The First Years of Christianity: Facts and Fruits of Paul

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
What did Paul preach? What produced such marvelous results? Did he preach what man must do? Or did he preach what Christ had done? Did he preach baptism as a means of regeneration, or of salvation? No; baptism had no place in the gospel he preached (1 Cor. 1:17). Did he preach that all men were under the law, and that they must be justified by either keeping the law, or by someone keeping it for them, any way that they must be justified on the principle of the law? No; we do not find such a thought.
Let us keep close to the facts—his preaching as commissioned from the heavenly vision, by the Lord Himself, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in his epistles. You will notice in his manner of preaching that there was not one word of what man was required to do. Men were treated as lost, and Paul had a message from God for them: “Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” Not a word about all men being under the law, and that Christ must needs keep it for them. The very Jews of the synagogue, who were seeking to be justified by keeping the law, needed an entire change of mind, repentance, and the facts that Paul preached produced that repentance. The mass of them rejected this gospel and these facts with scorn, just as those now who say they are Jews, that is, under law, and are not, will reject these facts of the gospel which were told out in the First Years of Christianity.
Study these three facts:
1) “Christ must needs have suffered”;
2) “And risen again from the dead”;
3) “That this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”
These three facts formed the base or foundation of all Paul's preaching. And they were not hearsay facts; he had not been taught them by others. But he had seen this very crucified Jesus in that heavenly vision of glory above all created light.
It is no little privilege to have the true gospel thus direct from the man who received it in the heavenly vision—a man who could not be mistaken. In 1 Corinthians 15 he gives an account of the gospel he preached to them. It is as ever the same, “How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” And that others as well as himself had seen Him after His resurrection, “So we preach, and so ye believed.” If Christ was not risen, then he was a false witness, and they had believed in vain, and were still in their sins.
These were not doctrines, properly speaking, or much less theories, but simple facts. All else in the world were doctrines and theories of men. Here were facts that really revealed the righteous character of God, that met all God's claims on the guilty sinner, and gave him the absolute assurance that all was met and settled to the glory of God; for the full glory of God shone in the face of His beloved Son, the Man who had done it all, and who declared in the plainest terms that all who believed God were reckoned righteous before Him. All this was clearer and brighter than the Eastern noonday sun.
Now, is not this just what man needs to know with certainty, so that he may have perfect peace with God, in the full radiance of His glory? Perhaps nothing has more tended to hide this clear gospel of the First Years of Christianity than the Galatian heresy, the determination to put all men under law. Not the openly giving up of Christ, but making our justification to depend partly on Christ, and partly on aw. Even Peter utterly failed in this matter, and the beloved Barnabas was carried away with the dissimulation.
The Spirit of God, by the Apostle Paul, takes this ground, that since Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father,” then to mix up the law, that is, the principle of what we ought to do to God, would be quite a different gospel from the gospel given to him (Gal. 1:4-12).
And Paul shows the real folly of this, for the Jews who were under the law had to give it up, “that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” To do it would be to build again the things which he had destroyed. As to himself, as a responsible man once under the law, he was dead, “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ.” Now a dead crucified man is not under law, but is dead to it. He says, “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
No, nothing could be more sad or foolish than the giving up the truth as held by Paul, and set forth in this epistle. It has leavened all Christendom, and brought in the utmost confusion. Sometimes the soul believes God, and then is happy; then seeks to attain to a little more righteousness by the law as a rule of life! and then is almost in despair. Where is there one who has not suffered by this confusion? Are you perplexed, and say, “Why, I have been taught from my childhood that all men, Jews or Gentiles, were under the law, and all had transgressed it, and all were under its curse, and that even the believer is put under it again, as the rule of life”? Yes, this is exactly what men teach now. Is it what Paul taught in the First Years of Christianity?
As this letter to the Galatians was one of the very first of the first years, do prayerfully read on. What do you find in chapter 3? He tells us that Abraham was justified long before the law was given. He believed God, and IT (faith) was reckoned to him for righteousness. He tells us, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” Then if all are now of the works of the law, all are still under the curse. He tells us that the law is not of faith. Speaking of Jews, who had been under it, he says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.”
He tells us that the covenant confirmed of God in Christ, which He promised to Abraham, was 430 years before the Law. He explains why the law was given. It served to bring gut transgressions; it was a schoolmaster until Christ.
In chapter 4, there is the most marked distinction between those under law, and those under grace—the one in bondage, the other in the liberty of sons. And under the allegory of Hagar and Sarah, or Ishmael and Isaac, the two principles of Law and grace cannot go on together. Ishmael must be cast Put. Oh, how we, like Abraham, plead that he might live. Flow we struggle that the flesh under law might live, when God tells us to reckon it dead. It seems so desirable that there might be some good found in us, and the work of Christ to make up the deficiency. To take this ground is to be in bondage. Ah, you know this, though you thus cleave to and Plead for Ishmael. Oh, that my old “I” could live and be setter. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Read every word that follows in chapter 5. Remember, if you take the ground of the law, “Christ shall profit you nothing.”
What solemn warnings follow, and how little heeded. The only power for a holy walk, and we need no other power, is this, the power of the Holy Spirit. And notice this mark: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” Then also you find the great truth, that neither the law, circumcision, nor lawlessness, uncircumcision, availeth anything, but a new creature. A truth of the utmost importance! Man must be born wholly anew. The law only brings out the sin in his nature in open transgression. This is most fully brought out in the larger letter on this subject, the Epistle to the Romans. Oh, that we could go back to the first years, and read that epistle as the very words of God. All are proved guilty—both the Gentiles, which have not the law, and the Jews, which had the law. For until the law, that is, until the time that it was given, from Adam to Moses, sin was in the world, though not reckoned as transgression.
And there is no thought in that epistle of man being justified on the principle of law. This was impossible, since man was guilty. Why should we seek to be wiser than God? He deals with the facts of man's condition. The fact was, the Gentiles without law were guilty of the grossest sins, and the Jews under the law were no better. So that the glad tidings could not be in any way what man was to God, for he was only guilty and under judgment, and had no strength to be better. God could not be righteous then in justifying the guilty on the principle of law.
Then shone out the righteousness of God in justifying the sinner, entirely apart from law, exactly as Paul had received the gospel of the heavenly vision. Jesus must suffer the atoning death of the cross. He must die for our sins. He must be delivered for our offenses, whether Jews or Gentiles. He must rise again—yes, God raised Him again for our justification. Now what had the law to do with this, or to say to this, except in the types of the sacrifices? You will thus see that both the righteousness of God in justifying, and our eternal salvation, rest not on what we must do, or law, but solely on what Jesus must do, and what He has done—done once for all, never to be repeated.
For God, who raised Him from the dead, had been glorified by His death and suffering wrath for our sins. So that God could in perfect righteousness raise Him from the dead, for the express purpose of our justification. And as the work of Christ can never lose its value for us, we see the everlasting proof of this—Jesus in glory. The very Jesus who took the entire responsibility of our guilt and sins, is without spot in the presence of God for us. So that we are in the perfect righteousness of God, justified from all things, and forever. And forever we have peace with God. Jesus must suffer, and rise again. Jesus has suffered and risen again. This being the case, the effect of believing God in all this must be immediate forgiveness, and justification from all things. Such always was the case in the First Years of Christianity. And why not now? Repeat this verse until God gives you rest in the certainty of His Word: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”