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IT was as their Lord that the primitive community of Christians believed in Jesus. They thus expressed their absolute devotion to, and confidence in, him as the Prince of Life. As every individual Christian stood in an immediate relation to God through the Spirit, priests and mediations were no longer wanted. Finally, these “holy” people were drawn together into societies, which bound themselves to a strictly moral life in purity and brotherly fellowship. On the last point let me add a few words.

It is a proof of the inwardness and moral power of the new message that, in spite of the enthusiasm arising from personal experience of religion, there were relatively seldom any extravagant outbursts and violent movements to be combated. Such movements may have been more frequent than the direct declarations of our authorities allow us to suppose, but they did not form the rule; and when they arose Paul was certainly not the only one who was concerned to put them down. He had certainly no wish to quench the “Spirit,” 184but when enthusiasm threatened to lead to a repugnance to work, as in Thessalonica, or when, as in Corinth, there was a superabundance of ecstatic talk, he uttered some sober warnings: “If any would not work, neither should he eat,” and “I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” Still more plainly are the concentrated repose and power of the leaders shown in the moral admonitions, such as we get not only in the Pauline epistles but also, for example, in the First Epistle of Peter and in the general Epistle of James. Christian character is to show itself in the essential circumstances of human life, and that life is to be invigrated, supported, and illumined by the Spirit. In the relation of husband to wife and of wife to husband, of parents to children, of masters to servants; further, in the individual’s relation to constituted authority, to the surrounding heathen world, and, again, to the widow and the orphan, is “the service of God” to be proved and tested. Where have we another example in history of a religion intervening with such a robust supernatural consciousness, and at the same time laying the moral foundations of the earthly life of the community so firmly as this message? If a man fails to be inwardly affected by the faith proclaimed by the New Testament writers, 185he must certainly be stirred to the depths by the purity, the wealth, the power, and the delicacy of the moral knowledge which invests their exhortations with such incomparable value.

There is another feature of the life of the earliest Christians which also deserves notice in this connexion. They lived in the expectation of Christ’s near return. This hope supplied them with an extraordinarily strong motive for disregarding earthly things, and the joys and sufferings of this world. That they were mistaken in their expectation we must freely grant; but nevertheless it was a highly efficacious lever for raising them above the world, and teaching them to make little of small things and much of great things, and to distinguish between what is of time and what is of eternity. For a new and powerful religious impulse, which effects its own influence, to be associated with another factor which enhances and strengthens that influence, is what we see constantly happening in the history of religion. With every renewal of the religious experience of sin and grace since Augustine’s day, what a lever has been supplied by the idea of predestination, and yet it is an idea which is in no way derived from that experience itself. How much enthusiasm was inspired in Cromwell’s troops, and how greatly were the Puritans on both sides of the ocean strengthened by the consciousness 186of adoption, although this consciousness, too, was only an adjunct. When the religious experiences of St. Francis developed in the Middle Ages into a new form of devotion, how much assistance it received from the doctrine of poverty, and yet this doctrine was an independent force. The conviction which obtained in the apostolic age that the Lord had really appeared after his death on the cross may also be regarded in the same light. What we are thus taught is that the most inward of all possessions, namely, religion, does not struggle up into life free and isolated, but grows, so to speak, in coverings of bark and cannot grow without them. In studying the apostolic age, however, it is important to observe that, not only in spite of the religious enthusiasm but even in spite of the intense eschatological hopes which prevailed, the task of making earthly life holy was not neglected.

