1 Corinthians 12:29
There are degrees of eminence, not only in the state, but in the Church. In the hierarchy which Heaven has appointed, the highest station was occupied by a class of men, few in number, eminent in qualifications, and honourable in office. Their functions were special, being in some particulars incapable of transmission to successors. In what did this pre-eminence consist? The answer to this question may serve to increase the reverence with which we receive their teaching and submit to their authority.

I. THE PRE-EMINENCE OF THE APOSTLES IS OWING TO THE DIGNITY AND MAJESTY OF THE LORD WHO GAVE AND SENT THEM. Christ himself was sent, and came forth from God. He had "all power in heaven and in earth," and he had consequently authority to commission the twelve and those associated with them. There was an authority in his word sending them forth, which they at once recognized and obeyed.

II. TO THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH THEY WERE SENT. Their mission was to preach Christ, to make converts, to gather those converts together into societies, to govern and administer the affairs of the congregations, to provide instruction in doctrine by speech and by writing, and to make provision for the permanent welfare of the whole Church. Such a mission was in many respects peculiar and unique; those entrusted with it could not but come first in the hierarchy.

III. TO THE POWERS WITH WHICH THEY WERE ENTRUSTED. To their natural gifts spiritual endowments were added; and over and above these were the supernatural possessions and trusts peculiar to their age, such as the gifts of tongues, of miracles, of healing, etc. Above all there was Divine inspiration, displayed in their supernatural wisdom both in doctrine and in government. From the day of Pentecost these men were entrusted with every high and sacred qualification which could tend to the suitable discharge of the honourable and responsible duties of the apostolate.

IV. TO THE BREADTH OF THEIR COMMISSION. Though so few, they may be said to have portioned the world among them. They were sent to neighbours and to strangers, to Jews and to Gentiles, to cities and to villages, to the civilized and to barbarians. To a commission so vast and extensive there attached honour altogether special and unrivalled.

V. TO THE WONDERFUL RESULTS OF THEIR APOSTOLIC LABOURS. The immediate and rapid spread of the gospel was such as could not have been anticipated by human wisdom, and such as has not been paralleled in after ages. They laid the foundations upon which the toilers and builders of after ages have reared a glorious superstructure.


1. Let hearers of the gospel consider the claims upon them of such a message as that communicated by ambassadors so gloriously authenticated as were the apostles of the Lord.

2. Let those who labour for Christ feel the summons which is addressed to them by the spirit and the example of predecessors so illustrious and so efficient. - T.

And God hath set some in the Church, first apostles.
The words which I have taken as my text occupy, you will remember, a somewhat exceptional position. They occur in the midst of what seems at first a systematic classification of gifts in the apostolic Church and the functions resting on those gifts: they come in between "gifts of healing" and "diversities of tongues." The two terms do not meet us elsewhere in the writings of the New Testament. It is open to us, under the view of interpreters, to identify them respectively with the offices of the deacons, and bishops, and elders of the Church; but it is also open to us to believe that the terms occur to St. Paul's mind as covering, each of them, a special class of supernatural gifts, or of natural gifts purified and illumined by the higher gifts, of the course of which the diaconate and presbyterate were indeed the representative exponents, but which were to be found also in those who are not called to either of those special functions. Every member of that Church which the Eternal Spirit governs and sanctifies has a vocation. The history of the word which we render "helps" sufficiently explains its meaning — to lay hold as with a firm and loving hand on one who totters and stumbles and is on the point of falling. That is its sense as I find it in an old lexicon. In that sense it meets us in the words St. Paul addressed to the ministers of Ephesus when he bids them so minister that they may "support the weak," a sufficient proof, I take it, that we may not limit the word to the function of the diaconate, As in every grace, so in this; what from one point of view is a special gift of God is from another the development of a natural capacity, and with the capacity there is a natural delight in its exercise. The wild flower, which on the wayside might have been withered by the parching winds or degenerated into a weed, is transplanted into the paradise of the great Gardener, and watered by the dew of His blessing and fostered by the warmth of the eternal sunshine of His love it becomes a goodly flower, bright in its varied hues and fragrant as the spices of Lebanon. The observer of the child nature will tell you, from experience well confirmed, that there are few children in whom this desire to help is not, in a greater or less measure, a motive spring of action. They delight in their little gifts: little ministries and services to parents, to brothers, sisters, friends, and teachers. All they seek is a recognition by Word or look, by loving glance or smile, that their service is appreciated. Their labour of love, however small it may be, is its own exceeding great reward. The next stage of life to most men is for the most part less favourable to the growth of the ministering spirit. The life of the public school, with its struggle for existence, its inevitable self-assertion, its competitive exercise. The boy has to learn to make a just estimate of his powers of body and mind, to assert his own rights, sometimes also to uphold the rights of others by fighting for them. It is well on the whole it should be so. To be weak is miserable, and strength of body, brain, and will, cannot be secured without collision. When these early years are over, and the boy passes into the man, it is at once right and wise to form a distinct plan. To yield to the passing impulse of the moment is to drift he knows not whither. What forms of help-work, then, are possible for those living, as you live, in the midst of tasks and duties? Of that which has seemed to some the chief, if not the exclusive meaning of the helps St. Paul speaks of, "supporting the weak," in the sense of ministering to the sick, I do not suppose you have much experience or opportunities. That gift belongs more, on the whole, to women than to men, and your efforts at direct nursing might perhaps be clumsy and inefficient. For those who are without that special call for ministration, it may not be a bad training of their capacity for service to visit sometimes the wards of the hospital to read to the patients there, or talk with them, or better still, as meeting what is often a real want with the disabled poor, write letters for them to their friends. A more familiar and easy form of help given to the weak is found, I need hardly say, in the work of teaching the young. And then among the functions of true friendship there is that of helping the weak, not in body, but in mind and will. You may know one who has been dear to you as a brother, companion in sports or studies, who is infirm of purpose, drifting on the impulse of sin, on the waves of doubt. I know all too well the difficulty of that form of helping, the hindrances of shyness, reserve, self-distrust, which check the utterance of the faithful words that may avert the threatened evil. You fear to make matters worse, to lose your hold on affections which are as yet unstable only. Among the means of work those of helping those whom we call the poor hold, of course, a permanent place. Their lot is in the nature of the case for the most part a hard one, even if they have fallen in the struggle for existence through no fault of their own. More often, it may be, their lot is all the worse because it is made harder by their faults. Help in this case calls for the higher gift of government. Happily, in this instance, the guidance is not far to seek. Work in subordination to others, to the minister of a parish or to the society which by its very title undertakes to organise charity, supplies the missing link. To love all you can and to help all you can is the true way to the highest culture, and works out a higher spiritual completeness than any forms of aestheticism, asceticism, and shall I say athleticism, in which, according to men's character and temper, they too often seek for that completeness. I have dwelt chiefly upon the manifestation of the gift — the ἀντιλήψεις of which I have spoken. I must say something as to the source from which it springs, the source which is the secret of its permanence. One hears much of the religion of Humanity, of the altruism which they oppose alike to the ordinary self-consciousness of mankind and to the loving charity of the mind of Christ. That religion, it is said, supplies us with a sufficient motive for the love of sacrifice, if not what that sacrifice implies, the sacrifice of self. I believe no striving to serve is without its fruit, that in this life or in the life to come he who seeks shall find, that a man may learn faith by virtue, and that in due time faith may ripen with knowledge. I reverence the saints, even of Buddhism or of Islam, and still more those of the dark ages of Christendom, in whom I find that likeness of the future of Christianity. All the same, I hold it to be capable of proof that that likeness has never been so vivid and distinct as when it hath been a conscious reproduction of the Divine original, a true Imitatio Christi.

(Dean Plumtre, D.D.)

1. It has been thought that these were assistant-ministers, or assistant-deacons, or deaconesses, or attendants, who took care that strangers were accommodated, and managed various details. But whoever they were, they were thought worthy to be mentioned with apostles, teachers, etc. Probably they had no official standing, but were the sort of brethren who can always stop a gap, and who are only too glad to make themselves serviceable in any capacity.

2. Bunyan has described that part of their work, which is most valuable. He describes Help as coming to Christian when he was in the Slough of Despond. When we were going through a pass in Northern Italy, we saw, some three or four miles from the top, a man with a spade, who came down and saluted us. By and by we came to deep snow, and the man cleared a footway, and when we came to a very ugly piece of road, he carried some of the party on his back. Ere long came one of his companions with refreshments. These men were "helps," who spent their lives where their services would be requisite. They would have been worth nothing down in the plains. "Helps" are of no use to a man when he can help himself. And just as the Royal Humane Society keep their men along the borders of the lakes in the parks when the ice is forming, so a little knot of Christian people should always be ready in every church, to give assistance wherever it may be required. Let me —

I. GIVE A FEW DIRECTIONS TO THESE "HELPS." When you meet sinners in the Slough of Despond —

1. Get them to state their case. When Help went to Christian he said first, "What are you doing there? How did you get there?" I have found that the mere act of stating a difficulty has been the very means of at once removing it.

2. Enter, as much as lieth in you, into their case. Sympathy is a great power.

3. Comfort them with the promises. Help told Christian that there were good steps all the way through the mire. Now, you can point these poor sinking ones to the steps.

4. Instruct them more fully in the plan of salvation.

5. Tell them your own experience. Many have been able to get out of the Slough in this way. We have gone along the same road, and it would be very hard if we could not describe it.

6. Pray with them. When you cannot tell the sinner what you want to say, you can sometimes tell it to God in the sinner's hearing. As certainly as the electric fluid bears the message from one place to another, and the laws of gravitation move the spheres, so certainly is prayer a mysterious but real power.

II. DESCRIBE THOSE WHO CAN HELP. A true "help" must have —

1. A tender heart. There are some people who seem to be prepared by Divine grace on purpose to be soul-winners, just as there are some people who seem to be born nurses..

2. A quick eye. There is a way of getting the eye sensitively acute with regard to sinners.

3. Quick ears. When they have these they listen, and by and by they hear a splash, and though it may be very dark and misty, they go to the rescue.

4. Rapid feet.

5. A loving face. Cheerfulness commends itself, especially to a troubled heart.

6. A firm foot. If I have to pull a brother out of the Slough, I must know how to stand fast myself, or I may fall in. Full assurance is not necessary to salvation, but it is very necessary to your success as a helper of others.

7. A strong hand.

8. A bending back. You cannot pull them out if you stand bolt upright. It is said that the sermons of are in bad Latin, not because Augustine was not a good scholar, but because the dog-Latin of the day suited his turn best to get hold of men. That preaching is best which fisherwomen understand. "But the dignity of the pulpit!" says one. Well, the "dignity" of a war-chariot lies in the captives dragged at its wheels, and the "dignity of the pulpit" lies in the number of souls converted to God. You must condescend to men of low estate.


1. Souls want help. Is not that enough? The cry of misery is a sufficient argument for mercy.

2. Remember how you were helped yourselves when you were in a like condition. Repay the obligation.

3. Christ deserves it. The lost lamb out there is His lamb; will you not care for it? That sinner is your Saviour's blood-bought one; he is a prodigal, but he is your Father's son, and consequently your own brother.

4. You would not want any other argument, did you know how blessed the work is in itself. Would you acquire knowledge? grow in grace? shake off despondency? help others.

5. You are called to this work. Your Master has hired you; it is not for you to pick and choose. To-night, then, try to do some practical service for your Master. If you do not, you will probably get the rod for correction.

6. We are getting nearer heaven, and sinners are getting nearer hell.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

The second of the two words which I have taken as including a large portion of the activities of human life for the good of others is even more directly figurative than the first. The seafaring life of the Greeks taught a race more gifted than most others with the power of interpreting the troubles of the world around them, and led them to see in the work of piloting the ship that which had its counterpart in the duties of those who were called to be rulers of mankind. Probably no similitude has taken so vast a hold on the minds of men as that which we find in the Republic of Plato, and in which he compares the democracy of his own time to an untrained crew in which every one thought that without any previous discipline he was competent to take the helm. He pictures the confusion which must ensue when men undertook that work without any knowledge of seas or sky, of stars or wind; how the man truly gifted with the power of steering would be despised and rejected as the demos of Athens despised and rejected the teachers of wisdom who gave them true counsels for their good. The thought of the word passed from Greece to Rome. The figurative meaning almost superseded the literal, and so became the Gubernator to Western Europe. I can scarcely doubt that one with St. Paul's experiences of perils by water, thrice shipwrecked, able to give wise counsel to master and mariners out of his own experience, would use the word with a full sense of the similitude under which it would be present in his thoughts. It was as familiar to him as the soldier's armour or the conflict for the prize and the training of the athlete. He paints Hymenaeus and Alexander as having made shipwreck concerning the faith. He warns men not to be carried about by every blast of false doctrine. Some men seem born with an innate capacity for this form of government in its most literal sense. They have the watchful eye, the ready hand, the sagacious forecast, which, working together, bring them to the haven where they would be. They need only to teach and to practise, and they rapidly become proficient. And passing from the literal to the figurative meaning, he saw that here also there was a gift of steersmanship, governments, as well as a governing power, which showed itself in helps. Discerning schoolmasters soon learn to see what boys are likely to take the lead among their fellows. They recognise in him one firm in purpose, ready to accept suggestions when they are reasonable, not shrinking from using his power when occasion calls for it. To most of you, of course, who are yet in the probationary stage of manhood, the opportunities of governing are few and far between. The influence of the young is for the most part, as I said, that of ministration. But not seldom, as your own experience or the history of the past may tell you, the one gift grows out of the other. The good subject ripens into the good ruler. Help leads to insight of character, and rubs off the angularities of temperament and self-assertion which impair the capacity for governing. That discipline where the capacity for ruling exists leads men on to the likeness of the ideal king, who reigns not for his own good but for that of his people, while without it the gift itself may degenerate into the pattern of the mob-ruling tyrant. We find this in the limits and the walks of duty which lie within your immediate reach. The teacher in the Sunday school develops into a professor of theology, or, as in two familiar instances, into the holder of one of our highest offices of state. The manager of the boys' guild may become a faithful and wise steward in some wider organisation, in which he will give to every man his portion of meat in due season. You will stand face to face with some at least of the great problems of our times, the relations of capital and labour, the question of land tenure and the equitable division of its profits, the organisation of charity so that it may tend to elevate and not degrade, the problem how best to bridge over the chasm which yawns between the classes and the masses; these and other kindred inquiries can scarcely fail to meet you. It is easy, fatally easy, to ignore these problems, to follow the impulses of pleasure seeking, or of working for your own success. But England expects better things from you. You need to learn how to steer, to know the forces which are working around you, the currents and the drifts of thought which are sweeping over men's minds, the time when to spread your sails to the wind of public opinion and when to reef them, to discern the signs of the times, to free yourselves from the delusion of an unreal optimism or an equally unreal and far more perilous pessimism. And in close connection with these views of the gift of government there is a wide sphere of yet vaster questionings, which make the thinker, who is led to speculate, ponder on the course of the world's history, the mystery of man's life and of God's covenant, the wonders of our being, the origin of the evil which leaves its serpent trail alike in our individual lives and in the collective experience of mankind, the manner of the final victory over that evil. Here, also, the gift of steersmanship is needed. It is no voyage upon the summer sea on which the frail barque of the weak or untrained intellect may lightly launch. The thought comes to our minds that it is safer to stand on the shore and watch the surging waves from a position of security. The warnings may be unheeded, the impulses that sway the mind to look before and aft and muse upon many things are not easily repressed. All that we can attempt, with any hope of success, is to put before the inquirer the conditions of safe sailing in that vast sea of thought. We may tell him that there must be the temper of love and purity, for now as ever it is true that "into a malicious soul peace will not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin." There must be a recognition at once of the capacity and limitations of man's knowledge. The questioner must restrain himself to keep within the boundaries of the known or knowable. There must be reverence for the past in its strivings and aspirations and successes, the recognition of the increasing purposes which works throughout the ages, of the education of mankind in many varied manners and many different measures. The system of speculative thought in which the man thought to win his fellows to reach the desired haven may prove unseaworthy and founder in sight of shore. There may be with them in the ship, as in that night in the Adria, one whose prayer is mighty to prevail, to whom God has given the lives of his companions. Here, too, the highest form of the gift of government is that which has been rightly disciplined by the exercise of the earlier gifts of helps. "Helps, governments." I return to the two words from which I started as embracing wide reasons of all human activity. Each of you, as you look within the depths of your own personality, or in the environment in which you live, may find in yourselves the germs of one of those — ἀντιλήψει´, κυβερνήσεις — possibly not seldom of both of these germs. It is yours to quicken them into life, to train by exercise the talents which you have to keep, as those who shall give an account to the Master who has bestowed them upon you. For the faithful exercise of those gifts there is a sure reward of ever-widening opportunities. With the will to do that which is indeed God's will, there will come a power sooner or later in this life, or behind the veil, to know the doctrine of the Christ, whether it be of God.

(Dean Plumptre, D.D.)

Covet earnestly the best gifts
I. ALL GOD'S BLESSINGS ARE VALUABLE. Amongst all His gifts there is nothing worthless. A breath of air, a drop of water, a beam of light, a crust of bread are incalculably valuable. Circumstances often occur in men's history when they feel their priceless worth.


1. Intellectual than material.

2. Moral than intellectual. Paul says without charity — love — we are nothing.

III. THE MOST VALUABLE OF THESE BLESSINGS SHOULD BE EARNESTLY SOUGHT. To covet some of the minor blessings is a sin. But we are justified in coveting these best things, because —

1. There is no monopoly of them. Material good is limited. The more one has of it the less remains for others. But spiritual gifts are as free as air, as vast as immensity, as infinite as God.

2. The more one has of them the more generous he becomes. When a man gets into him this love, it burns up his selfishness and melts him into sympathy with the universe.

3. The more one has of them the more useful to the universe he becomes. The more he reflects God, the more light and happiness he pours forth on the creation.

(D. Thomas, D.D.)

Consider —


1. Negatively.(1) They are not those which are external to the soul's nature, such as money, power, or reputation. A Christian man is not forbidden to seek these in the right way, and when gained they may be employed for high ends. Yet neither Paul nor his Master would number them among the best gifts.(2) Nor are they all the gifts that touch our inward nature. Intellectual ability, taste, and culture are very precious, and Paul was far from despising them, yet he would be far from describing them as "the best."

2. Positively. He points us to those gifts with which love is connected.(1) In regard to God, reverence, humility, and trustfulness.(2) In regard to man, candid and generous judgment, and sympathy.(3) As regards ourselves, patience, contentment, courage, and fortitude.(4) As to things around, temperance of chastened desire.

3. That we may be convinced of their superiority, let us see how these differ from others. They —(1) Enter deepest into our nature. The outer things of the world can scarcely be said to enter into our nature at all, except when their abuse corrupts it. Intellect, culture, and ambition may go deeper, but can they reach the centre? If the spiritual nature is left uncared for, the mind is a very cheerless home for happiness. The value of the gifts of love in the soul is that they reach the centre where happiness lies. As they go deepest, they become the ruling power, and make all else that a man possesses a blessing to himself and others.(2) Are the most lasting. We know how very quickly outward possessions may take their leave. And intellectual gains are not over secure. The stores of knowledge are in the keeping of a treacherous memory. More melancholy than the loss of empire is the saying of poor Swift, when reading one of his own works, "What a glorious mind I had when I wrote that!" But let a man have the gifts of a loving, patient, self-renouncing heart, and the rule is that they grow richer and mellower as life advances.(3) Are most God-like. It is in a small degree that we can share God's wisdom; in a still smaller degree His power. But "he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him!"


1. We are to covet them earnestly. The Corinthians were coveting each other's place, honour, and talent. "If," says Paul, "you would only set your hearts on the right things, you may both desire and appropriate what belongs to your neighbour. Covet if you will, but let it be the gifts of charity and self-denial." Here the word ceases to have any sin in it. If we covet our neighbours' material possessions, we shall desire to dispossess him. If we covet his intellectual gifts, there will be envy. But if we covet his loving spirit, we are yielding to him our deepest affection and reverence. We are not so much taking from as rendering to him, lighting our taper at his fire, and adding it to the flame. The word of prohibition in the law thus becomes a word of command in the gospel.

2. We are to covet these gifts earnestly, making growth in them a constant and supreme desire.(1) Try to discover what is best in those around you and to rejoice in it. This is one way of making what is good in them your own without taking anything from them. It is a blessed work to go through the world trying to put men and things in the best light.(2) You should mingle much with those who have it in large degree. It is very difficult to live long among selfish people without becoming like them. But there is an unselfish world: live in that.Conclusion: In coveting earnestly the best gifts —

1. We can never harm any one, neither ourselves nor others. Is there aught else of which this can he said?

2. We are sure to gain them. Of what else can this be affirmed?

(J. Ker, D.D.)

I. IN THEMSELVES. The gifts of the Church of Corinth were bestowed according to God's pleasure: they were "divided to every man severally as He willed." They were profitable to others. They were not the highest perfection of human nature, for a man might have them and yet perish. So it is with ours. Consider —

1. What a gift is. It is that in which our main strength lies. One man is remarkable for intellectual, and another for moral qualifications. One is highly sensitive, and another unimpressionable. One has exquisite taste, and another, like the English, persevering and able to improve inventions. All God's gifts are not sublime. You would all acknowledge prophecy to be a gift, but St. Paul says the humblest faculties are also gifts.

2. All these are gifts, sometimes we fancy they are not, because sad moralists remind us that these things are vain. "Beauty is fleeting; strength is soon but labour and sorrow; the path of glory leads but to the grave." True, all these are transient; and because so, we are forbidden to set our hearts upon them; but still men covet them, and the apostle says it is right: God gave them: do you honour Him by despising them? They are good so long as they are desired in subservience to the greater good, but evil if they are put in the place of this.

3. They are to be earnestly cultivated. The world makes very little of charity; and religious men, perceiving the transcendent excellence of this grace, make very little of talents. Now, on the contrary, St. Paul prays that the whole soul, the natural man as well as the spirit, may "be preserved blameless till the coming of Christ."

4. He allows a distinction — "the best gifts." The same apostle who so earnestly urged contentment with the gifts we have, bids us yet to aspire. And just as St. Peter said, "Add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge," etc, so would St. Paul have said, "Add to your nobility of rank, nobleness of mind; to your strong constitution, health by exercise; to you memory, judgment; to your power of imitating', invention."

II. IN COMPARISON WITH GRACES. He who treads the brilliant road of the highest accomplishments is, as a man, inferior to him who treads the path of Love. For in the spiritual world a man is measured not by his genius, but by his likeness to God.

(F. W. Robertson, M.A.)

These which were so highly valued by the Corinthians are now no longer found in the Church, but there are other endowments to which all may lawfully aspire, so long as they are not substituted for the more excellent way.

I. THE POWER OF POPULAR ADDRESS — the faculty of arresting attention and of exciting at will emotions of fear, hope, trust, joy, is indeed a commanding quality.

II. THE LITERARY GIFT — the ability to inform the understanding, direct the judgment, by means of the press.

III. THE INFLUENCE OF A WINSOME MANNER, We meet with some, chiefly, though not exclusively, of the gentler sex, who, by the exercise of peculiar tact, charm, and grace, obtain access to rude and rugged hearts, which refused to yield to all ordinary influences. Conclusion:

1. It may be said that these are natural gifts, and do not depend on cultivation. But here the rule holds good, "to him that hath shall be given." The man of moderate powers, by diligence rises above the expectations of his friends, while the man of genius often disappoints them.

2. The precept directs us to form a due estimate of the value, of these gifts, and our responsibility for the use of them, and cautions us not to depreciate or exaggerate gifts of which we have a very limited portion.

3. These gifts are not the essential characteristics of Christ's kingdom; however slender may be our pretensions to the possession of any of them, we may all pursue the more excellent way.

(W. Webster, M.A.)


1. The contrast has often struck observers between civilisation and Christianity. It is true that both have worked together; but in their aims and nature they are distinct, and may be opposed. And minds strongly under the influence of the one are apt to fear or shrink from the other. But no Christian can feel difficulty in believing that they both come from Him who has made man for this world, as well as intended him for another.

2. The world easily suggests very awful views of its own condition; but it would be far more dreadful if we must not see in its civilisation the leading and guiding hand of God. Nor should we be deterred from this because of its use, by luxury and pride, for impurity and wrong. The gifts at Corinth were foolishly and wrongly used.

3. Civilisation has indeed its dark side; there is much that is dreary and forbidding in the history of its growth; and who can look without anxiety at the dangers of its future? But its irreligious tendencies are not to be combated by simply decrying them. Let us look at the world as those who were put here to "refuse the evil and choose the good."(1) Follow the history of a great people, and consider what it brings forth. Observe the progressive refinement of human nature; how, as time goes on, men gain in power; how great moral habits strike their roots deep in a society — the sense of justice as justice, self-devoting enterprise, patriotism and public spirit. If nations have characteristic faults, there grow up in them characteristic virtues. Civilisation to us means liberty, a peaceful life, growing honour for manliness, unselfishness, sincerity.(2) And it has disclosed to us in the course of its development more and more of what is contained in human characters and capacities. We are, in this age, drawing forth with amazement discoveries which seem to be inexhaustible from the treasure-house of material nature. Think of the great forms of history, so diversified, so unlike one to another, so unexpected in their traits. Think of what fiction, with all its abuses, has done for us; multiplying and unfolding for the general knowledge types which would otherwise have been lost where they grew up; think of its world of ideal histories, revealing to man himself. Think again what has been bestowed on man in the perfecting of language. Think of the way in which new faculties, as it were, spring up in us of seeing and feeling; how, by art, by poetry, our eyes are more and more opened to discern in new ways the wonders of the physical universe and their meaning. Count over all our great possessions. Shall we venture to say that all this does not come from the Source of all beauty and all wisdom and all light? And what He gives, it is for us to accept and improve. "Covet earnestly the greater, the better gifts." This is indeed one side of the matter. But there is another and a higher.


1. It would still be true, even if this world were all, that this perfection of character is the highest achievement of human nature.

2. But this world, with all its wonderful results, is not all; we have a place in something wider and more lasting. We are sharers together in a great disaster, and in a great recovery, even now begun "God so loved the world," etc. That by which He makes us to understand and draw near to Him is His love for us. Henceforth the world knows Him if it knows Him at all, in the Cross. The world never can be the same after that, as it was before it. It has brought a new spirit into the world, with a Divine prerogative of excellence, to which all other things excellent and admirable must yield the first place.

3. There is something else to be thought of besides civilisation. We are not necessarily growing better men, though we may be doing a great work when we are dispersing God's manifold gifts of knowledge or ability. And what we are here for is, if anything, to become good; and goodness now means that spirit of love which joins man to man and lifts him to God. Side by side with our brilliant successes and hopes abide the conditions of our state — pain, moral evil, death. When a man enters into his closet and is still, and by himself looks in the face his awful destiny, he can hardly help feeling that the gifts of God for this life are for this life; they cannot reach beyond; they cannot touch that which is to be. As St. Paul argues, they are incomplete, transitory, and, compared with what we are to look for, but the playthings and exercises of children; they share our doom of mortality. One thing only "never faileth." In the next world, as in this, it is by love that creatures receive and show forth the likeness of their Maker. Conclusion: God has placed us to develope our full nature here; but He has placed us here, we believe, still more to become like Himself. So, while learning to understand, value, and use the greatest endowments which the course of things has unfolded in human society, remember that there is a way for you to walk in which carries you far beyond them, and opens to you even wider prospects, more awful thoughts, a deeper train of ideas and relations and duties which touch us in what is most inward, to the very quick. We are sinners who have been saved by a God who loved us.

(Dean Church.)

We begin in order with the counsel or exhortation, "Covet earnestly," etc. Wherein again we have three particulars more. Thus I say are all those abilities which any in any kind whatsoever, or to any purpose, are endowed withal. This it is thus far useful to us, as it serves to engender all meekness and humility in us. So likewise further it holds well for the improvement and exercise of these gifts which God hath given us, that we be no misers or restrainers of them, but good stewards of the manifold grace of God. "Freely ye have received, freely give." The dignity and excellency of them may be briefly laid forth unto us in three particulars: First, from their original and conveyance, when we shall consider how we come by them, and how they are indeed transmitted unto us. Now if there were no more but this in it, there were very good reason certainly why we should a little look after them. But secondly, that's not all, there's a further ground for our embracing them besides, and that is by considering them substantially, what they are in their own nature, and that impression which they leave upon the subject in which they are: these gifts if we do but consider them in themselves, they are very amiable and lovely, and so make those persons further to be who are endowed with them. They are special ornaments and beautifyings to them. Thirdly, and especially for their use and improvement and those gracious ends which they lead unto. So much therefore now for that, viz., the first particular considerable in this first general, and that is the object propounded, "gifts." The second is the qualification of this object by way of comparison or distinction, and that is the best or better gifts. First, for that which is implied, there are some gifts which are better than others. Consider wherein this distinction does consist, namely, in what respect some gifts are said to be better than others. First, gifts sometimes are counted better as they are anything more rare and unusual. Those which can do somewhat which few else can do besides, they do from hence for the most part esteem themselves. Thus it is with some scholars, just as it is with some books which have a price set upon them more from their scarcity than from the matter of them or any intrinsical worth which is in them. But this is not such a betterness as the apostle does intend in this place. Secondly, gifts are sometimes counted better as they are more glorious and conspicuous in the eyes of the world; thus there are some which are especially more than others, which have a greater lustre upon them. It is neither those gifts always which are most rare and unusual, nor yet which are most conspicuous and plausible, which are truly the better gifts. Therefore thirdly, to speak home to the point, there are two things especially which the apostle does here mention to us. And gifts may be said to be better in a twofold respect. First, gifts are said to be better intrinsically and materially as considered within their own compass and sphere. But then secondly, gifts are said to be better extrinsically, or extensively in their effects, as they do more communicate and enlarge themselves beyond the subject, in which they are to the good of other men. Thus those are the best gifts which do tend best to edification. The second is that which is expressed, that if there be any gifts which are better than others, those are they which we for our particulars of all others are to apply ourselves to, "Covet earnestly the best gifts." This the apostle here requires, and he does it but upon reasonable considerations. First, that common and general inclination which is in all men in everything else; there is nothing else in any kind whatsoever, which men do at any time desire or look after, but they would have the best of it as near as they can; even there sometimes where worse might serve their turn, and might be good enough for them, their mouths water after that. The best garments, the best houses, the best provisions, the best preferments. Wouldst thou have that which is good, and be the worst of all thyself? What an incongruous and unsuitable thing is this! Secondly, the consideration of the nature of the soul itself, that calls for as much from us. The better the soul is considered in its own substance and essence, the better would those things be which should qualify it, and which it would be endued withal. The better gifts do best become the better part. Thirdly, in reference also to practice and execution; therefore the better gifts, that we may accomplish the better performances and may do the most good. The operations are answerable to the principles; those which have but mean gifts, they can consequently do but mean services. This does therefore justly come home to the consciences of many persons in the world; there are some which look after none of these gifts at all; like Gallio they care for none of these things. If they may have but so much as to subsist on and to thrive in their temporal condition, that is all they take care for or trouble themselves withal. Give them but the livings, and let others go away with the gifts. Again, there are others which any gifts will very well please them, and serve their turn; which many times want judgment to discern of the better gifts, which they should give themselves unto. That this may be further rightly unfolded, we must add these following limitations by way of explication. First, that these words here of the apostle, they are not to be taken exclusively, but only emphatically. Not as denying us a liberty to look after other gifts, but as carrying us more especially to these which are of higher consideration. It is lawful and also commendable to covet meaner gifts likewise, such as knowledge and learning. This will be easily cleared unto us upon this account. First, because it is that which does bring us into a nearer likeness and similitude to God Himself; that is undoubtedly the most excellent way which does make us most conformable to Him who is the chiefest excellency. Now this we are not so much by our gifts and parts as we are by the work of grace in our hearts. Indeed it is true that we are made like unto God in some sort, in the natural faculties of our soul, our reason, understanding, etc. But this is not all, nor the chiefest; no, but so far forth as we are new created and made over again by the sanctifying work of God's Spirit in us. Secondly, grace is the more excellent way and such as is beyond common gifts, as the end is better than the means which are ordained and appointed thereunto. Thirdly, it is more excellent also in regard of the effects and consequents of it. For it gives peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost. We are not saved as we have greater parts than others, more knowledge and enlightening in our understandings; but rather as we have more grace than others, and more love and flexibility in our affections. The consideration of this point may serve as a good rule unto us whereby to estimate both ourselves and other men; and that is not so much by the former as rather by the latter. Let us not think ourselves the better men so much by our wit and learning as rather by our piety and religious grace. And so much also for that second point: that grace and godliness is the most excellent way. The third is that which follows from this second, and that is this: that it is a duty which lies upon us to pursue the latter above the former, to covet the more excellent way, above the better gifts, grace before other accomplishments. And surely not without very good cause and ground for it. For first, we shall otherwise be defective in the most principal accomplishment of all. There is an argument in the very title which he gives it when he calls it "the most excellent way." What a folly is it to mind things which are inferior! Secondly, we shall be otherwise able to do less good with such gifts as these are; where there are the better gifts without the more excellent way, there will not be that improvement of those gifts as it is fitting there should be to God's glory, and the good of the Church or commonwealth in which a man is and whereunto he belongs. Take a man that has nothing but parts, and has not grace for the ordering of his parts, and he will do but very little or no good with them. Nay further, thirdly, such as these will oftentimes do so much the more hurt. St. Paul had very good reason, when he had made mention of the better gifts, to propound immediately upon it the more excellent way, because those without this are but so much the more hurtful and pernicious. Iniquity when it is armed with learning is so much the more dangerous. What does all this now come to, but so much the more strongly to enforce this present exhortation of the apostle, which we have here now before us, upon ourselves. To couple these two both together in our endeavour, which he does here together in his speech. And further, as we are to mind godliness and religion in the chiefest place, that also which is chief and most principal in it; there is the excellent way considerable in the excellent way, in opposition to that which is meaner and inferior in it. There is the form and outside of religion, and there is the power and efficacy of it. We should not be only formal Christians, but real; not only remiss Christians, but zealous; not only slight and superficial Christians, but sound and solid and substantial. Again still further, to explain this point of the excellent way a little more unto us, as we are to endeavour after this simply considered in itself; so likewise in reference to our several performances for the particular exercise and execution. There are some kind of actions and performances in religion, which as concerning the right and better discharge of them are mixed of parts and piety both. They require the better gifts, and they require the more excellent way for the doing of them. And we should not satisfy ourselves in the one without the other. Again yet further, we should be careful so to order and dispose of our gifts for the getting and improving of them, as that withal we do not prejudice our graces, and hinder and obstruct them; we should take heed of losing ourselves in our studies, as concerning the frame and temper of our hearts. Labour to advance in learning, but still remember to keep up in grace. Lastly, this excellent way, it does not only refer to the getting of grace ourselves, but likewise to the promoting of it in others. And this was that which the Apostle Paul in this place did seem especially to aim at in these Corinthians. Humility and thankfulness in the enjoyment of gifts, and charity and faithfulness in the improvement of gifts, is the most excellent way in order to the gifts themselves. The second is the proposition of it, that we have in this word, "I Show it unto you." Show it? How did he show it? Two ways, as we may conceive more especially. First, he showed it in thesi; and secondly, he showed in hypothesi. He showed it in the practice. He showed it in his doctrine and ministry, First, he showed it them in his doctrine, and by way of simple proposition he published it and declared it unto them, And that at large here in this Epistle in the chapter immediately following. The apostle showed unto these Corinthians the most excellent way; and he showed it first of all in his doctrine. Here are divers things which from hence I might very pertinently insist upon; as — First, we see here that religion is capable of demonstration. It is such as may be clearly evidenced and demonstrated and made good to those who will not be peevish and refractory and perverse. Again secondly, in that the apostle here speaking of his preaching and writing and ministerial dispensation says, "I show it unto you." We see here in what kind of way preaching and teaching is to be carried. In the demonstration of the Spirit and power (1 Corinthians 2:4). It is not enough for us simply to propound truths, but as near as we can to evidence them and demonstrate them. Therefore we are here especially to take heed of anything which may be any hindrance or prejudice hereunto. Secondly, he showed it also in his own practice and example. This we may gather from the next chapter, "Though I should speak... without charity," etc. "Though I should," is here as much as "I do not," and this is another kind of showing, which does belong to all ministers else whosoever they be, without which the other showing will do little or no good at all. The Apostle Paul, as he was a sound teacher, so he was likewise a follower of that which himself did teach. This is requisite to be, thereby to make our doctrine more effectual and full of success. Who will believe our report when we do not believe it ourselves?

(Thomas Horton, D.D.)

The Church of Corinth abounded most with spiritual gifts, and so they did most abuse them. All had not those spiritual gifts, some had those that had them despised those that had them not; and those that had them not envied those that had them. Paul, therefore, that he might heal this distemper, tells them that though the way of gifts be an excellent way, yet the way of grace and love is more excellent and most to be desired.

I. THERE IS A WAY OF GIFTS DISTINCT FROM THE WAY OF GRACE, and vice versa. All the saints have grace, but all have not gifts. Grace is that excellency whereby we are made like to God in Christ; gifts, that whereby we are serviceable for God in the Church. A man may have a gift and yet no grace in prayer or in preaching, and may have the gift, and yet not the saving grace of faith.


1. They are useful. The sun is an excellent creature, because he doth good to others. Though there be excellent commodities in other countries, yet if you have no means of transport, you are no better for them; therefore there is a great use of shipping. So by these gifts, the grace that grows in one man's heart is transported into another's (Ephesians 4.). If you cannot reach a book you take a stool, and then you are able to take it down; the stool are these gifts.

2. They add excellency to that which is the most excellent. Ordinarily, if a worse thing be added unto a better, the better is defiled, e.g., when lead is added to silver. But now grace is the greatest excellency in the world, yet add gifts to it, and grace itself is made the more excellent; for as the temple did sanctify the gold, but the gold did beautify the temple; so grace sanctifies gifts, and gifts beautify grace.


1. Love —

(1)Is not an empty thing (1 Corinthians 13:1).

(2)It never fails.

(3)It is not easily provoked, etc.

2. Grace —

(1)Is the proper effect of the Spirit; gifts are, opus ad extra.

(2)Affords no hold for sin.


1. To those that have gifts. It calls upon you all for to bless the Lord, and to seek the more excellent way. For gifts and grace differ —(1) In their nature; the one are a dead grace, the other a living gift.(2) In their disposition, for grace is contented with the simplicity of the gospel, gifts are not contented. The Corinthians, who excelled in gifts, adulterated the gospel with their swelling words: and the Galatians with false doctrine. A child in a cornfield is most taken with the coloured weeds and daisies; but the husbandman is taken with nothing but the corn. So a man that hath gifts only, when he comes to a sermon, or a prayer, is much taken with the fine expressions; but the man that hath grace looks at the spirituality and the power of those things that are there delivered.(3) In their effects; grace hath a good hand at suffering as well as at doing; gifts have a very good hand at doing, but an ill hand at suffering.(4) In their abatement and quenching: if a man have grace and fall into sin, that sin will hinder and quench the former actings of his grace; but if a man have gifts only, and he fall into sin, that sin hinders not his actings, he can pray as he did, etc. A candle painted upon a board, if put into water, is not quenched thereby; because it is a dead and not a living candle.

2. To those who have either no gifts at all, or very weak gifts. It calls upon you to be of good comfort. The way of gifts, indeed, is an excellent way; yet if God has led you in a more excellent way, have you any cause to complain? Will you complain for want of that, which if you had in abundance, you would have less time to tend your own souls? Or, will you complain for want of that, which if you had without grace, would be your undoing?

(W. Bridge, M.A.)

I. GRACES ARE BETTER THAN GIFTS. Gifts were necessary in the early ages of the Church; as outward illustrations of the new spiritual facts, as evidences of the Divine authority of the preachers of the gospel, and as fitting them to carry their message to all nations. And there are still gifts bestowed on the Church. We speak of a person having a gift for preaching or teaching, or praying or giving, etc. The Redeemer's kingdom needs consecrated learning, eloquence, etc. But the apostle sets graces above gifts, a thing surely very remarkable in his case.


1. A Divine origin. "What have we that we have not received? By the grace of God we are what we are."

2. A purpose to effect. Both are for the use of edifying. If we have gifts we are to use them in kindly and wise actions, helping our brothers to carry their burdens, or teaching them how best to lay stone upon stone. If we have graces, then we are enabled to exercise a holy influence, inspiring and inspiriting souls.

3. Both can grow and suffer loss.


1. Graces have the power to come to all, and enrich all. In any very large sense gifts can only be for the few.

2. Graces last for ever. The things which we have must one day drop out of our hands; the dead hand holds nothing. What we are in ourselves we must he for ever.

3. Graces have the power of working always. Gifts are dependent on men's wills, and those wills are often wholly self-ruled. We very seldom can get the full benefit of the gifts of the gifted. But if a man have a grace, he cannot help working for his fellow-men and for Christ.

(R. Tuck, B.A.).

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