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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Galatians 1



Other Authors
Verse 1

(1) An apostle.—This title is evidently to be taken here in its strictest sense, as St. Paul is insisting upon his equality in every respect with the Twelve. The word was also capable of a less exclusive use, in which the Apostle would seem to be distinguished from the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:5; 1 Corinthians 15:7). In this sense Barnabas and James the Lord’s brother, possibly also Andronicus and Junias in Romans 16:7, were called “Apostles.”

Not of men, neither by man.—Two distinct prepositions are used:—“not of” (i.e., from) “men,” in the sense of the ultimate source from which authority is derived; “neither by” (or, through) “man,” with reference to the channel or agency by which it is conveyed. Thus we speak of the Queen as the “fount” of honour, though honour may be conferred by the ministry acting in her name. The kind of honour which St. Paul held (his Apostleship) was such as could be derived only from God; nor was any human instrumentality made use of in conferring it upon him. His appointment to the Apostolate is connected by St. Paul directly with the supernatural appearance which met him upon the way to Damascus. The part played by Ananias was too subordinate to introduce a human element into it; and the subsequent “separation” of Paul and Barnabas for the mission to the Gentiles, though the act of the Church at Antioch, was dictated by the Holy Ghost, and was rather the assignment of a special sphere than the conferring of a new office and new powers.

By Jesus Christ.—The preposition here, as in the last clause, is that which is usually taken to express the idea of mediate agency. It represents the channel down which the stream flows, not the fountain-head from which it springs. Hence it is applied appropriately to Christ as the Logos, or Word, through whom God the Father communicates with men as the divine agent in the work of creation, redemption, revelation. (See John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2, et al.) It is also applied to men as the instruments for carrying out the divine purposes. The intervention of Jesus Christ took place in the vision through which, from a persecutor, St. Paul became a “chosen vessel” for the propagation of the gospel.

And God the Father—i.e., and by (or, through) God the Father; the same preposition governing the whole clause. We should naturally have expected the other preposition (“of,” or “from”), which signifies source, and not this, which signifies instrumentality; and it would have been more usual with the Apostle to say, “from God,” and “by, or through, Christ.” But God is at once the remote and the mediate, or efficient, cause of all that is done in carrying out His own designs. “Of him, and through him, and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

The Father.—This is to be taken in the sense in which our Lord Himself spoke of God as “My Father,” with reference to the peculiar and unique character of His own sonship—the Father, i.e., of Christ, not of all Christians, and still less, as the phrase is sometimes used, of all men. This appears from the context. The title is evidently given for the sake of contradistinction; and it is noticeable that at this very early date the same phrase is chosen as that which bore so prominent a place in the later creeds and the theology of which they were the expression.

Who raised him from the dead.—Comp. Romans 1:4 : “Declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection is the act which the Apostle regards as completing the divine exaltation of Christ. It is this exaltation, therefore, which seems to be in his mind. He had derived his own authority directly from God and Christ as sharers of the same divine majesty. It was not the man Jesus by whom it had been conferred upon him, but the risen and ascended Saviour, who, by the fact of his resurrection, was “declared to be the Son of God with power.” So that the commission of the Apostle was, in all respects, divine and not human.

Verses 1-5


(1-5) It is no self-constituted teacher by whom the Galatians are addressed, but an Apostle who, like the chosen Twelve, had received his commission, not from any human source or through any human agency, but directly from God and Christ. As such, he and his companions that are with him give Christian greeting to the Galatian churches, invoking upon them the highest of spiritual blessings from God, the common Father of all believers, and that Redeemer whose saving work they denied and, by their relapse into the ways of the world around them, practically frustrated.

St. Paul had a two-fold object in writing to the Galatians. They had disparaged his authority, and they had fallen back from the true spiritual view of Christianity—in which all was due to the divine grace and love manifested in the death of Christ—to a system of Jewish ceremonialism. And at the very outset of his Epistle, in the salutation itself, the Apostle meets them on both these points. On the one hand, he asserts the divine basis of the authority which he himself claimed; and on the other, he takes occasion to state emphatically the redeeming work of Christ, and its object to free mankind from those evil surroundings into the grasp of which the Galatians seemed again to be falling.

Verse 2

(2) All the brethren which are with me—i.e., all his travelling companions. We are unable to say exactly who these were, the more so as we do not know with any certainty the place from which St. Paul was writing. He may have had in his company most of those who are mentioned in Acts 20:4 as accompanying him back into Asia: Sopater, son of Pyrrhus (according to an amended reading); Aristarchus and Secundus, of Thessalonica; Gaius, of Derbe; Tychicus and Trophimus, of Asia; in any case, probably Timothy, and perhaps Titus.

It was usual with St. Paul to join with his own name that of one or other of his companions in the address of his Epistles. Thus, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians he associates with himself Sosthenes; in the Second Epistle to Corinth, and in those to the Philippians and Colossians, Timothy and Silvanus. In writing to the Galatians, St. Paul includes all his companions in his greeting, hardly with the view of fortifying himself with their authority, for he is ready enough to take the whole defence of his own cause upon himself, but, perhaps, not altogether without the idea that he is possessed of their sympathy.

The churches of Galatia.—See the Introduction to this Epistle.

This opening salutation is intentionally abrupt and bare. Usually it was the Apostle’s custom to begin with words of commendation. He praises all that he can find to praise even in a Church that had offended so seriously as the Corinthians. (See 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 1:4-7.) But the errors of the Galatians, he feels, go more to the root of things. The Corinthians had failed in the practical application of Christian principles; the Galatians (so far as they listened to their Judaising teachers) could hardly be said to have Christian principles at all. The Apostle is angry with them with a righteous indignation, and his anger is seen in the naked severity of this address.

Verse 3

(3) Grace . . . and peace.—See Note on Romans 1:7.

God the Father.—We may see by this verse how the title “Father,” originally used in the present formula to distinguish between the Divine Persons, came gradually to contract a wider signification. God is, through Christ, the Father of all who by their relation to Christ are admitted into the position of “sons” (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:5-7). Hence, where no special limitation is imposed by the context, this secondary sense may be taken as included.

And from our Lord Jesus Christ.—Strictly, it would be more in accordance with the theology of St. Paul to say that grace and peace were given from the Father, by, or through, the Son. Here the one preposition from is used to cover both cases, just as by had been used in Galatians 1:1. It is equally correct to use the word “from” with reference to a mediate and to the ultimate stage in the act of procession. Water may be drawn not only from the fountain-head, but also from the running stream.

Verse 4

(4) Who gave himself.—Surrendered Himself, of His own free act and will, to those who sought His death. The phrase has a parallel in Titus 2:14, and appears in its full and complete form in the Gospel saying (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45): “The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many “; and in 1 Timothy 2:6 : “Who gave Himself a ransom” (the word is here a compound, which brings out more strongly the sense of vicariousness) “for all.”

For our sins.—In the Greek there are three prepositions, which can only be translated by the single word “for” in English. The first has for its primary sense “concerning,” or “relating to”; it merely marks a connection or relation between two facts. The second has rather the sense “in behalf of,” “in the interests of.” The third means strictly “in place of.” The first, as might be expected, is naturally used in respect of things; the second and third of persons. The death of Christ was a sacrifice for sins, i.e., the sins of mankind stood in a distinct relation to it, which was really that of cause. The sins of mankind it was which set the whole scheme of redemption in motion, and to take away those sins was its main object. The death of Christ was a sacrifice for sinners. It was a sacrifice wrought in their behalf, for their benefit. It was also a sacrifice wrought in their stead. Christ suffered in order that they might not suffer. He gave His life “a ransom for (i.e., in place of) many.” The first of these meanings is represented in Greek by the preposition peri, the second by huper, the third by anti. The distinction, however, is not quite strictly kept up. We not unfrequently find the death of Christ described as a sacrifice for (on behalf of) sins. This would correspond rather to our phrase “for the sake of.” The object was to do away with sins. They were, as it were, the final cause of the atonement.

