The absolute character of the Christian religion is thus made clear. But it may also be observed in this connexion that every attempt to formulate a theory has a logic of its own and dangers of its own. There was one danger which the apostle himself had to combat, that of men claiming to be redeemed without giving practical proof of the new life. In the case of Jesus’ sayings no such danger could arise, but Paul’s formulas were not similarly protected. That men are not to rely upon “redemption,” forgiveness of sin, and justification, if the hatred of sin and the imitation of Christ be lacking, inevitably became in subsequent ages a standing theme with all earnest teachers. Who can fail to recognise that the doctrines of ¦”objective redemption” have been the occasion of grievous temptations in the history of the Church, and for whole generations concealed the true meaning of religion? The conception of “redemption,” which cannot be inserted in Jesus’ teaching in this free and easy way at all, became a snare. No doubt it is true that Christianity is the religion of redemption; but the conception is a delicate one, and must never be taken out of the sphere of personal experience and inner reformation.
But here we are met by a second danger closely connected with the first. If redemption is to be traced to Christ’s person and work, everything would seem to depend upon a right understanding of this person together with what he accomplished. The formation of a correct theory of and about Christ threatens to assume the position of chief importance, and to pervert the majesty and simplicity of the Gospel. Here, again, the danger is of a kind such as cannot arise with Jesus’ sayings. Even in John we read:—”If ye love me, keep my commandments.” But with the way in which Paul defined the theory of religion, the danger can certainly arise and did arise. No long period elapsed before it was taught in the Church that the all-important thing is to know how the person of Jesus was constituted, what sort of physical nature he had, and so on. Paul himself is far removed from this position—” Whoso calleth Christ Lord speaketh by the Holy Ghost”—but the way in which he ordered his religious conceptions, as the outcome of his speculative ideas, unmistakeably exercised an influence in a wrong direction. That, however great the attraction which his way of ordering them may possess for the understanding, it is a perverse proceeding to make Christology the fundamental substance of the Gospel, is shown by Christ’s teaching, which is everywhere directed to the all-important point, and summarily confronts every man with his God. This does not affect Paul’s right to epitomise the Gospel in the message of Christ crucified, thus exhibiting God’s power and God’s wisdom, and in the love of Christ kindling the love of God. There are thousands today in whom the Christian faith is still propagated in the same manner, namely, through Christ. But to demand assent to a series of propositions about Christ’s person is a different thing altogether.