I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel:…
I. THE APOSTLE EXPRESSES AMAZEMENT AT THE CHANGED BEARING OF THE GALATIANS TOWARDS THE GOSPEL. "I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel: only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ? Only in this Epistle are wanting prefatory words of acknowledgment. In the case of the Corinthians he has words of warm acknowledgment, because, notwithstanding irregularities, they were in the main attached to the gospel. But all of attachment to the gospel that the apostle had formerly been thankful for in the Galatians was now so endangered that he can only approach them with a feeling of utter amazement.
1. The fundamental nature of the change. They were removing from him that called them in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel. If this was a different gospel, then we have a description of the gospel of Christ going before. It is the grace of Christ. It is the good offer of pardon and salvation, not on the ground of our merits, but purely on the ground of the sacrifice and merits of Christ. That gospel had been preached in Galatia, and in and by it God had called them unto himself, unto fellowship with himself, unto holiness and happiness. But now they were moving away from him that called them in that gospel unto a different gospel. The difference was that it was no more the pure grace of Christ, but a mixture of grace and works. Their departure from the gospel was not completed, the process was still going on; but it was so fundamental a departure that the apostle marvels at their guilt.
2. The suddenness of the change. They were removing so quickly from him that called them in the gospel unto a different gospel. From the point of their being called up to the present point, their Christian career had certainly been short. But that does not seem sufficient by itself to account for the abruptness with which the apostle breaks in here. God had called them in the gospel, and they had continued in the gospel up to a certain point. From the experience of his second visit, and from information received, he was thinking hopefully of them; when all at once he is informed of apostasy in rapid progress. They were acting with characteristic Gallic mobility. Fickleness is the name applied to it, when the form is evil. A Gallic tribe might be to all appearance contented and prosperous, when, suddenly impelled by the love of change, it would move away to another locality. "Almost all the Gauls," says Caesar, in his account of his Gallic wars, "are given to change." The Galatians themselves were a striking example of this love of change. This characteristic would be in favour of their reception of the gospel at the first. But would they not as easily move away from the gospel? In view of Gallic mobility, the apostle of Christ needed to be as vigorous as the Roman captain was.
3. The unsatisfactoriness of the change. He had said "different gospel" with a certain accommodation. It professed to be a gospel, and he objected to it that it was another kind of gospel. That, however, might seem to contain an admission by him, which he does not wish to make, of there being many gospels, among which a selection might be made. So he hastens to deny that this other kind is a second gospel. He lets it be known that there is only one gospel of Christ. What was being palmed upon them was only misnamed gospel. It was not improving the gospel to add circumcision to it. It was only perverting it, making it no more the gospel of Christ. And this perversion was being palmed upon them by men who had not their real good at heart, whose real character was that of troublers, harassers. They would put upon them a yoke which Christians did not need to bear. And they were men who followed in the track of the preachers of the gospel to break the unity of the Christian communities.
II. THE APOSTLE PRONOUNCES AN ANATHEMA ON PERVERTERS OF THE GOSPEL. "But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema." Anathema is a thing devoted to destruction, or on which a curse is laid. An animal laid on the altar was anathema, i.e. doomed to death. Christ was anathema for us, i.e. given over, and the curse of God fell on him. He supposes two cases: it is implied that they are not actual. The first is the case of a genuine preacher of the gospel - himself or any of his associates. He (others assisting) had preached the gospel among the Galatians. He had been the instrument of God in their conversion and in forming them into Churches. He had given them many proofs of his earnestness. If he - which God forbid! - should be so far left to himself as to turn his back on his previous history as a Christian teacher, if he should profess to have got new light, if he should say that they could be saved on any other ground than the grace of Christ, - then (protecting their liberty even against himself, and protecting the interests of Christ) his feeling with regard to himself, acting in the way supposed, would be, "Let him be anathema." The second is the ease of an angel from heaven. This calls up an image of extraordinary saintliness, greater than that of any of the best men, who are all compassed about with infirmity. What an influence is here supposed to back up a message] If an angel should come among them, fresh from the presence of God, with the atmosphere of heaven around him; if by the saintliness of his life he should succeed in establishing himself beyond all parallel in their affection and confidence; if in this position he should teach that they could be roved on any other ground than the grace of Christ; - then (protecting their liberty, and protecting the interests of Christ) he would say, "Let him be accursed." It might seem that this is asseveration made strong as strong can be; but its strength is yet added to. Reaffirmation of a former anathema. "As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema." At a former time (it may have been on the occasion of his second visit) others had joined with him in pronouncing an anathema which only differs from the foregoing in three minor particulars.
1. It is put in the most general form. "If any man."
2. An actual case is supposed. "If any man preacheth. Wherever they had the opportunity, Judaizing teachers were doing what is denounced.
3. They had affixed their seal to the gospel. It had not only been preached to them, but also received by them. They had from their own experience of it known what it was. The anathema in this form the apostle for himself reaffirms. Being substantially the same as the foregoing, it is thus brought about that a threefold anathema is uttered against perverters of the gospel. Nor is there anything in this inconsistent with good feeling. Let us suppose that one man has in his power the lives of a thousand persons. By applying a match he may be able to throw away all these valuable lives. Better tar that he himself should perish than that by his wickedness a thousand persons should perish. It was not dissimilar in the case of the Galatians. A good work had been going on among them. By the preaching of the gospel many had been brought to the Saviour. If this good work went on, many more, from time to time, would be added to their number. But if these perverters of the gospel succeeded, then all that good work would be spoiled. Better far that they themselves should be wrecked in their interests than that by them hundreds should be wrecked in their interests. There is a solemn warning here to all perverters of the gospel, of whom there are not a few in our day. The curse of God rests on the man who would displace the grace of Christ as the sole ground of a sinner's salvation.
III. THE APOSTLE TURNS HIS USE OF STRONG LANGUAGE INTO AN ARGUMENT AGAINST HIS BEING A MAN-PLEASER. For am I now persuading men, or God? or am I seeking to please men? if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ." His opponents warned men against his persuasive powers. He could make the Jews believe one thing and the Gentiles another. He could prove that circumcision was right and that circumcision was wrong, as it suited him. Against this charge he here, by the way, points the Galatians to the strong language which he has just used, and has not used for the first time. Could it be said in view of that language that he was making it his highest object to persuade men, i.e. without reference to truth, without reference to Divine ends? Was he not rather making it his highest object to persuade God, i.e. so to speak to men as to have the Divine judgment in his favour? His opponents said more widely that he was a man-pleaser, that he sought by unworthy methods to ingratiate himself into men's favour. The strong language he had used could not be construed into man-pleasing. He had got beyond human good will in becoming a servant of Christ. And as a servant of Christ he had known not a little of what it is to want the good opinion and good will of men. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: