Believe and venture: as for pledges, The Gods give none.
Belief in the living Lord and in a life eternal is the act of the freedom which is born of God. As the crucified and risen one Jesus was the Lord. While this confession of belief in him expressed a man’s whole relation to him, it also afforded endless matter for thought and speculation. This conception of the “Lord” came to embrace the many-sided image of the Messiah and all the Old Testament prophecies of a similar kind. But as yet no ecclesiastical “doctrines” about him had been elaborated; everyone who acknowledged him as the Lord belonged to the community.
2. Religion as an actual experience. — The second characteristic feature of the primitive community is that every individual in it, even the very slaves, possess a living experience of God. This is sufficiently remarkable; for at first sight we might think that all this devotion to Christ, and this unconditional reverence for him, must necessarily have resulted in all religion becoming a punctilious subjection to his words, and so a kind of voluntary servitude. But the Pauline epistles and the Acts of the Apostles give us quite a different picture. While they do, indeed, attest the fact that Jesus’ words were held in unqualified reverence, this fact is not the most prominent feature in the picture of earliest Christendom. What is much more characteristic is that individual Christians, moved by the Spirit of God, are placed in a living and entirely personal relation to God Himself. Dr. Weinel has lately presented us with a fine work on the
“Workings of the Spirit and the Spirits in the post-apostolic age.” It contains many passages which take us back to the apostolic age and treat in greater detail of the matters which Professor Gunkel has so impressively placed before us in his treatise on “The Holy Ghost.” The neglected problems of the extent to which, and the forms in which, the Spirit exercised an influence on the life of the early Christians, and of the view to be taken of the phenomena connected with this influence, are admirably discussed by Dr. Weinel. In substance, his conclusion is that the expressions “receiving” and “acting by” the Holy Ghost signify such an independence and immediacy of religious life and feeling, and such an inner union with God, perceived to be the mightiest reality, as could not have been expected from strict subjection to Jesus’ authority. To be the child of God and to be gifted with the Spirit are simply the same as being a disciple of Christ. That a man is not truly a disciple unless he’ is pervaded by God’s Spirit is a point which the “Acts of the Apostles” fully recognises. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is placed in the forefront of the narrative. The author is conscious that the Christian religion would not be the highest and the ultimate religion, unless it brought every individual into an immediate and living connexion with God. This mutual union of a full obedient subjection to the Lord with freedom in the Spirit is the most important feature in the distinctive character of this religion and the seal of its greatness. The workings of the Spirit were shown everywhere, in the entire domain of the five senses, in the sphere of will and action, in profound philosophical speculation, and in the most delicate appreciation of the facts of the moral life. The elementary forces of the religious temperament, long held in check by systems of doctrine and the ceremonies of public worship, were again set free. They showed themselves in ecstatic phenomena, in signs and wonders, in an enhancement of all the functions of life, down to conditions of a pathological and suspicious character. The fact, however, was not forgotten—and where it threatened to be obscured it was strongly impressed on people’s attention—that those strange and violent phenomena were individual, but that side by side with them there are workings of the Spirit which are bestowed upon every one and with which no one can dispense. But “The fruit of the Spirit,” as the apostle Paul writes, “is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” The other feature in the distinctive character and greatness of this religion is that it does not overestimate the elementary strength which gave it birth; that it makes its spiritual purport and its discipline triumph -over all states of ecstacy; and that it holds immoveable to its conviction that the Spirit of God, however it may reveal itself, is a Spirit of holiness and of love. But here we have already passed to the third feature which characterises early Christendom.