Verse 1. Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.)
Paul's name was originally Saul, but, although a Jew, being the apostle of the Gentiles, he is called Paul from the time that Sergius Paulus, the deputy of Cyprus, believed through his instrumentality.
In this, as in his other epistles, he describes himself as an apostle,—a messenger,—one who had been sent, but not by men, nor by the intervention or instrumentality of man, but immediately by Jesus Christ, and through Him by God the Father. The Lord appeared to him on the way to Damascus, and appointed him the apostle of the Gentiles. Thus he was placed in every respect on a level with the eleven whom the Lord had commissioned to be His ambassadors, who should proclaim pardon through faith in His name to the very chief of sinners.
As there were twelve patriarchs, the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Lord ordained twelve, to whom He gave the name of Apostles, thus distinguishing them from the Seventy whom he sent out to preach in Judea during His personal ministry.
It is a striking peculiarity of the ministry, both of Moses and of Christ, that neither of them fully explained the doctrine which he taught during his abode upon earth. Founders of new religions have arisen, who promulgated their entire systems; but both Moses and Christ referred the full development of their doctrine to a future period, and this, in connexion with what afterwards took place, affords a demonstration of both having come forth from God. Moses required that his law should remain without addition or diminution till the appearance of a prophet like unto him, to whom Israel were to hearken on pain of exclusion from the Divine favour. Many prophets were raised up in Israel previous to the appearance of Christ, but none like unto Moses, who was not only a lawgiver, but discharged the offices of a prophet, priest, and king. The Lord Jesus told His disciples, when about to leave them, that He had many things to say to them, which they could not yet bear, but that He would send them another teacher—the spirit of truth—who should lead them into all the truth. This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost—a feast ordained by Moses in commemoration of the giving of the law—by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and then, and not till then, was the kingdom of God fully exhibited. From that period, the apostles were enabled with infallible certainty to promulgate the laws of the kingdom, and to confirm their doctrine by mighty signs and wonders. Hence, they could say, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." In fact, Christ spoke in them. When He said, "as my Father sent me, so send I you," He pledged Himself for the truth of what they taught, as the Father had done in regard to the Lord Jesus, when He said "this is my beloved Son, hear ye Him." Thus the Gospel was committed to the apostles; they were Christ's ambassadors, and were furnished with ample credentials.
The Apostles are represented as having the keys of the kingdom of heaven committed to them. Much has been said on "the power of the keys," and a very plain subject has been obscured by professed explanations. Nothing is more obvious than that by the keys committed to the Apostles, we are to understand the doctrine by the faith of which men enter the kingdom. Those who made the commandment of God of none effect by their tradition, are represented as taking away the key of knowledge, neither entering themselves, nor suffering others to enter.
When the Lord inquired of the twelve, what men said of Him, they replied, some considered Him to be John the baptist, some Elias, others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. On the question being put, "But whom say ye that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Peter was the spokesman upon this occasion, and Jesus—having pronounced him blessed, and declared that flesh and blood had not revealed it to him, but his Heavenly Father—confirmed to him the name of Peter, which he had formerly given him, and declared, "upon this rock I will build my church." The rock is evidently the truth which Peter had declared. Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God, is the foundation and chief corner-stone of the Church, but Peter was one of the twelve foundations of the wall of the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, for he and his fellow apostles with all authority made known the doctrine of the kingdom, not only to their own, but to all succeeding generations, and upon their doctrine the kingdom rests.
Ever since the days of the Apostles, the building of mercy has been advancing, and it shall continue to advance, till the topstone be brought forth with shouting, crying, Grace, grace unto it! While every wise master builder carefully lays the foundation, he never thinks of repeating the process. Being satisfied that the foundation is secure, he carries forward the building. The Apostles fully promulgated the doctrine of Christ, and completed the Holy Scriptures, in which the laws of his kingdom are recorded. This kingdom cannot be moved; its laws are unchangeable, so that there is no further need of inspired teachers being raised up for the guidance and direction of its subjects.
