Christianity As The Religion Of Power
( Originally Published 1916 )
IN passing to the constructive part of the subject we must keep in mind the significance of the background. The background is important first as defining the feelings of the Græco-Roman world concerning spiritual relations and outlook; and secondly, as indicating the sort of religion the age was prepared to accept.
The feeling that characterised the period was one of distress. The collapse of the old city-state had made it impossible any longer to believe in the native religion; and while the Oriental mystery cults were widely diffused, they had little significance at that time for serious-minded intellectuals. This class ordinarily sought peace in some form of philosophy. Epicureanism had many advocates, but the prevailing philosophy was Stoicism. But while Stoicism proved a healing and con-soling influence to many distressed minds, its final effect was to further intensify the unrest of those who consistently followed it. It sharpened the moral sense, clarified the ethical imperatives of life, but made the problem of safe conduct more acute. The want of a dynamic seriously limited the philosophy in the directions towards which the spiritual aspiration of the age was tending. It was realised that right principles were not sufficient ; a moral dynamic was sorely needed ; above all there was a passionate desire for the appearance of a power in the life of the times that could realise the spiritual aspiration and embody the ethical ideal which haunted every thoughtful mind. Judaism was influential; its conception of ethical monotheism powerfully attracted God-fearing gentiles; the promise of a Messiah had simplified the desire of the age for a demonstration of spiritual power within the domain of history; yet it was felt that something was wanting. What after all was the advantage of ethical monotheism if it only increased the feeling of imperfection, and further enlarged the disproportion between precept and performance, which tormented seekers after God? Where, too, was the Messiah? Why did He not come to set the age right? Even should He come, would He be able to solve the problem of safe conduct, and set man right with God?
These questions of course did not assume the form of rational inquiry; but they represented feelings and instincts, more or less vague and inchoate, yet powerful enough to intensify the moral distress of the age.
Furthermore, the feeling of insecurity tended to define the sort of religion the age was prepared to accept. If it were indifferent to inherited beliefs and weary of fruitless speculation, or even critical of the highest manifestation of religion current in the empire, it is not unreasonable to sup-pose that a religious appeal calculated to impress the times must proceed upon very different lines.
It must be an appeal not in behalf of a supposedly correct philosophy and dependent on the skilful manipulation of interdependent propositions, but able to point with absolute confidence to historic performances. Such an appeal could not make headway with promises alone, but must show that its promises were actually being realised. The problem reduced to its simplest terms was how to translate "gnosis" into "dunamis"; how to turn precept into practice, how to express the moral ideal in character.
The age was rich, too rich in fact in ideas; it was not barren of ideals, but it was painfully and consciously aware of its lack of power; and it was keenly felt that any solution of the problem of safe conduct must turn not on the revelation of a perfect moral system, but upon the operation of a moral dynamic; upon the discovery of a virtue-making power at work within the sphere of man's experience.
The purpose of the study of the background has been to bring out the material fact that the age was ready to accept any religion that proved itself a moral dynamic in the realm of history.
If we accept this interpretation I think it will be an easy task to show the originality of Christianity on its Græco-Roman background. Our estimate of the unique significance of the new religion will be derived from the writings of the Apostle Paul, because he was the man chosen by God to interpret the gospel to the gentile world. Paul was the one man among the Apostles who had a comprehensive knowledge of the intellectual and moral temper of the Græco-Roman peoples. His thoughts and aims were in the closest possible touch with the age. He knew its peculiar needs; he was conscious of its high aspirations ; he visualised its moral degradation and sympathised with its futility. He understood its philosophical pre-suppositions and rightly estimated its intellectual limitations.
The chief interest of Paul's age was religion. But the people as a rule were ignorant and superstitious. To put light in the place of darkness, to impart knowledge to the ignorant, above all to reveal the dynamic Personality of Christ to his time, was Paul's ruling passion. He proclaimed the joy of the light bearer to the Athenians in these words : "Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." '
There was something splendidly audacious about the Christian programme. Its advocates hoped to win a world steeped in philosophy, or en-meshed in the sensuous attractions of ritual and ceremony, by telling it a simple story. But the wisdom of God is evident from the results, for the world was ready to listen to a story that could correctly define its need and provide an adequate remedy.
