|« Prev||Chapter IV.||Next »|
Extraordinary spiritual gifts, 1 Cor. xii. 4–11.
Thirdly, Extraordinary spiritual gifts were of two sorts:— First, Such as absolutely exceed the whole power and faculties of our minds and souls. These, therefore, did not consist in an abiding principle or faculty always resident in them that received them, so as that they could exercise them by virtue of any inherent power and ability. They were so granted unto some persons, in the execution of their office, as that, so often as was needful, they could produce their effects by virtue of an immediate extraordinary influence of divine power, transiently affecting their minds. Such was the gift of miracles, healing, and the like. There were no extraordinary officers but they had these gifts. But yet they could work or operate by virtue of them only as the Holy Ghost gave them especial direction for the putting forth of his power in them. So it is said that Paul and Barnabas preaching at Iconium, “the Lord gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands,” Acts xiv. 3. The working of signs and miracles is the immediate operation of the Spirit of God, nor can any power or faculty efficiently productive of such effects abide in the souls or 454minds of men. These miraculous operations were the witness of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, which he gave to the truth of the gospel. See Heb. ii. 4, with our exposition thereon. Wherefore, there was no more in these gifts, which absolutely exceed the whole faculties of our natures, but the designing of certain persons by the Holy Ghost, in and with whose ministry he would himself effect miraculous operations.
Secondly, They were such as consisted in extraordinary endowments and improvements of the faculties of the souls or minds of men; such as wisdom, knowledge, utterance, and the like. Now, where these were bestowed on any in an extraordinary manner, as they were on the apostles and evangelists, they differed only in degree from them that are ordinary and still continued, but are of the same kind with them; whereof we shall treat afterward. Now, whereas all these gifts of both sorts are expressly and distinctly enumerated and set down by our apostle in one place, I shall consider them as they are there proposed by him:—
1 Cor. xii. 7–11, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 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 that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” The general concernments of this passage in the apostle were declared, and the context opened, at the beginning of our discourse on this subject. I shall only now consider the especial spiritual gifts that are here enumerated by the apostle, which are nine in number, laid down promiscuously without respect unto any order or dependence of one upon another, although it is probable that those first placed were the principal, or of principal use in the church.
The first is Λόγος σοφίας, — The “word of wisdom.” Λόγος here is of the same signification with דָּבָר in the Hebrew, which often signifies a thing or matter; wherefore the “word of wisdom” is nothing but wisdom itself. And our inquiry is, What was that wisdom which was in those days a peculiar and an especial gift of the Holy Ghost? Our Lord Jesus Christ promised unto his disciples that he would give them “a mouth and wisdom, which all their adversaries should not be able to gainsay nor resist,” Luke xxi. 15. This will be our rule in the declaration of the nature of this gift. That which he hath respect unto is the defence of the gospel and its truth against powerful persecuting adversaries; for although they had the truth on their aide, yet being men ignorant and unlearned, they might justly 455fear that when they were brought before kings, and rulers, and priests, they should be baffled in their profession, and not be able to defend the truth. Wherefore this promise of a “mouth and wisdom” respects spiritual ability and utterance in the defence of the truth of the gospel, when they were called into question about it. Spiritual ability of mind is the wisdom, and utterance or freedom of speech is the mouth here promised. An eminent instance of the accomplishment hereof we have in Peter and John, Acts iv.; for upon their making a defence of the resurrection of Christ, and the truth of the gospel therein, such as their adversaries were not able to gainsay nor resist, it is said that when the rulers and elders saw their παῤῥησίαν, that is, their utterance in defence of their cause with boldness, and so the wisdom wherewith it was accompanied, considering that they were “unlearned and ignorant,” they were astonished, and only considered “that they had been with Jesus,” verse 13. And he it was who, in the accomplishment of his promise, had given them that spiritual wisdom and utterance which they were not able to resist. So it is said expressly of Stephen that his adversaries “were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake,” Acts vi. 10. Wherefore, this gift of wisdom, in the first place, was a spiritual skill and ability to defend the truths of the gospel, when questioned, opposed, or blasphemed. And this gift was eminent in those primitive times, when a company of unlearned men were able upon all occasions to maintain and defend the truth which they believed and professed before and against doctors, scribes, lawyers, rulers of synagogues, yea, princes and kings, continually so confounding their adversaries, as that, being obstinate in their unbelief, they were forced to cover their shame by betaking themselves unto rage and bestial fury, Acts vi. 10–14, vii. 54, xxii. 22, 23, as hath been the manner of all their successors ever since.
Now, although this be an especial kind of wisdom, an eminent gift of the Holy Ghost, wherein the glory of Christ and honour of the gospel are greatly concerned, — namely, an ability to manage and defend the truth in times of trial and danger, to the confusion of its adversaries, — yet I suppose the wisdom here intended is not absolutely confined thereunto, though it be principally intended. Peter, speaking of Paul’s epistles, affirms that they were written “according to the wisdom given unto him,” 2 Pet. iii. 15; that is, that especial gift of spiritual wisdom for the management of gospel truths unto the edification of the church of Christ which he had received. And he that would understand what this wisdom is must be thoroughly conversant in the writings of that apostle: for, indeed, the wisdom that he useth in the management of the doctrine of the gospel, — in the due consideration of all persons, occasions, circumstances, 456temptations of men and churches; of their state, condition, strength or weakness, growth or decays, obedience or failings, their capacities and progress; with the holy accommodation of himself in what he teacheth or delivereth, in meekness, in vehemency, in tenderness, in sharpness, in severe arguings and pathetical expostulations; with all other ways and means suited unto his holy ends, in the propagation of the gospel and edification of the church, — is inexpressibly glorious and excellent. All this did he do according to the singular gift of wisdom that was bestowed on him. Wherefore, I take the “word of wisdom” here mentioned to be a peculiar spiritual skill and ability wisely to manage the gospel in its administration unto the advantage and furtherance of the truth, especially in the defence of it when called unto the trial with its adversaries. This was an eminent gift of the Holy Ghost, which, considering the persons employed by him in the ministry, for the most part were known to be unlearned and ignorant, filled the world with amazement, and was an effectual means for the subduing of multitudes unto the obedience of faith. And so eminent was the apostle Paul in this gift, and so successful in the management of it, that his adversaries had nothing to say but that he was subtle, and took men by craft and guile, 2 Cor. xii. 16. The sweetness, condescension, self-denial, holy compliance with all, which he made use of, mixed with truth, gravity, and authority, they would have had to be all craft and guile. And this gift, when it is in any measure continued unto any minister of the gospel, is of singular use unto the church of God; yea, I doubt not but that the apostle fixed it here in the first place, as that which was eminent above all the rest. And as, where it is too much wanting, we see what woful mistakes and mists men otherwise good and holy will run themselves into, unto the great disadvantage of the gospel, so the real enjoyment and exercise of it in any competent measure is the life and grace of the ministry. As God filled Bezaleel and Aholiab with wisdom for the building of the tabernacle of old, so unless he give this spiritual wisdom unto the ministers of the gospel, no tabernacle of his will be erected where it is fallen down, nor kept up where it stands. I intend not secular wisdom or civil wisdom, much less carnal wisdom, but a spiritual ability to discharge all our duties aright in the ministry committed unto us. And, as was said, where this is wanting, we shall quickly see woful and shameful work made in churches themselves.
I cannot pass by the consideration of this gift without offering something that may guide us either in the obtaining or the due exercise of it. And hereunto the things ensuing may be subservient; as, — 1. A sense of our own insufficiency as of ourselves, as unto any end for which this wisdom is requisite. As it is declared that we 457have no sufficiency in ourselves for any thing that is good, all our sufficiency being of God; so in particular it is denied that we have any for the work of the ministry, in that interrogation, containing a negative proposition, “Who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Cor. ii. 16. A sense hereof is the first step towards this wisdom, as our apostle expressly declares: “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise,” 1 Cor. iii. 18. Until we discover and are sensible of our own folly, we are fit neither to receive nor to use this spiritual wisdom. And the want hereof proves the ruin of many that pretend unto the ministry; and it were to be wished that it were only their own. They come to the work of it full of pride, self-conceit, and foolish elation of mind, in an apprehension of their own abilities; which yet, for the most part, are mean and contemptible. This keeps them sufficiently estranged from a sense of that spiritual wisdom we treat of. Hence there is nothing of a gospel ministry nor its work found among them, but an empty name. And as for those who have reduced all ecclesiastical administrations to canons, laws, acts, courts, and legal processes in them, they seem to do it with a design to cast off all use of spiritual gifts, yea, to exclude both them and their Author, name and thing, out of the church of God. Is this the wisdom given by the Holy Ghost for the due management of gospel administrations, — namely, that men should get a little skill in some of the worst of human laws and uncomely artifices of intriguing, secular courts, which they pride themselves in, and terrify poor creatures with mulcts and penalties that are any way obnoxious unto them? What use these things may be of in the world I know not; unto the church of God they do not belong.
2. Being sensible of our own insufficiency, earnest prayers for a supply of this wisdom are required in us: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him,” James i. 5. There is both a precept and a promise to enforce this duty. That we all want wisdom in ourselves is unquestionable; I mean, as to our concern in the gospel, either to hear testimony unto it in difficulties or to manage the truths of it unto edification. The way for our supply lies plain and open before us, neither is there any other that we can take one step in towards it: “Let us ask it of God, who giveth liberally,” and we shall receive it. This was that which rendered Solomon so great and glorious; when he had his choice given him of all desirable things, he made his request for wisdom to the discharge of the office and duties of it that God had called him unto. Though it was a whole kingdom that he was to rule, yet was his work carnal and of this world, compared with the spiritual administrations 458of the gospel. And hereunto a worldly ministry is no less averse than unto a sense of their own insufficiency. The fruits do sufficiently manifest how much this duty is contemned by them. But the neglect of it, — I say, the neglect of praying for wisdom to be enabled unto the discharge of the work of the ministry, and the due management of the truths of the gospel, according as occasions do require, — in them who pretend thereunto, is a fruit of unbelief, yea, of atheism and contempt of God.
3. Due meditation on our great pattern, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the apostles, being followers of them as they were of him, is also required hereunto. As in all other things, so, in especial, in his ministry for the revelation of the truth, and giving testimony thereunto, the Lord Jesus was the great pattern and example, God in him representing unto us that perfection in wisdom which we ought to aim at. I shall not here in particular look into this heavenly treasury, but only say, that he who would be really and truly wise in spiritual things, who would either rightly receive or duly improve this gift of the Holy Ghost, he ought continually to bear in his heart, his mind and affections, this great exemplar and idea of it, even the Lord Jesus Christ in his ministry, — namely, what he did, what he spake, how on all occasions his condescension, meekness, and authority did manifest themselves, — until he be changed into the same image and likeness by the Spirit of the Lord. The same is to be done, in their place and sphere, towards the apostles, as the principal followers of Christ, and who do most lively represent his graces and wisdom unto us. Their writings, and what is written of them, are to be searched and studied unto this very end, that, considering how they behaved themselves in all instances, on all occasions, in their testimony, and all administrations of the truth, we may endeavour after a conformity unto them, in the participation of the same Spirit with them. It would be no small stay and guidance unto us, if on all occasions we would diligently search and consider what the apostles did in such circumstances, or what they would have done, in answer to what is recorded of their spirit and actings; for although this wisdom be a gift of the Holy Spirit, yet as we now consider it as it is continued in the church, it may be in part obtained and greatly improved in the due use of the means which are subservient thereunto, provided that in all we depend solely on God for the giving of it, who hath also prescribed these means unto us for the same end.
