St. Paul’s Autobiography.
by R. Elliott
INTRODUCTION.---- SINNER, SAINT AND SERVANT
WE have ventured to call this an autobiography. At the close, the reader will be able to judge whether this title is justified. St. Paul, unlike any other writer in the New Testament, makes constant allusion to himself, so that we have almost a complete account of his inner and outer life. The others scarcely make one personal or passing reference to themselves; he is constantly relating his experiences, and giving glimpses of his inward exercises. He permits us to know what things were happening to him, and how he was affected by them. We are made conscious almost of the mental anguish, the stem resolve, the throb of pain, or the spiritual ecstasy that passed through him. This feature is in every way a most striking characteristic of his epistles; and is so present in all his writings, that to say we have his autobiography, is neither doing violence to them nor to the English language. His journeys, his labours, his griefs, his disappointments; the energy of his faith and the deep feelings of his heart; his boundless sufferings and constant humiliations; his joys and sorrows; the dangers braved and the difficulties overcome; the way he was forsaken, and the way he was befriended, are all depicted in his own words.
The fact is, St. Paul not only gives us Christianity in doctrine, he presents it to us personified. He not only sets it before us as abstract truth, but in concrete form. What, for instance, can surpass this? "For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant, unto all, that I might gain the more . . .To the weak, became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some . . . Know ye not that they which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize? I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air, but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." (1 Cor. ix. 19, 22, 24, 26, 27). Or this, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live, are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. SO THEN DEATH WORKETH IN US, BUT LIFE IN YOU." (2 Cor. iv. 6-12). And again, almost his last words to Timothy: "But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecution, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at lconium, at Lystra, what persecutions I endured, but out of them all, the Lord delivered me." (2 Tim. iii. 10-11).
Nor does St. Paul leave us in any doubt as to his own estimate of his work and mission, the power by which both were accomplished, or as to the source and character of his inspiration. It is well to remember this in the face of the adverse criticism of the present day. There are not wanting, those who disparage the Apostle's authority and teaching. We would rather accept his own estimate of his mission and of the inspiration which was the source and strength of it, than that of twentieth century rationalists; and as to this, we are left in no doubt. He speaks of Christ having appeared to him; he can testify to visions and revelations; he claims that the very words he uses are given by the Holy Ghost. His repeated formula is, "This we say unto you by the Word of the Lord"; or, "I have received of the Lord"; or, again, "These things we testify in the Lord. He affirms, that he was working "the work of the Lord;" that Christ sent him; that the gospel he preached was not after man, neither was he taught it, but by revelation of Jesus Christ. He repeats the very words used by his Lord and Master when he received his commission, "For I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee." (I Cor. ii. 13, xi. 23, xv. 8; 2 Cor. xii. l; 1 Thess. iv. 15; Eph. iv. 17; Gal. i. 11-12).
Perhaps there was never a moment when the professors of, and the professed exponents of Christianity needed so much to stand in the presence of such a man as Paul and take their true measure. We are surrounded on every hand by a class of teacher, and a kind of Christianity, that the Apostle would have wept over. If he had occasion to do so in his own day (as Philippians iii. 18-19 informs us), how much more in this, "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." These words have their application to-day, and we seem to hear the echo of them. Paul knew what it was to lose his life in order to find it. He never knew what it was to be all things to all men in order to save his own skin. The optimism of this twentieth century, which refuses to face facts, and declines to accept the repeated testimony of Scripture but glories in expectation of progress and achievement as the outcome of fancied human goodness and ability, he would have abhorred. He never expected anything so futile. He was optimistic, but with an optimism far different from this. He knew that God would accomplish His purpose; he never doubted Christ would triumph; he never ceased to look for a glorious future, and his heart never failed him, but all this as arising out of the ruin of the present, and not as being evolved from it.
A word as to the scope of these articles. They make no pretense either to be learned or exhaustive. Generally speaking, we shall confine ourselves strictly to the Apostle's own references to himself and his work; though occasionally, we may crave a little latitude. We propose to consider him under the heads of Sinner, Saint and Servant: the Man and his Message.
Just as a vase of flowers might be spoken of from four different standpoints, so is it with the subject before us. 1. The flowers might be approached from the standpoint of their origin, and how they were produced, so we hope to speak of St. Paul's conversion and preparation for the ministry. 2. Their beauty and perfume might be described, so we shall endeavour to set forth the lovely Christian graces and Christ-like traits manifested in this devoted saint. 3. Their use----this will cover what has to be said of St. Paul as a Servant. Lastly, we might like to know what kind of a vase contained the flowers. This will lead us to speak of St. Paul, the man. What kind of a vessel was he? "He is a chosen vessel unto Me" said Christ, "to bear My Name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." St. Paul was no ordinary man, as is proved by the fact that he was no ordinary sinner, as well as the fact that he afterwards became no ordinary saint and servant.
Thus, it will be seen that this is an attempt to delineate the character and service of the great Apostle of the Gentiles by a four-fold description of him borrowed from statements of his own, scattered through the various Epistles he wrote, as well as in the Acts of the Apostles. From observations he drops here and there, it is not difficult to form an accurate idea of the man, his methods, the object for which he laboured, his ideals, his service and his saintship. There is no doubt, a special reason why, in this respect, Paul is quite an exception to all the other writers of the New Testament. He was, as he says, "One born out of due time." He was not one of the twelve. Much of his teaching was looked upon as a new departure, and brought him into conflict, even with those who professed to accept Christ. His conversion was apart from human instrumentality. All these things taken together, account for the fact that he had often to be on the defensive, and found his path a particularly trying one. He had to justify his position. He did this by constant reference to his life, labours and sufferings, and by the repeated assertion that what he taught, he received from Heaven. The consequence is, we practically have his autobiography. How completely it vindicates him from all the assaults of his opponents and traducers in his lifetime, and should, from the petty attacks of present day criticism, is apparent enough to those who follow the record, which God in His infinite goodness has preserved to us. It reveals to us, one who in every way towers above his fellows, and who on one occasion received the most unimpeachable testimony from the ranks of those whose works he was overthrowing; which testimony gave him the supreme honour of having his name coupled with that of his Master and Lord, and should be sufficient of itself, to lay every criticism in the dust: "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?"
SAUL OF TARSUS. THE SINNER & HIS CONVERSION.
I.----CONVERSION.----" . . . Sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. i. 15)
THE usual method of commencing a biography or an autobiography is by a reference to the birth, antecedents, training and early experiences of the subject of the memoir. But this aspect of the life of Saul of Tarsus, afterwards known as Paul the Apostle, is so dwarfed by the record of his spiritual experiences, that our first notice of him must be in connection with his conversion. If it had not been for this stupendous catastrophe which overturned all his schemes, and changed his whole outlook, we should scarcely have known anything about him. It was this ''change"----this ''turning''----that led him into a path and to follow pursuits, to endure hardships, and deliver messages which have filled the world with wonder and gratitude ever since. But for this, with all his gifts and natural greatness, he would have remained, at the most, but a name upon the page of history.
It will not be out of place, therefore, to put his conversion in the very foreground of the narrative. This method is in harmony, too, with the whole genius of the sacred writings. "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you,'' was said long ago with respect to Israel. The statement covers a profound truth. No man has made any beginning worth speaking of until he has begun with God. And this beginning stands at the head of everything----it is ''the first month of the year." Until we have found Christ, we are out of the reckoning. It is not our natural birth; it is not anything we have done, that puts us right with God, or forms the basis of this new start. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ; it is the blood on the lintel; it is a vision of the Lamb for sinners slain.
Two things must be taken account of, if we are to form a just estimate of the Apostle Paul's career----his conversion, and his special ministry. We find him constantly referring to both, and the one is as unique as the other. Not only did our Lord specially reveal Himself to this erstwhile antagonist, so that his wild and wayward course was completely reversed, but He gave him a special revelation of truth. He was, in every sense, "a chosen vessel." Again and again, He refers to what he calls, "My gospel." He tells us in Col. i. 25, that to him, it was given to complete the Word of God. He was a minister of the gospel and a minister of the mystery, and no further truth has been given since the Apostle's ministry closed. The whole scope of revelation is complete. With this, we shall hope to deal later on. We are now concerned with the first fact mentioned, viz., the special character of his conversion.
That conversion was as sudden as it was overwhelming. There may have been some preparatory work going on----this may be implied in the words, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (Though many MSS. omit these words), yet, nevertheless, the actual conversion was with tragic suddenness. It is well for those who object to sudden conversion to consider this. Conversion is something more than a gradual process of moral development. It is an arresting, a turning, a new birth. How real, how striking conversion becomes, looked at in the light of what took place on the road to Damascus. Saul heard a voice, he saw a face, he became acquainted with a Person he had never known before. It left an impression that was to last forever.
Through cloud and sunshine, through evil report and good report, whether led in triumph or confined within prison walls, in success or in failure, in sickness or in health, whatever his circumstances, the effect of this revelation was never effaced.
Twice does the great Apostle of the Gentiles recount the story of his conversion. Both occasions were memorable. The first was during his final visit to Jerusalem before the people who clamoured for his life; the second, before Agrippa, more than two years after. Each was an important crisis in the life of St. Paul, and it is, therefore, evident that he regarded his conversion, and the special manner of it, as of vital consequence.
From the Bible standpoint (the only true one in such matters), conversion is not only a necessity, but a great central fact in the history of every human life, into which this experience enters. It would however, be totally wrong to demand that this experience must be the same, in all its details, in every case. The spiritual life of children, brought up under decided Christian influences, may develop as naturally and noiselessly as a flower. The bud and bloom appear without suddenness or noise. It is simply the ordinary and natural unfolding of the life within, implanted, one hardly knows how or when. There appears to have been no sudden revolution in Timothy's case, for instance, like that which happened in the career of Saul of Tarsus; and while it took an earthquake to arouse the Philippian jailor; of Lydia, in the very same chapter, we read, "Whose heart the Lord opened." Nevertheless, conversion is a great and impressive fact in human life, as is recorded of some of Paul's own converts, "Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from Heaven." While amongst his Corinthian converts, were those who once had been thieves, drunkards, revilers and adulterers, but now were washed, sanctified and justified (1 Cor. vi. 9-11).
Conversion is always referred to in Scripture as implying a divine work. Its simple meaning is, to tum, or turn again. Thus, in the commission given to St. Paul, he was sent to "Open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." (Acts xxvi. 18). A man cannot convert himself. Those Thessalonians would never have turned to God, had not the gospel been preached to them, not "in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thess. i. 5). It is no mere reformation of character, or giving up bad habits, or even sorrow for past misdoings. It is described as, "Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is remarkable, in many ways, beyond all others. It is so, inasmuch as he was already living a strictly moral life. "Touching the righteousness which is in the law, he says, "blameless." His conscience never had to smite him for any of those moral lapses of which so many are guilty. Even in youth, he was pure. Neither was he irreligious. He "profited," he tells us, "in the Jews' religion above many of my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my Father's." Yet, notwithstanding all this, he was at enmity with God, and ignorant of His truth. To employ his own words about others, as descriptive of himself. He had "the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law." But it was only the form.
The manner of his conversion was not less remarkable. It was not by study, or by listening to a sermon. It was not brought about by a dream, or in conversation with someone more enlightened than himself. It had nothing to do with a revival, or any human instrumentality whatever. His conversion was unique and unprecedented. The very One he was opposing and persecuting, revealed Himself to him, arresting him suddenly in his mad career by speaking to him from Heaven.
There was never any doubt in the Apostle's mind as to what had happened. Three times in the Acts, we have the distinct record of it; once historically by Luke, in chap. ix., and twice from his own lips, in chaps. xx. ii. and xxvi. The last two were given years after the occurrence, at the close of his life. The years between had not dimmed the sense of the transcendent reality and effect of what had happened. One thing, and one thing alone, accounted for the overwhelming transformation that turned the persecutor of Christ into His devoted servant and follower. He had seen Him; he had heard His voice; the glory of the once-despised, rejected, and crucified Nazarene, had shone upon him, and blinded him to all else but the one vision.
It is impossible to account for the complete change----the new and over-mastering passion----the zeal on behalf of Him Whom he had hated, and Whose followers he had hunted, which took possession of Saul of Tarsus, in any other way than by attributing it to this conversion, which, for suddenness, strangeness, completeness, and far-reaching results, distances all previous records.
In Saul, then, we see conversion; we understand something of what it means, and we see its stupendous results. It is God entering a human life. It is the revelation of Christ to a human soul. It is the love and grace, the pity and compassion of Calvary, taking possession of a human heart. It is the awakening of a soul to new surroundings, new joys, and powers before unknown. It is a change of attitude toward God, and a change of thought about Him; so much so, that the soul learns all that God is willing to be to the one that turns to Him through Jesus Christ.
But let us look more closely at this remarkable conversion, for the Apostle tells us in his autobiographical reference to it, in his first letter to Timothy, that the reason of it was a wider one than his own immediate blessing. It will be well to quote the entire passage----"And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, Who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen." (Ch. i. 12-17)
Two points in this passage stand out with great clearness. Saul of Tarsus was converted in order that he might be put into the ministry, and, secondly, that he might be a pattern. It is with the latter of these that we have chiefly to do now.
In what respect was Saul the chief of sinners? There are some who regard this as the language of hyperbole, and hardly credit the Apostle with meaning literally what he said. But if this were so, how then did Jesus Christ show forth in him, the whole of His long-suffering? It will be seen, therefore, that the context, apart from other considerations, demands a literal interpretation. There are, however, other reasons which compel us to adopt this view. He was indeed, as we have seen, religious and exemplary in his conduct, as far as mere ordinary morality went. He could have entered the best society, and filled a foremost place in the councils of his nation. His character, from a human point of view, was unimpeachable. He was not dishonest, neither was he licentious; in all the relations of life, he was conspicuous for honourable conduct. Is it possible, then, to agree with this man's own estimate of himself when he declares that of sinners, he was chief?
The answer must be found in the words in which Paul describes himself, "a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and worthless." A man's sin cannot be estimated simply according to the way in which it may affect himself, or damage him in the eyes of his fellow-men. Saul's sin was of a tremendous nature. He was a persecutor; he says----"I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem; and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. (Acts xxvi. 9-10)
Saul was thus, not only ill-treating his fellow creatures, but he was setting himself with all the force of his great intellect and unrivalled powers against God, and attempting to frustrate the purpose He had in sending His Son into the world. I thought "that I ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth." There lay the enormity of his guilt. For, supposing he had succeeded----and as far as he was concerned, he meant to succeed, and therefore his guilt is proportioned to his motive and intent, not merely by the measure of success----supposing he had succeeded in stamping out the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and ridding the world forever of all mention of that Name; who can measure the loss to humanity at large? Even as regards this life, the loss cannot be computed. All the comfort that Christianity ministers to the living and the dying; all that makes for the formation of the highest and noblest character; all that gives guidance in perplexity, courage in adversity, and strength in temptation, would have been unknown. And what shall be said of the life beyond? Death would still have been the King of terrors, holding in bondage, through fear of it, all mankind. The grave would have remained the goal, and all beyond it, shrouded in uncertainty and mystery. No voice would have been heard uttering those words, "I am the resurrection and the life, over the grave of the departed, or sung with triumph, "Asleep in Jesus, blessed sleep."
These calamitous results were all potentially, within the persecuting propaganda of Saul. Could there have been a greater sin? If a man becomes an habitual drunkard, or if he gives way to immorality or dishonesty, he injures himself, his family, and perhaps a few others. But the effect of Saul's sin, embraced the world! He sinned against God and all mankind. Saul set himself to thwart the very purposes of God. He was the declared enemy of Christ. He stood, as it were, directly confronting the Almighty. Is it any wonder then that Paul, even at the very end of his days, describes himself as a "blasphemer, and a persecutor, and worthless," and, as he reflected upon all, exclaimed, "Sinners, of whom I am chief"?
What accounts for this religious, highly-educated, moral man embarking upon such a course? He explains it all in a few words: "I did it ignorantly in unbelief." Yes, it was ignorance. Ignorance in spite of all his education and training, and having been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, "taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the Fathers." Ignorance and unbelief! Is there none of it to-day? Yes, even where we should least expect to find it. Are not men attacking the Scriptures now just as the learned Saul of Tarsus attacked the followers of Jesus then, only with different weapons, and just as truly ignorant of what they are doing, and as full of unbelief as the arch-persecutor of old?
Thus, Saul of Tarsus was the chief of sinners. Yet this gave occasion for Christ to manifest the full extent of his long-suffering; and we now tum to examine a little, this aspect of the subject.
The apostle's own view of his conversion was, that, it was to be the means of showing forth the whole of the long-suffering of Christ; and this in order that others who came after, should be encouraged to trust in Him. In what way was the long-suffering of the Saviour thus manifested? We must trace a little, the life of the one who became the subject of such marvellous grace in order to discover the answer.
The first reference to Saul of Tarsus is in Acts vii., in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen. In addition to the historical record, we are permitted to hear his own account of it. In Acts xxii., in his harangue to the multitude after he has been taken captive, he quotes words used long before in answer to Christ's summons to him on a former occasion to depart from Jerusalem: "Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue, them that believed on Thee, and when the blood of Thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him" (vers.19-20). This autobiographical record (if we may call it so without being sure that the Apostle ever actually wrote it down) leaves no doubt as to the accuracy of St. Luke's account, or as to the guilt of Saul. No witnesses are necessary to prove the tremendous bias that existed in the mind of this young man; and his hatred of everything Christian. Acts vii. 58, informs us, that he was only a young man, (Probably about thirty) yet he was taking a foremost part in putting to death one of Christ's most earnest followers.
Not only was he "standing by," but he acknowledges, he gave his consent to the deed, and further, "Kept the raiment of them that slew him." So that as the Lord Jesus received the spirit of his faithful servant, He looked down upon one determined to spend his life in devastating His Church. Why did not the same moment that witnessed the departure of Stephen, witness also the death of Saul? How, then, would the whole long-suffering of Christ have been shown forth? And how would that prayer have been answered, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge"? It was to receive a full answer in one case at least.
There was evidently no repentance on the part of Saul; it might have been thought that the heart of a young man would have relented; but we go on to read, "As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and hailing men and women, and committed them to prison." (Acts viii. 3). Weeks and months pass, and still we find him pursuing the same course, for the next reference to him is as follows: "Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem." In his own words: "Being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities."
And now he is on his way to Damascus----and now he has nearly reached the gates. For we are told, it was only when "he came near Damascus, that Christ spoke to him. They know within the city that he is coming. Tidings have reached them, (We have this on the authority of Ananias (Acts ix. 14) that, "Here he hath authority from the Chief Priests to bind all that call on Thy Name."
His horses' hoofs are almost within sound. ''O Lord, why dost Thou suffer this man to go on? Thy people have been put to death through his means. He has punished them oft in every city. Dost Thou not care for Thine own? Now we are about to be delivered into his hand." Can we not imagine some such cry ascending to the throne of the Majesty in the heavens? Yes, why was it? Why was Saul allowed to have it all his own way? He was not having it all his own way. Really and truly, though it did not seem like it, Christ was having His way. We can see it now, though no one knew it then, not even Saul himself. "That in me first, Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering." This was the secret of all those days of trial, and weary weeks of waiting. For how else could the whole of the long-suffering of Christ have been shown forth? It was all purposed, it was all planned, and though God's people had to suffer meanwhile, generations yet unborn, were to reap the benefit of their hours of anguish.
Oh! that we understood more of God's ways; oh! that we more often waited to see the end. Christ could have smitten the persecutor to the ground more easily than the moth perishes in the candle light, had He so chosen. But, had He done so, we should not have known His long-suffering; and had He intervened sooner, we should not have known all of it. Long ago, the Name of the Lord had been proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" and this had to be made good. The whole extent to which the long-suffering of God could go, was never seen until Saul, red-handed, bent on destroying the excellent of the earth, after a prolonged course of bitter persecution, his heart full of "wild fury," is met by Him Whose Name he hated above everything else, and won by "the meekness and gentleness of Christ."
II.----CONVERSION.----". . . Sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. i. 15).
HOW thankful we may be, St. Paul has left on record the fact, that, of sinners, he was the chief; and also, that in his conversion, we may read the whole of the long-suffering of Christ. Can the world's literature furnish any autobiographical record half so interesting and valuable? For in whatever else we may differ, the whole of mankind are alike in this----all are sinners. In this, there is no exception, whatever differences there may be in belief, in education, in customs and circumstances; and therefore Paul's reference has an interest for all. Here is one who singles himself out as chief amongst mankind in this very feature which is universal. Does he do this for the sake of mere notoriety? Is it an idle boast, for the sake of creating some new sensation? Is the man merely the greatest of egoists? No, he speaks soberIy, as the result of deep conviction; and he can give reasons. We have seen what they are, and they may be briefly summed up. He was the chief of sinners, (1) because he set himself in direct opposition to God's main purpose in the world; and (2) because, had those plans been thwarted, untold loss to all mankind must have resulted. This constituted the enormity of his offence. After the lapse of ages, God had sent the long promised Deliverer into the world, in the Person of His Own Son, the Redeemer of men and the Revealer of the Father, and Saul was, however unwittingly, attempting to rob his fellow creatures of all that which was intended for their present and eternal blessing by trying to stamp out the very Name of Christ from under heaven. May it not well cause us deep searching of heart as we remember that this was done by a moral, religious and enlightened man?
But, thank God, there is the other side; for if in Saul, we see how destitute the human heart can be----even when possessed of the very highest advantages this life can afford----of love to God and knowledge of His ways, we see also those ways in a new and resplendent light, in discerning how His grace can turn hostility to friendship, and hatred to love.
How important, too, to notice that all turns upon a right or wrong attitude towards Jesus of Nazareth; to observe that from the moment when Christ met him, all St. Paul's thoughts about God were coloured by what he had learned of Jesus; that Christ's personal dealing changed his whole life; and to see that the action of Jesus towards His enemy becomes the one determining factor in the whole transaction. In addition to this, it is to be noted that the Saviour, in His dealings with Saul, thought not of him only, but of all who should hereafter believe on Him.
"The whole of the long suffering." Succeeding generations could never furnish one sinner that need despair. Men might injure themselves and others by their sins, and wander far away from God and good; they never could do worse than attempt to stamp out the very truth of God; they never could go beyond attempting to defeat the Almighty in His world-wide purpose, intended to secure His Own glory and the blessing of His creatures; and, therefore, they never could place themselves beyond His long-suffering.
THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS.
Has not the road to Damascus, then, an immense attraction for us as well as Damascus itself? While other ancient cities have disappeared, marked only by mounds or crumbling ruins, this city remains, and is not very different from what it was on that memorable occasion when Saul of Tarsus and his fellow-travellers were approaching it. Is it left, while greater cities have been demolished, in order to be a visible reminder of transactions long ago that form part of God's wondrous story of grace? It was a certain Eliezer of Damascus, who was Abraham's servant, and was sent by him to fetch a bride for Isaac----type of the Holy Ghost sent down from a risen and glorified Christ to gather a Bride for Him and now it is to be the scene of the conversion of the one who, above all others, was to be instrumental in proclaiming this very mystery concerning Christ and the Church. And those dealings would manifest a long-suffering which had never been witnessed before.
It is said that every 25th of January, the Christians in Damascus walk in procession to the scene of the conversion of St. Paul, and read the history of it from the Acts. It would be well if we, at least once a year, went, in thought, over the same ground. Let us try to picture it now, and we shall become convinced that the absolute triumph of good over evil in the conversion of Saul, becomes increasingly apparent as we study the details of the scene. A verdict might be demanded in favour of Christianity, on the ground of this one incident alone. Its moral grandeur is overwhelming. Saul is depicted as "yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter." There is no change in him. We are not invited to behold a suppliant at the bar of mercy. In all the vigour of manhood, and in all the power of his hatred against the Nazarene, he rides towards this further scene of persecution. "And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus; and suddenly there shined round about him, a light from heaven; and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" The impotence of man, even at his best, is at once apparent. Saul in the prime of manhood and in the supremacy of all his powers, can no more withstand this light from heaven than a reed can remain unshaken by a tornado. No wonder, he could say, in writing to the Corinthians years after, "Knowing therefore, the terror of the Lord." He knew it as he lay on the Damascus road, prostrate before a power that could not be withstood. But there was more than the light; he heard a voice: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" A voice in which there was no trace of bitterness or anger. A voice which contained no denunciation, and not even a reference to his past conduct, except in the form of a question. We might have looked for a stem rebuke, or a recital of the ills he had done. But instead, we have only his name repeated twice, and a question.
Yet there was no weakness. Saul was not having to do with someone who could not appreciate his offence or dare not mention it. He was on his back, and he was blinded; but he heard this voice, every sound of which seemed to echo in the dark caverns of his heart----a voice he had never heard before----indescribable. How much there is in a voice we all know; but who shall tell what there was in the voice which spoke to him?. It must have been "full of pity, love and power." "Why persecutest thou Me?" He is face to face with Him against Whom he had launched his fiercest and most determined opposition; and he finds that One, although able to crush him, willing to save.
Recognizing, probably the majesty and authority of the Person Who spoke, and unable to stand before the light, the question which naturally rises to his lips in answer to the one addressed to him, is, "Who art Thou, Lord?" The answer he receives is, "I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." What a further revelation of the long-suffering of Christ these last words contain. Apparently, the Saviour's whole concern is about Saul. We could well have understood Christ saying, "It is hard for Me to endure your evil ways any longer''; or, ''It is hard for those defenseless sheep of Mine you are persecuting,'' but, no, "it is hard for thee." As though Christ thought and cared only about him. Only about him, who was yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter; his feet almost within the gates of the city where he hoped to find something more to feed the hatred which he cherished against the sect of the Nazarene. When we see this very one met with such pity and with manifest concern, can we wonder any more at the words we have already quoted: "That in me first, Jesus Christ might show forth ALL LONG-SUFFERING, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting"?
"It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." These words seem to suggest that Saul had exercises of conscience, and that he had reached a condition when he had really to goad himself to the despicable work in which he was engaged. This may be accounted for in various ways, for God speaks to us through the ordinary occurrences of daily life, and Saul cannot have remained altogether unaffected as he saw the behaviour of those he imprisoned and put to death----their sublime faith and heroic fortitude. It has been pointed out, too, that the journey from Jerusalem to Damascus lay through those parts of the country most frequented by our Lord, and where most of His miracles and works of mercy were, done. The journey would occupy several days, and it is quite probable that, at the various inns he stopped at, Saul would hear the name of Jesus mentioned, would be compelled to listen to stories of His goodness, and might even see, in the very persons who crossed his path, evidence of His power. Be that as it may, there was evidently some preparatory work going on, and Saul might, at the very moment Christ met him, have been suffering a torture of soul compared with which the pain of body he inflicted upon others was small.
How hard, indeed, it is for those who walk in the ways of sin and resist the strivings of God's Spirit. Christ saw that, however much suffering this man was inflicting upon others, he was inflicting a keener suffering upon himself. Verily, he thought within himself, that he ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet when that One met him and asked the simple question, "Why persecutest thou Me"? no answer was forthcoming.
And if Christ, to-day, were to appear to the many thousands who have heard of Him, but still refuse His claims or remain undecided, and were to ask, Why do you not believe? What adequate answer could be given? Does not the conversion of Saul, and the whole long-suffering of Christ displayed therein, only the more lay us under the imperative obligation of acknowledging the claims of Him Who is Lord?
THE SAVIOUR'S DEALINGS WITH THE SINNER.
It may be well to ponder for a moment longer, the points that have briefly been considered, in order that the wonderful character of the divine dealings with the chief of sinners may be fully realized. There was, first of all, the light from heaven. Next, the voice. Thirdly, the question. Fourthly, the statement, "I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest"; and lastly, the utterance, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
1. The light from heaven. St. Paul himself relates that it was at mid-day, he saw in the way, a light from heaven. That light outshone the beams of the sun in his noonday splendour. So bright was it, that the Apostle informs us he "could not see for the glory of that light. It was one manifestation of Christ, and of God Who is light. It is the action of light to make manifest. It arrested the persecutor and prostrated him in the dust. Further, it revealed to him the manner of man he was.
2. A voice accompanied the light. This serves to show that the light was associated with a Person. The light did its work, but in order that Christ might be fully revealed, there needed some personal dealing. lt is the tone of voice that manifests what is in the heart; its love, pity and concern. And the heart alone can speak to the heart. The light reaches the conscience; laying bare the sin, and the righteous claims of God. That, at least, is the first effect of it----the necessary effect of it----and we are not prepared for the love until this has done its work. In Saul's case, the voice addressed him in the language which most of all appealed to him; in this way, bringing the speaker near, and obliterating all that was strange and distant. In harmony, surely, with all God's dealings, for are not the Manger and the Cross, and all that lies between, an appeal to man from his own standpoint?
3. The question----"Why persecutest thou Me?" Was not this the most delicate handling on the part of Christ of one who had done his worst against Him? Think of Christ, Who He was; think of Saul, guilty and overpowered; and then think of this question. The meanest amongst the persecuted saints could not have asked less. "Why persecutest thou Me?" It declared plainly that the love of Christ remained unaltered in spite of the tremendous strain to which it had been subjected. For it arouses us more when others dear to us are wronged than when we are wronged ourselves. Was there any answer possible to such a question? How easy it is to pursue a course, or adopt a certain programme, and allow ourselves to be dominated by it, and yet a very simple question may leave us without an answer as to the reasonableness of our policy. Perhaps, we will not allow even our own conscience to challenge our conduct. Why is it? May it not be because we have a remote suspicion that passion or prejudice or ignorance is being allowed to control us? Our own will is at work, and we want our own way? It was due to this that such a simple query as, "Why persecutest thou Me?" found Saul without an answer. Here is the record, in brief, of the One he had set himself to oppose: "JESUS OF NAZARETH . . . WHO WENT ABOUT DOING GOOD, AND HEALING ALL THAT WERE OPPRESSED WITH THE DEVIL; FOR GOD WAS WITH HIM . . .To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His Name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts x. 38 & 43). Do we find any reason here why Saul should have thought it right to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, and be exceedingly mad against those who followed Him? Let us never be afraid to put the question, Why?
4. The statement----"I am Jesus." The simple name. No regal titles. Christ made no attempt to leave an impression of greatness. And so it is the personal name----the one that implied His saving power and office. "Whom thou persecutest." A reminder to Saul, yet without any trace of bitterness.
5. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." Think of all that these things must have meant to Saul. The light that searched him, shattering his self-confidence and conceit, and making him tremble. Accompanying this, the voice that, instead of speaking in thunder, asked the simple question, Why? And then the revelation that the One before Whom he had fallen to the ground, conscious of utter powerlessness and blinded by the light, was Jesus----the very One he was persecuting. And that Jesus concerned about him!
It will be noticed that Saul immediately acknowledges Jesus as Lord. How astonished he must have been to discover that in his question, "Who art Thou, Lord? "he had already said "Lord" to the One Whose claims he had up to that moment resisted. No wonder we read: "He trembling and astonished." He trembled before the light that made all things manifest, and before which he was unable to stand, and at the newly discovered fact that Jesus was actually Lord; but his astonishment was not less that that One should manifest such an interest in him, and address to him such mild and tender words. "Trembling and astonished!" Does not this cover the whole round of our experience? Do we not tremble as we think of the One we have resisted and so often grieved? Do we not tremble at the little progress we make, and at our coldness? Are we not daily more and more astonished at the love that bore, and still bears, with us, and that remains the same through all our changes, and never leaves nor forsakes us? Are we not astonished at the grace that is always at our disposal, and at the kindness that waits upon us day by day? Saul, "breathing out threatenings and slaughter," must indeed have been astonished that Christ could love him; but have we less reason for being astonished that He has loved us? As we see that love bending over the arch-persecutor, now prostrate on the ground, may we see how sovereign it is, and independent of everything in us, and learn with him the meaning of his own words, "The Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Paul did not miscalculate when he affirmed he was the chief of sinners. And as in all else, Christ must have the pre-eminence, so in this----the chief of sinners will not be in hell but in heaven. Hell will have many sinners, but not the chief. Could anything be more arresting? Anything more calculated to awaken thought and reflection than to see the Lord Jesus, the centre of heaven's worship, and occupying the supreme place amidst all its glories, turning aside, disengaging Himself from them, if we may so speak, in order to meet one sinner----and that the one who hated Him most----and speak to him? Surely heaven looked on, and heaven's music grew sweeter and louder----or perhaps softer----as heaven's Lord was thus engaged. Paul cannot recall that scene even after the lapse of years----and those years full of toil and incident----without breaking out into a doxology; and may we not imagine this ascription of praise to be the echo of what took place amidst the choirs that surround the throne----"Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever, Amen." For this was Paul's utterance as he looked back upon that meeting.
There was also a very practical aspect to Saul's conversion. With him, no half measures would ever suffice, which-ever side of a question he took. He makes a complete surrender----"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" The one who had persecuted the saints is henceforth to minister to them; once he had made them suffer; now he is to suffer for them; he who had blasphemed the Name of Christ, is now to be, in the Words of his Lord, "A chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name before the Gentiles, and Kings, and the Children of Israel." And all that energy and determination; all that ability and courage; all that zeal and devotion which had been employed against Christ and His saints, was now to be as lavishly expended in their service. What power had turned such a man completely round? What personality must that have been, which drew him from the opposite ranks into its own service? Why was he now ready to become the off-scouring of all things, and to suffer the very ignominy he had inflicted upon others? It was not of man, neither by man, "but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." It was the power and glory and worth of that Person that did it all. And did he ever regret this change? This is his answer at the close: "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I COUNT all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."
III.----CONVERSION.----". . . Sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. i. 15.)
THE three-fold account of St. Paul's conversion presents one or two very slight difficulties, which are hardly deserving of attention, but, as the Bible is so often charged with contradicting itself, had better be noticed. In Acts ix. 7, we read: "And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man." In Acts xxii. 9, it affirms: "They heard not the voice of Him that spake to me." Acts xxvi. says neither one thing nor the other, but it perhaps furnishes the key to the difficulty. The communication to Saul, we are there told, was made in the Hebrew tongue. Now it is conceivable that the Hebrew tongue was not understood by the men that journeyed with him." The message therefore had no meaning to them. It may be in this sense that the Apostle means, "They heard not the voice." In this connection it is to be noticed that it is Saul who asserts, "they heard not the voice," and his point was, to make plain that the voice addressed itself to him, and to no one else. Whether they heard a sound did not for the moment enter into his thoughts. Luke evidently records that they did hear the actual sound.
One other point. In Acts ix. 22, we are told that, when Saul asked, "What shall I do, Lord?" he was directed to go into Damascus, and there it would be told him what he must do. In Paul's address before Agrippa, all this is omitted. Instead, we have something not included in the other two records. May not the particular circumstances of Acts xxvi. explain this difference? Paul was hardly likely to occupy Agrippa and the other magnates before him with what had happened at Damascus between Ananias, an unknown Jew, and himself (though seeing the Lord spoke to Ananias, it does furnish important evidence in itself), but would rather dwell upon the commission that had been given him direct from the ascended Christ.
Some reference ought to be made to verses 5--6, chap. ix., and the variations in the Greek MSS. It is well known, that many of the best omit the words, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" First of all, it may be said, the reading is very abrupt without them. "I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest. But, rise and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." But, according to this version, he had not asked what he was to do. Yet as it is expressly stated, "It shall be told thee what thou must do;" it is conceivable, he had interrogated the Lord as to it. Moreover, in Acts xxii. we find Paul expressly stating that he did ask, What shall I do, Lord? (v. 10). And the MSS. raise no doubts as to the authenticity of this question. While Acts xxvi. 14 not only confirms this, but also supplies the reference to "kicking against the goads."
Let us now consider the general bearings of this remarkable incident, apart from their particular relation to St. Paul himself. Leaving aside, for the moment, the inspiration and external authority of the Bible, can there be any reasonable doubt that this conversion actually took place, and in the manner related? If not, then who can question the supernatural character of Christianity? The facts to be adduced from the narrative are these:----1. Jesus of Nazareth is an actual person. 2. He was alive. 3. If He had once been put to death, as every testimony declares, then He must have been raised again. 4. He was evidently not in the state and condition in which He had been. For (a) no one saw Him but Saul; (b) He spoke from heaven, not from earth; (c) His presence was accompanied by a light so brilliant that it outshone the sun at mid-day. 5. He knew all that was passing. He knew Saul's errand, and even what was passing in his mind. 6. The effect upon Saul proves it was no ordinary vision. Those who accompanied him fell to the earth, and seem to have heard the voice, though they did not understand the meaning of it. If the narrative is true, all these facts have to be reckoned with. What extraneous evidence have we in support of it?
First, we have two accounts given by Paul himself, to all intents and purposes endorsing every detail as given by Luke. It may be said, in answer to this, that all three accounts are recorded by Luke. This objection might have some force if these had been private communications by Paul, or a private record by Luke, but they are neither. They were utterances of a most public kind, made before many witnesses, some of whom were of a very exalted character. Then secondly, we have the fact that, not only did the Lord appear to Saul, but on the same day appeared to Ananias, a disciple at Damascus, and communicated the news about Saul. All this follows in the most natural sequence. If such a great and unexpected change had taken place in Saul, certainly others needed to be prepared for it. These are the words of Ananias when he first meets him: "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." Lastly, there is the incontestable witness of St. Paul's own life and labours. From that moment, his whole course was completely changed and he pursued the tenour of his way, without deviation, unto the end. Instead of persecuting the followers of Jesus, he became their companion and helper, and the most gifted exponent of the truth he once sought to stamp out. And all this came to pass without the very smallest pecuniary or personal advantage accruing to himself. Nay, he had to suffer the loss of all things. When we take this into account along with all the rest, and in addition, that a man of such moral rectitude, which he ever was, and carrying on such disinterested and beneficent service, was not likely to tell a lie, we can arrive at only one conclusion, that the narrative in Acts ix. faithfully represents what actually transpired.
And if so, what overwhelming evidence is furnished in favour of Christianity. A living Person speaks to Saul just as he is about to enter Damascus. His identity with Jesus of Nazareth is unmistakable. It is not a surmise of the Apostle's, but a declaration on the part of the Person Himself. "I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest." So that Jesus is alive from the dead, and His power is just as great as anything claimed for Him by those who have given us the record of His ministry on earth. No greater moral or spiritual transformation was ever wrought than that effected in Saul of Tarsus, and no greater manifestation of Divine power and goodness is to be found in any of the Gospels than that given on the Damascus road.
The revelation of Christ glorified to the Persecutor, completely coloured, and gave character to the whole of his after-life and ministry, and one cannot pass on without pausing to emphasize this fact. For unless we grasp the outstanding features of Saul's conversion, we can have no right apprehension of Christianity itself. The essence of it all lies in the fact, that Christ spoke to Saul of Tarsus from heaven. And it is Christ in that place----Christ glorified----which is the key-note of Paul's ministry.
There are three schools of thought in Christendom to-day. One, makes the Incarnation the centre of its teaching; Christianity is shorn by this method, of nearly all its distinguishing features. Its root error is, it connects Christ with man after the flesh, instead of seeing that Christianity, as Paul taught it is, our being associated with Christ glorified. There is all the difference in the world between these two systems. The first insists upon the fact that the Incarnation ennobled human life in every department, and supposes that Christianity is an institution for improving the world----enlarging and enriching our life in it. In one word, the Incarnation has rehabilitated humanity. The other teaches us to set our affection on things above; because dead to the world and risen with Christ----our life hid with Christ in God.
Another school of thought makes everything revolve around the Cross. The extreme form of this is the crucifix. The effect of this system upon its adherents is that, while it numbers many devout souls, they are not emancipated. In contrast with this, while giving the Cross its true place as the foundation of everything, the third school looks to Christ beyond death, knowing that He could not be where He is unless their sins were put away; sees in Him the measure of their own acceptance; and realizes that, in the purpose of God, they are already seated in heavenly places in Him, and soon to be with and like Him.
Everything connected with Saul's conversion was calculated to impress upon him this last aspect we have mentioned. He had never known Christ after the flesh: i.e., in connection with Jewish and earthly hopes. He says: "Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more." He knew Him as the Son of God. "Until we all come into the unity of the Faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ." The light from heaven above the brightness of the sun revealed to him the Son of God. And he tells us, he "could not see for the glory of that light." Henceforth, he saw all truth in relation to that one transcendent moment. The Nazarene, the Crucified, was the supreme object in the glory of God. If a light brighter than the mid-day sun shone upon his path, it shone in connection with the despised, hated, and rejected Prophet of Galilee. Was Paul ever likely to forget it? Especially when that One had found a place for him in His affection and a home for him at His side. St. Paul tells us, he "could not see for the glory of that light." This was no mere accident. It was intentional, and with a purpose. It centred his interest upon another world----the sphere from which the voice had proceeded and from whence this dazzling light had shone. Henceforth, for him it was no longer earth but heaven. His eyes were closed to things below that they might be opened upon things above. "When his eyes were opened, he saw no man." One man alone occupied his soul, He Whom men had crucified, now the centre of a new glory for man. What a gulf between this world and Heaven! There was, literally, nothing in common. St. Paul's theology, from this moment, had two termini----the Cross and the Glory. To understand properly these two points of view is to understand Christianity.
What did St. Paul understand by the Cross? It meant to him what Christ said it was----the judgment of this world. He saw in it the condemnation of everything----sin, the flesh, and the world; and that it thus became the door of deliverance from "our nature's fall in Adam." As regards sin, he saw that "by a sacrifice for sin (God) condemned sin in the flesh." As regards the flesh, he could say, "I am crucified with Christ," and thus before God, he was no longer in the condition of responsibility to which law attached. While, as to the world, he asserts, "Whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Rom. viii. 3; Gal. ii. 20, vi. 14).
He had learned the lesson that Christ so sedulously sought to impress upon His disciples during the last days of His ministry. Over and over again, He seeks to impress them with what is about to happen, but they refuse to pay attention. In Mark viii. 31, we read, "And He began to teach them, that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Next chapter, ver. 12: "The Son of Man . . . must suffer many things, and be set at naught." Again, a little further on (ver. 31); "For He taught His disciples, and said unto them, The Son of Man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him; and after that He is killed, He shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask Him." And then, chap. x. 33-34: "And He took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto Him, saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him; and the third day He shall rise again."
Is it any wonder, the disciples, before the event, did not understand these words, and were afraid to ask too deeply as to their meaning. How many of us understand their meaning to-day? Has not Christendom, as a whole, for many a century, consistently ignored them? We see and accept one side of the Cross. The side we cannot do without, if we are to have any hope of pardon and heaven. But there is another side. The side which leaves man nothing to boast in, and the whole world convicted of sin. For what was the treatment Christ received, and who were concerned in it? Every form of indignity, culminating in death. Set at naught, mocked, scourged, spit upon, killed. And who did this? The depraved, the outcast, the vile? No, not more than others. If the truth must be told, every class was concerned in it, but especially the religious. For once, all classes were agreed in their hatred and condemnation of God's Son.
But let us notice one word that comes in time and again at the end of the Saviour's recapitulation of what would happen to Him. "The third day He shall rise again." What a reversal of the world's judgment! What a counter-blast on God's part! Do we understand the significance of it? All blessing for man must flow from the One, man has hated and despised! There can be no hope for man otherwise; for a world that could deal out to God's Son, the treatment He received, is a doomed world. But, utterly lost in itself, and without a remedy, need it be doomed? The grace that reached Saul on the Damascus road, is the answer.
And to Paul, evermore the despised and rejected of earth, was the centre of all God's counsels----the Lord of glory. The shadow of the Cross rested upon earth and made all below only loss, while the glory of God was to be seen in the face of Jesus Christ. What a scene that was, to which Christ had been raised. God, Who had been glorified on the Cross, had now glorified the One Who hung there, perfect in His obedience and devotedness. How the heart of God must have delighted to honour His Son. Stephen, in his dying moments had looked up and seen the glory of God and Jesus; as Saul kept the raiment of them that slew him; how little he knew that Jesus would soon speak from that very glory, and speak to him, the chief of sinners; or that he would be the chosen vessel to tell to every creature under heaven, the gospel of the glory of Christ. The fact that Christ could speak to a sinner from that glory was intended to be a revelation of all that God could be to the one that believed. It was no longer law, but grace. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. "In that face," Paul could have said, "I have learned God's heart to me."
So far, our attention has been exclusively occupied with only one reason for Saul's conversion; viz., that in him, Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering. There are other aspects, but as these will doubtless come before us later on, only a brief reference is made to them here.
1. Saul was to be "a chosen vessel.'' The gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto him (Gal. ii. 7). He was the apostle of the Gentiles (Rom. xi. 13). He was in a special way "separated unto the gospel of God." (Rom. i. 1). Christ was revealed to him from heaven as the Son of God, and Paul was taken out from the people (Jews) and from the Gentiles (Acts xxvi. 17).
2. It was necessary that he should see Christ in His heavenly glory in order to be a witness, and proclaim the special truth committed to him. Thus he says, "Am I not an apostle? . . . Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" Ananias says to him, "The Lord that appeared unto thee in the way." Further, in Acts xxvi., we have Paul repeating the exact words addressed to him on the occasion: "I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee." (1 Cor. i. 9; Acts ix. 17, xxvi. 16).
