on Galatians 1 :24
They glorified God in me - Hearing now that I preached that faith which before I had persecuted and endeavored to destroy, they glorified God for the grace which had wrought my conversion. I owe nothing to them; I owe all to God; and they themselves acknowledge this. I received all from God, and God has all the glory.
1. It appeared of great importance to St. Paul to defend and vindicate his Divine mission. As he had none from man, it was the more necessary that he should be able to show plainly that he had one from God. Paul was not brought into the Christian ministry by any rite ever used in the Christian Church. Neither bishop nor presbyter ever laid hands on him; and he is more anxious to prove this, because his chief honor arose from being sent immediately by God himself: his conversion and the purity of his doctrine showed whence he came. Many since his time, and in the present day, are far more anxious to show that they are legitimately appointed by Man than by God; and are fond of displaying their human credentials. These are easily shown; those that come from God are out of their reach. How idle and vain is a boasted succession from the apostles, while ignorance, intolerance, pride, and vain-glory prove that those very persons have no commission from heaven! Endless cases may occur where man sends and yet God will not sanction. And that man has no right to preach, nor administer the sacraments of the Church of Christ, whom God has not sent; though the whole assembly of apostles had laid their hands on him. God never sent, and never will send, to convert others, a man who is not converted himself. He will never send him to teach meekness, gentleness, and long suffering, who is proud, overbearing, intolerant, and impatient. He, in whom the Spirit of Christ does not dwell, never had a commission to preach the Gospel; he may boast of his human authority, but God will laugh him to scorn. On the other hand, let none run before he is sent; and when he has got the authority of God, let him be careful to take that of the Church with him also.
2. The apostle was particularly anxious that the Gospel should not be corrupted, that the Church might not be perverted. Whatever corrupts the Gospel, subverts the Church. The Church is a spiritual building, and stands on a spiritual foundation. Its members are compared to stones in a building, but they are living stones - each instinct with the spirit of a Divine life; Jesus is not only the foundation and the head-stone, but the spirit that quickens and animates all. A Church, where the members are not alive to God, and where the minister is not filled with the meekness and gentleness of Jesus, differs as much from a genuine Church as a corpse does from an active human being. False teachers in Galatia corrupted the Church, by introducing those Jewish ceremonies which God had abolished; and the doctrine of justification by the use of those ceremonies which God had shown by the death of his Son to be of none effect. "If those," says Quesnel, "are justly said to pervert the Gospel of Christ, who were for joining with it human ceremonies which God himself instituted, what do those do, who would fondly reconcile and blend it with the pomps of the devil? The purity of the Gospel cannot admit of any mixture. Those who do not love it, are so far from building up that they trouble and overturn all. There is no ground of trust and confidence for such workmen."
3. If he be a dangerous man in the Church who introduces Jewish or human ceremonies which God has not appointed, how much more is he to be dreaded who introduces any false doctrine, or who labors to undermine or lessen the influence of that which is true? And even he who does not faithfully and earnestly preach and inculcate the true doctrine is not a true pastor. It is not sufficient that a man preach no error; he must preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
4. How is it that we have so many Churches like those in Galatia? Is it not because, on one hand, we disturb the simplicity of the Christian worship by Jewish, heathenish, or improper rites and ceremonies; and on the other, corrupt the purity of its doctrines by the inventions of men? How does the apostle speak of such corrupters? Let them be accursed. How awful is this! Let every man who officiates as a Christian minister look well to this. His own soul is at stake; and, if any of the flock perish through his ignorance or neglect, their blood will God require at the watchman's hand.
5. St. Paul well knew that, if he endeavored to please man, he could not be the servant of Christ. Can any minor minister hope to succeed, where even an apostle, had he followed that line, could not? The interests of Christ and those of the world are so opposite, that it is impossible to reconcile them; and he who attempts it shows thereby that he knows neither Christ nor the world, though so deeply immersed in the spirit of the latter.
