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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
1 Corinthians 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 3

DISCOURSE: 1981

NO KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST BUT BY THE SPIRIT

1 Corinthians 12:3. I give you to understand, that .. no man can say, that Jesus is the Lord, bat by the Holy Ghost.

WE trust that amongst us there are none so hostile to the name of Christ, as to “call Jesus accursed;” and therefore we omit from our text that part which is inapplicable to the age in which we live. There were among the Jews many, who, whilst they rejected Christ as an impostor, pretended to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and, either through magic or satanic influence, wrought “signs and lying wonders” in confirmation of their word. Amongst believers themselves also, there were some, who made a very unbecoming use of the miraculous powers with which they were endowed, priding themselves upon them, and exerting them rather for the furtherance of their own glory, than for the edification of the Church of Christ. To rectify the views of the Corinthians on these subjects, St. Paul informs them, that the unbelieving Jews, whatever they might pretend to, had not the Spirit of God; since “no man, speaking by the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed:” nor, on the other hand, had those, who possessed the miraculous influences of the Spirit, any such ground for self-preference and self-complacency as they imagined; since every true believer enjoyed those influences which were infinitely the most important; for that “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”

This is a truth of infinite importance; and St. Paul was very anxious that it should be duly weighed and considered. We will, therefore,

I. Explain the assertion in our text—

It is obvious that the text is not to be understood as denying our power to make use of that particular expression; because that form of words is as easily used as any other: but it affirms, that we cannot, without the aid of the Holy Spirit, make use of that assertion,

1. With a full conviction of its truth—

[We may easily from education give a notional assent to the whole Gospel; but when we come to reflect on the idea of our God becoming incarnate, and offering himself a sacrifice for the sins of his rebellious creatures, and reconciling them to himself through his own sufferings upon the cross, the mind revolts at the thought; and the whole plan of the Gospel appears a cunningly-devised fable. We see not any need for such an intervention of the Deity. We are ready to ask, Why could not God pardon us without such an atonement? Why could not his mercy be extended to us on our repentance and amendment, without any such devices as those which the Gospel professes to reveal? Yes: when these mysteries are more nearly contemplated, they are “to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness:” and “the natural man neither does, nor can, receive them [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 2:14.].”]

2. With a just sense of its importance—

[Supposing the mysterious truths of Christianity to be admitted from the force of reasoning alone, the importance of them can never be felt, but from a deep consciousness of our guilt and helplessness before God. We must feel our disease, before we justly appreciate the remedy. But who can ever know the desperate wickedness of his own heart, unless he be taught of God [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.]? Who can see the fulness that is in Christ, and his suitableness to our necessities [Note: Revelation 3:17-18.], till the eyes of his understanding have been enlightened by the Spirit of the living God [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.]? We must be “brought out of darkness into marvellous light,” before “Christ can become so precious to us” as he deserves to be.]

3. With a suitable determination to act upon it—

[When we truly confess Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we shall of necessity feel his love constraining us to live no longer to ourselves, but unto him who died for us and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.]. But who can thus live, unless he be aided and strengthened from on high? Are the world, the flesh, and the devil so easily vanquished, that we can by any power of our own subdue them? No: it is “not by might or by power, but by the Spirit of God” alone that such victories are gained [Note: Zechariah 4:6 and Philippians 2:13. 2 Corinthians 3:5.]. Grace must lay the foundation-stone; and grace must bring forth the head-stone: and to all eternity must the glory be ascribed to the grace of God alone [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:9. 2 Corinthians 5:5. Revelation 7:9-10.].]

Thus comprehensive is the assertion contained in our text. We will now,

II. Commend it to your most attentive consideration—

The Apostle evidently considered this declaration as of peculiar importance: “I give you to understand this,” says he; and I wish you ever to bear it in remembrance, as of singular use both for the instruction of your minds, and the regulation of your lives. This one assertion, truly understood, will shew you,

1. What is the great office of the Holy Spirit in the economy of redemption—

[Amongst the many purposes for which our blessed Lord was sent into the world, one was, to “declare the Father to us [Note: John 1:18; John 17:26.].” But the chief end for which the Holy Spirit is sent, is, to “testify of Christ,” and “to take of the things that are his, and to shew them unto us [Note: John 15:26; John 16:14.].” This then is the end for which we are to desire the gift of the Holy Ghost: we should feel sensible that we cannot know Christ, unless the Spirit reveal him in us [Note: Matthew 11:27.]; or come to him, except the Spirit draw us [Note: John 6:44.]; or be one with him, unless the Spirit form him in our hearts [Note: Galatians 4:19.]. This is a point by no means considered as it ought to be. We have an idea that the Holy Spirit is to “help our infirmities;” but we have no conception of the extent to which we need that help, and especially in relation to the knowledge of Christ. But we entreat you to consider fully the declaration in our text, and to take it as a clew, which, if duly followed, “will guide you into all truth.”]

