Paul the Unashamed

by Alan Burns

THE only things of which man may speak without a blush or an apology are the things of God. Man may laud his achievements in certain matters. He may prate of noble buildings, mighty symphonies, famous paintings and such like products of human skill and industry, but he can hardly do so without having a lurking sense of the superficial nature of such "glories." The sky-line of New York that strikes the eye of the traveler with such effect when seen for the first time, is but the silhouette in steel and stone of a factory of vice and crime. Greed and cupidity hide their hideous forms behind fronts of mahogany and marble. The wolves of Wall Street may lurk in gilded lairs, but gold paint has no magic power to change the habits of carnivore. Experience ratifies the statement that our cities are tombs and not temples.

Paul was an educated man, he had tasted of its fruits, and proved its values when he sat and listened to Gamaliel. But it was not education that made Paul, however much it may have entered into the making of Saul. Education had lost its corner-stone when the men who knew "did not like to retain God in their knowledge." It was a body without the spirit, dead. As a failure it was something to be ashamed of, something to blush for, something to deplore.

Paul was a Jew. But he could not pride himself in this, for what cause had Israel to glory? Israel's history was the history of a nation of failures. As Adam in Eden, called to dominion, had fallen, so also had Israel. This favored people whom Jehovah had called to rule the earth showed their inability to rule themselves, not to speak of others. The nation emulated the individual. Jewish religion was as much a failure as was gentile philosophy.

In another of his letters Paul speaks of himself. He reminds us of his national ancestry, of his tribal connections, of the many things which the natural man regards as assets, and the spiritual man as liabilities. Paul strikes a balance and shows himself to be a total loss. "These things are but dung" is his summary of his worth, and in so doing classifies himself with the manure-heap. One does not "glory" in manure piles!

The world has seen many histories of the world. From the writings of ancient days to the productions of H. G. Wells in our time many have been the attempts to encompass the story of humanity and duly estimate the proper values of human life and effort. The greatest history of the human race that ever was written, that points out the vital elements in the tale of mankind, weighs its culture, its philosophy, its religion, itself even, and states its true worth, is the history written by Paul in Romans, first and third chapters. And every syllable used by this inspired writer seems to blush scarlet with shame at the story it helps to tell.

The damnable Phariseeism that lurks in the natural heart whispers to us that in these chapters there are some things we would never do; but knowing that "in me, that is, my flesh dwelleth no good thing," let us rather acknowledge that these sins are our sins, these loathsome things our loathsome things, these filthy obscenities our filthy obscenities. These things lie germinal within these bodies of our flesh like so many settings of unhatched eggs. Only the preventing grace of our loving Father has disallowed their incubation. Think then of the vilest murderer, the foulest blasphemer, the filthiest wretch, the most loathsome moral leper, and each and all of these lie within him who writes and him who reads these lines. "John Wesley, but for the grace of God!" said that great preacher pointing to a poor drunken wretch. We would not point to any one form of human sin, but instead pointing to Romans One and Three we would say "These am I, had God seen fit to leave me altogether to myself."

This is the truth that lies in the doctrine of total depravity. Not that every individual has equally manifested the total depravity that lies equally within, but that each if left to himself would have equally and fully manifested that total depravity. The factor that has made a difference in the amount of evils allowed to be manifested in different individuals is not human goodness but divine grace.

We learn of man's free will in theology, but the doctrine seems to be absent from history, at least in this history that Paul inscribed for us. Here, as far as man is concerned, is a law which clamps iron chains of grim necessity upon the race. Why did not at least one generation arise who by virtue of their "free- will" would not yield obedience to sin's command? Why was there not one nation who would as gladly rebel against sin as the race had rebelled against God? Why did not one family arise who with their "free-wills" would have broken the monotony of evil's rule over the race? And if individuals had done so why were not these exceptions to the rule noted by Paul when he penned this indictment of man? How obvious it is that Romans One and Three is the history of a race enslaved. A race whose slavery was not enforced from without, but a slavery of condition; an internal slavery, moral and mental, a slavery to self in its finiteness and separateness from God. It does not look as if there was much "free-will" to spare in the race whose deeds are recorded by Paul.

And after all if man be totally depraved how can his will be free in any real sense? If in the natural man dwelleth "no good thing" how can he have a "free-will" except it be an evil thing? If freedom be not one of the fruits of salvation it must be one of the factors in it and then salvation is not absolutely "of God." How much we should thank our blessed God for showing us the meaning of grace! A grace we had nothing to do with but to accept and then only and when that same grace gave us the will and the power to receive it. The whole alphabet of salvation by grace is an alphabet without a capital I.

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