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CONTINUATION OF THE THIRD MISSION—SECOND STAY OF PAUL AT CORINTH—THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS.
Paul, according to our calculation, set out from Macedonia, and came to Greece at the end of November or the beginning of December 57. He had with him the delegates chosen by the Churches of Macedonia to accompany him to Jerusalem, and to carry himself and the alms of the faithful, amongst others Sopater or Sosipater, son of Pyrrhus of Beræa, a certain Lucius, a certain Tertius, Aristarchus, and Secundus of Thessalonica. Jason of Thessalonica, his host since his first voyage, accompanied him also, it seems. Perhaps, finally, the deputies of Asia—Tychicus, and Trophimus of Ephesus, Gaius from Derbe, were already with him. Timothy about this time did not leave him. All these made a kind of apostolic caravan of a very imposing aspect. When they had rejoined Titus and the two brothers who had accompanied him, Corinth really possessed all the leaders of the new movement. Paul, conformably to his former plan, which he had several times modified, but which he finished by carrying out in its essential lines, passed 241in this town three months of the winter 57-58 (December 57, January and February 58). The Church of Athens was so small that Paul, according to all appearance, did not visit it, or at least hardly stopped there.
The Apostle, not having any longer at his disposal the kindly hospitality of Aquila and Priscilla, lodged this time at the house of Caius, whose house served for the meetings of the whale Church, and to whom he was attached by a bond then held very sacred. Stephanas was perhaps dead or absent. Paul always observed at Corinth much reserve, for he did not feel himself to be on very firm ground. Seeing the danger that association with the world offered in a town so corrupted, he reverted always to broad principles, and advised avoiding all relations with the Pagans. The welfare of the souls at such a time was his only rule, the only end which he proposed to himself.
It is probable that the presence of Paul at Corinth calmed altogether the dissentients, who, for several months, gave him much anxiety. A bitter allusion which he made about this time to “those who vaunt themselves of works that Christ has not done by them,” and of others, “who build upon another man’s foundations,” shows, however, that a vivid impression of the evil works of his adversaries remained with him. The business of the subscription had gone forward as he desired—Macedonia and Achaia had contributed a large sum. The Apostle had at last an interval of repose; he utilised it by writing, always under the form of an epistle, a kind of summing up of his theological doctrine.
As this great document interested all Christianity equally, Paul addressed it chiefly to the Churches which he had founded, and with which he could communicate at this time. The Churches favoured with such an address were four in number at the least. One was the Church of Ephesus; a copy was also sent 242into Macedonia; Paul even had an idea of addressing this piece to the Church of Rome. In all his copies the body of the epistle was nearly the same; the moral recommendations and the salutations varied. In the copy destined for the Romans, in particular, Paul introduced some varied readings suited to the taste of this Church, which he knew was very much attached to Judaism. It is the copy addressed to the Church of Rome which served as the basis of the constitution of the text when the collection of the epistles of St Paul was made. Hence the name that the epistle in question bears to-day. The publishers (if we may be permitted so to call them) only copied at one time the parts common to all; however, as they would themselves be scrupulous not to lose anything which came from the pen of the Apostle, they gathered together at the end of the copy princeps, the parts which varied in the different copies, or which they themselves found in more than one of them.
This precious writing, the foundation of all Christian theology, is mainly that in which the ideas of Paul are exposed in better order. There appears in full daylight the great idea of the Apostle: there the law is put on one side; works are of no value; salvation comes only from Jesus, Son of God, raised from the dead. Jesus, who, in the eyes of the Judæo-Christian school, is a great prophet, come to fulfil the law, is, in the eyes of Paul, a divine apparition, rendering useless all that has preceded him, even the Law. Jesus and the Law are for Paul two opposite things. He who accords to the Law excellence and efficacy is a traitor to Jesus. To overthrow the Law, is to exalt Jesus. Greeks, Jews, Barbarians, all are equal; the Jews are first called, then the Greeks: all are saved only by faith in Jesus.