2. How deeply we are concerned to obtain his gracious influences—

[If “to know Christ be life eternal [Note: John 17:3.],” and those who know him not must die in their sins [Note: John 8:24.], it is obvious, that we never can obtain salvation but through the all-powerful agency of the Holy Spirit. But we need not take this in a way of deduction; for the voice of inspiration has expressly said, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Note: Romans 8:9.].” Should it not then be a matter of serious inquiry with every one of us, Whether we have received the Holy Ghost; and whether he has performed in us that great work of discovering to us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.]? Let us not be satisfied with any views which are merely obtained from books, and which may float in the mind without any influence on the heart; but let us, by prayer and supplication, seek the gift of the Holy Spirit, that through him we may be taught what no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.].]

3. How thankful we should be for the smallest measure of his influence—

[If we have been taught truly and from our hearts to say that Jesus is the Lord, we then have certainly received the Holy Ghost; since it is by his gracious influence alone that we are enabled to do so. The assertion in our text establishes this truth beyond a doubt: for “no man,” however learned he may be, has any advantage over the poor in this respect. “If any man will be wise,” he must divest himself of all his fancied pre-eminence, and “become a fool, that he may be wise [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:18.].” On the other hand, if any man have attained a just knowledge of Christ, he has that, in comparison of which all other things are as dung and dross [Note: Philippians 3:8.]. Let not any one then be cast down because he possesses a smaller measure of earthly distinctions: for there is an infinitely greater distance between the meanest believer and the most learned philosophers on earth, than can be found between any two persons that have been taught of God. The wisdom of this world is of no account in the sight of God; and at all events it benefits men only for this present life: but he to whom the Holy Spirit has imparted even the smallest measure of the knowledge of Christ, possesses the choicest gift that God himself can bestow, and is made “wise unto everlasting salvation.”]


Verse 11

DISCOURSE: 1982

THE OPERATIONS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

1 Corinthians 12:11. All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

THE Corinthian Church was richly endowed with gifts: but the persons so endowed were not pro-portionably enriched with grace. Hence their gifts in too many instances administered only to strife and disorder; creating pride in some, who gratified themselves with an ostentatious display of their preternatural powers; and calling forth envy in others, whose powers were only of an inferior order. To counteract and rectify these disorders, St. Paul directed the people’s attention to the origin and use of all these gifts which had been conferred upon them. He shewed that they were all imparted by the Spirit of God according to his own sovereign will and pleasure, without any reference to the merits or attainments of the people themselves; and that they were bestowed on them, not for the aggrandisement of the favoured individuals, but for the benefit of the whole Church. This is the precise import of the whole chapter, as it is also of the fourteenth chapter, wherein the subject is still further prosecuted: it is confined, I say, to the gifts of the Spirit, without referring to the graces. Yet we shall take occasion from our text to notice also the graces of the Spirit, because they will be treated of with peculiar advantage in this connexion.

We will consider then the work of the Holy Spirit generally; and notice,

I. His miraculous operations—

The powers communicated by him to the Church were extremely various—

[At this time it is not easy to say what was the precise difference between some of the powers specified in the preceding context, though doubtless, when the epistle was written, they were well understood. “The word of wisdom,” probably refers to a large and comprehensive view of the great mysteries of redemption: and “the word of knowledge,” to a more particular insight into the types and prophecies, with an ability to explain them for the edification of others. “The faith,” there mentioned, was such a confidence in God, as emboldened a person to go forward in the midst of all dangers undaunted and undismayed. “The gift of healing,” was a power merely confined to the healing of disorders; whilst “the working of miracles” was operative on a larger scale. The gift of “prophecy,” was a power of foretelling future and contingent events: the power of “discerning spirits,” enabled a person to estimate with certainty and precision the motives by which others were actuated: the gift of “divers tongues,” qualified a person to speak in languages which he had never learned: and “the interpretation of tongues,” was a power of instantly interpreting such discourses to other persons in a language which they understood: so that, whilst some of the audience were addressed in a language familiar to them, the rest might also have the benefit of the discourse, by having it interpreted to them in their vernacular tongue; by which means, a mixed assembly, belonging to different countries, might all be instructed and edified by the same discourse.

If in this brief attempt to assign to each word its proper import we should not have exactly marked the precise meaning of each, it will be of little consequence; our object being, not so much to enter into a critical examination of doubtful points, as to mark that in which all are agreed; namely, that all the miraculous gifts, of whatever kind they were, proceeded from “that one and the self-same Spirit,” the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity. And here we wish it to be distinctly noticed, how repeatedly that adorable Person is mentioned as the author of all the gifts: “To one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge, by the same Spirit; to another, faith, by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing, by the same Spirit;” and then, after the mention of many other gifts, “All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit.” This shews what a holy jealousy the Apostle felt for the honour of that Divine Agent; and how anxious he was that the people might not for a single moment forget, to whom, and to whom alone, they were indebted for every gift that they enjoyed.]