6. God generally confounds the expectations of men-pleasing ministers; they never ultimately succeed even with men. God abhors them, and those whom they have flattered find them to be dishonest, and cease to trust them. He who is unfaithful to his God should not be trusted by man.
on Galatians 1 :24
And they glorified God in me - They praised God on my account. They regarded me as a true convert and a sincere Christian; and they praised God that he had converted such a persecutor, and had made him a preacher of the gospel. The design for which this is mentioned is, to show that though he was personally unknown to them, and had not derived his views of the gospel from them, yet that he had their entire confidence. They regarded him as a convert and an apostle, and they were disposed to praise God for his conversion. This fact would do much to conciliate the favor of the Galatians, by showing them that he had the confidence of the churches in the very land where the gospel was first planted, and which was regarded as the source of ecclesiastical authority. In view of this we may remark:
(1) That it is the duty of Christians kindly and affectionately to receive among their number those who have been converted from a career of persecution or of sin in any form. And it is always done by true Christians. It is easy to forgive a man who has been actively engaged in persecuting the church, or a man who has been profane, intemperate, dishonest, or licentious, if he becomes a true penitent, and confesses and forsakes his sins. No matter what his life has been; no matter how abandoned, sensual, or devilish; if he manifests true sorrow and gives evidence of a change of heart, he is cordially received into any church, and welcomed as a fellow-laborer in the cause which he once destroyed. Here, at least, is one place where forgiveness is cordial and perfect. His former life is not remembered, except to praise God for His grace in recovering a sinner from such a course. The evils that he has done are forgotten, and he is henceforward regarded as entitled to all the privileges and immunities of a member of the household of faith. There is not on earth an infuriated persecutor or blasphemer who would not be cordially welcomed to any Christian church upon the evidence of his repentance; not a person so debased and vile that the most pure, and elevated, and learned, and wealthy Christians would not rejoice to sit down with him at the same communion table upon the evidence of his conversion to God.
(2) we should "glorify" or praise God for all such instances of conversion. We should do it because:
(a) Of the abstraction of the talents of the persecutor from the cause of evil. Paul could have done, and would have done immense service to the enemies of Christianity if he had pursued the career which he had commenced. But when he was converted, all that bad influence ceased. So when an infidel or a profligate man is converted now:
(b) Because now his talents will be consecrated to a better service, they will be employed in the cause of truth and salvation. All the power of the matured and educated talent will now be devoted to the interests of religion; and it is a fact for which we should thank God, that he often takes educated talent, and commanding influence, and an established reputation for ability, learning, and zeal, and devotes it to his own service.
(c) Because there will be a change of destiny; because the enemy of the Redeemer will now be saved. The moment when Saul of Tarsus was converted, was the moment which determined a change in his eternal destiny. Before, he was on the broad way to hell; henceforward, he walked in the path of life and salvation. Thus, we should always rejoice over a sinner returning from the error of his ways; and should praise God that he who was in danger of eternal ruin is now an heir of glory. Christians are not jealous in regard to the numbers who shall enter heaven. They feel that there is "room" for all; that the feast is ample for all; and they rejoice when any can be induced to come with them and partake of the happiness of heaven.
(3) we may still glorify and praise God for the grace manifested in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. What does not the world owe to him! What do we not owe to him! No man did as much in establishing the Christian religion as he did; no one among the apostles was the means of converting and saving so many souls; no one has left so many and so valuable writings for the edification of the church. To him we owe the invaluable epistles - so full of truth, and eloquence, and promises, and consolations - upon which we are commenting; and to him the church owes, under God, some of its most elevated and ennobling views or the nature of Christian doctrine and duty. After the lapse, therefore, of more than 1,800 years, we should not cease to glorify God for the conversion of this wonderful man, and should feel that we have cause of thankfulness that he changed the infuriated persecutor to a holy and devoted apostle.
(4) let us remember that God has the same power now. There is not a persecutor whom he could not convert with the same ease with which he changed Saul of Tarsus. There is not a vile and sensual man that he could not make pure; not a dishonest man that his grace could not make honest: not a blasphemer that he could not teach to venerate his name; not a lost and abandoned sinner that he cannot receive to himself. Let us then without ceasing cry unto him that his grace may be continually manifested in reclaiming such sinners from the error of their ways, and bringing them to the knowledge of the truth, and to a consecration of their lives to his service.
on Galatians 1 :24
1:24 In me - That is, on my account.