|« Prev||Chapter XVI. The Anti-Jewish Apologetic.||Next »|
THE ANTI-JEWISH APOLOGETIC.
THE contrasts between this world and the next, between Adam and Christ, the flesh and the Spirit, death and life, are the subjects of the great theology of salvation. No mention is made of Israel, of its law, of its peculiar position. These matters do not concern the Greeks. But the struggle against Jews and Judaizers compelled St Paul to undertake a learned exposition of his teaching as compared with Judaism. This struggle had of course to be fought out in the first instance in the sphere of actual fact. The connection with the synagogue had to be cut off in all places where St Paul preached, and the Old Testament had to be brought to the Gentile Christians without the official Jewish explanation. Then St Paul had stubbornly to defy the whole congregation at Jerusalem, and at Antioch to withstand St Peter to the face—fighting, in the first instance, for the freedom of the Gentile Christians, and in the second for their equality of rights with the Jewish Christians. More important here than all his learning was the resolute attitude of his personality. Finally he had 291to beat back the attacks of the Judaistic emissaries upon the newly founded Churches, and to see to it (in spite of all abuse and denunciation) that none of the newly acquired territory should be lost again. In this struggle against the Judaizers—it was at the same time the struggle for his apostleship—St Paul stands revealed to us under his sternest and most rugged aspect. It is there that he breaks forth into abuse of the false apostles and messengers of Satan; it is there that he utters the curse against every one that should preach another gospel, even were it an angel from heaven. The fact is, that he knows that the very existence of Christianity is at stake. When finally the most impetuous attack had been repulsed, there was still no rest for him. For in the meantime, his other great enemy the Jews remained as powerful as ever. They denounced him as an apostate and a blasphemer to the Christians at Rome; they imprisoned him, and all but killed him at Jerusalem; during his captivity they stirred up all the strife they could in his churches—e.g., at Philippi. He had to ward off the attacks of these Jews till the time of his death. Now this struggle against Jews and Judaizers in actual life naturally led him to engage in a theoretical campaign, both of attack and defence. His aim and object is ever the same: the justification of the mission to the Gentiles free from the bondage of the law. In the explanation of his doctrine, three points come up for consideration: the criticism and setting aside of the law, the defence of the reception of the Gentiles on the basis of faith, and the problem of the prerogatives of Israel. St Paul of course speaks 292everywhere from the standpoint of a Christian apologist.
The Law Annulled.
It was a memorable hour when St Paul met St Peter at Antioch, and fairly placed the alternative before him: Christ or the law. Either the one or the other. A little while before, at the council at Jerusalem, he had only proclaimed the freedom of his Gentile converts without criticising the observance of the law by the Jewish Christians. But now the law and Christ stood opposed to each other. Paul put the following question to Peter: Where have we ourselves found our salvation, and where not? No sooner was the question put in this antithetical form than the law was annulled. It now took its place amongst those hostile powers from which Christ has set us free. Henceforth St Paul’s motto was: to die unto the law, in order to be able to live unto God.
Thereby St Paul destroyed the idea that true religion was the legal system of the Jewish race. His object now was to establish this on a theoretical basis.
There were many ways in which he might achieve this result. The divine origin of the law might be questioned. Or secondly, the eternal and the temporal elements in the law might be separated by means of internal criticism. There was a third road, which led to freedom from the law—allegorical interpretation. Finally it could be pointed out that the law was not the way of salvation, and had been annulled by a new divine dispensation.
The first method—the denial of the divine origin—293was that, e.g., pursued later by Marcion, the apostle’s zealous follower, but St Paul himself resisted the temptation. A temptation it was for him in the heat of the fray with the Judaists, when he wrote the letter to the Galatians and the second to the Corinthians. At that time he laid great weight upon the fact that the law had been ordained through angels, by the hand of a mediator; it did not, therefore, originate immediately from the hand of God. Nor did he shrink from counting it among the weak and beggarly elements which, as heathens, they served in times gone by. Or else he spoke of the teaching of the law as of a “ministration of death,” and said of the letter that it killeth, words which surely would only be applied otherwise to powers hostile to God. Nevertheless he clings firmly to the fact that God gave the law. The law is not sin, but holy; the commandment is holy, righteous and good—and herein lay the real source of the difficulty of the problem. Had it not been for his tenacious belief in the divine inspiration of every word in the law he would never have needed to take all this trouble to prove that it would have to be annulled.
The second method was pursued by Catholic and gnostic teachers of the second century, who distinguished the eternal law of nature from the transitory law of ritual. Even the conversation of Jesus with the Scribe as to the supreme commandment seemed to point in this direction. But for St Paul the ‘nomos’ admits of no such division—it is something whole and entire. It is possible indeed to be uncertain of which part of the law he is thinking on this or that particular occasion: e.g., in Rom. ii. and Rom. vii. he has the 294moral law in his mind; in Gal. iv. the law of ritual. But he has never expressed this distinction in so many words, nor does he anywhere treat of one part of the law more favourably than another. The essence of the law is for him the categorical imperative, and all its constituent portions bear this character in like manner.