By him also all the gifts were bestowed according to his own sovereign will and pleasure—

[Doubtless whatever God does is founded, not in a mere arbitrary will, but in the inscrutable counsels of his own wisdom: still however, as far as we are concerned, the effect is the same as if his will alone were the ground of his actions; because the counsels by which they are regulated are known to himself alone. He has no respect to any thing in us as the ground of his preference: he is not influenced either by our merits, or our attainments; but dispenses his gifts to whomsoever he will, and in the measure that he sees fit: bestowing on some the higher gifts; on others, the lower; and on others, none at all. This is beautifully illustrated by a reference to the natural body [Note: ver. 12–27.]. The body consists of different members, to each of which is assigned some peculiar office, together with appropriate powers for the discharge of it. The eye, the ear, the hands, the feet, have all their own peculiar structure, fitted for the uses for which they were designed by God himself. The different powers were not given to any one of them on account of its own superior goodness, or for its own use alone: but all were given for the use of the whole; “God having set every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him [Note: ver. 18.].” In relation to these, every one sees plainly, that God alone determined what powers to create, and where to place them in the body, and what measure of influence every member should possess: and, in the whole of it, nothing is for a moment contemplated but the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of the Creator. Never does any one entertain a thought that any one member has the least reason to glory over another, since all owe their respective powers to the same Divine Author; and all are mutually dependent on each other for such aid as they are severally fitted to impart. A more apt illustration could not have entered into the mind of man. The members of the Corinthian Church composed all one body in Christ: and their respective talents, whether of a higher or inferior order, were committed to them by the Spirit of God, not for their own use or honour, but for the good of the whole: God himself in the whole of the dispensation, having consulted only his own wisdom, and acted only according to his own sovereign will [Note: Hebrews 2:4.].]

In connexion with the miraculous operations of the Spirit, we have proposed to consider also,

II. His spiritual influences—

These also are greatly diversified—

[We have several mentioned by St. Paul: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, peace, joy, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance [Note: Galatians 5:22-23.].” In truth, every holy disposition is from him, even “from that self-same Spirit,” “from whom cometh every good and perfect gift.” The illumination of the mind is from him; for it is he whom “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ gives to us, as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him [Note: Ephesians 1:17.].” The sanctification of the soul is from him: for “God has chosen us through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:2.].” From him also is all spiritual consolation: for it is on this very account that He is called “The Comforter [Note: John 14:16-17.].” From the very beginning to the end of our salvation, it is He who “worketh all in all.” Are we born again? it is “of the Spirit [Note: John 3:5.].” Are we helped in our infirmities? it is “by the same Spirit [Note: Romans 8:26.].” Are we progressively changed into the Divine image from one degree of glory to another? it is “by the same Spirit [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” Have we in our souls a sure testimony of our adoption into God’s family? it is “from the same Spirit [Note: Romans 8:15-16.].” Are we sealed unto the day of redemption [Note: Ephesians 1:13-14.]? it is by the same Spirit, who alone “worketh all our works in us [Note: Isaiah 26:12.].”]

They are given too according to his own sovereign will and pleasure—

[We are expressly told, that he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will [Note: Ephesians 1:5-6; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11.];” and that he “worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure [Note: Philippians 1:13.].” We see how sovereignly he dispensed his blessings in the days of old, giving to Abraham, faith; to Moses, meekness; to Job, patience; to Daniel, wisdom; to Paul, zeal and love. Whence was it that these were so eminent for those particular graces by which they were severally distinguished? Whence was it that a few poor fishermen were chosen to be the depositaries of divine knowledge in preference to any of the Scribes and Pharisees, or any of the philosophers of Greece and Rome? Whence in every age has God “revealed to babes and suck-lings the things which he has hid from the wise and prudent?” There is but one answer to be given to it all; “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.].” “God’s grace is his own [Note: Matthew 20:15.];” and he imparts it to whomsoever he will, “according to the measure of the gift of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4:7.];” that is, in the time, and manner, and measure that he sees fit. From the whole of his work human merit is absolutely excluded as the procuring cause [Note: Titus 3:5-6.], as human strength is as the efficient cause [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.], that no flesh should glory in his presence, but all the glory be given to God alone [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.].]

Let us learn from hence

1. What we are to think of this great Agent—

[Volition is inseparable from personality: and such actions, as are here ascribed to the Holy Spirit, proceed from none other than God. The enabling of men to work all kinds of miracles is beyond the power of any finite and created intelligence to effect. Here then we have a demonstration of the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. This passage alone establishes this doctrine beyond a doubt. And when we recollect, that all our hope is from Him; that, as our justification is altogether from the Lord Jesus Christ, so our sanctification is altogether from the Holy Spirit; it is of infinite importance that our minds be rightly instructed in reference to this point: for as, if Christ be not God, we can have no hope from his death, so, if the Holy Spirit be not God, we can have no hope from his agency. Let this truth then be settled in our minds; that He who, in the economy of redemption, has engaged to supply the place of Christ on earth [Note: John 16:7.], is very God [Note: See Acts 5:3-4.] and able to effect for us, and in us, the whole work which he has undertaken.]

2. Whither we are to look for all needful assistance—

[To this Divine Agent must we look, and not in any respect to ourselves. He it was who wrought the whole work in the days of the Apostles, and has continued to work in the Church even to the present hour. To him therefore must we look. Let us suppose the present assembly to be in the very state in which that assembly was on the day of Pentecost; our eyes as blind, our hearts as hard, yea, our hands yet reeking with the Saviour’s blood: must we despair? No: He, who converted thousands of them in one single day, can work effectually on us also, and accomplish in us all that our necessities require — — — Let us pray then that the Spirit may be poured out upon us as he was upon them: and then may we expect the same moral change on our hearts as was wrought on theirs. Let but “the word come to us in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” and all will be done for us that shall be necessary for our sanctification and our complete salvation.]

