THE greetings and benedictions of the Apostolic Letters deserve more attention from us than they sometimes receive. We are apt to pass over them as if they were a kind of pious formality, like the conventional phrases of our own epistles. But to treat them in such fashion is to do injustice to the seriousness and sincerity of Holy Scripture. This salutation of "Grace and Peace" comes from Paul’s very heart. It breathes the essence of his gospel.
This formula appears to be of the Apostle’s coining. Other writers, we may believe, borrowed it from him. Grace represents the common Greek salutation, - joy to you, χαιρειν changing to the kindred χαρις; while the more religious peace of the Hebrew, so often heard from the lips of Jesus, remains unaltered, only receiving from the New Covenant a tenderer significance. It is as though East and West, the old world and the new, met here and joined their voices to bless the Church and people of Jesus Christ.
Grace is the sum of all blessing bestowed by God; peace, in its wide Hebraic range of meaning, the sum of all blessing experienced by man. Grace is the Father’s good will and bounty in Christ to His undeserving children; peace, the rest and reconcilement, the recovered health and gladness of the child brought home to the Father’s house, dwelling in the light of his Father’s face. Grace is the fountain of redeeming love; peace is the "river of life proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb," that flows calm and deep through each believing soul, the river whose "streams make glad the city of God."
What could a pastor wish better for his people, or friend for the friend he loves most, than this double blessing? Paul’s letters are perfumed with its fragrance. Open them where you will, they are breathing out, "Grace to you and peace." Paul has hard things to write in this Epistle, sorrowful complaints to make, grievous errors to correct; but still with "Grace and peace" he begins, and with "Peace and grace" he will end! And so this stern and reproachful letter to these "foolish Galatians" is all embalmed and folded up in grace and peace. That is the way to "be angry and sin not." So mercy rejoices over judgment.
These two benedictions, we must remember, go together. Peace comes through grace. The proud heart never knows peace; it will not yield to God the glory of His grace. It scorns to be a debtor, even to Him. The proud man stands upon his rights, upon his merits. And he will have them; for God is just. But peace is not amongst them. No sinful child of man deserves that. Is there wrong between your soul and God, iniquity hidden in the heart? Till that wrong is confessed, till you submit to the Almighty and your spirit bows at the Redeemer’s cross, "what hast thou to do with peace?" No peace in this world, or in any world, for him who will not be at peace with God. "When I kept silence," so the ancient confession runs, [Psalms 32:3-5] "my bones waxed old through my moaning all the day long"-that is why many a man is old before his time! because of this continual inward chafing, this secret, miserable war of the heart against God. "Day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture was turned into the drought of summer"-the soul withered like grass, all the freshness and pure delight of life wasted and perishing under the steady, unrelenting heat of the Divine displeasure. "Then I said"-I could bear it no longer-"I said, I will confess my transgression unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." And then peace came to the weary soul. The bitterness and hardness of life were gone; the heart was young again. The man was new born, a child of God.
But while Paul gives this salutation to all his Churches, his greeting is extended and qualified here in a peculiar manner. The Galatians were falling away from faith in Christ to Jewish ritualism. He does not therefore wish them "Grace and peace" in a general way, or as objects to be sought from any quarter or by any means that they might choose; but only "from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins." Here is already a note of warning and a tacit contradiction of much that they were tempted to believe. It would have been a mockery for the Apostle to desire for these fickle Galatians grace and peace on other terms. As at Corinth, so in Galatia, he is "determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Above the puerilities of their Jewish ritual, above the pettiness of their wrangling factions, he directs his reader’s gaze once more to the sacrifice of Calvary and the sublime purpose of God which it reveals.
Do we not need to be recalled to the same sight? We live in a distracted and distracting age. Even without positive unbelief, the cross is too frequently thrust out of view by the hurry and press of modern life. Nay, in the Church itself is it not in danger of being practically set on one side, amidst the throng of competing interests which solicit, and many of them justly solicit, our attention? We visit Calvary too seldom. We do not haunt in our thoughts the sacred spot, and linger on this theme, as the old saints did. We fail to attain "the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings"; and while the cross is outwardly exalted, its inward meaning is perhaps but faintly realised. "Tell us something new," they say; "that story of the cross, that evangelical doctrine of yours, we have heard it so often, we know it all so well!" If men are saying this, if the cross of Christ is made of none effect, its message staled by repetition, we must be strangely at fault either in the hearing or the telling. Ah, if we knew the cross of Christ, it would crucify us; it would possess our being. Its supremacy can never be taken from it. That cross is still the centre of the world’s hope, the pillar of salvation. Let the Church lose her hold of it, and she loses everything. She has no longer any reason to exist.
1. So the Apostle’s greeting invites his readers to contemplate anew the Divine gift bestowed upon sinful men. It invokes blessing upon them "from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins."
To see this gift in its greatness, let us go a little farther back; let us consider who the Christ is that thus "gives Himself." He is, we are taught, the almoner of all the Divine bounties. He is not the object alone, but the depository and dispenser of the Father’s good pleasure to all worlds and all creatures. Creation is rooted in "the Son of God’s love". [Colossians 1:15-18] Universal life has its fountain in "the Only-begotten, which is in the bosom of the Father." The light that dispelled the weltering gloom of chaos, the more wondrous light that shone in the dawn of human reason, came from this "outbeaming of the Father’s glory." Countless gifts had He, "the life of men, the Word that was from the beginning," bestowed on a world that knew Him not. Upon the chosen race, the people whom on the world’s behalf he formed for Himself, He showered His blessings. He had given them promise and law, prophet and priest and king, gifts of faith and hope, holy obedience and brave patience and deep wisdom and prophetic fire and heavenly rapture; and His gifts to them have come through them to us, "partakers with them of the root and fatness of the olive tree."
But now, to crown all, He gave Himself! "The Word became flesh." The Son of God planted Himself into the stock of human life, made Himself over to mankind; He became the Son of man. So in the fulness of time came the fulness of blessing. Earlier bestowments were instalments and prophecies of this; later gifts are its outcome and its application. What could He have done more than this? What could the Infinite God do more, even for the most worthy, than He has done for us in" sending His Son, the Only-begotten, that we might live through Him!" Giving us Him, surely He will give us grace and peace.
And if our Lord Jesus Christ "gave Himself," is not that sufficient? What could Jewish ritual and circumcision add to this "fulness of the Godhead"? Why hunt after the shadows, when one has the substance? Such were the questions which the Apostle has to ask his Judaising readers. And what, pray, do we want with modern Ritualism, and its scenic apparatus, and its priestly offices? Are these things designed to eke out the insufficiency of Christ? Will they recommend Him better than His own gospel and the pure influence of His Spirit avail to do in these latter days? Or have modern thought, to be sure, and the progress of the nineteenth century carried us beyond Jesus Christ, and created spiritual wants for which He has no supply? Paul at least had no anticipation of this failure. All the need of hungry human hearts and searching minds and sorrowing spirits, to the world’s latest ages, the God of Paul, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is able to supply in Him. "We are complete in Him,"-if we but knew our completeness. The most advanced thinkers of the age will still find Jesus Christ in advance of them. Those who draw the most largely from His fulness leave its depths unsounded. There are resources stored for the times to come in the revelation of Christ, which our age is too slight, too hasty of thought, to comprehend. We are straitened in ourselves; never in Him.
From this supreme gift we can argue down to the humblest necessities, the commonest trials of our daily lot. It adapts itself to the small anxieties of a struggling household, equally with the largest demands of our exacting age. "Thou hast given us Thy Son," says some one, "and wilt Thou not give us bread?" We have a generous Lord. His only complaint is that we do not ask enough. "Ye are My friends," He says: "I have given My life for you. Ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Giving us Himself, He has given us all things. Abraham and Moses, David and Isaiah, "Paul and Apollos and Cephas-yea the world itself, life and death, things present and to come-all are ours; and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s." [1 Corinthians 3:22-23] Such is the chain of blessing that hangs on this single gift.
Great as the gift is, it is not greater than our need. Wanting a Divine Son of man, human life remains a baffled aspiration, a pathway leading to no goal.
Lacking Him, the race is incomplete, a body without its head, a flock that has no master. By the coming of Christ in the flesh human life finds its ideal realised; its haunting dream of a Divine helper and leader in the midst of men, of a spiritual and immortal. perfection brought within its reach, has attained fulfilment. "God hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began." Jacob’s vision has come true. There is the golden ladder, with its foot resting on the cold, stony earth, and its top on heaven’s starry platform, with its angels ascending and descending through the darkness; and you may climb its steps, high as you will! So humanity receives its crown of life. Heaven and earth are linked, God and man reunited in the person of Jesus Christ.
But Paul will not suffer us to linger at Bethlehem. He hastens on to Calvary. The Atonement, not the Incarnation, is in his view the centre of Christianity. To the cross of Jesus, rather than to His cradle, he attaches our salvation. "Jesus Christ gave Himself"-what for, and in what way? What was the errand that brought Him here, in such a guise, and at such a time? Was it to meet our need, to fulfil our human aspirations, to crown the moral edifice, to lead the race onward to the goal of its development? Yes-ultimately, and in the final issue, for "as many as receive Him"; it was to "present every man perfect in Christ." But that was not the primary object of His coming, of such a coming. Happy for us indeed, and for Him, if it could have been so. To come to a world waiting for Him, hearkening for the cry, "Behold thy God, O Israel," would have been a pleasant and a fitting thing. But to find Himself rejected by His own, to be spit upon, to hear the multitude shout, "Away with Him!" was this the welcome that he looked for? Yea surely, nothing else but this. For He gave Himself for our sins. He came to a world steeped in wickedness, seething with rebellion against God, hating Him because it hated the Father that sent Him, Sure to say as soon as it saw Him, "We will not have this man to reign over us." Not therefore by way of incarnation and revelation alone, as it might have been for an innocent race; but by way of sacrifice, as a victim on the altar of expiation, "a lamb led to the slaughter," He gave Himself up for us all. "To deliver us from an evil world," says the Apostle; to mend a faulty and imperfect world, something less and other would have sufficed.
