« PreviousContinue »
in all their sin and moral degradation. The wrath of God was all that they could expect. There was no means of escaping from this wrath by their own power or by sacrifices of their own. And then, when they were thus distressed and despairing, he brings them this surprising proof of God's love. Even before St Paul, the death of Jesus had become the object of theological thought. This had been caused, above all, by the controversy with the Jews. As the Jews interpreted the death of Jesus as a divine punishment, the Christians opposed them with an explanation of that death by which the innocence of Jesus was securely established. His death was, it is true, a punishment—thus far they acknowledged their opponents to be in the right—but not for His own sin, but for the guilt of the Jewish people. It came to be a definite article of the Christian creed that Jesus died for the sins of those that repent and set their hopes upon His death.
When once Paul became a Christian, he accepted this explanation. All that he did was to add additional conceptions of sacrifice, propitiation and redemption, employing the terms of the professional theologians. The theory of sacrifice is repeated in countless variations in his letters, now in a legal, now in a ceremonial form, and again in both together. It was really through St Paul that the thought of Jesus' death, of sin, and of the atonement for sin, first came to be inseparably connected.
St Paul's greatness is not, however, constituted by this rationalismfor such we must term the arithmetical manipulation of the death of Jesus—but by an entirely new appreciation of the Crucifixion.
In the first place, he removed the death of Jesus from its narrow Jewish setting and placed it in the centre of the world's history. He attached SO immense a significance to this propitiatory sacrifice that all petty legal categories were felt to be comparatively unimportant. Jesus did not die for the sins of a few Jews alone, but for all mankind ; nay, more, even for the world of spirits. The explanation of this fact is that no ordinary righteous man died on the Cross, but the Son of God, the highest object of the divine love. What need after this for any other sacrifices, means of propitiation, acts of penitence—in fact, of any human works? The propitiatory death of Jesus occupies the place of all that was ever done to gain
There was nothing left to be done by men, or even by angels, than just to accept this propitiatory sacrifice. But in the next place St Paul's interpretation of this sacrifice started from above and not from below. It is not that a sacrifice is to be brought to God which is to change His wrath into mercy. Such had been men's thoughts before, but God is the agent, the sacrificer, the propitiator : and the motive of His action is love, and nothing but love. That was an entire reversal of the usual point of view, and we find it clearly and consciously employed by St Paul in all the chief passages of his letters: God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. God gave His own Son for us, to show us that He would give us all. God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. By thus proclaiming aloud the love of God the apostle really does away with the necessity for all legal and propitiatory thoughts. If the conception of sacrifice
still remains, it is transformed into a mere symbol. It is not God who loves us that needs the sacrifice, but we men need the certainty that the act of propitiation has taken place. At bottom, the death on the Cross is not a means of propitiating God, but a symbol of His
grace It is true, however, that the influence of Jewish modes of thought again makes itself felt here in the exaggerated estimate of the single historical fact. As before the whole process of man's moral degradation was derived from Adam's fall, accompanied by sin and death, so now all God's grace is gathered together from the whole course of history, and concentrated in the death of Jesus. Paul actually denies that God ever pardoned before the death of Jesus; at any rate, he maintains that it was only now that His grace was made manifest. Had he not in his apologetic zeal already extinguished every other light in the world? This new light must now therefore illuminate the whole world and the whole course of history both forwards and backwards. This exaltation of the one historical fact was not so dangerous for Paul, who expected the end of the world in the near future, as for later ages, which were thereby nothing less than robbed of their faith in the living God. It must, moreover, be remembered that the historical fact can never be intelligible without the theological interpretation. One of two results is bound to follow. Either rationalism gains the upper hand, and defines the necessity of the death of Jesus, attaching a legal or ceremonial value thereto; or the paradoxical and the miraculous elements prevail, and then there remains nothing but faith in the unintelligible mystery. Both results can be traced in St Paul's writings. The same man boasts of the folly of the Cross, and defines the ways of the wisdom of God.
Here the old and the new lie side by side. To the former belong the theory of sacrifice and the rationalism, which attains to its position of influence in the Church through none other than Paul himself, to the latter the paradox that God's love is manifested in the Cross. Now this statement, when properly understood, annuls the theory of sacrifice, and approximates to the thought of Jesus that even death and suffering come out of God's hand. But when St Paul narrows the statement, maintaining that God's grace is visible only in the Cross, then he departs from Jesus' teaching, who saw God's love poured out upon mankind in all that He gave them both in trouble and in joy.
The reason of this is that St Paul, as an apologist, is obliged to narrow the road that leads to God's love, so that it must perforce pass through the Christian faith alone, and therein he sets no good example to the Church.
The Dawn of the Coming World. The Resurrection of Jesus was an unparalleled event; the sovereignty of death was at an end; he that had ears could hear the first peal sounding for the general resurrection to usher in the world that was to come. From the invisible world Jesus stepped forth once more into the world of phenomena, and so testified still more clearly to the fact that the new world was close at hand.
St Paul, who was himself vouchsafed an appearance of the risen Christ, grasped the meaning of the Resurrection of Jesus: the old world is passing away, the new world is at hand. Thereby the Christian hope received a mighty accession of strength. Again and again we have these two statements coupled together. As surely as God awakened Jesus so surely will He awaken us. But such were the thoughts of the earliest Christians as well. What is new in St Paul's conception of the resurrection is the meaning that he discovers in it for this present life.
The positive and negative elements seemed to him to be necessarily combined in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. The Son of God had come into this world only to die because of it, and to succumb to its evil powers.
But no sooner was He awakened from the dead than His life began in the world beyond, the true world.
All this seemed to Paul to be typical and symbolical, and that in very many ways. Did it not imply that man had bidden farewell to all the former world, and that the new world had already dawned ? Death, sin, the flesh, the descent from Adam—their power was broken, their reign was at an end, But the new
was fast rising, and its rays were already illuminating the Christian life.
To express this in theological language was, however, rather more difficult. Again we have an historical fact—to be sure, it was a miracle-to start with. Now, was this miracle to imply the transition from the old world to the new ? It was evident that death, sin, and the flesh still continued in the world. The Resurrection of Jesus did not put an end to all