By James S. Stewart 1935
A Man in Christ
WHEN St. Paul composed his great Hymn of Praise to Love, he began by distinguishing between the vital religion of Jesus Christ, as it had gripped his own experience, and certain more or less imperfect and unbalanced forms of religion, which from that day to this have sheltered themselves under the name of Christianity. 1 Gifts and graces which God intended to be the adornment of the Christian community may cease to be its adornment, and become its snare. ” Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels ” — that is religion as ecstatic emotionalism. ” Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge ” — that is religion as gnosis, intellectualism, speculation. ” Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains ” — that is religion as working energy. 2 ” Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor ” — that is religion as humanitarianism. ” Though I give my body to be burned ” — that is religion as asceticism. All these one-sided and patently inadequate representations of the Gospel, Paul expressly repudiates. Yet history, which has been unjust to many of its greatest men, has given us from time to time, by a strange irony of fate, a Paul who is
1 I Cor. 13:1 – 3.
2 No doubt ” faith,” as here used, bears the specifically Pauline meaning of self-surrender to God in Christ ; but at the moment Paul is thinking rather of the gift of overcoming obstacles and achieving practical results. Cf. Denney, The Way Everlasting, 159.
himself the type and the embodiment of the very things against which he strove with might and main. We have had Paul the ecstatic visionary, Paul the speculative theologian, Paul the organiser and ecclesiastic, Paul the humanitarian moralist, Paul the ascetic. Of these portraits which have appeared at different times in the course of Pauline study, by far the most unfortunate in its results has been the second — Paul the dogmatist, the doctrinaire thinker, the creator of a philosophy of religion, the constructor of a system. This is history’s greatest injustice to its greatest saint. It is the blunder which has ruined Paul for thousands.
Sometimes a man’s worst enemy is himself ; unconsciously he damages his own influence. But Paul’s worst enemy down the centuries has not been Paul : it has been Paulinism. How much this great lover of Christ has suffered by the elaborate speculative systems into which his successors have forced his glowing message, how much his influence has been harmed and his popular appeal reduced by the forbidding structure of theory and dogma beneath which his interpreters have so often buried his words of flame, it would be hard to tell. Most of the nineteenth century reconstructions of Paul’s teaching, from Baur down to Wrede, sinned in this respect ; and although to-day there is a new insistence on the fact that Paul’s theology is first and last the theology of a converted man, 1 and that everything runs back to the day when in response to Christ’s arresting hand upon his soul he had made his personal surrender, yet the shadow of Paulinism still lingers with us, and not until that shadow has been cleared away will the man come fully into his own. Like a
1 Wernle, Jesus und Paulus, 41 : ” Sein ganzes Denken ist Bekehrungsdenken . ‘ ‘
certain famous painting of Dante, which was hidden for centuries behind the whitewash of a common wall, and then at last was recovered and shone out and made the room splendid and glorious, so the vital religion of Paul, overlaid with the systems and theologies of later generations, has to be recaptured in our day. The great thing is that that vital religion is still there, for anyone who cares to seek.
It seems unlikely that the efforts to force Paul’s teaching into a rigid system could ever have been so long and strenuously continued if due weight had been given to three considerations.
The first is the subject-matter of the teaching itself. What are Paul’s leading themes ? The righteousness of God, the death of Jesus on Calvary, the reconciliation of the world, the eternally living and present Christ. Paul at least recognised, if some of his commentators have not, that where themes like these are concerned, you cannot in the last resort measure and explain : you can only wonder and adore. We may take it for certain that any formula or system which claims to gather up into itself the whole meaning of God’s righteousness, or of Christ’s redeeming work, is ipso facto wrong. The only right way to see the cross of Jesus is on your knees. The apostle himself reminds us of that, when he declares, immediately after one of his greatest accounts of his Lord’s atoning death, ” Before the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” 1 In this world, men kneel to what they love. And love has a way of breaking through every carefully articulated system : it sees so much more than the system-makers. Hence it is a
1 Phil. 2 10.
right instinct that bids us beware of reconstructions of Paul’s doctrine which claim to co-ordinate every aspect of the apostle’s religious thought into a complete and perfect whole, leaving no loose ends anywhere. It is one of the great services of the Barthian movement to our generation that it keeps up an energetic protest against what it regards as a quite arrogant tendency to push systems and definitions into that ultimate region where God alone can speak. Such definitions merely indicate, as Barth declares, that ” man has taken the divine into his possession ; he has brought it under his management ” \ x he has been forgetting that ” only God Himself can speak of God.” 2 But Paul never forgot that ; and therefore at point after point his line of thought is interrupted by a sudden burst of doxology. ” O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God ! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out ! ” 3 ” Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ! ” 4 ” Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory.” 4
The second consideration which tells against the attempt to systematize Paul lies in the nature of the situation he was addressing. It was certainly not to give a compendium of Christian doctrine that he wrote his letters. The lines he followed, the themes he dwelt upon, were largely determined by local circumstances. The outcropping of a syncretistic heresy at Colossae, the development of irregularities of practice and discipline at Corinth, the danger occasioned to the peace of the Church by little personal feuds and rivalries at Philippi, the Jewish attempt to shackle the free Spirit of Christ in Galatia — these were the factors which gave
1 The Word of God and the Word of Man, 68.
2 lb. 214.
