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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Galatians 6

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-5

Chapter 26


THE division of the chapters at this point is almost as unfortunate as that between chaps. 4 and 5. The introductory "Brethren" is not a form of transition to a new topic; it calls in the brotherly love of the Galatians to put an end to the bickerings and recriminations which the Apostle has censured in the preceding verses. How unseemly for brethren to be "vainglorious" towards each other, to be "provoking and envying one another!" If they are spiritual men, they should look more considerately on the faults of their neighbours, more seriously on their own responsibilities.

The Galatic temperament, as we have seen, was prone to the mischievous vanity which the Apostle here reproves. Those who had, or fancied they had, some superiority over others in talent or in character, prided themselves upon it. Even spiritual gifts were made matter of ostentation; and display on the part of the more gifted excited the jealousy of inferior brethren. The same disposition which manifests itself in arrogance on the one side, on the other takes the form of discontent and envy. The heart burnings and the social tension which this state of things creates, make every chance collision a danger; and the slightest wound is inflamed into a rankling sore. The stumbling brother is pushed on into a fall; and the fallen man, who might have been helped to his feet, is left to lie there, the object of unpitying reproach. Indeed, the lapse of his neighbour is to the vainglorious man a cause of satisfaction rather than of sorrow. The other’s weakness serves for a foil to his strength. Instead of stooping down to restore "such a one," he holds stiffly aloof in the eminence of conscious virtue; and bears himself more proudly in the lustre added to his piety by his fellow’s disgrace. "God, I thank Thee," he seems to say, "that I am not as other men, -nor even as this wretched back-slider!" The compellation "Brethren" is itself a rebuke to such heartless pride.

There are two reflections which should instantly correct the spirit of vainglory. The Apostle appeals in the first place to brotherly love, to the claims that an erring fellow-Christian has upon our sympathy, to the meekness and forbearance which the Spirit of grace inspires, in fine to Christ’s law which makes compassion our duty. At the same time he points out to us our own infirmity and exposure to temptation. He reminds us of the weight of our individual responsibility and the final account awaiting us. A proper sense at once of the rights of others and of our own obligations will make this shallow vanity impossible.

This double-edged exhortation takes shape in two leading sentences, sharply clashing with each other in the style of paradox in which the Apostle loves to contrast the opposite sides of truth: "Bear ye one another’s burdens" (Galatians 6:2); and yet "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5).

1. What then are the considerations that commend the burdens of others for our bearing?

The burden the Apostle has in view is that of a brother’s trespass: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in some trespass."

Here the question arises as to whether Paul means overtaken by the temptation, or by the discovery of his sin-surprised into committing, or in committing the trespass. Winer, Lightfoot, and some other interpreters, read the words in the latter sense: "surprised, detected in the act of committing any sin, so that his guilt is placed beyond a doubt" (Lightfoot). We are persuaded, notwithstanding, that the common view of the text is the correct one. The manner of the offender’s detection has little to do with the way in which he should be treated; but the circumstances of his fall have everything to do with it. The suddenness, the surprise of his temptation is both a reason for more lenient judgment, and a ground for hope of his restoration. The preposition "in" (ejn), it is urged, stands in the way of this interpretation. We might have expected to read "(surprised) by, " or perhaps "into (any sin)." But the word is "trespass," not "sin." It points not to the cause of the man’s fall, but to the condition in which it has placed him. The Greek preposition (according to a well-known idiom of verbs of motion) indicates the result of the unexpected assault to which the man has been subject. A gust of temptation has caught him unawares; and we now see him lying overthrown and prostrate, involved "in some trespass."

The Apostle is supposing an instance-possibly an actual case-in which the sin committed was due to weakness and surprise, rather than deliberate intention; like that of Eve, when "the woman being beguiled fell into transgression." Such a fall deserves commiseration. The attack was unlooked for; the man was off his guard. The Gallic nature is heedless and impulsive. Men of this temperament should make allowance for each other. An offence committed in a rash moment, under provocation, must not be visited with implacable severity, nor magnified until it become a fatal barrier between the evil-doer and society. And Paul says expressly, "If a man be overtaken"-a delicate reminder of our human infirmity and common danger. {comp. 1 Corinthians 10:13} Let us remember that it is a man who has erred, of like passions with ourselves; and his trespass will excite pity for him and apprehension for ourselves.

Such an effect the occurrence should have upon "the spiritual," on the men of love and peace, who "walk in the Spirit." The Apostle’s appeal is qualified by this definition. Vain and self-seeking men, the irritable, the resentful, are otherwise affected by a neighbour’s trespass. They will be angry with him, lavish in virtuous scorn; but it is not in them to "restore such a one." They are more likely to aggravate than heal the wound, to push the weak man down when he tries to rise, than to help him to his feet. The work of restoration needs a knowledge of the human heart, a self-restraint and patient skill, quite beyond their capability.

The restoration here signified denotes not only, or not so much, the man’s inward, spiritual renewal, as his recovery for the Church, the mending of the rent caused by his removal. In 1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:10, where, as in other places, the English verb "perfect" enters into the rendering of καταρτιζω, it gives the idea of readjustment, the right fitting of part to part, member to member, in some larger whole. Writing to the Corinthian Church at this time respecting a flagrant trespass committed there, for which the transgressor was now penitent, the Apostle bids its members "confirm their love" to him. {2 Corinthians 2:5-11} So here "the spiritual" amongst the Galatians are urged to make it their business to set right the lapsed brother, to bring him back as soon and safely as might be to the fold of Christ.

Of all the fruits of the Spirit, meekness is most required for this office of restoration, the meekness of Christ the Good Shepherd-of Paul who was "gentle as a nurse" amongst his children, and even against the worst offenders preferred to "come in love and a spirit of meekness," rather than "with a rod". {1 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 4:21} To reprove without pride or acrimony, to stoop to the fallen without the air of condescension, requires the "spirit of meekness" in a singular degree. Such a bearing lends peculiar grace to compassion. This "gentleness of Christ" is one of the finest and rarest marks of the spiritual man. The moroseness sometimes associated with religious zeal, the disposition to judge hardly the failings of weaker men is anything but according to Christ. It is written of Him, "A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench". {Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20}

Meekness becomes sinful men dealing with fellow-sinners. "Considering thyself, " says the Apostle, "lest thou also be tempted." It is a noticeable thing that men morally weak in any given direction are apt to be the severest judges of those who err in the same respect, just as people who have risen out of poverty are often the harshest towards the poor. They wish to forget their own past, and hate to be reminded of a condition from which they have suffered. Or is the judge in sentencing a kindred offender, seeking to reinforce his own conscience and to give a warning to himself? One is inclined sometimes to think so. But reflection on our own infirmities should counteract, instead of fostering censoriousness. Every man knows enough of himself to make him chary of denouncing others. "Look to thyself, " cries the Apostle. "Thou hast considered thy brother’s faults Now turn thine eye inward, and contemplate thine own. Hast thou never aforetime committed the offence with which he stands charged; or haply yielded to the like temptation in a less degree? Or if not even that, it may be thou art guilty of sins of another kind, though hidden from human sight, in the eyes of God no less heinous." "Judge not," said the Judge of all the earth, "lest ye be judged. With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you". {Matthew 7:1-5}

This exhortation begins in general terms; but in the latter clause of Galatians 6:1 it passes into the individualising singular-"looking to thyself, lest even thou be tempted." The disaster befalling one reveals the common peril; it is the signal for every member of the Church to take heed to himself. The scrutiny which it calls for belongs to each man’s private conscience. And the faithfulness and integrity required in those who approach the wrongdoer with a view to his recovery, must be chastened by personal solicitude. The fall of a Christian brother should be in any case the occasion of heart-searching and profound humiliation. Feelings of indifference towards him, much more of contempt, will prove the prelude of a worse overthrow for ourselves.

The burden of a brother’s trespass is the most painful that can devolve upon a Christian man. But this is not the only burden we bring upon each other. There are burdens of anxiety and sorrow, of personal infirmity, of family difficulty, of business embarrassment, infinite varieties and complications of trial in which the resources of brotherly sympathy are taxed. The injunction of the Apostle has an unlimited range. That which burdens my friend and brother cannot be otherwise than a solicitude to me. Whatever it be that cripples him and hinders his running the race set before him, I am bound, according to the best of my judgment and ability, to assist him to overcome it. If I leave him to stagger on alone, to sink under his load when my shoulder might have eased it for him, the reproach will be mine.

This is no work of supererogation, no matter of mere liking and choice. I am not at liberty to refuse to share the burdens of the brotherhood. "Bear ye one another’s burdens," Paul says, "and so fulfil the law of Christ." This law the Apostle has already cited and enforced against the contentions and jealousies rife in Galatia. {Galatians 5:14-15} But it has a further application. Christ’s law of love not only says, "Thou shalt not bite and devour; thou shalt not provoke and envy thy brother"; but also, "Thou shalt help and comfort him, and regard his burden as thine own."

This law makes of the Church one body, with a solidarity of interests and obligations. It finds employment and discipline for the energy of Christian freedom, in yoking it to the service of the over-burdened. It reveals the dignity and privilege of moral strength, which consist not in the enjoyment of its own superiority, but in its power to bear "the infirmities of the weak." This was the glory of Christ, who "pleased not Himself" {Romans 15:1-4} The Giver of the law is its great Example. "Being in the form of God," He "took the form of a servant," that in love He might serve mankind; He "became obedient, unto the death of the cross." {Philippians 2:1-8} Justly is the inference drawn, "We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren". {1 John 3:16} There is no limit to the service which the redeemed brotherhood of Christ may expect from its members.

Only this law must not be abused by the indolent and the overreaching, by the men who are ready to throw their burdens on others and make every generous neighbour the victim of their dishonesty. It is the need, not the demand, of our brother which claims our help. We are bound to take care that it is his necessity to which we minister, not his imposture or his slothfulness. The warning that "each man shall bear his own burden" is addressed to those who receive, as well as to those who render aid in the common burden-bearing of the Church.

2. The adjustment of social and individual duty is often far from easy, and requires the nicest discernment and moral tact. Both are brought into view in this paragraph, in its latter as well as in its former section. But in Galatians 6:1-2 the need of others, in Galatians 6:3-5 our personal responsibility, forms the leading consideration. We see on the one hand, that a true self-regard teaches us to identify ourselves with the moral interests of others: while, on the other hand, a false regard to others is excluded (Galatians 6:4) which disturbs the judgment to be formed respecting ourselves. The thought of his own burden to be borne by each man now comes to the front of the exhortation.

Galatians 6:3 stands between the two counterpoised estimates. It is another shaft directed against Galatian vainglory, and pointed with Paul’s keenest irony. "For if a man thinketh he is something, being nothing, he deceiveth himself."

This truth is very evident. But what is its bearing on the matter in hand? The maxim is advanced to support the foregoing admonition. It was their self-conceit that led some of the Apostle’s readers to treat with contempt the brother who had trespassed; he tells them that this opinion of theirs is a delusion, a kind of mental hallucination (φρεναπατα εαυτον). It betrays a melancholy ignorance. The "spiritual" man who "thinks himself to be something," says to you, "I am quite above these weak brethren, as you see. Their habits of life, their temptations are not mine. Their sympathy would be useless to me. And I shall not burden myself with their feebleness, nor vex myself with their ignorance and rudeness." If any man separates himself from the Christian commonalty and breaks the ties of religious fellowship on grounds of this sort, and yet imagines he is following Christ, he "deceives himself." Others will see how little his affected eminence is worth. Some will humour his vanity; many will ridicule or pity it; few will be deceived by it.

