There is something transitional about all St. Paul’s teaching. We cannot take him out of his historical setting, as so many of his commentators in the nineteenth century tried to do. This is only another way of saying that he was, to use his own expression, a wise master-builder, not a detached thinker, an arm-chair philosopher. To the historian, there must always be something astounding in the magnitude of the task which he set himself, and in his enormous success. The future history of the civilised world for two thousand years, perhaps for all time, was determined by his missionary journeys and hurried writings. It is impossible to guess what would have become of Christianity if he had never lived; we cannot even be sure that the religion of Europe would be called by the name of Christ. This stupendous achievement seems to have been due to an almost unique practical insight into the essential factors of a very difficult and complex situation. We watch him, with breathless interest, steering the vessel which carried the Christian Church and its fortunes through a narrow channel full of sunken rocks and shoals. With unerring instinct he avoids them all, and brings the ship, not into smooth water, but into the open sea, out of that perilous strait. And so far was his masterly policy from mere opportunism, that his correspondence has been ‘Holy Scripture’ for fifty generations of Christians, and there has been no religious revival within Christianity that has not been, on one side at least, a return to St. Paul. Protestants have always felt their affinity with this institutionalist, mystics with this disciplinarian. The reason, put shortly, is that St. Paul understood what most Christians never realise, namely, that the Gospel of Christ is not a religion, but religion itself, in its most universal and deepest significance.
INSTITUTIONALISM AND MYSTICISM
It happens sometimes that two opposite tendencies flourish together, deriving strength from a sense of the danger with which each is threatened by the popularity of the other. Where the antagonism is not absolute, each may gain by being compelled to recognise the strong points in the rival position. In a serious controversy the right is seldom or never all on one side; and in the normal course of events both theories undergo some modification through the influence of their opponents, until a compromise, not always logically defensible, brings to an end the acute stage of the controversy. Such a tension of rival movements is very apparent in the religious thought of our day. The quickening of spiritual life in our generation has taken two forms, which appear to be, and to a large extent are, sharply opposed to each other. On the one side, there has been a great revival of mysticism. Mysticism means an immediate communion, real or supposed, between the human soul and the Soul of the World or the Divine