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Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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§ IV. Doctrine of St. Paul.259259Besides the works on Biblical theology already mentioned, we direct attention to the monograph of Usteri, entitled "Entwicklung des Paulinischen Lehrbegriffs." The author may be accused of having made St. Paul far too much resemble Schleiermacher. His great merit is that of having made the first attempt to present a complete view of Paul's doctrine.

Never did the connection between the thought and the life, the heart and the head, appear more manifestly than in the case of St. Paul. He is a remarkable illustration of the well-known saying, Pectus est quod facit theologum, it is the heart which makes the theologian. His theology sprang all living from his heart; it glowed with the fire that consumed him. His own moral life struggled for expression in his doctrine; and to give utterance to both at once, Paul created a marvelous language, rough and incorrect, but full of resource and invention, following his rapid leaps of thought, and bending to his sudden and sharp transitions. His ideas come in such rich abundance that they cannot wait for orderly expression; they throng upon each other, and intermingle in seeming confusion; but the confusion is seeming only, for through it all a powerful argument steadily sustains the mastery. The tongue of Paul is, indeed, a tongue of fire.

The vocation of the Apostle of the Gentiles was to effect the final emancipation of the Church from the Synagogue; he did not, therefore, feel himself bound to use the same caution as Peter and James, in the transition from Judaism into Christianity. He did not unloose with a timid hand the knot of this question; he boldly cut it. While he taught substantially the same Gospel as St. James and St. Peter, he did not set himself, as they did, to exhibit exclusively the positive side of the new religion; he repudiated emphatically every thing that was alien to it. In great religious reforms the simple affirmation of truth is not enough; there must be the corresponding formal negation of error, so that no misconception may be possible. Paul, therefore, laid the ax to the root of the tree which was to fall—to the root of that narrow and impotent legalism, which had overspread the Church with its deadly shadow. We shall see, however, at the same time, that while Paul used argument as a sharp and unsparing weapon, he used it also as the plowshare, which cleaves the earth only to make it fruitful. Every one of his negations led to a richer affirmation; and as his polemics took a wider field, his theology became more and more enriched with new and important truths, which, under divine inspiration, he drew from the inexhaustible treasury of the teaching of Christ. This was the sole and sufficient source of all Paul's doctrine; as a whole and in all its parts, that doctrine corresponds perfectly to the teaching of the Master, of which it was the logical deduction and development.

The theology of Paul has been repeatedly impoverished by the spirit of system, which has sought in it only the justification of its own dogmatic preferences. It has not been comprehended in its fullness in any of the creeds of the past. Between these formal creeds and the doctrine of Paul, there is as great a distance as between the testimony of the Apostles, and the always uncertain researches of human science. The Pauline doctrine is characterized by the marked predominance of the moral element. This is never lowered as in Pelagianism, which, in attempting to fit its morality to the measure of man, dwarfs it miserably, and takes away all its ideal character. But neither, on the other hand, does the doctrine of Paul merge the human in the divine as does Augustinism. It maintains the balance between grace and freedom; it boldly asserts both the one and the other, and thus guards against any exclusive tendency. The harmonious fusion of the moral and the religious element is in our view the distinctive feature of this theology, which thus fulfills, while it abolishes, the old covenant. Accepting the central idea of James—the permanence of moral obligation on the conscience under the new covenant—St. Paul sanctifies and vivifies it by his doctrine of justification by faith. Thus all the supposed contradictions disappear. There is no better method of demonstrating the fundamental agreement between St. Paul and St. James, than a just appreciation of the essentially moral character of Paul's religious teaching.

The first principle in the doctrine of Paul is that of righteousness. Righteousness is the expression of the true relations which ought to subsist between the creature and the Creator. "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" 1 Cor. vi, 9. The new covenant has not abrogated this essential principle of all religion and morality. On the contrary, it has given it emphatic sanction; it has inaugurated the reign of true righteousness.260260Νυνὶ δὲ χωρὶς νόμου δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ πεφανέρωται. Rom. iii, 21. The moral principle is, therefore, the basis of both covenants. Every thing turns, every thing rests, upon it. Righteousness is not taken by Paul in an external and legal sense, as if it consisted simply in the fulfillment of certain precepts. It is founded on a universal law, graven in the heart of man by the hand of God himself. This law is written deep in the conscience, and is therefore found in the Gentile no less than in the Jew.261261"They show the work of the law written in their hearts." Οἵτινες ἐνδείκνυνται τὸ ἔργον του̂ νόμου γραπτὸν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν. Rom. ii, 14, 15. Righteousness, thus regarded, is not only the conformity of our will to certain commands of God; it consists in the conformity of our being to the being of God. Man is called to become an imitator of God.262262Γίνεσθε οὐ̂ν μιμηταὶ τοῦ θεοῦ. Ephes. v, 1. This precept is addressed to Christians, but it is evident that the moral ideal thus set before them is the moral ideal in itself. This is the moral ideal, the epitome of duty in which all is comprehended.

Starting from this deep conception of righteousness, St. Paul seeks its realization in religious history. He recognizes, first of all, the fact that humanity is in an abnormal condition, and that it has been plunged by an act of rebellion into sin and condemnation. He then endeavors to show in what way the fallen race is reinstated in righteousness; he is thus led to mark clearly the difference between the old covenant and the new, while he clearly indicates the preparatory value of the former. The fall, and the state of man since the first transgression—the Mosaic law and its design in Providence—redemption and its results—all these are successive chapters of the theology of Paul. We shall find him perpetually making all the various branches of his doctrine converge to the great idea of righteousness as the center and pivot of the whole.

We are all familiar with Paul's forcible description of the general corruption of mankind. Taking as his text those words in the Psalms, "There is none righteous, no, not one," he draws with inimitable power the picture of the degradation of the fallen race.263263Οὐκ ἔστιν δίκαιος οὐδὲ εἱ̂ς. Rom. iii, 10. In order to render it yet more striking, he borrows his colors from the corrupt state of society around him. The first portion of his Epistle to the Romans is devoted to an unsparing demonstration of the fallen state of humanity. On the one hand the Apostle shows us the pagan world, abandoned to impure and hateful lusts, dishonoring man by its abominations after having attempted to dishonor God by its idolatries, changing the truth of God into a lie; (Rom. i, 23-32;) on the other hand he attacks the unbelieving Jew, and holding over his head as a sword that very law in which he glories, he says, "Thou that makest thy boast of the law, by breaking the law dishonorest thou God?" Rom. ii, 23. After this clear and concise declaration of the sins of the Jewish and Gentile world, Paul may fairly draw his conclusion as to the universality of sin.264264Πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον. Rom. iii, 23.

This melancholy fact has its own natural and inevitable consequences. It is clear that if man had adhered to righteousness—that eternal and divine righteousness, which ought to regulate his relations with God—he would have found that happiness which is the fruit of righteousness. The perfect observance of the law of God results in a happy life. If all the works of man had been good—that is to say, if the whole of his moral life had been in conformity with the will of God—he would have been justified by his works. Righteousness would have been realized, and the harmony between the Creator and the creature maintained. Paul rejects justification by works, because the conditions of such justification have never been really fulfilled, and our boasted good works are still defiled by sin.265265Paul, in his theory of justification by faith, always assumes our sinful condition. It is in our actual state of sin that we have need of pardon.

The violation of the law of God brought condemnation on all the children of men. They are all under the wrath of God; (Rom. ii, 5;) they have all come short of the glory of God.266266Ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ. Rom. iii, 23. All the consequences of sin are summed up in one word—death. This word undoubtedly points, in its primary significance, to the separation of the body and soul, and the destruction of the physical life; but it has a less restricted sense. It may be understood also of separation from God, and of the evils consequent on that separation; (1 Cor. xv, 21;) of the ruin wrought by sin in our nature—Man is "dead in trespasses and sins."267267Ὑμα̂ς ὄντας νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασι καὶ ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις. Ephesians ii, 1.

