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The Epistles of St. Paul
WHEN we pass from primitive Christian preaching to the epistles of St. Paul, we are embarrassed not by the scantiness but by the abundance of our materials. It is not possible to argue that the death of Christ has less than a central, or rather than the central and fundamental place, in the apostle’s gospel. But before proceeding to investigate more closely the significance he assigns to it, there are some preliminary considerations to which it is necessary to attend. Attempts have often been made, while admitting that St. Paul teaches what he does teach, to evade it — either because it is a purely individual interpretation of the death of Jesus, which has no authority for others; or because it is a theologoumenon, and not a part of the apostolic testimony; or because it is not a fixed thing, but a stage in the development of apostolic thought, which St. Paul was on the way to transcend, and would eventually have transcended, and which we (by his help) can quite well leave behind us; or because it is really inconsistent with itself, a bit of patchwork, pieced out here and there with incongruous elements, to meet the exigencies of controversy; or because it unites, in a way inevitable for one born a Pharisee, but simply false for those who have been born Christian, conceptions belonging to the imperfect as well as to the perfect religion — conceptions which it is our duty to allow to lapse. I do not propose to consider such criticisms of St. Paul’s teaching on the death of Christ directly. For one thing, abstract discussion of such statements, apart from their application to given eases, never leads to any conclusive results; for another, when we do come to the actual matters in question, it often happens that the distinctions just suggested disappear; the apostolic words have a virtue in them which enables them to combine in a kind of higher unity what might otherwise be distinguished as testimony and theology. But while this is so it is relevant, and one may think important, to point out certain characteristics of St. Paul’s presentation of his teaching which constitute a formidable difficulty in the way of those who would evade it.
The first is, the assurance with which he expresses himself. The doctrine of the death of Christ and its significance was not St. Paul’s theology, it was his gospel. It was all he had to preach. It is with it in his mind — immediately after the mention of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present world with all its evils — that he says to the Galatians:
‘Though we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you contravening the gospel which we preached, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man is preaching a gospel to you contravening what you received, let him be anathema’ (Galatians 1: 4, 8 f.).
I cannot agree with those who disparage this, or affect to forgive it, as the unhappy beginning of religious intolerance. Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament has any conception of a religion without this intolerance. The first commandment is, ‘Thou shalt have none other gods beside Me,’ and that is the foundation of the true religion. As there is only one God, so there can be only one gospel. If God has really done something in Christ on which the salvation of the world depends, and if He has made it known, then it is a Christian duty to be intolerant of everything which ignores, denies, or explains it away. The man who perverts it is the worst enemy of God and men; and it is not bad temper or narrow mindedness in St. Paul which explains this vehement language, it is the jealousy of God which has kindled in a soul redeemed by the death of Christ a corresponding jealousy for the Savior. It is intolerant only as Peter is intolerant when he says, ‘Neither is there salvation in any other’ (Acts 4:12), or John, when he says,
‘He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life’ (1 John 5:12);
or Jesus Himself when He says,
‘No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him’ (Matthew 11:27).
Intolerance like this is an essential element in the true religion; it is the instinct of self-preservation in it; the unforced and uncompromising defense of that on which the glory of God and the salvation of the world depends. If the evangelist has not something to preach of which he can say, If any man makes it his business to subvert this, let him be anathema, he has no gospel at all. Intolerance in this sense has its counterpart in comprehension; it is when we have the only gospel, and not until then, that we have the gospel for all. It is a great argument, therefore, for the essential as opposed to the casual or accidental character of St. Paul’s teaching on Christ’s death — for it is with this that the Epistle to the Galatians is concerned — that he displays his intolerance in connection with it. To touch his teaching here is not to do something which leaves his gospel unaffected; as he understands it, it is to wound his gospel mortally.
Another consideration of importance in this connection is St. Paul’s relation to the common Christian tradition. No doubt the apostle was an original thinker, and in the Epistle to the Galatians he is concerned to vindicate his originality, or at least his independence; but his originality is sometimes exaggerated. He did not invent Christianity; there were apostles and preachers and men in Christ before him. And he tells us expressly that in the fundamentals of Christianity he not only agreed with them, but was indebted to them.
‘I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He hath been raised the third day, according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).
It is impossible to leave out of the tradition which St. Paul had himself received, and which he transmitted to the Corinthians, the reference to the meaning of Christ’s death — ‘He died for our sins according to the Scriptures’ — and to limit it to the fact: the fact needed no such authentication. It is the fact in its meaning for sinners which constitutes a gospel, and this, he wishes to assert, is the only gospel known.
‘Whether it be I or they — whether it be I or the twelve apostles at Jerusalem — this is the way we preach, and it was thus that you became believers’ (1 Corinthians 15:11).
And the doctrinal tradition of Christianity, if we may call it so, was supplemented and guaranteed by the ritual one. In the same Epistle to the Corinthians St. Paul says again, speaking of the Supper, ‘I received of the Lord this, which also I delivered unto you’ (1 Corinthians 11:23). An immediate supernatural revelation of what took place on the last night of our Lord’s life has no affinity to anything we know of revelations, we must understand St. Paul to say that what he had handed on to the Corinthians had before been handed on to him, and went back originally to the Lord Himself. The Lord was the point from which it started. But Paul could not receive this ritual tradition, and we know he did not, without receiving at the same time the great interpretative words about the new covenant in Christ’s blood, which put the death of Christ, once for all, at the foundation of the Gospel.3838Cf. Soltau, Unsere Evangelien, S. 85: ‘The apostles and evangelists who went about two by two from church to church preaching everywhere the Word of God, must have had a fixed basis for the instruction they gave. And when Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23) declares of his account of the Supper, ‘I have received it from the Lord,’ he points in doing so to a formulation of Christian teaching once for all fixed and definite.’ In a note he adds that St. Paul’s words, ‘the Lord Jesus on the night on which He was betrayed,’ even show an affinity to the synoptic narrative. It is not Paulinism which does this, it is the Christianity of Christ. The point at issue between the apostle and his Jewish-Christian adversaries was not whether Christ had died for sins; every Christian believed that. It was rather how far this death of Christ reached in the way of producing or explaining the Christian life. To St. Paul it reached the whole way; it explained everything; it supplanted everything he could call a righteousness of his own; it inspired everything he could call righteousness at all. To his opponents, it did not so much supplant as supplement, but for the atoning death, indeed, the sinner is hopeless; but even when he has believed in it, he has much to do on his own account, much which is not generated in him by the sense of obligation to Christ, but must be explained on other principles — e.g., that of the authority of the Jewish law. It is not necessary to enter into this controversy here, but what may fairly be insisted upon is the fact, which is evident in all the epistles, that underneath the controversy St. Paul and his opponents agreed in the common Christian interpretation of Christ’s death as a death in which sin had been so dealt with that it no longer barred fellowship between God and those who believed in Jesus. This, again, should make us slow to reject anything on this subject in St. Paul as being merely Pauline — an idiosyncrasy of the individual. We must remember that his great argument against Judaising Christians is that they are acting inconsistently: they are unwittingly doing something which contravenes, not Paulinism, but the gospel they have already received of redemption through the death of Christ.
Again, the perception of St. Paul’s place in Christian tradition, and of his debt to it, should make us slow to lay stress on the development which has been discovered in his writings. Leaving out the Pastorals, Paul wrote his other epistles within the space of ten years. But he had been preaching the gospel, in which the death of Christ had from the beginning the place and significance which we have just seen, at least fifteen years before any of the extant epistles were written. Is it credible that he had no intellectual life at all for those fifteen years, and that then, all of a sudden, his brain began to work at high pressure, and continued to work so till the end of his life? It is true that in the epistles of the imprisonment, as they may be conveniently called — Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians — we see the whole gospel in other relations than those in which it is exhibited in the epistles of the great missionary period — Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, Romans. But this is something quite different from a development in the gospel itself; and in point of fact we cannot discover in St. Paul’s interpretation of Christ’s death anything which essentially distinguishes his earliest epistles from his latest. To suppose that a great expansion of his thoughts took place between the letters to the Thessalonians and those to the Corinthians is to ignore at once the chronology, the nature of letters, and the nature of the human mind. St. Paul tells us himself that he came to Corinth determined to know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But he came in that mood straight from Thessalonica, and in that mood he wrote from Corinth the letters to Thessalonica, in which, nevertheless, there is, as we shall see, only a passing allusion to Christ’s death. Nothing could demonstrate more clearly how entirely a matter of accident it is — that is, how entirely it depends upon conditions which we may or may not have the means of discovering — whether any particular part of the apostle’s whole conception of Christianity shall appear in any given epistle. If development might be asserted anywhere, on general grounds, it would be in this case and on this subject; there is far more about Christ’s death, and far more that is explicit, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians than in the First to the Thessalonians. Yet precisely at this point our knowledge of St. Paul’s mind when he reached Corinth (1 Corinthians 2:1 f.), and of the brief interval which lay between this and his visit to Thessalonica, puts the idea of development utterly out of the question. As far as the evidence goes — the evidence including St. Paul’s epistles on the one hand, and St. Paul’s admitted relation to the doctrinal and ritual tradition of Christianity on the other — the apostle had one message on Christ’s death from first to last of his Christian career. His gospel, and it was the only gospel he knew, was always ‘the Word of the Cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:18), or ‘the Word of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The applications might be infinitely varied, for, as has been already pointed out, everything was involved in it, and the whole of Christianity was deduced from it; but this is not to say that it was in process of evolution itself.
There are two other sets of questions which might be raised here, either independently or in relation to each other — the questions involved in the experimental, and in the controversial or apologetic, aspects of St. Paul’s theology. How much of what he tells us of the death of Christ is the interpretation of experience, and has value as such? How much is mere fencing with opponents, or squaring of accounts with his own old ways of thinking about God and the soul, but has no value now, because the conditions to which it is relative no longer exist? These questions, as has been already remarked, are not to be discussed abstractly, because taken abstractly the antitheses they present are inevitably tainted with falsehood. They assume an opposition which does not exist, and they ignore the capacity of the truth to serve a variety of intellectual and spiritual purposes. St. Paul could use his gospel, no doubt, in controversy and in apology, but it was not devised for controversial or apologetic ends. The truth always has it in itself to be its own vindication and defense. It can define itself in all relations, against all adversaries; but it is not constituted truth, it is only exhibited as truth, when it does so. The fact that Christ died for our sins — that His death is an atoning death — is a magnificent apology for the Cross, turning its shame into glory; but it is not philosophy or criticism, it is here unintelligence, to maintain that it was invented or believed just in order to remove the offense of the Cross. In St. Paul it is not an apologetic or a controversial truth, or a truth relative to the exigencies of Jewish prejudice; it is an independent, eternal, divine truth, the profoundest truth of revelation, which for that very reason contains in it the answer to all religious questions whether of ancient or of modern times. It is so far from being a truth which only a mind of peculiar antecedents or training could apprehend, that it is of all truths the most universal. It was the sense of it, in its truth, that made St. Paul a missionary to all men. When he thought of what it meant, it made him exclaim, Is God a God of Jews only? (Romans 3:29). Is the God who is revealed in the death of Christ for sin a God who speaks a language that only one race can understand? Incredible. The atoning death of Christ, as a revelation of God, is a thing in itself so intelligible, so correspondent to a universal need, so direct and universal in its appeal, that it must be the basis of a universal religion. It is so far from being a truth (if we can speak of truth on such terms) relative only to one race, or one upbringing, or one age, or one set of prejudices, that it is the one truth which for all races and in all ages can never admit of any qualification. In itself true, it can be used as a weapon, but it was no necessity of conflict which fashioned it. It is the very heart of revelation itself.
The same attitude of mind to the Pauline teaching which would discount some of it as controversial or apologetic, as opposed to experimental or absolute, is seen in the disposition to distinguish in that teaching, as the expression is, fact from theory. In all probability this also is a distinction which it will not repay us to discuss in vacuo: everything depends on the kind of fact which we are supposed to be theorizing. The higher we rise in the scale of reality the more evanescent becomes the distinction between the thing ‘itself’ and the theory of it. A fact like the one with which we are here concerned, a fact in which the character of God is revealed, and in which an appeal is to be made to the reason, the conscience, the heart, the whole moral being of man, is a fact which must be, and must be seen to be, full of rational, ethical, and emotional content. If instead of ‘theory’ we use an equivalent word, say ‘meaning,’ we discover that the absolute distinction disappears. The fact is not known to us at all unless it is known in its meaning, in that which constitutes it a revelation of God and an appeal to man; and to say that we know it in its meaning is to say that we know it theoretically, or in or through a theory of it. A fact of which there is no theory is a fact in which we can see no meaning; and though we can apply this distinction so far when we are speaking of physical facts, and argue that it is fire which burns and not the theory of heat, we cannot apply it at all when we are speaking of a fact which has to tell on us in other than physical ways: through conscience, through the heart, through the intelligence, and therefore in a manner to which the mind can really respond. St. Paul’s own words in Romans 5:11 enable us to illustrate this. We have received, he says, or taken, the reconciliation. If we could take it physically, as we take a doctor’s prescription, which would tell on us all the same whatever our spiritual attitude to it might be, then we might distinguish clearly between the fact and the theory of it, and argue that as long as we accepted the fact, the theory was neither here nor there; but if the fact with which we are dealing cannot be physically accepted at all — if it addresses itself to a nature which is higher than physical, a nature of which reason, imagination, emotion, conscience, are the elements, then the fact itself must be seen to be one in which there is that which appeals to all these elements; that is, to repeat the truth, it must be an interpreted fact, something in which fact and theory are indissolubly one. The Cross must be exhibited in ὁ λόγος τοῦ σταυροῦ the Reconciliation in ὁ λόγος τῆς καταλλαγῆς; and λόγος is always a rational, a theoretical word. It is much easier to say there is a distinction of fact and theory, a distinction between the testimony and the theology of St. Paul, than to prove it; it is much easier to imagine that one can preach the gospel without any theory of the death of Christ than, knowing what these words mean, to do so. The simplest preacher, and the most effective, is always the most absolutely theoretical. It is a theory, a tremendous theory, that Christ’s death is a death for sin. But unless a preacher can put some interpretation on the death — unless he can find a meaning in it which is full of appeal — why should he speak of it at all? Is it the want of a theory that deprives it of its place in preaching?
