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Part 1: Personal (Galatians 1-2)
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) and all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (vv. 1-5)
The epistle to the Galatians links very intimately with that to the Romans. There seem to be good reasons for believing that both of these letters were written at about the same time, probably from Corinth while Paul was ministering in that great city. In Romans we have the fullest, the most complete opening up of the gospel of the grace of God that we get anywhere in the New Testament. In the letter to the Galatians we have that glorious gospel message defended against those who were seeking to substitute legality for grace. There are many expressions in the two letters that are very similar. Both, as also the epistle to the Hebrews, are based upon one Old Testament text found in chapter 2 of the book of Habakkuk: “The just shall live by his faith.” May I repeat what I have mentioned in my Lectures on Romans and also my Notes on Hebrews? In the epistle to the Romans the emphasis is put upon the first two words. How shall men be just with God? The answer is, “The just shall live by faith.” But if one has been justified by faith, how is he maintained in that place before God? The answer is given in the epistle to the Galatians, and here the emphasis is upon the next two words, “The just shall live by faith.” But what is that power by which men are made just and by which they live? The epistle to the Hebrews answers that by putting the emphasis upon the last two words of the same text, “The just shall live by faith.” So we may see that these three letters really constitute a very remarkable trio, and in spite of all that many scholars have written to the contrary, personally I am absolutely convinced that the three are from the same human hand, that of the apostle Paul. I have given my reasons for this view in my book on the Hebrews, so I need not go into that here.
Now something of the reasons for the writing of this letter. Paul had labored in Galatia on two distinct occasions. A third time he was minded to go there, but the Spirit of God plainly indicated that it was not His will and led him elsewhere, eventually over to Europe. In chapters 13 and 14 of Acts we read of Paul’s ministry in Antioch of Pisidia, in Iconium, in Lystra, and in Derbe. While Antioch is said to be in Pisidia and these other three cities are located in Lycaonia, according to the best records we have, both the provinces of Pisidia and Lycaonia were united to Galatia at this time, so that these were really the cities of Galatia where Paul labored and where God wrought so mightily. The inhabitants of Galatia are the same people racially as the ancient inhabitants of Ireland, Wales, and the Highlands of Scotland, also of France and northern Spain, the Gauls. Galatia is really the country of the Gauls, and those deep emotional feelings that characterize the races I have mentioned-the mystical Scots; the warmhearted Welsh; the volatile French; and the brilliant, energetic Irish-were manifested in these Gauls of old. They spread from Galatia over into western Europe and settled France and northern Spain, and then came over to the British Isles. As many of us are somewhat linked with these different groups that we have mentioned, we should have a special interest in the epistle to the Galatians, which, by the way, is the death blow to so-called British-Israelism. The Gauls were Gentiles, not Israelites.
When Paul first went in among them they were all idolaters, but through the ministry of the Word he was used to bring many of them to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they became deeply devoted to the man who had led them to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. It was a wonderful thing to them to be brought out of the darkness of heathenism into the glorious light and liberty of the gospel. But sometimes when people accept the gospel message with great delight and enthusiasm, they have to go through very severe testings afterward, and so it proved in the case of the Galatians. After Paul had left them there came down from Judea certain men claiming to be sent out by James and the apostolic band at Jerusalem, who told the Galatians that unless they kept the law of Moses, observed the covenant of circumcision, and the different holy days of the Jewish economy and the appointed seasons, they could not be saved. This so stirred the apostle Paul when he learned of it that he sought on a second visit to deliver these people from that legality. But some way or another there is something about error when once it grips the minds of people that makes it assume an importance in their minds that the truth itself never had. That is a singular thing. One may be going on with the truth of God in a calm, easy way, and then he gets hold of something erroneous, and he pushes that thing to the very limit. We have often seen this demonstrated.
I refer here only to false teaching. I do not know the names of the men who came into Galatia to seek to turn the Galatians away from the truth of the gospel as set forth by the apostle Paul, but I do know what their teaching was. They were substituting law for grace, they were turning the hearts and minds of these earnest Christians away from their glorious liberty in Christ, and bringing them into bondage to legal rites and ceremonies. In order to do this it was necessary for them to try to shake the confidence of the people in their great teacher who had led them to Christ, the apostle Paul himself, and so they called in question his authority. Their attack was directed against his apostleship, nor did they hesitate to impugn his integrity.
They wormed their way into the confidence of the believers by undermining their faith in the man who had led them to Christ, hoping thereby that they would break down their reliance upon the gospel of the grace of God and substitute legal observances in its place.
When Paul heard this he was deeply grieved. With him, doctrine was not simply a matter of views. It was not a question of maintaining his own position at all costs. He realized that men are sanctified by the truth of God, and that on the other hand they are demoralized by error, and so to him it was a matter of extreme importance that his converts should cling to that truth which edifies and leads on in the ways that be in Christ. When this news of their defection came to him he sat down and wrote this letter. He did not do what he generally did. We have no other instance in the New Testament, so far as I know, of Paul writing a letter with his own hand. Ordinarily he dictated his letters to a secretary who wrote for him. They had a form of shorthand in those days, and copies have come down to us, so that we may see how they worked. And then these letters were properly prepared and sent out by his different amanuenses. But on this occasion he was so stirred, so deeply moved, that apparently he could not wait for an amanuensis. Instead, he called for parchment, pen, and ink, and sat down and with nervous hand wrote this entire letter. He says at the close of it, “You see with what large characters I have written you with mine own hand.” That is the correct translation of his words. Paul evidently had something the matter with his eyes, and so could not see very well, and like a partially blind person he took his pen and with large, nervous characters filled up the parchment, and it looked like a long letter. He then hurried it off to Galatia, hoping it would be used of God to recover these people from the errors into which they had fallen. In some respects it is the most interesting of all his letters, for it is so self-revealing. It is as though he opens a window into his own heart that we may look into the very soul of the man and see the motives that dominated and controlled him. The letter itself is simple in structure. Instead of breaking it up into a great many small sections, I look at it as having three great divisions.
Part 1: Personal (Gal. 1-2)
Part 2: Doctrinal (Gal. 3-4)
Part 3: Practical (Gal. 5-6)
If we once have these firmly fixed in our minds, we shall never forget them. The subject of the letter is “Law and Grace.” The way the apostle unfolds it is this: chapters 1 and 2 are personal. In these chapters he is largely dealing with his own personal experiences. He shows how he, at one time a rigid, legalistic Jew, had been brought into the knowledge of the grace of God, and how he had had to defend that position against legalists. Chapters 3 and 4 are doctrinal. In these chapters, the very heart of the letter, he opens up, as in the epistle to the Romans, the great truth of salvation by grace alone. Chapters 5 and 6 are practical. They show us the moral and ethical considerations that result from a knowledge of salvation by free grace. These divisions are very simple.
We turn now to consider the introduction to the letter in the personal portion. The first three verses constitute the apostolic salutation: “Paul, an apostle.” Go over the other letters, and you will find that he never refers to himself as “apostle” unless writing to some people where his apostleship has been called in question, or where he has some great doctrine to unfold that people are not likely to accept unless they realize that he had a definite commission to make it known. He evidently prefers to speak of himself as “the servant of Jesus Christ,” and that word “servant” means a bondman, one bought and paid for. Paul loved to think of that. He had been bought and paid for by the precious blood of Christ, and so he was Christ’s bondman. But on this occasion he saw the necessity of emphasizing his apostleship because great truths were in question, and they were so intimately linked with his personal commission from God that it was necessary to stress the fact that he was a definitely appointed messenger. The word apostle, after all, really means “messenger,” or “minister,” but is used in a professional sense in connection with the twelve who were the apostles particularly to the Jews, though also to the Gentiles, and then of Paul himself, who was preeminently the apostle to the Gentiles, and yet always went first to the Jews in every place where he labored.
Paul was an apostle, “not of men, neither by man.” I think he had special reason for writing like this. His detractors said, “Where did he get his apostleship? Where did he get his commission? Not from Peter, not from John. Where did he get his authority?” Oh, he says, I glory in the fact that I did not get anything from man. What I have received I received directly from heaven. I am not an apostle of men nor by means of man. It was not men originally having authority who conferred authority upon me, it was not a school, or a bishop, or a board of bishops, at Jerusalem, that conferred this authority on me. “Not of men, neither by man.” Even though God appointed me, my authority was not conferred of man. St. Jerome says, “Really there are four classes of ministry in the professing Christian church. First, there are those sent neither from men, nor through men, but directly from God.” And then he points out that this was true of the prophets of the Old Testament dispensation. They were not commissioned by men, neither authorized by men, but they were commissioned directly from God, and of course this is true of the apostle Paul. “Then secondly,” Jerome says, “there are those who get their commissions from God and through man, as for instance a man feels distinctly called of God to preach, and he is examined by his brethren and they are satisfied that he is called to preach, and so commend him to the work, perhaps by the laying on of hands. And so he is a servant of God, a minister of God, from God and through man. Then in the third class there are those who have their commissions from man, but not from God. These are the men who have chosen the Christian ministry as a profession; perhaps they never have been born again, but having chosen the ministry as a profession they apply to the bishop, or presbytery, or church, to ordain them.” But as Spurgeon said, “Ordination can do nothing for a man who has not received his call from God. It is simply a matter of laying empty hands on an empty head.” The man goes out heralded as a minister, but he is not God’s minister. And then Jerome says, “There is a fourth class. There are men who pose as Christ’s ministers, and have received their authority neither from God nor from man, but they are simply free-lances. You have to take their own word for it that they are definitely appointed. Nobody else has been able to recognize any evidence of it.” Paul was in the first class. He had received his commission directly from God, and no man had anything to do with even confirming it. But what about the saints at Antioch laying hands on him when he and Barnabas were to preach to the Gentiles? you may ask. That was not a human confirmation of his apostleship because he went there as an apostle of the Lord.
