By Dr. Robert R Seyda



Revival preacher Charles Finney (1792-1875) in one of his lectures, spoke on justification by faith. In his lecture, he makes the point that when it comes to the doctrine of justification, we cannot overlook the distinction between sin and sinning. When our bodily appetites and built-in tendencies of body and mind are strongly tempted they often become an uninvited occasion of sin. So, it was with Adam. We cannot say that Adam was created with a sinful nature. But he possessed, by his natural instincts, an appetite for food and a desire for knowledge. These in themselves are not sinful, but were part of their human nature which made them suitable to live in this world as a subject of God’s moral government. But the temptation by the serpent was enough to persuade Adam and Eve to disobey and thereby sin against God. They were innocent in themselves but yielded to unlawful action, and that was their sin.

Now, while each of these sins may be forgiven when confessed and compassion from God is sought, those sinful tendencies, however,  are never washed away. They are within all of us constantly. Nevertheless, they are severely restricted by sanctification and with the help of the indwelling Spirit of God. When a sinner tries to use their sinful nature as a justification for sin, they get their natural appetites and sinful tendencies mixed up. By so doing, they, in fact, accuse God foolishly and incriminate Him for giving them a sinful nature, when in fact their nature, in all its elements, is essential to moral conduct, and God made it as well as it could be made, and perfectly adapted to the circumstances in which they lived in this world. The truth is, mankind’s nature is all right and is as well-fitted to love and obey God as it is to hate and disobey Him. So, says Finney, the day is not far away when it will be known whether your excuse is valid or not! Then you will find out when you stand face to face with your Maker, and He charges you with sin, will you be able to throw the blame back in His face.[1]

Philip Schaff (1819-1893) comments on verse two where Paul appeals to their own experience at the time of their conversion, which alone should be sufficient to convince them of the error of their present position on crediting the Law with bringing the Holy Spirit into their lives. By Paul saying, to know the truth a person must hear what God gave Him to say, and that would be the only source they needed. Was it by works of the Law that they received the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the greatest of gifts? The Spirit is communicated to believers through the Gospel in order for them to be regenerated, sanctified, and made children of God and heirs of eternal life.

Schaff believes that during the time of the Apostles, the Spirit manifested Himself in extraordinary gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophesying, working of miracles.[2] That means that from hearing the preaching (not just listening), faith comes from preaching,[3] and preaching the Word of God. The Greek noun akoē (“hearing” KJV) is used in two ways: “active hearing” that involves intense listening that leads to the reception of the Gospel message by faith.[4] Then it can also imply “passive hearing,” that provides the faith needed for the reception of the Gospel message. Schaff says that Professor Lightfoot adopts the first, but the second is preferable on account of the usual meaning of the word in the Final Covenant because the contrast is between the two principles, “law and faith,” not between two actions, “doing and hearing.”

The emphasis must be placed on “law” and “faith,” says Schaff. In the Final Covenant, “faith” is used mostly in the subjective sense of the act and exercise of faith,[5] not in the objective sense of the doctrine or creed.[6] Faith is the organ by which we receive the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.[7] So for the Jews, their subjective faith was that by obeying the Law they were saving themselves. while Christians put their objective faith in the Messiah to save them because neither the Law nor they can save themselves. That’s why any sinner seeking forgiveness and cleansing should be encouraged to pray and ask the Messiah to save them because He is the only Way, Truth, and Life.

W. A. O’Conor (1820-1887) points out that here in verse two Paul passes from using logical to experimental evidence, which by itself should be conclusive. Was it from Law or Faith they derived their present spiritual attainments? After all, the Jewish Law was meant to mature a principle for all mankind, but not all mankind for the principle. Once the Anointed One appeared, and divine truth was unfolded as a living, breathing document, and made transmittable by verbal exposition, the Law was no longer needed but rather became a hindrance. If the Galatians received the Spirit from hearing by faith, of course, it was evident that the works of the Law for that purpose were not required. Then O’Conor goes on to say that the works of the law are uncommunicative, unconscious, unmoral, and unauthorized results of a principle that resides in the Law rather than in the minds of those who perform them. They do not warm the heart or enlighten the understanding. All the grand moral and spiritual truths which are the subject-matter of faith, enlarge man’s soul and render it a fit receptacle for heavenly impulses and illuminations.[8] No wonder the Judaizers were so out of touch with reality.

Edward Huxtable (1833-1893) hears a frustrated Apostle Paul telling the Galatians, in disbelief, that they so quickly became traitors to him and the Gospel he brought them. He told them, when I came to where you are as an Apostle sent by God to preach the Gospel, once you were baptized in water I laid my hands on you; and the Holy Spirit came down upon you, proving the reality of His presence, not only by signs and miracles and powers, but also by the love, joy, peace, and all the Fruit of the Spirit, which fills your hearts; instantaneously sealing the truth of his doctrine and their own individual position as recognized heirs of the kingdom of God.

