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The Christ Of History And The Pauline
We have traced in past lectures the main outlines of that conception of Christ that we owe under God to the Christian genius of Paul, and that recognises in so striking a way the Supreme Function of Christ in relation to the moral and religious life of Man. It is based, as we have seen, on the apostle's own personal experience of the power of the Exalted Christ. It is an interpretation of the Person and work of our Lord in the light of the impressions of His Risen Glory. But now we turn to consider how far this magnificent conception agrees with the picture that we have in the pages of the Synoptic Gospels. As I have H had occasion to remark, the picture of the historical Christ is, with Paul, in the background. It is of secondary importance, and is seldom referred to by him. The knowledge that possessed saving power for him began with the impressions he received from Christ as Glorified, and was derived from the experience of His benefits; and these benefits he did not regard Christ as qualified to bestow till He had died and risen again. All that preceded His Death in the history of Jesus lay for the apostle in the shade, and contributed little to the conception of the Saviour that was so great a power over his life. But we cannot help asking, In what relation does this Christ of faith and of Christian experience stand to the Jesus of history? Is it in full agreement with the revelation of Him that is given in the words and acts of His historic life? Outwardly, the differences between the two pictures are great; and on a surface view of the matter the one may appear to be irreconcilable with the other. Exception has often been taken to the legitimacy of Paul's representation. The feeling of an antagonism between the two, and of dissatisfaction with the prominence of the Pauline doctrine in the thought of the Church, has found utterance in the cry frequently raised, " not Paul, but Christ"; and the plea, in itself a reasonable one, on behalf of a "return to Christ," means, on the lips at least of some, the entire repudiation of the Pauline Christology, as being a corrupt form of the original doctrine. We can scarcely, then, close our review of the subject without some consideration of the grounds on which the validity of Paul's interpretation of Christ has been questioned, as well as of the grounds on which a different Christology (drawn, in contrast to that of Paul, from the facts of history) is contended for, in preference to his, by many who are one with us in the acknowledgment of Christ as Lord and Master.
One fundamental objection taken to the truth of Paul's conception is that it vastly exaggerates the real significance of the Person of Christ. While, it is said, in the synoptic accounts, Jesus makes little or no reference to Himself, puts forth no claim of personal supremacy, but places the great truths of the Kingdom of God and the Divine Fatherhood and human duty in the foreground, in the Pauline teaching the Person of Christ becomes all in all.
Our first point of inquiry, then, is this, Does Paul assert of the Exalted Christ what is inconsistent with what Jesus claimed for Himself, and what is out of harmony with the facts of His Personal history? Or is there in Christ's recorded thought about Himself that which may be regarded as the germ of the more developed teaching of the apostle? And does the admitted contrast between Christ's own thought of Himself and the circumstances of limitation and obscurity in which He was found in the days of His flesh not lead us to expect, that when death has put the finishing touch on His life-work and disclosed the Divine purpose of His Mission, He will stand forth as He did to the eye of the apostle, clothed with religious functions that exhibit the close relation which He holds to the higher life of man? This, I believe, will be felt to be the case when full justice is done to the picture of the historic Christ in the Gospels.
There is of course a question of criticism behind the settlement of this question. Are the records reliable? Did they not, it may be urged, receive their present form at a time when the higher views of the Person of Christ originating with Paul had already indoctrinated the mind of the Church, and unconsciously influenced those who handled the tradition of the life of Christ? and if so, are we not compelled to regard much that is contained in these Gospels not as pure fact, but rather as fact and doctrinal idea as well,—fact after passing through minds that were already filled with the most exalted conception of the Master, and could not help leaving the impress of that conception on the recorded story? There is much that may with great plausibility be said to this effect, much that cannot be altogether disproved. We find that the Gospels do bear the marks of the individuality of their authors. Traces are discoverable of the influence of dogmatic bias on their composition; and there is nothing d priori against the possibility that the Pauline bias may have added to the original Picture touches borrowed from the dogmatic ideal. But that this tendency operated to any considerable extent is exceedingly doubtful. For while Paul's views on the free grace of God and the universal destination of the Gospel quickly gained ground and prevailed, there is no evidence that his Christology made any deep impression at the time, or that it was