Galatians 5:2-12
Behold, I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

I. PAUL SOLEMNLY PUTS BEFORE THE GALATIANS THE TRUE STATE OF THE CASE. "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing." Commencing with an arresting word, he introduces his own name with all the solemnity of oath-taking, witness-bearing. "Behold, I Paul say unto you." What the weight of his testimony is directed against, is their submitting to circumcision. This was what the Judaizing teachers were aiming at, and, seeing that they were making false representations, he declares to the Galatians, as if their destinies were at stake, the real state of the case. For them, Gentiles, and at the instigation of the Judaizers, to submit to circumcision would be excluding themselves from all advantage by Christ. It was either circumcision or Christ with them. There was no middle ground for them to take up. There was no submitting to circumcision and clinging to Christ at the same time. If they submitted to circumcision, they must make up their minds to forego all that they had hoped for from Christ.

1. How he makes it out that circumcision excluded them from Christ.

(1) Circumcision implies an obligation to do the whole Law. "Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole Law." Again does he clear his conscience by emitting his solemn testimony. This testimony was more particularly directed to every man among them that, under the influence of the Judaizers, had any thought of submitting to circumcision. The apostle, as it were, takes him aside, and earnestly and affectionately warns him. Let him consider what he is doing. He is bringing himself under obligation to do the whole Law, and that personally, with this risk attached, that, if he fails to do the whole Law, he comes under its curse.

(2) Doing the whole Law excludes from Christ and grace. "Ye are severed flora Christ, ye who would be justified by the Law; ye are fallen away from grace." The apostle takes the doing of the whole Law to be equivalent to the working out of the whole of their justification. That was necessarily to the entire exclusion of Christ. There was nothing left for him to do. His work was made of none effect. They were severed from Christ and all the benefit of his work. They were thus fallen away from grace. Formerly they stood upon the merits of Christ, they had their Surety to answer for them; now they had themselves, immediately and fully, to answer to God for their Law-keeping.

2. The case of Christians stated.

(1) The expectancy of faith. "For we through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness." The thought in its simplicity is that we hope for righteousness. This can only be the righteousness on the ground of which we are justified. There is a difficulty in this being presented as future, when it can be immediately and fully enjoyed. Some attempt to get over the difficulty by supposing the meaning to be the hope that belongs to righteousness, i.e. the hope of eternal life. But that is attaching a not very obvious meaning to the language. If we think of justifying righteousness as future, the reference can only be to the vindication of its sufficiency on the day of judgment, and further to the establishing of our personal interest in it on that day. The latter reference especially seems borne oat by the associated language. We are represented as in the attitude of expectancy. We wait for the hope, i.e. now the realization of the hope of righteousness. This expectancy being based, so far as God is concerned, in the work of the Spirit on our hearts, and so far as we are concerned, in the exercise of faith, is based in reality. But being based at the same time in that which is not completed, it partakes of imperfection. We are not so sure as those Judaists were who rested on the fact of their being circumcised. We are not so absolutely sure as we shall be when judgment has been pronounced in our favour. We are confident that the righteousness of Christ will be shown to be all-sufficient as the ground of justification. And we hope, more or less confidently, according to the operation of the Spirit in our hearts and the working of faith, that it will be shown that we are possessors of that righteousness.

(2) The energy of faith. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love." The apostle here does not take so high ground with regard to circumcision. He had forbidden the Galatians to submit to circumcision, on the ground that it would exclude them from Christ. Here he puts circumcision on a level with uncircumcision, as availing nothing within the Christian sphere. Neither is what avails baptism, which has taken the place of circumcision. The outward form is a matter of indifference, unless as it is connected with the inward reality. What must ever be demanded is, as the representation is here-faith, and not a dead faith, but, according to the conception of Paul as well as according to the conception of James, a faith that is operative. And the energy of faith goes out in love. There is, as we are taught here, a blessed harmony between these two graces. If we believe that not only God is, but that he is inexhaustible Goodness, we must be drawn out in love towards him. And if we believe that the Son of God condescended to become man and devoted himself for us, we must be impelled out beyond ourselves towards the good of others.


1. They were hindered in a good career. "Ye were running well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?"

(1) Points in a good career.

(a) That it be directed to a right end. This is brought out in connection with their obeying the truth. Their career in heathenism was vitiated by their being involved in error. The true idea of life had not been revealed to them. But when they obeyed the truth they took Christ to be their end and undertook to shape their career according to the rules of Christ. And that is necessary to the commencement of a good career.

(b) That it be commenced early. If the Galatians did not commence in early life, yet they commenced as sore as an opportunity in providence was presented to them, and so far they can be cited as an example of commencing early. It would have been a great advantage to them to have been taught and moulded as Christians in youth. There would not have been their heathen education to unlearn and undo. The laws of association and habit would have been working all along in their favour. And there would have been more time in which to advance to excellence and usefulness.

(c) That it be pursued with enthusiasm. In the Galatians the warm Celtic temperament was warmed under the influences of the cross. It was this especially that called forth the admiration of the apostle. They did run well; among his converts none had displayed greater enthusiasm in the Christian race.

(d) That it be pursued with steadiness. It was with regard to this that there was danger to the Galatians. Would they continue in their ardent attachment to the gospel? Would time cool their ardour, or would it be transferred to some other doctrine? Especially would they continue steadfast in the face of hindrances that made trial of them? It was that which was now being tested.

(2) Hindrances. There are rocks and weeds which are put as hindrances in the way of the farmer cultivating the soil. There are difficulties to be overcome in connection with every worldly calling. We need not wonder, therefore, at there being difficulties in connection with the Christian calling. It is only by conquering difficulty after difficulty that we gain the heights of excellence. The greatest difficulties are those which arise from ourselves, from our own weak and treacherous hearts. But we are referred more here to hindrances which arise from others. "Ye were running well; who did hinder you?" In the word which is used there is an allusion to breaking up roads, by destroying bridges, raising barriers. There is suggested, by opposition, a representation of what our duty is to our fellow-men. We arc to act as pioneers, clearing the way before others by levelling high places, filling up hollows, throwing bridges across rivers. We are to act towards them so that they shall have not only no temptation to fall, but every help to well-doing. And when there are those who throw obstacles across our path we are not to feel annoyed, as though we had only to deal with them. But we are to feel that God is making trial of us through them. And therefore we are not to succumb, but to persevere in the face of obstacles. Thus out cf the eater shall come forth meat; out of our hindrances shall come forth the manly virtues.

2. It was not God who was seeking to persuade them to be circumcised. "This persuasion came not of him that calleth you." Persuasion may mean either the state of being persuaded or the act of persuading. The latter seems more in keeping with the context. The course to which the Judaizers would have persuaded the Galatians would have been, in its consequences, disobedience to the truth. They would not attempt, we may suppose, to get them to set aside the cross. Their policy was rather to get them to add circumcision to the cross. This persuasion came not of him that called them. It was not in accordance, either with the idea that was in the Divine mind in calling them, or with the idea that was in their own minds in choosing the calling, which was in both cases making Christ everything in the road to everlasting happiness. It did not come from above, from the God who saved them and called them to everlasting glory, but it came from beneath - from the enemy of mankind.

3. He was afraid of the spread of error among them. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." On the one hand, the Judaists, in order to gain their point, would be inclined to minimize its importance. On the other hand, the Galatians might think the Judaistic teaching had made very little way among them. The apostle puts them on their guard by telling them that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. This saying also occurs in 1 Corinthians 5:6. The reference there is to a case of gross immorality in the Corinthian Church. By tolerating such immorality, there would be danger of the whole Corinthian Church being lowered in its moral tone and practice. So by the introduction of a little Judaistic leaven, such as the toleration of the circumcision of a single Gentile convert, there would be danger of the Christian communities of Galatia becoming Judaistic, i.e. communities upon which the blessing of God would not rest, from which the Spirit of God would depart. And so a little leaven of carelessness in the household, in companionship, leavens the whole lump.

