1 Corinthians 12:4
Although conversion is identical in every case, yet afterwards there are spiritual gifts which vary according to individual capacity and character, but they all come from the one Spirit. There are varieties of ministration in which those spiritual gifts are employed, and the same Lord is served by these various ministries. Nature shows us the diversified forms and expressions of the common life. Science admits the diversity, and seeks to recognize the one great principle, the life, that lies within them all. The diversity lies in the expression in our human spheres. The sameness lies in the source, for all things are of God.

I. DIVERSITY IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. There are:

1. Diversities in endowments, or "gifts." Meyer's division of the early Christian gifts is suggestive.

(1) Gifts which have reference to intellectual power: divided into

(a) the word of wisdom;

(b) the word of knowledge.

(2) Gifts which depend upon special energy of faith: divided into

(a) the faith itself;

(b) operating in deeds, healings, miracles;

(c) operating in words, as in prophetic utterances;

(d) operating in distinguishing true and false spirits.

(3) Gifts which relate to tongues: divided into

(a) speaking with tongues;

(b) interpreting tongues.

2. Diversities in the service required, or in "ministrations" (margin, ministeries), that is, forms in which service may be rendered to Christ and his members by his disciples.

3. Diversities in the modes of fulfilling the service, or in the ways in which individual character and ability may find expression in carrying out various Christian duties. If many Christian men are engaged in the same form of service, each one will impress his individuality upon his method of doing it. No two workmen work exactly alike. In Christ's Church there is full, free room for all kinds of diversity and variety. No man's personal peculiarities need be crushed; all may be of use; only each man must see to it that the expression of his individuality, and the use of his gift, do not become in any way a hindrance or an offence to his fellow workers. Diversity is fully compatible with harmony and unity.

II. SAMENESS IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. There is one source of all Christian gifts; one president over the using of all Christian gifts; and one end to be served by the employment of all Christian gifts. "The unity of the source is strongly insisted upon, to put an end to the mutual jealousy of the Corinthians. And it is remarkable that each person in the blessed Trinity is introduced to emphasize the argument, and in contrary order (as Estius remarks), in order to lead us step by step to the one Source of all. First, the Spirit, who bestows the 'gifts' on the believer. Next, the Lord, to whom men render service in his Church. Lastly, God the Father, from whom all proceeds, whose are all the works which are done to him and in his name." The following, points may be illustrated - There is sameness

(1) in the distributer of gifts;

(2) in the purpose contemplated by the distribution;

(3) in the grace ready for those who are using the gifts;

(4) and in the dependence of every one who has a gift upon the aid and leading of the Divine Spirit.

Impress that the whole attention of the Christian should be occupied with the one motive and the one source of inspiration. All other motives and inspirations can but fulfil - can but be modes of operation for the one great motive and inspiration, which is that the Spirit of God dwelleth in us sealing us as Christ's, teaching us all truth, and leading us in all duty. - R.T.







Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
1. The glory of the Apostolic Church was not merely in her faith, zeal, conversions, or martyrdoms; but above all, and as their source — in the possession of the Holy Spirit.

2. Her miraculous gifts have been long laid aside; but the Holy Spirit is still the glory of the Church, endowing her with even nobler gifts; and of them the text is still true. There is variety in unity.

I. IN SPIRITUAL, ENDOWMENTS.

1. There is the greatest diversity —(1) In the natural order.(a) Take a family. One has more ability than another, and the abilities run in such different lines as make the same treatment or destination impossible.(b) Take the little world of school. Each boy has his own capacity, one seemingly promising, another the opposite according to our artificial standard — a standard to be reversed in after life.(c) Take the greater world. What diversities here — the orator, and the man of no utterance, but a man of deeds; the poet and the stern man of facts, etc. And all these diversities are for the well-being of man, and we are not to despise any of them.(2) Now granting that religion is the work of the same God, should we not anticipate a kindred diversity in His spiritual gifts? All Christians have their spiritual talents, some five, some two, etc., but every man according to several ability. All God's children —(a) Are taught of the Lord by a Divine illumination. But how great the diversity between the apostle soaring in inspired vision and the unlettered Christian who simply knows her Bible true — her Saviour sufficient.(b) Are, in common, partakers of like precious faith; but here there are diversities between the faith that staggers not at promised impossibilities, and the faith that can only say, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief."(c) Love Christ. But what striking diversities between the love that rejoices to surrender all for Him, and the love that can but keep the garments unspotted and is ever ready to wax cold! From this diversity, then, it follows that some will become more remarkable for faith, some for love. Some have the grander, sterner qualities predominating; others have the softer, more gentle.

2. Over all these diversities there is a pervading unity of the one Spirit that creates and sustains them. As all the diverse works of nature prove the unity of the Creator, so all the gifts of grace bear the broad arrow of His hand. Some are like great rivers diffusing fertility through an empire, sustaining a mighty population on their banks, and bearing great navies on their bosom; others are as little rills, which serve only to gladden the eyes of a household or two, and then disperse into the great waters; yet all of them are channels, filled with the same living water; each has its own flow from the one mountain range, each is of the like quality, each has its own separate beauty.(1) The humblest gifts of grace have a use and a value, surpassing all gifts of genius and wealth, and are not to be despised. True science finds its field not merely in scanning the firmament, but in studying the flowers.(2) Nay, the more lowly and obscure these graces are, the more they are like Him whose chief glory shines in His condescension. The humblest gifts are the Divinest, for they do not inflate the heart with the sense of its own greatness. And in a higher world, may it not be found that these humble ones were the highest in God's esteem, because the least mixed up with self?

II. IN SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. "Property has its rights, it has also its duties" — so have natural gifts. And the greater a man's powers, the more sacredly is he bound to minister to the welfare of humanity. And all gracious powers are held by the like condition. The Church is like a great palace where every man has his post, and the humblest ministry is as necessary as the most distinguished. In a great steamship, it is not enough that there be the master to issue instructions, the pilot to steer, the engineer to control its mighty powers; but there must be those who perform the meanest services, else all the skill and power of the others will be useless. So in the Church. What lives of power and productiveness were those of Paul, Luther, Knox, etc. How insufficient seem other ministries in comparison; yet the faithful steward of a few things is as useful in his way and as honourable as the faithful occupant of the most splendid office. There is a ministry of —

1. Parental instruction. You cannot transfer this to another hand, even were you anxious to do so to the wisest and best. You alone can travel the pathway to the affections and confidence of the youthful heart. For your children's sake and for your own soul's sake, renounce not this ministry. It is your noblest blessedness and theirs to have these children made yours by the double tie of nature and of grace.

2. Sympathy. This brings us into immediate communion with the Spirit of Jesus, who has consecrated all the sorrows of humanity by His own. In the Primitive Church this office was heralded by gifts of healing. These are gone, but we can sympathise with distress, and by that chord touch the heart, and gain a hearing for Christ. "Mercy is twice blessed," etc.

3. Liberality. What a magnificent power of blessing to the Church is a rich man who, with a heart delivered from selfishness, is willing to use his Master's stores in his Master's service!

4. Prayer. The Church is mightiest on her knees.

III. IN SPIRITUAL OPERATIONS. Nothing could be more infinitely varied than the operations of God in nature and in providence. There is the tempest, as well as the soft west wind; the gentle breath of spring, and the summer heat. And there are corresponding diversities in God's dealings with the sinner.

1. In the act of preparation for, or in the want of it. In the sunrise in our own land the darkness of night gradually passes into the pale grey of dawn, the grey into the saffron, and the saffron into the ruddy tints of morning, and how these in their turn melt away in the bright light they herald. Whereas, in tropical lands the sun rises at once. And is it not the same with the dawn of new life on the soul? I have stood on the sea-shore, and for a considerable time could not tell whether the tide was coming in or going out. Again, I have stood beside it when its mass of waters was tossed by the fierce tempest, and when it swept all before it, as it rolled its mighty waves to the shore. And in these different aspects of the ocean we have a picture of the diverse experiences of the soul in passing through the great change. Take the case, e.g., of Lydia and the gaoler, John and Paul.

2. In the after experience of the Christian life. Some advance with uninterrupted progress. There are others whose course is like that of Israel of old in the wilderness. With some, the course is all among the deep shady valleys; others are walking on the high ground, always in the sun. The one class go on their way with joy and singing, the other advance with timid step, going, and weeping as they go. But however opposite the experiences of God's children, and however diverse their paths, they are all led by the right way, by the one Spirit to the one home.

(J. Riddell.)

God hath distributed variety of gifts and graces in different degrees amongst His people. Every man hath his proper gift of God, and the gifts and graces of all are this way made useful and beneficial. Job was exemplary for plainness and patience; Moses for faithfulness and meekness; Josiah for tenderness. was prudent and active; Basil heavenly and of a sweet spirit; laborious and without affectation; reserved and grave. One hath quickness of parts, but not so solid a judgment; another is solid, but not so ready and quick. One hath a good wit, another a better memory, a third excels them both in utterance. One is zealous, but ungrounded, another well principled, but timorous. One is wary and prudent, another open and plainhearted. One is trembling, another cheerful. Now, the end and use of Churchfellowship is to make a rich improvement of all by a regular use and exercise of the gifts and graces found in every one. One must impart his light, and another his warmth. The eye, viz., the knowing man, cannot say to the hand, viz., the active man, I have no need of thee. Unspeakable are the benefits resulting from spiritual and orderly communion; but they are all cut off by dissentions; for as faith is the grace by which we receive all from God, so love is the grace by which we share the comfort of all among ourselves.

(J. Flavel.)

Break off an elan bough three feet long, in full leaf, and lay it on the table before you, and try to draw it, leaf for leaf. It is ten to one if in the whole bough (provided you do not twist it about as you work) you find one form of a leaf exactly like another; perhaps you will not even have one complete. Every leaf will be oblique, or foreshortened, or curled, or crossed by another, or shaded by another, or have something or other the matter with it; and though the whole bough will look graceful and symmetrical, you will scarcely be able to tell how or why it does so, since there is not one line of it like another.

(J. Ruskin.)

I. INTELLECTUAL PROGRESS CONSISTS IN DISCOVERING THE UNITY WHICH UNDERLIES ALL DIVERSITY. In early ages everything appeared to be totally different from everything else. "God's many and lords many" found in the material universe a convenient playground for their manifold caprices. The history of science is a record of the discovery in this primeval chaos of the unifying principal of law. Phenomena that seemed altogether dissimilar have turned out to be merely different operations of the same force. The apple which falls to the ground once seemed to have nothing in common with the moom which does not so fall; but now we know that both are equally under the control of gravity. Shooting stars may even yet appear to many to be extreme examples of lusus naturae; but investigation has proved that these eccentric objects contain animal remains which shows that in the most distant parts of the universe the same biological forces were ages ago at work which are in operation here and now.

II. THIS UNITY IN THE MIDST OF DIVERSITY IS TO BE FOUND, ALSO, IN THE SPIRITUAL SPHERE.

1. There are "diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." These gifts may be roughly divided into the secular class, which includes gifts of teaching, healing, and government; and the religious class, which includes those of prophecy and of tongues. What the gift of tongues precisely was I do not know; but the unholy emulation to possess it St. Paul shows was foolish and wrong. In comparison with charity or enthusiasm of man for men it was nothing worth. The crucial test by which spiritual gifts may be known, and their relative value determined, was "profit." Even a secular endowment, such as the power of healing, becomes a gift of the Spirit to him who uses it for the welfare of his fellow-man. Such a desire is an inspiration that can only come from above, and this inspiration transforms what would otherwise be a mere natural endowment into a gift of the Spirit. The mistake of the Corinthians was similar to one not uncommon in the present day. It is sometimes imagined that a clergyman, as such, is in a unique degree under the guidance of the Spirit. In spiritual matters there is no exclusive prerogative. I pity the clergyman who has never been ministered unto when he went to minister. Profitableness is the test of spiritual gifts. He is the most highly gifted man who does the most good.