3. Seeing that Paul was not one of the twelve; that he had never been a follower of Christ when He was on earth; and that some new and important communications were to be made through him, how important it was that he should be arrested in this supernatural way, and have this "heavenly vision," as he terms it, to fall back upon as a support in his special mission, and the peculiar and often trying position he was called to occupy. It becomes evident from his letter to the Corinthians, that his apostleship was challenged, and he is able not only to fall back upon the fact that they (the Corinthians) were the seal of his Apostleship, but upon "visions and revelations of the Lord." Thus, whenever his own position or his teaching was called in question, he could produce his credentials: "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, Who raised Him from the dead." "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Gal. i. 1, 11-12).
Lastly, that conversion, with its marvellous display of divine grace and glory, was necessary for himself. If we think of the position he was to occupy, the character of his service, and the difficulties and privations he was to encounter, we can easily see the necessity for it. The revelation he received at that personal interview, made him what he was ever afterward, both as a saint and a servant. The light above the brightness of the sun actually blinded him, but it gave him a new vision. His eyes were closed for the time being to everything they had been accustomed to look upon, that his mind might be exclusively engaged with a new object. When they were opened again, he was in a new world. To use his own words: "Old things had passed away, behold all things had become new." And he knew, likewise, that "all things were of God." It was a light, also, which had completely broken him down. It revealed everything. He was thoroughly manifested before God, and he knew "the terror of the Lord." This made him the preacher he afterwards became. But the voice that accompanied the light did a different work. If he could not see for the glory of the one, his heart was wooed and won completely by the other.
It was for this the Lord appeared unto him in the way, at the time, and in the manner He did. For his own sake, for the sake of the message he was to deliver, and that in him first, Jesus Christ might show forth the whole of His long-suffering as a pattern to believers through all subsequent ages.
IV.----SINNER, SAINT AND SERVANT.----"Less than the least of all saints."
"I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. ii. 20}.
A CRITIC in reviewing a recent Biography said, ''We want to know, not what a man did, but what he was." The importance of this can scarcely be questioned. Before therefore, proceeding to speak of the Apostle Paul's service, it may be fitting to see what effect the truths he proclaimed had first of all upon himself. He was not one of those preachers who take shelter under the aphorism, "Do as I say, but not as I do." On the contrary, his watchword ever was, "Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ."
With regard to certain characteristics, it is a little difficult to determine whether they belong to him as a saint, as a man, or as a servant. Suffering, for instance, may be most intimately connected with saintship, yet a good deal of the Apostle's suffering arose directly out of his service. While it also disclosed the kind of man he was. We are now, however, more directly concerned with his saintship. The other aspects will be treated later.
We may well test an individual's saintship by the way he bears himself under suffering. And as one of the first things said about St. Paul was, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name's sake," we will give this aspect our first consideration.
Was Paul to suffer because he had caused suffering to so many others? In God's governmental ways, there may have been a very close connection; and the matter is worth pondering. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" is universally true both of saint and sinner, though time and manner in relation to it may differ. With the child of God, it may be turned to good account. Through our very failures and sins, the very highest and best may be reached by the grace of God. This is no argument for doing evil that good may come. But St. Paul could regard his sufferings from a higher standpoint. As he says in writing to the Colossians, ''Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body's sake, which is the Church." (Col. i. 24). He suffered on behalf of the Church he had once persecuted.
The place which suffering has in the present economy is remarkable. The question is so often asked, Why should there be any suffering at all? Could not God have prevented it? Of course He could, but the very fact that He did not, proves that good is to come of it, and our wisdom is to seek the benefit that may accrue, and not to repine. Are not our Lord's words with regard to Saul, "I will show him how great things he must suffer," in keeping with this? Not "how great things he must do," as we should have thought. It surely teaches us that suffering is higher than service. Higher because it demands higher qualities, and not only demands, but produces them.
What were those sufferings to which Christ referred? They included physical sufferings. The Apostle was stoned, beaten, and imprisoned. On the occasion of the stoning at Lystra; the attack was so severe that they "drew him out of the city supposing he had been dead." Apparently, this was a solitary instance (though never likely to be forgotten) as in 2 Cor. xi., we have the record, "Once was I stoned." At Philippi he was beaten. To this he refers in writing to his beloved converts at Thessalonica, when he says, "We were shamefully entreated at Philippi." Where also, as we know, he was imprisoned. Yet how completely he rose above all this; his only anxiety seeming to be lest Satan should use it to distress and discourage those who had recently turned to Christ. "That no man should be moved by these afflictions," he writes, "for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto'' (1 Thess. ii. 2, and iii. 3). And again, he says, in writing to the Corinthians, "For we would not brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life, but we had the sentence of death, in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead, Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in Whom we trust that He will yet deliver us" (2 Cor. i. 8-10). Whatever happened to Paul, he knew it was God's work, and he trusted, not in himself; but in God Who raiseth the dead. And it was at this very time, God was using him so mightily (Acts xix. 8-20).
Far from complaining of his lot, he sees in all these experiences, only a more urgent reason for trusting God, and thus obtaining a deeper experience of His delivering power and mercy. Another experience these sufferings gave him: "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ." And this was not only the Apostle's gain, but it brought consolation and salvation to the saints, enabling them, through his example, to bear the same sufferings.
''The sentence (or answer) of death in ourselves." Had St. Paul been trusting in his own powers, or expecting a good time with plenty of éclat, these afflictions would have disconcerted him; but he had the answer of death. That is, a man who anticipates death, having fully made up his mind that he may be called to lay down his life, considers any injury short of this as something quite endurable. An Army veteran in America was introduced to an audience as having lost two arms and one leg in the war. When he rose to speak, he said, "He had not lost anything. Before the war began, he gave himself entirely to his country, so that all he had left at the end was all clear gain." This illustration may help us to understand the valuable section of autobiography we have in the following words: ''We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live, are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh."
He viewed himself as delivered unto death, and in spite of all the pressure that came upon him----"Troubled on every side"; "Perplexed"; "Persecuted"; "Cast down"; he is enabled to regard it all as a "light affliction which is but for a moment," and which was working out for him "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Is not this the very essence of saintship, that the life of Jesus should be manifest in our mortal body?
St. Paul returns again to his sufferings in chap. xi. What a catalogue he there gives. "Of the Jews, five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." And then, as if all this had not been enough: "Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches." Where else shall we look for such a piece of autobiography? It seems simply miraculous, that one single lifetime could comprehend so many vicissitudes, and one single man could bear them. Men had died under these beatings. Paul endured eight ordeals of this kind; and, in addition, stoning, shipwreck, toilsome and dangerous marches, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. Are we to regard him as something super-human? This would be a mistake. If we did so, we should suppose him to be something different to what he was; and we should, on the other hand, miss the lesson there is in it for ourselves. St. Paul was liable to everything to which we are subject; and the expression, "In wearyness and painfulness" tells us this. He wore no armour of proof that made him impervious to all assault; no charm that rendered him insensible to pain. What then, sustained him? How was he enabled to endure so much? Why was he never discomfited? It was all the result of the grace given to him. This is the explanation; and has it not deep instruction for us? For it means, that, what enabled Paul to endure, is at our disposal likewise. Thus, he writes to fellow believers in this very same epistle in an earlier chapter. "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." Let us remember then, the grace that made Paul what he was, and not forget that the same grace is at our disposal.
The ''thorn in the flesh'' may surely be regarded as some form of physical suffering or weakness. What it was precisely, is not disclosed, but the Apostle likens it to being impaled on a stake; and not only so, but Satan evidently used it as an avenue of attack. It is usually taken to be an affection of the eyes. And, this supposition finds support from such references as are contained in. Gal. iv. 13-15, and vi. 11. In the former passage he refers to their willingness to have plucked out their own eyes and have given them to him; while the latter passage should read, "Ye see in what large letters I have written unto you"; both passages seeming to indicate that his eyesight was defective. This, of course, may have been the case. But even so, it does not prove that the "thorn in the flesh" was an affection of the eyes; and we cannot forbear giving another view. Sir Robert Anderson, in his recent book, "The Lord from Heaven" connects the "thorn in the flesh" with the stoning at Lystra. One important link in the argument is that the "thorn in the flesh" is distinctly associated with the revelations spoken of just before (2 Cor. xii.) and those revelations synchronize with the Lystra incident. One more clue is needed to guide us to a conclusion here. In Corinth, his speech was deemed "contemptible," whereas in his earlier ministry, he had ranked as "the chief speaker" . . ."What then, is the explanation of the seeming paradox? How natural that the stoning should have caused some facial paralysis, or some still more distressing affection which destroyed all control of his features, and made him an object of derision to the hostile or ill-conditioned members of every audience he addressed." A footnote adds: "It is said that such an affection would affect the sufferer in different degrees at different times. Bloomfield cites authorities for the conjecture that the trouble was a paralytic and hypochondriac affection which occasioned a distortion of countenance and other distressing effects."
It might be thought that this devoted servant had enough to suffer already, but the accumulated load only brought him fuller tokens of that grace which was able to support him under every burden, and instead of being crushed, we hear him saying, "Most gladly therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
What a saint! If he was stoned----receiving deadly missles in return for his message of love and goodwill, his poor body battered, when he had sought only to bring balm to others' wounds----he still continued to proclaim mercy full and free; and he thought not of himself, but how it might affect his spiritual children; if he had to despair even of life, he only trusted the more in God Who raiseth the dead; and he experienced the consolation of Christ, which proved sweeter than his afflictions were painful; while he rejoiced in the fact that others received gain. He accepted being delivered up to death----that is, he was prepared for it and faced it almost daily----that the life of Jesus might be made the more manifest; and could regard it as working out a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while the experience he had of the grace of Christ was so full and so sufficient, that, could he have had the offer of parting with the "thorn" and being deprived of the grace, he would not have hesitated for a moment, but would have said, "Let me keep the 'thorn' and retain the grace."
V.----THE SAINT.----"Less than the least of all Saints."
"I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal. ii. 20).
SURELY no one was ever brought into greater straits or put to severer tests than the Apostle of the Gentiles. The Lord's Words, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name's sake" were indeed fulfilled. How thankful we ought to be that these sufferings are delineated with his own pen, and that it was so ordered. There is something so perfectly human about the record; and yet divinely-human----if one may coin such a phrase----for all is under the evident control of the Holy Spirit, and all subservient to one end----not the glory of Paul, but the glory of the grace of God. What soul depths are struck in this autobiographical record, and what experiences are opened out! He is let down the wall in a basket and escapes the governor's hands at Damascus, and he is caught up to the third heaven; he hears unspeakable words, whether in the body or out of the body he cannot tell, and, again, he is in the body with the agonizing sense of impalement, through "a thorn in the flesh"; he receives revelations calculated to exalt him above measure, and he is soon after, conscious of infirmities that humble him in the dust; his thrice repeated prayer cannot be granted, yet he receives such an enduement of power as to make these very infirmities an occasion for glorying; he is weak, and yet he is strong; he is acquainted with reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses, but at the same time he can say, "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders, and mighty deeds."
We were saying just now, it was the grace of God that made Saul what he became, and that the qualities he exhibited of endurance and fortitude, were not to be attributed to some superlative energy or super-human endowment which he possessed in the ordinary course of nature. If this last had been true, he would have been useless as an object lesson to us. The truth is, that in him, we are seeing, as already intimated, an exhibition of the grace that is at our own disposal. The grace which Christ speaks of as sufficient for him, he passes on to every Christian at the close of, the epistle (2 Corinthians) in words so well known, commonly called the benediction: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ----be with you all."
Now here is that grace more conspicuous than in the record we are now considering (Ch. xii.). It was not the abundance of the revelations that made Paul what he was. (It is important to observe the distinction between what is commonly called gift, and grace. A man may know a great deal of the Bible and be able to impart instruction to others, and yet be very deficient in the grace spoken of above. He may be puffed up by his gift, hard, censorious and deficient in faith and love.) As a matter of fact, they only made his need of grace all the greater. Grace, in this aspect of it, is Another's power working through us. The visions vouchsafed to the Apostle, the unspeakable words he had heard, would tend to give him confidence in his own sufficiency. The thorn in the flesh produced an opposite effect, and made him feel his need of Another's help.
It was this grace which made Paul the saint he was. Paul had heard words in Paradise that were impossible to utter----they possibly had no relation to this life----these other words have. This grace could be felt, and it could be seen. What was the effect? St. Paul tells us, "Therefore," he says, "I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong." This was something superior to stoicism. It was on a higher level altogether. Stoicism inculcated a stolid indifference; it tried to assume that one thing was as good as another. Paul says, "I take pleasure." He actually gloried in the very things which the ordinary man tries with all his might to escape. The more of reproach and necessity, the more of Christ.
Surely the erstwhile persecutor not only became Paul the Apostle, but was indeed Paul the saint, and, perhaps his saintship never shines with more brilliant lustre and is never more conspicuous than as we see him here.
But the physical sufferings of the Apostle do not by any means exhaust the catalogue. These were principally at the hands of the Jews and the men of this world. Under them, his spirit was never cowed or embittered. In the prison at Philippi, he prayed and sang praises to God. There were, however, other sufferings which affected his spirit far more. He was neglected, misunderstood and misjudged. To the Corinthians, his own converts, he has to write, "I ought to have been commended of you; for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest Apostles, though I be nothing." Evidently they had placed others before him, though he alone was their spiritual father; as he tells them in his first epistle, "in Christ Jesus, I have begotten you through the gospel." Their preference for others may have been occasioned by the Apostle's personal appearance. Evidently he refers to this when he says, "Do ye look on things after the outward appearance . . . For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." It would appear also that in pursuing the plan of preaching the gospel to them freely, he had rather lowered himself in their estimation than otherwise. "Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?'' he asks. And as regards those they were exalting and making much of, he says, "For ye suffer if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face."
Yet, in spite of this unmannerly and ungrateful treatment, the love of this saint of God never wanes, nor does his concern as to their spiritual welfare abate. A few references to the two epistles he addressed to them will manifest how deep was his piety; how true and real his love; and how absolutely free he kept himself from any feeling of resentment.
What can be finer than this, written to those who despised him, and were judging him? (see 1 Cor. iv. 3): "Now YE are full, now YE are rich, YE have reigned as kings without us; and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. For I think that God has set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour, we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labour, working with our own hands; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and are as the off-scouring of all things unto this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my BELOVED sons, I warn you." (1 Cor. iv. 8-14). Here was one who had seen the Lord in the way, and received a special commission from Him, made to suffer every indignity and hardship, yet beneath the recital of this catalogue of ills (one of which would be too much for some of us) there is not one word of complaint, but an undercurrent of triumph. And even those who were adding to his sufferings, he can still address as his "beloved sons." It is indeed, to these very people he addresses his eulogy on love (Ch. xiii.), of which at that moment he was a living exhibition.
In the second Epistle to the Corinthians, he tells them, "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart, I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you." How much these few words reveal! There is nothing simulated. All this deep feeling was perfectly genuine, and sprang from what he was as a man, a saint and a servant. He could feel intensely for those who seemed to be drifting away and were becoming diverted from the true goal, while his service; far from being perfunctory or mechanical, sprang from a love that bathed his whole nature in its glow. In Chap. vi. (2 Cor.), we have this bit of autobiography which bears upon the point now under consideration. Speaking of himself as a minister of Christ, he can say, "By pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned."
Let us hear him once more (Ch. xii. 14): "Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you, for I seek not yours, but you . . . and I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved." Is not such a love as this the supreme test of saintship? What power must have wrought in the heart of Saul of Tarsus to have changed him from a bitter persecutor into such a saint. "The love of Christ constraineth us" is his own, and the only, explanation the love that revealed itself in that personal interview on the Damascus road.
It was the power of this love working in him that enabled St. Paul to rejoice in his sufferings. "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you," he writes to the Colossians, "and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body's sake, which is the Church." How interesting are these autobiographical references. We learn from such a statement as this that these sufferings had a deeper meaning than what was merely personal to himself. What a significance he here attaches to them----they were nothing less than a filling up of the afflictions of Christ for His Body's sake. What a halo of glory this must have cast round every pang and pain the Apostle endured on this account. In writing to Timothy, he refers to the "persecutions, afflictions, which came upon me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured; but out of them all, the Lord delivered me!" What a marvellously interesting autobiography would have been given to us had the Apostle recounted all the details of these deliverances; but they are purposely left unrecorded, that, in the pages of the Bible, God, and not man, may supremely occupy us. It is enough for us that he was delivered, and the same Lord lives still to deliver us.
VI.----THE SAINT----"Less than the least of all Saints."
"I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. ii. 20).
TWO other considerations helped to sustain St. Paul in his arduous pathway. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. ii. 12). and "The fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. iii. 10). Not only had he present consolation, and the experience of present deliverance, but also the prospect of a complete answer to all the loss and trial here, as well as a full reward. The Apostle ever looked forward to the reign of Christ. "He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet," was what he was never tired of insisting upon. The charge against him at Thessalonica was that he said, "There is another King, one Jesus.'' So that St. Paul lived in no uncertainty as to the issue. If he was treated as the off-scouring of all things, he knew that he was being preserved for a "heavenly Kingdom" and a certain reward. It is no wonder, then, that he sought "the fellowship of Christ's sufferings." He recognized that his Lord and Master was not reigning on earth at present. True saint that he was, he did not shirk the Cross. He could have sung---
"To me Thy Cross with all its shame,
With all its grace be given.
Though earth disowns Thy lowly Name,
God honours it in Heaven.''
Truly, as he says, "the sufferings of Christ abound in us." The list has been by no means exhausted. There was the care of all the Churches: "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended and I burn not?" There was the forsaking of his own followers: "This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia, be turned away from me"; "Demas hath forsaken me." "At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all men forsook me"; these and such like utterances tell the sad tale. But the saint in him shone out until the end: "I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge." There was the deadly and increasing opposition of his own countrymen and kindred: "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Their want of recognition and their failure to accept his testimony cut him to the heart. "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continued sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. ix. 1-3). With the forlorn hope that he might yet win them, he paid what proved to be his last visit to Jerusalem, as the bearer of alms to his nation and offerings. This led to some of the most painful encounters of his life, and to the protracted imprisonment at Caesarea, where he was shut off from his beloved work and the saints so dear to his heart. This issued in his being sent to Rome, to further imprisonment, and finally after a brief respite, to death.
These are some of the outstanding incidents. But even his ordinary experiences would have crushed many a man less virile. In the following words, he seems to give us a description of what was quite common to him: "in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" (2 Cor. xi. 27). Well might he say: "I have suffered the loss of all things."
There was no undue boasting in all this. For if there was one thing more than another that marked this saint of God, it was humility and self-emptiness. He speaks of himself as "the least of the Apostles, which am not meet to be called an Apostle"; and as "less than the least of all saints." Yet in reality, no saint has ever equaled him, much less excelled him. On the other hand, he could say, "I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles," and again, "For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest Apostles," and adds " though I be nothing.
If he gloried at all, it was in the things that concerned his infirmities. He was so diminutive, that at Damascus, through a window, in a basket, he was let down by the wall and so escaped the hands of the Governor. He who was dependent for his escape, not upon some miracle, or marvellous interposition of Providence, but upon the fact that he was so small that he could be put through a window in a basket and let down by the wall, was also the one to be caught up to the third heaven. This marvellous contrast is somewhat obscured in the Authorized Version by the division of the chapter. He was let down and caught up. In an inferior degree, he followed his Master even in this. "He that descended is the same also that ascended." What experiences this saint had! The potentates of earth, desire to apprehend him, and his escape is due to his infirmities; he is then caught up to heaven. Not the first time, or the last, that heaven and earth are in disagreement. What can kings and governors do against a man in Christ, who knows not whether he is in the body or out of the body, but becomes conscience of paradise and hearing unspeakable words, which it is not possible for a man to utter? Yet the Apostle is the first to recognize that he was after all, a man of like passions with others, and that while the thought of his meagre physical proportions did not tend to elate him, the remembrance of this unique experience and the abundance of the revelation that accompanied it might. He was therefore exposed to the buffetings of Satan. He thus had a three-fold experience. Instead of being delivered from his persecutors in Damascus by the interference of divine power on his behalf, which might have lent him distinction, and made him a wonder in the eyes of men, his escape was due to that of which every recollection was only a cause of humiliation. Next, he had an experience of a man in Christ of something unspeakable and finally of a most painful experience in his own flesh and of Satan's power to make use of it.
Nothing becomes more evident from a study of these experiences than that they all tended in one direction, viz. to lead the Apostle away from glorying in what he was before men, that he might glory alone in what God had made him in Christ. "Of such an one (i.e., a man in Christ) will I glory, yet of myself will I not glory, but in mine infirmities." What schooling it needs to bring us to this point. The tendency in the present day is so often in the other direction. What a man is in Christ is thought little of, what he is before the eyes of his fellow mortals becomes almost everything. This last can be photographed, described, and accounted for; the other cannot. We do well, in the light of present day standards, to study well and with diligence, the way in which this master among saints here presents himself. Three times over, in a few verses, he speaks of glorying in his infirmities. It is quite certain when he was caught up into Paradise and heard unspeakable things, he did not hear much about the great men of earth, nor about himself. He was in a scene which Christ filled, and he was in Christ. Did he want to look at himself much after that? or did he wish to draw attention to himself? And every fresh sense of infirmity only made him more conscious that it was only what he had been made in Christ which really counted. And as we have seen, he reached the summit of Christian experience and saintship when he could say, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." He knew what it was to be in Christ "caught up into Paradise"; he also knew what it was to have all the grace of Christ given to him.
Is it not along this path that every true saint of God is led? ls there not the experience of being let down in a basket, whatever form, in our case, it may take? and do we not have to learn that our true stature is what God had made us in Christ? and, finally, the lesson, that, His strength is made perfect in weakness? Self----the self that likes to be recognized, and have a place----resists this and dislikes it, but when once the sweets of it are tasted, the language of St. Paul becomes ours; we not only glory in what makes nothing of us, but "most gladly," and "take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, &c., for Christ's sake."
Such is self, or in other words, the flesh----yes, even in an Apostle----that being caught up into Paradise would not displace it, nor would the abundance of the revelations. The flesh would use even these to glory in and bring distinction to itself, and even a saint like Paul was actually in danger of being "exalted above measure. What a lesson to us. Our very Christianity will make us unchristian, if we are not careful. How much we know that others do not; how much Scripture we can interpret; how orthodox we are, or unorthodox, may all tend to puff us up, as may the blessing of a stainless reputation, and the goodwill of our brethren. But grace never has this effect. For grace gives the sense that a favour has been granted to us, which was wholly undeserved, and to which we had no claim; but is all due to the love and goodness of another; sin is realized, and weakness is felt.
It is just here, we reach the culminating point of this experience we are dwelling upon, so graphically unfolded in the Apostle's autobiographical sketch. It is easy to discern the difference between what we are in Christ and what we are in ourselves. It is the latter which humbles us; and the more so, perhaps, as we become conscious of the former. The Apostle in describing the first, tells us he knew not whether he was in the body or out of the body. When the thorn in the flesh came, he soon knew. The agony of impalement was an experience which made him very conscious of being in the body. But, on the other side of the account, there was a fresh experience of grace. And He said unto me, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Here was a new asset which left an infinite margin. If we are to understand how great were the resources thus placed at the disposal of the Apostle, we must connect the "My Grace" of this passage with 2 Cor. viii. 9: "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes, He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich." Here, the whole mission and ministry of Christ, right on to and including the laying down of His life, is connected with grace as its source and power. If this grace was sufficient for all that the Master undertook and endured, it was surely sufficient for the servant. And he proved it so. This is why he was enabled to follow Christ so closely. Is there any higher form of sainthood? To be like Christ----to tread His path----to manifest His character, and to triumph over adversity as He did----this is surely to reach the pinnacle.
St. Paul, in measure attained this. We say "in measure," for even he never reached perfection down here. ''Not as though I had already attained," he says, "either were already perfect." Moreover, one distinction has ever to be borne in mind: the grace was Christ's not Paul's. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ"; this is never said of the servant. And again, "My grace is sufficient for thee." We never find St. Paul assuming this attitude, employing such words with reference to himself. He could not become the source of grace to anyone else. At the close of this very same epistle, it is, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (not the grace of Paul) be with you all." Thank God, He can hand on this same grace to us, as being for us as much as for Him, but the grace He hands on is still the grace of Christ. Again and again, when referring to his labours, he attributes all to the grace of God. "By the grace of God I am what I am," he tells these very Corinthians, "and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." (1 Cor. xv. 10). And, again, to Timothy he writes; "And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."
Yes, it was grace----God's free giving----that made the Apostle what he was, whether as saint or servant. And blessed be God, that same grace is for us. For, as already said, he who in chap. xii. of 2 Corinthians speaks of Christ's grace to him, in chap. xiii. says: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." It does not come to everyone in the same measure; but what comes to even the youngest and feeblest saint comes from the same source, and is of the same kind. For, as the Apostle says in writing to the Ephesians, "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ."
There is one intensely solemn thought arises, in connection with this matter----we may receive the grace in vain. It may be all useless to us; either because we do not draw, or do not use what we have drawn. As we have seen, the Apostle could say of himself, "The grace that was bestowed upon me was not in vain;" and as regards others, he writes, "We then as workers together with Him (God) beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor. vi., 1). We may receive it in vain in two ways. First, by failing to draw; second, by failing to use what we have drawn. A simple illustration may make plain how this can be. High up on the hill outside the town is the reservoir full of water; it is conveyed by pipes to the houses below and carried right into the dwellings of the people. But supposing the taps are never turned on, all would be in vain. The supply of water is ample, the pipes have conveyed it within reach of everybody, but for all practical purposes, it is just as if there were no water at all. But supposing the tap is turned on and water drawn, but no use is made of it. The floor of the house and the steps leading up to it remain dirty, nothing is cleaned; and nobody's thirst is quenched. In this case, is not the water received in vain, just as much as in the other? This is precisely how many treat the grace of God. "The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared.'' Salvation is brought to our very doors, yea inside our houses, but it may not be received in any real sense. These are the people who never turn on the tap. Others turn on the tap----they are justified----but they never make any further use of God's grace, or very little, forgetting that the grace that brings salvation is meant for everyday use, and teaches us how to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age, that we may be a peculiar people zealous of good works. (See Titus ii. 11-14). Would that we thought as much of saving our life as we do of saving our souls!
The distinction here made, is not arbitrary, but strictly in accordance with Scripture, and with the facts of everyday life. There is the grace that justifies, and the grace that helps. "Being justified freely by His grace" (Rom. ill. 24) tells us of the one: "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may find grace to help in time of need"; tells us of the other. Other distinctions might be drawn, but in pursuing the subject, one should be wandering too far away from our main theme. Suffice it to say, that, when our Lord said to His servant Paul, "My grace is sufficient for thee," He certainly was not referring to justification, but He was referring to grace in the sense of powers bestowed. The context makes this perfectly plain.
A great preacher relates how, at a time of considerable pressure and anxiety, he was riding home after preaching, feeling a good deal cast down, when the words we have been dwelling upon flashed into his mind. The emphasis seemed laid upon the "My"----"My grace is sufficient for thee." In his then mood, he says, he felt something like a little fish swimming in the mighty ocean and saying, "I am afraid there will not be sufficient water."
Is it not worth while studying the life of one, in whose case it is not wealth and prosperity which render him impervious to the ills of life; nor a philosophy which enables him to endure them, but grace which transmutes them all into blessings, so that they become so many avenues through which that grace can reach him. This man has found the secret of the ages----this is the true alchemy.
VII.----THE SAINT----"Less than the least of all Saints."
GALATIANS ii. 19-21 furnishes us with another secret of St. Paul's life as a saint. "For I through the law," he says, "am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God." Here we see again it was the apprehension of grace that made the Apostle the saint he was. Let us try and understand the force of what he here sets before us.
"I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." The principle of the law was, "The man which doeth these things shall live by them." It is manifest therefore, that, as far as the law was concerned, a man was shut up to his own life. This was not the same as living unto God, for evidently, the Apostle intends to place the two ideas in contrast. He became dead to the law that he might live unto God. The word "might" has the force of "in order that." It was through the law, he became dead to the law. The law cursed a man if he did not keep it. Do it or die, was its principle. When the death penalty is borne, the subject of it is put beyond the reach of law. The law has nothing to say to a dead man. This is the position the believer reaches through Christ's death on his behalf. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us." So the Apostle adds: "I am crucified with Christ." "Nevertheless, I live." He was still the same personality, for it was in relation to law only that he had died (as far as the present passage is concerned); yet he himself was superseded, for he was not set free to live as he pleased: "Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Christ living in a man was certainly on a higher plane than law keeping. But what was the motive power for this? He tells us, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
And here, what it is to "live unto God" comes into view. As we have shown, it is in contrast to living under law. Nor is it the same as living for God. The two expressions must not be confounded. Living for God is the result of living unto God. This last describes a life that is lived in the enjoyed sense of all that God now is to the one that believes in Jesus. This is the very antithesis of law. Law was the setting forth of God's requirements----what He had a perfect right to demand from man. The voice of law proclaimed that God looked for love and required it. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, &c."
Now look at the contrast to this. What the Apostle says in ver. 20 of our passage is, "The Son of God Who loved me." How different! The Son of God did not come to earth to demand love, but to reveal it. It is the difference between Sinai and Calvary; between law and grace; between what makes us dread God, and what makes us love Him. It is the knowledge of this difference that makes a saint. We speak, of course, of the life, and not merely of the calling in virtue of which every believer becomes a saint.
Saint Paul lived unto God. The love that is in God was revealed to him in the Son of God. "The Son of God, Who loved me"----how different is this from law. How different from One I did not know, demanding a love I could not give. And what is the extent of this love? He "gave Himself for me." Can any love do more? This then, after all, is God. He found no love in the creature, but He found love in Himself. A love that could give, and, in giving, gives all. When I know this, I live unto God. What a life that must be, which is lived in the full enjoyment of all this.
In order further to understand what it is to live unto God, we must notice the change in ver. 20 from the title Christ, to that of the Son of God. This is not an arbitrary distinction. Nor could the two be transposed. To say ''I am crucified with the Son of God . . . and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of Christ,'' would be to destroy the force of the passage. For the titles of Christ are not used in Scripture in any haphazard fashion. The simple and primary meaning of Christ is anointed. It is an official title. 'Whereas, Son of God, is essentially moral and personal. The earliest use of it denotes this. The Angel said to Mary, "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Again, Rom. i. 3, "Declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness." There was in Him absolute conformity to God's nature. "Son" speaks of "image" and "likeness." Thus God was perfectly expressed in Him. This doubtless is the thought conveyed by the title, Son of God, in the passage we are considering. The Apostle not only knew Jesus as the Christ----the One Who is to fill a certain position; but he knew Him as the One in Whom the very glory of God had become effulgent----God's nature made known. As John states it: "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him."
This gives us the force of, "I live by the faith of." It is that particular faith which is the result of Christ being known in this particular character. It does not mean the faith which Christ exercised as a man when He was here, but the faith we have in knowing Him in connection with what this special title----the Son of God----involves. The glorious revelation of God, which had been given in the Son of God, filled the Apostle's soul. He lived by this. He no longer looked at himself----it was no longer a question of his ability to meet the law's demands----his eye rested upon One Who had not only met all these demands, but in doing so, had brought to light the mercy and love of God. In one word, it was not what he was, but what God was. This henceforth, was the portion of his soul.
In this way, we are led to see the nature of the life the Apostle lived as a saint. We say "a saint," because it must not be thought this experience was something peculiar to him as an Apostle. Far from it. What he describes here is true for every Christian. He speaks in the singular, doubtless, because of the special circumstances that gave rise to the epistle. These Galatians were in danger of giving up grace and putting themselves under law. The Apostle does not see fit to give them a mere treatise, but he uses the personal note; as much as to say, This is my Christianity; this is what I have experienced and this is how I live. Is there not all the difference between giving way to introspection, brooding over a heart beclouded with regrets at shortcoming and defects, if not with absolute failure----and turning the eye away from all this to some fair landscape bathed in the sunshine of God, that yields everything that sight and sense can desire? This is only a faint image of the experience the Apostle here describes. He had become dead to the law----his eye no longer looked within. His eye rested upon an object that enthralled him. He lived by the faith of the Son of God; and this Son of God had loved him, because God loved Him.
If our life is linked with a love such as is here described, has not the soul reached perpetual sunshine? "The Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me." A love not satisfied with words, but proved in deeds. This is the love for which life hungers. And it may be ours. Let us never forget that while we are dwelling upon a little bit of Apostolic autobiography, yet, as has already been suggested, it is as a Christian rather than the messenger of Christ that St. Paul here presents himself. It is interesting to connect his statement here with another in John xi. 5. "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. "St. Paul, as it were, adds "and me." The Son of God Who loved me. And may not the list be indefinitely extended? Have not believers all down the years been adding their names; and may not we subscribe ours? Surely, It is open to all to live this life of faith. The Son of God came to be known, and He delights to be known----look how He turned round when that woman touched Him, in order that she might know Him as well as receive healing----and His love is for all. In many an autobiography, we get an experience which is personal to the writer and which few, if any, can share----the qualifications or the opportunities may be lacking----but here it is not so. This life is common to all who seek acquaintance with the Son of God. And is there any life that is higher, better, or more satisfying than the one the Apostle lived, and which he describes for us? "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God." It was this life of faith, which had for its object the Son of God, that produced in the Apostle such approximation to Christ. He tells us, in the first chapter of this same epistle upon which we have been dwelling, the purpose of God with regard to him. "When it pleased God, Who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me" (chap. i. 15-16). Earlier on, he speaks of the revelation of Jesus Christ to him (ver. 12). This is Christianity. It is this that amongst other things differentiates it from all other religions. It is more than a religion; it is a revelation. It is more than mere moral philosophy----even the highest; it is the revelation of a Person. It is this that makes saints. The objective produces the subjective. The One revealed to us is formed within us (see Chap. iv. 19). Religion of itself can never accomplish this. St. Paul tells us in this very passage, that not only was he a religious man, but profited in the Jew's religion above many of his equals, "being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my Fathers.'' (yet a persecuter at the same time) Alas! is not Christianity, to-day, with many, reduced to a religion and nothing more----a round of ceremonies and duties. What a grandeur invests Paul's conception of Christianity----God's Son to be revealed in him. Religion may tell us what we ought to be and to do, but it does not enable us to be or to do that which it requires. Christianity reveals what God is, and thus becomes a transforming power in the soul. This was God's intention even when He gave men a religion. For though the law in itself was not designed to reveal God directly, yet, side by side with it, there were declarations that came as flashes of light revealing God. Two examples out of the Old Testament will suffice. This is God's revelation of Himself to Moses after the people had proved themselves incapable of keeping the law and the tables of stone had been broken. "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." And to Jeremiah: "But let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I DELIGHT, saith the Lord" (Ex. xxxiv. 6-7; Jer. ix. 24). How little this was understood by the most religious people of Christ's age, we can find out from two utterances of His: (1) "But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless"; and (2) "But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God" (Matt. xii. 7; Luke xi. 42).
Paul's saintship was of a higher kind than the foregoing. He knew that there must be a certain amount of outward form; but he also knew that where the spirit was lacking, outward form was meaningless and valueless. He knew that the Son of God had loved him, and that His death had accomplished whatever was required to settle divine claims and satisfy the divine glory, and henceforth, he desired that that One should be seen in him. It is worthy of remark, too, that the One he preached was first of all evidenced in his own life. "It pleased God . . . to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him." He preached One revealed to him, and revealed in Him. No wonder his preaching was with power and effect. He was not like the one of whom it is said that he preached so well and lived so badly, that when he was in the pulpit, his people wished he was never out of it, and when he was out of it, they wished he was never in it. It is what people see in the manner and deportment of the preacher, both when speaking and in daily life, that tells more than mere words, however eloquent. God revealed His Son in Paul that he might preach Him.
What were the two outstanding characteristics of this new life? Faith and love. To these same Galatians he writes: "For in Jesus Christ, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." These two qualities are what he specially refers to as marking both the saints at Ephesus and Colosse (Eph. i. 15; Col. i. 4), and they preeminently characterized himself. Here is his own description: "And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." While for Timothy, to whom these words were addressed, he desires the same thing: "Hold fast the form of sound words" he says, in his second epistle, "which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (chap. i. 13).
Such were the features of the Apostle's spiritual life. And might it not be truthfully affirmed that Faith and Love were the outstanding features of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus? They must, therefore, be expected to characterize saints who are said to be "in Christ." And through all St. Paul's hazardous and arduous life; through all his disappointments, cares and vicissitudes, this faith and love never failed him----all that men and Satan and even the saints could do to him, never weakened the one or chilled the other.
VIII.----THE SAINT.----"Whereby the world is crucified unto me."
"All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful unto me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." (1 Cor. vi. 12)
A SAINT is, literally, a separated one. All true Christians are saints in this sense, for all have been separated from the world, whether they realize it or not. The object with which Christ "gave Himself for our sins" was "that He might deliver us from this present evil world." St. Paul tells us the bearing of this upon his own life----"God forbid that I should glory," he says, "save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. i. 4, vi. 14).
The value of these autobiographical touches is that we not only have truths stated in a doctrinal form, but we see the demonstration of those truths in actual life. To see truth embodied and expressed in the advocate of truth, everyone will recognize as of immense value. The truth itself becomes more real; the utterance of it more impressive. St. Paul's view of the world and his attitude towards it are here clearly defined. To him it was an evil age. This view was not singular. Our Lord Himself described the generation of His day as "evil and adulterous," and clearly intimated that its character would never change, until He came back in judgment to purge it (see Luke xvii. 24-37). St. John tells us not to love it, for all that is of the world is not of the Father, and the world passeth away (1 John ii. 15-17). An evil and a passing age! On the Passover night, the people who partook of the lamb roasted with fire did so with loins girded and shoes on their feet because while the sprinkled blood sheltered them from the destroying angel, it forever separated them from Egypt. They were to leave it. A figure of that moral separation which should characterize God's people to-day.
What precisely did the Apostle mean by the world being crucified to him, and he to it? It is certain there was nothing monastic about him. No one was more in touch with life. He knew every side of it. In business (for he was a tent maker); on board ship; in the place of concourse, whether it was the synagogue or Mars Hill; in the streets of the city, as well as in the schools; he came face to face with men everywhere. There were indeed certain conditions under which he would allow an intercourse with the men of the world which he would not permit between those who professed Christianity (see 1 Cor. v. 9-11). He was no recluse, for he wrote, "If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake." In what respect then was the world crucified to him? He perceived its true character, and he estimated it at its true value. It was a crucified thing because it had cast out the Son of God, and this told its own tale. It had put out the light; it had refused both truth and grace. What must be its character, when it could act thus? If a man stands before a work of art, which is a masterpiece, and sees nothing to admire, if no form or line appeals to him, does it not proclaim his own defect? "Are these your masterpieces?" said a tourist to the curator in the famous Uffizi Gallery of Art at Florence, "I certainly don't see much in them myself." "Sir," replied the curator, "these pictures are not on their trial; it is the visitors who are on their trial." So with the world. When Christ came into it, the world was immediately put on its trial. In crucifying Him, it demonstrated its own state and wrote its own condemnation. It had no eyes and no heart for God. It was from this standpoint, the Apostle regarded the world, and the world to him was nothing better than a crucified thing. It was in utter ignorance of God's wisdom. "Which none of the princes of this world knew, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory."
But what about the one who holds this view? How does the world regard him? The world as such will see nothing in him. So the Apostle adds, "and I unto the world." It is the man that admires the world that is applauded by the world. But what correspondence can there be between the man who sees Christ to be ''the power of God and the wisdom of God" and a world which thought Him so worthless that it crucified Him? And what had made Christ so much to Paul? It was not always so. Oh! Christ had stooped from the highest glory to meet him, a persecutor, and instead of crushing him, as He could have done, easier than we can crush a moth between our fingers, He spoke to him and made him conscious of a love he had never known, and yet of a light above the brightness of the sun eclipsing everything.
"Christianity is an enthusiasm or it is nothing," someone has said. What enthusiasm seems to glow in the words upon which we have been dwelling; "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ whereby the world is crucified to me and I unto the world."
What kind of saint was Paul with reference to the ordinary routine of life? In 1 Cor. vi. 12, there is a very interesting reference to the principle that governed himself with regard to the matters which go to make up our everyday life. ''All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient (or profitable); all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any."
First of all, he lays down as a fundamental principle that the Christian is called to perfect liberty. "All things are lawful." He is not, of course, contemplating sin here. Paul had been a Pharisee, and he knew perfectly well if there was one thing more than another always on the lips of a Pharisee it was this, "It is not lawful." This crops up again and again in the Gospels, and it was always rebuked by our Lord. So twice over here, in one short verse, we get the statement, "All things are lawful." Let us grasp this firmly. Two dangers always threaten the believer----legality and looseness. Let us see how the Apostle avoids both one and the other. Having stated that "all things are lawful," he adds, "But all things are not profitable.'' The question is, how can we use our time to the best advantage. A man does not engage in business simply for its own sake; he looks for profit, and if at the end of the year he found that all his time and energy and thought had brought him no tangible result, he would be disappointed. No, in worldly affairs people are not satisfied with marking time, or wasting their time, and in spiritual matters it should be the same. What are we going to get out of it, and what is the Lord going to get out of it? should be the uppermost question. So, when the past, with all its sins and failures is settled and closed forever, and we stand in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, we have to ask ourselves with regard to this plan and the other purpose----this pursuit and the other pleasure----not merely, Is it lawful? but, Is it profitable?
Then comes another question. A thing may be lawful and it may be profitable, yet it may absorb us so much that we get under its power. So the Apostle adds, "I will not be brought under the power of any." Here is a danger signal to which we do well to take heed. Remember, it is not here a question of sins. Sins are never lawful. St. Paul is not thinking of these here, but of all that naturally falls within the compass of our everyday life. Take music for example; it is both lawful and profitable, but it is easy, especially for some, to fall under its spell. We knew a lady who had never touched a piano for twenty years, because she had once been under its fascination. Take dress. How many become the slaves of fashion. What shall they wear, and how will they look, become the questions of the hour. Yet some attention to dress is an absolute necessity. Then there is the matter of having the home look nice. Perfectly lawful and not unprofitable within certain limits, but how soon those limits may be exceeded, and the home become an idol. Once staying in the north, we noticed the good woman opposite, always cleaning her house. Our hostess remarked one day, "That house is her God." Take the matter of recreation and kindred pursuits. While some deny themselves all such and go to one extreme, are there not many more who plunge in the other direction and spend more time and money on such things than is justifiable.
Now with all these matters, and a hundred others, which are lawful and more or less profitable, how necessary to remember the Apostle's words, "I will not be brought under the power of any." Is this or that, obtaining any real power over me? Am I its master, or, is it mine? Can I drop it at any moment for something higher and better? or is it dragging me away, more or less perceptibly, getting possession of my heart, and spoiling my enjoyment of that which is spiritual and eternal? For, let it never be forgotten, that anything, no matter how good in itself, be it even a husband, or wife, or house, or garden, or child, anything that has power over us, in the way here meant, is an idol. A man or woman as truly bows down to that thing, as much as if a carved idol of wood or stone stood in the house; for the simple reason that the heart is supremely governed by it. Is it not well to remember, too, that the idol of one, may not be the idol of another. We do not all bow down to the same image, but with every one of us----and each one who knows his or her own heart, will attest the truth of this----there is some one thing that is liable to exercise power over us; a thing that is not sin in itself, but which may lead to sin and departure from God, unless we are loosed from its power. It may with some be light reading the novel or the newspaper----how many are under the power of this in the present day, and what waste of time, even if the morals are not corrupted; with others it may be society, or the cigar, or money, but, whatever it be, it is certain we shall make little, if any, progress as Christians while such power dominates us. May the resolve of one of the purest and brightest saints that ever lived be ours: "I will not be brought under the power of any."
St. Paul then goes on to remind us of the transitory nature of all that contributes to make up man's life on earth. "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats, but God shall destroy both it and them" (ver. 13). God has given us senses, and He does not object to their being gratified in a lawful way; but both the senses and what ministers to them pass away. How necessary to remember that the body is not to be the slave of animal desires, even of those that are lawful, much less of forbidden lusts. "The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." The body, once the servant of sin, is now to be the servant of Christ. And the Lord is for the body. He gave Himself for our entire being, and He will never lose what has become His property, consequently the body will be raised. Our bodies are the members of Christ.
The Apostle now brings us to the climax of the whole thing: "He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit." If anything obtains power over us, whether it is money, or pleasure, or the pursuit of knowledge, whatever it is, that, as we have seen, becomes an idol, and that is the thing we are joined to. St Paul speaks of being joined unto the Lord. Here is our supreme safeguard. Nothing will obtain undue power over us when this is true. How solemn the Word uttered to God's people of old, "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone." This is in Hosea, Ch. iv. 17. Thank God, before the end of that book, we have their repentance described. "Ephraim shall say, "What have I to do any more with idols?" Are there not many idols to be banished from our hearts? Shall not our lips make this same avowal? Shall we not see to it that we are really joined unto the Lord? The Book of Ruth furnishes a beautiful illustration of what this means. Naomi is entreating her two daughters-in-law to leave her and return to their own land. Orpah consents, and goes back to her people----and unto her gods.
But Ruth clave unto her----"And Ruth said, entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me" (Ruth i. 16-17).
It was precisely this spirit which animated St. Paul. He was joined heart and soul unto the Lord. Christ was not only his Saviour from the guilt of sin, but Lord of his life. Lord of all his powers; Lord of all his plans and purposes; Lord of every waking hour. His time, his talents, his strength were all consecrated to Christ, and under His control. Is it any wonder, he was such a saint? Is it any wonder he was able to say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ"?
Notice, he does not affirm that the Corinthians were joined to the Lord; he speaks in the abstract, "He that is joined." Considering their then state, it was hardly possible for him to go so far as to affirm it directly of them. For alas! it is quite possible to be justified and to have received the Holy Spirit without being joined to the Lord in the sense of this passage. (Another translation has it, "But he who joins himself to the Lord, becomes one spirit with Him" (Conybeare). There is indeed another sense in which all true believers are joined to the Lord, i.e., as members of His body. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." But here it is an individual matter; "he that is joined." It is attachment of heart; the being joined by affection. And this it is that produces a saintly life. It is what Barnabas meant when he "exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." Two people may be joined in matrimony, and become legally husband and wife; they may never be joined in real affection and devotedness one to the other. It is to this last, that the Apostle is here referring. And the consequence of such a union is to become one spirit----one in aim, in desire, in hope. And this oneness----this harmony and correspondence with the Master, is surely the very essence of saintship. What it leads to is the acknowledgment that we are not our own; "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your bodies" (vers. 19-20).
What true liberty is indicated by the Apostle's words, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." A two-fold liberty. Liberty from the bondage of law, and from being under the power of that which ministers to the senses. St. Paul comes down to everyday matters with which we all have to do, and shows us how we are to regard them. It is not a question of "Touch not, taste not, handle not," but of regulating the appetite; and due attention to this leads to glorifying God in our body and in our spirit. Is not this what every true child of God desires? Let us sum up very briefly the steps that lead to it.
First of all, justification through Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit; next, being set free from all legality; then the forsaking of whatever is not profitable, and the determination not to be brought under the power of any. Fourthly, while that which ministers to the senses has its place, yet it all comes to an end; fifthly, the recognition that the body is for the Lord's use; and lastly, the all importance of the heart being joined unto the Lord. Only thus can we make real progress as Christians and our profiting appear to all, even as it was with the Apostle.
IX----THE SAINT.----"Preaching Christ and living Christ."
ST. Paul was one who had complete control of his body, and surrendered it to God for His use; knowing at the same time that God was no stem taskmaster. How completely the apostle entered into this phase of Christian life, and how severe he was with himself, another piece of autobiography will tell us. If we pass on to Chap. ix. of this same epistle (1 Corinthians) we read (vers. 25-27): "Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (or rejected)." Here we learn that, in order to keep his body under control, he did not hesitate to buffet it----the real force of "Keep under my body." He was not satisfied with being a preacher----a mere exponent of truth----but all the desires of the flesh must be led captive; he would not be brought under the power of any. How great a saint this man was, surely all this reveals to us. Let us follow him, even though we may never reach his level. The whole context reveals the impressive fact, that this man who was so merciless with regard to himself; exercising all the rigour and discipline of the athlete; as regards others, could unbend to an extraordinary degree. "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Is not this a trait most beautiful and much to be cultivated? How often we are inclined to pursue the opposite course, and be easy with ourselves and exacting upon others.
While on this passage, it may be as well to say a word, as to the precise significance of the word "castaway," as here used by St. Paul. It is sometimes adduced as evidence, by those who think it impossible to have any assurance of salvation while still in the body, that even the Apostle did not know he was saved. Without going thoroughly into the wide question which this raises, we may ask----Has the term "castaway" anything to do with the matter? The context surely decides in the negative. Is it not clear from the whole trend of thought which governs the passage, that the writer is not thinking at all of the ground of justification or of the means by which a guilty sinner is saved? He speaks of a race. Such a simile is never employed where forgiveness or justification or acceptance are in question. He goes on to refer to the athlete and the boxer; similes wholly out of place if he is giving us the plan of salvation. We are not delivered from our guilt nor do we become God's children by running, fighting or wrestling. Is it not then, perfectly obvious that he must be on a different topic altogether from justification; and that he is treating of receiving a prize, and winning a crown? And are not these things connected with reward? which justification never is. What the Apostle feared was, that he might come short of this; for the simple reason that reward is according to our merits; therefore as to receiving a prize, he might be a castaway (or rejected); but no fear as to whether or not he was a child of God or as to whether he would at last reach heaven ever darkened his soul.
Let us now turn to the Epistle to the Philippians----an epistle which will furnish us with some additional autobiographical references and give us a further insight into the character of St. Paul as we are now considering him.
We see from Chapter i. how completely other interests than his own immediate welfare controlled him. He says, "The things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel" (ver. 12). He regarded everything from this point of view, and so long as the gospel advanced on its victorious career, he cared not what happened. Even if bonds came to him, yet, if those bonds tended to make people attend to God's provision for their need, he was satisfied; it was not necessary that he should be the herald. Greatest and most successful of herald as he was, the proclamation of the good news did not raise any question in his mind as to his own part in it. Content was he, to be hidden from the gaze of men, if only others were spreading the light of salvation; nor did he repine at the iron chain which bound him to a soldier, so long as the Word of God was not bound. And he was superior to a still more subtle form of annoyance. He speaks of some preaching Christ "even of envy and strife"; "Supposing to add affliction to my bonds." Yet so completely was Christ before him, and not his own importance or his own feelings, that he is able successfully to elude what might otherwise have proved a poignant grief, and to say, "Notwithstanding, in every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, CHRIST IS PREACHED; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."
The same spirit is manifest, when it is a question whether he should depart to be with Christ or abide still in the flesh. To depart and be with Christ was for him was, "very far better." Under any circumstances, such an event would be fraught with the highest conceivable joy to one to whom Christ was all and in all.
But to exchange the rough circumstances he then knew for the Paradise of God; to shake off forever, not only the clanking chain, but the very body that was bound by it; to find release from the care of all the churches----all this made the prospect more enticing of being with the One he had served so faithfully and loved so well. Yet he was willing to postpone all this, when he realized that to abide in the flesh was more needful for others. "And having this confidence," he says, "I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith."
"Ah! but not yet He took me from my prison;
Left me a little while, nor left for long---
Bade as one buried, bade as one arisen,
Suffer with men and like a man be strong."
Could anything be more interesting or instructive than this autobiographical sketch which has been furnished for all time in this brief letter to the saints at Philippi? To be allowed to see the inner working of the mind of this great Apostle; to be able to look back over more than eighteen centuries and become familiar with his joys and sorrows, his conflicts and his victories; yea more, to be allowed to pass, not only into the very presence of that illustrious captive, but into the inner shrine, as it were, and hear his musings and communings----and become acquainted with the secret of his power----is surely a privilege of the highest kind. And, in one word, what was the secret of this superiority to adverse circumstances? what is the secret of so much calm assurance when everything seemed against him----such splendid triumph over all that opposed, and such sweet forgetfulness of self? It was Christ. This is the answer. Out of sixteen verses, 8-23, only four occur without some reference to the One Who was the source and object of the Apostle's life. It was this Person Who controlled him, satisfied and uplifted him. To him, Christ was both the essence of the gospel and the object for which he lived. He preached Christ and he lived Christ. With this servant and saint of God, these two things were never separated.
As regards the message of which Christ was the sum and substance, three things may be noticed. In verse 12, we have "the gospel"; verse 14, "the Word"; and verse 15 it is "preaching Christ." These three can never be severed. The gospel is good news; and this implies man's need of it. Next----this gospel has been communicated; it is "the Word"; man has not devised it; it has come by divine interposition. Lastly, the essence of that message is Christ. "The gospel of God, concerning His Son Jesus Christ." "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord" (Rom. i. 1 & 3; 2 Cor. iv. 5).
And one thing more. The preaching of this gospel must be backed by a life in every way agreeable thereto. The one, who, in this chapter, speaks about preaching Christ, also says, "For me to LIVE is Christ." Was not this the one great secret of his power and success? Does not the Church, to-day, stand in need of these two things----the witness of lip and life? Would not an affectionate, earnest presentation of Christ, accompanied by a life devoted to Him, prove far more effectual in impressing a world that is away from God than all the human expedients and devices so prevalent in this age?
X.----THE SAINT.----"I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil. iii. 8)
WAS the Apostle Paul ever liberated from prison? It is generally supposed that he was, and that he again visited some of the scenes of his former labours, and even carried out his intention of taking a journey into Spain. In writing his epistle to the Christians at Rome, it will be remembered, he twice records the fact that Spain was his ultimate objective. In Rom. xv. 24 we read, "Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you." And again, ver. 28, "I will come by you into Spain."
No detailed record, either in the pages of inspiration or elsewhere, remains to us of this latter mission, but a "Muratorian Fragment" states that the Apostle fulfilled his expressed wish of visiting Spain----a journey which certainly necessitates his release from his Roman imprisonment----and that Clement of Rome tells of his reaching "the bounds of the West"----a phrase which, used by one resident, as Clement in Rome, can only mean Spain. We may hold without misgiving, that St. Paul was released . . . that he was again arrested and suffered martyrdom in Rome, and that in between . . . he visited Spain in the West, and various churches in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that during this period, he wrote the Pastoral epistles."
There also exist in St. Paul's epistles, brief autobiographical references which seem to leave little doubt that, after his first appearance before Nero, to answer the charges laid against him, he was set at liberty and once more engaged in public labours. There are two very definite statements in the epistle to the Philippians which leave little doubt on this head, coming as they do from one who lived in such close communion with God. In Chap. i. 25-26, we read, "Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you for your furtherance and joy of faith, that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me BY MY COMING TO YOU AGAIN." In Chap. ii. 24, he returns to the same subject, and says, "But I trust in the Lord, that I also myself shall come shortly." Thus the Apostle seemed, even before the event of his trial was known, to have the conviction that he would see the faces of his beloved Philippians again. Nor need we try and account for this premonition on any grounds of special inspiration or Apostolic privilege. It is common to all those who walk with God, to receive such indications of the Divine will. Does not the experience of God's people throughout all ages attest the truth of this? Are they not often able to thank and praise God that a certain answer to their prayer will be given, before the thing becomes true de facto?
These statements in Philippians seem abundantly corroborated by autobiographical notes contained in subsequent epistles. Thus, in 1 Tim. iv. 13 we read., "Till I come, give attendance to reading, &c." In 2 Tim. iv. 20, we have the information about Trophimus being left at Miletum sick; which could scarcely have happened before Paul's first imprisonment, for that would make his statement about Trophimus refer to something which had happened years before. For we know from Acts xxviii. 30, that Paul dwelt two whole years in Rome, in his own hired house. In Titus iii. 12, written after being first brought as a prisoner to Rome, we read of Paul's determination to winter in Nicopolis, a reference which seems unaccountable unless he had been released; while further, in his letter to Philemon, he says, "Prepare me also a lodging, for I trust that through your prayers, I shall be given unto you." Why the Acts should close, leaving the Apostle still a prisoner in Rome, and with no reference to his subsequent journeys, we cannot explain, but the bare fact of an omission of this kind is not sufficient of itself to outweigh the Apostle's convictions, coupled with such definite statements of his own and that of others. And we may therefore conclude, that the hopes of release he expressed, in writing to the Philippians, were actually realized.
We have already said that St. Paul refers to himself in his epistles in a way which is characteristic of no other inspired New Testament writer. It is this which makes it possible to speak of his autobiography; and we would now direct the reader’s attention to one of the most important of these personal references. It is to be found in the Epistle to the Philippians, Chap. iii. vers. 4-14. In this passage, the Apostle uses the personal pronoun no less than sixteen times. And while in Chap. ii., of the same epistle, he presents Christ as our pattern; in this third chapter, he presents himself as a pattern: "Brethren, be followers together of me."
It is worthy of inquiry; in what respect is Paul our pattern as well as Christ, and worthy to be so? We shall see that this autobiographical note can scarcely be matched for its instructiveness and importance. It need hardly be insisted upon, that no rivalry is possible between Christ and Paul. Our Lord has the pre-eminence in all things. Yet the fact remains, that, while in the second chapter we read, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus;" in the third chapter it is stated, after Paul has given us some autobiography, "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded"; and then, "Be followers together of me."
One great difference between Chaps. ii. and iii., is this: the former presents our Lord's pathway downward to the Cross; the latter, the pathway of the Christian upward to the glory. And it will be seen that we could not have a pattern of this last except in the Apostle or some other Christian. And for this reason. The record of Christ's life ends, practically, with His death. We have the fact of the Resurrection historically stated, of course; but little beyond; and all that it really means to be a Christian, as Christianity is presented in Phil. iii., remained to be seen in the lives of those in whom the Holy Ghost came to dwell. Until Christ was in glory as the object of the soul, and as the goal, there remained one phase of Christian life which could not be lived. This, God has now given us, perfectly expressed in the Apostle of the Gentiles. And so, while in chap. ii. we have Christ as our perfect pattern with regard to our life here----we are to look on the things of others and be content to be nothing ourselves; yet this is not the whole of Christianity, for there is something more even than being conformed to Christ's moral likeness, it is the being conformed to Him----even as to our bodies----as He is up there, glorified. And so, to complete our Christian life, we need the truth of both Chaps. ii. and iii., for the latter presents to us the goal----the prize----full conformity to Christ in everything; not merely as He was, but as He is. For He "will change our body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His body of glory, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself" (ver. 21).
Let us see how this affected the Apostle. It gave him energy; he pursued one thing. Christ expressed down here, the mind we are to have; but Christ glorified, expresses the state to which we are to be conformed. It is One in glory; a Man worthy to be placed at God's right hand; Who is the pattern of our place and portion. This One, Paul had seen. He eclipsed everything. In the passage before us (vers. 4-14), it is not a question of sin, it is self that is displaced. It is a question, not of superiority to evil, but of complete indifference to what men covet most. "What things were gain to me," he says, "those I counted loss for Christ."
Yet, he had more to cause him to trust in the flesh than most. He was circumcised, and thus had an outward position of favour and privilege. His own words, on another occasion, had equal application to himself. "Who are Israelites, to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the Fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed forever" (Rom. ix. 4-5). And in addition to this, he was of the tribe of Benjamin----the tribe that gave Israel its first King; he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews; which probably signifies that he was not brought up as a Greek-speaking Jew or Hellenist, but as a Hebrew, and accordingly spoke Aramaic fluently. As he tells us, he was "brought up in this city (Jerusalem) at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the Fathers." Moreover, he belonged to the straitest sect of the Pharisees; and according to the law, he lived a blameless life. Could anyone produce a better record? Yet it availed him nothing, for all the time he was ignorant of Christ, and became a persecutor of God's people.
When all was changed, and Christ became everything to him, he saw all that he had before coveted, in a different light. Everything that attracted attention to him, and everything that belonged to him as born after the flesh was only loss. He came to know Christ as his righteousness, and then a righteousness of his own became repugnant to him. He saw that if self were allowed in any form, it only became a rival of Him Who alone was worthy. The excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord eclipsed everything else. Christ was made to him the righteousness of God.
Then he desired, as well as knowing Christ as his righteousness, to have the personal knowledge of Him. To know Him, and the "power of His resurrection." Did not the Apostle mean here, the power of the resurrection----the same power which God had put forth to effect that----working in him now? As he says, in writing to the Ephesians, "What is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead"; though here, of course, it is regarded from another point of view. Still, it is the same power; and the Apostle was anxious to realize two things in connection with it; one was, to know its present power in his life; the other, what it would effect for him eventually; perfect conformity to Christ in glory, even to the fashioning of his body anew. These two things, then, filled the Apostle's soul with ardour: to know Christ; and to know the power of His resurrection. The knowledge of Christ is inexhaustible. So that though we know Him, there is ever more to be known. Think of how Paul presents Him in Chap. ii.; and he knew that same One now as worthy of the highest place in heaven. Paul had found that knowledge so excellent, he had willingly suffered the loss of all things; he had found it so excellent that everything else, was as it were, mere refuse. And was this only for Paul? Not so. The same knowledge is within our reach. And the same results may be produced in us. It made Paul even desire the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, and to be made conformable unto His death. He did not mind what might be the appointed way to reach the goal----Christ as He is. Already he was tasting the one. He was about to taste the other. But he knew there was to be an out-resurrection----where, beyond the reach of man, imprisonment and death could never return to molest him, nor sorrow of any kind touch him again; but in a region where Christ, Who already possessed his soul, would be everything and in all, he should be fully and completely like Him. To this he pressed; desiring to apprehend that for which Christ Jesus had laid hold of him. Yes, he realized----and the realization became increasingly powerful, the nearer he approached the end----he realized that when Jesus met him on the Damascus road, it was not merely to arrest his mad career, but for the highest ends. The glorious One Who had revealed Himself was the measure and pattern of his own blessing. No wonder Paul pursued with energy, the path that led to it. "I want to reach it," he said, "Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.''
Is it any wonder St. Paul should close this autobiographical note in this strain: "Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded"?
XI.----THE SAINT.----"I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. iv. 11, 13).
THE Epistle to the Philippians is a very remarkable one. Even externally it is so. It is divided into four chapters; each chapter presents a distinct aspect of truth; while altogether we have a four-sided and complete presentation of Christian life and experience viewed in its most practical character. As to its subject matter, it may be said to be, Christ in Christian experience. First of all, in Chapter i., we have the gospel mentioned over and over again, for it is that message which brings Christ to the soul. Christ Himself is, indeed, the message. He then becomes the object of the life He imparts. "For me to live is Christ," says the Apostle. But we need a pattern; and in Chapter ii., Christ is that Pattern. But we also need to have the goal before us; and in Chapter iii., we have full conformity to Christ in glory as the end----the finish----the climax. But do I not need something for my everyday life? Can I not have Christ with me in my present circumstances? Yes. This, Chapter iv. gives me. As to all the difficulties and dangers that confront me, Christ is Lord. Knowing what that means----the power and help of One in supreme authority----I can rejoice, and be careful for nothing.
Thus, these four chapters give us Christ as the sum and substance of the gospel message; Christ down here, as our Pattern; Christ up there, as our goal; and Christ for us and in us, as our strength all along the road. While, running through them all, we have glimpses of the Apostle himself----not only as the writer, but as the exponent of the truth he writes. This feature is just as prominent in the last chapter as we have already seen it to be in the others.
This is how he speaks: "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Another version may help us to grasp more fully the grandeur and significance of these utterances. "I have learned, whatever be my outward experiences, to be content. I know both how to live in humble circumstances and how to live amid abundance; I am fully initiated into all the mysteries both of fulness and of hunger, of abundance and of want. I have strength for anything through the help of Him Who gives me power."
Such was Paul; such is a Christian. A Christian is one (regarding Christianity from its practical and experimental side) who realizes the meaning of the words, "I have strength for all things in Him that gives me power." We may feel this to be very high. To some, it may be an unknown experience. Is it not of value to know that it was the normal experience of one who, in everything else, was the same as ourselves? How valuable are these personal references. We search the writings of the Evangelists and of St. John and St. Peter in vain for anything of the kind. In St. Paul, we are permitted to see Christianity in action; we see what Christ actually made of His arch-enemy----one, who, as he looked back upon his past, thought of himself as worthless----we see one who considered Christ worthy of his entire devotion, and who laid all his powers and all his love at His feet. It is a sight of this, that these autobiographical notes give us.
St. Paul never thought that Christ was only for him, or more for him than for others. He only tells us, and we know it was true, what his Saviour and Lord had done and was doing in his own life. Others were experiencing the same power in his day and have done since, if not altogether in the same measure. St. Paul, great as he undoubtedly was naturally, would have been nothing but for the grace of the One Who had entered his heart and life. That same One is for each believer. Nor need we think that this lofty experience----this superiority to circumstances----came to the Apostle all at once. He himself tells us he had learned it and become initiated into the secret.
The excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord had put everything else into the shade. It was not stoicism. It was not trying to consider one thing as good as another. It was the finding one thing so excellent that the others did not count. Had the end, the Apostle describes, been reached by hard drilling, by energy of will merely, and by a course of long self-abnegation; we might be inclined to give up the pursuit. All these may have been to some extent contributories to the grand and full result, but there was one thing that made all these others possible and easy----the attractiveness, the power, the sufficiency of Christ.
Two main features characterize the Apostle's statement. He was content, and he received power. The idea contained within the word "content" is an island containing within itself everything that is necessary. In other words, the Apostle had that within himself which made him satisfied. In this respect, it may be helpful to contrast St. Paul with Solomon. The wise king undertook to test everything under the sun; to find out what there was in folly as well as in wisdom and in work of every kind; and in Chap. ii. of Ecclesiastes, we have a detailed record of his undertakings, his achievements and possessions, and across them all, he writes, "Behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." And why was this? There was nothing in the outside world that could give Solomon satisfaction. When Christ came, He promised that whosoever drank of the water which He gave should never thirst. Why? Because it should be "in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.'' It was this satisfying source in him that St. Paul had, and which Solomon had not, which made all the difference between the two men; and which, we may add, made all the difference between their writings between Ecclesiastes and Philippians. God coming down in the Person of Christ and becoming man, and exhibiting what the life of man should be; and Christ as man gone up into the glory of God, made the one into a paean; while the other is but a dirge. From Solomon, there comes to us only a wail; from Paul, we "catch from his joyance, the surprise of joy." What made the difference was the revelation of Jesus Christ.
And this Christ Who so satisfied St. Paul, that outward circumstances made little difference to him, also gave him power. He had strength for all things in Him. Whether it was in active service or in suffering, that strength proved sufficient. In all this, how we learn the true life of a saint. He is independent of all that which men covet most, and rendered superior to all vicissitudes. And the power which enabled St. Paul to live this life is at our disposal too.
Notwithstanding the Apostle's superiority to circumstances, he gracefully acknowledges the gift received from the Philippians, not only because their care for him was grateful, but because it was fruit which would abound to their account. And not only so, but such ministry was fragrant to Him Who was the Source of all "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God." "But my God" he adds, "shall supply all your need." Is not a peculiar emphasis intended to be placed upon the "my"? As though Paul had learned to know God and proved Him in a special way. It was God, after all, Who had supplied His servant's need, and He would supply all theirs; and all according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. To what an elevation does this raise all the gifts of the saints. For sovereigns do not drop from the skies, they come through human channels. Yet, it is God Who supplies, "according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus;" and all returns to Him again as "an odour of a sweet smell." In Chap. i., it speaks of "the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God," and here at the close of the epistle, we see what those fruits of righteousness are. Oh the dignity of the Christian life! If it is a question of a saint's need, the supply is from God by Christ Jesus; if it is a saint's life, it is for the glory and praise of God----something ascending to Him----"the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ."
