by James Haldane
A big thanks to Thomas Witte for scanning, editing and making this classic work available.
It is generally thought that the Galatians were originally Gauls, who settled in the lesser Asia. This, however, is a matter of very little consequence; it is enough for us to know that they were Gentiles, who, by the labours of the Apostle Paul, were converted to the faith of Christ, but, by the arts of the judaizing teachers, had been led to suppose that, in order to acceptance with God, they must be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses.
We learn, both from the Acts and the Epistles, that the influence of these false teachers was very extensive, and very prejudicial. Their doctrine was eminently calculated to lead away the disciples from the truth, and although the destruction of Jerusalem, and the consequent cessation of sacrifices, and other rites, of Judaism, promised to put a stop to the prevalence of this pernicious error, it continues, under a somewhat different form, to pervade what is termed Christendom at the present hour, and is the principal cause of the lamentable divisions which prevail among those who profess the faith of Jesus.
For the wisest and most important purposes, the Lord separated from the rest of the world the family from which Christ was to spring. He sent them down to Egypt, where they increased to a nation, were brought into bondage, and delivered in a manner calculated to excite in them the most lively gratitude to the God of their fathers, as well as to illustrate the redemption of the true Israel. He established his covenant with them, avouching them to be his peculiar people; He delivered to them laws, statutes, judgements, and commandments, which they were to observe till the appearance of One who should rule as a son over his own house, and explain the parables which the faithful servant had employed to shadow forth the nature of his spiritual and everlasting kingdom.
At length this glorious Personage made his appearance and having sat down on the throne of his glory, issued those laws by which his subjects should be governed. During his abode upon earth, He dwelt among his brethren after the flesh; He sojourned in that family which had been separated from all others, manifesting himself as the Saviour of sinners; and before He left the world, commanded the Gospel to be preached to every creature. But the mind of Israel was blinded, and because His kingdom was not of this world,— because He required his subjects to deny themselves, to take up their cross and follow him,—because his Apostles declared that all national distinctions were at an end, and that there was now neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision, but that the same Lord over all is rich to all that call upon him,—they refused to have Him to reign over them, affirming that they had no king but Cesar. Their city was, in consequence, burnt up, and themselves scattered among the nations, with whom, however, they are not permitted to mingle, but remain to this day—a pillar of salt—a distinct people, whose present circumstances, —so minutely described by Moses and the prophets, —form a conclusive proof of the truth of the Gospel, which they still so obstinately reject.
False brethren, both Jews and Gentiles, unawares crept into the churches in the days of the Apostles. The former, like Lot’s wife, fondly looked back to the system which, having answered its purpose, was virtually at an end. Like their forefathers, who remembered with regret the luxuries they had enjoyed in Egypt, they reflected on the imposing splendour of the temple worship, with the feasts and ceremonies enjoined by the law of Moses. Their carnal minds loathed those spiritual and heavenly blessings, which constituted the only inducement to be followers of Christ. They easily persuaded many of the Gentiles to unite with them in mixing up Judaism and Christianity. Hence it is written, “The mystery of iniquity doth already work.” The Apostles, under the influence of the spirit of prophecy, foresaw, in the attempt to blend the doctrine of Moses with that of Christ, the embryo of the man of sin, and warned the disciples against the snare which the subtilty of Satan was spreading for them.
When the Apostles had finished their course, grievous wolves entered into the churches, and many of the disciples, while retaining the name of Christians, turned back to the beggarly elements of Judaism, which were more congenial to their carnal apprehension than the spiritual doctrine of Christ. In process of time, this mongrel system attracted multitudes, and at length the number of nominal believers became so great, that the Roman Emperor, whether from policy or conviction, declared Christianity to be the religion of the empire, became the head of what was termed the Church, and regulated it by his authority.
Long and severe was the struggle between the civil and ecclesiastical powers to obtain the government of the Church. At length the latter prevailed, the beast with seven heads and ten horns was revealed, and “all the world wondered after the beast.” At the Reformation, he appeared to have received a deadly wound. The Scriptures, which had long been taken out of the hands of the people, and altogether neglected by those who assumed the name of the clergy,* were now widely diffused, and many of the abominations of popery were abandoned by various nations in Europe. But still they retained the very essence of antichrist, —the connexion of church and state, and Protestant nations deemed themselves authorised by the example of the kingdom of Israel, which they took as their model, to enforce the observance of the religion of Jesus, retaining various Jewish practices which had been adopted by the papacy.
In some countries of Europe, especially in our own, religious toleration is enjoyed, but the attention of believers is turned away from the rules delivered in the New Testament for the management of the churches of Christ in every age, by the unfounded assertion, that, in consequence of the difference of our circumstances, these rules are insufficient for our guidance.
Before we admit the validity of this principle, we must inquire, in what the difference of our circumstances consists? The reply must be, that the primitive churches consisted of those whom it was meet for the Apostles to view as partakers of the grace of Christ,1 who had come out and separated themselves from the world that lieth in the wicked one, that they bright observe the ordinances of Christ, and mutually watch over each other in love. For the government of such an association, the few and simple rules laid down in the New Testament are amply sufficient but modern churches embrace whole nations, and their complex machinery requires many regulations which were totally inapplicable to the primitive churches.
We may farther inquire, by what authority this change has been made? Is it sanctioned by the Word of God? Certainly not, for there we read that the kingdom of Christ cannot be moved, We are cautioned against being carried about with divers and strange doctrines, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.1 We are warned against introducing anything into the churches which is not sanctioned by apostolic practice,2 but while the name of churches is retained, the nature of the institution has been completely altered, and then we are gravely told that the instructions contained in the New Testament are insufficient for our direction. The obvious inference is, that we are in a great measure left to our own discretion, or rather, that power is. committed to the clergy or the civil magistrate to regulate those matters according to circumstances, — a principle which of necessity divides the disciples of Jesus into sects and parties. We may form evangelical alliances, we may cherish love to believers who differ from us—and such, no doubt, is our duty; but there can be no real union among believers, which is not based upon truth. However we may “agree to differ,” and however well this amiable principle may appear for a time to work, offences will come, irritation will be gendered, and then the hollowness of our union will become apparent.
This deviation from the rule of Scripture will not always continue, and the signs of the times clearly intimate that great changes are in rapid progress. The issue will, no doubt, be auspicious, but there will, in all probability, be great misery in the transition. Let those who understand the Lord’s declaration, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and who have been taught that the apostolic precepts and the example of the churches recorded in the New Testament, are amply sufficient for the formation and guidance of Christian churches,—endeavour to convince believers who are otherwise minded, that recurring to the example of the first three centuries, or to their own notions of expediency, result from inattention to the Scriptures, and not discerning the simplicity of the nature and object of a church of Christ. Men form a false idea of what is implied in the name, and then delude themselves with the notion, that the rules laid down by the Apostles are insufficient.
These observations are naturally suggested by the consideration of the Epistle to the Galatians, in which the Apostle at once points out the harmony and discrepancy of the law and the Gospel. The former is the shadow, the latter the substance; —the one is the scaffolding, the other the building; —the first is the preparation, the second the completion. The Mosaic system, which was introductory to the kingdom of God, answered the most important purposes, not only as it afforded a demonstration of the truth, but as it exhibited the great doctrines of the Gospel in a palpable form. But after all, it only occupied the place of the handmaid; and as when Hagar forgot her situation, and attempted to assume equality with, or even superiority over her mistress, —when her son presumed to mock and ridicule the heir, —they were cast out of the family; so the Jewish system was abolished, and the observance of the law rendered impossible, by the destruction of Jerusalem.
In our Lord’s prediction of that event, there seems a very plain intimation of a more extensive overthrow; and the supposition is confirmed by “the city in which the Lord was crucified,” in other words, Jerusalem, being one of the names given to the mystical Babylon.1 It is written, “That by fire, and by sword, will the Lord plead with all flesh: and the slain of the Lord shall be many.”1 And again, “Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.”2 This, no doubt, refers to the restoration of Israel, which the Apostle tells us will be like life from the dead.3 It is evident, however, that their restoration will be accompanied with awful judgments upon the nations.4 It will be “the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion.” The so named Christian nations shall then be called to account for corrupting the doctrine of Christ, by mixing it up with Jewish observances, which, in Popish nations, has increased to more ungodliness, and converted the holy doctrine of Christ into a system of idolatry, while the rulers of Protestant nations have employed the religion of Jesus as an engine of state. Both systems are evidently tottering to their fall. Rome may appear to be extending her dominion; she may have a glimpse of prosperity and appear in the eyes of her votaries to be renewing her youth, but this is no more than the sun rising upon Sodom on the morning of its destruction, to make the righteous judgment of God more manifest.
Jerusalem is becoming a burdensome stone to the Protestant nations. They have put forth their unhallowed hands to the ark of God; they have presumed unbidden to take charge of the religion of Jesus, and in their folly have imagined that it could not stand without their aid. They have reared an edifice, whose walls they have daubed with untempered mortar; but it shall fall; a stormy wind shall rend it; and, in all probability, the convulsion will dissolve the whole frame-work of civil society. Even worldly politicians tell us that the kingdoms of Europe are upon a Volcano, and, probably, ere long the eruption will take place. The Lord is saying to the disciples who have been intoxicated with Babylon’s golden cup, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” And to those who have listened to the solemn warning, He says, “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.” Again, “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.”
The Epistle to the Galatians is also peculiarly valuable, from the luminous view it affords of the cardinal doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ, appropriated by faith. This doctrine is exhibited throughout the Scriptures and is more or less insisted upon in all the epistles, but especially in those to the Romans and Galatians, in which the Apostle proves, that justification is altogether independent of our observance either of the moral or ceremonial law.
That fallen man should hope for acceptance with God by obedience to the moral law, is not surprising. He was made under this law and was to live by keeping the commandment of God. True, his life is forfeited by disobedience, but still the work of the law is written in his heart; he sees and approves of what is right; his heart condemns him when he does wrong; he knows that no one compels him to sin; he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed; and, while he gives way to his corrupt desires, he resolves to act otherwise in time to come, and flatters himself that his future circumspection will atone for his past disobedience. His language naturally is, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” It is true, that such reasoning proceeds from the blindness of his mind, and ignorance of the character of Him with whom he has to do, who will by no means clear the guilty; but it results from his conscience, which, although defiled, is still to a certain degree awake, and forms so powerful a check on the conduct of mankind, that it may be doubted whether, if it were removed, society could subsist.
There is also a principle in the human mind which induces mankind to endeavour to expiate their sins by outward observances. From the mixture of light and darkness in fallen man, he is in some measure aware of the demerit of sin, and endeavours by various devices to deliver himself from its consequences. Hence the self-inflicted torments of the Hindoos; hence the offering of their children to avert the anger of their gods; and hence, also, the confidence which Roman Catholics place in the efficacy of penance.
But the blindness of fallen man may be traced, not only in the torments of the Hindoos, or the lighter penances of Popery, but in the conduct of Protestants; many of whom suppose that the application of a little water to the face of an infant can affect the eternal state of a rational creature; or that the eating of a consecrated wafer, or a bit of consecrated bread, can recommend a sinner to the favour of God; in short, that any external appliances can make a difference in the matter of our acceptance with God. The observances to which we have referred, are a parody on the ordinances of Christ. The baptism enjoined by the Lord is a reasonable service; it is the profession of our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as our Substitute. In this ordinance the believer puts on Christ. He professes that he is dead, but that his life is hid with Christ in God, and that he is begotten to a lively hope of having fellowship with Christ in his resurrection.
The Lord’s supper exhibits the separation of believers from the world, and their union in Christ their Lord, by their partaking of the same bread. Thus, too, their eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of man is symbolized. As the body is nourished by bread, so the life of God in the soul—implanted in the day of regeneration—is maintained by the doctrine of the incarnation and death of Christ. All Christ’s ordinances are calculated to strengthen the faith of his people; but when viewed as efficacious, merely as external rites, —separated, as they frequently are, from the great truths of the atonement, and of the believer living by faith in Christ, —so far from being subservient, they are diametrically opposed to the truth of the Gospel and give a completely false view of the way of salvation.
There is nothing which more clearly manifests the utter blindness and ignorance of fallen man, than his proneness to have recourse to outward ceremonies, in order to acceptance with God. God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth; but the blindness of men’s minds leads them to trust in forms and ceremonies, and to suppose that turning their face towards the east or the west, is of much avail in addressing Him who filleth all in all. The beauty of the ordinances of Christ can only be perceived through the influence of the Spirit, and all who have not the Spirit, pervert them, by making a righteousness of an empty form.
There is one very important matter which is more fully illustrated in the epistle to the Galatians than in any other part of the New Testament, namely, the covenant with Abraham. Here we are taught that, when we read of the promises made to Abraham and his seed, we are not to understand his posterity, but Christ, who was to spring from him. Accordingly, we find that the carnal or external accomplishment of the promises was confined to that branch of Abraham’s family from which Christ was to spring. His other seven sons had no more interest in the promises than the rest of the world. They might become the children of Abraham by faith, but their carnal relation to him gave them no pre-eminence over the Gentiles, to which class, although Abraham’s children, they actually belonged. In exact correspondence with this, the spiritual accomplishment of the promises, adoption into God’s family, and the heavenly inheritance, are confined to those in whose heart Christ dwells by faith, who are one with Him, members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, and likewise one Spirit with Him.
We are also indebted to this Epistle for the interpretation of that beautiful allegory contained in the history of Sarah and Hagar. Their differences were not, as we might suppose, merely the effect of jealousy, from the peculiar circumstances in which they stood, but a prophetic intimation of Israel after the flesh being cast out of the household of God, and of the covenant on which all their privileges were, founded, waxing old and vanishing away, so that God declared, ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.
This Epistle, and that to the Hebrews, contain a full exposition of the Mosaic dispensation, and its relation to the kingdom of Christ. Had these epistles been understood, the corruption of the Gospel, and the ordinances of Christ, would not have taken place; but in them and the rest of the New Testament, a high way is prepared for the followers of Jesus to retrace their steps, and to be guided by “the pattern showed to them in the mount,” where the voice from the excellent glory proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, HEAR HIM!” Straightway the representatives of the old dispensation vanished. Moses and Elias had served their generation, by the will of God; they were the heralds of Christ’s approach; and when he was declared to be the Son of God, they were no more to be seen; while He alone remained, the Prophet, Priest, and King of his Church, to whom the disciples were commanded to yield implicit obedience.
In the following remarks on this Epistle, the author has not confined himself to a bare exposition of the text. He has dwelt upon such subjects as he thought might be generally useful. He has said nothing of the time when the Epistle was written, being satisfied that no more than an approximation to the truth respecting the dates of the Epistles can be obtained, and being also assured, that, had it been necessary for the edification of the people of God, positive information would have been given on the subject.
Should what he has written prove useful in leading any of the Lord’s people to a more diligent study of the Scriptures, and to a clearer understanding of the relation of the old and new covenants, his object will be attained.
EDINBURGH, April 1848