How did Paul get his commission? He tells us in chapter 26 of the book of Acts. When he fell stricken on the Damascus road the risen Christ appeared to him, and said to him, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (vv. 15-18). Paul says that is where he got his commission. “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (v. 19), but in accord with his divinely-given instructions he went forth to teach at “Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (v. 20). So Paul was an apostle “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”
I think he had special reason for emphasizing the resurrection. There were those who said, “Paul cannot be an apostle, because he never saw the Lord Jesus. He was not one of the twelve, he was not instructed by Christ. How then can he rightly appropriate to himself the name of an apostle?” He says, “Have not I seen Jesus Christ? I saw Him as none of the rest did. I saw Him in the glory as the risen One, and heard His voice from heaven, and received my commission from His lips.” That is why in one place he calls his message the “glorious gospel of the blessed God.” That might be translated, “The gospel of the glory of the happy God.” God is so happy now that the sin question has been settled and He can send the message of His grace into all the world, and it is “the gospel of the glory of the happy God” because it is from the glory.
And then Paul links others with himself. He was not alone but was always glad to recognize his fellow workers, and so says, “All the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Grace” was the Greek greeting; “Peace” was the Hebrew greeting. Paul glories in the fact that the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile has been broken down in the new creation, and so brings these two greetings together. How beautifully they fit with the Christian revelation. It is not the grace that saves, but the grace that keeps. It is not peace with God, which was made by the blood of His cross and which was theirs already, but the peace of God which they were so liable to forfeit if they got out of communion with Him.
Then in verses 4 and 5 he goes on to emphasize the work of our Lord Jesus. Let us consider these words very thoughtfully, very tenderly, very meditatively. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins.” Oh, that we might never forget what Christ has suffered for our sakes! “Who gave himself.” To whom does the pronoun refer? The One who was the Eternal Son of the Father, who was with the Father before all worlds, and yet who stooped in infinite grace to become Man. As Man He did not cease to be God; He was God and Man in one glorious Person, and therefore abounding in merit so that He could pay the mighty debt that we owed to God. He settled the sin question for us as no one else could. The little hymn says:
No angel could our place have taken,
Highest of the high though he;
The loved One, on the cross forsaken,
Was one of the Godhead Three!
Of all men it is written, “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (for the redemption of their soul is [too costly, let it alone] for ever)” (Psalms 49:7-8). But here is One who became Man to redeem our soul: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
“Who gave himself.” Think of it! When we call to mind our own sinfulness, the corruption of our hearts, the wickedness of our lips, when we think of what our sins deserve and how utterly helpless we were to deliver ourselves from the justly deserved judgment, and then we think of Him, the Holy One, the Just One,
The Sovereign of the skies,
Who stooped to man’s estate and dust
That guilty worms might rise,
how our hearts ought to go out to Him in love and worship. I think it was hard for Paul to keep the tears back when he wrote this, “Who gave himself for our sins.” We would like to forget those sins, and yet it is well sometimes that we should remember the hole of the pit from which we were dug, for our sins will be the black background that will display the glorious jewel of divine grace for all eternity. Not only that He might save us from eternal judgment, not only that we might never be lost in that dark, dark pit of woe of which Scripture speaks so solemnly and seriously, but that even here we may be altogether for Himself, “that he might deliver us from this present evil world.” Man has made it wicked by his sinfulness, his disloyalty to God, but we who are saved are to be delivered from it, that we might be set apart to God.
“According to the will of God and our Father.” In these words he sums up the purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world. He came to die for our sins that we might be delivered from the power of sin and be altogether for Himself. “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” This forms the salutation, and the introduction follows.
No Other Gospel
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed, (vv. 6-9)
Those are very strong words, and I can quite understand that some people may have difficulty in reconciling them with the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Twice the apostle pronounces a curse upon those who preach any other gospel than that which he himself had proclaimed to these Galatians when they were poor sinners, and which had been used of God to lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some might ask, Is this the attitude of the Christian minister, to go about cursing people who do not agree with him? No, and it certainly was not Paul’s attitude. Why, then, does he use such strong language? It is not that he himself is invoking a curse upon anyone, but he is declaring, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, that divine judgment must fall upon any one who seeks to pervert the gospel of Christ or to turn people away from that gospel. In other words, the apostle Paul realizes the fact that the gospel is God’s only message to lost man, and that to pervert that gospel, to offer people something else in place of it, for a man to attempt to foist upon them an imitation gospel is to put in jeopardy the souls of those who listen to him. Our Lord Jesus Christ emphasized this when He pointed out that those men who taught people to trust in their own efforts for salvation were blind leaders of the blind, and that eventually both leader and led would fall into the ditch. It is a very serious thing to mislead men along spiritual lines; it is a terrible thing to give wrong direction when souls are seeking the way to heaven.
I remember reading a story of a woman who with her little babe was on a train going up through one of the eastern states. It was a very wintry day. Outside a terrific storm was blowing, snow was falling, and sleet covered everything. The train made its way along slowly because of the ice on the tracks and the snowplow went ahead to clear the way. The woman seemed very nervous. She was to get off at a small station where she would be met by some friends, and she said to the conductor, “You will be sure and let me know the right station, won’t you?”
“Certainly,” he said, “just remain here until I tell you the right station.”
She sat rather nervously and again spoke to the conductor, “You won’t forget me?”
“No, just trust me. I will tell you when to get off.”
A commercial man sat across the aisle, and he leaned over and said, “Pardon me, but I see you are rather nervous about getting off at your station. I know this road well. Your station is the first stop after such-and-such a city. These conductors are very forgetful; they have a great many things to attend to, and he may overlook your request, but I will see that you get off all right. I will help you with your baggage.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said. And she leaned back greatly relieved.
By-and-by the name of the city she mentioned was called, and he leaned over and said, “The next stop will be yours.”
As they drew near to the station she looked around anxiously for the conductor, but he did not come. “You see,” said the man, “he has forgotten you. I will get you off,” and he helped her with her baggage, and as the conductor had not come to open the door, he opened it, and when the train stopped he stepped off, lifted her bag, helped her off, and in a moment the train moved on.
A few minutes later the conductor came and looking all about said, “Why, that is strange! There was a woman here who wanted to get off at this station. I wonder where she is.”
The commercial man spoke up and said, “Yes, you forgot her, but I saw that she got off all right.”
“Got off where?” the conductor asked.
“When the train stopped.”
“But that was not a station! That was an emergency stop! I was looking after that woman. Why, man, you have put her off in a wild country district in the midst of all this storm where there will be nobody to meet her!”
There was only one thing to do, and although it was a rather dangerous thing, they had to reverse the engine and go back a number of miles, and then they went out to look for the woman. They searched and searched, and finally somebody stumbled upon her, and there she was frozen on the ground with her little dead babe in her arms. She was the victim of wrong information.
If it is such a serious thing to give people wrong information in regard to temporal things, what about the man who misleads men and women in regard to the great question of the salvation of their immortal souls? If men believe a false gospel, if they put their trust in something that is contrary to the Word of God, their loss will be not for time only but for eternity. And that is why the apostle Paul, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses such strong language in regard to the wickedness, the awfulness of misleading souls as to eternal things. These Galatians were living in their sins, they were living in idolatry, in the darkness of pagan superstition, when Paul came to them and preached the glorious gospel that tells how “Christ died for our sins … and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). They were saved, for you know the gospel of the grace of God works. It is wonderful when you see a man who has been living in all kinds of sin, and God by the Holy Spirit brings him to repentance and leads him to believe the gospel; everything changes, old habits fall off like withered leaves, a new life is his. He has power to overcome sin, he has hope of heaven, and he has assurance of salvation. That is what God’s gospel gives.
These Galatians, after Paul had been used to bring them into the liberty of grace, were being misled by false teachers, men who had come down from Judea, who professed to be Christians but had never been delivered from legality. They said to these young Christians, “You have only a smattering of the gospel; you need to add to this message that you have received, the teaching of the law of Moses, ‘Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1). Thus they threw them back on self-effort, turning their eyes away from Christ and fixing them upon themselves and their ability to keep the law. Paul says, “This thing will ruin men who depend upon their own self-efforts to get to heaven; they will miss the gates of pearl.” No matter how earnest they are, if they depend upon their own works they will never be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. So far as these Galatians who were really born again were concerned, this false doctrine could not be the means of their eternal perdition, yet it would rob them of the joy and gladness that the Christian ought to have. How could any one have peace who believed that salvation depended on his own efforts? How could he be certain that he had paid enough attention to the demands of the law or ritual? It is the gospel of the grace of God which believed gives men full assurance. And so the apostle Paul was very indignant to find people bringing in something else instead of the gospel of the grace of God, and he is surprised that these Galatians who rejoiced in the liberty of Christ should be so ready to go back to the bondage of law.
“I marvel,” he says, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” He marvels that they should so soon be turned aside from the message of grace. What is grace? It is God’s free, unmerited favor to those who have merited the very opposite. These Galatians, like ourselves, had merited eternal judgment, they deserved to be shut away from the presence of God forever, as you and I deserve to be, but through the preaching of grace they had been brought to see that God has a righteousness which He offers freely to unrighteous sinners who put their faith in His blessed Son. But now, occupied with legal ceremonies, laws, rules, and regulations, they had lost the joy of grace and had become taken up with self-effort. Paul says, “I cannot understand it,” and yet after all, it is very natural for these poor hearts of ours. How often you see people who seem to be wonderfully converted, and then they lose it all as they get occupied with all kinds of questions, rules, ceremonies, and ritual. God would have each heart occupied with His blessed Son, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” In our King James Version we read, “Another gospel,” and then verse 7 continues, “Which is not another.” That sounds like a contradiction, but there are two different Greek words used here. The first is the word heteron, something contrary to sound teaching, something different. The apostle says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ [to a different] gospel.” This mixture of law and grace is not God’s gospel, not something to be added to what you have already received, not something to complete the gospel message; it is opposed to that, it is a heterodox message, one opposed to sound teaching. There is only one gospel.
Go through the Book from Genesis to Revelation and there is only one gospel-that first preached in the Garden of Eden when the message went forth that the Seed of the woman should bruise Satan’s head. That was the gospel, salvation through the coming Christ, the Son of God born of a woman. It is the same gospel preached to Abraham. We read in this Book that the gospel was before preached to Abraham. God took him out one night and said, “Look at the stars; count them.”
And Abraham said, “I cannot count them.” He said, “Look at the dust of the earth, and count the dust.”
Abraham said, “I cannot count it.” “Well, think of the sand at the seashore; count the grains of sand.” And Abraham said, “I cannot count them.”
