The Testimony of Paul

church-history-graphic{From The Lord From Heaven by Sir Robert Anderson, Chapter 8.  This book has been one of my favorites over the years since my parents gave it to me years ago. I have shared it with with others since, and then hunted down new copies to replace those that I gave away. This particular book is available from Amazon, and it looks like there is a new edition available:  Click this link if you are interested. This chapter fits well into the study on Colossians, so this week I will share it with you.  Enjoy!}

To the “beloved disciple” and the great Apostle of the Gentiles were entrusted the crowning revelations of the Christ.

The blindness of infidelity in rejecting on a priori grounds the verbal inspiration of Scripture is exposed even by the facts of Spiritualism — facts which are accredited by men of high character, some of whom are eminent as scientists and scholars. For these men testify to communications received from the spirit world; not mere impressions, nor yet trivial messages such as those of the days of “spirit-rapping,” but serious verbal communications, sometimes spoken by human lips, sometimes written by the agency of a human hand.

To accept these facts and yet deny that the God who made us speak through inspired Prophets and Apostles, does not savor of intelligent skepticism, but of the folly of systematized unbelief.

But Spiritualism may also touch us more than most Christians seem to realize as to what inspiration means. The Apostle’s words, “Forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats” have reference to the Demon cult of these “latter times”:¹ and so exacting is the fastidious asceticism of that cult that “mediums” are few. And we may be well assured that God requires an infinitely higher fitness in those through whom He will make revelations to His people. True it is that in extraordinary circumstances a Sadducean priest may have been entrusted with a divine message to his fellows, (John 11:49-51) just as “a dumb ass” was once made use of to rebuke the madness of a prophet. But all the Hebrew seers, from Moses to Malachi, were trained for their ministry in the severest of divine schools. Like Him of whom they spoke, they were “made perfect through suffering.”

And what was true of the prophets of the Old Testament was no less true of the holy men to whom the New Testament revelations were entrusted. For “I think,” said the foremost of them, “God hath set forth us, the Apostles, last of all as men doomed to death:  for we are made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and to men…We are made as the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things, even until now.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)

Here is his personal tale of suffering, even at a comparatively early stage of his ministry:

“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”  (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

“Once was I stoned.” It is strange how little notice has been taken of the Apostle’s martyrdom at Lystra. Stoning was a common death sentence under the Jewish law; and even when inflicted judicially the death was both swift and sure. But the stoning of Paul was not an execution, but a murder, and his murderers were men whose passions were inflamed by religious hate. The fierceness and brutality of their action is indicated by the narrative. The ordinance which enjoined that stoning should be inflicted “outside the camp” was construed as requiring that, in the case of a city, it should take place outside the gate. But in their rage against Paul this was ignored; and so, after stoning him, “supposing that he was dead, they dragged him out of the city”,² “dragged him,” as they might have treated the carcass of a dog.

If the record ended there we might conjecture that the Apostle was borne away by the disciples, and lovingly nursed back to life, and that, after many weeks of suffering, he was able once again to resume his ministry.  But among all the New Testament miracles of healing there is nothing more wonderful than what actually happened. For “as the disciples stood round about him he rose up and entered into the city; and on the morrrow he went forth with Barnabas to Derbe,” and preached the gospel there. If ever there was a miracle, surely this was one!

Whether he had actually passed through the gates of death on that dreadful day, and been again called back to life, the Apostle never knew. But this he knew, that “whether in the body or out of the body” — whether dead or living — he had been “caught up even to the third heaven,” and had heard unspeakable words. His vision on the Damascus road was again and again described by him, but the glory of Paradise and the words he heard there surpassed the possibilities of human utterance.

Well might he be “exalted overmuch” by “the exceeding greatness of the revelations”; and to humble him some trouble, which he calls “a messenger of Satan,” was permitted to make his life a martyrdom. The nature of that affliction has been the subject of many a conjecture. It evidently dated from the period of the “revelations”³ and the inference is a natural one that it originated in the physical sufferings with which the “revelations” were associated. That it was something which tended to unfit him for his public ministry is evident — “something in his aspect or personality which distressed him with an agony of humiliation.”4

One more clue is needed to guide us to a conclusion here. In Corinth his speech was deemed “contemptible,” where as in his earlier ministry he had ranked as an orator. For though Barnabas was a man of no common capacity and mark, it was not Barnabas, but Paul, who was hailed at Lystra as “the god of eloquence.” What, then, is the explanation of the seeming paradox? How natural that the stoning should have caused some facial paralysis, or some still more distressing affection which destroyed all control of his features, and made him an object of derision to the hostile or ill-conditioned members of every audience he addressed.5 And this, I venture to suggest, was his “Gethsemane” — the affliction from which his thrice-repeated supplication sought deliverance.6 The more we study that wonderful personality, the more unsatisfactory will seem the common view that it was a mere “thorn in the flesh” — some minor trouble of the kind that many a suffering Christian bears without a murmur. We may confidently follow those who understand his graphic words as meaning nothing less than “the agony of impalement.”7

“Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”: with what a bounding heart the Apostle must have framed these words, as possibly he uttered them with twitching mouth, or penned them with shaking hand! And may we not in our little measure realize something of his calm, triumphant faith when, surveying his strangely tragic life, and recalling the vision of glory God had granted him, he wrote those further words,

“I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to usward.”  (Romans 8:18)

Such are “the ways of God with men,” or at least with those whom He singles out for special honor. And Paul was chosen to be not merely the foremost witness of the risen Christ, but the recipient of the highest revelations concerning Him, revelations which reached a climax in the “Captivity Epistles.”

Treatises have been written to prove that in turning to Jerusalem when the Lord had sent him to the Gentiles, he was a second Jonah, and that his imprisonment in Rome; was a divine judgment. But this ignores the character of that Pentecostal dispensation in which the Jew had a priority in the offer of grace. And moreover, if it were true, surely some veiled reference to it would be found in his later Epistles. But there is none. “An ambassador in chains,” and “the prisoner of the Lord” — such is his graphic description of his position in the imperial city; and this is not the language of a repentant Jonah.

May we not rather believe that all his steps were “ordered of the Lord”?  And may it not be due to our crude and shallow estimate of what “inspiration” means, that we fail to realize that it was that very discipline that fitted him to receive and impart the crowning revelation of Christ?  Nor should we forget that his ministry in writing the Epistles which contain that revelation was incomparably more important even than his evangelistic labors. Of the churches which he founded scarcely a trace survives, but those Epistles remain, the priceless and imperishable heritage of the people of God.

It is the intense and uncompromising monotheism of the Jew that gives such telling force to the incidental testimony which the Epistles supply to the Deity of Christ. And our knowledge of the personality and antecedents of the Apostle to the Gentiles lends immense weight to his words in this regard. A fanatical Pharisee in his unconverted days, and deeply versed in Rabbinical teaching, all his convictions and prejudices would have vetoed his using language which could be construed as an ascription of divine homage to any one but God. While, therefore, a phrase such as “Christ…who is over all, God blessed for ever,” if written by one of the Greek Fathers, might possibly admit of the ingenious glosses of Socinian exegesis, its use by the Apostle is proof that with him the Godhood of Christ was a divine truth.8

The opening salutations of his Epistles, and also his “apostolic benediction,” afford further proof of it, for in both the salutation and the benediction Christ is named as on the same level with God. “Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”; “The grace of our Lord Jesus; Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” It is utterly inconceivable, I again repeat, that any man of Jewish training could have used such words unless the Lord Jesus Christ was enthroned in his heart as God.

And with an even greater force, if possible, does the remark apply to the Apostle’s language in his later “captivity Epistles,” written at the close of his life. Take, for example, his words to Titus: “Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possessions.” (Titus 2:13) This cannot be evaded by rejecting the revised reading of the words; for, however they are construed, the Lord Jesus is here named with God in a way that to the Jewish mind would savor of blasphemy if He be not God?9

In this connection the charge to Timothy at the close of the first Epistle claims emphatic mention:

“I charge thee in the sight of God…and of Christ Jesus…that thou keep the commandment, without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in its own times He shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power eternal. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:13-16, R.V.)

Commentators discuss the question, to which of the persons of the Trinity do these words refer? And those who apply the whole passage to “the Son” can urge that “the only Potentate” is equivalent to “our only Master and Lord” in Jude’s Epistle, and that, in the Revelation, the title “King of kings and Lord of lords” is definitely given to Him whose “name is called the Word of God.” (Revelation 19:13,16) But I venture to suggest that it is because of the controversies on the subject that here, as in many another passage, we raise a question which may have had no place whatever in the mind of the Apostle.

Not only in reading the Epistles, but even in their prayers, Christians often feel embarrassed by “the persons of the Trinity,” for the meaning of that term is much misunderstood; but no trace of any such embarrassment can be found in Scripture. Indeed, paradoxical though it may seem, the difficulty we find in interpreting this sublime doxology and other kindred Scriptures is proof that no difficulty of the kind presented itself to the mind of the Apostle. For with him “the Son” was “our great God and Savior.” And in his words, therefore, there was no turning away from the Son to the Father; but by a natural transition his thoughts about “our Lord Jesus Christ” became merged in the thought of God.

I conclude by quoting a passage from each of the three principal Epistles written during his first imprisonment. The following is his prayer for the Ephesians:

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all(Ephesians 1:17-23).

To the Philippians he writes:

Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father(Philippians 2:5-11).

And in the following passage from the Epistle to the Colossians the revelation of Christ reaches its highest development:

The Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins; who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens(Colossians 1:13-20).

To the unbeliever these words may seem the merest rhapsody. But the Christian accepts them as Divine. And to such I would appeal to read them again and again, and to ponder them till mind and heart are saturated with them. For I would say in the language of Ruskin — exaggerated language when used with reference to human writings, but true and apt when applied to Holy Scripture — “You must get into the habit of looking intensely at words, and assuring yourself of their meaning, syllable by syllable — nay, letter by letter.” And reading these Scriptures thus will dispel the last trace of unbelieving doubt as to who and what He is of whom they speak.

For no one who is not either mentally deficient or spiritually blind can imagine that such words refer to a fellow-creature.

Footnotes


[1] The Christian knows that the spirits of spiritualistic seances are not the departed dead, but demons who personate them.

[2] Acts 14:19. “They stoned him, not in the Jewish method, but tumultuously and in the streets, dragging him out of the city afterwards” (Alford). “The full sense is ‘And having prevailed on the multitude [to permit them to stone Paul], and having stoned him, they drew him out of the city.’ Suro having reference to the brutal insults offered to the dead bodies of executed malefactors, which were usually dragged by the heels out of the city gates” (Bloomfield).

[3] “Evidently,” I say, because the affliction was “given” to him lest the revelations should exalt him overmuch. The Romish exegesis of the passage, therefore, is certainly false. And the fact that Patristic authority can be cited for it does not deter me from describing it as shameful.

[4] Dean Farrar.

[5] It is very noteworthy that whenever he addressed cultured hearers, as, e.g., his various Roman judges, the Apostle seems to have commanded great consideration and respect. His affliction would draw out the courtesy of such men, while with the vulgar it might excite derision.  And it is said that such an affliction would affect the sufferer in different degrees at different times.

[6] 2 Corinthians 12. Bloomfield cites authorities for the conjecture that the trouble was “a paralytic and hypochondriac affection which occasioned a distortion of countenance and other distressing effects.”

It has been urged upon me that this supposes an imperfect, an uncompleted, miracle of healing, for which there is no precedent in Scripture. But surely the Apostle’s words indicate that he knew his experience to be peculiar. To suffer from “a thorn in the flesh” has been the lot of multitudes of the people of God, but to suffer impalement, as it were, from the after effects of injuries divinely healed—this was so unique that he twice refused to accept the answer to his prayer for relief.

[7] The word translated “thorn” means a stake for impaling, and then a thorn or splinter. Those who hold that ophthalmia was the Apostle’s affliction appeal to Numbers 33:55 (LXX). The ablest statement known to me of that view is Dean Farrar’s excursus in his “Life and Work of St. Paul.” But the Apostle’s references to his eyesight would all be accounted for if his trouble was of a kind that might be relieved by a present-day optician.

[8] I assume the correctness of the above rendering; and I am discussing the question without reference to inspiration. If the writings are inspired, there is no question left for discussion.

[9] It is worthy of note that the identical words used of redemption by Jehovah in the Greek version of Exodus 19:5 are here quoted and applied to Christ. And also that the word “Savior” occurs twice in each chapter of this Epistle, once of God and once of Christ. And though, of course, the word in itself does not connote Deity, it is incredible that the Apostle would have used it three times as a divine title, and three times in a lower sense when applied to Christ. The Christian will not doubt that it is used as a divine title in every one of its twenty-four occurrences in the New Testament, with the exception, perhaps, of Ephesians 5:23. And in fifteen of these occurrences it is used of Christ.


Anderson, Sir Robert. The Lord from Heaven. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregal Publications, 1978. Print.

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