My dear Brother,
I have read the unpublished tract you sent, and I proceed to give you my judgment upon it.
I cannot help seeing in it some expression of the same restlessness of the flesh which it professes to condemn, and (as it seems to me) of quite as evil a character, because, whilst on the other side this restlessness is against certain individual qualifications, on this side it has a more unbelieving tendency, inasmuch as, however unconsciously, it is directed against the presence, power, and acting of the Holy Ghost in the Church.
And here I begin by admitting that what is called open ministry has given occasion to the flesh. But I do not think the remedy for it is to deny the presence and operation of the Spirit of God: which, as far as it goes, is the principle of the tract. And I will add further that, while I admit that the flesh has taken occasion from spiritual liberty to take licence to itself (as God has warned us it would), and while I think that flesh acting thus ought, as in every other case, to be judged by the Church if the individual does not judge it for himself, I have no hesitation in saying that I have found spiritual devotedness and spiritual intelligence and brotherly joy unequivocally inferior, and a very carnal following of particular ways of thinking taking their place, wherever teachers (with a comfortable opinion of themselves, because able by natural qualifications to be acceptable to many, without denying that they might have gift) have absorbed into their own hands the ministry of the word. It is, and has been in all ages, one of the first symptoms of spiritual decline in the Church. Another consequence is, that sisters lose a most blessed place which God has given to them in the Church, and take one which He has not given, and which is really only a dishonour to them before God. Moreover (while I would press upon every heart, and especially upon those who would act upon the deplorable and unchristian principle of “having a right to speak,” that grace is swift to hear and slow to speak, and that, while faithful in the exercise of what God has given, one must ever be ready to esteem another better than oneself), I believe that the love of power is as much to be dreaded in those who can gratify the ears and minds of many (and that is not edification), as the love of doing in those who can please but few; and this especially where spiritual power is on the decline, and teaching looked to to stimulate, instead of the Lord enjoyed in grace. The consequence is, you will find more or less the teacher take the place of the Lord. Seemly flesh is not more pleasant to God than rude flesh, though it pave the way more easily for the Church’s contentedly leaving God and forgetting His presence. Teaching, precious as it is, is not His presence. I dread much when I hear people say “dear Mr. Such-an-one.” It may be accompanied with grace in other ways; but I do not think they would have so spoken of Paul or Apollos, when the grace and holy power which puts the conscience in the presence of Christ was in its energy, though they would have esteemed them very highly in love for their work’s sake. You may perhaps think I am blaming others—I am not. I have seen the same spirit working as regards myself; and I think I may say I have struggled against it, though this (in the feebleness of the Church as to labourers) is not easy; but in trusting God for this, I have found that blessing has followed, whatever the danger seemed. I believe that the Holy Ghost dwells in the Church. This will never make man careless in watching over the saints for their good— quite the contrary; but the belief of it will hinder his taking the Spirit’s place. God will be respected in the Church, and His Spirit in the whole body and in the least of its members. And those that honour Him, He will honour.
The pamphlet you have sent me is just the setting aside of all this, and the expression of the decline, in the writer’s case—I might almost say, the ceasing to believe in the presence and operation of God in the Church. I do not suppose that you can force, so as to be profitable, the speaking of those who have little gift or but few words to say. The forcing a member to act may not restore the tone of the body, want of which has disabled the member from acting; but to take this state as the healthful one, because the acting of the members made the body in its sickly state ill at ease, is a sad mistake. This is the progress of the thing: when real and fresh joy in the Lord is there, and the saints think much of the Lord, a few words spoken about Him recall Him, and they are full of joy and happy. If another can speak largely of His grace (though in fellowship this would be to me exceptional), they feed; Christ is still thought of, His glory present, and the soul perhaps carries away meditation for another moment. The speaker and the hearers together think of Christ. Where the Lord is much less thought of, the few very same words would not recall Christ scarcely at all to the heart, because He is not there in the same way, and they are wearisome, they do not stimulate; and he who once was wont so to speak thinks himself and his gift despised. Perhaps, too, some defect of education or the like has accompanied these few words; it was quite or almost overlooked when Christ was very present, but now it is very evident and displeasing. If sometimes he went beyond what the Spirit gave him, this, though perceived and (if there was faithfulness) mentioned in grace, with the recognition of Christ in all the rest—now that Christ is not the source of the same blessing, has not the same place in the hearer—becomes remarked and offensive, because what man is is now much more prominent. Hence the more accomplished teacher who does not offend the ear and the taste becomes necessary—a dreadful snare to himself and to the whole assembly. But when this comes to be insisted on as the right thing and those who have educational qualifications come to insist on this state of things as the right state, it is very sad. Failure, and building on failure to sanction the position which the flesh would assume for its ease because of failure, are two very different things. The first man has to confess; the last is assuming his ease in it and setting aside God and his own responsibility at once. And I do avow I have a little distrust of this, coming always from those who take the whole matter to themselves on this ground.
I think, if the history of the Church be examined, it will be found that the decline of any revival always took this road.
One word more of general remark. I do not at all say that in any gathering where such is the state of things, those who can edify very little or not at all are to force themselves on the gathering, or to be encouraged in that state of things to speak. If it does not edify, it can be of no use. The point is, that all should feel what the state of things is, and above all not sanction as right what is the proof of failure and decay. I have no hesitation in saying that worse spiritual decline is always the consequence.
I turn to the pamphlet to shew as briefly as I can (and it will not require many words) that its reasoning is without foundation, its statements unscriptural, and its principle the denial of the operation of the Spirit of God in the Church.
First, let us remember this, that the presence of gift did not in the smallest degree hinder the working of the flesh in speaking: it was at full work, to the marring of edification, and that in the grossest shape (for men were speaking what nobody understood at all), when the gifts were undeniable. It is not the presence of real gifts that is any check to this fleshly confusion. It was the most undeniable utterance-gifts, tongues for example, when there could be no mistake as to the Spirit’s power, which were the occasion of carnal confusion.
This is of the last importance, because the assertion is, that persons speaking without gift, on the assumption that they have it, produce confusion, and the remedy is that they should recognize that there is no gift now; and thus the ministry be left to persons, gracious persons no doubt, who, by their human attainments, are capable of satisfying in general the demands of the flock for instruction. Now the answer at once is that all this is without foundation. The edification of the flock had to be watched over against the licence of the flesh where there were gifts, as much as on the assumption that there are none. The question does not he there at all. The ground of the argument is all a mistake. It lies much more in the spiritual grace which can maintain the edification of the body.
And just see where this reasoning places me. It destroys absolutely the applicability of scriptural directions to the assemblies of the saints; so that I have no scriptural rule nor guidance in ordering that edification. I admit that there is a great difference in fact as to gifts. The Church is shorn of well nigh if not all her glory and ornament, and well has she deserved it. Hence there is a necessary modification in the application. I cannot regulate the speaking with tongues when there are none; but if the principle of ministerial edification be different, if the thing regulated by the scripture does not exist at all in any shape, then the rules for order and edification of the assembly are gone with them. I have a teaching without the operation of the Spirit and without the regulation of the Spirit. It is not “edification by gift” that is in question, but it is the existence of any assembly on this principle. It is a new sort of assembly which is proposed, to which the scriptural directions do not apply, such as have been already formed in the Establishment and among the Dissenters, and which I have left because they are not scriptural. Now I am told that it is all a mistake to take these scriptures and apply them at all; they are based upon that which exists no more. It is in vain to say we meet as brethren, and the ministry is a distinct question. I admit we meet as brethren, but at the same time we meet in the unity of the body, where God acts by the members; and it is the Holy Ghost acting in the unity of the body by its members which is called in question; for these members are what are called gifts in Corinthians, and in the use of another word in Ephesians too. It is this that makes the question serious. That the flesh has used liberty for licence I do not doubt: the gifts did not hinder that. It may be, too, that in a given gathering there may not be a teacher at all; this is very possible, because the gifts are in the unity of the whole body, not in a single gathering. The state of the Church may make our weakness very apparent in this respect; but if we are humbled, we shall accept this position and be blessed. The attempt to restore gift by, or rather to substitute for it, the quietness which decent human attainment may give, is just to avoid the holy, humble, God-owning confession of the state we have brought the Church to. It is building again (and worse) the things which we have destroyed.
It is, after being awakened, refusing to acknowledge and bow our heads on account of the sorrowful state of the Church; and this I see fast growing in many a mind because of the blessing which God in His sovereign goodness deigned to bestow on those who did so own and humbled themselves on account of that state. The Lord keep us lowly, and keeping the word of His patience.
And now as to the arguments of the writer. They are based on his explanation of the word charisma.
If I might be allowed to suppose a case so very simple that all might understand it (yet in the plainest seriousness), I would say:—
I mean by boots coverings for the feet and ankles, drawn on, without strings and being tied; and I affirm then that there are no boots made at Stafford at all. It is replied to me, “Why the town lives by making boots, and sends them all over the world.” No, I say, there are none made there that is what a boot really means, at any rate, what I mean by a boot.
Would it not be evident that my statement was good for nothing at all, because it was founded upon a meaning which I had attached to the word which did not exist in reality, though some boots might be so made? The reasoning was based on a false ground, and therefore was all invalid. The question is, Are there gifts according to Scripture? I attach a meaning to the word ‘ gift’ which is not scriptural, and then use it to prove, as to the present fact and time, that there are no scriptural gifts. The total fallacy of such a proceeding is evident.
But I shall at once be stopped short by the remark, But you must prove that it is not scriptural. It is just what I proceed to do, and from the only possible source of reasoning on it—an examination of Scripture itself.
