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The Unalterable Gospel
I. It is always the work of a critical stage in the history when the ways of escape are rigidly limited in number. The most appalling situations in life are not those from which we may flee through many doors. The graver the complications that face us, the fewer the feasible schemes of salvation from their cruel entanglement. And such common analogies have their special application to the subject of sin. If redemption is possible, it is inconceivable that it should be by a score of expedients, one equally good with another. If there be no Divine revelation, the problem is hopeless; and when the revelation of free mercy has once been made, the least departure from it is a sacrilege against God, and an offence against the hope and welfare of the race, for which crime is too light a name.
II. As Paul viewed this subject, an infinite and eternal wisdom was needed to design the process of escape, and an unheard-of munificence of love to carry it into effect. Again and again Paul affirms that this root-conception of the Gospel was hidden away in the deeps of the Godhead, that the angels could not explore the secret, and that it was only after many ages that the gracious redeeming mystery took efficacious shape in the work of Jesus Christ. If this be so, any alternative man may devise for himself must be a paltry, disappointing juggle. The Gospel is intolerant of either specious imitations or auxiliary rituals to eke out its virtues. It is all of a piece, and comes down from heaven.
III. This note of exclusiveness in the message of the Gospel is intended to make salvation sure for those who seek it. In travelling through thinly settled countries or amongst people of a strange language, we know how much easier progress is if there are no cross-roads. The ideal city of refuge is approached by one path in which the simple of heart cannot err. There is only one true way into the kingdom, one solitary method of salvation, one effectual remedy for human sin and woe; and it is in wisdom and mercy that God has stamped the Gospel as a thing apart to which there can be no rival.
IV. The tests of experience single out the Gospel for its place of unrivalled authority in dealing with the moral malady of human nature. Whilst in its first approaches to the human heart the Gospel is dependent for a time upon its advocates and witnesses, it soon becomes self-attesting truth and power. Its authority is intrinsic and ceases to be distinctively external. The words of the text imply that the Gospel is greater than its greatest witnesses. It bears its own credentials, and, in the end, depends upon neither human nor angelic authority to commend it
Bishop Briconnet, the reforming prelate who was appointed in 1516 to the See of Meaux, was a timid and anxious man, who dreaded persecution. A Roman Catholic partisan has preserved the record of this significant warning given by the Bishop to his flock, and elicited either by the consciousness of his own moral feebleness, or by a certain vague premonition of danger, 'Even should I, your Bishop, change my speech and teaching, beware that you change not with me'. An early French authority gives a slightly different form to Briconnet's caution. 'Formerly,' says a MS. fragment in the Library of Geneva, 'while he was preaching to them the Gospel, he said, as St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, that if he, or an angel from heaven preached to them any other doctrine than that which he was preaching, they should not receive him.' Briconnet's courage broke down under the attack of the Sorbonne and he forsook the reformed faith.
References. I. 8. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 469. I. 8, 9. Ibid. vol. xi. p. 467. I. 8-12. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 223. I. 9. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 101; ibid. vol. x. p. 185. I. 10. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons (2nd Series), p. 144. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 76; ibid. vol. iii. p. 366; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 119. I. 11. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2185. I. 11, 12. J. Baines, Sermons, p. 44. I. 11-20. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 206. I. 12. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 118. I. 12-16. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 209. I. 13. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 245; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 409. I. 13, 14. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 119.
Even in quite intermediate stages, a dash of enthusiasm is not a thing to be ashamed of in the retrospect; if St Paul had not been a very zealous Pharisee, he would have been a colder Christian.
R. L. Stevenson.
References. I. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 656. I. 15, 16. H. S. Seekings, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 555. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1585, p. 75. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 102; ibid. vol. vi. p. 374. I. 15-17. R. W. Dale, Fellowship with Christ, p. 216. I. 16. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 138; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 48.
When Shibli Bagarag returned from the well of Paravid, with the brimming phial in his hand, Noorna said to him, 'Hadst thou a difficulty in obtaining the waters of the well?'
He answered, 'Surely all was made smooth for me by thy aid. Now when I came to the well I marked not them by it, but plunged, and the depth of that well seemed to me the very depth of the earth itself, so went I ever downward; and when I was near the bottom of the well I had forgotten life above, and lo! no sooner had I touched the bottom of the well when my head emerged from the surface! 'twas wondrous.'
George Meredith, The Shaving of Shagpat.
References. 1.17. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 354; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 78; ibid. vol. viii. p. 231; ibid. vol. xi. p. 359. I. 18. T. Vincent Tymms, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 356. I. 19. H. A. Smith, Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. pp. 437, 505. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 307. I. 21. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 32. I. 23. C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 60. I. 23, 24. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 113. I. 24. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 41. J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 194. II. 1. John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 305. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 332. II. 1-10. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 104; ibid. vol. iii. pp. 84, 92, 175, 255, 262; ibid. vol. iv. pp. 43, 298; ibid. vol. vii. p. 327; ibid. vol. ix. p. 224; ibid. vol. x. p. 265.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Galatians 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany