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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Galatians 2

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. II.

He speaketh of having gone up to Jerusalem again, and for what purpose: that Titus was not circumcised: and that he resisted Peter, and told him the reason, why he and others, being Jews, do believe themselves in Christ to be justified by faith, and not by works: and that they live not in sin, who are so justified.

Anno Domini 49.

FROM the history which the Apostle gave of himself to the Galatians, in the preceding chapter, it appears, that, from the time of his conversion to his coming with Barnabas from Tarsus to Antioch, he had no opportunity of conversing with the apostles in a body; consequently, in that period he was not made an Apostle by them.—In like manner, by relating in this chapter what happened when he went up from Antioch to Jerusalem, fourteen years after his conversion, in company with Barnabas, and Titus, a converted Gentile, he proved to the Galatians that he was an apostle before he had that meeting with the apostles in a body, Galatians 2:1.—For at thattime, instead of receiving the gospel from the apostles, he communicated to them the gospel, or doctrine which he preached among the idolatrous Gentiles: not because he acknowledged them his superiors, or was in any doubt about the matter; but lest it might have been suspected that his doctrine was disclaimed by the apostles, which would have prevented his success among the Gentiles, Galatians 2:2.—And to shew that the apostles, to whom he communicated his gospel, approved of it, he told the Galatians that not even Titus, who was with him, though an idolater before his conversion, was compelled by the apostles to be circumcised, although it was insisted on by the false brethren, who endeavoured to bring the Gentiles under bondage to the law, Galatians 2:3-4.—And that he and Titus did not yield in the least to these false brethren, by obeying any part of the law as a condition of salvation, for so much as an hour, that the truth of the gospel might remain with the Galatians, and all the Gentiles, Galatians 2:5.—Next, to shew that the apostles of the greatest note were by no means superior to him, St. Paul affirmed, that from them he received nothing. For, however much they had been honoured by their Master, these apostles added nothing either to his knowledge or to his power, or to his authority as an apostle, Galatians 2:6.—But, on the contrary, perceiving that he was commissioned to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, as St. Peter had been to preach it to the Jews, Galatians 2:7.—because he who fitted St. Peter for preaching to the Jews, had fitted St. Paul for preaching to the Gentiles, by bestowing on him the gift of inspiration, and by enabling him, not only to work miracles in confirmation of his doctrine, but to communicate the spiritual gifts to his converts, Galatians 2:8.—they, knowing these things, instead of finding fault either with his doctrine or with his practice, James, Cephas, and John, who were the chief apostles in point of reputation, gave him the right hands of fellowship; thereby acknowledging him to be an apostle of equal authority with themselves, and equally commissioned by Christ to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, as they were to the Jews, Galatians 2:9.—The only thing which they desired of him was, to exhort the Gentiles to contribute for the relief of the poor, Galatians 2:10.

Moreover, to make the Galatians fully sensible of his authority as an apostle, and of his knowledge in the gospel, Paul told them, that when Peter came to Antioch, after the council, he opposed him openly, because he was to be blamed, Galatians 2:11.—For, before certain persons, zealous of the law, came to Antioch from James, Peter, who had been taught by a vision to call no person unclean, did eat with the converted idolatrous Gentiles: but when these zealous Jewish believers were come, he withdrew for fear of their displeasure, Galatians 2:12.—And others of the brethren in like manner dissembled; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation, Galatians 2:13. But this behaviour being contrary to the truth of the gospel, Paul publicly rebuked Peter for it, in the hearing of all the disciples at Antioch. And because, after giving him that reproof, he explained to the church the true doctrine of the gospel concerning the justification of sinners, he judged it proper to give the Galatians a short account of the things which he said on that occasion, Galatians 2:14-21.—And as it does not appear that Peter, when thus reproved of Paul, offered any thing in his own defence, we may believe that he knew the truth, and acknowledged publicly, that obedience to the law of Moses was not necessary to the salvation either of the Jews or of the Gentiles. Or, if he did not make this acknowledgment verbally, his silence on the occasion was equally expressive of the truth.

