|« Prev||§ I. Saul of Tarsus. His Preparation and…||Next »|
§ I. Saul of Tarsus. His Preparation and Conversion.
EVERY great truth which is to win a triumphant way must become incarnate in some one man, and derive from a living, fervent heart that passion and power which constrain and subdue. So long as it remains in the cold region of mere ideas it exercises no mighty influence over mankind. The truths of religion are not exceptions to this law. God, therefore, prepared a man who was to represent, in the primitive Church, the great cause of the emancipation of Christianity, and whose mission it was to free it completely from the bonds of the synagogue. This man was St. Paul, and never had noble truth a nobler organ. He brought to its service an heroic heart, in which fervent love was joined to indomitable courage, and a mind equally able to rise to the loftiest heights of speculation and to penetrate into the deepest recesses of the human soul. All these great qualities were enhanced by absolute devotedness to Jesus Christ, and a self-abnegation such as, apart from the sacrifice of the Redeemer, has had no parallel upon earth. His life was one perpetual offering up of himself. His sufferings have contributed, no less than his indefatigable activity, 96to the triumph of his principles. Standing ever in the breach for their defense—subject to most painful contradictions, not only from the Jews, but from his brethren—execrated by his own nation—maligned by a fanatic and intolerant section of the Church, and threatened with death by those Gentiles whose claims he so boldly advocated—he suffered as scarcely any other has suffered in the service of truth; but he left behind a testimony most weighty and powerful, every word sealed with the seal of the martyr. Paul was the first missionary to the Gentile world, and he thus effectually inaugurated the universal triumph of Christianity. It was needful that the door of the Church should be opened to the thousands of proselytes from Corinth, Athens, Ephesus, and Rome, who came up to it and knocked. But the great Apostle of the Gentiles was not satisfied with this irresistible argument from facts; he added to it reasoning equally able and eloquent, and, armed with dialectics perfectly adapted to the habits of mind of his opponents, he victoriously established his principles.
The epistles in which these reasonings have in part come down to us, bear on every page the impress of his heart and mind; they show ns the whole man, and the very style depicts in vivid characters his moral physiognomy. His polemics are especially admirable, because with him a negation always leads to a weightier affirmation; he never destroys without replacing, and, like his Master, abolishes only by fulfilling. He is not only an incomparable dialectician in the subversion of error, but he is able also to discern all the consequences of a truth, and 97 to grasp its marrow and inner substance. This great controversialist is, therefore, at the same time, the first representative of that true Christian mysticism which St. John was so fully to develop. St. Paul triumphed over Judaism only by putting in its place Christianity in all its breadth and beauty. What holiness, strength, nobleness of character he displayed in the course of his ministry will appear as we trace his history. St. Paul is the type of the reformer in the Church; in every fresh struggle for the Church's freedom, his will be the track in which courageous Christians will follow. No true reformation can be wrought in any spirit other than that of Paul—a spirit equally removed from the timidity which preserves that which should be destroyed, and the rashness which destroys that which should be preserved.
When God is forming a powerful instrument for the accomplishment of his designs, the process of preparation is long and gradual. Every circumstance is brought to bear on the education of the chosen witness, and every experience, even of wrong and error, is made to enhance the power and completeness of the testimony rendered. When a man is called to effect some great religious reformation, it is important that he should himself have an experimental acquaintance with the order of things which he is to reverse or transform. The education of Paul the Pharisee, was to him what the convent of Erfurt was to Luther. It was well that he who was to break the yoke of Jewish legalism should himself have first suffered under its bondage. Thus, while the question of the emancipation of Christianity had 98 been stated by men belonging, like Stephen, to the most liberal section of Judaism—the Hellenist Jews—it was to receive its final solution from a man who had himself felt the full weight of the yoke.
Saul belonged to a Jewish family, rigidly attached to the sect of the Pharisees. His name, which signifies "The desired one," has led some commentators7979Neander, "Pflanzung," i, 138. to suppose that he, being born, like Samuel, after hope long delayed, was, like him, specially consecrated by his parents to the service of God, and, therefore, sent from his early childhood to Jerusalem to study the sacred writings in the most famous school of the age. However this may be, it is evident that his mind had a natural bent toward such studies. He may have received some intellectual development in his own city. Strabo tells us that literary and philosophical studies had been carried so far at Tarsus that the schools of Cilicia eclipsed those of Athens and of Alexandria.8080Strabo, "Geography," xiv, 5. It appears, however, from the evidence of Philostratus, that a light and rhetorical school of learning predominated at Tarsus; more attention was paid to brilliance of expression than to depth of philosophical thought.8181Philostratus, "Life of Apollonius of Tyana," i, 7. The life of the East there reveled in boundless luxury, and the corruption of manners reached its utmost length. The young Jew, endowed with a high-toned morality, may well have conceived a deep disgust for this pagan civilization; and these first impressions may have tended to develop in him an excessive attachment to the religion of his fathers.99
We may, probably, attribute to his abode at Tarsus the literary culture displayed in his writings. He familiarly quotes the Greek poets, and poets of the second order, such as Cleanthes, (Acts xvii, 28,) Menander, (1 Cor. xv, 33,) and Epimenides, (Titus i, 12.) According to the custom of the rabbis of the time, he had learned a manual trade, and as the Cicilian fabrics of goats' hair were famous for their strength, he had chosen the calling of a tent-maker.
Jerusalem was the place of his true education. He was placed in the school of Gamaliel, the most celebrated rabbi of his age. Acts xxii, 3. We know how fully the scholastic spirit was developed among the Jews at this period. To the schools of the prophets had succeeded the schools of the rabbis; the living productions of the Divine Spirit had been replaced by commentaries of minutest detail, and the sacred text seemed in danger of being completely overgrown by rabbinical glosses, as by a parasitic vegetation.
While an ingenious and learned school, formed at Alexandria, had contrived by a system of allegorical interpretation to infuse Platonism into the Old Testament, the school at Jerusalem had been growing increasingly rigid, and interdicted any such daring exegesis. It clung with fanatic attachment to the letter of the Scriptures, but, failing to comprehend the spirit, it sunk into all the puerilities of a narrow literalism. Its interpretations lacked both breadth and depth; it surrendered itself to the subtilties of purely verbal dialectics. Cleverly to combine texts—to suspend on a single word the thin threads of an ingenious argument—such was the sole concern of the 100rabbis. Gamaliel appears to have been the most skilled of all the doctors of the law. He is still venerated in Jewish tradition under the title of "Gamaliel the Aged." The "Mishna" quotes him as an authority. We are inclined to believe that he may have been less in bondage than the other doctors of his day to narrow literalism, and that he may have maintained a spirit more upright and elevated. His benevolent intervention on behalf of the Church at Jerusalem distinguishes him honorably from those implacable Jews, who were ready to defend their prejudices by bloody persecutions. The fact of his having had a disciple like Saul of Tarsus, who must have been through his whole life characterized by a grave moral earnestness, leads us to suppose a true superiority in the teaching of Gamaliel. He had not got beyond the stand-point of legalism, but this he at least presented in its unimpaired and unabated majesty. He was not a man to delude the conscience with subterfuges, and his disciples were therefore disposed to austerity of life, and were distinguished by a scrupulous fidelity to the religion of their fathers.
Saul of Tarsus embraced the teaching of his illustrious master with characteristic earnestness and ardor, and, it must be added, infused into it all the passionate vehemence belonging to his nature. At the feet of Gamaliel, he became practiced in those skillful dialectics which were the pride of the rabbinical schools, and he thus received from Judaism itself the formidable weapon with which he was afterward to deal it such mortal blows. Here he gained a profound knowledge of the Old Testament. Gifted with a strong and keen intellect, he in a few years acquired 101all the learning of his master. He thus amassed, without knowing it, precious materials for his future polemics; but his moral and religious development in this phase of his life is of more importance to us than his intellectual acquirements. With all his knowledge, he might have become, at the most, the first of Jewish doctors, surpassing even Gamaliel, and shedding some glory on the decadence of his people; but he could never have derived from that vast learning the spirit of the reformer, which was to make him immortal in the Church. It is in the depths of his inner life we must seek the distinctive character of his early piety; he has himself accurately described it when he says, that being "taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers," he "was zealous toward God." Acts xxii, 3. In other words, he carried into his exalted Judaism a truly religious spirit, and he was animated by a sincere desire to serve God. Herein was the germ of a possible transformation; and it was through this, his moral nature, that the transformation would subsequently be wrought.
In times of spiritual crisis, when mankind is breathlessly awaiting a great religious revolution, the common hope and expectation are manifested in two extremes of conduct. Some men openly abandon ancient forms: others cling to them with desperation, and demand from them with feverish impatience the satisfaction of the new cravings of their souls; their morbid excitement is in itself an evidence that they have not escaped the universal restlessness. They push to its furthest logical issues the principle in which they wish to believe; it is clear that they are 102themselves dissatisfied with its existing application, and seek in this way to appease their unquiet hearts. Such a cleaving to the past is, in truth, an aspiration after something beyond, an appeal for a new religious life. If we look closely at Saul of Tarsus while he is still a Pharisee, we shall discern in his manner of bearing the yoke a prophecy that he will one day cast it off. We find no likeness in him to those self-complacent Pharisees whose hypocrisy Christ painted in colors of fire. He does not seek to deceive God and men by vain forms, nor flatter his conscience that he has satisfied' the law when he has paid tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin. This young Jew is a zealous and scrupulous observer of all the ordinances of Moses; he receives them with all seriousness; he practices them with all sincerity and exactness. Let us listen to his own words: "I profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals (in years) in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." Gal. i, 14. He declares again that he was "as touching the law, blameless." Phil. iii, 6. A faithful, scrupulous, zealous observer of the law above all his contemporaries; such, then, was Paul. Who cannot discover beneath this extraordinary zeal the secret disquietude, the dull, oppressive uneasiness of which we have been speaking? In heart, Saul of Tarsus was seeking from Judaism that which it had not to give. He sought salvation in it; and salvation to him, as to every upright man upon whose soul there has never broken the bright light of divine forgiveness, could be nothing else than perfect conformity to the will of God. The law was precious in his eyes as the revelation of that will, 103and he strove to keep it under the awful sanction of the words, "Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Gal. iii, 10. Hence his restless eagerness, his extraordinary zeal, in the observance of all the commandments of Moses.
He seems to us, in some portions of his Epistles, to be recalling the memories of his early life. When he speaks of the powerlessness of legalism, he does not pause long on the development of the doctrine; his argument takes a dramatic and personal form. We feel that he is touching what were the live wounds of his soul before his conversion. The seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Romans is full of these sorrowful memories. When he depicts to us, with marvelous psychological insight, that singular effect of the law in revealing evil to us, and giving it an accursed charm by presenting it as the forbidden fruit, (Rom. vii, 8, 9,) is he not calling to mind the time when, after having recognized the commandment of God—the moral ideal set before his conscience—he had been consumed by a vain zeal to realize it, and had only gained in the struggle an agonizing conviction of the incurable corruption of human nature? Evil attracted him simply because it was a violation of the law of God.
