The occasion of the Epistle to the Galatians was the evil effect of the activity of certain Christians, who contended for the permanency of the Jewish law, asserting that true faith in Christ was not sufficient for salvation. Thus they taught, that, after having abandoned paganism and idolatry, and after being baptised—thus linking themselves with the Christian assembly—those who believed must be circumcised, and must observe all the precepts of the law of Moses, otherwise they could not be saved. (See Acts 15:1.) To this false and evil teaching was added the rejection of the ministry and the apostleship of Paul, who, said they, had not been sent by Peter and the other apostles. They insisted upon apostolic succession, as is so much done in these days.
Now Paul did not retreat before this attack, an attack, moreover, which he encountered everywhere. But in this case all the Galatians were led away by the evil, and Paul presents the point of the sword to the enemy—for it was indeed the work of the enemy of souls—in order that the truth of the gospel might remain with these poor deceived ones. He insists that it is impossible to combine the law and the gospel, although the latter fully confirms the authority of the former, as given of God. He who is under the law must needs fulfil it, and do all that it requires, but then it follows that Christ is dead in vain.
Moreover, he declared apostolic succession to be a fable, that ministry has not its source in a mission of men, nor by men, but, is, on the contrary, derived immediately from Christ Himself, and from God, by the power and operation of the Holy Ghost. Paul boasts in his independence of Peter and the other apostles, with which they reproached him, as though he lacked something, refusing his apostolic authority, which Paul drew immediately from the Lord. It is thus he begins his epistle.
It is remarkable that Paul was more troubled when considering the state of the Galatians, who were putting themselves under law, than he was as to the Corinthians, who were walking very badly. He would not go to Corinth, but he said all the good he could of them, in order to recall them to a walk becoming Christianity. But here he at once sets himself against the evil into which the Galatians had fallen, without one gracious word (if we except the blessing with which he began all his epistles), without salutations at the close, without one word of affection, which nevertheless filled his heart: all is dry and severe. Was it because the apostle’s love had grown cold? On the contrary, it was because he was full of love: he clearly shews it, for he was ready to travail in birth again with them, and he does it. Moses had not been able to bear the burden of the people, and had refused the thought of having begotten them even once.
The Galatians were abandoning the foundations of the Christian faith, with respect, at least, to the means of applying its efficacy to the soul. They had not forsaken the truth as to the Person of Christ, nor the faith which owns Him; but, as regards the justification of the soul, they had totally abandoned the ground of faith. They did not believe in the sufficiency of the work of Christ, without adding to it the observance of the law of Moses—source of all the corruption that has been introduced into the church, not perhaps, under the same form, and openly, but the same in its governing principle. According to this principle, works are necessary for justification, and blessing is obtained through ordinances.
And the difference is a fundamental one. The one system makes life flow from the operation of the Spirit of God by means of the word, the other from ordinances and works of man. The one presents man as a sinner who needs to be born again, which is effected by the Spirit of God and by the word; it shews that, having been called by the grace of God, the believer finds himself perfectly and for ever justified through the blood of Christ, that is to say, through the work that He has accomplished on the cross, and is accepted in Him before God—a new man, created in Christ unto good works, which manifest the fife he has received. The other system teaches that sinful man is born again in the ordinance of baptism, and is forgiven when as yet he has committed no sins: then he receives grace through various ordinances, is from time to time pardoned afresh through the sacrament of penance for some small venial sins, and also when he receives the host, and finally, goes into purgatory to be punished, so that God may be satisfied by the amount of suffering, according to the sins committed.12 In this system life is obtained by one’s own works, with the help of sacraments. The other teaches that the believer has a perfect justification before God, through the work of Christ, in whom he believes, and partaking of the divine life, and being sealed by the Holy Ghost, he has peace with God, and he awaits the coming of Christ to take him to be in heaven with Himself, where He has gone to prepare a place for us. The apostle insists upon this truth of justification by faith, and that there is in us a new creation, a new life, asserting that if anything is added to Christ, salvation being sought by one’s own obedience, Christ is dead in vain. It is another gospel, which cannot be gospel. But let us attentively examine what he says.
He begins, as I have said, with the history of his call to the ministry—the way in which he had been made an apostle. He announces himself at once, and boldly to be an apostle (which they denied), but an apostle not of men, neither by man—not by Peter, nor by any other, whoever it might be, but—which was far better—by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who had raised Him from the dead, the true source of all blessing and all authority. It is always the way of those who do not love the truth to ask by what authority it is proclaimed. The Lord Himself was asked this; so were the apostles, and the same thing is done in these days. Ecclesiastical authority, as such, as established by means of ordinances, is always the enemy of the truth. When its ministers lean upon authority, they are accredited as of God, but they do not allow God Himself to work outside those ordinances which give them their importance.
Paul would own no other source of his ministry but God Himself and the Lord Jesus Christ, who had chosen and also prepared him for this service, who had called him, and had afterwards formally sent him by the Holy Ghost, giving him the proofs of his apostleship in its success, as also in the miracles which he had performed. Now the faith of believers ought to rest upon the power of the Holy Ghost, which had been manifested in him, and had been efficacious in their own hearts by the power of God. God was free to send His gospel to the Gentiles, causing it to reach them by whatever means seemed good to Him. He chose Paul, proving this by the power of the Holy Ghost. The fruit manifested the tree. This is the only true ministry, though all are not apostles.
Verse 2. Paul linked with himself all the brethren who were with him. In accepting Judaism, the Galatians were placing themselves in opposition to all Christians who had been enlightened by heavenly truth, and who, through grace, enjoyed true Christian liberty. The Jews might indeed seek to subject souls to a system which had been abolished by the death of Christ, in order thereby to maintain their own glory; but the time was passed. It was a question of the freedom of the word of God, that is, of God Himself, who certainly was free to send His gospel, His salvation, wherever He would, and by the means He Himself chose. What is His will He always performs; and the Porter (the Holy Spirit and the providence of God) opens the doors, as was the case with the Lord, the sole Head of all true ministry.
Now miracles are not wrought to prove ministry, even as no miracles were wrought by John the Baptist or the prophets amongst the Jews. The word, and the fruit which it bears, are the evidence of the reality of the ministry: the word by the truth itself, and the fruits by their character and power. There may be opposition and persecution, but that is nothing new; the Lord and the apostles encountered it, in spite of the mightiest miracles. God will accomplish His own purposes, and His word will not return to Him without prospering in that whereunto He sent it.
The law applies to man in this world: it supposes that man belongs to this world, and it furnishes him with a rule, by which he ought, as a child of fallen Adam, to direct his steps. It is the duty of man, in all the relationships in which he finds himself, both with God and with his neighbour; and to this is added the prohibition of lust, a prohibition which judges not only the outward conduct, but also the inward movements of the heart. A man might possibly keep all the external commandments, and think himself righteous, but the flesh being evil and sinful, he cannot fail to detect lust in his heart. An outwardly righteous walk may produce self-righteousness: but before God who searches hearts, the presence of lust, which is always sinful in His holy eyes, constitutes us sinners, and makes us unfit to enter heaven.
We have not only committed sins, we are sinners; and therefore false Christianity does not allow that lust in the baptised is sin: it has no true remedy for the evil tree, the law does not furnish one. It judges sins: where God is working it can discover sin; but it does not take it away; it cannot justify the soul if it finds sinful acts or sin. It cannot give a new life; that is not the work assigned to it. It is the rule of God, invested with His authority over the children of Adam, as responsible in this world; consequently they are lost, for no child of Adam is without lust, or even without actual sins. Now the law pronounces a curse upon those who have sinned, and it likewise forbids lust; it must needs do so, as the perfect law of God. Grace, on the contrary, Christ, the Son of God, comes to redeem us, and to set us free from the condition in which, both through Adam’s sin and our own sins we are found. Christ gave Himself that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father (v. 4): and if we profess to be Christians, we profess to be dead with Christ, and no longer of the world, which has rejected Him, no longer in the flesh, which was crucified with Him.
Verse 6. But the apostle begins abruptly, as has been said, rebuking the unfaithfulness and inconstancy of the Galatians. They had abandoned the truth of the gospel which they had received from the apostle—that is, grace revealed in Christ— in order to give themselves to another gospel, which in reality was not another, or different one, but was the corruption of the gospel of Christ. Moreover, it was the giving up of the only true gospel, to put themselves under law—they who had been called by grace—for there were some who troubled them, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. There is, and there can be, but one gospel; God has given one gospel alone for the salvation of sinners.
Through His infinite grace, and His grace alone, He gave His only-begotten Son, to become a man and to die for us. The only source of all was His love: no one suggested it to Him, or persuaded Him thus to have compassion upon sinners. None could feel it divinely but God Himself, none but a divine Person could accomplish what was needful. The Father prepared a body for Him, and He, the Son, came to fulfil His will, to save. Thanks be to God, the Son has fulfilled the work that was entrusted to Him, and the Holy Ghost has announced this gospel—that the love of God has been manifested in the gift of His Son, and that He, having finished His work, sits as Man, at the right hand of God—and with this gospel He leads souls to repentance.
God Himself has not, and cannot, have another gospel. He cannot forget the work of His Son, in which He has found complete satisfaction, in which He has been fully glorified. He cannot set forth another gospel, or add something on man’s part, as though the work of Christ were imperfect, and lacked something to complete it. Christ, as Man, sits at God’s right hand, because He has accomplished the work of salvation for all believers, having by Himself purged their sins. And when He had sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, the work which saves us was announced to be finished. And then all teaching that requires anything else, that assumes to add something of man to complete it, denies the perfection of the work of Christ—that is to say, denies that He has completed the work of redemption. That the Spirit of God works in the heart to produce in us the sense of our guilt before Him, and our need of the sacrifice of Christ—that we need to be born of God in order to enter into His kingdom, and further, that the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the Christian, brings forth the fruits which suit the new life in which we participate through grace—all that is true; but for the work of redemption, for the putting away of sin, and cleansing us from it, for making us divine righteousness in Christ, God will have nothing else but the death of Christ. God has shewn that He has accepted His death, in that He has raised up Christ from among the dead, and has set Him as Man at His right hand in the glory which He had before the world was. He will not allow man to add anything to that work; whatever it might be, it would deny, in so far, the sufficiency of the work of Christ.
These heretics do not say that Christ has not finished the work; nor did the false judaizing teachers among the Galatians say it. But they insisted that man must on his part add his works, the law, circumcision. They said God had done His part, and now it remained for man to do his. This is always the way of a man who does not know himself, does not own that in himself he is but a miserable lost sinner who ought to have kept the law, who was responsible to do it, but that he has failed, that his flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
Man feels his responsibility; but instead of saying, alas! I have failed, I am lost and guilty, I cannot satisfy the demands of the law; he seeks to work out a righteousness when it is too late. False teachers who know not the grace of God, or the value of the work of Christ, use the law for self-righteousness. As conscience cannot be pure, satisfied and quiet before God, nor make itself so, men have invented various means which man can accomplish, in order to quiet the conscience without cleansing it. Thus they do the devil’s work, hindering conscience from feeling the depth of that sin, to which man has become accustomed, and which reigns in the flesh. This is always done by means of ordinances;13 these, man can fulfil; but make the flesh holy he cannot. A new life is received from God in Christ, who came that we might live through Him. But man likes to do his own pleasure and will not submit himself in heart to Christ. He feels his responsibility, and in order to quiet his conscience, he accepts these means at the hands of men, who pretend that these human expedients come from God, and have His authority, while they only seek, as the apostle says, to glory in the flesh of those who listen to them, and for their own advantage, to hold them under their authority.
Zealous and ardent (if you believe them) for the glory of God, and for the authority of His commandments, they take possession of that authority through the rules they impose upon others, wielding it at pleasure over the conscience, and thus over the man himself; as the Lord Jesus said, “they annul the commandments of God by their traditions.” Thus did the Pharisees, who were so strongly condemned by the Lord. Thus also do those who in this day follow not the word of God, who will not allow Christians to be taught by the word, the scriptures, which are addressed to them by God Himself, and which therefore, they are bound to obey; they would not, I say, that others humbly learning by the help of the Spirit of God, which belongs to all believers, should follow the precepts of that word, and enjoy the blessing which is found in the pure faith, there presented to us.
