Which Gift of the Holy Spirit Is Best?

In his second sermon from Charity and Its FruitsJonathan Edwards argues successfully that the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit are infinitely more precious and valuable than the extraordinary gifts.

The ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit can be summarized as saving grace and the fruit of love. Every Christian gets these. The extraordinary gifts are things like the ability to prophecy, speak in tongues, and work miracles. Again, Edwards argues that the ordinary gifts are infinitely more valuable than the extraordinary gifts, even though people usually think the opposite is true.

Here is brief list of why the ordinary gifts are better:

1. The ordinary gifts change the very nature of a person, while the extraordinary gifts are external. Having the gift of prophecy does not cause the new birth or guarantee salvation, but having God’s grace through the ordinary influence of the Spirit does.

2. In the ordinary gifts, the Holy Spirit communicates more of his actual nature to the heart of the man. The wicked prophet Balaam and the unbelieving disciple Judas both were given extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. But neither one of them truly knew the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit was not working internally in their hearts like he does in the lives of his people. In the ordinary work of the Spirit, he changes a person from the inside out.

3. The ordinary gifts of the Spirit move people to look more like Christ and reflect his image than do the extraordinary gifts. Being made holy from the inside out better reflects the person of Christ than working a miracle.

4. The ordinary gifts are exclusive. This means that they are given only to the saints of God, and are never conferred upon wicked or unbelieving people. The extraordinary gifts may be, as we see with Balaam and Judas.

5. The ordinary gifts are saving in nature, the extraordinary gifts are not. Having the ability to cast out a demon does not save a person’s soul, but God’s grace conferred to a sinful heart does.

6. The ordinary gifts are what make people truly happy in God, not the extraordinary gifts. Happiness consists in knowing, loving, and serving God, which only happens when the Holy Spirit confers grace to the soul in his normal influences and operations.

7. The ordinary gifts are the end, the extraordinary gifts are means. The end goal of the Holy Spirit is to save a person’s soul and make them holy. The extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are only valuable in so far as they serve this end. The end is always superior to the means. The gift of working miracles is only valuable in that it leads people to receive the ordinary gift of grace.

8. The extraordinary gifts profit people nothing at all unless the ordinary gifts are also given. A miracle that does not lead to salvation is a worthless miracle. Speaking in tongues is worthless unless it leads people to receive Christ internally and bear the fruit of love.

9. The ordinary gifts will last, the extraordinary gifts will not. Salvation is enteral, the gift of prophecy is not.

Some believers may wish they had the ability to prophecy, work miracles, or speak in tongues. Indeed, those who have had these gifts have had a great privilege conferred upon them (a point Edwards is careful to make in the sermon). But the ordinary gifts of the Spirit (saving grace that leads to the fruit of true love) is a far superior gift that believers may take for granted. Many think that if they are not endowed with some extraordinary gift that they are somehow missing out. That is a mistake. If you have received saving grace, you have received the greatest gift God can give.

Read Edwards’ sermon here: Love More Excellent than the Extraordinary Gifts to the Spirt. Also, I just noticed (after finishing this) a post on Desiring God by Ryan Griffith covering the same topic.