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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


The Apostle commences this chapter, by exhorting the Galatians to persevere in the Gospel liberty, into which Christ had asserted them (verse 1)—and adduces several motives for deterring them from submitting to the bondage of the Mosaic law. First, if they submit to circumcision, their Christian profession will prove of no avail to them (2); secondly, they would be bound to the entire law by receiving circumcision (3); thirdly, they would forfeit all the blessings of Christianity (4); fourthly, because it is by faith, animated by charity, and not by any carnal means, justification is obtained (5, 6). He deplores the interruption that happened the Galatians in their onward course of Christian perfection; their deviation from the straight path he ascribes to their intercourse with false teachers, whom the father of lies employed to corrupt their faith, as a little leaven corrupts the entire mass (7–9). He expresses his firm hope that, through God’s grace they will repent, and denounces a merited sentence of judgment against the men, who were instrumental in unsettling their faith (10). He refutes the calumny circulated regarding himself by his enemies—viz., that he observed the legal ceremonies, by referring to the notoriety of his persecution for having insisted on the abolition of these ceremonies (11). He expresses a wish, that these false teachers would be not only circumcised, but altogether cut off from the Church (12). He exhorts the Galatians to the practice of the Christian virtues, especially of charity, to which the whole law is reduced (13, 14). He animadverts on the deplorable absence of charity for one another from among them (15). He assigns one general means of observing charity, which is, to walk according to the impulse of God’s spirit, the motions of which are diametrically opposed to those of the flesh (16, 17, 18). In order to guard them against all error on a subject which so vitally concerns their salvation, he recounts the works of the flesh, and the fruits of the Spirit (23). He next points out the obligations imposed upon them by the very nature of their Christian professions, to mortify the deeds of the flesh, and live according to the Spirit.


1. Persevere firmly in the Gospel liberty which Christ has secured for you (4:31), and suffer not yourselves to be again held under the yoke of servitude—viz., the yoke of the Mosaic law.

2. Behold, I, Paul, your divinely commissioned Apostle, openly announce and proclaim to you, that if you submit to circumcision, you shall have no share in the benefits of Christ; your Christian profession shall be of no avail to you.

3. And in addition to the declaration just made, I once more solemnly declare to every man, who, by submitting to circumcision, wishes to be incorporated with the Jewish synagogue, that he is bound to the observance of the entire law.

4. You have rendered void in your regard all the blessings of Christianity, or, you have renounced Christianity; by seeking to be justified through the law, you have fallen away from sanctifying grace.

5. For we, true and sincere Christians, seek for, and hope to obtain, the justice for which we long, through the spirit of grace and charity which is imparted by faith.

6. For in Christianity, it conduces no way to justice or salvation, whether a person be circumcised or uncircumcised, the only thing of avail is faith, which is perfected, and which operates, by charity, that is, which is joined to the observance of the commandments, and the performance of good works.

7. You advanced well in your onward course, of Christian virtue. Who could have crossed your path so as to turn you aside from your right course, and prevent you from obeying the truth?

8. This erroneous persuasion which you entertain regarding the necessity of the Jewish ceremonies is not from God, who called you to Christianity.

9. It is caused by a few false teachers, whose converse and society have corrupted you, just as a little leaven corrupts and imbues with its own sourness the entire mass with which it is mixed.

10. But I have confidence in you, that, through the grace of God, you will not entertain any thoughts on matters of faith different from what we have taught you; but the man, whoever he be, that causes this disturbance, and attempts to unsettle your faith, shall suffer the just sentence of condemnation which he deserves.

11. But as for me, brethren, if I am still proclaiming the necessity of circumcision, as has been asserted regarding me by my enemies, why is it that I suffer persecution from the Jews? The scandal of the cross—the only cause of my persecution—would, in that case, have ceased to exist.

12. Would to God, that those men, who attempt to unsettle your faith by subjecting you to circumcision, were not only circumcised themselves, but altogether cut off from the Church, as rotten members, lest they corrupt others.

13. For, as to you, brethren, you are called by Christ to liberty and immunity from the onerous servitude of the legal ceremonies. Take care, however, not to abuse this liberty, by making it an occasion or pretext for indulging the desires of the flesh. But although exempted from legal servitude, there is a species of heavenly servitude which you should be careful to practise, by becoming the servants of one another, mutually assisting one another, through the charity of the spirit of God.

14. For, the entire law, so far as regards out neighbour, is comprised in this short saying: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

15. But if, in defiance of this precept, you continue to bite and devour one another, by your mutual quarrels, calumnies, and detractions, take care, lest you utterly ruin one another, by calling down the divine vengeance on yourselves.

