Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (1535)
by Martin Luther
Translated by Theodore Graebner
The preparation of this edition of Luther's Commentary on Galatians was first suggested
to me by Mr. P. J. Zondervan, of the firm of publishers, in March, 1937. The consultation
had the twofold merit of definiteness and brevity. "Luther is still the greatest name
in Protestantism. We want you to help us publish some leading work of Luther's for the
general American market. Will you do it?"
"I will, on one condition."
"And what is that?"
"The condition is that I will be permitted to make Luther talk American,
'streamline' him, so to speak--because you will never get people, whether in or outside
the Lutheran Church, actually to read Luther unless we make him talk as he would talk
today to Americans."
I illustrated the point by reading to Mr. Zondervan a few sentences from an English
translation lately reprinted by an American publisher, of one of Luther's outstanding
The demonstration seemed to prove convincing for it was agreed that one may as well
offer Luther in the original German or Latin as expect the American church-member to read
any translations that would adhere to Luther's German or Latin constructions and employ
the Mid-Victorian type of English characteristic of the translations now on the market.
"And what book would be your choice?"
"There is one book that Luther himself likes better than any other. Let us begin
with that: his Commentary on Galatians. . ."
The undertaking, which seemed so attractive when viewed as a literary task, proved a
most difficult one, and at times became oppressive. The Letter to the Galatians consists
of six short chapters. Luther's commentary fills seven hundred and thirty-three octavo
pages in the Weidman Edition of his works. It was written in Latin. We were resolved not
to present this entire mass of exegesis. It would have run to more than fifteen hundred
pages, ordinary octavo (like this), since it is impossible to use the compressed structure
of sentences which is characteristic of Latin, and particularly of Luther's Latin. The
work had to be condensed. German and English translations are available, but the most
acceptable English version, besides laboring under the handicaps of an archaic style, had
to be condensed into half its volume in order to accomplish the "streamlining"
of the book. Whatever merit the translation now presented to the reader may possess should
be written to the credit of Rev. Gerhardt Mahler of Geneva, N.Y., who came to my
assistance in a very busy season by making a rough draft of the translation and later
preparing a revision of it, which forms the basis of the final draft submitted to the
printer. A word should now be said about the origin of Luther's Commentary on Galatians.
The Reformer had lectured on this Epistle of St. Paul's in 1519 and again in 1523. It
was his favorite among all the Biblical books. In his table talks the saying is recorded:
"The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is
my Katherine." Much later when a friend of his was preparing an edition of all his
Latin works, he remarked to his home circle: "If I had my way about it they would
republish only those of my books which have doctrine. My Galatians, for instance.
"The lectures which are preserved in the works herewith submitted to the American
public were delivered in 1531. They were taken down by George Roerer, who held something
of a deanship at Wittenberg University and who was one of Luther's aids in the translation
of the Bible. Roerer took down Luther's lectures and this manuscript has been preserved to
the present day, in a copy which contains also additions by Veit Dietrich and by Cruciger,
friends of Roerer's, who with him attended Luther's lectures. In other words, these three
men took down the lectures which Luther addressed to his students in the course of
Galatians, and Roerer prepared the manuscript for the printer. A German translation by
Justus Menius appeared in the Wittenberg Edition of Luther's writings, published in 1539.
The importance of this Commentary on Galatians for the history of Protestantism is very
great. It presents like no other of Luther's writings the central thought of Christianity,
the justification of the sinner for the sake of Christ's merits alone. We have permitted
in the final revision of the manuscript many a passage to stand which seemed weak and
ineffectual when compared with the trumpet tones of the Latin original. But the essence of
Luther's lectures is there. May the reader accept with indulgence where in this
translation we have gone too far in modernizing Luther's expression--making him "talk
At the end of his lectures in 1531, Luther uttered a brief prayer and then dictated two
Scriptural texts, which we shall inscribe at the end of these introductory remarks:
"The Lord who has given us power to teach and to hear, let Him also give us the
power to serve and to do."
LUKE 2 - Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will to men.
ISAIAH 40 - The Word of our God shall stand forever.
St. Louis, Missouri
FROM LUTHER'S INTRODUCTION,
In my heart reigns this one article, faith in my dear Lord Christ, the beginning,
middle and end of whatever spiritual and divine thoughts I may have, whether by day or by
VERSE 1. Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus
Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead).
St. Paul wrote this epistle because, after his departure from the Galatian churches,
Jewish-Christian fanatics moved in, who perverted Paul's Gospel of man's free
justification by faith in Christ Jesus.
The world bears the Gospel a grudge because the Gospel condemns the religious wisdom of
the world. Jealous for its own religious views, the world in turn charges the Gospel with
being a subversive and licentious doctrine, offensive to God and man, a doctrine to be
persecuted as the worst plague on earth.
As a result we have this paradoxical situation: The Gospel supplies the world with the
salvation of Jesus Christ, peace of conscience, and every blessing. Just for that the
world abhors the Gospel.
These Jewish-Christian fanatics who pushed themselves into the Galatian churches after
Paul's departure, boasted that they were the descendants of Abraham, true ministers of
Christ, having been trained by the apostles themselves, that they were able to perform
In every way they sought to undermine the authority of St. Paul. They said to the
Galatians: "You have no right to think highly of Paul. He was the last to turn to
Christ. But we have seen Christ. We heard Him preach. Paul came later and is beneath us.
It is possible for us to be in error--we who have received the Holy Ghost? Paul stands
alone. He has not seen Christ, nor has he had much contact with the other apostles.
Indeed, he persecuted the Church of Christ for a long time."
When men claiming such credentials come along, they deceive not only the naive, but
also those who seemingly are well-established in the faith. This same argument is used by
the papacy. "Do you suppose that God for the sake of a few Lutheran heretics would
disown His entire Church? Or do you suppose that God would have left His Church
floundering in error all these centuries?" The Galatians were taken in by such
arguments with the result that Paul's authority and doctrine were drawn in question.
Against these boasting, false apostles, Paul boldly defends his apostolic authority and
ministry. Humble man that he was, he will not now take a back seat. He reminds them of the
time when he opposed Peter to his face and reproved the chief of the apostles.
Paul devotes the first two chapters to a defense of his office and his Gospel,
affirming that he received it, not from men, but from the Lord Jesus Christ by special
revelation, and that if he or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than the one he
had preached, he shall be accursed.
The Certainty of Our Calling
Every minister should make much of his calling and impress upon others the fact that he
has been delegated by God to preach the Gospel. As the ambassador of a government is
honored for his office and not for his private person, so the minister of Christ should
exalt his office in order to gain authority among men. This is not vain glory, but needful
Paul takes pride in his ministry, not to his own praise but to the praise of God.
Writing to the Romans, he declares, "Inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I
magnify mine office," i.e., I want to be received not as Paul of Tarsus, but as Paul
the apostle and ambassador of Jesus Christ, in order that people might be more eager to
hear. Paul exalts his ministry out of the desire to make known the name, the grace, and
the mercy of God.
VERSE 1. Paul, an apostle, (not of men, etc.)
Paul loses no time in defending himself against the charge that he had thrust himself
into the ministry. He says to the Galatians: "My call may seem inferior to you. But
those who have come to you are either called of men or by man. My call is the highest
possible, for it is by Jesus Christ, and God the Father."
When Paul speaks of those called "by men," I take it he means those whom
neither God nor man sent, but who go wherever they like and speak for themselves.
When Paul speaks of those called "by man" I take it he means those who have a
divine call extended to them through other persons. God calls in two ways. Either He calls
ministers through the agency of men, or He calls them directly as He called the prophets
and apostles. Paul declares that the false apostles were called or sent neither by men,
nor by man. The most they could claim is that they were sent by others. "But as for
me I was called neither of men, nor by man, but directly by Jesus Christ. My call is in
every respect like the call of the apostles. In fact I am an apostle."
Elsewhere Paul draws a sharp distinction between an apostleship and lesser functions,
as in I Corinthians 12:28: "And God hath set some in the church; first, apostles;
secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers." He mentions the apostles first because
they were appointed directly by God.
Matthias was called in this manner. The apostles chose two candidates and then cast
lots, praying that God would indicate which one He would have. To be an apostle he had to
have his appointment from God. In the same manner Paul was called as the apostle of the
The call is not to be taken lightly. For a person to possess knowledge is not enough.
He must be sure that he is properly called. Those who operate without a proper call seek
no good purpose. God does not bless their labors. They may be good preachers, but they do
no edify. Many of the fanatics of our day pronounce words of faith, but they bear no good
fruit, because their purpose is to turn men to their perverse opinions. On the other hand,
those who have a divine call must suffer a good deal of opposition in order that they may
become fortified against the running attacks of the devil and the world.
This is our comfort in the ministry, that ours is a divine office to which we have been
divinely called. Reversely, what an awful thing it must be for the conscience if one is
not properly called. It spoils one's best work. When I was a young man I thought Paul was
making too much of his call. I did not understand his purpose. I did not then realize the
importance of the ministry. I knew nothing of the doctrine of faith because we were taught
sophistry instead of certainty, and nobody understood spiritual boasting. We exalt our
calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because
people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful
pride. It is holy pride.
VERSE 1. And God the Father, who raised him from the dead.
Paul is so eager to come to the subject matter of his epistle, the righteousness of
faith in opposition to the righteousness of works, that already in the title he must speak
his mind. He did not think it quite enough to say that he was an apostle "by Jesus
Christ"; he adds, "and God the Father, who raised him from the dead."
The clause seems superfluous on first sight. Yet Paul had a good reason for adding it.
He had to deal with Satan and his agents who endeavored to deprive him of the
righteousness of Christ, who was raised by God the Father from the dead. These perverters
of the righteousness of Christ resist the Father and the Son, and the works of them both.
In this whole epistle Paul treats of the resurrection of Christ. By His resurrection
Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell, and every evil.
And this His victory He donated unto us. These many tyrants and enemies of ours may accuse
and frighten us, but they dare not condemn us, for Christ, whom God the Father has raised
from the dead is our righteousness and our victory.
Do you notice how well suited to his purpose Paul writes? He does not say, "By God
who made heaven and earth, who is Lord of the angels," but Paul has in mind the
righteousness of Christ, and speaks to the point, saying, "I am an apostle, not of
men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the
VERSE 2. And all the brethren which are with me.
This should go far in shutting the mouths of the false apostles. Paul's intention is to
exalt his own ministry while discrediting theirs. He adds for good measure the argument
that he does not stand alone, but that all the brethren with him attest to the fact that
his doctrine is divinely true. "Although the brethren with me are not apostles like
myself, yet they are all of one mind with me, think, write, and teach as I do."
VERSE 2. Unto the churches of Galatia.
Paul had preached the Gospel throughout Galatia, founding many churches which after his
departure were invaded by the false apostles. The Anabaptists in our time imitate the
false apostles. They do not go where the enemies of the Gospel predominate. They go where
the Christians are. Why do they not invade the Catholic provinces and preach their
doctrine to godless princes, bishops, and doctors, as we have done by the help of God?
These soft martyrs take no chances. They go where the Gospel has a hold, so that they may
not endanger their lives. The false apostles would not go to Jerusalem of Caiaphas, or to
the Rome of the Emperor, or to any other place where no man had preached before as Paul
and the other apostles did. But they came to the churches of Galatia, knowing that where
men profess the name of Christ they may feel secure.
It is the lot of God's ministers not only to suffer opposition at the hand of a wicked
world, but also to see the patient indoctrination of many years quickly undone by such
religious fanatics. This hurts more than the persecution of tyrants. We are treated
shabbily on the outside by tyrants, on the inside by those whom we have restored to the
liberty of the Gospel, and also by false brethren. But this is our comfort and our glory,
that being called of God we have the promise of everlasting life. We look for that reward
which "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of
Jerome raises the question why Paul called them churches that were no churches,
inasmuch as the Galatians had forsaken the grace of Christ for the law of Moses. The
proper answer is: Although the Galatians had fallen away from the doctrine of Paul,
baptism, the Gospel, and the name of Christ continued among them. Not all the Galatians
had become perverted. There were some who clung to the right view of the Word and the
Sacraments. These means cannot be contaminated. They remain divine regardless of men's
opinion. Wherever the means of grace are found, there is the Holy Church, even though
Antichrist reigns there. So much for the title of the epistle. Now follows the greeting of
VERSE 3. Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus
The terms of grace and peace are common terms with Paul and are now pretty well
understood. But since we are explaining this epistle, you will not mind if we repeat what
we have so often explained elsewhere. The article of justification must be sounded in our
ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it
perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.
The greeting of the Apostle is refreshing. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the
conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and
forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two
terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins,
peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able
to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives
men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the
more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt.
Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so
easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we
obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God.
The world brands this a pernicious doctrine. The world advances free will, the rational
and natural approach of good works, as the means of obtaining the forgiveness of sin. But
it is impossible to gain peace of conscience by the methods and means of the world.
Experience proves this. Various holy orders have been launched for the purpose of securing
peace of conscience through religious exercises, but they proved failures because such
devices only increase doubt and despair. We find no rest for our weary bones unless we
cling to the word of grace.
The Apostle does not wish the Galatians grace and peace from the emperor, or from
kings, or from governors, but from God the Father. He wishes them heavenly peace, the kind
of which Jesus spoke when He said, "Peace I leave unto you: my peace I give unto
you." Worldly peace provides quiet enjoyment of life and possessions. But in
affliction, particularly in the hour of death, the grace and peace of the world will not
deliver us. However, the grace and peace of God will. They make a person strong and
courageous to bear and to overcome all difficulties, even death itself, because we have
the victory of Christ's death and the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins.
Men Should Not Speculate About the Nature of God
The Apostle adds to the salutation the words, "and from our Lord Jesus
Christ." Was it not enough to say, "from God the Father"?
It is a principle of the Bible that we are not to inquire curiously into the nature of
God. "There shall no man see me, and live," Exodus 33:20. All who trust in their
own merits to save them disregard this principle and lose sight of the Mediator, Jesus
True Christian theology does not inquire into the nature of God, but into God's purpose
and will in Christ, whom God incorporated in our flesh to live and to die for our sins.
There is nothing more dangerous than to speculate about the incomprehensible power,
wisdom, and majesty of God when the conscience is in turmoil over sin. To do so is to lose
God altogether because God becomes intolerable when we seek to measure and to comprehend
His infinite majesty.
We are to seek God as Paul tells us in I Corinthians 1:23, 24: "We preach Christ
crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them
which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of
God." Begin with Christ. He came down to earth, lived among men, suffered, was
crucified, and then He died, standing clearly before us, so that our hearts and eyes may
fasten upon Him. Thus we shall be kept from climbing into heaven in a curious and futile
search after the nature of God.
If you ask how God may be found, who justifies sinners, know that there is no other God
besides this man Christ Jesus. Embrace Him, and forget about the nature of God. But these
fanatics who exclude our Mediator in their dealings with God, do not believe me. Did not
Christ Himself say: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto
the Father, but by me"? Without Christ there is no access to the Father, but futile
rambling; no truth, but hypocrisy; no life, but eternal death.
When you argue about the nature of God apart from the question of justification, you
may be as profound as you like. But when you deal with conscience and with righteousness
over against the law, sin, death, and the devil, you must close your mind to all inquiries
into the nature of God, and concentrate upon Jesus Christ, who says, "Come unto me,
all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Doing this, you
will recognize the power, and majesty condescending to your condition according to Paul's
statement to the Colossians, "In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and
knowledge," and, "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
Paul in wishing grace and peace not alone from God the Father, but also from Jesus Christ,
wants to warn us against the curious incursions into the nature of God. We are to hear
Christ, who has been appointed by the Father as our divine Teacher.
Christ is God by Nature
At the same time, Paul confirms our creed, "that Christ is very God." We need
such frequent confirmation of our faith, for Satan will not fail to attack it. He hates
our faith. He knows that it is the victory which overcometh him and the world. That Christ
is very God is apparent in that Paul ascribes to Him divine powers equally with the
Father, as for instance, the power to dispense grace and peace. This Jesus could not do
unless He were God.
To bestow peace and grace lies in the province of God, who alone can create these
blessings. The angels cannot. The apostles could only distribute these blessings by the
preaching of the Gospel. In attributing to Christ the divine power of creating and giving
grace, peace, everlasting life, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins, the conclusion is
inevitable that Christ is truly God. Similarly, St. John concludes from the works
attributed to the Father and the Son that they are divinely One. Hence, the gifts which we
receive from the Father and from the Son are one and the same. Otherwise Paul should have
written: "Grace from God the Father, and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ." In
combining them he ascribes them equally to the Father and the Son. I stress this on
account of the many errors emanating from the sects.
The Arians were sharp fellows. Admitting that Christ had two natures, and that He is
called "very God of very God," they were yet able to deny His divinity. The
Arians took Christ for a noble and perfect creature, superior even to the angels, because
by Him God created heaven and earth. Mohammed also speaks highly of Christ. But all their
praise is mere palaver to deceive men. Paul's language is different. To paraphrase him:
"You are established in this belief that Christ is very God because He gives grace
and peace, gifts which only God can create and bestow."
VERSE 4. Who gave himself for our sins.
Paul sticks to his theme. He never loses sight of the purpose of his epistle. He does
not say, "Who received our works," but "who gave." Gave what? Not
gold, or silver, or paschal lambs, or an angel, but Himself. What for? Not for a crown, or
a kingdom, or our goodness, but for our sins. These words are like so many thunderclaps of
protest from heaven against every kind and type of self-merit. Underscore these words, for
they are full of comfort for sore consciences.
How may we obtain remission of our sins? Paul answers: "The man who is named Jesus
Christ and the Son of God gave himself for our sins." The heavy artillery of these
words explodes papacy, works, merits, superstitions. For if our sins could be removed by
our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ
was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own
This sentence also defines our sins as great, so great, in fact, that the whole world
could not make amends for a single sin. The greatness of the ransom, Christ, the Son of
God, indicates this. The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words "who
gave himself for our sins." So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could
atone for sin. When we reflect that the one little word "sin" embraces the whole
kingdom of Satan, and that it includes everything that is horrible, we have reason to
tremble. But we are careless. We make light of sin. We think that by some little work or
merit we can dismiss sin.
This passage, then, bears out the fact that all men are sold under sin. Sin is an
exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of
Jesus Christ alone.
All this is of wonderful comfort to a conscience troubled by the enormity of sin. Sin
cannot harm those who believe in Christ, because He has overcome sin by His death. Armed
with this conviction, we are enlightened and may pass judgment upon the papists, monks,
nuns, priests, Mohammedans, Anabaptists, and all who trust in their own merits, as wicked
and destructive sects that rob God and Christ of the honor that belongs to them alone.
Note especially the pronoun "our" and its significance. You will readily
grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of
such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your
sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun "our," and we
refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.
This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a
small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God
with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given
for our sins.
This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves
better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard
their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good
action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of
eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge
a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican's prayer,
"God be merciful to me a sinner." But the real significance and comfort of the
words "for our sins" is lost upon them.
The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul "who gave himself for our
sins" as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant
trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair.
Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but
for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded,
but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.
Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last
hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence:
"Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had
no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy.
The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the
first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude
towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second
table, dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another's possessions,
etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed,
nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all
the commandments of God.
"Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification
rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into
death for my sins." To believe this is to have eternal life.
Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages
of Holy Scripture. If he says, "Thou shalt be damned," you tell him: "No,
for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable
sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God's fatherly
goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that
whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a
sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure." With such heavenly cunning we
are to meet the devil's craft and put from us the memory of sin.
St. Paul also presents a true picture of Christ as the virgin-born Son of God,
delivered into death for our sins. To entertain a true conception of Christ is important,
for the devil describes Christ as an exacting and cruel judge who condemns and punishes
men. Tell him that his definition of Christ is wrong, that Christ has given Himself for
our sins, that by His sacrifice He has taken away the sins of the whole world.
Make ample use of this pronoun "our." Be assured that Christ has canceled the
sins, not of certain persons only, but your sins. Do not permit yourself to be robbed of
this lovely conception of Christ. Christ is no Moses, no law-giver, no tyrant, but the
Mediator for sins, the Giver of grace and life.
We know this. Yet in the actual conflict with the devil, when he scares us with the
Law, when he frightens us with the very person of the Mediator, when he misquotes the
words of Christ, and distorts for us our Savior, we so easily lose sight of our sweet
For this reason I am so anxious for you to gain a true picture of Christ out of the
words of Paul "who gave himself for our sins." Obviously, Christ is no judge to
condemn us, for He gave Himself for our sins. He does not trample the fallen but raises
them. He comforts the broken-hearted. Otherwise Paul should lie when he writes "who
gave himself for our sins."
I do not bother my head with speculations about the nature of God. I simply attach
myself to the human Christ, and I find joy and peace, and the wisdom of God in Him. These
are not new truths. I am repeating what the apostles and all teachers of God have taught
long ago. Would to God we could impregnate our hearts with these truths.
VERSE 4. That he might deliver us from this present evil world.
Paul calls this present world evil because everything in it is subject to the malice of
the devil, who reigns over the whole world as his domain and fills the air with ignorance,
contempt, hatred, and disobedience of God. In this devils's kingdom we live.
As long as a person is in the world he cannot by his own efforts rid himself of sin,
because the world is bent upon evil. The people of the world are the slaves of the devil.
If we are not in the Kingdom of Christ, it is certain we belong to the kingdom of Satan
and we are pressed into his service with every talent we possess.
Take the talents of wisdom and integrity. Without Christ, wisdom is double foolishness
and integrity double sin, because they not only fail to perceive the wisdom and
righteousness of Christ, but hinder and blaspheme the salvation of Christ. Paul justly
calls it the evil or wicked world, for when the world is at its best the world is at its
worst. The grossest vices are small faults in comparison with the wisdom and righteousness
of the world. These prevent men from accepting the Gospel of the righteousness of Christ.
The white devil of spiritual sin is far more dangerous than the black devil of carnal sin
because the wiser, the better men are without Christ, the more they are likely to ignore
and oppose the Gospel.
With the words, "that he might deliver us," Paul argues that we stand in need
of Christ. No other being can possibly deliver us from this present evil world. Do not let
the fact disturb you that a great many people enjoy excellent reputations without Christ.
Remember what Paul says, that the world with all its wisdom, might, and righteousness is
the devil's own. God alone is able to deliver us from the world.
Let us praise and thank God for His mercy in delivering us from the captivity of Satan,
when we were unable to do so by our own strength. Let us confess with Paul that all our
work-righteousness is loss and dung. Let us condemn as filthy rags all talk about free
will, all religious orders, masses, ceremonies, vows, fastings, and the like.
In branding the world the devil's kingdom of iniquity, ignorance, error, sin, death,
and everlasting despair, Paul at the same time declares the Kingdom of Christ to be a
kingdom of equity, light, grace, remission of sin, peace, saving health, and everlasting
life into which we are translated by our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever.
In this passage Paul contends against the false apostles for the article of
Justification. Christ, says Paul, has delivered us from this wicked kingdom of the devil
and the world according to the good will, the pleasure and commandment of the Father.
Hence we are not delivered by our own will, or shrewdness, or wisdom, but by the mercy and
love of God, as it is written, I John 4:10, "Herein is love, not that we loved God,
but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
Another reason why Paul, like John, emphasizes the Father's will is Christ's habit of
directing attention to the Father. For Christ came into the world to reconcile God with us
and to draw us to the Father.
Not by curious inquiries into the nature of God shall we know God and His purpose for
our salvation, but by taking hold of Christ, who according to the will of the Father has
given Himself into death for our sins. When we understand this to be the will of the
Father in Christ, then shall we know God to be merciful, and not angry. We shall realize
that He loved us wretched sinners so much indeed that He gave us His only-begotten Son
into death for us.
The pronoun "our" refers to both God and Father. He is our God and our
Father. Christ's Father and our Father are one and the same. Hence Christ said to Mary
Magdalene: "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your
Father; and to my God, and your God." God is our Father and our God, but only in
VERSE 5. To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Hebrew writing is interspersed with expressions of praise and gratitude. This
peculiarity can be traced in the apostolic writings, particularly in those of Paul. The
name of the Lord is to be mentioned with great reverence and thanksgiving.
VERSE 6. I marvel.
How patiently Paul deals with his seduced Galatians! He does not pounce on them but,
like a father, he fairly excuses their error. With motherly affection he talks to them yet
he does it in a way that at the same time he also reproves them. On the other hand, he is
highly indignant at the seducers whom he blames for the apostasy of the Galatians. His
anger bursts forth in elemental fury at the beginning of his epistle. "If any
may," he cries, "preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received,
let him be accursed." Later on, in the fifth chapter, he threatens the false apostles
with damnation. "He that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he
be." He pronounces a curse upon them. "I would they were even cut off which
He might have addressed the Galatians after this fashion: "I am ashamed of you.
Your ingratitude grieves me. I am angry with you." But his purpose was to call them
back to the Gospel. With this purpose in his mind he speaks very gently to them. He could
not have chosen a milder expression than this, "I marvel." It indicates his
sorrow and his displeasure.
Paul minds the rule which he himself lays down in a later chapter where he says:
"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an
one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
Toward those who have been misled we are to show ourselves parentally affectionate, so
that they may perceive that we seek not their destruction but their salvation. Over
against the devil and his missionaries, the authors of false doctrines and sects, we ought
to be like the Apostle, impatient, and rigorously condemnatory, as parents are with the
dog that bites their little one, but the weeping child itself they soothe.
The right spirit in Paul supplies him with an extraordinary facility in handling the
afflicted consciences of the fallen. The Pope and his bishops, inspired by the desire to
lord it over men's souls, crack out thunders and curses upon miserable consciences. They
have no care for the saving of men's souls. They are interested only in maintaining their
VERSE 6. That ye are so soon.
Paul deplores the fact that it is difficult for the mind to retain a sound and
steadfast faith. A man labors for a decade before he succeeds in training his little
church into orderly religion, and then some ignorant and vicious poltroon comes along to
overthrow in a minute the patient labor of years. By the grace of God we have effected
here in Wittenberg the form of a Christian church. The Word of God is taught as it should
be, the Sacraments are administered, and everything is prosperous. This happy condition,
secured by many years of arduous labors, some lunatic might spoil in a moment. This
happened in the churches of Galatia which Paul had brought into life in spiritual travail.
Soon after his departure, however, these Galatian churches were thrown into confusion by
the false apostles.
The church is a tender plant. It must be watched. People hear a couple of sermons, scan
a few pages of Holy Writ, and think they know it all. They are bold because they have
never gone through any trials of faith. Void of the Holy Spirit, they teach what they
please as long as it sounds good to the common people who are ever ready to join something
We have to watch out for the devil lest he sow tares among the wheat while we sleep. No
sooner had Paul turned his back on the churches of Galatia, than the false apostles went
to work. Therefore, let us watch over ourselves and over the whole church.
VERSE 6. I marvel that ye are so soon removed.
Again the Apostle puts in a gentle word. He does not berate the Galatians, "I
marvel that ye are so unsteady, unfaithful." He says, "I marvel that ye are so
soon removed." He does not address them as evildoers. He speaks to them as people who
have suffered great loss. He condemns those who removed them rather than the Galatians. At
the same time he gently reproves them for rather themselves to be removed. The criticism
is implied that they should have been permitting a little more settled in their beliefs.
If they had taken better hold of the Word they could not have been removed so easily.
Jerome thinks that Paul is playing upon the name Galatians, deriving it from the Hebrew
word Galath, which means fallen or carried away, as though Paul wanted to say, "You
are true Galatians, i.e., fallen away in name and in fact." Some believe that the
Germans are descended from the Galatians. There may be something to that. For the Germans
are not unlike the Galatians in their lack of constancy. At first we Germans are very
enthusiastic, but presently our emotions cool and we become slack. When the light of the
Gospel first came to us many were zealous, heard sermons greedily, and held the ministry
of God's Word in high esteem. But now that religion has been reformed, many who formerly
were such earnest disciples have discarded the Word of God, have become sow-bellies like
the foolish and inconsistent Galatians.
VERSE 6. From him that called you into the grace of Christ.
The reading is a little doubtful. The sentence may be construed to read: "From
that Christ that called you into grace"; or it may be construed to read: "From
God that called you into the grace of Christ." I prefer the former for it seems to me
that Paul's purpose is to impress upon us the benefits of Christ. This reading also
preserves the implied criticism that the Galatians withdrew themselves from that Christ
who had called them not unto the law, but unto grace. With Paul we decry the blindness and
perverseness of men in that they will not receive the message of grace and salvation, or
having received it they quickly let go of it, in spite of the fact that the Gospel bestows
all good things spiritual: forgiveness of sins, true righteousness, peace of conscience,
everlasting life; and all good things temporal: good judgment, good government and peace.
Why does the world abhor the glad tidings of the Gospel and the blessings that go with
it? Because the world is the devil's. Under his direction the world persecutes the Gospel
and would if it could nail again Christ, the Son of God, to the Cross although He gave
Himself into death for the sins of the world. The world dwells in darkness. The world is
Paul accentuates the point that the Galatians had been called by Christ unto grace.
"I taught you the doctrine of grace and of liberty from the Law, from sin and wrath,
that you should be free in Christ, and not slaves to the hard laws of Moses. Will you
allow yourselves to be carried away so easily from the living fountain of grace and
VERSE 6. Unto another gospel.
Note the resourcefulness of the devil. Heretics do not advertise their errors.
Murderers, adulterers, thieves disguise themselves. So the devil masquerades all his
devices and activities. He puts on white to make himself look like an angel of light. He
is astoundingly clever to sell his patent poison for the Gospel of Christ. Knowing Satan's
guile, Paul sardonically calls the doctrine of the false apostles "another
gospel," as if he would say, "You Galatians have now another gospel, while my
Gospel is no longer esteemed by you."
We infer from this that the false apostles had depreciated the Gospel of Paul among the
Galatians on the plea that it was incomplete. Their objection to Paul's Gospel is
identical to that recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts to the effect that
it was not enough for the Galatians to believe in Christ, or to be baptized, but that it
was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses, for
"except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." As
though Christ were a workman who had begun a building and left it for Moses to finish.
Today the Anabaptists and others, finding it difficult to condemn us, accuse us
Lutherans of timidity in professing the whole truth. They grant that we have laid the
foundation in Christ, but claim that we have failed to go through with the building. In
this way these perverse fanatics parade their cursed doctrine as the Word of God, and,
flying the flag of God's name, they deceive many. The devil knows better than to appear
ugly and black. He prefers to carry on his nefarious activities in the name of God. Hence
the German proverb: "All mischief begins in the name of God."
When the devil sees that he cannot hurt the cause of the Gospel by destructive methods,
he does it under the guise of correcting and advancing the cause of the Gospel. He would
like best of all to persecute us with fire and sword, but this method has availed him
little because through the blood of martyrs the church has been watered. Unable to prevail
by force, he engages wicked and ungodly teachers who at first make common cause with us,
then claim that they are particularly called to teach the hidden mysteries of the
Scriptures to superimpose upon the first principles of Christian doctrine that we teach.
This sort of thing brings the Gospel into trouble. May we all cling to the Word of Christ
against the wiles of the devil, "for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but
against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world,
against spiritual wickedness in high places."
VERSE 7. Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you.
Here again the apostle excuses the Galatians, while he blames the false apostles for
disturbing their consciences and for stealing them out of his hand. How angry he gets at
these deceivers! He calls them troublemakers, seducers of poor consciences.
This passage adduces further evidence that the false apostles defamed Paul as an
imperfect apostle and a weak and erroneous preacher. They condemn Paul, Paul condemns
them. Such warfare of condemnation is always going on in the church. The papists and the
fanatics hate us, condemn our doctrine, and want to kill us. We in turn hate and condemn
their cursed doctrine. In the meanwhile the people are uncertain whom to follow and which
way to turn, for it is not given to everybody to judge these matters. But the truth will
win out. So much is certain, we persecute no man, neither does our doctrine trouble men.
On the contrary, we have the testimony of many good men who thank God on their knees for
the consolation that our doctrine has brought them. Like Paul, we are not to blame that
the churches have trouble. The fault lies with the Anabaptists and other fanatics.
Every teacher of work-righteousness is a trouble-maker. Has it never occurred to you
that the pope, cardinals, bishops, monks, and that the whole synagogue of Satan are
trouble-makers? The truth is, they are worse than false apostles. The files apostles
taught that in addition to faith in Christ the works of the Law of God were necessary unto
salvation. But the papists omit faith altogether and teach self-devised traditions and
works that are not commanded of God, indeed are contrary to the Word of God, and for these
traditions they demand preferred attention and obedience.
Paul calls the false apostles troublers of the church because they taught circumcision
and the keeping of the Law as needful unto salvation. They insisted that the Law must be
observed in every detail. They were supporters in this contention by the Jews, with the
result that those who were not firmly established in faith were easily persuaded that Paul
was not a sincere teacher of God because he ignored the Law. The Jews were offended at the
idea that the Law of God should be entirely ignored by Paul and that the Gentiles, former
idol-worshippers, should gratuitously attain to the station of God's people without
circumcision, without the penitentiary performance of the law, by grace alone through
faith in Christ Jesus.
These criticisms were amplified by the false apostles. They accused Paul of designs to
abolish the law of God and the Jewish dispensation, contrary to the law of God, contrary
to their Jewish heritage, contrary to apostolic example, contrary to Paul's own example.
They demanded that Paul be shunned as a blasphemer and a rebel, while they were to be
heard as true teachers of the Gospel and authentic disciples of the apostles. Thus Paul
stood defamed among the Galatians. He was forced to attack the false apostles. He did so
VERSE 7. And would pervert the gospel of Christ.
To paraphrase this sentence: "These false apostles do not merely trouble you, they
abolish Christ's Gospel. They act as if they were the only true Gospel-preachers. For all
that they muddle Law and Gospel. As a result they pervert the Gospel. Either Christ must
live and the Law perish, or the Law remains and Christ must perish; Christ and the Law
cannot dwell side by side in the conscience. It is either grace or law. To muddle the two
is to eliminate the Gospel of Christ entirely."
It seems a small matter to mingle the Law and Gospel, faith and works, but it creates
more mischief than man's brain can conceive. To mix Law and Gospel not only clouds the
knowledge of grace, it cuts out Christ altogether.
The words of Paul, "and would pervert the gospel of Christ," also indicate
how arrogant these false apostles were. They were shameless boasters. Paul simply had to
exalt his own ministry and Gospel.
VERSE 8. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you
than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Paul's zeal for the Gospel becomes so fervent that it almost leads him to curse angels.
"I would rather that I, my brethren, yes, the angels of heaven be anathematized than
that my gospel be overthrown."
The Greek word _anathema_, Hebrew _herem_, means to accurse, execrate, to damn. Paul
first (hypothetically) curses himself. Knowing persons first find fault with themselves in
order that they may all the more earnestly reprove others.
Paul maintains that there is no other gospel besides the one he had preached to the
Galatians. He preached, not a gospel of his own invention, but the very same Gospel God
had long ago prescribed in the Sacred Scriptures. No wonder Paul pronounces curses upon
himself and upon others, upon the angels of heaven, if anyone should dare to preach any
other gospel than Christ's own.
VERSE 9. As we said before, so say I now again. If any man preach any other gospel
unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Paul repeats the curse, directing it now upon other persons. Before, he cursed himself,
his brethren, and an angel from heaven. "Now," he says, "if there are any
others who preach a gospel different from that you have received from us, let them also be
accursed." Paul herewith curses and excommunicates all false teachers including his
opponents. He is so worked up that he dares to curse all who pervert his Gospel. Would to
God that this terrible pronouncement of the Apostle might strike fear into the hearts of
all who pervert the Gospel of Paul.
The Galatians might say: "Paul, we do not pervert the Gospel you have brought unto
us. We did not quite understand it. That is all. Now these teachers who came after you
have explained everything so beautifully." This explanation the Apostle refuses to
accept. They must add nothing; they must correct nothing. "What you received from me
is the genuine Gospel of God. Let it stand. If any man brings any other gospel than the
one I brought you, or promises to deliver better things than you have received from me,
let him be accursed."
In spite of this emphatic denunciation so many accept the pope as the supreme judge of
the Scriptures. "The Church," they say, "chose only four gospels. The
Church might have chosen more. Ergo the Church is above the Gospel." With equal force
one might argue: "I approve the Scriptures. Ergo I am above the Scriptures. John the
Baptist confessed Christ. Hence he is above Christ." Paul subordinates himself, all
preachers, all the angels of heaven, everybody to the Sacred Scriptures. We are not the
masters, judges, or arbiters, but witnesses, disciples, and confessors of the Scriptures,
whether we be pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, or an angel from heaven.
VERSE 10. For do I now persuade men, or God?
With the same vehemence Paul continues: "You Galatians ought to be able to tell
from my preaching and from the many afflictions which I have endured, whether I serve men
or God. Everybody can see that my preaching has stirred up persecution against me
everywhere, and has earned for me the cruel hatred of my own people, in fact the hatred of
all men. This should convince you that by my preaching I do not seek the favor and praise
of men, but the glory of God."
No man can say that we are seeking the favor and praise of men with our doctrine. We
teach that all men are naturally depraved. We condemn man's free will, his strength,
wisdom, and righteousness. We say that we obtain grace by the free mercy of God alone for
Christ's sake. This is no preaching to please men. This sort of preaching procures for us
the hatred and disfavor of the world, persecutions, excommunications, murders, and curses.
"Can't you see that I seek no man's favor by my doctrine?" asks Paul.
"If I were anxious for the favor of men I would flatter them. But what do I do? I
condemn their works. I teach things only that I have been commanded to teach from above.
For that I bring down upon my head the wrath of Jews and Gentiles. My doctrine must be
right. It must be divine. Any other doctrine cannot be better than mine. Any other
doctrine must be false and wicked."
With Paul we boldly pronounce a curse upon every doctrine that does not agree with
ours. We do not preach for the praise of men, or the favor of princes. We preach for the
favor of God alone whose grace and mercy we proclaim. Whosoever teaches a gospel contrary
to ours, or different from ours, let us be bold to say that he is sent of the devil.
VERSE 10. Or do I seek to please men?
"Do I serve men or God?" Paul keeps an eye on the false apostles, those
flatterers of men. They taught circumcision to avoid the hatred and persecution of men.
To this day you will find many who seek to please men in order that they may live in
peace and security. They teach whatever is agreeable to men, no matter whether it is
contrary to God's Word or their own conscience. But we who endeavor to please God and not
men, stir up hell itself. We must suffer reproach, slanders, death.
For those who go about to please men we have a word from Christ recorded in the fifth
chapter of St. John: "How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and
seek not the honor that cometh from God alone?"
VERSE 10. For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
Observe the consummate cleverness with which the false apostles went about to bring
Paul into disrepute. They combed Paul's writings for contradictions (our opponents do the
same) to accuse him of teaching contradictory things. They found that Paul had circumcised
Timothy according to the Law, that Paul had purified himself with four other men in the
Temple at Jerusalem, that Paul had shaven his head at Cenchrea. The false apostles slyly
suggested that Paul had been constrained by the other apostles to observe these ceremonial
laws. We know that Paul observed these _decora_ out of charitable regard for the weak
brethren. He did not want to offend them. But the false apostles turned Paul's charitable
regard to his disadvantage. If Paul had preached the Law and circumcision, if he had
commended the strength and free will of man, he would not have been so obnoxious to the
Jews. On the contrary they would have praised his every action.
VERSES 11, 12. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was
preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught
it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This passage constitutes Paul's chief defense against the accusations of his opponents.
He maintains under oath that he received his Gospel not from men, but by the revelation of
In declaring that his Gospel is not after man, Paul does not merely wish to state that
his Gospel is not mundane. The false apostles made the same claim for their gospel. Paul
means to say that he learned his Gospel not in the usual and accepted manner through the
agency of men by hearing, reading, or writing. He received the Gospel by special
revelation directly from Jesus Christ.
Paul received his Gospel on the way to Damascus when Christ appeared to him. St. Luke
furnishes an account of the incident in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts.
"Arise," said Christ to Paul, "and go into the city, and it shall be told
thee what thou must do." Christ did not send Paul into the city to learn the Gospel
from Ananias. Ananias was only to baptize Paul, to lay his hands on Paul, to commit the
ministry of the Word unto Paul, and to recommend him to the Church. Ananias recognized his
limited assignment when he said to Paul: "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that
appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy
sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." Paul did not receive instruction from
Ananias. Paul had already been called, enlightened, and taught by Christ in the road. His
contact with Ananias was merely a testimonal to the fact that Paul had been called by
Christ to preach the Gospel.
Paul was forced to speak of his conversion to combat the slanderous contention of the
false apostles to the effect that this apostleship was inferior to that of the other
If it were not for the example of the Galatian churches I would never have thought it
possible that anybody who had received the Word of God with such eagerness as they had,
could so quickly let go of it. Good Lord, what terrible mischief one single false
statement can create.
The article of justification is fragile. Not in itself, of course, but in us. I know
how quickly a person can forfeit the joy of the Gospel. I know in what slippery places
even those stand who seem to have a good footing in the matters of faith. In the midst of
the conflict when we should be consoling ourselves with the Gospel, the Law rears up and
begins to rage all over our conscience. I say the Gospel is frail because we are frail.
What makes matters worse is that one-half of ourselves, our own reason, stands against
us. The flesh resists the spirit, or as Paul puts it, "The flesh lusteth against the
Spirit." Therefore we teach that to know Christ and to believe in Him is no
achievement of man, but the gift of God. God alone can create and preserve faith in us.
God creates faith in us through the Word. He increases, strengthens and confirms faith in
us through His word. Hence the best service that anybody can render God is diligently to
hear and read God's Word. On the other hand, nothing is more perilous than to be weary of
the Word of God. Thinking he knows enough, a person begins little by little to despise the
Word until he has lost Christ and the Gospel altogether.
Let every believer carefully learn the Gospel. Let him continue in humble prayer. We
are molested not by puny foes, but by mighty ones, foes who never grow tired of warring
against us. These, our enemies, are many: Our own flesh, the world, the Law, sin, death,
the wrath and judgment of God, and the devil himself.
The arguments which the false apostles advanced impress people to this day. "Who
are you to dissent from the fathers and the entire Church, and to bring a contradictory
doctrine? Are you wiser than so many holy men, wiser than the whole Church?" When
Satan, abetted by our own reason, advances these arguments against us, we lose heart,
unless we keep on saying to ourselves: "I don't care if Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine,
Peter, Paul, John, or an angel from heaven, teaches so and so. I know that I teach the
truth of God in Christ Jesus."
When I first took over the defense of the Gospel, I remembered what Doctor Staupitz
said to me. "I like it well," he said, "that the doctrine which you
proclaim gives glory to God alone and none to man. For never can too much glory, goodness,
and mercy be ascribed unto God." These words of the worthy Doctor comforted and
confirmed me. The Gospel is true because it deprives men of all glory, wisdom, and
righteousness and turns over all honor to the Creator alone. It is safer to attribute too
much glory unto God than unto man.
You may argue that the Church and the fathers are holy. Yet the Church is compelled to
pray: "Forgive us our trespasses," I am not to be believed, nor is the Church to
be believed, or the fathers, or the apostles, or an angel from heaven, if they teach
anything contrary to the Word of God. Let the Word of God abide forever.
Peter erred in life and in doctrine. Paul might have dismissed Peter's error as a
matter of no consequence. But Paul saw that Peter's error would lead to the damage of the
whole Church unless it were corrected. Therefore he withstood Peter to his face. The
Church, Peter, the apostles, angels from heaven, are not to be heard unless they teach the
genuine Word of God.
This argument is not always to our advantage. People ask: "Whom then shall we
believe?" Our opponents maintain that they teach the pure Word of God. We do not
believe them. They in turn hate and persecute us for vile heretics. What can we do about
it? With Paul we glory in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What do we gain? We are told that
our glorying is idle vanity and unadulterated blasphemy. The moment we abase ourselves and
give in to the rage of our opponents, Papists and Anabaptists grow arrogant. The
Anabaptists hatch out some new monstrosity. The Papists revive their old abominations.
What to do? Let everybody become sure of his calling and doctrine, that he may boldly say
with Paul: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you
than ye have received, let him be accursed."
VERSES 13, 14. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in
the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation.
This passage does not contain doctrine. Paul adduces his own case for an example.
"I have," he says, "at one time defended the traditions of the Pharisees
more fiercely than any of your false apostles. Now, if the righteousness of the Law had
been worth anything I would never have forsaken it. So carefully did I live up to the Law
that I excelled many of my companions. So zealous was I in defense of the Law that I
wasted the church of God."
VERSE 14. Being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
Speaking now of the Mosaic Law, Paul declares that he was wrapped up in it. To the
Philippians he wrote: "As touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting
the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." He means to
say, "I can compare myself with the best and holiest of all those who are of the
circumcision. Let them show me if they can, a more earnest defender of the Mosaic Law than
I was at one time. This fact, O Galatians, should have put you on your guard against these
deceivers who make so much of the Law. If anybody ever had reason to glory in the
righteousness of the Law, it was I." I too may say that before I was enlightened by
the Gospel, I was as zealous for the papistical laws and traditions of the fathers as ever
a man was. I tried hard to live up to every law as best I could. I punished myself with
fasting, watching, praying, and other exercises more than all those who today hate and
persecute me. I was so much in earnest that I imposed upon my body more than it could
stand. I honored the pope as a matter of conscience. Whatever I did, I did with a single
heart to the glory of God. But our opponents, well-fed idlers that they are, will not
believe what I and many others have endured.
VERSES 15, 16, 17.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his
grace. To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I
conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were
apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
Here Paul relates that immediately upon being called by God to preach the Gospel to the
Gentiles, he went into Arabia without consulting a single person. "When it had
pleased God," he writes, "I did not deserve it. I had been an enemy of Christ. I
had blasphemed His Gospel. I had shed innocent blood. In the midst of my frenzy I was
called. Why? On account of my outrageous cruelty? Indeed not. My gracious God who shows
mercy unto whom He will, pardoned all mine iniquities. He bestowed His grace upon me, and
called me for an apostle."
We also have come to the knowledge of the truth by the same kindness of God. I
crucified Christ daily in my cloistered life, and blasphemed God by my wrong faith.
Outwardly I kept myself chaste, poor, and obedient. I was much given to fasting, watching,
praying, saying of masses, and the like. Yet under the cloak of my outward respectability
I continually mistrusted, doubted, feared, hated, and blasphemed God. My righteousness was
a filthy puddle. Satan loves such saints. They are his darlings, for they quickly destroy
their body and soul by depriving them of the blessings of God's generous gifts.
I tell you I stood in awe of the pope's authority. To dissent from him I considered a
crime worthy of eternal death. I thought of John Huss as a cursed heretic. I counted it a
sin even to think of him. I would gladly have furnished the wood to burn him. I would have
felt I had done God a real service.
In comparison with these sanctimonious hypocrites of the papacy, publicans and harlots
are not bad. They at least feel remorse. They at least do not try to justify their wicked
deeds. But these pretended saints, so far from acknowledging their errors, justify them
and regard them as acceptable sacrifices unto God.
VERSE 15. When it pleased God.
"By the favor of God I, a wicked and cursed wretch, a blasphemer, persecutor, and
rebel, was spared. Not content to spare me, God granted unto me the knowledge of His
salvation, His Spirit, His Son, the office of an apostle, everlasting life." Paul
God not only pardoned our iniquities, but in addition overwhelmed us with blessings and
spiritual gifts. Many, however, are ungrateful. Worse, by opening again a window to the
devil many begin to loathe God's Word, and end by perverting the Gospel.
VERSE 15. Who separated me from my mother's womb.
This is a Hebrew expression, meaning to sanctify, ordain, prepare. Paul is saying,
"When I was not yet born God ordained me to be an apostle, and in due time confirmed
my apostleship before the world. Every gift, be it small or great, spiritual or temporal,
and every good thing I should ever do, God has ordained while I was yet in my mother's
womb where I could neither think nor perform any good thing. After I was born God
supported me. Heaping mercy upon mercy, He freely forgave my sins, replenishing me with
His grace to enable me to learn what great things are ours in Christ. To crown it all, He
called me to preach the Gospel to others."
VERSE 15. And called me by his grace.
"Did God call me on account of my holy life? Or on account of my pharisaical
religion? Or on account of my prayers, fastings, and works? Never. Well, then, it is
certain God did not call me on account of my blasphemies, persecutions, oppressions. What
prompted Him to call me? His grace alone."
VERSE 16. To reveal his Son to me.
We now hear what kind of doctrine was committed to Paul: The doctrine of the Gospel,
the doctrine of the revelation of the Son of God. This doctrine differs greatly from the
Law. The Law terrorizes the conscience. The Law reveals the wrath and judgment of God. The
Gospel does not threaten. The Gospel announces that Christ is come to forgive the sins of
the world. The Gospel conveys to us the inestimable treasures of God.
VERSE 16. That I might preach him among the heathen.
"It pleased God," says the Apostle, "to reveal himself in me. Why? For a
twofold purpose. That I personally should believe in the Son of God, and that I should
reveal Him to the Gentiles."
Paul doe not mention the Jews, for the simple reason that he was the called and
acknowledged apostle of the Gentiles, although he preached Christ also to the Jews.
We can hear the Apostle saying to himself: "I will not burden the Gentiles with
the Law, because I am their apostle and not their lawgiver. Not once did you Galatians
hear me speak of the righteousness of the Law or of works. My job was to bring you the
Gospel. Therefore you ought to listen to no teachers of the Law, but the Gospel: not
Moses, but the Son of God; not the righteousness of works, but the righteousness of faith
must be proclaimed to the Gentiles. That is the right kind of preaching for
VERSE 16. Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.
Once Paul had received the Gospel from Christ, he conferred with nobody in Damascus. He
asked no man to teach him. He did not go up to Jerusalem to sit at the feet of Peter and
the other apostles. At once he preached Jesus Christ in Damascus.
VERSE 17. Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but
I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
"I went to Arabia before I saw any of the apostles. I took it upon myself to
preach the Gospel to the Gentiles without delay, because Christ had called me for that
purpose." This statement refutes the assertion of the false apostles that Paul had
been a pupil of the apostles, from which the false apostles inferred that Paul had been
instructed in the obedience of the Law, that therefore the Gentiles also ought to keep the
Law and submit to circumcision.
VERSES 18, 19. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see
Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James
the Lord's brother.
Paul minutely recounts his personal history to stop the cavil of the false apostles.
Paul does not deny that he had been with some of the apostles. He went to Jerusalem
uninvited, not to be instructed, but to visit with Peter. Luke reports the occasion in the
ninth chapter of the Book of Acts. Barnabas introduced Paul to the apostles and related to
them how Paul had met the Lord Jesus on the way to Damascus, also how Paul had preached
boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. Paul says that he saw Peter and James, but he
denies that he learned anything from them.
Why does Paul harp on this seemingly unimportant fact? To convince the churches of
Galatia that his Gospel was the true Word of Christ which he learned from Christ Himself
and from no man. Paul was forced to affirm and re-affirm this fact. His usefulness to all
the churches that had used him as their pastor and teacher was at stake.
VERSE 20. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.
Was it necessary for Paul to go under oath? Yes. Paul is reporting personal history.
How else would the churches believe him? The false apostles might say, "Who knows
whether Paul is telling the truth?" Paul, the elect vessel of God, was held in so
little esteem by his own Galatians to whom he had preached Christ that it was necessary
for him to swear an oath that he spoke the truth. If this happened to Paul, what business
have we to complain when people doubt our words, or hold us in little regard, we who
cannot begin to compare ourselves with the Apostle?
VERSE 21. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
Syria and Cilicia are adjacent countries. Paul traces his movements carefully in order
to convince the Galatians that he had never been the disciple of any apostle.
VERSES 22, 23, 24. And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea
which were in Christ: But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past
now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me.
In Syria and Cilicia Paul won the indorsement of all the churches of Judea, by his
preaching. All the churches everywhere, even those of Judea, could testify that he had
preached the same faith everywhere. "And," Paul adds, "these churches
glorified God in me, not because I taught that circumcision and the law of Moses should be
observed, but because I urged upon all faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
VERSE 1. Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem.
Paul taught justification by faith in Christ Jesus, without the deeds of the Law. He
reported this to the disciples at Antioch. Among the disciples were some that had been
brought up in the ancient customs of the Jews. These rose against Paul in quick
indignation, accusing him of propagating a gospel of lawlessness.
Great dissension followed. Paul and Barnabas stood up for the truth. They testified:
"Wherever we preached to the Gentiles, the Holy Ghost came upon those who received
the Word. This happened everywhere. We preached not circumcision, we did not require
observance of the Law. We preached faith in Jesus Christ. At our preaching of faith, God
gave to the hearers the Holy Ghost." From this fact Paul and Barnabas inferred that
the Holy Ghost approved the faith of the Gentiles without the Law and circumcision. If the
faith of the Gentiles had not pleased the Holy Ghost, He would not have manifested His
presence in the uncircumcised hearers of the Word.
Unconvinced, the Jews fiercely opposed Paul, asserting that the Law ought to be kept
and that the Gentiles ought to be circumcised, or else they could not be saved.
When we consider the obstinacy with which Romanists cling to their traditions, we can
very well understand the zealous devotion of the Jews for the Law. After all, they had
received the Law from God. We can understand how impossible it was for recent converts
from Judaism suddenly to break with the Law. For that matter, God did bear with them, as
He bore with the infirmity of Israel when the people halted between two religions. Was not
God patient with us also while we were blindfolded by the papacy? God is longsuffering and
full of mercy. But we dare not abuse the patience of the Lord. We dare no longer continue
in error now that the truth has been revealed in the Gospel. The opponents of Paul had his
own example to prefer against him. Paul had circumcised Timothy. Paul defended his action
on the ground that he had circumcised Timothy, not from compulsion, but from Christian
love, lest the weak in faith should be offended. His opponents would not accept Paul's
When Paul saw that the quarrel was getting out of hand he obeyed the direction of God
and left for Jerusalem, there to confer with the other apostles. He did this not for his
own sake, but for the sake of the people.
VERSE 1. With Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.
Paul chose two witnesses, Barnabas and Titus. Barnabas had been Paul's preaching
companion to the Gentiles. Barnabas was an eye-witness of the fact that the Holy Ghost had
come upon the Gentiles in response to the simple preaching of faith in Jesus Christ.
Barnabas stuck to Paul on this point, that it was necessary for the Gentiles to be
bothered with the Law as long as they believed in Christ.
Titus was superintendent of the churches in Crete, having been placed in charge of the
churches by Paul. Titus was a former Gentile.
VERSE 2. And I went up by revelation.
If God had not ordered Paul to Jerusalem, Paul would never have gone there.
VERSE 2. And communicated unto them that gospel.
After an absence of fourteen years, respectively eighteen years, Paul returned to
Jerusalem to confer with the other apostles.
VERSE 2. Which I preach among the Gentiles.
Among the Jews Paul allowed Law and circumcision to stand for the time being. So did
all the apostles. Nevertheless Paul held fast to the liberty of the Gospel. On one
occasion he said to the Jews: "Through this man (Christ) is preached unto you
forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which
ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:39.) Always remembering the
weak, Paul did not insist that they break at once with the Law.
Paul admits that he conferred with the apostles concerning his Gospel. But he denies
that the conference benefited or taught him anything. The fact is he resisted those who
wanted to force the practice of the Law upon the Gentiles. They did not overcome him, he
overcame them. "Your false apostles lie, when they say that I circumcised Timothy,
shaved my head in Cenchrea, and went up to Jerusalem, at the request of the apostles. I
went to Jerusalem at the request of God. What is more, I won the indorsement of the
apostles. My opponents lost out."
The matter upon which the apostles deliberated in conference was this: Is the
observance of the Law requisite unto justification? Paul answered: "I have preached
faith in Christ to the Gentiles, and not the Law. If the Jews want to keep the Law and be
circumcised, very well, as long as they do so from a right motive."
VERSE 2. But privately to them which were of reputation.
This is to say, "I conferred not only with the brethren, but with the leaders
VERSE 2. Lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
Not that Paul himself ever thought he had run in vain. However, many did think that
Paul had preached the Gospel in vain, because he kept the Gentiles free from the yoke of
the Law. The opinion that obedience to the Law was mandatory unto salvation was gaining
ground. Paul meant to remedy this evil. By this conference he hoped to establish the
identity of his Gospel with that of the other apostles, to stop the talk of his opponents
that he had been running around in vain.
VERSE 3. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be
The word "compelled" acquaints us with the outcome of the conference. It was
resolved that the Gentiles should not be compelled to be circumcised.
Paul did not condemn circumcision in itself. Neither by word nor deed did he ever
inveigh against circumcision. But he did protest against circumcision being made a
condition for salvation. He cited the case of the Fathers. "The fathers were not
justified by circumcision. It was to them a sign and seal of righteousness. They looked
upon circumcision as a confession of their faith."
The believing Jews, however, could not get it through their heads that circumcision was
not necessary for salvation. They were encouraged in their wrong attitude by the false
apostles. The result was that the people were up in arms against Paul and his doctrine.
Paul did not condemn circumcision as if it were a sin to receive it. But he insisted,
and the conference upheld him, that circumcision had no bearing upon salvation and was
therefore not to be forced upon the Gentiles. The conference agreed that the Jews should
be permitted to keep their ancient customs for the time being, so long as they did not
regard those customs as conveying God's justification of the sinner.
The false apostles were dissatisfied with the verdict of the conference. They did not
want to rest circumcision and the practice of the Law in Christian liberty. They insisted
that circumcision was obligatory unto salvation.
As the opponents of Paul, so our own adversaries [Luther's, the enemies of the
Reformation] contend that the traditions of the Fathers dare not be neglected without loss
of salvation. Our opponents will not agree with us on anything. They defend their
blasphemies. They go as far to enforce them with the sword.
Paul's victory was complete. Titus, who was with Paul, was not compelled to be
circumcised, although he stood in the midst of the apostles when this question of
circumcision was debated. This was a blow to the false apostles. With the living fact that
Titus was not compelled to be circumcised Paul was able to squelch his adversaries.
VERSES 4,5. 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.
Paul here explains his motive for going up to Jerusalem. He did not go to Jerusalem to
be instructed or confirmed in his Gospel by the other apostles. He went to Jerusalem in
order to preserve the true Gospel for the Galatian churches and for all the churches of
When Paul speaks of the truth of the Gospel he implies by contrast a false gospel. The
false apostles also had a gospel, but it was an untrue gospel. "In holding out
against them," says Paul, "I conserved the truth of the pure Gospel."
Now the true Gospel has it that we are justified by faith alone, without the deeds of
the Law. The false gospel has it that we are justified by faith, but not without the deeds
of the Law. The false apostles preached a conditional gospel.
So do the papists. They admit that faith is the foundation of salvation. But they add
the conditional clause that faith can save only when it is furnished with good works. This
is wrong. The true Gospel declares that good works are the embellishment of faith, but
that faith itself is the gift and work of God in our hearts. Faith is able to justify,
because it apprehends Christ, the Redeemer.
Human reason can think only in terms of the Law. It mumbles: "This I have done,
this I have not done." But faith looks to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, given into
death for the sins of the whole world. To turn one's eyes away from Jesus means to turn
them to the Law.
True faith lays hold of Christ and leans on Him alone. Our opponents cannot understand
this. In their blindness they cast away the precious pearl, Christ, and hang onto their
stubborn works. They have no idea what faith is. How can they teach faith to others?
Not satisfied with teaching an untrue gospel, the false apostles tried to entangle
Paul. "They went about," says Paul, "to spy out our liberty which we have
in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage."
When Paul saw through their scheme, he attacked the false apostles. He says, "We
did not let go of the liberty which we have in Christ Jesus. We routed them by the
judgment of the apostles, and we would not give in to them, no, not an inch."
We too were willing to make all kinds of concessions to the papists. Yes, we are
willing to offer them more than we should. But we will not give up the liberty of
conscience which we have in Christ Jesus. We refuse to have our conscience bound by any
work or law, so that by doing this or that we should be righteous, or leaving this or that
undone we should be damned.
Since our opponents will not let it stand that only faith in Christ justifies, we will
not yield to them. On the question of justification we must remain adamant, or else we
shall lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death. It involves the
death of the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world. If we surrender faith in
Christ, as the only thing that can justify us, the death and resurrection of Jesus are
without meaning; that Christ is the Savior of the world would be a myth. God would be a
liar, because He would not have fulfilled His promises. Our stubbornness is right, because
we want to preserve the liberty which we have in Christ. Only by preserving our liberty
shall we be able to retain the truth of the Gospel inviolate.
Some will object that the Law is divine and holy. Let it be divine and holy. The Law
has no right to tell me that I must be justified by it. The Law has the right to tell me
that I should love God and my neighbor, that I should live in chastity, temperance,
patience, etc. The Law has no right to tell me how I may be delivered from sin, death, and
hell. It is the Gospel's business to tell me that. I must listen to the Gospel. It tells
me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.
To conclude, Paul refused to circumcise Titus for the reason that the false apostles
wanted to compel him to circumcise Titus. Paul refused to accede to their demands. If they
had asked it on the plea of brotherly love, Paul would not have denied them. But because
they demanded it on the ground that it was necessary for salvation, Paul defied them, and
prevailed. Titus was not circumcised.
VERSE 6. But of those who seemed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it maketh no
matter to me.
This is a good point in Paul's refutation. Paul disparages the authority and dignity of
the true apostles. He says of them, "Which seemed to be somewhat." The authority
of the apostles was indeed great in all the churches. Paul did not want to detract from
their authority, but he had to speak disparagingly of their authority in order to conserve
the truth of the Gospel, and the liberty of conscience.
The false apostles used this argument against Paul: "The apostles lived with
Christ for three years. They heard His sermons. They witnessed His miracles. They
themselves preached and performed miracles while Christ was on earth. Paul never saw Jesus
in the flesh. Now, whom ought you to believe: Paul, who stands alone, a mere disciple of
the apostles, one of the last and least; or will you believe those grand apostles who were
sent and confirmed by Christ Himself long before Paul?"
What could Paul say to that? He answered: "What they say has no bearing on the
argument. If the apostles were angels from heaven, that would not impress me. We are not
now discussing the excellency of the apostles. We are talking about the Word of God now,
and the truth of the Gospel. That Gospel is more excellent than all apostles.
VERSE 6. God accepteth no man's person.
Paul is quoting Moses: "Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor
the person of the mighty." (Lev. 19:15) This quotation from Moses ought to shut the
mouths of the false apostles. "Don't you know that God is no respecter of
persons?" cries Paul. The dignity or authority of men means nothing to God. The fact
is that God often rejects just such who stand in the odor of sanctity and in the aura of
importance. In doing so God seems unjust and harsh. But men need deterring examples. For
it is a vice with us to esteem personality more highly than the Word of God. God wants us
to exalt His Word and not men.
There must be people in high office, of course. But we are not to deify them. The
governor, the mayor, the preacher, the teacher, the scholar, father, mother, are persons
whom we are to love and revere, but not to the extent that we forget God. Least we attach
too much importance to the person, God leaves with important persons offenses and sins,
sometimes astounding shortcomings, to show us that there is a lot of difference between
any person and God. David was a good king. But when the people began to think too well of
him, down he fell into horrible sins, adultery and murder. Peter, excellent apostle that
he was, denied Christ. Such examples of which the Scriptures are full, ought to warn us
not to repose our trust in men. In the papacy appearance counts for everything. Indeed,
the whole papacy amounts to nothing more than a mere kowtowing of persons and outward
mummery. But God alone is to be feared and honored.
I would honor the Pope, I would love his person, if he would leave my conscience alone,
and not compel me to sin against God. But the Pope wants to be adored himself, and that
cannot be done without offending God. Since we must choose between one or the other, let
us choose God. The truth is we are commissioned by God to resist the Pope, for it is
written, "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)
We have seen how Paul refutes the argument of the false apostles concerning the
authority of the apostles. In order that the truth of the Gospel may continue; in order
that the Word of God and the righteousness of faith may be kept pure and undefiled, let
the apostles, let an angel from heaven, let Peter, let Paul, let them all perish.
VERSE 6. For they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me.
The Apostle repeats: "I did not so confer with the apostles that they taught me
anything. What could they possibly teach me since Christ by His revelation had taught me
all things? It was but a conference, and no disputation. I learned nothing, neither did I
defend my cause. I only stated what I had done, that I had preached to the Gentiles faith
in Christ, without the Law, and that in response to my preaching the Holy Ghost came down
upon the Gentiles. When the apostles heard this, they were glad that I had taught the
If Paul would not give in to the false apostles, much less ought we to give in to our
opponents. I know that a Christian should be humble, but against the Pope I am going to be
proud and say to him: "You, Pope, I will not have you for my boss, for I am sure that
my doctrine is divine." Such pride against the Pope is imperative, for if we are not
stout and proud we shall never succeed in defending the article of the righteousness of
If the Pope would concede that God alone by His grace through Christ justifies sinners,
we would carry him in our arms, we would kiss his feet. But since we cannot obtain this
concession, we will give in to nobody, not to all the angels in heaven, not to Peter, not
to Paul, not to a hundred emperors, not to a thousand popes, not to the whole world. If in
this matter we were to humble ourselves, they would take from us the God who created us,
and Jesus Christ who has redeemed us by His blood. Let this be our resolution, that we
will suffer the loss of all things, the loss of our good name, of life itself, but the
Gospel and our faith in Jesus Christ--we will not stand for it that anybody take them from
VERSES 7, 8. 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.]
Here the Apostle claims for himself the same authority which the false apostles
attributed to the true apostles. Paul simply inverts their argument. "to bolster
their evil cause," says he, "the false apostles quote the authority of the great
apostles against me. I can quote the same authority against them, for the apostles are on
my side. They gave me the right hand of fellowship. They approved my ministry. O my
Galatians, do not believe the counterfeit apostles!"
What does Paul mean by saying that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto
him, and that of the circumcision to Peter? Did not Paul preach to the Jews, while Peter
preached to the Gentiles also? Peter converted the Centurion. Paul's custom was to enter
into the synagogues of the Jews, there to preach the Gospel. Why then should he call
himself the apostle of the Gentiles, while he calls Peter the apostle of the circumcision?
Paul refers to the fact that the other apostles remained in Jerusalem until the
destruction of the city became imminent. But Paul was especially called the apostle of the
Gentiles. Even before the destruction of Jerusalem Jews dwelt here and there in the cities
of the Gentiles. Coming to a city, Paul customarily entered the synagogues of the Jews and
first brought to them as the children of the kingdom, the glad tidings that the promises
made unto the fathers were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. When the Jews refused to hear these
glad tidings, Paul turned to the Gentiles. He was the apostle of the Gentiles in a special
sense, as Peter was the apostle of the Jews.
Paul reiterates that Peter, James, and John, the accepted pillars of the Church, taught
him nothing, nor did they commit unto him the office of preaching the Gospel unto the
Gentiles. Both the knowledge of the Gospel and the commandment to preach it to the
Gentiles, Paul received directly from God. His case was parallel to that of Peter's, who
was particularly commissioned to preach the Gospel to the Jews.
The apostles had the same charge, the identical Gospel. Peter did not proclaim a
different Gospel, nor had he appointed his fellow apostles. They were equals. They were
all taught of God. None was greater than the other, none could point to prerogatives above
the other. To justify his usurped primacy in the Church the Pope claims that Peter was the
chief of the apostles. This is an impudent falsehood.
VERSE 8. For he that wrought effectually in Peter.
With these words Paul refutes another argument of the false apostles. "What reason
have the false apostles to boast that the Gospel of Peter was mighty, that he converted
many, that he wrought great miracles, and that his very shadow healed the sick? These
reports are true enough. But where did Peter acquire this power? God gave him the power. I
have the same power. I received my power, not from Peter, but from the same God, the same
Spirit who was mighty in Peter was mighty in me also." Luke corroborates Paul's
statement in the words: "And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so
that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases
departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." (Acts 19:11, 12.)
To conclude, Paul is not going to be inferior to the rest of the apostles. Some secular
writers put Paul's boasting down as carnal pride. But Paul had no personal interest in his
boasting. It was with him a matter of faith and doctrine. The controversy was not about
the glory of Paul, but the glory of God, the Word of God, the true worship of God, true
religion, and the righteousness of faith.
VERSE 9. 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.
"The fact is, when the apostles heard that I had received the charge to preach the
Gospel to the Gentiles from Christ; when they heard that God had wrought many miracles
through me; that great numbers of the Gentiles had come to the knowledge of Christ through
my ministry; when they heard that the Gentiles had received the Holy Ghost without Law and
circumcision, by the simple preaching of faith; when they heard all this they glorified
God for His grace in me." Hence, Paul was justified in concluding that the apostles
were for him, and not against him.
VERSE 9. The right hands of fellowship.
As if the apostles had said to him: "We, Paul, do agree with you in all things. We
are companions in doctrine. We have the same Gospel with this difference, that to you is
committed the Gospel for the uncircumcised, while the Gospel for the circumcision is
committed unto us. But this difference ought not to hinder our friendship, since we preach
one and the same Gospel."
VERSE 10. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also
was forward to do.
Next to the preaching of the Gospel, a true and faithful pastor will take care of the
poor. Where the Church is, there must be the poor, for the world and the devil persecute
the Church and impoverish many faithful Christians.
Speaking of money, nobody wants to contribute nowadays to the maintenance of the
ministry, and the erection of schools. When it comes to establishing false worship and
idolatry, no cost is spared. True religion is ever in need of money, while false religions
are backed by wealth.
VERSE 11. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because
he was to be blamed.
Paul goes on in his refutation of the false apostles by saying that in Antioch he
withstood Peter in the presence of the whole congregation. As he stated before, Paul had
no small matter in hand, but the chief article of the Christian religion. When this
article is endangered, we must not hesitate to resist Peter, or an angel from heaven. Paul
paid no regard to the dignity and position of Peter, when he saw this article in danger.
It is written: "He that loveth father or mother or his own life, more than me, is not
worthy of me." (Matt. 10:37.)
For defending the truth in our day, we are called proud and obstinate hypocrites. We
are not ashamed of these titles. The cause we are called to defend, is not Peter's cause,
or the cause of our parents, or that of the government, or that of the world, but the
cause of God. In defense of that cause we must be firm and unyielding.
When he says, "to his face," Paul accuses the false apostles of slandering
him behind his back. In his presence they dared not to open their mouths. He tells them,
"I did not speak evil of Peter behind his back, but I withstood him frankly and
Others may debate here whether an apostle might sin. I claim that we ought not to make
Peter out as faultless. Prophets have erred. Nathan told David that he should go ahead and
build the Temple of the Lord. But his prophecy was afterwards corrected by the Lord. The
apostles erred in thinking of the Kingdom of Christ as a worldly state. Peter had heard
the command of Christ, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every
creature." But if it had not been for the heavenly vision and the special command of
Christ, Peter would never have gone to the home of Cornelius. Peter also erred in this
matter of circumcision. If Paul had not publicly censured him, all the believing Gentiles
would have been compelled to receive circumcision and accept the Jewish law. We are not to
attribute perfection to any man.
Luke reports "that the contention between Paul and Barnabas was so sharp that they
departed asunder one from the other." The cause of their disagreement could hardly
have been small since it separated these two, who had been joined together for years in a
holy partnership. Such incidents are recorded for our consolation. After all, it is a
comfort to know that even saints might and do sin.
Samson, David, and many other excellent men, fell into grievous sins. Job and Jeremiah
cursed the day of their birth. Elijah and Jonah became weary of life and prayed for death.
Such offenses on the part of the saints, the Scriptures record for the comfort of those
who are near despair. No person has ever sunk so low that he cannot rise again. On the
other hand, no man's standing is so secure that he may not fall. If Peter fell, I may
fall. If he rose again, I may rise again. We have the same gifts that they had, the same
Christ, the same baptism and the same Gospel, the same forgiveness of sins. They needed
these saving ordinances just as much as we do.
VERSE 12. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles.
The Gentiles who had been converted to faith in Christ, ate meats forbidden by the Law.
Peter, visiting some of these Gentiles, ate meat and drank wine with them, although he
knew that these things were forbidden in the Law. Paul declared that he did likewise, that
he became as a Jew to the Jews, and to them that were without law, as without law. He ate
and drank with the Gentiles unconcerned about the Jewish Law. When he was with the Jews,
however, he abstained from all things forbidden in the Law, for he labored to serve all
men, that he "might by all means save some." Paul does not reprove Peter for
transgressing the Law, but for disguising his attitude to the Law.
VERSE 12. But when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them
which were of the circumcision.
Paul does not accuse Peter of malice or ignorance, but of lack of principle, in that he
abstained from meats, because he feared the Jews that came from James. Peter's weak
attitude endangered the principle of Christian liberty. It is the deduction rather than
the fact which Paul reproves. To eat and to drink, or not to eat and drink, is immaterial.
But to make the deduction "If you eat, you sin; if you abstain you are
righteous"--this is wrong.
Meats may be refused for two reasons. First, they may be refused for the sake of
Christian love. There is no danger connected with a refusal of meats for the sake of
charity. To bear with the infirmity of a brother is a good thing. Paul himself taught and
exemplified such thoughtfulness. Secondly, meats may be refused in the mistaken hope of
thereby obtaining righteousness. When this is the purpose of abstaining from meats, we
say, let charity go. To refrain from meats for this latter reason amounts to a denial of
Christ. If we must lose one or the other, let us lose a friend and brother, rather than
God, our Father.
Jerome, who understood not this passage, nor the whole epistle for that matter, excuses
Peter's action on the ground "that it was done in ignorance." But Peter offended
by giving the impression that he was indorsing the Law. By his example he encouraged
Gentiles and Jews to forsake the truth of the Gospel. If Paul had not reproved him, there
would have been a sliding back of Christians into the Jewish religion, and a return to the
burdens of the Law.
It is surprising that Peter, excellent apostle that he was, should have been guilty of
such vacillation. In a former council at Jerusalem he practically stood alone in defense
of the truth that salvation is by faith, without the Law. Peter at that time valiantly
defended the liberty of the Gospel. But now by abstaining from meats forbidden in the Law,
he went against his better judgment. You have no idea what danger there is in customs and
ceremonies. They so easily tend to error in works.
VERSE 13. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas
also was carried away with their dissimulation.
It is marvelous how God preserved the Church by one single person. Paul alone stood up
for the truth, for Barnabas, his companion, was lost to him, and Peter was against him.
Sometimes one lone person can do more in a conference than the whole assembly.
I mention this to urge all to learn how properly to differentiate between the Law and
the Gospel, in order to avoid dissembling. When it come to the article of justification we
must not yield, if we want to retain the truth of the Gospel.
When the conscience is disturbed, do not seek advice from reason or from the Law, but
rest your conscience in the grace of God and in His Word, and proceed as if you had never
heard of the Law. The Law has its place and its own good time. While Moses was in the
mountain where he talked with God face to face, he had no law, he made no law, he
administered no law. But when he came down from the mountain, he was a lawgiver. The
conscience must be kept above the Law, the body under the Law.
Paul reproved Peter for no trifle, but for the chief article of Christian doctrine,
which Peter's hypocrisy had endangered. For Barnabas and other Jews followed Peter's
example. It is surprising that such good men as Peter, Barnabas, and others should fall
into unexpected error, especially in a matter which they knew so well. To trust in our own
strength, our own goodness, our own wisdom, is a perilous thing. Let us search the
Scriptures with humility, praying that we may never lose the light of the Gospel.
"Lord, increase our faith."
VERSE 14. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of
No one except Paul had his eyes open. Consequently it was his duty to reprove Peter and
his followers for swerving from the truth of the Gospel. It was no easy task for Paul to
reprimand Peter. To the honor of Peter it must be said that he took the correction. No
doubt, he freely acknowledged his fault.
The person who can rightly divide Law and Gospel has reason to thank God. He is a true
theologian. I must confess that in times of temptation I do not always know how to do it.
To divide Law and Gospel means to place the Gospel in heaven, and to keep the Law on
earth; to call the righteousness of the Gospel heavenly, and the righteousness of the Law
earthly; to put as much difference between the righteousness of the Gospel and that of the
Law, as there is difference between day and night. If it is a question of faith or
conscience, ignore the Law entirely. If it is a question of works, then lift high the
lantern of works and the righteousness of the Law. If your conscience is oppressed with a
sense of sin, talk to your conscience. Say: "You are now groveling in the dirt. You
are now a laboring ass. Go ahead, and carry your burden. But why don't you mount up to
heaven? There the Law cannot follow you!" Leave the ass burdened with laws behind in
the valley. But your conscience, let it ascend with Isaac into the mountain.
In civil life obedience to the law is severely required. In civil life Gospel,
conscience, grace, remission of sins, Christ Himself, do not count, but only Moses with
the lawbooks. If we bear in mind this distinction, neither Gospel nor Law shall trespass
upon each other. The moment Law and sin cross into heaven, i.e., your conscience, kick
them out. On the other hand, when grace wanders unto the earth, i.e., into the body, tell
grace: "You have no business to be around the dreg and dung of this bodily life. You
belong in heaven."
By his compromising attitude Peter confused the separation of Law and Gospel. Paul had
to do something about it. He reproved Peter, not to embarrass him, but to conserve the
difference between the Gospel which justifies in heaven, and the Law which justifies on
The right separation between Law and Gospel is very important to know. Christian
doctrine is impossible without it. Let all who love and fear God, diligently learn the
difference, not only in theory but also in practice.
When your conscience gets into trouble, say to yourself: "There is a time to die,
and a time to live; a time to learn the Law, and a time to unlearn the Law; a time to hear
the Gospel, and a time to ignore the Gospel. Let the Law now depart, and let the Gospel
enter, for now is the right time to hear the Gospel, and not the Law." However, when
the conflict of conscience is over and external duties must be performed, close your ears
to the Gospel, and open them wide to the Law.
VERSE 14. 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
To live as a Jew is nothing bad. To eat or not to eat pork, what difference does it
make? But to play the Jew, and for conscience' sake to abstain from certain meats, is a
denial of Christ. When Paul saw that Peter's attitude tended to this, he withstood Peter
and said to him: "You know that the observance of the Iaw is not needed unto
righteousness. You know that we are justified by faith in Christ. You know that we may eat
all kinds of meats. Yet by your example you obligate the Gentiles to forsake Christ, and
to return to the Law. You give them reason to think that faith is not sufficient unto
Peter did not say so, but his example said quite plainly that the observance of the Law
must be added to faith in Christ, if men are to be saved. From Peter's example the
Gentiles could not help but draw the conclusion that the Law was necessary unto salvation.
If this error had been permitted to pass unchallenged, Christ would have lost out
The controversy involved the preservation of pure doctrine. In such a controversy Paul
did not mind if anybody took offense.
VERSE 15. We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles.
"When we Jews compare ourselves with the Gentiles, we look pretty good. We have
the Law, we have good works. Our rectitude dates from our birth, because the Jewish
religion is natural to us. But all this does not make us righteous before God." Peter
and the others lived up to the requirements of the Law. They had circumcision, the
covenant, the promises, the apostleship. But because of these advantages they were not to
think themselves righteous before God. None of these prerogatives spell faith in Christ,
which alone can justify a person. We do not mean to imply that the Law is bad. We do not
condemn the Law, circumcision, etc., for their failure to justify us. Paul spoke
disparagingly of these ordinances, because the false apostles asserted that mankind is
saved by them without faith. Paul could not let this assertion stand, for without faith
all things are deadly.
VERSE 16. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the
faith of Jesus Christ.
For the sake of argument let us suppose that you could fulfill the Law in the spirit of
the first commandment of God: "Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy
heart." It would do you no good. A person simply is not justified by the works of the
The works of the Law, according to Paul, include the whole Law, judicial, ceremonial,
moral. Now, if the performance of the moral law cannot justify, how can circumcision
justify, when circumcision is part of the ceremonial law?
The demands of the Law may be fulfilled before and after justification. There were many
excellent men among the pagans of old, men who never heard of justification. They lived
moral lives. But that fact did not justify them. Peter, Paul, all Christians, live up to
the Law. But that fact does not justify them. "For I know nothing by myself,"
says Paul, "yet am I not hereby justified." (I Cor. 4:4.)
The nefarious opinion of the papists, which attributes the merit of grace and the
remission of sins to works, must here be emphatically rejected. The papists say that a
good work performed before grace has been obtained, is able to secure grace for a person,
because it is no more than right that God should reward a good deed. When grace has
already been obtained, any good work deserves everlasting life as a due payment and reward
for merit. For the first, God is no debtor, they say; but because God is good and just, it
is no more than right (they say) that He should reward a good work by granting grace for
the service. But when grace has already been obtained, they continue, God is in the
position of a debtor, and is in duty bound to reward a good work with the gift of eternal
life. This is the wicked teaching of the papacy.
Now, if I could perform any work acceptable to God and deserving of grace, and once
having obtained grace my good works would continue to earn for me the right and reward of
eternal life, why should I stand in need of the grace of God and the suffering and death
of Christ? Christ would be of no benefit to me. Christ's mercy would be of no use to me.
This shows how little insight the pope and the whole of his religious coterie have into
spiritual matters, and how little they concern themselves with the spiritual health of
their forlorn flocks. They cannot believe that the flesh is unable to think, speak, or do
anything except against God. If they could see evil rooted in the nature of man, they
would never entertain such silly dreams about man's merit or worthiness.
With Paul we absolutely deny the possibility of self merit. God never yet gave to any
person grace and everlasting life as a reward for merit. The opinions of the papists are
the intellectual pipe-dreams of idle pates, that serve no other purpose but to draw men
away from the true worship of God. The papacy is founded upon hallucinations.
The true way of salvation is this. First, a person must realize that he is a sinner,
the kind of a sinner who is congenitally unable to do any good thing. "Whatsoever is
not of faith, is sin." Those who seek to earn the grace of God by their own efforts
are trying to please God with sins. They mock God, and provoke His anger. The first step
on the way to salvation is to repent.
The second part is this. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we may live
through His merit. He was crucified and killed for us. By sacrificing His Son for us God
revealed Himself to us as a merciful Father who donates remission of sins, righteousness,
and life everlasting for Christ's sake. God hands out His gifts freely unto all men. That
is the praise and glory of His mercy.
The scholastics explain the way of salvation in this manner. When a person happens to
perform a good deed, God accepts it and as a reward for the good deed God pours charity
into that person. They call it "charity infused." This charity is supposed to
remain in the heart. They get wild when they are told that this quality of the heart
cannot justify a person.
They also claim that we are able to love God by our own natural strength, to love God
above all things, at least to the extent that we deserve grace. And, say the scholastics,
because God is not satisfied with a literal performance of the Law, but expects us to
fulfill the Law according to the mind of the Lawgiver, therefore we must obtain from above
a quality above nature, a quality which they call "formal righteousness."
We say, faith apprehends Jesus Christ. Christian faith is not an inactive quality in
the heart. If it is true faith it will surely take Christ for its object. Christ,
apprehended by faith and dwelling in the heart, constitutes Christian righteousness, for
which God gives eternal life.
In contrast to the doting dreams of the scholastics, we teach this: First a person must
learn to know himself from the Law. With the prophet he will then confess: "All have
sinned, and come short of the glory of God." And, "there is none that doeth
good, no, not one." And, "against thee, thee only, have I sinned."
Having been humbled by the Law, and having been brought to a right estimate of himself,
a man will repent. He finds out that he is so depraved, that no strength, no works, no
merits of his own will ever deliver him from his guilt. He will then understand the
meaning of Paul's words: "I am sold under sin"; and "they are all under
At this state a person begins to lament: "Who is going to help me?" In due
time comes the Word of the Gospel, and says: "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.
Believe in Jesus Christ who was crucified for your sins. Remember, your sins have been
imposed upon Christ."
In this way are we delivered from sin. In this way are we justified and made heirs of
In order to have faith you must paint a true portrait of Christ. The scholastics
caricature Christ into a judge and tormentor. But Christ is no law giver. He is the
Lifegiver. He is the Forgiver of sins. You must believe that Christ might have atoned for
the sins of the world with one single drop of His blood. Instead, He shed His blood
abundantly in order that He might give abundant satisfaction for our sins.
Here let me say, that these three things, faith, Christ, and imputation of
righteousness, are to be joined together. Faith takes hold of Christ. God accounts this
faith for righteousness.
This imputation of righteousness we need very much, because we are far from perfect. As
long as we have this body, sin will dwell in our flesh. Then, too, we sometimes drive away
the Holy Spirit; we fall into sin, like Peter, David, and other holy men. Nevertheless we
may always take recourse to this fact, "that our sins are covered," and that
"God will not lay them to our charge." Sin is not held against us for Christ's
sake. Where Christ and faith are lacking, there is no remission or covering of sins, but
After we have taught faith in Christ, we teach good works. "Since you have found
Christ by faith," we say, "begin now to work and do well. Love God and your
neighbor. Call upon God, give thanks unto Him, praise Him, confess Him. These are good
works. Let them flow from a cheerful heart, because you have remission of sin in
When crosses and afflictions come our way, we bear them patiently. "For Christ's
yoke is easy, and His burden is light." When sin has been pardoned, and the
conscience has been eased of its dreadful load, a Christian can endure all things in
To give a short definition of a Christian: A Christian is not somebody chalks sin,
because of his faith in Christ. This doctrine brings comfort to consciences in serious
trouble. When a person is a Christian he is above law and sin. When the Law accuses him,
and sin wants to drive the wits out of him, a Christian looks to Christ. A Christian is
free. He has no master except Christ. A Christian is greater than the whole world.
VERSE 16. Even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified.
The true way of becoming a Christian is to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and
not by the works of the Law.
We know that we must also teach good works, but they must be taught in their proper
turn, when the discussion is concerning works and not the article of justification.
Here the question arises by what means are we justified? We answer with Paul, "By
faith only in Christ are we pronounced righteous, and not by works." Not that we
reject good works. Far from it. But we will not allow ourselves to be removed from the
anchorage of our salvation.
The Law is a good thing. But when the discussion is about justification, then is no
time to drag in the Law. When we discuss justification we ought to speak of Christ and the
benefits He has brought us.
Christ is no sheriff. He is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world." (John 1:29.)
VERSE 16. That we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works
of the Law.
We do not mean to say that the Law is bad. Only it is not able to justify us. To be at
peace with God, we have need of a far better mediator than Moses or the Law. We must know
that we are nothing. We must understand that we are merely beneficiaries and recipients of
the treasures of Christ.
So far, the words of Paul were addressed to Peter. Now Paul turns to the Galatians and
makes this summary statement:
VERSE 16. For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
By the term "flesh" Paul does not understand manifest vices. Such sins he
usually calls by their proper names, as adultery, fornication, etc. By "flesh"
Paul understands what Jesus meant in the third chapter of John, "That which is born
of the flesh is flesh". (John 3:6.) "Flesh" here means the whole nature of
man, inclusive of reason and instincts. "This flesh," says Paul, "is not
justified by the works of the law."
The papists do not believe this. They say, "A person who performs this good deed
or that, deserves the forgiveness of his sins. A person who joins this or that holy order,
has the promise of everlasting life."
To me it is a miracle that the Church, so long surrounded by vicious sects, has been
able to survive at all. God must have been able to call a few who in their failure to
discover any good in themselves to cite against the wrath and judgment of God, simply took
to the suffering and death of Christ, and were saved by this simple faith.
