James White developed the Seventh-day Adventist doctrinal thinking on Spiritual Gifts shortly after his wife began to manifest what was believed to be the spiritual gift of prophecy. He presented this essay in the Review and Herald, April21, 1851.
THE REVIEW AND HERALD.
“Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.”
PARIS, APRIL 21. 1851.
THE GIFTS OF THE GOSPEL CHURCH.
” And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets ; and some, evangelists ; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in 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.” Eph. iv, 11-14.
” And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” 1 Cor. xii, 28.
When the design of the gifts is clearly seen, then the importance of this subject will be understood. They were given for the perfecting of the church of Christ. When the apostolic church was pure and holy, having just learned the gospel from the Great Head of the church, and having been baptized with the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, the gifts of the Spirit were given to them, for their edification and profit. And we have no Scripture evidence that they were designed -for a limited portion of the gospel age, to be taken away from the church in a few year; but the proof is abundant that they were designed to exist in the church as long as the saints in their mortal state needed the teaching of the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
It is universally admitted that a portion of the gifts exist in the church at this day, such as'” the word of wisdom,” and ” the word of knowledge,” and no one denies that “pastors” and ” teachers” were to be in the church until its perfection. Then if a portion of the gifts were to remain in the church, why not all of them remain? Why should the professed church of Christ pick out from that catalogue of gifts, so freely bestowed by the Great Head, of the church, those that suit them best, and trample the others in the dust ? It is sometimes asserted, by those who oppose the operations of tha Spirit of God, that the gifts were designed for the apostles alone : but if this is true, then the church of Christ has been destitute of ” the word of wisdom,” “word of knowledge,” and the gift of ” faith” for about 1800 years, and those who have professed to be ” teachers” and ” pastors” have assumed a calling which ceased to exist at the death of the apostles. It is therefore very evident that all the gifts run parallel with each other, none of them ending before the rest, and that they were to extend quite through the gospel age.
The gifts were given for ” the perfecting of the saints,” and as the church is in an imperfect state they are all needed. They were to be employed for this purpose ” till we all come in 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 fullness of Christ.” The church has never yet reached this state of unity, knowledge, fulness and perfection therefore the gifts should not be dismissed, until the object for which they were given is gained. It is admitted that they were necessary for the infant church in the days of the apostles, in confirming the covenant with “signs and wonders” and “gifts of the Holy Ghost.” But let it be remembered that Paul’s instructions, relative to the gifts, were given full twenty-five years after the week of confirmation, and the beloved John had his visions in the isle Patmos twenty-six years later still; therefore, none should assert that the gifts of the Spirit were given merely to confirm the covenant. They were then necessary for that object; but they are tenfold more necessary now to bring together the scattered members of the body of Christ, and to perfect the church to stand in the great day of the Lord, and to be changed to immortality when Christ comes in his own, and his Father’s glory. If the apostolic church needed the gifts to enable them to stand in their peculiar trials, how much more are they needed in the perils of the last days to prepare the church to stand firm in the time of trouble ” SUCH AS NEVER WAS.”
But why have the gifts of the Spirit been no more manifest in the church? We think the principal reasons are, first, because the church has been too blind to understand them, being almost destitute of the Spirit, and too proud to acknowledge them before the world, therefore has rejected, those gifts, in which the Spirit of God is most manifested ; and second, because many of those who have shared these gifts have made such poor use of them. Says St. Paul, ” the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God; for they are FOOLISHNESS UNTO HIM ; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Cor. ii, 14. There was a striking example of the truth of this text on the day of pentecost, when the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the disciples. The multitude were amazed, some ” mocking, said, These men are full of new wine.” But Peter shewed to them that those manifestations were a fulfillment of Prophecy, and the work of God.— Whenever the church has become worldly, proud, destitute of the Spirit and blind, they have not been able to discern the things of the Spirit, and have looked upon the operations of the Holy Spirit with suspicion. And in many cases the cry of ” mesmerism” and “fanaticism” has been raised. The most heaven-daring and fatal example of this, was in calling the gracious work of the Spirit in the Midnight Cry, in 1844, mesmerism and fanaticism. Said J. V. Himes at the Albany Conference, in 1845, ” The seventh month movement produced mesmerism seven feet deep.”
