In the last lecture I spoke of St. Paul as a Man, showing how remarkable were his endowments and acquirements, and how these told in his apostolic career. But it was not through these that he was what he was. Great as were the gifts bestowed on him by nature and cultivated by education, they were utterly inadequate to produce a character and a career like his. It was what Christianity added to these that made him St. Paul.
It is right enough that we should now recognise the importance of his natural gifts and trace out the ways in which Providence was shaping his life towards its true aim before he was conscious of it. But St. Paul himself had hardly patience for such cool reflections. He turned away with strong aversion from his pre-Christian life as something condemned and lost; and he delighted to attribute all that he was and did to the influence of Christ alone. In my last lecture I quoted a single passage to show that he himself recognised that his natural endowments had been bestowed in order to fit him for the peculiar work which he was destined to accomplish in the world; but I question if from all his writings I could have quoted another passage to the same effect. It was only for a moment that he allowed himself to stand on this point of view; whereas we could quote from every part of his writings such sayings as these: |By the grace of God I am what I am|; |I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God in me|; |It is no more I that live, but Christ liveth in me.|
That this was his habitual way of estimating his own achievements is strikingly illustrated by his mode of thinking and speaking of certain defects in the equipment with which nature had supplied him for the career on which he was embarked. Gifted as he was, even he did not possess all gifts. He lacked one or two of those which might have been thought most essential to his success.
It would appear that he lacked the rotund voice and copious diction of the orator; for his critics were able to allege that, whilst his written style was powerful, his spoken style was contemptible. Painters have represented him as a kind of demi-god, with the stature of an athlete and the grace of an Apollo. But he seems to have been diminutive in stature; and there appears to be evidence to prove that there was that in his appearance which, at first sight, rather repelled than attracted an audience. He felt these defects keenly, and could not but wish sometimes that they were removed. But his habitual and settled feeling about them was, that he ought to look upon them as sources of strength rather than as weaknesses, because they made him rely the more on the strength of Christ. This was an unfailing resource, on which he felt that he could draw without limit. And so he gloried in his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon him.
It might be said that it was only the enthusiasm of Paul which made him attribute to Christ that which really belonged to himself. But his own point of view is the just one. It was Christ who made him; and, if we are to understand a ministry like his, we must try to measure the influence of Christ upon him, or, in other words, investigate the elements of his Christianity.
* * * * *
1. Paul could claim that even in his pre-Christian days he had lived in all good conscience towards both God and man. Yet this profession of uprightness does not prevent him from confessing elsewhere that deep down in his consciousness there had been a mortal struggle between the principles of good and evil, in which the good was far from always winning the victory: |We all,| he acknowledges, |had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath even as others.| In the seventh chapter of Romans he has drawn a picture of this struggle, and it is to the very life. Theologians have, indeed, disputed among themselves as to the stage of experience there referred to -- whether it is the state of an unconverted or of a converted man. But the human heart has no difficulty in interpreting it. The more thoroughly anyone is a man, the more easily will he understand it; and especially the more upright and conscientious anyone is, the more certainly must he have experienced what is described in words like these, |That which I do I allow not, for what I would that do I not, but what I hate that do I|; |For the good that I would I do not, but the evil that I would not that I do|; |I find, then, a law that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?| Thus Paul had been a lost man, in hopeless bondage to sin.
But he had to repent of his own righteousness as well as of his sin. He had inherited the passionate longing of the Jewish race for fellowship with God -- the longing expressed a hundred times in the poetry of his fathers in words like these: |As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God|; |My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?| He had been taught that the great prize of life is to be well-pleasing to God, and he had learned the lesson with all the passionate earnestness of his nature. Yet he never could attain to that for which he longed. There always seemed to be a cloud on the Divine face, and he was kept at a distance. Luther went through the very same experience. His was also a passionately religious nature, and he strove with all his might to get into the sunshine of God's face; but his efforts were entirely baffled. Wash them as he would, his hands were never clean.
