“Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation, which was in my flesh, ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? For I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.”
“Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?”—Not the blessedness ye SPEAK of, but past tense: “ye spake of.” It was a blessedness, which they had had, and had lost; and so it was no more a blessedness, which ye speak of, but only which “ye spake of.”
This was the blessing of Abraham—the blessedness of justification by faith; for they had received the true gospel; they had believed in Christ, and thus they knew that Christ had redeemed them from the curse of the law, that the blessing of Abraham might come on them through Jesus Christ, and that they might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. All this they had experienced. But, by the delusions of the false gospel of “the Pharisees which believed,” they had been “bewitched” and driven back from the purity of faith unto justification by works.
This is plain from Paul’s appeal, in the first verses of the third chapter: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? . . . He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
But “to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Rom. 4:5-8.
This “blessedness” is the blessedness which the Galatians had known when they were Christians; but from which they had been drawn away. And now, it was only a memory: only a blessedness which they had spoken of, but which they could not, as a present thing, speak of. This, because faith, and all that is of faith, is only a living, present thing. Faith is the breath of the spiritual life; and when faith is gone, that spiritual life is gone. It must be constantly present, in constant, active motion, to avail for any soul.
This “the Pharisees which believed” did not know; for they had not true faith: they knew not what it is to live by faith. They thought that justification by faith consisted in forgiveness and justification of the sins that are past; but that, being once thus justified, they must live by works. They thought that justification is obtained by faith, but is kept by works. And into this delusion and loss of faith they had persuaded the Galatian Christians, but with the dreadful result of the loss of the blessedness of righteousness by faith, and their relapse into the darkness of heathenism—into the bondage of sin and the works of the flesh.
And that experience is illustrative of the everlasting truth,—and it is written for the instruction of all the people as to that everlasting truth—that righteousness by faith, true justification by faith, is righteousness and justification by divine, ever-living, present faith, “and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
While the Galatians enjoyed this blessedness, its fruit appeared in the love, which they showed to Paul. This love was the very self-sacrificing love of Christ—the abundant love of God shed abroad indeed in the heart, by the Spirit, which they had received. Seeing the apostle in need of eyes, they would gladly have plucked out their own and given them to him, if such a thing could have been done.
But now, what a change! From that height of blessedness they are driven back into such a condition that he is counted an enemy, because he tells them the truth; so that he is obliged to appeal to them: “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”
And this is yet the mark of the Galatian, wherever he may be—the mark of the man professing Christianity, but who is not justified by faith, who has not the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ. Whoever tells him the truth, in that becomes his enemy, and is so counted by him. This, because he does “not obey the truth:” he is not in the way of truth; he does not know the truth. Therefore, truth can not be to him the sole standard and the supreme test: only himself in his own personal preferences and ambitions, and his own self-righteousness, can be the standard. And whoever tells him the truth, especially if it be unpleasant, is counted as making a personal attack on him, and is therefore counted only an enemy.
But the man who is the Christian, who is, indeed and in truth, justified by faith of Jesus Christ; who lives by the faith of Jesus Christ; who is righteous only by the faith of Christ, and the righteousness of God, which is by faith—such a one will always count as his friend, or his brother, the one who tells him the truth. However far it may show him himself to be wrong, however directly he himself may be involved, yet he will thankfully receive the truth, whatever it may be, however it may come, and by whomever it may be that tells him. This is because the truth is his whole and his only salvation. It is the truth, which makes him free. The truth is the only Way he has in which to walk. The love of the truth is his only incentive, the Spirit of truth, his only guide.
But, as we have seen, this blessed condition—this condition of “blessedness”—the Christians of Galatia had lost, and so had again become only Galatians, because they had lost true faith, and had been turned from faith to works as the way of life and salvation. And this loss of true faith was the loss of the Christ within; for he dwells in the heart by faith. Eph. 3:17. And because of their forlorn condition, which they did not realize, Paul longed for them as a mother for her children; and, in the depth of his longing, expressed their deep need: “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” The Christ within is what they had lost. To the experience of Christ within they must be restored, or they were lost. And this is simply the gospel, which, in itself, is “Christ in you the hope of glory.”
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | May 22, 1900]