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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1 Corinthians 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-40

Trumpet and Sword

1 Corinthians 14:8

With the trumpet we associate the idea of music, and with music we associate the idea of enjoyment, pleasure, in some sense the idea of intellectual or æsthetic luxury. None of these ideas can be found in the text. To the Apostle Paul the trumpet was not a musical instrument, it was a battle force. He would utilise everything for Christ. He was not ignorant of secondary uses, of intermediate phases, but he would have everything pressed into the service of the Gospel, and in that service find the culmination and the glory of its purpose. He knew that money was for buying and selling with, intermediately and transiently; but the great object of it was higher. He knew that the world was to be used; but not over-used, said he; make a scaffolding of it by the use of which you may build some better world. When we think of "trumpet" we think of toys, of musical instruments, of pleasure, of gaiety, of dance, and revel. When the Apostle Paul thought of a trumpet he thought of a battle-call, and when he thought of battles he thought not of the conflict of man with man—horrible, unpardonable war—he thought of the encounter that was not carnal, but spiritual,—the mighty, tremendous, eternal conflict between right and wrong. Men talk with trumpets. They talk with musical instruments of meaner kinds. The boatswain in the storm is talking through his whistle. The layman wonders why he whistles so much with that tin whistle, of which he seems to be inordinately proud, as if he were a child with the last toy. The boatswain is not whistling, he is talking: its many sounds equal such and such action,—Aloft! The shrillness means one thing, the gurgle means another, the rapid succession of sound has to do with the navigation of the vessel. To the child the whistle is a toy, to the boatswain it is an instrument of communication where the human voice could not be heard. Everything therefore depends upon the uses to which instruments and faculties and opportunities are turned. Men command with the trumpet. Not a word is spoken, but this rending blare means—Forward! or Backward! As you were! Attention! now Fire! To us they are but so many explosions upon a musical instrument; to the soldier who is away yonder on the hill or in the valley they are orders, commands; and by these blasts shall the army be moved.

Men inspire by the trumpet. Music will do what mere exhortation can never attempt. Preachers ought not to be afraid of trumpets. The danger is that they should be outdone by the blast of the brazen throat. They ought not to heed such tempting voices as would say unto them, The trumpet will do more than you can do with your tongue. Never! There is no trumpet equal to the human voice; it is of God"s fashioning, it is the manifold instrument, it is all instruments shadowed and glorified by one action. The Church therefore ought not to expel the trumpet, the organ, and the cornet, or any musical instrument. It might perhaps do without the flute—because the flute is a kind of lulling instrument, a sort of debased fife—where battle is concerned. We therefore ought to have in the church the trumpet, the far-sounding, ever-repeating, glorious trumpet. Do not say that we are moved by argument only. Men have been moved by music under given circumstances as they have never been moved by mere logic. Man is more than rational. Man is spiritual. Man does not know all his kin. He writes a paper pedigree, but that is not the man. No paper can hold the record in which a man should be able to trace, if not in letters, in sentiments his illustrious ancestry. So the trumpet speaks to Prayer of Manasseh , as well as the human voice. He is amenable to calls that have no words. Men who have been afraid, who have been conscious of exhaustion, have been recreated by the blast of the battle-trumpet, and have gone on to victory from the very point where they expected to die. Touch life at every point; invite all kinds of ministries to operate upon you,—the stars, and the clouds, and the great sea waves and billows, and the birds, and the trees, and the flowers, and the children, and all musical things; and do not hermitise yourselves, but throw off the roof of your hermitage, and let God make your dwelling-place large as is his own sanctuary. You have a right to all these educational inspirations and forces; take your inheritance and be rich.

In a battle the trumpet is as important as the sword. Who ever would have thought of that?—a battle dependent on a trumpet! Yet so it may be. The blower has a good deal to do with the organ. He is not always seen, but if he were to take a little rest in the middle of a tune, it might be awkward. The trumpet says, I am going to battle to-day! and the sword angrily says, I know the pride and the haughtiness of thine heart: to battle indeed! nay, nay; this is battle, this burnished steel. So God"s little scholars talk to one another, and reproach one another, and underrate one another, and call it criticism. It is such criticism that the devil likes. He lives on that criticism; he says, If I can get the sword to reproach the trumpet, and the trumpet to set itself up as of equal value with the sword, I shall fight that army in the rear; there shall not be a stroke on any man"s breast, but every man"s shoulders shall be punctured, and the army shall be, not only routed, but humiliated. Take care, trumpet and sword, lest by some unmannerly mutual misunderstanding the devil get an advantage: both of you go out to the fight, and see to it that ye fight together!

The Apostle has a curious mind, sometimes almost fantastical in its working, yet always returning to the main line with immense accession of strength. Parentheses weaken some styles. It is said that the heart rests at the point of oscillation. Poor little heart!—throb, throb, throb always: hast thou no night, no sleeping-time? Is it one perpetual flutter? Physiology says that the heart snatches a moment"s rest in the action of its throbbing: so this Apostle would seem to rest in his parentheses. Sometimes he takes quite a long holiday, as in chapter xiv, but he will come out of the brackets mighty, definite, and gracious.

In this chapter Paul insists upon intelligence being the standard of edification. The Corinthians were fond of "tongues." At one time Greece was only tongue, or speech, called eloquence. Athens was the Greece of Greece, and would not allow any barbarian to be heard there: yet proud, classic Athens came to talk a patois that civilisation was ashamed of. Take care! All pride leads in that direction, all stupid vanities come to that ruin. "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." The Corinthians would also have tongues,—various voices, incoherent utterances, sounds that returned upon themselves, ever varying the confusion, but never alleviating or enlightening the intellectual darkness, much less contributing spiritual education. The Apostle was very masterly in his treatment of this confusion. Instead of going into the babel-house with a rod and striking everybody indiscriminately, Hebrews , like a wise schoolmaster, said, What is this all about? Give me some understanding of your purpose and policy and methods; I am interested in tongues. Subtle apostle! masterly diplomatist! skilled manager of men! Instead of resorting to his copious resources in the direction of scorn and banter and laughter, he said, I rather like tongues—"I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all": if it comes to a question of tongues I shall be the first man in this church, but what does it all amount to? "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by Revelation , or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?" Paul was a master. Instead of abasing them he puts himself into a striking attitude in relation to the Church itself, saying in effect: Suppose that I were the preacher, and I came into the church, and began to babble and to talk, so that you could not make any distinction between one sound and another, what would you think of me? He became a fool sometimes that he might win fools. He was willing to undergo any suspicion of grotesqueness, provided he could save somebody. The modern preacher ruins his ministry by improper propriety. He does not consider the people, he considers himself; and the people do not consider others, they consider each himself. When the true preacher is speaking in one tone he knows that he has an audience within the audience; when he is speaking in another tone, it may be broader, loftier, grander, he knows that he has his congregation within his congregation; and the whole audience should know that they are in the hands of a man who has understanding of the occasion, and is handling it, not to please A or B, but to save somebody. The Apostle, therefore, is willing to submit himself to the supposition, a humiliating supposition, that even he could come and babble in a church, talking inarticulately or incoherently, speaking a language which was little better than the speech of a barbarian.

Thus the Apostle reasons with these Corinthians: he says:—"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" ( 1 Corinthians 14:19). There is a lesson on preaching. That verse, I would say to any students, will supply you with nearly all the homiletical instruction you require. The Apostle does not want to be a fluent and copious speaker; he does not measure his sermon by its length, which is often the only dimension a sermon possesses; he would have a cubic discourse, not only having length, but breadth, depth and height—a real measure every way. But the object of it must be edification: "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" ( 1 Corinthians 14:28, 1 Corinthians 14:33). The rule therefore is spiritual edification; the basis is that intelligence is needed to the upbuilding of the soul,—not intelligence in the narrow intellectual sense, but in the sense of knowing what is said, really seizing its import, and informing the soul as with the treasure of a distinct and living revelation. Do not mistake muddiness for depth; do not mistake fluency for eloquence. There is a speech that, in the language of Tennyson, "babbles on the pebbles," like his famous brook, which, thanks be to the brook and to the poet, never professed to be the Ganges.

