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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Galatians 2

Verse 1

Observe here, 1. How the gracious care and good providence of God did watch over St. Paul from place to place, and from time to time, when and wheresoever he went forth to preach, to plant, and propagate the gospel. After fourteen years he went up to Jerusalem, that is, fourteen years after his conversion; soon after which he went about preaching the gospel to the Gentile world. Blessed be God, who is oft-times pleased, in mercy to his church, to preserve the lives of his laborious ministers, and their liberties also, for the free exercise of their ministry, notwithstanding the joint endeavours of men and devils to the contrary. This good man, this great apostle, whose blood was thirsted after having obtained help of God, continued fourteen years together, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Observe, 2. The end, design, and intent of St. Paul, in this present going up to Jerusalem, and appearing before St. Peter there: It was not to acknowlege St. Peter's supremacy over him, or to appeal to him as the infallible judge in matters of religion: but it was, in a friendly and brotherly manner, to acquaint St. Peter and the rest of the apostles, with the doctrine preached by him; that their concurring approbation being given to it, the mouth of his adversaries, the false apostles, might be stopped, who accused him for preaching contrary to what the rest of the apostles both believed and practiced.

Observe, 3. The ground upon which St. Paul undertook this journey to Jerusalem at this time; He went up by revelation; he advised with God about the matter, and received direction from God to undertake the journey. Blessed be God, that although we cannot expect immediate direction and information from God, now, as the saints of old had before the canon of the scripture was completed, yet we have the written word of God to be a light to our feet, and a lamp unto our paths, to direct and guide us in all our enterprises: and we ought to regulate all our actions according to it, and to judge of the lawfulness and expediency of our undertakings by it.

Observe, 4. With what prudence and holy caution the blessed apostle proceeded in this matter; he imparted his sentiments, and communicated his doctirne to the rest of the apostles privately, for fear of exasperating the zealous Judaizing Christians: And to the most eminent of the apostles, such as were of greatest reputation; lest if there should be any opposition made to his doctrine, he should hereafter run, or had run in vain. Nothing more obstructs the success and efficacy of the gospel, than differences of judgment, and strife and debate about those differences, amongst the most eminent preachers of it.

Hence it was, that St. Paul endeavoured so much to get the joint consent of the most eminent apostles to the doctrine delivered by him, lest by the calumnies of his adversaries, his preaching should have been rendered unsuccessful, and he should hereafter run and labour in vain.

Verse 3

Observe here, 1. The instance and evidence which St. Paul brings of the apostles at Jerusalem, agreeing with him, both in their doctrine and in their practice; and that was Titus, who being a Gentile, born a Greek, and now a preacher of the gospel, and never circumcised, the apostles at Jerusalem would no more compel him to be circumcised than St. Paul had done, but received him into fellowship with them, though he was an uncircumcised Greek. This was a plain evidence, that they did not judge circumcision, at that time, to be a part of God's commanded worship; for then they would have compelled Titus to it; that is, constrained him, by the force of ecclesiastical censures, to become circumcised, had they thought circumcision necessary to the Gentiles.

Observe, 2. The reason assigned, why the apostle would not circumcise Titus, though he had before circumcised Timothy, namely, because some false brethren crept in, would have taken advantage from it, to bring persons into bondage to the law of ceremonies, and plead conformity to circumcision as an obliged duty.

Learn hence, that although the cermonial law was certainly abolished by the death of Christ; yet, Almighty God, partly with respect to it as his own ordinance, and partly in condescension to the weakness of the Jews, was pleased to tolerate the observation of some part of it, and particularly circumcision, as an indifferent action, though not as a part of religion, for some time; the cermonial rites being dead, they were to be decently, nor over hastily buried.

Observe, 3. The apostle's undaunted courage, and heroic resolution in this matter; he would, notwithstanding the false apostles importunity, never yield subjection, or submission to, or compliance with, their commands, in the least measure, by consenting to circumcise Titus; that so the truth and liberty of the gospel might continue sincere and unshaken.

Learn hence, that an outward act of compliance must not be consented to, which, in some cases, might be complied with, when, by making it necessary, we turn Christian liberty into servitude and bondage, when things in their own nature indifferent, are urged and enforced as necessary; in that case, the practice of a thing indifferent, is to be abstained from. Thus here, when false brethren urged the circumcision of Titus, as an evidence of St. Paul's receding from the doctrine of Christian liberty, he would not obey them, nor consent unto them: To whom we gave place, no not for an hour; that is, we refused to use circumcision, though but that once, because we would not give the adversaries the least advantage against us, or against the truth delivered and defended by us.

Verse 6

As if the apostle had said, "When I came up to Jerusalem, thus I behaved myself toward the false brethren, as I have here declared; but now, for those who seemed to be somewhat, that is, Peter, James, and John, who were of chief reputation among the apostles, and more than ordinary ministers of Jesus Christ, being the foundations of the Christian church, laid by Christ himself, although they had some external advantages above me, as being apostles before me, and having conversed with Christ, and seen him here on earth, which I never did; yet this maketh no matter to me: for God values no man for these outward favours and benefits: Neither in that conference about circumcision, did they add anything to me, either by their authority or instruction; they added nothing, they corrected nothing, but approved all things, both what I did and said: From whence it evidently appears, that my authority was equal with theirs, and my doctrine the same with theirs also."

Verse 7

Note here, 1. That the ordinance both of Peter and Paul, for the office and work of apostles, was alike divine. The former, St. Peter, was to be the minister of the circumcision: that is to exercise his ministry among the Jews, and St. Paul, by virtue of the same divine ordinance, was to exercise his office among the Gentiles, called the uncircumcision; yet this must not be so understood, as if Paul might not preach to the Jews, nor St. Peter to the Gentiles, which they both did upon occasion, but because their more special and particular province was thus, St. Peter to preach to the Jews, and St. Paul to the Gentiles.

Learn hence, that the office of preaching the gospel is a special trust, committed by God himself to such as he qualifies for it; and as none must enterprise it, but such as he calls unto it, so must all that undertake, be accountable to him for it; The gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, and the gospel of the circumcision was committed unto Peter.

Note, 2. How this great apostle ascribes the success and efficacy of his own ministry among the Gentiles, and of St. Peter's amongst the Jews, alike to God; He that wrought effectually is Peter, was also mighty in me: it is neither the person or pains of the minister, nor any natural energy or efficacy in the word preached, upon which the success of the gospel depends, but upon the effectual working of the holy Spirit; He that wrought effectually in Peter, was also mighty in me. The word of God works not as a natural agent, but as a moral instrument in the hand of the Spirit. The weapons of our ministerial warfare are then mighty, when made mighty through God, for the pulling down the strong-holds of sin and Satan.

Note, 3. The duty of the ministers of Christ implicitly declared, namely, to be pillars; not seeming to be so, but really so. As pillars, they are to uphold the truth, but their doctrine and diligence; as pillars, to be constant in defending the truth against all the blasts and storms of error and false doctrine; as pillars, to adorn the truth by an innocent life, and instructive example, whereby they ought not only to shine before others, but also to outshine others. When James, Cephas, and John seemed to be pillars.

These three apostles under Christ, were the great supporters of the church of Christ, by their diligence and faithfulness: yet observe, James is here named before St. Peter; which shews the weakness of the Papists arguments for Peter's primacy, because sometimes first named: But it is evident he is not always so; St. James is here mentioned before him, because, say some, bishop of Jerusalem, and the Lord's brother, or near kinsman; but certain it is, that St. Paul paid not here any deference to Peter, upon the account of his primacy or supremacy, which is now so much contended for, but was not then thought of, because it is the apostle's great drift and design to shew that he was in every respect equal with Peter and the rest of the apostles, and in no respect inferior to any of them; and consequently, that neither in his mission nor his message, neither in his office nor his doctrine, neither in his external authority, nor his internal gifts and graces, did he come behind the chiefest apostles, as the false apostles had misrepresented him.

Note farther, St. Peter's integrity with James's and John's, in this matter, they being all very well satisfied, by convincing evidence, that Almighty God had certainly called Paul to be an apostle no less than themselves; they own and acknowledge him for such, no doubt, to the grief, as well as to the shame of the false apostles, who had vilified his person, lessened his authority, and disparaged his doctrine: When James, Cephas, and John, perceived the grace that was given unto me; that is, the grace of apostleship, they, in the name of all the apostles, and the whole church, gave unto me, and Barnabas my fellow-labourer, the right hand of fellowship: that is, they owned us to be pillars as much as themselves, and acknowleged us to be apostles no less than themselves; and it was agreed and concluded upon, that we should continue to preach chiefly to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews:

So far were the apostles of Jerusalem from condemning St. Paul's doctrine, or undervaluing his calling, which was the thing that the false apostles were so desirous of, and hoped for.

