1 Corinthians 12:1

A transition occurs here to a class of topics most important and interesting, since they involve the character and glory of the new dispensation. It was the special economy of the Holy Ghost which St. Paul was now to consider. All along we have had an insight into mistakes and disorders, into disputes and wranglings and, at times, into shameful vices. A quarter of a century had little more than passed since Christ ascended to the throne of the Father as the God Man of the universe, and the Spirit had descended as the promised Paraclete. Yet what strife and confusion! The marvellous gifts were strangely misunderstood. Once these Corinthians - so the apostle reminds them - had been Gentiles, "led away unto dumb idols, howsoever they might be led." But for them the age of "dumb idols" had ended and the great dispensation of speech had opened. No man sharing this speech from heaven - "speaking by the Spirit of God" - could call "Jesus accursed;" and only such as were enlightened and directed by the Holy Ghost could say from the heart of love and faith that "Jesus is the Lord." At the outset, this principle is laid down as fundamental to the economy of gifts; it is a Divine economy; it is the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. Something was gained whoa this was made clear. Inspiration was no wild, spasmodic, frantic thing. It was not individuality unloosed and driven into gross eccentricity. Whatever mysteries were connected with these manifestations, there was a grand system to which they appertained, and it was upheld, applied, administered, by the Holy Ghost. Such, then, is the position assumed, and it commands the whole question. This done, the places occupied by different parties, the diversity of gifts, their number and multiformity, the relativity of each to a controlling general idea, and the unity sought as a final end, could be ascertained. Naturally, then, diversities of gifts would be the first to attract attention. Difference between objects begins our perceptive education, difference in our moods of mind cultivates our consciousness, difference must be seen before the higher intellect can perform the processes of abstraction and generalization. Accordingly St. Paul starts with "diversities of gifts." It was not a new idea. The Prophet Joel had it substantially, along with the conception of universality, when he spoke of prophesyings, of dreams, of visions, and declared that servants and handmaids should rejoice in the possession of this power. Christ had closed his earthly revelation of the Father by unfolding the manifoldness of the Spirit's office. Pentecost had made good the promise, and had shown as the firstfruits of the harvest the recovery of the world's languages to the service of Christianity. St. Paul, however, handles the idea in a way altogether new. Genius passes old truths through its transforming brain, and they charm the world as fresh and wondrous disclosures. Inspiration honours individuality; nothing treats the personality of the man with such respect; and hence St. Paul's specialization of the fact of diversity. Mark how he treats it. Gifts themselves, as relative to men who are their recipients, are very unlike. Capacity in each case is a pre-existent fact of providence, and the Spirit consults providence. But in the next place, gifts are ministries, and the diversities (distributions)are for various spheres. Functional work is of many kinds, offices have each its speciality, and, as earthly industry must achieve its results by division of labour, so the economy of the Holy Ghost must differentiate one form of energy from another. Ministers are servants, and these ministries are serving forces. And again, the gifts are represented as operations by whose effects, as incorporated in society, the kingdom of God is built up. "These are not to be limited to miraculous effects, but understood commensurately with the gifts of whose working they are the results" (Alford). If, in other passages of Scripture, the person of the Father or of the Son is prominently displayed, the personality of the Holy Ghost, as proceeding from the Father and the Son, is here set forth with a distinctness and emphasis characteristic of his relations to the plan of salvation. Just before (ver. 3), St. Paul had declared the presence of the Holy Ghost in the confession of Jesus as Lord, and the name, by which he was known among men (Jesus of Nazareth) and recognized in his trial, condemnation, and crucifixion, is borne up from earth and glorified in his exaltation. And here he is the "same Spirit" in the opening thought, "diversities of gifts." There are "differences of administrations," but the "same Lord;" "diversities of operations," but the "same God that worketh all in all;" nor will the apostle specify the fulness of the Spirit's gifts and the greatness of his presiding agency over the Church without connecting him with the Father and the Son. The mystery of the Trinity remains. But the doctrine becomes a very real and practical fact, and, as such, assimilable in Christian experience, when thus identified with grace in all its workings through the Church. And so true is this that the very mystery is essential to the effect the doctrine produces, by forming an infinite background, against which the fact stands in relief. Under these circumstances, mystery commends itself., not simply to reverence, but to experimental appreciation. Reason, if made conscious of its own instinct, finds a basis for itself and a vindication of its functions in the exercise of faith, and, by means of this illumination, reason is assured that the faculties of the human mind have their laws and are bound in obedience thereunto, because the law of mystery is the primal law whence they draw their lift and support. No marvel, then, that the apostle presents God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit with such prominence in the initial stage of his argument on spiritual gifts, Most closely is the doctrine identified with the experimental and. practical truths he was about to enforce. From no lower source than the mystery of all mysteries will he bring the awe, the sense of responsibility under trust, and the greatness of Church duties arising from the diversities of gifts. It is not this or that gift alone, nor this or that office bearer alone, nor this or that outwrought result alone, but their union in one economy and their combination in a totality, which he wished to emphasize. Most impressively is this done by presenting Father, Son, and Spirit as the one God of these diverse gifts, the Trinity itself being the very ground and source of the diversification. The broad scope of the diversities in the Church is indicated in the statement that the "manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." The character of the Divine communication to "every man" is defined by the word "manifestation," which expresses the agency of the Spirit in these human instruments. First of all, the Spirit is manifested to the man and then through the man. As a condition precedent to his office, the man has an experience, and it consists in his own conscious knowledge that God has come to his soul and imbued it with the Spirit. Herein, herein only, lies his capacity for usefulness; herein his safeguard against failure. And the measure of the one manifestation is the measure of the other; for in the degree that a man feels his own soul alive to God will he impart vitality to his ministrations. Preacher, Sunday school teacher, Bible reader, tract distributer, Paul on Mars' Hill or in the prison at Rome, Bunyan writing in gaol, Hannah More at Barleywood, John Pounds with his ragged school; no matter what the manifestation, as to where made and bow modified by individuality, it is divinely human to its subject before it is made divinely human in him as an instrument. Finally, the broad scope (every man.) and the quality of the influence (manifestation) are carried forward to the object and end, viz. to profit withal. For the common advantage these gifts were bestowed; the greater the bestowment, the nearer its human connections; and the more of a recipient the man, the more of a man must he be in the outgoings of his intelligence, love, and zeal in behalf of others. "Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" Such was the argument (ch. 4.) to check partisanship in the Corinthian Church; but in this passage, "to profit withal" is exhibited in its positive aspect as the inspiration of motive and purpose and end of all Christian working. Is it not, then, remarkable that Christianity approaches man at a point where he is most sensitive to self, and where he is quickest and boldest to assert his unyieldingness to the claims of others, and at this very point to demand of him "the common profit"? Make any analysis of human nature you please, pride of intellect is the most lordly of all its imperious qualities. Particularly in the case of fine gifts, men who are the possessors of them are instinctively disposed to assert a despotic sway over others, or, if not that, to indulge a feeling of self gratulation and its counterpart of self isolation because of their superiority. Yet it is just here Christianity requires humility and enforces the claims of a most vigorous sympathy. How this "common profit" is to be subserved, St. Paul proceeds to show in vers. 8-11. There is no large accumulation in one man, no fostering of the spirit of self aggrandizement no such exaltation of one as to prove a humiliation to another. Talents are divided out, and each talent bears the seal of God, and comes authenticated, not to the intellect, but to the spiritual sense of a redeemed man hood. Go through this catalogue as drawn out by the apostle; dwell on the significance of each specification; avail yourself of the helps afforded by our most critical scholars in the explication of "wisdom as intuition, of knowledge as acquired information, of faith" as transcending its ordinary limits as the grace of salvation, of the "gifts of healing" as adapted to various diseases, of the "working of miracles" as time and occasion called for, all these charisms proceeding from the same Spirit; continue the enumeration that includes "prophecy" or the illumination cf the mind by the Spirit and the exalted activity of its faculties, after that the eye of watchful judgment, "discerning of spirits," so as to discriminate between genuine inspiration and its alloys and counterfeits, then the "divers kinds of tongues," and the power to interpret or translate the unknown language; and all these the works of "one and the selfsame Spirit" that distributes the charism to each one in harmony with the law of individuality, and, at the same time, exercises the Divine sovereignty so that the distribution is made "severally as he will" (Alford, Hodge, Lange); and when you have thus expanded your views to the dimensions of this spiritual provision for the Church and the exquisite symmetry of its organism tell us if any interest possible to man's present attitude, if any craving of true life in its mortal and immortal relationships, if any outreachings toward the infinite when body, soul, and spirit have interblended their instincts, and become one in the heirship of an eternal inheritance, have been left neglected or meagrely provided for? To bring this variety and unity more vividly before the Corinthians, St. Paul employs a most apt illustration taken from the human body as an organism. Already he had argued the diversity of gifts in adaptiveness to the capacities and wants of the Church. Left at that point, the argument would have been incomplete. It was needful to see what the Church itself was as an organization, and how its wholeness stood related to its individual parts. In the earlier portion of the Epistle he had combated the unhappy tendency towards an excessive individualism. Theoretic speculations had been kept out of sight, and practical questions, lying within immediate range and urgently demanding treatment, had been scrutinized. Was the work done when domestic morals had been pleaded for, when social companionships were set in a true light; when the betrayals of a lax and over accommodating sympathy in public intercourse were exposed; when the corruptions growing out of an abuse of love feasts and extending to the Holy Communion had been faithfully dealt with; when, in addition thereunto, he had expounded the Divine import and sacredness of the Lord's Supper? Was the work done when he had opened the treasures of grace and taught his brethren how the Divine munificence had enriched their souls? Was he content to stop after delineating the correspondence between the bestowments of the Spirit in his multiformity of gifts, and the complexity of the Church as the witness to the Trinity? By no means was the subject exhausted. Specific as he had been - direct, resolute, pungent - how much remained to be said (as we shall see hereafter), to reflect back on what had been said, and bring out half latent meanings of truths stated which the argument, in its direct connections, did not exact of his logic at the instant! At this point, then, he introduces a felicitous illustration. It is done in a business like style. Image it can scarcely be called, since it has no poetic element addressed merely to the aesthetic sense, and is quite as much the product of the reason as of the imagination. We have spoken of St. Paul as one who studied the human body and was profoundly interested in considering its present and prospective condition in the light of the Christian revelation. The illustration here used extends through a large portion of the chapter, and, as a figure, is for him elaborated with unusual fulness and painstaking. Evidently it is not a creation of the moment, for there is not a mark of sudden impulse. Tracing the analogy between the Church and the human body, and recognizing the Spirit of the earlier creation in this later and more glorious one, the inspired author evinces that delight in similarity of relations which is the infallible sign both of high endowment and broad culture, and he proceeds with a quiet and steady gait till the ground has been fully traversed.

1. The human body is an organism. It is "one, and hath many members." By an organism we understand "a whole consisting of parts which exist and work each for all and all for each; in other words, which are reciprocally related as means and end" (Dr. Kling). The principle of life is a principle of organization, weaving a form for itself, shaping that form to itself, and impressing thereupon its own distinctive image. The principle assumes various organizations - simple in some, complex in others - and, in every case, the life power is the animating and determinative force. "So also is Christ" (ver. 12). In the Church, which is his body, Christ is the constituting Power. He is its Life, and without him it is nothing. Through the Spirit he maintains those operations which impart vitality to all the institutions and agencies of the Church. "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (ver. 13), whether "Jews or Gentiles;" such is the almighty energy of the Holy Ghost in begetting vitality and transforming national and race distinctions into its own likeness, that they are made one. This is also true of "bond or free." The characteristics of individuality as to races and social positions remain, but whatever is incapable of unity is removed and the organism subdues to itself every element and constituent it adopts. All are made "to drink into one Spirit." Viewed externally, we see Jews and Greeks, bond and free, with their peculiarities derived from the past and respected as the signs of Providence in the ages preparatory to Christ's advent. A rich and picturesque mosaic is thus presented by the Church. Along with this, the Church is also a type of the future man, from whom all selfish antagonisms have gone and over whom the sentiment of brotherhood is supreme.

2. The human body has various correlated parts. "For the body is not one member, but many" (ver. 14). Each constitutent or "member" must be recognized as something in itself, as having an autonomy, as created for a distinct function and ordained to do its own special work. Not else could the body be worthy of its place as the head of the physical world and represent the mind of man. In this wondrous organism, which may be likened to a community, every cell is an independent activity, a citizen with rights of its own and entitled to protection against all hostile influence. The fable of Menenius is introduced, and the classic reader of our day is reminded of Coriolanus as the representative of the haughty patricians and yet more of the haughtier statesman, and of the fierce contempt felt for the people. St. Paul has given due prominence to this idea of each organ as performing its functions and as essential to the whole. If the unity is brought about from within, then it follows that every member must share the animating principle. Food must be provided for blood, blood must nourish the organs, the organs must be tributary in specific ways to the organism, or the organism must perish. So in the Church, different men are different organs. Such are the numerous offices of the Holy Ghost as the Executive of Father and Son; such are his relations as Remembrancer, Testifier, Convincer; that there must needs be much diversity of gift; and hence there are gifts of healing, helping, governing, extraordinary faith, and "divers kinds of tongues." Light is distributed in colours, and colours in tints and hues, and tints and hues multiply themselves in minute differences. Sound breaks up in notes. Form assumes multitudinous shapes and attitudes. The ocean rolls in restless lines and the earth curves to a curving sky. "Not one member, but many," and the manifoldness in the magnificence of the universe is repeated, as far as may be, in the complexity of the human organism, and, in turn, this exists for the Church. But:

3. Reciprocity of action must be fully maintained. The organs of the body are distinct but not separate, since they combine in one organism and are subordinate to a unitary result. They are supplied with blood by the same heart and they are all dependent on nerves running from nervous centres. Spinal cord, medulla, cerebellum, cerebrum, are local in position, but not local in function. Not an organ, though independent in structure and functional operation, can insulate itself and be independent of the whole. Our pleasures and pains alike testify to this dominant mutuality. A beautiful landscape is not limited to the retina; a musical sound enters the rhythm of heart and lungs, and the ear is only a fragment of the joy; so that localized sensibility, however intense, becomes generalized feeling. The special senses exist for a sensorium. St. Paul regards the body, therefore, as an assemblage or confederation of organs, and enlarges (vers. 15-26) on the idea in its several aspects. The section has been fitly spoken of as a colloquy in a highly dramatic style." The body itself is thoroughly dramatic. It represents and interprets mind. It acts the soul. Downward it may go and imitate the beast, even descend below the beast. Upward it may go, and go so high that the faces of Moses and St. Stephen glow with a light never on shore or sea. Now, this colloquy presents one member of the body arrayed against another and vainly asserting its independence. If a discontented foot envy the hand, or the ear envy the eye, "is it therefore not of the body," participating in its fights, enjoying its privileges, ennobled by the organism? They are for the sake of each other, so that "the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you? Furthermore, in the case of feeble organs, does the body turn vindictively against them? - in the case of those less honourable, are they despised? in the case of the uncomely parts, are they treated with contempt? Nay, in the well ordered commonwealth of the body, where the instincts, endowed by the Almighty with a measure of his sovereignty, retain their sway, parts that are feeble, less honourable, less comely, appeal to pity and sympathy and taste to be cheered and comforted. The whole glandular system, though assigned to the functions of secretion and excretion, is yet a wonderful provision for emotion, not only for emotion as respects others, but as self regarding and self relieving. A whispered. need of assistance from the very humblest organ is heard in every recess of the corporeal structure. Temple it is even in ruins, and its ministers, inhabiting dim vaults and mysterious crypts, hear the prayer for compassion and aid, and hasten to give sympathy and assistance. Beyond all this, what vicarious work the organs do in their considerate kindness to one another? No doubt we are open to the charge of reading between the apostle's lines and of going beyond his intended meaning. Be it so; on the lines or between them, no matter, if the philosophy and spirit of the thought he observed. St. Paul's inspiration was for our day as well as his own, and perhaps it would not be very extravagant to say that the Christian scholarship of the nineteenth century sees depths in some of his conceptions that he never saw. For it is the nature of inspiration to be ever unfolding its manifoldness of meaning, holding tenaciously to its original ground, and yet pressing back its horizon to embrace fresh territory, and thus making itself a specially quickening power to successive ages. One thing, however, is very clear, namely, St. Paul saw the analogy between the Church and the human body. By virtue of the connection of its organs, he takes occasion to urge on the Church very weighty and solemn duties. Mutual forbearance, respect, honour, must be sacredly cherished. The organic life of the Church makes it Christ's body. "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." The main thought is restated and re-enforced as to apostles, prophets, etc. (vers. 28-30); and surely nothing has been left unsaid which could convince and persuade the Corinthians that their spiritual organization was not a thing to take care of itself, nor to be trusted to haphazard, nor to be surrendered to self-appointed leaders. It was a life, a sphere, a discipline and culture, a joy and blessedness, for all. Were the weakliest among them to be overlooked as useless? If there were poor widows with only two mites to cast into God's treasury, they had their place and vocation. If there were little children, their looks and ways told of the kingdom of heaven. Were there uncomely parts? Grace was strong enough to do them abundant honour. One of the invaluable blessings of Church life is to show respect and regard for such as society excludes from its esteem, and alas! too often treats with disdain, and thereby dooms them to a fate more wretched than poverty. In honouring them, the Church teaches these persons to honour themselves, and that, once secured, improvement outward and inward is made far easier. In brief, wherever anything was lacking, there "more abundant honour" should be bestowed. And why all this? That none be neglected, that all be partakers of one another's sufferings and pleasures, and that the community be indeed a communion of one heart and mind. "That there should be no schism." This was the dread that hung over St. Paul: "schism;" this was the terror that darkened his path far more than the enemies and persecutors that pursued his steps. "Members should have the same care one for another." Brotherhood should sanctify individuality, and consummate and crown all the gifts of the Divine Giver. What a wonder this, to set before a city like Corinth! What an ideal to lift up in its resplendent glory in a period such as the first century! And this by the "ugly little Jew," a wandering tent maker, who had nothing and would have nothing to commend him to the carnal philosophy and popular tastes of the age, and who could only speak from his own soul and the Spirit in that soul to the souls of men. Yet the doctrine of Christ's headship of humanity was his stay and strength, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost were his tokens and pledges of victory for his cause. He would have others share his assurance and participate with him in the infinite blessedness. Therefore, he argues, "covet earnestly the best gifts," and the best way to secure these best gifts he will proceed at once to show them. — L.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
The particular gifts to which St. Paul was referring were not exactly as a whole like anything that is to be witnessed in the Church now. They produced effects which challenged the attention of the eye and the ear, and were calculated to fire the imagination. St. Paul mentions nine of these gifts. Of these the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom and prophecy, were such as might be found on no inconsiderable scale at the present day diffused in the Church of Christ. The word of wisdom would seem to be an eminent power of apprehending revealed truth in its relations towards the general field of human thought and human knowledge — as we should say, of apprehending it philosophically. The word of knowledge implies an insight into the several departments of revealed truth, and into their mutual relations towards each other; while prophecy means not simply prediction of the future, but especially the power of stating truth and duty clearly and forcibly to others. And the gift of faith here mentioned would he probably something distinct from the faith of ordinary believers — an extraordinary illumination of the believing soul, making God and the world unseen so vividly present to it that all obstacles to duty seem for the time straightway to vanish. This, too, is to be found in some gifted Christians in all ages of the Church. The five other gifts are at least less ordinary. There were Christians at Corinth who had the gift of healings, and others a more extended gift of working miracles; cases, these, plainly, in which the fire of the Holy Ghost, possessing, enlightening, warming the believing soul, made itself felt through the soul and body of the believer upon surrounding nature, and produced effects for which no natural causes that were known would account. Others, again, had the gift of discerning spirits — something deeper, that is, than any insight into character, although analogous to this great and uncommon gift. A power they had of seeing in other souls the exact endowment with which the Holy Ghost had furnished them — what in them was really the work of grace — what only the counterfeit of nature. Others, again, spoke with tongues — probably, as at Pentecost, in foreign languages, sometimes with a view to missionary work among the strangers who were to be found about the port and in the streets of Corinth; probably also, and more frequently still, in a mystic language to which no known human tongue corresponded, yet in which an entranced and illuminated soul might at times alone be able to express itself. Others, again, had the gift of interpreting tongues — :probably the mystic language of devotion, which, but for the gifted interpreter, would have died away upon the ear of the audience without leaving even an idea behind. It was natural that the exercise of such endowments as these should have led to a great deal of discussion at Corinth, where the subject was continually