With fruit/grace, the primary benefit is for the immediate recipient, and secondarily other people. With gifts, it is the other way around: gifts are given for the benefit of people other than the recipient first of all, and the recipient only secondarily.
I just read this chapter from John Owen this morning, and I though I would share Owen’s marvelous insights into the question of how to distinguish between the gifts of God and the graces of God. This is from his A Discourse of Spiritual Gifts, chapter 2. In the old Banner of Truth edition, it is volume 4, pp. 425-438. In the new Crossway edition, it is volume 8, pp. 259-273, which is the edition I will be referencing here. I have seldom read anything from Owen so insightful.
He actually first discusses three similarities. Both come from Christ’s mediation, both are wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit, and both are ordained for the good of the church.
The first difference is in the title of each (263-4). He understands fruits/graces (which are synonymous in Owen’s nomenclature) as coming from the Holy Spirit as from a fountain welling up inside a person, whereas the gifts are effects of the Spirit’s work on a man (as opposed to in a man).
The second difference lies in their intentional origin. Fruit/grace comes from divine election to salvation, whereas the gifts only come from a temporary election unto an office (264-6).
The third differences is in their respective relationship to the covenant of grace. Fruit/grace comes from the essence of the covenant, whereas the gifts are of the administration. An especially sobering warning comes in at this point to all who have an office in Christ’s church: “some may belong to the covenant with respect to its outward administration, by virtue of spiritual gifts, who are not made partakers of its inward effectual grace” (267).
The fourth difference is in how they relate to Christ’s work. The fruit/grace comes from the priestly work of Christ, whereas the gifts come from His kingly office. This is nuanced a bit by the thought that the kingly office of Christ is also involved in pointing us towards His priestly work, but it is secondary to the kingly office. The gifts, however, come solely from His kingly office.
The fifth difference is one I have questions about, since he thinks the gifts can be temporary, whereas the fruit/grace are not. I would ask Owen (who doesn’t deal with this passage in this context) how he would address Romans 11:29: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (ESV). I suspect Owen would argue that the context of that verse is not about office, but about salvation. But that is only a guess.
The sixth difference has to do with its purpose. With fruit/grace, the primary benefit is for the immediate recipient, and secondarily other people. With gifts, it is the other way around: gifts are given for the benefit of people other than the recipient first of all, and the recipient only secondarily.
The seventh difference is in their effect on the recipient and where their seat is. The gifts reside only in the mind, whereas the fruit/grace reside everywhere in a human. Another warning to those in office arises here: “And although God does not ordinarily bestow them on flagitious persons, nor continue them with such as after the reception of them become flagitious, yet they may be in those who are unrenewed, and have nothing in them to preserve men absolutely from the worst of sins” (271-2, emphasis added). Brilliant stuff.