This is the writer’s statement of what gift is: “Charisma” or gift, I look upon as quite distinct from everything of man’s doing—distinct from the natural ability or talent he may possess of God, distinct from the improvement and sanctification of that talent, and alike distinct from any attainment he might make by the diligent use of means. It is the Holy Spirit giving, in distinctness to anything we see in man. It is that giving when the power of the Spirit is manifestly seen using the creature indeed, and yet clearly to be distinguished from the creature; as, for instance, we see in the gift of tongues, etc. … So I believe it was of all gifts of the Spirit, etc, … Such I believe to be of (?) the true nature and meaning of gift; and I am not aware that there is any passage in the New Testament in which charisma, or gift, can be shewn to be something different from this.”
This statement is constantly referred to and in substance repeated. We shall find that the writer’s statement involves the whole question of the presence of the Holy Ghost in the body, the Church; because He must act in some way if He be there to act in the body. I say the presence of the Holy Ghost in the body, not His merely acting in grace in individual minds. This question is entirely overlooked in the writer’s statements.
But as to the word gift itself. Charisma, or gift, is the Holy Spirit’s giving, etc. Now I should not have made any difficulty as to the expression “gifts of the Spirit,” as general human expression, sufficiently exact to convey his orically what was meant; but when this is insisted on as a definition, it is important to notice that there is no such term in Scripture; and the Holy Ghost is never spoken of as giving. Nor do I apprehend that this distinction is without intention on the part of the divine Spirit. At any rate, on a very important and delicate subject it is well, when we are defining, not to speak otherwise than the word speaks.
Next, that charisma is a free gift, or a something freely given, and not attained by man’s labour, is evident. The word means it. But then it is quite beside the mark to speak of the word meaning “the Spirit’s giving.” First, it is used independently of all question of the Spirit’s giving in several passages. In Romans 5:15, 16; chap. 6:23, it is the free gift of God unto justification and eternal life; in chapter 11:29, it is used in the most general way possible, and applied to God’s purpose as to the Jews. This the writer recognizes in the latter passage. It is very doubtful whether the statement made there as to charismata Theou could be applied to what are called spiritual gifts. At any rate, the word by these passages is proved not to have any particular application to the Spirit’s giving in its meaning. It means free gift; and whatever is free gift may be called charisma. Now here there was nothing of the Spirit being seen, manifestly seen, using the creature, and yet clearly to be distinguished from the creature. This life was “I live, and yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” So that free gift was not necessarily (in the case to which the writer compares it and which is called effectively charisma) what he affirms in the same place it must be, as the only true meaning of the word; so much the contrary, that in the case alluded to a man could say, “I, yet not I, and the life which I live.” That is, precisely the contrary was the case to that asserted by the writer. Charisma, or gift, is not what the writer asserts.
Further, in cases of spiritual74 gift, properly speaking, I suppose when the apostle preached at Athens, when in the synagogues he spoke as a Jew to Jews, he did so in the exercise of his apostolic gift; and yet there is no appearance of such a distinction before the heathen, and the Jews, “of the creature and the gift.” That there was great power in what he said, and thus demonstration of the Spirit, I doubt not; but it has no appearance at all of an utterance, as it is called, which attracted supernaturally the attention of the hearers—“the Spirit seen using the creature, and yet clearly to be distinguished from the creature.” Again, I suppose the epistle to the Hebrews (if it be allowed to be what Peter alludes to as Paul’s epistle to the Jews; and at any rate it is the inspired production of the Holy Ghost, as every other epistle) is really by the gift of the Holy Ghost: it is according to the wisdom given unto him a gift, the writer insists, indistinctly. Yet there is nothing but a spiritual mind developing certain great truths from the word— by inspiration, by gift, I have no doubt; but how in a way clearly distinguished from the creature (i.e., distinguished evidently from spiritual attainment, however sanctified on the face of it, as “tongues, working of miracles, healings,” etc.)? That it is real gift and real inspiration, I have not the smallest doubt—that is just what I insist upon; but I do not see anything of this miraculous form of utterance or power so distinct from any improvement or sanctification of talent he possesses of God, or attainment he might make by the diligent use of means. I do not see that this distinction was so strong in the apostle’s mind when he says, “when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you,” etc.