3 Rom. 11:s8 .
4 II Cor. 1:3 .
5 I Cor. 15″.
Paul in his epistles his starting-point and his direction. It is surely significant, as Dr. Moffatt has pointed out, that ” had it not been for some irreverent behaviour at Corinth, we might never have known what he believed about the Lord’s Supper.” * We shall see later that even the epistle to the Romans, most compendious of all the apostle’s writings, is not, as Bernhard Weiss and many others have regarded it, a theological treatise designed to set forth the whole of the Christian faith. But leaving particular points aside for the moment, let us reiterate the fact that Paul’s religious position was hammered out, not in the study, but on the mission-field. The difficulties he had to wrestle with were not such as could be removed by abstract disquisition or by any system of soteriology. Glimpses of the stormy background against which he lived and thought and wrote are offered to us in all his epistles ; and though the physical hardships of the great missionary’s lot are mentioned only casually and incidentally, we are aware, as we read, of imminent perils and dangerous currents, and of a man continually hazarding his life, not knowing what a day might bring forth. ” The only saving faith,” said Luther, ” is that which casts itself on God for life or death ” ; and Paul, whose faith was of that gallant, kind, whose religion was a daily risk, who had no comfortable illusions about the forces antagonistic to Jesus in the great uproarious cities of pagan Asia and Europe where God was sending him to preach, was the least likely of men to be seduced into the intricacies of speculations remote from the urgent realities of life. One name by which Christianity, quite early in its career, came to be known was the simple expression ” The Way ” ; 2 and whether this description
1 Grace in the New Testament, 157.
2 Acts g 2 , ig 9>2S , 22:4 , 24″.
originated with the followers of Jesus themselves, or was coined for them (like the word ” Christian “) as a contemptuous nickname by the outside world, the important point is that it referred primarily to a way of living, not a way of thinking. Christianity, on the mission-fields where Paul’s work was done, meant first and foremost (as it still means on the Church’s mission-fields, and ought indeed to mean everywhere) a new quality of life, a life in Christ, God-given, supernatural, victorious. And when Celsus at a later day parodied the Christian preachers, putting on their lips the parrot-cry ” Only believe, only believe,” shifting the emphasis from a life to be lived to a system to be credulously submitted to, he knew himself that it was parody, the exact reverse of the truth. The first century mission Churches in Asia and Europe made headway precisely because they confronted the world with a way of life, and not with a speculative system. The situation Paul was addressing demanded a great simplicity. And that is what the apostle offered — the simplicity of Christ, the life in Christ. Deissmann x has pictured the consternation, the utter mystification, which would have been produced in any congregation of the Christians of Corinth or Thessalonica or Philippi, if some modern work on Paulinism in a vulgar Greek translation could have been read to them, and concludes that it would have brought them all ” into the condition of Eutychus of Troas, the one man who managed to sleep while Paul was speaking.”
This leads to the third consideration which ought to warn us against forcing a system upon Paul. We have referred to the subject-matter of his teaching and the situation to which it was addressed. To these we must
1 The Religion of Jesus and the Faith of Paul, 155 f.
add the man’s own view of his vocation. If it would have startled the Christians of Corinth and Thessalonica to be confronted with a dogmatic system, containing carefully mapped-out sections on Anthropology, Hamartiology, Soteriology, and the rest, the whole being labelled Paulinism, it would have startled the apostle himself even more. Paul was not aware when he wrote that his writings were to become Holy Scripture. He was not aware that future generations would pore over these letters and seek to fit together every thought they contained. Certainly the last thing that he can have imagined, when he set himself to send a message to one or other of his Christian communities, was that centuries later men would be building theologies on words thrown off to an amanuensis, as many of his words were, in moments of intense feeling. The fact of the matter is, Paul had no great love for systems, and very little faith in the speculations which produce them. The wisdom of this world x was such a poor thing, and mere intellect so bankrupt, and the best possible formulations of doctrine so pitifully short of the mark, when they tried to measure Christ ! Once indeed Paul did conduct the experiment of philosophizing Jesus ; 2 but his Athenian experience was the exception which proves the rule, and the failure of the experiment made him more resolute than ever not to exchange the herald’s calling for the apologist’s. Henceforward he was determined, as he told the Corinthians, ” not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” 3 It was faith in Christ, not faith in any creed or articles about Christ, that was ” the master-light of all his seeing.” Men do not gamble with their lives, nor stake their souls, on abstract truths and systems ; but a great love
1 I Cor. 1:1-2:13 .
2 Acts 17″- 3 *.
3 I Cor. 2:2.
is different. They will do it, Paul did it, for that. ” I die daily,” he cried — a sudden flash which, to all who have eyes to see, reveals the essential difference between the Christ of Paul’s devotion and the Christ of a formal Paulinism. 1 By the use of two Greek words, Deissmann has brought out this contrast most admirably. ” Paul is not so much the great Christologos as the great Christophoros.” 2 That goes to the root of the matter. The man knew himself charged to bear Christ, to herald Christ, not to rationalize Christ. Indeed, nothing else was possible, for the fundamental fact about the Christ of Paul’s experience was that He was alive. Historical data and reminiscences you can rationalize : a living Lord you can only proclaim. There must, of course, have been considerable difference, both of matter and of manner, between the apostle’s preaching and the letters which he wrote ; but let us not forget that he was a preacher first and a writer second. And both spheres — preaching and writing — were ruled by one great fact — the fact of a living, present Lord ; and by one all-decisive experience — the experience of union and communion with Him. This was the apostle’s calling. This was his sole vocation and concern. This it was for which he had been born. He came to bring, not a system, but the living Christ.
