S. PAUL OUR EXAMPLE.
If I be not an Apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you.
i Corinthians ix. 2. Teast of the Conversion of S. Paul, 1874.
In this place, on this day, the preacher cannot hesitate about his theme. Speaking on this great festival which commemorates the Conversion of S. Paul, speaking in this famous church which bears the name of S. Paul, the great Apostle of the Gentiles must be, this afternoon, our example, our teacher, our guide.
S. Paul, in the words of the text, claims to stand in a very intricate and very sacred relation to the Corinthian Church. He had planted the first seeds of the Gospel among them. He had preached to them, had toiled among them, had suffered for them. Corinth was written on his heart . Others might question his authority: others might disdain his teaching. But Corinth—his own Corinth—was the last place, where such feelings should be entertained. Corinth was a witness against herself. 'If I am not an Apostle to others, yet indeed I am to you.'
And to-day we may well imagine the Apostle addressing the same words of remonstrance to ourselves, to the congregation which gathers from time to time within these walls, to the clergy and the laymen of all degrees whose privilege it is to minister daily in this sanctuary: 'Whatever may be the influence of my teaching on others, yet with you it should be paramount. My name, my authority, my work, are ever before you. With you my relations are most sacred and quite unique. To you I am an Apostle, if to any congregation in this metropolis, in England, in Christendom.'
For indeed the dedication of this great church in the name of S. Paul is a much more striking fact than at first sight appears. We ourselves are very familiar with sacred buildings commemorating the Apostle of the Gentiles. It is almost the first name, which could occur to us when dedicating a church in any town or neighbourhood, where it was not already forestalled. The case was far otherwise, when in the sixth century of the Christian era Ethelbert king of Kent founded on the very spot, where we are now assembled, a cathedral dedicated to S. Paul. The selection then was very singular, almost unique. Despite the great and unparalleled labours of this Apostle in the first diffusion of the Christian Church, despite the exceptionally large space occupied by his writings in the volume of the New Testament, it is a strange fact that in Western Christendom during the early and middle ages the name of S. Paul was very rarely given to any church. Besides the building, in which we are met, there is indeed one other instance among the more famous churches of Western Europe: but this one exception may be said to strengthen the rule. It is the church built on the traditional site of the Apostle's martyrdom and burial, the church of S. Paul without the walls of Rome. Of our English cathedrals not one, I believe, besides our own, is dedicated solely to the Apostle who laboured more abundantly than all, whom tradition especially associated with England. Some of the noblest, such as York and Westminster, bear the name of S. Peter—the most favourite dedication of all. Others, and these not a few, are designated after the mother of our blessed Lord. Others, again, bear the name of local saints. In the midst of all this strange neglect, it is surely a notable fact, that our own great church—the cathedral of this metropolis, the cathedral of the greatest city in the modern world—bears the appropriate name of the Apostle of the Nations. May we not take this unique fact, as our watchword and our beacon, a sign of our special calling here, and a token of the spirit which should animate us in our work? More than seven centuries ago, when the Cathedral of S. Paul was laid in ruins by a fire—not the first nor the last of those fierce conflagrations which have raged on this site—a neighbouring bishop pleaded in his diocese for contributions to the rebuilding, on the ground that, though S. Paul had planted Churches throughout the world and shed the light of the faith in all lands, yet this was the only episcopal see on earth which bore the Apostle's name. On the same grounds I press upon you an appeal of another kind to-day. As the memory of S. Paul is our special privilege here, so his example is our special inheritance and his doctrine our special obligation; 'If I am not an Apostle to others, yet indeed I am to you.'