4. He had confidence in them that they would remain unchanged. "I have confidence to you-ward in the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded." He had confidence that they would not change from a Christian to a Judaistic way of thinking. His confidence was not founded on reports received regarding them. For these, as we have seen, threw him into a state of perplexity. But he had confidence to them-ward in the Lord. He had confidence in the use of appointed means. He had confidence in the rower of prayer. He had prayed to God on their behalf, that they might be none otherwise minded. He had confidence in bringing proper representations before their minds, as he had endeavoured to do. He had confidence especially in the great Head of the Church making use of the means in the interests of the Galatian Churches and of the whole Church.

5. The troubler would bear his judgment. "But he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be." One is separated here, not as ringleader, but for the sake of individualization. He is represented as a troubler. He acts over the part of Satan who, seeing the happiness of Eden, envied our first parents its possession. So he, spying the peace and prosperity of the Galatian communities, cannot let them alone; he must introduce his Judaistic leaven. But this troubler, whosoever he be (thus searched out and held up before them), shall bear his judgment. God, indeed, makes use of him in making trial of them. And they shall be judged for the manner in which they have dealt with his representations - testing them or not testing them. But let him know that he shall have the sentence, and the burdensome sentence, of a troubler passed and carried out upon him.

6. It was evident that he was no preacher of circumcision. "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? then hath the stumbling-block of the cross been done away." We are not under any danger of attaching a materialistic meaning to the cross. Whilst the wood to which were nailed Christ's hands and feet has now long ago mouldered away, and has no existence unless in the imagination of the superstitious, the spiritual associations of it remain. It is the greatest tact that was ever accomplished on earth or ever brought to the knowledge of earth's inhabitants, and which will not decay in time or in eternity - that the adorable Son of God, coming down to our human condition, once became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. It is this which is set forth in Scripture as the Divine and only instrument of salvation. It was this which Paul made the great burden of his preaching. Whatever remedies or methods were proposed or advocated by others, "We," says he, who was himself a wonderful trophy of the cross - "we preach Christ crucified." But it was said in Galatia for a purpose that he preached circumcision, i.e. in addition to the cross. He could easily have given an explanation of the circumstance on which this charge was founded, viz. his having circumcised Timothy; but taking the representation as it was - that he was actually a preacher of circumcision - he puts a question and draws a conclusion.

(1) He puts a question. The very pertinent question he puts is - Why was he persecuted? Was it not the fact that it was the Judaizers who led to his being a prisoner for the gospel in Rome? Did that not show that they knew very well that there was a real and deep antagonism between their preaching and his?

(2) He draws a conclusion. If this course, falsely attributed to him, were followed, to add circumcision to the cross to please the Judaists, and some ether point to please some other party; if all parties were thus to be suited, then it strikes the apostle that this result would follow, the offence of the cross would cease, and that seems to him a meat undesirable result, entirely to be deprecated. If the cross gives such satisfaction all round, and does not offend, as well, he thinks, stamp it a failure and proclaim abroad its utter inefficiency as a means of conversion. Wherein lies the offence, the scandalizing property, of the cross? It does not lie in its offending any true feeling or principle of our nature. In Christianity there is nothing that is wantonly harsh or rude. Its language is, "Giving none offence." "Woe unto him by whom the offence cometh!" But the offence of the cross lies in its running counter to the inclinations of the unrenewed heart. It can be seen, then, how it could not be true, but must be a proved lie, if it did not offend; it would be giving in to the natural heart, which it is the purpose of God not to flatter, but to subdue.

(a) The cross is an offence because it does not merely please the imagination. Men are fond of ritualism in religion. Now, the cross is singularly simple and unadorned. In this respect it stands markedly in contrast with what preceded it. This is not pleasing to many. They would put ornaments upon the cross to take away its offensive simplicity. But that is a wrong tendency. The most beautiful rites and gorgeous shows, instead of drawing to the cross, as the meaning sometimes is, are more likely to usurp its place. The worshipper, instead of having his heart reached, is likely to have only his imagination pleased. Let the cross be left to its own simple power, though the imagination should be offended. It can do without ornaments on it in our day as well as it did in Paul's day.