3. To whom we must give the glory of all that is good in us—

[“He that hath wrought us to the self-same thing, is God:” and he must be acknowledged as the sole author of all good. As in the miraculous powers that were imparted, “he was all in all;” and as in the faculties which our different members possess, “he is all in all;” so must he be in all that is wrought in our souls [Note: ver. 6.]. Whatever then be our faculties of mind or body, they must be improved for him, that he may be glorified in all: and, whatever graces we possess, they must be exercised, not for our own honour, but for his, “that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus.”


Verse 13

DISCOURSE: 1983

CHRISTIANS ONE IN HEART

1 Corinthians 12:13. By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

IT has been said, to the reproach of Christianity, that the professors of it have no union amongst themselves, either of sentiment or affection. And this charge, we must confess, is true, so far as Christianity prevails in name only. But, where vital piety exists, there is found an union which obtains in no other society under heaven. Men feel some degree of union with each other, as belonging to the same country, or town, or society, or calling in life. There are some who boast that they are brothers to all who belong to their fraternity; which relation they discover by certain signs unknown to the world at large. But theirs is a vain pretence: they may extend a little relief to one in distress, because of his standing in that relation to them (which yet is a very narrow and selfish ground of preference), but as for union of heart with each other, they know no more of it than other people; no more of it, than the greatest strangers in the universe. But Christianity brings men not only into one body, but into a oneness of heart and affection; insomuch that, in their collective capacity, they bear the sacred name of “Christ [Note: The name “Christ,” in ver. 12. means the Society who belong to him.],” as the members of the human body do of the individual to whom they belong. Of this union my text gives a very clear and accurate description. According to the Apostle, this union is,

I. External and visible—

By baptism we are all brought into one body—

[Whatever may have been the former profession of any man, whether he have been a Jew (a worshipper of the true God) or an idolatrous Gentile; and whatever be his present condition in society, a freeman or a slave; he is no sooner baptized into the faith of Christ, than he becomes a member of Christ’s mystical body. Let the disparity between them be ever so great, it makes no difference, as it respects their relation to Christ, or to each other. The least honourable members of the body are as much a part of the body as the eye or hand; and as much dependent on the head, by which they subsist, and to which they minister. And this is precisely the connexion in which the lowest as well as the most exalted Christian stands to Christ, and to the collective body of his Church and people.]

Whatever part in that body we sustain, we should cheerfully perform the duties of it—

[There should be no envying of those who occupy a higher station than we; nor any despising of those who are beneath us. Every member is useful in his place, and necessary to the good of the whole. Indeed, if all were to sustain the same office, there would be no more a body: if all were an eye, or an ear, it must soon cease to exist, for want of such powers as the other parts of the body supply. There is nothing in the body either superfluous or defective. It needs no addition: in truth, it admits of no addition: and if it suffer defalcation, the whole is injured and deformed: for there is no part that can say to any other, “I have no need of thee.” In this respect, therefore, all are honourable before God, and all have reason to discharge with pleasure the office assigned to them.]

But it is the other part of our subject that demands our more particular attention. I observe, therefore, that this union is also,

II. Internal and spiritual—

It is surely a remarkable expression which the Apostle uses in my text: “We are all made to drink into one Spirit.” What can be the meaning of this? What its force? I apprehend, that if we accurately investigate the influence of the soul upon the human frame, we shall find a strict parallel between that and the influence of the Spirit of God upon the members of Christ’s mystical body. Bearing this in mind, I would observe, that the expression in my text imports,

1. A participation of the same vital energies—

[One soul pervades the whole body, and operates alike in every part; calling into activity the eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, and working by all according to their respective capacities. So, whether it be a king upon his throne, or a beggar on a dunghill, if he be truly alive to God, he is quickened by the same Spirit; the whole Church being, in its collective capacity, “the body of Christ, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all [Note: Ephesians 1:23.].” Without his aid we can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.]: but by him the weakest is made strong, and is “enabled to do all things” that are required at his hands [Note: Philippians 4:13.].]

2. An accordance in the same divine principles—

[As one power animates, so one mind directs, the whole man: there is no schism in the body in relation to its actings, every part harmoniously concurring in the object proposed. So, especially, in all important matters, are all the members of Christ’s mystical body agreed. In subordinate points there may be some difference amongst different persons, just as there is a distinctive difference of features and complexion amongst persons of different countries; but in all essential matters they are alike. There are some points of doctrine wherein good men are not agreed; in points, for instance, of a Calvinistic or Arminian aspect: and in points of discipline, also, they may differ; some embracing one mode of Church government, and some another. But, in the great leading points of “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” there is a perfect similarity in every true Christian throughout the universe. No one imagines that either of these can be dispensed with, or that, when united, they will be insufficient for the salvation of the soul. There is not one who does not feel himself a lost sinner, deserving of God’s wrath and indignation: nor is there one who does not desire “to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God, through faith in Christ [Note: Philippians 3:9.].” In these respects the whole people of God, of every order and every rank, and every nation under heaven, are altogether “of one heart and of one mind.”]