I know not whether the writer would allow the holy Scriptures to be written in virtue, or in exercise, of a gift: if not, all his statements are of little importance, for in that case it is evident that the most important communications from God (and that, inspired ones too) are not gifts. But if we are allowed to consider them as such (and for this I refer to 2 Peter 1:20, 21, for the principle), then I beg the reader to consider the beginning of Luke (1:1-4), and say how far, in this case, gifts are distinguished sensibly from what man is capable of by spiritual attainment. So Paul in the Corinthians. I suppose it will hardly be denied that these were the fruits of apostolic gift, “though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent.” Is there anything in this so clearly distinguished from the creature? For my own part, that which to me so exquisitely distinguishes the general character of the New Testament inspiration and gift is, that the Holy Ghost—instead of, as in the old prophets (with the exception of, perhaps, a few passages in Jeremiah, which, by the way, is a very interesting point as to this prophet), giving oracularly certain revelations with “thus saith the Lord” —enters (as come down in the unity of the body, as dwelling in the creature, and associating Himself with all its affections, sorrows, and feelings, helping its infirmities) into all the sympathies, and acts in all the affections which redemption has created and left room for and which become the unity of one body, and binds it all together. “He who searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to God.” I cite this not as a gift, but as the expression of the way in which the Holy Ghost introduces Himself into the sorrows and sufferings of the body, as being still connected with the creature. What a marvellous sympathy of God in and with the creature! He who searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to God. And were the gifts not of this sympathy and unity? Let any man read the epistles of Paul and say. Let him read Philippians, Philemon, 2 Timothy, Corinthians, or indeed any: and yet surely apostolic gift, prophetic gift, and doctoral gift were in exercise here. I do not deny that there is sometimes a distinct enunciation of positive fresh revelations. The book of Revelation is a clear case of this; and so in many passages of Paul’s epistles. “This we say unto you by the word of the Lord,” and so on. But will the writer of the tract be bold enough to say that when the apostle spoke thus he was exercising his gift; and that all that is found with it in the same epistles is not the exercise of gift, but spiritual attainment merely, though addressed as from an apostle? But if not, his view of gift is surely completely falsified; and it is manifest he has confounded gift with another immediate action of the Holy Ghost, with new revelations. It is not pretended that God keeps infallibly now as He did in forming the written word; but that is not the point: it is to know whether He works now, so as to give competency, and to guide in speaking, and lead to speak, or to be silent. We have seen that when the apostle was not at the same height of spiritual apprehension and power, he repented having written a letter which we possess as an inspired epistle.
Nor can I see that the fact that certain gifts were evidently supernatural, as miracles and signs (which are by the apostle declared to be inferior to others, and as tongues said to be signs to unbelievers, as indeed miracles were also to confirm the word), should exalt such form of gift above that which edified the Church, or converted souls, but which had not necessarily any such form, and whose power was seen only in the conviction of a sinner’s conscience, or the edifying of a believer’s soul.
In the passage in Peter we have a very important principle indeed on this subject, which seems to me to preclude altogether the reasonings of the writer of the tract. As every man has received the gift, let him so minister the same, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Thus, whatever manifold grace may be, it is to be ministered as a charisma; for the simple fact it, whatever charts (grace) gives is a charisma, no matter what. If any man speak, let him speak as oracles of God; if any man minister (i.e., serve in any way) let him do so as of the strength God supplies. That is, he sums up the whole matter into general parts which embraced the general good of the Church as in ordinary exercise, speaking and serving; if any man speak, he must do it from God—as expressing what God gave him; if he served, as of the ability which God gave him: that God in all things may be glorified. All was to be presented as coming directly from God, “that God might be glorified.” Now this is the very thing the tract sets aside. It is perfectly clear that the reasoning of the apostle is null, if it be translated “according to the oracles.” Besides, that is not what is said; it is as oracles, not even as the oracles. What the apostle is speaking of is the source to which it is to be attributed, in order that this source may have the glory, and not man’s attainment. That is, charisma is the source of speaking (charisma being simply the expression for all that the manifold grace gives) and it is forbidden to speak in any other way: it is to be ascribed to the gift of God. And I apprehend that if saints, one and all, were honestly thus to wait upon God, there would be a great deal more real gift, and gifts of less human attainment would be better appreciated; while many a person would be kept in healthful silence, because he could not say that he spoke as of God: and if this were demanded, the flesh would be more easily detected, if he pretended to do so. At any rate, such is, I have no hesitation in affirming, the only true meaning of the apostle.
Further, I proceed to shew that as regards the distinction of gift from diligence in the use of means, though the gift be not thus acquired, the writer is wrong: and further, that while gift is really gift, inasmuch as God give it, yet that God prepares the vessel, so that suitability is God’s way of acting in this.
First, as to diligence in the use of means; the statements of Scripture shew the writer’s notion of using the creature independently of such diligence to be entirely false. In I Timothy 4 the apostle thus addresses his beloved son in the faith: “Till I come give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee which was given thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon (or occupy thyself with) these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear unto all men; take heed to thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them, for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” Is the possession of gift so contrasted here with the use of means, so that profiting should appear? Again, “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us. The whole of these directions prove that the possession of charisma was to be accompanied by the use, the diligent use of means, so that profiting should appear; and that the writer’s confined use of it is entirely a false one.