There is one other subject to which also it is necessary to refer before going into detail on St. Paul’s teaching — the connection between Christ’s death and His resurrection. The tradition of Protestant theology undoubtedly tends to isolate the death, and to think of it as a thing by itself, apart from the resurrection; sometimes, one is tempted to say, apart even from any distinct conception of Him who died. But we know that St. Paul himself puts an extraordinary emphasis on the resurrection. Sometimes it is coordinated with the death. ‘If we believe that Jesus died and rose again,’ he writes to the Thessalonians, including in this the whole of the Christian faith (1 Thessalonians 4:14). ‘He was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification,’ he says to the Romans, making the resurrection as essential as the death (Romans 4:25). It is the same with the summary of fundamental truths, which constituted the gospel as he preached it at Corinth, and which has been repeatedly referred to already:
‘first of all that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3 f.).
But there are passages in which he gives a more exclusive emphasis to the resurrection. Thus in Romans 10:9 he writes: ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved’; and in 1 Corinthians 15:17: ‘If Christ is not risen, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.’ It is possible, however, to do full justice to all such expressions without qualifying in the slightest the prominence given in St. Paul to Jesus Christ as crucified. It was the appearance of the Risen One to St. Paul which made him a Christian. What was revealed to him on the way to Damascus was that the Crucified One was Son of God, and the gospel that He preached afterwards was that of the Son of God crucified. There can be no salvation from sin unless there is a living Savior: this explains the emphasis laid by the apostle on the resurrection. But the Living One can only be a Savior because He has died: this explains the emphasis laid on the Cross. The Christian believes in a living Lord, or he could not believe at all; but he believes in a living Lord who died an atoning death, for no other can hold the faith of a soul under the doom of sin.
The importance of St. Paul’s teaching, and the fact that dissent from any specifically New Testament interpretation of Christ’s death usually begins with it, may justify these preliminary observations; we now go on to notice more precisely what the apostle does teach. What then, let us ask, are the relations in which St. Paul defines the death of Christ? What are the realities with which he connects it, so that in these connections it becomes an intelligible thing — not a brute fact, like the facts of physics, while their laws are as yet unknown, but a significant, rational, ethical, appealing fact, which has a meaning, and can act not as a cause but as a motive? In other words, what is the doctrinal construction of this fact in virtue of which St. Paul can preach it to man as a gospel?
(1) To begin with, he defines it by relation to the love of God. The death of Christ is an illustration or rather a demonstration of that love. It is a demonstration of it which can never be surpassed. There are great, though rare examples of love among men, but nothing which could give any suggestion of this.
‘Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; for the good man possibly one might dare even death, but God commends His love to us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:7 f.).
We shall return to this, and to St. Paul’s inferences from it, when the passage in Romans comes before us; but meanwhile we should notice that the interpretation of Christ’s death through the love of God is fundamental in St. Paul. In whatever other relations he may define it, we must assume, unless the contrary can be proved, that they are consistent with this. It is the commonest of all objections to the propitiatory doctrine of the death of Christ that it is inconsistent with the love of God; and not only amateur, but professional theologians of all grades have rejected St. Paul’s doctrine of propitiation as inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching on the love of the Father; but if a mind like St. Paul teaches both things — if he makes the death of Christ in its propitiatory character the supreme demonstration of the Father’s love — is there not an immense probability that there is misunderstanding somewhere? It may be a modern, it is certainly not a Pauline idea, that a death for sins, with a view to their forgiveness, is inconsistent with God’s love. Whatever the process, St. Paul related that death to God’s love as the supreme proof of it.
(2) Further, the apostle defines Christ’s death by relation to the love of Christ.
‘The Son of God loved me,’ he says, ‘and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).
‘The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that one died for all’ (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Walk in love, as Christ also loved us, and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor’ (Ephesians 5:2).
‘Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it to Himself’ (Ephesians 5:25).
Christ is not an instrument, but the agent, of the Father in all that He does. The motive in which God acts is the motive in which He acts. The Father and the Son are at one in the work of man’s salvation. It is this which is expressed when the work of Christ is described, as it is in Philippians 2:8 and Romans 5:19, as obedience — obedience unto death, and that the death of the Cross. The obedience is conceived as obedience to the loving will of the Father to save men — that is, it is obedience in the vocation of Redeemer, which involves death for sin. It is not obedience merely in the sense of doing the will of God as other men are called to do it, keeping God’s commandments; it is obedience in this unique and incommunicable yet moral calling, to be at the cost of life the Savior of the world from sin. Hence it is in the obedience of Christ to the Father that the great demonstration of His love to men is given — ‘He loved me,’ as the apostle says, ‘and gave Himself for me.’ In His obedience, in which He makes His great sacrifice, Christ is fulfilling the will of God; and the response which He evokes by His death is a response toward God. It is at this point, in the last resort, that we become convinced of the deity of Christ. It is a work of God which He is working, and the soul that is won for it is won for God in Him.
(3) The relation of Christ’s death to the love of God and of Christ is its fundamental relation on one side; on the other side, St. Paul relates it essentially to sin. It is a death for sin, whatever else may be said of it. ‘First of all, Christ died for our sins.’ It was sin which made death, and not something else, necessary as a demonstration of God’s love and Christ’s. Why was this so? The answer of the apostle is that it was so because sin had involved us in death, and there was no possibility of Christ’s dealing with sin effectually except by taking our responsibility in it on Himself — that is, except by dying for it. Of course it is assumed in this that there is an ethical connection of some kind between death and sin, and that such a connection of words as, ‘The wages of sin is death,’ (Romans 6:23) really has meaning. No doubt this has been denied. Death, it is argued, is the debt of nature, not the wages of sin; it has no moral character at all. The idea of moral liability to death, when you look at the universality of death quite apart from moral considerations, is a piece of pure mythology. In spite of the assurance with which this argument is put forward it is not difficult to dissent from it. What it really does is to treat man abstractly, as if he were no more than a physical being; whereas, if we are to have either religion or morality preserved in the world, it is essential to maintain that he is more. The argument is one of the numberless class which proves nothing, because it proves too much. It is part of a vaster argument which would deny at the same time the spiritual nature and the immortality of man. But while it is right to say that death comes physically, that through disease, or accident, or violence, or mere physical exhaustion, it subdues to itself everything that lives, this does not touch the profounder truth with which St. Paul is dealing, that death comes from God, and that it comes in man to a being who is under law to Him. Man is not like a plant or an animal, nor is death to him what it is at the lower levels of life. Man has a moral nature in which there is a reflection of the holy law of God, and everything that befalls him, in eluding death itself, must be interpreted in relation to that nature. Conscience, quickened by the law of God, has to look at death, and to become alive, not to its physical antecedents, but to its divine meaning. What is God’s voice in death to a spiritual being? It is what the apostle represents it — death is the wages of sin.3939Compare Kahler, p. 399. In Empfindung, Mythus, Bild, Religion und Betrachtung ist der Tod, wie wir Sunder ihn sterben, der Prediger der Verantwortlichkeit geblieben. It is that in which the divine judgment on sin comes home to the conscience. The connection between the two things is real, though it is not physical; and because it is what it is — because death by God’s ordinance has in the conscience of sinful men the tremendous significance which it does have — because it is a power by which they are all their lifetime held in bondage — because it is the expression of God’s implacable and final opposition to evil — He who came to bear our sin must also die our death. Death is the word which sums up the whole liability of man in relation to sin, and therefore when Christ came to give Himself for our sins He did it by dying. It does not occur to St. Paul to ask how Christ could die the death which is the wages of sin, any more than it occurred to St. Peter to ask how He could bear the sins of others. If any one had argued that the death which Jesus died, since it had not the shadow of a bad conscience cast upon it, was not the death which is the wages of sin, can we not conceive him asking, ‘What death, then, was it? Is there any other? The death He died was the only death we know; it was death in all that tragic reality that we see at Calvary; and the sinlessness of Jesus — when we take His love along with it — may have been so far from making it impossible for Him to know and feel it as all that it was, that it actually enabled him to realize its awful character as no sinful soul had ever done or could do. Instead of saying, He could not die the death which is the wages of sin, it may be far truer to say, None but He could.4040Compare Kahler, Zur Lehre von der Versohnung, 397 ff.
It may not be amiss here to point out that analysis of the term ‘death’ as it is used by St. Paul almost invariably misleads. According to M. Menegoz,4141Le Peche et la Redemption, p. 258 f. the apostle’s doctrine of the expiation of sin by death is fatally vitiated by the ambiguity of the term. Paul confounds in it two distinct things:
(1) death as l’aneantissement complet et definitif;
(2) death as la peine de mort, le deces.
If we take the word in the first sense, Christ did not die, for He was raised again, and therefore there is no expiation. If we take it in the second sense, there was no need that He should die, for we can all expiate our own sins by dying ourselves. This kind of penetration is hardly to be taken seriously. When Paul spoke of Christ’s death as a death for sin, he had not a definition in his mind, whether l’aneantissement complet et definitif, or la peine de mort; but neither had he a vague or blurred idea which confused both; he had the awful fact of the crucifixion, with everything, physical and spiritual, which made it real; that was the bearing of sin and expiation of it, whether it answered to any one’s abstract definition or not. The apostle would not have abandoned his gospel because some one demonstrated a priori, by means of definitions, that expiation of sin by death was either
(1) impossible, or
He lived in another region. With these general remarks on the different relations in which St. Paul defines the death of Christ, we may now proceed to consider the teaching of the epistles in detail, keeping as far as possible to chronological order.
(1.) The Epistles to the Thessalonians do not yield us much. The only indisputable passage is in the first epistle, ch. 5:10:
‘ God did not appoint us to wrath, but to the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him.’
If the question is raised, What did Christ do for us with a view to our salvation, St. Paul has only one answer, He died for us. There is nothing in the epistles like the language of the hymn:—
‘For us despised, for us He bore
His holy fast, and hungered sore;
For us temptations sharp He knew,
For us the Tempter overthrew.’
The only thing He is said to have done for us is to die, and this He did, because it was determined for Him by sin. The relation of sin and death in the nature of things made it binding on Him to die if He was to annul sin. The purpose here assigned to Christ’s death, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him, suggests that His power to redeem is dependent on His making all our experiences His own. If we are to be His in death and life, then He must take our death and life to Himself. If what is His is to become ours, it is only on the condition that what is ours He first makes His. There is the same suggestion in Romans 14:9: ‘To this end Christ died and lived, that He might be Lord both of dead and living.’ Not as though death made Him Lord of the dead, and rising again, of the living; but as One to whom no human experience is alien, He is qualified to be Lord of men through all. The particular character elsewhere assigned to death as the doom of sin is not here mentioned, but it does not follow that it was not felt. On the contrary, we should rather hold that St. Paul could never allude to the death of Christ without becoming conscious of its propitiatory character and of what gave it that character. The word would fill of its own accord with the meaning which it bears when he says, First of all, Christ died for our sins.