Extreme diseases call for extreme remedies. The case with which our good Physician had to deal was a desperate one. The world was sick at heart; its moral nature rotten to the core. Human life was shattered to its foundation. If it was to be saved, if the race was to escape perdition, the fabric must be reconstructed upon another basis, on the ground of a new righteousness, outside ourselves and yet akin to us, near enough to take hold of us and grow into us, which should draw to itself the broken elements of human life, and as a vital organic force refashion them, "creating men anew in Christ Jesus"-a righteousness availing before God, and in its depth and width sufficient to bear a world’s weight. Such a new foundation Jesus Christ has laid in His death. "He laid down His life for us," the Shepherd for the sheep, the Friend for His perishing friends, the Physician for sufferers who had no other remedy. It had come to this, -either He must die, or we must die for ever. Such was the sentence of the All-wise Judge; on that judgment the Redeemer acted. "His judgments are a great deep"; and in this sentence there are depths of mystery into which we tremble to look, "secret things that belong unto the Lord our God." But so it was. There was no way but this, no moral possibility of saving the world, and yet saving Him the accursed death.
If there had been, would not the Almighty Father have found it out? would He not have "taken away the cup" from those white, quivering lips? No; He must die. He must consent to be "made sin, made a curse" for us. He must humble His stainless innocence, humble His glorious Godhead down to the dust of death. He must die, at the hands of the men He created and loved, with the horror of the world’s sin fastened on Him; die under a blackened heaven, under the averting of the Father’s face. And He did it. He said, "Father, Thy will be done. Smite the Shepherd; but let the sheep escape." So He "gave Himself for our sins."
Ah, it was no easy march, no holiday pageant, the coming of the Son of God into this world of ours. He "came to save sinners." Not to help good men-this were a grateful task; but to redeem bad men-the hardest work in God’s universe. It tasked the strength and the devotion of the Son of God. Witness Gethsemane. And it will cost His Church something, more haply than we dream of now, if the work of the Redeemer is to be made effectual, and "the travail of His soul satisfied."
In pity and in sorrow was that gift bestowed; in deep humility and sorrow must it be accepted. It is a very humbling thing to "receive the atonement," to be made righteous on such terms as these. A man who has done well can with satisfaction accept the help given him to do better. But to know that one has done very ill, to stand in the sight of God and truth condemned, marked with the disgrace that the crucifixion of the Son of God has branded on our human nature, with every stain of sin in ourselves revealed in the light of His sacrifice, is a sore abasement. When one has been compelled to cry out, "Lord, save; or I perish!" he has not much left to plume himself upon. There was Saul himself, a perfect moralist, "blameless in the righteousness of the law." Yet he must confess, "How to perform that which is good I find not. In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. Wretch that I am, who shall deliver me?" Was not this mortifying to the proud young Pharisee, the man of strict conscience and high-souled moral endeavour? It was like death. And whoever has with sincerity made tile same attempt to attain in the strength of his will to a true virtue, has tasted of this bitterness.
This, however, is what many cannot understand. The proud heart says, "No; I will not stoop to that. I have my faults, my defects and errors, not a few. But as for what you call sin, as for guilt and inborn depravity, I am not going to tax myself with anything of the kind. Leave me a little self-respect." So with the whole herd of the self-complacent, half-religious Laodiceans. Once a week they confess themselves "miserable sinners," but their sins against God never yet cost them one half hour of misery. And Paul’s "gospel is hid to them." If they read this Epistle, they cannot tell what it is all about; why Paul makes so much ado, why these, thunderings of judgment, these cries of indignation, these beseechings and protestings and redoubled arguments, -all because a parcel of foolish Galatians wanted to play at being Jews! They are inclined to think with Festus, that this good Paul was a little beside himself. Alas! to such men, content with the world’s good opinion and their own, the death of Christ is made of none effect. Its moral grandeur, its infinite pathos, is lost upon them. They pay it a conventional respect, but as for believing in it, as for making it their own, and dying with Christ to live in Him-they have no idea what it means. That, they will tell you, is "mysticism," and they are practical men of the world. They have never gone out of themselves, never discovered their moral insufficiency. These are they of whom Jesus said, "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." It is our human independence, our moral self-conceit, that robs us of the Divine bounty. How should God give His righteousness to men so well furnished with their own? "Blessed" then "are the poor in spirit"; blessed are the broken in heart-poor enough, broken enough, bankrupt enough to stoop to a Saviour "who gave Himself for our sins."