And God answered, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth” (Genesis 13:16). Abraham might have said, “Impossible! My seed! I have no child, and I am already a man advanced in years, and my wife is an elderly woman. Impossible!” But God had given the word, “In thy seed [which is Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” That was the gospel-all nations to be blessed through Christ, the Seed of Abraham. And “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3). He was justified by faith because he believed the gospel. It is the same gospel that we find running through the book of Psalms. David, stained with sin, the twin sins of adultery and murder, cries, “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalms 51:16-17). “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalms 51:7). And there is only one way a poor sinner can be purged, and that is by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. David looked on in faith to the Christ, the Son of God, and his hope was in this one gospel.
It is the gospel that Isaiah proclaimed when he looked down through the ages and cried, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). It was the gospel that Jeremiah preached when he said, “This is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:6). It was the gospel of Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7).
This was the gospel that John the Baptist preached. He came preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and as he pointed to Jesus he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And this was the gospel that Jesus Himself proclaimed when He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This was Peter’s gospel when he spoke of Jesus, saying, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). This was the gospel of the apostle John who said, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This was the gospel of the apostle James who said, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:18). This is the gospel that they will celebrate through all the ages to come as millions and millions of redeemed sing their song of praise, “Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins in his own blood” (Revelation 1:5 RV). And this was Paul’s gospel when he declared, “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things” (Acts 13:38-39). One gospel! And there is no other!
I have often felt sorry when I have heard some of my brethren whom I have learned to love in the truth, and with whom I hold a great deal in common, try to explain some apparent differences throughout the gospel centuries and talk as though there are a number of different gospels. Some say when Christ was on earth and in the early part of the book of Acts, they preached the gospel of the kingdom but did not know the grace of God. I wonder whether they remember the words of John 3:16 and John 1:29, and recollect that it was the Lord who said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). How short our memories are sometimes, if we say that Jesus was not preaching grace when here on earth when Scripture says, “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Can we say that Peter and his fellow apostles in the early part of Acts were not preaching grace when it was Peter who declared, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). There is only one gospel!
They say there is one gospel of the kingdom, another gospel of the grace of God, then there is the gospel of the glory, and some day there will be the everlasting gospel, and that these are all different gospels. If such statements were true, these words of Paul would fall to the ground, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Someone wrote me that she was surprised that a man who ought to know better should talk about there being only one gospel. “Why,” she said, “even Dr. C. I. Scofield would teach you better, because in his Bible he shows that there are four gospels.” I want to read you what Dr. Scofield says, in his notes on Revelation 14:6:
This great theme may be summarized as follows:
1. In itself the word gospel means good news.
2. Four forms of the gospel are to be distinguished:
(1) The gospel of the kingdom. This is the good news that God purposes to set up on the earth, in fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant, a kingdom, political, spiritual, Israelitish, universal, over which God’s Son, David’s heir, shall be King, and which shall be, for one thousand years, the manifestation of the righteousness of God in human affairs.
Two preachings of this gospel are mentioned, one past, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist, continued by our Lord and His disciples, and ending with the Jewish rejection of the King. The other is yet future, during the great tribulation, and immediately preceding the coming of the King in glory.
(2) The gospel of the grace of God. This is the good news that Jesus Christ, the rejected King, has died on the cross for the sins of the world, that He was raised from the dead for our justification, and that by Him all that believe are justified from all things. This form of the gospel is described in many ways. It is the gospel “of God” because it originates in His love; “of Christ” because it flows from His sacrifice, and because He is the alone Object of gospel faith; of “the grace of God” because it saves those whom the law curses; of “the glory” because it concerns Him who is in the glory, and who is bringing the many sons to glory; of “our salvation” because it is the “power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth”; of “the uncircumcision” because it saves wholly apart from forms and ordinances; of “peace” because through Christ it makes peace between the sinner and God, and imparts inward peace.
(3) The everlasting gospel. This is to be preached to the earth-dwellers at the very end of the great tribulation and immediately preceding the judgment of the nations. It is neither the gospel of the kingdom, nor of grace. Though its burden is judgment, not salvation, it is good news to Israel and to those who, during the tribulation, have been saved.
(4) That which Paul calls, “my gospel.” This is the gospel of the grace of God in its fullest development, but includes the revelation of the result of that gospel in the outcalling of the Church, her relationships, position, privileges, and responsibility. It is the distinctive truth of Ephesians and Colossians, but interpenetrates all of Paul’s writings.
These words are very clear. There is only one gospel, and that is God’s good news concerning His Son; but it takes on different aspects at different times according to the circumstances and conditions in which men are found. In Old Testament times they looked on to the coming of the Savior, but they proclaimed salvation through His atoning death. In the days of John the Baptist stress was laid upon the coming kingdom, and the King was to lay down His life. In the days of the Lord’s ministry on earth He presented Himself as King, but was rejected and went to the cross, for He Himself declared that He “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). During the early chapters of the book of Acts we find this gospel proclaimed to Jews and Gentiles alike, offering free salvation to all who turn to God in repentance, but when God raised up the apostle Paul, He gave him a clearer vision of the gospel than any one had yet had. He showed that not only are men forgiven through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, but that they are justified from all things, and stand in Christ before God as part of a new creation. This is a fuller revelation of the good tidings, but the same gospel.
