By William Kelly
We have still the apostle appealing to certain facts in his own life and history, as giving conclusive evidence upon the great question that had been raised: whether the law, in any form, is that under which the Christian lies? He takes it up fully as to justification, but it is not limited to that question. We see in chapters 1 and 2 the divine call to minister, so strikingly exemplified in the apostle himself, in opposition to the successional claim; and we shall find towards the latter part of the epistle, that he applies grace in all its breadth, proving that in Christ God has brought in another principle altogether, which works efficaciously, whereas the law can only curse the guilty. In short, God has established the grand basis of His own grace; and while His grace is perfectly consistent with the moral government of God, it utterly sets aside the law as powerless through the condition of man, not as if the law in itself were not holy, and just, and good. But in Christ, God has brought in such energy of life in resurrection, and a new justifying righteousness of His own, that He for ever sets the Christian on the wholly different ground of grace. In this epistle, the apostle enters into it with so much the greater strength, because the devil was attempting to bring in a particularly evil misuse of the law.
This is, I conceive, the key to the difference of language in Romans and Galatians. In the former, there is a certain tenderness in dealing with such of the brethren there as knew the law before they knew Christ, and had been under it as Jews. Hence, in speaking of their days, and meats, and drinks, the apostle shows that the Spirit of God called for the utmost forbearance. "He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he regardeth it not. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks." The reason was, that the saints at Rome consisted largely of those who had been Jews, and, of course, also of many who had been Gentiles. The important point therefore was to exhort to mutual respect and forbearance one with another. The Gentile brother, that knew his liberty, was not to despite his Jewish brother, because he was still giving heed to certain distinctions, keeping days, etc. Nor was the Jew to judge his Gentile brother, because he did not abstain from meats and observe days. Remember, in speaking of these days, we are not to imagine that the apostle is alluding to the Lord's day, for it is an entirely new thing, having no connection either with creation or the law. The Sabbath was the rest of creation, and also the divinely-appointed and well-known sign between Jehovah and the Jewish people for ever, given them as a perpetual covenant, and separating them from all other nations. But the Lord's day has an entirely new character, spoken of in Scripture as the first day of the week. It belongs to the Christian only: Adam, man, the Jew, had nothing to do with it. So that when the apostle says, "He that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he regardeth it not," let us beware of allowing the evil thought that the Lord's day is included, and the keeping of it an open question. As for days or meats, Levitically distinguished, they are left to be regarded or not, according to spiritual intelligence. Not so the Lord's day; it may not fall under the form of an express command, but it is none the less obligatory, because it comes to us stamped with the Lord's will and recognition in various solemn and touching forms. It is the day on which He rose from the deed, the day on which He sanctioned, by His special presence, the coming together of the disciples, as the Holy Ghost afterwards led them thereon regularly, to break bread. So that there should be no question that the Lord's day is of the gravest importance, the understanding of which always goes with right thoughts as to the true grace of God in which we stand. The confusion of it with the Sabbath may have been adopted to strengthen its institution by deducing it from the law; but this is a complete fallacy, lowers and weakens its character, and is the fruit and the evidence of ignorance of the ground on which the believer now stands with God. In Galatians, instead of the exhortation to brotherly forbearance, which we find impressed on the saints at Rome, there is, on the contrary, amazing strength and vehemence, as is plain in chapters 3, 4. But of this more in its own place.
The apostle refers to his going up to Jerusalem. When he says, (chap. 1:18,) "After three years I went up to Jerusalem," it refers, I suppose, to his conversion as a starting point; and the "fourteen years after," in this chapter, would date from the same period. The important thing for the Spirit of God was to dispose of all pretence for connecting Paul's mission or ministry with Jerusalem. The principle of apostolic succession is thus cut off by implication. The years which elapsed before these visits, and yet more their character when he did visit Jerusalem, absolutely exclude all idea of derivation. "Then, fourteen years after, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation." This last circumstance is not mentioned in the Acts. It is the same occasion which is referred to there, (Acts 15,) though in a different manner. In Acts we are told, "certain men, which came down from Judea, taught the brethren and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When, therefore, Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." But when they arrived at Jerusalem, they found there the same party. "There rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses," clearly showing that it was within the bosom of the Church. And then we have the conference of the apostles and elders in presence of the whole Church about this matter. In Galatians 2 the Holy Ghost brings out the fact, not distinctly mentioned in the Acts, that on this occasion Paul took with him Titus, and went up by revelation: he had positive communication from God about it. In Acts, we have the christian motives that were brought to act upon him by others; but in Galatians he lets us know something deeper still — that he went up by revelation, beside his taking Titus. Whatever may have been the case with the others, this was also a fact of immense importance, because Titus was in no way a Jew. He was not even like Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess. Titus was a Greek. Timothy was something between the two; and therefore there seems to have been wisdom and grace in the apostle's very different line with regard to Timothy. He certainly stopped the mouths of those who might have raised questions about that young disciple founded on the law, though I do not say that, strictly speaking, Timothy would have come under it. It must be allowed, that it was not according to the law for a Jewess to be married to a Gentile. Titus, however, was, beyond doubt, a Greek. The apostle, in face of the twelve apostles, and of every one, brings up to Jerusalem with him this Greek who had never been circumcised. He was acting, in the boldest manner, on the liberty that he knew he had in Christ. And he adds further, "I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which are of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain." And then he merely drops by the way, in one of his pregnant parentheses, "But neither Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised."
Let us pay attention to the manner in which the Holy Ghost refers to Paul's communicating his gospel to those in Jerusalem; for this was a death-blow to the insinuation that Paul had received it after an irregular fashion. He adds also, "lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain." There was sufficient advance in truth in what the apostle taught, but he would not run the risk of making a split among the saints in Jerusalem. Had he been indifferent to the state of the saints, he would have brought out all the heavenly truth in which he was so far beyond the others. But there are two things that have to be taken account of in communicating truth. Not merely should there be certainty that it is truth from God, but it most also be suited truth to those whom you address. They might have needed it all, but they were not in a condition to receive it; and the more precious the truth, the greater the injury, in a certain sense, if it is presented to those who are not in a state to profit by it. Supposing persons who are under the law, what would be the good of bringing out to such the hope of Christ's coming, or of union with Christ? There would be no room for these truths in such a spiritual condition. When persons are still under law, not knowing their death to it in Christ's death and resurrection, they require to be established in the grace of God. This appears to be one reason why, in the epistle to the Galatians, the apostle never touches on those blessed truths. The wisdom of omitting them is apparent. Such truths would be unintelligible, or at least unsuitable, to souls in their state. To have developed them could have done them no good. There requires to be first the understanding of the complete putting aside of the law, and of our introduction in Christ into a new atmosphere altogether. The Lord had many things to tell the disciples when He was with them, but they were not able to bear them then. So the apostle tells the Hebrews that they had need of milk and not of strong meat: "for every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe; but strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even to those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." But they needed to be taught the first elements over again; yet that epistle was written not long before the destruction of Jerusalem. Nothing hinders the progress of saints so much as legal principles. The Corinthians had not been long converted, so that their ignorance was not surprising. But the Hebrews had been many years converted, and yet they were only occupied with the alphabet of Christianity. So that the real reason which hindered these Hebrew believers was, that they did not enter into their death to the law, and union with Christ risen. They were not even stedfast on the full foundation of Christian truth — the complete, eternal putting away of sins in the blood of Christ, They were not above the condition of spiritual babes.
The apostle, then, having referred to these facts, (to his having communicated his gospel to them, privately to those of reputation, and, withal, to his taking Titus with him, who was known to be a Greek, and yet not compelled to be circumcised) — leaves all this to have its weight upon the mind of the Galatians, giving also the reason, "And that because of false brethren, unawares brought in." If you read the third verse parenthetically, it adds to the clearness of the passage. He had gone up to Jerusalem, and communicated his gospel in this manner to the apostles, because of these false brethren unawares brought in He did not wish to go into controversy about truth which they were not able to bear, and yet he wished not to keep it back from those who could appreciate it. But he hints plainly what these false brethren aimed at, "Who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." This clearly shows the connection between legalism and the untruthfulness of such as come in privily to spy out the liberty they do not understand. "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you."
