Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 12.

1874 180 The substance of a lecture.

The great truth I wish to assert, with all the simplicity and clearness I can from the word of God, is the present action of the Holy Ghost in the assembly. Here we have the principle, as in 1 Corinthians 14 the practice. Between the two we have the spring of power which alone can make that principle reducible to practice. For principles alone never suffice; nor can there be without faith practice according to God, nor again will this spring of power work if alone, unless it be guided by principles in that practice. The fact is we have them all here, and each in its due place; and that is the difficulty, because, in fact, in ourselves we are apt to sway to this side or to that, yet are we responsible to walk in the truth.

But we have One in our Lord who has provided for all, and who has given us, as our best present gift, in addition to Himself, the Holy Ghost, the divine gift for the Christian, as Christ is for the sinner.

Now as to the chapter before us, it may be well at once to state, that the word "gifts" in the first verse weakens the sense. For the apostle is not going simply to speak about spiritual gifts. To put it on the ground of gift is to lower the subject; for there is a truth out of which gifts flow, and that is the presence of the Spirit Himself. He is above all gifts, and gifts are not said to be exactly of the Spirit though they may be said to be spiritual gifts. God or Christ is said to be the Giver. The Holy Ghost is the One who makes them good, intervening between Christ and the object of the gift; so that I believe it is of some consequence, though it may not appear more than a nice shade at first sight.

If there is to be an addition to the words the Spirit of God has used, one might suggest "manifestations." He uses "spiritual," but then I suppose "spirituals" is hardly an English word, and no doubt our translators were backward to make a word to suit the sense, but "spiritual [manifestations]" may suit the point, including the great truth of the Holy Ghost Himself now given by God. It is not the effects produced only, whether in the way of power or grace; but above all there is the primary parent truth, the centre of all, the Holy Ghost Himself come down to be here for the glory of the Lord Jesus in the assembly. The apostle is not here discussing the individual state of those that form part of that assembly, but rather the Spirit's action in each and all.

The great distinction in 1 Cor. 12:3 does not raise the question whether people are converted. It is a test for each, and the source and character of the teaching, whether from the Spirit of God or from the spirit of error. Now, in the present state of Christendom, people are apt to be always occupied with the person's state, whether the preacher is a Christian or not; but when the heart rests on Christ, there is another and deeper question, — how things bear on the glory of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Ghost, being come down, has a suited sphere for carrying out a testimony to the glory of the Lord Jesus, and that sphere is the church. And, though there is a broken state of things, the church is not gone or extinct. It may be ever so ruined in its practical condition, but still it is here, and here for the gravest of all reasons and most comforting of all facts — to testify of Christ's victory over Satan, for we are to God's glory. The Holy Ghost is here (I do not mean in individuals only, but) still to be counted on to act in the assembly where there is faith to look to Him for it.

I do not speak of His gracious way where blessing is diffused spite of things ever so irregular. God blesses the gospel in circumstances which may be quite anomalous, and uses His word according to His sovereign will. But when He is pleased to use a man's singing gospel solos for instance, or a woman's preaching in a theatre, perhaps, well one understands that Christ acts in grace; but it is base and false to interpret that grace of the Lord as if it supposed His approbation. It is really a sentence on Christendom that God is pleased to use what is so disorderly, and not those who assume to be the regular channels in ministry — especially as the gospel thus irregularly preached is a kind of parody or rude imitation of the truth, and not at all in the received style of the modern pulpit.

For God will have souls brought in. But the evangelistic blessing of God is not even touched on in these chapters.

Therein is another most singular contradiction of what men look for. For when people ordinarily say there is great blessing, they mean that souls are converted; as if God did not care about His church, and only occupied Himself or His servants with saving sinners. What I complain of is, not persons taking delight in conversion of souls, but their not having a thought beyond it. The gathering of souls is the express object of the death of the Lord Jesus — "to gather together in one" etc. Now I ask, How does that meet my soul's desires? does my heart answer to the word of God? or does the gathering of souls make me uneasy? is there no blessing in the assembly of saints on earth? are you to say that communion will be true only when we are together in heaven? I grant indeed that gathering on earth costs one a great deal; in heaven God's grace will effect it in perfection.