and practically brought before the eyes and ears of Christians. Questions were eagerly asked; they were often hastily and erroneously answered. They were at last referred to the apostle. St. Paul answers these questions, and in doing so he lays down principles of permanent and vital importance. First, every single gift, he says, even the very least, is important, because all come from a single source — the Divine and eternal Spirit living and working in the Church of Christ. Secondly, he rules that the gifts do differ in importance, and that their importance is to be measured by their practical value to the soul and to the Church of Christ. On this account he decides that the gift of tongues which excited such extraordinary ,enthusiasm at Corinth is really a less important gift than the relatively quiet and tame gift of teaching or prophecy, simply because the latter is of greater service to others — of greater service to the Church. Thirdly, he will not allow that the possession of any gift whatever ought to make the possessor an object of jealousy. Being a gift it implies no sort of merit in the possessor at all, but only in the giver. It is given, too, not for the advantage, not for the credit of the possessor of it, but simply for the good of the Church at large. No gift, accordingly, could be possessed by the heathen outside the Church who cursed the blessed name of Jesus; and no gift rendered its possessor independent of others in the holy body, or could be wholly monopolised for the advantage of the possessor. The eye could not possibly say to the foot, "I have no need of thee." And, lastly, all these gifts were inferior to those which were shared by all Christians, even the very humblest in a state of grace — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, especially the graces of faith, of hope, of charity. Especially were they inferior to the last and greatest of these, the grace of charity — the love of God for His own blessed sake because He is what He is; the love of man in and for God. The importance of this knowledge to us at the present day appears to me to be undeniable, for we live at a time when men are disposed to ignore the very existence of the spiritual world — the presence and action of the Holy Comforter upon the souls of men. This is, perhaps, partly a reaction from some fanatical ideas about His work which were to be found here and there in a past generation; but it is much more largely due, I apprehend, to the immense place which the material universe holds in the thoughts and especially in the imaginations of the present generation. We have explored the realm of matter; we have subjugated it; we have made it at once our friend and our slave in ways undreamt of by our forefathers. Beneath all material splendour, even the greatest, there is at bottom an aching void, because man was made for something higher and nobler than matter — because he cannot find his real satisfaction in matter. He was made for God, and all that reminds man of his real destiny — yes, I will say it, of his true nobility — has a claim upon his ear and upon his heart that cannot be permanently ignored. And when the apostle cries, "Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant," he touches a chord to which man sooner or later responds, because in his deepest self man is, and knows himself to be, a spirit. His real self is a deeper and more central thing than can be touched by these merely outward surroundings; and therefore man cannot permanently, even in this very metropolis of the world's material civilisation, forget that higher gifts than any which matter can furnish him are really within his reach, and that he does not well to be ignorant of them. But then some who know that something higher than matter is their true aim and portion do not always fix their eye upon the really spiritual. They mistake intellect for spirit. But man's reason and thought is but an instrument of his deepest self — of his indestructible personal being. Spiritual gifts are higher, far, than merely intellectual gifts. The latter imply nothing as to the moral excellence of the inmost being itself. Voltaire's brilliancy was undeniable, but who would exchange solid peace of soul for a power of making the epigrams which delighted Paris, but which could not bring one hour of true rest or happiness to their gifted author? Do I say that material or intellectual gifts are worthless? God forbid! They have, too, come from Him. His gifts to the old heathen world, its astonishing cultivation of reason, of fancy, of language, its vast and varied efforts in the way of constructive enterprise, its burning passion, its abundant genius for art, its vigorous talent for administration and for government, were and are still worthy as coming from Him. Even although these gifts were frequently, or, rather, almost as a matter of course, misused, debased, by the pervading presence of sin, they were in themselves admirable, and we do well to honour and admire them if only because of their Author. And all that He has given in addition to the modern world, outside the kingdom of His Son, and independently of it — our material and intellectual progress in all its departments — is matter not for depreciation, still less for secret fear, but for thankful and generous acknowledgment, if only we remember that there are higher gifts beyond; that, when our architects, our merchants, our engineers, our historians, our poets, our metaphysicians, have done their best, there still remains a sublimer sphere from which an apostle whispers, "Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant." Doubtless we here touch, as so often in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, upon mystery — that is to say, upon a truth of the reality of which we are convinced, but the full account and reason of which is, in our present state of being and knowledge, beyond us. Who shall attempt to picture, much less to describe, the process whereby He, the Eternal, the Uncreated, overshadows, enwraps, penetrates, moulds, changes, burns, our finite and created spirits, bathing them, if we will, through and through with His light and with His warmth, endowing them with powers which, according to the original terms of their natural structure, are altogether strange to them, fitting them by anticipation here, amid the scenes of sense and time, for a higher and a better world? Who indeed shall say, since who knows enough of the nature and intrinsic capacities of spirit to attempt the description? From age to age the gifts of the Spirit may vary in their form; substantially they are the same to the very end of time; and, next to the atoning death of Jesus Christ and the power of His blood to cleanse our sins, there is no fact of equal practical importance to human beings who are living and must die. In conclusion, one or two practical considerations. Now these words furnish us with a guide to the true idea of education, with a test and criterion of some current educational theories. When I hear of schemes of education which are only schemes for packing the mind full of facts, and which include among those facts almost everything except what bears upon that one subject which it is of most importance for a human being to know, a voice from above sounds in my ears, "Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren of this generation, I would not have you ignorant." What will it profit to have measured and weighed out the whole realm of matter — to have explored and studied all the achievements of human thought; if, after all, God's gifts to the soul — His gifts of a new birth, of a real redemption, of a new insight into truth, of a robe wherein one day the soul may appear even before Him in His sanctity and in His justice without trembling and without confusion — if these are altogether ignored? So, too, in the sentence of the apostle I see a rule for forming friendship. Perhaps before the idea of a universal brotherhood in Christ had dawned upon the conscience of the world, a single sincere attachment between two human beings had a significance which we to-day can with difficulty appreciate. But, at any rate, the ancients were right in estimating very highly the moral importance of friendship; for a friend — and there is scarcely a truth which a young man ought more carefully to lay to heart — a friend at once reflects and moulds character. His influence penetrates in a thousand ways into the recesses of thought and of feeling. He leaves his mark there, most assuredly. He is a help or a hindrance; he is a blessing or a curse, as the case may be. What is his real character? What are the qualities of his heart? What, properly speaking, are his spiritual endowments? What is his amount of faith in the unseen — of hope in an eternal future — of love of God and of man? And, lastly, here is a rule for all steady and systematic efforts at self-improvement. Let us make the most of the means of grace, as they are termed, while we may. Of the certificated channels through which these gifts must reach us — of prayer, first of all, of the Divine Scriptures, of the holy sacraments — life is too short, my brethren, to allow any man to know or to do everything. There is much of which we may safely, and even profitably, be ignorant; but as immortal beings we dare not ignore, we dare not neglect, the gifts which the eternal Spirit bestows upon us here that hereafter they may robe us in a happy immortality.

