By A. Shepherd.
It is at once interesting and instructive to remark that secular historians, in their racial analysis of the various nations, have described the Galatians as a quick, warm, impulsive, and exceedingly changeable race; and the character ascribed to them by the beloved apostle, in the body of his letter, seems to bear out the truth of this description. The pliable disposition of these saints offered the enemies of the glad tidings of God and of Christianity extremely fertile soil, in which would flourish the seeds of those wicked heresies of evil men, which, in their essence, were destructive of the heavenly character of Christianity, and subversive of the grand, sublime truths of the glad tidings. How necessary it is to exercise constant and unrelaxing vigilance, lest the enemy within — that which is of nature and of the flesh — at the instigation of the arch-enemy, opens wide the gates so that he can take possession of the stronghold. Only as we take our stand behind the mighty bulwarks of divine truth, those towering ramparts of divine revelation, can we hope to withstand the onslaughts of ever relentless foes and put them to flight by the sword of the Spirit.
One of the keystones of Christianity is "The righteousness of God," which is developed doctrinally in Paul's letter to the saints at Rome. Through the persistent efforts of false, Judaizing teachers, the warm-hearted, but fickle saints of the region of Galatia were in grave danger of departing from the glad tidings of God's grace, and were in great measure alienated from the great apostle. The recovery to them of the truth developed in Romans is the great point in the Epistle to the Galatians; both epistles treating of the same precious subject — the way of a sinner's justification before God. But there is a marked difference between the two epistles: in Romans, the apostle brings out what the gospel really is, "The power of God to salvation to every one that believes; … for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith"; but in the letter to the Galatians he has to do with those who had received the grace of God, and were attempting to add to it the works of the law, thereby nullifying the wonderful gospel made known to them by the apostle.
Here was a deliberate and systematic attempt on the part of the enemy to bring about an admixture of Christianity and Judaism to the detriment of the former, so as to obscure its heavenly character, and pervert the precious truths of the gospel. With so much at stake, should we be surprised at the severity of tone adopted by the apostle in his scathing denunciation of those who sought to overthrow the true character of Christianity? So keen was the discernment of this devoted servant of the Lord, so sensitive to anything that would besmirch the true greatness and glory of Christ, that he detected in those Judaizing philosophers the pernicious and reprobate machinations of the enemy himself. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the divine authority of the apostle was ever linked with the heavenly character of Christianity. The enemy attempted to set aside the peculiar administration and authority of Paul, and to mix Judaism with Christianity, so as to neutralize Christianity's heavenly character. These two systems can never coalesce, save to the ruin of souls; and although both agree in setting before men a very high standard of conduct, they are otherwise diametrically opposed. Judaism is the religion of man in the flesh, which supposes him capable of keeping the law; a supposition that received its death-blow in the cross.
The beloved apostle shows that the glad tidings he preached to them were unique in source and power. With great joy and thankfulness the Galatian saints had received these glad tidings which they now seemed to be surrendering, little realising what they were doing. In adding the law to the gospel they were surrendering the truth of the gospel. A sense of urgency and deep emotion can be detected throughout the whole epistle; the apostle writing with his characteristic earnestness, but with a sharpness that was not usual. No one is saluted in the letter, and he starts immediately with his theme, wishing them indeed, grace and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ. He stands, as he says, in doubt of them; having to travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in them. Their doctrinal wandering he treats more seriously than the moral evil of Corinth, which men naturally think of a far worse character. Another has said. "Without the gospel morality cannot maintain itself, and in the doctrine of Christ is the root of all morality."
Paul begins by declaring the unique ministry committed to him; insisting upon the special character of his apostleship; affirming in solemn and unequivocal terms his entire independence of man in it, declaring that his commission was received not from men, nor through men, but "Through Jesus Christ, and God the Father." Unlike the twelve, he received his commission from the risen Christ direct from heaven, after Jesus had finished His work; a commission to which he refers in Acts 20 "That I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus." He saw the Lord in glory, and it was the glorified Christ who sent him. Note too how the apostle valued the fellowship of the brethren in the gospel, associating them with him, as having their sympathy and concurrence in what he states here; and as showing that the Galatians were in danger of departing from the faith held by all the brethren with Paul.
Now we come to the core of the matter, "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." What has law to do with those for whom Jesus gave Himself to deliver them out of this present evil age? This "age" is marked by implacable opposition to God, and is led by Satan, the god of this age. For believers to have recourse to law is to go back into the world, out of which to deliver them, Christ gave Himself. This is of immense practical importance, for it is the Father's will for us.
How deep and real the emotion of this devoted servant of the Lord, as out of a full heart he expresses his wonderment that they were so quickly changing from Him, who had called them in Christ's grace, to a different gospel, "which is not another." How arduous were the labours of the apostle, how sore his trials, how intense and perilous his combats in seeking to maintain, and preserve in its purity, the truth of the gospel. By the Holy Spirit he saw the truth of God imperilled, where others could see no harm; peril, not from without, but rising up in the very bosom of the assembly. (Acts 15 may well be called the Christian's Magna Carta).