Note lastly, that as an evidence of the happy agreement of Peter, James, and John, with Paul and Barnabas, and of the their owning them as apostles and ministers of Jesus Christ, they recommended to St. Paul's charitable consideration, the poverty of the Jewish converts to Christianity, desiring him to make collections in the Gentiles churches for the Christian Jews.

Here observe, 1. That the Jews were generally poorer than the Gentiles; it is frequently the lot of those who are rich in grace, to be poor in goods, and to be reduced to such straits, as to be forced to live upon some charitable supplies from others.

Observe, 2. That although those who are our own poor, and live within our bounds, near us, and about us, are chiefly to be believed by us; yet in cases of extreme necessity, such poor as live remote from us, whose faces were never seen by us, ought to be sharers in our charity.

Observe, 3. That the care of God's poor, and the supplying of the outward necessities of his saints, is an employment not unworthy the highest apostle, much less unbecoming the ordinary ministers of Christ; They would that we should remember the poor.

Observe, 4. That the faithful ministers of Christ ought, upon just and fit occasions, to excite and stir up their people to duties of charity, as well as piety; to costly and expensive duties, as well as those that are easy and less burdensome; these being no less profitable to the church, and much more evidential of a real work of grace upon the heart. Thus did St. Paul here, the apostles desired me to remember the poor: the same which I also was forward to do.

Verse 11

Observe here, St. Peter's offense, and St. Paul's rebuke.

St. Peter's offense, 1. was this, he declined from the doctrine taught by himself, concerning the abrogation of circumcision and the ceremonial law; he had formerly conversed freely with the Christian Gentiles without scruple, making no objection against them, because they were not circumcised: But at Antioch he withdrew himself from the Christian Gentiles, refusing to eat with them, because they were not circumcised; as if, for want of circumcision, they had been unclean, and altogether unfit to be conversed with. This was his fault; whereby it appears, that St. Peter himself was not infallible, whatever his pretended successors, the bishops of Rome, are supposed to be.

Learn hence, how certainly and suddenly the holiest and best of men will run into sin and error, if a special assistance from the holy Spirit doth not uphold them, and preserve them.

Observe, 2. As St. Peter's offense, so St. Paul's rebuke; he withstood him to the face; that is, rebuked him publicly, because he was blame-worthy, and not secretly behind his back; such as sin openly, must be rebuked and reproved openly.

Here note, how little St. Paul dreamed of St. Peter's supremacy; if so, he had been more modest than thus to reprove him to his face.

Learn hence, that as no bands of friendship must keep the ministers of God from reproving sin and vice; so when they find the fault to be notorious, they must reprove it wherever they find it, with much boldness and resolution.

St. Paul here, in reproving St. Peter withstood him: It is in the original a military word, signifying to stand against, either by force of arms, as among soldiers; or by dint of argument, as among disputants: It is a word of defiance, and signifies an opposition hand to hand, face to face, foot to foot, not yielding a hair's breadth to the adversary. Yet withal, as St. Paul's courage, so his candour appeared, in reproving St. Peter to his face, and not reproaching him, as some, behind his back.

And behold this great and chief apostle St. Peter, submits to his reprover, neither justifying his action, nor reflecting upon St. Paul; he replieth not again.

Verse 12

A farther account is given us in these verses, of St. Peter's offense at Antioch, in giving occasion of scandal to the Gentiles, by refusing to converse and eat with them, although he had before, in a vision, received a divine command so to do.

St. Paul calls it fear, Galatians 2:12, dissimulation, Galatians 2:13, and not walking uprightly, Galatians 2:14.

He refused to converse with the believing Gentiles, being uncircumcised, for fear of offending the believing Jews, who were so tenacious of circumcision, and the ceremonial law.

Learn hence, what weakness and inconstancy is found with the best of men, especially when fear gets a prevailing power over them. St. Peter was the minister of the circumcision, in great honour and esteem with the believing Jews, but fearing the loss of his reputation among them, he falls into a sin against God.

