Galatians 1:1-5

 •  25 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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 to merge it under ordinances and human authority-in a word, the Judaizing efforts of those 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 was not so much arising from ignorance; it was unfaithfulness; and there is a great difference. God is most patient towards mere want of light; but God 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 those. But the very same persons who are alive to the moral scandal may be dead to the evil that is a thousand times worse in the sight of God. Most people are sure to feel moral evil, partly because it affects themselves; whereas, in what touches the Lord, they always need to be exhorted strenuously, and 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 Galatians, as compared with the Corinthians, in proof of what I am asserting. There you would have seen, if you went 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 wrought. 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. And they united this ordinary meal along with the supper of the Lord; and one can understand that they might easily get excited; for we must remember that these believers had only just emerged from the grossness and darkness of heathenism. Drunkenness was most common among the heathen; they even made it a point of honor to get drunk in honor of their gods. These Corinthian saints must not be judged of by the light that persons afterward received; and, indeed, it is in great measure through the slips of the early believers that we have learned what Christian morality ought to be. They were like babes coming out of the nursery, and their steps were feeble and faltering. There were these ebullitions of nature that showed themselves among the heathen; and there were, besides, parties among them. Some were ranging themselves under one banner; some under another. They had their different favorites 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 walk. 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 people, we should 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 would startle you 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 to be 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. But observe the course with the Galatians. Now, why is it that to the disorderly Corinthians there were such strong expressions of affection, and none to the Galatians? In the Corinthians he calls them the church of God. “Paul, called to be an apostle.... 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 which 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,” &e. 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 here below. He speaks of them as the churches of Galatia; he does not associate them with any others, but they are put as naughty by themselves. He simply says, “All the brethren that are with me unto the churches of Galatia.” He does not speak of the saints generally, but of the brethren With him, his companions in service, whom he joins with himself in writing to the Galatians. He had a reason for this. Looking at the manner in which he speaks of himself, there 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),” &c. 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: he belonged to it, and 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 that once brought before us, as a godly old man residing at Damascus. God took special care to show that the apostle, called into a signally important place, the most momentous place of any man that ever was called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ—in the gospel—that Paul should be called without the intervention 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, preaches the gospel, and God at once owns him as His minister in the gospel, without any human interference. Such is the true principle of ministry.
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 do so. 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 they had 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. When a man has got a gift, he ought to be the last to talk about it. God knows how to make it respected in the long run. But when there are men who have grave and godly qualities without much gift, they need to be invested with authority, if they are to have weight with unspiritual people. Therefore it seems that 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. 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. There never was such a thing in apostolic days as a person appointed a teacher any more than a prophet. Among these elders there might be some of them evangelists, teachers, &c. Therefore it is said, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.” The presbyters or elders, whose business it was to rule, even if they were not teachers, were in danger of being despised. But they were to be counted worthy of double honor. If they ruled well, they were to be honored, and specially they who labored in the word and doctrine. Several of them, besides being elders, were also teachers, and such would have superadded claims on the esteem of the saints. I do not 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 exercise of ministry—pastors, teachers, &c., &c. Such were never appointed by man in any shape whatever. The whole body of Scriptural ministers is entirely independent of ordination. The human part only entered in the case of deacons, who looked to external things, just because they might not have sufficient power otherwise to make itself felt. The elders appear to come under a similar principle. And the weight of the apostles who had chosen them would give them a place in the minds of people generally.
The case of Timothy is very 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 is called to such a work as that. 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 that he was an apostle chosen by man. The Holy Ghost declares here that he was “an apostle, not of men, neither by man.” What I draw from this is, that what took place at Antioch was in no sense ordaining him to be an apostle. He was an apostle before. He was a chosen vessel from his birth. And for several years before hands were laid on him, he had been preaching, and was one of the recognized teachers. I believe that this laying on of hands was the setting them apart for the special mission on which they were just about to go out, to plant the Gospel in new countries. So that when the Holy Ghost said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them,” it does not mean, Separate them to the work of God from the beginning. The Apostle Paul had been for years teaching the saints before this. It was 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 to go there; and that they, in order to show their concurrence and sympathy, were to meet together with prayer and fasting, to lay their hands upon the brother who was going thither—this would be quite Scriptural. It is what has been done in such cases. But that is not ordaining. It is merely the recommendation to the grace of God of persons already gifted for the work.
But what I believe to be so unscriptural, and indeed positive sin, is the having a certain ceremony through which a man must pass before he is recognized as properly a minister of Christ. That is a positive imposture, without one shred of Scripture to stand upon. 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 which the Roman Catholics 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 ministers of Christ, 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 a subject which lies at the core of Judaism, and it is the greatest conceivable check to the energy of the Holy Ghost in the church at the present time. Persons 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 evils come out of it! The pope himself comes out of it: because if you have got priests, you naturally want a high priest; if you have got the sons of Aaron, you need Aaron represented. The pope was set up on that very ground, and the whole system of popery depends upon it. “Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man,” 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; it must be through the apostles. God was striking a death-blow at the notion of apostolic succession. He was most graciously shutting out for every spiritual man any pretense of this evil thing. The Galatians were probably troubled and perplexed that there should be Paul, 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, but also as the medium— “by Jesus Christ, and by God the Father who raised him from the dead.” So that there is another blow at the secessionists. They had been drawing a contrast between Paul and the other twelve apostles, to the disadvantage of Paul. 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 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 simply says, “We believe, and therefore speak.” He takes it upon the simplest and the best ground—if a man knows the truth, let him speak of it. There was no need for waiting for anything. It is to that the Lord works in the Church. Hence, in speaking about ministry in Ephesians, where we have it in the highest possible forms, on what does he found it? Upon 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 fullness 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 ministry. I reply that it does: because the Holy Ghost teaches us through the Apostle Paul, that whether you come down from apostles to prophets, or 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 apostles. It is plain that in this we do not differ from any section of the Christian church; 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; but you may have certain persons that have got the qualifications of elders, and such ought to be owned; but to imitate the appointment of an elder, 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 blasphemous. 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 “who 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—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 taken out of the world by the death of Christ, and sent into it by the resurrection of Christ; but sent into it as not of it, yea, not so much of it as an angel. The death of Christ put us completely outside the world. The resurrection of Christ sends us into it again, as new creatures, as messengers of the peace of God, 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 were not 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 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, that 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 honor 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 that is because they put themselves under the law. If I have to do with the will of God my Father, I have got 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—not the law; but the cross of Christ. God says, I have got Christ in heaven; I am occupied with the Only One who has over 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 our dangers of the present day, which takes the form of reviving succession and religious ordinances as a means of honoring 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.