Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 2:5 - 2:5

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 2:5 - 2:5

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Gal_2:5. To whom we. gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.

NEVER, from the foundation of the world, was there, as far as we know, a richer combination of graces in any child of man, than in the Apostle Paul. As in light there is an assemblage of very different rays, which, when in due proportion and in simultaneous motion, cause that bright and pure effulgence which we call light, so in him were found dispositions most opposed to each other, yet so combined as to form in him the most perfect character. Certainly, that which first of all strikes us as constituting the chief trait in his character, is a freedom from all selfish feelings, and a willingness to do or suffer any thing whereby man may be benefited, and God be glorified. Yet, in the passage which we have just read, we see, not only an inflexibility of mind, but such an expression of it as we should scarcely have expected from so mild and kind a man.

When he was at Jerusalem, attended by a young disciple, named Titus, he was urged to have him circumcised; not for the purpose of removing prejudice, and gaining an easier access to the minds of men, but from an idea, that the observance of that rite was necessary to the completion of Christianity, and to the attainment of the Gospel salvation. To such advisers he would not listen for a moment. Whatever might be their rank or influence in the Church, he regarded them not as deserving the slightest deference from him on such a subject [Note: See ver. 6.]; since a compliance with their wishes would vitiate, and altogether invalidate, the Gospel of Christ.

Now, that this inflexibility of his may be duly appreciated, I will shew,

I.       When pertinacity may be considered as unamiable and sinful—

“To be zealously affected always in a good thing is commendable [Note: Gal_4:18.]:” but zeal may be misplaced, and especially when it operates so far as to make a man inflexible. A bold, confident, dogmatical spirit, is at all times unamiable; and especially,

1.       When the object in dispute is questionable or indifferent—

[Some there are, who, on every subject, speak as if they were infallible; and not only claim, what must be conceded to them, a right to think and act for themselves, but a right to impose on others also a necessity to comply with their mind and will. At all events, they themselves are immoveable on almost any subject upon which they have formed even the most hasty opinion: and, if they tolerate, they will never adopt, the sentiments opposed to them. Such were the dispositions manifested by many in the Apostle’s days, especially in reference to some ordinances of the Jewish law; such as the observance of certain days, and the eating of meats offered to idols. So confident were the opposite parties, that, not content with following their own judgment, they each condemned the practice of the other; “the strong despising the weak, and the weak sitting in judgment on the strong [Note: Rom_14:1-3.].” But how did the Apostle Paul act? He knew that neither the observance nor the neglect of such forms could “commend a man to God, or ameliorate his state before God [Note: 1Co_8:8.];” consequently, that he was at liberty to act in relation to them as circumstances might require; but, “rather than use his liberty in a way that should give offence to a weak brother, he would not cat flesh so long as the world should stand [Note: 1Co_8:13.].”

View him on another occasion, towards the close of his life. Being at Jerusalem, where there were “many thousands of Jews zealous of the law, he was advised by James, and all the elders of the Church, to join with four other persons in performing the vows of Nazariteship, according to the law of Moses; in order to shew, that, notwithstanding he had maintained the liberty of the Gentiles to disregard the Mosaic ritual, he was no enemy to it, so far as respected the Jews, who could not yet see that it was abolished. Had he been of a self-willed and a pertinacious mind, he might have urged reasons in plenty, which, in appearance at least, might justify his opposition to this advice. But he had no wish, no will, no way of his own, if, by renouncing it, he might do good, and benefit his fellow-creatures; and therefore “the very next day he commenced the work of purification in the temple, according to the law of Moses [Note: Act_21:20-26.].” (There are, indeed, those who condemn him for this act of conformity. But, as they set up their own judgment against St. James, and all the saints and elders of Jerusalem, I leave them without further remark.)

Now we see, in these instances, how condescending he was to the views and wishes of others; and what that spirit was which he exercised, as contrasted with the unamiable and unchristian spirit of his opponents.]

