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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
1 Corinthians 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-40

CRITICAL NOTES

1Co . Follow after.—Taking up the thought of a "way," 1Co 12:31; as this whole verse resumes the theme of 12, after the digression or episode of 13 "Pursue" love; righteousness (Rom 9:30, etc.; 1Ti 6:11; 2Ti 2:22; cf. Php 3:14); peace with all men (Heb 12:14; 1Pe 3:11; Rom 14:19); good (1Th 5:15); hospitality (Rom 12:13). "We pursue love by watching against and resisting everything contrary to it, by prayer and by the effort to believe that what we ask God will give, by pondering God's love as manifested on the cross of Christ that thus we may experience its transforming power, and by endeavouring to (Rom 14:15) ‘walk according to love'" (Beet). Note, "gifts" is (as in 1Co 12:1) supplementary, but rightly so. Also note "yet" (R.V.); there should be no exaggeration, even of love, at the expense of other things in the spiritual life. "‘Follow' marks the persistence, ‘desire earnestly' the energy and earnestness of the search" (Ellicott). Rather.—"Seek any gift, all gifts, only in the path of love; and, in so seeking them, seek the useful rather than the showy."

1Co .—Observe throughout that "unknown" (A.V.) is inserted erroneously; it is no question merely of foreign languages. To God.—As in Act 2:11; Act 10:46; Act 10:13-16, the matter spoken "in a tongue" was ecstatic [prayer (1Co 14:14) or] praise. The man was, so to speak, closeted with God in the shrine of his spirit [regarded as influenced and filled by the Spirit]; his experience is analogous to that of 2Co 12:1-4, only here he speaks, not hears, "unspeakable things," and no quasi-local transference is suggested. He is speaking "mysteries," i.e. things which, as a matter of fact, are concealed, but, given the qualified interpreter, may be readily communicated to the listeners around. But the "interpreter" must also be a man with a charism, himself therefore, for the time being, moving in, or at least in communication with, that inmost world of spiritual things where his fellow-worshipper is thus ecstatically holding converse with God. Without such a helper the listeners "hear", yet "do not hear." (See margin, and cf. Act 9:7; Act 12:9.)

1Co .—Notice the more exact, "speaketh edification," etc. "He builds up the inward life, … gives counsel to the mind, and comfort to the heart" (Ellicott). Good verse as casting light upon "comfort," "comforter," etc. Here are παράκλησις and "comfort" together, in clear, if not wide, distinction. Stanley notes that "Barnabas," lit. "Son of Prophecy," is in Act 4:36 rendered "Son of παράκλησις." Beet (like Ellicott and Evans) keeps "exhortation," words prompting "to action" (Rom 12:1).

1Co . All.—Then the gift was a desirable thing to possess. He interpret.—I.e. the speaker in a tongue himself. The same person might enjoy both gifts.

1Co .—Notice the "but" i.e. "since there is no edification without interpretation." Also "by way of," as in 1Co 7:6, etc. Evidently, too, the sense is "unless I also speak," etc. "Revelation" and "prophesying" are extraordinary, "knowledge" and "teaching" are ordinary, methods of gaining and of communicating knowledge respectively.

1Co . Uncertain.—Not making distinguishable the special "bugle-call" intended.

1Co .—The physical organ, the tongue, is here meant, as shown by the analogy with musical instruments here traced out, and by the grammatical form of the phrase, "by the tongue"; there is really no "with" in, e.g., 1Co 14:6. The air.—Cf. 1Co 9:26.

1Co . So many.—"Fill up the number according as you think, or as you may know the fact happens to be. No matter exactly how many." The "tongue" was a true language, but not spoken or understood in this world of men. From the inarticulate though significant sounds of instruments, which all convey their meaning, he now passes to all articulate sounds of human languages, not one of which is of course really meaningless. Yet it can say nothing to the man who does not happen to understand it or use it as his native dialect. Quâ that particular language he is a "barbarian."

1Co .—Choose between

(1) "that he may interpret" during his ecstasy, or

(2) after his ecstatic condition. Both find support. [Both cases might surely be actually exemplified; why "choose"?]

1Co .—"Take prayer as a particular case, illustrating my general principle." "Sing" another (1Co 14:15), "bless" (1Co 14:16).

1Co . Spirit … understanding.—The latter word, with its strong contrast to the former, and both read in the light of the chapter, fix "spirit" as meaning the human "spirit," though under the influence of the Spirit of God, as nearly always with Paul. Observe "spirits," the literal, marginal rendering in 1Co 14:12. The "I" is not necessarily so precisely personal, as that this should express "Paul's resolve." As to singing, see Eph 5:19; Jas 5:13.

1Co . Bless.—Not to be restricted to the special "blessing" or "thanksgiving" ["but little distinction can here be drawn" (Ellicott)] at the Eucharistic Supper. (But see Appended Note.) Filleth the … unlearned—Dean Alford amusingly protests that this has nothing to do with the parish clerk of the old order in English Churches! Obviously is meant: Any person in the congregation who has no "gift," or not these special gifts; who is, in regard to those who are exercising them, an outsider and "unlearned." ["Unlearned" in the old sense, now become a vulgarism for "untaught."] No distinction suggested between officials and private members. Such "sharply marked distinctions … do not seem to belong to this period" (Ellicott).

1Co . In the Church.—"Whatever I do in private."

1Co . Understanding.—Not the word used in, e.g., 1Co 14:15. See Men.—Lit. "perfect," as 1Co 2:6, well expounding that frequently used word. Malice.—Wider in meaning then than now.

1Co .—Quoted (freely) from the LXX. of Isa 28:9-12, so freely that it is scarcely more, as Paul uses it, than a happy parallel case; for his purpose "happy" in two particulars above all:

(1) the barbarian language of the Assyrian invaders was, like the "tongue" in Corinth, unintelligible jargon to the ordinary listener;

(2) and of more importance, each was a sign, not a mere wonder, but a significant wonder, to "an unbelieving" age. The presence of men who should speak strange talk in the land of Israel would in itself be a token, a real message, of the will, the displeasure, of God to His unbelieving people, who had scoffed at the simple, plain talk of Israel to them ["line upon line," etc., "as if he were talking to little children"; cf. 1Co ]. So the unintelligibleness of the "tongues was a mark rather of the aloofness than of the nearness of God; rather of their low spiritual tone than of His full favour. Good as it was (1Co 14:39), "tongues" was a gift lower than the best. Ellicott would not supply in the case of prophecy the italicised words of the, preferring the A.V. Rightly.