We cannot, then, help feeling that had these considerations of subject-matter, situation, and vocation been kept in the foreground, the history of Pauline study might have been very different, and intellectualistic theories such as those of Baur and Holsten would never have had such a vogue. It was Holsten’s belief that Paul, during his Arabian disappearance,
1 I Cor. 15 31 .
2 Op. cit. 189 : xP lffT0 ^y° s > xP l
managed by a process of logic and hard thinking to fit the death of Jesus into the framework of a previously existing Messianic theology : the resultant was the Pauline Gospel. That such a Gospel, a clever synthesis of ideas, a feat of intellectual adaptation, a mere “gnosis of the Messiah’s death,” as Kaftan in his criticism describes it, 1 should have made Paul the passionate herald of Christ which his letters reveal him to have been, or should through him have come upon thousands of lives with shattering and transforming and redeeming power and effect, is frankly incredible. The theory needs only to be stated to be refuted.
But far more serious than any theories of the kind has been the tendency, on the part of Roman Catholics and Protestants alike, to systematize Paul’s teaching into elaborate “plans of salvation,” to the details and order of which the experience of believers has been required to conform — the tendency, in other words, to stereotype the grace of God. The Church did not always realize that the very use of the word “Scheme” to describe the saving activity of God in Christ was itself a blunder of the first rank ; and although the Christian preachers who set God’s unfolded scheme before men’s eyes, and begged them to agree to it and accept it and so be saved, were honestly basing their appeal on Holy Scripture and on their favourite texts in Paul, their method was none the less leading them unconsciously into the very danger on which Paul himself laid a warning finger when he said ” Quench not the Spirit.” 2 The plan, the scheme of salvation, was there, devised by God, waiting for human acceptance ; the various elements in it — predestination, repentance, faith,
1 Jesus und Paulus, 38.
2 I Thess. 5″.
conversion, justification, sanctification, and the like — were set forth, each in its due place; it was shown that this one must come in time before that other, which in turn would lead on after a due interval to the next. This was the ordo salutis, dogmatic Paulinism applied to life, the Church’s panacea for the world.
Its strength — and it had a great strength — was not only that generations of passionately devoted men gave themselves to its proclamation, with a fervour born of their own love to Christ and of a sense of the urgent danger threatening all who remained outside of Christ. Its strength was the witness which it unceasingly bore to the solemnity of life’s issues, to the glorious achievement of Christ’s atoning death, and to the majesty of the will of God. But its weakness was that almost inevitably it gave men the impression that here was a rigid system to be intellectually accepted, a doctrine of salvation whose acceptance was indeed prior to, and the condition of, the experience which it described. Moreover, the logical conclusion of any plan of redemption worked out after this pattern in elaborate successive steps and stages must be the reducing of Christian experience to a drab, colourless uniformity ; and it is hard to believe that the God whose Spirit is like the wind, blowing where it listeth, ever intended anything of the kind. To regularize salvation beyond a certain point is simply to revert from the freedom of the spirit to the bondage of the letter. And Paulinism is always in danger of allowing the evil spirits of legalism which Paul cast out at the door to return by the window.
Nor is it sound to draw a hard-and-fast line, as is often done, between the various elements in the Christian experience, to posit a hiatus, as it were, between repentance and regeneration, or between conversion
and forgiveness, or between justification and sanctification. It has been the determination to reduce everything in Paul to a system which has resulted in the dragging apart of justification and sanctification in a way which the apostle himself would simply not have understood. To him, they were but the two sides of a shield. God’s justifying act was itself the sanctification of the sinner ; for, as Ritschl, Titius, and others have expressed the matter, it was a “synthetic” judgment, requiring, that is to say, nothing more to be added on to it, but containing in itself the germ of the new life, and creating by its own nature the moral and spiritual character which God wishes to see in men. 1 If less emphasis had been placed on schemes and systems, and more emphasis thrown on the actual realities of life, where forgiveness can in point of fact be seen any day creating goodness in the forgiven, and doing it by its own inherent power and love, many damaging blunders in the interpretation of the Gospel could have been avoided. Who that has ever ex- perienced a great forgiveness does not know that it is the forgiveness itself, and not any subsequent effort of his own, which is the really creative thing, the moral power that secures the future ? But as it is, endless misconceptions have been caused by isolating the various elements in the Christian experience from one another, and assigning each its place on a chronological chart. It would be far truer to say — and this will be brought out at a later point in our study 2 — that in Paul’s view everything is gathered up in the one great fact of communion with Christ, and that these other
1 Ritschl, Justification and Reconciliation, 80 ; Titius, Der Paulinismus unter dem Gesichtspunkt der Seligkeit, 195.
2 See pp. 147 ff.
elements of the Christian experience are not so much isolated events as aspects of the one reality, not parallel lines with gaps between, but radii of the same circle of which union with Christ is the centre.
We can see, then, that a main cause of the trouble has been the tendency of the constructors of Pauline dogmatic to read themselves back into the apostle, and to ascribe to him the thought-forms of their own age. This process began early. Harnack in a famous saying declared caustically that already in the second century after Christ only one man, Marcion, understood Paul, and that he misunderstood him ; and if that verdict is unduly severe, the element of truth in it is that after the passing of Paul and his contemporaries the work was carried on by a race of epigonoi who, brave men and true as they were, could not quite recapture the visionary gleam nor scale the heights of inspiration reached by Christ’s greatest apostle. It is open to question whether due recognition has ever been given to the fact that many of the makers of Paulinism have worked with a totally different background from the apostle’s own. ” The classical theologians of the Christian Church, from Origen onwards, were Greeks, with little inward sense for the Hebrew and biblical ideas which formed the atmosphere of Paul’s thinking.” x So strongly indeed did the thought-forms of the third and fourth centuries colour the interpretation of the Pauline Gospel that our own thinking about Paul bears traces of that colour to the present day. In the same way, an age strong in law stressed beyond all sense of proportion the legal elements in Paul. At another time, the idea of sacrifice was found to be the key to everything. Each age has constructed a Paul in its own likeness. Baur
