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Lecture Eighth. The Teaching of St. Paul.

In what sense St. Paul gave Universality to the Gospel — Why the Cross is the Central Point in his Doctrine — His sudden Conversion from the Idea of a Conquering, to that of suffering Messiah — His Mission to the Gentiles, as a Consequence of this — The Antithesis of the Law and the Gospel — The Separation of Christ from Humanity — Difference between St. Paul and the Jerusalem Church — What Christianity owes to each.

I HAVE now endeavoured to sum up the general purport of the teaching of Jesus, and to show how the events of his life and death were the most vivid and palpable demonstration of the lesson he had to teach. At the same time, I indicated that St. Paul was the first who went beyond the special words and actions of the Master, and grasped that lesson in all the extent of its application. St. Paul thus emancipated Christianity from the limitations of Judaism, and from all the special conditions of its first expression. It is true that the teaching of Christ, by its purely ideal or spiritual character, already involved the negation of all national, as of all legal or sacerdotal restrictions. But it only involved this; for, as practically Christ did not carry his ministry beyond the limits of his own country, he had not to deal directly with the question of the admission of the Gentiles, or of the conditions under which they should be combined with the Jews in the Christian Church. We may fairly say that the ideal or spiritual character of the gospel of Jesus implied its universality; but the opposition he had actually to encounter was one excited, not by the extent, but by the nature of the kingdom of heaven which he was founding. For us it may be clear enough that the principle which caused his conflict with the Pharisees, really implies the expansion of his church beyond the limits of the Jewish nationality, as well as the removal of all specially Jewish customs from the conditions of admission into it; yet this consequence was not immediately present even to the most enlightened of his disciples. And Christ's own assertions, that the new law was the fulfilment of the old, might easily lead them to overlook his equally strong declaration the new could not permanently retain the form of the old, that the ‘new wine’ must burst the ‘old bottles.’

But St. Paul, from the very moment of his conversion, conceived of Christianity as a religion for the world. He was not one of the original disciples, and he therefore wanted that minute knowledge of the ways and words of Jesus which the original disciples possessed; but, partly perhaps for that very reason, he was more ready to seize upon the great general features, the master-meaning and tendency of his whole work. The German proverb that speaks of those who ‘cannot see the wood for the trees,’ has often been verified, but never probably in so marked a way as here. Without the original disciples, we could not have had that close initiation into the life of the Master, that detailed picture of the humanity of Jesus with its unwavering faith and all-embracing charity, which is the permanent charm of Christianity. But those who stood close to the individual life in all the fulness of its particulars, could not grasp the general idea of it, the new view of the relation of the human and the divine it involved, so readily as a more distant observer, For St. Paul, what we may in a narrower sense call the personal element of the gospel history disappeared altogether; and Jesus was simply the Christ, the living embodiment of the Messianic idea, who at once disappointed the old Messianic expectations of the Jews, and gave them a higher fulfilment.

It is another way of expressing the same idea to say that, for St, Paul, the whole meaning of the life of Jesus was gathered up in his death. He was determined not to ‘know anything’ in religion ‘save Jesus Christ and him crucified.’1 “His only love” was thus “sprung from his only hate’; for it was the preaching of a crucified man as the Messiah, which first raised in him all the antagonism of the Pharisee, and made him a persecutor: and, after the vision on the road to Damascus, which convinced him that Jesus had risen from the dead, it was just the idea of such a Messiah that was the central principle of his own preaching, from which all his other ethical and religious conceptions were derived. His theology might be said to be one long development of the consequences involved in the fact that Jesus, as the Messiah, had come not to reign but to suffer, not to be ministered unto but to minister, not to exalt himself as the triumphant deliverer of his nation, but to ‘humble himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’2 The triumph, indeed, was to come, but it was to come not by being sought for, but by being abandoned. It was to come not by the effort of man but by the power of God; and this was St. Paul's way of saying, that it was to come not by directly striving for it, but by a divine order of the world which made its attainment the necessary result of the spirit that renounces it and refuses to seek it at all. In the death of Christ, therefore, as seen in the light of his resurrection, St. Paul found a kind of illustrated epitome, a condensed picture, which showed as by a flash of lightning the principle and meaning of the whole divinely appointed order of the world. The simple intuition of Jesus, that “he who would save his life must lose it,” was, in the first place, projected into the form of an outward event, as the history of a Messiah who died to rise again; and then, in the second place, it was reinterpreted, as the great moral law of the life of man. It is true there was some loss in this process, which first externalised the law of life as a great divine tragedy, from which the same law in its deeper spiritual sense was afterward gathered as an inference. The idea that the spiritual life directly involves death to self, and that, therefore, for man, in whom the natural depends upon the spiritual, this death is the basis even of the natural life, and the only way to the true realisation even of the natural good of man,—this idea, which was the ‘open secret of Jesus,’ is somewhat obscured in St. Paul; for to him the result appears to come, not by a process of development like that in which the death of the seed leads to the life of the plant, but by an external providential arrangement. But this impression is partly counteracted by St. Paul's clear insight into the way in which humility, faith, and love open the soul of man to the access of a higher spirit. And, even apart from this, it has the great advantage of universalising and objectifying the moral principle by translating it into terms of theology, and so, as it were, writing it in large letters on the clouds of heaven. If to recognise that “morality is the nature of things” is to turn it into religion, and so give it an infinite access of strength; then St. Paul's bold proclamation of the doctrine that it was through death only that Christ the Son of God could open up the gates of life, was the most important step ever taken in the development of Christian thought; for it made the ethical principle of self-abnegation into a revelation of the divine order in the government of the world. Thus the law of the moral life of man, in the Christian interpretation of it, becomes the counterpart, as it is the highest revelation, of the love of God.

Viewing it in this way, we can see how it is that St. Paul at once connects the natural death and resurrection of Christ, with a moral death to sin and a rising again to newness of life in his followers. It has, indeed, been said that St. Paul “turns the transcendent eschatological idea into an immanent ethical one,”3 i.e. that he begins with an external view of Christ's death and resurrection as the manifestation of a power which will also raise his people from the dead, and that then he spiritualises this doctrine by translating it into the idea that the ethical principle of self-abnegation, which we receive by sympathy with Christ's supreme sacrifice, will be in us, as it was in him, the source of a new life, which is far higher than that which we surrender. But this is not the whole truth: for we have to remember that, for St. Paul, a dying Messiah meant a Messiah Who gave himself up to death at the hands of his enemies, instead of using his superior natural powers to crush them; and that this representation of the Messiah could have the power over him which it had, only because he saw in it the supreme illustration and type of the principle of self-sacrificing love. When, therefore, the vision on the road to Damascus convinced him that Jesus, whom he was persecuting, had risen again, this resurrection came to him as the divine stamp of approval upon the morality of self-sacrifice, the symbol of the conquering power of the principle of love. Hence, in this point of view, it would be truer to say that the ethical principle in. St. Paul begat the theological, than that the theological begat the ethical. It was no doubt the weakness of St. Paul, as contrasted with his Master, that he needed to see the spiritual law of life outwardly illustrated in a supernatural vision, ere he could believe in it as a truth of inward experience. And, in this point of view, those are ‘more blessed’ who have not needed to see such visions in order to believe. But, ultimately, it was the dawning moral discernment, the awaking consciousness that a Messiah who conquered by outward force could never deliver the soul from its slavery to itself, or enable it to overcome the world, that gave such meaning and power to the vision, and made it with such apparent suddenness to revolutionise the whole life of St. Paul. This being the case, it was by an immediate necessity that he at once interpreted the vision—which had itself probably arisen out of a conflict between his moral intuitions and his religious beliefs, as a warrant to him to reorganise the latter in the spirit of the former; or, in other words, as an authorisation to yield himself completely to the now principle of life, which the very thought of such a Messiah had already awakened within him.

It is a confirmation of this view that St. Paul immediately connects with the idea of a crucified Messiah the idea of a universal Messiah, and that this latter idea at once awakens in him a conviction of his own mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. At the very moment when he renounced the belief in a conquering king, who should set his own feet and the feet of his nation on the necks of their enemies, and substituted for it the idea of a Christ who should overcome only by suffering and self-sacrifice, it became obvious to him that the same law must be applied to the interpretation of the promised rule of Israel over the nations. The followers of Christ, like their Master, could only conquer the world by becoming its servants; and the privilege of the Jew could, therefore, only mean that he was to be the greatest benefactor of mankind, or the medium through which the divine love should How out to them. The chosen people also must die to live, must renounce its special national claims in order to vindicate them; and if, contrariwise, they attempted to assert them, the only effect would be that they should lose that which they seemed to have. The question, “What advantage then hath the Jew?” is met only by the answer, “Unto them were committed the oracles of God.•4 “Theirs are the fathers, and of them as concerning the flesh Christ came.”5 In other words, they are the greatest of the servants of humanity, and they can maintain their position only by continuing to be so. In any other sense, their privileges are gone, for ever, and if the attempt is made to retain them, they are smitten with barrenness. To St. Paul, the ‘son of a Pharisee,’ whole mind had been occupied with meditation upon the religious privileges of the Jews, the idea of a crucified Messiah thus became at once the idea of a Messiah for all mankind. And with it immediately arose the thought that he himself—the first to whom the Messiah had been revealed in such a light—must show his faithfulness to the revelation by undertaking the mission to the Gentiles. According to the narrative of the Acts, his first word, even when he was trembling under the awe of the supernatural vision, was: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?6 And for St. Paul the answer was not far to seek. To the fervid soul of the converted persecutor the step from the new premises to the practical conclusion was direct and inevitable. “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me, in order that I might preach him among the heathen.”7 And “without conferring with flesh and blood,” St. Paul at once begins the great mission which carried Christianity beyond the walls of the synagogue within which it had hitherto been confined, and made it the religion of the world.

At the same time, while carrying out this denationalising process, St. Paul never ceased to be a ‘Hebrew of the Hebrews,’ whose whole habits of thought and expression were moulded by Jewish theology. Even in contending with Judaism, therefore, he takes his stand upon its principles, and uses the dialectical weapons of its Rabbinical schools. And, while he illustrates the principle of Christianity by contrast with that of Judaism, he always maintains that that contrast is not absolute, but that Christianity is the necessary goal and culmination of the Jewish religion, and finds its evidence in the sacred books of that religion itself. For him, the Law is a transitionary stage, which looks back to a principle of faith that existed before it and remains after it—a principle to the fuller realisation of which the Law was an instrument, and for which it therefore necessarily makes way. If, therefore, in comparison with the Gospel, the precepts of the Law may be regarded as ‘weak and beggarly elements,’8 yet, in another point of view, they are the necessary preparation for it. The Law was a παιδαγωγός to bring men to Christ. If it brought no deliverance to man from the slavery to his lower self, if rather it only awakened in him a consciousness of the power of evil that had subjected him, and weakened his resistance by the feeling of the hopelessness of his struggle with an enemy which had so deep a hold on his nature; yet this intense consciousness of an evil of which, as it seemed, man could never rid himself without ceasing to bo himself, was necessary to make him renounce self-seeking, even in the last subtle form of the effort to be his own saviour, or to work out a claim for himself as against the divine justice. It was thus necessary to prepare him for the surrender of his whole soul to a power which, in one sense, was not himself, yet through which only he could be himself, or realise the good for which he existed. Hence, while for St. Paul the law is “holy, and good,” yet it slays man and does not revive him; it fills him with a sense of weakness and a “fearful looking for of judgment.” But this very despair of self is just what is needed for the reception of the infinite hope; and he who ceases to struggle for his own life, finds the divine life streaming into him and making him its organ. He for whom the consciousness of self has thus lost all that divides it from the consciousness of God, has in one sense ceased to be, but in another he has for the first time begun truly to exist. “Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”9 In this way St. Paul at once sets Law and Gospel in direct antagonism, and yet brings them together as stages in the education of the religious consciousness of man; or, to state the matter more exactly, he makes the Gospel embrace the Law as the necessary negative condition of its own realisation. Nay, even sin itself, as its utmost power is shown only under the Law—which produces a distinct consciousness of sin, and so prepares the way for the negation of it and for the reception of a new principle of life—even sin itself, from this point of view, is shown to form part of the divine order. For God “hath concluded all under sin,”10 they might be prepared to receive righteousness by the new way of faith. On the one hand, the intensification of sin, due to the consciousness of it awakened by the Law, goes along with an intensified feeling of weakness in self and of slavery to the power of evil; and, on the other hand, it is a necessary condition or transition stage to that liberation from sins, Which is possible only to those who have lost themselves to find themselves again in God. Sin is not sin in the deepest sense till it is conscious, the sin of one who knows the divine law he breaks; yet just this very consciousness, while in one way deepens the sin, in another way prepares for its extinction. The rude outbreak of passion in a nature which has not yet awakened to its own possibilities is evil, but it is evil in an undeveloped form, because not yet directly set against good. If it is half devil, it is also half brute. “We cannot” hate “the highest till we know it.” On the other hand when we know it, we cannot altogether hate it. ‘The law of our mind’ will then necessarily, as St. Paul puts it, be striving against ‘the law of our members,’ and making us feel as a slavery, though it cannot give us the strength to emancipate ourselves. Nay, the very effort so can only intensify our feeling of inability; and, indeed, so far as it is an effort to establish our own righteousness, it may itself be regarded as a continuation of the very evil from which it seeks to escape. In other words, in so far as it is an effort after virtue in which self is not renounced or surrendered, it is a self-contradictory endeavour to combine self-seeking with self-devotion.

