T. H. Reynolds.
Christian Friend vol. 18, 1891, p. 202.
The first great point which the Spirit of God establishes in this epistle is, that the gospel of Christ as preached by the apostle Paul had neither been received by him from man, nor is it in its character according to man. The law was addressed to man in the state and condition in which he had been set as a creature responsible to God in this world. Had it been possible for him to keep it, it would have established him in his present status as alive in this earth. The gospel proposes something totally different; it comes to us to take us out of this present evil world by associating us in resurrection with the blessed Saviour who gave Himself for our sins. The gospel (not being after man) proposes no amelioration or bettering of our present sinful condition. This is always a difficulty until we understand the grace of God; because the very sense of our own sinfulness, and that righteousness and holiness befit the presence of God, tend to produce in us the effort (and the more honest we are and sensitive as to the claims of God on us, the greater the effort) to try and be what we think we ought to be for Him. Hence Judaism, or the Jew's religion, as it is here called, in which Paul once excelled, always commends itself to man, because he seeks thereby to improve his present condition, and the more he becomes a proficient in it, as Paul did, the more it ties him to that condition in the pride which pleases self, but in which he cannot find the satisfaction he seeks.
Now God has brought in a wholly new state for man, outside of this present evil world, by raising the precious Saviour who died for our sins out of that death which is also the judgment of God on the old and sinful state, and the end of it before Him. Paul's apostleship was connected with this new condition into which the gospel entrusted to him introduces the believer. He is careful to establish his apostleship. He was not merely a servant of the Lord teaching certain doctrines which he had learnt from others, however true they might be; but what he preached he had received by revelation, and the gospel was entrusted to him by divine commission. He had not been sent out by the other apostles to preach truths communicated to them, or of which they were witnesses as having companied with the Lord on earth, but his commission was from Jesus Christ Himself after He had been received up into the glory of God. Hence his apostolic office was immediately connected with that glory where man in Him now had a place. He had received it from Christ in glory, but also from God the Father, who in raising Him from the dead had thereby established His own glory and righteousness in connection with man.
It is this direct commission which enabled the apostle to use such strong language as this: "If any preach unto you another gospel . . . let him be accursed." To preach another would not be mere disagreement with Paul, but setting aside what had been divinely committed to him by the glorified Man, and by God the Father who raised Him from the dead. We need not wonder that the apostle marvels that the Galatians had so soon removed from Him that called them in the grace of Christ, and were accepting Judaising teachers who perverted Christ's gospel. These teachers were seeking to please men, but were troublers of the saints. But Paul did not use persuasion which would adapt itself to man so as to conciliate or please him. Had he done so he would not have been the servant of that Christ whom man had put to death and rejected, and whom God had glorified. It was God, whose gospel it was, that he desired to satisfy in the service entrusted to him, so that the pure, fresh stream of the truth of the gospel might not fail in his hands, nor its rich and precious grace be frustrated.
It is interesting to note the kind of person to whom the revelation of this gospel was made, and also what is the subject of it. Paul was a proficient in Judaism, and in whatever measure it had profited him according to the flesh, just so much had it set him in direct opposition to God, and to that which God was now forming outside of Judaism and the religion of the flesh - His assembly. He had persecuted the church of God beyond measure and wasted it. Thus Paul was in his own person the exemplification of man's hostility to that gospel which substituted another Man - the once crucified but now glorified Saviour - for the man who had profited most by Judaism. He was convicted of being the greatest opposer of Christ. Such an one it seemed good to God to call. From the earliest moment of his history he had been marked off by God as an elect vessel in whom He would put the revelation of His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ in glory. At the moment when called by grace the vessel was filled with the pride and self-esteem of one who was striving to be blameless in character, but hating Christ. Then and there the light of the glorified Man, the Son of God, shone in and filled the vessel; and in that light Paul saw that he, the chief of legalists, was the chief of sinners. The greater the legalism the more intense the opposition to Jesus, but the light which shone in revealed in him the peerless person of Jesus, the Son of God.
"Oh Man! God's Man! Thou peerless Man!
Jesus my Lord! God's Son!
Perfection's perfect in its height,
But found in Thee alone."
Mark here, it is not merely revelation to a person, however blessed that might be; such had been given to Peter. The Lord distinctly announced, in Matt. 16:17, that the Father had revealed to Peter the person of Jesus as the Son of the living God, but with Paul it went farther; it was a light that shone in and displaced the man whose status was flesh and blood, and brought into Paul the revelation of another Man who was not after flesh and blood at all - a glorified Man - the Christ who henceforth lived in him. The revelation to Peter was of the same character, in that it was not of flesh and blood, but of the Father. But as only made to him it had no displacing power; and immediately after Peter had made such a beautiful confession, the Lord had to say to him, "Thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." We know that this fuller revelation in a man could not be made until the ground for it had been established by the passing away morally in the cross of the first and sinful man under the judgment of death, so that another Man might take his place, and the believer be characterised by such a revelation.