It is somewhat doubtful which of the first two prepositions is to be read here. By far the majority of MSS. have peri, but the famous Codex Vaticanus, and one of the corrections of the Sinaitic MS., have huper. The two prepositions are not unfrequently confused in the MSS., and the probability in this case is that the numerical majority is right. It will then be simply stated in the text that the sins of men and the sacrifice of Christ have a relation to each other. If there had been no sin there would have been no redemption.

Deliver us.—The deliverance present to the mind of the Apostle appears to be rather (in technical language) that of sanctification than that of justification. The object of redemption is regarded for the moment as being to deliver men from sin, and not so much to deliver them from guilt, the consequence of sin. The Atonement has really both objects, but it is the first that the Apostle has in view in this passage.

This present evil world.—The reading of the three oldest and best MSS. tends rather to emphasise the word “evil”—“this present world, with all its evils.” A question is raised as to the word translated “present,” which might probably mean “impending;” but the Authorised version is probably right. “This present world” is strictly this present age. The Jews divided the history of the world into two great periods—the times antecedent to the coming of the Messiah, and the period of the Messianic reign. The end of the first and the beginning of the second were to be especially attended with troubles; and it was just in this transition period—the close of the older dispensation of things—in which the Apostles regarded themselves as living. The iniquities of the Pagan society around them would naturally give them an intense longing for release; but the release which they seek is moral and spiritual. They do not so much pray that they may be “taken out of the world” as that they may be “kept from the evil.” This the Christian scheme, duly accepted and followed, would do. The Atonement free men from guilt, but its efficacy does not cease there; it sets going a train of motives which hold back the Christian from sin, and constrain him to use his best endeavours after a holy life. The Galatians had lost sight of the power of the Atonement to do this, and had fallen back upon the notion of a legal righteousness, through the vain attempt to keep the commandments of the Law.

According to the will.—The scheme of redemption was willed by God, and therefore all that was done, either on the part of man or of his Redeemer, was a carrying out of His will.

Of God and our Father.—Or, as it might be, of our God and Father. It was the fatherly love of God for His creature, man, that set the work of redemption in motion; hence, in reference to the work of redemption, He is spoken of as “our Father”—i.e., the Father of mankind.

Verse 5

(5) Glory.—Perhaps, properly, the glory—i.e., the divine glory: that pre-eminent glory with which no other can compare.

If this is the case, then it would be better to supply “is” than “be.” His own peculiar glory does belong to God, and therefore the Christian ascribes it to Him as that which is already His; he does not pray for it as something unfulfilled, as, e.g., he prays for the coming of God’s kingdom.

In the insertion of this brief doxology the mind of the Apostle obeys an involuntary impulse of reverential awe. For a similar ascription in the same parenthetic form, comp. Romans 9:5.

For ever and ever.—Literally, for ages of ages, a Hebraising expression for infinite time. Commonly, time was divided only into two great world-periods; but the second is, as it were, multiplied indefinitely—“for all possible ages.”

Verse 6

(6) Removed.—The Greek word is one regularly used for a “deserter,” “turn-coat,” or “apostate,” either in war, politics, or religion. The tense is strictly present: “You are now, at this moment, in the act of falling away.”

Him that called you.—The call of the Christian is attributed by St. Paul to God the Father; so even in Romans 1:6. The Christian, having been called by God, belongs to Christ. The part taken by Christ in the calling of the Christian is rather a mediate agency, such as is expressed in the next phrase.

Into the grace of Christ.—Rather, by the grace of Christ. The grace (i.e., the free love) of Christ becomes the instrument of the divine calling, inasmuch as it is through the preaching of that free love and free gift that the unbeliever is at first attracted and won over to the faith. The “grace of Christ” is His voluntary self-surrender to humiliation and death, from no other prompting than His own love for sinful men.

Verse 6-7

(6, 7) Unto another gospel: which is not another.—It is to be regretted that the English language hardly admits the fine shade of distinction which exists here in the Greek. The Greek has two words for “another:” one (the first of those which is here used) implying a difference in kind, the other implying mere numerical addition.

Another gospel do I call it? That would seem to concede its right to be called a gospel at all. It might be supposed to be some alternative theory, existing side by side with that which you originally heard; but this cannot be. This “other gospel” is not a second gospel; for there cannot be two gospels. The inference, therefore, to be drawn is that it is not a gospel in any sense of the word. This, then, may be dismissed. It is no true gospel, but only mischievous and factious meddling on the part of certain false teachers.

Verses 6-10

(6-10) The Apostle is surprised at their rapid defection. The doctrine to which they had at first given in their adhesion was a doctrine of salvation by grace: they now imagined that they were only hearing a different version of the same truths. A different version? How was that possible? There could not be any second gospel, nor was there really anything of the kind. It was not a new gospel, but only a factious perversion of the old. Those who do this—no matter who they be—are accursed. That, at least, is plain speaking, and no one can accuse it of time-serving.

The Apostle had ended his address to the Galatians abruptly, and now he plunges abruptly, and without more preface, into the midst of his charges against them. He cannot understand their sudden apostasy.

Verse 7

(7) But there be some.—The force of the Greek, conjunction is, rather, except that, as the word “only” is used idiomatically in English. So far from being a second gospel, it is really no gospel, “only there are some . . . ,” i.e., the only sense in which there can be any mention of a second gospel is that there are some who pervert the old gospel. The existence of this party is the only excuse for the name. And it is a mere excuse. They do not deserve any such dignity. They really lay themselves under the curse of God.

That trouble you.—The Judaising party, with its restless factiousness and bigotry, causing schisms and divisions in the Church.

Pervert.—The Greek is even still stronger—reverse, or change to its very opposite. This they did by substituting a doctrine of righteousness by works—self-justification before God by performing the precepts of the Mosaic law—for the doctrine of reconciliation with God through the free forgiveness which He has promised to faith in Christ.

The gospel of Christ.—Where combinations of this kind occur, the question naturally suggests itself: What is the relation of the two words to each other? For instance, in the present case, is it “the gospel taught by Christ,” or the “gospel concerning Christ?” The following rule has been proposed:—In such phrases as the “gospel of salvation,” the “gospel of the kingdom,” the genitive is that of the object—“of” is equivalent to “concerning.” In the phrase “the gospel of God” it represents rather the cause or authorship: “the gospel of which God is the Author.” In the present phrase, “the gospel of Christ,” it may be either one or the other, according to the context. We must not, however, narrow too much the Apostle’s use of language. A somewhat vague and ambiguous term sometimes best expresses the fulness of his meaning. In English we might use the phrase “Christ’s gospel” to include at once “the gospel which proceeds from Christ,” and “the gospel which relates to Christ,” all, in fact, which makes it in any sense belong to Him and bear His name.

Verse 8

(8) Though.—The Greek is, strictly, even though, marking an extreme and improbable supposition.

We.—It seems, perhaps, too much to say, in the face of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (“by letter as from us”), that St. Paul never used the plural in speaking of himself alone. Still there may, both there and here, be some thought of associating his more immediate companions (“the brethren which are with me,” Galatians 1:2) with himself, the more so as he knew them to be entirely at one with him in doctrine.

Than that.—The Greek has here, not a conjunction, but a preposition, the precise sense of which is ambiguous. It may mean “besides,” “in addition,” or it may mean “contrary to.” The first of these senses has met with the most favour from Protestant, the second from Roman Catholic commentators, as, on the one hand, it seemed to exclude, and on the other to admit, the appeal to tradition. Looking at it strictly in connection with the context, the sense “contrary” seems best, because the gospel taught by the Judaising teachers was “another,” in the sense of being different from that of St. Paul. It was a fundamental opposition of principles, not merely the addition of certain new doctrines to the old.

