Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 2:10 - 2:10

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 2:10 - 2:10

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Gal_2:10. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

THE circumstances to which my text refers, were very peculiar. St. Paul, in conformity with the commission given him by the Lord, had preached his Gospel to the Gentiles, whilst the other Apostles confined chiefly their ministrations to the Jews: and, knowing that the ceremonial law had never been given to the Gentiles, he neither required of them the observance of it, nor observed it himself. But now, after fourteen years, he went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas his fellow-labourer; and, being aware that his having neglected and dispensed with the ceremonial law was likely to excite prejudice against him amongst the Jews, he sought a private interview with the chief Apostles first, in order that he might explain to them the reasons of his conduct, and through them remove all objections from the minds of others. Having succeeded in this, he desired to know whether they, with all their superior advantages, could give him any additional instruction: but they frankly acknowledged, that they could add nothing to him; and all that they had to request of him was, that “he would remember the poor; which he of himself was most forward to do.”

Now, from hence I will take occasion to shew you,

I.       In what respects difformity is admissible—

The difference between St. Paul’s ministrations, and those of the other Apostles, was exceeding great—

[St. Paul, as we have said, dispensed with the Jewish laws altogether; whilst the other Apostles observed them. Now this difference, if Paul had not acted with consummate prudence, would have made an irreconcileable breach between them. Nor do we blame the other Apostles for the jealousy they exercised on this occasion. They had received the law from God; and were told, in that very law, that “every one who should presumptuously neglect it in any respect, should be cut off from the people of the Lord [Note: Num_15:30.].” They did not, as yet, clearly see that the law had been abrogated by the Lord: much less was this known to the Jews in general at Jerusalem. Still, however, it was so far understood, that all acknowledged, that the difference between Paul and them was, under existing circumstances, admissible. They saw, as Paul himself also did, that an uniform practice at Jerusalem was expedient: and therefore St. Paul himself, whilst at Jerusalem, observed the law, as well as others: yea, many years after this, he even joined himself to others who had made a vow to purify themselves as Nazarites, and purified himself together with them [Note: Act_21:23-24.]. But, amongst the Gentiles, such observances were regarded as altogether indifferent; and therefore were neither required by him from others, nor retained in his own practice.]

Now this is the precise path adopted by the Church of England—

[The Church of England has its rites, its forms, its ceremonies; but they are as few, and as simple, as can be imagined. Nor does she require them to be observed by any but her own members. Others, who judge them inexpedient, are left to adopt any other rites which in their minds and consciences they prefer. And in this the Church of England differs altogether from the Church of Rome, which insists on an universal observance of all her forms; and denounces, as heretics, and consigns over to perdition, all who differ from her. Every society under heaven has rules established for its own government, and expects its members to conform to them; else there would be nothing, in any society, but disorder and confusion. And the Church of England fitly requires this: and I hesitate not to say, that her members generally, and her ministers in particular, are bound in conscience to adhere to them. But, where a diversity of circumstances calls for a diversity of habits, there the rules, by which we were previously bound, are relaxed; and a difference of conduct may readily be admitted [Note: Presbyterianism is the Established Church in Scotland; and the king, George IV. as became a wise, and candid, and tolerant monarch, attended divine worship at the Kirk.].

The true medium for our adoption is this; to think for ourselves; but neither to be intolerant nor rigid. The whole college of Apostles at Jerusalem observed the law themselves, but tolerated the non-observance of it in others. St. Paul, on the other hand, knowing that the law was no longer obligatory on him, observed it, because he would not give needless offence by refusing to conform to the established usages. This was a becoming spirit in both: and if this spirit prevailed amongst us, as it ought, we should see very little of separation from the Established Church, and no want of cordiality towards those who judged themselves constrained to differ from her [Note: See the 34th Article.].]

Thus we see how far they were agreed to differ. Now let us see,

II.      In what respects uniformity is indispensable—

In doctrine they were all agreed. All preached repentance, and remission of sins in the name of Jesus Christ. And in this can no difference be admitted; seeing there is no “other foundation whereon any man can build, but Jesus Christ [Note: 1Co_3:11.];” “nor any other name given, whereby any man can be saved [Note: Act_4:12.].” Hence, when Peter countenanced an idea that an observance of the law was necessary, and thereby obscured and endangered the purity of the Gospel, St. Paul reproved him to his face before the whole Church [Note: ver. 11.]. So far from tolerating any thing that should supersede the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, St. Paul denounced a curse even against an angel from heaven, if one should be found to publish any doctrine that would interfere with this. Uniformity in this respect, therefore, was taken for granted. But we have in our text one point insisted on by those at Jerusalem, and cordially acceded to on the part of Paul; namely, the universal necessity of exercising love, and especially to the destitute and distressed. This was the only point which they specified, as indispensably necessary to the Christian character: on which, therefore, they required that no difference whatever should exist. Of this, then, I must say,

1.       It is, by the unanimous judgment of all the Apostles, recommended to you—

[It is absolutely essential to piety, that it exert itself in a way of tender sympathy and self-denying energy towards all the members of Christ’s mystical body. If we exercise not ourselves in this way, we in vain profess to have love either towards God or man. We have none towards God: for St. John says, “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him [Note: 1Jn_3:17.]?” Nor can we have any real love towards our fellow-creature: for St. James saith, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding, ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit [Note: Jam_2:15-16.]?” Nor, in fact, can we have any true religion at all: for St. James again saith: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction [Note: Jam_1:27.].” Indeed, I must add yet further, that we can have no hope before God in the day of judgment: for our Lord will say to those who have neglected these offices of love, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me: and therefore depart accursed into everlasting fire [Note: Mat_25:40-41.].” I do then most solemnly recommend to you, my brethren, that you very especially attend to this duty at all times, and under all circumstances. And, when I strike this chord, saying, “Remember the poor,” I do hope that in your hearts there will be found a corresponding string, that shall vibrate at the touch; and that every one of you will reply, ‘This is the very thing which I myself am forward to do.’]

2.       It is that which the present occasion more particularly calls for— [Note: Here state the particulars of the Charity for which you plead; and urge on the audience either its necessities or its use.] To conclude—Unite in your own hearts the blessed dispositions which are here exhibited. Cultivate,

1.       A spirit of candour towards those who differ from you—

[There is in many a narrowness of mind, like that of the Apostles, when “they forbad a man to cast out devils, because he followed not with them.” It cannot be expected that all should think alike on matters of minor importance: nor should you be grieved with any because they move not exactly in your way. There is no need that you should adopt the forms of those who differ from you: you must all judge and act for yourselves: but you should concede to others the liberty which you claim; and “bid God speed to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”]

2.       A spirit of benevolence towards those who need your aid—

[If you are richer than others, consider yourselves as the Lord’s stewards; and do not stay till you are called upon, and then “give your alms grudgingly and of necessity;” but “be glad to distribute, and willing to communicate;” remembering that blessed saying of our Lord, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”]