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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 17: Paul Revisits Corinth.

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The apostle reverts to his own experience, of which the Galatians have been previously informed. He reminds them of his proficiency in the learning of the Jews, and his zeal for their religion. Even in early manhood he had achieved [p. 191] distinction as an able and zealous defender of the Jewish faith. But when Christ was revealed to him, he at once renounced all his prospective honors and advantages, and devoted his life to the preaching of the cross. He appeals to his brethren to decide whether in all this he could have been actuated by any worldly or selfish motive. He then shows them that after his conversion he had no opportunity to receive instruction from man. The doctrines which he preached had been revealed to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. After the vision at Damascus, Paul retired into Arabia, for communion with God. It was not until three years had elapsed that he went up to Jerusalem; and he then made a stay of but fifteen days, thence going out to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He declares that he was "unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past, now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me."

In thus reviewing his history, the apostle seeks to make apparent to all that by special manifestation of divine power he had been led to perceive and to grasp the great truths of the gospel, as presented in the Old Testament scriptures and embodied in the life of Christ on earth. It was the knowledge received from God himself which led Paul to warn and admonish the Galatians in that solemn and positive manner. He did not present the gospel in hesitancy and doubt, but with the assurance of settled conviction and absolute knowledge. In his epistle he clearly marks the contrast between being taught by man and receiving instruction direct from Christ. [p. 192]

The apostle urged upon the Galatians, as their only safe course, to leave the false guides by whom they had been misled, and to return to the faith which they had received from the Source of truth and wisdom. Those false teachers were hypocritical, unregenerate men; unholy in heart, and corrupt in life. Their religion consisted in a round of ceremonies, by the performance of which they expected to receive the favor of God. They had no relish for a doctrine which taught, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Such a religion required too great a sacrifice. Hence they clung to their errors, deceiving themselves, and deceiving others.

To substitute the external forms of religion for holiness of heart and life, is still as pleasing to the unrenewed nature as in the days of the apostles. For this reason, false teachers abound, and the people listen eagerly to their delusive doctrines. It is Satan's studied effort to divert the minds of men from the one way of salvation, —faith in Christ, and obedience to the law of God. In every age the arch-enemy adapts his temptations to the prejudices or inclinations of the people. In apostolic times he led the Jews to exalt the ceremonial law, and reject Christ; at the present day he induces many professed Christians, under the pretense of honoring Christ, to cast contempt upon the moral law, and teach that its precepts may be transgressed with impunity. It is the duty of every faithful servant of God, to firmly and decidedly withstand these perverters of the faith, and to fearlessly expose their errors by the word of truth.

Paul continues to vindicate his position as the [p. 193] apostle of Christ, not by the will of men, but by the power of God. He describes the visit which he made to Jerusalem to secure a settlement of the very questions which are now agitating the churches of Galatia, as to whether the Gentiles should submit to circumcision and keep the ceremonial law. This was the only instance in which he had deferred to the judgment of the other apostles as superior to his own. He had first sought a private interview, in which he set the matter in all its bearings before the leading apostles, Peter, James, and John. With far-seeing wisdom, he concluded that if these men could be led to take a right position, everything would be gained. Had he first presented the question before the whole council, there would have been a division of sentiment. The strong prejudice already excited because he had not enforced circumcision on the Gentiles, would have led many to take a stand against him. Thus the object of his visit would have been defeated, and his usefulness greatly hindered. But the three leading apostles, against whom no such prejudice existed, having themselves been won to the true position, brought the matter before the council, and won from all a concurrence in the decision to leave the Gentiles free from the obligations of the ceremonial law.

Paul further disproved the accusations of his enemies, by showing that his position as an apostle of Christ had been acknowledged by the council at Jerusalem, and that in his labors among the Gentiles he had complied with the decisions of that council. Those who were seeking to destroy his influence, professed to acknowledge Peter, James, and John as pillars of the church. [p. 194] They were constantly extolling these apostles, and endeavoring to prove them superior to Paul in position and authority. But Paul showed that his enemies could not justify their course by a pretended regard for these apostles. While he honored them as faithful ministers of Christ, he showed that they had not attempted to instruct him, neither had they commissioned him to preach the gospel. They were convinced that God had called him to present the truth to the Gentiles, as he had designated Peter to go especially to the Jews. Hence they acknowledged before the council Paul's divine commission, and received him as a fellow-laborer of equal position with themselves.

It was not to exalt self, but to magnify the grace of God, that Paul thus presented to those who were denying his apostleship, proof that he was "not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles." Those who sought to belittle his calling and his work were fighting against Christ, whose grace and power were manifested through Paul. Hence the apostle felt that he was forced, by the opposition of his enemies, and even by the course of his brethren, to take a decided stand to maintain his position and authority.

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