He then speaks historically of his ministry, and of the question whether man had anything to do with it. His gospel was not according to man, for he had not received it from any man; he had not been taught it. That which he possessed was his by the immediate revelation made to him by Jesus Christ. And when God, who, from his mother's womb, set him apart, and had called him by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in him, the revelation had at once all its own power as such. He did not consult any one. He did not put himself into communication with the other apostles, but at once acted independently of them, as being directly taught of God. It was not till three years after that he went to make acquaintance with Peter, and also saw James. The churches of Judea did not know him by sight; only, they glorified God for the grace he had received. Moreover he was only fifteen days in Jerusalem. He then went into Syria and Cilicia. Fourteen years afterwards he went up to Jerusalem (we have the account in Acts 15) with Barnabas, and took Titus with him. But Titus, Gentile as he was, had not been circumcised; an evident proof of the liberty in which the apostle publicly stood. It was a bold step on his part to take Titus with him, and thus decide the question between himself and the judaising Christians. He went up because of false brethren, who sought to spy out the liberty into which Paul (enjoying it in the Spirit) introduced believers; and he went up by virtue of a revelation.
We may observe here, how the communications of God may be inwardly the guides of our conduct, although we yield to motives presented by others. In Acts 15 we find the outward history; here, that which governed the apostle's heart. God (in order that the thing might be decided at Jerusalem, to shut every mouth and to maintain unity) did not allow the apostle to have the upper hand at Antioch, or to arrange on the spot the walk of the assembly formed in that place. Neither did He allow him to isolate himself in his own convictions, but made him go up to Jerusalem and communicate to the chief apostles that which he taught, so that there should be community of testimony on this important point; and that they also should acknowledge Paul as taught of God independently of them, and at the same time recognise his ministry as sent of God, and that he was acting on the part of God as much as themselves. For, although God would have him communicate to them that which he had taught others, he received nothing from them. The effect of his communication was, that they owned the grace which God had granted him and the ministry he had received for the Gentiles, and they gave to him and to Barnabas the right hands of fellowship.
Had he gone up earlier, whatever his knowledge might have been, the proofs of his special and independent ministry would not have existed. But he had laboured fruitfully for many years without receiving any mission from the other apostles, and they had to recognise his apostleship as the immediate gift of God, as well as the truths which God had imparted to him: the proofs were there; and God had owned this apostleship, as He had given it. The twelve had nothing to do but to acknowledge it, if they acknowledged God as the source of all these excellent gifts. Paul was an apostle from God without their intervention. They could acknowledge his ministry, and in it the God who had give them that which they themselves exercised.
Moreover Paul had always acted independently in the fulfilment of his mission. When Peter came to Antioch, he withstood him to the face, because he was to blamed. He was not, as to Paul, as a superior before whom his subordinates must maintain a respectful silence. Although God had wrought mightily in Peter, yet his companion in apostleship (faithful to Him who had called him) could not allow the gospel to be falsified, which had been committed to his own care by the Lord Himself. Ardent as he was, poor Peter always cared too much about the opinion of others. Now the opinion that prevails in the world is always that which influences the heart of man; and this opinion is always one which gives a certain glory to man after the flesh. Paul, taught from above and full of the power of the Spirit, who, by revealing heavenly glory had made him feel that all which exalted the flesh obscured that glory and falsified the gospel that declared it-Paul, who lived and moved morally in the new creation, of which a glorified Christ is the centre; and as firm as he was ardent, because he realised the things that are not seen; as clear-sighted as firm, because he lived in the realisation of spiritual and heavenly things in Christ-Paul, for whom to win Christ thus glorified was everything, clearly sees the carnal walk of the apostle of the circumcision. He is not deterred by man; he is occupied with Christ who was his all, and with the truth. He does not spare one who overturned this truth, be his position in the assembly what it might.
It was dissimulation in Peter. While alone, where the influence of heavenly truth prevailed, he ate with the Gentiles, surrounding himself with the reputation of walking in the same liberty as others. But when certain persons came from James, from Jerusalem, where he himself habitually lived, the centre where religious flesh and its customs still had (under the patient goodness of God) so much power, he no longer dared to use a liberty which was condemned by those Christians who were still Jewish in their sentiments; he withdrew himself. What a poor thing is man! And we are weak in proportion to our importance before men; when we are nothing, we can do all things, as far as human opinion is concerned. We exercise, at the same time, an unfavourable influence over others in the degree in which they influence us-in which we yield to the influence which the desire of maintaining our reputation among them exercises over our hearts: and all the esteem in which we are held, even justly, becomes a means of evil. [See Footnote #2] Peter, who fears those that came from Jerusalem, draws away all the Jews and even Barnabas with him in his dissimulation.
Paul, energetic and faithful, through grace, alone remains upright: and he rebukes Peter before them all. Why compel Gentiles to live as Jews in order to enjoy full christian communion, when he, being a Jew, had felt himself free to live as the Gentiles? Themselves Jews by nature, and not poor sinners of the Gentiles, they had given up the law as a means of securing the favour of God, and had taken refuge in Christ. But if they sought to rebuild the edifice of legal obligations, in order to acquire righteousness, why had they overturned it? Thus acting, they made themselves transgressors in having overturned it. And more than that; since it was in order to come to Christ-in exchange for the efficacy which they had formerly supposed to exist in the law as a means of justification-that they had ceased to seek righteousness by the law, Christ was a minister of sin. His doctrine had made them transgressors! For in rebuilding the edifice of the law, they made it evident that they ought not to have overthrown it; and it was Christ who made them do so.
