A look at the Spurgeon Commentary on Galatians

spurgeon

One thing you cannot deny about Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century English Baptist preacher, is he was prolific. He wrote dozens of books, preached thousands of sermons, taught hundreds of students… but one thing he never did write: a commentary on Galatians. So if you wanted to find some thoughts of Spurgeon to share on a particular passage from this wonderful New Testament epistle, you’d have to scour through an intimidating pile of sermons and books.

So Logos Bible Software decided to do something about it, compiling material from Spurgeon’s preaching and writing into a handy commentary, Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians. Some time ago, the gang at Logos sent me a copy and asked me to take a look. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1. It’s helpfully organized. Organization is crucial to any book, but especially so in a commentary. You need to know Elliot Ritzema, the editor of this volume, has done an exceptional job of compiling the very best of Spurgeon’s teaching on Galatians, and organizing it by exposition, illustration and application, with the source material clearly listed at the end of each section.

This structure is very helpful for me. I can target my searching based on my needs. So if I want to check my interpretation against Spurgeon’s, it’s easy enough to do. Ditto if I’m just looking for an illustration point for a book or a sermon, or some guidance on how to apply the text.

2. It’s extremely quotable. This is a surprise to exactly no one who is even remotely familiar with Spurgeon’s work. Reading his work is always a delight, and this commentary is no exception. Here’s a favorite illustration that stuck with me on the need to continually preach the gospel:

Remember John Bunyan when he refused to give up preaching. They put him in prison and said to him, “Mr. Bunyan, you can come out of prison whenever you will promise to cease preaching the gospel.” He said, “If you let me out of prison today, I will preach again tomorrow, by the grace of God.” “Well,” they said, “then you must go back to prison.” He answered, “I will go back and stay there if need be till the moss grows on my eyelids, but I will never deny my Master.” This was the stuff of which the godly were made then. May the Lord make many of us to be like them—men and women who cannot and will not do that which is evil but will, in the name of God, stand to the right and the true, come what may!

And just for fun, here’s another example of some terrific application of Galatians 1:6-10:

If the life of the man should be blameless as the life of Christ, yet if he preaches to you other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, take no heed of him. He wears but the sheep’s clothing and is a wolf after all. Some will plead, “But such and such a man is so eloquent.” Ah! Brothers, may the day never come when your faith shall stand in the words of men. What is a ready orator, after all, that he should convince your hearts? Are there not ready orators caught any day for everything? Men speak, speak fluently, and speak well in the cause of evil, and there are some that can speak much more fluently and more eloquently for evil than any of our poor tongues are ever likely to do for the right. But words, words, words, flowers of rhetoric, oratory—are these the things that saved you? Are you so foolish that having begun in the Spirit by being convinced of your sins, having begun by being led simply to Christ and putting your trust in Him, are you now to be led astray by these poetic utterances and flowery periods of men? God forbid! Let nothing of this kind beguile you.

There are more examples than this, but I think you get the point.

3. It’s stood the test of time. The thing with older material (even in new packaging), is when it’s more than a century old, you know it’s going to be worth reading (even if you disagree). There’s a richness to Spurgeon’s writing that is sorely lacking from many of today’s teachers and preachers (even then best of them), so reading through this commentary has been a treat.

All this to say, I would, without hesitation, recommend Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians. This is a very, very good resource, and one that will surely be a terrific addition to any Logos user’s library.

The Children of the Law and The Children of the Gospel

The children of the Law will always persecute the children of the Gospel. This is our daily experience. Our opponents tell us that everything was at peace before the Gospel was revived by us. Since then the whole world has been upset. People blame us and the Gospel for everything, for the disobedience of subjects to their rulers, for wars, plagues, and famines, for revolutions, and every other evil that can be imagined. No wonder our opponents think they are doing God a favor by hating and persecuting us. Ishmael will persecute Isaac.

We invite our opponents to tell us what good things attended the preaching of the Gospel by the apostles. Did not the destruction of Jerusalem follow on the heels of the Gospel? And how about the overthrow of the Roman Empire? Did not the whole world seethe with unrest as the Gospel was preached in the whole world? We do not say that the Gospel instigated these upheavals. The iniquity of man did it.

Our opponents blame our doctrine for the present turmoil. But ours is a doctrine of grace and peace. It does not stir up trouble. Trouble starts when the people, the nations and their rulers of the earth rage and take counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed. (Psalm 2.) But all their counsels shall be brought to naught. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:4.) Let them cry out against us as much as they like. We know that they are the cause of all their own troubles.

As long as we preach Christ and confess Him to be our Savior, we must be content to be called vicious trouble makers. These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, so said the Jews of Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:6, 7.) Of Paul they said: We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. The Gentiles uttered similar complaints: These men do exceedingly trouble our city.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 2586)

Let the Law, Sin, and the Devil Cry Out Against Us

The fact that the Spirit of Christ in our hearts cries unto God and makes intercession for us with groanings should reassure us greatly. However, there are many factors that prevent such full reassurance on our part. We are born in sin. To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil, our adversary, goeth about seeking to devour us by roaring: God is angry at you and is going to destroy you forever. In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses. We cannot see Him. The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts of the devil, the agues of death, the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us. The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts: Abba, Father. And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God.