(2.) When we pass to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, we have much fuller references to the subject. For one thing, its supreme importance is insisted on when we find the gospel described as ‘the word of the cross’ (1:18), and the apostle’s endeavors directed to this, ‘that the cross of Christ may not be made void’ (1:17). It is in the same spirit that he contrasts the true gospel with the miracles claimed by the Jews, and the wisdom sought by the Greeks: ‘We preach Christ crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ So again in the second chapter he reminds the Corinthians how he came to Achaia determined to know nothing among them but. Jesus Christ and Him crucified: his whole gospel, the testimony of God, as he calls it, was in this (2:1 f.). In other passages he refers to the death of Christ in general terms which suggest the cost at which man’s redemption was achieved. Twice over, in chapters 6:20, and 7:23, he writes, ‘Ye were bought with a price;’ making it in the first instance the basis of an exhortation to glorify God in the nature He had made His own at so dear a rate; and in the other, of an exhortation to assume all the responsibilities of that freedom for which they had been so dearly ransomed, and not to become servants of men, i.e., not to let the conventions, or judgments, or consciences of others invade a responsibility which had obligations to the Redeemer alone. It may not be possible to work out the figure of a price, which is found in these passages, in detail; we may not be able to say what it answered to, who got it, how it was fixed, and so on. But what we may legitimately insist upon is the idea that the work of man’s salvation was a costly work, and that the cost, however we are to construe it, is represented by the death of Christ. Ye were bought with a price, means, Ye were not bought for nothing. Salvation is not a thing which can be assumed, or taken for granted; it is not an easy thing, about which no difficulty can possibly be raised by any one who has any idea of the goodness of God. The point of view of the New Testament is the very opposite. Salvation is a difficult thing, an incredible thing, an impossible thing; it is the miracle of miracles that such a thing should be; the wonder of it never ceases, and it nowhere finds a more thrilling expression than in St. Paul’s words, Ye were bought with a price. St. Paul will show us in other ways why cost was necessary, and the cost of Christ’s death in particular; but it is a great step in initiation into the gospel he preached to see that cost, as Bushnell puts it in his book on Forgiveness and Law, had to be made, and actually was made, that men might be redeemed for God.
There is another passage in the First Epistle to the Corinthians on which I should lay greater stress than is usually done in connection with the apostle’s teaching on Christ’s death: it is that in the tenth and eleventh chapters in which St. Paul speaks of the Sacraments. He is concerned about the recrudescence of immorality among the saints, about the presumptuous carelessness with which they go into temptation, relying apparently on their sacramental privileges to ensure them against peril. He points out that God’s ancient people had had similar privileges, indeed identical ones, yet had fallen in the wilderness owing to their sins. You are baptized into Christ? Yes, and all our fathers were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; they formed one body with him, and were as sure of God’s favor. You have supernatural meat and supernatural drink in the Holy Supper, meat and drink which have the assurance of a divine and immortal life in them? So had they in the manna and the water from the rock. They all ate the same supernatural meat as you do, they all drank the same supernatural drink; they drank of a supernatural rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.4242I have rendered πνευματικὸν because it suggests better the element of mystery, or rather of divineness, which all through this passage is connected with the Sacraments. Baptism is not a common washing, nor is the Supper common meat and drink; it is a divine cleansing, a divine nourishment, with which we have to do in these rites; there is a mysterious power of God in them, which the Corinthians were inclined to conceive as operating like a charm for their protection in situations of moral ambiguity or peril. This is so far suggested to the Greek reader by πνευματικὸν for πνεῦμα and its derivatives always involve a reference to God; but as it is not necessarily suggested to the English reader by ‘spiritual,’ I have ventured on the other rendering. The indefiniteness of ‘supernatural’ is rather an advantage in the context than a drawback. It is obvious from this passage (1 Corinthians 10:1-4) as well as from the references to baptism in 1:13 f.; 12:13, and from the full explanation of the Supper in 11:23 ff., that the Sacraments had a large place in the church at Corinth, and not only a large place, but one of a significance which can hardly be exaggerated. And, as has been pointed out already, there is no interpretation of the Sacraments except by reference to the death of Christ. Baptism has always in view, as part at least of its significance, the forgiveness of sins; and as the rite which marks the believer’s initiation into the new covenant, it is essentially related to the act on which the covenant is based, namely, that which Paul delivered first of all to this Church, that Christ died for our sins. When, in another epistle, Paul argues that baptism into Christ means baptism into His death, he is not striking out a new thought, of a somewhat venturesome originality, to ward off a shrewd blow suddenly aimed at his gospel; he is only bringing out what was all along to him the essential meaning of this ordinance. The Supper, again, of which he speaks at length in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, bears an unmistakable reference to Christ’s death. The cup is specially defined as the new covenant in His blood, and the apostle sums up the meaning of the Sacrament in the words, As often as ye eat this bread and drink the cup, ye publish the Lord’s death until He come (1 Corinthians 11:26). In all probability καταγγέλλετε (publish) implies that the Sacrament was accompanied by words in which its significance was expressed; it was not only a picture in which the death of Christ was represented and its worth to the Church declared; there was an articulate confession of what it was, and of what the Church owed to it. If we compare the sixth chapter of Romans with the tenth and eleventh of 1st Corinthians, it seems obvious that modern Christians try to draw a broader line of distinction between the Sacraments than really exists. Partly, no doubt, this is owing to the fact that in our times baptism is usually that of infants, while the Supper is partaken of only by adults, whereas, in New Testament times, the significance of both was defined in relation to conscious faith. But it would not be easy to show, from St. Paul’s epistles, that in contents and meaning, in the blessings which they represented and which were conveyed through them, there is any very great distinction. The truth seems rather to be that both the Sacraments are forms into which we may put as much of the gospel as they will carry; and St. Paul, for his part, practically puts the whole of his gospel into each. If Baptism is relative to the forgiveness of sins, so is the Supper. If Baptism is relative to the unity of the Church, so is the Supper. We are not only baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13), but because there is one bread, we, many as we are who partake of it, are one body (1 Corinthians 10:17). If Baptism is relative to a new life in Christ (Romans 6:4 f.), in the Supper Christ Himself is the meat and drink by which the new life is sustained (1 Corinthians 10:3 f.). And in both the Sacraments, the Christ to whom we enter into relation is Christ who died; we are baptized into His death in the one, we proclaim His death until the end of time in the other. I repeat, it is hardly possible to exaggerate the significance of these facts, though it is possible enough to ignore them altogether. The superstition that has gathered round the Sacraments, and that has tempted even good Christians to speak of abolishing them, probably showed itself at a very early date; there are unmistakable traces of it in the First Epistle to the Corinthians itself, especially in the tenth chapter; but instead of lessening, it increases our assurance of the place which these ordinances had in Christianity from the beginning. And although the rationale of the connection between the death of Christ and the blessings of the gospel is not elucidated by them, it is presupposed in them. In ordinances with which every Christian was familiar, and without which a place in the Christian community could neither be acquired nor retained, the death of Christ was perpetually kept before all as a death essentially related in some way to the forgiveness of sins.
Not much light falls on our subject from the one sacrificial allusion to Christ’s death in 1 Corinthians 5:7: ‘For our Passover also has been sacrificed — Christ.’ No doubt τὸ πάσχα here, as in Mark 14:12, means the paschal lamb, and the apostle is thinking of Christ as the Lamb of God, by whose sacrifice the Church is called and bound to a life of holiness. It is because of this sacrifice that he says, ‘Let us therefore keep festival, not in old leaven, nor in leaven of malice and wickedness, but in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’ It is implied here certainly that there is an entire incongruity between a life of sin, and a life determined by a relation to the sacrificial death of Christ; but we could not, from this passage alone, make out what, according to St. Paul, was the ground of this incongruity. It would be wrong, in a passage with this simply allusive reference to the passover, to urge the significance of the lamb in the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of Exodus, and to apply this to interpret the death of Christ. There is no indication that the apostle himself carried out his thought on these lines.
We now come to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, which is here of supreme importance. In one point of view, it is a defense of St. Paul’s apostleship, and of his work in the apostolic office. The defense rests mainly on two pillars; first, his comprehension of the gospel; and second, his success in preaching it. There are one or two references in the earlier chapters to the sufferings and even the death of Jesus in an aspect with which we are not here specially concerned. Thus in 1:5, Paul says, ‘The sufferings of Christ abound toward us’; meaning by this that in his apostolic work he suffered abundantly just as Christ had suffered; the weariness and peril from which Jesus could not escape haunted him too; the Lord’s experience was continued in him. Similarly, in 4:10, when he speaks of always bearing about in the body τὴν νέκρωσιν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ — the dying of Jesus — he means that his work and its attendant sufferings are killing him as they killed his Master; every day he feels his strength lessen, and the outer man perish. But it is not in these passages that the great revelation is made of what Christ’s death is in relation to sin. It is in chapter 5, in which he is defending his conduct in the apostolic office against the assaults of his enemies. Extravagant or controlled, the motive of his conduct was always the same. ‘The love of Christ constrains us,’ he writes, ‘because we thus judge, that one died for all (so then all died), and died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them, and rose again.’ The importance of this passage is that it connects the two relations in which St. Paul is in the habit of defining Christ’s death — its relation to the love in which it originated, and to the sin with which it dealt; and it shows us how to construe these two things in relation to each other. Christ’s death, we are enabled to see, was a loving death, so far as men are concerned, only because in that death He took the responsibilities of men upon Himself. Deny that, and it will be impossible to show any ground on which the death can be construed as a loving death at all. It is necessary to examine the passage in detail.
The love of Christ, the apostle argues, constrains us, because we thus judge — i.e., because we put a certain interpretation on His death. Apart from this interpretation, the death of Christ has no constraining power. Here we find in St. Paul himself a confirmation of what has been said above about the distinction of fact and theory. It is in virtue of a certain theory of Christ’s death that the fact has its power to constrain the apostle. If it were not susceptible of such an interpretation, if this theory were inapplicable to it, it would cease to constrain. What, then, is the theory? It is that one died for all; ὑπὲρ πάντων means that the interest of all was aimed at and involved in the death of the one. How it was involved in it these words alone do not enable us to say. They do not by themselves show the connection between Christ’s death and the world’s good. But St. Paul draws an immediate inference from them: ‘so then all died.’ In one sense, it is irrelevant and interrupts his argument. He puts it into a hurried parenthesis, and then eagerly resumes what it had suspended. ‘One died for all (so then all died), and died for all that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again.’ Yet it is in this immediate inference, that the death of Christ for all involved the death of all — that the missing link is found. It is because Christ’s death has this inclusive character — because, as Athanasius puts it, ‘the death of all was fulfilled in the Lord’s body’ — that His death has in it a power which puts constraint on men to live for Him.4343De Icarnatione, c. xx section. 5. I cannot agree with Mr. Lidgett when he says that the words can only be understood in connection with the apostle’s declaration elsewhere, that he has been ‘crucified with Christ.’4444J. S. Lidgett, The Spiritual Principle of the Atonement, p. 39. That declaration is a declaration of Christian experience, the fruit of faith; but what the apostle is dealing with here is something antecedent to Christian experience, something by which all such experience is to be generated, and which, therefore, is in no sense identical with it. The problem before us is to discover what it is in the death of Christ which gives it its power to generate such experience, to exercise on human hearts the constraining influence of which the apostle speaks; and this is precisely what we discover in the inferential clause: ‘so then all died. ’ This clause puts as plainly as it can be put the idea that His death was equivalent to the death of all; in other words, it was the death of all men which was died by Him. Were this not so, His death would be nothing to them. It is beside the mark to say, as Mr. Lidgett does, that His death is died by them rather than theirs by Him; the very point of the apostle’s argument may be said to be that in order that they may die His death He must first die theirs. Our dying His death is not, in the New Testament, a thing which we achieve on our own initiative, or out of our own resources; it is the fruit of His dying ours. If it is our death that Christ died on the Cross, there is in the Cross the constraint of an infinite love; but if it is not our death at all if it is not our burden and doom that He has taken to Himself there — then what is it to us? His death can put the constraint of love upon all men, only when it is thus judged that the death of all was died by Him. When the apostle proceeds to state the purpose of Christ’s death for any, that they which live should not henceforth live to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again’ — he does it at the psychological and moral level suggested by the words: ‘The love of Christ constrains us’. He who has done so tremendous a thing as to take our death to Himself has established a claim upon our life. We are not in the sphere of mystical union, of dying with Christ and living with Him; but in that of love transcendently shown, and of gratitude profoundly felt.4545The way in which theologians in love with the ‘mystical union’ depreciate gratitude must be very astonishing to psychologists. See Juncker, Die Ethik des Ap. Paulus, 161, and Rothe, Dogmatik 2. 1. 223 (a remark on this passage in 2 Corinthians 5.): ohne Ihn und seinen Tod hatten Alle sterben mussen; das Leben das sie leben verdanken sie also ganzlich Ihm, und mussen es deshalb ganz und gar Ihm widmen. But it will not be easy for any one to be grateful for Christ’s death, especially with a gratitude which will acknowledge that his very life is Christ’s, unless he reads the Cross in the sense that Christ there made the death of all men His own.
It is in this same passage that St. Paul gives the fullest explanation of what he means by reconciliation (καταλλαγή), and an examination of this idea will also illustrate his teaching on the death of Christ. Where reconciliation is spoken of in St. Paul, the subject is always God, and the object is always man. The work of reconciling is one in which the initiative is taken by God, and the cost borne by Him; men are reconciled in the passive, or allow themselves to be reconciled, or receive the reconciliation. We never read that God has been reconciled. God does the work of reconciliation in or through Christ, and especially through His death. He was engaged, in Christ, in reconciling the world — or rather, nothing less than a world — to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). He reconciled us to Himself through Christ (5:20). When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son (Romans 5:10). Men who once were alienated, and enemies in mind through wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death (Colossians 1:21 f.). It is very unfortunate that the English word reconcile (and also the German versohnen, which is usually taken as its equivalent) diverge seriously, though in a way of which it is easy to be unconscious, from the Greek καταλλάσσειν. We cannot say in English, God reconciled us to Himself, without conceiving the persons referred to as being actually at peace with God, as having laid aside all fear, distrust, and love of evil, and entered, in point of fact, into relations of peace and friendship with God. But καταλλάσσειν, as describing the work of God, or καταλλαγή, as describing its immediate result, do not necessarily carry us so far. The work of reconciliation, in the sense of the New Testament, is a work which is finished, and which we must conceive to be finished, before the gospel is preached. It is the good tidings of the Gospel, with which the evangelists go forth, that God has wrought in Christ a work of reconciliation which avails for no less than the world, and of which the whole world may have the benefit. The summons of the evangelist is — ‘Receive the reconciliation; consent that it become effective in your case.’ The work of reconciliation is not a work wrought upon the souls of men, though it is a work wrought in their interests, and bearing so directly upon them that we can say God has reconciled the world to Himself; it is a work — as Cromwell said of the covenant — outside of us, in which God so deals in Christ with the sin of the world, that it shall no longer be a barrier between Himself and men.
From this point of view we can understand how many modern
theologians, in their use of the word reconciliation, come to argue as it were at
cross purposes with the apostle. Writers like Kaftan,4646 Kaftan holds that nothing is to be
called Erlosung or Versohnung (redemption or reconciliation) unless as men are actually
liberated and reconciled; Erlosung and Versohnung are to be understood, as the
Reformers rightly saw (?), as Wirkungen Gottes in und an den Glaubigen.
But he overlooks the fact that whatever is to liberate or reconcile men must have qualities or virtues in it which, in view of their normal effect, whether that effect be in any given case achieved or not, can be called reconciling or liberative; and that the determination of these qualities or virtues — that is, as he calls it, an ‘objective Heilslehre’ — is not only legitimate but essential in the interpretation of the work of Christ. See his Dogmatik, Sections 52 ff. for example, who do not think of the work of Christ as anything else than the work which Christ is perpetually doing in winning the souls of men for God, and who describe this as the work of reconciliation, though they may seem to the practical modern intelligence to be keeping close to reality, are doing all that can be done to make the Pauline, or rather the New Testament point of view, bewildering by a modern reader. Reconciliation, in the New Testament sense, is not something which is doing; it is something which is done. No doubt there is a work of Christ which is in process, but it has as its basis a finished work of Christ; it is in virtue of something already consummated on His cross that Christ is able to make the appeal to us which He does, and to win the response in which we receive the reconciliation. A finished work of Christ and an objective atonement — a καταλλαγή in the New Testament sense — are synonymous terms: the one means exactly the same as the other; and it seems to me self-evident, as I think it did to St. Paul, that unless we can preach a finished work of Christ in relation to sin, a καταλλαγή or reconciliation or peace which has been achieved independently of us, at an infinite cost, and to which we are called in a word or ministry of reconciliation, we have no real gospel for sinful men at all. It is not in something Christ would fain do that we see His love, it is in something He has already done; nay, it is only through what He has already done that we can form any idea, or come to any conviction, of what He would fain do. He has died for us all, and by that death — not His own, properly speaking, but the death of the sinful race taken to Himself — He has so demonstrated the reality and infinity of the love of God to the sinful, as to make it possible for apostles and evangelists to preach peace to all men through Him.
In the passage with which we are dealing, St. Paul appends to the apostolic message, abruptly and without any conjunction, the statement of the great truth of Christ’s finished work which underlies it.
‘On Christ’s behalf, then, we are ambassadors, as though God were entreating you through us, we beg of you on Christ’s behalf, Be reconciled to God. Him that knew no sin He made to be sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:20 f.).
The want of a conjunction here does not destroy the connection; it only makes the appeal of the writer more solemn and thrilling. There need not be any misunderstanding as to what is meant by the words, Him that knew no sin He made to be sin for us. To every one who has noticed that St. Paul constantly defines Christ’s death, and nothing but His death, by relation to sin, and who can recall similar passages in the Epistle to the Galatians or to the Romans, to which we shall presently come, it is obvious that these tremendous words cover precisely the same meaning as ‘He died for our sins.’ When the sinless one, in obedience to the will of the Father, died on the Cross the death of all, the death in which sin had involved all, then, and in that sense, God made Him to be sin for all. But what is meant by saying, ‘in that sense.’? It means, ‘in the sense of His death.’ And what that means is not to be answered a priori, or on dogmatic grounds. It is to be answered out of the Gospel history, out of the experience of our Lord in the Garden and on the Cross. It is there we see what death meant for Him; what it meant for Him to make our sin, and the death in which God’s judgment comes upon sin, His own; and it is the love which, in obedience to the Father, did not shrink from that for us which gives power and urgency to the appeal of the Gospel. We ought to feel that moralizing objections here are beside the mark, and that it is not for sinful men, who do not know what love is, to tell beforehand whether, or how far, the love of God can take upon itself the burden and responsibility of the world’s sin; or if it does so, in what way its reality shall be made good. The premise of the Gospel is that we cannot bear that responsibility ourselves; if we are left alone with it, it will crush us to perdition. The message of the gospel, as it is here presented, is that Christ has borne it for us; if we deny that He can do so, is it not tantamount to denying the very possibility of a gospel? Mysterious and awful as the thought is, it is the key to the whole of the New Testament, that Christ bore our sins. Of this, God made Him to be sin for us is merely another equivalent; it means neither more nor less. The end contemplated — that we might become the righteousness of God in Him — is here stated religiously or theologically. Christ takes our place in death, and in so doing is identified with the world’s sin; the end in view in this is that we should take His place in life, and in so doing stand justified in God’s sight. By what psychological process this change in our position is mediated St. Paul does not here tell. What he does is to give a religious equivalent for the ethical and psychological representation of ver. 14:
‘ He died for all, that they which live should not live unto themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again.’
It took no less than His death for them to bring into their life a motive of such creative and recreative power; and it takes no less than this being made sin for them to open for them the possibility of becoming God’s righteousness in Him. To say so is not to bring different things into an artificial correspondence. The two statements are but the ethical and the theological representation of one and the same reality; and it confirms our interpretation of the passage, and our conviction of the coherence of the apostolic gospel, that under various and independent aspects we are continually coming on the same facts in the same relation to each other.
(3.) The closing verses of the fifth chapter of 2nd Corinthians may fairly be called the locus classicus on the death of Christ in St. Paul’s writings. Yet in proceeding to the Epistle to the Galatians we are introduced to a document which, more exclusively than any other in the New Testament, deals with this subject, and its significance. Even in the salutation, in which the apostle wishes his readers grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, he expands the Savior’s name by adding, in a way unexampled in such a connection elsewhere,
‘who gave Himself for our sins that He might redeem us from the present world with all its ills, according, to the will of our God and Father’ (1:4)
Reference has already been made to the vehement words in which he anathematizes man or angel who shall preach a different gospel. At the end of the second chapter he puts again, in the strongest possible form, his conviction that Christianity, the new and true religion, is a thing complete in itself, exclusive of everything else, incapable of compromise or of supplement, and that it owes this completeness, and if we choose to call it so, this intolerance, to the supreme significance and power which belong in it to the death of Christ.
‘I have been crucified with Christ my life is no longer mine, it is Christ who lives in me; the life I now live in flesh I live in faith, faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me’ (2:20).
The whole of the Christian religion lies in that. The whole of Christian life is a response to the love exhibited in the death of the Son of God for men. No one can become right with God except by making the response of faith to this love — that is, except by abandoning himself unreservedly to it as the only hope for sinful men. To trust it wholly and solely is the only right thing a man can do in presence of it; and when he does so trust it he is completely, finally, and divinely right. To supplement it is, according to Paul, to frustrate the grace of God; it is to compromise the Christian religion in its very principle; and to such a sin St. Paul will be no party. If righteousness is by law, as he sums it up in one of his passionate and decisive words, then Christ died for nothing (2:21). St. Paul knew by experience that all he was, or could ever become as a Christian, came out of the Cross. This is why he could say to the Corinthians,
‘I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2);
and why he repeats it in other words to the Galatians,
‘God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I to the world’ (Galatians 6:14).
Put positively, then, we may say that the aim of the Epistle to the Galatians is to show that all Christianity is contained in the Cross; the Cross is the generative principle of everything Christian in the life of man. Put negatively, we may say its aim is to show that law, and especially, as it happened, the ritual side of the Jewish law, contributes nothing to that life. Now St. Paul, it might be argued, had come to know this experimentally, and independently of any theory. When it had dawned on his mind what the Cross of Christ was, when he saw what it signified as a revelation of God and His love, everything else in the universe faded from his view. Newman speaks, in a familiar passage of the Apologia, of resting in ‘the thought of two, and two only, absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator’; in the relations and interaction of these two his religion consisted. A religion so generated, though it may be very real and powerful, is, of course, something far poorer than Christianity; yet in a somewhat similar way we might say of St. Paul that for him the universe of religion consisted of the soul and the Son of God giving Himself up for it; all that God meant for him, all that he could describe as revelation, all that begot within him what was at once religion, life, and salvation, was included in this act of Christ. No law, however venerable; no customs, however dear to a patriotic heart; no traditions of men, however respectable in effect or intention, could enter into competition with this. It was dishonoring to Christ, it was an annulling of the grace of God, to mention them alongside of it. To do so was to betray a radical misapprehension of Christ’s death, such as made it for those who so misapprehended it entirely ineffective. ‘Ye are severed from Christ,’ St. Paul cries, ‘ye who would be justified by law; ye are banished from grace’ (5:4).
But though St. Paul had learned this by experience, he does not, in point of fact, treat this subject of law empirically. He does not content himself with saying, ‘I tried the law until I was worn out, and it did nothing for me; I made an exhaustive series of experiments with it, resultless experiments, and so I am done with it; through the law I have died to the law (2:19); it has itself taught me, by experience under it, that it is not the way to life, and so it is to me now as though it were not.’ He does not content himself with giving this as his experience of the law; nor does he, on the other hand, content himself with giving us simply and empirically his experience of Christ. He does not say, ‘Christ has done everything for me and in me. The constraint of His love is the whole explanation of my whole being as a Christian. By the grace of God, and by nothing else, I am what I am, and therefore the law is nothing to me: I am so far from finding myself obliged to acknowledge its claims still, that it is my deepest conviction that to acknowledge its claims at all is to frustrate the grace of God, to make void the Cross of Christ.’ Probably if he had written thus — and he might truly have written thus — it would have seemed attractive and convincing to many who have misgivings about what he actually has written. But St. Paul could not, and did not remain at this empirical standpoint. He has a theory again — or let us say an understanding — of the relations of Christ and law, which enables him to justify and comprehend his experience. But for the truths of which this theory is the vehicle, the death of Christ would not be what it is, or exercise over the soul the power which it does. It is some dim sense of these truths, truths which the theory does not import but only unfolds, which in every case gives the death of Christ its constraining influence upon sinful men. What, then, is the theory?
Briefly, it is summed up in the words, Christ under the law. This is the expression used in Galatians 4:4, and its indefiniteness, in this form, makes it seem unobjectionable enough. It signifies that when He came into the world Christ came under the same conditions as other men: all that a Jew meant when he said ‘Law’ had significance for him; the divine institutions of Israel had a divine authority which existed for him as well as for others. To say that the Son of God was made under the law would thus mean that He had the same moral problem in His life as other men; that He identified Himself with them in the spiritual conditions under which they lived; that the incarnation was a moral reality and not a mere show. But it is certain that this is not all that St. Paul meant; and to the writer, at least, it is not certain that St. Paul ever had this as a distinct and separate object of thought present to his mind at all. What he really means by ‘Christ under the law’ comes out in its full meaning in chapter 3 13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming curse for us. ‘Under the law,’ in short, is an ambiguous expression, and it is necessary to be clear as to which of two possible interpretations it bears in this case. In relation to man in general, the law expresses the will of God. It tells him what he must do to please God. It is imperative, and nothing more. We may say, of course, that Christ was under the law in this sense it is self-evident. But as has just been hinted, it is doubtful whether St. Paul ever thought of this by itself. To be under the law in this sense did not to him at least yield the explanation of Christ’s redeeming power. In the mere fact that Christ came to keep the law which was binding on all, there was no such demonstration of love to sinners as was sufficient, of itself, to make them new creatures. But this is not the only sense which can be assigned to the words, ‘under the law.’ The law has not only a relation to man as such, in which it expresses the will of God; it has a relation to men as sinners, in which it expresses the condemnation of God. Now Christ is our Redeemer, according to the apostle, because He was made under the law in this sense. He not only became man, bound to obedience — it is not easy to say where the omnipotent loving constraint is to be discovered in this; but He became curse for us. He made our doom His own. He took on Him not only the calling of a man, but our responsibility as sinful men; it is in this that His work as Redeemer lies, for it is in this that the measure, or rather the immensity, of His love is seen. To say, ‘He became a curse for us,’ is exactly the same as to say, ‘He was made sin for us,’ or ‘He died for us’ but it is infinitely more than to say, ‘He was made man for us’ — or even man bound to obedience to the law — a proposition to which there is nothing analogous in the New Testament. The conception of obedience, as applicable to the work of Christ, will recur in other connections; here it is enough to say that if we wish to put the whole work of Christ under that heading, we must remember that what we have to do with is not the ordinary obedience of men, but the obedience of a Redeemer. Christ had an ethical vocation, as St. Paul reminds us in the very first reference to His death in this epistle, ‘He gave Himself for our sins, to deliver us from the present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father’; but His vocation, in carrying out that redeeming will, was a unique one; and, according to St. Paul, its uniqueness consisted in this, that one who knew no sin had, in obedience to the Father, to take on Him the responsibility, the doom, the curse, the death of the sinful. And if any one says that this was morally impossible, may we not ask again, What is the alternative? Is it not that the sinful should be left alone with their responsibility, doom, curse, and death? And is not that to say that redemption is impossible? The obedience of the Redeemer transcends morality, if we will; it is something to which morality is unequal; from the point of view of ordinary ethics, it is a miracle.4747See Expositor for June 1901, p. 449 ff. But it is the very function of the Redeemer to do the thing which it is impossible for sinful men to do for themselves or for each other; and St. Paul’s justification of the miracle is that it creates all the genuine and victorious morality — all the keeping of God’s commandments in love — which the world can show.
There have been many attempts, if not to evade this line of argument, and this connection of ideas, then to find something quite different in Galatians, which shall dispense with the necessity of considering it. Thus it is argued that St. Paul in the whole epistle is dealing with Jews, or with people who wanted to be Jews, and with their relation to the ceremonial law — a situation which no longer has reality for us. But this is hardly the case. St. Paul nowhere draws any distinction in the law between ceremonial and moral; the law for him is one, and it is the law of God. It is owing to accidental circumstances that the ceremonial aspect of it is more prominent in this epistle, as the ethical aspect is in Romans. But we shall find the same line of argument repeated in Romans, where it is the moral law which is at stake; and when the apostle tells us that through the law he has died to the law (Galatians 2:16), or that we have died to the law through the body of Christ (Romans 7:4), or that we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14), he has not the moral law any less in view than the ceremonial. He means that nothing in the Christian life is; explained by anything statutory, and that everything in it is explained by the inspiring power of that death in which Christ made all our responsibilities to the law His own. There is a sense, of course, in which the law is Jewish, but St. Paul had generalized it in order to be able to preach the Gospel to the gentiles;4848See Expositor, March 1901, p. 176 ff. he had found analogues of it in every society and in every conscience; in his evangelistic preaching he defined all sin by relation to it; in the utmost extent of meaning that could be given to the term, ‘law’ had significance for all men; and it was a gospel for all men that St. Paul preached when he declared that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming curse for us. No doubt when he wrote the words, ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming curse for us,’ he was thinking, as his antecedents and circumstances compelled him to think, of himself and his fellow-countrymen, who had known so well the yoke of bondage; that is, it is an exegetical result that ἡμᾶς means us Jews; but that does not alter the fact that the universal gospel underlies the expression, and is conveyed by it; it only means that here a definite application is made of that gospel in a relevant case.
The same considerations dispose of the attempts that are made to evacuate the ‘curse’ of meaning by identifying it with the ‘Cross.’ No doubt Paul appeals in support of his idea that Christ became a curse for us to the text in Deuteronomy 21:23, which he quotes in the form ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree.’ No doubt he avoids applying to Christ the precise words of the text, Accursed of God (κεκατηραμένος ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ (LXX.) קּלְלַת־ אלהִים). So do we, because the words would be false and misleading. Christ hung on the tree in obedience to the Father’s will, fulfilling the purpose of the Father’s love, doing a work with which the Father was well pleased, and on account of which the Father highly exalted Him; hence to describe Him as accursed of God would be absurd. It is not because St. Paul shrinks from his own logic that he says He became a curse for us, instead of saying He became a curse of God, or accursed of God, for us; it is because he is speaking in truth and soberness. Death is the curse of the law. It is the experience in which the final repulsion of evil by God is decisively expressed; and Christ died. In His death everything was made His that sin had made ours — everything in sin except its sinfulness. There is no essential significance in the crucifixion, as if it would have been impossible to say that Christ became a curse for us, if He had died in any other way. The curse, in truth, is only one of St. Paul’s synonyms for the death of Christ — one which is relative, no doubt, to the conception of Christ as ‘under the law,’ but which for its meaning is entirely independent of the passage in Deuteronomy. The New Testament has many analogies to this use of the Old. Christ rode into Jerusalem on an ass, and declared Himself a King in doing so, but no one supposes that His sovereignty is constituted or exhausted in this; it is entirely independent of it, though in connection with a certain prophecy (Zechariah 9:9) it can be identified with it. So again He was crucified between two thieves, and an evangelist says that there the Scripture was fulfilled — He was numbered with transgressors; but we know that the Scripture was fulfilled in another and profounder sense, and would have been fulfilled all the same though Jesus had been crucified alone (Mark 15:28 Rec., Luke 22:37). And so also with the Deuteronomic quotation in Galatians 3:13. The Old Testament here gave Paul an expression — an argumentum, if we will; it did not give him his gospel. He had said already, e.g. in 2 Corinthians 5:21, and will say again in other forms, all he has to say here, that in His death Christ was made under the law, not merely as that which laid its imperative, but as that which laid its sentence, upon man; that He took to Himself in His death our responsibility, our doom, our curse, as sinful men, and not merely our obligation to be good men. And though it is Christian, it is not illogical, to avoid such an expression as accursed of God. For in so making the doom of men His own in death Christ was doing God’s will.
The other passages in Galatians which deal with our subject bring to view the ethical rather than the theological import of the death of Christ. One occurs at chapter 5:24: ‘They that are of Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. ’ Ideally, we must understand, this crucifixion of the flesh is involved in Christ’s crucifixion; really, it is effected by it. Whoever sees into the secret of Calvary — whoever is initiated into the mystery of that great death — is conscious that the doom of sin is in it; to take it as real, and to stand in any real relation to it, is death to the flesh with its passions and desires. So with the last passage in the epistle at which the subject recurs (6:14): ‘Never be it mine to boast but in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ Here the apostle reiterates with new emphasis at the end of his letter what he has enforced from the beginning, that the Cross is the explanation of everything Christian. Of course it is the Cross interpreted as he has interpreted it; apart from this interpretation, which shows it to be full of a meaning that appeals irresistibly to man, it can have no rational or moral influence at all. But with this interpretation it is the annihilative and the creative power in Christianity; the first commandment of the new religion is that we shall have no God but Him, who is fully and finally revealed there.
(4.) The Epistle to the Romans is not so directly controversial as that to the Galatians; there are no personal references in it and no temper. But the Gospel is defined in it in relation to law, in very much the same sense as in Galatians; the completeness of the Christian religion, its self-containedness, its self-sufficiency, the impossibility of combining it with or supplementing it from anything else, are assumed or proved in much the same way. The question of religion for St. Paul is, How shall a man, a sinful man, be righteous with God? The Gospel brings the answer to that question. It is because it does so that it is a Gospel. It tells sinful men of a righteousness which is exactly what they need. It preaches something on the ground of which, sinners as they are, God the Judge of all can receive them — a righteousness of God, St. Paul calls it, naming it after Him who is its source, and at the same time characterizing it as divinely perfect and adequate — a righteousness of God which is somehow identified with Jesus Christ (3 22; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30). In particular it is identified somehow with Jesus Christ in His death (3:25), and therefore in Romans as in Galatians this death of Christ is the source of all that is Christian. All Christian inferences about God are deduced from it. Once we are sure of it and of its meaning, we can afford a great deal of ignorance in detail. We know that it covers everything and guarantees everything in which we are vitally interested; that it disposes of the past, creates the future, is a security for immortal life and glory (5:9 ff. and 8:31 ff.). What, then, does St. Paul say of the righteousness of God, and of the death of Christ in relation to it?
The critical passage is that in ch. 3 21 ff. To give a detailed exegesis of it would be to do what has been perhaps too often done already, and would raise questions to distract; as well as to aid intelligence. As is well known, there are two principal difficulties in the passage. The one is the meaning of ἱλαστήριον (propitiation) in 5:25. The other is that which is raised by the question whether the righteousness of God has the same meaning throughout, or whether it may not have in one place — say in 5:22 — the half-technical sense which belongs to it as a summary of St. Paul’s gospel; and in another — say in 5:26 — the larger and more general sense which might belong to it elsewhere in Scripture as a synonym for God’s character, or at least for one of His essential attributes. Not that these two principal difficulties are unrelated to each other, on the contrary, they are inextricably intertwined, and cannot be discussed apart. It is an argument for distinguishing two senses of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ (the righteousness of God) that when we do so we are enabled to see more clearly the meaning of ἱλαστήριος. It is the very function of Jesus Christ, set forth by God as a propitiation in His blood, to exhibit these two senses (which are equally indispensable, if there is to be a religion for sinful men), in their unity and consistency with each other. And, on the other hand, the term ἱλαστήριος, to say the least, is relative to some problem created by sin for a God who would justify sinners; and the distinction of two senses in which δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is used enables us to state this problem in a definite form.
Assuming, then, that both difficulties will come up for consideration, there is a certain convenience in starting with the second — that which is involved in the use of the expression ‘the righteousness of God.’ It is used in vv. 21, 22, 25, and 26; and the use of it is implied in 3:24: ‘being justified freely by His grace.’ It seems to me a strong argument for the double sense of this expression that when the apostle brings his argument to a climax the two senses have sifted themselves out, so to speak, and stand distinctly, side by side, the end of all God’s action in His redeeming revelation of Himself to men is that He may be just Himself, and justify him who believes in Jesus’ (εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸ δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ., 3:26). The first part of this end — God’s being righteous Himself — might quite fairly be spoken of as δικαιοσύνη (God’s righteousness); it is, indeed, what under ordinary circumstances is meant by the words. Compare, for example, the use of them in ch. 3: 5. But God’s appearance in the character of ὁ δικαιῶν (he who justifies) is also the manifestation of a righteousness of God, and indeed of the righteousness of God in the sense in which it constitutes St. Paul’s gospel — a righteousness of God which stands or turns to the good of the believing sinner. Both things are there: a righteousness which comes from God and is the hope of the sinful, and God’s own righteousness, or His character in its self-consistency and inviolability. In virtue of the first, God is ὁ δικαιῶν, the Justifier; in virtue of the second, He is δίκαιος, Just. What St. Paul is concerned to bring out, and what by means of the conception of Christ in His blood as ἱλαστήριος(endued with propitiatory power) he does bring out, is precisely the fact that both things are there, and there in harmony with each other. There can be no gospel unless there is such a thing as a righteousness of God for the ungodly. But just as little can there be any gospel unless the integrity of God’s character be maintained. The problem of the sinful world, the problem of all religion, the problem of God in dealing with a sinful race, is how to unite these two things. The Christian answer to the problem is given by St. Paul in the words: ‘Jesus Christ whom God set forth a propitiation (or, in propitiatory power) in His blood.’ In Jesus Christ so set forth there is the manifestation of God’s righteousness in the two senses, or, if we prefer it, in the complex sense, just referred to. Something is done which enables God to justify the ungodly who believe in Jesus, and at the same time to appear signally and conspicuously a righteous God. What this something is we have still to consider; but meanwhile it should be noted that this interpretation of the passage agrees with what we have already seen — that justification of the ungodly, or forgiveness of sins, or redemption, or whatever we are to call it, is a real problem for St. Paul. Gospel is the last thing in the world to be taken for granted: before there can be any such thing a problem of tremendous difficulty has to be solved, and according to the apostle of the Gentiles it has received at God’s hands a tremendous solution.
Before entering into this, it is only fair to refer to the interpretations of the passage which aim at giving the righteousness of God precisely the same force all through. In this case, of course, it is the technical, specifically Pauline sense which is preferred; the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is to be read always as that by which sinful man is justified. This is done by different interpreters with very various degrees of insight.
(1) There are those who seem unconscious that there is any problem, any moral problem, in the situation at all. The righteousness of God, they argue, is essentially self-imparting; it ‘goes out’ and energizes in the world; it takes hold of human lives and fills them with itself; it acts on the analogy of a physical force, like light or heat, diffusing itself and radiating in every direction, indiscriminately and without limit. Legal religion, no doubt, conceives of it otherwise; to legalism, God’s righteousness is a negative attribute, something in which God, as it were, stands on the defensive, maintaining His integrity against the sin of the world; but that is only a mistake. God’s righteousness is effluent, overflowing, the source of all the goodness in the world; and we see in Jesus Christ that this is so. The truth in all this is as obvious as the irrelevance. Of course all goodness is of God; no man would less have wished to question this than St. Paul. But St. Paul felt that the sin of the world made a difference to God; it was a sin against His righteousness, and His righteousness had to be vindicated against it; it could not ignore it, and go on simpliciter ‘justifying’ men as if nothing had happened. Such an interpretation of the passage ignores altogether the problem which the sin of the world (as St. Paul looked at it) presented to God. It makes no attempt whatever to define the relation, on which everything in the passage turns, between the divine righteousness and the death of Christ as a ἱλαστήριον; and in missing altogether the problem, it misses as completely the solution — that is, it misses the Gospel. We cannot keep Christianity, or any specifically Christian truth, if we deny its premises, nor can we either state or solve a moral problem if we confine ourselves to physical categories.
