Through unbelief and distrust of the promise of God in his covenant with Abraham, the eyes of Sarah and Abraham were hidden from seeing the truth and blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, God’s everlasting covenant. Therefore, the real truth and spirit of that covenant they must be taught. Through the disappointing experience of Sarai’s scheme in bringing in Hagar and her son Ishmael, Sarah and Abraham were brought to sincerely trust in the promise of God by which they received the child of promise; and by which Abraham was enabled to see the day of Christ, and, in seeing it, to rejoice and be glad. (John 8:56).
Through the darkness of Egypt, which was upon their minds and hearts, —the darkness of unbelief and self-righteousness, —Israel at Sinai could not discern the truth and blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. “All this they must be taught.” By their experience in the covenant at Sinai, they were brought to the knowledge of themselves, of “their need of the Saviour revealed in the Abrahamic covenant and shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings,” and “were prepared to appreciate the blessings of the new covenant.”
Through the darkness of Egypt, which was upon their minds and hearts, —the darkness of unbelief and self-righteousness, —Israel before Calvary, and at Calvary, and “the Pharisees, which believed” after Calvary, could not discern the Saviour revealed in the Abrahamic covenant and shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings—the blessings of the new covenant. All this they must be taught. And by Stephen, and especially by Paul; and by the church in council at Jerusalem, and especially by inspiration in the epistle to the Galatians, they were taught that there was not to be put upon the necks of Christians the yoke which neither their fathers nor themselves were able to bear; but that Christians are to stand fast in the freedom of the Abrahamic covenant, —God’s everlasting covenant, —“the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.”
Therefore it is written: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.”
It is the truth that Timothy was circumcised, and it is also the truth that Christ did profit Timothy unto the very fullness of the salvation of God. How, then, can it be true that “if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing,” and yet Timothy be both circumcised and profited by Christ?
The key to this problem lies in the purpose for which circumcision was employed. The Pharisees, which believed, who had confused the Galatians, and were making this contention against Paul, “taught the brethren, and said, ‘Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1). With them, then, circumcision was the means of salvation; and to be saved was the object in the circumcision. And how entirely salvation was made to depend upon circumcision is shown in the fact that this was said to persons who were already saved by the faith of Jesus Christ.
The Galatians had heard the gospel in its purity, preached by Paul. They had believed the gospel; and in that they had believed on the Lord Jesus, and had received him as their Saviour. Thus, they were already saved by faith in Christ; for by that they received the gospel, which is “the power of God unto salvation [working salvation] to every one that believeth.” And it was to these Christians who were already saved by Christ, through the faith of Christ, —to these it was that “the Pharisees, which believed” had said, “Except ye be circumcised . . . ye cannot be saved.”
This was, therefore, nothing else than to put circumcision above Jesus Christ as the way of salvation. It was to set Christ aside as the Saviour, and to put circumcision in his place as the savior. Therefore it is perfectly plain, in itself, that whosoever was circumcised under that scheme and for that purpose, Christ would profit him nothing; because, in the very process, he set Christ aside for circumcision; he repudiated Christ as the Saviour, and took circumcision as his savior.
And while that controversy was going on, as yet unsettled, Paul would not give countenance for a moment to any suggestion to circumcise Titus, or anybody else. But when the controversy had been settled by the Holy Spirit, and the decree had been published by the Holy Spirit from the council at Jerusalem, that people are saved by Christ, without circumcision, and where there was no question of salvation in the circumcision that was performed, —then Paul circumcised Timothy, so that a wider door should be open to both Paul and Timothy in the preaching of the gospel without circumcision.
Now, with those “Pharisees, which believed” circumcision was the badge, the seal, the very pinnacle of works, of self-righteousness, and of salvation by works of self-righteousness. And these works included the law, —all law, moral and ceremonial, which the Lord had given, —and the ceremonies, which the Pharisees had heaped upon all that, the Lord had given. So that the scheme meant justification, salvation, by “law” and works of law, by ceremonialism, not by Christ and the faith of Christ. Therefore exactly as he wrote of circumcision, so now he writes of law: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by law; ye are fallen from grace.” The Greek is nomo law, in general: not ho nomou, the law, in particular.
In this controversy the question was not whether it is right or wrong to keep the law of God. The question is whether or not men are justified, saved, by works of law, whatever law it may be. These people were already saved by Christ, and by faith in him; and now, to those who were saved by Christ, and by faith alone in him, these “Pharisees, which believed” insisted that these must be circumcised, and keep the law, in order to be saved.
This was putting the law, the keeping of the law, above Christ. It was, in fact, the setting aside of Christ as Saviour, and putting in his place as the Saviour their own works of law. And therefore, plainly enough, in the very fact of so doing they were “fallen from grace.” For, for any one to turn from Christ, for any purpose whatever, —and, above all, for the purpose of being saved, —is most definitely to fall from grace.
And all this is true forever. Men are never saved by any of their own works in the keeping of any law. They are saved alone by Christ, and the faith of Christ: saved to the uttermost.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | August 14, 1900]