the life to come he who seeks shall find, that a man may learn faith by virtue, and that in due time faith may ripen with knowledge. I reverence the saints, even of Buddhism or of Islam, and still more those of the dark ages of Christendom, in whom I find that likeness of the future of Christianity. All the same, I hold it to be capable of proof that that likeness has never been so vivid and distinct as when it hath been a conscious reproduction of the Divine original, a true Imitatio Christi. (Dean Plumtre, D.D.)
1. It has been thought that these were assistant-ministers, or assistant-deacons, or deaconesses, or attendants, who took care that strangers were accommodated, and managed various details. But whoever they were, they were thought worthy to be mentioned with apostles, teachers, etc. Probably they had no official standing, but were the sort of brethren who can always stop a gap, and who are only too glad to make themselves serviceable in any capacity.
2. Bunyan has described that part of their work, which is most valuable. He describes Help as coming to Christian when he was in the Slough of Despond. When we were going through a pass in Northern Italy, we saw, some three or four miles from the top, a man with a spade, who came down and saluted us. By and by we came to deep snow, and the man cleared a footway, and when we came to a very ugly piece of road, he carried some of the party on his back. Ere long came one of his companions with refreshments. These men were “helps,” who spent their lives where their services would be requisite. They would have been worth nothing down in the plains. “Helps” are of no use to a man when he can help himself. And just as the Royal Humane Society keep their men along the borders of the lakes in the parks when the ice is forming, so a little knot of Christian people should always be ready in every church, to give assistance wherever it may be required. Let me--
I. Give a few directions to these “helps.” When you meet sinners in the Slough of Despond--
1. Get them to state their case. When Help went to Christian he said first, “What are you doing there? How did you get there?” I have found that the mere act of stating a difficulty has been the very means of at once removing it.
2. Enter, as much as lieth in you, into their case. Sympathy is a great power.
3. Comfort them with the promises. Help told Christian that there were good steps all the way through the mire. Now, you can point these poor sinking ones to the steps.
4. Instruct them more fully in the plan of salvation.
5. Tell them your own experience. Many have been able to get out of the Slough in this way. We have gone along the same road, and it would be very hard if we could not describe it.
6. Pray with them. When you cannot tell the sinner what you want to say, you can sometimes tell it to God in the sinner’s hearing. As certainly as the electric fluid bears the message from one place to another, and the laws of gravitation move the spheres, so certainly is prayer a mysterious but real power.
II. Describe those who can help. A true “help” must have--
1. A tender heart. There are some people who seem to be prepared by Divine grace on purpose to be soul-winners, just as there are some people who seem to be born nurses..
2. A quick eye. There is a way of getting the eye sensitively acute with regard to sinners.
3. Quick ears. When they have these they listen, and by and by they hear a splash, and though it may be very dark and misty, they go to the rescue.
4. Rapid feet.
5. A loving face. Cheerfulness commends itself, especially to a troubled heart.
6. A firm foot. If I have to pull a brother out of the Slough, I must know how to stand fast myself, or I may fall in. Full assurance is not necessary to salvation, but it is very necessary to your success as a helper of others.
7. A strong hand.
8. A bending back. You cannot pull them out if you stand bolt upright. It is said that the sermons of Augustine are in bad Latin, not because Augustine was not a good scholar, but because the dog-Latin of the day suited his turn best to get hold of men. That preaching is best which fisherwomen understand. “But the dignity of the pulpit!” says one. Well, the “dignity” of a war-chariot lies in the captives dragged at its wheels, and the “dignity of the pulpit” lies in the number of souls converted to God. You must condescend to men of low estate.
III. Incite “helps” to greater earnestness.
1. Souls want help. Is not that enough? The cry of misery is a sufficient argument for mercy.
2. Remember how you were helped yourselves when you were in a like condition. Repay the obligation.
3. Christ deserves it. The lost lamb out there is His lamb; will you not care for it? That sinner is your Saviour’s blood-bought one; he is a prodigal, but he is your Father’s son, and consequently your own brother.
4. You would not want any other argument, did you know how blessed the work is in itself. Would you acquire knowledge? grow in grace? shake off despondency? help others.
5. You are called to this work. Your Master has hired you; it is not for you to pick and choose. To-night, then, try to do some practical service for your Master. If you do not, you will probably get the rod for correction.