Nevertheless God has punished the contempt of the Gospel and of Christ on the part of
the papists, by turning them over to a reprobatestate of mind in which they reject the
Gospel, and receive with gusto the abominable rules, ordinances, and traditions of men in
preference to the Word of God, until they went so far as to forbid marriage. God punished
them justly, because they blasphemed the only Son of God.
This is, then, our general conclusion: "By the works of the law shall no flesh be
VERSE 17. 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.
Either we are not justified by Christ, or we are not justified by the Law. The fact is,
we are justified by Christ. Hence, we are not justified by the Law. If we observe the Law
in order to be justified, or after having been justified by Christ, we think we must
further be justified by the Law, we convert Christ into a legislator and a minister of
"What are these false apostles doing?" Paul cries. "They are turning Law
into grace, and grace into Law. They are changing Moses into Christ, and Christ into
Moses. By teaching that besides Christ and His righteousness the performance of the Law is
necessary unto salvation, they put the Law in the place of Christ, they attribute to the
Law the power to save, a power that belongs to Christ only."
The papists quote the words of Christ: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the
commandments." (Matt. 19:17.) With His own words they deny Christ and abolish faith
in Him. Christ is made to lose His good name, His office, and His glory, and is demoted to
the status of a law enforcer, reproving, terrifying, and chasing poor sinners around.
The proper office of Christ is to raise the sinner, and extricate him from his sins.
Papists and Anabaptists deride us because we so earnestly require faith.
"Faith," they say, "makes men reckless." What do these law-workers
know about faith, when they are so busy calling people back from baptism, from faith, from
the promises of Christ to the Law?
With their doctrine these lying sects of perdition deface the benefits of Christ to
this day. They rob Christ of His glory as the Justifier of mankind and cast Him into the
role of a minister of sin. They are like the false apostles. There is not a single one
among them who knows the difference between law and grace.
We can tell the difference. We do not here and now argue whether we ought to do good
works, or whether the Law is any good, or whether the Law ought to be kept at all. We will
discuss these questions some other time. We are now concerned with justification. Our
opponents refuse to make this distinction. All they can do is to bellow that good works
ought to be done. We know that. We know that good works ought to be done, but we will talk
about that when the proper time comes. Now we are dealing with justification, and here
good works should not be so much as mentioned.
Paul's argument has often comforted me. He argues: "If we who have been justified
by Christ are counted unrighteous, why seek justification in Christ at all? If we are
justified by the Law, tell me, what has Christ achieved by His death, by His preaching, by
His victory over sin and death? Either we are justified by Christ, or we are made worse
sinners by Him."
The Sacred Scriptures, particularly those of the New Testament, make frequent mention
of faith in Christ. "Whosoever believeth in him is saved, shall not perish, shall
have everlasting life, is not judged," etc. In open contradiction to the Scriptures,
our opponents misquote, "He that believeth in Christ is condemned, because he has
faith without works." Our opponents turn everything topsy-turvy. They make Christ
over into a murderer, and Moses into a savior. Is not this horrible blasphemy?
VERSE 17. Is therefore Christ the minister of sin?
This is Hebrew phraseology, also used by Paul in II Corinthians, chapter 3. There Paul
speaks of two ministers: The minister of the letter, and the minister of the spirit; the
minister of the Law, and the minister of grace; the minister of death, and the minister of
life. "Moses," says Paul, "is the minister of the Law, of sin, wrath,
death, and condemnation."
Whoever teaches that good works are indispensable unto salvation, that to gain heaven a
person must suffer afflictions and follow the example of Christ and of the saints, is a
minister of the Law, of sin, wrath, and of death, for the conscience knows how impossible
it is for a person to fulfill the Law. Why, the Law makes trouble even for those who have
the Holy Spirit. What will not the Law do in the case of the wicked who do not even have
the Holy Spirit?
The Law requires perfect obedience. It condemns all do not accomplish the will of God.
But show me a person who is able to render perfect obedience. The Law cannot justify. It
can only condemn according to the passage: "Cursed is every one that continueth not
in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."
Paul has good reason for calling the minister of the Law the minister of sin, for the
Law reveals our sinfulness. The realization of sin in turn frightens the heart and drives
it to despair. Therefore all exponents of the Law and of works deserve to be called
tyrants and oppressors.
The purpose of the Law is to reveal sin. That this is the purpose of the Law can be
seen from the account of the giving of the Law as reported in the nineteenth and twentieth
chapters of Exodus. Moses brought the people out of their tents to have God speak to them
personally from a cloud. But the people trembled with fear, fled, and standing aloof they
begged Moses: "Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us,
lest we die." The proper office of the Law is to lead us out of our tents, in other
words, out of the security of our self-trust, into the presence of God, that we may
perceive His anger at our sinfulness.
All who say that faith alone in Christ does not justify a person, convert Christ into a
minister of sin, a teacher of the Law, and a cruel tyrant who requires the impossible. All
merit-seekers take Christ for a new lawgiver.
In conclusion, if the Law is the minister of sin, it is at the same time the minister
of wrath and death. As the Law reveals sin it fills a person with the fear of death and
condemnation. Eventually the conscience wakes up to the fact that God is angry. If God is
angry with you, He will destroy and condemn you forever. Unable to stand the thought of
the wrath and judgment of God, many a person commits suicide.
VERSE 17. God forbid.
Christ is not the minister of sin, but the Dispenser of righteousness and the Giver of
life. Christ is Lord over law, sin and death. All who believe in Him are delivered from
law, sin and death.
The Law drives us away from God, but Christ reconciles God unto us, for "He is the
Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world." Now if the sin of the world is
taken away, it is taken away from me. If sin is taken away, the wrath of God and His
condemnation are also taken away. Let us practice this blessed conviction.
VERSE 18. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a
"I have not preached to the end that I build again the things which I destroyed.
If I should do so, I would not only be laboring in vain, but I would make myself guilty of
a great wrong. By the ministry of the Gospel I have destroyed sin, heaviness of heart,
wrath, and death. I have abolished the Law, so that it should not bother your conscience
any more. Should I now once again establish the Law, and set up the rule of Moses? This is
exactly what I should be doing, if I would urge circumcision and the performance of the
Law as necessary unto salvation. Instead of righteousness and life, I would restore sin
By the grace of God we know that we are justified through faith in Christ alone. We do
not mingle law and grace, faith and works. We keep them far apart. Let every true
Christian mark the distinction between law and grace, and mark it well.
We must not drag good works into the article of justification as the monks do who
maintain that not only good works, but also the punishment which evildoers suffer for
their wicked deeds, deserve everlasting life. When a criminal is brought to the place of
execution, the monks try to comfort him in this manner: "You want to die willingly
and patiently, and then you will merit remission of your sins and eternal life." What
cruelty is this, that a wretched thief, murderer, robber should be so miserably misguided
in his extreme distress, that at the very point of death he should be denied the sweet
promises of Christ, and directed to hope for pardon of his sins in the willingness and
patience with which he is about to suffer death for his crimes? The monks are showing him
the paved way to hell.
These hypocrites do not know the first thing about grace, the Gospel, or Christ. They
retain the appearance and the name of the Gospel and of Christ for a decoy only. In their
confessional writings faith or the merit of Christ are never mentioned. In their writings
they play up the merits of man, as can readily be seen from the following form of
absolution used among the monks.
"God forgive thee, brother. The merit of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and
of the blessed Saint Mary, always a virgin, and of all the saints; the merit of thy order,
the strictness of thy religion, the humility of thy profession, the contrition of thy
heart, the good works thou hast done and shalt do for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ,
be available unto thee for the remission of thy sins, the increase of thy worth and grace,
and the reward of everlasting life. Amen."
True, the merit of Christ is mentioned in this formula of absolution. But if you look
closer you will notice that Christ's merit is belittled, while monkish merits are
aggrandized. They confess Christ with their lips, and at the same time deny His power to
save. I myself was at one time entangled in this error. I thought Christ was a judge and
had to be pacified by a strict adherence to the rules of my order. But now I give thanks
unto God, the Father of all mercies, who has called me out of darkness into the light of
His glorious Gospel, and has granted unto me the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus, my
We conclude with Paul, that we are justified by faith in Christ, without the Law. Once
a person has been justified by Christ, he will not be unproductive of good, but as a good
tree he will bring forth good fruit. A believer has the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit
will not permit a person to remain idle, but will put him to work and stir him up to the
love of God, to patient suffering in affliction, to prayer, thanksgiving, to the habit of
charity towards all men.
VERSE 19. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
This cheering form of speech is frequently met with in the Scriptures, particularly in
the writings of St. Paul, when the Law is set against the Law, and sin is made to oppose
sin, and death is arrayed against death, and hell is turned loose against hell, as in the
following quotations: "Thou hast led captivity captive," Psalm 68:18. "O
death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction," Hosea 13:14.
"And for sin, condemned sin in the flesh," Romans 8:3.
Here Paul plays the Law against the Law, as if to say: "The Law of Moses condemns
me; but I have another law, the law of grace and liberty which condemns the accusing Law
On first sight Paul seems to be advancing a strange and ugly heresy. He says, "I
am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." The false apostles said the very
opposite. They said, "If you do not live to the law, you are dead unto God."
The doctrine of our opponents is similar to that of the false apostles in Paul's day.
Our opponents teach, "If you want to live unto God, you must live after the Law, for
it is written, Do this and thou shalt live." Paul, on the other hand, teaches,
"We cannot live unto God unless we are dead unto the Law." If we are dead unto
the Law, the Law can have no power over us.
Paul does not only refer to the Ceremonial Law, but to the whole Law. We are not to
think that the Law is wiped out. It stays. It continues to operate in the wicked. But a
Christian is dead to the Law. For example, Christ by His resurrection became free from the
grave, and yet the grave remains. Peter was delivered from prison, yet the prison remains.
The Law is abolished as far as I am concerned, when it has driven me into the arms of
Christ. Yet the Law continues to exist and to function. But it no longer exists for me.
"I have nothing to do with the Law," cries Paul. He could not have uttered
anything more devastating to the prestige of the Law. He declares that he does not care
for the Law, that he does not intend ever to be justified by the Law.
To be dead to the Law means to be free of the Law. What right, then, has the Law to
accuse me, or to hold anything against me? When you see a person squirming in the clutches
of the Law, say to him: "Brother, get things straight. You let the Law talk to your
conscience. Make it talk to your flesh. Wake up, and believe in Jesus Christ, the
Conqueror of Law and sin. Faith in Christ will lift you high above the Law into the heaven
of grace. Though Law and sin remain, they no longer concern you, because you are dead to
the Law and dead to sin."
Blessed is the person who knows how to use this truth in times of distress. He can
talk. He can say: "Mr. Law, go ahead and accuse me as much as you like. I know I have
committed many sins, and I continue to sin daily. But that does not bother me. You have
got to shout louder, Mr. Law. I am deaf, you know. Talk as much as you like, I am dead to
you. If you want to talk to me about my sins, go and talk to my flesh. Belabor that, but
don't talk to my conscience. My conscience is a lady and a queen, and has nothing to do
with the likes of you, because my conscience lives to Christ under another law, a new and
better law, the law of grace."
We have two propositions: To live unto the Law, is to die unto God. To die unto the
Law, is to live unto God. These two propositions go against reason. No law-worker can ever
understand them. But see to it that you understand them. The Law can never justify and
save a sinner. The Law can only accuse, terrify, and kill him. Therefore to live unto the
Law is to die unto God. Vice versa, to die unto the Law is to live unto God. If you want
to live unto God, bury the Law, and find life through faith in Christ Jesus.
We have enough arguments right here to conclude that justification is by faith alone.
How can the Law effect our justification, when Paul so plainly states that we must be dead
to the Law if we want to live unto God? If we are dead to the Law and the Law is dead to
us, how can it possibly contribute anything to our justification? There is nothing left
for us but to be justified by faith alone.
This nineteenth verse is loaded with consolation. It fortifies a person against every
danger. It allows you to argue like this:
"I confess I have sinned." "Then God will punish you." "No, He
will not do that." "Why not? Does not the Law say so?" "I have nothing
to do with the Law." "How so?" "I have another law, the law of
liberty." "What do you mean--'liberty'?" "The liberty of Christ, for
Christ has made me free from the Law that held me down. That Law is now in prison itself,
held captive by grace and liberty."
By faith in Christ a person may gain such sure and sound comfort, that he need not fear
the devil, sin, death, or any evil. "Sir Devil," he may say, "I am not
afraid of you. I have a Friend whose name is Jesus Christ, in whom I believe. He has
abolished the Law, condemned sin, vanquished death, and destroyed hell for me. He is
bigger than you, Satan. He has licked you, and holds you down. You cannot hurt me."
This is the faith that overcomes the devil.
Paul manhandles the Law. He treats the Law as if it were a thief and a robber He treats
the Law as contemptible to the conscience, in order that those who believe in Christ may
take courage to defy the Law, and say: "Mr. Law, I am a sinner. What are you going to
do about it?"
Or take death. Christ is risen from death. Why should we now fear the grave? Against my
death I set another death, or rather life, my life in Christ.
Oh, the sweet names of Jesus! He is called my law against the Law, my sin against sin,
my death against death. Translated, it means that He is my righteousness, my life, my
everlasting salvation. For this reason was He made the law of the Law, the sin of sin, the
death of death, that He might redeem me from the curse of the Law. He permitted the Law to
accuse Him, sin to condemn Him, and death to take Him, to abolish the Law, to condemn sin,
and to destroy death for me.
This peculiar form of speech sounds much sweeter than if Paul had said: "I through
liberty am dead to the law." By putting it in this way, "I through the law am
dead to the law," he opposes one law with another law, and has them fight it out.
In this masterly fashion Paul draws our attention away from the Law, sin, death, and
every evil, and centers it upon Christ.
VERSE 20. I am crucified with Christ.
Christ is Lord over the Law, because He was crucified unto the Law. I also am lord over
the Law, because by faith I am crucified with Christ.
Paul does not here speak of crucifying the flesh, but he speaks of that higher
crucifying wherein sin, devil, and death are crucified in Christ and in me. By my faith in
Christ I am crucified with Christ. Hence these evils are crucified and dead unto me.
VERSE 20. Nevertheless I live.
"I do not mean to create the impression as though I did not live before this. But
in reality I first live now, now that I have been delivered from the Law, from sin, and
death. Being crucified with Christ and dead unto the Law, I may now rise unto a new and
We must pay close attention to Paul's way of speaking. He says that we are crucified
and dead unto the Law. The fact is, the Law is crucified and dead unto us. Paul purposely
speaks that way in order to increase the portion of our comfort.
VERSE 20. Yet not I.
Paul explains what constitutes true Christian righteousness. True Christian
righteousness is the righteousness of Christ who lives in us. We must look away from our
own person. Christ and my conscience must become one, so that I can see nothing else but
Christ crucified and raised from the dead for me. If I keep on looking at myself, I am
If we lose sight of Christ and begin to consider our past, we simply go to pieces. We
must turn our eyes to the brazen serpent, Christ crucified, and believe with all our heart
that He is our righteousness and our life. For Christ, on whom our eyes are fixed, in whom
we live, who lives in us, is Lord over Law, sin, death, and all evil.
VERSE 20. But Christ liveth in me.
"Thus I live," the Apostle starts out. But presently he corrects himself,
saying, "Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." He is the form of my perfection.
He embellishes my faith.
Since Christ is now living in me, He abolishes the Law, condemns sin, and destroys
death in me. These foes vanish in His presence. Christ abiding in me drives out every
evil. This union with Christ delivers me from the demands of the Law, and separates me
from my sinful self. As long as I abide in Christ, nothing can hurt me.
Christ domiciling in me, the old Adam has to stay outside and remain subject to the
Law. Think what grace, righteousness, life, peace, and salvation there is in me, thanks to
that inseparable conjunction between Christ and me through faith!
Paul has a peculiar style, a celestial way of speaking. "I live," he says,
"I live not; I am dead, I am not dead; I am a sinner, I am not a sinner; I have the
Law, I have no Law." When we look at ourselves we find plenty of sin. But when we
look at Christ, we have no sin. Whenever we separate the person of Christ from our own
person, we live under the Law and not in Christ; we are condemned by the Law, dead before
Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become as it were one
person. As such you may boldly say: "I am now one with Christ. Therefore Christ's
righteousness, victory, and life are mine." On the other hand, Christ may say:
"I am that big sinner. His sins and his death are mine, because he is joined to me,
and I to him."
Whenever remission of sins is freely proclaimed, people misinterpret it according to
Romans 3:8, "Let us do evil, that good may come." As soon as people hear that we
are not justified by the Law, they reason maliciously: "Why, then let us reject the
Law. If grace abounds, where sin abounds, let us abound in sin, that grace may all the
more abound." People who reason thus are reckless. They make sport of the Scriptures
and slander the sayings of the Holy Ghost.
However, there are others who are not malicious, only weak, who may take offense when
told that Law and good works are unnecessary for salvation. These must be instructed as to
why good works do not justify, and from what motives good works must be done. Good works
are not the cause, but the fruit of righteousness. When we have become righteous, then
first are we able and willing to do good. The tree makes the apple; the apple does not
make the tree.
VERSE 20. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son
Paul does not deny the fact that he is living in the flesh. He performs the natural
functions of the flesh. But he says that this is not his real life. His life in the flesh
is not a life after the flesh.
"I live by the faith of the Son of God," he says. "My speech is no
longer directed by the flesh, but by the Holy Ghost. My sight is no longer governed by the
flesh, but by the Holy Ghost. My hearing is no longer determined by the flesh, but by the
Holy Ghost. I cannot teach, write, pray, or give thanks without the instrumentality of the
flesh; yet these activities do not proceed from the flesh, but from God."
A Christian uses earthly means like any unbeliever. Outwardly they look alike.
Nevertheless there is a great difference between them. I may live in the flesh, but I do
not live after the flesh. I do my living now "by the faith of the Son of God."
Paul had the same voice, the same tongue, before and after his conversion. Before his
conversion his tongue uttered blasphemies. But after his conversion his tongue spoke a
spiritual, heavenly language.
We may now understand how spiritual life originates. It enters the heart by faith.
Christ reigns in the heart with His Holy Spirit, who sees, hears, speaks, works, suffers,
and does all things in and through us over the protest and the resistance of the flesh.
VERSE 20. Who loved me, and gave himself for me.
The sophistical papists assert that a person is able by natural strength to love God
long before grace has entered his heart, and to perform works of real merit. They believe
they are able to fulfill the commandments of God. They believe they are able to do more
than God expects of them, so that they are in a position to sell their superfluous merits
to laymen, thereby saving themselves and others. They are saving nobody. On the contrary,
they abolish the Gospel, they deride, deny, and blaspheme Christ, and call upon themselves
the wrath of God. This is what they get for living in their own righteousness, and not in
the faith of the Son of God.
The papists will tell you to do the best you can, and God will give you His grace. They
have a rhyme for it:
"God will no more require of man, Than of himself perform he can."
This may hold true in ordinary civic life. But the papists apply it to the spiritual
realm where a person can perform nothing but sin, because he is sold under sin.
Our opponents go even further than that. They say, nature is depraved, but the
qualities of nature are untainted. Again we say: This may hold true in everyday life, but
not in the spiritual life. In spiritual matters a person is by nature full of darkness,
error, ignorance, malice, and perverseness in will and in mind. In view of this, Paul
declares that Christ began and not we. "He loved me, and gave Himself for me. He
found in me no right mind and no good will. But the good Lord had mercy upon me. Out of
pure kindness He loved me, loved me so that He gave Himself for me, that I should be free
from the Law, from sin, devil, and death."
The words, "The Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me," are so
many thunderclaps and lightning bolts of protest from heaven against the righteousness of
the Law. The wickedness, error, darkness, ignorance in my mind and my will were so great,
that it was quite impossible for me to be saved by any other means than by the inestimable
price of Christ's death.
Let us count the price. When you hear that such an enormous price was paid for you,
will you still come along with your cowl, your shaven pate, your chastity, your obedience,
your poverty, your works, your merits? What do you want with all these trappings? What
good are the works of all men, and all the pains of the martyrs, in comparison with the
pains of the Son of God dying on the Cross, so that there was not a drop of His precious
blood, but it was all shed for your sins. If you could properly evaluate this incomparable
price, you would throw all your ceremonies, vows, works, and merits into the ash can. What
awful presumption to imagine that there is any work good enough to pacify God, when to
pacify God required the invaluable price of the death and blood of His own and only Son?
VERSE 20. For me.
Who is this "me"? I, wretched and damnable sinner, dearly beloved of the Son
of God. If I could by work or merit love the Son of God and come to Him, why should He
have sacrificed Himself for me ? This shows how the papists ignore the Scriptures,
particularly the doctrine of faith. If they had paid any attention at all to these words,
that it was absolutely necessary for the Son of God to be given into death for me, they
would never have invented so many hideous heresies.
I always say, there is no remedy against the sects, no power to resist them, except
this article of Christian righteousness. If we lose this article we shall never be able to
combat errors or sects. What business have they to make such a fuss about works or merits?
If I, a condemned sinner, could have been purchased and redeemed by any other price, why
should the Son of God have given Himself for me? Just because there was no other price in
heaven and on earth big and good enough, was it necessary for the Son of God to be
delivered for me. This He did out of His great love for me, for the Apostle says,
"Who loved me."
Did the Law ever love me? Did the Law ever sacrifice itself for me? Did the Law ever
die for me? On the contrary, it accuses me, it frightens me, it drives me crazy. Somebody
else saved me from the Law, from sin and death unto eternal life. That Somebody is the Son
of God, to whom be praise and glory forever.
Hence, Christ is no Moses, no tyrant, no lawgiver, but the Giver of grace, the Savior,
full of mercy. In short, He is no less than infinite mercy and ineffable goodness,
bountifully giving Himself for us. Visualize Christ in these His true colors. I do not say
that it is easy. Even in the present diffusion of the Gospel light, I have much trouble to
see Christ as Paul portrays Him. So deeply has the diseased opinion that Christ is a
lawgiver sunk into my bones. You younger men are a good deal better off than we who are
old. You have never become infected with the nefarious errors on which I suckled all my
youth, until at the mention of the name of Christ I shivered with fear. You, I say, who
are young may learn to know Christ in all His sweetness.
For Christ is Joy and Sweetness to a broken heart. Christ is a Lover of poor sinners,
and such a Lover that He gave Himself for us. Now if this is true, and it is true, then
are we never justified by our own righteousness.
Read the words "me" and "for me" with great emphasis. Print this
"me" with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong
to the number of those who are meant by this "me." Christ did not only love
Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we
are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins.
VERSE 21. I do not frustrate the grace of God.
Paul is now getting ready for the second argument of his Epistle, to the effect that to
seek justification by works of the Law, is to reject the grace of God. I ask you, what sin
can be more horrible than to reject the grace of God, and to refuse the righteousness of
Christ? It is bad enough that we are wicked sinners and transgressors of all the
commandments of God; on top of that to refuse the grace of God and the remission of sins
offered unto us by Christ, is the worst sin of all, the sin of sins. That is the limit.
There is no sin which Paul and the other apostles detested more than when a person
despises the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Still there is no sin more common. That is why
Paul can get so angry at the Antichrist, because he snubs Christ, rebuffs the grace of
God, and refuses the merit of Christ. What else would you call it but spitting in Christ's
face, pushing Christ to the side, usurping Christ's throne, and to say: "I am going
to justify you people; I am going to save you." By what means? By masses,
pilgrimages, pardons, merits, etc. For this is Antichrist's doctrine: Faith is no good,
unless it is reinforced by works. By this abominable doctrine Antichrist has spoiled,
darkened, and buried the benefit of Christ, and in place of the grace of Christ and His
Kingdom, he has established the doctrine of works and the kingdom of ceremonies.
We despise the grace of God when we observe the Law for the purpose of being justified.
The Law is good, holy, and profitable, but it does not justify. To keep the Law in order
to be justified means to reject grace, to deny Christ, to despise His sacrifice, and to be
VERSE 21. For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
Did Christ die, or did He not die? Was His death worth while, or was it not? If His
death was worth while, it follows that righteousness does not come by the Law. Why was
Christ born anyway? Why was He crucified? Why did He suffer? Why did He love me and give
Himself for me? It was all done to no purpose if righteousness is to be had by the Law.
Or do you think that God spared not His Son, but delivered Him for us all, for the fun
of it? Before I would admit anything like that, I would consign the holiness of the saints
and of the angels to hell.
To reject the grace of God is a common sin, of which everybody is guilty who sees any
righteousness in himself or in his deeds. And the Pope is the sole author of this
iniquity. Not content to spoil the Gospel of Christ, he has filled the world with his
cursed traditions, e.g., his bulls and indulgences.
We will always affirm with Paul that either Christ died in vain, or else the Law cannot
justify us. But Christ did not suffer and die in vain. Hence, the Law does not justify.
If my salvation was so difficult to accomplish that it necessitated the death of
Christ, then all my works, all the righteousness of the Law, are good for nothing. How can
I buy for a penny what cost a million dollars? The Law is a penny's worth when you compare
it with Christ. Should I be so stupid as to reject the righteousness of Christ which cost
me nothing, and slave like a fool to achieve the righteousness of the Law which God
Man's own righteousness is in the last analysis a despising and rejecting of the grace
of God. No combination of words can do justice to such an outrage. It is an insult to say
that any man died in vain. But to say that Christ died in vain is a deadly insult. To say
that Christ died in vain is to make His resurrection, His victory, His glory, His kingdom,
heaven, earth, God Himself, of no purpose and benefit whatever.
That is enough to set any person against the righteousness of the Law and all the
trimmings of men's own righteousness, the orders of monks and friars, and their
Who would not detest his own vows, his cowls, his shaven crown, his bearded traditions,
yes, the very Law of Moses, when he hears that for such things he rejected the grace of
God and the death of Christ. It seems that such a horrible wickedness could not enter a
man's heart, that he should reject the grace of God, and despise the death of Christ. And
yet this atrocity is all too common. Let us be warned. Everyone who seeks righteousness
without Christ, either by works, merits, satisfactions, actions, or by the Law, rejects
the grace of God, and despises the death of Christ.
VERSE 1. 0 foolish Galatians.
THE Apostle Paul manifests his apostolic care for the Galatians. Sometimes he entreats
them, then again he reproaches them, in accordance with his own advice to Timothy:
"Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort."
In the midst of his discourse on Christian righteousness Paul breaks off, and turns to
address the Galatians. "O foolish Galatians," he cries. "I have brought you
the true Gospel, and you received it with eagerness and gratitude. Now all of a sudden you
drop the Gospel. What has got into you?"
Paul reproves the Galatians rather sharply when he calls them "fools, bewitched,
and disobedient." Whether he is indignant or sorry, I cannot say. He may be both. It
is the duty of a Christian pastor to reprove the people committed to his charge. Of
course, his anger must not flow from malice, but from affection and a real zeal for
There is no question that Paul is disappointed. It hurts him to think that his
Galatians showed so little stability. We can hear him say: "I am sorry to hear of
your troubles, and disappointed in you for the disgraceful part you played." I say
rather much on this point to save Paul from the charge that he railed upon the churches,
contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.
A certain distance and coolness can be noted in the title with which the Apostle
addresses the Galatians. He does not now address them as his brethren, as he usually does.
He addresses them as Galatians in order to remind them of their national trait to be
We have here an example of bad traits that often cling to individual Christians and
entire congregations. Grace does not suddenly transform a Christian into a new and perfect
creature. Dregs of the old and natural corruption remain. The Spirit of God cannot at once
overcome human deficiency. Sanctification takes time.
Although the Galatians had been enlightened by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of
faith, something of their national trait of foolishness plus their original depravity
clung to them. Let no man think that once he has received faith, he can presently be
converted into a faultless creature. The leavings of old vices will stick to him, be he
ever so good a Christian.
VERSE 1. Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth?
Paul calls the Galatians foolish and bewitched. In the fifth chapter he mentions
sorcery among the works of the flesh, declaring that witchcraft and sorcery are real
manifestations and legitimate activities of the devil. We are all exposed to the influence
of the devil, because he is the prince and god of the world in which we live.
Satan is clever. He does not only bewitch men in a crude manner, but also in a more
artful fashion. He bedevils the minds of men with hideous fallacies. Not only is he able
to deceive the self-assured, but even those who profess the true Christian faith. There is
not one among us who is not at times seduced by Satan into false beliefs.
This accounts for the many new battles we have to wage nowadays. But the attacks of the
old Serpent are not without profit to us, for they confirm our doctrine and strengthen our
faith in Christ. Many a time we were wrestled down in these conflicts with Satan, but
Christ has always triumphed and always will triumph. Do not think that the Galatians were
the only ones to be bewitched by the devil. Let us realize that we too may be seduced by
VERSE 1. Who hath bewitched you?
In this sentence Paul excuses the Galatians, while he blames the false apostles for the
apostasy of the Galatians.
As if he were saying: "I know your defection was not willful. The devil sent the
false apostles to you, and they tallied you into believing that you are justified by the
Law. With this our epistle we endeavor to undo the damage which the false apostles have
inflicted upon you."
Like Paul, we struggle with the Word of God against the fanatical Anabaptists of our
day; and our efforts are not entirely in vain. The trouble is there are many who refuse to
be instructed. They will not listen to reason; they will not listen to the Scriptures,
because they are bewitched by the tricky devil who can make a lie look like the truth.
Since the devil has this uncanny ability to make us believe a lie until we would swear
a thousand times it were the truth, we must not be proud, but walk in fear and humility,
and call upon the Lord Jesus to save us from temptation.
Although I am a doctor of divinity, and have preached Christ and fought His battles for
a long time, I know from personal experience how difficult it is to hold fast to the
truth. I cannot always shake off Satan. I cannot always apprehend Christ as the Scriptures
portray Him. Sometimes the devil distorts Christ to my vision. But thanks be to God, who
keeps us in His Word, in faith, and in prayer.
The spiritual witchery of the devil creates in the heart a wrong idea of Christ. Those
who share the opinion that a person is justified by the works of the Law, are simply
bewitched. Their belief goes against faith and Christ.
VERSE 1. That ye should not obey the truth.
Paul incriminates the Galatians in worse failure. "You are so bewitched that you
no longer obey the truth. I fear many of you have strayed so far that you will never
return to the truth."
The apostasy of the Galatians is a fine indorsement of the Law, all right. You may
preach the Law ever so fervently; if the preaching of the Gospel does not accompany it,
the Law will never produce true conversion and heartfelt repentance. We do not mean to say
that the preaching of the Law is without value, but it only serves to bring home to us the
wrath of God. The Law bows a person down. It takes the Gospel and the preaching of faith
in Christ to raise and save a person.
VERSE 1. Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth.
Paul's increasing severity becomes apparent as he reminds the Galatians that they
disobeyed the truth in defiance of the vivid description he had given them of Christ. So
vividly had he described Christ to them that they could almost see and handle Him. As if
Paul were to say: "No artist with all his colors could have pictured Christ to you as
vividly as I have pictured Him to you by my preaching. Yet you permitted yourselves to be
seduced to the extent that you disobeyed the truth of Christ."
VERSE 1. Crucifed among you.
"You have not only rejected the grace of God, you have shamefully crucified Christ
among you." Paul employs the same phraseology in Hebrews 6:6: "Seeing they
crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
It should make any person afraid to hear Paul say that those who seek to be justified
by the Law, not only deny Christ, but also crucify Him anew. If those who seek to be
justified by the Law and its works are crucifiers of Christ, what are they, I like to
know, who seek salvation by the filthy rags of their own work-righteousness?
Can there be anything more horrible than the papacy, an alliance of people who crucify
Christ in themselves, in the Church, and in the hearts of the believers?
Of all the diseased and vicious doctrines of the papacy the worst is this: "If you
want to serve God you must earn your own remission of sins and everlasting life, and in
addition help others to obtain salvation by giving them the benefit of your extra
work-holiness." Monks, friars, and all the rest of them brag that besides the
ordinary requirements common to all Christians, they do the works of supererogation, i.e.,
the performance of more than is required. This is certainly a fiendish illusion.
No wonder Paul employs such sharp language in his effort to recall the Galatians from
the doctrine of the false apostles. He says to them: "Don't you realize what you have
done? You have crucified Christ anew because you seek salvation by the Law."
True, Christ can no longer be crucified in person, but He is crucified in us when we
reject grace, faith, free remission of sins and endeavor to be justified by our own works,
or by the works of the Law.
The Apostle is incensed at the presumptuousness of any person who thinks he can perform
the Law of God to his own salvation. He charges that person with the atrocity of
crucifying anew the Son of God.
VERSE 2. This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the
law, or by the hearing of faith?
There is a touch of irony in these words of the Apostle. "Come on now, my smart
Galatians, you who all of a sudden have become doctors, while I seem to be your pupil:
Received ye the Holy Ghost by the works of the Law, or by the preaching of the
Gospel?" This question gave them something to think about, because their own
experience contradicted them.
"You cannot say that you received the Holy Spirit by the Law. As long as you were
servants of the Law, you never received the Holy Ghost. Nobody ever heard of the Holy
Ghost being given to anybody, be he doctor or dunce, as a result of the preaching of the
Law. In your own case, you have not only learned the Law by heart, you have labored with
all your might to perform it. You most of all should have received the Holy Ghost by the
Law, if that were possible. You cannot show me that this ever happened. But as soon as the
Gospel came your way, you received the Holy Ghost by the simple hearing of faith, before
you ever had a chance to do a single good deed." Luke verifies this statement of Paul
in the Book of Acts: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all
them which heard the word." (Acts 10:44.) "And as I began to speak, the Holy
Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning." (Acts 11:15.)
Try to appreciate the force of Paul's argument which is so often repeated in the Book
of Acts. That Book was written for the express purpose of verifying Paul's assertion, that
the Holy Ghost comes upon men, not in response to the preaching of the Law, but in
response to the preaching of the Gospel. When Peter preached Christ at the first
Pentecost, the Holy Ghost fell upon the hearers, "and the same day there were added
unto them about three thousand souls." Cornelius received the Holy Ghost while Peter
was speaking of Christ. "The Holy Ghost fell on all of them which heard the
word." These are actual experiences that cannot very well be denied. When Paul and
Barnabas returned to Jerusalem and reported what they had been able to accomplish among
the Gentiles, the whole Church was astonished, particularly when it heard that the
uncircumcised Gentiles had received the Holy Ghost by the preaching of faith in Christ.
Now as God gave the Holy Ghost to the Gentiles without the Law by the simple preaching
of the Gospel, so He gave the Holy Ghost also to the Jews, without the Law, through faith
alone. If the righteousness of the Law were necessary unto salvation, the Holy Ghost would
never have come to the Gentiles, because they did not bother about the Law. Hence the Law
does not justify, but faith in Christ justifies.
How was it with Cornelius? Cornelius and his friends whom he had invited over to his
house, do nothing but sit and listen. Peter is doing the talking. They just sit and do
nothing. The Law is far removed from their thoughts. They burn no sacrifices. They are not
at all interested in circumcision. All they do is to sit and listen to Peter. Suddenly the
Holy Ghost enters their hearts. His presence is unmistakable, "for they spoke with
tongues and magnified God."
Right here we have one more difference between the Law and the Gospel. The Law does not
bring on the Holy Ghost. The Gospel, however, brings on the gift of the Holy Ghost,
because it is the nature of the Gospel to convey good gifts. The Law and the Gospel are
contrary ideas. They have contrary functions and purposes. To endow the Law with any
capacity to produce righteousness is to plagiarize the Gospel. The Gospel brings
donations. It pleads for open hands to take what is being offered. The Law has nothing to
give. It demands, and its demands are impossible.
Our opponents come back at us with Cornelius. Cornelius, they point out, was "a
devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people
and prayed God always." Because of these qualifications, he merited the forgiveness
of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. So reason our opponents.
I answer: Cornelius was a Gentile. You cannot deny it. As a Gentile he was
uncircumcised. As a Gentile he did not observe the Law. He never gave the Law any thought.
For all that, he was justified and received the Holy Ghost. How can the Law avail anything
unto righteousness? Our opponents are not satisfied. They reply: "Granted that
Cornelius was a Gentile and did not receive the Holy Ghost by the Law, yet the text
plainly states that he was a devout man who feared God, gave alms, and prayed. Don't you
think he deserved the gift of the Holy Ghost?"
I answer: Cornelius had the faith of the fathers who were saved by faith in the Christ
to come. If Cornelius had died before Christ, he would have been saved because he believed
in the Christ to come. But because the Messiah had already come, Cornelius had to be
apprized of the fact. Since Christ has come we cannot be saved by faith in the Christ to
come, but we must believe that he has come. The object of Peter's visit was to acquaint
Cornelius with the fact that Christ was no longer to be looked for, because He is here.
As to the contention of our opponents that Cornelius deserved grace and the gift of the
Holy Ghost, because he was devout and just, we say that these attributes are the
characteristics of a spiritual person who already has faith in Christ, and not the
characteristics of a Gentile or of natural man. Luke first praises Cornelius for being a
devout and God-fearing man, and then Luke mentions the good works, the alms and prayers of
Cornelius. Our opponents ignore the sequence of Luke's words. They pounce on this one
sentence, "which gave much alms to the people," because it serves their
assertion that merit precedes grace. The fact is that Cornelius gave alms and prayed to
God because he had faith. And because of his faith in the Christ to come, Peter was
delegated to preach unto Cornelius faith in the Christ who had already come. This argument
is convincing enough. Cornelius was justified without the Law, therefore the Law cannot
Take the case of Naaman, the Syrian, who was a Gentile and did not belong to the race
of Moses. Yet his flesh was cleansed, the God of Israel was revealed unto him, and he
received the Holy Ghost. Naaman confessed his faith: "Behold, now I know that there
is no God in all the earth, but in Israel." (II Kings 5:15.) Naaman does not do a
thing. He does not busy himself with the Law. He was never circumcised. That does not mean
that his faith was inactive. He said to the Prophet Elisha: "Thy servant will
henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord.
In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of
Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of
Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this
thing." What did the Prophet tell him?" Go in peace." The Jews do not like
to hear the prophet say this. "What," they exclaim, "should this heathen be
justified without the Law? Should he be made equal to us who are circumcised?"
Long before the time of Moses, God justified men without the Law. He justified many
kings of Egypt and Babylonia. He justified Job. Nineveh, that great city, was justified
and received the promise of God that He would not destroy the city. Why was Nineveh
spared? Not because it fulfilled the Law, but because Nineveh believed the word of God.
The Prophet Jonah writes: "So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a
fast, and put on sackcloth." They repented. Nowhere in the Book of Jonah do you read
that the Ninevites received the Law of Moses, or that they were circumcised, or that they
All this happened long before Christ was born. If the Gentiles were justified without
the Law and quietly received the Holy Spirit at a time when the Law was in full force, why
should the Law count unto righteousness now, now that Christ has fulfilled the Law?
And yet many devote much time and labor to the Law, to the decrees of the fathers, and
to the traditions of the Pope. Many of these specialists have incapacitated themselves for
any kind of work, good or bad, by their rigorous attention to rules and laws. All the
same, they could not obtain a quiet conscience and peace in Christ. But the moment the
Gospel of Christ touches them, certainty comes to them, and joy, and a right judgment.
I have good reason for enlarging upon this point. The heart of man finds it difficult
to believe that so great a treasure as the Holy Ghost is gotten by the mere hearing of
faith. The hearer likes to reason like this: Forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death,
the gift of the Holy Ghost, everlasting life are grand things. If you want to obtain these
priceless benefits, you must engage in correspondingly great efforts. And the devil says,
We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ, and the Holy Ghost, are freely granted
unto us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time
thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God
freely to give us His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not
take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept gifts with joy and
Right away foolish reason is once more offended. It scolds us. "When you say that
a person can do nothing to obtain the grace of God, you foster carnal security. People
become shiftless and will do no good at all. Better not preach this doctrine of faith.
Rather urge the people to exert and to exercise themselves in good works, so that the Holy
Ghost will feel like coming to them."
What did Jesus say to Martha when she was very "careful and troubled about many
things" and could hardly stand to see her sister Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus,
just listening? "Martha, Martha," Jesus said, "thou art careful and
troubled about many things: but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part,
which shall not be taken away from her." A person becomes a Christian not by working,
but by hearing. The first step to being a Christian is to hear the Gospel. When a person
has accepted the Gospel, let him first give thanks unto God with a glad heart, and then
let him get busy on the good works to strive for, works that really please God, and not
man-made and self-chosen works.
Our opponents regard faith as an easy thing, but I know from personal experience how
hard it is to believe. That the Holy Ghost is received by faith, is quickly said, but not
so quickly done.
All believers experience this difficulty. They would gladly embrace the Word with a
full faith, but the flesh deters them. You see, our reason always thinks it is too easy
and cheap to have righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and life everlasting by the mere hearing
of the Gospel
VERSE 3. Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by
Paul now begins to warn the Galatians against a twofold danger. The first danger is:
"Are ye so foolish, that after ye have begun in the Spirit, ye would now end in the
"Flesh" stands for the righteousness of reason which seeks justification by
the accomplishment of the Law. I am told that I began in the spirit under the papacy, but
am ending up in the flesh because I got married. As though single life were a spiritual
life, and married life a carnal life. They are silly. All the duties of a Christian
husband, e.g., to love his wife, to bring up his children, to govern his family, etc., are
the very fruits of the Spirit.
The righteousness of the Law which Paul also terms the righteousness of the flesh is so
far from justifying a person that those who once had the Holy Spirit and lost Him, end up
in the Law to their complete destruction.
VERSE 4. Have ye suffered so many things in vain?
The other danger against which the Apostle warns the Galatians is this: "Have ye
suffered so many things in vain?" Paul wants to say: "Consider not only the good
start you had and lost, but consider also the many things you have suffered for the sake
of the Gospel and for the name of Christ. You have suffered the loss of your possessions,
you have borne reproaches, you have passed through many dangers of body and life. You
endured much for the name of Christ and you endured it faithfully. But now you have lost
everything, the Gospel, faith, and the spiritual benefit of your sufferings for Christ's
sake. What a miserable thing to endure so many amictions for nothing."
VERSE 4. If it be yet in vain.
The Apostle adds the afterthought: "If it be yet in vain. I do not despair of all
hope for you. But if you continue to look to the Law for righteousness, I think you should
be told that all your past true worship of God and all the afflictions that you have
endured for Christ's sake are going to help you not at all. I do not mean to discourage
you altogether. I do hope you will repent and amend."
VERSE 5. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles
among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
This argument based on the experience of the Galatians, pleased the Apostle so well
that he returns to it after he had warned them against their twofold danger. "You
have not only received the Spirit by the preaching of the Gospel, but by the same Gospel
you were enabled to do things." "What things?" we ask. Miracles. At least
the Galatians had manifested the striking fruits of faith which true disciples of the
Gospel manifested in those days. On one occasion the Apostle wrote: "The kingdom of
God is not in word, but in power." This "power" revealed itself not only in
readiness of speech, but in demonstrations of the supernatural ability of the Holy Spirit.
When the Gospel is preached unto faith, hope, love, and patience, God gives His
wonder-working Spirit. Paul reminds the Galatians of this. "God had not only brought
you to faith by my preaching. He had also sanctified you to bring forth the fruits of
faith. And one of the fruits of your faith was that you loved me so devotedly that you
were willing to pluck out your eyes for me." To love a fellow-man so devotedly as to
be ready to bestow upon him money, goods, eyes in order to secure his salvation, such love
is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
"These products of the Spirit you enjoyed before the false apostles misled
you," the Apostle reminds the Galatians. "But you haven't manifested any of
these fruits under the regime of the Law. How does it come that you do not grow the same
fruits now? You no longer teach truly; you do not believe boldly; you do not live well;
you do not work hard; you do not bear things patiently. Who has spoiled you that you no
longer love me; that you are not now ready to pluck out your eyes for me? What has
happened to cool your personal interest in me?"
The same thing happened to me. When I began to proclaim the Gospel, there were many,
very many who were delighted with our doctrine and had a good opinion of us. And now? Now
they have succeeded in making us so odious to those who formerly loved us that they now
hate us like poison.