1Co . All.—Supposing an extreme case. Unlearned.—As above, "outsiders," though more literally still here; persons, casually or from curiosity, "dropping in whether simply "outsiders" or distinct and pronounced "unbelievers."

1Co . Convinced.—Add the and its margin. [So Joh 16:8, which is well expounded by the facts of the Day of Pentecost, the first, earliest example of this particular operation of the Spirit.] All.—As each prophet in turn speaks. Judged.—Cf. 1Co 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15; 1Co 9:3; 1Co 10:25; 1Co 10:27. The familiar experience: "That preacher knows all about me." See this graphically given in Heb 4:13. See also how Saul fell prostrate before Samuel's prophesying (1Sa 19:24).

1Co . God.—Not Christ. The more natural first step for a Jew or a heathen would be to "worship God."

1Co . By course.—I.e. in turn, not all springing to their feet at once. And if not on that particular occasion, then he may get his "turn" at another time.

1Co . Judge.—Different word, of the same family, to that in 1Co 14:23. Here meaning, using the gift of "discerning of spirits" (1Co 12:10); and judging whether the "prophecy" be really that of the Holy Spirit, and not the Devil's counterfeit (1Co 12:3).

1Co .—Not necessarily breaking off abruptly, but finishing, and then giving "silent" hearing to the next.

1Co . Comforted.—With the fuller meaning, as before in 1Co 14:3.

1Co . Subject.—To their own control. No man was so "carried away" by the Spirit (2Pe 1:21) as to lose the power to stop himself and be silent when "order" required it. [Evans sees an implied, contrasted thought,—that the spirits of the men "speaking with tongues" were not thus under their control.]

1Co .—General, governing principle derived from the very nature of God Himself. Seen, e.g., in Nature, where the judgment, equally with the moral sense, says that the disorder, the dislocation of a manifestly designed order, is certainly not from the Creator. The governing principle is one recognised, and its practical application urged in this chapter is acted upon, in "all the Churches."

1Co .—In chap. 11, re the laying aside of their veil, there seems another trace of the tendency of the Corinthian women to over-use the equality with man which was so novel and important a point in their Charter, the Gospel, which said "neither male nor female" (Gal 3:28). The Law.—Used for "the Old Testament," as in 1Co 14:21. "In the larger and public assemblies of the Church, which alone are under consideration in this chapter.… It is probable that the Apostle had here especially in his thoughts the office of teaching in public, 1Ti 2:12" (Ellicott). "And as to merely asking for information or instruction, let them do that at home." And Beet, very wisely: "It may be questioned whether Paul's absolute prohibition to women to speak in a Church meeting is binding now. It may be said that it was based on a position of women in the ancient world which has passed away; and that the commands of the Apostle, binding upon his original readers, are binding now only so far as the original circumstances remain, or as the commands are expressions of great universal principles. But the solemn emphasis and the assertion of Apostolic authority (so unusual to Paul), and the appeal to the parents of our race with which in two Epistles the same prohibition is supported, seem to imply that the prohibition sets forth a principle of universal and perpetual validity, and one resting upon the unchanging relation of the sexes. But this prohibition in no way touches the ministrations of women to women; and [N.B.] the gift in Paul's day of the prophetic spirit to women proved plainly that there was evangelical work for them to do. And there is abundance of such work now."

1Co .—Same appeal as in 1Co 14:33; 1Co 11:16. "Word of God," the Old Testament phrase so frequently connected with the gift of prophecy: "The word of the Lord came unto us," etc. "Are you Corinthians the fountain of all law or custom for the Churches? Or have you been exclusively favoured with the communication of the Divine will. I also—to go no further—claim the inspired authority to speak and determine" (cf. 1Th 5:27). Another test of the nature and origin of the Spirit at work in a man, in far-off parallelism to that of 1Co 12:3. Almost: "Let any man who is really a prophet not only say, ‘Jesus I acknowledge,' but let him also say, ‘Paul I know';" like the evil spirits which just about this time were so confessing both in Ephesus (Act 19:15).

1Co .—"The Lord" Christ, to whom Paul stands in this matter in the relation of Aaron to Moses, and (higher) Moses to God (Exo 4:15, and, particularly, 16). This and 1Co 14:28 have many various readings, important, but not greatly affecting the homiletic use of the verses.

1Co .—Moral causes are supposed under the "ignorance." Cf. the tone of Rev 22:11. If the marginal be adopted, then cf. Gal 4:9; 1Co 13:12; and the solemn Mat 25:12.

1Co .—Resumes verbally 1Co 14:1, but with still further abatement of value set upon "tongues"

1Co . Decently.—Cognate forms of the word are in 1Co 7:35; Rom 13:13; 1Th 4:12, etc.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—Whole Chapter

Public Worship in the Christian Church.

1. Public, united worship is an instinct in the devout heart.—The Church at Corinth assembled for worship (1Co ). There may be a "Church in a house," many such. The worship there may be of the most spiritual, precious, acceptable; it is the prerogative, the honour, of a father to be the priest in his home; the patriarchal order lives on in the household life of the people of God. Two or three met in Christ's name form a quorum for constituting a true assembly having the prerogatives and privileges—particularly "There am I in the midst"—of the largest Church (Mat 18:20). Many a solitary soul, cut off from fellowship and the sanctuary, offers a true worship in the sanctuary of the heart. But "the Lord loveth the gates of Zion"—the place of public resort, the very centre and focus of all the city's life—"more than" even "the dwellings of Jacob" (Psa 87:2), dear as every one of these and its little "Church" is to Him. And the people of God so love them too. The "citizen" (Php 3:20) of the new Zion, where Christ is "Lord," should need a very good reason for being absent when his fellow-citizens "come together" (1Co 14:23) "unto one place." [Or "unto the same thing," i.e. with the same object of central purpose. E.g. in very exact translation, "unto the name of Christ" (Mat 18:20).]

