Rules to check disorderly self-assertion in Christian assemblies.
Of confusion. The word is rendered "commotion" in Luke 21:9 ; "tumult," in 2 Corinthians 6:5 and 2 Corinthians 12:20 . "Confusion" is, as St. James says ( James 3:16 ), the result of envious and pushing egotism. But of peace; which cannot coexist with inflation and restlessness. As in all Churches of the saints. The clause probably belongs to this verse, not to the following. It is a reflection on the exceptional turbulence and disorder which disgraced the Corinthian Church.
Grace and gifts.
"Follow after charity," etc. There are many separate verses in this chapter implying or suggesting thoughts capable of being wrought out into sermonic sketches, but my purpose now is to take a homiletical glance at the whole. The following general propositions will bring all the parts into a logical connection:—
I. THE GRACE OF CHARITY IS SUPERIOR TO ALL ENDOWMENTS . I say "charity," for I prefer the word to the word "love," which the New Version gives as the substitute. "Charity" implies the highest forms of love—compassion, sympathy, benevolence. "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts." Whatever other endowments you may possess or desire, do not neglect the cultivation of charity. The remarks of the illustrious F. W. Robertson are so admirable on this point that I transcribe them here. In showing the difference between a grace and a gift, he says, "A grace does not differ from a gift in this, that the former is from God and the latter from nature. As a creative power, there is no such thing as nature; all is God's. A grace is that which has in it some moral quality, whereas a gift does not necessarily share in this. Charity implies a certain character, but a gift, as for instance that of tongues, does not. A man may he fluent, learned, skilful, and be a good man; likewise, another may have the same powers, and yet be a bad man—proud, mean, or obstinate, Now, this distinction explains at once why graces are preferable. Graces are what the man is: but enumerate his gifts, and you will only know what he has . He is loving; he has eloquence, or medical skill, or legal knowledge, or the gift of acquiring languages, or that of healing. You only have to cut out his tongue or to impair his memory, and the gift is gone. But, on the contrary, you must destroy his very being, change him into another man, and obliterate his identity, before he ceases to be a loving man. Therefore you may contemplate the gift separate from the man, and, whilst you admire it, you may despise him. As many a gifted man is contemptible through being a slave to low vices or to his own high gifts. But you cannot contemplate the grace separate from the man—he is lovable or admirable according as he has charity, faith, or self control. And hence the apostle bids the Corinthians undervalue gifts in comparison with graces. 'Follow after charity.' But as to gifts, they are not ourselves, but our accidents, like property, after charity. But as ancestors, birth, or position in the world. But hence, also, on the other hand, arises the reason of our due admiration of gifts: 'Desire spiritual gifts.' Many religious persons go into the contrary extreme: they call gifts dangerous, ignore them, sneer at them, and say they are of the world. No, says the apostle, 'desire ' them, look them in the face as goods; not the highest goods, but still desirable, like wealth or health. Only remember, you are not wealthy or good because of them. And remember, other people are not bound to honour you for them. Admire a Napoleon's genius, do not despise it, but do not let your admiration of that induce you to give honour to the man. Let there be no mere hero-worship, that false modern spirit which recognizes the force that is in a man as the only thing worthy of homage. The subject of this chapter is, not the principle on which graces are preferable as gifts, but the principle on which one gift is preferable to another: 'Rather that ye may prophesy.' Now, the principle of this preference is very briefly stated. Of gifts, Paul prefers those which are useful to those that are showy. The gift of prophecy was useful to others, whilst that of tongues was only a luxury for self. The principle of this preference is stated generally in the twelfth verse: 'Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the Church.'"
II. SOME ENDOWMENTS ARE SUPERIOR TO OTHERS . In the fifth verse the apostle says, "Greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues." In this chapter it is taught that the didactic faculty is greater than the linguistic. Sense is better than sound, ideas are better than words. Ideas are the seed of character and the soul of history. Of all classes of ideas, religious ideas, ideas in relation to God, are the most salutary and sublime. A man may pronounce "sun," "universe," "God," in fifty different languages, and he is not necessarily richer in ideas concerning these than the man who can only speak them in his own vernacular. It often happens that the man who has the most aptitude in acquiring languages, and the most fluency in pronouncing them, has the least capacity either for attaining or communicating great ideas. But the language of which the apostle is here speaking seems to have been of a very peculiar sort—an unintelligible vocal utterance. It was, perhaps, the inarticulate voice of new and strong emotions—an emotional language. It is not necessary to consider this gift as miraculous. We are so constituted that when there rises up in our souls a strong rush of tender emotions, we feel utterly incapable to put them into words. Sometimes they choke us. If expressed at all, they can only be in the quivering lip and the gleaming eye and the convulsive chest. No stranger or stronger emotions can enter a man's soul than those which Christianity awakens when it first takes possession of him. The groans, the sighs, the rapturous shouts, cannot be interpreted. Albeit they are a "gift," a gift of a high type, inasmuch as they are the expression of the most priceless states of soul. Such have been manifested in all great revivals of religion. In my younger days I have heard such untranslatable sounds under the mighty sermons of grand old Welsh preachers. The words imply that these "tongues," unintelligible vocal sounds, are valuable. "I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied." They are valuable:
1. Because they are symptomatic of a new spiritual life. You can talk about the facts of history, the principles of science, and the doctrines of theology, but not about the deepest and divinest things of the heart. They only come out in "groanings that cannot be uttered."