And now from this custodian of divine truth comes these solemn words, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed;" and to show that this was no ill-considered outburst, spoken rashly, he reiterates these solemn words. Beloved brethren, have we this appreciation of the gospel? What is our assessment of its inherent greatness as being the truth of God? Such faithfulness will not call forth the plaudits of men; but may we be preserved from the desire to conciliate men in these things. "For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."
The apostle then goes on to show how he had learned the gospel: he neither received it from men, nor was he taught it, but by revelation of Jesus Christ. This revelation had transformed him from a persecutor and injurious person into an ardent, faithful, uncompromising witness for Christ. He now speaks of the circumstances of his wonderful con-version, of the good pleasure of God who set him apart, even from his mother's womb, and called him by His grace. He knew all about this Judaism the Galatians were embracing, for did he not say that as touching the law he was a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to the righteousness which is in the law, he was found blameless? But God had something far better for him: He revealed His Son in him; not merely to Him, but in him. The call of God was accompanied by an inward revelation of the Son of God to his soul; and from henceforth this was the abiding power and reality that enabled him to count all things loss for Christ.
How touching is the close of this first chapter; "He which persecuted us in times past now preaches the faith which once he destroyed; and they glorified God in me" What an amazing transformation the sight of Jesus in the glory of God had wrought! In misguided zeal he once thought he ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus; but now he can say, "For me to live is Christ! Little wonder that the dear saints, in that day, glorified God in him.
The Spirit's elaborate vindication of Paul's apostolate is truly remarkable, as is also its distinctness from that of the twelve, who, as Paul says "were apostles before me." Here we also have the Spirit's refutation of the specious fallacy of apostolic succession, so dear to the human heart. The one who held with unwavering' tenacity to the traditions of men, whose fanatical zeal for Judaism was unmatched among his contemporaries, was lifted completely out of that environment, set free from the restrictive and binding influences of legalism, so that he might proclaim the divine and heavenly character of Christianity. With such a commission entrusted to him from the Lord Himself how entirely irrelevant to confer with flesh and blood concerning these heavenly communications.
Having therefore received this revelation he went off into Arabia, into the desert, to return from the same school as Moses, who was raised up of God to lead His people out of the land of bondage. How significant that Paul too was raised up of God to lead His people out of a bondage greater far than Egypt's, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God — wherewith Christ makes us free.
After fourteen years had elapsed, Paul goes up to Jerusalem accompanied by Barnabas and Titus, the occasion of this visit coinciding with the raising at Antioch of questions which affected the character of the Gospel preached among the Gentiles; the history of this we have in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas, as we find there, went with the full concurrence of the brethren at Antioch to have this momentous issue, which was causing considerable distress and agitation among the assemblies, settled and put beyond dispute. "It seemed good to us … to send chosen men to you, with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have given up their lives for the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ." But let it again be remarked that, in going up to Jerusalem, he did not do so as yielding to the solicitation of others, but by express revelation from God.
The time was now opportune for such a visit to Jerusalem. Had Paul gone at the time of his conversion it might have been argued that he went to receive authority from those who were apostles before him. Because he went under direct divine sanction, Paul had divinely given confidence at Jerusalem. The time had in fact arrived when, if there was not to be an open breach, there must be the manifestation of unity among the recognised leaders at Jerusalem, the very stronghold of Judaism, and those who preached the Gospel given by the Lord to Paul. And so this devoted, courageous herald of Christianity placed before them the Gospel that he preached, first of all "privately to those who were of reputation," lest the outbreak of legalism, which was carrying the multitude, should work disaster among those who had been gathered out from among the Gentiles.
This was no superficial matter; the opposition was strong, determined and formidable; there must be no yielding to the enemy, who was behind it all, in the slightest degree. Titus was with him, a Greek in fullest Christian fellowship and without being circumcised. This was not a chance circumstance; he was there under divine guidance to furnish convincing proof that nothing must be added to faith in Christ Jesus in order to salvation. The apostle resisted the circumcision of Titus, yet allowed the circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:1-3). "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any force, nor uncircumcision; but the moment an attempt is made to enforce it, unyielding resistance must be made, lest the liberty of the Gospel be infringed or conscience towards God be wounded. For the sake of avoiding needless offence to the Jews Paul circumcised Timothy, but to preserve the liberty of the Gospel he sternly resisted the efforts of false brethren to have Titus circumcised. The apostle makes special mention of false brethren who had been brought in unawares, and who were seeking to bring into bondage Christ's free men. Christianity, in fact, at Jerusalem, was so little more than a Jewish sect, that one can readily understand how open would be the door for men of such a class to flock into; but the apostle withstands them, not giving place, as he says, "for an hour." It might seem a small matter to others, that for which be was contending, but with him it involved the whole truth of the Gospel. How gratifying to see the measure of agreement reached between those dear servants of the Lord, men who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.
