By James S. Stewart 1935
A Man in Christ
We cannot really speak of God,” says Eckhardt; ” when we would speak of Him we do but stammer.” ” We are like young children learning to speak,” exclaims Luther, ” and can use only half words and quarter words.” So Paul felt, whenever he tried to set down in words the great decisive experience of his life. All the resources of language could not communicate it. Strive as he might to express it, the inmost secret remained inexpressible. Once he falls back on the word ” unspeakable,” ” God’s unspeakable gift,” * and the adjective there was no mere vague hyperbole, as often in our modern usage : it was the literal conclusion to which the failure of all attempts to capture in words the glory of the fact had driven him. The thing could not be spoken ; and the apostle, like the poet, was always conscious of
” Thoughts hardly to be pack’d Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke through language and escaped.”
Secretum meum mihi, as the mystics love to say.
But Paul has one description of his conversion which does suggest something of the splendour of the new life into which that experience ushered him. Writing to the Corinthians, he declares : ” God who said, ‘ Light shall shine out of darkness,’ has shone within my heart.” 2
1 II Cor. 9:15 .
2 II Cor. 4* (Moffatt).
In other words, something had happened comparable only to the great Fiat Lux of creation’s dawn. That the sublime passage in the Genesis prologue was actually in the apostle’s mind seems beyond doubt. 1 ” The earth was without form and void ” — had not his own soul known that chaos ? ” And darkness was upon the face of the deep ” — was not that a very picture of his experience before Christ came ? ” But the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters ” — and looking back, Paul could see how true it was that from his very birth Providence had set him apart, and that, through all his blindness and rebellion, the Spirit of God had been brooding over him and guiding his destiny. 2 “And God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light.” To me, says Paul in effect, it was just like that — sheer miracle, a word proceeding out of the mouth of God, a creative act of omnipotence. To me, it was the birth of light and order and purpose and beauty, the ending of chaos and ancient night. And to me, as at that first creation, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. God who said, ” Let there be light,” has shone within my heart; He has scorched me with His splendour, and remade me by His strength; and I now walk for ever in a marvellous light — the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
This conversion experience was far and away the most vital and formative influence of Paul’s life. Compared with this, everything else — his Jewish ancestry, his Rabbinic training, his Hellenistic contacts, every factor of heredity and environment — was completely secondary. To see the decisive event aright, however, and to understand the consequences that flowed from
1 Gen. 1*- 3 .
2 So e.g. Gal. 1:15 .
it, we must approach it along the line of the religious experience of his pre-Christian days. And here at once we meet the striking fact that for years before the call came the dominating note of Paul’s inner life had been one of utter failure and frustration and defeat.
We have seen above 1 how zealously and whole-heartedly Paul had embraced the religion of his fathers. Judaism never had a better champion. No one could rival him in enthusiasm for the spiritual heritage of his people. 2 He plunged eagerly into the life to which law and tradition seemed beckoning him. He flung himself into the observance of their commands with unmatched ardour. But that boundless enthusiasm of the young devotee was doomed to receive a check. He found that the morejkeenly. Jhe_ .pursued jus^ideal^ the Jurthex Jt receded. The righteousness on which his heart was set stoocf afar off, mocking his endeavour. Feelings of doubt and disillusionment began to creep in. Was he perhaps on the wrong track after all ? Had he accepted a challenge that was beyond his strength ? He was missing the mark, and he knew it, and he was unhappy.
But it was an unhappiness of the kind which, as Carlyle knew and proclaimed, springs from a man’s greatness. It was the disillusionment which is one of the surest proofs that the human clay has the divine fire mingled with it. Already into the secret mind of the Pharisee the thought was stealing, which later the Christian apostle was to shout from the housetops, that the religion of Mount Sinai, “Jerusalem which now is,” was a yoke of bitter bondage : already the first faint yearnings
1 See pp. 33 ff.
2 Gal. 1:14 .
for release had entered the man’s soul, the first dim far-off vision of the “Jerusalem which is above,” which ” is free, the mother of us all.” *
Before proceeding further, then, we must try to arrive at a clear understanding of Paul’s reactions to the religion of the law. There is a widespread idea that this whole side of his experience and thought is nowadays irrelevant, and that the numerous passages in his epistles where these reactions are mirrored may more or less be ignored as being the product of controversies which have long been dead. No mistake could be greater. True, the intricacies of the Jewish Law have but little appeal for twentieth-century minds, and any interest that we have in them is mainly historical: religion has more pressing business on hand than raking among the cold ashes of extinguished fires. But the spirit of legalism — which was really the thing Paul was concerned about — is by no means extinct. The idea underlying the words “righteousness by the law” still commands the tacit assent of multitudes, even within Christendom. Still the old error takes, in every generation, a new lease of life. Still the very elect are deceived. Confronted with Paul’s strenuous and repeated grapplings with this subject, his constant wrestlings with it in thought and in experience, we cannot afford to set all this part of his message aside with an airy gesture as though it were obsolete now. It carries permanent validity. It goes right to the roots of our modern problem, lays its finger on the Church’s deepest need, and concerns the spiritual experience of every soul. For what does ” legalism ” mean ? What are the main marks of this form of religion?
In the first place, it is a religion of redemption by
1 Gal. 4 « l •
human effort. Man is thrown back on his own resources. In front of him stands the law, challenging him to work out his own salvation. He is summoned to toil unremittingly at the moral life in the hope of winning acceptance with God at last. He has to fight down the world, the flesh, and the devil in his own strength. He has to build his own highway to the heavens. And what happens ? He starts building, but it is a tower of Babel that results. It reaches nowhere near to God; and it ends in shame and confusion of soul. Thus the shadow of Pelagianism — which is really just Jewish legalism in another form — has fallen across the Christian centuries ; and wherever it has come, it has blighted hope and peace. The soul of man, setting out gallantly enough on the crusade to conquer besetting sin and weakness and to establish personal righteousness, has found the road too hard and the foes too stubborn; and gallantry has given way to disillusionment, and aspiration to a sense of downright futility. No man can save himself : this was Paul’s great discovery. A drowning man does not want a lecture on the art of swimming : he wants a rope to cling to. Nor does a lame man ask for a guide-post to point him out the way: he asks for an arm to lean upon. But the very weariness of those unavailing efforts to achieve its own salvation may prepare the soul of man to hear the cry, ” Stand still, and see the salvation of God.” And if it was Paul’s first great discovery that no man can save himself, it was his second that salvation is of the Lord. In Horatius Bonar’s words —
” Thy love to me, O God,
Not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest,
And set my spirit free.”
A MAN IN CHRIST
This is Grace appearing on the battlefield of human defeat. A better way than that of legalism has been opened up. A greater than Moses is here.
A second mark of the legalist spirit is its tendency to import a mercenary spirit into religion. This is almost inevitable, as righteousness on this view is something which may be earned. A man, seeking salvation, is to stand before God and point to his own piled-up moral achievements and say — ” There is what I have done: now give me my reward ! ” Having earned it, he can claim it as of right. The soul which keeps the law of God will be able, to quote Browning’s words in Johannes Agricola, to —
” Make out, and reckon on, His ways,
And bargain for His love, and stand,
Paying a price, at His right hand.”
Legalism always tends to develop this mercenary attitude. It is ever seeking to increase its claim upon God by multiplying the regulations and ordinances which it proposes to obey. The great central requirements of doing justly and loving mercy and walking humbly with God are not always easy of fulfilment: but what matter a few failures there, if you can point to a whole host of meritorious actions — prayers, fastings, tithes, and the like — faithfully and rigorously performed ? Thus arises the strange and rather terrible spectacle of a man bargaining with his Creator. What this spirit has forgotten is, that if God should mark iniquity, there is not a soul anywhere which could stand before Him for one moment ; while as for the idea that a man may put God in his debt by his obedience, the fact is that even if he were to wear his fingers to the bone in God’s service, even if he were to burn out his brain
and beggar his soul in utter devotion, he still would not so much as have begun to establish a claim upon God. No man can ever have God in his debt : God has every man immeasurably in His.
A third mark of legal religion, alike in the twentieth century and in the first, is its fondness for negatives. “Thou shalt not” is the foundation on which it is built. It bids men preserve the house of life swept and garnished and free from the desecrating intrusion of marauding spirits by keeping the doors permanently bolted and the windows tightly shuttered. It fails to realize that that method of keeping the evil things out is defective in two directions. On the one hand, a negative religion is always apt to defeat itself: the evil spirits which are repressed and refused entrance at the front may quite possibly, as every psychologist knows, burrow underground and come up from the basement. So long as the place is untenanted, that danger will remain. On the other hand, even if the soul were to succeed in shutting these things out, it shuts out something else as well — God’s good light and air and sunshine : legalism can never hope for the width and freedom and gladness and release which have been Christ’s great gifts to men. It is a burdensome creed, and never sings nor exults. It is a dead-weight the soul has to carry, not (as a true religion ought surely to be) wings to carry the soul. The secret of all power and gladness, as Paul was later to discover, lies in three words, “Christ in me.” For while legal religion is a burden bearing a man down from above, Christ is a living power bearing him along from within. To be in union with Christ means the joy of possessing interior sources of a super-natural order, and of feeling within you the power of
an endless life. But legalism knows, and can know, nothing of that.
This brief analysis will serve to show that the problems confronting Paul as he lived out his life under the religion of the law can by no means be regarded as of merely historical or antiquarian interest, nor can we dismiss the passages in his epistles where these matters hold the field as being irrelevant to our own generation’s most urgent needs. The words with which Barth first launched his now famous commentary on Romans are worth repeating : ” Paul, as a child of his age, addressed his contemporaries. It is, however, far more important that, as Prophet and Apostle of the Kingdom of God, he veritably speaks to all men of every age.” x In his attack on the legalist spirit, and in his heralding of a better way, the way of surrender to the Spirit of Christ — this is pre-eminently true. To say that Paul is simply ein antik denkender Mensch is to miss the truth completely. His problem is our problem. And the hope of our generation is to make his answer ours.
But here the question inevitably rises — Is Paul’s picture of Jewish legalism historically correct? How far are we justified in taking his experience of the law as typical ? Is it not possible that the dark side — the element of bondage — has been overstressed? Certain Jewish scholars and others have argued strongly that Paul, consciously or unconsciously, has given a misleading version of the facts, that his evidence on the whole matter is hopelessly biased, and that alike by temperament and by experience he was totally unfitted to construct a fair picture of what Judaism meant
1 The Epistle to the Romans (Eng. tr.), i.
to the average orthodox Jew of the time. Thus Kohler declares bluntly that ” those who define Judaism as a religion of law completely misunderstand its nature and its historic forces.” x Montefiore accuses Paul of a pessimism quite uncharacteristic of Judaism at its best. 2 And Schechter, with more than a touch of asperity, complains that ” with a few exceptions our theologians still enlarge upon the ‘Night of Legalism,’ from the darkness of which religion only emerges by a miracle supposed to have taken place about the year 30 of our era.” 8
But those who challenge Paul on this matter, alleging his representation of Judaism to be historically unsound, are hard put to it to substantiate their claim. After all, it proves little to adduce from Jewish literature, as Schechter does, 4 Rabbinic expressions of thankfulness for the law and of joy in its service : it is the deep undertone of a religion that matters, and the undertone of Judaism is not joy. Nor does Kohler’s attempt to rebut the charge of legalism succeed. It is simply not possible to evade the plain meaning of statements such as that of Rabbi Benaiah, “The world and everything in it was created solely for the sake of the law” ; 5 the veneration of the law did not stop short of a doctrine of pre-existence. Other elements Judaism certainly contained, but the fact remains that fundamentally it was in terms of law that man’s relation to God was conceived. And the shadow which has always been, and always must be, inherent in and inseparable from that conception was lying
1 Jewish Theology, 355.
2 The Old Testament and After, 275, 575.
3 Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, 117.