Further, as to being distinct from natural endowment. The writer instances tongues. I really cannot say as to this, it may have been so; but the general rule in gifts for edification is otherwise. The principle of scripture, of the Lord, is natural endowment, gift, and diligence through confidence in His love. The last two we have seen in Timothy, while in Peter we have been guarded from the abuse of it, into which the writer has fallen. In Matthew 25 we have the express statement of the Lord, that when He went away, He called His servants, and gave to each of them according to his several ability; and they then traded with the talents as His given money. So Paul was a chosen vessel, as well as the receiver of a gift; and I think no one can doubt the remarkable qualities which preceded his call. Nor in reading the history of Peter and James and John, “who seemed to be pillars,” can any one doubt that the Cephas and Boanerges of the Lord had qualities before the day of” Pentecost, which the Lord had, in divine wisdom, prepared and chosen for the purpose for which He employed them by His gift. And, while equally apostles, it is clear that all were not alike in this respect. Is it unnatural with God to do thus? or, when He chooses before He gives the gift (as we know He did both with Paul and the others), are we to suppose that He chooses without display of wisdom or without a fitness which He Himself has prepared in His instrument? That it is not what would have appeared in man’s eyes may be very true, for “God seeth not as man seeth”; still He seeth, and in some fair and ruddy youth who is taken from following the ewes great with young, or in some poor fisherman of Galilee, He may have prepared and chosen a vessel which will put man to shame, but glorify the profound wisdom of God in His poor creatures; while in the learned and freeborn Jew of Tarsus He may shew, in an energy which God alone could have sustained, what it was to count those things which were gain loss for the excellency of the knowledge of the Lord, whose very name he had once sought to destroy. The Lord chooses the vessel, and He chooses it in the wisdom which has prepared it for His use. And it is not the substitution of mere spiritual attainment for the creative wisdom which has prepared it, and for the divine grace which has filled the vessel with His own gift, which will put either God or man in his place.
Let us turn to Romans 12. The apostle, after exhorting every man to think soberly of himself, according as God had dealt to every man the measure of faith, for that we are all members of the same body (a point we will, d.v., touch on presently) adds, “having then gifts differing according to the grace given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith, or ministry on ministering, or he that teacheth on teaching, or he that exhorteth on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Now I ask, is it possible (if the apostle had the idea of gift which the writer has) that such a passage would have been found? Could he have spoken of ministry—not of the word properly, but of any service to the saints—teaching, exhortation, giving, and ruling, and then pass on to what are fruits and the walk of grace, heading all with the word ‘gift’ (charisma), “Having therefore received gifts,” if such a thought had been in his mind as the writer insists on?
It is quite evident that, while some gifts bore externally the stamp of supernatural power, or, if believed, having the character of new revelation, were necessarily assumed to be such, the piety (and I apprehend the enlightened and scriptural piety of the saints, whose record is in the word) recognized everything as a gift (charisma); and, as the Holy Ghost and He only did everything in the Church that was good, it was attributed to Him, not as His gift, but as His working. To say otherwise would be to confine His working to signs or revelations, which is clearly false. And hence the lists of gifts are altogether diverse, according to the subject of the writer, and none of them complete as if it were a regular enunciation of certain known things, because all that was done for God, God was the doer of it; and that doing was gift to the Church in him in whom it was accomplished, and Peter forbids its being done in any other way. The service or ministry which we have (I have no doubt in Peter, but certainly in Romans 12) as gift, being by Peter contrasted with speaking, and indeed in Romans 12 too. It is clear that exhortation and evangelizing were neither signs nor fresh revelations, yet they were gifts. Indeed, receiving the word (not on the ground of signs, but) by faith in the conscience, is the only true receiving of it; and the fact of signs accompanying it is just the proof that it was not a sign itself. And now see what we have lost as coming from God—we may have it, it seems, as man’s sanctified qualities and attainments, but not as a gift from God.75
Further, either there were in the primitive Church two sorts of ministry, one which came as a gift from God, and one which did not (which I leave anybody to believe that will, and which I have no doubt Peter forbids expressly), or else the ministry which is now sought to be set up is altogether different, and is not recognized in Scripture at all; and this is a very serious point, the proper operation of the Spirit being hereby absolutely excluded, His will in sovereignty in distributing, but above all, His operation. The individual, it seems, may be sanctified in this as in everything, but the Holy Ghost never operates in the Church. He may work in a soul for its good, but He never works in the Church. And this is very important, because it goes a great deal farther than a personal question of gifts, even to the living existence and functions of the body—which I beg may be carefully remarked. These gifts are always treated by Paul as membership of the body, the Holy Ghost animating the whole and acting in the parts. There must be no body then, or at any rate no members of the body. I admit freely that this is a figure; and I do not pretend to say, such a member is such a gift; but the figure means something. It means that the Holy Ghost is dwelling in and making one the body of Christ, and acting by every one of the members in one way or another, His actings being called charismata in the members. It is quite true that some of these may be ostensibly and evidently the power of God; still all that is done must come from the same source, according to what is given to each: if not, it comes from the mind and flesh of the individual, and is good for nothing. And, though certain gifts were before the body, and operated for the gathering of it, yet, being of it by the then union of it all together, they are all treated by the apostle as members of the body. And it is important to remark here, that gifts are never treated as separated isolated things, though in responsible individuals, as complete in the individual, as a separate acting of the Holy Ghost in him; but as the consequence of the Holy Ghost acting in the body of which they were members, and they acting merely as members of the body.
And the apostle is so far from presenting that which is adorned with the outward ostensible sign, as being the most valuable and important gifts, that he states exactly the contrary, distinguishing the two kinds. Comeliness, says he, is put upon what is less comely; for our comely parts have no need: but God has thus tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.
