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§ 32. The Work of Paul.
"He who can part from country and from kin,
And scorn delights, and tread the thorny way,
A heavenly crown, through toil and pain, to win—
He who reviled can tender love repay,
And buffeted, for bitter foes can pray—
He who, upspringing at his Captain’s call,
Fights the good fight, and when at last the day
Of fiery trial comes, can nobly fall—
Such were a saint—or more—and such the holy Paul!"
The conversion of Paul was a great intellectual and moral revolution, yet without destroying his identity. His noble gifts and attainments remained, but were purged of Selfish motives, inspired by a new principle, and consecrated to a divine end. The love of Christ who saved him, was now his all-absorbing passion, and no sacrifice was too great to manifest his gratitude to Him. The architect of ruin became an architect of the temple of God. The same vigor, depth and acuteness of mind, but illuminated by the Holy Spirit; the same strong temper and burning zeal, but cleansed, subdued and controlled by wisdom and moderation; the same energy and boldness, but coupled with gentleness and meekness; and, added to all this, as crowning gifts of grace, a love and humility, a tenderness and delicacy of feeling such as are rarely, if ever, found in a character so proud, manly and heroic. The little Epistle to Philemon reveals a perfect Christian gentleman, a nobleman of nature, doubly ennobled by grace. The thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians could only be conceived by a mind that had ascended on the mystic ladder of faith to the throbbing heart of the God of love; yet without inspiration even Paul could not have penned that seraphic description of the virtue which beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things, which never faileth, but will last for ever the greatest in the triad of celestial graces: faith, hope, love.
Saul converted became at once Paul the missionary. Being saved himself, he made it his life-work to save others. "Straight way" he proclaimed Christ in the synagogues, and confounded the Jews of Damascus, proving that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God.401401 The εὐθεωςof Acts 9:20 compels us to put this short testimony during the few days (ἡμἐρας τινάς) which he spent with the disciples at Damascus, before his departure to Arabia. About three years afterwards (or after "many days,"ἡμέραι ἱκαναί, were fulfilled, Acts 9:23), he returned to Damascus to renew his testimony (Gal. 1:17). But this was only a preparatory testimony in the fervor of the first love. The appearance of Christ, and the travails of his soul during the three days and nights of prayer and fasting, when he experienced nothing less than a spiritual death and a spiritual resurrection, had so shaken his physical and mental frame that he felt the need of protracted repose away from the noise and turmoil of the world. Besides there must have been great danger threatening his life as soon as the astounding news of his conversion became known at Jerusalem. He therefore went to the desert of Arabia and spent there three years,402402 Gal. 1:17, 18. In the Acts (9:23) this journey is ignored because it belonged not to the public, but private and inner life of Paul. not in missionary labor (as Chrysostom thought), but chiefly in prayer, meditation and the study of the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of their fulfilment through the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. This retreat took the place of the three years’ preparation of the Twelve in the school of Christ. Possibly he may have gone as far as Mount Sinai, among the wild children of Hagar and Ishmael.403403 Comp. Gal. 4:25, where "Arabia" means the Sinaitic Peninsula. On that pulpit of the great lawgiver of Israel, and in view of the surrounding panorama of death and desolation which reflects the terrible majesty of Jehovah, as no other spot on earth, he could listen with Elijah to the thunder and earthquake, and the still small voice, and could study the contrast between the killing letter and the life-giving spirit, between the ministration of death and the ministration of righteousness.404404 2 Cor. 3:6-9. The desert, like the ocean, has its grandeur and sublimity, and leaves the meditating mind alone with God and eternity.
"Paul was a unique man for a unique task."405405 Thus Godet sums up his life (Romans, Introd. I. 59). He thinks that Paul was neither the substitute of Judas, nor of James the son of Zebedee, but a substitute for a converted Israel, the man who had, single-handed, to execute the task which properly fell to his whole nation; and hence the hour of his call was precisely that when the blood of the two martyrs, Stephen and James, sealed the hardening of Israel and decided its rejection. His task was twofold: practical and theoretical. He preached the gospel of free and universal grace from Damascus to Rome, and secured its triumph in the Roman empire, which means the civilized world of that age. At the same time he built up the church from within by the exposition and defence of the gospel in his Epistles. He descended to the humblest details of ecclesiastical administration and discipline, and mounted to the sublimest heights of theological speculation. Here we have only to do with his missionary activity; leaving his theoretical work to be considered in another chapter.
Let us first glance at his missionary spirit and policy.
His inspiring motive was love to Christ and to his fellow-men. "The love of Christ," he says, "constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died: and He died for all that they who live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again." He regarded himself as a bondman and ambassador of Christ, entreating men to be reconciled to God. Animated by this spirit, he became "as a Jew to the Jews, as a Gentile to the Gentiles, all things to all men that by all means he might save some."
