St. Paul's Preparation for the Ministry

ST Paul dates the commencement of his preparation for the *'-' ministry as far back as the day of his birth. He describes himself as set apart for the Gospel of God, set apart from his mother's womb (Rom. i. 1, Gal. i. 15). In his social position, in his intellectual training, in his religious creed—in all the influences which wrought upon his childhood and youth— there was a schooling which eminently adapted him to fill the part for which he was designed—to gather the Gentiles into the fold of Christ, to preach the universality of the new dispensation. This was especially his work—his Gospel.

And, when we come to piece together the notices preserved of his early life, we find that this training was in itself very remarkable, that it did in a way forecast his future destination, furnishing him with a large store of varied experiences, idle and unfruitful in Saul the Persecutor, but quickened suddenly into life in Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ, the Preacher to the Gentiles, by the lightning flash which struck him on the way to Damascus.

We are accustomed to look to three countries especially as the great teachers of the modern world—Rome, Greece, Judaea. Rome, the foremost of all nations in the science of government, has handed down to us the principles of law and order. Greece, setting before us her rich treasures of thought and imagination, has been a schoolmistress in art and literature. Above all, from Palestine we have learnt our true relation to God, which gives higher significance to art and literature and an eternal value to the principles of law and order. If Rome supplied the bone and sinew to our colossal man, while Greece clothed him with flesh and gave him grace and beauty, it was Judaea that breathed the breath of life into him. Now all these three influences were combined in the great Apostle of the Gentiles. He was a citizen of Rome. His native place, Tarsus, was the great university of Greece. He was brought up in the Jew's religion in its most rigorous and most typical form.

We are accustomed to dwell solely on the Jewish education of St Paul when considering his preparation for the ministry, not only as the most important, but also as the most prominent in the notices preserved of his early history. But the other elements in his training must not be neglected. It is not probable that one whose maxim it was to 'become all things to all men,' whose nature was eminently sensitive and impressible, could have failed to be moved by these powerful influences, and the traces of their working are sufficiently distinct in his life and writings. On the other hand, exaggeration must be avoided. It would be a grave mistake to picture to ourselves the Apostle as an active politician, or an erudite philosopher and man of letters. The sphere of his thought was far different. His life was far otherwise spent. But he must have received from his political status as a Roman citizen and from his residence in the heart of a great Greek University impressions which enlarged his sympathies and his views, and thus, enabling him to enter more deeply into the thoughts and strivings of others, and to contemplate the Gospel from different points of view, rendered him a fitter instrument in the hands of God for the special work for which he was destined.

1. Let us consider St Paul as a citizen of Rome. The extension of the franchise was the keystone of the Roman system1. By this means a connexion and sympathy was kept up in the remotest parts of the Empire. The blood of the political body thus circulated freely by veins and arteries through the great heart of the republic to its extreme members, and any injury done to one limb was an injury done to the whole.

1 Cie. pro Balb. 13; Becker Handbuch der rSmischen Altcrthiimer u. (1), p. 91.

The metaphor which I have employed is not my own: I am only expanding the image used by Cicero1 to express these relations. To the Roman his citizenship was his passport in distant lands, his talisman in seasons of difficulty and danger. It shielded him alike from the caprice of municipal law and the injustice of local magistrates. In Syria, in Asia, in Greece—wherever he went—he bore about with him this safeguard of his liberties. How valuable such a protection must have been to St Paul, how often he must have invoked its aid in a life spent in travel and in the midst of enemies, we can well imagine. He had never known what it was to be without this citizenship, for he had been born a citizen of Rome3. It procured him an honourable discharge from the prison at Philippi5; it loosed his fetters in the tower of Antonia4; it rescued him from the lawlessness of a zealot mob, and sped him on his way under escort to Caesarea"; it transferred him from the hearing of a provincial governor to the court of Caesar himself8. As he lived, so he died—a citizen of Rome. It is recorded that, while his brother-Apostle St Peter suffered the punishment of a common malefactor on the cross, St Paul was allowed to die by the sword, as the last recognition of his civic rights conceded by the law, when everything besides had been forfeited7.

In this way St Paul's position as a citizen must have been of essential service in the spread of the Gospel. But this is not exactly the point on which I wish to dwell. I am anxious rather to point out that, having been so constantly in requisition, it must have impressed itself upon his mind with a corresponding force. And thus he must have been led to appreciate, as far as it was necessary for him to appreciate, the position which Rome occupied as a teacher of the world.