Is it not the same Saul of Tarsus who exclaims, in deep sorrow of heart, "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died: and the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death." Rom. vii, 9, 10. He reveals himself to us, perpetually renewing a fruitless struggle; willing to keep the law, and in the measure of his desires finding 104 the measure of his powerlessness; doing not the good that he would, and the evil which he would not, that doing. Tossed to and fro in this inward conflict, this war of the flesh and the spirit, which can have no issue till a new principle has been implanted in the heart, he exclaims in despair, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"8282It has often been questioned whether this portion of the Epistle to the Romans refers to Paul's moral condition before or after his conversion. It seems to us that feelings of discouragement and despair, such as are expressed here, are inconceivable in a Christian who knows the secret of victory, and who has received from God the principle of a new life. Let us not forget, however, that the Christian is never perfect, and that he falls back by his inconsistencies, under the dominion of the flesh. At such times his old feelings return, and the moral contradiction described in this chapter is not without analogy in the history of days of decline and fall in his Christian life. But it is none the less true that this picture of the impotent wrestlings of the soul finds its complete realization only in the unconverted man. Is it possible to doubt that the goad of the Lord had already touched his conscience? To him the law was a real scourge; no man ever groaned more heavily under the rod of the pitiless schoolmaster, whose mission is only fulfilled when he has brought his scholar bruised and helpless to the cross. Nor must we forget that the unregenerate nature was far from being wholly vanquished in Saul of Tarsus. Energetic and impetuous in character, he was easily carried away into violence, and, doubtless, deeply as he felt his moral misery, he did not cease to pride himself on the high position he occupied in his sect. It is not, then, surprising that at the time of the first conflict between Pharisaism and the Church at Jerusalem, Saul should 105have approved and encouraged the persecution. The internal fever which consumed him—the desire to believe himself satisfied—his passionate attachment to every thing Mosaic—all contributed to make him an implacable enemy of the courageous confessor, who had ruthlessly shaken all his prejudices, and done violence, from his point of view, to all the glorious past of Israel. Saul of Tarsus was not a persecutor like Caiaphas. He was not defending either his person or his interests. He believed himself to be defending his God, and the fierce emotion excited by the words of Stephen inflamed his anger all the more, because it confirmed the testimony of his conscience.
His contact with Stephen may be regarded as the leading event of his life. From the day in which he heard Stephen speak—or rather, from the day in which he saw him die, with a calmness so sublime—Paul was beside himself. He abandoned the quiet studies of a doctor of the law; he could not go on pursuing them till he had silenced that importunate voice within, which declared them to be of no avail. He felt that if Stephen's words were true, all the scaffolding of his legal virtues and Judaistic learning would fall to the ground. He was at heart more troubled than he was willing to appear; a secret doubt gave him no rest, and he sought to shake it off by persecuting those who had called it forth. Hence that redoubled zeal which marks the moral crisis at its culminating point. "He breathed out," as the sacred writer tells us, "threatening and slaughter," (Acts ix, 1,) and "made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and hailing men and 106women committed them to prison." Acts viii, 3. In every synagogue, he himself says, "I punished them oft, compelling them to blaspheme." He thought that by thus coercing the new converts to open retraction, he would obtain an unanswerable argument against the new religion, and would confirm his own convictions. But nothing appeased him, and his violence went on growing with his doubts. A moment came when it broke through all bounds, and not content with persecuting the Church at Jerusalem, he started for Damascus, with letters from the high priest to the elders of the synagogue, authorizing him to lay violent hands on the Christians in that city. And now God's appointed time was come.
While we thus regard the conversion of Paul as the issue of a long and painful preparatory period of inward crisis, we in no way detract from the importance of the remarkable miracle which was its immediate cause. If certain dispositions of mind were required by Jesus Christ as preparatory even for a miracle affecting the body alone, such as the healing of blindness or paralysis, how much more necessary must they be for a miracle wholly spiritual. The latter can only be received in its full power and meaning by a man whose heart has been prepared by God. This important truth comes out with a high degree of evidence from the narrative of the conversion of the Apostle.