1 C. H. Dodd, Romans, 60 (MNTC).
made Paul a Hegelian, a master of the Hegelian dialectic. Ritschl made him a genuine Ritschlian. ” The heroes of old time,” says Von Dobschiitz scathingly, with the apostle and his commentators in mind, ” argue and reason just like the authors of the encyclopaedia.” x Paul has been too big for his interpreters ; and his great comprehensive Gospel — “the many – coloured (7roAimoi/aAos-) wisdom of God,” as he himself called it 2 — has been lost in a mass of partial and one-sided reconstructions. Orthodoxy varies from age to age, and each age has read back its own particular brand of orthodoxy into the apostle. Often it has been tragically forgotten that for Paul, and for the Christians of the early Church who shared with him in the glorious experience of passing out of bondage and self-consciousness and moral defeat into absolute release and liberty and victory, into the very life of Christ Himself, many of the issues which subsequent generations have magnified into essentials of religion and fundamentals of the faith must have seemed utterly trivial and beside the point. ” For that life,” as Raven puts it, ” the minutiae of the theologian were unimportant, indeed negligible : love, joy, peace, long-suffering were the marks of orthodoxy.” 3 The curious thing is that these great central realities have scarcely been considered by Paulinism as part of its data at all. But only when we begin to give these things the decisive place Paul gave them shall we be on the way to understand the spirit of the man and the meaning and permanent validity of his message.
Two notes of warning must be sounded here. First,
1 Probleme des apostolischen Zeitalters, 75.
2 Eph. 3 10 .
3 Jesus and the Gospel of Love, 304.
the danger of too precise definition is always great when you are dealing with a man who thinks, as Paul so often thought, in pictures. Thus, for example, it is a mistake to apply the footrule of an exact theology of the atonement to the great picture in the epistle to the Colossians, where the apostle describes Jesus coming upon the scene as the Champion of the condemned, taking the document that bore the charge against them and nailing it to His cross (just as His own charge had been nailed there on the day of Calvary), and finally making the cross itself His chariot of victory in which He rode in a triumph greater than any Roman general had ever known, leading the captive powers of evil behind Him. 1 That was how Paul, with his intuitive mind, saw the truth of redemption ; and the main idea of the passage is perfectly clear. It is when we forget that it is a picture we are dealing with, and begin to measure and define, that the truth as Paul saw it eludes us, and we cannot see the wood for the trees. Similarly, it may be questioned whether the great kenosis passage in Philippians 2 — which again is really a picture — can bear the weight of theory and doctrine loaded upon it. Even the conception of the Trinity, clothed in such baffling complexities by the analysis of later generations, presented few intellectual difficulties to an apostle who had arrived at it, not along the line of speculation, but through the sheer pressure of experienced fact. 3 Between Paul’s flashing pictures and the definitions forced upon them, there has often been a difference as wide as that between Rupert Brooke’s magic lines “There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter ” and the mathematical formula for the action of wind on water which Eddington
1 Col. 2:1 **.
2 Phil. 2:s “.
3 Cf. Gore, Belief in Christ, 232.
in his Gifford Lectures so daringly sets alongside them. 1 Definition was a passion with many of the early Christian fathers, and no doubt the rise of the great heresies made it necessary ; but in the days when God let His servant Paul loose upon the earth, with a heart aflame for Christ, the forces which carried the new adventure forward on its amazing career were not precision of doctrine nor skill of definition, but an open vision, a ringing conviction, and a great love. And often when men have succeeded in defining Paul’s doctrine most closely, they have lost Paul’s Christ most completely.
The other note of warning is this. The practice of isolating sentences, thoughts, and ideas from their immediate context is nearly always fatal when applied to Paul. ” Solitary proof-texts,” says Professor H. A. A. Kennedy, ” have wrought more havoc in theology than all the heresies.” 2 It is essential to keep our perspective right. We are not entitled, for example, when we find Paul using the ransom conception in connection with the death of Jesus, to press the metaphor, as Augustine and many others have done, and enquire to whom or to what the ransom was paid. 3 Again, phrases such as ” having made peace through the blood of His cross ” 4 give no warrant for the elaborate sacrificial theories which have been deduced from them. More serious still is the fact that, through a failure to preserve a right emphasis and accent, the great thought of predestination, which to Paul stood for God’s sovereign freedom and will to save, has come to be entangled with ideas of reprobation and damnation which can only be described as repulsive and immoral. If Paulinism has had not a
1 A. S. Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World, 316 f.
2 St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things, 310.
3 Rom. 3″.
4 Col. 1:20 .
few disquieting results, let us remember that Paul himself was not to blame.