2. The Christian "sanctifies Christ as Lord" in the temple and worship of his heart (1Pe , correct reading). Yet Christian worship is the "worship of God" (1Co 14:25), differentiated, indeed, from Jewish, or Mahometan, or "Theistic" worship of that same God by its founding upon the intermediation of Christ. The "convicted" outsider, who falls prostrate in the assembly under the power of the "prophetic" word (1Co 14:24-25), naturally does not go definitely beyond the general recognition that "God," as a Supernatural Power and Presence, is "amongst them." The Christian worshipper also, whilst taking his "Lord" into direct account, is "worshipping God" too. His appearance in the place of assembly for common worship is in itself "worship." It is a confession of God; in the face of the world which says, "No God" (Psa 14:1), he openly professes his belief in a God and his sense of grateful dependence upon Him. All public worship means this; it is of the very essence of the act. Christian worship has specially its grateful recognition of the One Supreme Mercy, the "Unspeakable Gift."

3. In this chapter also is manifest the very early and very natural use of the opportunity afforded by the presence of so large a company, to "edify" the new or elementary life by instruction; in the case before us by "prophecy," which should embody a "revelation" given to the "prophet," or by a "doctrine" which should be the "teacher's" exposition of what he had learned by his special "charism" of "knowledge," an unusually direct and deep, Spirit-guided, insight into the new disclosures of truth belonging to the stage of Revelation reached in the Gospel days (1Co ). This may be—ought to be—on the part both of the speaker and hearers an act of most real "worship." It is such, when the act of teaching and that of listening are, in the intention of each, distinctly directed to the glory of Christ. There is no more really Godward act of the spiritual life than to listen, waiting to hear "the word of God" (1Co 14:36).

4. If in 1Co we find at the least a reminiscence of the Eucharistic blessing and the popular response, we have the cycle of the elements of Christian worship—praise (1Co 14:15), prayer (ib.), teaching (1Co 14:6), Lord's Supper (1Co 14:16)—completed.

5. And the chapter is an instructive, typical case of the regulative, legislative method of "the Lord" of the Church. "The things which" Paul here "writes are the commandments of the Lord," in regard to the public worship, not only of Corinth, but of "all the Churches of the saints." It is conceivable that He might have "drawn up" a code of rules and regulations for the Worship of His Church, which, unlike human legislation, should in no part have, sooner or later, become inapplicable, or impracticable, or obsolete, by reason of altered circumstances or change of age, or of personal or national peculiarities or needs. Conceivable, inasmuch as to Him nothing is impossible. But it would be unlike His method. This chapter is, informally but very really, a code of regulations, or rather of principles, embodied in the special facts of Corinth and the comments of St. Paul. "Within the four corners" of these leading instances in this chapter must the arrangements of Christian worship be found, or be made, to lie. Four points fix the lines which limit the area of liberty. Nothing must violate or sin against:

1. Salutary Christian custom;

2. Seemly "order";

3. The demand for intelligent worship;

4. Above all, "edification."

I. Salutary Christian custom, particularly such as is based on Apostolic injunction (1Co ; 1Co 14:37). (Cf. on this topic the material supplied under 1Co 11:16.) There is a comity amongst Christian Churches which should not lightly be set aside. None knew so surely as did the Head of His Church how hopeless was uniformity of ritual or even of creed. It is only by speaking and acting in very broad generalities that agreement can be supposed feasible or be realised. Yet there will be a family likeness in the types of worship in the various sections of the Church, national and confessional. Distinctively "Christian" worship will everywhere be one in type. The diversities will be family diversities only. One such distinguishing line is the exclusion of women from the office of public teaching (1Co 14:34-35). Such points of family likeness can be very few, but they should in all ordinary cases be respected. Paramount demands of "edification" may override everything else. But no one Church should set itself up as an independent source of authority, and least of all as having over other Churches (1Co 14:38) any prescriptive power to insist upon its local speciality, or its "fad" of exaggerated individualism, as if it were a sine qu non of Church order.

II. Seemly order.—The Church has a character which is at stake before angels (chap. 11) and the world. Each Church, each member, is responsible for the keeping of its character.

1. What is reverent and orderly in Divine worship is a matter incapable of any rigid, of any priori, absolute and universally applicable, definition. Demonstrative races, as, for example, the negro in the States or the West Indian Islands, will feel no impropriety or extravagance in what the self-repression of culture would revolt against as even socially "bad form," not to say religious irreverence. The Salvation Army congregation is not to be judged of by the same standard as the lite gathered in the choir of an ancient English cathedral, nor will they appreciate "reverence" and "irreverence" at the same estimation. Both sides need to be broad in sympathy in the matter. The peril of all culture in any direction is fastidiousness; whilst the less-cultured "heart" is not infrequently unfair to, and impatient with, the less-demonstrative character, and the form of service in Christian worship which it demands. Our section reminds us that where a fulness of the new life of the Spirit is suddenly given, there is often the appearance, and always the danger, of disorder. In the first outburst of the "tongues" at Pentecost, there seemed disorder enough. Peter's voice soon subdued all into listening attention, no doubt; yet during his "many words" of "testimony and exhortation" [Act , a very notable summation of Pentecostal preaching in all time], occupying as they did many hours of the day, his congregation would be continually changing, "many coming and going," the courtyard of the house filled over and over again with new faces; surely not without confusion. And when the appeals "cut to the heart," Eastern demonstrativeness and outcry would certainly beget no small tumult, as the inquirers eagerly ask from this apostle or that believer, "What must we do?" There is a disorder which is unseemly and may grieve the Spirit; there is a criticism of the "disorder," which grieves Him too. A modern analogue is often found in some time of revival, such as thirty years ago swept over the north of Ireland. A self-repressed observer, a keen critic of his own emotional tendencies, might stand in the midst of some large hall or sanctuary, in every part of which were little groups, in perfect independence of those nearest them, engaged in prayer, or conversation, or now and again stirred by fervent exclamations of thanksgiving or even a snatch of song. The place full of sound; now and again "a Babel" of tumult. No central conduct of the proceedings at all. Yet a little inquiry would discover that it was an orderly disorder. The "penitent" who would be the centre of one group knew well what he needed and was pleading for with God; they who helped him by their prayers or instruction were intelligently enough endeavouring to supply his need. The outburst of song or thanksgiving from another little knot was not an incoherent disturbance of the quiet or a meaningless addition to the sounds which filled the place. There was no "confusion," except such as in a soul or in a Church over which the life-giving Holy Ghost has been "brooding" (Gen 1:2), will always mark the transition from chaos and darkness and death, to cosmos and light and life.