But it is a lamentable fact that a great portion of those who have had any of the gifts of the Spirit of God bestowed upon them, have soon become exalted, and have fallen. Such is the weakness of human nature that God has to bring his people through the furnace of affliction in order to save them. He often withholds his rich blessings from his people, lest they make a wrong use of them and perish. It was necessary that the Apostle Paul should have a ” thorn in the flesh,” lest ” through the abundance of the revelations” he ” should be exalted.” It has too often been the case that when the Lord has bestowed any great spiritual blessing, or gift upon any of his humble children, that the church, instead of carefully watching over them to see that they still kept humble, has heaped upon them compliments and flatteries, which in most cases has exalted and mined the brightest lights set in the church.
If the Apostle had not had such an abundance of ” visions and revelations of the Lord,” he would not have needed a ” thorn in the flesh.” This proves that those on whom Heaven bestows the greatest blessings are in most danger of being ” exalted,” and of falling, therefore, they need to be exhorted to be humble, and watched over carefully. But how often have such been looked upon as almost infallible, and they themselves have been too apt to drink in the extremely dangerous idea that all their impressions were the direct promptings of the Spirit of the Lord. And how often has been the case that such have become self-righteous, puffed up, denunciatory, and finally gross fanatics, and the most efficient agents of the Devil to scatter wild fire, and to divide the flock of God. ” Pride goeth before destruction, and a-haughty spirit before a fall.” Prov. xvi, 18,
We think it is a fact that many of the greatest fanatics in the land, have once shared largely in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but by not having good instruction, they have fallen through pride. This has had a tendency to cause the sceptical and prudent to doubt all the operations of Spirit of God. And in this last hour of Satan’s triumph, when he calls to his aid mesmerism, mysterious knockings, &c. to deceive the people, if God manifests his power, and employs any of the gifts of the Spirit we may expect that a multitude of voices will be raised pronouncing it fanaticism, or anything save the work of the Spirit. But shall we sink in this mire of unbelief, and reject, or prize lightly the gifts of God’s Spirit because some have made a bad use of them ? God forbid.
Men in their blindness and folly have dishonored every precious truth in the Bible, yet we shall not do well to think less of the Scriptures, or any portion of them, because many have made a bad use of them.—
Rather let the servants of the Lord preach the whole truth as revealed in the Word.
The gifts of the Spirit should all have their proper places. The Bible is an everlasting rock. It is our rule of faith and practice. In it the man of God is ” thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” If every member of the church of Christ was holy, harmless, and separate from sinners, and searched the Holy Scriptures diligently and -with much prayer for duty, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we think, they would be able to learn their whole duty in ” all good works.” Thus ” the man of God may be perfect.” But ‘as the reverse exists, and ever has existed, God in much mercy has pitied the weakness of his people, and has set the gifts in the gospel church to correct our errors, and to lead us to his Living Word. Paul says that they are for the ” perfecting of the saints,” ” till we all come in the unity of the faith.” — The extreme necessity of the church in its imperfect state is God’s opportunity to manifest the gifts of the Spirit.
Every Christian is therefore in duty bound to take the Bible as a perfect rule of faith and duty. He should pray fervently to be aided by the Holy Spirit in searching the Scriptures for the whole truth, and for his whole duty. He is not at liberty to turn from them to learn his duty through any of the gifts. We say that the very moment he does, he places the gifts in a wrong place, and takes an extremely dangerous position. The Word should be in front, and the eye of the church should be placed upon it, as the rule to walk by, and the fountain of wisdom, from, which to learn duty in ” all good works.” But if a portion of the church err from the truths of the Bible, and become weak, and sickly, and the flock become scattered, so that it seems necessary for God to employ the gifts of the Spirit to correct, revive and heal the erring, we should let him work. Yea more, we should pray for him to work and plead earnestly that he would work by the Spirit’s power, and bring the scattered sheep to his fold. Praise the Lord, he will work. Amen.
