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1 Corinthians 14:1-24
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts.
Following after love
You could see Gerald had been running fast a long way, for as he came up the garden path to his mother his face was very red and his hair quite damp with the perspiration on his forehead. “What have you been doing, my little boy?” his mother asked him. “Oh, mother,” he said, almost ready to cry, “I have been running after the rainbow, trying to catch it, but when I got to the top of the hill it was just as far away as before,” and the little boy threw himself down with a sob at his mother’s feet. “Poor little fellow,” she said, tenderly, patting his head, “mother is sorry for you.” She really was sorry, so she said, “Gerald, dear, if you can wait to-day and to-morrow, on the next morning when you wake up you will see a rainbow that you can catch.” “Really, mother; shall I really see one and catch it?” and the boy looked up with a happy and eager face. “Yes, dear; and what is more, you can go on catching and keeping it day by day all through your life.” With this Gerald was obliged to be content for the present, although he was very impatient until the happy morning arrived. He woke early, and eagerly gazed round the room, and over the mantelpiece saw a lovely rainbow. It was a beautiful, large kind of text in a great number of bright and lovely colours. He jumped out of bed and stood close under it with his hands folded. On the sky-blue colour was printed in letters of lovely dark blue, Patience. On the red, in letters of white, was Love. On the black, in silver letters, was Peace. On the cream was Kindliness, in letters of gold. Gentleness was printed in prettiest pink, the word on cardinal, and Charity was blended in all the colours on white. While Gerald was standing admiring with delight, his mother came quietly in. “Well, dear,” she said, smiling, “how do you like your rainbow?” “Oh, I like it so much, mother; and is it my very own? but what do you mean by catching it, mother? … Well, suppose you begin to-day, and let the first thing you try to catch and keep be Love.” “Oh, I see now,” said the little boy, and the thought sank into his heart, so that he really tried to be as loving as he could to his little playfellows and to everybody. And every morning he looked up to his rainbow to see what he would try and catch that day, and then he knelt to ask God to help him. So little Gerald grew up to be a splendid man, and the rainbow still shines over his mantelpiece as one of his greatest treasures. (Great Thoughts.)
The prompting of love
When Payson was dying he exclaimed, “I long to hand a full Cup of happiness to every human being.” This was the language of a heart thoroughly purged of all selfish affection, and filled with the spirit of that love which led our adorable Jesus to give His life for human redemption. If every Christian would go out daily among men filled with such longing for human happiness, what marvellous changes would soon be wrought in human society! The selfish element would be eliminated from the dealings of the Christian business man. Not justice merely, but benevolence, would enter into his every act of trade. The same spirit would rule his home and Church life. He would become an incarnation of goodwill toward all, and would so preach the gospel by his deeds that men would see his good works and glorify his heavenly Father. The spirit of Payson is worthy of every man’s imitation. Happy he who can truthfully say, “I long to hand a cup of happiness to every human being.”
Love lessening misery
The remark of the Rev. John Newton below deserves to be written on the tablet of every heart. “I see in this world,” he observes, “two heaps--one of human happiness and one of misery; now, if I can take but the smallest bit from the second heap and add to the first, I carry a point. If, as I go home, a child has dropped a halfpenny, and if by giving it another I can wipe away its tears, I feel that I have doom something. I should be glad, indeed, to do great things, but I will not neglect such little ones as this.”
Had I my choice of all things that might tend to my present felicity, I would pitch upon this; to have my heart possessed with the greatest kindness and affection toward all men in the world. I am sure this would make me partake in all the happiness of others. Certainly, next to the love and enjoyment of God, that ardent charity and affection wherewith blessed souls do embrace one another is justly to be reckoned as the greatest felicity of regions above; and, did it universally prevail in the world, it would anticipate that blessedness, and make us taste of the joys of heaven upon earth. (Scougal.)
I. The several considerations and motives which should determine us to universal love.
1. Goodwill and friendship to mankind are natural to us, which we are led to by the original propensions and inclinations of our hearts. We are plainly made for the exercise of goodness and charity, and in the very constitution of our beings it is marked out to us as the course of life which we are to follow.
2. The circumstances in which we are placed render it necessary for us to exercise benevolence towards mankind. Men are a sort of creatures who have a natural and necessary dependence upon one another, and it is impossible for them to subsist--at least, to enjoy any comfort in life--without mutual succour and an exchange of all good offices.
3. Another motive to engage us to the love of mankind may be brought from the consideration of its excellency.
4. The exercise of humanity and kindness towards mankind is essential to religion, without which it is only an empty name, and all pretences to it are most vain and impertinent.
5. The last argument to engage us to the exercise of charity may be brought from the advantages which will from thence accrue to ourselves. It may be justly expected that it will have a happy influence even on our external fortune or estate in the world; for charity is the most engaging quality that we can be possessed of, which will not fail to procure us the esteem of others, and make them, in any cases of difficulty and danger in which we may be, to contribute to our assistance. But a much more considerable instance of happiness than any relating to our external interest, which proceeds from the exercise of charity, is that inward joy and pleasure which it always affords us. And besides all this, if we consider the other world, it is certain that the practice of charity will procure us the greatest advantages that can be in it.
II. Some rules for raising and improving a temper of sincere and universal benevolence in us.
1. In order to this, let us represent mankind in the most favourable light that we justly can to ourselves. We must have some esteem of those for whose advantage we exert ourselves with any high degree of zeal; and when we sincerely esteem any persons we shall be always ready to promote their interest as we have opportunity.
2. Another method of raising and improving a benevolent temper in us is to accustom ourselves to frequent thoughts and meditations on the goodness of God.
3. Further, let us guard not only against all contempt of others and unfair suspicions of evil in them, but against an indulgence of all immoderately selfish passions, and of all angry, peevish, discontented dispositions, and endeavour, as much as we can, to preserve ourselves in a serene state of mind.
4. It will likewise be of great use for forming and increasing a temper of benevolence in us to have an habitual recollection and a lively conviction of its great excellence and importance. (J. Orr, D. D.)
By gifts we understand those natural or acquired endowments which may be used for the interest and edification of others: by graces those internal emotions which result from a Divine influence upon the heart. Gifts are valuable, but graces are essential. View Christian character as an edifice; gifts constitute its ornamental and useful parts, but graces are the foundation, without which it would soon crumble to the dust. They are not always found in close or corresponding connection. Graces may exist where there are scarcely any gifts, and vice versa. Note--
I. A few of those gifts winch form appropriate objects of the Christian’s desire and pursuit.
1. An ability for the edifying and acceptable discharge of ministerial duty.
2. A facility of acceptably engaging in social and public prayer.
3. A readiness for joining, or, if necessary, of leading the exercise of social and public praise.
4. An aptness in turning to some profitable account the ordinary and social intercourse of life.
5. A readiness in administering to others appropriate admonition, advice, or encouragement.
II. The nature and appropriate exercise of the desire recommended in the text.
1. It should be operative and practical in its character. We are not to sit down and be satisfied in wishing these gifts were possessed, but to make an effort to attain them.
2. This desire should be regulated, not by personal inclination, but by an anxiety for usefulness.
III. Suggestions to excite and direct in pursuing the attainment of these gifts. “We should--
1. Cherish a deeper sense of the privilege and honour of being in any way serviceable to the Church of Christ.
2. Diligently and conscientiously use the gifts we already possess. They, like our bodily or mental faculties, are ever improved by appropriate exercise.
3. More assiduously cultivate the graces of religion in the soul. These, by inflaming the heart more with a Saviour’s love, would constrain us to attempt honouring and serving Him in every possible way. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Spiritual gifts and public worship
I. The comparative value of the two chief spiritual gifts.
1. Prophesying is speaking for God, whether the utterance regards present or future matters. The function of the prophet is indicated in verse 3. and in verses 24-25 the results of prophesying are described in terms precisely such as we should use to describe the results of efficacious preaching.
2. The gift of tongues, from Acts 2:1-47., would seem to have been the gift of speaking in foreign languages, and was communicated, not as a permanent acquisition, but only “as the Spirit gave utterance.” It served the same purpose as other miracles; it called attention to the entrance of new powers into human nature; it was “for them that believe not, not for them that believe.” It produced conviction that among the followers of Christ new powers were at work. The evidence of this took a shape which seemed to intimate that the religion of Christ was suitable for every race of mankind.
3. Comparing these two gifts, Paul gives the preference to the former, and this mainly on the score of its greater utility. Apart from interpretation speaking with tongues was like the blare of a trumpet, mere unintelligible sound. Prophesying, however, all could understand, and profit by it.
4. From this preference for the less showy but more useful gift, we may gather that to make public worship the occasion of self-display or sensational exhibitions is to degrade it. Preachers must resist the temptation to make a sensation, to produce fine sermons; and worshippers must resist the temptation to merely exhibit a good voice or find greater pleasure in what is sensational in worship than in what is simple and intelligible.
5. Worship in which the understanding bears no part receives no countenance from Paul (verse 15). Where the prayers of the Church are in Latin the worshipper may indeed pray with the spirit and be edified, but his worship would be better did he pray with the understanding also. Music unaccompanied by words induces a devoutness which is apt to be either hazy or sentimental, or both, unless by the help of words the understanding goes hand in hand with feeling.
6. No countenance can be found in this chapter to the idea that worship should exclude preaching. Some temperaments incline towards worship, but resent being preached to or instructed. St. Paul, however, puts prophesying in the forefront. But St. Paul puts--
II. the manner in which the public services should be conducted.
1. The services at Corinth were characterised by great freedom (verse 26). Each member of the congregation had something to contribute for the edification of the Church. One with a natural aptitude for poetry threw his devotional feeling into a metrical form, and furnished the Church with her earliest hymns. Another set forth some important aspect of Christian truth. Another, fresh from contact with the world, entered the meeting with the glow of conflict on his face, and had eager words of exhortation to utter. And so passed the hours of meeting, without any fixed order, appointed ministry, or uniformity of service. And certainly the freshness and variety of such services is greatly to be desired. We lose much by a silent membership.
2. And yet, as Paul observes, there was much to be desired in those Corinthian services. To appeal to this or any part of this letter in proof that there should be no distinction between clergy and laity would be a very bad policy. True there were no rulers of any kind, but then the want of them had given rise to disorder. The ideal condition, however, would be one in which authority should be lodged in certain office-bearers, while the faculty and gift of each member in some way contributed to the good of the whole Church.
3. While Paul abstains from appointing Church officers, he is careful to lay down two principles which should regulate their procedure.
(1) “Let everything be done decently and in order.” This advice was greatly needed in a Church in which the public services were sometimes filmed into tumults.
(2) “Let all things be done unto edifying.” Keep the great end of your meetings in view, and you need no formal rubrics.
4. It might be difficult to say whether the somewhat selfish ambition of those Corinthians to secure the surprising gifts of the Spirit or our own torpid indifference and lack of expectation is less to be commended. Certainly every one who attaches himself to Christ ought to indulge in great expectations. From Him we may expect at least His own Spirit. And in this “least” there is promise of all. But lack of expectation is fatal to the Christian. (M. Dods, D. D.)
The girls of prophecy and tongues
Just as the hunter follows the chase with the determination to gain what he pursues, so are we to follow after charity; but we are only to “desire” spiritual gifts. The Corinthians were to be filled with the spirit of love at any cost, and when they loved they were to desire all other gifts, but especially the gift of prophecy. Now it was just the reverse of this with them. The gift they valued the most was the gift of tongues; it was this they “followed after,” and so, when the Church met for public worship, a babel existed (verses 23-26).
I. The gift of prophecy was not simply the power to predict future events. The Old Testament prophets predicted, but they had also to expostulate and comfort. Here are three marks of a prophet.
1. He speaketh unto man (verse 3)--face-to-face conversation.
2. He speaketh to edification, exhortation, and comfort.
3. He speaketh so that souls are converted (verse 24).
II. The gift of tongues was the power imparted to speak foreign languages, which is plainly the teaching of Acts 2:1-47. One of the great reasons for the bestowal of the gift was that the disciples might preach Christ to all without undergoing the usual tedious instruction in the language of the hearer.
III. The gift of prophecy is greater than the gift of tongues.
1. It is better to be definite than learned (verses 7-12). Speak with as many tongues as you can, but take care that whatever is spoken is understood.
2. It is better to appeal to the understanding than to the emotions (verse 16). I do not undervalue the emotional in religions worship, but it is better for a man to understand what he feels than to feel what he does not understand. If an unlearned man go into a Roman Catholic chapel, e.g., everything appeals to the emotions--the paintings, the music, the incense; you have a sense of the beautiful, but you don’t know why. Better be in the poorest meetinghouse listening to the rudest preacher, for then you may learn what you can understand and apply what your own soul can interpret.
3. It is better to be useful than brilliant (verse 19).
4. It is better to honour God by winning souls than to excite ridicule and contempt (verses 23, 24). Conclusion:
1. Preaching should be plain, but not vulgar.
2. Worship should be intelligent, not mystical.
3. It should be orderly, not confused. (A. F. Barfield.)
Prophecy and tongues
Verse 1 contains a resume of chaps. 12-13. Charity holds the first place, and then spiritual gifts follow, and prophecy is preferable to others.
1. Note the difference between a grace and a gift. It is not that the former is from God and the latter from nature, for both are from God; but grace is that which has in it some moral quality. A man may be fluent, learned, skillful, etc., and yet be a bad man. Now this distinction explains at once why graces are preferable. Graces are what the man is, gifts what he has. He is loving, he has eloquence, etc. You only have to cut out his tongue, or to impair his memory, and the gift is gone But you must destroy his very being before he ceases to be a loving man. Yet while the Corinthians are to “follow after charity” they are not to undervalue gifts.
2. Many religious persons go into the contrary extreme; they call gifts dangerous and worldly. No, says the apostle, “desire” them; not as the highest goods, but still desirable. Only remember you are not worthy or good because of them. And remember other people are not bound to honour you for them. Admire a Napoleon’s genius, but do not let your admiration of that induce you to give honour to the man. Let there be no mere “hero-worship.”
3. The apostle states the principle on which one gift is preferable to another. “Rather that ye may prophesy.” He prefers those which are useful to those that are showy (see verse 12).
I. What was prophecy? A prophet was commissioned to declare the will of God either as to the future or as to the present.
1. In verse 3 is the essence of the prophet’s office, but there is not one word spoken of prediction. In order fully to expound a spiritual principle, or a principle of Divine politics, it was necessary to foretell the result or transgression against it; as when the Captivity, or the fate of Babylon and Nineveh was predicted: but this was not the essence of the prophet’s duty: that was to reveal truth.
2. In verse 24 the exercise of this gift is spoken of as one specially instrumental in conversion, with which prediction has nothing to do, for before a prediction could be fulfilled the unbeliever “falls down, acknowledges God,” etc. Moreover, the prophecy was something which touched his conscience.
II. What is meant by the gift of tongues. From Acts
2. it is generally taken for granted that it was a miraculous gift of speaking foreign languages, and that the object of such a gift was the conversion of the heathen world; but I believe that the gift was a far higher one than that of the linguist.
1. St. Paul prefers prophecy to the gift of “tongues” as more useful, since prophecy edified others, and tongues did not. Now could he have said this had the gift been the power of speaking foreign languages?
2. The “tongues” were inarticulate or incoherent (verse 2). The man spoke “not unto men, but unto God,” did not try to make himself logically clear to men, but poured out his soul to God.
3. This gift was something internal, a kind of inspired soliloquy (verse 4). There was an unconscious need of expressing audibly the feelings arising within, but; when so uttered they merely ended in “edifying” the person who uttered them; like the broken murmur of a poet full of deep thought in solitude.
4. The apostle compares the gift with the unworried sounds of musical instruments (verses 7, 8), which have a meaning, but one which is felt rather than measured by the intellect. The mathematician would ask, “What does that prove?” the historian, “What information or fact does it communicate?” Have you ever heard the low moanings of hopelessness? or those, to us, unmelodious airs which to the Swiss mountaineer tell of home in a language clearer than the tongue? or have you ever listened to the unmeaning shouts of boyhood? Well, in all these you have dim illustrations of the way in which new, deep, irrepressible feelings found for themselves utterance in sounds which were called “tongues.”
5. These utterances, weakly allowed full vent, were like the ravings of insanity (verse 23). So, indeed, men on the day of Pentecost said, “These men are full of new wine.” The apostle reminds the Corinthians that they were bound to control this power, lest it should degenerate into imbecility or fanaticism.
6. The gift is compared to a barbarian tongue (verse 11), therefore not a barbarian tongue itself.
7. It could be interpreted (verse 13). And without this interpretation the “tongues” were obviously useless (verse 14). And this power of interpretation is reckoned a spiritual gift as much as tongues, a gift granted in answer to prayer. Now this we shall best understand by analogies. It is a great principle that sympathy is the only condition for interpretation of feeling. The apostle compares the gift of tongues to music. Now music needs an interpreter, and the interpretation must be given, not in words, but in corresponding feelings. There must be “music in the soul.” To him who has not this the language of music is simply unintelligible. Again, a child is often the subject of feelings which he does not understand. Observe how he is affected by the reading of a tale or a moving hymn. He will not say, How touching, how well imagined! but he will hide his face, or he hums, or laughs, or becomes peevish, because he does not know what is the matter with him. He has no words like a man to express his new feelings. But the grown man can interpret them, and, sympathising with the child, he says, “The child cannot contain his feelings.” Or, take the instance of a physician finding words for physical feelings, because he understands them better than the patient who is unable to express them. In the same way the early Christians, being the subjects of new, deep, and spiritual feeling, declared their joy in inarticulate utterances. But the explaining what they felt was the office of the interpreter, e.g., a stranger might have been at a loss to know what was really meant. “Are you happy or miserable, O Christian, by those wild utterances? Is it madness, or new wine, or inspiration?” And none but a person in the same mood of mind, or one who had passed through it, could say to the stranger, “This is the overflow of gratefulness; he is blessing in the Spirit; it is a hymn of joy that his heart is singing to itself”; or, “It is a burst of prayer” (verses 15-17). (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Grace and gifts
I. The grace of charity is superior to all endowments. Whatever other endowments you may possess or desire, do not neglect the cultivation of charity.
II. Some “endowments are superior to others (verse 5). The didactic faculty is greater than the linguistic. Sense is better than sound, ideas are better than words. It often happens that the man who has the most aptitude in acquiring languages has the least capacity either for attaining or communicating great ideas. But the language of which the apostle here speaks seems to have been the inarticulate voice of new and strong emotions. Tender emotions often choke us. If expressed at all they can only be in the quivering lip, and the gleaming eye, and the convulsive chest. Such have been manifested in all great revivals of religion. I have heard such untranslatable sounds under the mighty sermons of Welsh preachers. These “tongues” are valuable. Because--
1. They are symptomatic of a new spiritual life. You can talk about history, science, theology, but not about the deepest and divinest things of the heart. They only come out in “groanings that cannot be uttered.”
2. In them the soul expresses its devotions (verses 2, 4, 14). It is delightful to think of the human soul generally so immersed in the selfish and the sensuous, bathing itself in the rising tides of spiritual emotions.
3. By them the religious sympathy of the unbelieving is often excited (verse 22). Sound expressive of human emotion often strikes potently on the heart of the listener. Take the most thoughtless man into some vast congregation in Wales, when all the people are singing their plaintive hymns in strains of weird music, and he will not be long, even if he understands not the language, before he feels the influence. Unsyllabled speech is often the mightiest. There are melodies that carry into the soul that which no word can express.
III. The highest endowment is the ability for spiritual teaching (verses 12, 18). Teaching is not the mere impartation of the acts of the gospel but the indoctrinating of the soul with its primary elements and spirit. Note--
1. That the gospel gives to its genuine disciples intelligent convictions that should be communicated to others. He who has accepted the gospel in reality becomes instinct with mighty and irrepressible ideas; ideas which he “cannot but speak,” for “necessity is laid” upon him. They are given to him to communicate, not to monopolise, and on their communication the spiritual life, growth, and perfection of mankind depend.
