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The Life of Saint Paul
By James Stalker
ZondervanCopyright © 1984 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHIS PLACE IN HISTORY
1, 2. The Man Needed by the Time
3, 4. A Type of Christian Character
5-8. The Thinker of Christianity
9-12. The Missionary to the Gentiles
THE MAN FOR THE TIME
1. There are some men whose lives it is impossible to study without receiving the impression that they were expressly sent into the world to do a work required by the juncture of history on which they fell. The story of the Reformation, for example, cannot be read by a devout mind without wondering at the providence by which such great men as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox were simultaneously raised up in different parts of Europe to break the yoke of the papacy and republish the gospel of grace. When the Evangelical Revival, after blessing England, was about to break into Scotland and end the dreary reign of Moderatism, there was raised up in Thomas Chalmers a mind of such capacity as completely to absorb the new movement into itself, and of such sympathy and influence as to diffuse it to every corner of his native land.
2. This impression is produced by no life more than by that of the apostle Paul. He was given to Christianity when it was in its most rudimentary beginnings. It was not, indeed, feeble, nor can any mortal man be spoken of as indispensable to it; for it contained within itself the vigor of a divine and immortal existence, which could not but have unfolded itself in the course of time. But, if we recognize that God makes use of means that commend themselves even to our eyes as suited to the ends He has in view, then we must say that the Christian movement at the moment when Paul appeared on the stage was in the utmost need of a man of extraordinary endowments, who, becoming possessed with its genius, should incorporate it with the general history of the world; and in Paul it found the man it needed.
A TYPE OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER
3. Christianity produced in Paul an incomparable type of Christian character. It already, indeed, possessed the perfect model of human character in the person of its Founder. But our Lord was not as other men, because from the beginning He had no sinful imperfection to struggle with; and Christianity still needed to show what it could make of imperfect human nature. Paul supplied the opportunity of exhibiting this. He was naturally of immense mental stature and force. He would have been a remarkable man even if he had never become a Christian. The other apostles would have lived and died in the obscurity of Galilee if they had not been lifted into prominence by the Christian movement; but the name of Saul of Tarsus would have been remembered still in some character or other even if Christianity had never existed. Christianity got the opportunity in him of showing to the world the whole force it contained. Paul was aware of this himself, though he expressed it with perfect modesty, when he said, "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting."
4. His conversion proved the power of Christianity to overcome the strongest prejudices and to stamp its own type on a large nature by a revolution both instantaneous and permanent. Paul's was a personality so strong and original that no other man could have been less expected to sink himself in another; but, from the moment when he came into contact with Christ, he was so overmastered with His influence that he later never had any other desire than to be the mere echo and reflection of Him to the world.
But, if Christianity showed its strength in making so complete a conquest of Paul, it showed its worth no less in the kind of man it made of him when he had given himself up to its influence. It satisfied the needs of a peculiarly hungry nature, and never to the close of his life did he betray the slightest sense that this satisfaction was abating. His constitution was originally compounded of fine materials, but the spirit of Christ, passing into these, raised them to a pitch of excellence altogether unique.
Nor was it ever doubtful either to himself or to others that it was the influence of Christ that made him what he was. The truest motto for his life would be his own saying, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Indeed, so perfectly was Christ formed in him that we can now study Christ's character in his, and beginners may perhaps learn even more of Christ from studying Paul's life than from studying Christ's own. In Christ Himself there was a blending and softening of all the excellences that makes His greatness elude the glance of the beginner, just as the very perfection of Raphael's painting makes it disappointing to an untrained eye; whereas in Paul a few of the greatest elements of Christian character were exhibited with a decisiveness that no one can mistake.
A GREAT THINKER
5. Christianity obtained in Paul, secondly, a great thinker. This it especially needed in Paul's day. Christ had departed from the world, and those whom He had left to represent Him were unlettered fishermen and, for the most part, men of no intellectual mark. In one sense this fact reflects a peculiar glory about Christianity, for it shows that it did not owe its place as one of the great influences of the world to the abilities of its human representatives: not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God, was Christianity established in the earth. Yet, as we look back now, we can clearly see how essential it was that an apostle of a different stamp and training should arise.
6. Christ had manifested the glory of the Father once for all and completed His atoning work. But this was not enough. It was necessary that the meaning of His appearance should be explained to the world. Who was He who had been here? What precisely was it He had done? To these questions the original apostles could give brief popular answers; but none of them had the intellectual reach or the educational training necessary to put the answers into a form to satisfy the intellect of the world. It is not essential to salvation to be able to answer such questions with scientific accuracy, happily. There are tens of thousands who know and believe that Jesus was the Son of God and died to take away sin and, trusting Him as their Savior, are purified by faith, but who could not explain these statements at any length without falling into mistakes in almost every sentence. Yet, if Christianity was to make an intellectual as well as a moral conquest of the world, it was necessary for the church to have accurately explained to her the full glory of her Lord and the meaning of His saving work.
Excerpted from The Life of Saint Paul by James Stalker Copyright © 1984 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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