Essay / Theology

"Self-Salvation Means Despair:" Moule's Paraphrase of Galatians

H.C.G. Moule was the Bishop of Durham just after the death of Queen Victoria. He wrote wonderful commentaries on many books of the New Testament, but never did a full-length treatment of Galatians. What he did publish was an itty-bitty 60-page devotional book called The Cross and the Spirit: Meditations on the Epistle to the Galatians, developing the leading ideas of the doctrines of Christ and the Spirit (ding ding ding Trinity alert).

And thirteen pages of that booklet contain “a paraphrase-outline of the contents of the Epistle, intended to serve in some measure as a running commentary.” Indeed, that paraphrase is like a full commentary boiled down to its essence. Moule is saying what Galatians says, by is adding to it the kind of elaborations and specifications that come from long study of the relevant context, the kind of things you would say in a commentary. It’s a powerful technique, going even further than paraphrases like Peterson’s The Message, and sounding something like how Galatians would sound if Moule himself preached it. Moule nearly nearly escapes its Pauline orbit at the start of chapter 6, using about four dozen words to render “you who are spiritual.” But think of it as explanatory commentary and you’ll see what he’s accomplishing. Here’s what Moule thinks Galatians teaches. (I added a few paragraph breaks for easier web reading.)

The Galatian Epistle

Chapter I. Paul, divinely commissioned Apostle of the Risen Jesus Christ, greets, along with his Christian companions, the mission-churches of Galatia, in the name of the Father and of His atoning Son our Lord, who died for us, to set us free from the power of a sinful world.

I hear with distress that you are lightly drifting from Christ’s grace to alien beliefs; beliefs which, because alien from His true glory, cannot possibly be true. Woe to the propagandists of them; woe to me, woe to angels, should I, should they, preach anything as a substitute for the grace of Christ. For myself, I am absolutely unable to modify my message; I should not be Christ’s bond-servant if I did. It is not my invention; it is my commission; I cannot modify it for man, nor plead for any modification of it from God.

But be you assured that the message you have from me was out-and-out divine, authentic from the throne. It was not even learnt by me from other and original apostles; the Risen Lord personally unveiled it to me. You will remember my story; my advanced Jewish studies, and creed, and persecuting Jewish zeal. But then came the hour of grace, the inward revelation to me of the Son of God, that I might henceforth preach Him to the nations. And that crisis was followed not by consultation with mortal brethren (“flesh and blood”) but first by a retirement in Arabia; then by a return to Damascus; then, after an interval of three full years, by a visit –a fortnight’s visit– to Peter, including an interview with James the Less. Then came life and work for a long time at Antioch, and in Cilicia, so that mine was practically an unknown face in the missions of Judea.

Chapter II. Fourteen years thus passed, and I visited Jerusalem again, with Barnabas, and with the once pagan Titus. I went, obedient to a divine intimation, in order to compare my message with that of the elder Apostles, and so to assure myself whether or no there was aught lacking in my Gospel, intended by the Lord to be supplied by them, and without which supply my efforts would be more or less a failure. But there proved to be nothing of the kind.

As to usages and rites, not even Titus, prominent as his position was, and weighty therefore as his case would be as a precedent, was compelled by the Jerusalem Apostles to accept circumcision. The recognised pillars of the mother-church added nothing to me; said nothing to imply that my truth was not the whole truth. A cordial arrangement for the division of labour between me and the three, headed by Peter, was the main result of the meeting; so little was I, so little was my Gospel, discredited by them, the alleged patrons of the new teachers in Galatia.

True, there was a time when Peter visited Antioch (that first great scene of Gentile Christianization), and unhappily wavered there in his line of action, under Judaistic pressure; even Barnabas was swayed for a while in the same direction. But I openly challenged the conduct of my great elder brother. I reproved him, on the express ground that our acceptance with God is secured not by a ceremonial discipline but by faith in Christ; by that acceptance of Him and reliance on Him which identifies us with Him in His atoning death and in His risen life. In that life we now live, even here below, divinely free and victorious. To go back from this is to return to bondage; it is to return by our own act to unpardoned guilt, it is to reconstitute ourselves transgressors.

Chapter III. Now let me come direct to your present case. What has happened to you, after so glorious a beginning –to you, to whom Christ was so vividly presented, the Spirit so richly given in response to your simple faith? Is not your whole experience against the change? Does the new Gospel bring, as the old did, the Spirit’s hallowing and wonder-working power?

Do you want authentic precedent for your distinctive message of my Gospel? You have it in Abraham himself. He received all his vast blessing not as a ceremonialist but as a believer; not by law but by faith. Would you be his heirs indeed? Then take his way to claim the inheritance.