Accursed.—See 1 Corinthians 16:22. The original Greek word is retained in the translation, Let him be Anathema. The word exists in two forms, with a long e and a short e respectively; and whereas its original meaning was simply that of being “devoted to God,” the form with the long vowel came by gradual usage to be reserved for the good side of this: “devoted, in the sense of consecration; “while the form with the short vowel was in like manner reserved for the bad sense: “devoted to the curse of God.” Attempts have been made to weaken its significance in this passage by restricting it to “ex-communication by the Church;” but this, though a later ecclesiastical use of the word, was not current at such an early date.

In considering the dogmatic application, it is right to bear in mind the nature of the heretical doctrines which it was the Apostle’s object to denounce. They made no profession to be deduced from his own, but were in radical and avowed opposition to them. Still, there is room to believe that if the Apostle could have reviewed his own words at a calmer moment he might have said of himself: “I spake as a man.”

Verse 9

(9) As we said before.—Probably, upon his last (i.e., his second) visit, at the beginning of this, his third, great missionary journey (Acts 18:23). The germs of the apostasy in the Galatian Church would be already visible.

Verse 10

(10) Now.—In speaking thus.

Persuade.—Conciliate, seek to win favour with, or to make friends of.

For.—This word is omitted by all the best MSS. and editors. It is characteristic of the Apostle, especially in animated passages like the present, to omit the connecting particles which are so common in Greek. He has a simple answer to give to the accusation of time-serving, and he states it roundly: “If my present conduct was really that of a man-pleaser I should be something very different from what I am.”

Yet.—Still; at this late period of my career. The Apostle has cut himself adrift from the current of his age too thoroughly and too long for him to be still floating with the tide.

Verse 11

(11, et seq.) The Apostle now enters at length upon his personal defence against his opponents. He does this by means of an historical retrospect of his career, proving by an exhaustive process the thesis with which he starts that the doctrine taught by him comes from a divine source, and possesses the divine sanction. My doctrine is not human, but divine; it could not be otherwise. For (a) I did not learn it in my youth—very much the contrary (Galatians 1:13-14); (b) I did not learn it at my conversion, for I went straight into the desert to wrestle with God in solitude (Galatians 1:15-17); (c) I did not learn it at my first visit to Jerusalem, for then I saw only Peter and James, and them but for a short time (Galatians 1:18-24); (d) I did not learn it at my later visit, for then I dealt with the other Apostles on equal terms, and was fully and freely acknowledged by them as the Apostle of the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1-10); (e) Nay, I openly rebuked Peter for seeming to withdraw the support he had accorded to me (Galatians 2:11-14); (f) the law is dead, and the life which the Christian has he draws solely from Christ (Galatians 2:15-21).

(11) But.—There is a nearly even balance of MSS. authority between this word and For. In any case we should in English naturally omit the conjunction, though a translation must represent it.

Certify.—The word which is thus translated is the same as that which is translated “declare” in 1 Corinthians 15:1; “give you to understand,” in 1 Corinthians 12:3; and “do you to wit,” in 2 Corinthians 8:1. It is used to introduce a statement made with emphasis and solemnity.

After man.—Perhaps the best way to express the force of this phrase would be by the adjective, “Is not human.” Literally it is, is not according to the standard of man—to be judged by human measure, and therefore human in all respects, in its nature and origin.

Verse 12

(12) For I neither received it.—The first “neither” in this verse does not answer to the second, but qualifies the pronoun “I.” The connection in the thought is perhaps something of this kind: “The gospel is not human as it comes to you; neither was it human as it first came to me.”

Taught.—There is an antithesis between this word and “revelation” in the next clause. “I did not receive my doctrine from man by a process of teaching and learning, but from Christ Himself by direct revelation.”

By the revelation.—It is better to omit the article: “by,” or “through the medium of,” revelation. What was this revelation, and when was it given? The context shows that it must have been at some time either at or near the Apostle’s conversion. This would be sufficient to exclude the later revelation of 2 Corinthians 12:1. But can it be the vision on the way to Damascus itself alone? At first sight it would seem as if this was too brief, and its object too special, to include the kind of “sum of Christian doctrine” of which the Apostle is speaking. But this at least contained the two main points—the Messiahship of Jesus, and faith in Jesus, from which all the rest of the Apostle’s teaching flowed naturally and logically. When once it was felt that the death of Christ upon the cross was not that of a criminal, but of the Son of God, the rest all seemed to follow. Putting this together with the sense, which we may well believe had been growing upon him, of the inefficacy of the Law, we can easily see how the idea would arise of a sacrifice superseding the Law, and in the relegation of the Law to this very secondary position the main barrier between Jew and Gentile would be removed. St. Paul himself, by laying stress upon his retreat to the deserts of Arabia, evidently implies that the gospel, as taught by him in its complete form, was the result of gradual development and prolonged reflection; but whether this is to be regarded as implicitly contained in the first revelation, or whether we are to suppose that there were successive revelations, of which there is no record in the Acts, cannot be positively determined.

Of Jesus Christ—i.e., given by Jesus Christ; of which Jesus Christ is the Author.

Verse 13

(13) Ye have heard.—Rather, ye heard. It was indeed notorious; but the Apostle may be referring to the fact that he himself usually (see Acts 22:3-21; Acts 26:4-20; 1 Corinthians 15:8-10) brought his own career and experiences into his preaching, so that they may have heard it from his own lips.

My conversation . . . in the Jews’ religion.—How I behaved in the days of my Judaism. The phrase “Jews’ religion” (literally, Judaism) is not used with any sense of disparagement.

Wasted it.—The same word is translated “destroyed” in Acts 9:21 : “Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name?”

Verse 13-14

(13, 14) Proof that the doctrine of the Apostle is derived from God and not from man, in that it could not be accounted for by his antecedents and education, all of which told against, rather than for, a Christian belief of any kind.

Verse 14

(14) Profited.—Made progress. The kind of progress would correspond to the width of the term “Judaism,” with which it is connected, and would imply, not merely proficiency in theological knowledge, but also increase in zeal and strictness of ritualistic observance.

My equals.—Strictly, my equals in age. St. Paul is thinking of his contemporaries among the young men who came up, ardent like himself, to study the Law at the feet of Gamaliel or some other eminent Rabbi. He looks back upon them much as some English political or religious leader might look back upon his contemporaries at the university, and might point to his zealous advocacy of a cause that he has long since given over.

Traditions.—The “traditions of the elders” mentioned in Matthew 15:2, Mark 7:3, by which the commandment of God “was made of none effect” (Matthew 15:6); the oral or unwritten law, which had gradually grown up by the side of the Pentateuch, and was afterwards embodied in the Mishnah.

Verse 15

(15) In pursuance of his main argument, the Apostle lays stress upon the fact that his very conversion and mission to the Gentiles had been first predestinated in the divine counsels, and afterwards carried out through divine interposition: it was throughout the work of God, and not of man.

Pleased.—The word specially used of the free will and pleasure of God, determined absolutely by itself, and by no external cause.

God.—The word should be printed in italics. It is wanting in the true text, but is left to be supplied by the reader.

Separated me.—Set me apart, marked me off from the rest of mankind, for this special object (i.e., the Apostleship of the Gentiles). (Comp. Romans 1:1, and Note there.)

From my mother’s womb.—A comparison of other passages where this phrase is used seems to make it clear that the sense is rather “from the moment of my birth” than “from before my birth.” (See Psalms 22:10; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 49:5; Matthew 19:12; Acts 3:2; Acts 14:8.) From the moment that he became a living and conscious human being he was marked out in the purpose of God for his future mission.

Called me.—The call is identical with the conversion of the Apostle through the vision which appeared to him on the way to Damascus. As the Apostle was conscious of having done nothing to deserve so great a mark of the divine favour, it is set down entirely to an act of grace.

Verse 15-16

The Inner Revelation

It was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles.—Galatians 1:15-16.

It would not be easy to overestimate the service which has been rendered to the cause of true religion by such narratives as that which Bunyan has given of his own conversion in his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, or the similar narrative which Scott, the commentator, gives of his religious history in The Force of Truth. This text in Galatians is just such a narrative. It is St. Paul’s account of his own conversion—the secret history, as we may call it, of that ever-memorable event. It is perhaps the shortest and most compact piece of religious autobiography that was ever penned. And one need hardly say that, in this case, the story may be read without any misgiving respecting either the truth of the facts or the wisdom of the narrator.

St. Paul is vindicating the Divine origin and authority of his apostleship against those who had questioned his title to occupy an apostle’s place. He claims that the words he speaks were given to him by the direct communication of Heaven, without the interposition of any human or intermediate agency: he bases his right to have his spiritual authority recognized upon the intimacy of the relationship in which God has met him; and he recalls, by way of substantiating his claims to apostolic status, the circumstances which had made his conversion and his call entirely exceptional and unique. No earthly voices of counsel or instruction, he says, had intruded themselves upon him; no earthly presences were at hand when his new Christian allegiance began to determine his course and shape his inward life. Flesh and blood had revealed nothing to him; even they who possessed experience in these things—they who were Apostles before him—had no share in the moulding of his destinies; but he had retired into the Arabian desert, and had listened there, in the silences and solitudes, to the heavenly voices that had told him what God would have him to do. “Who shall dare,” he seems to ask, “to question the validity of such an ordination as that—an ordination wherein no hands of men, but the invisible touch of God, consecrated me, and wherein the anointing and sanctifying influence was the breath of the Eternal Spirit?” In secret God had spoken to him. It was as he had stood in God’s unveiled presence that his spiritual inspirations had come.

How have I seen in Araby Orion,

Seen without seeing, till he set again,

Known the night-noise and thunder of the lion,

Silence and sounds of the prodigious plain!

How have I knelt with arms of my aspiring

Lifted all night in irresponsive air,

Dazed and amazed with overmuch desiring,

Blank with the utter agony of prayer!

Shame on the flame so dying to an ember!

Shame on the reed so lightly overset!

Yes, I have seen Him, can I not remember?

Yes, I have known Him, and shall Paul forget?1 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]


A Destiny

“It was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb.”

This may be viewed as the utterance of adoring humility on the part of the Apostle, combined, however, with the strongest possible assertion of the Divine origin of his mission. A similar statement of God’s arbitrary selection of a particular human being for a particular function is found in Isaiah 49:1, “The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name”; v. 5, “That formed me from the womb to be his servant”; and again, with yet more striking resemblance, in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” It is difficult to believe that this conviction of the Apostle concerning himself as the object of God’s predestinating purpose, and perhaps even the form of its expression—for compare the words in the next verse, “that I might preach him among the Gentiles”—was derived mainly from Jeremiah. The Apostle feels that all the while that he had been pursuing that career of persecuting impiety and passionate Pharisaism, the Almighty had kept His eye upon him as His predestined Apostle, and had been waiting for the fitting hour to summon him forth to His work.

Mr. Gladstone’s character, as Lord Morley’s biography brings out well, was in one respect exceedingly simple. His life became immensely powerful and influential; but it all flowed from one source—the moral crisis, almost in the form of a religious “awakening” or “conversion,” through which he passed in his Oxford days. For immediately upon this there followed the consecration of his whole life as the life of a layman, and yet to be lived from the highest motives. His opinions, religious and political, changed afterwards from time to time. In religion, from Evangelical and individualistic, they became more High Church and historical. In politics, from Conservative they became avowedly Liberal. But while such subsequent revolutions changed the direction, they do not seem to me to have added to the amount of the force which at that date began to move. Up to the age of twenty-two, Gladstone was like a hundred other lads around him. From that age till he died at eighty-nine he lived in the lavish expenditure of power generated in him by one year—perhaps one hour—of conviction. But that force was a moral force; and for seventy years thereafter it poured itself with amazing volume into each new channel of opportunity which seemed to him a path of duty—much as if his chief guide in life had been the ancient indiscriminating exhortation, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”1 [Note: A. Taylor Innes, Chapters of Reminiscence, 172.]

1. So nicely balanced, and so carefully hung, are the worlds that even the grains of their dust are counted, and their places adjusted to a correspondent nicety. There is nothing included in the gross, or total sum, that could be dispensed with. The same is true in regard to forces that are apparently irregular. Every particle of air is moved by laws of as great precision as the laws of the heavenly bodies, or indeed by the same laws; keeping its appointed place, and serving its appointed use. Every odour exhales in the nicest conformity with its appointed place and law. Even the viewless and mysterious heat, stealing through the dark centres and impenetrable depths of the worlds, obeys its uses with unfaltering exactness, dissolving never so much as an atom that was not to be dissolved. What now shall we say of man, appearing, as it were, in the centre of this great circle of uses? They are all adjusted for him: has he, then, no ends appointed for himself? Noblest of all creatures, and closest to God, as he certainly is, are we to say that his Creator has no definite thoughts concerning him, no place prepared for him to fill, no use for him to serve, which is the reason of his existence?

God has a plan for all our lives. There is a definite and proper end, or issue, for every man’s existence; an end which, to the heart of God, is the good intended for him, or for which he was intended; that which he is privileged to become, called to become, ought to become; that which God will assist him to become, and which he cannot miss, save by his own fault. Every human soul has a complete and perfect plan cherished for it in the heart of God—a Divine biography marked out, which it enters into life to live. This life, rightly unfolded, will be a complete and beautiful whole, an experience led on by God and unfolded by His secret nurture, as the trees and the flowers by the secret nurture of the world; a drama cast in the mould of a perfect art, with no part wanting; a Divine study for the man himself, and for others; a study that shall for ever unfold, in wondrous beauty, the love and faithfulness of God; great in its conception, great in the Divine skill by which it is shaped; above all, great in the momentous and glorious issues it prepares.

The world is not a mere necessary sequence of material phenomena, but a spiritual stream that, swift or sluggish be its course, flows irresistibly to God. The existing fact is not the law; choice between good and evil, heroism, sacrifice are not illusions; conscience, the intuition of the ideal, the power of will, and moral force are ultimate and mastering spiritual facts. The Divine design controls it all, and man has liberty to help God’s plan. And he who knows this, knows that “a supreme power guards the road, by which believers journey towards their goal,” and he will be “bold with God through God.” The crusaders’ cry, “God wills it,” is for him, and his are the courage and consistency and power of sacrifice that come to those who know they battle on the side of God.1 [Note: Bolton King, Mazzini, 240.]

When a farmer goes into town on a market-day to hire, let us suppose, a ploughman into his service, it may happen that the man he hires is one who was previously quite unknown to him, and whom he had no thought of engaging till he chanced to meet him in the street. In these matters we are obliged to do the best we can in a rough haphazard way, with very little of fore-ordination. But it is never so with the Great Husbandman. When He comes into the market-place and hires labourers into His service, He never hires a man with whom He had no previous acquaintance; He never makes an unpremeditated choice. The man who is hired may not have known Christ before, but Christ has known him; and not only known him, but had His eye upon him, ever since he had a being; and has been all along preparing him for the place intended for him in the service. Christ, in everything He does, and especially in calling men into His grace and service, acts by determinate counsel and foreknowledge.2 [Note: W. Binnie.]

2. How did St. Paul know that, before he was born, God had destined him to be an Apostle? Did Ananias tell him that he was “a chosen vessel unto God”? There are more ways than one by which God’s purposes may come to light. As St. Paul looked back upon his life he could see that the Divine purpose had been controlling his personal history from the very beginning, and preparing him for a service of which he had no thought, and which, if it had been proposed to him, he would have regarded with horror. His birth, by which he inherited the rights of Roman citizenship, though he was also “of the stock of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews”; his early years in Tarsus, a great Greek city, famous for its wealth, its commerce, and its schools of learning and philosophy; his life as a student in Jerusalem; his zeal in mastering the doctrines and methods of the Rabbis; the earnestness and fidelity with which he had submitted to the discipline of the most austere of Jewish sects, so that “touching the righteousness which is in the law” he was “blameless”—all these had contributed in various ways to his fitness for the work to which God had destined him.

All the good impressions I ever received came through reading. When I was about nine, some one gave me a copy of Baxter’s Call, which I read through with great interest and earnestness; then Alleine’s Alarm. Then I got hold of a copy of Doddridge’s Rise and Progress, and not only read it through, but prayed all its prayers upon my knees. Then, when I was about ten, Squire Brooke came to the village, and a number of lads, myself amongst them, went like a flock of sheep into the vestry. The others were soon made happy, but I went mourning for some days. One night during a noisy prayer-meeting a big lad told me it was my duty to stand up and say I was saved. I did as I was told, but it was not true. I went to “class,” prayed in prayer-meetings, but it was weary bondage until, in my seventeenth year, I ran away from it all. I think it was on that account more than any other that I buried myself out of the sight and hearing of every one who knew me with the intention that it should be for life. When I was in my twenty-first year I dreamt that I had to die in a fortnight. The news did not give me any fear, but I said, “What a fool I have been! Here is the end of my life, and I have not even begun to serve the purpose for which God gave it me.” Six weeks afterwards I suddenly remembered this dream with all I thought and felt, the result being that on the spot I resolved to be a Christian.1 [Note: John Brash: Memorials and Correspondence, 23.]

O blessed Paul elect to grace,

Arise and wash away thy sin,

Anoint thy head and wash thy face,

Thy gracious course begin.

To start thee on thy outrunning race

Christ shows the splendour of His Face:

What will that Face of splendour be

When at the goal He welcomes thee?2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Verses, 83.]


A Call

“And called me through his grace.”

In the Acts of the Apostles the external details of the call of St. Paul are described; here he gives us only the internal experience. He alone could give this, and this was the really important thing. The flashing light, the arrested journey, the audible voice, the blindness, were all accessories. The one important thing was the inward voice that brought conviction to the heart of the man. Every Apostle needed a call from Christ to constitute him such. But every Christian has some Divine call. We have not the miracle to convey the call, and we do not want it. By the manifest claims that present themselves to us, by the discovery of our own powers and opportunities of service, by the promptings of our conscience, Christ calls us to our life’s work. To see a work for Christ needing to be done, and to be able to do it, is a providential call to undertake it.

1. The call is an act of God’s grace—“called me through his grace.” God Himself—without the intervention of Apostles, without human intervention of any kind—had spoken to him the strong and gracious word which had broken his heart to penitence, and which had drawn him to Christ. There had been no movement towards Christ on his own part. He was on his way to Damascus, vehement, passionate in his hatred of the new sect, resolved to suppress it; it was God’s “grace”—what else?—that “called” him to receive the Christian redemption and to preach the Christian Gospel. At that point, indeed, his own free response to the grace of God came in; till now, all that God had done to prepare him for his Apostleship was done without any free concurrence of his in God’s great purpose; he had known nothing of it. Now, however, he might have thwarted and defeated the Divine love; but, as he says elsewhere, he “was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”

2. The call is ever a secret between the soul and God. We have to find out for ourselves how our spiritual life is to develop and form itself: there is no programme we can draw up and publish as binding upon all who would fulfil the requirements of Christian service; nor is it demanded that the sacred summons, when we have heard and obeyed it, should affect us all in precisely the same manner, or work in all of us exactly similar results. When we yield ourselves to holy inspirations, it does not mean that our characters are, as it were, run into a common mould or stamped with a common pattern. God may call you, and you may answer to the call and lift up your eyes to behold Him; but perhaps you may have a vision of Him totally different from the vision given to me; and according to our visions, according to the aspect in which each one of us has seen Him, will He control and affect our lives. One may grasp God by intellect, reaching up to Him through reasoning processes and exercises of thought. Another may be conscious of God coming near to him through the avenues of sensibility and feeling, be touched by the wonder of His majesty, overawed by the immeasurableness of His power. Yet another may be held to God by the influences of love, and may be constantly filled with the experiences of His tenderness and grace, and find the sweetness of a personal relationship with God the dominant factor in his spiritual consciousness. And so we get various types of the spiritual life, according to the various aspects in which various hearts behold God.

This thought of the essentially private and individual character of spiritual processes in the human heart deepens our responsibility and makes the spiritual life altogether a more solemn thing. Somehow the ordinary views of the Christian life often leave us too easily satisfied. When we take it as involving the possession of certain feelings, as requiring the employment of certain phrases, we force ourselves into the use of the conventional words, we persuade ourselves that the necessary emotions have taken possession of our hearts, and we rest content with these utterly trivial matters, forgetting the more important aspects, the deeper and weightier concerns, of the spiritual life. But let us once realize that God’s call to us is something we have to face absolutely alone! Solemn indeed is it to know that we are shut away with the ministries which God exercises upon us, and have to give ourselves up to their working and derive unaided from them the good they are meant to bring; that impassable lines are drawn round the place where God meets us and summons us to stand face to face with Him; that, as we bow before that majestic Presence, waiting for the sacred commands, all human companionships have to be left far away.

I think you have rather confused the “inward motion of the Spirit” with the “call,” which are not exactly coincident, though they must be mostly considered together. First observe the distinct phrase used by the Church, “Do you trust that you are inwardly moved?” etc. The matter is frankly set forth as one of faith, not of sensible consciousness. The motion of the Spirit is to be inferred from its effects in and on our spirit; any other view is likely to degrade and carnalize our apprehensions of spiritual operations, not to exalt them. Now I do not think it possible for one man to lay down absolutely for another what inward thoughts and aspirations are or are not trustworthy indices to a genuine motion of the Holy Ghost; but the Church’s words do themselves suggest some necessary elements of them—a direct and unmixed (I mean, clearly realizable and distinguishable) desire to be specially employed in promoting God’s glory and building up His people. If a man does not feel a clear paramount desire,—often interrupted and diluted and even counteracted, but still distinctly present whenever he is in his right mind,—to tell men of God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent,—in a word, to preach the Gospel, that is, announce the Good Tidings,—I very much doubt whether he has a right to “trust that” he is “inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost.”1 [Note: Life and Letters of F. J. A. Hort, i. 278.]


A Revelation

“It pleased God … to reveal his Son in me.”

This should be read along with the fuller Narrative in the Acts. So read, it will be found quite intelligible. We learn from that narrative, that, for three days after Saul’s arrest on the way to Damascus, he lay in the city without a ray of light—bound, as it were, in chains of darkness: there were scales on his eyes and a cloud on his heart. It was dark without and dark within; and he could neither eat nor drink. At length, on the third day, the cloud was taken away, he received his eyesight, and the peace of God filled his soul with light. Such is the account given in the Acts. Mark the secret history of the same blessed deliverance as it is given here.