The Spirit cries in us because of our weakness. Because of our infirmity the Holy Ghost is sent forth into our hearts to pray for us according to the will of God and to assure us of the grace of God.

Let the Law, sin, and the devil cry out against us until their outcry fills heaven and earth. The Spirit of God outcries them all. Our feeble groans, Abba, Father, will be heard of God sooner than the combined racket of hell, sin, and the Law.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 2125)

We Do Not Preach For the Praise Of Princes

No man can say that we are seeking the favor and praise of men with our doctrine. We teach that all men are naturally depraved. We condemn man’s free will, his strength, wisdom, and righteousness. We say that we obtain grace by the free mercy of God alone for Christ’s sake. This is no preaching to please men. This sort of preaching procures for us the hatred and disfavor of the world, persecutions, excommunications, murders, and curses.

Can’t you see that I seek no man’s favor by my doctrine? asks Paul. If I were anxious for the favor of men I would flatter them. But what do I do? I condemn their works. I teach things only that I have been commanded to teach from above. For that I bring down upon my head the wrath of Jews and Gentiles. My doctrine must be right. It must be divine. Any other doctrine cannot be better than mine. Any other doctrine must be false and wicked.

With Paul we boldly pronounce a curse upon every doctrine that does not agree with ours. We do not preach for the praise of men, or the favor of princes. We preach for the favor of God alone whose grace and mercy we proclaim. Whosoever teaches a gospel contrary to ours, or different from ours, let us be bold to say that he is sent of the devil.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 397)

Dispensing Grace And Peace

That Christ is very God is apparent in that Paul ascribes to Him divine powers equally with the Father, as for instance, the power to dispense grace and peace. This Jesus could not do unless He were God.

To bestow peace and grace lies in the province of God, who alone can create these blessings. The angels cannot. The apostles could only distribute these blessings by the preaching of the Gospel. In attributing to Christ the divine power of creating and giving grace, peace, everlasting life, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins, the conclusion is inevitable that Christ is truly God. Similarly, St. John concludes from the works attributed to the Father and the Son that they are divinely One. Hence, the gifts which we receive from the Father and from the Son are one and the same. Otherwise Paul should have written: Grace from God the Father, and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ. In combining them he ascribes them equally to the Father and the Son. I stress this on account of the many errors emanating from the sects.

The Arians were sharp fellows. Admitting that Christ had two natures, and that He is called very God of very God, they were yet able to deny His divinity. The Arians took Christ for a noble and perfect creature, superior even to the angels, because by Him God created heaven and earth. Mohammed also speaks highly of Christ. But all their praise is mere palaver to deceive men. Paul’s language is different. To paraphrase him: You are established in this belief that Christ is very God because He gives grace and peace, gifts which only God can create and bestow.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 171)

The Call Is Not To Be Taken Lightly

The call is not to be taken lightly. For a person to possess knowledge is not enough. He must be sure that he is properly called. Those who operate without a proper call seek no good purpose. God does not bless their labors. They may be good preachers, but they do [not] edify. Many of the fanatics of our day pronounce words of faith, but they bear no good fruit, because their purpose is to turn men to their perverse opinions. On the other hand, those who have a divine call must suffer a good deal of opposition in order that they may become fortified against the running attacks of the devil and the world.

This is our comfort in the ministry, that ours is a divine office to which we have been divinely called. Reversely, what an awful thing it must be for the conscience if one is not properly called. It spoils one’s best work. When I was a young man I thought Paul was making too much of his call. I did not understand his purpose. I did not then realize the importance of the ministry. I knew nothing of the doctrine of faith because we were taught sophistry instead of certainty, and nobody understood spiritual boasting. We exalt our calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful pride. It is holy pride.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 87)

A Precise God

I’ve been chewing on a great quote from Charles Spurgeon since reading it (of all places) on Twitter:

A Puritan was told that he was too precise; but he replied, “I serve a precise God.”

What’s specifically been sticking with me is that response: “I serve a precise God.”

How often do we consider the preciseness of God? Earlier on Thursday, maybe two hours before reading the quote from Spurgeon, I noticed a few Facebook friends “liking” a silly page called “God created men first, cause you always make a rough draft before a masterpiece!” (Yes, I get the joke.)

Thursday morning, I was reading Galatians chapter two, wherein Paul is explaining how after fourteen years of preaching the gospel, he went to Jerusalem because of a revelation that had come to him. In verse two, Paul explains that, “I went up . . . and set before them [the Apostles] . . .  the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”

What struck me as I read this was Paul’s concern for precision of his gospel. He set before the Apostles “the gospel that [he proclaims] in order to make sure that [he] was not running or had not run in vain.”

Paul was desperate to make sure that the gospel he proclaimed—that Jesus Christ had lived a sinless life on our behalf, died on the cross and bore the punishment for our sins, rose again bodily from the grave on the third day and was now seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven; that salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone—he was desperate to make sure that this was, in fact, the gospel! [Read more…]