J. N. Darby.

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It may interest your readers* to have brought before them the great principles which constitute the bases of the doctrine of the Epistle to the Galatians. It is upon the face of it elementary, the churches of Galatia being in imminent danger of adding Judaism to Christianity in such a way as to destroy the nature of Christianity itself. Nor was theirs the only age in which liability to do so had existed, and has had to be watched against.

{*Originally sent to "The Present Testimony."}

The law is a testing of human nature, to see whether it can produce righteousness for God, and a perfect rule of righteousness for that nature in all it owes to God and to a man's neighbour. So that it claims subjection, and that man should fulfil its requirements under penalty moreover of judgment. The authority of God, the subjection of man to His commandments, and a perfect rule of conduct for man in his present state as a child of Adam are all involved in this system. But man, conscious he ought to fulfil it, his own conscience telling him it is right, and not suspecting his own weakness and the depth of his ruin, and seeing that keeping it would be righteousness for him before God, readily takes it up as the way of having that righteousness, and enjoying divine favour, of being right when judgment comes. When unawakened, observance of its outward claims satisfies the natural conscience; if understood spiritually, it leads to the discovery of that law in our members which hinders all success in the attempt. But God having established the law, it was a very difficult and delicate thing to shew that, as a system, it was passed away, not because it was not in its right place, and useful too for its own real purpose, but to make way for a system of grace purposed and promised long before the law was established; and that by the discovery that it was death and condemnation to be under it, that the mind of the flesh (the nature the law dealt with) was not subject to it, and could not be, and that we escape its curse as under it, not by the destruction of its authority, but by dying as so under it, and that by the body of Christ in whom we then found ourselves in a new life beyond its condemnation. The cross makes all things clear. But the credit of the flesh (that is, of himself) is dear to the natural man, and till he had discovered that in him (that is, in his flesh) there was no good thing, he was loth to give up a rule he knew to be right, in the humbling confession that he was such a sinner that it could be only his condemnation, the law of sin so strong in his members, himself so disposed to evil, that the law, weak through the flesh, could only condemn him. Judaising teachers, proud in their own conceits, zealous of the law as the credit of their nation, could not bear to have it set aside as necessary for the way of righteousness and life with God; and the ministry which judged the flesh in Jew and Gentile, and freed the latter from all subjection to the Jewish system, was intolerable to them. Man always clings to the law, speciously alleging God's claims and holiness, till he experimentally finds (in the discovery of the true character of the flesh) his true state, that as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.

2 Hence Paul, both as to his own ministry and the place the law held, was in perpetual conflict with these Judaising teachers. The more intimate we are with his writings, the more we shall find how he was harassed by it, and how his writings continually bear on the point that you cannot mix the two systems, law and grace. This lay at the root of all his doctrine, and in all its highest developments, as well as in its first elements. The counsels of God, in the second Man, were formed before the world was, or man was responsible at all, and revealed only after that second Man was come, and had accomplished the work on which the bringing all these counsels into effect was founded. The apostle's doctrine, fully unfolded, brought out the ground and scope of these counsels in their full development in Christ, and, as to us, in a new and heavenly position of man in and with Him; while the true state of the first man, responsible for his walk, of which the law was the perfect rule, gave occasion for insisting on the first elements of the truth, and the necessity of setting aside the first man, and thus for the application of the law, which could reach him only as long as he lived, in order to substitute grace and divine righteousness, not because the law was wrong, but because being right it was death and condemnation to man under it. Christ met this responsibility for us on the cross, magnifying the law by bearing its curse, but bringing us, dead to sin and alive in Him, into connection withal with another - Himself raised from the dead. In His death God had condemned sin in the flesh, and brought in what was divine in righteousness and life in place of man, when Christ was for sin a sacrifice for sin on the cross. These elements the Epistle to the Galatians fully instructs us in, without going into the counsels whose accomplishment is based on the cross. These are found elsewhere, most fully in the Ephesians.

3 The first part of the Epistle to the Galatians is occupied with the independence of Paul's ministry. It was neither of nor by man. From the apostles he received nothing. The revelations he received, and his apostolic authority were immediately from the Lord. But on this part it is not my object now to dwell. At the end of chapter 2 the apostle gives, in earnest and burning words, the whole bearing of the law on the gospel, and how they were related one to another; but of this at the close. I will now shew how he sets the law and the gospel over against one another.

Up to the flood, save the testimony of godly men and prophets, God did not interfere after the history of man's perverseness was complete, in Adam and Cain. That issued in the judgment of the flood. After that, God began anew to deal with man, to unfold His ways to him in the state in which he was. And they were carried on till the full proof of man's irreclaimable state was given in the rejection of Christ. The first of these dealings, after scattering men into nations and tongues and languages, was His taking Abraham out of them all for Himself, and making him the stock and root of a new family on the earth, God's family fleshy or spiritual: the former Israel; the latter the one seed, Christ. Leaving aside for the moment Israel, the seed according to the flesh, to whom the promises will surely be accomplished in grace, we find the promise made to Abram in chapter 12, and confirmed to the seed in chapter 22. This referred to all nations who were to be blessed in the Seed, the one Seed, typified by Isaac, offered up and raised in figure. On this the apostle insists. The blessing came by promise. This, confirmed as it was to Isaac, could not be disannulled, and (what is more directly to the point) could not be added to. The law could not be annexed to it as a condition. To that there were two parties; but God was only one. The accomplishment of this conditional promise depended on the fidelity of both, and hence had no stability. God's promise depended on Himself alone. His faithfulness was its security, and it could not fail. But the law, coming four hundred and thirty years after, could not invalidate or be added to the confirmed promise. The law is not against the promises of God, but merely came in by the bye till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made, bringing in transgression but not righteousness. The law was not of faith; its blessing was by those who were under it themselves doing it. Promise, and faith in the promise and promised One, went together. The law brought a curse; Christ, the promised Seed, was made a curse for those under it, and when Christianity or faith came they were no longer under it at all. The law was an intermediate added thing whose place ceased when the promised Seed came. The law and grace are contrasted, as the law and promise, faith and the Seed are, first for justification. A man under the law was a debtor himself to do the whole of it; and a Christian taking this ground was fallen from grace: Christ had become of none effect to him. A man who looked to the law frustrated the grace of God: if righteousness came by it, Christ was dead in vain.

4 But the contrast is applied to godly walk. The Spirit is opposed to the flesh. They are contrary one to the other in their nature. We are to walk after the Spirit, having the things of the Spirit before us, to do its works, to produce its fruits; but if we are led of the Spirit, we are not under law. Life and power and a heavenly object characterise the Spirit, in contrast with the law which deals with flesh, and in vain, instead of taking us out of it. Thus, as to godly walk as well as for righteousness, the law is contrasted with grace. On one side are grace, promise, faith, Christ, and the Spirit, and, I may add, a righteous standing before God; on the other, the law claiming obedience from the flesh, which does not render it, and out of which the law cannot deliver us. It gives no life. If there had been a law which could have given life, then, indeed, righteousness should have been by the law. It is this full contrast which makes the Galatians so striking.

The result is this. Being led of the Spirit we are not under law. What, then, is our state? We through the Spirit wait for the hope that belongs to it, that is, glory. How so? Being righteous in Christ, we have received the Spirit, and in the power of that we wait for what it so richly reveals. The contrast of the flesh and Spirit, and the power of the latter leaves the law functionless as to walk, whether in power or character. Law was a rule for flesh, a perfect one, but not for Spirit. This reveals heavenly things, Christ in glory, and changes us into His image. This was in no way the law's object.

5 How, then, is its real use and power stated in the epistle? Peter, when certain came from James, would no longer eat with the Gentiles. Paul withstood him to the face, the weakness of one yielding to the presence of Jews, the energetic faith of the other holding fast the truth of the gospel. Peter had left the law as the way of obtaining righteousness, and he was going back to it, building again what he had destroyed; he was then a transgressor in destroying it. Now Christ had led him to it. Christ then was the minister of sin. What was the effect of the law? Ah! we have, through grace, in the earnestness of a holy conscience, its true work. It wrought death. The law had killed Paul (that is, in his conscience before God). He had been alive without it once. But thereby he was dead to it; and this, that in another way, in another life, he might live to God, which the flesh could not do. Had it been simply given effect to in himself, it had been curse and condemnation as well as death, but it was in Christ, who had died under its curse for him, and he was crucified with Christ, being thus dead, dead to law, and to sin at the same time, having done with the old Adam, to which the law applied; he was, nevertheless, now alive. Yet not he (which would have been the flesh) but Christ lived in him.

The law, and condemnation, and the flesh, were gone (so to speak) together as to Paul's position before God, and replaced by Christ and the Spirit, on which last he largely insists in what follows - chapter 3. But there is more; there is the object before the soul. "The life which I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." This is the great point. That divine Person, who has so loved us and given Himself for us, whom we thus know in perfect grace, in love even unto death, is the sanctifying object of the whole life. We live by it. The law gave no object, any more than it gave life and strength. Here we have the most blessed one, where the heart is filled with love, and led out into confidence with an object that conforms it to itself. The principle of dealing, grace, life, power, object, are all contrasted with law, which afforded none of these, and could therefore no more produce godliness than it could righteousness before God.

6 The Epistle thus contrasts grace, promise, faith, Christ, the Spirit for righteousness and walk alike, with law and flesh. The law was useful as bringing death on us, that is, on the old man, condemnation being borne by Christ, in whom we have died to it and flesh. A new place, and life, and righteousness, beyond the cross, is that into which we have entered, with Christ in heaven before us. I have written at intervals, and interrupted, as well as weary, and not given in this paper, I fear, what was suggested to my mind. But I trust the great principles of the Epistle, on this point, will be sufficiently clear to be helpful to some in studying the Epistle itself.