By William Kelly
I trust to be enabled to show, in looking at the Epistle to the Galatians, that this portion of the word of God is formed with the same skill (as, indeed, a revelation of God must be) which we have found occasion to remark in other books of the Old and New Testaments; that it is stamped with the same evidence of divine design; and that, having a special object, the Holy Ghost subordinates all the details to the great thought and task that He has in hand.
Now, it is plain, from a very cursory glance, that the object of the epistle was not so much the assertion of the truth of justification by faith in contrast with works of law, as the vindicating it against the efforts of the enemy who would merge it under ordinances and human authority; in other words, it is the antidote to the Judaizing poison of many who professed the name of the Lord.
In Romans, it is more the bringing out of positive truth; in Galatians, the recovery of the truth after it had been taught and received, the enemy seeking to swamp it by bringing in the law as the conjoint means of justification. The Holy Ghost sets Himself, by the Apostle Paul, thoroughly to nullify all this force of Satan; and this gives a peculiar tone to the epistle.
As usual, the first few verses bear the stamp of the whole, and show what the Holy Ghost was about to bring out in every part. We have, of course, the choicest collection of words, and the avoiding of irrelevant topics, so as to reveal in short compass the mind of God as to the state of things among the churches in Galatia. This accounts for the comparative coldness of the tone of the epistle — the reserve, we may say, with which the apostle speaks to them. I think it is unexampled in any other part of the New Testament. And the reason was this: the bad state into which the Galatians had fallen did not so much arise from ignorance, as it was unfaithfulness. And there is a great difference. God is most patient towards mere want of light; but He is intolerant of His saints' trifling with the light He has given them. The apostle was imbued with the mind of God, and has given it to us in a written form without the slightest admixture of human error. He has given us, not only the mind, but the feelings of God. Now man reserves his bitter censure for that which is immoral — for a man guilty of cheating or intoxication, or any other grossness: every correct person would feel these things. But the very same persons who are alive to the moral scandal may be dead to an evil that is a thousand times worse in the sight of God. Most people are sure to feel immorality, partly because it affects themselves; whereas in what touches the Lord, they always need to be exhorted strenuously and to have the light of God brought to bear strongly upon it. Satan is not apt to serve up naked and bare error, but generally garnishes it with more or less of truth, attractive to the mind. Thus he entices persons to refuse what is good, and choose what is evil.
We learn from God how we ought to feel about evil doctrine. Take the epistle to the Galatians, as compared with the Corinthians, in proof of what I am asserting. There you would have seen, if you wont into a meeting at Corinth, a number of people, very proud of their gifts. They were fleshly, making a display of the power with which the Spirit of God had endorsed them. For one may have a real gift of God used in a very carnal manner. At Corinth there was also a great deal that was openly scandalous. In the early christian times it was usual to have what is called a love-feast, which was really a social meal, or supper, when men had done their work, or before it, and they could come together. At Corinth, if not elsewhere, they united this meal of love along with the supper of the Lord. And one can understand that they might easily get excited: for we must remember that those believers had only just emerged from the depravities and darkness of heathenism. Drunkenness was most common among the heathen: they even made it a point of honour to get intoxicated in honour of their gods. These Corinthian saints must not be judged of by the light that persons afterwards received; and indeed it is in great measure through the slips of the early believers, that we have learnt what christian morality is or ought to be. They were like babes coming out of the nursery, and their steps were feeble and faltering. There were, too often, ebullitions of nature that showed themselves among them like the heathen. There were, besides, parties among the saints. Some were ranging themselves under one banner, and some under another. They had their different favourites that they followed. Some had even fallen into most flagrant evil, and others again were standing up for their rights, and going to law one with another. There was looseness of every kind in their wall. All these things came out in their midst. There was a low moral order of things. Had we not the writing of an apostle to such as these, we might have considered that it was impossible for them to be Christians at all. Whereas, though there is the most holy tone and condemnation of their sin throughout the epistle, yet the apostle begins in a manner that is more and more striking, the more you think of it and bear in mind the state of the Corinthian believers. He begins by telling them that they were sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called as saints. He speaks to them, too, of God's faithfulness, by whom they were "called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." What a contrast with the natural impulse of our minds! We might have been disposed to doubt that any, save a very few of them, could have been converted.
Now, why is it that to the disorderly Corinthians there were such strong expressions of affection, and none to the Galatians? Writing to the former, he calls them the church of God. "Paul, called an apostle of Jesus Christ . . . . unto the church of God that is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints . . . . I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God that is given you by Jesus Christ; that in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge . . . . so that ye come behind in no gift: waiting for the coming [revelation] of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. And then he begins to touch upon what was wrong, and continues it throughout. Writing to the Galatians, on the contrary, he says, "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." Not a word about their being in Christ or in God the Father! Not a word about their being saints in Christ Jesus and faithful brethren. He just simply says the very least that it is possible to say about Christians collectively here below. He speaks of them as "the churches of Galatia:" he does not associate them with any others, but they are put, so to speak, as naughty by themselves. On the other hand, the apostle takes care, to say, "All the brethren that are with me unto the churches of Galatia." If he does not speak of the saints in general, he does universally of the brethren then with him, his companions in service, whom he joins with himself in writing to the Galatians. He had a reason for this. He was not along in his testimony, whatever the false teachers might insinuate. All the brethren that were with him identified themselves, as it were, with his present communication.
Looking at the manner in which he speaks of himself, shore is something very notable in it. "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead," etc. He begins controversy at once. The very first words are a blow at the root of their Jewish notions. They found fault with the apostle because he was not with the Lord Jesus, when He was upon earth. What does Paul reply? He says, I accept that which you mean as a reproach; I am not an apostle of men nor by man. He completely excludes all human appointment or recognition in any way. His apostleship was not of men as its source, nor by man as a medium in any way. Nothing could have been more easy than for God to have converted the Apostle Paul in Jerusalem: it was there he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel; it was there that his first violence against the Christians broke out. But when God met him, he was away from Jerusalem, carrying on his hot persecution of the saints: and there, outside Damascus, in broad daylight, the Lord from heaven, unseen by others, reveals Himself to the astonished Saul of Tarsus. He was called not only a saint, but an apostle; "an apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead." And to make it the more striking, when he was baptized, whom did the Lord choose to make the instrument of his baptism? A disciple who is only this once brought before us as a godly old man, residing at Damascus. God took special care to show that the apostle, appointed to a signally important place, the most momentous function of any man that ever was called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel — that St. Paul was thus called without the intervention, authorization, or recognition of man in any shape or form. His baptism had nothing to do with his being an apostle. Every one is baptized as a Christian, not as an apostle. He immediately goes into Arabia, he preaches the gospel, and God at once owns him as Christ's minister in the gospel, without any human interference. Such, indeed, is the true principle of ministry, fully illustrated in the call and work of Saul of Tarsus, henceforth the bondman of Jesus.
It may be objected, however, by some that we do read of human setting apart and laying on of hands in the New Testament. We own it fully. But in some cases, it is a person who has already shown qualification for the work, set apart in a formal manner by apostolic authority to a local charge, and clothed with a certain dignity in the eyes of the saints, perhaps because there was not much gift. For the elder, it will be observed, is not said to be "a teacher," but simply "apt to teach." External office is not so needed where there is power in a high degree. Power makes itself felt. Saints of God will always, in the long run, be obliged to own it. Hence, when a man has received a gift from the Lord, he ought to be the least anxious about it for his own sake: God knows how to make it respected, if men fail to see or hear. But when there are men who have grave and godly qualities without power evident to all, they need to be invested with authority, if they are to have weight with unspiritual people. Therefore, it seems, we read of an apostle, or an apostolic delegate, going round and taking the lead in governing, appointing, advising, where there was anything amiss or lacking among the saints.
The fact is, people confound eldership with ministry. Elders were appointed by those who themselves had a higher authority direct from Christ; but there never was such a thing as ordaining a man to preach the gospel. In Scripture, the Lord, and the Lord only, calls men to preach. There is not, in the entire New Testament, one instance to the contrary. It is positively disorderly, and contrary to the word of God, for a man to seek a human commission in order to preach the gospel, or for taking the place of a teacher in relation to the Christian assemblies. In apostolic days there never was such a thing as a person appointed a teacher any more than a prophet. But among the elders there might be, some of them, evangelists, teachers, etc. Therefore, it is said, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." The presbyters, or elders, whose business it was to role, even if they were not teachers, were in danger of being despised. But they were to be counted worthy of double honour, if they ruled well. They were to be honoured as a class, and specially they who laboured in the word and doctrine. Several of them, besides being elders, might be also teachers, and such would have superadded claims on the esteem of the saints. There is no wish to set aside the fact, that there were persons set apart by man; but what I deny is, that such was the case in the ordinary classes of ministry — pastors, teachers, etc., etc. These were never appointed by man in any shape whatever. The whole body of scriptural ministers is entirely independent of ordination. The assembly's choice entered in the case of deacons, who looked after external things: they were appointed by apostolic sanction — at least, such was the practice in setting the seven men over the business of the tables in Jerusalem. So, too, the stewards of the bounty of the Gentile assemblies, spoken of in 2 Corinthians 8:19, 23. They were chosen to the work by the various churches whose contributions were entrusted to them. The elders were called rather to take the lead and govern locally, though it is nowhere intimated that they were elected of the assembly. Nevertheless, they were formally chosen by apostles or apostolic delegates; and the weight of those who chose them was no doubt intended to give them a just importance in the minds of the saints generally.