4. Let them who design a participation of this gift take heed it be not stifled with such vicious habits of mind as are expressly contrary unto it and destructive of it: such are self-fullness or confidence, hastiness of spirit, promptness to speak and slowness to hear; which 459are the great means which make many abound in their own sense and folly, to be wise in their own conceits, and contemptible in the judgment of all that are truly so. Ability of speech in time and season is an especial gift of God, and that eminently with respect unto the spiritual things of the gospel; but a profluency of speech, venting itself on all occasions and on no occasions, making men open their mouths wide when indeed they should shut them and open their ears, and to pour out all that they know and what they do not know, making them angry if they are not heard and impatient if they are contradicted, is an unconquerable fortification against all true spiritual wisdom.
5. Let those who would be sharers herein follow after those gifts and graces which do accompany it, promote it, and are inseparable from it: such are humility, meekness, patience, constancy, with boldness and confidence in profession; without which we shall be fools in every trial. Wisdom, indeed, is none of all these, but it is that which cannot be without them, nor will it thrive in any mind that is not cultivated by them. And he who thinks it is not worth his pains and travail, nor that it will quit cost, to seek after this spiritual wisdom, by a constant watchfulness against the opposite vices mentioned, and attendance unto those concomitant duties and graces, must be content to go without it.
This is the first instance given by our apostle of the spiritual gifts of the primitive times: “To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom.”
“To another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit,” — λόγος γνώσεως. I showed before that λόγος may denote the thing itself, the “word of knowledge,” that is knowledge; but if any shall suppose that because this knowledge was to be expressed unto the church for its edification, it is therefore called a “word of knowledge,” as a “word of exhortation,” or a “word of consolation,” — that is, exhortation or consolation administered by words, — I shall not contend to the contrary. It is knowledge that is the gift peculiarly intended in this second place. And we must inquire both how it is an especial gift, and of what sort it is. And it should seem that it cannot have the nature of an especial gift, seeing it is that which was common to all; for so saith the apostle, speaking unto the whole church of the Corinthians, “We know that we all have knowledge,” 1 Cor. viii. 1; — and not only so, but he also adds that this knowledge is a thing which either in its own nature tends unto an ill issue or is very apt to be abused thereunto; for saith he, “Knowledge puffeth up,” for which cause he frequently reflects upon it in ether places. But yet we shall find that it is a peculiar gift, and in itself singularly useful, however it may be abused, as the best things may be, yea, are most 460liable thereunto. The knowledge mentioned in that place by the apostle, which he ascribes in common unto all the church, was only that which concerned “things sacrificed unto idols;” and if we should extend it farther, unto an understanding of the “mystery of the gospel,” which was in the community of believers, yet is there place remaining for an eminency therein by virtue of an especial spiritual gift. And as to what he adds about “knowledge puffing up,” he expounds in the next words: “If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know,” verse 2. It is not men’s knowledge, but the vain and proud conceit of ignorant men, supposing themselves knowing and wise, that so puffeth up and hindereth edification.
Wherefore, — 1. By this “word of knowledge,” not that degree of it which is required in all Christians, in all the members of the church, is intended. Such a measure of knowledge there is necessary both unto faith and confession. Men can believe nothing of that whereof they know nothing, nor can they confess with their mouths what they apprehend not in their minds. But it is somewhat singular, eminent, and not common to all. 2. Neither doth that eminency or singularity consist in this, that it is saving and sanctifying knowledge which is intended (that there is such a peculiar knowledge, whereby “God shines in the heart of believers” with a spiritual, saving insight into spiritual things, transforming the mind into the likeness of them, I have at large elsewhere declared); for it is reckoned among gifts, whereas that other is a saving grace, whose difference hath been declared before. It is expressed by the apostle, 1 Cor. xiii. 2, by “understanding all mysteries and all knowledge;” that is, having an understanding in, and the knowledge of, all mysteries. This knowledge he calleth a gift which “shall vanish away,” verse 8, and so not belonging absolutely unto that grace which, being a part of the image of God in us, shall go over into eternity. And “knowledge,” in verse 2, is taken for the thing known: “Though I understand all knowledge;” which is the same with “all mysteries.” Wherefore the knowledge here intended is such a peculiar and especial insight into the mysteries of the gospel, as whereby those in whom it was were enabled to teach and instruct others. Thus the apostle Paul, who had received all these gifts in the highest degree and measure, affirms that by his writing, those to whom he wrote might perceive his “skill and understanding in the mystery of Christ.”
And this was in an especial manner necessary unto those first dispensers of the gospel; for how else should the church have been instructed in the knowledge of it? This they prayed for them, — namely, that they might be filled with the knowledge of the will of God “in all wisdom and understanding,” Col. i. 9; Eph. i. 15–20, iii. 14–19; 461Col. ii. 1, 2. The means whereby they might come hereunto was by their instruction; who therefore were to be skilled in a peculiar manner in the knowledge of those mysteries which they were to impart unto others, and to do it accordingly: and so it was with them, Acts xx. 27; Eph. iii. 8, 9; Col. iv. 2–4. Now, although this gift, as to that excellent degree wherein it was in the apostles and those who received the knowledge of Christ and the gospel by immediate revelation, be withheld, yet it is still communicated in such a measure unto the ministers of the church as is necessary unto its edification. And for any one to undertake an office in the church who hath not received this gift in some good measure of the knowledge of the mystery of God and the gospel, is to impose himself on that service in the house of God, which he is neither called unto nor fitted for. And whereas we have lived to see all endeavours after an especial acquaintance with the mysteries of the gospel despised or derided by some, it is an evidence of that fatal and fearful apostasy whereinto the generality of Christians are fallen.
