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THE METHODIST NEW CONNEXION MAGAZINE.
Tbeology and General Literature.
A CONTRAST: PAUL THE RITUALIST AND PAUL THE CHRISTIAN.
BY WILLIAM COOKE, D.D. « 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 : circum. cised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”—Phil, iii. 4-9. We have here a brief epitome of Paul's own experience. Elsewhere we have it in an extended narrative; and it presents two opposite phases. It is scarcely possible for any two persons to differ more from each other than Paul differs from himself in two distinct periods of his history. At one time he is a most scrupulous and punctilious ritualist, and at another time he is an eminently spiritual and large-hearted Christian. Hence in him we see two opposite systems of religion exemplified—showing, on the one hand, the natural tendency of ritualism in its completest manifestation how it influences the heart, and what sort of character it developes; and showing, on the other hand, the power of evangelical religionhow it acts upon a man's nature, and what are the fruits it produces in his life.
Now there are two classes of religionists in our day—the Ritualists and the Evangelicals, corresponding with the two phases of Paul's character. Each class may, therefore, with the greatest propriety claim Paul as their pattern and patron; and each should study his principles and experience, for they are fraught with valuable instruction. In this instance we have not mere theories to examine, but systems exemplified in actual life. Never had ritualism a more perfect example; never had spiritual religion a nobler type ; and both are portrayed by Paul's own hand, and that hand was guided by Divine inspiration. Here, then, is authority not to be disputed. Let us, therefore, look on this picture, and then on that-Paul as a ritualist, and Paul as a Christian. Introductory, however, to this duty, we may glance for a moment at some features which distinguished Paul as a man, and pertain to both phases of his remarkable life.
1. Paul was a man of great Intellectual Powers.—He had a vigorous understanding, a vivid imagination, and a capacity for extensive acquirements. Great faculties are evident in all his writings and discourses, and they impart a richer interest to the study of his character. Gifts, however, are not graces. The history of Paul affords impressive evidence that great talents are great powers for evil as well as for good, and may prove a blessing or a curse to others as well as to their possessor.
2. Paul was distinguished for Intellectual Culture.—He was brought up under the tuition of Gamaliel, the most celebrated rabbi of his day. He became familiar with rabbinical lore, and was acquainted with the Greek and Roman classics. He could with fluency address his countrymen in their native tongue, the philosophers of Athens in Greek, and the polished Romans in Latin. He could quote their historians and poets, and without hesitation refer to their manners and customs. Indeed, his mind seems to have been well furnished with a knowledge of the literature, philosophy, and religion of surrounding nations.*
Knowledge, however, is not wisdom; the cultivation of the head is distinct from that of the heart. Mere knowledge is but the accumulation of ideas; much depends upon their quality, and still more on the moral state of the heart. The experience of Paul shows that knowledge is a neutral weapon, which may be wielded either against the truth or in its defence.
3. Paul was a man of Strong Passions and Emotions.—His nature was excitable and his temperament ardent. These qualities naturally give activity. to genius and force to character. They are always powerful elements for evil or for good. Excited by superstition, they made Paul fanatical ; excited by pure religion, they rendered him zealous and enterprising in the cause of Christ.
4. Paul was Conscientious.—Standing before the Jewish Council, he declared : “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” This solemn averment implied that his sincerity might be suspected by his enemies; and certainly in the
sudden change of his profession appearances were against him, in the view of superficial minds. But the truth of his declaration is evident in all his deportment. Even before his conversion Paul was no hypocrite; though deceived, he was no deceiver. He was ignorant, yet sincere. His professions were consistent with his principles ; he acted according to the light he had, and, excepting his persecution of the saints, his moral conduct was irreproachable. Hence the character of Paul, even as a ritualist, stands in honourable contrast to the craftiness, the profligacy, and hypocrisy of the general brood of Pharisees in his own times.
The facts before us show that Paul had some fine elements in his nature. His soul was a gem, encrusted and foul, but susceptible of the finest polish and the divinest lustre.
Let us now view him in his religious character. This was twofold—first a Pharisee, and then a saint.
Up to the age of maturity, probably until about thirty, he was a ritualist of the highest type. Speaking of himself, he says, with his usual frankness, “I am a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee.” Again he says, “ After the straitest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee.” Among the Pharisees themselves there were several degrees of strictness, and Paul belonged to the most rigid of the sect. This confession is the key to his Jewish religious life. Knowing the rigid formalism of the Pharisees, we kuow the ignorant ritualism of Saul of Tarsus.
1. As a Pharisee, Paul had a Supreme Regard for Tradition.—A tradition is an opinion, sentiment, or ceremony, handed down from ancestors to posterity. True religion is Divine, and is based upon the Scriptures ; but spurious religion is human, and seeks to bolster itself up by human authority. Such was the religion of the Pharisees. God had given them his Holy Word; but that was not enough, it did not uphold some of their opinions, and hence they had recourse to the traditions of the Fathers; and of these the Jews had a prodigious number-doctrinal, casuistical, and ceremonial. They multiplied with age, and fill thousands of pages in their Talmuds at the present day. So numerous were they in the time of Paul, as to form the subject of elaborate study. So worthless, however, were they in general that by apostles they are classed with “old wives' fables ;" so erroneous and corrupt were they that they perverted the Scriptures, and "made void the law of God ;” so blinding in their influence that they closed men's eyes against the truth ; and yet so high in authority with the Pharisees that, as a standard of truth and moral duties, they were held in greater reverence than the Word of God. “Know thou," said they, “ that the words of the scribes are more lovely than the words of the law; weightier are the words of the elders than the words of the prophets."'* Hence the scathing
* The traditions of the Jews are contained in their two Talmuds-of Jerusalem and Babylon. The former has come to us incomplete, but the latter is published in twelve volumes folio, and is an encyclopædia of Jewish opinions and fables. Professing to give an exposition of the law by the Fathers, it contains (with some good sentiments here and there) multitudes of errors in every department of science, natural history, chronology, logic, and morals; silly tales, idle legends, and monstrous absurdities. Falsehood, folly, and mistake are mixed up with truth in its pages.
denunciations of our Lord against the tradition-mongers of his day : “ Woe unto you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men.” “Full well ye reject (or frustrate) the Word of God that ye may keep your own tradition ; " "making the Word of God of none effect through your tradition which ye have delivered ; and many such like things ye do” (Matt. xxiii. 23; Mark vii. 8).