St. Peter's behaviour towards the Gentile converts in Antioch having proceeded, not from ignorance of the truth of the gospel, but from an unreasonable fear of the displeasure of the zealous Jewish believers, it serves toshew us, that one's knowledge is not always of itself sufficient to prevent one from falling into sin; as his denying his Master on a former occasion, shews that the resolutions made in our own strength will not avail us, whatever measures of grace we may have previously experienced; but that, in every case, the assistance of God is necessary to render one's knowledge of what is right, and his purpose to do it, effectual in practice: and that the person who has made the greatest proficiency in knowledge and holiness ought to be diffident of himself, and humble, agreeably to Solomon's maxim, Proverbs 28:14. Happy is the man that feareth alway.


Verse 1

Galatians 2:1. Fourteen years after This was the time when he went up from Antioch to the council at Jerusalem, about the question whether the Gentiles were to be circumcised. See Acts 15:4; Acts 15:41. This is the earliest mention that we meet with of Titus; for he is nowhere mentioned by St. Luke in the Acts; and what we read of him in the second Epistle to the Corinthians, as well asin the second to Timothy, was later by some years. He is here said to have been a Greek, (or Gentile,) and, being born of Gentile parents, was not circumcised; but where or when he was converted, is uncertain; only we may conclude that he was converted by St. Paul, from the stile which he gives him of his own son, after the common faith. Titus 1:4. And as he now took Titus with him from Antioch to Jerusalem, so he employed him afterwards on several occasions, and appears to have regarded him with great affection and endearment.


Verse 2

Galatians 2:2. I went up by revelation, Some suppose that this means only that he went up according to the revelation which he mentions as having received, ch. Galatians 1:12. But it seems rather to be here implied, that in their sending Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, the church at Antioch were directed by a revelation made, either immediately to St. Paul himself, or to some other of the prophets there. The conference which he had in private with the chief of the church of Jerusalem, concerning the gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, seems not to have been barely concerning the doctrine of their being free from the law of Moses: that had been openly and warmly disputed at Antioch, and was known to be the business which they came about to Jerusalem. But it is probable that it was to explain to them the whole doctrine which he had received by revelation; by the fulness and perfection whereof [for it is said, Galatians 2:6 that in the conference they added nothing to it] they might see and own what he preached to be the truth, and him to be one of themselves, as indeed they did. ' Αυτοις, them, signifies those at Jerusalem: the words κατ' ιδιαν δε τοις δοκουσι are exegetical, shewing the particular manner, and persons, and import, but privately to the more eminent. It was sufficient for his purpose to be owned by those of greatest authority; and so we see he was by James, Peter, and John, Galatians 2:9 and therefore it was safest and best to give an account of the gospel that he preached in private to them, and not publicly to the whole church. St. Paul uses the word running for "taking pains in the gospel." The metaphor is probably taken from the Olympic games. He seems here to give two reasons, why at last, after fourteen years, he communicated to the chief of the apostles at Jerusalem the gospel which he preached to the Gentiles; when, as he shews to the Galatians, he had formerly declined all communication with the converted Jews. First, he appears to intimate that he did it by revelation. Secondly, he gives another reason; namely, that if he had not communicated as he did with the leading men there, and satisfied them of his doctrine and mission his opposers might unsettle the churches which he had planted, or should plant, by urging, that the apostles knew not what it was that he preached, nor had ever owned it for the gospel, or him for an apostle. Of the readiness of the Judaizing seducers to take any such advantage against him, he had lately an example in the church at Corinth.


Verse 3

Galatians 2:3. But neither Titus—was compelled, &c.— This served as a plain evidence to the Galatians, that the circumcising of the convert Gentiles was no part of the gospel which he laid before these men of note, as what he preached to the Gentiles; for if it had, Titus must have been circumcised; for no part of his gospel was blamed or altered by them, Galatians 2:6. It is difficult to discover of what other use the mentioning of Titus here can be, than to shew to the Galatians that what he preached contained nothing of circumcising theconvert Gentiles. If it were to shew that the other apostles and church atJerusalem dispensed with circumcision, and other ritual observances of the Mosaical law, that was needless, as having been sufficiently declared by their decree, Acts 15 which was made and communicated to the churches before this Epistle was written, Acts 16:4. Much less was this example of Titus of any force to prove that St. Paul was a true apostle, if that were what he was here labouring to justify: but considering his aim to be the clearing himself from a report that he preached up circumcision, there could be nothing more to his purpose than this instance of Titus, whom, uncircumcised as he was, he took with him to Jerusalem; uncircumcised he kept with him there; and uncircumcised he took back with him when he returned. This was a strong and pertinent instance to persuade the Galatians that the report of his preaching circumcision was a mere aspersion.


