This only would I learn of you, Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
In expostulating with the Galatians for forsaking grace for Law, St. Paul appeals to their own experience. He is not expounding the gospel for the first time to strangers; he is arguing with Christians who know its power. His argument applies to all who turn aside from the early life of faith and grace to any supposed improvement of human discipline. Their own experience uses up in condemnation of them. Three proofs of the foolishness of such a course are here given.
I. THIS COURSE REVERSES THE NATURAL ORDER OF PROGRESS. It is absurd to think of being perfected in the flesh after having begun in the Spirit. These two, the flesh and the Spirit, correspond in our experience to the two methods - by Law and by grace through faith. It is the weakness of Law that it is external, and governs only external acts, that it directs the flesh, the outer life, but infuses no inward spiritual life. Grace does not concern itself directly with such outward acts. It is a spiritual inspiration, and faith is a spiritual act. Now, the natural progress is from the outward to the inward. We see this in our personal experience. Children first learn to obey direct commands, and gradually learn principles of right conduct, until conscience takes the place of external authority. With the race the same progress holds good. Earlier forms of religion are more external. The latest is the most spiritual. To turn away from the spiritual is not merely to go back; it is to revert to a more improper method. Spiritual religion is the highest religion. Nothing can exceed the power of faith and love and inward grace. If these influences are slow in ripening the perfect character, it is absurd to think of hastening the result by reverting to weaker influences of Law and formal rules,
II. THIS COURSE STULTIFIES THE PAST ENDURANCE OF PERSECUTION. (Ver. 4.) St. Paul's allusion implies that the Galatians had been persecuted - as we know other Churches had been - at the instigation of the Jews. If the Jewish Law were the highest method of righteousness, persecution provoked by slighting or opposing it must have been endured for nothing. This was an argumentum ad hominem. We have to make sacrifices in other ways if we are faithful to spiritual religion. We are also appealed to by the memories of our fathers, who testified to spiritual liberty at the rack and the stake. When we play with the broken chains which they cast off, and even forge them afresh by submitting to the revival of old formalities and superstitions, the spirits of those martyred heroes of Protestantism rise up to rebuke us. Or does the most noble page of England's history describe only a huge, quixotic delusion?
III. THIS COURSE CONTRADICTS THE EVIDENCE AFFORDED BY THE POWER THAT FLOWS FROM SPIRITUAL GRACE. (Ver. 5.) St. Paul and other men endued with the Spirit wrought miracles. The most rigid follower of the Law could not do so. But more than power over material things grew out of the grace of the Spirit. The conquests of the gospel flowed from faith and spiritual gifts. The men of formal devotion never turned the world upside down. There is no fire in Law, The new creation of the world only follows spiritual activity. It is the work of the men of faith. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Whatever fascination there may be in religions of strict rules and rigid ordinances, we find that it is the free spiritual energy of unfettered souls that moves the hearts of others. This religion of faith and grace which possesses the most Divine power must be for us the highest and best. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?