Faith is added in the third place: “To another faith by the same Spirit.” That the saving grace of faith, which is common unto all true believers, is not here intended, is manifest from the context. There is a faith in Scripture which is commonly called the “faith of miracles,” mentioned by our apostle in this epistle as a principal, extraordinary, spiritual gift: 1 Cor. xiii. 2, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,” — that is, the highest degree of a faith of miracles, or such as would effect miraculous operations of the highest nature. This I should readily admit to be here intended, but that there is mention made of working miracles in the next verse, as a gift distinct from this faith. Yet whereas this working of miracles is everywhere ascribed to faith, and could not be anywhere but where the Peculiar faith from which those operations did proceed was first imparted, it is not unlikely but that by “faith” the principle of all miraculous operations may be intended, and by the other expressions the operations themselves. But if the distinction of these gifts be to be preserved, as I rather judge that it ought to be, considering the placing of “faith” immediately upon “wisdom” and “knowledge,” I should judge that a peculiar confidence, boldness, and assurance of mind in the profession of the gospel and the administration of its ordinances is here intended. “Faith,” therefore, is that παῤῥησία ἐν πίστει, that freedom, confidence, and “boldness in the faith,” or profession of the faith, “which is in Christ Jesus,” mentioned by the apostle, 1 Tim. iii. 13; that is, our ὑπόστασις, or “confidence” in profession, whose “beginning we are to hold steadfast unto the end,” Heb. iii. 14. And we do see how excellent a gift this is on all occasions. When troubles and trials do befall the church upon 462the account of its profession, many, even true believers, are very ready to faint and despond, and some to draw back, at least for a season, as others do utterly, to the perdition of their souls. In this state the eminent usefulness of this gift of boldness in the faith, of an assured confidence in profession, of an especial faith, to go through troubles and trials, is known unto all. Ofttimes the eminence of it in one single person hath been the means to preserve a whole church from coldness, backsliding, or sinful compliances with the world. And where God stirreth up any one unto some great or singular work in his church, he constantly endows them with this gift of faith. So was it with Luther, whose undaunted courage and resolution in profession, or boldness in the faith, was one of the principal means of succeeding his great undertaking. And there is no more certain sign of churches being forsaken of Christ in a time of trial than if this gift be withheld from them, and pusillanimity, fearfulness, with carnal wisdom, do spring up in the room of it. The work and effects of this faith are expressed, 1 Cor. xvi. 13, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” So also Eph. vi. 10; 2 Tim. ii. 1. And the especial way whereby it may be attained or improved, is by a diligent, careful discharge, at all times, of all the duties of the places we hold in the church, 1 Pet. v. 1–4.
The gifts of healing are nextly mentioned: Χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων, — “To another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.” So they are again expressed, 1 Cor. xii. 28, in the plural number, because of their free communication unto many persons. These healings respected those that were sick, in their sudden and miraculous recovery from long or deadly distempers, by the imposition of hands in the name of the Lord Jesus And as many of the “mighty works” of Christ himself, for the masons that shall be mentioned, consisted in these “healings,” so it was one of the first things which he gave in commission to his apostles, and furnished them with power for, whilst they attended on him in his personal ministry, Matt. x. 1. So also did he to the seventy, making it the principal sign of the approach of the kingdom of God, Luke x. 9. And the same power and virtue he promised to believers, — namely, that they should “lay hands on the sick and recover them,” after his ascension. Of the accomplishment of this promise and the exercise of this power, the story of the Acts of the Apostles giveth us many instances, chap. iii. 7, v. 15, ix. 33, 34. And two things are observed singular in the exercise of this gift: as, first, that many were cured by the shadow of Peter as he passed by, chap. v. 15; and again, many were so by handkerchiefs or aprons carried from the body of Paul, chap. xix. 12. And the reason of these extraordinary operations in extraordinary cases seems to have been, the encouragement of that great faith which was then stirred 463up in them that beheld those miraculous operations; which was of singular advantage unto the propagation of the gospel, as the magical superstition of the Roman church, sundry ways endeavouring to imitate these inimitable actings of sovereign divine power, hath been a dishonour to Christian religion.
But whereas these “healings” were miraculous operations, it may be inquired why the gift of them is constantly distinguished from “miracles,” and placed as a distinct effect of the Holy Ghost by itself; for that so it is, is evident both in the commission of Christ granting this power unto his disciple, and in the annumeration of these gifts in this and other places I answer, this seems to be done on a threefold account: 1. Because miracles absolutely were a sign unto them that believed not, as the apostle speaketh of “tongues;” they were “a sign, not unto them that believed, but unto them that believed not,” 1 Cor. xiv. 22, — that is, they served for their conviction: but this work of healing was a sign unto believers themselves and that on a double account; for, — (1.) The pouring out of this gift of the Holy Ghost was a peculiar sign and token of the coming of the kingdom of God. So saith our Saviour to his disciples, “Heal the sick, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you,” Luke x. 9; this gift of healing being a token and pledge thereof. This sign did our Saviour give of it himself when John sent his disciples unto him to inquire, for their own satisfaction, not his, whether he were the Messiah or no: Matt. xi. 4, 5, “Go,” saith he,” and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them;” which was the evidence of his own being the Messiah, and bringing in the kingdom of God. The Jews have an ancient tradition, that in the days of the Messiah all things shall be healed but the serpent. And there is a truth in what they say, although for their parts they understand it not; for all are by Christ but the serpent and his seed, — the wicked, unbelieving world. And hereof, — namely, of the healing and recovery of all things by Christ, — was this gift a sign unto the church. Wherefore he began his ministry, after his first miracle, with “healing all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people,” Matt. iv. 23–25. (2.) It was a sign that Christ had borne and taken away sin, which was the cause, root, and spring of diseases and sicknesses; without which no one could have been miraculously cured. Hence that place of Isaiah, chap. liii. 4, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows;” which is afterward interpreted by being “wounded for our transgressions,” and being “bruised for our iniquities,” verse 5; as also by Peter, by his “bearing our sins in his 464own body on the tree,” 1 Epist. ii. 24; is applied by Matthew unto the curing of diseases and sicknesses, Matt. viii. 16, 17. Now, this was for no other reason but because this healing of diseases was a sign and effect of his bearing our sins, the causes of them; without a supposition whereof healing would have been a false witness unto men. It was, therefore, on these accounts, a sign unto believers also.
2. Because it had a peculiar goodness, relief, and benignity towards mankind in it, which other miraculous operations had not, at least not unto the same degree. Indeed, this was one great difference between the miraculous operations that were wrought under the old testament and those under the new, that the former generally consisted in dreadful and tremendous works, bringing astonishment and ofttimes ruin to mankind, but those others were generally useful and beneficial unto all. But this of healing had a peculiar evidence of love, kindness, compassion, benignity, and was suited greatly to affect the minds of men with regard and gratitude; for long afflictive distempers or violent pains, such as were the diseases cured by this gift, do prepare the minds of men, and those concerned in them, greatly to value their deliverance. This, therefore, in an especial manner, declared and evidenced the goodness, love, and compassion of Him that was the author of this gospel, and gave this sign of healing spiritual diseases by healing of bodily distempers. And, doubtless, many who were made partakers of the benefit hereof were greatly affected with it; — and that not only unto “walking, and leaping, and praising God,” as the cripple did who was cured by Peter and John, Acts iii. 8; but also unto faith and boldness in profession, as it was with the blind man healed by our Saviour himself, John ix. 30–33, 38, etc. But yet no outward effects of themselves can work upon the hearts of men, so as that all who are made partakers of them should be brought unto faith, thankfulness, and obedience. Hence did not only our Saviour himself observe, that of ten at once cleansed by him from their leprosy, but one returned to give glory to God, Luke xvii. 17; but he whom he cured of a disease that he had suffered under eight and thirty years, notwithstanding a solemn admonition given him by our blessed Saviour, turned informer against him, and endeavoured to betray him unto the Jews, John v. 5–16. It is effectual grace alone which can change the heart; without which it will continue obstinate and unbelieving, under not only the sight and consideration of the most miraculous outward operations, but also the participation in ourselves of the benefits and fruits of them. Men may have their bodies cured by miracles when their souls are not cured by grace.
3. It is thus placed distinctly by itself, and not cast under the common head of “miracles,” because ordinarily there were some outward 465means and tokens of it, that were to be made use of in the exercise of this gift. Such were, — (1.) Imposition of hands. Our Saviour himself in healing of the sick did generally “lay his hands on them,” Matt. ix. 18; Luke iv. 40. And he gave the same order unto his disciples, that they should “lay their hands on those that were sick, and heal them;” which was practised by them accordingly. (2.) Anointing with oil: “They anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them,” Mark vi. 13. And the elders of the church, with whom this gift was continued, were to come to him that was sick, and praying over him, “anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord,” and he should be saved, James v. 14, 15. Some do contend for the continuance of this ceremony, or the anointing of them that are sick by the elders of the church, but without ground or warrant: for although it be their duty to pray in a particular manner for those that are sick of their flocks, and it be the duty of them who are sick, to call for them unto that purpose, yet the application of the outward ceremony being instituted, not as a means of an uncertain cure, as all are which work naturally unto that end, but as a pledge and token of a certain healing and recovery, where there is not an infallible faith thereof, when the healing may not ensue, it is to turn an ordinance into a lie; for if a recovery follow ten times on this anointing, if it once fall out otherwise, the institution is rendered a lie, a false testimony, and the other recoveries manifested to have had no dependence on the observation of it For these reasons, I judge that this gift of healing, though belonging unto miraculous operations in general, is everywhere reckoned as a distinct gift by itself. And from that place of James I am apt to think that this gift was communicated in an especial manner unto the elders of churches, even that were ordinary and fixed, it being of so great use and such singular comfort unto them that were poor and persecuted; which was the condition of many churches and their members in those days.
Miracles ensue in the fifth place: Ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων, — “Effectual working of mighty powers,” or “powerful works.” For the signification of this word, here rendered “miracles,” the reader may consult our Exposition on Heb. ii. 4. I shall not thence transcribe what is already declared, nor is any thing necessary to be added thereunto. Concerning this gift of miracles we have also spoken before in general, so that we shall not much farther here insist upon it; neither is it necessary that we should here treat of the nature, end, and use of miracles in general, which in part also hath been done before. Wherefore I shall only observe some few things as to the gift itself, and the use of it in the church; which alone are our present concernment. And, —
4661. As we before observed, this gift did not consist in any inherent power or faculty of the mind, so as that those who had received it should have an ability of their own to work or effect such miracles when and as they saw good. As this is disclaimed by the apostles, Acts iii. 12, so a supposition of it would overthrow the very nature of miracles: for a miracle is an immediate effect of divine power, exceeding all created abilities; and what is not so, though it may be strange or wonderful, is no miracle. Only Jesus Christ had in his own person a power of working miracles when, and where, and how he pleased, because “God was with him,” or “the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily.”
2. Unto the working of every miracle in particular, there was a peculiar act of faith required in them that wrought it. This is that faith which is called “the faith of miracles:” “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,” 1 Cor. xiii. 2. Now, this faith was not a strong fixing of the imagination that such a thing should be done, as some have blasphemously dreamed; nor was it a faith resting merely on the promises of the word, making particular application of them unto times, seasons, and occasions, wherein it no way differs from the ordinary grace of faith; — but this was the true nature of it, that as it was in general resolved into the promises of the word, and power of Christ declared therein, that such and such things should be wrought in general, so it had always a peculiar, immediate revelation for its warranty and security in the working of any miracle. And without such an immediate revelation or divine impulse and impression, all attempts of miraculous operations are vain, and means only for Satan to insinuate his delusions by.
No man, therefore, could work any miracle, nor attempt in faith so to do, without an immediate revelation that divine power should be therein exerted, and put forth in its operation. Yet do I not suppose that it was necessary that this inspiration and revelation should in order of time precede the acting of this faith, though it did the operation of the miracle itself; yea, the inspiration itself consisted in the elevation of faith to apprehend divine power in such a case for such an end, which the Holy Ghost granted not to any but when he designed so to work. Thus Paul at once acted faith, apprehended divine power, and at the same time struck Elymas the sorcerer blind by a miraculous operation, Acts xiii. 9–11.
Being “filled with the Holy Ghost,” verse 9, — that is, having received an impression and warranty from him, — he put forth that act of faith at whose presence the Holy Spirit would effect that miraculous operation which he believed. Wherefore this was the nature of this gift: Some persons were by the Holy Ghost endowed with that especial faith which was prepared to receive impressions and intimations of his putting forth his power in this or that miraculous operation. Those who had this 467faith could not work miracles when, and where, and how they pleased; only they could infallibly signify what the Holy Ghost would do, and so were the outward instruments of the execution of his power.
3. Although the apostles had all gifts of the Spirit in an eminent degree and manner, above all others, as Paul saith, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all,” yet it appears that there were some other persons distinct from them who had this gift of working miracles in a peculiar manner; for it is not only here reckoned as a peculiar, distinct gift of the Holy Ghost, but also the persons who had received it are reckoned as distinct from the apostles and other officers of the church, 1 Cor. xii. 28, 29. Not that I think this gift did constitute them officers in the church, enabling them to exercise power in gospel administrations therein; only they were brethren of the church, made eminent by a participation of this gift, for the end whereunto it was ordained. By these persons’ ministry did the Holy Spirit, on such occasions as seemed meet to his infinite wisdom, effect, miraculous operations, besides what was done in the same kind by the apostles and evangelists all the world over.
4. The use of this gift in the church at that time and season was manifold: for the principles which believers proceeded on, and the doctrines they professed, were new and strange to the world, and such as had mighty prejudices raised against them in the minds of men; the persons by whom they were maintained and asserted were generally, as to their outward condition, poor and contemptible in the world; the churches themselves, as to their members, few in number, encompassed with multitudes of scoffers and persecuting idolaters, themselves also newly converted, and many of them but weak in the faith. In this state of things, this gift of miracles was exceeding useful, and necessary unto the propagation of the gospel, the vindication of the truth, and the establishment of them that did believe; for, — (1.) By miracles occasionally wrought, the people round about who yet believed not were called in, as it were, unto a due consideration of what was done and what was designed thereby. Thus when the noise was first spread abroad of the apostles speaking with tongues, the “multitude came together, and were confounded,” Acts ii. 6. So the multitude gathered together at Lystra upon the curing of the cripple by Paul and Barnabas, thinking them to have been gods, Acts xiv. 11. When, therefore, any were so amazed with seeing the miracles that were wrought, hearing that they were so in the confirmation of the doctrine of the gospel, they could not but inquire with diligence into it, and cast out those prejudices which before they had entertained against it. (2.) They gave authority unto the ministers of the church, for whereas on outward accounts they were despised by the great, wise, and learned 468men of the world, it was made evident by these divine operations that their ministry was of God, and what they taught approved by him. And where these two things were effected, — namely, that a sufficient, yea, an eminently cogent ground and reason was given why men should impartially inquire into the doctrine of the gospel, and an evidence given that the teachers of it were approved of God, — unless men were signally captivated under the power of Satan, 2 Cor. iv. 4, or given up of God judicially unto blindness and hardness of heart, it could not be but that the prejudices which they had of themselves, or might receive from others, against the gospel, must of necessity be prevailed against and conquered. And as many of the Jews were so hardened and blinded at that time, Rom. xi. 7–10, 1 Thess. ii. 14–16, so it is marvellous to consider with what artifices Satan bestirred himself among the Gentiles, by false and lying signs and wonders, with many other ways, to take off from the testimony given unto the gospel by these miraculous operations. And this was that which miracles were designed unto towards unbelievers, — namely, to take away prejudices from the doctrine of the gospel and the persons by whom it was taught, so disposing the minds of men unto an attendance unto it and the reception of it: for they were never means instituted of God for the ingenerating of faith in any, but only to provoke and prevail with men to attend unprejudicately unto that whereby it was to be wrought; for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Rom. x. 17. And, therefore, whatever miracles were wrought, if the word preached was not received, if that did not accompany them in its powerful operation, they were but despised. Thus, whereas some, upon hearing the apostles speak with tongues, mocked, and said, “These men are full of new wine,” Acts ii. 13; yet upon preaching of the word, which ensued, they were converted unto God. And the apostle Paul tells us that if there were nothing but miraculous speaking with tongues in the church, an unbeliever coming in would say they were all mad, 1 Cor. xiv. 23, who by the word of prophecy would be convinced; judged, and converted unto God, verges 24, 25. (3.) They were of singular use to confirm and establish in the faith those who were weak and newly converted; for whereas they were assaulted on every hand by Satan, the world, and it may be their dearest relations, and that with contempt, scorn, and cruel mocking, it was a singular confirmation and establishment, to behold the miraculous operations which were wrought in the approbation of the doctrine which they did profess. Hereby was a sense of it more and more let into and impressed on their minds, until, by an habitual experience of its goodness power, and efficacy, they were established in the truth.
469Prophecy is added in the sixth place: Ἄλλῳ δὲ προφητεία, — “To another prophecy;” that is, is given by the same Spirit. Of this gift of prophecy we have sufficiently treated before. Only, I take it here in its largest sense, both as it signifies a faculty of prediction, or foretelling things future upon divine revelation, or an ability to declare the mind of God from the word, by the especial and immediate revelation of the Holy Ghost. The first of these was more rare, the latter more ordinary and common. And it may be there were few churches wherein, besides their elders and teachers, by virtue of their office, there were not some of these prophets. So of those who had this gift of prophecy, enabling them in an eminent manner to declare the mind of God from the Scriptures unto the edification of the church, it is expressed that there were some of them in the church at Antioch, Acts xiii. 1, 2, and many of them in the church at Corinth, 1 Cor. xiv.: for this gift was of singular use in the church, and, therefore, as to the end of the edification thereof, is preferred by our apostle above all other gifts of the Spirit whatever, 1 Cor. xii. 31, chap. xiv. 1, 39; for it had a double use, — 1. The conviction and conversion of such as came in occasionally into their church assemblies. Those unto whom the propagation of the gospel was principally committed went up and down the world, laying hold on all occasions to preach it unto Jews and Gentiles as yet unconverted; and where churches were gathered and settled, the principal work of their teachers was to edify them that did believe; but whereas some would come in among them into their church assemblies, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps out of worse designs, the apostle declares that of all the ordinances of the church, this of prophecy was suited unto the conviction and conversion of all unbelievers, and is ofttimes blessed thereunto, whereby this and that man are born in Zion. 2. This exposition and application of the word by many, and that by virtue of an extraordinary assistance of the Spirit of God, was of singular use in the church itself; for if all Scripture given by inspiration from God, so expounded and applied, be “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” the more the church enjoyeth thereof, the more will its faith, love, obedience, and consolation be increased. Lastly, the manner of the exercise of this gift in the church unto edification is prescribed and limited by our apostle, 1 Cor. xiv. 29–33. And, (1.) He would not have the church burdened even with the most profitable gift or its exercise, and therefore determines that at one time not above two or three be suffered to speak, — that is, one after another, — that the church be neither wearied nor burdened, verse 29. (2.) Because it was possible that some of them who had this gift might mix somewhat of their own spirits in their word and ministry, and 470therein mistake and err from the truth, he requires that the others who had the like gift, and so were understanding in the mind of God, should judge of what was spoken by them, so as that the church might not be led into any error by them: “Let the other judge.” (3.) That order be observed in their exercise, and especially that way be given unto any immediate revelation, and no confusion be brought into the church by many speaking at the same time. And this direction manifests that the gift was extraordinary, and is now ceased; though there be a continuance of ordinary gifts of the same kind, and to the same end, in the church, as we shall see afterward, verse 30. (4.) By the observation of this order, the apostle shows that all the prophets might exercise their gift unto the instruction and consolation of the church in a proper season, such as their frequent assemblies would afford them, verse 31. And whereas it may be objected that these things coming in an extraordinary immediate manor from the Holy Ghost, it was not in the power of them who received them to confine them unto the order prescribed, which would seem to limit the Holy Spirit in his operations, whereas they were all to speak as the Spirit gave them ability and utterance, let what would ensue, the apostle assures them by a general principle that no such thing would follow on a due use and exercise of this gift: “For God,” saith he, “is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints,” verse 33. As if he should have said, “If such a course should be taken, that any one should speak and prophesy as he pretended himself to be moved by the Spirit, and to have none to judge of what he said, all confusion, tumult, and disorder, would ensue thereon. But God is the author of no such thing; gives no such gifts, appoints no such exercise of them, as would tend thereunto.” But how shall this be prevented, seeing these things are extraordinary, and not in our own power? Yea, saith he, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” verse 32. By “the spirits of the prophets,” that their spiritual gift and ability for its exercise are intended, none doth question. And whereas the apostle had taught two things concerning the exercise of this gift, — (1.) That it ought to be orderly, to avoid confusion; (2.) That what proceedeth from it ought to be judged by others; — he manifests that both these may be observed, “because the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets;” that is, both their spiritual gift is so in their own power as that they might dispose themselves unto its exercise with choice and judgment, so as to preserve order and peace, not being acted as with an enthusiastical affliction, and carried out of their own power. This gift in its exercise was subject unto their own judgment, choice, and understanding; so what they expressed by virtue of their spiritual gift was subject 471to be judged of by the other prophets that were in the church. Thus were the peace and order of the church to be preserved, and the edification of it to be promoted.
Discerning of spirits is the next gift of the Spirit here enumerated: Ἄλλῳ δὲ διακρίσεις πνευμάτων, — “To another discerning of spirits,” the ability and faculty of judging of spirits, the dijudication of spirits. This gift I have, upon another occasion, formerly given an account of, and therefore shall here but briefly touch upon it. All gospel administrations were in those days avowedly executed by virtue of spiritual gifts. No man then durst set his hand unto this work but such as either really had or highly pretended unto a participation of the Holy Ghost; for the administration of the gospel is the dispensation of the Spirit. This, therefore, was pleaded by all in the preaching of the word, whether in private assemblies or publicly to the world. But it came also then to pass, as it did in all ages of the church, that where God gave unto any the extraordinary gifts of his Spirit, for the reformation or edification of the church, there Satan suborned some to make a pretence thereunto, unto its trouble and destruction. So was it under the old testament, and so was it foretold that it should be under the new. So the apostle Peter, having declared the nature and excellency, use and certainty, of that prophecy which was of old, 2 Pet. i. 19–21, adds thereunto, “But there were false prophets also among the people,” chap. ii. 1; that is, when God granted that signal privilege unto the church of the immediate revelation of his will unto them by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which constituted men true prophets of the Lord, Satan stirred up others to pretend unto the same spirit of prophecy for his own malicious ends, whereby “there were false prophets also among the people.” But it may be it will be otherwise now, under the gospel