Paul's Preaching of a Glorified Christ, Peter's Witnessing

Acts 26:16‑17  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The next point noticed is St. Paul's preaching a glorified Christ, not a lowly One. It is quite true: and equally true that he was not called to be a witness of Christ's oral teachings. So it is declared in his mission as distinguished from that of the twelve. He was to be the great witness of that part of truth which put Jew and Gentile on the same footing in a heavenly way, which could only be in connection with a glorified Christ. But if that be supposed to mean, that he attached no importance to the history of Christ's humiliation,1 nothing can be more false; only he takes it up, as he does all else, as a part of the vast counsels and plans and purposes of God.
The following passages, not to speak of unnumbered ones which speak of the cross, will prove what I say. In John 15:26, 2726But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: 27And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26‑27), it is said, "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning." They were eye-witnesses of His life down here. As to Paul's ministry, it is said, Acts 26:1616But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; (Acts 26:16), "But rise and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee." Here we have the two commissions clearly stated.
So Peter calls himself a witness of Christ's sufferings, and a partaker of the glory to be revealed. Paul not only speaks of "the gospel of the glory," but says, "for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus" his Lord; and, instead of speaking of himself as a witness of the sufferings and partaker of the glory, seeks "the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings." He descends, so to speak, into the sufferings, because of the glory, and as the way to his high calling above. He does not speak of waiting for its revelation. And this was so very distinct, that Peter proposes, in Acts 3, to the Jews repentance, that Christ may return to them; Paul never. Peter's testimony had been rejected, and Stephen killed and received on high; and there was no thought then but receiving Jew and Gentile through the ministry of him whom grace had called away from Stephen's martyr-ground, and from the apostleship of Jewish hatred, to Christ, to be the witness of heavenly things connected with that glorious Christ, by the vision of whom on the way to Damascus he was arrested, and his pride laid low. The Holy Ghost also opened his spiritual eye on the Lord, leading him to preach Him whom once he destroyed.
Hence he boldly declares, after speaking of the "gospel of the glory," that he does not know Christ in the former or Jewish way, after the flesh; and that if any man was in Christ, there was a new creation-he belonged to what took him out of Jew and Gentile; as it had been said to him by Christ, when He appeared to him by the way, "Delivering thee from the Gentiles, to whom now I send thee." But this only fills up the perfectness of the gospel revelation in its place. And the humiliation of Christ takes, in Paul's view, all its immense and vast importance in the counsels of God, and is not a mere personal history, perfectly interesting and divinely instructive as that is in its place; for the gospel has a thousand aspects in one divine truth.
Paul was eminently the vessel of the counsels of God in Christ. Does that make the personal history of Jesus less interesting, less profoundly, divinely, though humanly, instructive? No; the heart goes back to study in every detail, One who in every detail was divine love and holiness, near enough to man's eye to study it for himself. But how does Paul speak of this? See the sweep of truth with which he brings Christ's humiliation in: "Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things." What a place does His humiliation fill here! Again, take His, so to speak, official exaltation: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow."
Thus the history of Christ's humiliation was looked at by Paul, through the Holy Ghost, not in the touching detail of Christ's individual life, of which he was not witness, but as one immense fact, and a cardinal one, in the vast scheme of God. This was exactly in its place, and in keeping with the service for which he was employed. John gives us the divine nature; Paul, the divine counsels; Peter, the walk of him who has a lively hope through the resurrection of One whose walk he had known and followed in its bright display on earth, towards the heaven into which resurrection is meant to introduce us (all founding the accomplishment of blessing on the redemption which He has wrought out for us).
Mr. N. next complains of Paul not affording us the grounds on which he believed the facts as to Christ's resurrection.2
I have, in principle, answered this. The business of a revelation is to afford the objects of faith in such a full display as makes the evidence of it, not to discuss the logical grounds of its reception. Nothing can be more absurd, more demonstrative of the petty narrowness of mind which cannot discern the true character of what is before it, than the claim of such a logical discussion in scripture. Moral appeals of the most touching character to all, the evidences given and slighted, are indeed found. That we can understand. But I venture to say, there is not a right-thinking man in existence, who would not (if he had found in the New Testament a discussion on the logical grounds of evidence) have at once concluded that it was not, or at least that such a portion formed no part of, a revelation of God.
Even as to logic, I must beg to be entirely exempted from partnership in that of Mr. N. "Our" is a very comfortable, comprehensive word; as if his reasoning were the universal grounds of enlightened modern conviction. I must beg to think, poorly as I esteem men's competency in such matters, that is far from being the case: Take the example Mr. N. appeals to Paley. He has examined all these subjects with a clear and accurate mind; he has come, and written to show why he has come, to the full conviction of the authenticity and divine authority of that to which Mr. N. denies both. What kind of logic had he?
("How different was the logic [Paul's] from ours! To see the full force of the last remark, we ought to conceive how many questions a Paley would have wished to have asked Paul; and how many details Paley himself, if he had had the sight, would have felt it his duty to impart to his readers." (Phases, pp. 181, 182.))
But let us ourselves examine the evidence St. Paul affords in writing to the Corinthians. The question was, Will the saints rise again? The proof of the resurrection, insisted on as evidence, is the fact of Christ's resurrection; for if there be no resurrection, then Christ is not raised; and the whole gospel, which is really founded on it, falls to the ground. Besides, therefore, a doctrinal statement (to which the evidence of his own mission, already afforded, gave authority), he appeals to historical proofs. And what are they? Some one apparition to an excited individual, whose imagination may have misled him? No; different and repeated manifestations of Himself by Christ to persons who very well knew Him. The apostle states (besides these manifestations of Christ taking place often to those who were intimate with Him) on one occasion He appeared to some five hundred persons, of whom the apostle takes care to say that the greater pan are still living to testify, if needed, to the truth of the statement. Now what so good evidence can you have of a person being actually there, as being repeatedly seen by those who knew him well, his daily companions; and (if prejudice or feeling may be alleged as leading a dozen of them to concur in and continue a most elaborate falsehood, and suffer for it) having the certainty of the truth confirmed by His being seen by above five hundred persons at once, who were then most of them living to tell the story? It is difficult to imagine what "our logic" could have, in the way of evidence, more convincing.
St. Paul, it is true, does not discuss its validity; but he produces what is valid; and that is just what he had to do. We are discussing it now; we do not want St. Paul for that. When he wrote, they were living to be examined who had seen Him. What other kind of evidence would Mr. N. require? What other could he have? Would he require some palpable proof of its being real? Christ eats and drinks with them after He arose from the dead. Is he still unbelieving? Thomas, happily for us, had the same skepticism; and Christ's wounded side and pierced hands extorted the acknowledgment of the fact, and of the divine person to whom such a fact testified.
And remark here, we are discussing the nature of the evidence afforded.3 It will be said, "You should bring the proof of enemies as well as friends." Were such adduced, it would have been equally alleged, they would not have known Him; and if convinced, were they to be excluded as witnesses, because they were honest enough to become friends? Must a man be necessarily a skeptic to have truth and sense? I judge a man more honest who avows his convictions and suffers for them. I can produce thousands, ay, millions, of skeptics, who are constantly making profession, for their ease' sake, of this and many things besides, which they do not believe. This was certainly not the course of those who received and professed the testimony of Jesus. But I do bring the best proof of that kind (that is, of thousands of enemies thoroughly convinced by the evidence they had where the facts occurred, so that they embraced and suffered for the truth of it).
Among them was St. Paul, who, not for his conviction but that he might be an eye-witness, did see Him when he was an enemy. He very modestly introduces this, with the expression of the sense of his own unworthiness, but declares expressly here in Corinthians, as he does elsewhere, that he saw the Lord. St. Paul then produces five hundred witnesses, and declares they are alive. The simplicity of the proof needed no comment. It has the dignity of a plain, unanswerable testimony. It wanted no "extravagating,"4 no "reveling" in it. It carried its own weight. He adduces his own testimony in the same simple way-" Last of all he was seen of me also."
Mr. N. asks, "Did he see Him as a man in a fleshly body, or as a glorified, heavenly form?" (Phases, p. 182.) There was such a manifestation of glory as left no mistake with any present, though they were not intended to be eye-witnesses of Jesus, nor to hear His voice. The general blaze of glory and the sound from heaven confounded them, and they fell to the earth. Paul, to whom the Lord meant to reveal Himself, then saw the glorified Lord, and heard His voice speaking to him-answered Him, received His reply at large and in detail. He made no mistake as to the glorious light; and when One who gave such plain proof of glory, and whom he saw in a glory which surpassed the sun's brightness, declared to him Himself that He was Jesus, Paul believed the glorious One he saw from heaven. Perhaps Mr. N. might not have done so, might have been "disobedient to the heavenly vision;" but I know not that he would have proved his wisdom in his disobedience. And, though Mr. N. does not like threats, there certainly is a day which will declare it, or the grace (as the Lord grant it may be!) which has forgiven it.