Are we to take this declaration of St. Paul in its strictest sense? Did he intend to say that every spark of the divine life was quenched in us by the fall? Did he teach the absolute corruption of human nature? We think not. Undoubtedly, as far as salvation is concerned, these words are to be taken in their fullest significance. Fallen man has no more power to save himself than a dead man to raise himself to life. The Apostle admits, however, that man still retains some traces of his original nature. He says, "When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves." They "show the work of the law written in their hearts."268268Ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῆ, . . . ἑαυτοι̂ς εἰσιν νόμοσ. Rom. ii, 14.In his discourse at Athens he speaks of the consciousness of the divine life as present in the unconverted man. "For we are also," he says, "his offspring."269269Τοῦ γὰρ καὶ γένος ἐσμέν. Acts xvii, 28. The same conclusion may be drawn from the graphic representation given by the Apostle of the conflict which takes place in the heart before conversion—that painful struggle between the flesh and the spirit, which reveals the existence of the divine principle in powerful reaction against sin. Rom. vii, 14-24. But up to the moment when the grace of God gives deliverance the conflict always ends in the defeat of the higher principle. The natural man is the slave of sin, the slave of the law in the members—in one word, the slave of the flesh. Rom. vii, 23.

This does not imply that the body is the seat and principle of evil. By such a doctrine Paul would have sanctioned by anticipation Manichæism and all the dualistic theories of the ancient world. Instead of opposing, as he did, oriental asceticism, he would have favored and commended it. Col. ii, 20-23; 1 Tim. iv, 8; Rom. xiv, 6. His conception of righteousness is too broad and deep to permit him to identify the principle of evil with the corporeal principle. He is, further, careful to guard against any misconception by numbering among the works of the flesh such sins as hatred, variance, envyings, which clearly have no connection with sensuality. Gal. v, 10-21; 1 Cor. iii, 3. The opposition between the flesh and the Spirit is not so much between the material and the spiritual part of the nature of man, as between the lower or earthly and the higher or heavenly element in the soul.270270This is the distinction between the ψύχη and the πνεῦμα. 1 Cor. ii, 14, 15. The lower or earthly element predominates in the unconverted man, though even in him may be found some vestiges of the higher life. Rom. viii, 17. This predominance of the lower element causes the gravest perturbations in our nature, and leads almost of necessity to the bondage of the soul to the body. This is the most striking and universal evidence of the fall, the commonest manifestation of sin. The Apostle is, therefore, justified in characterizing it by that which may be regarded as its most palpable feature, and in calling the law of sin the law in our members."271271Ἕτερον νόμον ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου. Rom. vii, 23. Evil is not an accidental and isolated fact in our life; it has become a tendency, an inclination, a law.

We shall be yet more convinced that it is impossible to accuse Paul of dualism if we consider the solution which he gives of the tremendous question of the origin of evil. It was, according to him, the rebellion of the first man which introduced evil into the world; in other words, the principle of evil must be sought not in the body but in the will. Sin is a free act; it in no way bears the character of a physical necessity. It is the breaking of the normal bond between' the creature and the Creator.272272The first sin is a transgression: παραβάοις, a disobedience; therefore a moral fact. St. Paul gives no explanation of the mode of the transmission of sin; he contents himself with pointing out how the powers of evil have been let loose upon mankind. It would be impossible to derive from his words a complete theory of original sin; he does no more than affirm the universality of the condemnation, and the universality of the sin introduced into the world by the first transgression.273273The famous passage, (Rom. v, 12-15,) ἐφ᾽ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον, was long translated, under the influence of Augustinism, in whom (Adam) all have sinned. This interpretation, which does violence to the grammar, is now almost universally abandoned. The true sense is this: Death has passed upon all men, because all have sinned. St. Paul adds, that the transgression of Adam brought that of his descendants; but he is content with the general statement of the fact. He does not say that the sin of Adam was imputed before it had been committed.

After having thus demonstrated that the whole race of Adam is exposed to the wrath of God on account of his unfulfilled law, the Apostle draws in broad outline the history of the work of salvation. He has set aside all the claims of Judaism to occupy a place apart in the midst of the general condemnation. By exploding all the pretensions of human pride, and destroying all its false titles to the favor of God, he has cleared the ground; and he may now triumphantly establish the doctrine of free salvation, which is, in his view, the very essence of Christianity.

A race so deeply fallen can only be raised again by free grace. From before the creation of the world God conceived the plan of salvation;274274Πρὸ καταβολη̂ς κόσμου. Eph. i, 4. from all eternity it was determined in the counsels of his mercy. This is the secret, the mystery of his gracious will.275275Τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν αὐτοῦ. Eph. i, 9. The first cause of salvation is, then, the sovereign freedom of God. It rests upon an act of his good pleasure; its principle is the everlasting love of the Father, which embraces not one peculiar people, but the whole of humanity, the Gentile nations no less than the Jews. This glorious mystery was, however, only revealed in the last times.276276Ἐν τῳ̂ μυστηρίῳ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, . . . εἶναι τὰ ἔθνη συγκληρονόμα. Eph. iii, 4, 6.

The creation of the world was the first manifestation of the eternal and infinite love. It was, in truth, by the Son of God, who is the highest personification of love, that all things both in heaven and earth were created. "By him and for him were all things."277277Τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται. Col. i, 16. Redemption is only the restoration of the primitive design of creation, the reparation of the confusion wrought by sin, the bringing in again of true righteousness. All that was comprehended in the plan of creation found a place afresh in the plan of redemption. It was the good pleasure of the Father to reconcile all things through him, by whom and for whom all had been created.278278Δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν. Col. i, 20.

This eternal decree of divine love has been taken by many distinguished theologians in a sense so narrow as to exclude altogether the moral principle; they have only escaped pantheism by a happy inconsistency, occasioned by their deep piety and their sincere desire to guard the rights of God against the assumptions of human pride. We hold, however, that their system finds no sanction in the theology of Paul. There is a vast difference between Augustinian predestination and the predestination spoken of by St. Paul. According to Augustine, God in his sovereignty has decreed the salvation of a small fraction of mankind. Calvin adds, that on the same ground he has decreed the eternal perdition of the rest of the race. We find nothing corresponding to this in the writings of Paul. According to him, salvation proceeds from a decree of sovereign love; it is thus a matter of predestination—that is, it has, as its first cause, the all-powerful will of God. It is a generous and free gift. Divine love precedes, therefore, any act of ours; it does not originate in any human merit; it has no other spring than the infinite compassion of God. God loved man, not because of his actual excellence or possible merits, but because he was pleased thus to love him. It is in this sense that man is predestinated to happiness. Thus the salvation comes "neither of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth." Rom. ix, 16. It is neither a recompense nor an exchange, for then its whole order and principle would be inverted; it would proceed from the creature and not from the Creator. It is a gift of free grace; but it is none the less in harmony with the laws of divine righteousness; they even receive in its realization a new and more sacred seal.

St. Paul does not regard salvation simply in an abstract and general manner; he insists on its individual application. The salvation of every man, as of the race, has its origin in the eternal love of God, and not in human merit. It is only realized, however, under certain conditions inseparable from the conception of righteousness, which is always kept inviolate in the theology of the Apostle. The eye of God—to which all futurity is open, as are the secrets of all hearts, and with whom there is no time—sees from all eternity the unfolding and complete development of every individual life. Election is nothing else than this eternal foreknowledge of God, embracing the destiny of every man, and discerning the part which every man will take with reference to salvation; or, to be more exact, it is the application of the decree of infinite love to every soul which has not obstinately rejected mercy. The initiative in the reconciliation ever belongs to God; it always flows from his eternal purpose of mercy, and it is impossible to find a shadow of merit in the creature, whose part it is simply to suffer himself to be saved. The very word election sets aside the idea of any thing arbitrary in the salvation of the individual, for it implies a choice, and an intelligent choice.

Against this interpretation of the idea of the Apostle, the famous ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is adduced; but it is a violation of all the rules of sound exegesis to isolate one portion of Scripture and to endeavor to explain the whole Bible by one page, instead of explaining that page by all the rest. Let us observe, in the first place, that in that chapter the Apostle is speaking not of the election of individuals but of nations. His design is to oppose the Jewish notion that a national election creates for a people an inalienable and permanent claim to salvation; and he appeals, in controversion of this prejudice, to the free grace of God. Rom. ix, 11. The proposition thus sustained by the Apostle is the great principle of Christianity. At the close of the chapter, instead of entering into a metaphysical discussion, he silences all objections by invoking the absolute sovereignty of God: "O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" He crushes his imagined opponent by thus directly bringing him into the presence of that supreme power on which man is absolutely dependent. His position is unassailable even on the limited ground thus voluntarily assumed by him; but is there no broader ground in his theology? Has he not shown in the passage already quoted that this supreme power is at the same time supreme love? Has he not declared that God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself by Jesus Christ? Why should the one statement be sacrificed to the other? Why should not the one explain and complete the other? In the ninth chapter of the Romans, Paul follows the legitimate method employed in all discussions; he says to his adversaries, "Even admitting that God is only sovereign power, your mouth is still shut." But he has told us elsewhere what is this sovereign power, and violence is done to his doctrine if it is accepted only in part. Unquestionably man, regarded as a frail creature and compared with the omnipotent Creator, is but as the earthen vessel before the potter who has fashioned it. But Paul has told us what precious treasure is contained in that earthen vessel; he has shown us the divine spark within. This vessel of clay is a being created in the image of God, endowed with liberty, called to holiness. Therefore, to save that which he has so made, God shakes the heavens and the earth. Those who find the whole Gospel in some impassioned turn in the dialectics of St. Paul, or in some bold but incomplete image, misconceive the moral beauty and the depth of his doctrine; they overturn all the fundamental ideas of conscience, and deprive Christianity of its true basis and point of contact in ourselves. The best means of refuting any such partial notions is to retrace with the Apostle the successive developments of God's plan in the world. Such a careful examination will give emphatic evidence that the clay out of which was wrought this frail vessel called man was not simply borrowed from the lower world and kept in subjection to the inflexible laws of nature.

The work of restoration begins immediately after the fall. It is divided into two great periods. The first, which extends to the coming of Christ, is the time of God's patience. The world is under sentence of condemnation; but judgment is not fully executed, because God will give sinners space for repentance;279279Ἐν τῃ̂ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ Θεοῦ. Rom. iii, 25. he subjects the fallen race to a gradual education to prepare it to receive the Saviour. This education was not the same for the Jews as for the Gentile nations. The former were intrusted with the great privilege of being the depositaries of the oracles of God.280280Ἐπιστεύθησαν τὰ λόγια τοῦ Θεοῦ. Rom. iii, 2. They received a positive revelation; but, although divine, this revelation was not absolute and final in its character. Its one design was to prepare the way for the Redeemer. The Apostle notes two distinct periods in the history of Judaism—the patriarchal period and the Mosaic. In the former, a divine sanction had been by anticipation given to the constituent principles of the new covenant. In fact, the promise of salvation preceded the law, and Abraham was justified by faith in that promise. Rom. iv, 15-22; Gal. iii, 16-27. The law was only brought in by Moses. It was enough, therefore, in order to set aside legalism, to go back to the sources of Judaism, in which a divine seal was attached to justification by faith and free salvation.

It is impossible not to admire the broad grasp which the Apostle takes of the intention and significance of the Mosaic dispensation. In that very law, so strenuously urged against him, he finds fresh proof of the necessity of Christianity. He shows that it has been the most active agent in fostering the desire for salvation, and he fully recognizes its divine authority; so far from depreciating it, as the Gnostics subsequently do, he lauds and magnifies it. "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good."281281Ὁ μὲν νόμος ἅγιος καὶ ἡ ἐντολὴ ἁγία. Rom. vii, 12. But, if it is holy, it is at the same time terrible, for it demands nothing less than absolute obedience on the part of man. "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Gal. iii, 10. This character of awfulness was necessary that it might accomplish its great mission in the work of preparation. It proclaims commands and thunders threatenings, but it communicates no moral strength to man.282282"It was weak through the flesh." Rom. viii, 3. It places him, impotent and awe-struck, in the presence of the holy God. If, on the one hand, it is a restraint on evil, preventing its excess, on the other, it is also a goad, urging into activity the desire of sin. This it excites and develops; it removes from sin its character of ignorance, and constrains it to an open avowal of itself; placed face to face with sin, the law shows it to be what really it is, a positive transgression of the will of God; by the law sin becomes exceeding sinful.283283"Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence, for without the law sin was dead." Rom. vii, 8. Thus it gives rise to terrible conflicts in the heart, and fills man with deep distress; thetlaw overwhelms the sinner, humbles him, lays him low in the dust, wrings from him a cry of anguish, which is the strongest expression of the need of redemption. Let us remember that, according to the doctrine of Paul, the law has not annulled the promise.284284"And this I say, that the covenant which was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." Gal. iii, 17. The promise still rises above the threatenings of the law, and saves man from despair; it directs his prayer toward God and the more he is crushed under the law, the more is he accessible to the consolations of the promise. So far, therefore, from being in antagonism to the covenant of grace, the law is the schoolmaster to bring man to Christ.285285Ὥστε ὁ νόμος παιδαγωγὸς ἡμω̂ν γέγονεν εἰς Χριστόν. Gal. iii. 24. In these few words, by what might be called a stroke of genius, (if it were not traceable to a higher inspiration than that of any mere human intellect,) the Apostle epitomizes his profound views of the law. The whole of the Mosaic dispensation was thus admirably adapted to nourish the desire for salvation.

The work of preparation was not confined to the Jewish people. We find traces of it also, according to St. Paul, in the history of the Gentile nations. To them God spoke by the voice of nature, (Rom. i, 18-21,) and by the voice of conscience. Rom. ii, 14, 15. The law written in the human heart was the schoolmaster to bring them also to Christ—one invested with less authority than the law of Moses, because of the darkening of the moral sense in man, but exerting, nevertheless, a very decided influence. In his discourse to the Athenians, Paul declares that God has "determined for all nations of men the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation."286286Ὁρίσας προστεταγμένους καιρούς καὶ τὰς ὁροθεσίας τῆς κατοικίας αὐτῶν. Acts xvii, 26. It follows, that he rules over their destinies and directs the events of their history; and, as his purpose is the same for all sections of humanity, he seeks to make the Gentiles, no less than the Jews, conscious of the need of redemption. He uses, however, means altogether different in the two cases. While, among the Jews, their desire after salvation was fostered by direct revelations, it was awakened among pagan nations by the absence of revelation. It was the will of God that these should feel after him for themselves, that they might prove, from their own experience, whether thus groping after him they could "haply find him."287287Ζητεῖν τὸν Θεὸν, εἰ ἄραγε ψηλαφήσειαν αὐτὸν καὶ εὕροιεν. Acts xvii, 27. The Gentiles were brought by these prolonged and fruitless efforts to a consciousness of their own impotence; and they admitted, by erecting an altar to the unknown God, how unavailing had been all their endeavors. For them then, as for the Jews, the fullness of time had come, and preparation having thus been made, the purpose of God had only to receive its fulfillment by the coming of Christ.


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