4 Op. cit. 148 ff.
5 Quoted by G. F. Moore, Judaism, i. 268.
heavy upon the soul of Judaism, like a great dark cloud across the sun. Paul’s picture cannot be set aside. It is no distortion, but a true presentation of the facts.
It is necessary to remember that the ” Torah,” or Law, included more than the Mosaic prescriptions. Sometimes the use of the term was extended to cover the entire Old Testament, or even the whole sum of divine revelation. 1 But as a rule it denoted the law of the Pentateuch plus the great mass of interpretations V and rulings and traditions which centuries of later scribes had built upon that foundation. It is this last addition which is crucial. Alongside the original law there had grown up a new body of legislation, far more extensive and far more detailed, possessing in Jewish eyes an authority as binding as that of Moses himself. What the developing experience of later generations had felt to be lacking in the guidance offered by Leviticus and Deuteronomy on points of civil and ceremonial law was now supplied. Prohibitions which had been left vague and general were now worked out with extraordinary care and minuteness in their application to every conceivable situation of life. As new situations arose, juristic exegesis working on the revealed law of God in Scripture produced new rulings ; and these rulings in turn had come to be regarded as part of the content of revelation, bearing an equal sanctity.
No doubt the aim of all this was excellent. So severe were the penalties of disobedience which the law of Moses had enunciated that nothing, it was thought, should be left to chance : it was not safe, it was not right, to ask the common man to make his own particular
1 Examples of this usage in Paul will be found in Rom. 3:19 , 1 Cor. 14.
applications of the general law. Left to himself, he might easily blunder as to what was permissible and what was prohibited ; and where the penalties to be visited on a false move were so grave, the man, for his own sake, must be protected. He must have everything worked out for him to the smallest detail. And doubtless, in that age as in this, there were minds of a certain type which found the way of unquestioning submission to detailed mechanical guidance a positive relief : doubts and dilemmas were automatically excluded, and the whole duty of man mapped out and regulated from the cradle to the grave. Why should any man be left to go through clouds and darkness and travail of soul to find out God’s will for him at some specific point of his life ? Here it was set down in detail — given, authoritative, infallible. The motive, no doubt, was excellent.
What was not so clearly realized was the soul-destroying burden that this meticulousness was laying up for future generations. Heavy as the burden would have been even if the Halachah — the applied rules — had concerned the realm of moral character alone, it became quite intolerable when every ridiculous triviality of ceremonial observance was exalted to a place of importance and dignity alongside the weightiest matters of the law.” The Jewish teachers,” as G. F. Moore in his great work on Judaism has well expressed it, ” recognized the distinction between acts which the common conscience of mankind condemns as morally wrong and such as are wrong only because they are made so by statute ; but the former are not the more properly sin because of their moral quality nor the latter less so because in themselves they are morally indifferent. The sin is in either case the same, violation of the revealed
will of God.” 1 Rabbi Johanan and Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish worked out the number of regulations imposed by the law of Sabbath observance, and arrived at a grand total of 1521. 2 And when it is remembered that to each of these was assigned an authority and sanctity no less binding than that of such great primary requirements as the duties of honouring parents and of refraining from idolatry, it will begin to be evident why Paul, bred to worship the law and to regard the slightest criticism of it as dangerous blasphemy, broke out against it at last as slavery and bondage and a curse.
Within Judaism itself, at the time when the soul of Paul was entering on its struggle, four attitudes towards the law can be distinguished.
There were, first, the people who were frankly irreligious. They had neither the time nor the inclination for the study of the law. Not for them the scruples of a pious and sensitive conscience, not theirs to vex themselves with things too high for them. Willingly they abandoned all that to others, and took their own careless, unashamed way. Towards this lawless rabble many of the Pharisees had nothing but the most undisguised contempt. “This people which knoweth not the law is accursed,” they said, and passed by on the other side. Some there were, however (and Paul, in his Pharisaic days, was one), who could not dismiss the problem so lightly. Was it not the plain teaching of Deuteronomy that the favour of God to His people was dependent on national obedience ? 3 And, therefore, might not this multitude which ignored the law or openly flouted its demands be a menace to the highest
1 Judaism, i. 462.
2 lb. ii. 28.
3 Deut. 27. Paul quotes Deut. 27″ in Gal. 3:10 .
hopes of Israel, or even a threat to her very existence? It was a haunting problem, with which the mind and heart of the future apostle must have wrestled long.
At the opposite extreme from those to whom the law meant little or nothing were the saints, to whom it meant everything. “Under the shadow of the law,” says Ottley, ” there grew up a rich and deeply-rooted life of personal religion, the character and tone of which are best illustrated by the Psalter.” * Some of the choicest souls in Israel, looking to the spirit rather than the letter of the law, saw in it a symbol of a divine inflexible faithfulness. As they meditated on it, and studied it, and prayed over it, they found that it gave them the assurance of a dependable God and the comfort of a rational universe.
“Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong ;
And the most ancient Heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong.”
Nor did such elect souls experience any insuperable difficulty in holding the two ideas of law and grace together in their minds. What was the gift of the law itself if not just the most signal token of God’s gracious kindness to His people ? In point of time, indeed, as they saw and acknowledged, grace held the priority — a fact on which Paul was later to base a famous argument: such outstanding historic events as the call of Abraham and the Exodus made it clear that grace had been in the field before law appeared. But law, when it came, was grace reaching its climax. A cleft between God’s mercy and God’s justice there could not be. He was ” a just God and a Saviour.” 2 There is an interesting Midrash on Gen. 2:4 which represents God deliberating as follows:
1 Religion of Israel, 166.
2 Is. 45″.
“If I create the world in my merciful character (alone), sins will abound ; if in my just character (alone), how can the world endure ? I will create it in both the just and the merciful character, and may it endure ! ” * Hence there were devout hearts in Israel who thanked God day and night for His law, and could say with perfect truth, in the words of the writer of the 119th Psalm, ” Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” 2 It must, however, be clearly understood that this attitude of quiet assurance was not typical of Judaism as a whole. Such childlike souls, standing untroubled and grateful in the shadow of the law, were not the rule in Israel, certainly not in Paul’s day, but the exception. And even of them it would be true to say that it was the spirit, not the letter, of the law that had won their gratitude. It was the inward spirit … on which their soul’s anchor was cast.
Midway between these two classes in Judaism, the saints and the sinners, there was a third class, whose attitude to the law was compromise. When Paul, looking back on his own younger days, declares ” I out-stripped many of my own age and race in my special ardour for the ancestral traditions of my house,” 3 he is obviously implying that many a worthy Jew, despairing of the impossible perfection which the law demanded, had patched up some sort of working arrangement by which a less strenuous line of conduct could be accepted without offending conscience unduly. The law itself seemed to offer certain loopholes in this direction. Thus, for example, occasionally it happened, as we have already
1 Quoted in Moore, Judaism, i. 389. Jewish exegesis interprets “Jahveh” as God in His merciful character, “Elohim” as God in His character of judge : Gen. 2* contains them both.
2 Ps. 119″.
3 Gal. 1:14 (Moffatt).
noted, 1 that different schools of Rabbis, such as those of Hillel and Shammai, interpreted one and the same command in quite different ways ; and where doctors disagreed the common man might well feel that implicit obedience was not to be looked for. Another loophole offered itself in the distinction which was drawn between unwitting transgression of the law and wilful, defiant sin ; and still another was provided by the practice of certain Rabbis who, holding that the division of mankind into two categories — the righteous and the wicked — was too simple to fit the facts, recognized a third category, the “middling” people, who inclined now to the one side and now to the other, and in whom the workings both of “the good impulse” and of “the evil impulse” were apparent. In addition to all this, any Jew who wanted to compromise and to accept a second-best could easily enough settle the qualms of conscience by bringing in the Rabbinic doctrine of repentance ; for however lofty and noble this doctrine was as originally conceived, its all too frequent practical effect was to minister to a superficial view of sin. The snare of compromise has always been religion’s most serious enemy, and the higher the religion the greater the danger. Men will always find ways and means of eluding a religion’s stern demands while still calling themselves its followers and signing its creeds and continuing to bear its name ; they will always be able to convince themselves that, even on that basis of compromise, they have a right to bear its name, and will grow indignant with anyone who challenges that right; they will always regard the half-allegiance they are prepared to give with a wonderful complacency and satisfaction, feeling that anyone — even God Himself — might
1 See p. 37.
be gratified with the interest they show and the patronage they offer ; not realising that that attitude, which seems so reasonable and respectable, is dealing religion a blow and doing it a damage compared with which all the direct, frontal attacks of its open enemies are a mere nothing. So it was in Judaism. Compromise and religious unreality were rife. Endless discussion of the minutiae of the law was a screen behind which men hid from the inexorable claims of conscience. It was as much easier then as it is now to spend a dozen hours discussing religion than one half-hour obeying God.
Over and above these three classes of people whose attitude to the Jewish law differed so widely — the sinners who ignored it, the saints who gloried in it, and the half-hearted who compromised with it — there existed a fourth class, whose main feeling was one of Profound disappointment and dissatisfaction ; and to this class Paul belonged. He had inherited far too deep a respect and love for the law ever to dream of ignoring it. But to glory and rejoice in it, as did some free, childlike souls, to declare with the Psalmist that God’s hardest marching-orders were the music of his life, was not in his power : it would not have been true to his experience. And the middle way, the way of compromise, was impossible. Others might find relief and a solution there ; but for a man of Paul’s vehement, downright temperament, that road was barred. Indeed, it is one of the marks of Paul’s inherent bigness of spirit, even in his pre-Christian days, that nothing less than the best would satisfy him. A temporizing, middle course he could not tolerate. The very idea of neutrality was repugnant. To be content with an indifferent morality and a second-rate
religion seemed to him thoroughly immoral and irreligious. And if the easy plan of compromise was thus ruled out from the start, and if his most heroic efforts to drive himself by sheer relentless force of will along the road of perfect conformity to the mind and command of God were unavailing, where in the whole world was peace to be found ? He seemed doomed to live out his days in unrelieved disappointment and frustration, and to die defeated at the last.
In one place, it is true, Paul claims that as a Pharisee he had been ” immaculate by the standard of legal righteousness.” x This suggests (and we may well believe it) that in observance of the ritual demands of the law Paul had reached an extraordinarily high standard. None could accuse him of the least degree of carelessness or neglect. His zeal was unparalleled and unique. But behind the multifarious requirements of the Rabbinic law stood the moral challenge of God Himself ; and no amount of ritual observance was ever going to bring peace if that inward, ultimate claim was not being met.
It was a hopeless situation. Nor was it in any way improved or lightened by the conviction, deeply rooted in the Jewish mind, that failure at one point meant failure everywhere : ” whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” 2 With everything that was best in him, Paul yearned to fulfil the demand of God ; he felt that it was to satisfy that holy will that he had been born ; and yet something was beginning to tell him that, along the road which he had been trained to travel, he would never satisfy it — not in a thousand years. The law, so an inward voice kept telling him,
1 Phil. 3 e (Moffatt).
2 James 2 10 .
“Will bind thee by such vows, as is a shame
A man should not be bound by, yet the which
No man can keep.”
