E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE LIFE OF ST. PAUL
PROF. JAMES STALKER, D.D.
Author of "The Life of Jesus Christ"
With Foreword by
Wilbert W. White, D.D. President of the Bible Teachers' Training School, New York
New and Revised Edition
New York —— Chicago —— Toronto Fleming H. Revell Company London and Edinburgh
Copyright, 1912, by American Tract Society
FOREWORD I. HIS PLACE IN HISTORY II. HIS UNCONSCIOUS PREPARATION FOR HIS WORK III. HIS CONVERSION IV. HIS GOSPEL V. THE WORK AWAITING THE WORKER VI. HIS MISSIONARY TRAVELS VII. HIS WRITINGS AND HIS CHARACTER VIII. PICTURE OF A PAULINE CHURCH IX. HIS GREAT CONTROVERSY X. THE END HINTS TO TEACHERS AND QUESTIONS FOR PUPILS
By Wilbert W. White, D.D.
When asked to write a foreword to Dr. Stalker's "Life of St. Paul," I thought of two things: first the impression which I had received from a sermon that I heard Dr. Stalker preach a good many years ago in his own pulpit in Glasgow, Scotland, and secondly, the honor conferred in this privilege of writing a foreword to one of Dr. Stalker's books.
I felt sure before even glancing at the pages that I should be pleased and profited by their perusal.
The first thing that I did was to glance over the pages for the headings of chapters and the summaries of paragraphs. I found the arrangement admirable, and would advise those into whose hands this fine volume may come to follow this plan.
The only sentence apart from the headings which I read in the aforesaid preview was the last one in Chapter X, and that because the closing words, "the best of friends," especially arrested my attention.
I wondered before I read this sentence if the author was saying of Paul that he was going out of the world to the One who had been to him the best of friends. From this you may gather—what you like. Only I felt sure before reading the pages that Dr. Stalker would interpret Paul in a manner such as I could enthusiastically approve.
And now having read the volume I heartily commend it. It is the best brief life of Paul of which I know.
Before reading the book I said to myself, I shall put down what I think the writer will make the heart of the secret of Paul. It was this: The key to Paul's efficiency was his wholehearted persistent loyalty to Christ, his Saviour and Friend. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. He stood fast in the liberty wherewith Christ set him free. He was three things all stated in one verse, and put thus: "I am crucified with Christ—Christ liveth in me—I live in faith."
Here are some, a very few of many striking, true thoughts presented by Dr. Stalker:
"Paul was the interpreter of Christ, saying what Christ Himself would have said under the circumstances."
"Paul's entire theology was nothing but the explication of his own conversion."
"In bringing Paul West, Providence gave to Europe a blessed priority, and the fate of our continent was decided, when Paul crossed the Aegean."
"A secret of Paul's success was his sense of having a mission and his freedom alike from the bondage of bigotry and the bondage of liberty."
A writer recently gave me this thought about Paul: "What makes St. Paul so interesting is his conception of the dimensions of life."
Back to Christ? Yes, the whole world needs it, but the way to get back to Christ is through the Apostolic interpretation of Christ in words and life. This is the only way, and Dr. Stalker's book is a great help in this direction.
THE LIFE OF ST. PAUL
HIS PLACE IN HISTORY
1, 2. The Man Needed by the Time. 3, 4. A Type of Christian Character. 5-8. The Thinker of Christianity. 9-12. The Missionary of the Gentiles.
1. The Man for the Time.—There are some men whose lives it is impossible to study without receiving the impression that they were expressly sent into the world to do a work required by the juncture of history on which they fell. The story of the Reformation, for example, cannot be read by a devout mind without wonder at the providence by which such great men as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Knox were simultaneously raised up in different parts of Europe to break the yoke of the papacy and republish the gospel of grace. When the Evangelical Revival, after blessing England, was about to break into Scotland and end the dreary reign of Moderatism, there was raised up in Thomas Chalmers a mind of such capacity as completely to absorb the new movement into itself, and of such sympathy and influence as to diffuse it to every corner of his native land.
2. This impression is produced by no life more than by that of the Apostle Paul. He was given to Christianity when it was in its most rudimentary beginnings. It was not, indeed, feeble, nor can any mortal man be spoken of as indispensable to it; for it contained within itself the vigor of a divine and immortal existence, which could not but have unfolded itself in the course of time. But, if we recognize that God makes use of means which commend themselves even to our eyes as suited to the ends He has in view, then we must say that the Christian movement at the moment when Paul appeared upon the stage was in the utmost need of a man of extraordinary endowments, who, becoming possessed with its genius, should incorporate it with the general history of the world; and in Paul it found the man it needed.
3. A Type of Christian Character.—Christianity obtained in Paul an incomparable type of Christian character. It already, indeed, possessed the perfect model of human character in the person of its Founder. But He was not as other men, because from the beginning He had no sinful imperfection to struggle with; and Christianity still required to show what it could make of imperfect human nature. Paul supplied the opportunity of exhibiting this. He was naturally of immense mental stature and force. He would have been a remarkable man even if he had never become a Christian. The other apostles would have lived and died in the obscurity of Galilee if they had not been lifted into prominence by the Christian movement; but the name of Saul of Tarsus would have been remembered still in some character or other even if Christianity had never existed. Christianity got the opportunity in him of showing to the world the whole force it contained. Paul was aware of this himself, though he expressed it with perfect modesty, when he said, "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all His long-suffering for an ensample of them who should hereafter believe on Him to everlasting life."
4. His conversion proved the power of Christianity to overcome the strongest prejudices and to stamp its own type on a large nature by a revolution both instantaneous and permanent. Paul's was a personality so strong and original that no other man could have been less expected to sink himself in another; but, from the moment when he came into contact with Christ, he was so overmastered with His influence that he never afterward had any other desire than to be the mere echo and reflection of Him to the world.
But, if Christianity showed its strength in making so complete a conquest of Paul, it showed its worth no less in the kind of man it made of him when he had given himself up to its influence. It satisfied the needs of a peculiarly hungry nature, and never to the close of his life did he betray the slightest sense that this satisfaction was abating. His constitution was originally compounded of fine materials, but the spirit of Christ, passing into these, raised them to a pitch of excellence altogether unique.
Nor was it ever doubtful either to himself or to others that it was the influence of Christ which made him what he was. The truest motto for his life would be his own saying, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Indeed, so perfectly was Christ formed in him that we can now study Christ's character in his, and beginners may perhaps learn even more of Christ from studying Paul's life than from studying Christ's own. In Christ Himself there was a blending and softening of all the excellences which makes His greatness elude the glance of the beginner, just as the very perfection of Raphael's painting makes it disappointing to an untrained eye; whereas in Paul a few of the greatest elements of Christian character were exhibited with a decisiveness which no one can mistake, just as the most prominent characteristics of the painting of Rubens can be appreciated by every spectator.
5. A Great Thinker.—Christianity obtained in Paul, secondly, a great thinker. This it specially needed at the moment. Christ had departed from the world, and those whom He had left to represent Him were unlettered fishermen and, for the most part, men of no intellectual mark. In one sense this fact reflects a peculiar glory on Christianity, for it shows that it did not owe its place as one of the great influences of the world to the abilities of its human representatives: not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God, was Christianity established in the earth. Yet, as we look back now, we can clearly see how essential it was that an apostle of a different stamp and training should arise.
6. Christ had manifested forth the glory of the Father once for all and completed his atoning work. But this was not enough. It was necessary that the meaning of his appearance should be explained to the world. Who was he who had been here? what precisely was it he had done? To these questions the original apostles could give brief popular answers; but none of them had the intellectual reach or the educational training necessary to put the answers into a form to satisfy the intellect of the world. Happily it is not essential to salvation to be able to answer such questions with scientific accuracy. There are tens of thousands who know and believe that Jesus was the Son of God and died to take away sin and, trusting to Him as their Saviour, are purified by faith, but who could not explain these statements at any length without falling into mistakes in almost every sentence. Yet, if Christianity was to make an intellectual as well as a moral conquest of the world, it was necessary for the Church to have accurately explained to her the full glory of her Lord and the meaning of his saving work.
Of course Jesus had himself had in his mind a comprehension both of what he was and of what he was doing which was luminous as the sun. But it was one of the most pathetic aspects of his earthly ministry that he could not tell all his mind to his followers. They were not able to bear it; they were too rude and limited to take it in. He had to carry his deepest thoughts out of the world with him unuttered, trusting with a sublime faith that the Holy Ghost would lead his Church to grasp them in the course of its subsequent development. Even what he did utter was very imperfectly understood.
There was one mind, it is true, in the original apostolic circle of the finest quality and capable of soaring into the rarest altitudes of speculation. The words of Christ sank into the mind of John and, after lying there for half a century, grew up into the wonderful forms we inherit in his Gospel and Epistles. But even the mind of John was not equal to the exigency of the Church; it was too fine, mystical, unusual. His thoughts to this day remain the property only of the few finest minds. There was needed a thinker of broader and more massive make to sketch the first outlines of Christian doctrine; and he was found in Paul.
7. Paul was a born thinker. His mind was of majestic breadth and force. It was restlessly busy, never able to leave any object with which it had to deal until it had pursued it back to its remotest causes and forward into all its consequences. It was not enough for him to know that Christ was the Son of God: he had to unfold this statement into its elements and understand precisely what it meant. It was not enough for him to believe that Christ died for sin: he had to go farther and inquire why it was necessary that He should do so and how His death took sin away.
But not only had he from nature this speculative gift: his talent was trained by education. The other apostles were unlettered men; but he enjoyed the fullest scholastic advantages of the period. In the rabbinical school he learned how to arrange and state and defend his ideas. We have the issue of all this in his Epistles, which contain the best explanation of Christianity possessed by the world. The right way to look at them is to regard them as the continuation of Christ's own teaching. They contain the thoughts which Christ carried away from the earth with him unuttered. Of course Jesus would have uttered them differently and far better. Paul's thoughts have everywhere the coloring of his own mental peculiarities. But the substance of them is what Christ's must have been if he had himself given them expression.
8. There was one great subject especially which Christ had to leave unexplained—his own death. He could not explain it before it had taken place. This became the leading topic of Paul's thinking—to show why it was needed and what were its blessed results. But, indeed, there was no aspect of the appearance of Christ into which his restlessly inquiring mind did not penetrate. His thirteen Epistles, when arranged in chronological order, show that his mind was constantly getting deeper and deeper into the subject. The progress of his thinking was determined partly by the natural progress of his own advance in the knowledge of Christ, for he always wrote straight out of his own experience; and partly by the various forms of error which he had at successive periods to encounter, and which became a providential means of stimulating and developing his apprehension of the truth, just as ever since in the Christian Church the rise of error has been the means of calling forth the clearest statements of doctrine. The ruling impulse, however, of his thinking, as of his life, was ever Christ, and it was his lifelong devotion to this exhaustless theme that made him the Thinker of Christianity.
9. The Missionary of the Gentiles.—Christianity obtained in Paul, thirdly, the missionary of the Gentiles. It is rare to find the highest speculative power united with great practical activity; but these were united in him. He was not only the Church's greatest thinker, but the very foremost worker she has ever possessed. We have been considering the speculative task which was awaiting him when he joined the Christian community; but there was a no less stupendous practical task awaiting him too. This was the evangelization of the Gentile world.
10. One of the great objects of the appearance of Christ was to break down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile and make the blessings of salvation the property of all men, without distinction of race or language. But he was not himself permitted to carry this change into practical realization. It was one of the strange limitations of his earthly life that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It can easily be imagined how congenial a task it would have been to his intensely human heart to carry the gospel beyond the limits of Palestine and make it known to nation after nation; and—if it be not too bold to say so—this would certainly have been his chosen career, had he been spared. But he was cut off in the midst of his days and had to leave this task to his followers.
11. Before the appearance of Paul on the scene, the execution of this task had been begun. Jewish prejudice had been partially broken down, the universal character of Christianity had been in some measure realized, and Peter had admitted the first Gentiles into the Church by baptism. But none of the original apostles was equal to the emergency. None of them was large-minded enough to grasp the idea of the perfect equality of Jew and Gentile and apply it without flinching in all its practical consequences; and none of them had the combination of gifts necessary to attempt the conversion of the Gentile world on a large scale. They were Galilean fishermen, fit enough to teach and preach within the bounds of their native Palestine. But beyond Palestine lay the great world of Greece and Rome—the world of vast populations, of power and culture, of pleasure and business. It needed a man of unlimited versatility, of education, of immense human sympathy and breadth, to go out there with the gospel message—a man who could not only be a Jew to the Jews, but a Greek to the Greeks, a Roman to the Romans, a barbarian to the barbarians—a man who could encounter not only rabbis in their synagogues, but proud magistrates in their courts and philosophers in the haunts of learning—a man who could face travel by land and by sea, who could exhibit presence of mind in every variety of circumstances, and would be cowed by no difficulties. No man of this size belonged to the original apostolic circle; but Christianity needed such an one, and he was found in Paul.
12. Originally attached more strictly than any of the other apostles to the peculiarities and prejudices of Jewish exclusiveness, he cut his way out of the jungle of these prepossessions, accepted the equality of all men in Christ, and applied this principle relentlessly in all its issues. He gave his heart to the Gentile mission, and the history of his life is the history of how true he was to his vocation. There was never such singleness of eye or wholeness of heart. There was never such superhuman and untiring energy. There was never such an accumulation of difficulties victoriously met and of sufferings cheerfully borne for any cause. In him Jesus Christ went forth to evangelize the world, making use of his hands and feet, his tongue and brain and heart, for doing the work which in His own bodily presence He had not been permitted by the limits of His mission to accomplish.
HIS UNCONSCIOUS PREPARATION FOR HIS WORK
14-16. DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH. His Love of Cities. 17, 18. HOME. 19-26. EDUCATION. 19. Roman citizenship; 20. Tent-making; 21, 22. Knowledge of Greek Literature; 23-26. Rabbinical Training. Gamaliel. Knowledge of Old Testament. 27-30. MORAL AND RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENT. 28. The Law; 29, 30. Departure from and return to Jerusalem. 31-33. STATE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Stephen. 34-36. THE PERSECUTOR.
13. God's Plan.—Persons whose conversion takes place after they are grown up are wont to look back upon the period of their life which has preceded this event with sorrow and shame and to wish that an obliterating hand might blot the record of it out of existence. St. Paul felt this sentiment strongly: to the end of his days he was haunted by the specters of his lost years, and was wont to say that he was the least of all the apostles, who was not worthy to be called an apostle, because he had persecuted the Church of God. But these somber sentiments are only partially justifiable. God's purposes are very deep, and even in those who know Him not He may be sowing seeds which will only ripen and bear fruit long after their godless career is over. Paul would never have been the man he became or have done the work he did, if he had not, in the years preceding his conversion, gone through a course of preparation designed to fit him for his subsequent career. He knew not what he was being prepared for; his own intentions about his future were different from God's; but there is a divinity which shapes our ends, and it was making him a polished shaft for God's quiver, though he knew it not.
14. Birth and Birthplace.—The date of Paul's birth is not exactly known, but it can be settled with a closeness of approximation which is sufficient for practical purposes. When in the year 33 A.D. those who stoned Stephen laid down their clothes at Paul's feet, he was "a young man." This term has, indeed, in Greek as much latitude as in English, and may indicate any age from something under twenty to something over thirty. In this case it probably touched the latter rather than the former limit; for there is reason to believe that at this time, or very soon after, he was a member of the Sanhedrin—an office which no one could hold who was under thirty years of age—and the commission he received from the Sanhedrin immediately afterward to persecute the Christians would scarcely have been entrusted to a very young man. About thirty years after playing this sad part in Stephen's murder, in the year 62 A.D., he was lying in a prison in Rome awaiting sentence of death for the same cause for which Stephen had suffered, and, writing one of the last of his Epistles, that to Philemon, he called himself an old man. This term also is one of great latitude, and a man who had gone through so many hardships might well be old before his time; yet he could scarcely have taken the name of "Paul the aged" before sixty years of age.
These calculations lead us to the conclusion that he was born about the same time as Jesus. When the boy Jesus was playing in the streets of Nazareth, the boy Paul was playing in the streets of his native town, away on the other side of the ridges of Lebanon. They seemed likely to have totally diverse careers. Yet, by the mysterious arrangement of Providence, these two lives, like streams flowing from opposite watersheds, were one day, as river and tributary, to mingle together.
15. The place of his birth was Tarsus, the capital of the province of Cilicia, in the southeast of Asia Minor. It stood a few miles from the coast, in the midst of a fertile plain, and was built upon both banks of the river Cydnus, which descended to it from the neighboring Taurus Mountains, on the snowy peaks of which the inhabitants of the town were wont, on summer evenings, to watch from the flat roofs of their houses the glow of the sunset. Not far above the town the river poured over the rocks in a vast cataract, but below this it became navigable, and within the town its banks were lined with wharves, on which was piled the merchandise of many countries, while sailors and merchants, dressed in the costumes and speaking the languages of different races, were constantly to be seen in the streets. The town enjoyed an extensive trade in timber, with which the province abounded, and in the long fine hair of the goats kept in thousands on the neighboring mountains, which was made into a coarse kind of cloth and manufactured into various articles, among which tents, such as Paul was afterward employed in sewing, formed an extensive article of merchandise all along the shores of the Mediterranean. Tarsus was also the center of a large transport trade; for behind the town a famous pass, called the Cilician Gates, led up through the mountains to the central countries of Asia Minor; and Tarsus was the depot to which the products of these countries were brought down, to be distributed over the East and the West.
The inhabitants of the city were numerous and wealthy. The majority of them were native Cilicians, but the wealthiest merchants were Greeks. The province was under the sway of the Romans, the signs of whose sovereignty could not be absent from the capital, although Tarsus itself enjoyed the privilege of self-government. The number and variety of the inhabitants were still further increased by the fact that, like the city of Glasgow, Tarsus was not only a center of commerce, but also a seat of learning. It was one of the three principal university cities of the period, the other two being Athens and Alexandria; and it was said to surpass its rivals in intellectual eminence. Students from many countries were to be seen in its streets, a sight which could not but awaken in youthful minds thoughts about the value and the aims of learning.
16. Who does not see how fit a place this was for the Apostle of the Gentiles to be born in? As he grew up, he was being unawares prepared to encounter men of every class and race, to sympathize with human nature in all its varieties, and to look with tolerance upon the most diverse habits and customs. In after life he was always a lover of cities. Whereas his Master avoided Jerusalem and loved to teach on the mountainside or the shore of the lake, Paul was constantly moving from one great city to another. Antioch, Ephesus, Athens, Corinth, Rome, the capitals of the ancient world, were the scenes of his activity. The words of Jesus are redolent of the country, and teem with pictures of its still beauty or homely toil—the lilies of the field, the sheep following the shepherd, the sower in the furrow, the fishermen drawing their nets; but the language of Paul is impregnated with the atmosphere of the city and alive with the tramp and hurry of the streets. His imagery is borrowed from scenes of human energy and monuments of cultivated life—the soldier in full armor, the athlete in the arena, the building of houses and temples, the triumphal procession of the victorious general. So lasting are the associations of the boy in the life of the man.
17. Paul's Home.—Paul had a certain pride in the place of his birth, as he showed by boasting on one occasion that he was a citizen of no mean city. He had a heart formed by nature to feel the warmest glow of patriotism. Yet it was not for Cilicia and Tarsus that this fire burned. He was an alien in the land of his birth. His father was one of those numerous Jews who were scattered in that age over the cities of the Gentile world, engaged in trade and commerce. They had left the Holy Land, but they did not forget it. They never coalesced with the populations among which they dwelt but, in dress, food, religion and many other particulars remained a peculiar people. As a rule, indeed, they were less rigid in their religious views and more tolerant of foreign customs than those Jews who remained in Palestine. But Paul's father was not one who had given way to laxity. He belonged to the straitest sect of his religion. It is probable that he had not left Palestine long before his son's birth, for Paul calls himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews—a name which seems to have belonged only to the Palestinian Jews and to those whose connection with Palestine had continued very close.
Of his mother we hear absolutely nothing, but everything seems to indicate that the home in which he was brought up was one of those out of which nearly all eminent religious teachers have sprung—a home of piety, of character, perhaps of somewhat stern principle, and of strong attachment to the peculiarities of a religious people. He was imbued with its spirit. Although he could not but receive innumerable and imperishable impressions from the city he was born in, the land and the city of his heart were Palestine and Jerusalem; and the heroes of his young imagination were not Curtius and Horatius, Hercules and Achilles, but Abraham and Joseph, Moses and David and Ezra. As he looked back on the past, it was not over the confused annals of Cilicia that he cast his eyes, but he gazed up the clear stream of Jewish history to its sources in Ur of the Chaldees; and, when he thought of the future, the vision which rose on him was the kingdom of the Messiah, enthroned in Jerusalem and ruling the nations with a rod of iron.
18. The feeling of belonging to a spiritual aristocracy, elevated above the majority of those among whom he lived, would be deepened in him by what he saw of the religion of the surrounding population. Tarsus was the center of a species of Baal-worship of an imposing but unspeakably degrading character, and at certain seasons of the year it was the scene of festivals, which were frequented by the whole population of the neighboring regions, and were accompanied with orgies of a degree of moral abominableness happily beyond the reach even of our imaginations. Of course a boy could not see the depths of this mystery of iniquity, but he could see enough to make him turn from idolatry with the scorn peculiar to his nation, and to make him regard the little synagogue where his family worshiped the Holy One of Israel as far more glorious than the gorgeous temples of the heathen; and perhaps to these early experiences we may trace back in some degree those convictions of the depths to which human nature can fall and its need of an omnipotent redeeming force which afterward formed so fundamental a part of his theology and gave such a stimulus to his work.
19. Trade.—The time at length arrived for deciding what occupation the boy was to follow—a momentous crisis in every life—and in this case much was involved in the decision. Perhaps the most natural career for him would have been that of a merchant; for his father was engaged in trade, the busy city offered splendid prizes to mercantile ambition, and the boy's own energy would have guaranteed success. Besides, his father had an advantage to give him specially useful to a merchant: though a Jew, he was a Roman citizen, and this right would have given his son protection, into whatever part of the Roman world he might have had occasion to travel. How the father got this right we cannot tell; it might be bought, or won by distinguished service to the state, or acquired in several other ways; at all events his son was free-born. It was a valuable privilege, and one which was to prove of great use to Paul, though not in the way in which his father might have been expected to desire him to make use of it. But it was decided that he was not to be a merchant. The decision may have been due to his father's strong religious views, or his mother's pious ambition, or his own predilections; but it was resolved that he should go to college and become a rabbi—that is, a minister, a teacher and a lawyer all in one. It was a wise decision in view of the boy's spirit and capabilities, and it turned out to be of infinite moment for the future of mankind.
20. But, although he thus escaped the chances which seemed likely to drift him into a secular calling, yet, before going away to prepare for the sacred profession, he was to get some insight into business life; for it was a rule among the Jews that every boy, whatever might be the profession he was to follow, should learn a trade, as a resource in time of need. This was a rule with wisdom in it; for it gave employment to the young at an age when too much leisure is dangerous, and acquainted the wealthy and the learned in some degree with the feelings of those who have to earn their bread with the sweat of their brow. The trade which he was put to was the commonest one in Tarsus—the making of tents from the goat's-hair cloth for which the district was celebrated. Little did he or his father think, when he began to handle the disagreeable material, of what importance this handicraft was to be to him in subsequent years: it became the means of his support during his missionary journeys, and, at a time when it was essential that the propagators of Christianity should be above the suspicion of selfish motives, enabled him to maintain himself in a position of noble independence.
21. Education.—It is a question natural to ask, whether, before leaving home to go and get his training as a rabbi, Paul attended the University of Tarsus. Did he drink at the wells of wisdom which flow from Mount Helicon before going to sit by those which spring from Mount Zion? From the fact that he makes two or three quotations from the Greek poets it has been inferred that he was acquainted with the whole literature of Greece. But, on the other hand, it has been pointed out that his quotations are brief and commonplace, such as any man who spoke Greek would pick up and use occasionally; and the style and vocabulary of his Epistles are not those of the models of Greek literature, but of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was then in universal use among the Jews of the Dispersion. Probably his father would have considered it sinful to allow his son to attend a heathen university. Yet it is not likely that he grew up in a great seat of learning without receiving any influence from the academic tone of the place. His speech at Athens shows that he was able, when he chose, to wield a style much more stately than that of his writings, and so keen a mind was not likely to remain in total ignorance of the great monuments of the language which he spoke.
22. There were other impressions, too, which the learned Tarsus probably made upon him: its university was famous for those petty disputes and rivalries which sometimes ruffle the calm of academical retreats; and it is possible that the murmur of these, with which the air was often filled, may have given the first impulse to that scorn for the tricks of the rhetorician and the windy disputations of the sophist which form so marked a feature in some of his writings. The glances of young eyes are clear and sure, and even as a boy he may have perceived how small may be the souls of men and how mean their lives, when their mouths are filled with the finest phraseology.
23. The college for the education of Jewish rabbis was in Jerusalem, and thither Paul was sent about the age of thirteen. His arrival in the Holy City may have happened in the same year in which Jesus, at the age of twelve, first visited it, and the overpowering emotions of the boy from Nazareth at the first sight of the capital of his race may be taken as an index of the unrecorded experience of the boy from Tarsus. To every Jewish child of a religious disposition Jerusalem was the center of all things; the footsteps of prophets and kings echoed in the streets; memories sacred and sublime clung to its walls and buildings; and it shone in the glamor of illimitable hopes.
24. It chanced that at this time the college of Jerusalem was presided over by one of the most noted teachers the Jews have ever possessed. This was Gamaliel, at whose feet Paul tells us he was brought up. He was called by his contemporaries the Beauty of the Law, and is still remembered among the Jews as the Great Rabbi. He was a man of lofty character and enlightened mind, a Pharisee strongly attached to the traditions of the fathers, yet not intolerant or hostile to Greek culture, as were some of the narrower Pharisees. The influence of such a man on an open mind like Paul's must have been very great; and, although for a time the pupil became an intolerant zealot, yet the master's example may have had something to do with the conquest he finally won over prejudice.
25. The course of instruction which a rabbi had to undergo was lengthened and peculiar. It consisted entirely of the study of the Scriptures and the comments of the sages and masters upon them. The words of Scripture and the sayings of the wise were committed to memory; discussions were carried on about disputed points; and by a rapid fire of questions, which the scholars were allowed to put as well as the masters, the wits of the students were sharpened and their views enlarged. The outstanding qualities of Paul's intellect, which were conspicuous in his subsequent life—his marvelous memory, the keenness of his logic, the super-abundance of his ideas, and his original way of taking up every subject—first displayed themselves in this school, and excited, we may well believe, the warm interest of his teacher.
