Galatians 6 – Notes from John Nelson Darby
Here is the answer to those who then sought, and now seek, to bring in law for sanctification and as a guide: the strength and the rule for holiness are in the Spirit. The law does not give the Spirit. Moreover (for it is evident that these pretensions of observing the law had given liberty to the pride of the flesh) the Christian was not to be desirous of vain-glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
If any one, through carelessness, committed some fault, the Christian’s part was to restore this member of Christ, dear to Christ and to the Christian, according to the love of Christ, in a spirit of meekness, remembering that he himself might fall. If they wished for a law, here was one: to bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (that is, the rule of all His own life here below).
It is not by boasting, when one is nothing, that true glory was acquired. It is but deceiving oneself, says the apostle, in language which, by its simplicity, pours unspeakable contempt on those who did so. These legalists boasted much of themselves, imposed burdens on others; and investing themselves with their Judaic glory-that which was a burden to others, and one which they did not help them to bear, was vain-glory to themselves-they gloried in their Judaism, and in making others subject to it.
But what was their work? Had they laboured really for the Lord? In no wise. Let them prove their own work; then they would have reason to glory in what they had done themselves, if there was any christian work of which they had been the instruments. It certainly would not be in what they were doing then, for it was another who had done the work of Christ in Galatia. And after all, every one should bear his own burden.
The apostle adds a few practical words. He who was taught should, in temporal things, succour those who taught him. Furthermore, although grace was perfect and redemption complete, so that the believer received the Holy Ghost as a seal thereof, God had attached infallible consequences to a man’s walk, be it after the flesh or after the Spirit. The effects followed the cause; and they could not mock God by making a profession of grace or Christianity, if they did not walk according to its spirit, as led, in a word, by the Holy Ghost, who is its practical power. Of the flesh they would reap corruption; of the Spirit, life everlasting. But, as Christians, they must have patience in order to reap, and not grow weary of well-doing: the harvest was sure. Let believers, then, do good to all, especially to those of the house of God.
Paul had written this letter with his own hand-an unusual thing for him. He generally employed others (as Tertius for the epistle to the Romans), dictating to them that which he wished to say, adding the benediction with his own hand, as certifying the correctness of that which was written (1 Cor. 16:21; 2 Thess. 3:17): a remarkable proof of the importance that the apostle attached to his writings, and that he did not send them forth as ordinary letters from man to man, but as being furnished with an authority that required the use of such precautions.
They were carefully invested with the apostolic authority. In this case, full of sorrow, and feeling that the foundations had been overthrown, he wrote the whole with his own hand. Accordingly, in saying this, he returns immediately to the subject which had caused him to do so.
Those who desired to make a fair show after the flesh constrained the Gentiles to be circumcised, in order to avoid the persecution that attached to the doctrine of the cross-to free salvation by Christ. The circumcised were Jews, of a religion known and received even in this world; but to become the disciples of a crucified man, a man who had been hung as a malefactor, and to confess Him as the only Saviour-how could the world be expected to receive it?
But the reproach of the cross was the life of Christianity; the world was judged, it was dead in its sin; the prince of the world was judged, he had only the empire of death, he was (with his followers) the impotent enemy of God. In the presence of such a judgment, Judaism was honourable wisdom in the eyes of the world. Satan would make himself a partisan of the doctrine of one only God; and those who believed in it join themselves to their former adversaries, the worshippers of devils, in order to withstand this new enemy who cast reproach on the whole of fallen humanity, denouncing them as rebels against God, and as devoid of the life which was manifested in Jesus only.
The cross was the sentence of death upon nature; and the Jew in the flesh was offended at it, even more than the Gentile, because he lost the glory with which he had been invested before others on account of his knowledge of the only true God.
The carnal heart did not like to suffer, and to lose the good opinion of the world, in which a certain measure of light was accepted or tolerated by people of sense (and by sincere persons when there was no greater light to be had), provided they did not set up pretensions that condemned everybody, and judged everything which the flesh desired and relied on for its importance. A compromise which more or less accepts the flesh-which does not judge it as dead and lost, which, in however small a degree, will acknowledge that the world and the flesh are its basis-the world will accept.
It cannot hope to strive against the truth that judges the whole conscience, and it will accept a religion that tolerates its spirit and adapts itself to the flesh, which it desires to spare even when painful sacrifices must be made; provided only that the flesh itself be not entirely set aside. Man will make himself a faker-sacrifice his life-provided that it is self that does it, and that God shall not have done the whole in grace, condemning the flesh as incapable of well doing, having nothing good in itself.
The circumcised did not observe the law-that would have been too wearisome, but they desired to glory in proselytes to their religion. In the world the apostle has seen nothing but vanity and sin and death; the spirit of the world, of the carnal man, was morally degraded, corrupt, and guilty, boasting in self, because ignorant of God. Elsewhere he had seen grace, love, purity, obedience, devotedness to the Father’s glory and to the happiness of poor sinners. The cross declared the two things: it told what man was; it told what God was, and what holiness and love were.
But it was the utmost degradation in the eyes of the world, and put down all its pride. It was another who had accomplished it at the cost of His own life, bearing all possible sufferings; so that the apostle could give free course to all the affections of his heart without boasting himself of anything; on the contrary, forgetting himself. It is not self that we glory in when we look at the cross of Christ: one is stripped of self.
It was He who hung upon that cross who was great in Paul’s eyes. The world which had crucified Him was thus seen by the apostle in its true character; the Christ who had suffered on the cross in His likewise. In that cross would the apostle glory, happy, by this means to be dead to the world, and to have the world ended, crucified, put to shame, as it deserved to be, for his heart. Faith in the crucified Son of God overcomes the world.
To the believer the world has its true character; for, in fact, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value (all that has passed away with a dead Christ), but a new creature, according to which we estimate everything as God estimates it. It is to such, the true children of God, that the apostle wishes peace. It was not Israel circumcised after the flesh that was the Israel of God. If there were any of that people who were circumcised in heart, who gloried in the cross according to the sentiments of the new creature, those were the Israel of God. Moreover every true Christian was of them according to the spirit of his walk.
Finally, let no one trouble him with regard to his ministry. He bore the stigmata of the Lord. It is known that marks were printed on a slave with a hot iron to indicate the person to whom he belonged. The wounds which the apostle had received, fully shewed who was his Master. Let his right then to call himself the servant of Christ be no more questioned. Touching appeal from one whose heart was wounded at finding his service to the Master whom he had loved called in question! Moreover, Satan, who imprinted those marks, ought indeed to recognise them-those beautiful initials of Jesus.
The apostle desires that grace be with them (according to the divine love that animated him) as souls dear to Christ, whatever their state might be. But there is no outpouring of heart in greetings affectionately addressed to Christians. It was a duty-a duty of love-which he fulfilled; but for the rest, what bonds of affection could he have with persons who sought their glory in the flesh, and who accepted that which dishonoured Jesus and which weakened and even annulled the glory of His cross? Without any wish of his, the current of affection was checked. The heart turned to the dishonoured Christ, although loving those that were His in Him. This is the real feeling contained in the last verses of this epistle.
In Galatians we have indeed Christ living in us, in contrast with the flesh, or I still living in flesh. But, as systematic truth, we have neither the believer in Christ nor Christ in the believer. We have the Christian’s practical state at the end of chapter 2. Otherwise the whole epistle is a judgment of all return to Judaism, as identical with heathen idolatry. The law and man in the flesh were correlative; law came in between the promise and Christ, the Seed; was a most useful testing of man, but when really known putting him to death, and condemning him. Now this was fully met in grace in the cross, the end in death of man in flesh, of sin, in Christ made sin.
All return to law was giving up both promise and the work of grace in Christ, and going back again to flesh proved to be sin and lost, as if there could be relationship with God in it, denying grace, and denying even the true effect of law, and denying man’s estate proved in the cross. It was heathenism. And days and years, etc., took man up as alive in flesh, was not the end of the old man in the cross in grace.
We have Christ as our life thereupon, or death would leave us of course hopeless. But we have not the christian condition, we in Christ and Christ in us. It is the discussion of the work that brings us there, and where man is, and of vital importance in this respect. Man in the flesh is wholly gone from all relationship with God, and none can be formed: there must be a new creation.