The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians
GALATIA was one of the central provinces of Asia Minor. The original inhabitants emigrated from Gallia nearly 300 years before Christ, hence they have been designated Gauls or Galatians. They have been described as a quick, warm, impulsive, and exceedingly changeable race of people, and certainly the character ascribed to them by our apostle exactly agrees with what is elsewhere reported of them by others. Galatia became a Roman province in the year 26 of the Christian era, not however until a good deal of Italian blood was shed in effecting the conquest.
The apostle Paul visited Galatia on two occasions. First, on his second missionary tour when accompanied by Silas (Acts 16:6), and again, on his third evangelistic mission, several years after (Acts 18:23). The sacred historian merely records these visits, but from certain allusions to Paul's presence there, and the warm, truly Galatian reception accorded to the apostle and his mission, which are referred to in the body of the epistle (4:13-15, etc.), these visits must have been occasions of real interest.
It is important for the reader to remark in the early struggles of the cross and Christianity, that these two truths-the immediate and divine authority of the apostle and the heavenly character of Christianity-were ever coupled together. The effort of Satan was two-fold; first, to set the authority of Paul on the same basis and level as that of the twelve; and second, to mix Christianity and Judaism so that the heavenly character of the former might be nullified, and hence the entire subversion of the gospel itself. Now Christianity is in its very nature totally opposed to Judaism. The systems can never coalesce save to the ruin of souls. Judaism was adapted to man in the flesh, it supposed the ability of the creature; in short it was a corrective system for man on the earth. Now Christianity is founded on the death, resurrection, and ascension to God's right hand of Jesus and of the coming down of the Holy Ghost according to promise (John 14). It proposes heaven instead of earth; it reveals the condemnation of "flesh" in the sacrifice of Christ; it sets aside as altogether worthless, helpless, and guilty the first man, and out of the ruined race takes some-worthless in themselves-and sets them as objects of divine favour in immediate connection with Christ the Second Man-the Lord from heaven. Now the apostle was specially commissioned to reveal the heavenly and divine character of Christianity, hence the dangerous tendency of connecting Paul with "the twelve," and hence the elaborate vindication of his special apostolate and its distinctness from the Jewish apostles in chapters 1 and 2 of our epistle.
The foundations of the gospel-of Christianity-had been revealed on the principle of faith, apart altogether from law, either as the ground or principle of blessing. The key-note of Christianity is that remarkable phrase "The Righteousness of God;" the full development of all this is the great subject of the Roman Epistle; but through the Judaizing and persistent efforts of false teachers from Jerusalem, the warm-hearted but fickle saints of the region of Galatia, principally Gentiles, had departed from the gospel of God's grace, were in great measure alienated in heart from the apostle, and in fact had to be recovered for Christ and Christianity.
The recovery of the truth, as it is developed in the Epistle to the Romans, is the great point in the Epistle to the Galatians. Here then we have the religion of man and the religion of the Spirit contrasted-the bondage of souls under the law with the liberty and freedom of saints under Christ and grace. The hopelessness of attaining righteousness or blessing under law is amply demonstrated. Dogmatic statement and typical instruction drawn from well-known early scriptures as Genesis 16 etc., are pressed upon the consciences of the saints. As for the seducers and troublers he would that they "were cut off" (5:12); for those he can have no respect, but strongly and sternly reprobates both them and their soul-destroying work. The old Galatian attempt to make Christianity a mere off-shoot from Judaism, and the strenuous effort to amalgamate the systems, has been perfected in Popery, and while we unfeignedly thank God for the work of Luther and other leaders of the Reformation, yet the work effected was but partial, and we cannot hold Protestantism free from the charge of having emerged from the corrupt system of Popery without also having carried with it many of the principles of that truly awful Church. It is true that law-works is denounced as the ground of justification, and this in opposition to the Popish demand for works as the ground of the possibility of salvation-for the Romish Church goes no further; but are Protestants very far in advance? Do they not as strongly insist upon the law as the rule for Christian life, as the Roman Catholic for it as the ground of salvation? They both claim to be under the law, both are wrong; the sinner needs it not, but, instead, the gospel of salvation, and the saint has died to it, and now Christ is his rule of life.
The issue at stake was no less than the gospel and consequently the salvation of the soul, hence the severity of the language-unequalled amongst the apostolic writings. This cruel attempt to subvert the gospel and destroy souls quite accounts for the tone of the epistle and the strength of the language employed, and further, accounts for the interesting circumstance that Paul departs from his usual practice, which was to employ an amanuensis in writing the epistles, and which he authenticated by his signature (2 Thess.3:17); for in this case such was the gravity of the occasion that he himself writes the epistle, hence his allusion to the size of his letters-writing being a public employment-"Ye see how large a letter (or letters referring to their size and not to the length of the epistle which is not at all a lengthy one) I have written unto you with mine own hand" (6:11).
In chapters 1 and 2 we have a careful and elaborate setting forth of the special place and call of the great Gentile Apostle, with its immediate and heaven-derived authority apart altogether from the assembly or college of doctors at Jerusalem.
In chapter 3:1-13, he contrasts law and faith as entirely opposite principles and demonstrates the impossibility of blessing on the principle of law; on that principle there is nothing but a curse. From verse 14 to the end of the chapter the contrast is between law and promise, "showing their entire distinctness, not only in date and circumstances, but also in principle, character, and purpose."
In chapter 4 the legal condition of saints under the old dispensation is contrasted with the saints under grace and Christ.
In chapter 5 the flesh and spirit are strongly contrasted, as are also the moral fruit produced by those under the sway of these respective principles.
In chapter 6 some weighty truths and principles of universal importance are pressed upon the saints, closing with a magnificent declaration on the part of Paul-would that it might form the ground of boast in the heart and lips of God's children, especially of the servants of the grace of God-"But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world" (verse 14).