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THE OCCASION OF PAUL'S DESCRIPTION AND ENFORCEMENT OF CHRISTIAN CHARITY.
THE credibility of the Gospel, as a revelation from heaven, was attested by miracles, as had been predicted by the prophet Joel. "And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and the handmaidens in those days, I will pour out my Spirit." This prophecy began to receive its accomplishment when our Lord entered upon his public ministry,-but was yet more remarkably fulfilled, according to the testimony of Peter, on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples "were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance;" and still continued to be fulfilled till the power of working miracles was withdrawn from the Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ ceased not, during his continuance on earth, to prove, by these splendid
achievements, the truth of his claims as the Son of God; and constantly appealed to them in his controversy with the Jews, as the reasons and the grounds of faith in his communications. By him the power of working miracles was conferred on his apostles, who, in the exercise of this extraordinary gift, cast out demons, and "healed all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease."* Christ also assured them that, under the dispensation of the Spirit, which was to commence after his decease, their miraculous powers should be so much enlarged and multiplied, as to exceed those which had been exercised by himself. This took place on the day of Pentecost, when the ability to speak all languages without previous study was conferred upon them. The apostles, as the ambassadors and messengers of their risen Lord, were authorized and enabled to invest others with the high distinction; for, to confer the power of working miracles, was a prerogative confined to the apostolic office. This is evident from many parts of the New Testament. But while apostles only could communicate this power, any one, not excepting the most obscure and illiterate member of the churches, could receive it; as it was not confined to Church officers, whether ordinary or extraordinary. It is probable that these gifts were sometimes distributed among all the original members of a church as the society increased, they were confined to a more limited number, and granted only to such as were more eminent among the brethren, till at length they were
See, among others, Acts viii. 14; Romans i. 11.
probably confined to the elders; thus being as gradually withdrawn from the Church as they had been communicated.
These miraculous powers were of various kinds, which are enumerated at length in the epistle to the Romans. "Having then gifts, differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy let us prophesy according to the proportion (analogy) of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; or he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness."* They are set forth still more at length, in the twelfth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administration, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But 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 working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:"†
It is not necessary that we should here explain the nature, and trace the distinction, of these endowments—a task which has been acknowledged by all expositors to be difficult, and which is thought
* Rom. xii. 6—8.
+1 Cor. xii. 4-11.
by some to be impossible. But vague and general as is the idea of them which we possess, we can form some conception of the strange and novel spectacle presented by a society in which they were in full operation. They constituted the light which fell from heaven upon the Church, and to which she appealed, as the proofs of her divine origin. It is not easy for us to conceive of any thing so striking and impressive, as a community of men thus remarkably endowed. We may entertain a general, though not an adequate, idea of the spiritual glory which shone upon an assembly, where one member would pour forth, in strains of inspired eloquence, the profoundest views of the divine economy, and would be succeeded by another, who, in the exercise of the gift of knowledge, would explain the mysteries of truth, concealed under the symbols of the Jewish dispensation;-where one, known perhaps to be illiterate, would rise, and in a language which he had never studied, descant, without hesitation and without embarrassment, on the sublimest topics of revealed truth; and would be followed by another, who, in the capacity of an interpreter, would render into the vernacular tongue all that had been spoken; -where one would heal the most inveterate diseases of the body with a word, and another discern by a glance the secrets of the mind, and disclose the hypocrisy which lurked under the veil of the most specious exterior. What seeming confusion, and yet what real grandeur, must have attended such a scene? What were the disputations of the schools, the eloquence of the forum, or the martial pomp, the accumulating wealth, the literary renown of the Augustan
age of the Roman Empire to this extraordinary spectacle? Yea, what was the gorgeous splendour of the temple of Solomon, in the zenith of its beauty, compared with this? Here were the tokens and displays of a present though invisible Deity; a glory altogether unearthly and inimitable, and on that account the more remarkable.
For the possession and exercise of these gifts, the Church at Corinth was eminently distinguished. This is evident from the testimony of Paul,-“ I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Christ Jesus; that in everything ye are enriched by him in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift:"* and in another place he asks them-" What is it, wherein ye were inferior to other Churches?" It is, indeed, both a humiliating and an admonitory consideration, that the Church which, of all those planted by the Apostles, was the most distinguished for its gifts, should have been the least eminent for its graces; for this was the case with the Christian Society at Corinth. What a scandalous abuse and profanation of the Lord's Supper had crept in! What a schismatical spirit prevailed! What a connivance at sin existed! What resistance to apostolic authority was set up!
To account for this, it should be recollected, that the possession of miraculous gifts by no means implied the existence and influence of sanctifying grace. Those extraordinary powers were entirely
* 1 Cor. i. 4-6.