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THE GENESIS AND CHARACTERISTICS OF ST. PAUL'S CONCEPTION OF CHRIST

ST. PAUL'S CONCEPTION OF CHRIST

LECTURE I

The Genesis And Characteristics Of St. Paul's Conception Of Christ

I PROPOSE in the lectures which I am to have the privilege of delivering, to offer a contribution toward the understanding of Paul's conception of Christ. The most notable feature of modern theological thought is the revived interest in Christological inquiry that characterises it. In the life of the Church Christ is Supreme; and there is a widespread feeling that in the theology of the Church ampler justice must be done to the supreme significance of His Person for the scheme of Christian truth, and that renewed effort is needed to unfold, with due regard to simplicity and fidelity to fact, the contents of His Person in their bearing on the life of faith. Dissatisfaction is felt and expressed with forms of thought that have become the traditional modes of apprehending the distinctive Greatness of the Church's Lord; and a longing is entertained for simpler and more living apprehensions of the Jesus who of old won the love and confidence of men. What is spoken of as the theological reconstruction that is going on around us has for its watchword the familiar, though somewhat hackneyed cry, Back to Christ: let us, if it is at all possible, overleap the

centuries, and go behind the systems and dogmas that have

s

served to obscure rather than to reveal the living form of the Lord, that we may see Him

"As He lived and loved sublimely mild,
A Spirit without spot"

Every movement of reform within the Church in the past has originated in the impulse received from such a renewed acquaintance with Christ at first hand. And it seems to me that we have everything to hope for the revivifying of theology and Christian faith from the fresh contact of men's spirits with Christ in His human grace, disengaged from all that time and the fancies of men have done to hide Him from our eyes. Only we must take no narrow view of this return to Christ. There are those who look for its accomplishment exclusively to the success of the efforts that are made in these days to recall the figure of the Prophet of Nazareth by the help of the abundant light that is thrown by modern research and reflection on the scenery and surroundings of His life, on the wisdom of His teachings, and the perfection of His human character. And to them a study of Paul's thought of Christ does not promise much, for Paul was not a historian, but a prophet; and it is not so much the Jesus of history he brings before us as the Christ of faith, and that, it may be said, is no direct or immediate vision of Him at all. The New Testament can scarcely, however, be regarded as recognising this distinction, at least in the sharpness with which it is often made, for it is with the eye of faith that even the historians of our Lord's life look at the picture they set before us. It is a judgment of faith they habitually apply to the interpretation of it. But in so far as the distinction is real (and there is a manifest difference between the Gospels that describe the Christ whom men saw and heard and the Epistles that speak of Him after He had become in a peculiar sense the object of faith), the contrast that is founded on it is an imaginary one; and it is begging the question to infer that the picture we owe to the Epistles must be less real or less in accordance with fact than the other. The circumstance that it brings Christ before us, not in historical situations, but in His spiritual relations to men, will excite the suspicion of its truthfulness only with those who maintain that when Jesus died He passed for ever out of all connection with the human race; but the presupposition, I need hardly say, of the New Testament is that He died in order to rise again and live in the hearts of men, and to carry on an unseen ministry on their behalf. And on this understanding, a picture of Him that draws its colours from intercourse with the Invisible and Heavenly Christ, and from the experience of the influence of His personality on the inner life, may be as true as that which is constructed out of the bare facts of history.

All this will fall to be more fully considered in the course of these lectures. At the present stage it need only be added that we must not prejudge the question, or fancy that in trying to recover the image of the Christ we are free to use only such materials as are contained in the historic records of His life. If He is to retain His place in the faith of men as the Christ of God, as not merely the subject but also the object of religion, as the Author of religious benefits to the human spirit, and the Divine Answer to its cry for a light and peace and strength it has not in itself,—the return to H im that men crave must mean not only the fresh study of His incomparable greatness as a Prophet and religious Hero, but also the living apprehension of Him as He is presented in the thoughts of those who had believing fellowship with Him. They attained to an understanding of Him that sprang from the experience of His benefits; and, if they have little to say of His earthly life, they have a great deal to tell us of the religious significance of that life and of the moral and spiritual contents of His Person.

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