What could an earnest nature do in such circumstances but seek to bring still greater sacrifices? Probably this was the source of Paul's zeal in the work of the persecutor. He was vindicating the honour of God when he exterminated the enemies of God. The work must have gone sorely against the grain of a nature as sensitive as his, especially when he saw scenes, like the death of Stephen, in which the gentleness and heroism of his victims shone out with unearthly beauty. But he only flung himself more passionately into his task; because, the more trying it was, the greater was the merit of doing it, and the more certain was he of winning at last the full approval of God.
This portion of Paul's career seems to be capable of complete vindication on the ground of conscientiousness. Indeed, in reviewing it, he stands sometimes on this point of view himself, and says that God had mercy on him because he did it ignorantly in unbelief. But oftener he thinks of it with overwhelming shame and remorse. The whole course of life which had logically led up to work so inhuman in its details and so directly in the face of God's purposes was demonstrated by the issue to have been utterly ungodly. His thoughts had not been God's thoughts nor his ways God's ways. The scenes of the persecution, when, haling men and women, he cast them into prison; the hatred and fury which in those days had raged in his breast; the efforts which he had put forth to oppose the cause of Christ, which it was his firm resolution to extinguish to its last embers -- these memories would never afterwards quit his mind. They kept him humble; for he felt that he was the least of the apostles, who was not worthy to be called an apostle, because he had persecuted the Church of God. He called himself the chief of sinners, and believed that God had in his case exhaustively displayed the whole wealth of His mercy for a pattern to all subsequent generations.
The first element of St. Paul's Christianity, then, was the penitence of a lost man and a great sinner, who owed to Christ the forgiveness of his sins and the redemption of his life from an evil career. And he believed that Christ had purchased these benefits for him by the sacrifice of His own life.
2. The second great element of St. Paul's Christianity was his Conversion, which set a gulf between the portion of his life which preceded and the portion which followed it. It was the chief date of his life, and confronted him every time he looked back. Its influence extended to every part of his experience; but perhaps its most important effect was to set Christ up within him as a living Person, of whose reality he was absolutely assured.
Probably Paul's opposition to Christianity was from the first very specially opposition to Christ Himself. When he struck at the disciples, he was really striking at the Master through them. It is easy to conceive what an affront the pretensions of Jesus must have been felt to be by Paul. Jesus had been a man of about his own age -- a young man; he had sprung from the lowest of the people, being a villager and mechanic; he had never sat in the schools of learning; the men of ability and authority had had no hesitation in condemning Him. That such a one should be esteemed the Messiah of the Jews and worshipped as if He were Divine, raised a storm of indignation in the heart of Paul.
Probably nothing could have converted him except the miraculous occurrence which God employed. Christ had to come to him in person and in a visible shape -- in the shape of the glorified humanity which He wears somewhere in that empire of God which we call Heaven. Paul knew the light in which he was enveloped to be a Divine light; the sound of the voice calling him was the thunder which from of old had been recognised by the race to which he belonged as the voice of God; he was looking straight up to the place of God; and in that place he saw Jesus, whom he was persecuting. Most Divine of all, however, were the sweetness, the clemency and the respect of the words in which he was addressed. This Jesus, against whom he was raging, came to him, not with corresponding rage, to take vengeance and destroy him, but with winning words of truth and with the call to a high and blessed vocation. It was this which broke the heart of Paul and attached him to Christ forever.
He always afterwards believed that what took place on this occasion was what I have said -- that Jesus of Nazareth descended from the right hand of God to prove to him who He was and to claim him as His servant and apostle -- and never afterwards did he for a moment doubt that the man whom his fellow-countrymen had crucified, and whom he himself had persecuted, was seated on the throne of heaven, clothed with Divine blessedness and omnipotence.