Then the Apostle insists that the musical instrument itself may be right, the battle instrument itself may be of the very choicest quality, and yet it may be perverted in its use:—"If the trumpet give an uncertain sound—" That is the possibility which faced the Apostle. He is not finding fault with the trumpet; he is not finding fault with the trumpeter; he says, If the trumpet is giving two different messages at one and the same time, how can people prepare themselves for the battle? The trumpeter therefore is not to invent; the trumpeter is not to speculate; the trumpeter is not to amuse himself with his instrument; the trumpeter is to keep the battle in view. Let it be clearly understood that the trumpeter has nothing to do but obey orders. At a signal from the commander he multiplies the commander, gives him ubiquity throughout the army. The preacher has nothing to say. There is no impertinence equal to the impertinence of any man standing up to preach to his fellow men, if he has nothing to say, but something that he himself has invented or speculated or dreamed. We do not want the preacher"s indigestions; we do not want an account of his internal neuralgia; we do not care to know through what awful dreams and nightmares the unhappy man has been passing; we want to know what God said, what heaven would have earth to be and to do. I do not wonder at the world having left the pulpit. The pulpit is being left more and more, and will soon be invested with the dignity of solo singing to unheeding emptiness. The sooner the day shall come the better, if it has to be that the world is invited to listen to some man"s doubts and momentary feelings; if the world is to be taken into the confidence of some diarist, who writes down from day to day the impossibilities with which he has been struggling. But a Bible ministry will never be deserted, a Bible-loving Church will be a growing quantity; the minister that tells, in the language of to-day, what was written by the Lord, as from eternal ages, will be recognised as a man who has come from the inner sanctuary with messages that he simply delivers, and with messages that startle and surprise himself with holy amazement. The Apostle is very careful, therefore, about the use of the trumpet. Trumpet for the soldiers, trumpet in the interests of the battle, trumpet only what the general signifies. When he uplifts a hand, you know what you have to say upon the trumpet; when he waves a flag, the trumpet is to carry the intelligence to the remotest corners of the belligerent host. Never is the trumpeter to practise his own skill, or to do anything upon the trumpet for his own amusement, or even delight.

The trumpeter has his place in the Church. The trumpeter is the minister of God, the teacher sent by Christ to state the terms of emancipation and sanctification. We must therefore have a warning ministry. We are getting more and more afraid of such an instrumentality. We prefer the lute to the trumpet; we like to hear the harp rather than the ringing blast that calls men to arms or awakens them in the night time to tell them that there is danger in the wind. Let us pray that our rising ministers may be men who are not afraid to be up all night, watching in the darkness, ready to give the signal on the occasion of an approaching enemy. But if the trumpeter give an uncertain sound, how can any one prepare for battle? If we are uncertain that there is an enemy, what can we do? If the trumpeter should muse with himself, saying, Is the enemy a person, or is the enemy an influence? the enemy will say, Go on; keep asking the question,—for he is making his preparations to overturn the Church. But I do not want any little fledgling trumpet to stand up before me and begin to reason, whether there is an enemy, whether there is a devil, or whether by some prosopopœia—ah, that devil will ruin you through your Greek—there is a personal enemy, or a sort of cloudy general feeling of miasma in the air. If the trumpeter is in that condition of mind, he has no business in the battle; let him go and talk the matter over with some of his most venerable relations, he is not a divinely commissioned trumpeter. Let those men preach who can preach—who have something to preach about. I would rather have some of the grand old preachers that had seen the devil and wrestled with him and thrown an inkhorn at him,—I would rather they should be near me in perilous times, than that I should be found in unhappy association with men who have not yet settled the question whether there is a personal enemy, or whether there is simply a malignant and diffused influence.

