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THE PUBLISHER TO THE READER.
THERE is nothing, certainly, of greater encouragement to the peace of the church in general, nor to the direction and edification of all Christians in particular, than a right understanding of the Holy Scripture. This consideration has set so many learned and pious men amongst us, of late years, upon expositions, paraphrases, and notes on the Sacred Writings, that the author of these hopes the fashion may excuse him for endeavouring to add his mite; believing, that after all that has been done by those great labourers in the harvest, there may be some gleanings left, whereof he presumes he has an instance, chap. iii. ver. 20, and some other places of this Epistle to the Galatians, which he looks upon not to be the hardest of St. Paul's. If he has given a light to any obscure passage, he shall think his pains well employed ; if there be nothing else worth notice in him, accept of his good intention.
EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL
WRIT FROM EPHESUS, THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 57, OF NERO 3.
SYNOPSIS. The subject and design of this epistle of St. Paul is much the same with that of his epistle to the Romans, but treated in somewhat a different manner. The business of it is to dehort and hinder the Galatians from bringing themselves under the bondage of the Mosaical law.
St. Paul himself had planted the churches of Galatia, and therefore referring (as he does, chap. i. 8, 9) to what he had before taught them, does not, in this epistle, lay down at large to them the doctrine of the Gospel, as he does in that to the Romans, who having been converted to the Christian faith by others, he did not know how far they were instructed in all those particulars, which, on the occasion whereon he writ to them, it might be necessary for them to understand : and therefore, writing to the Romans, he sets before them a large and comprehensive view of the chief heads of the Christian religion.
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He also deals more roundly with his disciples the Galatians than, we may observe, he does with the Romans, to whom he, being a stranger, writes not in so familiar a style, nor in his reproofs and exhortations uses so much the tone of a master, as he does to the Galatians.
St. Paul had converted the Galatians to the faith, and erected several churches among them, in the year of our Lord 51 ; between which and the year 57, wherein this epistle was writ, the disorders following were got into those churches :
First, Some zealots for the Jewish constitution had very near persuaded them out of their Christian liberty, and made them willing to submit to çircumcision, and all the ritual observances of the Jewish church, as necessary under the Gospel, chap. i. 7. iii. 3. iv. 9, 10, 21. v. 1, 2, 6, 9, 10.
Secondly, Their dissensions and disputes in this matter had raised great animosities amongst them, to the disturbance of their peace, and the setting them at strife with one another, chap. v. 6, 13-15.
The reforming them in these two points seems to be the main business of this epistle, wherein he endeavours to establish them in a resolution to stand firm in the freedom of the Gospel, which exempts them from the bondage of the Mosaical law: and labours to reduce them to a sincere love and affection one to another; which he concludes with an exhortation to liberality and general beneficence, especially to their teachers, chap. vi. 6, 10. These being the matters he had in his mind to write to them about, he seems here as if he had done. But, upon mentioning, ver. 11, what a long letter he had writ to them with his own hand, the former argument concerning circumcision, which filled and warmed his mind, broke out again into what we find, ver. 12-17, of the sixth chapter.
CHAPTER I. 1-5.
CONTENTS. The general view of this epistle plainly shows St. Paul's chief design in it to be, to keep the Galatians from hearkening to those Judaizing seducers, who had almost persuaded them to be circumcised. These perverters of the Gospel of Christ, as St. Paul himself calls them, ver. 7, had, as may be gathered from ver, 8 and 10, and from chap. v. 11, and other passages of this epistle, made the Galatians believe, that St. Paul himself was for circumcision. Until St. Paul himself had set them right in this matter, and convinced them of the falsehood of this aspersion, it was in vain for him, by other arguments, to attempt the re-establishing the Galatians in the Christian liberty, and in that truth which he had preached to them. The removing, therefore, of this calumny was his first endeavour: and to that purpose, this introduction, different from what we find in any other of his epistles, is marvellously well adapted. He declares, here at the entrance, very expressly and emphatically, that he was not sent by men on their errands; nay, that Christ, in sending him, did not so much as convey his apostolic power to him by the ministry or intervention of any man; but that his commission and instructions were all entirely from God, and Christ himself, by immediate revelation. This, of itself, was an argument sufficient to induce them to believe, 1. That what he taught them, when he first preached the Gospel to them, was the truth, and that they ought to stick firm to that.' 2. That he changed not his doctrine, whatever might be reported of him. He was Christ's chosen officer, and had no dependence on men's opinions, nor regard to their authority or favour, in what he preached; and therefore it was not likely he should preach one thing at one time, and another thing at another.
Thus this preface is very proper in this place, to introduce what he is going to say concerning himself, and adds force to his discourse, and the account he gives of himself in the next section.