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THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS CALL.
JOHN the Baptist came as “more than a prophet,” as greatest “among them that are born of a woman.” He set himself against the existing order of things and roused the whole people. But all that he left behind him was the ascetic sect of the Baptists which vanished in the chaotic confusion of different religions. Jesus followed. He grasped and combined all that was sound, deep, and genuine in the Jewish religion and rejected all that was morbid and artificial. He brought to His disciples the redemption and freedom of the children of God. But the immediate result of His activity—the early Christian fellowship—remained a mere sect composed of communities of pious Jews who longed for the Messiah and the kingdom, lived strictly according to the commandments of Jesus, and loved their own people. Almost exactly as they lived a few decades after the death of Jesus, Mahomet found them living centuries later. This Jewish Christianity lived apart from the main current of the world’s history, in watchful expectation of the last day, and occupied in devotional exercises. The introduction 159of Christianity into the history of the world is entirely the work of St. Paul. He is not the founder of the new religion, and he did not wish to be accounted such. When he called Jesus his Lord and Redeemer he merely gave expression to actual facts. But it was he who brought Christianity out of Palestine and transplanted it among the Greeks and Romans, chief of all civilized nations. It could no longer now remain a mere Jewish sect. It had to measure its strength with the religions, the civilization, and the philosophy of the leading nations in the world’s history. It had to enter into their needs, their language, and their social intercourse, assuming now a friendly, now a hostile attitude. It was bound to undergo a radical transformation, not merely of external form but of innermost essence. For as a simple community of brethren, believing in the Messiah and obeying the words of Jesus, there was no hope of its enduring in the midst of the civilization of the world. The new start is one of such importance that we must distinguish the pre-Pauline from the post-Pauline Christianity, or, what amounts to the same thing, the Palestinian sect and the world religion.
But in so doing we are realizing one of history’s secrets. History makes great leaps, reveals deep chasms and yawning abysses, never advances in a straight line, and thus mocks all a priori theorizing. Paul never knew Jesus during His lifetime, and nevertheless it was he who best understood Him. He was one of those Scribes and Pharisees on whom Jesus called woe, the cause of whose moral and spiritual malady was just the theory “True religion 160is the law of the sacred nation that and nothing else,” and now this Scribe destroyed the whole of this theory, took Jesus away from the sacred nation and brought Him to mankind.
All this he did, not through calculation nor yet capriciously, but in the full consciousness that he was called thereto by God. The consciousness of this call is very evident in all his letters, most of all in those to the Galatians and in the second to the Corinthians, where he has to meet the attacks of his adversaries. What a proud and defiant note is struck in the beginning of the letter to the Galatians: “Paul, apostle, not by men nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead,” upon which follows the explanation: “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia.” The second epistle to the Corinthians, the greatest apology of the apostle, would almost have to be transcribed from beginning to end, so full is it of a divine self-consciousness which reaches its height in such expressions as these:
2 Cor. iii. 4-6. “And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is of God: who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit.”
2 Cor. iv. 6. “For God who commanded the light 161to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
2 Cor. v. 18-20. “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation, to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, . . . . and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, that ye be reconciled to God.”
Declarations which attain a similar high level are to be found in 1 Thess. ii., 1 Cor. iv. 9-15, Rom. i. 15, and also in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. In all these passages St. Paul draws no distinctions between the general calling of an apostle and the special calling of a missionary to the heathen, but shows himself prepared to receive both at once at God’s hands: and it was just missionary to the heathen that God chose him to be.
The lofty expressions “Workers together with God,” “Fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God,” come down to us from St. Paul. He did not reserve them for himself alone, but applied them to the other apostles as well; to none other, however, than these. The same enthusiasm which we noticed above in the sayings of Jesus concerning the beginning of the kingdom, can be read in these words. Like Jesus, too, it is God’s word that he is going to declare: no one is to look upon it as man’s. Just as the power of God is contained in the Gospel unto the salvation of all them that believe, so St. Paul feels himself to be the 162 man who transmits this power to others. He is the necessary link between the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus and the great mass of humanity. Employing rather the language of the lawyer, he calls himself a debtor to barbarians and to Greek, to wise and to foolish; or again, using the expressions of ritual, a priest of Christ to the heathen in the sacred service of the Gospel of God. All these high attributes amount to the same thing in the end: his position as mediator between God, Christ and man. The twelve apostles likewise looked upon themselves as mediators between Jesus and the congregations of Christians—i.e., as bearers of Jesus’ word. St. Paul, however, went further than this: he sacrificed his life, devoted his whole being to this work of mediation. He even went so far as to ascribe to all that he experienced—his sufferings, as well as the consolation they brought him—a salutary purpose for the congregations; nor did he shrink from the bold thought of vicarious suffering. “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up that which is behind in the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for the Church.” He often gives a somewhat different expression to his faith, saying that he must be offered up as a sacrifice for the congregations. Thereby his lofty and proud claim to be mediator on God’s side is exchanged for the humble but rich calling of the ministry—servant to the congregations for Jesus’ sake.
