CHAPTER X: The Gifts, from "The Christian Ministry According to the Apostles" (1858) by Thomas Hughes Milner
Unto every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men, Eph. iv. 7, 8.
1. THE NEW institution is so pre-eminently one of favour, that the apostle designates it the administration of the grace of God. In this it is distinguished from the law, for by it God promised nothing but what was wrought for. Do this and live, or, Fail to do and die, were its inexorable terms. But while wages according to work was the principle of the legal institution, favour unwrought for is a chief characteristic of the gospel dispensation. From first to last it is an administration of unmerited favours. Thus, in addition to such frequent occurrence in New Testament Scripture of the word karis, grace or favour, we find our word gift standing for doma; dosis; dorea; doreema; doron; merismos; and karisma; all which terms are indicative of the free, unmerited, gracious character of the favours bestowed by God on men under the reign of Jesus.
2. With manifest allusion to the giving of Jesus as the Father’s pledge of his love to man, the apostle exclaims: Thanks unto God for his unspeakable gift, 2 Cor. ix. 15. He takes his stand here and argues: he that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Rom. viii. 32. All things pertaining to life and godliness are included in the favours of the divine bestowment through the Messiah, 2 Pet. i. 3. When he ascended on high he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Through him is given the gift of righteousness, Rom. v. 17. The gift of salvation, Eph. ii. 8. The gift of life, 1 John v. 11. The gift of the Holy Spirit, Acts ii. 38. The gifts of the Spirit, 1 Cor. xii. 4. The gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and indeed every good and perfect gift, Jas. i. 17.
3. So all-prevalent is this idea of divine gift or favour throughout the apostolic writings, that there is absolutely nothing good or great in the churches, or in the brethren, which is not ascribed to the grace of God. Whatever it be, whether the forgiveness of sin, the acceptance of the person, the peace, the love, the joy, or the hope of the gospel, the righteousness and holiness of the life of the believing, the various endowments of the Spirit, the liberal distributions of the faithful one to another, or what are commonly called the natural abilities, talents, or acquirements of the brethren, all, all are traced by the apostles up to the exceeding grace of God in Christ.
4. In the light of this doctrine no brother may say, that what he possesses is his own. Each feels himself to be but a recipient of the favours of the divine sovereign, a steward of so much of the manifold grace of God, an earthen vessel of heavenly treasure, an instrument in the hand of one all-bountiful proprietor. He feels that in reply to the question: What hast thou that thou hast not received? His answer must be, Nothing.
5. And such is the fact: but it is this practical realization of it that ensures that revenue of glory to God which is the ultimate object of the reign of grace. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, says the apostle, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. All boasting is excluded by this great conservative thought. Its unvarying warning is: “Let no man glory in men.” “Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord.” And not less does it exclude from the ecclesia of Christ that deification of “nature,” and of an impersonal “providence,” by which the faithful have allowed themselves to be greatly ensnared through the example of the wise of this world. We can understand why the wise and prudent, who have little or no faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Lord of the universe, and who have no care to confess him such before men, should, in their style, attribute to nature and providence all that the apostle ascribes to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and God the Father; but we have yet to learn the lawfulness of such modes of expression to the Christian, or to be convinced that God is not robbed, and that Christ is not wounded in the house of his friends, thereby. Were it but a question of words, propriety demands of Christians the use of the apostolic, rather than the philosophic style; but it is immeasurably more than this, for words are but the signs of ideas, and with improper, or indefinite, or imperfect language, come thoughts of equal impropriety, indefiniteness, and imperfection. And never, therefore, can the God of all grace have that constant homage of his people, which is his peculiar right and treasure, till, in thought, and word, and act, he is distinctly recognised as the author of every good and perfect gift. The theodoxia––the glory of God is the end of the gospel, and the recognition of every gift, and grace of every brother, as his bestowment in Christ, is essential to this.
6. As God’s glory is secured, human pride is abated. Christian humility is always consentaneous with the glory of God. The distinct understanding that all the gifts of the church are the generous bestowments of its imperial Head, is one of the best preventives possible of the manifestation of pride in any member of the body. Under its subduing influence, self-glorification is impossible. No man can be boastful of his gifts or attainments, when the questions, as put by the apostle to the Corinthians, are present to his mind: Who maketh thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received it, why glory as if thou hadst not received? These queries, as the whole context shews, were submitted in regard to this question of gifts, and not at all in reference to conversion, as some unstable and unteachable spirits, who wrest the Scriptures, would have it: as if God were a respecter of persons, and was invidiously pleased to make some men differ from others, by converting and saving them, when he might have done alike for all, had he been so disposed. The Scriptures teach no such doctrine: they declare that God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, inasmuch as there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all. The reasons they assign for the non-conversion of men is their rejection of the provided salvation: said Jesus, Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life. But the subject on which Paul wrote when he asked, Who maketh thee to differ? is expressly that of gifts, of teachers. The disciples in Corinth had so far forgot the great fact of their common obligation to the Lord for all the gifts manifested among them, that they became puffed up for one teacher against another; some openly proclaiming their preference for Paul, others for Apollos, some for Peter, and others for Christ. So that the Lord had no higher a place accorded him than his servants! Thus came the rebuke: Who is Paul, and who Apollos, but servants by whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each? I planted, Apollos watered, but God made to grow. So, then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God who makes to grow. Now, he that planteth and he that watereth are one, and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour, for we are labourers together with God: Ye are God’s field, God’s building, 1 Cor. iii. 5-9. God it was who gave to the church such “able ministers” as Paul and Apollos. In the immediate context, Paul says it was according to the grace given to him that, as a skillful architect, he had laid the foundation. The Lord gave him his place in the grand enterprise, and he gave Apollos his––they were diakonoi as the Lord gave to each. All, then, that the apostle wished the brethren to account of him and the other apostles was, that they were servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. And then he says, that he had referred what he had said to himself and Apollos, that the brethren might learn in them not to think of servants––stewards, above that which is written, that no one of them be puffed up for one against another, 1 Cor. iv. 1-7.
7. And while this principle guarantees the glory of God, and the humility of his people, it also secures to each servant of the one Master that esteem which is ever appropriate to such an exalted service as that of the King of saints. It does not lower the Christian either in his own esteem, or in that of his brethren, that all recognise themselves as co-obligants to the favour of God, for all that they are, and all that they possess. There is nothing more compatible with true dignity than that genuine modesty which Paul both exemplifies and counsels, when he says in Rom. xii. 3, According to the grace of God given to me, I say to every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each a measure of faith. According to grace given him, Paul tendered this exhortation, urging all the brethren to self-thought––appropriate self-thought, neither too high nor too low, but prudent, even according to the measure of faith God had given to each respecting himself, as regards his gifts, abilities, talents, or powers. It is thus for the brethren, recognising their indebtedness to the favour of God for all the gifts they possess, to think of themselves with respect thereto precisely according to the divinely implanted faith therein. When God bestows gift he gives faith in the possession of it, whereby the holder may know and feel his responsibility, and it is, therefore, the duty of the possessor to make that faith the rule of the use of his gift or gifts. That is to say, he is not to attempt anything without faith––faith in his ability, by the grace of God, to accomplish that which he essays; nor is he, having faith in his aptitude for any of the good work of the Lord, to fail in doing it according to the measure of his faith. At first the sober thinking Christian will find his self-ward faith very feeble, so that what he undertakes will be with fear and trembling, But this will just be in proportion with his undeveloped gift. His maiden efforts will appear feeble as his faith, but by reason of use both will be exercised, developed, strengthened, and matured; so that in this, as in other branches of Christian experience, he will realize the word that is written: As thy day is, so shall thy strength be.
8. By non-attention to this rule a man is more likely to befool himself than to glorify God. But by giving heed to the prescription, he goes forward with the steady step of faith, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and becoming daily more accomplished for every good work, and enjoying a blessedness in his deed that no other service or principle of action can ever afford. Thus wrote Paul in Gal. vi. 3-5: If a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself: but let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another, for every man shall bear his own burden. That many who have not been sent would run–that men would have zeal without knowledge–that some would attempt what they could not accomplish–that they would think themselves to be something in things wherein they are nothing, the apostle knew, and he prescribed this preventive. These are evils incidental to the imperfection of our present state of being, and which operate in all the relations of life, social and civil, as well as sacred. What, then, is the remedy? Are human tribunals to be established, that shall determine the ability and liberty of men in the use of the gifts which God has given them? Or should they not rather be taught, as the apostle teaches the disciples, their amenability to the Giver of the favours they are supposed to possess? The latter manifestly. The former has always failed. Sumptuary laws are now entirely discarded, free-trade principles are now recognised as those alone consistent with civilization, but ecclesiasticism greedy of power, and slower than the sloth, is the last to yield its usurped authority, and leave the Lord’s own beneficiaries free to serve him with his own bestowments, in his own service, according to his own prescriptions. But the monopoly of ministerialism must yield to the advancing enlightenment of the people.
9. It is only beginning to be seen that the immediate purpose for which the ascended Messiah gave apostles, prophets, &c., as his gifts, was the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. He did not give apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, that they might monopolize the ministry among themselves, but expressly that they might perfect or adapt the saints for the work. Our translators have quietly slipped in a comma after “the saints” in Eph. iv. 12, so making it appear that there were three objects contemplated in the gifts specified, first, the perfecting of the saints; second, the work of the ministry; and third, the edifying of the body. But this makes senseless tautology, for what is the perfecting of the saints but the work of the ministry, and what is the work of the ministry but the edifying of the body, and what is the edifying of the body but the perfecting of the saints. But the apostle does not thus reason in a circle. He states plainly that the gifts of apostles, prophets, &c., were given for the adapting of the saints for the work of the ministry, in order thus to the upbuilding of the body of Christ, till all the saints come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that they be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine and cunning craftiness, whereby men lie in wait to deceive, but (themselves) speaking the truth in love, grow up unto him in all things who is the head. Such is the end of ministry, and in it all the saints are ministers; to adapt them for this work, apostles, prophets, &c. were given.
10. Brethren are themselves the Lord’s gifts, as also the gifts they possess. To every one of us is grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ; wherefore he said, when he ascended, he gave gifts unto men. And he gave some apostles, &c. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are the Sovereign’s gifts to the whole church for the purposes already indicated, so that to every one of us favour is given. But in addition to the favour bestowed through these gifted brethren, Peter says that every man has received a gift, and that each is, therefore, to minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. There is, therefore, no Christian who has not received grace, first, in the sense of what he has got through gifted brethren from the apostles downwards; and second, in the talents which have been given to himself personally, and which he is in turn faithfully to employ for the benefit of his contemporaries and successors.
11. The Lord has wisely adopted this double method of bestowing favours upon his church. On his ascension he gave the gifts enumerated, and to every brother at least one gift. The Saviour, describing the administration of his reign, represented the Lord as giving to one servant five talents, to a second two, and to a third one. He did not suppose the anomaly of a servant without a gift; a steward without a charge. He acknowledged no sinecures; they abound in the kingdoms of men, but have no existence in that of God. “Honorary membership,” and “honorary offices,” are the devotions of an apostate church at the shrine of mammon; for in mammon-worship men’s persons are held in admiration because of advantage. No Christian, then, may “stand idle all the day.” If he act the slothful servant––wrap his talent in a napkin, and hide it in the earth, his Lord advertises him as to the reward he may expect. Matt xxv. 14-30.
12. The Christian is responsible to the Lord for whatever gift or gifts he has received, whether they be what men regard as great or small, natural, spiritual, or miraculous. Some gifts, as those of apostles and prophets were bestowed supernaturally–by special, personal revelation, endowment, and commission. Another mode of bestowment was by the imposition of the apostles’ hands: by the laying on of their hands the Holy Spirit, and spiritual gifts generally, were communicated to the first converts. With this view Paul desired to visit the brethren in Rome, that he might “impart to them some spiritual gift,” and in recollection of what Timothy had so received, he put him in remembrance to stir up the gift of God that was in him by the putting on of the apostles’ hands, Rom. i. 11; 2 Tim. i. 6. But these were exceptional and extraordinary methods of bestowment. Supernatural and miraculous as they were, their appropriateness to the introduction of the new reign is manifest. But they did not supersede the ordinary and natural channels of divine communication of favour to man. The providential upraising of such brethren as Apollos and Aquilla–brethren naturally gifted, as popular phraseology speaks, the one with eloquence, and both with faithfulness,–the bringing of them together, however accidentally it might appear, and the further instructing of the more eloquent by the plainer, thought better informed brother, and his faithful wife,–all in this case, and everything in all such cases, the Scriptures speak of as doing of the Lord. Apollos, though thus instructed more perfectly in the way of the Lord, is spoken of by Paul to the Corinthians as expressly the gift of God to them. If the Lord gave Paul to plant the church in Corinth, he gave Apollos to water it. The apostle does not speak of Apollos or his natural talents as less the gifts of the Lord, than himself and his revelations above measure. Natural as well as supernatural endowments are equally the gifts of God in Christ. Nature is not the less under the direction of the sovereign Jesus when flowing onward in usual course, than when made to hearken anew to his omnific voice. God hath put all things under his feet, and given him to be head over all to his body the church.
13. Supernatural endowment, therefore, is not necessarily implied in the Messiah’s gifts. It does not follow that the evangelists, pastors, and teachers of Eph. iv. 11, were miraculously gifted because Christ gave them. We learn that the apostles and prophets were so endowed, not because of this intimation, that they were the Lord’s dowry to his bride, but because of other passages which so inform us of their mission and qualifications.
14. One thought more. Whatever the character of the gift possessed by any brother, he is responsible for its cultivation, employment, and increase. Such is the teaching of the Lord in his parable of the three servants, in the conclusion of which he says, Take the talent from him that hid it, and give it to him who hath ten: for unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away, even that which he hath. Gifts employed grow in number and value. The principle of development characterises the spiritual as much as the natural universe. The bounty and wisdom of God are manifest in the bestowment of his favours in the germ, the seed, the bud, and the responsibility and wisdom of man are evidenced in their due culture and use. The smallest thus often becomes the greatest. Persons of comparatively meagre endowment, not infrequently by persevering diligence, shoot far ahead of their more richly gifted, but less faithful, less laborious peers. The Christian ecclesia thus presents the finest arena in the universe for the display of high and holy emulation. Right gladly would the angels enter the lists if they might, but this honour is reserved for the emulators of the Prince of Victors, who himself cheers them on with the promise of encircling with his own hand the conqueror’s brow with the amaranthine crown. Hence the watchwords of the triumphant apostle: Neglect not the gift that is in thee;...Stir up the gift that is in thee;...Covet earnestly the best gifts;...Study to shew thyself a workman approved of God, that needeth not to be ashamed;...Let thy profiting appear unto all. The church is thus the school of Christ; it is the true college of the Christian ministry. Self-culture is the daily duty of every child of God.