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1 Corinthians 14:1. Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, &c.— Or, pursue, &c. St. Paul,in this chapter, concludes his answer to the Corinthians concerning spiritual men and their gifts; and having told them that those were most to be preferred which tended most to edification, and particularly shewn that prophesy was to be preferred to tongues, he gave them directions for the decent, orderly, and profitable exercise of their gifts in their assemblies. The word διωκετε, rendered follow after, properly signifies,"Topursue,withaneagernesslikethat with which hunters follow their game;" and it may be intended to intimate how hard it is to obtain and preserve such a truly benevolent spirit, in the main series of life; considering, on the one hand, how many provocations we are likely to meet with; and, on the other, the force of self-love, which will, in so many instances, be ready to break in upon it. But to true evangelical faith nothing is impossible. Instead of follow, we may read, pursue.
1 Corinthians 14:2. For he that speaketh, &c.— "He that speaks in a tongue unknown in the auditory which he addresses, speaks in effect not to men, but to God; and as God alone knows the truth and importance of what he says, it is all lost on the audience, though he speaks in the Spirit the most sublime mysteries." Dr. Whitby thinks that the gifts of languages and prophesy were always to be found in the same person, but that the first was permanent, the other transient; yet surely it isvery conceivable that either might be without the other. The miraculous instamping, as it were, in a man's mind a new language, would, indeed, enable him to speak all he knew in it; but his fitness to discourse in public, as well as hiscapacity of predicting future events, were matters quite of another nature. He who attentively reads this chapter, says Mr. Locke, about spiritual men, and their gifts, may find reason to imagine that it was those who had the gift of tongues that caused the disorder in the church of Corinth, by their forwardness to speak, and striving to be heard first; and so taking up too much of their time in the assemblies. For remedying this disorder; and better regulating this matter, amongst other things, they had recourse to St. Paul. This opinion will be confirmed, if we consider, 1st, that the first gift which St. Paul compares with love, ch. 13 and extremely undervalues in comparison of that divine virtue, is the gift of tongues; as if that were the gift which they most affected to shew, and most valued themselves upon; as indeed it was in itself most fitted for ostentation, in their assemblies, of any other, if any one were inclined that way; and that the Corinthians, in their present state, were not exempt from emulation and vanity, is very evident. 2nd, If we consider, that when in this chapter St. Paul compares their spiritual gifts one with another, the first, nay, the only one which he depreciates, in comparison of others, is the gift of tongues; of which he discourses for above twenty verses together, in a way proper to abate a too high esteem, and a too excessive use of it in their assemblies; which we cannot suppose he would have done had they not been guilty of some such miscarriage in the case as seems to be intimated in 1 Corinthians 14:24. 3rdly, When he comes to give directions about the exercise of their gifts in their meetings, that of tongues is the only one which he restrains and limits, 1 Corinthians 14:27-28.
1 Corinthians 14:3. But he that prophesieth, &c.— That is, "Whereas he that prophesieth, in the sense in which I now use the word, i.e. discourses of divine things in a known language, speaketh to men, and affords them edification, and exhortation and comfort, according to the particular tenor and contents of what he says."
1 Corinthians 14:4. In an unknown tongue.— By γλωσση, tongue, Dr. Lightfoot, in this chapter, understands the Hebrew tongue; which, he observes, was used in the synagogue in reading the scripture, in praying, and in preaching. "If that be the meaning oftongue here, says Mr. Locke, it suits well with the Apostle's design; which was to take them off from their Jewish false apostle, who probably might have encouraged and promoted this speaking of the Hebrew in their assemblies." But it appears to me more likely that the word γλωσση, here signifies any known tongue, in the general.
1 Corinthians 14:5. I would that ye all spake with tongues.— How happily does the Apostle teach us to estimate the value of gifts and talents, not by their brilliancy, but usefulness. Speaking with tongues was, indeed, very serviceable for spreading the gospel abroad; but for those who staid at home, it was much more desirable to be able to discourse well on useful subjects in their own language; which might serve for the improvement of the society to which they belonged, and the conviction of such of their unbelieving neighbours as might visit their assemblies. See 1 Corinthians 14:23-25.
1 Corinthians 14:6. By revelation, or by knowledge, &c.— It is not to be doubted that the four distinct terms here used bythe Apostle had each its distinct signification in his mind and intention. Whether what may be collected from these epistles will sufficiently warrant us to understand them in the following significations, must be left to the judgment of others. First, Revelation;—something revealed by God immediately to the person; see 1 Corinthians 14:30. Secondly, Knowledge;—the understanding of the mystical and evangelical sense of passages in the Old Testament, relating to our Saviour and the gospel. Thirdly, prophesy; an inspired hymn, 1 Corinthians 14:26, or the prediction of some future event. Fourthly, doctrine;—any truth of the gospel concerning faith, experience, or manners. But whether this, or any other precise meaning of these words, can be certainly made out now, it is perhaps of no great necessity to be over curious; it being enough, for the understanding thesense and argument of the Apostle here, to know that these terms stand for some intelligible discourse; tending to the edification of the church; though of what kind each of them was in particular we know not certainly.
1 Corinthians 14:10-12. There are, it may be, &c.— There are, for example, many different languages in the world, and all are significant, 1 Corinthians 14:11. But if I do not understand the language, I shall be, with regard to him that uses it, as a foreigner, and he will be so to me, 1 Corinthians 14:12. Since then there is among you such an emulation about spiritual gifts, seek to excel in those which most contribute to edify the congregation. Heylin.
1 Corinthians 14:13. Wherefore let him that speaketh, &c.— If therefore any of you be fond of speaking languages, by a miraculous power, which he himself was before a stranger to, and which those who have not learnt it can make nothing of; let him beg of God, that, when he comes among such people, he may also be enabled to interpret what he says in their vulgar tongue, that it may not be a heap of unintelligible words to them; but that they may be profited by the discourse.
1 Corinthians 14:14. But my understanding is unfruitful.— "My meaning is unprofitable to others, who understand not my words." See 1 Corinthians 14:4.
1 Corinthians 14:15. I will pray with the understanding also.— That is, according to Mr. Locke, "When moved to it by the Spirit, I will pray in an unknown tongue; but so that my meaning may be understood by others;" that is to say, "I will not do it but when there is some one by to interpret." I will not pretend, says Mr. Locke, to justify this interpretation of the term τω νοι by the exact rules of the Greek idiom; but the sense of the place will, I think, bear me out in it; and he must be little conversant with the writings of St. Paul who does not observe, that when he has used a term, he is apt to repeat it again in the same discourse, in a way peculiar to himself, and somewhat varied from its ordinary signification. So, having here in the foregoing verse used the word νους, for the sentiment of his own mind, which was unprofitable for others when he prayed in a tongue unknown to them, and opposed it to the word πνευμα, which he used there for his own sense, accompanying his own words, intelligible to himself, when by the impulse of the spirit he prayed in a foreign tongue; he continues in this verse to use praying with the Spirit, and with the understanding in the same opposition, the one for praying in a strange tongue, which alone his own mind understood and accompanied; the other, for praying so, as that the meaning of his mind in those words which he uttered was made known to others, so that they were also benefited. Dr. Doddridge, however, is of opinion, that the sense and high spirit of the Apostle in this clause is lost by the above interpretation. I apprehend, says he, it is designed further to intimate what a want of manly sense and right understanding it must betray, to talk in a language which the hearers could not comprehend, how sublime soever the discourse may be. This the 20th verse, and especially the use of the word τελειοι, there strongly suggests. Instead of, I will pray with the understanding, and I will sing with the understanding, Dr. Heylin reads, But my prayer shall be intelligible;—but my hymn shall be intelligible.
1 Corinthians 14:16. He that occupieth, &c.— Or, he that is one of the unlearned. Dr. Heylin reads, How shall a hearer, who knows only his own tongue, say, &c.
1 Corinthians 14:18. I speak with tongues more, &c.— The occasion shews, that the Apostle considered this acquirement as a spiritual gift; and his using the present time shews that he spoke of it as then in his possession. But why did he speak with more tongues than all of them?—For a good reason: he was the peculiar Apostle of the Gentiles, and was to preach the gospel among remote and barbarous nations. See 1 Corinthians 14:4.
