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§ 91. The Epistles to the Galatians.
Comp. the introduction to my Com. on Gal. (1882).
Galatians and Romans discuss the doctrines of sin and redemption, and the relation of the law and the gospel. They teach salvation by free grace and justification by faith, Christian universalism in opposition to Jewish particularism, evangelical freedom versus legalistic bondage. But Galatians is a rapid sketch and the child of deep emotion, Romans an elaborate treatise and the mature product of calm reflexion. The former Epistle is polemical against foreign intruders and seducers, the latter is irenical and composed in a serene frame of mind. The one rushes along like a mountain torrent and foaming cataract, the other flows like a majestic river through a boundless prairie; and yet it is the same river, like the Nile at the Rapids and below Cairo, or the Rhine in the Grisons and the lowlands of Germany and Holland, or the St. Lawrence at Niagara Falls and below Montreal and Quebec where it majestically branches out into the ocean.
It is a remarkable fact that the two races represented by the readers of these Epistles—the Celtic and the Latin—have far departed from the doctrines taught in them and exchanged the gospel freedom for legal bondage; thus repeating the apostasy of the sanguine, generous, impressible, mercurial, fickle-minded Galatians. The Pauline gospel was for centuries ignored, misunderstood, and (in spite of St. Augustin) cast out at last by Rome, as Christianity itself was cast out by Jerusalem of old. But the overruling wisdom of God made the rule of the papacy a training-school of the Teutonic races of the North and West for freedom; as it had turned the unbelief of the Jews to the conversion of the Gentiles. Those Epistles, more than any book of the New Testament, inspired the Reformation of the Sixteenth century, and are to this day the Gibraltar of evangelical Protestantism. Luther, under a secondary inspiration, reproduced Galatians in his war against the "Babylonian captivity of the church;" the battle for Christian freedom was won once more, and its fruits are enjoyed by nations of which neither Paul nor Luther ever heard.
The Epistle to the Galatians (Gauls, originally from the borders of the Rhine and Moselle, who had migrated to Asia Minor) was written after Paul’s second visit to them, either during his long residence in Ephesus (a.d. 54–57), or shortly afterwards on his second journey to Corinth, possibly from Corinth, certainly before the Epistle to the Romans. It was occasioned by the machinations of the Judaizing teachers who undermined his apostolic authority and misled his converts into an apostasy from the gospel of free grace to a false gospel of legal bondage, requiring circumcision as a condition of justification and full membership of the church. It is an "Apologia pro vita sua," a personal and doctrinal self-vindication. He defends his independent apostleship (Gal.1:1–2:14), and his teaching (2:15–4:31), and closes with exhortations to hold fast to Christian freedom without abusing it, and to show the fruits of faith by holy living (Gal. 5–6).
The Epistle reveals, in clear, strong colors, both the difference and the harmony among the Jewish and Gentile apostles—a difference ignored by the old orthodoxy, which sees only the harmony, and exaggerated by modern scepticism, which sees only the difference. It anticipates, in grand fundamental outlines, a conflict which is renewed from time to time in the history of different churches, and, on the largest scale, in the conflict between Petrine Romanism and Pauline Protestantism. The temporary collision of the two leading apostles in Antioch is typical of the battle of the Reformation.
At the same time Galatians is an Irenicon and sounds the key-note of a final adjustment of all doctrinal and ritualistic controversies. "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love" (5:6). "And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (6:16).
Central Idea: Evangelical freedom.
Key-Words: For freedom Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage (5:1). A man is not justified by works of the law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ (2:16). I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live but Christ liveth in me (2:20). Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (3:13). Ye were called for freedom, only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another (5:13). Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh (5:16).
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