26. He himself learned much here which was of great moment in his subsequent career. Although he was to be specially the missionary of the Gentiles, he was also a great missionary to his own people. In every city he visited where there were Jews he made his first public appearance in the synagogue. There his training as a rabbi secured him an opportunity of speaking, and his familiarity with Jewish modes of thought and reasoning enabled him to address his audiences in the way best fitted to secure their attention. His knowledge of the Scriptures enabled him to adduce proofs from an authority which his hearers acknowledged to be supreme.
Besides, he was destined to be the great theologian of Christianity and the principal writer of the New Testament. Now the New grew out of the Old; the one is in all its parts the prophecy and the other the fulfillment. But it required a mind saturated not only with Christianity, but with the Old Testament, to bring this out; and, at the age when the memory is most retentive, Paul acquired such a knowledge of the Old Testament that everything it contains was at his command: its phraseology became the language of his thinking; he literally writes in quotations, and he quotes from all parts with equal facility—from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Thus was the warrior equipped with the armor and the weapons of the Spirit before he knew in what cause he was to use them.
27. His Religious Life.—Meantime what was his moral and religious state? He was learning to be a religious teacher; was he himself religious? Not all who are sent to college by their parents to prepare for the sacred office are so, and in every city of the world the path of youth is beset with temptations which may ruin life at its very beginning. Some of the greatest teachers of the Church, such as St. Augustine, have had to look back on half their life blotted and scarred with vice or crime. No such fall defaced Paul's early years. Whatever struggles with passion may have raged in his own breast, his conduct was always pure. Jerusalem was no very favorable place, in that age, for virtue. It was the Jerusalem against whose external sanctity, but internal depravity, our Lord a few years afterward hurled such withering invectives; it was the very seat of hypocrisy, where an able youth might easily have learned how to win the rewards of religion, while escaping its burdens. But Paul was preserved amidst these perils, and could afterward claim that he had lived in Jerusalem from the first in all good conscience.
28. He had brought with him from home the conviction, which forms the basis of a religious life, that the one prize which makes life worth living is the love and favor of God. This conviction grew into a passionate longing as he advanced in years, and he asked his teachers how the prize was to be won. Their answer was ready—By the keeping of the law. It was a terrible answer; for the Law meant not only what we understand by the term, but also the ceremonial law of Moses and the thousand and one rules added to it by the Jewish teachers, the observance of which made life a purgatory to a tender conscience.
But Paul was not the man to shrink from difficulties. He had set his heart upon winning God's favor, without which this life appeared to him a blank and eternity the blackness of darkness; and, if this was the way to the goal, he was willing to tread it. Not only, however, were his personal hopes involved in this, the hopes of his nation depended on it too; for it was the universal belief of his people that the Messiah would only come to a nation keeping the law, and it was even said that, if one man kept it perfectly for a single day, his merit would bring to the earth the King for whom they were waiting. Paul's rabbinical training, then, culminated in the desire to win this prize of righteousness, and he left the halls of sacred learning with this as the purpose of his life. The lonely student's resolution was momentous for the world; for he was first to prove amidst secret agonies that this way of salvation was false, and then to teach his discovery to mankind.
29. At Jerusalem.—We cannot tell in what year Paul's education at the college of Jerusalem was finished or where he went immediately afterward. The young rabbis, after completing their studies, scattered in the same way as our own divinity students do, and began practical work in different parts of the Jewish world. He may have gone back to his native Cilicia and held office in some synagogue there. At all events, he was for some years at a distance from Jerusalem and Palestine; for these were the very years in which fell the movement of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus, and it is certain that Paul could not have been in the vicinity without being involved in both of these movements either as a friend or as a foe.
30. But before long he returned to Jerusalem. It was as natural for the highest rabbinical talent to gravitate in those times to Jerusalem as it is for the highest literary and commercial talent to gravitate in our day to the metropolis. He arrived in the capital of Judaism very soon after the death of Jesus; and we can easily imagine the representations of that event and of the career thereby terminated which he would receive from his Pharisaic friends.
We have no reason to suppose that as yet he had any doubts about his own religion. We gather, indeed, from his writings that he had already passed through severe mental conflicts. Although the conviction still stood fast in his mind that the blessedness of life was attainable only in the favor of God, yet his efforts to reach this coveted position by the observance of the law had not satisfied him. On the contrary, the more he strove to keep the law the more active became the motions of sin within him; his conscience was becoming more oppressed with the sense of guilt, and the peace of a soul at rest in God was a prize which eluded his grasp.
Still he did not question the teaching of the synagogue. To him as yet this was of one piece with the history of the Old Testament, whence looked down on him the figures of the saints and prophets, which were a guarantee that the system they represented must be divine, and behind which he saw the God of Israel revealing himself in the giving of the law. The reason why he had not attained to peace and fellowship with God was, he believed, because he had not struggled enough with the evil of his nature or honored enough the precepts of the law. Was there no service by which he could make up for all deficiencies and win that grace at last in which the great of old had stood? This was the temper of mind in which he returned to Jerusalem, and learned with astonishment and indignation of the rise of a sect which believed that Jesus who had been crucified was the Messiah of the Jewish people.
31. State of the Christian Church.—Christianity was as yet only two or three years old, and was growing very quietly in Jerusalem. Although those who had heard it preached at Pentecost had carried the news of it to their homes in many quarters, its public representatives had not yet left the city of its birth. At first the authorities had been inclined to persecute it, and checked its teachers when they appeared in public. But they had changed their minds and, acting under the advice of Gamaliel, resolved to neglect it, believing that it would die out, if let alone. The Christians, on the other hand, gave as little offence as possible; in the externals of religion they continued to be strict Jews and zealous of the law, attending the temple worship, observing the Jewish ceremonies and respecting the ecclesiastical authorities.
It was a kind of truce, which allowed Christianity a little space for secret growth. In their upper rooms the brethren met to break bread and pray to their ascended Lord. It was the most beautiful spectacle. The new faith had alighted among them like an angel, and was shedding purity on their souls from its wings and breathing over their humble gatherings the spirit of peace. Their love to each other was unbounded; they were filled with the inspiring sense of discovery; and, as often as they met, their invisible Lord was in their midst. It was like heaven upon earth. While Jerusalem around them was going on in its ordinary course of worldliness and ecclesiastical asperity, these few humble souls were felicitating themselves with a secret which they knew to contain within it the blessedness of mankind and the future of the world.
32. But the truce could not last, and these scenes of peace were soon to be invaded with terror and bloodshed. Christianity could not keep such a truce; for there is in it a world-conquering force, which impels it at all risks to propagate itself, and the fermentation of the new wine of gospel liberty was sure sooner or later to burst the forms of the Jewish law.
At length a man arose in the Church in whom these aggressive tendencies embodied themselves. This was Stephen, one of the seven deacons who had been appointed to watch over the temporal affairs of the Christian society. He was a man full of the Holy Ghost and possessed of capabilities which the brevity of his career only permitted to suggest but not to develop themselves. He went from synagogue to synagogue, preaching the Messiahship of Jesus and announcing the advent of freedom from the yoke of the law. Champions of Jewish orthodoxy encountered him, but were not able to withstand his eloquence and holy zeal. Foiled in argument, they grasped at other weapons, stirring up the authorities and the populace to murderous fanaticism.
33. Stephen.—One of the synagogues in which these disputations took place was that of the Cilicians, the countrymen of Paul. May he have been a rabbi in this synagogue and one of Stephen's opponents in argument? At all events, when the argument of logic was exchanged for that of violence, he was in the front. When the witnesses who cast the first stones at Stephen were stripping for their work, they laid down their garments at his feet. There, on the margin of that wild scene, in the field of judicial murder, we see his figure, standing a little apart and sharply outlined against the mass of persecutors unknown to fame—the pile of many-colored robes at his feet, and his eyes bent upon the holy martyr, who is kneeling in the article of death and praying: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."
34. The Persecutor.—His zeal on this occasion brought Paul prominently under the notice of the authorities. It probably procured him a seat in the Sanhedrin, where we find him soon afterward giving his vote against the Christians. At all events, it led to his being entrusted with the work of utterly uprooting Christianity, which the authorities now resolved upon. He accepted their proposal; for he believed it to be God's work. He saw more clearly than any one else what was the drift of Christianity; and it seemed to him destined, if unchecked, to overturn all that he considered most sacred. The repeal of the law was in his eyes the obliteration of the one way of salvation, and faith in a crucified Messiah blasphemy against the divinest hope of Israel. Besides, he had a deep personal interest in the task. Hitherto he had been striving to please God, but always felt his efforts to come short; here was a chance of making up for all arrears by one splendid act of service. This was the iron of agony in his soul which gave edge and energy to his zeal. In any case he was not a man to do things by halves; and he flung himself headlong into his task.
35. Terrible were the scenes which ensued. He flew from synagogue to synagogue, and from house to house, dragging forth men and women, who were cast into prison and punished. Some appear to have been put to death, and—darkest trait of all—others were compelled to blaspheme the name of the Saviour. The Church at Jerusalem was broken in pieces, and such of its members as escaped the rage of the persecutor were scattered over the neighboring provinces and countries.