But now he goes farther, and refers, not to false brethren that were at work undermining the gospel by the law, but to those who took the most prominent place at Jerusalem "But of those who seemed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person; for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me; but contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter: (for he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me towards the Gentiles:) and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision." All the insinuations of these Jewish teachers, that there was not a substantial agreement between Paul and the other apostles, were thus disappointed. It turned out that Paul was the communicator, not Peter; and that the three chiefs there had given the right hand of fellowship to Paul.
They in no way controlled his ministry, but perceived the grace that was given to him. They felt, in fact, both as regards God and His power that wrought in Paul, that he and Barnabas were the most fitting persons to deal with the uncircumcision. The vast sphere of the heathen world was evidently for Paul and those with him, while they remained confined to their narrow circle. Paul is here destroying the effort of the enemy to put the Gentile believer under the law.
Next he takes yet another step. For while he shows the respect that Peter and James and John in Jerusalem had to himself and to his work, he does another thing still more disastrous to those who would impose the law on Gentiles. "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed." So far was Paul from being withstood by Peter at Jerusalem, that Peter gave him the right hand of fellowship. But when Peter was come to Antioch, Paul withstood him to the face. And this clearly was a thing well known. "For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles," which was a mark of communion with them, even now and everywhere the well-known sign of what is equivalent. I am not speaking here of eating the Lord's Supper, which is the highest symbol of communion; but, in ordinary life, to take a common meal together is the token of friendly feeling, and with Christians it ought specially to be so, for they are called to walk in everything with godly sincerity. Hence the importance attached to the act with people among Christians, and more especially in the face of Jewish separation from Gentiles, which, under the law, was God's command. Peter had been in the habit of eating with the Gentiles, a thought which no man, acting on Jewish principles, could have entertained; but when certain persona tame from James, "he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision." How marvellous is the influence of prejudices, of legal prejudices especially! Swayed thereby, Peter gives up his liberty, and no longer eats with the Gentiles: and this was the very chief of the apostles! Trifling as the act might seem, it was a weighty one in the eyes of God and of His servant. Paul was given to see that in this seemingly little thing the truth of the gospel was surrendered.
Let us consider how solemn and how practical a thing this is. In some simple matter of every-day life there may be a virtual abandonment of Christ and the truth of the gospel, a lie against His grace. It is well to bear in mind that, in a commonplace act, in a thing that might seem to be of no comparative importance, God would have us to look at things in their sources, as they touch the truth and grace of God. We are apt to make light of what relates to God, and to make what affects ourselves of great account. But God in His goodness would have us feel deeply what concerns Christ and the gospel, passing by what affects ourselves. Why should Paul thus rebuke Peter publicly! Was there not a cause? Was there not a crisis come in the history! Where Peter was acting as the apostle of the circumcision, there Paul speaks privately. But now, when the foundation of grace was concerned, the same man is bold as a lion, and withstands Peter to the face because he was to be condemned. There was no compromise, no timidity, no mere human prudence about the matter, no consideration of lids own character or Peter's, but there was the looking at Christ's glory in the gospel. It was in the very field where Peter was peculiarly responsible to his Master to maintain the truth, and there he had failed. Therefore the Apostle Paul stood on firm ground here, and acted fearlessly. He withstood Peter to the face, who did not show himself at all according to the Lord's new name, in this business. He was more like Simon-Barjonas than the rock-man, which he should have been. He had fallen back into his own natural ways; for ardour of nature is constantly given to reaction. What gave such strength to the apostle's remonstrance, was that this took place after that solemn conference at Jerusalem, where Peter took an active part to prove the liberty that God had given to the Gentiles; where he showed that God had made choice among them, that by his mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe it; where he had wound up his declaration by the remarkable words so galling to Jewish pride, and strengthening the Gentiles who might have been uneasy: "We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved even as they." He had taught, yea, in the face of the Jews, not that the Gentiles should be saved even as they, but that the Jewish believers should be saved even as the Gentiles. So that nothing could be stronger. He had no thought of treating the Gentiles as if they were only now blessed on some irregular and disputable tenure of mercy; for in truth, God was bringing out salvation to the Gentiles more clearly, if there was any difference. "We believe, that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved even as they." The Gentile salvation was made the very pattern of those who should be saved among the Jews. And what a sorrow that after all this, Peter should, even on this head, go astray! And Barnabas himself, not the companion of Peter, but of Paul — who had first discerned his worth and devotedness, and had joined him in so many labour.) among the Gentiles — who had been specially named as one of those who should go up to Jerusalem to set at rest this grave question; he was drawn away by the dissimulation of Peter and the rest! The Apostle Paul was not wanting to the occasion, and soon discerns that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel. But wherein had they shown this lack of uprightness? In ceasing to eat with the Gentiles. Thus, on a dinner depended the truth of the gospel. The simple act of eating or not eating with the Gentiles betrays one's heart as to the question of deliverance from the law.
