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Spiritual gifts, their names and signification.
The second part of the dispensation of the Spirit in order unto the perfecting of the new creation, or the edification of the church, consists in his communication of spiritual gifts unto the members of it, according as their places and stations therein do require. By his work of saving grace (which in other discourses we have given a large account of), he makes all the elect living stones; and by his communication of spiritual gifts, he fashions and builds those stones into a temple for the living God to dwell in. He spiritually unites them into one mystical body, under the Lord Christ as a head of influence, by faith and love; and he unites them into an organical body, under the Lord Christ as a head of rule, by gifts and spiritual abilities. Their nature is made one and the same by grace, their use is various by gifts. Every one is a part of the body of Christ, of the essence of it, by the same quickening, animating Spirit of grace; but one is an eye, another a hand, another a foot, in the body, by virtue of peculiar gifts: for “unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ,” Eph. iv. 7.
These gifts are not saving, sanctifying graces; those were not so in themselves which made the most glorious and astonishing appearance in the world, and which were most eminently useful in the foundation of the church and propagation of the gospel, such as were those that were extraordinary and miraculous. There is something of the divine nature in the least grace, that is not in the most glorious gift, which is only so. It will therefore be part of our work to show wherein the essential difference between these gifts and sanctifying graces doth consist: as also, what is their nature and use must be inquired into; for although they are not grace, yet they are that without which the church cannot subsist in the world, nor can believers be useful unto one another and the rest of mankind, 421unto the glory of Christ, as they ought to be. They are the “powers of the world to come;” those effectual operations of the power of Christ whereby his kingdom was erected and is preserved.
And hereby is the church-state under the new testament differenced from that under the old. There is, indeed, a great difference between their ordinances and ours; — theirs being suited unto the dark apprehensions which they had of spiritual things; ours accommodated unto the clearer light of the gospel, more plainly and expressly representing heavenly things unto us, Heb. x. 1. But our ordinances with their spirit would be carnal also. The principal difference lies in the administration of the Spirit for the due performance of gospel worship by virtue of these gifts, bestowed on men for that very end. Hence the whole of evangelical worship is called the “ministration of the Spirit,” and thence said to be “glorious,” 2 Cor. iii. 8. And where they are neglected, I see not the advantage of the outward worship and ordinances of the gospel above those of the law; for although their institutions are accommodated unto that administration of grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ, yet they must lose their whole glory, force, and efficacy, if they be not dispensed and the duties of them performed by virtue of these spiritual gifts. And, therefore, no sort of men by whom they are neglected do or can content themselves with the pure and unmixed gospel institutions in these things, but do rest principally in the outward part of divine service, in things of their own finding out; for as gospel gifts are useless without attending unto gospel institutions, so gospel institutions are found to be fruitless and unsatisfactory without the attaining and exercising of gospel gifts.
Be it so, therefore, that these gifts we intend are not in themselves saving graces, yet are they not to be despised; for they are, as we shall show, the “powers of the world to come,” by means whereof the kingdom of Christ is preserved, carried on, and propagated in the world. And although they are not grace, yet are they the great means whereby all grace is ingenerated and exercised; and although the spiritual life of the church doth not consist in them, yet the order and edification of the church depend wholly on them. And therefore are they so frequently mentioned in the Scripture as the great privilege of the New Testament, directions being multiplied in the writings of the apostles about their nature and proper use. And we are commanded earnestly to desire and labour after them, especially those which are most useful and subservient unto edification, 1 Cor. xii. 31. And as the neglect of internal saving grace, wherein the power of godliness doth consist, hath been the bane of Christian profession as to obedience, issuing in that form of it which is consistent with all manner of lusts; so the neglect of these gifts 422hath been the ruin of the same profession as to worship and order, which hath thereon issued in fond superstition.
The great and signal promise of the communication of these gifts is recorded, Ps. cxviii. 18, “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men:” for these words are applied by the apostle unto that communication of spiritual gifts from Christ whereby the church was founded and edified, Eph. iv. 8. And whereas it is foretold in the psalm that Christ should receive gifts, — that is, to give them unto men, as that expression is expounded by the apostle, — so he did this by receiving of the Spirit, the proper cause and immediate author of them all, as Peter declares, Acts ii. 33, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear,” speaking of the miraculous gifts conferred on the apostles at the day of Pentecost; for these gifts are from Christ, not as God absolutely, but as mediator, in which capacity he received all from the Father in a way of free donation. Thus, therefore, he received the Spirit as the author of all spiritual gifts. And whereas all the “powers of the world to come” consisted in them, and the whole work of the building and propagation of the church depended on them, the apostles, after all the instructions they had received from Christ, whilst he conversed with them in the days of his flesh, and also after his resurrection, were commanded not to go about the great work which they had received commission for until they had received power by the coming of the Holy Ghost upon them in the communication of those gifts, Acts i. 4, 8. And as they neither might nor could do any thing in their peculiar work, as to the laying of the foundation of the Christian church, until they had actually received those extraordinary gifts which gave them power so, to do; so if those who undertake, in any place, degree, or orifice, to carry on the edification of the church, do not receive those more ordinary gifts which are continued unto that end, they have neither right to undertake that work, nor power to perform it in a due manner.
The things which we are to inquire into concerning these gifts are, — I. Their name; II. Their nature in general, and therein how they agree with and differ from saving graces; III. Their distinction; IV. The particular nature of them; and, V. Their use in the church of God.
The general name of those spiritual endowments which we intend is δόματα, — so the apostle renders מַתָּנוֹת, Eph. iv. 8, from Ps. cxviii. 18, dona, gifts; that is, they are free and undeserved effects of divine bounty. In the minds of men on whom they are bestowed, they are spiritual powers and endowments with respect unto a certain 423end; but as to their original and principal cause, they are free, undeserved gifts. Hence the Holy Spirit, as the author of them, and with respect unto them, is called Δωρεὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ, “The gift of God,” John iv. 10. And the effect itself is also termed Δωρεὰ τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος, “The gift of the Holy Ghost,” Acts x. 45; “The gift of God,” chap. viii. 20; “The gift of the grace of God,” Eph. iii. 7; “The gift of Christ,” chap. iv. 7; “The heavenly gift,” Heb. vi. 4; — all expressing the freedom of their communication on the part of the Father, Son, and Spirit. And in like manner, on the same account, are they called χαρίσματα, — that is, “gracious largesses,” gifts proceeding from mere bounty. And therefore saving graces are also expressed by the same name in general, because they also are freely and undeservedly communicated unto us, Rom. xi. 28. But those gifts are frequently and almost constantly so expressed, Rom. xii. 6; 1 Cor. i. 7, vii. 7, xii. 4, 9, 28, 30; 2 Tim. i. 6; 1 Pet. iv. 10. And it is absolute freedom in the bestower of them that is principally intended in this name. Hence he hath left his name as a curse unto all posterity who thought this free gift of God might be “purchased with money,” Acts viii. 20; a pageantry of which crime the apostate ages of the church erected, in applying the name of that sin to the purchase of benefices and dignities, whilst the gift of God was equally despised on all hands. And, indeed, this was that whereby in all ages countenance was given unto apostasy and defection from the power and truth of the gospel. The names of spiritual things were still retained, but applied to outward forms and ceremonies; which thereby were substituted insensibly into their room, to the ruin of the gospel in the minds of men. But as these gifts were not any of them to be bought, no more are they absolutely to be attained by the natural abilities and industry of any; whereby an image of them is attempted to be set up by some, but deformed and useless. They will do those things in the church by their own abilities which can never be acceptably discharged but by virtue of those free gifts which they despise; whereof we must speak more afterward. Now, the full signification of these words in our sense is peculiar unto the New Testament; for although in other authors they are used for a gift or free grant, yet they never denote the endowments or abilities of the minds of men who do receive them, which is their principal sense in the Scripture.
With respect unto their especial nature they are called πνευματικά, sometimes absolutely: 1 Cor. xii. 1, Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν, “But concerning spirituals,” — that is, spiritual gifts. And so again, chap. xiv. 1, Ζηλοῦτε τὰ πνευματικά, “Desire spirituals,” — that is, gifts; for so it is explained, chap. xii. 31, Ζηλοῦτε τὰ χαρίσματα τὰ κρείττονα, “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” Whenever, therefore, they are called πνευματικά, there χαρίσματα, denoting their general nature, is 424to be supplied; and where they are called χαρίσματα only, πνευματικά is to be understood, as expressing their especial difference from all others. They are neither natural nor moral, but spiritual endowments; for both their author, nature, and object, are respected herein. Their author is the Holy Spirit; their nature is spiritual; and the objects about which they are exercised are spiritual things.
Again; with respect unto the manner of their communication, they are called μερισμοὶ τοῦ Πνεύματος ἁγίου, Heb. ii. 4, “distributions,” or partitions “of the Holy Ghost;” not whereof the Holy Ghost is the subject, as though he were parted or divided, as the Socinians dream on this place, but whereof he is the author, the distributions which he makes. And they are thus called divisions, partitions, or distributions, because they are of divers sorts and kinds, according as the edification of the church did require; and they were not at any time all of them given out unto any one person, at least so as that others should not be made partakers of the same sort. From the same inexhaustible treasure of bounty, grace, and power, these gifts are variously distributed unto men. And this variety, as the apostle proves, gives both ornament and advantage to the church: “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?” etc., 1 Cor. xii. 15–25. It is this μερισμός, this various distribution of gifts, that makes the church an organical body; and in this composure, with the peculiar uses of the members of the body, consist the harmony, beauty, and safety of the whole. Were there no more but one gift, or gifts of one sort, the whole body would be but one member; as where there is none, there is no animated body, but a dead carcass.
And this various distribution, as it is an act of the Holy Spirit, produceth διαίρεσιν· Διαρέσεις χαρισμάτων εἰσί, — “There are diversities of gifts,” 1 Cor. xii. 4. The gifts thus distributed in the church are divers as to their sorts and kinds, one of one kind, another of another. An account hereof is given by the apostle particularly, verses 8–10, in a distinct enumeration of the sorts or kinds of them, The edification of the church is the general end of them all; but divers, distinct, different gifts are required thereunto.
These gifts being bestowed, they are variously expressed, with regard unto the nature and manner of these operations which we are enabled unto by virtue of them. So are they termed διακονίας, “ministrations,” 1 Cor. xii. 5, — that is, powers and abilities whereby some are enabled to administer spiritual things unto the benefit, advantage, and edification of others; and ἐνεργήματα, verse 6, “effectual workings” or operations, efficaciously producing the effects which they are applied unto; and lastly, they are comprised by the apostle in that expression, Φανέρωσις τοῦ Πνεύματος, — “The manifestation of the Spirit,” verse 7. In and by them doth the Holy Spirit evidence 425and manifest his power; for the effects produced by them, and themselves in their own nature, especially some of them, do evince that the Holy Spirit is in them, that they are given and wrought by him, and are the ways whereby he acts his own power and grace.
These things are spoken in the Scripture as to the name of these spiritual gifts. And it is evident that if we part with our interest and concern in them, we must part with no small portion of the New Testament; for the mention of them, directions about them, their use and abuse, do so frequently occur, that if we are not concerned in them we are not so in the gospel.
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