As year after year the Festival of the Apostle's Conversion comes round, we cannot fail to be impressed with the long continuity of the history, which connects this site with the name of S. Paul. Before the earliest dawn of all those great intellectual and social and political influences, which have moulded the character of England, before, long before, the birth of the English literature, the English constitution, the English empire, we might almost say before the birth of the English language and the English nation, the Apostle of the Gentiles was commemorated on this spot. Invasion has followed invasion; dynasties have risen and fallen; all things around and about have changed; but this one name has remained throughout fastened upon this one site. From age to age fire has done its worst; building after building has fallen a victim to its rage; but each successive fabric as it rose, amidst every vicissitude of time, with every divergence of style, has handed down to the next the name of Paul, Paul the servant of Jesus Christ, as our special inheritance in these latest times. And S. Paul's has ever been the familiar name of this building. Other great churches are commonly described by their locality: we speak of Lincoln, of Canterbury, of Durham, of York, of Westminster; but London Cathedral is an unused and almost unknown designation. We recognise it only as S. Paul's. Thus he has 'been with us at all seasons,' through his name and his example he has 'gone among us preaching the kingdom of God;' 'for the space of thirteen centuries at the least' he has ceased not warning every one night and day.' 'Be ye followers/ or rather, as it should be rendered,' Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.'
But what need—it may be said—what need have we of any secondary example to follow? Have we not our perfect pattern, exemplar, ideal, in Christ? Why should we descend to a lower level? What is this but to substitute the Imitatio Pauli for the Imitatio Chrisli? Nay, I reply, if there should ever be found any conflict between the two, we cannot hesitate whom to follow. If Paul should break out in impatient remonstrance before an unrighteous judge, 'God shall smite thee, thou whitened wall,' then we turn away to a greater than Paul,' Who suffered for us, leaving us an example,' 'Who when He was reviled reviled not again, when He suffered, threatened not.' Indeed it were sheer blasphemy to put Paul in the place of Christ, or to seek union with God through Paul. But this very point—the union with God in Christ, this realisation of Christ's presence, this most difficult of all lessons to master—is just the lesson which Christ Himself cannot illustrate, cannot teach by His example, because He is Himself the Lesson. Now it is an unspeakable help to us to have before our eyes a vivid exemplification of it; to trace in the manifold and complicated relations of daily life the working of this one principle, as the mainspring of thought, of feeling, of conduct—the realisation of Christ's presence, the mind of Christ appropriated (as it were) and absorbed in the mind of the believer. We need not only the Great Example Himself, but we need also an example of the following of the Great Example. Such an end (can we doubt that it was a providential end ?) is served by the biography and letters of S. Paul. The position, which he holds in the Scriptures, is quite unique in its prominence. It is the explanation, it is the seal, it is the indication of his own bold, but not overbold, appeal to the Corinthians, uttered in no access of self-glorification, but dictated by the guidance of a higher Spirit and approved by the Christian conscience in all ages,' Be ye followers, be ye imitators, of me, even as I also am of Christ.'
For observe, how all the requisite conditions of such an example meet in the person of S. Paul.
First; in such a man the one principle of action must be illustrated in manifold capacities and relations of life. Now, in the older history of the human race, it would be difficult to point to any man, who fulfilled this condition more completely than S. Paul. No biography is more fertile in incident; none more complex and varied in its manifestations. With Greeks and barbarians, with Romans and Jews, in Europe and in Asia, among friends and among foes, with rich and poor, with weak and strong, now defending himself against a powerful conspiracy, now animating a demoralised ship's crew amidst the perils of the tempest, now rapt in beatific visions, now toiling hard with his own hands for his daily bread; in almost every conceivable relation of life—working, preaching, acting, suffering, hoping, fearing, living, dying—he is seen. And still the motive power is the same, 'Not I, but Christ that liveth in me.'
And again; in such an example as we have supposed, it is necessary that he should be his own spokesman. We want to know the exact expression of his feelings, the inmost working of his mind. This is just what S. Paul's own letters give; and what no report of others could have given. In the whole range of literature there is nothing like them. Other correspondence may be more voluminous, more elaborate, more studiously demonstrative. But none is so faithful a mirror of the writer. In none does the man's personality, the man's character, stand out so distinctly, so naturally, so unreservedly, in all its varying moods, and all its manifold interests. And what do we suppose was the providential design in all this? What, but that we might trace the intricate workings of a mind which conformed itself to the mind of Christ, might imitate the manifold energies of a life in which Christ lived again.
S. P. S. 15
Once more; in such an example, it is requisite that he should be situated like ourselves with regard to Christ. Like ourselves, he must not have been a personal disciple of Christ. Like ourselves, he must have been denied the support of daily intercourse with the Saviour in the flesh. In his case, as in ours, faith must not have had an ally in memory. By him, as by us, Christ must have been realised only spiritually. This Paul is to us. This Peter and John never could have been—Peter with all his fervour and John with all his love. We might have evaded their example. It would have seemed hardly to touch our case. Had not they both gone in and out with Him for well-nigh three whole years? Was not Peter's confession of faith wrung from him at the Saviour's very feet, and had not John at that last sad solemn meal leaned on the Saviour's own bosom? Yes, here—we might have said—here was the explanation of their stedfastness; here in these external aids, in this visible, tangible communion, was the secret of their vivid realisation of Christ's presence in after-life. So we are tempted to argue. We forget that this external communion was accorded not to a Peter and a John only, but to a Thomas who doubted and to a Judas who betrayed. S. Paul is God's, protest against this self-delusion: S. Paul is God's witness that this realisation of Christ may be attained, and attained in the highest degree, by one who like ourselves has never known Christ after the flesh.
And this appropriation of Christ, this union with God in Christ, is the very soul of S. Paul's teaching. Ask different persons what is the leading, the characteristic doctrine of the Apostle of the Gentiles, and you will get different answers. Some, and these the larger number, will reply, justification by faith. Others, and these not a few, will say, the liberty ot the Gospel. But read his Epistles for yourself, and you will find that for once when either of these doctrines is referred to, union with Christ will be mentioned ten times. They are indeed prominent; they are discussed, are argued, because they were impugned. But it underlies the whole. It appears under every variety of circumstances, and in every form of language. Now it is the ' putting on Christ;' now it is the 'being transformed into Christ's image;' now it is 'being crucified with Christ;' now it is the 'bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus:' now it is the 'rising with Christ,' the 'living with Christ.' Now, conversely, it is Christ 'being formed' in us, Christ 'living in' us.
And just this it is, which interprets the Apostle's appeal, ' Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am ot Christ.'
'Not Paul, but Jesus' has been the cry of more than one sceptical writer, who has impugned the accredited views of Christian doctrine and Apostolic history. 'Not Paul, but Jesus'—a thousand times. 'Not Paul, but Jesus,' the Apostle himself would have said. 'Not Paul, but Jesus,' the devout believer will say to the end of all time. 'Not Paul, but Jesus:' yes, but Jesus was manifested in Paul; Jesus worked in Paul; Jesus lived in Paul; Jesus died in Paul. S. Paul's life was the great example to all time of union with God in Christ. Such is his appeal to us to-day: 'I have striven to grow into Christ, to put on Christ, to live with Christ, to die with Christ. This was the one guiding principle of my life. So strive ye. Be ye followers of me.' f And this is also the soul of Christian ethics Are there any here, on whose ears such words fall altogether dead, who can attach to them just no meaning at all? Then, however respectable they may be in their lives, they know no more of the higher graces and gifts of the Christian character— the absolute self-renunciation, the perfect trust, the absorbing love, the willingness to dare and to suffer anything—than the idle loiterers in the plains know of the glories of a sunrise amidst the Alpine heights. Are there any, who have apprehended however feebly their meaning, who have caught, it may be, from far below a passing glimpse of the rosy light which tips the snowy peaks, who are filled with yearning at the sight? Let them take courage from S. Paul, and struggle upward, and thank God for this bright example thus vouchsafed to them.
Only imagine for a moment S. Paul's Epistles blotted out at once from our Bible and our memories. Only reflect what history would have been, what human life would have been, if they had not been written, or, being written, had not been preserved— how impoverished, how dwarfed, how blighted. Try to realise, if you can, the extent of the loss to yourself each day. Think of the void which would have been left in your heart, and in your mind. And let the extent of this imagined loss be the measure of your thanksgiving to-day; while you determine henceforward to understand more fully the great lesson of his life, and thus to give a practical answer to his appeal,' If I be not an Apostle to others, yet indeed I am to you.'