Book traversal links for Part 1: Personal (Galatians 1-2)
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) and all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (vv. 1-5)
The epistle to the Galatians links very intimately with that to the Romans. There seem to be good reasons for believing that both of these letters were written at about the same time, probably from Corinth while Paul was ministering in that great city. In Romans we have the fullest, the most complete opening up of the gospel of the grace of God that we get anywhere in the New Testament. In the letter to the Galatians we have that glorious gospel message defended against those who were seeking to substitute legality for grace. There are many expressions in the two letters that are very similar. Both, as also the epistle to the Hebrews, are based upon one Old Testament text found in chapter 2 of the book of Habakkuk: “The just shall live by his faith.” May I repeat what I have mentioned in my Lectures on Romans and also my Notes on Hebrews? In the epistle to the Romans the emphasis is put upon the first two words. How shall men be just with God? The answer is, “The just shall live by faith.” But if one has been justified by faith, how is he maintained in that place before God? The answer is given in the epistle to the Galatians, and here the emphasis is upon the next two words, “The just shall live by faith.” But what is that power by which men are made just and by which they live? The epistle to the Hebrews answers that by putting the emphasis upon the last two words of the same text, “The just shall live by faith.” So we may see that these three letters really constitute a very remarkable trio, and in spite of all that many scholars have written to the contrary, personally I am absolutely convinced that the three are from the same human hand, that of the apostle Paul. I have given my reasons for this view in my book on the Hebrews, so I need not go into that here.
Now something of the reasons for the writing of this letter. Paul had labored in Galatia on two distinct occasions. A third time he was minded to go there, but the Spirit of God plainly indicated that it was not His will and led him elsewhere, eventually over to Europe. In chapters 13 and 14 of Acts we read of Paul’s ministry in Antioch of Pisidia, in Iconium, in Lystra, and in Derbe. While Antioch is said to be in Pisidia and these other three cities are located in Lycaonia, according to the best records we have, both the provinces of Pisidia and Lycaonia were united to Galatia at this time, so that these were really the cities of Galatia where Paul labored and where God wrought so mightily. The inhabitants of Galatia are the same people racially as the ancient inhabitants of Ireland, Wales, and the Highlands of Scotland, also of France and northern Spain, the Gauls. Galatia is really the country of the Gauls, and those deep emotional feelings that characterize the races I have mentioned—the mystical Scots; the warmhearted Welsh; the volatile French; and the brilliant, energetic Irish—were manifested in these Gauls of old. They spread from Galatia over into western Europe and settled France and northern Spain, and then came over to the British Isles. As many of us are somewhat linked with these different groups that we have mentioned, we should have a special interest in the epistle to the Galatians, which, by the way, is the death blow to so-called British-Israelism. The Gauls were Gentiles, not Israelites.
When Paul first went in among them they were all idolaters, but through the ministry of the Word he was used to bring many of them to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they became deeply devoted to the man who had led them to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. It was a wonderful thing to them to be brought out of the darkness of heathenism into the glorious light and liberty of the gospel. But sometimes when people accept the gospel message with great delight and enthusiasm, they have to go through very severe testings afterward, and so it proved in the case of the Galatians. After Paul had left them there came down from Judea certain men claiming to be sent out by James and the apostolic band at Jerusalem, who told the Galatians that unless they kept the law of Moses, observed the covenant of circumcision, and the different holy days of the Jewish economy and the appointed seasons, they could not be saved. This so stirred the apostle Paul when he learned of it that he sought on a second visit to deliver these people from that legality. But some way or another there is something about error when once it grips the minds of people that makes it assume an importance in their minds that the truth itself never had. That is a singular thing. One may be going on with the truth of God in a calm, easy way, and then he gets hold of something erroneous, and he pushes that thing to the very limit. We have often seen this demonstrated.
I refer here only to false teaching. I do not know the names of the men who came into Galatia to seek to turn the Galatians away from the truth of the gospel as set forth by the apostle Paul, but I do know what their teaching was. They were substituting law for grace, they were turning the hearts and minds of these earnest Christians away from their glorious liberty in Christ, and bringing them into bondage to legal rites and ceremonies. In order to do this it was necessary for them to try to shake the confidence of the people in their great teacher who had led them to Christ, the apostle Paul himself, and so they called in question his authority. Their attack was directed against his apostleship, nor did they hesitate to impugn his integrity.
They wormed their way into the confidence of the believers by undermining their faith in the man who had led them to Christ, hoping thereby that they would break down their reliance upon the gospel of the grace of God and substitute legal observances in its place.
When Paul heard this he was deeply grieved. With him, doctrine was not simply a matter of views. It was not a question of maintaining his own position at all costs. He realized that men are sanctified by the truth of God, and that on the other hand they are demoralized by error, and so to him it was a matter of extreme importance that his converts should cling to that truth which edifies and leads on in the ways that be in Christ. When this news of their defection came to him he sat down and wrote this letter. He did not do what he generally did. We have no other instance in the New Testament, so far as I know, of Paul writing a letter with his own hand. Ordinarily he dictated his letters to a secretary who wrote for him. They had a form of shorthand in those days, and copies have come down to us, so that we may see how they worked. And then these letters were properly prepared and sent out by his different amanuenses. But on this occasion he was so stirred, so deeply moved, that apparently he could not wait for an amanuensis. Instead, he called for parchment, pen, and ink, and sat down and with nervous hand wrote this entire letter. He says at the close of it, “You see with what large characters I have written you with mine own hand.” That is the correct translation of his words. Paul evidently had something the matter with his eyes, and so could not see very well, and like a partially blind person he took his pen and with large, nervous characters filled up the parchment, and it looked like a long letter. He then hurried it off to Galatia, hoping it would be used of God to recover these people from the errors into which they had fallen. In some respects it is the most interesting of all his letters, for it is so self-revealing. It is as though he opens a window into his own heart that we may look into the very soul of the man and see the motives that dominated and controlled him. The letter itself is simple in structure. Instead of breaking it up into a great many small sections, I look at it as having three great divisions.
Part 1: Personal (Gal. 1—2)
Part 2: Doctrinal (Gal. 3—4)
Part 3: Practical (Gal. 5—6)
If we once have these firmly fixed in our minds, we shall never forget them. The subject of the letter is “Law and Grace.” The way the apostle unfolds it is this: chapters 1 and 2 are personal. In these chapters he is largely dealing with his own personal experiences. He shows how he, at one time a rigid, legalistic Jew, had been brought into the knowledge of the grace of God, and how he had had to defend that position against legalists. Chapters 3 and 4 are doctrinal. In these chapters, the very heart of the letter, he opens up, as in the epistle to the Romans, the great truth of salvation by grace alone. Chapters 5 and 6 are practical. They show us the moral and ethical considerations that result from a knowledge of salvation by free grace. These divisions are very simple.
We turn now to consider the introduction to the letter in the personal portion. The first three verses constitute the apostolic salutation: “Paul, an apostle.” Go over the other letters, and you will find that he never refers to himself as “apostle” unless writing to some people where his apostleship has been called in question, or where he has some great doctrine to unfold that people are not likely to accept unless they realize that he had a definite commission to make it known. He evidently prefers to speak of himself as “the servant of Jesus Christ,” and that word “servant” means a bondman, one bought and paid for. Paul loved to think of that. He had been bought and paid for by the precious blood of Christ, and so he was Christ’s bondman. But on this occasion he saw the necessity of emphasizing his apostleship because great truths were in question, and they were so intimately linked with his personal commission from God that it was necessary to stress the fact that he was a definitely appointed messenger. The word apostle, after all, really means “messenger,” or “minister,” but is used in a professional sense in connection with the twelve who were the apostles particularly to the Jews, though also to the Gentiles, and then of Paul himself, who was preeminently the apostle to the Gentiles, and yet always went first to the Jews in every place where he labored.
Paul was an apostle, “not of men, neither by man.” I think he had special reason for writing like this. His detractors said, “Where did he get his apostleship? Where did he get his commission? Not from Peter, not from John. Where did he get his authority?” Oh, he says, I glory in the fact that I did not get anything from man. What I have received I received directly from heaven. I am not an apostle of men nor by means of man. It was not men originally having authority who conferred authority upon me, it was not a school, or a bishop, or a board of bishops, at Jerusalem, that conferred this authority on me. “Not of men, neither by man.” Even though God appointed me, my authority was not conferred of man. St. Jerome says, “Really there are four classes of ministry in the professing Christian church. First, there are those sent neither from men, nor through men, but directly from God.” And then he points out that this was true of the prophets of the Old Testament dispensation. They were not commissioned by men, neither authorized by men, but they were commissioned directly from God, and of course this is true of the apostle Paul. “Then secondly,” Jerome says, “there are those who get their commissions from God and through man, as for instance a man feels distinctly called of God to preach, and he is examined by his brethren and they are satisfied that he is called to preach, and so commend him to the work, perhaps by the laying on of hands. And so he is a servant of God, a minister of God, from God and through man. Then in the third class there are those who have their commissions from man, but not from God. These are the men who have chosen the Christian ministry as a profession; perhaps they never have been born again, but having chosen the ministry as a profession they apply to the bishop, or presbytery, or church, to ordain them.” But as Spurgeon said, “Ordination can do nothing for a man who has not received his call from God. It is simply a matter of laying empty hands on an empty head.” The man goes out heralded as a minister, but he is not God’s minister. And then Jerome says, “There is a fourth class. There are men who pose as Christ’s ministers, and have received their authority neither from God nor from man, but they are simply free-lances. You have to take their own word for it that they are definitely appointed. Nobody else has been able to recognize any evidence of it.” Paul was in the first class. He had received his commission directly from God, and no man had anything to do with even confirming it. But what about the saints at Antioch laying hands on him when he and Barnabas were to preach to the Gentiles? you may ask. That was not a human confirmation of his apostleship because he went there as an apostle of the Lord.
How did Paul get his commission? He tells us in chapter 26 of the book of Acts. When he fell stricken on the Damascus road the risen Christ appeared to him, and said to him, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: 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 which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (vv. 15-18). Paul says that is where he got his commission. “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (v. 19), but in accord with his divinely-given instructions he went forth to teach at “Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (v. 20). So Paul was an apostle “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”
I think he had special reason for emphasizing the resurrection. There were those who said, “Paul cannot be an apostle, because he never saw the Lord Jesus. He was not one of the twelve, he was not instructed by Christ. How then can he rightly appropriate to himself the name of an apostle?” He says, “Have not I seen Jesus Christ? I saw Him as none of the rest did. I saw Him in the glory as the risen One, and heard His voice from heaven, and received my commission from His lips.” That is why in one place he calls his message the “glorious gospel of the blessed God.” That might be translated, “The gospel of the glory of the happy God.” God is so happy now that the sin question has been settled and He can send the message of His grace into all the world, and it is “the gospel of the glory of the happy God” because it is from the glory.
And then Paul links others with himself. He was not alone but was always glad to recognize his fellow workers, and so says, “All the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Grace” was the Greek greeting; “Peace” was the Hebrew greeting. Paul glories in the fact that the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile has been broken down in the new creation, and so brings these two greetings together. How beautifully they fit with the Christian revelation. It is not the grace that saves, but the grace that keeps. It is not peace with God, which was made by the blood of His cross and which was theirs already, but the peace of God which they were so liable to forfeit if they got out of communion with Him.
Then in verses 4 and 5 he goes on to emphasize the work of our Lord Jesus. Let us consider these words very thoughtfully, very tenderly, very meditatively. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins.” Oh, that we might never forget what Christ has suffered for our sakes! “Who gave himself.” To whom does the pronoun refer? The One who was the Eternal Son of the Father, who was with the Father before all worlds, and yet who stooped in infinite grace to become Man. As Man He did not cease to be God; He was God and Man in one glorious Person, and therefore abounding in merit so that He could pay the mighty debt that we owed to God. He settled the sin question for us as no one else could. The little hymn says:
No angel could our place have taken,
Highest of the high though he;
The loved One, on the cross forsaken,
Was one of the Godhead Three!
Of all men it is written, “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (for the redemption of their soul is [too costly, let it alone] for ever)” (Ps. 49:7-8). But here is One who became Man to redeem our soul: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
“Who gave himself.” Think of it! When we call to mind our own sinfulness, the corruption of our hearts, the wickedness of our lips, when we think of what our sins deserve and how utterly helpless we were to deliver ourselves from the justly deserved judgment, and then we think of Him, the Holy One, the Just One,
The Sovereign of the skies,
Who stooped to man’s estate and dust
That guilty worms might rise,
how our hearts ought to go out to Him in love and worship. I think it was hard for Paul to keep the tears back when he wrote this, “Who gave himself for our sins.” We would like to forget those sins, and yet it is well sometimes that we should remember the hole of the pit from which we were dug, for our sins will be the black background that will display the glorious jewel of divine grace for all eternity. Not only that He might save us from eternal judgment, not only that we might never be lost in that dark, dark pit of woe of which Scripture speaks so solemnly and seriously, but that even here we may be altogether for Himself, “that he might deliver us from this present evil world.” Man has made it wicked by his sinfulness, his disloyalty to God, but we who are saved are to be delivered from it, that we might be set apart to God.
“According to the will of God and our Father.” In these words he sums up the purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world. He came to die for our sins that we might be delivered from the power of sin and be altogether for Himself. “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” This forms the salutation, and the introduction follows.
No Other Gospel
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed, (vv. 6-9)
Those are very strong words, and I can quite understand that some people may have difficulty in reconciling them with the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Twice the apostle pronounces a curse upon those who preach any other gospel than that which he himself had proclaimed to these Galatians when they were poor sinners, and which had been used of God to lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some might ask, Is this the attitude of the Christian minister, to go about cursing people who do not agree with him? No, and it certainly was not Paul’s attitude. Why, then, does he use such strong language? It is not that he himself is invoking a curse upon anyone, but he is declaring, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, that divine judgment must fall upon any one who seeks to pervert the gospel of Christ or to turn people away from that gospel. In other words, the apostle Paul realizes the fact that the gospel is God’s only message to lost man, and that to pervert that gospel, to offer people something else in place of it, for a man to attempt to foist upon them an imitation gospel is to put in jeopardy the souls of those who listen to him. Our Lord Jesus Christ emphasized this when He pointed out that those men who taught people to trust in their own efforts for salvation were blind leaders of the blind, and that eventually both leader and led would fall into the ditch. It is a very serious thing to mislead men along spiritual lines; it is a terrible thing to give wrong direction when souls are seeking the way to heaven.
I remember reading a story of a woman who with her little babe was on a train going up through one of the eastern states. It was a very wintry day. Outside a terrific storm was blowing, snow was falling, and sleet covered everything. The train made its way along slowly because of the ice on the tracks and the snowplow went ahead to clear the way. The woman seemed very nervous. She was to get off at a small station where she would be met by some friends, and she said to the conductor, “You will be sure and let me know the right station, won’t you?”
“Certainly,” he said, “just remain here until I tell you the right station.”
She sat rather nervously and again spoke to the conductor, “You won’t forget me?”
“No, just trust me. I will tell you when to get off.”
A commercial man sat across the aisle, and he leaned over and said, “Pardon me, but I see you are rather nervous about getting off at your station. I know this road well. Your station is the first stop after such-and-such a city. These conductors are very forgetful; they have a great many things to attend to, and he may overlook your request, but I will see that you get off all right. I will help you with your baggage.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said. And she leaned back greatly relieved.
By-and-by the name of the city she mentioned was called, and he leaned over and said, “The next stop will be yours.”
As they drew near to the station she looked around anxiously for the conductor, but he did not come. “You see,” said the man, “he has forgotten you. I will get you off,” and he helped her with her baggage, and as the conductor had not come to open the door, he opened it, and when the train stopped he stepped off, lifted her bag, helped her off, and in a moment the train moved on.
A few minutes later the conductor came and looking all about said, “Why, that is strange! There was a woman here who wanted to get off at this station. I wonder where she is.”
The commercial man spoke up and said, “Yes, you forgot her, but I saw that she got off all right.”
“Got off where?” the conductor asked.
“When the train stopped.”
“But that was not a station! That was an emergency stop! I was looking after that woman. Why, man, you have put her off in a wild country district in the midst of all this storm where there will be nobody to meet her!”
There was only one thing to do, and although it was a rather dangerous thing, they had to reverse the engine and go back a number of miles, and then they went out to look for the woman. They searched and searched, and finally somebody stumbled upon her, and there she was frozen on the ground with her little dead babe in her arms. She was the victim of wrong information.
If it is such a serious thing to give people wrong information in regard to temporal things, what about the man who misleads men and women in regard to the great question of the salvation of their immortal souls? If men believe a false gospel, if they put their trust in something that is contrary to the Word of God, their loss will be not for time only but for eternity. And that is why the apostle Paul, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses such strong language in regard to the wickedness, the awfulness of misleading souls as to eternal things. These Galatians were living in their sins, they were living in idolatry, in the darkness of pagan superstition, when Paul came to them and preached the glorious gospel that tells how “Christ died for our sins … and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). They were saved, for you know the gospel of the grace of God works. It is wonderful when you see a man who has been living in all kinds of sin, and God by the Holy Spirit brings him to repentance and leads him to believe the gospel; everything changes, old habits fall off like withered leaves, a new life is his. He has power to overcome sin, he has hope of heaven, and he has assurance of salvation. That is what God’s gospel gives.
These Galatians, after Paul had been used to bring them into the liberty of grace, were being misled by false teachers, men who had come down from Judea, who professed to be Christians but had never been delivered from legality. They said to these young Christians, “You have only a smattering of the gospel; you need to add to this message that you have received, the teaching of the law of Moses, ‘Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1). Thus they threw them back on self-effort, turning their eyes away from Christ and fixing them upon themselves and their ability to keep the law. Paul says, “This thing will ruin men who depend upon their own self-efforts to get to heaven; they will miss the gates of pearl.” No matter how earnest they are, if they depend upon their own works they will never be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. So far as these Galatians who were really born again were concerned, this false doctrine could not be the means of their eternal perdition, yet it would rob them of the joy and gladness that the Christian ought to have. How could any one have peace who believed that salvation depended on his own efforts? How could he be certain that he had paid enough attention to the demands of the law or ritual? It is the gospel of the grace of God which believed gives men full assurance. And so the apostle Paul was very indignant to find people bringing in something else instead of the gospel of the grace of God, and he is surprised that these Galatians who rejoiced in the liberty of Christ should be so ready to go back to the bondage of law.
“I marvel,” he says, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” He marvels that they should so soon be turned aside from the message of grace. What is grace? It is God’s free, unmerited favor to those who have merited the very opposite. These Galatians, like ourselves, had merited eternal judgment, they deserved to be shut away from the presence of God forever, as you and I deserve to be, but through the preaching of grace they had been brought to see that God has a righteousness which He offers freely to unrighteous sinners who put their faith in His blessed Son. But now, occupied with legal ceremonies, laws, rules, and regulations, they had lost the joy of grace and had become taken up with self-effort. Paul says, “I cannot understand it,” and yet after all, it is very natural for these poor hearts of ours. How often you see people who seem to be wonderfully converted, and then they lose it all as they get occupied with all kinds of questions, rules, ceremonies, and ritual. God would have each heart occupied with His blessed Son, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” In our King James Version we read, “Another gospel,” and then verse 7 continues, “Which is not another.” That sounds like a contradiction, but there are two different Greek words used here. The first is the word heteron, something contrary to sound teaching, something different. The apostle says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ [to a different] gospel.” This mixture of law and grace is not God’s gospel, not something to be added to what you have already received, not something to complete the gospel message; it is opposed to that, it is a heterodox message, one opposed to sound teaching. There is only one gospel.
Go through the Book from Genesis to Revelation and there is only one gospel—that first preached in the Garden of Eden when the message went forth that the Seed of the woman should bruise Satan’s head. That was the gospel, salvation through the coming Christ, the Son of God born of a woman. It is the same gospel preached to Abraham. We read in this Book that the gospel was before preached to Abraham. God took him out one night and said, “Look at the stars; count them.”
And Abraham said, “I cannot count them.” He said, “Look at the dust of the earth, and count the dust.”
Abraham said, “I cannot count it.” “Well, think of the sand at the seashore; count the grains of sand.” And Abraham said, “I cannot count them.”
And God answered, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth” (Gen. 13:16). Abraham might have said, “Impossible! My seed! I have no child, and I am already a man advanced in years, and my wife is an elderly woman. Impossible!” But God had given the word, “In thy seed [which is Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” That was the gospel—all nations to be blessed through Christ, the Seed of Abraham. And “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). He was justified by faith because he believed the gospel. It is the same gospel that we find running through the book of Psalms. David, stained with sin, the twin sins of adultery and murder, cries, “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17). “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). And there is only one way a poor sinner can be purged, and that is by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. David looked on in faith to the Christ, the Son of God, and his hope was in this one gospel.
It is the gospel that Isaiah proclaimed when he looked down through the ages and cried, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). It was the gospel that Jeremiah preached when he said, “This is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 23:6). It was the gospel of Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zech. 13:7).
This was the gospel that John the Baptist preached. He came preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and as he pointed to Jesus he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And this was the gospel that Jesus Himself proclaimed when He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This was Peter’s gospel when he spoke of Jesus, saying, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). This was the gospel of the apostle John who said, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This was the gospel of the apostle James who said, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:18). This is the gospel that they will celebrate through all the ages to come as millions and millions of redeemed sing their song of praise, “Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev. 1:5 RV). And this was Paul’s gospel when he declared, “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things” (Acts 13:38-39). One gospel! And there is no other!
I have often felt sorry when I have heard some of my brethren whom I have learned to love in the truth, and with whom I hold a great deal in common, try to explain some apparent differences throughout the gospel centuries and talk as though there are a number of different gospels. Some say when Christ was on earth and in the early part of the book of Acts, they preached the gospel of the kingdom but did not know the grace of God. I wonder whether they remember the words of John 3:16 and John 1:29, and recollect that it was the Lord who said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). How short our memories are sometimes, if we say that Jesus was not preaching grace when here on earth when Scripture says, “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Can we say that Peter and his fellow apostles in the early part of Acts were not preaching grace when it was Peter who declared, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). There is only one gospel!
They say there is one gospel of the kingdom, another gospel of the grace of God, then there is the gospel of the glory, and some day there will be the everlasting gospel, and that these are all different gospels. If such statements were true, these words of Paul would fall to the ground, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Someone wrote me that she was surprised that a man who ought to know better should talk about there being only one gospel. “Why,” she said, “even Dr. C. I. Scofield would teach you better, because in his Bible he shows that there are four gospels.” I want to read you what Dr. Scofield says, in his notes on Revelation 14:6:
This great theme may be summarized as follows:
1. In itself the word gospel means good news.
2. Four forms of the gospel are to be distinguished:
(1) The gospel of the kingdom. This is the good news that God purposes to set up on the earth, in fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant, a kingdom, political, spiritual, Israelitish, universal, over which God’s Son, David’s heir, shall be King, and which shall be, for one thousand years, the manifestation of the righteousness of God in human affairs.
Two preachings of this gospel are mentioned, one past, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist, continued by our Lord and His disciples, and ending with the Jewish rejection of the King. The other is yet future, during the great tribulation, and immediately preceding the coming of the King in glory.
(2) The gospel of the grace of God. This is the good news that Jesus Christ, the rejected King, has died on the cross for the sins of the world, that He was raised from the dead for our justification, and that by Him all that believe are justified from all things. This form of the gospel is described in many ways. It is the gospel “of God” because it originates in His love; “of Christ” because it flows from His sacrifice, and because He is the alone Object of gospel faith; of “the grace of God” because it saves those whom the law curses; of “the glory” because it concerns Him who is in the glory, and who is bringing the many sons to glory; of “our salvation” because it is the “power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth”; of “the uncircumcision” because it saves wholly apart from forms and ordinances; of “peace” because through Christ it makes peace between the sinner and God, and imparts inward peace.
(3) The everlasting gospel. This is to be preached to the earth-dwellers at the very end of the great tribulation and immediately preceding the judgment of the nations. It is neither the gospel of the kingdom, nor of grace. Though its burden is judgment, not salvation, it is good news to Israel and to those who, during the tribulation, have been saved.
(4) That which Paul calls, “my gospel.” This is the gospel of the grace of God in its fullest development, but includes the revelation of the result of that gospel in the outcalling of the Church, her relationships, position, privileges, and responsibility. It is the distinctive truth of Ephesians and Colossians, but interpenetrates all of Paul’s writings.
These words are very clear. There is only one gospel, and that is God’s good news concerning His Son; but it takes on different aspects at different times according to the circumstances and conditions in which men are found. In Old Testament times they looked on to the coming of the Savior, but they proclaimed salvation through His atoning death. In the days of John the Baptist stress was laid upon the coming kingdom, and the King was to lay down His life. In the days of the Lord’s ministry on earth He presented Himself as King, but was rejected and went to the cross, for He Himself declared that He “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). During the early chapters of the book of Acts we find this gospel proclaimed to Jews and Gentiles alike, offering free salvation to all who turn to God in repentance, but when God raised up the apostle Paul, He gave him a clearer vision of the gospel than any one had yet had. He showed that not only are men forgiven through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, but that they are justified from all things, and stand in Christ before God as part of a new creation. This is a fuller revelation of the good tidings, but the same gospel.
By-and-by, during the days of the great tribulation, the everlasting gospel will be proclaimed, telling men that the once-rejected Christ shall come again to set up His glorious kingdom, but even in that day men will be taught that salvation is through His precious blood, for as the result of that preaching a great multitude will be brought out of all kindreds and tongues who have “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
Yes, there is only one gospel and if any one comes preaching any other gospel, telling you there is any other way of salvation save through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, it is a heterodox gospel. Some such had come to Galatia and perverted the gospel of Christ, and it is this that led Paul in the intensity of his zeal for that gospel to exclaim, as guided by the Holy Spirit who inspired him, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be [Anathema]” (let him be devoted to judgment), if he is substituting anything for the precious gospel of the grace of God. Notice, if the angel who proclaims the everlasting gospel in the days of the great tribulation preaches any other gospel than that of salvation through faith in Christ alone, that angel comes under the curse, for Paul says, “Though … an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
Out West I often met disciples of Joseph Smith, and when I got them in a corner with the Word of God and they could not wiggle out, they would say, “Well, we have what you do not have. An angel came to Joseph Smith and gave him the book of Mormon.” And so they reasoned that the Bible is not enough, because an angel had revealed something different. I do not believe in the prophet Joseph Smith, and I do not believe that an angel ever appeared to him, unless it was in a nightmare. But if he did, then that angel was from the pit and he is under the curse, because, “Though … an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” People may say, “But Paul, you are all worked up, you are losing your temper.” You know, if you become very fervent for the truth, folks say you are losing your temper. If you say strong things in defense of the truth, they will declare you are unkind; but men will use very fervent language about politics and other things, and yet no one questions their loss of temper, but they think we should be very calm when people tear the Bible to pieces! If anything calls for fervent and intense feelings it is the defense of the gospel against false teaching.
Lest any one should say, “Well, Paul, you would not have written that if you had been calmer; you would not have used such strong language,” Paul repeats himself in verse 9, and says, “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be [Anathema].” That is cool enough. He is not speaking now as one wrought up. He has had time to think it over and has weighed his words carefully. Yes, on sober, second thought he again insists on what he declared before, that the divine judgment hangs over any man who seeks to mislead lost humanity by telling them of any other way of salvation save through the precious atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In closing I put the question to you: On what are you resting your hope for eternity? Are you resting on the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you trusting the gospel of the grace of God? “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
Paul’s Conversion And Apostleship
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me. (vv. 10-24)
The apostle Paul in this section is obliged to defend his apostleship. There is something pitiable about that. He had come to these Galatians when they were heathen, when they were idolaters, and had been God’s messenger to them. Through him they had been brought to the Lord Jesus Christ. But they had fallen under the influence of false teachers, and now looked down upon the man who had led them to Christ; they despised his ministry and felt they were far better informed than he. This is not the only time in the history of the church that such things have happened. Often we see young converts happy and radiant in the knowledge of sins forgiven, until under the influence of false teachers they look with contempt upon those who presented the gospel to them.
In the first place, Paul undertakes to show how he became the apostle to the Gentiles. In verse 10 he says, “For do I now persuade men, or God?” What does he mean by that? Do I seek the approval of men or of God? Manifestly, of God. The apostle Paul was not a timeserver, he was not seeking simply to please men who in a little while would have to stand before God in judgment, if they died in their sins. His express purpose was to do the will of the One who had saved him and commissioned him to preach the gospel of His grace. So he says, “I am not attempting to seek the approval of men, but of God. I do not seek to please men,” that is, I am not trying to get their approbation. It is true that in another verse he says, “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification” (Rom. 15:2), but there is no contradiction there. It is right and proper to seek in every way I can to please and help my friend, my neighbor, my brother; but on the other hand, when I attempt to preach the Word of God, I am to do it “not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4). The preacher who speaks with man’s approval as his object is untrue to the commission given to him. “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” He would simply be making himself the servant of men.
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The gospel differs from every human religious system. In some of our universities they study what is called, “The Science of Comparative Religions.” The study of comparative religions is both very interesting and informative, if you consider, for instance, the great religions of the pagan world such as Buddhism, Brahmanism, Islam. They have much in common, and much in which they stand in contrast one to another. But when you take Christianity and put it in with these religions, you make a mistake; Christianity is not simply a religion, it is a divine revelation. Paul says, “I did not get my gospel from men. No man communicated it to me. I received it directly from heaven.” Of course we do not all get it in this way, as a direct revelation, as Paul did, and yet, in every instance, if a man is brought to understand the truth of the gospel, it is because the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, opens that man’s heart and mind and understanding to comprehend the truth. Otherwise he would not receive it. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14), and of course the natural man is not pleased with this divine revelation. Men are pleased when the preacher glosses over their sins, when he makes excuses for their wrongdoings, when he panders to their weaknesses or flatters them as they attempt to work out a righteousness of their own. But when a man preaches the gospel of the grace of God and insists upon man’s utterly lost and ruined condition, declares that he is unable to do one thing to save himself, but must be saved through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is nothing about that to please the natural man. It is divine grace that opens the heart to receive that revelation. That was the revelation that came to Paul.
There was a time when the apostle hated Christianity, when he did all in his power to destroy the infant church, and now he says to these Galatians, “Ye have heard of my conversation [that is, my behavior] in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.” Twice here he uses the expression, “The Jews’ religion” (vv. 13-14). The original word simply means Judaism, and is not to be confounded with the word used in the epistle of James, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). There “religion” is used in a proper sense, and we who are saved should be characterized by that; but as the apostle uses the word here it is something entirely different. The two English words, “Jews’ religion,” are translated from the one Greek word which means “Judaism.” Paul hoped through that to save his soul and gain favor with God, until through a divine revelation he had an altogether different conception of things. As long as he believed in Judaism he “persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.” One of the pitiable things that has occurred since is that members of the professed church of God have turned around to persecute the people of Judaism. Strange, this seems, when Jesus says, “Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
Paul hated Christianity. He persecuted Christians and tried to root up Christianity from the earth, and says that he “profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” He could say, “After the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5). Judaism was dearer than life to him. He thought it was the only truth, that all men, if they would know God at all, must find Him through Judaism. He was exceedingly zealous of the traditions of the fathers, not only of what was written in the Bible, in the law of Moses, what the prophets had declared, but added to that the great body of such traditions as have come down to the Jews of the present day in the Talmud. He would have lived and died an advocate of Judaism if it had not been for the miracle of grace. How did it happen that this Jew who could see nothing good in Christianity turned about and became its greatest exponent? There is no way of accounting for it except through the matchless sovereign grace of God. Something took place in that man’s heart and life that changed his entire viewpoint, that made him the protagonist who devoted over thirty years of his life to making Christ known to Jews and Gentiles. He tells us what brought about the change: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (vv. 15-16). When the appointed time came, when God in sovereign grace said, as it were, “Arrest that man,” and stopped him on the Damascus turnpike, and when Christ in glory appeared to him, Saul of Tarsus was brought to see that he had been fighting against Israel’s Messiah and God’s blessed Son. Then Christ was not only revealed to him, but Christ was revealed in him.
