Love More Excellent than the Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. L And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."—1 Corinthians 13:1, 2
Having in the last lecture shewn that an the virtue in the saints which is distinguishing and saving may be summed up in Christian love, I would now consider what things are compared with it in the text, and to which of the two the preference is given.
The things compared together, in the text, are of two kinds: on the one hand, the extraordinary and miraculous gifts of the Spirit, such as the gift of tongues, the gift of prophecy, &c., which were frequent in that age, and particularly in the church at Corinth; and on the other hand, the effect of the ordinary influences of the same Spirit, in true Christians, viz. charity, or divine love.
That was an age of miracles. It was not then, as it had been of old among the Jews, when two or three, or at most a very few in the whole nation, had the gift of prophecy: it rather seemed as if Moses's wish, recorded in Num. xi. 29, had become in a great measure fulfilled: " Would to God all the Lord's people were prophets !" Not only some certain persons of great eminence were endowed with such gifts, but they were common to all sorts, old and young, men and women; according to the prophecy of the prophet Joel, who, preaching of those days, foretold beforehand that great event—"And it shall come to pass in the last days (saith God), I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and y our young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants, and on my handmaidens, I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy, Especially the church at Corinth was very eminent for such gifts. All sorts of miraculous gifts were, as is apparent from this epistle, bestowed on that church; and the number who enjoyed these gifts was not small. " To one," says the apostle, " is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; . . . but all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." And so some had one gift, and some another. "But,,, says the apostle, "covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way,', i. e. something more excellent than all these gifts put together, yea, something of 80 great import ace, that all these gifts without it are no thing. For "though I speak with the tongues of men," as they did on the day of Pentecost, yea, "and of angels,, too, "and have not charity, I am become" an empty worthless thing, " as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have '' not only one, but all the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and can not only speak with tongues, but have " the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge,,, to see into all the deep things of God by immediate inspiration; ``and though I have all faith" to work all sorts of miracles, yea, even " so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." Charity, then, which is the fruit of the ordinary sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, is preferred, as being more excellent than any, yea, than all the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; even Christian love, which, as has been shewn, is the sum of all saving grace. Yea, so very much is it preferred, that all the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, without it, are nothing, and can profit nothing. The doctrine taught, then, is—THAT THE ORDINANCES INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD, WORKING THE GRACE OF CHARITY IN THE HEART, IS A MORE EXCELLENT BLESSING THAN ANY or THE EXTRAORDINARY GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT. Here I would endeavour to sheer, first, what is meant by the ordinary and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; secondly, that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are indeed great privileges; and yet, thirdly, that the ordinary influence of the Spirit, working the grace of charity or love in the heart, is a more excellent lent blessing.
L I would briefly explain what is meant are by the ordinary and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; for the gifts and operations of the Spirit of God are, by divines, distinguished into common and saving, and into ordinary and extraordinary.
1. The gifts and operations of the Spirit of God are distinguished into those that are common, and those that are saving. By common gifts of the Spirit are meant such as are common both to the godly and the ungodly. There are certain ways in which the Spirit of God influences the minds of natural men, as well as the minds of the godly. Thus there are common convictions of sin, i c. such convictions as ungodly men may hare as well as godly. So there are common illuminations or enlightening, i c. such as are common to both godly and ungodly. So there are common religious affections common gratitude—common sorrow, and the like. But there are other gifts of the Spirit, which are peculiar to the godly, such as saving faith and lore, and all the other saving graces of the Spirit.
2. Ordinary and extraordinary.—The extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, such as the gift of tongues, of miracles, of prophecy, &c., are called extraordinary, because cause they are such as are not given in the ordinary course of God's providence. They are not bestowed in the way of God's ordinary providential dealing with his children, but only on extraordinary occasions, as they were bestowed on the prophets and apostles to enable them to reveal the mind and will of God before the canon of Scripture was complete, and so on the primitive Church, in order to the founding and establishing of it in the world. But since the canon of the Scripture has been completed, and the Christian Church fully founded and established, these extraordinary gifts have ceased. But the ordinary gifts of the Spirit are such as are continued to the Church of God throughout all ages; such gifts as are granted in conviction and conversion, and such as appertain to the building up of the saints in holiness and comfort.
It may be observed, then, that the distinction of the gifts of the Spirit into ordinary and extraordinary, is very different from the other distinction into common and special; for some of the ordinary gifts, such as faith, hope, charity, are not common gifts. They are such gifts as God ordinarily bestows on his Church in all ages, but they are not common to the godly and the ungodly; they are peculiar to the godly. And the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are common gifts. The gifts of tongues, of miracles, of prophecy, &c., although they are not ordinarily bestowed on the Christian Church, but only on extraordinary occasions, yet are not peculiar to the godly, for many ungodly men have had these gifts (Matt. vii. 22, 23) - " Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils ? and in thy name done many wonderful works? and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Having explained these terms, I proceed to shew - -
II. That the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit of God are indeed great privileges.—When God endows any one with a spirit of prophecy, favours him with immediate inspiration, or gives him power to work miracles, to heal the sick, to cast out devils, and the like, the privilege is great; yea, this is one of the highest kind of privileges that God ever bestows on men, next to saving grace. It is a great privilege to live in the enjoyment of the outward means of grace, and to belong to the risible Church; but to be a prophet and a worker of miracles in the Church is a much greater privilege still. It is a great privilege to hear the word which has been spoken by prophets and inspired persons; but a much greater to be a prophet, to preach the word, to be inspired by God to make known his mind and will to others. It was a great privilege that God bestowed on Moses when he called him to be a prophet, and employed him as an instrument to reveal the law to the children of Israel, and to deliver to the church so great a part of the written word of God, even the first written revelation that ever was delivered to it; and when he used him as an instrument of working so many wonders in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness Great was the privilege that God bestowed on David, in inspiring him, and making him the penman of so great and excellent a part of his word, for the use of the Church in all ages. Great was the privilege that God bestowed on those two prophets, Elijah and Elisha, in enabling them to perform such miraculous and wonderful works. And the privilege was very great that God bestowed on the prophet Daniel, in airing him so much of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, particularly such understanding in the visions of God. This procured him great honour among the heathen, and even in the court of the king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar that great and mighty and haughty monarch, so admired Daniel for it, that he was once about to worship him as a god. He fell upon his face before him, and commanded that an oblation and sweet odours should be offered unto him (Dan. ii. 46). And Daniel was advanced to greater honour than all the wise men, the magicians, astrologers, and soothsayers of Babylon, in consequence of these extraordinary gifts which God bestowed upon him. Hear how the queen speaks of him to Belshazzar (Dan. v. 11, 12 ) " ' There is a man in thy kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father, light and understanding, and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers Chaldeans, and soothsayers; forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel." This privilege was also the thing which gave Daniel honour in the Persian court (Dan. vi. 1-3) It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom; and over these three presidents, of whom Daniel was first; that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the Icing should hare no damage. Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the Icing thought to set him over the whole realm." By this excellent spirit was doubtless, among other things, meant the spirit of prophecy and divine inspiration for which he had been so honoured by the princes of Babylon.
It was a great privilege that Christ bestowed on the apostles, in so filling them with the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, inspiring them to teach all nations, and making them as it were next to himself, and to be the twelve precious stones, that are considered as the twelve foundations of the Church (Rev. xxi. 14— " And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb;" (Eph. ii. 20) " Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." And bow highly was the apostle John favoured, when he was " in the Spirit on the Lord's day,', and had such extraordinary visions, representing the great events of God's providence towards the Church, in all ages of it, to the end of the world.
Such extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are spoken of in Scripture as very great privileges. So was the privilege that God bestowed on Moses in speaking to him by way of extraordinary miraculous revelation, as it were, "face to face." And that outpouring of the Spirit in his extraordinary gifts on the day of Pentecost, which was foretold and spoken of by the prophet Joel as a very great privilege, in those fore_cited words in Joel ii. 28, 29. And Christ speaks of the gifts of miracles and of tongues, as great privileges that he would bestow on them that should believe in him (Matt. xvi. 17, 18).
Such extraordinary gifts of the Spirit have been looked upon as a great honour. Moses and Aaron were envied in the camp because of the peculiar honour that God put upon them Ps. cvi. 16). And so Joshua was ready to envy Eldad and Medad because they prophesied in the camp (Rum. xi. 27). And when the angels themselves hale been sent to do the work of the prophets, to reveal things to come, it has set them in a very honourable point of light. Even the apostle John himself, in his great surprise, was once and again ready to fall down and worship the angel that was sent by Christ to reveal to him the future events of the Church; but the angel forbids him, acknowledging that the privilege of the Spirit of prophecy which he bad was not of himself, but that he had received it of Jesus Christ (Rev. xix. 10, and xxii. 8, 9). The heathen of the city of Lystra were so astonished at the power the apostles Barnabas and Paul had, to work miracles, that they were about to offer sacrifices to them as gods (Acts xiv. 11-13). And Simon the sorcerer had a great hankering after that gift that the apostles had, of conferring the Holy Ghost by laying on their hands, and offered them money for it.
These extraordinary gifts are a great privilege, in that there is in them a conformity to Christ in his prophetical office. And the greatness of the privilege appears also in this, that though sometimes they have been bestowed on natural men, yet it has been very rarely; and commonly such as have had them bestowed on them have been saints, yea, and the most eminent saints. Thus it was on the day of Pentecost, and thus it was in more early ages (2 Pet. i. 21) " Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." These gifts have commonly been bestowed as tokens of God's extraordinary favour and love, as it was with Daniel. He was a man greatly beloved, and therefore he was admitted to such a great privilege as that of having these revelations made to him (Dan. ix. 23, and x. 11-19). And the apostle John, as he was the disciple whom Jesus loved, 80 he was selected above all the other apostles to be the man to whom those great events were revealed that we have an account of in the book of Revelation. I come now, (Please click here to continue reading, Love More Excellent than the Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit)