The apostle still refers to his own personal history, as affording the most decisive evidence that he himself did not in any wise look to the law for righteousness.
"Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain." (Gal. 2:1, 2.)
In the brief and rapid notice of Paul's history after his conversion, in the Acts of the Apostles, Titus is not mentioned as being in company with the apostle, although Barnabas is named (Acts 9:26-28) as the one who introduced him to the other apostles, and "declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way." The apostle "went up by revelation." God's time had now come for him to go up there. Had he gone up at the instant of his conversion, it might have been argued that he went there to receive authority from them which were "apostles before him." God has not only His ways with His servants, but "our times are in His hands." That which may be right and fitting at one time would be unseasonable at another. Paul went up to Jerusalem with confidence, because he went up under direct Divine guidance; and he went as an equal to them which were apostles before him, not to receive any thing from them, save their hearty fellowship, which he prized; but to communicate to them that gospel which he had received "by revelation," and which he preached among the Gentiles, lest there should be even the semblance that there were two gospels, and so his labour would be in vain. When God teaches, and by His teaching leads a sinner to Jesus, He wants no confirmation from others. "He that believeth on Jesus sets to his seal that God is true." Taught by the Holy Ghost Himself, that he is ruined, lost, and undone, and that his only refuge is in Jesus, he has the witness in himself. He finds the suitability of Christ's work to his actual condition as a sinner, and wants no confirmation from others.
"But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." (Gal. 2:3-5.)
Titus did not accompany the apostle by chance to Jerusalem; but under the ordering of God. He was led there to furnish a convincing proof, that nothing must be added to faith in Christ Jesus in order to salvation. The apostle resisted the circumcision of Titus, and yet he allowed the circumcision of Timothy. (Acts 16:1-3.) The cases of these two individuals are apparently similar, yet the apostle's conduct in relation to them is very different. In this difference of action is involved a principle, the violation of which has been the fruitful source of division in the Church of God, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing;" it is a matter indifferent in itself; but the moment an attempt is made to impose it, peremptory resistance must be made, lest the liberty of the gospel be infringed, or conscience towards God be wounded. In the present case it was "false brethren," not unbelieving Jews, who sought to impose circumcision, and thus to Judaize the gospel. How successful the efforts of false brethren have been in this direction since the eagle eye of the apostle to discern the real principle at work, and the direct authority of God to crush the attempt has been removed, the present state of Christendom plainly declares. Even in this very land, it is the violation of this principle, two hundred years ago, which has rent the Church into various denominations. Paul resisted the false brethren, because "the truth of the gospel" was imperilled. Had he yielded, the way would have been opened for one condition upon another, till often the poor believer would come to regard the gospel of liberty as if it were a heavy yoke. For the sake of avoiding needless offence to the Jews, Paul circumcised Timothy but to preserve the liberty of the gospel, he sternly resisted the efforts of "false brethren" to have Titus circumcised. "There were," as Peter says, "false prophets among the people," there shall be false teachers among you and it is "false teachers" who have corrupted the gospel, and "false brethren" brought into bondage by them, which have produced that which passes under the name of Christianity, and which effectually obscures the gospel of the grace of God. If any attempt to impose upon us a matter of indifference as necessary to salvation, or, as a term of communion, it must be resisted, in order that the authority of man may not supersede the authority of Christ but gracious yielding, even in matters of our own liberty, is a part of that liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. (1 Cor. 8:13.)
There were false brethren in the apostle's days. What must it be now? Then it was the exception to find among the guests a man without a wedding garment on. The tares and the wheat have grown on together, and they are so alike, that only one eye can accurately discern the difference. The world has become a great tare-field; false brethren predominate, persons not true to the Lord Jesus, though bearing His name. In the days of the apostle, such false brethren allowed that Jesus was the Messiah, but acknowledged Him in a carnal way and sanctioned their Judaism by His name. And now they have their temples, priest, sacrifices, and offerings, all which have the tendency to undermine the truth of the gospel, and to take believers off from the security they have in Christ Jesus, against which the powers of hell cannot prevail. This blessed doctrine is unpalatable, because, if salvation be certain, it must be independent of man, and wholly of God. Assurance is the property of the believer in the Lord Jesus it is God's certainty, not ours.