So fatal a point was this, if allowed, that Paul says to Peter before them all, "If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" What had Peter been about? He had not, in any wise, maintained the law as a rule for the Jewish believers. Why, then, did he yield to an act which implied it among the Gentiles? If it was not so in Jerusalem, where God had of old bound it upon their conscience, what a turning away from the truth, that one who knew his deliverance should practically insist upon it at Antioch! This was the serious matter for which Paul rebuked Peter. And now he reasons upon it: "We who are Jews by nature and not sinners of the Gentiles," (the force of "we," as compared with "you," is necessary to be remarked in this epistle and elsewhere,) "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Bear in mind, also, that when the Apostle Paul dwells upon law, he does not confine his remarks to the Jewish law, but reasons abstractedly. He says and means not merely that you cannot be justified by the works of the law, but by no law at all. If there was a law that could justify, it must be the law of God divulged by Moses. But Paul goes farther, and insists that "by works of law" you cannot be justified. The law-principle is opposed to justification instead of being the means of it. He takes up the fact, that by these works of law no flesh can be justified.
But he proceeds to argue the point, and asks, "If while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid." That is, if professing faith in the Lord Jesus, you go back to the law, the effect is necessarily to bring you in a sinner. You have in truth sin in your nature, and the consequence is, that if you have to do with the law at all, this is the very condition in which you are left as a sinner after all. The law never gives deliverance from sin: as the apostle says elsewhere, "The strength of sin is the law." So that, if while you seek to be justified by Christ, you are found a sinner, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? This is the issue to which the law necessarily leads. It lays hold of sin. And therefore, if after you have got Christ, you are only found after all through the law to be a sinner, you, in effect, make Christ the minister of sin. Such is the necessary consequence of bringing in the law after Christ. The soul that has to do with the law never realizes its deliverance from sin; on the contrary, the law, merely detecting the evil, and not raising the soul above it, leaves the man powerless and miserable and condemned.
Some people talk of "a believing sinner," or speak of the worship offered to God by "poor sinners." Many hymns indeed never bring the soul beyond this condition. But what is meant by "sinner" in the word of God is a soul altogether without peace, a soul which may perhaps feel its want of Christ, being quickened by the Spirit, but without the knowledge of redemption. It is not truthfulness to deny what saints are in the sight of God. If I have failed in anything, will taking the ground of a poor sinner make the sin to be less, or give me to feel it more? No! If I am a saint, blessed with God in His beloved Son, made one with Christ, and the Holy Ghost given to dwell in me, then I say, What a shame, if I have failed, and broken down, and dishonoured the Lord, and been indifferent to His glory! But if I feel my own coldness and indifference, it is to be treated as baseness, and to be hated as sin. Whereas, to take the ground of a poor sinner, is really, though it may not be intended, to make excuses for evil. Which of the two ways would act most powerfully upon the conscience? which humbles man and exalts God most? Clearly the more that you realize what God has given you, and made you in Christ — if you are walking inconsistently with it — the more you feel the sin and dishonour of your course. Whereas, if you keep speaking about yourself merely as a sinner, it may seem lowly to the superficial, but it only becomes a kind of palliative of your evil, which in this case never humbles so thoroughly as God looks for in the child of faith.
Take another instance from forms of worship, which are constructed on that principle. The first thing is that they quote Scripture about a wicked man turning away from his wickedness. But if you can begin again every Sunday afresh as a Christian, and yet needing priestly absolution, it leaves room for the heart to act treacherously to the Lord all the rest of the week, beside being a virtual denial of the efficacy of His work. This is a very serious matter. The week's preparation for the sacrament is the same kind of thing. It is the wicked man turning away from his wickedness, renewing his vows and endeavouring to amend. Even in the third and fourth century, when they spoke about the Lord's Supper, they called it a "tremendous sacrifice," etc. All that completely ignores the very basis of Christianity, which is, that "by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." And by "them that are sanctified," I maintain that the Holy Ghost is speaking of all Christians, — of that separation which is equally true of all believers, whether churchmen or dissenters, or of those who, renouncing sectional ground, understand better, as I believe, what God wills about His Church. This will tend to show how very serious is the question of the law. There is no deliverance, where and while it is maintained, from the condition of a sinner. Christian worship is an impossibility under such circumstances. If this be the case, Christ becomes the minister of sin; because I am supposed to be left by Him under the bondage of my sin, instead of being delivered from it: "for if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor." That is, in going to Christ, I give up the law virtually; and if after all that, I go back to the law, then I make myself a transgressor. It is plain that if I am right now, I was entirely wrong before. Who was it made me give up the law? It was Christ. So that if I go back to the law, the gospel of Christ is the means of making people transgressors, and not of justifying them. The Galatians had never thought of this. But the Holy Ghost brings the light of His own truth to bear upon them, and shows what they were doing involved. The effect of enforcing the law was, virtually, to make Christ the minister of sin, instead of the deliverer from it!
But not so. "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." There he shows how it is that he was dead to the law. It was through the law. It was not mercy a thing done outside his own soul. He had gone through the question within most thoroughly. He had been under the law: and when God had quickened him, and conscience awoke under divine light, he realized what he had never dreamt before — his own utter powerlessness. "I through the law am dead to the law." He had felt truly his position as a sinner, and owns the killing, not quickening, power of the law. But then, this was of grace now, not judgment by and by. Hence, says the apostle, if I am dead by law, I am dead to law, and completely outside its reach. I am dead, and need die by it no more; I am dead to it that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live, "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Thus, in the soul of the apostle, we have law upheld in its utmost strength, and yet himself set free in Christ, and outside it In grace. So in Christ we have the same thing, at the end of Romans 3. "Do we, then, make void the law through faith? God forbid. Yea, we establish the law." How is it maintained? Christ's death was the strongest and most divine sanction the law ever had. It was the law laying hold of the Surety, and carried out to the full, in the person of Christ; so that its authority, as faith knows, has been perfectly made good in Him. It is fully carried out, and far, far more, too, in the death of Christ. But if you apply that Scripture to prove that the law is to be established over Christians as their rule of life, it is as ignorant as it is false. The law is the rule of death, not of life: and that is what Paul's experience proves. "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." How did he live unto God? Not in that old life, to which only the law applies, for he says he was crucified with Christ, who suffered in his stead. But Christ is risen, as well as dead, and risen, that Paul, that I, might live to God: no longer I indeed, but Christ lives in me — a wholly new life. The law touches the old life, and has no authority beyond it. The moment that I believe, I live, and the life is Christ, and it is founded upon the cross. And moreover, says he, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." I have, of course, my natural life here below, but that wherein I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God. The believer does live by looking, not at the law, but at Christ. Thus, there cannot be a more definitive setting aside of the law in every shape and form. The believer is ushered into a new state of being altogether — a life nourished by the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. It is Christ, not only characterizing the new creature, but as a living, loving person before the soul. Therefore he can say, "I do not frustrate the grace of God." But those did, who maintained the law for righteousness in any shape. "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." The effect of the law, even upon the believer, is, that he never rises by his own confession above the feelings and experiences of a sinner. He is always in that condition — always crying, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Whereas, when he enters into the glorious place that he has in Christ, he is able to say, "The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." He ought to say, O happy that I am! Christ has delivered me! "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." Such is the true and sure place of the Christian. Christ has indeed not died for nothing in such a case.