The fact of a man’s "thinking himself to be something" goes far to prove that he "is nothing." "Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight." Real knowledge is humble; it knows its nothingness. Socrates, when the oracle pronounced him the wisest man in Greece, at last discovered that the response was right, inasmuch as he alone was aware that he knew nothing, while other men were confident of their knowledge. And a greater than Socrates, our All-wise, All-holy Saviour, says to us, "Learn of Me. for I am meek and lowly in heart." It is in humility and dependence, in self-forgetting that true wisdom begins. Who are we, although the most refined or highest in place, that we should despise plain, uncultured members of the Church, those who bear life’s heavier burdens and amongst whom our Saviour spent His days on earth, and treat them as unfit for our company, unworthy of fellowship with us in Christ?

They are themselves the greatest losers who neglect to fulfil Christ’s law. Such men might learn from their humbler brethren, accustomed to the trials and temptations of a working life and a rough world, how to bear more worthily their own burdens. How foolish of "the eye to say to the hand" or "foot, I have no need of thee"! "God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith." There are truths of which they are our best teachers-priceless lessons of the power of Divine grace and the deep things of Christian experience. This isolation robs the poorer members of the Church in their turn of the manifold help due to them from communion with those more happily circumstanced. How many of the evils around us would be ameliorated, how many of our difficulties would vanish, if we could bring about a truer Christian fraternisation, if caste-feeling in our English Church-life were once destroyed, if men would lay aside their stiffness and social hauteur, and cease to think that they "are something" on grounds of worldly distinction and wealth which in Christ are absolutely nothing.

The vain conceit of their superiority indulged in by some of his readers, the Apostle further corrects by reminding the self-deceivers of their own responsibility. The irony of Galatians 6:3 passes into a sterner tone of warning in Galatians 6:4-5. "Let each man try his own work," he cries. "Judge yourselves, instead of judging one another. Mind your own duty, rather than your neighbours’ faults. Do not think of your worth or talents in comparison with theirs; but see to it that your work is right." The question for each of us is not, What do others fail to do? but, What am I myself really doing? What will my life’s work amount to, when measured by that which God expects from me?

This question shuts each man up within his own conscience. It anticipates the final judgment-day. "Every one of us must give account of himself to God" Romans 14:12. Reference to the conduct of others is here out of place. The petty comparisons which feed our vanity and our class-prejudices are of no avail at the bar of God. I may be able for every fault of my own to find some one else more faulty. But this makes me no whit better. It is the intrinsic, not the comparative worth of character and daily work of which God takes account. If we study our brother’s work, it should be with a view to enable him to do it better, or to learn to improve our own by his example; not in order to find excuses for ourselves in his shortcomings.

"And then"-if our work abide the test we shall have our glorying in ourselves alone, not in regard to our neighbour." Not his flaws and failures, but my own honest work will be the ground of my satisfaction. This was Paul’s "glorying" in face of the slanders by which he was incessantly pursued. It lay in the testimony of his conscience. He lived under the severest self-scrutiny. He knew himself as the man only can who "knows the fear of the Lord," who places-himself every day before the dread tribunal of Christ Jesus. He is "made manifest unto God"; and in the light of, that searching Presence he can affirm that he knows nothing against himself." {1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10-12} But this boast makes him humble. "By the grace of God" he is enabled to "have his conversation in the world in holiness and sincerity coming of God." If he had seemed to claim any credit for himself, he at once corrects the thought: "Yet not I," he says, "but God’s grace that was with me. I have my glorying in Christ Jesus in the things’ pertaining to God, in that which Christ hath wrought in me". {1 Corinthians 15:10; Romans 15:16-19}

So that this boast of the Apostle, in which he invites the vainglorious Galatians to secure a share, resolves itself after all into his one boast, "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14). If his work on trial should prove to be gold, "abiding" amongst the world’s imperishable treasures and fixed foundations of truth, {1 Corinthians 3:10-15} Christ only was to be praised for this. Paul’s glorying is the opposite of the Legalist’s, who presumes on his "works" as his own achievements, commending him for righteous before God. "Justified by works," such a man hath "whereof to glory, but not toward God". {Romans 4:2} His boasting redounds to himself. Whatever glory belongs to the work of the Christian must be referred to God. Such work furnishes no ground for magnifying the man at the expense of his fellows. If we praise the stream, it is to commend the fountain. If we admire the lives of the saints and celebrate the deeds of the heroes of faith, it is ad majorem Dei gloriam - "that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ". {1 Peter 4:11}

"For each will bear his own load." Here ‘is the ultimate reason for the self-examination to which the Apostle has been urging his readers, in order to restrain their vanity. The emphatic repetition of the words each man in Galatians 6:4-5 brings out impressively the personal character of the account to be rendered. At the same time, the deeper sense of our own burdens thus awakened will help to stir in us sympathy for the loads under which our fellows labour. So that this warning indirectly furthers the appeal for sympathy with which the chapter began.

Faithful scrutiny of our work may give us reasons for satisfaction and gratitude towards God. But it will yield matter of another kind. It will call to remembrance old sins and follies, lost opportunities, wasted powers, with their burden of regret and humiliation. It will set before us the array of our obligations, the manifold tasks committed to us by our heavenly Master, compelling us to say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" And besides the reproofs of the past and the stern demands of the present, there sounds in the soul’s ear the message of the future, the summons to our final reckoning. Each of us has his own life-load, made up of this triple burden. A thousand varying circumstances and individual experiences go to constitute the ever-growing load which we bear with us from youth to age, like the wayfarer his bundle, like the soldier his knapsack and accoutrements-the individual lot, the peculiar un-transferable vocation and responsibility fastened by the hand of God upon our shoulders. This burden we shall have to carry up to Christ’s judgment-seat. He is our Master; He alone can give us our discharge. His lips must pronounce the final "Well done"-or, "Thou wicked and slothful servant!"

In this sentence the Apostle employs a different word from that used in Galatians 6:2. There he was thinking of the weight, the burdensomeness of our brother’s troubles, which we haply may lighten for him, and which is so far common property. But the second word, φορτιον (applied for instance to a ship’s lading), indicates that which is proper to each in the burdens of life. There are duties that we have no power to devolve, cares and griefs that we must bear in secret, problems that we must work out severally and for ourselves. To consider them aright, to weigh well the sum of our duty will dash our self-complacency; it will surely make us serious and humble. Let us wake up from dreams of self-pleasing to an earnest, manly apprehension of life’s demands-"while," like the Apostle, "we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen and eternal". {2 Corinthians 4:18}

After all, it is the men who have the highest standard for themselves that as a rule are most considerate in their estimate of others. The holiest are the most pitiful. They know best how to enter into the struggles of a weaker brother. They can appreciate his unsuccessful resistance to temptation; they can discern where and how he has failed, and how much of genuine sorrow there is in his remorse. From the fulness of their own experience they can interpret a possibility of better things in what excites contempt in those who judge by appearance and by conventional rules. He who has learned faithfully to "consider himself" and meekly to "bear his own burden," is most fit to do the work of Christ, and to shepherd His tempted and straying sheep. Strict with ourselves, we shall grow wise and gentle in our care for others.

In the Christian conscience the sense of personal and that of social responsibility serve each to stimulate and guard the other. Duty and sympathy, love and law are fused into one. For Christ is all in all; and these two hemispheres of life unite in Him.

Verses 6-10

Chapter 27


EACH shall bear his own burden (Galatians 6:5)-but let there be communion of disciple with teacher in all that is good. The latter sentence is clearly intended to balance the former. The transition turns upon the same antithesis between social and individual responsibility that occupied us in the foregoing chapter. But it is now presented on another side. In the previous passage it concerned the conduct of "the spiritual" toward erring brethren whom they were tempted to despise; here, their behaviour toward teachers whom they were disposed to neglect. There it is inferiors, here superiors that are in view. The Galatian "vainglory" manifested itself alike in provocation toward the former, and in envy toward the latter. {Galatians 5:26} In both ways it bred disaffection, and threatened to break up the Church’s unity. The two effects are perfectly consistent. Those who are harsh in their dealings with the weak, are commonly rude and insubordinate toward their betters, where they dare to be so. Self-conceit and self-sufficiency engender in the one direction a cold contempt, in the other a jealous independence. The former error is corrected by a due sense of our own infirmities; the latter by the consideration of our responsibility to God. We are compelled to feel for the burdens of others when we realise the weight of our own. We learn to respect the claims of those placed over us, when we remember what we owe to God through them. Personal responsibility is the last word of the former paragraph; social responsibility is the first word of this. Such is the contrast marked by the transitional But.

From this point of view Galatians 6:6 gains a very comprehensive sense. "All good things" cannot surely be limited to the "carnal things" of 1 Corinthians 9:11. As Meyer and Beet amongst recent commentators clearly show, the context gives to this phrase a larger scope. At the same time, there is no necessity to exclude the thought of temporal good. The Apostle designedly makes his appeal as wide as possible. The reasoning of the corresponding passage in the Corinthian letter is a deduction from the general principle laid down here.

But it is spiritual fellowship that the Apostle chiefly desiderates. The true minister of Christ counts this vastly more sacred, and has this interest far more at heart than his own temporalities. He labours for the unity of the Church; he strives to secure the mutual sympathy and co-operation of all orders and ranks-teachers and taught, officers and private members-"in every good word and work." He must have the heart of his people with him in his work, or his joy will be faint and his success scant indeed. Christian teaching is designed to awaken this sympathetic response. And it will take expression in the rendering of whatever kind of help the gifts and means of the hearer and the needs of the occasion call for. Paul requires every member of the Body of Christ to make her wants and toils his own. We have no right to leave the burdens of the Church’s work to her leaders, to expect her battles to be fought and won by the officers alone. This neglect has been the parent of innumerable mischiefs. Indolence in the laity fosters sacerdotalism in the clergy. But when, on the contrary, an active, sympathetic union is maintained between "him that is taught" and "him that teacheth," that other matter of the temporal support of the Christian ministry, to which this text is so often exclusively referred, comes in as a necessary detail, to be generously and prudently arranged, but which will not be felt on either side as a burden or a difficulty. Everything depends on the fellowship of spirit, on the strength of the bond of love that knits together the members of the Body of Christ. Here, in Galatia, that bond had been grievously weakened. In a Church so disturbed, the fellowship of teachers and taught was inevitably strained.

Such communion the Apostle craves from his children in the faith with an intense yearning. This is the one fruit of God’s grace in them which he covets to reap for himself, and feels he has a right to expect. "Be ye as I am," he cries-"do not desert me, my children, for whom I travail in birth. Let me not have to toil for you in vain". {Galatians 4:12-19} So again, writing to the Corinthians: "It was I that begat you in Christ Jesus; I beseech you then, be followers of me. Let me remind you of my ways in the Lord…O ye Corinthians, to you our mouth is open, our heart enlarged. Pay me back in kind (you are my children), and be ye too enlarged". {1 Corinthians 4:14-17; 2 Corinthians 6:11-13} He "thanks God" for the Philippians "on every remembrance of them," and "makes his supplication" for them "with joy, because of their fellowship in regard to the gospel from the first day until now". {Philippians 1:3-7} Such is the fellowship which Paul wished to see restored in the Galatian Churches.