Verse 4

Galatians 2:4. Into bondage: What this bondage was, see Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5; Acts 15:10.


Verse 5

Galatians 2:5. To whom we gave place, &c.— The neither in the 3rd verse, according to propriety of speech, ought to have an or to answer it; and accordingly, in this verse, the word ουδε should be so rendered, Neither was Titus compelled—nor did we yield to them a moment. The point which those false brethren contended for was, that the law of Moses was to be kept. See Acts 15:5. St. Paul, who, upon other occasions, was so condescending that to the Jews he became as a Jew, &c. 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 yet when subjection to the law was claimed as due in any case, he would not yield in the least matter. This appears to be the meaning of the expression, we gave not place by subjection; for where compliance was desired of him, upon account of expediency, and not of subjection to the law, we do not find him stiff and inflexible; as may be seen, Acts 21:18-26 which was after the writing of this Epistle. In the next clause of this verse he gives us the reason why he yielded not to those Judaizing false brethren: it was, that the true doctrine which he had preached to the Gentiles, or their freedom from thelaw, might stand firm: a convincing argument to the Galatians that he preached not circumcision. See Galatians 2:14 and ch. Galatians 3:1. Dr. Heylin connects this and the 4th verse in the following manner, Galatians 2:4. And as to the false brethren, who insidiously crept in to spy out our liberty, &c. Galatians 2:5. I would not yield to them by subjection, &c. "Much had been done on several occasions," says this writer, "in condescension to weakness, and from the motive of charity; but when things indifferent were required absolutely, and as a necessary subjection, then St. Paul resisted, as became him."


Verse 6

Galatians 2:6. But of those who seemed to be somewhat, St. Paul having shewn, in the preceding verses, what passed between the false brethren, and him, now proceeds to shew what passed between the chief of the brethren and himself; and therefore some introduce the verse with these words: Thus we behaved ourselves towards the false brethren; but of those, &c. However the words, who seemed to be somewhat, may answer the original, they certainly carry to an English ear a diminishing and ironical sense, contrary to the meaning of the Apostle, who speaks here of those for whom he had a real esteem, and who were truly of the first rank; for it is plain by what follows, that he means Peter, James, and John. Besides, the phrase οι δοκουντες being taken in a good sense, Galatians 2:2 and translated those of reputation, the same mode of expression should have been retained when the same term occurs. Every one sees that there is something implied at the beginning of this verse. Most commentators add the words, I learned nothing; but this enervates the reason subjoined at the close of the verse;—I learned nothing of them,—for they taught me nothing; but it is very good reasoning, and suited to his purpose, to say that it was nothing at all to him how much those great men were in Christ's favour; "But as for those who were really men of eminence, what they were or are, matters not at all to me in the present instance; God accepts not the person of any man, but communicates the gospel to whom he pleases, as he has done to me by revelation, without their help: for in their conference with me, they added nothing to me;—they taught me nothing new, nor had they any thing to object against what I preached to the Gentiles." Peter, James, and John, who appear from Galatians 2:9 to be the persons here spoken of, seem, of all the apostles, to have been most in esteem and favour with their Master during his conversation upon earth: "But yet that," says St. Paul, "is of no moment now to me. The gospel which I preach, and which God, who is no respecter of persons, has been pleased to commit to me by immediate revelation, is not the less true; nor is there any reason for me to recede from it in a tittle; for these men of the first rank could find nothing to add, alter, or gainsay." This is suitable to St. Paul's design here, to let the Galatians see, that as he, in his carriage, had never favoured circumcision; so neither had he any reason, by preaching circumcision, to forsake the doctrine of liberty in respect to the law of Moses, which he had preached to them as a part of that gospel delivered to him by revelation.