In this way we can understand how St. Paul should regard the divine law as in itself nothing but a provocation to sin, a means of ripening it to its highest conscious development; and yet should conceive it to be divinely ordered in the history of the individual and the race, in order to prepare men for the reception of that higher life which comes to him through Christ. But why is it that he conceives this new spirit of life to come into man through Christ alone? It is because, as I have already said, he identifies the person of Christ with the principle which Christ had first fully expressed in life and death, the principle that only in losing his life can man save it. Christ is to him the being who revealed and realised—for he does not distinguish between these two things—who revealed and realised the true law of man's spiritual life. He is the ‘second man from heaven,’ who set the principle of self-negation in the place of principle of self-seeking which appeared in the ‘first man,’ Adam, and which has ruled mankind ever since. Christ thus makes a new beginning, and through him a new spirit enters into humanity. Faith in Christ and especially in his Cross is, so to speak, the objective counterpart of the working of that spirit; and identification with him is the same thing as yielding to it. St. Paul cannot conceive that anything like this existed in the world before Christ, or that anything like it should exist in humanity afterwards, except by communication from him. He is the outward revelation of the divine love stooping to men, through whom alone man can rise to God. Until he came, such revelation of God as there was, could only tantalise man by the vision of an infinite ideal which stood inaccessible above and apart from him, but was not an immanent power within and without him that could enable him to overcome the world and himself. But now this ideal had shown itself as real without, in the death and resurrection of Christ; and it was showing itself as real within, for everyone in whom the same spirit was sympathetically awakened.

What shall we say of this creed of St. Paul? I think we must recognise, in the first place, that it has in it a deep psychological truth, which is due to the fact that it is a theory of religion and of the religious development of man directly borrowed from St. Paul's own experience. No one ever painted with more vivid colours than St. Paul the division of man's nature against itself, and, on the other hand, the process by which it becomes reconciled with itself in God. The seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans gives, in a few expressive words, a picture of the war of man with himself, of the higher with the lower self, such as is to be found in no other religions or philosophical writer before him. And the eighth chapter presents to us St. Paul's great idea, the idea of a divine principle, which all creation has been groaning and travailing to realise, which in all the history of man has been striving towards self-consciousness, which first clearly manifested itself in the death and resurrection of Christ, and which now lives and works in all his followers, but which even in them is still groaning and travailing after a fuller manifestation, wherein the natural body shall be changed into a spiritual body and the order of nature shall be made in all points comformable to the now life of spirit. This chapter indeed is perhaps the noblest expression that has ever been given to the idea that man's salvation must result from his giving himself up to a Power which is revealing itself in all that is within and without him, apart from which he is nothing, but as the organ of which he is reconciled with himself and has therefore all outward good things added to him.

At the same time St. Paul's expression of this essential truth is partly marred by two things, which are closely connected with each other: in the first place, by the all but absolute antithesis made between the Law, which intensifies the consciousness of sin and so stimulates its development, and the spirit of life in Christ which, as appropriated by faith, delivers us at once from sin and from the law that condemns it. St. Paul transfers an abstract opposition of ideas directly to life, and so divides the history of man into two halves: in one of them the law of self-seeking is continually rooting itself more deeply in his soul, even by means of his very efforts to throw it off; while, in the other, the sudden outflow of good from above through the self-sacrifice of Christ, at once terminates the rule of evil and initiates a new life for man. Yet we cannot but feel that, even on St. Paul's own showing, the intensification of the consciousness of sin by the law is not merely a negative process which deepens sin; but that it is at the same time the growing manifestation of the spirit and the power of good within him. St. Paul seems to take the increasing sensitiveness to evil, which makes a man feel that he is worst just when he is on the point of breaking with evil, as if it were literally a deepening of the evil itself; whereas it is an evidence of the rise of that hunger of the soul for righteousness, which is certain to be satisfied, because it is already the beginning of its own satisfaction. And, therefore, in spite of what he says of our “delighting in the law of God”11 after the inward man, he conceives the dawn of the new life as a sudden conversion from evil to good, produced by foreign influence which suddenly descends upon man from above, and which acts upon him independently of any active effort of his own. Thus he prepares the way for those Angustinian and Calvinistic doctrines, which practically involve the idea that man is the inert victim of external influence, and that since the Fall at least, he has become the plaything of an evil power which can only be driven out of him by the equally external influence of the Divine Spirit—doctrines which set religion in direct antagonism to morality and the grace of God to the activity of man. Such a view is not St. Paul's, but it might be logically derived from certain of his utterances as to the opposition of grace and works, if we left out of account the idea so vividly expressed in the Epistle to the Romans—the idea of a Divine Spirit immanent in nature and man, a spirit that from the beginning to the end is groaning and travailing for the complete ‘revelation of the sons of God,’ i.e. for the complete realisation of the divine sonship of humanity.