What was there in the new religion most likely to appeal to the gentile mind? Surely it is not to be sought in its superficial aspects, for Christianity despised nearly everything that the pagan world praised, and praised nearly every-thing the pagan world despised. In the beginning it had to meet the test of ridicule; its preaching was foolishness and its gospel a "silly story"; but in the end it conquered the pagan world be-cause of its inner worth.' It came to a people tired of epigrams, sick of discussions, and tormented by a moral idealism they could not hope to express in conduct. It offered salvation, both for this life and that which was to come, through faith in an historic Personality, and eventually such preaching made a profound impression. 'Wherever the gospel was proclaimed people were converted and God-fearing gentiles pressed into the kingdom with joy and understanding. Christian communities sprang up in the strategic centres of population in Asia Minor and in Europe; and a splendid church exercised a glorious ministry in the metropolis.
At the outset the faith of the Christian community was simple and uncritical. The novelty of its ideas, the power of its promises, and the joy of its experience was sufficient for the time being; but as the new experience began to challenge the attention of the world, the people asked questions about it and compared it with other and more familiar ways of salvation. In contrast with the mystery cults it was painfully lacking in ritual and in sensuous appeal; in comparison with cur-rent philosophies it was singularly barren in dialectic discussions and rhetorical embellishments. But people were puzzled by its mobility. Judaism was rooted and grounded in the synagogue worship and racial relationships; but here was a religion that ignored differences of race and locality, that could move freely about the world, independent of tradition or local attachments. It had all the attractive features of the mystery cults, such as the open church, the non-secular clergy, and it satisfied the social passion of the time in its community life. Moreover, it breathed lofty hopes of immortality and fellowship with the eternal God, and yet so far from depending on symbol or myth, or expressing itself in ornate ritual, it founded its promises on an historic Personality. It promised to unite man to God in such a way as to fully satisfy spiritual aspiration, and by faith in Jesus Christ to impart power to the realisation of the moral ideal. It promised these things, the very things the age passionately wanted, but could it accomplish them?
That was the crucial question, for it raised the problem of performance. At the outset it is quite likely that many whose faith in the mystery cults had been destroyed by the discovery that Cybele, Attis or Osiris, so far from being historic persons, were myths and symbols only, had demanded some proof of the historic reality of Jesus Christ. Was the splendid object of gentile faith, the glorious Saviour of the Pauline gospel, a myth or a reality? Had He once lived upon the earth, or was He a product of the theological imagination? Such questioning was inevitable, and at first it was easy to satisfy it by oral testimony. There were many alive at that early stage of the church who had from the first been eye witnesses of the majesty of Jesus, and their testimony was adequate to meet the requirements of the growing community. But as time passed, and the churches multiplied—especially as the great leaders either suffered martyrdom or were cast into prison—the desire for a permanent record of the earthly life of Jesus led to the writing of the gospels. The characteristic demand for a dynamic Personality probably influenced Mark and Luke in the choice of materials, in order to exhibit the mighty power of Christ as the world's Saviour.
But the problem was growing all the time, and as spiritual life matured it demanded intellectual stimulus ; sentiments and impulses required a solid basis of conviction. The demand of the age for a dynamic quality in religion was steadily forcing the advocates of Christianity to prove that it was a religion of power. The question was assuming a concrete form: was Christianity a religion of ideals or of performances? If it was a power, how did it function in history? What were the evidences of its strength? What were the elements of its efficiency?
The new faith was arousing criticism. Jews were speaking of the cross as a stumbling block, and Greeks were calling the gospel a "silly story." Was Christianity after all to prove a disappointment? In the end would it turn out to be as futile as a mystery cult, or as ineffective as a philosophic theory?
Paul realised that it was impossible to stifle or ignore intellectual inquiry, and he deliberately challenged the intelligence of his age, as he has of succeeding ages, by a direct appeal to reason. But his appeal was very simple and strikingly original. It had nothing of the complexity of current speculations. It was made, not in the interests of a philosophy of religion, but in behalf of historic demonstration. His ultimate aim was to tell the age what Christianity is, but his immediate concern was to show what Christianity can do.
The age demanded a test of Christianity; and while it still clung to the ancient obsession that its needs might be met by some philosophic or ethical theory, it was inclined on practical grounds to be suspicious of any religious appeal that resembled the futile methods with which it was painfully familiar. The age still thought of religion from a speculative point of view, but it was feeling after God because it wanted a dynamic; and this con-fusion in the mind of the age suggests two ways of testing a religion.
