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Heavenly Visions

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    GIFTS IN THE EARLY CHURCH

    J. N. LOUGHBOROUGHHEVI 70.1

    “WHEREFORE he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.... 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 [“into,” margin] 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: 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 4:8-16.HEVI 70.2

    This scripture designates the gifts the Lord placed in his church, and in the Acts of the Apostles is a record of the manifestation of those gifts. There were in that time many sons and daughters who were favored with divine revelations. In chapter eleven is an account of Agabus, who predicted the great dearth that would come upon the land of Judea, which prediction moved the Lord’s people to provide relief for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Verses 27-30. The exact fulfillment of this prophecy seems to have established faith in Agabus as a true prophet among them. When at Caesarea, nineteen years after, he told them what would be done to Paul in Jerusalem, there appears to have been no question as to the certainty of the fulfillment of his prediction; for at once they besought Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Acts 21:10, 11. In the church at Antioch, four prophets are mentioned; namely, Barnabas, Simeon (Niger), Lucius, and Manaen. Acts 13:1. It appears also that Philip, the evangelist, who resided at Caesarea, “had four daughters, virgins,” that were prophets. Acts 21:8, 9.HEVI 70.3

    The Lord placed these gifts in the church for the accomplishment of a certain purpose,-perfecting the saints, and edifying the body of Christ-the church. When there exists a necessity for such work to be accomplished, why should not the Lord’s means for accomplishing it appear? His church is still in a world of imperfections, and is itself composed of stones quarried from the world, needing to be polished until they become “lively stones” in the Master’s temple. The Lord set the gifts in his church. In no place in the Scriptures do we read that he set them out of his church, or that they would cease to be manifest, as occasion might require, until “that which is perfect is come.” It must, then, be the course of his people, and their lack of consecration and faith, that would make the absence of the gifts conspicuous.HEVI 70.4

    The manifestation of the gift of prophecy is closely allied with obedience to the law of God. When the people faithfully followed the Lord, he favored them with instruction through his prophets. As they fell into sin, and departed from his law, they had no visions from God, as stated in Ezekiel 7:26. It was emphatically true, and is still, as expressed by Solomon, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Proverbs 29:18. Those who keep the law are happy; for as they fully obey the Lord’s law, he is pleased to favor them with special instruction through his prophets.HEVI 70.5

    The early church began its work with a manifestation of all the gifts of the Spirit, and with many prophets among them; but the apostle Paul predicted that there would come an apostasy. He said to the elders of the Ephesian church: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them”, Acts 20:29, 30. Also to the church in Thessalonica, he said that there should “come a falling away,” and “that man of sin be revealed.” And of him the apostle said that he should sit “in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4.HEVI 71.1

    It is a fact that, while the early church maintained their purity, the Lord manifested among them the gifts of his Spirit; but as the apostasy developed, their condition became more and more like that of ancient Israel, of whom he said: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Isaiah 59:2.HEVI 71.2

    History shows that the gifts were manifest more or less in the church, even down into the second century, and that they ceased only as the church fell away from her primeval consecration and steadfastness. Neander, in his “Church History,” thus speaks of the Montanists of the second century: “The Montanists looked upon it expressly as something characteristic of the development of the kingdom of God that, according to the prophecies of Joel then in course of fulfillment, the gifts of the Spirit should indifferently be shed abroad over all classes of Christians of both sexes.” “It appears also to have been the doctrine of the Montanists that the season of the last and richest outpouring of the Holy Spirit would form the last age of the church, and precede the second coming of Christ, and be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel.”-Rose’s Neander, pages 330,332.HEVI 71.3

    John Wesley, in speaking of the Montanists, says: “By reflecting on an odd book which I read in this journey (‘The General Delusion of Christians with Regard to Prophecy’, I was fully convinced of what I had long suspected; (1) That the Montanists, in the second and third centuries, were real, Scriptural Christians; and (2) that the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well-nigh lost, but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.”-“Wesley’s Journal,” Vol.III, page 496.HEVI 71.4

    To the question, “If you allow miracles before the empire became Christian, why not afterward too?” Mr. Wesley answers: “Because after the empire became Christian, a general corruption both of faith and morals infested the Christian church, which, by that revolution, as St. Jerome says, ‘lost as much of her virtue as it had gained of wealth and power.’ ”-“Wesley’s Works,” page 706.HEVI 71.5

    The New Testament instruction continues on the supposition that the gifts were still to continue. It contained cautions against false prophets, and rules by which we may discern the true from the false. Our Saviour said: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15, 16. If there were to be no true prophets through the gospel age, it would have been a much shorter way to dispose of the subject to say, Beware of prophets. Instead, there is set before us the characteristics of true and of false prophets, the kind of fruit borne being the strongest proof of the character of the prophet.HEVI 71.6

    Our Saviour taught that, as we near the end, false prophets would “show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert: go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Matthew 24:24-27. This working of false prophets is to be manifest especially near the time of Christ’s second coming. In that same time Satan is to work with “all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10. But the Lord has said, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.” Isaiah 59:19, 20.HEVI 71.7

    As to how the Lord will raise up a standard against the enemy in the “perilous times” of the “last days,” the apostle says, “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses [with counterfeit miracles], so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.” 2 Timothy 3:8, 9. Jannes and Jambres were among the chief magicians of Pharaoh. They sought to resist Moses and Aaron’s work by counterfeit miracles. Their folly was checked by the Lord’s miraculous working, of which they were compelled to say, “This is the finger of God.” Exodus 8:17-19. Surely this indicates the mighty working of the Lord’s power through the gifts in the closing work in this world’s history. The Review and Herald, August 4, 1903.HEVI 72.1

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