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History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100.
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§ 45. The Spiritual Gifts.


Comp. the Commentaries on Rom. 12:3–9, and 1 Cor. 12–14.


The apostolic church was endowed from the day of Pentecost with all the needful spiritual gifts for the moral regeneration of the world. They formed, as it were, her bridal garment and her panoply against Jewish and Gentile opposition. They are called charisms610610    χαρίσματα. or gifts of grace, as distinguished from, though not opposed to, natural endowments. They are certain special energies and manifestations of the Holy Spirit in believers for the common good.611611    Comp. 1 Cor. 12:7; 14:12. They are supernatural, therefore, in their origin; but they correspond to natural virtues, and in operation they follow all the mental and moral faculties of Dian, raising them to higher activity, and consecrating them to the service of Christ. They all rest on faith, that "gift of gifts."

The spiritual gifts may be divided into three classes: first, intellectual gifts of knowledge, mainly theoretical in their character, and concerned primarily with doctrine and theology; secondly, emotional gifts of feeling, appearing chiefly in divine worship and for immediate edification; and thirdly, practical gifts of will, devoted to the organization, government, and discipline of the church. They are not, however, abstractly separate, but work together harmoniously for the common purpose of edifying the body of Christ. In the New Testament ten charisms are specially mentioned; the first four have to do chiefly, though not exclusively, with doctrine, the next two with worship, and the remaining four with government and practical affairs.

1. The gift of Wisdom and Knowledge,612612    σοφία andγνῶσις. or of deep insight into the nature and system of the divine word and the doctrines of the Christian salvation.

2. The gift of Teaching.613613    διδασκαλία. or of practically applying the gift of knowledge; the power of clearly expounding the Scriptures for the instruction and edification of the people.

3. The gift of Prophecy,614614    προφητεία. akin to the two preceding, but addressed rather to pious feeling than to speculative reflection, and employing commonly the language of higher inspiration, rather than that of logical exposition and demonstration. It is by no means confined to the prediction of future events, but consists in disclosing the hidden counsel of God, the deeper sense of the Scriptures, the secret state of the heart, the abyss of sin, and the glory of redeeming grace. It appears particularly in creative periods, times of mighty revival; while the gift of reaching suits better a quiet state of natural growth in the church. Both act not only in the sphere of doctrine and theology, but also in worship, and might in this view be reckoned also among the gifts of feeling.

4. The gift of Discerning Spirits,615615    διακρίσεις πνευμάτων. serves mainly as a guide to the third gift, by discriminating between true prophets and false, between divine inspiration and a merely human or satanic enthusiasm. In a wider sense it is a deep discernment in separating truth and error, and in judging of moral and religious character; a holy criticism still ever necessary to the purity of Christian doctrine and the administration of the discipline of the church.

5. The gift of Tongues,616616    καιναῖς or ἑτέραις γλώσσαις λαλεῖς, or simply, γλώσσαις, sometimes γλώσσῃ λαλεῖν See § 24, p. 234. or of an utterance proceeding from a state of unconscious ecstasy in the speaker, and unintelligible to the hearer unless interpreted—thus differing from prophecy, which requires a self-conscious though highly elevated state of feeling, serves directly to profit the congregation, and is therefore preferred by Paul.617617    1 Cor. 14:1-5. The speaking with tongues is an involuntary psalm-like prayer or song, uttered from a spiritual trance, and in a peculiar language inspired by the Holy Spirit. The soul is almost entirely passive, an instrument on which the Spirit plays his heavenly melodies. This gift has, therefore, properly, nothing to do with the spread of the church among foreign peoples and in foreign languages, but is purely an act of worship, for the edification primarily of the speaker himself, and indirectly, through interpretation, for the hearers. It appeared, first, indeed, on the day of Pentecost, but before Peter’s address to the people, which was the proper mission-sermon; and we meet with it afterwards in the house of Cornelius and in the Corinthian congregation, as a means of edification for believers, and not, at least not directly, for unbelieving hearers, although it served to them as a significant sign,618618    σημεῖον. 1 Cor. 14:22. arresting their attention to the supernatural power in the church.

6. The gift of Interpretation 619619    ἑρμηνεία γλωσσῶν. is the supplement of the glossolalia, and makes that gift profitable to the congregation by translating the prayers and songs from the language of the spirit and of ecstasy620620    Of the πνεῦμα. into that of the understanding and of sober self-consciousness.621621    Of the νοῦς. The preponderance of reflection here puts this gift as properly in the first class as in the second.

7. The gift of Ministry and Help,622622    διακονία, ἀντιλήψεις. that is, of special qualification primarily for the office of deacon and deaconess, or for the regular ecclesiastical care of the poor and the sick, and, in the wide sense, for all labors of Christian charity and philanthropy.

8. The gift of church Government and the Care of souls,623623    κυβερνήσεις, gubernationes. indispensable to all pastors and rulers of the church, above all to the apostles and apostolic men, in proportion to the extent of their respective fields of labor. Peter warns his co-presbyters against the temptation to hierarchical arrogance and tyranny over conscience, of which so many priests, bishops, patriarchs, and popes have since been guilty; and points them to the sublime example of the great Shepherd and Archbishop, who, in infinite love, laid down his life for the sheep.624624    1 Pet. 5:1-4.

9. The gift of Miracles625625    χάρισμα ἰαμάτων, δύναμις σημείων καὶ τεράτων. is the power possessed by the apostles and apostolic men, like Stephen, to heal all sorts of physical maladies, to cast out demons, to raise the dead, and perform other similar works, in virtue of an extraordinary energy or faith, by word, prayer, and the laying on of hands in the name of Jesus, and for his glory. These miracles were outward credentials and seals of the divine mission of the apostles in a time and among a people which required such sensible helps to faith. But as Christianity became established in the world, it could point to its continued moral effects as the best evidence of its truth, and the necessity for outward physical miracles ceased.

10. Finally, the gift of Love, the greatest, most precious, most useful, most needful, and most enduring of all, described and extolled by St. Paul in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians with the pen of an angel in the vision and enjoyment of the God of infinite love himself.626626    The Revision of 1881 has substituted, in 1 Cor. 13, "love" (with Tyndale, Cranmer, and Geneva Vers.) for "charity" (which came into James’s Version from the Vulgate through the Rheims Vera.). This change has given great offence among conservative people. It may indeed involve a loss of rhythm in that wonderful chapter, but it was necessitated by the restricted meaning which charity has assumed in modem usage, being identical with practical benevolence, so that Paul might seem to contradict himself in 13:3 and 8. The Saxon word love is just as strong, as musical, and as sacred as the Latin charity, and its meaning is far more comprehensive and enduring, embracing both God’s love to man and man’slove to God, and to his neighbor, both here and hereafter. Love is natural kindness and affection sanctified and raised to the spiritual sphere, or rather a new heavenly affection created in the soul by the experience of the saving love of God in Christ. As faith lies at the bottom of all charisms, so love is not properly a separate gift, but the soul of all the gifts, guarding them from abuse for selfish and ambitious purposes, making them available for the common good, ruling, uniting, and completing them. It alone gives them their true value, and without love even the speaking with tongues of angels, and a faith which removes mountains, are nothing before God. It holds heaven and earth in its embrace. It "believeth all things," and when faith fails, it "hopeth all things," and when hope fails, it "endureth all things," but it "never fails." As love is the most needful of all the gifts on earth, so it will also outlast all the others and be the ornament and joy of the saints in heaven. For love is the inmost essence, the heart, as it were, of God, the ground of all his attributes, and the motive of all his works. It is the beginning and the end of creation, redemption, and sanctification—the link which unites us with the triune God, the cardinal virtue of Christianity, the fulfilling of the law, the bond of perfectness, and the fountain of bliss.



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