Let us, passing over for the present the passage of Peter which forbids speaking save as oracles of God, consider now the passages of Paul’s epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Ephesians.
I add Ephesians, though the word be not charisma. There may be a shade of idea: substantially they are the same thing. Doma is not more human attainment than charisma; there is no difference in this respect. That is, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, were gifts properly speaking (spoken of in a different point of view, I admit, but not the less gifts) in the fullest and highest sense of the word, the consequence of Christ’s exaltation; and, with the exception of pastor, which is here identified as the same person, not gift, with doctor, declared elsewhere to be distributions of the Holy Ghost, who is not, as we shall see, left out here. The Church had been declared to be the habitation of God through the Spirit. And they are engaged to walk worthy of this calling. There was one body, they are told, and one Spirit; but to every one of us is given grace (charis) according to the measure of the gift (doreas) of Christ. Christ had ascended up on high, He had given gifts to men, and He gave some apostles, etc.
The principle stated is that there is a unity of the body in one Spirit; but that to every one of us grace (charis) is given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. The charismata in Peter are said to be received according to the manifold charis; that it is Christ who fills all things, who being ascended up, and so Head of the Church (and this is the doctrine of the whole epistle), has given in particular these gifts. Every one has received as a member of the body; but these notable gifts are particularly marked out, which especially minister of the fulness of Christ for the gathering or nourishment of the body, that we might grow up to Him in all things, who is the Head. They come from the Head (to the Church over all things), that we may grow up to the Head; of whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every one part maketh increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
Is all this to be given up? For surely (call them domata or charismata) these were no sanctified human attainments— they are gifts which Christ ascended has given according to the power of the one Spirit in the body, so that each member should work severally in his place to the edifying of the body in love. Is all unity and membership gone? or are the members dead? or are they now to work on some other principle than the living power of the one Spirit in the body which animates each member in its place while it makes it a member in the unity of the whole body? Or will it be said, that at that time, besides the perfect corporate system of working by joints and bands, through the power flowing from the Holy Ghost as a centre, there was another system, another sort of teachers, another sort of pastors besides, who were not of this perfect system of divine workmanship? If not, and there is another sort now, then not only are gifts gone, but membership and unity and the body are gone. Not only we have failed as to them, but they are gone as on God’s part, so that my faith cannot look to them; for if they exist, then (if it be not a dead body) does the Holy Ghost work in the several living members for the good of the body, and gift in the true scriptural sense of it subsists; and blessed be God that it does! And this is the question—the existence and unity of the body in its living members.
And here a word on what is called impulse in passing. I have no love for the word, but rather the contrary; but I am not frightened by a word either. If by impulse be meant the real present acting of the Holy Ghost leading saints to speak and guiding them in speaking, it is surely the only thing of any value or power. If they are not so led by the Holy Ghost, they must be led by something else, which will not be, to say the least, the present acting of the Holy Ghost: and therefore if even very good things may be said, it will not be power; for in every sense power belongs unto God. We have already seen that organic utterance (if there be any gift, which is simply such, i.e., the use of the creature without his mind) is the lowest kind, and the Corinthians are treated as children in understanding for thinking much of it. We have seen real, proper gift, or charisma, identified in the case of Timothy with the diligent use of means; and I add here that the mind using truth, and the Holy Ghost using the mind, are two very different things, for God is in one of them; but the Holy Ghost’s using the mind is gift, properly and truly gift, and stated by the apostle to be the superior kind of gift. Having already spoken of this, I cannot be charged with any wild idea of impulse; but I do say that the acting of the Holy Ghost in and by man, in a member of the body (which is what the apostle calls gift), is what we are to look for by faith, and is the only thing of any real value or power. I admit that the Holy Ghost can, in another’s mind, use what is not such. The testimony of Christ printed on a playbill for an oratorio may be used by the Holy Ghost in the reader’s mind for conversion; and the mind’s statement of truth may be used in another soul by the Holy Ghost for blessing; but it is not what we are to look for; it is not power in service.
Take another point, “Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” I suppose, when filled with the Spirit, the Holy Ghost was acting, and acting immediately, I may say sensibly. Is all this to be laid aside too? Is it wrong to be filled with the Holy Ghost, or wrong to hope that there may be more of it? And this “be not drunk with wine” is wonderfully like “these men are not drunken as ye suppose,” when tongues were spoken. I am not adducing this to shew that we are not to look for tongues, but that the notion of denying gift goes much farther than is supposed—that it goes to denying the present acting of the Spirit of God, the being filled with the Spirit, as well as the unity of the membership of the Church of God, which are either dead, or active by virtue of the Spirit in what is called in Scripture gifts, and that eni ekusto, to each one, and called charisma too.
