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VII. Whether the Gospel calls fallen men to be reconciled to
The Half-way Covenant: a Dialogue between a Minister and his
THE LAW OUR SCHOOL-MASTER.
GALATIANS 111. 24.
Wherefore the law was our School-Master to bring us unto CHRIST, that we might be justified by faith.
THE chief design of the present discourse is to give the true sense of this text; which will go far towards leading us into the nature of the Jewish religion, and of the Christian; and help to remove several dangerous mistakes, which mankind have been apt to run into. Now, in order to understand any text of Scripture, we are to consider the various circumstances of the discourse; such as the character of the persons spoken to, the manner how the text is introduced, and for what purpose; that we, seeing the occasion of what is written, and the scope and design of the inspired writer, may the more readily and certainly discern the true sense of the passage. Here, therefore, let us inquire into the character of the persons St. Paul had to deal with; the occasion and design of these words, and how they were introduced in the thread of his argument; and the grounds he saw in the nature of the Mosaic dispensation for this observation, that the law was a school-master to bring us to Christ.
I. As to the character of the persons St. Paul had to deal with. They, at least the ring-leaders of them, were by birth Jews, by education Pharisees, and now lately converted to Christianity; but yet zealous for some of their old pharisaical notions, fond of making proselytes to their own scheme, a scheme, in the apostle's opinion, subversive of Christianity.
While of the sect of the Pharisees, before their conversion to Christianity, they expected justification wholly by the deeds of the law. (Rom. x. 3.) But now, since their conversion to Christianity, they expected justification by the deeds of the law; and yet it seems not wholly; for they
hoped that Christ would profit them some, be of some effect,. and they had some dependence on grace, as is implied in the apostle's manner of reasoning in Gal. v. 2, 3, 4. As to their notions of the law of Moses, by which they expected justification, it seems they considered it, not at all as a dispensation preparatory to Christianity, suited to show them their need of Christ, and to lead them to faith in him by types and shadows; but only as a rule of life, to which, if they conformed, they should be saved. And it seems they did not doubt, but that such a conformity to it as they were capable of, would answer the end. Little considering, that if they depended upon their circumcision, and their other works for life, they were obliged to keep the whole law. Just as, now-adays, there are those who ignorantly imagine, that if they endeavour to do as well as they can, they shall be saved; little thinking, that if they depend upon their own righteousness for salvation, they ought to yield a perfect obedience, as they would not finally be disappointed.
Had they viewed the law of Moses as a dispensation preparatory to Christianity, they might more readily have seen the propriety of its being abolished, and giving place to the Gospel of Christ; but while they considered it, with all its rites and ceremonies, only as a rule to which they were to conform, as a condition of salvation, Christ only making up for their deficiencies, it was natural to think it of perpetualobligation; and that not only to themselves, but also to the Gentile converts. When therefore they observed St. Paul constantly preaching justification by faith alone without the deeds of the law, and the Gentile converts received, and embraced as good Christians, without their paying any regard to the rites and ceremouies of the Mosaic law, they were chagrined, and set up themselves to oppose St. Paul, affirmning, "that unless the Gentile converts were circumcised and kept the law of Moses, they could not be saved." Acts xv.
And as the Jews were, in those early times, the greatest enemies Christianity had, and the most bitter persecutors, enraged to see the rites of Moses' law neglected; so these Pharisaical Christians, by their zeal for Moses' law, ingrati
ated themselves very much in the favour of these bitter enemies of Christianity, which made them the more zealous in their way, that they might not only avoid persecution from the unbelieving Jews, but also have it to glory in, that they had proselyted so many Gentiles to be circumcised. Gal. vi. 12, 13. So that they were not only bigoted to their scheme by their education while Jews, and attached to it, as it suited their self-righteous temper; but also proud of it, as it freed them from the chief odium of Christianity, and screened them from the malice of its bitterest enemies. And they were in some places more than a match for St. Paul, with all his extraordinary gifts. They raised such a dust at Antioch, as that Paul and Barnabas could not settle the point; but were obliged to refer it to the apostles at Jerusalem. And they made such sad work in the churches in Galatia, that although the converts there once could have even plucked out their eyes, and given to St. Paul, yet they were now much disaffected towards him, and even become his enemies. And these seducers were in eminent danger of even overthrowing Christianity in all that country; which at last obliged St. Paul to write this Epistle to the several churches in Galatia.
II. Now, these were the men the apostle had to deal with ; and the method he took, which was wisely adapted to let in light upon their minds and thoroughly convince their judgments, may be fully seen, if we carefully read through this epistle but I may now only give you a brief and cursory view of some parts of it, just to let you see his manner of address, and his way of reasoning, and how our text is introduced in the thread of the apostle's argument. Which take as follows:
"This epistle is sent to the churches of Galatia, from Paul, an apostle, who received his mission not of men, nei ther by men, but immediately from Jesus Christ.; and it is approved by all the brethren with him, and it comes wishing you all blessings. But I am astonished and greatly marvel, after all the pains I have taken with you to instruct you into the true nature of Christianity, to see you so soon drawn away by these seducers, to quite another kind of a Gospel; which indeed is no Gospel; but is a most dangerous scheme.
These seducers, how plausible soever they appear, ought not to be regarded. Yea, if an angel from heaven should preach any other Gospel, than that I have preached, let him be ACCURSED. I speak plainly; for I am no TRIMMER. I do not make it my ultimate end to please man; but mean, in the uprightness of my heart, to be faithful to Jesus Christ. And I know I received the Gospel I preached to you by immediate revelation from God, after, as it was publicly known, I had been exceedingly zealous in the Pharisaical scheme; being met with in a very extraordinary manner, as I was going to Damascus. Ever since which time I have constantly preached this Gospel; being instructed not even by any of the Apostles, but by immediate revelation. And I have constantly maintained, that the Gentiles need not be circumcised, or keep the law of Moses; and that no man is justified by the deeds of the law, but only by faith in Christ, &c. Chapters i. and ii.
"Not that I countenance licentiousness. For at the same time, that I through the law am dead to all hopes of justification by the law, I am but hereby prepared to live with a single eye to the glory of God: still having all my hopes of acceptance founded on Christ. And indeed I could not consistently preach up justification by the law. For if I did, I should quite overthrow the Gospel. For if righteousness and justification come by the law, and is to be obtained by our own works, then there was no need of Christ. But he is dead in vain. Chap. ix. 17. 21.
"O foolish, infatuated Galatians, may I not appeal even to your own experience? Cannot you recollect that an extraordinary out-pouring of the Spirit, in his miraculous gifts, has attended the preaching of the doctrines of grace, and not of the Pharisaical scheme, as in all the churches, so also among you? And is not this a sufficient confirmation that they are from God? And were not even you yourselves, converted to Christianity by these doctrines, attended with a divine influence? And can you think to perfect yourselves now by going off from this spiritual, divine scheme, to one so mean and low? Chap. iii. 1-5.