The three principles which we have emphasised as contributing most to the characteristic features of primitive Christianity could also, if necessary, have been brought to bear within the framework of Judaism and in connexion with the synagogue. There, too, Jesus could have been acknowledged as the Lord, the new experience united with the ancestral religion, and the society of brothers developed in the form of a Jewish conventicle. In 187Palestine, as a matter of fact, this was the form which the earliest communities took. But the new principles displayed great vigour and pointed far beyond Judaism: Jesus Christ the Lord is not only Israel’s Lord, but the Lord of history, the Lord of all men. The new experience of a direct union with God makes the old worship with its priests and mediations unnecessary. The society of brothers towers over all other associations, and deprives them of any value. The inner development which the new tendency virtually comprised began at once: Paul was not the first to start it; before and side by side with him there were obscure and nameless Christians in the Dispersion who took up Gentiles into the new society. They did away with the particularistic and statutory regulations of the law by declaring that they were to be understood in a purely spiritual sense and to be interpreted as symbols. There was a branch of the Jewish world outside Palestine where this declaration had long taken actual effect—it is true, on other grounds—and where the Jewish religion was being freed from its limitations by a process of philosophical interpretation which was bringing it to the level of a spiritual religion for the whole world. This development may be regarded in the light of a preliminary stage in the history of Christianity, and was in many respects really so. It was the stage on 188which those nameless Christians entered. It was the path upon which a deliverance from historical Judaism and its outworn religious ordinances was capable of gradual attainment. But one thing is certain: it was not the goal of the movement. So long as the words “the former religion is done away with” remained unspoken, there was always a fear that in the next generation the old precepts would be brought forward again in their literal meaning. How often and often in the history of religion has there been a tendency to do away with some traditional form of doctrine or ritual which has ceased to satisfy inwardly, but to do away with it by giving it a new interpretation. The endeavour seems to be succeeding; the temper and the knowledge prevailing at the moment are favourable to it—when, lo and behold! the old meaning suddenly comes back again. The actual words of the ritual, of the liturgy, of the official doctrine, prove stronger than anything else. If a new religious idea cannot manage to make a radical breach with the past at the critical point—the rest may remain as it is—and procure itself a new “body,” it cannot last; it disappears again. There is no tougher or more conservative fabric than a properly constituted religion; it can only yield to a higher phase by being abolished. No permanent effect, then, could be expected in the apostolic age from the 189twisting and turning of the law so as to make room for the new faith side by side with it, or so as to approximate the old religion to that faith. Someone had to stand up and say, “The old one is done away with”; he had to brand any further pursuit of it as a sin; he had to show that all things were become new. The man who did that was the apostle Paul, and it is in having done it that his greatness in the history of the world consists.

Paul is the most luminous personality in the history of primitive Christianity, and yet opinions differ widely as to his true significance. Only a few years ago we had a leading Protestant theologian asserting that Paul’s rabbinical theology led him to corrupt the Christian religion. Others, conversely, have called him the real founder of that religion. But in the opinion of the great majority of those who have studied him the true view is that he was the one who understood the Master and continued his work. This opinion is borne out by the facts. Those who blame him for corrupting the Christian religion have never felt a single breath of his spirit, and judge him only by mere externals, such as clothes and book-learning; those who extol or criticise him as a founder of religion are forced to make him bear witness against himself on the main point, and acknowledge that the consciousness which bore him up and steeled him for his work 190was illusory and self-deceptive. As we cannot want to be wiser than history, which knows him only as Christ’s missionary, and as his own words clearly attest what his aims were and what he was, we regard him as Christ’s disciple, as the apostle who not only worked harder but also accomplished more than all the rest put together.

It was Paul who delivered the Christian religion from Judaism. We shall see how he did that if we consider the following points:—

It was Paul who definitely conceived the Gospel as the message of the redemption already effected and of salvation now present. He preached the crucified and risen Christ, who gave us access to God and therewith righteousness and peace.

It was he who confidently regarded the Gospel as a new force abolishing the religion of the law.

It was he who perceived that religion in its new phase pertains to the individual and therefore to all individuals; and in this conviction, and with a full consciousness of what he was doing, he carried the Gospel to the nations of the world and transferred it from Judaism to the ground occupied by Greece and Rome. Not only are Greeks and Jews to unite on the basis of the Gospel, but the Jewish dispensation itself is now at an end. That the Gospel was transplanted from the East, where in subsequent 191ages it was never able to thrive properly, to the West, is a fact which we owe to Paul.

It was he who placed the Gospel in the great scheme of spirit and flesh, inner and outer existence, death and life; he, born a Jew and educated a Pharisee, gave it a language, so that it became intelligible, not only to the Greeks but to all men generally, and united with the whole of the intellectual capital which had been amassed in previous ages.