Mr. Balfour has reminded us of the double aspect of all beliefs.' On the one hand beliefs have a position in a cognitive series, and on the other, hand beliefs have a position in a causal series. When beliefs are viewed under a cognitive aspect we are interested principally in a more or less successful interrelation of a series of interdependent propositions, and this method followed to its logical conclusion results in a speculative view of religion. But when beliefs are viewed under a causal aspect, our interest is principally in a "temporal succession of interdependent events." Our aim is not to formulate a system, but to discover power. We may be unable to attain a perfect system of truth; still if we can discover a divine power functioning in the events of history and the experience of mankind we may attain an historic basis for faith.
As was intimated in the introductory lecture, I desire to base my interpretation of Paulinism on this latter conception. Paul was tremendously interested in a systematic development of Christian truth, and for many minds such a systematic conception of religion is a prime necessity; still it is clear that most of us cannot withhold our assent to Christianity until we get a complete and comprehensive theory of it. We must seek an adequate basis for religious faith in a knowledge of the functions of Christian power. I believe that a systematic view of religious truth is highly desirable, but I am very well aware that for most men it is impossible ; and I am confident that a perfectly satisfactory basis for faith can be found in the causal aspect of Christianity. And I hold this view not only because it seems to insure a practical and workable basis for faith, but also because it was Paul's method of approach to the intellectual difficulties of an age, which in so many important particulars resembles our own.
The difference between a cognitive and a causal view of beliefs suggests the two ways of testing a religion. One is to investigate its ideas, the other is to examine its power. One studies its principles, the other considers the facts and events that make up its history. One asks: What is religion? The other: What can religon do? One is the test of discussion, the other of performances and of fruit.
Paul's age was interested in both aspects of the question, but the moral stress of the time tended more and more to concentrate attention on the causal aspect. Superficially the age was willing to discuss the ideas of the new religion, but fundamentally it was intensely interested in its performances.
The test of religion by means of discussion is an easy test, since it can be indefinitely prolonged, and maintain its credit for a considerable time without peril to itself. But it is quite another matter when one falls back on performances. That is the acid test of religion, and it was to this acid test that Paul submitted Christianity.
He seems to say to his age something like this : "I could prolong the discussion of Christianity indefinitely, and probably afford you, as I once did Stoics and Epicureans in Athens, much pleasure in so doing. But that is not my object. I do not come to you with the enticing words of men's wisdom, but in the power and the demonstration of the Spirit. I bring you no complete theory of religion ; I do not wish to gratify your speculative ambitions, but I offer you a religion of power, based on the life, death and resurrection of a Di-vine Person; I offer you personal contact with a spiritual dynamic which functioning in your experience will bring you into vital relation with the eternal God."
This was the crucial question then, and it is the crucial question now. Is Christianity a religion of power? Most assuredly its originality does not lie in the novelty of its ideas. Many of its ideas are new, of course, but that is beside the mark. The ideas of Christianity are means to an end ; in their doctrinal aspect they are descriptive of dynamic functions they are given to explain the working of a power. Christianity is original simply because it is a religion of power.
The quest for safe conduct had for its goal the reconciliation of man with God. It raised the question: How can a man get right with the power manifest in the universe, and tried to answer it in various ways, such as ritual observances, ethical speculations and legal obedience of a revealed law; and all failed simply because they did not have power. They were good diagnosticians, but poor healers, and they left the world more miserable than it was before. The want of power generally determined the most distinctive desire of that period. The absence of vitality in old political theories and ancient forms of government led to a willingness to entrust the fortunes of the state to a strong man. The world in Paul's age worshipped power as symbolised in the Roman Emperor; and it as keenly looked for power in religious experience. Could Christianity set man right with God, and keep him faithful amid life's increasing perplexities? That was the supreme demand made on the new faith, and Paul's answer was the proclamation of the religion of power.
A theory of power might explain the provisional influence of Christianity, but it could not sustain it. The important point was whether the contention was in accord with facts. Theoreticalcogency and enthusiastic propaganda were not sufficient. What people wanted was not a theory of power, but a demonstration of power in religious history. If Christianity were true, where were the evidences of its power on the field of human history?
As has been suggested, this need in the beginning was met by the gospels. The people were assured that the glorious Christ of the Pauline preaching, so far from being a myth or symbol, was an historic Personality. But as the spiritual life matured the question assumed a different form : Was the glorious Object of gentile faith one and the same with the gracious Figure enshrined in the gospel story? In other words was Jesus Christ alive? If so, He was dynamic ; it would prove that the "Still Strong Man of the soul's need" had come, not as a symbolic ideal but an actual personality. Religion would not base itself on a pious memory of a dead Christ, but upon the living Lord of Glory. The death of Jesus would no longer appear as a calamity, but as one of the links in a causal chain of redemption, having its fitting climax in an historic resurrection. Paul connects these two conceptions in the epistle to the Romans. He is writing, he says, of "Jesus Christ, Our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; but declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is, according to the Apostle, the fundamental demonstration on the field of history of Christianity as the religion of power. I do not wish to enter upon an extended examination of the evidence for this stupendous fact. Apart from the Scriptural evidence, which seems to me entirely adequate, be-lief in the historic resurrection of Jesus is an inevitable inference from the whole course of Apostolic history.
It is frequently asserted that the resurrection of Jesus is to be understood as a symbol of immortality, or of the revival of spiritual life in man. If this were true, the resurrection could have no possible meaning for historic religion, for symbols produce no events. They belong neither to the cognitive nor to the causal series of beliefs, but are suspended in a mid-region of ineffective sentiments and are of no possible value in the solution of the problem.
A symbolic view of the resurrection is entirely contrary to the evidence. The New Testament, the only document on which we can depend for reliable information on the subject, nowhere describes the resurrection of Jesus as a symbol; on the contrary, it constantly describes it as a fact—as an actual event in the sphere of history. It was as much a fact of history as the birth, life and death of the Saviour. If His death were an actual event, so was His resurrection. To speak of this most momentous event in the history of mankind as if it were a symbol of "the renaissance of the spiritual is to substitute rhetoric for historic realism.
The tradition of an actual historic resurrection of Jesus is as well attested a fact of Biblical truth as any we have. Not only have we the general consensus of the Apostolic church, supported by the amazing vitality of the gospel propaganda which professed to derive its power from the fact of the resurrection, but we have evidence of another kind of great significance.
On the one hand, if the resurrection of Jesus were symbolic only, it is difficult to understand why Christianity impressed the Graeco-Roman world. The age was familiar with symbolic interpretations of religion, and increasingly sceptical of myths. In the first and second centuries the pagan theologians were doing their level best to rid their gods of the stigma of myth, and the mystery cults failed in the end partly because they had no historic roots. But Christianity steadily advanced in spite of persecution and political op-position until it conquered the world, because it was the religion of power, authenticated by an historic resurrection.
On the other hand, if the resurrection of Jesus were symbolic only, it makes the problem of accounting for historic Christianity insolvable, except on the hypothesis that Paul himself created it. Yet to my way of thinking the strongest argument for the historicity of the resurrection apart from the dynamic character of early Christianity is the religious experience of Paul. He emphatically declares his conviction that if there had been no resurrection, it would invalidate the Christian hope of salvation, make faith vain, falsify the Apostolic testimony, and leave the world in its sins. Yet his life and ministry were founded on this fact, and reinforced at every critical stage by his spiritual experience.' He was a man of immense intellectual force, in the prime of his career, with an accurate insight into the temper of his time, and by race, and training, rooted and grounded in the most stubborn as it was the most plausible force opposing Christianity, I mean Pharisaism. Is it, easy then to believe that such a man would break with the spiritual associations of a lifetime, and become the chief advocate of a despised faith, that he would build round a personality the exact antithesis of the Pharisaic ideal, a religion that professed to be dynamic, when all the time he knew its historic pretensions were mythical and the central figure of his preaching, a creature of his imagination? It is absolutely in-conceivable. Paul became a Christian because he believed that Jesus was alive. He was convinced that the great gulf between the human and the divine life had been bridged by the incarnation of the Son of God, and the resurrection was the historic proof of a spiritual dynamic operating within the sphere of human experience.
This is not only the strongest argument for the resurrection, but it is also the all-sufficient argument. If the resurrection be a fact of history, it explains and authenticates all that precedes it and all that follows it. It becomes the proof of power in the new religion. It belongs not simply to the cognitive series of beliefs, but is causal, productive and creative. It explains the Apostolic faith in the simple story of the cross ; it explains the persistence of the gospel testimony in face of the world's opposition; it also explains Paul's willingness to submit Christianity to the acid test of performance.
The Apostles did not preach a beautiful symbolism. They were not interested in revamping worn-out philosophical platitudes; still less were they indulging in the composition of lachrymose epistles of consolation. They were the enthusiastic advocates of a life-giving power, who put behind their passionate proclamations the courage and sanity of rich and deep conviction, because they knew beyond all question that Christ had risen from the dead. Christ was the power of God unto salvation. In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in Him Christians were complete. The age demanded proof of the reality of the Christian dynamic, and the Apostles preached the historic resurrection of Jesus.
What did the stupendous fact signify? It signified that the moral ideal, which had tormented ethical thinkers of all ages, and never more than in that period, had finally appeared in historic form—an actual fact of human experience. For two centuries thoughtful men had felt that some-thing more than right principles was needed to set man right. It was increasingly felt that nothing short of a personal demonstration would be adequate; and many were trying to shape their conduct on the model of some ancient philosopher. The typical wise man of the Stoic was an impossible ideal. "The Stoics admitted that he was as rare in the real world as the phoenix; Socrates, perhaps, and Diogenes had attained; or perhaps not even they." What the world needed was a demonstration of the ideal in an historic personality. This was the significance of the resurrection. Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead. In Jesus the world had a perfect standard of goodness. More could be learned of goodness, by considering His character and conduct, than from centuries of ethical speculation.
But the resurrection did not reveal the moral ideal in detachment, having a mere preceptive value. If this were all, so far from relieving the tension, it would increase it to the breaking point. If the relation of Jesus, the perfect ideal of character, was that of a model to an artist, if it left the question of attainment to the skill of the individual, the burden would still rest on the human spirit, and this was precisely what the age could not endure. It was rich in ideals, but poor in power; and it wanted a dynamic, not in detachment but in actual contact with life. It was not enough that Jesus should prove His power by rising from the dead; the question still remained: Could this power function in human experience? The resurrection was a glorious fact, but was it a gospel for men? The religion of a moral ideal is a religion of despair, but a religion of a moral ideal working in contact with human need is a religion of hope and power.
This question could not be answered by argument; what was required was historic proof. Men wished to be assured not only that Jesus was good, but that He could make other men good. Where then was the historic evidence of the dynamic quality of the resurrection? Paul found it in the Christian community. All over the empire, both in Asia Minor and in Europe, churches had grown up round the gospel message, and had attained distinction in life and character through faith in Jesus. - This remarkable transformation was directly traceable to the gospel. Wherever it was believed, it worked. It proved its reality by its fruits. In the beginning the gospel preaching dealt little in argument. The message was given simply and concretely, but whoever accepted it experienced a spiritual change. For instance, Paul asks the Galatians : "This only would I learn of you: Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" In Ephesians the Apostle connects the power of the gospel with the resurrection: "You bath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and in sins.
God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." 9
The rise of the Apostolic church is a fact that has to be accounted for. Why was it that a people who formerly lived in sin and superstition, had suddenly risen above their age and attained to morality and spiritual power, to cleanness of life and unselfish zeal? The answer is found in the creative power of the gospel. It was intended to communicate power through faith to the individual.
To one familiar with those times, nothing is more impressive than the account given of these little Christian communities. Corinth was one of the wickedest cities in the ancient world. It was a most unlikely place for the realisation of a spiritual experience, and yet Paul is able to address that community as a church or household of God, sanctified in the Lord Jesus and called to be saints. In their old life they had been fornicators, thieves, liars and idolaters. "Such were some of you," says the Apostle, "but now ye are sanctified, now are ye justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of God."
The presence of these transformed lives in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation was an undeniable fact; and this is explained by the dynamic quality imparted through faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul prays that the Ephesians may know "what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead." This is a glorious fact: the power that created the Christian community and functions in the experience of the individual is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
Paul's age needed assurance of moral power. It craved a demonstration in human experience of a transforming ethical dynamic; and Paul and his associates pointed to the two outstanding facts: the resurrection of Jesus and the creation of the Christian community. Both were real events of history, and they were proof of the fruitfulness of the new religion. The resurrection of Jesus proved that behind the gospel message was a dynamic life; the Christian community' proved the fact that the gospel was creative within the sphere of human experience; and the supreme revelation made by these two historic facts was this, that the virtue-making power, which for centuries had haunted the minds of ethical thinkers, had at last appeared in the historic Personality of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Mighty to save.
At the outset it appears that the preaching of these two essential facts—the resurrection of Jesus and the creation of the Christian community—was sufficient to stabilise the faith of the church. They were the most obvious facts and strengthened faith in the dynamic character of the gospel in the face of a rising tide of opposition.
But new problems were developing, occasioned by the growth of the church. So long as the church was growing extensively the simple appeal to essential and obvious facts would be sufficient to stabilise faith and inspire zeal; but so soon as the church began to grow intensively a new set of questions would arise. For example, people would wish to know something more in detail about the function of Christian power in individual experience. Paul clearly anticipates such a desire in the first epistle to the Corinthians. He had determined to know nothing among them save Jesus and Him crucified, not, however, be-cause he had no deeper revelation, but because the carnal character of the Corinthian mind made it impossible at their stage of development to make further disclosures. But Paul does take up the doctrine of the resurrection in that letter, and shows its relation to the individual experience. He realised that spiritual progress depends in part upon purity of heart and in part upon intellectual development. Granted that the heart is pure, a time comes to every man when he is obliged to think out the meaning of his experience; and Christianity must be able to meet that need. It is clear that a disposition to grow in knowledge inspired the Roman letter. Paul did not care that his converts should remain undeveloped intellectually. He wished them to become strong men in Christ Jesus; he will not always feed them with milk, but insist that they partake of strong meat.
Among the manifold tasks undertaken by the Apostle, that of thinking out the ultimate meaning of Christianity was very important; and when occasion justified it, he put his profoundest thoughts into letters to various communities. And it is not difficult to imagine that his thinking was shaped in part by the quest for safe conduct, which was a characteristic feature of his age.
The quest for safe conduct was inspired by an imperious need for adjustment with God. Such methods as ritual observances, ethical speculations and legal obedience to a revealed law had failed to satisfy the conscience of the time. Men were disposed to ask, so soon as they became familiar with the outstanding features of the new religion: Can Christianity set man right with God? Is it the religion of power, and if so, where are the evidences of this fact? And Paul pointed to the resurrection of Jesus and the creation of the Christian community.
These facts being obvious, the next question would be: How does this power function in individual experience? How does it deal with man's past, present and future needs? How does Christianity adjust man to the requirements of conscience? How function in the present strife with evil? What assurance can be given that Christ will bring man to the goal of his hopes? Life was difficult at best; Christianity further complicated it because it invited persecution: assuming then that it was the religion of power, could it give peace in this present world, and assurance of final attainment of the next life?
These were important questions, and they had to be answered; for on the understanding of such questions would turn the stability and power of individual experience.
Paul answered such questions as these by teaching the doctrines of Christianity. To use again Mr. Balfour's important classification of beliefs," we may think of Christian doctrine as belonging either to a cognitive or to a causal series. If we think of it under a cognitive aspect, our interest will chiefly concern itself with a series of interdependent propositions, and our aim will be a complete system of religious truth. And this is not only a legitimate but a necessary duty of the church. The church must have a systematic body of teaching if it is to meet the intellectual requirements of believers. And it goes without saying that Paul was a theological genius, and that he had a very clear conception of the cognitive aspect of beliefs. But this does not seem to have been his immediate concern. What the age needed was not so much a systematic theology, as an explanation of the life and experience created by the gospel. And while he did not overlook the cognitive aspect of belief, his immediate concern was with its causal aspect.
I propose in the next two lectures to view certain characteristic doctrines under a causal rather than a cognitive aspect. Doctrines are undoubtedly revelations of essential and objective truth; but they are something more than this. Doctrines are descriptions of function. The function of a power is its characteristic mode of operation. The Christian life is divinely originated, but its growth depends in part upon the cooperation of man with God; and our ability to work intelligently with God is conditioned by our knowledge of the functions of the power of God. The more we know of the habits and characteristic modes of that tremendous spiritual dynamic working in the individual experience, the greater is the benefit to he derived from its activities.
The characteristic emphasis placed on Christianity at the time when the intellectual development of the church made doctrinal teaching necessary was that it was "the power of God unto salvation." It was essentially dynamic and creative. Behind the Christian community was the experience of the individual; and the pressing question was: What is the function of the spiritual dynamic in individual life? Paul's answer was by teaching doctrines; doctrines are descriptions of function; they interpret the causal aspect of Christianity.
The strength of the believer is determined by the degree in which he understands the power working in his experience. Knowledge of function puts behind the sentiments and impulses of religion a body of unchangeable conviction. By thinking out the ultimate meaning of experience in the light of its functional implications, the believer comes to know the power of God in his thought and life.
This, in my judgment, is the right way to teach religious doctrines. Few individuals realise a need for systematic statements of belief; but they are anxious to understand the functional significance of religious teaching in relation to the evolution of a strong and stable faith; and this was Paul's method of approach to the intellectual requirements of an age, which in many features of its life and thought so strikingly resembles our own.