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TROUBLES IN THE CHURCHES OF GALATIA.
The emissaries of James, having left Antioch, bent their steps towards the Churches of Galatia. The Jerusalemites had for a long time known of the existence of these Churches; it was even with regard to them that the question of the circumcision was first raised, and that what was called the Council of Jerusalem was held. James had probably recommended his confidential agents to attack this important point, it being one of the centres of Paul’s power.
Success was easy for them. These Galatians were men readily seduced; the last one who had come to speak to them in the name of Jesus was almost certain to be right. The Jerusalemites had soon persuaded a great number of them that they were not good Christians. They incessantly repeated to them that they ought to be circumcised, and to observe all the Law. With the puerile vanity of fanatical Jews, the deputies represented circumcision as a corporal advantage; they were proud of it, and did not admit that one could be as much a man without this privilege as he ought to be. The habit of ridiculing the Pagans, representing them as inferior beings and badly brought up, introduced these grotesque ideas. The Jerusalemites poured out at the same time against Paul a flood of invective and disparagement. They accused him of posing as an independent Apostle, although he had received his mission from Jerusalem, or else they had seen him at different times betake himself to the school of the Twelve, as a disciple. Was not his coming to Jerusalem a recognition of the superiority of the Apostolic College? What he 162knew he had learned from the Apostles; he had accepted the rules which they had drawn up. This missionary who pretended to dispense with circumcision, knew very well the need of preaching and of practising it. Turning his concessions against him, they alleged cases when they had seen him recognise the necessity of Jewish practices; perhaps they did not recall in particular the facts relative to the circumcision of Titus and Timothy. How could he, who had never seen Jesus, dare to speak in the name of Jesus? It was Peter, it was James, who ought to be held to be the true Apostles—the depositaries of revelation.
The consciences of these good Galatians were troubled. One party abandoned the doctrine of Paul, yielded to the new doctors, and were circumcised; the other party remained faithful to their first master. The trouble, in all these cases, was profound: they said the harshest things to each other.
This news on reaching Paul filled him with anger. Jealousy, which formed the basis of his character, and susceptibility, often already put to the test, were excited in the highest degree. It was the third time that the Pharisaical party of Jerusalem attempted to demolish his work as he accomplished it. The kind of cowardice which there is in attacking weak, docile men without defence, and who only lived in confidence on their master, revolted him. He could restrain himself no longer. At the same time, the daring and vehement Apostle dictated that admirable epistle, that may well be compared, except for the art of writing, with the most beautiful classical works, and in which his impetuous nature is painted in letters of fire. The title of “Apostle” that he had at first taken timidly, he now took as assumed in defiance, to reply to his adversaries, and in the maintenance of what he believed to be the truth.163
“Paul an Apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the Dead); and all the brethren which are with me, unto the Churches of Galatia:
“Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 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. 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. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
“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. 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, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. 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 164Jerusalem to them which were Apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. 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. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.
“Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the Churches of Judæa 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.
“Then, fourteen years after, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage, to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour: that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But of these who seemed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me. God accepteth no man’s person), for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me; but contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed onto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter (for he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace 165that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter, before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We, who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For, if I build again the things which I destroy, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ Liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, 166that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 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? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. . . . . . But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith, but after that faith has come we are no longer under a school-master. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. 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. And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come God sent forth his Son made of a 167woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father, Wherefore thou art no more a servant but a son, and if a son then an heir of God through Christ.
“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? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
“Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are; ye have not injured me at all. 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. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? 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. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be, present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. . . . . .
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I, Paul, say unto you that, if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit 168you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law: ye are fallen from grace. For we, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith, which worketh by love.
“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded; but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased? I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty: only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now, the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But 169the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they which are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. . . . .”
Paul wrote this epistle at a single sitting, as if filled with an interior fire. According to his habit, he wrote with his own hand, in postscript, “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.”
