Galatia was evangelized by Paul during his second missionary journey. (Acts 16:6.) He revisited it on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23), strengthening all the disciples. On the first occasion he entered that province from Phrygia; for he started from Antioch to revisit first the assemblies established in Cilicia and Lycaonia. On the second occasion he passed through Galatia before he entered Phrygia, taking these provinces in the inverse order.
Probably it was after the second visit that he wrote his epistle to the assemblies of Galatia. We must say probably, because there is nothing known by which the exact date can be determined. But his language in Galatians 4:13-16 seems to throw some light on it, where he speaks of the warm way in which they had received him at the first, and how he had become their enemy because he told them the truth. Visiting the churches of Galatia a second time, his purpose was to establish them in the faith. Assuming that he found the germs of the evil, against which he writes, then working, his language in Galatians 4:16 would be plain. He had evangelized them on the first occasion. (Gal. 4:14.) He had warned them on the second occasion against the teachers and the doctrines, which they had now openly espoused and accepted; and he was in consequence regarded as an enemy where once he had been hailed as a true friend.
But if we cannot fix definitely the date, we see clearly the purport and the need of this epistle, addressed, as was no other of Paul's writings that we possess, to the assemblies of a province - the churches of Galatia; and differing from most, if not all, his other epistles, he wrote this with his own hand (Gal. 6:11), a proof of his love and earnest longing for their welfare; for he often employed an amanuensis to write for him. (Rom. 16:22.) "Ye see," he writes, "with what large letters" (not how large a letter) "I have written unto you with mine own hand." Another marked feature of this epistle is the style in which he introduces himself "Paul, an apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead." (Gal. 1:1.) He writes with all the authority of an apostle, or sent one, but not of men; for he carried to the Galatians no message from men, however pious or eminent in the church, as he afterwards shows. He was an apostle, but not by man. His official position was conferred on him by no human authority whatsoever. Apostles there were whose appointment dated from an earlier day than that to which Paul could point (Gal. 1:17); but from those, whom he owns fully, he received not his apostolic commission, nor the gospel which he preached. He was an apostle of Jesus Christ, one sent by Him, and by God the Father, who raised Him from the dead. An apostle of Christ he often styles himself, but here only does he add "of God the Father" also, and this addition is not without significance; for if the Judaizing teachers would attempt to draw a distinction between Christ and God, and to insist on the Galatian converts conforming to that which God gave to Moses, and through him made known to Israel (we refer now to circumcision - John 7:22), Paul would remind then that he was sent by God the Father as well as by the Lord Jesus Christ. He was an apostle from both. Hence no earlier revelations of the divine mind could override that communicated to him by God (Gal. 1:15, 16) and preached by him among the Gentiles.
But whilst writing as an apostle, and so in that position here standing alone, he connected all the brethren that were with him in his salutation to these saints, showing that his doctrine was such as others held. He then wishes them grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this "present evil age, according to the will of God and our Father." The Galatians were hearkening to Judaizing teachers, whose doctrines we read of in Acts. 15:1-5. The apostle reminds them at the outset of this letter that they had to do with Christ in resurrection, who had, therefore, no longer any connection with Judaism or ordinances suited for men in the flesh. He had risen out of it all, having first died on the cross, there giving Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of the present evil age. They were putting themselves under law to be made perfect in the flesh (Gal. 3:3), whereas deliverance from sin's power and the influence of the present evil age, as well as deliverance from guilt, was only to be effected by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. These few words at the opening of the epistle dealt a death-blow to all that teaching, which they were so readily and injuriously, imbibing.
But he would develop this, so he commences with reminding them first how he had received the gospel, beside which there was no other, whatever might be said or thought. What was now preached to them as gospel was different indeed from the glad tidings they had heard from him. It was a different heteron gospel, but it was not another allo; for there are not, there cannot be, two gospels of the Christ. The Judaizing teachers were perverting the gospel. But if an angel from heaven, or Paul himself, were to preach anything contrary to that which they had already received, all that the apostle could say was, "Let him be anathema." The full gospel he had preached to them. There was no other, nor could it be supplemented. In the gospel, then, which Paul preached we have the full gospel of God, the glad tidings concerning His Son, and in Paul himself the example of an uncompromising servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:10.)
Now whence did he get his gospel? He received it not from men, nor was he taught it, but by revelation of Jesus Christ; and this statement he verifies by a chapter out of his early history as a Christian. (Gal. 1:13-24.) Further, he acquaints them with the results of his conference with James, Peter (called here Cephas), and John, when he went up to Jerusalem fourteen years after his first visit.* He went up on this occasion by revelation, and conferred privately with the three above-mentioned, communicating to them the gospel which he preached, which they fully endorsed, adding nothing to it, only desiring that he should remember the poor, which, writes Paul, he had been forward to do. Conference, then, with those who seemed to be pillars added nothing to his gospel. Nor this only; they endorsed what he preached, and fully recognized that his field of service was the Gentiles. Besides this, he had taken with him on that occasion Titus, a Greek, and uncircumcised, and who was not compelled at Jerusalem to be circumcised, whatever the false brethren said. Now this historical relation puts the matter in a clear light. Was Paul an inferior apostle to the others? God had revealed His Son in him. He had received his gospel direct by revelation of Jesus Christ, and James, Peter, and John fully endorsed what he preached, and admitted that he was an apostle of the Gentiles, and allowed with him, the presence of Titus at Jerusalem being proof of it, that converts from amongst the nations had no need to be circumcised.
*This seems the most likely meaning. He had spoken of a set time after his conversion, when he visited Jerusalem to see Peter. (Gal. 1:18.) Fourteen years after that visit he went up there again.
As far as credentials could be adduced on behalf of any apostle Paul had them, and others of the apostles owned them. Further, at Antioch, in Syria, when Paul, and Peter, and Barnabas were there together, Peter having failed to maintain the truth for which he had contended at Jerusalem (Acts 15), was rebuked by Paul in terms which the apostle here recalls. (Gal. 2:14-21.) Peter, born a Jew, had lived as the Gentiles, the revelation made to him on the housetop at Joppa having taught him to call no man common or unclean. Why, then, did he now Judaize? Had he not, learning that a man is not justified by works of law, but by faith of Christ, believed on the Lord Jesus to be justified by faith of Christ, and not by works of law? For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. Now if, in seeking to be justified by Christ, they became sinners, as Peter's retrogression at Antioch would imply, Christ was the minister of sin; for He had taught them to do what Peter now by his conduct declared was wrong. The folly of Peter's act is thus clearly evidenced; for building the things he had destroyed he made himself a transgressor. Besides, as the apostle adds, "I through law have died to law, that I may live to God." So the truth for which Paul contended did not frustrate the grace of God; for "if righteousness come by law, Christ has died in vain." Into what grave peril had the truth been brought by Peter's weakness. Barnabas too was carried away. Paul alone stood firm. Just one strand of the rope preserved the whole from giving way. At that moment the testimony of God upon earth, humanly speaking, depended for its continuance on the faithfulness of one man.
With the second chapter the historical details needful for the matter in hand come to an end. Paul now addresses himself to the Galatians: "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth crucified? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in Spirit, are ye now made perfect in flesh?" (Gal. 3:1-3.) They had received the Holy Ghost. The fullest Christian blessing was theirs. On what principle had they received the Spirit, the attestation as God's seal that they were His? They knew. This at once should have settled the question for them. But as with them, so often with us, spiritual intelligence does not keep pace with the grace bestowed on the believer. So the apostle does not rest there; he proceeds to expose the error still further in a threefold manner.
First (Gal. 3:6-14) he contrasts faith and law, showing the principle on which God justifies. Next he contrasts law and promise, showing the ground on which the inheritance is secured. (Gal. 3:15-22.) Then he contrasts the condition of a saint under law with that of one who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Gal. 3:23 - 4:7.) If they would be justified by law, they never could be in the company of Abraham, nor be reckoned as his children; for he was justified on the principle of faith. But more, they put themselves under a curse, from which the Lord Jesus Christ by His death had delivered those believers who were once really under law. If they put themselves under law to obtain the inheritance, they would never get it; for God gave it to Abraham by promise. If they would put themselves under law, they put themselves under that from which all believers from among the Jews had been redeemed, in order to receive sonship; and only if they were Christ's could they be Abraham's seed.