(2) There are those who assimilate the righteousness of God in this passage to the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ of the Psalms and later Isaiah, those familiar passages in which it is so often found as a parallel to σωτηρία (salvation). It is in these, they argue, that the real antecedents are found both of St. Paul’s thoughts and of his language. What, for instance, could be closer to his mind than Psalm 96:2: ‘The Lord hath made known His salvation; His righteousness hath He openly showed in the sight of the heathen’? In the Gospel we have the manifestation of the righteousness of God in this sense, a righteousness which is indistinguishable from His grace, and in which He shows Himself righteous by acting in accordance with His covenant obligations — receiving His people graciously, and loving them freely.4949This is the view of Ritschl, who decides that everywhere in Paul the righteousness of God means the mode of procedure which is consistent with God’s having the salvation of believers as His end (Rechtf. u. Vers. 2 footnote 1, 117). In the same sense he argues that the correlative idea to the righteousness of God is always that of the righteousness of His people (ibid. 108, 110). He seems to forget here that the God of the Gospel is defined by St. Paul in terms which expressly contradict this view, as ‘He who justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 5:5); and that a reference to sin rather than to righteousness in the people is the true correlative of the Pauline δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ. Ritschl’s treatment of the passage in Romans 3:3 ff., where God’s righteousness is spoken of in connection with the judgment of the world, and with the infliction of the final wrath upon it, and where it evidently includes something other than the gracious consistency to which Ritschl would limit it, is an amusing combination of sophistry and paradox. There is something attractive in this, and something true; but it is as completely irrelevant to St. Paul’s thought in the passage before us as the more superficial view already referred to. For one thing, St. Paul never refers to any of these passages in connecting his gospel with the Old Testament. He must have been perfectly aware that they were written on another plane than that on which he stood as a sinful man and a preacher to sinners. They were written for God’s covenant people, to assure them that God would be true to the obligations of the covenant, and would demonstrate His righteousness in doing so; God’s righteousness, in all these passages, is that attribute to which His people appeal when they are wronged. The situation which St. Paul has before him, however, is not that of God’s people, wronged by their enemies, and entitled to appeal to His righteousness to plead their cause and put them in the right; it is that of people who have no cause, who are all in the wrong with God, whose sins impeach them without ceasing, to whom God as Righteous Judge is not, as to a wronged covenant people, a tower of hope, but a name which sums up all their fears. The people for whom Isaiah and the Psalms were written were people who, being put in the wrong by their adversaries on earth, had a supreme appeal to God, before whom they were confident they should be in the right; the people to whom St. Paul preaches are people who before God have no case, so that the assurances of the prophet and the psalmists are nothing to them. Of course there is such a thing as a New Covenant, and it is possible for those who are within it to appropriate these Old Testament texts; there is, for example, a clear instance of such appropriation in the First Epistle of John 1:9:
‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’
In other words, He is true to the obligations of His covenant with us in Christ. These glorious Old Testament Scriptures, therefore, are not without their meaning for the New, or their influence in it; but it is a complete mistake, and it has been the source of the most far-reaching and disastrous confusion, to try to deduce from them the Pauline conception of the righteousness of God. And it must be repeated that in such interpretations, as in those already referred to, there is again wanting any sense of a problem such as St. Paul is undoubtedly grappling with, and any attempt to define explicitly and intelligibly the relation between the righteousness of God, conceived as it is here conceived, and the propitiation in the blood of Christ. Indeed, it is not too much to say that for St. Paul there is no such thing as a δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ except through the propitiation; whereas here the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is fully explained, with no reference to the propitiation whatever.
(3) It is worth while to refer to one particular construction of the passage, in which an attempt is made to keep the same sense of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ throughout, and at the same time to do justice to the problem which is obviously involved. It is that which is given by Dr. Seeberg of Dorpat in his book, Der Tod Christi. Seeberg as a writer is not distinguished either by lucidity or conciseness, but, put briefly, his interpretation is as follows: Righteousness means acting according to one’s proper norm, doing what one ought to do. God’s proper norm, the true rule of action for Him, is that He should institute and maintain fellowship with men. He would not be righteous if He did not do so; He would fail of acting in His proper character. Now, in setting forth Christ as a propitiation, God does what the circumstances require if fellowship is to be instituted and maintained between Himself and sinful men; and it is in this sense that the propitiation manifests or demonstrates His righteousness. It shows God not unrighteous, not false to Himself and to the true norm of His action, as He would have been if in the face of sin He had simply let the idea of fellowship with man go; but manifesting Himself as a righteous God, who is true to Himself and to His norm most signally and conspicuously in this, that over sin and in spite of it He takes means to secure that fellowship between Himself and men shall not finally lapse. This is ingenious and attractive, though whether the conception of the righteousness of God from which it starts would have been recognized by St. Paul or by any Scripture writer is another matter; but apart from this, it obviously leaves a question unanswered, on the answer to which a great deal depends. That question is, What is the means which God takes to secure fellowship with sinful men, i.e., to act toward them in a way which does justice to Himself? It is implied in Seeberg’s whole argument that sin does create a problem for God; something has to be done, where sinful men are concerned, before fellowship with God can be taken for granted; and that something God actually does when He sets forth Christ a propitiation, through faith in His blood. The question, therefore, is — if we are going to think seriously at all — What is the propitiation, or more precisely, How is the propitiation to be defined in relation to the sin of the world, in view of which God provided it, that He might be able still to maintain fellowship with man?
This is a question which, so far as I am able to follow him, Seeberg never distinctly answers. He says that God set forth Christ in His blood as ‘ein solches . . . welches durch den Glauben ein suhnhaft wirkendes ist’ (a thing or power of such a sort that through faith it comes to have an atoning efficacy).5050Der Tod Christi, p. 187. He refuses to explain the propitiatory character of Christ’s death by regarding it as sacrificial; he refuses to explain it as in any sense vicarious; neither of these ideas, according to him, is supported by St. Paul. What St. Paul taught was rather this. Christ comprehended in Himself the whole human race, as Adam did (this idea St. Paul is supposed to have borrowed from the Jewish doctrine of original sin); and through the death of Christ humanity has suffered that which the holy God in grace claimed from it as the condition of its entering again into fellowship with Him. As the Holy One, He has made this re-entrance dependent upon death, and as the Gracious One He has consented to be satisfied with that suffering of death which He has made possible for humanity in Christ.5151Ibid. p. 286. It is not easy to regard this as real thinking. It does not set the death of Christ in any real relation to the problem with which the apostle is dealing. The suffering of death is that which God in His grace is pleased to claim from the sinful race as the condition of restored fellowship, and He has been further pleased to accept as satisfying this condition that particular suffering of death which Christ endured, and which can be reproduced in individuals through faith; but everything is of mere good pleasure, there is no rational necessity at any point. One can only repeat it, this is a medium in which thinking is impossible, and it is not the medium in which St. Paul’s mind moved. It was not an arbitrary appointment of God that made the death of Christ ἱλαστήριον; it was the essential relation, in all human experience, of death and sin. Christ died for our sins, because it is in death that the divine judgment on sin is finally expressed. Once we put law and necessity out of the relations between Christ’s death and our sin, we dismiss the very possibility of thinking on the subject; we may use words about it, but they are words without meaning. It is a significant feature of all such explanations, to call them so, of Christ’s death, that they do not bring it into any real relation to the Christian’s freedom from the law, or to the controversies which raged round this in the Pauline churches; and this is only one of the ways in which it, appears that though using certain Pauline words they have gone off the rails of Pauline thought. The passage in Romans becomes simple as soon as we read it in the light of those we have already examined in 2 Corinthians and in Galatians. It is Christ set forth in His blood who is a propitiation; that is, it is Christ who died. In dying, as St. Paul conceived it, He made our sin His own; He took it on Himself as the reality which it is in God’s sight and to God’s law: He became sin, became a curse for us. It is this which gives His death a propitiatory character and power; in other words, which makes it possible for God to be at once righteous and a God who accepts as righteous those who believe in Jesus. He is righteous, for in the death of Christ His law is honored by the Son who takes the sin of the world to Himself as all that it is to God; and He can accept as righteous those who believe in Jesus, for in so believing sin becomes to them what it is to Him. I do not know any word which conveys the truth of this if ‘vicarious’ or ‘substitutionary’ does not, nor do I know any interpretation of Christ’s death which enables us to regard it as a demonstration of love to sinners, if this vicarious or substitutionary character is denied.
There is much preaching about Christ’s death which fails to be a preaching of Christ’s death, and therefore to be in the full sense of the term gospel preaching, because it ignores this. The simplest hearer feels that there is something irrational in saying that the death of Christ is a great proof of love to the sinful, unless there is shown at the same time a rational connection between that death and the responsibilities which sin involves, and from which that death delivers. Perhaps one should beg pardon for using so simple an illustration, but the point is a vital one, and it is necessary to be clear. If I were sitting on the end of the pier, on a summer day, enjoying the sunshine and the air, and some one came along and jumped into the water and got drowned ‘to prove his love for me,’ I should find it quite unintelligible. I might be much in need of love, but an act in no rational relation to any of my necessities could not prove it. But if I had fallen over the pier and were drowning, and some one sprang into the water, and at the cost of making my peril, or what but for him would be my fate, his own, saved me from death, then I should say, ‘Greater love hath no man than this.’ I should say it intelligibly, because there would be an intelligible relation between the sacrifice which love made and the necessity from which it redeemed. Is it making any rash assumption to say that there must be such an intelligible relation between the death of Christ — the great act in which His love to sinners is demonstrated — and the sin of the world for which in His blood He is the propitiation? I do not think so. Nor have I yet seen any intelligible relation established between them except that which is the key to the whole of New Testament teaching, and which bids us say, as we look at the Cross, He bore our sins, He died our death. It is so His love constrains us. Accepting this interpretation, we see that the whole secret of Christianity is contained in Christ’s death, and in the believing abandonment of the soul to that death in faith. It is from Christ’s death, and the love which it demonstrates, that all Christian inferences are drawn. Once this is accepted, everything else is easy and is secure.
‘When we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; much more then being justified now in His blood shall we be saved through Him from the wrath. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved in His life’ (Romans 5: 8 ff.).
The much more implies that in comparison with this primary, this incredibly great proof of God’s love, everything else may be taken for granted. It is the same argument which is employed again in chap. 8:32:
‘He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?’
And as it includes everything else on the part of God, so does it also on the part of man. The propitiatory death of Christ, as an all-transcending demonstration of love, evokes in sinful souls a response which is the whole of Christianity. The love of Christ constraineth us: whoever can say that can say all that is to be said about the Christian life.
This is not the way in which St. Paul’s gospel is usually represented now. Since Pfleiderer’s first book on Paulinism was translated, some thirty years ago, it has become almost an axiom with many writers on this subject, that the apostle has two doctrines of reconciliation — a juridical and an ethico-mystical one. There is, on the one hand, the doctrine that Christ died for us, in a sense like that which has just been explained; and on the other, the doctrine that in a mystical union with Christ effected by faith we ethically die with Him and live with Him — this dying with Christ and living with Him, or in Him, being the thing we call salvation.
What the relation of the two doctrines is to each other is variously represented. Sometimes they are added together, as by Weiss, as though in spite of their independence justice had to be done to both in the work of man’s salvation a doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ who died for us finding its indispensable supplement in a doctrine of spiritual regeneration through baptism, in which we are vitally united to Christ in His death and resurrection. Weiss holds that it is not Pauline to say that the fellowship of life with Christ is established by faith; it is only established, according to his view, by baptism.5252Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments, Section 84 b. (English Translation, 1. p. 456 ff.). But Paul, it is safe to say, was incapable of divorcing his thoughts so completely from reality as to represent the matter thus. He was not pedantically interpreting a text, he was expounding an experience; and there is nothing in any Christian experience answering to this dead or inert justification by faith, which has no relation to the new life, nor again is there anything in Christian experience like this new life which is added by baptism to the experience of justification by faith, but does not spring out of it. It is a moral wrong to any serious-minded person to construe his words in this way. Ritschl does not add the two sides of the Pauline gospel together as Weiss does. For him they stand side by side in the apostle, and though salvation is made equally dependent on the one and the other they are never combined. Romans sixth has nothing to do with Romans third. The conception of the new life, derived from union to Christ in His death and resurrection, is just as indifferent to justification by faith, as the representation of Christ’s death in the sixth chapter of Romans is to the sacrificial representation of the same thing in the third. The new life or active righteousness of the sixth chapter bears the same name as the divine righteousness of the third, but materially they have nothing in common, and the diversity of their contents stands in no relation to the origination of the one from the other.5353Rechtf u. Versohnung, 2. pp. 338 f. Ritschl says it is for dogmatic, not biblical, theology to define the problem created by these two ways of salvation and the apparent contradiction between them — and to attempt its solution; and Holtzmann is disposed to censure Weiss for overlooking this, and attempting an adjustment in his Biblical Theology of the New Testament.5454Neut. Theologie, 2. p. 141. But this is manifestly unfair to St. Paul. The apostle knew nothing about the distinctions which Theological Encyclopaedia draws between biblical and dogmatic; he was a man of intellectual force and originality engaged in thinking out a redeeming and regenerative experience, and the presumption surely is that his thought will represent somehow the consistency and unity of his experience. If it does so, it is for his interpreters to make the fact clear without troubling themselves whether the result is to be labeled biblical or dogmatic. There are too many people who refuse to take biblical theology seriously, because it is incoherent, and who refuse to take dogmatic seriously, because its consistency is artificially produced by suppressing the exuberant variety of the New Testament. Perhaps if New Testament experience had justice done to it, the incoherence of New Testament thinking would not be so obvious. Holtzmann himself attempts to find points of contact, or lines of connection, or to borrow from another field an expression of Dr. Fairbairn’s, ‘developmental coincidences’ between the two gospels, though in a haphazard way; ideas like πίστις πνεῦμα, and ἀπολύτρωσις, it is pointed out, find a place in the unfolding of both.5555Ibid. 2. p. 137 ff.