36. It may seem too venturesome to call this the last stage of Paul's unconscious preparation for his apostolic career. But so indeed it was. In entering on the career of a persecutor he was going on straight in the line of the creed in which he had been brought up; and this was its reduction to absurdity. Besides, through the gracious working of Him whose highest glory it is out of evil still to bring forth good, there sprang out of these sad doings in the mind of Paul an intensity of humility, a willingness to serve even the least of the brethren of those whom he had abused, and a zeal to redeem lost time by the parsimonious use of what was left, which became permanent spurs to action in his subsequent career.
37, 38. Severity of the Persecution. 39-42. Kicking against the Goad. 43, 44. The Vision of Christ. 45-48. Effect of his Conversion on his Thinking. 49, 50. Its Effect on his Destiny.
37. Severity of the Persecution.—It was the persecutor's hope utterly to exterminate Christianity. But little did he understand its genius. It thrives on persecution. Prosperity has often been fatal to it, persecution never. "They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." Hitherto the Church had been confined within the walls of Jerusalem; but now all over Judaea and Samaria, and in distant Phoenicia and Syria, the beacon of the gospel began in many a town and village to twinkle through the darkness, and twos and threes met together in upper rooms to impart to each other their joy in the Holy Ghost.
38. We can imagine with what rage the tidings of these outbreaks of the fanaticism which he had hoped to stamp out would fill the persecutor. But he was not the person to be balked, and he resolved to hunt up the objects of his hatred even in their most obscure and distant hiding-places. In one strange city after another he accordingly appeared, armed with the apparatus of the inquisitor, to carry his sanguinary purpose out. Having heard that Damascus, the capital of Syria, was one of the places where the fugitives had taken refuge, and that they were carrying on their propaganda among the numerous Jews of that city, he went to the high priest, who had jurisdiction over the Jews outside as well as inside Palestine, and got letters empowering him to seize and bind and bring to Jerusalem all of the new way of thinking whom he might find there.
39. Kicking Against the Goad.—As we see him start on this journey, which was to be so momentous, we naturally ask what was the state of his mind. His was a noble nature and a tender heart; but the work he was engaged in might be supposed to be congenial only to the most brutal of mankind. Had his mind, then, been visited with no compunctions? Apparently not. We are told that, as he was ranging through strange cities in pursuit of his victims, he was exceedingly mad against them; and, as he was setting out to Damascus, he was still breathing out threatenings and slaughter. He was sheltered against doubt by his reverence for the objects which the heresy imperiled; and, if he had to outrage his natural feelings in the bloody work, was not his merit all the greater?
40. But on this journey doubt at last invaded his mind. It was a long journey of over a hundred and sixty miles; with the slow means of locomotion then available, it would occupy at least six days; and a considerable portion of it lay across a desert, where there was nothing to distract the mind from its own reflections. In this enforced leisure doubts arose. What else can be meant by the word with which the Lord saluted him: "It is hard for thee to kick against the goad!" The figure of speech is borrowed from a custom of Eastern countries: the ox-driver wields a long pole, at the end of which is fixed a piece of sharpened iron, with which he urges the animal to go on or stand still or change its course; and, if it is refractory, it kicks against the goad, injuring and infuriating itself with the wounds it receives. This is a vivid picture of a man wounded and tortured by compunctions of conscience. There was something in him rebelling against the course of inhumanity on which he was embarked and suggesting that he was fighting against God.
41. It is not difficult to conceive whence these doubts arose. He was a scholar of Gamaliel, the advocate of humanity and tolerance, who had counseled the Sanhedrin to leave the Christians alone. He was himself too young yet to have hardened his heart to all the disagreeables of such ghastly work. Highly strung as was his religious zeal, nature could not but speak out at last. But probably his compunctions were chiefly awakened by the character and behavior of the Christians. He had heard the noble defense of Stephen and seen his face in the council-chamber shining like that of an angel. He had seen him kneeling on the field of execution and praying for his murderers. Doubtless, in the course of the persecution he had witnessed many similar scenes. Did these people look like enemies of God? As he entered their homes to drag them forth to prison, he got glimpses of their social life. Could such spectacles of purity and love be products of the powers of darkness? Did not the serenity with which his victims went to meet their fate look like the very peace which he had long been sighing for in vain?
Their arguments, too, must have told on a mind like his. He had heard Stephen proving from the Scriptures that it behooved the Messiah to suffer; and the general tenor of the earliest Christian apologetic assures us that many of the accused must on their trial have appealed to passages like the fifty-third of Isaiah, where a career is predicted for the Messiah startlingly like that of Jesus of Nazareth. He heard incidents of Christ's life from their lips which betokened a personage very different from the picture sketched for him by his Pharisaic informants: and the sayings of their Master which the Christians quoted did not sound like the utterances of the fanatic he conceived Jesus to have been.
42. Such may have been some of the reflections which agitated the traveler as he moved onward, sunk in gloomy thought. But might not these be mere suggestions of temptation—the morbid fancies of a wearied mind, or the whispers of a wicked spirit attempting to draw him off from the service of Heaven? The sight of Damascus, shining out like a gem in the heart of the desert, restored him to himself. There, in the company of sympathetic rabbis and in the excitement of effort, he would dispel from his mind these fancies bred of solitude. So onward he pressed, and the sun of noonday, from which all but the most impatient travelers in the East take refuge in a long siesta, looked down upon him still urging forward his course toward the city gate.
43. The Vision of Christ.—The news of Saul's coming had arrived at Damascus before him; and the little flock of Christ was praying that, if it were possible, the progress of the wolf, who was on his way to spoil the fold, might be arrested. Nearer and nearer, however, he drew; he had reached the last stage of his journey; and at the sight of the place which contained his victims his appetite grew keener for the prey. But the Good Shepherd had heard the cries of the trembling flock and went forth to face the wolf on their behalf. Suddenly at midday, as Paul and his company were riding forward beneath the blaze of the Syrian sun, a light which dimmed even that fierce glare shone round about them, a shock vibrated through the atmosphere, and in a moment they found themselves prostrate upon the ground. The rest was for Paul alone: a voice sounded in his ears, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" and, as he looked up and asked the radiant Figure that had spoken, "Who art Thou, Lord?" the answer was, "I am Jesus, whom thou art persecuting."
44. The language in which he ever afterward spoke of this event forbids us to think that it was a mere vision of Jesus he saw. He ranks it as the last of the appearances of the risen Saviour to His disciples, and places it on the same level as the appearances to Peter, to James, to the eleven, and to the five hundred. It was, in fact, Christ Jesus in the vesture of His glorified humanity, who for once had left the spot, wherever it may be in the spaces of the universe, where now he sits on His mediatorial throne, in order to show Himself to this elect disciple; and the light which outshone the sun was no other than the glory in which His humanity is there enveloped. An incidental evidence of this was supplied in the words which were addressed to Paul. They were spoken in the Hebrew, or rather the Aramaic tongue—the same language in which Jesus had been wont to address the multitudes by the Lake and converse with His disciples in the desert solitudes; and, as in the days of His flesh He was wont to open His mouth in parables, so now He clothed His rebuke in a striking metaphor: "It is hard for thee to kick against the goad."
45. Effect on Paul's Thought.—It would be impossible to exaggerate what took place in the mind of Paul in this single instant. It is but a clumsy way we have of dividing time by the revolution of the clock into minutes and hours, days and years, as if each portion so measured were of the same size as another of equal length. This may suit well enough for the common ends of life, but there are finer measurements for which it is quite misleading. The real size of any space of time is to be measured by the amount it contains of the soul's experience; no one hour is exactly equal to another, and there are single hours which are larger than months. So measured, this one moment of Paul's life was perhaps larger than all his previous years. The glare of revelation was so intense that it might well have scorched the eye of reason or burnt out life itself, as the external light dazzled the eyes of his body into blindness.
When his companions recovered themselves and turned to their leader, they discovered that he had lost his sight, and they had to take him by the hand and lead him into the city. What a change was there! Instead of the proud Pharisee riding through the streets with the pomp of an inquisitor, a stricken man, trembling, groping, clinging to the hand of his guide, arrives at the house of entertainment amidst the consternation of those who receive him and, getting hastily to a room where he can ask them to leave him alone, sinks down there in the darkness.
46. But, though it was dark without, it was bright within. The blindness had been sent for the purpose of secluding him from outward distractions and enabling him to concentrate himself on the objects presented to the inner eye. For the same reason he neither ate nor drank for three days. He was too absorbed in the thoughts which crowded on him thick and fast.
47. In these three days, it may be said with confidence, he got at least a partial hold of all the truths he afterward proclaimed to the world; for his whole theology is nothing but the explication of his own conversion. First of all, his whole previous life fell down in fragments at his feet. It had been of one piece, and wonderfully complete. It had appeared to himself to be a consistent deduction from the highest revelation he knew and, in spite of its imperfections, to lie in the line of the will of God. But, instead of this, it had been rushing in diametrical opposition against the will and revelation of God, and had now been brought to a stop and broken in pieces by the collision. That which had appeared to him the perfection of service and obedience had involved his soul in the guilt of blasphemy and innocent blood. Such had been the issue of seeking righteousness by the works of the law. At the very moment when his righteousness seemed at last to be turning to the whiteness so long desired, it was caught in the blaze of this revelation and whirled away in shreds of shriveled blackness. It had been a mistake, then, from first to last. Righteousness was not to be obtained by the law, but only guilt and doom. This was the unmistakable conclusion, and it became the one pole of Paul's theology.
48. But, while his theory of life thus fell in pieces with a crash that might by itself have shaken his reason, in the same moment an opposite experience befell him. Not in wrath and vengeance did Jesus of Nazareth appear to him, as He might have been expected to appear to the deadly enemy of His cause. His first word might have been a demand for retribution, and His first might have been His last. But, instead of this, His face had been full of divine benignity and His words full of considerateness for His persecutor. In the very moment when the divine strength cast him down on the ground he felt himself encompassed by the divine love. This was the prize he had all his lifetime been struggling for in vain, and now he grasped it in the very moment in which he discovered that his struggles had been fightings against God; he was lifted up from his fall in the arms of God's love; he was reconciled and accepted forever. As time went on, he was more and more assured of this. In Christ he found without effort of his own the peace and the moral strength he had striven for in vain. And this became the other pole of his theology—that righteousness and strength are found in Christ without man's effort by mere trust in God's grace and acceptance of His gift. There were a hundred other things involved in these two which it required time to work out; but within these two poles the system of Paul's thinking ever afterward revolved.
49. Effect on his Future.—The three dark days were not done before he knew one thing more—that his life was to be devoted to the proclamation of these discoveries. In any case this must have been. Paul was a born propagandist and could not have become the possessor of such revolutionary truth without spreading it. Besides, he had a warm heart, that could be deeply moved with gratitude; and, when Jesus, whom he had blasphemed and tried to blot out of the memory of the world, treated him with such divine benignity, giving him back his forfeited life and placing him in that position which had always appeared to him the prize of life, he could not but put himself at His service with all his powers. He was an ardent patriot, the hope of the Messiah having long occupied for him the whole horizon of the future; and, when he knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah of his people and the Saviour of the world, it followed as a matter of course that he must spend his life in making this known.
50. But this destiny was also clearly announced to him from the outside. Ananias, probably the leading man in the small Christian community at Damascus, was informed, in a vision, of the change which had happened to Paul, and was sent to restore his sight and admit him into the Christian Church by baptism.
Nothing could be more beautiful than the way in which this servant of God approached the man who had come to the city to take his life. As soon as he learned the state of the case, he forgave and forgot all the crimes of his enemy and sprang to clasp him in the arms of Christian love. Certain as may have been the assurance which in the inner world of the mind Paul had in those three days received of forgiveness, it must have been to him a most welcome reassurance when, on opening his eyes again upon the external world, he was met with no contradiction of the visions he had been looking on, but the first object he saw was a human face bending over him with looks of forgiveness and perfect love. He learned from Ananias the future the Saviour had appointed him: he had been apprehended by Christ in order to be a vessel to bear His name to Gentiles and kings and to the children of Israel. He accepted the mission with limitless devotion; and from that hour to the hour of his death he had but one ambition—to apprehend that for which he had been apprehended of Christ Jesus.
51-53. SOJOURN IN ARABIA. 54-58. FAILURE OF MAN'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. 56. Failure of the Gentiles. 57. Failure of the Jews. 58. The Fall the ultimate Cause of Failure. 59-65. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. The New Adam. The New Man. 66, 67. LEADING PECULIARITIES OF THE PAULINE GOSPEL.
51. Sojourn in Arabia.—When a man has been suddenly converted, as Paul was, he is generally driven by a strong impulse to make known what has happened to him. Such testimony is very impressive; for it is that of a soul which is receiving its first glimpses of the realities of the unseen world, and there is a vividness about the report it gives of them which produces an irresistible sense of reality. Whether Paul yielded at once to this impulse or not we cannot say with certainty. The language of the book of Acts, where it is said that "straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues," would lead us to suppose so. But we learn from his own writings that there was another powerful impulse influencing him at the same time; and it is uncertain which of the two he obeyed first. This other impulse was the wish to retreat into solitude and think out the meaning and issues of that which had befallen him. It cannot be wondered at that he felt this to be a necessity. He had believed his former creed intensely and staked everything on it; to see it suddenly shattered in pieces must have shaken him severely. The new truth which had been flashed upon him was so far-reaching and revolutionary that it could not be taken in at once in all its bearings. Paul was a born thinker; it was not enough for him to experience anything; he required to comprehend it and fit it into the structure of his convictions.
Immediately, therefore, after his conversion he went away, he tells us, into Arabia. He does not, indeed, say for what purpose he went; but, as there is no record of his preaching in that region and this statement occurs in the midst of a vehement defense of the originality of his gospel, we may conclude with considerable certainty that he went into retirement for the purpose of grasping in thought the details and the bearings of the revelation he had been put in possession of. In lonely contemplation he worked them out; and, when he returned to mankind, he was in possession of that view of Christianity which was peculiar to himself and formed the burden of his preaching during the subsequent years.
52. There is some doubt as to the precise place of his retirement, because Arabia is a word of vague and variable significance. But most probably it denotes the Arabia of the Wanderings, the principal feature of which was Mount Sinai. This was a spot hallowed by great memories and by the presence of other great men of revelation. Here Moses had seen the burning bush and communed with God on the top of the mountain. Here Elijah had roamed in his season of despair and drunk anew at the wells of inspiration. What place could be more appropriate for the meditations of this successor of these men of God? In the valleys where the manna fell and under the shadows of the peaks which had burned beneath the feet of Jehovah he pondered the problem of his life.
It is a great example. Originality in the preaching of the truth depends on the solitary intuition of it. Paul enjoyed the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost; but this did not render the concentrated activity of his own thinking unnecessary but only lent it peculiar intensity; and the clearness and certainty of his gospel were due to these months of sequestered thought. His retirement may have lasted a year or more; for between his conversion and his final departure from Damascus, to which he returned from Arabia, three years intervened; and one of them at least was spent in this way.
53. We have no detailed record of what the outlines of his gospel were till a period long subsequent to this; but, as these, when first they are traceable, are a mere cast of the features of his conversion, and, as his mind was working so long and powerfully on the interpretation of that event at this period, there can be no doubt that the gospel sketched in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians was substantially the same as he preached from the first; and we are safe in inferring from these writings our account of his Arabian meditations.
54. Failure of Man's Righteousness.—The starting-point of Paul's thinking was still, as it had been from his childhood, the conviction, inherited from pious generations, that the true end and felicity of man lay in the enjoyment of the favor of God. This was to be attained through righteousness; only the righteous could God be at peace with and favor with His love. To attain righteousness must, therefore, be the chief end of man.
55. But man had failed to attain righteousness and had thereby come short of the favor of God, and exposed himself to the divine wrath. Paul proves this by taking a vast survey of the history of mankind in pre-Christian times in its two great sections—the Gentile and the Jewish.
56. The Gentiles failed. It might, indeed, be supposed that they had not the preliminary conditions for entering on the pursuit of righteousness at all, because they did not enjoy the advantage of a special revelation. But Paul holds that even the heathen know enough of God to be aware of the obligation to follow after righteousness. There is a natural revelation of God in His works and in the human conscience sufficient to enlighten men as to this duty. But the heathen, instead of making use of this light, wantonly extinguished it. They were not willing to retain God in their knowledge and to fetter themselves with the restraints which a pure knowledge of Him imposed. They corrupted the idea of God in order to feel at ease in an immoral life. The revenge of nature came upon them in the darkening and confusion of their intellects. They fell into such insensate folly as to change the glorious and incorruptible nature of God into the images of men and beasts, birds and reptiles. This intellectual degeneracy was followed by still deeper moral degeneracy. God, when they forsook Him, let them go; and, when His restraining grace was removed, down they rushed into the depths of moral putridity. Lust and passion got the mastery of them, and their life became a mass of moral disease. In the end of the first chapter of Romans the features of their condition are sketched in colors that might be borrowed from the abode of devils, but were literally taken, as is too plainly proved by the pages even of Gentile historians, from the condition of the cultured heathen nations at that time. This, then, was the history of one half of mankind: it had utterly fallen from righteousness and exposed itself to the wrath of God, which is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness of men.
57. The Jews were the other half of the world. Had they succeeded where the Gentiles had failed? They enjoyed, indeed, great advantages over the heathen; for they possessed the oracles of God, in which the divine nature was exhibited in a form which rendered it inaccessible to human perversion, and the divine law was written with equal plainness in the same form. But had they profited by these advantages? It is one thing to know the law and another thing to do it; but it is doing, not knowing, which is righteousness. Had they, then, fulfilled the will of God, which they knew?
Paul had lived in the same Jerusalem in which Jesus assailed the corruption and hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees; he had looked closely at the lives of the representative men of his nation; and he does not hesitate to charge the Jews in mass with the very same sins as the Gentiles; nay, he says that through them the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. They boasted of their knowledge and were the bearers of the torch of truth, the fierce blaze of which exposed the sins of the heathen; but their religion was a bitter criticism of the conduct of others; they forgot to examine their own conduct by the same light; and, while they were repeating, Do not steal, Do not commit adultery, and a multitude of other commandments, they were indulging in these sins themselves. What good in these circumstances did their knowledge do them? It only condemned them the more; for their sin was against light. While the heathen knew so little that their sins were comparatively innocent, the sins of the Jews were conscious and presumptuous. Their boasted superiority was therefore inferiority. They were more deeply condemned than the Gentiles they despised, and exposed to a heavier curse.
58. The truth is, Gentiles and Jews had both failed for the same reason. Trace these two streams of human life back to their sources and you come at last to a point where they are not two streams but one; and, before the bifurcation took place, something had happened which predetermined the failure of both. In Adam all fell, and from him all, both Gentiles and Jews, inherited a nature too weak for the arduous attainment of righteousness; human nature is carnal now, not spiritual, and, therefore, unequal to this supreme spiritual achievement.
The law could not alter this; it had no creative power to make the carnal spiritual. On the contrary, it aggravated the evil. It actually multiplied offenses; for its clear and full description of sins, which would have been an incomparable guide to a sound nature, turned into temptation for a morbid one. The very knowledge of sin tempts to its commission; the very command not to do anything is to a diseased nature a reason for doing it. This was the effect of the law: it multiplied and aggravated transgressions. And this was God's intention. Not that He was the author of sin; but, like a skillful physician, who has sometimes to use appliances to bring a sore to a head before he heals it, He allowed the heathen to go their own way and gave the Jews the law, that the sin of human nature might exhibit all its inherent qualities, before He intervened to heal it. The healing, however, was His real purpose all the time: He concluded all under sin, that He might have mercy upon all.
59. The Righteousness of God.—Man's extremity was God's opportunity; not, indeed, in the sense that, one way of salvation having failed. God devised another. The law had never, in His intention, been a way of salvation. It was only a means of illustrating the need of salvation. But the moment when this demonstration was complete was the signal for God to produce His method, which He had kept locked in His counsel through the generations of human probation. It had never been His intention to permit man to fail of his true end. Only He allowed time to prove that fallen man could never reach righteousness by his own efforts; and, when the righteousness of man had been demonstrated to be a failure, He brought forth His secret—the righteousness of God.
This was Christianity; this was the sum and issue of the mission of Christ—the conferring upon man, as a free gift, of that which is indispensable to his blessedness, but which he had failed himself to attain. It is a divine act; it is grace; and man obtains it by acknowledging that he has failed himself to attain it and by accepting it from God; it is got by faith only. It is "the righteousness of God, by the faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe."
60. Those who thus receive it enter at once into that position of peace and favor with God in which human felicity consists and which was the goal aimed at by Paul when he was striving for righteousness by the law. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." It is a sunny life of joy, peace and hope which those lead who have come to know this gospel. There may be trials in it; but, when a man's life is reposing in the attainment of its true end, trials are light and all things work together for good.
61. This righteousness of God is for all the children of men—not for the Jews only, but for the Gentiles also. The demonstration of man's inability to attain righteousness was made, in accordance with the divine purpose, in both sections of the human race; and its completion was the signal for the exhibition of God's grace to both alike. The work of Christ was not for the children of Abraham, but for the children of Adam. "As in Adam all died, so in Christ shall all be made alive." The Gentiles did not need to undergo circumcision and to keep the law in order to obtain salvation; for the law was no part of salvation; it belonged entirely to the preliminary demonstration of man's failure; and, when it had accomplished this service, it was ready to vanish away. The only human condition of obtaining God's righteousness is faith; and this is as easy for Gentile as Jew.
This was an inference from Paul's own experience. It was not as a Jew, but as a man, that he had been dealt with in his conversion. No Gentile could have been less entitled to obtain salvation by merit than he had been. So far from the law raising him a single step toward salvation, it had removed him to a greater distance from God than any Gentile, and cast him into a deeper condemnation. How, then, could it profit the Gentiles to be placed in this position? In obtaining the righteousness in which he was now rejoicing he had done nothing which was not competent to any human being.
62. It was this universal love of God revealed in the gospel which inspired Paul with unbounded admiration for Christianity. His sympathies had been cabined, cribbed, confined in a narrow conception of God; the new faith uncaged his heart and let it forth into the free and sunny air. God became a new God to him. He calls his discovery the mystery which had been hidden from ages and generations, but had been revealed to him and his fellow-apostles. It seemed to him to be the secret of the ages and to be destined to usher in a new era, far better than any the world had ever seen. What kings and prophets had not known had been revealed to him. It had burst on him like the dawn of a new creation. God was now offering to every man the supreme felicity of life—that righteousness which had been the vain endeavor of the past ages.
63. This secret of the new epoch had not, indeed, been entirely unanticipated in the past. It had been "witnessed by the law and the prophets." The law could bear witness to it only negatively by demonstrating its necessity. But the prophets anticipated it more positively. David, for example, described "the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputed righteousness without works." Still more clearly had Abraham anticipated it. He was a justified man; and it was by faith, not by works, that He was justified—"he believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness." The law had nothing to do with his justification, for it was not in existence for four centuries afterward. Nor had circumcision anything to do with it, for he was justified before this rite was instituted. In short, it was as a man, not as a Jew, that he was dealt with by God, and God might deal with any human being in the same way. It had once made the thorny road of legal righteousness sacred to Paul to think that Abraham and the prophets had trodden it before him; but now he knew that their life of religious joy and psalms of holy calm were inspired by quite different experiences, which were now diffusing the peace of heaven through his heart also. But only the first streaks of dawn had been descried by them; the perfect day had broken in his own time.
64. The Old Adam and the New.—Paul's discovery of this way of salvation was an actual experience; he simply knew that Christ, in the moment when He met him, had placed him in that position of peace and favor with God which he had long sighed for in vain, and, as time went on, he felt more and more that in this position he was enjoying the true blessedness of life. His mission henceforth must be to herald this discovery in its simple and concrete reality under the name of the Righteousness of God. But a mind like his could not help inquiring how it was that the possession of Christ did so much for him. In the Arabian wilderness he pondered over this question, and the gospel he subsequently preached contained a luminous answer to it.
65. From Adam his children derive a sad double heritage—a debt of guilt, which they cannot reduce, but are constantly increasing, and a carnal nature, which is incapable of righteousness. These are the two features of the religious condition of fallen man, and they are the double source of all his woes.
But Christ is a new Adam, a new head of humanity, and those who are connected with Him by faith become heirs of a double heritage of a precisely opposite kind. On the one hand, just as through our birth in the first Adam's line we get inevitably entangled in guilt, like a child born into a family which is drowned in debt, so through our birth in the line of the second Adam we get involved in a boundless heritage of merit, which Christ, as the Head of His family, makes the common property of its members. This extinguishes the debt of our guilt and makes us rich in Christ's righteousness. "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." On the other hand, just as Adam transmitted to his posterity a carnal nature, alien to God and unfit for righteousness, so the new Adam imparts to the race of which He is the Head a spiritual nature, akin to God and delighting in righteousness.
The nature of man, according to Paul, normally consists of three sections—body, soul and spirit. In his original constitution these occupied definite relations of superiority and subordination to one another, the spirit being supreme, the body undermost, and the soul occupying the middle position. But the fall disarranged this order, and all sin consists in the usurpation by the body or the soul of the place of the spirit. In fallen man these two inferior sections of human nature, which together form what Paul calls the Flesh, or that side of human nature which looks toward the world and time, have taken possession of the throne and completely rule the life, while the spirit, the side of man which looks toward God and eternity, has been dethroned and reduced to a condition of inefficiency and death. Christ restores the lost predominance of the spirit of man by taking possession of it by his own Spirit. His Spirit dwells in the human spirit, vivifying it and sustaining it in such growing strength that it becomes more and more the sovereign part of the human constitution. The man ceases to be carnal and becomes spiritual; he is led by the Spirit of God and becomes more and more harmonious with all that is holy and divine.
The flesh does not, indeed, easily submit to the loss of supremacy. It clogs and obstructs the spirit and fights to regain possession of the throne. Paul has described this struggle in sentences of terrible vividness, in which all generations of Christians have recognized the features of their deepest experience. But the issue of the struggle is not doubtful. Sin shall not again have dominion over those in whom Christ's Spirit dwells, or dislodge them from their standing in the favor of God. "Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
66. The Pauline Gospel.—Such are the bare outlines of the gospel which Paul brought back with him from the Arabian solitudes and afterward preached with unwearied enthusiasm. It could not but be mixed up in his mind and in his writings with the peculiarities of his own experience as a Jew, and these make it difficult for us to grasp his system in some of its details. The belief in which he was brought up, that no man could be saved without becoming a Jew, and the notions about the law from which he had to cut himself free, lie very distant from our modern sympathies; yet his theology could not shape itself in his mind except in contrast to these misconceptions. This became subsequently still more inevitable when his own old errors met him as the watchwords of a party within the Christian Church itself, against which he had to wage a long and relentless war. Though this conflict forced his views into the clearest expression, it encumbered them with references to feelings and beliefs which are now dead to the interest of mankind. But, in spite of these drawbacks, the Gospel of Paul remains a possession of incalculable value to the human race. Its searching investigation of the failure and the wants of human nature, its wonderful unfolding of the wisdom of God in the education of the pre-Christian world, and its exhibition of the depth and universality of the divine love are among the profoundest elements of revelation.
67. But it is in its conception of Christ that Paul's gospel wears its imperishable crown. The Evangelists sketched in a hundred traits of simple and affecting beauty the fashion of the earthly life of the man Christ Jesus, and in these the model of human conduct will always have to be sought; but to Paul was reserved the task of making known, in its heights and depths, the work which the Son of God accomplished as the Saviour of the race. He scarcely ever refers to the incidents of Christ's earthly life, although here and there he betrays that he knew them well. To him Christ was ever the glorious Being, shining with the splendor of heaven, who appeared to him on the way to Damascus, and the Saviour who caught him up into the heavenly peace and joy of a new life. When the Church of Christ thinks of her Head as the deliverer of the soul from sin and death, as a spiritualizing presence ever with her and at work in every believer, and as the Lord over all things who will come again without sin unto salvation, it is in forms of thought given her by the Holy Ghost through the instrumentality of this apostle.
THE WORK AWAITING THE WORKER
68-70. Eight years of Comparative Inactivity at Tarsus. Gentiles admitted to Christian Church. 71, 72. Paul discovered by Barnabas and brought to Antioch. His Work there. 73-78. THE KNOWN WORLD OF THAT PERIOD. 75. The Greeks; 76. The Romans; 77. The Jews; 78. Barbarians and Slaves.
68. Years of Inactivity.—Paul was now in possession of his gospel and was aware that it was to be the mission of his life to preach it to the Gentiles; but he had still to wait a long time before his peculiar career commenced. We hear scarcely anything of him for seven or eight years; and yet we can only guess what may have been the reasons of Providence for imposing on His servant so long a time of waiting.
69. There may have been personal reasons for it connected with Paul's own spiritual history; because waiting is a common instrument of providential discipline for those to whom exceptional work has been appointed. A public reason may have been that he was too obnoxious to the Jewish authorities to be tolerated yet in those scenes where Christian activity commanded any notice. He had attempted to preach in Damascus, where his conversion had taken place, but was immediately forced to flee from the fury of the Jews; and, going thence to Jerusalem and beginning to testify as a Christian, he found the place in two or three weeks too hot to hold him. No wonder; how could the Jews be expected to allow the man who had so lately been the chief champion of their religion to preach the faith which they had employed him to destroy? When he fled from Jerusalem, he bent his steps to his native Tarsus, where for years he remained in obscurity. No doubt he testified for Christ there to his own family, and there are some indications that he carried on evangelistic operations in his native province of Cilicia: but, if he did so, his work may be said to have been that of a man in hiding, for it was not in the central or even in a visible stream of the new religious movement.
70. These are but conjectural reasons for the obscurity of those years. But there was one undoubted reason for the delay of Paul's career of the greatest possible importance. In this interval took place that revolution—one of the most momentous in the history of mankind—by which the Gentiles were admitted to equal privileges with the Jews in the Church of Christ. This change proceeded from the original circle of apostles, in Jerusalem, and Peter, the chief of the apostles, was the instrument of it. By the vision of the sheet of clean and unclean beasts, which he saw at Joppa, he was prepared for the part he was to play in this transaction, and he admitted the Gentile Cornelius, of Caesarea, and his family to the Church by baptism without circumcision. This was an innovation involving boundless consequences. It was a necessary preliminary to Paul's mission-work, and subsequent events were to show how wise was the divine arrangement that the first Gentile entrants into the Church should be admitted by the hands of Peter rather than by those of Paul.
71. As soon as this event had taken place, the arena was clear for Paul's career, and a door was immediately opened for his entrance upon it. Almost simultaneously with the baptism of the Gentile family at Caesarea a great revival broke out among the Gentiles of the city of Antioch, the capital of Syria. The movement had been begun by fugitives driven by persecution from Jerusalem, and it was carried on with the sanction of the apostles, who sent Barnabas, one of their trusted coadjutors, from Jerusalem to superintend it.
This man knew Paul. When Paul first came to Jerusalem after his conversion and assayed to join himself to the Christians there, they were all afraid of him, suspecting the teeth and claws of the wolf beneath the fleece of the sheep. But Barnabas rose superior to these fears and suspicions and, having taken the new convert and heard his story, believed in him and persuaded the rest to receive him. The intercourse thus begun only lasted a week or two at that time, as Paul had to leave Jerusalem; but Barnabas had received a profound impression of his personality and did not forget him. When he was sent down to superintend the revival at Antioch, he soon found himself embarrassed with its magnitude and in need of assistance; and the idea occurred to him that Paul was the man he wanted. Tarsus was not far off, and thither he went to seek him. Paul accepted his invitation and returned with him to Antioch.
72. The hour he had been waiting for had struck, and he threw himself into the work of evangelizing the Gentiles with the enthusiasm of a great nature that found itself at last in its proper sphere. The movement at once responded to the pressure of such a hand; the disciples became so numerous and prominent that the heathen gave them a new name—that name of "Christians," which has ever since continued to be the badge of faith in Christ—and Antioch, a city of half a million inhabitants, became the headquarters of Christianity instead of Jerusalem. Soon a large church was formed, and one of the manifestations of the zeal with which it was pervaded was a proposal, which gradually shaped itself into an enthusiastic resolution, to send forth a mission to the heathen. As a matter of course, Paul was designated for this service.
73. The Known World of that Period.—As we see him thus brought at length face to face with the task of his life, let us pause to take a brief survey of the world which he was setting out to conquer. Nothing less was what he aimed at. In Paul's time the known world was so small a place, that it did not seem impossible even for a single man to make a spiritual conquest of it; and it had been wonderfully prepared for the new force which was about to assail it.
74. It consisted of a narrow disc of land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. That sea deserved at that time the name it bears, for the world's center of gravity, which has since shifted to other latitudes, lay in it. The interest of human life was concentrated in the southern countries of Europe, the portion of western Asia and the strip of northern Africa which form its shores. In this little world there were three cities which divided between them the interest of those ages. These were Rome, Athens and Jerusalem, the capitals of the three races—the Romans, the Greeks and the Jews—which in every sense ruled that old world. It was not that each of them had mastered a third part of the circle of civilization, but each of them had in turn diffused itself over the whole of it, and either still held its grip or at least had left imperishable traces of its presence.
75. The Greeks were the first to take possession of the world. They were the people of cleverness and genius, the perfect masters of commerce, literature and art. In very early ages they displayed the instinct for colonization and sent forth their sons to find new abodes on the east and the west, far from their native home. At length there arose among them one who concentrated in himself the strongest tendencies of the race and by force of arms extended the dominion of Greece to the borders of India. The vast empire of Alexander the Great split into pieces at his death; but a deposit of Greek life and influence remained in all the countries over which the deluge of his conquering armies had swept. Greek cities, such as Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt, flourished all over the East; Greek merchants abounded in every center of trade; Greek teachers taught the literature of their country in many lands; and—what was most important of all—the Greek language became the general vehicle for the communication of the more serious thought between nation and nation. Even the Jews in New Testament times read their own Scriptures in a Greek version, the original Hebrew having become a dead language. Perhaps the Greek is the most perfect tongue the world has known, and there was a special providence in its universal diffusion before Christianity needed a medium of international communication. The New Testament was written in Greek, and, wherever the apostles of Christianity traveled, they were able to make themselves understood in this language.
76. The turn of the Romans came next to obtain possession of the world. Originally a small clan in the neighborhood of the city from which they derived their name, they gradually extended and strengthened themselves and acquired such skill in the arts of war and government that they became irresistible conquerors and marched forth in every direction to make themselves masters of the globe. They subdued Greece itself and, flowing eastward, seized upon the countries which Alexander and his successors had ruled. The whole known world, indeed, became theirs from the Straits of Gibraltar to the utmost East. They did not possess the genius or geniality of the Greeks; their qualities were strength and justice; and their arts were not those of the poet and the thinker, but those of the soldier and the judge. They broke down the divisions between the tribes of men and compelled them to be friendly toward each other, because they were all alike prostrate beneath one iron rule. They pierced the countries with roads, which connected them with Rome and were such solid triumphs of engineering skill that some of them remain to this day. Along these highways the message of the gospel ran. Thus the Romans also proved to be pioneers for Christianity, for their authority in so many countries afforded to its first publishers facility of movement and protection from the arbitrary justice of local tribunals.
77. Meanwhile the third nation of antiquity had also completed its conquest of the world. Not by force of arms did the Jews diffuse themselves, as the Greeks and Romans had done. For centuries, indeed, they had dreamed of the coming of a warlike hero, whose prowess should outshine that of the most celebrated Gentile conquerors. But he never came: and their occupation of the centers of civilization had to take place in a more silent way.