2. Not only do different gifts proceed from the same Spirit, but there are different developments of the same gift. The office of the Spirit is not to provide us with an infallible set of doctrines, or with an immaculate set of actions; but to give us powers, instincts, emotions, and sentiments, which will be differently developed in different individuals and according to different circumstances. "God fulfils Himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world." Barren uniformity is death. Our spiritual life consists in our co-operation with God, and the co-operation of different individuals under different circumstances leads of necessity to a diversity of opinions and practices. The same desire to honour God may manifest itself in the most diverse ways. Some think it incumbent to go through an elaborate ritual, while to others a bold simplicity will seem more in harmony with worship. Some will feel that music draws them heavenwards; others that it ties them down to earth. Some will find that they can hardly pray without a form of words; others that they can hardly pray with it. There are diversities of working, yet it is the same God who worketh. What we have to look for in the spiritual as in the physical spheres is not uniformity but unity — the unity manifested through diversity.

3. This is a lesson which many find it very hard to learn. Some time ago the author of "Religious Denominations" was told that in the North of Scotland there was a sect nearly dying out, the members of which were peculiarly sure that they alone were in the way of salvation. He went to the house of the chief representative of this expiring sect. The man was away, but the wife admitted that they had lost member after member from unsoundness of views, until at last, as she pathetically put it, "There is only just myself and my husband left, and I am not so very sure of him." Now, we may smile at this foolish old woman, yet she is only an extreme specimen of many who seem to find supreme comfort in the assurance that God's Spirit is working only in the very select few who agree in doctrine and practice with themselves.

4. In heaven, if not on earth, men will discover that their differences were much less, and their agreement much greater than at the time appeared. All honest seekers after God are in heart united, whether they know it or not; though distinct as the billows, they are one as the sea; though distinct as the colours of the rainbow, they are as the pure white light which those colours compose. The mount of truth has many paths; those who are ascending it by different ways look too often upon each other with suspicion and contempt; but they will all be led onwards and upwards by the Holy Ghost, till eventually they find themselves standing side by side before the throne of the Eternal.

(Prof. Momerie.)

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord," but there are distinctions in the Divine nature: in the Old Testament He is called Elohim, plural noun joined to singular verb; and in the New He is spoken of as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Again, the moral law is also one summed up, like the Divine character, in love; but it has a diversity of applications. There is unity with variety in —

I. THE WORKS OF GOD.

1. In the matter of the universe. Matter is the same in all time and in all space. Chemistry and geology both prove this. But in what a diversity of modes does it appear: in earth, water, air, and fire; in the trunks, branches, fruits, etc., of plants; in the bones, muscles, etc., of animals.

2. In the forces of the universe. The sum of force is always one and the same. If you consume it in one form it appears in another. A large portion of it coming from the sun is taken up by the plant, which is eaten by the animal, and becomes in us the power which we use to serve our purposes. But in what a diversity of modes does this force appear; in matter attracting matter, and holding atoms and worlds together; in elements combining according to their affinities; driving our steam engines, heating our homes, quivering in the magnetic needle, blowing in the breeze, smiling in the sunshine, striking in the lightning, and living in every organ of the body; ever changing and yet never changing; imparting unceasing activity, and yet securing an undisturbed stability.

3. In the orderly arrangement of the matter and forces of the universe. He who created the elements and their properties has so disposed them that they fall in order like the stones in a large building, or soldiers in companies, every one with a duty to discharge. The issue is —(1) Beneficent and highly complex laws, such as the revolution of the seasons. What a number of agencies, e.g., are involved in the periodical return of spring.(2) The adaptation of law to law, so as to bring about individual events. This is what constitutes providence. This providence is general, reaching over the whole, because it is particular providing for every being, and for all wants.

4. In our mental talents and tastes. The mind is suited to the position in which it is placed in the world, and the world is adapted to the minds which are to observe and use it. Man's intellect, formed after the image of God, delights in unity with variety, and nature presents these everywhere.

II. IN THE WORD OF GOD. This was written at very different times by different men in different styles and about different topics: but there is unity from beginning to end. It is one creed in regard to God, Christ, man, this world and the world to come. This arises —

1. From the circumstance that there is one God inspiring the writers. As "the Lord our God is one Lord," so the Word He has inspired is also one. While "all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God," it "is profitable" for a variety of purposes.

2. From the whole being a development of the one plan of redemption. There is a universal harmony in nature, but somehow a discordant element has been introduced. Looking within, we find conscience indicating that man is not at peace with God nor with himself. Looking without, we see wars, bloodshed, disease, disappointment, and death. All these things can be traced directly or indirectly to sin. Now the Word of God reveals a way by which this discordance is removed. In its evolution the plan assumes various forms, the patriarchal, the Jewish, the Christian. But it is substantially the same along the whole line. God appears everywhere as a holy God, saving sinners through the suffering of His Son. Except in the degree of development there is no difference between God as revealed in Eden, on Sinai, and on Calvary. The first book of Scripture discloses to us a worshipper offering a lamb in sacrifice, and the last shows a lamb as it had been slain in the midst of the Throne. In heaven they "sing the song of Moses the servant of God and of the Lamb."

3. From the unity with variety in the experience of believers. In essential points the experience of all is alike, and has been so from the beginning; but because the Spirit works in a certain way in the breast of one believer, this is no reason why He should work in the same way in the heart of every other. He suits His manifestations to the difference of their state and character.

III. THERE IS AN ACCORDANCE BETWEEN THE WORKS AND WORD OF GOD AND YET THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.

1. Both come from God and therefore reflect His character, but in a somewhat different light. The works manifest His power and His wisdom; the Word His holiness on the one hand and His mercy on the other.

