« FöregåendeFortsätt »
ment and explanation. Instead of invidiously contrasting the Gospels with the Acts and Epistles, we ought to contemplate them as parts of a connected whole; and as the promise of the Comforter, made by our Lord and given in such touching language in the Gospel of John, was fulfilled in the foundation of the Apostolic Church, as recorded in the Acts and frequently implied in the Epistles, so the whole import of Christianity was shown in actual development after the time to which the gospel narratives refer. Christ himself expressly declares that the revelation made before his death was not complete, and left his disciples to be enlightened in due time as to the nature of his kingdom by the gift which he promised them. “ I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he shall guide you into all truth.” Obviously the bearing of our Lord's death and resurrection were not understood, until these events actually took place, and after their Master's departure gave the apostles full opportunity to reflect calmly upon all the circumstances of his mission, and to receive those aids which he had promised them.
The Epistles of Paul contain a view of Christian doctrine from an apostle who, apart from any claims to infallibility, brought the highest spirituality of character and the rarest intellectual gifts to the work; and from his position so near to Christ and so conversant with the other apostles, he was able to survey fully all the facts of the Christian revelation, without being misled by those prejudices, which the gradual dawning of gospel light was so slow in removing from the minds of the other apostles. Were we to view Paul merely as an intelligent man suddenly converted to Christianity from Judaism, ardent to form clear ideas of the faith he had adopted, and to convert the Gentiles with the Jews, and to purify the Church, great interest must be attached to his writings. And when we add to his natural qualifications for his work the evidence of his miraculous conversion, and of his personal communion with the glorified Saviour, we must certainly accord to him, not indeed infallibility, but all needful light upon the leading truths of that religion, of which he was chosen by Heaven to be the most illustrious and successful preacher.
The Gospels indeed contain the great facts of Christianity, yet they do not give a full statement of the bearing of these facts upon human feeling and conduct, nor do they set forth
Christian doctrine as a compact whole, as for the guidance of those who are beginning to lead a religious life. It has been well said that “Christ did not come to make a revelation so much as to be the subject of a revelation. He accomplished what he left his Apostles to testify and explain.” This view will be allowed just, even by those who disagree with us in our estimate of the value of the Epistles, since they claim liberty for themselves to judge fully and freely of the bearing of the facts of the Gospels; whereas we would accord great authority to the judgment of Paul.
If it is said that Paul must be ranked below the twelve Apostles, who had been witnesses of the great events in our Lord's life, we reply that, as having been with Christ after the resurrection, he must be considered as a witness of that great event, and that not only did he do and suffer more than the twelve, but that the claim which he makes of having received the truth in an interview with Christ must save him from being unfavorably contrasted with any of his associates.
Paul's view of Christianity is certainly more broad and liberal than that taken by the other Apostles, excepting John. He was the first to set forth fully the equality of Christian privilege between Gentile and Jew, and to develop in a decided doctrinal system the spirituality which all our Lord's teachings exhibit, but which even the most spiritual of the Evangelists does not endeavor to set forth in its doctrinal applications.
Perhaps a parallel between Paul, and John the Evangelist, would be the simplest mode of illustrating the peculiarities of the Epistles. “ In John,” says Olshausen, " the intuitive faculty, or in the best sense of the word gnosis, may be regarded as the peculiar element ; his whole turn of mind was reflective, contemplative, his soul receptive, all eyes, as it were, to behold the eternal ideas of truth; outward action was not his sphere; the flower of his life was prophecy. Paul presents an entirely different picture. Although not naturally deficient in the intuitive perception of divine things, he yet exhibits a mode of treating religion different from that of John, the dialectic or logical, in which acuteness of understanding, aiming at definite conceptions of ideas, predominates. By this dialectical faculty Paul became the founder of a sharply defined doctrinal phraseology, and the father of theology in the Christian church."
Olshausen further remarks that Paul's letters may be conVOL. XXXIII. — 3D S. VOL. XV. NO. I.
sidered as the crown of the New Testament canon. « Whilst each Gospel has its necessary supplement in the others, but all as a whole form the root of the New Testament, and the Apostolic history forms, as it were, the trunk, which unites the root with the crown of the tree, without laying claim to any independent dogmatic significance, the broad development of Christianity in Paul spreads forth like branches on all sides the rays of his inner life. He was the first, in whom not indeed the personality of our Lord, but yet his spirit, confided to the Church, displayed itself at least as much as is possible in one man, in a universality, which enabled him by the power of this Holy Spirit so to develop in doctrine and life the essence of Christianity, that he stands almost alone the Apostle of the Gospels. What appears in the Evangelists folded in the bud, and indeed in the first three Gospels, shows a leaning towards Judaism, is broadly and freely expanded in Paul, and partly in a form so strictly didactic, as in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, that his views commend themselves to thinking minds by the power of analysis, as well as to susceptible natures by the glow of inspiration which they evince.”
