A Trophy of Grace

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am; and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (1 Cor. 15:9,10).

Christianity obtained in Paul an incomparable type of Christian character. His conversion proved the power of Christianity to overcome the strongest prejudices and to stamp its own type on a large nature by a revolution both instantaneous and permanent. Paul’s was a personality so strong and original that no other man could have been less expected to sink himself in another; but, from the moment when he came into contact with Christ, he was so overmastered with His influence that he never afterward had any other desire than to be the mere echo and reflection of Him to the world. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do (Acts 9:6)? Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more;.....But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ...That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death (Phil. 3:4,7,10).

But, if Christianity showed its strength in making so complete a conquest of Paul, it showed its worth no less in the kind of man it made of him when he had given himself up to its influence. It satisfied the needs of a peculiarly hungry nature, and never to the close of his life did he betray the slightest sense that this satisfaction was abating. Nor was it ever doubtful either to himself or to others that it was the influence of Christ which made him what he was. The truest motto for his life would be his own saying, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal. 2:20).

Secondly, Christianity obtained in Paul a great thinker. Christ had manifested forth the glory of the Father once for all and completed His atoning work. It was necessary that the meaning of His appearance should be explained to the world. If Christianity was to make an intellectual as well as a moral conquest of the world, it was necessary for the Church to have accurately explained to her the full glory of her Lord and the meaning of His saving work. There was one great subject especially which Christ had to leave unexplained - His own death. He could not explain it before it had taken place. This became the leading topic of Paul’s thinking - to show why it was needed and what were its blessed results. The ruling impulse of his thinking, as of his life, was ever Christ, and it was his lifelong devotion to this exhaustless theme that made him the Thinker of Christianity. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth (Rom. 1:16).

Thirdly, Christianity obtained in Paul the missionary of the Gentiles. He was not only the Church’s greatest thinker, but the very foremost worker she has ever possessed. One of the great objects of the appearance of Christ was to break down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile and make the blessings of salvation the property of all men, without distinction of race or language. But He was not Himself permitted to carry this change into practical realization. It can only be imagined how congenial a task it would have been to His intensely human heart to carry the gospel beyond the limits of Palestine and make it known to nation after nation. But He was cut off in the midst of His days, and had to leave this task to His followers. He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father (Jn. 14:12).

Before the appearance of Paul on the scene, the execution of this task had begun. Jewish prejudice had been partially broken down, but none of the original apostles was equal to the emergency. Beyond Palestine lay the great world of Greece and Rome. It needed a man of unlimited versatility, of education, of immense human sympathy and breadth, to go out there with the gospel message. No man of this size belonged to the original apostolic circle; but Christianity needed such an one, and he was found in Paul. Originally attached more strictly than any of the other apostles to the peculiarities and prejudices of Jewish exclusiveness, he cut his way out of the jungle of these prepossessions, accepted the equality of all men in Christ, and applied this principle relentlessly in all its issues. He gave his heart to the Gentile mission, and the history of his life is the history of how true he was to his vocation. In him Jesus Christ went forth to evangelize the world, making use of his hands and feet, his tongue and brain and heart, for doing the work which in His own bodily presence He had not been permitted by the limits of His mission to accomplish. I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:1,8).