2. That these intelligent convictions can only be conveyed to others by intelligible language (verses 6-7 etc.). Mere “sound” is not worth much. “Things without life,” such as the “pipe” and the “harp,” produce sound. Nay, more, unless the sound gives out clear and distinct ideas, it is not only useless, but injurious (verse 8). If in battle the trumpet does not sound clearly the advance or retreat when intended, it is worse than useless. So whatever might be the unintelligible utterances, whether an unvernacular language or the unsyllabled expressions of emotions. Paul indicates their inadequacy without interpretation to convey to the hearer intelligent convictions of gospel truth (verse 9).
3. That the use of a language which the listener cannot understand should not be indulged in.
(1) Not in public devotion (verses 14-16). Unintelligible utterances in public devotion fail to excite in the assembly a spirit of united worship. So far as the individual himself is concerned, it does not matter with what tongue he speaks, or whether he speaks at all.
(2) Not in public ministration. Alas! it is to be feared the language of many a sermon is an “unknown tongue.” Such language gratifies the vanity of the speaker, but wastes the time and tries the patience of the hearer (verses 18, 19). The apostle goes on to indicate that such unintelligible utterances in the Church are--
(a) Childish (verse 20).
(b) Useless (verse 21).
(c) Confounding (verse 23).
(d) To be of any service must be interpreted (verse 28). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue.--
Speaking in a tongue
is a sort of spiritual soliloquy, and may be compared with the unutterable groanings (Romans 8:26-27), whereby the Holy Spirit intercedes in the believer’s heart. (Prof. Godet.)
The gift of tongues
may be considered as--
1. A demonstration of Divine power.
2. An evidence of Divine truth.
3. A gift of Divine grace. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.--
I. Its design. Edification, etc.
II. Its requisites. It must be intelligible, Scriptural, etc.
III. The source of its power. It is a gift of the Spirit who qualifies the instrument, and applies the truth. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Edification, exhortation and comfort
I. Edification denotes a new development and a confirmation of the faith by some new view fitted to strengthen the soul.
II. Exhortation denotes an encouragement addressed to the will, an energetic impulse capable of effecting an awakening or advancement in Christian fidelity, relating to love as the former relates to faith.
III. Comfort points rather to hope, παραμυθείν, to soothe the ear with a sweet myth, putting pain to sleep, or reviving hope. (Prof. Godet.)
In the town of Goslar, in the Hartz mountains, there is a fountain in the principal square. It is evidently very ancient, and it is very beautiful. There is, however, one defect in it. Both the jets and the basin into which the water falls are above the reach of any one. The way the people have to get the water from the fountain is for each one to bring a long spout or pipe with him. This he puts up to a jet and the water runs through it into his pitcher. It seems never to have occurred to the townspeople that it would be a good thing to attach a pipe permanently to the fountain for general use. Some preachers talk in so lofty a style that their hearers need to bring a dictionary with them if they are to get any of the water of life from the sermon. They do not seek to find “acceptable” words, hence their preaching fails to edify.
He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself.--
Private and public edification
1. What may edify one does not always edify another.
2. Public worship contemplates general edification.
3. What, therefore, only ministers to private edification must give way for the benefit of all. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall it profit you?--
A lesson for preachers
I. The object of preaching. Not display, but profit.
II. The mode of preaching.
1. It supposes the plain exposition of Divine truth--the communication of Divine knowledge.
2. Aims at edification (verse 3)--at instruction in righteousness. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The gifts of the Spirit must be wisely employed
I. How they may be abused.
1. By display (verse 6).
2. By using them to no purpose (verses 7-9).
3. By employing them under improper circumstances (verses 10, 11).
II. How they may be improved--by using them for the edification of others (verse 12)--which must be done intelligently (verses 13, 14), wisely (verses 15-17), in the spirit of love (verses 18, 19). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
And even things without life giving sound … except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known.--
Three modes of preaching
I. Preaching to the air--sound without, sense.
II. Preaching to the head--sense without life.
III. Preaching to the heart--sense and life: the thoughts of the Spirit in easy words. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Its forms. When the preacher--
1. Surpasses the understanding of his audience.
2. Is indefinite in his statement of truth.
3. Is pointless and unimpressive.
II. Its folly.
1. It is a waste of energy.
2. Profits nobody.
3. Occasions a fearful responsibility. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 14:8-9
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle.
There are many sounds in nature which are uncertain and yet pleasing. The murmur of the winds among the leaves of the forests; the soft, regular lapse of the waves on the sandy shore; the roar of Niagara, confused with the cry of blended and intertangled voices, as though every particle of water in falling uttered its own wail of grief or shout of exultation or scream of fear; the hum of insects on a summer’s day; all such sounds are uncertain. Yet all awaken in us some feeling, convey some sentiment. The murmuring voices of nature seem to express longing and aspiration; they sound almost like prayer and praise. These voices of nature, therefore, though uncertain, are often full of expression. But of man’s voice we require more. We ask that it shall be distinct and clear; that it shall convey meaning; that it shall not darken counsel with vague utterance. To speak plainly, distinctly, with precision, is one of the first accomplishments to be studied, and one of the last to be fully attained. Education begins and ends in telling us how to express ourselves; for the word, in ancient languages, means not only utterance, but also the reason which lies behind utterance. My friend gives himself to me in his speech. If his speech is obscure, perplexed, uncertain, vague, then he is not in it. But a fulness of thought and life makes language very clear. That is why we like simple, direct, straightforward talk. It is sincere, it is moral. “Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay,” says Jesus; “for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil.” Uncertain sounds, inexact expressions, extravagant utterances, come of evil. They mean that the speaker cares more for effect than for truth. Perhaps the most uncertain sounds of all are the words of a politician. Politics, the government of a state, the laws which affect a nation, ought to be the most elevating of pursuits. But it is like religion or art or poetry. They ennoble those who give themselves to them with sincerity and love; but make a trade of them, and they degrade to the utmost. Make a trade of religion, and you become a hypocrite. Make a trade of art, and you become a charlatan. One of the remarkable exploits of Abraham Lincoln was that he expressed himself so as to be understood. His healthy Saxon English dispelled the miasma of falsehood which hung over Washington. “And one of Plutarch’s men talked with you, face to face.” A clear, distinct meaning is so important in a speaker that it is of itself almost enough. An audience will listen very willingly to a man who makes himself perfectly plain, even if he does nothing else. He need not be rhetorical, he need use no figures of speech, no captivating oratorical arts; he need not be original or profound. Let him only be clear--that of itself is satisfactory. In religion, especially, we want no uncertain sounds. What all men need, what all men long for, is certainty. We need to know; not merely to speculate, not merely to think, to hope, to wish, to fancy; we need to know. Now the difference between Christianity and speculation is simply this--that speculation, by its very nature, gives an uncertain sound; but Christianity gives certainty. Speculation gives us thoughts about God, Christianity gives us the knowledge of God. I once read a lecture by an able writer, in which Christ and Socrates were compared, rather to the disadvantage of the former. Socrates was considered to be, on the whole, rather the stronger and more manly person of the two. But, if so, why did he not do more? Socrates produced a school in philosophy; Christ makes a religion for mankind. One gave thought, the other life. The life of Socrates is known to a few scholars, the life of Jesus is known to millions. The words of Jesus bring strength, comfort, purity, peace; not to students only, but to the ignorant, the lowly, the fallen, the desolate. Why this immense difference in the work of the two teachers? Because the words of the one give an uncertain sound, those of the other a certain sound. One teaches us how to speculate, to conjecture, and to think about the realities of eternity; the other lets us look into the realities themselves, face to face. Striking opinions, noble speculations, came by Socrates, but truth itself came by Jesus Christ. The power--the undying power--of Christianity is that it is everywhere a new revelation of the eternal truth and love of God; that it continually makes souls alive; that it continually renews itself in renewed souls. Therefore it can never grow old, any more than birth, marriage, death, love, can grow old. These have been in the world since the beginning, but they always come as new as at first. And Christianity, appealing ever to new hearts, reforming manners, curing sinners, saving the lost, kindling the soul with faith, hope, and love, is the one certain sound in the world, never vague, never confused. Theology is uncertain; speculation is uncertain; creeds are uncertain; but Christianity is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. (Jas Freeman Clarke.)
The ministerial trumpet giving an uncertain sound
I. The “battle.” In every battle you must suppose two parties. Ever since the fall there always have been two parties. In the first family Cain was on the one side and Abel on the other. And so it was after the flood--it was so in the patriarchial ages, the Mosaical dispensation, and when Christ appeared on the earth, and up to this very moment. Sometimes efforts are made to multiply these divisions--the righteous on the one hand, and the wicked on the other, with different gradations. But the lip of truth says, “He that is not with Me is against Me.” “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” There are but two parties--the people of God and the people against God and with the devil. The two armies are in combat. What constitutes the sorest point is this--they have separate interests, feelings, hopes, ambitions. The grand interest of the people of God is the glory of their Redeemer in the salvation of their souls; the other party are for their own glory. One man belongs to the party because he loves pleasure, another man because he loves power and influence, another because he loves money, another because he is the slave of some lust. But, however these regiments have a little distinction in their facings, they have but one heart, one spirit, one interest!
2. Some people say, “There is no need of a battle. Cannot the irreligious and the people of God go on comfortably and happy, and let each other alone?” No; the people of God must beseech all those who are not His people “to be reconciled to God.” The great commander on one side is Christ, and on the other the devil; but let the hordes of Satan do their best, Christ must conquer.
II. The meaning of the sentence, “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound.” There can be no doubt that the “trumpet” means the gospel ministry. The gospel minister is to warn men lest they peril and eventually ruin their souls, and to press them to secure the eternal happiness which is offered them, drawing the telling conclusion, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” But the blessed trumpet is not only a trumpet of warning, but is a trumpet of welcome to Calvary’s cross, to the fountain for sin and all uncleanness. The trumpet gives an “uncertain sound,” therefore, if it does not state--
1. Man’s entire inability.
2. Completely and fully the work of Christ.
3. The holiness of the gospel.
4. If firings of confessedly minor importance, Church government, discipline, etc., have an undue importance. (H. Allon, D. D.)
The worthlessness of mere sounds, apart from their meaning
The apostle speaks of the lute, the harp, the trumpet. Concerning this last instrument it was most of all important that the meaning of its tones should be understood. For now, just as the trumpet had its special function in pealing forth distinct, definite sounds, so all things in the economy of nature, of human life, and of Christian life, have their precise and exact function, on the right discharge of which vast results--results often comparable to those of a gigantic war--are depending.
I. The principle here indicated. It is not far to seek--
1. In what we may term our a priori argument, concerning a Divinely ordered universe. Since all events are related to each other in the mighty chain of cause and effect, we should expect that the failure of any link would involve disastrous results. There are many voices in nature--every law is a voice--and none of them is without signification. Uncertainty in the sound of any of them would be scarcely less evil than silence. So, too, with every atom and every event, as well as every law.
2. In the history of human affairs. On every hand, in our march along the great highways of time, or our research in its quieter by-ways, we confront instances of the momentousness of a right fulfilment by the man, or the institution, or the nation, of the precise mission devolving on such man, or institution, or nation. An uncertain sound at some given epoch, and the course of all succeeding history, would have been changed.
II. Some practical applications of this principle. It is true in regard--
1. To the discharge of Christian activities. There are multiform methods of philanthropic activity; never so many as to-day. Each one of us has his special adaptation for the use of such methods, just as each method has its peculiar adaptation to some need. If those who are qualified to teach, do not instruct; to console, do not comfort; to contrive, do not organise, who shall? Some tone on the trumpet of truth depends on you. If you refrain, or hesitate, or yield uncertain sounds, who shall prepare for the day of battle?
2. To Christian giving. The gold, the silver, the copper has to be given, each metal, as it were, making its own music. Withhold just what, by claim and capacity, you ought to have given, and there is an uncertain sound, and that uncertain sound means beggary here, discouragement yonder, and hopeless inanition elsewhere. Nay, the very spirit of the giving may make all the difference, for is not the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal--which is gift without love--an uncertain sound?
3. To prayers. Who can tell the mischief of uncertain sounds here in a region where Moses and Elijah were so mighty?
4. Of every life. Each life is trumpet-tongued with the message of truth or error, good or ill. Silence is impossible. Uncertainty is failure, for it misleads and bewilders. Minister, parent, teacher, if your life gives an uncertain sound who shall prepare your people, your family, your class for battle?--the battle for which music prepares, and which will be succeeded by yet nobler and sweeter music. As Bishop Webb says, “You are yourself; none of you are like your fellows. And you are what you are by God’s arrangement, because you have a certain part to play in God’s providence, in the history of the world, and the development of the body of Christ. God the Holy Ghost is brooding over you as the great musician. He can bring out the music that is wanted. He can enable you to furnish some strain that would be lacking in the ears of God if you did not bring it, if you did not strike your string, nor touch your key.” (U. R. Thomas.)
The responsibility of the pulpit
I. Its power.
1. To warn.
II. Its inefficiency. No certain sound through want of--
4. Spiritual power.
III. Diastrous result.
1. None prepares.
2. Destruction comes.
3. The unfaithful watchman must bear the responsibility. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to he understood, how shall it be known what is spokes?--
I. What it implies.
1. Not vulgarity.
2. But a plain statement of the truth in easy words.
II. Its necessity.
1. Many are very ignorant.
2. Some will not take the trouble to understand what costs them effort.
3. All are more accessible to plain truth.
4. God will have all the glory.
III. Its importance.
1. Souls imperilled.
2. The preacher incurs a tremendous responsibility. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Need of plain preaching
A lady went one day to hear Dr.
preach, and, as usual, carried a pocket Bible with her that she might turn to any of the passages the preacher might happen to refer to. But she found that she had no use for the Bible then, and on coming away said to a friend, “I should have left my Bible at home to-day, and have brought my dictionary; the doctor does not deal in Scripture, but in such learned words and phrases as require the help of an interpreter to render them intelligible.” (J. C. Gray.)
Simplicity in preaching
Whenever Archbishop Whately came to preach at the chapel of the castle it was observed that a rough private soldier was always in his place, mouth open, as if in sympathy with his ears. Some of the gentlemen playfully took him to task for it, supposing it was due to the usual vulgar admiration of a celebrity. But the man had a better reason, and was aide to give it. He said, “That isn’t it at all. The archbishop is easy to understand; there are no fine words in him. A fellow like me, now, can follow along and take every bit of it in.” (Sir Arthur Helps.)
1 Corinthians 14:10-11
There are … voices … and none of them is without signification.
1. It does not follow that because the voice has no meaning for you that therefore it has no meaning for others. I heard some splendid music the other clay, and a friend exclaimed, “What tenderness, what pathos is in it.” John Stuart Mill said that the first meaning of Wordsworth’s poetry was a new birth to him; he felt himself a better man. Maurice often talked in an unknown tongue once; people understand him now. You may read a chapter of Christian experience and it may be in an unknown tongue to you.
2. But the difficulty will be to reduce what you have seen and heard into intelligible speech that will edify others. A young person is asked to sing, and she dashes at once into a French or German song. What affectation it is when there are troops of English songs with the sweet pathos of English traditions in them. There are artists a great deal more silly. Their chief pride is that they don’t edify. Many words might be spoken in praise of the noble address from the chair of the British Association; but I give the highest praise when I say you can understand it. The best part of your creed is what you can put into a little child’s mouth. If you want to know what the essence of the gospel is, take a little boy of eight between your knees and tell him the gospel, and what you can make him understand is its pith and essence.
3. There are many voices in the world, and our business is to try to discover their significance. There are voices which are transitory, which speak to one generation and then cease. They startle one, and then are heard no more, like the rousing proclamation of some half-forgotten truth or a wail of consternation at the spiritual condition of England. But some voices speak on for age and age, and uninterruptedly.
I. The voice of the material creation. For its scientific or philosophical signification. You must listen to the scientific report of the year. What is its spiritual signification? What is there to be converted into fuel that can feed our faith and enlarge our hope? The material world is the revelation of the Divine intellect and heart. What do we find in this material creation that sends a message to our spiritual nature which may be converted into fuel for our faith? I think it is this: You can always calculate upon God. God has always known His own mind. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Think of the value of that in your religious life. The first instinct of your religious life is to have unchanging things. We have said hard things about Nature. We have called her blind and pitiless. There can be not the slightest divergence from her path. Every heart in this creation may break, but the earth will still go on. But there is another side to that. You can calculate always upon God, He will never disappoint you. All of our life would break out into panic if there were any disorganisation of the laws of nature of which we complain sometimes. The farmer knows that the seasons will come round, and the mariner goes out to sea without fear. If you care to meet God this morning, there can be no doubt as to where to meet Him. There is a certainty with regard to God and our souls which we cannot have with regard to anything else. Take any promise in His Word. “ Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He has never moved away from that. If you put your life and the lives of your children in God’s path every morning, you may be perfectly sure that He will pass that way. The Church oftentime feels that the paralysis is creeping over her and that she can do nothing. You are not content with things as they are. You want a re-vi-val, a re-consecration, a re-awakening, a fresh joy in the gospel of Christ, and a fresh equipment for service. We can have it without any uncertainty; we have as a Church only to place ourselves in God’s way. We have only to get out of the things He hates, to redouble our energies in the Sunday school, and among the erring. I have seen, when the heavens said there was a great shower coming, the housewife put out every vessel to catch the rain. You must range every faculty you possess at God’s disposal. Be ready! God will not disappoint you. If the channels are doubled the rain is sure to come.
II. The voices in your own souls. These are of two kinds. There are the imperative voices. Then there are the pathetic voices. George Eliot said, “See if the sigh does not discover Him who touched the heart into a sigh.” What a chapter it would be if every one in this congregation were this morning to write out one of his sorest needs. We need a living God, we need the grasp of His hand, we need heaven! We want to be forgiven; we want home. We have loved and lost. And oh, the unspeakable blessedness of the voice of our need in prayer. I have cried, “Father, I am sad, I am lonely.” And a voice has come into my soul, saying, “Fear not; I am with thee.” You may pile the scepticism of the world then, but it takes nothing of this from me. And this is the significance of our need. I have read a very wonderful book, written by a man who sums up the arguments in this way: there is as much to be said for the existence of God as there is to be said against it, and vice versa. If this were so it is enough for me. If the arguments for or against the existence of God were so equally balanced, my necessities and needs would weigh the balance down. (Morlais Jones.)
A preacher should study plain language
I. Language is designed as the vehicle of thought.
1. Many languages.
2. All significant.
II. Language ceases to be the medium of thought when not understood. There is--
1. No instruction.
2. No sympathy of mind.
3. No edification.
III. Plainness should therefore be studied--
1. As the most excellent of gifts.
2. For the benefit of the Church. With much prayer. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The diversity of human language
1. Language as the vehicle of thought.
2. Its extraordinary variety.
3. The cause.
4. Its effect upon the condition of mankind--social and moral.
5. Its gradual alleviation.
6. Its final removal. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Sweetness of voice
There is no power of love so hard to get and keep, writes Elihu Burritt, as a kind voice. A kind hand is dead and dumb. It may be rough in flesh and blood, yet do the work of a soft heart, and do it with a soft touch. But there is no one thing which love so much needs as a sweet voice, to tell what it means and feels; and it is hard to get and keep in the right tone. One must start in youth, and be on the watch night and day, at work and at play, to get and keep a voice which shall speak at all times the thoughts of a kind heart. It is often in youth that one gets a voice or tone which is sharp, and it sticks to him through life, and it stirs up ill-will, and falls like a drop of gall upon the sweet joys of home. Watch the voice day by day as a pearl of great price, for it will be worth more to you in the days to come than the best pearl hid in the sea. A kind voice is to the heart what light is to the eye. It is a light which sings as well as shines.
1 Corinthians 14:12-14
As ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the Church.
consists both in building up from first principles to their practical application, and of fitting each member of the society into the proper places which the growth and rise of the old building require. It is “development,” not only in the sense of unfolding new truth, but of unfolding all the resources contained in the existing institution or body. Hence the stress laid on the excellence of “prophesying” as the special gift by which men were led to know themselves (1 Corinthians 14:24-25), and by which (as through the prophets of the older dispensations) higher and more spiritual views of life were gradually revealed. Hence the repeated injunctions that all the gifts should have their proper honour (1 Corinthians 12:20-30); that those gifts should be most honoured by which not a few, but all, should benefit (1 Corinthians 14:1-23); that all who had the gift of prophecy should have the opportunity of exercising that gift (1 Corinthians 14:29-31); that all might have an equal chance of instruction and comfort for their own special cases (1 Corinthians 14:40). (Dean Stanley.)
Doing one’s best at the best thing
I. In doing our best we must have the best thing to work at. Industry, concentration, perseverance, etc., should not be wasted on inferior aims. Steel may be sharpened into tools for making tables and chairs, and into weapons of war.
1. Rivalry is condemned by the very illustration. When rivalry comes in at the door, Christianity flies out at the window. There can be no rivalry between the man who shapes the stones and him who makes them into a wall; no rivalry between him who works in stone and him who works in wood.
2. But absence of rivalry is not enough. Co-operation must be added. A house can only be built by several men each working according to his own particular handicraft. He who comprehends that his powers were given him in order to make his contribution to a far larger whole, is the man who will find all things marvellously working together with him. Lubricating influences pour in from everywhere. Friction diminishes.
3. The method of successful co-operation pointed out. It is not a Tower of Babel which we work at; but the Chinch of Christ, an institution which is for the highest good of everybody in the world. What can be more dreadful than that a Christian should use his place in the Christian company for self-aggrandisement? Some of the Christians in Corinth were acting as if a man employed to put up the walls of a building in which he and all the other workmen should afterwards dwell and be fed and clothed at the employer’s expense were to take the stones away and try to put up a little private and unsocial house of his own. If we try to use Christ for worldly ends we are bound to fail; if we try rather to use the world for Christ we are bound to succeed. Let the perishing praise the perishing; we work, however obscurely, at a building that will endure when all Babel fabrics are in ruins.
II. Having the best thing to work at, we must do our best. That Jesus who condemns rivalry, equally condemns indifference to excellence. That is a poor sort of contentment which has not some noble and elevating element mixed up with it. We are bound to be as good as we can be. We must not creep and loiter in the way of holy service. God’s building goes on so slowly, and seems as yet so little more than a neighbourhood of fragments, just because the building is crowded up from age to age with loiterers and ornamental people. Their names are down in the list of workmen, but they do little or nothing. Indeed who is there that does anything like what he ought to do? (D. Young, B. A.)
1 Corinthians 14:15
I will pray with the spirit and … with the understanding also.
I. The work and business of prayer.
1. Its object.
2. Its several parts. It may be considered as either--
(1) Mental or vocal.
(2) Private or public.
(3) Ordinary or extraordinary.
II. The manner in which the apostle was desirous of performing this duty.
1. With the spirit.
2. With the understanding.
1. It is good for the saints to draw near to God.
2. The believer has the utmost encouragement for this work. (J. Gill, D. D.)
Prayer with the understanding
There are two classes of men, the men of fire and the men of calculation. The former seem to shake the world’s dust off their fist, and to move towards heaven. All the little cares and troubles of this world are forgotten in the brilliancy of the ascent. The latter class are always considering what will be the best thing to do or say so as to make both ends meet in the present system of things. Paul combines both. He brings down the wings of prayer to the level of the common understanding. He refuses to allow that mighty bird of Paradise to soar beyond the limit of common sense. His combination of fire and prudence is the most wonderful thing in literature. There are three senses in which prayer is limited by the understanding.
I. No prayer should ever be uttered as an experimental test of truth. We have no right to make God a magician. The mills of God grind silently as well as slowly. Even when experimental prayers are offered by good people they are wrong. What if Elijah’s sacrifice had not been consumed by fire? Would that have proved that there was no God? I decline all tests, and am content to await the slow grinding of the mills of God. They will grind out the pure corn, which will prove in the end to be the old corn of the land.
II. No prayer should ask for a violation of moral law, for that which would hurt another. I do not say of physical law, for we do not know what physical law is. I have often thought how it would be if there existed an island of blind men, say if the island of Bute were inhabited by men, women, and children who had never seen. What would be the relation of these people to the mainland? I suspect there would be three classes there--believers, agnostics, and unbelievers. The believer would say, “I heard a bird come in last night, and it must have come from somewhere.” The agnostic would say, “But perhaps it belonged to our own shores, and had left us for a while.” But whether these blind men believed, or whether they believed not, the shore would stand firm, having this to its seal, the Lord knoweth the hills of Argyll hire. We need not fear physical law; it is moral law we have to do with. When you ask any joy that cannot be shared by another, draw back from the door of prayer. Thou white-winged bird of prayer, I will not let thee fly whithersoever thou wilt. Thou shalt not fly over my brother’s ground, not though thy soaring be up to the clouds of God.
III. No prayer should ever be uttered without the use of means. My experience is that God never comes except through a chariot, that is, except through means. The prayer for strength is answered by a kind word from a human friend, or it may be by a dumb agency, by a light from the Pentland Hills or by a wind changing suddenly to mildness. We say we are uplifted by the weather. No, it is God’s Spirit that has entered in, and brought the Balm of Gilead and the Bright and Morning Star. God works through sacraments, and through the vicarious sacraments of human souls. Still He works in our Galilees, and our prayers are answered not directly, but through the ministry of the angels. Do you ask me to give you a prayer that will stand all tests in these days of science, one that will never be superannuated though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the seas? The Gethsemane prayer of our Lord is such a prayer. Let us make it our own, and the prayer of our spirit shall be the prayer of our understanding also. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
How are we to pray aright?
We have chosen the language of the text as fitted to lead our attention to two distinct objects, both of the greatest importance in reference to prayer, viz., that Divine influence by which it is directed and rendered effectual to its end, and that correspondent exercise of our own faculties necessary to our availing ourselves fully of the assistance thus afforded--“praying with the Spirit, and praying with the understanding also.” To perceive the full force of the text, it is essential to glance at its original reference. The apostle is here speaking of those miraculous gifts which were, at that period, bestowed so extensively upon the Church. Those gifts were various, and were all indications of the immediate operation of the hand of God. Some were qualified to impress one order of minds, some another. Some were for signs to the infidel world around; some for confirmation and improvement to the believers themselves. Amongst this last class one of the most striking and peculiar was the gift of tongues, the wonderful power of speaking, in a moment, languages before unknown. Connected with the gift of tongues was certainly, in many cases, that of immediate inspiration--the knowledge of things either future or otherwise beyond the thought and cognisance of the individual; and it would seem that, when speaking in a foreign tongue thus miraculously imparted, the thoughts of the Christian preacher were much less under his personal and private control than when addressing those around him in his own language. He had surrendered himself, so to speak, to the immediate and exclusive guidance of the inspiring Spirit. A gift of such a nature would be especially liable to abuse. Not only from ostentation, and as it was an evidence of superiority or an accredited testimonial of office, but from other causes also, connected with the imperfection of human nature, there would be much danger of its undue and unprofitable display. In opposition to this great abuse, the apostle, writing to the Corinthians, amongst whom, from various causes, it seems to have been previously prevalent, declares that though he was endowed beyond all others with this miraculous gift, he would “rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might teach others also, than ten thousand in an unknown tongue.” The one of these things he calls speaking with the Spirit, the other with the understanding. I need scarcely remark that the age of inspiration is past, and the wonderful gift we have been considering is bestowed no more upon the Chinch.
I. We come, then, to describe the meaning and necessity of “praying, with the spirit”--that is, as we have endeavoured to express it, of cherishing an entire dependence on the grace and sacred operations of this Divine agent in all our addresses at the throne of mercy. The necessity of this dependence is a topic on which we must not enlarge; it is universally known and admitted by all men of piety. All the order and propriety of language and all the appropriateness of the most accurate and solemn petitions will, as they at once perceive, avail nothing without this influence. What is it, then, to pray with the Spirit? We answer, while it is certainly to model our devotions in all things in such a manner as to indicate our humble dependence on a Divine agency, it is especially to have that state of heart and those feelings of piety and ardour and spirituality which such agency must ever be qualified to produce. The great characteristic of the exercise will probably be fervour and, earnestness in asking for those things which may most conduce to the increase of our Christian purity and to our performance of all the will of God. We cannot suppose that a man under the immediate band of the living Spirit of God can be cold and languid in his devotions. He that prays with the Spirit will be filled with a holy fire that cannot but inflame and kindle the highest powers of the soul. Prayer thus offered will often partake of that character so strikingly illustrated in the history of Jacob when be wrestled with the angel until the dawning of the day. When we express before the throne our sorrow for sin or our longing desire for pardon we shall surely, if praying with the Spirit, be humbled in a very signal manner, as into the dust. Our strongest abhorrence will be excited against ourselves for our deep and aggravated guilt. Sin will appear to us exceeding sinful. It will not be with a light or hypocritical feeling that we now confess ourselves to be the chief of sinners. To pray with the Spirit will often be attended with a sacred and elevated pleasure, such as we cannot but ascribe to the experience of the Divine favour and the direct influence of the Saviour’s love. The exercise, which we have at other times felt to be a burden, and rejoiced as speedily as possible to lay aside, will now afford us a rich and peculiar delight. It is thus that we realise the apostle’s description, “praying in the Holy Ghost,” and in such instances there is little difficulty in tracing out the evidences of His operation. That operation, however, may be often present when it is not thus discernible. But the language of our text leads us to inquire again, How must we avail ourselves of this assistance, and what is it for us to be able to say, “I will pray with the Spirit”? That such influence is sometimes mercifully imparted probably none will deny; but then the question may present itself, How must it be obtained? I can imagine that some may say. “I would to God that I could but “pray in this manner.” The Spirit of God is infinitely free and sovereign in His communications, and independent on all the efforts, not less than the merits, of man. The language of the text speaks of this grace as one we may certainly possess and exercise: and there is nothing precarious in that character wherein that language would lead us to contemplate its communications. “I will pray with the Spirit.”
1. One of the most necessary preparations for enjoying the grace and assistance of the Spirit in prayer is to feel its necessity; to cherish a deep and abiding sense of our own helplessness. Let this need be but devoutly acknowledged and the sense of it habitually felt, and there is no reason to fear that the grace we require will be denied us.
2. Another is, to desire it with sincerity and earnestness proportionate to our conviction of its importance; to address ourselves to the great work of prayer with an anxious wish that we may not worship in vain; to be concerned and solicitous that the duty may be rightly fulfilled and the blessings we implore actually obtained. We too often approach God in this exercise, but without an object. We come to pray, but not to seek sincerely an answer to our prayers.
3. Akin to this is another--the direct solicitation of this blessing, and that in the very commencement of our prayers, a practice which might seem prompted almost by decency itself, in public devotion, but which there is reason to fear is but too little observed in private.
4. In addition to these, we should endeavour to preserve a constant and humble expectation of the grace we need. It is due to the promises and to the faithfulness of God. It will do honour to His love and tenderness. It is an act resulting from the best and highest principles of piety.
5. We must also strive to retain, by every effort in our power, the effect of any Divine operation we have already experienced, and seek in the continuance and progress of our devotions, to fan and cherish the feeblest flame of love, or joy, or hope which may have begun to tremble within the breast, that it may burn with greater strength and brightness.
II. To consider what is meant by the apostle in the remaining portion of this passage; and to show the necessity and nature of that exercise of our faculties in prayer which may be properly denominated “praying with the understanding.” Surely we are bound to render to our Maker the service of every faculty with which He has invested us. We are wholly His, and should seek to glorify Him in the consecration of all our being to His praise. It is not enough that the warmest of our affections are called forth if the highest of our capacities be not also filled with the desire and effort to advance His honour. We grant that the most short and momentary glancing of the soul upward to the throne, amidst the scenes of business or the dangers of temptation, is truly and often most successfully to pray; but we must not on this account permit ourselves to confine the acts of devotion to such sudden and casual addresses. There is danger of indulging, moreover, in too great a latitude of expression and feeling when we fail to attend to this most momentous subject. There is another evil resulting from this neglect. It is frequently imagined that when we have been unconscious in our prayers of an immediate agency of the Spirit upon our hearts, even though we have gone with the utmost seriousness and sincerity to the performance of this duty, we have failed in our design, and that it was not genuine prayer, whereas it may be that in these cases we have still cherished the most deep and sacred concern to approve ourselves to God. The influences of the understanding rightly exercised in reference to this great duty will be especially exhibited in four distinct respects. It will tend to give to our prayers the character of solemnity, appropriateness, comprehensiveness, and order.
1. It cannot fail to imbue them with solemnity. We should reflect on the grandeur of the Divine attributes and the unsearchable glories of the Divine essence, on the meanness and misery of man, on the wondrous scheme of reconciliation, till the sense of our own littleness will occupy every feeling of the soul, and we shall fail down with lowliest reverence before the majesty of our Creator.
2. With equal certainty it will next issue in the appropriateness of our petitions to our circumstances, to the present demand either of our external situation or our religious character. We shall be led to ask ourselves, What do I truly need? What are the difficulties I have now chiefly to apprehend? or the duties I am called especially to perform? Against what temptations am I warned to beware? or whence may they be expected principally to arise? And then our prayers will assume the aspect of our condition. We shall not waste our devotions on the general and customary topics that would equally accord with all varieties of experience, or rather have no special adaptation to any. Each day will furnish some of these varieties, and we shall be every day increasing in a facility and freedom which will add continually new interest and profit to the engagements of devotion.
3. Its next effect will be to give to these engagements a comprehensiveness as to the subjects we shall see it necessary to embrace which the most fervent piety would fail to present, without the correspondent efforts of reflection and serious thought. We shall not merely pray for ourselves, but for all with whom we are in any way connected.
4. Finally, this exercise of the understanding in respect to prayer will ensure to our devotions the important principle of order. Instead of a hurried incongruous effusion of petitions or praises, lamentations or expressions of humility and penitence, we shall, even in sacred retirement, and much more in the family, the social meeting, or the great congregation, perceive the necessity of method and of the just and decorous arrangement of the several parts of this great and solemn duty. (R. S. McAll.)
Public prayer should be in a known tongues
1. Public prayer must be understood here (1 Corinthians 14:16).
2. Praying in the Spirit must mean using the gift of prayer which the Spirit bestows. To pray in the Holy Ghost implies the having our infirmities helped by the Spirit of God; our graces quickened, our affections and desires raised into strength and fervency.
3. Understanding must not be referred to the understanding of the apostle, but to the understanding of others (1 Corinthians 14:19). Upon the words thus opened I build this thesis, That public prayer is not to be made in an unknown tongue, but in such a language as is understood by the common people.
I. The judgment of Rome in the matter.
1. In their general practice. Their Mass-book is in Latin; their Divine service is performed in a dead language.
2. The council of Trent determines (Canon 9), “Whosoever shall say that the Mass ought to be celebrated only in a vulgar language, let him be accursed.”
II. Public prayer ought not to be made in a language unknown to the people.
1. When prayer is made in an unknown tongue, the name of God is taken in vain (Matthew 15:8-9).
2. Prayer in an unknown tongue is ignorant worship (John 4:22; Mark 10:38). And what is ignorant worship, if this be not--to make unknown prayers to an unknown God?
3. How can such prayers as are made in an unknown tongue be made in faith? And yet faith is a necessary ingredient in prayer (James 1:7).
4. The design of prayer is not to work any change in God, with whom there is not the least “variableness, neither shadow of turning”; but a change in us; that by prayer we may be the better disposed for the reception of what we ask. But how can prayer which is not understood be here available?
5. Though to speak in an unknown tongue was in the first age a miraculous gift, and served much for the confirmation of the Christian faith; yet unless there were an interpreter, the use of an unknown tongue was not permitted in the public worship of God (1 Corinthians 14:28).
6. The use of an unknown tongue in the Lord’s service is expressly denied to be unto edification (1 Corinthians 14:26).
7. The apostle, having delivered this doctrine, That prayer and praise should be in a known tongue, adds that he taught the same “in all the Churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33; see also 1 Corinthians 14:37).
III. Antiquity is utterly against Rome in this matter. And because the council of Trent hath anathematised all that are against Latin prayers, I will suppose another council, and Paul himself to be the president of it. The question to be debated is, “Whether prayer is to be made in a known or in an unknown tongue.” Let the fathers speak in order. Justin Martyr tells us: “On the day commonly called Sunday, assemblies are made of citizens and countrymen, and the writings of the apostles and prophets are read. The reader giving over, the minister makes an exhortation to the people, persuading to the imitation and practice of those good things that are propounded. After this we rise all, and pour out prayers: and bread and wine are brought forth. And the minister, to the uttermost of his ability, does send forth prayers and praises unto God; and the people give their consent, saying, “Amen.” Behold the Scriptures read even to citizens, nay, to country-people, and prayers made which they did understand, and say Amen to. Origen may speak next: “The Christians in their prayers use not the very words (he means the words of the original)” of the Scriptures: but they that are Greeks do use the Greek tongue; and those that are Romans, the Roman tongue. And so every one according to his dialect does pray unto God, and praise Him according to his ability: and He that is the Lord of every language does bear the prayers which are put up to Him in every language.” Cyprian speaks thus: “To pray otherwise than Christ has taught is not only ignorance but a great fault; for He has expressly said, ‘Ye reject the command of God, that ye may establish your own tradition.’” Now where has Christ taught the use of an unknown tongue in prayer? Ambrose may be heard in the next place: “If ye come together to edify the Church, those things ought to be spoken that the hearers may understand: for what does he profit the people who speaks in an unknown tongue to them?” And afterwards the same father adds: “There were some, of the Hebrews especially, that used the Syriac and the Hebrew tongue in their services; but these aimed at their own glory and commendation, not at the people’s benefit.” Let us hear Augustine: “We ought to understand what we pray for, that we may, not like birds, but like men, sing unto God. For blackbirds and parrots and crows and pies, and such kind of fowls, are taught to sound forth what they understand not; but to sing with understanding is granted, not to a bird, but to a man, through the good pleasure of God.” Jerome speaks after this manner “In the Churches of the city of Rome, the voice of the people was like heavenly thunder, when they answered aloud ‘Amen’ at the end of the prayers which they put up unto God. The people understood, and gave their consent unto, the prayers which were used in those days; but the present Church of Rome, alas! how much is it altered from what it once was!” Great Basil exclaims, “Let thy tongue sing, and let thy mind search the meaning of what is spoken; that thou mayest sing with the spirit, and sing with the understanding also.” Chrysostom says; “Take notice how the apostle does always seek the Church’s edification. By ‘the unlearned man,’ Paul means the layman, and shows how this unlearned person does sustain a very great loss when prayers are made in such a language as [that] he, through want of understanding, is not able to say Amen to them.” I shall add unto these passages of the fathers a Constitution of the emperor Justinian (123): “We command that all bishops and presbyters do celebrate the holy oblation, and prayers used in holy baptism, not speaking low, but with a clear voice which may be heard by the people, that thereby the minds of the people may be stirred up with greater devotion in uttering the praises of the Lord God.” And for this is cited verse16. But now let us hear the Romish doctors themselves. Cardinal Cajetan has these words: “From this doctrine of the Apostle Paul it follows, that it is better for the edification of the Church, that the public prayers which the people hear should be made in that language which both the priests and people understand, than that they should be made in Latin.” Nicolaus de Lyra says: “If the people understand the prayer or thanksgiving which is performed by the priest, their minds will be brought the better and nearer unto God, and with greater devoutness they will answer ‘Amen.’” “The angelical doctor,” Thomas Aquinas, says: “He gains most who prays and understands the words which he speaks; for he is edified both as to his understanding and also as to his affections.” Again: “It is best that the tongue which blesses should interpret; for good words should be spoken to the edification of faith.” But now at last let us be determined by the Apostle Paul (verses 18, 19).
IV. Answer the popish arguments to defend their cause.
1. Bellarmine says that “prayer in an unknown tongue is not condemned, but prayer in a known tongue only preferred. Answer--
(1) Suppose this: why does the Church of Rome pray after the worse, and not after the better, manner of the two?
(2) But it is condemned by the apostle as not being for edification.
2. The same writer says that “of old the use of prayer was, that the people might be instructed and edified: but now the end of prayer is the yielding to God that worship which is due to Him.” Answer--
(1) The apostles were as careful that God might have His worship as the Papists; nay, a great deal more careful.
(2) Disjoin not God’s worship and the people’s edification: and the more the mind understands and the heart of the worshipper is affected, God is the more honoured and the better pleased.
3. Again, “Prayer is not made to the people, but unto God; and He understands all tongues alike. If a courtier should petition for a countryman in Latin to a king, the countryman might be benefited by the Latin petition of the courtier, though he should not understand a word of it. Answer
(1) It might have been said, that God understands all tongues alike in the apostles’ days as well as now.
(2) The use of prayer is not to inform God; for He knows what things we have need of before we ask (Matthew 6:8); but to make ourselves more sensible of our needs, and consequently more meet to be supplied. But how can this be, if prayer be locked up in an unknown dialect?
(3) The God of heaven is not like the kings on earth, who will hear petitions made by favourites for persons that make no address themselves; but He requires that every particular person should ask if he will receive, and understand what he prays for. Again, if a king should forbid petitions in a strange language, a Latin petition would not be acceptable. But God has forbid the use of an unknown tongue. Therefore we may conclude that the Popish Latin prayers are to very little purpose.
V. The tendency of this papal doctrine.
1. It gratifies the lazy disposition of men, who naturally like a liberty to rest in opere operato, “in the work done.”
2. It is a notable device to keep the people ignorant, and to make them more dependent upon the priesthood.
3. Many prayers may well be made in Latin merely through shame.
1. Bless the Lord that the day-spring from on high hath visited this land of your nativity, and that Popish darkness is so much dispelled.
2. It highly concerns you to fear, and to pray against, the return of Popish blindness.
3. Let the blind zeal of the Papists make you more frequent in your accesses to the throne of grace.
4. Take heed of distraction in prayer, and not minding what you ask, or what you are doing, when at the mercy-seat.
5. Content not yourselves with bare understanding the words of prayer; but know the Lord (whom) you pray to.
6. Let understanding and faith in this duty of prayer be joined together. (N. Vincent, A. M.)
I will sing with the spirit, and … with the understanding also.--
Singing with the understanding
We are commanded to sing with the understanding; and yet if we did, four hundred and ninety-five out of five hundred pieces of music that are published for singing would have to go to the dirt. I will defy anybody to sing with the understanding the music that is trashily printed and trashily performed, whether it be inarticulate on stringed instruments or whether it be vocalised to words. Music has a relation not simply to sensuous pleasure, which is the lowest kind of pleasure, but to imaginative pleasure, and to pleasure of the understanding as well, which it rises up round about as the atmosphere rises round about the pine-trees and the oak-trees on the mountain side, washing them clean, and making them stand out in majesty and beauty. Music cleanses the understanding, inspires it, and lilts it into a realm which it would not reach if it were left to itself. (H. W. Beecher.)
How to sing well
A girl once asked her teacher how she might become as good at music as her rival. “Cultivate your heart,” was the teacher’s excellent reply. The Bible says: “Sing with the spirit, and with the understanding also.” A hearty love of sacred song adds much to our own and other’s joys. The sick and dying are often soothed with singing when they could not bear speaking or reading. Our music may gain the blessing of those ready to perish.
1 Corinthians 14:16-19
Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit how shall … the unlearned say Amen.
Public prayer should be
I. Earnest--with the spirit.
II. Intelligent--So that all can understand.
III. United--all should say Amen. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Responses in prayer
1. Are not only permissible but proper.
2. Should be said, not shouted.
3. Should be simple, appropriate, intelligent, and heartfelt. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
In this we must keep in view--
1. The glory of God.
2. The edification of others.
3. Our own responsibility. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Directions for profitably joining in public prayer
I. Public prayer must be diligently attended to.
II. It must be seriously and heartily concurred in.
1. Saying amen, or joining in public prayer, includes our assent to the truths declared and acknowledged; and this with all suitable affections of mind. The Hebrew word “amen” signifies truth; and so expresseth an acknowledgment that what he had said was true. Thus Christ styleth Himself “the Amen, the faithful and true witness,” and the promises of God are said to be “yea and amen”; all true, and certainly to be accomplished. Now this is applicable to the several parts of prayer which are not properly petitions; and you will best understand my meaning by a few illustrations. Suppose a minister to be adoring the perfections of God, acknowledging that He is the greatest and the best of beings, that He is perfectly good, long-suffering, merciful, and gracious, to this you are to say amen, that is, your hearts are to acknowledge with the highest veneration that it is true. Doth the minister acknowledge and celebrate the wonderful works of God, His creation and government of the world, and that glory is due to Him for these? You are to join in such acknowledgments; to confess and adore Him as the Creator, Governor, and Father of the universe. Again, is a minister expressing a thankful sense of God’s favour and mercy to those whose devotion he leads? Is he praising God for our creation, preservation; for health, and peace, and comfort; for our temporal or spiritual blessings? You are to add amen to this.
2. Saying amen, or joining in prayer, includes our hearty consent to the several desires and requests which are expressed before God. Amen signifies, So be it! let it be so! this is what I earnestly desire. Doth the minister pray that God would be merciful to us and forgive us? You are to say amen; that is, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
3. Through the whole of every public and social prayer we are to consider it as our own prayer.
1. This condemns the practice of the Church of Rome in appointing that their public prayers should be in Latin, a language unknown to almost every one that attends upon them. It is impossible that the unlearned should join in such prayers and say amen to them with any devout concurrence.
2. How few are there in our assemblies that properly join in prayer? As Protestants, we have prayers in our native language. What careless airs, what lazy postures are seen in many! How few are there who show the proper marks of seriousness and reverence! and may we not fear that some of those few do not heartily join? Are they not like the statues, or images on monuments, in our ancient churches--in a praying posture indeed, with eyes and hands lifted up to heaven, but with hearts hard as stone, cold as marble?
3. How much do we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit, that our devotion may be pleasing to God and comfortable and edifying to ourselves! (J. Orton.)
I thank God I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the Church I had rather speak five words with my understanding … than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.--
Five words better than ten thousand
1. When more intelligible.
2. When wisely spoken.
3. When calculated to benefit others.
4. When uttered in the spirit of love. (J. Orton.)
Gifts and learning
I. Are matters of thankfulness to God.
II. Should be wisely used--not for display, but edification.
III. Should be subservient to love. (J. Orton.)
I. Seeks--not to astonish, but teach.
II. Accomplishes its object--not by learned disquisitions, but by making truth easy by means of a few and plain words.
III. Finds greater satisfaction--in the profit of others, than in self display. (J. Orton.)
1 Corinthians 14:20
Brethren, be not children in understanding.
The wisdom of childhood
I. We should possess childlike simplicity of character. To preserve the freshness of childhood in the moral world is the object of the gospel.
II. With this we are to unite manliness of understanding. Our childlikeness is to be confined to the moral nature; beyond that, in the reign of the intellect, will and activities, we are commanded as Christians to be men. (Christian Age.)
The manliness of the gospel
1. “Did it ever strike you that St. Paul was mad?” was a question asked once, not by a scoffer, but by a man of powerful intellect, who felt that the question between Christianity and unbelief turned upon the case of Paul. For if the charge of Festus could be substantiated, one of the most powerful chapters of Christian evidence would be cancelled.
2. But we commend to the honest inquirer the study of this one chapter. St. Paul is correcting an exaggerated idea of the value of a particular gift. In all times human nature has been inclined to put display above profiting; and it required a sound and well-balanced judgment to keep gift in its place. And who can doubt that the true estimate was that taken here by St. Paul? (see 1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1). It required a very sound and a very sober judgment to subordinate the gift of tongues to the far less brilliant gift of “prophesying” in which only edification was aimed at. The maxims interspersed among the exhortations of this chapter are eminently illustrative of the plain and practical character of the man whom it is necessary for infidelity to represent as an enthusiast, or to hint into a madman (1 Corinthians 14:14-15; 1 Corinthians 14:19; 1 Corinthians 14:26; 1 Corinthians 14:32-33; 1 Corinthians 14:40).
3. The subject thus introduced is larger and wider than the mere question of the sanity of St. Paul. The charge, “In understanding be men,” warns us very seriously of a danger, peculiarly pressing in these times, that, namely, of divorcing religion from manliness. If this is the gospel voice, then one offence, at least, is rolled out of the way. St. Paul says that there may be a childishness in the use of Divine gifts. He boldly declares even spiritual influences to be subordinate to considerations of propriety, of expediency, of common sense. No man is to say, I am no longer a free agent; the hand of God is upon me. This is to bring God’s own gift into dishonour. It is just because it fits into His other gifts, because, while it elevates, it also sobers, that I see it to be an evidence of His interposition.
4. Now if miracle itself is not to be so treated as to make it childish, what shall we say of the excuses made in our day for the utter repudiation of every such criterion in reference to matters which can certainly plead no inspired authority? There are two higher classes of subjects upon the treatment of which St. Paul throws a guiding and comforting light in the weighty maxim before us.
I. Revelation of course must be above reason. What intellect could discover, God would not reveal. If therefore on any topic revelation exists, that is proof sufficient that on that topic reason was silent.
1. When once the Divine origin of a revelation is attested by evidences of its being worthy of its Divine author, then it speaks, on each point which it touches, with authority.
2. But the office of the understanding in the first weighing of evidences, does not end here. The trying and testing of professed books of Scripture by the early Church was felt to be a heavy responsibility of the reason. Nor was the one settlement absolutely final. Particular clauses are found, on more modern and searching scrutinies, to be no part of the original text. And it is true reverence, as well as true wisdom, to exercise, upon all such matters, a large-minded and a manly judgment. God will guard His word written, and the God of truth is never honoured by a disingenuous treatment of the truth itself.
3. But there remains the weightiest matter of all, which is the interpretation of doctrine by the comparison of Scripture with Scripture. And here the mind must be employed if edification is to come to the student. Yet there are men who seem almost to think the contradiction of reason a sign of truth, and the mortification of the intellect a Christian duty.
II. Practical duty. Sin makes great havoc of human happiness; but next to it stands folly.
1. Could you but know, e.g., the utter foolishness of many parents and teachers on the great subject of education you would not wonder at the results, whether in the wilfulness of the youth or the misery of the manhood. Or again, would we but look back upon our own life’s history, and mark the giddy thoughtlessness or the perverse infatuation which has characterised it, we could not but become conscious of the force of St. Paul’s caution.
2. But how large is the action of this unintelligent childishness inside the Church, in the counsels and examples of Christian men! The whole theory of monasticism, the whole system of “direction,” whether Romanist or Anglican, all that subjects my conscience to another man’s rule, all that encourages a grovelling spirit in the worship and service of God in place of that honest, free, courageous bearing which finds the love of God life, and His service perfect freedom, is a contravention of Paul’s rule.
3. How childish are half the biographies, diaries, devotions, of Christian saints! How little calculated to draw after them into God’s service the strong inquiring intellect, the warm wholesome heart, the young enterprising life! Conclusion: Each one of us is in some real measure responsible for the look and tone of Christianity to our age. It is ours to make it great or to make it little, noble or contemptible. (Dean Vaughan.)
Men in understanding
In verse 19 the word “understanding” stands for the intellectual faculty itself; here it refers to its state of development, to the mature condition of mind, heart, and general character. The word “children,” which occurs twice in the text, first stands for boys, then for babes. The word “malice” may also be taken more generally as designating all evil dispositions and affections. Lastly, the word “men” signifies “perfect,” and refers to maturity of age, fulness of mental development, fitness for the manly discharge of the duties of life. Thus looked at the text would seem to say, “Don’t feel and act like a set of ignorant, conceited boys--with respect to all that is bad, indeed, be the veriest babes; but as to all that is good, be like those who, having gone through a long course of discipline, are at once ripe in years, and perfectly equipped as to knowledge and accomplishments, thorough “men.”
I. In the text then we have the infant, the boy, and the man, and something belonging to each used for moral and religious ends. A human being comes into the world as a combination of capabilities--so much raw material. By taking “malice” and “understanding” as representative terms we have the two great departments of human nature--the intellectual and the emotional.
1. A little infant, then, has wrapped up within it the capacities of the intellect and the forces of the passions. Without referring to the undeveloped state of an infant’s understanding, the apostle fixes attention on the undeveloped condition of the passions--the one idea that he wanted, and which, therefore, he exclusively refers to. Looking at a little sweet babe the apostle seems to says, “Whatever capacity there may be here for what is bad, it is not manifested yet. How free from all that deforms society and degrades men! True, all the men in the world were once babes; would to God that, in one sense, they were babes again! But Christians, by the expulsion of corruption through the influences of the regenerating Spirit, ought “in malice to be children.”
2. Next we have the picture of a number of youths, who have advanced beyond childhood, but who have not yet acquired the knowledge, dispositions, and habits belonging to riper years. They are necessarily inexperienced; they think a great deal of any small acquirement or advantage by which they are distinguished; there are often among them envyings and animosities; they like pleasure and excitement; they can hardly understand what is meant by self-sacrifice, and know little of the greatness and beautifulness of duty as duty. However promising they may be they cannot but be defective in those things which belong to disciplined virtue and manly worth. In infants the reason and the feelings are alike undeveloped; in youth both have unfolded to a certain extent, and the apostle directs attention to the want of proportion between the development of the understanding and that of the passions. The understanding needs to be opened and cultivated--the passions grow of themselves. If the intellect be let alone, it will not expand; if the feelings be let alone, they will expand the more. The one requires to be encouraged and stimulated; the others to be repressed and restrained. The consequence is, that in early life the inferior parts are strong and active, as by the force of an internal impulse. Hence we have the phenomena that so often distinguish immaturity of character, folly, vanity, selfishness, ignorance, the want of all those things which make up that moral “understanding” in which the apostle wished the Corinthians to be men, but which is seldom found to be the characteristic of boys.
3. The image of full-grown men, mature in character as.well as in years. The apostle supposes a number of human beings to have passed through a thorough course of culture and discipline, and to have acquired an intellectual equipment, and attained a moral fitness for what they are to be and to do in life.
II. The appropriateness of this mode of illustration to the condition of the Corinthian Church.
1. The Corinthians were ambitious of personal distinction; they each wished to have the highest gifts conferred upon them; and those who were entrusted with any, especially with the power of unknown, or eloquent speech, were utterly regardless of order and propriety in their use and exhibition. The Christian Church became a theatre of display; and the Christian life, instead of being something serious and earnest, put on the appearance of a boisterous holiday, and was as little dignified as a plaything or a song. But, worse than this, with the immaturity, vanity, and folly of boys, there mingled at Corinth the passions of men. They could not all be first; some must listen if others speak; where some lead, others must follow. But this is difficult where all are ambitious; and hence the society was torn by dissensions, developed bad feelings, was combined with a narrow and childish intellect and heart.
2. It is to this state of things that the admonition in the text refers. The apostle endeavours to instruct them by laying down important general principles, and to reprove them by severe and appropriate censure; aiming thus at once to open their understandings, and to subdue their passions. “Be not mere boys, without deep and comprehensive views of duty. In malice, indeed, I wish you were even like babes, but in wisdom and knowledge, in mastery of yourselves, and in calm devotedness to the great business of the Christian life, I wish you to be men.”
III. The advantages which attend the possession of a character like this.
1. It is favourable to stability both of opinion and conduct. One who is really a spiritual man, may be depended on. His intelligence is large; his views are matured; his principles are established; his habits are fixed; he is not likely to become marked by the levity and inconstancy which are often seen in the ignorant and immature, the young and the superficial (see Ephesians 4:8-15).
2. It capacitates for entering into the profounder truths and for enjoying the higher forms of instruction. In some parts of the Church there is the constant reiteration of just the three or four truths which make up what we call the gospel. The people are thus always kept at the alphabet, or in the spelling-book, or in the shortest and easiest reading lessons, and are never introduced to the high arguments which lie beyond. Now without the culture of their own minds, the full development of their spiritual faculties, a congregation will listen to the higher forms of Christian teaching, not only without benefit, but with weariness and wonder. That it is not right for people to continue in this stale, you learn from Hebrews 5:1-14; Hebrews 6:1-20, and 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, i.e., let me have hearers who “in understanding are men,” and instead of their being fatigued by the demand upon them, or offended by the form in which I convey my thoughts, they shall feel refreshed and strengthened by the exercise, and find themselves wiser, better, and happier men.
3. It will correct religious taste, and elevate and improve the general character. The Corinthians preferred the showy to the substantial. Their character was flashy, superficial. The apostle wished them to be “men in understanding,” that all this might be thoroughly corrected. And so it will be still if we, too, rise into the character that has been set before us. Christian men, who in some degree answer to this, are superior to dependence on flash and rhetoric, or any of the many and mean arts by which Christian teaching is often disfigured. Having got rid of the craving for distinction, learnt the more excellent way of being great, the extinction of selfishness, and the service of love, they will be free from those evil tempers in which small and contracted souls indulge. They will delight in the cultivation of all that is noble and dignified in the Christian character, and be distinguished and known alike for the strength and the beauties of holiness.
4. Those who are “men in understanding” will best know how to receive the kingdom of heaven like little children. But does not the New Testament demand the understanding of a child in order to the simple reception of the faith? No; it is not the childish, undeveloped understanding that is required, but the feeling in the child that is the effect of this--a readiness to rely on authority, and to receive the testimony of those whom it looks up to, without questioning. But this spirit is not, in a man, the consequence of ignorance, but the fruit of knowledge. Those who know nothing, and those who know a little, are often the most conceited. It requires the cultivated understanding of the man to know when he has arrived at an ultimate fact--where it is necessary to pause or stop in curious inquiries, and when it is proper to welcome the positive utterances of authority, and to rely upon them like a little child. The most mature Christian will live in the exercise of the most simple faith. He who knows most of God will know most of himself; he will, therefore, believe when others doubt, and will distrust when others presume. (T. Binney.)
1. The scholar alludes here to the teaching of his Master, and defines it (Matthew 18:3; Matthew 11:25). It was notably the manner of the Great Teacher to fling out thoughts in a round unguarded axiom which He trusted the good sense of His sympathetic disciples to define and limit. His very doing so is of itself conclusive proof that He meant His pupils to be no children, but men, in understanding. He might have addressed us as Moses addressed the Israelites, and given us details instead of principles, and an example in the room of an axiom. It pleased Him, on the contrary, to inaugurate an adult dispensation.
2. The Church, however, has not entered into this purpose of its Founder. Others besides the Galatians desire to turn back again to be in bondage to “beggarly elements.” But if men will be childish in their religion, they shall not shelter themselves under Christ’s injunctions if St. Paul can hinder it. To be children in malice towards one another, and in humility towards God, is that state to which alone the Father reveals His grace. But to be children in understanding; to be credulous without reflection, obedient without intelligence;--this could not appear to the noblest intellect of his age worthy of that gospel which reveals the wisdom of God, and educates man into perfect manhood, into the stature of the fulness of Jesus Christ.
3. The right use of the understanding in regard to Christianity is, of course, determined by the special nature of the Christian faith. Christianity rests upon facts which are wholly supernatural. It reveals mysteries of which reason can say nothing, either to confirm or to dispute. At the same time, a Divine system which is to recover man must be fitted to men. It cannot override one part of man, his reason, in reaching another, his spirit. Consider the manly use of the understanding--
I. In reference to Divine truth. The revelation of God in His Son’s gospel asks of our understanding--
1. To estimate its credentials with a candid mind and a pure heart.
(1) Suppose that I have been educated within the bosom of Christ’s Church, and have thus, by the happy experience of a religious life, put the faith of Jesus to frequent proof. In that ease I only use my understanding, as a man should, if I decline to reopen without cause the question of Christian evidences. A man may know whom he has trusted, and be no fool.
(2) Others, however, have had an educational belief in Christianity, which personal experience never verified. Before the understanding of such men the gospel pleads. It asks no more than a full hearing and an honest verdict. Their duty is to be, in malice, indeed, children, but in understanding, men; asking fair proof, and taking no less; grappling with a robust, not finical, intellect the question of questions. There is a reason which can be given for the faith that is in us.
2. The intelligent interpretation of its records. A child’s open heart may drink in so much of God’s light from a text or two as will quicken it into holy life; but God means grown Christians to be at pains, by manly research and the use of reason, to ascertain the sense of His book. It is childish to dip into its pages with a pin, as if it were a book of fate; it is hardly less childish to cite texts at random, out of their connection, without asking when they were written, or with what design.
3. To grasp its truths as a whole. There is no intellectual manliness in shunning all dogmatic statements of theological truth, as if, in the haze of revelation, nothing could confidently be made out. It is true that few propositions in theology have escaped contradiction, and that at particular periods a rage for defining and systematising has been carried too far. But when all this has been conceded, the fact remains that the Church, from the second century to the nineteenth, has exercised its understanding on the materials of revelation with such substantial harmony that all its main doctrines have survived and commanded the assent of the most opposite schools. But were theology a chaos of conflicting opinions, still it would be manly to grapple with the teaching of Scripture, and endeavour to digest it into a system. Shall the facts of nature be classified and not the results of revelation?
4. An attitude towards all truth of fearless and open-minded candour, so long as it is unproved; so soon as it is proved true, one of rejoicing welcome. The crude and hasty theories of the day, whose value is chiefly to stimulate and guide further research, will make no man uneasy who has studied the history of past discovery. The shadows which coming truths cast before them are often mis-shapen, after the manner of shadows, and they startle the timorous; but the truth itself is always reassuring, a cheerful thing to healthy souls. No man ought to be so eager in the search for truth as the friend of Christ, nor can any man afford to meet it with a manlier greeting.
II. In reference to human practice.
1. It was in connection with a practical question--the profitable conduct of congregational worship--that St. Paul gave this injunction. When people are possessed by a very high ideal of duty, or ruled by their faith in what is Divine, they come easily in danger of despising common sense. Once let men imagine that God can possibly be pleased with a thing which offends reason, and there is nothing too irrational for them to do in His service. Or, let them only suppose that He cares for external form, apart from the inner spirit of an act, and the door is opened at once to childish trifling in worship and a painful casuistry in morals.
2. Two principles rationally applied will solve many knots of casuistry.
(1) That we are no longer children, who please our Father by an unintelligent observance of mere external rules, but men, whose service, to be worth anything, must proceed from intelligent sympathy with His mind. To do, or abstain from doing, this, that, or the other petty act, because you are told you ought to, without knowing why, is to be a child. Be men.
(2) The subordination of the morally small to the morally great. All right things are not equally important. Seek therefore to make sure of “the weightier matters of the law.” For if our eye is set on the doing of these, the “mint, anise, and cummin,” which are apt to give us so much trouble, will not be left undone. Conclusion: The understanding holds the function in Christian life of a regulator, nowise that of a moving power. A Christian who is only one intellectually is simply no Christian at all; for, till the heart is converted and become that of a little child, the man cannot see, cannot, by force of intellect, discern, the kingdom of heaven. Let us seek to retain the heart of childhood, but let us guide it by the understanding of a man. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
Christianity and manhood
I. The distinction between childishness and childlikeness. “Be not children in mind: howbeit in malice be ye babes.”
1. These two ideas are frequently confounded, especially by young Christians. At first awaking to the Divine life wonder largely takes the place of understanding, and feeling that of thought. Being simple in motives is easily mistaken for being simple in ideas and rudimentary in knowledge. In the newly converted the two simplicities are engagingly combined, and they may thus appear to be essentially connected. But this is not the case. The experience which does not strengthen and enrich itself by sanctified thinking and meditation will soon become unreal, unwholesome, and unsafe.
2. The childhood which is the ideal of Christian character is a moral and not an intellectual childhood. We are to “put away childish things” according to the general law of a healthy intellectual growth. “Leaving the first principles” we are to “go on unto perfection.”
II. The summons to perfect our nature. This applies to every faculty we possess, in its relative and normally harmonious development.
1. “Muscular Christianity” has still its gospel to preach. The body has claims which are too much ignored. Flabbiness and effeminacy are not proofs of holiness. The qualities and accomplishments, too, by which men are enabled to fulfil their role as business men, members of society, citizens, etc., are well within the “calling” of the Christian, and demand his attention. They may be a “sign” to many who would fail to appreciate more esoteric doctrines or practices.
2. And so of knowledge, this most characteristic and ennobling faculty of man. Science, art, philosophy, and literature have all their place in providing us with a true understanding of life, and perfecting the mind for higher things. The true goal of all these studies is “Divine knowledge” or “wisdom,” but they lead only to the threshold. Christ calls us to a higher school, and even identifies the knowledge of God and Himself with “eternal life.”
Conclusion: The following considerations may help to prove that Christianity, so far from stunting or stereotyping the thought of man, has a real need for its exercise, and makes the greatest demands upon it.
1. Christianity introduces its subjects to a great, suggestive, and stimulating experience.
2. It reveals the profoundest principles of life, and trains us in their application.
3. It demands the wisest and most skillful service.
4. It declares it as its purpose to perfect man’s nature and character.
5. It proclaims every faculty sacred, and of the nature of a Divine stewardship. (St. John A. Frere.)
The right use of the understanding in matters of religion
It may be of use to premise an observation or two, the truth of which must be presupposed in all directions given to men about the exercise of their understandings in religion.
1. Religion is in itself an intelligible and rational thing, of which a clear and consistent account may be conveyed to the mind, and which may be shown to have a foundation in reason and argument, and not in the ignorance and folly of mankind.
2. Religion is a thing not only barely intelligible and rational, but apparently and obviously so, which may be easily understood and comprehended by mankind. Thus it must be, if religion be indeed the subject of the inquiry and discussion of all men; because it is certain that the faculties of the greatest part of men will never allow them to penetrate into things that are any way abstruse or difficult. Besides, we must conclude from the goodness of God that He would never make anything upon which the happiness of man depends, as it plainly does upon religion, either impossible or hard to be known or comprehended by them.
I. I shall now proceed to consider what this exercise of the understanding which is required from us with respect to religion implies.
1. It implies fairness and candour and care and diligence in our religious inquiries and disquisitions; that we keep our intellectual eye pure and unprejudiced, and withal lively and vigorous, in which state alone it is capable of discerning and tracing out the truths of religion.
2. Another thing implied in the exercise of our understandings with respect to religion is our acquiescing in the principles of it upon sufficient evidence being laid before us of their truth. As credulity, or an implicit belief, is altogether unbecoming, so likewise is a sceptical humour, which puts us upon evading evidence, which makes us doubt where there is no occasion to hesitate, where there is light enough to guide us, and to determine our judgment, according to the established rules of reasoning, and of giving our assent.
3. There is one thing more implied in the due exercise and cultivation of our understandings with respect to religion, which is our improving and increasing our knowledge of it in proportion to our abilities. If men would but faithfully endeavour to become acquainted with the entire system of religion, many of them, at least, would in a little time find that they were able to penetrate much farther into it than, before their making the experiment, they were apt to think they could do. The case of our mental and bodily powers is in general the same: both are greatly strengthened by use, whereas without it they run to rust, and contract a weakness and ineptitude for effecting things of which, through practice and custom, they would have been very capable.
II. I shall show for what reasons we should thus exercise and employ our understandings about religion.
1. Both our dignity and happiness depend upon our doing so.
(1) What a shining figure does that man make who, by means of a well-tutored and refined understanding and a large stock of true knowledge, can speak pertinently upon any important subject that occurs in conversation and instruct others in the useful or entertaining sciences or arts of life!
(2) And as our dignity depends so much upon our exercising our understandings in the subjects of religion, So likewise does our happiness. For as we are formed with a love of truth and a desire of knowledge, so every discovery of truth is attended with a most sensible delight. And the more important and certain the truth which is discovered is, the greater is the pleasure which results from the knowledge of it. Now, as the great truths of religion must to every ingenious man appear to be above all others momentous, and likewise very clear and certain, the mind which inquires into them and gradually traces them out must be entertained with a most pure and continually increasing pleasure.
2. We should exercise our intelligent powers about religion, because without this there can be no merit or virtue in our religion, nor can it ever be pleasing and acceptable to God. Religion, according to the most obvious notion of it, is a reasonable, voluntary, and liberal service, flowing from principles of light and knowledge, the calm approbation of our minds, and the generous affections of our hearts.
Instructions and inferences:
1. We may see the ingenuous spirit of our religion which, disdaining to take advantage of the ignorance, credulity, and inattention of mankind, lays itself open to the examination of all men, and even invites and requires them carefully to try and prove it.
2. We may see that the ignorance of the true nature and grounds of religion, or, which is very nearly related to it, the implicit belief of religion which so commonly prevails among professed Christians, even in places of the greatest liberty, is very faulty and inexcusable.
3. We may infer the iniquity of all those methods which are used to deter or discourage men in inquiring freely into religion and increasing as far as they are able their knowledge of it.
4. We may see how much it concerns every man to raise and cultivate in himself a serious, honest, and diligent, temper of searching into religion, and to propagate the same among others as far as it is in his power to do it; because in this temper the very essence of the duty of exercising our understandings about religion consists, and because it is the seedplot of truth and virtue in men, the root from whence the most generous improvements both in the knowledge and practice of our duty shoot and grow.
5. Let the knowledge which we attain to in consequence of the exercise of our understandings about religion be always substituted by us as the foundation of a good conduct and virtuous conversation in the world, Religion is, above all other sciences and institutions, practical. (J. Orr, D. D.)
The mind the standard of the man
Dr. Watts once overheard a stranger say, “What! is that the great Dr. Watts?” The Doctor, who was of low stature, turning to the gentleman, promptly said--
“Were I so tall to reach the poles,
Or mete the ocean with my span,
I must be measured by my soul--
The mind’s the standard of the man.”
The true test
The true test of any Church or ministry is not so much the knowledge which it gives or the order which it secures, as its productiveness of new men in Christ Jesus; and it is an awful test. When I see where there is the least disturbance among you, where there is the slightest disagreement in a Sunday school matter, that the old worthy members of my Church act like anybody else, and squabble, and full of answerings, call back and carry away hard feelings, I say to myself, “I have not made any men yet,” my preaching has been as poor as any other minister’s. One fails for one reason and another for another. When I judge from what you are, I feel that I am about as poor a minister as I know of, (H. W. Beecher.)
1 Corinthians 14:21-23
In the law it is written, With men of other tongues … will I speak;… and yet … will they not hear Me.
The use of tongues
I. The quotation.
1. Its original force (Isaiah 28:11-12).
2. The apostle’s use of it indicates generally that the use of tongues was a disadvantage and not a blessing to the hearer.
II. The inference.
1. Tongues a sign--not for the believer who did not require it, but for the unbeliever, as a proof of Divine power.
2. Prophesying, on the contrary, could not benefit the unbeliever, who resisted the truth, but the believer by promoting his edification. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
God’s dealings with a rebellious people
I. How God speaks to them.
1. By strange instrumentalities.
2. With a strange tongue.
II. How they persist in their impenitence.
1. They harden their hearts.
2. Refuse to listen.
3. Aggravate their guilt and punishment. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe … but prophesying serveth … For them which believe.
Different modes of dealing with men
I. Different conditions of human mind.
II. Different requirements.
1. In the one case conviction.
2. In the other edification.
III. Different modes of dealing.
1. In the former there must be a sign of Divine power.
2. In the latter the proclamation of Divine truth. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
If therefore … all speak with tongues … will they not say that ye are mad?--
Confusion in the Church
I. How it may arise,
1. Instance the case supposed.
2. Some errors of modern times.
II. Why it should be avoided.
1. It produces a false impression.
2. Brings reproach.
3. Prevents good. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 14:24-25
But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all.
Prophesying in the primitive Church
I. Its nature.
1. Not the prediction of future events (1 Corinthians 14:3), nor ordinarily the discussion of Scripture, since the New Testament was not yet written.
2. But the preaching of New Testament truth already learnt from the apostles and others, under the direct impulse of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:30), which was liberally bestowed upon the members of the Church (1 Corinthians 14:24).
II. Its effects.
1. The edification of the Church.
2. The conviction of the ignorant and unbelieving--producing awakening of conscience, confession of sin, and the acknowledgment of God’s presence.
III. Its relation to modern preaching.
1. The direct communications of the Holy Spirit are superseded by the completed canon of Scripture, which must be carefully studied by persons properly qualified, and appointed.
2. Yet it were well if there were less of human art and method and much more of the Spirit’s unction and power. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The awakening of the sinner
I. How he enters the Christian assembly.
II. What he hears.
1. The voice of the preacher.
2. The proclamation of truth.
3. The awakenings of conscience.
III. What he Does.
1. Confesses his sin.
2. Worships God.
3. Bears testimony to His presence and power. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Conviction of sin
I. Preaching the gospel is an ordinance of God, and was constantly used in the primitive Church (Matthew 28:19). Believing in Christ is necessary to salvation; and preaching the gospel is generally necessary to believing (Romans 10:14; 1 Corinthians 1:21).
II. Curiosity frequently led persons to the Christian assemblies. The religion of Christ made a great stir in the world. Some were greatly prejudiced against it. But when they saw miracles performed before their eyes; when they saw some of their neighbours forsake the altars of their idols, and become moral and lovely in their conduct, they were forced to stop and consider how these things could be, and some of them would, of course, go and hear for themselves. Our text supposes such a thing. God often overruled this kind of curiosity for good. Zaccheus wanted to gratify his curiosity; but Christ, in mercy, called and converted him. And it is happy for many that they did not suffer their own prejudices, or the fear of man, to prevent their judging for themselves.
III. Primitive preaching had a tendency to convince men of their guilt and danger.
1. The unbeliever, coming into the assembly, is convinced; whoever preached, his doctrine had this tendency, to convince the man of sin. This is done by the power of the Spirit, going along with the Word (John 16:8).
2. “He is judged of all”; tried, and condemned. The consideration of his own sin is brought home to his conscience, as when Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man!” He receives the sentence of death in himself. It is the office of an enlightened conscience to anticipate the judgment of the great day. Most men have such a notion of the mercy of God as to forget His justice and holiness; but when a person is convinced of sin he sees that God is holy and just; and he cannot but dread these terrible attributes, till he learns from the gospel how God is at once “a just God and a Saviour” (Isaiah 45:21; Rom 3:36).
IV. Preaching the word tends to disclose the secret workings of the heart, which were unobserved before. Most men are so busied in worldly affairs, or stupefied with worldly pleasures, that they are great strangers to themselves. But the faithful preaching of God’s Word has a tendency to rouse men from their supineness. The Word of God is a mirror that shows men their hearts. Persons who have not been used to hear the gospel are frequently surprised, when they sit under a powerful ministry, to hear their own case and character so exactly described. This is the proper effect of the Word of God, which carries with it a mighty and convincing argument of its truth, as being the Word of Him who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins (Jeremiah 17:10).
V. When a man is converted to God he always begins to pray. This was the symptom of Paul’s own conversion: “Behold, he prayeth!” It is sad to think that so many people never pray. A short form of words, always the same, and always unfelt. Behold here, a man so overpowered with a sense of the majesty and justice of God; so deeply affected with his danger as a sinner, and so eagerly desirous of pardoning mercy, that be forgets he is surrounded by mortals, and falls down before his God with the publican’s petition (Luke 18:13). So have I seen a condemned criminal at a human bar, when the sentence of death has been pronounced, fall down on his knees, and, regardless of the gazing throng, implore the favour of the judge. So have I seen dying persons, expecting soon to appear before God, cry aloud for mercy, without considering who surrounded their beds. The place, or the posture of prayer, is of little consequence. It might disturb the public worship, yet when a person is greatly affected, it will be difficult to conceal his emotions. He will lift up his heart, if not his voice to God.
VI. Converted persons drop all there prejudices against the people of God, and speak honourably of them. “He will report that God is in you of a truth.” Profane people treat them with contempt and scorn. But no sooner does a man come to himself, and see things as they are, than he forms a very different opinion of godly persons. He sees that they are the excellent of the earth, the children of God, and heirs of eternal glory. (G. Burder.)
Conversion prepared for
I. Conversion effected by means.
1. The door of the sanctuary should be an open one (1 Corinthians 14:23). Restrictions should be swept away. Non-church-goers are often such through the action of church-goers.
2. Means should constantly be employed in the sanctuary. The gospel should be preached. The presence of “unbelievers “and unlearned should be borne in mind.
II. Probable means of conversion.
1. Order and propriety in the sanctuary. The building is not unimportant, for there are some churches in which it is difficult to be converted. The services should be decorous, or the stranger may think we are mad. But dulness and coldness are not decorous.
2. Worship. Song and prayer have won not a few--but both may hinder.
3. Preaching should be--
(1) Intelligible--not over the heads of the people.
(2) Sensible--not under their heads.
(3) Direct (1 Corinthians 14:24), so that the hearer may feel that it is meant for him.
(4) Searching--manifesting the secrets of the heart.
III. Tests of the suitability of the means.
1. What do the unbelieving and ignorant think of them? Some will scoff; but what will the common-sense and sincere think? What ought they to think?
2. What results will follow? Are they those of 1 Corinthians 14:25? If not something is amiss. Is it the want of the Holy Spirit? (E. Hurndall, M. A.)
I. Will be a power on unbelievers, for--
1. It is the exertion of spiritual power.
2. It will arouse and liberate the conscience.
3. It must include the aspects of truth directly suited to reach the unbeliever.
II. Will exert a particular kind of power on unbelievers.
1. Impression, “He is convinced of all.”
2. Knowledge of self, “Secrets of heart made manifest.”
3. Sense of God (1 Corinthians 14:25). (R. Tuck, B. A.)
And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest.
The secrets of the heart
I. The heart is the depository of many secrets. The assumption of knowledge is one of our most besetting and perilous weaknesses; how little we really know of the world around us! We know far less of that within. Note some of the secrets of the heart of an unbelieving man.
1. There is hidden within him an immense amount of ignorance and conceit of which he knows nothing. He has no true knowledge of himself as a sinner. Had he such knowledge he would apply at once for salvation, and not pharisaically congratulate himself that he is not as other men.
2. A deep and inexhaustible depravity which alienates him from God. Of this he knows nothing, or the knowledge would be such a misery as would give him no rest until a remedy was discovered.
3. Many unremembered and unthought-of sins. Sin unknowingly committed as well as those willingly forgotten lie buried deep in the memory till the hour of revival.
4. Numerous latent fears. The child that is happy in the broad daylight knows nothing of those fears which the dark and lonely night will awaken. Even in this world the unbeliever’s fears may emerge from the caverns in which they lie concealed; but in the hereafter who can prognosticate the fears which will be awakened by the consciousness of unforgiven guilt?
5. A sense of God, right, truth, and immortality. No one is so utterly degraded as to have no traces of those radical principles. Not that we are born with any positive ideas of them, but we are born with certain capacities which infallibly secure to us impressions of the invisible, infinite, and eternal. And there will come a time when these will be the grand all-absorbing truths.