2. Because in them the soul expresses its devotions. "If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful." It is delightful to think of the human soul, generally so immersed in the selfish and the sensuous, bathing itself in the rising tides of spiritual emotions.
3. Because by them the religious sympathy of the unbelieving is often excited. "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not." Sounds expressive of human emotion often strike potently on the heart of the listener. The emotions of others, revealed either in sounds or "signs," groans, sighs, or tears, seldom fail to strike the deepest chords in the hearts of others. Take the most thoughtless man into some vast congregation in Wales, when all the people are singing their plaintive hymns in strains of weird music, and he will not be long, even if he understands not the language, before he feels the influence. Deep emotion often speaks in the "unknown tongue." Unsyllabled speech is often the mightiest. There are melodies that carry into the soul that which no word can express.
III. The highest endowment is the ABILITY FOR SPIRITUAL TEACHING . "Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the Church." "I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all." What do I mean by "teaching "? Not the mere impartation of the facts of the gospel, but rather the indoctrinating of the soul with its primary elements and spirit—taking the spirit of the truth out of the letter and transfusing it into the souls of men. On this subject the apostle's language suggests three remarks.
1. That the gospel gives to its genuine disciples intelligent convictions that should be communicated to others. This is certainly implied in the words, "Forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the Church." He who has accepted the gospel in reality becomes instinct with mighty and irrepressible ideas—ideas which he "cannot but speak," for "necessity is laid" upon him to do so. They are given to him to communicate, not to monopolize, and on their communication the spiritual life, growth, and perfection of mankind depend. Paul assumes in the whole of these verses, not only that the members of the Corinthian Church ought to do so, but that they did so. "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying."
2. That these intelligent convictions can only be conveyed to others by intelligible language. "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?" The apostle proceeds to say that mere "sound" is not worth much. "Things without life," such as the "pipe" and the "harp," produce sound. Nay, more, unless the sound gives out clear and distinct ideas, it is not only useless, but injurious. "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" If in battle the trumpet does not sound clearly the "advance" or "retreat" when intended, it is worse than useless. "So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air." Whatever might be the unintelligible utterances, whether an unvernacular language or the unsyllabled expressions of emotion, he indicates their inadequacy without interpretation to convey to the hearer intelligent convictions of gospel truth.
3. That the use of a language which the listener cannot understand should not be indulged in.
(a) Childish. "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men." They who prize such utterances are infants in knowledge.
(b) Useless. "In the Law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people." As if the apostle had said, "Remember, there was a time in Jewish history when unintelligible language was a sign sent by God, but it proved unavailing so far as concerned the conversion of Israel."
(c) Confounding. "If therefore the whole Church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?"
(d) To be of any service, they must be interpreted. "If there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the Church; and let him speak to himself, and to God."
Paul's idea of the Christian Church in assembly.
"Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge," etc. From these words we may infer that Paul considered—
I. That the Christian Church in assembly, on the SAME OCCASION , MIGHT HAVE SEVERAL SPEAKERS TO ADDRESS THEM . "Let the prophets [or, 'teachers'] speak two or three." "For ye may all prophesy one by one." If this be so:
1. Should Christian teaching be regarded as a profession? It is so now: men are brought up to it, trained for it, and live by it, as architects, lawyers, doctors. Surely preaching the gospel should no more be regarded as a profession than the talk of loving parents to their children.
2. Is the Church justified in confining its attention to the ministry of one man? In most modern congregations there are some Christian men who, by natural ability, by experimental knowledge and inspiration, are far more qualified to instruct and comfort the people than their professional and stated minister. Surely official preaching has no authority, either in Scripture, reason, or experience, and it must come to an end sooner or later. Every Christian man should be a preacher. Were the half hour allotted in Church services for the sermon to be occupied by three or four Christly men, thoughtful and reverent, with the capability of expression withal, it would not only be far more interesting, but more profitably spent than now.
II. That the Christian Church in assembly might ALLOW ONE OF ITS GODLY MEN TO RISE AND SPEAK ON THE INSPIRATION OF THE MOMENT . "If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace." This does not mean, I presume, that the one who is speaking is to be interrupted, but that after he has delivered his message another, if he felt truly inspired to do so, might rise and address the audience. May it not be that under every discourse there might be some one or more in the audience so divinely excited with a rush of holy thought, that he craves for an utterance, not for his own sake, but for the sake of others; and why should he not have the opportunity? What an interest such an event would add to a religious service!
III. That the Christian Church in assembly SHOULD SUBMIT THE UTTERANCES OF ITS TEACHERS TO A DEVOUT CRITICAL JUDGMENT . "Let the other judge," or, as the New Version has it, "Let the others discern [or, 'discriminate']." The people were not to accept as a matter of course all that the prophets or teachers spake to them; for even were they inspired, they were not infallible. They were to act as it is said the Bereans did, who "searched the Scriptures daily whether those things were so." Ah me! if congregations were so to act, there would soon come an end to the crudities, the assumptions, and the dogmas of modern pulpits.
IV. That the Christian Church in assembly SHOULD IN ALL ITS SERVICES MAINTAIN ORDER . "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of the saints." It is a characteristic of a true teacher that, however full of inspiration, he can so master his impulses as to prevent confusion. This should always be done, "for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace." Notwithstanding all the liberty of teaching, all the enthusiasm of the new life, where Christianity reigns there will be no disorder; all will be peace. There is an order in dead mechanism, and there is order, too, in the roar of ocean and in the thunderstorm. All that is Divine is under law.
If edification was to be the rule of conduct in everything, it is plain that the prophets must govern themselves. No matter how sincere and truthful their zeal, or how honest and excellent their purpose, feelings, and even the best feelings, must be held under firm restraint. They had this power, and it was from God; for he is "not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of the saints." St. Paul directs further that "women keep silence in the Churches." If the Corinthians objected to this injunction, what right had they so to do? Usage in the Christian community as a whole was to be observed; local peculiarities offensive to the spirit and tastes of the body of Christ were not to be indulged. How could they claim exemption from a rule recognized everywhere? Were they the original Church? or did their position warrant any exclusive customs at variance with established custom? To enforce this view and the argument in the chapter, he asserts in the strongest manner that he spoke from Divine inspiration. "No more direct assertion of inspiration can be uttered than this" (Alford). If any one deny this inspiration, no controversy must be had with him. "Let him be ignorant," and, perchance, he may be self convicted of his error. Then the idea which has been so prominent in his mind is introduced again in the words, "covet to prophesy." Had he not made good its claim to a pre-eminent excellence? By the concurrent "Amen" of approval and sympathy, by his own special delight in this gift, by the manliness connected with its exercise, by the effect on spectators, by the capacity of self government which accompanied its activity and the culture given to volition and feeling, he exhorts his brethren to desire fervently this means of usefulness. What a momentum has the argument acquired before it comes to a close! Vapours rise from large tracts of territory, float in the air, run together, condense in clouds, and then descend in fruitful blessing to the fields. Far inland a stream begins its flow, gathers rivulets and creeks into its channel, and, before it reaches the ocean, has drained half a continent. St. Paul omits nothing essential to the greatness of his argument. From the Hebrew Scriptures, from musical instruments, from the "many kinds of voices in the world," from the laws of the human mind in respect to the difference between "spirit" and "understanding," he has drawn materials to enlarge and vivify the presentation of his doctrine. In other connections ( Romans 12:1-21 .; Ephesians 4:1-32 .) we find him urging substantially the same view, pressing on the conscience and heart of the Church the individuality of gifts, and, at the same time, showing their worthlessness unless blended in unity. The most truly gifted, the most nobly endowed man, is portrayed in this chapter with singular distinctness, and this man is the prophet. Yet, he adds, "forbid not to speak with tongues;" let them be regulated, not discarded—a lesson widely applicable in the management of Church affairs. A genuine orthodoxy is always tolerant, charitable, and heartily disposed to make much allowance for idiosyncrasies in others. Many persons are content with love in their hearts. Intellect is left to itself. But the really orthodox man is a Christian in his method of thinking, and in many a thing not to his liking, ay, repellent to his tastes and sensibilities he makes a special point to remember the "forbid not." The last constituent of a man to feel the thoroughly subduing grace of God is the intellect. Often when the animal nature has been conquered, often when the coarser struggles of life are all over, this besetment of dogmatic and tryannical intellect remains as the final entrenchment of evil. Orthodoxy is an admirable thing. It is beautiful and even glorious to feel the oneness of our beliefs with the greatest and best thinkers of the Church; but if truth of thought be exaggerated at the expense of truth of feeling and truth in external relations, it is truth despoiled of its supreme charm, and therefore the wisdom of the "forbid not." One who knows that be shall live for ever must needs feel, if he is a cultivated man, that a long past is not simply at his back, but is a part of himself, and that the parentage of much of the wisest and best in his soul lies in ancient years. Sympathy with the past is a foremost element in a charitable intellect. And he has also a keen fellow-feeling with forms of belief current in his own times. The sense of immortality widens his embrace of the present, and the "forbid not" is a welcomed dissuasive when he is tempted to the most disagreeable and pernicious form of vanity, viz. self insistence. Only one thing remains for the apostle to say on the topic that has elicited so much wisdom and fervour from his soul: ''Let all things be done decently and in order." And, doubtless, it commended him to the trim minded among the Corinthians as it has done ever since, that he should be so considerate of behaviour. There is an art of Christian behaviour, and St. Paul would have us make a conscience of it, and not leave it to mere taste and sentiment. It is net a distant and impracticable ideal. It is not the possibility of a few. But it is simply a cultivated sense of decency and order, and as such within the reach of all.—L.
A God, not of confusion, but of peace.
True religion teaches us to refer all questions to the highest tribunal, and to ask, not merely—What is agreeable and expedient? but—What is the will of God? At Corinth many disorders had arisen; men spake with tongues and without interpreters, two or three prophesied at the same time, women appeared unveiled and spoke in the assemblies. Now, there were many reasons why such things should not be. But in this verse St. Paul adduces the highest of all reasons. Christians are the servants of God, and God is the God, not of confusion, but of peace; his people, therefore, should banish from their assemblies all that conflicts with the nature and the ways of their supreme Lord.
I. THAT GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF CONFUSION , BUT OF PEACE , IS APPARENT FROM HIS WORK AS A CREATOR . The more nature is studied the more does it become apparent that it is the workmanship of an Intelligence proceeding according to order. "Order is Heaven's first law." Indeed, men of science affirm the universal presence of law through the whole realm of nature. By law they mean uniformity; and to those who believe in a Lawgiver the regularity with which the processes of nature are conducted is an evidence of the working of mind, and mind acting in accordance with the highest reason.
II. AND FROM HIS METHOD IN REVELATION . He who studies the Scriptures as a whole is struck with this—that they unfold a plan, unfold it gradually and regularly, according to a scheme of which the profound wisdom is apparent, although not fully apparent to a creature mind. The truth was revealed first to a family, then to a nation, then to a race. "The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." The Bible is a marvellously organic whole; in its diversity is discernible a unity and harmony which only a Divine mind could impart.
III. AND FROM THE WORK OF REDEMPTION . The whole motive of the economy of grace was to avert the confusion which had invaded, and threatened to overwhelm, this sinful humanity. To hush the moral discord, to introduce peace on earth,—such was the lofty purpose contemplated and fulfilled in the incarnation and the sacrifice of the Son of God.
IV. AND FROM THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL SOCIETY . It is observable that social and political life are in the New Testament frequently attributed to God, the Author and Giver of all good. Jesus himself bade his disciples "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.' And Paul taught that "the powers that be are ordained of God," enjoining loyalty and submission as a Christian duty.
V. AND FROM THE CONSTITUTION AND GOVERNMENT OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES . Is it credible that the God in all whose ways order is so apparent, who, in the several spheres accessible to our observation, proceeds upon methods of regularity, and harmonizes all forces to fulfil his commands, should reverse his procedure in that realm which is the highest and noblest of all? Is Divine order to be confined to the physical and political spheres, and banished from the Church? It cannot be, and it is not so. Christ appointed and authorized apostles; apostles constituted Churches, ordained officers of various kinds and grades, and gave instructions for the conduct of worship, of business, of charity. If then, there be confusion, in any professedly Christian community, that confusion is traceable, not to Divine wisdom, but to human folly. In proportion as the Spirit of Christ lives and works in any society, in that proportion will subordination, cooperation, peace, and unity prosper and prevail.—T.
Decency and order in the Church.
I. REFLECT UPON WHAT THE CHURCH IS .
1. It is the "Church of the living God" ( 1 Timothy 3:15 ). In its worship it worships the Eternal. It is the depository of his truth. It is the "temple of God" ( 1 Corinthians 3:16 ).
2. It is the Church of Christ. "My Church" ( Matthew 16:18 ). It
3. The abiding place of the Holy Ghost. ( 1 Corinthians 3:16 .)
4. The great instrumentality for the conversion of the ungodly.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF EVERYTHING CONNECTED WITH THE CHURCH BEING AS FREE FROM FAULT AS POSSIBLE . Impropriety and disorder in the Church
III. WHAT VAST RESPONSIBILITY RESTS UPON THOSE WHO VIOLATE THE APOSTOLIC COMMAND . ( 1 Corinthians 14:40 .) God is a God of peace, but in this way he is made to appear a God of confusion and disorder ( 1 Corinthians 14:33 ).—H.