2. Yet such scenes and conditions must always be exceptional, and the accompaniments of the creative crises of the life, whether of the Church or the soul. They are for the sovereignty of the Spirit to originate and to rule. Their permanent and abundant fruitfulness will justify them. They are not to be cultivated or "worked up." There is no necessary "heartiness" in disorder or noise, or in leaving the conduct of religious worship to the impulse of the moment or the (not always too wise or spiritual) man; as, on the other hand, a fixed order of worship, and quiet, undemonstrative, self-repressed bearing in the assembly of the Church at worship, need not be "formality" or "stiffness," or check the fulness of the Spirit's grace in the approach of each heart to God, or in the communication of blessing to each. Usually the "New Wine" is best put into the "bottles" of order and seemly arrangement. The exaggeration of orderliness is when the "bottles" are regarded—whether "new" or "old"—as too sacred for even the "New Wine" Himself to be allowed to stretch or burst.

3. Especially is this true of the "teaching" element in Christian worship.—Paul is not contemplating what in modern phrase would be called a "testimony meeting," or a prayer meeting. (Especially is this true in regard to the silence of women.) The raising of the dead soul is a sovereign exercise of Divine power, which may well be allowed to choose its own methods, and to have its accompaniments exempt from unspiritual criticism, if not from "spiritual men's" control. But next follows "giving something to the raised one to eat" (Mar ), which lies within the fair range of human ordering, according to the best available judgment, though this of course not apart from the prayerfully sought aid of the Spirit of God. In Corinth the teachers—the very "prophets"—were found starting up, several at once. Each man had come full of his "psalm" or his "doctrine" or his "revelation," or these seemed given him at the time with an overmastering fulness of urgency of importance. Neither will the "prophet" who starts up whilst another is yet speaking wait, nor will the other give way to him and draw his own "prophesying" to a close (1Co 14:29-30). The very purpose of the Inspiring Spirit was frustrated by such an overlapping of teachers, two or three delivering their message together. "One by one," says Paul, with Apostolic authority. Even the very "tongues" are to be "by course," i.e. in orderly turn. "Two or three tongues" "two or three prophecies" in each assembly—no more—are sufficient for each "diet" of worship. "Let that prophet sit down; this other wants to speak" (1Co 14:30). "But you are sinning against the liberty of the Spirit. You with your stiff, formal propriety, you are grieving Him! Who are you to close the mouth of a ‘prophet,' so long as he believes that the Spirit has something to communicate or reveal through him? If you cut him short like that, or give ‘only two or three' opportunity to deliver themselves, whilst the rest, as much ‘prophets' as they are, must ‘bottle up' their prophecy and carry it home again, you are restraining the Holy Ghost; the hearers will lose some truth, perhaps some truth they needed!" There is sufficient approximation to truth in this ever-recurring protest, to keep the "orderly" temper on its guard against the dangers of its very excellence. The "prophetic" grace which made Paul able, with inspired authority and wisdom (1Co 14:37), to "put his foot down" and definitely and finally to repress or regulate a gift as extraordinary as his own, belongs to an order which is past. But the whole matter is lifted up to and set upon a permanent basis, when Paul appeals to the very character and known manner of the "God not of confusion, but of peace" (1Co 14:33). The teaching work of the Church demands, in the very nature of things, order, propriety, attention, quiet.

4. In the ordering of the programme of public, Christian worship, nothing should be admitted, nothing forbidden, but as subject to His sanction or revision, Who, in every sense and in every way, works for "peace." This will not lead to any uniformity of practice, it never has done, never can do; but it will be the guiding, testing principle to which practice should be ever adjusted. Nor is the truth of practice hard in that way to arrive at—particularly in the way of love (1Co )—in any given type of local or national Church. Especially when

3. and

4. are kept paramount.

III. The demand for intelligent worship and teaching (1Co ; 1Co 14:19).—

1. Paul's Example. "I speak with tongues more than ye all;—I thank God for it" gives us an interesting, seldom-regarded, side-light upon Paul's character and work; it is a touch in the portrait of him too often omitted. But it is a perpetually recurring trait in his self-revelation in his letters, that he should go on to say, "I had rather, in the Church, speak," etc. It might be his "glory" (2 Corinthians 12) to hear the language of "the third heaven." But he lived very much and very practically on earth. He might draw support under his "thorn" from such "revelations of the Lord," and in the ecstasy of the "tongue," with its deep communings of his adoring "spirit" with God, he no doubt found strength and (in our looser modern sense) "inspiration" for his work; but to men he spoke with the "tongue of men" (1Co ). [True, by a not unfair accommodation, of all men of spiritual power. Jacob has "power with God" first, and then "power with men" (Gen 32:28). Of Richard Lynch Cotton it was said, "His mind was always engaged in prayer." The Rev. R. Wright said of him, "I was much impressed by his standing up in the carriage and offering up silent prayer before we started." His servant found that he must needs pause before entering his master's library; he might very probably otherwise find him upon his knees (Burgon, Twelve Good Men). A Sheffield woman, speaking the vernacular, described Rev. Joseph Entwisle, "Yon mon's thick wi' God." Of S. H. Smith, a Sheffield manufacturer, it was said (Memoir, by W. H. Tindall) that whoever heard him speak in any meeting of Christian people felt that he dwelt habitually with God, and came forth on such occasions to speak to men.]

2. A contrast and a combination.—The true meaning of 1Co sets aside a good deal of the customary and very devout exposition of the force of the contrast, "with the spirit and with the understanding also." There can hardly now be any doubt that the "spirit" is the human "spirit," and that here, as usual, Paul's vocabulary is moulded upon the trichotomic scheme of 1Th 5:23. (For homiletic purposes it will be sufficient, and all that is practicable, to make pictorial the relation between the "spirit" and the "understanding.") Regard redeemed manhood as a grand Temple, one of God's own building, in whose "inner man God in Christ may dwell" (Eph 3:17). The body and the lower faculties, the sensuous ones, of the natural life are its outer court, its Court of the Gentiles. Then within, court within court, lie successively the nobler and yet nobler ranges of faculties, which more and more differentiate man from the noblest of the creatures round him. At last is reached the Holy Place, the "Understanding," the intellectual part, perhaps the personal, where—grace apart—man most closely images, and approaches to, God. If the very animal creation share with him, and may tread, the great outer court of man's complex nature, they go no further; and at the inmost, within even the holy place of the "understanding," there is another, most sacred, spot, where not even the natural man, of understanding and intellect cultured to their highest of capacity, may tread. It is the Holy of Holies of manhood, the "spirit"; the inmost shrine, where God Who "is a Spirit" dwells and reveals Himself in glory, and where the spiritual man holds a fellowship with God, of worship on the one side, and of revelation and blessing on the other, which is a holy secret between them.