The allegorical interpretation had been a means even for the Alexandrian Jews (Philo and others) of liberating themselves, at least theoretically, from the literal meaning of the law. It was practised in Palestine also, and Paul knew of it. He made use occasionally of Old Testament stories in an allegorical fashion: e.g., of the story of Isaac and Ishmael. And in like manner he interpreted isolated commandments which seemed to him unsuitable to God if taken literally; as, e.g., the prohibition to muzzle the mouth of the oxen when the corn is trodden out. Could not the whole of the ritual law be thus interpreted? Would not this turn out to be the road to freedom?
There are indeed certain indications which appear to point in this direction. The circumcision of the heart in the spirit is contrasted with the circumcision of the flesh as that which alone has value in the sight of God. Or we hear of the circumcision not made with hands—i.e., the putting off of the body of the flesh at baptism. If the law is spiritual, does it not then rightly need a spiritual—i.e., allegorical—interpretation of those portions which are of less value? Does not the celebrated antithesis of letter and spirit (2 Cor. iii. 6) lead us to the same conclusion? St Paul’s opinion is the exact opposite of this. By the letter and the spirit he sets up in opposition to each other 295two covenants of different contexts—the one demands as a right, the other grants freely. The difference between Paul and Philo strikes one more forcibly from this passage than from any other. For reasons of his own St Paul could not find freedom in allegory: the law even when interpreted allegorically represented a demand for him.
St Paul’s theology pursues an entirely independent course of its own. His criticism establishes two propositions hitherto unheard of: the law cannot be the way of salvation; Christ by His death has freed us from the law.
1. The law cannot be the way of salvation, because it only demands, it does not give. It presupposes God as lawgiver and judge: man has to perform a task, God rewards or punishes. St Paul never wearies of describing this relationship of wages without toning down any of the difficulties. “Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace but as of debt.” Thereby, however, the result of the law is merely a negative one. The law brings the full knowledge of sin: by its continual injunctions and prohibitions it actually stimulates transgression and drives a man to sin. So it works wrath and has death as its doom. Despair is the result of the service of the law.
The picture which St Paul thereby presents to us of later Judaism is a very strange one. He characterizes it as a religion of wage service and of fear, a slave’s religion suitable for bondsmen only. To be a sincere adherent of Judaism is tantamount to despairing of one’s salvation. For God is the stern Judge before whom even the most pious Jew cannot 296stand. In the Epistle to the Romans St Paul proves this point from Scripture, quoting passages from the Psalms and the prophets. “None is righteous; no, not one.” In the Epistle to the Galatians he argues from the law itself: “Cursed is every one which continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law,” and hence he draws the conclusion that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God.
Now, is St Paul’s criticism of later Judaism just? What would a Jewish Rabbi think of this representation of his faith? He would say: this is a caricature of our religion. The Jewish Church is law and grace. The law presupposes grace. To be a Jew, a child of Abraham and a member of the chosen people, is already a mark of grace. Circumcision is a symbol of God’s covenant grace. The whole Jewish Church is an organization for the attainment of salvation. It has sacrifices, repentance, the great day of atonement, the good works of the fathers, personal merits, the forgiveness of God in answer to prayer. He who has fear in the presence of the law may take refuge in the grace of God. For Israel has a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, a faithful God.
How was it that St Paul thus entirely ignored the grace that was in the Jewish Church and the justification that was already within reach? There is a double reason—one personal, one apologetic.
St Paul saw to the bottom of contemporary Judaism. It was really in the main a service for wages and a slavish form of piety. A man could not breathe freely in God’s love, could not feel himself free as a child of God. Jesus could retain complete 297personal freedom because the law did not stand between God and Himself. But wherever legalism thus formed a wall of separation, it fostered an artificial and slavish form of piety. The Church and the Sacraments do not give the one thing that is needful: the trust of the individual soul in the grace of God and the certainty of His love. The question as to the personal assurance of salvation still remained unanswered: it was only the day of judgment that was to clear up all that was now doubtful. An unbiassed examination must allow St Paul to have been justified in his criticism.
But now, of course, St Paul’s apologetic and ecclesiastical interests came into play. Besides the grace in Christ he could not possibly allow any Jewish means of grace to have any efficacy. The despair which the law produced in pious souls was welcome to him, because it was the only way to get them to accept Jesus as their Redeemer. The whole of St Paul’s criticism of the law, instead of being based on Jewish premises, always presupposes the Christian salvation that has already been won. As a Christian St Paul had become so entirely estranged from the law and the Jewish Church that he could never again judge it objectively. He was obliged, therefore, in writing Rom. vii. to learn to understand it again. Hence a Jew could never have written as St Paul did. Christ and His Church stand everywhere between the apostle and the law.
2. The despair to which legalism leads has been clearly set forth. The law is not the way of salvation, but as it is nevertheless divine, how can we escape our obligation to it? Christ was sent by God to set 298men free from the law. Christ is the end of the law.
Christ sets us free from the law in a twofold manner, in both instances by suffering vicariously for us. In the first place, Christ’s whole life upon earth was a free and vicarious service of the law. He was made under law to them that are under law. For the Son of God who descended from heaven was, as such, free from the law. If He subjected Himself to the law He did it for our sakes that we might become the free children of God.
But above all the death of Christ was a vicarious suffering endured to set us free. St Paul’s line of argument is a masterpiece after the true rabbinical fashion. One passage in the law pronounces every transgressor to be accursed; another says that every one that is hanged is accursed of God. Therefore he that is hanged is accounted a transgressor in the eyes of the law. Now, Christ hung upon the tree, but naturally without being a transgressor or accursed. Therefore, He became a curse for us, and our transgression has received its due punishment in His death. Thereby we have been set free from the law.
The passage in which he employs the argument from the marriage law describes exactly the same thing. From a legal point of view death puts an end to marriage and sets the surviving partner free. In a similar manner our obligation to the law would be ended by our death. Christ died in our stead; that is as much as to say that the connection between us and the law had been severed. We are dead to the law. That is to say, we are free men.299
It is clear of course that all these arguments deal with legal abstractions and have nothing whatever to do with the Jesus of history. The question, does Jesus set us free from the law or not, could surely only be answered from the point of view of His position in history. This St Paul, however, absolutely refuses to take. The Jesus of history is for him a servant of the law just like every other Jew, but as Son of God voluntarily and vicariously. Now, without going any further, St Paul is at fault in his premises, and so the whole of this theory is an ingenious conjuring with ideas and nothing more. All this strikes us as so unnatural that many have found it hard before now to take St Paul seriously here. But for all that he was in serious earnest, and the idea that he had in his mind was a great one. He rightly understood Jesus when he conceived of Him as our Redeemer from the law. He revealed the contradiction between the respect which Jesus paid to the law and His actual relation to legalism. He drew that inference from the Gospel of Jesus, which His disciples neither had the courage nor the perspicacity to draw for themselves. Jesus was in very deed the end of the law; with Him began a new mediatorship and a new religious relation. The struggle against Scribes and Pharisees reached its rightful conclusion only when their legalism—the system which stood behind their persons—was annulled. That St Paul based this true under standing of Jesus on a very lame theory which disregarded facts, we have to take into the bargain. And, besides, St Paul’s mistake must be put down to the account of those who had been 300acquainted with Jesus, but had not recognized Him as free.
Of course, if we confine ourselves to the Jewish point of view we can easily understand the wrath and the indignation of St Paul’s adversaries when he came forward with proofs such as these. For there was no single word in his theory that carried conviction with it. The very method, the attempt to prove the annulling of the law from the law itself, implied reasoning in a circle. There was, to be sure, a good dose of the characteristic cleverness of the Jewish Rabbi in it: and that made it seem all the more obnoxious to them. This kind of apologetic was bound to repel every thinking Jew. Christ was the end of the law for the believer—i.e., for the man who had from the very first embraced the Christian point of view.
Justification by Faith and Freedom in the Spirit.
The positive converse to the negative criticism of the law is the proof of the superiority of the Christian religion over Judaism. St Paul’s object is to show that Christians who have abandoned the law but who believe in Christ as their liberator from the law, far from losing, have been greatly the gainers by the exchange. Once again these theories are based upon experiences quite peculiar to St Paul, out of which, however, he constructs the defence of his practice as missionary and of the gospel which he preaches.
By the vision of Christ on the road to Damascus the religious relationship had been reversed for St Paul. Before, it was he who performed and 301God who rewarded. Now, God comes to meet him with the free gift of love. He is the giver, St Paul the child, the recipient of the gift. That is what St Paul means by the word grace. It is the return to true religion from an imaginary faith of one’s own fabrication. God first—man last: that alone is the true religious relation. Thence rest and peace and thankfulness enter into the heart. And faith is nothing else than receptivity for God’s love, the suffering oneself to receive the gift, the being seized by God. Grace—God is the Father; faith—I am His child: these two belong together. St Paul has expressed this more clearly than anywhere else in Rom. iv. Once more we hear the music of the 103rd Psalm, and there is added to it a note which no Jew could possibly strike, a strain of personal assurance. For in the death of Christ God’s love has spoken to him.
