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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

- Galatians

by Thomas Coke



THIS Epistle bears such a similarity to the Epistle to the Romans, in the manner wherein St. Paul argues against justification through the works of the law, that we need not wonder if some celebrated Divines have supposed them both to have been written with the same intent. We find, in both Epistles, not only, the same arguments against justification by works, and in support of justification by faith in Christ, but nearly the same arrangement also. The example of Abraham's faith is brought as a proof in both; the gathering of the people under Christ as their common Mediator; the spirit of adoption under the new dispensation; all this is explained nearly in the same terms to the Galatians as to the Romans; and forms so just a parallel between these two Epistles, that we meet every where the same ideas, tending to the same end, as the doctrine is in both fundamentally the same. But when, from a general view, we pass to a more minute examination of St. Paul's reasoning, and more attentively consider the adversaries with whom he contends, and the errors that he opposes, we shall then discover the difference between these two Epistles.

The Jews, enemies to Christ, and fixed in rejecting his gospel, knew no other justification than that of works, being totally unacquainted with justification by faith. This error had crept into the synagogue through ignorance and superstition, and had become strengthened by the vanity of the Pharisees and some other sects. The Apostles attacked it in all their discourses, and spared no pains in establishing the contrary doctrine, justification by grace through faith. It was also against this unjust prejudice that St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans; as evidently appears from Romans 3:10, , Romans 3:11 where we find him disputing with the unbelieving Jews; and he shews it clearly in ch. Romans 9:31-32. "Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone." Such then were the adversaries whom St. Paul opposed, "the unbelieving Jews;" and the error which he opposed was, "justification by the works of the law." This is manifest.

But to the first error had succeeded a second, which might be considered as branching out from the first, and which arose from the very bosom of the church: this was, the acknowledging of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and as the Saviour of Israel, but in such sort, however, as to deem it necessary to justification, that to faith in Christ should be added the Mosaic ordinances and the righteousness of works. This error, more subtle and deceiving than the preceding, was broached by certain preachers of the gospel, who, having been formerly of the sect of the Pharisees, had imbibed a part of their venom, and had poured it into the church: Certain men which came down from Judeah, says St. Luke, Act 15:1 taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. And St. Paul tells us, in the same chapter, Act 15:5 that they were certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed the gospel, who taught that it was needful to circumcise the Christians newly converted from Heathenism, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. Whereupon the Apostle St. Peter, giving his opinion in the council at Jerusalem, asserts, as a fundamental truth in the church, that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, Act 15:11 that is, by the grace of Jesus Christ only, and not by the righteousness of the law; for that was the ground of the present dispute against those erroneous ministers, who, in preaching Jesus Christ, did not, like the unbelieving Jews, insist upon justification by the works of the law only, without the grace of Christ; for what, even nominal, Christian would have listened to such a doctrine as that?—But it was against those false teachers of Christ, who had spread their error among the Galatians, that St. Paul wrote this Epistle; and this is the error which he opposes with the utmost ardour. He calls it another gospel, Galatians 1:6 but an untrue gospel, meriting condemnation; and he laments that the Galatians, who had suffered themselves to be deceived by it, had removed from Christ; he express his regret nearly in the same manner as the prophets of old reproached the idolatrous Jews with forsaking the Lord, because they served him not exclusively; but to the worship of the true God, which they had not forsaken, they added the adoration of idols. The excuse of those false teachers was, that it was not prudent to irritate the Jews too far, since they were already too much prejudiced against the gospel; and that, by a little tenderness toward their favourite opinions, the righteousness of works, and the Mosaic observances, they might, by degrees be brought into the church. The pretence was specious, and might deceive some; but St. Paul, who, by the Spirit of God, discovered the danger of it, and foresaw its consequences, could not endure that such indulgences should be admitted into religion to destroy the truth and essence thereof, ch. Galatians 1:10. And he loudly disapproved of the behaviour of St. Peter, who, without intending to revive the ceremonies of the law, against which he had given his opinion, in the strongest manner, in the council of the Apostles, (Acts 15:7-11.) still was inclined thus far to favour the prejudices of the converted Jews at Antioch—that they should not eat with the Gentiles. Galatians 2:11, &c. St. Paul then takes up the subject of these erroneous teachers; and shews, from Gal 2:16 to Galatians 5:6 that our justification rests entirely and solely upon faith in Jesus Christ, and that it has no dependence whatever upon the righteousness of works, nor upon the observances of the law, as will be more fully explained in the comment. The Apostle adds, according to his custom, many exhortations to piety; and he concludes this Epistle, nearly as he began it, by laying open to the Galatians the spirit and intentions of those subtle teachers, who had preached to them a corrupt gospel; protesting that, for his own part, he would continue all his life to embrace the cross of Christ, seeking no other mode of salvation than in the grace and merits of the divine Redeemer.

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