3. In that innermost secrecy, in the holy privacy of this Holy of Holies, the man "speaking in a tongue" is for the time closeted with God. In a holy outpouring of prayer and praise, and even of song, he is a high priest standing before God within the central shrine of His personality. The bystanders in the assembly may hear his voice, as it were through the thick, dulling veil of the physical organs, but their ear catches nothing of the sense of the ecstatic words of holy communion between him and God. The man with the gift of "interpretation of tongues" can hear, and can even report to his fellows; but without that gift he and they are only in some outer court of their fellow-worshipper's manhood.

4. The man so favoured of God may well "covet" to enjoy "tongues"; he may well hesitate to "forbid" any man to make use of His gift; [to the cautious, cooler temperaments at Thessalonica, inclined to regulate very strictly, to discourage or suppress, the "tongues" because of the disorder and extravagance which were their ever-present danger, Paul says: "Do not ‘throw cold water, upon,' quench not, the Spirit, in any manifestation of His firelike presence and work." To the men who had "tongues" or coveted them, who were liable to depreciate such a gift as "prophecy,"—"only the intelligible utterance of Divine truth in plain language!"—he says, "Despise not prophesyings" (1Th );] in the fulness of his own blessing and privilege he may well desire that "all might speak with tongues" (1Co 14:5). Yet it is a grace for the man himself alone; a gift for the man only; his face is set Godward in its exercise; he speaks "to himself and to God" (1Co 14:28).

5. True it has an indirect use.—It is "a sign" to the outside world (1Co ). The "unbelief" of the world is something far deeper and more subtle than mere disbelief of any primal propositions about God or the things of God. It is a habit, not an act, of the mind and will and heart. As truly as it is said of "faith" or of "religion," so unbelief is "not merely a set of opinions, but a life." It becomes a dull, crass ignorance of, or a dead-set, apathetic indifference to, the unseen and the spiritual, which goes its way, and seeks its aims, leaving altogether out of the reckoning—and not desiring to include—anything higher than man, or beyond the narrow horizon of man's earthly sojourn, with its interests and consequences. The first, greatest difficulty in the recovery of lost man—le premier pas qui coûte—is the awakening of the soul from its indifference and death. In conviction of sin, the unseen and spiritual for the first time to any practical effect breaks in upon, and through, the hard, narrowing, incrusting "unbelief"; this high-raised and all but impassable barrier built around the understanding and the heart. God has many "signs" which should arouse attention, and waken the drowsy sense, to the fact and near presence of this environing, real world of spiritual things—God, the soul, sin, eternity, judgment; He has many occasions and instrumentalities and methods, of thus bringing close to the mind and heart in their unbelieving insensibility, Himself and the works of the Eternal and the Spiritual. Sometimes a Paul in his course meets a Felix in the course of a life of successful, high-placed, wicked worldliness, and for once Felix hears of "righteousness and temperance and judgment," and is aroused and trembles; strange providences—earthquakes that shake jailers of Philippi out of their sleep—do it; miracle did it ["If I … then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mat 12:28)]; the "tongues" did it in Corinth. A Jewish or heathen passer-by turns in to the little gathering, the former perhaps definitely hostile in his "unbelief," the latter simply "unlearned," with a quasi-neutral unacquaintance with all these matters (1Co 14:23). It may happen that such a visitor turns in at a very disorderly time, when many are uttering the strange "tongues," and all at once. It is a Babel of sound. There is a strange language being talked—if indeed it be a language at all, and not mere incoherent raving, which he hears. It may be that he turns away with a contemptuous laugh as he leaves the room: "They are a pack of madmen together in there!" But if it be a seemly and orderly occasion, when only "two or three" are exercising their gift, and those "in turn," first one and then another rising, and delivering themselves of what—though he can "hear" no speech—fills every hearer with awe; his unaccustomed heart is filled with awe too, as though the room were filled with a Presence, and as though another world, ordinarily a "mystery" were suddenly unveiled. If that be all, he may not become a believer, but at least indifference is gone; the "sign" has spoken to his understanding; indifference is stirred by the new fear. The way of the Lord is perhaps prepared. A breach is made in the high wall of utter, careless secularity, and through it something more may enter, to the saving of the man. [To the children growing up in the congregation, to the heathen just coming within the range of the message of the Christian Gospel, the very ritual of the service may sometimes be in its degree a "sign," appealing to the attention through eye or ear, and impressing the thought with the idea of a supersensuous world.]

6. But more, much more, is needed. For the man's own worship this inner, God directed communing may be enough, but for common worship intelligent speech is required. And, above all, if worship is to be a "fruitful" thing (1Co ), if the Church are all to "learn" or to be "comforted" (1Co 14:31), and if the unbeliever is to be "judged" and "convinced" (1Co 14:24), then the "understanding" must be joined with "the spirit," or even a Paul will do little or no good. The high priest must come out from the holy of holies of the "spirit"; what he has seen and heard and gained he must bring out through the course of the "understanding"; there he may meet his fellows on more equal terms. And, lastly, his very physical organs must translate what is published in the understanding.

7. He who is to be of use to his fellows, the leader of their worship, the instructor of their life, the awakener of their conscience, must be a real mediator going in for men to God, coming forth from God, and for God, to men. He who has not first learned something in the secret place of the communing of the "spirit," he who has himself gone no further within than the "understanding," will be only an imperfect instructor of men. He will never lead their worship any further inward, any nearer to God, than he has gone himself. Above all, he will never carry the supreme credential of a "prophet,"—that his words reveal men to themselves, in all their sin and guilt and spiritual need (1Co ). Yet many a man's work is marred because, "prophet" as he is, his understanding does not translate his message into clearly stated truth, nor does he find a way for it to the understanding, or commend it to the judgment, of his fellow-worshippers. There is "an art of preaching" which needs to be learnt. A native "gift" of formal speech, of public address, underlies all pulpit success; it is the natural basis of fitness upon which grace does its work in equipping a preacher. But this needs cultivation and training. The greatest natural powers need furnishing; and whilst it is in the inner, secret place alone that a true message for God may be gained, yet the "understanding," at its very best of training and fulness of acquired knowledge, must pass the message through its own mint, and put its own form and stamp upon it. He who, under ordinary circumstances, cries down the office, or practically disregards the use, of the "understanding," in the man who leads the worship of the congregation, or is its "prophet" for instruction or conviction, is repeating the mistake of the Thessalonian or Corinthian who valued and gloried in the unintelligible "tongue" and, in comparison, rated low the less showy gift of "prophecy."

8. Worship in an unknown tongue.—Naturally, and properly, the Reformers of the sixteenth century strengthened their protest against the conduct of worship for (sometimes unlettered) German or English people in Latin, by appeal to this passage of St. Paul. Rome is not alone in having clung to a language which once was the vulgar tongue, but which has become unintelligible through change of circumstance. In the Syrian Churches the language of the Liturgy is the once ordinary, but now antiquated, Syriac. The very Brahmin does not now understand the language of the mantras he chants through life. The Parsee priest cannot translate the old Zend of the invocations he uses. It is the vice of heathen worship to be veiled, to the point of being unintelligible to the people. All ordered worship should be on a level with the understanding of those of whose devotions it professes to be the vehicle, or to whom it professes to offer a message of instruction. The devotional part of the order of worship should at least be intelligible to the worshipper, "else how shall he say Amen?" (1Co ). So the very music should help the intelligence of the worship. The didactic, or hortatory, or convincing should be intelligent in matter and in form, on its human side, as fit as "understanding" can make it, to accomplish its work with the heart and will, and to commend the message to the intelligence, of the hearer. It may be—it must be, or it is "unfruitful" and useless—"plain preaching." The great themes of the Gospel are worthy that the highest intelligence should match and measure itself against them. "Wisdom is plain to him that understandeth." But it is the noblest function of the noblest mind to bring these themes into a shape apprehensible by the humblest and narrowest. "Unfruitful" preaching is either

(1) passing the understanding of the hearer, or

(2) indefinite in statement, or

(3) pointless and unimpressive in application [J. L.].

9. Interpreters sometimes needed.—There are true seers who get real messages from God, but cannot "interpret" them (1Co ). They may print their message, or may speak to a select few who can understand them. But there are many, a much larger company, whose gift, and whose call and function, it is to popularise the truth given to the inner circle of these illuminated ones. The "interpretation of tongues" has its modern analogue to-day, as also has the office of the "prophet." When the man who dwells in the holy of holies is also the man who comes out into the outer court direct from God's presence, and is the interpreter or the forthteller of the things he has seen and heard within, then the worshippers are led nearest to God, and the whole order of the service fulfils Paul's fourth requirement:—

IV. Edification (1Co ; 1Co 14:6; 1Co 14:12).—

1. The reiterated emphasis upon this point shows how predominant in importance this ranked in the thought of St. Paul. It manifestly takes precedence of every other consideration. [Love is not so much a "gift" as the very life in which the "gifts" should root themselves, and from which they should draw an all-pervasive character. Everything should be full of love. But next to love] Paul ranks prophecy above every gift. It "edifies" as does no other, and what will do this is his primary care. No doubt this plea has sometimes been made to cover some very wide departures from Christian reverence and sobriety, to say nothing of the comity of Christian custom. It has been said in their defence, "But you see that good is being done!" What has only roused the emotions and even the senses, unintelligent appeal to the feelings, a religious life built only upon the foundation of those feelings, have sheltered themselves under the same plea. The feelings have their place; "disorder" is sometimes an accompaniment of a true Pentecost, and justifies itself in its issues; but, under ordinary circumstances, prudent order, seemly custom, intelligent devotions and instructions, best promote edification.

2. None of them is worth anything if it do not.—Better, e.g., that customary, beautiful order be swept away before the "rushing wind" of a real Pentecost, than that "the breath" of the Spirit should never breathe upon dead souls. Order must not become a fetish, a tyranny. Any innovation upon the established order in a Christian Church will need good vindication; but it can, and does, vindicate itself, if it bring men to the Foundation and build them up upon it. Paul reminds his readers (1Co , etc.) how the intellectual gifts and the graces of oratory may become a snare to the preachers and a difficulty to the hearers. In neither order nor custom is there anything so sacred but that real "edification" may justify anything.

3. Edification demands a clear, definite, intelligible message.—"If the trumpet," etc. Most hearers want from the "prophet" who stands in their midst, what is profitable, helpful, true. But often the week has been a time of ceaseless conflict, and in weariness they are ready to give all up. Just then does the speaker in the public service need to be "a leader and a commander to the people" (Isa ). They want a man who can order their life for them. They will follow his "trumpet-call" if they find that he knows his own mind and gives no "uncertain sound." He may put heart into the faint by his "certain" sound, e.g., of confident proclamation of an Almighty Helper and Friend by their side in the conflict. [If it be the "joyful sound" of the Jubilee trumpet proclaiming that the lost heritage is to be had once more by its rightful owner, then also does its blast need to accompany a clear, plain, heartening declaration of the Atonement and its redeeming effect, and of the conditions on which this effect becomes available. An "uncertain sound" on this point may mean an eternally lost heritage, to some soul that hears and yet hears nothing.] The man who has nothing, or nothing definite, to blow upon his trumpet, had better stand aside for some other leader.

4. Paul suggests one remarkable piece of "edification"—the sudden arrest and conviction of a casual hearer (1Co ). He is the Jew or the heathen who came in during the "madness" of the "tongues" (1Co 14:23). This time the prophets are exercising their gift—"all are prophesying." Their words are "with the understanding." They are a message to his conscience. There is the "sign" once more, but there is sense too. He is laid bare to himself. Sin which he never saw and never suspected; a self which he never knew and never suspected; are disclosed to him. [The man known least to many a man is himself.] "The secrets of his heart are made manifest" to himself, and perhaps by open confession are made manifest to the assembled congregation also. ["The word cleaves asunder the soul and spirit, and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb 4:12).] In the presence of God he "falls prostrate" in awe and guilty shame. "The speaker might know all about me," many a modern hearer has said, in the presence of the searching Spirit of God. He confesses that of a truth he has found God amongst this people. If the Supper be the embodiment par excellence of the element of orderly, seemly, sacred, formal arrangement in worship, so also is such a "conviction" the chief glory of the teaching. No prophet should long exercise his gift without this conviction following the word he utters. If it be really the word of the Spirit through his lips, then awakening will be one of its constant credentials. Intelligent, plain, profitable, edifying words for the believer; arousing, alarming, convincing words for the "ignorant" and the "unbeliever." There are preachers who will not learn; as there are hearers who will not listen. Paul might, but we dare not, anticipate the final judgment, and say, "If he be ignorant, let him be ignorant."