Observe, 2. The fatal influence of that sin; it drew others into a partnership with him therein; Barnabas himself was led away with the dissimulation, and the other Jews dissembled with him.

Learn hence, that such as are eminent in the church, had need be exactly careful how they walk; for if they fall, they fall not alone, many do fall with them.

Observe, 3. With what openness and freedom, with what courage and resolution, St. Paul checks and reproves Peter, for his cowardice and timorousness, in refusing to converse with the believing Gentiles, for fear of gaining the displeasure of the circumcised Jews; I said unto Peter before them all, If thou being a Jew, livest, in thy ordinary conversation, after the manner of the Gentiles, why compellest thou the Gentiles, by thy example to live, as do the Jews:

Where note, what a constraining power there is in the example of eminent persons. He is said to compel in scripture, not only who doth violently force, but who, being of authority, doth provoke by his example. The errors of those that do rule, became rulers of error. Men sin through a kind of authority, through the sins of those who are in authority.

Verse 15

St. Paul having fully vindicated his own authority as an apostle, from the imputations of the false apostles, he comes next to vindicate his doctrine, namely, the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, which he had formerly preached to the Galatians, and which, in his absence, the false apostles had endeavoured to subvert and overthrow, urging the strict observation of the ceremonial law, as necessary to justification and salvation. Our apostle, therefore, to strike at the root of this dangerous error, excludes all works of our own from having any influence upon our justification.

Now, this he proveth, 1. Because they that were Jews by birth, and so federally the holy people of God, found it necessary to renounce the works of the law in point of justification, and to seek righteousness only through faith in Christ, as well as the profane idolatrous sinners, of the Gentiles, who were strangers to the covenant of God; For by the works of the law shall no flesh, neither Jew nor Gentile, be justified; that is, acquitted from the guilt of sin, and discharged from obnoxiousness to the wrath of God.

Now, no obedience of our scan obtain this, because of the great imperfection which cleaves to it, and because God will have all boasting excluded, By grace ye are saved, through faith: not of works, lest any man should boast; but that he that glorieth, should glory in the Lord. Ephesians 2:8

Observe here, that the doctrine of justification by faith, and not by works, was early, very early opposed by Satan and false teachers. It being articulus et cadentis ecclesiae , a fundamental article of our Christian faith, our comfort stands or fall with it; no wonder then it is strenuously opposed.

Verse 17

These words are generally looked upon as an objection, which the adversaries of the doctrine of justification by faith, have been always ready to make against it, namely, "That if persons be not justified by their obedience to the law, then they may live as they list in the breach and violation of the law, and freely indulge themselves in sin, and consequently make Christ the minister of sin, as if he had relaxed the duty." The apostle rejects this inference and deduction with the greatest abhorrence and detestation, saying, God forbid.

Hence note, that it is no new prejudice, though a very unjust one, against the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and not by works, that it opens a door to licentiousness, and makes Christ the minister of sin.

Observe farther, a second objection here suggested. Some might pretend that he built up by his practice, what he had destroyed: No says the apostle, I have, together with the doctrine of free justification, preached to you, pressed upon you, the duty of mortification, as of indispensible necessity to be practiced by you; should therefore my preaching or my practice be otherwise than it has been, I should build again what I have destroyed, and destroy what I have already builded; and thus by encouraging sin, and discouraging holiness and obedience, I should be a transgressor against the law of righteousness.

Learn hence, that the doctrine of justification by faith alone, cannot be rightly preached, except the duty of mortification of sin be urged and enforced with it; for the same faith that depends upon Christ for pardon of sin, doth look up unto him for power and strength to vanquish and subdue sin; If we do not the latter, Christ will never do the former.

Verse 19

Here the apostle shews, that believers are so far from being justified by the law, that they are dead to the law, so as to put no confidence in their obedience to it for justification; particularly,

1. They are dead to the law; that is, they are delivered from the rigorous exactions of the law. Perfect, personal and perpetual obedience, is the duty which the law exacts at the believers's hand, and he has performed it, though not in himself, yet in the person of Christ his Surety, who yielded as absolute and complete obedience to the law, as it could require or demand.