We have both the objective and the subjective sides of truth. When I as a poor sinner saw the Lord Jesus suffering, bleeding, dying for me, when I saw that He was “wounded for my transgressions, he was bruised for my iniquities,” when I realized that He had been “delivered up for my offenses and raised again for my justification,” when I put my heart’s trust in Him, when I believed that objective truth, then something took place within me subjectively. Christ came to dwell in my very heart. “Christ in you,” says the apostle, “the hope of glory.” It pleased God to reveal His Son not only to me but in me. I was brought to know Him in a richer, fuller way than I could know the dearest earthly friend. It was no longer for Paul a matter of one religion against another. Now he had a divine commission to go forth and make known to other men the Christ who had become so real to him. So when this glorious event took place, when through God’s sovereign grace he was brought to know the Lord Jesus Christ, he says, “I realized that this glorious understanding was not for me alone but that I might make Him known to others; it pleased God ‘to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen.’” When the Lord saved Paul He told him He had that in view.
In Acts 9, in the story of the apostle’s conversion, we read that God spoke to Ananias and sent him to see Paul in the street called Straight in Damascus. He did not want to go at first, he was afraid he would be taking his life in his hands; but the Lord said unto him, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16). So Ananias went in obedience to the vision and communicated the mind of God to Paul. The Lord had already said, “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” (Acts 26:16-17). Preeminently he was the apostle to the Gentiles, but he also had a wonderful ministry for his own people, and all through his life his motto was, “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Into city after city he went hunting out the synagogues or finding individual Jews or groups, telling them of the great change that had come to him and pleading with them to submit to the same wonderful Savior. When they rejected his message, he turned to the Gentiles and preached the gospel to them.
Some of these Galatians questioned whether he really was an apostle, for he never saw the Lord when He was here on earth; he did not get his commission from the twelve. He says, “No, I did not, and I glory in that I am an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ. I received my commission from heaven when I saw the risen Christ in glory and He came to make His abode in my heart. He commissioned me to go out and preach His message.” “Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” They thought he should have gone to Jerusalem to sit down and talk the matter over with the other apostles, and find out whether they endorsed him and were prepared to ordain him to the Christian ministry, or something like that. But he says, “No, I did not seek anyone out, nor confer with any one. My commission was from heaven, to carry it out in dependence upon the living God.” So he adds, “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus” (v. 17). He did not go at the beginning to what they considered the headquarters of the Christian church, Jerusalem, to get authorization. Instead of that he seems to have slipped away. In reading Acts we would not know this, but here he indicates that he went into Arabia Petra, and there in some quiet place, perhaps living in a cave, he spent some time waiting on God that he might have things cleared up in his own mind. He wanted time to think things out, time for God to speak to him, and in which he could speak to God. There the truth in all its fullness, its beauty, its glory, opened up to him. It was not there that he had the revelation of the body of Christ. He received that on the Damascus turnpike when the Lord said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” What a revelation was that of the body that all believers on earth constitute! They are so intimately linked with their glorious Head in heaven that one member cannot be touched without affecting their Head. There was a great deal he needed to understand, and so into the wilderness he went.
Have you ever noticed how many of God’s beloved servants had their finishing courses in the university of the wilderness? When God wanted to fit Moses to be the leader of His people He sent him to the wilderness. He had gone through all the Egyptian schools, and thought he was ready to be the deliverer of God’s people. When he left the university of Egypt he may have said, “Now I am ready to undertake my great lifework.” But, immediately, he started killing Egyptians and hiding them in the sand, and God says, “You are not ready yet, Moses; you need a post-graduate course.” He was forty years learning the wisdom of Egypt, and forty years forgetting it and learning the wisdom of God, and finally, when he received his post-graduate degree he was sent of God to deliver His people.
Elijah had his time in the wilderness. David had his time there. Oh, those years in the wilderness when hunted by King Saul like a partridge on the mountainside. They were used to help fit him for his great work. And then think of our blessed Lord Himself! He was baptized in the Jordan, presenting Himself there in accordance with the Word of God as the One who was to go to the cross to fulfill all righteousness on behalf of needy sinners, and the Holy Spirit like a dove descended upon Him. He then went into the wilderness for forty days, and prayed and fasted in view of the great ministry upon which He was to enter. Then He passed through that serious temptation of Satan, emerging triumphant, and went forth to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Now here is this man who hated His name, who detested Christianity, but after having had a sight of the risen Christ he goes off into the wilderness for a period of meditation, prayer, and instruction before he commences his great work. Then he says he “returned again unto Damascus,” and he preached Christ in the synagogues “that he is the Son of God.” If you read carefully in the book of Acts you will see that it was not until after the conversion of Paul that any one preached Christ as the Son of God. I know the expression, “Thy holy Child Jesus,” is used, but the better rendering is “Servant.” Peter preached Jesus as the Messiah, the Servant, but Paul began the testimony that Jesus was in very truth the Son of God. When the Lord Jesus interrogated Peter, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16). But it was not yet God’s time to make that known, for the message was limited, in measure, to the people of Israel in the early part of Acts. But when Saul was converted, without fear of man he preached in those very synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God and he himself now was persecuted bitterly by those who once admired him as the leader in their religious practices.
Three years went by before this man went to Jerusalem. He went from place to place and finally did go there, but not in order to be ordained or recognized as an apostle. In verse 18 he tells us why he went up, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.” The word see in the original is very interesting. It is the Greek word from which we get our English word, history, the telling of a story, talking things over, and so Paul says that after three years he went up to Jerusalem to relate his history to Peter, to talk things over with him, to tell him what the Lord had done. What a wonderful meeting that was! It would have been wonderful, unnoticed in a corner of the room, to have heard the conversation. Peter who had known the Lord, who had denied the Lord, who had been so wonderfully restored, who preached with such power on the day of Pentecost and was used so mightily to open the door to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, Peter told his story and Paul told his. And when they got through I imagine Peter would say, “Well, Paul, you have the same message I have, but I think the Lord has given you more than He has given to me, and I want to give you the right hand of fellowship. I rejoice in your ministry, and we can go on together proclaiming this glad, glorious gospel.” Fifteen days of wonderful fellowship!
As to the rest of the apostles Paul says, “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” We are not certain which James he means. He may be the man referred to as James the son of Alphaeus, the cousin of the Lord, who would be spoken of as His brother. My personal opinion is that he is the James who occupies so large a place in the book of Acts—James who was the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not believe while the Savior was here on earth, but was brought to believe in Him in resurrection, and who led the church of God in Jerusalem. Paul saw him, but from none of them did he get any special endorsement or authorization. He met them on common ground. They were apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ; so was he, by divine appointment.
“Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.” Strange that he should have to say this! Strange that these Galatians, his own converts, should think for a moment that he might be untruthful! But when one gets under the power of false teaching, as a rule he is ready to make all kinds of charges as to the integrity, the honesty of other people. And so it is here, and the apostle has to say, “The things that I am telling you are true. I am not lying.”
After returning from Jerusalem he launched out on his great missionary program. “Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ.” He had been known among other assemblies in Judaism, Jewish assemblies knew him well, but Christians in Judea, believers who had separated from Judaism, had never seen him. “But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.” And what power there was in that! Here was the man who had gone to all lengths to turn a man away from Christ, even attempted to compel him to blaspheme, threatened him with death if he would not repudiate the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now this great change has come, and word is going through the churches, “The great persecutor has become an evangelist; he is no longer our enemy, but is preaching to others the same faith that means so much to us.” “And they glorified God in me.” Truly, Paul’s conversion was a divine, sovereign work of grace, and praise and glory redounded to the One who had chosen, commissioned, and sent him forth.
The abundant resultant fruit was to His glory. Nothing gives such power to the ministry of Christ as genuine conversion. I do not understand how any man can presume to be a minister who does not know the reality of a personal conversion and the truth of the gospel.
That gospel has lost none of its power. It can work just as wonderful miracles today for men who will put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you trusted Him? Have you believed in Him? Is He your Savior? Do you know what it means to be converted? Can you say, “Thank God, my soul is saved; God has revealed His Son in me”?
The Gospel As Ministered To Jew And Gentile
Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: but contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (for he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. (vv. 1-10)
In this second chapter Paul tells of another visit to Jerusalem, a very important one, referred to in Acts 15. “Fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.” This was after certain persons came from James to Antioch, where the apostle was laboring, and insisted upon things that are mentioned in this letter—that the Gentile believers must be subjected to Jewish rites and ceremonies, that they must be circumcised, must keep the law of Moses, or they could not be saved. When Paul came in contact with them he waited until he had a definite revelation commanding him to go to Jerusalem. He says, “I went up by revelation.” He did not go alone; he took Barnabas with him.
Barnabas had come from Jerusalem to find him in Tarsus, to persuade him to go to Antioch and assist in the ministry there. In the beginning it was Barnabas who was the leader, and Paul was the follower. But as time went on Barnabas took the lower place and Paul came to the front. With Barnabas it was a case of, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” We read elsewhere of him, “He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith” (Acts 11:24). Such a man can stand to see someone else honored and himself set to one side. So Barnabas stepped into the background and Paul came to the front. And then Paul says, “And took Titus with me also.” Why did he mention that? Because this was a test case. These false brethren who had come down to Galatia had insisted that in Jerusalem and Judea no one would condone the idea that a Gentile could be saved if he did not accept the sign of the Abrahamic covenant and were not circumcised. But Paul says, “I took Titus with me also,” and he was a Gentile. He had never submitted to this rite, and Paul had never suggested that he should, and so he took him to Jerusalem, as it were to the headquarters of the legalists. “And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.” He gave them an outline of the glad tidings that he preached among the Gentiles, but he did this privately “to them that were of reputation.” When we go back to Acts 15 we find that Paul called together the apostles who happened to be in Jerusalem, James, Cephas, and John, together with the elders of the church there, and to them he told the story of his ministry, his activities. He outlined for them the contents of the gospel message which he carried to the Gentiles. As they listened they accepted him as one with themselves in the proclamation of the same gospel that they preached, even though that gospel was fuller, was richer, than that to which they had attained, for there were certain things made known to Paul that had not been revealed to them.
A few years before, God had been obliged to give Peter a special revelation in order that he might enter into that wondrous mystery, namely, that Jew and Gentile when saved were now to be recognized as one body in Christ. Peter never uses the term “the body,” but he does convey the same thought. Blessing for Jew and Gentile was on the ground of grace, and the Lord revealed that to him on the housetop in Joppa when he had a vision of a sheet descending unto him, “wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air” (Acts 10:12). And a voice from heaven said, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat” (Acts 10:13). But Peter, like a good Jew, said, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). And the Lord said to him, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15), thus indicating the sanctification of the Gentiles. That prepared Peter for the mission to the house of Cornelius, where he preached Christ and opened the door of the kingdom to the Gentiles, as some time before he had been used to open it to the Jews in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas talked with the brethren freely, declaring what God had done, and after much discussion, Peter related God’s dealings in grace, and James appealed to Scripture to decide the matter as to the Gentiles. They were in happy agreement. Paul, as we have already noticed, had had a fuller, clearer unfolding than was given to Peter, but it was the same gospel basically, and in order to show that there was no such thought in their minds as to subjecting Gentiles to legal ceremonies, he says, “But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” What a tremendous answer that was to these Judaizers who were perverting these Galatians and turning them away from the simplicity of the grace of God. They said, “A man uncircumcised cannot be recognized as in the family of God.” Paul says, “I took Titus with me, and talked the matter over with the elders at Jerusalem, and they did not say one word about making Titus submit to circumcision. He was accepted as a fellow Christian just as he was.” What an answer to those who were criticizing him and misleading his converts!
“And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” To whom does he refer? To these Judaizers who had wormed their way privately into the assembly of the Christians in Galatia. Paul says, “Not even for peace’s sake did we submit to them, because we would have been robbing you of your blood-bought heritage in Christ. And so because of our love for you and our realization of the value of the grace of God, we refused even on the ground of Christian love to submit to these men. We never subjected ourselves to them.”
And then in the next few verses he tells us an interesting little story about an arrangement made while in Jerusalem as to a division of spheres of labor, an arrangement made in perfect Christian fellowship and happy harmony (vv. 6-10). “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me.” He could speak that way, you see, because he had received his revelation directly from heaven. It was the risen, glorified Christ who had appeared to him on the Damascus road, the same blessed Lord who had taught him during those months in Arabia, where he had retired that he might mull things over and get a clear understanding of the wonderful message he was to carry to the Gentile world. Therefore, even though he mingled with the apostles and elders who had been saved years before he knew Christ, he did not stand in awe of them. They might be recognized leaders, but God does not accept any man’s person, and they were simply brothers in Christ. They had to be taught of God, and so did he. He does not ask them to confer any authority on him nor give him any special opening up of the truth that he was to proclaim to the Gentiles, though he was glad to sit down on common ground and talk things over in a brotherly way. And they said, “Why, certainly, we recognize the fact that God has raised you up for a special mission, and we have fellowship with you in that.” “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter”; notice the preposition rendered here “of.” The Greek word may be rendered “for,” and the point was this—they saw that God had given him a special revelation, a special understanding of the gospel for the Gentiles. God had fitted him by early training, and then by enlightenment after conversion, to do a work among the Gentiles which they did not feel they were fitted for. On the other hand, God had fitted Peter to do a special work among the Jews and had used him in a remarkable way on the day of Pentecost, and through the years since God had set His seal upon Peter’s ministry to Israel. And so they talked things over, and they said, “It is very evident, Paul, that God has marked you out to carry the message to the Gentiles as Peter is carrying it to the Jews.” He says, “For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles.”
“And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars [apparently they were the leaders], perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” Is it not a remarkable thing that men have read into these words the amazing idea that what the apostle Paul is saying here is that as they talked together they found out that there were two gospels?— that Peter and the other apostles chosen by the Lord had one gospel, the gospel of the circumcision, and that Paul and Barnabas had another, the gospel of the Gentiles. And so they were to go on preaching one gospel to the Jews, and Paul and Barnabas were to preach a different gospel altogether to the Gentiles! What amazing ignorance of the divine plan that would lead any one to draw any such conclusion! The apostle has already told us, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (1:8). Peter had been among the Galatians preaching to them the same gospel he preached everywhere else. Was he accursed? Angels will proclaim the everlasting gospel in the coming day. Will they be under the curse? Surely not. There is only the one gospel, though it takes on different forms at different times. Peter’s gospel was that of a full, free, and eternal salvation through the death, resurrection, and unchanging life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul’s gospel was exactly the same. Let us go back and see something as to Peter’s gospel and then compare it with Paul’s.
On the day of Pentecost we listen to Peter preaching. He says, speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ, that David witnessed concerning Him, “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear…Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:31-33, 36). Does this sound as if there was any difference from the gospel the apostle Paul preached? Surely not. It is the same message of the crucified, risen, and exalted Savior.