Alas for us, otherwise! The awful, inexorable Law has no promise for the sinner; its very nature is to sentence him to death. It was precisely because of this that the Lord died. Against us ran the death-warrant; and He bought us out from it. He bore our sins, in the sense of taking their sentence on His head, that we might –not only be forgiven, but be Abraham’s heirs of amplest blessing, receiving the promise of nothing less than the Spirit, through faith.

And all this is provided for in the very Scriptures of the Law. Before they tell us of the Law, the Covenant of Sinai, they tell us of a free promise, the Covenant of Grace with Abraham (and with his seed, his single line of covenant inheritance, the line of Isaac only, which line is embodied and summed up in Christ).

The Scriptures place between the two Covenants a broad gulf of time, four full centuries, in order to bring the lesson home; as if to say that their eternal antecedent Grace could not really be meant to be abrogated by the long subsequent Code of precepts taken as conditions of blessing.

Yet that Code had its sacred work. It was, for one thing, a practical curb on transgressions. It was also, and more deeply, a means to conviction of sin and need; “concluding all under sin”; pending the time when the glorious Seed should come to claim the free grace for us.

Notice, further, another difference –the Law was mediatized, conveyed through Moses, who stood as a third between two contracting parties, God and us. But the Promise was simply given, given sovereignly from Him, the ONE Personage in the great act. Without desert, without claim, without goodness on our part, He gave His CHRIST to us.

Thus the whole inmost purport of the preceptive Law (moral as well as ceremonial) was to school us up to a sense of our need of Christ, in order that, accepting Him, we might be accepted in Him, just as we are. So, in that respect, our days of nonage are over; we have entered on our position and our property. Faith, pure and simple, places us among the very children of the Eternal. Our baptism, the symbol, seal, and sacred outward counterpart of our faith, identifies us with His Son who died for us, and robes us as it were in Him. As thus identified with Him, we are one with one another; all barriers of rank, race, and sex are fused in Him; we are lawful heirs together of Abraham’s blessing.

Chapter IV. There was indeed a time, even our unenlightened past, when we were in the slave-like position of pupilage. But the destined crisis came, and with it came the Incarnate SON, Woman-born, perfect Keeper of the Law and therefore perfect Redeemer of us law-breakers, in order now to secure our lawful adoption as God’s own children in Him.

And then with Him came (you know it has come!) that blessed gift, the SPIRIT of the Son, crying out in your hearts, Abba, Father, to the Father of your Lord. The work wrought for you, the work wrought in you –all combines to say, “Child of God, heir of God, live thy glorious sonship out.”

Alas, why are you drifting now away from such eternal truth and hope? What means this almost return to old idolatries? This salvation by calendars and types? Is all the happy toil of evangelization in vain? I entreat you to be as I now am; for I once stood where you now are.

I implore you to remember the first dear days of conversion; your love and tender sympathy for me when ill and prostrate; your joy, your glad congratulation, your undreamt-of wealth, discovered now in Christ. Are you afraid of me now, because I tell you the old truth? Are the new missionaries able to separate me and you so soon –all for their own ends? Ah be both more stable and more warm than this. I am in travail with you again, in my longing to see not ceremonialism but CHRIST take shape in you. Oh that I could be again amongst you, and speak with a living voice; but with a voice of warning now.

But once more: are you so anxious to go back to the Mosaic order? Then listen to a deep parable, divinely planned, taken from the Mosaic books. You remember Ishmael and Isaac; Hagar’s son, born in bondage, Sarah’s son, born in freedom, and heir to the great inheritance. Here is spiritual teaching. Hagar is Sinai (that hill of wild Arabia, the land never associated with Israel’s joys); and her child is Man –man as bound by the violated Law; type of such as they are now who cling to the earthly Jerusalem, and her temple, and her altar. Sarah is the heavenly Jerusalem, the holy commonwealth of God’s redeemed in Christ, of every tribe and tongue. Once she was a barren wife, while the pagan world was unvisited by the Gospel; now she is as fertile as she is glorious. Her sons are we; the Isaac of the better Covenant, children and heirs of God in Christ.

Remember by the way the action of Ishmael upon Isaac; his cruel, mocking jealousy. Here too is parable. The false claimant to heirship still hates, mocks, persecutes the true; so let me not wonder, and do not you wonder, if the would-be Mosaist, with his days and months and years, turns fiercely upon you who meet him only with Jesus Christ, and nothing of your own. What is this but another evidence that you are the children of the free? It is but the prelude to the exclusion of the slave-born from the home.

Chapter V. Then hold your freedom fast. It may seem a light thing to add circumcision to the Gospel. But no; your circumcision will mean for you nothing less than the acceptance of the whole awful legal responsibility. It will mean your saying, “I am now bound to do, to do in the Law’s sense, that I may live.” That means self-salvation; and self-salvation means despair. It means, letting go of the magnificent rest and power of grace; Christ for you, Christ in you.

Our true position is just this; justified in the Christ whom we receive by faith, filled with the Spirit whom we receive by faith, we look for that blessed hope, “the hope of righteousness,” the coming glory fo the justified; and this is still, by faith –that is to say, through Christ accepted, through Christ relied on as our own.

In Him, this is all; circumcision, non-circumcision, those differences are nil in Him. The one question is faith, a living reliance, made manifest in love.

Once more, whence has come this change over you? Not from the God who converted you. Some minute but permeating influence of evil is at work; an individual is your leaven. I am sure that you will come to your right mind; but great is his guilt meantime.

Do your new teachers say that I too after all preach circumcision (because I caused Timothy to be circumcised)? My reply is very practical. Why, if it is so, do they thus track my steps and thwart my work? Forsooth the Lord’s Cross, His atoning, liberating death, has ceased to be a stumbling-block to them, if they claim me as their sympathizer!

I could wish that your troublers, with their Gospel of circumcision, would cut themselves off from us wholly, so truly pagan is their whole conception.

For indeed, brethren, it is to a divine liberty that you were called in your conversion; only, a liberty which is not selfish licence but the love which loves to serve, loving others as the self; and that is the spiritual essence of the Law. Take care of the dreadful opposite condition and temper promoted by this false Gospel. It is showing itself too plainly; you are quarrelling already; you will ruin each other soon.

What then is the antidote to it all? It is just this, the HOLY GHOST, received, obeyed, and used. Live in His light and power, and you shall be emancipated from the cravings of the self-life (see verses 19-21), the flesh. The two powers are both present with you, antagonists eternally, the self apart from God, and the Spirit of life and power; a counter-agency continually affecting will and action.

Give yourselves to the Spirit’s leading, and you shall not be under the Law; you shall be in it, you shall be with it, loving the will of God from the heart, but you shall not be under it, as Damocles was under the sword.

You know the works of the self-life; look around you –are there none of them in view? Impurity, idolatry, wizard tamperings with the unseen, hatred and envy, bloodshed, and debauchery, these are they –things which shut men out for ever, as you know, from part and lot in the kingdom of God.

And you know, too, the fruit, the sweet, perfect product, of the power of the Holy Ghost in a believing heart; love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control. the Law is quite at peace with such lives. Now if you belong to Christ, you have left the self-life on His Cross, condemned and executed. It cost the Lord His death; what have you to do with His murderer? If you live by the Spirit, who has joined you to the Lord, see that each step of conduct is governed by Him too. In His power, for you can do it in His power, drop the miserable self-spirit, the vanity, the envy, and walk in love.

Chapter VI. One word to those who may say, “But we are spiritual, we renounce these legalisms, we know only Christ and the Spirit; we are good and faithful Paulinists!” Is it so? Then prove it by the work of the divine Spirit; of meekness toward the brother who, you think, has fallen from truth; you are weak enough yourselves, apart from that Spirit whom you theoretically assert. Take another’s burthen up (if you are so strong); bear it for him, in the sense of sympathy. Do not be self-deceived, as if you were great and good; you are nothing –it is all the Lord.

Remember, your freedom is not irresponsibility; every individual has his own load of sacred duties, and he must give account about it for himself to his Master.

Among other burthen-bearings, support by your willing gifts your pastors, your faithful teachers.

Remember the law of spiritual results; God is not to be imposed upon. No true Gospel ever means real licence to conscience. The self-life and the Spirit-life are both sowings; each has its infallible harvest. Let us think with joy of the Spirit’s harvest-home; live out His life in you, in watchful, unselfish, helping love, especially to Christian brethren; and we shall reap indeed.

What large letters I have penned my message in! I was resolved to write an autograph.

Once more –the teachers who say, “You must be circumcised,” are men who want to stand well with their own world, which world cannot bear the doctrine of the atoning Cross and its full salvation. They are not real Mosaists themselves; I can say that with authority, for I know what full Mosaism means in its tremendous reality. They want your names, a list of so many external converts to glory in. But God forbid that I should glory in anything but in the atoning Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. There, clasping it, nailed as it were to it, in union with Him, it matters little to me how I stand with my world, or any world. In him, the one question is, not circumcision or uncircumcision, not a list of Judaists or Paulinists, but a new creation, lives born again to HIM. Peace and mercy to all who go by that rule; they are the true Israel, God’s own chosen, princes and priests to Him.

Now to close. I claim henceforth a right to have heard the last of this opposition among you. Why? Because I am a lord and autocrat? No, but because I am a slave. My body bears, in many a scar, the brand of my Master, Jesus. And my Gospel is not mine, it is His; I am absolutely nothing but His messenger.

Brethren, His grace, His living peace and power, be with your spirit. Amen.

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