"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."--1 COR. xiii: 1.
THIS brief expression is selected from a lengthy letter of the apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth, because it contains a chief point in an important epistle, aimed to correct certain evils already existing among the Corinthians. No one can comprehend a lengthy letter like this from an isolated section, much less from a short text, like the one just read. To comprehend a letter like this it is necessary to take into view some of the manners and customs of the people in Corinth, but more especially the condition of the Church. To do this with any thing like clearness, the general scope of the letter must first be briefly sketched and considered. This is necessary on two accounts: 1. To get an understanding of the main scope of the letter. 2. To bring the Church in Corinth fully into view--evils and all--as it existed at the time when the letter was written.
The apostolic letters were all written to Christians; to those in Christ, to teach them how to live as such, serve God, and make their escape from a world of sin and wretchedness to the everlasting rest. No one need expect, then, sermons in these letters to the men of the world, leading them to believe on the Savior of the world, repent, and turn to God. Those to whom these letters were written were all in Christ, in the one body, the heavenly family. They needed instructions as Christians, encouragements, admonitions, reproofs, exhortations; in one word, they needed the whole of what related to the continuance in the faith and practice of Christians. The apostle, under the miraculous influence of the Divine Spirit of all wisdom and revelation, continually exhibited the same affectionate care and solicitude for the congregations of the saints, as a parent for children, remembering them with tears in his prayers, night and day, when absent from them, and continually writing them letters, caring for them, comforting, and warning them.
In the first chapter of this letter, as now divided into chapters, and not as it was at first, the apostle introduces an evil existing among the disciples. Division was germinating in their midst; parties were forming factious heresies. These were arising, not from misunderstanding the Scriptures, nor from disagreement on the meaning of Scripture, nor yet from difference in regard to any fundamental principle in the new covenant, nor any important point of teaching, but from something far less than any of these--from preferences for their public men. This was their subject of difference, their bone of contention, their apple of discord. Some among them said they were of Paul, for Paul, or, in modern style, Paulites. Others were for Cephas, or Peter; they were Cephasites. Others were for Apollos, or they were Apollosites. At least, the apostle uses these names to bring out the principle involved among them, and expose the evil. It is, however, most likely that these were not really the names involved in the partyisms originating in their midst, but names of persons of much less importance; for he says, 1 Cor. iv: 6, "These things, brethren, I have, in a figure, transferred to myself and Apollos, for your sakes; that you might learn in us not to think of men above what is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another." He did not desire to mention the names of the men who were really involved, and who, most probably, had taken pleasure in having their names used by a party in the Church. Paul, Peter, and the eloquent Apollos, evidently stood higher in the affections of the brethren than the men really involved in the faction. Paul knew this, and wisely, as well as prudently, did not mention their names, but transferred the matter to himself and Apollos, showing that even their names might not be thus used as the head of and to designate a party, and certainly no other names. He puts the question to them: Who, then, is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believe? Does he regard it as "a wise providence of God" that they were preparing the way for division, and excuse it on the ground that it was not about any thing fundamental, but merely non-essentials? By no means. That only renders the matter the more inexcusable. Hear him: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, even as to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto you were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able. For you are yet carnal: for, whereas, there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men? For while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are you not carnal? Who, then, is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?" To take the vanity more fully out of these men who were desiring preferences, he says: "So, then, neither is he that plants any thing, neither he that waters, but God who gives the increase." See 1 Cor. iii: 1-7.
Touching their divisions, he puts the question to them directly: "Is Christ divided?" Their dividing would indicate to the world that Christ was divided; but he knew that they would all be compelled to say the Lord is not divided, but one. This he follows up with the pointed question: "Was Paul crucified for you?" If you are to be called after men, they should have been crucified for you. Pressing the matter still more closely, he says: "Were you immersed into the name of Paul?" As if he had said, If you are to be Paulites, you should have been immersed into the name of Paul; but if you are Christians, or followers of Christ, then were you rightly immersed into the name of Christ. But he says, "I thank God that I immersed none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say I had immersed into my own name." They, therefore, had not even the ground for saying they were of Paul, that he had immersed them, except a few of them. Now for his remedy. What is his remedy for this evil? He says: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." See 1 Cor. i: 10.
In the fifth chapter, he calls their attention to a species of corruption, such, as he says, had not been named among the Gentiles. They had in their midst a low, degraded, and corrupt creature, in the form of a man, who had his father's wife. A more disgraceful specimen of humanity could not have been found. Yet they were puffed up instead of mourning that this degraded and disgraced man "might be taken away from among them." He proposes summary dealing with this flagrant and degraded transgressor. He commands them: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
There were those among the Corinthian disciples who went to law, brother with brother, before unbelievers. To this he alludes, 1 Cor. vi: 1-7. He says: "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? Know you not that we shall judge angels? how much more, things that pertain to this life?" He says: "I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?" He proceeds to charge them: "There is utterly a fault among you, because you go to law with one another;" and inquires of them, "Why do you not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" He proceeds further sharply to rebuke them: "Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" What a warning this ought to be to all those groveling lovers of money or property, who will disgrace themselves and their brethren by going to law before unbelievers, in adjudicating pecuniary differences, rather than to refer it to their brethren!
Another disorder among them consisted in desecrating the worship, by substituting a pagan feast for the communion; and, instead of coming together on the first day of the week to break the loaf in commemoration of the Lord's death, they came together to participate in a bacchanalian feast. They did not even wait one for another, but rushed together in the utmost disorder, ate and drank to gluttony and drunkenness in the house of the Lord. To this you will find reference in the eleventh chapter. In speaking of the manner in which they came together, he says: "When you come together, therefore, in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's supper. For, in eating, every one takes before other his own supper: and one is hungry and another is drunken What! have you not houses to eat and drink in? or despise you the Church of God, and shame them that have not?" What a standing warning this is to those who desecrate the worship of God, by feasts in the church, or any other means! He proceeds: "What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not." He proceeds to lay before them what he had received of the Lord Jesus, and what he had delivered to them. Alluding to what he had delivered and commanded them to do, he adds: "For as often as you eat of this loaf, and drink of this cup, you do show the Lord's death till he comes." But he presently proceeds with that which is more solemn: "Whoever shall eat of this loaf, or drink of this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."
Many conscientious and well-meaning people have taken this passage wrong. They have, in many instances, so far mistaken the intention of this language as to refuse to do precisely what he commanded. They have supposed that eating and drinking unworthily was eating and drinking when they were oppressed in spirits or cast down, a little desponding, and when the pathway did not appear as bright as at other times. They then refused to partake, for fear of eating and drinking condemnation. But this is not what the apostle means. They who eat and drink to gluttony and drunkenness in the Lord's house, as the Corinthians did, not discerning the Lord's body and blood, eat and drink condemnation, and not the meek and humble, the cast down and timid, ever fearful of doing wrong. The vain and proud, the puffed up and conceited, who rushed together thoughtlessly, with light and frivolous hearts, ate and drank, laughed and talked, not discerning the Lord's body and blood, ate and drank condemnation. These the apostle rebukes. "What!" says he, "have you not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise you the Church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not." On account of this desecration of the Lord's worship--this feasting, instead of partaking of the simple emblems of the Lord's body and blood, the loaf and cup--many among them were weak and sickly, and some had died. It was during miracles, and in the midst of their numerous gifts of prophecy, tongues, healing, etc., the Lord sent visible judgments on them as divine attestations of his disapprobation of their procedure. During this period there were two classes of miracles--one class evincing the Lord's approval of the right, and the other his disapproval of the wrong. The miraculous judgment sent on Ananias and his wife, as recorded Acts v: 1-10, was a visible divine demonstration of God's disapprobation of their conduct, in their lying pretense that they were giving the whole proceeds of the sale of the possession sold, when they were keeping back a part of it. This awful divine demonstration was given that it might be recorded and read by the children of God till the end of time, as a warning. No matter if we do live beyond the age of miracles, and no such judgment would fall on us now if we should do such a deed, still this would stand as a warning of God's disapproval and the eternal judgment he will finally pronounce. On the other hand, the miracle at the death of Stephen--of the heavens opening, and his seeing Jesus standing on the right hand of God--was a divine manifestation of God's approval of his good action, in preaching Jesus and withstanding the Jews. This, also, is now a matter of record, showing, to all who read the account, God's approval of that righteous man, and all like him, for standing for the Gospel of Christ till the end of time. So, also, the judgments sent on the Corinthians, on account of the desecration of the divinely appointed worship, has been committed to the record, that it may be read by all the children of God till the end of time.
In the fifteenth chapter, the apostle refers to certain teachers, who probably had been proselyted from the sect of the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the dead. These men were creating dissension and subverting the very foundation of the faith, as the apostle clearly shows. For if there is no resurrection, then Christ has not risen. If Christ has not risen, then the apostolic preaching is vain or useless, for it is all false; for they preached that Christ had risen and become the first fruits of them that slept. Then their faith was vain, for it was only the belief of a falsehood, and could not justify the sinner. In that case they were yet in their sins, and those who had fallen asleep in Christ had perished. The apostles, in that case, were of all men most miserable, for they had given up this world, and, without the resurrection of the dead, they were stripped of all hope in the world to come.
Now, the way is clear to take a look at the Church in Corinth, as it was at the time when this letter was written. Try and bring it before the mind as it was then, with schism at work in it, almost divided into three or four parts on account of their preferences and partialities for their preachers--some of them for Paul, some for Apollos, and some for Cephas, or Peter, a debased and corrupt creature in human form, who had his father's wife in it; brethren going to law with brethren before unbelievers; the communion turned into a pagan feast; members eating and drinking to gluttony and drunkenness in the Church of God; public teachers among them denying the resurrection of the dead. Besides these great evils, there were other irregularities of a very grievous and disorderly nature. Their prophets were in the habit of speaking two or three at a time, in as many different tongues, with a class of women, inquiring into things that did not belong to them, or at least was not their place to inquire into in public worship.
Now, several things here are of great practical importance to us. In the first place, suppose you had come up just as Paul had completed this letter, and seen that he was writing all these things down in it, would you not have begged him to leave them out? Would you not have inquired, Brother Paul, where is this letter to be read, and by whom? He would have informed you, In all the world, by all Christians and civilized people till the end of time. Would you not have expostulated with him, by all means to leave some of those unpleasant and even disgraceful things out of his letter? Would you not have feared that it would be an injury to the Church and the cause to have this published thus among all people and in all time? Precisely the opposite would have been the result. The leaving of these things out would have shown an utter unfaithfulness on the part of the apostle, the disposition of a mere pretender and hypocrite, in passing over corruptions and keeping them from the world. The Lord makes faithful record, and there is but one way to keep bad things out of his record concerning us. That way is to keep these bad things out of our lives. The Lord, in the holy history, would not turn aside from faithful record to leave out the flaws in the life of Noah, the life of Abraham, or of David. Nor would he obscure from the view of the world the faults even of the apostles themselves. They are faithfully put down, not as any thing chargeable to the cause of righteousness, but chargeable to the weakness and imperfections of men--even the greatest and best of men.
But is it not an advantage to us that these things are in the record? Is it not of incalculable value that Paul has been thus faithful in reference to these evils? Surely it is. It is of importance, in several respects, to us now. We should know fully the mind of the Lord in reference to all these evils, and how to deal with them. In addition to this, all men of extended experience in these matters have found the utter impossibility of attaining to any thing like absolute purity and perfection as churches; that when the best efforts are made by the best men to bring humanity up to the standard of absolute purity and perfection, they fall short; that all is not love, harmony, unity, and peace. There will still be evils found. When men have the experience to know this, and to become fully satisfied that, after the best efforts are made for humanity, it is found to be utterly unavoidable, they need another part of the programme to give them relief If all these things had been left out of the apostolic letters, and no allusion had been made to any thing but absolute purity and perfection, love and harmony, peace and prosperity, they would have become discouraged, and concluded that they never could bring a church up to the example set us by the first churches. But now, sit down and read the letter under consideration; bring the Church in Corinth before you with as full a comprehension of all there was in it as possible, and inquire whether we have not succeeded in bringing many churches to a higher degree of perfection, a greater unity and harmony, more love and peace than existed in the Church in Corinth. You will find that, without any flattery, deception, or conceit, you can conscientiously say we have. There is not a doubt that we have many churches now much better in all that pertains to the kingdom of God and the name of Christ than the churches in the time of the apostles were.
How, then, did Paul address this church and look on it with all these evils in it? Did he denounce it, declare it no church, and turn his back on it? By no means, but addressed it affectionately as "the Church of God which is in Corinth, those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints." Hear him: "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which was given to me in Christ Jesus." This shows that he recognized it as "the Church of God in Corinth," knowing all the evils in it. Nor is there any apology for sin in this, or any excuse for disorders or delinquencies; but there is in it an encouragement for good men who labor for purity, love, and harmony, but can not bring the Church up to the standard as fully as they desire. They can see that, under the very eyes of the apostles, and in spite of all their prayers and tears, their solemn solicitudes and anxieties, their holy teaching and exhortations, these wonderful evils and disorders existed. Then they need not be discouraged, despondent, or cast down if they encounter similar things in their own experience. In this there is no excuse for indifference, inefficiency, or carelessness in keeping the Church in order, purging out the old leaven or maintaining purity, but an encouragement to those who labor for the highest degree of purity and perfection but can not reach it.
In the same way, if there was a sharp difference between these two great and good men, Paul and Barnabas, so that they parted asunder, one going one way and the other another, or a difference between such men as Peter and Paul, while it is no excuse for good men to differ now or encouragement for them to do so, there is this encouragement in it--that nothing serious happened to the kingdom of God on account of it, an evidence that the common weaknesses of humanity existed in the best men in the world then the same as they do now. There is no need, therefore, of the childish alarm so frequently evinced among brethren when any dispute comes up among good men. These differences never sundered their fellowship or sent one man off with one faction and the other with another; but while one man went one way and the other went another, they both preached the same Gospel, maintained and advocated the same cause, and remained in the same body. They did not rend the Church and scatter the disciples with their differences. So it is now. Differences come up between good men; they discuss them, and go on in the same body, preaching the same Gospel, and maintaining the same faith. They stand in the same fellowship--the same communion.
But now another practical point must be made. What would you do if you belonged to such a church as the one in Corinth? "I would call for a letter," says a man. "I would not remain in such a church." Why would you want a letter? "I would not fellowship such a church." What kind of a letter would you have the church give you? Would you have the church give you a letter commending their "dear brother, in good standing and full fellowship," while you are going away because you can not fellowship the church? No, sir; they can not, in good faith, give you a letter. If you can not, in good faith, recognize and fellowship the church, it certainly can not, in good faith, recognize you. "I would then leave without a letter." No, dear brother; that is neither manly nor Christian. When danger comes, the hour of trouble, every good member is needed. Every man that deserts his post then, and retires from the field, shows his want of integrity to the cause. The Lord's plan is to retain the good, the pure, and the holy, and put away the evil, the corrupt. This is one clear difference between the true Church and Antichrist: the true Church puts away the corrupt and vicious and retains the good.
The Romish Church, the apostate Church, or man of sin, cuts off the good and retains the corrupt within. Bishop Purcell admitted, in the discussion with Alexander Campbell, that he had no doubt that some of the wicked Popes were suffering the penal fires of hell at the time he spoke. Still these corrupt men, whom even he would not defend, were not only retained in the Church, but at the head of the Church, while such men as Luther were cut off. The commandment of God is to "purge out the old leaven." "Put away the wicked person from among you."