He says that it pleased God to reveal His Son in him. Why in him? Why does he not say, “It pleased God to reveal His Son to me”? Was not the light which he saw an outer vision? Did it not arrest him at midday with a glory above the brightness of the sun? Did it not bar the way to his old nature, and bid his life pause in the midst of his journey? Surely that picture of his Lord was a vision to his eye. But can any picture be a vision to the eye? Can a thing be revealed to me which has not been revealed in me? Is the landscape on which we gaze revealed only to the outward vision? No, or it would not be revealed at all; there could be no beauty without if there were not a sense of beauty within. Is the music to which we listen revealed only to the outward ear? No, or we should be deaf to it for evermore; there could be no harmony without if there were not a sense of harmony within. So is it with the beauty of Him who is fairer than the children of men. Often have we envied the lot of those who were permitted to gaze upon His outward form, to see the beam on His face, to hear the thrill in His voice. Yet was it not the very chief of these to whom the words were spoken, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee”? It was not the eye that saw the beam, it was not the ear that heard the thrill; it was the soul, the heart, the life, the responsive spirit bearing witness with His spirit, the kindred sympathy that ran out to meet its counterpart, and found in Him all its salvation because it found in Him all its desire.

As there is an external call and an internal—the former universal, but often ineffectual; the latter personal, but always efficient—so there is an outward revelation of Christ and an internal, of which the understanding and the heart are the seat. Hence it is, with the utmost propriety, said to be a revelation “in us.” The minds of men, until they are renewed, resemble an apartment shut up and enclosed with something which is not transparent; the light shines around with much splendour, but the apartment remains dark, in consequence of its entrance being obstructed. Unbelief, inattention, love of the world and of sin, and hardness of heart, form the obstructions in question. Let these be removed, and the discoveries of the word penetrate and diffuse a light and conviction through the soul: “The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Thus it was with St. Paul before his conversion: his prejudices against the gospel were inveterate, his animosity violent and active; but no sooner was Christ revealed in him, than all was changed.1 [Note: Robert Hall, Works, v. 203.]

George Fox has given a very simple and impressive account of the experience which ended his long search for somebody who could “speak to his condition” and give him authoritative direction to a religion of verity and reality. “When all my hopes in men,” he says, “were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, O then, I heard a voice which said, There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. I knew experimentally that Jesus Christ enlightens, gives grace and faith and power. I now knew God by revelation, as He who hath the key did open.” This is a typical piece of early Quaker biography. The testimony of the Yorkshire yeoman William Dewsbury is not so well known as that of Fox, but it comes up out of actual experience, and it, as well as that of Fox, has the power of a pure and sincere life behind it. His spiritual travail was long and hard, beginning when he was a boy of thirteen. “I heard,” he says, “much speaking of God and professing Him in words from the letter of the Scripture, but I met with none that could tell me what God had done for their souls.” At length all his “fig-leaf coverings were rent,” the Lord “manifested His power” to him, and brought “the immortal seed to birth” within him, and he bears this personal testimony: “I came to my knowledge of eternal life not by the letter of Scripture, nor from hearing men speak of God, but by the Inspiration of the Spirit of Jesus Christ who is worthy to open the seals.”1 [Note: W. C. Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism, xxxv.]

1. This inner revelation meant the translation of the historical Christ into the present Christ; of the Christ according to the flesh into the Christ of spiritual consciousness. What is translation? It is (1) the extracting of a thought from its visible or representative envelope, and then (2) it is the recasting of this thought into another form of our own intelligent selection. By this process, faithfully carried out, we make the thought our own. We bring it out of its mere external relation to the mind as an object, and make it a part of our mind as subject. It is no longer something that we contemplate merely with the mind’s eye, and which passes from memory when our attention is withdrawn, but it is now bound up with our mind, and must remain part of our conscious being.

St. Paul had never seen the Lord veiled in the flesh. He was not required to grope his way through preconceptions and prejudices to a slowly maturing revelation. He learned with all the suddenness of a surprising and blinding vision what his fellow-Apostles had learned with dull, reluctant, and hesitating receptivity. The Divinity of the Lord came upon him almost as the dawning of a glorious summer morning after the deep darkness of the night, and he was able to grasp moreover the larger, deeper meaning of the Saviour’s death and resurrection with a quickness and breadth of apprehension which had not been given to the rest. The spiritual significance of Calvary and of the empty sepulchre was read more promptly, if not more intelligently, by one who, with a richly inspired mind, looked at these things from afar than by those who had seen them with all their disguising surroundings; and it is to St. Paul that we owe the fullest exposition of these great facts and mysteries.

2. There was something deeper than this process of translation, there was actual identification with Christ. It seems no strain of language to say that in the consciousness of St. Paul, Christ was inseparable from himself. He could not abstract the ego, as metaphysicians would say, from a non-ego. He could not think of himself without thinking of Christ. “I am crucified with Christ.”

St. Paul applies the same mode of thought to his converts and disciples. When, by the act of their own will, they became Christians, they were in spirit buried with Christ. At the same time, by realizing the Divine energy in themselves which raised Him from the dead, they were in spirit raised up along with Christ. It is upon this basis, thus firmly laid in the Christian consciousness, that St. Paul builds his system of conduct. The Christian conduct is a perpetual self-renunciation, a perpetual self-identification with the Spirit of Christ. It is the mind dying out of the earthly passions rooted in egoism, and living into the new ideal of manhood, the new creation. And so through the whole series of the historical events. They are renewed. They become history once again in the mind of the Christian. The selection of Christ as God’s Beloved includes the selection of the Christian in Him; the exaltation of Christ to external glory means the present inward exaltation of the Christian to the heavenly regions.

As a Methodist I have never dealt much with the favourite Keswick doctrine of the sinner’s identification with Christ in His death and resurrection. But on Good Friday I preached upon it—“One died for all, therefore all died,” etc. As I was meditating on the subject, after I had preached, I saw with the vividness of a lightning flash, that it was my present personal privilege to reckon myself one with Christ in His risen life. In the same moment I knew that it was real—the world, the flesh, and the devil under my feet. I could have shouted for joy. The blessed freedom and the near access to God through Christ remain with me still. I suppose that my experience was somewhat similar to that of Dr. Dale when he had as clear a perception of the truth that Christ lives. How simple is the way of faith, and how simple is faith itself!1 [Note: John Brash: Memorials and Correspondence, 102.]


A Mission

“That I might preach him among the Gentiles.”

1. St. Paul recognized at once his obligation to be a witness for Christ. “That I might preach him.” We are saved for service. Our receipts make our debt. We are not absolute owners, we are responsible trustees. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The men who had learned directly of Christ never regarded their spiritual gifts save in this aspect. They never once supposed that the heavenly light had been kindled in them solely for their own glory, that the Divine treasure had been bestowed upon them simply for their own enrichment, and that for their own sakes alone they had been singled out for a benefit so vast, a mercy so wonderful, a salvation so grand and complete. How could they suppose that, unless Calvary had developed in them the Pharisee’s pride or the miser’s greed? How could they entertain that thought, unless they had been plunged in a blinding maelstrom of intolerable self-conceit? What had they done to deserve this signal grace and the promotion from rude fishermen to companionship with the King of kings? No, they knew that the Divine love which had fixed itself on them was felt as fully and as freely towards the whole human race, and that the light had shone on their hearts first that through them the illumination might spread everywhere. It was not their own. It was the most sacred and responsible of trusts. It belonged to all men. To withhold it would be to rob men of what God had made their right. It would even be to deny and forfeit their own calling. “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.” And everyone feels this who has truly understood and rejoiced in God’s great gift. If it has not yet penetrated and suffused the hearts of all Christians, it is because selfish human elements have counteracted the workings of the Divine, and because man’s littleness has brought God’s great thought down to the measure of the market and the shop.