What then was he to do ? Reject the law altogether?
But that would mean signing his birthright away.
For the inward voice went on —
“but, so thou dread to swear,
Pass not beneath this gateway, but abide
Without, among the cattle of the field.”
Was that to be the end of it? It was a bitter problem. And yet Paul could not bring himself to believe that the law itself was in any way to blame for this hopeless situation. If that thought crossed his mind, resolutely he put it away. ” What shall we say then ? Is the law sin ? God forbid.” x But what did grow clear to his mind, as he struggled with the problem, was this — that the blame lay in human nature. ” We know that the law is spiritual : but I am carnal, sold under sin.” 2 That was the root of the trouble, that radical weakness in the very constitution of humanity. ” I delight in the law of God after the inward man : but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” 3 One phrase sums it all up : ” what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” 4 Here we have come upon one of the apostle’s great regulative ideas. His teaching on the law is at every point conditioned by his experience of what he calls ” the flesh.” This we must now examine.
1 Rom. 7:7 .
2 Rom. 7:1 *.
3 Rom. 7:22f –
4 Rom. 8:3 .
The locus classicus for this whole side of Paul’s thought is, of course, Romans 7. This famous passage, so crucial for an understanding of the apostle’s life and religion, has raised two questions. Is the struggle here described that of an unconverted soul, or does it enter also into the experience of the redeemed ? And is this a general statement, or is it autobiography?
On the former of these questions we need not linger long. The very fact that the name of Christ is not heard until the closing verse, that Jesus is nowhere in all this chapter until He comes in suddenly in the doxology which proclaims the conflict ended and the victory won, is a clear indication that it is the experience of a life still requiring to be born again which is here being described. 1 Anyone who reads the two chapters 7 and 8 consecutively will assuredly feel that in passing from the one to the other he has entered a totally different atmosphere. If it is one soul’s experience which is being described in both, then we can only say that between them something decisive has happened. There has been a clean break of some kind. There has been rebirth, conversion. Phrases such as “sold under sin ” (verse 14), ” O wretched man that I am ” (verse 24), are not the normal notes of a life that Christ has changed. ” What would be the use of the new birth or redemption at all,” asks Johannes Weiss hotly, “if it could not end that miserable stress and slavery?” 2
1 There is much to be said for Moffatt’s arrangement : he puts the second part of verse 25, which certainly seems out of place in our A.V., immediately after verse 23 ; and the chapter then ends with the climax of verse 24 and the first part of verse 25. Reasons for the displacement of the text are suggested by Dodd, Romans, 115.
2 Das Urchristentum, 399 n.i.
Deissmann indeed inclines to another view. ” It is bad psychology,” he declares, ” to refer the words significant of depression exclusively to Paul’s pre-Christian period, and to make only Paul the Christian speak the words from on high. Even as a Christian Paul was swallowed up by the deep.” “Even in his Christian period St. Paul is capable of such cries for help when the old distress wakes in him again.” ” Side by side with all his moral exhortations to Christians to battle against sin there are confessions of Paul the Christian himself, witnessing that even the new-created feels at times the old deep sense of sin.” x That there is truth in this need not be denied. The Christian who has made his peace with God is not exempt from struggle and conflict, and history can testify that it is often the noblest saints who feel their unworthiness most. But the point to be noticed is that the struggle and conflict are now faced in a spirit utterly different from anything that went before; the whole tone of the life is altered ; and from the man who is ” in Christ ” the feelings of sadness and disillusionment and futility which cry aloud in Romans 7 are fled and vanished. Were he to fall from grace or even for a moment to have his connection with Jesus severed, then indeed the misery there described would come rushing back upon him ; and it may be that in writing the chapter Paul was saying, ” There is what my life is, and yours, and the life of all the world — apart from Christ. This is what happens when a man lets Jesus go.” Denney certainly has right on his side when he maintains that ” no one could have written the passage but a Christian,” and that the experience to which it refers is being ” seen through regenerate eyes ” ; 2 but
1 St Paul, 68, 95, 156.
2 EGT, ii. 639.
fundamentally it is the pre-Christian life which is here delineated, a life which passes away when Christ makes all things new.
There remains the other question raised by this chapter in Romans — -Is it autobiographical, or purely general ? Weiss inclines to the latter view, and holds that the absence of specifically Jewish colouring and the use of the present rather than the past tense make it impossible to regard it as a transcript of Paul’s own experience : the first personal pronoun is no more than a literary convention. ” So ist das ‘ Ich ‘ ein allgemeines.” 1 To the present writer this seems entirely unconvincing. ” It will in fact be found on examination,” says C. H. Dodd, ” that Paul rarely, if ever, says ‘ I ‘ unless he is speaking of himself personally, even if he means to generalize from the particular instance.” 2 But quite apart from that, there are certain canons which enable one to decide with a high degree of accuracy whether a man is giving a personal confession or whether he is simply speaking at large : and if ever words bore all the evidences of having been wrung from the agony of a man’s own soul, these poignant sentences most surely do. No literary convention makes a man speak as Paul has spoken here. In his very heart’s blood this page was written.
This, of course, is not to say that a wider reference is excluded, for in his own bitter conflict Paul sees the struggle of unredeemed humanity mirrored. But all the way and in every word, as Holtzmann has well remarked, one hears a crede experto that cannot be denied. 3 This was my struggle, says Paul, this my defeat ; and this, thank God, my victory !
1 Das Urchristentum, 399 n.i.
2 Romans, 107 (MNTC).
3 Neutestamentliche Theologie, ii. 32 n.2.
Let it be said in passing that we cannot be too grateful to Paul for thus admitting us to the inner sanctuary of his life and sharing with us the deepest secrets of his soul. The contrast between a message of this kind and one which is general and impersonal is well illustrated, as Denney has pointed out, by a comparison of the Confessions of Augustine with the writings of Athanasius. 1 Certainly what has given Paul’s Gospel its force and grip and appeal for every age is the fact that it is experimental through and through. Just as Paul’s Master once drew back with His own hands the curtain that hid the secrets of His desert conflict with the tempter, just as Jesus with His own lips told His friends the story of that lonely titanic struggle in order to help and strengthen them when their dark days should come, so Paul here, realizing that the man who is to lead others to God must ” walk in the light ” 2 and make no secret of the redeeming experience that has delivered him from sin and shame and death, has opened his whole life to us without reserve. ” No man,” says Raven, ” has ever given himself away more generously or to better purpose. Such self -giving is the finest and the hardest task of discipleship.” 3 Of Romans 7 and 8 it is surely true to say that nowhere in the literature of personal confession could a nobler fulfilment be found of the Psalmist’s injunction, ” Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy.” 4 Let the redeemed say so — and Paul, by disclosing the wretchedness and misery in which Christ had found him, and the glory and romance into which Christ
1 The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation, 44.
2 I John 1:7 .
3 Jesus and the Gospel of Love, 293.
4 Psalm 107*.
had ushered him, is bearing his witness to bowed and burdened spirits everywhere : “This, by God’s grace, happened to me, and this, under God, can happen to you.” In the service of Christ and of humanity, the man has opened his very heart, and written in his very blood, and taken us into the shame and glory of his secret soul; and for this the world stands for ever in his debt.
We can now turn to the conception to which this page from the apostle’s life introduces us, the conception of “sin in the flesh.” The prominence of this idea here and elsewhere has occasionally led readers of his writings to conclude that his life must have been harassed by some special sensual sin, and that Paul more than others had an evil bias in the moral sphere to contend with. But that is to misunderstand the terms he is using. “There is no reason whatever to suppose, with Lagarde and others, that he had ever been a careless or loose liver.” J Everything points in the opposite direction. Nor is it necessary to find in the chapter we are discussing a reference to some definite sin committed in youth ; and when Deissmann states that “even in his old age there stood out clearly to his soul one experience of his childhood, concerning which he gives pathetic hints in his letter to the Romans. We might speak of it as his fall ” 2 — he is going beyond what is warranted by the evidence. The point at issue is this : what does Paul mean when he speaks of “the flesh”?
The word aap£ in Paul’s epistles has various shades of
1 Inge, Christian Ethics and Modern Problems, 72. Cf. Garvie, in Expository Times, March 1925, 250.
2 St. Paul, 93.
meaning, ranging from the strictly literal usage in such a phrase as ” flesh and bones ” x to the idea of carnal sin. 2 But in the great majority of passages it stands for human nature on its material side. It includes ” all that is peculiar to human nature in its corporeal embodiment.” 3 Elsewhere Paul has used the contrast of 6 eaa) and o e£a> wdpconos — the inward and the outward man 4 — and the flesh comprises everything (impulses, thoughts, desires, and the like) belonging to the latter. ” Carnem appellat quidquid est extra Christum,” says Calvin. 5 It is human nature in its frailty and weakness and need of help. It is man apart from God. ” What, indeed, does flesh mean,” exclaims Barth, ” but the complete inadequacy of the creature when he stands before the Creator ? ” 6 It is not in itself base ; and it is well to remind ourselves that of the notion of the inherent evil of matter, which was a characteristic Gnostic doctrine, there is not a trace in Paul. His dualism is not cosmic nor metaphysical, but practical and moral. But though not evil in itself, the flesh is that part of man’s nature which gives evil its opportunity. It is the thing on which sin impinges and to which it attaches itself. It becomes sin’s ” willing and obedient organ and instrument.” 7 ” With the flesh,” says Paul, “I serve the law of sin.” 8
Here we come in sight of another important element in the apostle’s thinking — his view of sin as personal. “The flesh is a substance, but sin is a force.” 9 It is
1 Eph. 5:30 .
2 Rom. 13:14 .
3 Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of NT Greek, 519.
4 II Cor. 4″.
5 Quoted by Michael, Epistle to the Philippians, 139 (MNTC).
6 The Epistle to the Romans (Eng. tr.), 89.
7 H. J. Holtzmann, Neutestamentliche Theologie, ii. 43.
8 Rom. 7 as . • Holtzmann, ii. 44.
a living power, the subtle adversary of man’s soul. “Sin,” he says, “sprang to life.” x “Sin deceived me, and slew me.” 2 ” It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” 3 All this, it should be noticed, is in direct line with the teaching of Jesus. There also we find sin regarded personally. It is the “strong man” who has to be bound. 4 It is the Satan who falls as lightning from heaven. 5
It is but another aspect of the same idea which Paul is using when he speaks of ” principalities and powers.” 5 The world, as he conceived it, was full of spirit-forces hostile to God. When he speaks of the o-roixeia, or “elements,” it is most probably such supernatural beings, or elemental spirits, which he has in mind. 6 This, too, runs back to Jesus’ teaching. Round about the lives of men was an unseen realm full of malign influences, emissaries of the Evil One ; and suffering, sickness, and sin were regularly attributed to demonic agency. Hence Jesus could say that when, through His own and His followers’ mission, the work of saving and healing suddenly began to go forward on a gigantic scale, it was a token that the whole kingdom of Satan was being shaken to its foundations, was indeed breaking up, and that the kingdom of goodness and light and God was at last coming into its own. ” If I with the finger cf God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” 7 Here, then, we have one of Paul’s working hypotheses : sin is a personal force, which first exists outside of a man altogether, and then comes and launches its attack upon him. And the point of attack is the flesh.
1 Rom. 7» (Moffatt).
2 Rom. 7″.
3 Rom. 7 “-*».
4 Matt. 12:29 .
5 Luke 1o:18 .
6 Gal. 4:3s , Col. 2:8-20 . » Luke 11:20 .
It lies outside the scope of our present inquiry to examine in any detail Paul’s view of the origin of sin. We have already had occasion to remark that the apostle did not feel it necessary to unify his own thinking on this matter. 1 Side by side with his belief in the existence of a world of hostile spirits deceiving man into sin stands the thought of Adam’s transgression as something in which all future ills were implicit : “sin came into the world by one man.” 2 Traces of the Jewish conception of ” the two impulses ” can also be found. According to this doctrine, sin, viewed on its subjective side, originates with the yeser ha-ra’, the evil impulse, the tempter within. 3 But in truth Paul was little anxious to discuss how sin had been born and whence it had come : the one thing that filled his mind was the fact that sin was there, doing the devil’s work, and that only the power of God could destroy it.
He went far beyond the Rabbis in his view of sin’s seriousness. Moore has pointed out that the definition of sin in the Westminster Shorter Catechism — “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” — might have come from the Jewish doctors of the law themselves. 4 That is perfectly true : the definition is identical with the Rabbinic position, and could have been arrived at even if Christ had never died and Paul had never preached. But it is also true that the very point where the Rabbis and the Catechism are at one is the point where the latter most conspicuously fails. Certainly Paul’s view went far beyond any such definition. Sin was not something a man did : it was something that took possession of him, something the man was, something that turned
1 See p. 27.
2 Rom. 5:12 (Moffatt).
3 G. F. Moore, Judaism, i. 479 fif. 4 lb. i. 460.
him into an open enemy of the God who loved him. It brought outward penalties : “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” * But far more appalling than these were its inward results. It tormented the conscience : “0 wretched man that I am!” 2 It brought the will into abject slavery : “the good that I would, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.” 3 It destroyed fellowship with God: men were ” alienated,” 4 “without God in the world.” 5 It hardened the heart, and blinded the judgment, and warped the moral sense : “God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” 6 It destroyed life itself : “the wages of sin is death.” 7
Such is the apostle’s estimate of sin’s overwhelming gravity. And through it all, even where sin is regarded as an external force waiting to take advantage of human nature in its frailty, he will allow no blurring of the fact of personal accountability. Principalities and powers may lie in wait, but in the last resort man’s is the choice, man’s the responsibility, and man’s the doom.
No one has ever described more strikingly than Paul the torment of the divided self. Many writers have dwelt on this state of inward civil war — Epictetus, with his o deXet oii rroiet /cat o /lit) deXei iroiel; Ovid, with his ” video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor ” ; Plato, in his picture of the horses and the charioteer ; Shakespeare, in his delineation of the conflict in the soul of Hamlet, a conflict which, as Bradley has told us, 8 is the very essence of all tragedy ; but for vividness and simple poignancy none has surpassed Paul in the passage which
1 Gal. 6:7 .
2 Rom. 7″.
3 Rom. 7:19 .
4 Col. 1″.
5 Eph. 2:12 .
6 Rom. 1:28 .
7 Rom. 6:23 .
8 A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, 18.
is the De Profundis Clamavi of the New Testament. Into this picture, memories of years of struggle and impotence and unhappiness deepening into desperation have entered. Romans 7 is Paul as he was right up to the eve of the Damascus journey — torn in spirit, disintegrated in personality, sunk into an abyss of self-loathing and despair. “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord.”
This, then, was the situation in the midst of which Paul saw one fact standing, stern and challenging — the law. What we have now to do is to observe how his own experience of defeat at the hands of sin (in which, let it be emphasized again, he saw humanity’s problem mirrored) reacted on his view of the law itself. It is practically certain that, for a considerable time before the great crisis of Damascus came, there were taking shape in his mind and heart some at least of the criticisms of the law and of legal religion in general which later, in the light of Christ, he was to proclaim with all the strength and energy of his being. Here let us try to assess his position as a whole, and for the sake of clearness let us notice the following points.
First, Paul never to his life’s end lost the sense that the law, in spite of all its defects and dangers, had something noble in it. This is an aspect of the matter which has not received the emphasis it deserves. His attitude to the Scriptures, of which mention has been made above, 1 rendered it certain that the law of Moses at least would always claim his regard and honour. The Old Testament was divinely inspired, and therefore completely authoritative ; and in so far as ” law ” in
1 See pp. 39 ff.
the apostle’s mind was associated with this total historic revelation of God, there could be no question of its cancellation. Even Jesus, he realised, came “not to destroy, but to fulfil.” x ” Do we make void the law through faith ? God forbid ; yea, we establish the law.” 2 Hence Paul found himself perfectly able, even where attacking legalist religion, to reinforce his arguments by quotations drawn from the books of the law: notable instances of this will be found in Romans 9-11. If this proceeding is considered arbitrary and inconsistent, it should be remembered that not only in psalms and prophets but even in the Pentateuch itself the prophetic note can be heard ; and it is to this strain of his ancestral religion, as distinct from the legal strain which had latterly taken precedence, that Paul makes his appeal. 3
In this sense, then, his estimation of the law never wavered. To his own question ” What advantage hath the Jew ? ” he gives the answer ” Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” 4 And even in the passage over which the shadows of frustration and futility lie most deeply, he can declare ” The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” 5 All the moral commands God had ever promulgated remained valid. ” The Law is given,” says Augustine, ” that Grace may be sought; Grace is given that the Law may be fulfilled.” 6 As Anderson Scott has aptly put it, ” Paul, as a Jew, had thought that men should keep the Law in order that they might be saved. As a Christian he saw that men
1 Matt. 5:17 .
2 Rom. 3″.
3 On this point, see Dodd, Romans, 50 (MNTC).
4 Rom. 3:1-2 .
5 Rom. 7:12 .
6 Quoted art. Law, in HDAC, i. 691.
must be saved in order that they might keep the Law.” x The idea of a religion where the demand for absolute obedience to God was abrogated never entered his horizon. The type of attitude, familiar to us to-day, which rebels at discipline, and resents the thought of obligation, and grows irritated at the apostolic injunction to ” humble itself under the mighty hand of God,” 2 Paul would not have countenanced for a moment. Against any such attitude, his Gospel stands like a bulwark. Against it he declares uncompromising down- right defiance ; announcing that God was from the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, absolute monarch in His own world, and that the discipline of God, the moral demand of God, is the very keystone of the arch of life : remove it, and collapse and chaos must result. Noble the law of God had always been, and noble in the Christian dispensation it remained ; and the time would never come when the demand on human nature would be anything less than the full, direct, and absolute surrender of itself to the high God of its salvation.
Second, we have to remark on Paul’s growing conviction of the law’s powerlessness to save. It was his great Christian discovery that what God had achieved by sending Christ into the world was something which the law, ” weak through the flesh ” as it was, could never have done. 3 The law itself was “spiritual,” TTvevfjiCLTiKos ; 4 and, granted an ideal situation where all men were spiritual too, it might have carried through what it had set itself to achieve. Paul himself says as
1 Christianity according to St. Paul, 45.
2 I Peter 5:s .
3 Rom. 8:3 .
4 Rom. 7:14 . The law is spiritual, says Holtzmann, as being “Inbegriflf dessen, was von Gott, dem Inhaber des Geistes, gewollt und gefordert wird ” (Neutest. Theol. ii. 29).
much when he writes to the Galatians, ” If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” x The trouble was that the human nature, over against which the law stood, was not irvevfiaTLKos but aapKtvos, a creature of the flesh : and therefore true kinship and co-operation there could not be. Jewish legalism might point man the road to travel, but actually to set him upon that road and give him strength for the journey was more than it could do. The law might be noble ; but for dealing with the practical situation of a humanity labouring under the thraldom and the inevitable limitations which sin imposes, it was pitifully weak.
It cannot be concealed that a good deal of modern religion, even when bearing the Christian name, is in a like case, and suggests nothing so much as the picture of a man endeavouring to lift himself up into mid-air by the hair of his own head, or going through gymnastic exercises to increase his own muscles. The most vital question for religion now, as in Paul’s day, is the question of power ; and much of what passes as Christianity is still on the far side, the Jewish side, of the line that runs through Damascus and the vision of Christ. To this question, and to the answer which the Gospel gives, we shall have to return later. Suffice it here to say that once it was the very crux of Paul’s own most haunting problem ; and what made the Christian revelation, when at last it came to him, a discovery so surpassingly wonderful and joyous was this, that at the flaming heart and centre of the new religion lay precisely the thing he needed most, the one thing for lack of which humanity was perishing — power, supernatural and divine. ” I am not ashamed of the gospel : for it
1 Gal. 3:21 .
is the power of God.” 1 ” Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory.” 2
Third, let us observe that one function of the law, as Paul came to see it, was to reveal sin. ” Had it not been for the law,” he writes, ” I would never have known what sin meant.” 3 Here was an absolute standard of morality by which each man had to measure his life ; and those who might have been content to turn a blind eye to certain ways and habits of their own, or to use the argument (which indeed is the stock-in-trade of complacent souls in every age) that while they might not be saints they were at least as good as most of their neighbours and that nothing more was necessary, were likely to be rudely shaken out of their contentment and to have that complacent argument silenced when the searchlight of the law fell across their path. A day was coming when Paul was to find another and more searching test of life, another standard by which his own sins and the sins of men would be revealed for what they were and shown up in their true colours — namely, the cross of Jesus Christ. But in the meantime this was the function which legal religion in its own degree fulfilled. ” What the law imparts,” he declared bluntly, ” is the consciousness of sin.” 4
Fourth, not only did the law reveal sin : it actually promoted sin. It instigated human nature to evil. As an illustration of this, Paul takes the tenth commandment of the Decalogue, and shows that the very prohibition stirred a desire for the forbidden thing within
1 Rom. 1:16 .
2 Eph. 3:20 .
3 Rom. 7′ (Moffatt)-
4 Rom. 3:20 (Moffatt).
his soul. 1 Here, of course, the apostle has simply hit upon a truth with which everyone who knows anything of modern psychology is perfectly familiar. But the amazed horror with which the average orthodox Jew would greet his statement may well be imagined. “That the law ceremonially given to the nation by Moses, the privilege and pride of the chosen people, should not only be powerless to promote righteousness, but actually serve to let sin loose, bearing the brand of terrible guilt ; and that the whole history of the chosen people from the time of Moses should be simply an illustration of the truth of this dictum — nothing more than this was needed to stamp the name of Paul with utter infamy for every Jewish circle. . . . This alone amply explains the opposition which came to him from the Judaizers.” 2 But Paul is quite clear about it. ” The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” 3
Fifth, Paul came to see that law, as a system of religion, was no more than a temporary expedient. It was not God’s last word to man, any more than it had been His first. Four hundred and thirty years before the legal dispensation began, free grace had prevailed, in the covenant which God had made with Abraham; 4 and in the case of Abraham himself, the promise was prior to the circumcision which ratified it. 5 Hence it could not be said that legalism was of the essence of religion. Appearing on the earth at a particular point of time, and for a special set of circumstances, it was no doubt destined, when it had served its purpose, to
1 Rom. 7:7f –
2 H. J. Holtzmann, N eutestamentliche Theologie, ii. 31 f.
3 Rom. 7:10 .
4 Gal. 3:17 .
5 This is the point of Rom. 4 s ” 12 , which looks back to Gen. 15:6-17:10 .
pass away. ” The law entered,” x says Paul, it came upon the scene : but something else had been there before. Law was an intermediate stage, 2 an intermezzo. 3 By way of strengthening this argument, Paul further points out that the law, according to Jewish doctrine, had been transmitted to man by a roundabout road, first through the mediation of angels, and then through the great lawgiver Moses 4 — a circumstance which must obviously place it in a lower rank than a revelation which came direct from God.
