As we have now passed the preliminaries, and have come to the study of the real substance of the book of Galatians, the first thing to be noted is the surpassing value of what is here to be studied. This is made known in chapter 1 in those remarkable words. “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8, 9).
This shows that if there could be any distinctions made among books of the Bible, then of all places in the Bible, the gospel, in its perfect sincerity, would be found in the book of Galatians. It would be found that whatever might be done with other books of the Bible, it must stand that in the book of Galatians the gospel is presented in such truth that even an angel from heaven could not alter it without incurring the curse. This being so, surely a study of the book of Galatians should enlist the most earnest attention and the deepest interest of every one who loves the gospel of Christ.
In our studies we have reached chapter 2:15. And, after the introduction, here, in Paul’s appeal to Peter upon principle, is where the real consideration of the gospel upon its merits is first entered upon. So much so is this, that it is acknowledged by some of the best scholars that it is impossible to tell just where Paul’s speech to Peter ends and his definite word to the Galatians begins. This indeed is natural enough; because Paul’s address to Peter was an argument and an appeal for “the truth of the gospel” (Gal.2:14), and the letter to the Galatians is the same identical thing. Therefore as his address and appeal to Peter was in very substance what his address and appeal must be to the Galatians, there was no need of any definite break to mark the point at which his direct word to Peter ceased and that to the Galatians began. Accordingly, after the introduction, chapter 2:15 is where is begun the direct re-presentation of the gospel to the Galatians.
“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:15, 16).
The word “law,” as used in these two verses is not any particular law demanding the definite article, “the law”; but in Greek is simply the word “law”—nomos—without any article. The word-for-word rendering is thus: —
“We Jews by nature, and not sinners of [the] nations, knowing that a man is not justified by works of law [nomou]; but through faith of Jesus Christ, also we on Christ Jesus believed, that we might be justified by faith of Christ, and not by works of law [nomou]; because shall not be justified by works of law [nomou] any flesh.”
By this it is plain that it is law in general, the idea of law, that is considered in this text; that men are not justified by any law at all, nor by all law together; but solely by faith of Jesus Christ without any works of any law whatever. Evidently it could not be otherwise. For to specify some particular law, and assert that men were not justified by that law, would leave the question open to the implication that men might be justified by some other law. But “the truth of the gospel” is that men cannot be justified by any law at all, nor by all laws together; but only by the faith of Christ; simply by believing in Jesus.
The vital point in this appeal to Peter is not discerned without careful attention. It is this: We who are Jews by nature, who have all the advantages that pertain to the Jews, whose are the fathers, and the covenants, and the laws, and the ordinances, all given by the Lord himself directly to the Jews—we who are thus Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles; “even we have believed in Jesus Christ that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law; for by the works of law shall no flesh be justified.” The very fact that we Jews, with all the native advantages of all the laws of the Jew, have believed in Jesus Christ that we might be justified by faith, —this in itself is open confession and positive evidence that there is no justification in law.
And when this is so with us Jews who have all these advantages, what else can possibly be the hope of the Gentiles who have no shadow of any such advantage? When “even we” must be justified by faith, how much more must the Gentiles be justified by faith! When we who have all these laws cannot be justified by them, but must be justified by faith, without them, what shall the Gentile do who has none of these laws at all, if he is not to be justified by faith without them? And when we have confessed that we cannot be justified by these laws, how can we ask the Gentiles, which we ourselves were not able to bear, and which, by the liberty of the faith of Christ, we have thrown off? Therefore, “if thou, being a Jew, live after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews” —if you have abandoned the ground of the Jews, which, in order to be justified, is the right thing to do, and have gone over to the ground of the Jews, which, in order to be justified, is the right way to do, and have gone over to the ground of the Gentiles, why will you require the Gentiles to abandon their ground, and go over to that of the Jews, which we have confessed must be abandoned?
All this was simply, in other words, the very argument that Peter himself had made in his statement of the truth of the gospel in his own experience, in the council at Jerusalem. “Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, which knows the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them [note: not between them and us; but “between us and them], purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” Note again: not they shall be saved even as we; but we shall be saved, even as they. And “they” were justified by faith without the deeds of any law—they must be; for they did not have any; and “we,” the Jews, being saved even as they, must be justified by faith without the deeds of any law, even though “we” had all the laws that ever were. (Acts 15:7-11).
Thus by the instruction of God and the demonstration of the Holy Spirit, it was made plain to all that Jew and Gentile are saved in precisely the same way—by a common faith in Jesus Christ, without any deeds of any law; and that by this faith of Jesus Christ the middle wall of partition between them is annihilated, and all are made one with God and with one another in the blessedness, the righteousness, and the joy of the glorious gospel of the blessed, and the joy of the glorious gospel of the blessed God, who is blessed, and shall be blessed forevermore. Amen.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | October 3, 1899]