It we are not sure about inspiration, what can we say about it? The great mischief of all times has been that people have been taking the Bible to pieces, in order to see what it is composed of, and they have seldom, in many instances at least, put it so together again as to make it more effective than before. Who would take the organ to pieces to see where the music comes from? We must have some conception of the reality of inspiration. We need not be certain about the theory, but we must be certain about the fact: I care less and less for mere theory in any department of theology: but a theory and a fact are two totally different things. I may be sure that the Bible is inspired, because of what it has done in history, and what it has done in my own life; and yet I may be quite unequal to a debate as to the competitive claims of conflicting theories. If men are not sure about the future, what can they say that will touch the highest sentiment and the sublimest energy of mankind? If they are not sure but that they may pass away to nothingness, what word of cheer have they to men, who have been bearing the burden in the heat of the day, and feeling the limitations of the valley, so as to have had burned into their souls the humiliating fact, that they are mere prisoners of time and space? If our preachers are not sure as to the destiny of the wicked, what effect can they produce upon the temper, the intelligence, and the resolution of the world? Above all things, if we are not certain about the Cross, we are lost.

The sword must not despise the trumpet, the trumpet must not exalt itself above the sword. The trumpeter will be preserved from presumption by remembering his responsibility; the trumpeter should say, This battle depends upon me, therefore I must watch the commander, I must be in close touch with the general, never must I take my eyes from him; a single sign must give me my orders, and I will never utter one sound upon this trumpet, that is not consecrated to the direction of the battle. What men there are amongst us, if they would only speak out! We want trumpets, in the form of ministers, who will tell us our dangers as to doctrine and practice and tendency. We want trumpets, in the form of journalists, who will speak boldly out concerning all the corruptions and mischiefs and evil dispositions and tendencies of municipalities and kingdoms, states and continents. We want men of courage, who will tell us when to go forward, when to retire, when to throw into the contest our fiercest energy, and when to abate our application. Pray ye the Lord that he will send us such men. Let me tell you that they will have no easy task of it. Some will go away, but they will come back again in due time. Never ask any Prayer of Manasseh , churchwarden, or deacon, or seatholder, or any living soul, what you have to preach: read the Book of God on your knees, study it as for eternity, and then, come weal or woe, much bread or little or none, say what the Lord has put into your souls.

Prayer

Our Father in heaven, bring us back to thyself, to thy righteousness, to obedience, to the love of holiness, and to good-doing all the day. We know that we have done the things we ought not to have done, but inasmuch as we are still living in thy sight we have hope that on the confession of our sin thou wilt pardon us at the Cross of Jesus Christ, the eternal Saviour, and give us newness of hope. Speak to us even in our sinfulness, lest we fall into despair. Preach thy Gospel unto us in the nighttime, then shall we know that thou art still seeking our souls, that they may be saved, and brought home, and set in the household of God. Deliver us not wholly over to ourselves, or we shall certainly go farther from thee day by day. It is not in us to return; we cannot climb the upward way, it is steep and high and difficult; thou canst save, and thou alone. Come to us in the almightiness of thy grace, in the tenderness of thy love, in the compassion of thy Cross, in all the efficacy of the ransoming blood, and bring us home again. We have wandered far, we are weary of the world; it is not in time to satisfy the instincts of immortality; the rivers of the world cannot quench the thirst of the soul: but the river of God is full of water; thou canst satisfy the longing soul, and it is in the power of thy grace to heal all our backsliding, and our wounds, and to recover us from our sore apostasy. We cast ourselves therefore upon thee; our expectation is from on high; we shall not be delivered over to the power of the lion or trampled under foot, for we are bought with blood, we are ransomed with a great price, and because of the Cross of Christ we need not, shall not, die. By the ministry of providence help us to believe that thou dost mean our ultimate and perfect deliverance. Thou dost heal us, by the breathing wind, by the sunlight, by all the ministry of nature; it is unto us as mother and nurse, physician and friend, and the meaning of it is our personal and eternal salvation. Help us to see the goodness of God, that we may see his glory; may the goodness of God lead us not to boasting and exultation and presumption, but to repentance; may we look at providence through our tears, and find in providence the beginning of redemption. Wherein thou hast called us back and given us an estate in thy household, continue to educate us, to edify our souls, in Wisdom of Solomon , in righteousness, in love of nobleness and honour, and grant unto us daily strength for daily need, that we may never be worsted in the fight of life, but may always be victorious through the power that is in Christ Jesus. We bless thee that being in the household of God we are entrusted with all the armour of righteousness, on the right hand and on the left, so that we do not fight in our own strength, or according to our own sagacity; we are shielded by God, we are protected by omnipotence, we are inspired by the Holy Ghost; enable us therefore to see that the fight is not ours but God"s, and that thou art perfecting and completing thine own oath in the perfect deliverance and ultimate sanctification of thy people. Give us understanding of thy book—a deep, clear, full understanding, so that we may enjoy rest in the Lord, being no longer tossed about by every wind of doctrine; may we be established, steadfast, firm, enduring unto the end, as men who are like trees planted by the rivers of water. Grant unto us according to life"s necessity the ministry of direction and consolation: in perplexity show us the right way, in sorrow dry our tears, in bereavement preach to us the doctrine and the person of the resurrection; and amid all the darkness show us that the light is greater than the night, and that the summer shall be eternal when the winter has done its work and is for ever forgotten. In all the way of life let the eye of the Lord guide us, and at the last may we be able to whisper, if we cannot say aloud, When heart and flesh do fail the Lord will take me up, and as for the valley of the shadow of death it is but a way into the garden of God, and God"s rod and staff comfort and support the on-passing soul. Thus by life, and thus in death, may we be able to glorify the Cross of Christ, and show that the faith that is in the Lamb of God is not in vain, but is a gracious, mighty, according power, lifting the soul nearer God, and enriching the soul with all the wealth of heaven. Amen.