All this side of the apostle’s thought may seem to us remote enough from the religious outlook of our own day. But in truth, what he is insisting upon is the entirely relevant and extremely important principle that God is not a prisoner in His own laws: God is alive, and therefore at any moment new truth may come breaking in. Blindness to this cardinal fact of religion was largely responsible for the fanatic outburst that nailed Jesus to the cross ; and if there is one lesson which, after Calvary, ought to be written upon the world’s conscience as with a pen of iron on the rock, it is this, that the obscurantist attitude, the closed mind in every form, is a thing fundamentally irreligious and heathen. |, ” Quench not the Spirit,” wrote Paul. 5 It was really this great thought of a living, acting, working God, a God of endless resource, that was filling the apostle’s mind when he inveighed against the over-estimation of the law current among his contemporaries. Let them not regard as final and absolute what could, in the nature of things, be no more than temporary and provisional. Let them not think that they had
1 Rom. 5:20 .
2 ” Mittelstation.” Holtzmann, op. cit. ii. 35.
3 Wrede, Paulus, 75.
4 Gal. 3″.
5 I Thess. 5:19 .
exhausted the divine revelation, or that heaven’s last word had come through. Let them open their closed minds and hearts to God’s unsearchable riches. Such was Paul’s appeal and challenge ; and beneath it there lay the thought which Whittier’s familiar words have expressed so nobly —
“Immortal Love, for ever full,
For ever flowing free,
For ever shared, for ever whole,
A never-ebbing sea!”
Sixth, Paul’s reflection on the course of history and Providence convinced him that the main positive function of the law was to prepare the way for the coming of the Christian revelation. It was an integral part of the praeparatio evangelica. ” The law was our school-master to bring us unto Christ.” x Lightfoot has pointed out that the 7rai8aya>yos was the tutor, ” frequently a superior slave,” who ” was entrusted with the moral supervision of the child,” and remained in charge of him until such time as he came of age. 2 It was an apt illustration for Paul’s purpose, for not only did it bring out clearly the positive service which the law had been put into the world to fulfil ; it also emphasized legalism’s temporary character and inferior rank. That the discipline of life and morals to which the law subjected the Jewish nation was in a real sense preparing the way of the Lord, and making straight in the desert a highway for God, is abundantly clear ; and still to-day there are souls in whom the experience of the shackles of a code and the bondage of the letter creates a yearning and a hunger and a restlessness which, under Providence, lead on and out
1 Gal. 3:24 .
2 Galatians, 147 f.
at last to the freedom of the Spirit of Christ and the liberty of the children of God.
Seventh, the conviction in which Paul’s mind, as it explored the whole matter, finally came to rest was this, that the law, having fulfilled its purpose, was destined to pass away. To cling to it when its work was done would be to do irreparable damage to the cause of vital religion. ” Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” 1 This truth is expressed with vivid pictorial effect in the letter to the Colossians. There Paul depicts Christ, the champion of defeated souls, coming suddenly upon the scene when the verdict of condemnation had been pronounced, taking the document on which the sentence of death stood written, blotting out the fatal decree and nailing it to His cross. 2 We know that in those days it was the common custom, when a criminal was executed, publicly to placard his crime : a brief description of the charge on which the man had been condemned was written out and nailed to the cross itself. And it is possible that Paul, in the famous picture in Colossians, is referring to this practice. With a stroke of imaginative genius, he sees above Jesus’ head, not the historic superscription “The King of the Jews,” but the condemnation pronounced on mankind by the law ; and the truth which he wishes to drive home is that Christ, by dying, had ended the law’s claim on man, and satisfied its ultimate demands, and thus finished its tyranny for ever.
Another way of expressing the same truth occurs in the letter to the Galatians. ” Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth
1 Rom. 10:4 .
2 Col. 2:14 .
on a tree.” x Here the line which the apostle’s thought follows seems to be this : Jesus, by His birth as a Jew, was ” made under the law.” 2 He took His stand by His brethren’s side. He involved Himself in their distress. He subjected Himself to the tyranny under which they laboured. By His death on the cross, He took upon Himself the full weight of the curse under which the law had brought them ; and by His resurrection, which was death’s defeat, He declared that the curse was finished. In other words, Jesus had allowed the tyrant law to have all its way with Him ; in the dread deed of Calvary it had spent itself, and had exhausted all the curse ; and when He came out victorious on the other side, it meant that the evil bondage was lifted off humanity’s heart once for all. The curse was dead. The law was ended.
A position so radical and revolutionary was bound to bring upon Paul the charge of antinomianism. How he met this charge, and how his central doctrine of union with Christ safeguarded the Gospel which he preached from any danger of an antinomian taint, we shall have occasion to see in a later study. 3 Suffice it here to record the apostle’s intense conviction that to hark back to the law, after what Christ had done, could only defeat God’s purpose in sending Christ, which was to help men to righteousness along a new and better way. Jews and Judaizing Christians might denounce Paul for an attitude to the law which, they declared, was bound to reduce morality to chaos : but they were wrong. As Moffatt well expresses it, ” They had made the Law their Christ, and God intended Christ to be the Law.” 4
One circumstance which no doubt strengthened Paul
1 Gal. 3:13 , Deut. 21″.
2 Gal. 4*.
3 See pp. 194 flf. * Grace in the New Testament, 266.
in this radical attitude to legalism was the discovery that, as long as the law was tolerated, the feud between Jew and Gentile would continue. Between them, the law was nothing more nor less than ” a wall of partition ” ; x and it would be foolish, to say the least of it, to do anything to reconstruct the barrier which Christ had swept away. “In His own flesh,” writes Paul, ” He put an end to the feud of the law with its code of commands, so as to make peace ” between the two parties. 2 Hence Paul’s working policy ” was not first a course of the Law and then a course of Christianity — but Christianity straight away for every man.” 3 Nothing could be more explicit than the clear-cut alternatives presented to the Galatians : either the law, or Christ — you cannot have both. A Christianity cramped in its action by the accoutrements of legalism was as little fit to face the world as David in Saul’s hampering armour was fit to face Goliath. And any Christianity which hankered after the law was virtually denying the finality of Jesus. Were men slow to realize this? Bluntly Paul would force on them the question, Has Christ done all, or has He left something undone ? You say, He has done all : then go on and draw the obvious conclusion — the law can add nothing. You cannot say “ll is of grace,” and yet assert (for instance) the religious importance of circumcision. “If righteousness comes by way of the law, then indeed Christ’s death was useless.” 4 “You are for justification by the law ? Then you are done with Christ.” 5
1 Eph. 2:1 *. There may be a reference here to the dividing wall in the Temple at Jerusalem. So E. F. Scott, Ephesians, 171 (MNTC).
2 Eph. 2:15 (Moffatt).
3 L. P. Jacks, The Alchemy of Thought, 268.
4 Gal. 2″ (Moffatt).
5 Gal. 5* (Moffatt).
That is Paul’s final word, and a drastic word it is. But our study of the law, of its aims and limitations and dangers, has now shown that, for Paul, no other final word was possible. “Of all the stars,” says Holtzmann, ” which fell to earth in the mighty firmament-shaking experience of Paul’s conversion, the law was the greatest.” 1 What need was there of stars, when the full noonday glory had come?
In two of the three accounts of Paul’s conversion, given in the Book of Acts, there occurs the sentence “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks ” ; 2 and the vivid little picture of the recalcitrant animal which, as it is being yoked to the plough, kicks out at the man behind it and only hurts itself by doing so, suggests very forcibly the condition of Paul’s mind and heart immediately prior to his apprehension by Christ.
One of the sharpest and most stinging goads was his own growing sense of the failure of Judaism. Whatever else his religion had done for him, it had certainly not yet brought him peace with God, and he was beginning to feel that it never would. Against that feeling he fought with might and main. To toy with it would be treachery. To countenance it would be to blow out the light of faith and piety. Hence the fury of his attack on the new sect. Action might relieve his brooding. The wild whirlwind campaign might dissipate the uneasy shadows and questionings which were hanging about his mind. But stubbornly the shadows refused to lift. The questions persisted. Kick as he might, the goad still stung.
1 Neutestamentliche Theologie, ii. 37. a Acts 9:s , 26:14 .
Again, there was the fact of the historic Jesus. That, too, was strangely haunting. We shall not here discuss the question whether Paul as a young Pharisee in Jerusalem had actually seen Jesus. Certainly he had spoken to men who had seen Him. The leaders of the Pharisees had kept a watchful eye on Jesus all through His ministry ; they had sent their agents hither and thither to spy on Him ; they had followed Him north to Galilee ; they had cross-examined men and women who claimed that Jesus had healed them ; they had been the prime movers in His trial, condemnation, and death. Hence there can be little doubt that a certain knowledge of Jesus came to Paul through his Pharisaic associates; and even if their version of the facts was hopelessly prejudiced and one-sided, that could not altogether prevent something of the nobility and majesty of the real Jesus from shining through. Nor is it at all credible that a man like the young Pharisee from Tarsus, with a mind so keen and alert and wideawake, and a soul so passionately religious, would allow any contemporary movement of thought or any new trend of religion to escape his scrutiny. He knew of Jesus’ Messianic claim. He had conducted a considerable personal research into the blasphemous heresy, as he regarded it, with which the new faith was seeking to poison the very life of Judaism. Contact with the victims of his persecution added to his knowledge of their fundamental beliefs and stimulated his curiosity about a Man who, even when He was dead (as this Man assuredly was), could rouse such devotion in His followers. Bitterly as the Pharisee reviled Jesus and His memory, vehemently as he swore eternal enmity, destruction, and death to all that Jesus stood for, he could not quite cast off an impression of another kind which his own inquiries into Jesus’ teaching and character
had produced, nor silence a still small voice that bore a different witness. It was hard to kick against the goads.
A third fact Paul had to reckon with was the lives of the Christians. Their bravery under persecution, their absolute conviction that they had found the truth, their calm confidence and peace of heart that stood every imaginable test, their unconquerable happiness, their glad fearlessness (to quote the favourite New Testament expression 1 ) — all this could not but make a deep mark on Paul’s mind. Paul certainly had no intention of being infected with the new heresy ; but that, in Tertullian’s words, 2 he was ” struck with an inward misgiving,” unconfessed probably even to himself, in witnessing the lives which its protagonists led, seems beyond doubt. Had they found something — some power, some peace, some joy — to which he himself, for all his seeking and striving, was a stranger? “Then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them ” 3 — so a Psalmist had envisaged the outside world’s impression of God’s elect people ; and on Paul as a non-Christian, the lives of the Christians whom in his role of persecutor he encountered were beginning to produce an impression strangely similar, which refused to be thrust quite away, and against which his angry spirit kicked in vain. The Lord had done great things for them.