2. The law is dead to believers, and they to that, in regard to the condemnatory curse and sentence of the law; Christ hath redeemed them from the curse of the law: being made a curse for them, Galatians 3:13. True, the believer's violation of the royal and righteous law of God, in the smallest measure and degree, doth in its own nature, deserve the curse and condemnatory sentence; but Christ has discharged him from obnoxiousness to the curse, by being made a curse.

3. The law is dead to believers, as to its authority, to justify and save them. This is that the law cannot do, being made weak through the flesh? though properly speaking, the law is not weak to us, but we are weak to that; the law has not lost its authority to command, but we our ability to obey; it is as impossible for a fallen sinner to keep the law of God perfectly, as it is for a lame cripple to run a race swiftly.

Yet, 4. Believers are not dead, but alive to the law, as a rule of life and holy living; the law binds the believer (in Christ's hand) as strictly to endeavour obedience to it, as it did Adam in innocency: But here is the believer's privilege, that God the Father, upon the score of the covenant of grace, which the blood of Christ has ratified and confirmed, doth graciously accept the faithful endeavours of his children, instead of perfect performances; which obedience the law-covenant did rigorously exact and require.

Thus may every believer say with the apostle, I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God, namely, a life of righteousness and true holiness.

Verse 20

Several things are here observable, St. Paul's spiritual death declared, and his spiritual life described, together with the author and instrument of it.

Observe, 1. St. Paul's spiritual death, I am crucified with Christ; that is, with Christ I am dead to the law (in the manner mentioned in the foregoing verse) dead to sin, and dead to the world.

Learn hence, that all true believers are crucified with Christ Jesus; or that all justified persons have fellowship with Christ in his death: They have fellowship with him,

1. In the merit and value of his death; they are ransomed by it, as a price paid down to the justice of God for them.

2. In the virtue and efficacy of his death; which doth not only merit pardon for us, but mortifies sin in us: Our old man is crucified; that is, the power of sin is subdued in us.

3. A justified person hath fellowship with Christ, in the likeness and similitude of his death, and that is a crucifixion: As Christ died a painful, shameful, lingering, and accursed death for him, so doth sin die painfully, shamefully, and gradually in him: They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts, Galatians 5:24.

Observe, 2. St. Paul's spiritual life described, I live, yet not I, but Christ in me.

Learn hence, that a crucified Christian is a living Christian; I am crucified, nevertheless I live; a life of justification and sanctification at present, in hope of, and as an earnest for, a life of glorification to come.

Yet, observe, 3. How the apostle corrects, or rather explains himself, after what mind, and in what manner he lives; he denies himself to be the author and root of his own life; and declares Christ to be both. I live, yet not I, but Christ in me. Christ is both the author and efficient cause, the exemplary cause, the end or final cause of the Christian's life; a living Christian lives not himself, but Christ lives in him.

Observe, 4. As the author of the Christian's spiritual life, Christ; so the instrument of it, and that is faith: The life which I live in the flesh, that is, the spiritual life which I live as a Christian here in the world, I live by faith in the Son of God; my life of justification, is by faith in his blood; my life of sanctification and consolation, is through faith, in and by influences derived from his holy Spirit.

Observe, 5. How the apostle appropriates to himself in particular, what Christ had done for all believers in general; He loved me and gave himself for me.

Where note, though a firm persuasion, and a full assurance of Christ's special love to ourselves, and his dying for us in particular, is not of the essence and being of justifying and saying faith, yet it is attainable without an extraordinary revelation; and, as such, every sincere Christian ought to aim at it, to labour and endeavour after it.

Verse 21

The apostle concludes the chapter with a double argument, to prove the Christian's justification by faith, without the works of the law.

1. Were it otherwise, we should frustrate and make void the grace of God: For if justification be by works, it can no more be by grace; according to the apostle, Romans 6:6.

2. Christ's death had been in vain, without any necessary cause or reason at all, if the justification of a sinner could have been obtained by his own works.

Where note, that as well works done after faith and conversion, as those done before it, are excluded from being the meritorious cause of our justification, either in whole or in part; because the joining of works with faith, in the matter of our justification, is a total exclusion of God's free grace, and a loud proclaiming, that Christ died in vain: If righteousness come by the law, I frustrate the grace of God, and Christ is dead in vain.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Galatians 2". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/galatians-2.html. 1700-1703.