I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,…
We saw in last chapter how a "Paradise" may really be experimentally "regained," and how Christian experience culminates in a triumphant assurance. But the apostle could not contemplate this as a mere personal matter. He could not rejoice in personal salvation and be indifferent to the salvation of his brethren. The case of his countrymen accordingly comes forward for review, and in the review of it the apostle is seen as the Christian patriot. Though the "apostle of the Gentiles," he has lost no interest in his Jewish countrymen. The subject raised in this section is, consequently, the important one of Christian patriotism. Now, there are some who imagine that we have in these terms a real contradiction. Their notion is that the true Christian is so occupied with a future world as to have little interest in a present one. Is not heaven the fatherland of the believer? is he not taught to regard himself as a citizen of the better country? is he not to live as if already within its pearly gates? and gill he not in consequence lose real interest in the world that now is, and pass through it as a mere "pilgrim and stranger"? While this is perfectly true, it is also true that the Christian may and ought to be the very best of patriots, and Christian patriotism the very best form of patriotism. St. Paul's case is one in point. He was the very finest specimen of a Christian which our era has produced. He laid the emphasis on the future world as few have ever done. He lived as if within the gates of the eternal city. And yet, in his relations to his fellow-countrymen, he was the truest and wisest of patriots. Up to a certain period Saul of Tarsus had been a trusted national leader. It was to him the chief priests committed their policy of persecution; and right zealously had he carried it out. Under the notion that the Christians were the enemies of their country and religion, the Jews, and Saul as their chosen instrument, thought that they did God service when they imprisoned and murdered them. Had it been asked who was the greatest patriot among all the Jews, the reply would have been unanimous - Saul of Tarsus. His patriotism was thoroughly unscrupulous; it stuck at nothing. But when the risen Saviour meets and conquers him on the road to Damascus, the arch-persecutor becomes a meek and lowly Christian. And now he seeks out Jews instead of Christians, not to persecute them, however, but if possible to persuade them to become Christians too. The result is he is persecuted, and has to flee; yet the process is repeated in the missionary tours which characterize his life. To the Jews first, and then, when they reject his message, he turns to the Gentiles. He might, indeed, have given up the Jews with good reason. "Surely," says Colani, "if the Christian was held to break the chains which bound him naturally to a nation, never, to a certainty, had any man been so completely delivered therefrom as the apostle." He might have said, moreover, that he was set apart for the mission to the Gentiles. Yet, in spite of all their persecutions, he will give them the first place in his affections and in his evangelistic work. Indeed, he seems to gravitate instinctively and at all hazards to Jerusalem, prepared to sacrifice life and, as it would seem, everlasting happiness, if it would save them. And indeed, when we look into Paul's life we see at once a cosmopolitanism and a patriotism - a cosmopolitanism which embraced all Gentile nations, and a patriotism which would have made any sacrifice for his own beloved Jews. In contrast with this, pagan patriotism will be found to be politic rather than patriotic. Cities, not broad fatherlands, were the tiny footholds for which the citizens were ready to make sacrifices. They had not under paganism any broad or liberal views such as Christianity produced. Christianity transformed selfish citizenship into disinterested patriotism.
I. THE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT WILL EMPHASIZE THE GOOD QUALITIES OF HIS COUNTRYMEN. (Vers. 4, 5.) Paul is particular in bringing out the good qualities of the Jews. Though they had persecuted him, his only revenge was in doing them service by preaching to them Christ as their true Messiah. And when he found them unwilling to receive his message, "great heaviness and continual sorrow" seem to have settled in his heart. This consuming interest, moreover, was kept alive by the consideration of the good qualities of his countrymen. To them, as he rejoiced to think, pertained "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever." He looked into Jewish history and noted with satisfaction how his nation had been acknowledged and honoured in connection with God's revelation of himself. The Jewish genius was in the sphere of religion. He studied also the great capacities of his countrymen, and it was his downright conviction that if they were once won to Christ, their advent to the Christian cause would be as "life from the dead." His fellow-countrymen seemed to him the most magnificent of latent possibilities, embodiments of great and noble qualities which simply were waiting to be consecrated to Christ. And it is here that enlightened Christian patriotism must begin. Let us take the good points, not the bad, in our fellow-countrymen. Let us consider what splendid possibilities they are, and then let us try, by God's blessing, to have these qualities consecrated to our Lord and Master.