Paul argues: "Your experience ought to teach you that the fruits of love do not
grow on the stump of the Law. You had not virtue prior to the preaching of the Gospel and
you have no virtues now under the regime of the false apostles."
We, too, may say to those who misname themselves "evangelical" and flout
their new-found liberty: Have you put down the tyranny of the Pope and obtained liberty in
Christ through the Anabaptists and other fanatics? Or have you obtained your freedom from
us who preach faith in Christ Jesus? If there is any honesty left in them they will have
to confess that their freedom dates from the preaching of the Gospel.
VERSE 6. Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for
The Apostle next adduces the example of Abraham and reviews the testimony of the
Scriptures concerning faith. The first passage is taken from Genesis 16:6: "And he
believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness." The Apostle makes
the most of this passage. Abraham may have enjoyed a good standing with men for his
upright life, but not with God. In the sight of God, Abraham was a condemned sinner. That
he was justified before God was not due to his own exertions, but due to his faith. The
Scriptures expressly state: "Abraham believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him
Paul places the emphasis upon the two words: Abraham believed. Faith in God constitutes
the highest worship, the prime duty, the first obedience, and the foremost sacrifice.
Without faith God forfeits His glory, wisdom, truth, and mercy in us. The first duty of
man is to believe in God and to honor Him with his faith. Faith is truly the height of
wisdom, the right kind of righteousness, the only real religion. This will give us an idea
of the excellence of faith.
To believe in God as Abraham did is to be right with God because faith honors God.
Faith says to God: "I believe what you say." When we pay attention to reason,
God seems to propose impossible matters in the Christian Creed. To reason it seems absurd
that Christ should offer His body and blood in the Lord's Supper; that Baptism should be
the washing of regeneration; that the dead shall rise; that Christ the Son of God was
conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, etc. Reason shouts that all this is
preposterous. Are you surprised that reason thinks little of faith? Reason thinks it
ludicrous that faith should be the foremost service any person can render unto God.
Let your faith supplant reason. Abraham mastered reason by faith in the Word of God.
Not as though reason ever yields meekly. It put up a fight against the faith of Abraham.
Reason protested that it was absurd to think that Sarah who was ninety years old and
barren by nature, should give birth to a son. But faith won the victory and routed reason,
that ugly beast and enemy of God. Everyone who by faith slays reason, the world's biggest
monster, renders God a real service, a better service than the religions of all races and
all the drudgery of meritorious monks can render.
Men fast, pray, watch, suffer. They intend to appease the wrath of God and to deserve
God's grace by their exertions. But there is no glory in it for God, because by their
exertions these workers pronounce God an unmerciful slave driver, an unfaithful and angry
Judge. They despise God, make a liar out of Him, snub Christ and all His benefits; in
short they pull God from His throne and perch themselves on it.
Faith truly honors God. And because faith honors God, God counts faith for
Christian righteousness is the confidence of the heart in God through Christ Jesus.
Such confidence is accounted righteousness for Christ's sake. Two things make for
Christian righteousness: Faith in Christ, which is a gift of God; and God's acceptance of
this imperfect faith of ours for perfect righteousness. Because of my faith in Christ, God
overlooks my distrust, the unwillingness of my spirit, my many other sins. Because the
shadow of Christ's wing covers me I have no fear that God will cover all my sins and take
my imperfections for perfect righteousness.
God "winks" at my sins and covers them up. God says: "Because you
believe in My Son I will forgive your sins until death shall deliver you from the body of
Learn to understand the constitution of your Christian righteousness. Faith is weak,
but it means enough to God that He will not lay sin to our charge. He will not punish nor
condemn us for it. He will forgive our sins as though they amount to nothing at all. He
will do it not because we are worthy of such mercy. He will do it for Jesus' sake in whom
Paradoxically, a Christian is both right and wrong, holy and profane, an enemy of God
and a child of God. These contradictions no person can harmonize who does not understand
the true way of salvation. Under the papacy we were told to toil until the feeling of
guilt had left us. But the authors of this deranged idea were frequently driven to despair
in the hour of death. It would have happened to me, if Christ had not mercifully delivered
me from this error.
We comfort the afflicted sinner in this manner: Brother, you can never be perfect in
this life, but you can be holy. He will say: "How can I be holy when I feel my
sins?" I answer: You feel sin? That is a good sign. To realize that one is ill is a
step, and a very necessary step, toward recovery. "But how will I get rid of my
sin?" he will ask. I answer: See the heavenly Physician, Christ, who heals the
broken-hearted. Do not consult that Quackdoctor, Reason. Believe in Christ and your sins
will be pardoned. His righteousness will become your righteousness, and your sins will
become His sins.
On one occasion Jesus said to His disciples: "The Father loveth you." Why?
Not because the disciples were Pharisees, or circumcised, or particularly attentive to the
Law. Jesus said: "The Father loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed
that I came out from God. It pleased you to know that the Father sent me into the world.
And because you believed it the Father loves you." On another occasion Jesus called
His disciples evil and commanded them to ask for forgiveness.
A Christian is beloved of God and a sinner. How can these two contradictions be
harmonized: I am a sinner and deserve God's wrath and punishment, and yet the Father loves
me? Christ alone can harmonize these contradictions. He is the Mediator.
Do you now see how faith justifies without works? Sin lingers in us, and God hates sin.
A transfusion of righteousness therefore becomes vitally necessary. This transfusion of
righteousness we obtain from Christ because we believe in Him.
VERSE 7. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children
This is the main point of Paul's argument against the Jews: The children of Abraham are
those who believe and not those who are born of Abraham's flesh and blood. This point Paul
drives home with all his might because the Jews attached saving value to the genealogical
fact: "We are the seed and children of Abraham."
Let us begin with Abraham and learn how this friend of God was justified and saved. Not
because he left his country, his relatives, his father's house; not because he was
circumcised; not because he stood ready to sacrifice his own son Isaac in whom he had the
promise of posterity. Abraham was justified because he believed. Paul's argumentation runs
like this: "Since this is the unmistakable testimony of Holy Writ, why do you take
your stand upon circumcision and the Law? Was not Abraham, your father, of whom you make
so much, justified and saved without circumcision and the Law by faith alone?" Paul
therefore concludes: "They which are of faith, the same are the children of
Abraham was the father of the faithful. In order to be a child of the believing Abraham
you must believe as he did. Otherwise you are merely the physical offspring of the
procreating Abraham, i.e., you were conceived and born in sin unto wrath and condemnation.
Ishmael and Isaac were both the natural children of Abraham. By rights Ishmael should
have enjoyed the prerogatives of the firstborn, if physical generation had any special
value. Nevertheless he was left out in the cold while Isaac was called. This goes to prove
that the children of faith are the real children of Abraham.
Some find fault with Paul for applying the term "faith" in Genesis 15:6 to
Christ. They think Paul's use of the term too wide and general. They think its meaning
should be restricted to the context. They claim Abraham's faith had no more in it than a
belief in the promise of God that he should have seed.
We reply: Faith presupposes the assurance of God's mercy. This assurance takes in the
confidence that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake. Never will the conscience trust
in God unless it can be sure of God's mercy and promises in Christ. Now all the promises
of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ: "And I will put enmity
between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head,
and thou shalt bruise his heel." The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era,
and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus, although
times and conditions may differ. Peter acknowledged this in the words: "Which neither
our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord
Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (Acts l5: 10, 11.) And Paul writes:
"And did all drink the spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that
followed them: and that Rock was Christ." (I Cor. 10 :4.) And Christ Himself
declared: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was
glad." (John 8:56.) The faith of the fathers was directed at the Christ who was to
come, while ours rests in the Christ who has come. Time does not change the object of true
faith, or the Holy Spirit. There has always been and always will be one mind, one
impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times
past, now, or in times to come. We too believe in the Christ to come as the fathers did in
the Old Testament, for we look for Christ to come again on the last day to judge the quick
and the dead.
VERSE 7. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children
Paul is saying: "You know from the example of Abraham and from the plain testimony
of the Scriptures that they are the children of Abraham, who have faith in Christ,
regardless of their nationality, regardless of the Law, regardless of works, regardless of
their parentage. The promise was made unto Abraham, 'Thou shalt be a father of many
nations'; again, 'And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."' To
prevent the Jews from misinterpreting the word "nations," the Scriptures are
careful to say "many nations." The true children of Abraham are the believers in
Christ from all nations.
VERSE 8. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through
"Your boasting does not get you anywhere," says Paul to the Galatians,
"because the Sacred Scriptures foresaw and foretold long before the Law was ever
given, that the heathen should be justified by the blessed 'seed' of Abraham and not by
the Law. This promise was made four hundred and thirty years before the Law was given.
Because the Law was given so many years after Abraham, it could not abolish the promised
blessing." This argument is strong because it is based on the exact factor of time.
"Why should you boast of the Law, my Galatians, when the Law came four hundred and
thirty years after the promise ?"
The false apostles glorified the Law and despised the promise made unto Abraham,
although it antedated the Law by many years. It was after Abraham was accounted righteous
because of his faith that the Scriptures first make mention of circumcision. "The
Scriptures," says Paul, "meant to forestall your infatuation for the
righteousness of the Law by installing the righteousness of faith before circumcision and
the Law ever were ordained."
VERSE 8. Preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations
The Jews misconstrue this passage. They want the term "to bless" to mean
"to praise." They want the passage to read: In thee shall all the nations of the
earth be praised. But this is a perversion of the words of Holy Writ. With the words
"Abraham believed" Paul describes a spiritual Abraham, renewed by faith and
regenerated by the Holy Ghost, that he should be the spiritual father of many nations. In
that way all the Gentiles could be given to him for an inheritance.
The Scriptures ascribe no righteousness to Abraham except through faith. The Scriptures
speak of Abraham as he stands before God, a man justified by faith. Because of his faith
God extends to him the promise: "In thee shall all nations be blessed."
VERSE 9. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
The emphasis lies on the words "with faithful Abraham." Paul distinguishes
between Abraham and Abraham. There is a working and there is a believing Abraham. With the
working Abraham we have nothing to do. Let the Jews glory in the generating Abraham; we
glory in the believing Abraham of whom the Scriptures say that he received the blessing of
righteousness by faith, not only for himself but for all who believe as he did. The world
was promised to Abraham because he believed. The whole world is blessed if it believes as
The blessing is the promise of the Gospel. That all nations are to be blessed means
that all nations are to hear the Gospel. All nations are to be declared righteous before
God through faith in Christ Jesus. To bless simply means to spread abroad the knowledge of
Christ's salvation. This is the office of the New Testament Church which distributes the
promised blessing by preaching the Gospel, by administering the sacraments, by comforting
the broken- hearted, in short, by dispensing the benefits of Christ.
The Jews exhibited a working Abraham. The Pope exhibits a working Christ, or an
exemplary Christ. The Pope quotes Christ's saying recorded in John 13:15, "I have
given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." We do not deny that
Christians ought to imitate the example of Christ; but mere imitation will not satisfy
God. And bear in mind that Paul is not now discussing the example of Christ, but the
salvation of Christ. That Abraham submitted to circumcision at the command of God, that he
was endowed with excellent virtues, that he obeyed God in all things, was certainly
admirable of him. To follow the example of Christ, to love one's neighbor, to do good to
them that persecute you, to pray for one's enemies, patiently to bear the ingratitude of
those who return evil for good, is certainly praiseworthy. But praiseworthy or not, such
virtues do not acquit us before God. It takes more than that to make us righteous before
God. We need Christ Himself, not His example, to save us. We need a redeeming, not an
exemplary Christ, to save us. Paul is here speaking of the redeeming Christ and the
believing Abraham, not of the model Christ or the sweating Abraham.
The believing Abraham is not to lie buried in the grave. He is to be dusted off and
brought out before the world. He is to be praised to the sky for his faith. Heaven and
earth ought to know about him and about his faith in Christ. The working Abraham ought to
look pretty small next to the believing Abraham.
Paul's words contain the implication of contrast. When he quotes Scripture to the
effect that all nations that share the faith of faithful Abraham are to be blessed, Paul
means to imply the contrast that all nations are accursed without faith in Christ.
VERSE 10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.
The curse of God is like a flood that swallows everything that is not of faith. To
avoid the curse we must hold on to the promise of the blessing in Christ.
The reader is reminded that all this has no bearing upon civil laws, customs, or
political matters. Civil laws and ordinances have their place and purpose. Let every
government enact the best possible laws. But civil
righteousness will never deliver a person from the condemnation of God's Law.
I have good reason for calling your attention to this. People easily mistake civil
righteousness for spiritual righteousness. In civil life we must, of course, pay attention
to laws and deeds, but in the spiritual life we must not think to be justified by laws and
works, but always keep in mind the promise and blessing of Christ, our only Savior.
According to Paul everything that is not of faith is sin. When our opponents hear us
repeat this statement of Paul, they make it appear as if we taught that governments should
not be honored, as if we favored rebellion against the constituted authorities, as if we
condemned all laws. Our opponents do us a great wrong, for we make a clear-cut distinction
between civil and spiritual affairs.
Governmental laws and ordinances are blessings of God for this life only. As for
everlasting life, temporal blessings are not good enough. Unbelievers enjoy more temporal
blessings than the Christians. Civil or legal righteousness may be good enough for this
life but not for the life hereafter. Otherwise the infidels would be nearer heaven than
the Christians, for infidels often excel in civil righteousness.
VERSE 10. For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things
which are written in the book of the law to do them.
Paul goes on to prove from this quotation out of the Book of Deuteronomy that all men
who are under the Law are under the sentence of sin, of the wrath of God, and of
everlasting death. Paul produces his proof in a roundabout way. He turns the negative
statement, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written
in the book of the law to do them," into a positive statement, "As many as are
of the works of the law are under the curse." These two statements, one by Paul and
the other by Moses, appear to conflict. Paul declares, "Whosoever shall do the works
of the Law, is accursed." Moses declares, "Whosoever shall not do the works of
the Law, is accursed." How can these two contradictory statements be reconciled? How
can the one statement prove the other? No person can hope to understand Paul unless he
understands the article of justification. These two statements are not at all
We must bear in mind that to do the works of the Law does not mean only to live up to
the superficial requirements of the Law, but to obey the spirit of the Law to perfection.
But where will you find the person who can do that? Let him step forward and we will
Our opponents have their answer ready-made. They quote Paul's own statement in Romans
2:13, "The doers of the law shall be justified." Very well. But let us first
find out who the doers of the law are. They call a "doer" of the Law one who
performs the Law in its literal sense. This is not to "do" the Law. This is to
sin. When our opponents go about to perform the Law they sin against the first, the
second, and the third commandments, in fact they sin against the whole Law. For God
requires above all that we worship Him in spirit and in faith. In observing the Law for
the purpose of obtaining righteousness without faith in Christ these law-workers go smack
against the Law and against God. They deny the righteousness of God, His mercy, and His
promises. They deny Christ and all His benefits.
In their ignorance of the true purpose of the Law the exponents of the Law abuse the
Law, as Paul says, Romans 10:3, "For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and
going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the
righteousness of God."
In their folly our opponents rush into the Scriptures, pick out a sentence here and a
sentence there about the Law and imagine they know all about it. Their work-righteousness
is plain idolatry and blasphemy against God. No wonder they abide under the curse of God.
Because God saw that we could not fulfill the Law, He provided a way of salvation long
before the Law was ever given, a salvation that He promised to Abraham, saying, "In
thee shall all nations be blessed."
The very first thing for us to do is to believe in Christ. First, we must receive the
Holy Spirit, who enlightens and sanctifies us so that we can begin to do the Law, i.e., to
love God and our neighbor. Now, the Holy Ghost is not obtained by the Law, but by faith in
Christ. In the last analysis, to do the Law means to believe in Jesus Christ. The tree
comes first, and then come the fruits.
The scholastics admit that a mere external and superficial performance of the Law
without sincerity and good will is plain hypocrisy. Judas acted like the other disciples.
What was wrong with Judas? Mark what Rome answers, "Judas was a reprobate. His
motives were perverse, therefore his works were hypocritical and no good." Well,
well. Rome does admit, after all, that works in themselves do not justify unless they
issue from a sincere heart. Why do our opponents not profess the same truth in spiritual
matters? There, above all, faith must precede everything. The heart must be purified by
faith before a person can lift a finger to please God.
There are two classes of doers of the Law, true doers and hypocritical doers. The true
doers of the Law are those who are moved by faith in Christ to do the Law. The
hypocritical doers of the Law are those who seek to obtain righteousness by a mechanical
performance of good works while their hearts are far removed from God. They act like the
foolish carpenter who starts with the roof when he builds a house. Instead of doing the
Law, these law-conscious hypocrites break the Law. They break the very first commandment
of God by denying His promise in Christ. They do not worship God in faith. They worship
No wonder Paul was able to foretell the abominations that Antichrist would bring into
the Church. That Antichrists would come, Christ Himself prophesied, Matthew 24:5,
"For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many."
Whoever seeks righteousness by works denies God and makes himself God. He is an Antichrist
because he ascribes to his own works the omnipotent capability of conquering sin, death,
devil, hell, and the wrath of God. An Antichrist lays claim to the honor of Christ. He is
an idolater of himself. The law- righteous person is the worst kind of infidel.
Those who intend to obtain righteousness by their own efforts do not say in so many
words: "I am God; I am Christ." But it amounts to that. They usurp the divinity
and office of Christ. The effect is the same as if they said, "I am Christ; I am a
Savior. I save myself and others." This is the impression the monks give out.
The Pope is the Antichrist, because he is against Christ, because he takes liberties
with the things of God, because he lords it over the temple of God.
I cannot tell you in words how criminal it is to seek righteousness before God without
faith in Christ, by the works of the Law. It is the abomination standing in the holy
place. It deposes the Creator and deifies the creature.
The real doers of the Law are the true believers. The Holy Spirit enables them to love
God and their neighbor. But because we have only the first- fruits of the Spirit and not
the tenth-fruits, we do not observe the Law perfectly. This imperfection of ours, however,
is not imputed to us, for Christ's sake.
Hence, the statement of Moses, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all
things which are written in the book of the law to do them," is not contrary to Paul.
Moses requires perfect doers of the Law. But where will you find them? Nowhere. Moses
himself confessed that he was not a perfect doer of the Law. He said to the Lord:
"Pardon our iniquity and our sin." Christ alone can make us innocent of any
transgression. How so? First, by the forgiveness of our sins and the imputation of His
righteousness. Secondly, by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who engenders new life and
activity in us.
Objections to the Doctrine of Faith Disproved
Here we shall take the time to enter upon the objections which our opponents raise
against the doctrine of faith. There are many passages in the Bible that deal with works
and the reward of works which our opponents cite against us in the belief that these will
disprove the doctrine of faith which we teach.
The scholastics grant that according to the reasonable order of nature being precedes
doing. They grant that any act is faulty unless it proceeds from a right motive. They
grant that a person must be right before he can do right. Why don't they grant that the
right inclination of the heart toward God through faith in Christ must precede works?
In the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews we find a catalogue of various
works and deeds of the saints of the Bible. David, who killed a lion and a bear, and
defeated Goliath, is mentioned. In the heroic deeds of David the scholastic can discover
nothing more than outward achievement. But the deeds of David must be evaluated according
to the personality of David. When we understand that David was a man of faith, whose heart
trusted in the Lord, we shall understand why he could do such heroic deeds. David said:
"The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the
bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine." Again: "Thou
comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the
name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This
day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take shine head
from thee." (I Samuel 17:37, 45, 46.) Before David could achieve a single heroic deed
he was already a man beloved of God, strong and constant in faith.
Of Abel it is said in the same Epistle: "By faith Abel offered unto God a more
excellent sacrifice than Cain." When the scholastics come upon the parallel passage
in Genesis 4:4 they get no further than the words: "And the Lord had respect unto
Abel and to his offering." "Aha!" they cry. "See, God has respect to
offerings. Works do justify." With mud in their eyes they cannot see that the text
says in Genesis that the Lord had respect to the person of Abel first. Abel pleased the
Lord because of his faith. Because the person of Abel pleased the Lord, the offering of
Abel pleased the Lord also. The Epistle to the Hebrews expressly states: "By faith
Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice."
In our dealings with God the work is worth nothing without faith, for "without
faith it is impossible to please him." (Hebrews 11:6.) The sacrifice of Abel was
better than the sacrifice of Cain, because Abel had faith. As to Cain he had no faith or
trust in God's grace, but strutted about in his own fancied worth. When God refused to
recognize Cain's worth, Cain got angry at God and at Abel. The Holy Spirit speaks of faith
in different ways in the Sacred Scriptures. Sometimes He speaks of faith independently of
other matters. When the Scriptures speak of faith in the absolute or abstract, faith
refers to justification directly. But when the Scripture speaks of rewards and works it
speaks of compound or relative faith. We will furnish some examples. Galatians 5:6,
"Faith which worketh by love." Leviticus 18:5, "Which if a man do, he shall
live in them." Matthew 19:17, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the
commandments." Psalm 37:27, "Depart from evil, and do good." In these and
other passages where mention is made of doing, the Scriptures always speak of a faithful
doing, a doing inspired by faith. "Do this and thou shalt live," means: First
have faith in Christ, and Christ will enable you to do and to live.
In the Word of God all things that are attributed to works are attributable to faith.
Faith is the divinity of works. Faith permeates all the deeds of the believer, as Christ's
divinity permeated His humanity. Abraham was accounted righteous because faith pervaded
his whole personality and his every action.
When you read how the fathers, prophets, and kings accomplished great deeds, remember
to explain them as the Epistle to the Hebrews accounts for them: "Who through faith
subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of
lions." (Hebrews 11:33.) In this way will we correctly interpret all those passages
that seem to support the righteousness of works. The Law is truly observed only through
faith. Hence, every "holy," "moral" law-worker is accursed.
Supposing that this explanation will not satisfy the scholastics, supposing that they
should completely wrap me up in their arguments (they cannot do it), I would rather be
wrong and give all credit to Christ alone. Here is Christ. Paul, Christ's apostle,
declares that "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse
for us." (Gal. 3:13.) I hear with my own ears that I cannot be saved except by the
blood and death of Christ. I conclude, therefore, that it is up to Christ to overcome my
sins, and not up to the Law, or my own efforts. If He is the price of my redemption, if He
was made sin for my justification, I don't give a care if you quote me a thousand
Scripture passages for the righteousness of works against the righteousness of faith. I
have the Author and Lord of the Scriptures on my side. I would rather believe Him than all
that riffraff of "pious" law- workers.
VERSE 11. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is
evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
The Apostle draws into his argument the testimony of the Prophet Habakkuk: "The
just shall live by his faith." This passage carries much weight because it eliminates
the Law and the deeds of the Law as factors in the process of our justification.
The scholastics misconstrue this passage by saying: "The just shall live by faith,
if it is a working faith, or a faith formed and performed by charitable works." Their
annotation is a forgery. To speak of formed or unformed faith, a sort of double faith, is
contrary to the Scriptures. If charitable works can form and perfect faith I am forced to
say eventually that charitable deeds constitute the essential factor in the Christian
religion. Christ and His benefits would be lost to us.
VERSE 12. And the law is not of faith.
In direct opposition to the scholastics Paul declares: "The law is not of
faith." What is this charity the scholastics talk so much about? Does not the Law
command charity? The fact is the Law commands nothing but charity, as we may gather from
the following Scripture passages: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine
heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:5.) "Strewing
mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:6.)
"On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:40.) If
the law requires charity, charity is part of the Law and not of faith. Since Christ has
displaced the Law which commands charity, it follows that charity has been abrogated with
the Law as a factor in our justification, and only faith is left.
VERSE 12. But, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
Paul undertakes to explain the difference between the righteousness of the Law and the
righteousness of faith. The righteousness of the Law is the fulfillment of the Law
according to the passage: "The man that doeth them shall live in them." The
righteousness of faith is to believe the Gospel according to the passage: "The just
shall live by faith." The Law is a statement of debit, the Gospel a statement of
credit. By this distinction Paul explains why charity which is the commandment of the Law
cannot justify, because the Law contributes nothing to our justification.
Indeed, works do follow after faith, but faith is not therefore a meritorious work.
Faith is a gift. The character and limitations of the Law must be rigidly maintained.
When we believe in Christ we live by faith. When we believe in the Law we may be active
enough but we have no life. The function of the Law is not to give life; the function of
the Law is to kill. True, the Law says: "The man that doeth them shall live in
them." But where is the person who can do "them," i.e., love God with all
his heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbor as himself?
Paul has nothing against those who are justified by faith and therefore are true doers
of the Law. He opposes those who think they can fulfill the Law when in reality they can
only sin against the Law by trying to obtain righteousness by the Law. The Law demands
that we fear, love, and worship God with a true faith. The law-workers fail to do this.
Instead, they invent new modes of worship and new kinds of works which God never
commanded. They provoke His anger according to the passage: "But in vain they do
worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:9.) Hence,
the law-righteous workers are downright rebels against God, and idolaters who constantly
sin against the first commandment. In short, they are no good at-all though outwardly they
seem to be extremely solicitous of the honor of God.
We who are justified by faith as the saints of old, may be under the Law, but we are
not under the curse of the Law because sin is not imputed to us for Christ's sake. If the
Law cannot be fulfilled by the believers, if sin continues to cling to them despite their
love for God, what can you expect of people who are not yet justified by faith, who are
still enemies of God and His Word, like the unbelieving law-workers? It goes to show how
impossible it is for those who have not been justified by faith to fulfill the Law.
VERSE 13. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for
us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.
Jerome and his present-day followers rack their miserable brains over this comforting
passage in an effort to save Christ from the fancied insult of being called a curse. They
say: "This quotation from Moses does not apply to Christ. Paul is taking liberties
with Moses by generalizing the statements in Deuteronomy 21:23. Moses has 'he that is
hanged.' Paul puts it 'every one that hangeth.' On the other hand, Paul omits the words
'of God' in his quotation from Moses: 'For he that is hanged is accursed of God.' Moses
speaks of a criminal who is worthy of death." "How," our opponents ask,
"can this passage be applied to the holy Christ as if He were accursed of God and
worthy to be hanged?" This piece of exegesis may impress the naive as a zealous
attempt to defend the honor and glory of Christ. Let us see what Paul has in mind.
Paul does not say that Christ was made a curse for Himself. The accent is on the two
words "for us." Christ is personally innocent. Personally, He did not deserve to
be hanged for any crime of His own doing. But because Christ took the place of others who
were sinners, He was hanged like any other transgressor. The Law of Moses leaves no
loopholes. It says that a transgressor should be hanged. Who are the other sinners? We
are. The sentence of death and everlasting damnation had long been pronounced over us. But
Christ took all our sins and died for them on the Cross. "He was numbered with the
transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the
transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12.)
All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest transgressor, murderer,
adulterer, thief, blasphemer that ever was or ever could be on earth. When He took the
sins of the whole world upon Himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a
sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer; burdened with the sins of a
Peter who denied Christ; burdened with the sins of a David who committed adultery and
murder, and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord. In short, Christ was charged
with the sins of all men, that He should pay for them with His own blood. The curse struck
Him. The Law found Him among sinners. He was not only in the company of sinners. He had
gone so far as to invest Himself with the flesh and blood of sinners. So the Law judged
and hanged Him for a sinner.
In separating Christ from us sinners and holding Him up as a holy exemplar, errorists
rob us of our best comfort. They misrepresent Him as a threatening tyrant who is ready to
slaughter us at the slightest provocation.
I am told that it is preposterous and wicked to call the Son of God a cursed sinner. I
answer: If you deny that He is a condemned sinner, you are forced to deny that Christ
died. It is not less preposterous to say, the Son of God died, than to say, the Son of God
was a sinner.
John the Baptist called Him "the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world." Being the unspotted Lamb of God, Christ was personally innocent. But because
He took the sins of the world His sinlessness was defiled with the sinfulness of the
world. Whatever sins I, you, all of us have committed or shall commit, they are Christ's
sins as if He had committed them Himself. Our sins have to be Christ's sins or we shall
Isaiah declares of Christ: "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us
all." We have no right to minimize the force of this declaration. God does not amuse
Himself with words. What a relief for a Christian to know that Christ is covered all over
with my sins, your sins, and the sins of the whole world.
The papists invented their own doctrine of faith. They say charity creates and adorns
their faith. By stripping Christ of our sins, by making Him sinless, they cast our sins
back at us, and make Christ absolutely worthless to us. What sort of charity is this? If
that is a sample of their vaunted charity we want none of it.
Our merciful Father in heaven saw how the Law oppressed us and how impossible it was
for us to get out from under the curse of the Law. He therefore sent His only Son into the
world and said to Him: "You are now Peter, the liar; Paul, the persecutor; David, the
adulterer; Adam, the disobedient; the thief on the cross. You, My Son, must pay the
world's iniquity." The Law growls: "All right. If Your Son is taking the sin of
the world, I see no sins anywhere else but in Him. He shall die on the Cross." And
the Law kills Christ. But we go free.
The argument of the Apostle against the righteousness of the Law is impregnable. If
Christ bears our sins, we do not bear them. But if Christ is innocent of our sins and does
not bear them, we must bear them, and we shall die in our sins. "But thanks be to
God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Let us see how Christ was able to gain the victory over our enemies. The sins of the
whole world, past, present, and future, fastened themselves upon Christ and condemned Him.
But because Christ is God He had an everlasting and unconquerable righteousness. These
two, the sin of the world and the righteousness of God, met in a death struggle. Furiously
the sin of the world assailed the righteousness of God. Righteousness is immortal and
invincible. On the other hand, sin is a mighty tyrant who subdues all men. This tyrant
pounces on Christ. But Christ's righteousness is unconquerable. The result is inevitable.
Sin is defeated and righteousness triumphs and reigns forever.
In the same manner was death defeated. Death is emperor of the world. He strikes down
kings, princes, all men. He has an idea to destroy all life. But Christ has immortal life,
and life immortal gained the victory over death. Through Christ death has lost her sting.
Christ is the Death of death.
The curse of God waged a similar battle with the eternal mercy of God in Christ. The
curse meant to condemn God's mercy. But it could not do it because the mercy of God is
everlasting. The curse had to give way. If the mercy of God in Christ had lost out, God
Himself would have lost out, which, of course, is impossible.
"Christ," says Paul, "spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show
of them openly, triumphing over them in it." (Col. 2:15.) They cannot harm those who
hide in Christ. Sin, death, the wrath of God, hell, the devil are mortified in Christ.
Where Christ is near the powers of evil must keep their distance. St. John says: "And
this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (I John 5:4.)
You may now perceive why it is imperative to believe and confess the divinity of
Christ. To overcome the sin of a whole world, and death, and the wrath of God was no work
for any creature. The power of sin and death could be broken only by a greater power. God
alone could abolish sin, destroy death, and take away the curse of the Law. God alone
could bring righteousness, life, and mercy to light. In attributing these achievements to
Christ the Scriptures pronounce Christ to be God forever. The article of justification is
indeed fundamental. If we remain sound in this one article, we remain sound in all the
other articles of the Christian faith. When we teach justification by faith in Christ we
confess at the same time that Christ is God.
I cannot get over the blindness of the Pope's theologians. To imagine that the mighty
forces of sin, death, and the curse can be vanquished by the righteousness of man's paltry
works, by fasting, pilgrimages, masses, vows, and such gewgaws. These blind leaders of the
blind turn the poor people over to the mercy of sin, death, and the devil. What chance has
a defenseless human creature against these powers of darkness? They train sinners who are
ten times worse than any thief, whore, murderer. The divine power of God alone can destroy
sin and death, and create righteousness and life.
When we hear that Christ was made a curse for us, let us believe it with joy and
assurance. By faith Christ changes places with us. He gets our sins, we get His holiness.
By faith alone can we become righteous, for faith invests us with the sinlessness of
Christ. The more fully we believe this, the fuller will be our joy. If you believe that
sin, death, and the curse are void, why, they are null, zero. Whenever sin and death make
you nervous write it down as an illusion of the devil. There is no sin now, no curse, no
death, no devil because Christ has done away with them. This fact is sure. There is
nothing wrong with the fact. The defect lies in our lack of faith.
In the Apostolic Creed we confess: "I believe in the holy Christian Church."
That means, I believe that there is no sin, no curse, no evil in the Church of God. Faith
says: "I believe that." But if you want to believe your eyes you will find many
shortcomings and offenses in the members of the holy Church. You see them succumb to
temptation, you see them weak in faith, you see them giving way to anger, envy, and other
evil dispositions. "How can the Church be holy?" you ask. It is with the
Christian Church as it is with the individual Christian. If I examine myself I find enough
unholiness to shock me. But when I look at Christ in me I find that I am altogether holy.
And so it is with the Church.
Holy Writ does not say that Christ was under the curse. It says directly that Christ
was made a curse. In II Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes: "For he (God) hath made him
(Christ) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God
in him." Although this and similar passages may be properly explained by saying that
Christ was made a sacrifice for the curse and for sin, yet in my judgment it is better to
leave these passages stand as they read: Christ was made sin itself; Christ was made the
curse itself. When a sinner gets wise to himself he does not only feel miserable, he feels
like misery personified; he does not only feel like a sinner, he feels like sin itself.
To finish with this verse: All evils would have overwhelmed us, as they shall overwhelm
the unbelievers forever, if Christ had not become the great transgressor and guilty bearer
of all our sins. The sins of the world got Him down for a moment. They came around Him
like water. Of Christ, the Old Testament Prophet complained: "Thy fierce wrath goeth
over me; thy terrors have cut me off." (Psalm 88 16.) By Christ's salvation we have
been delivered from the terrors of God to a life of eternal felicity.
VERSE 14. That the blessing of Abraham might come, on the Gentiles through Jesus
Paul always keeps this text before him: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the
earth be blessed." The blessing promised unto Abraham could come upon the Gentiles
only by Christ, the seed of Abraham. To become a blessing unto all nations Christ had to
be made a curse to take away the curse from the nations of the earth. The merit that we
plead, and the work that we proffer is Christ who was made a curse for us.
Let us become expert in the art of transferring our sins, our death, and every evil
from ourselves to Christ; and Christ's righteousness and blessing from Christ to
VERSE 14. That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
"The promise of the Spirit" is Hebrew for "the promised Spirit."
The Spirit spells freedom from the Law, sin, death, the curse, hell, and the judgment of
God. No merits are mentioned in connection with this promise of the Spirit and all the
blessings that go with Him. This Spirit of many blessings is received by faith alone.
Faith alone builds on the promises of God, as Paul says in this verse.
Long ago the prophets visualized the happy changes Christ would effect in all things.
Despite the fact that the Jews had the Law of God they never ceased to look longingly for
Christ. After Moses no prophet or king added a single law to the Book. Any changes or
additions were deferred to the time of Christ's coming. Moses told the people: "The
Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren,
like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken." (Deut. 18:15.)
God's people of old felt that the Law of Moses could not be improved upon until the
Messiah would bring better things than the Law, i.e., grace and remission of sins.
VERSE 15. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's
covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
After the preceding, well-taken argument, Paul offers another based on the similarity
between a man's testament and God's testament. A man's testament seems too weak a premise
for the Apostle to argue from in confirmation of so important a matter as justification.
We ought to prove earthly things by heavenly things, and not heavenly things by earthly
things. But where the earthly thing is an ordinance of God we may use it to prove divine
matters. In Matthew 7:11 Christ Himself argued from earthly to heavenly things when He
said: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children; how much
more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
To come to Paul's argument. Civil law, which is God's ordinance, prohibits tampering
with any testament of man. Any person's last will and testament must be respected. Paul
asks: "Why is it that man's last will is scrupulously respected and not God's
testament? You would not think of breaking faith with a man's testament. Why do you not
keep faith with God's testament?"
The Apostle says that he is speaking after the manner of men. He means to say: "I
will give you an illustration from the customs of men. If a man's last will is respected.
and it is, how much more ought the testament of God be honored: 'In thy seed shall all the
nations of the earth be blessed.' When Christ died, this testament was sealed by His
blood. After His death the testament was opened, it was published to the nations. No man
ought to alter God's testament as the false apostles do who substitute the Law and
traditions of men for the testament of God."
As the false prophets tampered with God's testament in the days of Paul, so many do in
our day. They will observe human laws punctiliously, but the laws of God they transgress
without the flicker of an eyelid. But the time will come when they will find out that it
is no joke to pervert the testament of God.
VERSE 16. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to
seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
The word testament is another name for the promise that God made unto Abraham
concerning Christ. A testament is not a law, but an inheritance. Heirs do not look for
laws and assessments when they open a last will; they look for grants and favors. The
testament which God made out to Abraham did not contain laws. It contained promises of
great spiritual blessings.
The promises were made in view of Christ, in one seed, not in many seeds. The Jews will
not accept this interpretation. They insist that the singular "seed" is put for
the plural "seeds." We prefer the interpretation of Paul, who makes a fine case
for Christ and for us out of the singular "seed," and is after all inspired to
do so by the Holy Ghost.
VERSE 17. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in
Christ, the law which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it
should make the promise of none effect.
The Jews assert that God was not satisfied with His promises, but after four hundred
and thirty years He gave the Law. "God," they say, "must have mistrusted
His own promises, and considered them inadequate for salvation. Therefore He added to His
promises something better, the Law. The Law," they say, "canceled the
Paul answers: "The Law was given four hundred and thirty years after the promise
was made to Abraham. The Law could not cancel the promise because the promise was the
testament of God, confirmed by God in Christ many years before the Law. What God has once
promised He does not take back. Every promise of God is a ratified promise."
Why was the Law added to the promise? Not to serve as a medium by which the promise
might be obtained. The Law was added for these reasons: That there might be in the world a
special people, rigidly controlled by the Law, a people out of which Christ should be born
in due time; and that men burdened by many laws might sigh and long for Him, their
Redeemer, the seed of Abraham. Even the ceremonies prescribed by the Law foreshadowed
Christ. Therefore the Law was never meant to cancel the promise of God. The Law was meant
to confirm the promise until the time should come when God would open His testament in the
Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God did well in giving the promise so many years before the Law, that it may never be
said that righteousness is granted through the Law and not through the promise. If God had
meant for us to be justified by the Law, He would have given the Law four hundred and
thirty years before the promise, at least He would have given the Law at the same time He
gave the promise. But He never breathed a word about the Law until four hundred years
after. The promise is therefore better than the Law. The Law does not cancel the promise,
but faith in the promised Christ cancels the Law.
The Apostle is careful to mention the exact number of four hundred and thirty years.
The wide divergence in the time between the promise and the Law helps to clinch Paul's
argument that righteousness is not obtained by the Law.
Let me illustrate. A man of great wealth adopts a strange lad for his son. Remember, he
does not owe the lad anything. In due time he appoints the lad heir to his entire fortune.
Several years later the old man asks the lad to do something for him. And the young lad
does it. Can the lad then go around and say that he deserved the inheritance by his
obedience to the old man's request ? How can anybody say that righteousness is obtained by
obedience to the Law when the Law was given four hundred and thirty years after God's
promise of the blessing?
One thing is certain, Abraham was never justified by the Law, for the simple reason
that the Law was not in his day. If the Law was non-existent how could Abraham obtain
righteousness by the Law? Abraham had nothing else to go by but the promise. This promise
he believed and that was counted unto him for righteousness. If the father obtained
righteousness through faith, the children get it the same way.
We use the argument of time also. We say our sins were taken away by the death of
Christ fifteen hundred years ago, long before there were any religious orders, canons, or
rules of penance, merits, etc. What did people do about their sins before these new
inventions were hatched up?
Paul finds his arguments for the righteousness of faith everywhere. Even the element of
time serves to build his case against the false apostles. Let us fortify our conscience
with similar arguments. They help us in the trials of our faith. They turn our attention
from the Law to the promises, from sin to righteousness; from death to life.
It is not for nothing that Paul bears down on this argument. He foresaw this confusion
of the promise and the Law creeping into the Church. Accustom yourself to separate Law and
Gospel even in regard to time. When the Law comes to pay your conscience a visit, say:
"Mister Law, you come too soon. The four hundred and thirty years aren't up yet. When
they are up, you come again. Won't you ?"
VERSE 18. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise.
In Romans 4:14, the Apostle writes: "For if they which are made of the law be
heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect." It cannot be
otherwise. That the Law is something entirely different from the promise is plain. The Law
thunders: "Thou shalt, thou shalt not." The promise of the "seed"
pleads: "Take this gift of God." If the inheritance of the gifts of God were
obtained by the Law, God would be a liar. We would have the right to ask Him: "Why
did you make this promise in the first place: 'In thy seed shall all the nations of the
earth be blessed'? Why did you not say: 'In thy works thou shalt be blessed'?"
VERSE 18. But God gave it to Abraham by promise.
So much is certain, before the Law ever existed, God gave Abraham the inheritance or
blessing by the promise. In other words, God granted unto Abraham remission of sins,
righteousness, salvation, and everlasting life. And not only to Abraham but to all
believers, because God said: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be
blessed." The blessing was given unconditionally. The Law had no chance to butt in
because Moses was not yet born. "How then can you say that righteousness is obtained
by the Law?"
The Apostle now goes to work to explain the province and purpose of the Law.
VERSE 19. Wherefore then serveth the law?
The question naturally arises: If the Law was not given for righteousness or salvation,
why was it given? Why did God give the Law in the first place if it cannot justify a
The Jews believed if they kept the Law they would be saved. When they heard that the
Gospel proclaimed a Christ who had come into the world to save sinners and not the
righteous; when they heard that sinners were to enter the kingdom of heaven before the
righteous, the Jews were very much put out. They murmured: "These last have wrought
but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat
of the day." (Matthew 20:12.) They complained that the heathen who at one time had
been worshipers of idols obtained grace without the drudgery of the Law that was theirs.
Today we hear the same complaints. "What was the use of our having lived in a
cloister, twenty, thirty, forty years; what was the sense of having vowed chastity,
poverty, obedience; what good are all the masses and canonical hours that we read; what
profit is there in fasting, praying, etc., if any man or woman, any beggar or scour woman
is to be made equal to us, or even be considered more acceptable unto God than we?"
Reason takes offense at the statement of Paul: "The law was added because of
transgressions." People say that Paul abrogated the Law, that he is a radical, that
he blasphemed God when he said that. People say: "We might as well live like wild
people if the Law does not count. Let us abound in sin that grace may abound. Let us do
evil that good may come of it."
What are we to do? Such scoffing distresses us, but we cannot stop it. Christ Himself
was accused of being a blasphemer and rebel. Paul and all the other apostles were told the
same things. Let the scoffers slander us, let them spare us not. But we must not on their
account keep silent. We must speak frankly in order that afflicted consciences may find
surcease. Neither are we to pay any attention to the foolish and ungodly people for
abusing our doctrine. They are the kind that would scoff, Law or no Law. Our first
consideration must be the comfort of troubled consciences, that they may not perish with
When he saw that some were offended at his doctrine, while others found in it
encouragement to live after the flesh, Paul comforted himself with the thought that it was
his duty to preach the Gospel to the elect of God, and that for their sake he must endure
all things. Like Paul we also do all these things for the sake of God's elect. As for the
scoffers and skeptics, I am so disgusted with them that in all my life I would not open my
mouth for them once. I wish that they were back there where they belong under the iron
heel of the Pope.
People foolish but wise in their conceits jump to the conclusion: If the Law does not
justify, it is good for nothing. How about that? Because money does not justify, would you
say that money is good for nothing? Because the eyes do not justify, would you have them
taken out? Because the Law does not justify it does not follow that the Law is without
value. We must find and define the proper purpose of the Law. We do not offhand condemn
the Law because we say it does not justify.
We say with Paul that the Law is good if it is used properly. Within its proper sphere
the Law is an excellent thing. But if we ascribe to the Law functions for which it was
never intended, we pervert not only the Law but also the Gospel. It is the universal
impression that righteousness is obtained through the deeds of the Law. This impression is
instinctive and therefore doubly dangerous. Gross sins and vices may be recognized or else
repressed by the threat of punishment. But this sin, this opinion of man's own
righteousness refuses to be classified as sin. It wants to be esteemed as high-class
religion. Hence, it constitutes the mighty influence of the devil over the entire world.
In order to point out the true office of the Law, and thus to stamp out that false
impression of the righteousness of the Law, Paul answers the question: "Wherefore
then serveth the Law?" with the words:
VERSE 19. It was added because of transgressions.
All things differ. Let everything serve its unique purpose. Let the sun shine by day,
the moon and the stars by night. Let the sea furnish fish, the earth grain, the woods
trees, etc. Let the Law also serve its unique purpose. It must not step out of character
and take the place of anything else. What is the function of the Law?
"Transgression," answers the Apostle.
The Twofold Purpose of the Law
The Law has a twofold purpose. One purpose is civil. God has ordained civil laws to
punish crime. Every law is given to restrain sin. Does it not then make men righteous? No.
In refraining from murder, adultery, theft, or other sins, I do so under compulsion
because I fear the jail, the noose, the electric chair. These restrain me as iron bars
restrain a lion and a bear. Otherwise they would tear everything to pieces. Such forceful
restraint cannot be regarded as righteousness, rather as an indication of unrighteousness.
As a wild beast is tied to keep it from running amuck, so the Law bridles mad and furious
man to keep him from running wild. The need for restraint shows plainly enough that those
who need the Law are not righteous, but wicked men who are fit to be tied. No, the Law
does not justify.
The first purpose of the Law, accordingly, is to restrain the wicked. The devil gets
people into all kinds of scrapes. Therefore God instituted governments, parents, laws,
restrictions, and civil ordinances. At least they help to tie the devil's hands so that he
does not rage up and down the earth. This civil restraint by the Law is intended by God
for the preservation of all things, particularly for the good of the Gospel that it should
not be hindered too much by the tumult of the wicked. But Paul is not now treating of this
civil use and function of the Law.
The second purpose of the Law is spiritual and divine. Paul describes this spiritual
purpose of the Law in the words, "Because of transgressions," i.e., to reveal to
a person his sin, blindness, misery, his ignorance, hatred, and contempt of God, his
death, hell, and condemnation.
This is the principal purpose of the Law and its most valuable contribution. As long as
a person is not a murderer, adulterer, thief, he would swear that he is righteous. How is
God going to humble such a person except by the Law? The Law is the hammer of death, the
thunder of hell, and the lightning of God's wrath to bring down the proud and shameless
hypocrites. When the Law was instituted on Mount Sinai it was accompanied by lightning, by
storms, by the sound of trumpets, to tear to pieces that monster called
self-righteousness. As long as a person thinks he is right he is going to be
incomprehensibly proud and presumptuous. He is going to hate God, despise His grace and
mercy, and ignore the promises in Christ. The Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins
through Christ will never appeal to the self-righteous.
This monster of self-righteousness, this stiff-necked beast, needs a big axe. And that
is what the Law is, a big axe. Accordingly, the proper use and function of the Law is to
threaten until the conscience is scared stiff.
The awful spectacle at Mount Sinai portrayed the proper use of the Law. When the
children of Israel came out of Egypt a feeling of singular holiness possessed them. They
boasted: "We are the people of God. All that the Lord hath spoken we will do."
(Ex. 19:8) This feeling of holiness was heightened when Moses ordered them to wash their
clothes, to refrain from their wives, and to prepare themselves all around. The third day
came and Moses led the people out of their tents to the foot of the mountain into the
presence of the Lord. What happened? When the children of Israel saw the whole mountain
burning and smoking, the black clouds rent by fierce lightning flashing up and down in the
inky darkness, when they heard the sound of the trumpet blowing louder and longer,
shattered by the roll of thunder, they were so frightened that they begged Moses:
"Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we
die." (Ex. 20:19.) I ask you, what good did their scrubbing, their snow-white
clothes, and their continence do them? No good at all. Not a single one could stand in the
presence of the glorious Lord. Stricken by the terror of God, they fled back into their
tents, as if the devil were after them.
The Law is meant to produce the same effect today which it produced at Mount Sinai long
ago. I want to encourage all who fear God, especially those who intend to become ministers
of the Gospel, to learn from the Apostle the proper use of the Law. I fear that after our
time the right handling of the Law will become a lost art. Even now, although we
continually explain the separate functions of the Law and the Gospel, we have those among
us who do not understand how the Law should be used. What will it be like when we are dead
We want it understood that we do not reject the Law as our opponents claim. On the
contrary, we uphold the Law. We say the Law is good if it is used for the purposes for
which it was designed, to check civil transgression, and to magnify spiritual
transgressions. The Law is also a light like the Gospel. But instead of revealing the
grace of God, righteousness, and life, the Law brings sin, death, and the wrath of God to
light. This is the business of the Law, and here the business of the Law ends, and should
go no further.
The business of the Gospel, on the other hand, is to quicken, to comfort, to raise the
fallen. The Gospel carries the news that God for Christ's sake is merciful to the most
unworthy sinners, if they will only believe that Christ by His death has delivered them
from sin and everlasting death unto grace, forgiveness, and everlasting life. By keeping
in mind the difference between the Law and the Gospel we let each perform its special
task. Of this difference between the Law and the Gospel nothing can be discovered in the
writings of the monks or scholastics, nor for that matter in the writings of the ancient
fathers. Augustine understood the difference somewhat. Jerome and others knew nothing of
it. The silence in the Church concerning the difference between the Law and the Gospel has
resulted in untold harm. Unless a sharp distinction is maintained between the purpose and
function of the Law and the Gospel, the Christian doctrine cannot be kept free from error.
VERSE 19. It was added because of transgressions.
In other words, that transgressions might be recognized as such and thus increased.
When sin, death, and the wrath of God are revealed to a person by the Law, he grows
impatient, complains against God, and rebels. Before that he was a very holy man; he
worshipped and praised God; he bowed his knees before God and gave thanks, like the
Pharisee. But now that sin and death are revealed to him by the Law he wishes there were
no God. The Law inspires hatred of God. Thus sin is not only revealed by the Law; sin is
actually increased and magnified by the Law.
The Law is a mirror to show a person what he is like, a sinner who is guilty of death,
and worthy of everlasting punishment. What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the
Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead
the way to grace. God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted. It is His
nature to exalt the humble, to comfort the sorrowing, to heal the broken-hearted, to
justify the sinners, and to save the condemned. The fatuous idea that a person can be holy
by himself denies God the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore first take the
sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness and its
brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the
conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with
its message of a Savior who came into the world, not to break the bruised reed, nor to
quench the smoking flax, but to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the
broken-hearted, and to grant forgiveness of sins to all the captives.
Man's folly, however, is so prodigious that instead of embracing the message of grace
with its guarantee of the forgiveness of sin for Christ's sake, man finds himself more
laws to satisfy his conscience. "If I live," says he, "I will mend my life.
I will do this, I will do that." Man, if you don't do the very opposite, if you don't
send Moses with the Law back to Mount Sinai and take the hand of Christ, pierced for your
sins, you will never be saved.
When the Law drives you to the point of despair, let it drive you a little farther, let
it drive you straight into the arms of Jesus who says: "Come unto me, all ye that
labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
VERSE 19. Till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.
The Law is not to have its say indefinitely. We must know how long the Law is to put in
its licks. If it hammers away too long, no person would and could be saved. The Law has a
boundary beyond which it must not go. How long ought the Law to hold sway? "Till the
seed should come to whom the promise was made." That may be taken literally to mean
until the time of the Gospel. "From the days of John the Baptist," says Jesus,
"until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by
force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John." (Matthew 11:12, 13.)
When Christ came the Law and the ceremonies of Moses ceased.
Spiritually, it means that the Law is not to operate on a person after he has been
humbled and frightened by the exposure of his sins and the wrath of God. We must then say
to the Law: "Mister Law, lay off him. He has had enough. You scared him good and
proper." Now it is the Gospel's turn. Now let Christ with His gracious lips talk to
him of better things, grace, peace, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.
VERSE 19. And it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
The Apostle digresses a little from his immediate theme. Something occurred to him and
he throws it in by the way. It occurred to him that the Law differs from the Gospel in
another respect, in respect to authorship. The Law was delivered by the angels, but the
Gospel by the Lord Himself. Hence, the Gospel is superior to the Law, as the word of a
lord is superior to the word of his servant.
The Law was handed down by a being even inferior to the angels, by a middleman named
Moses. Paul wants us to understand that Christ is the mediator of a better testament than
mediator Moses of the Law. Moses led the people out of their tents to meet God. But they
ran away. That is how good a mediator Moses was.
Paul says: "How can the Law justify when that whole sanctified people of Israel
and even mediator Moses trembled at the voice of God? What kind of righteousness do you
call that when people run away from it and hate it the worst way? If the Law could
justify, people would love the Law. But look at the children of Israel running away from
The flight of the children of Israel from Mount Sinai indicates how people feel about
the Law. They don't like it. If this were the only argument to prove that salvation is not
by the Law, this one Bible history would do the work. What kind of righteousness is this
law-righteousness when at the commencement exercises of the Law Moses and the scrubbed
people run away from it so fast that an iron mountain, the Red Sea even, could not have
stopped them until they were back in Egypt once again? If they could not hear the Law, how
could they ever hope to perform the Law?
If all the world had stood at the mountain, all the world would have hated the Law and
fled from it as the children of Israel did. The whole world is an enemy of the Law. How,
then, can anyone be justified by the Law when everybody hates the Law and its divine
All this goes to show how little the scholastics know about the Law. They do not
consider its spiritual effect and purpose, which is not to justify or to pacify afflicted
consciences, but to increase sin, to terrify the conscience, and to produce wrath. In
their ignorance the papists spout about man's good will and right judgment, and man's
capacity to perform the Law of God. Ask the people of Israel who were present at the
presentation of the Law on Mount Sinai whether what the scholastics say is true. Ask
David, who often complains in the Psalms that he was cast away from God and in hell, that
he was frantic about his sin, and sick at the thought of the wrath and judgment of God.
No, the Law does not justify.
VERSE 20. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one.
Here the Apostle briefly compares the two mediators: Moses and Christ. "A
mediator," says Paul, "is not a mediator of one." He is necessarily a
mediator of two: The offender and the offended. Moses was such a mediator between the Law
and the people who were offended at the Law. They were offended at the Law because they
did not understand its purpose. That was the veil which Moses put over his face. The
people were also offended at the Law because they could not look at the bare face of
Moses. It shone with the glory of God. When Moses addressed the people he had to cover his
face with that veil of his. They could not listen to their mediator Moses without another
mediator, the veil. The Law had to change its face and voice. In other words, the Law had
to be made tolerable to the people.
Thus covered, the Law no longer spoke to the people in its undisguised majesty. It
became more tolerable to the conscience. This explains why men fail to understand the Law
properly, with the result that they become secure and presumptuous hypocrites. One of two
things has to be done: Either the Law must be covered with a veil and then it loses its
full effectiveness, or it must be unveiled and then the full blast of its force kills. Man
cannot stand the Law without a veil over it. Hence, we are forced either to look beyond
the Law to Christ, or we go through life as shameless hypocrites and secure sinners.
Paul says: "A mediator is not a mediator of one." Moses could not be a
mediator of God only, for God needs no mediator. Again, Moses could not be a mediator of
the people only. He was a mediator between God and the people. It is the office of a
mediator to conciliate the party that is offended and to placate the party that is the
offender. However, Moses' mediation consisted only in changing the tone of the Law to make
it more tolerable to the people. Moses was merely a mediator of the veil. He could not
supply the ability to perform the Law.
What do you suppose would have happened if the Law had been given without a mediator
and the people had been denied the services of a go- between? The people would have
perished, or in case they had escaped they would have required the services of another
mediator to preserve them alive and to keep the Law in force. Moses came along and he was
made the mediator. He covered his face with a veil. But that is as much as he could do. He
could not deliver men's consciences from the terror of the Law. The sinner needs a better
That better mediator is Jesus Christ. He does not change the voice of the Law, nor does
He hide the Law with a veil. He takes the full blast of the wrath of the Law and fulfills
its demands most meticulously.
Of this better Mediator Paul says: "A mediator is not a mediator of one." We
are the offending party; God is the party offended. The offense is of such a nature that
God cannot pardon it. Neither can we render adequate satisfaction for our offenses. There
is discord between God and us. Could not God revoke His Law? No. How about running away
from God? It cannot be done. It took Christ to come between us and God and to reconcile
God to us. How did Christ do it? "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was
against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his
cross." (Col. 2:14.)
This one word, "mediator," is proof enough that the Law cannot justify.
Otherwise we should not need a mediator.
In Christian theology the Law does not justify. In fact it has the contrary effect. The
Law alarms us, it magnifies our sins until we begin to hate the Law and its divine Author.
Would you call this being justified by the Law?
Can you imagine a more arrant outrage than to hate God and to abhor His Law? What an
excellent Law it is. Listen: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of
the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods. . .showing
mercy unto thousands . . . honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon
the land. . ." (Ex. 20:2, 3, 6, 12.) Are these not excellent laws, perfect wisdom?
"Let not God speak with us, lest we die," cried the children of Israel. Is it
not amazing that a person should refuse to hear things that are good for him? Any person
would be glad to hear, I should think, that he has a gracious God who shows mercy unto
thousands. Is it not amazing that people hate the Law that promotes their safety and
welfare, e.g., "Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not
The Law can do nothing for us except to arouse the conscience. Before the Law comes to
me I feel no sin. But when the Law comes, sin, death, and hell are revealed to me. You
would not call this being made righteous. You would call it being condemned to death and
VERSE 20. But God is one.
God does not offend anybody, therefore He needs no mediator. But we offend God,
therefore we need a mediator. And we need a better mediator than Moses. We need Christ.
VERSE 21. Is the law then against the promises of God?
Before he digressed Paul stated that the Law does not justify. Shall we then discard
the Law? No, no. It supplies a certain need. It supplies men with a needed realization of
their sinfulness. Now arises another question: If the Law does no more than to reveal sin,
does it not oppose the promises of God? The Jews believed that by the restraint and
discipline of the Law the promises of God would be hastened, in fact earned by them.
Paul answers: "Not so. On the contrary, if we pay too much attention to the Law
the promises of God will be slowed up. How can God fulfill His promises to a people that
hates the Law?"
VERSE 21. God forbid.
God never said to Abraham: "In thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed
because thou hast kept the Law." When Abraham was still uncircumcised and without the
Law or any law, indeed, when he was still an idol worshiper, God said to him: "Get
thee out of thy country, etc.; I am thy shield, etc.; In thy seed shall all the nations of
the earth be blessed." These are unconditional promises which God freely made to
Abraham without respect to works.
This is aimed especially at the Jews who think that the promises of God are impeded by
their sins. Paul says: "The Lord is not slack concerning His promises because of our
sins, or hastens His promises because of any merit on our part." God's promises are
not influenced by our attitudes. They rest in His goodness and mercy.
Just because the Law increases sin, it does not therefore obstruct the promises of God.
The Law confirms the promises, in that it prepares a person to look for the fulfillment of
the promises of God in Christ.
The proverb has it that Hunger is the best cook. The Law makes afflicted consciences
hungry for Christ. Christ tastes good to them. Hungry hearts appreciate Christ. Thirsty
souls are what Christ wants. He invites them: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and
are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Christ's benefits are so precious that He
will dispense them only to those who need them and really desire them.
VERSE 21. For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily
righteousness should have been by the law.
The Law cannot give life. It kills. The Law does not justify a person before God; it
increases sin. The Law does not secure righteousness; it hinders righteousness. The
Apostle declares emphatically that the Law of itself cannot save.
Despite the intelligibility of Paul's statement, our enemies fail to grasp it.
Otherwise they would not emphasize free will, natural strength, the works of
supererogation, etc. To escape the charge of forgery they always have their convenient
annotation handy, that Paul is referring only to the ceremonial and not to the moral law.
But Paul includes all laws. He expressly says: "If there had been a law given."
There is no law by which righteousness may be obtained, not a single one. Why not?
VERSE 22. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin.
Where? First in the promises concerning Christ in Genesis 3:15 and in Genesis 22:18,
which speak of the seed of the woman and the seed of Abraham. The fact that these promises
were made unto the fathers concerning Christ implies that the fathers were subject to the
curse of sin and eternal death. Otherwise why the need of promises?
Next, Holy Writ "concludes" all under sin in this passage from Paul:
"For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." Again, in the
passage which the Apostle quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26, "Cursed is every one that
continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."
This passage clearly submits all men to the curse, not only those who sin openly against
the Law, but also those who sincerely endeavor to perform the Law, inclusive of monks,
friars, hermits, etc.
The conclusion is inevitable: Faith alone justified without works. If the Law itself
cannot justify, much less can imperfect performance of the Law or the works of the Law,
VERSE 22. That the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that
The Apostle stated before that "the Scripture hath concluded all under sin."
Forever? No, only until the promise should be fulfilled. The promise, you will recall, is
the inheritance itself or the blessing promised to Abraham, deliverance from the Law, sin,
death, and the devil, and the free gift of grace, righteousness, salvation, and eternal
life. This promise, says Paul, is not obtained by any merit, by any law, or by any work.
This promise is given. To whom? To those who believe. In whom? In Jesus Christ.
VERSE 23. But before faith came.
The Apostle proceeds to explain the service which the Law is to render. Previously Paul
had said that the Law was given to reveal the wrath and death of God upon all sinners.
Although the Law kills, God brings good out of evil. He uses the Law to bring life. God
saw that the universal illusion of self-righteousness could not be put down in any other
way but by the Law. The Law dispels all self-illusions. It puts the fear of God in a man.
Without this fear there can be no thirst for God's mercy. God accordingly uses the Law for
a hammer to break up the illusion of self- righteousness, that we should despair of our
own strength and efforts at self-justification.
VERSE 23. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith
which should afterwards be revealed.
The Law is a prison to those who have not as yet obtained grace. No prisoner enjoys the
confinement. He hates it. If he could he would smash the prison and find his freedom at
all cost. As long as he stays in prison he refrains from evil deeds. Not because he wants
to, but because he has to. The bars and the chains restrain him. He does not regret the
crime that put him in jail. On the contrary, he is mighty sore that he cannot rob and kill
as before. If he could escape he would go right back to robbing and killing.
The Law enforces good behavior, at least outwardly. We obey the Law because if we don't
we will be punished. Our obedience is inspired by fear. We obey under duress and we do it
resentfully. Now what kind of righteousness is this when we refrain from evil out of fear
of punishment? Hence, the righteousness of the Law is at bottom nothing but love of sin
and hatred of righteousness.
All the same, the Law accomplishes this much, that it will outwardly at least and to a
certain extent repress vice and crime.
But the Law is also a spiritual prison, a veritable hell. When the Law begins to
threaten a person with death and the eternal wrath of God, a man just cannot find any
comfort at all. He cannot shake off at will the nightmare of terror which the Law stirs up
in his conscience. Of this terror of the Law the Psalms furnish many glimpses.
The Law is a civil and a spiritual prison. And such it should be. For that the Law is
intended. Only the confinement in the prison of the Law must not be unduly prolonged. It
must come to an end. The freedom of faith must succeed the imprisonment of the Law.
Happy the person who knows how to utilize the Law so that it serves the purposes of
grace and of faith. Unbelievers are ignorant of this happy knowledge. When Cain was first
shut up in the prison of the Law he felt no pang at the fratricide he had committed. He
thought he could pass it off as an incident with a shrug of the shoulder. "Am I my
brother's keeper?" he answered God flippantly. But when he heard the ominous words,
"What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the
ground," Cain began to feel his imprisonment. Did he know how to get out of prison?
No. He failed to call the Gospel to his aid. He said: "My punishment is greater than
I can bear." He could only think of the prison. He forgot that he was brought face to
face with his crime so that he should hurry to God for mercy and for pardon. Cain remained
in the prison of the Law and despaired.
As a stone prison proves a physical handicap, so the spiritual prison of the Law proves
a chamber of torture. But this it should only be until faith be revealed. The silly
conscience must be educated to this. Talk to your conscience. Say: "Sister, you are
now in jail all right. But you don't have to stay there forever. It is written that we are
'shut up unto faith which should afterwards be revealed.' Christ will lead you to freedom.
Do not despair like Cain, Saul, or Judas. They might have gone free if they had called
Christ to their aid. Just take it easy, Sister Conscience. It's good for you to be locked
up for a while. It will teach you to appreciate Christ."
How anybody can say that he by nature loves the Law is beyond me. The Law is a prison
to be feared and hated. Any unconverted person who says he loves the Law is a liar. He
does not know what he is talking about. We love the Law about as well as a murderer loves
his gloomy cell, his straight-jacket, and the iron bars in front of him. How then can the
Law justify us?
VERSE 23. Shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
We know that Paul has reference to the time of Christ's coming. It was then that faith
and the object of faith were fully revealed. But we may apply the historical fact to our
inner life. When Christ came He abolished the Law and brought liberty and life to light.
This He continues to do in the hearts of the believers. The Christian has a body in whose
members, as Paul says, sin dwells and wars. I take sin to mean not only the deed but root,
tree, fruit, and all. A Christian may perhaps not fall into the gross sins of murder,
adultery, theft, but he is not free from impatience, complaints, hatreds, and blasphemy of
God. As carnal lust is strong in a young man, in a man of full age the desire for glory,
and in an old man covetousness, so impatience, doubt, and hatred of God often prevail in
the hearts of sincere Christians. Examples of these sins may be garnered from the Psalms,
Job, Jeremiah, and all the Sacred Scriptures.
Accordingly each Christian continues to experience in his heart times of the Law and
times of the Gospel. The times of the Law are discernible by heaviness of heart, by a
lively sense of sin, and a feeling of despair brought on by the Law. These periods of the
Law will come again and again as long as we live. To mention my own case. There are many
times when I find fault with God and am impatient with Him. The wrath and the judgment of
God displease me, my wrath and impatience displease Him. Then is the season of the Law,
when "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh."
The time of grace returns when the heart is enlivened by the promise of God's mercy. It
soliloquizes: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within
me? Can you see nothing but law, sin, death, and hell? Is there no grace, no forgiveness,
no joy, peace, life, heaven, no Christ and God? Trouble me no more, my soul. Hope in God
who has not spared His own dear Son but has given Him into death for thy sins." When
the Law carries things too far, say: "Mister Law, you are not the whole show. There
are other and better things than you. They tell me to trust in the Lord."
There is a time for the Law and a time for grace. Let us study to be good timekeepers.
It is not easy. Law and grace may be miles apart in essence, but in the heart, they are
pretty close together. In the heart fear and trust, sin and grace, Law and Gospel cross
Whether reason hears that justification before God is obtained by grace alone, it draws
the inference that the Law is without value. The doctrine of the Law must therefore be
studied carefully lest we either reject the Law altogether, or are tempted to attribute to
the Law a capacity to save.
There are three ways in which the Law may be abused. First, by the self- righteous
hypocrites who fancy that they can be justified by the Law. Secondly, by those who claim
that Christian liberty exempts a Christian from the observance of the Law.
"These," says Peter, "use their liberty for a cloak of maliciousness,"
and bring the name and the Gospel of Christ into ill repute. Thirdly, the Law is abused by
those who do not understand that the Law is meant to drive us to Christ. When the Law is
properly used its value cannot be too highly appraised. It will take me to Christ every
VERSE 24. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.
This simile of the schoolmaster is striking. Schoolmasters are indispensable. But show
me a pupil who loves his schoolmaster. How little love is lost upon them the Jews showed
by their attitude toward Moses. They would have been glad to stone Moses to death. (Ex.
17:4.) You cannot expect anything else. How can a pupil love a teacher who frustrates his
desires? And if the pupil disobeys, the schoolmaster whips him, and the pupil has to like
it and even kiss the rod with which he was beaten. Do you think the schoolboy feels good
about it? As soon as the teacher turns his back, the pupil breaks the rod and throws it
into the fire. And if he were stronger than the teacher he would not take the beatings,
but beat up the teacher. All the same, teachers are indispensable, otherwise the children
would grow up without discipline, instruction, and training.
But how long are the scolding and the whippings of the schoolmaster to continue? Only
for a time, until the boy has been trained to be a worthy heir of his father. No father
wants his son to be whipped all the time. The discipline is to last until the boy has been
trained to be his father's worthy successor.
The Law is such a schoolmaster. Not for always, but until we have been brought to
Christ. The Law is not just another schoolmaster. The Law is a specialist to bring us to
Christ. What would you think of a schoolmaster who could only torment and beat a child?
Yet of such schoolmasters there were plenty in former times, regular bruisers. The Law is
not that kind of a schoolmaster. It is not to torment us always. With its lashings it is
only too anxious to drive us to Christ. The Law is like the good schoolmaster who trains
his children to find pleasure in doing things they formerly detested.
VERSE 24. That we might be justified by faith.
The Law is not to teach us another Law. When a person feels the full force of the Law
he is likely to think: I have transgressed all the commandments of God; I am guilty of
eternal death. If God will spare me I will change and live right from now on. This natural
but entirely wrong reaction to the Law has bred the many ceremonies and works devised to
earn grace and remission of sins.
The Law means to enlarge my sins, to make me small, so that I may be justified by faith
in Christ. Faith is neither law nor word; but confidence in Christ "who is the end of
the law." How so is Christ the end of the Law? Not in this way that He replaced the
old Law with new laws. Nor is Christ the end of the Law in a way that makes Him a hard
judge who has to be bribed by works as the papists teach. Christ is the end or finish of
the Law to all who believe in Him. The Law can no longer accuse or condemn them.
But what does the Law accomplish for those who have been justified by Christ? Paul
answers this question next.
VERSE 25. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
The Apostle declares that we are free from the Law. Christ fulfilled the Law for us. We
may live in joy and safety under Christ. The trouble is, our flesh will not let us believe
in Christ with all our heart. The fault lies not with Christ, but with us. Sin clings to
us as long as we live and spoils our happiness in Christ. Hence, we are only partly free
from the Law. "With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the
law of sin." (Romans 7:25.)
As far as the conscience is concerned it may cheerfully ignore the Law. But because sin
continues to dwell in the flesh, the Law waits around to molest our conscience. More and
more, however, Christ increases our faith and in the measure in which our faith is
increased, sin, Law, and flesh subside.
If anybody objects to the Gospel and the sacraments on the ground that Christ has taken
away our sins once and for always, you will know what to answer. You will answer: Indeed,
Christ has taken away my sins. But my flesh, the world, and the devil interfere with my
faith. The little light of faith in my heart does not shine all over me at once. It is a
gradual diffusion. In the meanwhile I console myself with the thought that eventually my
flesh will be made perfect in the resurrection.
VERSE 26. For we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul as a true apostle of faith always has the word "faith" on the tip of his
tongue. By faith, says he, we are the children of God. The Law cannot beget children of
God. It cannot regenerate us. It can only remind us of the old birth by which we were born
into the kingdom of the devil. The best the Law can do for us is to prepare us for a new
birth through faith in Christ Jesus. Faith in Christ regenerates us into the children of
God. St. John bears witness to this in his Gospel: "As many as received him, to them
gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."
(John 1:12.) What tongue of man or angel can adequately extol the mercy of God toward us
miserable sinners in that He adopted us for His own children and fellow-heirs with His Son
by the simple means of faith in Christ Jesus!
VERSE 27. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
To "put on Christ" may be understood in two ways, according to the Law and
according to the Gospel. According to the Law as in Romans 13:14, "Put ye on the Lord
Jesus Christ," which means to follow the example of Christ.
To put on Christ according to the Gospel means to clothe oneself with the
righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and Spirit of Christ. By nature we are clad in the
garb of Adam. This garb Paul likes to call "the old man." Before we can become
the children of God this old man must be put off, as Paul says, Ephesians 4:29. The
garment of Adam must come off like soiled clothes. Of course, it is not as simple as
changing one's clothes. But God makes it simple. He clothes us with the righteousness of
Christ by means of Baptism, as the Apostle says in this verse: "As many of you as
have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." With this change of garments a
new birth, a new life stirs in us. New affections toward God spring up in the heart. New
determinations affect our will. All this is to put on Christ according to the Gospel.
Needless to say, when we have put on the robe of the righteousness of Christ we must not
forget to put on also the mantle of the imitation of Christ.
VERSE 28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is
neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. The list might be extended
indefinitely: There is neither preacher nor hearer, neither teacher nor scholar, neither
master nor servant, etc. In the matter of salvation, rank, learning, righteousness,
influence count for nothing.
With this statement Paul deals a death blow to the Law. When a person has put on Christ
nothing else matters. Whether a person is a Jew, a punctilious and circumcised observer of
the Law of Moses, or whether a person is a noble and wise Greek does not matter.
Circumstances, personal worth, character, achievements have no bearing upon justification.
Before God they count for nothing. What counts is that we put on Christ.
Whether a servant performs his duties well; whether those who are in authority govern
wisely; whether a man marries, provides for his family, and is an honest citizen; whether
a woman is chaste, obedient to her husband, and a good mother: all these advantages do not
qualify a person for salvation. These virtues are commendable, of course; but they do not
count points for justification. All the best laws, ceremonies, religions, and deeds of the
world cannot take away sin guilt, cannot dispatch death, cannot purchase life.
There is much disparity among men in the world, but there is no such disparity before
God. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23.)
Let the Jews, let the Greeks, let the whole world keep silent in the presence of God.
Those who are justified are justified by Christ. Without faith in Christ the Jew with his
laws, the monk with his holy orders, the Greek with his wisdom, the servant with his
obedience, shall perish forever.
VERSE 28. For ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
There is much imparity among men in the world. And it is a good thing. If the woman
would change places with the man, if the son would change places with the father, the
servant with the master, nothing but confusion would result. In Christ, however, all are
equal. We all have one and the same Gospel, "one faith, one baptism, one God and
Father of all," one Christ and Savior of all. The Christ of Peter, Paul, and all the
saints is our Christ. Paul can always be depended on to add the conditional clause,
"In Christ Jesus." If we lose sight of Christ, we lose out.
VERSE 29. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to
"If ye be Christ's" means, if you believe in Christ. If you believe in
Christ, then are you the children of Abraham indeed. Through our faith in Christ Abraham
gains paternity over us and over the nations of the earth according to the promise:
"In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Through faith we
belong to Christ and Christ to us.
VERSE 1. Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing
from a servant, though he be Lord of all;
VERSE 2. But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
THE Apostle had apparently finished his discourse on justification when this
illustration of the youthful heir occurred to him. He throws it in for good measure. He
knows that plain people are sooner impressed by an apt illustration than by learned
"I want to give you another illustration from everyday life," he writes to
the Galatians. "As long as an heir is under age he is treated very much like a
servant. He is not permitted to order his own affairs. He is kept under constant
surveillance. Such discipline is good for him, otherwise he would waste his inheritance in
no time. This discipline, however, is not to last forever. It is to last only until 'the
time appointed of the father.' "
VERSE 3. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of
As children of the Law we were treated like servants and prisoners. We were oppressed
and condemned by the Law. But the tyranny of the Law is not to last forever. It is to last
only until "the time appointed of the father," until Christ came and redeemed
VERSE 3. Under the elements of the world.
By the elements of the world the Apostle does not understand the physical elements, as
some have thought. In calling the Law "the elements of the world" Paul means to
say that the Law is something material, mundane, earthly. It may restrain evil, but it
does not deliver from sin. The Law does not justify; it does not bring a person to heaven.
I do not obtain eternal life because I do not kill, commit adultery, steal, etc. Such mere
outward decency does not constitute Christianity. The heathen observe the same restraints
to avoid punishment or to secure the advantages of a good reputation. In the last analysis
such restraint is simple hypocrisy. When the Law exercises its higher function it accuses
and condemns the conscience. All these effects of the Law cannot be called divine or
heavenly. These effects are elements of the world.
In calling the Law the elements of the world Paul refers to the whole Law, principally
to the ceremonial law which dealt with external matters, as meat, drink, dress, places,
times, feasts, cleansings, sacrifices, etc. These are mundane matters which cannot save
the sinner. Ceremonial laws are like the statutes of governments dealing with purely civil
matters, as commerce, inheritance, etc. As for the pope's church laws forbidding marriage
and meats, Paul calls them elsewhere the doctrines of devils. You would not call such laws
elements of heaven.
The Law of Moses deals with mundane matters. It holds the mirror to the evil which is
in the world. By revealing the evil that is in us it creates a longing in the heart for
the better things of God. The Law forces us into the arms of Christ, "who is the end
of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Romans 1:4.) Christ
relieves the conscience of the Law. In so far as the Law impels us to Christ it renders
I do not mean to give the impression that the Law should be despised. Neither does Paul
intend to leave that impression. The Law ought to be honored. But when it is a matter of
justification before God, Paul had to speak disparagingly of the Law, because the Law has
nothing to do with justification. If it thrusts its nose into the business of
justification we must talk harshly to the Law to keep it in its place. The conscience
ought not to be on speaking terms with the Law. The conscience ought to know only Christ.
To say this is easy, but in times of trial, when the conscience writhes in the presence of
God, it is not so easy to do. As such times we are to believe in Christ as if there were
no Law or sin anywhere, but only Christ. We ought to say to the Law: "Mister Law, I
do not get you. You stutter so much. I don't think that you have anything to say to
When it is not a question of salvation or justification with us, we are to think highly
of the Law and call it "holy, just, and good." (Romans 7:12) The Law is of no
comfort to a stricken conscience. Therefore it should not be allowed to rule in our
conscience, particularly in view of the fact that Christ paid so great a price to deliver
the conscience from the tyranny of the Law. Let us understand that the Law and Christ are
impossible bedfellows. The Law must leave the bed of the conscience, which is so narrow
that it cannot hold two, as Isaiah says, chapter 28, verse 20.
Only Paul among the apostles calls the Law "the elements of the world, weak and
beggarly elements, the strength of sin, the letter that killeth," etc. The other
apostles do not speak so slightingly of the Law. Those who want to be first-class scholars
in the school of Christ want to pick up the language of Paul. Christ called him a chosen
vessel and equipped with a facility of expression far above that of the other apostles,
that he as the chosen vessel should establish the doctrine of justification in clear-cut
VERSES 4, 5. But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made
of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.
"The fullness of the time" means when the time of the Law was fulfilled and
Christ was revealed. Note how Paul explains Christ. "Christ," says he, "is
the Son of God and the son of a woman. He submitted Himself under the Law to redeem us who
were under the Law." In these words the Apostle explains the person and office of
Christ. His person is divine and human. "God sent forth His Son, made of a
woman." Christ therefore is true God and true man. Christ's office the Apostle
describes in the words: "Made under the law, to redeem them that were under the
Paul calls the Virgin Mary a woman. This has been frequently deplored even by some of
the ancient fathers who felt that Paul should have written "virgin" instead of
woman. But Paul is now treating of faith and Christian righteousness, of the person and
office of Christ, not of the virginity of Mary. The inestimable mercy of God is
sufficiently set forth by the fact that His Son was born of a woman. The more general term
"woman" indicates that Christ was born a true man. Paul does not say that Christ
was born of man and woman, but only of woman. That he has a virgin in mind is obvious.
This passage furthermore declares that Christ's purpose in coming was the abolition of
the Law, not with the intention of laying down new laws, but "to redeem them that
were under the law." Christ himself declared: "I judge no man." (John
8:15.) Again, "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." (John
12:47.) In other words: "I came not to bring more laws, or to judge men according to
the existing Law. I have a higher and better office. I came to judge and to condemn the
Law, so that it may no more judge and condemn the world."
How did Christ manage to redeem us? "He was made under the law." When Christ
came He found us all in prison. What did He do about it? Although He was the Lord of the
Law, He voluntarily placed Himself under the Law and permitted it to exercise dominion
over Him, indeed to accuse and to condemn Him. When the Law takes us into judgment it has
a perfect right to do so. "For we are by nature the children of wrath, even as
others." (Eph. 2:3.) Christ, however, "did no sin, neither was guile found in
his mouth." (I Pet. 2:22.) Hence the Law had no jurisdiction over Him. Yet the Law
treated this innocent, just, and blessed Lamb of God as cruelly as it treated us. It
accused Him of blasphemy and treason. It made Him guilty of the sins of the whole world.
It overwhelmed him with such anguish of soul that His sweat was as blood. The Law
condemned Him to the shameful death on the Cross.
It is truly amazing that the Law had the effrontery to turn upon its divine Author, and
that without a show of right. For its insolence the Law in turn was arraigned before the
judgment seat of God and condemned. Christ might have overcome the Law by an exercise of
His omnipotent authority over the Law. Instead, He humbled Himself under the Law for and
together with them that were under the Law. He gave the Law license to accuse and condemn
Him. His present mastery over the Law was obtained by virtue of His Sonship and His
Thus Christ banished the Law from the conscience. It dare no longer banish us from God.
For that matter,--the Law continues to reveal sin. It still raises its voice in
condemnation. But the conscience finds quick relief in the words of the Apostle:
"Christ has redeemed us from the law." The conscience can now hold its head high
and say to the Law: "You are not so holy yourself. You crucified the Son of God. That
was an awful thing for you to do. You have lost your influence forever."
The words, "Christ was made under the law," are worth all the attention we
can bestow on them. They declare that the Son of God did not only fulfill one or two easy
requirements of the Law, but that He endured all the tortures of the Law. The Law brought
all its fright to bear upon Christ until He experienced anguish and terror such as nobody
else ever experienced. His bloody sweat. His need of angelic comfort, His tremulous prayer
in the garden, His lamentation on the Cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken
me?" bear eloquent witness to the sting of the Law. He suffered "to redeem them
that were under the law."
The Roman conception of Christ as a mere lawgiver more stringent than Moses, is quite
contrary to Paul's teaching. Christ, according to Paul, was not an agent of the Law but a
patient of the Law. He was not a law-giver, but a law-taker.
True enough, Christ also taught and expounded the Law. But it was incidental. It was a
sideline with Him. He did not come into the world for the purpose of teaching the Law, as
little as it was the purpose of His coming to perform miracles. Teaching the Law and
performing miracles did not constitute His unique mission to the world. The prophets also
taught the Law and performed miracles. In fact, according to the promise of Christ, the
apostles performed greater miracles than Christ Himself. (John 14:12.) The true purpose of
Christ's coming was the abolition of the Law, of sin, and of death.
If we think of Christ as Paul here depicts Him, we shall never go wrong. We shall never
be in danger of misconstruing the meaning of the Law. We shall understand that the Law
does not justify. We shall understand why a Christian observes laws: For the peace of the
world, out of gratitude to God, and for a good example that others may be attracted to the
VERSE 5. That we might receive the adoption of sons.
Paul still has for his text Genesis 22:18, "In thy seed shall all the nations of
the earth be blessed." In the course of his Epistle he calls this promise of the
blessing righteousness, life, deliverance from the Law, the testament, etc. Now he also
calls the promise of blessing "the adoption of sons," the inheritance of
What ever induced God to adopt us for His children and heirs? What claim can men who
are subservient to sin, subject to the curse of the Law, and worthy of everlasting death,
have on God and eternal life? That God adopted us is due to the merit of Jesus Christ, the
Son of God, who humbled Himself under the Law and redeemed us law-ridden sinners.
VERSE 6. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into
In the early Church the Holy Spirit was sent forth in visible form. He descended upon
Christ in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16), and in the likeness of fire upon the apostles
and other believers. (Acts 2:3.) This visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary
to the establishment of the early Church, as were also the miracles that accompanied the
gift of the Holy Ghost. Paul explained the purpose of these miraculous gifts of the Spirit
in I Corinthians 14:22, "Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to
them that believe not." Once the Church had been established and properly advertised
by these miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.
Next, the Holy Ghost is sent forth into the hearts of the believers, as here stated,
"God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts." This sending is accomplished
by the preaching of the Gospel through which the Holy Spirit inspires us with fervor and
light, with new judgment, new desires, and new motives. This happy innovation is not a
derivative of reason or personal development, but solely the gift and operation of the
This renewal by the Holy Spirit may not be conspicuous to the world, but it is patent
to us by our better judgment, our improved speech, and our unashamed confession of Christ.
Formerly we did not confess Christ to be our only merit, as we do now in the light of the
Gospel. Why, then, should we feel bad if the world looks upon us as ravagers of religion
and insurgents against constituted authority? We confess Christ and our conscience
approves of it. Then, too, we live in the fear of God. If we sin, we sin not on purpose,
but unwittingly, and we are sorry for it. Sin sticks in our flesh, and the flesh gets us
into sin even after we have been imbued by the Holy Ghost. Outwardly there is no great
difference between a Christian and any honest man. The activities of a Christian are not
sensational. He performs his duty according to his vocation. He takes good care of his
family, and is kind and helpful to others. Such homely, everyday performances are not much
admired. But the setting-up exercises of the monks draw great applause. Holy works, you
know. Only the acts of a Christian are truly good and acceptable to God, because they are
done in faith, with a cheerful heart, out of gratitude to Christ.
We ought to have no misgivings about whether the Holy Ghost dwells in us. We are
"the temple of the Holy Ghost." (I Cor. 3:16.) When we have a love for the Word
of God, and gladly hear, talk, write, and think of Christ, we are to know that this
inclination toward Christ is the gift and work of the Holy Ghost. Where you come across
contempt for the Word of God, there is the devil. We meet with such contempt for the Word
of God mostly among the common people. They act as though the Word of God does not concern
them. Wherever you find a love for the Word, thank God for the Holy Spirit who infuses
this love into the hearts of men. We never come by this love naturally, neither can it be
enforced by laws. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Roman theologians teach that no man can know for a certainty whether he stands in
the favor of God or not. This teaching forms one of the chief articles of their faith.
With this teaching they tormented men's consciences, excommunicated Christ from the
Church, and limited the operations of the Holy Ghost.
St. Augustine observed that "every man is certain of his faith, if he has
faith." This the Romanists deny. "God forbid," they exclaim piously,
"that I should ever be so arrogant as to think that I stand in grace, that I am holy,
or that I have the Holy Ghost." We ought to feel sure that we stand in the grace of
God, not in view of our own worthiness, but through the good services of Christ. As
certain as we are that Christ pleases God, so sure ought we to be that we also please God,
because Christ is in us. And although we daily offend God by our sins, yet as often as we
sin, God's mercy bends over us. Therefore sin cannot get us to doubt the grace of God. Our
certainty is of Christ, that mighty Hero who overcame the Law, sin, death, and all evils.
So long as He sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us, we have nothing to fear
from the anger of God.
This inner assurance of the grace of God is accompanied by outward indications such as
gladly to hear, preach, praise, and to confess Christ, to do one's duty in the station in
which God has placed us, to aid the needy, and to comfort the sorrowing. These are the
affidavits of the Holy Spirit testifying to our favorable standing with God.
If we could be fully persuaded that we are in the good grace of God, that our sins are
forgiven, that we have the Spirit of Christ, that we are the beloved children of God, we
would be ever so happy and grateful to God. But because we often feel fear and doubt we
cannot come to that happy certainty.
Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it out with doubt.
Gain assurance through the Word of God. Say: "I am all right with God. I have the
Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I do believe, makes me worthy. I gladly hear, read, sing, and
write of Him. I would like nothing better than that Christ's Gospel be known throughout
the world and that many, many be brought to faith in Him."
VERSE 6. Crying, Abba, Father.
Paul might have written, "God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts,
calling Abba, Father." Instead, he wrote, "Crying, Abba, Father." In the
eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans the Apostle describes this crying of the
Spirit as "groanings which cannot be uttered." He writes in the 26th verse:
"Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should
pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings
which cannot be uttered."
