Division 2. (1 Cor. 11–14.)
The activities and fellowship of the assembly.
We have now reached the second division of the epistle, in which we are no longer dealing with outside questions, with the relations of the Church to the world, as one may say, but with that which was proper to the Church itself as a company of those gathered to the Lord's name. We have before us the spiritual activities of the assembly and the fellowship found in it. The apostle has hitherto been contending for the keeping up the fence of separation. He is now turning to what is entirely different from this. It is the fellowship of the assembly, the common enjoyment of the common blessings, which belong to it.
1. In the first place, however, it is very striking that we have not the assembly as such exactly before us. The apostle begins, rather, with that which has to do with man's place in creation, apart, plainly, from the effects of the fall, therefore. He must settle this point before he goes on, — a most important point, — to show that the Church, with all its higher privileges, was still to be submitted to God as the Creator, and according to that which He had instituted for man as such. In all this he finds, indeed, the types of spiritual things. Nature is this throughout. If we look at nature apart from the word of God, nothing in it will be properly intelligible to us. If we take Scripture as the key to it, we shall find every where that we are in contact with the same spiritual truths as we find in Scripture. But this is not simply a question of such a kind: it is the simple truth that we have, as those who are Christ's, been restored (and more than restored) to the place which the fall had forfeited for man. We are to be filling, therefore, that place which God gave man first. We are to be observers of the order which creation has established for us. We must not use the thought of grace, or even of our place in Christ, (which is above and beyond all this,) to make void our obligation to carry out that which God has in this way appointed.
The apostle urges them to be imitators of him as he was of Christ. He could praise them that they kept him in mind in those things that he delivered to them, that they were keeping the things delivered; but he wants them to know that Christ is the Head of every man, come to be a Man Himself; taking His place as such, He takes it in necessary supremacy. He is not simply the Head of the Church here. He is the Head of man as a Man. He is indeed the Creator, but He is also, as elsewhere declared, the "First-born of all creation." As that First-born, he is not what Adam was; and yet, in another sense, we may speak of Adam also coming from the hand of God as the first-born of men. In that way Adam was the head of every man naturally. Christ is the spiritual Head, the One in whom manhood reaches its highest dignity, in whom the whole human race, so far as redeemed, rises again to the full thought of God for man, and beyond that which Adam himself, unfallen, could declare to us.
But Christ, then, is the Head of every man. The head of the woman is the man. Here is what we were saying; something which in the minds of many now would be contradicted or set aside by the place in Christ which we have got, in which there is neither man nor woman. That is quite true, and remains always true, that there is in Christ neither male nor female. There is a common equality, and one of the most perfect and highest kind, which can never be touched, never set aside, but to be acknowledged in the fullest possible way. That does not, on the other hand, set aside the fact that in God's order for earth, and in the place which God has given to man and woman respectively on the earth, the head of the woman is the man. The higher fact is shown forth in the lower one. There are not two heads in creation, but one. Two heads would mean division. God's thought is unity. The man, as he says afterward, is not without the woman in the Lord. The man and die woman form the man in the full sense of humanity, and the woman is necessary thus to make the man what he is; but that alters nothing, but rather confirms what he contends for here according to God's thought, as we look back and see it in creation itself, — the head of the woman is the man. Let us go further, he says. The Head of Christ is God. Is that something derogatory to His true character? Is not He God? Is not He divine? Yet, after all, it can be said, "the Head of Christ is God." Christ has taken His place as man, and He is not ashamed of it, and He does not refuse the consequences of it. He has come to be in creation the example of most perfect obedience on the creature's part, as well as on God's part the example of the most perfect grace, the fullest revelation of God that can be found. Thus, then, we have these things established.
There are some practical consequences in the exhibition of this order of things upon the earth. If a man pray or prophesy having his head covered, he dishonors his head; in itself a very small thing surely, — in that which it signifies not small at all. Everything depends upon the truth which is in it, or the error. The head covered for him is, as we see directly, the place of subjection taken. The woman covering her head does not profess to be the head. The head is covered with her, if she takes her place praying or prophesying; that is, as we see clearly, where it is a question of the assembly, — not necessarily as gathered, however, where her place in connection with others, therefore, is in question. If she prays or prophesies, although this prophesying was by a higher power than that of nature, — by the Spirit of God, and thus asserting for her her full rights as one in Christ, equal rights with any other, — yet if she prayed or prophesied with her head uncovered, she dishonored her head. Everything that is out of its place before God, is dishonored. If we exalt ourselves, it is our own dishonor. It is one and the same thing, therefore, he says, as if she were shaven. Why not let the woman cut off the hair which nature has given her? Plainly she has it in a way that man has not. You say, perhaps, if she has the hair, let that be enough, it is what nature has given her, let her wear that. But the wearing of the hair is not of necessity at all the owning the truth which is in it. The covering of the head owns for her, on her part, the truth which is in that testimony of nature. She is giving heed to the testimony when she covers her head. Thus the man ought not to have his head covered, because he is, in a direct way, as one may say, the image and glory of God, His representative upon the earth. The woman is the glory of the man.
All this has reference, of course, to present display. It is not a question of what is final, what is heavenly, what is eternal. It is God's order as He has instituted it, and which we are bound to respect. There is meaning in it also, and we shall suffer if we refuse it; but the point here is, the order of creation. Thus, if we look hack, the man is not of the woman. The man did not originally come from the woman. On the other hand, the woman came from the man, — not the order of things now, as one may say; but that is what God showed us at the beginning. Nor was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man. The man was created first, and it was not good for him that he should be alone. The woman was created in view of this need, — a woman for that very reason why not another man? Just because, as another man, there would, not be really the same help found. He needs that which, while a symbol of the dependence of the creature rather than the independence given in a sense to man, would appeal to him by that very fact, and to his heart as one dependent on him. In every way, however, the woman (not, the individual as such, but as woman) is for the man; and "for this cause," he says, "the woman ought to have authority upon her head," — the sign of authority, — "on account of the angels." The angels are the witnesses of creation. They have seen from the beginning what God did.; They are acquainted with His thoughts with regard to man, and we are a spectacle to the world and to angels and to men. Thus, then, the woman is to heed these angelic spectators.
However, he adds: "Neither is the man without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord; for as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman, abut all things are of God." God has instituted these things. If we learn them aright, we shall admire the wisdom of them; but whether or not, we are to submit ourselves to His appointment. A lower place is not of necessity a really inferior place. Christ has come into the lowest place of all in order to serve us, yet it was the most wonderful, the most glorious place that He could have taken, and all. God's glory has been manifested in, it. Thus we must dismiss altogether the thought of what things are, as we may say, in themselves, A servant's place, how unsuited to the Lord of glory! but look again, how suited and wonderful that Servant's place! Nay, is not God over all the One who serves all? And is He not by that very fact the Better who blesses the lesser? Has not Christ taken the place of service? and in that human body which He has, has He not pledged Himself to it in some sense forever? Let us, then, own that which God has done, and find the good of it. It is in our filling the place that we shall find the recompense from God — not just according to the place we fill, but in the way we fill it. God has appointed for us everywhere, — as we find when we come to the thought of the body itself, — God has appointed everywhere diversity, and in some sense therefore the inferiority of many, the parts that are weak and the parts that are not in honor as the other parts are; yet how perfectly are all fitted together, and how perfectly is every part necessary to the blessing of the whole.! How fully has God united us in this way! Creation is but the witness of that which we find in the Church of God itself, so that the apostle appeals directly here to the teaching of nature. If a man have but long hair, is it not a dishonor, to him.? Why? Nature has not provided for him that covering which it has provided for the woman. If a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given to her for her covering; and how truly we feel that the more a, woman hides herself the more beautiful she is — that in this hiding one's self is the very glory of the creature after all, and that she is but a lesson to us, one of the many lessons that God has given us as creatures, in this way. The apostle ends the matter, however, abruptly, by saying if this does not suffice, it must suffice then to say that we have no other custom than this, nor have the assemblies of God. He could speak for these, as, of course, being the one whom God had appointed to be the layer of the foundations for the whole Church at large.