Verse 8

Galatians 2:8. He that wrought effectually This may be understood to signify both the operation of the Spirit upon the mind of St. Peter and St. Paul, in sending them, the one to the Jews, the other to the Gentiles; and also the Holy Ghost bestowed on them, whereby they were enabled to do miracles for the confirmation of their doctrine; in neither of which St. Paul, as he shews, was inferior, and so had as authentic a seal of his mission and doctrine as they had of theirs. Instead of, was mighty, we should read, wrought effectually.


Verse 9

Galatians 2:9. And when James, Cephas, and John, &c.— And, being sensible of the grace wherewith I am endowed, James, Cephas, and John, who were esteemed main supports of the church in Judea, embraced me and Barnabas as their associates; and agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. Heylin.


Verse 10

Galatians 2:10. That we should remember the poor; "That we should entreat all believers whom we meet with in our travels, to send some relief to the Christians in Jerusalem, who were at this time in great want and distress."


Verse 11

Galatians 2:11. Peter Had St. Peter observed the law of Moses himself, St. Paul would not have blamed him for that. What he blamed him for was, his acting as if the Gentiles were obliged to live as did the Jews, in order to their being the people of God, and partakers of the blessings and honours of his kingdom. See on Romans 7:6.


Verse 14

Galatians 2:14. According to the truth of the gospel, That is, "That freedom from the law of Moses, which was a part of the true doctrine of the gospel." In this sense he uses the word truth throughout the epistle; insisting on it, that this doctrine of freedom from the law of Moses was a part of the true gospel. Had this been matter only of private offence, certainly St. Paul would have known that duty required him to expostulate with St. Peter privately upon it, before he referred it to such an assembly. But as it was a public affair, in which great numbers were so sensibly affected, this method was most proper. Probably this happened after public worship; and it would seem the less surprizing, considering the conferences which used to be held in the Jewish synagogues, before the assembly was broken up. It has been very justly observed, that had any imposture been carrying on, the contention of these two great managers would probably have been an occasion of discovering it.


Verse 15

Galatians 2:15. We who are Jews, &c.— What the Jews thought of themselves, in contradistinction to the Gentiles, see Romans 2:17-23. Dr. Heylin observes, that sinner here, and Galatians 2:17 and often elsewhere, signifies "a man in the state of nature, before that application of the merits of Christ which is termed justification." Christ is not the minister of sin, (as Galatians 2:17.) to save such, while they continue in that state. He saves onlythose who, renouncing themselves, are justified through faith in him, and resigned to his Spirit for their purification. These last he justifies, from their entrance into a simple and entire resignation of themselves to him, and dependance on him, which is frequently, in scripture, called faith. See what kind of persons they are in the sequel, where St. Paul describes himself, and, by consequence, all who are in that stat


Verse 17

Galatians 2:17. If—we ourselves also are found sinners, Those who are under the law, having oncetransgressed, remain always sinners, unalterably so, in the eye of the law; which excludes all such from justification. The Apostle, in this place, argues thus: "We Jews, who are by birth God's people, and not, as the profligate Gentiles, abandoned to all manner of pollution and uncleanness,—not being, nevertheless, able to obtain righteousness by the deeds of the law, have believed in Christ, that we might be justified by faith in him. But if even we, who have betaken ourselves to Christ for justification, are ourselves found to be unjustified sinners, liable still to wrath, as all are under the law, what deliverance have we from sin by Christ?—None at all: we are as much concluded under sin and guilt, as if we did not believe in him. So that, by joining him and the law together for justification, we shut ourselves out from justification, which cannot be had under the law; and we make Christ the minister of sin, and not of justification;—which God forbid!" See the Inferences and Reflections.


Verse 18

Galatians 2:18. I make myself a transgressor. Many commentators consider this verse as a continuation of St. Paul's speech at Antioch, and would render and connect it thus: "On the contrary, so far are we from being made sinners by neglecting justification by the law, that if we taught the necessity of its works, we should become transgressors, in building again the things which we destroyed." But if this interpretation was to be admitted, we should not only find it hard to clear up the argument, but must suppose that the following verses likewise are part of the speech to St. Peter, which would make them much less pertinent and natural, than if we suppose them the overflowings of St. Paul's devout heart in addressing the Galatians. His speech to St. Peter rather seems to have gone no further than the foregoing verse; and the conjunction γαρ is often used with such a latitude, that we might take it in the beginning of this verse to signify now, and so consider St. Paul as shewing here, that, whatever some insinuated to his prejudice, there was no inconsistency in his doctrine and practice with what he had then so openly declared.


