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The Gospel According to Paul
You have heard of the Gospel according to Matthew, of the Gospel according to Mark; these are familiar expressions with Christians. They speak of the Gospel according to Luke without any surprise; they refer to the Gospel according to John. Have you ever heard of the Gospel according to Paul? Is there any book in the New Testament which bears that title? The title is not always on the surface of the letter. The preacher is sometimes at a loss to give a title to his own sermon. Every word of the sermon is his, but how to sum up the whole discourse under one brief expressive title is often more difficult than to conceive and to utter the entire essay. There is no book in the New Testament which bears upon its face the title "The Gospel according to Paul"; yet there are words in the New Testament exactly similar to, may we not say precisely identical with, these. Where are they? They are used especially in the Epistle to the Romans, where ( Rom 2:6 ) we read "According to my gospel." Was that a slip of the pen? It is singular that if it were a lapse of the pen it occurs again in Romans 16:25 : "According to my gospel." Is there food enough in Paul's gospel to be going on with? Will he lack bread who sits at Paul's table? The Apostle was always intensely individual, so much so that persons who do not understand the exact definition of the terms have relieved their minds (pardon the irony) by describing Paul as egotistical. Some persons ought not to know even that much elementary Latin; it is dangerous to trust some speakers with even the alphabet of a dead language. The Apostle Paul had a gospel; he hesitated not to call it "my gospel." In very deed, every Christian believer must have his own gospel; every worshipper must have his own God: that is to say, his own conception of the Gospel, his own conception of God, his own peculiar and incommunicable experience of Divine life in the soul. I live, said Paul, yet not I: it is my Gospel, yet not mine; it is my God, yet no invention or creation of my imagination. Thus does he intensely and usefully personalise the abstract; thus does Paul appropriate the riches of history, and turn them into the available treasures of the immediate day.
It will be interesting to read the Gospel according to Paul. The other Gospellers are always telling stories, relating incidents or anecdotes, recording miracles, and the like; until John comes, who, being a man of another altitude and quality of mind, takes a course peculiarly his own, so spiritual, intuitional, penetrating, divine. He is succeeded by Paul, the only man who could succeed him. He must be a very skilful speaker who follows the Apostle John; it will be easy after such a writer to perpetrate an anti-climax. To some men conclusions properly belong. They must have no successors on the immediate occasion; it is theirs by, as it were, Divine prescription to utter the climacteric word. Whenever John might have come, even chronologically, he comes in the right place after the three Synoptic narrators; and Paul comes in the right place after John. Paul was excelled in nothing. Whatever the subject was, Paul is chief. Once with supposed egotism he says, "I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles." How true that is is not a matter of personal testimony, but a matter of literary criticism. Here are the words of Matthew and Mark, Luke and John, Peter and James, and here are the words of Paul, and they tower out above them all, as the steeple rises above the whole church Is it a great argument? who can reason like Paul? Is love the favourite theme of John's contemplative and gentle spirit? John himself might have stood amazed, divinely stunned, when Paul took up his own theme and showed him that he had not yet begun to realise all the mystery of its beauty.
It will, therefore, I repeat, be interesting to know what Paul's gospel is, how Divine things strike a mind like that, four-square, yet circular; looking everywhere, and yet taking all the interstitial points as if they were main coigns. Paul is as grand in interstitial speech as in the main substantive groundwork of his argument. You should study the parentheses of Paul. The Apostle could put great gospels within brackets. He had a gift of condensation. A touch of that finger made the whole creation vibrate. Some fingers have no life. Let us hasten to this new speaker. How will he put things? We can only touch his gospel here and there, at some salient point, or in some out-of-the-way and overlooked line. We cannot pretend to exhaust what Paul himself only introduced. When Paul looked back upon all he had done, to him it was but alphabetic, the meanest element; the infinite apocalypse belonged to eternity. We cannot be great where Paul himself trembled under a sense of incompetency and failure. Yet here and there we can see light. We can see a long way through a small window. Who ever looked through a whole window? We always look through one pane. We could do without a good deal of the window for the mere matter of seeing; through one little leaded pane we could see Lebanon and Bashan, and the blue lakes of the Holy Land. So through many a little sentence of Paul's we can see what he wants to be at. It is grand to see such a soul in travail. Paul was a Calvinist before Calvin. No; if ever there was a man who was not Calvinistic, it was the Apostle Paul. Yet he has been dragged over to that fellowship; they would make him a member of that Church; they have proposed, seconded, and carried unanimously that he be entered upon the register. They have entered him, and kept him, and misinterpreted him, and endeavoured to do much mischief through him.
Let us hear some great speech from those great lips. First of all Paul will lay down a doctrine respecting God's action that shatters everything like bigotry, partiality, and meanness of soul. Saith Paul, "There is no respect of persons with God (ii. 11). We must believe that such music came from heaven. There are persons who have a great Creator, and a very limited Redeemer. They will have it that God created all; they will not have it that God redeemed all. Thus we degrade, bring down step by step, the Deity. If you set before certain minds that God made every star, every little star, all the clusters of starry dust needing to be clustered and festooned or they would have no visibleness; if you set before them that God made every grassblade and every insect, they will say, Surely that is so; if you set before them that God made all men, they would instantly assent: but when it is suggested to them that the Redeemer is built on the same lines as the Creator, that Omnipotence can never shrink into partial strength; then they speak of mystery, and inscrutable decrees, and awful judgments of Providence, always taking care that they themselves are well in near the centre, while they bemoan the possibility that somebody else is not in, and that God is to be held accountable for their exclusion. Paul, speak to us; great heart, say something to us that will leave nobody out! Here is his answer: God is no respecter of persons "there is no respect of persons with God." Peter said the same thing in presence of Cornelius; the whole Scripture bears evidence to the same sublime inclusiveness of the Divine love. Then, have you to make yourself an outsider? On what do you base the reason of your exclusion from Divine mercy and pity and tears? Not upon Paul's gospel; there is not a word in all Paul's writing, which, being interpreted in the Pauline spirit that is the vital point excludes any man from the possibility of salvation.
But, say some, Paul was an Antinomian before the time. The Antinomian is supposed to believe that he is all right; a favourite of eternity, a darling of heaven; and that do what he may it all goes for nothing in the matter of degrading him; he may commit all possible sins, and yet they will not be accounted to him for unrighteousness: he is in grace and cannot be displaced. Does Paul say anything about this? What is the Gospel according to Paul? "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified" (ii. 13) rectified, made straight up, perpendicular men. Where now your sleek Antinomian who wants to pray in the morning, and sin all day, and pray again at night as if nothing had happened? Paul will have the law done. The law is nothing until it is transferred into life. Is this the man whom they put against James, as if Paul and James differed from one another; James being the ethical teacher, who will have all his men working night and day, and Paul being the Antinomian teacher, so to say, who will have his men believing speculatively and trusting to God's grace and not to their own works? There is no discrepancy between the apostles. Between apostles sent from God there never can be any discrepancy. Whatever appears to be discrepancy is only in terms, is only on the surface, is only incidental: when you; come to put all the speech and revelation together it totals up into one melody. Here, then, the Gospel according to Paul is a gospel of doing, a gospel of obedience, a gospel of discipline.