church-state. “No,” saith he; “there shall be false teachers among you,” — that is, persons pretending to the same spiritual gift that the apostles and evangelists had, yet bringing in thereby “damnable heresies.” Now, all their damnable opinions they fathered upon immediate revelations of the Spirit. This gave occasion to the holy apostle John to give that caution, with his reason of it, which is expressed, 1 John iv. 1–3; which words we have opened before. And this false pretence unto extraordinary spiritual gifts the church was tried and pestered withal so long as there was any occasion to give it countenance, — namely, whilst such gifts were really continued unto any therein. What way, then, had God ordained for the preservation and safety of the church, that it should not be imposed upon by any of these delusions? I answer, There was a standing rule in the church, whereby whatsoever was or could be offered doctrinally unto it might certainly and infallibly 472be tried, judged, and determined on. And this was the rule of the written word, according to that everlasting ordinance, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them,” Isa. viii. 20. This, in all ages, was sufficient for the preservation of the church from all errors and heresies, or damnable doctrines; which it never fell into, nor shall do so, but in the sinful neglect and contempt hereof. Moreover, the apostle farther directs the application of this rule unto present occasions, by advising us to fix on some fundamental principles which are likely to be opposed, and if they are not owned and avowed, to avoid such teachers, whatever spiritual gift they pretend unto, 1 John iv. 2, 3, 2 John 9–11. But yet, because many in those days were weak in the faith, and might be surprised with such pretences, God had graciously provided and bestowed the gift here mentioned on some, it may be in every church, — namely, of discerning of spirits. They could, by virtue of the extraordinary gift and aid therein of the Holy Ghost, make a true judgment of the spirits that men pretended to act and to be acted by, whether they were of God or no. And this was of singular use and benefit unto the church in those days; for as spiritual gifts abounded, so did a pretence unto them, which was always accompanied with pernicious designs. Herein, therefore, did God grant relief for them who were either less skilful, or less wary, or less able on any account to make a right judgment between those who were really endowed with extraordinary gifts of the Spirit and those who falsely pretended thereunto; for these persons received this gift, and were placed in the church for this very end, that they might guide and help them in making a right judgment in this matter. And whereas the communication of these gifts is ceased, and consequently all pretences unto them, unless by some persons phrenetical and enthusiastical, whose madness is manifest to all, there is no need of the continuance of this gift of “discerning of spirits;” that standing infallible rule of the word, and ordinary assistance of the Spirit, being every way sufficient for our preservation in the truth, unless we give up ourselves to the conduct of corrupt lusts, pride, self-conceit, carnal interest, passions, and temptations, which ruin the souls of men.
The two spiritual gifts here remaining are, speaking with tongues, and their interpretation, The first communication of this “gift of tongues” unto the apostles is particularly described, Acts ii. 1–4, etc. And although they were at that time endued with all other gifts of the Holy Ghost, called “power from above,” Acts i. 8, yet was this “gift of tongues” signalized by the visible pledge of it, the joint participation of the same gift by all, and the notoriety of the matter thereon, as in that place of the Acts is at large described. And God 473seems to have laid the foundation of preaching the gospel in this gift for two reasons:— 1. To signify that the grace and mercy of the covenant was now no longer to be confined unto one nation, language, or people, but to be extended unto all nations, tongues, and languages of people under heaven. 2. To testify by what means he would subdue the souls and consciences of men unto the obedience of Christ and the gospel, and by what means he would maintain his kingdom in the world. Now, this was not by force and might, by external power or armies, but by the preaching of the word, whereof the tongue is the only instrument. And the outward sign of this gift, in tongues of fire, evidenced the light and efficacy wherewith the Holy Ghost designed to accompany the dispensation of the gospel. Wherefore, although this gift began with the apostles, yet was it afterward very much diffused unto the generality of them that did believe. See Acts x. 46, xix. 6; 1 Cor. xiv. 1–27. And some few things we may observe concerning this gift; as, — 1. The especial matter that was expressed by this gift seems to have been the praises of God for his wonderful works of grace by Christ. Although I doubt not but that the apostles were enabled, by virtue of this gift, to declare the gospel unto any people unto whom they came in their own language, yet, ordinarily, they did not preach nor instruct the people by virtue of this gift, but only spake forth the praises of God, to the admiration and astonishment of them who were yet strangers to the faith. So when they first received the gift, they were heard “speaking the wonderful works of God,” Acts ii. 11; and the Gentiles who first believed “spake with tongues, and magnified God,” Acts x. 46. 2. These tongues were so given “for a sign unto them that believed not,” 1 Cor. xiv. 22, that sometimes those that spake with tongues understood not the sense and meaning of the words delivered by themselves, nor were they understood by the church itself wherein they were uttered, verses 2, 6–11, etc. But this, I suppose, was only sometimes, and that, it may be, mostly when this gift was unnecessarily used; for I doubt not but the apostles understood full well the things delivered by themselves in divers tongues. And all who had this gift, though they might not apprehend the meaning of what themselves spake and uttered, yet were so absolutely, in the exercise of it, under the conduct of the Holy Spirit, that they neither did nor could speak any thing by virtue thereof but what was according unto the mind of God, and tended unto his praise, verses 2, 14, 17. 3. Although this gift was excellent in itself, and singularly effectual in the propagation of the gospel unto unbelievers, yet in the assemblies of the church it was of little or no use, but only with respect unto the things themselves that were uttered; for as to the principal end of it, to be a sign unto unbelievers, it was finished 474and accomplished towards them, so as they had no farther need or use of it. But now, whereas many unbelievers came occasionally into the assemblies of the church, especially at some freer seasons, for whose conviction the Holy Ghost would for a season continue this gift among believers, that the church might not be disadvantaged thereby, he added the other gift here mentioned, — namely, “the interpretation of tongues.” He endowed either those persons themselves who spake with tongues, or some others in the same assembly, with an ability to interpret and declare to the church the things that were spoken and uttered in that miraculous manner; which is the last gift here mentioned. But the nature, use, and abuse of these gifts is so largely and distinctly spoken unto by the apostle, 1 Cor. xiv. 1–27, that as I need not insist on them, so I cannot fully do it without an entire exposition of that whole chapter, which the nature of my design will not permit.
|« Prev||Chapter IV.||Next »|