"But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: but contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (for he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do." (Gal. 2:6-10.)
"God accepteth no man's person:" a hard saying. Who can hear it? Peter had to learn it by a distinct revelation from heaven (see Acts 10); Paul, by kicking against the pricks till subdued by the grace of God. And we have to learn the same lesson under God's hand. It is neither personal qualification, nor the things we do, nor official character, which God regards; but that which His own grace makes any to be in Christ, and the gift He of His sovereign will confers on any. "A man can receive [take unto himself] nothing, except it be given him from heaven." Nothing could be added to this. Paul had received a commission directly from heaven, and however it might be the joy of Peter, James, and John to acknowledge the grace and the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ to this elect vessel of mercy, they dared not attempt to add any thing unto it, or to come in between the Master and His servant. Let a man have all the credentials which human authority can confer, if he has not received grace and ability from God to preach His gospel, he is not to be accredited as a minister of Christ. He cannot preach that which he does not know himself. "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:18.) Those who were apostles before Paul readily and gladly recognized, that the same God who so effectually wrought in the ministry of Peter unto the Jews, now wrought as effectually in the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles; and those who were esteemed pillars cheerfully gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas; thus testifying that, though in different lines, they were serving one common master — fellow-builders in God's building — fellow-labourers in God's husbandry. Nothing was more dear to him, who had learnt at his conversion that Christ and His Church were one, than to bring about a practical exhibition of this oneness in the happy fellowship of believers among the Jews and among the Gentiles; and for this the apostle of the Gentiles himself thought it not beneath his office to be the bearer, in conjunction with others, of a certain contribution made among the richer Gentile believers for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation." (Gal. 2:11-13.)
The truth of the gospel was not only imperilled by "false brethren," who would fain undermine its liberty, but likewise by the conduct of that apostle, to whom it had been distinctly revealed, that he was not to consider a Jew more clean than a Gentile. When God is the cleanser, and the blood of Jesus the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, all therein washed are equally clean before God. Peter's walk, in the instance here mentioned, was not upright according to the truth of the gospel. Paul withstood him to the face, because in this respect he was blameworthy. Regard for persons, and for his traditionary religion, furnished the occasion for Peter's characteristic weakness to show itself. He had, in freely associating with the Gentile believers, shown how entirely he recognized that God was no respecter of persons, and what God had cleansed he dared not call unclean. But when some brethren came from Jerusalem, with their thoughts full of Jewish privileges, Peter must either, for the sake of their company, turn his back on the Gentiles, or be content to bear their sneers by continuing to associate with the Gentiles. It needed twenty-five years for Abraham to get at the bottom of the unbelief lurking in his heart (Gen. 20); and it needed also much discipline to teach Peter where his danger lay. And so of us all. "The fear of man bringeth a snare;" and those who in one company have faithfully confessed Christ, have in another, through fear of man, denied Him. That great truth, "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon," is strikingly illustrated in our day, by the moral impossibility of fellowship between the truth of the gospel and traditionary religion. How many, too, as Barnabas, honest believers in heart in the truth of the gospel, are yet, because they seek honour of men, afraid to avow it. Grace is indeed a mighty leveller; it assumes that there is no difference, because all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; neither is there any difference, as to standing before God, between those who, through His grace, are justified freely through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. How many who shrink from hypocrisy, by pretending to be what they are not, still fall into it in another way, by not avowing what the grace of God has made them to be according to the truth of the gospel. Such was the dissembling of Barnabas, "a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost." And let none of us, after reading such instances, think ourselves proof against failure; but rather take to ourselves the word, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
"But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor" (Gal. 2:14-18.)
