by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Matthew Poole (1624-1679), points out that even though Gentiles were ordinarily called by the Jews “sinners;” and even though it appears that many of them became worshipers of the One True God, yet when they came up to Jerusalem to worship, they were not allowed into the Temple where the Jews worshiped. Instead, there was a particular court allotted outside the Temple itself called: “The Court of the Gentiles.” That was because even though they committed themselves to be under the obligation of obeying Jewish ceremonial laws, they were still referred to as “sinners” by the Jews.[1] We clearly see that not only were these believing Gentiles treated like second-class converts but were discriminated against because of their race and ethnicity. It certainly shows us why the Jews could not evangelize the world with the Gospel. No wonder the Anointed One called Paul to do that work.

John Bengel feels that the Galatians were not clearly understanding and interpreting the difference between Moral Law and Ceremonial Law since they include both under the word “law.” That’s why the Judaizers were able to convince them that they were to seek justification in observance of the whole law which included both. So, for Bengel, Paul was rejecting works done as part of the Ceremonial Law, not those expected under Moral Law. For him, this is the sum of it all: Moses and Jesus the Anointed One; the Law and the Promise; doing and believing; works and faith; wages and gift; the curse of death and the blessing of timeless life. These do not work together but are diametrically opposed to one another. You must choose one or the other. You cannot serve two masters.[2]

John Wesley not only subscribes to the doctrine that justification is not appropriated by the Ceremonial Law, but neither is it granted by obeying the Moral Law. Those things are not done before justification but after. Justification instills such respect and reverence for the One who justified us that we willingly live according to the moral code of the Gospel. So why then should the Jewish believers try to force their Gentile brethren to comply with the whole Law? Not only does Paul remove any obligation by Christian believers to observe the Jewish ceremonial law but also the moral law. Even King David agreed with Paul.[3] The moral law lacked the power to justify and save. But it is accepted as a way to please God with one’s conduct and behavior.

Joseph Benson points to Matthew 26:45 and the clause, “the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners,” as meaning, He was delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, as is evident from Matthew 20:18-19. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law – not even of the moral law, much less of the ceremonial law, but by faith in Jesus the Anointed One. This is the faith which Jesus the Anointed One prescribed and requires as the means of our justification, namely, faith in the Gospel, in its important truths and precious promises. Not only that, but faith in Jesus the Anointed One, as the true Messiah, the Son of God, in whom alone there is salvation for guilty, depraved, weak, and wretched sinners. It is this faith by which we make an application to Him, and rely on Him for salvation, present and timeless. We learn more from Him as our Teacher, depend on Him as our Mediator, become subject to Him as our Governor, and prepare to meet Him as our Judge.[4] So Paul is telling his fellow Jews that if they must observe these truths, how much more must the Gentiles, who are less pretentious than the Jews, must not depend on their own works to get salvation?[5]

James Haldane (1768-1851), agrees that Paul was right in pointing out that he and Peter and the others were certainly privileged to belong to God’s peculiar people, who by the Sinai Covenant were chosen by God out of all other nations. This, in fact, meant that although they were sinners in God’s eyes, they were not sinners on the same level as the Gentiles. Jews sinned against the Law while Gentiles sinned against God by way of their idolatry and other vices. Jews trusted in God for salvation but Gentiles were without hope in a lost world. Nevertheless, even with such an advantage, the Jews were still required to put their faith in the Anointed One for justification by God not their good works under the Law. Just as the Gentiles must denounce faith in their idols and ceremonies, so the Jews must denounce their faith in the Law and ceremonies in order to stand justified before God.

German Lutheran theologian Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1873), makes an interesting statement when it comes to the opening of verse sixteen where Paul says tells Peter: “We now know that a person is not justified by the works of the law.” Meyer says that such a statement that they attained their salvation by faith would fit with what we know about history. “The conversion of these two Apostles did not at all take place by means of any logical process in figuring it out on their own,” says Meyer. They were both miraculously and suddenly chosen by the Anointed One. Only then by becoming believers was the light of knowing they were chosen finally dawned on them.[6] However, German Calvinist theologian Peter Lange says that such an objection by Meyer to Paul and Peter coming into a right relationship with the Anointed One by faith is a best “imaginative.” The fact is the foundation of their faith in the Anointed One was the knowledge that Jesus was the true Messiah, the Son of the Living God and it is upon this faith in Him that brought them full salvation. So, we see that there was no trust or faith in the Law by either Paul or Peter that led to their justification.[7]