1 Corinthians 14:20. Be not children in understanding:— This is an admirable stroke of true oratory, adapted to humble their spirits, by representing those things in which they were most ready to pride themselves, as comparatively little. The word u957?ηπιαζετε refers to infants, and is not sufficiently expressed by the word children; for they are sometimes vain, and sometimes malicious too; the old Adam more or less discovers itself in them: it should rather be rendered, be little infants in malice,κακια, by which is to be understood all sorts of evil tempers of mind which are contrary to the gentleness of childhood; and in particular their emulation and strife about the exercise of their gifts in their assemblies. The word τελειοι signifies full-grown men; intimating, that it was a kind of puerility to emulate, and to quarrel with one another.
1 Corinthians 14:21. In the law it is written,— In the law, here, means the Old Testament, Isa 28:11 where God has been complaining of the unteachable disposition of the Jews. Instead of, with men of other lips, some read, surely in foreign language, and with foreign lips, &c. Most critics refer the words, as they stand in Isaiah, to the Babylonians, who should come and speak to them in a language unintelligible to them; in which sense the phrase is used elsewhere, Deuteronomy 28:49. Jeremiah 5:15. Diodati thinks the meaning is, "Because they would not attend to plain messages, God would speak to them by such as they could not understand:" and then the Apostle's argument will be, "Since God threatens this as a curse, do not voluntarily bring it upon the church, merely to make ostentation of your own gifts." See Luke 24:44.Acts 24:0; Acts 24:0.
1 Corinthians 14:25. And thus are the secrets, &c.— "In a manner to him very surprising and unaccountable; insomuch that sometimes a person who comes into your assembly out of mere curiosity, or possibly with some ill design, is not able to command himself under the impression which the word ofGod thus spoken makes upon him." It is very possible that, as in the known cases of Nathaniel and the woman of Samaria, (John 1:47; John 4:18.) some secret facts relating to a stranger might, in some instances, be revealed to a prophet; perhaps, in some cases, the ill designs which had brought them into the assembly, when they came only as spies: and this was well suited to the purpose of producing, through grace, strong convictions of the presence of God with Christians. The passage, however, may be so understood, as to include any remarkable correspondence between what was spoken and the thoughts and state of mind whereof such a stranger might be conscious. Many memorable instances of which still happen, where ministers preach in an experimental manner, and lasting effects are often produced in consequence of such impressions.
1 Corinthians 14:26. Every one of you hath a psalm,— Is ready with a psalm, with a doctrine, &c. Locke. It seems probable, that some of these Christians were so full of themselves, and so desirous of exercising their respective gifts, that, without waiting for the permission and direction of him who presided in the assembly (which in the synagogues the Apostles themselves seem to have done, see Acts 13:15.), several began speaking or singing in the same minute, and some began while others were speaking. The manner in which discourses were carried on in the schools of the philosophers, (where several little knots of disputants seem to have been engaged at the same time,) and what happened frequently in the Jewish synagogues after worship was concluded, might possibly have given occasion to this irregularity.
1 Corinthians 14:27. If any man speak, &c.— St. Paul has said in this chapter as much as conveniently could be said, to restrain their speaking in an unknown tongue in their assemblies; which seems to be that particular wherein the vanity and ostentation of the Corinthians was most forward to shew themselves. "It is not," says he, "a gift intended for the edification of believers; however, since you will be exercising it in your meetings, let it always be so ordered that it may be for edification." The original word ειτε should be rendered although, since it is no where used simply for if, as in our translation: nor will the sense here bear whether, which is the common signification of the word ειτε . Therefore, says Mr. Locke, I take the Apostle's meaning to be, "You must do nothing but to edification, 1 Corinthians 14:26; and although you speak in an unknown tongue, even an unknown tongue must be made use of in your assemblies only to edification." The rule of the synagogue was, "In the law, let one read, and one interpret; in the prophets, let one read, and two interpret."—In Esther, "ten may read, and ten interpret."—Some learned critics would connect this and the 26th verse together, thus: Hath every one a psalm? Hath he a doctrine? &c.—Let all be done to edifying; or if any one speak in an unknown tongue, let it be, &c. See Luke 11:11.
1 Corinthians 14:28. But, if there be no interpreter,— The miracle which conferred the gift of tongues, seems to have been the instantaneous impressing on the mind the familiar and perfect knowledge of a language, with which the person was before unacquainted; yet so that from that time the person receiving it should be able, without any new miracle, to use it as he thought fit; in the same manner as the members of the body are freely and perfectly used, after having been restored by miracle to the exercise of their natural functions. It was as much in the course of nature for an Apostle, whom the Holy Spirit had enabled to speak a strange language, ever afterwards to have the use of that language, as it was for the cripple whom Jesus restored to the use of his limbs, ever afterwards to walk, run, and perform all the functions of a man perfectly sound and whole. This is the only hypothesis upon which the abuse of this gift can be accounted for.
1 Corinthians 14:30. Let the first hold his peace.— Some think that the word σαγατω here should be rendered, have done speaking; for if the direction had been, "Let him that was speaking immediately hold his peace, as soon as another intimates that he has a revelation," it would have introduced a confusion which this advice was intended to prevent.—"If any thing be revealed to another, &c. let him not immediately arise and interrupt the first, but let him sit still till he have done speaking." See 1 Corinthians 14:32-33.
1 Corinthians 14:31. That all may learn,— Yet so as all may learn.
1 Corinthians 14:32. The spirits of the prophets are subject, &c.— Those who were actuated by the Holy Spirit, in the very moment of inspiration, still retained the free use of themselves,andcontinuedmastersoftheirrationalandpersuasivefaculties.Butitwas just the contrary with the heathen oracles. The Delphic prophetess was a mere organ, her prophesies being delivered in a fit of extacy, when the presence of the god or devil was supposed to obliterate all the impressions of human ideas.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Let your women keep silence— "As to your women, let them keep silence in your assemblies: for it is not permitted them to discourse there, or pretend to teach: that no way suits the state of subjection appointed them in the law. See Genesis 3:16. But if they have a mind to have any thing explained to them which passes in the church, let them, for their information, ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the congregation."
1 Corinthians 14:37. Or spiritual,— The spiritual man, in St. Paul's sense, in this place, is one who founds his knowledge in what is revealed by the Spirit of God, and not in the bare discoveries of his natural reason and parts. See ch. 1 Corinthians 2:15.
1 Corinthians 14:38. If any man be ignorant,— By the any man, mentioned in this and the foregoing verse, St. Paul seems particularly to intimate the false apostle, who pretended to give laws among them, and may well be supposed to be the author of these disorders; whom therefore St. Paul censures, and presses in these three verses. The word 'Αγνοειτω, which we render, "Let him be ignorant," Dr. Whitby would render, "Let him not be acknowledged to be a true prophet." See his note.
1 Corinthians 14:39. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, &c.— "Therefore, to conclude all that I have been saying on these points, my advice to you, brethren, is, that you be earnestly desirous of obtaining and exercising the gift of prophesy, as the most excellent in itself, and most profitable to the church, of all others; (1 Corinthians 14:1-5.) and yet that ye would not utterly discountenance and prevent the exercise of the gift of tongues, which may also be of good use in its place, if it be managed according to the foregoing rules concerning it."
1 Corinthians 14:40. Let all things be done decently— "Especially remember this great comprehensive rule, to be applied to a thousand varieties which may arise, Let all things be done decently, and according to order; let all be conducted in a regular manner, to prevent such disturbances, disputes, and scandals for the future, as have already arisen in your society, and will proceed to greater evils, if you do not immediately set about reforming them."
Inferences.—How weak and poor a thing is pride and ostentation, and how wise and honourable humility and love! Who that has a right discernment would not rather be the obscurest Christian that now almost unseen joins our assemblies, and, in heart at least, humbly puts his amen to the petitions presented there, than the most fluent talker in Corinth, abusing the special gifts of the Spirit, and trifling away, in an unseasonable display of his then unprofitable endowments, the moments destined to the higher purposes of religious edification? Who must not lament to see pride and vain-glory so early insinuating themselves into Christian societies? Who must not, from so sad an instance, learn to be greatly watchful over their own hearts, on a side where they are subject to such dangerous attacks? 1 Corinthians 14:2-12.
Had the most able and zealous protestant divine endeavoured to expose the absurdity of praying in an unknown tongue, as practised in the church of Rome, it is difficult to imagine what he could have written more full to the purpose than the Apostle has here done: and when it is considered how perversely the papists retain the usage of such prayers, it will seem no wonder that they should keep the scriptures also in an unknown tongue. But they proclaim, at the same time, their superstition and idolatry in so universal a language, that even a barbarian might perceive and learn it in their assemblies. May God give their prejudiced minds a juster and happier turn, and teach us to avoid a blind and unreasonable adherence to custom, merely as such; always directing ourselves by what the reason of the things, and the authority of scripture, concur to dictate, 1 Corinthians 14:13-16.