(Canon Liddon.)

1. This Epistle is well fitted to disabuse our minds of the idea that the primitive Church was in all respects superior to the Church of our own day. We turn page after page and find little but contention, errors, immorality, etc.

2. At this point, however, the primitive Church is differentiated from our own, and it would have been surprising had the revolution which Christianity introduced not been accompanied by abnormal manifestation. The new Divine life, suddenly poured into human nature, stirred it to unusual power. People who yesterday could only condole with their sick friends, found today that they could impart to them vital energy. Men brought up in idolatry and ignorance suddenly found their minds filled with new and stimulating ideas which they felt impelled to impart.

3. The Spirit of Christ does not produce these manifestations now because —(1) They are no longer required. When you sow a plot you stick twigs round it that the unseen plant may not be trodden down, but when the plants have become as tall as the twigs, then these are useless. So miracles helped the young Church's growth; but she has now become sufficiently visible and understood to need them no more.(2) The disturbances produced by the first impact of these new' Christian forces could not be expected to continue. New political or social ideas suddenly possessing a people, as at the French Revolution, inspire with an energy which cannot be normal.

4. Nothing could be more natural than that these gifts should be overrated. They came to be prized for their own sake, and, as usual, what was useful could not compete with what was surprising.

5. Paul now explains the object of these gifts and the principle of their distribution.(1) He reminds them that their previous history sufficiently explained their need of instruction (vers. 1, 2). The first thing needed to guide them, therefore, was a criterion by which they could judge whether so-called manifestations of the Spirit are genuine or spurious (ver. 3). Very early men were found in the Church who could not reconcile themselves to the accursed death of Christ. They believed in His gospel, miracles, kingdom, but the Crucifixion was a stumbling-block. And so they held that the Divine Logos descended upon Jesus at His baptism, but abandoned Him before the Crucifixion. This degradation of Jesus was not to be tolerated, and to own His lordship was the test of a man's Christianity. And this is the only sure test to-day. No wonderful works he may accomplish prove his possession of Christ's Spirit (Matthew 7:22, 23).(2) And as to the gifts themselves, they should be no cause of discord, for they have everything in common: they have their source in God; they are for Christ's service; they are forms of the same Spirit (vers. 4-6).(3) The new life assumed various forms and sufficed for all man's needs. As the sun in spring develops each seed according to its own special character, so with this new spiritual force. Christian influence does not clip all men after one pattern like trees in an avenue, but causes each to grow according to his own individuality, one with the rugged irregularity of the oak, another with the orderly richness of the plane.

6. That society is an organism similar to the human body, is not an exclusively Christian idea. It was a common Stoic doctrine, and in the earliest days of Rome Menenius Agrippa uttered his fable which Shakespeare has helped to make famous. But although this comparison is not new, it is now being more seriously and scientifically examined and pushed to its legitimate conclusion. Paul suggests —

I. THAT THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS IS A VITAL UNITY (ver. 13). This unity is not a mechanical unity, as of shot in a bag; nor a forced unity, as of wild beasts in a menagerie; nor a unity of mere accidental juxtaposition, as of passengers in a train. But as the life of the human body maintains all the various members and nourishes them to a well-proportioned and harmonious growth, so is it in the body of Christ.

II. THAT THE EFFICIENCY OF THE BODY DEPENDS UPON THE MULTIPLICITY AND VARIETY OF ITS MEMBERS (vers. 17, 19). The lowest forms of life have either no distinct organs or very few; but the higher we ascend the more numerous and distinctly differentiated are the organs. The same law holds good of society. Among uncivilised tribes each man is his own farmer or huntsman, and his own priest, butcher, cook, and clothier. But as men become civilised the various wants of society are supplied by different individuals, and every function is specialised. The same law necessarily holds true of the body of Christ. In a society in which Christianity is just beginning to take root, it may fall to one man to do the work of the whole Christian body, etc. But as it advances towards a perfect condition its functions and organs become as multifarious and distinct as the organs of the human body. Every member therefore has something to contribute to its good and to the work it does. And it is for him to discover what his Christian instincts lead him to. The eye does not need to be told it is for seeing, or the hand that it is for grasping. And where there is true Christian life, it matters not what the member of Christ's body be, it will find its function, even though that function is new in the Church's experience.

III. THAT AS THERE IS TO BE NO SLOTHFUL SELF-DISPARAGEMENT IN THE BODY OF CHRIST, SO MUST THERE BE NO DEPRECIATION OF OTHER PEOPLE (ver. 21). When zealous people discover new methods, they forthwith despise the normal ecclesiastical system that has stood the test and is stamped with the approval of centuries. One method cannot regenerate and Christianise the world any more than one member can do the whole work of the body. Paul goes even further, and reminds us that the "feeble" parts of the body are "the more necessary"; the heart, the brain, the lungs, etc., are more necessary than the hand or the foot, the loss of which no doubt cripples, but does not kill. So in the Church it is the hidden souls who, by their prayers and domestic godliness, maintain the whole body in health and enable more conspicuously gifted members to do their part. Contempt for any member of the body of Christ is most unseemly and sinful.

IV. THAT "THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SPIRIT IS GIVEN TO EVERY MAN TO PROFIT WITHAL," and not for the glorification of the individual. However beautiful any feature of a face may be, it is hideous apart from its position; so is the Christian who attracts attention to himself and does not subordinate his gift to the advantage of the whole body of Christ. If in the human body any member is not subservient to the one central will, that is recognised as disease: St. Virus' dance. If any member ceases to obey the central will, paralysis is indicated. And equally so is disease indicated wherever a Christian seeks his own ends or his own glorification, and not the advantage of the whole body.

(M. Doris, D.D.)

1. The ancient prophets had clearly predicted that the Messianic period should be attended by a remarkable effusion of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord, before His crucifixion, promised to send the Holy Ghost (John 14., etc.), and after His resurrection He said, "These signs shall follow them that believe," etc. (Mark 16. 17, 18; cf. Acts 1:5). On the day of Pentecost these promises and prophecies were literally fulfilled.

2. The peculiarity of the new dispensation consisted —(1) In the general diffusion of these gifts. They were extended to all classes —(2) In their wonderful diversity.

3. Under circumstances so extraordinary it was unavoidable that many disorders should arise.(1) Some claimed to be the organs of the Spirit, who were deluded or impostors.(2) Some were dissatisfied with their gifts, and envied those whom they regarded as more highly favoured.(3) Others were inflated, and made an ostentatious display of their powers.(4) Many persons were desirous to exercise their gifts at the same time.

4. To the correction of these evils the apostle now devotes himself. Note —

I. THE CRITERION BY WHICH THEY MIGHT DECIDE WHETHER THOSE WHO PRETENDED TO BE THE ORGANS OF THE SPIRIT WERE REALLY UNDER HIS INFLUENCE. Do they blaspheme Christ or do they worship Him? If they recognise Jesus as Lord, then they are under the influence of the Holy Ghost (vers. 1-3).

II. THESE GIFTS, whether viewed as graces of the Spirit, or as forms of ministering to Christ, or the effects of God's power, ARE BUT DIFFERENT MANIFESTATIONS OF THE HOLY GHOST, AND ARE ALL INTENDED FOR THE EDIFICATION OF THE CHURCH (VERS. 4-7).