By-and-by, during the days of the great tribulation, the everlasting gospel will be proclaimed, telling men that the once-rejected Christ shall come again to set up His glorious kingdom, but even in that day men will be taught that salvation is through His precious blood, for as the result of that preaching a great multitude will be brought out of all kindreds and tongues who have “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
Yes, there is only one gospel and if any one comes preaching any other gospel, telling you there is any other way of salvation save through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, it is a heterodox gospel. Some such had come to Galatia and perverted the gospel of Christ, and it is this that led Paul in the intensity of his zeal for that gospel to exclaim, as guided by the Holy Spirit who inspired him, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be [Anathema]” (let him be devoted to judgment), if he is substituting anything for the precious gospel of the grace of God. Notice, if the angel who proclaims the everlasting gospel in the days of the great tribulation preaches any other gospel than that of salvation through faith in Christ alone, that angel comes under the curse, for Paul says, “Though … an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
Out West I often met disciples of Joseph Smith, and when I got them in a corner with the Word of God and they could not wiggle out, they would say, “Well, we have what you do not have. An angel came to Joseph Smith and gave him the book of Mormon.” And so they reasoned that the Bible is not enough, because an angel had revealed something different. I do not believe in the prophet Joseph Smith, and I do not believe that an angel ever appeared to him, unless it was in a nightmare. But if he did, then that angel was from the pit and he is under the curse, because, “Though … an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” People may say, “But Paul, you are all worked up, you are losing your temper.” You know, if you become very fervent for the truth, folks say you are losing your temper. If you say strong things in defense of the truth, they will declare you are unkind; but men will use very fervent language about politics and other things, and yet no one questions their loss of temper, but they think we should be very calm when people tear the Bible to pieces! If anything calls for fervent and intense feelings it is the defense of the gospel against false teaching.
Lest any one should say, “Well, Paul, you would not have written that if you had been calmer; you would not have used such strong language,” Paul repeats himself in verse 9, and says, “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be [Anathema].” That is cool enough. He is not speaking now as one wrought up. He has had time to think it over and has weighed his words carefully. Yes, on sober, second thought he again insists on what he declared before, that the divine judgment hangs over any man who seeks to mislead lost humanity by telling them of any other way of salvation save through the precious atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In closing I put the question to you: On what are you resting your hope for eternity? Are you resting on the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you trusting the gospel of the grace of God? “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Paul’s Conversion And Apostleship
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when 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; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me. (vv. 10-24)
The apostle Paul in this section is obliged to defend his apostleship. There is something pitiable about that. He had come to these Galatians when they were heathen, when they were idolaters, and had been God’s messenger to them. Through him they had been brought to the Lord Jesus Christ. But they had fallen under the influence of false teachers, and now looked down upon the man who had led them to Christ; they despised his ministry and felt they were far better informed than he. This is not the only time in the history of the church that such things have happened. Often we see young converts happy and radiant in the knowledge of sins forgiven, until under the influence of false teachers they look with contempt upon those who presented the gospel to them.
In the first place, Paul undertakes to show how he became the apostle to the Gentiles. In verse 10 he says, “For do I now persuade men, or God?” What does he mean by that? Do I seek the approval of men or of God? Manifestly, of God. The apostle Paul was not a timeserver, he was not seeking simply to please men who in a little while would have to stand before God in judgment, if they died in their sins. His express purpose was to do the will of the One who had saved him and commissioned him to preach the gospel of His grace. So he says, “I am not attempting to seek the approval of men, but of God. I do not seek to please men,” that is, I am not trying to get their approbation. It is true that in another verse he says, “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification” (Romans 15:2), but there is no contradiction there. It is right and proper to seek in every way I can to please and help my friend, my neighbor, my brother; but on the other hand, when I attempt to preach the Word of God, I am to do it “not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). The preacher who speaks with man’s approval as his object is untrue to the commission given to him. “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” He would simply be making himself the servant of men.
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The gospel differs from every human religious system. In some of our universities they study what is called, “The Science of Comparative Religions.” The study of comparative religions is both very interesting and informative, if you consider, for instance, the great religions of the pagan world such as Buddhism, Brahmanism, Islam. They have much in common, and much in which they stand in contrast one to another. But when you take Christianity and put it in with these religions, you make a mistake; Christianity is not simply a religion, it is a divine revelation. Paul says, “I did not get my gospel from men. No man communicated it to me. I received it directly from heaven.” Of course we do not all get it in this way, as a direct revelation, as Paul did, and yet, in every instance, if a man is brought to understand the truth of the gospel, it is because the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, opens that man’s heart and mind and understanding to comprehend the truth. Otherwise he would not receive it. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14), and of course the natural man is not pleased with this divine revelation. Men are pleased when the preacher glosses over their sins, when he makes excuses for their wrongdoings, when he panders to their weaknesses or flatters them as they attempt to work out a righteousness of their own. But when a man preaches the gospel of the grace of God and insists upon man’s utterly lost and ruined condition, declares that he is unable to do one thing to save himself, but must be saved through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is nothing about that to please the natural man. It is divine grace that opens the heart to receive that revelation. That was the revelation that came to Paul.