These are the factors that go to make the apostle’s greatness in the history of religion. On their inner connexion I cannot here enter into any detail. But, in regard to the first of them, I may remind you of the words of the most important historian of religion in our day. Wellhausen declares that “Paul’s especial work was to transform the Gospel of the kingdom into the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that the Gospel is no longer the prophecy of the coming of the kingdom, but its actual fulfilment by Jesus Christ. In his view, accordingly, redemption from something in the future has become something which has already happened and is now present. He lays far more emphasis on faith than on hope; he anticipates the sense of future bliss in the present feeling of being God’s son; he vanquishes death and already leads the new life on earth. He extols the strength which is made perfect in weakness; the 192grace of God is sufficient for him, and he knows that no power, present or future, can take him from His love, and that all things work together for good to them that love God.” What knowledge, what confidence, what strength, was necessary to tear the new religion from its mother earth and plant it in an entirely new one! Islam, originating in Arabia, has remained the Arabian religion, no matter where it may have penetrated. Buddhism has at all times been at its purest in India. But this religion, born in Palestine, and confined by its founder to Jewish ground, in only a few years after his death was severed from that connexion. Paul put it in competition with the Israelitish religion: “Christ is the end of the law.” Not only did it bear being thus rooted up and transplanted, but it showed that it was meant to be thus transplanted. It gave stay and support to the Roman Empire and the whole world of Western civilisation. If, as Renan justly observes, anyone had told the Roman Emperor in the first century that the little Jew who had come from Antioch as a missionary was his best collaborator, and would put the empire upon a stable basis, he would have been regarded as a madman, and yet he would have spoken nothing but the truth. Paul brought new forces to the Roman Empire, and laid the foundations of Western and Christian civilisation. Alexander the Great’s work has perished; 193Paul’s has remained. But if we praise the man who, without being able to appeal to a single word of his Master’s, ventured upon the boldest enterprise, by the help of the spirit and with the letter against him, we must none the less pay the meed of honour to those personal disciples of Jesus who after a bitter internal struggle ultimately associated themselves with Paul’s principles. That Peter did so we know for certain; of others we hear that they at least acknowledged their validity. It was, indeed, no insignificant circumstance that men in whose ears every word of their Master’s was still ringing, and in whose recollection the concrete features of his personality were still a vivid memory—that these faithful disciples should recognise a pronouncement to be true which in important points seemed to depart from the original message and portended the downfall of the religion of Israel. What was kernel here, and what was husk, history has itself showed with unmistakable plainness, and by the shortest process. Husk were the whole of the Jewish limitations attaching to Jesus’ message; husk were also such definite statements as “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In the strength of Christ’s spirit the disciples broke through these barriers. It was his personal disciples not, as we might expect, the second or third generation, when the immediate 194memory of the Lord had already paled—who stood the great test. That is the most remarkable fact of the apostolic age.

Without doing violence to the inner and essential features of the Gospel—unconditional trust in God as the Father of Jesus Christ, confidence in the Lord, forgiveness of sins, certainty of eternal life, purity and brotherly fellowship—Paul transformed it into the universal religion, and laid the ground for the great Church. But whilst the original limitations fell away, new ones of necessity made their appearance; and they modified the simplicity and the power of a movement which was from within. Before concluding our survey of the apostolic age, we must direct attention to these modifications.

In the first place: the breach with the Synagogue and the founding of entirely independent religious communities had well-marked results. Whilst the idea was firmly maintained that the community of Christ, the “Church,” was something suprasensible and heavenly, because it came from within, there was also a conviction that the Church took visible shape in every separate community. As a complete breach had taken place, or no connexion been established, with the ancient communion, the formation of entirely new societies was logically invested with a special significance, and excited the liveliest 195interest. In his sayings and parables Jesus, careless of all externals, could devote himself solely to the all-important point; but how and in what forms the seed would grow was not a question which occupied his mind; he had the people of Israel with their historical ordinances before him and was not thinking of external changes. But the connexion with this people was now severed, and no religious movement can remain in a bodiless condition. It must elaborate forms for common life and common public worship. Such forms, however, cannot be improvised; some of them take shape slowly out of concrete necessities; others are derived from the environment and from existing circumstances. It was in this way that the “Gentile” communities procured themselves an organism, a body. The forms which they developed were in part independent and gradual, and in part based upon the facts with which they had to deal.