The right hand of fellowship is given to Paul and Barnabas by James, Peter and John, when they perceived the grace given to Paul. How regrettable to find Paul having to withstand Peter, because he was to be condemned. The element of Judaism was deeply ingrained in Peter and the others who had been eating with the Gentiles in unrestricted Christian liberty until certain came from James, when they withdrew in fear of those who opposed the truth of Christianity. The power of God to resist this opposition was with Paul, and Paul alone. And so he reasons with them in strong contrastive language concerning Christianity and Judaism, demonstrating, as another has said that, "the passing, transient glory of Judaism is but as tinsel compared with the supine and perennial glory of Christianity." They had professed to give up the one for the other. They had believed in Christ to be justified by faith: it was the faith of Christ that justified them, not the deeds of the law: "because on the principle of works of law no flesh shall be justified." How solemn the language of the apostle here: "Now if in seeking to be justified in Christ we also have been found sinners, then is Christ minister of sin." We shudder at the thought dear brethren; yet what are we doing if we build again the very things we have thrown down? we are constituting ourselves transgressors!
The apostle now turns from "we" to "I" as he does in Romans 7. In the death of that blessed One, who had died under the solemn curse of a broken law, he had died; and in that death he had died to law, to the intent that he might live to God. "I am crucified with Christ;" Saul, the Pharisee, with all his religious accomplishments as well as with all his sins, has come to an end judicially in the cross of Christ, and a new man is risen up in his stead. "Not, I, but Christ lives in me;" a life communicated from the risen Jesus, a life that death cannot touch. As this life has its source in heaven, its tendencies are to things in heaven. It is spiritual life in contrast to natural life, and so the apostle adds, "The life which I now live in the flesh;" it is lived in the flesh now, in a poor, groaning, earthly tabernacle; but it will not always be so; we await our house from heaven, a body perfectly suited to its heavenly environment. "I live by the faith of the Son of God." Soon we shall be manifested with Christ in glory, but meantime, before we see Him as He is, we live by the faith of the Son of God. He is "the object bright and fair, to fill and satisfy the heart." With what feelings of unspeakable joy and delight do we utter these precious words "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
By so reasoning the beloved apostle did not set aside or disregard the grace of God, "for if righteousness is by law, then Christ has died for nothing;" but praise God this is not so; for it is only by that one act of accomplished righteousness we have been set in a "state of accomplished subsisting righteousness before God (J.N.D.). Christ is indeed the end (or object) of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.
The controversial character of the apostle's letter has no doubt been noted by the careful reader. It manifests a conflict from which there is no discharge, where the divine ground must be held in the face of formidable and determined opposition. Galatians is in character a controversy! It is a buttress to the grand foundation truths presented in Romans, yet carries further the truth of Christian position. In Romans we are dead to sin and dead to the law; in Galatians we have one crucified to the world and in the light of new creation. New creation is not unfolded in Romans, though doubtless implied in the later chapters; but in Galatians this great truth is stated in that most expressive and comprehensive utterance, "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but new creation." Earlier we had a history of the apostle's own ministry, in which he reiterates that he received his ministry from the Lord directly, owing nothing to those who were apostles before him; nor will he allow anything inconsistent with it, not even in Peter, so that the doctrine which was now to be unfolded should be established on a sure and infallible foundation.
In this chapter we come to the doctrinal part of the epistle. From verses 1-13 the inspired writer contrasts law and faith as entirely opposite principles, and demonstrates in a masterly and convincing manner the utter impossibility of obtaining blessing on the principle of works of law: on that principle there is nothing but a curse. From verse 14 to the end of the chapter the contrast is between law and promise; "showing their entire distinctness, not only in date and circumstances, but also in principle, character and purpose." This is a portion of special interest and instruction as showing the peculiar fascination of the law for true believers. It was as though the law had set its eyes on them, like the snake on its victims, so that they were powerless to get away from it. One form of the corruption of the Glad Tidings of the grace of God is the reducing it to a system of ordinances. This tendency displayed itself very prominently in the Galatian assemblies, and the correction of this forms the subject of this part of the epistle.
So grave was the departure that the apostle is moved to exclaim with feelings of deep emotion, "O senseless Galatians, who has bewitched you?" How great was their folly in turning to the law for righteousness after having known the grace of the gospel. It seemed as if a bewitching power was drawing them away from divine grace. in which the doctrine of the Cross of Christ had been conspicuously presented to them; desiring to add their own supposed righteousness to the justification procured on the principle of faith; or having recourse to a system of ordinances to make up for their defect in righteousness. In both cases it is the fascination of law preventing them from looking to the Lord Jesus Christ in whom alone righteousness can be found. Observe how strong is the expression. "before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you." The publicity and prominence which the apostle gave to the doctrine of the cross was that of a proclamation set forth by authority in the most frequented part of the city. The doctrine of the cross strikes at the deeply imbedded roots of all man's pretensions to wisdom, righteousness and strength: and it is this that still makes this doctrine offensive to them: but how acceptable it is to those who know that through the cross, God was "making an end of sin, and bringing in everlasting righteousness."
Then the apostle asks, Did you receive the Spirit by keeping the law or by believing the testimony of the finished work of Christ? The Spirit is God's seal on those who believe the gospel, who have come under the efficacy of Jesus' blood; a work to which the flesh can add nothing. God had given them His Spirit that all might be wrought in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Moreover they had been sufferers: was it because of their attempts to keep the law, or because of their confession of Christ? How easy the answer to such questions.
Paul now turns their attention to Abraham, the pattern man of faith, "the father of them that believe;" whose history is given in great detail in the Scriptures as God's portrait of a believer. The features of faith in the believer now are the same as were manifest in Abraham for "They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham;" and they therefore share the divine blessing, "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful (or believing) Abraham." The beloved apostle in the pursuance of his emancipating doctrine pens one of the most solemn passages in the word of God, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." The curse of the law rests on every one under it, for none have kept it, even as we read, "Cursed is every one that continues not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them." God's righteous requirements of man are set forth in the law; and whosoever contravened one point was guilty of all, and came under the law's penal sanction. Law knows nothing of mercy, and must take its course. With what reverential feelings does the heart contemplate this fact of immense import, that Christ magnified the law and made it honourable; and nowhere was this so richly exemplified as when on the cross He died under the solemn curse of a broken law. "Christ has redeemed us out of the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, Cursed is every one hanged upon a tree.") This has opened the way for the outflow of God's rich grace to sinners of the Gentiles: He is not now demanding righteousness from men, but setting forth Christ in the gospel, "a propitiatory through faith in His blood."
If a man makes a will, bequeathing certain things absolutely, no one would allow an executor to alter this in the slightest degree or impose conditions of any kind. God's covenant with Abraham was one of unconditional promise, which God Himself undertook to carry out. "For if the inheritance be on the principle of law, it is no longer on the principle of promise, but God gave it in grace to Abraham by promise." The question very naturally rises, "Why then the law?" It was added for the sake of transgressions; that is to make manifest to man the character of sin, which God knew to be in man; and to demonstrate that if man had not a faithful Promiser, One who had the ability to fulfil all He had promised, he could not attain to blessing. The law was added till the seed should come to whom the promise was made. In this way the law, instead of invalidating or superseding, only served to confirm the way of promise made known to Abraham, as the only means of obtaining blessing for man. The law was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator: there were two parties to the law, hence the mediator, Moses standing between God and the people. "Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one," for now there are not two parties; it is not a people undertaking to answer the requirements of God, but God making known His grace in the death and resurrection of His Son. Yes, indeed, God is one, and there can be no failure.
Is the law then against the promises of God? By no means! Righteousness and life are inseparably linked together both in the law and in the gospel. The law said, "This do and thou shalt live;" but it could not give righteousness nor life. Such was the condition of man that the holy, just and good law could only bring condemnation and death to him. It was neither a minister of righteousness nor a minister of life to the sinner. The fault was not in the law, but in man.
Now the apostle changes the figure: he had been referring to the law as a jailor, holding men in bondage and captivity: now he refers to it as a schoolmaster or confidential servant of the house, who kept his watchful eye on the young members of the household. Under him they had no more liberty than the servants, and it was so until they reached manhood's estate. This place the law had until Christ came. What a change when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, the witness of a glorified Christ and of the acceptance of the blood of His cross; bringing the saints into the liberty of sons. They were now grown up: they had reached maturity and man's estate, and could enter into the enjoyment of their rich inheritance.
Now the believer in Christ is regarded by God as having died with Christ, as having been buried with Christ, as raised up with Christ, and to have put on Christ. Surely if we have put on Christ we neither need works or service to commend us to God. We stand before Him arrayed in all the beauty of Christ, Christ our righteousness before the face of God. All the differences and distinctions that existed in the human family are lost in Christ Jesus; difference of nation, Jew and Gentile; difference of social condition, bond and free difference of sex, male and female; "all one in Christ Jesus." How comforting for sinners of the Gentiles, like ourselves, to know that through believing in Christ, the true seed, it is said of us "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Continuing our brief study of this epistle we come to the chapter in which is contrasted the legal condition of the saints under the dispensation of law with that of the saints brought into the sweet liberty of grace, where Christ the Son makes us free indeed. How this blessed truth of adoption stands out in strong relief against the dark background of the law with all its legalizing propensities. The law brought distance; but here is nearness of a most intimate and endearing character. Under law there was a yoke of bondage, of which Peter could say, "which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear;" a bondage characterising the children of law, the seed according to the flesh. How great the contrast with the portion of those who are children of the free woman.
Having mentioned heirs "according to promise," the apostle proceeds to contrast that condition with that of the heirs under law. The heir under law is like a child under guardians; though in title he possesses all the estate, he cannot act even on his own property without the permission of the guardians. How elucidating the conclusions of Paul in giving this to illustrate the condition of the heirs under law. The elements of the world — their much vaunted ritual and ordinances — all that was so gratifying to the flesh, kept the Old Testament heirs in a state of pupilage and bondage until God's due time came for sending forth His Son, the promised seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). To Him the eye of faith had ever been directed, from the moment of the fall; but He came under law "to redeem them that were under the law."
"The fulness of the time" is a remarkable expression. All God's dealings with man, prior to this wonderful event, were of a probationary character; which served to show how incurably evil man was, and how great his need for divine intervention with a redemption in which he could stand before God. Redemption was ever in God's mind for man's blessing: and here we are brought to that auspicious moment when God sent forth His Son. How the heart lingers over these precious words, charmed by the kindness and pity of our Saviour God (Titus 3:4). As come under the law He magnified it by His unswerving and implicit obedience: yea, He magnified the law in a more profound degree by bearing its solemn curse, and thus redeeming from under it the heirs, that they might come into the place, proper to them as sons, which they could not do so long as they were under the law.
The apostle then contrasts the state of the Gentile believer, standing in the full liberty of the Glad Tidings, with that of the saint of old under the law; pointing out the folly of the Gentile putting himself under law, from which the godly Jew required to be redeemed by the work of Christ on the cross. They were sons, not servants — heirs who had attained maturity, and who had liberty of access to the Father with all confidence. How striking Paul's argument: how clear his distinctions: "that we might receive the adoption of sons" (v. 5), and "because ye are sons" (v. 6). The Spirit of adoption or sonship was not the portion of the saints of old; it is the blessed fruit of accomplished redemption, for which even the disciples of the Lord had to wait till after His ascension (Acts 1:4-8). How sad to reflect that, because of a low state of soul, we may not realise the blessedness and power of having the Spirit of sonship that enables us to cry "Abba, Father."
How the vigilant eye of the beloved apostle discerned the elements of retrogression in the conduct of the Galatian saints. Things which others might have passed as harmless and of no moment, the faithful servant of the Lord detects as deflection from the truth that would bring devastating results. With loving appeal he writes to them, "But now after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God." What an appeal! to turn from their knowledge of God to His knowledge of them. At best our knowledge of God is very imperfect, but He has taken us up in the perfect knowledge of all that we were and all that we would be, and has justified us freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. How sad to see those who have been so richly blessed and favoured of God turning again to the weak and beggarly elements of the world. These things of Judaism were all right in their time and place as shadows of the good things to come, but how weak and beggarly in the presence of the blessed Son of God, in whom the shadows found their substance. Alas, men still think that God is to be served by men's hands as though He needed something. They know Him not in His blessed character as Giver, and so do not come to Him to receive. How distressing to see those who once enjoyed the truth of the Gospel bowed down under a system of ordinances, observing days and months and years; thus obscuring for themselves the one great object that God would bring before them, even His own blessed Son, in the glory of His humiliation and in the greatness of His exaltation.
Again, as at the beginning, the apostle argues from his own case, "I am as ye are:" I take no ground of superiority over you because I was an Israelite, "as touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." No, I come down from my legal standing, and take the same ground as a poor sinner of the Gentiles. Peter, too, takes the same ground: "We (Jews) believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved even as they (the Gentiles)." There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. It is not for the Gentile however to take Jewish ground, but for the Jew to take Christian ground where there is "no difference."
The physical infirmity of the beloved apostle had not deterred their reception of the Glad Tidings: yea, it had only served to evoke their deep affection for him, to the extent that, if it had been possible, they would have plucked out their own eyes to give to him. They had received him as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. But now the cold, chilling, blighting wind of legality had blasted the tender shoots of grace, and the apostle stands in doubt of them. The only antidote to legality is to have Christ formed in us. This is the work of the Spirit of truth who, disengaging the mind from the law, engages us with Christ who is the end (or object) of the law for righteousness, to every one that believes.
Paul then shows how that the principle of the law disturbed the family of Abraham, and how that there was no rest until the legal element was cast out. The failure of the believer comes through lack of simple reliance on God. Abraham and Sarah became impatient and thought to get by their own wisdom and strength the blessing that God had promised. Hagar is given to Abraham by Sarah in the attempt to procure the divine blessing by fleshly means, which immediately results in Sarah being despised by Hagar. The Pharisees, monumental in their legality and so proud of their righteousness, despised Him by whom came grace and truth. The inspired writer proceeds to demonstrate in allegorical language the unbridgeable gulf between these two principles, law and grace — the two covenants; the one from Sinai, which genders to bondage, Hagar: the other, Jerusalem above, our Mother, which is free. We are come to Mount Zion, and to the heavenly Jerusalem; and as there we have the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Contemplating all the blessedness of what is connected with the true Isaac, the apostle breaks forth in praise, using the words of the prophet of salvation, Isaiah, "Rejoice, thou barren (Sarah, not Hagar) that barest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate has many more children than she which has an husband." How blessedly does this follow immediately on the details of Christ's suffering for us, in the previous chapter of the prophet. Laughter, joy is connected with Isaac the son of Sarah, not with the son of Hagar. "Now we brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise:" born of the Spirit, children of God, born of incorruptible seed, of the word of God, by the word of truth.