II. The manifestation of those secrets. Ignorant as we are of the depths of our own nature there is a limited but sufficient knowledge that we may obtain of ourselves. By the light of God’s Word and the teaching of His Spirit we may learn so much as to see the necessity and suitableness of God’s provision for our salvation. And oftentimes it pleases God--as in the case before us--to lead the unbeliever to the assembly of His people, and by the truth published and the Spirit given there, to shed light into the heart. As psalm and prayer uprise, as the Scriptures are read and explained, new and surprising revelations are vouchsafed. The slumbering conscience is aroused, memory is quickened, the consciousness of God, judgment, and eternity becomes vivid, and the once unbeliever is overpowered, and confesses to the Divine revelation made to his heart. Conclusion: If you have not seen any of these things, consider--
1. Your fearful and benighted ignorance.
2. The danger of this revelation when it will be of no avail.
3. The necessity of the prayer, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” (W. T. Bull, B. A.)
The nature of spiritual gifts, and some directions for their use
1. A. “spiritual gift” is the faculty in each in which the Holy Spirit reveals Himself. Every man has some such, in which his chief force lies.
2. There are certain creative epochs when intense feelings elevate all the powers preternaturally. Such, e.g., was the close of the last century, when the revolutionary spirit created a preternatural abundance of military talent. Such, too, was the first age of Christianity. The Holy Spirit was poured out largely, and whatever it touched it vivified. The Holy Ghost may mingle with man in three ways--with his body, and then you have a miracle; with his spirit, and then you have that exalted feeling which finds vent in “tongues”; or with his intellect, and then you have prophecy.
I. In the case of prophecy, cultivated minds were themselves able by the understanding to convey to the understanding what the Spirit meant.
1. But the essential in all this was the Divine element of life. Just as when rain falls on dry ground, the resultant greenness and vigour are simply the outward manifestation of invisible life--so the new life penetrated the whole man, and gave force to every faculty.
2. Consider what this gift must have done in developing the Church! Men came into Christian assemblies for once, and were astonished by the flood of luminous and irresistible truth which passed from the prophetic lips: it became an instrument of conversion.
3. In versee 29 we learn that private inspiration was always to be judged by the general inspiration--i.e., it was not to be taken for granted because spoken. Inspiration is one thing, infallibility is another. God the Holy Ghost, as a sanctifying Spirit, dwells in human beings with partial sin. Did He not do so, He could not dwell with man at all. Therefore, St. Paul says that the spirits of the prophets are to be subject to the prophets. Neglect of this has been a fruitful cause of fanaticism. The afflatus was not irresistible; a man was not to be borne away by his gift, but to be master of it, and responsible for it.
II. Respecting tongues, note the following directions.
1. Repression of feeling in public. This state of ecstacy was so pleasurable, and the admiration awarded to it so easy to be procured, that numbers, instead of steady well-doing, spent life in “showing off.” The American camp meetings, etc., show how uncontrolled religious feeling may overpower reason--mere animal feeling mingling with the movements of Divine life. There is great danger in this, and just in proportion as feelings are strong do they require discipline. When religious life degenerates into mere indulgence of feeling, life wastes away, and the man or woman becomes weak, instead of strong. What a lesson! These Divine high feelings in Corinth--to what had they degenerated! A stranger coming in would pronounce the speakers mad!
2. “Forbid not to speak with tongues.” A common man would have said, “All this is wild fanaticism; away with it!” St. Paul said, “It is not all fanaticism: part is true, part is error.” The true is God’s Spirit. Learn, then, to sympathise with deep feeling. There are cold, intellectual men, who frown on every manifestation of feeling; whereas only the Spirit can interpret the Spirit.
3. To prefer gifts which are useful to others, rather than those which draw admiration to ourselves. And yet there are few who would not rather be the gifted singer, at whose strains breathless multitudes melt into tears, than some nurse of a hospital, soothing pain, or a Dorcas making garments for the poor. It is better to be useful than brilliant.
4. The real union of the human race lies in oneness of heart. This gift was not a gift of foreign languages; a Greek might be speaking in the Spirit, and another Greek might not understand him; but a Roman or a Mesopotamian might, and this by a gift of sympathy. The world is craving for unity; it may be centuries before it comes; still it is something to be on the right track. Christianity casts aside all human plans and speculations as utterly insufficient. It does not look to political economy, to ecclesiastical drill, nor to the absorption of all languages into one; but it looks to the eternal Spirit of God, which proceeds from the eternal Son. One heart, and then many languages will be no barrier. One spirit, and man will understand man. Conclusion: There are gifts which draw admiration to a man’s self, others which solace and soothe him personally, and a third class which benefit others. The world and the Bible are at issue on the comparative worth of these. A gifted singer soon makes a fortune, and men give their guineas ungrudgingly for a morning’s enjoyment. An humble teacher in a school, or a missionary, can often but only just live. Only remember that, in the sight of the Everlasting Eye, the one is creating sounds which perish with the hour that gave them birth, the other is building for the eternal world an immortal human spirit. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
1 Corinthians 14:26-40
How is it then, bretheren?
when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm,… a doctrine.
I. What it includes.
II. What its objects.
1. Mutual edification.
III. What it requires.
IV. What its spirit.
2. Submission to God’s Word.
4. Reverence. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Five chords to the harp
This morning, in our coming together, we have this variety of living experiences and powers. We come into the Church out of a confused world--confusions of state, of science, of society, of the man himself. It seems as if we were in an orchestra in which every instrument is out of tune and every performer maintaining his performance to be the perfection of harmony. And what a confused Church it seems! What rival theories and speculations. Every point is disputed; all preach charity, but then it should be practised by the other side; every one hath an infallible standard, but then no one will submit to it. Every one hath a psalm, doctrine, tongue, etc., but little turns out to edifying. Yet this is not the intention of the apostle in the text. First, it is a voice to life, the description of the Church of the living God, and of the varied means of grace by which the spirit grows. It is the assurance that variety is no hindrance to edification, but rather the way to it, even as the various materials of a building do not interfere with the unity of the building, but help it forward. Then, second, it is an invocation to the sanctification of speech, with which compare Exodus 4:11. As speech distinguishes man from all the other inhabitants of the earth, so sacred speech especially distinguishes the Christian man from other men. Speech is the glorious endowment which constitutes the poet, the singer, the orator. Speech so Divine in its origin and use is to flow back to God; it is to be converted. The song is to be converted to the psalm. How dreadful is unconverted speech and its effects! When the physician visits the sick patient, one of the first things he asks him to do is to put out his tongue. He tests the state of the body by the tongue. And I am almost disposed to say to the professing Christian, “Put out your tongue.” One of the first effects of holiness in the life is the purification of speech. “If a man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.” But we have in the text the constituent elements of a Divine service. Here are the five chords of a human harp, by whose charm life grows into fulness and proportion. Every one hath something; let no one be depressed on his own account, let no one be scornful on account of his neighbour.
I. Strike the first chord--“Every one of you hath a psalm,” the musical adoration. Every one of you hath a psalm that is the gladness of life--life realised as good, when the soul says, “O come, let us sing unto the Lord,” etc. Even as a bird in a dark grove is heard in its sweet strain, so let your voice rise, the swell of your praise, the sob of your confession, of your grief. Say it first for yourself, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! “ then say it aloud to all the congregation.
II. Then strike the second chord--everyone of you hath a doctrine. As there is a psalm of life, there is a doctrine of life. Man is a being of feet as well as wings. There is the practical aspect of Christian truth. Surely every one of you knows something; you have lines, you have laws and statutes, even as the noblest musician has his notes and bars and scale of melody! And the doctrine is the guide, the law of life. What is arithmetic without numbers? What is language without letters? So religion is intangible without creed.
III. And then strike the third chord--every one of you hath a tongue, i.e., language that is especially his own. The accent is the soul. How different are real words, real prayers, and yet the accent is true. Some tongues are as if tipped with shafts of fire, and some distil as the dew. Some words swell with passion, and some flow like music. How varied are the accents of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, and John!
IV. Then there is the fourth chord--every one of you hath a revelation. Every Christian has had his own satisfying vision; this is the story of his soul, as when Paul said, “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me”; but let us not make our revelation the absolute standard to another.
V. Then there is the fifth chord--every one of you hath an interpretation, and that is the consolation of hope; and as the revelation is to a man, so will his interpretation be; what I have seen and felt in the Bible is that which I shall draw forth from it. Every one hath his own interpretation, his own mode of reading his Bible, if he read it with his own eyes; and of what avail is it to me to read my Bible with the eyes of another man? Conclusion: And life does all this. Life is the spirit in which all is performed; no life then, no psalm, no doctrine, etc. On the other hand, a living psalm, a living doctrine, etc., that all may be done to edifying. (Paxton Hood.)
Let all things be done unto edifying.--
Edification the aim of Christian speech
When Handel’s oratorio of the “Messiah” had won the admiration of many of the great, Lord Kinnoul took occasion to pay him some compliments on the noble entertainment which he had lately given the town. “My lord,” said Handel, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wish to make them better.” It is to be feared that many speechmakers at public meetings could not say as much; and yet how dare any of us waste the time of our fellow-immortals in mere amusing talk! If we have nothing to speak to edification, hew much better to hold our tongue! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The edification of others is a duty to which all Christians are obliged. And this will appear--
1. From its being so much insisted on in Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 14:19; Romans 15:2). And what he so much recommends Paul eminently exemplifies.
2. From the relation that all Christians have to Christ as to their common Lord and Head. Whenever they pray that His kingdom may come, they hereby declare that they desire to see the enlargement of Christ’s kingdom. And how is this consistent with being indifferent and unconcerned about the edification of others? Building is not more properly the business and employment of the professed builder than it is that of the Christian in all things to profit and edify his neighbour.
3. From the relation men have to one another, as being jointly members of the mystical body of Christ. We are not only members of Christ’s body, but members also one of another. And it is the great law of the gospel that, as such, we have love one towards another. Now unless that charity can be esteemed perfect which extends to men’s bodies and not to their souls, we must look on ourselves as obliged as to a very considerable branch of Christian charity to study to edify one another. And therefore Paul makes it a mark of charity that it “edifieth.”
II. That especial manner wherein the ministers of Christ in particular are obliged to forward this good work. The edifying the Church is the particular business for which they are set apart, and therefore every part of their conduct should have a particular tendency to this very thing.
1. In their public instructions. Instructing the ignorant is but one part of the preacher’s business. To remind those that are careless and to induce those who are not so ignorant as some others to consideration is as much his business as the other, and is every whit as necessary. And if men are edified either way, then is preaching a proper means of edification.
2. When they are officiating in holy things. They whose duty it is to join with us in prayer will be differently affected according as they observe the several parts of Divine service to be performed negligently and perfunctorily, or with fitting care and decency. In the latter case they who bring proper sentiments to the house of God will feel their good dispositions cherished and encouraged, and will be apt to relish devotion more, and to find greater delight and satisfaction in such religious exercises. And as for those who are thoughtless, the decent and devotional deportment of those who officiate will be a powerful, though secret, check to their want of attention and levity, and will be the most likely way to awaken them from their heedlessness and indolence.
3. In the exemplariness of their lives. Concerning Christ, Lactantius has observed that “He did not only point out to us the true way, but went Himself before us in it, and this He did that no one on account of the difficulty should be afraid of venturing into the ways of virtue.” It is a secret objection men are apt to make within themselves against the doctrine of the gospel that it is a rule of too great perfection to be practised, and this objection cannot be more effectually removed than when the preachers of it are themselves examples of what they teach.
III. By way of motive to this work, note the following arguments.
1. The excellence of this work. It is doing our best towards restoring man to the image of his Maker; it is putting him into a state of liberty, and delivering him from the servitude of sin, and fitting him for God’s favour and rewards. And what a great honour is it to mortal man!
2. The great charity of this work, inasmuch as it consists in converting sinners from the error of their ways, it is saving of souls from death.
3. The great necessity that we in particular of the clergy are under of having this good work very much at heart (1 Corinthians 9:16).
4. The exceeding great reward that attends it (Daniel 12:3).
5. The unspeakable comfort and God-like joy which must be felt even in this life by those who have been successful. It is the only thing we know of that even in heaven itself can make new joy.
IV. The wise provision made by our Church for the edification of its members.
1. The service in the vulgar tongue is certainly much better fitted to inspire those who are present with sentiments of piety and devotion than when it is in a language which they that hear it do not understand.
2. Our liturgy is in all its parts edifying.
3. It is certainly more for edification that the business of public instruction should be in the hands of persons who by their education have been qualified for this thing, and who have been approved and sent forth by the governors of the Church, than that so important a business should be left to every one’s caprice who should take it into his head that he is qualified for this office.
4. That judicious choice which our Church has made in retaining some ceremonies avid abolishing others is another thing in which our constitution is well fitted to edifying. (Dean Claggett.)
Fellowship in order to edification
This is the only meeting where this is the primary object. It is therefore important as the gauge of Church life--at once a barometer, chronometer, thermometer. How far fellowship exists and how close it is cannot be judged by audiences on the Lord’s day. Often the minister is the personal magnet, and the Church falls into disintegration when he is withdrawn, as a sheaf of wheat when the bond is removed. But it is never so when the prayer-meeting is central. Note the requisites of a good prayer-meeting.
I. Attendance--“all with one accord in one place” (Acts 1:13-14). Blessed unanimity!--itself a promise and prophecy of Pentecost. To promote this the meeting should be made attractive. The place, the time, the environment ought to be all favourable-light, heat, ventilation, home comfort. A fervent meeting cannot be expected with freezing feet. The household of believers should have a home atmosphere in a home gathering.
II. Agreement (Matthew 18:19-20). A divided Church never has a true prayer service. Unity reacts on the meeting, drawing together by a common motive.
II. The sense of the presence of the master (Matthew 18:20; 1 Corinthians 5:4). Every attendant helps to make the atmosphere of the meeting, and hence ought to go from the closet impelled by the expectation of seeing the Lord.
IV. Spontaneity. Participation should be voluntary. Anything constrained hurts the meeting. We need the flow of a fountain, not the spurt of a force-pump. Spontaneity indexes spirituality. The measure of the presence of the Spirit is shown by voluntariness of participation. If a believer takes part against his will, constrained by courtesy to the leader, his help is of doubtful value. Selection is too apt to he guided by intellectual standards. It is not always the most intelligent that most edify.
V. Informality (Acts 16:13). The prayer-meeting in primitive days was held in such places as suggested free, familiar interchange. The nearer the approach to a family gathering the better. Formality kills; all undue ceremony and dignity are hurtful.
VI. Liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17). This must be cultivated in ourselves and encouraged in others. Hypercriticism is its implacable foe. An aristocrat persistently advised me to do all the praying and talking, and keep others from taking part, except two whom he mentioned. All others “grated upon his ear.” Alas! how are raw recruits to be developed to veterans without practice? The ideal meeting is where every one, even women, exercise the gift of the Spirit freely as led of God (Acts 1:14).
VII. Simplicity. Rhetoric is generally addressed to the audience, not God. Even of the broken prayer the Lord “takes the meaning.”
VIII. A spiritual, scriptural tone. If young people and new converts could be gathered weekly for training by the pastor or some competent person in knowledge of the Word and practice in public prayer, the prayer-meeting would show results. Conclusion: A few hints may be added as to the various exercises.
1. Praise. Song is very important, yet often perverted. The prayer-meeting is not a concert or a singing-school. The time is short--all exercises should be brief; the instrument should not be abused for playing symphonies and interludes. Awkwardness and delay in finding, reading, and starting the hymns are hurtful to impression.
2. Prayer must be audible, brief, direct.
3. The Word of God should be exalted always. Nothing so inspires faith, hope, and love, as the truth of God. Let the leader give at the outset one great thought from the Word, and set an example of point, pith, power, practical suggestion, and, above all, a Scriptural, spiritual frame of mind. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The importance of order in the Church
I. Its foundation.
1. The essential equality of the members before God; they are brethren.
II. Its objects.
III. Its means.
1. Mutual service.
IV. Its motives.
1. God is the author of peace.
2. Order is a distinguishing feature of the churches of the saints. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Disorder in the Church
I. How occasioned. By self-seeking, forwardness, etc.
II. Why condemned. Because inconsistent with--
2. Common edification.
III. How prevented.
1. By keeping the main object in view.
2. By doing all things unto edifying. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The excellency and usefulness of the common prayer
Before we prove that that form in particular which our Church hath prescribed is agreeable to this apostolic rule, it is necessary to prove first that the prescribing a form in general is so; for unless the prescribing a form in general be according to this rule, no form in particular that is prescribed can possibly agree with it. If every minister of a parish should be left to his own liberty to do what he pleased in his own congregation, although some, perhaps, might be so wise and prudent as to observe this rule as well as they could, yet, considering the corruption of human nature, we have much cause to fear that others would not. And besides that the prescribing a form in general is more for our edifying than to leave every one to do what seems good in his own eyes, we have the concurrent testimony, experience, and practice of the universal Church; for we never read or heard of any Church in the world from the apostles’ days to ours but what took this course. Nay, to oppose a form is not only to make a man’s self wiser than all Christians, but wiser than Christ Himself, for it is impossible to prescribe any form of prayer in more plain terms than He hath done it (Luke 11:2). The same may be proved also from the nature of the thing itself by such arguments which do not only demonstrate that it is so, but likewise show how it comes to be so. For, first, in order to our being edified, so as to be made better and holier whensoever we meet together upon a religious account, it is necessary that the same good and holy things be always inculcated and pressed upon us after one and the same manner, for we cannot but all find by our own experience how difficult it is to fasten anything that is truly good either upon ourselves or others, and that it is rarely, if ever, effected without frequent repetitions of it. Moreover, that which conduceth to the quickening our souls, and to the raising up of our affections in our public devotions, must needs be acknowledged to conduce much to our edification. But it is plain that as to such purposes a set form of prayer is an extraordinary help to us; for if I hear another pray, and know not beforehand what he will say, I must first listen to what he will say next, then I am to consider whether what he saith be agreeable to sound doctrine, and whether it be proper and lawful for me to join with him in the petitions he puts up to Almighty God, and if I think it is so, then I am to do it. But before I can well do that he is got to another thing, by which means it is very difficult, if not morally impossible, to join with him in everything so regularly as I ought to do. But by a set form of prayer all this trouble is prevented. I have nothing else to do while the words are sounding in mine ears but to move my heart and affections suitably to them, to raise up my desires of those good things which are prayed for, to fix my mind wholly upon God whilst I am praising of Him, and so to employ, quicken, and lift up my whole soul in performing my devotions to Him. To this may be also added that, if we hear another praying a prayer of his own private composition or voluntary effusion, our minds are wholly bound up and confined to his words and expressions, and to his requests and petitions, be they what they will, so that at the best we can but pray his player, whereas when we pray by a form prescribed by the Church we pray the prayers of the whole Church we live in, which are common to the minister and people, to ourselves, and to all the members of the same Church, which cannot surely but be more effectual for the edifying, not only of ourselves in particular, but of the Church in general, than any private prayer can be. Lastly, in order to our being edified by our public devotions, as it is necessary that we know beforehand what we are to pray for, so it is necessary that we afterwards know what we have prayed for when we have done. Now, as this is a thing of greater consequence, so a set form of prayer is a greater help to us in it than it is commonly thought to be; for if we hear another utter a prayer extempore which he never said, nor we heard, before, nor ever shall do it again, it is much if he himself can remember the tenth part of what he said, how much less can we that heard him do it? And if we cannot possibly remember what we prayed for, how is it possible for us to expect it at the hands of God or to depend upon Him for it? But now it is quite otherwise when we use a set form of prayer, for by this means, when we have prayed, we can recollect ourselves, look over our prayers again, either in a book or in our minds, where they are imprinted; we can consider distinctly what we have asked at the hands of God, and so act our faith and confidence on Him for the granting every petition we have put up unto Him, according to the promises which He hath made us to that purpose. These things being duly weighed, I shall now proceed to show that that form in particular which our Church hath appointed to be used upon such occasions is agreeable to the apostolic rule in the text. First, as to the language, you all know that the whole service is preformed in English, the vulgar and common language of the nation, which every one understands, and so may be edified by it. Ours is truly common prayer, for it is written and read in that language which is common to all the congregations in the kingdom, and to every person in each congregation. So that all the people of the land, whatsoever rank or condition they are of, may join together in the use of everything that is in it, and so be jointly edified by it. But that which is chiefly to be considered in the language of the common prayer is that it is not only common, but proper too. Though the words there used be all but common words, yet they are so used that they properly express the things that are designed by them. This, I confess, may seem to be no great matter at first sight, yet it is that without which we might be subverted by that which was intended for our edification; for impropriety of speech in matters of religion hath given occasion to all or most of the schisms, errors, and heresies that ever infested this or any other Church, as might easily be demonstrated. Hence the apostle gave Timothy a form of sound words, and charged him to hold it fast (2 Timothy 1:13), as knowing that except the words whereby he usually expressed Divine truths were sound and proper, it would be impossible for his notions and opinions of the things themselves to be so. And as the words in the common prayer are all as edifying as words can be, so, in the second place, is the matter expressed by those words, for there is nothing in it but what is necessary for our edification, and all things that are or can be for our edification are plainly in it. First, I say there is nothing in our liturgy but what is necessary for our edification. There are none of those vain disputations and impertinent controversies which have been raised in the Church, to its great disturbance, rather than its edification. And as there is nothing in it but what is edifying, so all things that are or can be edifying are in it, for nothing can be necessary to edify and make us perfect Christians but what is necessary either to be believed or done or else obtained by us. But there is nothing necessary to be known or believed but we are taught it; nothing necessary to be done but we are enjoined it; nothing necessary to be obtained but we pray for it in our public form of Divine service. There is no vice or lust but we desire it may be subdued under us; no grace or virtue but we pray it may be planted and grow in us. Insomuch that we do but constantly and sincerely pray over all those prayers, and steadfastly believe and trust in God for His answering of them, we cannot but be as real and true saints, as happy and blessed creatures, as it is possible for us to be in this world, Neither do we here pray for ourselves only, but, according to the apostle’s advice, we make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks for all men; yea, for our very enemies, as our Saviour hath commanded us (Matthew 5:44). And what can be desired more than all this to make the matter of the common prayer edifying either to ourselves or others? I cannot pass from this head before I have observed one thing more unto you concerning the prayers in general, and that is that they are not carried on in one continued discourse, but divided into many short players or collects, such as that is which our Lord Himself composed; and that might be one reason wherefore our Church so ordered it, that so she might follow our Lord’s example in it, who best knew what kind of prayers were fittest for us to use. There is a kind of necessity to break off sometimes to give ourselves a breathing time, that our thoughts being loosened for a while, they may with more ease and less danger of distraction be tied up again, as it is necessary they should be all the while that we are actually praying to the Supreme Being of the world. Besides that, in order to the performing our devotions aright to the Most High God, it is necessary that our souls be possessed all along with due apprehensions of His greatness and glory. To which purpose our short prayers contribute very much, for every one of them beginning with some of the properties or perfections of God, and so suggesting to our minds right apprehensions of Him at first, it is easy to preserve them in our minds during the space of a short prayer, which in a long one would be apt to scatter and vanish away. But that which I look upon as one of the principal reasons why our public devotions are and should be divided into short collects is this: our blessed Saviour, we know, hath often told us that whatsoever we ask in His name we shall receive. And so we see it is in the common prayer, for whatsoever it is we ask of God, we presently add, “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” or something to that purpose. The next thing to be considered in the common prayer is the method, which is admirable, and as edifying, if possible, as the matter itself. Confession, psalms, scripture, creeds. The last thing to be considered in it is the manner of its performance, by which I mean only the several postures of the body, as standing and kneeling, which are used in it, for they also are done to edifying, While we say or sing the hymns and psalms to the praise and glory of God we stand up, not only to signify, but to excite the elevation of our minds at that time. So when we pray unto Him, we fall down as low as we can towards the earth, not daring to present our supplications to the absolute Monarch of the whole world any other way than upon our knees. First, come not to our public prayers only out of custom or for fashion’s sake, as the manner of some is, but out of a sincere obedience to God’s commands, and with a sure trust and confidence in His promises for His blessing upon what you do. Secondly, frequent our public prayers as often as conveniently you can. The oftener you are at them, the better you will like them and the more edified you will be by them. Thirdly, if possible, come always at the beginning of Divine service, otherwise you will certainly miss something that would have been edifying to you, and perhaps of that which at that time might have done you more good than all the rest. Fourthly, all the while that you are in God’s house carry yourselves as in His special presence and suitably to the work you are about, standing while you praise God and kneeling while you pray unto Him, as our Church hath directed you. Lastly, take special care all along to keep your minds intent upon the matter in hand. By this means you will perform reasonable service unto God, and by consequence that which will be very acceptable unto Him and as profitable and edifying to yourselves. (Bp. Beveridge.)
If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
The Christian Church in assembly
Paul considered that--
I. It might be addressed by several speakers (verses 27, 29). If this be so--
1. Should Christian teaching be regarded us a profession? It is so now. Men are brought up to it, and live by it as doctors, lawyers, etc. Surely the preaching of the gospel should no more be regarded as a profession than the talk of loving parents to their children.
2. Is the Church justified in confining its ministry to one man? In most congregations there are some who, besides the stated minister, are qualified to instruct, comfort, etc. And is it not incumbent on every Christian to preach, i.e., call sinners to repentance?
II. It might allow its godly men to speak on the inspiration of the moment (verse 30). May it not be that under every discourse some one or more should be so Divinely excited with a rush of holy thought as to crave for utterance not for his own sake, but for that of others? Why, then, should he not have the opportunity? What an interest such an event would add to a religious service!
III. It should submit the utterances of its teachers to a devout critical judgment. “Let others discern (or discriminate)” (R.V.). The people were not to accept as a matter of course all that was spoken; they were to act as the Bereans.
IV. It should in all its services maintain order (verses 32, 33). A true teacher, however full of inspiration, will so master his impulses as to prevent confusion. Notwithstanding all the liberty of teaching, all the enthusiam of the new life, where Christianity reigns there will be no disorder. There is order in dead mechanism, and there is ,order, too, in the roar of the ocean and in the thunderstorm. All that is Divine is under law. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Decency and order in the Church
I. What the Church is.
1. The Church of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15).
2. The Church of Christ (Matthew 16:18).
3. The abiding place of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16).
4. The great instrument for the conversion of the world.
II. The importance of everything connected with it being as free from fault as possible. Impropriety in the Church--
1. Dishonours God.
2. Grieves Christ.
3. Tends to quench the Spirit.
4. Reduces it to impotence.
III. What a vast responsibility rests upon those who violate the apostolic command (verse 40). God is a God of peace, but in this way He is made to appear a God of confusion. (E. Hurndall, M. A.)
The efficient conduct of public worship
I. Hints as to this.
1. It should be intelligible to all (verse 27).
2. Those who cannot speak to edification should be silent.
3. As a rule not more than two or three should speak on one occasion, and only one at a time (verse 27).
4. The rest should listen and judge.
5. Every one should be ready to give way to another.
II. The importance of these hints.
1. That all may learn.
2. That all may be comforted (verse 31). (J. Lyth, D. D.)
For ye may all prophesy.--
In the social gatherings of God’s people
1. All may speak.
2. All learn.
3. All may find comfort. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Any person who understands Christianity may teach it
We complain of the general Ignorance of Christians: they do not understand their own religion. Why? They do not think it a duty to understand any other parts than those which immediately concern themselves: the rest they leave to their teachers. I exhort you first to search the Scriptures on this ground: the Scriptures contain the whole of revealed religion. Our second word of advice is, read the Scriptures as they were written, for they were not written as they are now printed. The proper way of reading the Gospels is to take what all the four evangelists say on any one subject, and to put the whole together. The four evangelists stand before us exactly in the light of four witnesses in a court. Our third word of advice is, as you read, dare to think for yourselves. Read the Scriptures with a generous love of truth, and always believe yourselves as free to think and judge for yourselves as any other creatures in the world are. Who can enough deplore the misery of such Christians as choose to live and die in shackles rather than assert the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free! Our last word of advice is, reduce as much Christianity as you know to practice. Remember the saying of Jesus Christ (John 7:17). For example, you know it is the duty of the Christian to pray. Exercise yourselves in prayer, then. It is the duty of a Christian parent to teach his children. Instruct your children, then: and so of the rest. As you practise religion you will make an experiment of the ease and pleasure of religious practice, and consequently you will grow more and more into a persuasion that the knowledge of God is the chief good of man. On supposition that you understand religion yourselves, we proceed to show you how to teach it to others. We suppose first the welfare of your children to lie nearest your heart. In vain you provide the comforts of life, and a settlement in the world for them without training them up in the principles of religion. It is like loading a boat with valuable commodities and sending it down a stream into the ocean without any animal except a jackdaw aboard. These principles ought to be imparted in a manner suited to their own dignity, to yours, and to that of your children. There are two general ways of teaching children the truths of religion. Some make use of catechisms, which children are made to get by heart. This is an exercise of the memory, but not of the understanding, and therefore nothing is more common than to find children, who can repeat a whole catechism, without knowing anything more than how to repeat it. The other method is by hearing them read some little histories of Scripture, and by asking them questions to set them a-thinking and judging for themselves. This is an exercise of the understanding, and when the understanding is taught its own use, it is set a-going true, and if it gets no future damage it will go true through life. A third way of teaching religion is by conference. There the doubting man may open all his suspicions, and confirmed Christians will strengthen their belief. There the fearful may learn to be valiant for the truth. There the liberal may learn to devise liberal things. There the tongue of the stammerer may learn to speak plainly. There Paul may withstand Peter to the face, because he deserves to be blamed. There the gospel may be communicated severally to them of reputation. There, in one word, ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. Finally, you have all a right if you have ability and opportunity to teach publicly. The ability we mean is at an equal distance from arrogance and slavish fear: it is what the Apostle Paul calls openness, or great plainness of speech. This ability, made up of knowledge and utterance, hath a certain proportion adapted to particular places, and that, which is equal to all the purposes of instruction in a small and obscure congregation, may be very unequal to the edification of a large and better instructed assembly: but as there are various assemblies of Christians in various circumstances, the part of a discreet man is to weigh circumstances and abilities together, and so to give them all their portion of meat in due season. All methods of teaching must be enforced by example, and without example all instruction is vain, if not wicked and dangerous. Let us finish by confirming the right of such teachers as we have been describing, to exercise their abilities to the edification of the Church. I said a right. To what? To teach, not to domineer, and play the lord and master with insolence and without control. Can anything be so wretched as to engage to think always through life as our teachers think, or, if we judge otherwise, to act against our own conviction for quiet sake? We said a right. To what? To teach, not to make a to,tune. If any man considers teaching as a trade to acquire wealth he renders his virtue doubtful, and if he exercises this trade with this view in our poor churches, he does no more honour to his understanding than to his heart. I said a right. To what? To teach, and not merely to talk. To fill up an hour, to kill time, to sound much and say nothing, to use vain repetitions; how easy are these to some men! To teach is to inform and to impress. I said a right. To what? To teach, and not to tattle. Teaching the gospel gives a man no right to interfere in the secular affairs of his brethren. When we say whoever understands Christianity hath a right to teach it, we do not say he hath a right to be heard, for as one man hath a right to teach, so another hath a right to hear, or not to hear, as he thinks proper; and the first ought not to exercise his right over the last without his consent. Sum up these articles, and they amount to this: any person who understands Christianity may teach it; but his teaching gives him no right to assume the character of a ruler over the consciences or property of his brethren, no right to trifle with their precious time, to interfere in their worldly affairs, to oblige any to hear without their consent, or under any pretence whatever to introduce disorder and inequality into a family, where one is the Master, even Christ, and all the rest without excepting one, all the rest are brethren, and where the highest endowments can make them no more. (R. Robinson.)
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.--
Self-control in Divine worship
1. Is in all ordinary cases possible.
2. Does not interfere with the operations of God’s Spirit. He is a God of order and peace.
3. Is a religious duty, for the sake of edification and for the honour of religion. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 14:33
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.
A God, not of confusion, but of peace
True religion teaches us to refer all questions to the highest tribunal, and to ask, not merely, What is agreeable and expedient? but what is the will of God? At Corinth many disorders had arisen, and there were many reasons why they should not be. But here is the highest. Christians are the servants of God, who is not the author of confusion, etc. This is apparent from--
I. His work as Creator. The more nature is studied the more clearly order is seen to be heaven’s first law. Indeed scientists affirm the universal presence of law, and to those who believe in a Lawgiver the regularity with which the processes of nature are conducted is an evidence of the working of mind, and that in accordance with the highest reason.
II. His method in revelation. The Scriptures unfold a plan gradually and regularly, according to a scheme of which the profound wisdom is apparent, although not fully, to a created mind. The truth was revealed first to a family, then to a nation, then to a race. “The law was given by Moses,” etc. The Bible is a marvellously organic whole; in its diversity is discernible a unity which only a Divine mind could impart.
III. The work of redemption. The whole motive of the economy of grace was to reduce the confusion which had invaded sinful humanity to order. To hush the moral discord was the purpose contemplated by the Incarnation and the Cross.
IV. The institution of civil society. Social and political life are attributed in the New Testament to God the Giver of all good. Jesus bade His disciples render to Caesar, etc., and Paul enjoined the duty of loyalty inasmuch as “the powers that be are ordained of God.”
V. The constitution and government of Christian Churches. Is it credible that the God in all whose ways order is so apparent should reverse His procedure in that realm which is the highest of all? Christ appointed apostles; apostles constituted churches, ordained their officers, and gave instructions for worship, business, and charity. Confusion here, therefore, is to be traced to human folly. In proportion as the Spirit of Christ lives and works in any society will subordination, co-operation, and unity prevail. (Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
God the author, not of confusion, but of Peace
I. God is the author of peace. Witness His operations--
1. In nature.
2. The human heart.
II. Consequently confusion cannot be the work of His Spirit.
1. It may accidentally be associated with it.
2. But arises from human defect, the want of--
(1) Self-control (1 Corinthians 14:32).
(2) Intelligent piety (1 Corinthians 14:20).
(3) Profounder acquaintance with the God of peace.
III. It follows that confusion should have no place in the Church.
1. Passion should give way to peace.
2. Confusion to edification. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Let your women keep silence in the churches.
I. Her sphere.
1. Not in public, but at home.
2. Not (except in extraordinary eases, 1 Corinthians 11:5) to teach, but to learn.
3. Not to command, but obey.
II. Her obligation to keep within it.
1. Arises out of her natural position.
2. Is confirmed by the command of God.
3. Should be dictated by modesty. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Women in the Church
I. Women have a place in the church. Christianity found woman degraded: it exalts her. In Christ there is neither male nor female.
II. Women have many ministries connected with the Church. If excluded from some positions how many are still open to women! In not a few of these she is unrivalled by man, who cannot do what she does. The Church owes a vast debt to its holy women.
III. Women are debarred by the apostle from speaking in Church assemblies. On the ground of propriety. Does not accord with woman’s true position (Gen 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1-34.). It had been foretold that “your sons and daughters shall prophesy,” and we read that Philip’s daughters prophesied; but in neither case is anything said about prophesying in public and mixed assemblies, which is what Paul forbids, inasmuch as it would conflict with modesty and woman’s rightful position, and would lead to many evils
IV. Woman’s instructioin encouraged. To supplement instruction of the sanctuary, women may ask questions at home of their husbands or relatives (R.V.). We have here incidentally indicated--
1. A special and most important sphere of woman--the home. A beautiful temple for her ministry. Oratorical females are frequently poor housewives.
2. A suggestion that husbands should be well furnished with religious knowledge. The head of the household should not be an empty head.
3. Evidence that women in the religious sphere are not to be mere automata. They are not to be dupes of priests. They are to ask questions, and not to be kept in ignorance. Intelligent service is expected from them. (E. Hurndall, M. A.)
Do the Scriptures forbid women to preach?
I. There are three views of this matter.
1. That this utterance is official and conclusive. Women are not to speak, however gifted they are.
2. That the authority of the apostle cannot settle the question. Paul forbad women to speak, but he had no business to.
3. That while the Scriptures are of binding authority in matters of faith and morals, this and other injunctions are local, national, and therefore transient.
This latter is the position now to be proved.
I. It was not the design of Christianity to determine manners, customs, forms of government and ecclesiastical institutions. Its aim was to build a new man in Christ Jesus, and to this inspired manhood was left the utmost liberty in respect to externals. This view is corroborated by the whole testimony of history. The modern Church is totally different from the assemblies of the first Christians. The civil state has been revolutionised since the time of Christ. The family has changed, and no one organisation resembles the organisations of two thousand years ago. The presumption is that when Christ was leaving everything else to the wisdom and experience of after times it did not step in with this single exception and fix the position of women. Such a course would have been contrary to its genius in every other direction.
II. Such a universal, limitation could not have taken place without violence to Jewish ideas. Woman was far more nearly equal to man among the Hebrews than among other Oriental nations. She was a public instructor. Note the cases of Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, Anna, and the prediction of Joel, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” with Peter’s comment in Acts 2:1-47. So when the Spirit of God rests upon them, and they have a message to give, if you undertake to set up the letter of Paul round about them, I will set up the message which says, “On My handmaidens will I pour out My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” True, in the synagogue it was forbidden women to teach, but the service was not extemporary, but liturgical and expository; and women had not the technical education for it. But outside the synagogue it was eminently in accordance with the Hebrew sentiment that women should speak out--and speak in meeting too.
III. Only to Greek Churches were there such limitations to woman’s rights And privileges. The text and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 were addressed not to Jewish, but to Greek assemblies. Why this distinction? Look at the condition of Greek women. The highest thought of womanhood that the Greeks had was that a woman should remain at home, that she should serve her husband and his household, and that she should not be known beyond her own family. She was not permitted to go into the street unless veiled, otherwise her reputation for virtue was destroyed. For a woman to do what is done by women in modern civilised nations--to develop that which the poorest man toils to give his daughters--to learn music, poetry, art, and philosophy, was to stamp her as a courtesan. Such being the popular feeling and custom, what would have been the effect if a Greek had looked in on a Christian meeting and seen a woman rise uncovered and pour out her heart? He would have said, “That is Christianity, is it? Why, then the Church is but a house of orgies. I understand your new religion. It teaches our wives that they must forsake their virtue, and go out into public exposure and do as courtesans do.” Therefore it was that Paul said, “You shall not violate the customs of your country. You shall not bring into discredit the religion of Christ by doing that which can be interpreted but in one direction by every man who sees it. I forbid your women to teach in Greek communities.”
IV. What, then, may be considered a fair interpretation of this?
1. Is it right to say that this is the last word which the genius of Christianity had for women? Are you to take a command which had a peculiar interpretation in one province of the globe and in no other, and make it the criterion for judging of woman’s position and instruction everywhere? Shall this be done where Christianity has raised and inspired woman, and shall a manacle, which belonged to the degradation of the Greek period, be put upon the limbs of enfranchised womanhood? You might as well say that the command of the physician to the leper is the prescription that you should take care of your children by.
2. Scripture commands are binding only where they apply: e.g., we are commanded to “honour the king,” but what about countries where there is no king? And you cannot give a rigid interpretation to the text without running against the whole fruit of civilisation for the last 1,800 years. Are you going to put back the shadow on the dial? Christianity has made woman a prophetess, and no false interpretation of the text can ever close her mouth.
3. It is fair to apply to this subject the argument of Peter in Acts 11:17. If in the providence of God women are called to preach, if their discourse is accompanied with power from on high, and blessed to the salvation of souls, then the Spirit itself bears witness to the right of woman to speak, and who are we that we should resist God?
4. Paul’s doctrine in Galatians 3:27-28, is the Christian doctrine for the future. “In Christ there is neither male nor female.” Faith, hope, love, learning, eloquence, etc., have no sex. Whoever can bring the kingdom of God nearer to men has the right to do so. We have trumpets enough; let us have some flutes. Women can sing and speak in the secular sphere often to mightier effect than men; why not, then, in the Divine? (H. W. Beecher.)
1 Corinthians 14:36-38
came the Word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
Resistance to the Divine order in the Church
I. Proceeds from the overweening opinion a man has of his own enlightenment, or of his superiority to others.
II. Will never be offered by a truly spiritual man. He acknowledges the supreme authority of God’s Word.
III. If persisted in through wilful ignorance, incurs a tremendous responsibility. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
How the gospel came to Britain
This case is cited by Paul to check the arrogance of the Corinthians, and we may very properly apply it to ours. The Word of God came unto us, and did not go out from us.
I. The affecting nature of the memento. That the Word of God should have come unto us at all, demands peculiar gratitude. Scarcely reckoned among the nations, our island seemed flung into the ocean of nature. That we should have been forgotten by the apostles would be no great wonder. We were out of their path. What was such a spot as this when churches were rising in Rome, etc.? It is probable, however, that Britain was visited before the apostle’s death; for in one place he rejoices that the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven. And who can say that the prophetic John heard no notes from Albion in the song of all nations which was presented before the throne? Caesar armed his galleys, and came upon us. But he was only the “breaker up” before a most glorious influence. With nearly the promptitude of Caesar, Christianity “came, it saw, it conquered!” It was, no doubt, brought to us by a missionary given wholly to the work. No marble marks his name; but we cannot help exclaiming, “How beautiful upon the mountains were his feet!” etc.
II. This subject gives rise to some very interesting inquiries.
1. Upon what impressions of our state did these missionaries act? Enough of our country was known to assure them that a monstrous superstition prevailed among us. Some would say, “Why disturb this people? They worship God according to their long established custom; there is a mine of philosophy in their legends; they are harmless and simple, happy and content; they have the means of improvement, if they desire it; the system you would introduce is very well for us, but it is net suited to them; besides, they seek not your interference; they might as properly bring their religion to you, as you take yours to them.” But there were men (and all generations shall call them blessed) who took a very different view of the state of our aborigines. However interesting a people we might be, they knew that we were idolaters: that, however the emblems of our worship might be interpreted, the majority looked to the emblems alone, and that the fire, trees, etc., were actually worshipped; that children and captives were crowded into wicker figures and burned; that the priests were vile impostors and jugglers; that the system was a sort of parricide on reason, and nature, and God; that it was the prolific source of all evil, the conjunction of all vices. Therefore they fearlessly launched on the deep to visit us, and we know that their entrance was not in vain.
2. Under what obligations were these missionaries laid? No spirit bade them go forth, nothing doubting. But a weight of responsibility pressed upon them; they had received the gospel; a commission had been given them to preach it to all. They were always ready to obey the Saviour. Some might think their labours should be confined at home; frivolity would simper; friendship would dissuade; prudence would calculate; the whole mind would shrink at the idea of danger. But a feeling of duty was paramount; and what they did, they did heartily, as unto the Lord. But, if they did what it was only their duty to do, how gross is our neglect!
3. By what feelings were these missionaries inspired? Avarice and ambition fed not their flame. It was charity in its pure sublime--a charity which never failed. Their business was not with civilisation and science; but the soul was their grand concern, because they knew its source, its danger, and its destiny.
4. With what means were these missionaries furnished? It is not very probable that they were furnished with miraculous powers. They had no red-cross banners, no pealing litany, etc.; but by them the Word of God came to us.
5. To what sufferings were these missionaries exposed? They must have had a variety of perils to encounter. From the necks of endeared friends they were torn asunder. How did the druid scowl at them and the multitude clamour for them as a sacrifice! Probably some came to a violent death. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
The reason for missions
The text reminds us--
I. Of our obligations.
1. Missionaries came first to us.
2. Consider their impressions, obligations, motives, means, sufferings.
II. Of our duty.
1. To send the gospel to others, who have equal need, equal claims.
2. We have the ability to do it.
3. Are under equal obligation.
4. Possess the same motives. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.--
St. Paul’s authority
History repeats itself. Modern heresies are only ancient errors. It is the fashion now, as it was at Corinth, to repudiate the apostle’s authority and to claim the right to criticise his teaching. The cry then was, Not Paul, but Peter or Apollos; now it is not Paul, but Christ. Consider St. Paul’s authority--
I. In itself.
1. Its nature. Nothing can be plainer than that the words, “The things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord,” are a claim to Divine authority. His critics must therefore choose one of three theories.
(1) Imposture. But chap. 13. is sufficient to refute that.
(2) Madness. But this Epistle could not have been written by any other than a sane man--a man whose mind was as clear as his purpose was honest.
(3) Truth. No honest or intelligent man could have preferred the claim of our text had it not been true. If true, then St. Paul’s words carry the same weight as the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount.
2. Its basis. He wrote the commandments of the Lord--i.e., those which came from the Lord by direct inspiration, for they are not quotations from previous revelations.
(1) John 14:25-26; John 15:12-13 are a declaration at once of the incompleteness of Christ’s personal teaching and a promise of fuller instruction under the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The apostles were to know more than Christ had taught them after He had gone. To compare, therefore, the apostle’s teaching with that of our Lord’s to the disparagement of the former is simply to repudiate the authority of Christ. Jesus only began to teach personally (Acts 1:1). His perfected teaching was through the apostles after Pentacost.
(2) Was Paul among the number? This Epistle is a triumphant answer to that question (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 with Galatians 1:1; Galatians 1:11-16)
. Again, this is blasphemy, insanity, or truth. If the last, then St. Paul’s teaching by the terms of his Master’s declaration was on a level with his own.
3. Its independence (verse 38). The apostle felt that any denial of his claim was based upon wilful and invincible ignorance, and with that he would have no further controversy. And this scathing satire loses none of its severity in its modern application. We have no fear that St. Paul’s authority, with all the precious teaching which rests upon it, will be shaken. What has been finely said of Christianity as a whole may be said of it: “This anvil has been well beaten, but it has worn out many hammers.”
II. As a test.
1. Of fitness to teach. “If any man think himself a prophet,” etc. There was no arrogance in this. St. Paul knew that he had been put in trust with the gospel, and that he had faithfully transmitted the sacred deposit. To repudiate his authority, therefore, was to claim the liberty to tamper with Divine revelation and to imperil the souls of men. Many who thought themselves prophets did this with the disastrous results recorded in this Epistle. No man is fit to play the role of prophet who is not prepared to declare all the counsel of God. But this he cannot do if he shuns to declare any of the commandments of the Lord as delivered by Paul.
2. Of spirituality. “If any man think himself to be spiritual” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-2)
. No small amount of the carnal-mindedness of the Corinthians is due to their repudiation of Paul’s teaching. Puffed up with vanity and conceit they rejected “the commandments of the Lord” and became a law unto themselves. Hence their divisions, contentions, laxity, error. The same test may be applied with unerring accuracy in this and every age. The spiritually minded, with rare exceptions, have been those who have “acknowledged that the things which Paul wrote are the commandments of the Lord.” (J. W. Burn.)
But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
Abandonment to ignorance
Paul humbled himself, but magnified his office. Personally he was less than the least of all saints; officially he was not behind the chiefest apostles. But there were those in Corinth who acknowledged neither his authority nor that of any but themselves, and so the apostle knew that his judgment would not go unchallenged.
I. Opinionatedness and ignorance often go together. A little experience convinces us that those who cling the most tenaciously to their own opinions and habits are not men of the soundest judgment. To resist evidence and authority is no sign of intellectual power. Some are obstinate because blind to all but what is acceptable to their own prejudices.
II. There are those whom no evidence can convince and no authority overawe. If all men were candid and followed the light of reason, human life and society would be different. “Men love darkness rather than light,” etc. Young and sanguine ministers often begin with the persuasion that they have only to place the truth fairly before men in order to their conviction and conversion; but experience soon shows that there is a moral obduracy which is proof against all efforts.
III. It may be wise to abandon to their loved ignorance those who will not be enlightened. A benevolent mind will be slow to adopt this course, and never without the hope and prayer that God will use some other methods. But even He seems to act upon this principle, at all events, for a season and purpose. “Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone.”
IV. There is better employment for Christian labourers than the endeavours to enlighten the invincibly ignorant. There are the young, the candid, the earnest and prayerful, all anxious for light. Here, then, is abundant scope for effort. Why spend time in tilling the rock when there is virgin soil?
V. There is a probation and a judgment of God to which such characters must needs be left. The Christian labourer must remember that he is not the governor of the world. This reflection will not harden his heart against the unbelieving; he will leave such in the hands of the All-Wise and the All-Merciful. (Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
1 Corinthians 14:40
Let all things be done decently and in order.
1. Be done in its proper time.
2. Be kept to its proper use.
3. Be put in its proper place.
Decently and in order
“Decently”--i.e., so as not to interrupt the gravity and dignity of assemblies. “In order”--i.e., not by hazard or impulse, but by design and arrangement. The idea is not so much of any beauty or succession of parts in the worship, as of that calm and simple majesty which in the ancient world, whether Pagan or Jewish, seems to have characterised all solemn assemblies, whether civil or ecclesiastical, as distinct from the frantic or enthusiastic ceremonies which accompanied illicit or extravagant communities. The Roman senate, the Athenian areopagus, were examples of the former, as the wild Bacchanalian or Phrygian orgies were of the latter. Hence the apostle has condemned the discontinuance of the veil (1 Corinthians 9:1-16), the speaking of women (1 Corinthians 14:34), the indiscriminate banquetting (1 Corinthians 11:16-34), the interruption of the prophets by each other (1 Corinthians 14:30-32). “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” is a principle of universal application, and condemns every impulse of religious zeal or feeling which is not strictly under the control of those who display it. A world of fanaticism is exploded by this simple axiom; and to those who have witnessed the religious frenzy which attaches itself to the various forms of Eastern worship, this advice of the apostle, himself of Eastern origin, will appear the more remarkable. The wild gambols yearly celebrated at Easter by the adherents of the Greek Church round the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem show what Eastern Christianity may become; they are the living proofs of the need of the wisdom of the apostolic precept. (Dean Stanley.)
Decency and order in Divine worship
These terms may seem to be of no very great importance; but little words may be of great account when they are applied to the highest things; and if the want of order and decency is capable of defiling our whole religion, it behoves us carefully to avoid it. Remember that--
I. God is the object of worship.
1. That we may think reverently of the worship of God, let us first think of God Himself, who and what He is. If we look beyond the heaven the eye of faith beholds Him seated in light inaccessible, and surrounded with myriads of angels excelling in strength and wisdom. If we attend to the effects of His power here below, we must acknowledge Him the contriver and artificer of all those wonderful works which delight the eye and minister to the life and comfort of His creatures.
2. This great Being is surely worthy of our attention. It is an honour to us that we are invited to lift up our eyes toward the place of His dwelling, and permitted to speak to Him in prayer.
II. We have no other way of affronting God than by neglecting His service and making light of His institutions. God Himself is not an object of our bodily senses; but His religion, His Churches, and His altars are present to us; and if we despise them, we do all that is in our power to show that God Himself is despised by us. The Bible teaches us, and reason must needs assent to it, that God will take to Himself every act of contempt against the Church and its administration. Tribute is due from subjects to their prince: if it is paid in base metal, the act is not only deficient, but treasonable, and would be punished accordingly. Worship is the tribute due from man to God; it is the honour due to His name: but if it is an unholy worship, it is worse than the silence and ignorance of a savage, and will be required of us as an act of treason and impiety,
III. No blessing can be expected upon ourselves, but only so far as our service is acceptable. The subject who pays the tribute that is required of him is rewarded with protection under an execution of the laws: and certainly God is not so unmindful of His subjects as to leave them without the protection of His providence. In what respects are order and decency required in a congregation of Christians?
1. A composed and serious mind. The want of gravity is a sign of great ignorance and ill-breeding in the company of men our superiors: how much more, then, is gravity required in the presence of our Maker!
2. Punctuality. They who come in at an unseasonable time do more harm to others than their presence is like to do good to themselves: they either drown the voice of the minister with their noise, or take off the attention of the people from their prayers.
3. Reverence and attention. We despise the Turks, yet in this they far exceed the Christians. They are called to prayers by the voice of a man crying from the tops of their steeples, at whoso voice they wash themselves, and having put off their shoes at the door of their mosque, are ready to enter with silence and gravity before their minister begins his prayer. You will never find one of them coughing, or yawning, or shifting his place, or speaking a word to his neighbour. They attend to nothing but the service, and when the service is over, they put on their shoes again in silence, and depart without entering into any impertinent conversation.
4. Union and earnestness. In the course of our liturgy the offices are divided between the minister and the people. If the minister were to fail in his part, it would be so remarkable that every person would observe it, and the service would be at a stand; but the people, being many, the inattention of particulars is not so easily perceived, and therefore it is too common for many to fail in making their proper responses. This is a bad custom, and should by all means be corrected. Conclusion: What I have said ought to dispose those who have heard me to join in those words of Jacob: “How dreadful is this place!” etc. He who blessed the piety of Jacob, will bless us also if we are the heirs of it. But if we treat the house of God, like the profane Jews, who had turned it into a house of merchandise and a den of thieves, a far worse visitation will befall us. (W. Jones, M. A.)
1. In the conduct of your affairs.
2. In the distribution of your time.
3. In the management of your fortune.
4. In the regulation of your amusements.
5. In the arrangement of your society. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
A useful and general rule
I. How things ought to be done--(εὐσχημόνως) consistently--in order, without discord, confusion, tumult.
II. Where. Everywhere--especially in the Church and in the worship of God.
III. Why. For our own credit, for the glory of God, for the edification and prosperity of the Church. (J. Lyth, D. D)
Things cannot be done decently and in order--
I. Without thoughtfulness. There is the thoughtfulness--
1. Of servants.
2. Of the feelings of others. A thousand times a day gentlewomen and polite men say and do things which wound by their thoughtlessness, because they don’t consider the peculiarities of their neighbours.
3. Of our own reputation. Strange as it may seem, the best of people often do things which would be a matter of shame to persons in a lower state of life.
II. Without carefulness.
1. In property. The waste which is allowed in all classes of house, holds is astonishing. Few can realise how great it is or how sinful its results. God allows nothing to waste.
2. In habit. Some make a point of keeping others waiting; they know nothing of punctuality.
3. In dress. It will not do to be carried away with the infatuation of fashion, nor to neglect due regard to comely appearance.
4. As to cleanliness. Not merely personal, but universal; in the home, in the street, in every detail of life.
5. With regard to debt, and the strict and just keeping of accounts.
6. About the waste of time. There should be a proper division of the duties of life, and a right use of the valuable opportunities God has given us.
III. Without self-control.
1. Of evil feelings. Satan suggests evil thoughts, bitter sentiments. Even religious minds entertain religious and political animosities.
2. Of unseemly passions. Passions of lust must be checked; passions of anger and rage be kept in hand.
3. Of self-esteem. Proper self-esteem is valuable, but it may degenerate into pride, harshness, haughtiness, and a cruel, overbearing disposition. The various forms of egotism are numerous, and are neither lovely nor of good report.
4. Of actions. Many act from impulse, and so bring upon themselves untold misery which can never be rectified. Conclusion: These things are part of religion. We find them all brought before us in the example of Christ, and in the daily acts of His life. If we neglect to carry them out, we are not acting up to our religious profession, neither are we making the world better for our being in it. “Whatsoever things are honest, just, lovely, of good report, think on these things.” (J. J. S. Bird.)
On regularity in the conduct of life
It may seem to you at first sight that the observing of order in the various occupations and concerns of life is not a matter of such consequence as to deserve to be much insisted on. It did not seem so to the great apostle, who thought it not below the dignity of his sacred ministry to recommend it to the Corinthians in the words of my text. Nor can it ever seem so in the eye of prudence and rational discernment. I say considered in a religious light; for although the observance of order hold not the highest rank among the injunctions of the Christian religion, though it claim not equal dignity with the commandment of Divine love, and the exercises of faith, hope, and repentance; yet it possesses its separate importance by contributing not a little towards punctuality and facility in the discharge of those higher and more essential duties, and therefore justly demands a share of a Christian’s attention. As in every well-connected piece of mechanism the subordinate springs or wheels, though apparently insignificant, are each of them necessary to the carrying on of its operations; so in the variety of moral and religious precepts one reflects light upon another, one facilitates the observance of another, and all jointly contribute to that perfection of character to which every Christian is bound to aspire. Indeed, if you look abroad into the world you may discover, even at the first glance, that the life of the wicked and of the libertine is always a life of confusion.
1. First, then, as to the duties of your state of life. Every man, in every department of society--the king, the statesman, the soldier, the artisan, the master, the servant--has certain particular duties to comply with, either public, domestic, or private, which successively require his attention. We in particular, who live in the midst of the agitations of the world, are called upon by Almighty God to exert ourselves in our respective stations, that we may promote His honour and glory, at the same time that we become useful to ourselves and our fellow-creatures. In proportion as the multiplicity and variety of your affairs increase, the observance of order becomes more indispensably necessary for you; and let your train of life be ever so simple and uniform, however little you may be engaged in the hurry and bustle of life, yet you cannot fail to lose something, and a great deal too, by the neglect of regularity. For the orderly conduct of your temporal affairs forms a very material part of your duty as Christians. All your employments are properly religious exercises. Who has allotted you these employments? Doubtless it was that God whom your religion honours and serves. In discharging them, therefore, you do Him homage. Oh! what a train of heroic virtues might you display in the very meanest of your employments, if you were always careful to do them well, with an upright intention, actuated by a wish to approve yourselves to Heaven! The sanctity we aspire to does not consist in doing extraordinary actions, says a great prelate, but in doing our ordinary actions extraordinary well. But will they, can they be done without regularity? Will not hurry, perplexity, and confusion take off much from their perfection? You well know that for want of your having traced out for yourselves an orderly plan of life, many of your duties have been very ill done; perhaps not done at all. By conducting your affairs with method and order you will be enabled to give to each duty a becoming share of attention. This regard to order will likewise insure you an interior peace of mind and constant cheerfulness of temper; for you will find that a peevish and fretful disposition is ever the characteristic of such as are negligent of it. The hurry and confusion in which they live, the difficulties they have to struggle with for their dispositions. But if order must be maintained in your affairs, it will be necessary that you attend to order in the distribution of your time.
2. That portion of time which Providence hath allotted for the measure of your life is intended partly for the concerns of this world, partly for those of the next; yet so that the interests of the earth be made ever subordinate to those of eternity. In the distribution of your time give to each of these concerns that space which properly belongs to it. Be ever impressed with a just sense of the value of time. Remember that by a fatal neglect and loss of it, you store up for yourselves many future pains and miseries.
3. Introduce order into the management of your fortune. Whatever be the extent of your possessions, whether great or small, let the administration of them proceed with method and economy. Provide what is necessary before you indulge yourselves in anything superfluous. Never, perhaps, was admonition more necessary than this is to the age in which we live; an age manifestly distinguished by a propensity to thoughtless extravagance. But prodigality does not only sink men to contempt and misery; it frequently impels them to open crimes. When they have begun with ostentation and vanity they often end in infamy and guilt. Be assured, then, that order, frugality, and economy are the necessary supports of Christian virtue, and will deliver you from the assaults of many very dangerous temptations. How humble and trifling soever these qualities may appear to some people, they are the guardians of innocence.
4. Observe order in your amusements; that is, allow them no more than their proper place; study to keep them within due bounds; mingle them so prudently with your serious duties that they may relieve the mind and be a preparation for acting with more vigour in the discharge of your obligations.
5. Preserve order likewise in the choice of your society. Select with prudence those with whom you choose to associate, and let virtue be the object which determines your choice. Endeavour in the first place to make yourselves happy at home. By this fondness for home it is past conception how much evil you may avoid. (J. Archer.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12