2. We now come to the consideration of the assembly itself, and, first, in what gathers it The order here is very simple and beautiful. We have, first of all, Christ in the exhibition of His love for us in the sacrifice of His death as that which draws us together. This is what our eyes are first fixed upon. This is where communion is found with one another.
We next turn to look at those who are in this way gathered, They are members of Christ, the body of Christ Himself; and we learn what is implied in this not only that which makes them one but the diversity which exists in this unity as that which is implied in the body as an organism. Then we have, in the thirteenth chapter, the spirit which practically animates the body of Christ, the spirit of love, which is the spirit of ministry, — a ministry which the body in itself implies, for the members are members one of another, and exist not merely for themselves, but for the whole. We are then competent to look at the exercise of the gifts belonging to them in this character, as come together in actual assembly. This is in the fourteenth chapter, and we see how the spirit of love is that which in fact orders everything, produces that which is true spiritual order according to God. This closes this part of the epistle.
We have, then, now before us, in the first place, the centre of communion, Christ Himself, but Christ not looked at as a living Person, as many would expect. We do not start with the thought that Christ is in the midst, although He is in the midst where people are gathered together to His Name; but that is a different thing, and in fact we are not drawn to Him as personally thus present, We are gathered together to His Name. That implies His absence rather, than His presence, but it is time expression of what we know of Him as the absent One. It is this apprehension of Him that gathers us, and we, see at once that it is not a living Christ, but a dead Christ that is before us. That is the very point of it. We are brought to look back upon the hole of the pit from which we are digged, and to realize our indebtedness to this blessed One whom we remember. Important it is that we should realize this fact, that it is a dead Christ and not a living One we remember. It is, as already said, the destruction of ritualism, in this respect, to its very centre, — the body of Christ which people speak of as indeed receiving in the Lord's supper. What body, do they think, of — a living or a dead body? Do they really think that they receive the dead body of Christ in any real sense in the Lord's supper? The living body is out of the question. It is a dream which is not found in any text of Scripture whatever. A dead body no one thinks of, and yet if it be any participation that we have here, it is in the dead body and not in the living one.
The apostle begins here with a reference once more to their divisions. The first thing was that in coming together they came not for the better, but for the worse, to make apparent, — as coming near to God in fact does, — their true condition. When they came together, time first thing that was manifest was their divisions. In their very way of coming together they showed themselves apart. Their sects declared themselves in making separate parties of that which they owned to be the one body of Christ, even going so far as, in eating, each to take before others his own supper. It was manifest that he made it his own and not the supper of the Church as a whole, and one was hungry and another was even drinking to excess.
The license about it all is manifest; and there was an opportunity for this which now no longer exists. In fact, the Lord's supper was instituted, as we know, in connection with the celebration of the passover, and the passover supper was that, therefore, that introduced it. The "agape," or love feast, which existed at any rate very early in the Church, was the continuation of this paschal supper, which, though it did not really belong to the supper of the Lord itself, yet was supposed to make it all more exactly according to the institution. Thus there was in connection with the supper the taking of a meal, which gave the opportunity that we see here the Corinthians availed themselves of for license. The preliminary feast was crowding out, in fact, the Lord's supper altogether, and they were going on as if in entire forgetfulness of it. That is evidently what the apostle is saying here. He reproves them by asking, have they not houses for eating and drinking in, or were they putting to shame the poor who had not, and despising the assembly of God which embraces them all? Could he praise them in this? It was impossible that he could do so. Then he calls them back to the institution of the supper as the Lord had given it. It is striking that he had received this of the Lord Himself. As the distinct minister of the Church, it was not simply that he found existing that which he went on with, as in the case of baptism. As to baptism, Christ had not sent him specially to baptize, although he did baptize as others did; but the Lord's supper has a different place altogether. As that in which the unity of the body of Christ was manifested, he must have a special revelation concerning it. Thus he speaks of the special way and circumstances, so touching as they were, in which the Lord had instituted this gathering feast; it was on the night on which He was delivered up, in which there was given opportunity for the treachery of one of His own, one of those specially gathered around Himself, and who had walked in company with Him, beholding the manifestation of divine love and power in Him, which had been given. It was upon such a night as this, and in the midst of the shadow which was thus coming upon His soul, that He had taken the bread, giving thanks, and broken it, and said: "This is my body, which is for you; ["broken" is not in the original] this do in remembrance of Me." Simplicity itself all this is; how completely opposite, again, to all that ritualism has connected with it! In like manner also, after supper He took the cup, saying: "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do ye, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me." The apostle adds, as his interpretation of it: "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye declare the Lord's death until He come."
Here is the whole matter. No atmosphere of mystery surrounds it whatever. It is simply the memorial of a death to which we as Christians owe our all, — the death of the One whom it has made our Lord forever. In contrast with all this, think of what ritualism has made of it! It is striking, also, that the very point here, the thing for which he is reproving the Corinthians, is for not discerning the Lord's body. It is plain, therefore, that it was the very opportunity to show what this discernment of the Lord's body would be. He takes no trouble to define it. He does not in the least suppose that there is any mystery about it, in the sense in which men speak of it. That which he speaks of is bread and the cup. These are the memorials of the Lord in His death. The bread is His body, more strictly Himself, as one may say. The cup is His blood, the remembrance not so much of Himself as of His work. The body and the blood are separate. It is, again, a dead Christ that we remember. We surely remember, also, that He is risen from the dead, and we know by faith, even, that He is present with us; but all this, while it gives additional gladness to the celebration, in no wise forms part of the celebration itself. The Person of the Lord, as already said, appears more distinctly in the bread which we break. It is this One, the Man Christ Jesus, whom we remember. This implies no forgetfulness of what He was, of course; but it is in fact the One who was here in the world in that life and death of His which were for us, which give us all our knowledge of Him as He lives now before God. All our apprehension of Him belongs, we may say, to this manifestation of divine love and glory in Him who was upon earth among us. He is gone out of it, but He is the same Christ who was here, and He is coming again to receive us to Himself. We look back in the ordinance to His death. We look forward to His coming again.