(b) The cross is an offence because it is humbling to pride of reason. It was to the Greeks foolishness, and so it is apt to be to intellectual people still - to the Greeks of the present day, to literary men, to the reading portion of the community. That is at least what all such have to surmount. The cross seems foolishness to them. They would like a difficult problem on which to exercise their intellects. Now, in one sense, the cross is above reason, inasmuch as reason could never have found it out. But in another sense it is below human reason; it is a revelation, a doctrine all found out for man, and a doctrine which is level to the meanest understanding. The result of the philosophic craving was, at a very early period of the Church, the rise of Gnosticism. It was very much a blending of the Greek philosophy with Christianity. It was the religion of mind, those embracing it professing to have a deeper insight into Christian facts than the common people, who took them in their obvious sense. And since the disappearance of Gnosticism, there has been, again and again, and is at present in some quarters, an effort to consider the literary and reading class so as to give the cross a philosophic cast, with the view of attracting them. Now, there are some ways of speaking to intellectual people better than others, and nothing is to be hoped for from irrational or dry discourse, yet, if the cross is turned into a philosophy, it may attract some, but it is not likely to benefit them. Let the cross be presented as level to the lowest intellect; let it be presented as a simple, divinely revealed fact, speaking to the heart more than to the intellect; let there be no fear to offend pride of intellect, which must be humbled before the soul can be saved.

(c) The cross is an offence because it is humbling to self-righteousness. It is a strange infatuation of the natural heart that, with no righteousness to lay claim to, it is yet so natural to it to flatter itself with having a righteousness. The cross, going upon the supposition that we have no righteousness of our own, and that all the praise of our salvation is due to God, is an offence. In the Roman Catholic system there is a place given to works alongside of the merits of Christ, which is very pleasing to the feeling of self-righteousness. We are all apt to construct a theory of salvation in which there is a place left for self. Now, the cross must never be presented to please self-righteous people; that would be a fatal compromise. Let the cross be proclaimed as the impossibility of our own righteousness, as the grace of God in a righteousness freely provided for us. That is a doctrine which must offend, but it is the only doctrine that can satisfy the conscience.

(d) The cross is an offence because of its large demands. It demands that we forsake cherished sins. And that cuts into natural liking, that is painful like a crucifying, and therefore an offence. But the cross must be presented as giving no quarter to sin, as the most tremendous proof that sin is not to be permitted, as showing how sin is utterly abhorred and condemned of God. And to be acknowledging the cross, while tolerating sin in ourselves, is crucifying the Son of God afresh and putting him to an open shame. It demands self-sacrifice. The cross-life is characteristically a life of self-sacrifice. Christ was sacrificing all along, and when he came to the cross he sacrificed his all - sacrificed his life in the most awful circumstances. And those who would take up the cross must be prepared to follow Christ in his course of self-denial. And there, again, is where the offence of the cross arises. Its requirements are too high. But as the cross of Christ can never be blotted out, so its requirements can never be lowered. It is the standard up to which our life must be brought if we are to attain to our perfection. There is one blessed way in which the offence of the cross ceases, and that is, when we have been humbled by it as sinners, and have been led to own its power. Then we admire it for the light it throws on the Divine perfections, and for the power there is in it over human hearts. And we say, "Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ."

7. He wishes the Galatians deliverance from the unsettling teachers. "I would that they which unsettle you would even cut themselves off." In the case of the offender against morality in the Corinthian Church, the apostle issued a decree that he should be cut off by the Church. That could not be done in this case, because these teachers were not under the jurisdiction of the Galatian Churches. They came to teach them as they were free to do; and all that the Galatians could do was to refuse them a hearing. That this was the apostle's mind may be gathered from the wish he expresses that they would cut themselves off. As they could not be cut off by the Church, let them cut themselves off. As they were only unsettling the Galatian order, let them leave Galatian soil. But he does no more than wish. It was certainly by itself desirable; but it might be the purpose of God that these unsettling teachers should be left there to make trial of the Galatians, and, it might be, thereby to purify and to strengthen them. - R.F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

WEB: Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing.

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