The apostle’s self-consciousness has in fact limits which it never exceeds. Christ stands high above him. Indeed the distance between the Master and His fellow-missionary has already been considerably 163increased. Jesus is Lord—Paul is servant; Jesus sinless—Paul sinful and pardoned. He believes in Jesus Christ and cries to God through His mediatorship, prays at times to Him. Whereas there is no doubt that Jesus is already to be counted entirely on God’s side, Paul reckons himself and all his fellow-Christians in the churches among the men in need of salvation. Nor is he strictly subordinate to Jesus merely as Christian, but also as apostle. Jesus is Lord over the faith—St. Paul is not. Jesus can lay down commandments. “The Lord says,” so runs the formula of the Christian law. St. Paul can only give advice. His words never have the legal authority of the Master’s words. Even as apostle he has ever to remember that he as well as all other Christians will have to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ and there receive his sentence—according to his deserts either praise or else blame and punishment.
St. Paul’s likeness to Jesus strikes one at once, and at the same time the dissimilarity between the two is no less obvious. In the case of both there is a self-consciousness which goes far beyond all that one usually meets with; there is the claim to have been chosen by God from out of the mass of mankind for an especial purpose; in both, again, there is nothing like fanaticism, but clear recognition of their limitations, and there is a deep humility before God. And yet the word ‘mediator’ cannot be applied in the same sense to both. Whereas Jesus maintains that He knows God in an entirely new way—as the Son—Paul boasts of this knowledge of the glory of God which is reflected in the face of Jesus. He feels that he is not a creator; he merely transmits historical 164facts. God—Christ—Paul, such is the order. He held this conviction so firmly that he did not forget it for one single moment during the whole of his life. That great word of his, “if only Christ be preached,” which the captive apostle uttered at Rome in the midst of all manner of doubtful associates in his missionary labours, is sufficient proof of this. That was the ground of his energetic rejection of the thought of a Pauline party—it was something altogether abhorrent to him. “Has Paul been crucified for you?” “Have ye been baptized in the name of Paul?” “Whether it be Paul, or Kephas, or Apollos, all is yours, but ye are Christ’s and Christ God’s.” But if the question is asked how it comes about that Paul felt the distinction from Jesus so far more clearly than the apostles, then the answer is easy to find. He had not eaten and drunk with Jesus, he had not lived with Him for months. He knows only the risen Lord, that sitteth at the right hand of God—the heavenly Being. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that this heavenly Jesus inspired him with greater courage and confidence of victory. Thus faithfully serving his heavenly king he can go forth out into the wide world more securely and under better protection, overcoming his enemies by land and by sea and winning victories. The greater the master, the greater the servant.
It was as apostle of this Jesus, sitting on the right hand of God, that St. Paul founded the Gentile congregations, safeguarded their liberties at Jerusalem, withstood St Peter to the face at Antioch, drove the Judaizing party from the field, even if they appealed to the authority of one of the twelve, and dying as 165martyr left behind him the great free Gentile Church which had not been before him. He achieved greater results than all the other apostles, nor was he afraid of saying so quite plainly. But this great work in its entirety rests upon his faith in the divine calling which had been vouchsafed him. Without this faith it is incredible that St. Paul would have accomplished a tithe of what he did. His apostolic self-consciousness is as closely bound up with his work and his position in the world’s history as the Messianic with the message of Jesus.
Whence came the certainty of the apostolic calling? By far the most beautiful answer is to be found in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” The calling to go forth as missionary is an inner compulsion which St. Paul cannot at all withstand. As the lion roars, so he must preach. Thus spake the old prophets. So Jesus might very well have said. The question, however, as to the origin of this compulsion must not be avoided. St. Paul gives us a clear account. He became at once Christian and apostle—such is his answer—to the question through the vision on the road to Damascus. Unlike Jesus, he ever turns back to this vision as to the call which he received. “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” The Lord “appeared to me,” just as He appeared after His death to the twelve. He can tell us the very day and the hour. From that moment he dates the new life and the new calling. All at once, without any break, the persecutor became the missionary—he himself looked upon it with amazement, how his conversion and his call came about 166without the slightest human intervention. “I conferred not with men. I went not to the apostles.” The origin of his apostleship was not tradition but revelation, the one being regarded as excluding the other.
