John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Verse 1. Then fourteen years after - My first journey thither. I went up again to Jerusalem - This seems to be the journey mentioned Acts 15:2; several passages here referring to that great council, wherein all the apostles showed that they were of the same judgment with him.
Verse 2. I went up - Not by any command from them, but by an express revelation from God. And laid before them - The chief of the church in Jerusalem. The gospel which I preach among the gentiles - Acts 15:4, touching justification by faith alone; not that they might confirm me therein, but that I might remove prejudice from them. Yet not publicly at first, but severally to those of eminence - Speaking to them one by one. Lest I should run, or should have run, in vain - Lest I should lose the fruit either of my present or past labours. For they might have greatly hindered this, had they not been fully satisfied both of his mission and doctrine. The word run beautifully expresses the swift progress of the gospel.
Verse 3. But neither was Titus who was with me - When I conversed with them. Compelled to be circumcised - A clear proof that none of the apostles insisted on the circumcising gentile believers. The sense is, And it is true, some of those false brethren would fain have compelled Titus to be circumcised; but I utterly refused it.
Verse 4. Because of false brethren - Who seem to have urged it. Introduced unawares - Into some of those private conferences at Jerusalem. Who had slipped in to spy out our liberty - From the ceremonial law. That they might, if possible, bring us into that bondage again.
Verse 5. To whom we did not yield by submission - Although in love he would have yielded to any. With such wonderful prudence did the apostle use his Christian liberty ! circumcising Timothy, Acts 16:3, because of weak brethren, but not Titus, because of false brethren. That the truth of the gospel - That is, the true genuine gospel. Might continue with you - With you gentiles. So we defend, for your sakes, the privilege which you would give up.
Verse 6. And they who undoubtedly were something - Above all others. What they were - How eminent soever. It is no difference to me - So that I should alter either my doctrine or my practice. God accepteth no man's person - For any eminence in gifts or outward prerogatives. In that conference added nothing to me - Neither as to doctrine nor mission.
Verse 7. But when they saw - By the effects which I laid before them, Galatians 2:8; Acts 15:12. That I was intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision - That is, with the charge of preaching it to the uncircumcised heathens.
Verse 8. For he that wrought effectually in Peter for the apostleship of the circumcision - To qualify him for, and support him in, the discharge of that office to the Jews. Wrought likewise effectually in and by me - For and in the discharge of my office toward the gentiles.
Verse 9. And when James - Probably named first because he was bishop of the church in Jerusalem. And Cephas -Speaking of him at Jerusalem he calls him by his Hebrew name. And John - Hence it appears that he also was at the council, though he is not particularly named in the Acts. Who undoubtedly were pillars - The principal supporters and defenders of the gospel. Knew - After they had heard the account I gave them. The grace - Of apostleship. Which was given me, they - In the name of all. Gave to me and Barnabas -My fellow-labourer. The right hands of fellowship - They gave us their hands in token of receiving us as their fellow- labourers, mutually agreeing that we - I and those in union with me. Should go to the gentiles - Chiefly. And they - With those that were in union with them, chiefly to the circumcision -The Jews.
Verse 10. Of the poor - The poor Christians in Judea, who had lost all they had for Christ's sake.
Verse 11. But - The argument here comes to the height. Paul reproves Peter himself. So far was he from receiving his doctrine from man, or from being inferior to the chief of the apostles. When Peter - Afterwards, Came to Antioch -Then the chief of all the Gentile churches. I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed - For fear of man, Galatians 2:12; for dissimulation, Galatians 2:13; and for not walking uprightly. Galatians 2:14.
Verse 13. And the other believing Jews - Who were at Antioch. Dissembled with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation - Was borne away, as with a torrent, into the same ill practice.
Verse 14. I said to Cephas before them all - See Paul single against Peter and all the Jews! If thou being a Jew, yet livest, in thy ordinary conversation, after the manner of the gentiles - Not observing the ceremonial law, which thou knowest to be now abolished. Why compellest thou the gentiles -By withdrawing thyself and all the ministers from them; either to judaize, to keep the ceremonial law, or to be excluded from church communion ?
Verse 15. We - St. Paul, to spare St. Peter, drops the first person singular, and speaks in the plural number. Galatians 2:18, he speaks in the first person singular again by a figure; and without a figure, Galatians 2:19, &c. Who are Jews by nature - By birth, not proselytes only. And not sinners of the gentiles - That is, not sinful Gentiles; not such gross, enormous, abandoned sinners, as the heathens generally were.
Verse 16. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law - Not even of the moral, much less the ceremonial, law. But by the faith of Jesus Christ - That is, by faith in him. The name Jesus was first known by the gentiles; the name Christ by the Jews. And they are not always placed promiscuously; but generally in a more solemn way of speaking, the Apostle says, Christ Jesus; in a more familiar, Jesus Christ. Even we - And how much more must the Gentiles, who have still less pretence to depend on their own works! Have believed - Knowing there is no other way. Because - Considering the demands of the law, and the fate of human nature, it is evident, that by the works of the law - By such an obedience as it requires. Shall no flesh living - No human creature, Jew or Gentile, be justified. Hitherto St. Paul had been considering that single question, "Are Christians obliged to observe the ceremonial law? But he here insensibly goes farther, and, by citing this scripture, shows that what he spoke directly of the ceremonial, included also the moral, law. For David undoubtedly did so, when he said, Psalms 143:2, the place here referred to, "In thy sight shall no man living be justified;" which the Apostle likewise explains, Romans 3:19,20, in such a manner as can agree to none but the moral law.
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But if while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves are still found sinners - If we continue in sin, will it therefore follow, that Christ is the minister or countenancer of sin?
By no means. For if I build again - By my sinful practice. The things which I destroyed - By my preaching, I only make myself - Or show myself, not Christ, to be a transgressor; the whole blame lies on me, not him or his gospel. As if he had said, The objection were just, if the gospel promised justification to men continuing in sin. But it does not. Therefore if any who profess the gospel do not live according to it, they are sinners, it is certain, but not justified, and so the gospel is clear.
Verse 19. For I through the law - Applied by the Spirit to my heart, and deeply convincing me of my utter sinfulness and helplessness. Am dead to the law - To all hope of justification from it. That I may live to God - Not continue in sin. For this very end am I, in this sense, freed from the law, that I may be freed from sin.
The Apostle goes on to describe how he is freed from sin; how far he is from continuing therein. I am crucified with Christ - Made conformable to his death; "the body of sin is destroyed." Romans 6:6. And I - As to my corrupt nature. Live no longer - Being dead to sin. But Christ liveth in me - Is a fountain of life in my inmost soul, from which all my tempers, words, and actions flow. And the life that I now live in the flesh - Even in this mortal body, I live by faith in the Son of God - I derive every moment from that supernatural principle; from a divine evidence and conviction, that "he loved me, and delivered up himself for me."
Meantime I do not make void - In seeking to be justified by my own works. The grace of God - The free love of God in Christ Jesus. But they do, who seek justification by the law. For if righteousness is by the law - If men might be justified by their obedience to the law, moral or ceremonial. Then Christ died in vain - Without any necessity for it, since men might have been saved without his death; might by their own obedience have been both discharged from condemnation, and entitled to eternal life.