By this same miracle of his conversion St Paul became a new man morally. When he found God and experienced His love, the good became the untrammelled motive power of his life, proceeding from his inmost being. He felt himself free, and the good conquered, without any kind of external compulsion, without either threats or prohibitions, without the taskmaster: nay, rather, from pure delight and love. That, in St Paul’s language, is the Spirit. When the storms in his inmost being had subsided, external attractions lost their hold upon him. Instead of being something foreign to him, the good became his true home. He felt light-hearted and glad in the midst of all his labours.
By means of these experiences St Paul was able to look into the depths of religion as no previous thinker 302had done. In so far as his propositions merely reproduce this experience, they are the foundation stones of every theory of religion. Once again St Paul has reached Jesus, and once again he has gone a long way round to do it. For no man possessed in like manner as Jesus the power of living the life of a child of God or of acting from the inner motive. That which St Paul only learnt through the shipwreck of his old life, Jesus possessed from the very first as an original endowment. Hence Jesus had no need of St Paul’s antithesis.
When it was therefore necessary to defend the reception of the Gentiles against the attacks of Jews and Judaizers, without exacting the observance of the law, and simply on the ground of their faith, then naturally St Paul found his personal experience very valuable. All that is genuine and profound in the doctrines of justification and of Christian liberty can be traced back to the experiences of St Paul. But his apologetic interests have here injured the expression of his thoughts to an even greater extent than in other points of his theology. They compelled him to accommodate himself to the difficulties and to the conceptions of his opponents, and to the employment of like conceptions in setting up antitheses against their theses. A great subject of a distinctly non-Jewish nature was thereby pressed into a perverted Jewish form. This remark applies to the doctrine of justification, which defends the entrance of the Gentiles on the ground of faith, even more than to the doctrine of Christian liberty. Jews and Judaizers alike declared that without circumcision and the fulfilment of the law no one could prepare 303for the judgment, or hope for justification on the day of judgment. In opposition to this St Paul set up his doctrine of justification by faith.
What, then, is the meaning of justification? What is the position of God, what is the position of man?
The word ‘justify,’ like its opposite, ‘to declare guilty,’ is a forensic term and is thence applied to the act of the Supreme Judge—God. In later Judaism men pictured God to themselves as keeping account in heaven of the deeds of men upon earth. Every man had his own particular page in the heavenly book, in which the good deeds were written on one side and the bad on the other. Now the Judge passes sentence in every moment when He decides to write the deed on the good or the bad side. But He can only pass the final sentence when He sums up the total of the good and the bad deeds. There is accordingly a twofold act both of justification and of condemnation—one that is going on continuously as each deed is done, and a final one on the day of judgment. Under the first head would be included, e.g., the justification of the publican on the strength of his prayer in the temple, or of Abraham because of his faith in God’s promise. Under the second St Paul himself includes the justification of the doers of the law on the day of judgment, of which he holds out the prospect in Rom. ii. Naturally the ground covered by these two kinds of sentence differs considerably. In the first instance it is the praise of a good deed; in the second, entrance into the everlasting blessedness, salvation.
The question now arises, which kind of sentence St Paul had in view in his doctrine of justification: 304for he was acquainted with both from the very first, just as his teachers the Rabbis were acquainted with them. Under the justification for which he contends he understands the single final sentence of God, the sentence which decides upon life and death. But now comes the innovation which he introduced. In the first place, instead of awaiting God’s final verdict on a future day of judgment, he transfers it to the very beginning, to the entrance of the convert into the Christian community, so that every Christian, being already justified, can go forward in confident joy; secondly, he attaches a new meaning to justification, inasmuch as not the righteous but sinners are justified; henceforth it is simply equivalent to forgiveness—forgiveness for time and for eternity. Whereas the Jew anxiously awaits the uncertain award of God in the hope that he will stand the test of the day of the Lord because of his good works, the Christian has the full assurance, from the very day of his entrance into the community, of having received a full pardon in spite of all his sins. Both innovations—participation in salvation here and now and the reception of grace instead of one’s just due—completely transform the idea of justification. All that is left are the juridical terms and the forensic appearance. “I am justified,” no longer means, now I have acted rightly in the sight of God, but I have received forgiveness and am assured of His grace.
What, then, is the position of God in justification? Here we clearly realize the contradiction between the new meaning and the old form. God must be conceived of as judge in accordance with the forensic expressions. As such He gives His award on the 305ground of the deeds of men that are brought before Him for judgment. So it appears to be, as long as we look merely at the form. But the meaning points in a contrary direction. The God who declares sinners to be righteous, ceases to be a judge. He is the God of grace, and not of justice. Would that the old order, first man, then God, had not been retained even when the old doctrine received its new setting!