It seems natural that he should finish with the usual salutation; but he was too much animated: his fixed idea possessed him. The subject being exhausted, he again returns to it with some keen remarks:—
“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. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law, but desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
Paul despatched this letter at once. If he had taken an hour’s reflection, it is doubtful whether he would have let it be sent. We do not know to whom it was entrusted; Paul doubtless had it carried by one of his disciples, whom he charged with a journey into Galatia. The epistle, in fact, is not addressed to a particular community; each of those little Churches of Derbe, of Lystra, of Iconium, 170of Antioch in Pisidia, was not considerable enough to serve as a metropolis to the others; the Apostle, on the other hand, gives no instruction to the receivers as to the manner of circulating his letter. The effect that the letter produced upon the Galatians is also unknown. Without doubt it confirmed the party of Paul; it probably, however, did not entirely extinguish the opposite party. Almost all the Churches henceforward will be divided into two camps. The Church of Judæa will maintain its pretensions until the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). It is only at the end of the first century that a true reconciliation will come about, partly at the expense of Paul’s glory, which will during nearly a hundred years be cast into the shade, but for the full triumph of its fundamental ideas. The Judæo-Christians from this moment will only be a sect of old fanatics, dying out slowly and obscurely, and only ending towards the close of the fifth century in the remoter districts of Syria. Paul, in revenge, will be nearly disavowed. His title of Apostle, refused him by his enemies, will be feebly defended by his friends. The Churches which notoriously owe their foundation to him, will wish it to be thought that they were founded by him and by Peter. The Church of Corinth, for example, will do the most flagrant violence to history to show that she owes her origin to Peter as well as to Paul. The conversion of the Gentiles will pass for the collective work of the Twelve; Papias, Polycrates, Justin, Hegesippus, seem to labour to suppress the share of Paul in the work, and nearly ignore his existence. It is only when the idea of a canon of new sacred writings will be established that Paul will regain his importance. His epistles will then emerge in some way from the archives of the Churches to become the base of Christian theology, which they will renew from age to age.
At the distance at which we now stand, the victory 171of Paul appears complete. Paul recounts to us, and perhaps exaggerates, the injuries that have been done to him. Who will tell us the injuries of Paul? The mean intention which he attributes to his adversaries of following in his footsteps to carry away for themselves the affection of his disciples and to glorify themselves afterwards over the circumcision of these simple men, is not this a travesty? May not the recital of his relations with the Church of Jerusalem, different as it is from that of the Acts, be a little arranged for the needs of the moment? The pretence of having been an Apostle by divine right from the very day of his conversion, is it not historically inaccurate! in this sense, that the conviction of his own apostleship slowly took possession of him, and arrived at its completion only after his first great mission. Was Peter really so much to be blamed as Paul asserted? The conduct of the Galilean Apostle, on the contrary, was not it that of a conciliatory man, preferring brotherliness to principle, wishing to content everybody, yielding to avoid scandal, and blamed by all, precisely because he was right. We have no means of answering these questions. Paul was very egotistical; it is not impossible that he more than once attributed to a private revelation what he had learnt from his elders. The Epistle to the Galatians is so extraordinary a work, the Apostle there paints himself with so much artlessness and truth, that it would be absolutely unjust to turn against him a document which does so much honour to his talent and his eloquence. The cares of a narrow orthodoxy are not ours; to others belong the right of explaining how one can be a saint, whilst abusing the ancient Cephas. Paul is not degraded from the companionship of great men when he is proved to be sometimes hasty, passionate, pre-occupied with his own defence, and fighting his enemies. In everything 172that is truly Protestant, Paul has the faults of a Protestant. It requires time and much experience to enable him to see that each dogma is not worth the trouble of violent resistance and of wounding charity. Paul is not Jesus. How far we are from thee, dear Master. Where is thy tenderness, thy poesy? Thou who didst consider the lilies, dost thou recognise as thy disciples these disputants, these men who are so bitter about precedence, who wish that every body should originate with them alone. They are men, thou wast a God. Where should we be, if thou wert known to us only by the simple letters of him who calls himself thy Apostle. Happily, the perfumes of Galilee still live in some faithful memories. Perhaps already the Sermon on the Mount is written on some secret sheet. The unknown disciple who bears this treasure truly bears the future.
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