For let us turn to Corinthians: we have the same principles as in Ephesians. Only (the subject not being the exaltation of Christ over all things, as the one head of the body), the subject is approached from a different side to suit the pneumatiko, and the contrast of the one Holy Ghost with the many demons. But while thus taking it up on a different ground, it comes to the same statements: the same doctrine is found in it. First, that which distinguishes the Holy Ghost is that He says, in the saint, “Lord Jesus “: a demon would not, But this shews that it acted in the mind, person, and faith of the individual; as indeed the demons often did, when really such, as in an oracle. See the case of Legion: “what have I to do with thee? I pray thee torment me not”; only it was by blinding the mind, and not by light. Nor do I doubt that this often happens now.
Then there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. Here I would remark by the way, that this is not calling them gifts of, or given by, the Spirit, but merely that it was not as with demons, many, each acting by himself; but that though the gifts were many the Spirit was one. It was clearly the operation of the Spirit in these gifts; but He is never said to be the Giver of most of them, I doubt not of all: Christ is said to be the Giver, as in Ephesians 4, and so in Acts 2, “being by the right hand of God exalted, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” But in the economy of God, the Spirit is rather said to operate or distribute than to give: something like Eliezer (Gen. 24), who had all the goods of his master in his hand, and distributed them, disposed of them, but they came from another. I say something like, because the word ‘ master’ is irrelevant here, and the Holy Ghost being God, the operations are the operations of God—a truth carefully preserved in this chapter. To explain further this distinction, I could notice the words employed—it is given through (did) the means of the Spirit; according to (kata) the Spirit; in (the power of) (en) the same Spirit.
But to pursue—one more point. Whatever were the manifestations of the Spirit, it was for profit, not for display; but, whatever they were, the point insisted on is, it was “one and the same Spirit.” “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body being many are one body; so also is Christ.” And here I would ask, Is Christ so now? That man has marred and maimed this body, as regards its condition on earth, is admitted—yea, earnestly urged; but in the principle of its existence, can it be said now, “so also is Christ “? This evidently is a most serious question.
Haggai could say to Israel, on whom Lo-ammi was already written, “As in the days when ye came up out of Egypt, so my Spirit remaineth among you, fear ye not.” What a blessed and important consolation this! and ground on which faith could rest in its hopes, its confidence, or its labour.
For, continues the apostle, by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body, whether Jews, etc., and have all drank into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many, etc. But now the members are many but the body one; and, after a passage above quoted, it is said, “that there may be no schism in the body, but that the members may have the same care one for another.”
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular: and God hath set in the Church, first, apostles … and seek earnestly the better gifts.”
Now what I would remark here is, the way in which the gifts (charismata) are indissolubly knit up with the unity and membership of the body. And this is no casual idea: we have found the same connected with the headship of Christ as domata in the Ephesians. Here we see the basis is stated, “by one Spirit we have been baptized into one body,” and this baptism with the Holy Ghost is what distinguishes the Church, and the ministry of Christ Himself as exalted on high in respect of it—“He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” Having stated the principle in chapter 12, and the excellency of charity in chapter 13, in chapter 14 he applies it to the state of the Corinthian church, and we have connected with this subject singing, blessing, and giving thanks; and he prefers doing it with his mind. That is, the whole action of the Holy Ghost in the body is brought out in connection with this subject, whatever pre-eminent gifts might be found among them.
And, further, this universality of action is assumed as a possibility in the whole body, in respect of the most public and evident gifts. “When ye are gathered together in one place, if all speak with tongues, will they not say, you are mad? but if all prophesy, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all, and the secrets of his heart being revealed, he falls down and confesses that God is in you of a truth” (i.e., that God is in the assembly, in the saints). Is all this gone too? He does not fall down and confess that God is in such or such a gifted person; much less does he admire or look up to the spiritual attainments of an individual: he confesses that God is in the assembly, among the Christians. And is this to be lost, and not even sought, and individual attainment substituted for the presence of God in the assembly? For this is the real question: not merely whether such individual acts on such or such a principle, but whether I am to look to God or to man—to God’s presence in the assembly, or to man’s competency by acquired attainments. Can I be satisfied with the latter without some very clear proof that the former is not to be sought— that God has abandoned the assembly of His saints? For if there, is He not to make His presence known? If He do, it is a manifestation of the Spirit in the individual who acts; it is a gift, and, if you please, an impulse. It is God acting: that is the great point.
And here I remark that the application of “the rest” (“let the rest judge”) to a certain number of recognized teachers, is entirely against the sense and spirit of the passage. That an unspiritual man, in whom the Holy Ghost’s power is not, is incapable of so judging is quite true, though “the spiritual man judgeth all things.” But what the apostle is considering is the power of the Spirit of God in the gathered assembly; so that God is confessed to be in them; so that all might speak with tongues, all prophesy, the person entering be convinced of all, judged of all; and the Holy Ghost so acting that they might all prophesy one by one, that all may learn (a very good position for everyone to be in sometimes), and all may be comforted.
Let us turn to Romans. Here again the same principle meets us. “For I say,” says the apostle, “through the grace given unto me, to every one among you, not to think highly of himself, above what he ought to think; but to think soberly according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Here again we have a very important principle: no false pretension, sober thoughts of self and gift. Charisma (as we may see in what the apostle goes on to say) is spoken of as God’s dealing to every man the measure of faith—this is to be the ground for every man to act upon; if he goes beyond it much or little, he is in the flesh and in folly, let his attainments or acceptance be what they may. We want God in order to be profited, and that is according to the measure of faith, and that in every man. For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, but each members one of another, but having different gifts (charismata), according to the grace given to us, whether prophecy [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of faith.
It is, then, in the unity of the body, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith. This is the principle of gifts (charismata); happy are we that it is so simple. That there were gifts which had a sensibly miraculous character I do not deny, and such as we have lost; but I deny that this was the necessary character or real meaning of charisma (but the effect or produce of charis3grace, here applied to the action of a member of the body in service.) These gifts, however, were by no means the most important ones, and their absence does not touch the truth of the presence of the Holy Ghost in the body, acting (as He is still sovereign in doing) in the unity of the body in its several members, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. I add here, I have no doubt that the object of the apostle in this passage is to confine each to this measure of faith, to think soberly of himself, and to confine himself to what God has dealt to him; first, as to the nature, and secondly as to the measure, of the gift; and I add, that I do doubt that many a brother’s gift would be recognized, if he did not go beyond his measure in it. If he prophesy, let him prophesy according to the proportion of faith—all beyond that is flesh, and putting himself forward; and this is felt, and his whole gift rejected: and it is his own fault, because he has not known how to confine himself to it, and therefore his flesh was acting; and his speaking is attributed to this, and no wonder. It is also true as to the nature of a gift; if a man sets about to teach, instead of confining himself— to exhorting, if he exhorts, he will and cannot edify. I humbly think—but in this I fully confess I may be mistaken, and desire that he may be blessed with every gift—that this is our brother’s mistake. This tract is teaching: I believe his gift to be much more exhorting, and that it is out of the measure, if not out of the nature, of his gift—a gift in which I know he has been blessed. I do not think his estimate of Charisma is scriptural, or according to any sober measure of teaching from God. I trust he will bear with me in saying this: we owe such a remark to each other—that I say not to the Church. I will add, to shew that I do not despise anything that comes from him where I can trace divine teaching, and that I think his suggestion on sophia is of importance for the understanding of that point; and though I have not examined it fully in the word, several passages connect themselves with his remark, in my mind, which make it of interest and importance to me.
I add yet further, that I recognize fully certain gifts which we may call permanent, or perhaps more accurately attached to the person; He gave some apostles, etc. I have spoken of i% elsewhere. I repeat it now, that the putting forth of another part of the subject, which is of equal (I apprehend indeed of much greater) importance, namely the presence of the Holy Ghost acting in the body, should not be exclusive. The main point is the Holy Ghost’s acting in the unity of the whole body and in each several member; but in so doing, Christ constitutes certain persons as vessels of certain gifts, and gives them for the service to which He is pleased to call them. I do not believe either will be kept in their place of blessing unless graciously owning the other. But it is equally clear that the unity of the body, and the presence of God in it, is of more consequence than that which ministers to the maintenance of that unity. Yet these do help to maintain the saints in that unity. But if they despise that unity manifested in the positive action of the Holy Spirit in all the members, then they become a positive and crying evil. It is the principle of popery; which, as a practical fact, places the operation of the Spirit in the teachers, not in the body.
Along with this, unity may be much insisted on, as we know from popery; but it is the unity of slavery and death.
There is no such evil in the Church as the claim of spiritual power in the Church, where it is not fully owned as really and practically acting in the members of the body. These cannot on the other hand by the Spirit deny His operations in special service. But it is service—a service to Christ and the saints. Christ gave Himself for the one; He acts by the others, by whom He will, by the Holy Ghost.
I add one word as to the translation of 1 Peter 4:11.
Is it not evident here that the question is (not of a rule according to which things should be done, but) of the source of power and capacity; so that it should be attributed to that source, even God Himself, and thus He receives all the glory? It is not the scriptural accuracy of what is said, but the divine source to which all is to be attributed, that the apostle is insisting on. It is quite true that if it is not according to Scripture it does not come from God. But this is a means of proving the thing. The literal translation of the passage is this, “If any man speak, as oracles of God: if any man serve (or minister—the word means any service, not properly of a slave), as of the ability which God supplies: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
“As oracles of God,” it seems to me, cannot, by any possibility, be translated “according to the scriptures.”
I do not in the least pretend here to have treated the subject in full; but merely to have said what I believe a sufficient reply to the ground our brother has taken, and to afford light to the saints on it.
74 Though, indeed, this is not a scriptural expression: we have pneumatika, a much wider meaning than spiritual gifts, and includes, in the way of explanation, what the demons did—every thing that related to spiritual manifestations.
75 Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation, helps, governments, speaking, ministry, exhortation, presiding or ruling, shewing mercy, discerning spirits, the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge. These are all named as charismata to which we may add evangelists and pastors (domata) from Ephesians 4.