16. This, then, I say, and commend to you in a particular manner: live according to the impulse and dictates of the Holy Ghost, and you shall not consent to, or accomplish the desires of the flesh.

17. For the desires to which the flesh, or concupiscence, impels us, are quite opposed to the desires to which the spirit or grace impels us. They are borne towards objects quite different in their nature (concupiscence makes us wish for carnal, earthly things; but the spirit of grace makes us desire spiritual, heavenly, and eternal things); for these are mutually opposed to each other, in such a way as that just men often do and suffer certain things against their will.

18. But if you are under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, you are no longer under the law; you are beyond its threats and menaces, since you voluntarily and spontaneously perform, from motives of love, what the law enjoins with a threat of punishment. Hence, you can set its threats and menaces at defiance.

19. (To obviate any mistake in a matter of such moment, I will recount to you the works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit). The works to which the flesh, that is to say, the disorderly passions of concupiscence, whether of the superior or inferior appetite, incites us, are manifest—viz., all kinds of carnal uncleanness:

20. Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects.

21. Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and the like, regarding which I now tell you beforehand, as I have told you already, that the men who are guilty of them shall never obtain a share in the inheritance of God’s kingdom.

22. But the works which the spirit produces in us by his grace, as means of securing God’s inheritance, are charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity.

23. Mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against the persons practising these, the law has no effect. They require no penal enactments to induce them to perform their duties; hence, they are not under the law, but far beyond the reach of its threats and menaces.

24. But they who truly discharge the duties of their Christian profession, have mortified in themselves this carnal concupiscence which wars against the Spirit, with its passions and wicked desires.

25. But if we are interiorily animated by the Spirit, let us express this in our exterior conduct, in our actions.

26. Let us lay aside all desires of vain glory, which causes us to provoke one another, and if unsuccessful to envy one another.


1. “Stand fast.” These words are, in the ordinary Greek and Syriac versions, joined with the words of the preceding verse, thus: stand fast (therefore) in the freedom with which Christ made us free. The meaning is the same as in our construction, which is that of St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and several old Greek editions. From the words, “stand fast,” some interpreters infer that the Galatians had not lost the faith. From verse 4, it appears, however, that some had, and the words, “stand fast,” are, probably, addressed to those who persevered. The words, “stand fast,” probably contain a military metaphor, in allusion to their persevering under the banner of Christ.

“And be not held again,” &c., i.e., be not tied down and held fast under another yoke of bondage. “Again” is used in reference to bondage in general; they were before under the bondage of idolatry. He now refers to bondage of a different kind viz., that of the Mosaic law.—(See 4:9).

2. “Behold, I Paul.” He used the word, “Behold,” for the purpose of arresting their attention, and he introduces his own name, to show that he is about to address them authoritatively, in quality of true Apostle, on an important subject of faith, touching the necessity of uniting the legal ceremonies with the Gospel—a point on which they were led astray by the false teachers. “Christ shall profit you nothing.” The benefits of Christ’s death and passion shall be lost to them, since, by such a course, they renounce their Christian profession altogether. Of what avail shall his Christian profession be to the sinner, who by his profane, carnal, and animal life, expels Christ and his Holy Spirit from his breast? It shall serve only to deepen his damnation.

3. The false teachers taught the Galatians, that it was sufficient for them to observe the leading points of the Mosaic law, such as the observance of Sabbaths, new moons, &c. The Apostle, on the contrary, informed them, that so long as they labour under their erroneous convictions, and submitted to circumcision, they are bound to the numberless burthens of the law; because circumcision was a public profession of the Jewish religion, as baptism is of Christianity. Hence, a man is obliged to follow the dictates of an erroneous conscience.

4. “You are made void of Christ,” convey a strong repetition of the words, verse 2, “Christ shall profit you nothing.” In other words, they cease to be true Christians, notwithstanding their external profession of Christianity.

“You are fallen from grace.” Hence, grace is not inamissible, as some of the Galatians must have sinned mortally.

5. A proof that they ceased to be Christians, is their having recourse to means of justification quite different from that pointed out by the law of Christ. “We,” true Christians, “wait for,” απεκδεχομεθα, patiently wait for, “the hope of justice,” i.e., the justice which we all hope and long for, including perseverance in the same justice, and its final consummation in eternal glory, by spiritual means, of which the groundwork and source is faith (“by faith”); whereas the Galatians resorted to carnal ceremonies and the works of the law.

