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By: James S. Stewart
"The only saving faith", said Luther, "is that which casts itself on God for life or death"; and Paul, whose faith was of that gallant kind, whose religion was a daily risk, who had no comfortable illusions about the forces antagonistic to Jesus was the least likely of men to be seduced into the intricacies of speculations remote from the urgent realities of life.
One name by which Christianity, quite early in its career, came to be known was the simple expression "The Way". It referred primarily to a way of living, not a way of thinking. Christianity, on the mission-fields where Paul's work was done, meant first and foremost (as it still means on the Church's mission-fields, and ought indeed to mean everywhere) a new quality of life, a life in Christ, God-given, supernatural, victorious.
When Celsus at a later day parodied the Christian preachers, putting on their lips the parrot-cry "Only believe, only believe," shifting the emphasis from a life to be lived to a system to be credulously submitted to, he knew himself that it was parody, the exact reverse of the truth. The first century mission Churches in Asia and Europe made headway precisely because they confronted the world with a way of life, and not with a speculative system. The situation Paul was addressing demanded a great simplicity. And that is what the apostle offered the simplicity of Christ, the life in Christ.
It was faith in Christ, not faith in any creed or articles about Christ, that was "the master-light of all his seeing." Men do not gamble with their lives, nor stake their souls, on abstract truths and systems; but a great love is different. They will do it; Paul did it, for that.
Historical data and reminiscences you can rationalize: a living Lord you can only proclaim. There must, of course, have been considerable difference, both of matter and of manner, between the apostle's preaching and the letters which he wrote; but let us not forget that he, Paul, was a preacher first and a writer second. And both spheres preaching and writing were ruled by one great fact the fact of a living, present Lord; and by one all-decisive experience the experience of union and communion with Him. This was the apostle's calling. This was his sole vocation and concern. This it was for which he had been born. He came to bring, not a system, but the living Christ.
From: A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of Paul's Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Pgs. 5-8.
By: James S. Stewart
The heart of Paul's religion is union with Christ. This, more than any other conception more than justification, more than sanctification, more even than reconciliation is the key which unlocks the secrets of his soul. Within the Holy of Holies which stood revealed when the veil was rent in twain from the top to the bottom on the day of Damascus, Paul beheld Christ summoning and welcoming him in infinite love into vital unity with Himself.
If one seeks for the most characteristic sentences the apostle every wrote, they will be found, not where he is refuting the legalists, or vindicating his apostleship, or meditating on eschatological hopes, or giving practical ethical guidance to the Church, but where his intense intimacy with Christ comes to expression. Everything that religion meant for Paul is focused for us in such great words as these: "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (I Cor. 6:17).
Why is it so vital to keep the conception of union with Christ in the centre? For one thing, to assign to this fact any place other than the centre is to endanger the whole doctrine of atonement. The idea of justification, for instance, can only be gravely misleading, when it is not seen in the light of a union with Christ... Similarly, the thought of sanctification, dissociated from union, loses all reality. It is left, as it were, hanging in the air. It becomes an "extra." It is not organically related to the rest of redemption. Only when union with Christ is kept central is sanctification seen in its true nature, as the unfolding of Christ's own character within the believer's life; and only then can the essential relationship between religion and ethics be understood. In short, the whole meaning of the atonement is here at stake.
Paul declares his conviction that in Christianity the final stress must ever fall on one thing, and on one thing only, union with Christ, life in fellowship with Christ.
From: A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of Paul's Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Pgs. 147-153.
By: James S. Stewart
We have had occasion more than once to use the word "mysticism"; and it is necessary to grasp quite clearly what this term means, as applied to Paul's religious experience.
Efforts are periodically made to banish this conception altogether. But it is hard to destroy; it has a way of reasserting itself, and coming back into its own. Indeed, the stubborn survival-power of this term, in face of trenchant criticism and attack, suggests that it stands for something quite indispensable and essential in religion. Many imagine that mysticism represents something so shadowy and ill-defined and non-intellectual that to use the term is simply to "darken counsel by words without knowledge." Others go further, and proclaim a personal aversion to the mystic and all his works. He is accused of a selfish aborption in his own individual experience. He is regarded as culpably negligent of religion's roots in history. He is criticized for an alleged indifference to moral judgments.
Behind all this there lies a serious confusion of thought. The type of character which seeks emotions and ecstasies for this own sake, which dissolves history in speculation and is defective in respect of moral duty, is unfortunately not unknown: the pity is that to religion of this kind the noble name of mysticism should ever have been applied.
For Paul, it was in the daily, ever-renewed communion, rather than in the transient rapture, that the inmost nature of Christianity lay. This was the true mysticism. This was essential religion. This was eternal life.
Paul, by the grace of God, discovered the glorious experience that was waiting for any soul which gave itself in faith to Christ. Not only so: such union with the divine, he knew, need be no transient splendour, flashing for a moment across life's greyness and then gone: it could be the steady radiance of a light unsetting, filling the commonest ways of earth with a gladness that was new every morning. It would make men not less efficient for life, but more so. It would vitalize them, not only morally and spiritually, but even physically and mentally. It would give them a verve, a creativeness, an exhilaration, which no other experience in the world could impart. It would key life up to new pitch of zest and gladness and power. This is Pauline mysticism; and great multitudes who have never used the name have known the experience, and found it life indeed.