Paul has been represented as one who excluded everybody but the few; as regarding the heathen as more or less given over to judgment and final loss; they had no Gospel, they had no prophets, they had no Divine Scriptures. This would be indeed a misrepresentation of the apostolic mind and heart. What about these "Gentiles which have not the law?" He says, they may "do by nature the things contained in the law." We do not always know what we are doing; the sources of our inspiration cannot always be traced. There are Christians who have never confessed Christ. The Gentiles, saith Paul, "having not the law, are a law unto themselves." How so? Because, saith Paul, they have "the law written in their hearts." Have Gentiles hearts Pagans, heathens, far-away people, whom we are afraid almost to think of, have they hearts? Yes, in the great interpretation of human nature. When the real Gospeller comes he will find men in brutes, sons of Abraham in discarded ruins. What saith Paul? "their conscience also bearing witness." Have Gentiles conscience? Is conscience possible apart from the Bible? Is a moral experience or a moral law possible apart from a written standard? Paul says it is. What is it that guides the Gentile mind, restrains or impels? Paul answers, "their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another." What, does he give the Gentiles hearts, consciences, thoughts? What then is our duty towards men who have not yet realised, as we Gentiles have done, that they belong to our race? Our duty is to go out into all the Gentile world and preach the Gospel to every creature: tell the blindest idolater that he is not far from the kingdom of God; tell the poorest groping soul at the invisible door of heaven that, if he will put out his hand one inch further, he will touch heaven's own portal, and it will fall back, and he will be in before he fully realises his position. Treat men as men: assume the soul. Never go forward and tell a man that he has a soul: assume it; talk to him as a mother, address his immortality, and he will quicken into a new consciousness, and say, No man ever spoke to me after this manner: what may I not be, after hearing such music, such argument, such appeal? then I myself must be more than I thought I was. When you give man consciousness of access of manhood, you draw him so much nearer God, and prepare him by so much to hear the broadest and profoundest revelations of truth.
But Paul was a ritualist. Paul was such a keeper of the law that if a man had passed through certain mechanical processes all would be right with him. What is the Gospel according to Paul on this subject? Here are men who have been circumcised; they carry the brand upon them, they point to this Jewish stigma and they say, This is our proof: what further need have we of witness or testimony as to our own personal excellence? Paul looks upon the circumcision-mark and says, "Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision." A very profound and all-judging word! If the light that is in thee be darkness, behold how great is that darkness! Not only is a man's religion, so to say, credited as no religion, it is taken and put on the other scale and made an aggravation. We are the worse for the false religion which we profess; or if our religion be not seconded by conduct, then our evil conduct is reckoned against us as an accumulated transgression. It is not a first offence, it is not an incidental blunder, it is not a mere intellectual error; it is something tied round our neck like a millstone, we have plunged into the depth of the sea. You think you are a Christian because you are born in England. The greatest heathen in the world may be born within the sound of the church-going bells. It is possible to live under the shadow of the sanctuary without ever having seen its God. But if a man has been baptised, how then? Nothing, unless the baptism has led up to its meaning. The type is nothing, only the fulfilment of the type counts. Yet, if a man has been baptised, the presumption is against him if his conduct be bad. The very fact that some religious attention has been paid to him, and that he has had opportunities of becoming religious, will tell against him if his conduct be unsound. You have been baptised, and yet you may take the baptismal water down to hell. Do not imagine that because you have been circumcised or baptised or confirmed, or admitted into a visible masonic body of Christ, therefore you are right. You are only right when you do right. We are only believers when we are doers. We are in grace when we are in obedience.
Paul is so sublimely inclusive in all his reasoning that he makes us all Jews if we will be Jews. He says the Jew now is altogether a new element in life. Once, only he who could trace himself lineally to Abraham was a Jew, now all that goes for nothing! "he is a Jew, which is one inwardly" (ii. 29): he is a child of faith therefore who is a child of Abraham. "Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter." You may have been cut with the very knife by which Abraham himself was circumcised, and yet you may be at an immeasurable distance from the gate of heaven. Learn this Gospel according to Paul. He will not have us in the Church because of what somebody else has done; he will have us in God's Church because we are in God's spirit.
Now there is a doctrine that is quite discarded by some advanced persons. What they are advanced in it is not now my purpose to attempt to determine. But they are marked very largely by what I may term the characteristic of negation. They have got rid of inspiration, and they have got rid of the devil would God they had! and they have got rid of miracles, and they have got rid of the supernatural, and they have specially got rid of the doctrine of what is termed original depravity; they have a special hatred of that doctrine, they will not for a moment allow that there is such a thing as original sin. What is the Gospel according to Paul? Paul's Gospel is in chap. Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Who are we that we should contradict Paul? He did more for the race than we have ever done; he did not write critical articles against other people's charity: he spent and was expended for Christ; he said "For me to live is Christ." If men get into their subjects by passion and sacrifice and intense and burning sympathy with them, then Paul was in Christ. No man studied Christ so completely, obeyed Christ so lovingly, and served Christ with so faithful a constancy. He was not a student of the letter, he was a companion of the soul of Christ: and this man says, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." In other words, all men need a Saviour, all men need their very righteousness to be helped or completed. When we have done our utmost, we are still immeasurably far from God, and therefore God himself must do the rest, carrying up our purposes to a blessed and everlasting fruition.