Finally, there was the death of Stephen. Remorse for his share in the work of that wild day may well have troubled him, though the records say nothing on this point. But if there were one circumstance of the martyrdom to which Paul’s mind would frequently return, it must have been the strange way in which
2 See p. 67.
3 Ps. 126*.
the martyr’s last words appeared to tally with and verify the central Christian belief, that Jesus who had died was alive and exalted in glory. To Paul as he was then, this was the most pestilent and impossible of creeds ; yet had not Stephen with his dying breath declared, ” I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God”? 1 Had he not spoken to One unseen, and cried, ” Lord Jesus, receive my spirit ? ” 2 Vigorously Paul repelled the deduction to which such questions pointed ; scathingly and contemptuously he reaffirmed his own dogmatic assurance that the Christian resurrection theory was a lie. Yet the memory of Stephen’s eyes as he gazed heavenward in death, and of Stephen’s colloquy with some living Spirit whom he called by Jesus’ name, troubled the Pharisee’s soul. 3 It was hard to kick against the goads.
We have seen, then, something of the inward conflict which was agitating Paul’s mind when he set his face towards Damascus. It must not, however, be imagined that when you have traced the conflict you have explained the conversion. Too often the line has been taken of interpreting the event which revolutionized the man’s life as the product of natural causes or the climax of ascertainable psychological processes. Against such a view, it is necessary to record a very definite protest. This is not to say that God does not work upon men along the lines which psychology indicates. Quite obviously He does ; and the idea that the discovery of the laws of nature and of
1 Acts 7:S0 .
2 Acts 7:5e .
3 For a vivid reconstruction of the influence of this event in Paul’s life, see J. A. Hutton, Finally : With Paul to the End, chs. vii. and x.
thought which regulate human life means the progressive elimination of God and of God’s action is manifestly unsound and absurd. It is still God who acts, though the mode of His action may now be traced. But what we are here concerned to maintain is that naturalistic explanations, even the best and fullest, are a hopelessly inadequate measuring-line for an event like Paul’s conversion. No doubt his experience under the law, and the secret ” goads ” that we have mentioned, prepared the way ; but it was no mere projection of an inward state that suddenly changed his life and redeemed his soul. No doubt it was ” in the fulness of the time ” that the heavenly glory broke upon his vision, just as (in his own words) it was ” in the fulness of the time,” when the waiting world was ready, that God sent forth His Son ; x and yet the one event can as little be accounted for from below, from the purely human side, as the other. The Barthian school of theology has vulnerable points ; but its supreme service to our generation is the deliverance it heralds from the morass of subjectivism in which much recent religious thinking has wallowed. Christ’s words to Simon Peter, in response to the great confession at Caesarea Philippi, might have pealed out again like a trumpet to Paul lying prostrate on the Damascus road : ” Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” 2 ” In the end,” as Dr. W. R. Matthews does well to remind us, ” the problem of the supernatural resolves itself into the question of the existence of the living God.” 3 Had anyone suggested to the apostle that the truth which enveloped him in a blaze of light was something to which, by the experience of the years
1 Gal. 4*.
2 Matt. 16 17 .
3 Essays in Construction, 40.
behind him and by his own reactions to life, he had won his way, he would most certainly have considered such a suggestion as dangerously akin to blasphemy. His own account of it was very different. ” It pleased God,” he declares, ” to reveal His Son in me.” x No horizontal line of cause and effect could explain it: it had come vertically from above. The living God, unsearchable in His sovereign freedom, inscrutable in His absolute wisdom, had there and then interposed. And if the thought of a divine initiative runs like a red thread through all Paul’s subsequent religion, if he is never tired of reiterating the great evangelical truth that nothing man may do or endure can bring peace and victory and that salvation is of the Lord, if his whole life is given to proclamation of the glorious paradox of a God who justifies the ungodly, it is because his own soul owed everything to an experience of which he could say with utter certainty that it was no mere resultant of human and natural forces, but a direct, original act of supernatural grace.
In that high moment of revelation, two things came to Paul, even as they had come to Jesus Himself at the baptism in Jordan — a Vision and a Voice. The efforts which have been made to empty this part of the conversion experience of all reality need not detain us here. Some have seen in it a product of an overheated and unbalanced imagination. Kohler calls it bluntly ” a strange hallucination.” 2 Others connect it with a particular theory of the ” thorn in the flesh ” — the theory of epilepsy. Others speak of the perils of a neurotic temperament. Others hint at sunstroke. A deeper knowledge of spiritual experience on its mystical side would have made such vagaries of interpretation
1 Gal. i 15f –
2 Jewish Theology, 437.
unlikely ; and a more believing grasp of what is surely one of the main consequences of the Resurrection — namely, that in a world where Christ is alive and present, men may sometimes come upon Him face to face — would have made them impossible. 1 Why a living Jesus should not be able to reveal Himself to Paul is a question which many critics have not even troubled to consider ; but it is the crucial question. And when we find the three Lucan narratives reinforced by the apostle’s own explicit statements, it is superfluous to continue searching for explanations, pathological or other. The man means precisely what he says. Jesus revealed Himself to him. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul enumerates the various appearances of the risen Lord to His disciples, and adds “Last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” 2 The verb wdT) which Paul uses throughout this famous passage is the regular Septuagint expression for the revelation of the Deity to man ; 3 and here it denotes, as Weiss rightly remarks, ” no subjective ‘vision’ in the modern psychological sense, but a real beholding of the glorified Christ.” 4 When Paul thus sets his own encounter with Jesus in direct line with the Resurrection experiences of the first disciples, he is deliberately stressing the fact that the revelation which
1 Prof. C. E. Raven, in his noble book, A Wanderer’s Way, ch. iii., has told how at one stage he accepted the Resurrection on intellectual grounds and was convinced of the evidence, without realizing the full consequences of the belief ; and how he was enabled, through a personal vision of Christ which came to him, to draw the practical deductions implicit in the Resurrection faith.
2 I Cor. 15:8 .
3 Deissmann, St. Paul, 120.
4 J. Weiss, Erster Korintherbrief, 349 (in Meyer’s Kommentar): ” Dass uxpd-rj bei ihm nicht eine subjektive ‘ Vision ‘ im modern-psychologischen Sinne bedeutet, sondern ein wirkliches Sehen des Verklarten, ist selbstverstandlich.”
he received was in every way as real and as objective as theirs. It is significant, moreover, to find that on occasions when his apostolic authority was called in question and attacked, he reminded his critics that in the Damascus experience there lay a full vindication of his claim. No one could bear apostolic rank — so the mind of the Church decreed — who had not personally seen the risen Jesus. ” An apostle must necessarily have been an eye-witness of the resurrection. He must be able to testify from direct knowledge to this fundamental fact of the faith.” x And Paul always insisted that he possessed this essential qualification. ” Am I not an apostle ? Am I not free ? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord ? ” 2 In the face of all this, to speak of Paul’s vision as ” illusion,” ” projection,” “hallucination,” and so on, simply betrays a lack of spiritual perception and a defective understanding of the ways of God. What shattered the flaming career of persecution, wrenched the stubborn Pharisee right round in his track, killed the blasphemer, and gave birth to the saint was nothing illusory : it was the most real thing in life, as real as the fact of God, as real as the risen life of Christ. It was, in the apostle’s own words, an “arrest.” 3 It was a ” revelation.” 4 It was a new divine ” Let there be light ! ” 5 And the glorious words in which Paul’s great disciple of a later day, St. Augustine, described his own redeeming experience of God in Christ might have come straight from the apostle himself : ” With Thy calling and shouting Thou didst break my deafness ; with Thy flashing and shining Thou didst scatter my blindness. At the scent of Thee I drew in breath, and I pant for Thee. I have
1 Lightfoot, Galatians, 98.
2 I Cor. 9:1 .
3 Phil. 3:12 .
4 Eph. 3:3 .
5 11 Cor. 4
tasted, and I hunger and thirst. Thou hast touched me, and I am on fire for Thy peace.” 1
Johannes Weiss, in his book Das Urchristentum, has raised the question whether Paul’s religion, based upon this tremendous event and determined by it at every point, can be taken as normative for other Christians. The point at issue here is a vital one, and demands careful thought. That Paul’s personal experience is the foundation of his Gospel goes without saying. Damascus coloured all his theology. It is “conversion-theology,” to use the familiar phrase. 2 Through all his religious thinking, there can be traced his own sudden apprehension by Christ. Now some have felt that this raises a serious difficulty. Can a man whose experience was of this cataclysmic sort be the best guide in religion for those who have come into the Kingdom of God by another way ? Must not the very individuality of his message prove a hindrance rather than a help ? Is it not inevitable that much of his teaching should sound alien and remote ? Is it not natural that many Christians to-day should feel no real kinship for some of the distinctive elements in his Gospel ? Weiss considers that it is. The matter is so important that his words deserve to be quoted.
“Just as it was by a complete break in his life that Paul himself reached his convictions, so it is to people who have passed from one religion to another that all the fundamental ideas of his theology are directed. For later ages this constitutes a serious difficulty in Paul’s
1 Confessions, x. 38.
2 H. J. Holtzmann, N eutestamentliche Theologie, ii. 238 : ” Die Explication des Inhalts der Bekehrung, die Systematisierung der Christophanie.”
theology, and it has given rise to endless debate and confusion. In view of the authoritative place held by that theology in the Church, his road and that of his converts came to be regarded as the normal way for every Christian to travel, and Paul himself as the type of the converted sinner, whose experiences all who wanted to rank as ‘believing’ and ‘converted’ in the true sense must needs recapitulate. But in point of fact, the necessary conditions for this were lacking in the case of the overwhelming majority of Christians. The most of us have not moved over to Christianity from Judaism or heathenism ; we did not first come to know the Gospel in our middle years, after living in outer darkness. We have grown up in the Christian community, have been reared by Christian parents, have received from childhood the message of the heavenly Father and of the Lord Jesus, and have in perfectly normal fashion been so trained in the basal laws of Christianity that we have no personal knowledge of the thick darkness of a sin-sunk paganism. Hence in many a life the question arises, How can I manage to experience ‘justification’ and ‘redemption’ ? When will the great moment come when I shall be a converted believer ? It has often been the most earnest spirits who have felt it a sacred obligation to have their ‘day of Damascus,’ and have sought with this end in view to bring about a crisis that would not come of its own accord. . . . But without a doubt there are many whose whole nature rebels against going through such a conversion process — not at all because they are impenitent or self-willed, but precisely because they are deeply sincere and honest. They realize themselves to be God’s children, just as Jesus taught His disciples ; and do not feel called on to travel the long difficult road of conversion through the valley
of despair, in order ‘to receive the adoption of sons,’ as Paul puts it, as though that were something new and fresh. That is why they find such difficulties with all those expressions, ‘ justification,’ ‘ redemption,’ and the rest, which denote a single occurrence ; they are not conscious of having ever experienced justification or the forgiveness of sins as a special act, seeing that from the earliest days they have lived in the atmosphere of God’s grace ; and to be reborn as a ‘ new creature ‘ seems to them organically impossible, because they are well aware that the question for them can only be one of slow and gradual progress, not without moments of stumbling and retreat. Such is the position of the normal Church member, reared in the discipline of a Christian family, towards Paul’s doctrine of redemption. There are, of course, other Christians, those, for example, who through a serious fall and long-continued carelessness have lost all Christian character and fellowship with God. Moreover, there are millions to-day who, in spite of Church and school, have never really been in inward sympathy with the spirit of the Gospel : there is a modern paganism springing up within the Church itself. And it may be that, both for those fallen Christians and for this great indifferent multitude, the ‘conversion-theology,’ the ‘mission-theology,’ is the true way of salvation: that we cannot exclude. But it is quite certain that there are countless men to-day for whom Paul’s Gospel with its intense and dramatic form is simply incomprehensible, and out of harmony with their own life’s experience.” 1
I have quoted this passage at length because it involves a practical issue of first-class importance. We can agree with Weiss at once when he emphasizes the
1 J. Weiss, Das Urchristentum, 337-339.
intensely individual character of Paul’s Gospel. No one was more conscious of that than the apostle himself. ” My Gospel,” he called it ; 1 and frankly declared his inability to preach anything except what had been given him, and what had passed through the flames of his own soul. And, indeed, no Gospel that lacks an intensely individual touch can be worth very much. Again, it is perfectly true to say, as Weiss does, that Christian truth and training and lifelong fellowship in the beloved community are factors of incalculable value. A cataclysmic change from Christ-hatred to Christ-devotion (as in Paul’s case), or from arrant, God-denying paganism to spiritual religion (as in the case of many of his converts) , is obviously not the only gateway into the Kingdom ; nor is it necessary for a soul to have gone wildly and dramatically astray in order to appreciate the peace of reconciliation. But where Weiss surely is seriously mistaken is in assuming a radical antithesis between the two types of experience. There is no such antithesis. It is one of the most certain facts in the world that no man — whatever his faith or folly may have been — can save himself: and this fact alone would make Paul’s Gospel universally cogent, for it is the burden of everything he has to say. All alike, those nurtured in a Christian atmosphere no less than those arrested in sin’s mid-career, are dependent utterly upon God : here at least there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free. Hence it is simply not true to say that, for those whose road has been different, Paul’s message is ” unintelligible.” It is not true to history : it is refuted by the fact that that message has been, as Denney has pointed out, ” incomparably the greatest source of spiritual revivals
1 Rom. 2:16 .
in the Christian Church for nearly two thousand years.” 1 And it is not true to individual experience: vast multitudes of men and women, who have had no such violent revolution as Paul lived through, have yet heard in his words the very voice of God to their souls. Indeed, it is precisely the intense individuality of Paul’s experience that makes his Gospel universal. That is the great paradox which we have to grasp if we are to understand him at all. Had the experience been something less than the individual, singular, distinctive thing it was, the resultant Gospel would have been something less than the universal, catholic thing it is.
The fact is that the real antithesis is not, as Weiss supposes, between those who have entered the Kingdom by the one way and those who have entered it by the other: it is between those who, whatever their way may have been, have personally committed their lives to God, and those who have not. And if a man cannot read Paul’s ” conversion-theology ” without a sense of unreality ; if he is ” not conscious of having ever experienced the forgiveness of sins as a special act”; if when he hears the words, ” Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” there is no inward urge to go on and add ” of whom I am chief ” ; if the apostolic ardours and appeals seem somehow strangely irrelevant ; if all he can say about the transition from darkness to light and from death to life is that “it is out of harmony with his own experience ” — then such an one would be well advised to ask, not whether Paul was limited and made one-sided and largely unintelligible by the particular mode in which Christianity gripped him, but whether he himself has ever really committed his soul to God, and allowed
1 The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation, 179.
Christ and His religion to get possession of his life. The ordinary Christian to-day, working out his salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who worketh in him, has far fewer difficulties with Paul than Weiss’s words would lead us to suppose. He does not feel that the apostle is talking in an unknown tongue. He does not complain that between this man’s life and his own there is a great gulf fixed. If he is sensitive at all, he feels that there is a kinship. He finds himself at home, eminently so, with this great ardent soul who knew life’s heights and depths so well. He believes that he can understand him. And he is right. For Damascus, so far from setting Paul apart from us and keeping him away, has made him brother of us all.
We have now to examine the immediate consequences for thought and life and religion which the revelation at Damascus brought with it. It would, of course, be a mistake to suppose that the full implications of his amazing experience were evident to the apostle from the first, or that everything which subsequently found a place in the Gospel he preached took shape at once within his mind. The first disciples, to whom the original resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ were granted, required time in order to grasp all that their Master’s return involved for themselves and for the world ; and most of life’s great spiritual experiences are of necessity followed by a period of rethinking and readjustment. In Paul’s case, the withdrawal into Arabia, which St. Chrysostom and many of the fathers interpreted, with rather curious exegesis, as a mission for the conversion of the Arabs, suggests rather a
deliberate seeking of seclusion for the purpose of deep reflection and communion with God : the context of the passage — particularly the declaration “I conferred not with flesh and blood” — makes this almost certain. 1 The converted man realized that time was needed for the consolidation of his position. But while that is true, the fact remains that some of the results of Damascus — and these precisely the most crucial, life-changing results — came with the conversion itself. No interval elapsed. They were given. They were immediate and direct. They were flashes of discovery. They were glories of certainty. They were sudden facts that gripped the man’s mind and soul. Our question now is, What were these results, these facts which stood thus immediately revealed?
First and foremost, Jesus was alive. Here it is of the utmost importance to realize that what Paul saw was no vague “Heavenly Being,” no impersonal Messiah: it was Jesus Himself, the Person of whom he had heard so much, whose life and character and lineaments had become well known to him through his persecuting contacts with the new sect. The vision of a heavenly Messiah would never by itself have made Paul a Christian : indeed, it might only have served to strengthen his Jewish pride and to confirm him in his antagonism to those who dared to claim divine rights
1 Gal. 1:16 ‘-. See Lightfoot, Galatians, 90. It is very doubtful however, if Lightfoot is right in saying that “Arabia ” here means the Sinaitic peninsula. The name might quite well refer to the desert hinterland east of Damascus. It is “a singularly elusive term. Originally it meant simply ‘desert ‘ or ‘desolation,’ and when it became an ethnographic proper name it was long in acquiring a fixed and generally understood meaning. ‘ Arabia ‘ shifted like the nomads, drifted like the desert sand” (J. Strahan, in HDAC, i. 88).
for a crucified Nazarene. We cannot therefore too strongly underline the fact that it was Jesus, and none other, the Jesus who had been crucified, who appeared to Paul in the way. So came the great discovery that Jesus was alive. Then His followers had been right after all ! Then the faith on which they had staked their lives was really true ! Then Stephen’s dying declaration that he saw Jesus on the right hand of God had been, not blasphemy, but sober, literal fact! Then all that those persecuted men and women had said about having their Leader with them still, about holding daily intimate communion with Him, had been no fabricated, preposterous story, as it had seemed, but strictly accurate and genuine ! It was a staggering discovery.
It meant, moreover, that everything that Jesus had been and had done, every title that He had claimed or that His followers had claimed for Him, was now attested by God Himself. For Jesus’ conquest of death and defeat could be nothing less than God in action, God’s right arm made bare, God’s seal set convincingly to the Messianic claim, God’s final vindication of His Son. In this connection it ought to be remarked how frequently, in describing the resurrection, Paul uses the passive in preference to the active voice: occasionally he says “Jesus rose,” but much more often “He was raised” or “God raised Him.” * This is deeply significant. The resurrection was God’s act. It was God’s authentication of Jesus as Messiah and Son. The following passages may be taken as typical. ” Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father.” 2 “If the
1 That Paul was here in line with the practice of the primitive Church is evidenced by such passages as Acts 2:2; 4:32-36 , 3:15, 26 , 4:10 , 5:30 , 10″.
2 Rom. 6*.
Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies.” * ” We have testified of God that He raised up Christ.” 2 ” Ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.” 3 “To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead.” 4 Most striking of all are the great statement to the Philippians, ” He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross ; wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him,” 5 and the famous words in the prologue to the Romans, ” declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” 6 All this points back to the startling truth which broke upon Paul in the hour of his conversion, that the new religion stood, not on any human credulity or invention, but on the very word and guarantee of God. As the apostle himself once put it, in Jesus risen and alive there had sounded forth the great divine ” Yes,” affirming all the most glorious promises that God had ever given. 7
This, then, was the first immediate consequence of Paul’s conversion experience. Jesus, he now knew, was alive, by the power of God. From this point right on to the end of his life, the resurrection was central in the apostle’s thinking. It could not be otherwise. Protestant theology, concentrating on the atoning sacrifice of the cross, has not always done justice to this apostolic emphasis on the risen life. We can certainly agree with Denney when he says that “nothing could be more curiously unlike the New
1 Rom. 8″.
2 I Cor. 15:15 .
3 Col. 2:12 .
4 I Thess. 1:10 .
5 Phil. 2:8f –
6 II Cor. 1:20 .
7 Rom. 1:4
Testament than to use the resurrection to belittle or disparage the death.” * But it is not a case of belittling or disparaging the death. It is a case of recognizing with Paul that without the resurrection the death would have been powerless to save ; and that without a risen, living, present Christ, with whom through faith the believer can come into union, all the benefits of the death would have had to stand unappropriated for ever. It was on the resurrection fact that the Church was built. It was the resurrection Gospel that the apostles preached. It was the experience of union with the risen Christ that made them the mighty men of God they were. The fact of the matter is that, so far from belittling the death by laying all the emphasis we can upon the resurrection, we are doing what is most likely to interpret that death in its full redeeming value ; and we are in far graver danger of belittling it when the resurrection emphasis is lacking. In short, no good service can be done to religion or to Pauline study by separating the two events and setting one over against the other. The single verse, ” who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” 2 should warn us that any such isolation is unwarranted and quite unreal. The point which we are here concerned to make is that Protestant theology, in some of its phases, has unconsciously altered the apostolic accent by almost isolating the cross, and failing to see Calvary with the resurrection light breaking behind it.
About Paul’s own position there can be no doubt. No one who reads the epistles will ever be likely to minimize the power and glory of the cross : it
1 The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation, 287.
2 Rom. 4″.
constrained the man’s love, and subdued his stubborn will. But sentences like ” We preach Christ crucified,” x and ” I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” 2 do not alter the fact that all through Paul’s religion there runs the overwhelming experience of a Christ at his right hand, a living Presence with whom he can commune, in whom he can confide, from whom he can draw all the daily guidance that he needs ; and that all through his Gospel there sounds the trumpet note, ” Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more.” 3
To Paul, the resurrection was a historic event of the past, but it was also much more : it was a present reality. Dr. R. H. Strachan has drawn attention to the significant fact that, in the summary of the apostle’s teaching set down in the opening verses of I Corinthians 15, while the verbs “died,” “was buried,” “appeared” are all aorists, the word “rose” is given in the perfect tense. “The perfect iy-qycprai reverberates like the stroke of a bell right through the chapter.” 4 Not only has Jesus risen, Paul meant to say : He is alive — now ! For I have seen Him, and I know. Chesterton in one place, speaking of Plato and Shakespeare, begs us to ” imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song.” 5 Paul needed no such imagination where Jesus was concerned. At any moment Jesus might break out with a new self -revelation, or shatter Judaism and heathenism alike with the new song of salvation.
1 I Cor. 1:23 .
a I Cor. 2:a .
3 Rom. 6:9 .
4 The Historic Jesus in the New Testament, 46.
5 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 285.
Such was the first direct message of Damascus — Jesus was alive.