Hence the gospel which Paul was divinely commissioned to preach was not merely the announcement of certain truths; it was concerning the person who had been revealed in him. The Jesus who had appeared to him in heavenly glory he preached as the Son of God; and the gospel came to the Gentiles in the power of the revelation made to him, so that they might be brought into the light of the glory of God, where flesh is seen to be utterly bad and condemned, but in which there is for man life, righteousness, and glory. Paul having received such a revelation, had not dimmed it by conferring with flesh and blood. Flesh and blood could not have any part either in revealing it or helping it. The second Man is the heavenly Man, and now in glory is outside the domain of flesh and blood, and hence we are to bear the image of the heavenly One in a kingdom which flesh and blood cannot inherit. The gospel which has brought us the knowledge of forgiveness of sins, has brought also the revelation of the Son of God in us, and thus places us in connection already with another kingdom; for "as is the heavenly One, such also are the heavenly ones"; while it takes us morally out of the world, for "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"
For more than 1800 years the Holy Ghost has been down here as the witness of the glory of Christ, and in opposition to His testimony has been the working of Satan to turn the eyes of the saints, as of old with the Galatians, back to Judaism in some form. It is still the danger of today, because the old "I" is reinstated thereby, instead of being reckoned as crucified with Christ, and the new and heavenly Man whose image we are to bear becoming the Object before us.
"And is it so; I shall be like Thy Son?
Is this the grace which He for me has won?
Father of glory (thought beyond all thought!)
In glory to His own blest likeness brought."
It only remains to notice that it was three years after the revelation that the apostle went up to Jerusalem and made the acquaintance of Peter and James. What had passed between the Lord and himself qualified him without any reference to the other apostles to preach the faith which once he destroyed. In the wisdom of the ways of God the gospel preached by Paul went forth from Antioch to the Gentiles, linking them with no other centre than the heavenly glory where Christ is.
In this chapter Paul speaks of his second visit to Jerusalem. The occasion of his going there is given in Acts 15. Judaising teachers were saying that unless the Gentiles were circumcised according to the custom of Moses they could not be saved. This produced a commotion among the brethren, and no small discussion on the part of Barnabas and Paul, with those who were thus troubling the saints. Finally it was arranged that Paul a,: d Barnabas should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders there about this question. It was the wisdom of God that these Judaising teachers should be silenced in the very centre and stronghold of Judaism. But if we see from the record of this visit in the Acts the necessity of this question being gone into and settled at Jerusalem, from the chapter before us we learn how fully Paul was supported by God in maintaining the truth of the gospel committed to him. He had received it by revelation, and by revelation he went up to Jerusalem and put before those who were there the gospel which he preached (privately to those of reputation), while they communicated nothing to him; and the three pillars of the assembly at Jerusalem acknowledged the special grace given to him by giving to himself and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. Two points were established by this visit: First, that the Gentiles were not to be brought under the yoke of bondage; so that, secondly, the truth of the gospel as Paul preached it might abide with them, that they might be free in the liberty wherewith Christ had freed them.
It is remarkable that the three apostles who speak of being born again are the three pillars of the Jewish assembly here mentioned. The Jews were a people already in relationship with God, being the children of the covenant made with the fathers. To them specially the Spirit of God speaks of an entirely new beginning in man; even a Jew must be born again. (John 3:7.) Now the Gentiles were afar off, strangers to the covenants of promise and without God in the world. There was no question of their alienation and distance: even Christ, according to the flesh, did not come to them. He could only be presented to them in death as the propitiation for their sins, and when lifted up out of the earth to draw all men to Him. Reconciliation to God was by the death of Christ, but the Christ who died to sin once, being raised from the dead, now lives to God in a new condition of life for man, and Paul therefore can speak of the believer as alive to God in a wholly new way - as a man "out of dead alive." (Note to New Translation, Rom. 6:13.) No doubt new birth, though not directly spoken of, is included in this doctrine of Paul's, but the truth of being alive in Christ Jesus goes further than a new beginning by God in the soul. Indeed, Paul's gospel carries us beyond the truth of a man morally alive out of death, blessed as that is, for the millennial saints will be brought into the experience of such a state, as Ps. 116 and other scriptures show; but now there is also an altogether new man, the result of Jew and Gentile being quickened together with Christ out of death, and formed in Himself into one new man. We cannot underrate the importance of a new and holy nature capable of divine affections being communicated to the soul; but in order to the freedom of that nature which, as it loves Him that begat, loves also him that is begotten of Him, it was necessary that the middle wall of partition should be taken away, and thus all enmity be done away between Jew and Gentile. This was effected in the death of Christ, and now in Christ there is a new man before God, and holy and blessed affections can have their play - bowels of mercies, graciousness, humbleness, meekness, etc.; for there is neither Jew nor Gentile, no distinction of race or nation, no conflicting interests to hinder, but Christ is all, and in all. The revelation of the Son of God in Paul had discovered to him, strict Jew as he was, that Judaism was ended in the cross, and in his own soul a new man, the risen and glorified Saviour - the Son of God, was now known. That One Paul preached in the blessed and glorious liberty in which every one in whom the grace of God works is associated with Himself.
At Jerusalem then Paul maintained the truth of the gospel entrusted to him, which presented a Saviour in glory. In that light Jerusalem and Judaism were nothing; while by it Jew and Gentile were shown to be brought into the fulness of blessing in Christ Jesus. Afterwards, at Antioch, he had to withstand Peter to the face because he walked not according to the truth of the gospel, by reviving the distinction between Jew and Gentile, and so practically going back to the ground of what man is in the flesh. On that ground he and Peter were "Jews by nature," and the believers at Antioch "sinners of the Gentiles." But both Peter and Paul had given up legalism to be justified by the faith of Christ. Law could not justify the flesh; it could only condemn it. They had abandoned law for Christ; for justification has been established in Christ now that He is risen from the dead, not in law. The apostle is not speaking here of the work which justifies, but contends that justification does not, could not, belong to the state of things connected with law, but to that which has been established in Christ. Now if Peter was right in reviving Judaism, he had been wrong in using the liberty which was in Christ to eat with Gentiles, and Christ was the minister of sin. That could not be, and Paul's boldness in withstanding Peter was necessary. He now shows how mightily the truth of the gospel he preached affected himself. Peter, in withdrawing himself from the Gentiles through fear of man, had not been dominated by the truth, and was building again the things he had destroyed, for, in order to be justified, he had given up Judaism for Christ, and yet was reviving it again. "I," says Paul emphatically, "through law have died to law, that I may live to God." The law had been death to him, for it discovered in him the sin which, taking occasion by the commandment, slew him. He had hoped for life by it, and found death; but being thus dead through the law, he had, as having believed in Christ, died to it. By death he had passed out of the state connected with law, that he might live to God.