3. A prosecution of the same heavenly pursuits—

[This, too, is found in every part of the corporeal frame: and this also is found in all the members of Christ’s body. The worldly pursuits of men may be widely different, according to their situation in society and in the Church of God. But there is not one in all the family of God who does not account the care of the soul the one thing needful; not one who is not labouring, as God shall help him, to flee from the wrath of God, and to lay hold on eternal life. See them wherever they are, or whatever they are doing, they never lose sight of this. In the world or in the Church, by night or by day, they keep steadily in view the prize of their high calling, and run with all diligence in order to obtain it. To “live a life of faith upon the Son of God,” and a life of love towards all mankind, is their great object: and from the first moment of their conversion, to the latest hour of their lives, this occupies their minds, and engages their utmost efforts.]

4. A sympathy with the whole body in all its parts—

[No member of the human frame can suffer or rejoice, but as the other members suffer or rejoice with it [Note: ver. 25, 26.]. Nor in Christ’s mystical body can any member be indifferent to either the temporal or spiritual welfare of the rest. The conversion of men to Christ, even in the remotest quarters of the globe, is a matter of deep interest to the real saint: and the declension of any is with him a source of grief and pain. And if he can administer to the welfare of any, he accounts it a high privilege to exert his influence for that end. A true believer has no interest compared with that of the Redeemer’s kingdom: and if he may be an instrument of promoting that, he accounts it a call from God to put forth all his powers, yea, and, if need be, to sacrifice his very life in so good a cause [Note: 2 Timothy 2:10. Acts 20:24.].]

From this subject we may see,

1. How far we have profited by our baptism—

[Many will lay an undue stress on baptism, as though it of necessity changed and renewed the soul. I grant it does change the state, because by it we are made members of Christ’s mystical body: and this change is properly ascribed, in our Liturgy, as in our text, to the Spirit of God. But we must experience an inward change besides, and must “drink into one Spirit,” having our whole soul renewed and sanctified by the Spirit of God. This is absolutely indispensable to the salvation of the soul. The Israelites in the wilderness “were baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and all drink the same spiritual drink: and yet God was angry with them, and overthrew them in the wilderness. And these things happened to them for ensamples [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6.].” The outward form never did, nor ever can, suffice: if we would be the Lord’s people indeed, we must “be one spirit with him [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.],” and have really, as the governing principle of our lives, “the mind that was in him [Note: Philippians 2:5.].”]

2. What benefit we may hope for in communicating at the table of the Lord—

[The expression, “drinking into one Spirit,” has a reference to the sacramental cup, of which all communicants partake. And though, where baptism is duly received, it is doubtless accompanied with the richest blessings to the soul, yet is the Lord’s supper, as being often repeated and received in communion with the whole Church, generally productive of the greater benefit. This seems intimated in the language of our text: for by the one we are brought into one body; and by the other, are “made to drink into one Spirit [Note: εἰς ἳν σῶμα ἐβαπτίσθημιν· εἱς ἳν πνεῦμα ἐποτίσθημεν.].” At all events, we can have no doubt what God intends by this ordinance: for, in “eating the flesh of Christ, and drinking his blood,” we shall “grow up into him in all things, as our living Head,” and by him be filled with all the fulness of God [Note: John 6:56-57. Ephesians 4:15.]. Come, then, to the table of the Lord, that ye may receive “a supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ [Note: Philippians 1:19.]!” for “He has the residue of the Spirit [Note: Malachi 2:15.],” and will send Him to you from the Father [Note: John 15:26; John 16:7.], in answer to your prayers [Note: Luke 11:13]. Come, all of you; and ye shall partake more richly of his vital energies, and be confirmed more strongly in the principles ye have imbibed, and be quickened more abundantly in your pursuit of heaven, and be rendered still more heavenly in all your tempers and affections. Thus shall the whole work of God be perfected in your souls: and in due time you shall resemble the saints above; yea, and be partakers with them in holiness, and felicity, and glory.]


Verse 31

DISCOURSE: 1984

GIFTS AND GRACES COMPARED

1 Corinthians 12:31. Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

SUCH is the weakness of human nature, that we can scarcely possess any thing that distinguishes us from others, without priding ourselves in it; as though it had sprung from some efforts of our own, or at least had been given us for our superior desert. Even miraculous powers, which could manifestly originate in nothing but God’s sovereign will and pleasure, were to the Corinthians a ground of boasting and self-complacency. We, at this time, are perfectly amazed at the indecorous way in which many in the apostolic age abused their powers, and at the manner in which they conducted their religious assemblies. St. Paul, as might well be expected, set himself to reform those abuses, and so to regulate their proceedings, that “all things might be done decently and in order.” With this view, he shewed them, that, whatever the number or quality of “their gifts” might be, whatever “the differences of their administrations,” and whatever “the diversities of their operations,” they all proceeded from “the same God who wrought all in all.” He acknowledged the benefit arising from the judicious exercise of their miraculous powers; hut yet told them, that there was an object far more worthy of their ambition; namely, charity, which was the sum and substance of all Christian perfection. He does not altogether blame their desire of useful gifts: on the contrary, he says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” But he would not have them satisfy themselves with any measure of such attainments, because without love or charity they were of no value whatever: and therefore he adds, “Yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”

Before I come to my subject, I would just observe, that, though some of high name would alter the translation in my text, (from an idea that the Apostle, when reproving the pride and emulation which had prevailed in reference to these gifts, could never encourage the Corinthians to covet them [Note: Dr. Doddridge.],) I feel no doubt but that the translation is correct: for the very same word occurs again at the commencement of the 14th chapter, (the whole of the 13th being only parenthetical, as an explanation of my text,) and it is incapable of being understood in any other way than as it is translated in my text: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy:” where, shewing the peculiar usefulness of the gift of prophecy, which was the expounding of Scripture, he recommends that they should affect that in preference to any other. Again, in verse 12 of the same chapter, he says, “Forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the Church” And again, at the close of the same chapter, he says, “Brethren, covet to prophesy; and forbid not to speak with tongues.”

I have judged it expedient to dwell somewhat upon this point; because the Apostle’s inculcating a desire after the best gifts will have an important bearing on my subject; which is, to shew,

I. The value and importance of spiritual gifts.

II. The infinitely greater value of spiritual graces.

First, I will endeavour to mark the value and importance of spiritual gifts

The miraculous powers with which many of the primitive Christians were endowed, the Apostle calls “spiritual gifts:” not because in their nature they were spiritual, as emanating from the soul, and exercised about things that were altogether heavenly, but because they were spiritual in their source and tendency; inasmuch as they were wrought in men by the Holy Spirit, and were imparted to the Church for the purpose of spreading and establishing Christianity in the world. There was a great diversity of them, all proceeding from the same origin, and all conducing to the same end. Hence the Apostle says, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man, to profit withal. For to one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge, by the same Spirit; to another, faith, by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing, by the same Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues; and all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.].”

These gifts, at the first establishment of Christianity, were necessary: for, unless God had imparted to the Apostles a spirit of wisdom and of knowledge, they could never have known those “mysteries which were hid in God from the foundation of the world [Note: Ephesians 3:9.].” Nor, if they had not been endued with the gift of tongues, could they have declared to foreigners the blessed truths which they had received. Nor could they have given sufficient evidence of their divine commission to preach those truths, if they had not been enabled to work miracles in confirmation of their word. To have argued with heathens, or even with Jews, would have been a slow process, if they had to bear down their adversaries with the mere force of reason; and to convince them would have been a difficult undertaking: but the performing of miracles superseded, if not entirely, yet in great measure, these laborious efforts, and carried conviction at once to the minds of hundreds and of thousands, who would not have had leisure or ability to enter into long and deep discussions. Thus it was that Christianity was established: and those to whom these divine powers were committed, were highly honoured of God, in being made his instruments for the conversion and salvation of their fellow-men.

But these gifts are now no longer necessary: they have accomplished the work for which they were bestowed. The record of them remains; and to that we can appeal. That was written whilst multitudes were alive, and able to testify of what their eyes had seen and their ears had heard. To have had those miracles continued would have answered no good end: for they must have been wrought in every age and every place, where the doctrine needed to be confirmed: and then the commonness of them would have destroyed their efficacy upon the mind. Even when they were wrought, they did not carry conviction to the minds of all: and how much less would they have done so at this time, if they had been continued to the present day! We may well say, that, if men believe not the records of the Old and New Testaments, neither would they be persuaded though they saw one rise from the dead.

These supernatural gifts being withdrawn, we are now left to the use of those means which are placed within our reach. I do not intend to say, that any efforts of ours can convince those who will shut their eyes against the light: for the resurrection of Lazarus, and of our Lord himself, did not effect that: but we have within our reach means, which will, as far as is necessary, subserve the interests of religion in the way that miracles once did. Learning is now the substitute for those gifts: and by learning must we labour to attain the ends for which those spiritual gifts were formerly bestowed; namely, to acquire the knowledge of religion; to attain a facility of diffusing it; and to maintain it against all its adversaries.

By learning we must attain the knowledge of religion. Of course, I must not be understood to say, that the fundamental doctrines of Christianity cannot be understood without learning: for then I should condemn to hopeless misery all the unlearned of the earth. No: God has not so constituted his Gospel, that it should be hidden from the poor: for it is a characteristic feature of the Gospel, that it was to be preached to the poor and illiterate, and that it would commend itself to them, whilst it was hid from the wise and prudent. The fundamental truths of our holy religion are few and simple. The man who feels himself an undone sinner, and who looks simply to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, is truly instructed in the Gospel, though he be not able to read one word in it. And the Scriptures are so written, that even the poorest man who can read them, and who has a spiritual discernment given him from above, can comprehend all that is contained in them, so far as it is necessary for the edification and comfort of his own soul: and to keep the Bible out of the hands of the poor, from an idea that they will only receive injury from the perusal of it, is a Popish delusion, an unchristian cruelty, an impious reflection upon God himself. But still I must say, that, to a full and complete understanding of the sacred volume, a very considerable degree of learning is requisite. In truth, that volume itself contains mines of learning, which many years of investigation are scarcely sufficient to explore. Numberless things at this very day are but matters of conjecture, even to the most learned men upon earth, because of the very partial information which is transmitted to us of the customs to which they refer, and the circumstances with which they were connected. And it may well be doubted, whether the inspired volume will ever be fully understood, unless a Spirit of inspiration be again vouchsafed to unfold it to us.

Nor is learning at all less necessary for the diffusion of sacred knowledge. We admire and revere the memory of one favoured servant of God [Note: The Rev. Henry Martyn, a Member of this University.], who, possessed as he was of most transcendent talents, and with incredible zeal and industry devoted to the Lord, translated the New Testament into the Persian and Hindoostanee languages. What, then, must be necessary for the translating of the whole Scriptures into all the languages of the world! Let all the learning of our highly-respected University be embodied in one man, and how little would it enable him to effect in three quarters of the globe! In truth, were it not that God’s ancient people are scattered over the whole face of the earth, everywhere possessing, in part at least, their own inspired writings, on which ours are founded; and were it not that we had reason to believe that they are ordained of God to be his instruments for the conversion of the world; we should be ready still to regard the Millennial age as far distant as ever; so impossible would it seem, that persons in the present state of the Christian Church, should ever be found for the evangelizing of the world.

And must I not add, that learning is alike necessary for the maintaining of Christianity against its adversaries? We cannot contend even with sceptics and infidels, amongst ourselves, without learning: and how much less can we refute all the objections of Jewish Rabbies, and all the errors of the different religionists upon the face of the globe? They will not bow to the authority of our Scriptures: nor can we work miracles to convince them. We must search out all their refuges of lies, and expose all their sophistry, and establish our own religion upon the ruins of theirs. But can this be done without learning? I think, then, we may say, that learning must supply the place of miracles, unless God should be pleased to restore to his Church those powers which for so many centuries have been withdrawn.

Nevertheless, whilst, as becomes me, I exalt amongst you the importance of learning, it is proper that I proceed to point out, in

The second place, The infinitely greater value of spiritual graces. “Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”

That which is here proposed to them as more excellent than any gifts, is the grace of Charity; the character and offices of which are fully described in the chapter which follows. Now, in looking into that chapter, we see that the direct tendency of this grace is to mortify all those evil dispositions which had been exercised in the Corinthian Church, and to call forth into action all those holy tempers which had been trodden under foot. The Apostle, therefore, may be considered as saying to the Corinthian Church, ‘You, instead of improving your gifts aright, have made them an occasion of pride, and envy, and jealousy: and I recommend you rather to set your hearts on the attainment of that heavenly principle, which will rectify your disorders, and unite all your souls in love.’

Still, however, we must observe, that the Apostle did not confine himself to this idea; but launched forth into a general view of the excellencies of Charity, in order that he might the more powerfully excite them to the cultivation of it. And, therefore, I will so far follow him, as to shew you the superiority of this grace to all gifts whatever; first, for our own personal benefit; next, for the benefit of the world at large; and lastly, for the honour of our God.

Charity, then, is more excellent than learning; first, for our own personal benefit. I would by no means be thought to undervalue learning: it is, beyond all doubt, of immense importance: it expands the mind, and enlarges the heart; and contributes, more than can be well conceived, to raise man above his fellows; insomuch, that all are ready to bow down to him who stands high in repute for the attainment of it. But, then, it does nothing towards the sanctifying of the heart, or the improvement of the soul in heavenly dispositions: on the contrary, it is too often found to operate precisely as the spiritual gifts did at Corinth, to the engendering of pride and envy, of conceit and jealousy, of hatred and malignity, in the very circle where it most abounds.

But Charity elevates the mind, and purifies it from all these hateful dispositions. It raises the soul to God, and calls forth all our energies in behalf of man. It even transforms us into the very image of God himself, whose name and nature is love. It also greatly tranquillizes the mind, and cuts off all occasion for those painful feelings which agitate the bosoms of the generality, and kindle animosities between man and man. I may go further, and say, as the Apostle does, that, whatever we may possess of such attainments, they will soon vanish away, and leave us as little benefited as if we had never possessed them. But Charity constitutes our meetness for the heavenly inheritance, and is indeed the commencement of heaven in the soul: and it will exist within us, in full activity, when all other things shall have ceased for ever.

Charity, too, is more excellent than learning, for the benefit of the world at large. Learning, as I have said, confers extensive good upon mankind: but it is also frequently a vehicle of incalculable evil. To a vast extent has it been employed in the service of infidelity and profaneness; insomuch, that, even in Christian lands, some of the most distinguished historians, poets, and philosophers, have put forth all their energies for the subversion, rather than the establishment, of our holy religion. But Charity is never employed but for the good of mankind. Gladly would it drive from the world every noxious sentiment and feeling, and contribute, as far as possible, to the happiness of all. To benefit the souls of men, is its highest aim: and not so much as one would it suffer to perish, if by any means it could induce him to embrace the proffered salvation. We need only see the difference between the learned Saul and the pious Paul, and we shall behold this matter in its true light.

