Page images

us to call to remembrance the great day of thy exaltation, without fixing our eyes upon thee, with those blessed disciples of thine who were the witnesses of it, without following thee, as they did with the bodily organ, and with all the powers of thought, and without crying out, “ Draw ys, Lord, we will run after thee,” Cant. i. 4. But in giving way to such desires, we misunderstand the nature of our vocation. We must combat as thou hast done, in order to triumph with thee. Well, be it so ! “ T'each my hands to war, and my fingers to fight,” Ps. cxliv. 1. Teach us to make thy cross a ladder, whereon to mount to thy throne. Amen.

The text which we have announced, is, as it were, a conclusion deduced from the chapters which precede it. We cannot possibly have a clear comprehension of it, without a general recollection of the whole Epistle from which it is taken. St. Paul in writing to the Galatians, has this principally in view, to revive the spirit of Christianity, which he himself had diffused over the whole province of Galatia. Never had preacher greater success, than the ministry of our apostle was attended with in this city of the Lesser Asia. He himself gives this honourable testimony in favour of the Galatians, in chap. iv. ver. 15. that “they had received him as an angel of God," and, which is saying still more, “even as Christ Jesus." But the Gauls of which this people was a colony, have, in all ages, been reproached with the faculty of easily taking impressions, and of losing them with equal facility. The sentirnents with which St. Paul had inspired them, shared the fate of

[ocr errors]

all violent sensations; that is, they were of no great duration. With this he upbraids them in the very beginning of the Epistle. I marvel, says he to them, chap. i. 6. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel." Mark the expression, removcd unto another gospel.

We are not possessed of memoirs of the first ages of the church sufficiently ample to enable us to determine with precision, who were the authors of a revolution so deplorable. But if we may give credit to two of the earliest historians, to whom we are indebted for the most complete accounts which we have of the first fathers of heresy, I mean Philostratus and St. Epiphanius; it was Cerinthus himself, in the first instance, and his disciples afterwards who marred the good seed which St. Paul had sown in the church of Galatia. One thing is certain, namely, that respect for the ceremonial observances which God himself had prescribed in a manner so solernn, and particularly for the law of circuincision, was the reason, or rather the pretext, of which the adversaries of our apostle availed themselves to destroy the fruits of his ministry, by exciting suspicions against the soundness of his doctrine. St. Paul goes to the root of the evil : he conveys just ideas of those ceremopial institutions; he demonstrates, that however venerable the origin of the might be, and whatever the wisdom displayed in their establishment, they had never been ļaid down as the essential part of religion, much less still, as the true means of reconciling men to God. We perceive at first sight, this design of the apostle in the words of my text, and through the whole Epistle, from which they are taken.

But what is perhaps, not so easily discoverable in it, but which ought to be very carefully observed, is, that as St. Paul was maintaining his thesis against opponents of different sorts, so he likewise supports it on different principles. Three descriptions of persons argued in favour of the Levitical observancès. The first did so from a prejudice of birth and education. The second, from an excess of complaisance. The third from a criminal policy.

1. A part of the Jews who had been converted to Christianity, could not help preserving a respect for the Levitical ceremonies, and wished to transmit the observance of them into the Christian church. These were the persons who acted from a prejudice of birth and education.

2. Some of thein more enlightened, out of complaisance to others, would have wished to retain the practice of those riles. In this class we find no less a person than St. Peter himself, as we learn from the second chapter of this epistle, the eleventh and following verses; and what is most to be regretted in the case, this apostle fell into such an excess of compliance, that he not only authorized by his example, that respect which the Jews had for the Levitical instilutions; but, being at Antioch, when certain Jews were sent thither by St. James, he pretended to break off all intercourse with the Gentile converts to Christianity, because they had not submitted to the ordinance of circumcision : in this he acted from an excessive and timid complaisance. This weakness of St. Peter, to mention it by the way, has been laid hold of by one of the most declared enemies of Christianity, I mean the philosopher Porphyry. The reproaches which he vents against the Christians, on this ground, appeared so galling to them, that they had recourse to a pious fraud to defend themselves. They alleged, nay, they perhaps, seriously believed that the person thus branded with timidity, was not Peter the apostle, but one Cephas, who, as they are pleased to give out, was of the pumber of the seventy disciples of Jesus Christ, mentioned in the gospel. A most chimerical supposition! which has been latterly adopted by a celebrated Jesuit*, and which has swelled the catalogue of his extravagances.

3. But if some, from prejudice, wished to transmit the Levitical ceremonies into Christianity, and others from an excess of complaisance; there was still a third description of persons who did so, out of a criminal policy. Such were the pagan converts. Respecting which it is necessary to remark, that the Jewish religion was tolerated by the Roman laws; whereas the religion of Jesus Christ was proscribed by them, and Christians were thereby exposed to the most violent persecution. This it was which induced the pagan converts to conform to the Levitical ceremonies, that they might pass for Jews, under this veil of Judaism.

A A passage of St. Jerome to this purpose, deserves to be here inserted. “Caius CÆSAR, says het, Au.


* Father Hardouin, in his Dissertation on Galatians ii. 10. of Hieron. tom. 9. in Galat. vi. 12.

GUSTUS and T'IBERIUS enacted laws, by which the Jews dispersed over the Roman Empire, were authorized to practise the rites of their religion, and the ceremonial institutions transmitted to them from their fathers. All those who were circuincised, though they had einbraced Christianity, were considered all over the pagan world, as Jews: but all those who remained in a state of uncircumcision, while they professedly received the gospel, were equally persecuted by Jews and pagans. There were teachers among them, therefore, who, in order to screen themselves from these persecutions, submitted to be circumcised, and recommended circumcision to their disciples.”

These are the words of St. Jerome, and they throw much light on what our apostle says in the 12th verse of the chapter, from which I have taken

“ As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.” And, as a relaxed morality has always the most numerous supporters, we see that in the church of Galatia, the teachers who made the greatest use of this artifice, not only attracted the greatest number of disciples, but likewise made that superiority a source of vain-glorious boasting. This is the sense of the words which immediately precede our text: “ For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law: but desire to have you circumcised, that they might glory in your flesh.”

These were the three descriptions of opponents against whom Paul had to maintain the inutility of

my text.

« PreviousContinue »