William O’Conor (1820-1887), tells us that according to the Jews, the word “sinner” applied to those who became careless about observing their duties to the Law, Ceremonies, and Temple worship. By doing so, they allowed life to evaporate out of their religion until it became a dead form of obligation. Furthermore, anyone who did not worship God as they did was certainly a sinner. So, they applied this to people within their religion and outside their religion who did this without any consideration to faith in God for their salvation. Only works demanded by the Law and their Ceremonies. However, both Peter and Paul learned that their rigid habits of legal observance were worthless when it came to being justified before God to receive full salvation. It was this knowledge that helped them escape the torment of being under the penalty of death even though they did the best they could to comply with the Law and Ceremonies. It was only by faith in the Anointed One that they were saved. So why make the Gentiles responsible for going through the same maze of legal complexity? Once they believe in the Anointed One, they as justified and sanctified as the Jews.[8]

Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) gives us a little grammar lesson when explaining verse fifteen. He shows us that the first clause is concessive:[9]Although we were Jews by birth, we are not heathen-born sinners;” the second is causal,[10]yet because we knew that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but only through faith;” the third is declarative, “even we believed on the Anointed One Jesus!” the fourth is final, to the end “that we might be justified by the faith in the Anointed One, and not by the works of the law;” and the fifth confirmatory, “because by the works of the law shall no flesh (or, sinful man) be justified.” O’Conor admits that there seems at first sight to be some needless repetition in this verse, but strictly speaking, there is none. The fullness of statement in every clause is emphatic.[11]

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), in one of his sermons, where he speaks about the relationship of good works to grace, says that certainly there are some who would object by questioning, “are good works of no use?” As he understands the Apostle, Spurgeon states that God’s Works are of use when a person is saved because they provide evidence of their being saved. But Good Works do not save a person, good works do not influence the mind of God to redeem anyone Were that the case, then salvation would be a matter of credit and not of grace. Just as Paul told the Ephesians, “Not by works, so that no one can boast.”[12] So he repeats it here in verse sixteen.

Spurgeon goes on to point out that the Apostle is very adamant about this point; indeed, he thunders it out again, and again, and again.[13] He denies that salvation could ever depend on our good works. If one could achieve salvation by the good works then grace is no longer a factor. Any works involved are God’s Works once a person is born again. They are not done to benefit the person but to bring glory and honor to God as a way of saying “Thank you, Lord, for saving me.”

When put another way, Spurgeon compares grace and works to fire and water: Just as water extinguishes a fire, so works extinguishes grace. The grace and mercy of God need no help from a person’s good works.  When we sing the song “Jesus Saves,”[14] it means the He does it all or not at all. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith,[15] and good works must not rob Him of His due praise. So, says Spurgeon, sinner, you must either receive salvation freely from the hand of Divine Giving or else you must earn it by your own unassisted merits, which, unfortunately, is utterly impossible.[16]

In another place, Spurgeon makes it clear that those who feel their religion is either represented by Ishmael (Islam) or by Isaac (Judeo-Christian), will never worship together in an ecumenical setting. The principles upon which these religions rest never mingle. They cannot even call Allah and Yahweh as referring to the same deity. No one is saved in part by self, and in part by God. While one attempts to earn their salvation by works, the other depends on the love and mercy of God. The resurrection and glories of heaven are not given as a prize, they are a gift from God as part of His promise that if they believe in His Son as the Lord and Savior they will be saved. That’s why Spurgeon feels that for the Christian, what Paul says here in verse twenty should be taken as their confession of faith.[17]

The Biblical Illustrator, complied by Joseph S. Exell (1849-1910), contains a very direct and clear statement on how impossible it is for anyone to vindicate themselves from the charge that they are unjustified before God, no matter how many religious and moral laws they obey or how many ceremonies they participate in. No one proved that the things they are charged with doing do not count, or that their right to perform them exists. They cannot prove that God is not right in all the charges He made against them in His Word, and they cannot prove that it was right for them to do as they did. The charges against them are facts which are undeniable, and the facts are such as cannot be justified.

[1] Matthew Poole: On Galatians, op. cit., Kindle Location 376-388), Kindle Edition

[2] John Bengel: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 14-15

[3] Psalm 143:2

[4] See Romans 3:28, 4:1-25

[5] Joseph Benson: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Heinrich Meyer: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 84

[7] Peter Lange: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] William Anderson O’Conor: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] A concessive clause is a clause which begins by saying “although” but then introducing the opposite at the end. For instance, “Although he is quiet, he is not shy.”

[10] A causal clause states the reason or basis for the action of the main verb. For instance, “Lend me three loaves, because my friend has arrived from a journey” (Luke 11:16)

[11] Hovey, Alvah: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 32–33.

[12] Ephesians 2:8-9 – NIV

[13] See Romans 3:20; 9:16; 11:6; Galatians 2:21; 3:21; 5:4, 6

[14] Jesus Saves, written by Priscilla J. Owens, published in 1882

[15] Hebrews 12:2

[16] Charles Spurgeon: The Spurgeon Sermon Collection, Salvation Altogether by Grace, Sermon No. 421, on Sunday, July 29, 1866, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, England, Vol. 2, p. 453

[17] Charles Spurgeon: According to Promise, The Parting, pp. 24-25

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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