Verse 19

Galatians 2:19. Through the law By the tenor of the law itself. See ch. Galatians 3:24-25, Galatians 4:21, &c. Romans 3:21; Romans 11:14 comp. with Romans 7:4. What St. Paul says here seems to imply, that living under the law was to live not acceptably to God;—a strange doctrine certainly to the Jews! and yet it was true now under the gospel: for God the Father having put his kingdom in this world wholly under his Son, in a peculiar sense, when he raised him from the dead, all who, after that, would be his people in his kingdom, were to live by no other law but the gospel, which was now the law of his kingdom; and we see that God cast off the Jews, because, cleaving to their own constitution, they would not have this man to reign over them. So that what St. Paul says here is, in effect, this: "By believing in Christ, I am discharged from the Mosaical law, that I may wholly conform myself to the rule of the gospel, which is now the law to be owned and observed by all those who, as God's people, would live acceptably to him." This appears visibly to be the Apostle's meaning,though the accustoming himself to antithesis may possibly be the reason why, after having said, I am dead to the law, he expresses his putting himself under the gospel by living to God.


Verse 20

Galatians 2:20. I am crucified with Christ: See this explained, Romans 7:4; Romans 6:2-14. The general meaning of the verseis, "The whole management of myself is conformable to the doctrine of the gospel, of justification in Christ alone, and not by the deeds of the law." This, and the former verse, seem to be spoken in opposition to St. Peter's owning a subjection to the law of Moses by his walking, mentioned Galatians 2:14.


Verse 21

Galatians 2:21. Grace of God: See ch. Galatians 1:6-7 to which this seems here opposed. The latter part of this verse will be found explained in St. Paul's own words, ch. 5.

Inferences, drawn from Galatians 2:17. One of the greatest and most plausible objections alleged by unbelievers against the divine institution of the Christian religion, is the smallness of the influence that it may seem to have upon the lives and manners of its professors. If God condescended to give men an express revealed law, and to send so extraordinary a person as his own eternal Son to promulgate that law upon earth; it were natural to expect that it should have some very visible and remarkable effects in the world, answerable to the dignity of the thing itself, and worthy of its great Author. They who are blessed with such singular advantages, what manner of persons, as St. Peter expresses it, ought they to be in all holy conversation and godliness!

And are there then,—will unbelievers be apt to say,—are there to be met with, in the lives and manners of Christians, any considerable distinguishing characters, whereby to judge that they are really under the influence and peculiar guidance of such a divine Director?—Is there among those who call themselves Christians less of impiety and profaneness towards God, less of fraud and injustice towards men, than is found among the professors of other religions? Is there not too plainly the same boundless ambition, the same insatiable covetousness, the same voluptuousness and debauchery of manners, to be found among them, as amongst other men? Nay, have not moreover the pretences even of religion itself been the immediate occasion of the bitterest animosities, of the most bloody wars, of the most inhuman persecutions?—Have not the greatest immoralities of all kinds received too plain an encouragement from the reliance upon a power of repeating continually certain periodical absolutions; and much more from an imagination that the practices of a vicious life maybe compensated before God by the observance of certain superstitious commutations?—Lastly, and beyond all this, has not even the grace of God, as the Apostle urges, been itself too frequently turned into wantonness? That is, has not the fundamental grace of the gospel,—the gracious promise of pardon, upon true repentance and amendment, and faith in Jesus Christ, been itself abused into an encouragement of wicked living, in a dependance upon the formalities of a death-bed repentance?

Very great, and very just reproaches, indeed, are these upon many who profess themselves to be followers of Christ. But, that such objections have no conclusive consequence at all against Christianity itself, is what the Apostle, after a very affectionate manner, declares in the words above proposed for our reflection, and which he closes with a generous God forbid!—For, if, says he, I build again the things which I destroyed, I MAKE MYSELF A TRANSGRESSOR.

We will therefore endeavour to shew, from his words, first, "that the wickedness of the lives of those who call themselves Christians, is no argument against the truth and excellency of the Christian religion itself."

Now, natural and necessary causes always and necessarily produce effects proportional to their natural powers: so that, from the degree or quantity of the effect, may always certainly be judged the degree of power and efficacy in the cause. But in moral causes the case is necessarily and essentially otherwise. In these, how efficacious soever the cause be, yet the effect, more or less, depends upon the will of the person upon whom the effect is to be wrought, whether the cause shall produce its proper effect or no.

The Christian religion affords men the most perfect instructions possible in the ways of holiness and virtue, and arguments infinitely strong to enforce the practice of them, jointly, with the greatest aids in behalf of the truly sincere. The effect of this doctrine upon the lives of men in the primitive times, before worldly corruptions entered into the church, was, through the grace of God, which can never be separated from any thing which relates to the salvation of souls, great and conspicuous: and if we understand the prophesies rightly, which relate to things yet to come, this effect will be much more remarkable in the latter ages; when the corruptions which now prevail among Christians shall be reformed, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the channels of the sea. As things at present stand, there are great numbers of men,—many more than are taken notice of in the noise and hurry of the busy world,—who, upon the foundation of a well-settled belief in the gospel of Christ, go on regularly in the course of a holy life, with a perpetual uniform sense of God upon their minds, and an assured expectation of a future judgment: nay, and even among those who value themselves upon despising the assistance of revelation, and rely entirely upon their own natural abilities in matters of religion, it is very plain that the greatest part of those right notions, concerning God and virtue, about which they can now so readily and so clearly discourse, are really almost wholly borrowed from the light of that revelation which they are so desirous should be thought entirely needless. This, I say, is very plain, from the extreme ignorance of the heathen world, notwithstanding there are not wanting among them men of excellent natural abilities; and from the right notions of God to be found, among Christians, in numbers of persons, even of the lowest capacities, and meanest employments, to a degree which few, exceeding few, even of the greatest philosophers, were ever able to arrive at. So very different a thing is it to discern the reasonableness of moral obligations, after they have been once clearly revealed; and to be able, without any assistance, to discover at first the same obligations by the mere strength of nature and reason.

But however this be, and supposing the effect of Christianity in the world had been much smaller than it has been, still this would be no argument at all against the truth and excellency of the doctrine itself: because, as was before observed, "in all moral causes it must always depend more or less on the will of the person upon whom the effect is to be wrought, whether even the most powerful cause shall produce its proper effect, or no." When God himself calls men in the strongest and most efficacious manner that is consistent with his calling them at all, it is still in their own power not to hearken to that call; or at least not to yield to it finally;—not to be on the whole the better,—nay, to be the worse for it; much worse than if they had never known the way of righteousness. For as, where no law is, there is no transgression; so, on the other hand, and for the same reason, "where there is a law, not obeyed, that law worketh wrath; and sin, by this commandment, becomes exceeding sinful." If therefore the effect were always to be the measure in judging of the goodness and excellency of a cause, the best and wisest laws would often, upon account of their very excellency, be the worst: the law of God would be chargeable with the malignity of sin, and God himself as the real and immediate author of evil.

The same may, in proportion, be said concerning reason, even the absolute and necessary reason of things. But if it be no objection against the excellency of reason itself, that it very often is not able to make men act reasonably, and never of itself graciously, and no diminution to the divine commandments in general, that they frequently, not only fail of reforming men's manners, but even, on the contrary, do moreover make sin to become the more exceeding sinful; then, for the same reason, neither against the truth and excellency of Christianity in particular, can any argument be drawn from the wickedness of their lives who profess themselves Christians.

But, secondly, though the practice of any wickedness whatsoever affords no real argument against Christianity itself, yet it is always matter of very great and just reproach to the professors of this holy religion; as being the utmost contradiction, and the higher possible inconsistency with their profession. Nay, every vice that any Christian, so called, is guilty of, tends to defeat every end of the gospel of grace, and brings dishonour upon the name and upon the religion of Christ; for hence unbelievers are confirmed in their infidelity, and scoffers are encouraged to make a scorn of every thing sacred. See Romans 2:24.

From what has been said we are led, thirdly, to a very plain and easy rule, by which we may judge of the malignity and dangerousness of any error in matters of religion. In proportion as the error tends to reconcile any vicious, vain, or impious practice with the profession of religion; or, as St. Paul expresses it, to make Christ the minister of sin,—in the same proportion is the doctrine pernicious, and the teachers of it justly to be deemed corrupt. And this is the reason why our Lord, when he warns Christians to be aware of false teachers, who should come to them in sheep's clothing, but inwardly were ravening wolves, gives us this mark by which for ever to distinguish them:—By their fruits ye shall know them. The fruits of holiness and true goodness are marks which admit no counterfeit. If the course of a man's life be holy, devout, self-denying, virtuous, and charitable, and his doctrine leads men towards nothing but the love of God in Christ Jesus, holiness, goodness, and charity, in expectation of a righteous judgment to come,—this is a mark, or character, to which nothing has any similitude but what is itself really and truly the same.

REFLECTIONS.—1st. The Apostle, in vindication of his divine mission and ministry, as in nothing inferior to the other apostles, relates what passed at Jerusalem, when, fourteen years after his conversion, he went up thither, with Barnabas and Titus, by a special revelation from God, on occasion of the dissensions which the Jewish teachers had raised in the church of Antioch, about the necessity of circumcising the Gentiles, and engaging them to keep the law of Moses.

1. He communicated and explained in conversation, to those who were of greater note and reputation, the gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, in all its freedom and latitude, but privately, because of the known prejudices which many of the Jewish Christians entertained concerning the necessity of still observing the law. And this method he took, lest by any means he should run, or had run in vain, and, through the clamours of the hot zealots for Judaism, his past labours should have been in some measure rendered abortive, or his future usefulness be obstructed.

2. Though he acted with all prudence, he made no sinful compliance with their prejudices, maintaining the purity of the gospel, and firm to his principles, that the Gentiles were in no manner obliged to the observation of the Mosaical law: therefore, though Titus was a Greek, he was not compelled to be circumcised; nor did the apostles insist upon it. And St. Paul took Titus, a Gentile Christian, and minister of the gospel, on purpose that in him he might bear a public testimony against those false brethren, who had craftily insinuated themselves into the church at Antioch; and with prying eyes observed the Apostle's conduct at Jerusalem, whether he would there maintain the liberty of the Christian Gentiles from the Mosaical institutions. For they would have been happy if they could have had such a plea as the circumcision of Titus, to urge the same upon the Gentile converts. But not for an hour would the Apostle and his colleague Barnabas give way to such a dangerous imposition, that the truth and freedom of the gospel might be maintained inviolable, and the Gentiles enjoy that entire liberty from every yoke of bondage which in Christ Jesus was preached unto them. Note; False brethren are our most dangerous foes. Against them we need peculiar watchfulness.

3. Though he conferred with the Apostles of chief eminence, and who were so preferred to him by the Judaizing teachers, whatever had been the case formerly ( ποτε ), and whatever privileges they had enjoyed above him, that affected not the matter at present. God accepteth no man's person: however great the names of Peter, James, and John were, they added nothing to him, nor contributed the least to his improvement in knowledge; so thoroughly had he been taught of God the mysteries of gospel truth.

4. The issue of the conference was, the perfect satisfaction expressed by the Apostles at Jerusalem in what they heard; it appearing most undeniably, that the same Lord, who had wrought by St. Peter's ministry among the Jews, who was more particularly sent to them, had wrought as effectually by St. Paul among the Gentiles; to whom they therefore concluded the apostleship of the Gentiles was committed. Therefore these pillars of the church, James, Cephas, and John, convinced of the grace and apostleship conferred upon him, with cordial affection gave to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, and concurred in their sentiments, that it fully appeared to be the will of God that Paul and his fellow-labourer should go to the Gentiles more immediately, while their own ministry should be more generally confined to the Jews: only they recommended it to them that they should remember the poor saints in Judea, and obtain some relief for them from the Gentile churches,—a service in which St. Paul warmly engaged. So that it was evident, from the result of this conversation, that there was a perfect harmony in doctrine between St. Paul and the apostles at Jerusalem, and that they fully recognized his divine authority and mission.

2nd, Nothing could serve more effectually to establish the character of the great Apostle of the Gentiles than the occurrence recorded Galatians 2:11. &c. wherein, so far from being St. Peter's inferior, as the Judaizing teachers suggested, he appears his faithful and zealous reprover.

1. Peter's fault was, that, at his coming to Antioch, he freely communed with the Gentile Christians, and ate and drank with them, though they were uncircumcised; but, on the arrival of some Jewish brethren sent from James, he temporized, and, for fear of offending the prejudiced Judaizers, to the great discouragement of the Gentile brethren, he suspended his former familiar intercourse with them; and, influenced by him, the Jewish Christians at Antioch dissembled likewise, and withdrew from free converse, as before, with their Gentile brethren; and, overcome by such bad examples, even Barnabas himself was carried away with their dissimulation, and, contrary to all his former conduct and teaching, joined in this separation; for which St. Peter was most justly to be blamed.

2. The rebuke which St. Paul gave him was such as his dissimulation deserved. And as the offence given was public, publicly and to his face he with noble fidelity withstood him; and, seeing him deviate so much in the present instance from the path of truth, and the liberty of the gospel, he addressed himself to Peter, and said unto him, before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, satisfied that the ceremonial law is no longer binding, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews, and, by the example which thou hast lately shewn, wouldst enslave their consciences to the Mosaical institutions, as if necessary to their acceptance with God? What a glaring contradiction appears between such a conduct and your late avowed principles and practice!

3. He suggests the strongest arguments for the unreasonableness of such a conduct, since all distinction of Jew and Gentile now had ceased. We who are Jews by nature, God's chosen people, and trained up in the law; and not sinners of the Gentiles, who, in general, are looked upon by the Jews as persons abandoned and reprobate; knowing that a man is not, cannot be, justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ for pardon and acceptance with God, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ,—through faith in that great atonement which he accomplished for us, and not by the works of the law: and if this was the case with us, must not the Gentiles have recourse to the same free grace? for by the works of the law, moral or ceremonial, shall no flesh be justified, none being able to produce an immaculate obedience, adequate to its demands. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin; who, notwithstanding all that he has done for us, and in us, would, in such a case, leave us under the condemning guilt and prevailing power of sin? God forbid; with abhorrence is the thought to be rejected. Yet would this be the consequence of seeking to the law for acceptance with God; for if I should build again the things which I destroyed, and, after preaching the grace of the gospel, have recourse to the law for justification before God, I make myself a transgressor, contradict my own doctrine, and acknowledge myself still under guilt and condemnation, which my faith in Christ has not removed. So inconsistent was this behaviour, therefore, in St. Peter and his associates.

4. Though some might object to the doctrine of free justification, without the deeds of the law, the Apostle declares his own and every Christian believer's judgment and practice. For I through the law am dead to the law, renouncing all my expectations from it, that I might live unto God, abiding in a constant state of favour with him, through the Redeemer's infinite merit, and quickened by his grace to newness of life. I am crucified with Christ; the law has no more demands upon me, and worldly interests no power over me: nevertheless I live in a state of reconciliation with God, bringing forth the fruits of righteousness; yet not I, by any inherent power or principle naturally in myself, but Christ liveth in me; I receive from him, as my Head of vital influence, his quickening Spirit: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live not after the flesh, but by the faith of the Son of God, placing my whole dependance upon him, and drawing continual supplies of grace and strength out of his fulness, who loved me, and gave himself for me, to make a complete atonement, and to bring in an everlasting righteousness, for me and all who faithfully and perseveringly embrace his great salvation. I do not frustrate the grace of God, and slight, as of no value, the transcendant favour of God's dear Son, and the righteousness unto life which is in him, as they do who go to the works of the law for acceptance with God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain; for in that case righteousness and salvation might have been obtained without him. Note; (1.) We must renounce all hope of being justified by the law, before we can fly to Jesus, and live unto God. (2.) By faith alone is the life of our souls maintained, while, from the fulness of our Redeemer, we derive the constant supplies of grace and strength. (3.) All who, either in whole or part, place their dependence on their own doings and duties for acceptance with God, make Christ to have died in vain.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Galatians 2:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/galatians-2.html. 1801-1803.

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