What was the effect of this preaching? Remember, this was the gospel that Peter preached. The people cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They did not cry as the Philippian jailer, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), but, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” It was as though they said, “Peter, we have been waiting for years for the coming of the Messiah; we have believed that He was the One who should put away our sins and bring us into everlasting blessing, and now we realize from what you say that He has come and has been crucified and has gone up to God’s right hand. Whatever are we to do? Are we hopeless? Are we helpless? We have rejected our Messiah; what shall we do?” And Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39). Peter is saying, “If you believe the message that I have preached to you that there is remission of sins, there is salvation for you; you do not need to go into judgment when the nation goes into judgment. But you must repent.” And what is it to repent? It is a complete change of attitude. In other words, change your mind, change your attitude, and be baptized, acknowledging that you receive the Savior that the nation has rejected, and when you do, you stand on new ground altogether. What a fitting message for those Jewish believers! On that day three thousand of them took the step, and by their baptism cut themselves off from the nation that rejected Christ and went over to the side of Christ, and were known as among the children of God. Let us listen to Peter again.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began…Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities. (Acts 3:19-21, 26)
What is Peter preaching here? The same gospel that Paul preached afterward. He is telling them that the Jewish nation has rejected Christ and is therefore under judgment. And how dire the judgment that has fallen upon that nation! But, he says, if you would be delivered from that, repent, change your attitude, turn again, accept the Christ that the nation is rejecting, and you will be ready to welcome Him when He comes back again. Peter is not yet giving them the revelation of the Rapture, but he is telling them that when Christ appears they as individuals will be ready to welcome Him, even though the nation has to know the power of His judgment.
Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole [he had just healed a lame man]. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:10-12)
Is this different from Paul’s gospel? It is exactly the same, but Peter is presenting it in a way that the Jewish people, who had all the centuries of instruction behind them, would thoroughly understand.
Now you hear the same man preaching in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). He tells the story of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:38-43)
Is this a different gospel from that which we should preach today? Is this a different gospel from that proclaimed by the apostle Paul? Surely not. It is the same gospel, the gospel of the grace of God, salvation alone through the finished work of our Lord Jesus.
But now turn to the epistle of Peter, which is addressed to Jewish converts, the gospel for the circumcision.
Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. (1 Peter 1:18-20)
This is the gospel that Peter preached to the circumcision. Compare it with that gospel preached by Paul to Jew and Gentile.
And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: but he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:32-39)
Is there anything different here from that which Peter preached? Nothing different, but a fuller unfolding. Peter is never said to have preached justification, but forgiveness and remission. Paul added justification. When God forgives through the risen, glorified Jesus He not only forgives but He justifies. It is impossible for an earthly judge to both forgive and to justify a man. If a man is justified, he does not need to be forgiven. Imagine a man charged with a crime going into court, and after the evidence is all in he is pronounced not guilty, and the judge sets him free. Someone says as he leaves the building, “I want to congratulate you; it was very nice of the judge to forgive you.”
“Forgive nothing! He did not forgive me; I am justified. There is nothing to forgive.”
You cannot justify a man if he does a wicked thing, but you can forgive. But God not only forgives but justifies the ungodly, because He links the believer with Christ, and we are made “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6). We stand before God as clear of every charge as if we had never sinned. The two messages are one; but Paul’s is a little fuller than that of Peter. One had the message peculiarly adapted to the Jews and the other to the Gentiles, and so they decided on distinct spheres of labor. We have something similar on the mission fields today. The heads of the boards get together, and one says, “Suppose that such-and-such a group of you work in this district, and another in this one.” Do you say, “Oh dear, they have four or five different gospels?” Not at all; it is the same gospel. One goes to Nigeria, another to Uganda, another to Tanzania, and others to other sections, but it is the same glorious message. And it is very simple, unless one is trying to read into it things of which the apostles never dreamed. Paul and Peter never had the privilege of studying the modern systems of some of our ultradispensationalists, and so did not have the ideas that some people try to foist upon Christians today.
Verse 10 is interesting: “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” I wonder whether Paul did not smile as he heard that. They said, “You go to the Gentiles, Paul, but don’t forget there are many poor saints here in Judea, and although you do not preach among us, send us a collection from time to time.” He did, and thus showed that it was one body and one Spirit, even as they are called in one hope of their calling.
Peter’s Defection At Antioch
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We 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 therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (vv. 11-21)
This passage suggests a number of interesting considerations. First of all, we are rather astonished perhaps to find Paul and Peter, both inspired men, both commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to go out into the world proclaiming His gospel, both apostles, now sharply differing one from the other. It would suggest certainly that the apostle Peter, who is the one at fault, is not the rock upon which the church is built. What a wobbly kind of a rock it would be if he were, for here is the very man to whom the Father gave that wonderful revelation that Christ was the Son of the living God, actually behaving in such a way at Antioch as to bring discredit upon the gospel of the grace of God. If Peter was the first Pope he was a very fallible one, not an infallible. But he himself knew nothing of any such position, for he tells us in the fifth chapter of his first epistle that he was a fellow elder with the rest of the elders in the church of God, not one set in a position of authority over the presbytery, the elders, in God’s church. Then too the reading of the Scripture suggests to us the tremendous importance of ever being on the alert lest in some way or another we compromise in regard to God’s precious truth.
We have already seen what an important thing that truth was in the eyes of the apostle Paul when he could call down condign judgment on the man, or even the angel, who preaches any other gospel than that divine revelation communicated to him. We know it was not simply because of ill-temper that he wrote in this way but because he realized how important it is to hold “the faith which was once [for all] delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). That explains his attitude here in regard to Peter, a brother apostle. It had been agreed, as we have seen, at the great council in Jerusalem that Peter was to go to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles, but as they compared their messages they found that one did not contradict the other, that both taught and believed salvation was through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that both recognized the futility of works of law as providing a righteousness for sinful men.
To Antioch, a Gentile city in which there was a large church composed mainly of Gentile believers, where Paul and Barnabas had been laboring for a long time, Peter came for a visit. I suppose he was welcomed with open arms. It must have been a very joyous thing for the apostle Paul to welcome Peter, and to be his fellow laborer in ministering the Word of God to these people of Antioch. At first they had a wonderfully happy time. Together they went in and out of the homes of the believers and sat down at the same tables with Gentile Christians. Peter was once so rigid a Jew that he could not even think of going into the house of a Gentile to have any fellowship whatsoever. What a happy thing it was to see these different believers, some at one time Jews, and others once Gentiles, now members of one body, the body of Christ, enjoying fellowship together, not only at the Lord’s table, but also in their homes. For when Paul speaks of eating with Gentiles I take it that it was at their own tables where they could have the sweetest Christian fellowship talking together of the things of God while enjoying the good things that the Lord provides. But unhappily there came in something that hindered, that spoiled that hallowed communion.
Some brethren came from Jerusalem who were of the rigid Pharisaic type, and although they called themselves (and possibly were) Christians, they had never been delivered from legalism. Peter realized that his reputation was at stake. If they should find him eating with Gentile believers and go back to Jerusalem and report this, it might shut the door on him there, and so prudently, as he might have thought, he withdrew from them, he no longer ate with them. If he chose not to eat with the Gentiles, could any one find fault with him for that? If he regarded the prejudices of these brethren might he not be showing a certain amount of Christian courtesy? He felt free to do these things, but not if they distressed these others. But Paul saw deeper than that; he saw that our liberty in Christ actually hung upon the question of whether one would sit down at the dinner table or not with those who had come out from the Gentiles unto the name of our Lord Jesus, and so this controversy. “When Peter was come to Antioch,” Paul says, “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” There is no subserviency on Paul’s part here, no recognition of Peter as the head of the church. Paul realized that a divine authority was vested in him, and that he was free to call in question the behavior of Peter himself though he was one of the original twelve. “For before that certain came from James”—James was the leader at Jerusalem—“he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.” We read in the Old Testament, “The fear of man bringeth a snare,” and here we are rather surprised to find the apostle Peter, some years after Pentecost, afraid of the face of man. It has often been said that Peter before Pentecost was a coward, but when he received the Pentecostal baptism everything was changed. He stood before the people in Jerusalem and drove the truth home to them, “Ye … killed the Prince of Life,” and he who had denied his Lord because of the fear of man now strikes home the fact that they “denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you” (Acts 3:14). The inference has been drawn by some that if one receives the Pentecostal baptism he will never be a coward again, and also that all inbred sin has been then burned out by the refining fire of God. But we do not find anything like that in the Word of God. It is true that under the influence of that Pentecostal baptism Peter did not fear the face of man, but now he had begun to slip. The fact that one has received great spiritual blessing at any particular time gives no guarantee that he will never fear again.