Upon the Lord's committing to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, are founded the pretensions of the pope, who, as the successor of Peter, lays claim to infallibility and universal authority over the Church. That Peter had no official authority above the other Apostles, is manifest by Paul's declaration, that he was not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles; and so far from admitting Peter's superiority, we find in this epistle, that, when Peter acted improperly, Paul publicly reproved him, and pointed out the inconsistency of his conduct. When the Lord delivered the commission to the Apostles after his resurrection, no special notice was taken of Peter. The keys of the kingdom were equally put into the hands of the eleven, and, as if to guard against ascribing superiority to Peter, we find the Lord giving him the most severe rebuke which He ever administered to any of his disciples. "He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." And he alone forfeited his apostleship by denying his Master, and was formally reinstated in his office, but without the slightest hint of preeminence over the others.
Peter, James, and John were indeed peculiarly distinguished during our Lord's personal ministry. They alone were permitted to be present when he raised the ruler's daughter. They alone attended him on the holy mount, and were nearest him during his agony at Gethsemane; but their official authority was no greater than that of the other Apostles. We have seen that the Lord said he would give to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and in correspondence with this declaration, he was particularly distinguished on the day of Pentecost. "Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice." God also made choice among the Apostles, that "the Gentiles by his mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe." This is elsewhere termed "opening the door of faith to the Gentiles," which confirms the interpretation given of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. But however distinguished Peter might be, it affords no plea for the domination of the pope, for the allegation of Peter having been bishop of Rome, is one of those vain traditions by which the mother of harlots has made void the law of God.
Another declaration of the Lord to his Apostles exactly corresponds with his delivering to them the keys of the kingdom of heaven. "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." God alone can forgive sin, but the Apostles were qualified to preach forgiveness of sins with infallible certainty. "Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." Here the remission of the sins of all who believe is authoritatively declared by Paul. Again, the same Apostle says of certain characters, that they shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The sins of the former he remits, the sins of the latter he retains. To the same purpose it is written,—" Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The Apostles delivered to the disciples the laws of the kingdom, and as they spoke and wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, their award was final. In commanding the person who by his direction had been excluded from the Church at Corinth, to be again received into their fellowship, Paul says, "To whom ye forgive any thing I forgive also; for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ."
Thus it appears that from the nature of their office, the Apostles could have no successors. The supposition is evidently absurd, for they were ordained to be witnesses of Christ's resurrection, which implied their having seen him after that event. Being dead, they yet speak to us in their epistles, and by their word shall the churches of Christ be ruled to the end of the world; and thus, according to our Lord's declaration, "they arc sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." As the Old Testament concludes with an injunction to remember the law of Moses, which God commanded him in Horeb, with the statutes and judgments, the New Testament concludes with a solemn warning, that, "if any man shall add auto these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book, or if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life." These declarations may well cause the ears of those to tingle, who presume to make any addition to or alteration of the word which Christ hath spoken by his holy apostles and prophets, by which we shall all be judged. But there is no new thing under the sun; the Jews corrupted the truth of God by their traditions, and precisely in the same manner has the pure and holy doctrine of Jesus been perverted and changed into a system of priestcraft and idolatry.
We have noticed that as the Apostles were the Lord's chosen witnesses, it was essential that they should have seen him after his resurrection. To this Paul particularly refers. "Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" He had, no doubt, seen him teaching in the temple; and probably from his hatred of the truth, he had seen him nailed to the tree. But, at all events, on the way to Damascus he saw him in glory, which eclipsed the splendour of the noon-day sun, and wa3 thus qualified for the high office which he was chosen to fill. But this was not all; the Lord repeatedly appeared to him, and he was cheered under his unparalleled sufferings for his Master's sake, by being caught up into the third heaven, a favour which, so far as we know, was never vouchsafed to any other child of Adam.
When we reflect on the temper of mind in which Paul had undertaken, and was prosecuting his journey to Damascus, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, we see the force of his own words: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." In this brand plucked out of the fire we evidently perceive the boundless riches of divine grace. Verily it is not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. And not only do we see in Saul's conversion the long-suffering and patience of God, but in all his subsequent labours, his afflictions, and his untiring zeal, we see the power of Christ in subduing the iniquities of his people, and causing them to bear much fruit, as well as in casting their sins into the depths of the sea.
While the title of apostles is almost exclusively appropriated in the New Testament to the twelve, it is occasionally used in a wider sense. Barnabas and Saul are termed apostles, and in writing to the Thessalonians, Paul classes Silas with himself, when he says, "we might have been burdensome as the apostles of Christ." He also speaks of the messengers (apostles) of the churches, but still there is a broad line of distinction between the twelve and the other ministers of the word.