There was a time when the apostle hated Christianity, when he did all in his power to destroy the infant church, and now he says to these Galatians, “Ye have heard of my conversation [that is, my behavior] in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.” Twice here he uses the expression, “The Jews’ religion” (vv. 13-14). The original word simply means Judaism, and is not to be confounded with the word used in the epistle of James, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). There “religion” is used in a proper sense, and we who are saved should be characterized by that; but as the apostle uses the word here it is something entirely different. The two English words, “Jews’ religion,” are translated from the one Greek word which means “Judaism.” Paul hoped through that to save his soul and gain favor with God, until through a divine revelation he had an altogether different conception of things. As long as he believed in Judaism he “persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.” One of the pitiable things that has occurred since is that members of the professed church of God have turned around to persecute the people of Judaism. Strange, this seems, when Jesus says, “Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Paul hated Christianity. He persecuted Christians and tried to root up Christianity from the earth, and says that he “profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” He could say, “After the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5). Judaism was dearer than life to him. He thought it was the only truth, that all men, if they would know God at all, must find Him through Judaism. He was exceedingly zealous of the traditions of the fathers, not only of what was written in the Bible, in the law of Moses, what the prophets had declared, but added to that the great body of such traditions as have come down to the Jews of the present day in the Talmud. He would have lived and died an advocate of Judaism if it had not been for the miracle of grace. How did it happen that this Jew who could see nothing good in Christianity turned about and became its greatest exponent? There is no way of accounting for it except through the matchless sovereign grace of God. Something took place in that man’s heart and life that changed his entire viewpoint, that made him the protagonist who devoted over thirty years of his life to making Christ known to Jews and Gentiles. He tells us what brought about the change: “But when 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; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (vv. 15-16). When the appointed time came, when God in sovereign grace said, as it were, “Arrest that man,” and stopped him on the Damascus turnpike, and when Christ in glory appeared to him, Saul of Tarsus was brought to see that he had been fighting against Israel’s Messiah and God’s blessed Son. Then Christ was not only revealed to him, but Christ was revealed in him.
We have both the objective and the subjective sides of truth. When I as a poor sinner saw the Lord Jesus suffering, bleeding, dying for me, when I saw that He was “wounded for my transgressions, he was bruised for my iniquities,” when I realized that He had been “delivered up for my offenses and raised again for my justification,” when I put my heart’s trust in Him, when I believed that objective truth, then something took place within me subjectively. Christ came to dwell in my very heart. “Christ in you,” says the apostle, “the hope of glory.” It pleased God to reveal His Son not only to me but in me. I was brought to know Him in a richer, fuller way than I could know the dearest earthly friend. It was no longer for Paul a matter of one religion against another. Now he had a divine commission to go forth and make known to other men the Christ who had become so real to him. So when this glorious event took place, when through God’s sovereign grace he was brought to know the Lord Jesus Christ, he says, “I realized that this glorious understanding was not for me alone but that I might make Him known to others; it pleased God ‘to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen.’” When the Lord saved Paul He told him He had that in view.
In Acts 9:0, in the story of the apostle’s conversion, we read that God spoke to Ananias and sent him to see Paul in the street called Straight in Damascus. He did not want to go at first, he was afraid he would be taking his life in his hands; but the Lord said unto him, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16). So Ananias went in obedience to the vision and communicated the mind of God to Paul. The Lord had already said, “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee” (Acts 26:16-17). Preeminently he was the apostle to the Gentiles, but he also had a wonderful ministry for his own people, and all through his life his motto was, “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Into city after city he went hunting out the synagogues or finding individual Jews or groups, telling them of the great change that had come to him and pleading with them to submit to the same wonderful Savior. When they rejected his message, he turned to the Gentiles and preached the gospel to them.
Some of these Galatians questioned whether he really was an apostle, for he never saw the Lord when He was here on earth; he did not get his commission from the twelve. He says, “No, I did not, and I glory in that I am an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ. I received my commission from heaven when I saw the risen Christ in glory and He came to make His abode in my heart. He commissioned me to go out and preach His message.” “Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” They thought he should have gone to Jerusalem to sit down and talk the matter over with the other apostles, and find out whether they endorsed him and were prepared to ordain him to the Christian ministry, or something like that. But he says, “No, I did not seek anyone out, nor confer with any one. My commission was from heaven, to carry it out in dependence upon the living God.” So he adds, “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus” (v. 17). He did not go at the beginning to what they considered the headquarters of the Christian church, Jerusalem, to get authorization. Instead of that he seems to have slipped away. In reading Acts we would not know this, but here he indicates that he went into Arabia Petra, and there in some quiet place, perhaps living in a cave, he spent some time waiting on God that he might have things cleared up in his own mind. He wanted time to think things out, time for God to speak to him, and in which he could speak to God. There the truth in all its fullness, its beauty, its glory, opened up to him. It was not there that he had the revelation of the body of Christ. He received that on the Damascus turnpike when the Lord said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” What a revelation was that of the body that all believers on earth constitute! They are so intimately linked with their glorious Head in heaven that one member cannot be touched without affecting their Head. There was a great deal he needed to understand, and so into the wilderness he went.