The case of Timothy is, no doubt, peculiar. He was designated by prophecy to a certain very peculiar work — that of guarding doctrine. And the apostle and the presbyters laid their hands upon him, by which a spiritual gift was communicated to him which he did not possess before. It is evident that there is no man now living who has been similarly endowed and called to such a work.
It may be said that, in the case of the Apostle Paul, there was the putting on of hands, which we have in Acts 13. What does this show? Not, certainly, that he was an apostle chosen by man; for the Holy Ghost declares here that he was "an apostle, not of men, neither by man." That which took place at Antioch was in no sense ordaining him to be an apostle. It is evident from many scriptures that, for several years before hands were laid on him, he had been preaching, and was one of the recognized prophets and teachers at Antioch. (Ver. 1.) I believe that the point then was the setting him and Barnabas apart for the special mission on which they were just about to go out — to plant the gospel in new countries. Assuredly, when the Holy Ghost said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them," it does not mean, that hitherto either one or the other had been preaching of their own will, without the Lord's authority, and still less that the great apostle of the Gentiles was now constituted such by his inferiors. It was, then, purely and simply a recommendation to the grace of God, for the new work on which they were about to enter. Some such thing might be done at the present day. Supposing a man, who had already been preaching the gospel in England, felt it much laid on his heart to go and visit the United States of America, and his brethren felt that he was just the man for that work, they might, in order to show their concurrence and sympathy, meet together, with prayer and fasting, to lay their hands upon the brother who was going thither. This, in my opinion, would be quite scriptural. It is what has been done in such cases. But it is not ordaining. It is merely the recommendation to the grace of God of persons already gifted for the work, who have some new path marked out for them.
But what I believe to be unscriptural, and indeed positively sinful, is the insisting on a certain ceremony through which a man must pass before he is recognized as properly a minister of Christ. This, general as it may be, is traditional imposture, without one shred of Scripture to cover itself. It is merely something that man has brought in, chiefly founded upon the Jewish priesthood. If one belonged to the priestly family, before he could enter upon his priestly functions, he had to go through a number of ceremonies. These the Roman Catholics, above all, imitate in their measure. But the astonishing thing is, that men, who in words denounce popery, have continued to imitate one of the worst parts of it; for it is in this very thing that I believe the Holy Ghost is most grieved. The effect is this, that it accredits a number of men who are not ministers of Christ, and discredits a number of men who are His ministers, because they do not go through that particular innovation. It has the effect of doing all the mischief and hindering all the good that is possible. This is an evil which, derived from the core of Judaism, is the greatest conceivable check to the energy of the Holy Ghost in the Church at the present or any other time. Some may look grave at this remark, and say it is not charitable so to speak; but such persons do not know what charity means. They confound it with indifference. And indifference is the death of charity. If you saw your child with its hands over the burning coals, you would not be hindered from the most earnest cry, or any other energetic means to rescue it, by people telling you that a loud voice or a sharp snatch were wrong things for a Christian. So, as to this very subject, there is that which is bound up with the blessing of the Church on the one hand, and the curse of Christendom on the other. How many horrors come out of it? The pope himself is a product of it: because if you have got priests, you naturally want a high priest; if you have the sons of Aaron, you need Aaron also represented. The pope was set up on this very ground, and the whole system of popery depends upon it. Alas! it is a demon which Protestantism has failed to exorcise.
"Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by men," entirely excludes man, as being either the source of his ministry, or the medium in any way connected with it. The great thing that we have to remember with regard to ministry is, that its spring is in the hands of Christ; as he says here, "by Jesus Christ." He does not say of Jesus Christ. I regard "by Jesus Christ," in this particular connection, as much stronger, for this reason — that the Judaizing teachers would have said, We fully allow it to be of Jesus Christ, but it must be by those who were chosen and appointed by the Lord Himself when He was upon earth; the apostles must be the channel. God was striking a death-blow at the notion of apostolic succession. He was most graciously shutting out, for every spiritual man, any pretence of this evil thing. The Galatians were probably troubled and perplexed that, avowedly, Paul should be an apostle entirely apart from the other twelve. Why did they not all cast lots about Paul, if he was to be one of the apostles in the highest sense? This is what he is meeting here. He connects his apostleship not only with God and our Lord as its source, tent also as the medium — "by Jesus Christ, and by God the Father who raised him from the dead." Here there is another blow at the successionists. They had been drawing a contrast between Paul and the other twelve apostles, to the disadvantage of the former. But the apostle shows that if there was any difference between himself and them, it was that he was an apostle by Him who raised Christ from the dead. The others were only called when our Lord was here upon earth, taking His place as a man here below. Paul was called by Jesus Christ risen from the dead. There was greater power, greater glory, greater distinction, as far as any existed, in the case of Paul's calling to be an apostle, than in that of any of the others. The apostle puts all their theories to the rout, and brings in his own special place with great force. Paul is the pattern of ministers to this very moment. In speaking about ministry, he loves to put it upon this ground, the ground upon which he was called himself. When it is a question of his preaching, he says, (2 Cor. 4) "We believe, and therefore speak." He takes it up upon the simplest and the best basis — if a man knows the truth, let him speak of it. There was no need of waiting for anything. It is to that the Lord works in the Church. Hence, in speaking about ministerial gift in Ephesians, where we have it in the highest possible forms, on what does he found it? On Christ ascended up on high, and giving gifts unto men: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." The whole of ministry, from its highest functions to its lowest, is put upon the same principle. If it be urged, It is all well what you have been saying about Paul, but it does not apply to ordinary ministers, I reply that it does; because the Holy Ghost teaches us through the Apostle Paul, that when you come down from apostles and prophets, to pastors, teachers, or evangelists, they are all set upon the very same basis; all are gifts from the same Lord, without the intervention of man in any shape or degree.
But, then, it will be said by some, What about elders? There you are wrong: you have not got them. I answer, We have not elders formally, because we have not, and are not, apostles. It is plain that in this we are not worse off, to say the least, than any of the so-called churches or sects; because I am not aware that any have apostles. So that the true difference between those who meet round the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and others, is, that we do not pretend to have what we have not got, whereas they do who pretend to appoint. You cannot have appointed elders without apostles; yet we may have certain persons that possess the qualifications of elders, and such ought to be owned; but to imitate the appointment of presbyters, now that apostles no longer exist, is sinful. This may suffice for the subject of ministry.
And what were the Galatians about now? What were they bringing the law on Christians for? If the Lord had already given Himself for our sins, and settled that question, to suppose that He should have given Himself for our sins, and yet the sins not be blotted out, is to deny the efficacy of His work, if not the glory of His person. He is showing them the very elementary truth of the gospel, that Christ gave Himself for our sins. So that it is not at all a question of man seeking to acquire a certain righteousness, but of Christ who gave Himself for our sins when we had nothing but sins. And this is not for the purpose of putting people, under the law again, and making that to be their proper standard as Christians, but He "gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world." What is the effect of men taking up the law as Christians? It makes them worldly. There is no exception. There cannot be such a thing as a man separate from the world, when he is under the law. We are not in the flesh, but in spirit. That is the standard of a believer: not of some particular believers, but of all. We are "not in the flesh." There is that which is of the flesh in us, but we are not in the flesh. The meaning of the apostle there is, that we are no longer looked upon nor dealt with by God as mere mortal men with our sins upon us; but we are regarded by God according to Christ, in whom there is no sin: and if we look at our standing as Christians, there is none in us; for our nature has been already condemned in the cross, and God does not mean to pass sentence upon it twice. What we have now to do is to live upon Christ, to enter into the blessedness of that truth — He "gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world." The law spoke to citizens of the world. Christ gave Himself for our sins, that He might redeem us or take us out of the world, even while we are in it. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." We are regarded as separated from the world by the death of Christ, and sent into it by His resurrection; but sent into it as not of it, yea, not so much of it as an angel. The death of Christ puts us completely outside the, world. The resurrection of Christ sends us into it again as new creatures, messengers of the peace He gives, entirely apart from what is going on in the world. Our Lord says, "Now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world as thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." He puts the same measure for both; and therefore, when He rose from the dead, He says, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
The apostle puts himself with them before Christ, "who gave himself for our sins." It is the common blessing of all believers, "that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father." The remarkable thing is, that when God reveals Himself as the Giver of a law — as Jehovah — He does not undertake to separate men from the world. The Jews could not be said to be separate from the world. They were separate from the Gentiles, but they were the most important people in the world; and they were made so for the purpose of maintaining the rights of God in the world. They were not called to be outside the world, but as a people in the world. Therefore the Jews had to fight the Canaanites; and hence, too, they had a grand temple. Because they were a worldly people, they had a worldly sanctuary. But this is altogether wrong for Christians, because Christ "has given himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father." When God brings out His will, no longer merely His law, but revealing Himself as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been given to die for our sins, there comes out a totally different state of things. We enter into the relationship of conscious children with God our Father: and our business now is to honour Christ according to the position that He has taken at the right hand of God. People forget that Christ gave Himself for our sins in order to deliver us from this present evil world. They sink down into the world, out of which redemption ought to have delivered them; and this is because they put themselves under the law. If I have to do with the will of God my Father, my privilege is to suffer as Christ suffered. The law puts a sword in man's hands; whereas the will of God makes a saint to be willing to go to the stake, or to suffer by the sword for Christ's sake: as it is said, "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us:" but it is by suffering, not by what the world glories in. God is glorifying Christ after the pattern of the cross, and this is our pattern; not Israel, nor the law; but the cross of Christ. And now He says, as it were, I have got Christ in heaven: 1 am occupied with the only One who has ever glorified Me, and that is the One you are to be occupied with.
Nothing can be more exact and full, nor more thoroughly calculated to meet those dangers of the present day, which take the form of reviving succession and religious ordinances as a means of honouring God. Scripture meets every case; and a remedy is given for it in the blessed word of God. Our wisdom is to seek to use it all, to be simple concerning evil, and wise unto that which is good.
There is a remarkable abruptness in the way the. apostle enters at once into his subject. He had just alluded to our Lord's giving Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world; and this had drawn out a brief thanksgiving unto "God, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen." But now he turns at once to the great object that he had in hand. His heart was too full of it, so to speak, to spend more words than need required. There was that which was so fatal even to the foundations on which the Church, or rather individual Christians, must stand before God, that he could not linger. "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel." "So soon removed" seems to me to be a somewhat stronger expression than what the Spirit of God makes use of. It means, in process of removing. They were shifting and being changed "from him that had called them into the grace of Christ." The evil and danger were not yet so settled a thing but that he could still look up to God about them. When we think that it was the Apostle Paul that had evangelized these souls, and that the time was short since he had preached to them, I do not know a more melancholy proof of the ease with which Satan contrives to lead astray. Take children of God that have been ever so well instructed, and yet one sees the symptoms, which hardly ever fail to show themselves, of inclination to that which is weak and wrong, a readiness to follow human feelings in the things of God, diverted from the truth by appearance, where there is no reality. These things you will find, unless there be extraordinary power of the Holy Ghost to counteract the workings of Satan. The rubbish which may enter with the foundation, of which the apostle speaks in 1 Corinthians 3 — the "wood, hay, and stubble" — all this shows us how it may come to pass that although God it was who had formed the Church, yet there is another side of the Church to take into account, and that is man. St. Paul speaks of himself as a wise master-builder. In one point of view it is God who builds the Church; and in this there is no failure. What the Lord has taken in hand immediately, He maintains infallibly by His own power. But human responsibility enters into this great work, as it does into almost everything, save creation and redemption, where God alone can be. But elsewhere, no matter how blessed, whether the calling in of souls to the gospel, or the leading them on after they have known the Lord, or the corporate gathering of the children of God into one — the Church, man has his part in it; and he too surely brings in the weakness of his nature. The history God gives us in the Bible is that, whatever He has entrusted into the hands of man, there he is weak and fails. "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel." Now this is, after all, but the history, not only of the Old Testament, and of the various ways in which God had tried man; but even where you have the far more blessed subject of the New Testament, (what God is in His Son and in His ways with men by His Son, since the Lord went up to heaven and the Holy Ghost was sent down,) even in respect of these things, we have man's weakness surely showing itself. And it is not merely that unbelieving men have managed to creep into the Church; but the. children of God have got flesh in them too. They have their human feelings and infirmities, and that which Satan can find in every Christian whereby to hinder or obscure the power of God. It was by this means that the Galatian saints were led astray, and that all are in danger of it, at any moment. I gather two important lessons from this. The first is, not to be surprised if there be departure in the saints of God. I must not allow myself for a moment to think that it shows the slightest weakness in the truth itself or in the testimony committed to us, or that it puts a slur upon what is of God; for God may be suffering what is contrary to His own nature and permitting for a time that man should show what he is. But as surely as there is that which is according to God, He will vindicate Himself in it, and allow what is not of Him to prove its true character. But another thing we learn is the call for watchfulness and self-judgment. To these Galatians, who once were so earnest, who would have plucked out their eyes in their love for Paul, that very apostle has now to write, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ." Observe the choice of expression — "the grace of Christ." Because what Satan was using was the mixture of the law with grace, of legalism and Christ. The characteristic of their call had been simply and solely "the grace of Christ."
God had made known to the Galatians that they were poor sinners of the Gentiles, that there was nothing for them but mercy, and that mercy had come to them in the person of Christ. And if this is the one thing that He invites souls to — to receive the mercy that He is giving them in Christ, it supposes that they feel their need of mercy, and are willing to look to Christ and none other. But still it remains true that it was alone the grace of Christ which had acted upon these Galatian believers; and of this he reminds them. What were they removing to now? A different gospel, which is not another. In our English version it is a sort of paradox — "another gospel, which is not another." But in the language in which the Holy Ghost wrote, there was sufficient copiousness to admit of another shade of language. "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto a different gospel, which is not another." So that if the grace of Christ was the spring and power of their calling, the gospel was the means of it. But now they had left this for something different. Observe, it does not say, contrary to it, but a different one: and for that very reason he says, it is not another. It is unworthy to be called another gospel. God owns but one. He permits no compromise about the gospel; neither ought we.