They always place souls under the law, to which they add traditions, which, together with the interpretation of the word of God, they hold in their own hands, and thus they can teach what they like. Let believers remember, that if a master—and God is master over every conscience—had given commandments and directions to his servants, or a father to his children, and another prevents those commandments or directions from reaching the servants or children directly, and as they were given, he would hinder the exercise of the master’s or father’s authority, and moreover would deprive the servants or children of their rights.
Now the whole Scriptures are in fact addressed either to the Jewish people, or (if we except three short epistles) to believers who are now sons of God by faith; and no one has the right to prevent those to whom they are written, from knowing what revelations have been made to them, and what precepts have been addressed to them. He who does so opposes himself to the authority of God, who has made these revelations, and has placed all His own under obligation to obey the precepts contained in them.
God can give gifts for the purpose of helping believers to follow His precepts. Paul was thus helping them in this very epistle; but the true servants of God have never sought to take from His children’s hands, His word which He has given them, which is their blessing and their light, and by which He Himself speaks to their souls, shewing that in His infinite grace He has desired to speak to them, and to communicate to them amid the darkness of this world, the knowledge of His love and of His will, to shew them the path in which they may walk in simplicity, in spite of the enemy of their souls, and enjoy—immense happiness! the love of God and the light of His countenance. What unbounded grace, that God should deign in such a world to communicate to us His own thoughts, divine light in the darkness; and how terrible to take away these divine communications, and hide them from the eyes of His own. Alas! man is but too readily disposed to neglect them; yet to take them from souls who desire to have them, is iniquity, it is open opposition to the sovereign grace of God which has given them. Those who seek to rule over souls in God’s stead, take from them the revelation He has made to them. They are then free to preach and teach what is not according to the word of God, and to impose the yoke of the law and traditions, as well as their own authority upon the necks of man.
The forms of this departure from the truth may differ, but the principle is always the same; that is, the law and human traditions, imposed upon souls, and the authority of men. Here among the Galatians, it was openly the Jewish law and circumcision, by which they were held to observe the whole Jewish system, and submit to the authority and tradition of the scribes and Pharisees. In this day, it is still the law and traditions of men and then clerical authority, and that, in place of the direct authority of the word of God.
But it will be said, were there not men appointed of God to teach others? Yes. God has by the Holy Spirit given various gifts; the evangelist, the teacher, and the pastor; these gifts are exercised through the grace of the Holy Spirit, under the authority of the Lord Jesus. The difference between the various gifts of God and the clergy is this. The gifts which are really of God, are exercised by applying the word of God to the conscience, and the word always retains its supreme and absolute authority over the soul. Everything is referred to that authority. The clergy place themselves between the soul and God, as if possessing His authority; the word of God disappears, and does not act directly on the part of God; the soul does not go to God, is not subject immediately to Him, but to man; God’s own light does not shine into it, the conscience does not find itself in the holy presence of God, the heart is not irradiated by the beams of His love. Servile fear takes the place of confidence and joy. God is not a Saviour and a Father for the heart, but a God of judgment, who exacts the last farthing. The grace of God is unknown, the law is unfulfilled, and the heart full of terror submits to a poor sinner like itself. Man degrades himself, instead of being at once elevated and humbled by the presence of God, and by communion with Him. If he commits sin, his conscience is quieted by a human being, without being cleansed, and at last disgusted with everything, he neglects and entirely abandons religion and the fear of God.
The gospel of grace to every creature under heaven had been committed especially to Paul by the Lord Himself, as was the gospel among the Jews to Peter. Paul maintained this gospel in its purity as being of God Himself. An angel even had no right to alter it; and he pronounces an anathema and curse upon any who might have preached a different gospel. How shall we know what he taught? The answer is simple. Read what he has written, which remark, he addressed to the whole Christian people, even as to those who were forsaking the truth.
The ardent words of the apostle are very remarkable. The Holy Ghost has given us God’s own testimony, that if an angel came to teach what the apostle had not taught, he would be under the malediction of God—he would be anathema. It little mattered who he might be, if he contradicted the testimony of God. Paul well knew that he had received it from God Himself, and he who opposed or falsified it, opposed the authority of God, and the truth which He in His grace made known.
Let Christians take heed to the solemn words of the apostle. We possess them in this Epistle, as well as in others which he wrote. They are the touchstone for all teaching; and we need to study them in order to know if he who speaks tells us the truth of God. So solemn was this point, so deeply was it felt by the apostle, that he again repeats what he had before said—that whoever should preach any other gospel than that which the Galatians had received from himself, should be anathema. He did not seek to please men in what he announced, or to satisfy man. If he sought to please men, he would not be the servant of Jesus Christ. It was He and He alone whom he ought to seek to please; to abandon the gospel would not be the way to do it.
Verse 11. He begins then by declaring that the gospel which he preached was not after man. He had not received it from man, neither from Peter nor from any other. It was not by man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. He had not learned it from any man, he held it immediately from the lips of the Lord, when He revealed Himself to him in glory. Among the Christians at Jerusalem, he had been an enemy and a persecutor. Jesus Christ Himself had taught him the gospel, and had revealed the truth to him. He might well hold it firmly, refusing all else that man might add to it, whatever might be their pretext for teaching better than the Lord Himself—whether they sought to add the law to the gospel, or assumed to know a better way of producing holiness, than the means employed by God.
It is not usually the knowledge of what is right that is lacking among men, so much as the power to resist and overcome lust, subduing the flesh and being filled with motives which lead us in the way of God, in which the heart loves to please Him. Christ is all this, as power, as motive, as way, if we follow His steps. From Him we receive the Spirit, who causes us to desire to know His will, and gives us power to do it. The law gives neither life, nor strength, nor an object to attract us. If we walk by the Holy Spirit we keep the law, and in no other way.
Verse 13. The statement that he had not learned the gospel from man, leads the apostle to relate the history of his life, a history which the Galatians had already heard—but he repeats it afresh, because in that history was found the source of the authority which he possessed from Christ, for announcing the gospel as it had been committed to him by Christ Himself, whose heavenly glory he had seen, and who had sent him to preach it. And he had even been a persecutor, zealous of the law, and had sought to get rid of the name of Christ from the earth! He had been a Pharisee, living according to the straitest sect of his religion, persecuting the church of God with all his strength, and wasting it. Moreover he had excelled many, his equals in his own nation, in the knowledge and observance of Judaism, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of the fathers. He was ruled by the law and traditions.
We see in Saul a zealous and religious man; one too, who was unblameable in his conduct. And now God, who had in fact separated him from his mother’s womb, came in, and called him by His grace, revealing His Son in him, that he might preach Him among the Gentiles. The ways of God as to this call for utmost attention. He first prepares a vessel—a man full of energy, courageous, bold, ready to undertake all things, full of zeal for the cause which he espoused, and having moreover, nothing as to his life with which to reproach himself touching the law, with a powerful mind, that could enter into the highest subjects, and yet know how to come down to occupy itself with the smallest details, and to think of individual circumstances, with a heart full of affection. Taught of God, he could, through grace, understand the greatest and most glorious truths, and at the same time he could fully enter into the relations of a poor fugitive slave with the master from whom he had fled. Naturally independent, he had enough greatness of heart, to submit himself to all who held a position, entitling them to exercise authority, and honouring also each one in his place. It is the mark of greatness of mind to despise none, if not wicked men assuming to exercise authority against that which is good; but even in such, to recognise the authority of God, in the position in which God has set them.
But all these fine qualities were marred and hidden by the activity of a will, which sought only to please itself, and to increase its own glory in upholding the honour of the sect, and the traditions of the fathers, making use of the name of God for this end, and carrying on persecution, even to strange cities: so that the energy that characterised him was but the means of satisfying the malice and passions which sought to destroy the name of Christ.
But God had used Saul’s energy and ardent will, to separate him from Jerusalem, where the apostles were, who had been already called by the Lord and sealed by the Holy Ghost. At Jerusalem it would have been difficult for him to be entirely independent of the other apostles; he would have come into the Christian assembly under their authority and directions; it must necessarily have been so. But his energy, under the hand of God, had led him away from a position, which was not in accordance with God’s thoughts. He had asked for letters from the High Priest, to bind and bring prisoners to Jerusalem, all who in strange cities called upon the name of the Lord.
And thus he found himself on the road to Damascus, accompanied by his travelling companions. But the Lord had His eye upon him; and suddenly, as he drew near to the city, there shined round about him a light from heaven. They all fell to the earth; they all saw the sudden light; Saul alone saw the Lord. All heard a sound, but not the voice of Him who spoke to Saul. They were to be witnesses that the heavenly vision had appeared to Saul, but it was for him alone to receive the revelation from the Lord. He was to be an eye witness of the glory of the Lord, and a testifier of the words which He had personally spoken to him. For him, it was a revelation of the Lord and of His will, a direct and personal revelation; he must be able to say, “Have I not seen the Lord? “(i Cor. 9:1). But it was the glorified Lord. He had not known the Lord in His humiliation, he was to begin with the glory.
The other apostles had known the Lord in humiliation, as the earthly Messiah, in His life of grace and patience. They had followed Him to Bethany, had seen Him go up into heaven, they knew that He was set down on the right hand of God, but they saw Him no more after His ascension. Saul appears for the first time, as taking part in the death of Stephen; that moment when the Jews shewed themselves to be enemies of the glorified Christ, as they had already shewn themselves to be the enemies of the humbled Christ; for the testimony that Stephen gave, was that he saw the Son of man in glory at the right hand of God. It was the end of all God’s relations with the children of the first Adam. They had already rejected Christ humbled upon the earth, sin was complete: but Christ had interceded for the Jews upon the cross; God had heard His prayer, and the Holy Spirit answered by the mouth of Peter (Acts 3), announcing to them the glad tidings, that God had set Christ at His right hand, according to Psalm no, and that if they repented of their sin, He would return. They took Peter and shut his mouth. And finally, when Stephen had plainly declared His heavenly glory, they rose up with fury and stoned him. The Christ in glory was rejected, even as Christ in grace had already been crucified upon the earth.
And here we find Saul, helping on Stephen’s death by word and deed. Spurred on by these events, and still breathing out threatenings and slaughter, he asked and received from the high priest, who was prompt to help him in his zeal against Christ, letters for the prosecution of warfare against Him. Thus engaged, the Lord took him up, the apostle of the hatred of the human heart, and of God’s chosen people against Him and against His Christ, in order to make him the apostle of His sovereign grace, which in his own person he had experienced, as also of the glory of Christ which he had witnessed.
What grace in God; what a change in the man! It is the same grace towards all who are saved, but Saul was a marvellous testimony to it: a testimony which would make it plain and manifest to all, as says the apostle himself: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern of them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting,” 1 Tim. 1:15, 16.
The way in which the Lord prepared the two chief labourers among the Gentiles and the Jews is remarkable. Peter, cursing and swearing, declared that he knew not Christ. Paul sought to destroy His name from the earth. Neither the one nor the other could have opened his mouth, except to declare the sin of man and the sovereign grace of God.
But we shall do well to examine what the revelation made to Saul was. First, as has been said, it was the revelation of the heavenly glory of Christ, the Son of God, who still was man. The twelve had followed the Saviour till the cloud received Him; beyond that, they could not be eye-witnesses. Saul had not seen the Lord, except beyond the cloud: his knowledge of Him began when Christ was in the glory. He was to declare the gospel as he had received it. A Messiah living down here was for the Jews. A Christ who had died and been glorified after having been rejected by man, became the Saviour of the world. He had died for all men, and thus His work was complete. God had owned Him taking Him up to His right hand, into the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. And yet He was the same Jesus, the Nazarene (Acts 22:8), marvellous truth! who had before walked upon the earth among men.
Moreover He said: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” But how? If He were in heaven, Paul could not persecute Him. But He esteemed His own as Himself: they were united to Him, so united by the Holy Ghost, that they were members of His body. He loved them as a man loves and cherishes his own flesh. The Head and the members were but as one person before God. These are the two great principles of Christianity as Paul taught it; a Christ glorified after all had been accomplished, and Christians united to a glorified Christ, were the germs of all Paul’s teaching; Christ, a man beyond death, beyond the sin which He had borne, beyond the power of Satan and the judgment of God against sin, redemption being complete.
Saul having left Jerusalem, bold and full of confidence, is arrested in the way, when on the point of carrying out his purpose. He falls terror-stricken to the earth, at the sight of the Lord. He heard a voice calling him, and discovering that it was the Lord, all is at an end as to his own will; he surrenders himself to the will of the Lord, and is sent by Him into the city, that he may there humbly learn what is that will. In other words, he at that moment submitted himself to Christianity in the ways of Christ’s will. But he was blind; that so the inward work might be perfectly accomplished, and the immense change in his soul, might be experienced before God, in its true power, without any hindrance or interruption from man. Also, he neither ate nor drank for three days. But although he was to go into the city in order to learn what he was to do, yet many and great things depended upon the revelation that had been made to him.
First, the glory of the Lord had appeared to him, the Lord Jesus of Nazareth, rejected of men but declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. Immense truth! A man was in heaven, a man, the Son of God; but He was there because the sacrifice for sin had been accomplished and accepted by God, a sacrifice so perfect, that He who had presented it was set down in His own Person at the right hand of God in His glory, and that, according to the righteousness of God.
Man, at the same time, was shewn to be wholly evil and corrupt, for he had rejected God when He was present in perfect goodness, in the midst of men. Israel had forfeited all their privileges and their right to the promises by rejecting Him in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen; and not only the dispensation of the law had come to its end by the coming of Messiah, the Head of the dispensation that was to follow that of the law, but the title to the promises was lost by His rejection; and thus He being rejected, all God’s relations with the people to whom He had given the law were at an end. The Gentiles had never had it; they had never been in relationship with God; they were outside the promises made to Israel, and they had fallen into the most complete darkness. (See Romans 1) There no longer existed any relationship of men with God, if not that of sinners and rebels with their Creator.
But on the other hand, the sovereign grace of God had been manifested to the greatest sinner in the world; to the apostle of rebellion and rejection of the Christ of God, apostle of the enmity of man against God manifest in grace, against Christ exalted in glory. Important moment in the history of man! when redemption being accomplished, and love being free according to righteousness and divine glory, God rose above all the sin and enmity of man to work in sovereignty according to His grace; not only to manifest love—that, He had already done at the coming of Christ down here—but to cause grace to reign through righteousness, unto eternal life through Him: righteousness which had placed Christ, as Man at the right hand of God, because, as Man, He had perfectly glorified God. (John 13:31, 32; ch. 17:4, 5.)
But there was yet more in this revelation of the Lord. We have spoken of the dispensation of grace which was founded upon this revelation. It was needful that the soul of Saul should be in a state suited to the service of God in the dispensation that began by that revelation. And this is what took place. First, all the things in which he had trusted were utterly condemned: judged by God Himself, they no longer had any value. His own heart was all upset: all that he thought to be of God, and which was so until the cross, was set aside. His conscience—for he thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus—had deceived him. His confidence in the law as given of God, and by which he had hoped to obtain a righteousness before God—the authority of the heads of the Jewish religion, their fathers—in a word, all these things had but led him to find himself in open enmity against the Lord; there was nothing left upon which his soul could rest. He was the enemy of the Lord Himself, boldly seeking to destroy those whom He loved. Saul was all this in the presence of the Lord!
What a revolution! Saul himself, instead of having an externally pure conscience, found himself to be the chief of sinners, the enemy of the Lord, the apostle of that hatred against God, which had rejected from the world the Lord of glory, the Son of God, and which was still rejecting the testimony rendered by the Spirit after He had been glorified. The old dispensation, the law, the promises made to Israel, had disappeared; and instead of these, the Lord of glory, alive in heaven, is revealed by sovereign grace to him who sought to abolish the memory of His name. Eternal life is communicated to him, eternal salvation through the work of Christ is presented to his heart, in the glorified Man who had borne his sins, and was now making the work effectual by the operation of the Spirit of God. The Son of God is revealed in him.
This is true conversion, true faith. Sovereign grace reveals the Son of God in us, a glorified Man, and—if we have already understood the truth—a Saviour who has borne all our sins. But it is the revelation of Christ in us. In Saul’s case, this revelation was also in order that he might preach Him among the Gentiles.
Thus, he who had been exceedingly mad against Christ and against the Christians, persecuting them even to strange cities, is sent forth with these remarkable words from the Lord Himself. “For I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that which are sanctified by faith that is in me,” Acts 26:16-18.
Thus, Saul was taken from among the Jews (it is the real force of the words), separated from his nation, to belong to Christ; but he did not therefore become a Gentile. The starting-point of his new life was a glorified Christ, for the announcing of that which he had seen, and by the power of grace had received in his heart, besides other revelations which were afterwards made to him: always, however, of a Christ rejected by the world and glorified by God. Knowing by the experience of Christ revealed to him and in him, that the mind of the flesh was enmity against God, as was also his religion, and his past fife, Christ glorified was thenceforth his all: a Christ who had wrought redemption for him, and who had cleansed him from his sins: a Man in heaven for whom he waited, as the Fulfiller of the glorious hope of His own who were already united to Him, and were esteemed by Him as Himself.
Called by such a revelation of the Person of the Lord and by the words of His mouth, it was not the moment to go and consult others, whoever they might be; but he does not go. His mission was from the Lord Himself, from a Lord who had not been thus revealed to others. He was the Lord, it was the same salvation; but it was a special revelation which stamped its character upon the whole ministry of a servant, who knew Christ Himself no more after the flesh; that is, no more as the Messiah of the Jews upon the earth.
But it was needful that all should be wrought as experience in his soul; he was therefore made blind, in order that he might be separated from every external thing which could distract him, and that he might be entirely occupied with the change that had taken place in him, and that this revelation of the Lord, this total revolution in the state and relations of his own soul, might without interruption be felt, and might work within. It was needful that the condemnation of the law, the sin of having persecuted the Lord of glory in the persons of His people, the glory of His Person, the perfect grace which had called him, should be realities for his soul; that the new man should be formed by this means.
Thus he is left to himself. He does not think of seeking the rest of the apostles at Jerusalem; the Lord Himself had called him to Damascus, and Saul had received his mission from Him. He had not to consult the apostles, for the Lord had taken him for Himself. He was the servant of Christ immediately dependent upon Himself. He goes into Arabia and returns again to Damascus. After three years he goes up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and stays with him fifteen days. He did not see the other apostles. He also visited James, the Lord’s brother. He is careful to recount all these details, that the Galatians might understand that his apostolic relation was directly with the Lord Himself, that he owed nothing to the other apostles.
Thus he, who but a little time before, had been a persecutor, advanced in Judaism beyond many his equals in his own nation, is now laid hold of by sovereign grace, in the midst of his greatest activity against the name of the Lord—an apostle sent directly by the Lord to the Gentiles, sent by a glorified Jesus.
But though chosen and called, he must await the positive direction of the Holy Ghost for entering upon the field of his apostolic labours; this was afterwards given at Antioch. It is a most important principle; we need in order to work according to the Lord, not only the call of the Lord, but also the positive direction of the Holy Ghost.
Saul immediately confessed the Lord as a Christian; he did not delay, he waited for nothing: his faithfulness in publicly confessing Him is at once manifested.
This done, he all but disappears until the time when the Holy Spirit sends him as a witness for Christ into the heathen world. Only those things which shew his perfect independence of the apostles and of men, are here recalled. He gloried, as in an honour, in that with which his enemies and the enemies of the truth reproached him. He did not hold his mission or his authority from any man, nor by means of man, neither of Peter nor of the other apostles, but from Jesus Christ Himself. We shall see that Peter had no share in the mission to the Gentiles.
Paul was not known by face to the churches of Judea; when he afterwards visited Syria and Cilicia, they had heard only, that he who persecuted them in times past, now preached the faith which once he destroyed, and they glorified God in him. This was the truth, as in the presence of the Lord. Later, he was sent to the Gentiles, not from Jerusalem, but from Antioch, by the Holy Spirit, as we read in Acts 13. Neither Peter, nor the apostles, nor the church at Jerusalem, had anything to do with it; it was a wholly independent mission: they knew not even what was being done. He carried on the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles (always, however, evangelising the Jews where he found any) taking with him various brothers, whom grace had prepared for the work, as we find it stated in Acts. But this is not the place to speak of such details.
After fourteen years he went up again to Jerusalem, precisely on account of the Judaising Christians; false brethren, unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out the liberty, which the Gentiles had in Christ Jesus, that they might bring them into bondage. It is probably this to which Acts 15 refers. Barnabas accompanied him and he also took Titus with him. Paul and Barnabas had greatly withstood these false brethren, who had come down from Jerusalem; But God had not allowed them to succeed, in order no doubt, that it might be Jerusalem and the apostles as linked with the assembly at Jerusalem, who should recognise the liberty of the Gentiles. There would otherwise have been two churches; a church bound by the law at Jerusalem, and a church free from the law at Antioch. Thus, by the wisdom of God, it was Jerusalem itself who declared Christians from among the nations, to be not subject to the law, and thus all remained united.
But we find here other important points relating to the subject treated of by the apostle, important for us also. First, we see that Paul (such had now become his name) went up by revelation. In Acts, nothing is spoken of, but the decision to which the Christians at Antioch had come. We may often accept and follow the advice of others, though if we are keeping near enough to the Lord and learning of Him, our decision may depend upon the communications that are made to us by Him. In this case, it was a direct revelation; but the principle is the same for us. I do the thing because I know the will of God, although I may do that which is the fruit of the counsels of others. Paul went as sent of God, and this inspires confidence, and gives firmness in the path. We feel that we are doing the will of God.
Moreover, Paul speaks of it here, to shew that he went up only because it was the will of God, not because it depended upon the authority of those at Jerusalem. As however, the gospel itself was in question, he was content to communicate to the others what he himself had preached; but privately to those who were pillars, lest in any way he should have run in vain. But neither was Titus who was with him, being a Greek, compelled to be circumcised: he would not yield to them, not even for a single moment, as though he were subject to them, whether at Antioch or Jerusalem, in order that the truth of the gospel might continue with the Gentiles.
Besides he had received nothing from those who seemed to be pillars in the assembly at Jerusalem: “whatsoever they were,” says Paul, “it maketh no matter to me; God accepteth no man’s person.” And again, those who were in the greatest esteem among them, had added nothing to him. For him, God was all; Christ had sent him, he had learned the truth by revelation; all the rest, for him, were but men—beloved brethren indeed, each one of whom he owned in his special place, but he drew his authority from Christ alone: independent of all men in order to obey Jesus, yet necessarily through love to Him, at the service of all men. But we find yet more.
These brethren of Jerusalem, pillars of the assembly, James, Peter, and John, saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision, that is of the Gentiles, had been committed to Paul, as the gospel of the circumcision, that is of the Jews, was to Peter. For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in Paul toward the Gentiles; they gave therefore to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that they should go to the heathen, while they themselves went to the circumcision. We find here facts and principles of the highest importance.
He puts James first among the pillars, as we see in Acts 15. He held the first place at Jerusalem; when he speaks of gifts and the apostleship he only names Peter. Apostleship in the work of the gospel depended upon the gift of God. Now as God had wrought among the Gentiles by means of Paul and Barnabas, He had likewise wrought among the Jews by means of Peter. He had wrought powerfully in the one toward the Jew, and in both, though chiefly in Paul, toward the Gentiles; and owning the grace of God in the work, they agreed that each should labour according to their gifts, in the spheres entrusted to them of God. Paul thus became the apostle to the Gentiles, to whom Christ had sent him: Peter, to the Jews only, among whom God had blessed him. Peter had however, begun the work with the twelve, and God had used him at the first, to open the door to the Gentiles; but he did not continue to labour among them, and renouncing the commission given to him in Matthew 28, he left the apostleship of the Gentiles wholly to Paul and Barnabas, who had been sent to that work, and blessed in it by the Lord.