6. The reason why recourse should be had to faith rather than to the works of the law for justification is, because in “Christ Jesus,” i.e., in Christianity, or in our union and fellowship with Christ, it avails not for justification whether one be circumcised or not. The system of justification, in the present order of things, is founded on faith; but this faith must not be sterile or inoperative, like the faith of demons; it must be active and operative, animated and “worked by charity.” The Greek for “worketh,” or, displays its energy, ενεργουμενη, might be also rendered passively, which is energized, or, worked, i.e., formed or animated “by charity.” The meaning, however, is the same; for, if faith be animated by charity, it proceeds to works, and so “worketh by charity.” Hence, faith alone is not sufficient for justification or salvation.

7. “You did run well,” &c. It is quite usual with the Apostle to compare our progress towards salvation to the exercises of the race-course, (v.g.) 1 Cor. 9.; 2 Tim. 4:7. “Who hath hindered you?” i.e., who has crossed your path and turned you aside, so that you no longer advance in the direct course of Gospel truth?

8. There false impressions did not emanate from God, but from the devil, the father of lies.

9. The society and preaching of the false teachers, although but few, would have the effect of corrupting all, as “a little leaven corrupteth the entire lump.” For “corrupteth,” St. Jerome and others use, ὅλον τὸ φυραμα ζυμοῖ, “ferments or leaveneth the entire mass.” The meaning, however, is the same as that of the Vulgate. The adage may be understood of the doctrine as well as of the teachers, thus: a single error destroys the entire collection of the truths of faith and the habit of faith, just as “a little leaven, &c.”

10. “But he that troubleth you,” may refer to some particular leader among the false teachers, or to the false teachers in general. “Shall bear the judgment” of condemnation. Woe to the man who, by scandal, whether in word or example, murders a soul purchased by the blood of God!

11. The false teachers, with a view of more easily inducing the Galatians to receive circumcision, asserted that St. Paul himself when among the Jews, acted like them, and proclaimed the necessity of the legal ceremonies, in proof of which they quoted the fact of Timothy having been circumcised. The Apostle refutes this calumny by referring to the persecutions which he endured from the Jews—persecutions to which he most assuredly would not be subjected, if he acted as had been charged upon him by the false teachers. “The scandal of the cross is, then, made void.” The preaching of the cross would cease to be an offence to the Jews, who would have cheerfully borne with it, had it not proclaimed the abolition of the Old Law, and put forward the death of Christ on the cross, as the only source of salvation. They were anxious to have the observance of the legal ceremonies united with the Gospel precepts, and in the event of the Apostle doing so, they would have ceased to persecute him. It was not so much the preaching of the cross, as the abolition of the Law by the cross, as the only source of salvation, that gave them offence.

12. The doctrine of circumcision inculcated by the false teachers had the effect of unsettling the faith and disturbing the belief of the Galatians; hence, the Apostle wishes them to be cut off altogether from the Church. This interpretation of the words is rendered probable by the clear analogy perceptible between this and the passage (1 Ep. Cor. 5), in which the Apostle pronounces a sentence of excommunication. It is the same sentence he evidently refers to here. Some interpreters give the word, αποκοψονται, “were cut off,” an active signification, “cut themselves off” from all communion with the faithful.

13. The exposition adopted in the Paraphrase, the only one warranted by the context, shows the utter futility of the objection derived by heretics from this passage against the obligation of human laws. To the latter, the Apostle enjoins obedience, even on grounds of conscience (Rom. 13). The “liberty” referred to here is an immunity from the legal ceremonies, from the spirit of fear entailed by the Old Law, and from the slavery of sin. “Only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh.” There is an ellipsis in the Greek, in which the verb “make” is wanting. St. Jerome admits that it had been inserted by the interpreter to complete the sense. By these words, the Apostle guards against the erroneous interpretation already referred to, and with them he commences the moral part of the Epistle. The abuse against which he cautions them is “to make liberty an occasion to the flesh.” The end, to which this liberty should tend is, “by charity of the spirit serve one another.” From real, sincere feelings of charity, they should be subject to one another, so as to provide for their mutual necessities. The means, for preserving this liberty are assigned in verse 16.

14. The love of our neighbour, although differing in object from the love of God, is still the same virtue with it; because both branches of the virtue have the same motive.

15. The novel doctrines of the false teachers occasioned disputes and contentions amongst the Galatians, which the Apostle sharply censures, by comparing the parties at variance to dogs, devouring one another. He points out at the same time, the result of their disputes—viz., spiritual ruin, to avoid which, he prescribes the observance of the precept of charity (verse 3).