There are just a few personal touches in some of the last epistles he ever wrote which throw further light upon St. Paul as a saint. He tells us in his first epistle to Timothy (chap. i. 14), "The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." A saint is one who proves that the grace of his Lord is exceeding abundant. This was St. Paul's experience. And the practical effect was ''faith and love." We learn from this, it is through grace that the characteristics of Christ mark us. Faith and love are said to be "in Christ Jesus." They were the features of His life; they ought to be the features of ours. And so we find the Apostle, in writing to the saints, repeatedly refer to their faith in Christ Jesus and love to all the saints. It is grace, known and enjoyed in the soul, which produces this.
Another characteristic of this saint was his trust in God. "We trust in the Living God," he says, "Who is the Saviour (Preserver) of all men, especially of those that believe." This trust in God as the Living God is a fundamental belief which lies at the back of everything. It is of the essence of godliness. Psalm xvi., which presents to us the godly man, begins with, "Preserve me, O God, for in Thee do I put my trust." There are times when we are forced back into this citadel of our faith. We seem surrounded by the enemy and attacked on every hand. It seems as if Satan would overwhelm us. Then the soul retires into its place of strength----the belief that God is; and from that high tower, it looks forth and sees God everywhere, and realizes that He is the Living God, "the Preserver of all men, especially of those that believe." It was this that gave Paul strength to labour and to suffer reproach. And if ever we need to put our trust in God, it is when our labours for the Church and for God, bring upon us reproach. Strange that it should be so; yet it is as true as it is strange; St. Paul's chief reproach came from those he loved best and sought to serve most. Then it is the soul needs, to gather itself up in God and say, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock."
It is this godliness----this trust in God----which has, St. Paul tells us, ''promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." And he adds, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation." It is interesting and instructive to connect this with the other faithful saying, mentioned earlier in the same epistle, "That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." How much is covered by these two faithful sayings; the one for the sinner, and the other for the saint. Though sinners, Christ will save us; yes, though the chief. But He saves us that our lives may be completely changed by putting our trust in God and seeking His guidance and help in all the details of practical, every-day life. Thus it had been in the life of St. Paul. In his arduous and varied career, he had learned, not only that Christ came to save sinners, but that God "preserveth the feet of His saints.''
This subject of trust is not exhausted. In St. Paul's second epistle to Timothy (Chap. i. 12), we find him saying, "I know Whom I have believed (trusted), and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." Here this trust connects itself with the future. In another place, the Apostle tells us he had "suffered the loss of all things." Doubtless, he committed everything to God "against that day." There is, in the future, a definite day of rewards, when we shall more than get back anything we have sacrificed here for Christ. So that both, as to the present and the future, we see St. Paul's trust was in the Living God. And in all this, is he not a pattern for us? What a saint he was! At the close, and with the goal almost in sight, he is able to say, "Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured; but out of them all, the Lord delivered me!' "And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom; to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Tim. iii. 10-11, iv. 18).
And here we part with St. Paul as the Saint, and pass on to consider him as a Servant. It may be said, the life of St. Paul is little short of a miracle. To believe that the way in which he is presented to us is merely fictitious is to suppose an even greater miracle. Who could paint such a picture merely from imagination? The reality must have existed. And if it did, then St. Paul himself becomes a convincing argument as to the truth and power of Christianity. Is this one reason why the Apostle to the Gentiles deals so much in autobiography and draws so much attention to himself? The marvel is, that we never feel that he obtrudes himself upon us. Guided by the Spirit of truth, and under its all-pervading influence, it seems as natural as possible for him to make these personal allusions. He tells us of his sufferings----how he was pressed out of measure above strength, so that he despaired even of life; of the thorn in the flesh which was like the agony of impalement; and how he realized it was all for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in his mortal flesh; and he gloried in his infirmities that the power of Christ might rest upon him. He tells us of his revelations----how he was caught up into Paradise and heard unspeakable words. We are made to see how he was opposed, misunderstood and misjudged, so that he needed all the comfort of God. We see him with undiminished love, anxious about those who had despised and belittled him, so that his spirit had no rest until he knew of their welfare. We hear the words he wrote to them: "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved." And then, through what he himself tells us, we discover what it enabled him to be and to bear all this; and we learn, it was the grace of God----the revelation of Christ. "The Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me;" this carried him through and above all. At the same time, his sober spirit and common sense were just as conspicuous. He knew the proper attitude to assume towards the world, and the things of everyday life. He knew, on the one hand, that all things were lawful; on the other, he would not be brought under the power of any. A Christ-controlled heart made him superior everywhere. Whether chained to a Roman soldier or declaring his testimony before kings; whether in affluence or in want; whether honoured and recognized or despised and forsaken, he had learned to be content. He could do all things in the strength of Him Who gave him power. Such was Paul the Saint.
Let us, in closing this section, adore Him Whose grace made such a life possible, while we also remember that the same grace waits upon us.
XII.----AS A SERVANT.----We invite all to read what is here said about the greatness and unique character of St. Paul's Mission.
WE now pass to the consideration of St. Paul as a servant. His inspired autobiography is rich in records touching his mission and his manner of service. No more interesting study could engage our attention. Not only had he a special mission and a special message, but the whole character of his ministry was of a particular kind. He speaks of being "made a minister of the gospel, which was preached to every creature which is under heaven." He also speaks of Christ's Body, the Church, and tells us he was made a minister of this truth, and intimates that to him it was given to complete the Word of God. It was a mystery which had been hid from ages and from generations, that had been given to him to make known. This marks him off, in a striking way, from every other servant that ever lived. Christ said of him, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me" (Col. i. 23-26; Acts ix. 15). The manner of his conversion; the fact of his being sent to the Gentiles; the scope of his missionary labours; his zeal; the persecutions he suffered and manifold trials he had to endure; the success of his labours, as well as the character of his ministry, all proclaim him to be the master servant of this and every other age, if we except that One of Whom it could alone be said, "Behold My Servant Whom I have chosen; Mine elect in Whom My soul delighteth."
Again and again, does St. Paul refer to his mission. Was he not led to do this? Was it not that we might be impressed with the greatness of his labours, and in them learn the greatness of the gospel he carried? In 1 Timothy i. 11, he alludes to the "glorious gospel of the blessed God," and tells us it was committed to his trust. Did ever man bear such a message? We hope later to dwell upon the substance of St. Paul's teaching, and therefore we do not pause to enquire what such a gospel—"the gospel of the glory of the blessed God"—involves, but only draw attention to the fact that here was something surpassing all that ever before had been known, entrusted to one who once, as he tells us in the very same passage, had been a "blasphemer, and a persecutor and injurious," but he adds, "Christ Jesus . . . counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry."
What a solemn lesson is conveyed here as to the nature of the Christian ministry. Saul of Tarsus did not choose it for himself, much less did anyone choose it for him. Nor was it a question of education merely, or of some other qualification. Christ put him into it. He was called to the ministry as distinctly as he was called out of nature's darkness. The Apostle affirms this again and again. In the very next chapter, after speaking of the testimony now given by God to men as to the truth that there is one God, one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave Himself a ransom for all—he adds, "Whereunto I am ordained a preacher." That this meant divine ordination is clear from what he writes to the Galatians. "Paul, an Apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, Who raised Him from the dead.") He ever regarded himself as "the servant of Christ." Again, "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." (1 Cor. iv. 1). In another place, he speaks of being "put in trust with the gospel," and speaking "not as pleasing men but God." As a minister, he regarded himself as having had a treasure of priceless value committed to him. He never tires of this thought; and never seeks to escape its responsibility. After speaking, in his second epistle to Timothy (Chap. 1), of "the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who hath abolished death and hath brought life and incorruptibility to light through the gospel," he again asserts his appointment to be its herald. So in Titus i. 3, referring to that "eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began," he adds, "But hath in due time manifested His Word through preaching, which is committed unto me."
Has not Christendom sunk far below the level of this? Is not the Christian ministry too often regarded as one of the professions? Are there not hundreds in it, who, if they told the simple truth, would have to declare that they are uncertain as to any distinct call from Christ and are not very conscious of having anything committed to them. Has Christ put them into the ministry?
We fear, in hundreds of cases, in this country alone, the answer would have to be, No. The proof of this is found in their having no definite message. As to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God; as to the profound truth involved in there being one God and one Mediator, and a ransom given for all—which St. Paul describes as the truth to which God would have all men come to the knowledge of—these things are never preached, and they are not preached because they are not known. Any man who knew them must preach them. That they are both unknown and unpreached, is only too clearly evidenced by the lamentable spiritual condition of the average church-goer. And not only by that, but by the complaint so often heard from the pew: "We do not get what we want."
Thank God there are men still, whom Christ puts into the ministry. They are found up and down the land in every denomination; sometimes in quiet corners, occasionally in the very blaze of public notice; they do their work, they preach the Word; they bear a faithful testimony; they realize that they have been sent, and that a divine message—true, powerful and effectual—addressing itself to all the needs of men, has been committed to them. They dare not alter it, or keep anything back; and they believe the truth they preach is the truth for all time. They delight to make the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles their own: "I delivered unto you . . . that which I also received."
To all that has been said already as to the greatness of the Apostle's ministry, we may add, St. Paul regarded himself as an ambassador. "Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech by us, we pray in Christ's stead." This is what he says of himself. Perhaps he could say this in a primary sense—a sense in which we cannot. He was not word-painting here. He felt from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, and from his inmost soul, that he was an ambassador. With what splendour, authority and dignity it invested his mission. He was conscious that Divine power was at the back of him. He came from the court of Heaven; he was commissioned by the King of Kings; he represented God. Face to face with men, he could say, as sent from the presence of the Eternal, "We declare unto you glad tidings." Think too, of his attitude. He tells us what it was, "As though God did beseech by us." A beseeching God! Beseeching men through a man—a man who knew Him! Knew Him first in his own experience. He knew the terror (fear) of the Lord, and he equally knew the love of Christ. It is this double knowledge that makes the preacher. And having this, St. Paul says, "We persuade," "we beseech." How faithfully he interpreted the heart of God to men! And for doing so, he afterwards, as he tells us, became "an ambassador in bonds." As the world dealt with the Master, so it dealt with the servant, because he so faithfully represented his Master.
We know that St. Paul laboured for eighteen months at Corinth, and that he established a Church there. We also know that for a time, those who had been converted under his ministry to some extent, became alienated from him. This was perhaps one of the most heart-breaking experiences the great Apostle ever had. His own converts despised him. They listened to those who said, "His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." And under such influence, their hearts were turned away from him. His heart had to bleed over his own spiritual children. Such an ordeal, however, made manifest the greatness of the Apostle's soul, and of the grace bestowed upon him. It also led him to write about himself in a way which ought to make us profoundly thankful. It leads him to declare, "I was not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles." "But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been thoroughly made manifest among you in all things" (2 Cor. xi. 5-6). He could speak of sufferings of which other men who claimed to be Apostles knew nothing; of a power which had caught him up to the third heaven and given him visions and revelations; and of a grace sufficient to enable him even to take pleasure in infirmities and distresses, so that he could affirm, "In nothing am I behind the very chiefest Apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an Apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds" (2 Cor. xii. 11-12). How wonderful that under the supremest provocation, words could be written which were fit to live on forever, and be a lesson to the Churches for all time! How many of our words, written under stress and trial, are worthy to be thus graven with an iron pen in the rock forever? Few things could have been more provoking than to see rivals enter the field of his own labours, and poison the minds of his spiritual children against him, and cause those he loved as his own soul to depreciate him; while they lauded those he knew to be utterly undeserving of such praise and even unworthy of it. Yet, in the face of all this, instead of penning angry, petulant sentences, which afterwards he would have been glad to recall, he wrote down words which he could leave as a legacy to succeeding ages.
Nor was he slow to acknowledge the true source of all his fruitful service and patient suffering. That source, he was ever conscious, was the Grace of God. Thankful may we be, for such an autobiographical reference as we get in the opening of his marvellous chapter on the Resurrection. "And last of all, He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor. xv. 8-10).
This passage reveals two things: the power of grace for service, and also its sanctifying effect upon the vessel. There was what grace made the Apostle as well as what it enabled him to do. Nor must it be forgotten that this grace was, to some extent, special. There is grace for all; there is grace sufficient for all; but we do not all receive the same amount. "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." If a man is an Apostle, he needs more grace than do ordinary individuals. And the supreme mark that God has called anyone to a special ministry is that He gives grace for it. There are many aspects of grace. There is the grace that justifies, the grace to help in time of need, but there is also this special form of grace of which we are now speaking, which means enduement of power, strength and ability for the mission on which we have been sent. God never sends us at our own charges, and if anyone feels his work to be irksome and a bondage, or beyond him, or a distinct failure, it is because he has attempted work to which he has not been called, and therefore grace has not been given for it.
The grace bestowed upon the Apostle enabled him to say, "I laboured more abundantly than they all." So that as we see this servant of God moving from place to place, as we track him along his toilsome journeys, as we witness his disappointments and trials as well as his victories and successes, and as we see him supported under all, and ever moving to fresh achievements—we are contemplating, not human strength, but divine grace.
This grace also had its effect upon himself. This man who was to be remembered for all time; who was to write some of the deepest words ever penned; whose labours not only extended over two continents and resulted in untold blessing to multitudes of his own generation, but reach to our day; whose mission was of so extraordinary a character that he could speak of completing God's revelation and filling up that which was behind of the sufferings of Christ—this one, was so humbled by the sense of the pit from which he had been taken and the grace that made him what he was, that he could speak of himself as "the least of the apostles, not meet to be called an Apostle." He had seen Christ, and such superlative excellence had eclipsed Saul of Tarsus and everything else. The very One, Whose Name he had in mad energy, sought to stamp out, had now not only taken possession of him, but was working through him with untold blessing to mankind.
He never could forget that he had persecuted the Church of God. This recollection humbled him in the dust, while the thought of the abundant grace conferred upon him only deepened his humility. It is this combination of humility and greatness, which is so fine. The Apostle of greatest labours, largest achievements, most thrilling experiences, intensest sufferings, is yet the humblest. "I am the least": "I am not meet to be called an Apostle."
One more thought arises out of this particular passage and conveys a solemn lesson to all who seek to serve. "His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain." The Apostle used what was at his disposal. He knew that no result would come of all God's grace unless he laboured. "We are labourers together with God," he had said before in this same epistle. It was not God only; neither was it man only; that was sufficient. There must be the union of forces—the Divine and the human; the conjunction of God and man. Just here lies the truth—the truth alas! so often missed. But God will not work alone; and man cannot work alone. Together they are invincible. God could, if He pleased, do everything alone, but it is not His plan. There must be God's grace, but that grace working through a human instrument. As in the parable, the father said to his servants "bring forth the best robe and put it on Him." It was to the servants, Christ said, "Fill the waterpots with water," before he turned it into wine; and then told them to bear it to the governor of the feast. So He multiplied the loaves and fishes, but said to the disciples, "Give ye them to eat."
The grace was not in vain. Let us take this lesson home. The grace abides. St. Paul has passed away. The other apostles are gone. Thousands upon thousands, who knew in their time the same grace, have come and gone since, but the grace continues. It seeks channels still through which to work. Shall we not place ourselves at the disposal of such power and goodness?
XIII.----AS A SERVANT.----The Manner, Method and Matter of His Ministry.
WE have considered the greatness and unique character of St. Paul's mission. Let us now contemplate the manner, method, and matter of his ministry. These heads will embrace the general scope of his service, and enable us to form some idea of the mighty instrument he was in the hands of Christ, Who had raised him up to be the Apostle of the Gentiles and endued him with power, so that "through mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God," he made "the Gentiles obedient by word and deed." In an autobiographical note, he tells us, that, grace had been given him of God that he "should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost." And he adds: "So that from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ."
In Acts xx., we have a record of the apostle's address to the elders of Ephesus, which contains most valuable and precise information as to the manner and method of his labours in their city. We have, therefore, in his own words, a vivid rehearsal of his labours, and it is probable that what he depicts as taking place at Ephesus was pursued with equal energy and devotion wherever he went. In verse 18, we read: "Ye know from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons." How much these few words convey. "From the first day." The Apostle began as he meant to continue. He was no haphazard worker. His manner and method were determined beforehand. Though it was God's work, he was sane enough to know that there was a right and wrong way of doing things, and that carelessness might hinder the work. He therefore laid down rules for himself, for the God of grace is the God of creation, and order is heaven's first law. And if this determination to have a method showed concentration and self-control, the words "after what manner I have been with you at all seasons," reveal continuity and consistency of purpose. "At all seasons." What fine consistency! It is this that tells. Our spasmodic efforts produce correspondingly fitful results. But, "from the first day," and "at all seasons," here is the secret of permanent achievement. The same diligence, the same high standard; the quality of service never lowered—this was the great Apostle's manner of service; whatever the people might think of him among whom he laboured, and in spite of all difficulties and discouragements. In all this, he is an example to everyone who seeks to serve. From the first day until the last, he pursued an undeviating course. Can we do better than study the manner and method of such a man?
And first as to the manner. The Apostle speaks thus of himself: "Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews" (ver. 19). Do not these opening words, "Serving the Lord," explain those expressions "From the first day" and "at all seasons?" He had his eye on the Lord. But for this, he might often have failed, if not given up altogether. It was this which accounted for his unremitting toil, and gave him such undeviating purpose. In all his service, he had the Lord before him; and it makes all the difference whether we serve people or Christ. To realize we are serving the Lord, imparts an immeasurable tone and distinction to our labours. The Apostle was occupied neither with service nor the people he served. He entered fully into the teaching of his Master. "But which of you having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken: and afterward thou shalt eat and drink." The lesson of which surely is, that we are to make everything of the One Whom we serve, and not of the service or those we serve. If it is service that occupies us or the people, we shall be either puffed up or cast down; thinking that our service is more important than that of others, or else, contrariwise, thinking that it is of no use at all. But if we are "serving the Lord," every service, however insignificant, becomes great, because the One for Whom it is done is so great. And, moreover, with His greatness in our eyes, we shall not think ourselves great, but say in the language He Himself puts into our lips, "We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke xvii. 7-10).
Yet, on the other hand, no one was more considerate of the people he served than was the Apostle. He endured all things for the elect's sake. He became all things to all men, if by any means he might save some. "I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls," he writes to some; while to others, he can say, "We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children; so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us . . . As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children." All the gentleness of a nurse, and all the wisdom and helpfulness of a father, characterized the one whose service was to the Lord.
Was it not because he was free from all that he could, and did, become servant of all? And to be truly the servant of the Lord must impart a character to all we do. The thought of "serving the Lord" gives boldness; it lifts the mind above petty considerations; it enables us to overlook and forget vexations, which otherwise would annoy; and saves us from the snares only too numerous in the path of service. It gives, too, a proper independence: "With me, it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment . . . but He that judgeth me, is the Lord." So wrote the one who yet could make himself "servant of all."
How did the Apostle serve the Lord? "With all humility of mind," he tells us. And surely, what gave him this humility was that he always had his eye on the One he served. He knew that as far as he himself was concerned, he was an "unprofitable servant," doing merely his duty; but his Master was supremely great and glorious. He realized that the splendid success of his labours was not due to him: "Yet not I," he says, "but the grace of God." Again, "I will not dare to speak of any of those things that Christ hath not wrought by me." "Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me." "He that wrought effectually in Peter . . . the same was mighty in me." It was Christ Who did the work, and not Paul. Such was his humility that he styled himself the chief of sinners, but the least of the Apostles, and less than the least of all saints. He never sought place or patronage. When he found that his name was being used as a party cry at Corinth, he falls, as it were, on his face, like Moses did before him. "Who then is Paul?" he asks. And again, "These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written . . . For I think that God hath set forth us the Apostle last . . . even unto this present hour, we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place, and labour, working with our own hands, being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off-scouring of all things unto this day." Who, but a humble man could have trodden such a path!
Such strangely perverse creatures are we that service, unless the flesh is kept under, instead of making us humble, is apt to puff us up. The publicity, which to a great extent is inseparable from service, the position it gives the servant, and the many inducements to make him think something of himself, arising from the very nature of the work—all these may tend to self-exaltation. If we have this example of the apostle continually before us, we shall be saved from many a pitfall. Humility in the apostle did not mean feebleness—when occasion called for it, he knew how to magnify his office, and he could write to another and say, "Let no man despise thy youth." Humility has generally marked all the servants of Christ who have been especially owned of God. And in this quality, they have resembled the Master Himself. Who is so humble as He? He washed His disciples' feet, and said to them, "Know ye what I have done to you? . . . I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you?" He told them, "I am among you as He that serveth." The apostle followed His Master in this, though of course, at a distance. In the passage we are considering, he puts humility above everything. He does not speak of his success; he does not mention the number of souls that were converted under his ministry, but he speaks of humility. Yet, Ephesus was where his mightiest work was done. And others too, though of lower rank than the apostle, have been distinguished for the same grace. Whitefield was as conspicuous for humility as for his marvellous gift. Notwithstanding, all that God wrought by him, notwithstanding, his unequalled popularity with men, he ever remained a truly humble servant.
St. Paul gives us several reasons why humility should characterize the servant of the Lord. One is in 1 Cor. iv. 7: "For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou, that thou didst not receive? now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" Another, in the previous chapter, ver. 7. "So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase." And 2 Cor. iv. 5, affords an additional reason, "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." Here, then, we have three solid reasons why humility should characterize the servants of Christ. First, as to what they have and are, the Lord makes His servants to differ as to their qualifications; secondly, as to what they do, it would come to nought unless God gave the increase; and, thirdly, as to what they preach, they exalt Christ, and Christ only.
But there was another thing that marked the apostle's service. He served the Lord "with many tears." Now, why does the apostle mention this fact? It is hardly too much to say that in a large measure, it reveals the secret of his success. A man who weeps is alive to the importance of his mission, and is downright in earnest about it. If we are not moved ourselves, how can we expect to move others? The blessed Master is a pattern in this as in everything else. He wept over Jerusalem; He wept at the grave of Lazarus; He wept in the hour of His agony, when, with strong crying and tears; He offered up prayers and supplications unto Him that was able to save Him from death. Depend upon it, if there were more tears, there would be more conversions. Hearts would be touched. "How is it that your seed comes up so soon?" said one gardener to another. "Because I steep it," was the reply. The reason why our preaching is often without effect is—we have forgotten to steep it in tears. "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." These are the conditions. Weeping in secret, when no eye sees us but God's, is, after all, the great thing.
The next thing we notice, in connection with the manner of the apostle's ministry, is "temptations." No doubt, this word would also include all that is ranged under the head of trials. It has been well said, "Prayer and temptation, the Bible and meditation, make a good minister of Jesus Christ." Trial and temptation are the badges of service. They are incidental to the work. The servant is seeking to pull down the kingdom of Satan and establish the kingdom of God, and no wonder that the great adversary will not let him alone. He is in the forefront of the fight and must expect blows. An unusually large share fell to the apostle's lot. (Read 2 Cor. xi. 23-28). Moreover, trials have a purifying effect. "When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." They also have a mellowing effect. What a lack is discernable where there has been freedom from trial! Such a servant may have much gift, but hardly be as distinguished for grace and usefulness. "If I am in sorrow," said one, "commend me to a bruised brother." Who is it, has been made perfect through sufferings? Is it not the Lord Jesus? And is there any other road for His servant? In trial and temptation, the servant learns too, the deceitfulness of his own heart, discovers his weakness and imperfections and experiences his own emptiness. But, on the other hand, they cast him upon God; he grows in deeper acquaintance with Christ, tests the boundless resources of his Master, and learns experimentally that His "strength is made perfect in weakness." As a consequence, he becomes better able to help others. Often, when some message from one of the Lord's servants has been used to us, we have little thought of the suffering he has had to pass through to fit him to be such a channel of blessing. If it is true of believers generally, it is even more true of servants: "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction."
No servant will ever distinguish himself, who has not passed through the school of suffering. We might mention many of God's servants, whose history illustrates what has been said. Look at Joseph! Think of his pathway! From his father's house to the pit, from the pit to the prison, and thence to the palace. Moses had to keep sheep at the backside of the desert, before he led forth the people of God, and what trials he had afterwards; David wandered as a fugitive, ere he was established on the throne of Israel. If any who read these lines are passing through special trial and temptation, let them remember, it may be the needed preparation for future service.
XIV.----AS A SERVANT.----The Manner, Method, and Matter of His Ministry.
THE method as well as the manner of the apostle's ministry comes before us in Acts xx. They are doubtless interwoven, and yet distinct. The one reveals the man, the other, the servant. In the one, we see character, in the other ability. And both were combined in an eminent degree in this devoted servant. In whichever way we regard him, we see what a remarkable vessel he was, and how conspicuous was the grace of God in him. As a man, he was humble, courageous and unselfish; as a servant, he was gifted and devoted. He could say, "I laboured more abundantly than they all"; but truly adds, "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor. xv. 10).
First of all, in ver. 20, he says, "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you." The apostle thought of his hearers and of their profit. He knew very well that what he received, he was bound to communicate; he was a steward "of the mysteries of God." (1 Cor. iv. 1). He was perfectly aware that all that was revealed to him must be for the profit of those to whom he ministered, and he faithfully delivered it. It was to this very assembly, he afterwards wrote an epistle which unfolds the highest truth, the subject of which doubtless formed part of his oral instruction, and therefore the apostle considered it—no less than the other parts of revelation—profitable to his hearers. The fact is, under the Spirit's guidance, it is impossible to turn to any part of revealed truth that is not profitable. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable," the same writer says in another epistle (2 Tim. iii. 16). There is need to emphasize that word all. No doubt there are chapters in God's Word—as well as doctrines—of special importance, but the point to be borne in mind is that all are necessary. A face with any feature lacking, we should consider sadly deformed. The undue prominence of others would not make amends; and so not only should every truth find a place, but its right place, and that in proper proportion.
In the apostle Paul's writings, there is no lack of variety; and even in the chapter before us, we find his ministry comprised the following themes: repentance and faith, the grace of God, the kingdom of God, and the whole counsel of God. As to ourselves, all scripture lies open before us. Over this vast field—every part of which in turn yields "meat in due season"—we are privileged to roam. The profit of his hearers was what the apostle ever had before him; and under the Spirit's guidance, he seems to have known in a wonderful way just what was needed—like his blessed Master, Who spake "the Word unto them, as they were able to hear it" (Mark iv. 33).
Here lies the secret of successful ministry—to be so near the Lord as to know what He would have given out. It is one thing to be enjoying a truth ourselves; quite another, whether that will meet the special need of others. Someone has said, "Proclaim every atom of the truth so far as God has taught it you. Harmony requires that the voice of one doctrine shall not drown the rest, and it also demands that the gentler notes shall not be omitted because of the greater volume of other sounds. All revealed truth in harmonious proportion must be your theme. "We would give every portion of Scripture its fair share in our heart and head. Let us abhor all one-sidedness, all exaggeration of one truth and disparagement of another." Such was the method of the apostle Paul; his teaching embraced repentance on the one hand, and the counsel of God on the other, and we may add, all that lies between those two extremes.
He proceeds, "but have showed you, and have taught you." This seems to give a further insight into his method. He was not content with showing, he explained and enforced what he had shown. A master may be perfectly acquainted with a mathematical problem, and be able to demonstrate it on the blackboard; it is another thing to be able to impart his knowledge to his pupils. Now this is what the apostle, the "teacher of the Gentiles," sought to do. Hear what he writes to the Colossians (Chap. i. 28-29), "Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus; whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily." To this end, the apostle, not content with public ministry, went from house to house. He doubtless found in his visits, that much he had said in his public address, had not been grasped. Is not this a most important branch of the work? Are we not often surprised when we question our hearers, to find how little they have retained? And what they do remember, they only imperfectly understand. But in another way, this visiting work is most important. Not only is the opportunity afforded of meeting difficulties in the minds of Christians, but the servant gains additional experience, which cannot fail to make his public utterances far more useful.
And the apostle warned as well as instructed. "I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears," he says. Evidently this was done individually. What a watchful pastor he was! He not only fed the flock, but warned them of the dangers that threatened them. Little use would it be to feed a flock of sheep, if the next moment they were to be eaten by wolves. If the apostle warned the saints at Ephesus of what was coming in, surely there is additional need for warning, now we are in the midst of it. Mark the apostle's words, "ceased not," "night and day," "with tears." May this faithfulness, zeal and love be found in some measure in every true servant of the Lord.
The apostle warned with tears. What a noble example he presents! What a picture of a true servant! He not only preached publicly, he also visited from house to house; he not only taught, he also warned. He could speak to crowds, and he would care for souls individually. Nothing was too great for his mind, nothing too little for his heart. It was not merely preaching to multitudes that engaged his attention. On one occasion, he could stand on Mars Hill, and address the learned Athenians, disputing with their ablest philosophers; and on another, he could pen a letter of entreaty to a master on behalf of a fugitive slave.
Amidst all this, he was constrained to remember that he was only a servant, and that he was passing off the scene. He could not continue, and so we find him commending these Ephesian elders "to God, and to the Word of His grace." The most faithful, the most indefatigable servant must go, but God and His Word remain. It is eighteen hundred years and more since the great apostle of the Gentiles went to his rest, and all that he predicted has come true; but God and His Word are unchanged. What a comfort!
But the apostle had no regrets as regards his own service. While he had opportunity, he did all he could. Let us think of what he was able to say in the closing moments of his active service. "I kept back nothing"; "I am pure from the blood of all men"; "I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears"; "I have showed you all things." Here are his methods.
And in addition to all his accumulated labour and the "care of all the churches," he could say, "These hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me." To the Thessalonians he also writes, "For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail; for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God." At the same time, he fully recognized our Lord's maxim, "the labourer is worthy of his hire" (See 1 Cor. ix.; Phil. iv.; Gal. vi. 6.) Why then, it may be asked, did not the apostle take more advantage of it? On the one hand, this devoted servant would not assert his rights, for fear he should be misunderstood; and on the other, he felt such was the state of some of his converts, who had only just been reclaimed from the grossest darkness, that they needed an object lesson in him, how to gain an honest living. He says to the Thessalonians, "Neither did we eat any man's bread for naught; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you; not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thess, iii. 8-10). These are the reasons, or some of them, why the apostle took this additional burden upon himself, and nobly did he sustain it. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that there were occasions when he did receive, and he fully recognized that to be the divine order. "I robbed other churches," he wrote to the Corinthians, "taking wages of them, to do you service" (2 Cor. xi. 8); and again to the Philippians (chap. iv. 18), "Having received . . . the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." What pure disinterestedness is thus observable in the apostle! What absolute forgetfulness of self! He could not have a more fitting epitaph than that provided by his own words, "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live—Christ."
Well may he say to the Ephesian elders, "I have showed you all things." And well it is for every servant whose life is an exemplification of his own teaching.
And lastly, having spoken to men, he turns to God; "he kneeled down, and prayed with them all." Thus the curtain drops upon the scene, for the record of his active missionary labours closes here. It ends as it began. "Behold, he prayeth" (See Acts ix. 11).
XV.----AS A SERVANT.----The Matter of His Ministry (Acts xx.).
HAVING looked at the manner and method of the Apostle's ministry, we have now to consider its matter. We have it indicated in the chapter before us.
1. Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (ver. 11).
2. The gospel of the grace of God (ver. 24).
3. The kingdom of God (ver. 26).
4. The whole counsel of God (ver. 27).
The apostle naturally begins with man's side, "repentance toward God." He begins there, but he does not stop until he has declared the whole counsel of God. The repentance spoken of is towards God. It is more than mere sorrow for sin, which may be found even in an unconverted person. We truly repent when we see our sins as God sees them. David knew what repentance meant when he exclaimed, "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight." Yes, when we realize what it is to have sinned against a God of holiness and love, we know what true repentance is.
And further, it involves justifying God, and condemning ourselves. In the same verse, just quoted from, David continues, "that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest.'' Then he entreats God to cleanse him. "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." So the next mark of true repentance is the felt need of a Saviour. This leads us to what the apostle connects with repentance, "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Repentance and faith must go together. The bitter herbs were eaten with the flesh of the lamb roast with fire, after the blood had been sprinkled outside (Ex. xii.). It is as we enter into what Christ endured on our account that repentance becomes real. The felt need of a Saviour produces true repentance; and the deeper the work of repentance, the greater the appreciation of the work of Christ, and the more ardent the love to the Person of Christ.
The Counsel of God.
In addition to testifying of repentance and faith, the apostle did not shun to declare all the counsel of God. This embraced both Jew and Gentile. Paul was pure from the blood of all men. For he declared to all, the blessing to be found in Christ and the eternal condemnation for those who rejected this way of salvation. We read that at Corinth, "When they opposed themselves and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, "Your blood be upon your own heads, I am clean; from henceforth, I will go unto the Gentiles." Thus, if the Jew refuses the salvation of God, it goes out to the Gentiles—God's counsel must stand. And so we read, further on, in Acts xviii., what the Lord says to Paul concerning Corinth, "I have much people in this city."
There are two things presented here—the responsibility of man, and the counsel of God. The endeavour to reconcile these apparently opposing principles has led to endless dispute. The fact is, we arrive at the truth, not by setting one against the other, but by accepting both. We cannot see the exact point where they meet. It is like a chain, of which both ends can be seen, but which passes out of sight in the centre. The chain is really one. Some have looked exclusively from one end, others exclusively from the other. One end, so to speak, begins from God, the other begins from the sinner. Where the dividing line is between the sinner's responsibility and God's sovereignty, it is impossible to decide. Both exist, and both must be taken account of. Our privilege is, without troubling ourselves with what really concerns God alone, to look from each end in turn. If we read such scriptures as John iii. 16; Rom. iii. 22; Rev. xxii. 17, we are looking from man's side, but if we want to look from the other side, we have only to turn to Rom. viii. 29 & 30; Eph. i. 4, etc. The first is for sinners, the other is for saints. The first can be proclaimed everywhere, and to everyone; the other is for those who become members of the family circle. Paul observed this distinction. He testified to the Jews and to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, but, he says, "I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (ver. 27).
The counsel of God, declared by the apostle, would include what is termed the Mystery, i.e., the Church as the Body of Christ. Both Jew and Gentile found their place in this new organization, all distinctions, after the flesh, being obliterated. Christ the Head, and all deriving nourishment from Him, being knit together in love. The counsel of God also embraced the special place and character of blessing reserved for believers of this dispensation. Blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; predestinated unto sonship. Also, that God will gather together in one, all things in Christ, both which are in Heaven and which are on earth; and that we are to share in these" all things." As it is written:—"In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. i. 10).
The gift of the Spirit, so that we are consciously in the place of children and sons, and are builded together for a habitation of God, with all the rights and privileges of saints, and as belonging to the household of God, may also be included.
It must not be forgotten either that God's attitude towards sin, and the true condition of the natural man—dead in trespasses and sins, alienated from the life of God, and an enemy by wicked works, were also declared alongside of the above truths, and at the same time, that the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness, and abides upon all who refuse to believe on the Son. As the apostle writes, "For which things' sake, the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience" (Col. iii. 6).
The Gospel of the Grace of God.
What was the gospel of the grace of God which Paul preached? It was that which is peculiar to this dispensation; and is not to be confounded with the gospel of the kingdom referred to by the Lord, in Matt. xxiv. 14. Paul preached the kingdom of God, but not the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel of the kingdom has the establishment of the kingdom in manifestation and power as the great burden of its message. The gospel the apostle preached was that of the "grace of God." It may be asked, what is the difference?
The gospel of the "grace of God" is what He is pleased to do, on the ground of what Christ has accomplished, for those who in themselves, deserve nothing but wrath and endless misery. Man, having been proved to be not only devoid of all righteousness, but an enemy of God; righteousness of God is now declared to all, because all have sinned and come short of His glory, and there is the ministry of reconciliation on the ground that Christ has been made sin, and in Him the believer is made all that God requires. Both Jews and Gentiles are shown to be "under sin"—equally deserving judgment—every mouth is stopped, and all subject to the judgment of God. But instead of judgment, grace flows out to all "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." "Christ has suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." Christ has ended the state in which man was, in death; He has been made sin; God has glorified Him, and the blessing grace confers, is commensurate with that glory. It is the privilege of all who believe, to see their old state ended in the Cross; their responsibility met, and every blessing the heart of God delights to bestow become theirs, because of the One Who, in His death, bore their judgment, Himself a sweet savour to God. Sin having been dealt with, God's grace is free to have full exercise, in accord with every attribute of His nature. We are accepted in the Beloved.
The "gospel of the grace of God" being connected with Christ glorified at God's right hand, and we made the righteousness of God in Him, the answer to His having been made sin; it will help us to see the distinction between that and the "gospel of the kingdom," if we state that the latter is connected with His return to earth. We cannot enter into all the circumstances, but it is well known that after the Church's history on earth is closed, there will be a terrible upheaval, everything will be disorganized, the "man of sin" will be revealed, the Jews will have returned to their own land in unbelief; and it is during this period the "gospel of the kingdom" will be preached, announcing the coming King and a reign of righteousness. As the Lord said to His disciples, "Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come." The gospel of the Kingdom, therefore, has a distinctly Jewish aspect.
The Kingdom of God.
If Paul did not preach the gospel of the kingdom, and yet preached the kingdom of God, what was it that he preached? He preached it in its moral aspects. "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. xiv. 17). He also declared that "no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph. v. 5). He taught them "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God"; "That if we suffer, we shall also reign with him"; and at the same time, pointed out that the kingdom of God would be visibly established on earth at the Lord's second coming (see 1 Cor. xv. 24-28; 1 Tim. vi. 14-15; 2 Tim. ii. 12; 2 Thess. i. 5-10, ii. 8).
There can be no doubt St. Paul referred, in his preaching, to the Kingdom in manifestation, but this is different from preaching the "gospel of the Kingdom." That was not his gospel. At Thessalonica, he was charged with doing "contrary to the decree of Caesar, saying there is another King, one Jesus." The apostle, we may be sure, did not disobey any decree to which he ought to have submitted, but the foregoing assertion indicates what must have been the line of his ministry, especially when we remember the tenor of his two epistles to the Thessalonians. There he reminds them that they "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven." This evidently means waiting for Christ to take the kingdom. When some of their number died, they thought that these would miss the kingdom, and St. Paul writes to explain (Chap, iv.) how the dead in Christ would be raised first, so that all saints—dead and living—would come with Him when He returns in glory.
There was, undoubtedly, a general expectation of a kingdom amongst the Jews. The angel spoke of it in announcing Christ's birth. During the public ministry of our Lord, questions as to it were repeatedly addressed to Him. On one occasion, He spake a parable, "because they thought the Kingdom of God should immediately appear." Almost the last question addressed to the risen Saviour by His own elect circle was, "Wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?" Such expectations were justified, and they will yet be realized. That is to say, there will be a Kingdom of God upon earth which will overthrow all other kingdoms and maintain righteousness and peace throughout the world.
In the meantime, is there no such thing as a kingdom of any sort? Undoubtedly there is. But it is a kingdom in mystery, not in manifestation. Its nature is spiritual, and not visible and tangible. Yet, whatever form the kingdom may take, the idea is always the same. No kingdom can exist without power, without authority and without rule. The present advantages of the kingdom are, that on the side of those belonging to it, there is a power to deliver from all the forces of evil—every foe antagonistic to the Christian life can be put down; and instead of being under the authority of darkness, we are "translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love." (Cf. 1 Cor. iv. 20; Col. i. 13; Rom. xiv. 17). We thus come under the rule of love, and as we obey that rule and submit ourselves to its blessed influence, "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" are our portion. It will thus be seen that what characterizes the kingdom to-day is power, and that, the power of the Holy Ghost (Acts i. 8). It was this Kingdom that Paul preached. Yet he ever kept in mind that the kingdom would one day be manifested, and so he spoke of "the crown of righteousness" which would be given to all who "love His appearing."
Another thing connected with the kingdom, is suffering. "That ye may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer" (2 Thess. i. 5). Of the apostle himself, it was said, "I will show him how great things he must suffer, for My name's sake." We do not take kindly to suffering, but if we are faithful to Christ, in His absence, we cannot escape it. "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you, but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Peter iv. 12-13).
In conclusion, we have seen how the apostle's ministry was four-square, and what it included. Many details might be filled in. But repentance and faith; the gospel of the grace of God; the Kingdom of God; and the whole counsel of God; cover practically the whole matter of his ministry. Happy the servant of Christ to-day, who does not rest content with any narrower scope, but who can say with the apostle, "I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare all the counsel of God." To do this needs courage, and it requires faithfulness. It is necessary to rise superior to all carnal considerations. Let none flinch from insisting upon the lost and ruined state of man, on the one hand; or from unfolding, on the other, all that has been made known of the heart of God as revealed in the Person and work of Christ.
XVI.----AS A SERVANT.----Various Characteristics.
HAVING considered the greatness of the Apostle's mission, and the manner, method, and matter of his ministry, let us come to a few details. His autobiographical references furnish us with many interesting and instructive references to his service.
1. He valued prayer. Constantly does he mention his prayers for his converts and for all saints; and he asked for theirs in return. In the epistle to the Ephesians (Chaps, i. and iii.), we seem to have two specimens of his prayers. It is not a little remarkable that these occur in the epistle which unfolds the highest truth. Whatever else this fact may teach us, we may surely learn from it that only truth held in communion with God is of much service to us. The higher this teacher of the Gentiles carried his hearers, the more he prayed for them. This fact surely conveys to us the lesson likewise that the more we know, the more we need to pray.
The language in which he introduces the prayer of chapter i. is as follows: "Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers," and then he refers to the subject of them, that they might know the hope of God's calling, and the exceeding greatness of His power toward those who believe. It all has special reference to the glory given to Christ in fulfilment of God's counsels before the foundation of the world, and our part with Him.
The second prayer which we have mentioned has reference to the same purpose. But it is not a repetition. The one refers to the power of God toward us, the same as that which He wrought in Christ; the other to the power in us, that the Christ, Who is the Centre of all, may dwell in our hearts by faith. For this we need to be strengthened with might by the Father's Spirit in the inner man.
How these two prayers teach us that only by prayer, can such truths be grasped and understood. Not only is it necessary to read our Bibles, but to pray over them, that the truth therein contained may become inwrought. Not only do we need to listen to men of God unfolding these subjects in ministry, but to pray after we have heard, that we may not hear in vain. This is why so many sermons and addresses are listened to with little result; we are not sufficiently in earnest to fall on our knees when we get home and ask that what we have heard may pass beyond our ears, and reach our hearts and lives.
Then, having prayed these two prayers, the Apostle, before closing this epistle, asks those to whom he writes, to pray for him. After exhorting them to prayer and to pray for all saints, he adds, "And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel." To the Philippians he writes, "Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy." To the Colossians, "Praying always for you." And at the close, "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving. Withal praying also for us." And so in almost every epistle he wrote. In this way, he recognized the need of constant dependence upon God. To have been called to high service; to have received a special commission and a special revelation; to be gifted beyond all other men—these things were not in themselves enough; nor could he rest in past labours and achievements; he needed the present grace of God, and this came to him only through his own supplications, and the prayers of others on his behalf. He was but a vessel, empty and weak in himself; God was the author of all the blessing, and the Bestower of the necessary power. Again and again, this thought finds expression in his writings. "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling," he writes to the Corinthians. And again, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." "I will not dare to speak," he says in writing to the saints in Rome, "of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me." "He that wrought effectually in Peter," he says to the Galatians, " . . . the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles." And to the Colossians: "Where unto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily." Is it any wonder the Apostle, remembering all this, and that, though he might plant and Apollos water, it was God alone Who gave the increase, ever sought to link up the prayers of believers with his work and every service he undertook, as when he writes, "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me. That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea, and that my service which I have for Jerusalem, may be accepted of the saints; that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed?" (Rom. xv. 30-32).
May we not pause and ask ourselves two questions, we who seek to serve Christ to-day? (1) Whether we have such a sense as the Apostle had of the need of prayer; and (2) have we as deep a conviction that God must work in us and through us if any good is to be achieved? These two things are intimately related. The deeper the impression, that God alone can make us able ministers—not study, nor eloquence, nor literary attainments, nor power of thought, though these things may have their place; that the utterance must come from His Spirit if there are to be lasting results, that He must teach us, and not man, if we are rightly to know anything of His truth—the more we shall be on our knees waiting upon Him, until we go forth equipped by Him Who alone can make our ministry of any avail.
Prayer, then, is our great resource. And would it not be well for us, if such statements as we have quoted, from the pen of our great Apostle, were often on our minds. "He that wrought effectually in Peter, the same was mighty in me." "His working which worketh in me mightily." He "revealed His Son in me that I might preach Him." If we were more conscious of the underlying truth of these words, how much more conscious, we should be of our own emptiness and incapacity, and, as a consequence of this, and of the prayer it would induce, how much more our preaching would be "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
2. St. Paul concentrated his preaching upon one theme. He preached Christ. This had many phases, of course, for Christ is the Truth—the sum and substance of it all. But it was always Christ. "The gospel of God," to him, was "concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." He went everywhere "in the fulness of the blessing of the Christ." "We preach Christ Crucified." "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." "That I might preach Him." "Whom we preach." These phrases, culled almost at random from his epistles, reveal the concentration we speak of. This is the reason his preaching produced such a great effect, and led to such permanent results. And from the Acts, we learn that the other Apostles preached in the same way: "They ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ." Such preaching will always possess a fulness, a many-sidedness and a power that cannot fail to be effective. The preaching of what is true, is not enough. The truth may be so divorced from the One Who is the Truth that it becomes a mere skeleton, without warmth or vitality. Such preaching may satisfy the mind, but it does not truly touch the heart and transform the life. But when a soul receives Christ, it receives all truth and becomes possessed of every blessing. Acquaintance with a Person, great and glorious, full of love, and completely able to save, is the secret of a changed life; and the soul that knows Him, finds a fullness of satisfaction that leaves nothing to be desired. All that Christ has done becomes ours the moment we believe in Him; and it cannot be too strongly or frequently urged upon people, that, they come to the work through the Person, and not to the Person through the work. No sinner has any right to anything the Saviour has done until he believes on that Saviour. This distinction means all the difference in the world. The one kind of preaching conveys the idea of something having been done to afford relief, and people are led to accept the benefit without thinking much of the Benefactor; the other introduces us to the Person Himself, Who tells us that all He did is for our acceptance, that He did it all in love—a love He wishes us to know, and this is the beginning of a life-long friendship, and ever-growing intimacy.
3. Some of St. Paul's reasons for preaching the Gospel. "Necessity is laid upon me," he says. He was not a tourist, visiting places of interest and preaching the gospel by the way. He was something more than a philanthropist, seeking to do good to his fellow men; or a philosopher, whose aim was to instruct. There was a power, quite apart from himself, that urged him forward—an irresistible impulse, born in him from above, whose source was outside himself, but which guided and governed him, and carried him along. He would have made these words his own, written long after by another devoted servant:—
"Lord, let me live for Thee alone.
My life be only this—
To serve Thee here on earth unknown,
Then share Thy heavenly bliss."
A second reason was expressed in the words, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.'' He was not unconscious of the doom of sin. He was aware of a Judgment Day. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the Judgment." The fear of God had taken possession of him, and he sought to awaken the consciences of sinners and turn them from their evil ways. It is sometimes asserted that St. Paul never mentions hell. But he uses words equally terrible. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom. i. 18). "Punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess. i. 9). "The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." "Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil" (Rom. ii. 5 & 8-9). Such are some of his expressions in which he conveys to us some idea of the terrible doom of sin. He knew nothing of a God too lenient to punish; nor did he entertain those lax views of sin that lead people to treat it as an infirmity. In the presence of God, he had learned its awful nature; its effect upon character, and the eternal retribution it involved. Only from God could this have been learned, for the age in which he lived was one of the worst; and if from God, then how solemn; it is a divine determination from which there can be no escape. Is it any wonder, he writes to Timothy; and they are almost the last inspired words we have from his pen:—"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall Judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His Kingdom; preach the Word; be Instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine." (2 Tim. iv. 1-3)
But the same one could also say, and this furnishes us with another reason why he preached—"The love of Christ constraineth us." The Apostle not only knew God's hatred of sin, but His love to the sinner. Christ had come into a scene of death, where all were dead, and had expressed the love of God. "He died for all," became, henceforth, the evangel of this servant of His. To men, in whom no pulsation Godward existed, a love was told by death, the strongest proof of love. "The love of Christ"; "He died for all"; what a message! It was this that a dying world heard. Heard from the lips of a man who had himself tasted that love.
And, lastly, the Apostle never forgot Who it was that had sent him and what he had received. The Lord Who had met him in the way and called him, also said of him, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name before the Gentiles, and Kings, and the Children of Israel." And this was His commission, given to us in His Own Words, and which he never forgot: "I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee. Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me" (Acts xxvi. 16-18).
4. His solicitude for the welfare of his converts. In every way, the Apostle sought the highest good of those who received his message. It was their benefit that was ever before him, and not his own importance. Here is an autobiographical reference which admits us into the inner sanctuary of the Apostle's heart:—
"But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness; nor of men sought we glory, neither of you nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the Apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children; so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us" (l Thess. ii. 4-8).
From this statement—one of surpassing moral beauty and sublimity—we see that this servant of the Lord was pure from all self-interest. Could there be higher motives? Could there be nobler ends? Could there be greater disinterestedness in attaining them? He realized that he had been put in trust with something which was for the benefit of others, and in the carrying out of this commission, self became obliterated. He might have been tempted to magnify the fact of his Apostleship, but he did not thus give prominence to his office. He had every opportunity, and every excuse, for doing it, had he so desired. With a noble generosity and self-forgetfulness, he rather pursued a course that tended, in some respects, to lower him in the eyes of those to whom he ministered; for he goes on to say:—"For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable to any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God." He lived before God alone, asking only what would please him, and never shaping his course to win applause from men. "Not as pleasing men," he says, "but God which trieth our hearts."
Nor was there any cloke of covetousness. He called God to witness that he never sought to enrich himself. In this matter, there are many to-day who might learn a lesson from him. What a pitiable sight it is to see men becoming rich out of service others do for God. They grow fat through the labours of others, and through what is intended for the spiritual benefit of God's people. The gifts God has given to His Church are made use of by some as means for amassing wealth. And servants of God and their writings are regarded simply from a commercial point of view. There can be no objection to people making a living, but beyond this, savours of the House of God being made a house of merchandise.
How different the spirit of the Apostle. He did not seek glory. "We were not burdensome," he says, "we were gentle among you, as a nurse, we cherished you, and as a father, we charged you."
How much these words express:—
"Being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us."
How far removed is all this from mere perfunctory service—from mere professionalism; those whom St. Paul won for Christ became the objects of his tenderest solicitude. How this helps us to understand this further autobiographical reference:—
"But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire."
The solicitude of the Apostle appears also in another personal reference he makes in this same epistle to the Thessalonians:—
"Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; and sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God and our fellow-labourer in the Gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith; that no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto . . . For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain. For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord . . . Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith."
He had been driven from Thessalonica and then from Berea through the persecution of the Jews. No wonder he says, "the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost," for they were the chief opposers of the gospel. Nor can we be surprised that, in consequence, the power and activity of Satan appeared an ever present reality. Satan had sought to hinder the work by crushing the servant. Under all the pressure, the feeling became uppermost that he would like to be left alone. But he was chiefly concerned, lest all this tribulation, through which he was called to pass, should tend to discourage these Thessalonian converts, only some few weeks old; and be used by the tempter to destroy his work. Few like to embrace an unpopular cause, and everywhere the Apostle and his work were being spoken against and opposed. Thus, a double sorrow became the portion of his soul. Not only had he to endure afflictions, but he knew not what effect they, coupled with his absence, might have upon those who were dearer than his own life. And so he sent Timothy to establish and comfort them, preferring to remain alone at Athens, if only his beloved converts might receive a further blessing.
So completely were the Apostle's exercises linked up with the prosperity of his labours for the Lord; so entirely was his soul given up to the work; so absolutely did the gospel, entrusted to him, absorb his energies; and such control had the Spirit of God over him, that these autobiographical references, instead of being mere passing effusions of the hour, were deemed worthy to be enshrined forever in the divine record. His labours; his sufferings; his anxieties; his feelings, have thus become forever associated with the gospel itself, and afford a fitting sequel to what the Lord Himself said when He associated the service of another with the same Gospel: "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." This is true, to an even greater degree, of Paul.
5. The Apostle's testimony by word of mouth was always backed up by his life. There was no discord between his preaching and his practical conduct. Each was enforced by the other. Hear what he says to the Corinthians, amongst whom he laboured for eighteen months:—
"For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to youward."
Hear him again:—
"But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
So completely were his thoughts and actions controlled by what he preached that he can say: "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost." As we have said before, he not only preached Christ, but for him to live was Christ, and so completely did Christ efface Paul that he could say: "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." He was thus able (to use his own words) "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
It is all summed up in an autobiographical record, contained in the sixth chapter of his second epistle to the Corinthians, and which, surely, is unique. Throughout all time, who that ever attempted to sum up his own characteristics, could give such an epitome as this?—
"Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed; but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience. In afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in strifes, in imprisonments, in tumults, In labours, in watching, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the Word of Truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand, and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things."
How often during the centuries, the ministry has been blamed, and the ministers of God have not commended themselves. It is ever Satan's aim to bring the gospel into disrepute, and his most successful way of doing so is through the inconsistences and foibles of its advocates. At least one man could leave a record that he never gave the enemy the least point of attack.
And what a range is covered by the foregoing enumeration. His credentials include the first and last qualification of an Apostle and a minister of God—patience; then every kind of suffering and distress; self-denial; purity; the Holy Ghost; and not least, love; and all this accompanied by every kind of experience, not omitting evil report. May we not exclaim, what has not the gospel enabled a man to endure? What has it not done for him and through him? He might well write to these Corinthians, "Ye are not straitened in us"; and again "Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man."
6. The Apostle emphatically believed that the truth he proclaimed would never be superseded. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." The reason why there can be no new truth, is because there can be no new Christ. If men really knew Christ, and preached Him, they would never dream that they wanted anything new. St. Paul often spoke of the time when sound doctrine would no longer be endured, but he took the opportunity of telling his hearers to insist upon what they already had received. Men would arise speaking perverse things. What was the remedy? "Therefore watch, and remember." Remember! Not be on the look-out for some fresh revelation.
And he adds, "I commend you to God and the Word of His grace." As well suggest that we want a new God, as new truth. God and the Word of His grace stand together; and the one is as unchangeable as the other. As there is only one God, so there is only one gospel to-day, because it proceeds from God.
That the above was the Apostle's view is evident from his words to Timothy: "And the things that thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
"Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them."
He then refers to the Scriptures as the repository of Truth, and indicates that the man of God has no other source to which he can turn. They can make him "perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." In view of this, he charges Timothy to "Preach the Word," and warns him that the time would come when there would arise teachers who should turn away the ears of people from the truth (2 Tim. iii. 14-17, iv. 1-4). What need to-day, to remember his injunction, "Hold fast the form of sound words."
XVII.----St. Paul As A Man.
THERE was not much outward attractiveness about Paul. Though one of the greatest of men, morally and spiritually, yet he seems to admit his "bodily presence was weak." Paul, means "little"; and there is every reason to think he was small of stature. Possibly he alludes to this when he speaks of glorying in his infirmities, and in that connection refers to being let down the wall of Damascus in a basket, and by that means escaping the governor's hands. Had he been a man of large stature, this might have been found impossible. In addition to his diminutive figure, he had an affliction of the eyes, so that his personal appearance was not very prepossessing.
It is however, St. Paul's moral characteristics that we wish to enlarge upon at the present time. What can we discover of these in the record he has left to us? Scattered throughout the Acts and the pages of his Epistles, there are many references which reveal unmistakably the kind of man Paul was, both mentally and morally.
1. He possessed a two-fold capacity which is not often found in combination—at least not to such an extent as in his case, viz., the power to reflect and the power to act. The world has had its great thinkers; and it has also had its men of action; but very, very few have been equally great in both departments. But witness Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor, entering into every house and hailing men and women to prison; hear him giving his voice against them, in order that they might be put to death; behold him on his journey to Damascus facing the heat of a mid-day sun and with madness in his heart against the followers of the Nazarene; and do you not see the man of action? Nor did this side of his nature develop only along the line of persecution. If we think of his long journeys and exhausting travels, scaling mountains, fording rivers, crossing burning plains by day and enduring exposure to cold by night; sometimes confronted by crowds that threatened his life, or standing alone before the Emperor Nero; at one time addressing an assembly of philosophers on Mars Hill; and on another occasion standing forth in the midst of a crowded and sinking ship and telling everybody what ought to be done; we cannot fail to discover the energy, the concentration, the quickness to decide upon a certain course of conduct, the ability to grasp a situation, which mark the man of action. His contention with Barnabas, and when he withstood Peter to the face are only further illustrations along the same line.
But was he not equally great in the other department we have mentioned? He excelled as a thinker, teacher and writer. His letters are not a mere stringing together of words and phrases; there is a continuity of thought, an elaboration of argument, and a completeness of treatment that disclose a mind of the first order, and one which had been educated and disciplined. We are speaking now of Paul as a man, quite apart, for the moment, from any question of inspiration; for we must remember, there is the vessel, as well as the use God may make of it. We are now speaking of the kind of vessel Divine wisdom selected for its use. It had to be confessed, even by the cultured, that his letters were "weighty and powerful." And although he might be "rude in speech," yet not in knowledge. He was as much at home in disputing with philosophers as he was in making tents.
2. He was not only a man of action but one capable of great endurance. Mark had turned back on the first missionary journey, it is supposed on account of the hardships of the way. Not so Paul. And he is the one who suggests the second missionary journey. "Let us go again," he says, "and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the Word of the Lord." This most probably meant they were to face the same difficulties and dangers as on the previous occasion; but, nothing daunted, Paul set out. In the prison at Philippi, his back smarting with stripes, and the whole situation, considering the character of his dungeon, calculated to cause depression, instead of being dejected, he prayed and sang praises to God; and even after suffering such hardship, he shows his unconquerable spirit by refusing to leave the prison when permission was given to depart, demanding that having been beaten openly uncondemned, the magistrates themselves should come and fetch him out. An incident such as this reveals the man.
It might be said, the grace of God enabled him to endure in this fashion; and that is true. But we must not overlook the fact that God selects his vessels upon whom he intends to bestow such abundant grace. And it is the vessel we are looking at for the moment. When God has a work for a Luther to do, He chooses a Luther to do it. And Luthers and Pauls are not met with every day.
3. He was possessed of great courage. He could, when he felt that necessity demanded it, separate from his companion in labours and travel—Barnabas: and he did not shrink from withstanding Peter to the face. Strange experiences never daunted him, and unknown dangers had no terrors for him. Even when he had to confess, "All they that are in Asia be turned away from me," he was unmoved. Only a man of supreme courage could have gone through the catalogue of perils he enumerates in 2 Cor. xi. "Perils of waters, perils of robbers, perils by mine own countrymen, perils by the heathen, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brethren." (ver. 26). And yet we must not think of him as one who never knew depression, and was impervious to fear. In one place, he tells us, "Without were fightings, within were fears." And in another, it is recorded of him, that, when after his last long and dangerous voyage, he saw the brethren who came to meet him from Rome, "he thanked God and took courage." His attempt to adventure himself into the theatre at Ephesus, during the uproar, from which he was only dissuaded by his friends, is a signal instance of his courage. Nor can we follow him through all the vicissitudes of his last visit to Jerusalem and the consequent imprisonment for two years, without being conscious that this courage never failed him.
4. It was not insensibility that gave Paul courage, nor was it mere brute force that carried him on, for he was evidently a man of deep feeling. Who can forget the opening of the ninth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans: "/ have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." In his address to the Ephesian elders, he speaks of "many tears"; to those who tried to persuade him not to go up to Jerusalem he says, "What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?" while the parting described in the previous chapter tells the same tale, for had he been merely a stoic, no tears would have been shed at his departure; whereas we read, "And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him." His strong feeling comes out again and again in his letters. "I long to see you," he says to the saints at Rome. He writes to Timothy that he is "mindful of his tears." He speaks of his "beloved" Philippians; and to the Thessalonians he writes, "So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us." His sympathy and tenderness were as striking as his endurance and courage.
5. He was a man of great determination. Nothing turned him from his purpose. This was characteristic of him at all periods of his history, both as a persecutor of the Church and as its servant. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," seems to disclose to us an unbending resolution, even when his conscience began to warn him that he might be mistaken. His own words, too, towards the close of his active ministry, and with bonds and afflictions awaiting him, tell the same tale of determination: "But none of these things move me," he says, "neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus." But nowhere, perhaps, is this trait in his character more conspicuous than during the efforts of his friends to prevent him taking that last journey to Jerusalem. In spite of a three-fold warning, he was undeterred. He seems to have had some inward premonition of what awaited him. To the Ephesian elders he says, "And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there; save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." Still he went forward. When he landed at Tyre, the disciples there, we read, "said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem." Even this did not cause him to alter his purpose. Nor even when Agabus "took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles,' " was it sufficient to turn him aside. Whether he was right in the face of these repeated warnings—warnings, too, which coincided with his own presentiments—is a matter of doubt. For these predictions came true; nor did the results in the end seem to justify the expedition. But whatever view we take of the matter, no one can question the Apostle's determination. Even when all joined in pleading with him to abandon his intended visit, his only reply was, "I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the Name of the Lord Jesus." This fine resolution wins our admiration even if it fails to silence all objections. In view of such an unalterable resolution, the only course to pursue was that adopted by his companions in travel: "And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, 'The will of the Lord be done.' "
6. Yet although on the occasion just referred to, he was so unbending, he was, withal, a man of sound judgment. He knew there were times when it is necessary to give way. In the case of Timothy, he considered the prejudices of others and did not hesitate to circumcise him, because of the Jews in those quarters. In the case of Titus, he was equally firm the other way. He was willing, he tells us, to be "made all things to all men." But this was with a view to "gain" others. Not because he had no fixed doctrines or principles. He could be yielding as regards others, and indeed, carried out his own exhortation to the Philippians, "Let your moderation (yieldingness) be known unto all men;" but as regards himself, there was no yielding to ease or self-indulgence. "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
7. He was full of common-sense and exceedingly practical. This is the more remarkable considering the nature of the themes that constantly engaged his attention. This aspect of the Apostle's character is well worthy of our careful attention. Here was one whose mind was occupied with the most exalted spiritual themes. He refers constantly to the heavenly portion of the Christian and to our being seated in heavenly places in Christ. He himself was at home in that scene and in dwelling upon such subjects. Yet, he was equally at home in the common concerns of everyday life, and always seemed equal to the occasion, whatever that occasion demanded. When Elymas the sorcerer sought to turn away the deputy from the faith, it was Paul who "set his eyes on him" and confronted him in such a manner that this "enemy of all righteousness" was completely overcome. When standing before the Council, by a stratagem, he set the Pharisees against the Sadducees. He gave directions and warnings to the captain of the ship in which he was sailing; and the sequel proved he was right. "Sirs," he said afterwards, when the storm he had predicted had come, "Ye should have hearkened unto me." But although God had told him there should be no loss of any man's life, but of the ship, he was no fatalist; and when the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, he "said to the centurion and to the soldiers, 'Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.' " Moreover, he "besought them all to take meat." And yet the man who did this "gave thanks to God in the presence of them all."
What a combination of the spiritual and the practical we have here. There stood an angel of God by him and informed him as to all that would happen, and yet the man who receives these supernatural communications, is the very one who loses sight of no detail which concerns the safety of the ship and the well-being of its occupants. How beautiful it is to see the natural and the spiritual co-operating; and to learn that the invisible God employs visible agencies to carry out His purpose, even though independent of them all. We are too apt to regard natural and spiritual forces as independent or even antagonistic; or we are content to rely solely on the one, or exclusively on the other. Paul was sane enough to see that the one is the handmaid of the other, and that they exist for each other. Later on, when they reach land, the same attitude reappears. He does not ask God to light a fire, but he himself gathers a bundle of sticks; but he enters in and prays for the recovery of the father of Publius who was sick of a fever, and his prayer is heard.
8. This robust, energetic, determined man, so full of practical wisdom, was by no means deficient in finer qualities, for his utterances often denote a rare delicacy. Witness the opening of the Epistle to the Romans. He refrains from calling himself an Apostle; he is only "a servant of Jesus Christ." The reason is, probably, that some other Apostle had been used to found this assembly in Rome. Yet he does not hide the fact that he is an Apostle (v. 5), but how anxious he seems to take a place along with them instead of occupying one of authority over them. He mentions that their "faith is spoken of throughout the whole world"; and although he proceeds to speak of imparting to them some spiritual gift, he immediately explains: "That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." And after unfolding to them the Gospel of God, he returns at the close to the same standpoint. "I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." And he speaks of visiting Rome in order to "be filled with their company."
What could be more delicate than his letter to Philemon? How common courtesy glows with a new splendour, elevated and enriched by Christian grace. "Though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love's sake, I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ." When we consider our natural fondness for making use of any authority we possess, the rare grace and beauty of such a style are the more wonderful; especially when it is remembered that he is not asking any favour for himself, but pleading on behalf of a runaway slave.
What love, gentleness, and refinement shine through every line of this letter. "My son Onesimus": "Whom I would have retained with me . . . but without thy mind would I do nothing." Calling upon Philemon to share a similar feeling of regard for this one, once "unprofitable," but now "a brother beloved, especially to me, but how much more unto thee." Counting upon the master to receive back the slave, and putting himself in the place of the latter, offering to make good all damages; yet gently reminding Philemon: "How thou owest unto me even thine own self." And all this gentleness and good feeling flowed from the pen of the once implacable persecutor!
Such was the man—the chosen vessel to bear Christ's Name "before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel!" Is it too much to say, that Christ never did anything more wonderful than to lay hold of this man and make him His willing bond-slave?
In him, there existed a combination of intellectual, moral and physical qualities that have never been surpassed. We have seen that he was a man of action and a man of letters; conspicuous for courage and determination, and, equally so, for gentleness; he stood unabashed before kings and rulers or in the presence of a howling mob; and he could pen a letter of entreaty to a master about his runaway slave. He could make Felix tremble; and he could be as gentle amongst the Thessalonians as a nurse cherisheth her children. He could be independent of everyman, having learned in whatsoever state to be content; and yet the loving persistence of Onesiphorus, who sought him out very diligently and found him when a prisoner at Rome, touched him so deeply that he could not refrain from leaving it on record for all time.
We need not be surprised at the way such a man dies. His own account of how he faced the last great issue, brings us to his latest autobiographical record.
"For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing."
In his address to the Ephesian elders some years before, he had expressed his one great desire. It was that he might finish his course with joy, and the ministry which he had received of the Lord Jesus. He had now accomplished both. The end is reached; the course is finished; and the passion of his soul, which had prompted him ever since he became the servant of Christ, is as strong as ever. How his last thoughts seem to linger round the message which had long been the mainspring of his life. He places his doctrine before everything; for that he knew was of God; he exhorts Timothy to continue in the things which he had learned and been assured of; and reminds him of the Holy Scriptures; and then he comes to his final charge. "I CHARGE THEE THEREFORE BEFORE GOD, AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHO SHALL JUDGE THE QUICK AND THE DEAD AT HlS APPEARING AND HlS KINGDOM: preach the Word." That is the all-important matter. Timothy is set in the very presence of God and of Christ and the Judgment Day, and told to do one thing—"preach the Word." And as if this were not enough, so dear to the heart of the Apostle is this work, he adds, "do the work of an evangelist." But his beloved work has fastened itself upon, his soul, and all his thoughts turn upon the Gospel, and so a little further, and he is back again to the same subject: "Take Mark, and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry." And with his closing breath, almost, he is again speaking of the same theme. "At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all men forsook me . . . notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me; that by me, the preaching might be fully known.
"Preach the WORD." "Do the work of an EVANGELIST." "Profitable to me for the MINISTRY." "That by me the PREACHING might be fully known;" these are the closing utterances of Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles. The warrior dies, clad in the armour of God, and with the sword still in his right hand. He has fought a good fight; he has finished his course; he has kept the faith.
"The Faith and the Flock" 1912-13