Here then the apostle says, "Now concerning spirituals, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led." (1 Cor. 12:1, 2.) There was a danger for them; there may be for us; for we are members of that one body. There was not a little also to learn, "Ye know that ye were Gentiles," etc. He is contrasting the power of the Spirit with which that had sometimes been at work. A solemn lesson to all of us is the reality of Satan's power. It was not merely that they had had bad affections but now kind and good; for there is the spirit of the enemy at work to lower His name, as on the other hand there is the Holy Ghost for the express purpose of maintaining the glory of the Lord. This cannot be enjoyed without faith, not only dealing with each individual but where souls come together. God looks that there be faith in the action of the Holy Ghost in the assembly. What is acted on there should flow from the distinct conviction of the presence of the Holy Ghost in it. This is what the apostle sought to produce in the minds of the Corinthian saints.

Here is the test: "No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed." if the Spirit of God is working in a man, he never lowers Christ. What is the bearing of that man's teaching? Does it depreciate Christ? On the other hand no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but etc. He particularly takes up the lowest form of exalting Christ. For of course to say "Lord" is far from being the highest way of naming Christ. It is what every soul on its parting company with the world, when one repents and believes the gospel, is called on to own. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus," etc. Hence it was the very first confession all through the Acts. A person could not be owned as a Christian till he owned Jesus as Lord. Paul preached that He was the Son of God. This is personal glory. But "the Lord" means that He is the one that God has exalted, not only raising Him from the dead but setting Him over everything. It is by the Holy Ghost that this testimony is produced, and it is important to know the least testimony that the Spirit in the fulness of His grace puts His own stamp on. It is not even a question of believing what is taught or spoken in the assembly. It is a question of what the Spirit of God is doing. What lowers Christ is not of the Holy Ghost, what exalts Him is of the Spirit of God.

Now he comes to differences (1 Cor. 12:4), but at the same time he carries on the great truth. Each member of Christ is a suited vessel of the Holy Ghost to glorify the Lord Jesus in. There is nothing that is of value except it has a divine ring in it. There are diversities of gift, etc. He will not allow of such a thing as looking at the qualities of the vessels as men. God is giving, through Him to those who confess Christ, this or that gift to bear witness to His glory. There are "differences of administrations." No one is made other than a servant in what he receives. And there are "diversities of operations" or results produced, but it is "God that worketh them all" — the same spring of power. There may be ever so many distinct streams through which He is pleased to manifest Himself, but there is one source of supply that feeds them.

The saints at Corinth were far too much occupied with what might suit carnal persons. They had a great desire to hear something striking and to see miracles; they valued philosophy, eloquence, anything external that struck the ear or the eye and drew public attention. All this was at work. They liked what attracted the eye and mind and filled the imagination, so that they paid comparatively little heed to other and deeper ways of the Spirit's action. What then does the apostle say? Wherever persons take up a particular line of the truth, do you ever find that it is really the best? Those that get the best blessing are such as look for Christ to have all the glory and praise.

The Corinthians had pitched on external displays of power in which the Spirit acted; but they were His lowest ways. The first failure was to have a choice at all. It is one of the great features that goes with a particularly precious and valued gift, that it as the rule appreciates and recommends other gifts. You will find that the richer is the power of the Spirit of God, the more a man admires what is not like his own line. The truth is, it arises from another reason. It is not merely because he himself has not got it that he values it, but if spiritual he sees it all flowing from the divine source to the exaltation of the Lord Jesus. The Corinthians had scarcely entered into anything more than that the church was a place where anyone might play his part. They were not thinking of it as the assembly of God, or whether it would be for profit. What they had taken up was for admiration, a display of energy to make the heathen feel there was a power in the church superior to the world now that they were delivered from it.

The apostle reminds them that they used to be led away by power, for it was not only evil but power without responsibility. It was really of Satan, and they were carried away by it even as they were led. For their will was toward evil. Now the Holy Ghost never works in this way, but in subjecting to the glory of the Lord Jesus, and this in responsibility.

All here then we see to be under this great truth: the Holy Ghost working to exalt Christ; Satan working to lower Him. A gift does not make a man independent, but, as he never was, a servant of Christ in the gift that he receives. The Holy Ghost has Himself taken the character of Servant, and gives that character to the man whom He works in. The Corinthians said, as it were, If God has given me a tongue, why not speak? and so it was human reasoning. The apostle brings in totally different thought and action. He says, "the manifestation of the Spirit" etc. (1 Cor. 12:7), "to one is given by the Spirit the gift of tongues?" No. He begins with those manifestations they did not value enough, "to one was given the word of wisdom" (there was very little of that), "to another the word of knowledge." The word of knowledge is of a lower character than the word of wisdom. The word of wisdom implies acquaintance with the source, not mere knowledge of things. Wisdom is never found in a man that is not familiar with God Himself. Knowledge may be a careful acquaintance with what God has said. You may pick up a good deal of what His word declares and not identify yourself with His mind. But he does not say the word of wisdom is a manifestation of the Spirit, the word of knowledge only of man. They have both their place. "To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:8.) "To another faith by the same Spirit" — there is that power that conquers difficulties, for this is the characteristic effect of the gift of faith. "To another the gift of healing; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." (1 Cor. 12:9-11.)