But a special measure of value always attaches to forms. By being the means by which the community is kept together, the value of that to which they minister is insensibly transferred to them; or, at least, there is always a danger of this happening. One reason for this is that the observance of the forms can always be controlled or enforced, as the case may be; whilst for the inner life there is no control that cannot be evaded.


When the breach with the Jewish national communion had once taken place, there could be no doubt about the necessity for setting up a new community in opposition to it. The self-consciousness and strength of the Christian movement was displayed in the creation of a Church which knew itself to be the true Israel. But the founding of churches and “the Church” on earth brought an entirely new interest into the field; what came from within was joined by something that came from without; law, discipline, regulations for ritual and doctrine, were developed, and began to assert a position by a logic of their own. The measure of value applicable to religion itself no longer remained the only measure, and with a hundred invisible threads religion was insensibly worked into the net of history.

In the second place: we have already referred to the fact that it was, above all, in his Christology that Paul’s significance as a teacher consisted. In his view—we see this as well by the way in which he illuminated the death on the cross and the resurrection as by his equation, “the Lord is a Spirit”—the Redemption is already accomplished and salvation a present power. “God hath reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ”; “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”; “Who shall separate us from the love of God?” The absolute 197character of the Christian religion is thus made clear. But it may also be observed in this connexion that every attempt to formulate a theory has a logic of its own and dangers of its own. There was one danger which the apostle himself had to combat, that of men claiming to be redeemed without giving practical proof of the new life. In the case of Jesus’ sayings no such danger could arise, but Paul’s formulas were not similarly protected. That men are not to rely upon “redemption,” forgiveness of sin, and justification, if the hatred of sin and the imitation of Christ be lacking, inevitably became in subsequent ages a standing theme with all earnest teachers. Who can fail to recognise that the doctrines of “objective redemption” have been the occasion of grievous temptations in the history of the Church, and for whole generations concealed the true meaning of religion? The conception of “redemption,” which cannot be inserted in Jesus’ teaching in this free and easy way at all, became a snare. No doubt it is true that Christianity is the religion of redemption; but the conception is a delicate one, and must never be taken out of the sphere of personal experience and inner reformation.

But here we are met by a second danger closely connected with the first. If redemption is to be traced to. Christ’s person and work, everything 198would seem to depend upon a right understanding of this person together with what he accomplished. The formation of a correct theory of and about Christ threatens to assume the position of chief importance, and to pervert the majesty and simplicity of the Gospel. Here, again, the danger is of a kind such as cannot arise with Jesus’ sayings. Even in John we read: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” But with the way in which Paul defined the theory of religion, the danger can certainly arise and did arise. No long period elapsed before it was taught in the Church that the all-important thing is to know how the person of Jesus was constituted, what sort of physical nature he had, and so on. Paul himself is far removed from this position,—“Whoso calleth Christ Lord speaketh by the Holy Ghost,”—but the way in which he ordered his religious conceptions, as the outcome of his speculative ideas, unmistakably exercised an influence in a wrong direction. That, however great the attraction which his way of ordering them may possess for the understanding, it is a perverse proceeding to make Christology the fundamental substance of the Gospel is shown by Christ’s teaching, which is everywhere directed to the all-important point, and summarily confronts every man with his God. This does not affect Paul’s right to epitomise the Gospel in the message 199of Christ crucified, thus exhibiting God’s power and God’s wisdom, and in the love of Christ kindling the love of God. There are thousands to-day in whom the Christian faith is still propagated in the same manner, namely, through Christ. But to demand assent to a series of propositions about Christ’s person is a different thing altogether.

There is, however, another point to be considered here. Under the influence of the Messianic dogmas, and led by the impression which Christ made, Paul became the author of the speculative idea that not only was God in Christ, but that Christ himself was possessed of a peculiar nature of a heavenly kind. With the Jews, this was not a notion that necessarily shattered the framework of the Messianic idea; but with the Greeks it inevitably set an entirely new theory in motion. Christ’s appearance in itself, the entrance of a divine being into the world, came of necessity to rank as the chief fact, as itself the real redemption. Paul did not, indeed, himself look upon it in this light; for him the crucial facts are the death on the cross and the resurrection, and he regards Christ’s entrance into the world from an ethical point of view and as an example for us to follow “For our sakes he became poor”; he humbled himself and renounced the world. But this state of things could not last. The fact of redemption could not permanently 200occupy the second place; it was too large. But when moved into the first place it threatened the very existence of the Gospel, by drawing away men’s thoughts and interests in another direction. When we look at the history of dogma, who can deny that that was what happened? To what extent it happened we shall see in the following lectures.