II. In speaking of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, as well as the systematic expositor of Christian doctrine, we have not only treated of the relation sustained by his Epistles to the Gospels, but have anticipated the second branch of the subject, their temporary and local bearings. At first view, indeed, it would seem as if their chief importance were of a local and temporary character. Addressed to particular churches in reference to their peculiar circumstances, wants, and dangers, and some of them addressed merely to individuals, and referring to the Apostle's personal friendships, the Epistles are so' strongly marked by temporary and local allusions, that not a few readers have turned from them in despair of drawing from them any universal truths. Yet rightly viewed, even the minuter references to times and places will be found to have a lasting value, to give some interesting traits in the Apostle's character, to furnish some clue to early Christian history, and more generally to illustrate some doctrine or principle of the gospel. Passing by the lesser references, we will consider the leading reference which the Epistles bear to the age in which they were written, and the people to whom they were addressed.
It was the divine mission of Paul to apprehend the gospel in its universality, and free from Jewish narrowness, to preach it to the nations as the religion of the human race. All the circumstances of his position and experience fitted him for his high calling. Called to preach a religion, originating in Judea, to the people of Greece and Rome, his birth in Tarsus gave him a Roman birthright, which enabled him to understand the genius of the Roman people; and the high Greek culture prevalent at Tarsus doubtless aided him in addressing to the Grecian mind the faith, which his Jewish parentage and education had qualified him to understand in its Jewish connexions, and which his conversion by a risen, immortal, and therefore spiritual Saviour, had unfolded to his mind in its fulness and universality. He preached the gospel in its breadth and depth against Jewish narrowness, Pagan idolatry, and Oriental mysticism. The allusions, however, to Pagan and Oriental errors do not mark his Epistles so strongly, as the reference to Jewish exclusiveness. His constant fear is, that his Gentile converts will not receive the gospel in its simplicity and power, but will be held in bondage by the law, as he constantly accuses the Jewish converts of being. Alike in its bearing upon Jews and Gentiles, he aims in his principal Epistles, especially the Romans and Galatians, to urge the great essential principle of the gospel, justification not by works of the law, but by faith. Upon this principle Paul's principal thought seems to have been bestowed, and upon the proper interpretation of his meaning the most important part of controversial theology in ages since has turned.
Paul's own experience must furnish a key to his ardor upon this point. Himself delivered from bondage to a minute ritual law by converse with an immortal being, who had been raised in glory after a death upon the cross; and exalted to a new spiritual life by this event, and his own antecedent preparation and subsequent reflection and experience, what more natural than that the Apostle should constantly urge the doctrine of faith in that divine being, whose death had dissolved all dreams of an earthly Messianic Kingdom, and whose resurrection had established the spiritual nature of his reign, and the spiritual character of his religion ? He himself found peace of mind, not by complying with any minute precepts of the law, not even by following the letter of the moral code, but by communion with one in whom perfect righteousness had been revealed in the life, and living faith in whom must ever impart a spirit, that would be the strongest motive to duty, and highest consolation in sorrow and in view of death. “Wherefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace, wherein we stand and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” This passage from the Romans gives the burden of Paul's Epistles, and the central principle of bis theology.
It is common to connect with the doctrine of justification by faith the dogma of vicarious atonement by the death of Christ. Yet Paul evidently attaches more importance to the resurrection than to the death of Christ. There are indeed strong expressions in his Epistles in reference to the efficacy of the blood of Christ ; such as “ being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." Yet the very next passage ascribes greater importance to the resurrection ; “much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life.”
It is very obvious that the death of Christ being the most startling fact in his history, and one which would be particularly urged upon the attention of the first Christians by the scoffs of their adversaries, as well as by its connexion with the resurrection, would form the central point of their system ; and all the influences, that had flowed from the gospel, would thus be associated with the death and resurrection of its divine founder. The idea of propitiating divine favor by immolation of victims is indeed found to prevail among all early nations, and to have a place in the Jewish faith. Yet there is nothing in the Old Testament which sanctions the idea, that the blood of victims would propitiate divine favor, apart from a devout spirit. Nor does Paul make any assertions to warrant us in believing, that the death of Christ will have any effect upon our salvation, apart from the moral influence which it exerts upon our souls,
— the new life given by the Divine Comforter after our Lord's ascension.
When we consider the state of mind to which Paul addressed his views of justification by faith, and reconciliation by the blood of Christ, the reason of his urgency is very obvious. The Roman and Galatian churches were cramped by Jewish prejudices, and it was especially important to urge upon them that faith in a crucified Saviour, which must dispel Jewish exclusiveness, and call both Gentile and Jew to put their trust in one, who by his death had been exalted to a spiritual glory above all earthly distinctions. In an important local, temporal