The New Testament presents the paradox of a literature born of protest against the tyranny of a canon, yet ultimately canonized itself through an increasing demand for external authority. This paradox is full of significance. We must examine it more closely.
The work of Jesus was a consistent effort to set religion free from the deadening system of the scribes. He was conscious of a direct, divine authority. The broken lights of former inspiration are lost in the full dawn of God's presence to His soul.
So with Paul. The key to Paul's thought is his revolt against legalism. It had been part of his servitude to persecute the sect which claimed to know another Way besides the "way" of the scribes. These Christians signalized their faith by the rite of baptism, and gloried in the sense of endowment with "the Spirit." Saul was profoundly conscious of the yoke; only he had not drammed that his own deliverance could come from such a quarter. But contact with victims of the type of Stephen, men "filled with the Spirit," conscious of the very "power from God" for lack of which his soul was fainting, could not but have some effect. It came suddenly, overwhelmingly. The real issue, as Saul saw it, both before and after his conversion, was Law versus Grace. In seeking "justification" by favour of Jesus these Christians were opening a new and living way to acceptance with God. Traitorous and apostate as the attempt must seem while the way of the Law still gave promise of success, to souls sinking like Saul's deeper and deeper into the despairing consciousness of "the weakness of the flesh" forgiveness in the name of Jesus might prove to be light and life from God. The despised sect of 'sinners' whom he had been persecuting expressed the essence of their faith in the doctrine that the gift of the Spirit of Jesus had made them sons and heirs of God. If the converted Paul in turn is uplifted—"energized," as he terms it—even beyond his fellow-Christians, by the sense of present inspiration, it is no more than we should expect.
Paul's conversion to the new faith—or at least his persistent satisfaction in it—will be inexplicable unless we appreciate the logic of his recognition in it of an inherent opposition to the growing demands of legalism. Jesus had, in truth, led a revolt against mere book-religion. His chief opponents were the scribes, the devotees and exponents of a sacred scripture, the Law. "Law" and "Prophets," the one prescribing the conditions of the expected transcendental Kingdom, the other illustrating their application and guaranteeing their promise, constituted the canon of the synagogue. Judaism had become a religion of written authority. Jesus set over against this a direct relation to the living Father in heaven, ever presently revealed to the filial spirit. The Sermon on the Mount makes the doing of this Father's will something quite other than servitude to written precepts interpreted by official authority and imposed under penalty. It is to be self-discipline in the Father's spirit of disinterested goodness, as revealed in everyday experience.
Even the reward of this self-discipline, the Kingdom, Jesus did not conceive quite as the scribes. To them obedience in this world procured a "share in the world to come." To Him the reward was more a matter of being than of getting. The Kingdom was an heir-apparency; and, therefore, present as well as future. It was "within" and "among" men as well as before them. They should seek to "be sons and daughters of the Highest," taking for granted that all other good things would be "added." So Jesus made religion live again. It became spiritual, inward, personal, actual.