The fact that the Spirit of Christ in our hearts cries unto God and makes intercession
for us with groanings should reassure us greatly. However, there are many factors that
prevent such full reassurance on our part. We are born in sin. To doubt the good will of
God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil, our adversary, goeth
about seeking to devour us by roaring: "God is angry at you and is going to destroy
you forever." In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of
Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses.
We cannot see Him. The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of
trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts
of the devil, the agues of death, the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out
against us. The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at
us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts: "Abba,
Father." And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin,
death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God.
The Spirit cries in us because of our weakness. Because of our infirmity the Holy Ghost
is sent forth into our hearts to pray for us according to the will of God and to assure us
of the grace of God.
Let the Law, sin, and the devil cry out against us until their outcry fills heaven and
earth. The Spirit of God outcries them all. Our feeble groans, "Abba, Father,"
will be heard of God sooner than the combined racket of hell, sin, and the Law.
We do not think of our groanings as a crying. It is so faint we do not know we are
groaning. "But he," says Paul, "that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is
the mind of the Spirit." (Romans 8:27.) To this Searcher of hearts our feeble
groaning, as it seems to us, is a loud shout for help in comparison with which the howls
of hell, the din of the devil, the yells of the Law, the shouts of sin are like so many
In the fourteenth chapter of Exodus the Lord addresses Moses at the Red Sea:
"Wherefore criest thou unto me?" Moses had not cried unto the Lord. He trembled
so he could hardly talk. His faith was at low ebb. He saw the people of Israel wedged
between the Sea and the approaching armies of Pharaoh. How were they to escape? Moses did
not know what to say. How then could God say that Moses was crying to Him? God heard the
groaning heart of Moses and the groans to Him sounded like loud shouts for help. God is
quick to catch the sigh of the heart.
Some have claimed that the saints are without infirmities. But Paul says: "The
Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot
be uttered." We need the help of the Holy Spirit because we are weak and infirm. And
the Holy Spirit never disappoints us. Confronted by the armies of Pharaoh, retreat cut off
by the waters of the Red Sea, Moses was in a bad spot. He felt himself to blame. The devil
accused him: "These people will all perish, for they cannot escape. And you are to
blame because you led the people out of Egypt. You started all this." And then the
people started in on Moses. "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken
us away to die in the wilderness? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians,
than that we should die in the wilderness." (Ex. 14:11, 12.) But the Holy Ghost was
in Moses and made intercession for him with unutterable groanings, sighings unto the Lord:
"O Lord, at Thy commandment have I led forth this people. So help me now."
The Spirit intercedes for us not in many words or long prayers, but with groanings,
with little sounds like "Abba." Small as this word is, it says ever so much. It
says: "My Father, I am in great trouble and you seem so far away. But I know I am
your child, because you are my Father for Christ's sake. I am loved by you because of the
Beloved." This one little word "Abba" surpasses the eloquence of a
Demosthenes and a Cicero.
I have spent much time on this verse in order to combat the cruel teaching of the Roman
church, that a person ought to be kept in a state of uncertainty concerning his status
with God. The monasteries recruit the youth on the plea that their "holy" orders
will assuredly recruit them for heaven. But once inside the monastery the recruits are
told to doubt the promises of God.
In support of their error the papists quote the saying of Solomon: "The righteous,
and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or
hatred by all that is before them." (Eccles. 9:1.) They take this hatred to mean the
wrath of God to come. Others take it to mean God's present anger. None of them seem to
understand this passage from Solomon. On every page the Scriptures urge us to believe that
God is merciful, loving, and patient; that He is faithful and true, and that He keeps His
promises. All the promises of God were fulfilled in the gift of His only- begotten Son,
that "whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
The Gospel is reassurance for sinners. Yet this one saying from Solomon, misinterpreted at
that, is made to count for more than all the many promises of all the Scriptures.
If our opponents are so uncertain about their status with God, and even go so far as to
say that the conscience ought to be kept in a state of doubt, why is it that they
persecute us as vile heretics? When it comes to persecuting us they do not seem to be in
doubt and uncertainty one minute.
Let us not fail to thank God for delivering us from the doctrine of doubt. The Gospel
commands us to look away from our own good works to the promises of God in Christ, the
Mediator. The pope commands us to look away from the promises of God in Christ to our own
merit. No wonder they are the eternal prey of doubt and despair. We depend upon God for
salvation. No wonder that our doctrine is certified, because it does not rest in our own
strength, our own conscience, our own feelings, our own person, our own works. It is built
on a better foundation. It is built on the promises and truth of God.
Besides, the passage from Solomon does not treat of the hatred and love of God towards
men. It merely rebukes the ingratitude of men. The more deserving a person is, the less he
is appreciated. Often those who should be his best friends, are his worst enemies. Those
who least deserve the praise of the world, get most. David was a holy man and a good king.
Nevertheless he was chased from his own country. The prophets, Christ, the apostles, were
slain. Solomon in this passage does not speak of the love and hatred of God, but of love
and hatred among men. As though Solomon wanted to say: "There are many good and wise
men whom God uses for the advancement of mankind. Seldom, if ever, are their efforts
crowned with gratitude. They are usually repaid with hatred and ingratitude."
We are being treated that way. We thought we would find favor with men for bringing
them the Gospel of peace, life, and eternal salvation. Instead of favor, we found fury. At
first, yes, many were delighted with our doctrine and received it gladly. We counted them
as our friends and brethren, and were happy to think that they would help us in sowing the
seed of the Gospel. But they revealed themselves as false brethren and deadly enemies of
the Gospel. If you experience the ingratitude of men, don't let it get you down. Say with
Christ: "They hated me without cause." And, "For my love they are my
adversaries; but I give myself unto prayer." (Ps. 109:4.)
Let us never doubt the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, but make up our minds that God is
pleased with us, that He looks after us, and that we have the Holy Spirit who prays for
VERSE 7. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son.
This sentence clinches Paul's argument. He says: "With the Holy Spirit in our
hearts crying, 'Abba, Father,' there can be no doubt that God has adopted us for His
children and that our subjection to the Law has come to an end." We are now the free
children of God. We may now say to the Law: "Mister Law, you have lost your throne to
Christ. I am free now and a son of God. You cannot curse me any more." Do not permit
the Law to lie in your conscience. Your conscience belongs to Christ. Let Christ be in it
and not the Law.
As the children of God we are the heirs of His eternal heaven. What a wonderful gift
heaven is, man's heart cannot conceive, much less describe. Until we enter upon our
heavenly inheritance we are only to have our little faith to go by. To man's reason our
faith looks rather forlorn. But because our faith rests on the promises of the infinite
God, His promises are also infinite, so much so that nothing can accuse or condemn us.
VERSE 7. And if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
A son is an heir, not by virtue of high accomplishments, but by virtue of his birth. He
is a mere recipient. His birth makes him an heir, not his labors. In exactly the same way
we obtain the eternal gifts of righteousness, resurrection, and everlasting life. We
obtain them not as agents, but as beneficiaries. We are the children and heirs of God
through faith in Christ. We have Christ to thank for everything.
We are not the heirs of some rich and mighty man, but heirs of God, the almighty
Creator of all things. If a person could fully appreciate what it means to be a son and
heir of God, he would rate the might and wealth of nations small change in comparison with
his heavenly inheritance. What is the world to him who has heaven? No wonder Paul greatly
desired to depart and to be with Christ. Nothing would be more welcome to us than early
death, knowing that it would spell the end of all our miseries and the beginning of all
our happiness. Yes, if a person could perfectly believe this he would not long remain
alive. The anticipation of his joy would kill him.
But the law of the members strives against the law of the mind, and makes perfect joy
and faith impossible. We need the continued help and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We need
His prayers. Paul himself cried out: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me
from the body of this death?" The body of this death spoiled the joy of his spirit.
He did not always entertain the sweet and glad expectation of his heavenly inheritance. He
often felt miserable.
This goes to show how hard it is to believe. Faith is feeble, because the flesh wars
against the spirit. If we could have perfect faith, our loathing for this life in the
world would be complete. We would not be so careful about this life. We would not be so
attached to the world and the things of the world. We would not feel so good when we have
them; we would not feel so bad when we lose them. We would be far more humble and patient
and kind. But our faith is weak, because our spirit is weak. In this life we can have only
the first- fruits of the Spirit, as Paul says.
VERSE 7. Through Christ.
The Apostle always has Christ on the tip of his tongue. He foresaw that nothing would
be less known in the world some day than the Gospel of Christ. Therefore he talks of
Christ continually. As often as he speaks of righteousness, grace, the promise, the
adoption, and the inheritance of heaven, he adds the words, "In Christ," or
"Through Christ," to show that these blessings are not to be had by the Law, or
the deeds of the Law, much less by our own exertions, or by the observance of human
traditions, but only by and through and in Christ.
VERSES 8 and 9. Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service
unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather
are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire
again to be in bondage?
This concludes Paul's discourse on justification. From now to the end of the Epistle
the Apostle writes mostly of Christian conduct. But before he follows up his doctrinal
discourse with practical precepts he once more reproves the Galatians. He is deeply
displeased with them for relinquishing their divine doctrine. He tells them: "You
have taken on teachers who intend to recommit you to the Law. By my doctrine I called you
out of the darkness of ignorance into the wonderful light of the knowledge of God. I led
you out of bondage into the freedom of the sons of God, not by the prescription of laws,
but by the gift of heavenly and eternal blessings through Christ Jesus. How could you so
soon forsake the light and return to darkness? How could you so quickly stray from grace
into the Law, from freedom into bondage?"
The example of the Galatians, of Anabaptists, and other sectarians in our day bears
testimony to the ease with which faith may be lost. We take great pains in setting forth
the doctrine of faith by preaching and by writing. We are careful to apply the Gospel and
the Law in their proper turn. Yet we make little headway because the devil seduces people
into misbelief by taking Christ out of their sight and focusing their eyes upon the Law.
But why does Paul accuse the Galatians of reverting to the weak and beggarly elements
of the Law when they never had the Law? Why does he not say to them: "At one time you
Galatians did not know God. You then served idols that were no gods. But now that you have
come to know the true God, why do you go back to the worship of idols?" Paul seems to
identify their defection from the Gospel to the Law with their former idolatry. Indeed he
does. Whoever gives up the article of justification does not know the true God. It is one
and the same thing whether a person reverts to the Law or to the worship of idols. When
the article of justification is lost, nothing remains except error, hypocrisy,
godlessness, and idolatry.
God will and can be known in no other way than in and through Christ according to the
statement of John 1:18, "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father,
he hath declared him." Christ is the only means whereby we can know God and His will.
In Christ we perceive that God is not a cruel judge, but a most loving and merciful Father
who to bless and to save us "spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us
all." This is truly to know God.
Those who do not know God in Christ arrive at this erroneous conclusion: "I will
serve God in such and such a way. I will join this or that order. I will be active in this
or that charitable endeavor. God will sanction my good intentions and reward me with
everlasting life. For is He not a merciful and generous Father who gives good things even
to the unworthy and ungrateful? How much more will He grant unto me everlasting life as a
due payment in return for my many good deeds and merits." This is the religion of
reason. This is the natural religion of the world. "The natural man receiveth not the
things of the Spirit of God. (I Cor. 2:14.) "There is none that understandeth, there
is none that seeketh after God." (Romans 3:11.) Hence, there is really no difference
between a Jew, a Mohammedan, and any other old or new heretic. There may be a difference
of persons, places, rites, religions, ceremonies, but as far as their fundamental beliefs
are concerned they are all alike.
Is it therefore not extreme folly for Rome and the Mohammedans to fight each other
about religion? How about the monks? Why should one monk want to be accounted more holy
than another monk because of some silly ceremony, when all the time their basic beliefs
are asmuch alike as one egg is like the other? They all imagine, if we do this or that
work, God will have mercy on us; if not, God will be angry.
God never promised to save anybody for his religious observance of ceremonies and
ordinances. Those who rely upon such things do serve a god, but it is their own invention
of a god, and not the true God. The true God has this to say: No religion pleases Me
whereby the Father is not glorified through His Son Jesus. All who give their faith to
this Son of Mine, to them I am God and Father. I accept, justify, and save them. All
others abide under My curse because they worship creatures instead of Me.
Without the doctrine of justification there can be only ignorance of God. Those who
refuse to be justified by Christ are idolaters. They remain under the Law, sin, death, and
the power of the devil. Everything they do is wrong.
Nowadays there are many such idolaters who want to be counted among the true confessors
of the Gospel. They may even teach that men are delivered from their sins by the death of
Christ. But because they attach more importance to charity than to faith in Christ they
dishonor Him and pervert His Word. They do not serve the true God, but an idol of their
own invention. The true God has never yet smiled upon a person for his charity or virtues,
but only for the sake of Christ's merits.
The objection is frequently raised that the Bible commands that we should love God with
all our heart. True enough. But because God commands it, it does not follow that we do it.
If we could love God with all our heart we should undoubtedly be justified by our
obedience, for it is written, "Which if a man do, he shall live in them." (Lev.
18:5.) But now comes the Gospel and says: "Because you do not do these things, you
cannot live in them." The words, "Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God,"
require perfect obedience, perfect fear, perfect trust, and perfect love. But where are
the people who can render perfection? Hence, this commandment, instead of justifying men,
only accuses and condemns them. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to
every one that believeth" (Romans 10:1.)
How may these two contradictory statements of the Apostle, "Ye knew not God,"
and "Ye worshipped God," be reconciled? I answer: By nature all men know that
there is a God, "because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God
hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world
are clearly seen." (Romans 1:19, 20.) Furthermore, the different religions to be
found among all nations at all times bear witness to the fact that all men have a certain
intuitive knowledge of God.
If all men know God how can Paul say that the Galatians did not know God prior to the
hearing of the Gospel? I answer: There is a twofold knowledge of God, general and
particular. All men have the general and instinctive recognition that there is a God who
created heaven and earth, who is just and holy, and who punishes the wicked. How God feels
about us, what His intentions are, what He will do for us, or how He will save us, that
men cannot know instinctively. It must be revealed to them. I may know a person by sight,
and still not know him, because I do not know how he feels about me. Men know
instinctively that there is a God. But what His will is toward them, they do not know. It
is written: "There is none that understandeth God." (Romans 3:11.) Again,
"No man hath seen God." (John 1:18.) Now, what good does it do you if you know
that there is a God, if you do not know how He feels about you, or what He wants of you?
People have done a good deal of guessing. The Jew imagines he is doing the will of God if
he concentrates on the Law of Moses. The Mohammedan thinks his Koran is the will of God.
The monk fancies he is doing the will of God if he performs his vows. But they deceive
themselves and become "vain in their imaginations," as Paul says, Romans 1:21.
Instead of worshipping the true God, they worship the vain imaginations of their foolish
What Paul means by saying to the Galatians, "When ye knew not God," is simply
this: "There was a time when you did not know the will of God in Christ, but you
worshipped gods of your own invention, thinking that you had to perform this or that
labor." Whether you understand the "elements of the world" to mean the Law
of Moses, or the religions of the heathen nations, it makes no difference. Those who lapse
from the Gospel to the Law are no better off than those who lapse from grace into
idolatry. Without Christ all religion is idolatry. Without Christ men will entertain false
ideas about God, call their ideas what you like, the laws of Moses, the ordinances of the
Pope, the Koran of the Mohammedans, or what have you.
VERSE 9. But now, after that ye have known God.
"Is it not amazing," cries Paul, "that you Galatians who knew God
intimately by the hearing of the Gospel, should all of a sudden revert from the true
knowledge of His will in which I thought you were confirmed, to the weak and beggarly
elements of the Law which can only enslave you again?"
VERSE 9. Or rather are known of God.
The Apostle turns the foregoing sentence around. He fears the Galatians have lost God
altogether. "Alas," he cries, "have you come to this, that you no longer
know God? What else am I to think? Nevertheless, God knows you." Our knowledge of God
is rather passive than active. God knows us better than we know God. "Ye are known of
God" means that God brings His Gospel to our attention, and endows us with faith and
the Holy Spirit. Even in these words the Apostle denies the possibility of our knowing God
by the performance of the Law. "No man knoweth who the Father is, but the Son, and he
to whom the Son will reveal him." (Luke 10:22.) "By his knowledge shall my
righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:11.)
The Apostle frankly expresses his surprise to the Galatians that they who had known God
intimately through the Gospel, should so easily be persuaded by the false apostles to
return to the weak and beggarly elements of the Law. I would not be surprised to see my
church perverted by some fanatic through one or two sermons. We are no better than the
apostles who had to witness the subversion of the churches which they had planted with
their own hands. Nevertheless, Christ will reign to the end of the world, and that
miraculously, as He did during the Dark Ages.
Paul seems to think rather ill of the Law. He calls it the elements of the world, the
weak and beggarly elements of the world. Was it not irreverent for him to speak that way
about the holy Law of God? The Law ought to prepare the way of Christ into the hearts of
men. That is the true purpose and function of the Law. But if the Law presumes to usurp
the place and function of the Gospel, it is no longer the holy Law of God, but a
If you care to amplify this matter you may add the observation that the Law is a weak
and beggarly element because it makes people weak and beggarly. The Law has no power and
affluence to make men strong and rich before God. To seek to be justified by the Law
amounts to the same thing as if a person who is already weak and feeble should try to find
strength in weakness, or as if a person with the dropsy should seek a cure by exposing
himself to the pestilence, or as if a leper should go to a leper, and a beggar to a beggar
to find health and wealth.
Those who seek to be justified by the Law grow weaker and more destitute right along.
They are weak and bankrupt to begin with. They are by nature the children of wrath. Yet
for salvation they grasp at the straw of the Law. The Law can only aggravate their
weakness and poverty. The Law makes them ten times weaker and poorer than they were
I and many others have experienced the truth of this. I have known monks who zealously
labored to please God for salvation, but the more they labored the more impatient,
miserable, uncertain, and fearful they became. What else can you expect? You cannot grow
strong through weakness and rich through poverty. People who prefer the Law to the Gospel
are like Aesop's dog who let go of the meat to snatch at the shadow of the water. There is
no satisfaction in the Law. What satisfaction can there be in collecting laws with which
to torment oneself and others? One law breeds ten more until their number is legion.
Who would have thought it possible that the Galatians, taught as they were by that
efficient apostle and teacher, Paul, could so quickly be led astray by the false apostles?
To fall away from the Gospel is an easy matter because few people appreciate what an
excellent treasure the knowledge of Christ really is. People are not sufficiently
exercised in their faith by afflictions. They do not wrestle against sin. They live in
security without conflict. Because they have never been tried in the furnace of affliction
they are not properly equipped with the armor of God and know not how to use the sword of
the Spirit. As long as they are being shepherded by faithful pastors, all is well. But
when their faithful shepherds are gone and wolves disguised as sheep break into the fold,
back they go to the weak and beggarly elements of the Law.
Whoever goes back to the Law loses the knowledge of the truth, fails in the recognition
of his sinfulness, does not know God, nor the devil, nor himself, and does not understand
the meaning and purpose of the Law. Without the knowledge of Christ a man will always
argue that the Law is necessary for salvation, that it will strengthen the weak and enrich
the poor. Wherever this opinion holds sway the promises of God are denied, Christ is
demoted, hypocrisy and idolatry are established.
VERSE 9. Whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage.
The Apostle pointedly asks the Galatians whether they desire to be in bondage again to
the Law. The Law is weak and poor, the sinner is weak and poor--two feeble beggars trying
to help each other. They cannot do it. They only wear each other out. But through Christ a
weak and poor sinner is revived and enriched unto eternal life.
VERSE 10. Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
The Apostle Paul knew what the false apostles were teaching the Galatians: The
observance of days, and months, and times, and years. The Jews had been obliged to keep
holy the Sabbath Day, the new moons, the feast of the passover, the feast of tabernacles,
and other feasts. The false apostles constrained the Galatians to observe these Jewish
feasts under threat of damnation. Paul hastens to tell the Galatians that they were
exchanging their Christian liberty for the weak and beggarly elements of the world.
VERSE 11. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.
It grieves the Apostle to think that he might have preached the Gospel to the Galatians
in vain. But this statement expresses more than grief. Behind his apparent disappointment
at their failure lurks the sharp reprimand that they had forsaken Christ and that they
were proving themselves to be obstinate unbelievers. But he does not openly condemn them
for fear that oversharp criticism might alienate them altogether. He therefore changes the
tone of his voice and speaks kindly to them.
VERSE 12. Be as I am; for I am as ye are.
Up to this point Paul has been occupied with the doctrinal aspect of the apostasy of
the Galatians. He did not conceal his disappointment at their lack of stability. He had
rebuked them. He had called them fools, crucifiers of Christ, etc. Now that the more
important part of his Epistle has been finished, he realizes that he has handled the
Galatians too roughly. Anxious lest he should do more harm than good, he is careful to let
them see that his criticism proceeds from affection and a true apostolic concern for their
welfare. He is eager to mitigate his sharp words with gentle sentiments in order to win
Like Paul, all pastors and ministers ought to have much sympathy for their poor
straying sheep, and instruct them in the spirit of meekness. They cannot be straightened
out in any other way. Oversharp criticism provokes anger and despair, but no repentance.
And here let us note, by the way, that true doctrine always produces concord. When men
embrace errors, the tie of Christian love is broken.
At the beginning of the Reformation we were honored as the true ministers of Christ.
Suddenly certain false brethren began to hate us. We had given them no offense, no
occasion to hate us. They knew then as they know now that ours is the singular desire to
publish the Gospel of Christ everywhere. What changed their attitude toward us? False
doctrine. Seduced into error by the false apostles, the Galatians refused to acknowledge
St. Paul as their pastor. The name and doctrine of Paul became obnoxious to them. I fear
this Epistle recalled very few from their error.
Paul knew that the false apostles would misconstrue his censure of the Galatians to
their own advantage and say: "So this is your Paul whom you praise so much. What
sweet names he is calling you in his letter. When he was with you he acted like a father,
but now he acts like a dictator." Paul knew what to expect of the false apostles and
therefore he is worried. He does not know what to say. It is hard for a man to defend his
cause at a distance, especially when he has reason to think that he personally has fallen
VERSE 12. Be as I am; for I am as ye are.
In beseeching the Galatians to be as he is, Paul expresses the hope that they might
hold the same affection for him that he holds for them. "Perhaps I have been a little
hard with you. Forgive it. Do not judge my heart according to my words."
We request the same consideration for ourselves. Our way of writing is incisive and
straightforward. But there is no bitterness in our heart. We seek the honor of Christ and
the welfare of men. We do not hate the Pope as to wish him ill. We do not desire the death
of our false brethren. We desire that they may turn from their evil ways to Christ and be
saved with us. A teacher chastises the pupil to reform him. The rod hurts, but correction
is necessary. A father punishes his son because he loves his son. If he did not love the
lad he would not punish him but let him have his own way in everything until he comes to
harm. Paul beseeches the Galatians to look upon his correction as a sign that he really
cared for them. "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but
grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto
them which are exercised thereby." (Heb. 12:11.)
Although Paul seeks to soften the effect of his reproachful words, he does not take
them back. When a physician administers a bitter potion to a patient, he does it to cure
the patient. The fact that the medicine is bitter is no fault of the physician. The malady
calls for a bitter medicine. Paul wants the Galatians to judge his words according to the
situation that made them necessary.
VERSE 12. Brethren, I beseech you. . .Ye have not injured me at all.
Would you call it beseeching the Galatians to call them "bewitched,"
"disobedient," "crucifiers of Christ"? The Apostle calls it an earnest
beseeching. And so it is. When a father corrects his son it means as if he were saying,
"My son, I beseech you, be a good boy."
VERSE 12. Ye have not injured me at all.
"I am not angry with you," says Paul. "Why should I be angry with you,
since you have done me no injury at all?"
To this the Galatians reply: "Why, then, do you say that we are perverted, that we
have forsaken the true doctrine, that we are foolish, bewitched, etc., if you are not
angry? We must have offended you somehow."
Paul answers: "You Galatians have not injured me. You have injured yourselves. I
chide you not because I wish you ill. I have no reason to wish you ill. God is my witness,
you have done me no wrong. On the contrary, you have been very good to me. The reason I
write to you is because I love you."
The bitter potion must be sweetened with honey and sugar to make it palatable. When
parents have punished their children they give them apples, pears, and other good things
to show them that they mean well.
VERSES 13, 14. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached
the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not,
nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
"You Galatians were very good to me. When I began to preach the Gospel to you in
the infirmity of my flesh and in great temptation you were not at all offended. On the
contrary, you were so loving, so kind, so friendly towards me, you received me like an
angel, like Jesus Himself."
Indeed, the Galatians are to be commended for receiving the Gospel from a man as
unimposing and afflicted all around as Paul was. Wherever he preached the Gospel, Jews and
Gentiles raved against him. All the influential and religious people of his day denounced
him. But the Galatians did not mind it. That was greatly to their honor. And Paul does not
neglect to praise them for it. This praise Paul bestows on none of the other churches to
which he wrote.
St. Jerome and others of the ancient fathers allege this infirmity of Paul's to have
been some physical defect, or concupiscence. Jerome and the other diagnosticians lived at
a time when the Church enjoyed peace and prosperity, when the bishops increased in wealth
and standing, when pastors and bishops no longer sat over the Word of God. No wonder they
failed to understand Paul.
When Paul speaks of the infirmity of his flesh he does not mean some physical defect or
carnal lust, but the sufferings and afflictions which he endured in his body. What these
infirmities were he himself explains in II Corinthians 12:9, 10: "Most gladly
therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon
me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in
persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
And in the eleventh chapter of the same Epistle the Apostle writes: "In labors more
abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews
five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I
stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck," etc. (II Cor. 11:23-25.) By the infirmity of
his flesh Paul meant these afflictions and not some chronic disease. He reminds the
Galatians how he was always in peril at the hands of the Jews, Gentiles, and false
brethren, how he suffered hunger and want.
Now, the afflictions of the believers always offend people. Paul knew it and therefore
has high praise for the Galatians because they over looked his afflictions and received
him like an angel. Christ forewarned the faithful against the offense of the Cross,
saying: "Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." (Matt. 11:6.)
Surely it is no easy thing to confess Him Lord of all and Savior of the world who was a
reproach of men, and despised of the people, and the laughing stock of the world. (Ps.
22:7.) I say, to value this poor Christ, so spitefully scorned, spit upon, scourged, and
crucified, more than the riches of the richest, the strength of the strongest, the wisdom
of the wisest, is something. It is worth being called blessed.
Paul not only had outward afflictions but also inner, spiritual afflictions. He refers
to these in II Corinthians 7:6, "Without were fightings, within were fears." In
his letter to the Philippians Paul makes mention of the restoration of Epaphroditus as a
special act of mercy on the part of God, "lest I should have sorrow upon
Considering the many afflictions of Paul, we are not surprised to hear him loudly
praising the Galatians for not being offended at him as others were. The world thinks us
mad because we go about to comfort, to help, to save others while we ourselves are in
distress. People tell us: "Physician, heal thyself." (Luke 4:23.)
The Apostle tells the Galatians that he will keep their kindness in perpetual
remembrance. Indirectly, he also reminds them how much they had loved him before the
invasion of the false apostles, and gives them a hint that they should return to their
first love for him.
VERSE 15. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?
"How much happier you used to be. And how you Galatians used to tell me that you
were blessed. And how much did I not praise and commend you formerly." Paul reminds
them of former and better times in an effort to mitigate his sharp reproaches, lest the
false apostles should slander him and misconstrue his letter to his disadvantage and to
their own advantage. Such snakes in the grass are equal to anything. They will pervert
words spoken from a sincere heart and twist them to mean just the opposite of what they
were intended to convey. They are like spiders that suck venom out of sweet and fragrant
flowers. The poison is not in the flowers, but it is the nature of the spider to turn what
is good and wholesome into poison.
VERSE 15. For I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have
plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
The Apostle continues his praise of the Galatians. "You did not only treat me very
courteously. If it had been necessary you would have plucked out your eyes and sacrificed
your lives for me." And in very fact the Galatians sacrificed their lives for Paul.
By receiving and maintaining Paul they called upon their own heads the hatred and malice
of all the Jews and Gentiles.
Nowadays the name of Luther carries the same stigma. Whoever praises Luther is a worse
sinner than an idolater, perjurer, or thief.
VERSE 16. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?
Paul's reason for praising the Galatians is to avoid giving them the impression as if
he were their enemy because he had reprimanded them.
A true friend will admonish his erring brother, and if the erring brother has any sense
at all he will thank his friend. In the world truth produces hatred. Whoever speaks the
truth is counted an enemy. But among friends it is not so, much less among Christians. The
Apostle wants his Galatians to know that just because he had told them the truth they are
not to think that he dislikes them. "I told you the truth because I love you."
VERSE 17. They zealously affect you, but not well.
Paul takes the false apostles to task for their flattery. Satan's satellites softsoap
the people. Paul calls it "by good words and fair speeches to deceive the hearts of
the simple." (Romans 16:18.)
They tell me that by my stubbornness in this doctrine of the Sacrament I am destroying
the harmony of the church. They say it would be better if we would make some slight
concession rather than cause such commotion and controversy in the Church regarding an
article which is not even one of the fundamental doctrines. My reply is, cursed be any
love or harmony which demands for its preservation that we place the Word of God in
VERSE 17. Yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
"Do you Galatians know why the false apostles are so zealous about you? They
expect you to reciprocate. And that would leave me out. If their zeal were right they
would not mind your loving me. But they hate my doctrine and want to stamp it out. In
order to bring this to pass they go about to alienate your hearts from me and to make me
obnoxious to you." In this way Paul brings the false apostles into suspicion. He
questions their motives. He maintains that their zeal is mere pretense to deceive the
Galatians. Our Savior Christ also warned us, saying: "Beware of false prophets, which
come to you in sheep's clothing." (Matt. 7:15.)
Paul was considerably disturbed by the commissions and changes that followed in the
wake of his preaching. He was accused of being "a pestilent fellow, a mover of
sedition among all the Jews throughout the world." (Acts 24:5.) In Philippi the
townspeople cried that he troubled their city and taught customs which were not lawful for
them to receive. (Acts 16:20, 21.)
All troubles, calamities, famines, wars were laid to the charge of the Gospel of the
apostles. However, the apostles were not deterred by such calumnies from preaching the
Gospel. They knew that they "ought to obey God rather than men," and that it was
better for the world to be upset than to be ignorant of Christ.
Do you think for a moment that these reactions did not worry the apostles? They were
not made of iron. They foresaw the revolutionary character of the Gospel. They also
foresaw the dissensions that would creep into the Church. It was bad news for Paul when he
heard that the Corinthians were denying the resurrection of the dead, that the churches he
had planted were experiencing all kinds of difficulties, and that the Gospel was being
supplanted by false doctrines.
But Paul also knew that the Gospel was not to blame. He did not resign his office
because he knew that the Gospel he preached was the power of God unto salvation to every
one that believes.
The same criticism which was leveled at the apostles is leveled at us. The doctrine of
the Gospel, we are told, is the cause of all the present unrest in the world. There is no
wrong that is not laid to our charge. But why? We do not spread wicked lies. We preach the
glad tidings of Christ. Our opponents will bear us out when we say that we never fail to
urge respect for the constituted authorities, because that is the will of God.
All of these vilifications cannot discourage us. We know that there is nothing the
devil hates worse than the Gospel. It is one of his little tricks to blame the Gospel for
every evil in the world. Formerly, when the traditions of the fathers were taught in the
Church, the devil was not excited as he is now. It goes to show that our doctrine is of
God, else "behemoth would lie under shady trees, in the covert of the reed, and
fens." The fact that he is again walking about as a roaring lion to stir up riots and
disorders is a sure sign that he has begun to feel the effect of our preaching.
VERSE 18. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not
only when I am present with you.
"When I was present with you, you loved me, although I preached the Gospel to you
in the infirmity of my flesh. The fact that I am now absent from you ought not to change
your attitude towards me. Although I am absent in the flesh, I am with you in spirit and
in my doctrine which you ought to retain by all means because through it you received the
VERSE 19. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be
formed in you.
With every single word the Apostle seeks to regain the confidence of the Galatians. He
now calls them lovingly his little children. He adds the simile: "Of whom I travail
in birth again." As parents reproduce their physical characteristics in their
children, so the apostles reproduced their faith in the hearts of the hearers, until
Christ was formed in them. A person has the form of Christ when he believes in Christ to
the exclusion of everything else. This faith in Christ is engendered by the Gospel as the
Apostle declares in I Corinthians 4:15: "In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through
the Gospel"; and in II Corinthians 3:3, "Ye are the epistle of Christ ministered
by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God." The Word of God
falling from the lips of the apostle or minister enters into the heart of the hearer. The
Holy Ghost impregnates the Word so that it brings forth the fruit of faith. In this manner
every Christian pastor is a spiritual father who forms Christ in the hearts of his
At the same time Paul indicts the false apostles. He says: "I have begotten you
Galatians through the Gospel, giving you the form of Christ. But these false apostles are
giving you a new form, the form of Moses." Note the Apostle does not say, "Of
whom I travail in birth again until I be formed in you," but "until Christ be
formed in you." The false apostles had torn the form of Christ out of the hearts of
the Galatians and substituted their own form. Paul endeavors to reform them, or rather
reform Christ in them.
VERSE 20. I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice.
A common saying has it that a letter is a dead messenger. Something is lacking in all
writing. You can never be sure how the written page will affect the reader, because his
mood, his circumstances, his affections are so changeable. It is different with the spoken
word. If it is harsh and ill-timed it can always be remodeled. No wonder the Apostle
expresses the wish that he could speak to the Galatians in person. He could change his
voice according to their attitude. If he saw that they were repentant he could soften the
tone of his voice. If he saw that they were stubborn he could speak to them more
earnestly. This way he did not know how to deal with them by letter. If his Epistle is too
severe it will do more damage than good. If it is too gentle, it will not correct
conditions. But if he could be with them in person he could change his voice as the
VERSE 20. For I stand in doubt of you.
"I do not know how to take you. I do not know how to approach you by letter."
In order to make sure that he leaves no stone unturned in his effort to recall them to the
Gospel of Christ, he chides, entreats, praises, and blames the Galatians, trying every way
to hit the right note and tone of voice.
VERSE 21. Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
Here Paul would have closed his Epistle because he did not know what else to say. He
wishes he could see the Galatians in person and straighten out their difficulties. But he
is not sure whether the Galatians have fully understood the difference between the Gospel
and the Law. To make sure, he introduces another illustration. He knows people like
illustrations and stories. He knows that Christ Himself made ample use of parables.
Paul is an expert at allegories. They are dangerous things. Unless a person has a
thorough knowledge of Christian doctrine he had better leave allegories alone.
The allegory which Paul is about to bring is taken from the Book of Genesis which he
calls the Law. True, that book contains no mention of the Law. Paul simply follows the
custom of the Jews who included the first book of Moses in the collective term,
"Law." Jesus even included the Psalms.
VERSES 22, 23. For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one
by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after
the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
This is Paul's allegory. Abraham had two sons: Ishmael by Hagar, and Isaac by Sarah.
They were both the true sons of Abraham, with this difference, that Ishmael was born after
the flesh, i.e., without the commandment and promise of God, while Isaac was born
according to the promise.
With the permission of Sarah, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah's bondwoman, to wife. Sarah
knew that God had promised to make her husband Abraham the father of a nation, and she
hoped that she would be the mother of this promised nation. But with the passage of the
years her hope died out. In order that the promise of God should not be annulled by her
barrenness this holy woman resigned her right and honor to her maid. This was no easy
thing for her to do. She abased herself. She thought: "God is no liar. What He has
promised He will perform. But perhaps God does not want me to be the mother of Abraham's
posterity. Perhaps He prefers Hagar for the honor."
Ishmael was thus born without a special word or promise of God, at the mere request of
Sarah. God did not command Abraham to take Hagar, nor did God promise to bless the
coalition. It is evident that Ishmael was the son of Abraham after the flesh, and not
after the promise.
In the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans St. Paul advances the same argument
which he amplifies into an allegory in writing to the Galatians. There he argues that all
the children of Abraham are not the children of God. For Abraham had two kinds of
children, children born of the promise, like Isaac, and other children born without the
promise, as Ishmael. With this argument Paul squelched the proud Jews who gloried that
they were the children of God because they were the seed and the children of Abraham. Paul
makes it clear enough that it takes more than an Abrahamic pedigree to be a child of God.
To be a child of God requires faith in Christ.
VERSE 24. Which things are an allegory.
Allegories are not very convincing, but like pictures they visualize a matter. If Paul
had not brought in advance indisputable arguments for the righteousness of faith over
against the righteousness of works this allegory would do little good. Having first
fortified his case with invincible arguments, he can afford to inject this allegory to add
impressiveness and beauty to his presentation.
VERSES 24, 25. For these are the two covenants; the one from the mount
Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia.
In this allegory Abraham represents God. Abraham had two sons, born respectively of
Hagar and Sarah. The two women represent the two Testaments. The Old Testament is Mount
Sinai, the bondwoman, Hagar. The Arabians call Mount Sinai Agar. It may be that the
similarity of these two names gave Paul his idea for this allegory. As Hagar bore Abraham
a son who was not an heir but a servant, so Sinai, the Law, the allegorical Hagar, bore
God a carnal and servile people of the Law without promise. The Law has a promise but it
is a conditional promise, depending upon whether people fulfill the Law.
The Jews regarded the conditional promises of the Law as if they were unconditional.
When the prophets foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews stoned them as
blasphemers of God. They never gave it any thought that there was a condition attached to
the Law which reads: "If you keep the commandments it shall be well with thee."
VERSE 25. And answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her
A little while ago Paul called Mount Sinai, Hagar. He would now gladly make Jerusalem
the Sarah of the New Testament, but he cannot. The earthly Jerusalem is not Sarah, but a
part of Hagar. Hagar lives there in the home of the Law, the Temple, the priesthood, the
ceremonies, and whatever else was ordained in the Law at Mount Sinai.
I would have been tempted to call Jerusalem, Sarah, or the New Testament. I would have
been pleased with this turn of the allegory. It goes to show that not everybody has the
gift of allegory. Would you not think it perfectly proper to call Sinai Hagar and
Jerusalem Sarah? True, Paul does call Sarah Jerusalem. But he has the spiritual and
heavenly Jerusalem in mind, not the earthly Jerusalem. Sarah represents that spiritual
Jerusalem where there is no Law but only the promise, and where the inhabitants are free.
To show that the Law has been quite abolished, the earthly Jerusalem was completely
destroyed with all her ornaments, temples, and ceremonies.
VERSE 26. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
The earthly Jerusalem with its ordinances and laws represents Hagar and her offspring.
They are slaves to the Law, sin and death. But the heavenly Jerusalem is Sarah, the free
woman. This heavenly Jerusalem is the Church, that is to say the number of all believers
throughout the world, having one and the same Gospel, one and the same faith in Christ,
one and the same Holy Ghost, and the same sacraments.
Do not mistake this one word "above" to refer to the triumphant Church in
heaven, but to the militant Church on earth. In Philippians 3:20, the Apostle uses the
phrase: "Our conversation is in heaven," not locally in heaven, but in spirit.
When a believer accepts the heavenly gifts of the Gospel he is in heaven. So also in
Ephesians 1:3, "Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places
in Christ." Jerusalem here means the universal Christian Church on earth.
Sarah, the Church, as the bride of Christ bears free children who are not subject to
VERSE 27. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and
cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which
hath an husband.
Paul quotes the allegorical prophecy of Isaiah to the effect that the mother of many
children must die desolately, while the barren woman shall have an abundance of children.
(Isaiah 54:1.) He applies this prophecy to Hagar and Sarah, to the Law and the Gospel. The
Law as the husband of the fruitful woman procreates many children. For men of all ages
have had the idea that they are right when they follow after the Law and outwardly perform
Although the Law has many children, they are not free. They are slaves. As servants
they cannot have a share in the inheritance, but are driven from the house as Ishmael was
cast out of the house of Abraham. In fact the servants of the Law are even now barred from
the kingdom of light and liberty, for "he that believeth not, is condemned
already." (John 3:18.) As the servants of the Law they remain under the curse of the
Law, under sin and death, under the power of the devil, and under the wrath and judgment
On the other hand, Sarah, the free Church, seems barren. The Gospel of the Cross which
the Church proclaims does not have the appeal that the Law has for men, and therefore it
does not find many adherents. The Church does not look prosperous. Unbelievers have always
predicted the death of the Church. The Jews were quite certain that the Church would not
long endure. They said to Paul: "As concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it
is spoken against." (Acts 28:22.) No matter how barren and forsaken, how weak and
desolate the Church may seem, she alone is really fruitful before God. By the Gospel she
procreates an infinite number of children that are free heirs of everlasting life.
The Law, "the old husband," is really dead. But not all people know it, or
want to know it. They labor and bear the burden and the heat of the day, and bring forth
many children, children that are bastards like themselves, children born to be put out of
the house like Ishmael to perish forever. Accursed be that doctrine, life, and religion
which endeavors to obtain righteousness before God by the Law and its creeds.
The scholastics think that the judicial and ceremonial laws of Moses were abolished by
the coming of Christ, but not the moral law. They are blind. When Paul declares that we
are delivered from the curse of the Law he means the whole Law, particularly the moral law
which more than the other laws accuses, curses, and condemns the conscience. The Ten
Commandments have no right to condemn that conscience in which Jesus dwells, for Jesus has
taken from the Ten Commandments the right and power to curse us.
Not as if the conscience is now insensitive to the terrors of the Law, but the Law
cannot drive the conscience to despair. "There is now no condemnation to them which
are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1.) "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be
free indeed." (John 8:36.)
You will complain: "But I am not doing anything." That is right. You cannot
do a thing to be delivered from the tyranny of the Law. But listen to the glad tidings
which the Holy Ghost brings to you in the words of the prophet: "Rejoice, thou
barren." As Christ is greater than the Law, so much more excellent is the
righteousness of Christ than the righteousness of the Law.
In one more respect the Law has been abolished. The civil laws of Moses do not concern
us, and should not be put back in force. That does not mean that we are exempt from
obedience to the civil laws under which we live. On the contrary, the Gospel commands
Christians to obey government "not only for wrath, but also for conscience
sake." (Romans 13:5.)
Neither do the ordinances of Moses or those of the Pope concern us. But because life
cannot go on without some ordinances, the Gospel permits regulations to be made in the
Church in regard to special days, times, places, etc., in order that the people may know
upon what day, at what hour, and in what place to assemble for the Word of God. Such
directions are desirable that "all things be done decently and in order." (I
Cor. 14:40.) These directions may be changed or omitted altogether, as long as no offense
is given to the weak.
Paul, however, refers particularly to the abolition of the moral law. If faith alone in
Christ justifies, then the whole Law is abolished without exception. And this the Apostle
proves by the testimony of Isaiah, who bids the barren to rejoice because she will have
many children, whereas she that has a husband and many children will be forsaken.
Isaiah calls the Church barren because her children are born without effort by the Word
of faith through the Spirit of God. It is a matter of birth, not of exertion. The believer
too works, but not in an effort to become a son and an heir of God. He is that before he
goes to work. He is born a son and an heir. He works for the glory of God and the welfare
of his fellowmen.
VERSE 28. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
The Jews claimed to be the children of God because they were the children of Abraham.
Jesus answered them, John 8:39, 40, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the
works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth."
And in verse 42: "If God were your Father, ye would love me." In other words:
"You are not the children of God. If you were, you would know and love me. Brothers
born and living together in the same house recognize each other. You do not recognize me.
You are of your father, the devil."
We are not like these Jews, the children of the bondwoman, the Law, who were cast out
of the house by Jesus. We are children of the promise like Isaac, born of grace and faith
unto an everlasting inheritance.
VERSE 29. But as that he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born
after the Spirit, even so it is now.