What can man do, indeed, if he be left to himself? One thing only—he can sin. And at first, in that which concerns Pagans, the spectacle of the visible 243world and the natural law written in their hearts would suffice to reveal to them the true God and their duties. By a voluntary and inexcusable blindness, they have not worshipped the God whom they knew well; they have lost themselves in their vain thoughts; their pretended philosophy has only been idle speculation. To punish them, God has abandoned them to the most shameful vices, to sins against nature. The Jews are no more innocent; they have received the Law, but they have not observed it. Circumcision does not make the true Jew; the Pagan who observes the natural law well is worth much more than the Jew who does not observe the Law of God. Have not the Jews then some prerogative? Without doubt, they have one: it is to them that the promises have been made; the unbelief of many among them does not prevent these promises from being fulfilled. But the Law by itself cannot bring about the reign of justice; it has served merely to create the offence and to put it in evidence. In other words, the Jews, like the Gentiles, have lived under the dominion of sin.
Whence then does justification come? From faith in Jesus, without distinction of race. All men were sinners; Jesus has been the propitiatory victim; His death has been the redemption that God has accepted for the sins of the world, the works of the law not having been able to justify the world. God is not only the God of the Jews, He is also the God of the Gentiles. It was by faith that Abraham was justified, since it is written, “He believed, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Justification is free; one has no right to it by merit; it is an imputed grace and an all-merciful act of the Divinity.
The fruit of justification is peace with God, hope, and consequently patience, which enables us to show our glory and our happiness in tribulation, according 244to the example of Christ, who has died for sinners, and by whose blood we have been justified. If God has so loved men that He has given His son to die for them when we were sinners, what will He not do now that they are reconciled?
Sin and death were brought into the world by one man, Adam, in whom all have sinned. Grace and salvation were brought into the world by one Man, Christ, in whom all are justified. Two typical men have existed, “the first Adam,” or the earthly Adam, the origin of all disobedience; “the second Adam,” or the heavenly Adam, the origin of all justice. Humanity divides itself between these two leaders of the human race, some following the earthly Adam, others the spiritual Adam. The Law has served only to multiply offences, and to make sinners conscious of them. It is grace which, superabounding where offence has abounded, has effaced all, so that one may almost say that, thanks to Jesus, sin has been happiness, and has only served to bring to light the mercy of God.
But, it will be said, let us sin then that grace may abound; let us do evil, that good may come. That, says Paul, is what they assert of me, thus falsifying my doctrine. Nothing is further from my thoughts. Those who have been baptised in Christ are dead to sin, buried with Christ, to rise again and live with Him—that is to say, lead a new life. Our “old man,” that is to say, the man that we were before baptism, has been crucified with Christ. Because the Christian is not under the Law, it does not follow that he may sin. From the slavery of sin, he has passed to the service of righteousness; from the way of sin unto death, to the way of life. The Christian, moreover, is dead to the Law; for the Law created sin. In itself, it was good and holy, but it made sin known; it aggravated it, so that the commandment which should have created life, created death. A 245woman is an adultress if, whilst living with her husband, she fails to keep her marriage vow; but after the death of her husband, adultery is no longer possible. Christ, in breaking down the letter of the Law, has taken us from under the Law, and won us to himself. Dead to the flesh, which was in sin, being dead to the Law, he who cast off sin, the Christian has only to serve God “in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” The Law was spiritual, but man is carnal. There are two parts in man—one which loves and wishes to do well, the other which does evil, without that other man wishing to do it. Does it not often happen that we do not that we would, while the evil that we would not, that we do? Is it that sin, innate in man, acts in him without his wishing it. “The inner man,” that is to say, reason, would obey the law of God; but concupiscence is ever at war with reason and the law of God. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The true Christian, being delivered from the Law and from concupiscence, is then safe from damnation, by the mercy of God, who has sent His only Son to take upon Him a body of sinful flesh like our own, to destroy sin. But this deliverance does not take place if he destroy not his life according to the flesh, and live according to the Spirit. The wisdom of the flesh is the great enemy of God; it is even death. The Spirit, on the contrary, is life. By Him we have been made the adopted sons of God, whereby we cry Abba, that is to say, “Father.” But, if we are the sons of God, we are also His heirs, and joint heirs with Christ. After having partaken of His sufferings, we shall also partake of His glory. What are all the sufferings of this present time compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us? The whole creation waits for this great revelation of the sons of God. 246It hopes, I say, to be delivered from the bondage under which it groans, subject as it is to infirmity and corruption, and to pass into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. We also, who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the moment in which our elevation to the position of the sons of God shall be complete, and when our body shall be delivered from its frailty. It is hope which saves us; but we do not hope for that which we see. Let us persevere patiently in this hope for the invisible, with the help of the Spirit. We know not what we should pray for; but the Spirit makes up for our weakness, and makes intercession for us with God with groanings which cannot be uttered. God, who seeth the heart, knoweth how to divine the desires of the Spirit, and to separate its indistinct and inarticulate sighs.