In some degree, then, every real Christian is a mystic in the Pauline sense.
From: A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of Paul's Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Pgs. 160-163.
By: James S. Stewart
The evangel of an ethical example is a devastating thing. It makes religion the most grievous of burdens. Perhaps this is the real reason why, even among professing Christians, there are so many strained faces and weary hearts and captive, unreleased spirits. They have listened to Jesus' teaching, they have meditated on Jesus' character; and then they have risen up, and tried to drive their own lives along Jesus' royal way. Disappointment heaped on bitter disappointment has been the result. The great example has been a dead-weight beating them down, bearing them to the ground, bowing their hopeless souls in the dust.
One of the vital distinctions between true religion and false is that, whereas the latter is a dead burden for the soul to carry, the former is a living power to carry the soul. Paul's mysticism grows lyrical with precisely this great discovery. "Christ in me" means something quite different from the weight of an impossible ideal, something far more glorious than the oppression of a pattern for ever beyond all imitation. "Christ in me" means Christ bearing me along from within, Christ the motive-power that carries me on, Christ giving my whole life a wonderful poise and lift, and turning every burden into wings. All this is in it when the apostle speaks of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
Compared with this, the religion which bases everything on example is pitifully rudimentary. This, and this alone, is the true Christian religion. To be "in Christ," to have Christ within, to realize your creed not as something you have to bear but as something by which you are born, this is Christianity. It is more: it is release and liberty, life with an endless song at its heart. It means feeling within you, as long as life here last, the carrying power of Love Almight; and underneath you, when you come to die, the touch of everlasting arms.
From: A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of Paul's Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Pgs. 168-170.
By: James S. Stewart
Union with Christ, as Paul conceives it, is union with God. He knows nothing of a mysticism which stops short of faith's final goal. Behind every expression of his intense intimacy with Jesus stands the great ultimate fact of God Himself. Indeed, the nature which can impart itself to believing souls in the way in which, by the plain testimony of experience, Christ's nature can and does impart itself, proves itself ipso facto to be divine. Hence the more any man comes to be "in Christ," the more is he "in God." There are not two experiences, but one.
For Paul, to be united with the risen Christ was to be united with the God who raised Him. The impossibility of distinguishing two types of union is proved by such a statement as: "Ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). At the heart of Paul's fellowship with Christ lay the triumphant certainty "God was in Christ" (II Cor. 5:19). There was no hiatus, as though fellowship with Christ were merely a stage on the road to fellowship with God; they formed one indivisible experience. In one of the most deeply mystical passages in the epistles, Paul speaks about being "hid with Christ"; but here, what was always implicit in his mysticism is made explicit, when he writes "hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:2).
It is not true that God is thrust into the background. God is everywhere. He is in every thought of Paul's heart, and in every Christward motion of Paul's will. When the apostle speaks of being "in Christ," of having "Christ in me," it is nothing other than union with God that he is experiencing. The title "Christocentric" justly describes his religion; but no mistake could be greater than to suppose that this rules "Theocentric" out. Paul's Christianity was both.
From: A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of Paul's Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Pgs. 170-172.
By: James S. Stewart
Only those who through Christ have entered into a vital relationship to God are really "alive." Existence outside of Christ is not worthy of the name at all; for as compared with a soul that has seen everything in heaven and earth transfigured by a personal experience of redemption and has begun to live daily in the romance and wonder and thrilling stimulus of Jesus' fellowship, the man who lives for the world and the flesh and has no knowledge of God is virtually dead. He does not know it; he thinks he is "seeing life"; he cannot guess the glory he is missing, nor realize the utter bankruptcy and wretchedness of everything in which he has put his trust.
Paul saw with piercing clearness that his life into possession of which souls entered by conversion was nothing else than the life of Christ Himself. He shared His very being with them. "Christ, who is our life: (Col. 3:4), cries the Apostle. He speaks of "the life of Jesus being made manifest in our body" (II Cor. 4:10,11)
This life which flows from Christ into man is something totally different from anything experienced on the merely natural plane. It is different, not only in degree, but also in kind. It is a new quality of life, a supernatural quality. As Paul puts it elsewhere, "There is a new creation" not just an intensification of powers already possessed, but the sudden emergence of an entiely new and original element "whenever a man comes to be in Christ" (II Cor. 5:17 - Moffatt).
The Christian begins to live in the sphere of the post-resurrection life of Jesus. "Ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead" (Col. 2:13). His life is yours, Paul means. You do not need to wait "until the day break and the shadows flee away" before beginning to live eternally. In union with Christ, that glorious privilege is yours here and now. Risen with Him, you have passed out of relation to sin, out of the hampering limitations of this present order, out of the domain of the world and the flesh, into the realm of the Spirit, and into life that is life indeed. "Like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). "Reckon yourselves alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11).
From: A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of Paul's Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Pgs. 192-194.