Of course others have doubted this. It may be said that what Paul saw was only a vision, and that therefore his new life was founded on a mistake. I believe his own account to be the correct one; but perhaps we need not dogmatize too much about what he saw; because it was not in reality on any theory of this vision that his faith was founded. It was not because he saw Christ that day with the bodily eye, or believed he did so, that he became or continued a Christian; it was because, trusting Christ, thus revealed, he obtained that for which he had all his life been longing: he was no longer banished or kept at a distance, but brought nigh to God; he was reconciled, and the love of God was shed abroad in his heart. He had all his lifetime been asking in despair, |What must I do to be saved?| but now he was saved. The humiliating bondage in which his spiritual nature had been held was dissolved, and, following Christ, he advanced from victory to victory.
This is the test of all conversions; it is the best evidence of Christianity; and it is the power of preaching. We believe in Christ not only because there is sufficient historical evidence that He existed eighteen hundred years ago and did such acts as proved that He was sent from God, but because He proves Himself to be living now by the transformation which He brings to pass in those who put their trust in Him. We are certain that there is a Saviour, because He has saved ourselves. I am happy to see that this evidence of our religion is at present coming again to the front. One of your younger scholars, Dr. Stearns of Bangor, Maine, has developed it, in a book just published, with great breadth of theological knowledge; and a former Yale lecturer, Dr. Dale of Birmingham, has given a telling exposition of it at the same time. This is the vital force of preaching. We are witnesses to Christ -- not merely to a Christ who lived long ago and did wonders, but to a Christ who is alive now and is still doing moral miracles. And the virtue of any man's testimony lies in his being able to say that he has himself seen the Christ whom he preaches to others, and himself experienced the power which he recommends others to seek.
3. After his conversion the whole life of St. Paul was comprehended in one word; and this word was Christ. There has often in modern times been a Christianity which has contained very little of Christ. Mr. Sage, of Resolis, one of whose quaint sayings I quoted in my last lecture, has solemnly left it on record that, when he was a student at Aberdeen, the Professor of Divinity, who was also Principal of the University, in a three years' course of lectures on the principles of the Christian religion, never once mentioned the name of Christ; and in those times sermons were perfectly common in which there was not the slightest allusion to the Saviour. In our day this is entirely changed. Yet we are also surrounded with a Christianity which is extremely vague. Almost every sentiment in which there is anything devout or humane receives the name of Christian; and the question which many are asking is how little it is necessary for one who claims the Christian name to believe and profess. Even this question may, indeed, in some cases indicate a state of mind far from unpromising, which requires the utmost pastoral sympathy and skill; but, if we wish to know what Christianity is in its power, we must not live in this unhealthy region, but find a Christianity in which the distinctively Christian element is not a minimum but a maximum. Such was St. Paul's Christianity. Its most prominent peculiarity was that there was so much of Christ in it. He expressed this in the characteristic saying, |To me to live is Christ,| which was only a Greek way of saying, To me life is Christ; and, from whatever side we look at his life, we see that this was true.
Christ had obtained, and He retained, an extensive hold on his emotional nature. St. Paul's was a large heart, and it was all Christ's. We are shy of speaking of our personal feeling towards the Saviour; and we probably feel pretty often that the conventional terms of affection for Him, which are made use of, for example, in the hymns of the Church, transcend our actual experience. St. Paul, on the contrary, has no hesitation in employing about Christ the language commonly used to describe the most absorbing passion, when love is filling life with a sweet delirium and making everything easy which has to be done for the sake of its object. St. Paul's achievements and self-denials were almost more than human; but his own explanation of them was simple: |The love of Christ constraineth us.| He had to forego the prizes which to other men make life worth living; but what did he care? |I count them but dung,| he says, |that I may win Christ.| If only he retained one thing, he was willing to let all others go: |Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution, or famine or nakedness, or peril or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.| These sound like the fervours of first love; but they are the words of a man at the height of his powers. And in old age he was still the same: still to him Christ was the star of life, and the hope of being with Him had annihilated the terrors of death: |I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.|
But Christ was enthroned in St. Paul's intellect no less than in his heart. It was an intellect vast in its compass and restless in its movements; but all its movements circled round Christ, and its most powerful efforts were put forth to reach the full height of His glory. Everyone acquainted with his writings knows how full of Christ they are. What is technically called his Christology is both splendid and profound; but, indeed, his whole thinking is Christological; he saw the whole universe in Christ.
