The Inspiration of the Scriptures: Galatians

Galatians  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Who can doubt the special aim of the Holy Spirit in this characteristic letter? It is not, like that to the Roman saints, a systematic establishment of God's righteousness in the gospel, on the plain and full proof of man's universal failure. Here we have the vindication of Paul's apostolate and of the gospel of grace against the Judaisers. It is a standing witness, on the one hand, how quickly the professing Christian is apt to surrender even the foundations of his blessedness to legalism; and on the other, of the Holy Spirit's care to raise the divine standard against the enemy, and rally men of faith around it. For God has here given us His own refutation of that early encroachment, so ruinous to the enjoyment of His grace, of Christ's work, and of the believer's standing and power. The Epistle is characterized by unusual severity of warning from first to last, and a total absence of those individual salutations in brotherly kindness which abound wherever it was possible. Not even the loose levity of the Corinthians troubled the apostle's spirit so profoundly, as the fall of the Galatians from grace.
Chap. 1 opens with Paul, “apostle not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him out of the dead, and all the brethren with me.” The legal party objected that he was not of the twelve, nor yet ordained by them in due succession. The apostle confronts this with the fact that the Lord Jesus and God the Father expressly called him to the apostleship in an immediate way and with resurrection's associations; and that all the brethren with him joined in his words now. Even his wonted form of general salutation has the stamp of the truth the Galatians were imperiling. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory unto the ages of ages.” In vers. 6-10 he bursts like lightning on their central error. “I wonder that ye so quickly change from him that called you in Christ's grace unto a different gospel, which is not another: only there are some that trouble you and desire to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Such as preached aught else, were it himself or an angel or any, he anathematizes. It were but pleasing men, which would make him not to be Christ's bondman as he was.
Next, he asserts direct revelation for the gospel he preached, affirmed already for his apostolic authority. It had shone on him, when devoted to the law and a persecutor of the church of God. But His grace revealed His Son in him, that he might preach Him among the Gentiles. The essential design was that he should not take counsel with flesh and blood, not even with the apostles before him. So he went elsewhere, and even when he did go up to Jerusalem, it was but for a short visit to Cephas, and seeing only James the Lord's brother, as he solemnly averred; afterward he went to Syria, and Cilicia; so that he was only known in Judea by the report, to God's glory by him, that the persecuting Saul now preached the faith he once ravaged.
In chap. 2 the apostle furnishes fresh light in this connection on his memorable visit with Barnabas to Jerusalem, when he took Titus with him Assuredly it was to receive neither authority nor truth. He went up by revelation, which is nowhere else intimated, but characterizes his special place. Nor was it apostles who laid before him the gospel, but he before the chiefs, privately, what he preached among the Gentiles. Could any say he was running or had run in vain? Nor was it entertained to circumcise Titus, whatever bondage false brethren might desire to impose. Add to the gospel, and its truth continues no more. It was seen by the reputed pillars that He, who energized Peter for the apostleship of the uncircumcision, energized Paul also for the Gentiles. God's order for both and grace given to Paul being recognized, James and Cephas and John gave Paul and Barnabas right hands of fellowship, only with due remembrance of the poor, in which Paul was zealous too.
But from ver. 11 he goes farther, and recounts his open resistance of Peter at Antioch because he was condemned. What a rock for the church, if Christ had really resigned His place to His servant! Away with a pretension so blasphemous, ignorance so deplorable. Christ alone was and is the Rock. Peter shilly-shallied when certain came from James; “and the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation.” How solemnly instructive for the Galatians, for all other Christians and ourselves also! “They did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” is the unsparing censure of the apostle. What a withering rebuke of their own folly in listening to the adversaries of him and the gospel! His argument is unanswerable, and stands in abiding record. “If thou being a Jew livest Gentilely and not Jewishly, how forcest thou the Gentiles to judaize?”
It was grievous inconsistency in Peter, who on a most critical occasion proved himself not only feeble as a reed, but false to the Lord's charge in Acts 10 and his own faith, afraid of those he ought to have fed and guided aright. It was flinching from the common standing of justification by faith, and not by law-works even for born Jews. But the worst of all remained; for he had left law for grace in Christ to justify him, and, in turning his back on this now, he not only made himself a transgressor, but in effect Christ a minister of sin! Paul on the contrary for the Christian says, Through law I died to the law, for all was met in Christ crucified. The sinner was in Him condemned, that he should go free, the flesh only and utterly dealt with by God for him who believes; and himself living, no longer the old I, but a new life, Christ living in him: a life in faith of the Son of God “Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Adding law makes void the grace of God; for if righteousness be through law, Christ in that case died gratuitously.
As chap. 2 ends with the great truth of Christ living in the Christian by faith in the Son of God, in contrast with the law, so chap. 3 shows that the reception of the Spirit was not by works of law but by report of faith. How senseless then to perfect in flesh, with which law deals, what they began in Spirit! Thence he turns in ver. 6 to Abraham who believed and had not the law, but the promise, “In thee all the nations shall be blessed,” but solely by faith. For as many persons as are by works of law are under the curse; for which Deut. 27 is cited. There, when the two mountains were taken by six tribes on each for blessing and curse, only Ebal had the curses, and not a word of the blessings on Gerizim! Granted that in fact the blessings were pronounced on the appointed mountain; in effect, as God knew, it must fail; and hence the silence of this inspired book. On the principle of law there is no blessing but curse for sinful man. “The just shall live by faith,” as Hab. 2:4 testifies when all was ruin; where in vain law held out living to him that shall have done its demands. But Christ has redeemed from out of the curse by having become a curse, as elsewhere Deuteronomy attests (21); that the blessing might come unhindered, the promise of the Spirit through faith (1-13).
Then in a deep unfolding the notion of annexing law to promise is excluded. For the promises were addressed to Abraham, and to his seed, 430 years before the law, and hence cannot be annulled by it. The promise was in grace. Law was added for the sake of transgressions till the Seed came to Whom was made the promise, which has no mediator like the law with Moses between God and man. There are two parties in law, one of them sinful; there is but one in promise, God, and therefore all is sure in the end. They are not against each other, as they must be if joined: each serves its proper aim. There is no righteousness by law; but the promise by faith of Jesus Christ is given to believers. Law was but a servile child-guide; but we are all, Gentiles as well as Jews, God's sons by faith in Christ Jesus; and Him it is, not law, we put on in baptism, in Whom there can be no distinction in the flesh; and if of Christ, we are Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise (14-29).
In chap. 4 the apostle points out the immense change wrought for the saints through Christ's work and the sending of the Spirit. Previously the heir, a child or infant, did not differ from a slave under the elements of the world; but now he was redeemed by the Son and became a son. And so were the Gentile believers, sons with the Spirit in their hearts crying, Abba, Father. Such is the true relationship of the Christian (1-7). For Gentile saints, after being known of God, to turn to the weak and beggarly elements (i.e., of the law) was really a return to their idolatry in principle. “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you lest I bestowed upon you labor in vain. Be as I [am], for I [am], as ye, brethren, I beseech you: ye have not injured me at all” (8-12). He was freed from law by Christ's death. They as Gentiles had nothing to do with law. They inflicted no wrong in saying so of Paul. Compare Rom. 7:6 and Gal. 2:19. How the new delusion had alienated them from him I Had he become their enemy by telling them the truth? Their zeal should not be only in his presence (13-18). They needed that he should travail again in birth to have Christ formed in them (19).
“Tell me ye that desire to be under law, do ye not hear the law?” Then he speaks of Abraham's two sons: one by a bondwoman, the other by a free woman, one born after the flesh, as the other by promise, allegorizing the two covenants, and answering respectively to Jerusalem in bondage, and to free Jerusalem which is above, our mother, entitled to rejoice after desolation. We then, as Isaac, are children of promise, and persecuted by him born after the flesh as of old. “Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (21-31). How convincingly the tables were turned on these retrogradists from grace to the law!
The beautiful use, which the apostle drew according to divine design from the story of Sarah and Isaac on the one hand, and on the other of Hagar and Ishmael, leads into the teaching of chapter 5, the freedom with which Christ freed us. So, therefore, is the Christian to stand, and not be entangled again in a yoke of bondage—the enemy's effort. To receive circumcision was to become debtor to do the whole law and to fall from grace: Christ would profit nothing in that case. We, believers, are justified by faith, and by the Spirit on the same principle of faith we await, not righteousness but its hope, even the glory into which Christ is gone. For in Him neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails aught, but faith working through love; as of God it ever does. Who stopped them when running well, that they should not obey the truth? The persuasion was not of Him that called them. It was a corruption tainting the lump as a whole. For his part, his confidence as to them was in the Lord, that they would have no other mind; and their troubler whosoever he be shall bear the judgment (or, guilt). “And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why am I yet persecuted? Then is done away the offense of the cross.” For Judaism was ever his sleepless foe. Indignantly he adds, “I would that those who unsettle you would even cut themselves off” (vers. 1-12).
“For ye,” he says emphatically, “were called for liberty” —on that condition. “Only [use] not liberty for occasion to the flesh, but through love serve one another” —the gist of the whole law. Were they fulfilling it in biting and devouring one another? To walk in the Spirit (which grace gave, not law) is to fulfill in no way flesh's lust. No doubt the flesh opposes, but so does the Spirit, that we may not do the things which we would: a scripture perverted in the A. V. But if led by the Spirit, they are not under law: grace is the spring. “Now manifest are the works of the flesh, such as fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, enmities, strife, jealousies, angers, contentions, divisions, sects, envyings, [?murders], drinkings, revels, and such like; of the which I forewarn you, as I forewarned you, that they who do such things shall not inherit God's kingdom.” Could they not recognize these sad traits of late? Law acting on flesh provoked them. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control: against such things is no law.” Did they really know this fruit familiarly? “And they that are of Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and its lusts. If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also direct our steps. Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another.” What can approach these burning words which close the chapter? The Spirit is the power of good, not the law, moral any more than ceremonial. Law's power is to slay sinners.
The next chap. (6) follows it up. Even if a man be overtaken in some fault, does the remedy lie in the law? In nothing but grace. “Ye that are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted.” The general rule is, to bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ, if they desired a law. The flesh boasts, and only deceives itself while burdening others. Faith proves its own work without claiming that of another. Each shall bear his own burden. Meanwhile there is ample room for love, as for the learner in the word toward the teacher in all good things (ver. 6). God holds to His order: whatever a man sows, this shall he also reap, —corruption from the flesh, from the Spirit life eternal. Let us not be fainthearted then in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not. So then as we have opportunity (season), let us work good toward all, and specially toward the household of faith.
The conclusion is touching. “Ye see in how great letters I write to you with my hand.” He habitually employed an amanuensis, as was usual in those days. To the Galatians he would write himself; and so in large uncouth letters he wrote the entire Epistle. (Contrast with the aorist here the present in 2 Thess. 3:17). Once more he thunders against those who would revive flesh and restore law and circumcision to the denial of the cross of Christ. In that cross only would he glory; which put shame on the world, and he accepted its shame with Christ. In Him is new creation. This is the rule for our steps; and peace be on such and mercy, and upon those of Israel who are really God's. Let none trouble him henceforth: he bore in his body the marks of suffering for Christ, whose grace, he prays, to be with their spirit. It is controversial throughout, yet with the deepest feelings of love underneath.