Here it may not be improper to advert to the choice of an apostle, proposed by Peter, and carried into effect by the eleven, as recorded in Acts, ch. 1.
We may premise, that we have not the same evidence of this transaction being of God, as we have of what was done by the Apostles after the descent of the Holy Ghost. Till that took place they did not receive power from on High infallibly to regulate the concerns of the kingdom of Christ. Peter, indeed, proved by a quotation from the book of Psalms that another was to take the office from which Judas by transgression fell. But the Lord himself afterwards filled up the number of the twelve. Matthias was numbered with the eleven apostles, but he received his commission by the intervention of man, whereas Paul was commissioned immediately by the Lord; and therefore he describes himself as an apostle, not of men, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.
Here we see the unity between the Father and the Son. "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do; for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." Ever since the fall, God has had no direct friendly communication with sinful man, for He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and cannot look upon sin. Hence the tidings of salvation through a suffering, yet victorious Saviour, were communicated, not in the form of a promise to Adam, but of a curse on the serpent, and ever since that period all the promises have flowed to the children of fallen Adam through the Saviour, who was then announced. He is the Day's-man, the Mediator between God and man, in whom all the promises of God are yea, and in him amen, for they all come to believers through him.
"No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him;" and in virtue of the unity of the Father and the Son, we behold the works of the Father in what is done by the Son, "who is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person."
The resurrection of Christ is sometimes ascribed to the Father, as in this passage; sometimes to the Son, as when he says, "I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again;" at other times it is ascribed to the Holy Spirit,—"for he was quickened by the Spirit." Such is. the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that while their operation may be distinguished, it cannot be separated.
By his resurrection, the Lord Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power. This was the fullest proof of his Divinity, There were indeed various other proofs; the voice from the excellent glory repeatedly proclaimed his matchless dignity. The mighty works which the Father gave him to do bore witness of him. But the sign which He gave in accordance with Deut. 13:1, was the sign of the prophet Jonah, in other words, the destruction and restoration of his body, in which, as in its temple, all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily.
Jesus was crucified as a blasphemer for declaring himself to be the Son of God. He was laid in the tomb, which was secured by the stone, the seal, and the guard; and during the period he had specified, he remained in the lower parts of the earth: but it was not possible that the Holy One of God,—the original source of life, and to whom, in his mediatorial character, the Father had given life, should be held under the power of death; accordingly, very early on the first day of the week, He left the tomb, and thus was the controversy with the Jews—who had crucified him as a blasphemer—finally decided. He rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, who thus declared him to be his Only Begotten, the promised seed of the woman, who had by death destroyed him that had the power of death, the old serpent, the devil, and Satan.
It has been justly observed that there is a peculiarity in Paul's manner of addressing his epistles. James styles himself simply "a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ." John describes himself as the elder, or the aged. Jude terms himself the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James. Peter calls himself a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ. These titles were sufficient, their apostleship was undisputed; but Paul received his commission in an extraordinary manner. He describes himself as one "born out of due time." While the others were fulfilling their ministry, he was persecuting the church of God, and was, therefore, more particular in establishing his apostolical authority. This was rendered still more necessary by his being appointed the apostle of the Gentiles, which brought him more into collision with the judaizing teachers.
From this we derive great advantage, for in Paul's vindication of his apostolical authority, we have a much fuller description of the power attached to this, the highest office in the Church of Christ. "God hath set some in the Church, first apostles."
Ver. 2. And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia.
Here, and elsewhere, Paul joins with himself the brethren who were with him, not that his apostolic authority required confirmation, but to convince the Galatians that in deviating from what he had taught them, they had wandered from the footsteps of Christ's flock. It also proved the interest which the brethren took in their welfare, and how desirous they were that the Galatians should listen to the instruction which the Apostle was about to deliver.
The term churches is here employed as it is throughout the New Testament to denote congregations; a church is a congregation, or assembly, for whatever purpose it has come together. Thus we find the riotous assembly of the craftsmen at Ephesus termed a church. In the same passage the name is given to a court of justice. The singular is uniformly made use of to denote a single congregation, however numerous, such as the congregation or church of Israel, or the general assembly (church) of the first born, who arc written in heaven. We read of the church at Corinth, for they came together into one place; and with equal uniformity we find the plural churches, when a country or district is referred to. Hence we read of the churches of Asia, Judea, Macedonia, &c. and in the passage before us, of the churches of Galatia. This distinction ought to be attended to; it proves that such expressions as the Church of England, or the Church of Scotland, are unscriptural, and improper. The members of these bodies are never assembled together, and therefore neither, in Scripture phraseology, can be termed a church.