The doctrine, then, that they were imbibing was all wrong, and senseless too, and subversive of the spirit and teaching of the gospel. It is instructive to remark how the apostle rests on the written word in Galatians 3, making good his points, as far as they could be substantiated, from the Hebrew Scriptures. It is equally instructive to learn that a believer on the Lord Jesus as such has the Holy Ghost, is justified by faith, will share in the inheritance, is of Abraham's seed, and a son and heir of God. The Galatians knew how they had received the Spirit. Paul here lets them know how those formerly Jews had received it. Turning then to Jewish ordinances to be justified was in principle a return to the condition of things out of which they had been brought by the gospel - weak and beggarly elements to which they desired again to be in bondage; for it was to principles suited to men in the flesh to which they were returning, who were really in the Spirit.
But what proof was there of their departure from the faith? He tells them, "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you," he adds, "lest I have bestowed on you labour in vain." (Gal. 4:10.) What a change too in their spirit towards him had come over them. (Gal. 4:11-20.) Would they wish to be under law? Let them read Abraham's history aright. If such was their desire, they must be thrust out of the house with Ishmael, instead of remaining inside with Isaac. But in truth they were, if Christians at all, children of the free woman, and on the burgess roll of the heavenly Jerusalem. Let them stand fast therefore, and not be again held in a yoke of bondage. (Gal. 5:1.) Accompanying this exhortation are three most solemn warnings -
1. "Behold, I say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing."
2. "I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law."
3. "The Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by law; ye are fallen from grace. For we by the Spirit, on the principle of faith, wait for the hope of righteousness."
In Galatians 2:20 Paul had spoken of being crucified with Christ. In Gal. 3:27 he wrote of those baptized as baptized unto Christ. In that same chapter he had stated (Gal. 3:28) that all believers were one in Christ. Now (Gal. 5:6) he teaches them a little more of what being in Christ really involves: "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love;" i.e. producing fruit by the activity of the divine nature. Now, was that seen in them? Alas, no! The results of their doctrine, for doctrine does produce results, was painfully evident. For the teachers of it he desired that they would cut themselves off; they were troubling the saints. Was that uncharitable, unchristian? How could it be unchristian to desire the real welfare of the saints? As for the Galatians, he desired that they should walk in the Spirit, by which means they would not fulfil the desires of the flesh; and the Spirit, he reminds them, was given for that purpose. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other, in order that ye should not do those things that ye would." (Gal. 5:17.) In connection with this a contrast is drawn out between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:19-23.) Now, those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. So if we live in the Spirit, we should walk in it likewise; and so doing, there would be care manifested for those overtaken in a fault, and thoughtfulness for those who are burdened. (Gal. 6:1, 2.) Thus they would fulfil the law of Christ. Putting themselves under law, self became rampant. Walking in the Spirit, the opposite effect would be produced, and charity or love abound. Let them care for those who taught them the truth, find do good to all, but especially to those that are of the household of faith.
Now he closes. Those false teachers boasted of their converts, whom they had influenced to be circumcised, glorying in their flesh. Paul would only boast in the cross of Christ, through whom the world was crucified unto him, and he unto the world. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is anything, nor uncircumcision, but new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. "From henceforth," he adds, "let no man trouble me." He bore in his body from what he had suffered for Christ - the evidences of what he had preached. "Brethren," for they were really Christians, is the salutation, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."
Thus he exposes the baneful error of putting oneself under law to be justified. It upsets the gospel, would separate the soul from Christ, and does not produce holiness.
C. E. Stuart.
He has said, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." The day may be one of trial, a hot day; the way weary - not a green thing there on which the eye can rest; the land a dry and thirsty one where no water is - not a single spring for the new man from the ground; but at the same time there is the rain from heaven - nothing can intercept that. God, who commands the heavens, can make the valley of Baca a well, and the rain also to fill the pools. "All our fresh springs are in God."
The object of the enemy is that the Christian should be as little of a Christian as possible.