The Dispensation of the Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.…

The ages of the world are divisible into three dispensations.

1. Of the Father when God was known as a Creator; creation manifested His eternal power and Godhead.

2. Of the Son when God manifested Himself through man; the Eternal Word spoke through the inspired and gifted of the race. Its climax was the advent of the Redeemer.

3. Of the Spirit in which God has communicated Himself by the highest revelation, as a Spirit mingling with a spirit. There is a twofold way in which the operations of the Spirit may be considered.

I. SPIRITUAL GIFTS CONFERRED ON INDIVIDUALS. In ver. 28 these are divided into two classes; the first are those capacities which are originally found in human nature, elevated and enlarged by the gift of the Spirit; the second are those which were called into existence by the sudden approach of the same influence. Just as if the temperature of this northern hemisphere were raised suddenly, and a mighty tropical river were to pour its fertilising inundation over the country, the result would be impartation of a vigorous and gigantic growth to the vegetation already in existence, and at the same time the development of life in seeds and germs which had long lain latent in the soil, incapable of vegetation in the unkindly climate of their birth. Consider —

(1) The natural gifts.

(a)  Teaching is a gift, natural or acquired. To know is one thing; to have the capacity of imparting knowledge is another.

(b)  Healing is no supernatural mystery; long and careful study of physical laws capacitate the physician for his task.

(c)  Government, again, may be learned, but there are some who never could so acquire it. Some men seem born to command. Now the doctrine of the apostle was, that all these are transformed by the Spirit so as to become almost new powers.

(2) Supernatural gifts. Of these we find two pre-eminent gifts.

(a) The gift of tongues was not merely the imparted faculty of speaking foreign languages; it would rather seem that the Spirit of God, mingling with the soul of man, so glorified its conceptions, that the ordinary forms of speech were found inadequate for their expression. In a far lower department, when a man becomes possessed of great ideas, his language becomes broken, But it often happens that when perfect sympathy exists, incoherent utterances — a word — a syllable — is quite as efficient as elaborate sentences. On the day of Pentecost all who were in the same state of spiritual emotion as those who spoke understood the speakers; to those who were sceptically watching, the effects appeared like those of intoxication. A similar account is given in chap. 1 Corinthians 14.

(b) The gift of prophecy seems to have been a state of communion with the mind of God, more under the guidance of reason than the gift of tongues.

2. Upon these gifts we make two observations.

(1) Even the highest were not accompanied with spiritual faultlessness. Disorder and vanity might accompany these gifts, and the prophetic utterance itself might be degraded to mere brawling, therefore St. Paul declared the need of subjection and rule over spiritual gifts; the spirits of the prophets were to be subject to the prophets; if those endowed with tongues were unable to interpret what they meant, they were to hold their peace. There is nothing precisely identical in our own day with these gifts, but there are those which stand in a somewhat analogous relation. The flights of genius appear like maniac ravings to minds not elevated to the same level, and are perfectly compatible with moral disorder. The most gifted of our countrymen was "the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind." The most glorious gift of poetic insight is too often associated with degraded life.

(2) The gifts, which were higher in one sense, were lower in another; as supernatural gifts they would rank thus — tongues — prophecy — teaching; but as blessings to be desired, this order is reversed. The principle upon which that was tried was that of a utility whose measure was love (1 Corinthians 14:19). Our estimate is almost the reverse of this: we value a gift in proportion to its rarity. One of our countrymen has achieved for himself extraordinary scientific renown, but the same man applied his rare intellect to the construction of that simple lamp which had been the guardian of the miner's life. The most trifling act which is useful is nobler in God's sight than the most brilliant accomplishment of genius.

II. THE SPIRITUAL UNITY OF THE CHURCH — "the same Spirit." There are two ideas of unity: sameness of form and identity of spirit. Some have fondly hoped to realise an unity for the Church of Christ which should be manifested by uniform expressions in everything. There are others who have thrown aside entirely this idea as chimerical; and who, perceiving that the law of the universal system is manifoldness in unity, have ceased to expect any other oneness for the Church of Christ than that of a sameness of spirit, showing itself through diversities of gifts. Among these was Paul.

1. All real unity is manifold. Feelings in themselves identical find countless forms of expression. In the world as God has made it one law shows itself under diverse, even opposite manifestations.

2. All living unity is spiritual, not formal. You may have a unity shown in identity of form; but it is a lifeless unity. The illustration given by the apostle is that of the human body. Uniformity here would have been irreparable loss — the loss of every part that was merged into one. The body's unity is the unity of a living consciousness which animates every separate atom of the frame, and reduces each to the performance of a function fitted to the welfare of the whole.

3. None but a spiritual unity can preserve the rights both of the individual and the Church. Some have claimed the right of private judgment in such a way that every individual opinion becomes truth, and every utterance of private conscience right; thus the Church is sacrificed to the individual; and the universal conscience, the common faith, becomes as nothing. Again, there are others who, like the Church of Rome, would surrender the conscience of each man to the conscience of the Church. Spiritual unity saves the right of both in God's system. It respects the sanctity of —

(1) The individual conscience. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." The belief of the whole world cannot make that thing true to me which to me seems false.

(2) The individual character. Out of the millions of the race, a few features diversify themselves into so many forms of countenance, that scarcely two could be mistaken for each other. There are no two leaves on the same tree alike; nor two sides of the same leaf, unless you cut and kill it. Each man born into this world is a fresh new soul intended by his Maker to develop himself in a new fresh way.

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

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

WEB: Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

Diversity of Nature
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