The Epistle to the Galatians - Chapter 1. 6-24
William Trew, Cardiff
The apostle now proceeds, in the second paragraph, to speak both of the instruments used by God in the accomplishment of the intention of salvation, and of the intervention of the Enemy to thwart the accomplishment of it in the saints.
2. The Instruments Used by God and the Intervention of the Enemy, 1.6 to 2.16. There are two instruments used of God for the accomplishment of His intention in us. These are:
The Divinely Communicated Message of the Gospel. The Divinely Commissioned Messenger of the Gospel.
The Gospel, given of God, is described in four ways:
"Not after man", 1. 11-12. The Source of the message is God. The fact is stated negatively in order to emphasize that the message that had been preached among them had not originated in the mind of a man, but in the heart of God.
"The gospel of Christ", 1. 7. Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, was the glorious Subject of it.
"The grace of Christ", 1.6. Grace is the principle according to which Christ saves.
"The faith of Christ", 2. 16. On the sinner's part, faith in Christ, not works of the law, is the saving condition.
Now we must notice the four ideas developed in this paragraph.
(a) The Curse of God upon the Corrupters of the Gospel,1. 6-12. It was in this way that Satan intervened to attempt to thwart the accomplishment of the intention of God. He leads men - evil men (though moral and religious) - to corrupt and pervert the precious message in which is made known the means by which God can accomplish His intention of eternal blessing for men. These servants of the Enemy taught that it was not sufficient for the Gentiles to put faith in Christ as Saviour, and to be saved by the grace of God shown to undeserving sinners. In addition, they must be circumcised and observe the law, in order thus to be perfected before God. From the development of the apostle's argument in this Epistle, we shall learn what this really meant, and we shall see what the full result of this has ultimately proved to be. It is sufficient for the moment to say that this is the basic teaching of every false cult and of every system of human religion, the whole aim of which is to demand that man in the flesh be given a place of credit and acceptance before God. Since the revelation of the grace of God is His supreme glory, they who thus pervert the Gospel of grace rob God of His highest glory; they deny the unique dignity of the Lord Jesus as the only Saviour and Lord, and they rob the guilty sinner of his only hope of salvation. Therefore Paul uses here such solemn language: "let him be accursed"; "though ... an angel from heaven" - in which case authority would seem to men to be indisputable - "preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed". Paul had preached among them a message from God in whose mind it had been conceived. Neither from man, as to origin, nor through men as channels, had he received the Gospel, but "by the revelation of Jesus Christ", and what he had thus received, he declared. It was not his to conciliate men, but faithfully to serve Christ whose bondservant he was honoured to be.
(b) The Conversion, Call and Commission of the Custodian of the Gospel, 1. 13-24. The reference here to his conversion is an essential part of the apostle's argument. We have seen what was being taught by those teachers who would mix Christianity and the Jewish religion together. But Paul was an expert in the Jewish religion. Such had been his zeal for the traditions of the elders, that he had sworn to exterminate what, with supreme contempt, he called "The sect of the Nazarene". He would brook no rival to the faith of his fathers. In Jerusalem he had ravaged the church of God. Because he was such a zealot, he was promoted above his contemporaries to a place of national honour. But one day he stood and watched a Christian martyr die in the faith of Jesus and heard his words of witness, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God", and also his dying words, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit", Acts 7- 56, 59- He never forgot what he saw and heard that day. About the same time the law said to him, "Thou shalt not covet", Rom. 7. 7-9, and for the first time he realized that the law in which he boasted would not only regulate his outward conduct, but would hold him to account for the secret desires of his heart. In that moment his conscience was awakened to the fact that he was a sinner and came under the judicial sentence of broken law.
Still seeking to stifle these convictions, he made his way to Damascus "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord", Act 9. 1. It was there, as he drew near the city, that he learned, in the radiancy of the glory of the Risen Lord (by which radiancy he was smitten to the ground and blinded), that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of God. Trembling in the realization both of his own dreadful guilt and that of his nation, he fled for salvation to the One in whom was mercy even for the "chief" of sinners. Henceforth, to serve Him would be his greatest joy, and he would contemplate the marks of sufferings, received in the service of the One who had won his heart for ever, as the "brand marks" that would distinguish him among men as the bondslave of Jesus Christ.
It is at this point that the Epistle takes up the account of his conversion. It is obvious that the story, as he tells it, was the complete refutation of the teaching of the Judaizers. The way in which he had been saved was the only way of salvation for any sinner, Jew and Gentile alike. Salvation is therefore an act of divine sovereignty in matchless grace and free mercy. In this the apostle exulted: "it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen (nations)", Gal. 1. 15.
It would seem that these evil teachers had said that Paul, far from being an apostle appointed by Christ, was merely a messenger of the apostles in Jerusalem, and that, unfaithful to his trust, he was now preaching something different from the twelve apostles of whom Peter had been appointed leader by Christ Himself. To this charge Paul now replies, as he speaks of his call and commission. Thus he commences the Epistle: "Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead)". "Not of men", as the Source of his appointment to apostolic office. "Neither by man", as a medium of his appointment to apostolic office. "But by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead"; the apostle frequently associates the Lord Jesus with God the Father in this intimate way, thus proving the deity of "Jesus Christ". In this statement, "Jesus Christ" is mentioned before "God the Father". It is otherwise in verse 3, because there He, with God the Father, is the common Source of grace and peace for the saints. But here it is to emphasize that absolute authority is in His hand, as raised from the dead, and that appointment to service in relation to the present administration of God is His prerogative. It is very evident that this cuts at the very roots of the principle of human ordination so essential to clerisy. Just as the Gospel that he preached was "of God" and given him by "revelation of Jesus Christ", so also his apostleship, and his commission to preach that Gospel, was of God, through Jesus Christ.
Fully conscious of his divine call and commission, Paul had no need to refer to men in authority that he might receive credentials from their hands further to accredit or authorize him. Not until three years had passed, in which he had freely and with great boldness served Christ, did he pay a short visit to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter. "But other of the apostles saw I none", and he calls upon the heart-knowing God to witness that his statement was true, Gal. 1. 17-20. For any man or body of men to claim to possess the right to licence, and so to authorize the use of a spiritual gift that the Risen Lord has given, is an intrusion upon the sovereign rights of Christ, the only Head of the Church. "As we think of the character of Christianity, it is plain how fully the divine call and commission are characteristic of its ministry. This is illustrated by the difference between the prophet and the priest in Israel. The prophet was one brought near to God to learn His mind in His presence, and was sent forth by God and from Him, responsible to Him alone in the message entrusted to him, to declare God's mind. The priesthood in Israel, as contrasted with the prophet, was successional. And for that reason the succession carried no guarantee of spiritual character. The priesthood might go astray from God, and in actual fact, did do so. Still, the priest was the priest, and was to be acknowledged by the people as such, until God set him aside. But the prophet was a totally different person. Receiving his call from God in the most distinct way possible, his spiritual character was vouched for by this independent call of God. Knowledge of God was what marked him. He was characteristically 'a man of God', and, as such, he stood for God, even in days of defection and apostasy, with his message of recall or of warning. This is the character of all Christian ministry. There is no official standing, to be reverenced whatever the character of the man may be. The message from God, and the character of the messenger as consistent with the message he brings, are the whole matter. And the life of the servant, if out of touch with God, would make him forfeit at once any reality in his claim to be a messenger of God. The gift is from God alone. The possession of the God-given gift carries with it the responsibility and divine commission to use the gift that God has given, in the sphere that God appoints. To accept human ordination 01 authorization of it would only be to dishonour the glorious Giver." f. w. grant.
Thus the apostle emphatically repudiates the charges made against him by these evil teachers, indisputably proving that his apostleship was by the appointment of God, and that the Gospel he had preached, and which these Galatians had professed to receive, had been given him by "revelation of Jesus Christ".