What a result from the weakness which, in order to please men, had returned to those things that were gratifying to the flesh! How little did Peter think of this! How little do many Christians suspect it! To rest upon ordinances is to rest upon the flesh; there are none in heaven. When Christ, who is there, is everything, it cannot be done. Christ has indeed established ordinances to distinguish His people from the world, by that which signified, on the one hand, that they were not of it, but dead with Him to it, and, on the other hand, to gather them on the ground of that which alone can unite them all-on the ground of the cross and of accomplished redemption, in the unity of His body. But if, instead of using them with thanksgiving according to His will, we rest upon them, we have forsaken the fulness, the sufficiency, of Christ, to build upon the flesh, which can thus occupy itself with these ordinances, and find in them its fatal sustenance and a veil to hide the perfect Saviour, of whose death, as in connection with this world and with man living in the flesh, these ordinances so plainly speak to us. To rest upon christian ordinances is exactly to deny the precious and solemn truth which they present to us, that there is no longer righteousness after the flesh, since Christ is dead and risen.
This the apostle deeply felt; this he had been called to set before the eyes and consciences of men by the power of the Holy Ghost. How many afflictions, how many conflicts, his task cost him! The flesh of man likes to have some credit; it cannot bear to be treated as vile and incapable of good, to be excluded and condemned to annihilation, not by efforts to annul itself, which would restore it all its importance, but by a work that leaves it in its true nothingness, and that has pronounced the absolute judgment of death upon it, so that, convicted of being nothing but sin, it has only to be silent. If it acts, it is only to do evil. Its place is to be dead, and not better. We have both right and power to hold it as such, because Christ has died, and we live in His risen life. He has Himself become our life. Alive in Him, I treat the flesh as dead; I am not a debtor to it. God has condemned sin in the flesh, in that His Son came in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. It is this great principle of our being dead with Christ which the apostle sets forth at the end of the chapter (only first recognising the force of the law to bring death into the conscience). He had discovered that to be under a law was to find himself condemned to death. He had undergone in spirit the whole force of this principle; his soul had realised death in all its power. He was dead; but, if so, he was dead to the law. The power of a law does not reach beyond life; and, its victim once dead, it has no more power over him. Now Paul had acknowledged this truth; and, attributing to the principle of law its whole force, he confessed himself to be dead by law-dead then to law. But, how? Was it by undergoing the eternal consequences of its violation; for if the law killed, it condemned too? (see 2 Cor. 3). By no means. It is quite another thing here. He did not deny the authority of the law, he acknowledged its force in his soul, but in death, in order that he might live to God.
But where could he find this life, since the law only slew him? This he explains. It was not himself in his own responsibility, exposed as he was to the final consequences of the violation of the law-who could find life in it! Christ had been crucified-He who could suffer the curse of the law of God, and death, and yet live in the mighty and holy life which nothing could take away; which made it impossible for death to hold Him, although in grace He tasted it. But the apostle (whom this same grace had reached) owning it according to the truth as a poor sinner in subjection to death, and blessing the God who granted him the grace of life and of free acceptance in Christ, had been associated with Christ in God's counsels in His death (now realised by faith, and become true practically by Christ, who had died and risen again, being his life). He was crucified with Him, so that the condemnation of it was gone for Paul. It is Christ whom death under the law had reached. The law had reached Saul the sinner, in the Person of Him who had given Himself for him, in fact, and now Saul himself in conscience, and brought death there-but the death of the old man (see Romans 7:9, 10 )-and it had now no more right over [See Footnote #3] Nevertheless he lived: yet not he, but Christ, in that life in which Christ rose from among the dead-Christ lived in him. Thus the dominion of the law over him disappeared (while ascribing to the law all its force), because that dominion was connected with the life in regard to which he reckoned himself to be dead in Christ, who had really undergone death for this purpose. And Paul lived in that mighty and holy life, in the perfection and energy of which Christ was risen from among the dead, after having borne the curse of the law. He lived to God, and held the corrupt life of his flesh as dead. His life drew all its character, all its mode of being, from the source whence it flowed.
But the creature must have an object to live for, and so it was as to Paul's soul, it was by the faith of Jesus Christ. By faith in Jesus Christ Paul lived indeed. The Christ who was the source of his life, who was his life, was its object also. It is this which always characterises the life of Christ in us: He Himself is its object-He alone. The fact, that it is by dying for us in love that He-who was capable of it, the Son of God-has given us thus freed from sin this life as our own, being ever before the mind, in our eyes He is clothed with the love He has thus shewn us. We live by faith of the Son of God, who has loved us, and given Himself for us. And here it is personal life, the individual faith that attaches us to Christ, and makes Him precious to us as the object of the soul's intimate faith. Thus the grace of God is not frustrated: for, if righteousness were established on the principle of law, Christ died in vain, since it would be by keeping the law ourselves that we should, in our own persons, acquire righteousness.
Footnotes for Galatians 2
2: It is practically important to remark that worldliness or any allowance of what is not of God, by a godly man, gives the weight of his godliness to the evil he allows.
3: Christ had also borne his sins; but this is not the subject here spoken of; it is the dominion of the law over him while living on earth.