Galatians 1:6-24

 •  25 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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 forever 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 to speak, to spend more words than need required so. 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 then into the grace of Christ.” The evil and danger were not as 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, 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 has entered with the foundation, of which the apostle speaks in 1 Cor. 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. 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 I learn is the call for watchfulness and for 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 principle 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 calls 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. Now he reminds them of this. 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 which the Holy Ghost wrote in, 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 into 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 working 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 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, if one can avoid hearing it. 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 I know beforehand that the law is mingled with Christ, is sin. People may say, This is 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 any person weigh such a word as this, and then judge whether any language of mine can be too strong to 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. Persons will tell me that it was more—that, there, it was the mingling of the ceremonial law with grace, whereas now it is the moral law. 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 Lord's supper, 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 any other thing—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 learned 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 neighbors; 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 the foundation is worthless and false, and never can be 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. 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 a thing 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, hut a deliverance from this state 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 besides 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 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 so. 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 person of 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 Son of God in a heavenly and divine sense. Peter therefore was honored 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 Paul, the truth went farther. For if we have the Father revealing the Son to Peter, Paul goes yet beyond, mid 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. 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 learned at his conversion. Having all 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 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 Savior 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 entered into the subject of the Church being made one with Christ; Paul alone did. Therefore Paul was the only one that was in a position to say, “If you 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 brought out. 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 1 Col. 1 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 brings in 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 speaks so strongly against. No person ought to be condemned because he does not bring out 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 gospel—putting new wine into old bottles. Some may refer to the epistle of James; but James never brings out 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 conversion 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 have got a kind of Jerusalem, a center 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 honorable way. Here you have God Himself, when He calls a young man to a very special work, instead of summoning him to the apostles at Jerusalem, sending him away to 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.
“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. Afterward, 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.” He mentions these facts 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 quarreling with the richest mercy God had been showing them. 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 dishonor 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.