Here it ought to be said quite clearly that a deep spiritual sympathy and kinship with Paul’s own inner experience is the first requisite of any generation or Church or individual who would interpret his Gospel rightly. Those in whom that sympathy of experience is lacking, who have never been driven to the point of seeing that their own achievements are nothing, and God’s grace everything, and that real religion begins only on the other side of the line where everything human has broken down ; who have not realized the subtle, desperate hold that self lays upon the soul, making its very piety a barrier to Christ, and its morality an offence in God’s sight ; who have never stared right into the eyes of moral defeat, nor known the lyrical joy which comes when God floods a life and God’s power takes control, nor felt the consuming passion of a Christ-filled man to impart his joyous secret to all the world — they are for ever excluded, they exclude themselves, from the inmost shrine of the apostle’s mind and soul. For Paul’s life, from the day when he met Christ face to face, was lived in the atmosphere of Christ’s Spirit ; and as Weizsacker does well to remind us, ” the man who has this Spirit thinks with the thoughts of God Himself.” x He is in a new world, a world where the calculus with which other men may be measured ceases to apply. His secret yields itself up, not to any foot-rule of theology nor any logic of Paulinism, but only to those who come to him through the door of spiritual sympathy and through the kinship of a great experience. Hazlitt speaks of some who could translate a word into ten languages, but did not really know what the thing
1 Das apostolische Zeitalter, 113.
itself signified in any language ; a statement which the history of Paulinism abundantly corroborates. 1 Something which has been too often forgotten lies in these words which Frederic Myers puts into the apostle’s mouth :
“How should I tell or how can ye receive it,
How, till He bringeth you where I have been ?”
The first requisite is that spiritual sympathy of experience. That is why Luther stands out as a supreme interpreter of Paul : the men were blood-brothers in Christ. And that is why, at every point in history where the Church of Christ has been carried on some wave of revival back to reality and self-consecration, thousands of men and women have rediscovered Paul, and have thrilled again to the music of his message.
It was only to be expected that the arid scholasticism of traditional Pauline interpretation should lead, sooner or later, to a reaction. In point of fact, two such reactions — both of them of a rather unfortunate kind — have made their appearance.
On the one hand, the suggestion has been put forward that we should cut Christianity free from everything Pauline in it, and revert to the simplicities of Galilee. The original form of Jesus’ religion, it is said, has been grossly damaged and obscured by the speculative Christ ology which Paul substituted for it. Christianity has had two creators, not one : Jesus was no doubt its first begetter, but His simple Gospel of trust
1 Paul’s faith, says Dow (Jesus and the Human Conflict, 305)
” never had the grammarian’s, but always the sinner’s touch.”
in the heavenly Father suffered such a radical transformation, in process of passing through His great successor’s hands and brain, that what went down to future generations was virtually a new thing, totally different from the Master’s intention. In short, according to this view, Paul was the arch-corrupter of the Gospel. God sent His Son to be a solution : Paul made Him a problem. Jesus bade men consider the lilies, and trust like little children : Paul spoke of justifying faith. Jesus had a cross, Paul a doctrine of atonement. Therefore, it is said, let us away from the Christ of dogma to the Christ of history. Eliminate the Pauline elements, and the Gospel in its pristine purity will appear. ” Back to Jesus ! ” is the cry.
Now this, of course, raises the whole question of the relationship between Paul and Jesus, between the apostle’s presentation of the Gospel and that of the Synoptics — a question which, as Holtzmann declares, is not only of prime interest for theology, but also of quite decisive importance for the very fate of Christianity. 1 We shall have occasion to return to this matter at a later stage. 2 Suffice it here to say that the alleged twist given by Paul to the Christian Gospel, turning it out of the channel which Jesus had intended him straight out of the bosom of Jesus’ Gospel. Jesus Himself inspired every one of them. It is repeatedly
1 H. J. Holtzmann, Neutestamentliche Theologie, II. 230 n.: ” Damit war der gegenwartigen Forschung ihre Meisterfrage und dem Christentum eine Schicksalsfragc gestellt.”
2 See pp. 273 ff.
stated that between Jesus and Paul there was a great gulf, and that what we call Christianity to-day bears Paul’s signature more clearly than Christ’s. A gulf indeed there was. That ought not to surprise us. How could there fail to be a gulf, when One was the Redeemer and the other was the redeemed ? But between the Gospel which Jesus brought by His life and teaching and death and resurrection, and the Gospel which Paul in season and out of season proclaimed, there was no gulf at all. ” Nothing can be more certain than that to St. Paul himself the question whether he or Jesus was the originator of the new religion would have appeared both blasphemous and ludicrous.” 1 Even Schmidt’s saying that ” the Gospel of Jesus is Theocentric throughout, while Paul’s faith is everywhere Christocentric ” 2 is as dangerous and misleading as half-truths always are. What meets us in the epistles is not a man creating a new religion, or even giving a new direction to one already existing : it is simply the Gospel of Jesus in action, the original, authentic Gospel first changing a man’s life, and thereafter moulding all his thought. Paul himself, in life and heart and mind, in the totality of that wonderful experience which breathes through all he ever wrote, is the most vivid, striking illustration in history of the very thing which Jesus came into the world to effect. This ” man in Christ,” 3 so far from being a perverter of the simple Gospel, is the mirror in which the true nature of that Gospel, and the quality of its influence, have been most accurately revealed.
Accordingly, we gain nothing by seeking to cut religion free, as some to-daj 7 would do, from everything
1 J. Stalker, in HDAC, ii. 157.
2 P. W. Schmidt, Die Geschichte Jesu, ii. 74.
3 II Cor. 12*.
in it which savours of Paul, and of his presentation of the faith ; on the contrary, we suffer grievous loss. Quite certainly there is no road back to the truth of Christ that way. Between Bethlehem and the Galilean roads and the hill called Calvary on the one hand, and the gates of Damascus and the heights of Galatia and the sea and the Roman prison on the other, there is an indissoluble link ; and we do not know Jesus better by refusing to admit as evidence the most complete and thoroughgoing example of His influence and the most dramatic illustration of His power. That a reaction from the scholasticism fastened upon Paul by successive generations was bound to come is perfectly clear, and we can sympathize with the feelings that produced it ; but that some should react along the line of repudiating Paul’s version of Christianity altogether is lamentable. The right antidote to the excesses of Paulinism is to make closer contact with Paul’s own Christ-filled spirit. It is certainly not to ignore him.