In Galatians 6:10 he extends his appeal to embrace in it all the kindly offices of life. For the love inspired by the Church, the service rendered to her, should quicken all our human sympathies and make us readier to meet every claim of pity or affection. While our sympathies, like those of a loving family, will be concerned "especially" with "the household of faith," and within that circle more especially with our pastors and teachers in Christ, they have no limit but that of "opportunity"; they should "work that which is good toward all men." True zeal for the Church widens, instead of narrowing, our charities. Household affection is the nursery, not the rival, of love to our fatherland and to humanity.

Now the Apostle is extremely urgent in this matter of communion between teachers and taught. It concerns the very life of the Christian community. The welfare of the Church and the progress of the kingdom of God depend on the degree to which its individual members accept their responsibility in its affairs. Ill-will towards Christian teachers is paralysing in its effects on the Church’s life. Greatly are they to blame, if their conduct gives rise to discontent. Only less severe is the condemnation of those in lower place who harbour in themselves and foster in the minds of others sentiments of disloyalty. To cherish this mistrust, to withhold our sympathy from him who serves us in spiritual things, this, the Apostle declares, is not merely a wrong done to the man, it is an affront to God Himself. If it be God’s Word that His servant teaches, then God expects some fitting return to be made for the gift He has bestowed. Of that return the pecuniary contribution, the meed of "carnal things" with which so many seem to think their debt discharged, is often the least and easiest part. How far have men a right to be hearers-profited and believing hearers-in the Christian congregation, and yet decline the duties of Church fellowship? They eat the Church’s bread, but will not do her work. They expect like children to be fed and nursed and waited on; they think that if they pay their minister tolerably well, they have "communicated with" him quite sufficiently. This apathy has much the same effect as the Galatian bickerings and jealousies. It robs the Church of the help of the children whom she has nourished and brought up. Those who act thus are trying in reality to "mock God." They expect Him to sow his bounties upon them, but will not let Him reap. They refuse Him the return that He most requires for His choicest benefits.

Now, the Apostle says, God is not to be defrauded in this way. Men may wrong each other; they may grieve and affront His ministers. But no man is clever enough to cheat God. It is not Him, it is themselves they will prove to have deceived. Vain and selfish men who take the best that God and man can do for them as though it were a tribute to their greatness, envious and restless men who break the Church’s fellowship of peace, will reap at last even as they sow. The mischief and the loss may fall on others now; but in its full ripeness it will come in the end upon themselves. The final reckoning awaits us in another world. And as we act by God and by His Church now, in our day, so He will act hereafter by us in His day.

Thus the Apostle, in Galatians 6:6-7, places this matter in the searching light of eternity. He brings to bear upon it one of the great spiritual maxims characteristic of his teaching. Paul’s unique influence as a religious teacher lies in his mastery of principles of this kind, in the keenness of insight and the incomparable vigour with which he applies eternal truths to commonplace occurrences. The paltriness and vulgarity of these local broils and disaffections lend to his warning a more severe impressiveness. With what a startling and sobering force, one thinks, the rebuke of these verses must have fallen on the ears of the wrangling Galatians! How unspeakably mean their quarrels appear in the light of the solemn issues opening out before them! It was God whom their folly had presumed to mock. It was the harvest of eternal life of which their factiousness threatened to defraud them.

The principle on which this warning rests is stated in terms that give it universal application: Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. This is in fact the postulate of all moral responsibility. It asserts the continuity of personal existence, the connection of cause and effect in human character. It makes man the master of his own destiny. It declares that his future doom hangs upon his present choice, and is in truth its evolution and consummation. The twofold lot of "corruption" or "life eternal" is in every case no more, and no less, than the proper harvest of the kind of sowing practised here and now. The use made of our seed-time determines exactly, and with a moral certainty greater even than that which rules in the natural field, what kind of fruitage our immortality will render.

This great axiom deserves to be looked at in its broadest aspect. It involves the following considerations:-

1. Our present life is the seed-time of an eternal harvest.

Each recurring year presents a mirror of human existence. The analogy is a commonplace of the world’s poetry. The spring is in every land a picture of youth-its morning freshness and innocence, its laughing sunshine, its opening blossoms, its bright and buoyant energy; and, alas, oftentimes its cold winds and nipping frosts and early, sudden blight! Summer images a vigorous manhood, with all the powers in action and the pulses of life beating at full swing; when the dreams of youth are worked out in sober, waking earnest; when manly strength is tested and matured under the heat of mid-day toil, and character is disciplined, and success or failure in life’s battle must be determined. Then follows mellow autumn, season of shortening days and slackening steps and gathering snows; season too of ripe experience, of chastened thought and feeling, of widened influence and clustering honours. And the story ends in the silence and winter of the grave! Ends? Nay, that is a new beginning! This whole round of earthly vicissitude is but a single spring-time. It is the mere childhood of man’s existence, the threshold of the vast house of life.

The oldest and wisest man amongst us is only a little child in the reckoning of eternity. The Apostle Paul counted himself no more. "We know in part," he says; "we prophesy in part-talking, reasoning like children. We shall become men, seeing face to face, knowing as we are known": {1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 13:11-12} Do we not ourselves feel this in our higher, moods? There is an instinct of immortality, a forecasting of some ampler existence, "a stirring of blind life" within the soul; there are visionary gleams of an unearthly Paradise haunting at times the busiest and most unimaginative men. We are intelligences in the germ, lying folded up in the chrysalis stage of our existence. Eyes, wings are still to come. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be," no more than he who had seen but the seed-sowing of early spring and the bare wintry furrows, could imagine what the golden, waving harvest would be like. There is a glorious, everlasting kingdom of heaven, a world which in its duration, its range of action and experience, its style of equipment and occupation, will be worthy of the elect children of God. Worship, music, the purest passages of human affection and of moral elevation, may give us some foretaste of its joys. But what it will be really like, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor heart of man conceived."

Think of that, struggling heart, worn with labour, broken by sorrow, cramped and thwarted by the pressure of an unkindly world. "The earnest expectancy of the creation" waits for your revealing. {Romans 8:19} You will have your enfranchisement; your soul wilt take wing at last. Only have faith in God, and in righteousness; only ‘be not weary in well-doing.’ Those crippled powers will get their full play. Those baffled purposes and frustrated affections will unfold and blossom into a completeness undreamed of now, in the sunshine of heaven, in "the liberty of the glory of the sons of God." Why look for your harvest here? It is March, not August yet. "In due season we shall reap, if we faint not." See to it that you "sow to the Spirit," that your life be of the true seed of the kingdom; and for the rest, have no care nor fear. What should we think of the farmer who in winter, when his fields were frost-bound, should go about wringing his hands and crying that his labour was all lost! Are we wiser in our despondent moods? However dreary and unpromising, however poor and paltry in its outward seeming the earthly seed-time, your life’s work will have its resurrection. Heaven lies hidden in those daily acts of humble, difficult duty, even as the giant oak with its centuries of growth and all its summer glory sleeps in the acorn-cup. No eye may see it now; but "‘ the Day will declare it!"

2. In the second place, the quality of the future harvest depends entirely on the present sowing.

In quantity, as we have seen, in outward state and circumstance, there is a complete contrast. The harvest surpasses the seed from which it sprang, by thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold. But in quality we find a strict agreement. In degree they may differ infinitely; in kind they are one. The harvest multiplies the effect of the sower’s labour; but it multiplies exactly that effect, and nothing else. This law runs through all life. If we could not count upon it, labour would be purposeless and useless; we should have to yield ourselves passively to nature’s caprice. The farmer sows wheat in his cornfield, the gardener plants and trains his fig-tree; and he gets wheat, or figs, for his reward-nothing else. Or is he a "sluggard" that "will not plough by reason of the cold?" Does he let weeds and thistledown have the run of his garden-plot? Then it yields him a plentiful harvest of thistles and of weeds! What could he expect? "Men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles." From the highest to the lowest order of living things, each grows and fructifies "after its kind." This is the rule of nature, the law which constituted Nature at the beginning. The good tree brings forth good fruit; and the good seed makes the good tree.

All this has its moral counterpart. The law of reproduction in kind holds equally true of the relation of this life to the next. Eternity for us will be the multiplied, consummated outcome of the good or evil of the present life. Hell is just sin ripe-rotten ripe. Heaven is the fruitage of righteousness. There will be two kinds of reaping, the Apostle tells us, because there are two different kinds of sowing. "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption": there is nothing arbitrary or surprising in that. "Corruption"-the moral decay and dissolution of the man’s being-is the natural retributive effect of his carnality. And "he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." Here too, the sequence is inevitable. Like breeds its like. Life springs of life; and death eternal is the culmination of the soul’s present death to God and goodness. The future glory of the saints is at once a Divine reward, and a necessary development of their present faithfulness. And eternal life lies germinally contained in faith’s earliest beginning, when it is but as "a grain of mustard seed." We may expect in our final state the outcome of our present conduct, as certainly as the farmer who puts wheat into his furrows in November will count on getting wheat out of them again next August.

Under this law of the harvest we are living at this moment, and sowing every day the seed of an immortality of honour or of shame. Life is the seed-plot of eternity; and youth is above all the seed-time of life. What are our children doing with these precious, vernal years? What is going into their minds? What ideas, what desires are rooting themselves in these young souls? If it be pure thoughts and true affections, love to God, self-denial, patience and humility, courage to do what is right-if these be the things that are sown in their hearts, there will be for them, and for us, a glorious harvest of wisdom and love and honour in the years to come, and in the day of eternity. But, if sloth and deceit be there, and unholy thoughts, vanity and envy and self-indulgence, theirs will he a bitter harvesting. Men talk of "sowing their wild oats," as though that were an end of it; as though a wild and prodigal youth might none the less be followed by a sober manhood and an honoured old age. But it is not so. If wild oats have been sown, there will be wild oats to reap, as certainly as autumn follows spring. For every time the youth deceives parent or teacher, let him know that he will be deceived by the Father of lies a hundred times. For every impure thought or dishonourable word, shame will come upon him sixty-fold. If his mind be filled with trash and refuse, then trash and refuse are all it will be able to produce. If the good seed be not timely sown in his heart, thorns and nettles will sow themselves there fast enough; and his soul will become like the sluggard’s garden, rank with base weeds and poison-plants, a place where all vile things will have their resort, - "rejected and nigh unto a curse."

Who is "he that soweth to his own flesh?" It is, in a word, the selfish man. He makes his personal interest, and as a rule his bodily pleasure, directly or ultimately, the object of life. The sense of responsibility to God, the thought of life as a stewardship of which one must give account, have no place in his mind. He is a "lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God." His desires, unfixed on God, steadily tend downwards. Idolatry of self becomes slavery to the flesh. Every act of selfish pleasure-seeking, untouched by nobler aims, weakens and worsens the soul’s life. The selfish man gravitates downward into the sensual man; the sensual man downward into the bottomless pit. This is the "minding of the flesh" which "is death." {Romans 8:5-8; Romans 8:13} For it is "enmity against God" and defiance of His law. It overthrows the course of nature, the balance of our human constitution; it brings disease into the frame of our being. The flesh, unsubdued, and uncleansed by the virtue of the Spirit, breeds "corruption." Its predominance is the sure presage of death. The process of decay begins already, this side of the grave; and it is often made visible by appalling signs. The bloated face, the sensual leer, the restless, vicious eye, the sullen brow tell us what is going on within. The man’s soul is rotting in his body. Lust and greed are eating out of him the capacity for good. And if he passes on to the eternal harvest as he is, if that fatal corruption is not arrested, what doom can possibly await such a man but that of which our merciful Saviour spoke so plainly that we might tremble and escape-"the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched!"