Perhaps, however, we see even more suggestively how his whole mind was occupied with this subject by observing the way in which the mere incidental mention of the name of Christ sends him off into the most sublime statements regarding Him. For example, when he is speaking to husbands about loving their wives, the thought strikes him that this love is like that of Christ to His people; and he breaks forth: |Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.| In like manner, happening to be recommending generosity, he thinks of the generosity of Christ, and away he breaks into an incomparable description of His descent from the throne of the Highest to the death of the cross: |Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,| and so on; and, not content with following Him down, in accordance with the thought with which he started, he pursues the subject under the impulse of sheer love, following Him up to the highest heaven: |Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.| When is it that the mind thus starts off into a subject at any chance hint or suggestion, pouring out the most astonishing ideas in the most felicitous language? It is only when it is possessed with it, and when its ideas are so hot and molten, that they are ready to avail themselves of any outlet.
What may be called the inner or spiritual life of St. Paul may most of all be said to have been all Christ. His own theory of this innermost life is that it is a kind of living over again of the life of Christ: we die with Him to sin; we are buried with Him in baptism; as He rose, so we rise again to newness of life; He ascended to sit on the throne of the Father, and we are seated with Him in heavenly places. He is the very soil in which this life grows, and the atmosphere which it breathes; a Christian is |a man in Christ,| and all the functions of his interior and even of his exterior life are performed in this element: he speaks in Christ, he marries in Christ, he dies in Christ, and in the resurrection he will rise in Christ.
This is what would be called the mysticism of St. Paul; and doctrines resembling this have sometimes been associated in religion with fantastic speculation and unpractical dreaming. In St. Paul, however, mysticism had no such results. If there was any part of his life on which the influence of Christ was more conspicuous than another, it was the practical part. To him any pretended connection or intercourse with Christ in secret had no meaning unless its outcome was visible in a Christlike life -- |If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His.|
To his own person he applied this principle in the most rigorous manner. Christ, he is fond of saying, lives in him; he almost speaks as if in his flesh the Son of God had experienced a second incarnation; but he relentlessly draws the practical conclusion. When Christ lived in His own earthly tabernacle, what did He live for? It was for the salvation of men; He went about continually doing good; He lived to seek and save the lost. If so, then, living in St. Paul, He must have the same purpose -- to make use of his powers of mind and body for the salvation of the world. In this way Christ was really still carrying on the work which had been interrupted by His death. St. Paul dares to say that he is filling up that which was lacking of Christ's sufferings for the sake of His body, the Church. He says that the heart of Christ is yearning after men in his heart; that the mind of Christ is scheming for the kingdom of God in his brain; he even compares the marks of persecution on his body to the wounds of Christ.
There is nowhere else on record -- at least there was not till St. Paul had taught it to the Christian world -- such a merging of one life in another. And it is all the more remarkable when it is considered how big and strong a nature St. Paul's was. If any other man might have coveted an original and independent life, surely he was entitled to be something in the world; but he had utterly sunk himself into the echo and the organ of Another.
Gentlemen, I have taken up nearly the whole of the lecture with this minute analysis of St. Paul's Christianity for two reasons.
I have done so, first, because I wish to create in your minds a genial estimate of the man himself whom I am setting up in this course of lectures as the model for preachers. It is not uncommon to speak as if the earliest apostles had been formed by their association with Jesus, and, strong only in their affection for Him, had gone forth to tell the world the simple story of His life and death; but St. Paul, being a man of a colder nature and of strong intellectual proclivities, drew Christianity away from the person of Jesus and transmuted it into a hard intellectual system. I think I have proved that this is a totally mistaken impression, which does gross injustice to the great Apostle. None of the apostles, not even St. John, was more filled with the glow of personal attachment to Christ. He had a larger nature than any of them, but it was penetrated with this passion through and through. Being of the intellectual type, he could not help thinking out Christianity: but Christ entered into every thought he had about it.
The other reason why I have attempted to analyze so fully to-day the Christian experience of St. Paul is because I believe that the great motive of the ministry lies here -- the very pulse of the machine.
There are many motives which may go to constitute a powerful ministry and enable us to rejoice in our vocation. I have dealt with some of them already in this course of lectures. There is, for example, the one with which I dealt in my last lecture, that the ministry gives satisfying and exhilarating employment to all the powers of the mind. There is, again, that which I mentioned in an earlier lecture, that ours is a patriotic service: we are doing the very best for our country when we are permeating its life with the spirit of true religion. An aspect of the ministry which attracts many minds at present is that it is a service to humanity; the heart and conscience of the age are stirred by the misery of the poor, and this is the most obvious and effective mode of rescue. These are inspiring motives; and others might be mentioned. But far more important than them all is a strong personal attachment to the Saviour. This is the motive of the ministry which goes deepest and wears longest.
It may have many roots. It may be rooted in impressive convictions about the person of the Saviour and enthusiastic admiration of His character. It may spring from a profound sense of the lost condition from which He has rescued ourselves and of the destiny to which He has raised us. It may be due most of all to the impression made on our mind and heart by the sacrifice at the cost of which Jesus procured salvation for us. And here the depth or shallowness of our theology will be sure to tell. If our views are superficial either of the difference which salvation has made to ourselves or of what Christ did to constitute Himself the Saviour, the likelihood is that we shall love little. It is the man who knows that he has been forgiven much and saved at a great cost, who loves much. And the amount of love is the measure of sacrifice.
In all ages this has been the secret of devoted lives. It has made the great preachers -- St. Augustine and St. Bernard, Luther and Wesley, Samuel Rutherford and McCheyne. It has made those too who have not been great in the eyes of men, but by their self-denying lives have made the kingdom of God to come. In one of his sonnets Matthew Arnold tells of meeting with a minister, |ill and o'erworked,| on a broiling August day in the East End of London, and asking him how he fared in that scene of sin and sorrow. |Bravely,| was the answer, |for I of late have been much cheered with thought of Christ.| It is said to have been an actual incident. At all events, it is the explanation of thousands of heroic lives passed in similar desperate situations. At present the adherents of a humanitarian philanthropism are loud in proclaiming the woes of the world, as if they had been the first to discover them, and propounding schemes for their amelioration; but their methods have all been anticipated by the humble followers of Jesus; and nine-tenths of the genuine philanthropic work of the world are being done by men and women who make no noise, but who cannot help working for the ends of Jesus, because His love is burning in their very bones, and because the life of Christ in them cannot help manifesting itself after its kind. Down the Christian centuries there has come floating a kind of hymn: the words are said to be by St. Patrick: the sentiment may well be called the music to which the true Church militant has always marched: --
Christ with me, Christ before be,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
The most charming chapter of Adolphe Monod's Saint Paul is on the subject of these two paragraphs. It is difficult to quote from it, because one would like to quote it all; but I allow myself the pleasure of borrowing these golden sentences: |C'est qu'en depit de tant de promesses faites a la foi, nous sommes toujours plus on moins affaiblis par un reste de force propre, comme nous sommes toujours plus on moins troubles par un reste de propre justice, que les plus humbles eux-memes trainent partout avec eux. Cette malheureuse force propre, cette eloquence propre, cette science propre, cette influence propre, forme en nous comme un petit sanctuaire favori, que notre orgueil jaloux tient ferme a la force Dieu, pour s'y reserver un dernier refuge. Mais si nous pouvions devenir enfin faibles tout de bon et desesperer absolument de nous-memes, la force de Dieu, se repandant dans tout notre homme interieur et s' infiltrant jusque dans ses plus secrets replis, nous remplirait jusqu'en toute plenitude de Dieu; par ou, la force de l'homme etant echangee contre la force de Dieu, rien ne nous serait impossible, parce que rien n'est impossible a Dieu.|
Stearns, The Evidence of Christian Experience; Dale, The Living Christ and the Four Gospels.
|I feel most strongly that man, in all that he does or can do which is beautiful, great or good, is but the organ and the vehicle of something or some one higher than himself. This feeling is religion. The religious man takes part with a tremor of sacred joy in those phenomena of which he is the intermediary but not the source, of which he is the scene but not the author, or rather the poet. He lends them voice, hand, will and help, but he is respectfully careful to efface himself, that he may alter as little as possible the higher work of the Genius who is making a momentary use of him. A pure emotion deprives him of personality and annihilates the self in him. Self must perforce disappear when it is the Holy Spirit who speaks, when it is God who acts. This is the mood in which the prophet hears the call, the young mother feels the movement of the child within, the preacher watches the tears of his audience. So long as we are conscious of self, we are limited, selfish, held in bondage.| -- AMIEL.
As enthusiasm for Christ is the soul of preaching as far as the preacher is concerned, so in a spiritual congregation there will always be found a jealous desire for this element in what they hear.
See an article by the Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., in The Evangelical Magazine, April, 1891.
Here may be introduced a few notes which are to me of inestimable value. The happiness of my visit to the States, which was great, was overshadowed at the close by the news of the death of the best friend I had on earth -- the Rev. Robert W. Barbour, of Bonskeid. None who knew him will need to have it explained why I should think of him at this point; because, while he had drunk deeply of the spirit of the time and was possessed of a rare love for men, the deepest source of the sacred extravagance with which he lavished himself and his many talents on every good cause was nothing else than the passion for Christ which I am trying in this lecture to illustrate. He took a warm interest in this course of lectures, and sent me the following Aphorisms on Preaching, to be used as I might think fit. I reproduce them entire, as they came from him. Perhaps they were the very last literary work he did: --
The Book and the Library. The preacher must be master of many books, and servant of one.
Closet and Desk. Study as though thou mightest preach for fifty years; pray as though thou mightest preach for five.
Divine and Human. Speak as though the mouth were God's; but let the voice be a man's.
First and Second Aims. All gifts (presence, voice, gesture, culture, style, and so on) may be wings, if kept behind one's back; the moment they are seen they become dead weights.
Two strings to one's bow will do with any shafts but the arrows of the King. Letters, the press, the lyre, the porch, must stand in the background behind |this one thing.|
Think less and less of everything else, and more and more of thy message.
Aims and No Aims. Aim at something, you will hit it; also draw your bow at a venture.
|Make full proof of thy ministry.| Try every method -- writing, reading, committing, extending, extemporising. Imitate every man, but mimic none. Nothing makes a preacher like preaching.
Whence comes it that my nature is subdued
To that it works in, like the dyer's hand.
Pulpit Form. Respect your hearers. Do not gird at them; angle for them -- and agonize. Address yourself to one at a time -- first to the man in the pulpit. He who has hit himself first will not miss others. He who trembles at the word of the Lord, men will tremble at his word. (Borrowed) A preacher must either be afraid of his audience or his audience of him.
Janua Domini. Always enter the pulpit by the Door (John x.7).
Contents and Omissions. Put everything you can into every address. Omit everything you can from every address.
|Faith cometh by hearing.| Therefore, to begin with, be audible. The Sermon on the Mount commences thus: |He opened His mouth| (Matt. v.2).
Time and Eternity. Speak to men's fleeting hopes and passing interests; speak also to their grey hairs and to their midnight hours.
Ultimata. Desire to prophesy (1 Cor. xiv.1); covet to prophesy (ib. 39); do not preach if thou darest be silent (1 Cor. ix.16).