2. Sinful men have made an evil world. The world, as Paul knew it, was evil indeed. "The existing evil age," he says, the world as it then was, in contrast with the glory of the perfected Messianic kingdom.
This was a leading distinction of the rabbinical schools; and the writers of the New Testament adopt it, with the necessary modification, that "the coming age," in their view, commences with the Parousia, the full advent of the Messiah King. The period that intervenes since His first appearing is transitional, belonging to both eras. It is the conclusion of "this world," to which it appertains in its outward and material relations; but under the perishing form of the present there lies hidden for the Christian believer the seed of immortality, "the earnest" of his future and complete inheritance. Hence the different and seemingly contradictory ways in which Scripture speaks of the world that now is.
To Paul at this time the world wore its darkest aspect. There is a touching emphasis in the order of this clause. "The present world, evil as it is": the words are a sigh for deliverance. The Epistles to Corinth show us how the world just now was using the Apostle. The wonder is that one man could bear so much. "We are made as the filth of the world," he says, "the offscouring of all things." So the world treated its greatest living benefactor. And as for his Master-"the princes of this world crucified the Lord of glory." Yes, it was a bad old world, that in which Paul and the Galatians lived-false, licentious, cruel. And that "evil world" still exists.
True, the world, as we know it, is vastly better than that of Paul’s day. Not in vain have Apostles taught, and martyrs bled, and the Church of Christ witnessed and toiled through so many ages. "Other men have laboured; we enter into their labours." An English home of today is the flower of the centuries. To those cradled in its pure affections, endowed with health and honourable work and refined tastes, the world must be, and was meant to be, in many aspects a bright and pleasant world. Surely the most sorrowful have known days in which the sky was all sunshine and the very air alive with joy, when the world looked as when it came forth fresh from its Creator’s hand, "and behold, it was very good." There is nothing in the Bible, nothing in the spirit of true religion to damp the pure joy of such days as these. But there are "the days of darkness"; and they are many. The Serpent has crept into our Paradise. Death breathes on it his fatal blast.
And when we look outside the sheltered circles of home-life and Christian brotherhood, what a sea of misery spreads around us. How limited and partial is the influence of religion. What a mass of unbelief and godlessness surges up to the doors of our sanctuaries. What appalling depths of iniquity exist in modern society, under the brilliant surface of our material civilisation. And however far the dominance of sin in human society may be broken-as, please God, it shall be broken-still evil is likely to remain in many tempting and perilous forms until the world is burnt to ashes in the fires of the Last Judgment. Is it not an evil world, where every morning newspaper serves up to us its miserable tale of disaster and of crime, where the Almighty’s name is "all the day blasphemed," and every night drunkenness holds its horrid revels and the daughters of shame walk the city streets, where great Christian empires tax the poor man’s bread and make his life bitter to maintain their huge standing armies and their cruel engines of war, and where, in this happy England and its cities teeming with wealth, there are thousands of patient, honest working women, whose life under the fierce stress of competition is a veritable slavery, a squalid, dreary struggle just to keep hunger from the door? Aye. it is a world so evil that no good and right-thinking man who knows it would care to live in it for a single day, but for the hope of helping to make it better.
Now it was the purpose of Jesus Christ, that for those who believe in Him this world’s evil should be brought absolutely to an end. He promises a full deliverance from all that tempts and afflicts us here. With sin, the root of evil, removed, its bitter fruits at last will disappear. We shall rise to the life immortal. We shall attain our perfect consummation and bliss both in body and soul. Kept from the evil of the world while they remain in it, enabled by His grace to witness and contend against it, Christ’s servants shall then be lifted clean out of it for ever. "Father, I will," prayed Jesus, "that they also whom Thou hast given Me, may be with Me where I am." To that final salvation, accomplished in the redemption of our body and the setting up of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, the Apostle’s words look forward: "that He might deliver us out of this present world." This was the splendid hope which Paul offered to the dying and despairing world of his day. The Galatians were persuaded of it and embraced it; he entreats them not to let it go.
The self-sacrifice of Christ, and the deliverance it brings, are both, the Apostle concludes, "according to the will of God, even our Father." The wisdom and might of the Eternal are pledged to the work of human redemption. The cross of Jesus Christ is the manifesto, of Infinite Love. Let him therefore who rejects it, know against Whom he is contending. Let him who perverts and falsifies it, know with what he is trifling. He who receives and obeys it, may rest assured that all things are working for his good. For all things are in the hands of our God and Father; "to Whom," let us say with Paul, "be glory for ever. Amen."