In spite of such high authorities, I venture to put in a plea for the coherence of St. Paul. If we found the one theory, as it is called, at one period of his life, and the other at another, there might be a prima facie case for inconsistency; but when both are set out in full detail, in a definite sequence, in the same letter, and that the most systematic of all the apostle’s writings, and one which aims unambiguously at exhibiting his gospel as a whole, the presumption is all the other way. There are cases in which it is fallacious to say post hoc, ergo propter hoc, but this is not one. There could not be a greater mistake than to assume that in the sixth chapter of Romans St. Paul makes a new beginning, forgetting all that he has said, and meeting objections to that gospel which we have been expounding by introducing ideas which have no relation to it, and which may indeed be described as a correction of it, or a supplement to it, or a substitute for it, but which are in no sense whatever a vindication of it. A vindication of it is clearly what St. Paul means to give, and we are bound to assume that he saw what he was doing. He had preached that sinful men are justified freely through faith in Jesus set forth by God as a propitiation in His blood, and his adversaries had brought against this gospel the accusation that it tempted to and even justified continuance in sin. What is his answer? To begin with, it is an expression of moral horror at the suggestion. μὴ γένοιτο! But, in the next place, it is a demonstration of the inconsistency of such a line of action with what is involved in justification. ‘Men who like us died to sin, how shall we still live in it?’ (Romans 6:2).
Why should it be taken for granted that ‘dying to sin’ is a new idea here, on a new plane, an idea which startles one who has been following only that interpretation of justification which we find in Romans chs. 3-5? It may be a new idea to a man who takes the point of view of St. Paul’s opponents, and who does not know what it is to be justified through faith in the propitiation which is in Christ’s death; but it is not a new idea to the apostle, nor to any one who has received the reconciliation he preaches; nor would he be offering any logical defense of his gospel if it were a new idea. But it is no new idea at all; it is Christ dying for sin — St. Paul reminds the objectors to his doctrine — it is Christ dying our death on the tree, who evokes the faith by which we become right with God; and the faith which He evokes answers to what He is and to what He does: it is faith which has a death to sin in it. Of course, if Christ’s death were not what it has been described to be, it would be nothing to us; it would evoke no faith at all; but being what it has been described to be, the faith which is the response to it is a faith which inevitably takes moral contents and quality from it. The very same experience in which a man becomes right with God — that is, the experience of faith in Christ who died for sins — is an experience in which he becomes a dead man, so far as sin is concerned, a living man (though this is but the same thing in other words), so far as God is concerned. As long as faith is at its normal tension the life of sin is inconceivable. For faith is an attitude and act of the soul in which the whole being is involved, and it is determined through and through by its object. This, I repeat, is what is given in experience to the man who believes in Christ as St. Paul preaches Him in Romans 3:25 f., and this is the ethical justification of his gospel. What is fundamental here is Christ in the character of propitiation, Christ bearing our sin in His death, it is this Christ and no other who draws us in faith to Himself, so that in and through faith His death and life become ours. The forensic theory of atonement, as it is called, is not unrelated to the ethico-mystical; it is not parallel to it; it is not a mistaken ad hominem or rather ad Pharisaeum mode of thought which ought to be displaced by the other; it has the essential eternal truth in it by which and by which alone the experiences are generated in which the strength of the other is supposed to lie. I do not much care for the expression ‘mystical union’ with Christ, for it has been much abused, and in St. Paul especially has led to much hasty misconstruction of the New Testament; but if we are to use it at all, we must say that it is something which is not a substitute for, but the fruit of, the vicarious death of Christ. It owes its very being to that atonement outside of us, that finished work of Christ, which some would use it to discredit. And it is because this is so, that St. Paul can use it, so far as he does so, not to replace, or to supplement, or to correct, but to vindicate and show the moral adequacy of his doctrine of justification. Of course, in the last resort, the objection brought against St. Paul’s gospel can only be practically refuted. It must be lived down, not argued down; hence the hortatory tone of Romans 6. But the new life is involved in the faith evoked by the sin-bearing death of Christ, and in nothing else; it is involved in this, and this is pictorially presented in baptism. Hence the use which St. Paul makes of this sacrament in the same chapter. He is able to use it in his argument in the way he does because baptism and faith are but the outside and the inside of the same thing. If baptism, then, is symbolically inconsistent with continuance in sin, as is apparent to every one, faith is really inconsistent with it. But faith is relative to the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, the divine justification which is St. Paul’s gospel, and therefore that gospel in turn is beyond moral reproach.5656For a fuller treatment of this point, see article in Expositor, October 1901, ‘The Righteousness of God and the New Life.’ The true connection of the apostle’s ideas is perfectly put in the glorious lines of that great mystic, St. Bernard —
Propter mortem quam tulisti
Quando pro me defecisti;
Cordis mei cor dilectum
In te meum fer affectum!
As a comment on the connection between Romans 3-5 and Romans 6-8 — on the relation of the substitution of Christ to ethical identification with Him — of Christ for us to Christ in us or we in Him — this for truth and power will never be surpassed. But blot out the first two lines, and the inspiration of the third and fourth is gone. Precisely so, if we blot out the ‘forensic’ gospel of St. Paul we shall find that the ‘ethico-mystical’ one has the breath of its life withdrawn.
It is possible to go more into detail here on lines suggested by St. Paul himself. Christ died our death on the cross, and the faith which that death evokes has a death in it also. But how are we to interpret this? By relation to what are we to define the death which is involved in faith? We may define it by relation to anything by relation to which Christ’s death has been defined. Thus, following the apostle, we can say that the death involved in faith is
(1) a death to sin. Christ’s death on the cross was a death to sin, the apostle tells us, in the sense that it introduced Him to a condition in which He had no longer any responsibility in relation to it (Romans 6:10). He had assumed the responsibility of it in love, but He had also discharged it, and sin had no claim on Him further. For us, dying to sin may seem to have a different meaning; it is not only a discharge from its responsibilities that is wanted, but a deliverance from its power. But this can only come on the foundation of the other; it is the discharge from the responsibilities of sin involved in Christ’s death and appropriated in faith, which is the motive power in the daily ethical dying to sin. It really is such a motive power, and the only one in the world, when we realize what it is. But just as death to the law — to anticipate for a moment another experience involved in faith in the death of Christ — needs to be realized by ceaseless vigilance against all that would enslave the conscience, and against everything in our nature that makes us seek external supports, and authorities to relieve us of the responsibility of becoming a law to ourselves under the constraint of the cross, so must death to sin also be realized by moral effort. It is involved in faith, so far as the principle and the motive power are concerned; the man who plants his whole hope in the revelation of God made in Christ the propitiation is a man who in the act and for the time is taking sin, death, the law, and the judgment of God, as all that they are to Christ; that is, he is owning sin, and disowning it utterly; acknowledging it as unreservedly in all its responsibility, and separating himself as entirely from it, as Christ did when He died. Such faith, involving such a relation to sin as can be called a death to it, covers the whole life, and is a moral guarantee for it; yet the death to sin which is lodged in it has to be carried out in a daily mortification of evil, the initial crucifixion with Christ in a daily crucifixion of the passions and lusts.
(2) It may even be said more specifically that the death involved in faith is a death to the flesh. This is the point of the difficult passage in Romans 8:3 f. St. Paul is there describing the way of salvation from sin, and says that the law was impotent in the matter owing to the flesh. The flesh virtually means sin in its constitutional and instinctive character — sin as the nature or the second nature of man, it does not here matter which.
What the law could not do God took another way of doing. He sent His Son in the likeness of flesh of sin, and as a sin-offering, and in so doing condemned sin in the flesh. ὁμοίωμα here no doubt emphasizes Christ’s likeness to us: it is not meant to suggest difference or unreality in His nature. He was all that we are, short of sin. Yet He came in connection with sin, or as a sin-offering, and it is through this that we must interpret the expression, condemned sin in the flesh.’ It does not mean that Christ showed sin to be inexcusable, by Himself leading a sinless life; there is no salvation, no emancipation from sin in that. The condemnation is the act of God, and in sending His own Son in connection with sin — which must mean in the one connection with it which St. Paul ever refers to, i.e. as a propitiation for it — God condemned it in the flesh. His judgment came on it in the death which Christ died in our nature, and with that judgment its right and its power in our nature came to an end. I say its right and its power, for the things are related. Until the responsibilities involved in sin have been fully acknowledged and met, as they are acknowledged and met in the death of Christ, its power remains; to express the truth psychologically, until sin is expiated, the sinner has a bad conscience, and as long as a man has a bad conscience, he cannot begin to be a good man. It is because Christ’s death deals effectually with the responsibility of sin, and puts right with God the man who believes in Him, that it can do for our nature what law could never do — break sin’s power. Weiss and others have argued that it is a mistake to find here the idea of expiation: the context is interested only in the moral deliverance from evil. But from the point of view of St. Paul, this is not a reasonable objection — it is setting the end against the means. He knew by experience that sin could only have its power broken by being expiated, and that is precisely what he teaches here. Only, he gives it a peculiar turn. The fact that expiation has been made through Christ’s death for sin in the very nature which we wear, is used to bring out the idea that in that nature, at all events, sin can have no indefeasible right and no impregnable seat. The death involved in faith in Christ is a death not only to sin generally, but to sin in the constitutional and virulent character suggested by the flesh. But like the other ‘deaths,’ this one too needs to be morally realized. ‘Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.’
(3) Further, the death involved in faith is repeatedly defined by St. Paul as a death to the law, or to law in general (Galatians 2:19; Romans 6:14 and 7:4). There is undoubtedly something paradoxical in this, and it is the point at which St. Paul’s gospel, from the beginning, was most misunderstood and most assailed. On the one hand, when Christ died, justice was done to the law of God, both as an imperative and as a condemning law, as it had never been done before. The will of God had been honored by a life of perfect obedience, and the awful experience of death in which God’s inexorable judgment on sin comes home to the conscience had been borne in the same obedience and love by His sinless Son. On the other hand, when this death evokes the faith for which it appeals, the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in the believer; the law gets its clue in his life also, or, as the apostle puts it, it is established by faith. How is it, then, that faith involves a death to the law? It is through the assurance, given to faith at the cross, that so far as doing the will of God is concerned, a new and living way has been found. It is not the law in its old legal form — the law of statutory injunctions and prohibitions — which is to generate goodness in sinful man; it is the law glorified in the atonement. The whole inspiration of the Christian life lies here, and it is an inspiration, not a statutory requirement. Nothing is to count in the life of a Christian which does not come with perfect freedom from this source. This explains the extraordinary emphasis which St. Paul everywhere lays on liberty. Liberty is the correlative of responsibility; man must be perfectly free that the whole weight of his responsibilities may come upon him. But this weight of responsibility cannot be faced, and would not sanctify even if it could be faced, in vacuo; it can be faced only when we know God in Christ crucified; and it does sanctify, when the constraint of the atonement, with its awful homage, to the holiness of God, descends upon the heart. But this is all that is required, for this is too great to be compromised by alliance with anything else. Perfect freedom, with entire responsibility to the Redeemer — the obligation to be a law to oneself, with the power of Christ’s passion resting upon the spirit — that is the death to law which St. Paul contemplates. No statutes, no traditions of men, no dogmata, intellectual or moral, no scruples in the consciences of others, are to have legal obligations for us any longer. Not even the letters written by the finger of God on the tables of stone constitute a legal obligation for the Christian. All that he is to be must come freely out of the atoning death of Christ. He is dead to the law — in the widest sense of the word, he is dead to law — through the body of Christ. From this freedom we are always being tempted to relapse. We are always establishing for ourselves, or letting others impose upon us, customs — whether intellectual, as creeds; or ethical, as the conventional ways of being charitable or of worshipping God — which though good in themselves, tend to corrupt the world just because they are customs — in other words, we are always tacitly denying that the death of Christ does full justice to law in every sense of the term, and that for those who believe in it law exists henceforth only in the divine glory of the atonement, and in the life which it inspires.
