According to my Gospel

relig-good-shepherd {by CloudEight Stationery)Rom. 2:16.---'In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.'

The English word 'gospel' is the Anglo-Saxon translation of the Greek work Evangel, good tidings, the good news of the Kingdom to all people. As Christ was the first great Evangelist of the Evangel it came about quite naturally that the word was used to express the story of Christ. Thus the word gospel was applied to a book in which that story is related. It is used in this technical sense when we speak of the four Gospels of the New Testament.

But the word is used in the New Testament in a wider sense still for the whole Christian teaching generally, the essential message of which the books are the record, and all that the message implies. It includes, therefore, the Christian morality and the Christian beliefs, as well as the facts of Christ's life; as, for example, when St Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, speaks of those who 'obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.' It is in this comprehensive sense of the whole Christian teaching that the word is used here; for the statement which Paul says is part of his gospel is that God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. It is not our intention to consider this particular item of Paul's creed, or to give a statement of Paul's gospel as a whole, but exclusively to consider the very striking phrase in which he calls it my gospel.

We might dispose of this unthinkingly by saying, what is on the surface and is, of course, true, that it is merely a question of the particular standpoint from which it is viewed at the time. From one point of view, the point of view of the Be-stower, it is called, as St Paul puts it in this same letter, the gospel of God, and Christ's gospel. From the point of view of the contents of the message and its purpose, it is called the gospel of the grace of God, and the gospel of salvation. So from the point of view of participation it is Paul's gospel. This is, of course, evident and true. But if we left the matter there as a sufficient explanation, we would miss some lessons.

From this phrase we might well learn lessons of charity and humility. In the written records of the story of Jesus we have differences and discrepancies that are insurmountable difficulties on any theory which leaves out of account the personal equation of the writers. According to Paul's Gospel the truth took shape individual, not after the pattern of James. Each picture, because it was a true picture and not a copy, had its own perspective. We note at once the difference between St John's Gospel and that of any other. it is the same as St Mark's, and yet not the same. It is the incomparable Master, the same adorable Savior; but the one narrative is unmistakably different from the other. The same is true of the first three Gospels, the Synoptic Gospels. They worked over the same ground to a large extent, with much material in common; but each is individual, with special characteristics, according to the writer's bent of mind, and according to the special audience for which he designed it. We note, for example, the differences between the First Gospel and the Third: the one written for Jews, with special emphasis on the fulfillment of the Mosaic law by Christ as Messiah; the other written for Greeks, with special emphasis on Jesus as the Good Physician and the pitiful Savior of sinners. Noting also how appropriate it is to speak of St Mathew's Gospel and St Luke's Gospel, we are helped to see in what sense St Paul could speak of 'my gospel.'

The great heresy of the Church in all ages, as it has been the great temptation of the Church, is literalism, the worship of the letter in some form or other. It is possible for all kinds of formalism in the region of morals as well as of worship, the ethical formalism against which our Lord protested in the Sermon on the Mount, which interpreted the commandments by the keeping of the letter of the law. In interpretation of Scripture also it is difficult to purge our minds of verbalism, juggling with words and texts, and never taking count of the great spiritual realities, the thought of which the words are but the garment.

The same unthinking literalism dogs our footsteps even at the very heart of our faith, the revelation of God in Christ which is the gospel. Men speak with censorious judgment of some as not preaching the gospel, because their ears have not heard the particular phrases which they are accustomed to associate with the great message of the love of God. They seem to think that the gospel means a set of formal propositions; whereas it is a question whether we can speak of the gospel at all apart from the gospeller.

Christian truth is eternal, unchangeable, but it is also relative and personal. It may, of course, be put down formally in a set of propositions; but here also the letter may kill, and only the spirit giveth life. The propositions may contain everything of importance, from the being of God to the scheme of redemption, all the things most surely believed, the things that cannot be shaken---and so these propositions may be fairly called the gospel; and yet it may be dead. Everything depends on the interpretation, the spiritual insight with which the heart of the mystery is seized and revealed. Christian truth is not formal, but vital; a spiritual thing, and therefore personal. So Paul was able to say 'my gospel,' a distinct thing, different from any other man's presentation of Christ, his own soul's apprehension of the Savior.

Music has certain basic and eternal factors in it which cause it always to be music and not something else, but it has also this constantly revivifying attribute, that each new musician who is possessed by it makes it a new thing. Palestrina could have said, My music. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Wagner---the merest amateur in appreciation knows the difference. Whenever music flows into the contours of a new artist, it becomes a fresh, original, individual thing.

Thus, preaching is not simply the statement of truth, formal truth. If it were it would be an easier thing it is, and could be without travail of soul and sweat of brain. Its function might then be served by repeating the necessary propositions. But preaching is truth plus personality. A man has to take the things of the Spirit, the things of Christ, and show them as he has learned them for his Master, no more and no less. Unless, therefore, we are so left to ourselves as to imagine that our knowledge and experience should be the standard and measure of all other religious experience, we will give up our attitude of censorious judgment. We will judge all things by Christ, by what is worthy of Him, as St Paul declared that according to his gospel God would judge even the secret thoughts of men by Christ. If men are brought out of the bondage of sin into the glorious liberty of sons of God; if the Kingdom be extended, the Kingdom of righteousness and peace and love and joy; if Christ be preached, therein we do rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. Ought we not to be able to say this in the noble, great-souled charity of St Paul?

But the lesson of most moment to us is that the gospel requires personal spiritual appropriation. In the final issue religion is personal---how the deep of God's love calls to the deep of the human soul. The gospel may be put down, as we have seen, as doctrine in a system of theology to which may be given mental assent. Or it may be stated as a morality, a code of precepts, a teaching to be obeyed and carried into life. It may be expressed as literature, the story of Christ with the wondrous beauty of the ideal life, entrancing the heart and captivating the imagination. But essentially the gospel means the personal appropriation of the truth. It must be made our own. It must be a principle of life to us, the center of our world, that by which we live. Paul's gospel will not save us, nor John's gospel, nor any man's.

Intellectual interest in the countless questions that gather round religion is common enough. Men canvass one church or system against another, discuss theories and church movements, and argue in favor of one type of worship or belief that meets their taste, while only walking about Zion and telling the towers thereof without entering the holiest of all to 'learn Christ' by intimate personal experience. Christianity has a thousand aspect of interest; but, after all, it comes to a very personal point and makes an urgent individual call on our heart and will and life.

When we speak of the gospel, the question is---What gospel? It is the one thing, the same thing, to whomever comes the vision of it, the revelation of the burning heart of God, the story of redemption, a message of love and reconciliation. But how do we accept it? In what sense is it our gospel? The life that we now live in the flesh, how do we live it? Is it an earthly superstructure on an earthly foundation that must crumble away at the touch of time? Have we simply left the higher life out of account, neglecting all spiritual interests, cutting our life off from any future and even from any reasonable purpose? Our gospel is that by which we live; and if we have no other principle of vitality but animal existence, what a death in life it is!

But in Christ the whole horizon widens and life grows richer, and the world becomes an arena which claims and receives the interest of heaven. To be able to say, '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,' is to be able to say, 'My gospel'; for it is to be able to say, in spite of all weakness and sin, 'My Lord and my God.'

In Christ, timothy. maranatha