This latter—Barnabas—soon disappeared; he was too much linked with Mark, his kinsman according to the flesh, and Paul remained as apostle of the Gentiles throughout the whole world, and of the assembly of God which united both Jews and Gentiles in one—a subject of which he alone spoke—the assembly composed of true Christians, united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, the body of Christ, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek; for the two have become one assembly, one body, united to Christ the head of the body, and members one of another. Such is the apostle to the Gentiles: with them Peter had nothing to do.
It is evident that these facts are of great importance in the history of the church of God. How often have we not heard Peter spoken of as head of the church. That Peter, ardent and full of zeal, began the work at Jerusalem, the Lord working mightily by his means, is certain; we see it plainly in Scripture. But he had nothing to do with the work carried on among the Gentiles. That work was done by Paul, who was sent by the Lord Himself, and Paul entirely rejected the authority of Peter. For him, Peter was but a man; and hej sent by Christ, was independent of men. The church among the Gentiles, is the fruit of Paul’s, not of Peter’s work: it owed its origin to Paul and to his labours, and in no way to Peter, whom Paul had to resist with all his strength, in order to keep the assemblies among the Gentiles free from the influence of that Spirit which ruled Christians, who were the fruit of Peter’s work. God maintained unity by His grace; had He not kept the church, it would have been divided into two parts, even in the days of the apostles themselves.
It is marvellous that so many should hold as head of the church among the Gentiles, Peter, who was the apostle of the circumcision, and who openly left the work amongst the heathen to Paul—who had already laboured in it independently for more than fourteen years, sent and blessed by the Lord and by the Holy Ghost, without any reference to Peter, and who had, moreover, expressly rejected Peter’s authority, which the false brethren sought to impose upon the Gentile churches. Peter, though greatly blessed by the Lord, is the apostle of the circumcision and of the circumcision only: Paul, of the uncircumcision, that is, of the Gentiles. Paul alone among the apostles, speaks of the church, the body of Christ: this truth was confided only to him as its administrator.
Verse 11. Paul recalls another case: one in which he had been compelled to reprove and withstand Peter, who had come to Antioch, where the church had been founded among the Gentiles, though there were Jews among them also. Poor Peter! he shewed himself at the beginning, quite ready to eat with the Gentiles, he was free from the prejudices of his countrymen: but alas! when certain came down from Jerusalem, from James, who was the leader of the work and of the assembly in the civil and religious capital of the Jews, where the law was still observed by the Christians—then Peter, full of ardour but sensitive to the opinion of others, and timid in the presence of reproach, withdraws, and no longer eats with the Gentiles.
This was to destroy the divine work, which had already been wrought at Jerusalem—an evident act of unfaithfulness. The more a man is honoured—and in this case, there was true ground for respect—the greater the stumbling-block to others, if he fail, and thus it happened here. All the, Jews and even Barnabas also, dissembled with Peter, and no longer dared to walk with the Gentiles. The unity of the Spirit was lost, as also the truth of the gospel. Paul could not let this pass; and when he saw that Peter walked not uprightly, he reproved him before all. Authority cannot make evil good nor good evil. We see moreover, that Peter had not the very smallest authority over Paul; and this is why the latter recalls the fact. Peter deserved to be rebuked, and Paul rebuked him in the presence of all, saying: “If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
This leads us away from the history and from the question of owning Peter’s authority, to that of the truth of the gospel, which he was imperilling. Not only did Peter shew a false and deceitful spirit—boasting of his liberty one moment, and the next, concealing what his previous walk had been—but he was establishing error; and there was danger; for inasmuch as in him lay, and as far as it depended upon his authority he was destroying the truth of the gospel: “we” continues Paul, “who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”
Paul begins here to treat of doctrine, not merely of Peter’s authority, leaving aside the question of the work committed to him among the circumcision. He reasons thus. Peter, being a Jew like the rest, was building again the system of the law, when he refused to eat with the Gentiles; he was seeking to be justified by works and by the exact observance of legal ordinances. But he had abandoned this means of justification, in order to believe on Christ, that he might be justified by the faith of Christ; and in building again the system of the law, he made himself a transgressor in having left it. But it was Christ who had led him to do it. Christ then was the minister of sin! this could not be. If he built again the things he had destroyed, he became a sinner in having destroyed them—and Christ had led him to do it! The apostle then gives an admirable compendium of individual truth, in respect of his Christian position.
The law requires righteousness in man: it could not do otherwise, for it was the perfect rule of such righteousness. But neither Paul nor any other had fulfilled it; therefore it pronounced the sentence of death and condemnation, not death only, but also condemnation. He now sets forth how this sentence had been carried into effect, how he had escaped the condemnation and had died to sin: yet he was not dead; Christ had taken the condemnation upon Himself: thus his death was but the death of the old man, and this was an immense gain. The law had slain him, but Christ had died in his stead: once dead, the law could do no more, it had dominion over a man as long as he lived. If a criminal dies in the hands of the officers of justice, or in his prison, the law cannot punish or take action against a dead man: all behind him is closed, he lives no longer in the life he had previously possessed.
In Christ, all this is accomplished for us, but there is yet more. He took the condemnation and passed through death: we are associated with Him, and thus dead to sin without there being any condemnation for us; moreover, He is become our life.
Thus we are dead to the law that we might live to God. I, said Paul, have been crucified with Christ, who has taken the curse of the law; nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. This is death, both to the flesh and to the law. Thus, there is no condemnation for me, since Christ has taken it, inasmuch as He charged Himself with my sins, and bore them upon the cross, abolishing them by His death. Sin in my flesh is condemned, and in the cross of Christ I was crucified with Him. (Compare Rom. 8:1-3.) Thus, are we set free, not only from the guilt of our sins, but from the power of sin in the flesh, the old man is for the believer, crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6), that the body of sin might be destroyed. Having been redeemed, we are not subjected afresh to the law, to which we have died as if our salvation were still uncertain; for the flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; but through faith, we hold ourselves to be dead, crucified with Christ, who risen from among the dead, has really become our life. Christ lives in us, and we can thus reckon ourselves to be dead to sin (Rom. 6:10, n), and alive unto God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are no longer debtors to the flesh, which for faith is dead: but since Christ who has died is our life, we, living by this life, reckon ourselves dead; for Christ who is our life has died, and the power of the Spirit which acts in this new life, sets us free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). Thus, Christ being in us, the body is dead; for if it lives of its own proper life, it only brings forth sin; and the Spirit is life, the source of practical righteousness in us. Thus the wisdom of God, instead of placing the flesh under the law, to which it was not and could not be subject, gives in sovereign grace a new life in the risen Christ, who died for us. There is therefore no more condemnation to them that believe, and we reckon ourselves to be dead, since Christ who is our life has died. We are by the law dead to the law, crucified with Christ, nevertheless we live, yet not we, but Christ liveth in us. The bond of the law is broken; not that its authority is despised, but that I am dead; it can no longer touch me, for I am dead. Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but it is Christ who lives in me, a life which is holy, just, and good.
But another truth is found in this passage. It is not merely a holy life (being that of Christ Himself), but this life has its object, its manner of living. All life in the creature has an object, we cannot walk without one. If the Lord Jesus is our life, He is also personally the object of the life, and we live by faith in Him. The heart sees Him, looks to Him, feeds upon Him, is assured of His love, for He gave Himself for us. The life that we live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Happy certainty, blessed assurance! This is not a subject of hope: the glory, though it belongs to us, is a hope; but in this we know the love in which He has given His life for us. It is a new life, the old man is crucified, and Christ whose perfect love we know, is the object of faith and of the heart. One cannot give more than oneself.
The conclusion drawn by Paul is of the utmost importance. “We do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” Let us suppose that a righteous man could knock at the door of heaven, and claim to enter by right on the ground of his own works. Such an one would never know God; love would not have introduced him there, and God is Love. It would have been the wages of his own work, he would have deserved to enter. But it is not love when a workman is paid the wages he has earned; it may be done with courtesy, but it is always a debt—there can be no love in it. It is love that has saved me. It is the operation of love in God’s gift of His Son, and in the blessed Saviour’s own sufferings for us, when He drank the cup which the Father gave to Him, the cup of death and of the curse which our sins had filled. By this we understand through grace the love of God.
But if righteousness can be obtained by observing the law, the death which Christ in His infinite grace suffered for us, is not needed: I am righteous by my own deeds: I frustrate the grace of God. “If righteousness is by the law, Christ is dead in vain “; a principle of the utmost importance. Legal righteousness (that is righteousness by works) and Christianity cannot go together, the one annuls the other. It is not that the law is bad or imperfect: it is the perfect rule of human righteousness, the righteousness which becomes the children of Adam; but no righteousness is found in them, they are sinners. There is none righteous, no, not one. The law being perfect condemns us, but we have died in Christ who bare our sins in His own body on the tree, and the law can no longer slay or condemn us. The Saviour has borne all for us who through grace believe on Him. Moreover He has given us, or rather He is in us, a new life, which is holy and obedient.
Thus, we are dead to the law, that we might live to God; righteousness is obtained, for we have become the righteousness of God in Christ, sins are put away by His death. But if I had obtained righteousness by keeping the law, there would have been no need that the Son of God should die for me. If Christ has put away my sins and become my righteousness before God, I am not justified by works of law but by faith in Him. If my righteousness is by works of law He is dead in vain.
The apostle now looks at the position of the Christian, from another point of view. True Christians are possessors of the Holy Ghost; their bodies are the temples of the Spirit which they have received of God (1 Cor. 6:19). “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” Rom. 8:9. By the Spirit we cry, Abba Father (Rom. 8; Gal. 4:6). It is by the Comforter that we are in Christ and Christ in us (John 14:20). The apostle therefore asks, How did you receive the Holy Ghost? Was it by the works of the law or by faith in Christ? It was not questioned that they had received Him nor how they had received Him. The Galatians had never been under law, they were heathen. It was not by the works of law they had received the Holy Ghost. Moreover, some among them possessed His gifts, a fact which rendered the presence of the Spirit not more important, since He is the seal and proof of our salvation, and of our life in Christ (by whom ye are sealed until the day of redemption), but more evident. “Who then,” says Paul, “has bewitched you, O foolish Galatians, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth crucified among you? This only would I learn of you; Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? “They well knew it was not by law, but by faith, and all now who have received the Holy Ghost know well that it is by Jesus Christ they have received Him. Christians in this day believe so little in the presence of the Holy Ghost, that there is less force for them in this argument of the apostle; but to the Galatians it was conclusive. They had received Him by faith.
It was not in that day only that Judaisers sought to introduce the law, and to subject to it Christians who from the outset had received the Holy Spirit. Therefore the apostle says, “Are ye so foolish, having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh? “For the law applies to man in the flesh, and puts him to the proof, so as to manifest whether, as a man alive in the flesh, he can obtain righteousness by keeping the law. What folly! having received the Spirit, the seal of divine righteousness, to desire to seek righteousness by carnal means, by human faithfulness to the requirements of the law, which addresses itself to man in the flesh, but to which the flesh is not subject, neither indeed can be! Amongst the Galatians were persons who wrought miracles by the Spirit, so that His presence as a seal, on God’s part, was very evident. In the present day many believers are inquiring whether God’s Spirit dwells in them. We will say a few words on this point.
If a man, convinced of sin, and believing in the Lord Jesus as the alone and perfect Saviour, who has finished the work committed to Him by the Father, can, from the bottom of his heart, say, “Abba, Father,” such an one possesses the Holy Ghost (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Not only does he see the truth in the word, and accept it, but in the presence of God he enjoys liberty, and possesses the consciousness of His relationship with God. He will have much to learn, much, perhaps, to correct, much to forget, much to alter in his spiritual condition, but he possesses the consciousness of his relationship with God. This is not simply conversion; a sinner, as a sinner, cannot be sealed. God cannot put His seal upon sin; but when a man has been cleansed by the blood of Christ, then the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in him.
We see the difference in the case of the prodigal son. He had come to himself, had owned his sin, and that he was ready to perish. He arose, and set off to return to his father. He was acting aright; he was truly converted; but as yet he had not on the best robe, nor the ring on his hand, nor shoes on his feet; as yet he had not met his father; he knew well that kindness and happiness were to be found in his father’s house, but he knew not if he might enter there, he knew not if he would be received. He had not the sense of being a son, though he was such: he says, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son.” This is not the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father.”
How many sincere and truly converted souls are in this state! They are not sealed. I do not say one must be able to explain how one cries, Abba; nor to explain the doctrine of the presence of the Holy Ghost—acquaintance with the word is needed for this. But we must have the Spirit to be able in truth to cry, Abba. There are many souls who, from bad teaching, fear to say they are children of God; but when in the presence of God, they unhesitatingly, and from the bottom of their hearts, cry, Abba. In such a case, the lack of liberty and of power to say, “I am a child of God,” is the result of bad teaching; but if the soul has been sealed, when it finds itself in God’s presence speaking to Him, it well knows that He is its Father, it has the sense of relationship with Him. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is,” says the apostle, “there is liberty”—liberty in the presence of God, and also from the law and the power of sin.
We can now look for a moment at that which the Holy Spirit gives when He dwells in us. First, He is not a spirit of bondage, but of adoption: we know that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Marvellous and ineffable privileges! though to be thus in relationship with God and with Christ is still more than the inheritance, which is but the consequence of that relationship.
Moreover, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us. A simple expression, but how precious! We dwell in love, the love of God, for God, who is love, dwells in us. The proof of the love is that God gave His only-begotten Son for us, and that He died, gave up His life for us. But we enjoy this love through the presence of the Holy Ghost; by that presence the love is shed abroad in our hearts.
The apostle John speaks thus: “No man hath seen God at any time: if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in God, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” And to shew that this belongs, without question, to all Christians, he says, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God,” 1 John 4:12-15.
It is difficult for one who does not walk with God to believe that we can dwell in God, and God in us. But it is clearly said, “If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” He dwells in us, and the soul that walks in communion with God enjoys this, rejoicing in it with humility and gratitude.
The presence of God never makes us proud. He is too great for us to be anything before Him. It was not when Paul was in the third heaven that he was in danger of being exalted above measure, but when he came down again. Moreover, the Holy Spirit gives us to know that we are in Christ, and Christ in us (John 14:20). There is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus. Not only are our sins forgiven, but we are made acceptable to God in Him who is the Beloved, accepted in Christ, according to the preciousness of Christ Himself, who is our righteousness, and loved as He is loved.
Here, again, we see the believer’s perfect acceptance, as also his responsibility. Before God I am perfectly accepted in Christ. But if I am in Christ, Christ is in me as life and power, and I am responsible to manifest this life before the world. Christ is for us before God, and we are for Christ before the world.
We know, then, by the Holy Spirit that we are in Christ, and Christ in us. What a magnificent fact, that the Spirit of God dwells in us! the effect of the perfect redemption accomplished by Christ. But what a responsibility likewise for the Christian! God did not dwell with Adam innocent, even in the garden of Eden. He did not dwell with Abraham; but as soon as even the external redemption of Israel was accomplished, He came to dwell in the midst of His people, and sat between the cherubim, as on His throne. And now that true and eternal redemption is accomplished, He comes to dwell in believers individually, and in His people, gathered by the Holy Ghost. His presence is more than conversion. The converts washed in the blood of Jesus become the habitation of God, sealed thus for glory by means of the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The apostle insists upon the folly of these poor Galatians; they had suffered much on account of the gospel, and if the gospel were insufficient and vain without circumcision, they had suffered in vain.
He then takes up the case of Abraham, whom the Jews so highly esteemed. He had believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. Thus at the present time it is those who are of faith who are the true sons of Abraham, not those who are sons according to the flesh. “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.”
Mark here the authority and importance of the word of God. It foresaw what God would do; it is that which comes forth out of the mouth of God, so that it is looked at as God speaking anticipatively. The apostle speaks of Scripture as of that which possessed the thoughts of God, since, in fact, inspired by the Holy Ghost, it communicates these thoughts to us. Know, then, says the apostle, how that the patriarch, Abraham, the father of the faithful and the depositary of the promises, received all by faith: thus those who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. Those, on the other hand, who are of the works of the law, are under the curse. The law is good and holy, but it does not give a new nature, it does not give life, nor the strength needed to do what it requires. He who seeks blessing by the law is like the man who lay in the porch of the pool of Bethesda; his sickness had deprived him of the strength needed for his cure.
The law exacts; it requires man to keep it, it must have obedience: but it neither gives a nature that desires to keep it, nor strength to do it. It exacts, and that is all. Man ought to love God with all his heart: he has not done it—he does it not. He ought to love his neighbour as himself: he does not do it—he is more grieved if he loses his own fortune than if his neighbour loses his. He ought not to lust, but lust is there. Therefore the law pronounces a curse upon the man who is under its power, because he has not kept it. It knows not how to forgive.
The apostle alludes to a remarkable fact, which is found in Deuteronomy 27:26. The tribes of Israel were commanded to stand, six upon mount Gerizim, and six upon mount Ebal, these to curse and those to bless. But when it comes to speak of those that were to bless, we find no blessings. In chapter 27:12, we get the six to bless, but no blessing: then in verse 13 the six to curse, and then follows: “The Levites shall speak and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice: Cursed be he,” etc.: and then at the end, the words quoted by the apostle. In the following chapters, we get God’s ways with Israel in the land of Canaan, but under the solemn declarations of the consequences of being put under the law; and no blessing is found there. Thus, those who are of the law are under the curse.
The prophets likewise taught that life is through faith, that the law does not justify saying: “The just shall live by faith.” Now the law is not of faith, but of works; moreover, the man himself must do them, for the law requires that he should work out his own righteousness: it says, “the man that doeth these things shall live in them.” Does it then follow that the authority of the law must be despised, since those who have been under it, have not kept it, or that all must be condemned? Not so. Christ has redeemed us (we who believe on Him) from the curse of the law, being made in His infinite grace, His immense love, a curse for us, as it is written: “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree; that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
We find then here, the ways of God for blessing the nations. The Jews were under the law, as in fact all are, who have not been delivered by Jesus Christ, known by the Holy Ghost. If we were not wholly corrupt and without conscience, we yet were as to the state of our souls before God, under the curse. Now if the Christian adopts this principle, he puts himself under the curse; that is why the apostle is so earnest about the question. Christ gave Himself upon the cross, to take this curse upon Himself, and thus it does not fall upon us. He has also borne the sins of those who believe on Him. Thus the blessing comes to the nations, to whoever believes on Him, whether they be Jews or Gentiles.
But this is not all. We find in the Old Testament the promise of the Holy Spirit, a promise renewed still more clearly in the words of the Lord Himself. It was written that the Spirit should be poured out upon all flesh, that is, the Gentiles should have their part in it. This was Peter’s authority for receiving Cornelius among the Christians. The believing Gentiles were sealed as much as were the Jews. God had put His seal upon them as His children, and they were united in one body with the Jews and with Christ Himself. The blessing of the Gentiles was the same as the blessing of the Jews. The Jews had not received the Spirit under the law, when the Gentiles were excluded; and now that all were manifested together as sinners, grace which had cleansed both the one and the other, admitted one and the other to the same privileges. Thus the promise already made to Abraham and to the nations in him was fulfilled in the gift of the Spirit, given through Christ, to those who believe from among the Gentiles.
He now insists upon this promise, upon the circumstances under which it was made, and the way in which the Gentiles enjoyed it. The starting-point of his argument is, that the nations were to be blessed in Abraham, according to the promise of God. It was by faith, that Abraham had received the promises, and the Gentiles were upon the same ground— that of receiving all through faith. Afterwards, the law was given to the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, but it was only a curse to the soul, for the flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Moreover, the just shall live by faith, and the law is not of faith, it requires works. But those who were under the law were redeemed from its curse by the death of Christ. The believing Jews were therefore freed from it; and the blessing they received through faith in Christ, extended to the Gentiles who had faith in Christ, but certainly did not place them under the curse from which Israel was delivered through this same faith. The Holy Spirit already promised, became the heritage of the one and the other: a magnificent testimony to the. acceptance of the Gentiles! The history of the promise to Abraham shewed the same truth. But a sure and simple principle is first stated.
Verse 15. If a covenant is not only made but confirmed, it cannot be disannulled, nor can anything be added to it. The promises were made to Abraham and were afterwards confirmed, as we shall see, to his seed. Now the law which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul the covenant that God had before confirmed, that it should make the promise of none effect. The promise remained always sure, and nothing could be added to or taken from it.
The character and details of the promise are also important. It was made to Abraham and confirmed to his seed. But in the “seed” one only is spoken of, not a numerous progeny: and this is most exact. We find many promises made to Abraham, when it was said that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand by the sea shore. But there was one promise made to Abraham alone, without mention of his seed. In Genesis 12 it is said that all nations should be blessed in him: and in chapter 22 this promise is confirmed to his seed, and that when he had offered Isaac upon the altar, and had received him again as risen from the dead (see Heb. 11:19)—a remarkable type of Christ in whom it was fully and literally accomplished. In chapters 15-17, we find the promise of a numerous posterity, which promise was fulfilled in the nation of Israel. But in chapter 22 we get the two promises distinctly stated.
We have then here the promise, the true seed, one single person, the confirmation of the promise to that one seed, and the blessing promised to the Gentiles with it. It is no question here of a numerous posterity, but of one single Person, and that Person is Christ. Isaac was but a type. The law, says the apostle, which came in four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul or add anything to the promise which had been so solemnly confirmed after the sacrifice of Isaac upon the altar (Gen. 22). If the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise, but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added on account of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; that is, till Messiah, Christ should come. God never intended to save through the law, but through Christ His Son, by His death for us upon the cross, where He bare the sins of all who are saved: those sins can be imputed to them no more. Christ is the Judge of the living and the dead, but when believers appear before His tribunal, they will find there the One who has already put away their sins by His death. The law came in between the promise and the fulfilment of the promise: it was neither of faith nor of promise, nor was it the fulfilment of the promise by the coming of the Son of God.
The law required obedience from man, producing human righteousness if obedience were accomplished. But flesh was not subject to the law, neither could it be; so then those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Why then did God give the law? In order that man might, through transgressions, learn his real condition. God could do nothing to produce sins; man was committing them already; but sins became transgressions through the law, in order, as Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans, that by the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.
The law worked in two ways. In the first place the sins which man committed became exceedingly sinful, because they not only practised what was evil, but they did so after God had plainly forbidden it. In the second place, sin in the flesh, lust, the condition of man after the flesh was detected. The flesh loved sin; and even a converted man who sought to conquer it, was overcome and made captive by the power of sin which ruled in the flesh. By the law is the knowledge of sin, that is, sin in the flesh, and through the law, sins became exceeding sinful. If my child is accustomed to be idle and run about the streets, it is a bad habit, but if I forbid him to go out, and he does it again, it is a positive transgression and much worse than a bad habit. It was for this, to instruct us, to teach us what we are, that the law was given. The law is holy, just, and good; it presents to man his duty as a child of Adam before God, but it was given to man when he was already a sinner not surely to produce sin, but to change sin into offences. The apostle speaks still more positively to the Romans: “The law entered that the offence might abound,” v. 20. Moreover, it disclosed to man his evil nature: but I will not here say more. It is enough if the nature and working of the law are understood.
Verse 20. The law, says the apostle, was ordained by angels in the hand of a Mediator. We here find a new and important principle. It is plain that a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one. There was then another party between whom and God the Mediator fulfilled His mediatorship; in fact, there was Israel, that is, man. The enjoyment of the results of the covenant, depended on the faithfulness of both parties; for since God had upon Mount Sinai promised blessing on His part, if Israel were faithful to His will, so Israel was bound to be obedient, in order to enjoy the privileges granted under the law. That which had been promised unconditionally to Abraham, was accepted at Sinai under condition of the people’s obedience. “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people,” Exod. 19:5.
Moses (the mediator) therefore came and proposed to them all these words, and all the people answered together: “all that the Lord hath spoken we will do,” and Moses brought back to the Lord the words of the people. Thus the covenant was made. Then they made a molten calf before Moses had come down from the mount. The covenant was broken in its primary obligation, “thou shalt have none other gods before me,” and Moses broke the tables at the foot of the mount, and they never came into the camp. Mercy spared them, but the covenant had been broken, and a new one had to be afterwards established. It had no more stability than the faithfulness of man in the flesh. The fulfilment of God’s unconditional promise to Abraham, depended only on the faithfulness of the God who had made it; it could not therefore fail.
And remark here, that it is not a question of Christ the Mediator to bear our sins and save us, but of the promised seed. With that a mediator had nothing to do. It was simply a promise that the seed should come, and it came. The law intervened between the promise and its fulfilment to put man to the proof, in order that the weakness and iniquity of the flesh might be manifested. It was not against the promises of God, but it shewed that man could not secure the accomplishment of those promises by his own faithfulness and his own works. For if the law could have given life, the new life given by the law would naturally keep its commandments; this would have been human and legal righteousness, and although human yet pleasing to God. But sinful flesh was detected, not righteousness accomplished. If they had kept the law, under which they had placed themselves at Sinai in order that they might enjoy the promises, they would have enjoyed that which was promised: but they did not keep it. All—Jews as well as Gentiles, those who had the privileges as well as those who had them not—were concluded under sin, so that the promise made to Abraham might be fulfilled to all believers through faith in Jesus Christ.
Now before faith came, that is, before the system founded upon faith in Christ had come, the Jews were kept under the law, shut up to the faith that should afterwards be revealed. Therefore the law was their schoolmaster unto Christ, that they might be justified by faith. It was in fact, the goodness of God, which when all the earth had fallen into idolatry, kept one nation, which unfaithful as it may have been, yet preserved the knowledge of the only true God. The law was not, it is true, the means of justifying them, for they did not keep it; but they were shut up under obligation to keep it, and prided themselves in the promises.
The unity of God, and the fact of the promises made by Him of the seed to come, remained in their integrity among men. But once faith—that is, Christ and the system of faith— had come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. What was only for the time of expectation lost the whole ground of its existence when the object of expectation had come. It had been useful for preserving them until the appointed time; but once that which was waited for had come, to preserve the schoolmaster had no longer any motive—it belonged to the time of waiting. This would, in reality, have denied His coming and His work. Those who had not kept the law, when they were bound to do it, desired, from pride, to keep it, when every motive for having it was entirely passed. Such is man!
Verse 26. The apostle no longer speaks of us, that is, of the Jews. They had been kept under die schoolmaster, but he now addresses his words to the Christian Jews and Gentiles together. “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” He no longer speaks of Jews or Greeks, or slaves or free men: being baptised unto Christ, they had put on Christ, they had assumed the name, the profession, of Christ; every other name was lost in this. They were Christians, united together under this name. The resurrection had for all put an end before God to man in the flesh: they were all one in Christ Jesus.
The place of external profession is here spoken of, what a Christian was as such, not whether he was a true Christian or not. We shall see that Paul was a little doubtful as to this; nevertheless, in looking to Christ through grace, he was able to reassure himself.
In the Christian system, faith, as it is here called, does not refer to a name, nor to a party of any kind, but to Christ alone. They were Christians, and nothing else. Now, if they were of Christ, the only true Seed of Abraham according to the promise, through whom the nations were to be blessed, they were of the seed of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise.
All this contains important principles. Partakers of the promise in Christ, they could not be under the law. To put oneself under it, denied Christianity; Christ was dead in vain. We cannot be of any class, nor bear any other name, than that of Christ Himself.
The apostle now goes on to speak of the consequences of the truth, that we are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus— a truth which had been stated as a principle in chapter 3:26, and which is here developed in its effects. He draws the contrast between the heirs under the law and the heirs through faith in Christ, who had come, and was risen from the dead. Under the law they were as a child who does not understand the father’s thoughts, nor does he even know them: he is as a slave, to whom it is said, Go or come; do this or that. Although by-and-by he will be lord of all, yet he is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Thus believing Jews had indeed a part in the promises, yet, being under the law, they were as children under a schoolmaster. But this introduces a very important principle.
The institutions of the law were adapted to man in the flesh. A magnificent temple, beautiful vestments, a God present to the senses upon earth, though man was not permitted to draw near to Him; trumpets, visible sacrifices—all these things were ordained that man in the flesh might be in relationship with God, according to the elements of the world, which are suited to man in the flesh. Christians are a heavenly people; they see not the objects they adore, except by faith. God is worshipped in spirit and in truth, not with bulls and goats. The Spirit reveals to them that which they see not; they know that Christ is ascended into heaven, having finished the work which the Father gave Him to do; and the heart rises up into the heavenly temple, by the grace of the Holy Ghost come down from heaven, there to adore God. Thus the heirs themselves were as children, bound to accomplish an external worship, to offer beasts. The cleansing was an external purifying of the body by water; the sacrifices—types for the time then present—could not purify the conscience from sin; they were not offerings of praise, and thanksgiving, and adoration, founded upon the accomplished sacrifice of Christ. It was all “the elements of the world,” which were adapted to man in this world.
Every religion accomplished in external ceremonies, and composed of such things, is but “the elements of the world,” and resembles heathen worship. The favour of God is sought by means which an unconverted man can use, quite as well as, or even better than, one that is converted; for his conscience does not make him feel that these things cannot cleanse the soul. Those who seek to obtain righteousness by works are greatly irritated against those who have peace with God through faith, for this declares all their labour to be in vain. There was but one city where the Gentiles persecuted Paul in which the Jews did not stir them up to do it. They boasted in what man could do, and maintained their own glory; they were not willing to see it trampled under foot. But faith gives the glory of salvation to God, and seeks in a new life, the spring of which is love, to glorify Him by obedience and the fulfilment of His will.
The law was then a schoolmaster until Christ, the promised Seed. In its forms and in its ceremonies, it resembled the religion of the Gentiles. God, while ever maintaining the perfect rule for the conduct of man and the unity of the Godhead, yet condescended to adapt Himself, in the worship He ordained, to the ways of the spirit of man, coming near to him, in order to make manifest whether it were possible for man in the flesh to walk with God. Man has not kept God’s rule, but he has clung to the ceremonies, in order to make out by them a righteousness of his own—a way that is morally easy, since he can pursue it without governing his passions, but which becomes, if conscience is aroused, an insupportable yoke. Alas 1 it is always thus, even in our own day.
But when the fulness of time was come—praise be to God!— after man had shewn himself to be wholly corrupt and without restraint when he had no law, and when he possessed it, with all its accompanying privileges, had broken it, not being able to keep it, even while desiring to do it—then, in the sovereign love of God, the promised Seed came: God sent His only-begotten Son, the second Man, the last Adam, the Word who was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
Marvellous grace! God Himself was manifest in flesh, that He might give Himself, and might, after having been raised from the dead, become Head and Source of a new spiritual race, instead of the evil and perverse race. He becomes the life of all believers; they are redeemed to enjoy the glory with Him. Old Testament believers will, without doubt, enjoy the glory, partaking in the result of the redemption wrought by Christ, although they formed no part of His body upon earth, for the thing itself was not come. The promise had been given, as we have seen; now it was accomplished, not fully, but nevertheless accomplished as to the resurrection of Christ, when life and incorruptibility were brought to light, and were preached through the gospel. For the gospel announced, not the promise, but the fulfilment of the promise, in the coming of Christ, come down to accomplish the work of redemption.
God sent His Son: He came and took the form of a man down here. Born of a woman, under the law, He took His place in the world in two relationships: with man, through the woman; with the Jews, as born under the law j and every one, when converted, puts himself under it, unless, indeed, he be already there in spirit. This is very useful for the soul, as it thus learns its weakness. Redemption places all, that is, all who believe in Christ and in His work, under the benefit of that work, whether they be Jews or Gentiles; they are redeemed before God, who has accepted the work of His Son according to His own righteousness, even as He gave Him in His love, in order that those who were under the law might be delivered from it, and might receive the adoption.
Christ has ordained for the one and the other His own place before God. When He rose from the dead, He said to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Precious and marvellous words, which had never been uttered before His resurrection. But now all was accomplished; their sins had been borne and put away; God, in all that He is, had been glorified; their persons were redeemed, and, according to the sure purpose of God, Christ had acquired glory for His own through His sufferings. He could announce it to them, though the time was not yet come for glorifying those whom He had already introduced into the position in which He Himself stood, as Man and as Son of God, before His Father. What words! Brethren of the Son of God! If God was His Father, He was their Father; if He was His God, He was their God: not only pardoned and justified—already an immense blessing—but introduced into the relationship with God in which He Himself stood.
Was He any longer under the law? No surely. Under the law He had died, had borne its curse, had fully glorified God upon the dreadful cross; but that was all passed, and now He was risen, to bring His own redeemed ones, who were made partakers of the life in which He stood in the presence of God, into the glory in which He soon would be, but for which they must wait till He should return to take them there, where they would be for ever with Him, made perfectly like Himself. All that gave them the right to enjoy these privileges was now finished, and though the time had not yet come for entering there, the Spirit could be given so that they could enjoy the privileges in their hearts, and understand the position to which they belonged; the privileges could be announced, and this is what the apostle does. He could not, it is true, unfold them all, for their subjection to the law had dimmed their eyes to the understanding of divine things; but He could at least make their position clear, that they might be able to understand them.
Faith, then, places the believer in the position of a son with God, according to the value and efficacy of the redemption wrought by Christ Jesus; and because they were sons, God had sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Thus the believer is no more a servant, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Under the law believers, although born of God, were but as servants in position; now Jews and Gentiles together are sons, according to the position of Him who has redeemed them. The elements of the world were adapted to man in the flesh: the Spirit puts us in communion with the Father in heaven as His sons, united to Him who is risen from the dead. As Jews they were dead to the law by the death of Christ: the Gentiles, redeemed by His death, took up that yoke only when it had been broken for the Jews, and that by the death of Christ.
But the apostle takes up a still stronger ground. The Galatians were Gentiles, and had been as heathen under these same elements of the world. Not knowing God, they did service to them who by nature were no gods. Their worship was necessarily according to the elements of the world—what man in the flesh could offer: they could not conceive of anything else but a worship of ceremonies, the observance of days and the offering of beasts. The true God’ condescended to place Himself upon this ground in His relations with man, as has been said. He drew near to man where man was. Nevertheless, upon this footing He did not reveal Himself. He hid Himself behind the veil, though He made a covenant with man: He gave a law which was to be observed, while He remained behind the veil, and He ordained sacrifices, most beautiful and instructive types of the true sacrifice of Christ, which is of eternal value.
Everything was made according to the pattern shewn to Moses in the mount, and was thus a type of the heavenly things; but the things themselves were only earthly things, worldly elements, suited to mortal man, and which mortal man, converted or unconverted, could accomplish—principles of the world, according to the need of the human heart, and that which man could offer, in the hope of propitiating his God. God suited Himself to man, while hiding Himself, and proposing to man that he should accomplish human righteousness. God put an end to the whole of this system when He sent His Son, and more especially by His death.
The law came in to prove whether man in the flesh was able to please God: but the law was broken, never observed. Moreover, the promise was despised, and the promised One rejected. The cross ended the system which put God in relation with man in the flesh, or rather which shewed such a relationship to be impossible; and the work of redemption being accomplished, God began, with the second Adam risen from among the dead, spiritual relationships by the Holy Ghost come down from heaven, in His sovereign grace placing those who believed in the same position as His own Son. Marvellous, and for us how blessed a testimony to the value of the redemption He has accomplished!