We now find Peter troubled by that same old besetment that had brought him into difficulty before, afraid of what others will say of him, and when he saw these legalists he forgot all about Pentecost, all about the blessing that had come, all about the marvelous revelation that he had when the sheet was let down from heaven and the Lord said, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15). He forgot how he himself had stood in Cornelius’ household and said, “It is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to … come unto one of another nation; but God hath shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). He forgot that at the council in Jerusalem it was he who stood before them all and after relating the incidents in connection with his visit to Cornelius, exclaimed, “We [we who are Jews by nature] believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:11, emphasis added). That was a wonderful declaration. We might have expected him to say, “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ they shall be saved, even as we,” that is, “these Gentiles may be saved by grace even as we Jews are saved by grace.” But no, he had had a wonderful revelation of the real meaning of Pentecost and this glorious dispensation of the grace of God. What made him forget all this? The scowling looks of these men from Jerusalem. They had heard that he had been exercising a liberty in which they did not believe, and they had come to watch him. He thought, “It will never do for me to go into the houses of the Gentiles to eat while these men are around.” So without thinking how he would offend these simple Gentile Christians who had known the Lord only a short time, and in order to please these Jerusalem legalists, he withdrew from the Gentiles as far as intimate fellowship was concerned. He was not alone in this for he was a man of influence and others followed him. “And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him.” It looked as though there might be two churches in Antioch very soon, one for the Jews and another for the Gentiles, as though the middle wall of partition had not been broken down.
“The other Jews dissembled likewise with him.” And what must have cut Paul to the quick, his own intimate companion, his fellow worker, the man who had understood so well from the beginning the work that he should do, “Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.” How much he puts into those words! Barnabas who knew so much better, Barnabas who had seen how mightily God had wrought among the Gentiles, and who knew that all this old legalistic system had fallen never to be raised again, even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation.
“Dissimulation” is rather a fine-sounding word. I wonder why the translators did not translate the Greek word the same as they generally did in other places in the Bible. It may have been that they did not like to use the other word in connection with a man like Barnabas. It is just the ordinary word for hypocrisy. “The other Jews [became hypocrites] likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their [hypocrisy].” Peter might have said, “We are doing this to glorify God,” but it was nothing of the kind; it was downright hypocrisy in the sight of God. Paul recognized it as what it was, and said, “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all …” This was not a clandestine meeting, there was no backbiting. What he had to say he said openly, and he did not seem to spare Peter’s feelings. We must ever remember the Word, “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him” (Lev. 19:17). Some years afterward he wrote to Timothy, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). There was too much at stake to pass over this lightly. It was too serious a matter to settle quietly with Peter in a corner, for it had been a public scandal, and it called in question the liberty of Gentiles in Christ and so must be settled in a public way. One can imagine the feelings of Peter, noble man of God that he was, and yet he had been carried away with this snare. At first he was startled as he looked at Paul, and then I fancy with bowed head, the blood mantling his face in shame, he realized how guilty he was of seeking to please these legalists who would rob the church of the marvelous gospel of grace. “If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” He has let the cat out of the bag. I think I see those Jewish men look up and say, “What is this? He has been living after the manner of Gentiles?” Yes, they should have known it, for he had a right to do it. God had given all men this liberty and Peter had been exercising it, but now he was bringing himself into bondage. Peter had said, “We Jews know that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but we have to be saved by grace even as the Gentiles, so why insist upon bringing these Gentiles under bondage to Jewish forms and ceremonies?”
Paul went on: “‘We 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.’ We gave up all confidence in law-keeping as a means of salvation when we turned to Christ, and now, Peter, would you by your behavior say to the Gentile brethren, ‘You should come under the bondage of law-keeping, from which we have been delivered in order to be truly justified?’” It was a solemn occasion, for there was an important question at stake, and Paul handled it like the courageous man that he was.
Are you, like so many others, trying to do the best you can in order to obtain God’s salvation? Listen then to what He says, “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Some years ago, after listening to me preach on the street corner a man said to me, “I detest this idea that through the death and righteousness of Another I should be saved. I do not want to be indebted to anybody for my salvation. I am not coming to God as a mendicant, but I believe that if a man lives up to the Sermon on the Mount and keeps the Ten Commandments, God does not require any more of him.”
I asked, “My friend, have you lived up to the Sermon on the Mount and have you kept the Ten Commandments?”
“Oh,” he said, “perhaps not perfectly; but I am doing the best I can.”
“But,” I replied, “the Word of God says, ‘Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all’ (James 2:10). And, ‘It is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’ (Gal. 3:10), and because you have not continued you are under the curse.”
That is all the law can do for any poor sinner. It can only condemn, for it demands perfect righteousness from sinful men, a righteousness which no sinful man can ever give, and so when God has shown us in His Word that men are bereft of righteousness, He says, “I have a righteousness for guilty sinners, but they must receive it by faith,” and He tells us the wondrous story of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ—”[He] was delivered for our offenses” (Rom. 4:25). And having trusted Him shall we go back to works of the law?
“If,” says Paul, “while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners”—if we who have trusted in Jesus are still sinners seeking a way of salvation—“is therefore Christ the minister of sin?” Moses was the mediator of the law, and it was to be used by God to make sin become exceeding sinful. Is that all Christ is for? Is it simply that His glorious example is to show me how deep is my sin, how lost my condition, and then am I to save myself by my own efforts? Surely not. That would be but to make Christ a minister of sin, but Christ is a minister of righteousness to all who believe. I think verse 17, and possibly verse 18, concludes what Paul says to Peter. “If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” We do not have quotation marks in the ancient Greek text, so have no way of knowing exactly where Paul’s words to Peter end, but probably he concluded his admonition to Peter with this word.
“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” What does he mean by that? He means that the law condemned me to death, but Christ took my place and became my Substitute. I died in Him. “I through the law died to the law, that I might live unto God.” Now I belong to a new creation altogether. And oh, the wonder of that new creation! The old creation fell in its head, Adam, and the new one stands eternally in its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not trying to work for our salvation, we are saved through the work that He Himself accomplished. We can look back to that cross upon which He hung, the bleeding Victim, in our stead, and we can say in faith, “I am crucified with Christ.” It is as though my life had been taken, He took my place; “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live.” As I was identified with Him in His death on the cross now I am linked with Him in resurrection life, for He has given me to be a partaker of His own glorious eternal life. “Nevertheless I live; yet not I.” It is not the old “I” come back to life again, “but Christ liveth in me.” He, the glorious One, is my real life, and that “life which I now live in the flesh,” my experience down here as a Christian man in the body, “I live”—not by putting myself under rules and regulations and trying to keep the law of the Ten Commandments but—“by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” As I am occupied with Him, my life will be the kind of life which He approves. “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I wish each of us might say those words over in his heart. Can you say it in your heart? It is not, “The Son of God, who loved the world, and gave himself for the world,” but, “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Only those who trust Him can speak like that. Can you say it from your heart? If you have never said it before you can look up into His face today, and say it for the first time. And so Paul concludes this section, “I do not frustrate the grace of God”—or, I will not set it aside—“for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” But because righteousness could not be found through legality, through self-effort, Christ gave Himself in grace for needy sinners, and He is Himself the righteousness of all who put their trust in Him.