An Approved Mysticism

[Christ declared, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23,24. And Paul counseled, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” “Do not quench the Spirit.” 1 Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19]

We have had occasion more than once to use the word “mysticism”; and it is necessary to grasp quite clearly what this term means, as applied to Paul’s religious experience.

Efforts are periodically made to banish this conception altogether. But it is hard to destroy; it has a way of reasserting itself, and coming back into its own. Indeed, the stubborn survival-power of this term, in face of trenchant criticism and attack, suggests that it stands for something quite indispensable and essential in religion. Many imagine that mysticism represents something so shadowy and ill-defined and non-intellectual that to use the term is simply to “darken counsel by words without knowledge.” Others go further, and proclaim a personal aversion to the mystic and all his works. He is accused of a selfish absorption in his own individual experience. He is regarded as culpably negligent of religion’s roots in history. He is criticized for an alleged indifference to moral judgments.

Behind all this there lies a serious confusion of thought. The type of character which seeks emotions and ecstasies for this own sake, which dissolves history in speculation and is defective in respect of moral duty, is unfortunately not unknown: the pity is that to religion of this kind the noble name of mysticism should ever have been applied.

For Paul, it was in the daily, ever-renewed communion, rather than in the transient rapture, that the inmost nature of Christianity lay. This was the true mysticism. This was essential religion. This was eternal life.

[“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal. 2:20]

Paul, by the grace of God, discovered the glorious experience that was waiting for any soul which gave itself in faith to Christ. Not only so: such union with the divine, he knew, need be no transient splendour, flashing for a moment across life’s greyness and then gone: it could be the steady radiance of a light rising, filling the commonest ways of earth with a gladness that was new every morning. It would make men not less efficient for life, but more so. It would vitalize them, not only morally and spiritually, but even physically and mentally. It would give them a verve, a creativeness, an exhilaration, which no other experience in the world could impart. It would key life up to new pitch of zest and gladness and power. This is Pauline mysticism; and great multitudes who have never used the name have known the experience, and found it life indeed.

In some degree, then, every real Christian is a mystic in the Pauline sense.

This article is an excerpt from: A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of Paul’s Religion, by James S. Stewart. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Original edition – 1935. Pgs. 160-163. Quoted at

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