As he was on the way, and already near Damascus, suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven, and accompanying the brilliant flash a voice was heard with the shock of thunder. The 107companions of the Apostle saw the dazzling brightness, but could discern no distinct image; they heard the voice also, but caught no words.8383Acts ix, 7. Compare Acts xxii, 9. Awestruck, they fell to the ground. Acts xxvi, 14. They were witnesses only of the outward miracle; but within the external was another manifestation of a far higher order, which was perceived only by Saul, because he alone was prepared to receive it. In the bright light Jesus appeared to him, and in the confused noise he heard the voice of Christ making to him the most solemn appeal.8484Baur ("Paulus," pp. 70, 71) lays stress upon the slight discrepancies which may be observed between Luke's narrative and the accounts which St. Paul himself gives of this transaction, and draws the conclusion that Luke's recital is only legendary. But these discrepancies are quite unimportant, and vanish before a close examination. We have carefully noted the various versions of the event in our representation of it. The supposed discrepancies are three in number. According to Acts ix, 7, the companions of Paul heard "a voice," while in Acts xxii, 9, we are told they "heard not the voice of Him" that spake. The two statements seem to us reconcilable by supposing, as we have done, that Paul's companions heard inarticulate sounds, but not distinct words, ("the voice of him that spake to me.") According to Acts ix, 7, the same men saw no man; according to Acts xxii, 9, they saw the light. Here again we have a reference only to the external aspect of the miracle. It is possible to see a light, and yet to see no man. Finally, according to Acts ix, 7, the companions of Saul "stood speechless;" according to Acts xxvi, 14, they fell "to the earth." There is no necessary contradiction between the two statements. We have not even alluded to the naturalistic explanation of the miracle, according to which Saul of Tarsus was struck to the ground by a thunderstorm. It is beneath discussion. Paul's subsequent repeated and distinct references to the events of this day as establishing his right to the apostolate, on the ground, directly and positively stated, that he had seen Jesus Christ, set aside absolutely the theory of 108a mere vision.8585See 1 Cor. xv, 8. Paul did actually see Jesus, and hear him; but the fact that he alone did so on this occasion shows how entirely the perception of a miracle may depend on the moral condition. Every miracle has a twofold aspect—one external, and belonging to the whole world; the other spiritual and divine, discernible only by the inward eye.
Let us endeavor to give some account of the mysterious scene which transpired on the road to Damascus, the consequences of which were so momentous to the Apostle and to the Church. Saul of Tarsus is already secretly troubled in mind. He has closely observed the first Christians, has watched their pure and holy lives, and their still more remarkable deaths. The remembrance of Stephen is constantly present with him. He has, at the same time, proved the utter impotence of the old law; he is exhausted with inward struggles, and yet trembles at the thought of repudiating his past life. All these mingled emotions are tumultuous within him as he journeys toward Damascus. His conscience is ill at ease; his spirit is at once depressed and stirred within him. At this crisis Jesus appears to him, and asks, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" The question wakes a deep echo in his soul; and when the voice goes on to say, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest," Saul is vanquished; he falls lightning-struck to the ground; he feels that he has long been kicking against the piercing goad. Light bursts in upon him; his doubts are dissipated; he sees, he believes. Stephen was not deceived; Jesus Christ is the very Lord of glory, and it is he whom 109Saul had been about to persecute at Damascus. The shock of such a discovery is overwhelming. Saul is utterly crushed by it. He is himself no longer: not his bodily eyes alone, but the eyes of his soul are covered with a vail of blackness. He feels that this is the crisis of his spiritual life, and he gropes in the thick darkness, discerning clearly but this one thing,—that he has been persecuting Christ. Like a little child, he suffers himself to be led by the hand into the city, where, according to the promise given him, he is to receive new light.
It would be a grave mistake to suppose that Saul's conversion was completed on the road to Damascus. His pride was then broken; his doubts were scattered; but he did not at once rise from that tremendous blow which had severed his life in two. He then, indeed, received his calling as an Apostle, (Acts xxvi, 16-18,) but he had not then any conception of its greatness or of its cost. He must needs pass through a painful initiatory process. For three days he remains in utter darkness, and can neither eat nor drink. He has not told us the history of those three days, but it is easy to conceive what they were to him. He passed them, doubtless, in deepest humiliation, overwhelmed both by the remembrance of his sins, and by a sense of the grace he had received. He experienced all the depths of a true repentance; and, writhing under the consciousness that he had persecuted his Saviour, he reached the full and abiding conviction that he, the persecutor, the blasphemer and injurious, was the very chief of sinners. 1 Tim. i, 15. When, in a forcible figure, he represents the first stage of conversion as burial with Christ, set 110forth in the act of baptism, he may have been calling to mind those three days when, separated from men, without a ray of light breaking the awful obscurity, he was, for all the things of earth, as one dead. But deliverance had been promised him; God had in a vision foretold its approach. At the same time, a disciple named Ananias was commanded to go and lay his hands upon him.8686Baur, in his mythological interpretation, regards Paul's recovery of sight as a symbol of the illumination produced by a new doctrine. ("Paulus," 71.) It is evident that such a system of interpretation does violence to the text. His eyes are opened, he receives the Holy Ghost, and is baptized; and thus that work of sovereign grace is completed, of which he was to be at once the mightiest witness and the most amazing monument.8787Lenain de Tillemont asserts that Ananias was a priest, and probably a bishop of Damascus. ("Hist. Eccl.," c. i, p. 210.) There is nothing whatever in the narrative to lead us to suppose he was even an elder of the Church. As to his being a priest or bishop, the idea is simply absurd at this period.