This is a cheering thought. We who are born of the Gospel, and live in Christ, and
rejoice in our inheritance, have Ishmael for our enemy. The children of the Law will
always persecute the children of the Gospel. This is our daily experience. Our opponents
tell us that everything was at peace before the Gospel was revived by us. Since then the
whole world has been upset. People blame us and the Gospel for everything, for the
disobedience of subjects to their rulers, for wars, plagues, and famines, for revolutions,
and every other evil that can be imagined. No wonder our opponents think they are doing
God a favor by hating and persecuting us. Ishmael will persecute Isaac.
We invite our opponents to tell us what good things attended the preaching of the
Gospel by the apostles. Did not the destruction of Jerusalem follow on the heels of the
Gospel? And how about the overthrow of the Roman Empire? Did not the whole world seethe
with unrest as the Gospel was preached in the whole world? We do not say that the Gospel
instigated these upheavals. The iniquity of man did it.
Our opponents blame our doctrine for the present turmoil. But ours is a doctrine of
grace and peace. It does not stir up trouble. Trouble starts when the people, the nations
and their rulers of the earth rage and take counsel together against the Lord, and against
His anointed. (Psalm 2.) But all their counsels shall be brought to naught. "He that
sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision." (Psalm
2:4.) Let them cry out against us as much as they like. We know that they are the cause of
all their own troubles.
As long as we preach Christ and confess Him to be our Savior, we must be content to be
called vicious trouble makers. "These that have turned the world upside down are come
hither also; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar," so said the Jews of
Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:6, 7.) Of Paul they said: "We have found this man a
pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a
ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." The Gentiles uttered similar complaints:
"These men do exceedingly trouble our city."
This man Luther is also accused of being a pestilent fellow who troubles the papacy and
the Roman empire. If I would keep silent, all would be well, and the Pope would no more
persecute me. The moment I open my mouth the Pope begins to fume and to rage. It seems we
must choose between Christ and the Pope. Let the Pope perish.
Christ foresaw the reaction of the world to the Gospel. He said: "I am come to
send fire on the earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled?" (Luke 12:49.)
Do not take the statement of our opponents seriously, that no good can come of the
preaching of the Gospel. What do they know? They would not recognize the fruits of the
Gospel if they saw them.
At any rate, our opponents cannot accuse us of adultery, murder, theft, and such
crimes. The worst they can say about us is that we have the Gospel. What is wrong with the
Gospel? We teach that Christ, the Son of God, has redeemed us from sin and everlasting
death. This is not our doctrine. It belongs to Christ. If there is anything wrong with it,
it is not our fault. If they want to condemn Christ for being our Savior and Redeemer,
that is their lookout. We are mere onlookers, watching to see who will win the victory,
Christ or His opponents.
On one occasion Jesus remarked: "If ye were of the world, the world would love his
own, but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world,
therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:19.) In otherwords: "I am the cause of
all your troubles. I am the one for whose sake you are killed. If you did not confess my
name, the world would not hate you. The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have
persecuted me, they will also persecute you."
Christ takes all the blame. He says: "You have not incurred the hatred and
persecutions of the world. I have. But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
VERSE 30. Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her
son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.
Sarah's demand that the bondwoman and her son be cast out of the house was undoubtedly
a blow to Abraham. He felt sorry for his son Ishmael. The Scripture explicitly states
Abraham's grief in the words: "And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight,
because of his son." (Gen. 21:11.) But God approved Sarah's action and said to
Abraham: "Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy
bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac
shall thy seed be called." (Gen. 21:12.)
The Holy Ghost contemptuously calls the admirers of the Law the children of the
bondwoman. "If you do not know your mother, I will tell you what kind of a woman she
is. She is a slave. And you are slaves. You are slaves of the Law and therefore slaves of
sin, death, and everlasting damnation. You are not fit to be heirs. You are put out of the
This is the sentence which God pronounces upon the Ishmaelites, the papists, and all
others who trust in their own merits, and persecute the Church of Christ. Because they are
slaves and persecutors of the children of the free woman, they shall be cast out of the
house of God forever. They shall have no inheritance with the children of the promise.
This sentence stands forever.
This sentence affects not only those popes, cardinals bishops, and monks who were
notoriously wicked and made their bellies their Gods. It strikes, also, those who lived in
all sincerity to please God and to merit the forgiveness of their sins through a life of
self-denial. Even these will be cast out, because they are children of the bondwoman.
Our opponents do not defend their own moral delinquency. The better ones deplore and
abhor it. But they defend and uphold their doctrine of works which is of the devil. Our
quarrel is not with those who live in manifest sins. Our quarrel is with those among them
who think they live like angels, claiming that they do not only perform the Ten
Commandments of God, but also the sayings of Christ, and many good works that God does not
expect of them. We quarrel with them because they refuse to have Jesus' merit count alone
St. Bernard was one of the best of the medieval saints. He lived a chaste and holy
life. But when it came to dying he did not trust in his chaste life for salvation. He
prayed: "I have lived a wicked life. But Thou, Lord Jesus, hast a heaven to give unto
me. First, because Thou art the Son of God. Secondly, because Thou hast purchased heaven
for me by Thy suffering and death. Thou givest heaven to me, not because I earned it, but
because Thou hast earned it for me." If any of the Romanists are saved it is because
they forget their good deeds and merits and feel like Paul: "Not having mine own
righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ."
VERSE 31. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
With this sentence the Apostle Paul concludes his allegory of the barren Church. This
sentence forms a clear rejection of the righteousness of the Law and a confirmation of the
doctrine of justification. In the next chapter Paul lays special stress upon the freedom
which the children of the free woman enjoy. He treats of Christian liberty, the knowledge
of which is very necessary. The liberty which Christ purchased for us is a bulwark to us
in our battle against spiritual tyranny. Therefore we must carefully study this doctrine
of Christian liberty, not only for the confirmation of the doctrine of justification, but
also for the comfort and encouragement of those who are weak in faith.
IN this chapter the Apostle Paul presents the doctrine of Christian liberty in a final
effort to persuade the Galatians to give up the nefarious doctrine of the false apostles.
To accomplish his purpose he adduces threats and promises, trying in every way possible to
keep them in the liberty which Christ purchased for them.
VERSE 1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.
"Be steadfast, not careless. Lie not down and sleep, but stand up. Be watchful.
Hold fast the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free." Those who loll cannot
keep this liberty. Satan hates the light of the Gospel. When it begins to shine a little
he fights against it with might and main.
What liberty does Paul mean? Not civil liberty (for which we have the government to
thank), but the liberty which Christ has procured for us.
At one time the emperor was compelled to grant to the bishop of Rome certain immunities
and privileges. This is civil liberty. That liberty exempts the clergy from certain public
charges. Then there is also another kind of "liberty," when people obey neither
the laws of God nor the laws of men, but do as they please. This carnal liberty the people
want in our day. We are not now speaking of this liberty. Neither are we speaking of civil
Paul is speaking of a far better liberty, the liberty "wherewith Christ hath made
us free," not from material bonds, not from the Babylonian captivity, not from the
tyranny of the Turks, but from the eternal wrath of God.
Where is this liberty?
In the conscience.
Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God.
This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth
mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the
heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to
him for Christ's sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for
our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life
As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law, sin, death,
the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has been assuaged by Christ no
Law, sin, or death may now accuse and condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to
frighten us, but not too much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated.
Our conscience must he trained to fall back on the freedom purchased for us by Christ.
Though the fears of the Law, the terrors of sin, the horror of death assail us
occasionally, we know that these feelings shall not endure, because the prophet quotes God
as saying: "In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment: but with
everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee." (Isa. 54:8.)
We shall appreciate this liberty all the more when we bear in mind that it was Jesus
Christ, the Son of God, who purchased it with His own blood. Hence, Christ's liberty is
given us not by the Law, or for our own righteousness, but freely for Christ's sake. In
the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus declares: "If the Son shall make
you free, ye shall be free indeed." He only stands between us and the evils which
trouble and afflict us and which He has overcome for us.
Reason cannot properly evaluate this gift. Who can fully appreciate the blessing of the
forgiveness of sins and of everlasting life? Our opponents claim that they also possess
this liberty. But they do not. When they are put to the test all their self-confidence
slips from them. What else can they expect when they trust in works and not in the Word of
Our liberty is founded on Christ Himself, who sits at the right hand of God and
intercedes for us. Therefore our liberty is sure and valid as long as we believe in
Christ. As long as we cling to Him with a steadfast faith we possess His priceless gifts.
But if we are careless and indifferent we shall lose them. It is not without good reason
that Paul urges us to watch and to stand fast. He knew that the devil delights in taking
this liberty away from us.
VERSE 1. And be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Because reason prefers the righteousness of the Law to the righteousness of faith, Paul
calls the Law a yoke, a yoke of bondage. Peter also calls it a yoke. "Why tempt ye
God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were
able to bear?" (Acts 15:10.)
In this passage Paul again disparages the pernicious notion that the Law is able to
make men righteous before God, a notion deeply rooted in man's reason. All mankind is so
wrapped up in this idea that it is hard to drag it out of people. Paul compares those who
seek to be justified by the Law to oxen that are hitched to the yoke. Like oxen that toil
in the yoke all day, and in the evening are turned out to graze along the dusty road, and
at last are marked for slaughter when they no longer can draw the burden, so those who
seek to be justified by the Law are "entangled with the yoke of bondage," and
when they have grown old and broken-down in the service of the Law they have earned for
their perpetual reward God's wrath and everlasting torment.
We are not now treating of an unimportant matter. It is a matter that involves
everlasting liberty or everlasting slavery. For as a liberation from God's wrath through
the kind office of Christ is not a passing boon, but a permanent blessing, so also the
yoke of the Law is not a temporary but an everlasting affliction.
Rightly are the doors of the Law called devil's martyrs. They take more pains to earn
hell than the martyrs of Christ to obtain heaven. Theirs is a double misfortune. First
they torture themselves on earth with self- inflicted penances and finally when they die
they gain the reward of eternal damnation.
VERSE 2. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall
profit you nothing.
Paul is incensed at the thought of the tyranny of the Law. His antagonism to the Law is
a personal matter with him. "Behold, I, Paul," he says, "I who have
received the Gospel not from men, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ: I who have been
commissioned from above to preach the Gospel to you: I Paul say to you, If you submit to
circumcision Christ will profit you nothing." Paul emphatically declares that for the
Galatians to be circumcised would mean for them to lose the benefits of Christ's suffering
and death. This passage may well serve as a criterion for all the religions. To teach that
besides faith in Christ other devices like works, or the observance of rules, traditions,
or ceremonies are necessary for the attainment of righteousness and everlasting life, is
to make Christ and His salvation of no benefit to anybody.
This passage is an indictment of the whole papacy. All priests, monks, and nuns--and I
am now speaking of the best of them--who repose their hope for salvation in their own
works, and not in Christ, whom they imagine to he an angry judge, hear this sentence
pronounced against them that Christ shall profit them nothing. If one can earn the
forgiveness of sins and everlasting life through one's own efforts to what purpose was
Christ born? What was the purpose of His suffering and death, His resurrection, His
victory over sin, death, and the devil, if men may overcome these evils by their own
endeavor? Tongue cannot express, nor heart conceive what a terrible thing it is to make
The person who is not moved by these considerations to leave the Law and the confidence
in his own righteousness for the liberty in Christ, has a heart that is harder than stone
Paul does not condemn circumcision in itself. Circumcision is not injurious to the
person who does not ascribe any particular importance to it. Neither are works injurious
provided a person does not attach any saving value to them. The Apostle does not say that
works are objectionable, but to build one's hopes for righteousness on works is
disastrous, for that makes Christ good for nothing.
Let us bear this in mind when the devil accuses our conscience. When that dragon
accuses us of having done no good at all, but only evil, say to him: "You trouble me
with the remembrance of my past sins; you remind me that I have done no good. But this
does not bother me, because if I were to trust in my own good deeds, or despair because I
have done no good deeds, Christ would profit me neither way. I am not going to make him
unprofitable to me. This I would do, if I should presume to purchase for myself the favor
of God and everlasting life by my good deeds, or if I should despair of my salvation
because of my sins."
VERSE 3. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor
to do the whole law.
The first fault with circumcision is that it makes Christ unprofitable. The second
fault is that it obligates those who are circumcised to observe the whole Law. Paul is so
very much in earnest about this matter that he confirms it with an oath. "I
testify," he says, "I swear by the living God." Paul's statement may be
explained negatively to mean: "I testify to every man who is being circumcised that
he cannot perform the Law in any point. In the very act of circumcision he is not being
circumcised, and in the very act of fulfilling the Law he fulfills it not." This
seems to be the simple meaning of Paul's statement. Later on in the sixth chapter he
explicitly states, "They themselves which are circumcised keep not the law. The fact
that you are circumcised does not mean you are righteous and free from the Law. The truth
is that by circumcision you have become debtors and servants of the Law. The more you
endeavor to perform the Law, the more you will become tangled up in the yoke of the
The truth of this I have experienced in myself and in others. I have seen many work
themselves down to the bones in their hungry effort to obtain peace of conscience. But the
harder they tried the more they worried. Especially in the presence of death they were so
uneasy that I have seen murderers die with better grace and courage.
This holds true also in regard to the church regulations. When I was a monk I tried
ever so hard to live up to the strict rules of my order. I used to make a list of my sins,
and I was always on the way to confession, and whatever penances were enjoined upon me I
performed religiously. In spite of it all, my conscience was always in a fever of doubt.
The more I sought to help my poor stricken conscience the worse it got. The more I paid
attention to the regulations the more I transgressed them.
Hence those that seek to be justified by the Law are much further away from the
righteousness of life than the publicans, sinners, and harlots. They know better than to
trust in their own works. They know that they cannot ever hope to obtain forgiveness by
Paul's statement in this verse may be taken to mean that those who submit to
circumcision are thereby submitting to the whole Law. To obey Moses in one point requires
obedience to him in all points. It does no good to say that only circumcision is
necessary, and not the rest of Moses' laws. The same reasons that obligate a person to
accept circumcision also obligate a person to accept the whole Law. Thus to acknowledge
the Law is tantamount to declaring that Christ is not yet come. And if Christ is not yet
come, then all the Jewish ceremonies and laws concerning meats, places, and times are
still in force, and Christ must be awaited as one who is still to come. The whole
Scripture, however, testifies that Christ has come, that by His death He has abolished the
Law, and that He has fulfilled all things which the prophets have foretold about Him.
Some would like to subjugate us to certain parts of the Mosaic Law. But this is not to
be permitted under any circumstances. If we permit Moses to rule over us in one thing, we
must obey him in all things.
VERSE 4. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by
the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Paul in this verse discloses that he is not speaking so much of circumcision as the
trust which men repose in the outward act. We can hear him say: "I do not condemn the
Law in itself; what I condemn is that men seek to be justified by the Law, as if Christ
were still to come, or as if He alone were unable to justify sinners. It is this that I
condemn, because it makes Christ of no effect. It makes you void of Christ so that Christ
is not in you, nor can you be partakers of the knowledge, the spirit, the fellowship, the
liberty, the life, or the achievements of Christ. You are completely separated from Him,
so much so that He has nothing to do with you any more, or for that matter you with
Him." Can anything worse be said against the Law? If you think Christ and the Law can
dwell together in your heart, you may be sure that Christ dwells not in your heart. For if
Christ is in your heart He neither condemns you, nor does He ever bid you to trust in your
own good works. If you know Christ at all, you know that good works do not serve unto
righteousness, nor evil works unto condemnation. I do not want to withhold from good works
their due praise, nor do I wish to encourage evil works. But when it comes to
justification, I say, we must concentrate upon Christ alone, or else we make Him
non-effective .You must choose between Christ and the righteousness of the Law. If you
choose Christ you are righteous before God. If you stick to the Law, Christ is of no use
VERSE 4. Ye are fallen from grace.
That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on
board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side
of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they
go about it. Those who seek to be justified by the Law are fallen from grace and are in
grave danger of eternal death. If this holds true in the case of those who seek to be
justified by the moral Law, what will become of those, I should like to know, who endeavor
to be justified by their own regulations and vows? They will fall to the very bottom of
hell. "Oh, no," they say, "we will fly straight into heaven. If you live
according to the rules of Saint Francis, Saint Dominick, Saint Benedict, you will obtain
the peace and mercy of God. If you perform the vows of chastity, obedience, etc., you will
be rewarded with everlasting life." Let these playthings of the devil go to the place
where they came from and listen to what Paul has to say in this verse in accordance with
Christ's own teaching: "He that believeth in the Son of God, hath everlasting life;
but he that believeth not in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth in
The words, "Ye are fallen from grace," must not be taken lightly. They are
important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the
righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and
resurrection. To lose the grace of God means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death,
the bondage of the devil, and everlasting condemnation.
VERSE 6. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
Paul concludes the whole matter with the above statement. "You want to be
justified by the Law, by circumcision, and by works. We cannot see it. To be justified by
such means would make Christ of no value to us. We would be obliged to perform the whole
law. We rather through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness." The Apostle is
not satisfied to say "justified by faith." He adds hope to faith.
Holy Writ speaks of hope in two ways: as the object of the emotion, and hope as the
emotion itself. In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians we have an instance
of its first use: "For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven," i.e., the
thing hoped for. In the sense of emotion we quote the passage from the eighth chapter of
the Epistle to the Romans: "For we are saved by hope." As Paul uses the term
"hope" here in writing to the Galatians, we may take it in either of its two
meanings. We may understand Paul to say, "We wait in spirit, through faith, for the
righteousness that we hope for, which in due time will be revealed to us." Or we may
understand Paul to say: "We wait in Spirit, by faith for righteousness with great
hope and desire." True, we are righteous, but our righteousness is not yet revealed;
as long as we live here sin stays with us, not to forget the law in our members striving
against the law of our mind. When sin rages in our body and we through the Spirit wrestle
against it, then we have cause for hope. We are not yet perfectly righteous. Perfect
righteousness is still to be attained. Hence we hope for it.
This is sweet comfort for us. And we are to make use of it in comforting the afflicted.
We are to say to them: "Brother, you would like to feel God's favor as you feel your
sin. But you are asking too much. Your righteousness rests on something much better than
feelings. Wait and hope until it will be revealed to you in the Lord's own time. Don't go
by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you."
The question occurs to us, What difference is there between faith and hope? We find it
difficult to see any difference. Faith and hope are so closely linked that they cannot be
separated. Still there is a difference between them.
First, hope and faith differ in regard to their sources. Faith originates in the
understanding, while hope rises in the will.
Secondly, they differ in regard to their functions. Faith says what is to be done.
Faith teaches, describes, directs. Hope exhorts the mind to be strong and courageous.
Thirdly, they differ in regard to their objectives. Faith concentrates on the truth.
Hope looks to the goodness of God.
Fourthly, they differ in sequence. Faith is the beginning of life before tribulation.
(Hebrews 11.) Hope comes later and is born of tribulation. (Romans 5.)
Fifthly, they differ in regard to their effects. Faith is a judge. It judges errors.
Hope is a soldier. It fights against tribulations, the Cross, despondency, despair, and
waits for better things to come in the midst of evil. Without hope faith cannot endure. On
the other hand, hope without faith is blind rashness and arrogance because it lacks
knowledge. Before anything else a Christian must have the insight of faith, so that the
intellect may know its directions in the day of trouble and the heart may hope for better
things. By faith we begin, by hope we continue.
This passage contains excellent doctrine and much comfort. It declares that we are
justified not by works, sacrifices, or ceremonies, but by Christ alone. The world may
judge certain things to be ever so good; without Christ they are all wrong. Circumcision
and the law and good works are carnal. "We," says Paul, "are above such
things. We possess Christ by faith and in the midst of our afflictions we hopefully wait
for the consummation of our righteousness."
You may say, "The trouble is I don't feel as if I am righteous." You must not
feel, but believe. Unless you believe that you are righteous, you do Christ a great wrong,
for He has cleansed you by the washing of regeneration, He died for you so that through
Him you may obtain righteousness and everlasting life.
VERSE 6. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor
uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.
Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through
love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of
hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides. He declares on the one hand, "In
Christ Jesus circumcision availeth nothing," i.e., works avail nothing, but faith
alone, and that without any merit whatever, avails before God. On the other hand, the
Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, "If faith
justifies without works, let us work nothing," is to despise the grace of God. Idle
faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a
Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our
VERSE 7. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
This is plain speaking. Paul asserts that he teaches the same truth now which he has
always taught, and that the Galatians ran well as long as they obeyed the truth. But now,
misled by the false apostles, they no longer run. He compares the Christian life to a
race. When everything runs along smoothly the Hebrews spoke of it as a race. "Ye did
run well," means that everything went along smoothly and happily with the Galatians.
They lived a Christian life and were on the right way to everlasting life. The words,
"Ye did run well," are encouraging indeed. Often our lives seem to creep rather
than to run. But if we abide in the true doctrine and walk in the spirit, we have nothing
to worry about. God judges our lives differently. What may seem to us a life slow in
Christian development may seem to God a life of rapid progression in grace.
VERSE 7. Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? The Galatians were
hindered in the Christian life when they turned from faith and grace to the Law. Covertly
the Apostle blames the false apostles for impeding the Christian progress of the
Galatians. The false apostles persuaded the Galatians to believe that they were in error
and that they had made little or no progress under the influence of Paul. Under the
baneful influence of the false apostles the Galatians thought they were well off and
advancing rapidly in Christian knowledge and living.
VERSE 8. This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
Paul explains how those who had been deceived by false teachers may be restored to
spiritual health. The false apostles were amiable fellows. Apparently they surpassed Paul
in learning and godliness. The Galatians were easily deceived by outward appearances. They
supposed they were being taught by Christ Himself. Paul proved to them that their new
doctrine was not of Christ, but of the devil. In this way he succeeded in regaining many.
We also are able to win back many from the errors into which they were seduced by showing
that their beliefs are imaginary, wicked, and contrary to the Word of God.
The devil is a cunning persuader. He knows how to enlarge the smallest sin into a
mountain until we think we have committed the worst crime ever committed on earth. Such
stricken consciences must be comforted and set straight as Paul corrected the Galatians by
showing them that their opinion is not of Christ because it runs counter to the Gospel,
which describes Christ as a meek and merciful Savior.
Satan will circumvent the Gospel and explain Christ in this his own diabolical way:
"Indeed Christ is meek, gentle, and merciful, but only to those who are holy and
righteous. If you are a sinner you stand no chance. Did not Christ say that unbelievers
are already damned? And did not Christ perform many good deeds, and suffer many evils
patiently, bidding us to follow His example? You do not mean to say that your life is in
accord with Christ's precepts or example? You are a sinner. You are no good at all."
Satan is to be answered in this way: The Scriptures present Christ in a twofold aspect.
First, as a gift. "He of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and
sanctification and redemption." (I Cor. 1:30.) Hence my many and grievous sins are
nullified if I believe in Him. Secondly, the Scriptures present Christ for our example. As
an exemplar He is to be placed before me only at certain times. In times of joy and
gladness that l may have Him as a mirror to reflect upon my shortcomings. But in the day
of trouble I will have Christ only as a gift. I will not listen to anything else, except
that Christ died for my sins.
To those that are cast down on account of their sins Christ must be introduced as a
Savior and Gift, and not as an example. But to sinners who live in a false assurance,
Christ must be introduced as an example. The hard sayings of Scripture and the awful
judgments of God upon sin must be impressed upon them. Defy Satan in times of despair.
Say: "O cursed Satan, you choose a nice time to talk to me about doing and working
when you know very well that I am in trouble over my sins. I will not listen to you. I
will listen to Christ, who says that He came into the world to save sinners. This is the
true Christ and there is none other. I can find plenty of examples for a holy life in
Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints. But they cannot forgive my
sins. They cannot save me. They cannot procure for me everlasting life. Therefore I will
not have you for my teacher, O Satan."
VERSE 9. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Paul's concern for them meant nothing to some of the Galatians. Many had disowned him
as their teacher and gone over to the false apostles. No doubt the false apostles took
every occasion to defame Paul as a stubborn and contemptuous fellow who thought nothing of
disrupting the unity of the churches for no other reason than his selfish pride and
Others of the Galatians perhaps saw no harm in deviating a trifle from the doctrine of
justification and faith. When they noticed that Paul made so much ado about a matter that
seemed of no particular importance to them they raised their eyebrows and thought within
themselves: "What if we did deviate a little from the doctrine of Paul? What if we
are a little to blame? He ought to overlook the whole matter, and not make such an issue
out of it, lest the unity of the churches be disturbed." To this Paul replies:
"A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."
Our opponents record the same complaints about us. They put us down as contentious,
ill-tempered faultfinders. But these are the crafty passes of the devil, with which he
seeks to overthrow our faith. We answer with Paul: "A little leaven leaveneth the
Small faults grow into big faults. To tolerate a trifling error inevitably leads to
crass heresy. The doctrine of the Bible is not ours to take or to allow liberties with. We
have no right to change even a tittle of it. When it comes to life we are ready to do, to
suffer, to forgive anything our opponents demand as long as faith and doctrine remain pure
and uncorrupt. The Apostle James says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law and
yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." This passage supports us over against
our critics who claim that we disregard all charity to the great injury of the churches.
We protest we desire nothing more than peace with all men. If they would only permit us to
keep our doctrine of faith! The pure doctrine takes precedence before charity, apostles,
or an angel from heaven.
Let others praise charity and concord to the skies; we magnify the authority of the
Word and faith. Charity may be neglected at times without peril, but not the Word and
faith. Charity suffers all things, it gives in. Faith suffers nothing; it never yields.
Charity is often deceived but is never put out because it lies nothing to lose; it
continues to do well even to the ungrateful. When it comes to faith and salvation in the
midst of lies and errors that parade as truth and deceive many, charity has no voice or
vote. Let us not be influenced by the popular cry for charity and unity. If we do not love
God and His Word what difference does it make if we love anything at all?
Paul, therefore, admonishes both teachers and hearers not to esteem lightly the
doctrine of faith as if it were a toy with which to amuse oneself in idle hours.
VERSE 10. l have confidence in you through the Lord.
"I have taught, admonished, and reproved you enough. I hope the best for
The question occurs to us whether Paul did well to trust the Galatians. Does not Holy
Writ forbid us to trust in men? Faith trusts in God and is never wrong. Charity trusts in
men and is often wrong. This charitable trust in man is necessary to life. Without it life
would be impossible in the world. What kind of life would ours be if nobody could trust
anybody else? True Christians are more ready to believe in men than the children of this
world. Such charitable confidence is the fruit of the Spirit. Paul had such trust in the
Galatians although they had forsaken his doctrine. He trusts them "through the
Lord," insofar as they were in Christ and Christ in them. Once they had forsaken
Christ altogether, the Apostle will trust the Galatians no longer.
VERSE 10. That ye will be none otherwise minded.
"Not minded otherwise than I have taught you. In other words, I have confidence
that you will accept no doctrine that is contrary to the one you have learned from
VERSE 10. But be that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.
Paul assumes the role of a judge and condemns the false apostles as troublers of the
Galatians. He wants to frighten the Galatians with his severe judgments of the false
apostles into avoiding false doctrine like a contagious disease. We can hear him say to
the Galatians: "Why do you give these pestilent fellows a hearing in the first place?
They only trouble you. The doctrine they bring causes your conscience only trouble."
The clause, "whosoever he be," seems to indicate that the false apostles in
outward appearance at least were very good and devout men. It may be that among them was
some outstanding disciple of the apostles, a man of fame and authority. The Apostle must
have been faced by this very situation, otherwise his vehemence would have been uncalled
for. No doubt many of the Galatians were taken back with the vehemency of the Apostle.
They perhaps thought: why should he be so stubborn in such small matters? Why is he so
quick to pronounce damnation upon his brethren in the ministry?
I cannot say it often enough, that we must carefully differentiate between doctrine and
life. Doctrine is a piece of heaven, life is a piece of earth. Life is sin, error,
uncleanness, misery, and charity must forbear, believe, hope, and suffer all things.
Forgiveness of sins must be continuous so that sin and error may not be defended and
sustained. But with doctrine there must be no error, no need of pardon. There can be no
comparison between doctrine and life. The least little point of doctrine is of greater
importance than heaven and earth. Therefore we cannot allow the least jot of doctrine to
be corrupted. We may overlook the offenses and errors of life, for we daily sin much. Even
the saints sin, as they themselves confess in the Lord's Prayer and in the Creed. But our
doctrine, God be praised, is pure, because all the articles of our faith are grounded on
the Holy Scriptures.
VERSE 11. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer
persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased.
In his great desire to recall the Galatians, Paul draws himself into the argument. He
says: "Because I refuse to recognize circumcision as a factor in our salvation, I
have brought upon myself the hatred and persecution of my whole nation. If I were to
acknowledge circumcision the Jews would cease to persecute me; in fact they would love and
praise me. But because I preach the Gospel of Christ and the righteousness of faith I must
suffer persecution. The false apostles know how to avoid the Cross and the deadly hatred
of the Jewish nation. They preach circumcision and thus retain the favor of the Jews. If
they had their way they would ignore all differences in doctrine and preserve unity at all
cost. But their unionistic dreams cannot be realized without loss to the pure doctrine of
the Cross. It would be too bad if the offense of the Cross were to cease." To the
Corinthians he expressed the same conviction: "Christ sent me. . .to preach the
gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none
effect." (I Cor. 1:17.)
Here someone may be tempted to call the Christians crazy. Deliberately to court danger
by preaching and confessing the truth, and thus to bring upon ourselves the hatred and
enmity of the whole world, is this not madness? But Paul does not mind the enmity of the
world. It made him all the bolder to confess Christ. The enmity of the world in his
estimation augurs well for the success and growth of the Church, which fares best in times
of persecution. When the offense of the Cross ceases, when the rage of the enemies of the
Cross abates, when everything is quiet, it is a sign that the devil is the door-keeper of
the Church and that the pure doctrine of God's Word has been lost.
Saint Bernard observed that the Church is in best shape when Satan assaults it on every
side by trickery and violence; and in worst shape when it is at peace. In support of his
statement he quotes the passage from the song of Hezekiah: "Behold, for peace I had
great bitterness." Paul looks with suspicion upon any doctrine that does not provoke
Persecution always follows on the heels of the Word of God as the Psalmist experienced.
"I believe, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted." (Ps. 116:10.) The
Christians are accused and slandered without mercy. Murderers and thieves receive better
treatment than Christians. The world regards true Christians as the worst offenders, for
whom no punishment can be too severe. The world hates the Christians with amazing
brutality, and without compunction commits them to the most shameful death, congratulating
itself that it has rendered God and the cause of peace a distinct service by ridding the
world of the undesired presence of these Christians. We are not to let such treatment
cause us to falter in our adherence to Christ. As long as we experience such persecutions
we know all is well with the Gospel.
Jesus held out the same comfort to His disciples in the fifth chapter of St. Matthew.
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all
manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great
is your reward in heaven." The Church must not come short of this joy. I would not
want to be at peace with the pope, the bishops, the princes, and the sectarians, unless
they consent to our doctrine. Unity with them would be an unmistakable sign that we have
lost the true doctrine. Briefly, as long as the Church proclaims the doctrine she must
suffer persecution, because the Gospel declares the mercy and glory of God. This in turn
stirs up the devil, because the Gospel shows him up for what he is, the devil, and not
God. Therefore as long as the Gospel holds sway persecution plays the accompaniment, or
else there is something the matter with the devil. When he is hit you will know it by the
havoc he raises everywhere.
So do not be surprised or offended when hell breaks loose. Look upon it as a happy
indication that all is well with the Gospel of the Cross. God forbid that the offense of
the Cross should ever be removed. This would be the case if we were to preach what the
prince of this world and his followers would be only too glad to hear, the righteousness
of works. You would never know the devil could be so gentle, the world so sweet, the Pope
so gracious, and the princes so charming. But because we seek the advantage and honor of
Christ, they persecute us all around.
VERSE 12. I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
It hardly seems befitting an apostle, not only to denounce the false apostles as
troublers of the Church, and to consign them to the devil, but also to wish that they were
utterly cut off--what else would you call it but plain cursing? Paul, I suppose, is
alluding to the rite of circumcision. As if he were saying to the Galatians: "The
false apostles compel you to cut off the foreskin of your flesh. Well, I wish they
themselves were utterly cut off by the roots."
We had better answer at once the question, whether it is right for Christians to curse.
Certainly not always, nor for every little cause. But when things have come to such a pass
that God and His Word are openly blasphemed, then we must say: "Blessed be God and
His Word, and cursed be everything that is contrary to God and His Word, even though it
should be an apostle, or an angel from heaven."
This goes to show again how much importance Paul attached to the least points of
Christian doctrine, that he dared to curse the false apostles, evidently men of great
popularity and influence. What right, then, have we to make little of doctrine? No matter
how nonessential a point of doctrine may seem, if slighted it may prove the gradual
disintegration of the truths of our salvation.
Let us do everything to advance the glory and authority of God's Word. Every tittle of
it is greater than heaven and earth. Christian charity and unity have nothing to do with
the Word of God. We are bold to curse and condemn all men who in the least point corrupt
the Word of God, "for a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."
Paul does right to curse these troublers of the Galatians, wishing that they were cut
off and rooted out of the Church of God and that their doctrine might perish forever. Such
cursing is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Thus Peter cursed Simon the sorcerer, "Thy
money perish with thee." Many instances of this holy cursing are recorded in the
sacred Scriptures, especially in the Psalms, e.g., "Let death seize upon them, and
let them go down quick into hell." (Ps. 55:15.)
THE DOCTRINE OF GOOD WORKS
Now come all kinds of admonitions and precepts. It was the custom of the apostles that
after they had taught faith and instructed the conscience they followed it up with
admonitions unto good works, that the believers might manifest the duties of love toward
each other. In order to avoid the appearance as if Christianity militated against good
works or opposed civil government, the Apostle also urges us to give ourselves unto good
works, to lead an honest life, and to keep faith and love with one another. This will give
the lie to the accusations of the world that we Christians are the enemies of decency and
of public peace. The fact is we Christians know better what constitutes a truly good work
than all the philosophers and legislators of the world because we link believing with
VERSE 13. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for
an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
In other words: "You have gained liberty through Christ, i.e., You are above all
laws as far as conscience is concerned. You are saved. Christ is your liberty and life.
Therefore law, sin, and death may not hurt you or drive you to despair. This is the
constitution of your priceless liberty. Now take care that you do not use your wonderful
liberty for an occasion of the flesh."
Satan likes to turn this liberty which Christ has gotten for us into licentiousness.
Already the Apostle Jude complained in his day: "There are certain men crept in
unawares. . .turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness." (Jude 4.) The flesh
reasons: "If we are without the law, we may as well indulge ourselves. Why do good,
why give alms, why suffer evil when there is no law to force us to do so?"
This attitude is common enough. People talk about Christian liberty and then go and
cater to the desires of covetousness, pleasure, pride, envy, and other vices. Nobody wants
to fulfill his duties. Nobody wants to help out a brother in distress. This sort of thing
makes me so impatient at times that I wish the swine who trampled precious pearls under
foot were back once again under the tyranny of the Pope. You cannot wake up the people of
Gomorrah with the gospel of peace.
Even we creatures of the world do not perform our duties as zealously in the light of
the Gospel as we did before in the darkness of ignorance, because the surer we are of the
liberty purchased for us by Christ, the more we neglect the Word, prayer, well-doing, and
suffering. If Satan were not continually molesting us with trials, with the persecution of
our enemies, and the ingratitude of our brethren, we would become so careless and
indifferent to all good works that in time we would lose our faith in Christ, resign the
ministry of the Word, and look for an easier life. Many of our ministers are beginning to
do that very thing. They complain about the ministry, they maintain they cannot live on
their salaries, they whimper about the miserable treatment they receive at the hand of
those whom they delivered from the servitude of the law by the preaching of the Gospel.
These ministers desert our poor and maligned Christ, involve themselves in the affairs of
the world, seek advantages for themselves and not for Christ. With what results they shall
presently find out.
Since the devil lies in ambush for those in particular who hate the world, and seeks to
deprive us of our liberty of the spirit or to brutalize it into the liberty of the flesh,
we plead with our brethren after the manner of Paul, that they may never use this liberty
of the spirit purchased for us by Christ as an excuse for carnal living, or as Peter
expresses it, I Peter 2:16, "for a cloak of maliciousness."
In order that Christians may not abuse their liberty the Apostle encumbers them with
the rule of mutual love that they should serve each other in love. Let everybody perform
the duties of his station and vocation diligently and help his neighbor to the limit of
Christians are glad to hear and obey this teaching of love. When others hear about this
Christian liberty of ours they at once infer, "If I am free, I may do what I like. If
salvation is not a matter of doing why should we do anything for the poor?" In this
crude manner they turn the liberty of the spirit into wantonness and licentiousness. We
want them to know, however, that if they use their lives and possessions after their own
pleasure, if they do not help the poor, if they cheat their fellow-men in business and
snatch and scrape by hook and by crook everything they can lay their hands on, we want to
tell them that they are not free, no matter how much they think they are, but they are the
dirty slaves of the devil, and are seven times worse than they ever were as the slaves of
As for us, we are obliged to preach the Gospel which offers to all men liberty from the
Law, sin, death, and God's wrath. We have no right to conceal or revoke this liberty
proclaimed by the Gospel. And so we cannot do anything with the swine who dive headlong
into the filth of licentiousness. We do what we can, we diligently admonish them to love
and to help their fellow-men. If our admonitions bear no fruit, we leave them to God, who
will in His own good time take care of these disrespecters of His goodness. In the
meanwhile we comfort ourselves with the thought that our labors are not lost upon the true
believers. They appreciate this spiritual liberty and stand ready to serve others in love
and, though their number is small, the satisfaction they give us far outweighs the
discouragement which we receive at the hands of the large number of those who misuse this
Paul cannot possibly be misunderstood for he says: "Brethren, ye have been called
unto liberty." In order that nobody might mistake the liberty of which he speaks for
the liberty of the flesh, the Apostle adds the explanatory note, "only use not
liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." Paul now
explains at the hand of the Ten Commandments what it means to serve one another in love.
VERSE 14. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, thou shalt
love thy neighbour as thyself.
It is customary with Paul to lay the doctrinal foundation first and then to build on it
the gold, silver, and gems of good deeds. Now there is no other foundation than Jesus
Christ. Upon this foundation the Apostle erects the structure of good works which he
defines in this one sentence: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
In adding such precepts of love the Apostle embarrasses the false apostles very much,
as if he were saying to the Galatians: "I have described to you what spiritual life
is. Now I will also teach you what truly good works are. I am doing this in order that you
may understand that the silly ceremonies of which the false apostles make so much are far
inferior to the works of Christian love." This is the hall-mark of all false
teachers, that they not only pervert the pure doctrine but also fail in doing good. Their
foundation vitiated, they can only build wood, hay, and stubble. Oddly enough, the false
apostles who were such earnest champions of good works never required the work of charity,
such as Christian love and the practical charity of a helpful tongue, hand, and heart.
Their only requirement was that circumcision, days, months, years, and times should be
observed. They could not think of any other good works.
The Apostle exhorts all Christians to practice good works after they have embraced the
pure doctrine of faith, because even though they have been justified they still have the
old flesh to refrain them from doing good. Therefore it becomes necessary that sincere
preachers cultivate the doctrine of good works as diligently as the doctrine of faith, for
Satan is a deadly enemy of both. Nevertheless faith must come first because without faith
it is impossible to know what a God-pleasing deed is.
Let nobody think that he knows all about this commandment, "Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself." It sounds short and easy, but show me the man who can teach,
learn, and do this commandment perfectly. None of us heed, or urge, or practice this
commandment properly. Though the conscience hurts when we fail to fulfill this commandment
in every respect we are not overwhelmed by our failure to bear our neighbor sincere and
The words, "for all the law is fulfilled in one word," entail a criticism of
the Galatians. "You are so taken up by your superstitions and ceremonies that serve
no good purpose, that you neglect the most important thing, love." St. Jerome says:
"We wear our bodies out with watching, fasting, and labor and neglect charity, the
queen of all good works." Look at the monks, who meticulously fast, watch, etc. To
skip the least requirement of their order would be a crime of the first magnitude. At the
same time they blithely ignored the duties of charity and hated each other to death. That
is no sin, they think.
The Old Testament is replete with examples that indicate how much God prizes charity.
When David and his companions had no food with which to still their hunger they ate the
showbread which lay-people were forbidden to eat. Christ's disciples broke the Sabbath law
when they plucked the ears of corn. Christ himself broke the Sabbath (as the Jews claimed)
by healing the sick on the Sabbath. These incidents indicate that love ought to be given
consideration above all laws and ceremonies.
VERSE 14. For all the Law is fulfilled in one word.
We can imagine the Apostle saying to the Galatians: "Why do you get so worked up
over ceremonies, meats, days, places, and such things? Leave off this foolishness and
listen to me. The whole Law is comprehended in this one sentence, 'Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself.' God is not particularly interested in ceremonies, nor has He any
use for them. The one thing He requires of you is that you believe in Christ whom He hath
sent. If in addition to faith, which comes first as the most acceptable service unto God,
you want to add laws, then you want to know that all laws are comprehended in this short
commandment, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' "
Paul knows how to explain the law of God. He condenses all the laws of Moses into one
brief sentence. Reason takes offense at the brevity with which Paul treats the Law.
Therefore reason looks down upon the doctrine of faith and its truly good works. To serve
one another in love, i.e., to instruct the erring, to comfort the afflicted, to raise the
fallen, to help one's neighbor in every possible way, to bear with his infirmities, to
endure hardships, toil, ingratitude in the Church and in the world, and on the other hand
to obey government, to honor one's parents, to be patient at home with a nagging wife and
an unruly family, these things are not at all regarded as good works. The fact is, they
are such excellent works that the world cannot possibly estimate them at their true value.
It is tersely spoken: "Love thy neighbour as thyself." But what more needs to
be said? You cannot find a better or nearer example than your own. If you want to know how
you ought to love your neighbor, ask yourself how much you love yourself. If you were to
get into trouble or danger, you would be glad to have the love and help of all men. You do
not need any book of instructions to teach you how to love your neighbor. All you have to
do is to look into your own heart, and it will tell you how you ought to love your
neighbor as yourself.
My neighbor is every person, especially those who need my help, as Christ explained in
the tenth chapter of Luke. Even if a person has done me some wrong, or has hurt me in any
way, he is still a human being with flesh and blood. As long as a person remains a human
being, so long is he to be an object of our love.
Paul therefore urges his Galatians and, incidentally, all believers to serve each other
in love. "You Galatians do not have to accept circumcision. If you are so anxious to
do good works, I will tell you in one word how you can fulfill all laws. 'By love serve
one another.' You will never lack people to whom you may do good. The world is full of
people who need your help."
VERSE 15. But if ye bite and devour one another take heed that ye be not consumed
one of another.
When faith in Christ is overthrown peace and unity come to an end in the church.
Diverse opinions and dissensions about doctrine and life spring up, and one member bites
and devours the other, i.e., they condemn each other until they are consumed. To this the
Scriptures and the experience of all times bear witness. The many sects at present have
come into being because one sect condemns the other. When the unity of the spirit has been
lost there can be no agreement in doctrine or life. New errors must appear without measure
and without end.
For the avoidance of discord Paul lays down the principle: "Let every person do
his duty in the station of life into which God has called him. No person is to vaunt
himself above others or find fault with the efforts of others while lauding his own. Let
everybody serve in love."
It is not an easy matter to teach faith without works, and still to require works.
Unless the ministers of Christ are wise in handling the mysteries of God and rightly
divide the word, faith and good works may easily be confused. Both the doctrine of faith
and the doctrine of good works must be diligently taught, and yet in such a way that both
the doctrines stay within their God-given sphere. If we only teach words, as our opponents
do, we shall lose the faith. If we only teach faith people will come to think that good
works are superfluous.