The cup is here said to be the new covenant in His blood, — a hard text for ritualism, that! Is it literally the cup that is this? We may say that is a figure, — the cup is used for what is contained in it. Granted. Well, is what is contained in it, then, the new covenant in Christ's blood? It is the blood itself if anything, — that blood which we are quite sure He did not carry into heaven, but which was shed upon earth. It is the memorial of a life given up for us, and which, as given up, in its sacrificial character is the foundation of the new covenant of grace in which we stand. The words are simple enough, and easy to be understood. It is only ritualism itself that makes them hard. The Lord adds again in this case: "Do this in remembrance of Me." That is its distinctive character, a remembrance. A remembrance is not of something existing at the present moment, but of something in the past. It is all our joy to know that this death that we celebrate is actually past, and that it can never take place again. To talk of an unbloody offering, as men do in their mass, is only to destroy the whole reality of what is expressed here. There is no such thing as an unbloody offering. "Without shedding of blood is no remission," and this the Lord did once when He offered up Himself. Thus the significance is as plain as can be. It is absolute simplicity, which we may darken by reading into it what is not there, and which it has even been confessed by many as not there. They tell us we shall not find the doctrine in this chapter. Where should we look for it so well as here? here where the apostle is insisting upon our discernment of the Lord's body, and putting before us the very thing that gathers us? The previous chapter, to which we are sometimes referred as giving the real doctrine, has, as we have seen already, no such doctrine in it. The bread is the communion of the body of Christ. The cup is the communion of the blood of Christ. It is not the thing itself; but the expression of our fellowship in it, which is the very thing which the common remembrance implies. There is absolutely nothing else but this. We do not forget that we are one bread and one body, because we are all partakers of this one bread or loaf. It cannot be said that we are one loaf in any sense but as being identified with that of which we partake, — therefore, with all the thoughts that are implied in it. So if it be said we are one body, we have plainly, that which gives us unity merely as a body, brings us into one mind, one thought. It is not even said here, we are the body of Christ; and if it were, there would be an immense difference between the body of Christ which we are and that body of Christ which we celebrate in the supper. The body that we have before us is not the body the Church, and we could not possibly, in the nature of things, become the body the Church, by any reception of the body of Christ. They are different thoughts in different connections. Nor, as already said, is it really the body of Christ that is spoken of here at all, although it is quite true that the gathering is the gathering of the body of Christ; but that is not in the apostle's mind, as is evident.
He is thinking simply of the unity which, in fact, makes us one body in any proper sense, this unity of apprehension of that blessed death which Christ has died for us, and which our hearts own as having power over us in this very coming together; but there is really no difficulty here. In the wisdom of God, things are so expressed that we can scarcely make mischief of them if we would. The doctrine of the tenth chapter is in absolute conformity with the doctrine of the eleventh. There is no difference between them. In both alike it is the thing expressed with which we are identified, identified in the apprehension that we have of it and the part which God's grace has given us in the effect. We partake of the bread and the wine, and the bread and the wine would be nothing to us except we saw in them the body and the blood of the Lord. We partake in this way of the body and blood of the Lord, assuredly not in the gross, material sense, but in the joy of the apprehension of what these are to us. It is the same truth as the Lord has Himself given us in the sixth chapter of the gospel of John, and which is, in the minds of so many, itself to be referred to the Lord's supper. The fact is that the Lord's supper and what the Lord states there as to the bread from heaven refer to the same thing. That is all. It has been the triumph of Satan to materialize all this in such a way as to, make it the instrument of a designing priesthood to get glory to itself, and to lord it over the souls and consciences of men. In no way has this been done more cruelly than in the transformation of the Lord's supper into a mass, or something approaching this. We cannot but remember, also, that at the Reformation the martyrdoms of the Lord's saints had largely reference to their refusal of this unholy doctrine, — a doctrine which would make the Lord die innumerable times, make His original death to be proportionately of little effect, and put the whole into the hands of men to make merchandise out of, and to assume to themselves the glory which is due to God.
How thankful we may be for the simplicity that we find in all this scripture! The thing that bewilders many as they look at it is just this simplicity; but there is, none the less, in the celebration of the Lord's supper a solemnity which the apostle warns us of. They could not eat this bread or drink the cup of the Lord in a light manner without being guilty in respect to the body and blood of the Lord. Here it is distinctly the "Lord" who is spoken of, that we may realize the character of the slight here given. We cannot bring sin into the presence of that which we celebrate as having put it away from us. If we come to celebrate the Lord's death without self-judgment, we destroy the holy character of that which is the most impressive proof of the holiness of God that could be given. Where shall we find it manifested as in the sacrifice of the Son of God Himself for sin? And "he that sinneth," says the apostle, "hath not seen Him, neither known Him." It is impossible, as he puts it, that sin and the knowledge of the Lord in that way can go on together.
He would not frighten us away from the table of the Lord by any means. He does not say, "let a man judge himself and refrain from eating." He says: "Let a man examine (or judge) himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup." It is true that "he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself" if he discerneth not the body. That is the whole point, and must be so. It is evident that the Corinthians were making a mere common meal of that which was intended Ito be the constant reminder of a love which has nowhere else any equivalent. They were reaping the fruits of this laxity. There were those, he says, many, weak and sickly among them, and a good many had fallen asleep. Thus the judgment of the Lord was necessarily upon them; not because they were not His own; rather, in fact, because they were; for, as the apostle says, "When we are judged" in this way, "we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." He distinguishes, therefore, in the sharpest way, between this present judgment and the judgment to come. But it is evident that this present judgment is a most serious and awful thing. It is the infliction of a love which, because it is holy and because it is love, must inflict what, as we may say, it is pain to inflict. We force the Lord to judge us in this way when we do not judge ourselves. God must of necessity exhibit His holiness with regard to the sins of His people. Whatever the work of Christ has done for us, (we cannot realize too much what it has done,) nevertheless it was never intended, it can never be allowed to be used for unholy purposes. Thus, they must not come together for judgment, as they were doing. These were the main points of what he had to say to them. "The rest," he says, "will I set in order when I come."
3. We come now, as already said, having seen the centre of communion, (that which forms in that way the one body,) to the body itself, to those who are gathered to the name of the Lord after this manner. We come now to see that it is in fact the body of Christ, and how far we are really to press the implications of this. "Body" is a figure, of course. We know perfectly well that it is the expression of a relationship to the Lord Jesus of the closest and most intimate nature, and which doubtless could not be expressed so well in any other way; but we do not fail to realize that it is, after all, a figure. The body is the expression of the mind. It is the link between the indwelling spirit and the external world in which we are placed. The body of Christ is thus that in which the mind of Christ is expressed, and that by which the One who is absent from the world nevertheless retains, in a certain sense, His place, and manifests Himself in it. We are the representatives here of the Lord Jesus, not simply individually, for as individuals we are not properly competent, but as a whole. We are not the epistles of Christ, but, as the second epistle declares, the epistle.
This is one rendering of what this body of Christ implies, but then we realize that there is not simply a relation to the. Lord which is involved, but a relation to one another. In this body, as in other bodies, each member has indeed its own individual Significance, and we must give full place for this individuality. Except the members of the body had their individual place, there would be no body at all. If there were no diversity, there would be no unity in this sense. The unity or organism depends upon the diversity which is in it. It is the unity of aim and purpose among parts that differ from one another. That is what we find then here, and it is, in fact, the relationship to one another which is dwelt upon in this chapter, rather than the higher character of it as in relation to the Lord. For that we must go to Ephesians and to Colossians; it is noticeable, by the way, that when we go to these epistles, we are outside all question of the supper of the Lord. We have nothing of the kind in them. We get beyond it, as one may say. We are on the heaven-side of it; whereas this remembrance is for the world below; but the body, as already said, is here, therefore, exhibited more in the relationship of its several members than in its relationship to the Head. Being the body of Christ is that which gives it all its real significance, of course.