3. And finally, God Himself is the Lord of the moral harvest. The rule of retribution, the nexus that binds together our sowing and our reaping, is not something automatic and that comes about of itself; it is directed by the will of God, who "worketh all in all."

Even in the natural harvest we look upwards to Him. The order and regularity of nature, the fair procession of the seasons waiting on the silent and majestic march of the heavens, have in all ages directed thinking and grateful men to the Supreme Giver, to the creative Mind and sustaining Will that sits above the worlds. As Paul reminded the untutored Lycaonians, "He hath not left Himself without witness, in that He gave us rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." It is "God" that "gives the increase" of the husbandman’s toil, of the merchant’s forethought, of the artist’s genius and skill. We do not sing our harvest songs, with our Pagan forefathers, to sun and rain and west wind, to mother Earth and the mystic powers of Nature.

In these poetic idolatries were yet blended higher thoughts and a sense of Divine beneficence. But "to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him." In the harvest of the earth man is a worker together with God. The farmer does his part, fulfilling the conditions God has laid down in nature; "he putteth in the wheat in rows, and the barley in its appointed place; for his God doth instruct him aright, and doth teach him." He tills the ground, he sows the seed-and there he leaves it to God. "He sleeps and rises night and day; and the seed springs and grows up he knows not how." And the wisest man of science cannot tell him how. "God giveth it a body, as it hath pleased Him." But how- that is His own secret, which He seems likely to keep. All life in its growth, as in its inception, is a mystery, hid with Christ in God. Every seed sown in field or garden is a deposit committed to the faithfulness of God; which He honours by raising it up again, thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold, in the increase of the harvest.

In the moral world this Divine co-operation is the more immediate, as the field of action lies nearer, if one may so say, to the nature of God Himself. The earthly harvest may, and does often fail. Storms waste it; blights canker it; drought withers, or fire consumes it. Industry and skill, spent in years of patient labour, are doomed not unfrequently to see their reward snatched from them. The very abundance of other lands deprives our produce of its value.

The natural creation "was made subject to vanity." His frustration and disappointment are overruled for higher ends. But in the spiritual sphere there are no casualties, no room for accident or failure. Here life comes directly into contact with the Living God, its fountain; and its laws partake of His absoluteness.

Each act of faith, of worship, of duty and integrity, is a compact between the soul and God. We "commit our souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator". {1 Peter 4:19} By every such volition the heart is yielding itself to the direction of the Divine Spirit. It "sows unto the Spirit," whenever in thought or deed His prompting is obeyed and His will made the law of life. And as in the soil, by the Divine chemistry of nature, the tiny germ is nursed and fostered out of sight, till it lifts itself from the sod a lovely flower, a perfect fruit, so in the order of grace it will prove that from the smallest seeds of goodness in human hearts, from the feeblest beginnings of the life of faith, from the lowliest acts of love and service, God in due season will raise up a glorious harvest for which heaven itself will be the richer.

Verses 11-14

Chapter 28


THE rendering of Galatians 6:11 in the Authorised Version is clearly erroneous (see how large a letter). Wickliff, guided by the Latin Vulgate-with what maner lettris-escaped this error. It is a plural term the Apostle uses, which occasionally in Greek writers denotes an epistle, {as in Acts 28:21} but nowhere else in Paul. Moreover the noun is in the dative (instrumental) case, and cannot be made the object of the verb.

Paul draws attention at this point to his penmanship, to the size of the letters he is using and their autographic form. "See," he says, "I write this in large characters, and under my own hand." But does this remark apply to the whole Epistle, or to its concluding paragraph from this verse onwards? To the latter only, as we think. The word "look" is a kind of nora bene. It marks something new, designed by its form and appearance in the manuscript to arrest the eye. It was Paul’s practice to write through an amanuensis, adding with his own hand a few final words of greeting or blessing, by way of authentication. Here this usage is varied. The Apostle wishes to give these closing sentences the utmost possible emphasis and solemnity. He would print them on the very heart and soul of his readers. This intention explains the language of Galatians 6:11; and it is borne out by the contents of the verses that follow. They are a postscript, or Epilogue, to the Epistle, rehearsing with incisive brevity the burden of all that it was in the Apostle’s heart to say to these troubled and shaken Galatians.

The past tense of the verb (literally, I have written: εργαθα) is in accordance with Greek epistolary idiom. The writer associates himself with his readers. When the letter comes to them, Paul has written what they now peruse. On the assumption that the whole Epistle is autographic it is hard to see what object the large characters would serve, or why they should be referred to just at this point.

Galatians 6:2 is in fact a sensational heading. The last paragraph of the Epistle is penned in larger type and in the Apostle’s characteristic hand, in order to fasten the attention of these impressionable Galatians upon his final deliverance. This device Paul employs but once. It is a kind of practice easily vulgarised and that loses its force by repetition, as in the case of "loud" printing and declamatory speech.

In this emphatic finale the interest of the Epistle, so powerfully sustained and carried through so many stages, is raised to a yet higher pitch. Its pregnant sentences give us - first, another and still severer denunciation of "the troublers" (Galatians 6:12-13); secondly, a renewed protestation of the Apostle’s devotion to the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14-15); thirdly, a repetition in animated style of the practical doctrine of Christianity, and a blessing pronounced upon those who are faithful to it (Galatians 6:15-16). A pathetic reference to the writer’s personal sufferings, followed by the customary benediction, brings the letter to a close. The first two topics of the Epilogue stand in immediate contrast with each other.

1. The glorying of the Apostle’s adversaries. "They would have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh" (Galatians 6:12).

This is the climax of his reproach against them. It gives us the key to their character. The boast measures the man. The aim of the Legalists was to get so many Gentiles circumcised, to win proselytes through Christianity to Judaism. Every Christian brother persuaded to submit himself to this rite was another trophy for them. His circumcision, apart from any moral or spiritual considerations involved in the matter, was enough of itself to fill these proselytisers with joy. They counted up their "cases"; they rivalled each other in the competition for Jewish favour on this ground. To "glory in your flesh-to be able to point to your bodily condition as the proof of their influence and their devotion to the Law-this," Paul says, "is the object for which they ply you with so many flatteries and sophistries."

Their aim was intrinsically low and unworthy. They "want to make a fair show (to present a good face) in the flesh." Flesh in this place (Galatians 6:12) recalls the contrast between Flesh and Spirit expounded in the last chapter. Paul does not mean that the Judaisers wish to "make a good appearance in outward respects, in human opinion": this would be little more than tautology. The expression stamps the Circumcisionists as "carnal" men. They are "not in the Spirit," but "in the flesh"; and "after the flesh" they walk. It is on worldly principles that they seek to commend themselves, and to unspiritual men.

What the Apostle says of himself in Philippians 3:3-4, illustrates by contrast his estimate of the Judaisers of Galatia: "We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." He explains "having confidence in the flesh" by enumerating his own advantages and distinctions as a Jew, the circumstances which commended him in the eyes of his fellow-countrymen -" which were gain to me," he says, "but I counted them loss for Christ" (Galatians 6:7). In that realm of fleshly motive and estimate which Paul had abandoned, his opponents still remained. They had exchanged Christian fidelity for worldly favour. And their religion took the colour of their moral disposition. To make a fair show, an imposing, plausible appearance in ceremonial and legal observance, was the mark they set themselves. And they sought to draw the Church with them in this direction, and to impress upon it their own ritualistic type of piety.

This was a worldly, and in their case a cowardly policy. "They constrain you to be circumcised, only that for the cross of Christ they may not suffer persecution" (Galatians 6:12). This they were determined by all means to avoid. Christ had sent His servants forth "as sheep in the midst of wolves." The man that would serve Him, He said, must "follow Him, taking up His cross."

But the Judaists thought they knew better than this. They had a plan by which they could be the friends of Jesus Christ, and yet keep on good terms with the world that crucified Him. They would make their faith in Jesus a means for winning over proselytes to Judaism. If they succeeded in this design, their apostasy might be condoned. The circumcised Gentiles would propitiate the anger of their Israelite kindred, and would incline them to look more favourably upon the new doctrine. These men, Paul says to the Galatians, are sacrificing you to their cowardice. They rob you of your liberties in Christ in order to make a shield for themselves against the enmity of their kinsmen. They pretend great zeal on your behalf; they are eager to introduce you into the blessings of the heirs of Abraham: the truth is, they are victims of a miserable fear of persecution.

The cross of Christ, as the Apostle has repeatedly declared (comp. chapters 12, and 21), carried with it in Jewish eyes a flagrant reproach; and its acceptance placed a gulf between the Christian and the orthodox Jew. The depth of that gulf became increasingly apparent the more widely the gospel spread, and the more radically its principles came to be applied. To Paul it was now sorrowfully evident that the Jewish nation had rejected Christianity. They would not hear the Apostles of Jesus any more than the Master. For the preaching of the cross they had only loathing and contempt. Judaism recognised in the Church of the Crucified its most dangerous enemy, and was opening the fire of persecution against it all along the line. In this state of affairs, for a party of men to compromise and make private terms for themselves with the enemies of Christ was treachery. They were surrendering, as this Epistle shows, all that was most vital to Christianity. They gave up the honour of the gospel, the rights of faith, the salvation of the world, rather than face the persecution in store for those "who will live godly in Christ Jesus."

Not that they cared so much for the law in itself. Their glorying was insincere, as well as selfish: "For neither do the circumcised themselves keep the law.-These men who profess such enthusiasm for the law of Moses and insist so zealously on your submission to it, dishonour it by their own behaviour." The Apostle is denouncing the same party throughout. Some interpreters make the first clause of Galatians 6:13 a parenthesis, supposing that "the circumcised" (participle present: those being circumcised) are Gentile perverts now being gained over to Judaism, while the foregoing and following sentences relate to the Jewish teachers. But the context does not intimate, nor indeed allow such a change of subject. It is "the circumcised" of Galatians 6:13 a who in ver. 13 b wish to see the Galatians circumcised, "in order to boast over their flesh,"-the same who, in Galatians 6:12, "desire to make a fair show in the flesh" and to escape Jewish persecution. Reading this in the light of the previous chapters, there seems to us no manner of doubt as to the persons thus designated. They are the Circumcisionists, Jewish Christians who sought to persuade the Pauline Gentile Churches to adopt circumcision and to receive their own legalistic perversion of the gospel of Christ. The present tense of the Greek participle, used as it is here with the definite article, has the power of becoming a substantive, dropping its reference to time; for the act denoted passes into an abiding characteristic, so that the expression acquires the form of a title. "The circumcised" are the men of the circumcision, those known to the Galatians in this character.

The phrase is susceptible, however, of a wider application. When Paul writes thus, he is thinking of others besides the handful of troublers in Galatia. In Romans 2:17-29 he levels this identical charge of hypocritical law-breaking against the Jewish people at large: "Thou who gloriest in the law," he exclaims, "through thy transgression of the law dishonourest thou God?" This shocking inconsistency, notorious in contemporary Judaism, was to be observed in the conduct of the legalist zealots in Galatia. They broke themselves the very law which they tried to force on others. Their pretended jealousy for the ordinances of Moses was itself their condemnation. It was not the glory of the law they were concerned about, but their own.

The policy of the Judaisers was dishonourable both in spirit and in aim. They were false to Christ in whom they professed to believe; and to the law which they pretended to keep. They were facing both ways, studying the safest, not the truest course, anxious in truth to be friends at once with the world and Christ. Their conduct has found many imitators, in men who "make godliness a way of gain," whose religious course is dictated by considerations of worldly self-interest. A little persecution, or social pressure, is enough to "turn them out of the way." They cast off their Church obligations as they change their clothes, to suit the fashion. Business patronage, professional advancement, a tempting family alliance, the entree into some select and envied circle-such are the things for which creeds are bartered, for which men put their souls and the souls of their children knowingly in peril. Will it pay?-this is the question which comes in with a decisive weight in their estimate of matters of religious profession and the things pertaining to God. But "what shall it profit?" is the question of Christ.

Nor are they less culpable who bring these motives into play, and put this kind of pressure on the weak and dependent. There are forms of social and pecuniary influence, bribes and threats quietly applied and well understood, which are hardly to be distinguished morally from persecution.

Let wealthy and dominant Churches see to it that they be clear of these offences, that they make themselves the protectors, not the oppressors, of spiritual liberty. The adherents that a Church secures by its worldly prestige do not in truth belong to the "kingdom that is not of this world." Such successes are no triumphs of the cross. Christ repudiates them. The glorying that attends proselytism of this kind is, like that of Paul’s Judaistic adversaries, a "glorying in the flesh."

2. "But as for me," cries the Apostle, "far be it to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14). Paul knows but one ground of exultation, one object of pride and confidence - his Saviour’s cross.

Before he had received his gospel and seen the cross in the light of revelation, like other Jews he regarded it with horror. Its existence covered the cause of Jesus with ignominy. It marked Him out as the object of Divine abhorrence. To the Judaistic Christian the cross was still an embarrassment. He was secretly ashamed of a crucified Messiah, anxious by some means to excuse the scandal and make amends for it in the face of Jewish public opinion. But now this disgraceful cross in the Apostle’s eyes is the most glorious thing in the universe. Its message is the good news of God to all mankind. It is the centre of faith and religion, of all that man knows of God or can receive from Him. Let it be removed, and the entire structure of revelation falls to pieces, like an arch without its keystone. The shame of the cross was turned into honour and majesty. Its foolishness and weakness proved to be the wisdom and the power of God. Out of the gloom in which Calvary was shrouded there now shone forth the clearest light of holiness and love.

Paul gloried in the cross of Christ because it manifested to him the character of God. The Divine love and righteousness, the entire range of those moral excellences which in their sovereign perfection belong to the holiness of God, were there displayed with a vividness and splendour hitherto inconceivable. "God so loved the world," and yet so honoured the law of right that "He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all." How stupendous is this sacrifice, which baffles the mind and overwhelms the heart! Nowhere in the works of creation, nor in any other dispensation of justice or mercy touching human affairs, is there a spectacle that appeals to us with an effect to be compared with that of the Sufferer of Calvary.

Let me look, let me think again. Who is He that bleeds on that tree of shame? Why does the Holy One of God submit to these indignities? Why those cruel wounds, those heart-breaking cries that speak of a soul pierced by sorrows deeper than all that bodily anguish can inflict? Has the Almighty indeed forsaken Him? Has the Evil One sealed his triumph in the blood of the Son of God? Is it God’s mercy to the world, or is it not rather Satan’s hate and man’s utter wickedness that stand here revealed? The issue shows with whom victory lay in the dread conflict fought out in the Redeemer’s soul and flesh. "God was in Christ"-living, dying, rising. And what was He doing in Christ?-"reconciling the world unto Himself."

Now we know what the Maker of the worlds is like. "He that hath seen Me," said Jesus on Passion Eve, "hath seen the Father. From henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him." What the world knew before of the Divine character and intentions towards man was but "poor, weak rudiments." Now the believer has come to Peniel; like Jacob, he has "seen the face of God." He has touched the centre of things. He has found the secret of love.

Moreover, the Apostle gloried in the cross because it was the salvation of men. His love for men made him boast of it, no less than his zeal for God. The gospel, burning in his heart and on his lips, was "God’s power unto salvation, both to Jew and Greek." He says this not by way of speculation or theological inference, but as the testimony of his constant experience. It was bringing men by thousands from darkness into light, raising them from the slough of hideous vices and guilty despair, taming the fiercest passions, breaking the strongest chains of evil, driving out of human hearts the demons of lust and hate. This message, wherever it went, was saving men, as nothing had done before, as nothing else has done since. What lover of his kind would not rejoice in this?

We are members of a weak and suffering race, groaning each in his own fashion under "the law of sin and death," crying out ever and anon with Paul, "O wretched man that I am!" If the misery of our bondage was acute its darkness extreme, how great is the joy with which we hail our Redeemer! It is the gladness of an immense relief, the joy of salvation. Arid our triumph is redoubled when we perceive that His grace brings us not deliverance for ourselves alone, but commissions us to impart it to our fellow-men. "Thanks be to God," cries the Apostle, "who always leadeth us in triumph, and maketh known the savour of His knowledge by us in every place". {2 Corinthians 2:14}

The essence of the gospel revealed to Paul, as we have observed more that once, lay in its conception of the office of the cross of Christ. Not the Incarnation-the basis of the manifestation of the Father in the Son; not the sinless life and superhuman teaching of Jesus, which have moulded the spiritual ideal of faith and supplied its contents; not the Resurrection and Ascension of the Redeemer, crowning the Divine edifice with the glory of life eternal; but the sacrifice of the cross is the focus of the Christian revelation This gives to the gospel its saving virtue. Round this centre all other acts and offices of the Saviour revolve, and from it receive their healing grace. From the hour of the Fall of man the manifestations of the Divine grace to him ever looked forward to Calvary; and to Calvary the testimony of that grace has looked backward ever since. "By this sign" the Church has conquered; the innumerable benefits with which her teaching has enriched mankind must all be laid in tribute at the foot of the cross.

The atonement of Jesus Christ demands from us a faith like Paul’s, a faith of exultation, a boundless enthusiasm of gratitude and confidence. If it is worth believing in at all, it is worth believing in heroically. Let us so boast of it, so exhibit in our lives its power, so spend ourselves in serving it, that we may justly claim from all men homage toward the Crucified. Let us lift up the cross of Christ till its glory shines world-wide, till, as He said, it "draws all men unto Him." If we triumph in the cross, we shall triumph by it. It will carry the Church to victory.

And the cross of Jesus Christ is the salvation of men, just because it is the revelation of God. It is "life eternal," said Jesus to the Father, "to know Thee." The gospel does not save by mere pathos, but by knowledge-by bringing about a right understanding between man and his Maker, a reconciliation. It brings God and man together in the light of truth. In this revelation we see Him, the Judge and the Father, the Lord of the conscience and the Lover of His children; and we see ourselves- what our sins mean, what they have done. God is face to face with the world. Holiness and sin meet in the shock of Calvary, and flash into light, each illuminated by contrast with the other. And the view of what God is in Christ-how He judges, how He pities us-once fairly seen, breaks the heart, kills the love of sin. "The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," sitting on that thorn-crowned brow, clothing that bleeding Form rent with the anguish of Mercy’s conflict with Righteousness on our behalf-it is this which "shines in our hearts" as in Paul’s, and cleanses the soul by its pity and its terror.

But this is no dramatic scene, it is Divine, eternal fact. "We have beheld and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. We know and have believed the love that God hath to us". {1 John 4:14; 1 John 4:16}

Such is the relation to God which the cross has established for the Apostle. In what position does it place him toward the world? To it, he tells us, he has bidden farewell. Paul and the world are dead to each other. The cross stands between them. In Galatians 2:20 he had said, "I am crucified with Christ; "in Galatians 5:24, that his "flesh with its passions and lusts" had undergone this fate; and now he writes, "Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ the world is crucified to me, and I to the world."

Literally, a world-a whole world was crucified for Paul when his Lord died upon the cross. The world that slew Him out an end to itself, so far as he is concerned. He can never believe in it, never take pride in it, nor do homage to it any more. It is stripped of its glory, robbed of its power to charm or govern him. The death of shame that old "evil world" inflicted upon Jesus has, in Paul’s eyes, reverted to itself; while for the Saviour it is changed into a life of heavenly glory and dominion. The Apostle’s life is withdrawn from it, to be "hid with Christ in God."

This "crucifixion" is therefore mutual. The Apostle also "is crucified to the world." Saul the Pharisee was a reputable, religious man of the world, recognised by it, alive to it, taking his place in its affairs. But that "old man" has been "crucified with Christ." The present Paul is in the world’s regard another person altogether-"the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things," no better than his crucified Master and worthy to share His punishment. He is dead "crucified" to it. Faith in Jesus Christ placed a gulf, wide as that which parts the dead and living, between the Church of the Apostles and men around them. The cross parted two worlds wholly different. He who would go back into that other world, the world of godless self-pleasing and fleshly idolatry, must step over the cross of Christ to do it.

"To me, " testifies Paul, "the world is crucified." And the Church of Christ has still to witness this confession. We read in it a prophecy. Evil must die. The world that crucified the Son of God has written its own doom. With its Satanic Prince it "has been judged". {John 12:31; John 16:11} Morally, it is dead already. The sentence has passed the Judge’s lips. The weakest child of God may safely defy it, and scorn its boasting. Its visible force is still immense; its subjects multitudinous; its empire, to appearance, hardly shaken. It towers like Goliath confronting "the armies of the living God." But the foundation of its strength is gone. Decay saps its frame. Despair creeps over its heart. The consciousness of its impotence and misery grows upon it.

Worldliness has lost its old serenity irrecoverably. The cross incessantly disturbs it, and haunts its very dreams. Antichristian thought at the present time is one wide fever of discontent. It is sinking into the vortex of pessimism. Its mockery is louder and more brilliant than ever; but there is something strangely convulsive in it all; it is the laughter of despair, the dance of death.

Christ the Son of God has come down from the cross, as they challenged Him. But coming down, He has fastened there in His place the world that taunted Him. Struggle as it may, it cannot unloose itself from its condemnation, from the fact that it has killed its Prince of Life. The cross of Jesus Christ must save-or destroy.

The world must be reconciled to God, or it will perish. On the foundation laid of God in Zion men will either build or break themselves for ever. The world that hated Christ and the Father, the world that Paul cast from him as a dead thing, cannot endure. It "passeth away, and the lust thereof."

Verses 15-16

Chapter 29


VERSE 14 (Galatians 6:14) comprehends the whole theology of the Epistle, and Galatians 6:15 brings to a head its practical and ethical teaching. This apothegm is one of the landmarks of religious history. It ranks in importance with Christ’s great saying: "God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him, must worship in spirit and truth". {John 4:21-24} These sentences of Jesus and of Paul taken together mark the dividing line between the Old and the New Economy. They declare the nature of the absolute religion, from the Divine and human side respectively. God’s pure spiritual being is affirmed by Jesus Christ to be henceforth the norm of religious worship. The exclusive sacredness of Jerusalem, or of Gerizim, had therefore passed away. On the other hand, and regarding religion from its psychological side, as matter of experience and attainment, it is set forth by our Apostle as an inward life, a spiritual condition, dependent on no outward form or performance whatsoever. Paul’s principle is a consequence of that declared by his Master.

If "God is a Spirit," to be known and approached as such, ceremonial at once loses its predominance; it sinks into the accidental, the merely provisional and perishing element of religion. Faith is no longer bound to material conditions; it passes inward to its proper seat in the spirit of man. And the dictum that "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision nothing," {Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 7:19} becomes a watchword of Christian theology.

This Pauline axiom is advanced to justify the confession of the Apostle made in Galatians 6:14; it supports the protest of Galatians 6:12-14 against the devotees of circumcision, who professed faith in Christ but were ashamed of His cross. "That Judaic rite in which you glory," he says, "is nothing. Ritual qualifications and disqualifications are abolished. Life in the Spirit, the new creation that begins with faith in Christ crucified-that is everything." The boasts of the Judaisers were therefore folly: they rested on "nothing." The Apostle’s glorying alone was valid; the new world of "the kingdom of God," with its "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," was there to justify it.

1. For neither is circumcision anything.-Judaism is abolished at a stroke! With it circumcision was everything. "The circumcision" and "the people of God" were in Israelitish phrase terms synonymous. "Uncircumcision" embraced all that was heathenish, outcast, and unclean.

The Mosaic polity made the status of its subjects, their relation to the Divine covenant, to depend on this initiatory rite. "Circumcised the eighth day," the child came under the rule and guardianship of the sacred Law. In virtue of this mark stamped upon his body, he was ipso facto a member of the congregation of the Lord, bound to all its duties, so far as his age permitted, and partner in all its privileges. The constitution of Mosaism-its ordinances of worship, its ethical discipline, its methods of administration, and the type of character which it formed in the Jewish nation-rested on this fundamental sacrament, and took its complexion therefrom.

The Judaists necessary therefore made it their first object to enforce circumcision. If they secured this, they could carry everything; and the complete Judaising of Gentile Christianity was only a question of time. This foundation laid, the entire system of legal obligation could be reared upon. {Galatians 5:3} To resist the imposition of this yoke was for the Pauline Churches a matter of life and death. They could not afford to "yield by subjection-no, not for an hour." The Apostle stands forth as the champion of their freedom, and casts all Jewish pretensions to the winds when he says, "Neither is circumcision anything."

This absolute way of putting the matter must have provoked the orthodox Jew to the last degree. The privileges and ancestral glories of his birth, the truth of God in His covenants and revelations to the fathers, were to his mind wrapped up in this ordinance, and belonged of right to "the Circumcision." To say that circumcision is nothing seemed to him as good as saying that the Law and the Prophets were nothing, that Israel had no pre-eminence over the Gentiles, no right to claim "the God of Abraham" as her God.

Hence the bitterness with which the Apostle was persecuted by his fellow-countrymen, and the credence given, even by orthodox Jewish Christians, to the charge that he "taught to the Jews apostasy from Moses". {Acts 21:21} In truth Paul did nothing of the kind, as James of Jerusalem very well knew. But a sentence like this, torn from its context, and repeated amongst Jewish communities, naturally gave rise to such imputations.

In his subsequent Epistle to the Romans the Apostle is at pains to correct erroneous inferences drawn from this and similar sayings of his concerning the Law. He shows that circumcision, in its historical import, was of the highest value. "What is the advantage of the Jew? What the benefit of circumcision? Much every way," he acknowledges. "Chiefly in that to them were entrusted the oracles of God". {Romans 3:1-2} And again: "Who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the lawgiving, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is the Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever". {Romans 9:4-5} Eloquently has Paul vindicated himself from the reproach of indifference to the ancient faith. Never did he love his Jewish kindred more fervently, nor entertain a stronger confidence in their Divine calling than at the moment when in that Epistle he pronounced the reprobation that ensued on their rejecting the gospel of Christ. Lie repeats in the fullest terms the claims which Jesus Himself was careful to assert, in declaring the extinction of Judaism as a local and tribal religion, that "Salvation is of the Jews". {John 4:21-24} In the Divine order of history it is still "to the Jew first." But natural relationship to the stock of Abraham has in itself no spiritual virtue; "circumcision of the flesh" is worthless, except as the symbol of a cleansed and consecrated heart. The possession of this outward token of God’s covenant with Israel, and the hereditary blessings it conferred, brought with them a higher responsibility, involving heavier punishment in case of unfaithfulness. {Romans 2:17-29; Romans 3:1-8} This teaching is pertinent to the case of children of Christian families, to those formally attached to the Church by their baptism in infancy and by attendance on her public rites. These things certainly have "much advantage every way." And yet in themselves, without a corresponding inner regeneration, without a true death unto sin and life unto righteousness, these also are nothing. The limiting phrase "in Christ Jesus" is no doubt a copyist’s addition to the text, supplied from Galatians 5:6; but the qualification is in the Apostle’s mind, and is virtually given by the context. No ceremony is of the essence of Christianity. No outward rite by itself makes a Christian. We are "joined to the Lord" in "one Spirit." This is the vital tie.

Nor is uncircumcision anything. This is the counterbalancing assertion, and it makes still clearer the bearing of the former saying. Paul is not contending against Judaism in any anti-Judaic spirit. He is not for setting up Gentile in the place of Jewish customs in the Church; he excludes both impartially. Neither, he declares, have any place "in Christ Jesus," and amongst the things that accompany salvation. Paul has no desire to humiliate the Jewish section of the Church; but only to protect the Gentiles from its aggressions. He lays His hand on both parties and by this evenly balanced declaration restrains each of them from encroaching on the other. "Was any one called circumcised?" he writes to Corinth: "let him not renounce his circumcision. Hath any one been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised." The two states alike are "nothing" from the Christian standpoint. The essential thing is "keeping the commandments of God" 1 Corinthians 7:18-19.

Christian Gentiles retained in some instances, doubtless, their former antipathy to Jewish practices. And while many of the Galatians were inclined to Legalism, others cherished an extreme repugnance to its usages. The pretensions of the Legalists were calculated to excite in the minds of enlightened Gentile believers a feeling of contempt, which led them to retort on Jewish pride with language of ridicule. Anti-Judaists would be found arguing that circumcision was a degradation, the brand of a servile condition; and that its possessor must not presume to rank with the free sons of God. In their opinion, uncircumcision was to be preferred and had "much advantage every way." Amongst Paul’s immediate followers there may have been some who, like Marcion in the second century, would fain be more Pauline than the Apostle himself, and replied to Jewish intolerance with an anti-legal intolerance of their own. To this party it was needful to say, "Neither is uncircumcision anything."

The pagan in his turn has nothing for which to boast over the man of Israel. This is the caution which the Apostle urges on his Gentile readers so earnestly in Romans 11:13-24. He reminds them that they owe an immense debt of gratitude to the ancient people of God. Wild branches grafted into the stock of Abraham, they were "partaking of the root and fatness" of the old "olive-tree." If the "natural branches" had been "broken off through unbelief," much more might they. It became them "not to be high-minded but to fear." So Paul seeks to protect Israel after the flesh, in its rejection and sorrowful exile from the fold of Christ, against Gentile insolence. Alas! that his protection has been so little availing. The Christian persecutions of the Jews are a dark blot on the Church’s record.

The enemies of bigotry and narrowness too often imbibe the same spirit. When others treat us with contempt, we are apt to pay them back in their own coin. They unchurch us because we cannot pronounce their shibboleths; they refuse to see in our communion the signs of Christ’s indwelling. It requires our best charity in that case to appreciate their excellences and the fruit of the Spirit manifest in them. "I am of Cephas," say they; and we answer with the challenge, "I of Paul." Sectarianism is denounced in a sectarian spirit. The enemies of form and ceremony make a religion of their Anti-ritualism. Church controversies are proverbially bitter; the love which "hopeth and believeth all things," under their influence suffers a sad eclipse. On both sides let us be on our guard. The spirit of partisanship is not confined to the assertors of Church prerogative. An obstinate and uncharitable pride has been known to spring up in the breasts of the defenders of liberty, in those who deem themselves the exponents of pure spiritual religion. "Thus I trample on the pride of Plato," said the Cynic, as he trod on the philosopher’s sumptuous carpets; and Plato justly retorted, "You do it with greater pride."

The Apostle would fain lift his readers above the level of this legalist contention. He bids them dismiss their profitless debates respecting the import of circumcision, the observance of Jewish feasts and Sabbaths. These debates were a mischief in themselves, destroying the Church’s peace and distracting men’s minds from the spiritual aims of the Gospel; they were fatal to the dignity and elevation of the Christian life. When men allow themselves to be absorbed by questions of this kind, and become Circumcisionist or Uncircumcisionist partisans, eager Ritualists or Anti-ritualists, they lose the sense of proportion in matters of faith and the poise of a conscientious and charitable judgment. These controversies preeminently "minister questions" to no profit but to the subverting of the hearers, instead of furthering "the dispensation of God, which is in faith." {1 Timothy 1:4} They disturb the City of God with intestine strife, while the enemy thunders at the gates. Could we only let such disputes alone, and leave them to perish by inanition! So Paul would have the Galatians do; he tells them that the great Mosaic rite is no longer worth defending or attacking. The best thing is to forget it.

2. What then has the Apostle to put in the place of ritual, as the matter of cardinal importance and chief study in the Church of Christ? He presents to view a new creation.

It is something new that he desiderates. Mosaism was effete. The questions arising out of it were dying, or dead. The old method of revelation which dealt with Jew and Gentile as different religious species, and conserved Divine truth by a process of exclusion and prohibition, had served its purpose. "The middle wall of partition was broken down." The age of faith and freedom had come, the dispensation of grace and of the Spirit. The Legalists minimised. They practically ignored the significance of Calvary. Race-distinctions and caste-privileges were out of keeping with such a religion as Christianity. The new creed set up a new order of life, which left behind it the discussions of rabbinism and the formularies of the legal schools as survivals of bygone centuries.

The novelty of the religion of the gospel was most conspicuous in the new type of character that it created. The faith of the cross claims to have produced not a new style of ritual, a new system of government, but new men. By this product it must be judged. The Christian is the "new creature" which it begets.

Whatever Christianity has accomplished in the outer world-the various forms of worship and social life in which it is embodied, the changed order of thought and of civilisation which it is building up-is the result of its influence over the hearts of individual men. Christ, above all other teachers, addressed Himself directly to the heart, whence proceed the issues of life. There His gospel establishes its seat. The Christian is the man with a "new heart." The prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to this as the essential blessing of religion, promised for the Messianic times. {Hebrews 8:8-13} Through them the Holy Spirit uttered His protest against the mechanical legalism to which the religion of the temple and the priesthood was already tending. But this witness had fallen on deaf ears; and when Christ proclaimed, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing," when He said, "The things that defile a man come out of his heart," he preached revolutionary doctrine. It is the same principle that the Apostle vindicates. The religion of Christ has to do in the first place with the individual man, and in mart with his heart.

What then, we further ask, is the character of this hidden man of the heart, "created anew in, Christ Jesus"? Our Epistle has given us the answer. In him "faith working by love" takes the place of circumcision and uncircumcision-that is, of Jewish and Gentile ceremonies and moralities, powerless alike to save. {Galatians 5:6} Love comes forward to guarantee the "fulfilling of the. law," whose fulfilment legal sanctions failed to secure. {Galatians 5:14} And the Spirit of Christ assumes His sovereignty in this work of new creation, calling into being His array of inward graces to. supersede the works of the condemned flesh that no longer rules in the nature of God’s redeemed sons. {Galatians 5:16-24}

The Legalists, notwithstanding their idolatry of the law, did not keep it. So the Apostle has said, without fear of contradiction (Galatians 6:13). But the men of the Spirit, actuated by a power above law, in point of fact do keep it, and "law’s righteousness is fulfilled" in them. {Romans 8:3-4} This was a new thing in the earth. Never had the law of God been so fulfilled, in its essentials, as it was by the Church of the Crucified. Here were men who truly "loved God with all their soul and strength, and their neighbour as themselves." From Love the highest down to Temperance the humblest, all "the fruit of the. Spirit" in its clustered perfection flourished in their lives. Jewish discipline and Pagan culture were both put to shame by this "new creation" of moral virtue. These graces were produced not in select instances of individuals favoured by nature, in souls disposed to goodness, or after generations of Christian discipline; but in multitudes of men of every grade of life-Jews and Greeks, slaves and freemen, wise and unwise-in those who had been steeped in infamous vices, but were now "washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."