It may appear to us very strange, that the act of taking a meal with certain persons should invalidate the truth of the gospel. But the most important principles often hinge on an act very insignificant in itself. And it was so here. Had the blood of Jesus cleansed the Gentile believers with a cleansing which all the Jewish rites might shadow forth, but could not effect? Had God put upon them a righteousness, to the dignity of which legal righteousness could not pretend? Then to refuse intercourse with these Gentiles on the ground of ceremonial uncleanness, in order to please the Jews, was verily to, undermine the truth of the gospel. But the apostle adduces what both Peter and himself had been by God's grace compelled to do, to show the wrongness of Peter's then course. "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles." This again is a hard saying. No one is a Christian by nature. He may be born of Christian parents, brought up under Christian discipline, and adhere to Christian ordinances; but unless he be born of God, all such external privileges avail him nought. Here is the real point: how few ask themselves — Am I in Christ? Now the Jew had natural hereditary privileges. He was born a Jew, and the Jews were "children of the kingdom," "children of the prophets," "children of the covenant;" but they were cast out. "A Jew by nature" had, therefore, a certain privileged standing above a Gentile by nature. The Gentile was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel; his only title, "sinner of the Gentiles." How hard it is to take our place as those who can prefer no claim on God, and can adoringly rejoice that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But the argument of the apostle is very cogent. "We, the children of the kingdom and of the prophets, have been forced to cast ourselves on Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; because by the works of law shall no flesh be justified." No flesh; it is a very comprehensive term, and may be taken either morally, intellectually, or religiously. The case in point is the religious Jew, under God's own law, forced to seek deliverance from under it by faith in Christ. Peter himself takes precisely the same line of argument in the memorable council (Acts 15) as Paul does here. "But we (i.e. Jews by nature) believe, that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they" (sinners of the Gentiles). At Antioch Peter was acting as though Gentiles were to be saved by Judaising. At Jerusalem, his testimony is, that Jew and Gentile stand on one common level. Both Peter and Paul must be condemned as transgressors, if, after preaching faith in Christ, because the law could not justify, they built it up again in order to justification. They must have been wrong at the outset in preaching Christ at all, if the law could justify. If Christ had not done all that was needful to put away sin, and bring in everlasting righteousness, so that the believer can stand in holy confidence in God's presence, what has He done at all? Dare we make the law supplementary to Christ, and thus take from the glory of Christ being the only salvation of God? The language of the apostle is very strong; but so also is the legal tendency of all our hearts. We shudder at the thought of making Christ the minister of sin; yet what are we doing, if we build again the very thing from which we fled, viz, the law, in order to be saved or helped by it? We are, by our own act in so doing, constituted transgressors; for we ought never to have left it at all. Grace and law, as the ground of our salvation, cannot stand together; the resting on the one must be the giving up of the other.
"For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." (Gal. 2:19-21.)
The apostle in this passage, as he does also in the seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans, turns from 'we' to 'I.' This change is not without its significance. The greatest proficient under the law was taught by the strong hand of God Himself, that all the law could do for him was to kill him. In that singular and strange passage in the life of the apostle, when "he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink;" convinced of the glory of Jesus, yet not having received forgiveness of sin in His name, it may be, his whole previous life passed before him. And what was the law in which he boasted, and the righteousness which he vainly thought he had thereby, now that he knew the law in its spirituality — now that "the commandment came" to his conscience in its true light? It was "ministration of death." The very law to which he looked for life, struck him dead as to all expectations from it and unless that law was removed out of the way, he could not live unto God. All his past life he had lived unto himself. And such is the spirit of legalism, if in conscience we get under law, we live to ourselves, and not unto God. In the true doctrine of the Cross, we learn the double lesson, that all are "become dead to the law by the body of Christ;" and "that we are delivered from the law, being dead to that wherein we are held." The law kept men away from God, instead of bringing them near to God. And what are the questions of the day, about altars and priests, but a return to the law, and an attempt to keep sinners from drawing near to God, upon the assumption, that some have a standing of nearness to God which others have not. All believers are brought equally near to God by the blood of Christ. In this respect, there is no difference between Paul and the most ignorant of his disciples.