The second immediate result of the conversion experience was the revolutionizing of Paul’s whole attitude to the cross. As a Pharisee, he had always held that the death of Jesus put the Messianic claim out of court. Who of Israel’s prophets or Rabbis had ever dared to envisage a Messiah suffering death ? The idea was monstrous, unthinkable. It played havoc with Jesus’ pretensions. It finished His foolish followers’ creed. It reduced their cause to mockery. But even stranger than the delusion that One who had died could be Messiah was the arrant madness which could go on maintaining that belief in the face of such a death as Jesus had endured. Crucifixion was the very abyss of ignominy. Had not the law declared, ” He that is hanged is accursed of God ” ? Had it not warned the people that one dead body, if allowed to hang a few hours too long upon the tree, would defile their whole land ? x Jew and Gentile were at one in regarding the cross as the symbol of final condemnation and uttermost shame. ” Servile supplicium ” was the Roman designation ; and in Cicero’s words something almost like a shudder can be felt — ” crude-lissimum taeterrimumque supplicium.” 2 Hence we may be sure that when Paul, writing to the Corinthians, admits that ” Christ crucified ” is ” unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness,” 3 he is doing something more than reporting what he saw
1 Deut. 2:1-23 .
2 Cicero, In Verrem, v. 66. Cf. Pro Rabirio, v. io : ” Far be the very name of a cross, not only from the body, but even from the thoughts, eyes, and ears of Roman citizens.”
3 I Cor. 1:23 .
around him. He is drawing upon first-hand experience. He is remembering his own pre-Christian reactions to the story of the cross. No one had cried out more loudly against the aKavhaXov of it than Paul the Jew ; and no one had more scathingly denounced its fjoopla than Paul the Roman citizen. Again, when we hear him declaring that “no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed (dvddefia) ,” x it is another autobiographical echo of the same kind that we are listening to. As a Christian, Paul could cry “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema!” 2 But once it had been Christ Himself on whom his anathemas had been showered. How could a would-be Messiah whose career had ended in the appalling disgrace of crucifixion be anything but a pretender and a charlatan ? What else was there to say than that God’s curse was upon Him?
All this the flash of light at Damascus changed. Jesus had conquered death. He had passed through it and beyond it to eternal glory. There can, of course, be no question that it was only after long, deep, prayerful meditation that Paul came to see the full and many-sided significance of the cross, as we have it set forth in his epistles. But from the very moment when the exalted Jesus was revealed to him, he knew that the curse was gone. To regard as a victim of the divine denunciation One whom God had so triumphantly vindicated was henceforth impossible. The oKavSahov was removed. The death of the cross was the wisdom and glory of God. Jesus had not been driven to it helplessly, broken and defeated : He had accepted it in the freedom of His own unconquered soul. Along the line of the cross lay the world’s redemption. Cal-
1 I Cor. 12:3 .
2 I Cor. 16″.
vary was in the divine plan for mending a broken earth. All this Paul began to see. It was the hour of Damascus that taught him the first notes of what was one day to become a great, jubilant battle-song of faith — ” God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross.” 1
This leads to a third direct consequence of the encounter with Jesus on the road — the man’s surrender to the divine love which now stood revealed. That Jesus Christ, whose name he had maligned, whose followers he had harried, whose cause he had striven to bring down to destruction, should nevertheless have come to meet him, and to lay His hands upon him, was a thought at once gloriously uplifting and terribly subduing. For him, then, blasphemer and persecutor as he was, Jesus had been seeking! For him, grace and mercy had entered the field. For him, the Lord had climbed Calvary. In that hour of revelation Paul realized that right on to the end of his days he would be immeasurably Christ’s debtor. With endless wonder he now could speak of ” the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” 2 And never for a moment did he doubt that the love which had come seeking him was the love of God Himself. The order of the clauses in the great Trinitarian benediction, where ” the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ ” stands first, followed by ” the love of God,” may be taken as a transcript of Paul’s own experience : 3 it was through his meeting with Christ, a Christ who was all grace, that he entered on the knowledge of love divine. All his feverish quest for peace and righteousness and certainty was now over, for God in Christ had taken the initiative.
1 Gal. 6:1 *.
2 Gal. 2″.
3 II Cor. 13″.
The poor, smoking lamp of legalism had flickered out in the glory of the dawn. God had reconciled him. While he was yet a ” sinner,” an ” enemy ” — how deep dyed in Paul’s own heart’s-blood the great words in Romans are ! — Christ had died for him. 1 Gone was the stern, inexorable God of Judaism, watching His creatures toiling for a justification He knew they could never win. Now there stood revealed a Father yearning for His child. Face to face with that seeking grace, that reconciling love, Paul’s whole being went down in uttermost surrender. With all the passion of his soul he responded. He gave himself to God. He worshipped Christ. Grace on the side of God had met faith on the side of man : and from the white-hot crucible of that experience there emerged a new life. The cataclysm of that hour ushered Paul into a totally different sphere of being. He was now as unlike the man who had set out from Jerusalem as noonday is unlike midnight, as life is unlike death. His outlook, his world, his nature, his moral sense, his life-purpose — all were changed. He was a man ” in Christ.”
Out of this there arose the last direct consequence of the conversion which we shall notice here 1 — the vision of a waiting world. Paul suddenly knew that he had found the truth for which all men everywhere were seeking, the truth for lack of which Jew and Gentile alike were perishing ; and there rang through his being the imperious command that to the proclamation of this truth his whole life must henceforward be devoted. This was Paul’s prophetic call, the source of his apostolic consciousness, the origin of his doctrine of election, and the mainspring and motive of the evangelizing passion which
1 Rom. 5:8-10.
was to carry him tirelessly over land and sea as a herald of the risen Lord.
It is interesting to compare his call with that of his great predecessor Isaiah. 1 In the one case as in the other, the decisive experience came with startling suddenness : a day in the temple, an hour on the road, and two lives were changed for ever. For both men, moreover, it was a personal vision of God which proved the turning-point. “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne,” declared Isaiah. ” Who art Thou, Lord ? ” said Paul. Again, in the heart of both, the first reaction to the vision was an overwhelming sense of personal un- worthiness and sin : “I am a man of unclean lips,” cried Isaiah ; ” Jesus, whom thou persecutest,” were the words that revealed to Paul his shame. Once again, there came to both, lying prostrate in self-loathing and despair, the wonderful sense of a cleansing, pardoning, divine love which was taking the initiative. ” This hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away.” And finally, to these visions of God, of self, and of redeeming grace, there was added, for both prophet and apostle, the further vision of a lost world waiting for their evangel. ” Here am I ; send me,” cried the one. ” Necessity is laid upon me,” declared the other, ” yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel ! ” 2 Paul knew, and Isaiah knew, what in some degree all who have ever truly come face to face with the eternal know, that the vision of God is never an end in itself, that indeed it is the very death of religion when it hugs its glories to itself instead of scattering them abroad, and that every disciple who has seen the light must be more than a disciple, must be a herald — or else fail miserably the God of his salvation.
1 Is. 6:1 ff •
2 I Cor. 9″.
“I knew that Christ had given me birth,
To brother all the souls on earth.”
“They who have the torch,” says the old Greek proverb, “must pass on the light.”
Hence Paul would never tolerate any minimizing of his apostolic office. It was expressly to claim him for God’s work that Christ had appeared outside the Damascus gates. ” I am an envoy for Christ,” he tells the Corinthians. 1 “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” is his introduction to the Romans. 2 “The man who is now speaking,” comments Karl Barth, ” is an emissary, bound to perform his duty ; the minister of his King ; a servant, not a master.” 3 Elsewhere he rebuts the insinuations of those who charged him with grasping at an office to which he had no claim, by declaring that he had actually been predestined to it by God. ” The God who had set me apart from my very birth called me by His grace. … He chose to reveal His Son to me, that I might preach Him to the Gentiles.” 4
Here we are at the very nerve-centre of Paul’s great thought of election. We shall never understand this doctrine as it appears in the epistles until we realize that it runs back to the personal experience of a man who, by the fact of his conversion, discovered himself to be elected by God, marked out by divine decree for service and ambassadorship. “He hath chosen us in Him (in Christ) before the foundation of the world.” 5 Predestination, in this aspect, is just another name for grace. It is safe to say that if Paul’s interpreters had always kept this personal background adequately in
1 II Cor. 5 80 (Moffatt).
2 Rom. 1:1 (Moffatt).
3 The Epistle to the Romans (Eng. tr.), 27.
4 Gal. 1:1sf – (Moffatt).
5 Eph. 1*.
view, many of the enormities of interpretation which have overshadowed the whole idea of election, making it productive of misgiving and even of misery for thousands of pious souls, could never have been perpetrated. What Paul is really trying to do is not to suggest misgivings but to remove them. He is bidding anxious souls reflect that their religion stands in the last resort, not upon their choice of Christ, but upon Christ’s choice of them. What a note of ringing confidence, he seems to say, that fact ought to impart to your personal religion!
The Pauline doctrine of election, in short, resolves itself into the words of Jesus in the fourth Gospel : “Ye , have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” x And if the apostle kept stressing this thought with might and main, it was because he had found it such a mighty help and strength and support in the vicissitudes of his own life and religion.” The gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” he declares ; or as Dr. Moffatt strikingly translates it, ” God never goes back upon His call,” 2 a statement which every doubting soul, in the twentieth century as in the first, would do well to ponder. You are ” called to be saints,” 3 he tells his converts ; as though to say, ” Let no doubt from within, no criticism from without, destroy your quiet assurance or make you question the reality of the experience that has come to you. It is the eternal will and decree of God, nothing less, on which your new life rests.” It is the same magnificent confidence, generated by a personal experience of Christ, which breathes through his words to the Corinthians, ” As I hold this ministry by God’s mercy to me, I never lose heart in it.” 4 His own moods might
1 John 15″.
2 Rom. 11″.
3 Rom. 1:7 , I Cor. 1*.
4 II Cor. 4:1 (Moffatt).
change, feelings might come and go, difficulties that he had never bargained for might suddenly crowd in upon his path : but behind all that stood God, and God’s word was rock ; and he could no more question the validity of his apostleship than he could doubt the truth of God Himself.
And yet, sure as he was of this, Paul never took it for granted, nor lost the sense of overwhelming amazement that he, of all people in the world, should have been called to proclaim God’s Christ. Why should the choice have fallen on the chief of sinners ? That was the thought which, right to the end of his life, filled his soul with breathless wonder. ” Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints ” — iXaxiaroTeptp, a reinforced superlative — ” is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” 1 Isaiah, in his day, may have experienced that same feeling ; for had not his vision shown him all the shining seraphs round the throne, ready at any moment to go forth at the King’s command and do His bidding, and why, then, should God look to him — a being not only mortal, but actually sunk in sin, who just a moment before had been crying ” Unclean, unclean ” — to be the messenger of redemption ? Perhaps to Isaiah, meditating on these things with deepest wonder, there came the thought that the very depths in which he had wandered and in which God had found him explained his commission ; that he knew something about divine forgiving grace which the seraphs in the untroubled bliss of heaven could never know ; and that therefore there would be a passion and an urgency in his proclamation of the message that would drive it deep into the heart and conscience of the world. Such, at any rate, was Paul’s
1 Eph. 3:8.
feeling. That God in grace should have looked upon the sons of men at all was a thing to bring any man to his feet with shouts of joy : but that God should have looked upon him, the persecutor of God’s cause, the man who more than any other had crucified God’s Christ afresh, was a thing to bow him to the ground in amazed, adoring gratitude. It was this that took Paul and grappled him to Christ with fetters of deathless gratitude. Henceforth he was literally a bondslave of the evangel. For one thought now possessed him like a passion: to lead men everywhere to the source of all salvation and the fountain of living waters, to that stream in the Damascus desert of which his own soul had drunk, whose name was the grace of God and the everlasting mercy of Christ.