The character and career of St. Paul are an inspiration to every believer in Christ and a model to every one of his ministers. That character will never cease to be admired by all who are capable of emotions of moral sublimity. It will be a dark day for the Christian church when this heroic apostolic example will have no imitators. He declared that after a course of bloody persecution he obtained mercy that he might stand forth as a conspicuous specimen of the wonderful power and condescending mercy of God, and as a pattern of all long-suffering to them who should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. We are justified in saying that Saul found pardoning grace that his course of labors and sufferings might be presented to every successive generation of Christian heralds as a model of all ministerial fidelity and devotion to his divine Master. His heroism is seen not only in his persistent surmounting of obstacles and dauntless courage to face foes thirsting for his blood, but also in the offensive doctrine to which he always gave prominence. He exalts and magnifies the most unpalatable truth of the gospel. He lifts up the bloody cross, awakening the anger of the Jew and the disgust of the Greek. To the one it was a stumbling-block and to the other foolishness. The Jew's worldly ideal of the Messiah was rudely shocked by the hammer that nailed the Nazarene to the tree. Even to this day he will not bow the knee to Jesus Christ because he says, in the words of a Hebrew college classmate, "I cannot worship a dead God." The cultured Greek, whose exquisite taste has given law to art, has his modern successors who are disgusted with a theology that has the blood of atonement as a cardinal element. Every audience before whom Paul "reasoned" was composed of Jews and Greeks whose prejudices were harshly assaulted, whose tastes were grossly offended by the very mention of the shameful cross as the instrument of blessing to mankind.
For we must strive to recollect what the cross was. We have wrought it in gold and wreathed it with flowers, and worn it as an ornament, and placed it at the top of all human symbolisms, until we have transfigured it. It had none of these associations originally. It was the meanest of all the engines of torture. The guillotine has something respectable in it, as it was used in the decapitation of princes as well as of robbers. The gallows is not so mean as the cross; for, when there was slavery among us, and a master and his slave were convicted of a capital crime, they perished on the same scaffold. But the cross was reserved for the lowest and vilest malefactors. It added deepest ignominy to death — Tacitus called crucifixion the torture of slaves.
Paul was constantly under a strong temptation to please men by concealing the cross and by exalting other facts in the history of Christ. For he is a very wide topic, affording a vast variety of themes. Paul could have preached many sermons without alluding to Christ's ignominious, judicial death. His inventive and fertile mind could easily have filled up his longest term of service in one place, three years, dwelling without repetition on other topics than the crucifixion and its relation to human salvation. He might have preached on the mediatorial office of the Son of God in the physical realm, by whom the world's were made, and by whom they are upheld, and in whom all things consist. How easy for Paul's judicial mind to discourse of the Son of God as the governor of the world, proving that his shoulder upholds the kingdom, and that he is head over all things unto his church. How large the theme of messianic prophecy! How many sermons on the text, "Unto him give all the prophets witness"! How charming and fertile the theme of the unique and wonderful character, a sinless soul mingling unstained with a world of sinners, wearing the robe of spotless purity amid earth's pollutions; each radiant virtue constituting the theme of a discourse, his humility, his meekness, his philanthropy, his forgiving spirit, his zeal and diligence in his Father's work, the wonderful symmetry of his character, so unlike any creation of man's imagination as to prove him divine. How rarely did Paul in his addresses dwell upon the miracles of Jesus, a large subject almost entirely neglected. He names only the miracle of miracles, the resurrection of Christ. The legal training of St. Paul might have found a large field for its exercise in amplifying each of the wonderful utterances of the sermon on the mount, emphasizing and illustrating every specific moral obligation. What proofs of Christ's Godhood might have been educed from his sole judgment of the whole human race, adjudging changeless and eternal destinies!
Paul knew how to become all things to all men that he might win some. Why then is he not politic and conciliatory in the selection of the theme of his preaching? There must be some good reason. This is found in the fact that the cross is the center of the Christian system. To have ignored it would have been to pluck the roots from the tree with the expectation that it would grow and withstand the tornado, or to dig out the corner-stone and look to see the temple withstand the earthquake.
Paul might thus have conciliated a few bitter Hebrew enemies of Christ, or he might have gained the favor of a few proud philosophers, but he would have torn out the heart of Christianity and would have preached another gospel. If he had shunned preaching salvation through the blood of Christ he would have robbed Christianity of its distinctive doctrine, on which rest both justification from the guilt of sin and sanctification from its pollution, and he would have made Jesus a favorite on the platform of the skeptics and agnostics of his day. To Jesus as a mere ethical teacher they would have no more objection than they have to Confucius, Buddha or Zoroaster; and his gospel would have become as impotent to save as are their religions. Jesus the expounder of the moral law on the mount of beatitudes provokes no great opposition in the proud sinner. But Jesus the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world arouses the hostility of the self-righteous, because it lays their pride in the dust to be saved through the sacrifice of another. How contemptuous and blasphemous the words of a former professed teacher of Christianity in Boston, that "orthodox people are depending for salvation on the blood of a crucified Jew, the son of a peasant mother and a peasant sire." Paul magnifies Christ's death, because as an atonement for sin it is the foundation of all the vital doctrines of the gospel. Here are displayed God's love, man's worth, and the nature and cure of sin.
— Jesus Exultant Chapter 6.