Yet these poor Christians now desired to return to the weak and beggarly elements from which, when heathens, they had been delivered, through the knowledge of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus! Mark well that all their ceremonies are but the same thing as paganism, the elements of the world. Even if those who subject themselves to them be Christians, yet the principles according to which they walk are the elements of the world, and their practices are heathen practices. We learn this here as doctrine, but the history of the church shews it to us as a fact. Holy days and holy places were taken from the heathen, who had holy places and days on which they held festivals in honour of deified men, such as Theseus, Hercules, and others. The names of saints were afterwards attached to these places and days, and the saints celebrated instead of the demi-gods.
St. Augustine has told us what was done, and how it began. He sought to put an end to these evil habits, not to the days, but to what was practised upon them, for they got drunk in the churches. This occurred in Africa, and the same thing was done elsewhere. The feast of the Nativity was the worst of all the pagan festivals, and it is still celebrated among the heathen in the East. Not being able to prevent those who, emerging from paganism, called themselves Christians, from continuing the disorders practised at this festival, the leaders of the church decided to put in its place the Nativity of Christ. Augustine also says, respecting the memory of the saints who took the place of Theseus, etc., that the church thought it better for people to get drunk in honour of a saint, than in honour of a demon. It is certain that Christ was not born in December. The time at which Mary went to visit Elizabeth proves this, if compared with the order of the twenty-four courses of the priests. Zacharias was the eighth course.
In taking up again from the Jews these elements of the world, the Galatians were returning to their former heathen practices. Until the coming of Christ these things had an important meaning; they were figures of that of which Christ has been, or is now, the reality: moreover they tested man, and shewed that he cannot walk with God as man in the flesh. But when once Christ was come, the substance was there, and the figures had no more ground of existence, the test had been already applied. What is done in fulfilment of the law is but the denial of the fulfilment of all in Christ—heathen elements of the world, in which the Galatians walked when they lived as heathen in the world.
Verse 11. The apostle feared that his labour might have been in vain, that they had not the real knowledge of God and of Christian truth. They were ready, as we have seen, to despise the apostle; and with cutting irony, which came, nevertheless, from the depths of a wounded heart, he says to them (v. 12), “Be as I am.” The Galatians, who desired to Judaise, accused the apostle of being no better than the Gentiles with whom he ate, of refusing to circumcise their children, of having freed himself from the Jewish yoke, and of walking as a Gentile. Be then as I am, he says, free from this yoke, for I, like you Gentiles, am free from the law. You have not wronged me at all—I am free; be ye free also.
In former days they had not despised him, in spite of the infirmity in his flesh: when he had brought them the pure gospel, unmixed with Judaism, they had received him as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus Himself. They had accepted it with such joy, had felt and declared themselves to be so greatly blessed, that they would have given their own eyes— what they most valued—to Paul, so rejoiced had they been to receive the pure gospel, free from all mixture of law. Where was now their blessedness, if they found it needful to add the law in order to enjoy the blessing? Had the apostle become their enemy in speaking the truth to them? They had at first received it with joy, but now that he sought to lead them to cleave firmly to this blessed truth, was he become their enemy? The Judaising teachers were zealous, but not rightly so. It is possible to be zealous in binding souls to oneself, or to the sect to which one is attached. The Pharisees compassed sea and land to make one proselyte, and they made him twofold more the child of hell than themselves.
These likewise (for they were such) wrought with the object of drawing the converted Gentiles into Judaism, hiding the truth of the gospel under circumcision and a mass of observances, which led men to seek their own righteousness by their own works, and denied the perfection of the work of Christ. They shunned the reproach of the cross, for man is never ashamed of a religion he himself can accomplish. Neither Pagans, nor Mahommedans, nor Jews, nor those who follow a corrupt Christianity, are ashamed of their religion. Alas! we find many thus ashamed among those who confess the truth, and Christ according to the truth; a remarkable fact, and one that shews where poor human nature is!
And again, the preachers of the law sought to shut the Gentiles out, hindering them from hearing the truth, for fear they should receive it, and become too clear in spiritual intelligence to listen to error, too enlightened not to perceive that the system of the law and of Judaism, denied Christianity. This is always the way. The leaders of a false system seek to prevent souls from hearing the truth; they desire to attach them to themselves alone. If the doctrine of the apostle had been good, they ought to continue to hold it primarily as he had taught it, and be zealous at all times, not only when he was present with them.
But this made the apostle long to be with them. He was perplexed as to them, for the gospel had in reality been abandoned by them; yet when looking to the Lord, he always hoped that Christ was truly in their hearts, and that only in their heads they had accepted a doctrine, which totally perverted the gospel of Christ. He needed, so to speak, to travail in birth afresh with them till Christ should be formed in them. Nevertheless, he calls them his children: his love inspired him with confidence, and yet filled his heart with uneasiness. He would have desired to be with them that he might change his voice, suiting it to their state; not only teaching them the truth, but doing whatever their need required. Mark here, the deep love of the apostle. Moses, faithful as he was, grew weary of the burden of the people and said: “Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?” (Num. 11:12): but the apostle is willing to travail in birth with them as his children a second time, in order that their souls might be saved.
Verse 21. He already changes his voice. “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” He desires that the law should speak, since they were abandoning the grace of the gospel. In the law it was written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman; the one born after the flesh, the other of the free woman born according to the promise of God. But these things were an allegory, shewing forth the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar, the bondwoman. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai, which answers to Jerusalem (that is, the system of the law of which Jerusalem was the centre), with her children, as also to those who are under the law. But Jerusalem which is above, the true church of God viewed in her heavenly state, is free; and she is our mother.
Such was the application of the history of Abraham and Sarah, and her servant Hagar. But the apostle also quotes from the prophet Isaiah another passage, to shew that it is when Jerusalem is forsaken of God, that she brings forth more children than when she had a husband. These children are ourselves, Christians, during the time of the church (Isaiah 54:1). The passage is addressed to Jerusalem, restored in the kingdom to come, but it owns that the forsaken one has more children than she which had a husband. The children born according to promise, are more numerous in the present time, than those born when Jerusalem was owned.
Then he turns to Sarah. “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” The cases were too much alike, for the principle not to be evident: and in fact it was always the Jews who raised up persecution against Paul. There is but one case when it was not so. The word of God plainly declared His judgment: “Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.” The two things cannot be united: if man is heir through the law, he is not heir through promise and grace. Obtaining righteousness and blessing by our own works, and receiving it by grace through the free gift of God cannot go together, the one is opposed to the other.
Thus we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free woman. We cannot possibly be the children of both, otherwise, as says the apostle, grace is no more grace. We are freed from the law, from its ceremonies, from its service, from the elements of the world, to belong to a risen Christ, who has cancelled our sins, and also all the ordinances of the law; who has borne its curse for us, and who has communicated to us a life which is in liberty and holiness before God. Christ Himself is this life in us: in it we rejoice in holiness, as well as in forgiveness, and in God Himself instead of living in fear. We are children of the free woman and of her only. The apostle now begins to exhort them to be faithful to this principle.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Paul even avails himself of his personal apostolic authority, and that towards the nations, which was strengthened by the work he had wrought among the Galatians. They had, in fact, received the gospel from his mouth, and had received it with joy. “I, Paul,” he says, “I say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” They would have put themselves upon another ground, that of human righteousness by works, not of divine righteousness through faith in Christ. They could not be justified in two ways at once. If they were circumcised, they were bound to keep the law. The thing is very simple: if a man puts himself under the law, he is bound to keep it. If righteousness and acceptance with God are through the law, it must be kept in every point. They were fallen from grace.
The Christian state is this. We do not hope for righteousness, but, through the Spirit, we hope for that which belongs to righteousness, on the principle of faith. They possessed righteousness, divine righteousness in Christ, and that on the principle of faith. But glory belonged to this righteousness, and that they did not possess: they hoped for it. Thus, by the faith through which they possessed righteousness, they by the Holy Spirit hoped for that, which belongs to the righteousness possessed by those who are in Christ. Blessed state! Righteousness is our possession, and the glory which belongs to it is our hope; the Holy Spirit the source and strength of this hope. Faith, the spring and realisation of our relationship with God, is that which discerns the glory which as yet we possess not, and rests upon the righteousness which makes us know that we have a right to it. How blessed not to be seeking righteousness! it is ours; we are it in Christ; our hope is to be with Him in glory, according to this righteousness. It is by faith, since everything in Christ is by faith.
In Him, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avail anything, but faith which works by love: that is the reality of divine life, which enjoys peace with God, which rises by faith to divine glory and to heavenly things, where it finds its portion. While waiting for it, it works by love, which flows in the heart from its source, even God Himself, who gave everything, even His own Son.
We see how disturbed and troubled was the spirit of the apostle. He felt that the truth was lost, and that his beloved children had left the right path. “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.” The Galatians might know that what they were now receiving, was not that which they had received from the beginning. They well knew that when God, by the mouth of Paul, had called them to enjoy the only true salvation of God (which had been a source of happiness to their hearts), it had not been by the law nor by circumcision, human righteousness or human works, nor by the forms through which man seeks to repair the defects of those works, so as to obtain righteousness by them.
This was not the gospel Paul had preached, when they had been brought to the knowledge of God; it was grace and a perfect salvation in Christ. The new teaching did not spring from the same source; it was not therefore of God. But a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Through the gospel souls are converted: it is the power of God which works individually in the soul: it gives life: it is contrary to the natural heart. False doctrine, human righteousness, works, forms, are not contrary to the heart of man: they are a leaven which spreads and penetrates the mass of the people and their ways.
Verse 10. Yet it is beautiful to see how the apostle, amid the grief of his heart, finds peace and confidence as to the Galatians in looking to the Lord. He had said that he stood in doubt of them, not knowing what to think. Now he says: “I have confidence in you through the Lord.” How sweet is the introduction of this name, in the consciousness that He loves His own, that He thinks of them, and that we can cast all our cares ‘upon Him, in the certainty that His heart is occupied with them. “Be careful for nothing,” says Paul to the Philippians (chap. 4:6). We see how earnestly the heart of the apostle longed for the blessing of his children, and for the maintenance of the truth: but he knew how to carry his anxiety to the Lord. He then had confidence where before he had been perplexed—confidence that the Galatians would be none otherwise minded; but he that troubled them should bear his judgment, whoever he might be.
We find here other characters and effects of faith, besides restoration of confidence with regard to God’s children. Though Christ might be hidden, yet He ruled in the church of God, and all power in heaven and earth was His. He who troubled them would not escape the judgment of God, whoever he was. Paul was convinced of the faithfulness of God, he knew that Christ loved the church, and would do what was needful to protect it from the malice of the enemy. Faith rendered him confident and happy in the conflicts of his service by it, he could rest in the faithfulness of the Lord. This faith inspired confidence as to the state of the Galatians, and convinced Paul that he who deceived them should be taken away by the hand of God.
Paul then returns (v. n) to speak of himself. If I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? For it was the Jew who everywhere raised up persecution against him. If he preached circumcision, the offence of the cross would have ceased. We see, moreover, the trouble of his spirit; this characterises the epistle: “I would that they were even cut off that trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called to liberty”; a principle, which in connection with what follows, is of the utmost importance. The Christian was called to liberty, the holy liberty of the new nature, but yet liberty. It is no longer a law which constrains, or rather vainly seeks to constrain a nature whose will is contrary to it, to satisfy the obligations which accompany the relationships, in which by the will of God we find ourselves—a law imposed, forbidding evil to a nature that loves evil, and commanding the love of God and of one’s neighbour, to a nature whose spring is selfishness.
