It was he who perceived that religion in its new phase pertains to the individual and therefore to all individuals; and in this conviction, and with a full consciousness of what he was doing, he carried the Gospel to the nations of the world and transferred it from Judaism to the ground occupied by Greece and Borne. Not only are Greeks and Jews to unite on the basis of the Gospel, but the Jewish dispensation itself is now at an end. That the Gospel was transplanted from the East, where in subsequent ages it was never able to thrive properly, to the West, is a fact which we owe to Paul.
It was he who placed the Gospel in the great scheme of spirit and flesh, inner and outer existence, death and life; he, born a Jew and educated a Pharisee, gave it a language, so that it became intelligible, not only to the Greeks but to all men generally, and united with the whole of the intellectual capital which had been amassed in previous ages.
These are the factors that go to make the Apostle’s greatness in the history of religion. On their inner connexion I cannot here enter in any detail. But, in regard to the first of them, I may remind you of the words of the most important historian of religion in our day. Wellhausen declares that “Paul’s especial work was to transform the Gospel of the kingdom into the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that the Gospel is no longer the prophecy of the coming of the kingdom, but its actual fulfilment by Jesus Christ. In his view, accordingly, redemption from something in the future has become something which has already happened and is now present. He lays far more emphasis on faith than on hope; he anticipates the sense of future bliss in the present feeling of being God’s son; he vanquishes death and already leads the new life on earth. He extols the strength which is made perfect in weakness; the grace of God is sufficient for him, and he knows that no power, present or future, can take him from His love, and that all things work together for good to them that love God.” What knowledge, what confidence, what strength, was necessary to tear the new religion from its mother earth and plant it in an entirely new one! Islam, originating in Arabia, has remained the Arabian religion, no matter where it may have penetrated. Buddhism has at all times been at its purest in India. But this religion, born in Palestine, and confined by its founder to Jewish ground, in only a few years after his death was severed from that connexion. Paul put it in competition with the Israelitish religion: “Christ is the end of the law.” Not only did it bear being thus rooted up and transplanted, but it showed that it was meant to be thus transplanted. It gave stay and support to the Roman empire and the whole world of western civilisation. If, as Renan justly observes, anyone had told the Roman Emperor in the first century that the little Jew who had come from Antioch as a missionary was his best collaborator, and would put the empire upon a stable basis, he would have been regarded as a madman, and yet he would have spoken nothing but the truth. Paul brought new forces to the Roman empire, and laid the foundations of western and Christian civilisation. Alexander the Great’s work has perished; Paul’s has remained. But if we praise the man who, without being able to appeal to a single word of his master’s, ventured upon the boldest enterprise, by the help of the spirit and with the letter against him, we must none the less pay the meed of honour to those personal disciples of Jesus who after a bitter internal struggle ultimately associated themselves with Paul’s principles. That Peter did so we know for certain; of others we hear that they at least- acknowledged their validity. It was, indeed, no insignificant circumstance that men in whose ears every word of their master’s was still ringing, and in whose recollection the concrete features of his personality were still a vivid memory— that these faithful disciples should recognise a pronouncement to be true which in important points seemed to depart from the original message and portended the downfall of the religion of Israel. What was kernel here, and what was husk, history has itself showed with unmistakeable plainness, and by the shortest process. Husk were the whole of the Jewish limitations attaching to Jesus’ message; husk were also such definite statements as “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In the strength of Christ’s spirit the disciples broke through these barriers. It was his personal disciples — not, as we might expect, the second or third generation, when the immediate memory of the Lord had already paled—who stood the great test. That is the most remarkable fact of the apostolic age.