They did not deny that these were by the same Spirit. It was not therefore necessary to say each by the same Spirit, but he puts the same signature to them all as a whole. All are wrought by the same Spirit, and therefore whoever respects the Spirit of God will respect whatever flows from the Spirit. This seems the main drift of this statement of the apostle. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ." (1 Cor. 12:12.) Now he begins to point out the connection of this subject with Christ's body.

But one word on 1 Cor. 12:11. There are two things, the first is, "All these worketh one and the same Spirit." It is not merely that He gives, but He works, it all. Thus the connection of the Spirit is kept up. It is not a thing He lets out of His hand. There is a free and full communication between the source and the stream. Constant active grace has done that work. There is dividing to each, there is a portion of what is suitable to this or that vessel. Yet it is not merely that the gifted man works, but the Spirit works what is for 'the glory of the Lord Jesus, the same Spirit dividing to each.

Now it will be found that, wherever the body of Christ is not clearly apprehended and held as a truth, there will be feebleness in the way in which the working of the Holy Ghost will be held by the soul. You cannot sever the one Spirit from the one body. The Holy Ghost being a divine person, he says it is the same Spirit that works in all. Withal he maintains the divine character of the Holy Ghost. Whatever His grace, He did not lower His divine glory as Son of God by becoming a servant.

There never was such glory brought to God as when the Son stooped so that none could go so low. And whoever understood the glory of God so as when the Holy Ghost came down? The disciples knew the Lord a great deal better than they had before when in bodily presence. So with us now. We are the heirs of all this blessedness, being brought into this wonderful place of having the Holy Ghost and so of union with Christ. It is a question of owning the blessing we have got; we may have a blessing and be little sensible of it. If we do not own it, we shall be exposed to mistakes.

Let us examine a little why the body is introduced here. He is going to enforce the principle, for he has shown its divine source and character. All the forms of power were equally divine. "For as the body is one, and hath many members," etc. So also is, not the church, but" Christ." Yet it is the church, only he does not call it the church, but Christ; this is remarkable, and the more so because of the low state of that assembly. I believe it to be for the purpose of rebuking their low state. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized" etc.: this was the way they were brought into it, "whether we be Jews or Gentiles, bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:13.) Thus whether it was the first constitution or the place of divine acknowledgment, whether it is looked at outwardly, or inwardly, still everything depends upon the Holy Ghost, it was He distributed, He worked. It was His blessing through and for Christ. All was in consequence of the presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; but His coming was the fruit of Christ's going up and sending Him down after redemption.

It was not only the astonishing gifts, but "the body is not one member, but many." (1 Cor. 12:14.) "If the foot shall say because I am not the hand I am not of the body." If a humble member of the body were to complain that he was not set in a more exalted place, is he not of the body? There are two ways the flesh acts; the first is discontent as to oneself, and the second is disdain of other people. Each to be contented with his place. "If the ear shall say because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; if the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand; is it therefore not of the body?" (1 Cor. 12:16.) The ear would like the position of the eye; there it is discontent. "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?" (1 Cor. 12:17.) And so it is most true of all — "if the whole were hearing," etc.; but the full blessing of the body ordinarily depends on these differences.

The only healthy state of any member is getting blessing from every other member. If any were to shut himself up to even Paul himself, he must lose blessing from the Lord. Perhaps a favourite has a very special gift: some one will say, For myself I do not care to hear anyone but Mr. Better. Is this then the desire to enjoy the means the Holy Ghost gives for the use of the body? The Lord has arranged the church not after the pattern of ever so many captains over so many companies, which is the pattern of the religious world. There it is the one man surrounded by the persons who look up to him. But in the church according to God's order it is wholly and manifestly different. The question is, Where are we as to these great matters? We must see where we are and what our souls accept, God or man, and judge ourselves by this divine standard.