The best preparation of a great servant of God for his work is stern solitude. Saul of Tarsus, before entering on his ministry, was sent into the wilderness, like Moses and John the Baptist, and like Jesus himself. He lived for some years in Arabia, (Gal. i, 17,) in silence and seclusion, maturing his soul by prayer, and recovering his moral equilibrium after the violent shock he had experienced. From Arabia he returned to Damascus, burning with the desire to confess Jesus Christ. He preached the Gospel in the very synagogues in which before he had sought to stir up bitter adversaries against the Church. His preaching thus gave great offense. The intolerant Jewish 111 party, furious at the loss of their leader, let loose upon him the popular passions, and he only escaped death by precipitate flight. He then went up to Jerusalem. For the first time since his conversion he entered that city in which he was known only as the most cruel of persecutors, as the most ardent adherent of Pharisaic legalism. A severe ordeal was in reserve for him in the isolation in which he was for a long time kept by the distrust of the Church. Instead of affectionate welcome, he met only with suspicious fear. Men would not believe in a conversion so astonishing. At length he succeeded in attaching to himself Barnabas, a proselyte of the Isle of Cyprus, a man of broader spirit than the native Jews, and by him he was brought into the society of the Christians. But he received no directions from the Apostles; he only saw Peter, and James the brother of the Lord, and his own account of his interview with them is altogether incompatible with the notion that he sought from them any initiation into evangelical doctrine, (Gal. i, 19;) on the contrary, he declares that he did not receive his doctrine from them, but was directly taught of God. Gal. i, 1, 12. It was at this period that, in a trance in the temple, he received, for the second time, the command to go to the Gentiles. Acts xxii, 17-22. But he was pressed in spirit to preach the Gospel at Jerusalem. He longed, as at Damascus, to confess his crucified Lord and Saviour in the very places where he had blasphemed and persecuted him. He addressed himself to those same Hellenists for whom Stephen had labored, thus taking up, at the very point where it had been left, the work of him for whose death he had clamored. 112Such a marvelous change was well adapted to teach the Church the fruitfulness of the martyr's death, and to enhance in its eyes the power of that grace which could transform the murderer of Stephen into his successor. Saul encountered the same hostility which he had himself once helped to provoke against his bold forerunner, and he was forced to flee to escape a premature death. He went first to Casarea, and then to his native city, where Barnabas came to seek him, and took him to Antioch, where was the first Church gathered out of the Gentiles. Here Saul found himself in an atmosphere most favorable to his religious development; here he preached the Gospel during one year, and contributed to that happy movement in advance, by which the Church became distinguished in name from Judaism. Saul made another short visit to Jerusalem, to carry thither the offerings which the Church at Antioch sent in anticipation of the famine predicted by Agabus, and which actually took place in the reign of Claudius. On their return from this journey, Saul and Barnabas, in consequence of a direct revelation of the Holy Spirit, received with the laying on of hands the charge of carrying the Gospel to the Gentiles. This is, properly speaking, the true commencement of Paul's apostolic work. It is important that, before we go further, we should clearly comprehend its character.
We know how frequently Paul insisted upon his privilege as an apostle, and with what vehemence he repudiates any inferiority in this respect in comparison with his colleagues in the apostolate. "Am I not an apostle?" he says in his first Epistle to the 113Corinthians, (1 Cor. ix, 1;) and adds in the second, "I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles."88882 Cor. xi, 5. Comp. Rom. xv, 15, 16; Gal. i, i. On the other hand, we know that this equality claimed by him was disputed by the Judaizing party. We may conclude from this opposition that his apostolate was not altogether of the same nature as that of the first apostles. Let us inquire in what way it was similar, and in what superior to theirs.
We have seen that the apostolate was not a new priesthood, but the ideal representation of the Church. The apostle was the Christian of the early Church in an official character; he was to raise the Christian vocation to its supreme dignity; he was thus, pre-eminently, the witness of Jesus Christ, for the special mission of this first generation of Christians was to preserve to the world the living memory of the Redeemer. St. Paul, in this respect, in no way differs from the twelve; like them, he is one of the accredited witnesses of the great fact of salvation, only his credentials are of a peculiar kind. The essential condition for taking rank among the twelve first apostles was, "to have been with the Lord Jesus all the time that he went in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that he was taken up from them." Acts i, 21, 22. Paul could not adduce any external connection with the Saviour in the days of his flesh; he had not seen the historic Christ, so to speak; he had seen only the ascended and glorified Christ. This sight of him, however, was not a mere vision; it was miraculous and positive, and it confers on St. Paul an 114authority in no way inferior to that of the twelve apostles. But it is equally true that, in this respect, he more nearly represents the numerous generations of Christians who have had no outward relations with the incarnate Saviour. Again, he stands apart from that symbolic number of the twelve, which points to the ancient tribes of Israel. He is the apostle of the Church, as it bursts the confines of Judaism; the apostle of mankind, rather than of a nation. Lastly, he did not receive his office by transmission: Ananias, who laid his hands on him, was a simple believer. His apostolate was conferred on him by a direct revelation; it stands in no relation to any positive institution, but it carries its own glorious witness in its results. Paul represents essentially the reforming portion of the Church; he inaugurates the apostolate of the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that from which almost all other Christian offices ultimately spring, that which breaks, when needful, the framework of imperfect ecclesiastical organization, and lives by a life independent, both in its origin and continuance, of mere institutions. Let us not forget, however, that St. Paul, while he was the representative of the Church in its free development, derived a special authority from the direct mission which, by revelation, God had conferred upon him.8989M. Scherer, in an article on the apostolate in general, and on that of St. Paul, ("Revue du Theologie," tom. iii, 6th edit.,) ascribes all that the Apostle says as to his authority to a false conception entertained by him of the apostolate at large. It seems to us that he might easily have avoided so extreme a conclusion by admitting that enlargement of the primitive apostolate, which was to lead to the true apostolical succession, the inheritance of the Christian Church as a whole.115
One preliminary question remains to be noticed. Paul declares, in his Epistle to the Galatians, that the Gospel he preaches comes not from man. "I neither received it of man," he says, "neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." Gal. i, 11-13. Are we to conclude from these words that Paul received by direct revelation the whole divine history of salvation? We think not. God never works useless miracles; he does not communicate by supernatural means that which can be acquired without such aid. There is no reason why we should not believe that St. Paul obtained his acquaintance with the substance of the Gospel in his interviews with Ananias and the other disciples at Damascus. It is probable, also, that he may have himself drawn from fuller sources. Perhaps he may have had in his hands one of those written declarations of the things most commonly believed, to which Luke alludes, and which were in very early times circulated in the Churches. When Paul speaks of his Gospel, he intends by the word his own manner of presenting the truth, and especially his profound view of the old and new covenant—of the law and justification by faith. These great truths he did not receive from any man—they were given him by the Holy Ghost. We see, indeed, that the revelation which he received in the Temple at Jerusalem bore directly on his mission to the Gentiles, (Acts xxii, 2;) it thus presupposed an enlargement of his religious views. Paul himself tells us that the mystery revealed to him in these last days had reference to the calling of the Gentiles. Eph. i, 9, 10. His deep experience of the weakness of Judaism, combined with the marvelous and sudden 116deliverance granted to him, was adapted, under the enlightening influence of the Divine Spirit, to bring him to a complete apprehension of the relation of the two covenants. Had not the great antithesis of the law and grace been realized in his life before it was expressed in his writings?
|« Prev||§ I. Saul of Tarsus. His Preparation and…||Next »|