(1) We have, first, then, by way of preface to it, the unity which is in the diversity. The apostle begins by speaking of spiritual manifestations. There were more manifestations of this kind than simply those among Christians. There were manifestations of evil spirits as in that idolatrous worship of the Gentiles in which the Corinthians had had their part in the old times of darkness. They knew that they had been led away to dumb idols in whatever way they had been led. Now, on the other hand, with the manifestations of the Spirit in the midst, they must learn to distinguish. They must be intelligent in order to profit by them — in fact, not to be deceived by the power of the enemy; for where God works there the enemy will work as far as possible, a work by imitation, as Jannes and Jambres, the apostle tells us, withstood Moses in Egypt. It is plain that in the very midst of the Christian assembly the power of Satan might manifest itself in this way, and Christians be deceived, except they were in the power of the Spirit Himself who was manifesting Himself in the assembly. Thus the apostle gives them to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God could say, "anathema Jesus;" and no one could say, "Lord Jesus," except by the Holy Spirit. It is plain he does not mean by this that even an unbeliever among Christians could not say Lord Jesus, and that he is not speaking of anything which would inferentially and consequentially affect His Lordship. He is giving us simply that which distinguishes an evil spirit from the Spirit of God. The evil spirits, the demons upon earth, as we read in the Gospels, could freely own that Christ was the Holy One of God, but we never hear them say "Lord Jesus." That would be taking the place of subjection to Him, which, except when finally they are forced to do so, they will never take. All this removes, perhaps, what the apostle says here from what we find in the present day. We are, at least, little accustomed to think of an actual evil spirit manifesting itself in the midst of Christians after this manner. It is as plain that to those whom the apostle was addressing there was nothing at all strange about this, and it may be a question for us whether we have not rather lost sight of the doctrine than have lost the thing itself.
There is, of course, and we should all know it, that which is of real account in the tone of what is uttered professedly by Christian teachers. We are right in looking sharply to see whether the spirit of their teaching owns the Lordship of Jesus or whether there is that which is really derogatory and a dishonor to Him. This in the highest manner is what Satan works, and he is no doubt manifest in all that is fundamentally false in doctrine. The apostle, however, has here before him something more defined and more imposing. We have lost so much the thought of what speaking by the Spirit in the assembly is, — men are so much before us, (the instrument rather than the One who works by the instrument,) that naturally we are not tempted in the same way so easily to receive what may be uttered. We may, alas, receive it too easily from other points of view; but we are not, at least, imposed upon by any pretensions to spiritual utterances. We should rather discredit these. With those who were accustomed to the manifestations of the Spirit in the midst, in palpable miracles and gifts that have passed from among us, there was necessarily a temptation simply to accredit that which was uttered to its full extent, and thus Satan might get his opportunity. With us he has, no question, equal opportunity, but perhaps not manifesting himself after the same manner.
Diversities of gifts, then, are, in the apostle's thought, spiritual manifestations. They are the voice of the one Spirit in the members of Christ. There are gifts of God's grace which are different as adapting themselves to different needs, and which are different, no doubt, because also it is safer to have these various ministries than a ministry all of the same kind, a ministry too copious and too full on the part of any. In the way in which God acts, it is plain that Christians are more bound together by their very needs, and that the instruments are designed to be kept more in humility by the sense of their imperfection, — of the necessary way in which one must supplement another. This is the manner in which, as we have seen many times, God has linked men together in creation. We are more debtors to our needs, to our very imperfections in this sense, (we are not speaking of moral imperfections,) we are more debtors to our deficiencies, than we have any idea of. God binds the whole body together, as the apostle says directly, in giving the more abundant honor to that part which lacks. But these are different gifts of grace, then. Withal there is the same Spirit. There are differences of administrations and the same Lord. In the ministrations of these gifts themselves, it is the Lord to whom the gifted ones are subject. The Spirit is the power by which the gifts are made known, but the Lord it is to whom the servants are always subject. Then there are diversities of workings, (this is more general), and the same God who worketh all things in all. Here is, then, the substantial unity amid all the diversity.
(2) Now we come to consider more distinctly the diversity in the unity. To every one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for profit. That is the thought of it. It is in a practical interest and in the interest of all that the Spirit manifests Himself. Thus the responsibility of every one who has gift at all is that by this he is made debtor to others for whose profit the gift is given. He is not his own in this sense. He belongs to those with whom God has given him his place.
But there are, then, these different manifestations. In one it is the word of wisdom. That is that which would put knowledge in its proper place and give it its proper application. To another might be given the word of knowledge, still by the same Spirit, but which nevertheless exhibited itself within the limits of the individual. For instance, the word of knowledge would be the doctrine in itself, rather than in its practical application. To a different one, again, might be given faith by the same spirit; not the ordinary faith of Christians, of course, but a special character and boldness of it which would lead the possessor into paths in which others not so gifted would break down. Then there were gifts of healing by the same Spirit; in others, the working of miracles; in others, prophecy; in others, the discerning of spirits, — not the discerning of what was working in men's minds, but rather of spiritual beings themselves in their work amongst men. Then, again, there were tongues and the interpretation of tongues. He puts lowest what the Corinthians were evidently tending to put in the highest place. We shall find in a little while how he distinguishes between tongues and prophesying, for instance, and his comparative estimate of each; but in all these things there was the work of the one and the same Spirit, who gave as He pleased to every one.
It was not to be considered, therefore, a failure in any one of the different instruments that he did not suffice for every character of ministry. On the contrary, it was the very opposite which was implied in the idea of a body. "The body is one and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body." That we understand in the natural way, and just so it is as to the body in this case; "so also" he says, "is Christ." That is, for the moment, he looks at the body and Head in connection with one another, the "one new man" of which the apostle speaks in Ephesians. He does not touch this really, but merely uses language which is in accordance with it. The Church is Christ mystically in that way. For by one Spirit," he adds, "we have been all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and have all been given to drink of one Spirit." Here the propensity for materializing has been strongly manifested by interpreters, who, of course, have found the sacraments in words like these. They have perverted water baptism into a baptism into the body of Christ, a thing which is in the Lord's hands entirely, as surely as the gift of the Spirit is that which forms the body. On the other hand, the baptism of the Spirit is here plainly something different from that mere influence of the Spirit which people think about when they talk of being again and again baptized of Him. The body cannot be formed again and again. It has been formed, in fact, once for all, although it is constantly receiving accessions, of course; but the baptism of the Spirit is merely in analogy with the baptism of water, while absolutely and entirely independent of it. Again, the drinking of one Spirit, while it does not refer to the formation of the body, is clearly as disconnected with any sacramental ministrations. The reference is to that stream from the rock in the wilderness of which the apostle has already spoken. We have the reality of that.
(3) We come now to consider more distinctly the body of Christ as thus that which unites together the many members. It is plain that the body is not one member, but many. The foot has a different function from the hand, but how foolish it would be for the foot to say, because it was not the hand, it was not of the body! It is plain that Christians are capable, nevertheless, of some similar foolishness. They have not the gifts of other people, and therefore they suppose they have none. They look at the manifestation of the Spirit in others, and they are only hindered and restrained instead of encouraged by it. As to What is implied in it, they practically make themselves to be not of the body; but, asks the apostle, if the doctrine already maintained be indeed the truth, is that any proper consequence at all? "If the ear should say, because I am not an eye, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body?" On the contrary, it is just because there are these diversities of gifts that the body as a whole exists. "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?" God has indeed acted according to His own good pleasure as to it all, and we must therefore bow to His will about it; but it is plain that if all were one member, the body would be gone. As a consequence of the members being many and the body one, the eye cannot be in independence of the hand, the head cannot be in independence of the feet. It is not Christ that is spoken of here as the head: that does not seem to be the connection. These are not, either, the words which one would expect in reference to the Head of the body, the Church; but the apostle is simply referring to a body as such — of course in relation to what is here before him, but still giving only, as it were, a natural illustration. All the way through it is nature, as it were, he uses to teach us; so the members of the body which seem to be the feebler are still necessary; whatever they may be in themselves, each has some part to perform; which, if it failed, the body would suffer by it; and the very parts of the body, he says, "which we think to be less honorable, these we clothe with more abundant honor, and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness." This is but the natural compensation which we find everywhere. The comely parts have no need. "God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that which lacked." The application of this may be very wide and that may hinder, in some measure, the proper realization of it; but it is the public place evidently, which seems to exalt one member of the body above another, which people constantly tend to think of as that which gives importance; whereas it is plain that the public place is what belongs rather to the few than to the many, and that God has ordained for the many rather, a service that is more hidden from public view. Yet how much do we owe as Christians to those who are never known, perhaps, in public! How much do we owe to those of whom, perhaps, we never think as of any account at all! On the other hand, what honor may we find that God has bestowed upon those very persons when the day of manifestation comes! How much may they have wrought that has never been realized by us, that we were too unspiritual to realize! How much honor does God put, even, upon the simple acceptance of a quiet place, a place that brings no dignity with it, but in which one can serve God just for the sake of that sweet service!
Thus may we realize, after all, that God may have given more abundant honor to the very part which lacked; and it is easy to understand that in this way He would unite us all together, making us profoundly conscious of our need of one another, and that there might be no division in the body, — such as these Corinthians were exhibiting, such as Christendom, alas, exhibits so much at the present day, but that the members might have the same care one for another. Sure it is that, "if one member suffer all the members suffer with it; and if one member be honored," it is really the honor and should be the joy of all. Thus he says here: "Ye are the body of Christ, and severally members." And God has been pleased to set some in the assembly in an order of His own, — first, apostles, who have laid the foundations; secondly, prophets, who have, with apostles as layers of the foundations, necessarily passed away, but whose work remains with us. Then teachers, doctrine being that which now and in all times lays the foundation still, the foundation for all practice and for all blessing. Then in this enumeration come miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues. He does not give these as if they were the whole, after all. This is only a specimen, evidently, of how God has wrought; but it is plain that all were not prophets, all were not even teachers; all, too, were not workers of miracles. We can see that this was not simple a question of faith, as we speak, and that it is not to be argued that, if we had faith enough for it, then we might expect miracles to be restored. Even in the apostle's days all had not miracles. This is what the apostle recognizes as what is normal, not abnormal. All had not gifts of healing, nor spoke with tongues, nor interpreted. After all, the eyes of men were too apt to be upon that which was prominent, forgetting that which was spiritual and moral, and that which had greater value before God. The apostle, therefore, turns now to speak of this which is indeed the spirit of all ministry, the thing which underlies all these gifts if there is to be anything in them, and which exalts in God's sight many an unknown worker, many a man ungifted, — as men might think, — into a blessed place such as may he far above the greatest of gifts. As the apostle says, greater than all gifts was that of which he was going to speak.
4. We have had thus before us the assembly and what is implied in the fact that it is the body of Christ. The analogy of the human body is preserved all through. The parts are organs. Each member in its place has its distinct capacity and therefore its function and its work. and the whole implies ministry and self-edification, which is to be the result of all this. "The body edifieth itself in love." We come now to this love, which is the practical test of all that is truly edification according to God. Love is the spirit of service, as is plain. It is that which prompts not simply to work, but to serve in working. It seeketh not its own, but the things of others; and thus it is that upon which the apostle sets a higher value than upon any gift. It is the divine nature in its manifestation in men.
(1) Now he first of all insists upon the unique value of love. If this one element be removed, we have really nothing. It is not exactly the whole spirit of a Christian, but it is that which is above all necessary to his being that. No tongues thus, he says, have any value apart from this, whether they be the tongues of men or even of angels. It is merely like sounding brass or a cymbal clanging. It is dead, not living. Even the gift of prophecy becomes, apart from this, what it might be in a Balaam, — something that God may put to use, but which has no value to the one who exercises it. So with all knowledge, however universal it might be; so with all faith, if it manifested itself in such work as removing mountains; still without love it was all nothing. If there were that which simulated love still more, the bestowing of all one's goods to feed the poor; if there were that burning zeal in which one could deliver up his body to the flame, and yet love did not really prompt in all this, it would still be nothing. Nothing could possibly be more complete as to the full value of love and its necessity in everything.
(2) We have now the character of love itself; for we cannot be trusted to know what it is, as it were, instinctively, or by the signs of it even, which obtain amongst men. How often, in fact, do we mistake for it what may be social feeling, even the enjoyment which springs from a certain satisfaction of self in the object! How often do we fail to distinguish such things as these from the love that seeketh not her own! The apostle John, the apostle of love, in the same way has to give signs by which we shall know whether it is in fact divine, that is to say, true love according to God at all. Quite true that if a man say he loves God and loveth not his brother that will not avail, but on the other hand: "Hereby we know we love the children of God, because we love God and keep His commandments." The divine element must enter into it and characterize it everywhere, or it is not love as God would have it. The characteristics, therefore, are given here more particularly than elsewhere.
First of all, "Love suffereth long." It is in fact a sufferer in a world like this necessarily, as we see in Christ. What a field is this sorrow-stricken scene for its display, but how many calls upon it are there, therefore! Love suffereth long and still is kind. It does not wear out. It is not disappointed, not at least with such a disappointment as would check its outflow. Again, it envieth not. Plainly, it has not self before it, and therefore does not seek a place above others. It does not, therefore, envy others the possession of that which its possessor has not. For the same reason, "love vaunteth not itself." It does not think of itself more highly than it ought to think. It does not parade its deeds or its quality. It is not self-assertive. Still less does it go beyond what is due. It is not puffed up.
Its acts, therefore, are of a kind suitable to this. "It doth not behave itself unseemly." Love is the bond of perfectness, and puts every detail, even of common behavior, right. The world imitates it, as far as may be, because it sees its comeliness. It will give the highest manners to one who may be otherwise the lowest clown. Wherever it is, it reigns. It is the governing spirit. It brings other things into subjection to itself; but then, again, it seeketh not its own. This is its grand characteristic, although expressed in the negative, as so much of this is; for, as with regard to heaven itself; we learn it so much by its contradiction to what we find around, — what we find, alas, so much in ourselves too. Love "seeketh not its own." Its activities must of necessity go forth to others. It is not, therefore, quickly provoked. It is not sensitive of that which touches oneself; yet assuredly, it may be provoked into anger. It was love in Christ when He looked around upon them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts. It was the desire of His heart for them which made their condition so serious in His eyes; but this anger is not nursed into malice. It subsides under the check of pity, the realization of what evil of necessity produces in the soul. This evil it does not impute; it does not reckon it to be there when there is not positive evidence. It has no pleasure in finding it. What it finds there is no question about imputing, in the sense in which this is said. If it be found, then, as far as may be, love covereth sin. It does not bring it out except there be positive requirement of divine righteousness or holiness that it should be brought out. It does not, therefore, rejoice in unrighteousness. How much, alas, of that which seems to be but the display of righteousness (as in Satan's accusation even of the saints) is a mere joy in unrighteousness, the very opposite, therefore, of righteousness itself! On the contrary, love "rejoiceth with the truth." Truth is the basis of all holiness, nay, of all good. There can be nothing apart from it. Love is not, therefore, blind. It has not the character which we may impute, perhaps, to human love. On the contrary, nothing is, quicker or more penetrating in its view of things; but then, again, it "beareth all things." That is, as we saw at the beginning, it can patiently endure, it can suffer long. It "believeth all things" too; that is, it gives ready and unsuspicious credence. It does not suspect. As a consequence of all this, it hopeth all things." It looks upon the good side rather than upon the evil, and, above all, God, in whom love is, who is always present to it, therefore always a cause of hope. After all, good reigns and not evil. Everything is in the hands of perfect goodness, little as at times this may appear outwardly, but thus there is no pessimism in love; it is optimistic in the highest way; but its ground of confidence is not in man, but in God. Hope, then, gives it energy or endurance. It "endureth all things." If we have not hope, there will soon be no strength to endure. Let discouragement be utter and complete, there is the end of all activity, there is the end of all service. There will be no power to serve where there is no hope in service.