What marvellous writing that of Paul is! There is a depth of meaning in it which seems unfathomable. Oh! for more of that man’s spirit, his love, his faith, and above all his dauntless intrepidity for Christ. What a hero he was! What a splendid specimen of humanity! I am selfish enough to love him all the more because “his bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible”; and yet no man ever did more for Christ and for Christ’s world.1 [Note: Dr. MacGregor of St. Cuthberts, 120.]

Dr. McLaren of Manchester writing to his friend Shields to thank him for a copy of his Paul which the artist had sent to him says: “Thank you for your noble ‘Paul’ (what do you call him saint for?). I think you have never done a truer embodiment of a great soul. The wasted eagerness, the weakness re-inforced by supernatural strength, are magnificently rendered. I wish every lazy, smooth-haired and smooth-souled preacher had a copy of it hanging in his ‘study’ to flame down rebukes at him. I have had him framed to hang in mine, and you through him will spur me often.”2 [Note: E. Mills, Life and letters of Frederic Shields, 331.]

2. St. Paul’s mission was wider than he at first dreamed. “Among the Gentiles.” Naturally his soul turned towards his own people with ardent desire. Was he not an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin; and could he be indifferent to the needs of his brethren according to the flesh? Surely it would not be difficult to unfold the meaning of the sacred symbolism through which their forefathers had been disciplined in those very wastes. That the rock was Christ; that the water which flowed over the sands foreshadowed His mission to the world; that the law given from Sinai had been fulfilled and re-edited in the holy life of Jesus of Nazareth; that the sacrifices offered on those sands had pointed to the death of the cross; and that the fire which burned in the bush had also shone on His face—to teach all this and much more, and to lead his people from the desert wastes of Pharisaism to the heavenly places of which Canaan was the type, was the hope and longing of his heart. What work could be more congenial to his tastes and attitudes than this?

But he came to learn that not as a privileged Jew, but as a sinful man, had Divine grace found him out. The righteousness of God was revealed to him on terms which brought it within the reach of every human being. The Son of God whom he now beheld was a personage vastly greater than his national Messiah, the “Christ after the flesh” of his Jewish dreams, and his gospel was correspondingly loftier and larger in its scope. “God was in Christ, reconciling,” not a nation, but a “world unto himself.” The “grace” conferred on him was given that he might “preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and make all men see the mystery of the counsel of redeeming love. It was the world’s redemption of which St. Paul partook; and it was his business to let the world know it. He had fathomed the depths of sin and self-despair; he had tasted the uttermost of pardoning grace. God and the world met in his single soul, and were reconciled. In his latest Epistles, he declares that “the grace of God which appeared” to him, was “for the salvation of all men.” “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” The same revelation that made St. Paul a Christian made him an Apostle of mankind.

Often at the beginning of the new life we attempt to forecast the work which we hope to accomplish. We take into account our tastes and aptitudes, our faculties and talents, our birth and circumstances. From these we infer that we shall probably succeed best along a certain line of useful activity. But as the moments lengthen into years, it becomes apparent that the door of opportunity is closing in that direction. It is a bitter disappointment. We refuse to believe that the hindrances to the fulfilment of our cherished hopes can be permanent. Patience, we cry, will conquer every difficulty. The entrance may be strait, but surely it is passable. At last we reach the wide and large place of successful achievement. We cast ourselves against the closing door, as sea birds on the illuminated glass of the lighthouse tower, to fall dazed and bewildered to the ground. And it is only after such a period of disappointment that we come to perceive that God’s ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts; and that He has other work for us to do, for which He has been preparing us, though we knew it not. When we are young we gird ourselves, and attempt to walk whither we will; but in after years we are guided by Another, and taken whither we would not.1 [Note: F. B. Meyer, Paul, 65.]

Is there some desert or some boundless sea

Where Thou, great God of angels, wilt send me?

Some oak for me to rend, some sod

For me to break,

Some handful of thy corn to take

And scatter far afield,

Till it in turn shall yield

Its hundredfold

Of grains of gold,

To feed the happy children of my God?

Show me the desert, Father, or the sea.

Is it Thine enterprise? Great God, send me!

And though this body lie where ocean rolls,

Father, count me among All Faithful Souls!2 [Note: Edward E. Hale.]

The Inner Revelation


Banks (L. A.), The Sinner and his Friends, 39.

Binnie (W.), Sermons, 90.

Clark (H. W.), Meanings and Methods of the Spiritual Life, 68.

Dale (R. W.), Fellowship with Christ, 215.

Findlay (G. G.), The Epistle to the Galatians (Expositor’s Bible), 68.

Hall (R.), Works, v. 199.

Hayman (H. H.), Rugby Sermons, 145.

Hodge (C.), Princeton Sermons, 223.

Matheson (G.), Moments on the Mount, 52.

Meyer (F. B.), Paul, 27.

Miller (J.), Sermons Literary and Scientific, i. 52.

Moore (E. W.), The Promised Rest, 160.

Moule (H. C. G.), The Secret of the Presence, 202.

Russell (A.), The Light that Lighteth every Man, 41.

Sanday (W.), The Oracles of God, 59.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xi. (1865), No. 656; liv. (1908), No. 3078; lvi. (1910), No. 3202.

Virgin (S. H.), Spiritual Sanity, 16.

Christian World Pulpit, xx. 234 (E. Johnson).

Church of England Pulpit, lxiii. 106 (W. J. S. Simpson).

Verse 16

(16) To reveal his Son in me.—That is, probably, in my mind, or consciousness. Before the Apostle could preach Christ to the Gentiles he needed to have first that intense inward conviction which was wrought in him during that sustained mental struggle which followed upon his conversion. It is possible that “in me” might be equivalent to “through me, as an organ or instrument”; but the sense above given, “in my heart and soul,” seems more likely.

That I might preach him.—The one process was preparatory to the other. Having once obtained a firm inward apprehension of Christ as the Messiah and Saviour, the Apostle then comes forward to preach Him among the heathen. But that firm inward apprehension was not to be attained all at once, and it was in seeking this that “the Spirit drove him” into the wilderness of Arabia. First comes the instantaneous flash of the idea upon his soul (“to reveal his Son in me”); then the prolonged conflict and meditation, in which it gets thoroughly consolidated, and adjusted, and worked into his being (during the retirement into Arabia); lastly, the public appearance as a preacher to the heathen upon the return to Damascus.

Immediately.—This brings out the promptness and decision of the Apostle’s action. The moment that the idea of Jesus as the Saviour was presented to his mind he sought no human aid to help him to work out the conception, but went at once into the desert.

Conferred not.—A substantially correct translation, though not quite exact. The Greek word contains the idea of taking counsel in personal interview, much as we now use the word “apply” in the phrase to “apply to a person.”

With flesh and blood—i.e., with man, with especial reference to human frailty and fallibility. Compare, for a like contrast between human and divine revelation, the commendation of St. Peter in Matthew 16:17 : “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

Verse 17

(17) Went I up.—The usual phrase is to go up to “Jerusalem,” from the fact that Jerusalem stood upon high ground, and was approached from all sides by an ascent. Here, however, the reading is doubtful between “went up” and “went away,” each of which is supported by nearly equally good authority. In so close a balance of the authorities the less common phrase is, perhaps, more likely to have been the original reading, though there is an almost equal probability that it may have slipped in from the second “went” (really the same word, “went away”), a little further on in the verse.

Unto Arabia.—The question, what part of Arabia St. Paul retired into can only be one of speculation. There is nothing in the context to show at all decisively. The boundary of Arabia at this period was not exactly defined. By some writers it was made to include Damascus itself. It is therefore possible that by “Arabia” may have been meant the desert in the neighbourhood of the city. This would be the most obvious supposition. But, on the other hand, there would be a certain appropriateness if we could imagine, as we are certainly permitted to do, that the scene of his sojourn may have been the region of Mount Sinai itself. The place where the Law was first given may have seen its renewal in his mind—not destroyed, but fulfilled in the new law of love. Like Moses, and like Elijah, the great minister of the new dispensation may have here received strength for his work. And if this was the case, we can the more readily understand the typical allusion to Mount Sinai later in the Epistle. Such arguments may have some slight weight, but the real locality must remain uncertain.

As to the time of the Apostle’s withdrawal, and its duration, little can be said beyond the fact that it must have come within the three years that intervened between his conversion and the first visit to Jerusalem. When we compare this account with the narrative of the Acts, it is not clear how they are to be reconciled. St. Paul says, that after his conversion, “immediately (eutheôs) he conferred not with flesh and blood . . . but went unto Arabia.” St. Luke says, after recording the same event, “Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway (eutheos) he preached Christ (or, according to a more correct reading, Jesus) in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19-20). There does not seem room here to insert the retreat into Arabia. It would indeed come in more naturally among the “many days,” mentioned in a later verse, which were terminated by the plot of the Jews against the life of the Apostle and his final escape from Damascus. There would still, however, be some apparent collision between “conferring not with flesh and blood” and “spending certain days with the disciples” at Damascus. The discrepancy is only such as we might expect to find between two perfectly independent narratives, one of which was compiled from secondary sources, and is, besides, very brief and summary in its form. We are obliged, by the Apostle’s own words, to believe that his withdrawal into Arabia took place “immediately” after his conversion; and as it would not take a very long time to attract the attention or excite the animosity of the Jews at Damascus, it seems natural to suppose that this period of silent seclusion occupied the larger half of the whole period of three years.

The patristic commentators seem to have held, for the most part, to the belief that the object of his visit to Arabia was to preach to the heathen there; but the whole context of the Epistle shows that it was rather for solitary meditation and communion with God.

Damascus.—We gather from 2 Corinthians 11:32 that Damascus was at this time in the possession, or in some manner, at least, under the rule, of Aretas, the Arabian king. How this can have been is an obscure and difficult question. (See Note on that passage.) It may have been seized by him, and held for a time, during his war with Herod Antipas and the Romans at the end of the reign of Tiberius, in A.D. 36-37; or it may possibly have been placed in his hands by Caligula on the disgrace of his rival, Antipas; or “the ethnarch under Aretas the king” may have been an officer subordinate to the Romans, and charged with a sort of consulship over the Arabians in Damascus. The first theory does not seem quite probable in the face of a power so strong as that of Rome; the second is a pure hypothesis, with no support from any contemporary writer; and the third hardly seems to satisfy the conditions of the problem. In any case, the most probable date of these events would be soon after the death of Tiberius in A.D. 37.

Verse 18

(18) After three years.—This date is probably to be reckoned from the great turning-point in the Apostle’s career—his conversion. It need not necessarily mean three full years, just as the three days during which our Lord lay in the grave were not three full days. It may have been only one whole year and parts of two others; but the phrase may equally well cover three whole years. This ambiguity shows the difficulty of constructing any precise system of chronology.

To see.—The word used is a somewhat peculiar one, and is applied specially to sight-seeing—in the first instance of things and places, but secondarily also of persons. It would be used only of something notable. St. Paul’s object was to make the personal acquaintance of St. Peter as the head of the Christian community, not to seek instruction from him.

Peter.—The true reading here is undoubtedly Cephas. There is a natural tendency in the MSS. to substitute the more common name for the less common. St. Paul seems to have used the two names indifferently.

Roman Catholic commentators argue from this passage, not without reason, that St. Peter must at this time have taken the lead in the Church.

Fifteen days.—Only a small portion of this time can have been actually spent in the company of St. Peter, as we gather from the Acts that much of it must have been occupied by public disputations with the Greek-speaking Jews. (See Acts 9:28-29.)

Verses 18-24

(18-24) Nor did that consultation with the elder Apostles, which had hitherto been impossible, take place when, at last, after the lapse of three years, the Apostle did go up to Jerusalem. He saw indeed Peter and James, but for so short a time that he could have learnt nothing essential from them. To the rest of the churches of Jud

Verse 19

(19) Other of the apostles.—From the form of this phrase it would appear that James, the Lord’s brother, was considered to be an Apostle. In what sense he was an Apostle will depend very much upon who he was (see the next Note). If he was a cousin of our Lord, and identical with James the son of Alphæus, then he was one of the original Twelve. If he was not the son of Alphæus, but either the son of Joseph alone or of Joseph and Mary, then the title must be given to him in the wider sense in which it is applied to Paul and Barnabas.

The Lord’s brother.—What relationship is indicated by this? The question has been already dealt with in the Notes on the Gospels. (See Notes on Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55; John 7:3; John 7:5.) The present writer has nothing to add, except to express his entire agreement with what has been there said, and his firm conviction that the theory which identifies the “brethren of the Lord” with His cousins, the sons of Clopas, is untenable. A full account of the James who is here mentioned will be found in the Introduction to the Epistle which goes by his name.

Verse 20

(20) A solemn asseveration of the truth of these statements as to the extent of the Apostle’s relation with the elder disciples.

Verse 21

(21) Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.—We gather from the parallel narrative in Acts 9:30; Acts 11:25-26, that the course which the Apostle followed was this:—He was first conveyed secretly by the disciples to the sea-port Cæsarea Stratonis; there he took ship and sailed for Tarsus. Here he was found, somewhat later, by Barnabas, and taken to Antioch, where he remained a year. It would thus appear that the order in which the two names, Syria and Cilicia, occur does not represent the order in which the two provinces were visited. The Apostle, reviewing his past career at a distance of time, and with a certain special object in view, which is not affected by the geographical direction of his movements, speaks in this general way. It hardly seems necessary to suppose an unrecorded visit to Syria on the way to Tarsus, though that, of course, is possible. Still more gratuitous is the supposition that there is any contradiction between the historical narrative and our Epistle, for such generalities of expression are what most persons may constantly detect themselves in using. The accuracy of the pedant neither belongs to St. Paul’s Epistles nor to real life.

Regions.—The Greek word here is the same as that which is translated “parts” in Romans 15:23, where see the Note.

Verse 22

(22) Was unknown by face.—The Greek is a shade stronger: I continued unknown. If in Jerusalem itself the Apostle had not had time to receive instruction from any one, still less was this the case with the other Christian communities of Judæa. To these he was not known even by sight. At the same time, so far were they from manifesting any opposition to his teaching, that their one thought was joy to hear of his conversion.

The churches of Judæa.—Judæa is here distinguished from Jerusalem. The phrase is noticeable as pointing to the spread and early organisation of the Church at a date removed by not more than ten years from our Lord’s ascension.

Which were in Christ.—This is added in order to distinguish the Christian from the Jewish communities. It means, however, something more than merely “Christian.” The various sections of the Christian Church not only professed a common creed, and were called by a common name, but they stood in the same direct and personal relation to Christ as their Head. It was His presence diffused among them which gave them unity.

Verse 23

(23) Had heard.—Rather, were hearing.

The faith.—Not quite, as yet, “the body of Christian doctrine,” which was in process of forming rather than already formed, but the one cardinal doctrine of faith in Christ. (Comp. Romans 1:5, and Note there.)

Verse 24

(24) They glorified God in me.—This verse represents the proper attitude of Christian hero-worship. An eminent Christian is like a “city set on a hill.” But the admiration which he attracts does not rest in him; it is made the occasion for giving praise to God.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Galatians 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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Sunday, November 29th, 2020
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