1. The word of wisdom and the word of knowledge.

2. Faith, the gift of healing, the power of working miracles, prophesying, and the discerning of spirits.

3. The gift of tongues and their interpretation (vers. 8-10).



1. As the body is one because animated by one spirit, so the Church is one because of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.

2. As the unity of life in the body is manifested in a diversity of organs and members, so is the indwelling of the Spirit by a diversity of gifts and offices.

3. As the very idea of the body as an organisation supposes this diversity in unity, the same is true in regard to the Church.

4. As in the body the members are mutually dependent, and no one exists for itself alone, so also in the Church.

5. As in the body the position and function of each member are determined by God, so also these gifts are distributed according to the good pleasure of their Author.

6. In the body the least attractive parts are those which are indispensable to its existence, and so in the Church it is not the most attractive gifts which are the most useful.


1. Every one should be contented with the gift which he has received just as the hand and the foot are contented with their position and office in the body.

2. There should be no exaltation of one member of the Church because of his gifts.

3. There must be mutual sympathy between the members of the Church, as there is between the members of the body. One cannot suffer without all the others suffering with it. No one lives, or acts, or feels for itself alone, but each in all the rest (vers. 12-27). Conclusion: What the apostle had said with regard to these spiritual gifts, applies in all its force to the various offices of the Church, which are the organs through which the gifts of the Spirit are exercised (vers. 28-31).

(C. Hodge, D.D.)


1. The distribution is as varied as that of bodily and earthly gifts.(1) One penetrates into the depths of the wisdom of God in nature, history, human life, and in the plan of salvation.(2) Another communicates the sum of human knowledge in books or by speech.(3) To another there is given a special spiritual power which is able to sustain him under the most trying circumstances.(4) Or there are gifts of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues. Our own time is not wanting in spiritual gifts. Think of the spirit of investigation, and of the multitude of singers, preachers, leaders, and praying men. No village is too small in which may not be found a trace of spiritual gifts.

2. There are gifts enough, but no one person possesses them all. Hence all man-worship is entirely out of place. No self-exaltation is permissible. Every one has his limitations, which he cannot transcend without paying the penalty. And hence all discontent at our time and art is also out of order.

3. Every one has some kind of a gift. Often there creeps over us a feeling of gloom in view of more glorious gifts and greater successes on the part of others. But in God's sight humility and fidelity are of more avail than glory and splendour. Employ, then, thine own gifts without envy and without hindrance. He that cannot construct a magnificent park can plant roses in his little family garden.


1. "There are diversities of gifts," but what is the Spirit whence they come and which they serve? The greater the gifts the greater the responsibility; a Saul becomes a Paul, but how many have reversed this course!

2. "There are differences of administrations."

3. There are diversities of operations.

4. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

(K. Gerok, D.D.)


1. This made the broad separation between the, Church and the world, and is far above all distinctions as to gifts. It is far more important to ascertain that a man is a Christian than what sort of Christian he is (vers. 4-6). In what we differ from the world and not in what we differ from other Christians consists our distinction in the sight of God. Does baptism teach of a difference between Christians (ver. 13)? There are varieties, but they are all of "the selfsame Spirit."

2. Let us bring this home personally. What is it that waked up the energies of these Corinthians most? Was it that which stimulated the apostle at Athens (Acts 17:16)? or was it rather the difference between party and party? What is it that wakes up the polemical energies of this day? Is it opposition to evil, or is it opposition to some doctrine held by other Christians? Were half the energy spent in trampling down sin which is spent in religious controversy, the kingdom of God will soon be established in this world; but "if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another."


1. These differences are the very conditions of Christian unity. The distinction between a society and an association is that artificial association binds man to man on the principle of similarity, while natural society binds men together in diversity. The idea of the Church presented in the Bible is that of a family which is not a union of similarity, for the father differs from the mother, etc., and yet together they form a most blessed type of unity.

2. St. Paul carries on this principle, and draws out of it special personal duties; he says that gifts are granted to iudividuals for the sake of the whole Church. After this he applies the principle to —(1) Those possessed of inferior gifts. These are —(a) Not to envy. Observe here the difference between the Christian doctrine of unity and equality, and the world's doctrine of levelling all to one standard. The intention of God is not that the rude hand should have the delicacy of the eye, or the foot power of the brain, but to proclaim the real equality of each in mutual sympathy and love.(b) Not to despond. There are few temptations more common to ardent spirits than to repine at their lot, believing that in some other situation they could serve God better. St. Paul says that it is the duty of every such man to try to be himself, to do his own duty; for here in this world we are nothing apart from its strange and curious clockwork; and if each man had the spirit of the Cross it would not matter to him whether he were doing the work of the mainspring or of one of the inferior parts.(2) Those gifted with higher powers. These duties were —(a) Humility. They were not to despise those who were inferior. As with the natural body the rudest parts are the most useful, and the delicate parts require most care, so is it with the body politic; the meanest trades are those with which we can least dispense.(b) Sympathy (ver. 26). How little, during eighteen hundred years, have the hearts of men been got to beat together! Nor can we say that this is the fault of the capitalists and the masters only, it is the fault of the servants and dependents also.

(F. W. Robertson, M.A.)

What the apostle saw the Divine Spirit doing on the limited area of the early Church, we can see Him doing at large in modern civilised society. Wherever the minds of men are kindled into activity, redeeming them from the thraldom of merely animal existence, there the inspiration of the Divine Spirit is at work. Of this the grandest forms are —

I. THE SATISFACTION OF THE PASSIONATE DESIRE FILLING SO MANY HEARTS, EAGERLY ASKING, WHAT IS TRUE? For that is equivalent to, What is Divine? What is it that really represents to us God's thought and way of working?

1. This gift of the Spirit of truth is condemned by the worldly-minded, because it leads men to question what seems settled.

2. Men under the inspiration of this Spirit are not all impelled into the same departments of inquiry.(1) One man goes off upon the scientific track and wants to know the truth about the outboard universe.(2) Others again, feeling that mountains and rivers and animals can tell them little about the most entrancing matter, turn to ask, What is the nature of God and His relation to man? That which inspires this question is the voice of the great Father saying within us, "Seek ye My face."


1. The faculty which perceives the beautiful, wrought on by the Divine Spirit, was never so generally active as at the present day.(1) One of the most remarkable developments of the human mind is its recent awaking to the beauty and poetry of the external nature. The elder poets and painters did not go to nature for the inspiration of their masterpieces, but to man and to mythology. People travel in thousands over seas and continents to see a grand waterfall, or a sublime range of mountains.(2) Musical thought and feeling again has never attained to such wonderful expression, and in the whole history of the world we have never heard such bursts of glorious song as we have heard from Bach, Handel, etc.

2. I know that neither poetry, nor painting, nor music, will of themselves renew a man's moral nature; but if you can inspire along with the love of truth and goodness a love of the grand and the beautiful, you have done a great deal to assist the more direct religious influences.

3. The day will come when religion shall be more closely associated with its natural friends of culture and art, and in combination shalt consecrate the family life and drive out the demon of intemperance.


1. Gifts of healing were among the spiritual gifts, and we must surely reckon them amongst the most precious gifts vouchsafed to modern days. Human life is besieged by a whole army of diseases and dangers, both of mind and body, so that he who gives his whole mind and energy to prevent, or to heal them, is a gift of God to the sufferer. When every medical man shall become a deep student of his art, seeking for all the new light which God sends, untrammelled by the traditions merely of his profession, he will become a faithful minister of that Spirit who has called him to His Divine work, and an unspeakable blessing to society.

2. "Government" is another item. This, whether local or imperial, must be regarded as one of the greatest of modern boons. Any one who helps to govern a city well, to promote the health and security of its inhabitants, even though he may get scant gratitude for his services, is as clearly a minister of God as he who preaches the gospel. And any man who helps to govern a nation well, who seeks to lead a people on by just laws and wise policy, stands in the front rank among God's eminent servants. The prosperity of a whole nation depends upon such men being at the helm of the national ship.

3. Gifts of speech have become ours in a far more wonderful way than those of the Apostolic Church. The universe has become vocal, and the distant sun and planets are full of speech, telling us something of their own tale. The buried monuments of extinct empires have arisen to tell us the story of their history. Languages which were spoken in the grey dawn of the world speak to us again through the labours of scholars who have wrought at ill-requited work. Nearly all the speech and dialects now spoken in the wide world have been mastered and made intelligible to us. The eastern world speaks to the western as easily as two persons conversing in the same room, and the telegraph girdles the globe with fiery thought and flashing speech. And consider how the channels of communication from mind to mind are multiplied in all civilised communities. There is the greatest of all modern miracles — the daily newspaper, and it would be endless to speak of the books and periodicals that are printed in all departments of inquiry or imagination. And then consider how God has gifted some men with the powers of speech as orators. Think what this modern English tongue becomes in their use of it — flexible, rich, majestic, for the expression of every variety of thought and feeling.

(C. Short, M.A.)

1. There are various believers, but one faith (vers. 1-3).

2. There are various ordinances, but one Ordainer (vers. 4-6).

3. There are various operations, but one work (vers. 7-11).

(Pastor Pfeiffer.)

Every member of this community —


1. This is a change from the spirit of the Gentiles or the world to the Spirit of Christ — the most radical change that can take place in a man.

2. This is described —(1) Negatively. No man who has experienced it has anything irreverent or profane in his spirit towards Christ (ver. 3).(2) Positively (ver. 3). "Can say," not of course merely the words, for all could easily do that, but with the heart and life.

3. This is the production of the Holy Ghost. No man is a member of the true Church who has not come under the control of the Spirit of Christ. There are such who are found in no Church, and there may be Curches where no such are found. All such, however, wherever found, belong to the Church of the "firstborn written in heaven."


1. These may be divided into —(1) Those of intellect. "Wisdom," "knowledge," etc.(2) Those of "faith," operating faith in words, deeds, and "discernment."(3) Those of langunge. "Tongues," speaking and interpreting.

2. Now all responsible men have —(1) Intellect of some kind and amount.(2) Faith of some sort. Man has an instinctive tendency to believe, hence his credulity is proverbial. And he is necessitated to believe: he could not carry on the business of life without faith.(3) A language of some kind or other.

3. The man who has come into possession of the Christly Spirit and purpose, and is thus a member of the genuine Church, will receive —(1) A new force and elevation of intellect.(2) A new object and energy of faith.(3) A new style and emphasis of expression, a new tongue.

4. This great variety of endowments reveals —(1) The sovereignty of the Spirit. Why did He bestow any at all? Still more, why so different to different men? The only answer is because it pleased Him so to do. "He worked all things after the counsel of His own will."(2) His affluence. He is the inexhaustible Fountain, not only of all life, but of all spiritual endowments.(3) His benevolence. All these varied endowments are for "profit."

5. Since all our endowments are the free gifts of God, there is no reason for those of the humblest to be dissatisfied, nor for those who have the most splendid to be exultant.

III. SHOULD REGARD THESE ENDOWMENTS AS PARTS OF A VITAL WHOLE, ie., of the "body of Christ." As the soul resides in, directs, and reveals itself in the body, so Christ in the true Church (ver. 12, etc.). Great is the variety in the various faculties, organs, and parts of the human body. Some are larger and more comely than others, but each, even the most insignificant and uncomely, are equally essential (ver. 22, etc.). How preposterous would it be for one part of the body to contend with another for importance and supremacy! Yet not more absurd than for one member of a Church to contend with another.

(D. Thomas, D.D.)

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