VERSE 16. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of
"I have not forgotten what I told you about faith in the first part of my letter.
Because I exhort you to mutual love you are not to think that I have gone back on my
teaching of justification by faith alone. I am still of the same opinion. To remove every
possibility for misunderstanding I have added this explanatory note: 'Walk in the Spirit,
and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.'"
With this verse Paul explains how he wants this sentence to be understood: By love
serve one another. When I bid you to love one another, this is what I mean and require,
'Walk in the Spirit.' I know very well you will not fulfill the Law, because you are
sinners as long as you live. Nevertheless, you should endeavor to walk in the spirit,
i.e., fight against the flesh and follow the leads of the Holy Ghost."
It is quite apparent that Paul had not forgotten the doctrine of justification, for in
bidding the Galatians to walk in the Spirit he at the same time denies that good works can
justify. "When I speak of the fulfilling of the Law I do not mean to say that you are
justified by the Law. All I mean to say is that you should take the Spirit for your guide
and resist the flesh. That is the most you shall ever be able to do. Obey the Spirit and
fight against the flesh."
VERSE 16. And ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
The lust of the flesh is not altogether extinct in us. It rises up again and again and
wrestles with the Spirit. No flesh, not even that of the true believer, is so completely
under the influence of the Spirit that it will not bite or devour, or at least neglect,
the commandment of love. At the slightest provocation it flares up, demands to be
revenged, and hates a neighbor like an enemy, or at least does not love him as much as he
ought to be loved.
Therefore the Apostle establishes this rule of love for the believers. Serve one
another in love. Bear the infirmities of your brother. Forgive one another. Without such
bearing and forbearing, giving and forgiving, there can be no unity because to give and to
take offense are unavoidably human.
Whenever you are angry with your brother for any cause, repress your violent emotions
through the Spirit. Bear with his weakness and love him. He does not cease to be your
neighbor or brother because he offended you. On the contrary, he now more than ever before
requires your loving attention.
The scholastics take the lust of the flesh to mean carnal lust. True, believers too are
tempted with carnal lust. Even the married are not immune to carnal lusts. Men set little
value upon that which they have and covet what they have not, as the poet says:
"The things most forbidden we always desire, And things most denied we seek to
I do not deny that the lust of the flesh includes carnal lust. But it takes in more. It
takes in all the corrupt desires with which the believers are more or less infected, as
pride, hatred, covetousness, impatience. Later on Paul enumerates among the works of the
flesh even idolatry and heresy. The apostle's meaning is clear. "I want you to love
one another. But you do not do it. In fact you cannot do it, because of your flesh. Hence
we cannot be justified by deeds of love. Do not for a moment think that I am reversing
myself on my stand concerning faith. Faith and hope must continue. By faith we are
justified, by hope we endure to the end. In addition we serve each other in love because
true faith is not idle. Our love, however, is faulty. In bidding you to walk in the Spirit
I indicate to you that our love is not sufficient to justify us. Neither do I demand that
you should get rid of the flesh, but that you should control and subdue it."
VERSE 17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the
When Paul declares that "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit
against the flesh," he means to say that we are not to think, speak or do the things
to which the flesh incites us. "I know," he says, "that the flesh courts
sin. The thing for you to do is to resist the flesh by the Spirit. But if you abandon the
leadership of the Spirit for that of the flesh, you are going to fulfill the lust of the
flesh and die in your sins."
VERSE 17. And these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the
things that ye would.
These two leaders, the flesh and the Spirit, are bitter opponents. Of this opposition
the Apostle writes in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: "I see
another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into the
captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall
deliver me from the body of this death?"
The scholastics are at a loss to understand this confession of Paul and feel obliged to
save his honor. That the chosen vessel of Christ should have had the law of sin in his
members seems to them incredible and absurd. They circumvent the plain-spoken statement of
the Apostle by saying that he was speaking for the wicked. But the wicked never complain
of inner conflicts, or of the captivity of sin. Sin has its unrestricted way with them.
This is Paul's very own complaint and the identical complaint of all believers.
Paul never denied that he felt the lust of the flesh. It is likely that at times he
felt even the stirrings of carnal lust, but there is no doubt that he quickly suppressed
them. And if at any time he felt angry or impatient, he resisted these feelings by the
Spirit. We are not going to stand by idly and see such a comforting statement as this
explained away. The scholastics, monks, and others of their ilk fought only against carnal
lust and were proud of a victory which they never obtained. In the meanwhile they harbored
within their breasts pride, hatred, disdain, self-trust, contempt of the Word of God,
disloyalty, blasphemy, and other lusts of the flesh. Against these sins they never fought
because they never took them for sins.
Christ alone can supply us with perfect righteousness. Therefore we must always believe
and always hope in Christ. "Whosoever believeth shall not be ashamed." (Rom.
Do not despair if you feel the flesh battling against the Spirit or if you cannot make
it behave. For you to follow the guidance of the Spirit in all things without interference
on the part of the flesh is impossible. You are doing all you can if you resist the flesh
and do not fulfill its demands.
When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal
lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not
work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: "You
have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy
order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing." If at that
time I had understood this passage, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the
Spirit against the flesh," I could have spared myself many a day of self- torment. I
would have said to myself: "Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have
flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh."
I remember how Doctor Staupitz used to say to me: "I have promised God a thousand
times that I would become a better man, but I never kept my promise. From now on I am not
going to make any more vows. Experience has taught me that I cannot keep them. Unless God
is merciful to me for Christ's sake and grants unto me a blessed departure, I shall not be
able to stand before Him." His was a God-pleasing despair. No true believer trusts in
his own righteousness, but says with David, "Enter not into judgment with thy
servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." (Ps. 143:2) Again,
"If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" (Ps.
No man is to despair of salvation just because he is aware of the lust of the flesh.
Let him be aware of it so long as he does not yield to it. The passion of lust, wrath, and
other vices may shake him, but they are not to get him down. Sin may assail him, but he is
not to welcome it. Yes, the better Christian a man is, the more he will experience the
heat of the conflict. This explains the many expressions of regret in the Psalms and in
the entire Bible. Everybody is to determine his peculiar weakness and guard against it.
Watch and wrestle in spirit against your weakness. Even if you cannot completely overcome
it, at least you ought to fight against it.
According to this description a saint is not one who is made of wood and never feels
any lusts or desires of the flesh. A true saint confesses his righteousness and prays that
his sins may be forgiven. The whole Church prays for the forgiveness of sins and confesses
that it believes in the forgiveness of sins. If our antagonists would read the Scriptures
they would soon discover that they cannot judge rightly of anything, either of sin or of
VERSE 18. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
Here someone may object: "How come we are not under the law? You yourself say,
Paul, that we have the flesh which wars against the Spirit, and brings us into
But Paul says not to let it trouble us. As long as we are led by the Spirit, and are
willing to obey the Spirit who resists the flesh, we are not under the Law. True believers
are not under the Law. The Law cannot condemn them although they feel sin and confess it.
Great then is the power of the Spirit. Led by the Spirit, the Law cannot condemn the
believer though he commits real sin. For Christ in whom we believe is our righteousness.
He is without sin, and the Law cannot accuse Him. As long as we cling to Him we are led by
the Spirit and are free from the Law. Even as he teaches good works, the Apostle does not
lose sight of the doctrine of justification, but shows at every turn that it is impossible
for us to be justified by works.
The words, "If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law," are
replete with comfort. It happens at times that anger, hatred, impatience, carnal desire,
fear, sorrow, or some other lust of the flesh so overwhelms a man that he cannot shake
them off, though he try ever so hard. What should he do? Should he despair? God forbid.
Let him say to himself: "My flesh seems to be on a warpath against the Spirit again.
Go to it, flesh, and rage all you want to. But you are not going to have your way. I
follow the leading of the Spirit."
When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the
word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are
helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent
passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me.
Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh.
VERSE 19. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these.
Paul is saying: "That none of you may hide behind the plea of ignorance I will
enumerate first the works of the flesh, and then also the works of the Spirit."
There were many hypocrites among the Galatians, as there are also among us, who pretend
to be Christians and talk much about the Spirit, but they walk not according to the
Spirit; rather according to the flesh. Paul is out to show them that they are not as holy
as they like to have others think they are.
Every period of life has its own peculiar temptations. Not one true believer whom the
flesh does not again and again incite to impatience, anger, pride. But it is one thing to
be tempted by the flesh, and another thing to yield to the flesh, to do its bidding
without fear or remorse, and to continue in sin.
Christians also fall and perform the lusts of the flesh. David fell horribly into
adultery. Peter also fell grievously when he denied Christ. However great these sins were,
they were not committed to spite God, but from weakness. When their sins were brought to
their attention these men did not obstinately continue in their sin, but repented. Those
who sin through weakness are not denied pardon as long as they rise again and cease to
sin. There is nothing worse than to continue in sin. If they do not repent, but
obstinately continue to fulfill the desires of the flesh, it is a sure sign that they are
No person is free from temptations. Some are tempted in one way, others in another way.
One person is more easily tempted to bitterness and sorrow of spirit, blasphemy, distrust,
and despair. Another is more easily tempted to carnal lust, anger, envy, covetousness. But
no matter to which sins we are disposed, we are to walk in the Spirit and resist the
flesh. Those who are Christ's own crucify their flesh.
Some of the old saints labored so hard to attain perfection that they lost the capacity
to feel anything. When I was a monk I often wished I could see a saint. I pictured him as
living in the wilderness, abstaining from meat and drink and living on roots and herbs and
cold water. This weird conception of those awesome saints I had gained out of the books of
the scholastics and church fathers. But we know now from the Scriptures who the true
saints are. Not those who live a single life, or make a fetish of days, meats, clothes,
and such things. The true saints are those who believe that they are justified by the
death of Christ. Whenever Paul writes to the Christians here and there he calls them the
holy children and heirs of God. All who believe in Christ, whether male or female, bond or
free, are saints; not in view of their own works, but in view of the merits of God which
they appropriate by faith. Their holiness is a gift and not their own personal
Ministers of the Gospel, public officials, parents, children, masters, servants, etc.,
are true saints when they take Christ for their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and
redemption, and when they fulfill the duties of their several vocations according to the
standard of God's Word and repress the lust and desires of the flesh by the Spirit. Not
everybody can resist temptations with equal facilities. Imperfections are bound to show
up. But this does not prevent them from being holy. Their unintentional lapses are
forgiven if they pull themselves together by faith in Christ. God forbid that we should
sit in hasty judgment on those who are weak in faith and life, as long as they love the
Word of God and make use of the supper of the Lord.
I thank God that He has permitted me to see (what as a monk I so earnestly desired to
see) not one but many saints, whole multitudes of true saints. Not the kind of saints the
papists admire, but the kind of saints Christ wants. I am sure I am one of Christ's true
saints. I am baptized. I believe that Christ my Lord has redeemed me from all my sins, and
invested me with His own eternal righteousness and holiness. To hide in caves and dens, to
have a bony body, to wear the hair long in the mistaken idea that such departures from
normalcy will obtain some special regard in heaven is not the holy life. A holy life is to
be baptized and to believe in Christ, and to subdue the flesh with the Spirit.
To feel the lusts of the flesh is not without profit to us. It prevents us from being
vain and from being puffed up with the wicked opinion of our own work-righteousness. The
monks were so inflated with the opinion of their own righteousness, they thought they had
so much holiness that they could afford to sell some of it to others, although their own
hearts convinced them of unholiness. The Christian feels the unholy condition of his
heart, and it makes him feel so low that he cannot trust in his good works. He therefore
goes to Christ to find perfect righteousness. This keeps a Christian humble.
VERSES 19, 20. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are
these: adultery, fornification, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft . . .
Paul does not enumerate all the works of the flesh, but only certain ones. First, he
mentions various kinds of carnal lusts, as adultery, fornication, wantonness, etc. But
carnal lust is not the only work of the flesh, and so he counts among the works of the
flesh also idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, and the like. These terms are so familiar that
they do not require lengthy explanations.
The best religion, the most fervent devotion without Christ is plain idolatry. It has
been considered a holy act when the monks in their cells meditate upon God and His works,
and in a religious frenzy kneel down to pray and to weep for joy. Yet Paul calls it simply
idolatry. Every religion which worships God in ignorance or neglect of His Word and will
They may think about God, Christ, and heavenly things, but they do it after their own
fashion and not after the Word of God. They have an idea that their clothing, their mode
of living, and their conduct are holy and pleasing to Christ. They not only expect to
pacify Christ by the strictness of their life, but also expect to be rewarded by Him for
their good deeds. Hence their best "spiritual" thoughts are wicked thoughts. Any
worship of God, any religion without Christ is idolatry. In Christ alone is God well
I have said before that the works of the flesh are manifest. But idolatry puts on such
a good front and acts so spiritual that the sham of it is recognized only by true
This sin was very common before the light of the Gospel appeared. When I was a child
there were many witches and sorcerers around who "bewitched" cattle, and people,
particularly children, and did much harm. But now that the Gospel is here you do not hear
so much about it because the Gospel drives the devil away. Now he bewitches people in a
worse way with spiritual sorcery.
Witchcraft is a brand of idolatry. As witches used to bewitch cattle and men, so
idolaters, i.e., all the self-righteous, go around to bewitch God and to make Him out as
one who justifies men not by grace through faith in Christ but by the works of men's own
choosing. They bewitch and deceive themselves. If they continue in their wicked thoughts
of God they will die in their idolatry.
Under sects Paul here understands heresies. Heresies have always been found in the
church. What unity of faith can exist among all the different monks and the different
orders? None whatever. There is no unity of spirit, no agreement of minds, but great
dissension in the papacy. There is no conformity in doctrine, faith, and life. On the
other hand, among evangelical Christians the Word, faith, religion, sacraments, service,
Christ, God, heart, and mind are common to all. This unity is not disturbed by outward
differences of station or of occupation.
Paul does not say that eating and drinking are works of the flesh, but intemperance in
eating and drinking, which is a common vice nowadays, is a work of the flesh. Those who
are given to excess are to know that they are not spiritual but carnal. Sentence is
pronounced upon them that they shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Paul desires that
Christians avoid drunkenness and gluttony, that they live temperate and sober lives, in
order that the body may not grow soft and sensual.
VERSE 21. Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in the past, that
they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
This is a hard saying, but very necessary for those false Christians and hypocrites who
speak much about the Gospel, about faith, and the Spirit, yet live after the flesh. But
this hard sentence is directed chiefly at the heretics who are large with their own
self-importance, that they may be frightened into taking up the fight of the Spirit
against the flesh.
VERSES 22, 23. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
The Apostle does not speak of the works of the Spirit as he spoke of the works of the
flesh, but he attaches to these Christian virtues a better name. He calls them the fruits
of the Spirit.
It would have been enough to mention only the single fruit of love, for love embraces
all the fruits of the Spirit. In I Corinthians 13, Paul attributes to love all the fruits
of the Spirit: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind," etc. Here he lets love
stand by itself among other fruits of the Spirit to remind the Christians to love one
another, "in honor preferring one another," to esteem others more than
themselves because they have Christ and the Holy Ghost within them.
Joy means sweet thoughts of Christ, melodious hymns and psalms, praises and
thanksgiving, with which Christians instruct, inspire, and refresh themselves. God does
not like doubt and dejection. He hates dreary doctrine, gloomy and melancholy thought. God
likes cheerful hearts. He did not send His Son to fill us with sadness, but to gladden our
hearts. For this reason the prophets, apostles, and Christ Himself urge, yes, command us
to rejoice and be glad. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of
Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee." (Zech. 9:9.) In the Psalms we are
repeatedly told to be "joyful in the Lord." Paul says: "Rejoice in the Lord
always." Christ says: "Rejoice, for your names are written in heaven."
Peace towards God and men. Christians are to be peaceful and quiet. Not argumentative,
not hateful, but thoughtful and patient. There can be no peace without longsuffering, and
therefore Paul lists this virtue next.
Longsuffering is that quality which enables a person to bear adversity, injury,
reproach, and makes them patient to wait for the improvement of those who have done him
wrong. When the devil finds that he cannot overcome certain persons by force he tries to
overcome them in the long run. He knows that we are weak and cannot stand anything long.
Therefore he repeats his temptation time and again until he succeeds. To withstand his
continued assaults we must be longsuffering and patiently wait for the devil to get tired
of his game.
Gentleness in conduct and life. True followers of the Gospel must not be sharp and
bitter, but gentle, mild, courteous, and soft-spoken, which should encourage others to
seek their company. Gentleness can overlook other people's faults and cover them up.
Gentleness is always glad to give in to others. Gentleness can get along with forward and
difficult persons, according to the old pagan saying: "You must know the manners of
your friends, but you must not hate them." Such a gentle person was our Savior Jesus
Christ, as the Gospel portrays Him. Of Peter it is recorded that he wept whenever he
remembered the sweet gentleness of Christ in His daily contact with people. Gentleness is
an excellent virtue and very useful in every walk of life.
A person is good when he is willing to help others in their need.
In listing faith among the fruits of the Spirit, Paul obviously does not mean faith in
Christ, but faith in men. Such faith is not suspicious of people but believes the best.
Naturally the possessor of such faith will be deceived, but he lets it pass. He is ready
to believe all men, but he will not trust all men. Where this virtue is lacking men are
suspicious, forward, and wayward and will believe nothing nor yield to anybody. No matter
how well a person says or does anything, they will find fault with it, and if you do not
humor them you can never please them. It is quite impossible to get along with them. Such
faith in people therefore, is quite necessary. What kind of life would this be if one
person could not believe another person?
A person is meek when he is not quick to get angry. Many things occur in daily life to
provoke a person's anger, but the Christian gets over his anger by meekness.
Christians are to lead sober and chaste lives. They should not be adulterers,
fornicators, or sensualists. They should not be quarrelers or drunkards. In the first and
second chapters of the Epistle to Titus, the Apostle admonishes bishops, young women, and
married folks to be chaste and pure.
VERSE 23. Against such there is no law.
There is a law, of course, but it does not apply to those who bear these fruits of the
Spirit. The Law is not given for the righteous man. A true Christian conducts himself in
such a way that he does not need any law to warn or to restrain him. He obeys the Law
without compulsion. The Law does not concern him. As far as he is concerned there would
not have to be any Law.
VERSE 24. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections
True believers are no hypocrites. They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and
lusts. Inasmuch as they have not altogether put off the sinful flesh they are inclined to
sin. They do not fear or love God as they should. They are likely to be provoked to anger,
to envy, to impatience, to carnal lust, and other emotions. But they will not do the
things to which the flesh incites them. They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and
lusts by fasting and exercise and, above all, by a walk in the Spirit.
To resist the flesh in this manner is to nail it to the Cross. Although the flesh is
still alive it cannot very well act upon its desires because it is bound and nailed to the
VERSE 25. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. A little while
ago the Apostle had condemned those who are envious and start heresies and schisms. As if
he had forgotten that he had already berated them, the Apostle once more reproves those
who provoke and envy others. Was not one reference to them sufficient? He repeats his
admonition in order to emphasize the viciousness of pride that had caused all the trouble
in the churches of Galatia, and has always caused the Church of Christ no end of
difficulties. In his Epistle to Titus the Apostle states that a vainglorious man should
not be ordained as a minister, for pride, as St. Augustine points out, is the mother of
Now vainglory has always been a common poison in the world. There is no village too
small to contain someone who wants to be considered wiser or better than the rest. Those
who have been bitten by pride usually stand upon the reputation for learning and wisdom.
Vainglory is not nearly so bad in a private person or even in an official as it is in a
When the poison of vainglory gets into the Church you have no idea what havoc it can
cause. You may argue about knowledge, art, money, countries, and the like without doing
particular harm. But you cannot quarrel about salvation or damnation, about eternal life
and eternal death without grave damage to the Church. No wonder Paul exhorts all ministers
of the Word to guard against this poison. He writes: "If we live in the Spirit."
Where the Spirit is, men gain new attitudes. Where formerly they were vainglorious,
spiteful and envious, they now become humble, gentle and patient. Such men seek not their
own glory, but the glory of God. They do not provoke each other to wrath or envy, but
prefer others to themselves.
As dangerous to the Church as this abominable pride is, yet there is nothing more
common. The trouble with the ministers of Satan is that they look upon the ministry as a
stepping-stone to fame and glory, and right there you have the seed for all sorts of
Because Paul knew that the vainglory of the false Apostles had caused the churches of
Galatia endless trouble, he makes it his business to suppress this abominable vice. In his
absence the false apostles went to work in Galatia. They pretended that they had been on
intimate terms with the apostles, while Paul had never seen Christ in person or had much
contact with the rest of the apostles. Because of this they delivered him, rejected his
doctrine, and boosted their own. In this way they troubled the Galatians and caused
quarrels among them until they provoked and envied each other; which goes to show that
neither the false apostles nor the Galatians walked after the Spirit, but after the flesh.
The Gospel is not there for us to aggrandize ourselves. The Gospel is to aggrandize
Christ and the mercy of God. It holds out to men eternal gifts that are not gifts of our
own manufacture. What right have we to receive praise and glory for gifts that are not of
our own making?
No wonder that God in His special grace subjects the ministers of the Gospel to all
kinds of afflictions, otherwise they could not cope with this ugly beast called vainglory.
If no persecution, no cross, or reproach trailed the doctrine of the Gospel, but only
praise and reputation, the ministers of the Gospel would choke with pride. Paul had the
Spirit of Christ. Nevertheless there was given unto him the messenger of Satan to buffet
him in order that he should not come to exalt himself, because of the grandeur of his
revelations. St. Augustine's opinion is well taken: "If a minister of the Gospel is
praised, he is in danger; if he is despised, he is also in danger."
The ministers of the Gospel should be men who are not too easily affected by praise or
criticism, but simply speak out the benefit and the glory of Christ and seek the salvation
Whenever you are being praised, remember it is not you who is being praised but Christ,
to whom all praise belongs. When you preach the Word of God in its purity and also live
accordingly, it is not your own doing, but God's doing. And when people praise you, they
really mean to praise God in you. When you understand this--and you should because
"what hast thou that thou didst not receive?"--you will not flatter yourself on
the one hand and on the other hand you will not carry yourself with the thought of
resigning from the ministry when you are insulted, reproached, or persecuted.
It is really kind of God to send so much infamy, reproach, hatred, and cursing our way
to keep us from getting proud of the gifts of God in us. We need a millstone around our
neck to keep us humble. There are a few on our side who love and revere us for the
ministry of the Word, but for every one of these there are a hundred on the other side who
hate and persecute us.
The Lord is our glory. Such gifts as we possess we acknowledge to be the gifts of God,
given to us for the good of the Church of Christ. Therefore we are not proud because of
them. We know that more is required of them to whom much is given, than of such to whom
little is given. We also know that God is no respecter of persons. A plain factory hand
who does his work faithfully pleases God just as much as a minister of the Word.
VERSE 26. Let us not be desirous of vain glory.
To desire vainglory is to desire lies, because when one person praises another he tells
lies. What is there in anybody to praise? But it is different when the ministry is
praised. We should not only desire people to praise the ministry of the Gospel but also do
our utmost to make the ministry worthy of praise because this will make the ministry more
effective. Paul warns the Romans not to bring Christianity into disrepute. "Let not
then your good be evil spoken of." (Rom. 14:16.) He also begged the Corinthians to
"give no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed." (I Cor. 6:3.)
When people praise our ministry they are not praising our persons, but God.
VERSE 26. Provoking one another, envying one another.
Such is the ill effect of vainglory. Those who teach errors provoke others. When others
disapprove and reject the doctrine the teachers of errors get angry in turn, and then you
have strife and trouble. The sectarians hate us furiously because we will not approve
their errors. We did not attack them directly. We merely called attention to certain
abuses in the Church. They did not like it and became sore at us, because it hurt their
pride. They wish to be the lone rulers of the church.
VERSE 1. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault ye which are spiritual,
restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.
IF we carefully weigh the words of the Apostle we perceive that he does not speak of
doctrinal faults and errors, but of much lesser faults by which a person is overtaken
through the weakness of his flesh. This explains why the Apostle chooses the softer term
"fault." To minimize the offense still more, as if he meant to excuse it
altogether and to take the whole blame away from the person who has committed the fault,
he speaks of him as having been "overtaken," seduced by the devil and of the
flesh. As if he meant to say, "What is more human than for a human being to fall, to
be deceived and to err?" This comforting sentence at one time saved my life. Because
Satan always assails both the purity of doctrine which he endeavors to take away by
schisms and the purity of life which he spoils with his continual temptations to sin, Paul
explains how the fallen should be treated. Those who are strong are to raise up the fallen
in the spirit of meekness.
This ought to be borne in mind particularly by the ministers of the Word in order that
they may not forget the parental attitude which Paul here requires of those who have the
keeping of souls. Pastors and ministers must, of course, rebuke the fallen, but when they
see that the fallen are sorry they are to comfort them by excusing the fault as well as
they can. As unyielding as the Holy Spirit is in the matter of maintaining and defending
the doctrine of faith, so mild and merciful is He toward men for their sins as long as
The Pope's synagogue teaches the exact opposite of what the Apostle commands. The
clerics are tyrants and butchers of men's conscience. Every small offense is closely
scrutinized. To justify the cruel inquisitiveness they quote the statement of Pope
Gregory: "It is the property of good lives to be afraid of a fault where there is no
fault." "Our censors must be feared, even if they are unjust and wrong." On
these pronouncements the papists base their doctrine of excommunication. Rather than
terrify and condemn men's consciences, they ought to raise them up and comfort them with
Let the ministers of the Gospel learn from Paul how to deal with those who have sinned.
"Brethren," he says, "if any man be overtaken with a fault, do not
aggravate his grief, do not scold him, do not condemn him, but lift him up and gently
restore his faith. If you see a brother despondent over a sin he has committed, run up to
him, reach out your hand to him, comfort him with the Gospel and embrace him like a
mother. When you meet a willful sinner who does not care, go after him and rebuke him
sharply." But this is not the treatment for one who has been overtaken by a sin and
is sorry. He must be dealt with in the spirit of meekness and not in the spirit of
severity. A repentant sinner is not to be given gall and vinegar to drink.
VERSE 1. Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. This consideration is very
much needed to put a stop to the severity of some pastors who show the fallen no mercy.
St. Augustine says: "There is no sin which one person has committed, that another
person may not commit it also." We stand in slippery places. If we become overbearing
and neglect our duty, it is easy enough to fall into sin. In the book entitled "The
Lives of Our Fathers," one of the Fathers is reported to have said when informed that
a brother had fallen into adultery: "He fell yesterday; I may fall today." Paul
therefore warns the pastors not to be too rigorous and unmerciful towards offenders, but
to show them every affection, always remembering: "This man fell into sin; I may fall
into worse sin. If those who are always so eager to condemn others would investigate
themselves they would find that the sins of others are motes in comparison to their
"Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (I Cor.
10:12.) If David who was a hero of faith and did so many great things for the Lord, could
fall so badly that in spite of his advanced age he was overcome by youthful lust after he
had withstood so many different temptations with which the Lord had tested his faith, who
are we to think that we are more stable? These object lessons of God should convince us
that of all things God hates pride.
VERSE 2. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The Law of Christ is the Law of love. Christ gave us no other law than this law of
mutual love: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another." To
love means to bear another's burdens. Christians must have strong shoulders to bear the
burdens of their fellow Christians. Faithful pastors recognize many errors and offenses in
the church, which they oversee. In civil affairs an official has to overlook much if he is
fit to rule. If we can overlook our own shortcomings and wrong-doings, we ought to
overlook the shortcomings of others in accordance with the words, "Bear ye one
Those who fail to do so expose their lack of understanding of the law of Christ. Love,
according to Paul, "believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all
things." This commandment is not meant for those who deny Christ; neither is it meant
for those who continue to live in sin. Only those who are willing to hear the Word of God
and then inadvertently fall into sin to their own great sorrow and regret, carry the
burdens which the Apostle encourages us to bear. Let us not be hard on them. If Christ did
not punish them, what right have we to do it?
VERSE 3. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he
Again the Apostle takes the authors of sects to task for being hard-hearted tyrants.
They despise the weak and demand that everything be just so. Nothing suits them except
what they do. Unless you eulogize whatever they say or do, unless you adapt yourself to
their slightest whim, they become angry with you. They are that way because, as St. Paul
says, they "think themselves to be something," they think they know all about
Paul has their number when he calls them zeros. They deceive themselves with their
self-suggested wisdom and holiness. They have no understanding of Christ or the law of
Christ. By insisting that everything be perfect they not only fail to bear the burdens of
the weak, they actually offend the weak by their severity. People begin to hate and shun
them and refuse to accept counsel or comfort from them.
Paul describes these stiff and ungracious saints accurately when he says of them,
"They think themselves to be something." Bloated by their own silly ideas and
schemes they entertain a pretty fair opinion of themselves, when in reality they amount to
VERSE 4. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in
himself alone, and not in another.
In this verse the Apostle continues his attack upon the vainglorious sectarians.
Although this passage may be applied to any work, the Apostle has in mind particularly the
work of the ministry.
The trouble with these seekers after glory is that they never stop to consider whether
their ministry is straightforward and faithful. All they think about is whether people
will like and praise them. Theirs is a threefold sin. First, they are greedy of praise.
Secondly, they are very sly and wily in suggesting that the ministry of other pastors is
not what it should be. By way of contrast they hope to rise in the estimation of the
people. Thirdly, once they have established a reputation for themselves they become so
chesty that they stop short of nothing. When they have won the praise of men, pride leads
them on to belittle the work of other men and to applaud their own. In this artful manner
they hoodwink the people who rather enjoy to see their former pastors taken down a few
notches by such upstarts.
"Let a minister be faithful in his office," is the apostolic injunction.
"Let him not seek his own glory or look for praise. Let him desire to do good work
and to preach the Gospel in all its purity. Whether an ungrateful world appreciates his
efforts is to give him no concern because, after all, he is in the ministry not for his
own glory but for the glory of Christ."
A faithful minister cares little what people think of him, as long as his conscience
approves of him. The approval of his own good conscience is the best praise a minister can
have. To know that we have taught the Word of God and administered the sacraments rightly
is to have a glory that cannot be taken away.
The glory which the sectarians seek is quite unstable, because it rests in the whim of
people. If Paul had had to depend on this kind of glory for his ministry he would have
despaired when he saw the many offenses and evils following in the wake of his preaching.
If we had to feel that the success of our ministry depended upon our popularity with
men we would die, because we are not popular. On the contrary, we are hated by the whole
world with rare bitterness. Nobody praises us. Everybody finds fault with us. But we can
glory in the Lord and attend to our work cheerfully. Who cares whether our efforts please
or displease the devil? Who cares whether the world praises or hates us? We go ahead
"by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report." (II Cor. 6:8.)
The Gospel entails persecution. The Gospel is that kind of a doctrine. Furthermore, the
disciples of the Gospel are not all dependable. Many embrace the Gospel today and tomorrow
discard it. To preach the Gospel for praise is bad business especially when people stop
praising you. Find your praise in the testimony of a good conscience.
This passage may also be applied to other work besides the ministry. When an official,
a servant, a teacher minds his business and performs his duty faithfully without
concerning himself about matters that are not in his line he may rejoice in himself. The
best commendation of any work is to know that one has done the work that God has given him
well and that God is pleased with his effort.
VERSE 5. Every man shall bear his own burden.
That means: For anybody to covet praise is foolish because the praise of men will be of
no help to you in the hour of death. Before the judgment throne of Christ everybody will
have to bear his own burden. As it is the praise of men stops when we die. Before the
eternal Judge it is not praise that counts but your own conscience.
True, the consciousness of work well done cannot quiet the conscience. But it is well
to have the testimony of a good conscience in the last judgment that we have performed our
duty faithfully in accordance with God's will.
For the suppression of pride we need the strength of prayer. What man even if he is a
Christian is not delighted with his own praise? Only the Holy Spirit can preserve us from
the misfortune of pride.
VERSE 6. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in
all good things.
Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them to bestow
"all good things" upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I have often
wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency. In
the papacy I saw the people give generously for the erection and maintenance of luxurious
church buildings and for the sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of
Rome. I saw bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate. I
thought then that Paul's admonitions were overdone. I thought he should have requested the
people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the generosity of the people of the
Church was encouraging covetousness on the part of the clergy. I know better now.
As often as I read the admonitions of the Apostle to the effect that the churches
should support their pastors and raise funds for the relief of impoverished Christians I
am half ashamed to think that the great Apostle Paul had to touch upon this subject so
frequently. In writing to the Corinthians he needed two chapters to impress this matter
upon them. I would not want to discredit Wittenberg as Paul discredited the Corinthians by
urging them at such length to contribute to the relief of the poor. It seems to be a
by-product of the Gospel that nobody wants to contribute to the maintenance of the Gospel
ministry. When the doctrine of the devil is preached people are prodigal in their willing
support of those who deceive them.
We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this
verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to
accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails
their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they
cannot live by the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go
wild like savage beasts.
Paul's admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with their
pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he wrote: "If we have
sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal
things?" (I Cor. 9:11.) In the old days when the Pope reigned supreme everybody paid
plenty for masses. The begging friars brought in their share. Commercial priests counted
the daily offerings. From these extortions our countrymen are now delivered by the Gospel.
You would think they would be grateful for their emancipation and give generously for the
support of the ministry of the Gospel and the relief of impoverished Christians. Instead,
they rob Christ. When the members of a Christian congregation permit their pastor to
struggle along in penury, they are worse than heathen.
Before very long they are going to suffer for their ingratitude. They will lose their
temporal and spiritual possessions. This sin merits the severest punishment. The reason
why the churches of Galatia, Corinth, and other places were troubled by false apostles was
this, that they had so little regard for their faithful ministers. You cannot refuse to
give God a penny who gives you all good things, even life eternal, and turn around and
give the devil, the giver of all evil and death eternal, pieces of gold, and not be
punished for it.
The words "in all good things: are not to be understood to mean that people are to
give all they have to their ministers, but that they should support them liberally and
give them enough to live well.
VERSE 7. Be not deceived; God is not mocked.
The Apostle is so worked up over this matter that he is not content with a mere
admonition. He utters the threatening words, "God is not mocked." Our countrymen
think it good sport to despise the ministry. They like to treat the ministers like
servants and slaves. "Be not deceived," warns the Apostle, "God is not
mocked." God will not be mocked in His ministers. Christ said: "He that
despiseth you, despiseth me." (Luke 10:16.) To Samuel God said: "They have not
rejected thee, but they have rejected me." (I Sam. 8:7.) Be careful, you scoffers.
God may postpone His punishment for a time, but He will find you out in time, and punish
you for despising His servants. You cannot laugh at God. Maybe the people are little
impressed by the threats of God, but in the hour of their death they shall know whom they
have mocked. God is not ever going to let His ministers starve. When the rich suffer the
pangs of hunger God will feed His own servants. "In the days of famine they shall be
satisfied." (Ps. 37:19.)
VERSE 7. For whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
These passages are all meant to benefit us ministers. I must say I do not find much
pleasure in explaining these verses. I am made to appear as if I am speaking for my own
benefit. If a minister preaches on money he is likely to be accused of covetousness. Still
people must be told these things that they may know their duty over against their pastors.
Our Savior says: "Eating and drinking such things as they give; for the laborer is
worthy of his hire." (Luke 10:7.) And Paul says elsewhere: "Do ye not know that
they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple?" and they
which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained, that
they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." (I Cor. 9:13, 14.)
VERSE 8. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he
that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
This simile of sowing and reaping also refers to the proper support of ministers.
"He that soweth to the Spirit," i.e., he that honors the ministers of God is
doing a spiritual thing and will reap everlasting life. "He that soweth to the
flesh," i.e., he that has nothing left for the ministers of God, but only thinks of
himself, that person will reap of the flesh corruption, not only in this life but also in
the life to come. The Apostle wants to stir up his readers to be generous to their
That the ministers of the Church need support any man with common sense can see. Though
this support is something physical the Apostle does not hesitate to call it sowing to the
Spirit. When people scrape up everything they can lay their hands on and keep everything
for themselves the Apostle calls it a sowing to the flesh. He pronounces those who sow to
the Spirit blessed for this life and the life to come, while those who sow to the flesh
are accursed now and forever.
VERSE 9. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if
we faint not.
The Apostle intends soon to close his Epistle and therefore repeats once more the
general exhortation unto good deeds. He means to say "Let us do good not only to the
ministers of the Gospel, but to everybody, and let us do it without weariness." It is
easy enough to do good once or twice, but to keep on doing good without getting disgusted
with the ingratitude of those whom we have benefited, that is not so easy. Therefore the
Apostle does not only admonish us to do good, but to do good untiringly. For our
encouragement he adds the promise: "For in due season we shall reap, if we faint
not." "Wait for the harvest and then you will reap the reward of your sowing to
the Spirit. Think of that when you do good and the ingratitude of men will not stop you
from doing good."
VERSE 10. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially
unto them who are of the household of faith.
In this verse the Apostle summarizes his instructions on the proper support of the
ministers and of the poor. He paraphrases the words of Christ: "I must work the works
of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." (John
9:4.) Our good deeds are to be directed primarily at those who share the Christian faith
with us, "the household of faith," as Paul calls them, among whom the ministers
rank first as objects of our well doing.
VERSE 11. Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.
With these words the Apostle intends to draw the Galatians on. "I never," he
says, "wrote such a long letter with my own hand to any of the other churches."
His other epistles he dictated, and only subscribed his greetings and his signature with
his own hand.
VERSE 12. As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to
be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
Paul once more scores the false apostles in an effort to draw the Galatians away from
their false doctrine. "The teachers you have now do not seek the glory of Christ and
the salvation of your souls, but only their own glory. They avoid the Cross. They do not
understand what they teach."
These three counts against the false apostles are of so serious a nature that no
Christian could have fellowship with them. But not all the Galatians obeyed the warning of
The Apostle's attack upon the false apostles was not unjustified. Neither are our
attacks upon the papacy. When we call the Pope the Antichrist and his minions an evil
brood, we do not slander them. We merely judge them by the touchstone of God's Word
recorded in the first chapter of this Epistle: "Though we, or an angel from heaven,
preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be
VERSE 13. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire
to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
In other words: "I shall tell you what kind of teachers you have now. They avoid
the Cross, they teach no certain truths. They think they are performing the Law, but they
are not. They have not the Holy Spirit and without Him nobody can keep the Law."
Where the Holy Ghost does not dwell in men there dwells an unclean spirit, a spirit that
despises God and turns every effort at keeping the Law into a double sin.
Mark what the Apostle is saying: Those who are circumcised do not fulfill the Law. No
self-righteous person ever does. To work, pray, or suffer apart from Christ is to work,
pray, and to suffer in vain, "for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." It does a
person no good to be circumcised, to fast, to pray, or to do anything, if in his heart he
"Why do the false apostles insist that you should be circumcised? Not for the sake
of your righteousness," although they give that impression, but "that they may
glory in your flesh." Now what sort of an ambition is that? Worst of all, they force
circumcision upon you for no other reason than the satisfaction they get out of your
VERSE 14. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus
"God forbid," says the Apostle, "that I should glory in anything as
dangerous as the false apostles glory in because what they glory in is a poison that
destroys many souls, and I wish it were buried in hell. Let them glory in the flesh if
they wish and let them perish in their glory. As for me I glory in the Cross of our Lord
Jesus Christ." He expresses the same sentiment in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to
the Romans, where he says: "We glory in tribulations"; and in the twelfth
chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: "Most gladly, therefore, will l
rather glory in my infirmities." According to these expressions the glory of a
Christian consists in tribulations, reproaches, and infirmities.
And this is our glory today with the Pope and the whole world persecuting us and trying
to kill us. We know that we suffer these things not because we are thieves and murderers,
but for Christ's sake whose Gospel we proclaim. We have no reason to complain. The world,
of course, looks upon us as unhappy and accursed creatures, but Christ for whose sake we
suffer pronounces us blessed and bids us to rejoice. "Blessed are ye," says He,
"when men shall revile you, and persecute you. and shall say all manner of evil
against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad." (Matt. 5:11, 12.)
By the Cross of Christ is not to be understood here the two pieces of wood to which He
was nailed, but all the afflictions of the believers whose sufferings are Christ's
sufferings. Elsewhere Paul writes: "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and
fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake,
which is the church." (Col. 1:24.)
It is good for us to know this lest we sink into despair when our opponents persecute
us. Let us bear the cross for Christ's sake. It will ease our sufferings and make them
light as Christ says, Matthew 11:30, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
VERSE 14. By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
"The world is crucified unto me," means that I condemn the world. "I am
crucified unto the world," means that the world in turn condemns me. I detest the
doctrine, the self-righteousness, and the works of the world. The world in turn detests my
doctrine and condemns me as a revolutionary heretic. Thus the world is crucified unto us
and we unto the world.
The monks imagined the world was crucified unto them when they entered the monastery.
Not the world, but Christ, is crucified in the monasteries.
In this verse Paul expresses his hatred of the world. The hatred was mutual. As Paul,
so we are to despise the world and the devil. With Christ on our side we can defy him and
say: "Satan, the more you hurt me, the more I oppose you."
VERSE 15. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor
uncircumcision, but a new creature.
Since circumcision and uncircumcision are contrary matters we would expect the Apostle
to say that one or the other might accomplish some good. But he denies that either of them
do any good. Both are of no value because in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor
uncircumcision avail anything.
Reason fails to understand this, "for the natural man receiveth not the things of
the Spirit of God." (I Cor. 2:14.) It therefore seeks righteousness in externals.
However, we learn from the Word of God that there is nothing under the sun that can make
us righteous before God and a new creature except Christ Jesus.
A new creature is one in whom the image of God has been renewed. Such a creature cannot
be brought into life by good works, but by Christ alone. Good works may improve the
outward appearance, but they cannot produce a new creature. A new creature is the work of
the Holy Ghost, who imbues our hearts with faith, love, and other Christian virtues,
grants us the strength to subdue the flesh and to reject the righteousness of the world.
VERSE 16. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy.
This is the rule by which we ought to live, "that ye put on the new man, which
after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." (Eph. 4:24.) Those who walk
after this rule enjoy the favor of God, the forgiveness of their sins, and peace of
conscience. Should they ever be overtaken by any sin, the mercy of God supports them.
VERSE 17. From henceforth let no man trouble me.
The Apostle speaks these words with a certain amount of indignation. "I have
preached the Gospel to you in conformity with the revelation which I received from Jesus
Christ. If you do not care for it, very well. Trouble me no more. Trouble me no
VERSE 17. For I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
"The marks on my body indicate whose servant I am. If I was anxious to please men,
if I approved of circumcision and good works as factors in our salvation, if I would take
delight in your flesh as the false apostles do, I would not have these marks on my body.
But because I am the servant of Jesus Christ and publicly declare that no person can
obtain the salvation of his soul outside of Christ, I must bear the badge of my Lord.
These marks were given to me against my will as decorations from the devil and for no
other merit but that I made known Jesus."
Of the marks of suffering which he bore in his body the Apostle makes frequent mention
in his epistles. "I think," he says, "that God hath set forth us the
apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world,
and to angels, and to men." (I Cor. 4:9.) Again, "Unto this present hour we both
hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
And labour, working with our hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer
it; being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the
offscouring of all things unto this day." (I Cor. 4:11-13.)
VERSE 18. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
This is the Apostle's farewell. He ends his Epistle as he began it by wishing the
Galatians the grace of God. We can hear him say: "I have presented Christ to you, I
have pleaded with you, I have reproved you, I have overlooked nothing that I thought might
be of benefit to you. All I can do now is to pray that our Lord Jesus Christ would bless
my Epistle and grant you the guidance of the Holy Ghost."
The Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, who gave me the strength and the grace to explain
this Epistle and granted you the grace to hear it, preserve and strengthen us in faith
unto the day of our redemption. To Him, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, be
glory, world without end. Amen.