In the second place, and connected with this, is the fact that in St. Paul's teaching there begins a kind of separation of Christ from humanity and a kind of identification of him with God, which is practically a return to the Jewish opposition of God and man, and a denial of the distinctive title which Christ gave himself as the Son of Man. St. Paul, indeed, as we have seen, speaks of Christ as the “second man from heaven,” and he insists upon his having come ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’;12 but he regards Christ's life in the flesh as an episode between a life in glory before his birth and a life in glory after his death, and thus takes hint out of all the ordinary conditions of humanity. In this way he seems to deny that union between the human and the divine which was the essential lesson of the gospel of Jesus; and he gives occasion to all those theological puzzles about the unity of two natures in one person, in which the later theology of the church involved itself. For, as we have attempted to show, the essential basis of Christianity in human nature, the anima naturaliter Christiana, lies in this, that the consciousness of God is logically prior to, and presupposed in the consciousness of self and of the world; and that therefore man cannot be true to himself, cannot know what he really is, or realise the good he is capable of attaining, except in so far as he “sees himself in God,” and regards himself as the servant and organ of a divine purpose. But this idea is partly lost, whenever simple humanity is divorced from the divine, or regarded as capable only of indirect union therewith. In St. Paul this consequence is not apparent, partly because he lived in the first fervour of Christian life, in which distinctions of abstract thought could not produce their full dividing effect; but still more because Christ is for him so completely identified with the principle manifested in and by Christ. Thus, refusing to know ‘Christ after the flesh,’13 St. Paul saves himself from the difficulty of conceiving him as one man among others; or he thinks of him as having left behind in the grave all such limitations, and so become identified with a Divine Spirit which is also the spirit of humanity. And we may fairly say that the gain of this view, in the emancipation of Christianity from its Jewish limitations, for the time more than counterbalanced the loss of the immediate realisation of Christ's humanity, which accompanied it. Without such a generalising and idealising process, the great mission to the heathen would not have been possible. Yet it was well that there were others, the original disciples, who could not, like St. Paul, forget ‘Christ after the flesh’; though their Jewish prejudices no doubt kept them from being the instruments of the great expansion of the Church beyond the limits of the chosen people, and they were therefore thrown into the background by that expansion. In a few generations those who thus clung to the tradition of the first disciples seemed to the rest of the church a heretical sect. But, while we must recognise that this was inevitable, we have always to remember that we are under a debt to this narrow Jewish church, which is greater even than our debt to St. Paul. For it did not pass away till it had gathered together those records of the earthly life of Jesus ‘according to the flesh,’ in the absence of which even the teaching of St. Paul would have become little better than an abstract dogma, without power to purify the souls of men by pity and terror, or to draw them out of themselves in passion of self-sacrificing love.

  • 1. Cor. ii. 2. Cf. Rom. vi, 3, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death.”
  • 2. Phil. ii. 8.
  • 3. Pfleiderer's Paulinism, i. 20 (English translation).
  • 4. Rom. iii. 1, 2.
  • 5. Rom. ix. 5.
  • 6. Acts ix. 6.
  • 7. Gal. i. 15, 16.
  • 8. Gal. iv. 9.
  • 9. Gal. ii. 20.
  • 10. Gal. iii.22: cf. Rom. xi. 32.
  • 11. Rom. vii. 22.
  • 12. Rom. viii. 3.
  • 13. Cor. v. 16.