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Abraham received the sign of circumcifion, as the seal of that righteousness which was by faith : and his posterity had a peculiar law given them in a very folemn manner for keeping up the memorial of that same righteousness, and preserving the knowledge of it from being corrupted by the imaginations and inventions of men. The observance of this law was made the tenure by which they held the possession of the land which God had given them, and which was fecured to them ay and until the Messiah, the promised feed, should come. On this account they had got it strongly into their heads, that there was no way by which any others could obtain an interest in the blefring of Abrahain, or eternal life, but by incorporating with their nation, by receiving this same circumcision, and submitting to the law of Mofes..
Great numbers of them, however, overcome by the evidence of our Lord's miracles, and resurrection from the dead; with the glory that followed in his ascension to heaven, and sending the Holy Spirit according to his promise, came to believe, in fo far as the evidence compelled them, that Jesus,
was really the Christ, or promised Meffiah. But not being thoroughly acquainted with the character and business of this same Messiah, nor with the true nature and intention of their own law, they still retained their national prejudice ; and therefore maintained, that after all the Messiah had done, unless a man was circumcised after the manner of Moses, and thus submitted to the Jewish law, he could not be saved ; and therefore, however the Gentiles might be admitted heirs of eternal life, yet, in order to this, there was still a necessity of their being incorporated with the Jewish nation, and submitting to the law of Moses. Much heat and contention did this perverse opinion occafion in the several churches : nor did the apostolical decision put an end to it wholly, until that nation was destroyed, their temple ruined, and the observation of the essentials of that law rendered impracticable. This we are certainly informed of, that they continued zealous.for their law until Paul was made a prifoner; and their attachment to it was in a manner connived at by the apostles themselves, as appears from the advice that was given
to Paul for removing the prejudices which the Jews at Jerusalem had conceived against him, or rather for preventing the bad effects of their enormous zeal.
This preposterous zeal of theirs was aca companied, as false zeal usually is, with | inveterate enmity against all oppofers, and unwearied attempts to make proselytes. Some of these zealots had infinuated themselves into the good graces of the Galatian .converts to Christianity, This could not be done but by depretiating either the Apostle or his doctrine. and, by what we find in this epistle, they spared neither the one nor the other: for, not contented with charging his doctrine with essential defects, and undertaking to teach a more perfect way, they directly attacked his character and apostolic authority : That as he was none of those whom Jesus in his lifetime had called to that office, he was either no apostle at all, or one of an inferior order, commissioned and sent out by those who were truly fo: nay, they scrupled not to say, that the other apostles, being all of their mind, Paul himself was now better taught than formerly, and was as much for circumcision as they
were; which probably they might give some colour to by his causing Timothy to be circumcised when he took him for his companion. And little wonder it is, that such artful insinuations fhould make a very considerable impression on the perhaps honest, though weak minds, of those newly brought out of the gross darkness of Heathenisın.
At what time this epistle was written, does not appear; only, that it was not long after the Galatians were either converted or visited by him. But this we may positively say, that the great warmth he shows was not owing, as some have imagined, to his being himself but newly con- · verted: for we are sure, that it was written more than fourteen, or rather more than seventeen years after his conversion, as appears from the first verse of the second chapter, compared with the last verses of the first chapter. Some have been very positive, that it must have been written before the decision recorded Acts xv, mainly because he makes no particular mention of that decision in this epistle. But if it should be made appear, that the Galatians had not been converted, and that Paul was never
to the GALATIANS. 9 among them until some time after that meeting, that point would be effectually determined. We have a very particular account of his first journey into these countries along with Barnabas. But Galatia was none of the places where they published the gospel, nor have we any mention of it till some time after his journey with Barnabas to Jerusalem, and after they had separated; which is commonly reckoned to have been in the year 53. We find indeed, that he visited Galatia a second time; but whether before or after writing this epistle, we have no evidence, nor is it worth while to make guesses about it.
For preventing the prejudice which the churches must have sustained by such unnatural mixtures of the legal institutions with the gospel of Christ, the Apostle addresses himself with great, and truly divine skill, to vindicate his own character, to warn them of their danger, and the destructive tendency of those tenets they had too far encouraged, in the strongest manner; and, at the same time, to convince them of his tender and fatherly affection toward them, whom he regarded as his Vol.III.