He made Antioch, the capital of Syria and the mother church of Gentile Christendom, his point of departure for, and return from, his missionary journeys, and at the same time he kept up his connection with Jerusalem, the mother church of Jewish Christendom. Although an independent apostle of Christ, he accepted a solemn commission from Antioch for his first great missionary tour. He followed the current of history, commerce, and civilization, from East to West, from Asia to Europe, from Syria to Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and perhaps as far as Spain.406406 "Westward the course of empire takes its way." This famous line of Bishop Berkeley, the philosopher, express a general law of history both civil and religious. Clement of Rome says that Paul came on his missionary tour "to the extreme west" (ἐπὶ τὸ τέρμα τῆς δύσεως), which means either Rome or Spain, whither the apostle intended to go (Rom. 15:24, 28). Some English historians (Ussher, Stillingfleet, etc.) would extend Paul’s travels to Gaul and Britain, but of this there is no trace either in the New Test., or in the early tradition. See below. In the larger and more influential cities, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, he resided a considerable time. From these salient points he sent the gospel by his pupils and fellow-laborers into the surrounding towns and villages. But he always avoided collision with other apostles, and sought new fields of labor where Christ was not known before, that he might not build on any other man’s foundation. This is true independence and missionary courtesy, which is so often, alas! violated by missionary societies inspired by sectarian rather than Christian zeal.
His chief mission was to the Gentiles, without excluding the Jews, according to the message of Christ delivered through Ananias: "Thou shalt bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." Considering that the Jews had a prior claim in time to the gospel,407407 Rom. 1:16, "to the Jews first," not on the ground of a superior merit (the Jews, as a people, were most unworthy and ungrateful), but on the ground of God’s promise and the historical order (Rom. 15:8). and that the synagogues in heathen cities were pioneer stations for Christian missions, he very naturally addressed himself first to the Jews and proselytes, taking up the regular lessons of the Old Testament Scriptures, and demonstrating their fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth. But almost uniformly he found the half-Jews, or "proselytes of the gate," more open to the gospel than his own brethren; they were honest and earnest seekers of the true religion, and formed the natural bridge to the pure heathen, and the nucleus of his congregations, which were generally composed of converts from both religions.
In noble self-denial he earned his subsistence with his own hands, as a tent-maker, that he might not be burthensome to his congregations (mostly belonging to the lower classes), that he might preserve his independence, stop the mouths of his enemies, and testify his gratitude to the infinite mercy of the Lord, who had called him from his headlong, fanatical career of persecution to the office of an apostle of free grace. He never collected money for himself, but for the poor Jewish Christians in Palestine. Only as an exception did he receive gifts from his converts at Philippi, who were peculiarly dear to him. Yet he repeatedly enjoins upon the churches to care for the liberal temporal support of their teachers who break to them the bread of eternal life. The Saviour of the world a carpenter! the greatest preacher of the gospel a tent-maker!
Of the innumerable difficulties, dangers, and sufferings which he encountered with Jews, heathens, and false brethren, we can hardly form an adequate idea; for the book of Acts is only a summary record. He supplements it incidentally. "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Three times was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, three times I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren: in labor and toil, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, the anxious care for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?"408408 2 Cor. 11:24-29. Thus he wrote reluctantly to the Corinthians, in self-vindication against his calumniators, in the year 57, before his longest and hardest trial in the prisons of Caesarea and Rome, and at least seven years before his martyrdom. He was "pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not in despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed."409409 2 Cor. 4:8, 9. His whole public career was a continuous warfare. He represents the church militant, or "marching and conquering Christianity." He was "unus versus mundum," in a far higher sense than this has been said of Athanasius the Great when confronted with the Arian heresy and the imperial heathenism of Julian the Apostate.
Yet he was never unhappy, but full of joy and peace. He exhorted the Philippians from his prison in Rome: "Rejoice in the Lord alway; again I will say, Rejoice." In all his conflicts with foes from without and foes from within Paul was "more than conqueror" through the grace of God which was sufficient for him. "For I am persuaded," he writes to the Romans in the strain of a sublime ode of triumph, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."410410 Rom. 8:31-39. And his dying word is an assurance of victory: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not only to me, but also to all them that have loved his appearing."411411 2 Tim. 4:6-8. We may add here the somewhat panegyric passage of Clement of Rome, who apparently exalts Paul above Peter, Ep. ad Corinth. c. 5: "Let as set before our eyes the good Apostles. Peter, who on account of unrighteous jealousy endured not one or two, but many toils, and thus having borne his testimony (μαρτυρήσας, or, suffered martyrdom), went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the price of patient endurance. After having been seven times in bonds, driven into exile, stoned, and after having preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the boundary of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the magistrates, he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having become the greatest example of patient endurance."
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