6. We are getting nearer heaven, and sinners are getting nearer hell. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The second of the two words which I have taken as including a large portion of the activities of human life for the good of others is even more directly figurative than the first. The seafaring life of the Greeks taught a race more gifted than most others with the power of interpreting the troubles of the world around them, and led them to see in the work of piloting the ship that which had its counterpart in the duties of those who were called to be rulers of mankind. Probably no similitude has taken so vast a hold on the minds of men as that which we find in the Republic of Plato, and in which he compares the democracy of his own time to an untrained crew in which every one thought that without any previous discipline he was competent to take the helm. He pictures the confusion which must ensue when men undertook that work without any knowledge of seas or sky, of stars or wind; how the man truly gifted with the power of steering would be despised and rejected as the demos of Athens despised and rejected the teachers of wisdom who gave them true counsels for their good. The thought of the word passed from Greece to Rome. The figurative meaning almost superseded the literal, and so became the Gubernator to Western Europe. I can scarcely doubt that one with St. Paul’s experiences of perils by water, thrice shipwrecked, able to give wise counsel to master and mariners out of his own experience, would use the word with a full sense of the similitude under which it would be present in his thoughts. It was as familiar to him as the soldier’s armour or the conflict for the prize and the training of the athlete. He paints Hymenaeus and Alexander as having made shipwreck concerning the faith. He warns men not to be carried about by every blast of false doctrine. Some men seem born with an innate capacity for this form of government in its most literal sense. They have the watchful eye, the ready hand, the sagacious forecast, which, working together, bring them to the haven where they would be. They need only to teach and to practise, and they rapidly become proficient. And passing from the literal to the figurative meaning, he saw that here also there was a gift of steersmanship, governments, as well as a governing power, which showed itself in helps. Discerning schoolmasters soon learn to see what boys are likely to take the lead among their fellows. They recognise in him one firm in purpose, ready to accept suggestions when they are reasonable, not shrinking from using his power when occasion calls for it. To most of you, of course, who are yet in the probationary stage of manhood, the opportunities of governing are few and far between. The influence of the young is for the most part, as I said, that of ministration. But not seldom, as your own experience or the history of the past may tell you, the one gift grows out of the other. The good subject ripens into the good ruler. Help leads to insight of character, and rubs off the angularities of temperament and self-assertion which impair the capacity for governing. That discipline where the capacity for ruling exists leads men on to the likeness of the ideal king, who reigns not for his own good but for that of his people, while without it the gift itself may degenerate into the pattern of the mob-ruling tyrant. We find this in the limits and the walks of duty which lie within your immediate reach. The teacher in the Sunday school develops into a professor of theology, or, as in two familiar instances, into the holder of one of our highest offices of state. The manager of the boys’ guild may become a faithful and wise steward in some wider organisation, in which he will give to every man his portion of meat in due season. You will stand face to face with some at least of the great problems of our times, the relations of capital and labour, the question of land tenure and the equitable division of its profits, the organisation of charity so that it may tend to elevate and not degrade, the problem how best to bridge over the chasm which yawns between the classes and the masses; these and other kindred inquiries can scarcely fail to meet you. It is easy, fatally easy, to ignore these problems, to follow the impulses of pleasure seeking, or of working for your own success. But England expects better things from you. You need to learn how to steer, to know the forces which are working around you, the currents and the drifts of thought which are sweeping over men’s minds, the time when to spread your sails to the wind of public opinion and when to reef them, to discern the signs of the times, to free yourselves from the delusion of an unreal optimism or an equally unreal and far more perilous pessimism. And in close connection with these views of the gift of government there is a wide sphere of yet vaster questionings, which make the thinker, who is led to speculate, ponder on the course of the world’s history, the mystery of man’s life and of God’s covenant, the wonders of our being, the origin of the evil which leaves its serpent trail alike in our individual lives and in the collective experience of mankind, the manner of the final victory over that evil. Here, also, the gift of steersmanship is needed. It is no voyage upon the summer sea on which the frail barque of the weak or untrained intellect may lightly launch. The thought comes to our minds that it is safer to stand on the shore and watch the surging waves from a position of security. The warnings may be unheeded, the impulses that sway the mind to look before and aft and muse upon many things are not easily repressed. All that we can attempt, with any hope of success, is to put before the inquirer the conditions of safe sailing in that vast sea of thought. We may tell him that there must be the temper of love and purity, for now as ever it is true that “into a malicious soul peace will not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin.” There must be a recognition at once of the capacity and limitations of man’s knowledge. The questioner must restrain himself to keep within the boundaries of the known or knowable. There must be reverence for the past in its strivings and aspirations and successes, the recognition of the increasing purposes which works throughout the ages, of the education of mankind in many varied manners and many different measures. The system of speculative thought in which the man thought to win his fellows to reach the desired haven may prove unseaworthy and founder in sight of shore. There may be with them in the ship, as in that night in the Adria, one whose prayer is mighty to prevail, to whom God has given the lives of his companions. Here, too, the highest form of the gift of government is that which has been rightly disciplined by the exercise of the earlier gifts of helps. “Helps, governments.” I return to the two words from which I started as embracing wide reasons of all human activity. Each of you, as you look within the depths of your own personality, or in the environment in which you live, may find in yourselves the germs of one of those--ἀντιλήψεις, κυβερνήσ--possibly not seldom of both of these germs. It is yours to quicken them into life, to train by exercise the talents which you have to keep, as those who shall give an account to the Master who has bestowed them upon you. For the faithful exercise of those gifts there is a sure reward of ever-widening opportunities. With the will to do that which is indeed God’s will, there will come a power sooner or later in this life, or behind the veil, to know the doctrine of the Christ, whether it be of God. (Dean Plumptre, D.D.)
Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.
I. All God’s blessings are valuable. Amongst all His gifts there is nothing worthless. A breath of air, a drop of water, a beam of light, a crust of bread are incalculably valuable. Circumstances often occur in men’s history when they feel their priceless worth.
II. Some of these blessings are more valuable than others.
1. Intellectual than material.
2. Moral than intellectual. Paul says without charity--love--we are nothing.
III. The most valuable of these blessings should be earnestly sought. To covet some of the minor blessings is a sin. But we are justified in coveting these best things, because--
1. There is no monopoly of them. Material good is limited. The more one has of it the less remains for others. But spiritual gifts are as free as air, as vast as immensity, as infinite as God.
2. The more one has of them the more generous he becomes. When a man gets into him this love, it burns up his selfishness and melts him into sympathy with the universe.
3. The more one has of them the more useful to the universe he becomes. The more he reflects God, the more light and happiness he pours forth on the creation. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The best gifts to be coveted
I. What some of the best gifts are.
(1) They are not those which are external to the soul’s nature, such as money, power, or reputation. A Christian man is not forbidden to seek these in the right way, and when gained they may be employed for high ends. Yet neither Paul nor his Master would number them among the best gifts.
(2) Nor are they all the gifts that touch our inward nature. Intellectual ability, taste, and culture are very precious, and Paul was far from despising them, yet he would be far from describing them as “the best.”
2. Positively. He points us to those gifts with which love is connected.
(1) In regard to God, reverence, humility, and trustfulness.
(2) In regard to man, candid and generous judgment, and sympathy.
(3) As regards ourselves, patience, contentment, courage, and fortitude.
(4) As to things around, temperance of chastened desire.
3. That we may be convinced of their superiority, let us see how these differ from others. They--
(1) Enter deepest into our nature. The outer things of the world can scarcely be said to enter into our nature at all, except when their abuse corrupts it. Intellect, culture, and ambition may go deeper, but can they reach the centre? If the spiritual nature is left uncared for, the mind is a very cheerless home for happiness. The value of the gifts of love in the soul is that they reach the centre where happiness lies. As they go deepest, they become the ruling power, and make all else that a man possesses a blessing to himself and others.
(2) Are the most lasting. We know how very quickly outward possessions may take their leave. And intellectual gains are not over secure. The stores of knowledge are in the keeping of a treacherous memory. More melancholy than the loss of empire is the saying of poor Swift, when reading one of his own works, “What a glorious mind I had when I wrote that!” But let a man have the gifts of a loving, patient, self-renouncing heart, and the rule is that they grow richer and mellower as life advances.
(3) Are most God-like. It is in a small degree that we can share God’s wisdom; in a still smaller degree His power. But “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him!”
II. The frame of mind we are to cherish towards these gifts.
1. We are to covet them earnestly. The Corinthians were coveting each other’s place, honour, and talent. “If,” says Paul, “you would only set your hearts on the right things, you may both desire and appropriate what belongs to your neighbour. Covet if you will, but let it be the gifts of charity and self-denial.” Here the word ceases to have any sin in it. If we covet our neighbours’ material possessions, we shall desire to dispossess him. If we covet his intellectual gifts, there will be envy. But if we covet his loving spirit, we are yielding to him our deepest affection and reverence. We are not so much taking from as rendering to him, lighting our taper at his fire, and adding it to the flame. The word of prohibition in the law thus becomes a word of command in the gospel.
2. We are to covet these gifts earnestly, making growth in them a constant and supreme desire.
(1) Try to discover what is best in those around you and to rejoice in it. This is one way of making what is good in them your own without taking anything from them. It is a blessed work to go through the world trying to put men and things in the best light.
(2) You should mingle much with those who have it in large degree. It is very difficult to live long among selfish people without becoming like them. But there is an unselfish world: live in that.
Conclusion: In coveting earnestly the best gifts--
1. We can never harm any one, neither ourselves nor others. Is there aught else of which this can he said?
2. We are sure to gain them. Of what else can this be affirmed? (J. Ker, D.D.)
The Christian estimate of gifts
I. In themselves. The gifts of the Church of Corinth were bestowed according to God’s pleasure: they were “divided to every man severally as He willed.” They were profitable to others. They were not the highest perfection of human nature, for a man might have them and yet perish. So it is with ours. Consider--
1. What a gift is. It is that in which our main strength lies. One man is remarkable for intellectual, and another for moral qualifications. One is highly sensitive, and another unimpressionable. One has exquisite taste, and another, like the English, persevering and able to improve inventions. All God’s gifts are not sublime. You would all acknowledge prophecy to be a gift, but St. Paul says the humblest faculties are also gifts.
2. All these are gifts, sometimes we fancy they are not, because sad moralists remind us that these things are vain. “Beauty is fleeting; strength is soon but labour and sorrow; the path of glory leads but to the grave.” True, all these are transient; and because so, we are forbidden to set our hearts upon them; but still men covet them, and the apostle says it is right: God gave them: do you honour Him by despising them? They are good so long as they are desired in subservience to the greater good, but evil if they are put in the place of this.
3. They are to be earnestly cultivated. The world makes very little of charity; and religious men, perceiving the transcendent excellence of this grace, make very little of talents. Now, on the contrary, St. Paul prays that the whole soul, the natural man as well as the spirit, may “be preserved blameless till the coming of Christ.”
4. He allows a distinction--“the best gifts.” The same apostle who so earnestly urged contentment with the gifts we have, bids us yet to aspire. And just as St. Peter said, “Add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge,” etc, so would St. Paul have said, “Add to your nobility of rank, nobleness of mind; to your strong constitution, health by exercise; to you memory, judgment; to your power of imitating’, invention.”
II. In comparison with graces. He who treads the brilliant road of the highest accomplishments is, as a man, inferior to him who treads the path of Love. For in the spiritual world a man is measured not by his genius, but by his likeness to God. (F. W. Robertson, M.A.)
These which were so highly valued by the Corinthians are now no longer found in the Church, but there are other endowments to which all may lawfully aspire, so long as they are not substituted for the more excellent way.
I. The power of popular address--the faculty of arresting attention and of exciting at will emotions of fear, hope, trust, joy, is indeed a commanding quality.
II. The literary gift--the ability to inform the understanding, direct the judgment, by means of the press.
III. The influence of a winsome manner, We meet with some, chiefly, though not exclusively, of the gentler sex, who, by the exercise of peculiar tact, charm, and grace, obtain access to rude and rugged hearts, which refused to yield to all ordinary influences. Conclusion:
1. It may be said that these are natural gifts, and do not depend on cultivation. But here the rule holds good, “to him that hath shall be given.” The man of moderate powers, by diligence rises above the expectations of his friends, while the man of genius often disappoints them.
2. The precept directs us to form a due estimate of the value, of these gifts, and our responsibility for the use of them, and cautions us not to depreciate or exaggerate gifts of which we have a very limited portion.
3. These gifts are not the essential characteristics of Christ’s kingdom; however slender may be our pretensions to the possession of any of them, we may all pursue the more excellent way. (W. Webster, M.A.)
The gifts of civilisation
I. Since every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of Lights, etc., St. Paul’s language may be applied to the universal interests of human society.
1. The contrast has often struck observers between civilisation and Christianity. It is true that both have worked together; but in their aims and nature they are distinct, and may be opposed. And minds strongly under the influence of the one are apt to fear or shrink from the other. But no Christian can feel difficulty in believing that they both come from Him who has made man for this world, as well as intended him for another.
2. The world easily suggests very awful views of its own condition; but it would be far more dreadful if we must not see in its civilisation the leading and guiding hand of God. Nor should we be deterred from this because of its use, by luxury and pride, for impurity and wrong. The gifts at Corinth were foolishly and wrongly used.
3. Civilisation has indeed its dark side; there is much that is dreary and forbidding in the history of its growth; and who can look without anxiety at the dangers of its future? But its irreligious tendencies are not to be combated by simply decrying them. Let us look at the world as those who were put here to “refuse the evil and choose the good.”
(1) Follow the history of a great people, and consider what it brings forth. Observe the progressive refinement of human nature; how, as time goes on, men gain in power; how great moral habits strike their roots deep in a society--the sense of justice as justice, self-devoting enterprise, patriotism and public spirit. If nations have characteristic faults, there grow up in them characteristic virtues. Civilisation to us means liberty, a peaceful life, growing honour for manliness, unselfishness, sincerity.
(2) And it has disclosed to us in the course of its development more and more of what is contained in human characters and capacities. We are, in this age, drawing forth with amazement discoveries which seem to be inexhaustible from the treasure-house of material nature. Think of the great forms of history, so diversified, so unlike one to another, so unexpected in their traits. Think of what fiction, with all its abuses, has done for us; multiplying and unfolding for the general knowledge types which would otherwise have been lost where they grew up; think of its world of ideal histories, revealing to man himself. Think again what has been bestowed on man in the perfecting of language. Think of the way in which new faculties, as it were, spring up in us of seeing and feeling; how, by art, by poetry, our eyes are more and more opened to discern in new ways the wonders of the physical universe and their meaning. Count over all our great possessions. Shall we venture to say that all this does not come from the Source of all beauty and all wisdom and all light? And what He gives, it is for us to accept and improve. “Covet earnestly the greater, the better gifts.” This is indeed one side of the matter. But there is another and a higher.
II. Covet earnestly what would be to be most desired and followed, even if man’s part ended here, but remember that there is a yet more excellent way. Above God’s greatest gifts is charity; for “God is love.”
1. It would still be true, even if this world were all, that this perfection of character is the highest achievement of human nature.
2. But this world, with all its wonderful results, is not all; we have a place in something wider and more lasting. We are sharers together in a great disaster, and in a great recovery, even now begun “God so loved the world,” etc. That by which He makes us to understand and draw near to Him is His love for us. Henceforth the world knows Him if it knows Him at all, in the Cross. The world never can be the same after that, as it was before it. It has brought a new spirit into the world, with a Divine prerogative of excellence, to which all other things excellent and admirable must yield the first place.
3. There is something else to be thought of besides civilisation. We are not necessarily growing better men, though we may be doing a great work when we are dispersing God’s manifold gifts of knowledge or ability. And what we are here for is, if anything, to become good; and goodness now means that spirit of love which joins man to man and lifts him to God. Side by side with our brilliant successes and hopes abide the conditions of our state--pain, moral evil, death. When a man enters into his closet and is still, and by himself looks in the face his awful destiny, he can hardly help feeling that the gifts of God for this life are for this life; they cannot reach beyond; they cannot touch that which is to be. As St. Paul argues, they are incomplete, transitory, and, compared with what we are to look for, but the playthings and exercises of children; they share our doom of mortality. One thing only “never faileth.” In the next world, as in this, it is by love that creatures receive and show forth the likeness of their Maker. Conclusion: God has placed us to develope our full nature here; but He has placed us here, we believe, still more to become like Himself. So, while learning to understand, value, and use the greatest endowments which the course of things has unfolded in human society, remember that there is a way for you to walk in which carries you far beyond them, and opens to you even wider prospects, more awful thoughts, a deeper train of ideas and relations and duties which touch us in what is most inward, to the very quick. We are sinners who have been saved by a God who loved us. (Dean Church.)
The best gifts
We begin in order with the counsel or exhortation, “Covet earnestly,” etc. Wherein again we have three particulars more. Thus I say are all those abilities which any in any kind whatsoever, or to any purpose, are endowed withal. This it is thus far useful to us, as it serves to engender all meekness and humility in us. So likewise further it holds well for the improvement and exercise of these gifts which God hath given us, that we be no niggards or restrainers of them, but good stewards of the manifold grace of God. “Freely ye have received, freely give.” The dignity and excellency of them may be briefly laid forth unto us in three particulars: First, from their original and conveyance, when we shall consider how we come by them, and how they are indeed transmitted unto us. Now if there were no more but this in it, there were very good reason certainly why we should a little look after them. But secondly, that’s not all, there’s a further ground for our embracing them besides, and that is by considering them substantially, what they are in their own nature, and that impression which they leave upon the subject in which they are: these gifts if we do but consider them in themselves, they are very amiable and lovely, and so make those persons further to be who are endowed with them. They are special ornaments and beautifyings to them. Thirdly, and especially for their use and improvement and those gracious ends which they lead unto. So much therefore now for that, viz., the first particular considerable in this first general, and that is the object propounded, “gifts.” The second is the qualification of this object by way of comparison or distinction, and that is the best or better gifts. First, for that which is implied, there are some gifts which are better than others. Consider wherein this distinction does consist, namely, in what respect some gifts are said to be better than others. First, gifts sometimes are counted better as they are anything more rare and unusual. Those which can do somewhat which few else can do besides, they do from hence for the most part esteem themselves. Thus it is with some scholars, just as it is with some books which have a price set upon them more from their scarcity than from the matter of them or any intrinsical worth which is in them. But this is not such a betterness as the apostle does intend in this place. Secondly, gifts are sometimes counted better as they are more glorious and conspicuous in the eyes of the world; thus there are some which are especially more than others, which have a greater lustre upon them. It is neither those gifts always which are most rare and unusual, nor yet which are most conspicuous and plausible, which are truly the better gifts. Therefore thirdly, to speak home to the point, there are two things especially which the apostle does here mention to us. And gifts may be said to be better in a twofold respect. First, gifts are said to be better intrinsically and materially as considered within their own compass and sphere. But then secondly, gifts are said to be better extrinsically, or extensively in their effects, as they do more communicate and enlarge themselves beyond the subject, in which they are to the good of other men. Thus those are the best gifts which do tend best to edification. The second is that which is expressed, that if there be any gifts which are better than others, those are they which we for our particulars of all others are to apply ourselves to, “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” This the apostle here requires, and he does it but upon reasonable considerations. First, that common and general inclination which is in all men in everything else; there is nothing else in any kind whatsoever, which men do at any time desire or look after, but they would have the best of it as near as they can; even there sometimes where worse might serve their turn, and might be good enough for them, their mouths water after that. The best garments, the best houses, the best provisions, the best preferments. Wouldst thou have that which is good, and be the worst of all thyself? What an incongruous and unsuitable thing is this! Secondly, the consideration of the nature of the soul itself, that calls for as much from us. The better the soul is considered in its own substance and essence, the better would those things be which should qualify it, and which it would be endued withal. The better gifts do best become the better part. Thirdly, in reference also to practice and execution; therefore the better gifts, that we may accomplish the better performances and may do the most good. The operations are answerable to the principles; those which have but mean gifts, they can consequently do but mean services. This does therefore justly come home to the consciences of many persons in the world; there are some which look after none of these gifts at all; like Gallio they care for none of these things. If they may have but so much as to subsist on and to thrive in their temporal condition, that is all they take care for or trouble themselves withal. Give them but the livings, and let others go away with the gifts. Again, there are others which any gifts will very well please them, and serve their turn; which many times want judgment to discern of the better gifts, which they should give themselves unto. That this may be further rightly unfolded, we must add these following limitations by way of explication. First, that these words here of the apostle, they are not to be taken exclusively, but only emphatically. Not as denying us a liberty to look after other gifts, but as carrying us more especially to these which are of higher consideration. It is lawful and also commendable to covet meaner gifts likewise, such as knowledge and learning. This will be easily cleared unto us upon this account. First, because it is that which does bring us into a nearer likeness and similitude to God Himself; that is undoubtedly the most excellent way which does make us most conformable to Him who is the chiefest excellency. Now this we are not so much by our gifts and parts as we are by the work of grace in our hearts. Indeed it is true that we are made like unto God in some sort, in the natural faculties of our soul, our reason, understanding, etc. But this is not all, nor the chiefest; no, but so far forth as we are new created and made over again by the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit in us. Secondly, grace is the more excellent way and such as is beyond common gifts, as the end is better than the means which are ordained and appointed thereunto. Thirdly, it is more