There is where true spiritual sense of the ways and order of the Lord Jesus is now proved. It is wonderful how the whole Trinity is brought in, God, the Lord, and the Holy Ghost. All has a divine source. A person says, If I had the gift of such a one? Why do not you use what you have? There is nothing that has so much power and reality as using what the Holy Ghost has given for the glory of Christ. A few simple words where they flow from faith and love have power; but where the person tries to imitate another person, does it succeed? Now this is very encouraging for the soul to be simple, and a very solemn warning of letting slip the ways of God, but there is no way of doing truth but using what the Lord has given for the glory of the Lord Jesus.

Now he comes to the other part: "the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee." (1 Cor. 12:21.) Here it is disdain and not discontent; in the former case it was the lower member discontented because it was not the higher. It is but flesh, no matter where it may be; this is what is reproved and set aside. "Nor the head to the feet I have no need of you," etc. He is using the comparison of the body, but not speaking of Christ. The fact is, this chapter does not present the Lord Jesus as the Head on high; here be is looking at the church on earth, and he calls it "Christ;" that is, the identification of the whole. And he adds another thing; he says those members of the body engage us which seem to be more feeble (1 Cor. 12:22), and those members which we, etc. (1 Cor. 12:23), just as with the natural body. Suppose a person has some member that is weak, what is the effect? Why you take more care of the weak member instead of slighting its being so.

Having now finished the allusions to the body thus brought in from verse 12, and having done with the reproofs, God tempering the body together, and that the members should have the same care one for another, "if one member suffer," etc., he comes to the application of all he had been teaching. "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (1 Cor. 12:27.) That is, if he looked at them as a whole, they were Christ's body; if individually, they were Christ's members. You do not lift saints out of a low condition by disparaging them, but by maintaining their true relationship. He looks at that assembly at Corinth, and, spite of their condition, says, Ye are the body of Christ; he looks at the individuals there as His members. God has revealed this to us that we might learn His thoughts. He desires to bring them out in the place that God has given them, "ye are the body of Christ," etc., not meaning that it was confined to the saints at Corinth. But it was true of them; and hence an assembly that is gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus has this stamp upon it. It is responsible to display Christ thus. It cannot have the Holy Ghost forming any other relationship than this. He could not constitute anything different from the body of Christ: it is His mission. The Holy Ghost never was untrue to that for which He has been sent. What we have to see to is whether we lay hold of this place. There is the joint place, and the individual place; in both it is Christ, "ye are the body of Christ," etc. A true assembly (it may be in great weakness, and who can wonder at this present time?), it was as to such that the Lord Jesus said," Where two or three are gathered together," etc., it is Himself in the midst, but in the midst of what? No doubt the moment was not yet come to bring out the body, but this is what the assembly is. It is not a thing that is such because of Christians, but of Christ who stamps His name on the church. He connects His own name with them for the purpose of giving validity to two or three acting for Him.

"Ye are the body of Christ." This is what we have to bear in mind as gathered to His name; we are His not only individually, but in joint capacity. I admit a broken state. Suppose a person believes in the church of God, but ignores its present condition, it would be a state alien from the truth. We have to take into account how we use the truth, and not the truth only. We must look at the state of that which is precious to the Lord.

We have to do with these two classes of Christians; persons who having known the truth have gone away from it, and those who have never been intelligent. The conduct that would be proper towards persons that have departed from the truth would not be right to those who are ignorant. Do we know the way the Lord dealt with us? But with persons who have turned away, it is another thing altogether; and necessarily along with the sorrow there must be the deep feeling of their unfaithfulness, and the dishonour they have done in turning their back upon Christ. There is the character of indifference that treats Him as nothing. But there is more, for there is another feeling that is apt to grow up with these, and that is, dislike and hatred of those that hold on faithfully. There was a time when all these persons seemed at any rate to have their hearts in it. Let us too take care, looking to the Lord. There is but one way to be kept — the eye singly on Christ. "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." (Gal. 5:25.) It is not merely a question of our own general feeling, but of a most solemn place God has put us in. We have to do now with a divine person, thus maintaining the glory of the Lord Jesus. We should be sensitive, not ungracious — stern where there is the deliberate sin of turning the back on the Holy Ghost or the Lord Jesus Christ.

God has set some in the church, first apostles, etc. (1 Cor. 12:28.) There was at Corinth a disrespectful feeling toward Paul himself. Now he asserts that "God hath set some in the church, first, apostles; second, prophets," etc. The last thing (diversities of tongues) is what they made the first. "Are all apostles?" there it comes back to his present doctrine, "Are all prophets? Are all workers of miracles?" etc. All this would have set aside the whole nature of the church of God.

But true blessedness is by God working in different ways, all by the same Spirit, and all for the glory of the Lord Jesus.