Listening to Moisés Silva's lectures on Galatians at Westminster sent me back to Galatians 1:1. I have long noted (as has everyone and his uncle) that Galatians is a "hot" letter, a letter that hits the ground running and is very aggressive, alarmed, and passionate in tone. The entire first chapter makes that impression with crystal clarity, and Paul really doesn't let up until he has thrown down the quill.
But here I single out the very first three words in the letter: Παῦλος ἀπόστολος οὐκ. To break them down, we have:
- Παῦλος (Paulos) — his name, "Paul."
- ἀπόστολος (apostolos) — his office, "an apostle," a plenipotentiary of Christ, speaking on His behalf and with His authority.
- οὐκ (ouk) — "not."
To open up the impact of this abrupt negation, I offer the podium at length to a guest writer. Sir, the floor is yours.
[The third word] is a word that is now regarded as highly objectionable, a word that Paul, if he had been what modern men would have desired him to be, never would have used. It is the small but weighty word "not." "Paul an apostle," he says, "not from men nor through a man, but...."
That word "not," we are today constantly being told, ought to be put out of the Christian's vocabulary. Our preaching, we are told, ought to be positive and not negative; we ought to present the truth, but ought not to attack error; we ought to avoid controversy and always seek peace.
With regard to such a program, it may be said at least that if we hold to it we might just as well close up our New Testaments; for the New Testament is a controversial book almost from beginning to end. That is of course true with regard to the Epistles of Paul. They, at least, are full of argument and controversy—no question, certainly, can be raised about that. Even the hymn to Christian love in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians is an integral part of a great controversial passage with regard to a false use of the spiritual gifts.That glorious hymn never would have been written if Paul had been averse to controversy and had sought peace at any price. But the same thing is true also of the words of Jesus. They too—I think we can say it reverently—are full of controversy. He presented His righteousness sharply over against the other righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
That is simply in accordance with a fundamental law of the human mind. All definition is by way of exclusion. You cannot say clearly what a thing is without contrasting it with what it is not.
When that fundamental law is violated, we find nothing but a fog. Have you ever listened to this boasted non-controversial preaching, this preaching that is positive and not negative, this teaching that tries to present truth without attacking error? What impression does it make upon your mind? We will tell you what impression it makes upon ours. It makes the impression of utter inanity. We are simply unable to make head or tail of it. It consists for the most part of words and nothing more. Certainly it is as far as possible removed from the sharp, clear warnings, and the clear and glorious promises, of Holy Writ.
No, there is one word which every true Christian must learn to use. It is the word "not" or the word "No." A Christian must certainly learn to say "No" in the field of conduct; there are some things that the world does, which he cannot do. But he must also learn to say "No" in the field of conviction. The world regards as foolishness the gospel upon which the Christian life is based, and the Christian who does not speak out against the denial of the gospel is certainly not faithful to his Lord.
...The Church of our day needs above all else men who can say "No"; for it is only men who can say "No," men who are brave enough to take a stand against sin and error in the Church—it is only such men who can really say "Yea and amen" to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know not in detail what will take place when the great revival comes, the great revival for which we long, when the Spirit of God will sweep over the Church like a mighty flood. But one thing we do know—when that great day comes, the present feeble aversion to "controversy," the present cowardly unwillingness to take sides in the age-long issue between faith and unbelief in the Church—will at once be swept aside. There is not a trace of such an attitude in God's holy Word. That attitude is just Satan's way of trying to deceive the people of God; peace and indifferentist church-unionism and aversion to controversy, as they are found in the modern Church, are just the fine garments that cover the ancient enemy, unbelief.
May God send us men who are not deceived, men who will respond to the forces of unbelief and compromise now so largely dominant in the visible Church with a brave and unqualified "No"! Paul was such a man in his day. He said "No" in the very first word of this Epistle, after the bare name and title of the author; and that word gives the key to the whole Epistle that follows. The Epistle to the Galatians is a polemic, a fighting Epistle from beginning to end. What a fire it kindled at the time of the Reformation! May it kindle another fire in our day—not a fire that will destroy any fine or noble or Christian thing, but a fire of Christian love in hearts grown cold!
The trouble with that (as many of you recognized right away) is that the writer has been with the Lord for many decades. The "now" and "modern" time of which he wrote was the 1930s, for the writer was the great J. Gresham Machen, writing on pages 6-8 of his collected notes on Galatians. I quoted with only the addition of a bit of emphasis.
I said "Machen's zombies," but should I perhaps say "Paul's zombies"? Hadn't the great apostle also killed the same errors dead two millennia earlier? He did. But as always there are dainty-souled men who consider themselves so much smarter than Machen, than Owen, than Calvin, than Augustine, than Paul; and, in the final analysis, so much smarter than God.
But are they really?
They are not.