1 Corinthians 14:18-19

18. I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

19. Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

Intelligible Speech

One of the principal lessons—perhaps the one great lesson—which Paul teaches in this remarkable chapter is that all things are to be done "unto edifying,"—a practical and useful purpose is to mark everything that is done in the Church. A thing was not to be done for the mere sake of doing it. If a man had anything to say, he was first to consider whether there was an interpreter present; if not, he was to keep silence in the church, or to speak to himself and to God; interpretation was of more consequence than mere sound: anybody can make a noise in the church, but noise is not edifying—it is not of the nature of true worship—"For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints." Paul thus imposes the law of self-control upon ecstatic persons: they want to speak, they can hardly repress their desire to make themselves heard, yet Paul brings them under the discipline which requires that they shall first look round to see if an interpreter be present, because everything depends upon interpretation—namely, intelligence, right apprehension of the meaning, and a true response to any appeal that may be delivered. In all cases the interpreter is of greater consequence than the speaker. Paul told the Corinthians that it was better, more useful, to prophesy than to speak unknown tongues, because "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." To prophesy literally means to teach, to communicate knowledge to another, to explain difficulties, and to bring the mind up to a right level of information; and teaching is the very first condition of the building up of mind and character. Mere sound cannot edify; it may excite and stimulate, it may please the ear, but even pipe and harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? The blast of a trumpet may be very startling, but, if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? Only, therefore, as there is meaning in sound, is sound to be permitted at all in the church; however grand any expression may be in the opinion of the speaker, it is not to be forced upon the Church, unless there be an interpreter to make it plain,—"Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air." Observe the expression "Words easy to be understood" Earnestness will always endeavour to find out such words and to utter them in a heartfelt tone: we are not to seek after difficult expressions, or to make mysteries where we ought to give explanations; our whole business as churches, ministers, and teachers is to exemplify things,—that Isaiah , to make them as easy as we possibly can, so that as many may be brought within the might and comfort of the Gospel as can understand our message.

Throughout the chapter there is one great principle asserted, the principle that all things are to be done unto edifying,—look at the various expressions in proof: "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification... he that prophesieth edifieth the church... that the church may receive edifying.... Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church," and again, "Let all things be done unto edifying." The personal is to be sacrificed for the benefit of the general; thanks are to be so given, that he who occupies the room of the unlearned shall also be able intelligently to say, Amen; and prophesying is to be so conducted, that the unlearned man or the unbeliever should be convinced of all, and should be constrained to say, "God is in you of a truth." The Apostle thus shows his own earnestness as well as exhorts other men to sincerity. He will never use a hard word where he can use an easy one. He disdains excellency of speech according to the wisdom of this world, and sacrifices everything to the directness and audibleness of his message. It would seem that in this argument Paul teaches that Christian edification is the best test of Christian service and worship. It is perhaps hardly necessary to say that there is a kind of utilitarianism which need not be included in the term edification. In fact the word "simple," as we have often had occasion to see, is much misunderstood, and, indeed, is always misunderstood when it is supposed to be equal to obviousness, shallowness, and mere surface. The universe is not made of straight lines. Everything that we see in nature and in our own structure turns as soon as possible in a certain clear direction: pillars become arches; out of the great rains are made the bows which are the sign of Divine covenants; the lily and the bird teach how good and patient is the care of God—

It is worth while to point this out lest some should get the notion that Church life means only what is dull and cold and insipid; and especially lest any should be brought under the delusion that by edification is meant self-edification alone, as if every man"s attention were to be fixed upon his own personality and attainments and progress; whereas we really build ourselves up in proportion as we attempt to build up other people. Christianity is the sum of all graces, the climax of beauty, the most magnificent expression of all that is great, and grand in human nature as redeemed and renewed by God. Yet Christianity calls every human power to its highest uses; it never encourages mere sentiment, or allows itself to be made the convenience of mere genius. Like its author, it is the agent of a redeeming work, and redemption implies earnestness intense as fire, and self-devotion faithful even unto death. Christianity might well challenge all rivals,—Are ye lovers of beauty? so am I. Are ye responsive to music? so am I. Do you rejoice in all the varieties of eloquence, and all the resources of art? I more; I give eloquence its highest theme, and the artist borrows his most graceful lines from me,—"I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 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."

The doctrine of the Apostle enables us to look at the Church as a whole, and on all its appointments, methods, and resources, with a view of inquiring how far they minister to edification. Take, for example, the whole question of symbolism. Does it minister to the building up of character? Are men made the better and stronger for it? It is not hard to conceive that ritualism may be to some minds a religious help. So much ignorance has been displayed upon this point, simply because some men have supposed that, as ritualism is of no use to themselves, it cannot possibly be of use to any other Christians. We must get rid altogether of this injustice of measuring other people by ourselves. There are minds that are very strongly ideal, and that through beautiful forms can see Beauty herself; to such minds a picture may be a means of grace; the heart may be stimulated through the eye,—then, again, there are minds wanting in concentration; they cannot follow a course of thought, either devotional or expository; they, like little children, must have symbols, pictures, and diagrams; the claim of ritualism, then, must be determined by its relation to the practical work of the Christian sanctuary: does it help any one to serve God? does it teach spiritual truth? does it minister to edification? Of course there will be persons who will arise to condemn all symbolism, simply because they neither understand it, nor require its assistance. But such people are playing merely the part of critics; they are not invested with prophetic genius; they are not animated by the great shepherdly spirit which includes the wants of the whole flock of God. It ought to be enough that a man of simplicity and earnestness of spirit says that he himself is edified by this or that form of worship. At the same time he would be unjust to others if he insisted that only through symbolism can true worship be offered. On all such matters every man must be fully persuaded in his own mind, and each must take care not to limit the liberty of his brother. It is not to the point, let me say again, that some minds do not require assistance of an external kind. It is difficult to find out what some minds do require: they never consider the heavens, the work of God"s fingers, the moon and the stars, which he has ordained; they never lift up their eyes on high and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number; they never reflect that the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; they could do without birds, without flowers, without little children, without everything but straight lines, daily food, and nightly sleep;—they know nothing about the paradoxes of earnest life—they think it is a contradiction in terms to "endure as seeing the invisible"; they cannot read the imagery of Ezekiel , they see no meaning in the visions which arrested the attention of Daniel ,—the lion with eagle"s wings, with a man"s feet and a man"s heart; the bear with three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it; the leopard with four wings of a fowl upon its back; the beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, with great iron teeth and ten horns; and the Apocalypse frightens their unimaginative souls. It would be hardly fair to quote the opinions of such people against symbolism; the appeal, therefore, must be more general. Taking the Church as a whole, does symbolism minister to edification? I am not speaking at this moment of symbolism in any of its special exhibitions; my remarks have no reference to particular instances, but entirely to symbolism in the abstract, or as an assistant to spiritual worship, and the cultivation of the profoundest devout life. For my part, I hesitate not to teach that worship cannot be too simple; but here again the word "simple" needs not be defined with extreme care and jealousy. "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." I should like to do away with every tune which the plainest man could not learn to sing; I should do away with many objects of colour and with many garments and adornments and embroidered table-cloths; yet I would in all such matters subordinate my personal judgment to the judgment of the majority, and having found out what must tend to instruct and comfort and edify the Church, I should zealously and thankfully uphold it for the sake of others. If those who require symbolism are a minority and will not submit to the general judgment let them worship by themselves; they have no right to make themselves an offence to their brethren; and, on the other hand, if they represent the general judgment and conscience of any Christian community, then let those who dissent from their view give them liberty to carry out whatever they believe to be essential to spiritual edification. Let there be no battle of words, no angry controversy about such matters, nor should clamour enter in, when the common object of those who conduct the controversy is personal and general edification.

We may usefully apply the principle to the matter of public preaching,—"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." Paul insists that, in preaching, everything is to be done unto edifying. There is to be no talking for talking"s sake; no talking against time; no indulgence of the preacher"s taste at the expense of the general welfare of his hearers; no enticing words of man"s wisdom; no bewildering refinements; everything is to be clear, pointed, practical,—the result of a holy and unchangeable determination to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. Better say five simple words than ten thousand words which men cannot understand. Yet there are many mistakes made about what is called simple preaching. Simple preaching is not barren preaching. Simple preaching is not a mechanical repetition of commonplaces. Jesus Christ"s preaching was simple, yet how it glitters—how full of beauty—how rich in pathos! "Never man spake like this man." How he taxed the thought and smote the heart of his hearers,—how greatly were the people astonished at his doctrine! The wise preacher brings things new and old out of his treasury, and adapts himself to the current experience and necessities of his hearers. Luther, speaking of his own preaching, says,—"I took no notice of the doctors, of whom there were about forty, but I preached to the housemaids and the young men, of whom there were about two thousand." That was the secret of the great Reformer"s power—he knew that he must speak to the common heart of humanity, and not to a merely cultivated taste, or a classified species of genius. Speak to all, if you would speak to some; speak the universal language, if you would be understood by the universal heart. What temptations there are to preachers to operate in another direction! How tempted they are to study for the cultured, providing food for the dainty-minded, the critical, and the fastidious! How subtle is the temptation which leads the preacher away from the consideration of common wants to the discussion of uncommon topics, that he may show himself to be abreast of the times, and that he may exchange words upon an equal footing with men who are supposed to lead the intelligence of the age! When a preacher gives way to this temptation, he forgets that everything is to be done to edifying. Take any average congregation, and it will be found that it is not composed of learning, genius, great mental capacity, and high literary attainment; it is made up of ordinary people, and it represents much bewilderment, heartache, sorrow, and deep desire for spiritual satisfaction. The true minister of Jesus Christ will pay no attention to those who represent merely passing interests, but will look to those who, in deep earnestness of spirit, hunger and thirst after righteousness. Of Jesus Christ it is said, "The common people heard him gladly": they understood his words as to their tenderest spiritual meaning; often indeed they were overwhelmed by that peculiar something in the Son of God, which separated him from all other men, but again and again they came upon Gospel words and Gospel tones, which penetrated their very heart and succoured their innermost spirit. Hearers have a good deal to do in determining the quality of preaching. An earnest people will demand an earnest ministry. When the people come with itching ears they may tempt the preacher to employ enticing words of man"s wisdom; when they are speculative, technical, and fastidious, they must necessarily affect the ministry injuriously; but when they come hungering and thirsting after the truth, when they say to preachers, "Sirs, we would see Jesus," and when they express discontent because Jesus Christ is concealed, they will soon make even the pulpit feel that it must be faithful to essential doctrine, if it is to retain its hold upon the affections of men.