The bondwoman and her son must go, for Isaac and Ishmael cannot go on peaceably together. In the day that Isaac was weaned, Ishmael mocks; he regards Isaac as insignificant and despicable; no doubt mocking too at the old age of Sarah as compared with the vigour and comeliness of Hagar. There is nothing man more instinctively dislikes than grace. The oft-repeated story of religious persecution is but the story of Isaac and Ishmael here pointed out by the apostle; and this mocking of Isaac is characteristic of the day in which we live. But let us rejoice in this that we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free; privileged to stand in the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free. Free from the entangling yoke of bondage we can rejoice in the Lord always: like Paul. "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." "Rejoice in the Lord O ye righteous; for praise is comely for the upright."
The recovery of the truth taught in the Epistle to the Romans is the great point in this letter to the Galatians. Here we have the religion of man and the religion of the Spirit contrasted — the bondage of souls under the law with the liberty of saints under Christ and grace. The hopelessness of attaining righteousness or blessing under law is amply demonstrated.
In this chapter the flesh and the Spirit are strongly contrasted, as are also the moral fruits produced by those under the sway of these respective principles. The first verse of this chapter marks the close of the exhortation begun in the previous chapter. It is into the liberty of sons that Christ has brought us, and although we wait for the full blessedness belonging to sonship when we shall be manifested with Christ the Son in glory, yet even now it is in wondrous liberty we have access with confidence into the presence of God the Father. Instead of having a yoke of bondage imposed on us by those who would tempt God (Acts 15), we have the Spirit of sonship, whereby we cry Abba, Father. What marvellous liberty is this wherewith Christ has made us free: it is the liberty of the truth (John 8:32). What liberty to be delivered from the vain attempt to find some ground of confidence in ourselves towards God: what liberty to see in Christ, our righteousness before God — "Christ Jesus, who of God is made to us wisdom, and righteousness" (1 Cor. 1:30). How trenchant the call therefore, Stand fast in the liberty of Christ — freedom from all condemnation, freedom of nearness to God, freedom of holiness, freedom of service. Bring in law and all this freedom is gone, and in its place a heavy yoke is placed upon us.
The stern language of the apostle is very arresting: any dependence on legal righteousness, moral or ceremonial, renders Christ profitless to us. It is extremely misleading to say, "I know that I can do nothing by myself," for this only puts Christ in the place of a helper, and the thousands who are relying on Christ as a helper for righteousness will never find the salvation of God. The ten lepers were alike helped by Christ, but only one had faith to throw himself at Jesus' feet; and he alone received the words, "Thy faith has made thee whole." The nine were content to remain as Jews in Judaism, and knew not the blessedness of giving glory to God at the feet of Jesus. Many thousands bear the name of Christ, but what profit is He to them? If you are looking only partly to Christ and partly to yourself "Christ shall profit you nothing." Christ was everything to Paul: once he had profited in the Jews' religion above many," but he had given up every natural and acquired advantage for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, and could well instruct others regarding the profit to be found in Christ.
Well might Paul reiterate the testimony, "He that is circumcised is debtor to do the whole law." The holy majesty of the law, the rich grace of the Gospel, and the glory of Christ, alike forbid the vain and senseless attempt to make our own partial obedience, together with Christ, the ground of our salvation. To do so is to virtually disown the work of Christ as Gods means of justifying the sinner, and to think lightly of the sacrifice of the Christ of God. Those who think themselves justified by their own efforts in any way are fallen from grace. It is a very solemn and grievous thing for a Christian to fall into sin, but for such an one there is the rich and effectual provision of God; "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins." But to fall from grace is to reassert confidence in the flesh, and to displace Christ, with all the injurious consequences, not the least of which is the abandoning of the truth of the Gospel as to present justification before God by faith in Christ. There is also the surrendering of the true Christian hope, by making the attainment of righteousness the hope, instead of making present righteousness, through faith, the sure warrant for expecting glory. "We," says the apostle in the name of all believers, "wait" (not for righteousness, but for) "the hope of righteousness by faith" — the hope to which righteousness is entitled. If we tamper with the truth of present acceptance in the Beloved we undermine the blessed hope for which, through the Spirit, we are entitled to wait, even glory.
With unfailing and unwavering insistence it has been stated that all distinctions in the flesh are of no account where there is faith in Christ. Circumcision, the badge in the flesh of God's earthly people, availeth no more than uncircumcision. Faith alone is needed, a faith that is wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God, and that works by love. The law could give neither life nor righteousness; it might command love to God and man, but it had no power to produce what it enacted; but faith worketh by love to God and to man.
Now the apostle speaks of his confidence in them through the Lord, knowing that the truth set forth would find a response in the hearts of those who had been quickened by the grace of God, even if for the moment that truth had been overlaid by legalism. How much in these days of great leavening do we need to be reminded earnestly and constantly "to continue in the grace of God" (Acts 13:43). But the inspired writer is unsparing in his condemnation of those who were troubling the saints of God. The apostles, in their united testimony, in their one memorable council recorded in the Acts, declared, "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law." So here, the apostle speaks of the legal teacher as "he that troubleth you."
Paul then goes on to show how liberty according to the Spirit would express itself. Liberty according to man is every man doing that which is right in his own eyes, the free expression of his own will, every restraint removed that would fetter his unbridled self-will, a liberty that results in lawlessness. But we are called to quite another kind of liberty, not for the activity of the flesh, but in which we can serve one another according to the will of God. "His service perfect freedom is." The Gospel brings a law of love — love with its constraining power, not the restraining power of a law which gendereth to bondage.
How important it is to have God's thoughts with respect to the Spirit as contrasted with the flesh. The judgment of God has been passed on the flesh in the cross of Christ, where God made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." In consequence of this, life in the Spirit flows forth from the risen and glorified Jesus. The new man is a new order of man, coming forth after death and judgment have passed on the old man. It is therefore according to the new order of man that we should walk. The Spirit makes us alive to new thoughts, desires, affections and interests; "If therefore ye have been raised with the Christ, seek the things which are above, where the Christ is sitting at the right hand of God." Our thoughts are to be on Christ in heaven, and down here we are to walk in the Spirit. Beloved J.N.D. says that "walk" refers to the general manner of life: the Spirit is to be the characteristic of the life and walk, the instrument and power of every activity.
Verses 17 and 18 bring before us a great truth, namely that the Spirit and the flesh are contrary one to the other. There is hardly a Christian who has not attempted in practice to contradict this assertion; but the flesh, even in the believer, is unchangeably the same. The flesh is enmity against God, is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. It is the presence of the Spirit in us which enables us to know the evil of the flesh. The Spirit and the flesh are ever opposed to each other. Here we impinge very decidedly on the doctrine of the 7th of Romans: — "For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, good does not dwell, for to will is there with me… I find then the law upon me who wills to practise what is right, that with me evil is there." There is that which is born of the flesh and that which is born of the Spirit. But true Christians have come under the leadership of the Spirit, and as such are not under the law.
The verses which follow (Gal. 5:19-21) give us a very dark catalogue of the works of the flesh, which are manifest. There are other workings of the flesh which are not open and palpable, which can only be discerned by those who are spiritual. There is the mind of the flesh (Col. 2:18); and the flesh in its religious aspect, in which Paul could have no confidence (Phil. 3:3-4). But even in the manifest works of the flesh, while some are morally offensive to us, others are not so; but they are all offensive to God "for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15).
In this epistle, whilst the beloved apostle presents us with a rich exposition of the grace of God, he deals unsparingly with the flesh, its lusts, its affections, and its works. How happy the contrast to the works of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. This precious fruit is produced by the Spirit as we abide in Christ. "In Me is thy fruit found;" and again, The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. … He that abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit" (John 15:4-5). Compared with the dark catalogue of the works of the flesh, the fruit of the Spirit is a cluster of beautiful variety, fragrant with the perfections of Christ. Let us repeat the words of the apostle, "Against such there is no law! How searching is the closing exhortation! "If we live by the Spirit, let us walk also by the Spirit. Let us not become vain-glorious, provoking one another, envying one another." If we were ever walking in the Spirit, we should be "unknown, yet well-known;" passing as pilgrims and strangers through the world, without joining in its restless interests. The words of the Lord would then assume a deeper significance for us, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."
We now come to the closing chapter of this wonderful epistle of emancipation. The heavenly character of Christianity has been convincingly demonstrated: the perverters of the Glad Tidings of the glory of the blessed God, the devotees of Judaism with all its ritualistic and legalising influences, stand dishonoured and confounded in the presence of a light that shines from heaven itself. At this juncture it would no doubt be helpful to go back a little over the ground we have covered. To sum up Galatians 5, the Spirit is shown to be the power for sanctification. It is by the Spirit that holiness is produced. The apostle does not allow the law, either as a means of righteousness or sanctification. As justification is by faith in the blood of Jesus, so also sanctification, or holiness, is from the new nature in the energy of the Spirit of God. In all this, the apostle will not, under any pretext whatever, allow the law any standing. The law is not allowed any part in the Christian economy; it is an element of the world, and as such has gone in the cross of Christ. That wondrous cross has swept away all that belongs to this world; every vestige has gone for God and for faith. The beloved apostle, in his own inimitable way, takes up the elements one by one, and demonstrates that the Christian is delivered from them by the death of Christ. We are God's workmanship; we have received the divine nature; and it is unthinkable that anything of the old economy can have part in this.