excellent also in regard of the effects and consequents of it. For it gives peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost. We are not saved as we have greater parts than others, more knowledge and enlightening in our understandings; but rather as we have more grace than others, and more love and flexibility in our affections. The consideration of this point may serve as a good rule unto us whereby to estimate both ourselves and other men; and that is not so much by the former as rather by the latter. Let us not think ourselves the better men so much by our wit and learning as rather by our piety and religious grace. And so much also for that second point: that grace and godliness is the most excellent way. The third is that which follows from this second, and that is this: that it is a duty which lies upon us to pursue the latter above the former, to covet the more excellent way, above the better gifts, grace before other accomplishments. And surely not without very good cause and ground for it. For first, we shall otherwise be defective in the most principal accomplishment of all. There is an argument in the very title which he gives it when he calls it “the most excellent way.” What a folly is it to mind things which are inferior! Secondly, we shall be otherwise able to do less good with such gifts as these are; where there are the better gifts without the more excellent way, there will not be that improvement of those gifts as it is fitting there should be to God’s glory, and the good of the Church or commonwealth in which a man is and whereunto he belongs. Take a man that has nothing but parts, and has not grace for the ordering of his parts, and he will do but very little or no good with them. Nay further, thirdly, such as these will oftentimes do so much the more hurt. St. Paul had very good reason, when he had made mention of the better gifts, to propound immediately upon it the more excellent way, because those without this are but so much the more hurtful and pernicious. Iniquity when it is armed with learning is so much the more dangerous. What does all this now come to, but so much the more strongly to enforce this present exhortation of the apostle, which we have here now before us, upon ourselves. To couple these two both together in our endeavour, which he does here together in his speech. And further, as we are to mind godliness and religion in the chiefest place, that also which is chief and most principal in it; there is the excellent way considerable in the excellent way, in opposition to that which is meaner and inferior in it. There is the form and outside of religion, and there is the power and efficacy of it. We should not be only formal Christians, but real; not only remiss Christians, but zealous; not only slight and superficial Christians, but sound and solid and substantial. Again still further, to explain this point of the excellent way a little more unto us, as we are to endeavour after this simply considered in itself; so likewise in reference to our several performances for the particular exercise and execution. There are some kind of actions and performances in religion, which as concerning the right and better discharge of them are mixed of parts and piety both. They require the better gifts, and they require the more excellent way for the doing of them. And we should not satisfy ourselves in the one without the other. Again yet further, we should be careful so to order and dispose of our gifts for the getting and improving of them, as that withal we do not prejudice our graces, and hinder and obstruct them; we should take heed of losing ourselves in our studies, as concerning the frame and temper of our hearts. Labour to advance in learning, but still remember to keep up in grace. Lastly, this excellent way, it does not only refer to the getting of grace ourselves, but likewise to the promoting of it in others. And this was that which the Apostle Paul in this place did seem especially to aim at in these Corinthians. Humility and thankfulness in the enjoyment of gifts, and charity and faithfulness in the improvement of gifts, is the most excellent way in order to the gifts themselves. The second is the proposition of it, that we have in this word, “I Show it unto you.” Show it? How did he show it? Two ways, as we may conceive more especially. First, he showed it in thesi; and secondly, he showed in hypothesi. He showed it in the practice. He showed it in his doctrine and ministry, First, he showed it them in his doctrine, and by way of simple proposition he published it and declared it unto them, And that at large here in this Epistle in the chapter immediately following. The apostle showed unto these Corinthians the most excellent way; and he showed it first of all in his doctrine. Here are divers things which from hence I might very pertinently insist upon; as--First, we see here that religion is capable of demonstration. It is such as may be clearly evidenced and demonstrated and made good to those who will not be peevish and refractory and perverse. Again secondly, in that the apostle here speaking of his preaching and writing and ministerial dispensation says, “I show it unto you.” We see here in what kind of way preaching and teaching is to be carried. In the demonstration of the Spirit and power (1 Corinthians 2:4). It is not enough for us simply to propound truths, but as near as we can to evidence them and demonstrate them. Therefore we are here especially to take heed of anything which may be any hindrance or prejudice hereunto. Secondly, he showed it also in his own practice and example. This we may gather from the next chapter, “Though I should speak … without charity,” etc. “Though I should,” is here as much as “I do not,” and this is another kind of showing, which does belong to all ministers else whosoever they be, without which the other showing will do little or no good at all. The Apostle Paul, as he was a sound teacher, so he was likewise a follower of that which himself did teach. This is requisite to be, thereby to make our doctrine more effectual and full of success. Who will believe our report when we do not believe it ourselves? (Thomas Horton, D.D.)
Grace and love beyond gifts
The Church of Corinth abounded most with spiritual gifts, and so they did most abuse them. All had not those spiritual gifts, some had those that had them despised those that had them not; and those that had them not envied those that had them. Paul, therefore, that he might heal this distemper, tells them that though the way of gifts be an excellent way, yet the way of grace and love is more excellent and most to be desired.
