Behold, I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
Paul in the present section exposes the legal and ceremonial spirit as a tall from the moral magnificence of grace. It has been well said that "it is harder to abolish forms than to change opinions. Ceremonies stand long after the thought which they express has fled, as a dead king may sit on his throne stiff and stark in his golden mantle, and no one come near enough to see that the light is gone out of his eyes and the will departed from the hand that still clutches the sceptre." Circumcision was such a form, and against its improper use Paul has all through this Epistle to protest. The thought of the present section is elevating and sublime. Let us follow the outline.
I. PAUL HERE IMPLIES THE MORAL MAGNIFICENCE OF SALVATION BY GRACE, (Vers. 4, 5.) For when we consider how this plan of salvation turns our minds away from self to God in Christ, giving all the glory to the Saviour and taking all the blame to self, we see that it is morally magnificent. Self-confidence is destroyed, and confidence in Christ becomes all in all. The whole sphere of activity is illumined by devotedness to him who has lived and died for our redemption. Gratitude thus is the foundation of morality, and all idea of merit is put out of sight. The more the gospel is studied as a moral system, the more marvellous and magnificent will it appear. This will further exhibit itself if we consider what the working principle of the gospel is. It is, as Paul here shows, "faith working through love" (ver. 6, Revised Version). And faith is the mightiest factor in the world's progress. Suppose that faith were supplanted by suspicion, and men, instead of trusting one another, lived lives of mutual suspicion, the world's progress would come speedily to an end. The gospel, then, takes this mighty principle of faith and, turning it towards Christ, it secures love as its practical outcome. Love to God and consequent love to men becomes the law of our lives. All that is lovely is thus evoked, and the system proves its moral magnificence and practical power.
II. IT IS THE CHARACTERISTIC OF LEGALISM TO DEPRECIATE THE CROSS. (Ver. 11.) In a scheme of free grace the cross of Jesus Christ is central and all-important. How could selfish hearts be emancipated from their selfishness, had not the Holy Spirit the cross of Christ to move them? The cross is the self-sacrifice of incarnate love, and the grandest appeal of all history for self-sacrifice in return. It is, moreover, a fact and not a ceremony; a fact which bears no repetition, and which stands in its moral grandeur alone. But legalism conies in to depreciate if possible its moral value, The insinuation is thrown out that circumcision is essential to the efficacy of the cross. The cross is made out to be a mere adjunct to the Jewish ceremonial. Its offence ceases. It is no such instrument of self-sacrifice as it was intended to be. The brave apostle who preaches "Christ crucified" as the only hope of salvation is persecuted for doing so, and the whole legal band arrays itself against him. It is thus that the legal spirit depreciates and dishonours the Crucified One.
III. ALL THIS IMPLIES IN THE LEGAL SPIRIT A FALL FROM GRACE. (Ver. 4.) This is the key of the present passage. The soul, which so depreciates the cross as to go away and to try to save itself by ceremonies, has fallen from a moral grandeur into deepest selfishness. Christ profits in nothing the soul who is bent on saving himself. The righteousness of Christ, which is unto all and upon all them that believe, cannot consist with the self-seeking and self-confidence which self-righteousness implies. We must choose our saviour and adhere to him. If our saviour is to be ceremony, which is only another way of saying that our saviour is ourselves, then we may as well renounce all hope of salvation by Christ. We sever ourselves from Christ when we seek to be justified by the Law (Revised Version). We have descended in the scale of motive; we have taken up the selfish plan; we have "fallen away from grace."
IV. PAUL ANTICIPATES THAT HIS EXPOSURE OF LEGALISM WILL CURE THE GALATIANS OF IT. (Ver. 10.) He believes that legalism will be destroyed and rooted up by laying bare its real meaning. The leaven will not be allowed to spread. It is most important in the same way to be meditating constantly upon the magnificence of the gospel system as a moral system. Thus shall we prize it more and more, and never think of surrendering it for any rival and selfish system. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.