"But I can live a Christian out of the Church." Are you sure of that? Why, then, did the Lord establish the Church? But suppose all the members would adopt your plan of living out of the Church; where would the Church be? It would destroy the Church from the face of the earth. Can a man live a Christian life and take such a course as would result in sweeping the Church from the face of the earth? Certainly not. Where would the ordinances be, then? Where would the preaching of the Gospel be? Where would the Bible itself be in that case? No; no one can live a Christian life out of the Church. Leave all the good out of the Church, and the Church is swept from the earth. The light from God is extinguished, and the world is left in ruins. The man who acts in such a way as would destroy the Church entirely from the earth if all should follow him, whether he intended it or not, is the enemy of the Church. But we need no such reasoning to show the importance of the Church. The Lord ordained it. That settles the question of its necessity. The man that proposes to live out of the Church, whether he means precisely that or not, substantially declares that he can do as well, and not follow the wisdom of God, as to follow it; that the Church which the Lord founded is an unimportant affair, and he can get along very well without it. This is utterly reckless. Suppose you could possibly live a Christian out of the Church. An old brick, lying in the street, is a brick as certainly as a brick in a good building; but what good is it doing, first knocked to this side, and then to that side of the street, liable to be run over by every old cart that comes along? It is doing about as much good as the man is doing who claims to be a Christian but lives out of the Church.
But now, how did the Church in Corinth get into such a condition? This is a matter of importance, and demands attention. The Church was proud and boastful, with all the evils in it enumerated. Do you inquire how this could be? It occurred in this way: It abounded with supernatural gifts, having a great number of gifts of healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, etc. On account of these gifts, it was puffed up, boastful, and proud, when it had reason for mourning and grief. The argument, on the part of the Church, was brief. It amounted to this: We have more gifts of healing, prophecy, tongues, etc., than any other church, and are, therefore, better, enjoying the divine favor more largely. How humiliating to their pride it was to have the apostle say to them, in view of all their pride, boasting, and conceit, based on the abundance of their gifts, "Though I have the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." Some versions have the word "charity" here; but any person can see that the apostle does not mean charity, for he adds below, "though I give all my goods to feed the poor, and have not love, I am nothing." He could not bestow all his goods to feed the poor and not have charity. This would be the very, embodiment of charity. But Paul's climax is, that though a man give all his goods to feed the poor, and even his body to be burned, and have not love, he is nothing. He still strikes a more fatal blow: "Though I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing." This is the best definition of a faith alone man found in any book. A man may not only have faith, but all faith, so as to remove mountains, and because he has not love with it, he is nothing. As if the apostle had said: You have boasted of your supernatural gifts; your prophecies, tongues, knowledge, etc., and been puffed up; but you may have all these gifts, you may have the tongues of men and of angels, the gift of prophecy, all knowledge, you may have faith so that you can remove mountains, give all your goods to feed the poor and your bodies to be consumed, as martyrs in the flames, but if you have not love, you are nothing.
Why does he thus speak? Because, at the very time when these miraculous gifts abounded in their midst, and they were boasting of them and glorying in them, they had not love enough to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; to restrain them from shouting for their favorite man, "I am for Paul, I for Apollos, and I for Cephas;" not love to God and the cause enough to put away a corrupt man from their midst; to restrain them from going to law, brother with brother, before infidels; nor to induce them to maintain, in its purity, the communion of the blood and body of the Lord; nor to maintain the confidence that God will raise the dead; and, with all your miraculous gifts, and without this love, you are an empty sound. Truly was this withering on those proud and boastful men.
The apostle then determines to make them appreciate the importance of love, and proceeds to personify it, and speak of it as if it were a member of the Church. In doing so, he tells what love will do and what it will not do. He specifies seven things that love will do, as follows: 1. "Suffers long." 2. "Is kind." 3. "Rejoices in the truth." 4. "Bears all things." 5. "Believes all things." 6. "Hopes all things." 7. "Endures all things." He also specifies nine things that love will not do, as follows: 1. "Envies not." 2. "Vaunts not itself." 3. "Is not puffed up." 4. "Does not behave itself unseemly." 5. "Seeks not its own." 6. "Is not easily provoked." 7. "Imputes no evil." 8. "Rejoices not in unrighteousness." 9. "Never fails." If you fear that you have not this love, look over this list, and if you can say, honestly, I will do each of the seven things which the apostle says love will do, and will not do each of the nine things he says love will not do, you have the love of which he speaks. Here is a beautiful chance for self-examination. All pious persons exercise much self-examination. In this they can use great freedom. They can enter into the very motives, the very thoughts and intents of the heart; make the examination most rigorous and scrutinizing. What a beautiful exercise it would be for a disciple of the Lord to retire to some quiet seclusion, with the New Testament open at this passage, and, after a fervent prayer for the Lord's help in obtaining a clear understanding of the whole matter and practical application, commence and go over, item by item, the seven things which love will do, and the nine which it will not do! This would be communing with and learning of God. This is piety.