2.       When the object in dispute is purely temporal and carnal—

[Some will contend about the veriest trifles, wherein their own interest is concerned: and will even glory in their firmness and pertinacity. But this spirit is in direct opposition to the mind of Christ, who says, “If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain [Note: Mat_5:40-41.].” Let us see how St. Paul acted in reference to such matters. He had a right to be supported by the Church to which he ministered. God’s law had actually so appointed, that “they should not muzzle the ox that trod out the corn.” But there were, in the Church, some teachers whose main object was to advance their own interests, and who would not fail to cite him as sanctioning, by his example, their selfish habits. He therefore determined to wave altogether his own rights; and to work night and day for his own support, rather than to afford them such a sanction as they desired [Note: 1Co_9:4-15. 2Co_11:9; 2Co_11:12. 1Th_2:9. 2Th_3:8-9.]. We have a lovely instance of disinterestedness in Mephibosheth, the son of Saul. When David fled from the face of Absalom, Ziba, Mephibosheth’s servant, took his master’s asses laden with provisions, and went with them to David; reporting that his master was now gratified with the hope of David’s death, and of his own restoration to his father’s throne. David, in consequence of this, gave to Ziba all his master’s property. But on David’s return to Jerusalem, Mephibosheth went to meet him; and told him how deeply he had sympathized with the banished monarch, and how scandalously he had been traduced by his servant Ziba. Upon this, David so far recalled his former grant to Ziba, as to order that Mephibosheth and Ziba should divide the property between them. Upon which, Mephibosheth, forgetting all the injuries he had sustained from Ziba, replied, “Let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house [Note: 2Sa_19:30.].” Here we see how all his own personal interests were swallowed up in a sense of love to David, and in a joyful participation of David’s happiness.

Such is the duty of every true Christian. For St. Paul, speaking to those Corinthians who contended for their own rights, and carried their contests into a court of law, tells them that “there was utterly a fault among them;” and then says, “Why do ye not rather take wrong, and suffer yourselves to be defrauded [Note: 1Co_6:7.]?” As for carrying this yielding spirit to excess, we are in no danger of that: our danger is, the not carrying it far enough: for it is impossible not to see, that, in the whole of our Saviour’s life, he never shined more bright than “when, being led as a lamb to the slaughter, he opened not his mouth [Note: Isa_53:7.];” and when he was treated with every species of cruelty upon the cross, he prayed and apologized for his murderers, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do [Note: Luk_23:34.].”]

But, notwithstanding the hatefulness of pertinacity in general, there are seasons,

II.      When it becomes a virtue of prime necessity—

A firmness of character is indispensable in the true Christian: and he must be absolutely “immoveable [Note: 1Co_15:58.],”

1.       When otherwise the obedience of Christ would be violated—

[Not our actions only, but “our very thoughts also, are to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2Co_10:5.].” A command from him supersedes all human authority, and must be obeyed under all circumstances. The Hebrew Youths were required to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image: they were the only persons in the whole Chaldean empire who refused to comply with the royal edict: and they were threatened to be cast into a furnace of fire, it they persisted in their disobedience [Note: Dan_3:16-18.]: yet did they maintain their steadfastness, in despite of all these menaces: and in this they acted as became the servants of the living God. Daniel manifested the same holy boldness, when he was commanded not to offer prayers to Jehovah for the space of thirty days. He had been accustomed to pray with his window open towards the holy city of Jerusalem: and he might have avoided observation, if he would only have shut his window. But he felt himself bound to honour God at all events, and not to dissemble before him. He therefore yielded not to intimidation; but submitted rather to be cast into the den of lions, than to violate his duty to his God [Note: Dan_6:10-11.]. Who does not admire the fortitude of these men, and commend their pertinacity in such a cause? The Apostles of our Lord all maintained the same firmness, when forbidden to preach in the name of Christ. Their governors would probably have connived at their secret adherence to Christ, if only they would forbear to preach his name, and to diffuse their heresy around them. But these holy men had received a commission to preach the Gospel; and execute it they would, whatever perils they might incur in the discharge of their duty. And they appealed to their governors themselves, whether it was right or possible for them to act otherwise: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard [Note: Act_4:18-20.].” Thus we, in our respective situations, may be called upon, by those who are in authority over us, to neglect or violate a positive duty: but we must not give place by subjection, no, not for an hour; but “must obey God rather than man [Note: Act_5:29.];” and must “resist unto blood, striving against sin [Note: Heb_12:4.];” and glory in death itself, when sustained in such a cause [Note: Act_20:24.].]

2.       When otherwise the faith of Christ would be compromised—

[This was the particular point at issue between St. Paul and the Judaizing teachers whom he opposed. He had formerly circumcised Timothy, because he judged that that measure would facilitate his access to his Jewish brethren, and his acceptance with them. But the circumcision of Titus was demanded, as necessary to complete and perfect the Gospel-salvation. To accede to it in that view would have been to betray his trust, as the minister of the Gentiles. He knew that the Mosaic law was abrogated: and, so far would the observance of it be from perfecting the work of Christ, that it would invalidate it altogether [Note: Gal_5:2.], and cause Christ himself to have died in vain [Note: Gal_5:4.]. Could he then yield to such a demand as this? No, not for an hour; not for a moment. On the contrary, if Peter himself were led to dissemble, and to compromise in any respect the faith of Christ, Paul would “rebuke him to his face,” and that too before the whole Church [Note: ver. 11.]: so determined was he to preserve from every base mixture the faith which he had been commissioned to propagate and uphold. Now, this jealousy must we also cherish, in reference to the faith of Christ. We must suffer nothing for a moment to blend itself with the work of Christ, as a ground of our hope before God. The doctrine of human merit must be an utter abomination in our eyes; as robbing Christ of his glory, and as substituting a foundation of sand in the place of the Rock of Ages, There is but one foundation: there can be no other [Note: Act_4:12. 1Co_3:11.]: and if any power on earth could require us to build on any other, or to put so much as a single stone to it of our own forming, we must not listen to him for a moment. The altar was to be built of whole stones, not hewn or wrought by man [Note: Exo_20:25. Deu_27:5-6]; and Christ alone must sanctify our offerings, and procure us acceptance with our God. And so firm must we be in our adherence to him, and so simple in our affiance, that if an angel from heaven were to instill into our minds any doctrine that would interfere with this, we must not hesitate to denounce him as accursed [Note: Gal_1:6-8.]: so “earnestly must we contend for the faith [Note: Jude, ver. 3.],” and so resolutely must we keep it pure and undefiled.]

See, then,

1.       What need we have to get our minds duly enlightened—

[Suppose, for a moment, St. Paul had proved as ignorant or unstable as St. Peter, what evils would have accrued, both to the Church and to the world at large! In fact, the whole faith of Christ would have been subverted; and, if God had not in some other way interposed to prevent it, the whole world would have been ruined. Yet how little is this point considered, by many who nevertheless call themselves Christians! The whole Church of Rome has set aside the faith of Christ, by uniting with Christ other objects of faith and other grounds of hope. It is right, therefore, that every enlightened man should protest against it, and depart from it. But shall we, therefore, justify those who depart from our Church? No; for the faith of Christ, as maintained by our Church, is pure and unadulterated: and we have shewn, that, in matters of minor and subordinate importance, to indulge an unreasonable stiffness and pertinacity is not well: and we ought to have our judgment well informed, so as to discriminate clearly between the foundation and the superstructure. In the superstructure there may be somewhat undesirable, and yet no material injury accrue: but an error in the foundation will be fatal to the whole building: and this is the consideration which alone justifies a determined and uncompromising resistance to the established order of our Church. St. Paul has drawn this line of distinction, and adopted it as the rule of his own conduct; as indeed did James also, and all the other Apostles: and the more we get our views and habits assimilated to theirs, the better members we shall be of the Church of Christ.]

2.       What need we have to get our spirit and conduct duly regulated—

[That same pertinacity which, under some circumstances, is necessary, under others is unbecoming the true Christian. A yielding spirit is lovely: and perhaps we may say, that a yielding temper should be the rule, and a pertinacious spirit the exception. Perhaps too we may say, that men will do well to mark the natural bias of their minds, and in their conduct to lean rather to that side which is opposed to it. A person of a very gentle and yielding spirit should rather lean to the side of firmness in doubtful matters; and a person of a naturally bold and determined spirit should rather cultivate a spirit of compliance: because we are not in danger of erring much in opposition to our natural inclination; and if we do go too far, we have always something within our own bosoms to bring us back: whereas, if we err on the side of our natural bias, we may be precipitated we know not whither, and have nothing to bring us back again to a due equipoise. But, under any circumstances, we must take care not to plead conscience, where, in fact, it is our own will that guides us; and, on the other hand, not to plead Christian liberty, where the path of duty is that of self-denying firmness. But “who is sufficient for these things?” If such men as Peter and Barnabas erred, we had need to cry mightily to God to “direct our feet in the right way,” and to “uphold us in our goings, that our footsteps slip not.”]