Have you ever noticed how many of God’s beloved servants had their finishing courses in the university of the wilderness? When God wanted to fit Moses to be the leader of His people He sent him to the wilderness. He had gone through all the Egyptian schools, and thought he was ready to be the deliverer of God’s people. When he left the university of Egypt he may have said, “Now I am ready to undertake my great lifework.” But, immediately, he started killing Egyptians and hiding them in the sand, and God says, “You are not ready yet, Moses; you need a post-graduate course.” He was forty years learning the wisdom of Egypt, and forty years forgetting it and learning the wisdom of God, and finally, when he received his post-graduate degree he was sent of God to deliver His people.
Elijah had his time in the wilderness. David had his time there. Oh, those years in the wilderness when hunted by King Saul like a partridge on the mountainside. They were used to help fit him for his great work. And then think of our blessed Lord Himself! He was baptized in the Jordan, presenting Himself there in accordance with the Word of God as the One who was to go to the cross to fulfill all righteousness on behalf of needy sinners, and the Holy Spirit like a dove descended upon Him. He then went into the wilderness for forty days, and prayed and fasted in view of the great ministry upon which He was to enter. Then He passed through that serious temptation of Satan, emerging triumphant, and went forth to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Now here is this man who hated His name, who detested Christianity, but after having had a sight of the risen Christ he goes off into the wilderness for a period of meditation, prayer, and instruction before he commences his great work. Then he says he “returned again unto Damascus,” and he preached Christ in the synagogues “that he is the Son of God.” If you read carefully in the book of Acts you will see that it was not until after the conversion of Paul that any one preached Christ as the Son of God. I know the expression, “Thy holy Child Jesus,” is used, but the better rendering is “Servant.” Peter preached Jesus as the Messiah, the Servant, but Paul began the testimony that Jesus was in very truth the Son of God. When the Lord Jesus interrogated Peter, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16). But it was not yet God’s time to make that known, for the message was limited, in measure, to the people of Israel in the early part of Acts. But when Saul was converted, without fear of man he preached in those very synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God and he himself now was persecuted bitterly by those who once admired him as the leader in their religious practices.
Three years went by before this man went to Jerusalem. He went from place to place and finally did go there, but not in order to be ordained or recognized as an apostle. In verse 18 he tells us why he went up, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.” The word see in the original is very interesting. It is the Greek word from which we get our English word, history, the telling of a story, talking things over, and so Paul says that after three years he went up to Jerusalem to relate his history to Peter, to talk things over with him, to tell him what the Lord had done. What a wonderful meeting that was! It would have been wonderful, unnoticed in a corner of the room, to have heard the conversation. Peter who had known the Lord, who had denied the Lord, who had been so wonderfully restored, who preached with such power on the day of Pentecost and was used so mightily to open the door to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, Peter told his story and Paul told his. And when they got through I imagine Peter would say, “Well, Paul, you have the same message I have, but I think the Lord has given you more than He has given to me, and I want to give you the right hand of fellowship. I rejoice in your ministry, and we can go on together proclaiming this glad, glorious gospel.” Fifteen days of wonderful fellowship!
As to the rest of the apostles Paul says, “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” We are not certain which James he means. He may be the man referred to as James the son of Alphaeus, the cousin of the Lord, who would be spoken of as His brother. My personal opinion is that he is the James who occupies so large a place in the book of Acts-James who was the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not believe while the Savior was here on earth, but was brought to believe in Him in resurrection, and who led the church of God in Jerusalem. Paul saw him, but from none of them did he get any special endorsement or authorization. He met them on common ground. They were apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ; so was he, by divine appointment.
“Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.” Strange that he should have to say this! Strange that these Galatians, his own converts, should think for a moment that he might be untruthful! But when one gets under the power of false teaching, as a rule he is ready to make all kinds of charges as to the integrity, the honesty of other people. And so it is here, and the apostle has to say, “The things that I am telling you are true. I am not lying.”
After returning from Jerusalem he launched out on his great missionary program. “Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ.” He had been known among other assemblies in Judaism, Jewish assemblies knew him well, but Christians in Judea, believers who had separated from Judaism, had never seen him. “But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.” And what power there was in that! Here was the man who had gone to all lengths to turn a man away from Christ, even attempted to compel him to blaspheme, threatened him with death if he would not repudiate the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now this great change has come, and word is going through the churches, “The great persecutor has become an evangelist; he is no longer our enemy, but is preaching to others the same faith that means so much to us.” “And they glorified God in me.” Truly, Paul’s conversion was a divine, sovereign work of grace, and praise and glory redounded to the One who had chosen, commissioned, and sent him forth.
The abundant resultant fruit was to His glory. Nothing gives such power to the ministry of Christ as genuine conversion. I do not understand how any man can presume to be a minister who does not know the reality of a personal conversion and the truth of the gospel.
That gospel has lost none of its power. It can work just as wonderful miracles today for men who will put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you trusted Him? Have you believed in Him? Is He your Savior? Do you know what it means to be converted? Can you say, “Thank God, my soul is saved; God has revealed His Son in me”?
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Galatians 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29