1 Cio. Verr. v. 67; Becker, n. (1), 5 Acts xxiii. 27. p. 98. 'Acts xxy. 12.

2 Acts xxii. 28. 7 Tertull. Scorpiace § 19, de Praescr.

3 Acts xvi. 37 sq. Heret. 36, etc. See Wieseler Chron. * Acts xxii. 25 sq. p. 542.

I think there are very clear indications of this. It was no vulgar pride or idle self-assertion, but a true political instinct, which led St Paul to demand a practical apology from the magistrates at Philippi. It is clear from his language on this occasion, as on others, that he valued his position as a citizen of Rome. It was something to be connected with that gigantic Empire, whose presence he had felt everywhere, and which, in the restraints it placed on the lawless opposition of his adversaries, presented itself to him as a type and manifestation of that letting power which keeps Antichrist in check till the last day (2 Thess. ii.7).

Nay, so strong is the impression left in his mind, that he chooses the Roman franchise as the fittest image of the position of the believer in his heavenly kingdom. I have already referred to the language of Cicero in which he compares the connexion of the different parts of the Roman empire by this political tie to the circulation of the blood, language which reminds us of the Apostle's own image of the Church as the body knit together by its joints and ligatures (Col. ii. 19). Another passage of the same writer suggests still more striking points of comparison. 'I maintain it as a universal principle,' says Cicero (pro Balbo c. 13), 'that there is no nation anywhere so hostile or disaffected to the Roman people, none so united by ties of faith and friendship, that we are debarred from admitting them to the right of citizens1.' What wonder then if the Apostle saw a peculiar fitness in this image? In the guarantee it offered to individual freedom, in its independence of circumstances of time and place, in its superiority over inferior obligations, in the sympathy which it established between all the members of the community, in the universality of its application, lying as it did within the reach of all, far or near, friend or foe—in all these points it expressed, as no other earthly institution could do, the eternal relations of the kingdom of Christ. Hence the language of St Paul, '

1 Becker Ii. (1), p. 93, note (18).

Our citizenship is in heaven' (Phil. iii. 20). 'Only perform your duties as

citizens in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ' (Phil. i. 27). And in a third passage, where the image reappears, his language seems to be coloured by the legal distinction of cives and peregrini. 'Ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens of the saints,' oviceri iare %evoi (the recognised Greek equivalent of peregrini1) kal irdpoiicoi, dWa avfnroXirai T<sv dyiwv (Ephes. ii. 19). They were once peregrini, they have been enrolled in the civitas coelitum.

All this shows the deep impression which the Roman institutions had made on St Paul. And this being so, we cannot be wrong in recognising here a special training for the Apostleship of the Gentiles, opening out this wider view of social life, and suggesting to him the true relation between the ordinances of men and the Gospel of Christ.

2. But secondly, he was a native of Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia,' no mean city,' as he himself styles it3. We have it on the authority of Strabo', a contemporary of St Paul, that Tarsus surpassed all other universities, such as Alexandria and Athens, in the study of philosophy and educational literature in general. 'Its great pre-eminence,' he adds,'consists in this that the men of learning here are all natives.' Accordingly he and others4 have made up a long catalogue of distinguished men who flourished at Tarsus in the late autumn of Greek learning: philosophers—of the Academy, of the Epicurean and Stoic schools—poets, grammarians, physicians. At Tarsus, one might say, you breathed the atmosphere of learning. How far St Paul may have availed himself of these opportunities of cultivating a knowledge of Greek literature, how much of his boyhood and youth was spent here and how much at Jerusalem, we cannot say. His Jewish teacher Gamaliel, who was distinguished for his liberality in this respect, would at least have encouraged him not to neglect this culture. It has been the tendency of recent writers to underrate St Paul's attainments. The extravagant language of older writers has produced a natural reaction. A treatise was even published 'On the stupendous erudition of St Paul". Such exaggerations would be ludicrous if they were not painful. The majesty of the Gospel is not glorified by such means. St Paul's strength lay in a widely-different direction. It was 'not with enticing words of wisdom or philosophy (ovk iv 7rei#<H? aortas Xoyot?), but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power' (1 Cor. ii. 4), that he won his way. There is no ground for saying that St Paul was a very erudite or highly-cultivated man. An obvious maxim of practical life from Menander (1 Cor. xv. 33), a religious sentiment of Cleanthes repeated by Aratus, himself a native of Tarsus (Acts xvii. 28), a pungent satire of Epimenides (Tit. i. 12), with possibly a passage here and there which dimly reflects some classical writer, these are very slender grounds on which to build the supposition of vast learning. His style certainly does not conform to classical models: his logic savours little of the dialectics of the schools. But on the other hand he did get directly or indirectly from contact with Greek thought and learning lessons far wider and far more useful for his work than a perfect style or a familiar acquaintance with the classical writers of antiquity. Whoever will study carefully the picture of the gradual degradation of the heathen world in the opening chapters to the Romans, or, still better, the address to the philosophical Athenians from the Areopagus, will see how thoroughly St Paul entered into the moral and religious position of the heathen world, and with what deep insight he traced its relations, whether of contact or of contrast, with the great message of which he was the bearer. These are only samples*. If we recognise in such passages the voice of inspiration, in union with that instinctive quickness of moral apprehension which a tender love always inspires, we have still to look to external influences to supply the material on which inspiration might work.

1 Schramm De Stupenda Eruditume * See Jowett The Epistlea of St Paul Pauli (1710). I. p. 352 sq. (1859).

And foremost among these must be reckoned the lessons derived from his residence in early life in the centre of a great school—the greatest of its day—of Greek thought and learning.

We are disposed indeed to think lightly of the literary efforts of the Greeks at this late date: but though Greek literature had now lost the freshness and beauty of the spring and early summer of its existence, it had in the decline of its autumn still a glory of its own. We must not forget that the later schools of Greek philosophy exhibited a much greater earnestness of moral purpose, whether for good or evil, and achieved in consequence a much wider influence than the earlier. And if later Greek literature was rather critical and reproductive than original and imaginative, as the earlier had been, this only rendered it a fitter handmaid for the diffusion of the Gospel. It was required that the great Apostle of the Gentiles should be able to understand the bearings of the moral and religious life of Greece as expressed in her literature, and this lesson he could learn more impartially and more fully at Tarsus in the days of her decline, than at Athens in the freshness of her glory. Greece in her old age was now summing up, as it were, the experiences of her past life.

3. I have dwelt hitherto on the Gentile side of St Paul's training. The most important feature in his education has still to be considered. He was a Jew in the strictest sense of the term. Let us take his account of himself. irepirofitj oKraijfiepo<;, eK yevov< ; 'laparfK, <pvj< ; Heviafieiv, 'E/3pato9 e|? 'Effpauov (Phil. iii. 5). 'I was not admitted to the privileges of the covenant late in life, as a proselyte. I was circumcised on the earliest day sanctioned by the law. I was not even the son of proselyte parents, but of the race of Israel—Israel the chosen of God. I was not descended from the rebellious Ephraim, who had played fast and loose with the covenant, as many Jews are, but from the select tribe of Benjamin, always faithful to Jehovah. I had no admixture of alien blood in my veins, for my ancestors from first to last were Hebrews.' Thus in respect of these four points, (1) the covenant, (2) race, (3) tribe, (4) lineage, he was identified most closely and narrowly with the chosen people of God. He includes himself in the inmost circle of Judaism.

And not only this, but in sect, education and conduct nothing was wanting to identify him fully with Jewish feeling and Jewish life in its most rigid and trenchant form1. He was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. He had been instructed at Jerusalem in the strictest principles of the law by Gamaliel, one of the seven great doctors, 'the Beauty of the Law,' whom all the Jews revered. He had carried out these principles with the utmost zeal and devotion. He was surpassed by none.

And the lessons which he learnt in this way, and which he could not have learnt so well in any other way, were twofold.

First of all, there was the negative lesson of what the law could not effect. He had borne in his own person the burden. He had felt its galling pressure, striving earnestly, with all the intensity of his nature, to meet its exactions. In proportion as he increased his efforts, he had to confess his weakness and inability. Who can read his pathetic description in the Epistle to the Romans of the helplessness and despair of one struggling under the weight of this load, without feeling that the Apostle is drawing from his own personal experiences, that these are the words not of a vague theorizer, but of a painful sufferer. And here too it is important to observe the influence of the sect to which he belonged. Of the three great parties who shared the empire of Jewish thought—the Essenes, the Sadducees, the Pharisees—the last alone could teach him the lesson in its completeness. On the Sadducee the law sat loosely; he could not entirely divest himself of it, for it was the national badge, but he would wear it as lightly as he could. The Essene indeed was a most strict observer of ordinances, but the law was to him the starting-point of his mystical reveries, the foundation of an ascetic practice by which he hoped to extricate the soul from the defilement of matter.

1 The chief passages relating to St 13, 14; Phil. iii. 5, 6; Acts xxii. 3, Paul's Jewish experiences are Gal. i. xxiii. 6, xxvi. 4, 5; 2 Cor. xi. 22.

Thus the Essenes could abandon the law where it seemed to interfere with their aspiration after purity, e.g. in sacrifice. To the Pharisee, on the other hand, the law presented itself in a different light. He regarded it as an end, as an absolute rule of conduct. He respected it in and for itself. 'Fulfil the law and you shall live,' was his motto. His vision did not extend beyond the law— the law as laid down by Moses, and as enlarged and interpreted by tradition. It was to him a compact strictly binding on the contracting parties in its minutest details. And thus it became to him, what it could scarcely have been to the Essene, the means of righteousness (BiKaioavvrj £k Vofiov). This is just the point which St Paul seizes upon as the important feature of the law regarded as an instrument of training. It is in contrast to, and in consequence of, it that he develops the doctrine of grace, essentially the cardinal point in the Gospel of the Apostle of the Gentiles.

But secondly, the positive influence which St Paul's Jewish education exercised upon him was equally great and important. Notwithstanding the opposition he met from his countrymen, in spite of all the liberal and the awakened sympathies which he derived from his work, despite the necessity of contending daily and hourly for the freedom of the Gospel among the Gentiles, he never ceased to be a Jew. From his repeated denunciations against the Judaizers we are apt to forget this feature in the Apostle's character until we are startled to find by some passing allusion how deep-seated is this feeling in his heart. The Apostle's whole nature was made up of contrasts, and this was one. 'The strength of sin is the law,' and 'the law is holy and righteous and good,' these two maxims1 he could hold together and repeat in one breath. The most ardent patriot could not enlarge with greater pride on the glories of the chosen race than he does in the Epistle to the Romans. His care for the poor in Judtea is a touching proof of the strength of this national feeling.

1 1 Cor. xv. 56; Rom. vii. 12.

His attendance at the great annual festivals in Jerusalem is still more significant. 'I must spend the coming feast at Jerusalem1' (Aei jie iramws rrjv koprrjv Ttjv ip)(Ofievrjv iroirjaat, 'IepoaoXvtj.a). This language becomes the more striking when we remember that he was then intending to open out a new field of missionary labour in the far West, and was bidding perhaps his last farewell to the Holy City, the joy of the whole earth.

And here again it is important to remark on his connexion with the Pharisees. Whatever may have been their faults, they, and they alone, entered into the religious feeling of the nation. Hence their influence with the people. They were the true historical link with the past, they represented the growing consciousness of the chosen people, in the two all-essential points in which it prepared the way for the Gospel—in their belief in the immortality of the soul and in the cherished expectation of the Messiah. In more senses than one they sat in Moses' seat. The pure negativism of the Sadducee lent no aid here. Even if he did entertain some faint Messianic hopes, which is more than questionable, he deprived them of all religious value by denying a future state. And so again with the Essenes. Whatever importance we may attach to the reveries of the mystic Essene recluse, as testifying to the reality of a spiritual world, when all around was frozen and stiffened into formalism, still in his isolation from the national life of the Jews he lost that true historical instinct which was the life-blood of the people, and with it the vivid anticipations of the coming of Messiah.

It is not the spirit of the Sadducee, or of the Essene, but of the Pharisee, the son of Pharisees, which breathes in these glorious words,'And now for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers I stand at the bar as a criminal, unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly ministering day and night, hope to attain: for this hope I am accused, king Agrippa, by Jews' (Acts xxvi. 6,7).

1 Acts xviii. 21, cf. xx. 16. If St not affect the fact of his visit to JeruPaul's words quoted above are to be salem at this crisis (Acts xviii. 22). rejected as an interpolation, this does

And whatever shadow of worldly policy may for a moment be supposed to have overclouded the Apostle's conscience, as by his timely appeal he divided the two rival sects on the question of the resurrection of the dead1, still the appeal in itself was perfectly justifiable, because perfectly true. His cause was the cause of the Pharisees, while between them and the Sadducees a great gulf was fixed.

I have thus traced the three threads which were inwoven into the texture of the Apostle's mind, to strengthen its fabric and so to prepare him for his great work. It may be said indeed that when he is first brought before our notice, he bears no traces of any other than Jewish influences. He is a bigoted zealot, a narrow-minded persecutor. There is even a strong contrast between the cautious liberality of Gamaliel the master, and the persecuting rage of Saul the pupil. But is it not a matter of common experience, that the lessons of youth often lie for a time dormant and unnoticed, till they are suddenly kindled into flame by some electric stroke from without? The miraculous appearance on the way to Damascus produced in St Paul a change far greater indeed but analogous to that which the more striking incidents of life have produced on many another. It flashed a new light on vast stores of experience laid up unconsciously in the past. It quickened into energy influences long forgotten and seemingly dead. The atoms of his nature assumed a fresh combination. The lightning fused the Apostle's character and moulded it in a new shape, and the knife of the torturer was forged into the sword of the Spirit.

1 Acts xxiii. 6.