J. N. Darby.
"Now concerning spiritual operations [or, manifestations]": this word is preferable to that of "gifts," because here it includes diabolical demonstrations, as well as operations of the Spirit; and we do not like to call that which is really the working of the devil a "gift." Such is the meaning of desiring the "best gifts." They might desire spiritual manifestations. Paul wished them to be able to discern, when any one had spoken with power among them, whether it was the devil or the Holy Ghost speaking by Him. No man can say, Lord Jesus, unless in the Holy Spirit; and no one calls Him "Anathema" if he speaks in the Spirit of God. It seems strange for us to think a person speaking with power should speak by the evil spirit; but it was a common thing with them. There were false prophets, we read. They took the form of teachers, instead of utterances. No doubt the devil has been thus working among Mormonites and Irvingites. "Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God." The great truth is Himself come in the flesh. The Gnostics said matter was a bad thing made by the devil. It is, in 2 John, Jesus Christ coming in the flesh, not speaking as to the time, but of the character, of His coming. Again, "This is he that came by water and blood." There was moral power but atonement also. He was real man; and came for the shedding of blood as well as for purifying
"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." The great thing here insisted on is the unity of the Spirit, as opposed to many demons, creatures working by creatures. "He shall not speak of himself." "Let the prophets speak two or three … if any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace," 1 Cor. 14:29-30. The power of the Holy Ghost acts morally on the individual. "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." If we see a carriage movable by steam, the moment the steam is put on, there is the power; but it wants one to guide. If the one prophet went on speaking, it was not according to the order of the Spirit, though it was by the Spirit. The gift is committed to men who are responsible for the use of it. It is not impulse merely, though there be an impulse given; but then there must be the control over it. If two get up at the same moment to pray, both may have what is of the Spirit to utter, but one is not subject at the moment to the Lord's order.
364 There are differences of ministries. The gifts are through the Holy Ghost, the service is to Christ the Head; but the Spirit is the power. In the exercise of the gift one is the servant of Christ the Lord, the Spirit is the energy by which one serves, but God is He that works all in all, doing everything. Though several should speak together, still it is all by one divine Spirit (not several spirits of demons). While I am Christ's servant and not man's, still I could not exercise my gift in spite of all my brethren (say against it) without despising Christ's authority in the body. "Be ye subject one to another." It is God that is working; and therefore let all be silent before Him.
The thought of the family, which sometimes prevails, is not sufficiently reverential to Christ as the Lord. Service to Christ as the Lord is something more than service in the family. For instance, I feel a difference in going to my Father, and going to God. Thus, if I go to my father in the house, I go up to him at once, and jump upon his knee; but if he is in court, sitting in public in his official capacity, I do not use such familiarity; I treat him with more respect than that. We are set as servants, and as members (lower down in the chapter) of one body, of which Christ is the Head. It makes an amazing difference in this way. If I have the thought of the Holy Ghost only present to my mind, self comes in, and I almost necessarily attach a certain importance to myself, because I am expecting to be used. I am to speak, or I am to pray. But when Christ is looked to and realized, it is entirely different. Self does not come in, because I am looking to another - to Christ as personally present to faith; and thus the affections are drawn forth to a Person - to Him who has died for me. The whole tone of a meeting will be affected by this.
There are many members, not heads. Again no one is to go beyond his measure. Each is to wait on his ministry, whatever it may be; let him stick to that one thing, and not attend to everything else. He that gives, let him do it with simplicity; he that ministers is to wait on his ministry to do the work he has to do (and let him not attempt anything else), as he that exhorts on exhortation. God may give one person half a dozen gifts. One may be an evangelist only; one may exhort and move the conscience; and another may teach. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to profit withal. (See Rom. 12.)
365 At the first, in preaching the gospel, there was the broad statement of the fact that the Son of God was come. Now it has to be applied, because it is admitted in common as a fact, though the more it is stated again and again the better. Where there is a gift, if the saints are not in a spiritual state, the gift is but little manifested, and not so easily discerned. What marks the gift of an evangelist is love for souls, not love of preaching. Where the gospel is preached and God blesses it, there is fruit, which gives His servant confidence to go on; but when he is beginning, there may be very little development of the gift and no fruit seen, but still there will be love for souls and the endeavour to get at them. He must work on by faith therefore, until he gets proof in result.
The confession of Christ must not be confounded with the preaching of the gospel. Every one ought to confess Christ in one sense, though he may not be able to preach Christ. We have to act as having received the talent from the Lord, and there should be full confidence in Him and a desire to trade for His advantage. It is sweet to see love for souls in seeking to speak to them, but this does not prove there is a gift for preaching.
He, moreover, that is always speaking of Christ in his intercourse with his brethren and others, is more useful in the church than the man who spoke with tongues.
We are in a defective condition if we are not in principle taking in every member of Christ. There is one body - the whole church; there can be only those who are inside and those who are outside.
Some have spoken of a gift of prayer. It is, I think, a wrong expression. Prayer is not the exercise of gift. Preaching is the Levite service, if you please; but prayer is priestly. Levite service is to end in this world: priestly service is to go on through eternity. One who has a gift comes into a meeting of saints where the Holy Ghost is, and that which is in him is pressed out by the power of the Spirit in the assembly.
The spiritual man, again, "judgeth all things." If I am not spiritual, I shall make a mistake. A man's saying a thing was done in the Spirit or not in the Spirit must depend on his grace to act, and has nothing to do with his power to judge. Of course it is assumed we are in the Spirit or spiritual. If a man is spiritual, he judges all things, and he must be spiritual to judge. If he is not spiritual, he cannot judge; but if he is spiritual, he first judges himself.
366 When the Holy Ghost is present in power and ungrieved, the simplest speaking of the love of Christ will be enjoyed by the whole assembly. The affections will be lively and fresh towards Him, though the truth spoken may be familiar to all. "Let all things be done to edification." You may get in one train of thought a happy flow of unity; but you must remember that it is the power of the Holy Ghost which produces it.