A contradiction, however, is contained herein which was immediately noticed by St. Paul’s contemporaries. The apostleship is the incarnation of the tradition. The apostle is one who hands down the tradition: he is one of a company who secures for the Christian community the connection with the Jesus of history.
Revelation, on the other hand, is the prophet’s privilege. He has not to impart the old message of Jesus, but new words of God, just as they flow from the fountain source. Either, therefore, St. Paul is an apostle and hands down the tradition, or he is a prophet and declares the revelation. A combination between the two would only be conceivable if St. Paul had merely received the title of prophet by revelation, but had been obliged to go to the apostolic tradition for the contents of his message. Such a combination St. Paul refused by not going up to Jerusalem after his call, but by going forth to preach the Gospel on his own account. By so doing he afforded his opponents the opportunity of rightly contesting his title to the apostleship in the hitherto legitimate sense of the word.
The apostleship that rests upon revelation—such is the great leap that history takes. Interpret and explain the vision itself as you will, you must admit the leap. It was not the apostles whom Jesus called while He lived on earth, to whom He confided the whole of His message—it was not they who really continued 167His work, but the great persecutor of the Christians whom a revelation summons to the leadership. The leap, the revelation, were necessary if the cause of Jesus was not to stand still or even retrograde. The new way called for a new man bound by no tradition. Only a prophet, no ordinary apostle, could utter the word that should set the stagnant masses in motion. But then he must of course be an apostle as well, in order to carry his work through to the end. Such are the conclusions that we can draw, but the thing remains a mystery after all. The step forward that was then taken in the world’s history rests upon the actual contradiction contained in the combination of apostle and prophet in one person. And as a matter of fact, what was there that was not new in this apostle by revelation? If the beginning of his career was unparalleled, the continuation was unusual. He avoids all intercourse with the apostles and goes forth into distant countries. He leaves Israel to its fate and turns to the Gentiles. He does not place the great provinces that he has just conquered under the authority of the twelve and the Mother Church of Jerusalem, but keeps them in full freedom under his own control. When disputes arise he does not give way to his older companions in one single point, nor does the former persecutor hesitate to administer an open rebuke to the Lord’s favourite, Peter. New, too, is the Gospel that he proclaims. Instead of the story of the words and deeds of Jesus, the message of the crucified and risen Lord alone. True, the name of Jesus stands in the centre, but is it not another Jesus? And new, too, is the apostle’s mode of life. He foregoes the right of being supported by his work as 168missionary and earns his daily bread by the sweat of his brow. Finally, he can never quite rid himself of the effects of his education as Rabbi they always cling to him. The apostle is a prophet; he appeals to revelation and yet at the same time he is a Scribe. He examines, proves, draws conclusions, and occasionally silences his opponent with a whole host of startling and surprising texts. In a word, Paul is the exact opposite of all that had till then been understood by the word ‘apostle.’
Hence the necessity and likewise the difficulty of his apology. A very great many Christians could not grasp the fact that one whose past record was the worst imaginable, who did not know Jesus and possessed no authority but that of a vision the invention of which was the easiest matter conceivable dared place himself by the side of the twelve whom all men revered, who already were almost accounted as saints.
Fortunately Paul did not attempt the proof of the truth of his vision. He needed none himself, and he would in no case have convinced his adversaries. True, he appealed to it, yet never to it alone. On the contrary, he marshals a whole row of other reasons of a somewhat varied character.
First of all he adapts himself to his opponent’s mode of thought, to the high esteem in which they hold the original apostles. It is true he is the least of the apostles not worthy to be called an apostle, because he had persecuted the brethren. It was only God’s grace that enabled him to take his place by their side and even to work more than they. But the twelve and he declare the same Gospel. Have they not handed down to him the fundamental facts 169of the death and resurrection, to be by him transmitted to the new congregations of believers? This statement does not quite tally with that to the Galatians—“The gospel which I preach I received not of man.” The very same Paul who in the heat of the argument maintains his entire independence and the originality of his message, claims to be a bearer of the apostolic tradition as soon as any one of the fundamental articles of the faith held in common of all Christians is attacked. Notice the satisfaction with which he emphasizes his reception by “the pillars” in his account of the great dispute at Jerusalem: “James and Kephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.” In this passage he formally substantiates his claim that he has been duly received by the twelve. But above all, the collection for the poor in Jerusalem is intended to prove to everybody, and especially to the disseminators of slanderous reports, that Paul is no separatist or sectarian. On the contrary, he is a faithful servant of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, and now discharges his own debt of gratitude and that of all his Gentile converts by this readiness to spend and be spent.