Had it been possible to take away Christ’s moral liberty— which was not possible—it would have been by preventing Him from obeying the will of the Father. This was the food He ate (John 4). As a perfect Man, He lived by every word which came forth out of the mouth of God. He chose to die, to drink the bitter cup which the Father had given Him, rather than not obey Him, and glorify Him in drinking it. Christianity is the liberty of a new nature that loves to obey, and to do the will of God. It is true that the flesh, if not kept in subjection, can use this liberty to satisfy its own desires, just as it used the law, which had been given to convict of sin, to work out righteousness. But the true liberty of the new man—Christ our life—is the liberty of a holy will, acquired through the deliverance of the heart from the power of sin, liberty to serve others in love. All the law is fulfilled in one word— “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The Christian can do still more, he can give himself for others; or, at the least, following the direction of the Spirit, he fulfils the law in love. But if they devoured one another in selfishness, contending about circumcision and the law, “take heed,” says the apostle, “that ye be not consumed one of another.”
The apostle here establishes the principles of holiness, of the Christian walk, and brings in the Holy Ghost in place of the law. In the preceding part of the Epistle he had set forth Christian justification by faith, in contrast with works of law. He here shews that God produces holiness. Instead of exacting it, as did the law with regard to human righteousness, from the nature which loves sin, He produces it in the human heart, as wrought by the Spirit. When Christ had ascended up on high, and was set down on the right hand of God, having accomplished a perfect redemption for those who should believe on Him, He sent down the Holy Spirit to dwell in all such. They were already children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, and, because they were such, God gave them the Spirit of His Son. Born of God, cleansed by the blood of Christ, accepted in the Beloved, God seals them as His own, by the gift of the Spirit, until the day of redemption, that is, of glory. Having the new life, Christ as their life, they are bound to walk as Christ walked, and to manifest the life of Christ down here in their mortal flesh.
This life, produced in us by the operation of the Holy Ghost through the word, is led by the Spirit which is given to believers; its rule is also in the word. Its fruits are the fruits of the Spirit. The Christian walk is the manifestation of this new life, of Christ our life, in the midst of the world. If we follow this path—Christ Himself—if we walk in His steps, we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. It is thus sin is avoided, not by taking the law to compel man to do what he does not like; the law has no power to compel the flesh to obey, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The new life loves to obey, loves holiness, and Christ is its strength and wisdom by the Holy Ghost. The flesh is indeed there; it lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusts against the flesh, to prevent man from walking as he would. But if we walk in the Spirit, we are not under the law; we are not as the man in Romans 7, where, impelled by the new nature, the will desires to do good, but, a captive to sin, he finds no way of doing what he desires; for the law gives neither strength nor life. Under law, even if life is there, there is no strength: man is the captive of sin.
But sealed by the Holy Spirit, the believer is free, he can perform the good he loves. If Christ is thus in him, the body is dead, the old man is crucified with Christ. The Spirit is life, and that Spirit, as a divine and mighty Person, works in him to bring forth good fruits. The flesh and the Spirit are in their nature opposed the one to the other; but if we are faithful in seeking grace, the power of the Spirit—Christ, by His Spirit in us—enables us to hold the flesh for dead, and to walk in the footsteps of Christ, bringing forth the fruits that suit Him.
There is not really any difficulty in distinguishing the fruits of the Spirit and the fruits of the flesh: the apostle names them, those, at least, which are characteristic of their respective actions. Of the sad fruits of the flesh, he positively declares that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God: but the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, etc.; against such there is no law; God cannot condemn the fruit of His own Spirit. Remark, that the first of these fruits are love, joy, peace. The Spirit will surely produce those practical fruits which manifest the life of Christ in the sight of men, but the inward fruits, the fruits Godward, come first, the condition of soul needful for producing the others. Many converted persons seek for the practical fruits in order to assure themselves that they are born of the Spirit and accepted of God. But peace, love, joy are the firstfruits of the presence of the Spirit; the others follow. In order to know what is in the heart of God, we need to see the fruit of His heart, the gift of Jesus.
If I believe in Him, and through Him in the love of God, sealed of God by the Spirit, I have the sense of His love: love shewn in the death of Jesus is shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit, which is given to those who are washed from their sins through faith in His blood. By that Spirit we have the consciousness of our position before God, and love, joy, peace are in the soul. The fruits which follow are, moreover, the proof to others that my certainty and assurance are not false, that I am not deceived. But for myself, it is what God has done which is the proof of what is in the heart oi God, and through faith I set to my seal that God is true. Then, sealed by the gift of the Spirit, I rejoice in His goodness, and the fruits of the new life manifest to others that this life is there.
Moreover, “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” They have not got to die: Christ died for us, and He who died being our life, we hold ourselves for dead, crucified with Him, as though we ourselves had died upon the cross, since it was for us He suffered. Possessing another life, I do not own the flesh as “I,” but as sin which dwelleth in me, which I hold to be crucified. The faithful Christian realises this continually. God declares us to be dead with Christ: He looks upon us thus (Col. 3:3). Faith, accepting God’s declaration with thankfulness, holds the flesh, the old man, to be dead (Rom. 6), and through the Spirit, if he is faithful, he applies the cross in a practical way to the flesh, so that it may not act (2 Cor. 4); besides this, God in His government sends that which is needful to test the Christian, and to effect this.
The apostle adds the exhortation, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” The law nourishes rather than destroys vain glory, for the law makes us think of self. When rightly employed, it is most useful for convincing of sin, not for producing righteousness.
Thus the operation of the law with regard to justification and holiness has been fully examined, and set in a clear light. It does not produce righteousness, it exacts it. It cannot be linked with Christ as a means of justification: “if righteousness is by the law, Christ is dead in vain.” Man ought surely to have kept the commandments of God, but that is not the real question. He has not kept them, therefore, upon that ground he is lost. Christ, on the other hand, brings salvation because we are guilty.
Then, as to holiness: it is not God’s way to seek to produce holiness in the flesh through the law, for the flesh is not subject to the law, neither indeed can be. God gives a new life in Christ, and the Holy Spirit, to produce fruits which are acceptable to Him, and against these fruits there is certainly no divine law. God cannot condemn the fruits of His own Spirit. It is the new creature, the new life, with its fruits by the Spirit, which are acceptable to God; it is this new creature which seeks to please Him.
Strengthened by the Spirit, and instructed by Him, according to the wisdom of God set forth in the word, let us seek to walk in the footsteps of Christ, that perfect example of the life of God in a Man, which has been given to us.
The apostle now adds some special exhortations. First, as to the grace which we ought to shew one towards another, coupled with the sense of responsibility in oneself. The spirit of the law naturally leads to righteousness, and then to hardness towards another, if he is overtaken in a fault: it makes us forget our own weakness. This was seen plainly in the Pharisees, and is found among Christians also; therefore the apostle exhorts them, saying, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” The sense of one’s own weakness makes us meek towards others.
Then (v. 2) we get a law; he calls it this because they wanted a law: the true law, if they must have one, is to act as Christ did—that is, to bear the burdens of others, and thus fulfil the most excellent law, the law of love. He would not have them to be indifferent to sin, or to fail in needful discipline when sin had been manifested. But when a brother had been overtaken in a fault, he would have them seek his restoration with love, with the faithfulness of holy love. The danger, and even the effect, of a legal spirit is to make us think ourselves something when we are nothing; we deceive ourselves. Simple words, but full of power! We need to prove ourselves and our work, that we may have to boast as to ourselves alone, and not as to others; a principle which is always true, and such was then the case with the Galatians. Whose had the work among them been? Paul’s. Others desired to appropriate that work; but when they had been heathen Paul had worked among them, and had been the means of their conversion. Through his instrumentality they had received Christ into their hearts. But each should bear his own burden. Grace may bear the burdens of others, but, as to responsibility, when the Lord shall judge, each shall bear his own burden.
Here ends the exhortation which treats of the relations of brethren in their responsibility one towards another, as also of that which regards each one. He adds the desire, that those who learn through the labours of others should think in love of the needs of those who teach.
The apostle then returns to the fundamental principle of the Christian walk. It is not a law given to a nature which always, by its very nature, resists the law: it is a power which works in a new life, the Spirit given to those who believe on the Lord Jesus. The government of God ensures the consequences which flow from the walk. God does not allow Himself to be mocked; “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” “He that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” The path of sin and the path of the Spirit, in which the true Christian walks, both infallibly lead to the ends which suit each—the path of the flesh to corruption, even in this life; the way of the Spirit to life eternal.
Verse 9. But we must not weary in the right path, for God is faithful, and if we persevere, we shall reap in His own time. We often want to see the fruit of our labours at once, like one who turns up the earth to see if the seed is springing. But the work, if real, is the work of God, and we must wait till His work is accomplished; then we shall see the fruit matured according to the perfection of His workmanship. Let us, then, not weary in well doing, but whilst we have opportunity let us do good unto all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Verse 11. The apostle returns to his chief subject, shewing the preoccupation of his spirit, which is also expressed in the fact he mentions. He was greatly troubled because the Galatians were abandoning the principles of grace in which they had been instructed, and through which they had been converted. He had written this letter with his own hand, though habitually he employed another to write (Rom. 16:22; 2 Thess. 3:17). Those who constrain you to be circumcised, says the apostle, desire to make a fair show in the flesh. They themselves did not keep the law, but in order to bring honour to themselves, they sought to put others under the law—the religion in which they had boasted in the days of their ancestors, and thus to glory in the flesh, in the proselytes from among the nations. The apostle desired to glory only in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world was crucified to him and he to the world. To seek a good or even a religious appearance before the world, is to seek the honour of a world which has dishonoured, rejected, and crucified Him who has loved us and given Himself for us.
The cross, for us, is salvation, the proof of the infinite love of God; but it was the shame of the Lord of glory to which He submitted for us. There, the world finally condemned itself, and God was glorified in love. Paul did not want the honour of a world, which at the cross dishonoured Him who had so loved him; he would glory only in the cross—the proof of the Lord’s love and of his own salvation. He identified himself with Christ, he was crucified to the world which had crucified Him, and the world was likewise crucified to him. A world that has crucified the Lord is not the place where a Christian can seek honour; it has, by the cross, manifested what it is. Shall we go with the world to crucify Christ, or shall we own Him who gave Himself for us upon that cross, and love Him there, where He shewed His love to us? In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision—that is all past with the cross, with death to the world and its elements—but a new creation. This is the Christian’s rule, not the law which is adapted to man born of Adam, after the flesh and living in the world, though the flesh is not and cannot be subject to it. As many, says the apostle, as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God—not upon man according to the flesh.
Paul, conscious of what he had been in his service, with a patient heart and elevated spirit exclaims, “Henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” It is sad to see that the apostle, himself in affliction, was obliged to appeal to such a proof of his divine calling. There is no salutation, no word of love or confidence. “Let no man trouble me” is all he can say to those who formerly would have plucked out their own eyes in love to him.
All this shews plainly to what an extent the error of the Galatians weighed upon the apostle’s spirit. How serious is this perversity of the human heart, which really unconscious of its state of sin and weakness, instead of finding in the law the proof of that state, uses it to produce its own righteousness, human righteousness, after the gospel has revealed the righteousness of God for us in Christ, just because we had none for God. But from that day, this error everywhere abounds, and it even characterises actual Christianity. It is the doctrine of all the branches of Christianity.
This is a most interesting epistle, but a sad one; it brings us back to the basis of Christianity, the foundations of our relationships, rather than to the development of the privileges which belong to the Christian and to his standing in Christ. But it is all the more needful for the soul that desires to grow in grace. For if we are not well grounded in grace, and in the efficacy of the work of Christ, it is impossible really to grow in the development of life, and in fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. It is ever needful to lay afresh the basis of our relations with God.
11 Translated from the Italian.
12 The common thought, that the flames of purgatory purify the soul, is opposed to true catholic doctrine: those who are not justified are not consigned to it; such go to hell.
13 We have indeed two Christian ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s supper; but both of them refer to the death of Christ, so that instead of linking us with the world they are witnesses that by the death of Christ we are totally separated from it, that it is a dead Christ who is the object of faith, and that it is as dead that we enjoy Christian privileges.