Book Overview - Galatians
by Hamilton Smith
The Epistle to the Galatians
The Epistle to the Galatians is corrective rather than instructive. It was not written simply to instruct the Assemblies in the great truths of the Gospel, as in the Epistle to the Romans; nor to unfold the truth of the Church as in the Epistle to the Ephesians; nor to present experience, proper to Christians, as in the Epistle to the Philippians. It was written to correct a great evil that had crept into the assemblies of Galatia. It has the same character as the Epistles to the Corinthians, but with this difference; the Epistle to the Galatians was written to correct legality, while the Epistles to the Corinthians were written to correct carnality, or worldliness ( 1 Corinthians 3:3). Though apparently so opposite, both evils are near akin inasmuch as both recognise the flesh. Legality is the effort to control the flesh by rules and cultivate the flesh by religious ceremonies. Lawlessness is the indulgence of the flesh.
Legality, by turning back to the principles of the law, at once gives the flesh a place, for the law appeals to the flesh, and the flesh brings in the world. Hence the law, the flesh and the world go together. To correct the wrong use of the law, and the evils of the flesh and the world, the Spirit of God brings in the Cross of Christ. Thus, in the Epistle we find the Cross applied to the law in Galatians 2:20; to the flesh in Galatians 5:24; and to the world in Galatians 6:14.
Then, the law, the flesh and the world being set aside, we have brought in Christ, the Spirit and New Creation. Christ is presented as the rule of life, instead of the law ( Galatians 2:20); the Spirit instead of the flesh ( Galatians 3:3;, Galatians 3:5 : Galatians 16-25); and New Creation instead of the world ( Galatians 6:14-15). We are not to be governed by the principles of the present world. but by the rule of New Creation.
Though both the Epistles to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Galatians are corrective, it will be noticed that the Apostle uses far greater severity of expression in writing to the Galatians. This is striking, for, though both evils must necessarily be condemned by the Spirit. vet error in doctrine is more severely censured than evil in practice. With men it is ever the reverse. An easy-going age is very indifferent to what doctrine men teach, as long as their outward conduct is good. The reason is plain, for, as one has said, "Nature can take its measure of human conduct; but faith only can estimate the importance of the truth of God." Further, it has been truly remarked, "Laxity of walk, or worldly principle and habits, may be corrected by bringing in the light . . . but when the truth is corrupted, the light becomes darkness, and the very instrument by which God is pleased to work is destroyed."
Hence the severity of tone with which the Apostle writes, for in turning back to the law we gradually lose all that is vital. Law recognises man in the flesh and gives him a place in this world. It makes his blessing depend upon man fulfilling his responsibility, and thus shuts out God"s grace, makes the work of Christ for us of no profit ( Galatians 5:4), sets aside the work of the Spirit in us ( Galatians 3:2), and changes Christianity into a religion of outward forms and ceremonies.
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34