Page images

the Gospel, contained in the teachings of the New Testament writers, by the Gospel itself. In order to ascertain what the Gospel really is, Professor Wernle considers it necessary to liberate its eternal substance from the historic forms in which it is expressed. The Gospel arose under a certain definite set of historic circumstances, and had to act upon the world through the medium of historic conditions. These conditions and circumstances are of necessity of a temporary and transitory character: they are not the Gospel itself, but only its historic envelope, and Professor Wernle strips off this envelope in order to seize hold of the imperishable substance of Christ's message to mankind. How far he has succeeded in separating the substance from the form of the Redeemer's message and personality, and (considering the fragmentary nature of the sources) how far it is possible to do so on purely historical grounds, it is for the attentive reader to judge.

According to Professor Wernle, Jesus prepared the ground for a new religious community but did not organise it Himself, and the disciples of the Master who had denationalised the Jewish conception of the kingdom of God were unable to liberate themselves from Judaism or to produce much impression upon the Gentile world. Both of these tasks were the work of St Paul; and as this work was of transcendent importance to the future of the Christian faith, Professor Wernle devotes a considerable part of this volume to an examination of the character and theology of the great apostle. His treatment of St Paul's theology is particularly striking and suggestive. It was a theology which derived its character from the situation in which the apostle was placed. He had to defend himself at once from Gentiles, Jews, and Judaizers, and his theology assumed the form of a powerful apologetic directed in turn against each one of these adversaries. The apologetic form in which Pauline thought is cast, sometimes affects the clearness and purity of the Gospel message, and the comparison which

which Professor Wernle institutes between the Gospel as understood by St Paul and the Gospel as taught by Jesus, is fresh and illuminating

St Paul was a trained theologian, the writer of the Apocalypse was a layman, and this volume closes with an analysis and estimate of that remarkable work. It is the oldest and only document springing out of lay Christian enthusiasm, and Professor Wernle thinks that it represents the general lay opinion of the Church in primitive Christian times. At the bottom of this enthusiasm lay the belief that the world was rapidly coming to an end, and that the supreme duty of man was to seek salvation from the coming judgment by watchfulness and repentance. Men in such a condition of mind had no thought of setting up stable ecclesiastical forms and institutions. But these men had a new life in them-a life of self-mastery, a life of love to God and to each other-such as the world had never seen before. And they were conscious that this new life of theirs proceeded neither from ecclesiastical forms nor institutions, but from the living spirit of the Redeemer. Such in brief is Professor Wernle's conception of the beginnings of the faith and of its effects on the human mind in apostolic times.

The entrance of this new faith into the world is the most momentous event in human history, and the manner in which it took place is presented to us in this volume with unusual life, freedom, sympathy, and power.


In the summer of 1900 I delivered lectures on New Testament Theology in the University of Basel. These I have now expanded into a book, which, however, is by no means intended to rival any

handbook to New Testament Theology. My only aim in preparing my lectures was to present my pupils with a clear idea of that which I conceived to be the real meaning of the Gospel, and to trace the great changes it underwent up to the rise of Catholicism. I purposely excluded from the scope of my work all that appeared to be unimportant for the aim that I had in view. Theological ideas came under consideration only in their relation to the Gospel of Jesus. I have striven to be true to my original purpose in compiling this book from my lectures.

In publishing my lectures my aim is a practical one, and there is no reason to conceal it. An age of transition such as ours needs above all else a constant recurrence to the Gospel of Jesus for guidance. But it is well known that the Gospel does not lie every

[ocr errors]

where on the surface, even of the New Testament, in its primitive simplicity, but has in many instances been covered up or transformed.

Now, though it is perfectly true that “ Cowper's pious peasant woman can understand Jesus in all that He was and all that He wanted, yet theological enquiry should surely never abrogate its great calling, which is to give all possible help to the simple comprehension of Jesus.

This, of course, theology can only do by selfsuppression—i.e. by helping to liberate the Gospel from theology. If Jesus was, above all else, our Saviour from the theologians, then we theologians are truly His disciples only by the constant renewal of this saving work of His.

To do this, two conditions are pre-eminently necessary, the existence of which, alas, cannot be assumed as a matter of course amongst Christian theologians. They are, firstly, true reverence for that which alone deserves reverence; and secondly, fidelity to the Christian conscience. I reckon as an essential part of true reverence, the frankest and fullest renunciation of that false reverence for formulæ, symbols, rites and institutions in which the free word of God is imprisoned and fossilized. He who does not completely reject the false can never find room in his heart for the true. And in like manner fidelity to the Christian conscience implies the clearest and most unflinching criticism of all that

« PreviousContinue »