I. There is a way of gifts distinct from the way of grace, and vice versa. All the saints have grace, but all have not gifts. Grace is that excellency whereby we are made like to God in Christ; gifts, that whereby we are serviceable for God in the Church. A man may have a gift and yet no grace in prayer or in preaching, and may have the gift, and yet not the saving grace of faith.
II. But what excellency is there in the way of gifts?
1. They are useful. The sun is an excellent creature, because he doth good to others. Though there be excellent commodities in other countries, yet if you have no means of transport, you are no better for them; therefore there is a great use of shipping. So by these gifts, the grace that grows in one man’s heart is transported into another’s (Ephesians 4:1-32.). If you cannot reach a book you take a stool, and then you are able to take it down; the stool are these gifts.
2. They add excellency to that which is the most excellent. Ordinarily, if a worse thing be added unto a better, the better is defiled, e.g., when lead is added to silver. But now grace is the greatest excellency in the world, yet add gifts to it, and grace itself is made the more excellent; for as the temple did sanctify the gold, but the gold did beautify the temple; so grace sanctifies gifts, and gifts beautify grace.
III. Wherein is grace and love most excellent.
(1) Is not an empty thing (1 Corinthians 13:1).
(2) It never fails.
(3) It is not easily provoked, etc.
(1) Is the proper effect of the Spirit; gifts are, opus ad extra.
(2) Affords no hold for sin.
1. To those that have gifts. It calls upon you all for to bless the Lord, and to seek the more excellent way. For gifts and grace differ--
(1) In their nature; the one are a dead grace, the other a living gift.
(2) In their disposition, for grace is contented with the simplicity of the gospel, gifts are not contented. The Corinthians, who excelled in gifts, adulterated the gospel with their swelling words: and the Galatians with false doctrine. A child in a cornfield is most taken with the coloured weeds and daisies; but the husbandman is taken with nothing but the corn. So a man that hath gifts only, when he comes to a sermon, or a prayer, is much taken with the fine expressions; but the man that hath grace looks at the spirituality and the power of those things that are there delivered.
(3) In their effects; grace hath a good hand at suffering as well as at doing; gifts have a very good hand at doing, but an ill hand at suffering.
(4) In their abatement and quenching: if a man have grace and fall into sin, that sin will hinder and quench the former actings of his grace; but if a man have gifts only, and he fall into sin, that sin hinders not his actings, he can pray as he did, etc. A candle painted upon a board, if put into water, is not quenched thereby; because it is a dead and not a living candle.
2. To those who have either no gifts at all, or very weak gifts. It calls upon you to be of good comfort. The way of gifts, indeed, is an excellent way; yet if God has led you in a more excellent way, have you any cause to complain? Will you complain for want of that, which if you had in abundance, you would have less time to tend your own souls? Or, will you complain for want of that, which if you had without grace, would be your undoing? (W. Bridge, M.A.)
A comparison, between gifts and graces
I. Graces are better than gifts. Gifts were necessary in the early ages of the Church; as outward illustrations of the new spiritual facts, as evidences of the Divine authority of the preachers of the gospel, and as fitting them to carry their message to all nations. And there are still gifts bestowed on the Church. We speak of a person having a gift for preaching or teaching, or praying or giving, etc. The Redeemer’s kingdom needs consecrated learning, eloquence, etc. But the apostle sets graces above gifts, a thing surely very remarkable in his case.
II. What graces and gifts have in common.
1. A Divine origin. “What have we that we have not received? By the grace of God we are what we are.”
2. A purpose to effect. Both are for the use of edifying. If we have gifts we are to use them in kindly and wise actions, helping our brothers to carry their burdens, or teaching them how best to lay stone upon stone. If we have graces, then we are enabled to exercise a holy influence, inspiring and inspiriting souls.
3. Both can grow and suffer loss.
III. What graces have that gifts have not.
1. Graces have the power to come to all, and enrich all. In any very large sense gifts can only be for the few.
2. Graces last for ever. The things which we have must one day drop out of our hands; the dead hand holds nothing. What we are in ourselves we must he for ever.
3. Graces have the power of working always. Gifts are dependent on men’s wills, and those wills are often wholly self-ruled. We very seldom can get the full benefit of the gifts of the gifted. But if a man have a grace, he cannot help working for his fellow-men and for Christ. (R. Tuck, B.A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34