(3) We now look at it in another way, not in the character which it displays, but in its permanence as compared with all other things. Prophecies will he done away. Whatever their value for the time being, there will come a time when they will be indeed no more, and when their actual fulfilment will bring them to an end, whatever the honor which may be put upon them. Tongues, too, shall cease. They have reference to the condition of man, to what sin has caused, and do not put away the effects of sin, although they manifest divine power and divine love meeting man in these conditions; but they shall cease necessarily, therefore. Knowledge too shall be done away; that is, the kind of knowledge, of course, that we have now. He goes on to describe it afterwards as such a knowledge of things as we have by seeing them in a mirror when we cannot be in close contact with them so as to examine them for ourselves. We have to argue, to infer about them. It is largely not so much that things, are, but that they must be so. This kind of knowing, — not the truth itself, concerning which the, knowledge is, not knowledge in the high, full sense therefore, but the knowing, this kind of spelling out and putting together and learning, as he says, in part, — all this will necessarily come to an end when that which is merely in part is done away. It will vanish as the light of the taper in the sun. The light will be at the full when the means of light are, nevertheless, largely changed.
The apostle illustrates the present as the childhood state, therefore. A child necessarily speaks as one, thinks as one, reasons as one, — in fact, it has to do plenty of reasoning, and no one would make light of its imperfect condition; but it is imperfect, as we know. "When I became a man I put away childish things, for now we see by a mirror, in an enigma." That is the force of the words. We see the reflection of things, in a sense, rather than the reality. We are conscious of them by the impression they make upon the senses, and we have to argue from these impressions as to the facts. This is, in fact, a child's main business, which being done for those who are men, the process does not in the same way appear, although it still goes on. It is what is involved for us now, no doubt, in our being living souls, rather than spirits. We have often noticed that the living soul is what gives character to man's actual condition, as the book of Genesis may teach us, while the spirit is nevertheless in man, but embarrassed by the conditions of its existence. The body is the instrument of the soul, as the soul, too, is the instrument of the spirit. External nature is thus that which teaches us so much, and the very language which we use as to the deepest realities is borrowed altogether from external things. The spiritual we know not except as encased in the natural. This involves the enigma of which the apostle speaks.
As soon as a man is out of the body be is not conceived of any longer as a living soul, but as a spirit. The soul-life now is, no doubt, a needed discipline for the spirit; and in view of all that God foresaw as to man's condition and the outcome of his trial upon earth; the spiritual body, — as we shall see in what the apostle says beyond, — alters this relation between spirit and soul by putting the spirit completely in the governing place and making all conditions work in perfect subjection to it. That is the meaning of a spiritual body, — not a body which is formed of spirit, but a body which is characterized by the spirit that dwells in it. Such, it is plain, the body of Christ should be, for the Church has already entered by faith into the sphere of the invisible and eternal, while for it also there is, however, the necessary discipline from the state of things in the world in which it is. The apostle here, of course, is speaking of the individual: "Now we know in part, then shall we know even as also we are known." How wonderful a thing that! It is divine knowledge, as far as it goes, though, of course, having all the creature characteristics; it is not the omniscience of God, and never will be.
Thus, then, the apostle concludes from it all: "Faith, hope and love abide." He is not speaking here of eternity, but rather in contrast with such gifts as, in fact, will come to an end, having served their purpose. Love abides, for it is the divine nature. Faith, as the evidence of things unseen, necessarily passes away when all is seen with the perfect knowledge of which the apostle has spoken. Hope, too, implies the imperfection which counts upon God, but sees not. It too, therefore, must pass away in full fruition; but love abides. Therefore, the greatest of these three things which morally characterize the Christian, is love.
5. We now come to the conditions upon which alone the divine can co-operate with the human, as in the exercise of the gifts in the body of Christ. That is the main point which the apostle insists upon here. We see, indeed, the gifts in exercise, and in the assembly, but we are not to suppose that we have a full account of this. It is rather that we have urged upon us that which will put every gift in its right place, and are made to have a right comparative estimate of them, — a thing of the highest use of necessity in the assembly, in the practical service which the gifts render to the body as a whole.
(1) We are to follow after love, therefore, while emulous of spiritual things. How has this been lost sight of in the condition of things which has so long obtained in the professing Church! Who thinks of seeking spiritual gifts? If God has given them, they may be (with certain restrictions, alas,) sanctioned in their exercise; but who thinks of seeking from God gifts which he has not got? If we seek them to glorify ourselves with them, then of necessity we shall seek in vain; and thus the two things are put together, — the following after love and the desire for spiritual gifts. We see how love rules, moreover, in the broad distinctions that the apostle makes now between two representative things, prophesying, on the one hand and tongues on the other. Of course, this does not embrace all that is the exercise of spiritual gift in the assembly, by any means; but all the more are we distinctly shown the principle which is to govern all in the assembly, — what in fact the rule, "Let all things be done decently and in order," involves. What is decently and orderly in God's sight? The speaking with a tongue and the interpretation of the tongue are given at the end of the twelfth chapter — last; and not without a meaning, last, in the enumeration there. In its miraculous character, the tongue was, on the other hand, a thing most notable, and which, — as we see at Pentecost, — struck men everywhere with amazement. It acted as an alarm-peal for their consciences, or as an invitation to nascent faith. But whatever its value, — and it is plain that the apostle does not mean to deny its value, — yet it is one of the things which has vanished away. As a fact, people can hardly understand at the present time what a "tongue" meant, and many are the disputes about it. The thing is gone, however men may urge that it is through the failure of faith that it is gone, which they can not show from Scripture; but it is gone, and there are things in relation to it which are even difficult, perhaps, for us to understand in the absence of it. It is for us an appeal to the past rather than the present. We must not conclude from this that we are to refer all this teaching of the chapter pretty much to a past condition, as is almost taken to be a matter of course by so many. On the contrary, the apostle is putting that which could not pass in contrast with the thing that has passed. Tongues, whatever their value, might pass. Prophesying, which he puts in contrast with it, could not pass, and this follows from the account which he gives of each. "He that speaketh with a tongue speaketh not," he says, "unto men, but unto God, for no one heareth," that is, with the understanding, although in spirit he may speak mysteries. Thus it is evident that this speaking with a tongue, — although it be, as we see clearly by what follows, the speaking of a real language, as the hearers at Pentecost heard each in his own tongue that which was being uttered, — implied speaking in a language which was not understood, at least by the mass of the hearers. It is upon this that the apostle insists as governing the use of it. A man could get no good by that which he did not understand. If there could be no understanding, if there were no one to interpret, then the tongue was out of place entirely. However much a man might have it, he was not to exercise it. In that character he spoke, as speaking in this unintelligible way, not to men who could not understand him, but to God only, who of course did. In spirit, too, he might speak mysteries. On the other hand, he that prophesied spake directly to men, and that for edification, and exhortation, and comfort. This does not, of course, define what prophesying is, but what it does. The effect of it is such that it could not possibly be lacking in the Church at any time. The Lord never ceases to care for the edification of His people, and thus we see, also, that prophesying here by no means has necessarily the character of predicting, though in those days there might be prediction, for the time of revelation was not passed. Revelation is now complete. If any man pretends to have what is fresh in this way, it is a false pretension, — the man is a false prophet and nothing else; but it could not be supposed that the people of God came together just to hear predictions of the future.
Prophesying means, rather, in itself the speaking in a direct manner from God and for God, and is in this way something which of necessity shows the spirit of Christianity, the heavenly places being opened to us, God capable of approach in that way, and which, if we know our privileges rightly, we shall easily understand. The man who is earnest to realize the place with God which this supposes, will be he who, in the power of that communion, will be possessed most of the mind of God. But this, therefore, will not be for himself alone. That which he has he has for others also. How important just to have this, — God's word for the time, which does not of necessity imply any great gift in the speaker of it! It might be, as the apostle puts it hypothetically here, but five words. It might be but the recital of the apt scripture upon the subject, or which deals with the state of soul of the assembly. It is something which implies spirituality rather than gift, and a spirituality which should be found, therefore, in every Christian. Thus it is that he says directly that they might all prophesy one by one. He did not certainly mean by this that they might all teach one by one, that such a gift lay within the power of any one to exercise. That would only make the actual distribution of gifts ineffectual, make all gifts conditionally one and the same gift, or every person possessor of every gift; which is plainly not so, and was never intended to be so. The diversity of gift, as has already been said, is the very thing which necessitates this ministry of every one to all the rest, and thus it abides in itself, a distinction which is to be maintained and insisted upon.
On the other hand, the thing that they were all to covet was that they might prophesy. How simple and how much needed the exhortation when it implies simply that all are bound to be with God so as to learn each for himself from God, in a sense as if there were not another! But this does not lead to the disregard of others. Rather, it makes one capable of the truest service. It might, as we see in the Acts, — where, of course, we have it in the full character of those times, — be found in a woman as well as in a man. Spirituality knows no sex, and the presence and mind of God is not denied to any one that seeks it, be it man or woman. The restriction with regard to the use of it in the assembly is another matter, and is based upon that which we have seen already, that is, that the public place is not the place which God has designed for the woman; but it has nothing to do with the reality of blessing such as this, which, if we do not realize and appreciate aright, we shall forfeit immensely. In fact, the whole Church has forfeited, how much, by the misapprehension of such scriptures as these! It has had, therefore, to relegate them in their application to the past or to maintain that prophesying as it is represented nowadays is preaching! The result of this will be very evident. On the other hand, the exhortation as, to prophesying is the voice of God calling His people to enjoy their place of privilege with Himself, to learn in His presence, to have His mind, and thus to be fitted each one for the place given to him in connection with all others. How important, then, that we should realize this!
"He that speaketh with a tongue," the apostle goes on, "edifieth himself." He has not, as people strangely imagine, the thought that he might not himself understand the tongue that he was using. He edifieth himself, and we are told shortly after that the assembly cannot receive edifying except it be by the interpretation of the tongue. If there is not meaning in the tongue, it is like a mere lifeless thing, giving sound. This principle applies plainly to the possessor of the tongue, as it does to others. The apostle has no idea, as some have put it, that the mere consciousness, as it were, of speaking by a divine impulse (however ignorant one may be of what is contained in it) is that which edifies. The whole assembly might be edified on the same principle, if that were edification; but the apostle insists that there must be the intelligent apprehension of what is heard, or there is no use, no edification. Thus, he that speaketh with a tongue, but with no power to interpret (for the gift of interpretation might not necessarily accompany the gift of the tongue) edifieth himself simply, but he that prophesieth edifieth the assembly. He does not in the least desire to set aside the speaking with tongues. He would that they all spake with them, but much rather would he that they prophesied, because "greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues." It is evident that the Corinthians thought very differently as to that. The tongue, in their minds, put a man upon a much greater eminence than any prophesying could do, but how different where love rules! and that is the whole matter here. The edification of others is that which decides upon the greatness of the speaker. The one who speaks to most edification, whatever the manner of speech, is the one who is greatest. If, then, one came speaking with tongues, what would the profit be unless there was revelation or knowledge or prophesying, (which we see he makes, therefore, distinct from revelation: there might be a prophesying without that,) or doctrine, — the teaching of some truth?
He appeals to the lifeless thing even giving sound. If there were no distinctions in the sounds, if it were all unmeaning, how would anything be gathered from what was piped or harped? If the trumpet gave an uncertain sound, who would prepare himself to the war? So, also, ye with a tongue, he says, except ye give a distinct word, that is, a word appreciable, — a word that shall be known in its significance by those addressed, how shall it be known what is spoken? You are just speaking, he says, into the air. Not a voice that God has given in the world but has its significance! If, therefore, tongues are to be merely a sound, the one who speaks will be simply a Barbarian to others, as those who listen are for him Barbarians. The rule, therefore, was for those who were emulous of spiritual gifts, that they might abound indeed, but for the edifying of the Church. So if a man were speaking with a tongue, he might pray that he might interpret. It may seem a strange thing that the gift of interpretation did not necessarily accompany the gift of the tongue itself; but in this way one can at least see that a gift of this showy character would be kept in more complete dependence, as was needed so much at Corinth; for the abuses which the apostle would remedy were necessarily found more or less among the people to whom he was speaking. Thus the one who seemed in their eyes so exalted by the gift of the tongue, nevertheless had to be indebted to the service of another for the interpretation of it. No doubt, where it was love that dictated, where love was in earnest for the help of men, God might add the gift of interpretation to the tongue itself, but the two things, as is plain, were distinct.
(2) The apostle goes on: "For if I pray with a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my mind is unfruitful." It has been thought, perhaps generally, that here his inability to understand what he was saying was necessarily supposed, but why? Is not the fruit which the apostle is teaching us everywhere to look for, the edification of the assembly? And thus if a man prayed simply with a tongue, apart from interpretation, there could be no fruitfulness; in that respect the mind was really unfruitful. "But," says the apostle, "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray also with the understanding. I will praise with the spirit and I will praise with the understanding." That is, surely, therefore, in connection with the context here, in such a way that there shall be understanding all round, for he goes on directly to argue that if you bless in the spirit only, the one who occupies the place of the unlearned cannot possibly say "amen" to the giving of thanks; for he does not know what is being said. You may give thanks ever so well, but there is no edification for the other. Thus even in prayer and praise the same principle obtains. In the assembly all is done for the assembly. The speaker must be either the voice of the assembly to God or the voice of God to the assembly, but the assembly as such is always in mind, and the gathering is not to be diverted into any mere field for the private exercises of the saints, whatever their character might be. Solemn it is to realize that even the giving thanks well in this way would not justify the thanksgiving. The fact that the gift is from God does not of necessity justify the use of it. The use at any particular time must be governed by the principle which runs through all this, the principle of edification, which is sought always. The apostle was not speaking to discredit tongues, the ability to use which he had more than all, yet he deliberately chooses rather to speak five words with his understanding, to instruct others, (there he defines really what he means by five words with the understanding, which is that he may instruct others by them,) he would rather speak five words this way than ten thousand in a tongue. To think otherwise would be to be children in their minds; but he does not want them to be children in mind, although he would be happy that they were children in malice; but in their minds they were to be full grown. What, in fact, had God shown with regard to this use of tongues, unintelligible tongues, as we see? That is really the point of it. It was written in the law, in the book of Isaiah (the whole of the Old Testament is characterized as law): "With other tongues and lips of others I will speak unto this people, and not even so will they bear me, saith the Lord." But to what did this refer? In fact, to their captivity among foreigners or the dominion of foreigners over them, a thing in itself which would necessarily and notably speak to a people who could only be in this condition through their own sin and failure, and yet their sin would not be remedied by it, nor would they listen, as the Lord says, to these tongues by which He was speaking so strangely to them; so that in this case tongues were for a sign not to believers, but to unbelievers. God was speaking to them indeed, but in a strange language through their unbelief, and this only, through the hardness of their heart, shut them up the more in that unbelief, did not deliver them. Prophesying, on the other hand, was directly for believers, not for unbelievers. Now if the whole assembly come together in one place and all speak with tongues, he urges, and there come in unlearned persons or unbelievers, what will they say? What effect will it have upon them? "Will they not say that ye are mad?" It is supposed, of course, that there is no making plain the thing so as to edify; just used as strange tongues because of the wonder of such speech. They are tongues, he supposes, that are not understood. On the other hand, if all prophesied, and there came in one who was an unbeliever or unlearned, this bringing in of the mind of God, unbaring as it does the secrets of the heart, would bring conviction to the man who came. He might not indeed be converted by it, but be would find, in fact, his inmost heart searched out, and would recognize that it was God who was searching; so, falling upon his face, he would worship God, and declare that God was with them of a truth. How plainly is the character of prophesying thus seen as the bringing in of God in such a way as would speak for itself; the voice of God made audible in the speaker, with its direct power over the conscience of those who heard.
(3) The apostle now gives general instructions as to the assembly itself, instructions which have singular inapplicability to the Christian meeting as understood most largely in the present day. It is a gathering of the assembly as such, with room for every one to find his place and to contribute his share to the general edification and under the guidance and rule of the Spirit of God alone. "When ye come together," says the apostle, as if it were the normal thing when coming together, "every one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation." He neither commends nor condemns this in any wholesale way. The Corinthians, no doubt, were ready enough, and their meetings would not lack in variety. The apostle's simple rule is that all things are to be done to edifying. That is the one practical direction, so simple that it is easily understood by any Christian. Any one is competent to say what ministers to himself and helps him.
It is important to see that while the Spirit is the power and energy always for this, yet at the same time he does not in any wise direct them to analyze their own convictions as to it. They are not to be before themselves in any wise. The object is to edify others, and the assembly, if right at all, will always be able to bear witness if it is edified. This governs also in what follows, that if any one speak in a tongue there are to be not more, at any rate, than two or three speakers, each in his turn, (does not that seem as if there were disorder enough in the Corinthian assembly?) and with one to interpret in each case. If there were no interpreter, then it is enjoined that there shall be silence kept in the assembly. Let such an one speak, if he be full, to himself and to God, but there can be no edification except a man can understand the language in which he is addressed. Even as to the prophets the same rule obtains. that there are to be but two or three speakers. There is not to be enough to distract or to weary, but to edify, and the rest are to judge. They are not to receive — because the ideal is a ministry of the Spirit — all that comes with the assumption of this. They are to judge. Scripture is in their hands as the means of judgment, and thus they are to discern, by that which the Spirit has already communicated, the character of present communications. If anything is revealed to another who sitteth by, the first speaker is to be silent — not, as is supposed by some, to give way to the new revelation. The apostle's words directly afterwards surely contradict that. All might prophesy, one by one. There would be time for each one, and no interference on the part of one with the liberty of another.
There is no question here of the reality of the prophesying, as there can be no question of the reality of a tongue; but the reality of the gift does not hinder the regulation of the gift, or show, therefore, that the exercise of it is always according to God. The rule is still and ever the edification of the assembly. The contributions of all are thrown, as it were, into a common fund, that all may be enriched by them, and in this general enrichment no one need strive for his own things and no one is given room to take exception to that which perhaps may not minister specifically to his own need, and yet may be meeting, in the abundant grace of God, the need of others. All have need to learn and all to be exhorted, and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. There is in each case the responsible man whom his gift is not to control, but who, by the Spirit, is to control the gift. Human responsibility is everywhere prominent, and the practical result is that which manifests the character of what is given. God is never a God of confusion, but of peace, and this is His manner of working in all the assemblies of the saints.
(4) There was to he one exception as to this general liberty. In the assemblies, when the saints were all actually come together, the women were to keep silence. It is a question, not of a woman's capability of exhorting others or of edifying, but just that question of order with which the apostle started, and which creation establishes. The woman's sphere of liberty, and, one may say, sovereignty, is at home; that is to say, it is private and not public. It must not be thought that this does not give ample scope for the exercise of gift of whatever kind. If there were only more of the cultivation on the woman's part of that which belongs really to her sphere, how fruitful would be the exercise of gift with which God has endowed her and how many places would be open to her which men, by reason of their being men could not in the same way fill! Thus in relation to children, it is at once evident; with the younger children, the woman is still the best and the nature-ordained teacher. God has placed the babe in its mother's arms and not its father's; and this does not mean that the woman's sphere is only in her own family. There are countless families to which her sex will introduce her, and where she may find herself fully at home and abundant profit and recompense of her work. So, through the wives, women have access in this way to an indefinite sphere of occupation for varied blessing. The wife is the heart-centre of the household, and the ability thus to reach the wife in a way that woman certainly can do far beyond others is an immense privilege and responsibility entrusted to her. Would that there were more realization of this! It would not be thought that the apostle's rule here, which is evident, was intended to reduce the woman to a nonentity or to deprive her of the use of whatever gift God may have endowed her with. As already said, if you take men themselves, how many have their proper sphere in any public ministrations? Women are no more disqualified in this sense than the large number of men are. God has ordained to each his place, and the spirit of love is only needed to find the wisdom which will enable any one to realize the doors which God will ever open to those who seek to serve Hint among men.
Among the sick, again, how evidently is there a special place accorded to the woman! Here, the gentleness, the patience natural to her, the tender ministration of love, assert themselves with a power which God's grace uses continually for blessing to souls. Just when the strength is prostrated and the ear only perhaps left open, the heart is in the readiest condition to receive, the truth. How blessed the privilege to be able here to sow the seed of life in souls plowed up and rendered receptive by God's dealings with them!
Thus, while the apostle's words are prohibitive in one way, they only open to us in another what is the true sphere in which the woman may he and ever has been blessed. But he allows no dispute about it. "Came the word of God," he says, "out from you, or did it come to you only? If any one thinketh himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you are the commandments of the Lord." How important is this here, where, most of all in the present day, as is evident, men tend to ignore or to resist what he here gives us! Indeed, as we easily may see, the whole chapter is largely set aside as pertaining to extraordinary gifts which have ceased, and which find their substitute as a whole, perhaps, in a preacher, who is supposed to have the remnant of all that exists in his own person, and to whom the congregation is for the most part confined. Thus a narrowness, in fact, attains which was never found in the Jewish synagogue, as one may easily see by the occurrences in the Acts. There was a ready invitation and scope for various speakers, even amid the iron rule and stiffness of rabbinism. Things are working at the present time, no doubt, to a larger liberty; alas, they are at the same time tending in an equal degree to laxity and to the disregard on another side of the apostle's word here. He is short and decisive. "If any one be ignorant," he says, "let him be ignorant." If what I have said already is not enough for his enlightenment, let him go without such enlightenment. On the other hand, there is need of exhortation surely today after his manner here: "So, brethren, be emulous to prophesy." Alas, it is hardly known what such words mean; and yet the responsibility remains as great as ever, and the thing to which we are all responsible to minister. He concludes with the simple words, so simple and so practical: "Let all things be done fittingly and in order."