1 Corinthians 12.
One must not be surprised at the diabolical attempt of the enemy to counterfeit the action of the Holy Ghost at the beginning of this chapter; it could hardly be expected that the adversary would allow the Church of God upon earth to rest in peace.
There are three things that I should like to notice.
1. The Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit;
2. The baptism into one body; and then we may ask,
3. Is it possible to acknowledge these truths in the day in which we are living?
The first blessed truth is clearly taught all through this passage, and the eleventh verse alone would suffice to establish it: "But all these worketh . . .the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will." It is a great thing to know that the Holy Ghost, a true divine Person, is here upon earth and is acting in a sovereign way, in the distribution of gifts, in the body; that is, in the church.
The Lordship of Christ is insisted upon by the apostle as being the test of the Holy Spirit's manifestation. No one can say "Lord Jesus" but by the Holy Spirit; the enemy, of course, refuses to acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the test is crucial. The Lordship of Christ is of the very highest importance; for if all Christians were truly subject to Him, there would be no difficulty in receiving the blessed truths in connection with the assembly upon earth.
The Holy Ghost is Sovereign, but does not act in any one member independently of all the others. I suppose that no two gifts are alike, there are diversities of gifts, but one Spirit, and He alone has distributed them. It would be well for us to pay attention to this, and. to the fact of the differences of services, but one Lord; for man cannot make gifts, they are divinely given; and then again the differences of services, and the responsibility of each to the Lord, if understood, would keep us from imitating others, or criticizing them. The distinctions of operations, but the same God who operates, should be noted also, for there is a danger of prescribing a certain line of operation which may be according to our thoughts: it is very important to allow full scope for divine action.
The gifts that are spoken of here have often been noticed, and the Corinthians failed to use them under the Spirit's guidance. They attached more importance to those gifts where supernatural power was wonderfully displayed, than to the higher ones; and, acting as children (as they really were spiritually), they made a wrong use of what had been given for edification.
The point is that there is the sovereign Spirit of God present in the assembly, and that the Corinthians ignored Him in His corporate action. Alas! into what a state things have fallen in Christendom since then. Surely the great sin has been that of ignoring the Holy Ghost's presence, and though in a superstitious way He is represented as a dove* in the so-called churches, yet no true recognition of His presence exists. The very fact of singing Veni Creator Spiritus!
"Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And fill us with celestial fire,"
shows that people do not believe that He is come. No, the Holy Spirit's presence and sovereignty have been ignored, and we need to be brought back to own it. When His blessed and sovereign action is confessed, and His presence known, then can we enter into the truth of His acting in each member of the body, in view of the profit of the whole body itself. (See vu 7 - 12.) Surely we should pray that these immense truths may be received by believers and maintained in the Spirit's power; God would have us to know this power to the exclusion of what is merely of man. And this brings us to the second part of our subject.
*The whole thing is a dire mistake. The Holy Spirit descended on Christ in the form of a dove, and the symbol is comprehensible at once in its beauty. But the Spirit could not descend on men (redeemed though they be) on earth as a dove; nor did He so descend. There was leaven in the two Pentecostal loaves. (Leviticus 23:17.)
2. The twelfth verse alludes to the Head and members, the Christ;* and then comes the baptism by one Spirit into one body.
*I recollect a priest in France saying to me that Christ is the Head of the Church in heaven, and the Pope its head on earth. In such a case you would have a monstrous thing - a body with two heads!
The first part of the thirteenth verse is of great interest; for up to the point of having Christ as Head, baptized, as we are, whether Jew or Gentile, into one body, we love our own identity. Of course I am speaking now of our place as members of the body; we have a new Head, it is a grand and unchanging fact. We had nothing to do with this; I mean that it was no act of our own, but the Holy Ghost's act, and we have been formed into one body by it. It is a very blessed thing when believers learn that Christ is their Head, the Head of the one body, and when they see that all true saints have been baptized into it. If there were literally several "bodies," as some seem to believe, there would be several heads; but no, there is one body, and one Head.
The second part of the verse is different: "And have been all made to drink into one Spirit." Many readers know that there is no preposition before "one Spirit," which makes the passage all the more remarkable; it is a question of true spiritual enjoyment and communion, and we need to pray to the Lord that He may give us to know the Spirit's power upon earth in connection with the wonderful truths of the one body. Here the blessed Spirit's action is identified with us, that is, with all the members of the body; in the former part of the verse we are identified with His action. May we know more of what the unity of the Spirit means - though it has been so little known, or seen, through the dreary pages of Church history!
3. It will be seen that I have assumed that we can acknowledge these truths even in our day of ruin, and thus have anticipated the answer to the question in the third part of our short study.
If we be truly subject to Christ, we shall acknowledge the truths that concern Him and the Church. If all believers in London (or elsewhere) were subject to the Head, they would all be together - a wonderful proof of the Holy Ghost's power, and of the unity of the Spirit. For one moment five thousand Jews were seen in Jerusalem (Acts 4:32) with one heart and one soul; instead of five thousand ways of thinking, they had but one. Blessed display of the unity of the Spirit!
But it will be said that we are no longer living in Pentecostal times. No, indeed; but to faith these blessed truths are real, and we can be upon the ground of the assembly of God, ardently desiring that all true members may find their way to it.
4. The difference between the fifteenth and following verses, and the twenty-first and following, has been noticed. In the case of a lesser gift, the possessor of it must not be discouraged in comparing it with a greater one; in the case of a greater, as compared with a lesser, it cannot be said "I have no need of thee!" We are dependent upon one another, nor could the smallest member be missing without the body being incomplete. The hidden members are as necessary as the more conspicuous ones; and I recollect a physician once saying to me, in speaking of exposure to cold, that the face and hands may be exposed to snow, or rain, or cold, but that great care should be taken to cover the chest and other vital organs, the offiicina of the human body. This very illustration is used here by the apostle, and the twenty-fifth verse is very important.
If there be subjection to Christ as Head, and a true desire to serve Him, and all the members of the body to which each one of us belongs; if, I say, there be this, and the "more excellent way," that is, love in activity, true unselfish service, there may be surely the answering to God's mind as to our place in the assembly in this day of confusion. Though indeed we may feel that the whole body is in a state of partial paralysis as compared with the twenty-sixth verse, yet we may own the great truth of the unity of the Spirit, and so far as possible walk in it.
Paul, by the Holy Ghost, shows the true order of the gifts, and then in what follows speaks of love. May we too be characterized by obedience and love, and thus walk according to God's mind as to the assembly upon earth! E. L. Bevir.