See what large letters I am using to write to you with my own hand!
Paul has been urging the Galatians to do good to all men, for now is the seed-time of philanthropy, and the harvest will be afterwards. And now he appeals to them by the "large letters" of this unique Epistle, which seems to have been the only one which was a complete autograph. Though penmanship was a trouble to him, he was yet anxious to do for these Galatians what good he could in the spirit he has been enforcing. But philanthropy has its counterfeits. Consequently he warns them once again against those teachers of ceremonialism, who would have the heathen converts to try to save themselves by Jewish ceremonies. These are merely making tools of them to save themselves. They wish to escape persecution for Christianity. Paul, on the other hand, glories in the cross, and carries in his body the marks of the Crucified One. The following thoughts are here suggested: -
I. THE TOLERATION EXTENDED BY THE HEATHEN WORLD TO JUDAISM. The heathen world was largely latitudinarian. The idea was comprehensive. All gods were to be put in the Pantheon. But among the idolatries of the East, Judaism, a spiritual worship, got a footing. Its synagogues were built side by side with the heathen temples, and they were allowed to worship without molestation. Their proselytism was trifling; their missionary enterprise was unworthy of the name. The heathen could not fear them. Hence their immunity from persecution.
II. THE JEWISH TEACHERS THOUGHT THAT, IF THEY MADE ALL CHRISTIAN CONVERTS JEWISH PROSELYTES, THEY WOULD SECURE CHRISTIANITY FROM PERSECUTION. They did not want to be persecuted for the cross. They wanted to avail themselves of the toleration of Judaism and merge Christianity in it. An emasculated Christianity might escape the persecution which, in its naked simplicity, it was fitted to secure. It was a policy of compromise, begotten of cowardice and fear. Pride went along with it. It would be a grand thing to count up so many converts to Judaism and glory in the growth of circumcision. It was a selfish stroke under the guise of philanthropy.
III. THE ANTAGONISM INDICATED BY THE CROSS. NOW, the cross of Christ is the expression of the antagonism of the world to the self-sacrificing Philanthropist who thus perished. It could not and would not tolerate the person who would not save himself when he had the power. It believes only in those who can take care of number one. As soon, then, as a man like Paul gets into unison with the crucified Christ, as soon as the cross becomes an experience within, and a self-sacrificing spirit takes hold of a man for the sake of doing good to others, that moment the world and he become antagonistic. They cannot get on together. The world is crucified to the person and he to the world. Each wishes to put the other out of the way, and as contemptuously as possible. As soon, therefore, as the world discovered what Christianity meant, that it meant a brotherhood of self-sacrificing philanthropy, it took alarm, for it saw that, if Christianity were not put down, it would put worldliness down. Hence the drawback of persecution attaching to the Christian faith.
IV. IN THIS UNWORLDLY CROSS PAUL GLORIED. He appreciated its efficacy. He recognized its claims. He allowed it to make him unworldly. Hence he made it the sum and substance of his teaching. He preached "Christ crucified" continually. Circumcision was nothing in which to glory. It was a carnal ordinance which might be very carnally administered, and a mere stepping-stone for pride. But the cross of Jesus was an object in which to glory. Its spirit was so unworldly, so self-sacrificing, so noble, that nothing in this world was so worthy of our interest and glorying.
V. HE HAD CHRIST'S HAND UPON HIS BODY. Now, if a man goes in for self-sacrifice, as Paul did, under the spell of Christ's cross, his body will soon show it. There can be no pampering of the flesh. A spiritual soul soon makes the tenement enshrining it to transmit some of its glory. Paul shows the marks of self-sacrifice upon his person. Christ had made him his slave, and put the brand upon him. As Christ's prisoner, he had the seals of office in his person. Consequently, no man need trouble him or try to move him away from his standard, the cross. It is a noble ending to this fine Epistle. May it make all its students to glory in the cross also! - R.M.E.
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.
It has been supposed that some disorder of the eyes made it painful for the apostle to write. Earlier in this Epistle, where he tries to gain these childish Galatians by a recital of his own sorrows for them, he praises their affection by saying, "I bear you record that if it had been possible ye would have plucked out your own eyes and have given them to me." In the adjoining sentence he speaks of the "temptation in his flesh," for which they neither despised nor rejected him, but entertained him "as an angel of God." Doubtless the use of the pen or style was costly to his comfort. All the better if it only helps in the least degree to draw them, through his Christlike sacrifice in their behalf, nearer to Christ Himself. Suppose he had not been so thoughtful; suppose he had just followed the custom and had dictated his letter to an amanuensis —every truth recorded, every appeal for fidelity, every part of the intellectual demonstration of the doctrine would have stood there just as it stands now. Nothing of the literal contents of the message he was bidden to deliver would have been lost. And yet one thing would not have been there. The Galatian reader, and we here, would have missed the sign-manual of personal interest and personal sympathy so vividly and yet so delicately stamped on the whole face of the manuscript in the painstaking writing of his "own hand." There is the additional power of personal feeling and personal character. The secret value is not what we say in words; it is not in our specific actions, much less in our professions. Terms are not competent to define it. Science has never analyzed it. Yet there it is — the personal quality, a power that is perpetually and mightily at work wherever men are, for or against the Love and Truth of God. It is the thing, too, which more than all else makes people love one another, unites them in companionships, and colours society. Mere abstract truth is not sufficient to change men's motives, to rouse their hearts or to save their souls. The gospel is not delivered to us as a mere string of propositions, however striking, however true, however inspired — and we may be thankful it is not. For no such treatise, law-book, moral philosophy, "Aids to Reflection," or "Whole Duty of Man," call it a gospel or by any other name — would ever have led the race from darkness to light, or lifted it up from death to life. As a matter of history, that never happened. True enough, we have our gospel, our Christianity through a book. It is a "Word of Life," but it is more. The Word is "made flesh" in the Person Christ. He is the gospel. It was not Christianity that regenerated mankind and changed the face of the earth; it was Christ. We have much more than a Book. We have even that through living men; it brings before us living characters — men whose personality was taken up by the Holy Ghost and made part of the vehicle of Revelation. I take it that what was personal to each one of the twelve men that were grouped about our Lord was put there in order to give the glad tidings of His life to mankind in a twelvefold shape, so that it would be "twelve manner of fruits" for the healing of many nations. Peter's impulsiveness, John's ardour, Philip's curiosity, Matthew the publican's sagacity, the square-dealing of James, every peculiarity amongst them all was just as much a part of the apparatus of Revelation as the words of the Beatitudes, or the stone tables of the law. The Bible, all through it, is quick and brilliant with these personal tokens. There were occasions, too, in Christ's intercourse with His followers when, beyond anything that could be described in words, His personal soul went into His manner, motions, glances, yielding marvellous effects. His "Follow Me," His "Daughter, be of good cheer," His look at Peter, His woes upon the Pharisees, His aspect before the trained soldiers of the imperial army, sent out to arrest Him, are instances. Since His ascension, in every land and period, Christian piety has been vigorous in preportion to the attachment and devotion to the Saviour's person. It is the vital aroma of the best hymns of the ages. It sheds the holiest unction into the most memorable sermons. If there is a personal power like this in the faith of Christ at all, we are not Christ's true followers till we have it and use it. Which of us has come in and goes out in a personal communion, face to face, with God, holding the promises, doing the service, with his own hand?
Which of us will return this week, to business, to study, to housework, to society, with new personal purposes, more truly Christ's follower, more thoroughly in earnest in keeping this world. under foot, and so using it for God as to mount up by it to heavenly places?
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