Viewing ourselves as still in the body, we have the two principles within us, but the old is not allowed; only the new is recognised. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, "I am crucified with Christ;" and in Galatians 2:24, "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." In this latter portion the truth is applied to every Christian but it is another thing for the individual Christian to apply it to himself: to know the power of the truth experimentally in the experience of the soul from day to day. The practical application of the death of Christ is of immense importance, and it may help us to consider some Scriptures where it is brought before us. First let us consider Col. 3:3. "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." Here the truth is stated positively from God's standpoint. We have died in regard to the old order of things, and we have a hidden, divine life with Christ above. How appropriate then the exhortation, "Seek the things which are above." In Romans 6:11 we have the exhortation, "So also ye, reckon yourselves, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." God accounts us to be dead with Christ; we are therefore to reckon ourselves dead (see verses 2 and 8). Faith always acts with God, as we also see in the Scripture, "We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live to themselves, but to Him which died for them, and rose again." In the power of the new life, by faith in Christ Jesus, we see ourselves as dead in His death, but as living in His life for His pleasure. If we turn now to 2 Cor. 4:10 we shall find how Paul applied this truth to himself. "Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body." Paul was in practice holding himself as dead to everything here, passing in an experimental way through the sufferings and afflictions that kept him in truth altogether apart from things here, God helping him in this, even as he says, "We who live are always delivered to death on account of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh." Who delivered him to death? God did! In what way? Read verses 8 and 9; "Every way afflicted, but not straitened," and so on. Why was the apostle allowed to pass through persecution, to be cast down, perplexed and troubled? It was because he desired to bear about in his body the putting to death of Jesus; and God says I will help you to do it. It was like the breaking of the pitchers of Gideon's three hundred men; it let the light shine out. Beloved saints of God, let us take account of this in days of adversity and distress. This is the way God helps us to reckon ourselves dead to all that is around, so that we might live to Him. It is evident that the death and the life go together. I have dwelt at length on this particular line of truth, convinced of the necessity of knowing these things as power in our lives, so that we can stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
We shall now address ourselves briefly to the chapter before us. At the close of Galatians 5, the apostle warns the saints of what necessarily results from the cultivation of the legal spirit, vainglory, provoking one another, and envy. In the beginning of Galatians 6 we have another kind of spirit, the spirit of grace, "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." This is what we need to do, not to glory over each other, but to help each other; ever seeking the profit and advancement of our brethren. In appealing to those who are spiritual, the apostle does not desire us to be testing ourselves to discover our degree of spirituality. The spiritual man lives too near to God to think anything of himself; and the spirit of meekness is the antithesis of the spirit of fancied spirituality. Those who are spiritual know that the restoration of the erring one is bound up with the glory of God. It was said of the Pharisees that they bound upon men's shoulders, burdens grievous to be borne; but they would not touch them themselves with one of their little fingers. This was the spirit that was creeping in among the Galatians; the direct result of turning to the law as a rule of life.
Since they had a fondness for law, the Galatians are directed to a law of a different character; "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." In effect, the apostle says, If you will have law, here is a law for you; but it is the law of Christ, who was, and is, the great burden bearer: Who not only bore our sicknesses and carried our sorrows, but also bore the mighty burden of our sins in His own body on the tree. Now we have what might be called a Christian paradox. As fulfilling the law of Christ, we are to restore the fallen and bear the burdens one of another but in connection with work, every man shall bear his own burden. The apostle was no doubt referring to those who were seeking to destroy the foundations that he had laid; and for this they would have to give account to God. The day of appraisal is coming, when every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour. It is salutary to remember that grace never interferes with the exercise of God's government, nor modifies its application.
God's government is brought before us in Gal. 6:7. It requires spiritual discernment to place grace and government in their true and proper setting. Grace makes me a child, and government will chasten me with a rod if I am naughty. The principle, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," is divine and irrevocable. Our own experience; the experiences of such as Abraham, Lot, David, and the children of Israel, are all examples that confirm the inevitable reaping of what has been sown. How encouraging, in this matter of sowing, are the words which follow, "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." The harvest has not yet come; we have need of patience; let us then be patient in our sowing to the Spirit, knowing that from the Spirit we shall reap life everlasting; and all the good done in the sowing time will reap its full reward. Let us not forget the white stone with the new name, which no man knoweth but he that receives it. We are sparse sowers enough, but the word reminds us that "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" (2 Cor. 9:6). Then let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith. The saints of God must have a special place in our affections, which is surely in keeping with the word that God is the "preserver of all men, specially of those that believe."
One discerns throughout this epistle the intensity of feeling, and the earnestness of Paul's desire for the saints to whom he is writing; and the fact that he writes the epistle with his own hand is the crowning proof of his deep concern for them. How solemn and affecting are the words, "But far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world." That wondrous cross in all its majestic greatness stood as an impassible barrier between the apostle and all that constituted the world out of which he had been delivered by the death of Christ upon the cross. Christ was entirely outside of this world's system: He was the Head of a new creation, where circumcision or uncircumcision availed nothing. These belonged to the world, not to the new creation. Here was a new rule, a rule which made a man a pilgrim and a stranger on the earth: the rule of belonging to that scene where the glory of Christ shall be displayed. For the things of the new creation he suffered, in faithfulness to Christ, bearing in his body through sufferings, afflictions and trials, the brands of the Lord Jesus, his beloved Master.