The other reaction has been of a different kind. It does not make the mistake of ignoring Paul. It accepts him as an evidence, the supreme evidence in the New Testament, of the power of the Gospel. It rightly regards the Christ-experience that lives and throbs all through the epistles as a contribution of quite inestimable value to the religion of the world. But in its zeal to remove from Paul the faintest suspicion of scholasticism, it overreaches itself. Recoiling violently from the older view which regarded the apostle as a theologian and nothing else, it has gone to the other extreme and concluded that he was not a theologian at all.
Now this, too, is unfortunate. ” Religion without theology ” is a familiar modern cry. But it is a foolish cry. Such a religion, supposing it could exist, would
at once degenerate into sentimentalism. Spinoza’s well-known dictum that faith should ” not so much demand that its doctrines should be true, as that they should be pious,” 1 will not do. Christian theology became inevitable on the day when the world was faced with the question, ” What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He? ” 2 Personal experience is indeed the primary thing, the sine qua non of the Christian life; but experience begets reflection. ” Das Denken ist auch Gottesdienst,” said Hegel. What does this event in my life imply about the God who sent it? What is the eternal reality to which the specific experience points ? These are questions which cannot and ought not to be avoided. In this sense, at any rate, it is true to say that ” theology is a necessity of life.” 3 Least of all men did Paul accept experience in an unreflecting way. The tendency to overemphasize the illiterate character of the early Church has obscured the fact that in the membership of that Church there were some of the best brains of the ancient world ; and for sheer mental force, apart altogether from spiritual experience, Paul’s place is with Plato and Socrates and the world’s giants of thought. We have already referred to his extraordinary powers of intuition : but alongside this we must now set the reflective element of his nature. Life to Paul was a unity. Salvation must also be truth 4 He has to think things out. It is part of his nature. He has to see each event in time sub specie aeternitatis. He has to discover the great ruling principles of which the details of experience are illustrations.
1 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, xiv.
2 Matt. 22:42 .
3 W. Sanday, art. ” Paul,” in HDCG, ii. 886.
4 J. Weiss, Das Urchristentum, 321 : ” Das beseligende Heil muss fur ihn zugleich Wahrheit sein, und die Erlosung zugleich Ldsung des Weltratsels, wenn sie ihn innerlich befreien soil.”
He pushes past the specific situation to the general truth. From the question of meats offered to idols he rises to a meditation on the relationship of freedom and love, from the circumcision controversy to an examination of the nature of faith and true religion. It is probable that this reflective element in Paul owes something to his pre-Christian training in the schools of Rabbinism. The discipline he had undergone as a Jewish theologian could not fail to leave a mark on a mind so keen and forceful. He knows that Christ has saved him, but that is not enough : he craves to understand this salvation in all its implications. He worships Christ, he prays to Christ : but he cannot rest till he has seen how this new worship and the traditional monotheism of his race are to be reconciled. He took time after his conversion to think things out. Before Barnabas fetched him to Antioch and the years of ceaseless strain and travel began, he had ample time to readjust his mind and heart to the revelation which had come upon him with such startling suddenness and bewildering force. 1 Direct experience is everywhere fundamental with Paul, but upon that experience his mind keeps working, working sometimes at white heat ; and to this reflection on experience, which was part of his nature, we owe some of the profoundest and most fruitful ideas about God and Christ and the Spirit which have ever entered the heart of man.
It is clear also that, apart from training and personal disposition, Paul felt himself bound by the exigencies of his pastoral duties to reflect deeply upon the Gospel committed to him. Perversions of his teaching
1 Gore, Belief in Christ, 81 : “It is probable that his sojourn both in Arabia and in Tarsus was on the whole a time of retirement and thought.”
frequently gained currency in his absence, and these had to be countered. Nor were all the heresies which threatened the faith the work of enemies. Some were occasioned by genuine perplexities, and by difficulties which the believing heart in every age has had to meet. These could not be summarily dismissed ; and those who were troubled by them required the most sympathetic consideration and the most careful guidance. It might happen, for example, that some members of a Pauline community, while glorying in the good news of Jesus, were still uncertain about the absolute finality of Jesus, still haunted by the questions, Are there other supernatural forces to be propitiated, other powers and influences to be taken into account ? Christ is the Word of God ; but is He God’s last Word, God’s final all-sufficient Word ? These were not unreal nor insincere questions. How vital they were may be gauged by the fact that they are living, urgent issues for thousands of hearts to-day. Paul felt the pressure of the problem ; he yearned to lead his converts to a fuller understanding of the faith which they themselves professed ; and his glorious delineations of the cosmic Christ, the ultimate reality of the universe, were the result. ” It may be affirmed,” says E. F. Scott, ” that no Christian thinker since has risen to such heights of speculation as Paul attains to in the first three chapters of Ephesians.” x This is true, provided we recognize that Paul, differing alike from Greek philosopher and from Gnostic theologian, was interested in speculation, not at all for its own sake, but only for its help in making explicit the meaning of Jesus’ Lordship, and so leading to a deeper surrender to Him in faith and hope and love. Such indeed is the grandeur and sublimity
1 Colossians and Ephesians, 129 (MNTC).
of the apostle’s thought when he speaks of Christ’s absolute supremacy in the universe, such the heights to which his conceptions soar, that some commentators, holding apparently that Paul had but little of the profound thinker about him, doubt whether such ideas could have originated with him at all, and deny the authenticity of the passages concerned. This, of course, is quite unwarranted. These passages are as characteristic as anything Paul ever wrote. Mind and heart here unite to explore the deepest things in life, ” yea, the deep things of God.” 1 And for this, all Christendom stands in the apostle’s debt.
We have seen reason, then, while agreeing with the reaction from the rigidly scholastic view of Paul, to criticize these two forms which that reaction has assumed. The patronizing way of approving of his religion, while forgiving him for his theology, is as little to be commended as the attempt to ignore him altogether. He was a Christ- apprehended, Christ-filled man, with nothing in his religion that was not rooted and grounded in experience ; but the very vividness of that experience, and its daily growth and
development, made reflection on it inevitable. Always the experience was primary, the reflection secondary. 2 ” He is not a ‘ theologian ‘ in the technical or modern sense of the word. . . . Yet neither is he a dreamer, indifferent to history and to reason, satisfied with emotion, sentiment or ecstasy.” 3 A systematic theologian he certainly was not. No system in the world could satisfy that untrammelled spirit, that mind of
1 I Cor. 2:10 .
2 An admirable statement of this whole matter will be found in Kaftan, Jesus und Paulus, 39-41.
3 Anderson Scott, Christianity according to St. Paul, 2
surpassing boldness, that heart of flame. This can be seen even in an epistle so elaborate and compendious as that to the Romans. Here Paul, desiring to prepare the way for his visit to a Christian community to which he was still personally unknown, has given a summary of certain main points of his teaching, and it is not without reason that Julicher calls this letter the apostle’s” confession of faith.” 1 But beyond that we cannot go : and those who would find here ” a compendium of systematic theology,” ” a manual of Christian doctrine,” are certainly mistaken. For Romans, like all Paul’s letters, is ultimately not abstract but personal, not metaphysical but experimental. Written on the eve of his last journey to Jerusalem, it looks back on all he had learnt of Christ since he had given Him his heart, and gathers up the ripe fruits of those years of experience and meditation and ever deepened consecration. Passages there are, notably in chapters 3 and 4, where the voice of the theologian trained in the ways of Rabbinism seems to speak almost as loudly as the voice of the herald of Christ (though even there, for those who have ears to hear, the heart is speaking) : but when you turn the page, the trumpet tones ring out again. The section from chapter 9 to chapter 11, to take another instance, has sometimes been regarded as a rather academic discussion of the question of predestination and free-will : in point of fact, right from the impassioned utterance at the beginning, ” I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren,” 2 to the ascription of glory at the end, 3 it
1 Cf. Wendland, Die hellenistisch-romische Kultur, 350 : ” Er entwickelt erschopfend Inhalt und Wesen seines Evangeliums. . . Die Gemeinde soil wissen was und wie er predigt. So will er das Vertrauen der fremden Gemeinde gewinnen.”
2 gS 3 n36
is a cry straight from the heart. The man who spoke like that was not interested in abstractions. He cared little, if at all, for logical structure. Romans, the most elaborate of the apostle’s letters, the one which, superficially at any rate, shows most resemblance to a treatise in theology, refuses as stubbornly as any of the others to bear the role that Bernhard Weiss would assign to it. If it is a ” compendium ” at all, it is a compendium, not of abstract doctrine, but of vital religion.
Moreover, there is this to be said. You would naturally expect a man who was setting himself to construct a system of thought and doctrine to fix as rigidly as possible the meanings of the terms he employed. You would expect him to aim at precision in the phraseology of his leading ideas. You would demand that a word, once used by your writer in a particular sense, should bear that sense throughout. But to look for this from Paul is to be disappointed. Much of his phraseology is fluid, not rigid. Each of the great terms “faith,” “law,” “spirit,” is found in a variety of meanings. Faith is a conviction of the reality of the unseen, 1 a trust in the promises of God, 2 a surrender to Jesus Christ : 3 the one word does duty for these and other aspects of the religious life, and ” he glances from one to another as the hand of a violin-player runs over the strings of his violin.” 4 “The law is holy,” he writes, ” I delight in the law of God after the inward man ” ; 5 but it is clearly another aspect of vopos that makes him say elsewhere, ” Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.” 6 So too -nvev^ia, spirit, is used by Paul to denote the inner life, that part of human nature which
1 II Cor. 5:7 .
2 Rom. 4:3 .
3 Gal. 2:20 .
4 Sanday and Headlam, Romans (ICC), 34.
5 Rom. 7:12 ».
6 Gal. 3″.
wars against the flesh, something which exists even in souls that have not reached the full Christian experience ; but far deeper than this are his other usages of the word, for the divine life in men reborn, and for the Spirit of Christ from whom that life proceeds. A scientific precision of phrase is here conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps this may help to account for Holtzmann’s declaration that ” scarce another writer of antiquity has left his commentators with such puzzles to solve as Paul.” x It certainly bears out our contention that the construction of a doctrinal system was not the aim of anything the apostle wrote. Greater business was on hand. Mightier, more living, more urgent issues were at stake. One thing, and one thing only mattered — a resolute, ringing witness; for Christ was marching on.