When the seventy returned, and told Jesus that the devils were subject unto them through his name, he said to them, ” Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you ; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” See Luke x, 17 — 20. Jesus saw their danger, and gave them this caution to save them from exaltation. O, what an instructive lesson is contained in these few words from our Lord. By this we may learn that to possess the gifts of the gospel church is not so much a matter of rejoicing, but rather a cause of humiliation before God, and fear and trembling, lest a wrong use be made of them. But to have our names written in heaven, to know that God owns us as his, is a sufficient cause for any child of God to rejoice.
We say then, that one great reason why the gifts of the Spirit are no more manifest among us, is because the church is not humble enough to bear them. Will the Lord trust those whose affections are still attached to this world, and who have a large share of pride left, with the gifts of the Spirit? If he should it would be very likely to build them up in their errors, and ruin them. This he will not do. The latter rain is coming, and God is waiting to be gracious. The refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord, and it should be our concern to be .ready for it, so as to share it largely.
-” And it shall come to pass in the LAST DAYS, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on my servants, and on my hand-maidens, I will pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
” And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath ; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The. sun shall be turned into darkness, and the-moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.” Acts ii, 19 — 20.
There are many things of importance to us in this prophecy quoted from Joel 2, 28 — 32; some of them we will notice. First, its fulfillment was to be in the last days. There can -be no days later than the last, therefore the last days certainly extend to the Second Advent, and we should expect the manifestations of the Spirit mentioned in this prophecy, until that event. We admit that a portion of the prophecy was partially fulfilled in-the out-pouring of the Spirit on the day of pentecost; but it is not possible to show that it was all then fulfilled, therefore it is perfectly plain that the. entire prophecy has a complete-fulfillment in the ” LAST DAYS ” Second, the signs in the sun and moon the ” wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath,” were not seen on the day of pentecost. No one believes that they were.— But it has been the unanimous and settled faith of those who have been looking for the Lord, that they were not seen until more than 1700 years after the day of pentecost. Third, there is no evidence that any of the disciples had visions on the day of pentecost, and it is not at all likely that any of them were asleep, dreaming dreams on that very exciting occasion. They were exercised only with the gift of tongues. Fourth, it will he seen by referring to Joel that this prophecy refers especially to the “remnant.” “And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord [when the saints cry day and night, Luke xviii, 7] shall be delivered : [delivered out of the time of trouble, not converted :] for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem -shall be deliverance,
as the Lord hath said, and in the REMNANT whom the Lord shall call.” Chap, ii, 32.
Finally we see that the out-pouring of the Spirit, the gift of prophecy and dreams and visions of the Lord, are to be sufficiently remarkable to constitute signs of the Second Advent, and that they are classed with the signs in the sun and moon ; with ” wonders in the heavens and in the earth.” To the sceptic and worldly-wise this sentiment will probably seem heretical ; but when compared with Joel ii, 28—32 ; Acts ii, 14—22, it will be seen to be truth. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s word will stand.
As God has ever distributed his spiritual blessings according to the necessities of his people, it is rational and right to conclude that the abundant manifestations of the Holy Spirit, mentioned by the Prophet Joel, and the Apostle Peter were designed for the ” remnant,” just before they enter the ” time of trouble such as never was,” the ” great and terrible day of the Lord.” Before the world was drowned with the flood, God interposed, and Noah was instructed to prepare the Ark.— The Divine power moved upon the beasts, cattle, fowls, and creeping things, and they two by two, moved along “into the Ark with Noah and his family, ” and the Lord shut them in.” Just before fire and brimstone was rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah, two angels were sent to hasten Lot in his escape. God shewed signs and wonders to his people in Egypt, through Moses and Aaron, he also parted the Red sea before them. When the powers of earth and hell were arrayed against Christ and his apostles, the covenant was confirmed by signs and wonders and mighty deeds of the Holy Ghost. And can we believe that the saints are to pass the perils of the last days, the time of trouble SUCH AS NEVER WAS, unaided by the power of the Spirit? Certainly we cannot. He, whose ways are equal, and who knows our wants, will pour out of his Spirit according to the Prophet Joel, and will impart strength to the meek, to enable them to ” stand in the battle in the day of the Lord.” Those who ” seek meekness” and ” righteousness'” will be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.