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nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen
Through some faults or obscurities of translation, the root of the whole matter does indeed here appear, but not so as that we can at once fully comprehend it. Only we see that this practice of circumcision is called a being justified by the law, and that he who tries to be so justified, is said to have fallen from grace: and then we remember the earnest language of the Epistle to the Romans, and particularly of the tenth chapter, and comparing the two Epistles together, that to the Galatians written indeed on a particular occasion, but that to the Romans written to those whom the Apostle had never seen, on no particular subject, but as a general statement of the peculiar truths of that Gospel of Christ which he was everywhere preaching,—comparing, I say, the two Epistles together, that to the Galatians, and that to the Romans, we shall see what was St. Paul's Gospel, and what that other Gospel, which was not another, because it was rather no Gospel at all.
St. Paul's Gospel, as he himself tells us, was briefly this, “ Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The first part of it was plain enough ; the second was misrepresented from the beginning, and was indeed so sure to be misrepresented, that there must have been some strong reason for bringing it forward so prominently at all risks, and in this particular form. Doubtless it was misrepresented immediately to the churches of Judea; Paul, it was said, teaches men that if they believe the fact of Christ's resurrection, they are forth with justified in the sight of God. Nay, said St. James, this is shocking and monstrous; for the devils believe the fact that there is one God, and yet they are not justified; and faith without works is dead. So St. James said, and so he was permitted to write, condemning most justly the misrepresented doctrine of St. Paul, in no way touching the doctrine itself. But although thus open to the most shocking misrepresentation, still St. Paul could not suppress the doctrine, nor qualify it, he could not help declaring that by faith men were justified; he could not help affirming to the Galatians, that if they sought to be justified by the law, they were not partakers of the justification of Christ.
What did he mean then, when he spoke so earnestly against the law ? Did he mean the law of ceremonies? Did he condemn circumcision, because it was regarded in the light of a moral act, as if God's favour could be won by forms or ritual observances ? Certainly he did mean this, and justly, for men will not take a great deal of trouble
for nothing; and he knew that wherever a system of outward ceremonies was enforced, they would be looked upon as valuable, however much this value was in words denied; the question for ever recurring, “ If they are not valuable, why should we take the trouble of performing them?” And this is an eternal argument against the use of many outward ceremonies, or the imposing of them by public authority; because men will believe our actions more than our words, and when we require them to do a great number of things, telling them at the same time that they are in themselves of no value, we do but lose our labour; they will not believe a contradiction; being obliged to do the things, they will feel sure that they are not done for nothing. And this is one of the ways in which Christ's Gospel has been undermined; first by the ceremonies of the Jewish law, but presently afterwards by other ceremonies nominally Christian, but which were not Christian, and could not be so, inasmuch as they attacked the very main principle of Christianity, which places our justification in something wholly different, in Christ, and our faith in Him, and not in any outward acts or ceremonies whatever. It is then quite true, that St. Paul in condemning circumcision did condemn the law of ceremonies and forms, maintaining most decidedly that all such things were a snare, which would lead us away from our justification by Christ. Did he mean then to say only this, and is his great doctrine of justification by faith, no more than a repetition of the old Scripture, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice,” or, “the sacrifices of God are a troubled spirit,” &c. ? Let any man look at the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and see whether the law there spoken of means the ceremonial law. His Gospel, it is true, did contain in it the truth declared in many parts of the Old Testament, that ceremonies (in themselves) had no virtue, that he who trusted in them trusted on a broken reed, and would surely fall. But it contained another truth far greater, that as no man could be justified by the law of ceremonies, because of its inherent unprofitableness, so neither could any man be justified by the law of spiritual holiness, because of his imperfect fulfilment of it.
The fruit of the one tree, the tree of outward rites, grew within his reach, he could gather it, he could eat it; but it was like the apples of Sodom, fair only without, full of dust and emptiness within. But the fruit of the tree of holiness was a fruit unto life everlasting: he who eats of that fruit must live for ever; only it grew so high that man could not reach it; there it flourished in his sight, his eyes acknowledged its beauty, his soul knew that its taste was life, but his hands could not gather it. And if he had turned assiduously to look after the fruits which fell to the ground, and had picked them up bruised and soiled as they were, and had eaten them, and called them the fruits of the tree of life even in that spoiled state, and said that by their virtue he should live for ever, what was he but deceiving himself, and mistaking the soiled and sadly injured fruit which he had picked up from the ground, mingled with the inevitable defilements of the earth on which it had fallen, for that pure and life-giving fruit which grew on the tree high up in the heavens, which would have been life to him indeed, but which no power or art of his could gather?
Therefore, and therefore only, not for any defect in holiness in itself, God forbid! not because virtue is not essentially divine, but because what we call holiness and virtue are but the bruised and spoiled fruits which have fallen to the earth, and are not the same precious things with the fruits which God calls holiness and virtue; therefore, that we should not bow down to a vain thing, and put our trust in what was not trustworthy; St. Paul declared that by the fruits of neither tree could we be justified, neither by the ceremonies of the law, for they were vain, nor yet by the moral commandments of the law, for though holy and mighty to save in themselves, yet we could not keep them. And therefore declaring that by the law, whether ceremonialor moral, there would no flesh be justified,