A careful comment on each one of these items is not to be expected here; but since so much is said about what is needful in keeping churches in order and making them successful, etc., a few words in a general way will not come amiss here. Some think we need some special kind of a preacher in order to success. Others think we need better qualified overseers, and others are proposing some improvement in deacons. Some are for more rigorous discipline. No doubt there may be improvement in all these departments. In many instances the main improvement is needed on the part of the members. In some instances, they turn off a preacher and get a new one with profit. Still, there are some other instances in which they need about as much to turn off the church and get a new one. In deliberative bodies they sometimes form themselves into a committee of the whole, in the consideration of an important matter. If any one would see how easily a church ought to be managed, suppose the church would appoint each member a committee of one to oversee, look after, and take care of one member; this would reach and provide for all the members. Then, many talented and influential members would think this too little; that their talents and influence would not find scope in such a narrow circle. But, then, the proposition is to have the work done well. In order to do this you only need oversee one, if all the members do their part of the work, to oversee the whole church. Do you say that you desire the one you are appointed to look after and oversee shall be near by, so that you can attend to the work faithfully without unnecessary loss of time or labor? That is well thought of, and should, by all means, be taken into the account in appointing. It would be a matter of great convenience to have it arranged so that you could be present in the business department at every meal you eat, in the domestic circle, and, indeed, all the time, that you may exercise the most careful oversight. It should be some one whom you love dearly, and for whose salvation you have a deep interest. To accommodate you in all these respects, the church should appoint you to oversee and look after yourself. You can then always be present to witness every impropriety, idle word, and foolish thought; offer rebukes, interpose restraints, administer corrections, etc. You can then always administer reproofs in kindness, love, and affection, so that they may give no offense, but bring forth the fruits of righteousness. This is not intended to set aside all necessity for preachers, overseers, and deacons, but to assist them and render their work much more light and less difficult than it would otherwise be.
Love is the all-prevailing element for maintaining order, peace, and harmony in the Church. Where it does not abound, all is dull, formal, and lifeless. There may be a mechanical management according to rule--a kind of conformity without it, but the enjoyment is not there without it.
"It is the golden chain that binds The happy souls above; And he's an heir of heaven that finds His bosom glow with love."
One of its chief glories is, that "it never fails." "Whether there shall be prophecies, they shall cease; whether there be tongues, they shall fail; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." But love never fails. As if the apostle had said: You Corinthians are boastful, conceited, and puffed up on account of your abundance of spiritual gifts, but all this belongs to the infancy of Christianity, the creative and formative period; but when the stature of manhood shall come; when this creative and formative period shall cease; when the revelation shall be complete, and a state of maturity shall be reached, these gifts, employed in the incipiency of things, shall all pass away. Then I will show you a more excellent way.
Every thing in this universe had its beginning in miracle. The first human pair were brought into existence by a miracle. The human race begun by direct supernatural power, but has been perpetuated by the natural; began by direct extraordinary power, but has been perpetuated by the indirect and ordinary power. It required a miracle to bring the first man and woman into existence, but no miracle for all other men and women to descend from these. It required a direct exertion of supernatural power to bring into existence the first oak-tree, but it is only the operation of natural power for an oak-tree to produce an acorn, and for another oak-tree to spring from that acorn, and so on down through all the generations of oak-trees to the last one that shall ever grow. God created man, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. This was a miracle. From the flesh and bone of this man the Lord formed the first woman. This was a miracle also. But he never brought into existence another human pair by a miracle. The race have all descended from this first pair without a miracle. They originated in supernatural power, but have been perpetuated by natural power. They came into existence by extraordinary means, but the race has been perpetuated from them down by ordinary means. Every species of the creation of God had its origin in extraordinary power or means, but has been perpetuated by ordinary means. In the same way the Church of the living God was a new creation. It was brought into existence by a miracle, but has been perpetuated without miracle. It was created, and the breath of life breathed into it by miracle, but no church is now created and life breathed into it in the same way, but the Church has been perpetuated from the original Church. It originated in extraordinary power, but has been perpetuated by ordinary power. Miracles were, therefore, necessary in bringing the Church into existence, establishing and confirming it, but not necessary in perpetuating it. The bringing it into existence, establishing and confirming it among men, required extraordinary means, but not required in perpetuating it.
The supernatural gifts were, therefore, demanded in the creative period, but belonged to the infancy of the Church; hence the apostle, in allusion to this, says: "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I had the understanding of a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." These gifts pertained to the infancy of the Church; but when the Church and revelation came to maturity, those things that pertained to the incipient state were taken away. The more excellent way was introduced, and prophecies failed, tongues ceased, and the supernatural gift of knowledge was done away. Now faith, hope, and love remain; but the greatest of these is love. How weak and foolish it was, then, for the disciples in Corinth to be carried away by their abundance of spiritual gifts; to become proud and boastful on account of these gifts, while they had not the love to maintain the purity of the Church. In the same way, how vain and foolish it is for any church to be puffed up by fine gifts of an ordinary character, now that the extraordinary is done away, and not be under the influence of the love of Christ! Some have vainly imagined that these gifts ceased through unbelief; but that can not be so, for in the same connection, where he says these miraculous gifts shall cease, he says: "Now abide faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love." This way when these gifts shall cease, and faith, hope, and love abide, he calls "a more excellent way," in the close of the chapter preceding this.
The first public instructors in the Church were made such, or qualified for their work, in an extraordinary manner, but since these gifts ceased, men are qualified for the same work in an ordinary manner. The Lord said, in the great intercessory prayer, John xvii: 8, "The words which thou gavest me I have given them;" that is, the apostles. They were qualified for making a revelation by miracle. The Lord gave them the word which the Father gave him. This same word they gave to others. Hence, Paul says to Timothy, "The things which you have heard of me, in the presence of many witnesses, the same do you commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." The Lord, by inspiration, or by extraordinary means, made the revelation to the apostles; but without any miracle, in the ordinary way of teaching, the same things were communicated to Timothy and others like him. Timothy and other evangelists were qualified in the ordinary way, by hearing and receiving the things the apostles taught; and, in the same manner, qualified others. Hence, the command of the apostle to Timothy, to give himself to reading, to meditation, etc., and not to look for immediate revelation. Such men as Timothy, reared up under the apostles, and qualified by ordinary instruction, were required to devote themselves to study, reading, and meditation, to prepare them for their great work. But the Lord expressly commanded the apostles not to meditate beforehand what they should say, and required them to depend wholly on supernatural aid, or inspiration, for what they were to utter; and that, too, in the most perilous and critical trials through which they should be called to pass, especially when they should be called to stand before kings and governors on trial for preaching Jesus. They depended, not on the amount they knew, any human talent, learning, or ability, in making their defense, or in opening up the will of God to man, but on the supernatural power that was in them, the miraculous inspiration of the Spirit of God. What they uttered was revelation from God. They did not prove their teaching by argument or Scripture, as a general rule, but proved by divine and indisputable demonstrations of supernatural power that they were divinely called and sent--that the words spoken by them were not their words, but the words of the Spirit of God; not the words spoken by man's wisdom, but the words spoken by the wisdom of the Spirit of God. When such men as Timothy, Titus, Barnabas, Apollos, Mark, Luke, etc., spoke, they uttered the things which they had heard and learned of the apostles. It was, therefore necessary that they should have given themselves to reading, meditation, study, that they might show themselves approved of God, workmen who need not be ashamed, rightly setting forth the word of truth. But the proof they gave that what they uttered was from God, was that they had obtained it from the apostles, and not that they were inspired men, as the apostles were, and spoke by authority, as the apostles did. No man in our time can reach a higher position than this. We have no embassadors of Christ now, no apostles of Christ, no inspired men. None now are miraculously called and sent. There are no proofs to show that what we preach is from God, if they are not the things taught by the apostles. We prove nothing now by claiming to be specially called and sent, as the apostles were; that we speak by inspiration, as they did, except that we are impostors. We receive all the apostles taught implicitly, being assured that they were under the influence of the infallible inspiration of God, their divine claims being continually confirmed by the most grand, imposing, and stupendous displays of miraculous power. The promise of Jesus, "Lo, I am with you always," was verified to them in the continual performance of miracles.
But if it was weak and childish for the Corinthian disciples to be proud of those sublime spiritual gifts, such as prophecies, tongues, wisdom, etc., of a miraculous character, what shall be said of the man now, or the church, proud of ordinary gifts, as learning, talent, influence, etc., and puffed up, conceited, and inflated? These ordinary gifts are from God. What has any man that he did not receive? Yet there are men and churches proud, puffed up, and conceited on account of these ordinary gifts, and not possessing love enough for Christ, the children of God, and the cause, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; not love enough to stand for purity, the harmony, and the advancement of the cause; not love enough for Christ to put away corrupt persons from their midst; to prevent them from litigations before the civil courts--having pagan feasts in the church, or the denial of the resurrection of the dead. What an abandonment of all that is pure and lovely--of all that is holy, just, and good!
The supernatural gifts of the original Church have long since all passed away; They served the purpose for which they were intended, and, according to the will of God, ceased. So, also, shall the finest ordinary gifts possessed by man all cease. They shall all fail. In the same way, all that we possess shall fail. Houses, lands, moneys, goods, and chattels of every sort, shall all be nothing to us in a short time. All earthly friends must also fail us. Even faith itself shall culminate in actual knowledge. The things that we now enjoy by faith we shall then enjoy by sight. Hope shall also be swallowed up in real possession. That which we now hope for we shall then actually possess. What, then, have we now that we shall carry with us? We have that wonderful love of which the apostle speaks, and shall have it forever. It is stronger than death. It first moved our hearts to turn to God. We love God because he first loved us. The same love that first moved us to turn to the Lord, has moved us in every righteous effort, every holy impulse, every prayer, every song, every time we have gone to the house of God, from the day we confessed the Savior till now; and shall move our hearts in all that is holy, just, and good till we die. In the hour of death it shall dwell in us richly, in joy and peace inexpressible. It shall dwell in us forever and ever. It binds in holy union and oneness all the heavenly hosts. Its years are the years of God. It shall last co-existent with the Infinite One himself. Let it, then, rule in our hearts, reign over us, and abide forever and ever.
Love is the golden link connecting the good on earth with the heavenly hosts, binding the whole family, in heaven and on earth, in one pure and holy union, communion, and fellowship--in the same spirit, the same mind, and the same judgment. It shall never fail. When health fails, when earthly friends fail, when property fails, when life fails, when we shall cross the cold and chilly river of death, and sink into the grave, love shall not fail. Beyond the rolling river it shall live and abound forever and ever. Happy are the saints under its hallowed influence. Happy are all the heavenly hosts, animated and bound together by it. Happy shall be all the pure in heart forever and ever, for it shall never fail them.
But what is the prospect of the human being not under the influence of this love? Truly, it is gloomy for such. They are without the greatest comfort now in existence for man; in a cold and cheerless world, with death before them, the judgment and eternity--not a ray of light nor a gleam of day. No heart animated by love! No hope, and without God in the world! Eternal night lies away in the wonderful future! Can any intelligent man or woman live in such a state of gloom--not a promise, not a hope--all dark and threatening? Come, be entreated by all that is kind and lovely, to turn away from the vanities and follies of a world of sin, and give yourselves to him who is the way, the truth, and the life, and be happy forever. "He is the chief among all the ten thousands, and altogether lovely."