In the Jewish doctrine of justification God is the judge who punishes or rewards. St Paul, revising this doctrine, substitutes the God of mercy who forgives sinners on the ground of their faith. But St Paul’s ultimate object was to establish the new order: first God, then man. This he does in the Epistle to the Galatians by emphasizing the promise, and by uniting promise and faith in one conception. The God that promises is the God that ‘prevents’; man’s faith only comes second. In the Epistle to the Romans the doctrine of the revelation of the “righteousness of God” in the death of Jesus is intended to express the same thought. In the doctrine of justification as a connected whole, ‘righteousness’ must be the substantive to the verb ‘to set forth as righteous,’ i.e. to justify, and means ‘justification.’ The only reason why St Paul did not employ the ordinary Greek word for justification is that the Old Testament provided him with an expression established by long usage, “The righteousness of God” (cp. Isa. li. 5, 6, 8; Ps. xcvii. 2). St Paul, as we have seen, altered the signification of the idea! It now means simply forgiveness, grace, love. This grace of God has been manifested, he says, in the death of Jesus: here is the objective fact to which 306the sinner seeking for forgiveness can cling. God’s love, therefore, according to St Paul, does not follow the act of faith but anticipates it. That is the great reversal in the religious relationship which Paul himself experienced. But he did not succeed in giving clear expression to his new thoughts. The old form of the doctrine of justification was still too powerful. In his controversy with the Jews St Paul did not manage to find the simple words “God is our Father.”
But the old forensic system exercises its most baneful effect upon the position of man in the doctrine of justification. Faith in Jesus Christ comes to be the condition for justification. Now for Paul himself this faith was nothing but the feeling of God’s love in the death of Jesus, the passive reception of God’s gift, the exact opposite of any kind of performance of works. But in the course of his controversy with the Judaizers, he sets up, in opposition to their thesis, justification by the works of the law, his antithesis, justification by faith; thus putting faith instead of the ceremonies of the law as the work of man that is acceptable to God. That is, of course, not his intention: he emphatically declares faith and works to be opposites, but the power of his adversaries’ formula is stronger than his will. And what is the faith after all which secures justification? It is the faith in Jesus as the Messiah, in His death and resurrection—in a word, it is the creed of the Church. And thus in fact a new work—the Church’s creed—has stepped into the place of circumcision, ordinances as to food, the Sabbath, etc., and even now the apologist is not afraid of uttering the fatal proposition: 307“The creed of the Church will save a man in the day of judgment, and will secure eternal blessedness for him.” The subject of controversy with Jews and Judaizers was the question whether entrance into the Christian fellowship might be considered a substitute for the Jewish ceremonies or not. But how widely removed is this question from St Paul’s deep personal experiences.
One further argument, however, was indispensable. If St Paul wished to refute Judaism, he must prove “justification by faith” from the Old Testament. It was a critical undertaking. How could he expect to find again in the Old Testament the great new creation which he had experienced in Jesus? But apologetic methods smooth away most difficulties by taking merely words into account. By chance the decisive words ‘faith’ and ‘righteousness’ were found in the Old Testament (Gen. xv.) “Abraham believed . . . . and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness” (Hab. ii.). “The righteous shall live by faith.” So the proof was furnished both from the law and the prophets. By Gen. xv. St Paul even secured Abraham, the ancestor of the Jewish people, for his doctrine. This was an immense advantage, for now he had the start of the law by 450 years. Clearly, then, it was proved to be altogether secondary. Even circumcision was now proved to have come in after faith. The institution of the rite is described two chapters after Gen. xv. It was therefore likewise something secondary and not the main condition. The appeal to antiquity had resulted in St Paul’s favour; he had vanquished his opponents, for the old, according to the belief of that age, was everywhere 308the more venerable and holy. With what one must almost call a refinement of cleverness, St Paul managed to extract a proof of justification by faith even from a passage which actually praised the law. It was the passage Deut. xxx. 11 seq., “This commandment which I command thee this day, it is not concealed from thee, neither is it far off . . . . for it is the word that is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart that thou mayest do it.” The clever man simply omitted the first words “The commandment,” etc., and the conclusion “That thou mayest do it,” and lo and behold he had interpreted the word as his gospel, and ‘mouth’ and ‘heart’ as ‘faith’ and ‘confession.’ To a Rabbi this exegesis could appear as nothing else than deceitful. And doubtless St Paul heard the epithet applied to his procedure. Thereupon he answered that when the Old Testament was read the “veil of Moses” was over the hearts of the Jews, so that the true meaning of the law remained concealed from them; or, in a more succinct and emphatic form, that the devil had blinded them. This, then, was the conclusion of the controversy concerning the proof from Scripture between St Paul and his opponents.
But for us there is still another point in this matter which is very instructive. Through the use that St Paul makes of Abraham in his apologetic he renders the theory of salvation vulnerable. Before this we always used to hear that the whole of mankind was a ‘massa perditionis,’ that the light of salvation only began to shine in the world when Christ came on earth. And now, all at once, long before Christ’s advent, there is the golden age of Abraham in the 309midst of this wicked world. The contradiction is due to the fact that two separate systems of apologetic, the one for Greeks and the other for Jews, intersect at this point. The consequence of this is that the Old Testament and its God are saved; the God of Jesus Christ is also the God of Abraham. In a later age the whole assault of the gnostics beat in vain against this rock of apologetics. And thus, even this artificial proof from Scripture turned out to be a piece of good fortune for the Church.
Whoever examines St Paul’s doctrine of justification, laying aside all Protestant prejudices, is bound to reckon it one of his most disastrous creations. The word ‘justify,’ with the new meaning attached to it, is ambiguous; the position of God who as judge declares the sinner to be righteous, is confusing; the value attached to the creed of the Church as the decisive factor in the judgment is fraught with evil consequences, and the proof from the Old Testament is arbitrary and artificial. St Paul fought for the universalism of Christianity and the substitution of the religion of love for that of legalism: what he really attained was the establishment of the Christian Church with the new legalism of faith and the creed, with the return of all the Jewish sins of narrowness, fanaticism, and the restricted conception of God. A great and profound thought, however, lies hidden, in spite of all, beneath the defective outer form. God is our Father, who freely gives to us whether we deserve it or not, and we men, just as we are, His children, living by His love. This thought is at once strengthened and realized by the fact of the historical manifestation of Christ. To the kernel 310though not to the husk we Protestants certainly owe the deepest reverence.
The second reproach, however, which his Jewish adversaries cast in his teeth still remained unanswered. The annulling of the law was equivalent, they said, to an invitation to unchecked sin. The reception of the Gentiles without the law merely paved the way for the entrance of immorality into the Christian Churches. St Paul’s answer to this was the doctrine of Christian freedom.
He attaches a sharply defined meaning to the word ‘freedom’: it is freedom from the Jewish law, which, like a giant, holds men in bondage. The children of the house are free, therefore freedom from the law means at the same time the sonship of God. And that, according to St Paul, was Christ’s great achievement, that out of the slaves of legalism He made us to be the free children of God.
But there is no danger in this freedom from the law, because the Christian’s new life proceeds from within. In the Spirit which God has given him, the Christian has a complete substitute for the law. Whilst the law, as a foreign and extraneous power, demanded of us that which was incapable of fulfilment, and was unable to break the inner law of sin in our members, the Spirit grants the Christian the power for a new life from within, and all that proceeds from the Spirit is not contrary to the law but fulfils it. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, chastity; and along with the gift of love is given the fulfilment of the whole law, for the command of love to one’s neighbour is the sum of the whole law. So, then, the freedom of the Christian from the law is no 311freedom to commit sin, for from the Spirit there proceeds only the victory over sin and obedience to the will of God.
It is as though one stepped out of the dark night into the bright light of day, when one comes to these marvellous and simple sentences after leaving the laboured arguments of the doctrine of justification. They are eloquent with the glad rejoicing of a man who has become a child again after having been an aged pedant, and at the same time with an enthusiasm for the victory of the good in all his friends which is peculiar to the period of creative activity. Nowhere else has the superiority of the new religion over the old found so brilliant an expression. But on a closer examination we observe that it is not a picture of things as they really are, but a coloured apologetic representation that we have here before us. St Paul himself was the first to be aware that the Spirit produced very various effects, e.g. at Corinth, and amongst them some which threatened to implant in the lives of the converts the tendency to an unbridled and morally dangerous enthusiasm. One need but compare the fruits of the Spirit which the apologist enumerates in the Epistle to the Galatians with those which are noted in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. And apart from this St Paul knew very well that the work of the Spirit cannot be compared to natural causation, so that the moral life could be deduced from it by purely logical methods. That which he describes as apologist was the ideal and not the real in his congregation. Read, e.g., the statement: “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with the passions and the lusts thereof.” Taken 312literally it would not be true to fact: but St Paul is setting up the ideal, the aim and goal of effort. The same remark applies to the idea of the new birth—St Paul prefers the word resurrection—which he sets forth in the Epistle to the Romans as a parallel to the theory of the Spirit. He had once more been reproached with the taunt that his doctrine of free grace led to immorality. St Paul answers, referring to baptism, that sin for Christians is an impossibility, because they had died to it once and for all at their conversion, and through dying to it with Christ had been freed from all relation to it. It has rightly been pointed out that great moral changes sometimes take place from the very moment of conversion in the missionary field. But to generalize from such cases is surely only the work of the apologist who takes the ideal for the real.
St Paul felt that himself, and therefore added in the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans the command in the imperative mood to the description in the indicative. We may perhaps even go still further and say that the description of the ideal was written by him in the shape of a command to his readers to attain to it. Both in the doctrine of the Spirit and in the doctrine of the new birth the Christian is to read his obligation to understand his Christian freedom as obedience to God’s will. His freedom is to consist in becoming the servant of righteousness, in the rendering of services to the brethren, and in a freedom from sin. To this St Paul firmly adheres. There is no word about the law. Christians are not under the law but under grace. But the place of the external law is taken by 313the inner sense of obligation, the simple content of which is love to God and the brethren. This inner obligation is to rule their hearts and minds in the place of the law. His controversy with the Jews, the impossibility of understanding anything but the Jewish law under the word ‘nomos,’ prevented St Paul from using the phrase, the inner law of duty. And finally, his doctrine of the Spirit presented an obstacle, for he always conceives of the spirit as of some strange power entering in from without. It never comes to be equivalent to the conception of a will which has become good. But under this husk—Antinomianism and the theory of supernatural spirit—the kernel—the idea of duty and of a good-will—gradually emerge an earnest for the future. Only thus can we explain the fact that the man who annulled the law had at the same time the most profound conception of the ethical character of Christianity. In St Paul’s controversies with Jews and Judaizers the great ideas of moral liberty and of Sonship to God are striving for a clear utterance. They fail to find an outer form such as to ensure their victory; nevertheless it was fortunate for the whole future history of Christianity that they were connected so closely with its origin.
The net result of all these theories as to law, justification, freedom, is the annulling of the mistaken Jewish idea. True religion is not the Torah of the holy people, just as God is not a mere tribal Jewish God. He that would become God’s child must first escape from the purely national Jewish customs. Thus St Paul takes up that standpoint which alone corresponds to the Gospel of Jesus. 314He draws his conclusion from Jesus' message and consciously raises Christianity into the position of a world-religion. This or that theory which he employed in so doing may not meet with our approval, but they all served to make a deed possible which has a world-historic significance.
There is a reverse side, however, to the apostle’s undertaking. The destruction of Jewish legalism furthered the development of the Christian Church. But the Church has also its legal system—first of all spiritually expressed in faith and the confession of Jesus, and soon afterwards in the new ceremonies which find a footing in the Sacraments. However strange it may sound, the man that destroyed the Jewish idea of the Church is in reality the theoretical creator of the new ecclesiastical system. It is indebted to no one more than to him who said, “He that believes will be saved.”
But St Paul’s standpoint, which was on the whole still purely spiritual, was far too high for the succeeding age. It could not remain content with the mere annulling of the Jewish law. Even the education of the Gentiles called for a new Christian law. This was formed, as the Torah had been before, by the gradual collection of ecclesiastical customs, legal forms, regulations for public worship, dogmas, etc., which were ultimately sanctioned officially. The origin of Catholicism is the gradual transformation of the Church built upon faith into an institution of dogmas, laws, and ceremonies. That is of course a very great decline from St Paul’s high ideal, but it is a decline in the direction of that idea of the Church which St Paul himself had created.315
The fate of the Jewish people.
The results of St Paul’s missionary labours were immense. Christianity became the religion of the Greeks and Romans, of the Mediterranean peoples as a whole, instead of being as before the religion of the Jews. It was quite evident that God had abandoned His ancient people and had entered upon a new course.
The whole people of Israel seemed all at once to have no lot or part in the divine plan of salvation.
This was of course likewise a result of the message of Jesus. Jesus had found greater faith in the centurion of Capernaum and in the woman of Canaan than in Israel. In unmistakable language He had set aside the privileges of Israel. The men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba should fare better on the day of judgment than this people. St Paul merely completes the great process of levelling which Jesus had begun. The second and third chapters of the Epistle to the Romans are our chief evidence in support of this statement. There the apostle proclaims the equality of Jews and Gentiles before God—God is no respecter of persons. The mere possession of the written law is of no value, for the Gentiles have the law written in their hearts. It is the working of good that decides on the day of judgment. Nor does literal circumcision carry any privilege with it. The uncircumcised that do God’s will shall judge the circumcised that transgress the law. Indeed, both Jews and Gentiles alike are under the dominion of sin, only the Jews with the greater responsibility. Let them lay aside, therefore, all national pride and all 316boasting on the ground of their belonging to the holy people. The very words of their own Scriptures stop the mouth of the Jews and prove all men without distinction to be worthy of punishment in God’s sight. Only a disciple of Jesus could speak thus.
The answer to such rebukes was naturally that of apostasy. The report must have been spread, especially at Rome—even among Christians—that Paul had denied his nationality and blasphemed his people, his God and the law. The reproach was comprehensible enough, but it was not just. St Paul could in all truth call God to witness that he would rather himself be anathema from Christ for the sake of his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh. Their salvation was the fervent wish of his heart and the object of his supplications to God. But it was just in the presence of accusations such as these that the problems almost drove him to distraction. How can the present unbelief of the Jews be reconciled with God’s promise to them, with the glorious part of God’s chosen people? Can the people of God be lost? The answer to this question is the last great chapter of the apologetic. And on this occasion it concerns his own heart as well as his kinsmen.
First of all, the privileges of Israel over all other peoples are solemnly set forth, in striking opposition to other passages in the same epistle. Theirs is the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the service of God and the promises, and the fathers and Christ as concerning the flesh. So speaks the Jew in St Paul, who suddenly bethinks himself of his origin. But then there begins a mighty wrestling to attain to clearness as to 317God’s purposes with this highly privileged people. There are three separate stages.
1. Has God’s word become of none effect? No; the Bible itself speaks of election amongst the children of Abraham, and of God’s free choice everywhere. If God blesses only one portion of Israel and rejects another, and saves the Gentiles in its place, then all this is in accordance with Scripture. The God of the Bible has revealed Himself as the God of arbitrary power. All that He does is right. Man, a weak thing of nought, should bow down in all humility before the sovereign decrees of God that have been revealed to him in the Old Testament, the God that blesses one and pours out His wrath upon another.
2. But how is the salvation of the Gentiles, that seek not after righteousness, consonant with the rejection of Israel, that is jealous for the law? It is just Israel’s religiousness and perverted zeal for works that are the cause of their having hardened their hearts against God’s new ways. The Gentiles are ready to receive the new message and to behold the works of God, whereas Israel’s pious zeal renders them unreceptive. God gives Himself to such as are willing to receive the gift.
8. But is the election of Israel set aside forever? No. A part of Israel hardened their hearts, but the purpose of this was simply to draw the Gentiles on to their salvation. But when the fulness of the Gentiles has entered in, then Israel’s heart shall no longer be hardened and all Israel shall be saved. This must come to pass, because of the promises to the fathers. For the mercies and the election of God are sure.
These three stages are not directly contradictory. 318They are rather to be regarded as so many steps up which the apostle’s thought had to ascend in due order. The sequence of these stages affords us an insight into the very centre of the apostle’s method of investigation. The first command resulting from the enquiry is: submit thyself to the inscrutable but supreme will of God; reverence God’s ways whether thou understandest them or not. So speaks the Semite, who sinks before Allah in the dust even if He tread him underfoot as a worm. It is only when due submission has thus been paid to God by us that we may humbly enquire as to the sin of man that perchance moved God to this action. Indeed, in view of man’s littleness there is but one main sin: self-reliance, resistance to God’s new ways. Here St Paul writes as a Christian and from the deepest experience. It is the fault of every orthodoxy to apply its own system cut and dried to God’s free thoughts about the future. But our examination must go beyond the human relationship: God last as well as first. The enquiry as to the purpose of God alone leads us to the complete answer—the aim of God’s purpose must be the realization of His promises. It is by looking into the future that the darkness of the present is chased away. Here, finally, the Jew speaks yet once more: at the end of all things, God and Israel belong indissolubly together. The examination begins, therefore, with the awful mystery, then seeks for illumination in reflection as to the possible motives of God, and finally finds comfort and peace in the comprehension of His purposes for the future.
And yet what a fluctuating medley of thought about God! First, the God of mere arbitrary power; 319then the ethical God who accepts those who turn their hearts to Him; and finally the God of the nation, who keeps His faith with His favourites. And this last God is the mightiest for St Paul, with the one proviso that the breadth and freedom of the Gospel are untouched.
Jesus had passed a clear and definite sentence of condemnation upon Israel, because He had come to recognize in the course of His activity that God’s ways were about to turn aside from Israel, and because He submitted to this result of His experience. St Paul did not submit, though God had definitely entered upon new paths—the fact was accomplished, but the apostle set the authority of the old scripture still higher. The contrast is a characteristic one—both for Jesus and for St Paul—here reverence for facts, there for the Bible. At the same time, we observe once more how the Jesus of history is simply nonexistent for St Paul when he treats apologetic problems of this nature. No mention whatever is made of Him in the three chapters of the Romans which treat of Israel’s fate. The literal text of the Septuagint seems to be the only decisive authority, and that is so sacred and so almighty, that whenever it comes into collision with the human conscience, the latter is silenced when the voice of revelation speaks. This is, of course, only apparent—we have had sufficient reason to know that St Paul could on other occasions manipulate the Old Testament text as he liked. The really decisive factor was after all his patriotism, which he did not get rid of even as a Christian.
But notwithstanding its reverence for the apostle, the Christian Church soon laid aside the 320Jewish patriotism of St Paul, who rested upon God’s promises in the Old Testament in spite of facts. In the year 70 A.D. came the awful end of the Jewish state and sanctuary. That was looked upon as a divine judgment. Henceforth there could be no doubt as to God’s new ways.321
|« Prev||Chapter XVI. The Anti-Jewish Apologetic.||Next »|