But this was not all the evidence Paul had, nor all he refers to. A godly, sober man, well reported of by his enemies and the truth's, but whom he did not know, comes to him unsent for, and declares to him that he has had a vision, and that he has been sent to him by the same Jesus who had appeared to him by the way; and not only this, but that he had been sent to give him back his sight, which accordingly took place, and moreover that he should receive the Holy Ghost. Accordingly we find Saul, previously astounded by the vision, and the immense revolution it must have produced in his mind to find he was fighting against the Lord of glory, and that all the heads of his religion were the bitter enemies of the glorious Christ of the God they professed to serve-we find him, I say, boldly, with great force and conviction, proving that the Jesus whose disciples he persecuted was indeed the Christ, and soon naturally becoming himself the object of persecution, but persevering to the end.
Now was the glory seen by all-the confounding voice from heaven-the vision of His person by Saul-the detailed conversation in which he was convinced and his mission given to him, confirmed by the independent evidence of Ananias the righteous Jew-his receiving his sight and such spiritual power as confounded the Jews that dwelt at Damascus-all confirming the reality of the positive declaration of One whom he saw in glory, that He was Jesus-evidence which changed the man's whole life -of such a character as proved a man had "lax notions of evidence,"5 because he was convinced by it? I apprehend that when he had himself seen the Lord, talked with Him, received from Him sight and power, he did not think much about notions of evidence, because he had a full revelation for himself. He might leave it easily to skeptics, and wonder at their notions, well convinced that "if his gospel was hid, it was hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them." He had seen that Just One and heard the words of His mouth. He had told him who He was. All was confirmed by signs of power and holiness and truth. What needed he more?
And remark here, that all the testimony of the apostle bears the stamp of this for some thirty years after. His gospel is "the gospel of the glory of Christ." He knows Him only in this way, knows Him for himself-his doctrine, the union of the Church with Him who said, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest"-the deliverance from Jewish habits of thinking in so remarkable a way-the very hatred of the Jews perpetuated to this day-all bear the stamp of the origin of his mission by this vision of Christ. As to the character of his testimony, Mr. Ν. does not deny it; but effects show, more or less, their cause. And then here it was exactly what was needed, if it be true; just the point of progress at which Christianity had arrived. The Jews who sent Saul had denied and rejected it. The time was come to bring out the Church as such, and the Gentiles into a place common to them and to the Jews, dropping the privileges of the Jews (forfeited by rebellion persevered in against mercy); for they had "filled up their sins, and wrath was come upon them to the uttermost." The doctrine of Paul (of the reception of the Gentiles, and the building of the Church in union with its Head, Christ in glory) all flows naturally and necessarily from the vision on the way to Damascus; the sovereign grace which gave it to a Saul, stamped its character throughout.
My business is not with the logic of the apostle, but with his truth, with his testimony. I may look for it in Mr. Ν.; and his reasonings, which expect logic from a witness instead of his testimony, are as illogical as they are narrow and petty in their scope of apprehension of the character and effect of the evidence.
Mr. Ν. says, "Peter does not attest the bodily, but only the spiritual resurrection of Jesus." (Phases, p. 184.) I can only say to this, that Mr. N.'s views of Greek are as narrow as of logic. Indeed, he must be a hardy man, and have very "lax notions of evidence," who could allege Peter as one who attested only the spiritual resurrection of Jesus. He it is who declared the twelve were witnesses of it, having eaten and drunk with Him after He rose from the dead. They preached Jesus and the resurrection- that neither did His soul remain in Hades, nor His flesh see corruption. He it was who proposed that one of those who had constantly accompanied Jesus should be with them-a witness of His resurrection.
But will Mr. Ν. say that ζωοποιηωεὶς πωεύματι or τῷ π. means simply that His sprit was raised and not His body? Is that the simple force of the dative in Greek (viz., to be the direct object of the active power of the verb)? Mr. Ν. knows just as well as I do that it is not; and that his remark has no solid foundation whatever. For if Mr. N.'s remark has any weight, it is that ζ.π. meant that His spirit was made alive. On the face of it this would be absurd, because the only thing put to death, if we so take it, was the flesh; for it is said, θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκί. The inquiry as to the Messianic prophecies remains.