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THE GIFT OF TONGUES.
BY REV. DAVID GREENE, FORMERLY SECRETARY OF A. B. C. F. M.
To the reader of the New Testament, who desires and aims to get clear and satisfactory views of all which is there recorded respecting the early history of Christianity, few matters probably, present themselves more indistinctly before him, or occasion more perplexity, than what is denominated, in both scriptural and common language, the Gift of Tongues. What was it? On whom and for what purpose was the gift bestowed? In what manner, in what circumstances, and under what limitations, was it exercised? These and many other similar inquiries arise in the mind of the thoughtful reader; and some of them, at least, are not readily answered, so as to put the mind at rest. To all such inquiries it is easy to answer generally, that this gift was an ability miraculously imparted to the apostles, and to some extent to others in the early Christian churches, to speak and teach in languages not vernacular to them, and of which they had not acquired a knowledge in any ordinary method. Perhaps most readers, and not a few who should be students, of the New Testament, are satisfied with such an answer as this; but as the subject is presented by the inspired writers in various aspects, in connection with predictions, narratives, precepts, exhortations, and rebukes, many points are suggested on which the inquiring mind asks for something more specific and definite.
As no important principle in the economy of redemption seems to be involved in this matter, and probably nothing that bears very directly on the duties of the Christian life, at least not in these later ages of the world, we must not expect to find all that light shed upon it, by which the fundamental doctrines and precepts of our religion are rendered luminous.
Still we may, perhaps, be able, and if so, it is desirable, to obtain such views as shall be in harmony with all the facts and statements which the New Testament presents in connection with the subject. Let us, at least, seek to have views as well-defined and consistent as the case admits.
Most commentators on the New Testament have written more or less fully respecting the gift of tongues, proposing various and inconsistent theories for harmonizing the statements and phenomena presented in the several passages relating to it; but as nearly or quite all our knowledge, and the grounds for forming opinions on the subject, must be derived from what the sacred writers have themselves recorded in these passages, and as the language employed presents no special difficulties, mere learning is of little avail for arriving at correct conclusions.
Writers on this subject may be arranged in two classesthose who assert, and those who deny, the miraculous nature of the gift. Among those of the latter class is the learned Eichorn, and others, almost numberless, of the rationalistic commentators of Germany, who, while uniting in rejecting everything supernatural in the phenomena as represented in Acts ii. and 1 Cor. xii. and xiv., disagree much in the hypotheses by which they attempt to account for these phe
Among the writers of the first class, maintaining the miraculous character of the gift of tongues, are Storr, Kuinoel, and Olshausen, with orthodox Germans generally, including the historians Neander and Guericke, with nearly all evangelical commentators in England and the United States.
Before noticing the various and conflicting opinions which have been advocated-and it is not proposed to spend much time upon them-it seems proper to survey, briefly the several passages in the New Testament where this wonderful gift is mentioned, and learn in what aspects and relations the sacred writers present it. It is first spoken of in Mark xvi. 17. The risen Saviour, in his farewell address and commission to his disciples, tells them that
these confirmatory signs shall be witnessed in those who believe: "In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Here the gift of tongues is predicted as one of the miraculous manifestations to be witnessed, not in the apostles only, but also in those who should believe their doctrines, and to be exhibited as proofs that those doctrines, divinely accredited, were heartily believed and submitted to. The exact purport and extent and object of this promised endowment should be borne in mind. It was simply a promise to the apostles that they who received their doctrines, and as proof that they had really received them, should be endued with these supernatural gifts. The possession of these gifts might be a sign to the apostles, as teachers, who would naturally look for evidence that their instructions had been effectual; and they might be a sign, also, to the new converts themselves, evincing that they had rightly and savingly believed the Christian doctrines; and still further, they might be a sign to the unbelieving multitudes, that those who embraced these doctrines were thereby brought into a new spiritual state; while to all, the exercise of these promised miraculous powers would evince that the doctrines were from God, and that the preaching and receiving of them were accompanied by a divine power and sanction.
At the same farewell meeting with his disciples, Christ commissioned them to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; at the same time intimating that they were not prepared to enter immediately on this, their great life-work; and therefore bidding them tarry in Jerusa lem till they should be "endued with power from on high" (Luke xxiv. 49), or as it is expressed, Acts i. 4, 5, till the fulfilment of the promise of the Father, that they should "be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." Taking along with us the predicted miraculous endow
ments recorded, Mark xvi. 17, Luke xxiv. 49, and Acts i. 4, 5, let us proceed to the record made by the sacred writer respecting this gift of tongues in Acts ii. 4, and onward. But before entering upon the examination of this, a preliminary remark or two may be made.
That the disciples, up to the time of Christ's ascension, had no clear view (if, indeed, they had any notion at all) of their Lord's mission, as our atoning Saviour, or of the method of salvation through faith in him, or of the nature of the kingdom which he was about to set up in the world, and in which they, as founders and pillars, were to bear so prominent a part, seems too obvious to require proof. Their worldly and ambitious hopes, often expressed, and even at their last interview with him; their dulness of apprehension, and their misunderstanding of him when he alluded to his real character and work, and their perplexity in view of his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, all show deep, if not total, darkness on these points. And they probably received no additional light previously to the day of pentecost. And the reason, undoubtedly, why they were not bidden to go at once and preach the gospel-to reap in the fields white already to the harvest-was the best of all reasons, that they had not yet learned the message which they were to carry forth-did not themselves understand the doctrines which they were to preach. To be fully qualified for their work they must first take a lesson from the enlightening, sanctifying, inspiring Spirit. This brings us to the scene on the day of pentecost.
As the narrative is not explicit respecting the place, the order, and other particulars of the wonderful manifestations presented to us, conjecture must be resorted to, and all that can be hoped for, is to suggest what may seem probable, or at least possible. A question arises as to the place. It is hardly supposable that these followers of the recently crucified Jesus would have been permitted to occupy any large room of the temple; nor can we suppose this company of Christ's disciples to have been worshipping with the
Jews, the betrayers and murderers of their Lord, as the latter could have no sympathy or fellowship with the former in the deeply interesting matters to which their thoughts and prayers must have been mainly directed; and as spacious halls and addresses to great public assemblies were not as common in those days and in Jerusalem, as they are in our cities in this age, we must not suppose that the apostles and their company had procured a hall capacious enough to accommodate thousands of auditors. Nor would an apartment in the temple, or such a hall, have been sufficiently secluded and quiet for such humble and devout worshippers. This company of disciples were probably, on this day of the Spirit's descent, occupying the same room in which they had for days before been holding their meetings for prayer, and it probably was a room, or house, belonging to some one of their number, capable of accommodating a hundred and twenty persons. It is not necessary to suppose that all the speaking to the multitndes was done there, or that the three thousand or more whom Peter addressed were gathered into any one room. Most of the speaking was probably done in the courts or in the streets about the house, or elsewhere. This must suffice for preliminaries. Let us now look in upon this worshipping assembly.
Teachable and obedient, though sad and perplexed, the apostles and their companions, about a hundred and twenty in all, had been, agreeably to their Lord's command, waiting at Jerusalem for the fulfilment of his promise; in much darkness, no doubt, as to its purport, yet united in heart, and devoutly praying with reference to the great blessing about to be conferred, and the unknown scenes that were about to open upon them. Some presentiment they may have had that the anticipated blessing was drawing near; and perhaps they had continued all night in prayer; at least they were assembled at an early hour for a morning prayermeeting. The first miraculous manifestations could not have been much later than the first hour of the day, or