Let us not be mistaken as to the force of this last expression. It does not mean a man still in that old and sinful state to which the law was addressed, trying to live for God, but that just as Christ, who once came under law, had died out of that condition among men into which He had entered by grace, and in which He was on the cross made sin, and now lives to God in a life which has nothing to say to law or sin (for "in that He liveth, He liveth unto God"), so it is the privilege of the believer to reckon himself as dead to sin and law, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. What words can unfold the deep blessedness expressed in the words, "He liveth unto God." In the energy and power of that life "to God" Paul knew his freedom from law.
It is sometimes helpful to see the dawning of the elements of a truth in the Old Testament. For thirteen years Hagar and Ishmael had been in Abram's house. Ishmael was the fruit of the flesh struggling to obtain the promise of God, a figure of man under law - and during that period Abram had to live with Hagar and Ishmael. Then (Gen. 17) in the sovereignty of love and grace the Lord appeared to him, and said unto him, "I am the Almighty God; walk BEFORE ME." Here He was not undertaking or promising to do anything for Abram, but putting him before Himself, revealed as the all-sufficient One; for the word almighty carries with it not only the idea of omnipotence but of sufficiency. God suffices, we may reverently say, for Himself. No creature can. He alone does. What a full and eternal fountain of blessing in Himself was contained in the revelation of His name! And what sovereignty of grace in putting Abram before Himself, to walk there with an undistracted heart! Abram's path from henceforth lay in a new region into which he had been introduced - the all-sufficiency of the almighty God.
But in our epistle we have more than the elements of such a wonderful place. We have the development of the truth, by which we see a man like Paul empowered to enter into and enjoy it. He was alive in the nature proper to such a place. As to law, by which he formerly sought to regulate his life in the flesh, through it he had died that he might live to God, but how could he, having sinful flesh, live in this blessed life? Not only had the law been the means of death to him, but upon the cross Christ had suffered the judgment of God upon the sin in the flesh which law found out and condemned. Paul accepted this judgment fully - the judgment of himself in the cross. "I am crucified with Christ," he says; but then in the power of life, Christ having been raised out of all the death and judgment, "He liveth unto God," and therefore Paul adds, "Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." It was by Christ living in him that he lived to God. The old "I" was not reckoned to be alive, it had been crucified with Christ, and the new "I" was Christ, who lived in him in the power of a life which belongs to the state where Christ liveth to God. Other passages show in what a full and blessed way Paul through grace knew the effect of Christ living in him. "If I be beside myself" (or rather outside myself), he says, "it is to God." Again, "The love of Christ constraineth [has hold of ] us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." Thus we see the character of this life. He further adds, "But in that I now live in flesh" - for in a certain sense living to God had nothing to do with flesh at all - "I live by faith." Perhaps the time when he most realised what it is to live to God was the moment when, as a man in Christ, he had been caught up into Paradise, and could not tell whether he was in the body or not, but actually he still lived in flesh, and therefore he had to live as in flesh by faith. He had to walk in the path of daily service as appointed by the Lord, whether preaching the Gospel or making tents, but the motives were not found in the circumstances of his daily path; his springs of action in them were outside that which is seen - he lived by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him, and gave Himself for him. Thus in the ordinary details of his life here he walked in faith; no doubt the revelation of the Son of God in him greatly strengthened that faith, still it was faith in the blessed Person who was both its source and object - the Son of God, who loved him, and gave Himself for him.
"I do not frustrate," says Paul, "the grace of God." There is nothing we are so afraid of as grace. We are such poor little creatures that we are afraid to trust its immensity. Then we are afraid of its claims, for it must necessarily appropriate us to itself according to its immensity for its own eternal purposes. Righteousness has been established in the very glory of God as an answer to the death of Christ. If righteousness could come by law then Christ had died in vain or for nothing. But His death was according to divine purpose, and in the deepest grace to sinful man. The grace which gave Him to die for us has given to us in Him life, righteousness, and glory.
Two subjects are specially before us in this chapter. First, that in contrast to law and flesh these Galatians had received the Spirit of God; for as law characterised Judaism, so does the Holy Spirit characterise Christianity. Secondly, that every blessing came to them according to grace on the principle of faith, and is known and enjoyed by the power of the Spirit.
Christ had been plainly set before the eyes of the Galatians - crucified. It was not the Saviour on earth preaching glad tidings and going about doing good; as such He had been rejected and slain. It was Christ crucified - such a truth spoke plainly of the sin of man under the law, for the Jews used the law to kill the Holy and Just One. They said, "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die." How then go back to Judaism? But if it spoke plainly of the sin of man having been fully consummated, it told also of the love of Him who had been crucified, in giving Himself for our sins. It told also of the believer once under death and condemnation being set free, in that Christ had gone into death and borne the judgment and condemnation. Moreover justification, life, promise, adoption, the inheritance, were all connected with the gospel, which portrayed before the eyes of the Galatians Christ crucified. How senseless to go back to that religion of the flesh which had crucified Him! Let us mark this well, that we can never turn back to the old "I" in any way without turning back to the flesh which crucified Christ.
The Galatians had received the Spirit of God. On what ground? Had He been given as the seal of a state attained by works of law, or because they believed the gospel which witnessed to them of Christ? Assuredly the latter. The apostle shows how intimately this great characteristic of Christianity, the presence and indwelling of the Holy Ghost, is connected with the principle of faith. The Spirit of God has come, now that the Christ, who was crucified to bear the judgment which lay upon man, has been raised from the dead and glorified on high. It is there that He is the Object of faith, as He said, "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." (John 14:1.) The Holy Ghost testifies that there is another Man before God, and is the power by which we enter into and enjoy what is ours in that precious Christ in whom we believe. The Galatians had begun in the Spirit. Were they going to be made perfect in the flesh? Christ crucified is the answer to any expectation from self and flesh. Perfection is alone in the glorified Man, whom the flesh refused and hated.
The apostle cannot unfold this glorious theme to the Galatians, senseless as they were, for the ministry they needed was rather rebuking by the Spirit the flesh, to which they were turning back for perfection; but he shows that the ministry of the Spirit among them, in a power too that wrought miraculously above the effects of sin, was carried on in connection with the report of the gospel which they had received by faith. He then carries them back to a time before the law, when God had given to Abraham the first intimation of the blessing which should come to the Gentiles - "In thee shall all nations be blessed." It was to Abraham that God took the revealed place of a God of blessing when men universally had departed from Him into idolatry. "I will bless thee . . . and thou shalt be a blessing"; and in the God who called him to inherit a blessing Abraham believed. Thus the ground of blessing by sovereign grace is established on the principle of faith, and on the same principle the one believing is accounted righteous, the effort of the flesh to attain to righteousness being worse than useless. Before the law Abraham had been accounted righteous when he believed in God, and the gospel before announced to him the blessing to come to the Gentiles. Believing Abraham and all who are of the like principle of faith are blessed together. Believers are the true sons of Abraham.
The apostle now contrasts law and faith, showing that, instead of blessing, curse came by law; life and justification by faith. This indeed was according to Scripture, for it stated that "the just shall live by faith." With regard to law it propounded a different principle" The man that doeth them shall live in them." Moreover Scripture pronounced a curse on every one who did not continue in all things written in the book of the law to do them. The law thus left those who were of it under the curse, for it gave no power to fulfil its demands. But Christ had been hung upon the tree and redemption accomplished. Two results flowed from this redemption - the curse had been borne for those who were under it, and the way had been opened for the blessing of Abraham to come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, the precious Saviour who had been crucified for both Jew and Gentile, so that through faith both might receive the peculiar blessing of Christianity, the promise of the Spirit.
Let us for a moment consider this peculiar Christian blessing in connection with that which follows in the chapter, viz., the contrast between law and promise. The apostle shows that the promise of blessing made to Abraham - of which he was the depositary, but which in its extent went out to all the families of the earth - had been unconditionally made by God. Now all God's dealings with Israel had proved that man according to the flesh was unable either to enter into, or hold, or enjoy, the promises of God. He must be born again either to perceive or enter into the kingdom of God. A Jew should have learned the necessity of this from Deut. 29:2-4. The signs and wonders wrought by Moses of old brought with them no spiritual perception; and when Christ was presented to Israel as the minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, He was among them as the Light of life, which the darkness of the natural heart could not comprehend. His own received Him not, and forfeited, by rejecting Him, all claim to the promises. The Yea and Amen of every promise is in Christ alone: man can neither receive nor hold them. Further, the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God; hence in order to the knowledge and enjoyment of the things of God - and all these come to us in the way of sovereign grace and promise - it was necessary that believers, and such are the true sons of Abraham, should receive the Spirit which is of God, that they might know the things which have been freely given us of God. When the Lord told Abraham to lift up his eyes and survey the extent of the inheritance which He then gave to him (Gen. 13:14), He added, "Arise and walk through the land in the length of it and the breadth of it." We are not told that Abraham ever made this intimate acquaintance with the possessions given him, but the Spirit is now given to so strengthen us in the inner man that we may be able to know and comprehend the vast extent of the glory which centres in Christ, and the love of Christ which is ours, though it passes knowledge. It is by the Spirit alone we know the things which are given to us of God and our relationship to the Giver. How great the blessing of Christians in having received the promise of the Spirit! The Galatians were slighting the gift; and we may say His power and presence are but little known by Christians now.
But if the promises of God could only be known by the Spirit, we have also seen that man after the flesh was not in the state or condition in which they could be established. They are Yea and Amen in Christ, the Son of God, declared to be so in power by the resurrection from the dead. In Him, the risen One, they are established for the glory of God by us. Hence God's original covenant of blessing according to the promise made to Abraham (Gen. 12:18) He confirmed to Isaac (Gen. 22:18) after he had been taken from off the altar; that is, "received in a figure from the dead." (Heb. 11.) Isaac was a type of Christ, as it says in our chapter (v. 16), "And to thy seed, which is Christ." It is characteristic of faith that it not only sets its Amen to the word and promises of God, but bows in the intelligence which belongs alone to faith to God's way of bringing them about.
