Notes on the Epistle to the Galatians*

THE occasion of the Epistle to the Galatians was the evil effect of the activity of certain Christians, who contended for the permanency of the Jewish law, asserting that true faith in Christ was not sufficient for salvation. Thus they taught, that, after having abandoned paganism and idolatry, and after being baptized-thus linking themselves with the Christian assembly-those who believed must be circumcised, and must observe all the precepts of the law of Moses, otherwise they could not be saved. (See Acts 15:11And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. (Acts 15:1).) To this false and evil teaching was added the rejection of the ministry and the apostleship of Paul, who, said they, had not been sent by Peter and the other apostles. They insisted upon apostolic succession, as is so much done in these days.
(* Translated from the Italian.)
Now Paul did not retreat before this attack, an attack, moreover, which he encountered everywhere. But in this case all the Galatians were led away by the evil, and Paul presents the point of the sword to the enemy-for it was indeed the work of the enemy of souls-in order that the truth of the gospel might remain with these poor deceived ones. He insists that it is impossible to combine the law and the gospel, although the latter fully confirms the authority of the former, as given of God. He who is under the law must needs fulfill it, and do all that it requires, but then it follows that Christ is dead in vain.
Moreover, he declared apostolic succession to be a fable, that ministry has not its source in a mission of men, nor by men, but, is, on the contrary, derived immediately from Christ Himself, and from God, by the power and operation of the Holy Ghost. Paul boasts in his independence of Peter and the other apostles, with which they reproached him, as though he lacked something, refusing his apostolic authority, which Paul drew immediately from the Lord. It is thus he begins his epistle.
It is remarkable that Paul was more troubled when considering the state of the Galatians, who were putting themselves under law, than he was as to the Corinthians, who were walking very badly. He would not go to Corinth, but he said all the good he could of them, in order to recall them to a walk becoming Christianity. But here he at once sets himself against the evil into which the Galatians had fallen, without one gracious word (if we except the blessing with which he began all his epistles), without salutations at the close, without one word of affection, which nevertheless filled his heart: all is dry and severe. Was it because the apostle's love had grown cold? On the contrary, it was because he was full of love: he clearly shows it, for, he was ready to travail in birth again with them, and he does it. Moses had not been able to bear the burden of the people, and had refused the thought of having begotten them even once.
The Galatians were abandoning the foundations of the Christian faith, with respect, at least, to the means of applying its efficacy to the soul. They had not forsaken the truth as to the Person of Christ, nor the faith which owns Him; but, as regards the justification of the soul, they had totally abandoned the ground of faith. They did not believe in the sufficiency of the work of Christ, without adding to it the observance of the law of Moses-source of all the corruption that has been introduced into the church, not perhaps, under the same form, and openly, but the same in its governing principle. According to this principle, works are necessary for justification, and blessing is obtained through ordinances.
And the difference is a fundamental one. The one system makes life flow from the operation of the Spirit of God by means of the word, the other from ordinances and works of man. The one presents man as a sinner who needs to be born again, which is effected by the Spirit of God and by the word; it shows that, having been called by the grace of God, the believer finds himself perfectly and forever justified through the blood of Christ, that is to say, through the work that He has accomplished on the cross, and is accepted in Him before God-a new man, created in Christ unto good works, which manifest the life he has received. The other system teaches that sinful man is born again in the ordinance of baptism, and is forgiven when as yet he has committed no sins: then he receives grace through various ordinances, is from time to time pardoned afresh through the sacrament of penance for some small venial sins, and also when he receives the host, and finally, goes into purgatory to be punished, so that God may be satisfied by the amount of suffering, according to the sins committed.* In this system life is obtained by one's own works, with the help of sacraments. The other teaches that the believer has a perfect justification before God, through the work of Christ, in whom he believes, and partaking of the divine life, and being sealed by the Holy Ghost, he has peace with God, and he awaits the coming of Christ to take him to be in heaven with Himself, where He has gone to prepare a place for us. The apostle insists upon this truth of justification by faith, and that there is in us a new creation, a new life, asserting that if anything is added to Christ, salvation being sought by one's own obedience, Christ is dead in vain. It is another gospel, which cannot be gospel. But let us attentively examine what he says.
(* The common thought, that the flames of purgatory purify the soul, is opposed to true catholic doctrine: those who are not justified are not consigned to it; such go to hell.)