There is a possibility of preaching the Gospel in an unknown tongue. The Gospel is preached in an unknown tongue when its great vital truths are only hinted at, or are treated as mere problems in spiritual science,—discussed with pre-eminent ability, it may be, but without reference to the personal salvation of the hearers. Preachers often preach to themselves in a sense of the term which is to be deprecated: that is to say, they preach to their own learning, their own taste, their own opportunities of reading and knowledge; they do not sufficiently consider that the great body of the people have no such opportunities, and that they need the Gospel presented to them in the simplest and most striking and attractive forms. The Gospel is preached in an unknown tongue when it is preached away from the experience of the congregation. Men who have been in the world all the week, and who have been pressed by the secularising influences of time; men who have encountered the most persistent and forcible temptation, need instruction of the most practical kind given to them in the most patient and sympathetic spirit: the unknown tongue is a mockery, not to their minds only, but to their hearts: it is as if in answer to a prayer for bread they should be insulted by an offering of stones. The preacher should by his very manner take it for granted that the people are in earnest, and thus he will show that he expects on the part of the people a preparation at least equal to his own in all spiritual fitness for the reception of the word of God. There will be something about him which will clearly indicate that he is utterly impatient with everything of a merely æsthetic nature, with all mere love of curiosity, and with all the imaginations of uncontrolled fancy; he will show that he has been enclosed with Christ in the very sanctuary of the Cross, and that he comes from the innermost altar of the universe, in order that he may attempt in the name of Christ, and in the power of truth, to save men. We may adopt this principle in judging of the whole scheme and service of human life. Paul would say, paraphrasing his own doctrine—I had rather do the little real than the great fanciful; I had rather be understood than merely wondered at and admired. There is a strong temptation to leave the simple and the easy in order to attempt something romantic and wholly exceptional in human service. It is in this direction that so much of our energy is misspent. If we would simply do the things that are at our hands and which are obviously good and useful, we should make the best use of our strength, and edify many by our benevolent labours. If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? is a question which may be applied in all directions in human life. Who does not hold himself prepared to make some special effort to be present on some historical occasion, to take part in some stupendous transaction? But all such opportunities are of necessity rare. We are not called upon to work miracles but to make the best of the commonplaces of life. Love is to be a perpetual miracle, by its patience, its tenderness, the minuteness of its attentions, and its unchangeableness. Better lead a blind man across a thoroughfare, than be waiting for an opportunity of writing one"s name on the very loftiest capital; better make home sweet, pure, and lustrous, than await some opportunity of commanding the attention of listening senates, and paralysing nations and empires by some word of terror. Do not let us attempt to live the romantic (which is often the idiotic) life, but let us come down to common things, to daily experience, to fraternal and social intercourse, and do everything we can to be rich and earnest and helpful amid all the practical necessities of an ever-needful life. Are not some of us living a life that has no meaning in the Church? People cannot understand what we are doing, and therefore, being unable to understand, they are not edified by our example. Though we never speak an audible word, yet our conduct itself is an unknown tongue. God is ever mindful of those who do the real rather than the showy work of life. He singles out for commendation those who have been faithful over few things; he takes notice of the cup of cold water and the box of ointment; and he declares by one of his Apostles that, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" He does not require great romantic exploits and adventures, things that make the angels wonder; he looks for simplicity, kindness, charity, zeal in a benevolent self-sacrifice, and a patient and loving expectation of his own coming. To all such God will show himself in the fulness of his love, and he will make them strong and triumphant by the power of his grace.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-corinthians-14.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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