16. “I say then.” He uses this emphatic form of expression in order to arrest their attention. “Walk in the spirit.” As all the precepts were reduced to charity (verse 14), so are all the means of practising this comprehensive and excellent virtue reduced to this one. “Walk,” i.e., live according to the dictates of God’s Spirit, who is the animating principle of Christian life, “and you shall not fulfil,” i.e., perform, follow after, or consent to “the desires of the flesh,” i.e., of corrupt nature, and of the sensual passions of man. The Apostle does not say, you shall not experience the depraved motions of concupiscence, since this is impossible in the present order of things; but, “you shall not fulfil,” &c.

17. It is not without cause that he told them “to walk in the spirit, and not fulfil the lusts of the flesh”; for the motions of both are quite contrary and opposite. By “the flesh,” are meant the disorderly motions of concupiscence—that is to say, the disorderly motions of corrupt nature, both in the concupiscible and irascible appetites, such as the desires of lust and gluttony, in the one, and of envy and anger, in the other. The word “flesh” also includes, the motions of the superior or rational appetite, such as the desires of vain glory, and the rest. This concupiscence, whether it appertains to the superior or inferior appetite, is called “the flesh,” because the concupiscence of the flesh, it is, that domineers principally over man, in his present fallen state. The “spirit” refers to the Holy Ghost, who produces in us, holy desires by his grace. “So that you do not the things that you would;” ἵνα μὴ ἅ ἄν θέλητε ταῦτα ποιῆτε. The Protestant rendering, “that you cannot do,” &c., is a corruption of the text; the consequence of the struggle and opposition between the desires of the corrupt and disorderly passions of our fallen nature, and the holy desires to which the dictates of the Holy Ghost impel us, is that the most perfect can neither perform all the good, nor avoid all the evil they wish; they cannot avoid the involuntary motions of concupiscence, and the disorderly desires of the superior faculties of the soul.

18. “You are not under the Law.” “Under the law” is used in reference to a man who is unable to fulfil the precepts of the law, and is, therefore, rendered liable to the threats, which it holds out against its violators. The law pointed out to man his duties; but, of itself, it did not furnish him with the necessary means for their fulfilment. By saying, “you are not under the law,” he shows the inutility of disputes respecting the legal ceremonies,

19. He recounts the works to which “the flesh,” i.e., concupiscence in the sense already explained, incites us. He reckons among them not only the defilements of the flesh, but spiritual sins also, sins proceeding from a superior disorderly appetite, such as sins of heresy, envy, &c. “Are manifest;” it is well known to all the faithful that they proceed not from the Holy Ghost. “Which are,” ἅτινα ἐστιν, to which class belong, “fornication.” It is justly observed by Commentators that great prominence is given here by the Apostle to sins of carnal uncleanness: because, the Pagans of old regarded such as indifferent in their nature. In the ordinary Greek, we have “adultery” placed before fornication, thus: μοιχεία, πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, &c., μοιχεία (adultery, is rejected by the best critics), “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, luxury.” “Immodesty” is not read in the Greek; it has the same meaning with “luxury.” The sins mentioned in this verse refer to all kinds of impurity. It is remarked by interpreters, that the Apostle groups the different vices enumerated here under four heads:—Firstly, impurity, as in this verse; secondly, impiety, as “idolatry,” witchcrafts; thirdly, the vices of the irascible appetite, such as “enmities”—“murders;” fourthly, gluttony and drunkenness, &c.

20. “Idolatry” probably refers to their eating meats offered to idols, either with an erroneous conscience, or in circumstances calculated to give scandal.—(See 1 Cor. 11. “Fly from the service of idols,” verse 14, “neither become ye idolaters,” verse 7).

“Witchcrafts”—all compacts or communications with the devil, whereby our neighbour is injured. The Greek word for “witchcrafts,” φαρμακεια, conveys, that charms or drugs were employed for the injurious effect. “Enmities;” deep feelings of hatred. “Contentions;” verbal wranglings and disputes, having for object superiority in argument rather than the vindication of truth. “Emulations;” the inordinate seeking of self-pre-eminence, or the sorrow arising from the privation of the goods possessed by another. “Wraths;” strong, furious desires of vengeance. “Quarrels;” the contentious disposition to fight with every one. “Dissensions;” differences existing between neighbours, or between those closely allied to us whether by ties of nature or grace. “Sects” (in Greek, αἱρεσεις, heresies), refer to disputes in religious doctrine, or rather opinions opposed to sound doctrine, in which sense the word is used.—(1 Corinthians, 11:19).

21. “Envies;” sorrow arising from our neighbour’s prosperity. It differs from “emulation” (verse 20), thus; “emulation” is the sorrow arising from our being deprived of a certain good possessed by others; whereas “envy” is the sorrow arising from our neighbour’s possessing it; envy would wish the good never to have existed. “Murders;” φονοι, is wanting in the Codex Vaticanus, but supported by MSS. generally.

“Drunkenness,” refers to the excessive indulgence in inebriating drinks, whether attended by a deprivation of reason or not, “vie vobis qui fortes estis ad bibendum vinum” (Isaias, 5:5). “Revellings;” excess in eating, and inordinate desires of gluttony, spending too much time in feasting, &c.

“I foretel you,” i.e., I tell you before the day of judgment arrives. It is to be remarked that some of the foregoing sins admit of levity of matter, and must be aggravated by circumstances in order to be mortal. It is, moreover, deserving of remark, that most of them are spiritual sins, which, it is to be feared, are seldom scrupled as they deserve.

22. The fruit of the Spirit; so called because the Holy Ghost is their principal author. It is to be borne in mind, that three of the fruits of the Spirit expressed in the Vulgate are wanting in the Greek. This is accounted for by many on the supposition, that different translators gave different meanings to some of the Greek words. The same Greek word, μακροθυμια, was rendered, patience longanimity. Another, πραοτης, was rendered modesty, mildness; and another, ἐγκράτεια, continency, chastity. All these were inserted in the Vulgate; and hence, we have three words more than are to be found in the Greek. “Charity” is the great source from which the other virtues flow. “Joy;” the pleasure arising from the good of our neighbour, opposed to “envy” and “emulation.” “Peace;” the tranquillity of soul arising from the testimony of a good conscience, opposed to “enmities.” “Patience, longanimity,” are both expressed by one word in the Greek, and mean, the spirit of enduring adversity, and bearing with the defects of others. “Benignity;” that amiable sweetness of temper, and of accommodation to the disposition of others, opposed to “contentions, quarrels.” “Goodness;” the benevolent desire of doing good and serving all, opposed to “homicides, witchcrafts.” “Mildness, modesty.” These two have but one corresponding word in the Greek, and mean, that tractable evenness of temper, which avoids all extremes of conduct.

23. “Faith;” honourable fidelity in the fulfilment of promises and contracts. “Continency, chastity.” These also have but one corresponding word in the Greek; they mean the spirit of temperance and moderation in desires, opposed to the vices of lust and gluttony. “Against such there is no law,” i.e., over the persons who practise these virtues, the law can exercise no dominion. They can set its threats and menaces at defiance. These latter words have the same meaning as the words, verse 18, “you are not under the law.”—(See 1 Tim. 1:19).

24. “And they that are Christ’s.” In the chief MSS. it is, “they that are of Christ Jesus” “have crucified,” that is, mortified their corrupt desires; he says, “crucified,” in allusion to the death of Christ, which was the model of our death to the passions. “Their flesh,” the Greek has, την σαρκα, the flesh

25. Our lives, the whole tenor of our actions, should be strictly conformable to the dictates of the spirit by which we are animated.

26. Spiritual sins, such as the desire of empty glory arising from the repute of learning, eloquence, and other acquirements, are by no means uncommon among such as are perfectly free from the dominion of carnal sins. They are the more dangerous because rarely perceived; and therefore, but rarely scrupled, as they should; for, spiritual pride, arising from the possession of virtues, with which others are not equally favoured, is generally so latent in its approach, and so subtle in its operation, that even among persons devoted to God, it works great mischief in the soul, before it is thought of, and, not unfrequently, is the root of great disorders. How deep and solid should be the humility of those whom God favours with his graces, and stimulates to enter on his divine service. They should always bear in mind, that of themselves they are nothing; that all they possess is received; that left to themselves, there is no crime, however grievous or shameful, they are not capable of committing, as perhaps a sad experience of the past may but too clearly prove to them. How many have entered on God’s service with the most generous dispositions, and laboured well for some time; a latent pride, however, insensibly insinuated itself. They gloried in their good actions, as if coming from themselves. In the pride of their heart they said, “ascendam.” They fell away and became reprobates. Hence, we should unceasingly cry out with the Psalmist: “Create in me, O God, a clean heart, and renew a right spirit, within my bowels.” “From my hidden sins cleanse me.” “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory.” This is particularly important for those who have been consecrated to the service of God.

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