« ElőzőTovább »
sun, and a voice fell in distinct tones upon Paul's ear. Instead of prosecuting his journey as he had begun, he was led into Damascus stone-blind. He went in the enemy of Christ; he came out the servant of Christ. There is little need of asking whether the circumstances attending Paul's conversion were natural or supernatural. The very weakness of rationalism is shown in the shallow and gratuitous assumption that the occurrence was an earthquake, and that Paul's blindness was the result of an epileptic fit.
" It was not the first thunderstorm to which he had been exposed, nor, possibly, even the first earthquake; and he seems to have been a man of considerable perve, judging from what we are told of his conduct during the shipwreck in the Mediterranean, when he appears to have been almost the only one of the company who was calm and self-possessed. So that it is impossible that any natural convulsion of this kind would have produced on him the effect recorded; while it is no less unlikely that a fit of epilepsy, catalepsy, or any thing else, would have been followed by a total change of mind and revulsion of feeling-in short, would have made him a Christian from being a Jew."
He had ample time, during his three days' blindness, to reflect on the transaction; yet, at the close of that time, he was none the less persuaded that he had been face to face with Jesus. His impressions, moreover, received remarkable confirmation by the vision which appeared to Ananias, who went to Paul on the strength of it, and administered to him Christian baptism.
If, then, the occurrence was not a natural one, as we are forbidden in the nature of the case to suppose, the voice which Paul heard was the voice of Jesus, and the words which are recorded as passing between Saul and his Master, not only furnish the key to the Apostle's after-career, but are testimony beyond dispute to the literal and bodily resurrection of Jesus. In Acts xiii. 38-9, we read :-“Be it known unto you,
therefore, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe on him are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses."
The comparison between Christ and Moses in this verse is in favor of the former. The position is laid down, and afterward taught at greater length, that Judaism and Christianity
are absolutely incompatible. How was Paul led to impute to Christ the power of forgiving sin? How did he come to express such dissatisfaction with the system in which he was brought up? He knew the “ins and outs” of Judaism, as Mr. Leathes says, and therefore does not speak from ignorance. He recog. nized the divine origin of Mosaic legislation, and never spoke disparagingly of it. He was well aware that none but God could forgive sin, and therefore only the most decided evidence could have convinced him that this power resided in Jesus of Nazareth. Some “exceptional facts," there must have been in connection with the life of Christ which warranted Paul in setting aside Moses to believe in Jesus. What these facts were it is not difficult to determine. The Apostle gloried in the cross of Christ. But why? Why has the symbol of shame become the symbol of glory? The only possible explanation is the one which the Apostle himself gives. Jesus was set forth to be the propitiation for our sins. He was made sin for us who knew no sin ! This explains Paul's deterinination to know nothing among the Corinthians save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. But Paul could have had but little confidence in a Redeemer who was still in the bonds of death. We are safe in saying that he could not have renounced Judaism unless he had believed in the Resurrection. So he declares that Christ was not only “delivered for our offences,” but “ raised again for our justification.” And he assures the Corinthians that if Christ be not risen, their “faith was vain, and his preaching also vain.” The ascension and second coining of Christ have a very important place in Paul's creed. “Every line he ever wrote bore witness to his habitual con. sciousness of Christ above him as the author of all grace and the supreme dispenser of all power.” He, at least, was "always confident, knowing that while he was at home in the body he was absent from the Lord.” He, for one, "labored” always, that, whether present or absent, he might be accepted of him, knowing that " we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ."
“Here, then, at least, we find woven into the very thread and substance of Paul's undisputed writings the essential frame-work and tissue of the Christian creed. We had his testimony, given in a way which it is not possible to accept
liis authority and reject it, to the life, the death, the resurrection, the ascension of, and the future judgment by, the Lord Jesus Christ."
But are we to accept his authority? In what light are we to regard his testimony? Was he a deliberate impostor ? Impossible. Breaking family ties, disowning the religion of his fathers, preaching a transcendent morality, living an upright life, inculcating an unpopular doctrine, running risks of life and limb in the discharge of a mission which offered no worldly inducements—this is strange business for an impostor. We should expect that his courage would break down if his career had been a cheat. But what are the facts? Writing to the Corinthians, who, whether Jews or Pagans, would hardly look with favor on the doctrine of salvation through a crucified Galilean, he flung down the challenge, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation into every one that believeth.” Paul's life was a commentary on this courageous utterance. It is monstrous, then, for to suppose that he lent himself to the work of imposture. But perhaps he perverted the teaching of his Master? 'Has he not grafted upon the simple doctrine of Christ a set of dogmas which are to be put to the credit of his own genius? In reply, it is enough to say with Mr. Leathes, that Paul's appeal to a “contemporary verdict” must be considered decisive. He said, “If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other doctrine, let him be accursed.” Paul would not have thrown down the gauntlet at the feet of those who had been with Jesus, if he had gone before the world with a perverted gospel. It would have been a dangerous thing to preach as Christianity what was only a perversion of Christianity. And the amazing thing is, that if Paul's doctrine was not in accordance with the teaching of Christ, it gained such ront in the minds of the early Christians as completely to supplant the teachings of Jesus, supposing them to have been different, and to have become recognized as representative of the gospel. How was it that the peculiar doctrines of Paul--doctrines which modern critics are so anxious to dispose of; doctrines, therefore, which we may suppose were always uupalatable to the unregenerate heart; doctrines which, from their mysterious nature as well as from
the humbling views of human power which they suggest, we may suppose no man seeking popularity would venture to propound—how is it that these doctrines gained such currency that Paul could throw down the challenge before the Christian world and say: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached, let him be accursed ?"
But if Paul did not deliberately invent or pervert Christianity, was he the victim of deception himself? Was be under the control of some hallucination when he said, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel !” Was he the subject of religious insanity that he exhibited such perseverance in publishing what he called the glad tidings? Was he led astray by some ignis-fatuns that he was "in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of his own countrymen, in perils of the heathen, in perils of the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness, in painfulness, in watchings often, in cold and nakedness?
Now there was no room for deception with regard to the facts to which Paul appealed, provided he could trust his own eyes and ears. A sane man could not be mistaken. The simple question then is, whether Paul was crazy, or in his right mind. Are Rationalists prepared to say that his career, from beginning to end, is one of insanity? And if they are, can they explain how it was that it escaped detection ? Was a delusion so easily propagated that all the churches between Jerusalem and Rome were carried away by it? Were Sergius Paulus, and the chamberlain at Corinth, and the saints in Cesar's palace the d upes of a religious enthusiast? Rationalists must have a prompt affirmative ready in reply to these questions if they wish to set aside Paul's testimony.
After discussing in successive lectures the early life of Paul, his conversion, faith, and courage, Mr. Leathes, under the head of “The Influence of Paul,” treats of the miracnlons gifts which the early Christians exercised.
That they possessed these gifts we can hardly doubt if we attach any importance to Paul's testimony. And even if we should be slow to call them miraculous, it is at least clear that certain events were of frequent occurrence among the Christians which were so strange that the heathen looked upon them as indications of supernatural interference. It enhances the value of the testimony to know that these gifts were not possessed by all; they were of so exceptional a character that they cannot be imputed to any collusion among the early Christians. The Apostle himself alludes to them incidentally, and in no labored, apologetic manner. He wrote to correct the abuses which had attended the exercise of gifts, and, so far from magnifying the importance of miraculous powers, is careful to subordinate them to the grace of charity. “It is no less certain that many Christians at Corinth spoke with tongues, and prophesied, possessed gifts of healing, and wrought miracles, and that some abused these gifts, than that in the same church the Eucharistic feast was profaned by drunkenness, unseemly conduct, and excess. No one would deny the latter, but the former is equally undeniable.” “No one writing a letter to a number of persons deeply attached to him, and to whom likewise he was deeply attached, could possibly think of rebuking them for errors of which they were guiltless; of charging them with offences they had not committed. The idea is preposterous. The Corinthian church was guilty, on the one hand, of incest, and, on the other, of gross profanation of spiritual gifts.”
Now we must remember that the position of the early Christians was very different from that of medieval ecclesiastics. There was no church authority to back a pious fraud. Every thing was against them; Christianity was fighting its way, inch by inch, against the combined prejudice of Jew and Pagan; chicanery would have killed it. Shrewd Turks and Jews were in no danger of mistaking an ordinary recovery for a miraculous cure.
We cannot take ground against New Testament miracles without asserting either that the early Christians, the Apostle Paul included, were a set of cheats, or that they were the victims of deception.
Now, the moral character of the system which they professed is against the first supposition. Both in theory and in practice, in precept and in life, Christianity was in advance