It may appear strange and perhaps strong to some; but I am thoroughly convinced that the same Galatian evil that was active then is at work now universally in Christendom. It may take a somewhat different form in one place from another; but wherever you turn, wherever you have either the word spoken on or the profession of Christ maintained in the way of Christian institutions, you will find the mingling of the law in one form or another along with the grace of Christ. It does not matter what people are called, it is the same thing in all. There are differences of degree. Some are more open, some more intelligent, some more systematic about it; but the same poison, here diluted, and there concentrated, is found everywhere; so much so that the truth on this subject sounds strange in the ears of men. As a proof of this, I take one simple expression that will come before us in the various epistles of St. Paul, the misapprehension that prevails as to "the righteousness of God." One may rejoice to know of persons preaching Christ, or even the law; because God uses the preaching of the law to convince many a sinner. Yet we are not to suppose, because God works even where there is a perverted gospel preached, that the children of God ought to make light of error. It is one thing to acknowledge that God works sovereignly, but it is another when the question for us is what is His true testimony. There we are bound in conscience never to allow anything except the simple and full truth of God for our own souls. One ought never to listen to anything short of that, and truth can avoid hearing error. I am not speaking now of mistakes that may be in preaching. A slip or ignorance is not a perversion of the gospel. It is one thing to listen to what may be a mere mistake; but to go where one knows beforehand that the law is mingled with Christ, is sin.
People may say, This is unjustifiably strong language. But am I going to set myself up to judge the Holy Ghost? For we must remember that what the apostle wrote was not as a private man, but that which the Holy Ghost wrote for our instruction. And what he tells us is this: "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 I have preached unto you, let him be accursed." Let a fair person weigh such a word as this, and then judge whether any language of mine can too strongly insist upon the duty of a christian man in reference to a perverted testimony of the gospel. For this is what was coming in among the Galatians.
Perhaps you will tell me that it was more — that, there, it was the mingling of the ceremonial law with grace, whereas now the moral law is held up. I can only say that this is worse still, and more deadly, because the ceremonial law may be represented as typical of Christ; but the moral law brings in one's own doing in some form or other; whereas the only meaning of any of the Jewish forms and ceremonies is invariably as connected with Christ. If I look at the christian institutions now, I say there is no virtue in the water of baptism or in the bread and wine, save in what they represent. The foundation is gone if anything is brought in to justify a man except Christ, who ought to be dearer to me than all other things — dearer even than these means. To care for Christ is the very best evidence of a saved soul. But I do not admit that there is a lively care for Christ, where a soul knows His will in anything, and does not make it of the very first importance. When saints of God have learnt the truth with simplicity, and are enabled to hold it firmly, a time of trial comes. Perhaps there is a great deal of weakness and unfaithfulness among those that hold the truth; and persons say, I do not see that those who hold this truth are so much better than their neighbours; but there is this difference between the weakness of people's conduct who hold the truth and those who do not — that it can be remedied, while there is no turning falsehood into truth. All the power on earth could not root out legalism from the state of things in Christendom. The religious systems that are established must cease to be earthly systems if they give up the law. You cannot reform that of which the foundation is totally unsound. The superstructure can be removed, but if the foundation is worthless and false, it never can he remedied. There is one right course, and that is to quit it altogether. I say that those who see these things, owe it to our Lord and Master — owe it to the truth and to the saints of God — to show an uncompromising separation from all that destroys the full truth of this grace of Christ. We may bear with individuals who may not know better.
On the other hand, if you see a person very worldly in a religious body, I think it is an unworthy thing to fasten upon individuals, and take up such an abuse as a hunting or an intoning priest. We have much better employment than making remarks upon dancing clergymen. Such a thing may be worth the world's notice. But it is very different where falsehood is preached. There we ought to seek to deliver every child of God from the evil influence. How painful to think some are bound to preach the law, so bound that it would be a dishonest thing if they did not! God gives, not a help merely, but a deliverance from this static of things. If we believe the word of God, if we believe what the Holy Ghost says about it in the most solemn manner, we ought to have done with it altogether. There may be very good men concerned who are fettered; but we speak of the danger of mingling the law with the gospel, and that is the Galatian evil.
Let us consider what is the warning of the Holy Ghost to the souls that were being ensnared by it. People may tell you, that they know how to separate the good from the bad; but God is wiser than men, and a spiritual man would discern a going back of soul where such things are allowed. This accounts for the extraordinary strength of the apostle's warning. They were his own children in the faith; and as to those who perverted and troubled them! he stood in doubt of them What he says is — no matter who it may be — "If he preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Yea, if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." They might have taken refuge in this: no doubt it was what Paul preached, but we have additional truth, beside what Paul gives. But he says, "If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." It is not only what I preached, but what you received. It is not only that there should be no mixture with what he preached, but no addition to what they had received. We have what the Apostle Paul wrote as clearly as they had what he preached. There is no difference, except that what is written is even of greater authority, instrumentally, than what was spoken. In the latter, too, that which is of nature might come in. The apostle had to confess on certain occasions that he had spoken hastily; never that he had so written. It was not a question of taking away the gospel, but of adding what was of the law to the gospel.
"For do I now persuade men or God?" That is, was he wishing to gain them over or God? "Or do I seek to please men? for if I yet please men, I should not be the servant of Christ." He was perfectly aware that this kind of uncompromising testimony rendered him particularly obnoxious to men, and even produced ill-will among real saints of God. So now the same thing would be called want of charity. In fact, it is not want of charity to speak uncompromisingly; but it is to judge those who do. He says it is the way not to please men but to please God. It was in that very way that Christ had called him to be a servant. "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." There was something, no doubt, extraordinary in the manner in which the Apostle Paul had had the gospel made known to him. He was not converted by the preaching of the gospel, as most are. Peter's case was a similar one. Flesh and blood had not revealed it to him, but the Father which was in heaven. Peter was the first person who was taught the glory of the Christ — taught that glory, not as connected merely with Jewish prophecies, but the deeper glory of Christ, as Christians ought to know Him now, as the Son of the living God; not connected with earth exclusively. Peter was the first to whom the Holy Ghost revealed the grand truth that Jesus was not only the Messiah, but the on of God in a heavenly and divine sense. Peter, therefore, was honoured by God, and put by our Lord in a very special place. He was the one to whom our Lord first named His Church. In the case of St. Paul, the truth went farther. For if we have the Father revealing the Son to Peter, Paul goes yet beyond, and says that God revealed His Son in him. Peter could have said, It pleased the Father to have revealed the Son to him; Paul could say, in him. St. Paul was led of the Holy Ghost into a gradually increasing knowledge of the grand and most glorious truth of the oneness of the believer with Christ. But this is not brought out here. Yet the expression, "revealed his Son in me," is one that could hardly have been used by one who did not know this truth. As in Hebrews, the apostle speaks about believers having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, though the epistle to the Hebrews does not reveal that we are members of Christ's body; yet we could not be exhorted to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, unless we were members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones; so only Paul could have said, "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me." It is connected with the truth of which Paul was the chosen witness — the union of Christ and the Church, intimated at his very conversion. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" He was persecuting the saints; and the Lord says, To persecute them is to persecute Me. They were one. The Church and the Lord are united. We are not members of Christ's divinity, but of His body. It is only as man that He has a body. But while He was a man upon earth, we were not members. The corn of wheat, unless it died, must abide alone; "but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit:" that is, it is founded upon the death and resurrection of Christ, that He is able to associate others with Himself as the members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Christ in heaven and the saints on earth make one body. That is what Paul learnt at his conversion. Having the substance of this in view, the apostle says, "I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man."
And just allow me to state another word or two in connection with the gospel of St. Paul. He is the only one who characterizes his gospel as the glorious gospel. And one may be interested to know that when the apostle uses that phrase, he does not say, "glorious" merely as we use it; he means the gospel of the glory. And the true force of that expression is this: it is the gospel of Christ glorified at the right hand of God. It is the glad tidings that we have a Saviour who is risen and glorified. We are called to all the effects of His glory as well as of His death upon the cross. Other apostles never wrote of the subject of the Church being made one with Christ; Paul alone did. Possibly, then, Paul was the only one that was in a position to say, "If one add anything to my gospel, let such an one be accursed." Although Paul added something to their gospel, they could add nothing to his. The apostles announced Christ as the Messiah and made known remission of sins through His name; but they did not bring out the heavenly glory of Christ as Paul did. He brought out all these truths, and more which they never touched on. That is the reason why he so constantly speaks of "my gospel." Because while, of course, as to the grand truths of the gospel there could be no difference between what Paul and the other apostles preached, there was a great advance in that which Paul preached beyond them. There was nothing contradictory; but Paul being called after the ascension of our Lord to heaven, he was the one to whom it was peculiarly appropriate to make any addition. Till Paul was called, there was something still needed to make up the sum of revealed truth. In Col. 1:25, he says that he was a minister of Christ to complete the word of God, to fill up a certain space that was not filled up. Paul was the person employed by the Holy Ghost to do this. John brought out prophetic truth — prophecy entirely outside what we have been speaking of, for it reveals the dealings of God with the world, and not with the Church. Therefore, the apostle can insist strongly upon the danger of attempting to swerve from what he had brought out, or of adding anything to it. This is very important. Others might not preach all the truth, but that is not what he so strongly denounces. No person ought to be condemned because he does not unfold the higher truth of God. What we ought to set our faces against is the bringing in of something contrary to the gospel, or mingling the law with the grace of Christ — putting new wine into old bottles. Some may refer to the Epistle of James; but James never presents the law so as to clash with the gospel, although what he says may put a guard upon souls making an improper use of the solemn warning of the Holy Ghost against mingling the law with the gospel in any shape or form. There will be many occasions for showing how the Apostle Paul refers to it in this epistle.
The next point to which he alludes in his argument is his previous conversation and life. He says, speaking of his gospel, that he neither received it of man, neither was he taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. They might have raised a doubt about this; but he shows that all his previous life was opposed to the gospel. There was not another such antagonist of Christ as he had been. "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," (there may be a little word for them, because they were beginning to persecute all who opposed their notions about the law, and were getting into a bitter spirit,) "and profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of the fathers." There was no doubt, therefore, of the sincerity of the apostle's use of the law in his unconverted days. "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."
There he at once brings in a mass of truth, which, if they had only understood its force, as no doubt some did, ruined their whole system from top to bottom. He shows that it was God who had called him away from the law: when he was in the very midst of what they were beginning to take up afresh, he was an enemy of Christ. He gives full allowance to his providential history. He had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and had profited in the Jews' religion above his equals. But though it pleased God to separate him from his mother's womb, yet to call him, he insists, was much more; this call was of grace. "Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood." There he both positively and negatively overthrows their legalism. He had been called to preach among the Gentiles, where there was no law known. There was no word of God at all as to their going up to Jerusalem. And yet this was the sort of thing to which they were desiring to return. So it is at the present day. The smallest sect under the sun has got a find of Jerusalem, a centre for the minister to be sent up to, in order to qualify him for what he has to do. But where it is sought for the purpose of bringing out the glory of Christ, it proves but death. Many a person has conferred with flesh and blood, has gone up to "this mountain" or that city, and his soul has got completely lowered and taken away from the cross of Christ; and he becomes now exceedingly zealous of this very law that he had been delivered from; but the simple walk is the path of dependence upon the living God. So that however valuable these training schools may be for the world, however admirable for giving men a certain place, it ends merely in what man can teach, and not what God gives.
Moses thought that, when he had spent forty years in Egypt, he was fitted to deliver the people of God; but he had to learn that not, until he had been taught of God in the wilderness, was he competent to lead the people out of Egypt. God has generally to put souls through a sieve, and break them down in their own conceit, if He is going to use them in a really honour able way.
Here you have God Himself, when He calls a remarkable man to a very special work, instead of summoning him to the apostles at Jerusalem, sending him away into the desert. There is such a thing as not only helping the saints, but those that preach in the truth; and the Apostle Paul presses upon Timothy that the things he received, he was to commit to faithful men who should be able to teach others also. There is human instrumentality in helping on those who are younger in the work of the Lord. Thus we must leave room for the various ways of God, only steering clear of human innovation and presumption, which can never edify man any more than honour God.
"Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again into Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days." He mentions the number of days for the purpose of showing that it was not a course of instruction that he had been receiving. "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 Judea 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." The facts were of moment for the purpose of evincing how little time he had spent in Jerusalem; yea, that he was unknown to the churches of Judea generally. But these churches, instead of blaming God, (which was what the Galatian conduct amounted to,) instead of finding fault with his testimony, had glorified God in Paul. The early churches of Judea, that the Galatians were looking so wistfully at, were glorifying God in him; while they themselves were quarrelling with the rich mercy God kind been showing the Gentiles. He had preached to them the gospel more fully than the other apostles had presented it; and yet they were already slipping from it by seeking to bring in the law. Paul felt it was so deadly in its own nature that, although the souls drawn aside by it might not be lost, yet was there deep dishonour against God and incalculable mischief to His saints. No doubt they thought theirs a much safer course; but the apostle affirms that he had brought them the truth of the gospel, and that to mingle the law therewith is to subvert it altogether.
How applicable is all to the need of souls in this day of ours! We ought not to fancy that there was a deeper evil in Galatia than there is at work now. On the contrary, those were but the germs of that which has developed far more since then. The Lord give us to set our faces as a flint against all that would damage conscience, and keep us from allowing anything that we know to be contrary to His will and glory!