Ver. 3. Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the Apostle's usual salutation when addressing the churches; it comprehends every thing essential to our welfare. Grace is necessarily free and unmerited; it is pure favour, and to this we must trace every spiritual and heavenly blessing. Grace alone can take away sin, for the sinner has no claim upon God. It is bestowed by God the Father, not immediately, for, as has been observed, He who cannot look upon sin has had no direct friendly intercourse with man since the fall. Grace flows to sinners through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the only medium of communication between God, who is glorious in holiness, and sinful man; the only way in which we come to God, and in which His kindness and mercy flow to us. In virtue of the unity of the Father and the Son, grace is described as proceeding from both. In God's dealings with our fallen race, it has pleased the Divine Majesty to give a discovery of his manifold wisdom, and to show that with Him nothing is impossible. While He justifies the ungodly, He gives a more awful proof of his inflexible justice and abhorrence of sin, than if not an individual of the human race had escaped. Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ.
The law entered that sin might abound; but where sin abounded, grace superabounded. Salvation is by grace, through faith, which is the gift of God, communicated to the members of the church which Christ hath purchased with his own blood; to those who were given Him out of the world, who having been predestinated to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, are called, and justified, and glorified with their Elder Brother. They are no longer under the law, but under grace, and in every situation in which they can be placed Christ's language to them is, "My grace is sufficient for thee, my strength is made perfect in weakness." During the whole of their pilgrimage they lean upon Christ, and receive out of His fulness grace for grace, by which they are conformed to His image. The Gospel is the manifestation of the grace of God, from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift.
Peace is connected with grace, upon which, as its foundation, it securely rests. Our hearts condemn us; we know that in many things we offend, but the Gospel of the grace of God gives to believers the knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins, which are all washed away by the blood of Christ. He has made peace by the blood of his cross, and when he manifests Himself to us as He doth not to the world, we experience the peace of God delivering us from the spirit of bondage unto fear, and giving us the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry abba, Father.
This peace springs from our perceiving the perfection of the atonement made upon Calvary, by which God's anger is turned away from his people. Hence He is described as the God of peace, who brought from the dead the Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant; and through the same blood shall all his sheep be brought, to share the glories of his everlasting kingdom. He who knew no sin, was made sin for his people,—He endured the curse of the law which they had broken,—for them He tasted the bitterness of death, and in token of his having fulfilled all righteousness, He was raised to the power of an endless life. Thus He became the first-fruits of them that slept. As the Head and Surety of his people, He fully satisfied justice on their behalf; He finished transgression,—made an end of sin,—made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness. The resurrection of the Head was the justification of the members, the proof of their deliverance from that load of guilt which would have carried them down to the pit; it was the pledge that they would all in due time be raised to dwell with Christ in the mansions which He is gone before to prepare.
In the Lord's last discourse before he suffered, He bequeathed peace to his Apostles as the representatives of his Church, and as the executor of his own will, He put them in possession of the legacy. On the evening of the resurrection, He stood in the midst of them, and said, "Peace be unto you." By his victory over death and the grave, believers are begotten again to a lively hope of an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. The inheritance is doubly secured; it is reserved in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, nor do thieves break through and steal; while believers are kept for the enjoyment of it by the power of God.
Such is the grace and peace which the Apostle prays that the Galatians may enjoy; it proceeds from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul traces it to its origin. All things are of God; all grace springs from Him who is love; but it can only reach us through Jesus Christ, who is given to be Head over all things to his Church. "In Christ, and in him alone, the love of God is manifested and commended to sinners of mankind; and just so far as we know him, and believe the testimony which the Father has given concerning him—so far, and no farther, do we know and believe the love that God hath to us; and in as far as we know and believe the love of God to us shall we be changed into the same image." Hence it is written, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
We have a conclusive proof of the divinity of Christ in the same things being attributed equally to Him and to the Father. God will not give his glory to another. He is God alone, and besides Him there is none else; and if Christ were not God over all, he would not be described, as in this place, to be the Bestower of grace and peace.
Ver. 4. Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.
This world was made for man, and was adapted to his constitution by Infinite Wisdom. God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good. In man's first estate there was no danger of the abundance of the gifts concealing the Giver from his view, or withdrawing his heart from God; on the contrary, the more his enjoyment the greater was his gratitude. Such was the result of the blessing of God. But all is now changed; fallen man is by nature a child of wrath, and, so far as this world is concerned, the condition of all mankind is irrevocably fixed. The ground is cursed for his sake; he is doomed to eat his bread in sorrow till he return to the dust. But a countless multitude of the fallen race were chosen in and given to Christ before the foundation of the world; not to be restored to their original state; not to re-enter the earthly paradise, but to be delivered from this present evil world by being created anew in the second Adam, the Lord from heaven; and through him to become partakers of a divine nature, by which they are fitted for the enjoyment of spiritual and heavenly blessings. While here, they groan, being burdened with a body of sin and death; but they wait for the adoption, to wit the redemption of their body, when, being clothed upon with their house which is from heaven—their spiritual and incorruptible body—they shall be fitted for inhabiting that city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. Through their union with the Son, they are adopted into the family of God, every member of which shall inherit an exceeding and an eternal weight of glory.
Hence they are described as not being of this world, as Christ is not of this world; their citizenship is in heaven, into which their Forerunner is entered, and they are waiting His second coming, that He may receive them to himself. All their hopes are grounded on his atonement; by it they arc redeemed from the curse. He bore their sins in his own body on the tree, that they, having died in his death, and consequently become dead unto sin, might live unto righteousness, by Christ living in them.
God made to meet on their great Surety and Covenant Head the iniquities of them all, who buried them for ever in his grave; his resurrection was the broad seal of heaven—the proof of the accomplishment of the wondrous scheme in which the Three Persons in the unity of the Godhead cordially united. The Son came to do the Father's will, by the which will, says the Apostle, we (believers) are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all. The Holy Spirit rested on Christ without measure; and by this one Spirit, communicated to them through Him, his people are all baptized into one body, and shall all be raised from the dead, spiritual and incorruptible, to inhabit the new heaven and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, into which nothing unclean shall enter. Christ united himself with his people (the children whom God had given him) in an indissoluble bond, and shared their misery, that they might partake of his glory. He endured their curse, that they might inherit his blessing.
They are in the world, but not of the world; by the blood of the everlasting covenant they are redeemed from their former vain conversation, which was the fruit of their alienation from God, by whose most righteous sentence they were cut off from the only source of holiness and happiness; but in the sufferings of their glorious Head they received double of the Lord's hands for all their sins, and being quickened by the Spirit, they live and walk in the Spirit. There is, however, a law in their members warring against the law of their mind. Adam still lives in them; but soon shall they completely put off the old man, and be satisfied when they awake in Christ's likeness.
Believers, in common with all others, were by nature cut off from God by the curse of the broken law; but Jesus hath delivered them from death; he hath ransomed them from the power of the grave, and by his death and resurrection has secured for them the enjoyment of eternal life, by the prospect of which their hearts are purified, and themselves freed from the bondage of the God of this world, under which they were brought by the rebellion of their first father. "The love of a present life and of a present world, the constituent principle of the child of Adam; and the love of God as manifested in Christ, the constituent principle of the new creature, are utterly inconsistent, and destroy one another."
Ver. 5. To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
The Apostle here ascribes glory for ever and ever to God, In the character of our God and Father—a relation into which we are brought by union with his only-begotten Son. "Go to my brethren," said Jesus, "and say unto them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork; but we may say, "there was the hiding of his power." The work of creation gives as no information how a sinner may escape the punishment he has merited, or how mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, meet together. This can only be learned from the gospel, and hence all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are said to be hid in Christ. It was God's eternal purpose to make known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places His manifold wisdom by the church, the members of which are brought into the closest fellowship with God through union with Christ. This is termed the fellowship of the mystery, or the mysterious fellowship, which from the beginning of the world was hid in God, and was shadowed forth in Adam, who is "the figure of him that was to come;" and of Eve, the emblem of the church of Christ, the members of which he acknowledges as bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, and who are one spirit with Him, so that their union is complete.