SEPARATE HOMILY

1Co . Woman's Place and Woman's Work.

I. How far Paul's words are binding.—

1. Paul's pronouncements upon the position of woman in Christendom and her relation to man are not to be reckoned as simply remainders of "Oriental" or "Israelite" preconceptions, from which even he, who wrote Gal , had not worked himself free. Nor are they to be regarded as merely intended to apply to a temporary phase of social life which found its typical exemplifications in Corinth or Ephesus in Paul's day; and as therefore without force for English or American life today. As to the former point,—whilst the human element in Revelation is to be recognised, the Divine is not to be minimised. The abundant literary and historical material in whose light (say) the Epistles of Paul can to-day be studied, and that development of the historic sense in the students, which they share with the writers and readers of all history to-day, tend to obscure the fact,—ascertainable and verifiable on other lines of approach to and examination of the topic of Inspiration,—that the Spirit of God makes Himself responsible for the Book which is the product of the historical, or epistolary, or other activity of Paul and the other contributors to it. The judgments on this topic are Paul's; but not those of a Jew, only half-emancipated from the prejudices of his early education and training, on whom more enlightened or advanced readers may sit in judgment in their turn, and with fresher light review or revise his pronouncements. To assume this takes all finality, all authority, from Revelation on this topic or any other. As does the alternative suggestion. Is anything merely and only temporary put upon permanent record in the Bible at all? Rather, everything is of permanent value and authority, if even indirectly. If the temporary and "accidental" is put upon record, it is because in it is embodied some truth of abiding value. The temporary and accidental form carries a principle which is part of the universally applicable and binding Revelation of the mind and will of God.

2. Here Paul, in point of fact, does most pointedly claim for his dicta on our topic an absolute, Divine authority. He claims to speak as a prophet. Every true prophet will recognise the prophet in him. "The word of the Lord has come" to him; the words which he utters and bids his amanuensis write are "the commandments of the Lord." [The assertion is made in regard to this one topic, indeed, or to the group of topics dealt with in this chapter. But it would hardly be denied that this is a test case, a sample case, and, that when coupled with Col and 1Th 5:27, it extends its applicability to all his Epistles and their instructions.] He also lifts the case, both here and in the two other places where the topic is formerly dealt with (chap. 11, and 1 Timothy 2), above the level of the temporary and local. He traces the relation of woman to man up to the primal ordering of Creation. It is no novelty; it is no Oriental peculiarity; it is no wrong done to women by the men of the ancient world. Abused the principle may have been,—shamefully and cruelly,—until woman has become the slave, or at best the plaything, of man, the drudge of his idle, selfish, masterful will, or the vehicle of his sensuality. But the relation of subordination of woman to man is shown to be rooted in the physical characteristics and the creation-history of both.

3. Hence, then, the only "dispensing power" which can relax these positive injunctions and modify the force of these pronouncements, is His Who through Paul uttered them. He is Lord of His Revelation. In His sovereignty He may manifestly overrule, override, set aside, His usual, and to us peremptory, command. But the "dispensing power" should never be assumed by man, and very assured credentials should be presented by the "woman suffered to teach." [So conservative a man as John Wesley, e.g., wrote to a Mrs. Crosby, who had been led into a modified public activity: "I think the strength of the cause rests … on your having an extraordinary call.… It is plain to me that the whole work of God termed Methodism is an extraordinary dispensation of His providence. Therefore I do not wonder if several things occur therein which do not fall under ordinary rules of discipline. St. Paul's ordinary rule was: ‘I permit not a woman to speak in the congregation.' Yet, in extraordinary cases, he made a few exceptions; at Corinth in particular." (For this he offers no proof. See 1Co .) Works, xii. 339, Anno 1771.]

II. What the Gospel did for woman.—Every woman who sits by her husband "in the Church" is a standing witness to its elevating, vindicating work on behalf of her sex. The Mahometan woman practically never goes to public worship at all. In ancient and modern synagogues of Judaism the Jewess is always present indeed, but in the women's galley, and takes no open part in the worship. [She is not permitted to adapt to her sex, as in other cases, the thanksgiving: "I thank Thee who hast made me a man." For her it must be: "I thank Thee who hast made me according to Thy will."] Woman is prominent enough in religious ceremonial and worship in some well-known Asiatic and even in African forms of idolatry. But it is matter of common knowledge that outside Christendom, even at its most nearly nominal, woman has no such position as is the natural and necessary consequence of the teaching of the New Testament. She is at man's side in the home, an equal sharer of its responsibilities, its happiness, its honours. Chivalry caught the inspiration of its Ideal of Womanhood—confined in practice as this often was to women of gentle birth—from the Church. The Gospel began by declaring that in the new, the Christian, form of the Abrahamic covenant (Gal ) the woman had an equal status before God. In contradistinction to the old practice of Judaism, the woman was baptized as the men were. [That she might have her share thus publicly acknowledged and ratified was a reason, subsidiary but real, for the change in the sign and seal of the covenant.] She drew near to God with equal right of approach through Christ. Every woman in the Churches of Corinth, or Rome, or Ephesus, or elsewhere, knew by many daily proofs that the Gospel of Christ was on her side. See how Luke notes, "with the women" (Act 1:14); their equal presence in the prayer of the upper room was a revolutionary novelty. Let the prohibition of these verses be as stern as it may, and be pressed as absolutely as it may, it is a very small abatement from a freedom such as never was hers until the Gospel became the Great Charter of womanhood and its rights. Let her be prohibited most absolutely from eating the—not always pleasant—"fruit" of the office of public teacher, yet she dwells in an assured possession and enjoyment of a garden of happiness and of abundant "fruit," such as never was nor is hers until the Gospel of Christ has borne its message and done its work. Women owe much to the Gospel.

III. It has opened to them many forms of activity.—

1. It may well be questioned whether Rom calls Phœbe a "deaconess" in any precise or quasi-official sense. Almost certainly not; the date is too early. In the Pastoral Epistles there is more appearance of a definite "order," that of "widows." Pliny's letter to Trajan speaks of some "ministrœ" whom he had put to the question. Lucian's keen wit is directed against some aged Christian women who carried food to their co-religionists in prison. Organised, systematic work for the poor was very early part of the duty of the deaconess. Romans 16 is a very early documentary evidence of the many-sided activities of Christian women. They could "labour," and "labour much" they could "succour" Paul and "many besides," and "bestow much labour" on him. Priscilla, equally with her husband, could risk her life—"lay down her neck"—to save Paul's life. All the martyrologies of the Churches give evidence of the noble share the women took in the work of witnessing for Christ even to death.

2. It is manifest in how many ways the woman is better adapted than man for much work which needs doing to-day at home and abroad. There is much work for women—"rescue work," for example—which women can do best. The woman's heart and sympathetic nature often give her a power over degraded men which men can never wield. The children are naturally the woman's care, and, more than even woman herself, does the child owe much to the Gospel of that Christ Who was once the Babe of Bethlehem. Temperance work lies as fitly to their hand as it lies near to the heart of many of the noblest of the sex. "It is little grief to the Christian woman that she is excluded from the great offices in the Church, since it is hers to exercise the most glorious and effectual of all ministries," that of love (Pressense, Life and Practice, 73). Woman has her primacy in the Church in all works of charity and beneficence.

3. The Spirit of "prophecy" made no distinction of sex. Pentecost began to fulfil Joel's word in a point which perhaps even Peter hardly appreciated as he quoted it [Act (Joe 2:28-32)]; the "daughters" should prophesy as well as the "sons"; the very "handmaidens" [i.e. be it noted, the female slaves; station should matter as little as sex] should share with the "servants" the outpouring of the Spirit. If 1Co 11:5 stood alone, it might be unfair to make it evidence of anything more than that some Corinthian women were actually "prophesying" and "praying" in the assembly, and that Paul for the moment expresses no opinion as to the right or wrong of the practice, but passes on to the immediately urgent matter that they were doing it with unveiled heads. But he says here, "Ye may all prophesy," which, coupled with the equal treatment accorded to women by the endowing Spirit, seems still further to narrow his absolute prohibition, to "teaching" (1Ti 2:12), an office which once at least he distinguishes from "prophesying" (Eph 4:11; cf. Act 13:1). As was said above, the extraordinary charism was above ordinary prudential regulations; the Spirit is sovereign. Very early in the Church, accordingly, we find the deaconess occasionally "in apt and holy speech" teaching the women who were preparing for baptism. (Quoted in Pressens, Life and Practice, 72, note.) The "apt" speech can hardly be forbidden to exercise itself amongst women in almost every possible or needful way, whether in the cottage-meeting handful, or the [cottage-meeting handfuls aggregated into the great] "congregation." The line of division between the public "speaking in the Church" which is forbidden, and the "Bible lesson" given by a lady to a class of big lads or men in a Sunday school, which everybody sanctions, becomes a very fine one, and is indeed nearly at the vanishing-point. If it do not altogether disappear, it is manifestly rather retained, and, by Apostolic authority, absolutely retained, lest the sex should be unsexed, and because also of a primacy of man which is part of the original and abiding order of the God "not of confusion, but of" order and "peace." As always, the "commandment of God" has the woman's interest at heart. It is for her sex's sake. [John Wesley may again be quoted as typical of a Scriptural conservatism and caution in dealing with this matter. He is writing two years earlier, to the same correspondent as above: "I advise you, as I did Grace Walton formerly,

1. Pray in private or public, as much as you Song of Solomon 2. Even in public, you may properly enough intermix short exhortations with prayer, but keep as far from what is called preaching as you can: Therefore, never take a text; never speak in a continued discourse, without some break, about four or five minutes" (Works, xiii. 339).] There are also traces in the early Church of a distinct duty laid upon the "widows" to keep up a perpetual intercession on behalf of the active, busy, younger Church. The prayer meeting is a field for a grand activity for woman which none will rebuke. Her testimony in a meeting for witness-bearing or praise is help which must not be refused; nor should she withhold it, if, as part of her consecration of herself to Christ, she may, by doing violence to her temperament and her modest reticence, honour Him, or may help seeking or battling and oppressed souls, in telling "how great things the Lord hath done for" her. [Note how Christ would not allow the woman with "the issue" to steal away in silence with her blessing, but will have her testimony borne, there in the street, before all the crowd (Luk ).] Women who often enter into the Holy of Holies of the "spirit," and there commune with God, are not idlers in the Church.

IV. The one reserved thing is "teaching."—[Woman has never publicly given the bread and the wine of the Supper. There is no masculine "priestism" in this, however, or in the restraining of the woman from the office of the public teacher.] "But they are often better qualified to teach than the man who stands up to teach them." Perhaps, but such "hard cases" make "bad law." The salutary, seemly, general, binding rule gives the man the conduct of the worship in the congregation, [and, as shown in the Homiletic Analysis, the "worship" includes the teaching and the Supper].

APPENDED NOTE

"The Amen" of 1Co . From Stanley.—"After the prayers," says Justin (Apol., c. 65, 67), "bread is offered, and wine and water, and the president offers up according to his power prayers and thanksgivings at once, and the people shout the Amen.… The president offers praise and glory to the Father of all, and through the name of His Son and of the Holy Spirit, and at length returns thanks to God for having vouchsafed us to partake of these things. When he has finished the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present shout, saying, ‘Amen,' which is the Hebrew for ‘So be it.'" The "Amen" thus used was borrowed from the worship of the synagogue, and hence probably the article is prefixed as to a well-known form. It was there regarded as the necessary ratification of the prayer or blessing (cf. 2Co 1:20).… Compare the use of the word as uttered by the vast assembly of pilgrims at Mecca, to express their assent to the great sermon at the Kaaba (Burton's Pilgrimage, iii. 314).

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/1-corinthians-14.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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Thursday, December 12th, 2019
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