II. THE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT WILL NOT EXCUSE HIMSELF FROM SERVING HIS COUNTRYMEN UNDER THE PRETENCE OF SOME SPECIAL MISSION. There are some people who are so occupied with special work as to have no time, as they certainly show little taste, for what is patriotic. They imagine they have got a dispensation from all patriotic service. But if any one ever had such a dispensation, it was assuredly the Apostle Paul. As soon as he was converted, he was told he was to be the apostle of the Gentiles. Immediately he blooms into a man of cosmopolitan aims and desires. The whole world becomes his parish, and all men his charge, Might he not, in such circumstances, plead for a division of labour, and leave the Jews to the care of Peter and of the eleven? Especially when he had tasted the bitterness of their persecution against him, might he not have well excused himself on the plea of his special mission? He might - but, blessed be God, he did not. Though the apostle of the Gentiles, he was so patriotic as to have the Jews and their interests always on his heart. It pained him evermore to think that these splendid possibilities were being wasted in a vain endeavour to stem the tide of Christianity that he knew was on the flood, and would reach, in spite of all opposition, its fulness. And so we see this Christian patriot laying siege of set purpose to the Jewish synagogues on his way; preaching the gospel to the Jews until they would hear no longer; praying for them, writing Epistles about them, and perhaps one to them; in short, doing anything that a patient, pertinacious, persevering, converted Jew could do for his kinsmen according to the flesh. In view of Paul's special mission, then, no man has any right to excuse himself, as some indeed do, from patriotic service.
III. THE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT WILL RECOGNIZE THE SALVATION OF HIS COUNTRYMEN AS THE MOST IMPORTANT BENEFIT THEY CAN RECEIVE. It is certainly remarkable that St. Paul, in all his work among the Jews and references in his writings to them, keeps steadily before his mind and theirs that their conversion to Christ would be the greatest boon they could possibly receive. He gets involved in no controversy about patriotic politics, but devotes himself to the promulgation of what he believes to be the best religion for the Jews and for any man. He tried, accordingly, to bring them into sympathy with Christ. He preached the Messiahship of Jesus on the ground of the Jewish Scriptures. He showed that there was promised first a suffering and then a glorified Messiah; and that Jesus, now risen and reigning, embodied all their hopes. He understood their prejudices, for he had himself shared them; he met them manfully, and tried to carry conviction to their hearts. The result may have been and often was disappointing. The patriot was misunderstood, was despised, was rejected, was forced to flee from city to city, was mobbed, stoned, imprisoned, and at last martyred, all because bright as a star above him all the time shone the single purpose of getting his countrymen converted to Christ. Now, the same duty lies before all of us. The most patriotic effort any one can put forth is to get all one's fellow-countrymen brought into fellowship with Christ. Other policies may be questioned and questionable, but the one about which there can be no question is the patriotic one of getting all we can influence in our country converted to the faith in Christ. Let us be his "living epistles," and we shall be "known and read of all men."
IV. THE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT WILL RE READY FOR ANY SACRIFICE TO SECURE HIS KINSMEN'S SALVATION. We have seen how Paul exposed himself for his Jewish countrymen. He was prepared for risks. His poor body might be battered, stoned, killed, but Paul was quite ready for such eventualities. Nay, the passage before us shows that he was ready for a still greater sacrifice. If it had been possible for him to secure their salvation by becoming "anathema," that is, separated from Christ, he was patriotic enough for this. In other words, Paul was ready to forego his own heaven if by doing so he could bring his brethren to it. How many Christians have risen to such a patriotism? Self-sacrifice for their country may have been faced - but self-sacrifice only for a time. Glory beyond the shadows makes compensation for the pain and the parting here. But self-sacrifice for eternity - this is no less than Paul's idea. Let us be patriotic as Paul was, and our country shall be every way the better for our being reckoned among her sons. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,