Exactly the same result meets us when we turn from Paul’s use of particular terms to his treatment of many of the great themes that exercise his thought : here too he refuses to be tied down to a rigid, petty consistency. Thus, for example, to the difficult question of the origin of sin among men he gives no fewer than three distinct answers. In one place, all the sins of men are regarded as the direct consequence, the unfolding, of one historic original sin ; 2 in another, sin springs from the “flesh,” the constituent part of man’s nature which objects to God ; 3 in another, it is the work of certain dark demonic forces which hold the present world in thrall, the “principalities and powers ” which beset human life behind and before, against which the man in Christ must wage unceasing warfare. 4 Or take the realm of eschatology. We need only compare and contrast such
1 N eutestamentliche Theologie, ii. 236.
2 Rom. 5:12W –
3 Rom. 7″, 8:3 . * Eph. 2*, 6:1 *.
passages as I Cor. 15 51 “•, II Cor. 5 1 “•, I Thess. 4 13 ,f -, Phil, i 23 , to realise the truth of Professor H. A. A. Kennedy’s dictum that, for all Paul’s burning interest in the world beyond death and the coming consummation of God’s kingdom, “he does not even supply the materials for constructing anything in the nature of a scheme, far less does he attempt to reach such a construction for himself.” l Or, to mention just one other sphere, who would venture to ascribe to Paul a system of ethics? Ethical precepts in abundance his epistles contain ; his Gospel is ethical to the core ; he will have nothing of a religion that does not issue in a morally strenuous and elevated life : yet he makes no scientific classification of virtues such as the Stoic and pagan moralists of his day loved, he promulgates no code, he discusses no ” summum bonum.” For the spirit is more than the letter, and life is more than theory ; and Paul’s whole attitude to the deep things of God and of the soul of man is ruled by the principle which he himself enunciated, “The letter” — the written code, the system — ” killeth : it is the spirit which giveth life.” 2
It is when we have learnt to cease to look for this superficial consistency in Paul, this standardized, rigid system of thought and doctrine, that we begin to discover in him what is far more important — the deep, inner consistency of the man’s religion, and the fundamental unity of all he wrote and taught. ” Paul and Plato,” says T. R. Glover, ” had this in common : neither sought to develop a Paulinism or a Platonism; they both pursued Truth ; and to keep abreast of Truth leaves a man little time to be consistent with himself,
1 St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things, 21 f.
2 II Cor. 3«.
and little wish for it.” x Paul can contradict himself, can land himself at times in hopeless antinomy, can leap without warning from one point of view to another totally different, can say in the same breath ” Work out your own salvation ” and ” It is God which worketh in you ” ; 2 but through it all and beneath it all there is a living unity and a supreme consistency — the unity, not of logic, but of downright spiritual conviction, the consistency of a life utterly and at every point filled and flooded with the redeeming love of God. ” Christ in me ” — this overmastering experience which was ” unquestionably the core of his religion,” 3 ” der eine Brennpunkt,” as Johannes Weiss expresses it, 4 gives to everything he wrote, even in the midst of his most startling antitheses and wildest tangents of thought, a unity far deeper than that of any logical or dogmatic system. ” By the good faith of God,” he declared emphatically to the Corinthians, ” my word to you was not ‘ yes and no ‘ ” ; 6 and in an even deeper sense than the words in their original context held, he had a right to say it. In the last resort, his life and work and preaching and writing and witness were all utterly consistent, for they were all Christ. ” To me to live is Christ,” 6 he said : ” life means Christ to me,” as Dr. Moffatt translates it. ” I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ.” 7 It was the very voice of the apostle that was speaking through Luther, when he declared ” We preach always Him, the true God and man. . . . This may seem a limited and monotonous subject, likely to be soon exhausted, but we
1 Paul of Tarsus, 3.
2 Phil. 2 12f –
3 Inge, Christian Ethics and Modern Problems, 73.
4 Das Urchristentum, 341.
5 II Cor. i 18 (Moffatt).
6 Phil. i«.
7 I Cor. 2:2 .
are never at the end of it.” ” He is Alpha and Omega,” said the early Church ; Christ, as we should say, is simply everything in life from A to Z : that was literally Paul’s experience. He spoke of ” the simplicity that is toward Christ,” * meaning that in this difficult, complex, and often incoherent world the life of a true Christian would always be conspicuous for a deep, inner coherence and unity, an integration of experience, a simplicity of which the secret was a single-hearted devotion and loyalty to one Master, an undivided heart laid at Jesus’ feet. And if ever a man had a right to speak thus, Paul had : for that undivided heart was his.
Hence we might take his own confession to the Philippians and set it as the motto of his life, ” This one thing I do.” 2 The quest for a doctrinal system, the search for a unified Paulinism, ceases when you have heard that. ” If he had been this (a system-maker),” declares Bishop Gore, ” he would have saved the controversial and critical world a great deal of trouble, but he would not have been St. Paul.” 3 No, and he would not have been the flaming, royal spirit to whom all generations of Christians look back with gratitude to God. He would not have been the mighty instrument he proved himself in God’s hand for the converting of the world. He would not have been the man who shines as a beacon for ever because he had one master-passion, Christ. Herein lies the true unity, deeper than all logical precision, more enduring than all imposing systems. With utter clearness, the great day of Damascus had revealed to him Christ as the sole meaning of his own life and of all life, and the very centre of the universe of God ; and all the days since then had verified and confirmed the revelation. Possessed, from that
1 II Cor. 11:8 , r.v.
2 Phil. 3:13 .
3 Belief in Christ, 83.
first glorious hour of discovery, with an overmastering gratitude to the Lord to whom he owed it, with an utter conviction that what had then happened to himself could happen to everyone, and with a consuming passion to see it happening all over the earth and to share his Christ with all mankind, he threw everything he had, everything he was, into his response to the Gospel challenge. ” This one thing I do ” — that is the final, the only real, consistency. Systems, dogmatisms, Paulinisms have no more unity than the shifting sands; but Paul’s Gospel, spoken and written, stands on solid rock. And that Rock is Christ.