What a motive of assurance, moreover! It is by a direct act of God that we are destined for the metamorphosis which will make us like His Son, and who will make of all living a body of brethren of whom Jesus will be the first born. By His foreknowledge, God knows His elect beforehand; those whom He knows, He predestinates; those whom He predestinates, He calls; those whom He calls, He justifies; those whom He justifies, He glorifies. Let us be tranquil: if for us God has not spared His only Son, but has delivered Him to death, what can He refuse us? Who will be in the day of judgment the accuser of the elect? God, who has justified them? Who will condemn them? Christ, who has died and risen again, who is seated at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us? Impossible! “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I,” adds Paul, “am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 247nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We see to what a complete rupture with Judaism Christianity has reached in the hands of Paul. Jesus has not been so far off assuredly. Jesus has boldly proclaimed that the reign of the Law is ended, that the worship in spirit and in truth of God the Father only remains. But, with Jesus, poetry, sentiment, imagery, and style are essentially Jewish. He continues in a direct line Isaiah, the psalmists, the prophets of the time of the captivity, the author of the Song of Songs, and sometimes the author of Ecclesiastes. Paul only continues Jesus, not as he was by the side of the lake of Gennesareth, but Jesus such as he conceives him, such as he has seen him in his inner vision. For his old co-religionists he has only pity. The “perfect” Christian, the “enlightened” Christian, is in his eyes the one who knows the vanity of the Law, its uselessness, the frivolity of its pious practices. Paul would wish to be anathema for his brothers in Israel; it is for him a great sadness, a continual heartache to dream of this noble race, raised so high in glory, which had the privilege of adoption, of alliance, of the Law, of the true worship, of the promises,—which has had patriarchs out of whom Christ has come in the flesh. But God will not fail in His promises. Even though one is of the seed of Israel, he is not necessarily a true Israelite; he is heir to the promises by the choice and calling of God, not by the accident of birth. There is no injustice in that. Salvation is the result, not of human efforts, but of the mercy of God. God is free to have mercy on whom He will, and to deal hardly with whom he will. Who will dare to ask of God the reason for His choice? Can the vessel of clay say to the potter: Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter the power, with the same lump, 248to make two vessels, one for honourable uses, the other for dishonourable? If it please God to prepare man to show His power by crushing him, as He did Pharaoh, He is the master, the rather that thereby He shows forth His mercy towards those whom He has prepared and called to glory. But He makes this choice, without stopping for any consideration of race or of blood.
If the Jewish people, moreover, see themselves supplanted, it is their own fault. They have too much confidence in the works of the Law; they believe that they will by these works be justified. The Gentiles, disembarrassed of this stone of stumbling, have entered more easily into the true doctrine of salvation by faith. Israel has sinned by too much zeal for the Law, and by having placed too much reliance upon the personal justification which it acquires by works. Thus it has been made to forget that justification is from God only,—that it is the fruit of grace and not of works; which has made it misunderstand the instrument of that justification which is Jesus.
Has God then cast off his people? No. God, it is true, has found it good to blind and to harden the greater part of the Jews. But the corner-stone of the elect has been taken out of the breasts of Israel. Besides, the perdition of the Hebrew people is not definitive. This perdition has had for its only object the salvation of the Gentiles and the creation of a salutary emulation between the two branches of the elect. It is a happiness for the Gentiles that the Jews had for a time failed in their vocation, since it is through their fault, and thanks to their weakness, that the Gentiles have been substituted for them. But if the falling away of the Jewish people, if a moment of delay on its part has been the salvation of the world, what will be its introduction in a mass into the Church? This will truly be the resurrection. If the first-fruits be holy, the whole mass is holy also; 249if the root be holy, the branches are holy also. Some branches have been cut off, and in their place have been grafted branches of the wild olive, which have thus become partakers of the root and of the sap of the olive tree. Take care, O wild olive! lest thou grow proud at the expense of the branches which have been cut off! It is not thou that bearest the root; it is the root that bears thee! Yes, thou wilt say, but the branches have been cut off so that I may be grafted. Doubtless; they have been cut off for want of faith; it is to faith that thou owest all; beware lest thou grow proud; tremble. If thou dost not persevere, thou also wilt be cut off. If they come to the faith, God is perfectly well able to regraft them on their own trunk. Israel has been blinded till the crowd of the Gentiles can be received into the Church; but after that, Israel will be saved in turn. The gifts of God are without repentance. The friendship of Israel and of God has suffered an eclipse, so that the Gentiles may in the interval receive the Gospel; but the calling of Israel, the promises made to the patriarchs, will have their effect none the less. God will use the incredulity of some for the salvation of others; then those whom He has rendered faithless, He will save in their turn; all which goes to prove that salvation on His part is purely an act of mercy, and not a result at which one will arrive by right of birth, or by works, or by the free choice of his reason. God will not take counsel of any one; He has not any account to render to any one. “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor? . . . For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
The Apostle, according to his habit, ends by moral applications. The worship of the Christian is the 250worship of reason, without other sacrifice than that of himself. Each must present to God a pure sacrifice, and worthy of being favourably accepted. The spirit of the Church must be modesty, concord, mutual responsibility; all the gifts, all the duties are intimately associated with it. The body has many members; all the members have not the same office, but all have need of each other. Prophets, deacons, doctors, preachers, benefactors, superiors, delegates, for works of mercy are equally necessary, provided that they exhibit in the discharge of their functions the simplicity, zeal, and cheerfulness that these functions require. Charity without hypocrisy, brotherly kindness, politeness and kind attentions, activity, fervour, joy, hope, patience, amiability, concord, humility, pardon for injuries, love of our neighbours, eagerness to assist the needs of the saints; to bless those who persecute you, to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep, to conquer evil, not by evil, but by good: such is the moral, in part inculcated in the ancient Hebrew books, that Paul preached after Jesus. It would seem that at the period in which Paul wrote this epistle, various Churches, above all the Church of Rome, reckoned amongst their number certain disciples of Judah the Gaulonite, who denied the legitimacy of the Roman tribute, and who preached revolt against the Roman authority; possibly also the Ebionites, who absolutely opposed the reign of Satan and the reign of the Messiah to each other, and who identified the present world with the empire of the devil. Paul replied to them, as a true disciple of Jesus:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the 251evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid: for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”
This was written in the fourth year of Nero. This prince had not yet afforded a reason for every subject to curse him. His government had been the best since the death of Augustus. At the moment when Paul, with much good sense, took up the defence of the tax against the Jewish theocracy, Nero softened its rigour, and even sought to apply to it the most radical reforms. The Christians at this date had not themselves complained of him, and it may readily be believed that at a time when the Roman authority served his plan rather than made an obstacle to it, Paul had sought to prevent tumultuous movements which might lose all, but to which the Jews of Rome were much inclined. These seditions, the arrests, and the punishments which were its consequences, threw the new sect into the greatest disfavour, and made the adepts confound them with thieves and the disturbers of public order. Paul had too much tact to be a rioter: he wished that credit should be given to the name of Christian, that a Christian should be a man of order, in good odour with the police, of good reputation in the eyes of Pagans. This was what made him write that page, equally singular in the eyes of a Jew and of a Christian. Yet in it may be seen, however, with a rare simplicity, that there was 252in the very essence of this nascent Christianity some-thing politically dangerous. The theory of the divine right of all the powers that be is candidly laid down. Nero has been proclaimed by St Paul a minister, an officer of God, a representative of Divine authority. The Christian, whilst he is allowed to practise his religion openly, will be a subject, by no means a citizen. I do not intend to utter any censure here; but no one can do two things at once; policy is not everything, and the true glory of Christianity is to have created a whole world out of itself. But see to what we expose ourselves with these absolute theories! “The minister of God,” of whom all honest men must seek approbation, whose sword is only terrible to the wicked, will become in a few years the Beast of the Apocalypse, the Anti-Christ, the persecutor of the saints.