Such regenerated men were the credentials of Paul’s gospel. As he looked on his Corinthian converts, drawn out of the very sin of heathen corruption, he could say, "The seal of my apostleship are ye in the Lord." The like answer Christianity has still to give to its questioners. If it ever ceases to render this answer, its day is over; and all the strength of its historical and philosophical evidences will not avail it. The Gospel is "God’s power unto salvation"-or it is nothing!

Such is Paul’s canon, as he calls it in Galatians 6:16 -the rule which applies to the faith and practice of every Christian man, to the pretensions of all theological and ecclesiastical systems. The true Christianity, the true churchmanship, is that which turns bad men into good, which transforms the slaves of sin into the sons of God. A true faith is a saving faith. The "new creation" is the sign of the Creator’s presence. It is God "who quickeneth the dead". {Romans 4:17}

When the Apostle exalts character at the expense of ceremonial, he does this in a spirit the very opposite of religious indifference. His maxim is far removed from that expressed in. the famous couplet of Pope:

"For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight; His can’t be wrong whose life is in the right."

The gospel of Christ is above all things a mode of faith. The "new creature" is a son of God, seeking to be like God. His conception of the Divine character and of his own relationship thereto governs his whole life. His "life is in the right," because his heart is right with God. All attempts to divorce morality from religion, to build up society on a secular and nonreligious basis, are indeed foredoomed to failure. The experience of mankind is against them. As a nation’s religion has been, so its morals. The ethical standard in its rise or fall, if at some interval of time, yet invariably, follows the advance or decline of spiritual faith. For practical purposes, and for society at large, religion supplies the mainspring of ethics. Creed is in the long run the determinant of character. The question with the Apostle is not in the least whether religion is vital to morals; but whether this or that formality is vital to religion.

One cannot help wondering how Paul would have applied his canon to the Church questions of our own day. Would he perchance have said, "Episcopacy is nothing, and Presbyterianism is nothing; -but keeping the commandments of God"? Or might he have interposed in another direction, to testify that "Church Establishments are nothing, and Disestablishment is nothing; charity is the one thing needful?" Nay, can we even be bold enough to imagine the Apostle declaring, "Neither Baptism availeth anything, nor the Lord’s Supper availeth anything, -apart from the faith that works by love"? His rule at any rate conveys an admonition to us when we magnify questions of Church ordinance and push them to the front, at the cost of the weightier matters of our common faith. Are there not multitudes of Romanists on the one hand who have, as we believe, perverted sacraments, and Quakers on the other hand who have no sacraments, but who have, notwithstanding, a penitent, humble, loving faith in Jesus Christ? And their faith saves them: who will doubt it? Although faith must ordinarily suffer, and does in our judgment manifestly suffer, when deprived of these appointed and most precious means of its expression and nourishment. But what authority have we to forbid to such believers a place in, the Body of Christ, in the brotherhood of redeemed souls, and to refuse them the right hand of fellowship, "who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we"? "It is the Spirit that beareth witness": who is he that gainsayeth? Grace is more than the means of grace.

"And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be on them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." Here is an Apostolic benediction for every loyal Church. The "walk" that the Apostle approves is the measured, even pace, the steady march of the redeemed host of Israel. On all who are thus minded, who are prepared to make spiritual perfection the goal of their endeavours for themselves and for the Church, Paul. invokes God’s peace and mercy.

Peace is followed by the mercy which guards and restores it. Mercy heals backslidings and multiplies pardons. She loves to bind up a broken heart, or a rent and distracted Church. Like the pillar of fire and cloud in the wilderness, this twofold blessing rests day and night upon the tents of Israel. Through all their pilgrimage it attends the children of Abraham, who follow in the steps of their father’s faith.

With this tender supplication Paul brings his warnings and dissuasives to an end. For the betrayers of the cross he has stern indignation and alarms of judgment. Towards his children in the faith nothing but peace and mercy remains in his heart. As an evening calm shuts In a tempestuous day, so this blessing concludes the Epistle so full of strife and agitation. We catch in it once more the chime of the old benediction, which through all storm and peril ever rings in ears attuned to its note: Peace shall be upon Israel. {Psalms 125:5}

Verses 17-18

Chapter 30


THE Apostle’s pen lingers over the last words of this Epistle. His historical self-defence, his theological argument, his practical admonitions, with the blended strain of expostulation and entreaty that runs through the whole-now rising into an awful severity, now sinking into mother-like tenderness have reached their conclusion. The stream of deep and fervent thought pouring itself out in these pages has spent its force. This prince of the Apostles in word and doctrine has left the Church no more powerful or characteristic utterance of his mind. And Paul has marked the special urgency of his purpose by his closing message contained in the last six verses, an Epistle within the Epistle, penned in large, bold strokes from his own hand, in which his very soul transcribes itself before our eyes.

It only remains for him to append his signature. We should expect him to do this in some striking and special way. His first sentence {Galatians 1:1-10} revealed the profound excitement of spirit under which he is labouring; not otherwise does he conclude. Galatians 6:17 sharply contrasts with the words of peace that hushed our thoughts at the close of the last paragraph. Perhaps the peace he wishes these troubled Churches reminds him of his own troubles. Or is it that in breathing his devout wishes for "the Israel of God," he cannot but think of those who were "of Israel," but no sons of peace, in whose hearts were hatred and mischief toward himself? Some such thought stirs anew the grief with which he has been shaken; and a pathetic cry breaks from him like the sough of the departing tempest.

Yet the words have the sound of triumph more than of sorrow. Paul stands a conscious victor, though wounded and with scars upon him that he will carry to his grave. Whether this letter will serve its immediate purpose, whether the defection, in Galatia will be stayed by it, or not, the cause of the cross is sure of its triumph; his contention against its enemies has not been in vain. The force of inspiration that uplifted him in writing the Epistle, the sense of insight and authority that pervades it, are themselves an earnest of victory. The vindication of his authority in Corinth, which, as we read the order of events, had very recently occurred, gave token that his hold on the obedience of Gentile Churches was not likely to be destroyed, and that in the conflict with legalism the gospel of liberty was certain to prevail. His courage rises with the danger. He writes as though he could already say, "I have fought the good fight. Thanks be to God, which always leadeth us in triumph". {2 Timothy 4:7; 2 Corinthians 2:14}

The warning of Galatians 6:17 has the ring of Apostolic dignity. "From henceforth let no man give me trouble!" Paul speaks of himself as a sacred person. God’s mark is upon him. Let men beware how they meddle with him. "He that toucheth you," the Lord said to His people after the sorrows of the Exile, "toucheth the apple of Mine eye". {Zechariah 2:8} The Apostle seems to have had a similar feeling respecting himself. He announces that whosoever from this time lays an injurious hand upon him does so at his peril. Henceforth- for the struggle with Legalism was the crisis of Paul’s ministry. It called forth all his powers, natural and supernatural, into exercise. It led him to his largest thoughts respecting God and man, sin and salvation; and brought him his heaviest sorrows.

The conclusion of this letter signalises the culmination of the Judaistic controversy, and the full establishment of Paul’s influence and doctrinal authority. The attempt of Judaism to strangle the infant Church is foiled. In return it has received at Paul’s hands its death-blow. The position won in this Epistle will never be lost; the doctrine of the cross, as the Apostle taught it, cannot be overthrown. Looking back from this point to "prove his own work," he can in all humility claim this "glorying in regard to himself" (Galatians 6:4). He stands attested in the light of God’s approval as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. He has done the cause of truth an imperishable service. He takes his place henceforth in the front rank amongst the spiritual leaders of mankind. Who now will bring reproach against him, or do dishonour to the cross which he bears? Against that man God’s displeasure will go forth. Some such thoughts were surely present to the Apostle’s mind in writing these final words. They cannot but occur to us in reading them. Well done, we say, thou faithful servant of the Lord! Ill must it be for him who henceforth shall trouble thee.

"Troubles" indeed, and to spare, Paul had encountered. He has just passed through the darkest experience of his life. The language of the Second Epistle to Corinth is a striking commentary upon this verse. "We are pressed on every side," he writes, "perplexed, pursued, smitten down." {2 Corinthians 4:8-9} His troubles came not only from his exhausting labours and hazardous journeys; he was everywhere pursued by the fierce and deadly hatred of his fellow country-men. Even within the Church there were men who made it their business to harass him and destroy his work. No place was safe for him-not even the bosom of the Church. On land or water, in the throngs of the city or the solitudes of the desert, his life was in hourly jeopardy. {1 Corinthians 15:30; 2 Corinthians 11:26}

Beside all this, "the care of the Churches" weighed on his mind heavily. There was "no rest" either for his flesh or spirit. {2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:5} Recently Corinth, then Galatia, was in a ferment of agitation. His doctrine was attacked, his authority undermined by the Judaic emissaries, now in this quarter, now in that. The tumult at Ephesus, so graphically described by Luke, happening at the same time as the broils in the Corinthian Church and working on a frame already overstrung, had thrown him into a prostration of body and mind so great that he says, "We despaired even of life. We. had the answer of death in ourselves". {2 Corinthians 1:8-9} The expectation that he would die before the Lord’s return had now, for the first time, it appears, definitely forced itself on the Apostle, and cast over him a new shadow, causing deep ponderings and searchings of heart. {2 Corinthians 5:1-10} The culmination of the legalistic conflict was attended with an inner crisis that left its ineffaceable impression on the Apostle’s soul.

But he has risen from his sick bed. He has been "comforted by the coming of Titus" with better news from Corinth. {2 Corinthians 7:6-16} He has written these two letters-the Second to the Corinthians, and this to the Galatians. And he feels that the worst is past. "He who delivered him out of so great a death, will yet deliver". {2 Corinthians 1:10} So confident is he in the authority which Christ gave and enabled him to exercise in utter weakness, so signally is he now stamped as God’s Apostle by his sufferings and achievements, that he can dare any one from this time forth to oppose him. The anathema of this Epistle might well make his opponents tremble. Its remorseless logic left their sophistries no place of refuge. Its passionate entreaties broke down suspicion and sullenness. Let the Circumcisionists beware how they slander him. Let fickle Galatians cease to trouble him with their quarrels and caprices. So well assured is he for his part of the rectitude of his course and of the Divine approval and protection, that he feels bound to warn them that it will be the worse for those who at such a time lay upon him fresh and needless burdens.

One catches in this sentence too an undertone of entreaty, a confession of weariness. Paul is tired of strife. "Woe is me," he might say, "that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar! My soul hath long had her dwelling with him that hateth peace." "Enmities, ragings, factions, divisions"-with what a painful emphasis he dwells in the last chapter on these many forms of discord. He has known them all. For months he has been battling, with the hydra-headed brood. He longs for an interval of rest. He seems to say, "I pray you let me be at peace. Do not vex me any more with your quarrels. I have suffered enough." The present tense of the Greek imperative verb (παρεχετω) brings it to bear on the course of things then going on: as much as to say, "Let these weapons be dropped, these wars and fightings cease." For his own sake the Apostle begs the Galatians to desist from the follies that, caused him so much trouble, and to suffer him to share with them God’s benediction of peace.