We should learn of this wise and benevolent Apostle, to estimate the value of gifts by their usefulness, and to seek, above all things, the edification of our brethren, especially if we are providentially called to minister in public, 1 Corinthians 14:18-19. There is, perhaps, a manner of speaking in an unknown tongue, even when the language of our own country is used,—a height of composition, an abstruseness of thought, an obscurity of phrase, which common Christians cannot understand. Let not the ministers of the humble Jesus seek such high things, but, in this important sense of the exhortation, condescend to men of low estate. If the ignorant may be instructed, if the careless may be convinced, if the vicious may be reformed; if the devotion of our Christian brethren may be excited, their love to each other cherished, and their holy resolutions confirmed,—the great ends of divine ordinances are answered; and that plainness of speech which may be most likely to promote them, is rather the glory than the reproach of the Christian orator.
How fondly do men flatter themselves with empty appearances, and often how justly do such deserve the imputation of childish folly, the height of whose temper will least allow them to bear it! Let us dare to examine ourselves impartially; solicitous that we may not be children in understanding; but, forming our minds on the maxims of scripture, and our lives on the example of Christ, may we grow up in him to the measure and stature of a perfect man:—but let us be children in malice, endeavouring to be as free from every gloomy, malignant, selfish passion, as newborn infants are, 1 Corinthians 14:20. In short, it is this happy and amiable character, which we should diligently follow after; remembering that there is a sense in which we must become as little children, or we cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
Those extraordinary gifts, which suited the first planting of Christianity in the world, are now ceased; but we have great reason to bless God that they were given, and that we have such an incontestable evidence of the truth of the gospel as this chapter affords. Such endowments must certainly argue a divine power setting its seal to the gospel; and the reality of such endowments can never be questioned, when we reflect on the manner in which the Apostle here reproves the abuse of them, and that in a society where so many were alienated from him and his ministry, and consequently where such appeals, if not founded on the strictest and most apparent truth, must have exposed him to a contempt never to have been removed. Though these miraculous gifts are now withdrawn, still the Divine Presence is with the church; of which we have this happy proof, that there are those who find the secrets of their hearts made manifest by the faithful and skilful administration of Christian ordinances; adoring the Lord God in their hearts, and acknowledging that he is of a truth with his church. May instances of this kind be more frequent, and may the spirituality and fervour with which divine ordinances shall be administered be such, as may afford more reason to expect them, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.
We should always regard God as the author, not of confusion, but of peace; making it our concern to behave in his sanctuary in a manner agreeable to this view; with such solemn decorum, and with such a tender regard to the edification and comfort of each other, as he may approve. May the God of peace deliver Christians of every denomination and rank from that spiritual pride which has thrown so many religious societies into disorder: and, to advance in a state so happy as that of humility and love must necessarily be, may what the Apostles have written be acknowledged as the commandments of the Lord, and Christian worship and practice be more regulated by their truly authentic canons; which would render many that have since been devised, relating to indifferent matters, as unnecessary as some others are burdensome, superstitious, and absurd, 1 Corinthians 14:33-40.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Having recommended charity, or love, in the first place, he proceeds to shew what spiritual gifts were most desirable.
1. Follow after love, pursue it with the greatest eagerness, and desire spiritual gifts for the glory of God and the good of the church; but rather, or chiefly, that ye may prophesy, so as by divine illumination to be enabled most profitably to open and apply the Scriptures to the consciences of men for their comfort and edification.
2. He assigns this reason for his exhortation, He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, who cannot understand him, but unto God; for no man understandeth him, howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries, and advances the most glorious and important truths: but he that prophesieth, explaining and opening the Scriptures to the understanding and capacity of the hearers, speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort, and his ministry and gifts are made useful to their souls. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue, edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth, edifieth the church, and communicates an extensive benefit to others as well as to his own heart. I would that ye all spake with tongues, and were furnished with this great gift; but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth, than he that speaketh with tongues, he is a more useful and therefore a more excellent man, and to be more highly esteemed by the hearers; except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. Note; Our discourses should be adapted to the capacity of our hearers: high flights of eloquence, or affectation of learning, are absurd where the audience is illiterate. Our ambition must be to stoop; and we should ever be more solicitous to be understood than to be admired.
2nd, The Apostle goes on to shew the absurdity of making an ostentatious show of gifts, and speaks in his own person to insinuate the reproof which they deserved for their vanity in this respect. Now brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you, interpreting what is made known unto me in an intelligible manner, either by revelation, if it be a new truth; or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? Opening the Scriptures, and enforcing them on the conscience. He illustrates this,
1. By a pipe or harp. Unless these instruments give a distinction of sounds to excite the different passions which music raises, they will be useless and inharmonious: and just so must speaking in an unknown tongue be absurd to one who is a stranger to the language.
2. By a trumpet; which, if it give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? And as the soldier in such a case must be utterly at a loss, so must the congregation be where the discourse is in an unknown tongue, or above their capacities; and such preaching is to them no better than the whistling of the wind.
3. A person speaking in such an unknown tongue appears as a barbarian to the hearers. Various as the languages are in the world, each serves to convey the ideas of the mind to those who are acquainted with it, but to no others: therefore, if I know not the meaning of the language, it will appear mere gibberish; the speaker will appear a barbarian to me, and I to him.
Now this being evidently the case, the Apostle exhorts them, since they so eagerly coveted spiritual gifts, to desire those that were of the most useful tendency; and if they spoke with tongues, to pray that they might be able to interpret them for the edifying of the church. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, and my own soul may be engaged in devotion; but my understanding is unfruitful, and my prayers of no use to the hearer.
3rdly, The Apostle sums up what he had been saying. What is it then that is proper to be done? I will pray with the Spirit, and on proper occasions with any of the tongues which he has given; and I will pray with the understanding also, in such manner as that others may be edified: I will sing with the Spirit, in whatever language he is pleased to enable me to utter his praises; and I will, in public, sing with the understanding also, that the church may join in my ascriptions of praise to God. Else, when thou shalt bless with the Spirit, though under his immediate inspiration, if it be in an unknown tongue, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest, and therefore cannot join in the service? For thou verily givest thanks well; but the other, who knows not the meaning of the words, is not edified. I thank my God (and happy is it when we can call him mine), I speak with tongues more than you all; he did not depreciate the gift, therefore, because he possessed it not, but because they made so evil a use of it: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, from which none of the hearers could receive the least benefit. Therefore, brethren, be not children in understanding, and foolishly boast yourselves on the showy gift of tongues: howbeit in malice be ye children, free from the malignant passions of envy, malice, and pride; but in understanding be men, and prove yourselves to be Christians grown to riper years, by knowing how to value things according to their intrinsic worth, and to prefer godlike love to the most astonishing gifts. Note; (1.) That church must be erroneous, where ignorance is regarded as the mother of devotion, and the prayers are offered in an unknown tongue. (2.) The least good done to the meanest soul is an unspeakably greater acquisition than the highest applause gained to ourselves. (3.) A malicious envious spirit is directly contrary to true Christianity. Among the first lessons of that school, we must learn to become as little children.
4thly, The Apostle further enforces what he had advanced, by observing,
1. That it had been threatened to the Jews, as the punishment of their infidelity, that with men of other tongues, and other lips, will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that they will not hear me, saith the Lord: which was primarily fulfilled when they were sent into captivity to Babylon, where they heard the strange language of their conquerors; and secondarily, when, on the day of Pentecost, they heard the Apostles speak with tongues, yet rejected the evidence which the Holy Ghost bore thereby to the doctrine which they preached; deaf to the warnings of Providence and the calls of grace. The Corinthians should not therefore be so inordinately fond of what God had before used in a way of judgment upon Israel, or what the Jews in general, by their wilful obstinacy, had abused to their eternal condemnation.
2. Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not, to carry the Gospel into the lands of infidelity, and bear a testimony to the truth of it, which those who believe do not so much need; but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not merely, but is also for them which believe, that they may be built up on the true foundation. So that to speak with tongues in a Christian assembly, where none could be profited thereby, was useless.
3. The credit of their profession should restrain them from an ostentation of their gift of tongues. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, it will appear a second Babel: and if there come in those that are unlearned, either private Christians or other common people, and unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad, and, instead of being converted, ridicule you as a parcel of frantic enthusiasts? But if all prophesy, in their turn preaching, praying, or praising, in an intelligible manner, and there come in one that believeth not, out of curiosity or by accident; or one unlearned, or ignorant; he is convinced of all, he is judged of all; his conscience is affected under the word, his sins are brought to his remembrance, and the just wrath of God due thereunto is set before him: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest, as if the preacher had known his very soul, and described his case particularly; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God, convinced, by what he hears, that this is his work; and report that God is in you of a truth, since none could so discover the inmost soul; and speak with such power and energy, unless God's Spirit instructed them and accompanied their ministrations. Note; The word of truth, when rightly dispensed, is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart: and many who have heard it, have felt by experience, that God's ministers often describe their case as particularly as if they knew the secrets of their souls; and sometimes they wonder who has told them.
5thly, The Apostle reproves their ill behaviour, and gives them rules for their conduct.
1. He blames their irregularities in the church. How is it then, brethren, that you behave so unseemly in the house of God? For, when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation; and, whilst every one is forward to exercise his own gift, the whole is a scene of disorder and confusion. Let all things be done unto edifying, and no such unseasonable and unprofitable exercise of these divinely communicated gifts be permitted.
2. He orders how they should proceed in the congregation. (1.) If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three; no more than these should at one meeting speak in foreign languages, and that by course, in their proper turn; and let one interpret, that the audience may receive instruction: but, if there be no interpreter, let him that speaks in an unknown tongue keep silence in the church, and not interrupt what is to the use of edifying; and let him speak to himself and to God in private prayer. (2.) Let the prophets speak two or three, at one assembly, and after each other, and let the other judge whether those who profess to be prophets really are so, and examine what they say by the word of truth. (3.) If any thing of peculiar importance be revealed to another prophet that sitteth by, let the first who was speaking hasten to conclude his discourse, and hold his peace: for ye may all prophesy one by one, at proper opportunities, that all may learn and all may be comforted; this being the great end for which the gift of prophesy is bestowed. (See the Annotations.) And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; these who are truly inspired, are not like those under diabolical possession; but have the due government of themselves, and need not be hurried into any indecency or impropriety, as to the matter, time, or manner of their speaking.
3. He enforces his discourse with this argument, For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace; such disorderly proceedings as these here remarked cannot arise from him; but as in all the other churches of the saints, so among you, it is his pleasure, and for his glory, that due order should be observed.
6thly, We have silence imposed on women in the church: for it is not permitted unto them to speak as public teachers; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law, and to shew it by such a modest silence. And if they will learn any thing, and desire that what they have heard may be farther explained, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church, and thereby renounce that due subordination which God has enjoined. Note; (1.) If it be the woman's duty to learn in subjection, it is the husband's duty equally to maintain his superiority by shewing himself able to inform her. (2.) Modesty is a woman's greatest ornament; and in that sex especially all boldness is peculiarly shocking.
7thly, The Apostle closes his discourse with holy warmth on the preceding points. What mean you by your irregular behaviour? Came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? Are you the mother church? ought you to set up yourselves as oracles? and are you to pay no respect to the usages of other churches; as if your own was infallible? How intolerably assuming is such behaviour? If any man think himself a prophet, or spiritual, let him prove the truth of the inspiration which he challenges by subscribing to these truths, and acknowledge that the things that I write unto you, are the commandments of the Lord, since no man, truly under the influence of the Spirit, can possibly contradict what that Spirit, speaking in his Apostles, dictates: but if any man be ignorant, and obstinately refuse to submit to these commands, let him be ignorant, treated with deserved contempt, and left to follow the wilful blindness and perverseness of his own heart. Wherefore, brethren, on the whole, covet to prophesy, as the most excellent gift; and forbid not to speak with tongues, which are useful when managed according to the manner above prescribed. And for a general rule in all things pertaining to the public worship, let all things be done decently and in order; and let every indecency and irregularity be banished from the house of God. Note; (1.) They who continue wilfully ignorant of, or obstinately reject the commandments of the Lord, evidently shew by whose spirit they are led. (2.) When a man hates the light, he is justly abandoned to the darkness that he has chosen. (3.) In the public worship of God, all the service should be rational, orderly, and edifying.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25