It may seem astonishing that in all this no reference has been made to the Spirit, but the omission, I think, can be justified.5757For a fuller treatment of the Spirit and the New Life, see article in Expositor, December 1901. For one thing, St. Paul himself discusses the whole subject of the Christian’s death with Christ, as involved in Christ’s death and the Christian’s faith in it, without reference to the Spirit. The Spirit is not mentioned in the sixth chapter of Romans. I do not say it is not implied — for instance, in the allusions to baptism; but it is implied in all that the apostle says; it is not implied as something to be added to it. Theologically, the Spirit is the divine correlative of faith, and of the dying with Christ and living with Christ, of which we have been speaking; it is the power of God which is manifested in every Christian experience whatever. It is not something specifically divine which comes in through baptism and has no relation to faith and justification; it is related in the same way to all; it is the divine factor in all that restores man to, and maintains him in, the life of God. But the Spirit does not work in vacuo. He glorifies Christ. He works through the propitiation, interpreting, revealing, applying it; and when we talk of the Spirit as an abstractly supernatural power, a power of God not working through the gospel and its appeal to the reason, conscience, and will of man, we are not on Christian ground. Without the Spirit — that is, without God — all that has been said about the meaning of Christ’s death could not win upon men; but just because the action of the Spirit is implied as the correlative of faith at every point, it is illegitimate to call it in to explain one Christian experience more than another — for instance, to derive regeneration from it, or the new life, but not justification. Either Spirit or Faith may truly be said to be co-extensive with Christianity, and therefore they are co-extensive with each other. But if we are speaking of the new moral life of the Christian, and ask what we mean by the Spirit psychologically — that is, what form it takes as an experience — I should say it is indistinguishable from that infinite assurance of God’s love, given in Christ’s death, through which the Christian is made more than conqueror in all the difficulties of life, inward or external. It is with this assurance the Spirit is connected when St. Paul opens his discussion of the subject in Romans 5:5:
‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us.’
It is with this same assurance he concludes his discussion, ch. 8:35: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of God?’ The triumphant certainty of this love, a certainty always recurring to and resting on that miracle of miracles, the sin-bearing death of Christ, is the same thing as joy in the Holy Spirit, and it is this joy which is the Christian’s strength. From the Spirit, then, or from the love of God as an assured possession, the Christian life may equally be explained. And it is not another, but the same explanation, when we say that it is begotten and sustained from beginning to end by the virtue which dwells in the propitiatory death of Jesus.
(4) When we come to the epistles of the Imprisonment a new range seems to be given to Christ’s death, and to the work of reconciliation which is accomplished in it. This holds, at least, of the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians; so far as Philippians is concerned, we find ourselves in the same circle of ideas as in Galatians and Romans. The close parallel, indeed, of Philippians 3:9 f. with the exposition of the apostolic gospel in these earlier letters is a striking proof of the tenacity and consistency of St. Paul’s thought. But in Colossians we are confronted with a new situation. ‘The world’ which is the object of reconciliation is no longer as in 2 Corinthians 5:19, or Romans 319, the world of sinful men; it is a world on a grander scale.
‘God has been pleased through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross, through Him, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven’ (Colossians 1:20).
The reconciliation of sinful men is represented as though it were only a part of this vaster work.
‘And you,’ it is added, ‘who were once estranged, and enemies in mind by wicked works, He has now reconciled in the body of His flesh through death’ (1:21 f.).
The same ideas are found in the Epistle to the Ephesians (1:7 ff.). Here we start with the historical Christ, ‘in whom we have our redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of our trespasses’; but when the mystery of Christ’s work is revealed to the Christian intelligence, it is seen to have as its end ‘the gathering together in one of all things in Him, both things in (or above) the heavens and things on the earth’ (1:10). This enlargement of the scope of Christ’s death, or, if we prefer to call it so, this extension of its virtue into regions where we cannot speak of it from experience, has sometimes had a disconcerting effect, and the bearings of it are not quite clear. It is argued by some, who naturally wish to be as precise as possible in interpreting their author, that ‘the things in heaven and the things on earth,’ which are referred to in the passages just quoted, must be spiritual beings; only such can be the objects of reconciliation, for only such can have estranged themselves from God by sin. But where do we find the idea of any such estrangement in Scripture, except in the case of disobedient angels to whom the idea of reconciliation is never applied? For answer we are pointed to various passages in the Old and the New Testament, not to mention Jewish literature outside, in which there is the conception of spiritual beings whose fortunes are somehow bound up with those of men. Thus in Isaiah 24:21, a late passage in which apocalypse begins to displace prophecy, we read,
‘It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth.’
The two sets of persons here referred to somehow correspond to each other; there is a counter-part in the unseen world of the characters and fortunes visible on earth. Again, in the book of Daniel we hear of ‘the prince of the kingdom of Persia’ (ch. 10: 13), ‘the prince of Grecia’ (10: 20), and ‘your prince’ (10: 21), meaning the prince of the children of Israel, the princes, as the name Michael in 10:21 shows, being in all cases angelic beings, who in some way or other were identified with the nations, representing them in the unseen world, pleading their cause, fighting their battles, and mysteriously involved in their fortunes. It is something quite analogous to this that we find in the early chapters of Revelation, where the epistles of the risen Lord are addressed to the angels of the churches. The angel is not a bishop; he is, so to speak, the personification of the church in the world unseen; the spiritual counterpart of it, conceived as a person on whom its character and responsibilities will be visited somehow. It is the same idea, with an individual application, that we find in our Lord’s word about the angels of the little ones, who in heaven do always behold the face of His heavenly Father (Matthew 18:10), and again in the book of Acts (12:15), where the people who would not believe that Peter had been released from prison said, ‘It is his angel.’ On such a background of Jewish belief the interpretation of these passages has been essayed. It is not man only, we are asked to believe, who has been involved in sin, and in the alienation from God which is its consequence; the sin of man has consequences which reach far beyond man himself. It stretches downward through nature, which has been made subject to vanity because of it, and it stretches upward into a spiritual world which we may not be able to realize, but which, like nature, is compromised somehow by our sin, and entangled in our responsibility to God. For these higher beings, then, as well as for man, Christ has done His reconciling work, and when it is finished they as well as we will be gathered together in one in Him.
It would perhaps be going too far to say that there is nothing in this, and that no such ideas ever floated vaguely before the apostle’s imagination. The people to whom he wrote believed in ‘thrones and dominions and principalities and powers’; and although there is a touch of indifference, not to say scorn, in some of his own allusions to the high-sounding names — for instance, in Ephesians 1:22 f. — they had some sort of reality for the too. There are passages like Colossians 2:15, or those in which he refers to τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου (Galatians 4:3 and Colossians 2:8), where he seems to connect the spiritual beings in question with the angels through whom the law was given (Galatians 3:19, Acts 7:53 and Galatians 2:2), and to represent the superseding of Judaism by Christianity as a victory of Jesus over these inferior but refractory powers to whom for a while the administration of human affairs, and especially of the immature, materialistic and legal stages of religion had been committed. But if he had definitely held such a view as has just been expounded, the probabilities are that it would have told more decidedly on his thinking, and found less ambiguous expression in his writings. He could not, for example, have given that complete account of his gospel — of the need for a righteousness of God, of the provision of it, and of the vindication of it — which he does give in Romans 1-8, without so much as alluding to these vaguely conceived beings.5858Romans 8:38 f. does not refute this, for the apostle’s exposition of his thoughts is already complete, and this is an emotional utterance in which there is no more need or possibility of defining Christ’s death by relation to angels and principalities and powers, than by relation to abstractions like height and depth. The only thought in the passage is that God’s love in Christ is the final reality from which nothing can separate the believer. At best they could belong only to the quasi-poetical representation of his faith, not to the gospel which he preached on the basis of experience, nor to the theology or philosophy which was its intellectual expression. And when we look at the epistles of the Captivity generally, our minds are rather drawn in another direction. The enlarged scope of the work of reconciliation is part of that expansion, so to speak, of Christ’s person from a historical to a cosmical significance which is characteristic of these epistles as a whole. Christ is no longer a second Adam, the head of a new humanity, as in the earlier letters (Romans 5:12 ff. and 1 Corinthians 15:45 ff.); He is the center of the universe. He is a person so great that St. Paul is obliged to reconstruct His whole world around Him. He is the primary source of all creation, its principle of unity, its goal (Colossians 1:15 ff.). In consistency with this, the meaning and efficacy of what He has done extends through it all. His Person and work have absolute significance; wherever we have to speak of revelation or of reconciliation, in whatever world, in whatever relations, it is of Him we have to speak. Whether St. Paul would have presented this genuinely Christian truth to his imagination in the somewhat fantastic fashion just explained may be more or less doubtful; in any case it is of little consequence. What is of consequence is his conviction that in Jesus Christ dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead — all that makes God in the full sense of the term God — bodily, that is, in organic unity and completeness; and that the same completeness and finality belong to His reconciling work, ‘The blood of His cross’: It is in this we find the resolution of all discords, not only in the life of man, but in the universe at large. It is in this we see a divine love which does not shrink from taking on itself to the uttermost the moral responsibility for the world it has made, and for all the orders of being in it, and all their failures and fortunes. The eternal truth of this different ages and circumstances will picture to themselves in different ways; all we need to care for is that ways of picturing it which are uncongenial to our imaginations do not deprive us of the truth itself.
It is a smaller but not a less attractive application of the idea of reconciliation, as accomplished in Christ’s death, when we find it in the second chapter of Ephesians as the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in the one body of Christ (vv. 11-22). The application may to us seem casual, but this is one of the great thoughts of St. Paul. ‘Is God a God of Jews only?’ he asks in Romans 3:29 as he contemplates Christ set forth as a propitiation in His blood. Is the great appeal of the Cross one which is intelligible only to men of a single race, or to which only those who have had a particular training can respond? On the contrary, there is nothing in the world so universally intelligible as the Cross; and hence it is the meeting-place not only of God and man, but of all races and conditions of men with each other. There is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, there. The Cross is the basis of a universal religion, and has in it the hope of a universal peace. But of all Christian truths which are confessed in words, this is that which is most outrageously denied in deed. There is not a Christian church nor a Christian nation in the world which believes heartily in the Atonement as the extinction of privilege, and the leveling up of all men to the same possibility of life in Christ, to the same calling to be saints. The spirit of privilege, in spite of the Cross, is obstinately rooted everywhere even among Christian men.
An examination of the pastoral epistles, quite apart from the critical questions that have been raised as to their authorship, does not introduce us to any new ideas on our subject. It is at all events genuinely Pauline when we read in 1 Timothy 2:5,
‘There is one God, one Mediator also between God and men, Himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all (ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων).’
It is the ransoming death in virtue of which Jesus does mediate between God and sinners; but for it, He would not be a mediator in any sense relevant to man’s situation. This, as Holtzmann has noticed, is in harmony with the use of mediator in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There also Jesus is Mediator, but it is of a covenant which is characterized as κρείττων, καινή, and νέα; He is the means through which, at the cost of His death, sinners enter into the perfect religious relation to God. But though this idea is found in Hebrews, it does not follow that it is unpauline in itself, nor even (though ἀντίλυτρον found here only in the New Testament) that it is unpauline in expression. The dying with Christ, referred to in 2 Timothy 2:6, is akin rather to what we have found in 2 Corinthians chs. 1 and 4 than to Romans 6: it is a share in martyr sufferings which is meant, not for many the mortification of the old man. In Titus there are two passages which require to be mentioned. The first is in ch. 2:14, where we read of our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all unrighteousness (ἀνομίας) and purify for Himself a people of His own, zealous of good works.’ It is somewhat peddling to suggest, as Holtzmann does,5959Neut. Theologie, 2. 265 f. that Paul would rather have said we were redeemed from νόμος than from ἀνομία, and that even in touching on a Pauline thought an unpauline expression is used (λυτρώσηται for ‘redeem’). The whole expression, λυτροῦσθαι as well as ἀνομία, comes from Psalm 130:8, and St. Paul might have liberty to quote the Old Testament as well as anybody else. Nevertheless, the general impression one gets from the pastoral epistles is, that as a doctrine Christianity was now complete and could be taken for granted; it is not in process of being hammered out, as in the Epistle to the Galatians; there is nothing creative in the statement of it; and it is the combination of fullness and of something not unlike formalism that raises doubts as to the authorship. St. Paul was inspired, but the writer of these epistles is sometimes only orthodox. One feels this with reference to the second passage in Titus (3:4 ff.):
‘When the kindness of God our Savior, and His love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior that, being justified by His grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’
St. Paul could no doubt have said all this, but probably he would have said it otherwise, and not all at a time. In any case, it adds nothing to the New Testament teaching on the death of Christ as we have already examined it.
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