We cannot read carefully the history of Abraham's journey to mount Moriah to offer up Isaac without seeing that he went there in company with the mind of God. Deep and painful as was the trial during those three days, we may surely say that Abraham was conscious that God was working out His own great plan of blessing. If God was about to take his beloved Isaac from him in the flesh, he would be given back to him in resurrection. Abraham took the journey in the company of the God of resurrection. He accounted that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. Hence, when on the third day he saw the place there is no trembling, but the calm certainty of faith. "Abide," he says to his young men, "ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." Abraham and Isaac would both return to them in the power of the God of resurrection. Another utterance shows yet again that Abraham entered in some measure into the secret of God's wonderful plan. "My son," he replied to Isaac, "God will provide Himself a lamb." In order to the carrying out of His own purpose in redemption, God must have a Lamb for Himself. No doubt we need a sacrifice; but there was also the need of His own glory in accomplishing the promises confirmed in Christ, the risen Saviour, the one seed of Abraham.
"Wherefore then the law?" now asks the apostle; and note we have here a divine reason for its being brought in. It was not against the previous promises, nor was it introduced to give life, otherwise righteousness would have been by the law. It was brought in provisionally until the seed came to whom God had made the promise; that is, Christ, now raised from the dead, in order that the character of sin might be shown by actual transgressions of the law. The manner in which it was ordained was quite different from the giving of the promise. This depended on God alone, both as to gift and performance. The law given through angels could only go on between a sinful people and God by means of mediation. Not only was it first given into the hands of Moses for them, but, in answer to his mediation when it was broken, Jehovah took the ground of longsuffering mercy to a people still kept under its obligation, yet with the assurance that, however great His longsuffering, He would by no means clear the guilty. The law then served to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin by offences abounding under it; and Scripture, by proof after proof, has shown that all are under sin. But so far from being against the promises of God, the law guarded the Jews who were under it - shut them up from other nations, kept them in tutelage up to Christ in order to their being then justified on the principle of faith. But the moment the principle of faith has come in, not only is the promise given to all who believe, but the office of the law as a schoolmaster is over - those under it were so no longer (compare Gal. 4:2-5), and Gentiles, by faith in Christ Jesus, were God's sons. Hence, to go back to Judaism was to leave the acknowledged place of sonship, and to take the place of minors under a schoolmaster.
But that could not be. The Galatians had been baptized unto Christ; and the apostle here shows the bearing of the ordinance, that in it they had put on Christ; and that was giving up all distinction of the flesh, for in Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek, for all are one in Christ Jesus. If they were then of Christ, they were Abraham's seed, the true seed of faith - not of flesh and law, as mere Jews were - and heirs according to the promise which had been made to him and confirmed in the seed, Christ raised from the dead.
We have to note here for our own instruction that the apostle, having to maintain the foundation truths of Christianity, and to establish the Galatians in them, goes back to the introductory ordinance, to show that in it the door was opened into Christianity, whether for Jew or Gentile, and Christ put on; for the question is not whether it was real with them or not - that was the ground they had taken; and owing to their state, he has to insist with them on the very elements of this new place, rather than lead them on into the fulness of their portion.
We have seen that the Galatian believers, having been baptised to Christ, are regarded as in the place of sons and in possession of the privileges of Christianity. They had put on Christ; and, as another has said, He is "the only measure of their relationship with God." There had been a former relationship for the Jews under law, and this made a difference between them and the Gentiles; but Christ had died, and was now risen and glorified, and Christianity takes its start from the fact that God has been glorified in Christ, and hence that Christ is in the glory of God. He is the Object of faith. It is worse than useless to go back to that which attempts at best to tutor and keep in order the old man, when already there is another Man glorified in God. Christ then has entered as man into a new place for man, but He has reached it through death; and as baptised to His death, the believer reaches Christ through death; but it is Christ in resurrection, out of the death where our old man was crucified with Christ. But having reached Christ, there is altogether another relationship for the believer - Christ's relationship as Son with the Father; hence in Christianity the believer is admitted to and enjoys the acknowledged place of sonship.
Now, however much a believing Jew, before Christ had come, might have looked forward to His coming, and to inherit the promises through Him, he was as to his position like a minor, one not yet of full age, under guardians and stewards, and thus in bondage under the principles of the world. It is important to note how the Spirit of God designates Judaism now that the substance, of which its ordinances were but the shadows, had come; for in truth the observances under the law were enjoined on man in his present fallen condition. They could no longer point to Christ when Christ was come, nor could righteousness be found in them, for that is found in the One who had gone to the Father. Whether raising the question of righteousness, or pointing to Christ, these ordinances of a fleshly religion had been supplanted, and they remained a mere shell, which a natural fallen man could gratify his self-importance by observing, but they were but the elements of this present world wherein man is departed from God. They had been ordained of God for a time, and during that time for a purpose, as we read elsewhere, "Imposed until the time of setting things right" (Heb. 9:10, New Trans.) Then God sent forth His Son. Into the scene of death and ruin, wherein man universally was, God sent His Son - He came of a woman. To those that were under law, held in bondage there, even if as believers they had brighter hopes, God sent His Son, for He came under law. "We know," said the Jews, "that God spake to Moses," and they would use the divine commission of Moses to refuse the Son of God. But here is the great fact, that when the fulness of the time was come GOD SENT FORTH His SON. And why? Because He would have believers as sons before Him. Sonship could not be known until the Son of God came; but now that He has come, He has redeemed those who were under law in the state of tutelage and childhood, that they might henceforth be in the place of sons. Into this place they never entered, nor into the knowledge of the Father's counsels of glory concerning His own dear Son, while they still differed nothing from servants under law; nor can a believer now enjoy the relationship of a son if in the history of his soul he is still on Jewish ground. What a momentous change in the position of saints was made by God sending forth His Son!
But this great fact had its bearing upon Gentiles who heretofore were in nowise in relationship with God. They too received sonship; for it is the gift of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. It was entirely of the grace of God to give these alienated Gentiles faith in Christ, and so bring them as sons to Himself; and now, because they were sons, God had sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, as well as into the hearts of those redeemed from under law, crying, Abba, Father. Let us well consider that it was in the mind of God to have sons before Him and not servants. He sent forth His Son in order that He might have sons; but then it is not a mere name or position, for He has also sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, that we might know and enjoy the relationship. The Holy Spirit cries in the heart of the believer the very same words used by "His Son," when upon earth - "Abba, Father." (Mark 14:36.) What marvellous grace, and yet what a blessed reality that the Holy Spirit, by whom the body prepared for Jesus was formed "that holy thing" - and by whom He was anointed, so that John could bear witness that He was the Son of God, thus cries in the believer's heart! It is God who has sent forth the Spirit of His Son. It is God who has made us both sons and heirs.
Sonship then is liberty, whether for Jew or Gentile. The latter had been in bondage "to them which by nature are no gods," and to turn to Judaism, though it might appear better than the grossness of idolatry, was to renew their bondage to weak and beggarly elements, for so the apostle calls the observances of Judaism. They had known God - God acting in grace to them by His own Son; but more, they were known of God - known as sons and heirs. How then turn back to what was but another form of this world's religion, for such was Judaism since the cross. Paul had put before them these wonderful actings of God in His own grace, but surely his labour was in vain if they turned back to these dim shadows from the glorious light of the gospel of His Son. "Be as I am," he says. Once he had been a proficient in the Jewish religion, now he was free from it. Christ had made him free. "I am as ye are." The once proud Jew was on the same footing of grace as a Gentile Galatian. Grace had made them one in Christ. Paul would not allow that it was an injury for a Gentile to claim him as on the same ground. Peter had winced under it, and would not be as a Gentile when certain came from James. How hard it is for poor flesh to be nothing in the presence of grace!
Then follows a tenderness of pleading, as to his ministry in weakness among them, such as only a heart filled with the constraining power of the love of Christ could use; for there were others who were desirous to exclude the Galatians from Paul, whose ministry had once brought such blessedness to them, and thus to acquire influence over them in order to bring them again under law. Surely it did not need the wisdom of Solomon, which detected the deep interest of a mother in her child, for these Galatians to discern what a place they held in the ardent affections of Christ's apostle, as he says, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." The other Judaising teachers zealously affected them, not well, for they were leading them back to the weak and poor elements of the world, while the ministry of the Spirit by the apostle was to form Christ in them. There is no power in the law to form the Christian state; that is done by the Spirit's writing Christ upon the fleshy tables of the heart. The apostle desired to be present with them, but how should he then speak to them, for he stood in doubt of them? Could he speak to them as on Christian ground? or must he alter his manner of address to them as those needing to be brought there? It is not every converted soul that is in faith in the true Christian position, that is, "of Christ" (3:29), nor can such a position be enjoyed apart from the corresponding state. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." (Rom. 8:9.) It does not say he is not converted - he may be, and still in bondage under law, but while in that state, he is not "of Christ." The true Christian state is Christ formed in us by the Spirit of God, who is therefore called the Spirit of Christ. This is not the renovating, or correcting by law of the old man, but the bringing in of another. The Christian position is, that I am no longer of Adam but of Christ, for our old man has been crucified with Christ. The Christian state is, that Christ is formed in me by the Spirit of God. The old "I" is displaced by Christ.
This great truth had been foreshadowed in the Old Testament. Abraham had two sons. The one, Ishmael, born of Hagar according to the flesh; the other, Isaac, through promise. Hagar was a figure of the covenant from Sinai, that is, of the effort of the flesh by works of law to obtain the promise of God. Jerusalem, the then centre of Jewish religion, and her children still in bondage under the first covenant, were represented by Hagar and Ishmael. But Jerusalem on earth had been set aside by God (see Hosea 2:2, and Matt. 23:38), and the city of God now is Jerusalem above. All Christians were children of the heavenly city. The 27th verse only shows that when it will be again said to Jerusalem on earth, "Thy Maker is thy husband," and when she will rejoice in millennial days, she will then count Christians who have come in during the days of her desolation as her children; for from her, after all, came forth all the blessings of the gospel, even as Christ according to the flesh came of Israel. But during the days when she has no husband and is desolate, to go back to her is to go back to that which God has for the time rejected and set aside. If Isaac, the child of promise, is brought into the house, Ishmael must go out. The child of holy laughter - the laughter of faith - must displace the child of bondage and flesh, and this is Christianity. There Christ is everything. The Lord intimated early in His ministry that the new wine which He brought could not be put into the old bottle of Judaism, and in John's gospel it is apparent that He supersedes in His own person everything in which a Jew could boast.
One of the great efforts of the enemy is to lend éclat to the elements of this world by the name of Christ, but the one must displace the other. Isaac must displace Ishmael, and taking the Galatians on the ground of Christianity the apostle insists that they were not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. It will be noticed that he does not speak to them of the truth of the assembly as a new creation in Christ, nor of its special relationship to him, for they needed to have Christ formed in them, and to know their liberty in Christ.
"Christ has set us free in freedom." (New Trans.) This is not the liberty of the flesh, for Christ has done it. The freedom which the Christian enjoys is His freedom. The believer has not to attain it, but to stand fast in it. To be entangled in a yoke of bondage is to give up Christ's liberty. To circumcise the flesh is to admit that one is in the flesh and not in Christ, for we cannot mingle the two. To be circumcised was to bring upon themselves the whole claim of the law, and to be deprived of profit from Christ, for they were then seeking for justification by law. It was giving up grace. It is well to be clear as to this, for nothing is more specious than the doctrine that we are indeed pardoned through the work of Christ, but that the flesh is to be kept in order by legal effort. This is only to give a place to the flesh, and to gratify it by being occupied with it, but by the same sacrifice of Christ wherein atonement for our guilt was made, God condemned sin in the flesh, and now justification and liberty are in Christ raised from the dead. "Christ has set us free in freedom."
Galatians 5:5 - Galatians 6.
In verse 5 we see how the Spirit of God and faith are linked together as characterising the Christian. "For we," says the apostle, speaking for Christians, "through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." The believer is not waiting for righteousness, for the ministry of the gospel in which he has believed is a ministry of righteousness from the glory where Christ is. In Him God has been perfectly glorified in respect of sin, so that He who was made sin for us is now in the glory of God in righteousness, and the Spirit of God has come from that glory into which Christ has entered, to reveal to us His present position in righteousness before God; and consequently that "of God He is made unto us . . . righteousness." Hence the Christian is not waiting for righteousness, for Christ in glory - the righteousness of God (for God has been glorified in Him) is the object of his faith. Christ then is his righteousness; and the Spirit, who is the seal of faith in Christ, is the earnest of that glory which is the hope of righteousness. We are to be with Christ and like Him, and the Spirit has come to unfold to us the glory where Christ is, and to make us know that we belong to it as being in Him the righteousness of God. Therefore by the Spirit on the principle of faith, for we are not yet there, the believer waits in hope to be conformed to Christ in glory. Circumcision was but a mark in the flesh distinguishing a Jew from a Gentile; hence a Jew could boast in it as connecting him with the promises of God in a fleshly way (though there might be a deeper signification spiritually) according to the word, "My covenant shall, be in your flesh." (Gen. 17:13.) In Christ Jesus it had no force at all; there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision there. The true power is faith, which carries the soul into the new circle of the interests of Christ, and operates there in the power of love. Instead of the energising power of love, circumcision only brought in separation between saints.
No wonder that the apostle was deeply affected by the state of the Galatians. In verse 7 he leaves his subject, as it were, to speak personally to them of how they had been hindered in their obedience to the truth. They had been running well, and their turning aside through the persuasion of false teachers was not of Him that called them. We may be sure that insubjection of soul to the truth lies at the root when saints are hindered from going on with the truth. The call of God carries the soul along in the faith of it. And here we learn the mischievous effects of indifference to the truth. Insubjection to the truth leads to indifference. It might seem a small matter to allow a doctrine which gave the flesh a place under the pretext of keeping it in order, but "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." We have only to look at the state of Christendom to see how the leaven then working among the Galatians has well-nigh leavened the whole lump by the revival of the first man and the denial of the cross as God's judgment upon him. Faith alone knows that, the first man has been rejected, and looks for everything in Christ as the accepted Man in the glory of God.
But the apostle turns to the Lord with confidence of heart about them. As in Psalm 116:10, 11, he might have said with the Psalmist, "I was greatly afflicted. I said in my haste" (that is, distress of spirit), "all men are liars." Among men no one is to be trusted, but the Lord is the source of confidence when even the saints are turned aside, and to the Lord he looks that these Galatians would be none "otherwise minded" (Comp. Phil. 3:15), for to run well we must have the hope of righteousness, Christ in glory, before us, while those who troubled them should bear their judgment, whoever they were. What a difference there is between a troubler of the saints and one who, like Paul, suffered persecution on their behalf, so that the truth of the gospel might be theirs! If Paul had preached circumcision, and so given man a place, both the preacher and the preaching would have been tolerated, and the offence of the cross would have ceased. There is nothing at which the natural man stumbles like the doctrine of the cross, which judges and sets aside man in his best estate, and for this Paul was persecuted. Then, with a covert allusion to circumcision, he adds, "I would they were even cut off which trouble you."
In resuming the subject of the liberty unto which they had been called, he has to warn them that the flesh would take occasion by it. Liberty is not license for the flesh, but freedom from the law of sin in it. It is freedom to serve one another in love. Thus and thus only the law, if they turned to law, was fulfilled, not by putting themselves under it, but by the love which was the effect of the presence of the Spirit of God; for "the fruit of the Spirit is love." They had, by turning back to Judaism and circumcision, given a place to the flesh; what wonder then if it had come out in biting and devouring one another as to questions about which the flesh could strive? The flesh in us is proud, vain-glorious, and self-sufficient, easily finding fault with each other; while love serves in the desire that every saint may be in the power of that grace which makes no demand upon us, but ministers everything to us.
The remedy then for the working of the flesh is not in seeking to regulate it by law, but in freedom from it by walking in the Spirit. Deliverance from sin and from law is found in the death of Christ; while liberty is known by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus setting us free from the law of sin and death. And here we see that the state of the Galatians leads the apostle to speak of an action of the Spirit in us which is not, so to speak, His proper work and testimony. He came to testify of and to glorify the Lord Jesus, and as the anointing and seal by which we know our part in and enjoy all that He testifies to. But here he is spoken of as lusting against the flesh, so that we should not do the things which otherwise we would. We learn too that the flesh in us is so bad that it lusts against the Spirit. Mark here, that the Spirit does not help the flesh; nay, Spirit and flesh are contrary to each other. The flesh, indeed, is in the Christian; but he is not a debtor to it, but to walk in the Spirit, and so the desires of the flesh are not fulfilled. We need not dwell on the works of the flesh, they are well known; but the fruits of the Spirit we may well recount: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. What are these graces but the fruit of the Spirit forming Christ in the believer? Against them there is no law. What need of repression when the character of Christ is brought out in the Christian by the Spirit of God? But more, they that are of Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and desires. It does not say they ought to crucify it, but they have done so. We could not be of Christ save on the ground of the judgment of the first man in His cross. There sin in the flesh has been condemned; and as of Christ, by whom all the judgment was borne, the believer has accepted this condemnation, so that he has thus in faith crucified the flesh, and has not got to do it by effort. The believer then lives in the Spirit. There is no life in the flesh morally before God or for faith, though actually we still live in flesh. But the Spirit of God could not be the power of life, and the law the rule of walk. The ordering of the Christian's conduct must be in conformity to Christ in the power of the Spirit by which he lives. The last verse of this chapter shows us that elements of discord were among them; notwithstanding their attempt after perfection in the flesh by means of law.
How very different from vain-glory is true spirituality (Gal. 6:1) in a saint! The spiritual man, conscious of his own liability to be tempted, in meekness seeks the restoration of one who has been overtaken in a fault. Another has said that hard words against evil are no sign of our own spirituality. Proud Pharisaism would bind legal burdens on others; while the fruit of the Spirit is seen in bearing them, and thus letting Christ's law be fulfilled. Did He not take the weight of all our responsibilities and sorrows upon Himself? These practical exhortations of the apostle show how the Judaism to which they were turning had given a place to the working of the flesh to the exclusion of true spirituality. A man thinking himself to be something when he is nothing is self-deception. The testing time for each one's work will surely come; therefore the spiritual man, according to the exhortation to Timothy, would seek to present himself approved to God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. In love we may carry one another's burden, but in respect of the approval of work and service we are alone; each must carry his own burden. Still, the one ministered to has the privilege of fellowship with the one who ministers the word, in all good things.
We have seen that these Galatians in their desire for law were not getting on so very well after all, and that the flesh so far from being subjected by law was working in them. We need not wonder then at the exhortation of the apostle: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." Let us remember that they that are of Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. To go back to law is to revive that which has been crucified. It is allowed to be alive, and consequently is there to sow to; and so surely as this is done, so surely will corruption be reaped. It is a solemn word - "God is not mocked." Sooner or later God will have it out with us if we have been sowing to our own flesh. Many a barque as it nears the haven, instead of having an abundant entrance ministered to it, is seen shattered and dismantled, as it learns under the hand of God the corruption which belongs to the allowed workings of the flesh. Faith carries us from self to Christ; but allowance of the flesh would tale us back to self and self-indulgence. The promises of God were sovereignly connected with Jacob; yet, knowing this, Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his venison. Isaac sowed to his own flesh, and would actually have blessed a profane man had he not been prevented by God, who allowed him to be deceived. "But he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life." Not only hereafter will all that is heavenly be entered upon in that bright and blessed scene where all is pervaded by the Spirit, but by the Spirit's power "the heavenly door" is opened, so that we should have present enjoyment of the place where Christ is now. There is the sowing time and the reaping time; each has its own season, and the reaping time will surely come. Let us not faint then, for now is the season or opportunity for well-doing towards all men, but specially to those who are dear to Christ, the special circle of his interest, here called "the household of faith." Israel once had been the household of God, and the Galatians were in danger of going back to that circle; but the true children of Abraham were all who were "of faith," and so were blessed with believing Abraham.
That the apostle should have written so large an epistle with his own hand shows the intense importance of the subject, and his care that what was written to them should thus have in their eyes all the weight of apostolic authority. He then points out the real object of those who were urging the necessity of circumcision. They wished to make a fair appearance in the flesh. The cross of Christ is the judgment by God of man in the flesh. These Judaising teachers endeavoured to make that prepossessing which God has condemned. No one knew better than Paul that the robe of a circumcised Pharisee, however seemly to men, and they would glory in it, could not cover the true character of the flesh - the cross alone can meet that - but to bring that to bear upon the seemliness of the flesh as well as on its vileness only entailed persecution. This Paul also well knew. As a blameless Pharisee he had been the bitterest opposer of Christ and persecutor of the saints, and now that he walked in the light of the glorified Christ who had been revealed in him, he experienced the same determined opposition from those who gloried in the flesh. But mark how Paul now gloried in the cross. He does not say, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which I am saved" - no Christian but will do that; but can we say with Paul, "Through whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world"? A man upon a cross is a shameful thing to the world, and Christ had been there. It was the world's estimate of Christ to put Him there, and Paul accepted such an estimate for himself by the world - it was crucified to him, and he to it. He was outside the system of this world by the cross of Christ, while circumcision sought to make a fair appearance for man in it. In Christ Jesus it is new creation; neither circumcision nor uncircumcision can have place there, they are distinctions between man and his fellow in the flesh, but in Christ old things have passed away, and the new have come. We are not actually in them, but there is an ordering of ourselves in walk and ways according to this rule. It is bringing into our conduct here the standard or rule of what is new in Christ. To such, peace and mercy, and on the Israel of God - not Israel according to the flesh, but that Israel which He could own.
As to anything further, the persecutions which the apostle had endured spewed plainly for whom he suffered and to whom he belonged. No one would move him from his allegiance to the One whose brands he bore. But there was no comfort for him in these sorrows which he has as to the Galatians, there is a reserve towards them, and he sends them no salutations, but concludes with the desire that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ might be with their spirit. May the Lord keep our spirits in the sense of His grace, so that we may not be conscious of any reserve towards us because we are removed from Him that called us in the grace of Christ. T. H. R.