Surely, says Paul, you must still remember those great times. Do you recall back then whether I spent any time speaking about the proper kosher diet of food or drink, or washing your hands and bodies as part of some purification process, or the requirement of circumcision, or being careful to obey the dictates of Ceremonial Law? Did you attend one session where I taught on all the points contained in the ordinances found in Leviticus? Were any of you even thinking about such things? The “works of the Law” were never mentioned and the merit of performing the ceremonies rites and rituals to obtain repentance did not come up. No! I preached about dying to sin, surrendering you souls to God and to the Messiah in faithful, loyal obedience, developing the characteristics of being God’s servants, and the plan and purpose of good works as a reasonable service to the One who called you, redeemed you, and chose you to be one of His own children, all of which were in compliance with moral Law. That’s why the gift of the indwelling Spirit and the gifts and endowment of power by the same Spirit became quickly evident by the wonders and miracles you were given the power to perform for God’s glory.

It is clear that Huxtable defined the indwelling of the Spirit as the source for regeneration and sanctification and Fruit of the Spirit, and the baptism of the Spirit as the source for the Gifts of the Spirit. So where in the world did the Galatians get the idea all of this was subordinate to following the Law in order to stand right before God, ready to do all the works required to maintain that status? So Huxtable was just as confused as the Apostle Paul was over such a contradictory stance on their part to the Gospel Paul preached to them upon his arrival.

Professor Thomas Croskery (1830-1886) gives a homiletical treatment of this exposition by Huxtable in which he offers five Principles to argue against the controversial teachings of the Judaizers. First: The “Principle of Experience.” They did not receive the Spirit by faith in works but by faith in Jesus the Messiah. Second: the “Principle of Grace in receiving the Spirit.” Since the Holy Spirit is not under the power of the Law it cannot be given by the Law. Grace is the only source for Pentecostal power and abundance. Third: the “Principle of Grace in the workings of the Spirit.” When the Spirit empowered them to do miracles among the people, the Spirit does not operate through the Law but through faith. Fourth: the “Principle of Grace in finishing what the Spirit started.” Since they began their believing and receiving of the Spirit by faith, it cannot now be transferred to the Law for completion.[9] And fifth: the “Principle of Grace in persevering to the end in order to be saved.” To show sincerity by enduring any suffering or attempts to shame; to establish that their obedience to the Gospel is the reason for what they suffer for the sake of Messiah; to never allow yourself to be persuaded that all you’ve gone through for the Messiah was a useless effort.[10]

For Joseph Beet (1840-1924), any suggestion that Christ died in vain, as would be the case if the teaching of the Judaizers were correct, reveals to Paul the spiritual blindness of the Galatian Christians as he turns to discuss the teaching these false apostles contradict. A single argument seems to him sufficient to settle the matter at hand. His Galatian readers’ journey by faith began with the reception of the Holy Spirit indwelling them as the stirring principle of a new life in union with the Anointed One. Paul asks whether they obtained the Spirit by means of obedience to legal prescriptions or by hearing with faith the preached Word of God. In thinking back, the only possibility open is that obedience to the Law may have led them to a richer and higher Christian life. But the legal prescriptions of which the Judaizers prescribed reach only to the material part of human life.

For Beet, that leads to more questions. For instance, can mere bodily obedience to laws and ceremonies develop a life begun by receiving a life-giving Spirit? Of course, the thought is absurd! Again, for the teaching of Justification by Faith apart from works of the Law, the Galatian Christians have already suffered persecution. Are they now prepared to admit that these sufferings were needless and profitless? These questions enabled Paul to ask again in stronger form his first question. Can the Spirit whom day by day dwells in the Galatian believers, and who reveals His presence by working miracles among them, be received by works of Law or by faith? Thus, not only their past but their present experience confirms the Apostle’s teaching. Grace wins! The Law loses![11]

[1] Charles Finney: Lectures to Professing Christians, Lecture 16, pp. 233-252

[2] Cf. Acts of the Apostles 8:17; 10:44-46; 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12-14

[3] 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:2; and Romans 10:17

[4] Cf. (“obedience of faith);” Romans 1:5; 16:26

[5] The subjective sense means that one’s faith is in themselves rather than in the object before them.

[6] The objective sense means that one’s faith is in the object before them rather than in they themselves.

[7] Philip Schaff: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 317

[8] W. A. O’Conor: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 44

[9] Philippians 1:6

[10] The Pulpit Commentary: On Galatians, op. cit., Homiletics by Thomas Croskery, p. 148-

[11] Joseph Beet: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 77

About drbob76

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