2. There are times when science and Scripture seem to contradict each other; but only as one branch of science may seem to be inconsistent with another. Geology, e.g., requires long ages to explain its phenomena, whereas astronomy seems to say, that so long time has not elapsed since the earth was formed by the rotation of nebulous matter, every one believes that sooner or later the seeming inconsistencies will be cleared up. Account for it as we may, there is a general correspondence between Genesis and geology, and with such correspondences we may leave the apparent irreconcilabilities to be explained by future investigation. At times it is not easy to reconcile profane history with Scripture; but ever and anon the monuments of Egypt, Nineveh, and Moab, tell us that the Old Testament gives us a correct picture of the state of the nations in ancient times.

3. I might dwell on the numerous analogies between nature and revelation. Both give the same expanded views of the greatness of God; the one by showing His workmanship, the other by its descriptions. "The heavens declare," etc. Both show that there is only one God; the works, which are bound in one concatenated system, and the Word when it declares that "the Lord our God is one Lord." Note — Two points brought into prominence by recent science.(1) The operation of evolution. It is not proved, as some would aver, that there is nothing but development. For there cannot be development without some previous seed. We see a like operation in the kingdom of grace. the Jewish economy is developed out of the Patriarchal, the Christian out of the Jewish; and the seed planted eighteen hundred years ago has become a wide-spread tree.(2) The state of things in which we are placed. The frivolous may feel as if the Scriptures have drawn too dark a picture of our world; but all who have had large experience of human life acknowledge that the account is a correct one. How much of history is occupied with the narrative of desolating wars. We boast of our splendid cities, but in every one of them you will find crime and misery fermenting. There are warring elements in every human bosom, and in every society. Any one seeking to remove the causes of discord will be sure to irritate and to meet with determined opposition. The greatest men have been martyrs, who, in order to pull down the evil, have had themselves to perish. And science gives the same picture. What mean these discoveries of worlds being formed out of warring elements? What means the "struggle for existence"? Science, as well as Scripture, shows that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. The two are thus seen to be in curious correspondence; but they differ in this, that while both speak of a troubled day, the latter and more comforting revelation assures us that "at evening time there shall be light."

(J. McCosh, D.D.)

On the face of a watch are three workers, and an ignorant man would conclude that the second hand was the most important. But you might remove that, and even the minute hand, and yet be able to tell the time if the steady hour hand were left. So there are diversities of operations in the Church, and we are liable to form wrong conclusions as to their relative value. We have little fussy men, who can turn round sixty times before another man will turn round once, but they are not always the most reliable as to spiritual time, nor are they the most important workers in the Church. What we want is men and women of steady, reliable character, on the dial of whose conduct the true time is always registered. I once went into a clockmaker's at noon, and the clocks were striking the hour. There were "diversities of operations," but "the same spirit" actuated them all, viz., to tell everybody that it was twelve o'clock. It was amusing to hear little clocks tip off the whole twelve before larger ones had got more than nicely begun. But each did its own work, according to its own promptings, and found no fault with others because they had different methods of doing the same thing. The effect of a quarrel would have been loss of time and damage. I learn from this —

1. That all Christians should be busy at their great life-work.

2. That Christian activity must be prompted and controlled from within.

3. That uniformity of method is impossible, and therefore that each should work in his own way, and find no fault with those whose methods may differ.

4. That method is quite secondary. What is the quality of the work done? Let me describe the clocks I saw.

I. THE CLOCK THAT DID NOT STRIKE. A fine-looking clock, which only told the time to the eye, whereas others told it to the ear as well. Now, as a rule, all true Christians are made to strike, but now and then you will come across one who appears to lack the striking weight or the bell; but, in many cases, if you look on the dial of their conduct you will find it unvarying as the sun. I have often lain awake at night wondering what time it was, when suddenly the faithful clock struck off the answer. It is a great blessing to the world, in the midst of its moral darkness, that there are so many Christians who fearlessly publish the time.

II. THE CLOCK THAT MADE ONLY A BUZZING NOISE. It went through all the motions of striking without making one the wiser as to what it was trying to tell. So some well-meaning people go through all the motions of bearing witness for the Master, but no one can understand them. This, however, is in very many instances the result of habit or inconsistency. I knew a most powerful political speaker who, in relating his Christian experience, seemed to be afraid of everybody present; and I know good sisters, whose voices can ring all over the place, who can only mumble their Christian experience.

III. THE CLOCK THAT STRUCK TOO MUCH. There was a clock that appeared to like to hear itself strike, and was little short of a nuisance: yet the bending of a little wire, about the eighth of an inch, would have made it as orderly as any in the room. So those who pray and speak too long in our churches only require a gentle, brotherly suggestion, and the trouble in many cases would be at an end, yet not in all. For, when very highly tempered, the wire sometimes breaks in bending, and then I have known them to sink themselves in ill-natured silence, and scarcely as much as tick in public afterwards. Some of these great talkers are very poor tune-keepers. I have heard them strike off "Twelve o'clock, spiritual noonday here," when the hands on the dial of their conduct scarcely indicated spiritual sunrise.

IV. THE CLOCK THAT NEEDED STARTING. I thought perhaps it was out of gear or not wound up, but the gentleman told me that it was in going order, but that he had forgotten to start it. So there are persons who just need the gentle touch of Christian encouragement to start them in the path of righteousness. And in the Church there are many who would pray in the prayer-meeting, labour in the Sunday-school, or give liberally if they once got started.

V. THE CLOCK THAT WAS NOT PLUMB — which was just in the act of stopping. There was something under it. How many church members are swayed all to one side by things that are inconsistent with the Christian character. While in such an attitude you may ask, but you can receive no spiritual blessings.

VI. THE ONE FEATURE THE CLOCKS ALL HAD IN COMMON. I noticed amid all the "diversities" of size, mechanism, and "operations," that all these clocks had a tendency to run down. So with all Christians. You may be as punctual at church, and as exemplary in your department as usual, and be running down all the time. The pendulum of profession may continue to wag when the mechanism is clogged with the dust of worldliness or forbidden pleasures. No Christian can run on time, if left to himself, for a single hour. What, then, must be the condition of those who live loose from God six days out of seven. Some clocks are so made that they can run for weeks and keep good time; but I never knew a Christian that could do it, and I have known many who gave it a fair trial. Conclusion: I well remember my first watch. Sometimes it would rattle off an hour in fifteen minutes, while at other times it could not make an hour in twenty-four. I spent a good deal of time in finding out the time and giving it to my watch, by turning the hands into proper position. My father at length, to save time I presume, took it to the watchmaker, and I thought my watch was ruined as the man took it to pieces, but when the job was done, it could keep its own hands to the true time without any help from mine. Many in our churches act towards themselves as I did towards that old watch. Their inner mechanism is clogged and deranged by the dust and defilement of sin. When they perform any Christian duties it is all mechanical and outside work with them. You cannot keep time from the outside. You must come under God's cleansing and regulating hand before you can run the way of His commandments.

(T. Kelly.)

The ages of the world are divisible into three dispensations.

1. Of the Father when God was known as a Creator; creation manifested His eternal power and Godhead.

2. Of the Son when God manifested Himself through man; the Eternal Word spoke through the inspired and gifted of the race. Its climax was the advent of the Redeemer.

3. Of the Spirit in which God has communicated Himself by the highest revelation, as a Spirit mingling with a spirit. There is a twofold way in which the operations of the Spirit may be considered.

I. SPIRITUAL GIFTS CONFERRED ON INDIVIDUALS. In ver. 28 these are divided into two classes; the first are those capacities which are originally found in human nature, elevated and enlarged by the gift of the Spirit; the second are those which were called into existence by the sudden approach of the same influence. Just as if the temperature of this northern hemisphere were raised suddenly, and a mighty tropical river were to pour its fertilising inundation over the country, the result would be impartation of a vigorous and gigantic growth to the vegetation already in existence, and at the same time the development of life in seeds and germs which had long lain latent in the soil, incapable of vegetation in the unkindly climate of their birth. Consider —(1) The natural gifts.

(a)Teaching is a gift, natural or acquired. To know is one thing; to have the capacity of imparting knowledge is another.

(b)Healing is no supernatural mystery; long and careful study of physical laws capacitate the physician for his task.

(c)Government, again, may be learned, but there are some who never could so acquire it. Some men seem born to command. Now the doctrine of the apostle was, that all these are transformed by the Spirit so as to become almost new powers.(2) Supernatural gifts. Of these we find two pre-eminent gifts.(a) The gift of tongues was not merely the imparted faculty of speaking foreign languages; it would rather seem that the Spirit of God, mingling with the soul of man, so glorified its conceptions, that the ordinary forms of speech were found inadequate for their expression. In a far lower department, when a man becomes possessed of great ideas, his language becomes broken, But it often happens that when perfect sympathy exists, incoherent utterances — a word — a syllable — is quite as efficient as elaborate sentences. On the day of Pentecost all who were in the same state of spiritual emotion as those who spoke understood the speakers; to those who were sceptically watching, the effects appeared like those of intoxication. A similar account is given in chap. 1 Corinthians 14.(b) The gift of prophecy seems to have been a state of communion with the mind of God, more under the guidance of reason than the gift of tongues.

2. Upon these gifts we make two observations.(1) Even the highest were not accompanied with spiritual faultlessness. Disorder and vanity might accompany these gifts, and the prophetic utterance itself might be degraded to mere brawling, therefore St. Paul declared the need of subjection and rule over spiritual gifts; the spirits of the prophets were to be subject to the prophets; if those endowed with tongues were unable to interpret what they meant, they were to hold their peace. There is nothing precisely identical in our own day with these gifts, but there are those which stand in a somewhat analogous relation. The flights of genius appear like maniac ravings to minds not elevated to the same level, and are perfectly compatible with moral disorder. The most gifted of our countrymen was "the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind." The most glorious gift of poetic insight is too often associated with degraded life.(2) The gifts, which were higher in one sense, were lower in another; as supernatural gifts they would rank thus — tongues — prophecy — teaching; but as blessings to be desired, this order is reversed. The principle upon which that was tried was that of a utility whose measure was love (1 Corinthians 14:19). Our estimate is almost the reverse of this: we value a gift in proportion to its rarity. One of our countrymen has achieved for himself extraordinary scientific renown, but the same man applied his rare intellect to the construction of that simple lamp which had been the guardian of the miner's life. The most trifling act which is useful is nobler in God's sight than the most brilliant accomplishment of genius.

II. THE SPIRITUAL UNITY OF THE CHURCH — "the same Spirit." There are two ideas of unity: sameness of form and identity of spirit. Some have fondly hoped to realise an unity for the Church of Christ which should be manifested by uniform expressions in everything. There are others who have thrown aside entirely this idea as chimerical; and who, perceiving that the law of the universal system is manifoldness in unity, have ceased to expect any other oneness for the Church of Christ than that of a sameness of spirit, showing itself through diversities of gifts. Among these was Paul.

1. All real unity is manifold. Feelings in themselves identical find countless forms of expression. In the world as God has made it one law shows itself under diverse, even opposite manifestations.

2. All living unity is spiritual, not formal. You may have a unity shown in identity of form; but it is a lifeless unity. The illustration given by the apostle is that of the human body. Uniformity here would have been irreparable loss — the loss of every part that was merged into one. The body's unity is the unity of a living consciousness which animates every separate atom of the frame, and reduces each to the performance of a function fitted to the welfare of the whole.

3. None but a spiritual unity can preserve the rights both of the individual and the Church. Some have claimed the right of private judgment in such a way that every individual opinion becomes truth, and every utterance of private conscience right; thus the Church is sacrificed to the individual; and the universal conscience, the common faith, becomes as nothing. Again, there are others who, like the Church of Rome, would surrender the conscience of each man to the conscience of the Church. Spiritual unity saves the right of both in God's system. It respects the sanctity of —(1) The individual conscience. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." The belief of the whole world cannot make that thing true to me which to me seems false.(2) The individual character. Out of the millions of the race, a few features diversify themselves into so many forms of countenance, that scarcely two could be mistaken for each other. There are no two leaves on the same tree alike; nor two sides of the same leaf, unless you cut and kill it. Each man born into this world is a fresh new soul intended by his Maker to develop himself in a new fresh way.

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

Christianity claims to be, and is, in the belief of all its truest sons, a universal religion. And consider what that means. It means that it is a religion for all peoples, whatever their land, whatever their character; for the emotional races of the south as well as for the sterner and harder dwellers in the north, for the subtle and dreamy oriental as for the strong and practical inhabitant of the west. It means that it is a religion for all ages; that it can adapt itself to changing times. It means that it is a religion for all classes; that it can appeal to the rich as to the poor, to the cultivated intellect of the few as to the untrained reason of the many, to woman as to man, to the child as well as to the old. It means that it is a religion for all temperaments. Let us see what right Christianity has to claim to be and to do all this. Through what agencies dues it work? Are they fitted to make it accomplish the end of its being? Let us never forget, in the first place, that the one great agency to which it must look, nay the one which is its very life and inspiration, is the Holy Spirit of God. Without Him there can be no religion, no Christianity; without His work and influence no soul of man can be born again unto the kingdom of heaven. And if there is one attribute of His working which is dwelt upon more than another in the Bible it is its diversity. You cannot set limits to it; you cannot assign reasons for it. It can seize hold of a self-seeking Balaam or a narrow-souled Saul and make them its mouthpieces as easily as it can rest upon an Elijah, or a John the Baptist, or a St. Paul. It is on this boundless power, this power to change and to exalt, this power to fire the various capacities of men, to give them new strange gifts, that the apostle dwells so eloquently in this passage in the Corinthian epistle. And then pass on to another agency, which is in one sense not another, but the same; I mean the Book which the Spirit of God has inspired and which the Church of Christ bears in her hand for the teaching of the nations. What is the character of it? Not, as might have been expected, a short and logical and exact book of reference. The Bible is a book of what marvellous variety! Truly a book of marvellous diversity and yet of no less marvellous unity, for the golden thread of God's purpose of salvation in Christ runs through it and binds it in one from its beginning to its end. There is yet another agency which Christianity must use, and that is the Church. St. Paul, in the passage on which I am dwelling, makes it clear that here too, in his view, is to be the same diversity in unity. The Church is to be one, to know but the "one Body, and one Spirit, and one Hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all": and yet it is to find place and play for all manner of minds and characters, as the body finds work for all its differing members. "God fulfils Himself in many ways"; there is room in the church for all temperaments, and characters, and minds; her true aim as a Church is to follow up the work of the Spirit, not to attempt to manufacture Christians after a single exemplar, but rather to take what is strongest and best in the character of each, and to make it do service to God; not to crush the enthusiasm out of a St. Paul, or the independent thought out of an , or the artistic power out of a , or the poetry out of a Milton, or the scientific spirit out of a Livingstone, but to turn their special gifts to God's ends and consecrate them to all holy purposes. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, differences of ministries, but the same Lord, diversities of operations, but the same God which worketh all in all. And yet, in spite of this universality of which we have been boasting, it is useless to shut our eyes to the fact that there is much failure to mourn over, much success that is only partial at best, in the progress of Christianity. Are there no Christians who have faith without charity, whose belief in Christ is a belief of the mind, whose religion is dogma without love, bigotry without humility? We may well ask, if Christianity is what, it claims to be, whence come these failures? And when we set ourselves to, answer that question, the first thing we find is that one failure is due to another. If the religion of Christ has failed in this or that part of the world, it is because it has not got thoroughly hold of the nation which preaches it. Yes, if we want to find the explanation of the comparative failure of Christianity among the races of the world, or among the labourers of our own land, we must seek it in this, that we are only one-sided Christians ourselves. But then we carry our inquiries a step further back. Why is it that there is so much of this one-sided Christianity? And the answer to that is that men do not entirely realise the ideal which is set before them. For that ideal is this — that every part, and power, and capacity, and tendency within them must be illuminated and inspired by the Spirit of God, given over to His supremacy and to His government, subordinated and made obedient to His will. Man is a many-sided being; and it is not enough, it is not the whole of the religion of Christ, if the intellect is convinced but the conscience silenced, if the emotions are kindled and the life untouched. The surrender, if surrender it is to be called where surrender means victory, must be complete; the service of the heart to God, if service it be where service is perfect freedom, must be unreserved and unqualified. But I shall be told very likely that I am contradicting myself; that a surrender, a service, a uniformity, a harmony so complete is practically just that dead level, that absence of diversity, which just now I disclaimed. But that is not so. God asks you for all your powers, but He does not ask you to exert them all in equal measure; He does not demand the same interest, the same fruit from your mind and heart if one is by nature greater than the other. He leaves you free. Thus with one man religion is the consecration of his intellect to God. The truth of Christ's message and mission has come upon him like a revelation; it fills his thoughts; the conviction that has seized him bears him on like a flood; it is life to him now to learn more and more of the knowledge of God. Or, again, with another, religion is the consecration of the will and the affections; the salt which saves him from moral corruption and decay. The strength of his life, the flower of his service to God, is not intellectual, but moral and spiritual. His part in the great warfare is less an active one than one of stedfastness and rest. In quietness is His strength. And yet once more: the religious life may be the consecration of the energies. We are familiar all of us with men who have neither exceptional ability nor any singular power of self-restraint; but whatever they do they do it with their might, seeing but one thing in front of them and making for that with every power and capacity that they possess. Theirs is no ambition to be in the vanguard of the march, but to save the stragglers and strengthen the weary and the weak as they falter and fail. Well for you if God's Spirit takes your intellect and makes it His own; well for you if He uplifts you to a life of holiness lived in the very presence of God; but if neither of these lots may be yours, then pray Him to make you one of His workers, wherever your field may lie.

(H. A. James, B.D.)

The work of God, the life of His Church — how strange, confused, and mixed, and accidental it looks, as we pass our eyes over the surface! And St. Paul, here, in my text, is looking on at his Church at Corinth; and he is hard pressed by accidents of circumstance, and by local details. Disordered as it may all look in its crude outward scene, to him, looking below, it is all under the control of a single principle, it is all the evidence of a single Supreme Agent. There is no accident and no chance, but everywhere one determining Force, and that Force is the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost. He it is who is the swing of all these eddying motions. Wherever men believe, it is He who makes faith possible; and all varieties of human character, all the distinctions of personal peculiarities, do but display His solitary activity. Wherever and however, and so far as, men, through whatever means, loyally confess that the Man Jesus is the Christ of God, there we are to recognise, and to reverence, the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has no higher task than that which is set for it, and circumscribed for it, by the body of Christ. Wherever it speaks or works, it will be perfectly certain to make Jesus, the Man, prominent and emphatic. It will testify to His authority; it will make yet more precious His bodily appearance; it will magnify His historical position. Nothing that lowers the importance of Jesus, or dissolves His supremacy, or makes light of His unique value, can come from the Spirit. "No man, speaking with the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed." The Incarnation, then, operates upon the world of man with perfect regularity of law through the one Agent. He is the Worker, this Spirit of God; what, then, is His work? how does He apply the Incarnation of Jesus Christ to men? He does so in two modes, that to the outsider might seem contradictory, but which are but the effects of this one cause. First, the effect of the Spirit's stirring is seen in the outburst of spiritual gifts. Each soul is quickened by a new impulse; it thrills with a sense of fresh-born vitality; and new powers spring forth, and gifts break out from it. St. Paul watched the Spirit at work in that new church of his at Corinth; and how strong was that new wine, and how fiery the flame — how loud and full the prophecy! Each soul, made alive in Jesus, is brimming with the glory of its new endowment, the stress and storm of the Spirit are shocking these souls into ecstasy. Here it was intellectual insight, there it was prophetic vision; here it was spiritual passion, there it was administrative capacity. That was the outcome of the Spirit, the outbreak of individual freedom from experience. And then St. Paul looked, and there was another vision and another sight altogether. There he saw arising a stately and orderly fabric, the Church of God, the body of Christ. There he watched it, laying limb to limb, until the body came together, by joints and sinews, compacted together and bonded. There was the double vision: on the one side, an inner inspiration of individual souls exalted, varied, and ecstatic; on the other side, an outer assertion of visible order, administrative, complete, whole, and harmonious. And yet here was this point: contradictory as these effects might look, they are the symptoms, the outcome of one and the same Spirit. If the Spirit that quickens the individual gifts be the same that builds up the corporate Church, then, on the one hand, the inner and private experiences of souls need not view with suspicion and dislike the discipline of ecclesiastical rule or theological formulae; neither, on the other hand, ought the ecclesiastical system to condemn or distrust the freedom of individual spiritual experiences. Let us take the first point. These individual spiritual experiences, however manifold and varied, in being required to harmonise themselves with the Church order and with the formulated creed, are not asked to yield to some arbitrary restraint, to submit their claims to some general convenience not their own, to conform to a conventional expedient, necessary, perhaps, but still a bondage. Every corporate rule springs out of the same source as the individual experience. The Spirit that gives inner special personal experience is the same Spirit that builds the Church. In asserting their own peculiarities, no one gift can attribute a value to itself which it must not by the same necessity attribute to all the rest, for its one value comes to it from the Spirit in which they equally share. Whatever prerogative one gift possesses, that same advantage must all the other gifts possess. That purpose with which He allots the gift to this man must be the same with which He allots that other gift to that other. He who authorises the gift authorises the end, and if that ultimate purpose have no valid right, neither has the gift. And what is that purpose? — edification — the building of the body of Christ, the edification of all separate individual capacities to the enrichment of the corporate Church. If the Spirit who fills and frames the ecclesiastical fabric is still and always the Spirit that stirs into action all the manifold variety of individual gifts, then the Church, the system, ought not to have to condemn or dislike these inner spiritual experiences. Yet there is a very natural repugnance here. To us, loving the sweet calmness of the Spirit's orderly working, there cannot but be a shock as we face the turmoil and confusion which often beset the outbursts of His work in individual souls. Surely here is something repellent, something out of harmony with God's mind, something out of kinship with Christ's ancient heritage! So many instinctively feel, and, when they feel. so let them remember that the Spirit always has its double manifestation, remember that the same Spirit which shapes the sweet fabric which they love so dearly is the same Spirit who, as He stirs in the individual soul, shapes it into those passionate outbursts; those upheavals, they are His proper material, out of which He delights to build; not another spirit enkindles them, but He Himself. And, as He raises them, so He will not confront them as a foe, but will approach them as One who is at home with them, who is aware of their inner significance, who can greet them as a friend. True, He may have many a great lesson yet in store for these experiences. He does not for a moment desire that they should remain as they are in their present temporary disorder. But, for all that, He will not come to them as that which is to Him alien, shocking, or distressing. He will know the secret that is alive in all this stormy outpouring? As it bends down, then, in gracious seemliness, it will be in fullest sympathy. "Come to Me," it will be saying to all souls made alive in the Spirit, "come under My discipline, conform to My rule, not because you are bad, or dangerous, or human, or erring, not because you need some arbitrary external repression, but come to Me and obey My gift. You are already My own, of My malting, My inspiration. I awoke you because I needed you; I have a place for you in the work; for Me and by Me you were made; find, then, in Me your peace." And for ourselves we will remember, finally, that there is but one rule laid down by St. Paul to govern all our treatment of gifts and spiritual experiences, whether in ourselves or others — the rule of love, of edification. Love, first in relation to gifts not our own. Love will rejoice to recognise by how many paths men are brought to Christ, to recognise how infinite are the resources of the Spirit. It will be quick to recognise how sacred are individual diversities. It will respect all it can, find work in all it can, just because it is the very character and note of the one Spirit to exhibit His excellence in infinite diversity of operation. The first aim of love is to make its gift intelligible to all, useful to all, a common possession, a common good, and a common joy.