In the third place: the new Church possessed a sacred book, the Old Testament. Paul, although he taught that the law had become of no avail, found a means of preserving the whole of the Old Testament. What a blessing to the Church this book has proved! As a book of edification, of consolation, of wisdom, of counsel, as a book of history, what an incomparable importance it has had for Christian life and apologetics! Which of the religions that Christianity encountered on Greek or Roman ground could boast of a similar book? Yet the possession of this book has not been an unqualified advantage to the Church. To begin with, there are many of its pages which exhibit a religion and a morality other than Christian. No matter how resolutely people tried to spiritualise it and give it an inner meaning by construing it in some special way, their efforts did not avail to get rid of the original sense in its entirety. There was always a danger of an inferior and obsolete principle forcing its way into Christianity through the 201Old Testament. This, indeed, was what actually occurred. Nor was it only in individual aspects that it occurred: the whole aim was changed. Moreover, on the new ground religion was intimately connected with a political power, namely, with nationality. How if people were seduced into again seeking such a connexion, not, indeed, with Judaism, but with a new nation, and not with ancient national laws, but with something of an analogous character? And when even a Paul here and there declared Old Testament laws to be still authoritative in spite of their having undergone an allegorical transformation, how could anyone restrain his successors from also proclaiming other laws, remodelled to suit the circumstances of the time, as valid ordinances of God? This brings us to the second point. Although whatever was drawn from the Old Testament by way of authoritative precept may have been inoffensive in substance, it was a menace to Christian freedom of both kinds. It threatened the freedom which comes from within, and also the freedom to form church communities and to arrange for public worship and discipline.

I have tried to show that the limitations which surrounded the Gospel did not cease with the severance of the tie binding it to Judaism, but that, on 202the contrary, new limits made their appearance. They arose, however, just at the very points upon which the necessary progress of things depended, or, as the case might be, where an inalienable possession like the Old Testament was in question. Here, again, then, we are reminded of the fact that, so far as history is concerned, as soon as we leave the sphere of pure inwardness there is no progress, no achievement, no advantage of any sort that has not its dark side and does not bring its disadvantages with it. The apostle Paul complained that “we know in part.” To a much greater degree is the same thing true of our actions and of everything connected with them. We have always to “pay the penalty” of acting, and not only take the evil consequences, but also knowingly and with open eyes resolutely neglect one thing in order to gain another. Our purest and most sacred possessions, when they leave the inward realm and pass into the world of form and circumstance, are no exception to the rule that the very shape which they take in action also proves to be their limitation.

When the great apostle ended his life under Nero’s axe in the year 64, he could say of himself what a short time before he had written to a faithful comrade: “I have finished my course; I have kept the faith.” What missionary is there, what 203preacher, what man entrusted with the cure of souls, who can be compared with him, whether in the greatness of the task which he accomplished or in the holy energy with which he carried it out? He worked with the most living of all messages, and kindled a fire; he cared for his people like a father and strove for the souls of others with all the forces of his own; at the same time he discharged the duties of the teacher, the schoolmaster, the organiser. When he sealed his work by his death, the Roman Empire from Antioch as far as Rome, nay, as far as Spain, was planted with Christian communities. There were to be found in them few that were “mighty after the flesh” or of noble degree, and yet they were as “lights in the world,” and on them the progress of the world’s history rested. They had little “illumination,” but they had acquired the faith in the living God and in a life eternal; they knew that the value of the human soul is infinite, and that its value is determined by relation to the invisible; they led a life of purity and brotherly fellowship, or at least strove after such a life. Bound together into a new people in Jesus Christ, their head, they were filled with the high consciousness that Jews and Greeks, Greeks and barbarians, would through them become one, and that the last and highest stage in the history of humanity had then been reached.

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