But what an argument is this with which Paul enforces his plea, -"for I bear the brand of Jesus in my body!"

"The stigmata of Jesus"-what does he mean? It is "in my body"-some marks branded or punctured on the Apostle’s person, distinguishing him from other men, conspicuous and humiliating, inflicted on him as Christ’s servant, and which so much resembled the inflictions laid on the Redeemer’s body that they are called "the marks of Jesus." No one can say precisely what "these brands consisted in. But we know enough of the previous sufferings of the Apostle to be satisfied that he carried on his person many painful marks of violence and injury. His perils endured by land and sea, his imprisonments, his "‘labour and travail, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness," his three shipwrecks, the "night and day spent in the deep," were sufficient to break down the strength of the stoutest frame; they had given him the look of a worn and haggard man. Add to these the stoning at Lystra, when he was dragged out for dead. "‘Thrice" also had he "been beaten with the Roman rods; "five times" with the thirty-nine stripes of the Jewish scourge. {2 Corinthians 11:23-27}

Is it to these last afflictions, cruel and shameful as they were in the extreme, that the Apostle specially refers as constituting "the brand of Jesus"? For Jesus was scourged. The allusion of 1 Peter 2:24 -"by whose stripes (literally, bruise or weal) ye were healed" shows how vividly this circumstance was remembered, and how strongly it affected Christian minds. With this indignity upon Him-His body lashed with the torturing whip, scored with livid bruises-our Blessed Lord was exposed on the cross. So He was branded as a malefactor, even before His crucifixion. And the same brand Paul had received, not once, but many times, for his Master’s sake. As the strokes of the scourge fell on the Apostle’s shuddering flesh, he had been consoled by thinking how near he was brought to his Saviour’s passion: "The servant," He had said, "shall be as his Lord." Possibly some recent infliction of the kind, more savage than the rest, had helped to bring on the malady which proved so nearly-fatal to him. In some way he had been marked with fresh and manifest tokens of bodily suffering in the cause of Christ. About this time he writes of himself as "always bearing about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus"; {2 Corinthians 4:10} for the corpse-like state of the Apostle, with the signs of maltreatment visible in his frame, pathetically imaged the suffering Redeemer whom he preached. Could the Galatians have seen him as he wrote, in physical distress, labouring under the burden of renewed and aggravated troubles, their hearts must have been touched with pity. It would have grieved them to think that they had increased his afflictions, and were "persecuting him whom the Lord had smitten."

His scars were badges of dishonour to worldly eyes. But to Paul himself these tokens were very precious. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you," he writes from his Roman prison at a later time: "and am filling up what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh". {Colossians 1:24} The Lord had not suffered everything Himself. He honoured His servants by leaving behind a measure of His afflictions for each to endure in the Church’s behalf. The Apostle was companion of his Master’s disgrace. In him the words of Jesus were signally fulfilled: "They have hated Me; they will also hate you." He was following, closely as he might, in the way that led to Calvary. All men may know that Paul is Christ’s servant; for he wears His livery, the world’s contempt. Of Jesus they said, "Away with Him, crucify Him"; and of Paul, "Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live". {Acts 22:22} "Enough for the disciple to be as his Master": what could he wish more?

His condition inspired reverence in all who loved and honoured Jesus Christ. Paul’s Christian brethren were moved by feelings of the tenderest respect at the sight of his wasted and crippled, form. "His bodily presence is weak: {2 Corinthians 10:10} he looks like a corpse!" said his despisers. But under that physical feebleness there lay an immense fund of moral vigour. How should he not be weak, after so many years of wearying toil and relentless persecution and torturing pain? Out of this very weakness came a new and unmatched strength; he "glories in his infirmities," for there rests upon him the strength of Christ. {2 Corinthians 12:9}

Under the expression "stigmata of Jesus" there is couched a reference to the practice of marking criminals and runaway slaves with a brand burnt into the flesh, which is perpetuated in our English use of the Greek words stigma and stigmatise. A man so marked was called stigmatias, i.e., a branded scoundrel; and such the Apostle felt himself to be in the eyes of men of the world. Captain Lysias of Jerusalem took him for an Egyptian leader of banditti: Honourable men, when they knew him better, learned to respect him; but such was the reputation that his battered appearance, and the report of his enemies, at first sight gained for him.

The term stigmata had also another and different signification. It applied to a well-known custom of religious devotees to puncture, or tattoo, upon themselves the name of their God, or other sign expressive of their devotion. {Isaiah 44:5; Revelation 3:12} This signification may be very naturally combined with the former in the employment of the figure. Paul’s stigmata, resembling those of Jesus and being of the same order, were signs at once of reproach and of consecration. The prints of the world’s insolence were witnesses of his devotion to Christ. He loves to call himself "the slave of Christ Jesus." The scourge has written on his back his Master’s name. Those dumb wounds proclaim him the bondman of the Crucified. At the lowest point of personal and official humiliation, when affronts were heaped upon him, he felt that he was raised in the might of the Spirit to the loftiest dignity, even as "Christ was crucified through weakness, yet liveth through the power of God". {2 Corinthians 13:4}

The words I bear- not united, as in our own idiom, but standing the pronoun at the head and the verb at the foot of the sentence-have each of them a special emphasis. I-in contrast with his opponents, manpleasers, shunning Christ’s reproach; and bear he says exultantly-"this is my burden, these are the marks I carry," like the standard-bearer of an army who proudly wears his scars (Chrysostom).’ In the profound and sacred joy which the Apostle’s tribulations brought him, we cannot but feel even at this distance that we possess a share. They belong to that richest treasure of the past, the sum of

"Sorrow which is not sorrow, but delight To hear of, for the glory that redounds There from to human kind and what we are."

The stigmatisation of Paul, his puncturing with the wounds of Jesus, has been revived in later times in a manner far remote from anything that he imagined or would have desired. Francis of Assisi in the year 1224 A.D. received in a trance the wound-prints of the Saviour on his body; and from that time to his death, it is reported, the saint had the physical appearance of one who had suffered crucifixion. Other instances, to the number of eighty, have been recorded in the Roman Catholic Church of the reproduction, in more or less complete form, of the five wounds of Jesus and the agonies of the cross; chiefly in the case of nuns. The last was that of Louise Lateau, who died in Belgium in the year 1883. That such phenomena have occurred, there is no sufficient reason to doubt. It is difficult to assign any limits to the power of the human mind over the body in the way of sympathetic imitation. Since St. Francis’ day many Romanist divines have read the Apostle’s language in this sense; but the interpretation has followed rather than given rise to this fulfilment. In whatever light these manifestations may be regarded, they are a striking witness to the power of the cross over human nature. Protracted meditation on the sufferings of our Lord, aided by a lively imagination and a susceptible physique, has actually produced a rehearsal of the bodily pangs and the wound-marks of Calvary.

This mode of knowing Christ’s sufferings "after the flesh," morbid and monstrous as we deem it to be, is the result of an aspiration which, however misdirected by Catholic asceticism, is yet the highest that belongs to the Christian life. Surely we also desire, with Paul, to be "made conformable to the death of Christ." On our hearts His wounds must be impressed. Along the pathway of our life His cross has to be borne. To all His disciples, with the sons of Zebedee, He says, "Ye shall indeed drink of My cup; and with the baptism that I am baptised withal shall ye be baptised." But "it is the Spirit that quickeneth," said Jesus; "the flesh profiteth nothing." The pains endured by the body for His sake are only of value when, as in Paul’s case, they are the result and the witness of an inward communion of the Spirit, a union of the will and the intelligence with Christ.

The cup that He would have us drink with Him is one of sorrow for the sins of men. His baptism is that of pity for the misery of our fellows, of yearning over souls that perish. It will not come upon us without costing many a pang. If we receive it there will be ease to surrender, gain and credit to renounce, self to be constantly sacrificed. We need not go out of our way to find our cross; we have only not to be blind to it, not to evade it when Christ sets it before us. It may be part of the cross that it comes in a common, unheroic form; the service required is obscure; it consists of a multitude of little, vexing, drudging sacrifices in place of the grand and impressive sacrifice, which we should be proud to make. To be martyred by inches, out of sight-this to many is the cruellest martyrdom of all. But it may be Christ’s way, the fittest, the only perfect way for us, of putting His brand upon us and conforming us to His death.

Yes, conformity of spirit to the cross is the mark of Jesus. "If we suffer with Him"-so the Apostolic Churches used to sing-"we shall also be glorified together." In our recoil from the artificial penances and mortifications of former ages, we are disposed in these days to banish the idea of mortification altogether from our Christian life. Do we not study our personal comfort: in an un-Christlike fashion? Are there not many in these days, bearing the name of Christ, who without shame and without reproof lay out their plans for Winning the utmost of selfish prosperity, and put Christian objects in the second. place? How vain for them to cry "Lord! Lord!" to the Christ who "pleased not Himself!" They profess at the Lord’s Table to "show His death"; but to show that death in their lives, to "know" with Paul "the fellowship of His sufferings," is the last thing that enters into their minds. How the scars of the brave Apostle put to shame the self-indulgence, the heartless luxury, the easy friendship with the world, of fashionable Christians! "Be ye followers of me," he cries, "as I also of Christ." He who shuns that path cannot, Jesus said, be My disciple.

So the blessed Apostle has put his mark to this Epistle. To the Colossians from his prison he writes, "Remember my bonds." And to the Galatians, "Look on my wounds." These are his credentials; these are the armorial bearings of the Apostle Paul. He places the seal of Jesus, the sign-manual of the wounded hand upon the letter written in His name.


ONE benediction the Apostle has already uttered in Galatians 6:16. But that was a general wish, embracing all who should walk according to the spiritual rule of Christ’s kingdom. On his readers specifically he still has his blessing to pronounce. He does it in language differing in this instance very little from that he is accustomed to employ.

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" is the distinctive blessing of the New Covenant. It is to the Christian the supreme good of life, including or carrying with it every other spiritual gift. Grace is Christ’s property. It descended with the Incarnate Saviour into the world, coming down from God out of heaven. His life displayed it; His death bestowed it on mankind. Raised to His heavenly throne, He has become on the Father’s behalf the dispenser of its fulness to all who will receive it. There exalted, thence bestowing on men "the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness," He is known and worshipped as our Lord Jesus Christ.

What this grace of God in Christ designs, what it accomplishes in believing hearts, what are the things that contradict it and make it void, this Epistle has largely taught us. Of its pure, life-giving stream the Galatians already had richly tasted. From "Christ’s grace" they were now tempted to "remove". {Galatians 1:6} But the Apostle hopes and prays that it may abide with them.

"With your spirit," he says; for this is the place of its visitation, the throne of its power. The spirit of man, breathed upon by the Holy Spirit of God, receives Christ’s grace and becomes the subject and the witness of its regenerating virtue. This benediction contains therefore in brief all that is set forth in the familiar threefold formula - "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost."

After all his fears for his wayward flock, all his chidings and reproofs, forgiveness and confidence are the last thoughts in Paul’s heart: "Brethren" is the last word that drops from the Apostle’s pen, - followed only by the confirmation of his devout Amen.

To his readers also the writer of this book takes leave to address the Apostle Paul’s fraternal benediction: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Galatians 6". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/galatians-6.html.
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