But such questions are only satisfactorily settled by the true doctrine of the Cross of Christ. The more we enter into that doctrine, the more trivial and childish do such questions appear. The apostle Paul adduces his own experimental acquaintance with the doctrine of the Cross, as the most complete answer to the legalist: "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live." The doctrine, which the apostle Paul teaches so lucidly in the sixth chapter of the Romans, he here shows to be the life of his own soul. He regards himself to have judicially died, when Christ was crucified. That act was perfect and complete; so that he could say, "I am crucified with Christ;" just as he taught in the epistle to the Romans: "Our old man is crucified with Him." The doctrine of the apostle Peter is essentially the same: "Forasmuch as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God." The great point is, to fully recognize the judicial act of God in the death of Christ. Faith recognizes that which God has wrought; and the sinner, looking unto Jesus on the Cross as his surety, sees death, as the wages of sin, inflicted by the hand of God on his Divine Surety; so that death in its penal character is to him abolished. Yea, he can regard himself as having already passed through it, saying with the apostle, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live." Is then Saul the Pharisee alive from the dead? Not so. "Our old man is crucified with Him." Saul the Pharisee, with all his religious accomplishments, as well as with all his sins, has come to his end in the Cross of Christ, and a new man is risen up in his stead. "Not I, but Christ liveth in me." "Not I." How deeply had Paul learned to set self aside, because he realized that God had set it aside in the Cross. But "whatever God doeth, He doeth for ever; nothing can be added to it, nothing taken from it." "His work is perfect." This is our rest. God has done it. But for ourselves while down here, it must be a continuous effort to set self aside; and this is our trial. To know Christ's finished work for us is one thing, and when that is well realized, it follows almost as a necessary consequence, that we must take up the Cross and deny self. "Not I, but Christ liveth in me." Paul had made a blessed exchange — self for Christ. Christ was his substitute on the Cross; and now he says, "Christ liveth in me." It is, therefore, a life which is death-proof — a life communicated from the risen Jesus, which death cannot touch. As this life has its source from above, so also its tendencies are to things in heaven. It is a new life, in the strictest sense of the word; not the old improved. Its struggles here are against the old life, in whatever form it may appear. It is spiritual life, in opposition to natural life. Hence the apostle adds, "The life which I now live in the flesh." It is lived in the flesh now, in a poor, groaning, earthy tabernacle; but it will not always be so lived. It will be lived in heaven, in a spiritual and glorified body, perfectly suited to it. Whilst in the flesh, this life has every thing to contradict it; but when in its own native home, it will indeed spring up, without hindrance, as a well of water, unto everlasting life. Even now, all its own tendencies are upward; it is only nourished by that which comes from heaven. Its meat and drink are heavenly; its worship, its priest, its temple, are in heaven; while the old life is occupied beneath with its worldly sanctuary and successional priesthood. Nothing so much hinders the tendencies of this life as the Jewish ritual, and Christian copies of it. "I live by the faith of the Son of God." "When Christ our life shall be manifested, then shall we be manifested with Him in glory;" but meanwhile, before we see Him as He is, we live by the faith of the Son of God. In His own emphatic words — "We eat Him, and live because of Him." And, as he that eats, eats for the nourishment of himself, and not another; so the believer appropriates Christ to himself. "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." How blessedly does the apostle bring us to this great cardinal point; and if He has loved me, and given Himself for me, it is not assuredly for me to add the law to His perfect work, and thus to dim my perception of His perfect love. What strength is in the expression, "I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by law, then Christ has died in vain." And yet, if we look round and see what the Christian religion actually is, it falls under the heavy censure of frustrating the grace of God, and of making Christ to have died in vain. The thoughts of most Christians dwell only on forgiveness of sins; but, according to the gospel of the grace of God, however in theory we may divide them, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life are so essentially linked together, that he who has one has all. Christ on the Cross has not only made an end of sin, but brought in also everlasting righteousness. The great central point of attraction, set forth by God to a sinner, is Christ crucified. There He meets him at once, to supply all his need — forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life; so that any attempt to add the law to Christ is as dishonouring to the grace of God and the work of Christ, as it is discouraging to the soul under the sense of sin. The gospel is not a system of negation, but of positive blessing. It brings to us every thing in the way of gift, and faith receives the gift which God gives. Every other gift is comprehended in the unspeakable gift of God — His own Son. How many, even real Christians, who would heartily repudiate the thought of any confidence in their own works, do not see their danger of frustrating the grace of God, by hesitating to receive what God is pleased to give.
"Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift."