The subject of the gifts of the church is at the present time receiving much attention. We are anxious that the readers of the Review should understand our real position in regard to them. The Scriptural view of this subject will stand, however it may differ from previously received views. Bible Christians should not be afraid of any Bible question. Those who profess to be seeking for gospel truth in its purity, do well to go back and learn from the acts and teachings of Christ’s first witnesses, who received the pure truth from the lips of the Great Teacher, and shared largely the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth.
“We want the truth on every point;
We want it, too, to practise [sic] by;
Do Thou, O Lord, our eyes anoint
With the fresh unction from on high.”
Gifts in the Church
God set the gifts in the church.
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with [them], and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” Mark 16:15-20.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4.
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12:27-31.
“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: That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16.
There is no evidence that they were given for a limited portion of the Christian age, to be removed from the church, and she be left for a long time without them. And, more, the prophecy of Joel quoted by Peter and other portions of Scripture, furnish sufficient grounds for faith that, in connection with the last message of mercy, the gifts will be restored to a living church. (“And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, [that] whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all [ye] that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is [but] the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 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 handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, [that] whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:1-22.)
Day of Pentecost
To say that Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost is most absurd, in view of the following facts:
- The signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, mentioned in the prophecy, did not then appear.
- There is no evidence that the dreams and visions mentioned in the prophecy were given on the day of Pentecost. They were exercised with the gift of tongues on that day; but the record is silent in regard to visions. Neither can we suppose that there were “old men” asleep on that exciting occasion, dreaming dreams!
- The prophet is telling what would occur prior to, and would constitute signs of, “the great and the terrible day of the Lord.” The signs in heaven and on the earth, the outpouring of the Spirit, prophesying, and remarkable dreams and visions, as the fruit of the Spirit, all constitute signs of the approach of that great and terrible day.
- These were to occur in the “last days.” As there can be no days later than the last, the days of which the prophet speaks must reach to the end (even admitting that the last days cover the whole Christian age); but to apply the prophecy to the day of Pentecost, and have the events of the last days and the signs of the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord fulfilled there, is most absurd.
But we do not admit that the term “last days” applies to the whole Christian age. When Paul says, “In the last days perilous times shall come” (11 Timothy 3:1), he does not refer to the whole Christian age, a part of which had already passed. He was speaking of the future. He pointed to the men of the last generation, to the fallen churches of this day, in whom are fulfilled the things of which he spoke. Hebrews 1:1, 2, may be urged as proof that the “last days” cover the whole Christian age: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son.” But the days in which the apostle wrote to the Hebrews, in contrast with the days in which God spoke to the prophets, were the last. They were the last that the world had witnessed, hence Paul calls them “these last days”; but that they were the “last days” that the world would ever witness, is quite another thing.
Benefit the Remnant
The prophecy of Joel (chapter 2:28-32) has its fulfillment in the “last days.” It was written for the benefit of the remnant. The remnant mentioned in verse 32, who find deliverance, are evidently the same as in Revelation 12:17, with whom the dragon is wroth. And why wroth? Because they keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. What is the testimony of Jesus Christ? We will let the angel who addressed John answer the question. He says, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10. Says Joel, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” The remnant of both texts are evidently the same. No one, then, need marvel because the dragon’s ire is stirred, on seeing the “spirit of prophecy” revive in the church.
“But,” say some, “the spirit of prophecy, with all the gifts, ceased 1800 years since.” We inquire for their proof of this position, and they quote with emphasis 11 Timothy 3:16, 17, to prove that God’s revelation was complete in Paul’s day, therefore instruction by any of the gifts at this day must be unnecessary and false. Paul says, “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable, . . . that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” But when did he thus write to his son Timothy? Answer: a.d. 66. Now this text either proves that all men, for all coming time, were thoroughly furnished unto all good works when Paul penned it, or it does not. If it does, then it also proves that the epistles of John, written twenty-four years afterward, and the Revelation given thirty years after, were superfluous.
But if the text does not prove that all men, for all coming time, were thoroughly furnished unto all good works, a.d. 66, when Paul wrote it, then it does not disprove the view that God may reveal Himself by some of the gifts, a.d. 1856. It is evident that Paul here refers to the Old Testament Scriptures, which Timothy had known from his youth.
Object of the Gifts
As all objections against the revival of the gifts can be fully met, then we inquire, What is their object? Were they designed to take the place of the word? Never! If the gifts be revived, and the church receive instruction from them, will not this supersede the necessity of searching the Scriptures for truth and duty? No! Never!
Here is where some good brethren are stumbling at this subject. They conclude that if it is true that God is reviving some of the gifts, “for the comfort of His people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth,” all errors would at once be corrected by these gifts, and the church be saved the trouble of searching the word for truth to expose error. They think it strange that the error of commencing the Sabbath at six o’clock has not been corrected by some of the gifts, if indeed they exist in the church. But such entertain erroneous views of this subject. They would put the gifts where they do not belong. Said Jesus, “Search the Scriptures.” [John 5:39, first part.] We are to seek for truth, not only as for lost treasures, but as for “hid treasures.” [Proverbs 2:4.]
The revival of any or of all the gifts will never supersede the necessity of searching the word to learn the truth. The Scriptures on the subject of the time of the Sabbath have never been searched as they have been by the remnant on other subjects, till of late. In our opinion, the error never would have been pointed out by any of the gifts, unless the word had first been thoroughly searched on the question. It is not God’s plan to lead out His people into the broad field of truth by the gifts. But after His people have searched the word, if then individuals err from Bible truth or through strife urge erroneous views upon the honest seekers for truth, then is God’s opportunity to correct them by the gifts. This is in harmony with our entire experience on this subject.
Read Acts 15. When certain men from Judea taught the Gentile churches that they must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them.” The subject was first duly discussed. Then from their conference at Jerusalem the apostles and elders, with the whole church, sent out chosen men with letters to the Gentile churches. We give an item of the letter as follows: “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” Acts 15:28.
Apostolic order on this question was, first, investigation, then the testimony of the Holy Ghost in some way on the question. And we are confident that this has ever been God’s order, and ever will be His order through all coming time. The word should ever stand forth in front, as the rule of faith and duty. But the experience of the past shows that good men have erred greatly from Bible truth. It would be folly to deny this. If, then, in our extremity, it be God’s opportunity to correct errors of the honest Bible reader, and rebuke the ambitious partisan¾who would wish to be found fighting against God?
The following we take from an article we wrote on this subject, published in the first volume of the Review, April 21, 1851:
“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 their 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.”
This article appeared in the Review and Herald, February 28, 1856. At this time Elder James White was the recognized leader of the Seventh-day Adventist believers, then unorganized. He was elected president of the General Conference in 1865.