(Canon Scott Holland.)

I. THEIR NATURE. They are —

1. Ordinary. These the Spirit conveys to us through our own endeavours, as he who both makes the watch and winds up the wheels of it may be said to be the author of its motion. Amongst these we may rank oratory, philosophy, etc. And God ordinarily gives these to none but such as labour hard for them. God is ready to do His part, but not to do His own and ours too.

2. Extraordinary. These are entirely from God, as, e.g., the gifts of miracles, healing, etc., which might indeed be the object of men's admiration and envy, but never the effect of their endeavours. Some will perhaps inquire how long these extraordinary gifts continued in the Church. Just as long as the settling of a new religion in the world required. Wherefore the purpose of miracles being extraordinary, and to serve only for a time, they were not by their continuance to thwart their design, nor to be made common by their being perpetual. The exact period of their duration can hardly be assigned; but certain it is that now these are ceased, and that upon as good reason as at first they began. For when the spiritual building is completed, to what purpose should the scaffolds any longer stand?

II. THEIR DIVERSITY. WHAT IS MEANT BY THIS DIVERSITY OF GIFTS. Note here —

1. Something by way of affirmation, which is variety. This variety is —(1) For use. In the Church there are, and must be, several members having their several uses and stations (ver. 28); the employment of so many parts subserving the joint interest and design of the whole — as the motion of a clock is a complicated motion of so many wheels fitly put together; and life itself but the result of several operations, all issuing from and contributing to the support of the same body (vers. 29, 30). As in the natural body the eyes do not speak, nor the tongue see, so neither in the spiritual is every one who has the gift of prophecy endued also with the gift and spirit of government, etc. Now God has use of all the several tempers and constitutions of men, to serve the Church by. E.g. —(a) Some men are of a sanguine and cheerful disposition. And these are fitted for the airy, joyful offices of devotion. Again, there are others of a reserved arid severe temper, and these are the fittest to serve the Church in a retirement from the world, and a settled composure of their thoughts to meditation, and in dealing with troubled consciences.(b) Some, again, are of a fervent spirit; and God serves His Church even by these as being particularly fitted to preach the rigours of the law to obstinate sinners. And on the contrary, there are others again of a gentler genius, and these are serviceable to speak comfort and refreshment to the weary, etc. And thus the gospel must have both its Boanerges and its Barnabas; the first, as it were, to cleanse the air and purge the sold, before it can be fit for the smiles of a Saviour.(2) For ornament — to dress and set off the spouse of Christ. Where would be the beauty of the heavens and the earth; where would then be the glory and lustre of the universe, if our senses were forced to be always poring upon the same things without the quickening relish of variety? And, moreover, does not such a liberal effusion of gifts equally argue both the power and the bounty of the giver?

2. As this diversity of the Spirit's gifts imports variety, so it excludes contrariety; different they are, but they are not opposite. There is no jar or contest between them, but all are disposed of with mutual agreements and a happy subordination; for as variety adorns, so opposition destroys. The spirit of meekness and the spirit of zeal, e.g., do equally serve and carry on the great end and business of religion.

III. THEIR LESSONS.

1. If the Spirit works such variety and multitude of supernatural gifts, it is but rational to conclude that He is a being superior to nature, and so God.

2. This great diversity of the Spirit's gifts may read a lecture of humility to some, and of contentment to others. God, indeed, has drawn some capital letters, and given some men gifts, as it were, with both hands; but for all that none can brag of a monopoly of them. He has filled no man's intellectual so full, but he has left some vacuities that may sometimes send him for supplies to lower minds. Moses with all his knowledge and ruling abilities required Aaron's elocution; and he who "speaks with the tongue of angels" may yet be at a loss when he comes to matters of controversy. And this should prevent the despondency of the meanest understandings (vers. 21, 22). Let not the foot trample upon itself because it does not rule the body, but consider that it has the honour to support it. Nay, the greatest abilities are sometimes beholding to the very meanest. The two talents went into heaven as easily as the five.

3. We have here a touchstone for the trial of spirits; for such as are the gifts, such must be also the Spirit from which they flow.

4. This emanation of gifts from the Spirit assure us that knowledge and learning are by no means opposite to grace; since we see gifts as well as graces conferred by the same Spirit.

(R. South, D.D.)

I. PERSONAL.

1. The same Spirit.

2. The same Lord.

3. The same God.

II. REAL.

1. Gifts.

2. Administrations or offices.

3. Operations or works.

III. ACTUAL.

1. Dividing.

2. Manifesting.

3. Profiting.The three real are the ground of all. The three personal are from whence those come. The three actual are whether they will.

(1)Divided.

(2)So divided as to make manifest.

(3)So made manifest as not only —

(a)To make a show but to some end.

(b)That end to be not "the hurt or trouble," but "the good."

(c)The good, not private, of ourselves, but common, of the whole body of the Church.

(Bp. Andrewes.)

Links
1 Corinthians 12:4 NIV
1 Corinthians 12:4 NLT
1 Corinthians 12:4 ESV
1 Corinthians 12:4 NASB
1 Corinthians 12:4 KJV

1 Corinthians 12:4 Bible Apps
1 Corinthians 12:4 Parallel
1 Corinthians 12:4 Biblia Paralela
1 Corinthians 12:4 Chinese Bible
1 Corinthians 12:4 French Bible
1 Corinthians 12:4 German Bible

1 Corinthians 12:4 Commentaries

Bible Hub
1 Corinthians 12:3
Top of Page
Top of Page