But Paul was a discriminating theologian. He classified the nations, giving some to God, and leaving some out of God. He partitioned the globe according to his own theological imagination or conviction, so that God was here but not there; God spake one language, but not another. Never! It is exactly the contrary that Paul does. He was a Jew: he was not ashamed of his lineal descent; yet this same man says, "Is he the God of the Jews only?" (Romans 3:29 .) How can you have a larger charity? How can there be a nobler catholicity? "Is he not also of the Gentiles?" and understand by "Gentiles" ourselves, those counted heathen, Pagan, alien, outcast. "Yes, of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith." Who will now make Paul a partisan? Who will venture in face of such declarations as these to make Paul a bigot? If ever there was a man who wanted to show that redemption was as large as creation, it was Paul. If ever there was a man who did show that where the horizon ends grace only seems to begin, because of its infinite abundance, it was Paul. If ever there was a man who looked at the sun so as to see its real dimensions or magnitude, and so looked at grace to see that it was not a geometrical term, having cubic dimensions and proportions, it was Paul; for, said he, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound," as an ocean abounds over a streamlet, as the sky over-domes the earth. Paul was therefore a believer in universal departure from God, and in the possibility of universal return to God.
Yet the Apostle will not have faith abused. He says, I see plainly that some of you think you would be easily released from duty if it were a mere question of faith; you are prepared to believe anything: faith is easier to you than obedience: but in talking so recklessly and wantonly, you are misunderstanding the very meaning of faith; you do not know what the word "belief" covers: "Do we then make void the law through faith?" are we making the gate wider that leads into heaven? "God forbid: yea, we establish the law." When a man becomes really conversant with the whole mystery of grace, he will go back to the law, a more willing scholar, a more obedient slave; he will take up the whole round of duty, and God's statutes shall become his songs in the house of his pilgrimage. And thus Paul's gospel rolls on. Yet it was interrupted by some who misunderstood it. They took occasion to say, If this metaphysical conception of things is all, why then we are released from moral obligation; if we are called upon to cudgel our brains and get hold of some intellectual conception of God and his kingdom, that will be better; we thus get rid of the Decalogue, and we get rid of the whole law, that scheme of regulation and restraint and penalty and reward within which we have been living: I think we shall go over to this metaphysical conception of things. And the Apostle, with that wonderful interrogative power of his, in which he makes the mark of interrogation do the whole work of an argument, shouts, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid." It is so true that every great offer of grace is also a great temptation to the evil spirit that is in man. Man cannot receive God's love without trying to make it an open door into possible disobedience; he says, If the love be so great, what does it matter what I do? If the grace is so infinite in proportion to the sin, what does my little iniquity amount to? What does it matter whether I am a John the Divine, or a Judas Iscariot, in the presence of this infinite abundance of grace? Paul says, Shall we continue in sin, that we may tempt the grace of God, try it, and challenge it, whether it be not greater than our sin; shall we study and graduate to become Judas Iscariots, that we may prove to the world how great and grand is the grace of God? The Apostle's answer is, "God forbid." There is no grander answer. He implores God to save souls from such blasphemy.
This is the Gospel according to Paul. It is the same as all the other Gospels. These are all extracts from one grand concerted piece of music. A wondrous concert: here a solo, there a single chord; here a chorus, and yonder a trembling note that can hardly live we think, but that must live because it belongs to eternity. And when these are brought together, what have we but the old Bible, grandest of books, treasure-house of God; having in it all things we want, a wheatfield, a vineyard, a garden of delights, a fountain of life. O Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, it is thy Gospel, yet not thine: for all good news starts from heaven.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 2". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent