When then the early Christians became satisfied that Jesus was the Messiah, it followed of necessity that they should after his death, say to themselves—“He has gone into the heavens to receive his institution into the office he has won by his sinless life and suffering death. He will come again in the clouds with power; the conquering Messiah.”
This belief seems to have taken shape first in Paul’s fervid mind. His earlier epistles were full of it. His converts became unsettled by it, and in their excited expectation of the return of the Messiah they neglected their earthly duties; and Paul had to caution them against this impatience and cool their heated minds.
This and other experiences sobered Paul’s own mind. He found that as year after year came round the Messiah did not return. In the rapid ripening of thought which went on in the tropical climate of his soul, he grew into a more spiritual apprehension of Christ. If you read his undoubted letters in the order of their writing; First Thessalonians, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, etc., you will note a steady decrease of reference to this topic, until it fades away into a vague vision of the dawning day of God; the absolute assurance that Christ would conquer and rule the earth, though it might be in the spirit and not in the flesh; the certain conviction of a good time coming though beyond his ken. The later light of the apostle corrected his earlier misapprehensions; and would correct our crude and carnal notions of the second coming of Christ, if we would only study Paul, as we study Turner or Shakespeare, in his ripening ‘periods.’
Were this one principle followed, our popular theology would soon reconstruct itself.
It is a wrong use of the Bible to cite its authors as of equal authority, even in the spheres of theology and religion.
The teachings of any human writing come clothed with such authority as the author’s name lends to it or its intrinsic force wins for it.
If in the work of an obscure economic writer, of no perceptible ability, you come upon the theory that the land of a people belongs to the people; that its passing into the absolute ownership of private persons is the basic evil of our civilization; that the nation must resume the inalienable rights of the people at large, in the resources of all wealth, and regulate the individual usufruct of land in the interests of the entire body politic—you will probably toss the book contemptuously from you as the crazy lucubration of a fool.