It is, however, to the success of his work that St. Paul is able to appeal still more frankly and proudly. The Churches that have been founded by him are the seal of his apostleship, his letter of recommendation known and read of all men. “From Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum”—so he writes to the Romans—“I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ,” and that, even where the ground had not yet been broken, “not where Christ was named.”170
Such is his glorying as a Christian. There are no vain boasts, no boundless conceits. On the contrary, he has remained constant, just within the bounds which God has set him. Have not the twelve apostles, too, been obliged to confess that God’s grace has granted him so great a measure of success—more than to themselves? As a part of this outward success he twice reckoned his apostolic signs and wonders as a proof that he was in nowise inferior to the other apostles. The Acts of the Apostles give us examples of this activity, which, however strangely it may strike us, in St. Paul especially, just formed a portion of a missionary’s regular inventory. Many of these signs consisted of cures of sick persons; a still greater number, probably, were instances of mighty psychical convulsions finding vent in ecstatic experiences. The Galatians “suffered many things” when God ministered the Spirit to them and a power worked in their midst. At Corinth the proof of the possession of the Spirit and of this power inflamed a fanatic and undisciplined enthusiasm accompanied by the speaking with tongues, prophesying and healing of the sick. But St. Paul was not the man to rejoice at the sight of such external signs alone. Where no moral change followed upon them he might very well have been inclined to see even something Satanic in them. New men—new moral creatures—such the apostle ever puts forward as the surest proof of his apostleship. To the Thessalonians he writes: “Ye received my message not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” When his opponents in Corinth asked for a sign as a proof that Christ really spoke 171in him, he cries out to the congregation at once in anger and in joy: “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” He stands firm in the faith that these Corinthians, to whom so many crimes still cling, and who are now at variance with their apostle, do still, in spite of all, show forth the fruits of Christ and are redeemed to a better life through the apostle, and Jesus that works in him. Here, then, the proof by external results changes into the self-certainty of faith.
But now the Jews arrived with their whole host of accusations and slanders. They were past masters as critics and as spies. “Paul,” said they, “was careless and changeable in his decisions; he hypocritically hushed up the unpleasant consequences of his latitudinarian gospel; he did not draw his support from the congregations, because he was afraid to do so; his sufferings and attacks were proof enough that God had smitten him,” and many other statements of a like nature. In short, his whole mode of life and all his methods were a clear refutation of his claim to the apostleship. His self-defence is proud and of a grand simplicity: “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.”
And again, in 1 Thess. ii. and 2 Cor. vi. he rises to those powerful, but never vain descriptions of his activity in which the majesty of his style reflects in every line the feeling that he is standing at the height of his task. Such was his refutation of all these calumnies, and no man before him ever spake thus. 172But even in these passages, where the apostle is witness on his own behalf, the greatest emphasis is laid upon his suffering and privations. Not one of his opponents can come anywhere near him in this respect. And so, wishing to present all that he has undergone at one view, St. Paul composes the famous enumeration of his hardships in 2 Cor. xi., where he assumes his mask of a jester whose boasting the world “suffers gladly.” And though he mounts up to his vision, that other title on which his fame rests, and remains for a moment in silent contemplation of these holiest mysteries of his life, yet he descends immediately again to his sufferings: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities; for when I am weak then am I strong.” It is as though he himself felt that such visions after all only form the culminating points of a life for the man that has himself experienced them, but that all men, even including all his enemies, must in the end bow down in acknowledgment of the incomparable height of his suffering in the service of the brethren.
When on some other occasion his right to call himself a minister of Christ was called in question—probably on account of his not having known Jesus—he cries out at once in entreaty and as a challenge: “If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that as he is Christ’s so are we Christ’s.” The halting sentence expresses the one thing to which he attaches the greatest importance—respect and toleration for the faithful fellow-worker. He himself acted in accordance with these opinions when the factions arose at Corinth and also at Rome. He never wishes to drive others from the 173field; he merely wishes to maintain the place for himself which belongs to him by the side of the others. Even in the very heat of his self-defence he proclaims the principle that he has been called to be the servant, not the lord and master, of the congregation, and that he has to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.
And so he gains the victory over all the attacks of his adversaries, the good and the bad alike, be cause his words and his life, the visible success and the inner self-mastery, have ever been in the completest harmony. Called to be an apostle by a revelation in an apparently illegitimate manner, he brilliantly legitimized himself by the services which he rendered. And in a fortunate moment the original apostles, including St James, confirmed this by holding out the right hand of fellowship, nor could any thing that was set in motion from Jerusalem in later times affect this position.
We have in reality only reason to be thankful to the Jews. Had it not been for their denunciations, we should have lost the apostle’s proud and frank apology. The man of God had no reason to fear the light, since with “unveiled face he reflected, as in a mirror, the glory of God,” for a world that hailed the light with joy.174
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