The strange situation of the spirits, the persuasion which they held that the end of the world was close at hand, explain for the remainder this haughty indifference.
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in clambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
The contest of Paul against his adversaries, who were more or less Ebionites, can be traced in part in his letter relating to the abstinence from meats, and to the observance of new moons, of Sabbaths, and of days. Ebionism, which at this period had its principal centre at Rome, held greatly to these external practices, which were in truth only a continuation of 253the practices of the Essenes. They were scrupulous, ascetic persons, who not only practised the legal ordinances with regard to meats, but who obliged themselves to eat only vegetables and to drink no wine. It is necessary to remember that Christianity recruited itself among very pious persons, and, as such, much given to devotional practices. In becoming Christians, these persons remained faithful to their ancient habits; or rather, the adoption of Christianity was for them only an act of devotion (religio) the more. Paul, in this new epistle, remained faithful to the excellent rules of conduct which he had already traced among the Corinthians. In themselves, these practices are perfectly vain. But what is of the greatest importance, is not to offend these feeble consciences, not to trouble them, not to argue with them. He whose conscience is enlightened must not despise him whose conscience is feeble. The timorous conscience must not be permitted to judge the large conscience. Let each follow his own judgment, the right thing is what one believes to be right before God. How shall one dare to judge his brother? It is Christ who will judge us all; each will only have to answer for him-self. The distinction of meats rests upon nothing; all things are pure. But what is of importance is that no one should cause scandal to his brother. If, in eating the permitted meats, you aggrieve your brother, take care; for the sake of the question of meats, do not lose a soul for whom Christ died. The kingdom of heaven has nothing to do with eating and drinking; it sums itself up in justice, peace, joy, edification.
The disciples of Paul were occupied for several days in copying this manifesto, addressed to different Churches. The epistle to the Churches of Macedonia was written by Tertius. The Macedonians who accompanied Paul, and the Corinthians who had relations with the Churches of the north of Greece, profited by the occasion to salute their brethren. The Epistle to 254the Ephesians contained the nominal salutation of Paul to nearly all the Christians of this great Church. As there was little communication between Corinth and Macedonia on the one hand, and Ephesus on the other, the Apostle does not speak to the Ephesians of the world which surrounds him; but he vigorously recommends to them Phœbe, who probably carried the letter to them. This poor woman set out on a painful voyage in winter across the archipelago, without any other resource than the recommendation of Paul. The Church of Ephesus was begged to receive her in a manner worthy of the saints, and to provide for all her needs. Paul had probably some anxieties about the intrigues of the Judæo-Christian party at Ephesus; for, at the end of the letter, he added in his own handwriting:—
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad, therefore, on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”
We have seen that St Paul in writing this most important epistle had intended to send it to the Church of Rome. This Church had reformed itself since the Edict of Claudius, and much that was good had been said of it. It was not very numerous, and was chiefly composed of Ebionites and Judæo-Christians; it also contained in its ranks Proselytes and converted Pagans. The idea of addressing a dogmatic writing to a Church which he had not founded, was bold, and altogether contrary to the habit of Paul. 255He much feared lest they should see in his attempt something indiscreet; he forbade himself all that might recall the tone of a master speaking with authority; he made no personal salutations. With these precautions, he thought that his title, henceforth recognised as the Apostle of the Gentiles, gave him the right to address a Church which he had never seen. The importance of Rome as capital of the Empire pre-occupied him: for several years he nourished the project of betaking himself thither. Not being able to execute his design as yet, he wished to give a mark of sympathy to this illustrious Church, which contained a class of the faithful of whom he considered himself the pastor, and announced to it the good news of his future arrival.
The composition and despatch of the epistle written “to the Romans” occupied the greatest part of the three months of the winter, which Paul passed this year at Corinth. They were, in a sense, the best employed weeks of his life. This epistle became, later on, the summing up of dogmatic Christianity, the declaration of war by theology against philosophy, the chief inducement to a class of eager spirits to embrace Christianity as a means of setting reason at defiance, whilst proclaiming the sublimity and credibility of the absurd. It is the application of the merits of Christ which justifies; it is God who works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. Here is the overthrow of reason, which, essentially Pelagian, has for its fundamental dogma, liberty, and the personality of merit. Very well, then, the doctrine of Paul, opposed to all merely human sense, has been really liberty and salvation. It has separated Christianity from Judaism; it has separated Protestantism from Catholicism. Pious observances, persuading the devotee that by them he is justified, have a double disadvantage: in the first place, they kill morality by making the devotee believe that there is a sure and 256easy way of entering Paradise in despite of God. The hardest-hearted Jew—a selfish and malicious usurer, let us say—imagined that by observing the Law he would force God to save him. The Catholic of the time of Louis XI. imagined that with masses he took proceedings against God as by a bailiff’s summons, so that, rogue though he might be, he had the game in his own hands, he could compel Almighty God to admit him into His company. To this impiety, in which Judaism was upset by Talmudism, in which Christianity was upset by the Catholicism of the Middle Ages, Saint Paul has adminstered the most efficient antidote. According to him, we are justified, not by works, but by faith; it is faith in Jesus which saves. That is why this doctrine, apparently so paltry, has been that of all the reformers—the lever by means of which Wycliff, John Huss, Luther, Calvin, St Cyran, have overthrown the ancient tradition of blind confidence in the priest, and in a kind of exterior justice, which has nothing to do with a change of heart.
The other practical inconvenience is the multiplication of scruples. Practices, supposed to have a value by themselves, ex opere operato, independently of the state of the soul, open the door to all the subtleties of a meticulous casuist. Legal work becomes a prescription, the success of which depends upon its punctual execution. Here again Talmudism and Catholicism are agreed. The despair of the Jewish devotees of the time of Jesus and of St Paul was the fear of not observing the whole Law—the apprehension of not being in order. It was believed that the holiest man sins,—that it is impossible not to prevaricate. They almost regretted that God had given the Law, since it only served to bring about transgressions; they confessed to the singular idea, that God had laid down all these laws with the sole purpose of creating sin, and making all the world sinful. 257Jesus, in the opinion of his disciples, had made easy the entrance to this kingdom of God which the Pharisees had made so difficult, to enlarge the door of that Judaism which they had narrowed so much. Paul, at least, does not imagine any other way of sup-pressing sin than by suppressing the Law. His reasoning has something of that of the Probabilists: to multiply obligations is to multiply offences; to relax rules, to render them as broad as possible, is to prevent offences, since we do not violate precepts by which we do not consider ourselves bound.
The great torment of delicate souls is scrupulousness: he who eases them of it is all-powerful over them. One of the most common customs of devotion amongst the pious sects in England, is to think of Jesus as of him who disemburdens the conscience, reassures the guilty, calms the sinning soul, delivers it from the thought of evil. Overwhelmed by the consciousness of sin and of condemnation, Paul in the same way finds peace in Jesus only. All are sinners, even to the last, by reason of their descent from Adam. Judaism, by its sacrifices for sin, had established the idea of accounts as it were opened between man and God,—of remission and of debts; a false enough idea, for sin does not remit itself,—it carries its punishment with it; a crime committed will last until the end of time, only the conscience which has committed it can atone for it and produce altogether contrary acts. The power of remitting sins was one of those that they believed to have been conferred by Jesus on his disciples. The Church had nothing more precious than it. To have committed a crime, to have a tormented conscience, was a motive to make oneself a Christian. “Here is a law which delivers you from sin, from which you could not be delivered by the Law of Moses.” What could be more tempting to the Jews? One of the reasons which confirmed Constantine in Christianity was, it is said, the belief that 258Christians alone could absolve the soul of a father who had killed his son. The merciful Jesus, pardoning all, according even a kind of preference for those who have sinned, appeared in this troubled world as the great comforter of souls. They took it upon themselves to say that it was well to have sinned, that all remission was gratuitous, that faith alone justified.
One peculiarity of the Semitic tongues explains such a misunderstanding, and excuses this morally incomplete psychology. The form hiphil signifies at the same time the effective and the declarative, so that hasdik can say equally “to render justice,” and “to declare justice,” to remit a sin which has been committed, and to declare that he has not committed it. “Justice” is, according to this idiom, not only that he who is absolved from a sin, but that he who is calmed in his own eyes, need no more trouble himself with the sins which he may have committed, or with precepts which he may have violated unknown to himself.
When Paul despatched this terrible epistle, he had early fixed the day of his departure. The gravest anxieties assailed him: he had a presentiment of grave accidents, and he applied to himself often the verse of the psalm, “Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.” Some very precise accounts, which were only too certain, represented to him the dangers he was likely to meet with from the Jews of Judæa. He was not even confident as to the disposition of the Church of Jerusalem. He had found this Church so many times ruled by mean prejudices, that he feared a cold reception, which, seeing the number of half-confirmed believers who accompanied him, would produce a disastrous effect. He constantly asked for the prayers of the faithful, that God would cause his offering to be favourably received by the saints. To place timid provincial neophytes thus in immediate contact 259with the aristocracy of the capital, was an idea of supreme temerity. Guided by his admirable integrity, Paul none the less persisted in his project. He believed himself bound by an order of the Spirit. He said with emphasis that he was going to Jerusalem to serve the saints; he represented himself as the deacon of the poor of Jerusalem. His principal disciples and the deputies, each bearing the offering of his Church, were around him, ready to set out. They were, we shall remember, Sopater of Beræa, Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica, Gaius of Derbe, Tychicus and Trophimus of Ephesus, and finally Timothy.
At the moment when Paul was going to embark for Syria, the reasonableness of his fears became visible. A plot formed by the Jews was discovered to carry him off or kill him during the journey. In order to disconcert this project, Paul privately changed his route, and decided to return by Macedonia. The departure took place about the month of April of the year 58.
Thus ended this third mission, which, in the opinion of Paul, finished the first part of his apostolic projects. All the oriental provinces of the Roman Empire, from its extreme limit towards the east near to Illyria, Egypt always excepted, had heard the Gospel. Not once had the Apostle departed from his rule of preaching only in the countries where Christ had not yet been named, that is to say, where other Apostles had not passed; all his work had been original and belonged to him alone. The third mission had had for its field the same countries as the second; Paul turned a little in the same circle, and began to find himself in the right. He now delayed the accomplishment of the second part of his projects, that is to say, of proclaiming the name of Jesus in the western world, for we may say that the mystery hidden from eternity was known to all nations.
At Rome he had been anticipated, and, moreover, 260those of the circumcision formed the majority in the Church. It was as universal pastor of the Churches of the Gentiles, and to confirm the converted Pagans, and not as founder, that he wished to appear in the capital of the empire. He only wished to go thither that he might enjoy for a time the company of the faithful, and rest and edify himself among them, after which he would take, according to custom, new companions who should follow him in the latter part of his journey. Beyond, it was to Spain that he carried his eyes. Spain had not yet received Israelitish emigrants; the Apostle wished, this time, to abandon the rule which he had observed, until now, of following the track of the synagogues and of the earlier Jewish establishments. But Spain was considered as the western boundary of the world; so that as Paul believed himself authorised to conclude that since he had been in Achaia and in Macedonia, and that he had reached Illyria in the same way, when he will have been into Spain he would be able to say with truth that the name of Jesus has been preached in all the ends of the earth, and that the preaching of the Gospel was fully accomplished.
We shall see that circumstances independent of his will prevented Paul from realising the second part of the grand plan that he had proposed to himself. He was from forty-five to forty-eight years of age; he had certainly still found time and strength to found in this Latin world one or two of those missions that he had conducted in the Greek world with so much success; but the fatal journey to Jerusalem upset all his designs. Paul felt the perils of this journey: everybody around him felt them. He could not, nevertheless, renounce a project to which he attached much . importance. Jerusalem must lose Paul. It was one of the most unfavourable of conditions for nascent Christianity to have its capital in a home of such exalted fanaticism. The incident which, ten years 261later, completely destroyed the Church of Jerusalem, rendered to Christianity the greatest services that it has ever received in the course of its long history. The life-or-death question was to know if the growing sect would or would not disengage itself from Judaism. Now if the saints of Jerusalem, grouped around the temple, might always remain the aristocracy, and, so to speak, “the Court of Rome” of Christianity, this great rupture would not have occurred; the sect of Jesus, like that of John, would have died out obscurely, and Christians would have been lost amongst the sectarian Jews of the first and second century.
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