Some good sentiments in their traditions there doubtless were, amidst a mass of legendary trash ; and this mixture was the staple of Paul's education, and the ground of his inveterate prejudices as a Pharisee. He tells us he was taught "according to the perfect manner of the law of the Fathers,” and “was exceeding zealous of the tradition of his Fathers." He held the Scriptures but as subordinate to tradition; he studied the law and the prophets, but interpreted them according to the decisions of the rabbis ; and their traditions so beclouded his understanding that he could not perceive the truth though it shone directly under his eye.
Tradition propagates the apostasy from which it springs. It was when vital religion had declined that the Jews substituted tradition for the Scriptures, or exalted it above God's authority. When the Romish Church became corrupt she followed the example of her apostate predecessor. Indeed, she has far outstripped the Jewish Church in multiplying traditions : for, besides unwritten traditions, she has about fifty volumes of collateral authority. One volume of apostolical traditions, falsely so called ; eight volumes of Popes' bulls; ten volumes of Decretals ; thirty-one volumes of Acts of Councils; the creed of Pope Pius IV.; and, more recently, the decrees of the recent Council at Rome, which, in addition to all the other articles of faith, has just decreed the Pope's Infallibility !_all these besides the thirty-five volumes of the Fathers. A goodly number of traditions these. The dogmas of these volumes, though many of them contradictory to each other, are received as authorities in doctrines, morals, and ceremonies, and the Scriptures are subordinate to them, having to be interpreted according to their decisions ; for the Council of Trent decreed—“I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolical traditions, and all other observations and constitutions of the same Church.” “I do admit the Holy Scriptures in the same sense that Holy Mother Church doth, whose business it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of them according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” Only let the devil have the interpretation, and no matter who gives the text: the authority of man is set up against the authority of the Word of God.
The ritualists of the present day are treading in the footsteps of Popery. Because they cannot find authority in the Scriptures for their innovations, they have recourse to the traditions of the Fathers, and these perpetuate and diffuse the delusion from which they spring. The principle and the practice are the very essence of Popery. All history and all experience show that the influence of the Scriptures and the influence of tradition are reciprocally antagonistic. The Scriptures led Simeon and Anna to embrace Christ; tradition led the Pharisees, as a class, to reject him. Tradition made Paul a “blind Pharisee," vut when he found Christ he flung all his traditions away. Tradition corrupted the Church of Rome, but when the Reformers restored vital religion they repudiated tradition, and gave the Bible back to the Church as the only foundation of our faith. Their language was, “Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the Old and New Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men's traditions” (“Homily,” I., page 1).
2. Paul, as a Pharisee, was a punctilious Ritualist.—Ritualism is that system of formalism which at once perverts the use of lawful ceremonies, and enforces human observances as religious duties. Thus the Pharisees assigned a saving efficacy to circumcision, and to other external rites ; and invented numerous ceremonies as of equal importance, and even substituted them for moral duties. Our Lord gives a full-length portrait of these formalists. He charges them with pretending to have the key of knowledge, yet being blinded by ignorance and superstition; neither entering into the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor permitting others to enter in ; binding upon men heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, which they themselves will not move with one of their fingers ; doing all their works to be seen of men; putting on vestments as a display of sanctity, making broad their phylacteries, and enlarging the borders of their garments; loving the uppermost seats at feasts, and chief positions in the synagogues ; delighting to receive greetings in the market, and to be called of men rabbi; devouring widows' houses, and for a pretence making long prayers in conspicuous places in order to be praised by men; compassing sea and land to make a proselyte; attaching idolatrous veneration to sacred places, more than to moral duties and principles; paying tithes of mint, anise, and cummin, but neglecting the weightier matters of the law; affecting to purify themselves and their utensils by frequent ablutions and sprinklings, cleansing the outside, but leaving the inside impure and filthy, like whited sepulchres, beautiful without, but within full of rottenness and corruption. And, while laying bare their formalism, with awful solemnity and frequent reiteration, he thunders against them most terrible denunciations : “ Woe unto you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites ! ye serpents and generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell ?” (Matt. xxiii. 4-33.) These awful words are enough to make the dullest ears tingle, and the stoutest hearts tremble.
Here, then, we see what the ritualism of Pharisaism was, and its tendency to obliterate the truth, to stultify the conscience, to corrupt the heart, and ruin the immortal soul. Paul was a cotemporary with these men. He lived in the same city, studied the same traditions, worshipped in the same temple, practised the same ceremonies, and was inflated with the same self-righteous pride. He did not practise their vices; he did not dissemble with their hypocrisy ; but, like them, he substituted formalism for religion, and depended on external rites for salvation. We have his own testimony that he was sincere, and therefore free from their guile and profligacy, but we have his testimony also that he was one of their “straitest sect," and therefore, like them, punctilious in formal rites, and puffed up with selfrighteousness.
We have the counterpart of this formalism, full blown, in the corrupt Church of Rome, and partially so in the ritualism of the