I may here add, that learning, how beneficial soever it may be to some, has but few objects, comparatively, with whom it can come in contact. The learned only can appreciate its worth, or make a due improvement of its stores. But love extends to every child of man; and is capable of its fullest exercise, in every place, and under every circumstance that can occur. It is like the sun, which shines alike upon the evil and upon the good; or the rain, which descends alike on the just and on the unjust.

Yet further I must add, that love is more excellent than learning, as contributing more to the honour of our God. Though learning is indeed to be traced to God as its true source, yet his agency in it is almost always overlooked; and the honour of it is ascribed to its possessor, who employs it only for his own glory. Even when it is used in support of religion, still, unless under the influence of love, it aims only at the advancement of its possessor in wealth or honour. But love bears upon it the very stamp of heaven; and shews to all, that it proceeds from God. It is “an epistle of Christ, known and read of all men.” And in all it does, it seeks to honour God. It would be ashamed to arrogate any thing to itself. It gives to God the glory of its every motion and its every act: and, if only God be honoured, it regards not what portion is assigned to its possessor. I will only add, that learning will sit at ease, and please itself, without any concern for God; whilst love will travel to the ends of the earth, and encounter all imaginable perils, if only man may be benefited, and God be glorified.

Suffer me now, then, to address you in the words of my text; and, in conformity with the Apostle’s direction to the Corinthians, to say, in the first place—

Covet earnestly the best gifts.”—It will be remembered, that I have stated this to be the just translation of the word; and that, instead of being a reproof, saying, “Ye do covet” (and covet improperly) the best gifts, it is a concession. “Covet earnestly the best gifts;” for that is an ambition, which, if duly exercised, I cordially approve. I observed, that this view of the word had an important bearing on my subject: and that bearing I shall now point out. There are religious persons who undervalue learning; and therefore undervalue it, because they want either the talent or the industry to attain it. But I must bear my decided testimony against all such persons; and must declare, that their notions are erroneous, their conduct evil, their example pernicious. It is an error to suppose that religion discountenances attainments of any kind: and they who are sent hither (to this university, I mean) for instruction, and neglect to improve their talents according to the plan of study here prescribed, are highly criminal before God and man: nor can they conceive how great a stumbling-block they lay in the way of others, or what injury they do to religion, which is condemned for their sakes. I therefore would say to all, “Covet earnestly the best gifts;” and not only “covet them earnestly,” but pursue them diligently. And, if I may be permitted to address myself more particularly to those with whom, as a partaker of the same benefits with them in our early education and our present means of prosecuting our studies, I am more immediately connected, I would say, ‘Inasmuch as your advantages have been greater than perhaps those of any other persons, your proficiency ought to be pro-portionably great: and, inasmuch as the lines in which you have an opportunity to distinguish yourselves are, through accidental circumstances, more contracted than those of others, you are doubly bound to excel in those lines, where the scope for competition is open to you [Note: Preached before the University, in King’s College, on the Founder’s day, March 25, 1825.].’

Yet I must go on, with the Apostle, to say, good as this way is, “I have shewn you a more excellent way,” and would most earnestly exhort you to walk in it. The way of charity is indeed a more excellent way; and it may well regulate you, even in the prosecution of your studies. You will remember that the Apostle says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” And he tells us plainly what the best gifts are: “God has set some in the Church; first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that, miracles; then, gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:28.].” Now, here you will notice, that his judgment was in direct opposition to that of the Corinthians in general. They put the speaking with tongues in the first place, because that was the gift which excited the most admiration, and attracted the most applause: and they accounted the prophets, that is, the expounders of God’s blessed word, as low in comparison of them. But the Apostle inverted that order altogether: he put the prophets and teachers next in order to the Apostles; and placed the diversities of tongues the very lowest of all. He estimated these gifts by a very different standard from that which obtained amongst the vain ostentatious Corinthians: he judged of gifts by their usefulness to the souls of men. And this is the judgment which I would recommend to you. Let not your time be so occupied with things curious, or entertaining, or calculated to excite the admiration of men, as to neglect, or keep upon the back-ground, those things which are of practical utility to the Church of God. Learn to estimate these things, not by the world’s standard, but by God’s: and lay out your time and strength most in those things which will most conduce to the benefit of God’s Church and people.

And this you will do, if you cultivate the grace of charity. You will act to God, and not to man. You will seek the edification of your own souls, in every thing that is amiable and praiseworthy; and you will move in the sphere appointed you, so as most to advance the welfare of men and the honour of your God. You will not consider it sufficient to attain gifts, however great and splendid, when you recollect how empty and worthless they are without charity. The Apostle says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge (in which we may include all that is cultivated with so much assiduity and success in this learned university); and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.].” After such declarations as these, so strong, so authoritative, so decisive, I may well be excused if I urge upon you a practical attention to them, and entreat you, whilst pursuing, as you ought to do, the best attainments in learning, not to be unmindful of that more excellent way; but to “add to your knowledge godliness, and to godliness brotherly-kindness, and to brotherly-kindness charity [Note: 2 Peter 1:6-7.].”

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/1-corinthians-12.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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